Home > Archangel's Viper (Guild Hunter #10)

Archangel's Viper (Guild Hunter #10)
Author: Nalini Singh

Birth

She pushed with a silent scream and it was born, the child that shouldn’t exist and that she would love with all her being. But when she opened her arms for that longed-for child, she saw that the healer hadn’t picked up the babe from the bed, was instead backing off toward the door.

Fury a savage storm through her, she sat up to rescue her helpless child . . . and saw.

1

Holly hugged her sister good-bye one final time, her heart aching. “Shoo,” she said when Mia hesitated at the entrance to the security line. “You’ll be late for your flight if you don’t get going.”

Mia sank her teeth into the fullness of her lower lip, her chin-length bob gleaming obsidian under the white fluorescent lighting inside the terminal building. “I miss home already.”

“You’ll be fine.” Though Holly was going to miss her elder sister—and best friend—desperately, she took Mia’s face in her hands, met eyes as brown as hers had once been, and said, “You’re the smartest person I’ve ever known. You’ll knock this out of the park.” Her newly minted doctor sister had been offered a prestigious residency at Massachusetts General in Boston.

“I’ll be so far from everyone.”

Holly didn’t point out that her sister’s new base of operation was only a few hours’ drive from New York, less at the speeds Holly liked driving. She knew what it was to be homesick. She’d felt that way in the vibrant city her family called home when she’d isolated herself from them for several long months in the aftermath of the attack that had changed her into a being who wasn’t human, but who wasn’t vampire, either.

Thankfully, she’d gotten over that stupidity—and her family loved her enough to forgive her. Of course, her mother reminded her of it every chance she got, but that was par for the course. Daphne Chang also reminded Holly of the time she’d snuck out of the house at seventeen, only to have to call home for help after her asshole date abandoned her on a dark street in Queens.

Holly still had to keep some secrets from her parents, her younger brothers, and Mia, but those secrets were for their protection: mortals didn’t need to know about a bloodborn archangel. As far as Holly’s parents and siblings were concerned, it was a deranged mortal who’d abducted her friends and her, and who’d infected her with a dangerous virus. An angel had saved her by attempting to turn her into a vampire, but the transition hadn’t gone smoothly because of the virus in her blood.

They had no reason not to believe the story.

“I’ll drive up and see you anytime you feel alone,” she said to Mia, this sister of hers who’d loved her with unflinching stubbornness even when Holly didn’t—couldn’t—love herself. “Just call.”

“I love you, Hollster.” Another crushing hug, Mia’s body a sweep of soft, womanly curves.

Holly, in contrast, was still hoping her breasts would grow a little bigger if she wished hard enough. In the silverlining department, at least she didn’t have to waste money on bras. “Love you more, Mimi,” she said through a throat that had gone thick. Not because Mia was heading off on a new adventure, but because Holly was horrifyingly aware of how life could change without warning, how a person could be laughing and living one instant and, in the next, be a bloodsoaked corpse.

She had a serious psychological problem letting those she loved out of her sight. Which was why she forced herself to release Mia; she wasn’t about to steal Mia’s dreams because of her own nightmares. “Go.” Putting her hands on the soft gray of Mia’s cardigan, she gave her sister a little push.

“I’m gonna hold you to your promise!” Mia called over her shoulder as she finally tugged her little roll-onboard case in between the ropes that led to the screening area.

That area was visible through the glass, so Holly stood and watched until Mia made it through—all the while fighting her impulse to jump the barriers and wrench her sister back to where Holly could watch over her, protect her. Smiling a little nervously, Holly’s eldest sibling waved one last time from the other side, and then she was gone, lost in the stream of travelers heading out of a city Holly loved and hated in equal measure.

Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way!

“Ashwini, I swear to God . . .” Holly muttered as she scrambled for her phone.

That was not the ringtone she’d programmed.

Managing to cut off the annoyingly cheerful chipmunk singing at last, she put the phone to her ear as she headed out of the terminal. “Tell your wife I’m going to murder her the next time I see her.”

Janvier laughed, as if threats against his beloved Ashwini weren’t the least unusual. “You are still at the airport, Hollyberry?” he drawled in that lazy Cajun accent of his that fooled the unwary into thinking he wasn’t paying attention to the world.

“Cut that out.” It came out a snarled order. “And add Viper Face to the list of my future murder victims.” Venom had given her that ridiculous nickname after she insisted on being addressed as Sorrow. The latter name had fit her at the time, but looking back, she could see she’d been acting a little dramatic.

So sue her. She’d been kidnapped and brutalized by a violently powerful and deeply insane archangel, her life suddenly a miasma of terror and blinding grief. She’d been only twenty-three at the time—and she’d had soul-shredding nightmares night after night. Waking to find herself curled up in a silent, fear-drenched ball on the floor of her closet had become a daily occurrence. As if her subconscious believed that the red-eyed monster wouldn’t find her there.

He did, of course.

Always.

Because he lived in Holly’s tainted blood.

She was allowed a few dramatics.

And it wasn’t as if Venom could talk. “Yes,” she muttered. “I’m at the airport. Just about to head back to Manhattan.”

“I need you to do a pickup at the private airfield.”

Holly froze midstep. “Oh, hell no.” She knew exactly who was flying back into New York today. “That’s your job.”

“Alas, I am stuck in traffic,” Janvier said. “A truck spilled chickens all over the road in front of me.”

“Ha ha. I’m hanging up now.”

“But this is no laughing matter, ’tite Hollyberry,” was the aggravating response, followed by the sound of a window being lowered. Indignant chicken squawks filled the line seconds later. “See? Janvier does not lie. I am surrounded by frustrated drivers on every side, with no way out, but you are only ten minutes away. Do the pickup.”

“Is that an order?” Janvier and Ashwini were Holly’s official bosses as of seven months ago, when the entire team in charge of her training—and sanity—had pronounced that she’d gained sufficient and stable control over the twisted, poisonous power that marked her as the Archangel Uram’s creation.

Pride curled her toes at the memory of that day—Holly tried to focus on the trust the team was showing in her, not on how she remained on a leash nonetheless. Thanks to Ash’s and Janvier’s willingness to utilize her ability to make friends with those who lived in the shadows, she was now part of the small but efficient team that kept an eye on the murky gray underground of New York, a place far from the power-drenched environs of Archangel Tower.

Before her life broke apart in a spray of blood and fear and anguish, Holly hadn’t known there was a hierarchy in the immortal world. She’d seen the angels who soared high above the skyscrapers and the vampires who stalked the streets as all the same: dangerously strong and hauntingly beautiful. These days, she knew two-hundred-year-old vamps who were homeless addicts with less to their name than Holly, and understood that when a being lived too long, he or she could forget any concept of humanity or empathy.

For many, torture and sex alone, often entwined, held any pleasure.

“Oui,” Janvier said in reply to her edgy question. “It is an order. See, I am acting bosslike.”

Holly’s lips twitched despite herself. “Fine, I’ll go pick up Poison.”

“Play nice—no putting a cunja on him.”

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