Home > Archangel's Storm (Guild Hunter #5)(17)

Archangel's Storm (Guild Hunter #5)(17)
Author: Nalini Singh

“Promises, promises.”

Ten minutes later, they sat across from one another at the little round breakfast table in the villa on the outskirts of Tuscany that Raphael had gifted them on their wedding. With Michaela in accord with Raphael for the moment, and no one aware of where Dmitri and Honor planned to honeymoon, it was a safe enough location.

“Dmitri?”

Catching the solemn note in her voice, he glanced up from where he was scanning through messages on his phone. “What is it?” Tower business could wait. Everything could wait. Honor came first.

She rose, walked around to lean against the table by his side, her fingers playing with strands of his damp hair. “You haven’t brought up the change . . . to becoming a vampire.”

Nudging aside the part in her robe, he placed his hand on the warmth of her thigh. “There’s no rush.” He’d once thought to do exactly that, to push her into immortality before she could change her mind, but with the dawn had come the realization he could no more force this on Honor than he could hurt her.

“I made my choice.” Her tone reminded him she was a hunter, blooded and honed.

“It was a choice made in the aftermath of glory,” he said, the emotions from that night vivid in his mind. “I won’t ever try to talk you out of it”—he wanted a thousand lifetimes with her—“but I find I have just enough of a scrap of goodness inside me to not railroad you.”

She smiled, his wife with her heart that belonged to him, a gift beyond price. “I still can’t believe you’re here, that we’re here.” Sliding into his lap, she laid her head against the bare skin of his shoulder. “I keep expecting it all to disappear.”

“It won’t.” That was a promise he’d spill blood to keep. “Eternity or a single mortal lifetime, we’ll walk the road together.”

14

Having spent the remainder of the day listening unseen to courtiers and soldiers, mortals and vampires, angels young and old, Jason used the cloak of night to conceal himself as he flew over the fort. He was near certain of the identity of the person who had murdered Eris. However, he needed two further pieces of information—Mahiya was currently attempting to gather one of those pieces in the trenches of Neha’s court.

Sweeping down to land near the exquisite courtyard garden where the beautiful had gathered tonight ostensibly to share their sorrow, he allowed the pool of darkness he’d chosen as his landing place to seep into him. Regardless of what some whispered, Jason couldn’t create shadows from thin air, but he could extend and amplify the smallest tendrils of the dark until he simply didn’t register in most people’s vision, or if he did, it was as a ghost image caught out of the corner of the eye.

He hadn’t always been so at home in the shadows.

“How can I be a night scout if I’m afraid of the dark?” His lower lip quivered as he walked beside his mother, helping her collect shellfish from the beach half a morning’s flight from their home.

“Everyone’s scared of the dark when they’re young.” Tugging him to a shallow rock pool, she showed him a hermit crab crawling around with its home on its back. “You love the dark sometimes—like on the night flight you took with your father.”

“There were stars then.” They had reminded him of the sparkly jewels his mother used to wear when the visitors came. No one had visited for a long time, probably because his father was always so angry. “It wasn’t really dark.”

His mother’s amethyst dress floated in the breeze. “You already see better in the dark than I do—you helped me find my lost earring two nights ago, remember?”

Jason nodded. “It wasn’t hard.” The black pearl with the pretty blue shimmer had kind of twinkled at him in the dark.

“Not for you, my smart boy.” Laughing in that way that made him laugh, too, she said, “One day, you’ll see so well at night, it will be as if you walk in daylight. You’ll never again be scared of the dark.”

His mother had been right. By the time he was a hundred and fifty, his night vision had developed to the point where he had the sight of a nocturnal predator. The dark was home to him, and now he wrapped it around himself as he stood watch.

The open space was lit only by the flickering light from hundreds of candles, many cradled protectively in colored glass holders that turned the marble of the buildings around the courtyard into a dreamscape. As for those who stood within—laughter was muted, the hues less vibrant than might be expected in an archangel’s court, but that was the only bow to Eris’s death.

No one would guess that his funeral pyre blazed tomorrow.

Yet regardless of the many painted butterflies who held glasses of champagne and spoke with elegant gestures while subtly jockeying for position, he had no difficulty pinpointing Mahiya. Dressed in a silk sari of blue green embellished with a thin gold border, she moved through the crowd with the ease of someone on familiar ground.

Right then, she halted, angling her head in his direction, her gaze so intent he imagined he could glimpse the brilliant tawny brown even from this distance. There was no way she could’ve sensed him, but he was certain she had. When she moved again, it was with a fine layer of tension across her shoulders. An enigma was Mahiya, with the manners of the court elite and the instincts of a hunter.

Looking away to sweep the crowd with his gaze, he confirmed that Neha remained with Eris’s body. Jason had had confirmation that she’d granted Eris’s family permission to attend the dawn funeral ceremony, but no one else. Some whispered the archangel was jealous of her consort even in death, but Jason believed Neha mourned too deeply to share her grief.

Returning his attention to Mahiya, he saw that she was drifting away from the group. He scanned the guests who remained once more before making his way to the palace he shared with Mahiya, catching a glimpse of blue green silk whispering past the doorway.

Entering behind her, he locked the main doors and made his way upstairs to find her on their shared balcony, her gaze on the courtyard lit only by four quiet lamps. She didn’t startle when he came to stand beside her. A single wide, shallow step separated his balcony area from hers, and where he had columns holding up the roof, the edge open for easy flight, she had a railing, which she now gripped.

“Her name was Audrey.” Quiet words, no apparent residue of her earlier anger. “Tall, curvaceous blonde vampire. She’d been part of Neha’s circle for two decades but hadn’t made it into the inner court.”

“How long ago did she disappear?”

“The same day as Eris’s murder, though no one else has yet put the two events together. Those who’ve noticed Audrey’s absence believe it’s a simple case of conflicting schedules. No one has bothered to try to contact her—she wasn’t one of the favorites, and the friendships she made were shallow at best.” Hands clenching on the railing, she continued to stare out into the night. “Do you believe she killed Eris?”

Look at me, princess. “It’s one conclusion.”

Her fingers flexed on the railing. “Do I matter?” It was a question with so many nuances, he knew he caught but the bluntest edge. “In the grand scheme of your existence, does my life matter to you on any level?”

He was a man used to keeping secrets, but he knew at that instant that he had to answer this, or he risked losing something he wasn’t even aware he searched for. “Yes. You matter.”

A tremor quaked Mahiya’s frame . . . and at last, she turned those bright eyes his way. “Then you will uphold our bargain?”

“Yes.” Bargain or not, Jason had no intention of leaving her to Neha’s mercies, but he would make her no promises until he knew they would not be broken.

When he stepped to the edge of his side of the balcony in preparation for taking flight, Mahiya said, “She isn’t in her chambers. I checked earlier.”

Jason wasn’t used to explaining himself to anyone. Even Raphael gave him free rein, but Mahiya’s statement held a brittle pride that said this woman, this survivor, had been pushed to the brink. “Good.” He turned, held her gaze to show that he wasn’t ignoring her. “I have another idea I wish to explore.”

A pause, then a small nod, her voice no longer cool when she said, “I’ll wait for your return.”

Strange what those simple words did to him as he flew off the balcony and up into the diamond-studded jet of the night sky. There, he hovered invisible against the stars and listened. His gift wasn’t one he could call up on command, but he could put himself into the optimum frame of mind to trigger it. Now, he did just that, the capricious winds whipping strands of hair from his queue and pasting the thin linen of his shirt against his body.

Whispers began to filter through to his mind minutes later, a thousand small fragments that meant nothing. Patient, he allowed the river of sensory input to flow around him. Then he caught a single whisper that wasn’t a word so much as a sense. Shifting into the wind, he flew over the ridges and valleys of the mountains, following an instinct honed to a keen edge by near to seven hundred years of life.

Nothing stood out about the valley where the trail stopped cold, but he came down under the moonlight nonetheless, careful to land with a stealth that was as innate as breathing. Swathed in shadows, the land betrayed none of its secrets . . . until the wind shifted.

Dusty decay, but no scent of rot.

Catching the line of the breeze, he traced it back to a tumble of gray stone, some of the rough chunks the size of small cars. The sheer rock face above told him their origin, though enough time had passed that the hardy grasses evolved to survive this harsh climate had grown to above his knee around the rocks.

It was, he thought, sheer luck that the body had fallen into a crevice when it had been dropped. Or the remnants of it in any case. The long skirt set with hundreds of tiny mirrors would otherwise have been a beacon in the sunlight. As it was, that girlish skirt was shaded by the rocks, the majority of the body caught in a fissure created by two adjoining hunks of stone.

   
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