Home > Archangel's Legion (Guild Hunter #6)(16)

Archangel's Legion (Guild Hunter #6)(16)
Author: Nalini Singh

“I’m going to have to fess up and admit ignorance.” Elena showed her empty palms from the opposite settee. “I’m afraid I’d get a D in that aspect of consort life.”

“If you are to get a D in such things, then I’m afraid I must confess I’d get an F in defensive training.” Sparkling eyes, a conspiratorial whisper. “Elijah has resorted to teaching me how to stab people in the eye with my paintbrushes.”

“That’s a really excellent idea if you always have paintbrushes at hand.” Elena tapped a finger on her lower lip, her mind on the other tools of Hannah’s craft. “I’ve seen Aodhan with a paint scraper—you could sever someone’s jugular with that.”

“I knew your consort was a smart woman, Raphael.” Elijah took a seat beside his own consort and, despite his slight smile, Elena couldn’t help but be alert to the lethal power that pulsed in his very skin. It made her realize what her friends must see when they looked at Raphael, and why other rough-and-tough female hunters had toasted her on her “brass balls” in going to bed with him.

Elena put her hand over his on the fine velvet of the settee when he sat down next to her, their wings overlapping. I’m glad we’re doing this, even given the circumstances. While a political alliance had to be their first, critical goal, Elena also knew she couldn’t rebuff the warm overtures of a woman who not only understood the pressures of being consort, but whose friendship could take her through the millennia to come.

Because one day, if they survived the coming conflicts, she’d pick up the phone to call Sara, only to remember her best friend was no longer there, her bright light having faded into the final goodnight. Sara called her a silly goose for worrying so much about a time that could be decades into the future, but Elena’s heart broke at the idea of not having Sara’s warmth and love in her life.

“Elena,” Hannah began.

“Ellie,” she said, swallowing the knot of pain in her chest and remembering her promise to Sara that she’d give Hannah a real chance, rather than keeping her at arm’s length out of loyalty to Sara. “All my friends call me Ellie.”

“Ellie. I am honored to be given the right.”

The conversation continued to flow effortlessly through the hours that followed. Conscious of Hannah’s preference to stay out of angelic politics, Elena had been willing to stifle her own hunger to sit in on the coming dialogue between Raphael and Elijah and lead the other woman to her solar for quiet discussion. Hannah, however, waved off the invitation when she made it after dinner. “In such a dark time,” she said, voice soft but eyes resolute, “a consort must stand beside her archangel.”

The discussion segued into weightier matters almost immediately, and, but for a poignant minute of conscious silence when Raphael received word from Galen to say the fallen were home, the focus was on the consequences of the Cascade.

“I hear,” Elijah said, as the clock ticked over midnight, “you’ve gained the ability to negate Lijuan’s power.”

The air seemed to go motionless, silence filling the room; it was the first time either of the two men had come even close to touching on their own new abilities.

10

Trust, Raphael. Elena met eyes the hue of Prussian blue, except no pigment could ever be as intense, as pure. It has to start somewhere.

“Yes.” No indication in Raphael’s tone of the momentous step denoted by that single word. “I can cause her pain and a certain level of harm, though whether I can deliver true death remains a question.”

“I, too, have gained an intriguing new ability,” Elijah said, sending his consort a look so openly affectionate that Elena found herself seeing the man behind the power for the first time. “It’s one that initially caused Hannah some consternation.”

“Otherwise known as unadulterated terror.” Hannah’s tone was dry. “What,” she said to Elena, “would be your reaction if one sunny morning, you walked, blissfully unknowing into the greenhouse you told me of, and found a family of pumas had settled in overnight?” Hannah nodded at Elena’s wide-eyed look. “Yes, that’s exactly what I found in my studio.”

Raphael looked to Elijah. “You can speak to animals?”

“I don’t know about speak, but I can certainly make cats large and small attend my commands. My first command, of course, was that they vacate my consort’s studio and stop snarling at her.” Hannah’s gentle laughter filled the air before he added, “I can also command birds of prey. They are now sentinels in my territory.”

Big cats and birds of prey? Elena knew South America had plenty of those, thanks to the expansive sanctuaries sponsored by Elijah, a point that once again proved the archangels’ new abilities had their roots in who each member of the Cadre was as an individual. That’s an army on its own.

Yes.

“Neither one of us, it is clear,” Raphael said aloud, “is defenseless against an attack. But”—his eyes locked with Elijah’s golden brown gaze—“we’d be stronger together.”

Elijah’s response was solemn. “Your friendship is one I welcome. I have no desire to live in a world overrun by Lijuan’s monstrosities.”

“Or,” Hannah whispered, her hand sliding into Elijah’s, “in one where angels fall from the sky.”

• • •

The other couple didn’t leave till dawn, the information shared as the city slumbered and Montgomery slipped unobtrusively in and out with wine, then coffee, and finally orange juice, going far beyond what either couple had expected, the birth of a trust that had Elijah telling them what he’d discovered about Titus.

“It appears he has gained power over the earth—my man says Titus can now cause earth tremors. If his ability continues to develop in the same vein, he may one day soon be able to collapse the ground under the feet of an invading army.”

In turn, Raphael shared Jason’s information about Astaad’s domination over the sea, and possibly other bodies of water. “There are also rumors Favashi can control the winds,” he added, “though I have no confirmation. Michaela and Charisemnon remain a mystery.”

“I, too, have been unable to discover what they may have gained,” Elijah said, skin taut over the bones of his face and jaw tight. “But knowing what I do of Charisemnon’s appetites and Michaela’s cruelty, it can be nothing good.”

Raphael could do nothing but agree, his distaste for Charisemnon deeply hewn. The other archangel took girls barely budded to his bed, having somehow convinced his people that such was an honor to the children chosen. As for Michaela, he was deadly certain she’d egged Uram on when it came to making the fateful decision that had turned the other man into a blood-soaked monster, her effect that of the spider that eats its mate.

“I’ll share anything further I learn of the others if you’ll do the same,” Elijah said when they walked out onto the lawn, offering his arm to seal the pact.

Raphael accepted the offer, his hand closing over the top of Elijah’s forearm and the other man’s over his, theirs the clasp of warriors. “It is done.”

“This might’ve been my first official gig as your consort at our home”—Elena hid a yawn behind an open palm as they watched Elijah and Hannah fly high into the sky—“but I call that an unqualified success.”

“Elijah’s cooperation causes me concern.” Sliding an arm around her waist, he drew her to his chest. “No archangel shares so readily.”

“Readily?” Mouth falling open, Elena cupped his face in her hands. “It took you two six hours to get to the point. It was like watching a couple of tigers circling each other, deciding whether to be friends or to bite.”

“First a courtship, now tigers?” He ran his hand down her spine, and when she yawned once again, drew her toward the house, her wing brushing the underside of his arm. “You must rest. Hannah may be able to take a night without sleep, but you are a babe in immortal terms.”

“I shouldn’t be this tired,” she muttered. “I pulled all-nighters at Guild Academy, for crying out loud, then aced my exams the next day.”

Spreading his hand on the silken curve of her hip, he leaned down to kiss her scowling mouth. “You are becoming immortal, Elena. Not a single cell in your body ever truly rests.”

A pause, her feet halting on the grass. “Doesn’t it ever bother you?”

Surprised at the piercing vulnerability of the question, he tilted up her chin so he could see her eyes. “That my consort needs sleep?”

Elena realized he hadn’t understood her question. “Yes,” she said, “and the fact that she will for a long time yet.” As a human, she’d been stronger than most; it made her weakness as an immortal even more difficult to accept. “Right now, Hannah, with her lack of offensive skills, could beat me in a fight, simply by holding on until I was too tired and weak to go on.”

Raphael raised an eyebrow. “No, she could not, because should it come to a fight to the death, you would slice off her head in the first ten seconds, cut out her heart in the next twenty, then burn her body to make sure she’d never again rise.”

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