Archangel's Heart (Guild Hunter #9)(7)

by Nalini Singh

It was only with Elena that he’d become so . . . hard. The daughter who lived with danger on a daily basis instead of staying safe, staying protected.

Yes, sometimes she understood Jeffrey.

“The memories haunt you today.”

Elena began to snip off the spent blooms on a cheerful pot of daisies that had been a gift from Illium. “I guess it’s probably because I’m thinking about Morocco.” Putting the neatly snipped off blooms in the hand her archangel held out, she showed him where to drop them so they’d return to the earth.

Only the dry, brown flowers uncurled the instant they touched his palm, gaining color and softness until he held a palmful of bright yellow daisies.


“Well,” he said, “this is interesting.”

Elena’s lips twitched, the ache of memory retreating under the brilliant life of today. “Give those to me and touch the dried flowers I haven’t yet cut off.”

Nothing happened.

And the next time she put dried up blooms in his hand, they stayed dry. It wasn’t a surprise—from what they’d been able to gather, all the Cascade-born abilities seemed to come and go without warning, like a signal that only transmitted in intermittent bursts. Even Elijah couldn’t always call animals, though the ones with whom he’d already bonded tended to hang around even when he couldn’t “speak” to them.

“Ah well,” she said with a sigh. “You’ll be useful again one day.”

Flexing his hand after dropping the dry blooms in a garden she’d created in one corner of the greenhouse, Raphael made a blue flame dance on his palm. “As always, I am glad to be of some use to my consort.”

Elena grinned. “Maybe while you’re meeting with the Cadre,” she said, “I can do some research on my roots.” She shrugged. “I don’t have much to go on, but there can’t be too many local families with this”—she gestured to herself—“combination of hair and skin, right?”

Her mother’s coloring had been very similar; she’d told Elena once that the near-white of her hair as well as the dark gold of Elena’s skin came from her grandmother. The memory unfurled like a film reel inside her mind . . .

* * *

“I had a photograph of my maman.” Marguerite cut up fabric for a sparkly black skirt Belle wanted. “The nun who helped me in the first days after my mother died had saved it, kept it in a secret place, only giving it to me when I was eighteen and no longer a foster child.”

A sadness to her face that made Elena reach out to her. Her mother was a butterfly, colorful and bright and happy. She smelled like flowers. She didn’t get sad, didn’t cry.

Smiling, her mother leaned in to kiss Elena’s cheek, the familiar scent of gardenias swirling around her. “Ah, chérie, you and your sisters make my life a joy.”

The tight thing inside Elena’s chest melted away. “Why did the nun keep your photo?”

“She knew that such treasures get lost when a child is passed from hand to hand.” Marguerite paused. “Sister Constance, she had kind eyes—I think she would’ve raised me as her own if only she was able. But she watched over me from a distance, and found me the day I moved into my own tiny apartment, gave me that photo and another one that she’d taken the day I saw my mother for the last time.”

A smile. “I was wearing such a pretty dress and coat, and clean, shining shoes. Sister Constance told me I had a bag of snacks and toys with me.” Laughing, she added, “I was maybe a little spoiled, I think, but sweet girls should be spoiled, non?”

“That was the day your mama died?” Elena didn’t like thinking about that, didn’t like to imagine that maybe, one day, her mother would die, too.

“Oui,” Marguerite said, her attention on the pattern for Belle’s skirt. “She asked Sister Constance to watch me while she went out of town for a work interview, but her bus, it crashed off a jagged ravine. Sister Constance did not know anything about us except that we lived in Paris, were alone in the world but for one another, and came often to her church.”

Elena’s mother looked up when Elena didn’t respond.

Touching her hand to Elena’s hair, she shook her head. “My strong baby, with such a heart. Do not be sad—it was so long ago, in another life.” Marguerite gave Elena a piece of the sparkly fabric to touch. “My mother’s eyes were the same color as Ariel’s and her skin was darker than yours—like she had soaked in more of the sun, but other than that, you are a pretty little copy of her.”

“That’s why my name is Elena.” It wasn’t her real name, but it was the name she liked best other than Ellie. Elieanora was so long and complicated.

“Yes, just like my maman. Elena was her home name, too.” Lines forming between her eyebrows, Marguerite said, “I know it was not her true name, but I cannot remember people calling her anything but Elena.” A smile, a shake of her shoulders. “No bébé knows her mama’s true name.”

“Beth is too small but I know. It’s Marguerite Deveraux,” Elena said proudly from where she sat atop the bench attached to the old-fashioned sewing machine her mother preferred over the new one Elena’s father wanted to buy her; she kicked her legs as she watched her mother while Beth played with her toys on the blanket Marguerite had spread out on the floor.

Belle and Ariel were at school but Elena had been allowed to stay home because she had a cough. Actually, she could’ve gone to school, but Marguerite had smiled and cuddled her and said, “So, my chérie wants her maman today. We will be naughty and let you play hooky, oui?”

Elena loved her mother’s accent, loved the lyrical beauty of it, loved how gentle Marguerite always sounded. She tried to speak that way sometimes, but her accent was plain old American, her voice that of a child, not Marguerite’s husky gentleness. Now her mother laughed. “You are smart, my baby.”

Smiles filled her insides. “Can I see the photo?” Elena asked, excited to know something about her grandmother.

Marguerite’s smile was soft, a little sad again. “It was lost in a fire that burned my apartment building not long before I met your papa.” She moved the scissors with a graceful hand, the fabric falling cleanly away on either side.

Belle was going to wear the skirt with a white shirt she’d got for Christmas. Elena had helped pick the shirt and her papa had bought it. It made her happy her big sister liked it so much.