Home > Archangel's Prophecy (Guild Hunter #11)(12)

Archangel's Prophecy (Guild Hunter #11)(12)
Author: Nalini Singh

“That baby is criminally adorable.” Elena’s attempt at a scowl turned into a fascinated smile. “I can’t get over those tiny transparent wings stuck to his skin. It’s almost as if they’re a tattoo on his back, an imprint of where his true wings will grow.” A pause before she added, “Though, yeah, I can see how giving birth would be a freaking horror show if babies were born with actual wings.”

Illium laughed at her shudder.

Raphael’s own lips twitched. “The bones will harden over time,” he told her, having witnessed the transition in the periods he’d spent standing watch in angelic nurseries as a young angel. “Feathers won’t begin to grow for two or more years, and even then, they will be baby feathers so fine as to appear to be fluff.” Angelic children took a long time to become capable of flight, their wings growing apace with the development of their minds.

“My mother often thanked the heavens I didn’t gain the ability to fly as a toddler,” Illium offered. “Apparently I was a walking, babbling emissary of impending disaster. Wings would’ve been the final straw.”

Grinning, Elena picked up the mug of coffee Illium had just refreshed for her. “Did Aodhan send you any new pictures?”

Illium nodded and began to reach for his phone. That was when Elena’s mug smashed to the floor in a pungent stain, Raphael’s consort doubling over with her hand pressed against her chest.

The pain was a spiky ball of razor-sharp knives inside Elena’s chest, the hand she pressed over the spot doing nothing to ease the agony. She couldn’t even cry out, her voice stolen and red spots dancing in front of her eyes. Shivers wracked her body.

She clung to Raphael when he swung her up into his arms and laid her down on her back on the floor of the greenhouse. Her wings would be filthy, she found herself thinking through the haze of red, as Raphael tugged away her hand from the top left of her chest and placed his own on it.

His expression went rigid, his wings limned with light, and she knew his healing energy hadn’t regenerated. Before she could attempt to reach out with her mind and tell him . . . something, the pain drained away as hard and as fast as it had hit.

The vacuum it left behind howled with emptiness.

Sucking in a breath, and conscious of Illium crouching beside her, his face stark, she wrapped her hand around Raphael’s wrist. The strength of his bones, the warmth of him, the beat of his pulse, it anchored her. “It’s gone,” she murmured in a voice roughened by screams she hadn’t vocalized.

“You’re certain?” A harsh archangelic demand. “No residual pain?”

“I feel bruised, but that’s it.” As if she’d imagined the terrible, overwhelming agony. “Did I just have the angelic version of a heart attack?”

“Angels don’t have heart attacks.” Raphael helped her up into a seated position, and when Illium wove his fingers through her free hand, he didn’t object.

“Ellie.” Illium’s hand clenched on hers, his left wing slightly overlapping her own. “What was that?”

“No idea, Bluebell.” When she described the sensations, neither her archangel nor Illium had any answers for her.

“Come.” Raphael’s voice held no room for argument. “We will go inside and contact Keir.”

Elena’s face flushed. Her heart pounded like a hammer. She wanted to say that it had been nothing, but burying her head in the sand wouldn’t make the bewildering assault on her body disappear. The dark existed whether you looked at it or not. She’d known that since she was ten years old, since she’d shut her eyes and pressed her hands over her ears and hoped the monster would go away.

He hadn’t. He’d slaughtered her older sisters and forever broken her mother.

Night after night, long after the monster was vanquished, she’d heard Belle’s dying breath.

Night after night, she’d slipped and fallen in Ari’s blood.

And night after night, she’d seen her mother’s broken arms and legs dragging on the floor as she tried to crawl to her dying children.

“Pretty hunter. Pretty, pretty hunter. I’ve come to play with you.”

Slater Patalis’s singsong voice was a horror Elena carried in her soul and would to her last days, but it hadn’t surfaced for the past two years, her sleep free of that nightmare at least. It seemed tonight was her lucky night, complete with ghost owls and being stabbed by knives inside her own body.

“Sire.” Illium’s cheekbones cut white against the golden hue of his skin. “I’m meant to relieve Dmitri at the Tower within the half hour.”

“Go—and send Nisia here,” Raphael said. “Elena will tell you the outcome.”

She loved Raphael impossibly more for that, for understanding that, right then, Illium needed to know the people he loved were safe. He was having a hard time with Aodhan so far out of reach, the two yet struggling to come to a balance in their relationship—Illium had become used to being the stronger one in the partnership, the one who looked after a badly traumatized Aodhan. But Aodhan was coming out of his shell, and the man he’d become wasn’t the boy Illium remembered.

The blue-winged angel walked out of the greenhouse with them, taking off in a wash of wind that flicked up snow into the air in firefly sparks. Normally, Elena would’ve stood on the cliff edge and watched him fly across to Manhattan. She didn’t think she’d ever become jaded enough to not appreciate the sight of an angel in flight.

Tonight, however, she kept her hand linked to Raphael’s, and the two of them walked directly to the study entrance into the house. “Take off your boots,” she said at the doorway.

Raphael gave her that look, the one she called his Archangel look. But Elena wasn’t swayed. She needed this instant of domestic normality to fight the roar of fear at the back of her mind. “Montgomery will banish us if we destroy that gorgeous hand-woven rug with our wet boots.”

Raphael didn’t point out that he owned everything in the vicinity, rug included. He took off his boots. And she knew. He was fighting fear, too. She felt an ache deep inside her heart; she was the reason he understood fear, and she wished that weren’t true.

Together, the two of them walked to the large screen on one wall, and Raphael initiated the connection to Keir’s office in the Medica, deep in the mountainous landscape of the Refuge—a place hidden from human eyes, where angelic young were born, learned to fly, and grew to adulthood.

Nisia arrived midway through their conversation with the healer who’d watched over Elena’s transition from mortal to angel. Today, Keir—pretty face, slender body, unparalleled medical knowledge—watched from the screen while Nisia examined her.

Elena might’ve felt vulnerable sitting there dressed only in her pants and a thin camisole except that she may as well have been a horse when it came to the two healers’ interest in her body. What language are they speaking? she asked Raphael after trying and failing to pinpoint anything familiar in the words Nisia and Keir were exchanging.

Her archangel was a wall at her back, his hand a welcome weight on her shoulder. I believe it is a form of Old Ossetian intermingled with snatches of Laurentian and the angelic tongue. Also, now they’re throwing in Vietnamese.

You’re making that up, Elena said, though she had caught the odd word that made her think of the Southeast Asian country.

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