Archangel's Legion

Page 9

“Smell’s getting to me, Ellie,” Ransom said, just as her own stomach began to churn.

“Me, too.”

They both ripped off their masks to take deep gulps of the crisp winter air the instant they hit the street. Gloves went next, Elena’s skin itching to breathe. When Ransom retrieved a couple of bottles of water from the panther-black body of his motorcycle, throwing her one, she took it with a nod of thanks.

“Vampires aren’t supposed to get sick,” he said, after emptying half the bottle.

Splashing some water into one hand, Elena wiped it over her face, knowing it would take multiple showers to get that foul smell out of her nose. “No, they’re not.”

“Chop off their heads, they die,” Ransom continued. “Set them on fire, or cut out their hearts, they die unless they’re strong and old old. But soon as they’re Made, they don’t get sick. One thing’s for sure—Darrell definitely didn’t have anything to do with this.”

Elena agreed. “I’m going to have to bring in a consult from the Tower.” One of the more experienced angels or vampires; maybe there was a weird vamp virus that got a minority of them and she simply didn’t know about it. “Whoever it is will probably ask you to sign a nondisclosure agreement in blood.”

Ransom pretended to plump up a vein while she made the call to Aodhan. “I think this is serious,” she said to the angel, after describing the situation. “Ransom and I need to continue our hunt—can you spare someone to guard the body until it can be moved to a morgue?”

Aodhan asked her to give him five minutes but it was almost fifteen minutes later that he personally escorted another angel to the site. A bare five foot six and slender as a boy, the unexpected angel’s uptilted eyes were a gentle brown, his lips lush in a face saved from near-feminine prettiness by the sense of sheer maleness that clung to Keir.

Her frustration at the wait dissolving into deep affection, she leaned down into Keir’s kiss on the cheek. “You must have left the Refuge as soon as it happened.” It. The Falling. An awful malice reduced to two simple words.

“Raphael had a jet prepared for me so I would not be tired upon my arrival,” he told her, eyes painfully wise. “It was strange to fly in the belly of a metal creature when I have wings of my own, but he was right.”

When Aodhan was unexpectedly recalled to the Tower a second later, Elena remained at the house to watch Keir’s back, while Ransom continued to circle out from the house, searching for any sign that Darrell had made it this far. Stomach muscles clenched against the noxious stink, Elena led Keir to the corpse, where the healer examined it in silence, not saying a word until they were back out on the deserted street.

“A true infection.” Troubled darkness in the lush brown of his eyes. “I must autopsy the body under better lighting, see if I can pinpoint how the infection was introduced into his body.”

“Ransom and I were talking before you arrived, and we thought maybe the victim drank from the wrong person.”

His expression grew darker, even more serious. “The bodies of our blood kin,” Keir said, “are built to filter out impurities in blood—that is why a vampire can feed from any donor, even the most diseased.” Strands of silky black hair fell across his dusky skin as he looked at the ground, lost in thought. “If that mechanism failed . . .”

A sudden brilliance of blue, Illium landing in front of her. Having contacted her while Keir looked over the body, he’d brought a body bag to transport the victim to the research labs underneath the Tower, a small biohazard container for her, as well as better masks and replacement gloves, and didn’t argue when she made him use the safety gear.

“This house needs to be burned to the ground,” he said when he returned with the body, his expression harsher than most people ever saw. “We can’t take the risk that the cause of the infection might lie within.”

Sensing Keir was anxious to examine the body, and aware Raphael had to need Illium, she told the blue-winged angel she’d take care of the situation and made a call to Ransom as soon as they lifted off. “I’m going to do a final run through the house.” After which she had an idea about its destruction. “I need to finish this”—stop the disease here if it hadn’t already spread—“so if you want to—”

“No, it’s okay,” he interrupted. “I’ll join you. Trail’s so dead it’s in rigor—don’t think Darrell made it this far. Background report should come in soon, so we’ll have a better idea of other places he might frequent; may as well try to figure out what happened here in the meantime.”

Freshly gloved and masked, she and Ransom went through the entire place one more time, looking for anything that might provide a clue. “Why did you say this track was a slam-dunk?” she asked, placing the hypodermic needles she’d noticed earlier into the biohazard container.

“Vamp wasn’t a runner. He just got homesick every so often—his angel would give him three or four days, then send a hunter to pick him up.” The quiet pity in his tone resonated with the same emotion inside Elena. “Records say he never resisted, was always polite and apologetic and full of stories about his plans to renovate the house.”

It was a poignant image, of a harmless man who hadn’t deserved death. As the five angels Nimra’s squadron carried home in flower-strewn biers hadn’t deserved it. Embers of anger burning slow and dark inside her, she didn’t reply and the two of them finished the rest of the sweep in silence.

“I have to agree with the pretty boy—house needs to be toast,” Ransom said, once they were back out in front of the dilapidated villa.

“You’re calling Illium a pretty boy?” Elena snorted, glad to focus on something other than the heavy cloud of death that hung over the city. “Have you looked in the mirror lately?”

“I have scars, like any respectable male.”

“Tough guy.” Staring at the house where a vampire had died in what she hoped was a quick death, she put her hands on her hips. “Think Sara would be pissed if we just set it on fire and said ‘oops’ when the fire department arrived?”

“I don’t think she’s forgiven you for the whole being-chased-by-a-vampire-through-Manhattan incident.” He rubbed his jaw. “Arson would make a good cover story, though. It’s just the kind of place some firebug would light up.”

An hour later and thanks to Sara’s connection to every agency in the city, the house underwent a controlled burn initiated by the fire department. If only, Elena thought, they could as quickly erase the threat posed by a disease that had decimated the cells of a near-immortal.

• • •

Having flown to the Tower to drop off the biohazard con tainer, Elena took the chance to duck into her and Raphael’s private suite to shower and change. Ransom had roared off to do the same—not only were they stabbing blindly in the dark with the background report still MIA, neither one of them would be much good at sneaking up on a fellow hunter with the stink that clung to their clothes and skin.

“Might as well wear a bell,” had been Ransom’s succinct assessment.

She’d just finished scrubbing her hair and body clean several times over when her cell phone rang, Jeffrey’s name on the screen. Grabbing fresh gear from the clothing she kept at the Tower, she let the call go to voice mail, having no intention of hashing this out over the phone.

Once dressed, her hair braided and her weapons in place, she got in touch with Ransom. “Do you need me right this sec?”

“No, I want to check out a tip on my own.”

Figuring he needed to connect with one of his street contacts, wary people who trusted Ransom alone, she agreed to meet up with him at an Upper East Side address in an hour and, walking out to the balcony, flew off into the cold wind coming off the water. She’d spoken to Raphael while she’d been in the shower, so she knew he was heading back to the Tower over that water, Aodhan by his side and two integrated squadrons at his back, having just completed a critical drill.

Preparation, Elena thought, for an unprovoked and already ugly war.

Words that might as well apply to her relationship with Jeffrey.

The woman who opened the door to the brownstone office had skin of gleaming mahogany, her hair cut in a glossy bob and her body encased in a neat skirt-suit of jewel green. Nothing at all like the vamp-addicted brunette who’d been Jeffrey’s last assistant, her skin pale from too many donations in too short a time.

“Do you have an appointment?” the current PA asked, her throat moving as she swallowed.

“No. Tell Mr. Deveraux I’ll wait for him in the back garden.” As she made her way to that tiny green enclosure through a narrow access path, her mind filled with images of another brownstone, another door. Sara and Deacon had changed the layout and size of their house so that Elena would feel welcome, and yet her own father had done exactly nothing to ensure the same. Not that Elena was surprised, only furious at herself for continuing to permit him to wound her.

Jeffrey appeared in the back doorway as she arrived. “Elieanora. I have a meeting in five minutes.” Curt impatience in eyes of pale gray set in an aristocratic face and hidden behind spectacles framed in fine gold, his pure white hair combed with neat perfection, his stone gray suit sitting easily on his shoulders.

No doubt, her father was a handsome man, the kind of confident male irresistible to women young and naïve enough to think they could penetrate his icy exterior. He’d have no trouble finding another mistress to take the place of the one who’d been brutally murdered during the hunt that had forever altered Elena’s life. Perhaps he’d already done so, already replaced the woman who’d looked nothing like the elegant beauty who was Jeffrey’s current wife. No, the poor woman had been a pale imitation of Marguerite . . . and a living symbol of the pain her father had never once acknowledged aloud after those first brutal days.

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