Home > Archangel's Legion (Guild Hunter #6)(9)

Archangel's Legion (Guild Hunter #6)(9)
Author: Nalini Singh

That was hardly surprising in a city filled with angels and vampires, not all of whom embraced change. If, however, this place belonged to an immortal or almost-immortal, it had been permitted to fall into remarkable disrepair. The older ones who liked to keep things the way they’d been at some point in the past, took great pride in maintaining the historical detail and beauty of their properties.

It didn’t appear anyone had touched this house for decades.

The paint, which might’ve once been white, was peeling and blackened from the dust of the city streets, the windows shattered, the eaves hung with cobwebs thick and sticky, the curtains within rotten shreds from what she could see from her position on the street. The wood itself was warped out of shape, until the house couldn’t be in any way weather-tight—and an unusually tall tree had fallen onto part of the roof, caving in one side of the house.

“What the hell is this place?” she said to Ransom when he appeared from the other side of the porch.

Green eyes vivid against skin of copper-gold, he raised an eyebrow. “Are you talking about this multimillion-dollar piece of real estate?”

“Seriously?”

“When’s the last time land went for sale in Manhattan?” he asked, shrugging wide shoulders hugged by the battered black leather of his motorcycle jacket, his legs encased in old blue jeans over scuffed heavy-duty boots. “This entire street is one parcel. Developers have f**king public orgasms dreaming about getting their paws on it.”

Elena whistled. “Someone’s sitting on a gold mine.”

“He was. Now he’s dead.”

Heart slamming against her ribs, she jerked her attention from the rotting house next door. “Not—”

“No, it wasn’t Darrell, but it’s someone the Tower’s going to be interested in.” Ransom’s blade-sharp cheekbones cut against his skin as he said, “We need to clear this fast and continue with the hunt.”

Agreeing, she walked gingerly up the front steps, not trusting them not to collapse and dump her on her ass. “How do we get in?” Front door was boarded up, the nails corroded and the wood obscene with graffiti.

Angling his head to the left, the glossy black tail of his hair tied at the nape of his neck with a strip of rawhide, Ransom led her around the house. “Your angel friends okay? That young blond one who follows you around like a big, goofy puppy?”

Stabbing pains in her stomach, her mind rebelling against the brutal images of Izak’s torn-off legs, his flayed skin. “He’s hurt bad.”

“Shit. He’s just a kid.”

Elena’s throat knotted as she thought of the other young soldier who hadn’t survived, whose family even now held vigil for the return of his body. “The angel you rescued from in front of the truck?” she said, forcing herself not to give in to useless anger. “It’ll take time, but she’ll heal.”

Ransom blew out a jagged breath. “I didn’t think she’d make it. She was . . .” He shook his head. “I had to collect her arm from under the tires, Ellie.” Gesturing for her to take care over a broken board, he said, “What I found today? It’s going to add to the shitpile.”

Fuck. The city didn’t need any further problems. “You tracked Darrell here?”

“Darrell didn’t go loco right after that clusterfuck with the mother and the kid,” was the surprising answer. “He came in, had counseling, said all the right things, and was assigned a slam-dunk retrieval to ease him back into things.”

Reading between the lines, Elena realized the counselor had known something was off and asked for Darrell to be kept within reach.

“Vamp who owned this place was his assigned target.” Ransom drew his guns from the shoulder holsters he wore under his jacket, the action deadly silent. “I figured I might as well use him as a starting point for the track, since Darrell did send in a report to say he was on the guy’s trail.”

Elena had her throwing blades in hand when they turned the corner. Half of the back wall was just gone, leaving a gaping entrance filled with street detritus, dead leaves, discarded hypodermic needles, and other things she didn’t want to think about too deeply. Trying to keep her wings from trailing in the crap, she took a step inside . . . and a rat as big as a goddamn cat scurried over her boot.

Biting back her instinctive scream, she glared at Ransom—who was very conspicuously not grinning. “You couldn’t warn me?”

“You’re a tough-ass hunter who gets na**d with a freaking archangel, has a miniature flamethrower—which, by the way, you should leave to me in your will—and a crossbow, all within easy reach.” His cheeks creased, eyes glinting. “Rats quiver at your presence.”

“Now I remember why you’re only an almost-friend.”

“Oh, Ellie, you wound me.” He paused. “Did you stop and get the masks?”

“Yeah.” Reaching into a side pocket of her pants, she passed him a collapsible mask. Like her, he was hunter-born, his sense of smell acute.

“Thanks.” He pulled it on over his mouth and nose, tightened the elastic band. “Smell’s worse upstairs.”

Since it reeked down here—a disgusting miasma of droppings, spoiled food, and urine—Elena didn’t waste any time following his lead. Tugging out a pair of latex gloves from another pocket as Ransom did the same, she nodded at him to lead, and they skirted past what looked like the mummified body of a feral cat, and out of the kitchen.

The hallway beyond was narrow enough that Elena had to lean slightly to the right to avoid scraping her wing over the dark brown thickness smeared on the wall, all her air coming in through her mouth now . . . because her brain had identified the major component of the putrid stink as that of a decomposing corpse.

6

Stopping at the foot of the narrow staircase that ran along one wall, Ransom murmured, “Keep to the left and wait till I’m at the top, then come up.”

The stairs creaked under his weight, again under Elena’s, but held.

Guns out, Ransom led her down the upstairs hallway and into a room so pungent with death her stomach would’ve revolted if she hadn’t steeled herself against the gag reflex. The second slap was of humidity, something about the way the room was built acting to trap what little heat there was . . . and accelerate the decomposition process.

Immediately identifying the filthy mattress below the boarded-up windows as the source of the scent of putrefaction, Elena walked across, trusting Ransom to watch her back. The body was bloated with the gases of death, skin a sickly green, but the head remained attached to the neck, and the shirt-clad chest was unmolested, judging from a surface glance. That meant his heart was likely still inside his body.

Going down on her knee, Elena blinked rapidly to dry out eyes that threatened to water from the pulsing waves of smell, ignored the maggots, and peeled back the corpse’s lip.

Canines, sharp and gleaming white.

“He isn’t a baby vamp,” she said through gritted teeth, “so this isn’t a Making gone bad.”

“Look at the throat.”

Wings rustling against God knew what on the dirty floor, she retrieved the slimline flashlight she kept tucked alongside the knife on her left thigh and pointed the beam at the victim’s neck. “Hell.” Thick pustules filled with bloody fluid covered the male’s throat, all the way to the open collar of his shirt . . . and down.

“Smell’s getting to me, Ellie,” Ransom said, just as her own stomach began to churn.

“Me, too.”

They both ripped off their masks to take deep gulps of the crisp winter air the instant they hit the street. Gloves went next, Elena’s skin itching to breathe. When Ransom retrieved a couple of bottles of water from the panther-black body of his motorcycle, throwing her one, she took it with a nod of thanks.

“Vampires aren’t supposed to get sick,” he said, after emptying half the bottle.

Splashing some water into one hand, Elena wiped it over her face, knowing it would take multiple showers to get that foul smell out of her nose. “No, they’re not.”

“Chop off their heads, they die,” Ransom continued. “Set them on fire, or cut out their hearts, they die unless they’re strong and old old. But soon as they’re Made, they don’t get sick. One thing’s for sure—Darrell definitely didn’t have anything to do with this.”

Elena agreed. “I’m going to have to bring in a consult from the Tower.” One of the more experienced angels or vampires; maybe there was a weird vamp virus that got a minority of them and she simply didn’t know about it. “Whoever it is will probably ask you to sign a nondisclosure agreement in blood.”

Ransom pretended to plump up a vein while she made the call to Aodhan. “I think this is serious,” she said to the angel, after describing the situation. “Ransom and I need to continue our hunt—can you spare someone to guard the body until it can be moved to a morgue?”

Aodhan asked her to give him five minutes but it was almost fifteen minutes later that he personally escorted another angel to the site. A bare five foot six and slender as a boy, the unexpected angel’s uptilted eyes were a gentle brown, his lips lush in a face saved from near-feminine prettiness by the sense of sheer maleness that clung to Keir.

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