Dark Hunger


Page 37



Barely avoiding the sharp bite of metal, he used his wings to lift himself a foot off the ground in order to avoid a kick. “A little slow, hbeebti.”


She smiled at the taunt . . . and threw the second blade directly at his wing. Positioned as he was, he couldn’t avoid it in time and it pinned his wing to the wall of the house. But he was an archangel, had it out a split second after it went in, his body ready to handle her secondary attack.


“You now have no knives,” he said, exhilaration in his blood as he parried her fists and kicks. Elena couldn’t truly hurt him, not yet, but her fighting style was unique, one she’d created as she reworked her hunter training and adapted Galen’s teachings to take her personal strengths and vulnerabilities into account. And because she hadn’t been an angel all her life, she didn’t know she wasn’t supposed to be able to do certain things, so she just went ahead and did them.


That element of surprise made each session as fun for him as it usually was for her.


Now she came in close . . . and suddenly had two more knives headed straight for his neck. Blocking them using a maneuver he’d learned from Alexander before the other archangel started to view him as a threat, he bared his teeth. “That’s cheating.”


“Oh?” A saccharine-sweet smile. “Didn’t realize we were playing fair.” Another fury of blades, their bodies moving with a speed and a ferocity that had drawn an intrigued audience of three—Keir, Isabel, and Naasir. All watched from the balconies that ringed the courtyard and someone clapped when Elena managed to swipe his forearm, drawing blood.


Ignoring the cut, he touched the tip of the knife he’d pulled out of his wing to her cheek to register a hit. He made sure it didn’t break skin, for his passionate, beautiful lover didn’t heal as fast as he did, but she made no effort to hide her fury that he’d gotten so close. Twisting out of reach before she could take advantage of his proximity, he moved to come at her from behind.


She threw the knives over her shoulders without turning.


Startled by the unexpected tactic, he almost took one in the chest, only his agility saving him from a wound that would’ve taken at least ten minutes to repair. Turning the instant the blades left her hands, Elena swept out with a kick to capitalize on his shaky balance, but she’d forgotten her wings.


Grabbing one, he hauled her close, his blade at her throat. “I win,” he said, both their chests heaving.


A sharp prick against his heart. “Wanna bet?”


Grinning, he bent his head and kissed her, half expecting her to slide the blade in, she was so pissed. But she returned his kiss, hot, wild, and wet, her tongue rubbing against his own. “You ever taunt me with Tasha again,” she said in a harsh whisper when they broke the kiss to gasp in air, “and I will geld you.”


Raphael winced. “That would take at least a day to repair. Are you sure you want to lose my . . . attributes for that long?”


A twitch of her lips, eyes bright. He could see her struggling to hold in the laughter, but it was a losing battle and she was soon doubled over with her hands on her knees, her laugher wild color in the air.


For the first time, I envy you, Raphael.


Glancing up, he caught Keir’s gaze. It’s not every man who has his lover out for his blood.


Keir’s laugh was quiet, as, waving good-bye, he disappeared into his suite. It was Naasir who jumped down onto the courtyard with feral grace. Picking up the discarded knives, he held them out to an Elena who was now upright and wiping tears of laughter from her face.


“Thanks,” she managed to say, before secreting away the knives with such speed, Raphael couldn’t follow her movements or tell where exactly she’d hidden the sleek weapons.


“Why did you cheat?” the vampire asked, head cocked. “With the knives?”


“Er, I was fighting an archangel who can crush me like a bug. Of course I was going to cheat—especially since we had a score to settle.”


Naasir stared at her, then grinned. “We’ll spar when I’m in New York.”


Twenty-five minutes later, they’d showered and dressed in preparation for the trip home, and Elena still wasn’t sure quite what had happened. “Does he like me now?” she asked, as they ate a light breakfast in readiness for heading out on the wing.


“Naasir likes very few people, but I think he finds you interesting.”


“Hmm.” She bit into her honey toast. “I’m not sure I want to be found ‘interesting’ by a tiger creature. He probably finds other fresh meat interesting, too.”


“Tiger creature?”


“Stop laughing.” Scowling, she poured him a glass of orange juice and pushed it across. “Sorry about the funk when I woke up.”


He took the juice, the humor fading from eyes the breathtaking hue of a high mountain lake. “Why today?” he asked gently. “You’ve never been so defeated by the nightmare memories.”


“I don’t know. I really don’t.” It had simply felt as if she’d been beaten to a bloody pulp, every one of her achievements erased by the crushing ugliness of horror. “I just”—she blew out a breath—“I wish I could be fixed, so I could remember my sisters, my mother, without the pain.”


Raphael didn’t offer her platitudes, just grim pragmatism. “You’re young. The memories will never disappear, but they’ll lose their power to cause such harm over time.”


“No offense, but I don’t want to be screaming myself awake for the next hundred years.” The immortal concept of “time,” she’d learned, was far different from a mortal’s.


“You’re far too stubborn for such a possibility to come into being.” Reaching across, he rubbed his thumb over her cheek. “There’s a reason the nightmares are getting worse, and you know why.”


Startled, she frowned. “What reason? It’s not close to the anniversary.”


“Sometimes, hbeebti, you surprise me.” Dropping his hand, he said a single word—“Eve”—and all the pieces fell into place.


Her half sister, only a little older than Elena had been when Slater Patalis destroyed her world, was just coming into her power as a hunter. As Elena had been that fateful year. “Wow,” she whispered, her fingers motionless on the white tablecloth. “How did I not see that?”


“It is too close a hurt.”


“Maybe.” Picking up her juice, she finished the glass before speaking again. “I guess some part of my subconscious is terrified it’ll happen again.”


“Yes—especially as you’ve now formed a true bond with Eve.”


Where before, they’d been strangers with half the same blood. “Do you think Jeffrey’s scared, too?” she asked, thinking of the vicious wounds it must score on a man’s soul to bury first his children, then his wife.


“His emotional state is irrelevant.” Raphael’s face was brutal in its repudiation. “It’s because of him that you didn’t have what you needed to heal as a child.”


She knew he was right, but it was strange, how now that she’d finally begun to look at Jeffrey through the eyes of an adult and not a child, it was so much harder to despise him. “I don’t know if I can ever forgive him for what he did to me, but I might not hate him if he gets it right with Eve.” Except she was terribly afraid that was a futile hope.


• • •


A half hour later and they were on their way out of the city when who should flag them down onto a rooftop but Tasha. “I’m so glad I caught you,” she said, her hair tied back to showcase the blade she wore diagonally across her back. “I did so wish to say good-bye.”


Trying not to gag at the oh-so-sincere comments that came her way in the next few minutes, Elena smiled. “I’m sorry we can’t stay longer, but it looks like rain.” She put on her best frown as she tilted back her head to stare at the clouds.


“Elena is right,” Raphael said to Tasha. “We cannot risk a delay.”


“Of course.” Tasha was all elegance and charm when they said their good-byes. “I hope we’ll meet again soon.”


That was very bad of you, Elena, Raphael said once they were in the air. You know the coming sun shower will pass in but a moment.


I also know Tasha McHotpants is regretting she didn’t scoop you up when you were young and single. Altering her mental tone, she said, Oh, Raphael, what luck I caught you. And me dressed up like a warrior with a sword and everything. She snorted. Luck my ass.


McHotpants?


Shut up. I’m mad. Especially after that stunt you pulled this morning.


Then you know I’m more partial to knives than swords anyway.


Teasing me right now could be bad for your health.


To her surprise, he did go silent. It wasn’t until he pointed out the volcano some distance to their left that she understood why, her own blood heavy with turbulent emotion. Later that day, a young woman who’d done nothing but go for a walk in the woods would be laid to rest in the heart of that volcano.


As soon as the rites were completed, Amanat would once again become a closed city, according to what Raphael had told her as they showered. Caliane had agreed to stand sentinel against the darkness on this side of the world, while they fought it on the other. Much as Elena wanted all their preparation to be for nothing, she knew that was a wasted hope.


The drums of war pounded closer with every heartbeat.


• • •


Winging into Manhattan after the jet landed on a private airfield nearby, Elena breathed deep of the biting cold air of home. It had promised snow for a couple of weeks without delivering, but she felt sure that’d change very soon. “Anything from Aodhan?” she said, when Raphael came alongside.


“No, the city has been quiet since we—” He paused, his eyes locked on the Hudson.


“What is it?” It appeared as it always did to her, but she knew he had the piercing eyesight of a bird of prey.



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