Archangel's Heart (Guild Hunter #9)(12)

by Nalini Singh

Memories of the awful day when Illium had threatened to burn up alive, power cracking him open from the inside, awoke without warning at the sight of the two of them flying so close. If Raphael and Dmitri were friends before being sire and second, Raphael and Illium’s relationship was more the latter—but with a familial element. Illium had sounded so young that day when everyone had believed he might be ascending to archangelic power.

Had it been true, he’d have had to leave Raphael’s territory.

He was too young for that, and when the blue-winged angel had told Raphael he didn’t want to go, Elena had seen a shaken youth asking for reassurance from someone he respected and trusted.

Naasir treated Dmitri like a father.

It was only in that moment when Illium said he wasn’t ready to leave that Elena realized Illium saw Raphael in the same light. Not quite, not exactly, but close enough.

Elena had never asked what had happened to Illium’s actual father. She could have—Illium remained her closest immortal friend—but his face was so sad when he talked about his mother, the broken Hummingbird, that she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Instinct told her there was a reason the Hummingbird was the way she was, and there was a good chance it was tied to Illium’s father.

Raphael would’ve told her, too, but it felt dishonest to go behind Illium’s back. If Illium ever wanted to talk about his family, he would. Right now, he was back to his usual form, his spirit irrepressible.

No one knew what would happen when the Cascade kicked back into gear but Illium wasn’t allowing that uncertainty to dictate his choices. “I’ll worry about that when it happens,” he’d said to her. “I’m not going to waste a minute when I can be me free from any Cascade effects.”

Today, he dropped below Raphael, circled, then came to where Elena had been riding lazily along their wake. His hair, that astonishing black tipped with blue, was longer than usual and fell forward when he shifted to line up with her. “Ellie,” he called out after pushing back the strands to reveal eyes the color of newly minted gold coins, “want to race?”

She thought about it. When they raced, he gave her a considerable head start as a handicap and it was fun to try to push past her best. “Not today,” she said at last. “I don’t want to accidentally strain a muscle or tendon.” She needed to be at peak strength when they reached Lumia.

Flipping over onto his back, Illium dropped before twisting around to return to her. Raphael, meanwhile, had swept up and over them, his shadow a kiss against Elena’s senses. Is Illium coming to dinner with us? she asked.

I thought you’d wish to see your Bluebell before we leave. Sparkle will join us, too.

Lips twitching, Elena said, You know Aodhan hates that nickname.

Ah, but it is so appropriate. Raphael dropped down beside her just as Illium spoke from her other side.

“Um, Ellie. You’re shimmering.”

She pointed a finger at the blue-winged angel with the wickedly dancing eyes. “Be quiet.” Turning to a Raphael who wasn’t doing much to hide his amusement, she tapped a mirror-shiny blade on her nose before angling it in his direction. “I’m going to get you for that. Right when you think you’re safe, boom, you’ll be covered in whipped cream . . . or tomato sauce if I’m feeling extra evil.”

“I am forewarned.” He dipped his wing, nodded at Illium. “First to the Enclave. Go.”

Whooping, Illium turned into a sleek bullet as he dived to build up speed for the race. Raphael stayed high but he was as fast, even though it didn’t appear his wings were beating with any more momentum. Elena enjoyed watching him move—he was magnificent in flight. So she had her eyes on him when his wings turned aflame, and suddenly, even sleek, fast Bluebell didn’t stand a chance of defeating him.

Her stomach clenched.

The other shoe had dropped.

The Cascade was no longer on Pause.


Raphael and Illium landed on the lawn of the Enclave home just in front of Elena. The two had come back to ensure she wasn’t alone in the sky. On their faces, she saw the same realization she’d just reached.

Illium had parted his lips to speak when the earth began to shake under their feet.

Illium and Raphael both lifted off instinctively. Elena couldn’t react that fast, her ability to pull off a vertical takeoff not a thing of speed. But in this case, that didn’t matter. Raphael had taken one of her arms, Illium the other, raising her off the ground with them as it bucked and rolled. Below the cliffs of the Enclave, the river churned, waves smashing against those cliffs with brutal force.

When she turned to look at Manhattan over her shoulder, she saw the buildings swaying in the smudged post-sunset light. Her gut twisted. There were so many people in those buildings, so many of her friends.

But even as her heart was wrenching itself into a tangled knot, the Hudson calmed, the shaking over as abruptly as it had begun. Releasing the breath locked tight in her lungs, she said, “We have to go back, survey the damage.”


Illium released his grip on her and then Raphael had her in his arms and was winging up high. He had no need to tell her what to do. She folded in her wings to reduce drag until they were high enough up that he could release her. Spreading out her wings as she fell, she swept out and toward Manhattan at a lower elevation than her archangel, Illium already a blue dot far in the distance.

Don’t land, Elena, Raphael told her. Dmitri has people out checking for land damage. We must do an aerial survey.

Got it. She went left as he went right, fellow angels doing sweeps in other areas of the city. No collapsed buildings on this side, a couple of shattered windows.

I have the same.

They flew for an hour, found their city had weathered the quake with only minor damage. A few fender-benders, more smashed windows, but no buildings had collapsed, no trains derailed. The worst damage appeared to be to a large ship in port that had smashed into the side of its mooring. Raphael had also received similar reports of minor-damage-only from other parts of the territory.

But, of course, it wasn’t about harm to property.

Elena had managed to send a one-word text to Sara while in the air—OK?—received a message that her best friend and her family, as well as all hunters in the area, were safe. Beth called right as Elena was about to call her. She was hyperventilating.

“Shh, Bethie,” Elena said, so much love and pain inside her. “I’m fine.” She knew it was what Beth needed to hear—her baby sister had such a sunny personality, but of late, she tended to panic when she couldn’t get hold of Elena, the nightmare of their past rising up to suffocate her without warning.