He felt his own skin begin to burn with power, his c**k pulsing with the need to drive into her until he was all she knew, all she saw. Gritting his teeth, he buried his face in her neck, fighting for control . . . and realized the brutal satisfaction of her body had shoved her into unconsciousness.

Chapter 11

Five days after Raphael had loved her into merciful oblivion, Elena found herself sitting in a quiet, sunlit garden. The dreams hadn't returned since that night, but she could feel them heavy on the horizon, a storm she wasn't ready to face. If she hadn't had the pitiless discipline of Dmitri's brand of training to keep her occupied, her mind might have beaten itself into insanity in an effort to escape the constant pressure. Because oddly, the Refuge had gone quiet, too, the assault on Noel a seeming aberration.

However, Raphael's anger hadn't abated a fraction. "Nazarach denies involvement,"

he'd said to her last night as he played his fingers down the plane of her stomach. "I could break his mind, but if he's telling the truth, I'd have to kill him, losing one of the strongest angels in my territory."

Elena had swallowed at the ease with which he spoke of tearing open the other angel's mind, an angel another hunter had once described to Elena as a "monster who'd probably smile as he f**ked you to death." "Nazarach would turn against you?"

"As you would if I did the same to you, Elena." His hand played with the top edge of her panties. "I must have proof - or I stand to lose not only his loyalty, but also that of the other strong angels who look to me."

She gripped his wrist, squeezed. Always he gave. Her body wanted him to take. But there was a warning in his gaze, a passion so dark she knew she wasn't ready, wasn't strong enough. Not yet. "Do you need him to hold power?"

He flattened his hand on her abdomen, dipping his head to take her lips in a lazy kiss that made her toes curl into the sheets. Easing them both down from the razor-sharp edge of hunger. "No."

It took her two long seconds to find the breath to reply. "Then?"

"Humans need him, Elena." An almost gentle reminder.

She saw the nightmare he was trying to spare her. "The only reason more vampires don't give in to bloodlust is because an angel has them on a leash."

"And even an archangel can't control every single vampire within his borders. I'd have to slaughter them all if they turned to blood." A raised eyebrow. "Such shadows in your eyes. What do you know of Nazarach?"

"Another hunter did a track for him a while back." Ashwini had refused point-blank to return to Atlanta when an unrelated job came up. "She said his house was full of screams, full of a pain that could drive the sane into hell itself. He apparently took two female vampires to his bed for no reason but to punish their men."

"Vampires choose their eternity when they choose to be Made." A silky answer.

And one she couldn't argue with. Even her sister, Beth, had attempted to be accepted as a Candidate, though she'd witnessed her husband's barbaric punishment at the hands of the angel he called master. "Do you believe Nazarach?"

"He lies with ease, but he's not the only one arrogant enough to believe he can become an archangel."

"Who else is in the Refuge, or was at the time?" They'd both agreed that the instigator would've been close enough to witness - to revel in - the results of his actions.

"Dahariel?" That emotionless gaze, akin to that of the bird of prey whose wings he bore, had spoken of an icily rational mind, able to justify any act if it led to a successful outcome.

A nod. "Also Anoushka, Neha's daughter, has been here for several weeks."

Neha, the Queen of Poisons, of Snakes.

Shivering to think of what her offspring might be capable of, Elena picked up one of the volumes Jessamy had given her and turned her mind to the present, to the prettiness of her surroundings. She'd never have found this secret garden without the blue-winged angel sprawled by her side.

Wildflowers bloomed in bold abandonment, gleefully surrounding the marble pavilion where they'd chosen to sit. The pavilion itself was simple yet elegant in design - four columns holding up a roof that had been carved in faithful imitation of a silk tent from the Arabian lands. "It's way too cold for these flowers." She touched the cheerful pumpkin-colored petals of one that brushed against her thigh as she sat with her feet hanging over the edge.

"The flowers began blooming without warning a month ago." Illium shrugged. "We enjoy them - why question such a gift?"

"I see your point." Opening the book, she spread her wings on the cool marble. With her muscle strength increasing day by day, they no longer seemed a burden but a natural extension of her self. "It says here that the Archangel Wars began because of a dispute over territory."

Illium sat up from his lazy sprawl, his hair tumbling messily over one eye. "That's the whitewashed version for our children," he said, pushing it back. "The truth, as always, is far more human. It all began with a woman."

"Oh yeah?" She made no effort to hide her skepticism.

His smile was a wicked tease. "I'm going to fly. Call if you need me."

She watched him walk to the edge of a rocky cliff, sweep off in a wave of exquisite silver blue. Then, frowning, she thought,Raphael .

The answer came in a split second.Yes , he said,it did begin over a woman .

Elena almost ripped the page in her hand.How long have you been listening in? He hadn't once forced her to act against her will since their silent understanding high above the Refuge, but this - the violation of her thoughts, her secrets - it was as bad. Maybe worse. Because she'd trusted him with her pain, chosen to expose a part of herself she kept tightly held.

We are one, Elena.

"I don't think so." If it had gone both ways, she might've been able to accept it. But it didn't. And she'd fought too hard for her right to be who she was to resign herself to the situation. Taking a deep breath, she shoved mentally outward with all her willpower.

Elena, what are you -

Sudden silence.Raphael?

Nothing. No scent of rain inside her head. A scent she hadn't realized she'd been smelling until it was gone. There was no headache, not immediately, but she began to feel the strain after an hour of reading about the wars. It said that Titus had sided with Neha and Nadiel, while Charisemnon had fought beside Antonicus. Lijuan had remained impartial. "Nadiel, Antonicus," she said under her breath, having never before heard those names.

Reaching up to rub at her throbbing temple, she turned the page. The lovingly detailed image took her breath away. The woman's face was a study in purity, her eyes an impossible blue Elena had seen on only one other being, her hair dark as the night . . .

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