Archangel's Consort / Page 19

Page 19


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“We’ve run tests,” Jeffrey snapped out. “Using Harrison and some of his friends. She can track them.”

Harrison was a vampire, and Elena’s brother-in-law, married to Marguerite’s only other surviving daughter—Beth. The fact that Evelyn could track him ... “You,” Elena whispered, staring at Jeffrey. “It comes from you.” He’d known, she thought, glimpsing the flash of some unnamable emotion in his eyes. All this time, when he’d been rejecting her for her “base, inhuman” occupation, he’d known it was his blood that had given it to her.

A muscle pulsed along Jeffrey’s temple, his skin pulled taut over that aristocratic bone structure. “That has no place in this conversation.”

Elena laughed. Harsh, jagged. She couldn’t help it. “You hypocrite.”

His head snapped toward her. “Be quiet, Elieanora. I’m still your father.”

The hell of it was that part of her was still the little girl who’d once adored him, and that part wanted to obey. Fighting the urge, she was about to retort when she glimpsed Gwendolyn’s face. The other woman looked shattered, and all at once, Elena’s anger with her father, his fury at her, wasn’t the most important thing. It would keep. It had kept for over a decade.

“She’ll need training,” she said, speaking to Gwendolyn. “Without it, she’ll find it difficult to focus and concentrate.” The cacophony of scents in the air, especially in a city as full of vampires as New York, could severely impact one of the hunter-born. Elena had taught herself to filter out the endless “noise” in the years before she grew old enough to join the Guild without parental permission, but it had been a painful, lonely road. One Evelyn didn’t have to take. “You need to register her at Guild Academ—”

“No!” Jeffrey’s voice was rigid with withheld rage. “I will not have another daughter of mine tainted by that place.”

“It’s a school,” Elena said, keeping a white-knuckled grip on a temper that pulled aggressively at the reins. “It has specialized teachers.”

“She will not be a hunter.”

“She already is, you bastard!” Elena yelled, the reasoned adult falling apart under the echoes of childhood. “If you’re not careful, you’ll lose her the same way you lost me!”

The blow hit. She saw it.

For herself, she wouldn’t have fought. But for Evelyn, she pushed forward, using the advantage. “Being hunter-born isn’t a choice. It’s part of our very makeup. If you ask her to make a choice, she’ll probably choose you.” Before Jeffrey could pounce on that, she added, “And she’ll go mad if not in the next few years, then in the next decade.” The urge to hunt was a pulse in the blood, a hunger that could consume if caged.

Gwendolyn gave a short, choked cry. “Jeffrey, I won’t lose my daughter. You might be able to walk away from your child, but I won’t.” Turning to Elena, she said, “Can you send me the information about the Academy? Perhaps ... would you speak to Eve?”

Shaken by the maternal love that had turned cool, composed Gwendolyn into a lioness, Elena nodded. “I’ll be out in the garden if you want to bring her down.” Suiting action to words, she stepped out into the small backyard and breathed in deep lungfuls of the open air. This close to Central Park, it held hints of fir and water and horses, but below that was the constant hum of the city, a touch of smoke and metal, the active press of humanity.

Rubbing at her eyes with one of her hands, she froze when she felt Jeffrey in the doorway at her back. “Is it possible the vampire who murdered the girls at the school was drawn to Evelyn?”

The question threw ice water across her senses. Because it meant he knew. Jeffrey knew Slater Patalis had been drawn to their small family home because of Elena. Part of her, the part that held the lost, hurt girl she’d once been, had hoped he didn’t, that there might yet be hope for a relationship between them, but if he knew ... “No,” she said in a hoarse whisper. “We caught the vampire who murdered Celia and Betsy. He wasn’t like Slater.”

“We don’t mention that name, Elieanora.” Words so steady, they were steel. “Do you understand?”

Elena turned this time. “Yes.” If he wanted to forget the monster, she couldn’t blame him. What she could blame him for was that he’d forgotten his daughters, his wife, as well. “Evelyn needs to be trained as fast as possible. Her skills will provide a defense against attack.” Pausing, she went to thrust a hand through her hair before remembering she’d braided it. “Amy should also be tutored in basic self-defense.”

“Because you’ve made them targets.”

She flinched, but didn’t back down. “They’re your daughters, Jeffrey,” she whispered, hitting back because that was what she did with Jeffrey. That was their endless cycle of pain and recrimination. “Unless you’ve turned over a new leaf, there’s more than one competitor out there who’d love to get his hands on your child.”

Jeffrey opened his mouth, closed it without speaking. A moment later, Evelyn squeezed past her father. She didn’t get far before Jeffrey’s hand came down on her shoulder. “Evelyn.”

The ten-year-old, her eyes an echo of the man who towered above her, lifted up her face. “Yes, Father?”

“Remember who you are. A Deveraux.” A stern reminder.

Elena wanted to say that there was no question about the fact that Eve damn well was a true Deveraux—since hunting seemed to run in the blood—but restrained herself in the face of the anxiety the girl was trying so hard to mask. “Come on, Eve,” she said instead. “Let’s talk.”

Raphael met Jason in the skies above Staten Island, the cloud layer a thick white foam below them. “I thought you’d left the country.” His spymaster was meant to be on the way to Europe.

“I had an unexpected meeting come up.” Jason didn’t explain further, and Raphael didn’t ask. Jason would have been no good to him as a spymaster if he didn’t think for himself—like the others in the Seven, the male served Raphael not out of obligation, but out of choice.

“I returned to the Tower before dawn this morning to pick up something,” Jason continued. “It is as well—I can confirm the name of the one who murdered your man last night. She calls herself Belladonna, though she has also used the name Oleander Graves.”

That name was no surprise. Neither was the gender of the killer—female vampires bore the same bloodlust as males—but the speed with which Jason had tracked her down was. “How did you find her?”

Jason braced his wings against the push of the wind. “Elena will be able to verify from the scent, but Neha’s assassin is not as clever as she believes. She said some indiscreet things to the dancers at Erotique that made it child’s play to tie the murder to her.”

Raphael raised an eyebrow. “I did not know you patronized Erotique, Jason.” The club of choice for the more high-ranked vampires, its dancers and hostesses were considered to be both accomplished and sophisticated.

“Illium,” Jason said in short explanation. “He spent some time there after helping Venom take care of the scene. When he saw me come in this morning, he asked if I could corroborate his suspicions using my contacts—I was also able to pinpoint her current residence.” He named the apartment building and number.

Making a mental note of it, Raphael put aside the matter of Neha’s pet vampire for the present. The assassin would be uncomplicated enough to dispatch now that she’d been located. “Tell me about Illium.” The visit to Erotique could’ve been nothing, a diversion to take his mind off the upcoming visit by the Hummingbird, but given the blue-winged angel’s fascination with mortals, it could augur something far more dangerous.

“There is no need for concern,” Jason said at once. “Galen would’ve warned us if there was.”

Raphael agreed on that point. The two angels were fast friends and had been for centuries. “And you, Jason? Who will warn me about you?”

14

His spymaster turned so that his tattoo fell in direct sunlight, striking and speaking of a dedication beyond pain. “I will, Sire. Then you will execute me as you promised when I became one of your Seven.”

Raphael met Jason’s eyes. “The promise was made and will be kept if necessary, but I prefer you alive. You’re the best spymaster in the Cadre.”

Jason’s lips curved in the faintest of smiles, a rare sight. “They’ve all tried to recruit me—Charisemnon and Favashi in particular.”

“I would expect nothing else.” But he knew Jason would not betray him. The black-winged angel had sworn allegiance to Raphael on a field carpeted with a wash of blood. None of it had been Jason’s. But his blade had run slick with it. The next target would’ve been his own body if Raphael hadn’t stepped in.

Bonds forged in such black fire didn’t easily break.

Turning back to the matter at hand, he said, “I’ll speak to Elena about the scent.” His instinct was to protect her from the harsher aspects of his world, but she was hunter-born.

Don’t you dare stop me from being what I am. Don’t you dare.

She’d been weak, unable to fly when she’d said that, but he’d never forget the look in her eyes. If he crossed that line, if he denied that part of her, he would shatter her. He knew he was capable of such cruelty, but he also knew he’d break if Elena broke.

“Sire,” Jason said, cutting into his thoughts, “there is another reason why I returned to the city. You asked me to keep my ears open for any reports of disquieting behavior by the other archangels.”

Raphael flashed back to the red haze that had clouded his vision, the rage that had all but stolen his will. “Who?

“Astaad.” Jason named the Archangel of the Pacific Isles as a gust shoved at them from the left. “It’s difficult to get spies into his inner circle. In their own way, his people are as loyal to him as the Seven are to you.”

Raphael adjusted his wings without thought, holding his position above the clouds. “He rules with an alternately beneficent and bloody hand.”

“He also treats his women as precious.”

Astaad’s harem was composed of the most exquisitely beautiful vampires in the world, women he cosseted and protected. It was a well-known aspect of his character, but for Jason to remark on it ... “He has done something to his women.”

A nod that made Jason’s hair gleam blue black in the light. “The operative I managed to get into his court is a low-class servant, but she’s been listening to the women who tend to the harem and word is that Astaad beat one of his favorite concubines almost to a pulp.”

“Astaad would consider such an act a stain on his honor.” Raphael thought again of the way he’d executed Ignatius, knew that if Astaad had been in the grip of the same fury, then the concubine was lucky to be alive. “Continue to keep an eye on the situation. Send word as soon as you have any further information.”


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