Dark Hunger

Page 6

Raphael glanced at his wing, shrugged. “So long as they work.” Folding them in, he turned to pick up one of her throwing blades and slid it into the sheath on her left arm. “The dream was not . . . what it should be,” he said, as she made a minor fix to one of the sheath straps. “Of course, yesterday was no ordinary day. It’s not inexplicable that I should dream of violence.”

“It could be that simple.” Elena held out her right forearm, sheath in place, so he could slide in the other throwing blade. “But I’ve seen way too much freaky stuff since you first summoned me to do your bidding to take anything at face value.”

“You were abysmal at doing my bidding.” It was a cool reminder. “I thought you the most fascinating creature I had ever met.”

“You did not.” She pointed a gleaming knife at him before slotting it into a thigh sheath strapped over her slimline black leather pants, her clothing designed to reduce drag in the air. “You thought I was a nuisance you might have to throw off the side of the building in order to teach me manners.” As it was, he’d made her close her hand over a blade, her blood dripping to stain the roof, a being so terrifying she’d seen nothing of humanity in him. “You were kind of a bastard, if we’re being brutally honest.”

Lips curving, he picked up the long, thin blade she wore hidden along her back in a sheath built into her long-sleeved black top, the fabric tough enough to take the demands of a hunter’s life. “You,” he said, sliding the blade into place when she turned, “are the only individual who would ever say that to my face.”

“Remind me to tell you sometime about how I decided I should get Big Idiot tattooed on my forehead.” Facing him once more, she smoothed her hands over his gorgeous shoulders. “And what does it say about me that I thought you were fascinating and sexier than sin, even after you made me cut myself?”

“That you’re a warrior who knew she’d finally met her match.”

Elena snorted. “It says I’m a dumbo who doesn’t know when to be meek and subservient and save my ass, that’s what it says.”

Smile deepening until his cheeks creased with it, Raphael curved one hand around her nape, using the fingers of his other to caress the sensitive upper arch of her wing with long, firm strokes. “Had you been meek and subservient,” he murmured as her knees threatened to melt, “I would’ve never summoned you to do my bidding.”

His kiss threatened to finish what his strokes had begun. Licking her tongue against his, her breasts crushed against the hard muscle of his chest, Elena wanted nothing more than to stay in this stolen minute, to forget the outside world, but the ugly reality that awaited couldn’t be ignored.

“I’ve been away from the Tower for over six hours,” Raphael said when they drew apart, his expression shifting in a way that reminded her he wasn’t simply her lover, wasn’t simply the man who wore her ring on his finger. No, he was an archangel, responsible for the lives of millions, mortals and immortals alike.

“Finish dressing.” Releasing him, she headed for the door. “I’ll bring up some food. You need to refuel after all the healing you did.”

By the time she returned, the transformation was complete, the Archangel of New York a grim-eyed power beside her as they ate standing on the balcony. He’d chosen to wear a simple black shirt and pants, the cut pristine, rather than the leather combat gear he often chose. All part of the illusion, she realized, an elegant “fuck you” to whoever had dared attack his city and harm his people.

Elena watched him slice through the biting cold of the wind only minutes later, the early morning sunlight sparking white fire off the altered filaments in his wings, and felt her heart tighten in a deep, chill fear. Never had she expected to find him, to fall so deeply, wildly, insanely in love—and sometimes, her soul-deep joy in their passionate entanglement terrified her, the fear of losing him as she’d lost her sisters, her mother, a stealthy intruder in her mind.

After yesterday, that intruder had forced its way to the forefront of her consciousness.

Fingernails digging into her palms, she returned to the bedroom to pick up her phone. She didn’t currently have an active assignment, but she could put in some time teaching a class at Guild Academy—not as high visibility as a hunt, but perfect in its utter normality. However, as part of her contribution to Raphael’s “fuck you,” she stopped at a rooftop coffee stand set up by a human shrewd enough to realize angels liked coffee, too.

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.

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