Archangel's Prophecy (Page 36)
I love you, Nisia.
“It is a carnival,” Illium said to her with a grin.
He wasn’t far wrong.
The air around the sinkhole buzzed with activity—while unsmiling angelic guards kept the impatient and arrogant immortal audience from flying across to the heart of the cauldron of lava. No one seemed to be aware it was after two in the morning. “Forget a carnival,” she muttered, “looks like we found the hottest club in town after all.”
“Dance over the lava?”
“Hot, hot, hot.”
Despite the byplay, she and Illium stayed outside the border. Seeing Raphael’s consort and one of his Seven following the rules had the encroaching angels remembering their manners. The guards sent the two of them looks of exhausted gratitude.
Jurgen, who’d always put Elena in mind of a Viking, flew close enough to mutter, “I feel like I’m in the Refuge, corralling Jessamy’s fledgling students.” His neatly trimmed beard of dark blond shimmered with fine droplets of frost, his eyes an icy blue. “You’d think a particular seven-hundred-year-old angel had never once seen lava in his long and idiotic life. I’m of the opinion he has an amoeba for a brain.”
Elena snorted out a laugh before she could stop herself. Amoeba-angel was dressed in flowing robes of purple velvet with inserts of white lace that looked like a rash crawling up his neck and over his shoulders. He also had diamonds woven into his hip-length hair. Not so surprisingly, he wasn’t part of Raphael’s Tower.
It wasn’t, however, his flamboyance that made him unsuitable: Tower angels could clean up crazy-good when they felt like it. Elena had seen pearls braided into hair, gauzy dresses of handmade lace, shirts with more ruffles than a pageant gown paired with circulation-obliterating pants, all of it carried off with aplomb.
The difference was that the amoeba was a professional dilettante with no appreciable talent or expertise, the angelic equivalent of a socialite who lived large on inherited fortune. Vampires had a term for it among their own kind: “gilded lilies.”
“You didn’t see me do that,” she said to Jurgen. “I am a highly professional consort who does not laugh at jokes about amoeba-brained angels.”
Stroking his beard, he said, “Do what?” and winked before sweeping back to his patrol.
“Amoebas,” Illium mused with a deadly light in his eyes. “It’s an even better description than gilded lilies. Jurgen is hiding genius.”
And Elena knew the description would catch on among the non-amoebas. “I see and hear nothing. I am impartial.”
Illium didn’t call her out on her blatant lie. “Let’s do the rounds, your Impartial Consortness.”
The vast majority of the sightseeing angels wanted to talk about the lava, but a couple mentioned the vampiric killings in the Quarter. It seemed word of the attempt to slit Harrison’s throat hadn’t yet spread.
Then Elena ran into an angel who’d known one of the dead vampires.
“I always knew he’d do something foolish,” Miuxu said to Elena after the two of them decided to land and take a leisurely walk around the sinkhole fence.
“Eric Acosta or Simon Blakely?” she asked the tall angel who wore intricate and heavily embroidered gowns as a matter of course—and kept her black hair in a short, spiky cut dusted with gold dye.
The victim on the bed. The Don Juan.
“I’m hearing he had a weakness for women.”
Miuxu threw up hands gifted at the piano, the dark eyes she’d lined with black kohl flashing. “He was a handsome man and he knew it.” A shake of her head. “But handsome men are plentiful among immortals. You flew here with one of the prettiest of them all.”
“Simon Blakely thought himself beautiful enough to surpass others?”
“It wasn’t so much that.” Miuxu tightened pale brown wings threaded with delicate filaments of shimmering bronze. “I’m not one of those angels who believes in breaking down a vampire in order to shape him. I prefer to treat them as adults and give them choices.”
The angel sighed. “I’ve had brilliant successes, but I’ve also had more than one spectacular failure. Including with Simon.” She spread out her wings before folding them back in, her coloring unusual in that her left wing had a band of black primary feathers while her right didn’t. “He was intelligent, and he was vain, and he was a gifted enough lover that he was never short of bedmates.”
Eyebrows rising to her hairline, Elena glanced at the strong angel as handy with a war hammer as she was at the piano. “You?”
Miuxu angled her head closer to Elena’s, her contralto voice low as she said, “I was tempted, it’s true, but I knew the instant I entered into bedsport with him, he’d think he could breach his Contract with impunity. That was the thing with dear, imprudent Simon; he thought he could manipulate everyone with his body.”
Elena listened . . . and kept a furtive eye on her wings to make sure they weren’t dragging. In the good news department, her temple was no longer throbbing and, having eaten three energy bars on the flight over, she had her hunger under control.
“Simon’s sensuality could’ve held him in good stead in the immortal world.” Miuxu’s voice was contemplative. “I made sure he could support himself in a legitimate profession at the end of his Contract, but I thought it far more likely he’d find himself a wealthy mortal or immortal. You know how such things are.”
“Yes.” Plenty of the genetically blessed made their living as arm candy. Elena saw nothing wrong with that when it was an honest exchange and when both parties were adults in full control of their faculties. “How did he end up in a bad part of the Quarter? My friends working the case tell me he was sharing an apartment that was one step above a dump.”
“Simon didn’t seem to understand that once you make an agreement with an immortal, you stay loyal.” Miuxu’s gaze looked out beyond the blackness of the night. “He quickly gained a reputation for being untrustworthy and liable to cheat.” Another shake of her head. “Angels and vampires old enough to support lovers to the lifestyle to which Simon aspired are not forgiving. He was lucky that he escaped with his life.”
The hairs on Elena’s nape prickled. “Is it possible one of the people he cheated on decided to punish him with death?”
“It has been some years since he was active in the immortal world in that way.” Clasping her hands behind her back, Miuxu took a moment to consider her next words. “I would say he was punished with the most painful cut of all—he has been forgotten,” she said at last. “But I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there was a woman involved somewhere.”
A glance at Elena, Miuxu’s eyes a light brown with an unusual yellowish cast that reminded her of a tiger’s penetrating gaze. “He was firm in his tastes. Always women. Young, yes—but adults, you understand? He had no liking for children when it came to pleasures of the flesh, and I would not have him accused of that perversion.”
“Nubile and lovely were also prerequisites—and many vampires as well as mortals fall into that group.”
“Do you know anything about the other vampire who was murdered? Eric Acosta.”
“No.” Miuxu nodded politely to an old vampire strolling in the opposite direction, before picking up the thread of their conversation. “I believe in giving my vampires true freedom when they’ve finished their Contract. I don’t keep them on any kind of a leash—but I am proud to say many of mine stay in touch. Even black sheep like Simon swing back into my orbit now and then.”