There was a wolf at the gallery door.
Which meant it must be Thursday, which meant Bryce had to be really gods-damned tired if she relied on Danika’s comings and goings to figure out what day it was.
The heavy metal door to Griffin Antiquities thudded with the impact of the wolf’s fist – a fist that Bryce knew ended in metallic-purple painted nails in dire need of a manicure. A heartbeat later, a female voice barked, half-muffled through the steel, “Open the Hel up, B. It’s hot as shit out here!”
Seated at the desk in the modest gallery showroom, Bryce smirked and pulled up the front door’s video feed. Tucking a strand of her wine-red hair behind a pointed ear, she asked into the intercom, “Why are you covered in dirt? You look like you’ve been rootling through the garbage.”
“What the fuck does rootling mean?” Danika hopped from foot to foot, sweat gleaming on her brow. She wiped at it with a filthy hand, smearing the black liquid splattered there.
“You’d know if you ever picked up a book, Danika.” Glad for the break in what had been a morning of tedious research, Bryce smiled as she rose from the desk. With no exterior windows, the gallery’s extensive surveillance equipment served as her only warning of who stood beyond its thick walls. Even with her sharp half-Fae hearing, she couldn’t make out much beyond the iron door save for the occasional banging fist. The building’s unadorned sandstone walls belied the latest tech and grade A spellwork that kept it operational and preserved many of the books in the archives below.
As if merely thinking about the level beneath Bryce’s high heels had summoned her, a little voice asked from behind the six-inch- thick archives door to her left, “Is that Danika?”
“Yes, Lehabah.” Bryce wrapped her hand around the front door’s handle. The enchantments on it hummed against her palm, slithering like smoke over her freckled golden skin. She gritted her teeth and withstood it, still unused to the sensation even after a year of working at the gallery.
From the other side of the deceptively simple metal door to the archives, Lehabah warned, “Jesiba doesn’t like her in here.”
“You don’t like her in here,” Bryce amended, her amber eyes narrowing toward the archives door and the tiny fire sprite she knew was hovering just on the other side, eavesdropping as she always did whenever someone stood out front. “Go back to work.”
Lehabah didn’t answer, presumably drifting back downstairs to guard the books below. Rolling her eyes, Bryce yanked open the front door, getting a face full of heat so dry it threatened to suck the life from her. And summer had only just begun.
Danika didn’t just look like she’d been rootling through the garbage. She smelled like it, too.
Wisps of her silvery blond hair – normally a straight, silken sheet – curled from her tight, long braid, the streaks of amethyst, sapphire, and rose splattered with some dark, oily substance that reeked of metal and ammonia.
“Took you long enough,” Danika groused, and swaggered into the gallery, the sword strapped at her back bobbing with each step. Her braid had become tangled in its worn leather hilt, and as she stopped before the desk, Bryce took the liberty of prying the plait free.
She’d barely untangled it before Danika’s slim fingers were unbuckling the straps that kept the sword sheathed across her worn – leather motorcycle jacket. “I need to dump this here for a few hours,” she said, pulling the sword off her back and aiming for the supply closet hidden behind a wooden panel across the showroom.
Bryce leaned against the lip of the desk and crossed her arms, fingers brushing against the stretchy black fabric of her skintight dress. “Your gym bag’s already stinking up the place. Jesiba’s due back later this afternoon – she’ll throw your shit in the dumpster again if it’s still here.”
It was the mildest Hel Jesiba Roga could unleash if provoked.
A four-hundred-year-old enchantress who’d been born a witch and defected, Jesiba had joined the House of Flame and Shadow and now answered only to the Under-King himself. Flame and Shadow suited her well – she possessed an arsenal of spells to rival any sorcerer or necromancer in the darkest of the Houses. She’d been known to change people into animals when irritated enough. Bryce had never dared ask if the small animals in the dozen tanks and terrariums had always been animals.
And Bryce tried never to irritate her. Not that there were any safe sides when the Vanir were involved. Even the least powerful of the Vanir – a group that covered every being on Midgard aside from humans and ordinary animals – could be deadly.
“I’ll get it later,” Danika promised, pushing on the hidden panel to spring it open. Bryce had warned her three times now that the showroom supply closet wasn’t her personal locker. Yet Danika always countered that the gallery, located in the heart of the Old Square, was more centrally located than the wolves’ Den over in Moonwood. And that was that.
The supply closet opened, and Danika waved a hand in front of her face. “My gym bag’s stinking up the place?” With a black boot, she toed the sagging duffel that held Bryce’s dance gear, currently wedged between the mop and bucket. “When the fuck did you last wash those clothes?”
Bryce wrinkled her nose at the reek of old shoes and sweaty clothing that wafted out. Right – she’d forgotten to bring home the leotard and tights to wash after a lunchtime class two days ago. Mostly thanks to Danika sending her a video of a heap of mirthroot on their kitchen counter, music already blasting from the beat-up boom box by the windows, along with a command to hurry home quick. Bryce had obeyed. They’d smoked enough that there was a good chance Bryce had still been high yesterday morning when she’d stumbled into work.
There was really no other explanation for why it had taken ten minutes to type out a two-sentence email that day. Letter by letter. “Never mind that,” Bryce said. “I have a bone to pick with you.”
Danika rearranged the crap in the closet to make space for her own. “I told you I was sorry I ate your leftover noodles. I’ll buy you more tonight.”
“It’s not that, dumbass, though again: fuck you. That was my lunch for today.” Danika chuckled. “This tattoo hurts like Hel,” Bryce complained. “I can’t even lean against my chair.”
Excerpted with permission from House of Earth and Blood, Sarah J Maas, Bloomsbury.
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