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.
My mind spun as we walked back across the square. Broken glass from the fallen fairy lights crunched underfoot. I had never seen the square so deserted, had never imagined that one of my favorite places in the world could be so barren of life. Deep down simmered the fear that everything was my fault.
“Try to let it go,” Ethan whispered, taking my hand. He knew me so well. His index finger brushed lightly across my knuckles. “I know it’s hard, but try and relax. We’ve got a few hours respite, at least. Let’s try and enjoy them.” He brought my hand to his lips and kissed it softly.
As we walked past the small alleyway where I’d first found a shivering, feverish and totally human Ethan months before, I was relieved to see that Mr. Mason’s hardware store hadn’t suffered any damage. The three flights up seemed longer than usual, but my heart soared to see how easily Logan took the stairs now. It didn’t seem like that long ago when he had to stop at the top of every flight to catch his breath. Some of the lights had burned out. The stairwell looked shadowy, and larger than normal, somehow.
When we got to the top, for a minute I just stood there looking at my front door. Everyone gathered around and behind me, almost blocking out the light from the lone bulb hanging overhead. How long had it been since I’d been here last? It seemed like months, although I knew it had only been a matter of weeks. I paused with my key poised just over the lock, afraid of what I would find. What if our place had been searched, or torn apart, in our absence? But I shook off my fears as I wrestled with the lock.
None of the lights were on inside, but afternoon sunlight streamed in from the big bay windows that covered the front of our apartment. I stepped into a world undisturbed by the events that had rocked the rest of my existence.
Logan’s favorite fuzzy blanket lay folded exactly where he’d left it, across the back of the couch. Old mail lay in a messy heap underneath the peg by the door where I hung up my keys, a habit of years. A used mug sat on the edge of the coffee table, beside the remote. The air smelled stale. I walked in slowly. Despite myself, an overwhelming sense of rightness washed over me. This was where I was supposed to be. This was where I was safe and loved. Home, at long last.
“It looks exactly the same,” I said in a loud whisper. The place was so peaceful, as if it had merely been sleeping in our absence, that I was almost afraid of waking it up. “I thought maybe something would have happened, being gone this long. But nothing has.”
“You say that almost as if you’re disappointed,” Logan teased, striding right into the kitchen and flipping the light switch as if he’d never been gone. Warm artificial light flooded the place, revealing our normal ordered chaos: a few dishes left in the sink; a coffee pot no one had emptied; a basket of clothes by the folding doors that hid the washer and dryer. He turned on the faucet and let the water run over his fingers, testing it. His long arms swiped the kettle from a cabinet and began to fill it up. “Anyone want tea?”
“Coffee would be better,” I said, turning slowly around. A layer of dust had settled over most of the surfaces, and the plants looked worse for the wear, but all of that could be set right relatively quickly. It looked like we had survived with no break in, no lasting damage. I breathed a small sigh of relief that my last sanctuary on earth had remained untouched amidst all the chaos.
“I think you’ve had enough excitement,” Logan told me firmly, lapsing easily back into his bossy big brother mode. “How about some nice relaxing chamomile?”
I snorted. “You and your tea. At least it’s not that weed crap. Make sure you put plenty of honey in it.”
“They’re not weeds,” he corrected automatically. “They’re herbs and spices, and they’re good for you.”
I showed him the back of my hand as I strode towards the windows, but Cassandra said, “I’d love some of your crap tea, Logan. It’s been quite a day.”
“And it’s not over yet.” This from Jack, who hovered uncertainly back by the door. “Are you sure this is a good idea, being here? With everything that’s going on?”
“It’s probably a terrible idea,” I said, pushing aside the curtains to the front window. From this height, I could almost pretend things were normal, that the square hadn’t been destroyed, and that various supernatural factions didn’t want to kill me and take over my town. “Some evil all-powerful being is probably going to swoop in at any minute and do terrible things to us all, but right now,” I stepped out onto our ivy covered patio. “I don’t really give a damn.”
Cassandra’s merry laughter followed me outside. I heard her assure Jack that she would see what she could do. After tea, of course. I sighed, letting my fingers brush the ivy. I felt myself beginning to relax. Then I remembered the one thing that was missing, keeping the apartment from truly feeling like home.
Abigail. By rights she should be here, meowing like a queen, insisting on a treat or a petting or a game of chase the paper wad.
“I miss Abby,” I confessed as Ethan leaned against the railing, looking down at the street.
“She’s happier where she is,” he said. “No matter what Asheroth thinks, cats do not like to be hauled from place to place. We managed to get her pretty settled in, while you were gone, and Logan and I have been taking turns going back to check on her.” He leaned into me until our sides were touching. The air out here was fresh and sweet, golden with late afternoon shade. “Welcome home, Caspia.” I didn’t have to look; I could hear the smile in his voice.
“You too,” I said, nudging his shoulder with my head. Then I stood on tip toe and stretched until every muscle in my body tightened and released. Ethan had somehow found his way behind me, and he slipped warm hands underneath the thin fabric of my borrowed peasant blouse, resting them lightly on my waist.
“You know what I want more than anything?” I asked.
“Mmm,” was his only reply.
“I want to use the Bathtub of Awesome and to wear my own damn clothes.”
“Mmm,” he mumbled again, swiping my hair aside to nuzzle my neck.
I swatted at him playfully. “That’s no answer.”
He backed up, hands raised in mock surrender. “Far be it from me to keep you from your plans,” he teased. “I’ll just be in the kitchen, making sure Logan doesn’t sneak anything healthy into your tea.”
I stuck out my tongue as he slipped back inside. I smiled to feel the sun on my face, to breathe the fresh scent of growing ivy. Then I stalked off to the bathroom. I hadn’t realized how much I missed my bathtub until just then.
I stopped short at the sight of Jack standing alone in the middle of the room, obviously uncomfortable and unsure of what to do with himself. He stood at rigid, almost martial, attention, hands locked together behind his back. I felt a wave of sympathy. Everyone else was so comfortable with each other, moving easily around the kitchen together. I realized that he had only ever visited here in dreams. How out of place he must feel.
“Why don’t you put on a record?” I asked, slipping up beside him. “You like that, don’t you? Music?” The question was purely rhetorical; I remembered the last time he’d come to my apartment, in the Dreamtime. He’d woken me up by playing one of my favorite albums.
He relaxed a little as he confronted our massive record collection. “It’s rare that anyone collects actual vinyl anymore,” he said. He ran a single finger across one of our music-stuffed shelves.
“I’m sure you can manage,” I said, feeling a bizarre urge to give him a quick kiss on the cheek. I stepped back, thinking of Ethan. I settled for giving his arm a quick squeeze, instead.
My room was exactly as I’d left it. The bed remained unmade, a virtual mountain of mismatched blankets and pillows all tangled and heaped around each other. Clothes and shoes spilled out from my closet door. Drawing supplies lay scattered across the top of my dresser, mixing with jewelry and paperbacks and candles. I felt myself relax even more. My sanctuary was fine.
I stripped off Cassandra’s clothes as I walked toward the bathroom. I turned the water on as hot as I could stand it and dumped in almost a cup of bubble bath. I sprinkled some lavender leaves in for good measure. I didn’t like herbs in my tea, but I had no problem with them being in my bathtub. My claw foot tub was huge, big enough to swim in, I often joked. While it filled I stood in front of the full-length mirror and studied myself.
I’d definitely lost weight, and not in a good way. I was not a girl who dieted obsessively or cared much about my figure, as long as I stayed healthy. But the last few weeks had not been kind ones, and I couldn’t help but notice how my collar bones were sharper than ever. My face looked hollowed out and my hair seemed flat and dull. I sighed and turned back to the bath. I would have to start taking better care of myself.
Just as soon as this war was over.
I sank gratefully into the bath. The bubbles made small fragrant mountains around me. After several languorous full-body submersions, I was content to just sit and soak for a while. I heard muffled laughter coming from the kitchen, and Jack had found a record to play. It sounded like jazz. I slapped a wet washcloth across my eyes and hummed contentedly to myself. My household sounded happy. It had been a long time since I’d been quite this relaxed.
So I almost jumped out of my skin when firm warm fingers snaked their way through my wet hair to massage my neck. They slid easily over my slick skin, rubbing taut muscles and soothing knots of stress. Strong hands moved down to my shoulders, kneading and rubbing, until I almost moaned with pleasure.
“You scared me,” I accused half-heartedly.
“Doesn’t seem like it,” Ethan chuckled, dipping his hands below the water line to reach the muscles of my upper back. His thumbs applied pressure on either side of my spine, and rubbed downward in two strong straight lines. I arched my back like a cat.
“That feels wonderful,” I said, hugging my knees to give Ethan better access to the rest of my back. With his hands on me, I could almost forget the nightmares of the last several weeks.
An involuntary cry escaped me when his kneading fingers worked their way down my upper arms. Pain flared from the place where Belial had gripped me. Ethan froze immediately, his hand hovering just inches above my bruises. He moved so that he could kneel beside me by the tub, gently pushing away a layer of bubbles to get a better look at my skin.
Dark purple, almost black, bruises mottled my upper arm. They resembled finger marks, and stood out starkly against my pale, slick skin. I heard Ethan inhale sharply through his teeth. He held my arm gently, as if the mere act of touching me might hurt me, and turned my arm carefully in the light.
“Where else?” he demanded, his voice gone flat and cold. His blue-green eyes flashed with barely contained fury. “What else did he do to you?”
“I’m fine,” I said in a small voice, wanting to hide under my bubbles. I hadn’t told anyone else about the things Belial had done— the way my wrist had almost been snapped in half, the concussions I’d had that required a Gifted healer. I didn’t want Ethan to know. I wanted to just enjoy being home with him, where I felt safe and happy. But he wasn’t having any of it.
“Bullshit,” he snapped, but he let my arm go. He rocked back on his heels, regarding me sharply. After a long moment, he grabbed a bath towel from the stack by the door and held it up for me. “Out,” he ordered. His tone left no room for disagreement. “I want to see for myself. Whether you’re fine or not.”
Water streamed down my body as I stepped, trembling, from the bath. I told myself it was the rush of cold air against my skin that made me shiver, not the piercing way Ethan stared at me, as if I had secrets to hide. I didn’t. I just wanted to forget about everything, at least for a couple of hours.
But he pulled me, gently, into the middle of my bedroom, where he held me away from him at arm’s length. Concern etched his features as he looked me over from head to toe. He said nothing, just walked in a slow circle around me as he checked for damage. He knew me so well; even if I’d had a bunch of injuries, I would have tried to downplay them, or deny their existence outright.
Finally, he stopped in front of me. He dropped his forehead against mine and let out a tense sigh. “What happened to you, Caspia, while you were in that place? He hurt you, I can see it in your eyes, and it’s tearing me apart.” His arms came up around me. I was grateful for the warmth he provided as I stood there in nothing but a towel.
“He . . .” I began, but found that the words were harder than I’d thought. “He was mostly just rough with me, as if he had forgotten how much weaker humans are. I . . . hit my head a couple of times, and he almost broke my wrist once.” Ethan went completely still, not moving a muscle, hardly even breathing. “But mostly, he just seemed to enjoy . . . messing with me. Making me afraid.” I took a deep breath, unsure if I wanted to bring it up, but I had been carrying Belial’s words around for a while now, and they had begun to eat at my heart. “He told me things,” I whispered, somehow dredging the words up. “He told me you killed his wife.”
Ethan went rigid against me, and cradled my head against his shoulder. “That bastard,” he said in a strangled voice. He unwrapped his arms from around me, only to pull me towards the bed. We sat side by side as he flipped my hand over in his, palm up, and began tracing the lines he found there. “It’s not true,” he said at last, after what seemed like an eternity of silence.
I waited, listening.
Ethan flopped back on the bed. I fell with him, refusing to unlink our hands. He draped his forearm across his eyes, so that I could only see half his face in the dim light of my room. “It was a war, Caspia, so very long ago,” he said. His voice took on a dreamy quality, as if he once again walked a distant battlefield. “We were brothers, but we couldn’t have been more different. He had Fallen, you see, for a human woman.” I watched the corners of his mouth turn upwards. “He always was faster than me, smarter, even. I didn’t understand it then. I felt betrayed. But I loved him still. So when the war broke out, and we were on different sides of it, I refused to fight.”
I rolled onto my side, giving him my full attention. I didn’t want to stop touching him, so I traced the edges of his jaw with my fingers.
“But Neria fell anyway, slain by one of our Hunters. He went mad with it, losing her. I couldn’t understand it at the time. I had no concept of human love. So I did what I thought was the right thing, the kind thing.” His words turned hard and cold. “I did my job, Caspia. I took her soul to the Realms of Light. Like I was supposed to take Logan. I took her to a place where he couldn’t follow, where he could never enter again. And he hasn’t stopped blaming me since.”
“But . . . she would be happy there, in the Realms of Light. At peace . . . wouldn’t she?” I asked, trying to digest all he had told me.
“He didn’t see it that way. He was barred forever from the Light. Had she been taken to the Dark Realms instead, he could at least have been with her in some capacity. Or at least, that was his reasoning. I don’t know if it could have worked, but he’s hated me ever since.”
I rolled to face him. “It’s not your fault,” I said, as firmly as I could. “What he’s doing is his own delusion, his own Darkness manifested. It’s not your fault he took me, and it’s not your fault he’s trying to recreate that war.”
“If only it were that simple,” he said, still not looking at me.
“It is that simple,” I insisted, rising to my knees. I put one arm on either side of him and leaned across him, my wet hair dangling to the side. “Right here, right now, there’s only us. Human you, and human me. We won’t ever have to face that, a life without each other. You won’t live on for an eternity, to go mad or have a blackened soul.” I jerked his hand away from his face and placed it over my heart. “It’s. Not. Your. Fault.”
He stared at me then, and lifted a trembling hand to brush my wet hair off my cheek. A hint of a smile crept back, and he rolled with me until he was above me. He held himself there, perfectly still, until his breathing slowed into a rhythm that matched mine. “Only us,” he echoed, reaching down to trace the skin at the top of my towel. It loosened under his touch. His legs tangled with mine, the denim of his jeans rough against my soft damp skin.
“Human, together,” I whispered. Then his lips came crashing down, fierce and greedy. I pulled him against me, twining my fingers in his hair, conscious only of our breathing and the beating of our hearts.