Archangel's Consort / Page 42

Page 42


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Gwendolyn hugged herself, tiny lines flaring out at the corners of her eyes. “The worst thing is—I love him. I always have.” Turning, she began to walk down the hallway. “He’s in the study.”

“Wait, I just want to talk to Eve.”

The slender woman tucked a wing of raven hair behind her ear as she glanced back. “I’ll bring her down, but you can’t avoid speaking to him, you know that.”

Maybe not, but she could delay it as long as possible. So she waited for Eve to come down and spent a good half an hour with her sister, answering the questions on hunting that Eve had built up since their last meeting—and letting her know she could call Elena anytime.

Afterward, they spoke of other, more painful things.

“I miss Betsy,” Evelyn whispered, her hand a rigid little fist. “She was my best friend.”

“I know, baby.”

Eve’s eyes shone wet as she threw herself into Elena’s arms, seeming far younger than her years, the acknowledged baby of the family. “Mom thinks I don’t know, but I do. We looked the same. Everyone said so.”

Elena didn’t know what to say, how to heal that hurt, so she just held Evelyn tight and rocked her until the tears passed. “Shh, sweetheart. I don’t think Betsy would’ve wanted you to make yourself sick like this.”

“She was so nice, Ellie.” A gulping sob. “I miss her every day.”

Elena understood to the deepest core of her soul. She missed Ari and Belle and Marguerite every second of every day. “Why don’t you tell me about her?”

It took a while for Evelyn to find the words past her tears, but when she did, it was a dam breaking open. She spoke not only about Betsy, but about Celia, too, the girl who had “played the clarinet the best out of everyone” and who hadn’t laughed when Eve made a mistake during class.

Elena sat still and listened, coming to the sobering realization that Eve hadn’t spoken to anyone else about this, damming up her pain. She could understand why when it came to Jeffrey, but Gwendolyn’s love for her daughters was palpable. “Why didn’t you talk to your mom about Betsy and Celia?”

“She’s sad all the time anyway.” Wise words from a child with solemn gray eyes. “Do you mind if I talk to you?”

“No, of course not.”

A direct look, clear of tears now. “I used to think you must be mean, and that’s why Father didn’t ever invite you to stay with us.”

Elena’s heart stabbed with pain. “Yeah?”

“Yeah. But you’re not. You’re nice.” A fierce hug from those solid little arms. “You can come stay at my house when I have one.” It was whispered in her ear.

Elena held the unexpected emotional gift to her heart a few minutes later as she pushed through the door to her father’s study without knocking. She found him standing at the open French doors, staring out into the rain. Not knowing why she didn’t turn around and leave, she closed the door behind herself and crossed the room to stand against the opposite doorjamb, three feet of space between them.

Outside, the rain fell down in silver sheets, blotting out the world. She didn’t know if it was the conversation she’d had with Gwendolyn or something else, but she found her lips parting. “Mama loved the rain.”

“Come, chérie, dance with your mama.”

The damp, squishy feel of earth between her feet, her chest bursting with giggles as she ran outside with Beth by her side. “Mama!”

Laughter, sweet and carefree as Marguerite twirled in the rain, her skirts flying out around her in an unruliness of color.

“Mama. Pretty.” Beth’s soft voice, her hand curling into Elena’s as they jumped in the puddles around their mother’s spinning figure.

“Yes.” The word was clipped. “She was happy in the rain, but she couldn’t survive the storm.”

Stunned that Jeffrey had actually replied, she didn’t know what to do, what to say. She found herself rubbing a fisted hand over her chest, as if she could brush away the years-old hurt. “She wasn’t strong. Not like you.” Marguerite had been the light and the laughter, the wildfire in their life.

A bitter laugh. “She wouldn’t have needed to be if I’d been there that day.”

This conversation wasn’t going as she’d predicted, and she felt scared, lost, a child again. Gripping at the doorjamb, she thought back to that fateful day when everything had fractured, remembered that her daddy had been missing. “You went to pick Beth up from her sleepover.” She’d always been grateful for the kindness of fate that meant her sister had been spared the butcher’s attention.

A cold gray glance from behind those clear spectacles. “I had a fight with Marguerite, went off to clear my head, picked your sister up later than I should have.”

Elena’s whole world began to spin.

“We fought because I thought she was too flighty. I wanted her to be a businessman’s wife ...”

“When she was a butterfly,” Elena whispered, knowing that in spite of his harsh words, her father had loved his first wife, loved her in a way that he’d never again loved anyone else.

“Sweetheart, this cake looks delicious.”

Marguerite laughing and tugging on Jeffrey’s sedate tie to pull him down for a passionate kiss. “The cake looks atrocious and you know it, mon mari.”

A smile that turned her father into the most handsome man in the world. “Ah, but the cook is definitely delicious.”

Even as the fragment of memory tumbled unbidden into her mind from some secret hiding place, Jeffrey straightened, thrusting his hands into the pockets of his suit pants. She knew the moment was gone before he spoke. “Have you come to tell me that more of your new friends will be coming to harm your sisters?”

She flinched. “They’re under constant protection.”

Jeffrey didn’t look at her. “I’ll make sure word gets out that you’re not a welcome member of this family.”

It was a good precaution, but it also burned like a poker searing through her heart. “All right.” Her voice caught, but she didn’t let it break, refusing to crumble in front of this man who couldn’t be the same one who’d held her hand in that hospital morgue almost two decades in the past. “I’ll make sure any meetings I have with Eve are at the Guild from now on. No reason for anyone to question my presence there.”

Jeffrey said nothing.

Turning, Elena went to leave.

“Elieanora.”

She froze with her hand on the doorknob. “Yes?”

“Of all my children, you have always been the most like me.”

Repudiating the thought with every part of her, she walked out of the house without looking back. Raphael was there to pull her up into the sky until she’d gained enough altitude to fly. And fly they did, as she tried to bury her father’s words deep under a mountain of truth.

Elena.

I’m nothing like him! I would never do to my child what he did to his.

Raphael didn’t immediately agree, and his words, when they came, were not what she wanted to hear. You are both survivors, Elena. You chose different methods to do it, but you both did it.

Her lower lip quivered, and she was so frustrated at the sign of weakness that she bit down hard enough to draw blood. He survived by destroying all memory of our family. I hold them here. She slammed a fist to her heart, blinking the rain out of her eyes.

I am not your father’s champion. I would kill him if you would only not hate me afterward, but the fact of his mistress, it argues against your belief.

Dashing away more of the rain . . . and realizing the salty droplets weren’t falling from the sky after all, Elena thought of the poor woman Uram had brutalized in his rampage through New York. That light blond hair and golden skin, it had been a pale imitation of her mother’s butterfly beauty ... but an imitation nonetheless. I can’t, she said, a painful lump in the center of her chest, I can’t see him that way.

They’d reached the Tower, and Raphael waited to speak until they’d landed. Taking her into his arms, wings raised to protect her from the driving rain once more, he spoke against her ear. “You may be Jeffrey’s daughter, but you are also Marguerite’s.”

Elena clutched at his back, her fingers digging into him as she buried her face against his chest. “That’s the thing,” she whispered, almost hoping he wouldn’t hear her above the storm. “I hate him for what he is . . . but at least he stuck around.”

A lonely red high-heeled shoe on the cold black-and-white tile. A thin shadow swinging against the wall of the Big House. Those were her last memories of her mother. “At least he didn’t give up when it got too fucking hard. It was hard for all of us! But she left; she chose to leave!”

Her archangel said nothing, simply enfolded her in the circle of his arms and the protection of his wings as the storm raged with relentless fury around them.

Raphael knew his hunter needed time, but he couldn’t give it to her, not today. We must go, Elena, he said too soon. The sky is beginning to clear.

A nod against his chest. “Don’t worry, Archangel. I’m okay.”

No, he thought, she wasn’t. But she would survive, as she’d survived the losses of her childhood, Uram’s evil, the staggering change from mortal to immortal. Come.

The flight over the Hudson was relatively quick, the wind no longer against them. Once there and in dry clothes, Elena said, “I’ll see if my hunter friends in Japan were able to dig up any more intel.”

While she did that, Raphael spoke to the leader of his Seven in the library. “Do you foresee any problems in my absence?” Lijuan wasn’t the only one who’d noticed that he’d become more vulnerable to injury—it might well be the incentive another angel needed to attempt conquest.

Dmitri shook his head. “The fact that I’m here will deter anyone who might have ideas. They know I’m no new-Made vampire.”

“If there is an attack, go for the kill.” Only the most ruthless will would keep the city safe. “I’m leaving Venom with you, with Jason ready to fly in if necessary, while Galen holds the Refuge territory. Illium comes with me, and Naasir is already in Tokyo.” The vampire would meet them in Kagoshima.

“What about Aodhan?”

“I’m sending him back to the Refuge.” The angel had already pinpointed Caliane’s possible location on a satellite map. “I don’t want Galen alone.” He didn’t trust the others in the Cadre not to strike at him through eliminating one of his Seven.

“He would’ve been my choice as well,” Dmitri said. “Other than Galen, Aodhan is the one most used to handling your affairs in the Refuge.” The vampire turned a fraction as Elena walked into the room, and Raphael knew he’d likely curled out a tendril of scent in an effort to get a rise from her. About to tell Dmitri that today was not the time, he saw Elena’s lips curve.

“That hard up for a date, Dmitri darling?” she purred. “I have a number you can call.”


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