Archangel's Prophecy (Page 44)
“Nope. You aren’t Raphael.”
He stared at her for a long second before smiling again, wide and deep and intensely real. “I feel my loss more keenly now, for you are a woman who loves true. Such is . . . rare across time.”
Unsettled by how human the cruel angel was acting today, Elena nearly sighed in relief when a stunning woman appeared around the corner of the pathway. Dressed in a charcoal-gray pantsuit that looked bespoke and with her bronze-threaded black hair intricately braided then wrapped into a bun at her nape, she didn’t seem a woman who would fit in with Andreas’s old-world viewpoint.
The impression of cutting-edge modernity was further solidified by the miniature tablet she held in her hand.
“Nara. You have the file?”
“Yes, sire.” She held the tablet out to Elena, her skin a tawny brown that bore a slight winter pallor. That or Nara hadn’t yet fed. Andreas’s keeper of records was an old vampire who smelled of thick honey and ice crunched under the teeth.
“I’ve pulled up the information for you, Consort,” she said.
“Thank you.” Accepting the tablet, Elena was aware of Andreas dismissing Nara.
“Terence Lee and Nishant Kumar,” she read out. “Nara’s highlighted their names on this note about Harrison’s lack of delivery on a project.”
“Yes, the memories come back to me.” Andreas spread then folded his wings back in, being careful not to brush them against hers. “The trio of fools.” Returning his arms to behind his back, he said, “I made it clear to Harrison at the time that he was on his final chance—and I used the cruelty of which you accuse me. He has not failed me since.”
Elena didn’t ask him what he’d done to Harrison; she had to be able to look her brother-in-law in the eye and not see him screaming as chunks of flesh were dug out of him, or as his skin was marked with red-hot brands that would take years to fade. She read the report through a second time, but there wasn’t much else, just the one note that Harrison’s friends were likely responsible for his lack of attention to the task.
“These two,” Elena said. “They’re post-Contract?”
“Almost certainly if Nara has not noted the name of their supervising angel.”
Realizing they’d reached the front of the house, Elena handed him the tablet with a word of thanks. He looked down at the device and said, “I am not like Imani, who eschews change, but I wonder at this age we live in where information must always be at the fingertips. Why does no one value patience?”
“Human lives are shorter,” she reminded him quietly. “A mortal life must be lived in fast-forward.”
Andreas held her gaze before inclining his head with warrior grace. “I think, Consort, you will teach me more than I care to know.”
Not sure quite how to take that, Elena asked if it would be possible for her to speak to his staff. “They might know more about Harrison’s friends.” Plenty went on in an angel’s household that was never brought to the attention of said angel; a good housekeeper or butler took pride in running a smooth household that caused only a modicum of disruption in their angel’s life.
“My home is open to you,” Andreas said.
Nara was waiting for them by the front door. After giving her the tablet, Andreas told his record keeper to cooperate with Elena and to inform the other staff to do so as well. “I will take my leave,” he said to Elena. “Illium and I are to meet for a drill.”
“Thanks for the help.”
“It was a most agreeable walk,” he replied before heading into the house, his wings held with automatic warrior control.
Elena did an unobtrusive check on the status of her own wings.
So far, so good.
Stomach tight and that vein on her temple throbbing in odd bursts, she forced her attention back to her task—and to Andreas’s seriously old record keeper. Nara’s power was a slow-motion punch against Elena’s skin. If all she did for Andreas was keep records, then Elena would eat her own foot. With hot sauce.
“I’m looking for information on Harrison Ling,” she said. “Any friends he might have, interests that could’ve brought him the wrong kind of attention, that type of thing.”
“I’m afraid I will be of no help, Consort.” A furrow in Nara’s otherwise smooth brow, tiny lines flaring out at the corners of her feline eyes. “I deal near-exclusively with senior members of staff.”
Elena had figured as much; half the household was probably as terrified of Nara as they were of Andreas. “Point me in the direction of the younger staff—no need for an escort.” Elena might be Raphael’s consort, but she was also a former mortal; she’d be more likely to get the truth without Nara around.
Andreas’s scary “record keeper” gave her what she needed without hesitation.
When she walked into the kitchen a couple of minutes later—a large and gracious space that boasted shining metal ovens and a huge obsidian slab of a central island—everyone froze, the room abruptly a painting devoid of breath.
Elena fought the urge to pull out her crossbow. Vampires could be seriously creepy when they did that no-movement thing.
“Consort.” The greeting came from a petite vampire who wore a white apron and had flour on her hands. “What may we do for you?”
“I was hoping to talk to members of staff who know Harrison Ling.”
A sigh seemed to ripple through the room, the others within it spinning back into motion now that they knew she brought no dangerous tidings.
The vampire who’d spoken—she had to be the head cook—said, “Most of the young ones have gone out into the gardens to clear the snow.” She waved over the taller woman who’d been working beside her when Elena first came in. “Iris supervised Harrison for a time.”
“Only the two months he was in the kitchen,” Iris said, a flush high on her cheekbones as she twisted a tea towel in her hands. “Not to speak ill of the wounded, but oh that man was terrible in the kitchen.” A flash of fangs as she grimaced. “I spent half my time overseeing him so he wouldn’t burn whatever it was he was meant to be watching.”
“Did you ever speak about anything that might’ve caused someone to hold a grudge against him? Even in passing?”
Iris shook her head. “He was too young and foolish for conversation. I simply tried to teach him some skills before Cook here finally abandoned the idea that he might be useful in the kitchen.”
“It was right when he first came to us,” the chief cook added. “I do always have hope, but so many of the young have no comprehension of good food and the skill of preparing a nutritious meal.”
“Yes.” Iris pursed her lips. “Fast food and store-bought rubbish.” A snort. “Then they become vampires and suddenly don’t see the point in cooking.”
The cook nodded darkly. “As if an art form has no value.”
Elena decided not to confess to her less-than-amazing skills in that area. “Thank you for the help. I’ll head out to the gardens to speak to the younger staff.”
Once outside, she asked the Legion if they’d seen anyone in the garden, and they pointed her toward the far west of the sprawling area. It took her ten minutes of brisk walking to find the three vampires, all in good spirits. Digging their shovels in, they were throwing the snow to the side in neat piles. Elena figured this couldn’t be a major part of their day. Andreas was too smart to lose people out of boredom.