Archangel's Heart (Guild Hunter #9)(4)

by Nalini Singh

“The period of time that must pass before a meeting is called has never been specified,” Raphael said, his eyes on Aodhan even as he spoke to her. “As a result, at some point—and weighing up all available knowledge on the situation—the Luminata must make a judgment call.” Taking the crossbow bolt from her, he threw it with archangelic strength. Aodhan barely avoided it before the bolt fell victim to gravity, to be intercepted by the squadron tasked with making sure none fell to skewer the mortals below.

The squadron had been intelligent enough to set up nets to catch the spent projectiles.

“The purpose of the meeting,” Raphael said as Aodhan and Illium began to dodge bolts in tandem, “is to determine if the missing archangel is dead or has gone into Sleep. If so, the archangel’s territory must be divided, archangelic borders redrawn.”

Elena now understood why Raphael had never met a practicing Luminata. After Uram’s death, the Cadre had apparently met within months to divide up his territory. Even when Alexander went to Sleep and his son attempted to take over the territory by hiding his father’s withdrawal from the world, she’d learned the Cadre had rectified the situation within a relatively short period of time.

Yet it had been two years since Zhou Lijuan, Archangel of China and Goddess of Death, disappeared from sight.


“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?”