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Archangel's Heart(Guild Hunter,book 9)(12) by Nalini Singh
The damn vampire bared his teeth, fangs flashing. But before he could say something designed to aggravate her, Honor pressed a finger over his lips. “Dmitri only bites his wife now,” she said before pointing at Elena. “Shoo. Go home so we can get some work done. Or my husband will spend all his time having fun by irritating you.”
Raphael was already by Elena’s side, his wing overlapping hers, his feathers a shimmering white gold against the midnight and dawn of her own. “I give the Tower and my territory into your keeping, Dmitri. Not simply for tonight, but until I return from Lumia.”
Dmitri straightened, his expression wiped of all humor and his skin taut over the bones of his face. “They’ve called a meeting?”
“Yes. We leave on the dawn.”
Suddenly, Dmitri wasn’t the infuriating vampire who messed with Elena just because he could, but very much Raphael’s second, his own strength such that certain angels had been known to warn Raphael to be careful, that he couldn’t trust a man with that much personal power. Those angels didn’t understand the bond between the two men. They weren’t simply sire and second. They were friends as close as brothers.
Dmitri would die for Raphael.
And difficult as it was for outsiders to understand, he would die for Elena, too.
Because you are his heart, Elena. A man with his heart torn out is a broken creature. I know.
Words he’d spoken to her once, when they’d been alone on a balcony one quiet midnight long before he’d found Honor. He’d made no attempt to hide the scars on him when he looked at her. And not for the first time, she’d realized that Dmitri had had a life before he became a vampire. A life that had involved a wife and children.
“Sire, you must take care.” The vampire’s body was all hard lines. “The rules have been—are—being broken. I don’t trust the others not to strike even within the sacrosanct halls of the Luminata’s innermost sanctum.”
“Have no fear, Dmitri. I have no intention of lowering my guard.” Raphael paused. “I thought to take Aodhan as our escort. He will enjoy seeing the art that is meant to line the walls of Lumia, and he is powerful enough that no one will consider him an easy mark.”
“But not as powerful as Illium.” Dmitri’s eyes narrowed before he nodded, his arm still around a silent Honor. “Illium might be seen as too confrontational. Of course, Aodhan doesn’t exactly blend in, so you’ll still be making a point.”
The point being that Raphael’s Seven was made up of extraordinary men; Elena had come to realize the oldest three could’ve all been an archangel’s second. Each and every one was strong, intelligent, and honed enough to hold a position at an archangel’s side. Yet they chose to serve one archangel, chose to work with one another instead of in competition.
“Can I take my Guard?” Elena asked, wanting to give Raphael as much firepower as he was “legally” permitted.
While she still wasn’t really sure what to do with the Guard she’d somehow acquired, they were all capable fighters. A couple of them—namely Ashwini and Janvier—were also excellent at being smartly sneaky, using that to offset the disadvantage of their relatively young ages.
But Raphael shook his head. “In this situation, you are coming as my consort, and as such, if you take your Guard, it would be seen as an admission that I don’t believe I can protect you.”
“I hate angelic politics.” She ran a hand through her hair. “So, it’ll be me, you, and Aodhan. Dmitri and Illium will watch the city?” The two could definitely handle it, but it’d be hard going with little time for rest.
“Venom will be back in New York in the next twenty-four hours. Galen has authorized his return.” He spoke to her and Dmitri both. “Naasir and Galen will hold the Refuge territory safe, while Jason will do what he does.”
In other words, she thought as the two of them flew off the Tower after a short good-bye, Jason would provide any and all intel the others needed to do their jobs. Elena’s Guard, meanwhile, would be co-opted by Dmitri. It was how they’d set it up. Those in her Guard were being trained under Dmitri’s guidance because, while she could say many things about Raphael’s second, the one thing she couldn’t say was that he was bad at his job.
The setup worked for all of them—Elena wasn’t yet ready to take full control of her Guard, not when she was still learning herself. She’d only ended up with a Guard by accident anyway. It was Elijah’s consort, Hannah, who’d convinced her to give it serious attention.
“As you grow in power and age,” the other consort had said, “you’ll come to be seen less as a curiosity and more as a threat.” Hannah’s dark eyes had held a quiet wisdom, her ebony skin exquisitely without flaw and her jet-black curls woven into an intricate knot at her nape, her wings a lush and luxuriant cream with a caress of peach on the primaries. “Never forget that while archangels are extremely difficult to kill, consorts like you and I aren’t so difficult.”
Savaging the archangel’s heart in the process.
“And,” Hannah had said with a smile, “now is the best time to build your Guard, when you are at the same level as your people. They will become strong by your side, your friendships forged into iron over time. It will be far more difficult to gather people you trust once you are influential in any sense—then you’ll first wonder if they are truly loyal to you, or if they hunger to be attached to a woman with power.”
Elena knew she already had a certain level of power by dint of being Raphael’s consort, but she also knew that mattered little to the people in her Guard. Ashwini had been a trusted fellow hunter and friend for years. Her mate, Janvier, adored Ash with such open delight that Elena knew he’d never betray anyone Ash called a friend—quite aside from the fact that Janvier was also fiercely loyal to Raphael.
Izak was . . . well, he was adorable.
She wanted to smile every time she thought of the young angel who had such a big crush on her. His soul was honest and sweet and out there for the world to see.
As for Vivek, he’d saved her life so many times that she’d lost count. The Guild’s former head of intelligence was now a vampire but he was still Vivek, as acerbic and as cuttingly intelligent as always. Placed on the Tower’s intelligence team after his Making, he’d proved so capable that he’d become Jason’s right-hand man when it came to intelligence gathering.
Not that the Vivek whom Elena had always known wasn’t a little different these days. She’d become friends with a brilliant hunter-born man who’d been paralyzed below the shoulders in a childhood accident. But while Vivek remained in a wheelchair, he’d regained feeling above the waist, had full control of his arms and torso.
Vivek’s probably going to leave my Guard and his position in the Tower at some point, she said to Raphael as they swept through the darkening sky above a city ramping up for the night to come.
He flew beside her, his wings glowing in the faint, last rays of the sunset—but they were solid. The wings of rippling white fire she’d seen the day he rescued Illium—when the other angel suffered a catastrophic incident in the sky—hadn’t reappeared since; all she’d caught in the past two years had been rare flickers of that pristine flame, flickers that disappeared as quickly as they appeared.
Yes, Raphael answered. Vivek Kapur was forced into certain choices because of his accident. He will need to explore in freedom before he decides if he wants to return to the life and the work he has made for himself.
It’s going to happen sooner than anyone predicted. Vivek was healing at a speed even Keir hadn’t foreseen—likely because Vivek had been Made a vampire by Aodhan, with Keir’s assistance. He’s still going to be under Contract. A hundred years to serve in return for the gift of near-immortality.
Elena, you know he is yours. I will not hold him to the Contract. Eyes of searing blue meeting her gaze. But you should—he is your friend but he will still be a young vampire with violently strong urges. He must have a firm hand on him until he regains his human control once more.
The idea of restraining Vivek in any way was abhorrent to Elena, though she knew Raphael was right. Maybe I can ask Jason to oversee him. She’d never thought to witness Vivek in awe of anyone but he was definitely in awe of Raphael’s spymaster. I think he’d listen to Jason in a way he’d never listen to me. I’m pretty sure he wants to be Jason when he grows up. She and Vivek were contemporaries, equals, while Jason occupied a whole different category. What do you think?
I think you know your Guard well. Raphael’s wings glinted as he swept down to glide over wings of silver blue.
Illium immediately changed direction to fall in line with Raphael.
I’m not ready to go.