Archangel's Consort / Page 21

Page 21


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She pressed her lips to the hard angle of his jaw, anticipation burning away the last vestiges of the fear she’d felt as she fell. “Let’s get sweaty.”

15

An hour later, Elena was a hell of a lot more than sweaty. Raphael had given her the no-holds-barred combat she’d asked for—and more. “You know what makes me really mad?” she said, hands on her knees on the other side of the rough practice circle they’d set out on the lawn.

Raphael, shirtless chest gleaming with the lightest film of perspiration, pushed back his hair. “Enough talking,” he ordered. “Up.”

She bared her teeth at him. “It’s the fact that you’re not even breathing hard while I feel like I got done over by a pack of vamps.” But she rose to her full height, because if she could learn to hold her own against Raphael for so much as a second, she’d be unbeatable against most vampires and humans.

He came at her without warning, a blur of speed. She wrenched out of the way and went down hard. Galen’s earlier training kept her from landing awkwardly on her wings, but they got crushed into the grass nonetheless as Raphael swept down to pin her. “Galen didn’t teach me that,” she said, chest heaving underneath him as he pinioned her hands above her head.

“What?” Heat blazed off him, his eyes glittering in a way she usually only ever saw in bed.

She couldn’t help it. Arching up, she kissed him, flicking out her tongue to taste the aggressive maleness pumping through his body. “The thing you do with your wings.” Instead of answering, he kicked her legs wider and suddenly the position was a hell of a lot more intimate. “Raphael”—a husky censure—“Montgomery is probably keeping an eye on us.”

“He would never be so ill-bred.” A hot wet kiss against her neck. “The wings?”

She forced her brain into gear. “You use them. Galen taught me to keep them out of the way, so I wouldn’t nick them with knives or the short sword, but you use your wings for balance, and you even go slightly airborne to avoid blows.” She’d never seen anyone move with that kind of lethal grace. Galen was a different kind of a fighter—more brutal, harsher in his movements.

Another kiss, the feel of teeth. She hissed, went to hook her leg over him when he rose off her, extending a hand to help her up. “Galen taught you what was necessary for survival,” he said once she was back on her feet. “He had to focus on tactics he knew you could master in the timeframe we had before Lijuan’s ball.”

Reaching up to redo her ponytail, Elena nodded. “I figured. I’m guessing using wings like you do will take me considerably longer to learn.”

“At this stage,” Raphael said, walking over to pick up two short swords from where she’d left them on the edge of the practice circle, “your wings are more of a liability in combat.”

She caught the swords by the hilts and watched him pick up a set of much smaller knives. “Giving me the advantage?”

A smile with more than a hint of arrogance. “You are but a babe in arms yet, Elena.” Knives held to either side, gaze focused on her. “It would hardly be fair to take you down again so soon.”

She settled into a crouch, wings pinned tightly to her back. “Come on then, angel boy.” She kept her eyes on the muscles in his shoulders, saw the instant one tensed.

A split second later, they were moving in a wicked, dangerous dance of steel and bodies. She’d never really had a chance to spar with Raphael like this, and damn if it wasn’t the most fun she’d ever had. The archangel was good. Better than good. Not that that should’ve come as a surprise, she thought, blocking his blades and striking out with her own as she spun away. None of the Seven would have given their allegiance over to an archangel they didn’t respect on the battlefield.

A lick of iron in the air.

“Stop.”

“Damn it.” She dropped her hands, glancing at the fine hairline scratch on her left arm. “Would that have cost me my arm in real combat?”

Raphael saw the disgusted look on Elena’s face and had to bite back a smile of pride. Hair pulled off her face with warrior-like practicality and sweat sheening her body, her musculature fluid and graceful, this was his consort. “That was a tactical error,” he said, knowing she had the ability to become unbeatable with those blades. All she needed was a little more time to grow into her immortality—and further skilled instruction.

“You took a chance,” he pointed out, “and dropped your guard on the left because you thought I couldn’t turn that fast, but don’t ever judge another angel’s—or even an older vampire’s—agility by your own.” She’d only been angel-Made for less than half a year. The fact that she was already blindingly good, her hunter instincts coming to the fore, was no reason to go easy on her. If anything, she needed to be pushed harder.

She raised her blades. “Once more through.”

“Go.”

The clash of steel, the sweaty, slippery slide of bodies, the wild life of it all exhilarated Raphael. He sparred with his Seven once in a while, but it had always been a practical exercise to keep his physical skills sharp. Elena fought like it was part of her very self, and her joy in it infected him until it was a pulse beneath his skin.

Then she will kill you. She will make you mortal.

Lijuan knew nothing, he thought as he dodged the blade of one short sword and flicked his knife under the strap of Elena’s tank top, cutting it in a single swipe. He might heal slower, might injure easier, but he was alive in a way Lijuan had never been and never would be—because she had killed the human who had once, long ago, threatened to make her mortal.

Ignoring the strap he’d cut, Elena swung back and . . . threw both blades. Taken by surprise, he bent backward, crushing his wings into the grass—one blade passed a bare inch from his face. The other nicked his cheek as it thunked into the earth behind him.

“Goddamn it, Raphael!” Elena was cupping his face in her hands before he could remind her it was never a good idea to throw away her weapons. “You’re not supposed to get injured. That’s the only reason we’re using real blades.”

For the first time in forever, he was stunned to silence. Not by her words, but by the tenderness in her hands, the worry in her eyes. He was an archangel. He’d been wounded far, far worse and shrugged it off. But then, there had been no woman with skin kissed by the sunset and eyes of storm gray to tear into him for daring to get himself hurt.

“Are you listening to me? I could’ve hurt you!” Again.

He shook off his stunned bemusement to answer her assertion, hearing the unspoken word. “I could’ve deflected the blades using my power. But that would not make this in any way a fair fight.” It is nothing similar to when you shot me, Elena. I was dangerous to you that night.

In answer, she angled his face to the light, stood on tip-toe to examine the cut. “It’s much deeper than the insect bites you’ve given me when I make a mistake.”

Moving his knives to one hand, he cupped her cheek. “This is less than an insect bite to me. Do not worry that you will have to seek another consort.”

“Don’t even joke about that.” But she relaxed, her hands falling to rest on her hips. “So how did I do?”

“You threw away your weapons. Galen taught you better than that.”

“You were about to get me. It was meant to distract you so I could go for my knives—or in a real fight, for my gun.” Her gaze dipped to his left wing, making it clear she was referring to the weapon designed to disable angelic wings.

Raphael didn’t like the fact that he’d forced her to defend herself with such violence that night, but he did not regret the starburst pattern of golden feathers that was the scar he wore on his wing. As far as he was concerned, it was as much a mark of Elena’s claim on him as the amber ring he wore on his finger. “It may be a good strategy in certain situations,” he said, looking at things from her point of view. “We’ll work on it.”

When she moved as if to pick up the swords, he shook his head. “Not today. You’re starting to lag.”

She made a face. “You’re right. I’ll cool down, shower, then I have an errand to run.” The slightest pause that he only caught because he was looking right at her. “I might ask Illium for some low-key flying lessons later—the vertical takeoff thing is kicking my ass, but I’m not giving up.”

He said nothing until they’d stowed their weapons and were stripping for the shower. “What is this errand that puts such sorrow in your eyes, Elena?”

Her naked back tensed, then shuddered. “I haven’t told you something,” she said in a rush of words as he curved his fingers around her nape, stroking his thumb gently across her skin. “Remember the first time you sent Illium to watch over me?”

“Yes. It was after a meeting with your father—you went to a bank.”

“There was a safety deposit box there for me. Jeffrey ... I don’t know why, but he kept . . .” It was hard to speak, to think about her father’s baffling actions. He’d thrown her out of his home, called her an abomination, and couldn’t speak to her without bitter anger flowing between them like so much spilled wine. But . . .

“My mother’s things,” she whispered, turning to face Raphael. “He kept my mother’s things. They’re in a storage unit out in Brooklyn.” She’d flown over the facility early that morning but hadn’t been able to make herself land. “I’m so scared to go there. Because when I do ... I have to admit all over again that she left me, that she didn’t love me enough to stay.”

Tears burned at the backs of her eyes, but she refused to let them fall—she’d cried so much for her mom, but then she’d gotten angry. “Sometimes, I hate her.” That was her biggest secret and biggest sin.

Raphael leaned across to touch his forehead to hers. What I feel for Caliane is beyond hate at times—for what she did, the atrocities she committed. And yet ...

“Yes.” She buried her face in his neck. “And yet . . .”

As it turned out, she didn’t have to tear the scab off that particular wound that day. Her cell phone was beeping with a message when she came out of the shower. Grabbing it, she frowned. “It’s from the Guild.” Guilty relief curled down her spine when she called back and was told to suit up for a hunt. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

Raphael finished buttoning his shirt, the slots for his wings flowing with smooth perfection over his back. “What does the Guild need from you?”

She began to dress. “There’s a bloodlust-ridden vampire in Boston.”

“The senior angel in that territory should have sent me a report.” Walking over, he picked up his own cell phone, found a message. “Two people are already dead.”

Boots on, Elena began strapping on her weapons, including Deacon’s gift to her. She had no control-chip-embedded weapons, but since Ransom—already close to Boston—would’ve been issued one, that wasn’t a problem. The control chips effectively knocked out a vampire’s will for a short period, giving a hunter the chance to restrain the target—because under normal circumstances, the Guild’s people did not kill.


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