Authors: Sarah J. Maas
Baxian turned. “What’s that?”
“You really don’t know anything about modern life, huh?” Baxian gave him a flat look. “SUL,” Hunt explained. “Sunball United League. It’s their video game. You can play from the point of view of any player, on any team. It’s fun.”
“I’ve never played a video game.”
“Oh, I know.” Hunt grinned.
Baxian surveyed him, and Hunt waited for the rejection, but Baxian said, “Sure. Why not?”
Hunt headed for the common room. “You might regret that in a few.”
Indeed, ten minutes later, Baxian was cursing, fingers stumbling over the controller clenched in his hands. Hunt nimbly dodged Baxian’s avatar.
“Pathetic,” Hunt said. “Even worse than I thought.”
Baxian growled, “This is so stupid.”
“And yet you keep playing,” Hunt countered.
Baxian laughed. “Yeah. I guess I do.”
Hunt scored. “It’s not even satisfying playing against a novice.”
“Give me a day and I’ll wipe the floor with you, Athalar.” Baxian’s thumbs flicked the controls. His avatar ran right into a goalpost and rebounded, sprawling onto the grass.
Hunt snickered. “Maybe two days.”
Baxian glanced at him sidelong. “Maybe.” They kept playing,
and when the clock above the door read twelve, Baxian asked, “Time to work?”
Hunt listened to the quiet dorm around them. “I won’t tell if you don’t.”
“Didn’t I prove this morning that I’m the soul of discretion?”
“I’m still waiting for your motive, you know.”
“I’m not here to make an enemy of you.”
“I don’t get why.”
Baxian ran into the goalpost again, his avatar ricocheting onto the field. “Life’s too short to hold grudges.”
“That’s not a good enough reason.”
“It’s the only one you’ll get.” Baxian managed to gain control of the ball for all of ten seconds before Hunt took it from him. He cursed. “Solas. You can’t go easy on me?”
Hunt let the subject drop. The gods knew he’d had plenty he hadn’t wanted to talk about when he first arrived here. And the gods knew he’d done plenty of terrible shit on Sandriel’s orders, too. Maybe he should take his own advice from earlier. Maybe it was time to stop letting Sandriel’s specter haunt them.
So Hunt smiled roughly. “Where would the fun be in that?”
“This sucks,” Bryce muttered into the phone that night, splayed out on her bed. “You really aren’t allowed to leave?”
“Only for official 33rd work,” Hunt said. “I forgot how crappy the barracks are.”
“Your sad little room with its lack of posters.”
His laugh rumbled in her ear. “I’m going to be extra good so she’ll let me go early.”
“I won’t have anyone to watch
Beach House Hookup
with. You sure I can’t come over there?”
“Not with Pollux and the Hind here. No fucking way.”
Bryce toyed with the hem of her T-shirt. “Even if we stayed in your room?”
“Oh?” His voice dropped low, getting the gist of what she was suggesting. “To do what?”
She smiled to herself. She needed this, after the insanity of today. She hadn’t even dared tell Hunt what had happened with the mystics, not over the phone, where anyone could listen in. But the next time she saw him face-to-face, she’d tell him about everything.
Including the otter Tharion had sent to her two hours ago, as promised, with a note that said,
Forgive me yet, Legs? Shall we kiss and make up?
She’d laughed—but sent a note back with the screamingly cute otter:
Start with kissing my ass and we’ll see how it goes.
Another otter had arrived before ten with a note that said,
Now Bryce said to Hunt, mood significantly lifted despite the news, “Things.”
His wings rustled in the background. “What kind of things?”
Her toes curled. “Kissing. And … more.”
“Hmm. Explain what
She bit her lip. “Licking.”
His laugh was like dark velvet. “Where would you like me to lick you, Quinlan?”
They were doing this, then. Her blood heated. Syrinx must have scented what was up, and took it upon himself to leap off the bed and head into the living room.
Bryce swallowed. “My breasts.”
“Mmm. They are delicious.”
She slickened between her thighs, and rubbed her legs together, nestling further into the pillows. “You like to taste them?”
“I like to taste all of you.” She could barely get a breath down. “I like to taste you, and touch you, and when I can leave these barracks again, I’m going to fly in a straight line to wherever you are so I can thoroughly fuck you.”
She whispered, “Are you touching yourself?”
A hiss. “Yes.”
She whimpered, rubbing her thighs together again.
Her hand drifted beneath the waistband of her shorts. “Now I am.”
He groaned. “Are you wet?”
“Gods,” he begged. “Tell me what you’re doing.”
She flushed. She’d never done anything like this, but if she and Hunt couldn’t be together … she’d take what she could get.
She slid her finger into her sex, moaning softly. “I’m … I have a finger inside myself.”
“I wish it was yours.”
Was he close, then? “I’m adding another,” she said as she did, and her hips bucked off the bed. “It still doesn’t feel as good as you.”
His breathing turned sharp. “Open up that nightstand, sweetheart.”
Frantic, she grabbed a toy from the drawer. She shimmied off her shorts and her drenched underwear and positioned the vibrator at her entrance. “You’re bigger,” she said, the phone discarded beside her.
Another primal sound of pure need. “Yeah?”
She pushed the vibrator in, her back arching. “Oh gods,” she panted.
“When we fuck for the first time, Quinlan, do you want it hard or do you want a long, smooth ride?”
“Hard,” she managed to say.
“You want to be on top?”
Release gathered through her body like a wave about to break. “I want my turn on top, and then I want you behind me, fucking me like an animal.”
” he shouted, and she heard flesh slapping against flesh in the background.
“I want you to ride me so hard I’m screaming,” she went on, driving the vibrator in and out. Gods, she was going to explode—
“Anything you want. Anything you want, Bryce, I’ll give it to you—”
That did it. Not the words, but her name on his tongue.
Bryce moaned, deep in her throat, her pants coming quick and
wild, her core clenching around the vibrator as she pumped it in and out, working through her climax.
Hunt groaned again, cursing, and then he fell silent. Only their breathing filled the phone. Bryce lay limp against the bed.
“I want you so badly,” he ground out.
She smiled. “Good.”
“Yeah. Because I’m going to fuck your brains out when you come home to me.”
He laughed softly, full of sensual promise. “Likewise, Quinlan.”
Tharion sat atop the smooth rock half-submerged by a bend in the middle of the Istros and waited for his queen to respond to his report. But the River Queen, lounging on a bed of river weeds like a pool float, kept her eyes closed against the morning sun, as if she hadn’t heard a single word of what he’d been explaining about the Bone Quarter and the Under-King.
A minute passed, then another. Tharion asked at last, “Is it true?”
Her dark hair floated beyond her raft of weeds, writhing over the surface like sea snakes. “Does it disturb you, to have your soul sent back into the light from whence it came?”
He didn’t need to be Captain of Intelligence to know she was avoiding his question. Tharion said, “It disturbs me that we’re told we rest in peace and contentment, yet we’re basically cattle, waiting for the slaughter.”
“And yet you have no problem with your body being sent back to feed the earth and its creatures. Why is the soul any different?”
Tharion crossed his arms. “Did you know?”
She cracked open a warning eye. But she propped her head on a fist. “Perhaps there is something beyond the secondlight. Someplace our souls go even after that.”
For a glimmer, he could see the world she seemed to want: a world without the Asteri, where the River Queen ruled the waters,
and the current system of soul-recycling remained, because hey, it kept the lights on. Literally.
Only those in power would change. Perhaps that was all she wanted Emile for: a weapon to ensure her survival and triumph in any upcoming conflict between Ophion and the Asteri.
But Tharion said, “The search for Emile Renast continues. I thought I had an easier way to find him, but it was a dead end.” Tracking Pippa’s string of bodies would have to remain his only path toward the kid.
“Report when you have anything.” She didn’t look back at him as the river weeds fell apart beneath her and she gently sank into the blue water.
Then she was gone, dissolving into the Istros itself and floating away as glowing blue plankton—like a trail of stars soared through the river.
Was a rebellion worth fighting, if it only put other power-hungry leaders in charge? For the innocents, yes, but … Tharion couldn’t help but wonder if there was a better way to fight this war. Better people to lead it.
A week later, Ruhn stood beside Cormac and smiled as Bryce sweated in the Aux facility’s private training ring.
“You’re not concentrating,” Cormac scolded.
“My head literally
“Focus on that piece of paper and simply step there.”
“You say that like it’s easy.”
Ruhn wished this were the first time he’d heard this conversation. Witnessed this song-and-dance number between Bryce and Cormac as the prince tried to teach her to teleport. But in the week since all that major shit had gone down, this had been the main highlight. Their enemies had been unnervingly quiet.
When Cormac wasn’t attending various Fae functions, Ruhn knew his cousin had been hunting for Emile. Ruhn had even gone with him twice, Bryce in tow, to wander the various parks of Moonwood, hoping the boy was camping out. All to no avail. Not a whisper of the kid anywhere.
Tharion had reported yesterday that he couldn’t find the boy, either. From Tharion’s unusually haggard face, Ruhn had wondered if the mer’s queen was breathing down his neck about it. But no more bodies had been found. Either the kid was here, in hiding, or someone else had gotten him.
Bryce inhaled deeply, then shut her eyes on the exhale. “All right. Let’s try this again.”
Her brow bunched, and she grunted. Nothing.
Cormac snorted. “Stop straining. Let’s return to summoning shadows.”
Bryce held up a hand. “Can I have a hall pass, please?”
Ruhn laughed. She’d had little luck with the shadows, either. Starlight, yes. Lots and lots of starlight. But summoning darkness … she couldn’t manage so much as a bit of shade.
If Apollion wanted an epic opponent, Ruhn was inclined to tell the Prince of the Pit that it might take a while.
“I think my magic’s broken,” Bryce said, bending over her knees and sighing.
Cormac frowned. “Try again.” They’d had no word from anyone, even Agent Daybright, about what had happened with the shipment of ammo and the new mech-suit prototype. The news hadn’t covered it, and none of Cormac’s agents had heard anything.
That quiet had Cormac worried. Had Ruhn on edge, too.
Ithan had settled easily into Ruhn’s house, weirdly enough. He stayed up late playing video games with Dec and Flynn, as if they’d been friends their entire lives. What the wolf did with his time while they were all at the Aux, Ruhn had no idea.
Ruhn hadn’t asked him about what the Hind had said at the bar regarding Bryce, and Ithan sure as Hel hadn’t mentioned it. If the wolf had a thing for his sister, it wasn’t Ruhn’s business. Ithan was a good housemate: cleaned up after himself, cleaned up after Flynn, and was excellent at beer pong.
Bryce sucked in a sharp breath. “I can
it—like, this giant cloud of power right
.” She ran a finger over the eight-pointed star scarred between her breasts. Starlight pulsed at her fingertip. Like an answering heartbeat. “But I can’t access it.”
Cormac gave her a smile Ruhn assumed he meant to be encouraging. “Try one more time, then we’ll take a break.”
Bryce began to grumble, but was interrupted by Ruhn’s phone ringing.
“Hey. Bryce with you?”
“Yeah. Right here.” Bryce jumped to her feet at the mention of her name. “What’s up?”
Bryce leaned in to hear as Declan said, “My program finally finished analyzing all the footage of Danika at the gallery. Jesiba was right. It found something.”
Bryce didn’t know whether it was a good thing or not that Declan had finally concluded his search. Sitting around her new coffee table—a sad imitation of the original, but one Ithan had paid for—an hour later, she watched Declan pull up the feed.
She hadn’t dared call Hunt. Not when one wrong move with Celestina could keep him away even longer.
Declan said to her, Ruhn, and Cormac, “It took so long because once it compiled all the footage I had to go through all the shots with Danika.” He smirked at Bryce. “Did you
Bryce scowled. “Only on Tuesdays.”
Declan snorted, and Bryce braced herself for the sight of Danika, of Lehabah, of the old gallery library as he clicked play. Her heart twanged at the familiar corn-silk blond hair with its vibrant dyed streaks, braided down Danika’s back. At the black leather jacket with the words
Through love, all is possible
stamped on it. Had the flash drive already been sewn into it?
“This is from two months before she died,” Declan said quietly.
There was Bryce, in a tight green dress and four-inch heels, talking with Lehabah about
Fangs and Bangs
Danika was lounging at the desk, boots propped up, hands tucked behind her head, smirking at Bryce’s regular argument that porn with a plot did not equal award-winning television. Lehabah was countering that sex didn’t cheapen a show, and her voice—