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An Unexpected Guest


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An Unexpected Guest

By Nalini Singh

Elena ran her hand through Raphael's hair, then across the muscled breadth of his shoulders. "Now, what did I tell you?"

Her consort did that thing he was starting to do--he smiled. Except this smile was more than a little wicked. "Do not be scary," he said, managing to mimic the stern tone in which she'd given the order.

Scowling at the violently powerful archangel who was her eternity, Elena pointed a finger at his magnificent chest. "No joking. You will do your best to be non-scary." As far as most mortals were concerned, he couldn't ever be totally non-scary.

He was an archangel, power fused into his very cells. He had the ability to topple skyscrapers, destroy entire cities, crumple empires. He would never be anything but Raphael, the Archangel of New York. But, extraordinary as it was, he was also Elena's.

"Elena-mine." Raphael stroked his thumbs over her cheekbones. "I promise not to smite your friends to dust."

"Raphael!" She slapped his chest when he burst out laughing. "This new sense of humor of yours needs serious work." But her lips tugged up because this man was real in a way the archangel she'd first met had never been. Remote and cold and cruel, he'd lived high in his Tower above New York, distant and dangerous.

He remained as dangerous, but he now had a vein of mortality in him formed of his love for Elena. That mortality scared her at times because it made him vulnerable...but it also made him her Raphael.

"Come, hbeebti." He stepped to the very edge of the railing-less Tower balcony on which they stood, Manhattan a tiny toy city far below. "Let us go to this party."

Snapping out her wings, Elena swept out into the night, her beloved city sparkling around her. Raphael flew wingtip to wingtip with her, though he could outpace her a hundred times over.

She turned and smiled at him. "Hey, Angel Boy."

A raised eyebrow. "Are you talking to me, Consort?"

She laughed at his icily archangelic tone. "I love you." He was attempting the impossible for her, trying to give her what she needed because her heart would always be mortal.

"Knhebek, hbeebti."

The flight to Guild HQ was a short one. They arrived to find it brightly lit up in honor of the Guild's anniversary. Other institutions might've held some kind of fancy black-tie do, inviting movers and shakers.

Thankfully, all the people at the top of the Guild were former hunters. They knew the thing to do was to throw one hell of a party with a dress code that was hunter-casual. That party was the social highlight of the hunter calendar. Plus ones or twos were welcome as long as they knew the single rule of the night: fun was the priority.

Elena flew directly to the outdoor training area--it was the best place to land and it happened to be party central. The wide back doors to the Guild had been thrown open, the inside party area flowing out into the outdoor section. That section had been decorated with flaming braziers and colorful fairy lights. And pink plastic flamingos smoking cigars.

Elena saw Ransom's hand in that particular touch, probably with Demarco's help. Elena's contribution was a cocktail bar staffed by two experts at the craft. While the Guild always had a full open bar at the anniversary party, elaborate cocktails were out of the hunter skill range. Weirdly--to her--Elena was filthy rich as a result of the hunt that had first brought her and Raphael together. It felt good to do something fun for her friends.

She landed first, closing her wings quickly so as not to hit anyone. Not that her fellow hunters would mind. If they were already drunk, they'd probably try to snag a feather instead.

"Ellie!" Demarco lifted her up in a bear hug. "I thought you were bringing a date?" It was a laughing comment, no one having taken her seriously when she'd RSVP'd a plus one on the electronic invite.

Elena grinned, returned the hug, then looked up.

Raphael came down in a glory of wings that glittered in the light thrown by the braziers.

"Fuck me." Demarco's mouth fell open.

It wasn't the only one.

Every hunter in the vicinity, even the ones already wearing giant pink flamingo hats and drinking hard cocktails, froze in place. Elena felt her stomach dip. It had been funny for a second... but these were her friends. And Raphael was her heart. She wanted the two to meet even though she knew that was close to impossible.

"Ellie!" Ashwini's voice, the other hunter waving her over to the high table she was sharing with her husband--who happened to be a vampire.

Her voice seemed to break the frozen silence. Someone gave a loud "Whoop!" followed by, "This is now officially the best party in New York! Suck on that fancy-pants tuxedo types!"

Feet thundered, more cries went up, and the atmosphere turned guild hunter normal. Elena's heart eased. She knew the comfort wouldn't last--Raphael's sheer power would become overwhelming to even strong hunters very soon, but for now, both her worlds were in harmony and it was a brilliant New York night.

Joining her friends, Raphael beside her, Elena went to accept the cocktail Ashwini handed her. Of course the other woman had known she was about to land. Ashwini was spooky like that.

"Forget that girly umbrella drink." Ransom thrust a glass into her hand. "This is a real cocktail."

She took a drink... and almost passed out. "What is this?" she asked after she'd stopped coughing. "A Long Island Iced Tea on steroids?"

Ransom grinned and tapped his glass to Elena's. "It's my special celebratory drink. I was the only one who bet you'd turn up with Raphael." He held out a hand to Raphael.

The two men shook before Ransom said, "You want to try my special cocktail, Raphael?"

Lifting the glass to Raphael, Elena said, "Try a sip first to see if you want your tastebuds burned off." The alcohol was still zinging its way through her system.

Her archangel was clearly in a playful mood--and that was a word she'd never thought she'd use to describe him. He took the glass and threw back the contents like it was water. "A little weak."

The hunters around them cracked up laughing. And for the twenty minutes that Raphael was able to stay, before his power began to pulse too hard against human senses, the man Elena loved with all her heart and soul interacted with her friends as if there was no gulf of power and strength between them, both sides setting the outside world aside and being in this moment, in this joy.

"That was the best Guild party I ever attended," she said to Raphael later that night, while they lay skin to skin in their enormous bed, Manhattan a glittering carpet beyond the large floor-to-ceiling windows. "I'm also starting to realize that you must've been a wild one when you were a few hundred years old."

Sadness filled her for a second, a sense of loss for a time she could never experience.

Then Raphael laughed and told her the story of how he and several other young angels had once thrown a party so raucous, they'd been banned from the Refuge for a year, and the sadness faded. The past had shaped them, but the future was theirs to shape... and they'd do it together.

Always.

(c) Copyright 2016 by Nalini Singh






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