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Archangel's War(8)
Author: Nalini Singh

   “You’re sounding very Archangel of New York. It’s hella sexy.” She kissed him again, the edges of laughter on the corners of her mouth, crumbs of mortality that she’d carried through an impossible transition.

   He fell into the kiss. Lightning-infused power arced around them, going from him to wrap around her, only to return back to him. The power felt . . . warmer on each return, as if it was being kissed by her as he was being kissed.

   He didn’t know how long they kissed, but glittering angel dust coated her lips when they drew apart. Her taste coated his.

   Branding one another all over again.

   “I was laughing because food’s like a persistent and highly annoying ghost haunting me.” She traced the lines of the Legion mark, which Raphael could feel burning with a cold immortal power. “I’ve been eating for an eternity and still lost all this weight.”

   She snapped her fingers. “I’m gonna write a lifestyle book to go with my reality show. It’ll include what I call the Cascade Diet. Eat everything—including the kitchen itself if you like—and come out with a negative weight.”

   “I am not amused.”

   Her lips kicked up, her eyes dancing. “But you are gorgeous.” Another kiss, her arms wrapped loosely around his neck like they were lying lazily in their bed. “How’s the power?”

   “Becoming mine.” His consort’s kiss had cut through its initial attempt to shape him while he was overwhelmed by the sudden violent boost. “The Cascade is foolish to believe it can mold me in the image it desires.”

   “You’re speaking of it like the Cascade is a living thing.” She chewed on her lower lip. “Though, yeah, it did keep throwing obstacles in my path when I was chasing Archer. Definitely seemed like a mind behind it.”

   “If it is an agent of chaos, then it doesn’t have to be sentient. It simply has to stop that which would stop chaos—and buttress that which encourages it.”

   “A single-minded and relentless force.” She blew out a breath that caused a tiny feather to dance in the air. “I wish it was real so I could kill it.”

   “Yes.” His vision was shattered lightning, his heart an organ that beat strong and true—it had healed fully the instant the golden lightning thrust into him. “Right now, however, we have a more pressing problem.” Turning over onto his back, he looked up and up and up and up. “Do you see blue skies?”

   Elena squinted up. But she got distracted before she found the skies Raphael had seen. “Is it my imagination or is that half a chair sticking out of the top of the . . .” She looked around, really seeing their environment for the first time. Yes, she’d noticed the dirt, but her neurons had just processed it as, “Dirt, okay.” Apparently, said neurons thought it was usual to wake up on hot dirt.

   In her defense, she had just escaped a chrysalis that wanted to eat her brains. And the hovering Cascade power had blocked out the dizzying sides of the small cavern in which they lay—a cavern lit only by her glow and his, with the dirt adding in some ember red for ambience.

   “Are we at the bottom of a hole in the earth?” She poked at the wall closest to her, came away with hot dirt on her fingers. It didn’t burn—maybe because she was glowing brighter than the dirt. “Where’s our bed?”

   “Burned to cinders by now.”

   Worry, hot and sharp, spiked again—not for the bed or their home, but for their friends and family. “Do you think Deacon will put me at the top of his list again?” she said, because it was easier to think about innocuous things than to give in to the frantic voice of fear that their survival had meant death for those they loved. “I mean, I am best friends with his wife.”

   “We lose our home and you mourn the loss of your weapons. Truly, I know you are my Elena.”

   “I mourn my amber earrings, too, and your ring’s gone.” She scowled. “I will rectify that at once.”

   “Here.” As she watched dumbfounded, he reached into the overheated dirt and pulled out a particular glowing piece. “I believe this is amber.”

   Her mouth dropped open. Actually dropped open. Forcing it shut before it froze in that position, she said, “Did you make amber?”

   “We had many trees on our land. Amber is fossilized tree resin.”

   Her wonder took a nauseating dive. “So either the surge of supercharged archangelic power speeded up the process . . . or we’ve been asleep a gazillion years?” Everyone they knew might be gone, the world changed in ways they couldn’t comprehend.

   “I can’t get through to anyone, so it’s possible, but I do not think the latter can be true.” He put the cooled hunk of clear amber into her palm. “We stopped the chrysalis process early, and the entire aim of it was so you could be a power reservoir when Lijuan rose. I do not think your favorite archangel plans to Sleep an eternity.”

   Exhaling, she nodded. “Smart man.” She lifted the amber in front of her face. “This is beautiful.” Not pristine in its clarity as she’d first thought, but with bubbles inside that looked like miniature explosions caught forever in motion. It seemed appropriate for how the piece had been formed. “No house, no weapons, no . . .” She moaned. “My greenhouse.”

   Raphael put his arm out so she could lie on it. “I’ll gift you an even bigger one.”

   “All your things, Raphael. That gorgeous painting by Aodhan.” Her heart hurt at the idea of all that beauty destroyed.

   “He will paint us a better one.”

   Her shoulders began to shake. “Is that going to be your answer for everything? We’ll make a better version?”

   “Yes,” said the archangel who’d once had no sense of humor—but who was now joking with her with deadpan seriousness despite the cold, heady power that filled him to the brim—it spilled from his eyes, danced in his hair.

   “Montgomery’s not going to be pleased with the new décor.” Because this was their home around them. That half-buried chair high above, the random piece of stained glass welded to the dirt, an astonishingly well-preserved little statuette sitting at the end, near Raphael’s feet.

   “I shall tell him to steal us treasures for refurnishing.”

   Elena snorted out a laugh . . . but the darker, bleaker possibility she didn’t want to face clawed at her mind. The one where Raphael’s warning hadn’t been heard. The one where Montgomery and Sivya had been in the house when it was destroyed. The one where the explosion wiped out Manhattan.

   She couldn’t think that and survive. She needed one fucking win over the Cascade, a big finger raised up to the force that would destroy their lives in its quest for whatever the hell it was questing for.

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