Archangel's Shadows(5)

By: Nalini Singh



Deciding to leave in the dangly hoop earrings she was wearing—if the poor dead dog managed to rise up and attack her, it deserved to rip off her earlobes—she began to slot in her weapons. Knives in arm sheaths as well as one in her left boot, plus a gun in a concealed shoulder holster and another in a visible thigh holster.

Grabbing her Guild ID, she slipped it into an easily accessible pocket. Most of the local cops knew the hunters who lived in the area, but there were always the rookies. Since it would suck to be shot dead by a trigger-happy hotshot, especially after surviving an immortal war, she’d make it painless for them to confirm her identity.

That done, she considered her crossbow. Though she adored it almost as much as the portable grenade launcher she stored in a weapons locker at Guild HQ, it seemed a tad extreme for a visit to a vet.

“God, Sara,” she muttered into the air at the reminder of her so-safe-it-was-a-joke assignment. “I’m almost convinced you’re punking me.”

However, even that was better than sitting around twiddling her thumbs—or destroying her apartment with boredom-induced decorating choices.

Before she spun the dial to lock the weapons safe hidden in the back of her closet, she slipped on the glossy black bangle Janvier had sent her in the mail a year before. Snap it apart to reveal the wire within, and you were holding a lethally effective garrote. The damn male knew her far too well. Which was why she couldn’t understand his behavior after her injury. The two of them had an understanding; they irritated and challenged one another, and yes, they flirted, but the rest . . . the kindness, the tenderness, it was crossing a line.

He’d cradled her against his chest when she had trouble sitting up, fed her soup spoonful by spoonful. It had felt warm and safe and terrifying and enraging. Because he was the one thing she could not have—and now he’d wrecked her hard-won equilibrium by showing her what she was missing.

Angrily hiding a few more knives on her body for good measure, she strode to the front door and yanked it open.

“There you are, sugar,” said the two-hundred-and-forty-seven-year-old vampire on her doorstep, his hair the rich shade of the chicory coffee he’d once made her, and his skin a burnished gold.

She bared her teeth at him in a way that couldn’t faintly be taken as a smile. “I thought I told you to go away.” Last time he’d “been in the neighborhood,” he’d brought her mint chocolate chip ice cream. Her favorite. She’d taken the ice cream and shut the door in his face in an effort to teach him a lesson. He’d laughed, the wild, unabashed sound penetrating the flimsy shield of the door to sink into her bones, make her soul ache.

“I did go away,” he pointed out in that voice accented with the unique cadence of his homeland, his shoulders moving beneath the butter-soft tan leather of his jacket as he folded his arms. “For an entire week.”

“In what version of going away does it mean you send takeout deliverymen to my doorstep?”

Eyes the shade of bayou moss, sunlight over shadow, scanned her head to toe. “How else was I to make sure you weren’t lying collapsed in the bathroom because you were too stubborn to call for help?”

“I didn’t get hit with the stupid stick anytime in the past couple of weeks.” And, despite the somber predictions of her father in childhood, she had friends. Honor had been by every couple of days, alternating with Ransom, Demarco, and Elena. Naasir had filled her freezer with meat before he left for Japan forty-eight hours after the battle.

“Protein will help you heal,” had been his succinct summation. “Eat it.”

A number of other hunters had dropped by to compare battle scars after they escaped hospital arrest. Saki had stayed for two nights, caught Ashwini up on her parents in Oregon. The older couple had once done Ashwini a great kindness, and while she’d been too damaged then to trust them enough to forge an emotional bond, never would she forget their generosity. As she couldn’t forget the way Janvier had held her in his lap in the old armchair by the window, his hand stroking her hair as snow fell over the city.

It was a moment she’d wanted to live in forever. But she couldn’t. “Out of the way,” she said, her anger at fate a cold, clawing thing inside her she’d never been able to tame despite her decision to live life full throttle. “I’m heading to a job.”

No more lazy grace, his expression grim. “You’re not fully recovered.”

Stepping out and locking the door behind her, she strode down the hallway. “The doctor gave me a clean bill of health.” Even if he hadn’t, Ashwini knew her body. It had been in hunter condition before the injury and she’d begun exercising as much as she could the instant there was no longer any danger she’d tear the wound open.

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