Dark Hunger


Page 28



“Of course, your healing ability.” She turned to go throw some water onto her face in an effort to still her racing heart, her hands trembling, but Raphael tugged her into his arms and against his chest, his wings enclosing her in a silken prison.


“It is all right, hbeebti.” His heartbeat strong and steady under her cheek as he spoke, his arms muscled steel. “I have no intention of leaving you to face immortality alone.”


“If this is death, Guild Hunter, then I will see you on the other side.”


He’d said that to her as she lay dying in his arms. Now, she whispered, “Wherever you go, I’ll follow.” She’d lost too many people she loved, survived too much death. “I can’t keep going. I can’t.” As if she’d turned a nightmare key, she heard the sound that had haunted her since the day Slater Patalis walked into her childhood home.


Drip.


Drip.


Drip.


There’d been so much blood, her feet sliding in it to send her to the floor with bruising force.


“Come, Elena.” Raphael’s voice held a gentleness that told her he saw her terror, understood it. “Do you think I am so weak? Such a belief is a blow to my ego indeed.”


Elena tried to smile, to not permit the fear to consume her, but it raged within, born of a childhood where everyone she loved had been taken from her. Jeffrey and Beth might have survived the massacre, but they’d been lost to Elena all the same. She couldn’t lose Raphael, too. She couldn’t.


The panicked thoughts ran in a loop inside her mind until it was all she was.


Then the rain-lashed sea was there, cutting through the dark clouds of memory. Reaching for Raphael with body and mind both, she drowned herself in the sheer powerful life force of the archangel who was the only man she would ever love.


• • •


Holding Elena when she finally fell into an exhausted sleep, his strong consort who had a ragged wound in her soul that had torn open with vicious force tonight, Raphael watched over her, standing sentinel against the darkness. And though he wasn’t tired, he realized he slept when he began to dream.


Of that forgotten field where his blood had been glistening rubies scattered on the grass, the red liquid crystallizing into faceted gemstones that fascinated the birds who were his constant companions as the sun moved across the sky and the seasons changed from spring to summer. Flowers grew around him, over him, the grass shading his face, and still he lay there, waiting to heal enough that he could make it to the Refuge.


Archangel. Archangel. Archangel.


The voices around him continued to repeat that single word until he said, “Silence!” in a tone no one except Elena had ever disobeyed.


The voices cut off.


Rising above the field once more, his body unbroken and of the adult he now was, that splintered, scared boy long gone, he gave a second order. “Show yourselves.”


19


In answer came a sea of whispers, the actual words inaudible.


“Raphael.”


It was unexpected, that feminine voice. And it was one so familiar, he’d know it even in death, the wing that brushed over his own warrior black and vivid indigo kissed with midnight blue and the haunting shade of the sky just before dawn.


When he turned toward the sound of her voice, he saw that Elena’s body was translucent beside his, the colors of her like running water. Death rubies ringed her neck, cherry-dark gemstones created of his hardened blood.


That was wrong. Elena would never wear such.


“What the—” Reaching up, she tore off the necklace with a shudder, the blood gemstones falling soundlessly to the green, green grass. “Where are we?”


“The field where I fought my mother.” He took her hand, and it was warm, alive, though she remained formed of glass.


“It’s beautiful.”


Looking through her eyes as the dawn sun played over the verdant grass, bathing the trees in a golden glow and highlighting the flowers he’d watched bud, then bloom, he saw the truth of her words, but for him it remained—would always remain—a place of pain and death and loss.

“My mother walked away, her feet crushing the flowers, as the insects licked at my blood.” The tiny creatures had died, his blood too rich. Then had come the birds, curious about this winged being on the ground. “The birds sat with me for hours, brought me berries as if I were a fledgling fallen out of the nest.” He’d forgotten that under the weight of the horror. “I couldn’t eat for many days, my jaw and facial bones in splinters.”


“This is a very sad place.” A single tear rolling down his consort’s cheek. “You should wake up now.”


His lashes lifted to see the skylight above their bed, the moonless sky luminous with stars, but that wasn’t what he wanted in his sight. Turning, he wiped away the tear that marked Elena’s golden skin as she lay with her eyes open beside him, and he thought he should be surprised that so young an angel had managed to invade the dream of an archangel—but this was his hunter, who had never done what she should.


“You were in my dream.”


She spread her wing so it covered him, her hand on his shoulder. As if she would protect him. “It was sad and terrible and beautiful, what I saw in you there.”


“It was like that the day I fought my mother. Sad and terrible . . . and beautiful. She sang to me in the sky, did I tell you?”


A shake of his consort’s head, her hair wild silk under his hand.


“Her voice is a gift and a weapon, a sound so pure it can break a heart or heal it.” He’d seen angels fall to their knees, overcome with the wonder of Caliane’s song, their eyes shining wet. “That day, she sang a song she used to sing to me in childhood and I wanted to forget the reason I had tracked her.”


For that haunting fragment of time, he’d seen not the monster Caliane had become, but the mother who had kissed away his childhood hurts. “The sky fractured with wonder . . . then it fractured with power.” It had been an uneven battle from the start, the child not yet full-grown against an Ancient.


Elena pressed her lips to his biceps, her body a warm kiss against his own. “The whispers in your dream, did you hear them as you fought your mother?”


“No, I was alone with Caliane.” Then simply alone.


“I wonder who they are?”


He didn’t remind her it had been but a dream, for that would’ve been a lie when he felt the strangeness of it in his blood. “Sleep, Elena. We have a long journey ahead.”


She didn’t speak, but he knew she didn’t sleep, either, not until dawn touched the horizon. And he understood she continued to fence with the bone-chilling fear he’d seen in her eyes as she stood in the bathroom attempting to wipe away a spot of dirt that couldn’t be erased. It was a fear sad and terrible in what it demanded from her . . . and beautiful in what it said of who he was to her.


• • •


The first thought in Elena’s mind when she woke was of the speck on Raphael’s temple, fear a dull gnawing in her heart. Shoving the ugly feeling into a tiny corner where it didn’t threaten to paralyze her, she concentrated on making a mental list of Raphael’s strengths. He’d executed an archangel millennia older and Made an angel, for Christ’s sake—no disease would ever get the better of him.


“Damn straight,” she muttered to herself as she sat in the luxurious cabin of Raphael’s private jet, using her silent conclusion as a shield against the helplessness that had regressed her back to the ten-year-old she’d once been, scared and bloody and alone with a monster.


“Did you say something, hbeebti?”


It was a gentle question—he’d been careful with her all morning and, given the way she’d freaked out the night before, she couldn’t exactly complain, but it was time to let her archangel know she’d patched up the wounds. “Every time I board this thing,” she said, “I’m reminded of how filthy rich you are.” Raphael could’ve completed the journey on the wing without problems, but her flight endurance was pitiful yet. “It’s like a flying mini-Tower.”


An amused look, no hint of the awful sadness she’d sensed in him as they hovered over the field where he’d lain broken and bloodied. “Would you like me to go through that?” He nodded at the folder in front of her that held Marcia Blue’s financial statement and business plan.


Handing it over because she had no idea what half of it meant and wasn’t too proud to admit it, she said, “I, too, am on the path to becoming filthy rich.”


“With such a soft heart as yours”—he opened the file—“it’ll be a challenge for me to ensure you do not end up penniless.”


Elena squirmed in her deliciously comfortable seat. “Okay, okay, so I felt sorry for her. At least I asked for the business info—that should get me some credit.”


“Hmm.”


Leaving him to the documents, she hooked her phone into the jet’s high-tech communications network and made a visual call to Sam, the sweet, funny little boy who’d become her friend and guide while she’d been in the Refuge. He told her about his recent adventures, made her promise to hold a position in her Guard for him until he was “growed up,” and showed her the present he was secretly making for his mother.


“Sam,” she said toward the end, “does Galen really teach you flights skills?”


“Uh-huh.” A strong nod. “He’s strict but not in a mean way. We like him.” Smiling, he proceeded to regale her with the story of his last lesson with Raphael’s weapons-master—where Galen had actually ended up laughing at the antics of his baby squadron.


By the time the call ended, Elena was conscious that she’d only ever glimpsed one narrow aspect of Galen’s personality. “Your weapons-master appears to have an actual, beating heart,” she said to Raphael. “Who knew?”


“Jessamy.”


“I concede that point.” Logging in to check her e-mails as Raphael continued to read over the file, she saw one from Sara asking her opinion on an antique weapon Sara was considering getting Deacon as an anniversary gift.



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