Angels of Darkness

with Sharon Shinn, Ilona Andrews, and Nalini Singh

angels of darkness anthology

“Ascension”

When vampires begin disappearing from a community protected by Guardian Marc Revoire, the world-weary warrior doesn’t know whether he’s hunting a demon or one of the bloodthirsty nosferatu — but he’d rather face either of those monsters than accept help from Radha, the irreverent, blue-skinned, and oft-naked Guardian who’d once loved him and left him. He won’t be able to persuade her to leave this time, however, because lighthearted Radha is on a deadly serious mission of her own: not just to help Marc save the community…but to save him.



READ AN EXCERPT

From Chapter 1.
Edited to remove spoilers for DEMON MARKED.

One hundred and fifty years of combined training and hunting demons had taught Marc to listen to his instincts, and right now they were telling him that something had just changed. Something he was seeing, hearing, or smelling wasn’t as it should be, but his brain hadn’t figured out what his senses had already noted.

Tense now, expectant, he cocked his head. No unusual scents floated on the air. He could account for every footstep he heard, every voice, every heartbeat. He glanced up at the roof, the school windows, scanned the parking lot again. Everything appeared all right, no one moving too fast and everyone breathing, unlike a demon who might have forgotten himself. His gaze skimmed the snow, slipping over the drifts, and stopped.

The play of darkness and light was wrong. Cloud-diffused sunlight cast a faint, long shadow of the school building over the parking lot, but long edge didn’t match the straight lines of the roof. Marc looked up.

No one. But now he saw the depression in the snow at the roof’s edge, as if someone had recently crouched there. Perhaps he’d heard the snow crunch—and even as he watched, the depression deepened slightly, as if beneath someone’s shifting weight.

As if someone was still crouching there. Tricky as demons were, they didn’t possess any powers of invisibility, and Marc only knew of one person who could project such a powerful illusion.

Though that person was also a Guardian, his tension didn’t ease. Of the few people in the world who might seek him out, Radha was the last woman he expected to see.

Of course, he wasn’t seeing her yet.

“Your shadow,” he said quietly.

A frozen puff of air betrayed her exasperated huff of breath. When he’d known her, Radha had been frustrated by any holes in her illusions, had constantly striven for perfection. Apparently, those small mistakes still irritated her.

Marc knew that if he turned to look now, those shadows would appear exactly as they should. He continued to watch the roof, instead. “And you breathed. If I wanted to shoot your head, I’d know exactly where to aim.”

“Now you’re just rubbing it in,” she said, and the illusion concealing her dropped away, revealing her narrowed brown eyes, her wry smile.

He should have looked the other way. He should have given himself that break. But it would have only been delaying the inevitable punch to his chest, the sensation of staggering while standing in place. It didn’t matter when he saw her, or how often—which wasn’t often. A few minutes every few years. Never speaking with her, only hearing the lilt in her voice from afar, a lilt that bespoke of English learned over two centuries ago and half a world away.

But she was here now, rising from her crouch at the edge of the roof. Thick black hair tumbled to her waist. The long, curling strands and a few wisps of orange silk formed a scanty covering for her breasts. Scarves knotted at her left hip flirted with her inner thighs, hinting at but never revealing anything other than smooth expanses of skin that she’d dyed indigo.

Behind her, white feathered wings arched over her head. She must have still been concealing herself from everyone else. Even apathetic kids would stop and stare at an almost-nude blue woman with wings standing atop a school building.

He couldn’t stop staring, either. Couldn’t stop remembering that he’d once unwrapped those scarves. That he’d buried his hands in that impossibly thick hair before burying himself in her body.

She’d left without a word the next day. When he’d tried to discover why, the door he’d knocked on remained closed. The note he’d sent returned unopened.

He hadn’t tried again. He’d been young, and damn stupid in those days, her message had been unmistakable: Leave me alone.

So he had. And afterward, he’d realized that Radha hadn’t been the woman who’d gotten away, but the one who should have never been his in the first place. Friends, yes. During those early years of training in Caelum, she’d been a companion that he’d valued and trusted, until he’d given into lust that he never should have felt. That had been the end. A friendship ruined, and Marc had never been certain whether he’d been blessed for simply having known her, or cursed for having lost her.

But he’d done his best to put his feelings away after she’d put him aside, and Radha hadn’t spoken to him in almost a hundred and forty years.

Yet now she sought him? Not without reason—and that reason likely had nothing to do with him or one awkward sexual experience when he’d been an overeager virgin.

Spreading her wings, Radha stepped from the roof. She gently glided to his side and landed soundlessly. God, she hadn’t been this close to him in so long. He’d almost forgotten how small she was, the top of her head only reaching his shoulder, a waist small enough to span with his hands.

A thin gold chain circled her bare belly instead, with a ruby pendant filling her navel. More gold ringed her slim fingers, and capped the tip of her right forefinger in a sharp golden claw.

Her gaze lifted to his. Flecks of gold lightened the brown of her eyes, and outshone the rows of gold loops in her ears, the small diamond stud piercing her nose.

“Hello, Marc.”

“Radha.” Putting her aside had also taught him to put everything else away, to focus. “Has something happened?”

“To whom?”

“To anyone that would explain why you’re here. Do you have news from Caelum?”

“Oh, I see. You think that someone else has died, or is trapped in Hell, or Caelum has been swallowed by the sea.” Smiling slightly, Radha shook her head. A darker blue than her skin, her lips glistened as if she’d slicked gloss over them. Nothing fragranced, of course. Nothing that might give her presence away to a demon, nothing that would give her an odor to conceal. “No one has been hurt, and nothing has happened. I am taking a holiday.”

Bullshit. “In southern Illinois?”

“Oh, you say that as if there is nothing to be done or seen here. You cannot convince me of that, not when this area has been part of your territory for five decades and you have been living here happily for all of it.”

Marc didn’t know about happily. He’d had a job. He’d done it. “For a vacation, the Midwest doesn’t have anything like your territory does.”

Nothing at all like the beaches of Southeast Asia or the mountains of Nepal—or the cities in between.

“That is why I am here. It is not the same at all.” Her gaze swept the parking lot. “Look at them. Each with their own vehicle, well-fed, clothed.”

“If you’re hoping to escape to a place without any poverty, it won’t be here.” And Riverbend was well off, compared to other nearby towns. No open sewers, maybe, but plenty of people were having a rough time.

And it made the demon’s job easier.

“That is not what I’m trying to say.” With a hint of censure in her voice, she looked to him again. “I have sensed more happiness from those living in slums than I do at this school. Why is that?”

Radha had been a Guardian longer than Marc had—and long enough to know very well why this town felt like this. Was she trying to deflect his questions about this vacation nonsense? He knew she wasn’t here for the demon.

“What’s going on, Radha? Are you in trouble?”

“If I was, would I need to come to you?”

No, and that was the damn point. He couldn’t figure out why she’d come. As a warrior with half a century more experience than Marc, her skills probably exceeded his. With her ability to create illusions, she possessed one of the most powerful Gifts of any Guardian. Marc’s own Gift allowed him to haul dirt and stone around, but unless she’d lost something in the mud, there was little he could do that she couldn’t do herself.

Not that he’d send her packing. “I hope you know that if you did come to me, I’d do whatever I could to help.”

Her lips flattened. She looked away from him before she replied, “Is that so? Thanks so much.”

Her doubt struck like a slap. What the hell? Marc stared at her profile, at the sudden rigidity of her posture. She truly didn’t know that? Didn’t believe it?

Did she think he harbored ill-will toward her for leaving him one hundred and forty years ago? What kind of men did she know that held a grudge that long? Hell, he hadn’t held a grudge at all. He’d understood that he simply hadn’t been what she’d needed—and damn him if he didn’t agree with her. He sure as hell hadn’t expected her to seek him out now.

He could only think of one reason for it: another Guardian had told Radha that there’d been a threat to his life. Whatever her feelings toward him, whatever doubts, she was a Guardian first.

“Did Khavi use her Gift and foresee something happening to me? Something that you need to stop?”

“No.”

“She had a vision of something happening to you, then.”

Radha slanted him a sideways glance. “Marc.”

He knew that look, that tone. It meant Don’t say stupid things. When they’d been friends, she’d given him that look rather often.

They weren’t friends now, yet she’d still come. With no threat behind it, that left one possibility: she was running from something. Maybe not something dangerous, not something she could fight, but something that had sent her to the least likely place anyone would come looking. Hiding, for some reason.

He’d help her hide, then. If whatever she was running from caught up to her, he’d protect her, give her anything she needed. He’d look over her until she left again.

“All right,” he said. “You’re on vacation.”

He expected a dazzling grin in response, the one Radha always gave when she got her way. He only got a long, considering look followed by a slow nod, and that hit him harder than her doubt had.

What the hell had he done that laughing, dancing, singing Radha responded to him with such wary reserve?