Dark Hunger


Page 14



I understand the allusion, hbeebti, but perhaps you can find another term. He brushed his wing over her own, pleased to see she appeared to carry no residual soreness. I have no desire to court Elijah.


Amusement in a face that showed only the faintest touch of immortality, the transition far too slow to protect her from the dangers on the horizon. Yet Elena was not one to sit in safety. No, his hunter would fight beside him, come what may. That was who she was, as he was an archangel who’d battle to the death to protect his own.


“Elijah” he said, once the visiting couple had folded away their wings, “my consort and I welcome you.”


“We are glad to be here, Raphael.” Elijah’s gaze met his before he turned to acknowledge Elena with a formal bow of his head, his aristocratic profile the inspiration to countless sculptors over the millennia of his existence, his hair golden against skin of a paler gold.


Raphael made the introductions, was unsurprised when Elena greeted Elijah with warmth and poise, despite her reservations about “not knowing which fork to use,” as she’d put it. Then, before he could warn her that protocol between two consorts dictated she must call Hannah by her title of Consort until invited otherwise, she smiled and said, “I’m so happy to meet you at last, Hannah.”


Elijah’s consort beamed and held out her hands instead of taking insult, her exuberant black curls swept back with jeweled combs, the ebony of her skin glowing in the red-orange of sunset. The storm clouds had passed with only a single heavy shower and the air tasted of ozone, clean and fresh, erasing any final traces of the blood that had soaked into the earth on which they stood . . . but the scar remained. No one would ever forget the day the angels fell.


“I say the same, Elena.” Hannah’s response was made in a voice clear and musical, the two women’s hands touching. “I came to the Refuge especially to see you, you know, but Raphael was remorselessly protective and did not trust me at all. He was right—had I seen your wings up close, I would’ve hounded you until you agreed to sit for me.”


Face alight, Elena drew the shorter woman in the direction of the house, Hannah’s gown of deep bronze brushing against her own. “I was as graceless as a baby bird when I first woke and irritable about it,” she confessed. “I’d have been a dreadful subject.”


Raphael didn’t hear Hannah’s answer, the two women having moved a small distance away, but their mingled laughter floated on the air. “I’m not so sure we’ve done the right thing in bringing together the only two consorts in the Cadre,” he said to Elijah as they followed in the women’s wake.


“Ah, but could we have stopped it?”


Exchanging a glance with the other archangel that would’ve been understood by no other in the Cadre, he led the other man through the main doors, the dinner to take place in the sprawling formal living area/dining room off the hallway. Soaring ceiling, hand-polished floor of rare wood, and arching windows that drenched the room in sunlight or moonlight depending on the time of day, it was a room meant to impress.


Elena had taken one look at it, in the days after she moved in, and said, “We’re eating at the table by the library windows, where I can talk to Your Archangelness without needing a megaphone.”


Did you bring your megaphone, Guild Hunter? he asked, aware of Montgomery and his staff clearing away, having quietly carried in champagne and canapés.


A narrow-eyed glance over her shoulder. Where exactly would I put it in this dress? I couldn’t even figure out a way to wear panties without ruining the line of the slinky thing.


Raphael’s blood heated as Hannah said, “Elijah, look,” her voice potent with wonder.


Grabbing her consort’s hand, the dark-haired woman tugged him to the glorious painting of the Refuge that dominated the far end of the room. It ran across the entire wall and was a study in painful blue and piercing white over rocky gray, but for the wings of the angels flying above the city, each painted in intricate detail.


“This is Dahariel.” Hannah brushed her fingers reverently over wings patterned like an eagle’s, and Raphael knew her admiration wasn’t for the named angel but for the artist who’d captured him on canvas. “And, oh, it’s Galen with three of Jessamy’s little ones.”


“This is the Hummingbird’s work.”


“No, it is Aodhan’s,” Hannah said in response to Elijah’s murmur.


Scowling, Elijah leaned closer to the work. “Where’s the signature?”


“Neither one signs their work in the usual fashion.” Hannah scowled back at her consort. “We must find the clue in the image.”


You are wearing no panties with another male in the room? Raphael ran his hand down Elena’s spine and over her lower curves, searching for lines and finding nothing but firm feminine flesh. You truly aren’t.


Elena’s shoulders shook, deep creases in her cheeks. Oh, my God, you’re scandalized! Eyes tearing up in the effort to fight her laughter, she pressed her hands to his chest and stared down at the floor. Should I tell you I did find a way to wear a knife? In a thigh sheath.


Of course you did. What do panties matter so long as you have your steel.


Stop it! Her shoulders shook harder, the diamond-studded pin that anchored the knot at the nape of her neck catching the light as her touch seared him through the crisp white of his formal shirt. I’m trying to be elegant and graceful and consortlike.


Cupping her nape, he squeezed. Our guests are about to turn.


Refusing to look at Raphael for fear any eye contact would set her off, Elena walked with the other couple into the living area of the large open-plan space.


“This is a lovely room.” Hannah took a seat on an elegant gold settee, as Elena had learned the piece of furniture was called, her wings flowing gracefully around the back support. The other woman’s feathers were a deep, luxuriant cream with blushes of peach on the primaries and appeared so lushly soft that Elena was tempted to commit social suicide, sneak a touch.


“The little tables there,” Hannah said as Elena fought the uncivilized and very unconsortlike impulse, “who was the designer?”


“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.”




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