For thousands of years, the passion between Alexander, Archangel of Persia, and Zanaya, Queen of the Nile, burned furious and bright, seemingly without end. But to be an archangel is to be bound to power violent and demanding. Driven by its primal energy, Alexander and Zanaya fought as fiercely as they loved, locked in an endless cycle of devotion and heartbreak. It is only Zanaya’s decision to Sleep that ends their love story.
Eons later, the Cascade of Death wakens them both. The passion between them a flame that yet burns, Alexander and Zanaya stand together in one last battle against the ultimate darkness. But even a warrior archangel cannot win every war. Alexander’s scream shatters the world as Zanaya falls, broken and silent . . . only to rise again in a miracle that may be a devastating curse. For is it truly the Queen of the Nile who has been resurrected?
Only one thing is clear: This is the last beat of their passionate, angry dance. The final song for Alexander and his Zani . . .
About the Author
She is the author of the darkly beautiful Guild Hunter series, including Archangel’s Resurrection, Archangel’s Light, Archangel’s Sun, and Archangel’s War. She is also the author of the much-loved Psy-Changeling novels, including Storm Echo, Last Guard, Alpha Night, Wolf Rain, Ocean Light, and Silver Silence.
She also writes stand-alone thrillers set in beautiful and moody New Zealand. A Madness of Sunshine was long-listed for the Ngaio Marsh Award, while Publishers Weekly called Quiet in Her Bones “a lushly written, multilayered mystery.”
Read an Excerpt
Lijuan, Archangel of Death and Goddess Over All, gloried in the howl of her power as battle raged around her, Raphael's once-glittering city now broken and scorched. Impudent child. He should've listened to Lijuan, listened to his goddess! She'd told him what to do, had attempted to guide him. But no, he would make the wrong choice. He would choose to tie himself forever to a mewling mortal.
It mattered naught that his consort now bore wings and other trappings of immortality. She was nothing, a worm to be crushed under the boot, as Lijuan had once crushed her own worm. Because worms dug inside you, creating runnels and holes. Weaknesses. Fractures. Vulnerabilities.
Raphael had all of those. And today he would pay the price. They would all pay.
She laughed at the temerity of the archangels who'd gathered into an alliance against her. Together, they thought they could defeat her. When all they'd done was made things easier for her by congregating in one place. They might've been the apex predators on the planet once, but Lijuan alone held that throne now.
They were nothing but her servants.
Ignoring the chaos all around her, she scanned the area until she pinpointed the archangel she most wanted to remove from the equation. There she was. Small in stature, with skin "like the night, eyes that held the stars, and hair of violet moonlight"-or so she'd been described by the idiotic poet who'd written a scroll devoted to Zanaya, Queen of the Nile.
Lijuan had researched Zanaya as part of her investigation into all possible Sleepers who might prove a problem in the future . . . but she'd paid a little extra attention to the so-called Queen of the Nile. Not because she was more of a power than the others, but because Zanaya had managed to obtain the one thing that Lijuan had never been able to capture: the love of Alexander, Archangel of Persia.
Oh, he'd been kind to Lijuan, had told her that she was too young and that perhaps after another seven thousand years, they could come together. Only later had she realized that he'd simply been letting her down with kindness-by then, she'd seen true passion in a man's eyes, had understood with bitter clarity that what she'd seen in Alexander's had been . . . gentle, yes. Twined even with affection. But passion? No. Not even the merest inkling.
Why her and not me?
A gnawing question inside her ever since she'd learned of Zanaya and Alexander's history. Because that's how most ancient scrolls were written-with their two names linked. As if they were so much a unit that it was understood that should Zanaya walk the earth, Alexander would belong to her and no one else.
Rage burned through Lijuan.
How dare he choose this mere archangel in place of Lijuan, who was a goddess? How dare he still look at Zanaya in a way he'd never once looked at her! She shouldn't have noticed how their glances met, shouldn't have noticed anything beyond what was necessary to win this war, but she had-and the reminder of her pathetic past self enraged her.
Fueled by the lifeforce of those who'd sacrificed themselves to their goddess, she turned noncorporeal . . . and then she flew straight to the archangel who mocked Lijuan with her very existence. Lijuan had no weaknesses. After she killed Zanaya, she'd take care of Alexander. She'd consume them both, and once they were inside her, she would control them.
Zanaya never stood a chance.
Appearing behind her, Lijuan sank her fangs into the archangel's neck, and drank of her life. Those fangs usually only emerged in angels during the Making of a vampire, but Lijuan could call them up at will. Yet another sign of her difference from these creatures who sought to humble her.
Sudden savage winds whipped at Lijuan's hair as Zanaya called up her power, the archangel's body twisting to respond to the attack, but it was a futile effort. Lijuan had swallowed up too much of the potent power that made up a member of the Cadre, and Zanaya was fading, fading.
Lijuan's rage, however, oh, it continued to scald.
Because it did, she made a critical error. She eased her iron control on the vicious power which made her a goddess-and created a leak. A whisper of her own power flowed into Zanaya, a gift of which she was utterly unworthy. But no matter. Zanaya was dead anyway. At least now, Lijuan knew not to get so entranced by the refueling process that she lost her grip on the screaming endlessness that was her glory.
Sated for the moment, she dropped Zanaya's shriveled corpse and turned noncorporeal once more. There would never again be a scroll written that paired Zanaya with Alexander.
What a terrible shame that their love story had come to such an inglorious end.
Her lip curled when she saw golden-haired and silver-winged Alexander race to catch his lover's desiccated body before it could shatter against the earth. What a fool he was; so unworthy of the goddess she'd become. How odd that she'd once wanted him. Now, all she wanted was his death. His end. Nothing could exist in this world that reminded her of personal failure.
She was a goddess. She. Did. Not. Fail.
Alexander saw Lijuan attack Zanaya.
Fighting to get to her, he witnessed Zanaya's wings droop, her body go limp.
But her mind, it was yet functional, yet held enough power for her to reach out to him along a pathway so old that it was part of his most elemental being: Xander . . . kill me. She must be sto-
Even had he the heart to follow her whispered plea, it was too late. Lijuan went noncorporeal again, dropping Zanaya from the sky. And his Zani's wings were crumpled, her body dropping, akin to a broken bird's. Zani! Zani!
Silence, nothing but silence from his quicksilver lover with her wicked tongue.
He caught her before she could hit the hard earth, his Zani, her spirit so bright and beautiful. Making a hard turn in midair, he arrowed his way toward the Tower infirmary. "Hold on, Zani. Hold on!" It was an order, but she was beyond hearing him.
Her body was a whisper, so light that it was as if she were made of air. Her skin had turned to paper, the flesh of her curves just gone and her skin cold, so cold. Cradling her as close as he could while not hurting her, he kept on talking to her, kept on trying to make her respond. But all he heard was a silence without end.
Then, and through all the hours that followed.
"You promised you'd speak to me after the battle," he whispered to her after they'd vanquished the monster Lijuan had become, and he carried Zanaya's broken body to Cassandra's fire.
The seer of legend had promised to hold her safe.
Again, his Zani, who'd never hesitated to speak around him, said nothing. Her silence was a wound bigger than any other she could've inflicted on him.
He pressed a trembling kiss to her lips, and it tasted of the salt of his tears. "I can't exist in a world where you do not." He'd only lived this long because, no matter his anger at her, he knew that she Slept whole and unharmed. "Come back to me, my Zani."
Until the very moment when he forced himself to give her into Cassandra's embrace. The seer's lilac hair was licked by the gold and orange of the enormous, impossible fissure deep into the earth above which they hovered, and the seafoam auroras of her haunting-haunted-eyes were tender, her arms careful as she cradled Zanaya against the floating softness of her gown.
"You will care for her." It came out an order.
Cassandra didn't tell him he had no right to give her orders. Gaze lost in the terrible gift that drove her to a madness that had her clawing out her eyes when she could no longer stand it, she said, "Alexander, Archangel of Persia, Child of Gzrel and Cendrion, before you lie two paths."
Her tone was eerie, echoing as if spoken in a great chamber.
Gut tight, Alexander clenched his fists. It took everything he had to keep his tone civil. "I don't wish for blurry prophecies that could mean anything and need to be interpreted. I want to know if Zanaya will rise and when."
Cassandra looked down at the body in her arms, a body she'd already wreathed in her flame. "This I do not know." Her face was soft now, her voice softer. "But I know this, Alexander, this is an ending . . . but it isn't the last ending. That, too, will come. Choose with care, for it will be the forever last."
Then she was gone, taking with her his Zani with her brilliant spirit and warrior's heart.
His own heart broke.
Always, no matter what, he'd known she would return. He'd been nursing a grudge against her for millennia, getting ready to have the fight that he was owed. He'd known she'd laugh at him for refusing to let it go, but then she'd have fought with him. After which, they'd have ended up in each other's arms. That was how it was meant to have been; that was the future for which he had waited for so long.
This . . .
Pain a raw knot inside him, he didn't know how he made it through the time that followed. He felt glued together by nothing but his own will when he finally returned to his territory. Once in his lands, he went not to his fort, but to an isolated ridge of mountains where no one could hear his heart splinter.
Wings flared out, he screamed out his grief and his rage till it brought him to his knees, but still the wound inside him continued to bleed. He'd survived the loss of Zanaya before, but then, it hadn't been a true loss. He'd known that she would rise again, that her timeline would cross with his again.
He no longer had that surety.
His Zani might Sleep forevermore.
Alexander screamed again, and his pain turned the mountain molten, a river of gold and silver and rarer precious metals that crept down every crack and seam, where they'd freeze at some point, a sculpture of astonishing beauty carved out of Alexander's grief.
Cassandra twisted and turned, unable to settle into rest.
The flames in which she slept were comfort, barriers against the slipstreams of time that showed her too much. But she could only fully escape those slipstreams when she was in a deep and true Sleep. And that she couldn't fall into when she had within her care angels who were a sprawling weight of power and history.
Astaad, Michaela, Favashi, and Zanaya, they were all . . . caught in between.
But it wasn't only these archangels that Cassandra watched. Another, too, Slept an unnatural Sleep far from her. Yet that being was connected to her by a thread tied to another, their blood bonded deep beneath the surface. Perhaps their pulses would beat in time . . . but not today.
Today, none of the Sleepers had a pulse, showed any signs of life.
She didn't know if they dreamt, but she did know that they had no awareness of the world. That was a mercy given their injuries. Yet she could feel their minds, huge and powerful, and those minds were . . . not at rest.
Had one of her brethren asked her how she knew these facts, she couldn't have answered them. All she had were guesses. Perhaps it was because the wounded archangels Slept in the embrace of her fire, their minds linked to her by threads tenuous that allowed her to monitor their lives. For, despite all outward appearances, they lived, the spark within flickering but not extinguished.
She couldn't see any of their future timelines, not even the merest glimmer. Each led to a tangled knot so tight that it was pure darkness.
Yet she caught other things in the slipstreams that impinged on her shallow rest. Her owls fluttered around her, their feathers soft and white as she jerked and twitched in her Sleep. Sensing what awaited, she tried not to look at the slipstream. She was so very tired, her mind a stained-glass window so fractured with cracks that it could never be whole again.
The colors of her were the colors of him.
Qin, her Qin.
Tears rolled down her cheeks as she fought the compulsion to look, but she'd never won that fight in the eons since her "gift" was first bestowed on her. At times, when she was sane, she wondered if part of her anger was because of how she always lost the battle. Was she so very vain and arrogant that she was enraged by her constant inability to win?
Laughter, a touch mad.
Oh, that was her.
No, she wasn't angry. She'd long ago moved past anger, through terror and rage, into a sorrow so heavy that it was her very breath. Sometimes, she thought she must be born of tears, nothing to her but saltwater.
Her mind kaleidoscoped, shattered again, more fractures on the stained glass.
And the slipstream opened out in front of her, showing her countless threads, millions of lives, millions of possibilities. One choice could lead to this, another to that. But some choices . . . some choices led always to a single thing. Roads funneled into a single choke point. Those were the futures set in stone.
As was the future that pulsed red in front of her in the shape of scarlet wings that glowed.
Red as blood.
Even as the thought passed through her mind, the wings began to darken. To a rich ruby that was lovely. Then edged with blue. Still lovely. On a sigh that made her flinch, the blue and the red started to mingle but rather than the violet hue that should have resulted, the wings turned a sickly green.
Droplets of blood crawled down the feathers, each droplet a viscous black that splattered on the slipstream and coated the highways of it in a quickly spreading plague that decimated all future timelines. Feathers fell off the wings, further spreading the plague.
She jolted, her heart echoing the twisted tapestry of the rotting pair of wings.
"No." A whisper. "No. They have paid the price. They have survived." This should be a time of rebuilding and hope.
But the wings continued to contaminate the slipstreams with their poison.
Until the wings were nothing but bone rotted through with infection and the entirety of the future a noxious stranglehold with no way out. Screaming, she lifted her hands to claw out her eyes . . . but her owls stepped on her fingers, reminding her that she could Sleep, could fall deep, deep below the surface and allow herself to drown in nothingness.