Swathed in the silken shadows of deepest night, New York was the same . . . and altered beyond compare. Once Elena had watched angels take flight from the light-filled column of the Tower as she sat in front of the distant window of her cherished apartment. Now, she was one of those angels, perched high atop a balcony that had no railing, nothing to prevent a deadly fall.
Except of course, she would no longer fall.
Her wings were stronger now. She was stronger.
Flaring out those wings, she took a deep breath of the air of home. A fusion of scents—spice and smoke, human and vampire, earthy and sophisticated—hit her with the wild fever of a welcoming rainstorm. Her chest, tight for so long, relaxed, and she stretched her wings out to their greatest width. It was time to explore this familiar place that had become foreign, this home that was suddenly new again.
Diving down from the balcony, she swept across Manhattan on air currents kissed by the cool bite of spring. The bright green season had thawed the snows that had kept the city in thrall this winter, and now held court, summer not even a peach-colored blush on the horizon. This was the time of rebirth, of blooming things and baby birds, bright and young and fragile even in the frenetic rush of a city that never slept.
Home. I’m home.
Letting the air currents sweep her where they would above the diamond-studded lights of the city, she tested her wings, tested her strength.
But still weak. An immortal barely-Made.
One whose heart remained painfully mortal.
So it was no surprise when she found herself trying to hover outside the plate-glass window of her apartment. She didn’t yet have the skill to execute the maneuver, and she kept dropping, then having to pull herself back up with fast wingbeats. Still, she saw enough in those fleeting glimpses to know that while the once-shattered glass had been flawlessly repaired, the rooms were empty.
There wasn’t even a bloodstain on the carpet to mark the spot where she’d spilled Raphael’s blood, where she’d tried to staunch the crimson river until her fingers were the same murderous shade.
The scent of the wind and the rain, fresh and wild, around her, inside her, and then strong hands on her h*ps as Raphael held her effortlessly in position so she could look her fill through the window, her hands flat on the glass.
No sign remained of the home she’d created piece by precious piece.
“You must teach me how to hover,” she said, forcing herself to speak past the knot of loss. It was just a place. Just things. “It’ll be a very good way to spy on potential targets.”
“I intend to teach you many things.” Tugging her back against his body, her wings trapped in between, the Archangel of New York pressed his lips to the tip of her ear. “You are full of sorrow.”
It was instinct to lie, to protect herself, but they’d gone beyond that, she and her archangel. “I guess I somehow expected my apartment to still be here. Sara didn’t say anything when she sent me my things.” And her best friend had never lied to her.
“It was as you left it when Sara visited,” Raphael said, drawing back enough that she could flare out her wings and angle her body into the air currents once again. Come, I have something to show you.
The words were in her mind, along with the wind and the rain. She didn’t order him to get out—because she knew he wasn’t in it. This, the way she could sense him so deeply, speak to him with such ease, was part of whatever it was that tied them to one another ... that taut, twisting emotion that ripped away old scars and created new vulnerabilities in a whip of fire across the soul.
But as she watched him fly through the lush black of the sky high over the glittering city, her archangel with his wings of white-gold and eyes of endless, relentless blue, she wasn’t sorry. She didn’t want to turn back the clock, didn’t want to return to a life in which she’d never been held in the arms of an archangel, never felt her heart tear open and reform into something stronger, capable of such furies of emotion that it scared her at times. Where are you taking me, Archangel?
Patience, Guild Hunter.
She smiled, her grief at the loss of her apartment buried under a wave of amusement. No matter how many times he decreed that her loyalty was now to the angels and not to the Hunters’ Guild, he kept betraying how he saw her—as a hunter, as a warrior. Shooting down below him, she dove then rose through the biting freshness of the air with hard, strong wingbeats. Her back and shoulder muscles protested the acrobatics, but she was having too much fun to worry—she’d pay for it in a few hours, no doubt about it, but for now, she felt free and protected in the dark.
“Do you think anyone is watching?” she asked, breathless from the exertion, once they were side by side once more.
“Perhaps. But the darkness will conceal your identity for the moment.”
Tomorrow, she knew, when light broke, the circus would begin. An angel-Made ... Even the oldest of vampires and the angels themselves found her a curiosity. She had no doubts about how the human population would react. “Can’t you do your scary thing and make them keep their distance?” However, even as she spoke, she knew it wasn’t the reaction of the general population that worried her.
Her father . . . No. She wouldn’t think about Jeffrey. Not tonight.
As she forced away thoughts of the man who had repudiated her when she’d been barely eighteen, Raphael swept out over the Hudson, dropping so hard and fast that she yelped before she could catch herself. The Archangel of New York was one hell of a flier—he skimmed along the water until he could’ve trailed his fingers in its rushing cold, before pulling himself up in a steep ascent. Showing off.
It made her heart lighten, her lips curve.
Dipping down to join him at a lower altitude, she watched the night winds whip that sleek ebony hair across his face, as if they could not resist touching him.
It will do no good.
“What?” Fascinated by the almost cruel beauty of him, this male she dared call her lover, she’d forgotten what she’d asked him.
For me to scare them away—you are not a woman to stay in seclusion.
“Damn. You’re right.” Feeling her shoulder muscles begin to pull in ominous warning, she winced. “I think I need to set down soon.” Her body had been damaged in the fight against Lijuan. Not much—and the injuries had healed, but the enforced rest period meant she’d lost some of the muscle she’d built up prior to the battle that had turned Beijing into a crater, its voice the silent cry of the dead.
We’re almost home.
Concentrating on keeping herself going in a straight line, she realized he’d shifted position so she was effectively riding his wake—meaning she no longer had to make as much effort to hold herself aloft. Pride had her scrunching her face into a scowl, but contrasting with that was a deep warmth that came from knowing she was important, more than important, to Raphael.
And then she saw it, the sprawling mansion that was Raphael’s clifftop home on the other side of the river. Though the land backed up against the Hudson, the place was hidden from casual view by a thick verge of trees. However, they were coming at it from above, and from up there it looked like a jewel set in the velvet darkness, warm golden light in every window—turning into pulses of color where it hit the clean lines of the stained glass on one side of the building. The rose bushes weren’t visible from this angle, but she knew they were there, their leaves luxuriant and glossy against the elegant white of the house, hundreds of buds ready to bloom in a profusion of color as the weather grew warmer.
She followed Raphael down as he landed in the yard, the light from the stained glass turning his wings into a kaleidoscope of wild blue, crystalline green, and ruby red. You could’ve landed on one of the balconies, she said, too focused on ensuring a good landing to speak the words aloud.
Raphael didn’t disagree, waiting until she was on the ground beside him to say, “I could have.” Reaching out as she folded away her wings, he gripped her gently at the curve where her neck flowed into her shoulder, his fingers pressing into the sensitive inner seam of her right wing. “But then your lips would not have been so very close to mine.”
Her toes curled as he tugged her forward, pleasure blooming in her stomach. “Not here,” she murmured, voice husky. “I don’t want to shock Jeeves.”
Raphael kissed away her words with a slow thoroughness that had her forgetting all about his butler, her body warming with a slow, luscious sense of anticipation. Raphael.
You tremble, Elena. You are tired.
Never too tired for your touch. It terrified her how addicted she’d become to him. The only thing that made it bearable was that his hunger, too, was a raw, near-violent craving.
A lick of storm against her senses before he drew back with a hotly sexual promise. Later. A slow, intimate stroke along the upper curve of her wing. I would take my time with you. His lips parted, his spoken words far less incendiary. “Montgomery will like having you for his mistress, Elena.”
She licked her lips, tried to breathe—and heard the rapid tattoo of her heart against her ribs. Yeah, the archangel knew how to kiss. “Why?” she finally managed to say, falling into step beside him as he walked to the door.
“You’re likely to get dirty and destroy your clothes on a regular basis.” Raphael’s humor was dry, his voice an exquisite caress in the night. “It is the same reason he likes it when Illium occasionally stays here. You both give him plenty to do.”
She made a face at him, but her lips kicked up at the corners. “Is Illium coming to join us?” The blue-winged angel was part of Raphael’s Seven, the vampires and angels who had given their loyalty to the Archangel of New York—even to the extent of placing his life before their own. Illium was the only one of the Seven who saw her human heart not as a weakness, but as a gift. And in him, she saw a kind of innocence that had been lost in the other immortals.
The door opened at that moment to expose the beaming face of Raphael’s butler. “Sire,” he said in a plummy English accent she was certain could turn cold and intimidating on command. “It is good to have you home.”
“Montgomery.” Raphael placed a hand on the vampire’s shoulder as he passed.
Elena smiled at the butler, delighted by him all over again. “Hello.”
She blinked. “Elena,” she said firmly. “I’m no one’s mistress but my own.” Then there was the fact that though he chose to work in the service of an archangel, Montgomery was a strong vampire, hundreds of years old.
The butler’s spine went stiff as a board, his eyes shooting to Raphael—who gave a languid smile. “You must not shock Montgomery so, Elena.” Reaching out to take her hand, he tugged her to his side. “Perhaps you will allow him to call you Guild Hunter?”
Elena looked up, certain the archangel was laughing. But his expression was clear, his lips set with their familiar sensual grace. “Um, yes, okay.” She nodded at Montgomery, then felt compelled to ask, “Will that do?”
“Of course, Guild Hunter.” He gave a small bow. “I was not sure if you would wish a meal, Sire, but I have sent a small tray up to your rooms.”
“That will be all for tonight, Montgomery.”
As the butler whispered away, Elena looked with growing suspicion at a large Chinese vase in one corner of the hall, opposite the stained-glass wall beside the door. It was decorated with a pattern of sunflowers that seemed oddly familiar. Letting go of Raphael’s hand, she stepped closer ... closer. Her eyes went wide. “This is mine!” Given as a gift by an angel in China after Elena completed a particularly dangerous hunt, one that had taken her into the bowels of the Shanghai underworld.
Raphael touched his fingers to the small of her back, a searing brand. “All of your things are here.” He waited until she looked up before saying, “They were moved to this house for safekeeping until your return.