Archangel's Consort / Page 35

Page 35


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“The entire three decades. My mother made sure of it.”

“Your mother was a scary-ass woman,” she said. “But if those men did what I’m guessing they did, then the sentence was just.” Three days would’ve meant nothing to a four-hundred-year-old vampire. Sure, it would’ve hurt at the time but it would’ve been soon forgotten. Those women would’ve been scarred forever.

“Yes. They became as they’d left their victims.”

She nuzzled at him, realizing they were completely intertwined, her arms around his neck, his legs on either side of hers, one of his hands in her hair, the other on her lower back, his mouth against her temple, his chest hard and solid and real against hers. She’d never felt more centered, more safe, though they were speaking of a cold, deadly horror. “I understand justice. The vampires on the bridge today—do you know anything about them?”

“Dmitri tells me they are young, less than seventy. Not one has done anything that would merit such a punishment—two are steady family men, one is a writer who prefers his own company when not in service as part of his Contract, while two work in the lowest level of Tower business.”

“Under a hundred—weak, easy to control.” Especially for an archangel rising from a millennia of Sleep. She didn’t say that last aloud, couldn’t hurt him in that way.

It is all right, Elena. If my mother did this, and there is every reason to believe that she did, she has lost all that made her the once beloved ruler of Amanat.

A bleak silence.

Elena held him to her, close enough that their heartbeats melded. It was the only thing she knew to do, the only thing she could give him. If he had to draw his mother’s blood, she’d stand with him, no matter if he ordered her to keep her distance. Because they were linked, she and her archangel, two parts slowly become a whole.

The rest of the day passed by without incident, with Elena spending a good chunk of time with Evelyn. Her sister’s innocent enthusiasm, her growing confidence in her skills, was a welcome respite against the darkness on the horizon. She was feeling pretty good about things—until an out of the blue run-in with Santiago back at the house.

“Are you going to tell me what’s going on?” the cop asked her. “That, on the bridge this morning?”

Gut going tight, Elena folded her arms. “You already know I can’t tell you everything.”

Eyes shrewd, Santiago echoed her stance, leaning back against the squad car that had brought him over the bridge and into the Angel Enclave. “So you’re not one of us now, Ellie?”

“That’s a low blow.” She’d known it would come, just hadn’t expected it so soon and from him. Never from Santiago. “But yeah, if you want to draw a line in the sand—I’m not simply a hunter anymore. I’m an archangel’s consort.” It felt strange to hear the words fall from her lips, but she’d made her choices, would stand by them.

Straightening from his slouched position, the detective dropped his arms. “Guess that puts me in my place.”

She wanted to shake him. “Why are you being so unreasonable? You’ve always been happy to let the Guild handle vampiric incidents.”

“Something about this smells.” A stubborn line to his jaw, that salt-and-pepper stubble catching the light. “I don’t want the city to become a battleground like it did last time.”

“You think I do?”

“You’re not human anymore, Ellie. I don’t know your priorities.”

It hurt worse not just because they’d been friends for years, but because he’d been so accepting of her since her return. Clenching her fists, she gave him a deliberately expressionless face. “I guess that makes us even—I don’t know who you are anymore either.”

She thought he flinched and was almost certain he was about to say something, but then he got in the squad car, slamming the door shut. Only after he’d driven off did she double over, feeling as if she’d taken a punch to the gut. Breathing past it, she rose back to her full height and walked into the house to call Venom. She needed to pound her aggression out on someone, and the vampire had a way of provoking her past all reason—it was exactly what she needed today.

Venom wasn’t only free, he was in a hell of a temper. As a result, she fell into bed that night bruised and battered and exhausted. Raphael raised an eyebrow at her condition when he came to join her. “Why was the mortal here?”

Of course he knew. “He wanted to talk about the case.”

An ominous silence that spoke louder than words.

Thumping her fist into the pillow, she turned onto her side. “It’s not important, not with everything else that’s going on.”

“I could always ask the mortal.”

She scowled and turned to stare down at him where he lay on his back on the bed. “Blackmail doesn’t work well with me.”

Arms folded behind his head, he looked at her with blue eyes gone dangerously quiet. “I’m not making a threat.”

Her hands curled into tight, bloodless fists. “It’s nothing!”

An unblinking gaze.

“Fine.” Slamming down on her back, she stared at the ceiling. “It’s just ... hard being torn between two worlds.” With the words out, her anger disappeared, to be replaced by a far more hurtful emotion—tight and hot and abrasive in her chest.

Raphael rose up to lean on his elbow beside her, his hair falling over his forehead. It was impossible to resist the temptation to lift her hand, run her fingers through the midnight silk of it. “I didn’t tell you before,” she said, the words wanting out, “but Beth, she said something to me. That she’d die and I’d still be alive.” Emotion burned at the backs of her eyes. “I’m not supposed to outlive my baby sister, Raphael.”

“No.” A solemn answer. “But would you change this? Would you change us?”

“No. Never.” An absolute truth. “It still hurts to know that I’ll stand over her grave one day.” A single tear escaped her control to trickle down the side of her face.

Raphael leaned down until their lips brushed. “Your mortal heart causes you much pain, Elena—but it makes you who you are.” A kiss that stole her breath. “It will give you the strength to bear the costs of immortality.”

He had touched her in so many ways, but that night, he touched her with a tenderness that broke her heart. He kissed the salt of her tears away, his lips so firm, so gentle on her cheek, her jaw, her mouth. And his hands, those powerful, dangerous hands ...

Never had she been handled with such exquisite care. Never had she felt so cherished.

Yet, at the end, he called her, “Warrior mine,” this archangel who had seen her at her weakest. Those were the words she took into a deep, dreamless sleep, Raphael’s heartbeat strong and steady beneath her palm.

Raphael.

Elena jerked awake at the whisper, glancing over to see her archangel asleep on his front, his magnificent wings spread out until they covered her, too. He had a habit of doing that in bed, she thought, heart aching at the memory of his tenderness earlier. But even as she stroked the white-gold of his feathers with one hand, she retrieved the dagger she’d secreted down the side of the bed with the other.

If that was Lijuan whispering into the inky dark of the bedroom, then a dagger wouldn’t do much good, but Elena felt better with the kiss of steel against her skin. Pushing tangled hair off her face with her free hand, she searched the room with her gaze. There were no intruders, nothing that shouldn’t be there. But her heart continued to pound, as if—

Raphael.

Ice in her bloodstream, her eyes arrowed toward a rippling pocket of air at the bottom of the bed. Almost a mirage, but not quite. It was as if the fabric of the world itself was being twisted as something tried to take shape and failed. Throat dry, she reached out without taking her eyes off that thing and shook Raphael’s muscular shoulder. It amazed her that he’d slept through this—he tended to wake the instant she did, because the fact was, he didn’t need to sleep.

Solid muscle under her hand. But Raphael didn’t wake.

Archangel, she said into his mind, wake up. There’s something in the room.

Silence. Emptiness.

Her entire body went stiff, hand clenching on his shoulder. Nothing, but nothing, had ever stopped Raphael from responding to a mental plea from her. He’d found her in the middle of New York when Uram had held her captive in a charnel house of a room. He’d tracked her across the Refuge when Michaela went nuclear at the Medica. He’d broken a meeting of the Cadre itself to save her life in Beijing. There was no way he’d sleep through a call from her when she was sitting right next to him.

Staring at the strange near mirage, she set her jaw and lifted the steel in her hand. “Go to hell.” A soft whisper as she threw.

25

The knife sliced through the air to dig home in the opposite wall, the hilt quivering at the impact. The mirage, though it didn’t disappear . . . sort of fractured. That was when she caught the whisper of a scent that shouldn’t have been there.

Lush, sensual, exotic.

Black orchids, but it was somehow different from what she’d sensed on the murdered girl’s body, on the men hanging from the bridge.

But there was no time for her to process the notes, because a split second after the fracture, a wing was rising under her touch. Moving so fast she couldn’t track him with her eyes, Raphael was up and standing beside the bed, the white-hot glow of him so vivid as to erase the lines of his form, to turn him into a blazing torch. Stunned, Elena threw a hand over her eyes and ducked her head in preparation for crawling out of bed so she could retrieve the weapons she’d hidden underneath, do what she could to assist.

But one blink and the blinding heat of his power was gone.

Looking up, hand itching for a weapon, she saw that the thing in the center of the room had disappeared, no hint of black orchids in the air. But she didn’t drop her guard until Raphael said, “My mother is no longer here, Elena.” There was a remoteness to his voice she didn’t like.

Pushing off the blankets, she began to slide out.

Raphael was already pulling on a pair of pants over that magnificent body. “I’ll be back before dawn. She will not return tonight.”

“Wait!”

He didn’t even pause at the balcony doors, pushing them wide open. She managed to cover the distance just in time to see him disappear into the starry night sky, flying so far and fast that she lost track of him in the space of a few piercing seconds. Anger stabbed through her, hot and determined. Damn if he was going to do this—especially after the intimacy of the moments they’d shared not only tonight, but since she’d woken from the coma, after the bonds they’d forged.

Stalking back into the bedroom, she pulled on her own pants, slapped on one of the supportive tank tops that had been designed to fit around her wings using straps, then slid on the warm, lined sleeves that fit snugly over her upper arms and left her hands free. She was back on the balcony bare minutes after he’d taken off, very conscious of the tendrils of dark chocolate and fur curling beneath the bedroom door as the male behind the scents got ever closer—Dmitri had come over for a late meeting with Raphael, opted to stay the night in one of the rooms reserved for the Seven.


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