Mikhail lifted the cup of tea to his lips, sooty eyelashes sweeping down to hide those piercing silver eyes. Dressed in a soft blue cambric shirt and worn jeans, he looked more the part of a too-pretty cowboy in one of those denim ads rather than the archangel he was.
Strangely enough, he’d insisted on moving somewhere else for the discussion. Somewhere without a dead man and a pool of congealing blood.
It was somehow decided that my home was the place to go, over my objections.
I looked around the table and swallowed a sigh. I had my estranged husband, my leash-holder and an archangel in my garden drinking tea together. It sounded like the beginning of a bad joke.
“Are you always so strongly scented?”
Death looked at Raphael. “Yes.” His voice was flat. “It is all the flowers that are for Death.”
It was also why we were in the garden. He wasn’t quite as oppressively fragrant out here. What he wasn’t admitting to and what I wasn’t going to bring up was that he could tone it down quite a few notches. He was only this bad when he was metaphorically whipping out his peen.
Raphael looked like he was about to say something but Mikhail cut in. “What is your demesne, Raphael? Israfil, who shares your name, heals.”
“Information. Numbers. Technology.” He shrugged. “I suppose you could generalize my demesne as governance over the scientific arts.”
I frowned. “How does that work?”
“The prayers for the car to start up, just one more time. The fierce longing of the scientist for a break through. The focus of the accountant looking for that one discrepancy to unravel all the others. All those come to me and more. Of course, I also heal. Who doesn’t?”
I didn’t bother answering that. “Right. So you facilitate information.”
“You could say so.”
“It’s a step up from his days of watching men try to create fire.”
“My usual last resort was lightning. Of course, the rain could be problematic, but short of starting a forest fire and hoping they didn’t all burn to death, there wasn’t much by the way of options.”
Mikhail crossed his arms over his chest. “You two know each other.”
Raphael and Death exchanged a look. They shrugged simultaneously.
My gaze darted from one to the other. Their motions mirrored each other to an uncanny degree. That was something I would have to explore some other time. Right then, I didn’t have that luxury.
A suspicion teased at my mind. “You two know the D too.”
I flipped my hand. “The Devourer. I decided that calling him that was giving him a little too much pomp and circumstance.”
Raphael chuckled and shook his head.
Thanatos’ eyes hooded and his lips compressed. He studied the teacup he held in his hands as if it were the single most important thing in his life at the moment.
“I have heard of him, yes, but I am not familiar with him, if that is what you implied. That is all.” Raphael’s voice was final.
I wrapped my hand around the base of my neck and squeezed. “All right. I was simply hoping you had some more intel you could share since Mikhail has already admitted to having nothing.”
Mikhail shrugged. “Since we can’t kill him, what good is more intel, Amarantha?”
“I just like knowing what we’re up against. Besides, I wasn’t aware that killing him wasn’t an option.”
“He’s the Devourer of Worlds. That’s not something you jab a sword at and hope for the best.”
“Actually, I was thinking something more along the lines of shoving him into a supernova-ing star or a black hole.”
Raphael blinked. Mikhail sighed. Thanatos threw his head back and laughed.
“We’re all essentially energy, right? So theoretically, a supernova could either scatter him far enough we wouldn’t have to worry about him for a while and a black hole could put him in enough of a tight spot that he would be less of a distraction for us.”
“And who would do the shoving, Amarantha?”
I flapped my hand at my husband. “Details.”
“Important details.” Mikhail growled. “I do not wish to see Alexandro in a few decades and explain to him how I allowed you to run face first into either a supernova or a black hole.”
I arched a brow. “Allowed? There is nothing about allowing between you and I, Mikhail.”
What was it with all the men in my lives and their love for control?
“I would not permit it, moglie.”
“I wasn’t asking permission, xianggong.” I used the archaic term for husband on purpose.
“Anyway. Bossy gods and archangels aside, I’ve thought about it and I think we should leave the Watchers alone unless Mikhail can afford to spare angels to watch over them. If Mikhail wasn’t able to roust them out of hiding, I’m hoping that D is going to give it up after running a cost benefit analysis. Right now, there are other groups that we should contact first. Once we have established connections with them, then perhaps the Watchers will come out of hiding.”
Mikhail arched a brow. “Who did you have in mind?”
“The High Coven, the Convocation, the Exaltation, the Lepe, the Pack, and the Cohort for starters.”
“And how are you going to bypass the Law?”
The Law that no deity, major or minor, was allowed to be in direct contact with humanity. No more speaking from bushes, no more stone tablets, no more oracles, and definitely no more appearing in person to perform miracles.
I shrugged. “I thought I’d ask Lucifer to let me cut in line.”
Mikhail’s eyes widened, then he broke out laughing.
My husband shook his head. “My wife is going to ask Lucifer for a favor. And the boon she craves, is to be allowed to the head of the line of demons waiting to be summoned and bound by humans.”
“It wouldn’t cost a favor. Lucifer’s a friend.”
“Morning Star would just let her do it for the shits and giggles.”
Thanatos muttered something unintelligible under his breath.
“I think someone should explain the Law to me and why it’s necessary for Amarantha to ask for a favor to be summoned and bound and why that’s amusing.”
Thanatos and I responded at the same time.
“It’s not amusing.”
“It is verboten for us to deal directly with humans.”
Storm-dark eyes narrowed. “And your method of circumventing this is to allow yourself to be bound and summoned as a demon?”
“We’re allowed to speak to them then, since appearing in a demonic summoning circle means that we’re pretty much not allowed to speak unless spoken to and in response to direct questions. It is assumed that we’re going to lie as much as possible, so the Law doesn’t care.”
“And how does that aid us?”
“It’s one way of getting the information out.”
“Surely there are other ways.”
Thanatos pinched the bridge of his nose and cut in. “You could, for example, talk to the Fallen. That is allowed since they are technically not precisely human.”
“I was going to do that also. However, we will need to get word to the supernatural community as well. Their help could mean the difference between winning and ignominious defeat. If at all possible, I’d prefer not to be known for the rest of eternity as that goddess from that planet. Screws with my social life.”
“I don’t believe that between blogs, forums, tweets, and all other similar social media detritus, you can’t find a Fallen that has an in with the supernatural community.”
But where would the fun be in that?
Thanatos’s eyes narrowed and he leaned in close, gritting out his next words in a near growl. “We will do this, but we will not do this in a way that involves you being naked and trussed up liked a heavens be-damned present.”
I sighed. “Killjoy.”
He raised a long-fingered hand to my chin, a devastating smile curving his lips. “If you want entertainment of the naked and bound sort, I’m more than willing to lend you a hand. Or two. And in my case, you know your fun is guaranteed.”
I rolled my eyes and pushed his hand away.
Mikhail coughed. “Focus, you two. I’d tell you to get a room but I think it’d take a decade for you to even begin to take the edge off. So, knock it off.“
Death arched a brow, his smile deepening. “Why, Mikhail, I do think that’s the nicest compliment I’ve had in an age.”
“Or the worst insult to your sexual prowess in an age. Requiring a decade to bring a woman to ecstasy implies staggering amounts of incompetence.”
I blinked at Raphael before bursting into laughter. His comment was made completely deadpan, his expression as smooth as if he were delivering a statement about the weather, but there was a wicked glint in his eyes.
Thanatos smirked at him. “Wouldn’t you like to know which one it is.”
“I was assuming that they didn’t just call it la petite mort for no sound reason. Perhaps I shouldn’t have.” The archangel sounded penitent, but his eyes danced from beneath his lashes.
“I think you three should get a room, just so you can settle the question once and for all.”
Near identical looks of male confusion from the god and the archangel.
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, darlin, but we don’t exactly have the right parts.”
Raphael glanced over at Mihail, his gaze assessing. “Do angels even have the parts in question?”
I folded my arms. “You being a deity clothed in flesh means you can create the necessary parts. As for you, Mikhail, wouldn’t they need an arbiter of some sort? Of course, you can always test out his oral skills in addition to his manual ones. The parts may be different, but I’m sure they’re mostly translatable enough that you can get a decent impression of his ability.”
Thanatos spread his hands, his smirk firmly in place.
Mikhail shook his head. “Tempting, but I think I’ll pass.”
“Because of Leviticus? Again, assuming you have the requisite parts.”
The archangel snorted out a laugh. “Hardly.” He looked over at Thanatos. “What I’m afraid of is that one taking la petite mort to an extreme that I would find very inconvenient and unfortunate.”
“Ah, Mikhail, you wound me.”
“That’s not a denial.”
My husband shrugged.
“Would he truly? Why would he have cause to?”
“He would have been tempted twice over at the point where I didn’t look as if I were going to intercede about the plan involving Lucifer, nudity, and bondage.”
What was this? Afternoon tea with the ladies?
I decided to ignore them and pulled out my smart phone.
Raphael directed his next statement at my husband. “You said earlier that she was your first choice. So you knew of this and you knew what you were sending her into.”
“Don’t be tiresome and coy, Raphael. I was hardly sending her into danger. I knew you’d step in to champion the situation. What could they have done except give a verdict we don’t agree with?”
“You knew? Even I didn’t know I’d be the one to hand her the verdict.”
Thanatos exhaled sharply. If he was any less than his elegant self, I’d have called it a snort. “Don’t be ridiculous. You’ve been babysitting this planet since they first discovered the wheel and what it could do. Who else would they have given the task to?”
“Implying that they do not wish the planet to be reset.”
“They could hardly care less about that. You were simply the least likely to decline the chore and so it fell to you.”
Mikhail looked from Thanatos to Raphael. “So, what are your intentions? Are you in or are you the peanut gallery?”
Raphael arched a brow. “I wasn’t aware my duty was an optional venture.”
“Per the directive you mentioned, you only need to observe and ensure that the numbers are correct. It says nothing about aiding us or not.”
“It would be immensely tiresome to tag along like some unwanted younger sibling. I might as well render myself useful.”
“And you, Thanatos?”
“Whatever made you think that I would allow my wife to walk into danger without me at her side?” His low voice was filled with silken danger.
I held back a cringe. Please don’t bring it up. Don’t…
Mikhail’s eyes flared, but he only nodded.
I breathed out in relief.
“Amarantha. You done playing with your toy yet?”
I closed out of the app. “Yeah. I have some leads. I’ve texted you a list of names and addresses. I’ll see you guys at the first one in about four hours.”
“And where would you be going?”
“This old lady needs food, a nap, and to talk to Dawn. Not necessarily in that order. I’ll see you guys there.”
I shifted before they could object.