Archangel's Heart (Guild Hunter #9)(13)

by Nalini Singh

As if with the birth of her daughter had come a fear Beth couldn’t shake.

Calming once she knew Elena was all right, Beth told her that she hadn’t heard from Jeffrey yet, but that everyone else in their family was fine.

Elena hung up to see Raphael dropping to fly at her wing.

“No reports of fatalities,” he told her, easing her concern about Jeffrey.

Elena and her father might have a broken relationship, but he would always be her father. “Does the quake change our plans for tomorrow?”

“It would take a major disaster to cause the Luminata to call off a meeting. We cannot know until we hear what has happened in other parts of the world.”

Because, with the Cascade in full effect, the New York quake was highly unlikely to have been an isolated incident.

“Homeward, then?” Dmitri appeared to have the situation under control here, and if there was a chance of a dawn departure for Lumia, the two of them had to rest up.

Nodding, Raphael did a wide turn so she’d have more room to maneuver, and they flew back in a straight line across the river rippling quietly under the first edge of night. Montgomery was waiting for them, the butler’s black suit and white shirt as pristine as always and his features quietly handsome. “Sire.” He inclined his head in a respectful bow. “Dmitri is on the device in the library.”

The “device in the library” was a wall screen. Elena sometimes forgot Montgomery was a vampire centuries old, then he’d slip up and use terms like that and the facts would snap sharply back into focus: though vampirism had effectively frozen his body and face in time—his appearance that of a man in his early thirties—he’d lived for far longer.

“Thank you, Montgomery,” Raphael said. “Illium and Aodhan will be joining us for dinner.”

“I will prepare.” Montgomery melted away, no doubt to inform the chef, Sivya—who also happened to be his wife. The two had married in a quiet, beautiful ceremony a year earlier.

“Dmitri,” Raphael said as they walked into the library. “What have you learned?”

Looking up from something he was reading on a handheld screen, his expression devoid of anything but hard-eyed concentration, Dmitri said, “I heard from Dahariel.”

Elena wasn’t surprised at the news. Dahariel might be a cruel bastard with inexplicable taste in women, but he was also an experienced second whom Dmitri respected as a peer.

“Astaad’s territory experienced a number of small tidal waves triggered by undersea quakes,” Dmitri told them. “Minor damage only.” He motioned with the handheld. “The media’s confirmed quakes around the world, but so far, there are no reports of any significant damage except to buildings that were already weak for other reasons.”

Elena’s phone buzzed.

Stepping away from the screen when she saw Sara’s name flash up, she walked outside onto the lawn so her conversation wouldn’t overlap Raphael’s. “Sara,” she said. “What’s happened? Did someone in the Guild get hurt after all?”

“No, but I just heard that your dad was in a town car that got hit by a truck.”

Elena’s hand clenched tight on her phone, her stomach tensing. “Injuries?” She knew her best friend would’ve made sure to get that information for her.

“Jeffrey’s got a broken arm but is otherwise fine. Not a scratch on either driver.” Sara told her the name of the hospital where her father was being treated. “I know you two don’t have a warm and fuzzy relationship but I figured you’d want to know.”

“Thanks, Sara.” Staring out toward the glittering skyline of Manhattan, thousands of tiny windows lit up against the night, Elena wondered what Jeffrey Deveraux was thinking at this moment, knew she could never predict his thoughts or actions.

“Damn it,” Sara muttered. “That’s another idiot.”

Elena knew exactly what had her friend—and head of the Hunters Guild—so hot under the collar. It was a welcome distraction from thinking about a father who would never again be the papa she’d so adored. “How many vamps decided to make a break for it in the confusion after the quake?” That was why the Guild existed—because not every vampire wanted to fulfill his or her hundred-year Contract.

Elena had heard all the sob stories, but fact was fact: to become a vampire, you had to agree to serve a hundred years under the angels. And it wasn’t as if the angels made any effort whatsoever to hide that such service could involve pain and torture and treatment so harsh it might break you. Not all angels were brutal, but enough had been jaded by centuries or millennia of life to the point that sadistic and often sexual punishments were a source of sick pleasure.

Vivek hadn’t wanted to become a vampire for that very reason, even knowing that vampirism would eventually heal his spinal cord.

“A hundred years of slavery to have the use of my body,” he’d whispered. “A hundred years at the mercy of some random immortal who might decide to treat me like a pet dog.”

Elena had promised him that he wouldn’t ever be under the command of a “random immortal,” that he’d be overseen by whichever of the Seven was in charge of the Tower at the time.

Quite aside from that, Raphael was smart: he’d never waste Vivek’s skills by assigning him to a menial task.

As to Vivek’s Contract—while he might be permitted more flexibility because of his friendship with Elena and his unique circumstances, her fellow hunter was adamant about completing his hundred years of service. “I want to pay my way,” he’d told her, his jaw set. “As far as I’m concerned, the century of service is fair payment for the permanent medical treatment that is vampirism.”

That was truer in Vivek’s case than in others—but all vampires gained the potential for millennia of life on becoming near-immortal. As more than one hunter had been known to point out to a whining vamp who’d breached his or her Contract, there was no point crying over it after you’d already accepted the gift with open eyes. Not like you could give it back.

“I try to tell myself I should be glad,” Sara responded in a jaundiced tone. “Because as long as there are idiots, there will be a Guild, but honestly, the recent crop of rabbits doesn’t seem to have a single complete brain between them.” She blew out a breath. “I better go. Got reports coming in of collars.”