Archangel's Legion (Guild Hunter #6)(7)

Written By: Nalini Singh



“Sorry! Sorry! I just got out of the Refuge. I—” A gulp. “I wasn’t supposed to tell you that! Please don’t tell Raphael.”

Anger and worry combined into a knot in her throat at the memory of their first meeting. He’d been hanging upside down off the roof over the little balcony of her old apartment, all yellow curls and huge eyes as he tried to sneak a peek at a real-live hunter. To see someone so young and innocent lying broken and silent, his body a mass of bruised and torn flesh . . .

Elena wanted to do violence, make someone pay for this horror, but as of right now, they had no answers as to the origin of the nightmare, their enemy invisible.





3





It was well past the midnight hour when Raphael and his consort found their beds. He didn’t need rest as Elena did, but she slept better if he was in the bed with her. When she woke to find herself alone—and she almost always woke in the middle of the night if he wasn’t there—she came looking for him.

The first time it had happened, he’d thought she’d been wrenched from her rest by nightmare echoes of the horror that had ended her childhood, but she’d said she just missed him. Such simple words. Such powerful words. So now he slept with her, at least for certain critical hours of the night.

Tonight, though, neither one of them was ready to surrender to slumber. “Lijuan,” she said at last, her head against his shoulder. “Are you thinking the same?”

“The possibility had occurred to me.” The Archangel of China was rapidly becoming the Archangel of Death, her abilities touched with the putrefaction of a final ending that was without mercy or dignity, for all that she called herself a giver of eternal life.

Lijuan’s version of life was a horrific shambling shell fed of human flesh.

“But?” Elena raised herself on her elbow so she could look down at him, the near-white strands of her hair brushing over his skin, a thousand fleeting caresses.

He spread his fingers on the warmth of her lower back, stroked along the delicate arch of her spine. His tough hunter was still so vulnerable in countless ways, could well have been among the fallen today, for it was the youngest who’d borne the brunt of the damage, and Elena was the youngest angel in the city.

“Jason,” he said, crushing the thought before it could take damaging hold, “contacted me with a report an hour ago.” His spymaster was currently on the other side of the world, but he’d spun into action within seconds of the deadly events in New York. “As always, he has ways of gathering information unavailable to the rest of us.”

The fine rim of silver around Elena’s irises glowed in the dark of their bedroom, a silent indicator of her growing immortality, though that immortality was not yet set in stone in any way. “What did he say?”

“That he knows for a fact Lijuan was in her own territory during the entire span of the Falling.” Considering the certainty in his spymaster’s tone, he added, “I have a strong suspicion Jason may have attained the impossible and tracked Lijuan to her innermost lair.”

Elena sucked in a breath, and he saw she understood the danger. Should Jason be discovered, he wouldn’t make it out alive; Lijuan knew too well how loyal the Seven were to Raphael. But, Raphael thought, his spymaster would take no unnecessary risks, not now, when Jason knew his loss would be a fatal wound on the heart of the princess who awaited his return.

“If it wasn’t Lijuan”—dark realization in her eyes—“then . . .”

“Yes. The Cascade is apparently moving ahead with the speed of a—” He paused at Aodhan’s mental touch. A problem? he asked the angel who, with Illium, was currently in charge of Tower operations.

The Archangel Caliane has informed me she wishes to speak to you, Sire.

I’ll contact her from the house. Returning his attention to Elena, he touched the curve of her wing where the midnight feathers segued into indigo. “We might be about to get some answers,” he said, telling her of Caliane’s call. As the only Ancient who was awake and in the world, his mother knew much that had otherwise been lost to the pages of history.

“I’ll stay out of view,” Elena said when they reached the screen in his study, her skin glowing against the robe of cerulean silk he’d gifted her on the anniversary of her mortal birthday.

Irritation simmered to life in his blood. “Elena, you are my consort.”

“You know how she gets,” was her unshaken response where others would’ve quivered at the edge in his tone. “She’ll be far more forthcoming if she’s not feeling insulted by my presence.” Leaning against the wall beside a framed piece of art, she blew him a kiss.

We’ll discuss this later, he said and made the call. His mother continued to abhor technology for the most part, but she’d begun to accept the usefulness of certain aspects of the modern world. He hadn’t expected otherwise; Caliane might prefer what she termed the more “civilized” mores of centuries gone, but she was an Ancient, and no one lived so long by miring herself in the dusty past.

Twin flames of blue on the screen, his mother’s hair a river of black, her face the template used to cast his own. “Mother,” he said, his heart yet unused to the fact that she breathed once more, that should he wish, he could fly to her, feel the touch of the hands that had rocked him in childhood . . . and left him broken on a bloody field far from civilization.