Home > Archangel's Legion (Guild Hunter #6)(25)

Archangel's Legion (Guild Hunter #6)(25)
Author: Nalini Singh

15

Raphael didn’t shift his eyes off Michaela as he instructed Illium to lead Elena to Gable House, the place the female archangel had taken in the short term. He’d left the house of disease as soon as one of his far advance scouts had spotted her flying into the territory, and made the long flight to escort her—a gesture she’d seen as welcome, but that he’d done to make certain she brought no army.

She hadn’t, her escort consisting of a single angelic squadron and a vampire, the vampire catching a lift with the angels by way of a light carrier designed for that purpose. Had Michaela been in distress, or in fear of an imminent assault, he’d have waited to have this discussion, but dressed in a green catsuit that hugged her curves, she moved with opulent sensuality, her actions designed to remind him she was considered the most desirable woman in the world.

Raphael would rather sleep in a pit of venomous snakes than with Michaela.

He had, however, allowed her time to rest and have a meal after her journey, for he would not harm the babe in her womb. “I’m glad you had the sense not to impinge on my home,” he said now.

An insinuating smile. “It is an inconvenience not to use my own property, but I know you’re protective of your little mortal—and Riker has a taste for her. It would’ve been impossible to stop him from crossing the woods to get to her had we been neighbors.”

Riker, Raphael thought, wouldn’t touch Elena. Last time he’d come close to her, Raphael had simply ripped out his heart and left him twitching on the earth. Should Michaela’s pet vampire have forgotten that lesson, Raphael would be happy to teach it again—this time, with a permanent conclusion. “Do not bring Riker into my territory again unless you want him dead.”

“Oh, Raphael, I didn’t mean to make you angry.” All but purring, she went as if to place her hand on his chest.

He gripped her wrist before she could, her bones slender under his hold, and, driven by instinct that said her every word was a honeyed lie, activated his healing ability. Knowledge poured into him, of Michaela’s physical strength, of the sickening acid-green taint she carried within as a result of the day Uram had cracked her rib cage open to play with her blood-slick heart . . . of the emptiness in her womb.

Releasing her with enough force that she stumbled back a step, he said, “Do not cross more lines than you’ve already done by entering my lands without invitation. I am not yours to touch.” Only a single stubborn, intelligent, and dangerous woman had that right.

A tightening of lush brown skin over the blades of her cheekbones, rejection anathema to a woman used to being worshipped by the male sex. “I thought to plead my case in person.” Tilting her head to the side, the glossy black curls of her hair shining with bronze highlights, she placed her palms flat against the concave slope of her abdomen. “I thought you, of all the Cadre, would show kindness to a woman with child.” Her tone altered, became huskier, her dawning smile painful in its apparent tenderness. “You watched over the angelic nurseries as a young man. I have ever respected that about you, Raphael—your willingness to protect our most precious treasures.”

Raphael wondered if Michaela was so used to manipulating men that she simply didn’t understand he couldn’t be molded to her requirements with sweet words buttressed by an undertone of sex. “I am no longer a young man,” he said, seeing her eyes narrow at the continued ice in his tone, “and you have come perilously close to a fatal breach of the rules of Guesthood.”

Dropping her hands, she turned in a dramatic sweep of shimmering bronze, her wings arcing gracefully over her back. “You are being cruel.” Vivid green, her eyes were sheened wet when she turned to face him once more. “I ask you for sanctuary and you want me to play with formalities? You know I lost a child! I cannot lose another.”

For an instant, he almost believed her, thought that perhaps she’d miscarried the embryo and “forgotten” the knowledge in her agony . . . but then she betrayed herself, her lips curving up the slightest fraction at his hesitation. The feline smugness of her answered his final questions, told him he had no need to be gentle. “Enough of the charade, Michaela.”

“Charade? You mock me!” A thin ring of acidic green pulsing around the richer hue of her irises, an unmistakable physical sign of Uram’s influence. “I am vulnerable; you are strong. I ask for your help! Where is the charade?”

Allowing his own power to rise, he felt his wings begin to glow. “You carry no babe.”

Silence, her shock morphing rapidly into fury. “An accusation of deliberate falsehood! You incite a war!”

• • •

Golden light filled the wide mullioned windows of the graceful house where Illium indicated Elena should land.

“Pretty hunter, I’ve missed you.”

She hissed out a breath, blades falling into both hands as she recognized the blond vampire who’d shaped the simple statement into a threat, the bones of his face refined to an unearthly beauty that made it clear he was far beyond a hundred years of age.

The last time she’d seen Riker, he’d been pinned to the wall of the house next to their own, a torn-off chair leg through his throat and blood dripping down his temples. Today, Michaela’s favorite guard bared his teeth at her in a feral grin that was nothing natural, nothing sane, then waved his arm toward the front door in mocking welcome.

“My mistress flayed the skin off my back and made it into a purse.”

Hairs rising on her nape at the memory of the way he’d made that admission with the same creepily fixed smile, Elena tightened her grip on the blades. “I see you’ve healed.”

A lascivious stroke of his tongue along his upper lip. “I’ve been waiting a long time to be alone with you.” His eyes flicked over her head just as she heard the cold whisper of sound that was Illium unsheathing the sword he always carried along his spine, the weapon hidden by a glamour that spoke to Illium’s growing power.

“Go,” he murmured, then raised his voice. “I’ll watch Michaela’s rabid dog, put him out of his misery if he proves troublesome.”

Riker’s eyes glowed bloodred, his fangs flashing, but he kept his distance when she walked past him and through the front door. Raphael, how bad is it?

Michaela is not with child, has likely never been with child.

I can’t believe she used the memory of her own dead child in a scheme. Sickened by the callousness of such an act, she followed the sound of a raised voice to the large but otherwise unremarkable central core of the house. Raphael stood in the center, Michaela a few feet from him.

The female archangel’s exquisite skin, the color of coffee swirled with milk and dusted with gold, was flushed, as if as a result of passionate argument; her body the epitome of female perfection in the emerald green catsuit that caressed every curve and valley.

Raphael answered whatever it was Michaela had said just as Elena took the first step toward him. “It’s not a lie you can hope to maintain—so unless you do wish a war, cut your losses and leave.”

Shooting Elena a dagger-sharp glare, Michaela said, “Look, your pet has arrived,” the words saccharine-sweet. “Has she learned to sit and beg on command yet?”

Elena made her tone just as sweet as she played a throwing knife over her fingers. “No, but my aim’s even better now.” It might’ve been petty, but she enjoyed seeing the fury in Michaela’s expression at the reminder that Elena had once buried a blade in her eyeball.

“Don’t.” It was a soft warning from Raphael as Michaela raised her hand, her fingertips crackling with dramatic green.

A ball of angelfire formed in Raphael’s palm.

“I don’t know why you’re so amused by the creature.” Michaela closed her fingers. “But I suggest you teach it manners.”

Bristling, Elena nonetheless realized Michaela wanted an excuse to hurt her, and held her silence as Raphael spoke in a tone that could’ve drawn blood. “I judge it’ll strain your squadron to make the return journey at once, so you may remain as a guest until midnight. Any later and I’ll consider it an act of trespass.”

Brushstrokes of violent red across Michaela’s cheekbones, the sign of emotional intensity only serving to highlight her incredible beauty. “One day,” she purred, “one day you’ll understand what you reject this night, and then you will beg for my favors.”

Can I stab her?

Only if she is still here after midnight.

• • •

Neither one of them spoke again until they landed on the lawn of their own home. In the short time that Elena had been inside Gable House, night had begun to give way to day, and across the river, Manhattan was wrapped in soft, swirling gray, the lights in the high-rises muted.

“I want you to keep a discreet watch on Michaela and her people,” Raphael ordered Illium, the blue-winged angel having flown back with them. “It’s almost dawn, so you can go alone, but check in with Aodhan every ten minutes.”

“Sire.” Illium lifted off with a bare rustle of sound, the silver-blue of his wings swallowed up by the gray as he ascended above the cloud layer.

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