Home > Archangel's Legion (Guild Hunter #6)(20)

Archangel's Legion (Guild Hunter #6)(20)
Author: Nalini Singh

Galen with babies? “Impossible,” she said, even as she recalled Hannah pointing out the opposite in the painting downstairs. “Galen eating babies I can understand, but training them?”

Open amusement. “I think you miss our weapons-master.”


That got her a long, lazy kiss, their tongues licking against each other, his thigh pushing possessively between her own. “When Galen was first courting Jessamy,” Raphael said with a brush of his thumb over her nipple when their lips parted, “he began to teach flight skills to the little ones. Over time, it has become a tradition—Galen is always the one who gives basic flight instruction to the babes, and some, like Izak, never stop training with him.”

The idea of Galen, with his wings akin to a northern harrier’s, leading a squadron of babies—not all of whom could fly exactly straight—had Elena shaking her head. “I’m sorry, I need to see to believe this. It’s like you just told me the sky turns purple every Wednesday.”

Sensual laughter twining around her, Raphael’s mood no longer black. “For his age, Izak is exceptional. In comparison to older fighters, he has much to learn, part of the reason Galen organized a Tower placement.”

“So he could study under more experienced men.” It was similar to what the Guild did, pairing up a neophyte hunter with an experienced one for the first year after graduation.

Raphael nodded. “Izak may be comparatively weak at present, but he’ll grow with you and so will the bond between you.” His eyes closed when she reached out to stroke the most sensitive part of his right wing, her damp flesh rubbing against the hard muscle of his thigh. “Aodhan was a stripling, Illium even younger, when I accepted them into what became my Seven.”

She was leaning in to kiss him again when his eyes snapped open, languid relaxation erased by cold-eyed focus in a single heartbeat. “Keir is on his way to see us.”

Elena thought of the decomposing vampire found in that house now burned to the ground, the wounded angels in the infirmary, the five carried to the Refuge on flower-covered biers, and knew the news could be nothing good.


Looking out toward the glittering mirage of Manhattan from their balcony a couple of minutes later, she saw the dark shadow of wings over the Hudson. “Is Illium providing escort?” Even with the wild blue and shimmering silver lost to the night, the angel had a distinctive style of flight.

“I’ve ordered that no one fly alone at night—or should they be heading into an isolated area.” A hard glance. “That applies to my consort, too. You left the Tower tonight before I could speak to you about it.”

“No arguments here.” Tugging at the belt of her robe, she said, “I should put on proper clothes.”

“This’ll do.” Raphael, dressed in jeans and a white T-shirt, ran his knuckles down the side of her face. “Keir is one of the few men whom I will allow to see my consort na**d of her armor.”

Because, Elena thought, the healer had seen every part of her broken body—and he’d helped bring her back.

“As for your Bluebell, his heart is already yours.”

Her fingers clenched on the belt. “Raphael, he’s not truly . . . not that way, is he?” She couldn’t bear to hurt Illium.

“I think,” Raphael said, as the night wind brought with it the whispering promise of snow, “Illium needs to heal and you are safe.”

Elena rubbed her face. “I hope that’s all it is.” Regardless, she did change into jeans and a simple green-and-white-checked shirt, Raphael doing up the buttons on the wing slits for her before they walked down to open the library doors and step out onto the lawn.

The two angels made a quiet landing a minute later.

Keir’s face was solemn, his face showing a strain Elena had never before seen on him, certainly not when she’d left the infirmary earlier that night. Gut twisting, she took his arm and led him inside to find the fire lit and the table by the windows set with coffee and tea, as well as a tray of fruit, nuts, and a rich, creamy cheese. Crackers lay neatly on a different platter, alongside a thin flatbread flavored with herbs.

Thank God for Montgomery.

Nudging Keir into an armchair in front of the crackling flames, she poured the healer the tea she knew he liked, as Illium fixed him a plate. “You have to eat,” she said, when he would’ve waved off the food.

Expression drained, eyes devoid of their natural warmth, he didn’t respond.

Elena wasn’t ready to admit defeat. Taking the plate from Illium after setting the tea on the little side table beside the healer, she nodded at the blue-winged angel to go speak to Raphael, while she took a seat in the armchair opposite Keir. Putting a piece of cheese on a cracker, she held it out. “Please, Keir.”

Gaze flicking to her, he took the morsel. “So, the patient looks after the healer.”

“The patient knows that if she gets herself damaged again, she’s going to need you, so it’s self-serving.”

A glimmer of light in his expression. “And if I don’t eat?”

“This healer once told me I had the unbreakable will of a mule.” It had been a compliment, Keir’s delight at her progress unhidden.

His beautiful lips curved slightly at last and he ate the cracker, took the next one. She managed to get that and some flatbread into him, as well as a peach she sliced into pieces. “You did this for me once, remember? When I was bored and grumpy after you told me I had to stay in bed.” It had been in the aftermath of Lijuan’s ball. “Stupid balls. They should be banned.”

Soft laughter, the peach eaten quarter by quarter while Illium and Raphael stood at Raphael’s desk, talking quietly about the ongoing holes in their defensive line. The firelight glinted off the white-gold of Raphael’s feathers, and since he was right next to Illium, the filaments of silver in Bluebell’s wings also catching the light, the difference in effect was crystalline.

“White fire.” Keir’s intrigued expression told her he was back. “Extraordinary.”

It was, Elena thought in wonder, a resonance to the shifting fire that gave Raphael’s wings a sense of movement though he stood in place.

Settling back in his chair, Keir said, “I haven’t seen such an effect in the others who are Cadre.”

Elena forced herself to look away from Raphael, her antennae on alert. “Do you know anything of what’s happening with Michaela’s abilities?”

Keir shook his head. “She doesn’t trust me, though she knows I would never break my vows as healer. It is also true that I have always favored Raphael.” Putting down his tea, he looked at her with his old, wise eyes. “As I favor the consort who has brought him back from the cruel edge of immortality.”

Elena set aside the plate on which she’d cut the peach, and leaned forward after a quick glance to ensure Raphael remained absorbed in his conversation with Illium. “Lijuan warned Raphael I’d make him a little bit mortal.”

“You have.” Quiet equanimity. “And you worry you’ve weakened him. You have.”

Elena flinched.

“Elena.” Shaking his head, Keir waited until she met his gaze again. “Even an archangel needs a weakness—absolute power is a corruption. Of that, Lijuan is the perfect example.”

A rustle of wings, Illium and Raphael walking across to join them before she could point out that while the latter might be true, Raphael needed to be at full strength to beat Lijuan and her ilk.

Raphael wasted no time or words. “What did you discover, Keir?”

“The disease that killed the vampire, it is akin to the pox.”

Elena sucked in a breath as Illium came to lean against her armchair, his eyes liquid gold in the firelight and his wing warm against her own. “The disease that has so often killed tens of thousands of mortals?”

“Yes.” Keir held up a hand when they would’ve spoken again. “It isn’t identical—it has a more virulent effect on the internal organs, turning them to liquid, yet doesn’t appear to be as infectious. It requires more than a speck or two of blood to transfer. A few droplets, perhaps even a small feed, though I cannot be certain on that last point.”

Raphael shook his head. “You wouldn’t fly to us when you are so clearly exhausted if you had good news.”

“You’ve known me too long.” The healer took a deep breath. “My tests show the disease has an incubation period of six hours. After that, it appears to progress at vicious speed—the victim would’ve been too debilitated to go for help by the time he understood he was ill. Terrible as that was for him, it’s good in the wider scheme of things.”

“So there’s a very high chance he wouldn’t have had an opportunity to infect others.”

Keir nodded at Illium’s words. “The bad news is the pox shows every indication of being designed to attack vampires.” Turning to Raphael, he said, “Your instincts led you true—I detect an intelligence behind the disease. It is no natural thing.”

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