Archangel's Prophecy (Page 29)
As if she’d read Elena’s thoughts, Beth said, “I know you think he was selfish in being Made, Ellie. So did I for a while, but then . . . it gives me such comfort to know that he’ll be around to look after Maggie after I’m gone.” A quiet pause filled only with the subtle sounds of the machines that monitored Harrison. “I never considered that he might go first one day.”
Elena squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, her jaw clenched.
She’d had nearly the same conversation with Sara. And she’d thought more than once that she’d have to watch her baby sister grow older and older while she stayed ageless. But her body was running backward, and she had wounds she couldn’t explain that wouldn’t heal. Beth might outlive both her and Harrison.
If that happened, Elena knew her sister would deal. She might be heartbroken beyond repair, but she’d deal. Because no matter her pain, she would not abandon her child as Marguerite had abandoned them.
“We have to live in today,” she said, speaking to herself as much as to Beth. “Worrying about the future just steals the now from us.”
“So does living in the past, doesn’t it, Ellie?”
Swallowing hard, Elena put her hand on Beth’s shoulder. “Yes. I’m glad you never did that.”
“Father’s still back there, with Mama and Ari and Belle.” Such terrible sadness in Beth’s voice, so much compassion for a man who’d died when Marguerite chose to leave him behind rather than trust him to help her navigate the darkness. That old Jeffrey was buried with his wife in a cold grave she’d never wanted to inhabit.
Elena would always be angry with her father for that, for burying Marguerite in the unforgiving earth when her mother had wanted to be cremated and scattered to the winds, so she could be part of the wind itself.
That had been her mother, brilliant and light and always in motion.
Yet even in her anger, she remembered the empty bottle of whiskey and a man who’d cried heartbroken sobs in the dark of the night. “I don’t think we can pull him back to the present,” she said, her voice rough. “He has to make that choice himself.”
“I feel sad for Gwendolyn, too.” Sitting up properly, Beth took a sip of her tea, then held up the mug in a silent offer.
Elena wasn’t much of a tea drinker, but she took the mug from her sister and had a drink before handing it back. The heat ran through her in a sweet rush. “Yes, Gwendolyn’s got no fault here.” If she’d made a mistake, it was to fall in love with a man who’d left the best part of himself in the past, but as Elena knew, love wasn’t a thing to plan or control. It just was.
“I’m trying to figure out who’d want to hurt Harrison,” she said a while later.
“Do you want to ask me questions?”
“If you think you’re ready to answer them.”
“If it’ll help protect our baby, I can manage,” Beth said softly.
“Has anything been worrying him, or has he been afraid of someone?”
Picking up a cake, Beth handed it to Elena. “You should eat this. Holly said the chef would be insulted if we didn’t eat his cakes.”
“The chef” happened to be Venom, a little secret to which not many people in the Tower were privy. They just knew that, over the past couple of years, extraordinary creations occasionally appeared in the communal areas utilized by those who called the Tower home.
Elena knew the truth only because Illium had let it slip—then sworn her to blood-oath secrecy. “Usually,” she told Beth, “I’d be lucky to get a crumb. The cakes and pastries disappear at the speed of light—then everyone sulks when the chef goes quiet for weeks or months at a time.”
Smile a faded copy of its luminous reality, Beth took a bite of her own cake and chewed, swallowed, before saying, “Harrison hasn’t really said anything, but I know my husband. Something’s been on his mind the past couple of days.” She paused and took a drink before continuing. “I used to never ask him things, but that changed after Maggie.
“I want to know how to look after her if anything happens to Harrison. I want to know how to access our money—and I want to know if there’s a danger that could hurt her.” Anger in those last words, though the look she sent her wounded husband’s way still held more love and worry than anything else.
Elena looked down at the top of Beth’s head; she’d been foolish to think Beth would be in the dark about Harrison’s secrets. She should’ve remembered her own thoughts about how motherhood had changed her sister. “What did he say when you asked him what was bothering him?”
“I never got the chance with his work shifts and my volunteer work with the suicide hotline.” White grooves bracketed her mouth. “I planned to do it today, after I got back with Maggie and she was snuggled up for naptime.” Putting down her half-eaten cake, she said, “But this morning, before Maggie ran in for breakfast, he said, ‘Baby, what if I did an innocent thing once and it ended up hurting someone? Would it be my fault?’”
Elena’s gaze lingered on the brutal slashes on either side of Harrison’s mouth, the mutilation that further linked this assault to the murders in the Quarter. “What did you say?”
“Maggie ‘attacked’ him before I could answer. She was pretending to be a lion, and he growled back and started playing with her.” She sighed, sorrow in her touch as she smoothed back Harrison’s hair once more. “He had to leave for his angel’s home ten minutes later, but he was only on for half a shift today. Just a few hours, I thought. We could talk after.” Her voice broke.
It was six by the time Beth left the infirmary. Jeffrey picked her up. Gwendolyn was in the passenger seat of the dark sedan and got out to hug Beth. Raven haired, with eyes of dark blue and rich cream skin over bone structure that shouted her high-society lineage, she was an elegant beauty two decades Jeffrey’s junior.
“Let’s get you home,” she murmured to Beth, and settled her in the car, then smiled at Elena. “Thank you for being so good with Eve. She felt so much better because you told her she did the right thing.”
“I have tough little sisters.”
Another smile before Gwendolyn got into the car. Shutting her door, Jeffrey nodded at Elena and went to get into the driver’s seat . . . only to turn without warning and come wrap her in a furiously tight embrace. Elena’s arms went around him almost by instinct, buried childhood memories rising to the fore as the smell of his aftershave mingled with the wool of his coat.
Neither one of them spoke.
It was over seconds later, and he was gone.
She glanced up at the sound of Raphael’s voice to see him looking down at her from a high Tower balcony. Heart in a vise, she said, He’s afraid. It came out a whisper, the rapid beat of her father’s heart yet imprinted on her skin. He only has two of Marguerite’s daughters left now, and he can’t bear losing us, too. It was the very force of her father’s need to keep her safe that made Jeffrey so angry with her . . . With the daughter whose profession and life put her in danger on a regular basis.
Wings glinting white-gold against the night, Raphael soared down to land beside her. His eyes were flames of a blue so pure, it pierced her to the core. “Raphael.” She brushed her fingers over his cheek. “You can’t put me in a steel box as Jeffrey can’t wrap me up in cotton wool.”