Home > Archangel's Storm (Guild Hunter #5)(4)

Archangel's Storm (Guild Hunter #5)(4)
Author: Nalini Singh

“Loyalty is not so easily discarded a coat.”

For some reason, that made Neha’s lips curve in what seemed a near-genuine smile. “So attached to your men. Never have I been able to fault your fidelity.” Her smile changed, became inscrutable. “Very well then, it must be Mahiya.”

This time, it was Raphael who paused.

Eris’s child with Nivriti, Jason reminded the archangel, for it wasn’t a topic they’d had much cause to discuss. She is now just over three hundred years old.

“You think to compare so young an angel to Jason?” Raphael said.

“No, indeed. Mahiya is a court trinket, nothing more.” The archangel allowed the python to flick out its tongue at her bloody fingers. “But as I’m sure the pup has informed you, her lineage is of my family. A blood vow to her will suffice.”

Raphael held Neha’s gaze. “I will speak to him.”

Neha inclined her head in regal acquiescence before ending the call.

Turning to Jason, his wings folded neatly to his back, Raphael said, “She’s stable for the time being, but it’s a temporary reprieve. The more she stews on the murder, the more dangerous she’ll become.”

“I’m willing to take the blood vow.” It was an ancient custom, one rarely practiced by even the oldest of angelkind—in swearing a blood vow to Mahiya, Jason would become family in a sense and thus bound to protect that family’s interests. The reason the custom had fallen out of favor was that it skated too close to crossing the line into forced intimacy—for in the distant past, the blood vow had been used to seal the most private of relationships.

However, like all angelic laws and customs, the blood vow was a creation far more subtle than it appeared at first glance. While the ceremonial tie would stop no one with treacherous intentions, in making the invitation, Neha acknowledged the honor of Raphael and his Seven. If Jason then used his entrée into her court to seek and exploit any flaws in her defenses, it would be considered a declaration of war. And once the knowledge of his faithlessness spread, Jason would lose every bit of respect he had earned from the most powerful immortals.

That was no small thing, especially for a spymaster. Much of his information came to him via those immortals. Worse, his people would be in far more danger—though they were the best, it was inevitable that some were unearthed during the course of their duties. Where once they might’ve been forgiven on the strength of the older angels’ respect for Jason, they would now be executed as a sign of those very angels’ displeasure at the breach of the blood vow.

Raphael’s wings rustled as he resettled them, the only sign of his surprise at Jason’s agreement with the archaic custom. “You do not need to,” the archangel said. “The Cadre may be able to control her now that I have time enough to warn the others. And a blood vow places you at risk—should Neha judge that you have broken it, she can ask for an execution.” He shook his head. “You know she agreed too readily to your presence in her territory. She wants you in her power, plans to use you in vengeance against me.”

“Yes.” Jason had seen the calculation in Neha’s gaze, knew the Archangel of India understood what Raphael’s Seven meant to him—if Neha could not reach Elena, could not harm Raphael’s heart, she was fully capable of going after the next best thing. “But,” he added, “while Neha may be driven by the need for retribution, she’s also a creature of pride. For her to break the promise of safe passage implied by the blood vow stains her own honor—and notwithstanding what she says, that honor matters to her.” It was all she had left.

“Are you willing to stake your life on that?”

“Yes.” Jason had watched Neha for centuries, as he watched every member of the Cadre, so he knew that she wasn’t an archangel who used a heavy hand when more subtle methods would suffice. “Neha is more apt to attempt to turn me against you or to entice me to change camps.”

Raphael met his gaze. “It will be a dangerous game of patience and power.”

“A short one.” Jason already had his ideas about Eris’s death. “We state the vow is to be considered fulfilled the instant I unearth the murderer.” Neha would expect the stipulation. “There’s nothing in the custom that bars me from continuing with my other duties, so long as I don’t betray Neha for the duration.”

Eyes inscrutable, Raphael said, “It remains a bad bargain . . . unless you want to get inside Neha’s court for reasons of your own.”

“There is something happening within,” he acknowledged. “Samira was unable to get close to it—I’m near certain Neha knew she was one of mine.” Permitting a certain level of spying, mostly so they could seed false information, was an amusing diversion to some of the archangels.

“The vow,” he continued, “will get me deep inside the fort, and as I wish only to observe, not interfere in this other matter, I do not risk a breach of the vow.” He wouldn’t be able to use any of what he discovered, not unless he could verify the same information through another source, but it would at least confirm that he was on the right trail.

“A fine line.”

“I can walk it.”

Raphael’s next words were pragmatic. “She will not give you free reign. This Mahiya is apt to be your shadow.”

“It matters little.” Jason was skilled at disappearing in the midst of a crowd, at remaining unseen even when he stood right in front of a person. “She’s comparatively young, and to my knowledge, has never been beyond the borders of Neha’s palaces.” Surely schooled in the art of court intrigues, there was a high chance she was no “trinket”—but she couldn’t hope to match a man who’d spent a lifetime learning how to become kin to the dark, until the night was his natural home.

“I’ve never tied your hands,” Raphael said, “and I won’t do so now. It’s your choice.” He frowned. “As for Mahiya—I recall you had doubts about the rumors of her paternity since the whispers of Eris’s infidelity were never proven. Nivriti was also apparently executed for another crime months before the newborn child appeared at Neha’s court. Why are you now so certain she is Eris’s get?”

“She wears her lineage on her face.” It was Mahiya’s highly distinctive eyes that gave away her parentage to anyone not blinded by fear of an archangel’s wrath. “I’ve also heard enough fragments from my spies over the centuries to confirm the evidence of my sight.”

Raphael’s nod was thoughtful. “Neha has a reputation for not harming children, mortal or immortal, so I can see her adopting the child even in this circumstance.” Glancing up, he said, “I leave the choice to you, Jason. And who knows? Perhaps this Mahiya will prove to be your downfall—they say the intimacy of a blood vow is powerful indeed.”

Jason said nothing, but they both knew it to be an impossible thing. Jason had never loved anyone after he dug a grave under a tropical sun, no longer understood the emotion; the boy he’d once been was a faraway mirage in his mind. The closest he came was in his loyalty to Raphael, but he knew from watching Dmitri with his wife, Raphael with Elena, Galen with Jessamy, and long ago, Illium with his mortal, that it was not the same thing at all. “I’ll leave within the hour.”

“Remember,” Raphael said in a quiet tone that cut through the air like a blade, “she is not only the Queen of Snakes, but the Queen of Poisons.”

And Jason was about to walk into her lair.


She wears my ring.

Dmitri watched Honor’s face light up as she laughed at something her clever friend Ashwini had whispered to her. With her sly wit and eyes that saw too much, the other hunter had been a good friend to Honor, and so Dmitri would’ve been inclined to like her, even if she hadn’t provided him with a source of amusement—the game of cat and mouse she and Janvier had played for over two years was as inexplicable as it was fascinating.

Honor’s eyes turned in his direction, her face holding an unasked question.

“I’m looking at my wife,” he murmured for her ears only, running his fingers over her nape as he told himself he really should behave since they were in public. “My beautiful wife, whom I’d like to peel out of her dress and set na**d on my lap so I can do debauched things to her sexy body.” He never had been much good at behaving.

A faint shiver. “You shouldn’t be let out to torment women.”

Smiling with a slow deliberation that brought slumberous heat into those eyes of haunting green, he leaned in close, his next words a purr against the shell of her ear. “I only plan to torment one woman for the rest of eternity.”

Her pulse thudded in her throat, the call of her blood an erotic siren song. He drew in a deep breath, took her scent within, but he wasn’t about to rush. Not today. “Shall I tell you what I intend to do to you for your wedding night gift?” He wrapped her up in tendrils of chocolate and a sensual promise rich and decadent.

“No.” It was a laughing refusal, her husky voice entangling him in chains he had no intention of ever breaking. “Or I’ll tell you what I’m wearing under this dress.”

He felt like stretching in pleasure, as if he were a great cat that had been stroked, her laughter as precious to him as the rarest of gemstones. About to respond, he caught something out of the corner of his eye, shifted to see Jason walk into the room. “I think Jason has come to say his good-byes.”

He rose to his feet. “You’re leaving?” he said aloud as the black-winged angel stopped by the table. What has happened?

“Yes, I’m afraid I can stay no longer.” Eris is dead. I must head to Neha’s territory.

When Jason lifted his forearm, Dmitri clasped it in the way of the warriors they had been in battle together. “I’ll see you when you return.” I will remain in contact.

Jason’s hand tightened on his arm before falling away. “Enjoy your time away.” I have it under control, and you have a wife who will not be pleased by a husband tied forever to his work.

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