Home > Archangel's Viper (Guild Hunter #10)(9)

Archangel's Viper (Guild Hunter #10)(9)
Author: Nalini Singh

In her hands, she held a clutch.

And on her feet were four-inch black stilettos that brought her closer to his height.

When he reached her position and she deigned to glance at him, he saw that her makeup was both subtle and masterful. She’d loved fashion once, he remembered. As he’d once loved working with the textures and flavors of food.

“I see you did grow up a little in my absence, kitty.” He’d witnessed her increased control over her abilities from a distance—but seeing her like this, so totally a woman who had now lived twenty-seven years on this earth, he realized she’d changed in deeper ways than he’d understood.

“Why do you think I care about your opinion?” she asked in a politely reasonable tone that held just the right amount of perplexed bemusement.

Venom laughed, delighted with her—though he’d never allow her to guess that. Holly had always challenged him in a way that ignited his instincts, and she did it with a cutting intelligence that spoke to his own. It appeared her increased control over her temper had only honed the razor edge of her wit. “Let’s go have dinner.”

She didn’t take his offered arm, instead giving his hand-tailored suit of darkest brown and crisp white shirt a slow and critical once-over. On his way up to the roof, he’d been subtly invited to bed sport by four vampires and two angels, one of whom had run her hand down the lapel of his impeccably fitted jacket and murmured that he looked “good enough to eat.”

Holly sighed. “I see the shares in Cheap Suits Co. are paying off.”

“It did seem a wise investment.”

Her eyes sparked laughing green fire at him before she spun on her heel and strode to the elevator, the back of her dress hugging the tight curves of her body. “Keep up, old man.”

Venom felt the urge to bite her. Of course, she’d probably bite back harder. Walking into the elevator by her side, he rode down with her in silence. It was prickly, of course. It always was—as if the strangeness that lived in them both was irritated by the proximity. Just to see if contact would further the prickles, he touched the curve of her lower back as they stepped out of the elevator.

“Do you want me to break your wrist?” she asked with acerbic politeness.

“You’re being very reasonable today.” He did drop his hand, but only because he had to slide on his sunglasses. After three hundred and fifty years, Venom was well accustomed to using his looks to distract or to cause fear or to charm.

It turned out women liked the eyes if he gave them a certain look.

However, he didn’t particularly enjoy dealing with horrified gapes. It reminded him too much of the most painful day of his existence, when he’d seen the same expression on the faces of those who meant more to him than his own life. Oddly, Holly had never given him that gape. Instead, she’d told him that if he left his fancy contacts in too long, his eyes would rot and fall out. Venom had known from that instant that the girl everyone thought broken would survive.

“I’m hoping it’ll rub off,” she said after they exited the Tower. “That you’ll learn a few manners.”

Venom had come from Neha’s court, had been one of her favorites because of his smooth manners and charm. With Holly, however, he reacted from a more primal place. “Here,” he said, opening the passenger door of his low-slung car. “A lady should go first.”

“Oh, sir, how gallant of you.” With that breathy statement worthy of an ingénue, Holly got in and crossed her legs, her purse in her lap.

Lips curved, Venom shut the door and got into the driver’s seat. “Put on your seat belt.” Vampires were near-immortal, but losing the head would finish them both off. And Holly wasn’t quite a vampire. Like another one of the Seven, Naasir, Holly was unique. Neither one thing or the other. But while Naasir was at peace with his dual nature, Holly either ignored it or fought it.

“Of course,” she said. “Safety first.” She put on her seat belt with exaggerated care. “So nice of you to care.”

“I always care for the kitties I babysit.”

A rumbling sound from the passenger seat before Holly strangled the feral emanation.

Venom shot her a glance. “What was that?” he asked in genuine curiosity. “You sounded more like Naasir than anything else.”

“It was human irritation,” she muttered.

No, it hadn’t been.

Venom thought back to what he knew of Uram’s archangelic abilities and what the insane immortal might’ve passed on to Holly. Most vampires didn’t receive anything but near-immortality as a result of the Making process, but there were rare exceptions: Venom was the way he was because Neha was the Queen of Poisons, of Snakes.

Uram had had no such reputation or inclination. And, since he’d died at the dawn of the Cascade that had awakened new abilities in all the living archangels, there was no way to know the inheritance he’d left to Holly when he’d forced her to ingest his blood.

Venom frowned. Was it possible Holly was directly feeling the power-birthing or boosting effects of the Cascade? It was meant to affect only archangels and a limited number of the most powerful angels, but Holly’s Making had been unusual in every possible way. Maybe Uram had left such a strong imprint on her cells that she was catching the edge of the Cascade.

Normally, he’d ask Raphael these questions, but the archangel he chose to call sire was in Morocco for a meeting of the Cadre, the archangels who ruled the world.

Even had Raphael been here, he might not have had the answer. Because while Uram and Raphael had been friends once, they hadn’t been close in all the years Venom had chosen to serve Raphael. The person who’d been most intimate with Uram during that time, and the one who’d know of any nascent abilities Uram might’ve developed, was the Archangel Michaela.

Who was also in Morocco—and who’d lie to Venom’s face just for amusement.

Then there was the fact that Uram’s blood had gone toxic. A toxin powerful enough to drive an archangel insane would’ve undoubtedly mutated whatever power it was that would’ve been Uram’s in the Cascade . . . echoes of which now lived in Holly.

“Have you taken a vow of silence?” Holly’s voice was sugar sweet. “Were you in a monastery while you were gone?”

“Yes, a monastery that permitted external calls to kitties in need of training.” He took the George Washington Bridge across to the cliffs of the Enclave, where Janvier and Ashwini made their home. The exclusive area full of angelic residences boasted such stratospheric price tags—and such limited availability—that usually only old or extremely powerful angels could afford it, but Janvier had been given a small property a hundred years earlier by an angel for whom he’d retrieved an object of great value.

“If I’m a kitty,” Holly said in that same honeyed tone, “what does that make you? Hmm.” A snap of her fingers. “Oh, I have it! Woof, woof! All slobbery tongue and drool.”

“That tongue is quite in demand,” Venom said mildly because he knew that would annoy her and annoying Holly was high on his favorite-things-to-do list. “Not that little Hollyberries know about such things,” he added in a lazy purr of sound.

“Ah, such innocence you have.” Holly crossed her legs the other way.

The long slit of her dress opened to expose a creamy swath of skin that made his fingers curl tight on the steering wheel.

Venom glanced away with an inward scowl. Holly might have grown up, but she was still only twenty-seven years of age and marked by horrific trauma. Unlike Venom, she hadn’t chosen to embrace the immortal world with all its beauty and its darkness. It had been forced on her.

She was the last woman he’d ever see as a partner for bed sport.

“There’s the turn,” she said at that instant, her voice back to polite and reasonable.

It made him want to irritate her just to get a rise. He knew full well this wasn’t the real Holly Chang. The real Holly Chang was a complex and intense creature, sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet, and always dangerous. “Does it hurt to bite your tongue so hard?” he asked with faux concern.

Holly didn’t miss a beat. “I’m in a car with you—I clearly have a high pain threshold,” she said as he brought the viper green Bugatti Chiron to a stop in Ashwini and Janvier’s drive.

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