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 awoke to find Ethan’s arm stretched out across my chest. One of his legs draped over mine. My mismatched pillows and blankets formed a cocoon around me. I felt safe, secure, and completely at home for the first time in what seemed like years, even though, intellectually, I knew it had only been a matter of weeks.
The weak sunlight streaming in through my long cotton curtains indicated that it was very early in the morning. Everything in my room seemed washed out and gray. The house was completely quiet around me, except for Ethan’s slow and regular breathing. I didn’t want to wake him, so I wriggled out from underneath his arm and leg, inch by slow inch, until he stirred slightly and grumbled to himself. He said something under his breath, so softly I couldn’t make it out, and rolled away from me. I was finally free to indulge in a long, luxurious stretch. I felt like Abigail the cat.
I spared a minute to study the long, graceful curves that sculpted Ethan’s back. I let my fingers hover close to his skin, as close as I dared without waking him, and traced lines in the air that followed the bend of his spine, the outline of his muscles. I buried my face in his hair and inhaled the scents of citrus, juniper, and something else that was uniquely Ethan. I stayed that way for a minute, reveling in our closeness, before slipping quietly out of the bed.
I padded, barefoot, across the room to my much-missed closet. A mismatched pair of socks and my crumpled up favorite pair of jeans spilled out, keeping the door from fully closing. Inside, clean laundry was organized into piles. I smiled at this evidence of my slovenly ways and dug for a pair of clean jeans and my favorite band’s t-shirt.
In the living room, Jack lay stretched out across the sofa, one arm thrown across his eyes, and the other clenched into a tight fist against his stomach. Even asleep, he looked ready to jump up and fight off whatever might find its way into the apartment. His mouth hung open slightly, and he snored very softly. It was cute. But then I realized that his presence on the couch meant that Cassandra must have slept . . . with my brother? I frowned; I liked Cassandra. A lot, actually. But the thought of Logan having someone with powerful supernatural abilities in his life made me uneasy. It would just draw him deeper and deeper into this conflict, and I wanted to shield him from that as much as possible.
I tip-toed, as quietly as possible, into the kitchen area. I smiled a little when I saw my favorite mug, with a teabag still in it, sitting on the edge of the counter. It had been a sweet gesture, but I couldn’t pretend that I’d actually wanted to drink the tea. I dumped it out quickly and set about brewing coffee. The scent of the beans almost overwhelmed me with emotion. They were the Coffee Shop’s special Fair Trade Colombian Blend, one of my favorites. I thought again of the boarded-up, burned out store, and wondered when, or if, I would ever be able to get more. God forbid if I had to start using Starbucks.
While I waited for the coffee to finish brewing, I crept past a sleeping Jack and slipped out onto the balcony. The creeping ivy was deep green in the weak morning rays, and a light sheen of dew still clung to it, waiting to be burned off by the full force of the Southern sun. I sat down and propped my feet up on the ledge, burying my toes in the greenery.
Home. I had missed it so much.
The door opened behind me, and the smell of coffee assaulted my nose. A hand appeared at my elbow, sliding my mug across the glass topped table until it rested, steaming, within grabbing distance. I chugged it gratefully, noticing the intricate whorls and symbols on the hand that had provided it. By daylight, they looked like ordinary tattoos. They had none of the special blue glow they gave off in the Dreamtime. I wondered if they would shine again if Jack used his powers.
When Jack used his powers, I self-corrected. And me too, I supposed. I was past thinking there was any way we were getting out of this without fighting together. I thought of the electric-hued column of fire we generated with our combined abilities, and wasn’t surprised to feel the Shadows forming in my palms. I clenched my hands into fists to stop their shaking.
Jack noticed, of course. “Hey now,” he said, leaning against the balcony. “If I’d known coffee was going to upset you, I would have kept it all for myself.” His easy smile told me was joking, but his eyes carried unmistakable concern.
“It’s not that.” I took another sip. Plenty of sugar, but no milk. It must have gone bad by now. “I can’t help thinking about the two of us, and what we can do.” I could see my reflection in the surface of the liquid. I frowned at myself, and my reflection frowned back. “About how we’re going to have to fight, and . . . kill people.” I scowled.
“They’re not people,” Jack said. He spun around so that he could lean out over the stone railing. “We’re talking about different Realms here, Caspia. We’re talking about Hunters and demons. About angels and a Nephilim army. All those so-called ‘people’ will crush us just because we’re in the way.”
“But what about people like Caroline Bedford? Or Miranda? Nephilim like us, who don’t fight because they want to, but because they were kidnapped and blackmailed? They’re every bit in the middle as we are.” I studied the tattoos along his back, watching his muscles bunch as he leaned out even farther. “I don’t want to kill anyone,” I said softly.
Jack turned to face me and dropped to one knee. He reached for my hand and squeezed it tightly. “Hopefully we won’t have to. I’ll do everything in my power to keep from hurting other Nephilim, Caspia.” Then his whole face hardened with resolve. “But if we have no other choice, better them than us.”
I wanted to protest, to shout at him that we had no right hurting anyone who was there against their will, but I couldn’t find the words. Some deeply buried part of me was afraid he was right. I settled for squeezing his hand firmly instead.
The door swung open, revealing a shirtless, tousle-haired Ethan. He blinked sleepily at the sun and stretched on his tip toes. The he saw Jack and me holding hands, and froze.
I disengaged and scooted back like I’d been burned. I was sick of the tension between us. Last night we’d let our walls down, and I didn’t want to risk our recovered closeness over a meaningless gesture. Jack’s eyes were carefully hooded as he stood slowly up and returned to looking at the square. Ethan’s expression was hidden as well as he slipped into the chair next to mine.
“Good morning,” I said softly. Memories of the night before made my face flush. Talking, kissing . . . I stopped that thought progression right in its tracks before I turned beet red. Then I turned to Ethan and brushed my lips gently across his cheek. “There’s coffee.”
“Mmm,” was his ingenious reply. His eyes closed to half-slits. He looked golden in the rising sun’s light, and I couldn’t believe this gorgeous creature was mine. “I was disappointed to find you gone,” he said at last, a contented smile playing across his lips.
“Coffee called,” I shrugged.
“Mmm,” he said again, and then slid his hand up behind my neck, pulling me closer to him. His lips found mine and kissed me deeply. I returned it eagerly.
Jack, rigid now, kept his back towards us. After a moment, I gently disengaged. “So. Does anybody know what the plan is now?” I asked, draining my mug dry.
“We meet up with the others. The other Guardians, I mean,” Ethan said.
Everyone took turns eating dry cereal straight from the box as they rushed around getting ready. Cassandra raided my closet, which was only fair because she’d already leant me clothes. I wanted to laugh when she emerged from my room. She’d managed to make a perfectly ordinary long cotton skirt and matching blouse look hippyish. I don’t know why I was surprised; everything she touched soaked up her Earth Mother vibe. Jack borrowed a plain t-shirt from Logan. It stretched tight across his upper body, accentuating muscles my lanky brother did not possess.
Just before leaving, I slipped into my room to pack a small bag. I had no idea when I would be back, and I knew I would miss having my own things. A clean change of clothes, some toiletries, and a night shirt went into a rugged canvas knapsack. I folded my leather jacket and shoved it in, too. I hesitated, feeling incomplete but unsure of what to add. Then I saw my half-full sketchbook, gathering dust on my dresser. I let my fingers caress it for a moment before sliding it into my bag, along with a case full of graphite and drawing pencils.
Last of all, I slipped my twin daggers in between the folds of my clothes. It was probably my imagination, but I could have sworn they sparked blue when I had held them up to the light.
It was an effort, but I didn’t even look behind me as we left my apartment and piled back into Logan’s car.
“Where are we meeting up?” I asked as I stared at the slowly changing landscape. The destruction on the square had given way to the graceful mansions of Old Town’s Historic District. Some of the houses dated back to the town’s founding. Logan and I had lived in houses like this, until our parents died and we were forced to sell.
As if reading my mind, Ethan slipped his hand over mine.
“The Guardians are all gathering in the North.” Logan slipped on a pair of sunglasses. “Bain’s territory.” He almost snarled the name.
“What’s the deal with Bain?” I was a little startled at the level of animosity I was picking up.
“Bain cares about nothing but himself,” Cassandra said. “If he weren’t so powerful, and we didn’t need someone else affiliated with the Dark to keep the balance, then we’d never in a million years have him as a Guardian. But the spot came open, and wouldn’t you know, he was right there to fill it.” I couldn’t see her face, but I could tell she was fuming by the way she held herself.
“But being Dark doesn’t mean you’re bad, does it?” I asked. “Mrs. Alice is affiliated with the Dark, and she’s one of the most selfless people I know.”
“True,” Cassandra acknowledged. “What makes her Dark is the way she draws energy for her power. In her case, it’s through blood magic and rituals. But Bain is just . . . bad. There’s no other word for it. He’s always trying to manipulate the town council into policies that favor him, or his flunkies. And it’s easier to keep an eye on him, as a Guardian. He knows the rest of us could neutralize him, should the need ever arise.”
Silence descended for the next several miles. Old Town gave way to the newer part of Whitfield, where chain stores and strip malls clogged the sides of the road. I had always found this part of town to be kind of soulless, and tended to avoid it whenever possible. “ ‘North’ is really pretty vague,” I finally said. “Just where, specifically, are we headed?”
“The Northern Gate is at the very edge of town, like all the others,” Ethan said, tightening his grip on my hand. “It’s just beyond the newer gated communities.” Two- and three-storied McMansions stood together on postage stamp sized lots, crowding out the possibilities of green spaces or gardens or parks.
“I hate this part of town,” Cassandra said. Her voice sounded strained. “So many of the Dark supernaturals live here. The bad kind.”
We passed the last of the intimidating, pre-fabricated homes. The road narrowed and got bumpy while huge, ancient-looking trees sprang up to line the road. They were so tall and thick that they blocked out the sun, and the light changed from bright to almost-dusk. I figured it was now or never, so I asked the question that had been hanging over me ever since Jack and I escaped the Dark Realms.
“What about the Southern Guardian?” I could barely make myself say his name, the memories were so painful. I missed the crazy bastard so much it hurt. “With . . . Asheroth . . . gone?”
I was slammed with memories of him confronting Belial, of the way he’d continued fighting back even when he couldn’t win. Sacrificing himself to save me, to give Jack and me a chance to fight for Whitfield. My eyes stung as I blinked back tears.
For a few long moments, silence reigned. The atmosphere in the car turned heavy, charged with anxiety. Finally, Cassandra spoke just as Logan pulled the car off the road, carrying us down a narrow winding drive. He stopped in front of a pair of wrought iron gates. They had been shaped to look like thorns, complete with sharp, shiny barbs.
No one would be climbing over that gate unharmed.
“Asheroth can’t be here,” Cassandra said, turning around to give me a look of deep compassion. “I hope we find a way to get him back; we need him and he doesn’t deserve to be left behind.” She took a deep breath. “But we still need a Guardian, Caspia. There are safeguards to invoke, and power to access, that require all four Guardians.”
“So what are we going to do, then?” I demanded. Everyone in the car got very still.
Ethan reached up to tuck my hair behind my ear. He stroked my hand with his thumb. “Asheroth made you his heir,” he said, as sorrowfully as someone imparting the news of a dead pet. “That means you have to take his place.”