Archangel's Consort / Page 29

Page 29


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“I’m marking out a piece of the house as my own territory.”

A cool pause. “I will not allow you to put distance between us, Elena.”

She’d seen that one coming, was more than ready to handle it. “I need a place where I can slam the door in your face when I’m mad. I’m pretty sure both of us would prefer that place be here and not elsewhere.”

“And will I be invited into this part of the nest?”

“Perhaps.” The tease had gotten her a less than amused look. Smiling, she’d reached for a small box about the size of a memo cube that she’d kept to the side. “I have something for you.”

As with the last time she’d given him a present—the ring that burned with amber fire—he’d appeared both surprised and delighted. “What do you give me?”

“It’s for your suite at the Tower.” Hoping he’d understand, she’d handed over the box.

He’d opened it to remove a chunk of black rock glittering with what looked like deposits of gold. “Pyrite,” he’d murmured, identifying the mineral as it flashed fire in the sunlight. “Shokran, Elena.”

He’d stolen her heart all over again with the way he handled the gift with such care. “There’s a second part,” she’d added. “Tonight, I’ll tell you about the strange, haunted mine where I picked up that hunk of rock. There might be a former voodoo priest turned vampire involved.”

Raphael’s expression had shifted, the intimacy in those eyes stealing her breath. You give me a memory, Consort mine. I am honored. A bow of that dark head, the rock being placed carefully back into the box.

Of course then, she’d had to go into his arms, this man who treated her memories as if they were precious jewels. She hadn’t realized until much later, as she fell asleep covered by the heavy warmth of his wing, that Raphael had never challenged her right to claim partial ownership over a home he had to have lived in for centuries. It had made something in her settle, dig another root into this new life, this new existence.

But fussing with her solar was something she did in her spare time—usually, when her muscles felt like jelly. Because most of the past four days she’d spent either in the gym she’d discovered in the sprawling basement under the house, up in the air with a number of angelic instructors, or out on the makeshift practice circle, sparring against Raphael and, occasionally, Dmitri.

Today, her opponent was neither her archangel nor his second.

“Last time we fought, you ended up unconscious.” Slitted green eyes watched her without blinking.

Elena bared her teeth. “I also almost took your balls off.”

“They would’ve grown back.”

“You sure didn’t seem keen to lose them at the time.” Raising her short sword, she said, “Shall we play?”

A small nod, Venom’s upper body gleamed a warm, inviting brown in the sun, his legs covered by those flowing black pants most of the males seemed to prefer to work out in. “Since you ask with such sweetness.”

As they stabbed and darted out at each other, Venom attempting to go for her wings, while she tried to take him to the ground, she ensured her gaze never met his full on. She’d learned her lesson the last time, when he’d almost entranced her. That lesson had saved her life in Beijing, but she hadn’t much liked the learning of it and had no intention of repeating the experience. Her short sword hit hard against the curved blade he used, and she felt the vibration all the way up her arm and in her teeth.

He brought up his second blade to block the knife she’d been about to put to his abdomen. “Stalemate.” A viper’s eyes tried to catch her gaze as his muscles locked in place.

Elena wasn’t stupid. Venom was somewhere around the three-hundred-year-old mark by her guess. That meant that physically, he had a massive advantage. “Don’t hold back.” It was a gritted-out command as she broke the deadlock and danced out of reach.

“I have to,” he said, circling those blades as if they weighed nothing, the sun glancing off them in a pattern that could quickly turn hypnotic. “Face it, Ellie, you can’t win if it comes down to brute strength.”

“Don’t call me Ellie.” That was reserved for her friends.

He hissed at her, spitting poison.

Elena dived and rolled, kicking his feet out from under him before he could shift position in one of those reptilian bursts of speed.

“Stop!” Illium’s voice as he strode into the circle. She’d been surprised to see him this morning, as the Hummingbird was meant to have arrived last night. However, according to Illium, his mother had been delayed by a storm and wouldn’t be landing for a few hours. “Both of you, up.”

Rising to a standing position, Elena watched as Venom flowed up, just itching to kick him flat again. “You could’ve blinded me.”

A liquid shrug. “You would’ve recovered, but it would’ve hurt like a bitch. And next time, you’d remember.”

Elena closed her eyes and counted to ten. “Yeah, you’re right,” she said, raising her lids.

Venom blinked, those slitted eyes contracting when he lifted his lashes back up. “You leave me at a loss for words.” But not for actions it seemed, because he bent to give her the most elegant of bows before rising to blow her a kiss. “Another round?”

Illium, his expression subdued as it had been for too many days, turned to her. “Mind if I have a go?”

“Kick his ass.”

Stripping off his shirt and boots, Illium held out his hand for one of Venom’s blades. Lips curving, Venom passed it over. “Sure you can handle me, pretty, pretty Bluebell?”

“Did I ever tell you about my snakeskin boots?” A savage grin, and she knew Venom was about to bear the brunt of whatever haunted the blue-winged angel.

Venom swirled his blade in hand. “I do think I need some new feathers for my pillow.”

Illium shifted into a combat stance. “Call the winner, Ellie.”

Stepping out to the side of the circle, where she’d placed a bottle of water, she put down her weapons and took a seat on the grass. “Ready? Go!”

Her heart was in her throat within ten seconds, the water forgotten. Because neither Venom nor Illium was holding back now, and they moved at the speed of death. The tip of a blade a bare millimeter from an eye, a foot about to snap a spine, an edge about to sever a head. It was like watching a fight in fast-forward, Illium’s wings brilliant splashes of blue, his hair a wild sweep of black dipped in sapphires, Venom’s skin shimmering golden brown as sweat glimmered and caught the light.

Rising to her feet, she kept her eyes glued on them, trying to catch moves, figure out vulnerabilities. “Stop!”

They broke apart to glance at her, chests heaving—two half-naked males covered in sweat and holding wicked-sharp blades by their sides. Illium was beautiful, Venom so other as to be strangely compelling. Together, she thought with one part of her mind, they created a damn nice view. Sara would call them eminently lickable.

“Venom took it,” she said.

That slight English accent of Illium’s was very apparent as he said, “Hell he did.”

“He had his teeth on your jugular.” She knew enough to know that while Venom’s poison wasn’t lethal to angels, it would’ve hurt like hell, breaking Illium’s concentration.

Venom rocked back on the balls of his feet, a slow taunting smile on his face that had Illium threatening him with dismemberment. That only made the vampire’s grin widen and then they were at it again, moving with a fluidity and grace that turned them into living pieces of art.

It was tempting to simply watch, but she began to note down moves and countermoves she thought she could utilize—because one way or another, she was getting her name back on the Guild roster as a fully functioning hunter.

Raphael stood on the very edge of the Tower roof, looking out over Manhattan. The city bore few scars from the destruction caused during his battle with Uram. It had stood firm and proud against the quakes and the storm winds that hit a week ago, and now sparkled bright beneath the sun’s rays.

“Shh, my darling, shh.”

Images of the young girl’s bloodied body surrounded by long, green grass intertwined with his mother’s voice, but the memories didn’t suck him under. Not today. This was his city. He had built it, and he would hold it, no matter if his mother thought to wrench it from him. “Boston?” he asked Dmitri. “Any further problems?”

“No,” the vampire answered from beside him. “The calm has held since the earthquake.”

No calm, this, Raphael thought. It was more akin to the unnatural quiet that settled over an area before all hell broke loose. “I—” He halted as his senses picked up something so unexpected as to seem impossible. “Dmitri, we’ll have to continue this later.”

Most others, even in his Seven, would have retreated, but Dmitri looked up to the sheet blue clarity of the sky. “Who is it?”

“Lijuan.”

The Archangel of China . . . and of Death.

21

Dmitri hissed out a breath. “I’ll put the Tower on alert.”

Spreading his wings, Raphael rose into the air above this chaotic, beautiful city of steel and glass and humanity that had been the center from which he’d claimed all the territory he now held. Lijuan was waiting for him in the high reaches, where the air was thin enough to kill a mortal—backlit by the cutting intensity of the sun, she was as eerily inhuman as ever, with those strange pearlescent eyes and hair of purest white.

He came to a stop across from her, noting that she wore flesh today. “I’m honored.” After the destruction of Beijing and Lijuan’s “evolution,” no one had seen her except in the pools of water she seemed to enjoy utilizing for contact.

“Of course I would come to you,” she murmured in that voice that screamed the truth of her descent. “None of the others are of any interest.”

Elena, where are you?

On my way to Guild Academy to see Eve. Do you need me?

Stay away from the house until I say otherwise. I don’t want you in Lijuan’s line of sight.

A pause, but she didn’t argue—though he knew very well she didn’t like him anywhere near the Archangel of China. Be careful, Archangel.

Having handled the conversation at the same time that he exchanged meaningless pleasantries with Lijuan, he angled his body toward the serene waters of the Hudson, light refracting off its surface in a thousand broken shards. “Come, we will speak at my home.”

“So very civilized of you, Raphael.” She laughed, the sound incongruously sweet for a woman who had made the dead rise, whose power was tinged with a putrid darkness. “Is it any surprise I prefer you above the others?”

Raphael said nothing, and neither did she, not until Montgomery closed the library doors behind himself after serving the tea. Lijuan had chosen one of the armchairs in front of the fireplace, and Raphael sat opposite, acting the host—with Lijuan, the small courtesies must always be observed. If they were, she would follow her own peculiar code. There would be no bloodshed, not while she was a guest in his home.


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