Archangel's Consort / Page 49

Page 49


She’d had a reservoir of power, he realized, had used it to escape by taking her other form for a short period. There was no way to track her—but she was vanquished for now and would think twice before attacking him or his own again. Now . . . now he had to face the monster who had given birth to him.

Elena, having moved the last of the men and women of Amanat to safety, away from the damaged buildings, ran up to a small rooftop, then took flight, Illium at her side. It didn’t take long to spot Raphael’s mother on another, much higher rooftop. Caliane’s white gown was streaked with black, that face of impossible beauty burned on one side, but all that was superficial to an archangel.

Landing, Elena looked for signs of the blackness that had overtaken Raphael like a creeping poison. Caliane’s wings bore scars of the oily slickness, but ... “I think she’s got it contained,” she said to Illium.

“I am the most powerful of archangels,” said a voice of such faultless clarity that it almost hurt to hear it. “Lijuan is yet weak.”

Raphael’s mother’s eyes were as pristine a hue as his, a shade no mortal would ever possess, but there was something in them . . . something unknown and old, so very, very old. Stepping back, Elena stood, watching as Caliane flowed to her feet, elegant in spite of her injuries and torn clothing. Already, the scars of black were noticeably smaller.

The archangel’s eyes bored into her. “My son calls you his consort.”

“I am his consort,” she said, holding her ground. Caliane didn’t have the creepy Lijuan factor, and neither did she put out the bitch vibe like Michaela, but there was an alien quality to her, something Elena had never felt with any other archangel, no matter how old—as if Caliane had lived so very long, she’d become something truly other in spite of the fact that she continued to maintain a physical form unlike Lijuan.

Caliane raised a hand, flames of unexpected yellow green licking over her fingers, and Elena heard Illium unsheathe his sword in a shush of sound, knew he was going to move in front of her. “Illium, no.”

The blue-winged angel didn’t obey. “You told me to choose my loyalty, Elena. It is to Raphael, and you are his heart.”

Knowing she’d never be able to budge him, she instead took a step to the side so she could meet Caliane’s gaze. “He doesn’t want you to be mad.” She more than half expected a whiplash of temper—archangels did not like being spoken to in such a way by mortals, or angels newly-Made.

But Caliane turned her head, her hair lifting in the breeze. “My son.” Unbridled pride. “He is of Nadiel and I, but he is better than both of us.”

Raphael winged in to land in front of Caliane then, and Illium shifted aside enough that Elena was able to watch mother and son come face-to-face for the first time in more than a thousand years.

Raphael’s heart, a heart he’d thought had turned to stone before he met Elena, stabbed with daggers of pain at the expression of love on his mother’s face. It brought back memories that usually broke through only during anshara, the deepest of healing sleeps.

He remembered not simply that she’d left him broken on that forsaken field, but that she’d held him when he’d cried as a child, wiping away his tears with long, elegant fingers before kissing his face with tenderness that had made him throw his arms around her, hold her tight. “Mother,” he said, and it came out quiet, husky with memory.

Her responding smile was shaky. Reaching forward, she raised her hand to his cheek, her fingers cool against his skin, as if her blood had not yet begun to truly pump through her veins. “You’ve grown so strong.”

It was an echo of the dream, and it made him wonder what she remembered of it. “I cannot allow you freedom, Mother.” It had to be said, no matter that the boy in him was reeling in stunned wonder at having her so close, so very near.

Her hand fell off his cheek and to his shoulder. “I do not seek freedom. Not yet.”

Giving in to the need within him, a need that had survived over a millennium, he reached out and drew her into his arms. She wrapped her own around him, laying her head against his-heart, and for a frozen instant, they were nothing but mother and son standing beneath an impossible sky.

I was not meant to survive your father, Raphael. We were two halves of a whole.

The sorrow in her tone made him tighten his hold. He could not live.

His mother said nothing for a long, long moment. When she drew back, her expression was different, more formal. So, you have a mortal consort.

“Elena,” he said out loud, refusing to allow Caliane to shut out the woman who made the idea of eternity a breathtaking promise. He placed a hand at the curve of her back when she came to stand beside him, “She is no longer mortal.”

Caliane’s eyes moved from him to Elena and back again. “Perhaps, but she is no mate for an archangel.”

Elena spoke before Raphael. “Maybe not,” she said, “but he’s mine and I’m not giving him up.”

Caliane blinked. “Well, at least she has spirit.” Folding away wings she’d spread out after his embrace, she looked back at Raphael. “Even your blood carries the taint of your mortal.” With that, she turned and walked to the edge of the roof. “I must look after my people.”

“Your awakening changes the balance of the Cadre.” Lijuan was no longer the strongest of them all—and after her Sleep, Caliane was a complete unknown.

“Later.” She raised a fine-boned hand. “I have no wish for politics at present. However, make it known that this region is now mine.”

Since Lijuan wasn’t likely to return to face Caliane anytime soon, that claim would, Raphael knew, remain unchallenged. There is no way to know what she will do, he said to his consort. If I am to have any chance of killing her, it must be now.

Elena curled her hand around his. She’s done nothing as yet that another member of the Cadre might not have. The impact on you, Elijah, and the others was an unconscious effect, so you can’t blame her for that.

She attempted to harm you more than once.

I rest my case—even your Seven isn’t sold on me. I never expected your mother to welcome me with open arms.

Raphael looked down at his hunter, at the piercing ring of silver around her eyes and knew that Elena would do anything to have another moment with her own mother; that her pain, her need, might blind her to the brutal truth. If this choice is wrong, thousands could die.

We won’t let that happen. Her voice was resolute.

Even as she spoke, silver blue flashed on her other side and then Illium was standing beside her, his wing touching Elena’s in an intimacy that made Raphael raise an eyebrow. Illium’s lips curved in a wicked smile that did little to hide the intensity of his emotions. I would not watch you die again, Sire. His veins stood out against his skin as he gripped the wrist of one hand with the other.

Raphael met those eyes of gold that had stood beside him for centuries. If I had done so, I would have gone knowing you would keep my heart safe.

Illium’s gaze went to Elena. Always. “I will remain behind with your mother.”

“No, Illium.” Stroking his hand down Elena’s hair, he shook his head. “I will send Naasir.”

The blue-winged angel’s jawline turned knife-blade sharp. “Naasir has no wings should he need to follow Caliane.”

“Jason will take care of that part of the equation.” Shaking his head when Illium went to argue, he said, “I need you in the city when Aodhan arrives.”

When both his hunter and Illium gave him intrigued looks, he said, “Later. For now, we will leave Caliane. She told the truth in that much at least—she has always cared for the people of this place and will not venture from it until they are thriving once more.” Taking a last look at the lost city of Amanat—lost no more—he rose with his consort into the skies, through the shield of power and into the rain-dark night beyond.

Standing in the huge bathroom of the penthouse apartment in Kagoshima-shi, the capital of the prefecture, Elena looked at her side in the mirror, saw that she no longer had holes in her flesh. Raphael had sent healing warmth racing through her before she walked into the shower, insisting on it though she was more worried about him.

Relieved nonetheless, she wrapped a plush white towel as firmly as possible around her body and padded out into the bedroom, heading to the windows. There was no angelic tower in this city, but the striking building across from this one seemed to be the center of operations, with angels flying in and out on a regular basis.

As she watched their silhouettes arc against the glittering skyline now clear of rain, she thought over the events of the day. What would it do to her if Marguerite suddenly rose from the grave and took flesh and blood form?

Pain. Need. Guilt. Love. Anger.

It was such a tumultuous blend that she took a shuddering breath in an effort to control herself, then another and another until she could shake it off. Tonight, this, it wasn’t about her. It was about her archangel. Raphael. He’d taken a quick shower of his own, then gone out to speak to the angel who ran this city. She hadn’t wanted to let him go, the terror that had torn through her as Lijuan’s evil spread through his veins a living, breathing entity, but as she was a hunter, he was an archangel.

I can see you, Guild Hunter.

Smiling, she pressed her fingers to the glass and looked out at the angels flying away from the ultramodern high-rise, its balconies asymmetrical—almost seeming to hang in midair. It took her less than a second. Less than a fraction of a second. He was the strongest, most compelling of them all, his wingspan magnificent. Are wings proportional to body size?

A glow of silver on his feathers as they were hit by the lights from a nearby billboard, the Japanese nightscape a technological wonderland. You know what they say about men and their wings.

She laughed, and it was a sweet, unexpected gift. Yeah? Come here and show me.

Instead of landing, he dipped and dived far enough away that she could see him—admire him—before changing direction to come straight to the balcony outside the suite. Walking out to meet him, she shook her head. “Show-off.” Before he could say anything in response, she wrapped her arms around the muscular heat of his body and pressed her lips to his pulse, needing to feel the living, beating heat of him.

His hands tightened on her hips. “I would kill anyone who saw you this way.”

She nipped at his jaw as he walked her backward into the suite. The instant he reached back to pull the doors closed, she jumped up to wrap her legs around his waist, the towel falling to the floor. “Windows,” she muttered against his throat, kissing her way up the strong column.

Carrying her without effort, his heartbeat ragged against her lips, his skin hot, he reached out and flipped the switch that turned the windows opaque. Then his hands moved up the backs of her thighs and up over her butt, his hold raw and possessive. When he turned to pin her against the wall, she instinctively spread out her wings on either side, clamping her hands on his shoulders.

His mouth was on hers before she could draw breath, his hand closing over her bare breast. She tried to meet the kiss, but he was so wild that she had to give in—to his mouth, to his kiss, to the hand he shoved between them to stroke at her damp heat with firm, demanding strokes that had her arching into him.

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