Archangel's Consort / Page 5

Page 5


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He was right. Anything she got near the pond would be diluted. Here, he’d killed, perhaps shed some of his own blood if the victim had been able to claw at him as she fought for her life. Taking a deep breath, Elena shut out everything—including the icy knowledge that this could have been one of her sisters—and focused on the rich strokes of scent that saturated the room.

The easiest to identify was Raphael, her anchor.

Then the metallic kiss of blood. And ... a stormy scent licked with fire.

Her eyes snapped open. “Jason was here?” Her ability to track angels continued to be wildly erratic, more often off than on, but she knew that combination of notes, knew also that it was rare for the black-winged angel to make a daylight appearance.

Yes.

Chilled by the way Raphael stared unblinking at the pool of blood, she pushed aside the question of why Raphael’s spymaster had passed through here—why, indeed, the Archangel of New York was on a scene that should’ve been filled with cops and hunters—and focused her senses once more. It was startling, what little effort it took to isolate the vampiric thread. Unlike most places in the state, this school was apparently free of vampiric employees, a humans-only zone.

No wonder Jeffrey had chosen it for his daughters.

But one vampire had invaded this sanctum, a vampire with a sickly sweet edge to his smell.

Burnt treacle . . . and slivers of glass, heavier notes of oak underneath.

Tugging on that thread, she angled her head toward the window. “That’s how he got out.” But she left the room through the door, knowing she’d never be able to squeeze out the same way, given her wings. She was aware of Raphael at her back as she found an exit and stepped outside, rounding ivy-covered walls until she stood below the window.

That particular section of wall was clear of the dark green vine. “Place has high ceilings.” Which, since the room was on the third floor, equaled the window being a considerable distance off the ground. “How did he get up?” Most vamps wouldn’t have been able to jump that high. However ... She pressed her nose to the wall, drew in a breath.

Crushed glass, oak leaves.

Then she saw the streak of red by where she’d placed her right hand, palm-down.

Dropping it, she looked around her feet as she spoke. “He climbed up and down like a fucking spider.” There was only a subset of vampires who could pull off that particular trick. “Should help narrow down his identity.”

“His name is Ignatius,” Raphael said to her surprise—just as she glimpsed droplets of dark liquid on the grass. “I felt his mind turn bloodred when I touched it.”

Elena wasn’t sure of Raphael’s range, but if he’d touched Ignatius’s mind, then there was something wrong here. “You weren’t able to execute him.” She followed the trail across the manicured green of the inner lawn, through the heavy archway carved out in the middle of the long school building at the other end, and into the woods that normally provided a serene backdrop—but today seemed an ominous mass, the leaves dull beneath a sky that had shifted from azure to dirty gray in the minutes she’d been inside.

Not answering her implied question, Raphael rose into the air as she tracked Ignatius through the woods, her wings catching on branches and thorny bushes. Wincing at the uncomfortable sensations, she tucked them even tighter to her body but didn’t slow her progress through the trees. She hesitated at one point, certain she felt the tug of something to her right, but the trail of oak and glass was vivid straight ahead.

Shaking off the impulse to turn, explore, she continued the track. Jason’s black-winged form appeared out of the looming dark of the woods less than five minutes later—he stood unmoving as stone, guarding a body that lay beside the placid waters of a small pond.

The girl was still wearing her school uniform, her entire frame soaked. Her blouse should’ve been white. It was a nauseating salmon pink, and shredded as Elena knew her flesh would’ve been shredded. Strangling the pity that threatened to derail her, Elena didn’t move toward the body—her priority was to track the killer, to make certain no other girl would end up a broken doll beside a pond that should’ve been a place of play, not a macabre bath flavored with death and horror.

You were right, she sent to Raphael, he washed in the pond, cut off the scent trail. But he would have had to get out at some point. So, leaving Jason to continue his silent vigil, she began walking across the moss-laden stones that rimmed the water gone murky with churned up silt ... and other, darker things.

It only took a minute to find him again. The scent trail was weaker, drenched in water until the oak alone remained, but that was all she needed. Drawing the crisp forest air into her lungs, she began to run, determined to hunt the vampire to ground. He was fast, she realized almost at once, glimpsing the tracks he’d left behind in the damp patches of earth caused by last night’s storm. In contrast, she was no longer as quick and agile as she’d once been, unused to running with wings.

But it wasn’t a disadvantage, not today. The vampire had slowed down maybe five hundred yards into his escape, probably figuring the water had erased his scent. It would have if he’d taken a bit more care. Then again, Raphael had said the girl’s body had been in the water, too. Her murderer had likely dragged her in there with him because he couldn’t stop feeding.

The end result was that given the small size of the pond, the blood and death had polluted it, destroying its ability to wash the vampire clean of his sickening acts of violence. Good girl, she thought, speaking to the child who lay so motionless under wings of midnight black. You marked the bastard even in death. Elena would hunt him down using that mark.

Half an hour into the run—through twisting paths that tried to muddy the trail and confirmed the vampire was rational—the sun weak and sluggish overhead, she began to feel a stitch in her side. “Damn it.” She didn’t need Raphael’s sadist of a weapons-master, Galen, to pound at her to know she wasn’t in full hunting shape.

Breathing past the stabbing pain, she snapped up her head as the shadow of wings swept along the ground in front of her—to see Raphael flying to a location just beyond the rise, his speed breathtaking.

Archangel, what do you see?

4

There was no answer, only the painful bite of ice in her veins.

Rage.

Pure and violent and cold, so cold.

“Shit.” She pushed up her pace, cursing the fact that she couldn’t do a vertical takeoff for the billionth time. It could take years to master, she’d been told—perhaps longer seeing as she hadn’t had wings since childhood. Well, fuck it, she thought. If she had to ask Galen to come to New York to torture her again every single day for the next year, she was going to learn.

Raphael dived in front of her and by the time she crested the rise, her chest heaving, he had his hand clamped around the neck of a vampire whose clothing remained damp enough to stick to his skin. The Archangel of New York was holding the panicked creature at least two feet off the ground with no visible effort. The vampire’s eyes bulged, blood vessels popping as he scrabbled at the hand around his throat, his legs kicking at the air in a futile attempt to escape.

“You are not in bloodlust,” she heard Raphael say in a voice so clear, it was a blade, slicing and brutalizing without mercy.

Instinct, paired with what she’d learned of Raphael in the time they’d been together, had a very bad feeling forming in the pit of her stomach. Scrambling down the rise without caring about the mud that streaked her jeans and wings both, she looked into the vampire’s face. The male’s reddened eyes were lucid . . . but for the terror in their depths. His mouth was another matter. Rimmed with dried blood that had survived his impromptu bath, it turned his face into a grotesque mask.

“Why?” Elena asked, knives in hand though she had no memory of drawing them from the sheaths strapped to her forearms. “Why did you do it?” The image of the girl’s ravaged body played over and over on the screen of her mind. That could’ve been Evelyn, could’ve been Amethyst. Her sisters. Again. The thought echoed until it was almost all she could hear.

Raphael began to squeeze the vampire’s throat. “It matters little why.” Blood trickled from one of the vampire’s eyes, a macabre tear.

“Wait.” She put her hand on the corded strength of Raphael’s forearm. “Your vampires don’t disobey you. Not like this.” They were too aware of the brutal justice of his punishments. The fact that this Ignatius had done what he had in spite of that ...

The vampire began to claw at Raphael’s hand with the last of his strength, as if conscious that after crushing his throat, the Archangel of New York would almost certainly rip off his head and have his entire body burned. Raphael shook off the clawing hands as if they were less than flies, his expression so calm it was terrifying.

Raphael, she tried again, using their mental connection in the hope it would penetrate the ice that was his rage. We need to know why.

Raphael glanced at her. “All right.” And before her horrified eyes, the vampire began to bleed . . . everywhere, his very pores seeming to erupt under extreme pressure. She knew what Raphael had done, knew he’d shredded the killer’s mind like so much confetti. That task complete, he tore off the vampire’s head with a single efficient wrench and burned both pieces to ash with the vivid blue of angelfire. The pulse of raw power could kill an archangel—the vampire’s body didn’t even survive a full second.

It all happened so fast that she was still staring at the place where the vampire had been when Raphael turned to her, a slight glow to his wings that augured nothing good. The primal part of her brain, more animal than human in its determination to survive, fired a surge of fear-laced adrenaline through her system. Run, it said, run! Because when an archangel glowed, people died.

But Raphael wasn’t simply an archangel. He was hers.

She stood her ground as he stepped closer, bent to speak with his mouth brushing her ear. “Someone whispered to him that I was dead”—cool tone, quiet words that made her nerves skitter—“that there was no longer any need for him to leash his desires.” Moving back a step, he lifted a finger to tuck a flyaway strand of her hair behind her ear.

The gentleness of the act didn’t reassure her—not when his anger kissed a knife blade against her throat. “That doesn’t make sense.” It took effort to keep her voice steady—yes, he was hers, but she’d only scratched the surface of him. “Even if he did think that, why come here, to this place?” She wasn’t egotistical enough to think it had anything to do with her. No, Raphael was the target, but she was the weak point in his defenses. “It’s too far out of the city to be anything but a specific location.”

Raphael’s eyes shone with that dangerous metallic tinge, a look to him she couldn’t read. He’d been alive for over a thousand years and had so many facets to his personality that she knew it would take an eternity to see them all. Right now, it was obvious that reasoning with him would be akin to banging her head against thousands of rapier-sharp blades.


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