Authors: Sarah J. Maas
But each morning, when he donned his usual black armor for the 33rd, he remembered. Isaiah had asked him for backup right after Micah’s death, and Hunt had gladly given it. He’d stayed on as Isaiah’s unofficial commander—unofficial only because Hunt didn’t want the paperwork that came with the real title.
The city had been quiet, though. Focused on healing. Hunt wasn’t going to complain.
His phone buzzed in the back pocket of his black jeans, and he fished it out to find an email from Isaiah waiting for him. Hunt read it and went still. His heart dropped to his feet and back up again.
“What’s wrong?” Bryce peered over his shoulder.
Hunt passed her the phone with a surprisingly steady hand. “New Archangels have been chosen for Micah’s and Sandriel’s territories.”
Her eyes widened. “Who? How bad are they?”
He motioned for her to read Isaiah’s email, and Bryce, that firstlight glow stick still coiled around her wrist, obeyed.
Roll out the welcome mat
, Isaiah had written as his only comment on the forwarded email from the Asteri’s imperial secretary announcing the new positions.
“They’re not bad,” Hunt said, staring blankly at the revelers now gathering around a Fae male doing a keg stand in the corner. “That’s the problem.”
Bryce’s brows bunched as she scanned the email. “Ephraim—he currently shares Rodinia with Jakob. Yeah, he seems decent enough. But he’s going to northern Pangera. Who … Oh. Who the Hel is Celestina?”
Hunt frowned. “She’s stayed out of the spotlight. She oversees Nena—population, like, fifty. She has one legion under her command.
. She doesn’t even have a triarii. The legion is literally controlled by the Asteri—all watchdogs for the Northern Rift. She’s a figurehead.”
“Big promotion, then.”
Hunt grunted. “Everything I’ve heard about her sounds unusually nice.”
“No chance it’s true?”
“Where Archangels are concerned? No.” He crossed his arms.
Fury said from the couch, “For what it’s worth, Athalar, I haven’t heard anything bad, either.”
Juniper asked, “So this is promising, right?”
Hunt shook his head. This wasn’t a conversation to have in public, but he said, “I can’t figure out why the Asteri would appoint her
, when she’s only handled a small territory until now. She must be their puppet.”
Bryce tilted her head to the side, looking at him in that stark, all-seeing way that made his balls tighten. Gods, she was beautiful. “Maybe it’s just a good thing, Hunt. So many shitty things have
happened to us that we might not trust when something actually
good. But maybe we got lucky with Celestina’s appointment.”
“I’m inclined to think Urd’s dealing us a decent hand,” Juniper agreed.
Fury Axtar said nothing, her eyes shining as she thought. The merc would likely be the only one to fully grasp the workings of the Asteri. Not that she’d ever reveal the details of her dealings with them.
“Celestina wants to meet what remains of Micah’s triarii when she arrives. Apparently, there’s going to be some sort of restructuring,” Hunt said as Bryce handed back his phone. “Whatever that means. The press release won’t go live until tomorrow morning. So keep it quiet.” The three females nodded, though he had a feeling Fury wouldn’t keep her word. Whoever she answered to, whatever valuable clients she served, would likely hear before dawn.
Bryce hooked her red hair behind her pointed ears. “When’s Celestina coming?”
“Tomorrow evening.” His throat constricted.
Juniper and Fury fell into quiet conversation, as if to grant them privacy. Bryce, catching their drift, lowered her voice. “You’re a free male, Hunt. She can’t order you to do anything you don’t want to do.” Her warm fingers wrapped around his wrist, thumb brushing over the branded-out
to reenlist in the 33rd. You have the rights of a free citizen. If you don’t like her, if you don’t want to serve her, then you don’t need to give her a reason in order to leave. You don’t need her permission.”
Hunt grunted his agreement, though he still had a fucking knot in his chest. “Celestina could make life very difficult for us.”
Bryce held up a hand. Starlight radiated, turning her skin iridescent. A drunk asshole nearby let out an
. Bryce ignored him and said, “I’d like to see her try. I’m the Super Powerful and Special Magic Starborn Princess, remember?” He knew she was joking, but her mouth thinned. “I’ll protect you.”
“How could I forget, oh Magically Powerful and Super Special … whatever you said.”
Bryce grinned, lowering her hand. She’d been meeting with Ruhn once a week to explore her magic—to learn more about what
lay within her veins, fueled by the power of so many. Her magic only manifested as starlight—a purely Fae gift. No shadows, like Ruhn possessed, or fire, like her father. But the sheer force of her power came from all those who’d given a droplet of their magic to the Gates over the years. All combined to make some kind of fuel to increase the potency of her starlight. Or something like that. Bryce had tried to explain it—why the magic manifested as a Fae talent—but Hunt didn’t care where it came from, so long as it kept her safe.
The magic was protection in a world designed to kill her. From a father who might very well want to eliminate the threat of a daughter who surpassed him in power, if only by a fraction.
Hunt still had trouble fathoming that the female standing beside him had become more powerful than the Autumn King. Hunt’s power technically still outranked hers, and her father’s, but with the Horn etched in her back, who really knew the depths of Bryce’s power? Considering Rigelus’s order to lie low, it wasn’t like Bryce could explore how the Horn affected her magic, but given what it had done this spring … He doubted Bryce would ever be tempted to experiment with it anyway.
He caught Axtar watching Bryce, but the merc said nothing.
So Hunt continued, only loud enough to indicate that he wanted Fury and Juniper to also hear, “I don’t know what this Celestina thing is about, but the Asteri do nothing out of the kindness of their hearts.”
“They’d need hearts to do that,” Juniper whispered with uncharacteristic venom.
Fury’s voice lowered. “The war is getting worse in Pangera. Valbara is a key territory full of vital resources. Appointing someone who all reports claim is
Juniper raised her brows. Not at the claim about the Asteri, Hunt guessed, but that Fury had willingly mentioned the war overseas. The merc rarely, if ever, talked about it. What she’d done over there. What she’d seen. Hunt, having fought in many of those battles, had a good idea of both.
“Maybe they really do want a puppet,” Juniper said. “Someone
who’s a figurehead, so they can order all of Valbara’s troops overseas with no resistance.”
Fury tucked a strand of her hair behind an ear. From all appearances, Axtar seemed human. But she was definitely Vanir—of what breed, what House, Hunt had no idea. Flame and Shadow seemed likeliest, but more than that, he couldn’t guess. The merc said, “Even Micah might have resisted that order.”
Bryce’s face paled at the bastard’s name. Hunt repressed the urge to fold a wing around her. He hadn’t told her of his own nightmares—of being forced to watch, over and over, as Micah brutalized her. And the nightmares of how she’d raced through the streets, demons from Hel’s darkest pits swarming her. Of brimstone missiles shooting for her in the Old Square.
“We can guess all night,” Bryce said, mastering herself. “But until you have that meeting tomorrow, Hunt, we won’t know. Just go in there with an open mind.”
“You mean, don’t start a fight.” His mouth twitched to the side. Fury snickered.
Bryce put a hand on her hip. “I mean, don’t go in there playing Scary Asshole. Maybe try for an Approachable Asshole vibe.”
Juniper laughed at that, and Hunt chuckled as well. Unable to stop himself from knocking Bryce with a wing for the second time that night, he promised, “Approachable Asshole it is, Quinlan.”
Ruhn Danaan knew three things with absolute certainty:
Ruhn dug his fingers into the soft, spotted flanks of the delectable creature moaning above him, dragging his lip ring across that spot he knew would—
Yeah. There it was. That groan of pure pleasure that shot right to his cock, currently aching behind the fly of his black jeans. He hadn’t even undressed before going to town on the sweet faun who’d shyly approached him at the beer pong table. He’d gotten one look at her large green eyes, the long legs that ended in those pretty little hooves, and the creamy skin of her neck, above those high, perky breasts, and known precisely where he wanted this night to end.
Good thing she’d had the same idea. Had told him precisely what she wanted in that whisper-soft voice.
Ruhn flicked his tongue across the taut bud of her clit, savoring the meadow-soft taste of her in his mouth. She arched, thighs straining—and came with a series of breathy moans that nearly had him spilling in his pants.
Ruhn gripped her bare ass, letting her ride his face through each wave of pleasure, moaning himself as he slipped his tongue inside her to let her delicate inner muscles clench around him.
Fuck, this was hot.
was hot. Even through the haze of drugs and booze, he was ready to go. All he needed was the okay from those full lips and he’d be buried in her within seconds.
For a heartbeat, like an arrow of light fired through the blissed-out darkness of his mind, he remembered that he was, technically, betrothed. And not to some simpering Fae girl whose parents might be pissed at his behavior, but to the Queen of the Valbaran Witches. Granted, they’d sworn no vows of faithfulness—for fuck’s sake, they’d barely spoken to each other during the Summit and in the months afterward—but … did it cross some line, to fuck around like this?
He knew the answer. The weight of it had lain heavy on him for months. And perhaps that was why he was here right now: it did cross a line, but a line he had no say in. And yes, he respected and admired Hypaxia Enador—she was alarmingly beautiful, brave, and intelligent—but until the High Priestess bound their hands at Luna’s Temple, until that titanium ring went on his finger … he’d savor these last months of freedom.
He hoped it would be months, anyway. Hypaxia had not given his father any indication of a timeline.
The faun stilled, chest heaving, and Ruhn let his thoughts of his betrothed fade away as he swallowed the taste of the faun deep into his throat.
“Merciful Cthona,” the faun breathed, rising on her knees to pull herself off his face. Ruhn released the firm cheeks of her ass, meeting her bright gaze as she peered at him, a flush across her high cheekbones.
Ruhn winked up at her, running a tongue over the corner of his mouth to get one final taste of her. Gods, she was delectable. Her throat bobbed, her pulse fluttering like a beckoning drum.
Ruhn ran his hands up her bare thighs, fingers grazing over her narrow hips and waist. “Do you want to—”
The door to his bedroom burst open, and Ruhn, pinned beneath the female, could do nothing but twist his head toward the male standing there.
Apparently, the sight of the Crown Prince of the Valbaran Fae with a female straddling his face was common enough that Tristan Flynn didn’t so much as blink. Didn’t even smirk, though the faun leapt off Ruhn with a squeak, hiding herself behind the bed.
“Get downstairs,” Flynn said, his usually golden-brown skin pale. Gone was any hint of drunken revelry. Even his brown eyes were sharp.
“Why?” Ruhn asked, wishing he had time to talk to the female quickly gathering her clothes on the other side of the bed before he headed for the door.
But Flynn pointed to the far corner—the pile of dirty laundry, and the Starsword propped against the stained wall beside it. “Bring that.”
Ruhn’s raging hard-on had vanished, thankfully, by the time he made it to the top of the stairs above the foyer. Music still shook the floors of the house, people still drank and hooked up and smoked and did whatever bullshit they usually enjoyed during these parties.
No sign of danger, no sign of anything except—
There. A prickle at the back of his neck. Like a chill wind had skittered over the top of his spine.
“Dec’s new security system picked up some kind of anomaly,” Flynn said, scanning the party below. He’d gone into pure Aux mode. “It’s making all the sensors go off. Some kind of aura—Dec said it felt like a storm was circling the house.”
“Great,” Ruhn said, the hilt of the Starsword cool against his back. “And it’s not some drunk asshole dicking around with magic?”
Flynn assessed the crowds. “Dec didn’t think so. He said from the way it circled the house, it seemed like it was surveilling the area.”
Their friend and roommate had spent months designing a system to be placed around their house and the surrounding streets—one that could pick up things like the kristallos demon, formerly too fast for their technology to detect.
“Then let’s see how it likes being watched, too,” Ruhn said, wishing he was slightly less high and drunk as his shadows wobbled around him. Flynn sniggered.
The mirthroot took hold for a moment, and even Ruhn laughed as he moved for the staircase. But his amusement faded as he checked the rooms on either side of the foyer. Where the fuck was Bryce? He’d last seen her with Fury, Juniper, and Athalar in the living room, but from this angle atop the stairs, he couldn’t see her—
Ruhn had made it three steps down the front staircase, dodging discarded beer cans and plastic cups and someone’s zebra-print bra, when the open front doors darkened.