Archangel's Heart (Guild Hunter #9)(6)

by Nalini Singh

Had it been any other man or woman, Elena had the feeling the rest of the Cadre would’ve already acted. However, the general was so utterly devoted to his “goddess” that no one had any fear he’d forget who and what he was and give in to delusions of power he simply did not possess. Xi wanted only to hold the territory for Lijuan.

The thought of the archangel who considered herself evolved beyond even the Ancients triggered another thought. Glancing at Raphael, she said, “Did the Luminata invite Alexander and Caliane as well?”

Alexander had quickly become an active member of the Cadre, while Caliane preferred to keep to her small territory, but both were Ancients who should’ve never been awake, should’ve never been in the Cadre during this time.

The Cascade, however, had other ideas.

“Yes,” Raphael answered.

“And,” Jessamy added, “since saying no to the Luminata is unacceptable, both will be attending the meeting.” The beautiful burnt sienna of her eyes lit with quiet humor. “I think Caliane might have a few words to say to the Luminata.”

Elena caught the emphasis. “Head guy?”

A nod from the other woman. “The members of the sect do have names, but the leader is referred to as the Luminata as a gesture of respect. In direct speech, archangels use the Luminata’s name—and so should you as consort.”

“Because an archangel will only bend so far,” Elena said dryly.

Similar to a guild hunter I know.

Grinning at the mental comment, one made in a very “Archangel of New York” tone, Elena leaned against Raphael’s side. “So, it looks like it’s going to be an unhappy reunion of the Cadre.” She whistled at the implications of that. “Holy hell. Is Michaela coming, too?”

Jessamy’s nod was quick, her eyes bright.

“That should be interesting.” Unlike Lijuan, the most beautiful archangel in the world hadn’t done a disappearing act, but she’d become far less visible for the span of an entire year before returning once more to the limelight—though still nowhere near at the level she’d been at before her strangely reclusive year.

Because Michaela loved attention and the media loved her.

To say that Michaela was beautiful was an understatement. With skin the shade of finest milk chocolate and wings of delicate bronze, her hair a waist-length tumble of brown and gold, and her eyes a hypnotic green, she was the definition of breathtaking. Throw in a body that turned mortals and immortals alike into slaves and it hadn’t surprised Elena to learn that Michaela had been the muse of artists and emperors through the ages.

The artists were mostly alive, since Michaela liked those who paid homage to her beauty—no, that was bitchy. The truth was that Michaela did have a reputation as a generous patroness of the arts. But the emperors and other powerful men who’d been her lovers, well, they were pretty much all dead as doornails. The second-to-last one had died at Raphael’s hands in an exchange of angelfire above New York that had left Elena broken and on the cusp of her own death.

It kind of pissed Elena off that Michaela had been partially responsible for her meeting Raphael right back at the start. Without the other archangel’s poisonous encouragement, her lover would’ve never turned into an insane serial-killing nightmare. One who’d ended up ripping out Michaela’s heart and replacing it with a glowing red fireball that may well have fouled her bloodstream with a noxious poison.

“Our pregnancy theory,” Elena said to Jessamy, concerned what the poison, if it did lurk within Michaela, would’ve done to a child in the archangel’s womb. “You heard anything to confirm that?”

“Nothing,” Jessamy replied, then bit her lower lip. “I shouldn’t gossip, but I so want to know.” Switching her attention to Raphael, the other woman asked if Jason had discovered anything.

“There is not even a faint whisper of an angelic babe in Michaela’s territory. Though that doesn’t mean anything—Michaela has properties hidden in multiple difficult-to-reach locations.”

“If there is a child, I hope he or she is safe and healthy.” With those gentle words, Jessamy went to sign off. “I just heard Galen land. He’s been out for hours with the current batch of trainees—I want to make sure he gets something hot into him.”

Saying good-bye to the kindest angel she knew, Elena waited until the screen turned black before heading out of the library and toward her greenhouse, Raphael by her side. Licked by the rich sunlight of late afternoon, the glass shimmered in welcome.

“Dahariel must know if Michaela gave birth.” Astaad’s second was no longer Michaela’s lover, but he had been at the critical time.

“Not necessarily.” Raphael’s answer had her frowning. “It’s the archangel who makes all the decisions when the other parent is not their official consort.”

“Not exactly fair.”

“No, but archangels have enemies.” Raphael’s voice turned to midnight, his eyes dark. “Given the current state of the world, I wouldn’t blame Michaela if she didn’t trust anyone with the safety of her child, even the father of that child.”

“He is a cruel bastard,” Elena admitted grimly, well aware of Dahariel’s penchant for torture. “I wouldn’t trust him with my baby, either—if I had a baby. Which won’t be for many, many, many, many moons.”

The white gold of his wings shimmering in the sunshine, Raphael opened the greenhouse door for her. “Your body is not yet strong enough to bear an immortal child. In our terms, you are a baby and I am robbing the cradle.”

Elena stepped into the humid warmth of one of her favorite places on the earth. “Rob away, Archangel.” She was painfully glad she couldn’t physically have a child for decades at least—according to Keir, it was more apt to be a hundred years. Terror gripped her when she thought of trying to keep a child safe, of protecting that vulnerable life from harm.

If she ever had to watch her child be hurt, ever had to bury a tiny innocent who’d looked to her for love and protection . . .

She swallowed.

At times like this, she understood why her father was the way he was; not only had he lost his hunter mother to violence, but he’d then had to bury two beloved daughters and an equally cherished wife. It had killed something vital in him. What had been left hadn’t been enough to love a daughter who walked into possible death every time she went to do her job. He’d been fine with her younger sister, Beth—maybe not the father he’d once been, but not awful, either.