In the days after she’d woken from the coma, she’d remembered forgotten pieces of her childhood, remembered the father she’d loved all those years ago. Jeffrey had held her hand in the hospital after her two older sisters had been murdered in that blood-soaked kitchen, led her down to the basement in spite of bitter opposition so she could see Ari and Belle again—she’d needed to be certain that her sisters really did rest in peace, that the monster hadn’t made them like him. He’d cried that day. Her father, the man with a stone-cold heart, had cried. Because he’d been a different man.
As she’d been a different girl.
“From your silence,” Jeffrey said with cutting impatience, “I take it the Guild Director didn’t pass on my message.”
Jeffrey had never liked Sara, being as she was part of Elena’s “filthy” profession. Elena’s hand tightened on the phone, until she was sure she could feel her bones crunching against one another. “I wasn’t able to meet Sara this morning.” They’d been meant to have coffee, catch up. Elena had been looking forward to kissing her goddaughter, Zoe, seeing how big she’d grown.
“Of course. You were at the school.” Rigid and unbending as granite. “I need to speak to you face-to-face. Be here tomorrow morning, or lose your right to take part in the decision.”
“What decision?” Jeffrey and she hadn’t had anything to say to each other for ten years before Uram invaded the city. Even now, the only words they exchanged were well-honed weapons, designed to inflict maximum damage.
“All you need to know is that it’s a family matter.” He hung up, and though it frustrated Elena until tears—stupid, unwanted—pricked at her eyes, she knew she’d turn up at his office as ordered. Because the family he spoke of might be splintered, but it included not only Amethyst and Evelyn, but also Marguerite’s youngest daughter, Beth.
None of the three deserved to be caught in the crossfire of the endless war that raged between Jeffrey and Elena.
Having spent two hours in the Tower with Jason, talking through the information that had brought the black-winged angel to the city, Raphael now came in for a silent landing in the woods that separated his estate from the home Michaela used while in his territory. As he walked to take a position in front of the small pool his gardener had created in a grotto he’d shaded with vines and tucked in among the solid bulk of the larger trees, Raphael wondered if Elena saw more than he did.
He knew he was arrogant. It was inevitable, given the years he’d lived, the power at his command. But he’d never been stupid. So he heeded his hunter’s words, augmenting his mental shields with care before he stared down at the placid waters of the darkened pool and said, Lijuan, “pushing” the thought across the world.
There was a chance he’d fail to reach her, for he had no intention of undertaking a true sending. The price demanded was too high. In the Quiet, he became monstrous, stripped down to the lethal cold of power without conscience. It was during such a state that he’d terrified Elena so much she’d shot him, the scar on his wing a stunning reminder to never again walk that road.
If this did not succeed, he would have to send Lijuan a handwritten message—the oldest of the archangels eschewed modern conveniences like the phone. However, the water rippled an instant later, far faster than he’d expected. He’d known Lijuan’s strength had grown exponentially, but the rapid response, coupled with the fact that he’d used a minute amount of his own power, argued for a strength beyond anything the rest of the Cadre had imagined.
“Raphael.” She appeared of the flesh as her image formed on the water, her face as ageless as always. Only the pure white of her hair, the pearlescent glow of her pale, pale eyes betrayed what she was, what she was becoming. “So you return to me after all.”
He didn’t react except to say, “Do you think to make me a pet, Lijuan?”
A tinkling laugh, girlish and all the more disturbing for it. “What a thought. I think you would be a most troublesome one.”
Raphael inclined his head. “You are home?” Lijuan’s palace lay in the heart of China, deep in mountainous territory Raphael had never traversed, though Jason had managed to work his way inside before Lijuan’s “evolution.” Raphael’s spymaster had returned from the clandestine visit with half his face torn off.
“Yes.” The other archangel’s hair whispered back in a breeze that he was certain affected nothing else in the vicinity. “I find,” she continued, “that there are certain pleasures of the flesh I do still enjoy after all, and where best to partake of them than in my palace?”
Raphael didn’t make the mistake of thinking she spoke of sex. Lijuan hadn’t been a sexual being for thousands of years . . . or not sexual in the accepted sense. “Are your toys surviving the experience?”
A finger rose up until he could see it, waved at him. “Such a question, Raphael. You would call me a monster.”
“You would take it as a compliment.”
Another laugh, those eerie, near-colorless eyes filling with a surge of power that turned them wholly white, without pupil or iris. “An Ancient rises to consciousness.”
He wasn’t surprised she’d guessed at the reason behind this contact. Despite the nightmare she’d become, he’d never doubted Lijuan’s intelligence. “Yes.”
“Do you know how old your mother was when she disappeared?” she asked without warning.
An image of startling blue eyes, a voice that made the heavens weep, and a madness so deep and true it mimicked sanity. “Just over a thousand years older than you.”
Lijuan’s lips curved in a smile that held a strange amusement. “She was vain, was Caliane. She liked to tell people that because it made her almost the same age as her mate.”
Raphael felt ice form in his chest, spread outward in jagged branches, threatening to pierce his veins. “How much older was she?”
Lijuan’s answer shattered the ice, turned it into shards of glass that spliced through his system, causing massive damage. “Fifty thousand years. Even that may have been a lie. It was whispered that she was twice that age when I was born.”
“Impossible,” he said at last, knowing he could betray none of his shock. To do so would be to tempt the predator that lived within Lijuan. “No archangel that old would have chosen to remain awake.” A hundred thousand years was an impossible eternity. Yes, they had old ones in their world, but except for a few notable exceptions, most of them chose to go into the Sleep for eons at a time, awakening only for brief periods to taste the changing world.