About Blood Redemption
Trapped in the Dark Realms, Caspia finds herself the unwitting leader of a growing Nephilim rebellion. Plagued by strange dreams and intrigue, she learns to master her Azalene abilities when all she wants is to find her way back home.
To Whitfield. To Ethan.
But a new enemy gathers, and it isn’t just Belial. To avoid another Nephilim war, the Realms of Light decide to attack their ancient enemy first. Caspia, her hometown, and everyone she loves happens to be in the way. With the Light poised to strike from one side, and the Dark Realms on the other, she and Ethan must fight their way back to each other and try to protect the life they’ve built.
I stared into Ethan’s angry eyes, shocked to my core. He had never looked that furious with me— never in the whole history of our relationship. It made no sense to me. I was still sick from portal travel. My arm throbbed where Belial had grabbed it; I was half afraid it was broken.
Worst of all, I’d lost Asheroth. I could see it all again without having to close my eyes: my mad guardian angel going down in a crowd of the Fallen, rogue Nephilim, and Hellhounds while Jack dragged me away.
He’d done it for me. A half-strangled sob escaped my throat. He’d sacrificed himself for me. I tried to communicate this to Ethan, but words failed me. Instead, I propelled myself backwards and away from him using my elbows, feeling the sharp pricks of newly mown grass as I went.
Something else crept into his eyes as I struggled to get away from him, something I unfortunately recognized. Fear. And hurt.
He paled. “Caspia, wait. I . . . I’m sorry. It’s just that you disappeared, when I had just gotten you back, and things have happened so quickly . . .”
A strong shove sent him sprawling sideways before he could complete his sentence. A dark form blocked out the sun, standing over me with clenched fists. Jack. Muscles flexed along his back and upper arm. He had fresh scars. They resembled claw marks. I winced.
“Don’t. Do. That. Again,” he growled, looking more than ready to pounce on Ethan. I wondered if he meant himself, or me. It didn’t matter, though; Ethan sprang instantly to his feet, body angled forward towards Jack, already poised for a fight.
The back of my neck prickled, and I got the uncomfortable feeling that we were being watched. Sure enough, when I jerked my head around, I saw that the front porch of Blackwood Lodge had filled up with people. Their expressions ranged from mild curiosity to shock to outright horror.
Great. Now we were a spectacle.
They began to circle each other, fists raised, their eyes fixed on one another. I sprang up and stood firmly between them, feet planted and arms outstretched like a referee at a boxing match. “Stop it!” I shouted. “There’s been too much fighting already.” I blinked back tears as I thought, again, of Asheroth. “And there’s still more to come. We don’t need to do this to ourselves.”
Ethan was the first to lower his fists. Jack followed suit, but I could tell he didn’t like it. I let my arms drop, suddenly exhausted. The events of the last few hours caught up to me all at once, and I wanted nothing more than to sink back down into the grass and cry.
Ethan was at my elbow in seconds, all traces of anger gone. His arms, when they reached for me, were firm and supportive, and I leaned into him gratefully. He pulled me tight against him as I inhaled the scent of clean cotton and juniper aftershave, the kind I had gotten him for Christmas. I let him support most of my weight; warm fingers, so different from his once angelic coldness, stroked my hair.
His gentleness undid me. I fisted his t-shirt in my hands and sobbed into his chest. Fingers moved from my hair to the small of my back, rubbing small soothing circles into my aching flesh. I don’t know how long I clung to him, crying it all out, but he didn’t once question me. He just stood there and held me while tears soaked the front of his shirt.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered into my ear. “I’m so, so sorry. For all of it.”
My fists became claws that twisted and pulled. “He’s gone,” I managed to choke out. “He stayed behind . . . he fought them off so we could make it out.” I rubbed at my tired eyes and flesh raw from weeping. “I don’t think he made it, Ethan. I don’t see how he could. There were so many, and we couldn’t do anything. . . he sacrificed himself. For us. For me.” I sobbed harder.
Ethan held me, rocking me gently. “He would want you to be okay,” he tried to assure me. “It’s all he wanted, Cas.”
I knew that, and I hated myself for it.
Jack cleared his throat behind us. Loudly. “I hate to break up this reunion,” he said, in a voice that made me think he didn’t really mind at all. “But we can’t have much time before one side or the other, or both, decide to attack.”
“About that.” Ethan held me at arm’s length and wiped the tears from under my eyes with his thumb. I blinked against the brightness of the sun.
I blinked again. It had been late afternoon when we left; now the sun blazed as if it were high noon. “Ethan,” I said uneasily, interrupting him. “How long have we been gone?”
“A day and a half, give or take a few hours.”
I swallowed hard. No wonder he’d been so upset. I hadn’t exactly given him any warning. To be fair, I hadn’t had any warning to give; Asheroth had swooped down and stolen me away before I could formulate a proper plan. It explained some of his anger.
“This is important,” he insisted, pulling me with him towards the Lodge. He didn’t look to see if Jack was following. Half the crowd had dispersed, leaving just a few familiar faces waiting for us in the shade. “While you were gone, Whitfield was attacked.”
My mind froze, refusing to process his words. “But that’s impossible. Time runs differently in the Darks Realms, I know, but Belial was there with us. He couldn’t have attacked. Unless he sent separate forces . . .”
Ethan shook his head emphatically. “Belial didn’t do it, Caspia. This time, it was Hunters. And it’s bad.”
We left Blackwood Lodge in Logan’s car. Cassandra sat in the front seat with my brother, while I stayed squashed between Ethan and Jack. I longed for a window seat, but there was no way I was forcing those two to sit next to each other. Jack hadn’t stopped glowering at Ethan since we left, and Ethan was doing his best to totally ignore the situation, a sure sign that he was pissed off. Tall trees lined both sides of the poorly kept road, casting shadows across the cracked asphalt. Although I wasn’t sure of the exact location of Blackwood Lodge, I knew all the Gates were on the very fringes of the town. As greenery passed by us in a blur, I hoped it wouldn’t be a very long ride.
Sick of the tense silence that gripped the car, I blurted out, “How could they have done it? Gotten through, I mean. I thought the whole town had protection against that sort of thing. Isn’t that why Belial had to use an agent to get to me?” I thought of Dr. Christian and shuddered. I hoped he was having fun in the Dark Realms, the last place I’d seen him. He deserved it.
Logan’s knuckles were white on the gear shift. I watched in fascination as Cassandra slipped her hand over his. That small gesture from her was enough to make my brother’s whole body relax. Interesting. “They had to have help from someone in town. Someone powerful enough to let them through.” I saw his grimace in the rear view mirror.
“But why couldn’t Belial have done that?” I asked. “He had help from an insider.”
“Two possibilities,” Ethan said. “His agent might not have been strong enough. And he might not have been interested, Cas. He wanted you, and your abilities. Not the town itself.” He squeezed my hand. “Of course, that will probably change, now that he knows the forces of the Light are using Whitfield as a staging ground.”
I was silent for the rest of the ride, my insides in a knot. I didn’t want to ask how bad the damage was yet; I knew I was about to find out first hand. I wanted to just lean my head against Ethan’s shoulder and pretend none of this was happening.
My denial couldn’t last, however. Soon enough we hit the outskirts of town, familiar houses and places of business looking the same as ever. I breathed a sigh of relief. At least the Hunters hadn’t decimated everything.
But as we wove through increasingly narrow streets, approaching the heart of Whitfield, I began to see some of the damage. Trees had fallen down on top of cars, smashing them. Windows were shattered, their glass splattered like ice chips across the road.
“The innocents think it was a powerful storm,” Cassandra explained. “In a way, I suppose it was. It helped that it happened in the middle of the night. Everyone else . . . let’s just say they’re laying low.”
I said nothing at all as I surveyed the damage. I just kept squeezing Ethan’s hand tighter and tighter. To his credit, he didn’t complain, although I must have been close to breaking the bones in his hand. But when we pulled up to Old Town Square, nothing could keep me from crying out.
Several of the huge, graceful Live Oaks had been uprooted and flung several feet away. The fairy lights that usually hung from their branches were smashed, lines frayed or snapped completely. They lay on the ground like dead snakes. Streetlights had been snapped off at the base like broken Tinker Toys. The destruction was horrible, but what really caught my breath was the fountain. Several of the strange but beautiful statues that lit up at night had been pulverized. I couldn’t even tell what they had once looked like. Colored glass and chunks of marble floated in the still, brackish water.
I ran to it, horrified. The fountain had been my favorite thing about the square for as long as I’d been alive. I couldn’t believe someone— anyone— had been able to destroy it.
I let my gaze wander past the square itself to the four streets that lined it. The businesses that were usually so busy, no matter what time of day or night, were all shuttered or closed. Some had clearly been attacked: one of my favorite restaurants looked like it had a brick thrown through its window. Pepper’s Bakery was boarded up. I noticed Cassandra’s pinched white face and reluctantly turned in the direction of her gaze. Sure enough, the New Age herb and crystal shop she ran with Mrs. Alice had been ransacked. The beautiful bright glass shelves that had once displayed crystals and gemstones of all kinds were jagged and shattered. Strings of dried herbs lay ground into the carpet. The tea lights that had once lined the windowsill were nowhere to be seen. Cassandra had tears in her eyes as she held my brother’s hand.
“I can’t believe this happened,” I said, my voice tight and strained. I kicked at a loose chunk of cement. “Was anyone hurt?”
Silence. Alarms began going off in my head.
I stepped away from Ethan and whirled on them all. “Who?” I demanded through clenched teeth. “What aren’t you telling me?”
After a long moment, Logan finally spoke. “There were several minor injuries. Scrapes and bruises, even some broken bones.” His eyes were hooded.
“And?” I prompted tersely. I just knew there was an “and.” Something they weren’t telling me. Something they were afraid to tell me.
Ethan came for me once again. I was rigid in his arms, terrified of what he wasn’t saying. He tried to hold my hand, to rub my arms and make me relax, but I shook him off.
“Markov,” he said at last. I felt all the air leave my lungs in a rush. I thought I’d misheard him, but he repeated the grim news. “They got to Mr. Markov, Caspia. He’s in intensive care. They’re not sure he’s going to make it.”
I gaped at him. I seemed to have lost the ability to understand plain English. “Mr. Markov is . . . hurt?” I repeated dully. “But . . . he’s powerful. And kind. And good. Why would they hurt him?” I wrapped my arms around myself, suddenly chilled. The square was so dead, so silent. There was no rush of water from the fountain, and few leaves to rustle in the wind. “He’s just an old man,” I said, and heard the beginnings of a wail buried in my voice.
He was all I had left of my coffee shop family, a family I’d had since I was sixteen years old. Nicolas and Amelie were gone, hunting the Summer Court, and the shop itself had been destroyed by fire; I couldn’t lose him, too.
“I’m sorry,” Cassandra said softly. “I miss him too.”
“I want to see him,” I said, suddenly wanting a supporting arm to lean on. I didn’t even have to look; Ethan was there. “I need to see him. He doesn’t have . . . anyone else.” My words dissolved as the full impact sank in. “No family,” I finished in a hoarse whisper.
“Ssh,” Ethan said into my hair. “He’s in intensive care,” he repeated. “No visitors. I’m sorry.”
I don’t know how long I stood there. Ethan held me tight, perhaps determined to lend me the body heat I so desperately needed. I felt dead inside. It was too much to take in. It seemed like forever since I’d been happy, felt normal.
“Take me home,” I said at last. “I want to go home.”
“It’s not safe.” Jack spoke for the first time since leaving Blackwood Lodge. “Anyone could find you there.” Beside him, Logan nodded his assent.
“No place is safe,” I said, drained. “I just want my own bed. My own bath tub. My own messy apartment, even if just for one night.”
“I can set up some elementary wards,” Cassandra offered. “They won’t be as good as the ones Mr. Markov cast.” She winced a little at his name. “But they should hold for one night. And then tomorrow, we’ll meet up with the rest of the Guardians.” She looked grim but determined. “We have a war to plan.”
But I didn’t care about tomorrow. I didn’t care about wars. I wanted nothing more than to have some semblance of my old life back, even if it was just for a few hours. I leaned into Ethan, and let him lead me home.