Taking a deep, shuddering breath, Andromeda was attempting to focus on the manuscript again in an effort to find stable ground, when the hairs rose on the back of her neck. All at once, she wished she didn’t have her hair in a braid, that her nape wasn’t so open, so vulnerable.
Throat dry, she turned in wary quiet, reaching at the same time for the razor-sharp blade strapped to her thigh and accessible through a hole in the pocket of her gauzy raspberry-colored gown. When she saw it was only Jessamy heading toward her, she began to smile . . . then realized her mentor wasn’t alone.
There was a shadow next to her.
A shadow with silver eyes that watched Andromeda without blinking.
Every hair on her body stood up this time, or that’s what it felt like. She knew who he was—everyone knew Naasir, though like her, most had no idea of his origins or nature. He was one of a kind. Skin of a warm, deep brown that held golden undertones and that invited a caressing touch, eyes of silver and hair the same shade. Silver, not gray. It was as if his hair and his eyes had been formed out of the metal and polished to a high shine.
He stood out, made you remember him.
Of course, she’d never before been so close to him. Naasir had passed through the Refuge many times in the three and a quarter centuries she’d lived here, but Andromeda had ensured they never met. At first, she’d been too young and too determined to succeed at her studies to worry about anyone of the male sex. But later . . . Naasir incited things inside her that weren’t right for a woman who had taken a vow of celibacy, made the out-of-control animal within want to come out.
That didn’t mean she hadn’t watched him from afar.
He moved like a jungle cat, fed on blood and yet ate meat, had eyes that saw through the darkness, and seduced mortals and immortals alike with ease. Andromeda might not have ever surrendered to the same primal urges, but she understood that he was unique in his ability to entrance so many. Add in his feral beauty, so compelling and hypnotic, as well as the potent depth of his power, and he was a threat on many levels.
“Andromeda.” Jessamy tilted her head a touch to the side. “Is everything all right?”
Realizing she’d been standing frozen in place as she watched the vampire who wasn’t a vampire walk toward her, she forced her stiff muscles to move. “Yes, of course,” she managed to get out. “Just lost in thought.”
Jessamy took her words at face value, her concern segueing into an affectionate smile as she touched her fingers to Naasir’s arm. “I wanted to introduce Naasir to you before dinner. You’ll eat with us?”
Heart pounding as if she’d flown a hard physical race, Andromeda went to say that she’d rather be alone so she could finish her last-minute research, when Naasir moved. He was less than an inch from her before she knew what was happening. Nostrils flaring and that impossible silver hair sliding forward over his luscious skin, he lowered his face to her throat.
Her blood roared to that pulse point even as her hand closed over the hilt of the blade.
Naasir drew in a long, deep breath and felt his mouth water. She smelled right, smelled like his mate should smell. He wasn’t sure she was his mate yet, especially since she was so small and had such big, scared eyes, but he knew he wanted to lick her, taste her, bite her.
About to nuzzle at her, he heard Jessamy’s voice. “Naasir.”
Realizing he’d done something uncivilized in his excitement, he forced himself to step back, but he couldn’t stop looking at the delicious-smelling angel. She had skin like honey. He liked honey. He had a feeling he’d like licking her skin just as much. Her eyes were a translucent brown with a bright golden starburst around the pupil.
Her wings, from what he could see of them, were a rich shade close to the dark chocolate Honor liked to eat.
And her hair, it was a thick, silky-looking golden brown. It was in a braid right now, but he could tell it would be curly if let out; he already had plans to undo the braid so he could play with it. Of course, first he’d have to convince her he wasn’t planning to eat her. “Hello,” he said, on his best behavior now. “I just wanted to smell you.”
“Oh.” Lines between her eyebrows, the tone of her voice making him want to close his eyes and just listen. “Do you sniff everyone you meet?”
Smiling inside at the curiosity she couldn’t quite hide, he said, “No.” He drew in her scent again, careful to make it appear he was simply breathing. “Only women.”
“I’m hunting my mate.”
A sudden, dazzling smile, all her fear erased in a single heartbeat. “I suppose that makes sense.” Then she turned to Jessamy, as if everything was explained. As the two women spoke, he stood there confused. Nothing was explained. She smelled right, smelled delicious. He wanted to taste her.
Why didn’t she consider him a threat any longer?
Vow of celibacy.
He scowled at the reminder. Just because she’d taken a vow didn’t mean he was no threat. Only . . . He bit back a satisfied smile. The delicious-smelling angel thought she was safe so she’d probably allow him close to her, close enough that he could determine if she was or wasn’t his mate.
In truth, enticing though she was, he couldn’t see how she could be his—she looked very breakable and soft, but he wasn’t about to give up without determining the truth. Perhaps he was meant to have a breakable mate, though that seemed ridiculous to him.
Or perhaps she was hiding her real self.
The idea his maybe-mate might have a secret side fascinated him.
Two hours after the dinner, Naasir shoved out of bed. He was meant to be resting so he and Andromeda could start the hunt tomorrow, but he was too wound up. She’d snapped at him to be civilized. Clearly, she wasn’t his mate even if she smelled so delicious that he could scent her in spite of the walls that separated them. It didn’t matter if she made his mouth water; his mate wouldn’t tell him to be what he wasn’t.
A woman who knows me, understands what I am, and who wants to have secret rules with me.
That’s what he’d told Ashwini he wanted in a mate and he hadn’t changed his mind. His mate wouldn’t ask him to wear a different skin, wouldn’t expect him to be “normal.” He wasn’t normal, not by any measure, but he was a person and people were allowed to have mates. He was allowed to have a mate.
Gritting his teeth against the urge to follow the beguiling scent of the woman who was clearly not his mate, he pulled on his jeans and headed to the small training arena behind the stronghold. It wasn’t the main training ring, rather a walled courtyard on the edge of a cliff where those who had to work inside the stronghold could go spar, or stretch their muscles.
He would jump up on the wall, climb down to the cliff, and make his way to the very bottom of the gorge that bisected the Refuge, then back up. The trip was difficult enough that it should exhaust—
He growled inside his chest as her scent grew in depth and intensity the closer he got to the courtyard. There were no sleeping rooms at this end of the stronghold. What was her scent doing here?
Not that he cared.
He was going to ignore it.
Muscles bunched, he stepped out into the night and frowned at the diffuse light from the two lamps someone had lit at a low intensity. His eyes adjusted quickly enough, but he preferred full dark at night. The woman who was doing some kind of exercise in the center of the training arena, however, clearly couldn’t see in the dark.
She was no longer dressed in the flowing gown the color of ripe raspberries in which he’d seen her earlier, but in black pants that hugged her curvaceous form. Her top was the same color and close to a T-shirt. The wing slits were closed off with discreet buttons, the soft fabric hugging her upper body while leaving most of her arms bare.
Light glinted off the threads of gold in her hair, her honeyed skin aglow.
When she moved, her wings rustled, but she kept them scrupulously off the ground. Galen must’ve been at her—the weapons-master was ferocious about teaching his students to maintain wing discipline. Dragging wings could not only get damaged, the habit created weak muscles. Andromeda’s wing muscles were strong, her movements graceful.
Those wings flared out as she made a controlled turn and he felt his gut clench. Her wings weren’t just chocolate dark, though that had been more than strokable enough. They were patterned with intricate gradations of color all the way to a pale golden brown, but the secret was only visible when she spread her wings.
They closed in a second later as she turned into another move.
He’d seen people practicing something like this in Lijuan’s land. It was called tai chi. He much preferred the harder, faster martial arts like karate and tae kwon do. He could take those movements and make them his own. This type of patience would drive him insane.
Watching Andromeda do it, however . . .
“Oh.” She came to a startled halt after her next turn left her facing him—and his glowing eyes.
Naasir could make them not reflect, could also shield them with his lashes when he didn’t want to be seen, but he wasn’t in a good mood right now. Scaring her with his predator’s eyes made him feel momentarily better.
About to lunge onto the top of the wall so he could begin his climb down, he was stopped by a ridiculous feminine question. “Are you looking for a sparring partner?”
He stared at her. “Do you want to die?” Naasir was very, very, very good, and unless he held back his lethal side, he could easily kill someone of her soft nature.
“No,” she said, doing another stretch in front of him.
The move pulled the fabric of her top taut over her breasts and bared a thin strip of her abdomen and he wondered if she was taunting him. His blood grew hot, his predatory instincts snarling. “You’ll die if you spar with me,” he said in warning, wanting to bite her so she’d know exactly who it was she was baiting.
“Your sire would be disappointed in you if you killed your partner.”
She wasn’t his partner. She was just someone he had to work with, but she was right: Raphael would not be happy if he killed their expert. “More reason for us not to spar.” He shifted back toward the wall he intended to scale.
Naasir froze, sheer incredulity holding him in place. When he turned, it was to prowl over to her until they stood toe-to-toe, both of them in bare feet. “What did you say?”
A smile of challenge from the small, soft scholar who was taunting him. “I asked if you were scared,” she said, not backing off, though he could see the pulse thudding hard in her neck.
“Do you want me to bite you?” he asked seriously.
Scowling, she stepped back. “Fine, if you don’t want to spar, I’ll find someone else.”
He barely held back his growl. She wanted him to act civilized? He’d wear the skin so well she’d never see the real Naasir again. “Rules for the session?” he asked. “Other than my not killing you.”
“I get to have a sword as a weapon. You get bare hands.”
He shrugged. “That’s fair.” What it was, was suicidal on her part. She could have ten swords and he’d still be inside her guard in a heartbeat. “Is that your sword in the corner?”
“How did you see that?” she asked. “It’s in the shadows.”
He didn’t say anything, just watched her until she broke eye contact and walked to pick up the sword she’d propped up neatly against a wall. It was in its scabbard and when she drew it out, he saw it gleamed. Either Galen had drummed it into her to clean her weapons, or this weapon had never actually been used in any kind of serious combat. She probably just used it as part of her routine with the flowing, patient stretches.
He snorted under his breath.
“Ready?” she asked, taking a wide-legged stance across from him, enough distance between them that she probably thought herself safe.
“In that case, three, two, one!”
Naasir lunged, not holding back his speed or agility. All he had to do was put her on the ground and this ridiculous exercise would be done and he could leave and his mouth would stop watering at the intoxicating scent of her. The air whistled past his eyes, the world so slow in comparison to his speed, the stars blurring together—
He snarled as he came down on his feet, looking in disbelief at his upper arm. There was a thin line of red across his biceps. Shaking his head, he looked again but it was still there. It healed before his eyes, the wound superficial, but the blood remained behind to mark the spot. “You cut me,” he said to Andromeda.
Heart a racehorse and breath coming hard and fast, Andromeda wondered if she knew what the hell she was doing. She hadn’t meant to challenge him, but he’d been so horribly, unnervingly polite that her mouth had opened and the words had tumbled out. He’d clearly decided he didn’t like her and for some reason, that infuriated her.
Now he was looking at her through narrowed eyes of glowing silver, his hair hanging over his face before he shoved it back. “How did you cut me?” A demand.
She was the one who shrugged this time. “I cheated.”
A long, slow blink. “Cheating’s not allowed.”
“Yes, it is. You’re bigger, faster, and far better trained than I am. If I don’t cheat, we’ll have no fun.”
Another slow blink . . . and she realized he was moving, and she was moving instinctively in response, the two of them circling one another. Going into that space inside her head where she was one with the blade, she reacted on instinct again when he moved, and scored him across the hard ridges of his abdomen. Only he didn’t stop in surprise this time but kept going.
She’d never worked harder with the blade in her life.
He still pinned her to the ground in under three minutes, his body heat on her front a stark intimacy. Knees on either side of her hips and hands gripping her wrists above her head, rendering her sword useless, he leaned down until his breath kissed hers and she could look into those astonishing eyes at a proximity she’d never expected.
They were clear, so clear, and utterly beautiful. The silver glowed in the night, the striations within the irises a darker silver. “You cut me seven-and-a-half times,” he said, his voice holding a gritty, growly undertone.
Chest heaving, she tried to shrug again, as if she wasn’t trapped under an unfriendly predator. “Pretty good for a scholar.”
He moved even closer, until his nose was a bare whisper above hers. “You have secrets,” he said slowly. “You wear another skin, too.”
Andromeda went motionless, the game suddenly dangerous.
“Graceful strength, wild beauty, predatory intelligence . . . These things are at the heart of every Nalini Singh Guild Hunter story (and the Psy-Changeling books too). Archangel’s Enigma is part Indiana Jones, part Braveheart: adventures worthy of a rugged scholarly explorer and emotional ties so deep they grab your heart and don’t let go.”
– Grave Tells
For the Complete Chronological Reading Order, click here.
1. Angels’ Blood
2. Archangel’s Kiss
3. Archangel’s Consort
4. Archangel’s Blade
5. Archangel’s Storm
6. Archangel’s Legion
7. Archangel’s Shadows
8. Archangel’s Enigma
9. Archangel’s Heart
10. Archangel’s Viper
11. Archangel’s Prophecy
12. Archangel’s War
13. Archangel’s Sun
14. Archangel’s Light
15. Archangel’s Resurrection
16. Archangel’s Lineage
Guild Hunter Novellas
1. Angels’ Pawn (available as an e-book on its own, and also as part of Angels’ Flight)
2. “Angels’ Judgment” in Angels’ Flight (originally part of the Must Love Hellhounds anthology)
3. “Angel’s Wolf” in Angels’ Flight (originally part of the Angels of Darkness anthology)
4. “Angels’ Dance” in Angels’ Flight
New York Times bestselling author Nalini Singh returns to her world of dark passion and immortal power—and to one of the most seductive and impenetrable heroes ever to stalk the Guild Hunter landscape…
“Oh, Naasir. So weird, so bloodthirsty, so unique and wonderful…I have fallen for him…”—Fiction Vixen
Naasir is the most feral of the powerful group of vampires and angels known as the Seven, his loyalty pledged to the Archangel Raphael. When rumors surface of a plot to murder the former Archangel of Persia, now lost in the Sleep of the Ancients, Naasir is dispatched to find him. For only he possesses the tracking skills required—those more common to predatory animals than to man.
Enlisted to accompany Naasir, Andromeda, a young angelic scholar with dangerous secrets, is fascinated by his nature—at once playful and brilliant, sensual and brutal. As they race to find the Sleeping archangel before it’s too late, Naasir will force her to question all she knows…and tempt her to walk into the magnificent, feral darkness of his world. But first they must survive an enemy vicious enough to shatter the greatest taboo of the angelic race and plunge the world into a screaming nightmare…