Beautiful Redemption by Kami Garcia


  “That means he’ll want John back, so he’ll trade us the Book. Which is exactly what we want.”

  Ridley sighed. “Are you listening to yourself? He’s not a good guy. You don’t want to hand John over to him. When Abraham’s not gluing wings onto bats, he’s been having secret meetings with some creepy bald guy.”

  “Can you be more specific? That doesn’t narrow it down.”

  Rid shrugged. “I don’t know. Angel? Angelo? Something church-y like that.”

  I felt sick. My glass turned to ice in my hand. I could feel the frozen particles collecting at the tips of my fingers.

  “Angelus?”

  She popped a chip into her mouth from the black bowl on the bar. “That’s it. They’re teaming up for some supersecret takedown. I never heard the details. But this guy definitely hates Mortals as much as Abraham does.”

  What would a member of the Council of the Far Keep be doing with a Blood Incubus like Abraham Ravenwood? After what Angelus tried to do to Marian, I knew he was a monster, but I thought he was some kind of righteous lunatic. Not someone who would conspire with Abraham.

  Still, it wasn’t the first time Abraham and the Far Keep seemed to have their agendas aligned. Uncle Macon had brought it up before, right after Marian’s trial.

  I shook my head at the thought. “We have to tell Marian. After we get that book. So unless you have a better idea, we’re meeting Abraham to make the trade.” I drained what was left of my frozen soda water, knocking the glass back down to the bar.

  It shattered in my hand.

  The room quieted around me, and I could feel the eyes—nonhuman eyes, some gold and others black as the Tunnels themselves—staring back at me. I ducked my head from view.

  The bartender made a face, and I glanced at the door from the corner of my eye—half-expecting to see my Uncle Macon standing there. The bartender was staring. “Those are some eyes you’ve got.”

  Rid shot me a look. “Hers? One of them didn’t take,” she said casually. “You know how it goes.” We waited in our seats, nervous and tense. You didn’t want to attract too much attention at Exile, not when you only had one gold eye to show for it.

  The bartender studied me for another moment, then nodded and checked his watch. “Yeah. I know how it goes.” This time he glanced at the door. He’d probably already made the call to my uncle.

  That rat.

  “You’re going to need all the help you can get, Cuz.”

  “What are you saying, Rid?”

  “I’m saying it looks like I’m going to have to rescue you fools again.” She flicked a piece of broken glass off the counter.

  “Rescue us how?”

  “You leave that to me. Turns out I’m not just another pretty face. Well, I’m that, too.” She smiled, but she couldn’t quite pull it off. “All this and another pretty face.”

  Even her smart mouth seemed halfhearted to me now. I wondered if Ethan’s disappearance was getting to her as much as the rest of us.

  My instincts were still right about one thing.

  Uncle Macon showed up at the door like clockwork, and I was back home in my bedroom before I could ask her.

  CHAPTER 24

  The Hand That Rocks the Cradle

  Ridley was waiting for us behind the farthest row of crypts, which, judging by the number of abandoned beer bottles in the bushes, was also a Gatlin County hot spot.

  I couldn’t imagine hanging out here willingly. His Garden of Perpetual Peace still had Abraham’s fingerprints all over it. Nothing seemed to have changed since he had called up the Vexes only weeks before the Eighteenth Moon. Warning signs and yellow caution tape created a labyrinth between the broken mausoleums, uprooted trees, and cracked gravestones in the new section of the cemetery. Now that the Order of Things was repaired, the grass wasn’t burning up anymore, and the lubbers were gone. But the other scars were still there if you knew where to look for them.

  True to Gatlin form, the worst of the damage had already been hidden under the layers of fresh dirt Ridley was standing on now. The caskets had been reburied and the tombs sealed. I wasn’t surprised. It wasn’t like the good citizens of Gatlin to keep the skeletons out of the closet for long.

  Rid unwrapped a cherry lollipop and waved it around dramatically. “I sold it to him. Hook, line, and stinker.” She smiled at Link. “That’s you, Shrinky Dink.”

  “You know what they say. Takes one to know one,” Link shot back.

  “You know I smell like frosting on a cupcake. Why don’t you come on over here, and I’ll show you just how sweet I can be?” She wriggled her long pink nails like claws.

  Link walked over to John, who was leaning against a weeping angel that was split right down the middle. “Just callin’ it like I see it, Babe. And I can smell you just fine from here.”

  Link was throwing Ridley more than just quarter-Incubus swagger today. Now that he’d wrapped his head around the fact that she was back, it was like he lived to trade insults with her.

  Ridley turned back to me, annoyed that she hadn’t gotten a bigger rise out of him. “All it took was a little trip back to N’awlins, and I had Abraham eating out of my hand.”

  That was hard to imagine, and John definitely wasn’t buying it. “You expect us to believe you Charmed Abraham with a few Ridley pops? You and what chain of candy stores?”

  Ridley pouted. “Of course not. I had to sell it. So I thought, who would be stupid enough to do whatever I say and play right into my hands?” She blew Link a kiss. “Our little Dinkubus, of course.”

  Link’s jaw tightened. “She’s full of crap.”

  “All I had to do was tell Abraham that I used Link and his feelings for me to infiltrate your stupid little circle and figure out your even stupider little plan. Then I complained about him keeping me caged like his prize pet. Of course, I said I couldn’t blame him. Who wouldn’t want me around full-time?”

  “Is that a question? Because I’d be happy to answer,” Link snapped.

  “He wasn’t mad that you broke out of your fancy birdcage?” John asked.

  Ridley’s voice edged up a little. “Abraham knew I wouldn’t stay in there if I could find a way out. I’m a Siren; it’s not in my nature to be confined. I told him I used my Power of Persuasion on his pathetic Incubus errand boy and convinced him to let me out. It didn’t end well. Abraham just got a bigger cage for him.”

  “What else did you say?” I wanted to know if there was really a chance we were getting the Book. I twisted my charm necklace around my finger, trying not to think about the memories slipping around it.

  “I broke it down for him and said I’d rather bet on him than you guys.” She gave Link a sweet smile. “You know how I like a winning team. Naturally, Abraham believed every word. Why wouldn’t he? It’s so utterly believable.”

  Link looked like he wanted to throw her across the graveyard.

  “And Abraham will be there? Today?” John still didn’t trust her.

  “He’ll be there. In the flesh. Of course, I’m using the term loosely.” She shuddered. “Very loosely.”

  “He agreed to trade me for The Book of Moons?” John asked.

  Ridley sighed, leaning against the crypt wall. “Well, technically, I believe it went something like, ‘They’re stupid enough to believe you’ll trade John for the Book, but of course you won’t.’ And then there might have been some laughing. And some drunken Casting. It’s all a haze.”

  Link folded his arms across his chest. “The thing is, Rid, how do we know you’re not saying the same thing to him? You’re Dark as they come. How can we know”—he stepped protectively in front of me—“whose side you’re really on?”

  “She’s my cousin, Link.” Even as I said it, I wasn’t really sure of the answer. Ridley was a Dark Caster again. The last time she offered to help me, it was a trap, and she led me right to my mother and my Seventeenth Moon.

  But I knew she loved me. As much as a Dark Caster could love anyone. And as much
as Rid could love anyone other than herself.

  Ridley leaned closer to Link. “Good question, Shrinky Dink. Too bad I have no intention of answering it.”

  “One of these days, I guess I’ll figure out that one for myself.” Link frowned, and I smiled.

  “Let me give you a little clue,” Rid purred. “Today’s not the day.”

  Then in a swirl of cotton candy body glitter, the Siren he loved to hate was gone.

  It was just starting to get dark when we left Liv and Uncle Macon in the study, poring over every Caster book they could find about Sheers and Ravenwood history, respectively. Liv was convinced that Ethan was trying to contact us, and she was determined to find a way to communicate with him. Every time I went down there, she was taking notes or adjusting the crazy gadget she used to measure supernatural frequencies. I think she was desperate to find a solution that didn’t involve trading John for The Book of Moons.

  I didn’t blame her.

  Uncle Macon was, too, even if he wouldn’t admit it. He was scouring every journal and scrap of paper he could find for references to other places where Abraham could have hidden the Book.

  That’s why I couldn’t tell them what we were doing. We already knew how Liv felt about the idea of trading John for the Book. And Uncle Macon wasn’t going to trust Ridley. Instead, I told them I wanted to visit Ethan’s grave, and John volunteered to go with me.

  Link was waiting for John and me back at the cemetery. The sky was dark now, and I could barely make out where a crow circled high in the air above us, shrieking, as we made our way toward the oldest part of His Garden of Perpetual Peace.

  I shivered. That crow had to be some sort of omen. But there was no way of knowing which kind. Either things were going to go well, and I would end the day with The Book of Moons and a chance at getting Ethan back, or I’d fail and lose John in the process.

  John Breed wasn’t the love of my life, but he was the love of someone’s life. And John and I had spent more than a few dark months together, when he and Rid seemed like the only people I could talk to. But John wasn’t the same guy he was back then. He had changed, and he didn’t deserve to go back to a life with Abraham. I wouldn’t have wished that on anyone.

  What had I become?

  bargaining with a life

  that isn’t mine

  isn’t a bargain

  misery

  doesn’t

  come

  cheap

  John wouldn’t look at me. Even Link kept his eyes fixed on the path ahead of us. I felt like they were disappointed in me for being so selfish.

  I was disappointed in myself.

  It is what it is, and I am what I am. I’m no better than Ridley. I only want what I want.

  Either way, it didn’t stop my feet from walking.

  I tried not to think about it as I followed Link and John through the trees. While most of His Garden of Perpetual Peace was in the process of being restored to its pre–Vex attack state, the same wasn’t true of the older part of the graveyard. I hadn’t seen it since the night the earth cracked open, covering these hills with decomposing corpses and severed bones. Though the bodies were gone, the ground was still overturned, huge sinkholes replacing the graves that had surrounded generations of Wates since before the Civil War. Even if Ethan wasn’t here.

  Thank God.

  “This blows.” Link trudged up the hill with his garden shears in hand. “But don’t worry. I got your back. He’s not going to take you off to creepy-old-guy-land. Not without a fight. Not with these babies.”

  John shoved Link to the side. “Put those things away, rookie. You won’t be able to get close enough to Hunting to clip the grass around his feet. And if Abraham sees them, he’ll use them to slit your throat without even touching them.”

  Link shoved John back, and I ducked to avoid being knocked down the hill, as collateral damage. “Yeah, well, they helped me out on the way to that guy Obidias’ place when I took out that chicken-fried bat guy. Just don’t get me killed, Caster Boy.”

  “Hold up a second.” John, now serious, stopped walking and turned to both of us. “Abraham is no joke. You have no idea what he’s capable of—I’m not sure anyone does. Stay out of the way and let me handle him. You’re backup, in case Hunting or your girlfriend gives us trouble.”

  “Rid’s on our side, remember?” I reminded him.

  “At least she’s supposed to be. And she’s not my girlfriend.” Link clenched his jaw.

  “In my experience, the only side Ridley’s ever on is her own.” John stepped over a broken statue of a praying angel, her hands cracked at the wrists. All the broken angels around here were starting to feel like a bad omen.

  Link looked annoyed, but he didn’t say anything. He didn’t seem to like it when anyone but him criticized Ridley. I wondered if things could ever really be over between them.

  He and John navigated around the broken caskets and tree limbs, reaching an enormous sinkhole just beyond the old Honeycutt crypt. I did my best to keep up, but they were Incubuses, so there was nothing I could do, short of Casting an Incubus-cloning spell.

  But soon it didn’t matter, because we had nowhere left to go.

  Abraham was waiting for us.

  Either we had walked right into his trap or he had walked right into ours. It was almost time to find out.

  Abraham Ravenwood was standing on the far side of the sinkhole. Wearing a long black coat and stovepipe hat and leaning against a splintered tree, he looked bored, as if this was an annoying errand.

  The Book of Moons was tucked under his arm.

  I breathed a sigh of relief. “He brought it,” I said quietly.

  “We don’t have it yet,” Link said under his breath.

  Wearing a black turtleneck and a leather jacket, Hunting stood behind his great-great-great-grandfather. He was blowing smoke rings at Ridley. She coughed, waving the smoke away from her red dress, and gave her uncle a dirty look.

  There was something disturbing about seeing her dressed in red, standing a few feet away from two Blood Incubuses. I hoped John was wrong and Ridley really was on our side—for Link’s sake as much as my own.

  We both loved her. And you couldn’t control who you loved, even if you wanted to. That had been Genevieve’s problem with Ethan Carter Wate. It had been Uncle Macon’s problem with Lila, Link’s with Ridley. Probably even Ridley’s with Link.

  Love was how all these knots started to unravel in the first place.

  “You brought it,” I called across to Abraham.

  “And you’ve brought him.” Abraham’s eyes narrowed at the sight of John. “There’s my boy. I’ve been so worried.”

  John tensed. “I’m not your boy. And you’ve never cared about me, so you can stop pretending.”

  “That’s not true.” Abraham acted hurt. “I’ve put a great deal of energy into you.”

  “Too much, if you ask me,” Hunting said.

  “No one did,” Abraham snapped.

  Hunting clenched his jaw and flicked his cigarette into the grass. He didn’t look pleased. Which meant he would probably take that anger out on someone who didn’t deserve it and didn’t expect it. We were all plausible candidates.

  John looked disgusted. “You mean treating me like a slave and using me to do your dirty work? Thanks, but I’m not interested in the kind of energy you put into things.”

  Abraham stepped forward, his black string tie blowing in the breeze. “I don’t care what interests you. You serve a purpose, and when you stop serving it, you won’t be useful to me anymore. I think we both know how I feel about things that aren’t of any use to me.” He smirked. “I watched Sarafine burn to death, and the only thing that bothered me was the ash on my jacket.”

  He was telling the truth. I had watched my mother burn, too. Not that I thought of Sarafine that way. But hearing Abraham talk about her like that made me feel something, even if I didn’t know what.

  Sympathy? Compassion?

&n
bsp; Do I feel sorry for the woman who tried to kill me? Is that possible?

  John had told me that Abraham hated Casters as much as Mortals. I hadn’t believed him until that moment. Abraham Ravenwood was cold, calculating, and evil. He really was the Devil, or the closest thing I’d ever met.

  I watched as John raised his head high and called to Abraham. “Just give my friends the Book, and I’ll leave with you. That was the deal.”

  Abraham laughed, the Book still safely tucked under his arm. “The terms have changed. I think I’ll keep it after all.” He nodded at Link. “And your new friend.”

  Ridley stopped sucking on her lollipop. “You don’t want him. He’s worthless—trust me.” She was lying.

  Abraham knew it, too. A vicious smile spread across his face. “As you wish. Then we can feed him to Hunting’s dogs. When we get home.”

  There was a time when Link would’ve backed up, scared out of his mind. But that was before John bit him and his life changed. Before Ethan died and everything changed.

  I watched Link standing next to John now. He wasn’t going anywhere, even if he was afraid. That Link was long gone.

  John tried to step in front of him, but Link held out his arm. “I can defend myself.”

  “Don’t be stupid,” John snapped. “You’re only a quarter Incubus. That makes you half as strong as me, without the Caster blood.”

  “Boys.” Abraham snapped his fingers. “This is all very moving, but it’s time to get going. I have things to do and people to kill.”

  John squared his shoulders. “I’m not going anywhere with you unless you give them the Book. I’ve come into contact with some powerful Casters lately. I make my own choices now.”

  John collected powers the way Abraham collected victims. Ridley’s Power of Persuasion, even some of my abilities as a Natural. Not to mention the ones he absorbed from all the other Casters who unknowingly touched him. Abraham had to be wondering whose power John had tapped into.

  Still, I started to panic. Why hadn’t we taken John back down into the Tunnels to collect a few more? Who was I to think we could take on Abraham?

 
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