Archangel's Prophecy (Page 15)
Neither one of them could divine any reason for the itch when they examined the patch of skin. It was a little red from her scratching but otherwise the same as the skin around it. Raphael pressed a kiss to it, the sweet tenderness laying waste to her tough hunter armor.
Running her fingers over the blue-and-white fire of the Legion mark on his right temple when he drew back, she said, “Maybe I’ll get a stylish mark like yours.”
Raphael didn’t smile, and she wasn’t sure he slept that night. Safe in his arms, his wing a silken weight over her, she did fall into sleep . . . and into dreams.
“Mama?” Elena walked across the kitchen to brace her hands on the counter . . . and was startled to discover that she was tall enough to do that. She’d always been a child in this kitchen, never quite able to reach the very top of the counter; so many memories she had, of sitting on a breakfast stool kicking her legs back and forth while Ari and Belle and Marguerite and Jeffrey moved around the kitchen.
Beth would usually be in a high chair at the table, either their mama or papa scooping food into her mouth while making silly noises that had Beth giggling and clapping her pudgy baby hands.
Her mother looked up with a laughing smile, all hair of captured sunlight, and eyes of delicate silver. “There you are, azeeztee.” Gardenias scented the air, the fragrance warmed and made deeply familiar from its contact with Marguerite’s dark gold skin. “I knew you would smell the cookies and come.”
Elena took the cookie her mother held out. It was deliciously warm from the oven, the chocolate chips not yet solid. Lifting the treat to her mouth she took a bite . . . and tasted blood.
Spitting out the bite of cookie to the floor, she wiped the back of her hand across her mouth, and it came back smeared with darkest red. The scent of iron filled her nostrils.
“Elena.” No raising of her voice, never that with Marguerite, but her disappointment was deep grooves on either side of her mouth. “That, chérie, is not how I brought you up to treat food.”
“But, mama, look”—Elena held out the cookie—“it’s bleeding.” Dark and viscous droplets splattered onto the counter, tiny Rorschach paintings in which were written the stories of their family.
Marguerite’s eyes dulled. “I was so hoping they’d turn out nice this time. You know how much your papa loves my cookies.” She took the uneaten remainder of the cookie from Elena and put it carefully on the baking tray.
Blood seeped out from the edge of every single cookie.
Her mother was crying.
Elena ran around the counter to take Marguerite into her arms. “It’s all right, mama,” she said, her heart twisted up inside her chest and her throat thick. “It’s only one batch. The next one will be better.”
But her mother kept on sobbing, and her slender arms, they held on to Elena so tight. “I love you, my bébé, my strong Elena with my mama’s heart,” she said between sobs. “I’m so sorry for the blood.”
That was when Elena realized the entire room was drenched in red. It dripped down from the ceiling, was smeared on the walls, and was a flood under their feet. Instead of screaming, she closed her eyes and held her mother closer. “It’s all right, mama,” she whispered again. “I’m not afraid anymore.”
The strange, haunting dream was still on Elena’s mind when she ran into Ashwini in the Tower lobby midmorning the next day. Tall, with long dark hair pulled back into a loose braid, and skin of dark honey, the hunter turned vampire wore a form-fitted chocolate-colored jacket zipped up to her throat, faded blue jeans, and scuffed hunting boots.
Gloves stuck out from her back pocket, and she had knives in one thigh sheath, a gun in the other. Her throwing stars weren’t visible, but that meant nothing. Ashwini always had several of the lethal spinning stars on her person. “Where you heading?” Elena asked.
“Quarter. Got two dead vamps.” Large gold hoops swung in Ash’s ears, multihued jewels dangling from the gold.
Marguerite had often worn long dangles in her ears, their tinkling music the background score to Elena’s childhood. “Fight?” she managed to say through the ache in her heart for a woman who’d never again slip on pretty earrings or wear her favorite white dress with the yellow flowers on it.
“Nah,” Ashwini said. “Not an ordinary fight, anyway—someone really lost their s**t.” The other hunter turned the screen of her phone toward Elena. “Swipe through for the full effect.”
Elena whistled as she did so. The two vampires in the crime scene photos had been butchered. That their heads had been hacked off was fairly standard—most vampires could be killed by whacking off the head, and so that was the default when someone went after one of the Made. It was the rest of what had been done to the victims that was unusual.
The two looked to have been stabbed hundreds of times, until their flesh resembled ground meat. Not just that but other parts of their bodies had also been hacked off. A hand in one case and the genitals in the other. Nothing surgical about the amputations, either; it looked as if the perpetrator had done the genitals with a serrated hunting knife. As for the hand, the wrist bones were badly shattered. Broadsword, maybe.
“Slight case of overkill.”
“You’d be surprised.” Ashwini slid the phone into a zippered pocket of her jacket. “Janvier and I see a ton of weird-a*s s**t working the Quarter. But this one might be more standard—I’m hearing rumors the two vics might’ve been either angling to horn in on another vampire’s cattle, or poking their noses in a vampire gang’s drug turf.”
Elena shook her head. “You’d think after over a hundred years of existence, people would get to be a bit smarter.” Poaching from another vampire’s harem of permanent blood donors was considered a mortal crime; and as for the drug gangs, their tendency to eviscerate anyone who encroached on their turf wasn’t exactly a state secret.
“Why do you live in hope, Ellie?”
“It’s a flaw.”
Laughter that faded quickly into a frown. “Don’t be afraid of the owls.”
Elena froze in place, her breath shards in her lungs. “No?”
“No, they’re only messengers of a messenger.” A motorcycle purred to a stop in front of the lobby doors, snagging Ashwini’s attention. “That’s my ride. Off we go to look at blood and gore—Janvier takes me on the best dates.”
Skin yet chilled, Elena watched Ashwini stride out to get onto the bike behind her husband. Janvier passed back her motorcycle helmet. A couple of seconds later and the two were gone, racing off toward the sin, sex, and darkness of the Quarter.
Leaving Elena with that unsettling piece of advice about the owls. The last time Ashwini had given Elena something, it had been a blade star, and it had turned out to be the perfect weapon to take down the monstrous angel who’d brutalized Elena’s grandparents. Ignoring Ash when she came out with one of her random statements was an intensely stupid thing to do.
“So,” Elena muttered to herself, “don’t get freaked out by the owls.” That in itself wasn’t an issue; the owls had been lovely and graceful and unthreatening. No, the problem was that Ash’s words implied Elena would be seeing more of the ghost birds with the enormous golden eyes and white feathers.