Home > Archangel's Storm (Guild Hunter #5)(16)

Archangel's Storm (Guild Hunter #5)(16)
Author: Nalini Singh

As he couldn’t imagine what it was not to be able to touch the sky at will, Jessamy couldn’t imagine what it was to be alone. Utterly, absolutely alone. Not for an hour, not for a day, not for a year. For decades.

Until he had forgotten how to speak, how to be a person.

That endless aloneness had withered something within him when he’d still been a boy with wings too heavy for his body, and unlike Jessamy, he believed it to be a permanent loss. As irrevocable as the fact that the atoll where he’d been born, where his mother had been buried, was gone, crushed by a massive quake caused by an underwater volcanic eruption. It was as if his parents had never existed, as if he’d always carried this aloneness inside him.

“Obviously,” Mahiya said into the silence, “I’m outclassed,” having utilized the pause to paint on the mask of a woman who had grown up in a court—where venom was most often delivered with a honey-sweet smile.

“Enough games.” Though the survivor in him admired her fierce will, he couldn’t allow that to give her the upper hand. “Make your decision and make it quickly.”

A fine tremor silvered over her skin, and he knew that beneath her stubborn refusal to give in, she was afraid. Jason didn’t like inciting fear in a woman. It brought back too many memories that would not fade no matter how many years passed, his hands tingling as if he’d been pounding on a locked bedroom door in a futile attempt to get out, to stop what was happening beyond.

“No, you are mist—”

“Don’t lie! I saw the way you looked at him!”

The roar echoed through time, but haunted as he was, Jason had long learned to dance with his demons. He held his silence even when the quiet grew jagged with the sharp bite of Mahiya’s fear, even when his every instinct snarled at him to destroy the thing that made her afraid.

“You need to give me something in return.” Lines forming around soft lips, shoulders squared. “I can’t surrender the most valuable piece of information I have without gaining something equally valuable in return.”

It was then that Jason understood this princess with her quiet grace had learned to use fear to strengthen herself rather than allowing it to crush her. Some unknown, hidden part of him felt a searing joy, the emotion raw and unexpected and so extreme, he had to use conscious effort to wrench it under control. Even then, it burned, the midnight flames licking at his veins.

“If your information is good,” he said, thinking through his violent response to judge that she was willing to risk death to hold on to this final piece of information, “I’ll speak to Raphael.”

Hope shot golden light across her face. “Will he—”

Jason would not bargain with lies and half-truths. “No archangel will start a war over you,” he said bluntly. “It doesn’t matter what secrets you possess.”

Mahiya could feel herself beginning to fracture from the inside out. With a few words, Jason had just destroyed the single precious drop of hope she’d cultivated through humiliation and hurt and a lifetime of knowing she lived on borrowed time. The worst thing was, he betrayed no emotion about any of it—as if her life meant nothing. And this was the man she’d wanted to touch, wanted to learn?

“Then,” she said, clawing her way out of the abyss on a tower built of rage and pride and an agonizing sense of loss for something she had never possessed, “what use is your promise?”

“A direct defection isn’t the only way to get what you want.” Jason’s tone was harsher than she’d ever heard it, his eyes so dark they were ebony. “You grew up in a court. Think about it.”

Mahiya blinked at his anger, her own emotions skewing sideways.

“The information,” Jason demanded before she could unravel the tangled skein of her thoughts.

In the end, it wasn’t a difficult choice. Because the cold, hard fact was that Jason was right—it didn’t matter that she’d done nothing to warrant incarceration in this gilded prison. Neha was the ruler of this territory, had absolute authority over her citizens. If she wanted to torture Mahiya for an eon, that was her right.

As Jason had pointed out, no other archangel would step in and risk inciting a war for the knowledge Mahiya currently held. Therefore, it must be Jason. At least, he hadn’t lied to her. Rather, he had a way of being too honest, stripping away illusion and hope. So she would throw the dice and hope he kept his end of the bargain.

“Lijuan,” she said, her chest aching at the remembered sensation of the bone-chilling cold in the corridor that night. “No one saw her arrive, and no one saw her leave, but as she’s no longer fully corporeal, that means nothing. I heard her speaking with Neha inside the room guarded by the vine snake—and yes, I am certain. Her voice is distinctive.” Screams, that was what lived in Lijuan’s voice.

Jason was silent for a long, long time, the swirling curves and fine dots of the tattoo on his face stark in the sunlight. When he did speak, it was to say, “I need you to find out if any of the women in the court—high or low—have gone missing. Focus on the ones who aren’t at the center but at the edges.”

Startled by the abrupt change of subject, she answered instinctively, “That should be easy enough to discover. The population inside the fort is tightly controlled.”

Jason spread his wings, the darkness spilling off them, and she knew it for a sign of dismissal.

“That’s it?” she asked, wanting to grab hold of him, shake him, shatter the obsidian walls that kept him remote from the world. “That’s all you have to say?” So easily, he’d destroyed then forgotten her.

“For now.” He rose into the air.

Teeth gritted, she pushed herself into a vertical takeoff, knowing the conversation was over. She could never catch him in the sky. Not only that, he was a spymaster. If he wanted to vanish, Mahiya was ill-equipped to keep track of him . . . and Neha had to know that. “A game,” she said through a throat raw with such rage that it threatened to blind. “It was a game from the start.” Neha had set Mahiya up to fail, set her up to die.

13

Dmitri braced himself on one elbow and leaned down to kiss awake the woman in his bed, her silky skin warm. The fathomless green was yet hazy with sleep when her eyes fluttered open. “Is it morning already?” Fingers threading through his hair, she claimed a deeper kiss that reminded him he belonged to her, should he have forgotten. “Good morning, husband.”

“Good morning, wife.” He would never tire of saying that. “Are you hungry?”

Honor’s response was a husky laugh that wrapped around his heart. “I do think you have an ulterior motive for that question.”

Since he’d already tugged down the sheet to display the lush mounds of her br**sts, that was a moot question. He caressed her with teasing strokes, in the mood to play with his wife, and when she kicked off the sheets in unhidden frustration, he moved in to settle between her legs.

Where he teased her some more.

With his fingers.

With his body.

With his mouth.

Honor arched under him on a soft gasp, her hands clenching in his hair hard enough that it hurt a little. It was an exquisite pain that could grow into an addiction—the pain of her pleasure. Smiling, he rubbed his unshaven jaw against the soft skin of her inner thigh, alert for even the tiniest indication of distress, before prowling up a feminine form rippling with aftershocks of erotic ecstasy.

“Open your eyes.” Only when she obeyed the quiet order did he push into her. Always, always he made certain she was with him every step of the way. Because Honor had been brutalized, and those scars wouldn’t magically disappear in a week or even a year. They were an indelible part of her, but there was no need to make the damage any worse, something he’d once done and would never again so much as chance—he’d carve out his own heart first.

“Dmitri.” A throaty whisper, her lips on his neck, her fingers on his nape, caressing him, kissing him, just the way he liked.

It wasn’t the same as before, when he’d been with Ingrede, and he didn’t mourn that. No, he felt like the luckiest bastard on the planet. Because as Ingrede had loved the Dmitri he’d been, Honor loved the Dmitri he’d become. There was no horror or distaste in her at the darkness he carried within, nothing but an acceptance that told him he was home after centuries in the most barren wasteland.

“Stop,” he warned when she used her body to caress his cock, internal muscles utilized to painfully pleasurable effect. “I’m not ready to finish yet.”

“I love that tone in your voice.” Biting gently at his jaw, she fell back on the bed and interlocked her wrists above her head. “Here I am. With what new torment do you plan to torture me?”

She was teasing him, the wench, her body a molten fist that squeezed and tempted. Another day, he might have played an erotic game with her, but having kept his wife awake to near dawn, he was feeling as satisfied as a well-fed cat this morning. “A long, slow ride for you I think.” He placed a hand on her breast. “Very slow.”

“Not that.” Again, that playful light in her eyes. “Anything but.”

Kissing the smile from her lips and feeling the warmth of it travel through his own veins, he moved his body in a steady, deep rhythm that drew another shuddering wave of pleasure from Honor. Even as she cried out, her body locked possessively around him, he gave in to his own need and pierced the pulse in her neck for the merest taste.

“Dmitri.” A sigh of sensual delight, and then they were both tumbling into sensation lush and languid, limbs entangled and hearts fused.

Afterward, he soaped her body in the shower and helped her dry her hair. It wasn’t the kind of tenderness he’d have shown any other woman, had long believed he’d lost the capacity for it—but it made his bones hum in masculine satisfaction that she let him do what he would, her trust blinding. Kisses on his na**d chest, her legs twining around his jean-clad ones as she sat on the counter bundled in a fluffy pink robe, she also made every attempt to distract him, and he laughed, threatened to punish her.

   
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