“I’m not kidding,” Bryce said, as she flipped through a series of photos on her phone. “The pictures don’t even begin to do this place justice.”
Hunt gave a low hum of approval into the crook of her neck, sending another wave of heat directly through her.
“And they have these little bungalows, right on the beach,” she continued, opening up a page filled with pictures of a small but well-appointed cottage on the shores of a pristine white-sand beach. Hunt smiled into her hair as she thumbed to a picture of the screened-in porch at the front of the rental, complete with a hot tub facing the ocean.
“And what would we do out there?” he murmured into her ear.
Bryce, leaning against his solid chest, turned slightly to look him in the eye. The corner of her mouth tugged up into a small smile. “Oh, I don’t know – sunbathe, swim, snorkel. Did you have anything in mind?” she asked.
“You’re giving me a few ideas,” he replied before pressing his lips roughly to hers. Bryce dropped her phone beside her on the bed as her hands moved to run through Hunt’s thick hair. Both still naked from their earlier exploits, Bryce shivered as her bare breasts made contact with Hunt’s skin.
He trailed his hands down from her face, over her neck, past her shoulders to the soft, sensitive, sides of her waist. There, Hunt’s fingers danced lightly over her, a delicate brushing that sent jolts of electricity through her body. While Hunt’s touch always had a powerful effect on her, the prickling, staticky sensation continued well past what was normal. Breaking the kiss to look down, Bryce saw small sparks of electricity emanating from the very tips of Hunt’s fingers. Realizing what he was doing, Bryce gave a small whimper at the heady mix of pain and pleasure he was giving her.
The look in Hunt’s eyes as she put together what was happening – a near predatory lust – completely broke down any of the restraint she had left. Bryce reached down to grip Hunt’s once-again hardening member, guided it towards her slick entrance, prepared herself to –
Knock knock knock
Three sharp raps on her apartment door froze the two where they sat – Bryce’s nude form straddling Hunt’s equally naked body. Bryce’s forehead creased in worry.
“Are you expecting anyone?” she asked Hunt.
Hunt shook his head.
The knocking – this time slightly more forceful than the last – echoed through the apartment once more. Bryce lifted herself off Hunt’s lap and started making her way towards the bedroom door. Hunt, concerned, grabbed her arm and pulled her back.
He shook his head silently, putting a finger to his lips. With Bryce trailing behind him, he made his way towards the apartment’s front door.
His eye to the peephole, Bryce watched Hunt’s face tighten into disapproval before he turned away and gestured for her to look through herself.
Standing outside the door was the Autumn King.
Bryce – on principle refusing to give her father the respect he felt he was due – had changed into her oldest CCU t-shirt and a well-loved pair of sweatpants, and was now sitting on the couch with her arms crossed over her chest, waiting for the Autumn King to begin speaking. Hunt – who despite having no great love for the Autumn King – was still acutely cognizant of the fact that the powerful fae was his girlfriend’s father. Accordingly, he had changed into a slightly more respectable jeans and white t-shirt and was sitting next to Bryce with his arm resting along the back of the couch behind her head.
The Autumn King stood looking out the window, down at the Crescent City streets below. Silence settled between father and daughter like a taught rope.
Finally, the Autumn King turned to face Bryce and Hunt on the couch. “I suppose you’re wondering why I’m here,” the Autumn King said.
“Wondering how, as well,” Bryce replied. She was going to need to have a chat with Marrin after this.
The Autumn King ignored her question as he paced back and forth in front of the floor to ceiling windows of Bryce’s living room. “I realize that being my daughter hasn’t always been easy for you,” he began.
Bryce snorted. The Autumn King ignored it and continued. “But I need you to know, Bryce, that while you may never understand why, everything I did was what I believed best for you and your brother.”
Bryce opened her mouth to reply, but the Autumn King held up a hand. “As you’re well aware, your identity, as well as the extent of your power, is common knowledge in Crescent City and beyond. While you may not agree, before this, the best way for me to keep you safe was to keep you a secret. Now that that is no longer a viable plan, I would like to formally recognize you as my daughter.”
“What the fuck?” she asked. She felt Hunt tense beside her.
The King looked resigned, Hunt thought, he was probably expecting a reaction like this out of his daughter. There certainly hadn’t been much love lost between the two in recent years.
“Yes, Bryce, I would like to formally and publicly recognize you as my daughter, princess of the Autumn Court and Starborn fae. While I appreciate that this was not a responsibility you asked for, there are certain things we must do in the name of duty.” The Autumn King continued, “I would appreciate if you could assume this role and title willingly, and take your responsibilities seriously.”
Sitting on the couch, Bryce had gone deadly still. She didn’t even seem to be breathing, nor was she looking at the Autumn King. She was staring at the wall beside her, her mouth set into a tight line.
The Autumn King, either not picking up on the tension radiating from his daughter or (more likely) choosing to ignore it, continued on. “We are currently planning a ceremony where you will be granted your title and where you will be honored by all of the fae courts in Midgard. Should you choose to, you may help in planning the ceremony, though the individuals I’ve assembled to execute on this are highly competent. You should, however, begin putting together your team of royal advisors immediately, as their support will be crucial as your role at court grows. I have also taken the liberty of – “
“No, really father, what the fuck?” Bryce interrupted him. “You come barging in here, no notice, no call, trying to welcome me into a family you’ve spent most of my life making sure I knew I wasn’t a part of, bringing me into the fold, getting me to work for you? And all without even trying to apologize? No. I’m not interested. Fuck off.”
By this time, she was blazing. Spots of red had appeared high on her cheeks and her knuckles were white as she balled them into fists on her lap.
“Don’t think I didn’t expect this reaction from you, Bryce,” the Autumn King said, massaging his temples. “I will have you know that this is not a choice for you. You are now a public figure and with that comes certain responsibilities.”
“I may be a public figure, but that doesn’t mean I have to play your little game, or fall in line.” Bryce spit back. “And what do you mean, ‘keep me safe’? What exactly do you think you were protecting me from all those years? I’m not sure if you’d noticed, but despite your ‘protection’ I almost died – several times – last week while I was saving the city and the Aux was hiding out in FiRo, doing nothing!”
Say what you would about the Autumn King, his restraint was unmatched. His face remained impassive throughout Bryce’s entire tirade.
“This is not a discussion, Bryce. You are a Starborn fae, and you have come into a power you were never prepared for and don’t know how to use. There are going to be a number of parties looking to take advantage of those facts,” he said. “My assistant, Hana will come by tomorrow morning at 9 to work through some of the particulars of your transition. Please be ready. Do you have any questions?”
“Yeah, sure – can you please get the fuck out of my apartment?” Bryce retorted.
Bryce’s father inclined his head ever so slightly and moved towards the exit, his fae guard trailing behind him.
As the Autumn King reached the door, he paused, with his hand lightly resting on the handle. As if something had just occurred to him, he turned back towards Bryce, and over his shoulder said, “I would also have you know, Bryce, that once you are a high ranking member of the Autumn Court, your conduct will represent all of us. In light of that, I suggest that you begin to rethink your… colorful use of language.”
The door clicked shut.
Bryce picked up the nearest couch cushion, buried her head into it, and screamed.
“FUCK him,” Bryce shouted in frustration from her spot over on the couch.
Hunt tried to mask his smirk as he entered the apartment. After making sure that Bryce wasn’t going to do something that she’d regret, he had gently suggested a run and perhaps a hot bath before leaving her alone to run errands. He noted the leggings and sports bra she was wearing, but her perfect ponytail and lack of sweat didn’t indicate that any steam had been blown off while he was out.
It wasn’t that he didn’t feel for her – his heart broke for the young Bryce that had been rejected by her father and denied the opportunity to be part of half of her family. He knew that in large part, her rejection of her father’s offer stemmed from a desire to keep herself from a position where those types of wounds could ever be inflicted upon her again.
He knew her well enough, though, to know that Bryce also wanted a little revenge. Refusing to give the Autumn King what he wanted was immensely satisfying to her. And so, he found it a little hard to convince himself that all of her rage over enormous wealth and an important title was genuine.
“I don’t know Bryce, I’m pretty excited to see you in that crown,” Hunt called from over in front of the fridge. “I might be warming up to your dad.”
“He told Ruhn, who tried to warn me this morning,” she said as she walked towards the kitchen.
She held out her phone for him to read a text from her brother.
Pick up your phone! Dad en route to yours and you’re not going to like what he has to say.
Hunt’s eyebrows raised. Bryce’s rage was entirely justified here. Ruhn had been heir apparent for his entire life, and now the Autumn King knew that Bryce had been hiding her Starborn abilities so as not to upset Ruhn’s status as next in line for the throne. If the Autumn King was making his intentions known to Ruhn before even coming to Bryce, it wasn’t a stretch to imagine that he was trying to create animosity between the siblings.
Why, exactly, he would be doing that was something Hunt would think about later.
Bryce’s shoulders slumped.
“I know,” she said, but her brow remained furrowed and her look distant.
“He did this to drive a wedge between the two of you. You know that, Bryce. Don’t let him,” Hunt said.
“You’re right,” Bryce said, grabbing back her phone. “I’ll give him a call.”
“Bryce! What did you tell him? What did he say?” Ruhn asked, his volume gradually decreasing along with the music that was playing in the background.
“What do you think?” she replied. “Told him to fuck all the way off.”
“How’d he take it?”
“He… ignored it,” Bryce said. “Completely steamrolled me. Hana is coming by tomorrow morning to walk me through the ‘particulars’, whatever that means.”
“He’s such a fucking asshole,” Ruhn said. Bryce could hear the years and years of resentment in Ruhn’s declaration. There was a tense pause on the other end of the phone before Ruhn continued. “You know I love you, right Bryce?”
“Yeah, I know,” Bryce responded, smiling despite how angry she still was. Most of what she’d gotten from her father’s side of the family was a burden at best, but she’d always be grateful for Ruhn, who’d managed to be the best older brother she could have asked for, in spite of the Autumn King.
“There’s something I need to tell you. It’s about the title and it’s important. I think I should tell you in person though.”
“Sure,” Bryce said. “Why don’t you come over for dinner? Hunt’s cooking.”