House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City) (4 page)

BOOK: House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City)
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“Fucking Hel, Danika!” Bryce hissed. “Say it a little gods-damn louder.”

The wolves had gone silent. Even their munching had stopped. Then resumed just a decibel too loudly.

“At least he’s got a good job,” Bryce said to Danika, who crossed her slender arms—arms that hid tremendous, ferocious strength—and gave her a look. A look that said,
Yeah, one that Reid’s daddy gave him
. Bryce added, “And at least he’s not some psychotic alphahole who will demand a three-day sex marathon and then call me his mate, lock me in his house, and never let me out again.” Which was why Reid—human, okay-at-sex Reid—was perfect.

“You could use a three-day sex marathon,” Danika quipped.

“You’re to blame for this, you know.”

Danika waved a hand. “Yeah, yeah. My first and last mistake: setting you two up.”

Danika knew Reid casually through the part-time security work she did for his father’s business—a massive human-owned magi-tech company in the Central Business District. Danika claimed
that the work was too boring to bother explaining, but paid well enough that she couldn’t say no. And more than that—it was a job she
chose
. Not the life she’d been shoved into. So between her patrols and obligations with the Aux, Danika was often at the towering skyscraper in the CBD—pretending she had a shot at a normal life. It was unheard of for any Aux member to have a secondary job—for an Alpha, especially—but Danika made it work.

It didn’t hurt that everyone wanted a piece of Redner Industries these days. Even Micah Domitus was a major investor in its cutting-edge experiments. It was nothing out of the ordinary, when the Governor invested in everything from tech to vineyards to schools, but since Micah was on Sabine’s eternal shit list, pissing off her mother by working for a human company he supported was likely even better for Danika than the sense of free will and generous pay.

Danika and Reid had been in the same presentation one afternoon months ago—exactly when Bryce had been single and complaining constantly about it. Danika had given Bryce’s number to Reid in a last-ditch effort to preserve her sanity.

Bryce smoothed a hand over her dress. “I need to change. Save me a slice.”

“Aren’t you going out for dinner?”

Bryce cringed. “Yeah. To one of those frilly spots—where they give you salmon mousse on a cracker and call it a meal.”

Danika shuddered. “Definitely fill up before, then.”

“A slice,” Bryce said, pointing at Danika. “Remember my slice.” She eyed the one remaining box and padded out of the kitchen.

The Pack of Devils were now all in human form—save for Zelda—pizza boxes balanced on knees or spread on the worn blue rug. Bronson was indeed swigging from the ceramic jug of mead, his brown eyes fixed on the nightly news broadcast. The news about Briggs’s release—along with grainy footage of the human male being escorted out of the jail complex in a white jumpsuit—began blasting. Whoever held the remote quickly changed the channel to a documentary on the Black River delta.

Nathalie gave Bryce a shit-eating grin as she strode for her
bedroom door at the opposite end of the living room. Oh, Bryce wouldn’t live down that little tidbit about Reid’s performance in the bedroom anytime soon. Especially when Nathalie was sure to make it a reflection on Bryce’s skills.

“Don’t even start,” Bryce warned her. Nathalie clamped her lips together, like she could hardly keep the howl of wicked amusement contained. Her sleek black hair seemed to quiver with the effort of holding in her laughter, her onyx eyes near-glowing.

Bryce pointedly ignored Connor’s heavy golden stare as he tracked her across the space.

Wolves. Gods-damned wolves shoving their noses into her business.

There would never be any mistaking them for humans, though their forms were nearly identical. Too tall, too muscled, too still. Even the way they tore into their pizzas, each movement deliberate and graceful, was a silent reminder of what they could do to anyone who crossed them.

Bryce walked over Zach’s sprawled, long legs, and carefully avoided stepping on Zelda’s snow-white tail, where she lay on the floor beside her brother. The twin white wolves, both slender and dark-haired in human form, were utterly terrifying when they shifted.
The Ghosts
—the whispered nickname followed them everywhere.

So, yeah. Bryce tried really hard not to step on Zelda’s fluffy tail.

Thorne, at least, threw Bryce a sympathetic smile from where he sat in the half-rotted leather armchair near the television, his CCU sunball hat turned backward. He was the only other person in the apartment who understood how meddlesome the pack could be. And who cared as much about Danika’s moods. About Sabine’s ruthlessness.

It was a long shot for an Omega like Thorne to ever be noticed by an Alpha like Danika. Not that Thorne had ever so much as hinted at it to any of them. But Bryce saw it—the gravitational pull that seemed to happen whenever Danika and Thorne were in a room together, like they were two stars orbiting each other.

Mercifully, Bryce reached her bedroom without any comments
regarding her sort-of boyfriend’s prowess, and shut the door behind her firmly enough to tell them all to fuck off.

She made it three steps toward her sagging green dresser before laughter barked through the apartment. It was silenced a moment later by a vicious, not-quite-human snarl. Deep and rumbling and utterly lethal.

Not Danika’s snarl, which was like death incarnate, soft and husky and cold. This was Connor’s. Full of heat and temper and feeling.

Bryce showered off the dust and grime that seemed to coat her whenever she made the fifteen-block walk between the apartment and the slim sandstone building that Griffin Antiquities occupied.

A few carefully placed pins erased the end-of-day limpness that usually plagued her heavy sheet of wine-red hair, and she hastily applied a fresh coat of mascara to bring some life back into her amber eyes. From shower to sliding on her black stiletto heels, it was a grand total of twenty minutes.

Proof, she realized, of how little she really cared about this date. She spent a gods-damned
hour
on her hair and makeup every morning. Not counting the thirty-minute shower to get herself gleaming, shaved, and moisturized. But twenty minutes? For dinner at the Pearl and Rose?

Yeah, Danika had a point. And Bryce knew the bitch was watching the clock, and would probably ask if the short prep time was reflective of how long, exactly, Reid could keep it going.

Bryce glared in the direction of the wolves beyond the door of her cozy bedroom before surveying the quiet haven around her. Every wall was bedecked in posters of legendary performances at the Crescent City Ballet. Once, she’d imagined herself up there among the lithe Vanir, exploding across the stage in turn after turn, or making audiences weep with an agonizing death scene. Once, she’d imagined there might be a spot for a half-human female on that stage.

Even being told, over and over, that she had the
wrong body type
hadn’t stopped her from loving to dance. Hadn’t stopped that heady rush seeing a dance performed live, or her taking amateur classes
after work, or her following CCB’s dancers the way Connor, Ithan, and Thorne followed sports teams. Nothing could ever stop her from craving that soaring sensation she found when she was dancing, whether in class or at a club or even on the gods-damned street.

Juniper, at least, hadn’t been deterred. Had decided that she was in it for the long haul, that a faun
would
defy the odds and grace a stage built for Fae and nymphs and sylphs—and leave them all in her dust. She’d done it, too.

Bryce loosed a long sigh. Time to go. It was a twenty-minute walk to the Pearl and Rose, and in these heels, it’d take her twenty-five. No point in getting a taxi during the chaos and congestion of Thursday night in the Old Square when the car would just
sit
there.

She stabbed pearl studs into her ears, hoping half-heartedly that they’d add some class to what might be considered a somewhat scandalous dress. But she was twenty-three, and she might as well enjoy her generously curved figure. She gave her gold-dusted legs a little smile as she twisted in front of the full-length mirror propped against the wall to admire the slope of her ass in the skintight gray dress, the hint of text from that still-sore new tattoo peeking over the plunging back, before she stepped into the living room again.

Danika let out a wicked laugh that rumbled over the nature show the wolves were watching. “I bet fifty silver marks the bouncers don’t let you through the doors looking like that.”

Bryce flipped off her friend as the pack chuckled. “I’m sorry if I make you feel self-conscious about your bony ass, Danika.”

Thorne barked a laugh. “At least Danika makes up for it with her winning personality.”

Bryce smirked at the handsome Omega. “That must explain why I have a date and she hasn’t been on one in … what’s it now? Three years?”

Thorne winked, his blue eyes sliding toward Danika’s scowling face. “Must be why.”

Danika slouched in her chair and propped her bare feet on the coffee table. Each toenail was painted a different color. “It’s only been two years,” she muttered. “Assholes.”

Bryce patted Danika’s silken head as she passed. Danika nipped at her fingers, teeth flashing.

Bryce chuckled, entering the narrow kitchen. She pawed through the upper cabinets, glass rattling as she searched for the—

Ah. The gin.

She knocked back a shot. Then another.

“Rough night ahead?” Connor asked from where he leaned against the kitchen doorway, arms crossed over his muscular chest.

A drop of gin had landed on her chin. Bryce narrowly avoided wiping the sin-red lipstick off her mouth with the back of her wrist and instead opted for patting it away with a leftover napkin from the pizza place. Like a proper person.

That color should be called Blow Job Red
, Danika had said the first time Bryce had worn it.
Because that’s all any male will think about when you wear it
. Indeed, Connor’s eyes had dipped right to her lips. So Bryce said as nonchalantly as she could, “You know I like to enjoy my Thursday nights. Why not kick it off early?”

She balanced on her toes as she put the gin back in the upper cupboard, the hem of her dress rising precariously high. Connor studied the ceiling as if it were immensely interesting, his gaze only snapping to hers as she settled on her feet again. In the other room, someone turned the volume on the television up to an apartment-rattling level.

Thank you, Danika.

Even wolf hearing couldn’t sort through that cacophony to eavesdrop.

Connor’s sensuous mouth twitched upward, but he remained in the doorway.

Bryce swallowed, wondering how gross it would be to chase away the burn of the gin with the beer she’d left warming on the counter.

Connor said, “Look. We’ve known each other a while …”

“Is this a rehearsed speech?”

He straightened, color staining his cheeks. The Second in the Pack of Devils, the most feared and lethal of all the Auxiliary units, was
blushing
. “No.”

“That sounded like a rehearsed introduction to me.”

“Can you let me ask you out, or do I need to get into a fight with you about my phrasing first?”

She snorted, but her guts twisted. “I don’t date wolves.”

Connor threw her a cocky grin. “Make an exception.”

“No.” But she smiled slightly.

Connor merely said with the unwavering arrogance that only an immortal predator could achieve, “You want me. I want you. It’s been that way for a while, and playing with these human males hasn’t done a damn thing to make you forget that, has it?”

No, it hadn’t. But she said, her voice mercifully calm despite her thundering heart, “Connor, I’m not going out with you. Danika is bossy enough. I don’t need another wolf, especially a
male
wolf, trying to run my life. I don’t need any more Vanir shoving into my business.”

His golden eyes dimmed. “I’m not your father.”

He didn’t mean Randall.

She shoved off the counter, marching toward him. And the apartment door beyond. She was going to be late. “That has nothing to do with this—with you. My answer is no.”

Connor didn’t move, and she halted mere inches away. Even in heels, even though she fell on the taller side of average height, he towered over her. Dominated the entire space just by breathing.

Like any alphahole would. Like what her Fae father had done to nineteen-year-old Ember Quinlan, when he’d pursued her, seduced her, tried to keep her, and gone so far into possessive territory that the moment Ember had realized she was carrying his child—carrying
Bryce
—she ran before he could scent it and lock her up in his villa in FiRo until she grew too old to interest him.

Which was something Bryce didn’t let herself consider. Not after the blood tests had been done and she’d walked out of the medwitch’s office knowing that she’d taken after her Fae father in more ways than the red hair and pointed ears.

She would have to bury her mother one day, bury Randall, too. Which was utterly expected, if you were a human. But the fact that she’d go on living for a few more centuries, with only photos and
videos to remind her of their voices and faces, made her stomach twist.

She should have had a third shot of gin.

Connor remained unmoving in the doorway. “One date won’t send me into a territorial hissy fit. It doesn’t even have to be a date. Just … pizza,” he finished, glancing at the stacked boxes.

“You and I go out plenty.” They did—on nights when Danika was called in to meet with Sabine or the other Aux commanders, he often brought over food, or he met up with her at one of the many restaurants lining the apartment’s lively block. “If it’s not a date, then how is it different?”

“It’d be a trial run. For a date,” Connor said through his teeth.

She lifted a brow. “A date to decide if I want to date you?”

“You’re impossible.” He pushed off the doorjamb. “See you later.”

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