Angels' Blood

By: Nalini Singh

“What? Oh.” Pulling out a twenty-dollar note, she bent down and crushed it into the cabbie’s hand. “Keep the change.”

His scowl turned into a grin. “Thanks! What, you got a big hunt coming on?”

Elena didn’t ask how he’d pegged her for a hunter. “No. But I do have a high chance of meeting a horrible death within the next few hours. Might as well do something good and up my shot at getting into heaven.”

The cabbie thought she was a riot. He was still laughing as he drove off, leaving her standing on the very edge of the wide path that led up to the Tower entrance. The unusually bright morning sunlight glared off the white stone of the path, sharp enough to cut. Pulling off her shades from where she’d hung them—in the vee of her shirt—she placed them gratefully over her tired, sleep-deprived eyes. Now that she was no longer in danger of being blinded, she saw the shadows she’d missed earlier. Of course she’d known they were there—sight wasn’t her primary sense when it came to vampires.

Several of them stood along the sides of the Tower but there were at least ten others hidden or walking around in the well-cared-for shrubbery outside. All were dressed in dark suits teamed with white shirts, their hair cut in the sleek, perfect lines patented by FBI agents. Black shades and discreet earpieces finished off the secret-agent effect.

But internal commentary aside, Elena knew these vampires were nothing like the one she’d tagged last night. These guys had been around a long time. Their intense scent—dark but not unpleasant—when added to the fact that they were guarding Archangel Tower, told her they were both smart and extremely dangerous. As she watched, two of them moved out of the shrubbery and into the path of direct sunlight.

Neither burst into flames.

Such a violent reaction to sunlight—another myth embraced by the moviemakers—would have made her job a heck of a lot easier. All she’d have had to do was wait until they went down for the count. But no, most vampires were perfectly capable of walking around twenty-four hours a day. The few that suffered from light sensitivity still didn’t “die” when the sun came up. They simply found shade. “And you’re procrastinating—soon you’ll be composing an ode to the gardens,” she muttered under her breath. “You’re a professional. You’re the best. You can do this.”

Taking a deep breath and trying not to think about the angels she knew were flying overhead, she began walking toward the entrance. Nobody paid her any overt attention, but when she finally reached the door, the vampire on duty bowed his head in a small nod and opened it for her. “Straight through to the reception desk.”

Elena blinked and removed her sunglasses. “Don’t you want to check my ID?”

“You’re expected.”

The doorvamp’s insidiously seductive scent—an unusual trait thought to be an evolutionary adaptation against the hunters’ tracking abilities—swirled around her in a sinister caress as she thanked him and walked through.

The air-conditioned lobby was a seemingly endless space dominated by deep gray marble shot through with discreet veins of gold. As an example of wealth, good taste, and subtle intimidation, it took first prize. She was suddenly very glad she’d traded in her usual jeans and T-shirt combo for a pair of tailored black pants and a crisp white shirt. She’d even tamed her slithery hair into a French twist and stuffed her feet into high heels.

Those heels hit the marble with sharp businesslike sounds as she crossed the lobby. As she walked, she noted everything around her, from the number of vampire guards, to the exquisite—though slightly odd—flower arrangements, to the fact that the receptionist was a very, very, very old vampire . . . with the face and body of a well-maintained thirty-year-old.

“Ms. Deveraux, I’m Suhani.” The receptionist rose with a smile and walked out from behind her curving desk. It, too, was stone, but of a jet so well polished, it reflected everything with mirror perfection. “I’m so pleased to meet you.”

Elena shook the woman’s hand, sensing the flow of fresh blood, the beat of a racing heart. It was on the tip of her tongue to ask Suhani who it was that she’d breakfasted on—the blood was unusually potent—but she caught the impulse before it could get her into trouble. “Thank you.”

Suhani smiled and, to Elena’s eyes, it was a smile filled with old knowledge, with centuries of experience. “You must’ve made good time.” She glanced at her watch. “It’s only seven forty-five.”

“The traffic was light.” And she hadn’t wanted to start this meeting out on the wrong foot. “Am I too early?”

“No. He’s waiting for you.” The smile faded, to be replaced by a slightly disappointed expression. “I thought you’d be . . . scarier.”

“Don’t tell me you watch Hunter’s Prey?” The disgusted comment was out before she could stop it.

Suhani gave her a disconcertingly human grin. “Guilty, I’m afraid. The show is just so entertaining. And S. R. Stoker—the producer—is a former vampire hunter.”