Archangel's Prophecy (Page 34)
“Andreas mentioned Harrison broke away from his previous friend group a while ago.”
Pausing the recording, Elena turned to face Illium. “Since when are you and Andreas such good buddies?” she asked suspiciously. “He’s not taking advantage of you while Aodhan is gone, is he?”
Illium’s shoulders shook before he threw back his head and laughed. If Nazarach’s voice was death and age and pain, Illium’s was golden light and a playful joie de vivre that had the others in the room looking up with smiles. No one liked it when he wasn’t himself. Once he finally calmed down—and after wiping tears from his eyes—he picked up one of her hands and brought it to his mouth for a kiss.
“I love you, Ellie.” Solemn words, but his eyes were dancing.
“I have a crossbow, Bluebell, and I won’t hesitate to use it.”
An unrepentant grin. “Andreas and I have known each other for centuries. In battle, he leads one of the other elite squadrons.” He pointed to the recording and she started it up again, both their eyes on the unmoving scene as they spoke. “We’ve had more contact recently because the squadrons are in the process of evaluating our total fighting capacity and ability to work with one another.”
She’d known Andreas led a squadron but hadn’t realized it was one of the elite ones that held their deadliest angelic fighters. “Tell me what your buddy Andreas had to say about Harrison’s old friends.” In spite of Illium’s perfectly rational explanation, she remained leery of this relationship she’d never known had existed. “Why were you talking about Harry in the first place?”
Illium reached over to tug at her braid. “Because he’s your sister’s husband, of course. I know you’d want to know if there was a problem.” Still playing with her braid, he told her the rest of what he’d discovered. “In short, Harrison is on an upward trajectory, but the others—all post-Contract—were heading in the opposite direction last Andreas heard. Drugs, lack of ambition, the usual.”
Elena’s instincts prickled. Eric Acosta had been a junkie. So were hundreds of other vamps in Manhattan. But deadbeat former friends were a better lead than anything else she had right now. “You know the names of the post-Contract vamps?”
A shake of his head she caught out of the corner of her eye. “Andreas will, but he’s out of the city tonight. He should be back tomorrow.” A pause. “We show each other our diaries—then make playdates.”
“Ha-ha.” She poked him in the side while continuing to watch the footage.
She’d been staring at the whiteness of Beth’s snow-draped home and yard for so long that when the movement came and the video slowed to normal speed, she stared disbelieving at it.
The same long coat Elena had seen in the footage when the intruder fled through the back door, the same hat, the same scarf wrapped around the face. Her heart pounded. “Can you skip through until you find the initial entry?” she said to Illium. “I want to watch this in the right order, from arrival to exit.”
It only took Illium a minute to cue up the recording to the intruder’s first appearance in the yard.
The unknown individual walked with quiet purpose, scoping out the house with intense attention to detail.
It was nighttime in the video, the resolution grainy, but . . .
“He moves like a man.” She didn’t know how else to explain it, but the gait, the way he held his body, the breadth of his shoulders, it all said male to her mind.
Though they watched with unblinking focus, they could discern nothing of the man’s face.
He walked out of camera view as stealthily as he’d arrived.
Elena had already seen that there would be snow later on that night, which would have hidden all signs of his passage. No way was that a stroke of luck. The assailant was too well-organized to have left such a thing to chance. He’d checked the weather, known that more snow would fall after his visit.
“Go backward again?”
Elena nodded at Illium’s question. “Let’s run this recording down to the final second. Our intruder might’ve been by earlier.”
But that proved a false hope. Not about to give up, Elena cut ahead to the first glimpse of him, trying to glean even a minor detail. But it was Illium, leaning forward with his forearms braced on his thighs, who said, “A man—and one who moves like us. Like you. Trained.”
“You’re right.” It was there in the fluidity of his walk, in his watchfulness, in the ease with which he pulled himself up to look through a window. “Could be military, ex or present. A mercenary. Even a guild hunter.” Bill James had taught her that hunters weren’t immune from going bad.
“Could also be off-grid,” Illium pointed out. “A lot of old vampires who were once soldiers have kept up their skills, and not all work for the Tower.” A shrug. “We can’t eliminate every single Tower vampire, either.”
Elena nodded; the suspect pool was huge. “About the only thing we can be sure of is that he isn’t an angel.”
Noting down the times of the relevant sections of footage, Elena sent off an e-mail to Vivek asking him to have a look. “Maybe he can spot something or zoom in further.”
Stiff after such a long vigil, she and Illium both rose to stretch out their bodies. Tiredness lingered in her shoulders, but it didn’t feel as if she had any new damage there. As for the cuts on her arm, she made a conscious decision to ignore them.
She would look, but only when her archangel was home.
Because she was f*****g terrified the second barely-there scratch was actually starting to hurt.
“What are you doing the rest of the night?” she asked Illium after surreptitiously scratching that itchy spot on the left side of her chest. It was only a half hour till midnight, but Illium needed far less sleep than she did.
“I was thinking of flying down to the clubs, watching the entertainment.”
Ordinary enough words, but Elena knew Illium. As he spoke, the last echoes of their shared laughter drained away from his face, his wings stiffer against his back. Nudging her shoulder against his, she said, “What is it?”
He linked one hand with hers, the warmth of his skin imbued with a power she felt as a prickle against her palm, a tiny lightning bolt that would’ve disconcerted if she didn’t sleep skin-to-skin with an archangel.
“Today is the anniversary of the day she forgot me.” A lopsided smile. “It seems all my loves leave me in the winter snow.”
She. Illium’s mortal lover to whom he’d spoken angelic secrets. Secrets she’d then spoken to others—it’d be easy to judge them, but there had been no malice on her part or his. They’d both just been young and a little foolish. Unfortunately, in their case it had equaled a far bigger consequence than waking up hungover with a bad tattoo, or with your wallet gone.
Caught by angelic law that left him no other recourse, Raphael had been forced to wipe the mortal woman’s mind. Illium, in turn, had been stripped of his feathers and forbidden from contacting her again. He’d watched her live out her life without ever remembering that she’d once been the cherished love of a young angel with wings of astonishing blue.
Illium hadn’t had the silver filaments then.
Those had come when his feathers regenerated.