Archangel's Heart (Guild Hunter #9)(16)


by Nalini Singh

It had become so after Elena became Raphael’s. His Seven had always come and gone from the Enclave house, had stayed here at times, but never had they been so at home here. It was his hunter who’d made that happen—and it wasn’t only the Seven she’d affected. It wasn’t chance that Montgomery had begun to court Sivya only after Elena had been living here for some time.

She’d brought life with her, brought heart.

They can stay. Elena took a sip of her wine. I’m not going to go for your throat—not until after dessert anyway. Montgomery took over the kitchen with Sivya’s permission and made some kind of thing called a pavlova that looks like a cloud with strawberries on it and I really want to eat it.

Shoulders unknotting and the strain easing from wing muscles tensed in readiness for a private battle, Raphael leaned back against his chair, his wingtips lying against the thick carpet. So, if you understand the need, then why did you assault me with baked goods?

Can I have that back, by the way? I really like Sivya’s rolls.

Lobbing it over to her, Raphael watched her catch it with effortless ease. Thanks. She made a stern face at Illium when her Bluebell said, “Have you two finished your discussion?”

“Shh, the grownups are talking.”

The blue-winged angel grinned. “Can you finish before dessert? I don’t want a side dish of anxiety with my dessert.”

“Eat your entrée,” Elena ordered before looking back at Raphael, her eyes luminous. Here’s the thing, Raphael. Past couple of years, while we all waited for the shit to hit the fan, things have been fairly peaceful—this is the first time we’re going back into danger.

Raphael inclined his head in a silent agreement.

That’s why I’m cutting you some slack. She took another sip of her wine, her slender throat moving as she swallowed. You’ve lacked positive reinforcement on how to thrash out such issues with your consort.

Raphael drank some of his own wine. I believe my consort is now amused.

Just a little. Her smile deepened. Remember our first disagreement? It involved my blood in case you’ve forgotten.

It involved a woman with endless courage.

Putting down her wineglass, that same woman locked gazes with him once more, as courageous and as fearless as ever. You default to thinking me weak and in need of protection. Instead of recognizing that I’m not mortal now. I was never a normal mortal anyway.

No, she was hunter-born. Stronger, faster, deadlier. Putting down his own wine, he offered her a blade he carried on himself because Elena had given it to him after a fight months ago. Your consort accepts his mistake, Guild Hunter. I should not have stated things as I did—I shouldn’t, in fact, have thought in such a pattern.

Elena took his peace offering, slid it away with a smile. Don’t sweat it. You are kind of old.

Very funny, Elena. In immortal terms, he was young, the youngest angel ever to become an archangel.

Come on, you set yourself up for it, she said with a laugh.

And that laugh, it was wildfire in his blood. Was life. “Aodhan, you will be with Elena during the Cadre meetings. I’ll leave it to the two of you to decide how best to utilize your resources.”

Elena’s eyes widened. Placing her hand on his thigh under the table, she said, Hey, I didn’t want a public statement. I know it’s important the Seven see you as their sire.

Yes, his hunter still had that mortal heart that loved him when it wasn’t the least bit to her advantage. She’d be far safer had she never met him. But Elena had never lived a safe life. That won’t change if they see me accepting my consort’s point. I’d be a stupid archangel if I didn’t value my greatest treasure.

Expression soft in a way that was for him alone, Elena lifted her wineglass. Knhebek, Archangel.

7

Elena spoke the words of love in her grandmother’s language, felt Raphael’s response in the look he gave her. It was blue fire and it was furious tenderness.

When she turned back to face Illium and Aodhan, she caught the sorrow in Illium’s eyes. It was old, that sorrow, came from the loss of the mortal he’d once loved, a woman for whom he’d lost his feathers in punishment and whom he mourned to this day.

Then Aodhan leaned in to murmur something against his ear. Face lighting up at whatever it was his best friend had said, Illium chuckled.

“Sire,” the light-shattered angel said afterward, his profile a purity of clean lines. “I have been doing further research on the Luminata.”

Intrigued, Elena focused on the angel who was more luminous than any of these Luminata could possibly be.

“Their leader, Gian,” Aodhan continued, “has held his position for four centuries—this is unusual among the Luminata. They are meant to rotate the leadership through their membership every five decades to ensure that politics and power do not distract from or corrupt a member’s search for luminescence.”

Raphael, who had gone motionless beside Elena, now said, “How do you know this, Aodhan?”

“Yes.” Illium’s tone was as hard as stone. “The Luminata don’t exactly advertise their internal workings.”

Elena realized she was missing something, so much withheld aggression in the air that she could’ve cut it with a knife.

Aodhan broke eye contact with Raphael to meet Illium’s gaze. The words he spoke were edgier than she’d ever heard Aodhan sound. “I’m no longer a broken doll who needs to be protected from those who might play roughly with me.”

Flinching as if he’d been slapped, Illium shoved back his chair and left the library through the doors that stood open to the lawn.

Elena.

She was already moving. I’ve got it. If she hadn’t heard that tone in Aodhan’s voice before, she hadn’t seen that expression on Illium’s face, either. So furiously angry and yet hurt. Deeply hurt.

Following the angel outside, she hoped he hadn’t taken off—because if Illium wanted to outpace her, she had no chance in hell of catching up to him. But he was standing on the very edge of the property, on the cliffs that looked down on the dark waters of the Hudson, the Manhattan skyline in the distance. Angels landed on Tower balconies as she watched, but today, even that sight didn’t have the power to hold her attention.

Walking to stand beside Illium, she very deliberately slid her wing over his tightly held ones; a touch that told him he wasn’t alone but that made no demands. Words weren’t always easy when things mattered.

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