Archangel's Consort / Page 12

Page 12


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“He’s well, Ellie. We watch over him.” A quiet reminder that for all his laughter and beauty, Illium, too, was a member of Raphael’s Seven. And that he had no qualms over issuing the bloodiest of punishments. She would never forget the sight of him standing in that strange, blooming winter garden, skin bloody and sword flashing lightning-bright as he sliced the wings off angels who’d come to do harm.

“He misses you.”

A silly, happy smile erased the shadow of memory. “I’ve only been gone a couple of days.”

“I made a solemn promise that I would tell you to call him every night. Don’t make me a liar.”

“Never.” Elena adored little Sam, had spent hours with him when she’d been confined to the Medica during her recovery after Beijing. “What about Noel?” The adult victim of the archangel Neha’s daughter, Anoushka’s, vicious craving for power had healed of his physical injuries weeks ago. But those weren’t the deepest hurts.

“He is ...” Illium paused for a long time. “Broken. Inside, he is broken.”

Elena knew about being broken. But she also knew about survival. “The man who survived what was done to him”—blood and meat, that’s all he’d been when they’d found him—“will survive that, too.”

“He’ll have to,” Illium said. “Raphael has assigned him to Nimra’s court. She doesn’t play overt games of power—but even Nazarach does not dare step foot in her territory without invitation.”

Elena frowned, making a mental note to ask Raphael why he’d sent the damaged vampire into what sounded like a deadly field. Nimra had to be both brutal and cruel if she managed to hold Nazarach at bay, and Noel needed to heal, not fight for his next breath.

A chopping-slicing sound. Distinct. Unwelcome.

“Is that—” Her eyes widened at the black dot growing larger on the horizon with every slap of sound. “Damn it to hell!” It was the same news crew that had been hounding her the entire morning.

Illium zipped in front of her. “They dare do this?” His voice was suddenly that of the man who’d amputated angelic wings in cold, clear-eyed retribution. “I will ensure it doesn’t happen again.”

“No, Illium.” She managed to grip the muscular warmth of his upper arm. “No blood, not here. This is my home.”

That incredible hair—ebony dipped in crushed sapphires, startling and impossible—blew back in the increasing turbulence caused by the chopper. “If you don’t teach them a lesson now,” he said as she tightened her hold on him to help maintain her position, “the vultures will see you as weak. You cannot be seen as weak, Ellie.”

Because she was Raphael’s consort.

And weakness in an archangel could be fatal.

“Shit.” Strengthening her hold, she screamed against the wind. “How strong are you?” He was five hundred years old, had survived a deathly plunge into the Hudson, and once glowed with power to her naked eye. But she had no idea what that translated to in terms of physical might.

“Strong enough to break that machine in half.”

Oh. “How about you turn it upside down and land it that way instead?” She squeezed his arm, felt muscle and tendon shift under her touch as he took more of her weight. “No fatalities, Bluebell.”

Illium blinked, met her gaze ... then gave a slow, wicked smile. “Where do you go?” When she told him, he said, “I’ll meet you there.”

She released his arm and dropped below the turbulence as fast as possible, clearing off in a direction that would take her out of the path of any activity. But she wasn’t so distant that she missed the sight of Illium flying above the machine.

Her throat dried up, and if he’d been close enough to hear her, she’d have told him to stop. Dear God, those blades would shred his wings if he made a single error of judgment. But then Illium—laughing, playful, powerful Illium, did something and the blades just . . . stopped. He let the chopper free-fall for two stomach-churning seconds before catching it from below and flipping it over.

She realized the fiend was having fun.

Shaking her head, she carried on toward Ignatius’s apartment, which ended up being very close to the Tower. Thankfully, the high-rise had a flat roof, so she didn’t have to make a tight landing. Skidding across the rough surface, she took a minute to catch her breath before searching for and finding the entrance to the building. It was locked.

“Ash, thank you again.” The other hunter had not only taught Elena how to pick locks with the skill of a master jewel thief—and didn’t that just bring up all sorts of intriguing questions—she’d given Elena a set of slim lock-pick tools that she carried in a special pocket built into the knife sheath on her thigh.

Pulling out the pick she needed, she went to work. “Too easy.” She squeezed through the tiny metal door, a hiss escaping her mouth as her right wing scraped along the rusty edges.

Glancing back, she saw that while a few deep blue feathers bore flecks of metal, there was no blood. Probably the best she could’ve hoped for, she thought, deciding against the elevator at the end of the service corridor—who knew how tiny that would be. Instead, she took the stairs down three levels to the floor where Ignatius had had his apartment.

She scented him the moment she opened the stairwell door and stepped into the corridor—the burnt treacle of his scent was imprinted in the walls, in the carpet. But not only his. There were, in fact, so many vampiric scents threaded through the air that she wondered if this wasn’t an “overflow” building, used by vampires who weren’t high enough in the hierarchy to rate a room in the Tower, but needed to be close to it.

A door opened down the hall as she stopped in front of Ignatius’s apartment.

Crushed diamonds in aged brandy, decadent chocolate stroking over her breasts, fur sumptuous and thick against her most intimate flesh.

9

“What are you doing here?” She got the question out between gritted teeth, fighting the hotly sexual need aroused by Dmitri’s insidious scent—a need that was a compulsion disguised as seduction. It made her wonder just how many hunter-born had fallen prey to that snare. And what Dmitri had done to them.

“I had business with another resident.” The vampire strolled over, his hands in the pockets of his stone gray suit pants. He’d discarded the jacket and the open collar of his white shirt exposed a triangle of skin the shade of sun gold honey.

Rich, dark eyes met hers . . . right as another wave of scent—luscious and primal in its erotic promise—crashed over her senses. Her knees threatened to crumple. “So,” she managed to get out through a throat gone husky with driving hunger, “the truce is over?”

“Wouldn’t want you to think we were friends.” It was the kind of thing she was used to hearing from Dmitri, but there was a thrumming anger beneath the words today, the same anger she’d sensed as they stood looking down at Betsy’s desecrated body.

She didn’t take it personally. She’d stood over too many broken and mutilated victims, knew what it was to want to strike out, make someone pay. The desire was a quiet, unremitting fury that could destroy. If her friends in the Guild hadn’t pulled her back when she’d gotten too close, hadn’t taught her the brutal necessity of emotional distance, she’d have fallen into the abyss long ago. So yes, she understood—but that didn’t mean she was about to allow Dmitri to use her as his whipping boy.

He was so close now that the heat of him caressed her body in long, languid strokes, his scent twining around her like a thousand silken strands. Breathing through her mouth, she put one hand on his heavily muscled shoulder, leaned in close as if she planned to whisper in his ear ... and bit down on his earlobe.

HARD.

“Fuck!” He wrenched away with preternatural speed.

“Game over?” she asked with poisonous sweetness as she struggled to catch her breath. “Or do you want a matching set?”

“Bitch.” A slow, sensual smile that no longer held the raw edge of rage. “Always liked that about you.”

Sliding back the dagger she’d pulled the same instant that she bit him, she said, “I can’t do this with you here.” Even muted as it was now, his scent blinded her to anything else in the vicinity. It was a drug, that scent, addictive and toxic. “Get out or I’ll kill you.”

Her flat statement made him blink, rock back on his heels. “You sound as if you really mean that.”

At that instant, she did. Allowing the knowledge to seep into her expression, she met those eyes filled with a confident, potent sexuality. Slater had touched her with his scent, nearly broken the mind of the child she’d been—a child who didn’t understand why her body liked what the monster was doing to her. Her horror of compulsion ran deep, deep enough to drive her to the most primitive savagery in a bid to survive.

Dmitri inclined his head, withdrawing all but a final taunting tendril of scent. “I think you might want this.” A slender metal key dangled from his finger.

She stepped aside.

To her surprise, he prowled forward and inserted the key into the lock without further jerking her chain. Her eyes were drawn to the droplets of blood on his shoulder. “You bring out the worst in me.”

Nudging open the door, he turned, a faint smile on that face meant for silk-sheeted bedrooms and blood-soaked fields of battle. “Thanks.”

“Did you come inside before I got here?”

“No.” He leaned in the doorway while she walked through and into the living room. “I hear your Bluebell is here.” A pregnant pause.

Neck prickling in warning, she shifted to keep him in her line of sight. “What?”

“Be careful with Illium, Elena.” A soft caution. “He’s vulnerable to the humanity you carry within.” He was gone the next instant.

Frozen by the impact of the unexpected words, she started when she heard the whisper of angelic wings. “Stay there.” She kept her back to Illium as she spoke. “I want to do a walk-through first.”

“Your wish. My command.”

His unruffled agreement cut the taut rope of tension running up her spine. Glancing over at him, she saw that he was playing a carved silver knife in and around his fingers, each flick blindingly fast. Her friend, she thought. He was her friend, just like Ransom, just like Sara, and she wouldn’t damage that friendship with false worries.

He has a fascination with mortals.

Raphael had said that to her before she’d woken with wings of midnight and dawn.

“Why are you staring at me, Ellie?” Illium said without taking his eyes from the blade dancing around his fingers.

The words were instinctive, something she might as easily have said to rib Ransom. “You’re so pretty, it’s difficult to resist.”

A flashing grin, a hint of that aristocratic English accent in his response. “It’s hard to be me, it’s true.”

Snorting, but with her composure restored, she began to inspect the apartment. It was much as she’d expected. Ignatius had been neat enough, but not obsessive about it. She could see a glass in the sink, a sweater thrown over the sofa, and the bed, though made, was done so in a way that said he was more worried about comfort than anything else. There was even a flower in a vase on the bedside table—a bit exotic for her taste, but vampires tended to go for the dark and lush.


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