Archangel's Prophecy (Page 16)
It was the last thing she wanted to hear when she already felt out of sorts, odd. She’d woken in Raphael’s arms, a lump of sadness sitting on her chest. He’d known. He always knew.
“Did you dream?” A masculine face piercingly familiar yet beautiful enough to stun, looking down at her, strands of hair purer than midnight falling over his forehead.
“I told my mother I wasn’t afraid.” A ragged whisper. “I wasn’t, not even when the entire room filled with blood. I was just so, so sad.”
Enclosing her in his arms, her archangel had shut out the world in which her mother and two eldest sisters no longer existed, and, after a while, she’d permitted herself to cry.
For Marguerite, who would never grow any older than she’d been when she hanged herself.
For talented, mercurial, loving Belle, who’d taught Elena to play baseball and whose legs had been savagely broken.
For smart, kind, bossy Ari, who’d tried to protect Elena with her last breath.
For their small, happy family that had disintegrated into splinters.
Even for her fundamentally damaged father, who’d married a strong, intelligent woman who loved him, and yet who’d once kept a mistress who was a pale facsimile of Marguerite.
Haunted by the memories, the scent of gardenias a sensory echo that clung, Elena had spent the early-morning hours on the snowy lawn above the Hudson, pushing her body through a training routine Galen had designed to teach her to fight with wings. Raphael’s barbarian of a weapons-master could be a pitiless b*****d, but he was also brilliant.
She’d taken care not to jolt her hurt wing, but she hadn’t held back otherwise.
Raphael had watched her until it was time for him to leave to join Illium’s elite squadron; they were training over the ocean again today. After all that had happened and the certainty that Lijuan would be a nightmare brimming with power when she rose again, Raphael was taking no chances with his people’s readiness.
Despite being based in the Refuge, Galen was in charge of the training schedule. He kept an eye on the reports sent in by squadron and ground-force leaders, and mixed things up so every fighter had periods of rest and recuperation—an exhausted force was a useless one—but no one on the Tower team was ever rusty in their skills. Today, Raphael would act the aggressor so Illium’s squadron could practice combat maneuvers.
Elena had intended to go up to Dmitri’s office and ask him to put her to use. She’d spoken to Sara again this morning, their conversation focused on another name Sara had added to the Slayer shortlist. “No outstanding hunts,” her friend had said at the end, when Elena asked about work. “Keiko, Hilda, and Tyrese just came back from injury leave. Have the day off, Ellie. It’s not like your life isn’t busy.”
But Elena didn’t want free time; it gave her too much room to think and worry.
At that instant, however, she decided against speaking to Raphael’s second. Dmitri would aggravate her, and in her current mood, she might attempt to kill him dead. Since Dmitri was more than a thousand years old and as deadly as a rabid cougar, he’d probably avoid her attempts and laugh. At which point, her eyeballs would explode and she’d give in to the compulsion to pincushion him with her throwing knives.
No, better she kept her distance from the strongest vampire in the city.
Turning on her heel, she left the Tower to walk over to the Legion building. It rose up toward the heavy gray of the winter sky, its greenery dormant under the frost, but that wasn’t what cut through her grim mood to make her chuckle.
Holly was scrambling up the side of the building, one of the ice-encrusted dormant vines her rope ladder. Elena figured the palms of her gloves must have a rough surface to provide an effective grip. As she watched, the lithe young woman vaulted onto the entrance platform and glanced at her watch. Then she did a victory dance, the bright pink of her sweater a blaze against the grayness overhanging the world, and her actions aimed at someone out of view of Elena.
It wasn’t Holly’s lover, Venom, who stepped forward to bow at Holly in graceful defeat. No, it was Trace. Elegant and assured and with a fondness for exquisite poetry. Also a vampire several hundred years older than Holly. But up on the platform, the two of them grinned at each other like children before scrambling back down to the ground.
Holly’s daisy-patterned boots hit the snowy earth at the same time as Trace’s more prosaic black.
“Were you two having a race?” Elena was highly amused that Holly had managed to talk suave Trace into it, especially today. He needed to prep for his upcoming journey to the Refuge.
“Our Hollyberry is faster than a cheetah,” Trace said in his evocative voice, the angular lines of his face put together in a way that created a sharp handsomeness rather than refined vampiric prettiness. “I should know better than to accept her challenges.”
Eyes of rich brown intermingled with an unusual acidic green sparkling, Holly reached back to tighten her ponytail. Her hair was currently a vivid purple accented with a streak of gold that began at her right temple and carried all the way down. Dmitri had termed the look “grape jelly with a radioactive rash.” But it had been said with an affectionate smile and a shake of the head.
Dmitri’s treatment of Holly was like that of a father with a cherished daughter—a daughter who occasionally drove him crazy. A week earlier, Elena had walked into his office to find Holly curled up in a chair in the corner, her nose buried in a college textbook while Dmitri did his work as Raphael’s second.
“Venom didn’t want to join the race?” she asked.
“He’s out at the sinkhole.” Holly put her hands on her hips, her nails painted a vivid orange with pink accents. “I’m heading there late afternoon—after I help Trace pack his fancy duds.” A grin at her friend. “You come to visit the Legion?”
Elena nodded. “They inside?” Every so often, the entire seven hundred and seventy-seven strong cohort would rise up and fly off somewhere. Once in a while, it would be to Central Park. The first time they’d pulled that trick, the media had been besieged by calls reporting the abrupt appearance of hundreds of gargoyles in the park.
Agog residents had wondered if it was all an avant-garde art show.
It wasn’t only the Legion’s way of sitting inhumanly motionless that had people mistaking them for stone. Though they’d gained color since their arrival in New York, their eyes and skin and features no longer palest gray, that color wasn’t yet solid. As if it hadn’t sunk into their skin and was washed off by the elements.
“I think they’re hibernating,” Holly said. “I can’t blame them—it’s so cold. I’m pretty sure my eyelashes are going to freeze and fall off at any moment.” Her breath fogged the air, her cheeks pink.
On the surface, nothing remained of the naked and mute mortal coated in dried blood whom Elena had found hiding in an abandoned guard station. Elena knew the truth wasn’t so simple. Holly would carry her scars forever, but she’d fought back with feral determination to ensure those scars didn’t steal her future, and in so doing, she’d raised her middle finger to the being who’d brutalized her.
“In case I don’t see you tomorrow,” she said to Trace, “have a good journey, and say hi to Aodhan.”
The vampire who had eyes of the deepest green she’d ever seen, a forest under the veil of night, crossed one arm across his chest with old-world grace and bowed. “I will look forward to my return to the city.”