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Archangel's War(7)
Author: Nalini Singh

   “Does it hurt?” Raphael was no longer smiling. “You’re gritting your teeth.”

   “I get pins and needles all over my body when it goes in.” Flexing the hand that had taken the latest hit, she lifted it deliberately to the power that was an increasingly turbulent storm over them. It slipped into her in fiery droplets. “Ten,” she said at the end, having counted each tendril as it sank into her.

   Then it stopped.

   The power danced over her skin, twined around her wrist, wove itself into her hair, but didn’t penetrate her skin. She watched the storm, felt understanding whisper on the edge of her mind, just out of earshot. “I feel ‘full’—there’s nowhere for the power to go now.”

   Raphael’s voice was granite when he said, “Before we interrupted the process, the Cascade was attempting to turn you into a power reservoir.”

   “So I’m a partial reservoir?” Thinking about that, she shrugged. “I always held a drop or two of wildfire for you.” She placed one hand beside her shoulder, palm-up in a silent invitation; Raphael closed his own over it. “I don’t mind holding a little more power in reserve.” It’d give Raphael a small advantage in battle—though ten droplets wasn’t exactly a game changer when he’d given up all his power.

   Although . . . Her throat dried up, her pulse a booming bass. “Raphael.”

   Golden lightning was suddenly electric over Raphael’s skin, his hair, his wings. Prussian blue turned to gold as the energy played across his irises. Without warning, the power slammed into him with a force so violent that his body went rigid, his spine an iron rod. She went to try to fight it—with what she didn’t know—but he squeezed her hand and held it to the earth.

   Panic a trapped butterfly in her skull, she closed her free hand over his and held on to her archangel while the power howled around him, into him. His hair blew back in the gale-force winds that existed inside the storm. His skin cracked with veins of gold that healed in a heartbeat, only for it to happen again and again. His hair turned gold with the sheer amount of energy pouring into him. His eyes were molten gold shattered with lightning.

   When she tried to connect her mind with his, all she heard in return was roaring static, as if he stood in the middle of a wind tunnel, his words stolen before they ever reached her. Her own hair blowing back from her face and lightning strikes hitting her skin only to bounce off, she came as close as she could with their clasped hands between them. Never would she let him go.

   A blinding blaze that forced her eyes to shut, a final roar of sound in her ears, followed by a “pop” as the pressure equalized . . . and it was over. She blinked open her eyes to utter calm. The earth around them continued to glow—but it was pulsing red now. As if so much heat had been released into it that things that shouldn’t burn had begun to burn. The golden Cascade-born energy no longer swirled above and around them.

   It was inside Raphael.

   Motionless, she stared.

   The crashing sea in her mind, salt-laced and familiar . . . but infinitely colder. Until her veins were ice and her breath was particles of frost.

   So? asked her archangel.

   She gave a slightly hysterical giggle. “Talk about glow-in-the-dark.” His skin was lit from within, his eyes a vivid living gold, his hair tipped with flames. When she batted at it, the damn energy just hopped over to her hand and danced over her skin. “I guess the Cascade isn’t keen for you to be without power.” Her stomach was one big knot.

   “It seeks only chaos. There is no chaos in one power.” Raphael shaped the Primary’s words with intricate concentration, as if doing something as mundane as forming words was far beneath him now. As if he’d ascended beyond being an archangel.

   Fuck that.

   Elena smashed a fist through the ice, kicked the stomach-knotting fear to the curb. She hadn’t survived being consumed by a goddamn chrysalis, then come back to life with an archangelic heart inside her chest, and a torturously sensitive tattoo instead of wings, to lose Raphael to a power that wanted to shape him into a being monstrous enough to fight Lijuan.

   Fucking Cascade could go take a fucking hike.

   Breaking their handclasp, she grabbed his face in her hands and slammed her mouth over his. Her entire body keened at the deep sense of homecoming, of being exactly where she needed to be. I missed you, Archangel. Wrapping her arms around his neck, she held him tight and deepened the kiss.

   Raphael’s mind cleared in a single passionate second, the taste of Elena slicing through the grasping cold of enormous power. He’d never been this powerful, not even prior to the chrysalis. Until he felt that his mind could reach all corners of his territory. Until he could be a god.

   Elena licked her tongue across his.

   Carnal need and searing love collided, and he was once more very much a man, earthy and of this world. Not an archangel with delusions of godhood. Not Lijuan’s mirror. He was Raphael and he was with his strong, stubborn, dangerous consort. There was no distance with his hunter, and never would be.

   Thrusting one hand into her hair, he gripped the strands in a powerful fist, and drank her in. He was furious with her for being so hurt, for making him slice off her wings. Knowing she’d had no control over it didn’t matter. Not in this moment.

   He couldn’t hold the fury inside.

   She felt it—and kissed him back even harder, the steel and warmth of her in his mind and sharp tugs on his scalp from the hands she’d locked in his hair. Running his palm down her side, he flinched at the barely sheathed bone of her rib cage. “You need food.” His breath was harsh pants; inside him, the power continued to rage, a hurricane without end.

   Elena stared at him for a long second . . . before throwing back her head and laughing from deep within her belly. If her kiss had grounded him, her laughter owned him. He just watched her, drinking in a sight he’d feared he’d never again witness.

   When she finally managed to bring herself down to snorting giggles that kept on setting her off again and caused his cheeks to crease, he said, “What is so amusing?”

   A loud snort.

   Raising her hand to her mouth, she tried to stifle her giggles and failed. His own smile cut deeper into his cheeks. Both wings spread over her now, he shifted his hand to her hip. The bone was sharp and hard, her skin beyond thin, but Elena put her hand on his and said, “Hold on as you always have.”

   Raphael went to argue—and saw the implacable determination in her laughing gaze. We are us. Warm steel in his mind. Damn Cascade doesn’t get to mess us up. And if my bones are hollow, I’d rather know now.

 

 

7

 

Raphael was the one who gritted his teeth this time. “Your bones are not hollow. Or I would’ve crushed your hand earlier.” Shoulders easing at the reminder that she’d come out unscathed from his brutal hold, he curved his hand more firmly over her hip. “I reserve the right to change my mind at any moment.”

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