“Right, how could I forget?” Wrapping her arms around him, his hunter pressed her cheek to his chest, the wings of a warrior arching over her shoulders. “Don’t get dead, Raphael, or I swear I’ll hunt you down in the afterlife.”
“I would not dare, Elena-mine.” Life held too much promise—never could he become jaded with Elena’s fierce honesty and wildfire spirit in his life. “Now”—he fisted one hand in her hair, his jaw against her temple—“tell me why your spine is so stiff and your eyes haunted.”
Tone flat, she shared the news of her father’s injury, but no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t conceal the raw emotions that still tied her to Jeffrey Deveraux. Raphael knew too well that the love of a child for a parent who’d once been all a parent should be couldn’t be erased—he’d tried to hate his mother after her atrocities; he’d failed.
So, despite his disdain for her father, he said nothing, just held his strong consort with her mortal heart that felt so deeply.
They stood wrapped up in one another as the final hints of twilight faded to true dark, Archangel Tower a spear of light that dominated the sky. Illium landed in a showy flash not long afterward, Aodhan following far more sedately. But Illium’s closest friend drew attention whether he wanted to or not.
Every filament of his wings and each strand of his hair seemed to be coated with crushed jewels that refracted the light, while his skin was white marble. Not cold, however. No, it was warm, invited touch—the one thing the gifted and powerful angel couldn’t stand. Only Illium had the freedom to touch Aodhan as he wished, though Aodhan had healed enough to accept a small amount of contact with a limited number of others.
Including from the warrior in Raphael’s arms.
Who drew back then, old pain held deep within her, and her smile glorious. “Come on in, let’s go see what Sivya’s cooked up for us.”
* * *
Raphael sat beside Elena at the table in the library, where they had most of their meals, the formal dining room used only when many more of his Seven and/or her Guard were present, or if they had other guests. At this instant, his consort was laughing with one of his Seven who sat across from her.
It was Illium, of course, her favorite.
Another man might have been jealous of their relationship, might’ve stewed in a bitterness that destroyed all the bonds that tied each one of them to the other. Raphael, however, had watched the blue-winged angel grow up, seen his power and his personality develop; he knew he had Illium’s unflinching loyalty.
Bluebell would cut off his own wings rather than consider duplicity of any kind.
And Elena. His hunter had no concept of betrayal. When Elena loved, it was with every fiber of her being. She would walk with him into death without hesitation, his fiery consort.
Her eyes met his at that instant, the silvery sheen in them a physical sign of her growing immortality. You’re too ridiculously good looking. A scowl. Stop it.
He felt his lips curve. Your Bluebell would disagree.
Yes, he’s pretty. So is Aodhan. But you’re you. She was music in his head, sharp and clean and like a perfectly balanced blade.
He wondered if she realized her mental voice was gaining in strength. His consort was maturing—in terms of her immortality—far quicker than anyone had expected. Yet there was only so far her once-mortal body could go in the time that had passed; she remained a newborn angel, so much easier to hurt than him or any of his Seven.
And you, Elena, are you. A warrior to the bone. His warrior.
“Sire, is there anything I should know before we leave?” Aodhan’s voice was deep, quiet, but today, it held the faint touch of a faraway land where he’d spent part of his youth. He’d been in Raphael’s employ at the time, had gone to Ireland to study under a master artist. Because Raphael had always understood that, for Aodhan, creating art was life, was breathing.
For ten long years after they rescued him from hell, Aodhan had created no art and Raphael had thought they’d lost him forever. Until Illium accidentally spotted his friend by a river near the Refuge. Aodhan was gone by the time Illium returned from his task as a courier, but in his friend’s place, he’d found a delicate stack of stones that cast an astonishingly intricate shadow—a stack placed so it would be washed away when the river next rose.
Raphael could still remember Illium’s tear-wet eyes, his trembling voice when he reported his find. “Aodhan’s not gone.” A husky rasp. “He’s still alive inside. We just have to wait for him to find his way back to us.”
Tonight, Raphael glimpsed faint flecks of yellow and blue paint in Aodhan’s hair. “I think you can guess the knives that will be out,” he said in response to the angel’s question, “all of them ready to stab us in our backs.” He sipped from his wine, nodding in thanks at Montgomery, who’d come in to top up their glasses. “This is a meeting of vipers, Aodhan. Your task will be to keep Elena safe.”
Elena threw a roll at Raphael’s head.
He caught it, startled. “Elena, did you just throw a bread roll at the Archangel of New York?”
“I felt like throwing my biggest blade but I restrained myself,” was the response. “Aren’t you proud of me?” A saccharine sweet smile.
Illium choked on his laughter, while Aodhan managed to keep his face expressionless, the shattered mirrors of his eyes suddenly deeply interested in the small centerpiece on the table. Montgomery had been about to leave the library, hesitated, then gave in to his better nature and training, and slipped out.