Home > Archangel's Legion (Guild Hunter #6)(7)

Archangel's Legion (Guild Hunter #6)(7)
Author: Nalini Singh

She made herself laugh at the barista’s joke, heard phone cameras clicking quietly as the businesspeople from the building took advantage of her proximity to update their social media pages. Take that and smoke it, she thought to the unknown enemy who’d caused such carnage and loss. You might have managed to kill five of us, but you haven’t come close to breaking this city.

Anger a rock in her throat as she thought of the biers even now on their way to the Refuge, she took off in a showy sweep that ignited more photo taking, the coffee held in hand.

The head trainer at Guild Academy was more than happy to have her take the advanced crossbow class, the staff used to adjusting the schedule to take advantage of active hunters who had some downtime.

Lesson complete, she’d just walked onto the roof in preparation for takeoff toward Guild HQ when her phone rang. “Eve,” she said with a smile, “I was just thinking we needed to talk.” Much to Jeffrey’s anger and disgust—the damn hypocrite—Elena’s youngest half sister was also hunter-born.

“E-Ellie, can you c-come now?” Sobs in Eve’s usually ebullient voice.

Smile fading, Elena said, “Are you at school?” Both Evelyn and her older sister, Amethyst, had been boarders at a private school upstate until the bloody events there this past spring. It was in the aftermath that Eve’s hunting abilities had come to light, leading to a transfer to a private school closer to Guild Academy. Amethyst had chosen to come with her.

Eve sniffed. “Y-yes. I’m hiding.”

“I’m on my way.”

Her sister must’ve been watching for Elena from her hiding place, because she ran from around the imposing redbrick building just as Elena landed on the manicured lawn out front.

Eve had turned eleven a week earlier, but she appeared much younger today, her face blotchy, her sobs deep and silent and heartbreaking. “Sweetheart,” Elena said, waving off a teacher who’d appeared on the front steps.

The suit-clad older man frowned but returned through the heavy wooden doors carved with some kind of a crest.

Gathering Eve’s school-uniform-clad body in her arms, Elena gritted her teeth and achieved a vertical takeoff through sheer strength of will. According to every known fact of angelic development, she shouldn’t have been capable of the maneuver yet, her body not having formed the necessary musculature, but the idea of being grounded and helpless was untenable—so she’d learned to lift. It wasn’t graceful, and it hurt, but she could do it.

She caught the excitement at the school’s windows as they passed. Good. No one would tease Eve for her tears now; the other students would be more interested in her stories of flight. “It’s okay,” she said when Eve, realizing her feet were no longer on the ground, clutched at her. “I’ve got you.”

A few more sniffles before her sister began to crane her neck to see around Elena’s wings, her hair whipping in the wind. By the time they landed at the Enclave house, her face was gleeful, cheeks happily windburned.

“If you’re going to play hooky,” Elena said, relieved to see Eve’s tough spirit rising to the surface, “do it in style.”

That got her a bright-eyed grin, the gray of Eve’s irises a stamp Jeffrey had put on them both. “Can we do that again?”

“After we have a snack. Come on.” Walking past the house, dead certain Montgomery wouldn’t let her down, she took Eve to her greenhouse.

“Oooh.” Eve touched her fingers to the petals of a wildly blooming daisy inside the heated enclosure. “Did you grow this?”

“Yep. You should see this one.”

It was only three minutes later that Montgomery proved her faith in him once again.

“Hot chocolate and cakes for your guest, Guild Hunter,” he said, placing the tray he carried on the little wrought-iron table Elena had situated in a cozy corner the first time Sara came to visit.

“Thank you,” she said, aware of Eve standing politely by her side, hands folded in front of her. “I don’t think you’ve met my youngest sister, Evelyn.” Of her three living sisters, only Beth had been to the Angel Enclave house and she’d been so overawed she hadn’t spoken a peep the entire time. “Eve, this is Montgomery.”

An elegant bow. “Miss Evelyn.”

Eyes wide, Eve stuck out her hand. “Hi.”

Elena had never seen Montgomery shake anyone’s hand. Expecting him to be scandalized by the idea, she found herself charmed instead at the solemnity with which he accepted Eve’s hand.

“If you need anything further,” he said, after the formalities were over, “I will be at the house.”

Wiggling into one of the chairs at the table after the door closed behind Montgomery, Eve leaned in close to whisper, “Was he a butler?”

“The best one you’ll ever meet.” Picking up the gorgeous little teapot, Elena poured hot chocolate into delicate cups she’d never before seen, the edges curlicued and the white china surface painted with tiny pink flowers.

Perfect for a young girl.

“Wow. We have a housekeeper, but I don’t know anybody who has a butler.”

Elena grinned, thinking of her own reaction the first time she’d seen Montgomery, and put a cupcake on Eve’s plate, the frosting swirls of yellow decorated with crystallized violets. “Now,” she said, once her sister had finished the confection, “tell me what made you cry.” She’d never have been so direct with Beth, but Eve was built tougher, for all that she was a child.

Face falling, her sister pushed a crumb around her plate. “I feel dumb now. I shouldn’t have called you—I know you must be sad and busy because of the Falling.” She squashed the crumb, staring at it as if it were the most important thing on the planet. “I was scared you’d fallen, and Amy was, too. Thanks for messaging me back.”

“No thanks needed.” Elena reached over to tuck the deep black strands of Eve’s hair behind her ears. “Remember what I said? I’m always here for you.” The angry bitterness between her and Jeffrey might’ve kept her a stranger from her half siblings for most of their lives, but that was a mistake Elena would never again make. “It was nice to get your message yesterday, and I’m glad you called me today.”

A hiccuping breath, and Eve looked up, eyes huge and wet. “I know I shouldn’t have, but this morning I told Father about how I aced an exercise at the Academy.”

Elena’s stomach twisted. She knew what was coming, but she listened anyway, because Eve needed to release the poison before it could fester—as it’d festered in Elena and in Jeffrey, until it’d worn a jagged hole through the once-strong fabric of their relationship.

“He’s always so proud when I do well at school,” Eve continued. “I thought he’d be proud of this, too . . . even though I know he hates hunters.” Lower lip trembling, she swallowed. “I thought if I could make him happy, then maybe he’d be nice to you, too, except h-he told me to get out of his sight.”

“Oh, Eve.” Chest aching for her sister’s hurt, she went around the table to kneel beside Eve’s chair.

Sobbing in earnest now, Eve threw her arms around Elena, her face wet against Elena’s neck. Elena said nothing, simply stroked her sister’s back, let her cry out the pain. It was better this way. As a child, Elena had swallowed her own pain again and again until it had become a knot inside her she wasn’t sure anything could unravel.

Some wounds were inflicted too young, scarred too deep.

It took time, but Eve finally cried herself out. Wiping her sister’s cheeks with a napkin she dampened using water from the small jug Montgomery had left on the table, Elena kissed each in turn. “Jeffrey hurt you, and he has no right to do that, no matter if he’s your father.” Even as she spoke, she knew she had to tread carefully, make sure her scars didn’t color Eve’s view of Jeffrey.

Because notwithstanding the bastard he’d become as far as Elena was concerned, he’d apparently been a good if remote father to Eve and Amy. Not the same man who’d thrown Elena into the air as a child and danced with his first wife in the rain—that part of him was buried in the same grave as Marguerite—but a father Eve and Amy could rely on nonetheless.

Elena would never do anything to damage that bond, not when she knew what it did to a child to be estranged from the man who was meant to protect her at her most innocent and vulnerable. “The truth is,” she said gently, her wings spread on the greenhouse floor as she continued to kneel beside Eve’s chair, “Jeffrey’s not rational on this one thing.”

I have no desire to house an abomination under my roof.

Words Jeffrey had thrown at her during the final, ugly fight that had destroyed the last, brittle threads of the bond that had once tied them together.

“But why?” Eve fisted her hands, jaw jutting out as she asked the one question Elena had never been able to answer. “If I’m hunter-born and you’re hunter-born, doesn’t that mean that Father must be hunter-born, too?”

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