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Thinking of her son, she glanced down at the letter again. He’d be proud of her if she did this, proud of her for having the strength and the courage. And so she would. She’d let him down for far too long. It was time Illium had reason to call her his mother with pride.

The last of the sun’s rays caressing her wings, she crossed the rooftop to enter the building. She then made her way to the well-appointed room shiny with technology she didn’t fully comprehend.

However, she’d learned the usefulness of such things in the time since she’d stepped fully out of the kaleidoscope. Now she asked one of her loyal people to put through a call to Raphael.

She took that call in the privacy of the office suite that was her own. An aged white desk with curved legs, soft fabrics on her furnishings, fresh flowers, paintings on the walls, this was a far gentler room than the one that appeared on the wall screen in front of her.

Raphael’s office leaned more toward glass and steel, akin to his city. She could see none of Manhattan’s glittering lights in view around him, but what she did see were the shelves that held unique treasures—including a feather of purest blue that struck a pang of need in her heart.

“Lady Sharine.”

“You look tired, Raphael.” Lines of strain, knotted shoulder muscles, faint shadows under the striking blue of his eyes. So many times she’d painted that blue—first in an attempt to capture the eyes of the archangel who was her closest friend, then the eyes of Caliane’s son—always it took her an eternity to get the color just right.

Crushed sapphires, molten cobalt, the mountain sky at noon, all this and more lived in Raphael’s and in Caliane’s eyes.

As an artist, the color was one of her greatest challenges and greatest joys.

He thrust a hand through his hair. “It’ll be a long journey for all of us before we can rest.”

Sharine felt the urge to mother him; she wasn’t certain that urge would ever pass. He’d been but a youth when Caliane walked the path of madness, and though Sharine was a fragile creature even then, the spiderweb cracks growing year by year, she’d been there. After finding his broken body on a field far from civilization, she’d covered him in the shade of her wings and she’d brushed his tangled hair back from his face, and she’d held him.

Such a determined youth he’d been, but so very wounded inside.

To see him now, strong and vibrant and loved fiercely by a woman who was everything Sharine could’ve ever wanted for him had she the imagination to consider that someone like Raphael’s consort could exist, it made her heart bloom, made her believe in happiness and in changing your destiny.

Caliane had never told her son, but at Raphael’s birth, some of the bitter old ones had whispered that this was a child bound for lunacy and decay, that his mother was an Ancient far too long in the tooth. So strange, that such a prejudice could exist in a race of immortals, but there were always those who looked for the darkness in everything.

Those same ones had whispered that Sharine was the harbinger of death.

Caliane’s boy had quieted them all. He was a shining embodiment of the best of them, a critical reason why the world wasn’t today drowning in blood and death. Not the only reason, however. “Where is Elena?” Her fingers curled into her palm at the memory of the knives she’d held under Elena’s tutelage.

“In the park with her best friend, Sara, and Sara’s child,” Raphael said, his face lighting up in a way it never did for anyone else. “We decided that we could all do with an hour away from the grim task of getting the city to rights. It shatters the spirit, to see our home in ruins.”

Sharine could not imagine the devastation of seeing a cherished city broken and burned, but one thing she knew—Raphael’s city was a place with a brave heart. It would rise again, gleaming towers of metal and glass that touched the sky, its rivers clean of the debris and gore of battle, and the scorched land rejuvenated.

“What will you do with your hour, my boy?” she said, itching to push a wayward strand of hair away from his eye.

A sudden, dazzling smile. “I’m going flying with Illium. We plan to meet Jason as he flies home.”

“I’m surprised that you even know he is in the vicinity. Your spymaster is wont to slip in and out of cities like smoke.” She knew very well that Jason had been near Lumia in the months prior to the war, but she’d only discovered that after the fact.

The Cadre trusted her, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t under watch. A decision with which she had no argument. No one had watched the one before her, and evil had thrived. Simply because she had no intention of doing the same didn’t mean the next person to have this responsibility would be as trustworthy.

Raphael laughed, making her smile, it reminded her so of his gleeful childhood laughter as he all but bathed in paints. “I’m of the opinion that Jason allowed himself to be seen. He knows we worry about him when he is beyond our help—and so, sometimes, he throws us a bone.”

Shaking her head at these games of the young, Sharine said, “I’ve received your letter.”

Astonishing blue eyes holding her own, laughter yet lingering in them. But his words when they came were of an archangel. “What do you say to our request, Lady Sharine?”

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From Spoiler(cliquez pour révéler)Today, however, her body had awakened with a vengeance, sexual need punching through her hard and brutal. For Titus, a man even more beautiful than Aegaeon. Though she still didn’t understand the superlatives about his charm. Titus was too blunt a hammer.

A fact he demonstrated to good effect when he said, “Are you wearing anything under that tunic? If you are, I suggest getting rid of the tunic. Reborn fluids tend to be disgusting in the extreme even when they dry—they grow black mold.”

Sharine hesitated; she was wearing a garment Tanicia had called a singlet. Soft and shaped to Sharine’s body, the white item held her average-size breasts in place, the wing slits closed with small enclosures. But never in her life had she worn anything so revealing as outerwear.

She shifted on her feet . . . and got a whiff of her own odor.

Stomach threatening to turn itself inside out, she reached back to undo the wing slits on her tunic, then pulled the garment over her head and threw it into the flames. “I liked that tunic,” she muttered. “Now I only have one. My entire wardrobe in your stronghold is filled with dresses and gowns.” She scowled at him, careful to keep her eyes strictly to his face.

His square-jawed and rough-edged and altogether-too-handsome face.

“Don’t talk to me of gowns and clothing,” he grumbled. “I’m a warrior, not your dresser.”

“And how do your clothes appear, my lord Archangel? By magic?”

He threw back his head and roared to the sky, his shoulders bunched and his hands clenched as hard as his jaw. The sound was thunder that made the birds take flight from the trees and her own bones vibrate . . . but not in fear.

Holding her ground, her heart pounding, she met his gaze without flinching.

“I respect my people.” His eyes flashed. “That means I leave them to their duties. My steward should be able to point you to the right person.”

“Thank you for your kindness in sharing that information,” she said, not sure why she was taking such pleasure in antagonizing him—never in all her existence had she behaved this way; it was oddly exhilarating. “I’m sure I wouldn’t have figured that out for myself.”

Titus stared at her, just stared at her. “Tell me the truth—have you taken up drinking some concoction that turns a sane woman into a shrew?” It was a solemn question and maybe that was why the meaning of it took a moment to penetrate.

She bared her teeth at him, feeling . . . free. For so many years, she’d been caged. Caged inside her parents’ rules, then her own fears, then inside her broken mind. For the first time since she’d begun to store memories, she didn’t—what was that statement she’d heard one of the young townswomen say?—yes, that was it: she did not give a crap. And it was glorious.

“Men who call strong women shrews,” she said in a tone formed of sugar syrup and molasses, “are often men scared of a woman’s strength.”

“My mother,” he enunciated with care, “was First General to an archangel. I was born with a respect for female strength.”

“If you say so.” She brushed imaginary dirt off her arms, then walked around to the other side of the bonfire. “I’ll keep an eye on this side.”

Through the curtain of flame, he was a big and powerful and infuriated man standing with his hands on his hips and his chest bare. His eyes pinned her to the spot as the fire began to die down—or they made the attempt in any case, his eyebrows drawn together in a glower.

Sharine smiled at him. She felt zero fear. All her life, she’d been afraid in one way or the other, but it was as if she’d gone through a fire of her own and come out reborn. On the other hand, the latter wasn’t the best choice of word, especially with her skin hot from the heat of a fire built to turn the reborn to ash.

Shedding of the skin, remaking, resurrection, they were all just words. What mattered was that she was becoming someone new, a woman she’d always had the potential to be—an angel of whom her son could be proud . . . and an angel who could look herself in the mirror and smile.

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Three thousand five hundred years ago . . .

Sire, I have borne a son, strong and with such a voice to him that he keeps the entire Refuge awake! He will not flinch from anyone, this child of mine.

My eldest says that he has my eyes and my temper. The twins already believe he will follow their warrior ways, while Euphenia is the only one who can get him to sleep when he is determined to stay awake and roar out his battle cry.

His father is in astonishment at having helped create such a child. I tell him it will pass, and he will be a good father. He has a patience I lack—but this boy of mine will not be afeared of even his mother, this I know.

I will name him Titus.

Letter from First General Avelina to Archangel Alexander

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