Yield the Night by Annette Marie


  Piper beamed up at him.

  He kept his eyes on Walter, dark irises searing the Gaian leader.

  Walter straightened sharply. “You may fancy yourself her rescuer, but—”

  Breaking off mid-sentence, Walter plunged a hand into his jacket and whipped out a gun, finger already on the trigger. Ash didn’t even move. His punch of magic smashed into Walter, knocking him off the dais. The gun flew out of his hand.

  With a dismissive glance at the fallen man, Ash stepped in front of Piper. His gaze swept over her face before locking on her eyes. He slid his hands lightly down her arm. With a tickle of magic, the bindings holding her to the chair disappeared. As soon as she was free, she clumsily raised her arms toward him. He gently scooped her out of the chair, lifting her effortlessly into his arms as he turned. Beyond him, people were stampeding out of the room through the double doors.

  “You can’t have her.” Mona’s voice shook as she stepped in front of him. “She doesn’t belong to you.”

  “Nor does she belong to you.”

  “You can’t—”

  “Oh come on,” Lyre said, appearing behind Mona, making her start violently. He’d crossed the room unnoticed by the Council. “You think you have a claim to Piper? You kidnapped her. Now that’s motherly love.”

  “She belongs with—”

  “With whoever she wants to be with. Now get out of the way.” He gave another flick of his hand and his spell knocked her on her butt.

  Ash strode off the dais with Piper cradled in his arms. Most of the room had emptied, but before he could take more than a few steps, the doors banged open again. A squad of men in black uniforms rushed in, armed with short assault rifles.

  Shimmers coated Lyre’s body as he pivoted. His glamour vanished, one hand already pulling an arrow from the quiver hanging on his shoulder. He smoothly nocked it before letting the arrow fly. In a blink, he had a second arrow nocked. He drew the dark fletching to his cheek and loosed it.

  Each arrow pierced a soldier’s shoulder, pinning them to either side of the doorframe.

  The rest of the squad stopped dead, their attention torn between the writhing men pinned to the threshold and Lyre’s mesmerizing daemon form. The incubus drew a third arrow, and in a flash he fired it. It hit the top of the doorframe. The arrow glowed bright gold—then exploded. The doorframe collapsed in a rain of plaster and concrete.

  “Zwi, lights,” Ash said.

  The lights went out, plunging the room into total blackness but for the dim glimmer coming off the windows of the nearest skyscrapers.

  Unfazed by the darkness, Ash strode toward the wall of windows. The air crackled ominously, and then there was a boom of sound, a shocking explosion of power, and the shattering of glass. A cold wind swept inside the room through the smashed windows.

  He stepped onto the ledge, a twenty-five-story drop just inches away. Lyre hopped up beside him, back in glamour, with the wind whipping his hair across his eyes. Zwi flew out of the darkness and landed on his shoulder.

  A sudden flash of light illuminated the room.

  “Stop!”

  The two daemons glanced back as Mona ran toward them, a light spell in her hand.

  “You can’t have her!” Mona shouted. “She belongs with us!”

  Ash looked down at Piper. She smiled. He turned to Lyre and they clasped hands. Together, they sprang into empty space and silent night.

  CHAPTER 7

  FLYING was cold. She absorbed little of the journey—flashes of buildings, dizzying drops to the pavement—and did her best to burrow into Ash’s chest. His arms were like iron around her, warm and strong. Fear didn’t touch her, even as they swooped through the city. Lyre, bent low on Zwi’s back, followed along just behind, the dragon’s wings beating almost lazily.

  Time disappeared again, returning when Ash’s wings flared wide and a building was suddenly rushing toward them. She hid her face against his shoulder as he slowed and landed lightly on the balcony railing of a top floor apartment. He jumped down and slid the door open, still holding her. Warm air rushed out.

  Zwi swooped up to the balcony and grabbed the railing with her front talons. The metal creaked. With more agility than any human possessed, Lyre half slid, half sprang onto the balcony. In a rush of black fire, Zwi transformed into her cat-sized dragonet form and zipped through the balcony door ahead of them. Ash, still holding Piper, followed, and Lyre quickly shut the door once they were inside.

  The tiny bachelor apartment contained nothing but a bed, table, kitchenette, and a drooping armchair with a tattered floor lamp beside it. Ash crossed the dark room in a couple of steps and gently lowered her onto the bed. She sank into the soft blankets, sighing. The cold had blown away some of the fog in her head but her thoughts were still fuzzy and distant. Carefully, she sat up, feeling clumsy and numb as Ash circled the room, trailing one hand over the dingy walls. Magic electrified the air; he was casting some sort of ward.

  His wings flexed, unfurling then tightening against his back as he moved. His tail seemed to drift behind him, never quite touching the floor. She watched him, awe sliding through her muzzy brain. She’d never been able to really look at him without his glamour before. Either the draconian Nightmare Effect caused her too much terror, or they’d been busy fighting for their lives.

  Thanks to the drugs, the Nightmare Effect didn’t seem to be working and she stared without reservation. His movements were all power and grace. The shadows in the room welcomed him, absorbing his form even when she swore the darkness wasn’t deep enough to hide him. He completed his circle and shimmers swept over him. Once they faded, he was back in glamour. He pulled the dark wrap off his face as he turned toward her.

  “Brrr,” Lyre said with an exaggerated shiver. He plopped down on the bed beside Piper as Ash joined them. “How are you doing, Piper?”

  Ash knelt on the floor, between her knees, and peered into her eyes. “Are you hurt, Piper?”

  She smiled and reached out, sliding both hands through his hair. He gently took her wrists and pulled her hands down. “I need to know if you’re hurt.”

  It took her a moment to get a sound out. Her “no” came out as “nnnnn.”

  Lyre tried to swallow a laugh and choked. “Wow, she is stoned.”

  Not accepting her mumbles as a real answer, Ash ran his hands over her arms and legs, checking for injuries. Finding nothing but bruises from her fights, he sat back on his heels and studied her.

  “Well, I doubt we’ll find out what the hell happened until the drugs wear off.”

  “We should let her sleep it off,” Lyre said.

  Ash agreed. Lifting her ankle, he tugged her boot off. She watched as he pulled off the other. Lyre worked the blankets out from under her and fluffed the pillow. He glanced at her and paused.

  “What are you so smiley about?”

  She smiled wider.

  “So stoned.”

  She giggled a little. When Lyre tried to nudge her onto her back, she grabbed his arm and pulled him down with her. He tipped over and landed beside her, eyebrows high. Before Ash could escape, she caught his arm, pulling him half onto the bed too.

  He grunted. “The drugs aren’t affecting her strength.”

  Lyre stretched out casually beside her. “She wants us next to her. Let her have it, Ash.”

  He scowled.

  Lyre gave him a stern look. “Her home was destroyed, people she knew were killed, and then she was kidnapped and held prisoner by her own mother. She wants to feel safe. Get in the damn bed.”

  Ash sighed. He kicked off his boots and unbuckled his weapons and armor, dropping them on the floor, then he lay across the bed on her other side. She snuggled against him, still holding on to one of Lyre’s arms. She quite possibly had never been so happy and content in her life. They were so warm. So close. Her two daemons.

  Exhaustion slid through her, the mist returning, coaxing her into oblivion. In the darkness, Ash’s hand closed around hers, warm and
gentle. Her lips curved into a little smile as she slipped into silent sleep.

  . . .

  Her eyes flew open.

  Her momentary panic vanished as her brain caught up with reality and she recognized the warmth of the two bodies on either side of her—Ash and Lyre. Ash was fast asleep on his back, one arm hanging off the edge of the bed. Lyre had snuggled up against her side, his breath warm on her neck, his arm heavy across her middle.

  Amazement filtered through the evaporating haze of sleep. Her gaze wandered around the dark, unfamiliar room. Ash’s apartment. Well, one of them. He probably had dozens of them scattered in the various cities he frequented—hideaways and refuges.

  Ugh. Her head was splitting, dampening her elation. Ignoring the ache as best she could, she turned to look at the dark shape of Ash’s face beside hers. Her rescue hadn’t been a hallucination. Though that meant the rest had also happened. She battled the pain of her mother’s betrayal until she had stuffed it down for later analysis.

  A quiet sound—the same sound that had woken her, she realized. She looked over and saw Zwi crouched on the back of the armchair, growling very softly. Piper tensed with alarm before she saw that Zwi’s attention was locked on the lampshade. Lights from beyond the window were flickering on the shade, dancing enticingly across it.

  Zwi crouched a little lower, her tail lashing from side to side like a cat’s. She wiggled her rump in preparation. Realizing what the dragonet was planning, Piper opened her mouth to protest, but Zwi was already in motion, leaping off the chair to pounce on the hapless lampshade. The lamp hit the floor with a shocking crash.

  Ash bolted upright—and his glamour vanished in a flash of unfurling wings. He lurched forward, his claws tearing through the mattress an inch from Piper’s side.

  He lunged off the bed. Terror hit her like a battering ram. Lyre’s hand suddenly closed over her mouth, muffling her gasp. She held perfectly still and tried to keep her breathing even.

  Ash sprang into the center of the room, wings flared and tail snapping back and forth. He stopped almost as quickly as he’d exploded out of the bed. Zwi cowered beside the shattered lamp, wings clamped against her body and tail curled around her feet. He didn’t move, maybe assessing the room for danger, maybe fighting for control.

  Seconds dragged on before Ash finally folded his wings and straightened. His form shimmered as he slipped back into his glamour.

  Fear churned inside her. She glanced at Lyre, meeting his anxious stare.

  Ash’s reaction wasn’t right. He shouldn’t have lost his glamour like that. His violent lunge out of bed could have seriously injured Piper. It wasn’t like him at all to lose control. Lyre and Miysis had both claimed that Ash had the best control of any daemon they knew, and he could shade or drop glamour without losing his head the way other daemons did. But that was before he’d been tortured for weeks. Maybe Ash wasn’t as okay as he’d appeared when they’d last parted.

  Swallowing hard, she peeked at him again as he reached down to gently scoop Zwi off the floor. The dragonet buried her head in the crook of his elbow, mewling softly. Lyre gave Piper a little squeeze to catch her attention. He pointedly closed his eyes and relaxed his body. She did the same, though she wasn’t sure how convincingly she could feign sleep with apprehension spinning in her mind.

  Several minutes passed before she heard Ash move. He crossed the room and the corner of the bed dipped as he sat as far from her as possible. He didn’t lie down.

  Piper took a deep breath and opened her eyes, letting a yawn crack her jaw. She stretched in a hopefully convincing way and pushed her bangs off her face. When he glanced over, she gave him a small smile.

  “Hey,” she murmured.

  Lyre stretched too, huffing out a sigh. Then his arms wound around her, pulling her close as he nuzzled her cheek. “Good morning, beautiful.”

  “Lyre,” she complained, wiggling free and scooching away, purposefully moving closer to Ash so he wasn’t all by himself in the corner. She pulled the blankets across her lap and glanced at him. He stared out the balcony doors, his expression unreadable. Zwi poked her nose out from under his arm and blinked at Piper.

  She frowned slightly as she studied him, puzzling over what was different about his appearance. Then she realized what it was: a strip of blue material had replaced the strip of red silk normally braided into his hair. It was the piece of her shirt she’d given him after the battle against Samael before he’d gone underground. The fabric wasn’t long enough for an end to hang down and was merely a flash of color in his dark, wine-red hair, but she had to bite her inner cheeks against a swell of emotion.

  Lyre sat up, propping his back against the wall. “How are you feeling, Piper?”

  Snapping back to the present, she pressed a hand to her throbbing head. “Like I have the worst hangover in history but otherwise, I’m fine. Not in la-la-land anymore.”

  “Good,” Lyre said, suddenly intent. “Now, let’s hear it. What in the Nine Circles were you doing with a bunch of Gaians?”

  Ash focused on her too, turning toward her as he idly stroked Zwi’s mane.

  She glanced between them. “Shouldn’t your first question be, ‘Why aren’t you a burnt corpse in the rubble of the Consulate’?”

  “We already know that part,” Lyre said.

  Her brow furrowed. “How?”

  “Kindra told us.”

  “Kindra? She got shot.”

  “She did,” Lyre said with a nod. “But she’s fast with her shields. She was only stunned.”

  “Seriously?” Relief swept through her, followed by annoyance. All that grief and guilt, and Kindra had been fine all along. “How did you find her?”

  “She found us when we went to the Consulate to search for clues.”

  “About where I was?”

  “No,” Ash interjected darkly. “About who was responsible for killing you.”

  She studied him but he looked back impartially, not betraying his emotions. Maybe she had been a little hasty in imagining his anguish over her supposed demise.

  She cleared her throat. “So Kindra found you guys and told you I was alive?”

  “Yep,” Lyre said cheerfully.

  “And then?”

  “Then what?”

  “How did you find me?”

  “Ah. Well, about that.” He looked at Ash.

  Ash was silent for a moment, then reached over and gave the leather band around her wrist a tug. “I followed this.”

  She looked at the band. “This?”

  He nodded.

  Her eyes widened. “You put a tracking spell on it?”

  He rolled his eyes toward the ceiling, avoiding her stare. “Just a precaution. I needed a way to find you if Samael captured you again.”

  “You’ve been tracking me for two months?”

  Lyre smirked. “Some women think it’s sexy when a hot man stalks them.”

  Piper shot him a frosty glare.

  “It only works within a three mile radius,” Ash said, clearly unapologetic.

  She twisted the band around her wrist. Good thing she hadn’t taken it off. On the other hand ... “Why didn’t you tell me?”

  “I didn’t have the chance.”

  She grumbled under her breath, unable to argue with that. He’d left in a hurry last time, since he’d been making off with the Sahar from right under Miysis’s nose.

  “So fill us in,” he said. “What did the Gaians want with you?”

  She exhaled forcefully and raised her hands in a half shrug. “They want to tear down the Consulate system and build a new one to control and police daemons. And they want me to spearhead it.”

  Ash and Lyre stared at her with identical incredulous expressions.

  Ash recovered first. “Well, shit.”

  “Not what I was expecting,” Lyre said.

  “I know, right?” She shook her head. “It was insane. They gave me the option to join them willingly or be sent home, but when I turned them d
own, they drugged me and tried to unseal my magic.”

  Ash’s eyes widened in alarm and swept over her from head to toe. “Did they do it?”

  Fear rippled through her. “Um. I’m not sure. Helaine—that crazy old lady—claimed she did, but I don’t feel any different.” She stared at her hands, opening and closing her fingers.

  “Try to cast a spell,” Ash suggested.

  She gave him a long look. “And how would I do that? You might as well ask me to speak Spanish.”

  “Simple magic is instinctive.” He pointed at a box of crackers sitting on the kitchen counter a dozen steps away. “Try to knock it over.”

  “How?”

  “Just concentrate and gesture.”

  Feeling foolish, she squinted at the box and made a slapping motion. Nothing happened.

  “That was lame,” Lyre said. “Try harder.”

  Growling, she made a second attempt. Again, nothing. Magic had come easy with the Sahar once she’d tapped into it. She’d felt its power inside her, waiting to be directed. But she didn’t feel a thing out of the ordinary now.

  “It didn’t work. I don’t feel any different. That old lady was a crackpot.”

  Ash frowned at her. “Maybe you’re right. I don’t see how a haemon could undo a binding like that.”

  “Not that I’m arguing, but why not?”

  He shrugged. “You have to be able to see what you’re doing.”

  “Haemons can’t see magic,” Lyre added, “so they’re limited to spells they can reconcile with something physical, like push spells, fire, bindings, that kind of thing. Really good haemons can learn simpler wards but most can’t. Why the hell would the Gaians want to unseal your magic anyway? Wouldn’t that kill you?”

  “That’s why I said no, but because of some old documents claiming other hybrid haemons survived their magic, they’re convinced I’d be just fine.” She quickly outlined the Gaians’ plans for her and her magic.

  “That’s just ...” Ash pushed his hair away from his eyes. “I can’t believe the Gaians are behind the Consulate attacks.”

 
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