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Archangel's Heart(Guild Hunter,book 9)(17) by Nalini Singh
“He received a report from Jason while we were speaking,” Raphael told his consort, anger ice in his veins at the possible implications of Jason’s information. “The tremors in Lijuan’s territory were similar to what we felt. But Xi didn’t send out extra troops to check the damage.”
“As if he needs those troops to stay somewhere else? Guard his crazy mistress maybe?” Elena folded her arms, feet set widely apart.
“Or to give that impression.” If Lijuan had told Xi to cover her absence long past the time when she was safe in her place of Sleep, then she’d deliberately set up her territory for bloody anarchy.
The other option was that the Archangel of China had only recently gone into Sleep, but that she’d been in trouble for a long time beforehand after overextending her Cascade-given abilities. Of course, there was a third option. “Lijuan could be playing a lethal game, hoping to get the Cadre in one place at one time for purposes of her own.”
Narrowing her eyes, Elena nodded. “It doesn’t really matter, does it? Not when nonattendance at the meeting could lead to war.”
“No—we must go to Lumia.” Raphael settled his wings, which were once more solid. “Whatever happens, we’ll have an answer after that meeting. Lijuan may mount a siege. If she doesn’t, but she isn’t in Sleep, then she won’t permit her lands to be divided and thrown into war as Xi attempts to hold the territory against the might of the rest of the Cadre.”
“Yeah. She’s psycho but she takes the goddess-over-her-people thing seriously.”
“Yes.” It hadn’t stopped his fellow archangel from turning many of her people into the shambling reborn, a mockery of life stinking of death, but the idea of anyone else taking control of what was hers? No, that she would not permit.
“You think the Cadre will also discuss the whole Alexander-Favashi thing?”
“The question is moot if Lijuan has retreated from the world.” Alexander, the former Archangel of Persia, had risen unexpectedly and, as an Ancient, had far more power and influence than Favashi, the archangel who’d been the Archangel of Persia on his waking.
As a result, Persia had been divided in two.
Alexander retained the title, while Favashi was now the Archangel of Sumeria. Relations seemed calm between the two, but Raphael knew neither was satisfied, tensions simmering beneath the surface that would eventually explode into war. Alexander wanted all of his lands back, and Favashi was furious at what she saw as a demotion.
“Right,” Elena murmured. “You’ll be a Cadre of Ten again, enough territories to go around with no two archangels on top of one another.”
“That would be the best-case scenario; the current situation is dangerously unstable.” Because if Lijuan was alive and awake, there were eleven active archangels in the world. There had never been more than ten at any one time. Less, yes, but never more. It had shaken the critical balance that kept the most powerful beings in the world from killing one another.
“I can see why it’s a great idea to put all these parties who hate each other in a small area together.” His consort’s tone was acerbic. “And forget about a siege—Lijuan’s probably creeping around in her noncorporeal form ready to drop one of her black poison bombs down on the rest of you.”
Raphael leaned forward to surround her with his wings. “Ah, but she is a goddess, Guild Hunter, and as such, needs someone to worship her. And she wants tribute from some of her fellow archangels at least.” The Archangel of China wanted to be a goddess to her fellow archangels, too, to be the Queen of Queens.
“Right, how could I forget?” Wrapping her arms around him, his hunter pressed her cheek to his chest, the wings of a warrior arching over her shoulders. “Don’t get dead, Raphael, or I swear I’ll hunt you down in the afterlife.”
“I would not dare, Elena-mine.” Life held too much promise—never could he become jaded with Elena’s fierce honesty and wildfire spirit in his life. “Now”—he fisted one hand in her hair, his jaw against her temple—“tell me why your spine is so stiff and your eyes haunted.”
Tone flat, she shared the news of her father’s injury, but no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t conceal the raw emotions that still tied her to Jeffrey Deveraux. Raphael knew too well that the love of a child for a parent who’d once been all a parent should be couldn’t be erased—he’d tried to hate his mother after her atrocities; he’d failed.
So, despite his disdain for her father, he said nothing, just held his strong consort with her mortal heart that felt so deeply.
They stood wrapped up in one another as the final hints of twilight faded to true dark, Archangel Tower a spear of light that dominated the sky. Illium landed in a showy flash not long afterward, Aodhan following far more sedately. But Illium’s closest friend drew attention whether he wanted to or not.
Every filament of his wings and each strand of his hair seemed to be coated with crushed jewels that refracted the light, while his skin was white marble. Not cold, however. No, it was warm, invited touch—the one thing the gifted and powerful angel couldn’t stand. Only Illium had the freedom to touch Aodhan as he wished, though Aodhan had healed enough to accept a small amount of contact with a limited number of others.
Including from the warrior in Raphael’s arms.
Who drew back then, old pain held deep within her, and her smile glorious. “Come on in, let’s go see what Sivya’s cooked up for us.”
* * *
Raphael sat beside Elena at the table in the library, where they had most of their meals, the formal dining room used only when many more of his Seven and/or her Guard were present, or if they had other guests. At this instant, his consort was laughing with one of his Seven who sat across from her.
It was Illium, of course, her favorite.