Yield the Night by Annette Marie


  “No kidding,” Lyre said. “I never expected those bunglers to escalate to this.”

  She twisted the leather band around her wrist. “It’ll be difficult to stop them. They have chapters everywhere. I wish I remembered more of Walter’s speech.” Her head had been so fuzzy with drugs that she could only recall bits and pieces of his long monologue.

  “I wonder if there is something else at work here,” Ash said, tapping one finger on his knee. “Why the sudden shift in methods? They were never this deliberate—or effective—before.”

  “Speaking of suspicious stuff,” she said, nervousness swooping through her belly. “I ran into a daemon masquerading as a Gaian ... a reaper.”

  Ash and Lyre both snapped to attention.

  “How do you know he was a reaper?” Ash demanded.

  “He teleported to stop me from escaping. The Gaians don’t have any idea that he’s not a haemon. I didn’t recognize him as a daemon either until I saw him teleport.”

  Ash swore. “Samael must know your mother is a Gaian.”

  “That’s what I figured.”

  Ash stood abruptly. “We need to leave. The reaper has no doubt already informed Samael that we’re here. We should have immediately left the city.”

  “I—I guess I should have mentioned it first ...” She trailed off as Ash picked up his gear off the floor and strode over to the table, his back to her. She quashed a surge of guilt.

  Lyre patted her arm. “Don’t worry. How were you supposed to tell us while you were drugged to the gills? It’s only been a few hours. The city won’t be swarming with assassins yet.”

  She hoped he was right. A thought popped into her head and she leaned closer to him, lowering her voice. “What about that note—”

  He slashed a hand through the air, his eyes darting toward Ash. “Not now,” he mouthed silently.

  Eyes widening, she nodded. Ash must not know about it, and Lyre wanted to keep it that way. But why?

  Vowing to get answers out of him later, she rubbed her aching forehead. “So ... what now?”

  “We get our asses back to Brinford. Seiya is waiting for us, and we need to figure out where your father is.”

  She nodded again, trying to ignore the painful twinge in her chest. Ash, Lyre, and Seiya were all together, but Piper would be handed straight back to her father for safekeeping, no longer part of the daemon trio. She was the magic-less haemon, after all. She bit her lip as she thought of Kaylee, deliriously happy with her new family, part of a group, and always belonging.

  Sliding off the bed, she shook off her mood; they had more important things to worry about, like getting out of the city alive.

  They got ready in record time. When she emerged from the bathroom, both daemons were standing by the balcony doors, waiting. Ash was back in full gear, his black wrap hiding the lower half of his face. Her heart pounded as she approached. It wasn’t fair. She should have been intimidated—he looked downright menacing—but that wasn’t why her heart was pounding. Her mind conveniently called up a vivid memory of her sitting in his lap, running her hands over his chest while he kissed her.

  Slamming the door shut on that train of thought, she stopped in front of them, trying not to blush. She felt as if Lyre could read the inappropriate thoughts on her face. Ash slid the glass door open and cool air whooshed in. She shivered and followed Lyre onto the balcony. The twenty-story drop halted her one step out.

  Ash, walking right behind her, bumped into her back. Mumbling an apology, she stepped sideways to clear the doorway, not wanting to move any closer to the edge. Zwi bounded out of the apartment and jumped onto the railing, wings half spread and tail lashing from side to side. Ash closed the door and warded it. Wide-eyed, she gazed at the expanse of darkness between her and the dimly lit street below.

  Ash glanced at her. “Piper?”

  “Huh?”

  “Don’t look down.”

  She tore her gaze away. “I’m good. I’m fine.”

  “Uh huh. You can ride on Zwi with Lyre, but she can’t transform on the balcony. I’ll take off with you, then transfer you to Zwi in the air.”

  “In the air?” she repeated. It came out in a squeak.

  He took her elbow and guided her in front of him, her back to the railing. She stared at him as he pulled her arms around his neck.

  “When I drop my glamour,” he said, “you can hold my baldric.”

  Panic swooped through her. “You’re not going to hold on to me? What if I slip and—”

  He wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her against him. She squeaked again.

  “Of course I’m going to hold on to you. But you’ll want to hold on to me too.”

  “In other words,” Lyre said with a grin, moving to stand beside them, “he doesn’t want you strangling him with a death grip on his neck.”

  “Oh.”

  Her heart rate kicked up as Ash hitched her up off her feet and she hooked her legs over his thighs for a second holding point. Fear of what was coming battled her untimely enjoyment of their proximity, as well as her embarrassment that Lyre was watching. Why couldn’t she be drugged again?

  Ash closed his other arm around her and his body shimmered. She gasped as her skin tingled wherever she was touching him. The armored vest under her hands morphed into warm black scales that protected his shoulders. She slid her hands down a little and found the strap of the sword buckled across his back. Gripping it tightly, she watched his wings unfurl. Oh God. She never realized how scared of heights she was—or that she was scared of heights at all—until this moment.

  His knees bent and he jumped. She let out a brief scream but cut it short when he landed on the railing instead of plunging them into the deep darkness.

  “Ow,” he said. His daemon voice made her shudder.

  She’d screamed in his ear. Oops. “Sorry.”

  His arm tightened a little more, nearly crushing her lungs, but it wasn’t tight enough.

  “I won’t drop you,” he murmured. “And even if I did, I could catch you before you hit the ground.”

  “You could?”

  “Yes. But I won’t let you fall.”

  Lyre climbed onto the railing and sat on it with his feet dangling over the twenty stories of empty air.

  She looked at him with wide eyes. “What are you doing? You don’t have wings.”

  “Nope,” he agreed. “I’ll be good though. Zwi’s got my back.”

  On his other side, Zwi chirped affirmatively and ruffled her mane with self-importance.

  “Ready?” Ash asked. Piper tightened her arms and legs around him, trying not to hyperventilate. Her breathing rate doubled when he removed one arm to clasp hands with Lyre.

  “Ready,” Lyre said.

  Zwi chirped again and dove off the balcony.

  Ash jumped.

  Piper clenched her teeth against a scream as he shot out over nothingness, pulling Lyre off the balcony with him. His wings snapped wide, catching the wind. At the same time, black fire exploded just below them as Zwi transformed, her huge wings blotting out the street far below. With almost casual ease, Ash swung Lyre down onto Zwi’s back, where he easily settled as though he’d done this a thousand times.

  Ash’s wings spread wide, locking in a glide as they banked around the apartment building. The movement was so smooth she almost started to calm down. Then she spotted the ground far below and fought another wave of panic.

  “Are you ready?” Ash asked. He spoke in her ear so the wind couldn’t steal his words.

  She shook her head.

  “It’ll be fine, Piper,” Lyre called up from five feet below. “It’s easy.”

  She clutched Ash harder.

  “Don’t worry about it,” Ash called back. “I’ll carry her until we’re out of the city where we can land.”

  Relieved, Piper buried her face against his warm neck so she wouldn’t have to see the distance to the ground. They glided for a long time with only occasional beats of his w
ings to guide them from updraft to updraft. She saw little of the city as they passed through downtown and over a stretch of rundown residential streets. At best, she could manage a couple of seconds of the view before closing her eyes again.

  By the time Ash started to descend, her arms were aching from her tight hold on him and she was frozen through. Treetops flashed by, only a dozen feet beneath them. Ash glided above the forest, slowly losing speed. Zwi trailed behind him. Suddenly, his wings flared, pulling them up short. They plunged into the trees through a gap she hadn’t seen. She swallowed a frightened cry as they dropped like a rock but his wings snapped open as the ground rushed upward. It felt like getting sucked upward as they drastically slowed, and then they were on the ground.

  Zwi landed seconds later, trotting a few steps as she folded her large wings. She made a rumbling sound deep in her throat as Lyre rubbed her neck.

  Ash’s wings folded neatly against his back and his arms loosened. She took a deep breath and unclamped her legs. Her muscles complained about the change in position and she immediately staggered back a step. As her gaze swept across him cloaked in the forest shadows, the Nightmare Effect hit her in full force.

  Her knees buckled. By the time her butt hit the ground, his glamour was back in place. He didn’t quite meet her eyes as he offered her a hand up. She huffed as he pulled her to her feet. She’d gone the whole flight without it affecting her but once they’d landed ... Maybe she’d been too busy being afraid of falling to her death to be afraid of him?

  “Where are we?” she asked, glancing at their surroundings. It was an unremarkable forest clearing.

  “Just outside Fairglen. Brinford is a couple hours away to the west.”

  “Fairglen,” she repeated. It was one of four cities that neighbored Brinford.

  Ash gestured Zwi over. Piper let him lift her onto the dragon’s back in front of Lyre. Zwi’s body heat radiated off her scales, warming Piper’s chilled skin. She wound her hands into Zwi’s silky mane as Lyre reached around her to take a firm grip as well.

  Ash stepped back. His body shimmered as his glamour fell away. Terror crushed her lungs. She gripped Zwi’s mane as she fought it. He glanced at her, then turned away to face the opening in the dark canopy of leaves. His wings spread and he sprang into the air. Zwi launched forward, taking three running steps before jumping skyward. They lurched higher with each laborious beat of her wings until they’d cleared the treetops. Ash glided above them, a dozen yards ahead, his dark form almost invisible against the night sky.

  Tears of shame and frustration pricked her eyes. It seemed her immunity to the Nightmare Effect, short of drugs, only worked if there was something more terrifying around to distract her. Which meant she would never get to look upon his true form with clear eyes—or without seeing that shadow of disappointment cross his face every time he saw her fear.

  CHAPTER 8

  ASH, she concluded, liked high places way too much.

  His hideout in Brinford was also downtown and once again in the tallest building around, which made sense. Attackers could only come at him from the lower levels, making defense simpler, and he couldn’t be cornered—not when he could jump out the window.

  The sky was an eerie blue in the pre-dawn twilight. From her vantage point on Zwi’s back, Piper watched as Ash swept around the apartment tower, searching for the right window. Unlike the last one, this building didn’t have balconies. She was still puzzling over how he was planning to land when he swooped straight for a very much closed window and landed on the tiny ledge. He slid the window open and disappeared into the dark room beyond.

  Zwi banked toward the same window and Piper panicked. No way was the dragon fitting through that opening. Before she could do anything more than gasp, the side of the tower was rushing to meet them. Zwi back-winged just before they crashed, and grabbed the windowsill. The talons on her hind feet scraped the outer wall as she clung precariously to the ledge with her head and neck inside the building.

  Ash appeared, reached over Zwi’s neck, and grabbed Piper. She squeaked as he pulled her swiftly inside, plopped her down, and spun back to help Lyre the rest of the way in. As soon as her passengers were inside, Zwi disappeared in a burst of black fire. The tiny dragonet swooped in with a happy chitter, flying straight out of the room and deeper into the apartment.

  “Whew,” Lyre said on an explosive exhalation. “I admit that last part always makes me a bit nervous.”

  “Yeah,” Piper agreed, still catching her breath. Her arms and legs felt like wobbly blocks of ice.

  “Ash. You’re back.”

  Piper turned to see Seiya standing in the doorway. She swallowed a flicker of jealousy; she’d forgotten how beautiful Ash’s younger sister was, though she didn’t understand her resentment. She didn’t usually feel envy around beautiful girls. Seiya’s raven hair was pulled into a high ponytail that hung halfway down her back and her vivid blue eyes, warm with pleasure at seeing her brother, looked huge in her delicate face.

  Those eyes slid over to Piper and noticeably cooled.

  “Piper,” she said. “I’m glad to see you’re okay.”

  Piper blinked, seriously doubting the honesty of Seiya’s words, though she didn’t know why the girl wouldn’t be sincere.

  “Um,” Lyre said in the suddenly uncomfortable silence. “Do I smell food?”

  “I made stew,” Seiya said. “I thought you might be cold when you arrived.”

  Lyre and Ash made a beeline for the door at the word “stew.” Piper followed, glancing around the room. It was set up as an entry/exit point with nothing but stacks of gear along one wall and some weapons leaning in the corner. The main room was almost as barren, a shabby kitchen and living room combo. Ash was already at the stove, serving himself a bowl from the steaming pot. Seiya stood beside him, a dragonet on each shoulder as she murmured to him.

  Lyre spotted Piper standing awkwardly in the middle of the room and prodded her over to a barstool at the counter peninsula. He dished out another bowl and put it in front of her. She dug in immediately.

  “Well, let’s hear it,” Seiya said. “Where were you?”

  “Let her eat first,” Lyre said. “We’re all starving.”

  Seiya scowled. He scowled back. Piper kept eating, ignoring the tension. Lyre and Seiya clearly weren’t budding besties. Overall, that was probably a good thing. The first time Lyre had met Seiya, he’d seemed a little too fascinated with her. She was young and beautiful—the exact type incubi found irresistible. Piper did not want to know what Ash would do if Lyre ever seduced his sister. At best, it would be the end of their friendship. At worst, it would be the end of Lyre’s life.

  “This is really good,” she said, pointing at her bowl with her spoon.

  “Thank you,” Seiya replied without warmth.

  Piper went back to eating in silence, suspecting if it had been just her and not Ash, there wouldn’t have been a hot meal waiting for her upon her return.

  Once she’d eaten enough to sate her immediate hunger, she broke the heavy silence by reiterating the whole tale of her abduction and rescue for Seiya.

  “So,” Piper finished, “now I have to tell all this to my father so they can stop the Gaians from destroying more Consulates.”

  “I don’t envy them that job.” Lyre drummed his fingers on the countertop. “It’s an idiotic plan though. Daemons aren’t going to just shrug and leave because the Consulates are gone.”

  She nodded. “There’s more to their plan, but they didn’t share the details with me.”

  Seiya pushed her ponytail off her shoulder. “It’s idiocy. It’ll never work.”

  “Destroying the Consulates will create a power vacuum,” Ash said, “which the Gaians think they can fill, but I doubt they have the resources to implement a new power structure. Either way, they won’t get far. Once you reveal who’s behind it, the prefects and Consuls will start hunting the Gaians and their plans will collapse.”

  “Huh.” Piper
poked a piece of potato in her bowl. Feeling a little better that the world wasn’t about to dissolve into anarchy, she ate another bite.

  Ash set his bowl in the sink. “I’m going to get a few hours of sleep.”

  At the thought of sleep, Piper was overcome with a jaw-popping yawn. “I need a shower first.”

  “Right over there.” Seiya pointed to a door off the entryway. “There are towels folded on the shelf.” With a brief nod, she followed Ash out of the room.

  Piper blinked after them.

  “Grumpy pair, huh?” Lyre commented, coming around the island to stand beside her. “I’ve been stuck with them for two months.”

  “What’s Seiya’s problem?”

  Lyre shrugged. “She’s just overprotective.”

  “Of Ash?”

  He nodded.

  “Why would that make her give me the cold shoulder? I’m not the enemy.”

  He shrugged again.

  Her eyes narrowed and she lowered her voice. “Does this have anything to do with your note—”

  He cut her off with a warning look. “Didn’t you want a shower?”

  “Yeah, but—”

  He looped an arm around her waist, pulling her off the barstool and guiding her toward the bathroom. “You should have your shower.”

  “Lyre—”

  He dragged her into the bathroom, released her, and turned on the taps. Water sprayed loudly and filled the small room with noise.

  “I don’t want any little dragonet ears listening to us,” he said quietly, his voice almost lost to the sound of the running water.

  Nervousness churned in her stomach at the extent he was going to conceal their conversation.

  “Why are you being so secretive?”

  He sighed, the sound full of frustration and anxiety. “I want to talk to you about Ash.”

  “What about him?”

  “He tells you things he doesn’t tell me.”

  “He does?”

  He shrugged a little. “He told you about Seiya when he’d never mentioned a word about her to me.”

  “Oh right.”

  “I thought he might have said something to you.”

 
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