To Whitfield. To Ethan.
When they meet in the Dreamtime, Caspia can tell something is wrong. Whitfield seems increasingly militarized. Ethan is agitated; Asheroth makes less sense than ever; and the Blackwood witches are teaching Logan deadly gifts. Most disturbing of all is Belial, who is as charismatic as he is cruel.
But Belial isn’t the only one threatening Whitfield. 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.
Coming December 2011
Coming December 2011
Download the first two chapters in three different formats here: Mobi (Kindle); .rtf (Word); or EPUB (Nook)
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Blood Redemption, Book III of the Angel’s Edge series
By Vicki Keire
All rights reserved
Chapter One: Bonefire
I had come here with a plan.
I thought I knew what I was doing.
I thought there would be at least one person I could trust.
Was it the drops of angel’s blood throbbing through my veins that made me such a dangerous combination of arrogant and stupid, or was that a trait I could claim solely as my own?
As I sat half-curled around my knees, I tried to breathe through the panic that threatened to pull me back into a dead faint. Sucking cracks of eye-stinging pain centered in the back of my skull and radiated outward. I kept my eyes fixed firmly on the jagged flagstone floor. The heavy dark stones were so cold beneath me that my butt and thighs were going numb through the thin barrier of designer French denim. I winced as I remembered how quickly I’d thrown the jeans on in one of Asheroth’s identical white bedrooms. Had it really been only a few hours ago?
I trusted Ethan. I had trusted Jack. Both of them knew exactly who ruled the Twilight Kingdom.
Now I did, too.
Whatever you do, don’t scream.
There is some hope your innocence may protect you.
I felt sick, and it went much deeper than a head wound.
I kept my head down, my long hair the only barrier I had left. My hands twisted the denim just below my hips. Making fists helped the nausea a little, but didn’t do a thing for the anger I knew ebbed against my temporary stupor.
When warm rough fingers brushed my hair behind one ear, I froze. His touch felt so familiar, like Ethan’s before he changed. It was a touch so familiar I wanted to lean into it. But a demon’s embrace was the last thing I needed when I was sick and hurting and afraid. I launched myself backwards and away before I could stop to think.
Jack was at my side in an instant, his arms around my shoulder, his intense whisper in my ear more hiss than comfort. “You hit your head.” He tugged on me like he wanted me up, and quickly, but I shrugged him off. His words became rapid fire bullets. “You should try to stand, Caspia. If there is any way at all you can stand on your own two feet you had better do it now because it might be the only way he’ll let you walk out of here.” I stared at him, this flesh and blood version of my dreams come to life.
More like my nightmares.
“I can’t trust any of you,” I hissed back. “You knew about this.”
He swept his eyes around the room and touched the back of my head. Bottle rockets of pain exploded across one small area at the center of my skull. “There is no one else.” My blood covered three of his fingers. He brought them up between us like he was making some kind of vow. “Remember that. If you don’t trust me, fine. But don’t trust anyone else in this place either. That would be the worst mistake you could make.”
“Enough,” said the low cultured voice I remembered from before I passed out. “I don’t want Miss Chastain bleeding from a head wound on my floor.” And I found myself swept up in arms so familiar, so momentarily welcome, that I almost forgot where I was.
In a place called The Twilight Kingdom. With Belial, a demon who’d been hunting me for an as-yet-to-be determined amount of time. A demon that looked almost exactly like my Ethan.
I wrenched myself backwards, but Belial held me tightly by my forearm. “Let me go,” I growled. The sudden movement made me dizzy again and I stumbled.
He fixed his eyes on me, and I suppressed the urge to shriek. I knew they were dark where Ethan’s were bright; they were, in fact, the last memory I had before passing out at his feet. But now, pulled right against his face, I could suddenly see that his eyes were a single dark abyss pulling at me. Variegated shades of the darkest kinds of twilight swirled there, obscuring any irises, if he had any. I felt myself go cold despite the burning stone fingers that held me.
Belial was blind. Or sightless, I should say, because I had learned over the long years of working for Mr. Markov that lack of sight did not necessarily mean lack of vision. My boss had fired more than one person for making that mistake. There had been the high school senior who harassed me and Amelie when he thought no one was looking. We’d suffered through exactly one weekend shift of unwelcome pinches and grabs before he suffered a nasty steam burn across both hands. Mr. Markov told him not to bother coming back. I had a feeling Belial wouldn’t be so gentle.
Dimly, I heard Jack arguing. “I’ll take her,” he insisted. “Miranda’s rooms aren’t far from ours. She can have her healed in minutes.”
“But there is the problem of transport,” Belial mused, still just inches from my face. His hand had begun to heat through my cashmere sweater. “No, Jack. I understand your eagerness. But you are dismissed.”
“But,” Jack tried to argue some more. Whatever he had been going to say was cut off with a muffled punching sound followed by a soft grunt. I dragged my eyes away from Belial’s face, which took more mental effort than I would have believed. Jack was on one knee, his head bent, with both arms around his stomach. When he looked up, banked fury burned back at me. Eyes wide, I pulled even harder against Belial, trying to go to him, but he stopped me with the tiniest shake of his head.
“I’m fine,” I lied. I didn’t know where to look so I studied the flames in the fireplace. There was no wood in it. Bones lay heaped and burning in a pile in the center of the huge fireplace. I remembered how there had been no trees when Jack and I walked here. What else would they burn? Bonefire, my shocked mind tried to process, but couldn’t. I filed it away numbly. “I can walk on my own.” I forced my lips to form the words.
Bones. The warmth I felt came from bonefire. What kind of bones, I didn’t want to know. Ever.
Belial ignored me. “Go. Now,” he commanded Jack. His words were clipped.
Jack nodded and swallowed hard. He jackknifed to attention, bowing slightly from the waist as if he hadn’t just been punched there. “Of course.” He wouldn’t even look at me. He spared one nod for Belial before spinning on his bare heel and practically sprinting back the way we’d come.
Leaving me alone with a demon who wore my boyfriend’s face.
That face smiled at me now. “Good. I’ve waited quite a long time for your arrival.”
I nodded hesitantly. The movement made me wince. How to ask what I really wanted to know without giving away too much? “I… When I left. There were,” I exhaled against the sheer insanity of the word. “Hellhounds. Attacking my town.”
His eyes narrowed. “No questions.”
I could only stare at him. “What?” I asked, confused.
“No questions.” He released me and reached for the beautiful fox with the reddish gold fur, cradling it like it was something very valuable to him. “You’ll come with me, and do as you’re told, and ask no questions of any kind.”
Logan has always told me my temper would get me in terrible trouble one day. I used to laugh and tell him I didn’t have a temper, that surely he had me confused with his other sister. But I felt the truth of his warning now. I forgot that I was in the Dark Realms, face to face with an ancient creature that literally held the power of life or death over me. I didn’t care what he might do to me. Instead, I advanced on him. “Like hell I won’t.” My hands formed into fists on their own. “I will ask any question I damn well please, and you’d better answer it.”
He looked more amused than anything else. When my fist actually connected with his face, amusement changed to something else. Something sharp and eager. As I felt the bones in my hand break, I heard him murmur, “How this will hurt him.”
For the second time in one day, I passed out at a demon’s feet.
Chapter Two: To Drink with Demons
I awoke with most of my clothing gone, replaced by something soft and thin. I was flat on my back between silken sheets and a heavy coverlet. My hand, wrapped tightly with a bandage, throbbed dully, along with my head. The room was dim and smoky. Not smoky, I self-corrected as I tried to see in the semi-darkness. Blurry. My vision was blurry, from pain and perhaps drugs. Great.
“Tell me about my brother,” Belial’s deep voice demanded before I could even focus my eyes.
“Why?” I asked, resisting the urge to curl back in on myself. I would not make myself look more vulnerable than I already was, here in the center of Belial’s broad fur bed. “Why do you want to know about him?”
He appeared to think this over for a moment, very deliberately, pale fingers dusting the tops of cut crystal bottles that flared into focus when my vision cleared. “For reasons that are my own,” he said at last, very slowly, very deliberately. By chance or habit he picked the brightest bottle of all, a squat thing half full of clear crimson liquid, sheer but brilliant, like blood stretched across fire. He held it towards me as if he would have me drink. “Don’t you have a brother?” Two full glasses of the liquid waited at his elbow. I had not seen him pour.
“Yes,” I answered carefully, staring at the little port glasses. I did not want to drink with a demon.
“Yes, I knew that you did.” Belial carried the drinks toward me slowly, deliberately, as if I were a wild bird he did not want to startle. “I also know he was dying.” He measured his words to cover his actions; his next carried him right next to me on the bed. “He should have died.” I shifted my weight sideways but he was faster, abyss-eyes and strange crimson liquid right in front of me before I could move. “But he didn’t die, did he? And then my brother arrived in your life.” Hot fingers pinned my uninjured ones around the crystal. He tossed his back in one fluid motion. “At least, that’s what my spies tell me. Drink.”
“No.” I wondered if he could feel my good hand trembling underneath the pressure of his hold.
His fox jumped up on his other side. He leaned into me just like a stalking animal. He had only to slide an arm beneath me to make it into an embrace. “Drink. If I wanted to kill you, you would be dead.” If he leaned much closer I was going to spill the red drink down my shirt. Once I would have thrown it in his face. Now, it was all I could do not to skitter away from him while I tossed it back.
But he didn’t release me. Curved over me, I had only to wrap my hand around the back of my neck and close my eyes. He could so easily be Ethan.
God, I was in trouble.
“That’s enough,” I said in a surprisingly firm voice. “I know how powerful you are in this place. I know what you can do. But I won’t let you bully me. I drank your drink. Now let me go.”
Surprise flickered quickly across his familiar features, but he masked it quickly. He slipped away from me, taking his fox with him. He studied the flames, his back to me, the silver of his black suede jacket shining brightly. “How did he do it? How did Ethan’i’el keep your brother from dying?”
I remembered that moment, my own brother gone from me, Ethan there before me like the being of Light he kept hidden most of the time. I remembered the Light and life that had traveled between us, and I realized how angry I was. I vaulted off the bed.
Bad move. Still dizzy from the head wound, I swayed and would have fallen. Thankfully, Belial’s bed had very thick bedposts. I clung to one with my good hand like a life preserver, realizing I was wearing an almost-sheer silvery nightgown. “No. No way. I don’t know what’s between you two, but that’s where it stays, ok? Ethan never once mentioned you to me. I’m here because you wouldn’t leave my town alone until you had me. Well, here I am, and I’m not telling you anything about Ethan.” I wouldn’t either; I had a feeling I would need every single memory of his touch, of every moment together, to survive this place.
Especially considering who its keeper was.
“You will tell me,” Belial said softly, but there was hatred there below his words. “You will tell me anything I want, when I want, and we will begin with how your brother did not die.”
All at once, I was afraid. Truly afraid, and not because I was worried about my town or the people I loved. I was afraid of the creature in front of me. Suddenly he bore very little resemblance to Ethan at all. I could not explain what exactly happened to melt the semblance of humanity from his bones so quickly, but it was gone and its place was something that was the very essence of Darkness. Every abyss- wing and portal I had ever seen since meeting Ethan lead here, to the creature in front of me.
“I know you can hurt me,” I said, doing my best to stand up straight, even though my knees felt like jelly. “I know you can do terrible things until I tell you whatever you want, do whatever you want. But that’s not the same as telling you, exactly. It’s being forced. Maybe it won’t matter in the end, but it matters to me.”
I kind of expected the torture to start there, but he merely closed his eyes and petted his fox. A tiny bit of the evil fled the room. “No, I won’t torture you for anything I want from you. You’ll tell me willingly.”
I felt the old familiar stubbornness settle in between us. He had no idea how stubborn I could be. “You don’t know me very well, then.”
“On the contrary.” He put his fox down gently. I wished I hadn’t seen that; I didn’t want to see him be gentle to anything. “You will meet me for breakfast tomorrow morning, eager to tell me what I want to know. About my brother, and yours. And then we’ll have a history lesson.”
“Why would I do that?”
“Because.” At a gesture, two spectral gray shapes appeared on either side of him. “In exchange, I will grant you one request.”
My too-good-to-be true radar started screaming even as I tried not to stare at the gray mist-figures advancing on me. “One request? What kind of request, exactly?” I prodded.
“Anything you want. But just one. And just for one person. You can’t ask for every single Nephilim here to suddenly wake up in their beds, for instance.” He smiled much too smugly for my liking.
“But I could request that one Nephilim wake up in her bed?” I asked dubiously.
“Yes.” He began to flip idly through a book. I wondered why he bothered.
“Then that’s what I want. I mean yes, let’s do it. I’ll tell you right now.” I crept closer, testing boundaries in my eagerness. The hem of my silvery nightgown looked like a living pool of mercury on the floor between us. I wondered if it matched my eyes. I wondered if Belial could tell, about my eyes. He smiled to see my hesitant approach.
“In the morning, Caspia. That is the bargain. The Grey Ladies,” he indicated the mist figures, “will show to your rooms, where you can meet the other gifted.” He leaned towards me, and in the firelight, he looked so much like Ethan again it made me ache. To think I could be back with him in the morning… but of course it had to be some kind of trick. I knew better than to bargain with demons and expect to come out ahead. He saw the doubt in my eyes, and said more gently, “If anything in your rooms is not to your liking, just tell one of the Grey Ladies. I’ve assigned the pair of them to wait on you while you’re here. And of course, Jack will be waiting to see you. He was quite upset at your sudden parting.”
My head snapped up at the mention of Jack. “Is he ok? He’s not… hurt, is he?”
Belial shrugged. “I really don’t know. I was much more concerned with you. He might be.”
My alarm grew a little faster than my anger at his callousness. “What do you mean, you don’t know? You have a doctor here, don’t you?”
“Demons don’t get sick.”
“But… if you’re building an army…” Words failed me, and I stamped my foot. “We’re human, and we need… things,” I finished lamely. “Like doctors.”
Belial raised an eyebrow. “I’ve been rather eager for your arrival. Some of the others have not been so fortunate. Go with the Grey Ladies. Go and see how the other gifted fare,” his snaky smile had slithered back in place. “Then tell me over breakfast what your request will be. Home, for you? Or something else?”
No doctors. Jack, hurt? I remembered the time he Dreamwalked into my living room, battered and upset. “When a Hellhound takes a swipe at you, the wound pretty much cauterizes itself,” he’d said.
I followed the smoky forms of two spectral women out into the stone hallway. Each step felt heavier than the last. I knew better than to drink with demons and believe in their lies. Something horrible was waiting for me, I just knew it. And I hated Belial even more because for a few seconds, I had actually let myself think I might wind up safely out of here. Now I felt selfish for even thinking it. He’d probably hurt someone to make me use my request just to torment all of us.
One of the Grey Ladies paused in her silent glide. I couldn’t be sure, but I think she was studying me. I forced my shoulder back and my head up straight. I could not afford to show weakness in this place. No weakness, ever. But she merely hovered, waiting for me to pass. My shoulder and left arm passed right through her as I walked. I wondered if it was uncomfortable for her, to come into contact with human flesh, to see the mortality that had been stripped from her. I expected it to feel creepy when I passed through her, but it didn’t. Instead, it was just like walking through cool fine fog.
Cool fog that smelled like roses and promised rain. Not unpleasant at all.