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Archangel's Heart(Guild Hunter,book 9)(5) by Nalini Singh
“We all know Her Creepiness isn’t dead.” Elena’s lip curled at the thought of the archangel who’d sought to rain death on New York, and whose reborn were shambling mockeries of life. “That would be too easy.”
“Regardless, something must be done.” Raphael’s face was all brutally clean lines, his expression that of a being who was one of the most powerful in the world. “Xi is keeping Lijuan’s territory in check, the vampires under control, but for all his strength, he is no archangel. China is beginning to fray at the edges.”
Elena had no need to ask him how he knew—Jason was the best spymaster in the Cadre and he called Raphael sire. “You’re worried about bloodlust?” Powerful vampires like Raphael’s second, Dmitri, had iron control over their urge to feed, but the newer, younger vamps? Control was a gossamer-thin thread held in place by fear of the archangels.
Elena’s mother and two older sisters were dead because a vampire had broken the leash and turned into a ravening monster.
Belle would never again throw a baseball because of Slater Patalis. Ari would never again scold then kiss Elena when she ran so fast that she fell and bloodied her knee.
And Marguerite Deveraux would never again laugh with her husband.
A husband who had died the day Marguerite took her life and who was now a man Elena barely recognized. Jeffrey might be walking and breathing, might even have another beautiful, intelligent wife, but he was no longer the man Marguerite had known, no longer the father Elena had loved before it all went so horribly wrong. Elena’s two much younger half sisters knew a stern, unsmiling, and distant father when Elena had known a father who’d once blown soap bubbles with her for an hour just because it made her happy.
I see memories in your eyes, Elena.
Raphael’s voice was the crash of the sea, the crisp bite of the wind in her mind.
They’re part of me. She’d accepted that, no longer fought them when they surfaced. And in return, the nightmares came less and less. Some nights, she still heard the blood dripping to the floor, still felt terror clutch her in a clawed fist until she woke sweat-soaked with her heart a painful drum in her chest, but other nights, she dreamed of racing through the house to hide behind her mother after Belle found her in her room.
“I was a bratty little sister sometimes,” she told the man who was her eternity. “I just wanted so much to be like my sisters that I’d sneak into their rooms and try on their shoes, their clothes, even if they didn’t fit.”
Raphael touched the back of his hand to her cheek. “Such is the way of younger siblings everywhere, is it not?”
“Yeah, I guess.” Her lips kicked up, though sadness was an iron hammer on her soul. “Belle was so hot-tempered. She’d threaten me with all sorts of things . . . then she’d take my hand and lead me to her room and do my nails or brush my hair.” Her oldest sister had possessed a wildly generous heart under the temper.
“I didn’t bother Ariel as much,” Elena added. “She was calmer, quieter, but she had this mischievous sense of humor only people who really knew her ever saw.” Memories cascaded through her, of helping Ari pull pranks, of sitting close to her sister’s warmth while she read a story aloud, of the stunning turquoise of Ari’s eyes.
Smile deepening as the wind rippled through her hair, she took a breath, released it. “I wish I could talk to Jeffrey sometimes,” she admitted. “He has so many of the same memories, things Beth wasn’t old enough to remember.” Her younger sister had been only five when Slater Patalis murdered Belle and Ari, and mortally wounded Marguerite’s soul.
He’d tortured her, too, but it was being made helpless while her daughters were brutalized that had broken Elena’s mother. “It’d be nice just to sit and talk about our family.” Instead, all they had between them were broken shards of grief and guilt and loss.
The blue of Raphael’s eyes turned dangerous. “He doesn’t deserve to carry the title of father.”
“Ah but we don’t choose our parents, do we, Archangel?” If anyone understood the complex emotions that tied her to her father, it was Raphael. His own mother had gone insane, murdered thousands, then risen over a millennia later apparently sane—and full of love for the child she’d once left shattered and bleeding in a remote field distant from any civilization.
“No,” Raphael admitted. “And I have promised not to kill Jeffrey, so let’s talk about something else before I forget my vow.”
“Fair enough.” At times, thinking of her father was enough to turn Elena homicidal, too. “Getting back to Lijuan—whether she’s dead or not matters less than the fact she’s vanished from sight?”
A short nod. “Bloodlust has already begun to rise, though only in isolated patches. According to the report Jason sent in an hour ago, a small kiss of vampires massacred an entire village four days past.”
Elena’s spine went stiff. “Xi have the kiss under control?” The angel was Lijuan’s most trusted general and a power in his own right—though he was nowhere near as powerful on his own as he was when Lijuan was feeding him energy. “Shit. Is Xi displaying signs of being cut off from Lijuan?”
“Jason has been unable to confirm either way, but Xi did eliminate the kiss very quickly.” Raphael’s tone cooled. “He can’t keep it up, however. No one who is not Cadre can. And these incidents are only the start—let it go and the vampires will swarm a blood red infestation across China.” His voice was so cold that she found herself running her hand firmly down the edge of his wing in a silent reminder that he wasn’t only an archangel, distant and lethal; he was her lover, the man who owned her heart and whose own belonged to her.
Raphael’s expression didn’t change, his voice still chilly, but he moved his wing so she could caress more of it. “If Lijuan rises again, new decisions will be made, but for the time being, we must work on the assumption that she overextended her new abilities to the point that she caused herself significant damage.” He nodded in greeting at a passing squadron. “I do not believe her dead any more than you do, but I do think she may have chosen to Sleep.”
And when an angel chose to Sleep, it could be centuries or millennia before they awoke. Caliane had Slept for more than a thousand years, and that was barely a drop in the ocean. “I guess I better pack for the Refuge then.” Raphael’s earlier words had made it clear he wouldn’t be asking her to remain behind in New York, as he had more than once before.
At first, she’d fought the restraint, frustratingly conscious that he wanted her safe within the borders of his territory rather than in danger by his side. Later, she’d come to understand that, at certain times, Raphael needed his consort to be visible in the heart of his territory while he was gone. It settled people, because surely no archangel would leave his consort behind were the storm clouds of war gathering on the horizon?
“It’ll be nice to see Jessamy and Galen again,” she said. “Naasir and Andi, too.” Venom was also still at the Refuge, but Elena didn’t know the snake-eyed vampire as well as she did the others.
Raphael’s response was unexpected. “I’m afraid we will have to wait to see our people at the Refuge. This meeting will be held on neutral ground, with no access to any strongholds or armies. Each archangel can bring their consort should they have one, plus one other.”
Elena felt like she was racing to catch up. “I didn’t know there was any other neutral ground.” The world was sharply delineated into areas of archangelic control. The Refuge alone stood separate.
“There are a rare few small areas,” Raphael told her. “Mere acres in each case. In this particular circumstance, it is the land that was given over to the Luminata so long ago that no one knows the names of those on the Cadre that made the decree.”