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Archangel's Shadows(8)

Nalini Singh


“There’s a situation I need you to handle,” Illium said after pushing back his hair again. “Details have been sent to your phone.”

Ashwini met the angel’s gaze. “Shall I plug my ears?” Hunters had fought alongside immortals in the battle to hold their city, would do so again should the situation call for it, but when it came to everyday existence, getting involved in Tower business could be perilous to a mortal’s health. “Or I can jump on the subway,” she offered, taking her hand off Janvier’s shoulder.

“No,” he said, at the same time that Illium spoke the word. “There, cher,” Janvier added. “You would not break both our hearts, would you?”

“What’s the situation?” she asked Illium, trying to ignore the way Janvier’s voice wrapped around her, as sensual and luscious as caramel. Despite the fact that he’d been Made over two centuries before, he’d lost neither his bayou roots nor its music from his speech, though the rhythm of his words had altered over time.

“A vampire’s cattle are charging him with ill-treatment.”

Ashwini winced at the derogatory term—used to describe humans who volunteered to act as a particular vampire’s living food source—but couldn’t take Illium to task for using it. These people chose to be “kept” by vampires, chose to be seen as livestock, petted and cosseted though they might be. “I didn’t realize cattle had any rights.”

Janvier was the one to reply, his eyes on the screen of his phone as he scrolled through the information he’d been forwarded. “Not every vampire enjoys seducing his food anew each night, or relying on blood banks. It is bad for the vampiric population for such arrangements to turn abusive.”

Illium folded his arms, the clean line of his jaw set in a hard line. “If word spreads, mortals might become gun-shy.”

“You’d think so, wouldn’t you?” Ashwini said, recalling the hundreds of thousands who petitioned to be Made every year, despite witnessing countless examples of the brutality and violence that might be their lot. Because near-immortality came at a price: a hundred years of service to the angels, after which eternity awaited.

If you survived the Contract period with your mind unbroken.

“There will always be self-destructive idiots in the world.” She squeezed Janvier’s shoulder in an unspoken coda. He was a vampire not because of a lust for endless life, but because he’d fallen in love with another vampire as a “callow youth.” His own words. She felt for the mortal man he’d been, because she knew in this way, she and Janvier were the same: when they loved, they loved desperately, holding on even when it threatened to destroy them.

“Is it urgent?” Janvier leaned back into her touch. “Ash is headed toward the same general part of the city, so we can deal with her task and go on to this.”

“It’s a relatively low-level rumor at present,” Illium said. “An hour or two won’t make any difference.” Spreading his wings to their full breadth, to the delight of the teenagers who’d gathered in the portico of the building behind him, he readied himself for flight. “I almost forgot—there’s to be a celebration in just over a month.”

Ashwini blinked. “Not an angelic ball?” As far as she knew, Elena had an avowed dislike of the “excruciatingly formal” events. She’d been heard to mutter that she’d rather stick a fork in her eye. Ashwini couldn’t see her fellow hunter changing her mind in the aftermath of a war. Even if she was hooked up with a scary-ass archangel.

Illium’s laughter lit up his eyes and sent a woman on the sidewalk into a swoon broken by the thick arms of a nearby cop. “Ellie has threatened to shoot anyone who even suggests such a travesty.”

“Thank God,” Ashwini said with a shudder. “I thought for a second that she’d lost her mind and we’d have to stage an intervention.”

“This is to be a ‘block party,’ as Ellie terms it, open to any and all citizens of the city. It’s to be held in the streets and on the rooftops around the Tower.”

“That’s a really great idea.” While crowds weren’t Ashwini’s thing, she wouldn’t mind ending up on one of the rooftops with a group of friends. Each and every one of them had mourned in the aftermath of the war, for the fighters, mortal and immortal, who’d lost their lives. Now it was time to lift a drink to their fallen comrades, and to fully reclaim their city from the shadows of war—while giving a giant finger to those who’d sought to cripple it.

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