Archangel's Prophecy (Page 70)
“What happened after your visit to Acosta and Blakely’s apartment to look for Lucy? How did Jeni end up with you?”
“I couldn’t bear to just leave her there, especially when I saw the way a group of vampires in the street were watching her. Predators waiting to run down wounded prey.” Jaw hard and muscles bunched, he stared sightlessly at the winter-kissed glitter of the city.
“I got her a hotel room of her own in my building, made sure she had food and warmth, then I went back out and taught those predators never to look at her that way again.” Age in his voice now, power that was deadly music. “Next afternoon, when I dropped by to check on her, she opened the door dressed in her underwear. She was petrified of me but determined to pay back her ‘debt.’ She thought I’d hurt her if she didn’t. Decided it was better to cooperate than try to run.”
He shook his head, his jaw grinding. “You’ve met her—her sweetness and gentleness isn’t a shell. It goes down to the bone, and the world taught this harmless, kind creature only abuse and fear. I told her to put on clothes; took her out for a meal.” He swallowed hard. “After that . . . after that it became difficult not to see her every day and slowly, she became mine.”
“She’s not your blood donor.” Elena had wondered if part of Jenessa’s attraction for Hiraz was the life-giving fluid that ran in her veins.
“No, she’s my everything.” Rough words. “I’ve got her into school, too—she’s wanted to be a hairdresser since she was a kid, and you should see how happy she is when she comes home from her lessons.” He pointed at his hair. “I’m a man who’s had plain black hair for four hundred and fifty years, but how could I say no when she asked? She trims it every week, so it’s always perfect.”
It was ridiculous, Elena thought—she was a big, tough hunter who was about to lose her wings. But her heart went mushy at this happy ending for a girl from the streets and a vampire who’d been alone since she’d known him. “Tell me what you saw that night in the apartment when you went to find Lucy.”
“A vampire was lying unconscious on the lounge sofa. Black bruise forming on one side of his face, more bruises around his throat. Jenessa identified him as Eric.” Hiraz curled his lip as he spoke the name. “Apartment was destroyed—table overturned, chairs broken, holes in the walls, sprays of blood. One of the two bedrooms stunk of sex and blood, but aside from Eric the apartment was empty.”
The vampire frowned. “I know Eric and his roommate recently got themselves murdered, but I didn’t think to come to you with this. It was a year ago, and I figured an irate father dragging his daughter home from Blakely’s wasn’t exactly unusual. From what Jenessa’s told me, the man was no prize.”
With the information Hiraz’d had, Elena would’ve made the same call—but she still wished he’d passed on the information. “Jenessa didn’t have Lucy’s last name. You ever track her down?” Apparently the apartment the two women had rented together had been under Jenessa’s name because Lucy didn’t have a bank account—and Lucy had laughingly given a different last name each time Jenessa asked.
“I tried because Jenessa was worried about her friend,” Hiraz said, “but Lucy disappeared. Nobody ever turned up, and Jenessa was adamant the father was careful not to hurt Lucy. I thought he took her home, maybe to a distant state. Is she—”
“I’ve got nothing on Lucy—she might not even be connected to what I’m investigating.” Many pieces fit, but a couple of crucial ones didn’t. “One more thing, you heard any rumors about a fire in the Quarter two months ago? Vics were Nishant Kumar and Terence Lee.”
“Jenessa mentioned them after she read about the fire in the papers, said it was probably because of drugs. The two were dealers and suppliers.” Even as he spoke, his expression altered, became thoughtful. “The picture in the paper wasn’t that clear. You have a photograph of the two?”
Elena took out her phone and pulled up the images from the file Vivek had sent her. “You recognize them?”
A slow nod. “Saw their faces in photographs pinned to the wall of the lounge when I went into the apartment with Jenessa that night.”
No surprise there—she already knew the four men were connected, but Hiraz wasn’t finished. “One particular photograph stuck in my memory because it was about to fall off. Five men with a girl I think must’ve been Lucy. I didn’t ask Jenessa at the time, but afterward when she described her friend—blond hair, brown eyes, a mole at the corner of her left lip—it was a match.
“The only difference was that Lucy was healthy in that image while Jenessa described her friend as emaciated from drug use.” He frowned, eyes narrowed. “I remember bottles behind the people in the image. Not only bottles of blood. Alcohol as well. A long black bar.”
Heart kicking, Elena said, “Five men. Kumar, Lee, and . . .”
“Eric and his roommate, Simon, were in there.” Hiraz’s eyes met hers, his discomfort a stiffness in his words as he spoke. “The fifth man was your brother-in-law.”
White owls settled all around them, their golden eyes watchful. And in Elena’s head, the old voice sighed. The broken blade draws near. The mourner walks on destiny’s road. It is your time, child of mortals.
Ignoring the chill on her skin and the ghost owls that watched her with unblinking focus, Elena used her phone to search for a photo of Archer’s daughter. There’d been an obituary in the Guild newsletter, the text written by Archer. There it was. Blond hair, brown eyes, face angled so the left side of her mouth wasn’t visible. She shot a message to Sara to see if she had another photo, then read the obituary.
My baby girl was smart and funny and loved doughnuts so much she once ate six in a row. She shouldn’t be gone. I’ll miss you always.
Below that was a note asking people to donate to a scholarship set up in her name: The Samaria Candace Archer Scholarship. No way to get Lucy from that, so maybe she was wrong and none of this had anything to do with the murders. Or maybe it was like China and Jenessa. One woman. Two names.
With more questions than answers, she called Ashwini the instant Hiraz left to return to his duties. “You manage to dig up anything about Lucy?” The other couple hadn’t had much time since her briefing, but Elena had just lost three more feathers, two of them primaries. She was on a strict deadline.
Elena’s heart was ice, filled with thoughts of a young woman who’d passed away a year and a half after her mother. “When?”
“Exactly eight months and twenty-three days ago,” Ashwini replied, and Elena felt the confirmation like a kick to the chest.
Picking up another feather she’d just shed, she stared at the fine filaments of inky black. “Where did you get your information?” There could be no crossed wires about this, no mistakes.
“Where I get all my weird information.”
“I thought you glimpsed the future?”
“I see . . . someone standing at Lucy’s grave—I got the date of death from the gravestone. What I see, the person—possibly people—at the grave, that hasn’t happened yet.”
Elena’s fingers clenched on the feather. “What was the name on the headstone?”