Home > Archangel's Storm (Guild Hunter #5)(10)

Archangel's Storm (Guild Hunter #5)(10)
Author: Nalini Singh

However, no one in the world had Mahiya’s wings—deep emerald and vivid cobalt with splashes of rich black, the wild spray akin to a peacock’s fan. Except that somehow, Mahiya had managed to remain out of the limelight, until no one mentioned the princess with wings to rival a bird famed for its beauty when they spoke of the most stunning wings in the world.

She went into a graceful curtsy as Neha approached, bowing her neck to reveal the vulnerable nakedness of her nape, her hair parted down the centre and gathered into a simple knot at the back of her head. “My lady.”

“Do try not to frighten her too much, Jason,” Neha murmured, the fine filaments of cobalt in the primaries of her otherwise snow-white wings whispering of their blood tie. “She is rather . . . useful on occasion.”

Jason nodded in greeting toward the woman who made broken razors slash through Neha’s tone, received a curtsy as elegant, though not as deep as the one she’d given the archangel. However, she maintained her silence as Neha lifted a single finger and a turbaned vampire wearing the uniform of the guard appeared from behind one of the columns, a velvet-lined tray in his arms. The crimson fabric was home to a ceremonial knife, its hilt embedded with yellow sapphires.

Neha picked it up with long fingers clearly at home with the blade. “It’s time.”

The ceremony was an ancient one, the words Neha asked him to speak to Mahiya, and Mahiya to him, unchanged for millennia. Stripped of its ritual robes, the core of it was a promise of loyalty that did not challenge his deeper oath to Raphael, yet that bound him to keep faith with Mahiya and her blood for the duration of his task.

“I hold your vow,” Mahiya said, speaking the closing words for this part of the rite. “Until the name of the traitor is known. It is done.”

Neha smiled into the thick silence after Mahiya accepted their bargain. “Your neck, Jason.”

“I think not,” he said without blinking, and turned his arm to reveal his wrist. “Blood is blood.”

“You do not trust me?” A silken question that dripped menace.

“I trust no one at my neck.” He was powerful enough that he’d most likely survive a beheading, but that didn’t mean he wanted to chance it.

The head falling from his blood-slick hands to thud onto the floor. “I’m sorry . . .”

When Neha’s eyes remained ice-cold, he expected her to bleed him far more than necessary, but she made only the shallowest nick on his wrist, right above his pulse. As a droplet of blood welled onto his skin, she ordered Mahiya to angle her neck and made another cut above the beat of the other angel’s pulse.

This last act was the final, and for many, the repugnant reason why the ceremony was no longer in favor. “Princess Mahiya,” he said, stepping close enough to see the taut line of her jaw, her spine as rigid as the tendons in her neck.

A slight nod, permission for him to seal the vow with the most basic of acts.

Dipping his head, he flicked his tongue over the ruby red droplet that shivered against her dusky skin, the warm iron of it metallic against his tongue. He stepped back, held up his wrist.

Mahiya placed both of her hands under his wrist and lifted it to her lips. The touch of her lips on his skin, light as butterfly’s wings. Lifting her head, she said, “The blood vow is sealed,” her expression unreadable in its very lack of deep emotion. Except for that single betrayal of distaste during the sealing of the vow, it was as if they stood at a cocktail party, exchanging pleasantries, the effect was so curiously shallow.

Perhaps that was all there was to the princess, but Jason’s every instinct whispered otherwise.

He turned to Neha, never losing his awareness of the enigmatic Mahiya. “Eris?”

Clapping her hands, she laughed. “Oh, what a thing to say directly after a primal act of blood.” A reminder that in times lost to the mists of history such vows had been spoken between lovers, the blood exchanged an erotic kiss. “You truly are cold, Jason.”

He’d been called that many times in his life, and it was a fact he didn’t dispute, though deep within him burned a cauldron of black fire. “It’s why I am here.”

“Of course. Come.”

When Mahiya went to drop behind him, Jason shook his head. “I will not have you at my back.” She was an unknown, her threat level as yet a mystery. “Walk ahead of or beside me.”

A flash of startling tawny brown, but she fell into step at his side . . . a fine, fine hum of tension across her shoulders. It was so subtly camouflaged, even Jason might not have caught it if he hadn’t already been on alert for any sign of the woman behind the mask. Mahiya, it seemed, did not like having anyone at her back either. Unusual for a court “trinket,” even more so for a princess who should’ve been used to a retinue.

Neha said nothing further until they reached the palace that overlooked the city, its wide doors guarded by two angels armed with swords and guns both. “Treat this investigation with the respect my consort deserves.”

Understanding the archangel had no intention of accompanying them, Jason waited for her to take her leave before he entered the palace through the doors the guards pulled open, their eyes flat with suspicion. The scent of putrefaction hit him the instant he walked in, and he knew at once that Eris still lay within, in spite of the time it had taken Jason to reach the fort.

Neha’s love for Eris had been such that she would never offer up his violated body as a spectacle, so this must’ve been a rational choice to preserve the scene. He hadn’t expected it of her after the madness he’d seen in her eyes when she spoke to Raphael, and he should have—Neha was strong, not simply in power, but in mind, regardless of her recent losses. He would not forget that again.

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