Elena had barely hung up when her phone rang again. This time, it was Marcia Blue, the chief operating officer of Blood-for-Less. It had begun with one small blood café and was now a thriving chain of three across the city. And Elena was the official CEO. That cracked her up every single time.
Ransom and Demarco found it so funny that they’d printed out glossy black business cards for her with Elena Deveraux, Guild Hunter Angel CEO on the front and a silhouette of a suit-wearing, crossbow-wielding female angel on the back.
“Hey, Marcia,” she said. “Our businesses still standing?”
The once-timid vampire responded in a warm but efficient voice and they talked over a number of matters, including plans for expansion. “I’m heading out of town,” Elena said after listening to what Marcia had to say, “but talk to Jonas, hammer out the finances.” Jonas was a vampire and Elena’s financial manager. “I’ll make a final call once he gives me all the numbers.”
“Oh, sure.” Marcia’s enthusiasm bubbled over. “Jonas is great to work with.”
Elena’s eyes widened. Hmm . . . “I have to go now, Marcia,” she said as Raphael stepped out to join her, “but we’ll talk when I get back.”
“Okay, sure. Good night.”
Hanging up, Elena slid away her phone. “Archangel, I think my business partner and my financial manager might have zing between them.”
Turning, she touched her finger to his chest, felt the spark ignite, her belly heating. “Zing.”
Raphael closed his hand over hers. “That’s excellent. Perhaps Marcia can steal Jonas totally away from the angel to whom he is loyal so I can then steal him from you and Marcia.”
“Hey, no industrial espionage while I’m setting up my conglomerate.” Elena gave him her best scowl before returning to the matter at hand. “What else did Dmitri have to tell you?”
When the heartbreaking blue of Raphael’s eyes went metallic in its chill, she knew the news wasn’t going to be good.
“He received a report from Jason while we were speaking,” Raphael told his consort, anger ice in his veins at the possible implications of Jason’s information. “The tremors in Lijuan’s territory were similar to what we felt. But Xi didn’t send out extra troops to check the damage.”
“As if he needs those troops to stay somewhere else? Guard his crazy mistress maybe?” Elena folded her arms, feet set widely apart.
“Or to give that impression.” If Lijuan had told Xi to cover her absence long past the time when she was safe in her place of Sleep, then she’d deliberately set up her territory for bloody anarchy.
The other option was that the Archangel of China had only recently gone into Sleep, but that she’d been in trouble for a long time beforehand after overextending her Cascade-given abilities. Of course, there was a third option. “Lijuan could be playing a lethal game, hoping to get the Cadre in one place at one time for purposes of her own.”
Narrowing her eyes, Elena nodded. “It doesn’t really matter, does it? Not when nonattendance at the meeting could lead to war.”
“No—we must go to Lumia.” Raphael settled his wings, which were once more solid. “Whatever happens, we’ll have an answer after that meeting. Lijuan may mount a siege. If she doesn’t, but she isn’t in Sleep, then she won’t permit her lands to be divided and thrown into war as Xi attempts to hold the territory against the might of the rest of the Cadre.”
“Yeah. She’s psycho but she takes the goddess-over-her-people thing seriously.”
“Yes.” It hadn’t stopped his fellow archangel from turning many of her people into the shambling reborn, a mockery of life stinking of death, but the idea of anyone else taking control of what was hers? No, that she would not permit.
“You think the Cadre will also discuss the whole Alexander-Favashi thing?”
“The question is moot if Lijuan has retreated from the world.” Alexander, the former Archangel of Persia, had risen unexpectedly and, as an Ancient, had far more power and influence than Favashi, the archangel who’d been the Archangel of Persia on his waking.
As a result, Persia had been divided in two.
Alexander retained the title, while Favashi was now the Archangel of Sumeria. Relations seemed calm between the two, but Raphael knew neither was satisfied, tensions simmering beneath the surface that would eventually explode into war. Alexander wanted all of his lands back, and Favashi was furious at what she saw as a demotion.
“Right,” Elena murmured. “You’ll be a Cadre of Ten again, enough territories to go around with no two archangels on top of one another.”
“That would be the best-case scenario; the current situation is dangerously unstable.” Because if Lijuan was alive and awake, there were eleven active archangels in the world. There had never been more than ten at any one time. Less, yes, but never more. It had shaken the critical balance that kept the most powerful beings in the world from killing one another.
“I can see why it’s a great idea to put all these parties who hate each other in a small area together.” His consort’s tone was acerbic. “And forget about a siege—Lijuan’s probably creeping around in her noncorporeal form ready to drop one of her black poison bombs down on the rest of you.”
Raphael leaned forward to surround her with his wings. “Ah, but she is a goddess, Guild Hunter, and as such, needs someone to worship her. And she wants tribute from some of her fellow archangels at least.” The Archangel of China wanted to be a goddess to her fellow archangels, too, to be the Queen of Queens.