Archangel's Light (Guild Hunter #14) by Nalini Singh





1


            Yesterday

            “Look, Illium.” Sharine, the Hummingbird, squeezed her toddler son’s hand.

            He was so very small, his wings no more than suggestions of what they would one day become, but he insisted on walking. Aegaeon was proud of him for his stubborn determination, boasted that Illium had inherited his will.

            What Sharine knew was that her son had more strength in his small body than she could’ve ever imagined when she cradled his infant form. He’d been such a fragile, tiny baby that the healer had worried, and Aegaeon had scowled. “How can I have fathered such a runt?” he’d said, offense in every line of his large and muscular body. “I am an archangel!”

            Aegaeon had long forgotten his initial reaction, the memory overridden by the relentless drive of this small boy who was the center of Sharine’s world.

            “Look over there.” She pointed out the similarly-sized child who played in a patch of wildflowers on the cold mountain plateau on which they walked.

            Sharine’s parents hadn’t often allowed her such unstructured play, wanting her to be controlled and disciplined . . . and quiet, always quiet, but she allowed her son all the play he wanted, no matter how dirty it made him or how out of control it became. Yesterday, she’d discovered him climbing the kitchen pantry so he could get at the sweets she’d hidden at the very top. He’d been naked, a wild creature at home in his skin.

            And such mischief he’d had in his eyes when she caught him with one pudgy hand clasped around a sweet far too big for his little body. He’d giggled when she took hold of him with a stern admonishment about the rules. Oh, but then she’d laughed, too, because his laughter was a thing infectious.

            Sharine knew that was a bad way to teach a child not to be naughty. Aegaeon, for one, wasn’t pleased by her gentleness with their son. Sharine, however, had no fears about who Illium would one day become. Her boy had a good heart. He’d never be cruel. If he ended up a little spoiled, well, that wasn’t a bad thing, was it? Not if it was tempered by a kind heart and a generous spirit.

            Now, he babbled up at her, the dark gold of his eyes shining.

            Old eyes he had, her baby. Perhaps because she was such an old angel. She worried about that at times, that she was the wrong kind of mother for a bright, lively boy—too old and bruised and a little broken. But he laughed often, her Illium, so she must be doing something right.

            “Shall we go say hello?” She didn’t recognize the extremely fair-haired angel with wings of palest, palest gold who watched over the other little boy; she might be someone who worked often outside the Refuge. Or it might be that she and the boy lived on the far side of the Refuge and Sharine’s path had just never crossed with theirs. Sharine knew she could be insular, content with a small circle of those she loved.

            Illium tugged at her hand, trying to run on his wobbly little legs.

            Laughing, she speeded up, and soon, wildflowers brushed their legs. Sharine inhaled sharply at her first true look at the unknown child. He seemed a touch younger than Illium, and was a dazzlingly bright creature, as if every part of him had been designed to capture, then fracture light. His hair was delicate strands of diamonds, every filament of his nascent feathers akin to glass that had been formed into something soft and welcoming that drew light.

            And his gaze, when he looked up from his seated position among the riot of indigo and pink, yellow and white blooms, was a fracture of blue and green that erupted outward from jet-black irises. But he wasn’t looking at Sharine. He was staring at Illium, a tiny flower held in a soft baby hand.

            A moment later, he smiled, this child of light, and held out the flower to Illium.