Archangel's Consort / Page 50

Page 50


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He removed his hand much too soon, and she would’ve protested if he hadn’t claimed her lips for another deep kiss. Gasping in air when he released her mouth for a second, she moaned as he bit at her lower lip hard enough to sting before taking her again, his tongue stroking against her own. An instant later, she felt his cock nudging at her core.

A single, powerful thrust and he was buried to the hilt inside of her.

She screamed, her back arching off the wall, her nails digging into his shoulders as pleasure short-circuited her system, inner muscles clenching and unclenching over and over again. If she’d had any hope of holding on to even a hint of rational thought, it went out the window when he bent his head and bit down on her pulse. Hard enough that she knew she’d be wearing his mark.

After that, there was only touch and taste and the hotly intimate friction of skin against skin.

35

Elena lay sprawled on top of Raphael, a surely stupid smile on her face. “Wow,” she murmured into the warm curve of his neck. “That was ...”

He ran his hand over her back, fingers brushing the sensitive inner curves of her wings. “I was rough.”

“That you were.” Nuzzling into him, she licked at the salt of his skin. “It was perfect.” That he’d trusted her with the full fury of his emotions ... Smile growing deeper, she stroked her hand down the ridged musculature of his chest. “When did you get rid of your clothes?”

“Hmm?”

He sounded so lazy and sated that laughter bubbled out of her. “Hey.” She slapped his chest. “No going to sleep.”

I’m the archangel. I give the orders.

Her laugh turned into a startled grin. He had a sense of humor, her archangel, but not long ago, he’d have meant it when he said that. Placing her hand over his heart, she listened to the deep beat that wasn’t yet steady. She should’ve felt sleepy, but all she wanted to do was stroke him, kiss him, feel him warm and alive under her hands. “What happened, Raphael?”

He understood without further explanation. “It was a fatal blow. Even had Keir been beside me the instant after I took it, he wouldn’t have been able to heal me.”

The words chilled the embers of passion. “Lijuan’s that powerful?”

Yes. “But her power has twisted and changed from our last confrontation. It now carries total death, even for immortals.”

“You were scored on your wings and shoulders before the chest hit.”

“I think that type of a glancing blow would’ve killed a weaker, young angel.” His hand closed around the back of her neck, gave a little squeeze. “I’m old enough and strong enough that she needed to strike me either in the head or in the heart.”

“God, Raphael.” The idea of his death made her scrabble inside in panic. “I can’t lose you.” She’d lost two of her sisters, her mother, and in every way that mattered, her father. If she lost Raphael, that would be it. She wouldn’t make it.

“I live Elena.” Quiet words, his arms holding her close. “Because of you.”

She jerked up her head. “What?”

“My mother said even my blood carries your mark.” Reaching up, he ran his finger down the shell of her ear.

“I thought she was being insulting.”

“No.” Raphael thought back to when he’d first met Elena, when he’d first begun to feel the impact of the nascent bond between them. “Lijuan told me you would make me a little mortal and, in so doing, kill me.”

Guilt colored her expression. “I have made you weaker, Raphael. You heal slower—”

He pressed a finger to her lips. “I should’ve considered the source. Everything came from Lijuan.”

“I don’t understand.” Lines formed on her brow as she spoke. “You’re saying she somehow twisted the truth? Tried to sabotage you from the get-go?”

“I don’t think she would have thought of it in that fashion.” Moving his hand down to curve around her throat, he rubbed his thumb over her pulse ... over the mark he’d put on her.

Elena arched into the touch. “She does seem to like you in that weird, creepy way of hers.”

“Such flattery will go to my head, Guild Hunter.”

“Someone’s got to keep you humble.”

“Lijuan deals in death,” he told her, her laughter sinking into his skin, an invisible mark of her own. “A mortal is very much alive and of the moment.” Humans didn’t have the luxury of wasting years or decades, their lives beginning and ending in a firefly flicker.

Elena’s eyes went wide, that thin ring of silver not apparent in this light, but he knew it was there, a silent meter of how deep immortality had grown into her cells. “The change in you,” she said, “whatever it is, means you have the ability to resist her powers?”

“Not only resist, but neutralize.” Giving him an incredible advantage against the most powerful member of the Cadre, barring his mother. So long as he managed to get to safety long enough to recover from a strike, Lijuan could not kill him.

Elena whistled. “She knew. She knew that might happen.”

Raphael wasn’t so sure. “I think she had an idea of it, but I also believe part of what she told me was the truth—she did once have a lover who threatened to make her mortal.”

“And,” Elena completed, “she chose to kill him because he endangered her power. He scared her.”

“Yes.” He watched the expressions fly across her face. Such passion in that mortal heart, such a hunger for life. “Come here, Elena.”

She leaned down until her hair created a soft intimacy around their faces. “You worry that you have the seeds of madness in you”—a soft whisper husky with passion—“but you’ll never become what she is. Never.” Because Raphael had chosen to love when it had seemed the worst possible option.

His gaze was a cold mountain lake and the cool heart of a gemstone. “We may have unleashed a horror, Elena.”

She knew they were no longer talking about Lijuan. “If we’d killed her in cold blood as she Slept, or as she stood weakened before us, we’d be no better than monsters ourselves.”

“Then we wait.”

Epilogue

Three days later, Raphael looked across the semicircle of the Cadre at a glowing Michaela. Whatever the nature of her relationship with Astaad’s second, it seemed to be making her happy—for the time being at least. Flanking her sensual beauty were Charisemnon and Astaad himself.

Elijah had taken the seat to Raphael’s left, while Favashi sat next to the South American archangel. Neha reclined with regal grace beside her, Titus on her other side. Then there was Lijuan ... on Raphael’s right. It was the first official meeting of the Cadre the Archangel of China had attended in over a year.

Elena had asked him if Lijuan would be held to account for Caliane’s attempted murder, had been stunned when he explained that because the Sleeper lived, there had been no crime. Such was the ruthless world of the most powerful immortals.

“There has,” Favashi now began in her serene voice, “been a shift in the power structure of the world.”

Michaela, dressed in a corset that spoke of bygone times, skintight black pants, and boots that skimmed over her thighs, crossed her legs one over the other. “The Queen of Understatements as always, Favi.” For once, there was no bitchiness in her tone when she spoke to the other archangel.

Favashi’s lips curved upward in a slight smile, her own dress an ankle-length gown in palest green that left her arms bare and reminded Raphael of the maidens in Amanat. “You aren’t worried about this change?”

“Raphael’s mother is powerful,” Michaela said, “so powerful that she probably won’t bother with day-to-day politics.” Her gaze went to Lijuan. “It’s what we expected of you.”

Lijuan, her body not as solid as it should’ve been, didn’t deign to reply, turning her attention to Raphael instead. “You should have killed her,” she murmured, her skin stretched so thin over her bones that he could almost see the white of her skeletal structure shining through. “It’s too late now.”

Raphael remembered the choice she’d urged him to make when he’d met Elena, thought of the consequences if he had listened then. “You are no longer the strongest archangel in the world. It seems to have clouded your judgment.”

Those eerie eyes swam with gleaming black. “I have always liked you, Raphael.” Caressing words against his cheek, though she made no move to raise her hand.

Ignoring the silent invitation, he looked to Astaad. “You have not spoken.”

“What is there to say?” Astaad spread his hands in a graceful gesture, rings of finest gold flashing on his fingers. “Caliane appears to want nothing beyond what she already has at this stage.”

“Are we certain?” Neha’s words carried an undertone of a sibilant hiss. “There were strange reports from your court, Astaad.”

Raphael, his gaze on Astaad, saw the male’s eyes flame with rage for a flashing second before he gave a lazy smile. “There are always reports. Be careful what you believe.”

Lijuan’s shoulder brushed Raphael’s—and it felt akin to being touched by a solid illusion. “Do you think he is taking Uram’s path?” Her voice was pitched low, meant to reach his ears alone.

Raphael hadn’t considered that. But if Astaad was continuing to behave in an erratic fashion, then Caliane’s awakening was not to blame. “If he is, he’s a fool.” Letting the toxin build up in your system until madness encroached was a gamble no one ever won. I stood in your way, he said to Lijuan. I tried to kill you. It was an implied question.

You are young, Raphael. You have not yet learned to choose your battles.

He wondered if Lijuan truly believed he would one day stand by her side, if her insanity was that deep, that true. But he said nothing, for her calm was necessary at this moment. Caliane might be powerful, but Lijuan remained a force who could destroy the world. “Neha,” he murmured under his breath. “What do you know?”

“She has been visiting her mate more often of late,” Lijuan murmured as Charisemnon and Titus exchanged stinging comments. “Perhaps she wishes to conceive another child.”

“Raphael,” Titus said, turning away from the archangel who always seemed to rub him the wrong way. “You and your people are the only ones who are being allowed through her shields and into her city.”

“I will keep watch,” he said, knowing that responsibility could be no one else’s. After what he’d learned in Amanat, he knew he held within him the potential to do what he hadn’t been able to as a youth—this time, if Caliane rose a monster, her son would be the one to bring her down.

When he returned home, it was to the embrace of a woman who reminded him that no matter what happened, he’d tasted life, such life as no other archangel would ever know.

“Raphael,” she said to him as they stood on the highest balcony of their home. “Will you come with me somewhere?”


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