Archangel's Legion

Page 48

Dead certain the brittle moment would end the instant she stepped back, the wall of pain and loss that divided them once more in place, she held on for just a little while longer. So did he. In silence, their words locked down where they couldn’t hurt and cut and make the other bleed.

The world, however, continued to spin, the sound of a chopper passing overhead breaking the fragment out of time in two. They drew apart without a word, her father turning to walk to his desk, pick up his spectacles, while Elena backed out of the doorway. Heading around the side of the house, she gritted her teeth and made a vertical takeoff into the cold air, bringing herself to a hover in front of Eve’s window.

Her sister, the skin around her left eye purplish black, was waiting for her, came into her arms without hesitation. Elena saw Amy’s forlorn face in the window next door as they left, her hand pressed to the glass. It’s all right, Elena wanted to say. I’ll bring her back. Gwendolyn would accept nothing else. All Elena had to do was keep Eve away from Jeffrey until Gwendolyn returned. Her father, she’d realized at last, would never be rational when it came to hunters and hunting, the brutal wounds inflicted too young, the scars too aged.

Chest aching, she concentrated only on flying slow and steady toward the Enclave, the flash of blue that appeared in her vision an unexpected brilliance. “Ellie? Which beautiful maiden do you have there?” A wink directed at her youngest sister. “Hello, Evenstar.”

Eve poked out her tongue at Illium, having met the other angel on visits to the Tower to see Elena, but shifted into his hold when he offered. “I’m heavy,” she said, before Elena could protest.

“You’re a feather.” Illium held Eve’s sturdy little body as if it weighed nothing. “But Elena isn’t yet strong enough to carry another more than a short distance. I, on the other hand, can do this.” With that, he shot up into the sky, Eve’s delighted scream rippling through the air.

Hearing it, Elena shut the door on the questions roiling in her mind, because her first priority had to be the emotional health of her sister, and continued on toward the Enclave. Illium would make sure Eve got home safe, and the excitement of the blue-winged angel’s daredevil tricks would help ameliorate the stress of Eve’s last few hours.

Landing at the house, she tracked Montgomery to the kitchens, where he was discussing the dinner menu with Sivya. “I’m sorry to interrupt,” she said, rubbing a hand over her face. “But Eve will be staying with us tonight, possibly tomorrow, too. Could you have a room made up for her?”

“Of course, Guild Hunter.” The vampire’s eyes searched hers. “Is she well?”

Elena knew the question was meant for her, too, but she wasn’t ready to go there yet, wasn’t ready to think about how she felt. “Cookies or some cake wouldn’t go amiss,” she said instead.

“I’ll make certain Miss Evelyn has everything she needs.”

“Thank you.” Leaving the butler to organize things, she made an important call and returned outside just in time to see Illium land. The sunlight at his back made the blue of his wings glow, his hair wind-wild and his grin as open as the gold of his gaze.

It was a sight gorgeous and infrequent.

As she’d seen so clearly that night at the blood café, behind Illium’s playful personality lay a terrible sadness that cast shadows on his soul. As behind her father’s anger lay a horrific loss.

Had Marguerite known?

Yes. She’d been Jeffrey’s heartbeat, his lover in every way, the trust between them absolute. For Marguerite to then do what she had, to leave him when he had to have been grappling with the nightmare repeat of his childhood . . .

Elena rubbed a fisted hand over her heart, forcing another smile as Eve ran over, cheeks flushed and hair as wild as Illium’s. At eleven years of age, her sister had a child’s spirit, but her face could turn as solemn as an adult’s without warning. As it did now.

“Thanks for coming.” Big gray eyes holding her own. “I knew you would.”

“You need to thank Amy when you see her,” Elena said, bending to hug her close. “She called me.”

“Amy always takes care of me.” Stepping back from the hug after squeezing her tight, Eve said, “This is going to make Mom and Father fight, isn’t it?”

Elena wanted to lie, tell Eve it would be all right, but her sister was too smart and oddly wise for that. “Yes. I think this is going to cause a very big fight.”

“Could you get Amy?” Eve looked at Illium, not Elena. “It wouldn’t be hard for you to carry her. She’s—”

Elena touched Eve’s shoulder to get her attention. “I rang her. Amy wants to stay at home.”

Unhidden distress. “But Father will punish her for calling you.”

“No, I don’t think he will.” Jeffrey’s mind was on the distant blood-soaked past, not the petty infringements of today. “Here.” She handed Eve her phone. “Why don’t you talk to Amy yourself?”

Walking a small distance away, Eve made the call. When Illium went as if to speak, Elena shook her head. She couldn’t talk about what was wrong. Not now. But when he raised an arm, she allowed herself to lean against him, to accept the undemanding warmth of his friendship, his wing heavy against her own.

“Amy’s being dumb,” was Eve’s blunt appraisal when she walked back to them, her face set in pugnacious lines. “She says Father shouldn’t be alone, even after he was so mean to me. I hate him.” Arms folded, jaw set, she glared at the grass.

“I hate you!”

“Don’t say that.” Elena crouched down in front of her sister even as her skull rang with the words she’d spoken the day she walked out of the Big House, never to return. “He might have crossed a line today, but whatever Jeffrey’s done, he’s done it out of love for you.” It was a love twisted by tragedy until it threatened to become a stifling cage, but it was love nonetheless. “I think it’s too late for me and him, but not for you.”

Eve’s glare didn’t fade, but her response held an uncertainty that made her youth and innocence clear. “I thought you hated him, too. Don’t you?”

“I’m not sure what I feel for Jeffrey. I do know that you love him.”

Scuffing at the ground, Eve bit down on her lower lip. “He’s a good father except about the Guild.”

“Everyone has blind spots.”

“I guess.”

• • •

A half hour later, Elena left Eve in Montgomery’s capable hands, knowing the elegant vampire was lethal, would protect her with his life, as would the rest of the staff. She wouldn’t have made the same decision had Eve appeared the least scared or intimidated, but her youngest sister had settled in without a hitch. Having borrowed Elena’s laptop, she’d set herself up at the kitchen table and logged into her school account to do homework, was chatting to Sivya about her science problems when Elena left after receiving a hunt order from the Guild.

She could’ve asked to be replaced, but she needed some way to release the tension coiled up inside her, get her brain clear again. Checking the hunt details on her phone one more time, she took off at a run over the snow-dusted cliffs, the water glittering under the afternoon sunlight, as if a dip wouldn’t give you hypothermia within seconds. The hunt order was relatively simple: she was to retrieve a thirty-year-old vamp who thought he was too good to bow and scrape to the angel who was his master.

Nothing unusual about that. Seduced by the idea of immortality and the beauty it so often bestowed, people lined up to be Made, but found the reality of a hundred years of service to the angels hard to swallow. What made Sidney Geisman different was that he’d written a booklet denouncing the “slavery” into which he’d been “tricked,” a booklet that had gone viral among other young vampires.

Needless to say, his angel was beyond pissed. Elena knew Sidney’s punishment would be harsh, an example to others who might seek to follow his seditious path, but while she pitied him, it wouldn’t keep her from doing her job as a hunter. Because Sidney hadn’t been tricked, not in any way, shape, or form.

The angels made zero attempt to hide the consequences of being Made, of what was required of those who served them. Even forgetting general public knowledge, all Candidates who passed the first part of the selection process were given the euphemistically termed “Intake and Orientation” file and told they were free to walk out the door should the contents of the file not be to their liking.

As consort, Elena had seen a copy of that file firsthand: it went into extreme detail and included graphic images of the punishments that might be meted out to a vampire should he or she fail to please the angel who held his or her service. Smack bang in the center of the file was a four-page article detailing the vicious public sentence handed to one vampire, whom Raphael had left in Times Square after breaking every bone in his body.

Below the article were the words: Betrayal will not be tolerated.

Sidney Geisman, Elena thought as she landed on the roof of a skyscraper to the south of the Tower, appeared to be suffering from a case of buyer’s remorse. Too bad. You couldn’t return the gift of near-immortality, so you were stuck paying the price for it. Not that she thought Sidney would be rushing to return that particular gift, even if it was possible. Cynical, perhaps, but she bet every hunter in the Guild would say the same. Too many people wanted to do the whole “have your cake and eat it, too” thing.

A single knock on the glass door to the roof atrium and it slid aside to leave her face-to-face with a slim vampire dressed in a brown tunic with a mandarin collar and gold detailing, his pants the same brown shade. “Guild Hunter,” he said, then hesitated. “My humble apologies. I should’ve used ‘Consort.’”

“No, ‘Guild Hunter’ is fine.” All this polite deference made her skin itch, but it was part and parcel of being with Raphael and since she had no plans of ever changing that, she’d have to learn to deal. “Do you have what I need?”

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