Home > House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City #1)(7)

House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City #1)(7)
Author: Sarah J. Maas

It couldn’t have been that bad, if Danika made it to the sunball game. She’d even sent Bryce a photo of the whole pack in front of the field, with Ithan a small, helmeted figure in the background.

A message from the star player himself had popped up later: Next time, you better be with them, Quinlan.

She’d written back, Did baby pup miss me?

You know it, Ithan had answered.

“We won,” Connor drawled from where he lounged on her favorite spot on the couch, his gray CCU sunball T-shirt rumpled enough to reveal the cut of muscle and golden skin.

“Ithan scored the winning goal,” Bronson said, still wearing a blue-and-silver jersey with Holstrom on the back.

Connor’s little brother, Ithan, held an unofficial membership in the Pack of Devils. Ithan also happened to be Bryce’s second-favorite person after Danika. Their message chain was an endless stream of snark and teasing, swapped photos, and good-natured grousing about Connor’s bossiness.

“Again?” Bryce asked, kicking off her four-inch, pearl-white heels. “Can’t Ithan share some of the glory with the other boys?” Normally, Ithan would have been sitting right on that couch beside his brother, forcing Bryce to wedge herself between them while they watched whatever TV show was on, but on game nights, he usually opted to party with his teammates.

A half smile tugged at a corner of Connor’s mouth as Bryce held his stare for longer than most people considered wise. His five packmates, two still in wolf form with bushy tails swishing, wisely kept their mouths and maws shut.

It was common knowledge that Connor would have been Alpha of the Pack of Devils if Danika weren’t around. But Connor didn’t resent it. His ambitions didn’t run that way. Unlike Sabine’s.

Bryce nudged her backup dance bag over on the coatrack to make room for her purse, and asked the wolves, “What are you watching tonight?” Whatever it was, she’d already decided to curl up with a romance novel in her room. With the door shut.

Nathalie, flipping through celebrity gossip magazines on the couch, didn’t lift her head as she answered, “Some new legal procedural about a pack of lions taking on an evil Fae corporation.”

“Sounds like a real award winner,” Bryce said. Bronson grunted his disapproval. The massive male’s tastes skewed more toward art house flicks and documentaries. Unsurprisingly, he was never allowed to select the entertainment for Pack Night.

Connor ran a calloused finger down the rolled arm of the couch. “You’re home late.”

“I have a job,” Bryce said. “You might want to get one. Stop being a leech on my couch.”

This wasn’t exactly fair. As Danika’s Second, Connor acted as her enforcer. To keep this city safe, he’d killed, tortured, maimed, and then gone back out and done it again before the moon had even set.

He never complained about it. None of them did.

What’s the point in bitching, Danika had said when Bryce asked how she endured the brutality, when there’s no choice in joining the Auxiliary? The predator-born shifters were destined for certain Aux packs before they were even born.

Bryce tried not to glance at the horned wolf tattooed on the side of Connor’s neck—proof of that predestined lifetime of service. Of his eternal loyalty to Danika, the Pack of Devils, and the Aux.

Connor just looked Bryce over with that half smile. It set her teeth to grinding. “Danika’s in the kitchen. Eating half the pizza before we can get a bite.”

“I am not!” was the muffled reply.

Connor’s smile grew.

Bryce’s breathing turned a shade uneven at that smile, the wicked light in his eyes.

The rest of the pack remained dutifully focused on the television screen, pretending to watch the nightly news.

Swallowing, Bryce asked him, “Anything I should know?” Translation: Was the Briggs meeting a disaster?

Connor knew what she meant. He always did. He jerked his head to the kitchen. “You’ll see.”

Translation: Not great.

Bryce winced, and managed to tear her gaze away from him so she could pad into the galley kitchen. She felt Connor’s stare on her every step of the way.

And maybe she swished her hips. Only a tiny bit.

Danika was indeed shoveling a slice down her throat, her eyes wide in warning for Bryce to keep her mouth shut. Bryce noted the unspoken plea, and merely nodded.

A half-empty bottle of beer dripped condensation onto the white plastic counter Danika leaned against, her borrowed silk shirt damp with sweat around the collar. Her braid drooped over her slim shoulder, the few colorful streaks unusually muted. Even her pale skin, usually flushed with color and health, seemed ashen.

Granted, the crappy kitchen lighting—two meager recessed orbs of firstlight—wasn’t exactly favorable to anyone, but … Beer. Food. The pack keeping their distance. And that hollow weariness in her friend’s eyes—yeah, some shit had gone down in that meeting.

Bryce tugged open the fridge, grabbing a beer for herself. The pack all had different preferences, and were prone to coming over whenever they felt like it, so the fridge was crammed with bottles and cans and what she could have sworn was a jug of … mead? Must be Bronson’s.

Bryce grabbed one of Nathalie’s favorites—a cloudy, milky-tasting beer, heavy on the hops—and twisted off the top. “Briggs?”

“Officially released. Micah, the Autumn King, and the Oracle pored over every law and bylaw and still couldn’t find a way around that loophole. Ruhn even had Declan run some of his fancy tech searches and found nothing. Sabine ordered the Scythe Moon Pack to watch Briggs tonight, along with some of the 33rd.” The packs had mandatory nights off once a week, and this was the Pack of Devils’—no negotiating. Otherwise, Bryce knew Danika would be out there, watching Briggs’s every move.

“So you’re all in agreement,” Bryce said. “At least that’s good.”

“Yeah, until Briggs blows something or someone up.” Danika shook her head with disgust. “It’s fucking bullshit.”

Bryce studied her friend carefully. The tension around her mouth, her sweaty neck. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong.”

The words were spoken too quickly to be believable. “Something’s been eating at you. Shit like this thing with Briggs is big, but you always bounce back.” Bryce narrowed her eyes. “What aren’t you telling me?”

Danika’s eyes gleamed. “Nothing.” She swigged from her beer.

There was only one other answer. “I take it Sabine was in rare form this afternoon.”

Danika just tore into her pizza.

Bryce swallowed two mouthfuls of beer, watching Danika blankly consider the teal cabinets above the counter, the paint chipping at the edges.

Her friend chewed slowly, then said around a mouthful of bread and cheese, “Sabine cornered me after the meeting. Right in the hall outside Micah’s office. So everyone could hear her tell me that two CCU research students got killed near Luna’s Temple last week during the blackout. My shift. My section. My fault.”

Bryce winced. “It took a week to hear about this?”

“Apparently.”

“Who killed them?”

Crescent City University students were always out in the Old Square, always causing trouble. Even as alums Bryce and Danika often bemoaned the fact that there wasn’t a sky-high electric fence penning CCU students into their corner of the city. Just to keep them from puking and pissing all over the Old Square every Friday night to Sunday morning.

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