Home > Archangel's Storm (Guild Hunter #5)(2)

Archangel's Storm (Guild Hunter #5)(2)
Author: Nalini Singh

Startled laughter from Elena. “Raphael and I married above the wreckage of New York, when he fell with me in his arms.”

Raphael, too, Jason thought, was a different man with his consort, this mortal woman become an angel. Such a weak angel in terms of power, her immortality a flickering flame, and yet she had a strength that spoke to the survivor in him. So he’d taught her how to remain unseen in the sky, watched her push her body to merciless extremes in an effort to achieve a vertical takeoff so soon after her becoming, and listened for threats to her life.

For Elena was Raphael’s biggest weakness.

A tiny giggle, a mischief-eyed little girl running to Elena on wobbling legs, curls of bronze-threaded black captured at the sides of her head with ribbons of summer orange. Smiling in unhidden delight, Elena bent to pick up the child in her arms. “Hello, Zoe, Warrior Goddess in Training.” A kiss on one plump cheek, Zoe’s flower girl dress a confection of lace over Elena’s arm. “Did you give your mom the slip?”

Jason met the child’s direct gaze as she nodded, saw that she held a silver-edged feather of distinctive blue in a careful fist. The daughter of the Guild Director stared at his wings for a moment before whispering something in Elena’s ear. Jason heard what she said, understood none of it, her language that of very small children.

Clearly not at the same disadvantage, Elena glanced at him, silver-gray eyes shining with laughter. “The imp’s coveting more of your feathers for her collection, Jason. I’d be careful.” She was distracted a second later by a tall man with long black hair tied neatly at the nape of his neck, his cheekbones sharp against copper-gold skin.

Ransom Winterwolf.

Hunter.

It was strange to see so many of the Guild on the grounds of Raphael’s home. Located in the Angel Enclave, on the other side of the river from the gleaming glass and metal of Manhattan, it was undoubtedly elegant, but Jason knew the Sire had offered Dmitri far more stunning locations in which to make Honor his bride. However, the leader of the Seven had been adamant.

“Daybreak,” he’d said a bare three hours before sunrise. “We marry at daybreak.”

In those three hours, Elena and the Guild Director had managed to alert every hunter in the New York area who wasn’t on assignment and was within traveling distance, while Jason, Illium, and Venom stood for the rest of the Seven. Naasir, Galen, and Aodhan had been told, had all three spoken with Dmitri before the wedding.

United in their loyalty to Raphael—and to each other—the Seven had forged bonds that were unbreakable, but even had there been more time, it was impossible for all of them to ever be in one place at one time. To keep the balance of power in the world, Raphael needed to maintain a presence in the Refuge and in New York, and now, in the lost city of Amanat, home to the Ancient who was Raphael’s mother.

That three of them stood here to witness Dmitri’s wedding, it was an unexpected gift. There were other invited guests of course—the proud staff who ran Raphael’s home; a number of men and women who worked directly under Dmitri at the Tower, and whose loyalty belonged as much to the vampire as it did to Raphael; two mortal policemen who were considered part of the Guild family. The well-respected man who’d officiated the ceremony belonged to that family, too, having headed the Guild before passing on the mantle.

Raphael himself had stood at Dmitri’s side during the ceremony, the friendship between the two men old enough, deep enough, that it was the archangel who had played the second this day. Jason didn’t know of any other such friendships among those who served the Cadre of Ten, the archangels who ruled the world, but he knew this one had endured centuries, through anger and war and even a short defection by Dmitri to Neha’s territory. That hadn’t lasted long, and now Dmitri’s lips curved at something Raphael said.

While the vampire was dressed in a crisp black-on-black suit, his bride wore a gown of deep, vibrant green that caressed and embraced her curves before rippling in a liquid waterfall to the dew-laden grass, the fabric arranged cleverly at her left hip to give the illusion of waves. When her gaze landed on Jason, she smiled and came toward him, halting at the border of the invisible space that separated him from the world, one hand holding the wildflower bouquet Elena had created using the blooms in her greenhouse.

“Thank you,” she said, her happiness so luminous, it outshone the diamonds at her throat, diamonds Jason had seen Dmitri buy as rough stones three centuries ago.

It had taken the vampire another hundred years to get them finely cut and set into a necklace of exquisite beauty, until the stones appeared to be droplets of captured starfire.

“Who will you gift it to?” Jason had asked at the time.

Dmitri’s response had been a sardonic twist of his mouth, the hardness in his eyes akin to the gems he held. “A woman whose spirit dazzles brighter than these stones.”

The necklace had graced none but the honey-skinned neck it now encircled.

“For this amazing dream of a dress,” Honor continued, stroking her hand down the fabric. “I don’t know how you found it so early in the morning. It fits like it was made for me.”

“No thanks are necessary.” So much of life he spent on the sidelines—many times out of choice, sometimes because he didn’t know how to belong—but he’d needed to be a part of this day when a man he respected, and who was as close a friend as he was capable of having, claimed this woman for his own.

“Jason can find anything,” Dmitri said, walking over to slide his arm around Honor’s waist. “The winds talk to him, tell him where to go.”

Honor laughed, husky and warm, and then she was being embraced by Elena, the hunter’s wings iridescent in the white light of morning. Stepping a little to the right, Jason met Dmitri’s gaze. The vampire shrugged, the words unspoken but not unheard.

No one will ever believe it.

No, Jason thought, no one would. Even he had thought himself mad when he was a boy on the verge of adulthood. It had taken reading Jessamy’s history books once he arrived at the angelic stronghold that was the Refuge to understand he’d inherited his mother’s “ear,” her ability to sense things happening hundreds of miles away, across oceans and beyond mountains. It was how she’d always had stories to tell him about people in the Refuge, though they lived on an isolated atoll surrounded by the shimmering blue of the Pacific.

“I will write this story down for you, Jason. You must practice your reading.”

He had. Over and over, until the parchment disintegrated, he’d read those stories and the others in the books in the house. Then he’d copied the words out on wood, on flax, in the sand, forcing himself to remember that he was a person, that he should know how to read. It had worked . . . for a while.

“I’m happy for you, Dmitri,” he said now, allowing the ghosts of the past to fade into the background. “This is my gift to you and your bride.”

As Dmitri glanced down at the small note card Jason passed across, Honor’s second—a long-legged hunter who had unique gifts of her own—came to join Elena and Honor, and the women laughed and began to talk all at once.

“A safe place,” Jason said when Dmitri looked up from reading the address on the card, the sun glinting off the simple gold band he wore on the ring finger of his left hand. “Where no one will find you.”

Understanding whispered across the sensual lines of Dmitri’s face. Moving a small distance away from the women, he said, “I shouldn’t be surprised at what you know, and yet I am.” He slid the card away. “How certain are you of the security?”

“The house is mine, and no one has found it in two hundred years.” Hidden in the dense forests of an otherwise uninhabited mountain, it could only be reached via a very specific route that he now shared with Dmitri, mind to mind. Even aerial entry is impossible unless the angel in question knows how to find a particular small clearing. He gave Dmitri the coordinates. Without that, severe damage to the wings as a result of the thick canopy—and the safeguards hidden within—is a distinct possibility.

Dmitri’s eyes gleamed. Good. His next words were spoken aloud. “I didn’t know you had another home in this country.”

“I don’t.” He had houses he used when needed, but home was a concept that had no meaning to him, though Dmitri likely assumed he considered his apartment at New York’s Archangel Tower home. “You’ll be safe there, and you can be private.” Honor’s transformation from human to vampire would take time, and while Jason knew Dmitri would ensure she navigated it in a deep sleep, safe from any suffering, he also knew the other man would not leave her side during the process. “There is no need to take a guard unit.”

“I wouldn’t trust those words coming from anyone’s mouth but yours,” Dmitri said, his face angled toward Honor. “I don’t know when we’ll use your gift. I have her promise . . . but I will not rush her on this.”

“You want to.”

“Yes.” Unvarnished ruthlessness. “But you see, Jason, it appears I have a fatal weakness when it comes to Honor—even should she change her mind and decide to remain mortal, I can’t force her and still live with myself.”

Jason said nothing as Dmitri walked back to his wife, who looked up to offer him a smile Jason had seen her share with no other. Her friends moved away to give husband and wife a moment of privacy, but everyone continued to linger on the luxuriant green of the lawn, the birdsong a delicate accompaniment to the murmur of conversation. Champagne was sipped, greetings exchanged, friendships renewed in the glow of the joy that came off Honor and Dmitri.

Unlike the others, Jason felt exposed out here in the sunlight, the unrelieved black of his wings a target, but he didn’t give in to the compulsion to fly up high above the cloud layer, where no one could see him. A minute later, when the winds began to whisper, he listened.

A single word. A name.

Eris.

The only significant Eris that Jason knew of was husband to Neha, the three-thousand-year-old archangel, the sole member of the Cadre who had chosen to follow the mortal ceremony of binding. Eris was also her consort, but he hadn’t been seen in public for some three hundred years. Many believed him dead; however, Jason knew the male lived, imprisoned in a palace inside Neha’s sprawling fort. Except for when he’d attempted to escape early on in his captivity, he had not been physically harmed.

   
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