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Archangel's Legion

By´╝ÜNalini Singh

1


Elena watched the ducks peck at each other in the pond in Central Park and thought about the last time she’d been here. She’d sat on this very bench, musing on the fact that even the ducks couldn’t be nonviolent as her mind fought frantically to find a way out of the mess in which she’d found herself—a mess that had seen her tracking a mad archangel for another immortal as lethal.

Shimmering white-gold over her vision as she lifted her eyes to the sky, an echo of that fateful day. “Hello, Archangel.”

Raphael folded away his wings, his eyes on the ducks. “Why do you find them so fascinating?”

“I don’t. I just like this spot.” Her own wings uncomfortably squashed against the seat built for humans and vampires, she rose to her feet. “Though I think you need to sponsor a new bench over there.” She pointed to a beautiful spot across the way; it’d be shaded by the delicate green leaves of a flowering cherry tree in summer, the soft pink blooms in spring. Right now, with winter’s kiss in the air, the tree was all bone, stark against the evergreens.

“It will be done,” Raphael said with a cool arrogance that made her want to drag him back to bed. “You realize you’re capable of sponsoring many such benches?”

Elena blinked as she always did when she remembered she was rolling in it. Not in comparison to older immortals, of course, and way below Raphael’s league, but her personal fortune was more than respectable when it came to a fledgling immortal. Earned in the hunt that had broken her back, made her bleed until her throat filled with the iron dark fluid, and brought Raphael into her life, the money was currently amassing ridiculous amounts of interest in her Guild account.

“Damn”—she whistled—“I need to start thinking like a rich chick.”

“I will be most amused to watch this transformation.”

Narrowing her eyes, she said, “Just you wait. Before you know it, I’ll be one of the angels who lunch.”

He laughed, her dangerous lover who wore his strength as a second skin and had a face of such violent masculine beauty that she was stunned anew each time she realized he belonged to her. Hair of darkest midnight and eyes of a painful blue found nowhere else on this earth, Raphael was a man blooded with power—no one would ever mistake him for anything but what he was: an archangel who had the capacity to snuff out a life as easily as she might crush an ant.

The wings that arced over his shoulders only deepened the sense of dangerous temptation. His feathers were white, but for fine filaments of pure gold that caught the eye and the light. Flawless wings, but for the astonishing “scar” of golden feathers where she’d once shot him. A few months back, his primaries, too, had begun to turn gold, only for the process to continue past yellow-gold and to a glittering metallic white. Now the sun caught on those primaries as he laughed, igniting an illusion of white fire.

“I’m afraid,” he said after the laughter faded, “I have some news that may regretfully turn your attention in another direction.”

Put on guard by his tone, she ignored the people in the distance whose mouths had dropped open at the sight of Raphael’s amusement, the Archangel of New York not known for laughter. “What is it?”

“I have two pieces of . . . interesting news.”

Elena’s stomach dropped. “Lijuan?” According to Raphael’s spymaster, the batshit old archangel was creating reborn again, if only in small numbers. Lijuan called it giving “life,” but her walking dead servants were nightmares, a plague upon the world—and the worst thing was, many of them knew it, their eyes screaming for help even as their bodies shuffled to follow the commands of their mistress.

Then there were the strange desiccated bodies found near her stronghold that no one could figure out. The general consensus was that they were failed attempts at creating reborn, but whether that was good news or bad news was anyone’s guess. “She’s not—”

Raphael shook his head before she could complete her question, the black silk of his hair rich and dark. “My mother,” he said, “has invited us to a ball.”

Elena pulled a blade from one of the butter-soft forearm sheaths that had been a gift from Raphael. “Excuse me while I stab myself in the eyes—and disembowel myself while I’m at it.” The last time Elena had attended an immortal ball, she’d ended up bathing in the blood of the reborn while Beijing burned around her. And oh yeah, let’s not forget smashing to the earth after being ripped out of the sky.

“I’m afraid I cannot permit that,” Raphael said, in what she thought of as his “Archangel” voice, formal and ruthless. “Who would then keep me amused at the ball? I may otherwise be driven to pluck out my own eyes and I believe you are quite fond of them.”

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