Archangel's Consort / Page 9

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Elena was reaching out to indulge her desire to touch when he said, “You lie to both of us.”

Frowning, she wrapped the sheet around herself—letting it gape low at the back to accommodate her wings—and scrambled off the bed to stand in front of him. “What are you talking about?”

He raised his head, his face so very clear of emotion that the pristine beauty of it felt as if it should draw blood, it was so sharp, so pure. “Did Uram’s scent change?”

Acid and blood and . . . sunlight.

She shivered at the memory of the bloodlust-driven archangel, her ankle aching in sympathetic memory where Uram had crushed it—simply to hear her scream. “I only met him after he’d already crossed the line into insanity,” she said, knowing this conversation was beyond important. “I have no way of knowing what he would’ve been to my senses beforehand—it’s possible that the blood, the acid in his scent was because of what he became, not what he once was.”

Raphael didn’t look convinced. However, neither did he dismiss her argument as he rose to his feet and pulled on his pants. “It can no longer be avoided. I must speak to Lijuan—”

An eerie cold in the room, a prickle of fear along the back of Elena’s neck. “It’s almost as if she can hear it when you speak her name.”

Raphael didn’t tell her she was being a superstitious twit. Yes, he said instead, we have no way of knowing what Lijuan hears on the winds now. “I cannot disregard the fact that my ... rage comes at a time when an Ancient appears to be stirring to wakefulness. As the oldest among us, Lijuan is the only one who may have some kind of an answer.”

“I’ll come with you.” Not long ago, as Beijing trembled around her, Elena had stood face-to-face with the shambling empty-eyed shells who provided irrefutable proof of the dark heart of Lijuan’s strength. The Archangel of China had bought the dead back to life—whether they wished to return or not.

They’d been monsters, feasting on the flesh of those Lijuan did not favor to clothe their own emaciated forms. But they’d also been victims, mute and unable to scream. Elena had heard them all the same, and everything in her rebelled at the idea of Raphael alone in the presence of the being who’d created those “reborn.” “It’s—”

A brush of strong fingers against her jaw. “She does not see you yet, not truly. I would keep it that way.”

Elena set that jaw. “My safety isn’t enough to compromise yours.” Lijuan was a nightmare, and her power came from the same dark place. There was nothing remotely human in her, nothing that even hinted of a conscience.

Raphael shook his head. “She will not kill me, Hunter.”

“No but she wants to ...” Had Lijuan been another woman, it would’ve been a simple equation. But the oldest of the archangels had no desires of the flesh—she didn’t even eat, much less take lovers. “Possess you,” she completed.

A look that made her feel as if she’d been stripped to the skin, laid out before him like a feast. “But I wish to possess you, hbeebti. The two desires are not compatible.”

Hbeebti.

A beautiful word from the Moroccan half of her mother’s lost heritage. “I’m not letting you sweet-talk me.”

A curve to his lips, her archangel finding dangerous humor in her stubbornness. “Then let logic persuade you. She is as apt to take offense at your presence as ignore it. If I am to do this, I want to get something out of it.”

Her hand scrunched the fabric of the sheet. “Damn it.” She knew he was right. Lijuan was unpredictable—she might decide to take the presence of Raphael’s “pet” as an insult. “Do it fast. Don’t let her get her hooks into you.”

A nod that sent his hair sliding across his forehead in a wash of gleaming midnight. “You asked me once what you should call me.”

Elena scowled. “I think you said something like ‘master,’ but I’ve decided I had to be hearing things.”

“What would you like to call me?”

That made her pause. “Husband” was too human, “partner” factually wrong for a being as powerful as an archangel, “mate” . . . perhaps. But none of it was quite right. “Mine,” she said at last.

He blinked, and when he raised his lashes again, the blue was liquid fire. Yes, that will do. “But for public consumption, you are my consort.”

“Consort,” she murmured, tasting the word, feeling its shape. “Yes, that fits.” A consort was more than a lover, more than a wife. She was ... someone with whom an archangel could discuss the darkest of secrets, someone he could trust to speak only the truth, even if it wasn’t something he wanted to hear. “If that crazy-ass bitch tries anything,” she said, referring to Lijuan, “and being in my mind would help anchor you, then do it.”

Raphael closed his hand over her bare shoulder, stroking to curve his fingers around her nape, his thumb playing over her pulse. “You fight so hard for your independence, and yet you would give me such entry?”

“I know you won’t abuse it.” Not now, not when he knew how very important it was to her that her mind be her own.

“I thank you for the offer, Elena.” It was an oddly formal statement, almost as if he was making a vow, his expression so intent she could do nothing but wrap her arms around him. The sheet slid to the floor at the same moment that he moved his free hand down her spine to her lower back, pressing her against him, his wings rising to curve slightly around her.

“The painting,” she said, stealing a moment to simply be with her archangel. “When was it done?”

“During the time you trained with Galen.” He answered her next question before she could ask it. “It is Aodhan’s work, done at my request.”

Elena thought of the angel with his eyes of shattered glass and wings that glittered diamond bright in the sun. “I never saw him.”

“He is adept at being unseen.”

“Most men would choose a painting of a nude for the bedroom,” she teased. “You chose a hunter with knives.”

“You are the only woman allowed in my bedroom, Elena.”

That she was loved . . . it was wonder enough. That she was loved by this man, it was beyond wonder. And it gave her the will to step back into the darkness. “I need to tell you what I found at the school.”

He listened in quiet. “You plan to liaise with Dmitri, confirm if they located the second body?”

“Yes.” Frustrated anger had her fisting her hand against his back. “It wasn’t a coincidence that the vampire picked that school was it, Raphael?”

His answer destroyed her final ephemeral hopes. “No. It cannot be.”

7

Less than an hour later, Elena found herself at the city morgue, looking down at the heartbreaking evidence of why Ignatius had spilled innocent blood. The girl who lay on the slab had been named Betsy, an old-fashioned name for someone so young. But maybe she’d liked it. Elena would never know. Because Betsy’s throat had been torn out, coloring the bed where she’d gone to lie down a violent crimson.

They’d found her discarded in the woods not far from the pond, a bare few feet from where Elena had hesitated during the tracking.

“She was a day student, didn’t have a bed at the school,” Dmitri told her from where he stood on the other side of the body. “Her teacher sent her to the infirmary after she complained of a stomachache, but Betsy’s best friend had a room at the school. It looks like she snuck in there instead. In the confusion, everyone thought the nurse had sent her home.”

“Evelyn,” Elena said, as she took in the small heart-shaped face surrounded by hair of a brown so dark it could be mistaken for black. According to the file, Betsy’s eyes had been a deep gray before death had stolen a film of dullness over them. “She looks like my youngest sister.” And the bed saturated with Betsy’s lifeblood had been Evelyn’s.

That was why Betsy was dead.

“I need to make a call.” She fisted her hand against the urge to touch Betsy’s pale skin in futile hope—there was no longer any warmth there, no longer any life. It had been irrevocably stolen.

As she watched, Dmitri reached out to tug the sheet over Betsy’s face with a tenderness that made a knot form in Elena’s throat. “I’ll organize discreet surveillance on your sisters,” he said, his tone so very even that she knew it was a mask.

Nodding, she stepped out into the cold, crisp light of the corridor, and collapsed against the wall. The shakes took time to pass. “I’m sorry,” she whispered to the girl who would never again laugh or cry or run ... and to the one who would soon be told that her best friend was dead.

Then she stiffened her spine and used her cell phone to call a number she’d avoided since waking from the coma. Her father picked up on the first ring. “Yes?” A curt demand.

“Hello, Jeffrey.”

His silence was eloquent. He didn’t like it when she used his name—but he’d lost the right to any familial address the day he’d told her she was an “abomination,” a pollutant in the illustrious Deveraux family tree. “Elieanora,” he said, his tone pure frost. “May I assume the unpleasantness at the girls’ school today had something to do with you?”

Guilt twisted her stomach into knots. “Evelyn may have been the target.” Hand pressed hard against the chipped paint of the wall, she told him the rest. “Her best friend, Betsy, was murdered. You must know how alike they look . . . looked.”

“Yes.”

“Evelyn needs to be told. The names will leak to the media soon enough.”

“I’ll have her mother speak to her.” Another pause. “The girls will be tutored at home until you sort out whatever mess you’ve created this time.”

It was a direct hit, and she took it. Because he was right. The two youngest Deveraux girls were in the line of fire because of her. “That’s probably for the best.” She didn’t know what else to say, how to speak to this man who had once been her father and was now a stranger who seemed to want only to hurt her.

In the days after she’d woken from the coma, she’d remembered forgotten pieces of her childhood, remembered the father she’d loved all those years ago. Jeffrey had held her hand in the hospital after her two older sisters had been murdered in that blood-soaked kitchen, led her down to the basement in spite of bitter opposition so she could see Ari and Belle again—she’d needed to be certain that her sisters really did rest in peace, that the monster hadn’t made them like him. He’d cried that day. Her father, the man with a stone-cold heart, had cried. Because he’d been a different man.

As she’d been a different girl.

“From your silence,” Jeffrey said with cutting impatience, “I take it the Guild Director didn’t pass on my message.”

Jeffrey had never liked Sara, being as she was part of Elena’s “filthy” profession. Elena’s hand tightened on the phone, until she was sure she could feel her bones crunching against one another. “I wasn’t able to meet Sara this morning.” They’d been meant to have coffee, catch up. Elena had been looking forward to kissing her goddaughter, Zoe, seeing how big she’d grown.


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