Exclusive cover reveal + first chapter + giveaway: Edge of Regret (Love on the Edge) by Molly E. Lee

When it comes to adventure romance, there is no hotter author out there right now! I love Molly E. Lee’s novels and I’m so excited to share with you the gorgeous, very sexy cover of her next one—Edge of Regret! It’s coming June 20th, but I’ve got a sneak peek at what you can expect with the entire first chapter! Read below and please share using the social media icons at the end of this post for your chance to win a $50 Amazon gift card!

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Synopsis

Leading man on the new E.D.G.E. series reality show? Check.

Stunt-double for the star in the latest, multi-million-dollar funded military movie? Check.

Work with a sexy female military expert? Holy hell, check.

When I signed on to do stunts for Hollywood’s eagerly awaited war-thriller, I thought it would be like every other gig—go in, try not to get killed, and leave with a fat check and an adrenaline rush. This time? Not so much.

Mackenzie Patterson is the on-set expert. She knows topographical layouts, government lingo, speaks four languages, and is one of the best explosive disposal leaders the Air Force has ever seen, so she’s more than qualified.

She’s also the woman who turned my teenage heart to ash.

I can’t ignore the darkness that has appeared in her eyes, or the urge I have to take it away.

Quitting isn’t an option, but the more I see her, the more I want to make her mine. And that can never happen because our past is twisted with heartbreak, hate, and regret.

Every second I spend with her is a battle between holding on to the anger in my heart—and giving in to the love that never left.

Chapter One

Wade

“You sure the suit shouldn’t go tandem?” Kent, the only pilot I trusted more than myself, asked over his shoulder.

The roar of the Beech 90 series plane engine damn near drowned out his voice. If it were a softer hum, I’m sure I would’ve been able to hear the frantic beat of Casey William’s heart. I clapped Casey on the back, trying like hell to shock the panicked daze off his face. The blue of his eyes that I’d personally seen work their magic on more women than he knew what to do with were dilated to where there was almost no color left.

“You good?” I asked, my voice lowered so there was no chance Kent could hear.

Casey blinked a couple times and nodded. “Hell yeah,” he said. “I’m totally comfortable with jumping out of a moving plane at twelve thousand feet. Do it all the time.”

I chuckled, spinning him around to check his chute for the fourth time. We’d done a few small practice runs at an indoor skydive park I knew in L.A., but today was the big show. I would’ve been more comfortable taking him tandem, like Kent had just suggested, but then it wouldn’t be a fair initiation.

The plane’s interior was so small we both had to hunch slightly so our heads didn’t knock the ceiling. We were almost level in build and height, though he had the money look while I simply looked like trouble. We’d met a few months ago after filming the E.D.G.E. special in the Amazon with Easton, Rain, Dash, and Connell. When our studio backing fell through, Casey had come to the rescue—right along with his seemingly never-ending cash flow—to save our new spin on a reality show. High stakes, dangerous settings, and four “wicked hot” guys—Blake Lexington’s words, not mine. How could he not sign on to fund our projects? He was an excellent businessman and knew potential when he saw it, and after the test run of the special, he’d hit a goldmine in us, or a City rather—pun absolutely fucking intended. Ratings were off the charts, and though every major network had begged us to bring it over to them, we were content to stay with the much smaller studio Casey had bought for the sole purpose of airing our shows. We weren’t due to record another one for at least six months, so I had picked up a new gig back home.

“Hey,” I said, spinning him to face me again. “You’re lucky you drew my name out of the hat.” I tugged on the shoulder straps of his chute, doing one final check.

“Remind me why again?” he asked, eyeing the white puffs of clouds that surrounded the plane as we neared our jump height.

“Well, let’s review the facts.” I held up my fingers to tick off the reasons. “If you’d drawn Connell’s name, you’d be two hundred feet under a constantly moving ocean likely exploring a sunken ship that could collapse on you at any second.” His eyes widened and a shudder visibly shook him. “If you’d drawn Easton,” I continued, holding up another finger, “you’d be two hundred feet deep in the earth, in some god-forsaken cave in search of a mythical treasure that no doubt has some legendary sect protecting the shit out of it.” He pressed his lips together, nodding. “And, fuck, if you’d drawn Dash?” I shook my head, holding up the next finger. “You’d literally be running for your life from a damned tornado.”

“You have a point,” he said, punching my shoulder. “Guess none of those things are something tourists pay to do, like this.”

I grinned, dropping all my fingers except for the middle one. “Exactly. Safe as kittens.”

Kent gave me the nod, and I took two steps toward the opened door. The sky was a crystal clear blue, the clouds white and so close it felt like you could reach out and touch them. I hung on to the edge of the doorway, gazing down. Everything looked better from this height. There was something calming about being twelve thousand feet above the world. Somewhere no one could touch you, not even your own thoughts.

“See?” I glanced back at Casey, who peered just past my shoulder before clenching his eyes shut. His nostrils flared a few times, but when he opened them again he was solid.

Good man.

I would’ve hated to have to give him shit if he punked out, him technically being our boss and all.

No, you wouldn’t have.

True. I loved dishing shit. Especially at my newfound family. Like Connell. Fuck, if he were here he’d be puking in the corner and I’d be holding his hair back asking if he needed some Pepto. I missed that asshole. Hadn’t seen him in a few months, but I’d text him every now and then just to rile him. Dude was totally against technology.

“Windspeed is perfect for the set landing.” Kent raised his voice so we could both hear him. “Starting now you’ve got a ninety-second jump window.”

“I can’t believe the director is letting you skydive on set.” Casey clenched and unclenched his fingers.

“I’m the talent. How is that hard to believe?”

A laugh ripped from his lips. The first one since we’d boarded.

Finally. That shit doesn’t normally take so long.

“Right,” he said. “But you’re the man behind the talent.”

I wagged a finger at him. “Watch it, suit. There wouldn’t be a movie without my body to take the beatings.”

He rubbed at the scruff of stubble on his chin, glancing down. “I’m wearing shorts!” he shook his head. “How is it I was dubbed the suit before I was even initiated?”

Today he was dressed much more casually in the shorts and T combo I suggested for the jump, but normally? It was like the dude didn’t own anything other than five-thousand-dollar suits. To each his own, but that shit would tire me out.

That’s probably why he’s a billionaire and you’re not.

Dick.

“Those shorts probably cost more than my bike,” I joked. “Be happy we didn’t decide to call you Money.

“Damn,” he hissed. “Was that in the pool?”

I nodded, reaching for his forearm and tugging him toward the opened plane door. “Oh yeah,” I said, eyeing Kent over his shoulder. “Along with Captain America and Billionaire Boss.”

“Fucking hell, man.” He shrugged. “I’m no different than any of you in the E.D.G.E.

“Your wallet begs to differ.” I chided but only because he was humble as shit. If it weren’t for the clothes or the intel that went with googling his name, no one would know he had billions. The fact that he was a decent rich guy only made me—and everyone else in the E.D.G.E. crew—like him even more. But we had to give shit where shit was due. It was in our edgy handbook.

Yes, I wrote it.

“Ready?” I asked.

He sucked in a breath so large his chest puffed out, and he nodded.

“Good,” I said. “You’ll do fine. Just remember to pull the chute when we talked about. And aim for the landing site marked on set.”

“Got it,” he said.

I moved but thought better of it and looked back at him. “You named me as predecessor of your franchise in case of your death, right?”

He glared at me. “Yeah, I signed it with the stipulation that instead of continuing on with the E.D.G.E crew, you host your own talk show where people come on to chat about their feelings.”

“Bleh,” I said, shaking out the horrible vision. “Keep your money.”

He chuckled. “Thought so.” He stepped up to the edge, glancing down at the clouds beneath us. “Besides,” he said, looking up at me. “If I’d give anyone the money it’d be Connell.” A smirk and one step later, and he jumped.

“Judas,” I hissed, spun around with my back toward the opened door, threw Kent a thumbs-up, and let go.

Chance, brother. Good to see you.

The image of my brother’s face, laughing and at peace, flashed behind my closed lids as gravity pulled me through the air. Every time I jumped from a plane it was the same, like Chance could find me here and nowhere else…unless I was about to die. It’s like he knew he could corner me here, remind me how much I missed him, how much I regretted the last words we spoke before he’d been blown to bits.

Fuck. I snapped my eyes open, closing my arms across my chest to spin and propel me downward, needing a faster freefall, a more intense rush. The prick of ice in my chest deepened, the one that had Chance’s name tattooed over it. I’d known this would happen, but there wasn’t shit I could do to escape the guilt up here. In reality I used my job as a stuntman to dull the thoughts, or the quick company of a different woman every other night to distract me from everything I couldn’t ever seem to address about my past. Up here? No such luck. I was exposed in a way I never was on solid ground, and I both lived for these moments and dreaded them.

I miss you.

I miss you both.

Mackenzie’s blue-gray eyes took over Chance’s face, as they always did. There was no memory with Chance for me that didn’t attach to Mackenzie—the love of my life. The one who crushed me. The one who I never got over. The one I couldn’t seem to stop thinking about. She was always there, a prickle of heat in my heart, but after my near-death experience in the fucking Amazon rainforest with the E.D.G.E. brotherhood, it had gotten so much worse.

I’d called her mother, looking for her most up-to-date number, but had hung up as she searched her cell for it. She’d texted it to me—God love that woman, she’d always had a soft spot for me—but I’d deleted it and drank half a bottle of whiskey instead. I had no business calling Mackenzie, thinking of her. That was a lifetime ago.

I reached up and pulled my chute, the wind yanking me back with enough force to push the air out of my lungs. After a few seconds, I leveled out. Casey whooped and hollered next to me, typical first-timer reaction. I smiled over at him, jealous of his ability to give over to the experience completely while I was robbed of the levity. Moments like these directly tied with thoughts of the past I couldn’t escape.

“This is amazing!” Casey called from his position just behind me.

“Remember to run with the landing if you can,” I said, spotting the area marked off with neon tape. It was a massive field only ten miles from the studio lot of the picture I was shooting this month. Some of the major scenes would take place on man-made sets, or we’d have to drive to a new location, but today’s was a simple marker rehearsal in the field Casey and I rapidly approached.

I had been lax to sign on for a military film—my ex-parents and dead brother had put me off the military a long fucking time ago—but it was slated to be the biggest and most authentic military blockbuster since The Hurt Locker. It was impossible to say no when I was offered to double for the movie’s lead actor.

The field had a few pieces set up so the director could get an idea of markers—beige tents, camo bags, wooden tables lined with up-to-date weapons. I could only hope Casey would remember the control of the chute I’d taught him and avoid smashing into that shit on our way in. Director would kill me if he did, but then again, Casey could easily afford to break everything on the lot if he wanted to.

“Brace for impact,” I called over my shoulder as the earth came up to meet my feet. I ran with the hit, my quads and calves taking most of the pain as I tucked and rolled from the speed in which I’d come in at.

Casey hit the mark only a few feet away from me, but the dude didn’t run. He straight up smacked into it with a thud so loud I winced. Unhooking from my chute, I ran over to him.

“You good, bro?”

Casey rolled over on his back, laughing. “We have to do that again.”

I smirked, smacking his chest before helping him to his feet. “Nice. You do have a hangar full of planes at our disposal.”

The laugh melted off his face. “Disposal?”

I shrugged, walking to where Dennis the Director shuffled over to me.

“Wade,” he said, giving me a good-ole-boy, one-two punch in the gut. “Smooth landing. Think I’ll have to shoot a jump sequence now that I know how well you can handle it.”

“And how good I make it look,” I said, unstrapping the rest of my gear.

“True,” Dennis said.

The absence of the weight was a relief on my adrenaline-pumped muscles, the high upped my heart rate so much I was ready to tackle a few miles at the gym. A few miles on my motorcycle sounded like a much better alternative. Maybe Casey would want to hit up the bars again. The dude was a brilliant wingman, but he never cleaned up like I did. Not for lack of ladies vying for the position, though. There was a story there, I just hadn’t gotten close enough to him to ask, yet. Plus, if I asked him then he’d bug me about my one-and-done method, and no one needed to hear the sob story of my past. The one where the girl stole my heart, set it on fire, and took its ashes with her when she enlisted.

Just the thought made me ache in places I didn’t want to, and I spun on my heels to practically beg Casey to go out tonight. Shit, I could do it on my own, but drinking was so much more acceptable when you had a buddy system.

“Suit,” I said just as he’d shucked the rest of his gear. “You. Me. The city?”

He smirked, shaking his head. “Do you ever actually work?”

I held my arms out to indicate the set we’d landed on. “I’m working right now.”

He rolled his eyes, swiping the screen of his cell.

“Do you ever not work?” I asked, eyeing the phone.

“No.” He pocketed it. “But I don’t have anything on the books tonight. Where we hitting?”

I clapped my hands together, placing the pressed points over my lips. “Depends. You buying?”

He flipped me off.

My mouth dropped. “What? We can talk shop. You can write it off as a business meeting.”

Casey pursed his lips. “Maybe you wouldn’t be such a poor choice as a predecessor.”

“Right?” I nodded. “Better than Connell. He’d blow your billions on boats and oxygen. Tanks of air. What kind of scam is that?”

Casey chuckled, crossing his arms over his chest. “Deplorable.”

“I know, and don’t get me started on Dash and his rain gauges. Glorified water collectors.” I rolled my eyes, fully immersing myself in the joy I received from poking fun at my new brothers.

“Wade!” Dennis shouted at my back, and I damn near stomped my foot.

“Fuck,” I hissed. “I was just about to go on a tear over Easton’s hat. Remind me.” I pointed at Casey who no longer paid me any sort of attention. His eyes were glued behind me, an eyebrow cocked in a position I invented—the holy hell who do I have to kill to fuck you position.

I whirled around, fully expecting to find the starlet of the movie the object of Casey’s near-drooling affection.

“Want you to meet our on-site expert for the film,” Dennis spoke, and somewhere inside my brain the words registered.

My heart? It had turned to stone. Froze over right along with the hell that was now my reality.

“Mackenzie?” Her name released on a breath I’d held ten God damned years.

She tucked a strand of chin-length blonde hair behind her ear, her eyes wide, shock written all over her face. A sleek white top made her golden skin glisten under the bright sun, and the legs that once wrapped around my hips perfectly as I sank into her over and over again were exposed under black silk shorts.

Fucking hell, her style hasn’t changed. The center of my being shifted, altered to everything that was her. It begged me to reach out and grab her, encase her in my arms and never let her go.

“Wade?” She said my name like a question of whether or not I was real.

I was still checking because the sight of her made me lose my fucking mind.

“You two know each other?” Dennis asked, pointing between us.

“We’re old friends,” she said, her voice softer than I remembered it. Her shoulders bunched around her slim neck, and there was something about the way her eyes moved, almost like they bounced over everything in her immediate surroundings, that set my nerves on edge.

What happened to you?

“You missed your mark by a foot,” she said, pointing behind me toward the landing site. I smirked, but her playful attempt at conversation didn’t roll easy off her tongue.

Casey jabbed me in the side with his elbow, successfully stopping an advance I hadn’t realized I was making. I stopped my forward steps in their tracks, backhanding his stomach. “This is Casey.”

“Okay.” Dennis eyed me before shaking his head. “Anyway,” he said. “Glad to hear you already know each other. Mackenzie will be here to help Anthony maintain accuracy in every possible way. Won’t hurt for you to work with her, too. I’ll be damned if any of the fanboys blast me on their blogs about military authenticity. Her commander has assured me there is no one better.”

She worried her bottom lip between her teeth, and my tongue reminded me of every way I could get it into my mouth. The way she fidgeted with her nails twisted my gut.

“There isn’t anyone better” I said, and she released a nervous chuckle, nothing like the booming laugh I used to kill myself trying to provoke.

Dennis shifted, checking his buzzing cell. “Excuse me,” he said before rushing to the other side of the set.

Casey reached out, offering Mackenzie his hand, his bulging forearm flexing just a bit more than normal. “Casey Williams,” he said as she took his hand. “What branch?”

“Nice to meet you.” She withdrew her hand quickly. I didn’t miss that she flinched when he’d said branch. “Air Force.”

“Nice,” he said. “How long have you been in?”

A crease formed between her brows as she clenched her eyes shut. Like she’d forgotten how many years she’d been enlisted.

“Ten,” I answered for her.

Her eyes snapped to mine, and it was only an instant, but I felt her. The warmth of her skin, the way her body fit perfectly against mine, and something new. Harsher. Broken.

Get a grip, man.

“You planning on retiring?” Casey asked.

“Doing a background check, suit?” The question came out sharper than I’d intended.

Casey eyed me but chuckled. “Sorry,” he said and glanced at his cell. “I actually have to go. Text me the place?”

I nodded at him and watched his fast exit. I knew damn well he didn’t have anywhere to be, and I silently thanked him. Then again, he’d left me alone with the one person in the world who had the power to crush my soul, so maybe he was an asshole.

“You look good,” she said, looking up at me. I was so much taller than her she had to arch her neck to meet my eyes. I stepped closer, unable to stop myself.

“I feel good, too,” I teased her like no time had passed between us.

A smile lit up her eyes, and it finally connected. God, she was more beautiful than I’d ever remembered.

“You want to grab dinner with me later tonight?” The words tumbled out of my mouth before I could catch them.

“Yeah?” she asked, like maybe I’d been joking. Fuck, maybe I’d sounded like it.

“Patterson?” Dennis called her last name across the field where he stood at Anthony’s side. He waved her over, and she nodded at him.

“Tonight?” She tilted her head at me.

I cleared my throat. “Sure.” I handed her my cell, our fingers brushing as she took it, and damn it, an electrical current surged through my blood and woke the fuck up.

She entered her number into my contacts before returning my phone. Her lips parted to say more, but instead she turned her back on me and hurried over to Dennis.

I watched every single step she took away from me.

The already cracked open center of my chest wept, twisted, and burned. I’d watched her walk away once, and it nearly killed me. No amount of time had been enough to soothe that ache, and now, she was here. And she’d stay here, on set, every day until we wrapped. My living, breathing, beautiful reminder of all the ways in which I could hurt.

You shouldn’t have asked her to dinner.

Have a meal with the girl who broke you.

Just for funsies.

God, I was such an asshole sometimes.

More books in the series
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Exclusive cover reveal: Roomies by Christina Lauren

When it comes to that perfect mix of romance, sexiness and humor, no one quite does it like the talented duo (and fave of mine) Christina Lauren. Every page feeds the all-consuming addiction to whichever story of theirs I’m reading and I cannot wait to read this one. Roomies, which is out October 10th, is a modern love story which unravels between two unlikely roommates. I’m thrilled and honored to share the cover with you today! Read all about Roomies below, and please share this post on!

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About Roomies

From subway to Broadway to happily ever after. Modern love in all its thrill, hilarity, and uncertainty has never been so compulsively readable as in New York Times and #1 international bestselling author Christina Lauren’s (Beautiful Bastard, Dating You / Hating Younew romance.

Marriages of convenience are so . . . inconvenient. 

Rescued by Calvin McLoughlin from a would-be subway attacker, Holland Bakker pays the brilliant musician back by pulling some of her errand-girl strings and getting him an audition with a bigtime musical director. When the tryout goes better than even Holland could have imagined, Calvin is set for a great entre into Broadway—until he admits his student visa has expired and he’s in the country illegally.

Holland impulsively offers to wed the Irishman to keep him in New York, her growing infatuation a secret only to him. As their relationship evolves from awkward roommates to besotted lovers, Calvin becomes the darling of Broadway. In the middle of the theatrics and the acting-not-acting, what will it take for Holland and Calvin to realize they both stopped pretending a long time ago?

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Exclusive cover reveal: Immortal Reign (#6, Falling Kingdoms) by Morgan Rhodes

You guys!!! Check out the amazing cover of Immortal Reignthe sixth and FINAL book in the Falling Kingdoms series by New York Times bestselling author Morgan Rhodes!

*cue flailing*

December 12th is the date to circle on our calendars! And if you’re new to the series and love fantasy adventures (like me) you can get started now with FALLING KINGDOMS.

Pre-Order IMMORTAL REIGN  | Check out the entire series ✦

And best of all, I have an epic giveaway for you all! One of you can win Falling Kingdoms paperbacks 1 through 4, plus a hardcover of the latest release Crystal Storm!

About Immortal Reign

As two lethal elemental gods set out to destroy Mytica, sworn enemies must become allies in the final fight to save the kingdoms. 

Jonas continues to willfully defy his destiny, but the consequences of plotting his own course are drastic. As the fight for Mytica rages on, he must decide just how much more he’s willing to sacrifice.

Lucia knows there’s something special about her daughter and she’ll do anything to protect her, even if that means facing Kyan alone.

Amara is called back home to Kraeshia. Grandma Cortas has her own plans for Mytica’s future. She promises Amara  power, revenge, and dominance if she agrees to be part of her scheme.

Magnus and Cleo‘s love will be put to the ultimate test. Dark magic is causing widespread destruction throughout the kingdom. Enemies across the sea are advancing. And unrest is stirring throughout the land. Is their love strong enough to withstand the outside forces tearing them apart?

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Exclusive cover reveal + excerpt: ARK by J.J. Wilder

Anyone in the mood for an epic fantasy?! Jasinda and Jack Wilder are surprising us with just that—a story that thrums with tension and imagination all at once in a world of drama, romance and excitement. I’m thrilled to exclusively share the stunning cover of Ark. The novel is coming this Friday, but I’ve got an amazing sneak peek to tide you over!

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About Ark

“The Nephilim were on the Earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came into the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the heroes of renown.” Genesis 6:4

I am a Nephilim, and a princess.

I do not follow The One God.

I am destined to be a queen, to rule a city beside whichever aged Nephilim king or prince my father betroths me to.

And then I meet Japheth, son of Noah, son of Lamech, and he changes everything.

He changes me, and his father changes the world.

Excerpt chapter

Favor Found

“But Noah found favor with the Lord.” Genesis 6:8

Noah, son of Lamech, son of Methuselah, was a frightening man. His beard was long and black, shot with streaks of gray, the tip brushing his belly. His curly black hair, so like Japheth’s but long and unkempt, was tossed in the ever-present breeze, brushing across his eyes as he stood before the mountain-sized construction, a mallet in one hand and a thick, gnarled staff in the other. He wore a short knee-length, sleeveless tunic belted with a thick strap of leather. He was burly and tall, towering nearly half a cubit above Japheth, his shoulders as wide and heavy as an ox’s, his arms thick and hairy, his chest as broad and round as a barrel of wine; he could wrestle an aurochs and win. Noah was an imposing man, even to me, a Nephilim. His eyes were as blue as Japheth’s but immeasurably older and sparking with wisdom. They pierced me like hurled spears.

He did not have to speak a word for me to know he hated me.

I could see this even as we approached. I sat next to Japheth in the wagon’s seat, holding myself erect through sheer force of will. Noah’s eyes narrowed as we neared him, until they were slits of blue that flashed with sparks. I refused to cower underneath his gaze, but I wanted to. Even Japheth kept rolling his shoulders back and straightening his spine, as if he too felt the weight of Noah’s disapproval.

“Your father is . . . fearsome,” I whispered, as we approached.

Japheth sighed. “Yes,” he agreed.

Japheth’s mouth was pressed into a thin line. I was quickly realizing the enmity between him and his father went deeper than he had let on. He wasn’t merely tense—he was afraid. I had seen him face my father’s men without blinking, and I had seen him kill men without so much as flinching, and he prophesied my father’s death without fear, but now, at the prospect of seeing his own father, Japheth seemed to be nothing so much as terrified.

Japheth tugged on the reins and the onagers slowed to a stop in front of Noah. Two other men stood behind Noah, one with a stack of planed and sanded boards in his arms, the other with a bucket of pitch. Both of these men shared Noah’s black curls and blue eyes, making them Japheth’s brothers, I assumed. They paused mid-motion as we approached, shock on their faces.

Stepping down from the wagon, Japheth squared his shoulders and faced his father; neither man spoke for long, tense minutes.

“Father,” Japheth began. “It’s been . . . a long time.”

Noah remained silent, twisting the staff in his fist so the tip dug into the grass. “Japheth.”

It was odd, Noah’s greeting. It was not a welcome, not a greeting, and not a question. It seemed like nothing so much as an empty statement, a bare, spare acknowledgement of his son’s presence.

“I . . . I know there’s much we have to discuss, and I don’t expect an eager welcome, but . . .” Japheth trailed off, ducking his head and toying with the ear of the onager munching grass next to him. “I hope . . . I was hoping we can . . . stay here, for at least a few days. Aresia, she’s hurt . . . she needs time to recuperate.”

Noah’s jaw worked slowly, grinding his jaws together, and his eyes fixed on me, his upper lip curling. “You bring a Nephilim here? To my home? Who is she? Why have you returned after so long?” Noah’s words came in a flood, his voice deep and booming and rough.

Japheth looked back at me, and then to his father, as if wondering what to tell him, suddenly seeming at a loss. Japheth, so deadly and graceful and fearless on the battlefield, was afraid of his father.

I gathered my breath and my courage and stepped out of the wagon. I couldn’t stop the gasp and whimper of pain as my ribs protested the movement. My legs wobbled, and I used the strong, broad backs of the onagers to support myself as I shuffled gingerly next to Japheth. He wrapped his arm around my waist and held me upright.

“I am Aresia, daughter of Emmen-Utu, King of Bad-Tibira,” I said with all the strength I possessed, but it still came out breathless and soft.

Noah’s face contorted in rage. “You bring to me the daughter of that—that godless savage? You sully my lands with the spawn of that monster? Have you gone mad, Japheth?” His voice shook, trembled.

“I know, Father. I know the enmity you harbor for Nephilim, but—”

“No, you foolish child. You don’t know. You know nothing.” Noah spat on the ground, a thick gobbet of saliva splatting into the dust. “Leave now. She is not welcome here and neither are you.”

“Father, please—just listen to me. She’s not like him . . . Aresia is not guilty of the sins of her father.”

“She is a worshipper of the false gods.” Noah turned away from his son. “And so are you, probably.”

“No, Father. I . . . worship Elohim—I found Him, and I have returned to you. Please, Father,” Japheth caught his father’s sleeve, a simple act, but coming from a man so proud as Japheth, it was an abject plea. “Give us a chance.”

I took a wobbling step, shaky as a newborn calf. “Please, Noah. We have nowhere else to go. I will tell you my story if you wish, but . . .” Noah stepped back from me, as if my mere proximity made him ill. “I do not worship my people’s gods any longer. I—I have heard the voice of Elohim. He spoke to me—”

Noah lunged at me, spitting rage. “Do not blaspheme the name of The One God!”

He seemed about to strike me but wrenched himself away. His hatred was palpable and powerful, and I wondered what had happened to cause such ire.

“I speak the truth! I heard His voice. He . . . he spoke to me, when I was dying.” I wavered on my feet, unable to stand any longer. Japheth caught me and lowered me to the ground.

Just then, an older woman approached, her hair as black as her husband’s and sons’, but it was straight and fine, and her eyes were deep brown, kind and wide. She was beautiful, in the faded way of a woman who was once a glorious beauty and had aged well. She strode up to Japheth without pause and wrapped her arms around his neck, holding him close in a tight embrace. Japheth stood stiff for a moment, and then slowly relaxed, hands finally lifting to return the embrace. He held her for a moment and then attempted to pull away. The woman shook her head and pulled him back in. I heard her murmur something to him. Japheth shook his head, tried again to pull away, and the woman—his mother, obviously—held tight once more, her shoulders trembling.

I expected Japheth to push her away, but he didn’t. He turned his face to the sky, as if beseeching his One God, and I saw a tear trembling in his eyes. He blinked hard, fighting the tears as his mother kissed him on his cheek, first the right and then the left. Then she took his face in her hands and kissed his forehead. Tears coursed down his cheeks.

“You came back. My son has returned.” She rounded on Noah, eyes blazing. “How dare you turn him away, you stubborn old bull? He is our son, our eldest child. He has returned, and we will welcome him with open arms. Now, Japheth, who have you brought with you?”

I tried to rise to my feet but couldn’t.

Japheth knelt down and lifted me up, holding me in his arms like a child.

“Mother, this is Aresia; Aresia, this is my mother, Zara.”

Zara touched my blackened eyes with a gentle, practiced touch, ran her finger down the line of my broken nose, prodded my ribs. “Oh, child. Who did this to you?” The question was rhetorical, it seemed, for she continued speaking without giving me pause to answer. “Bring her into the house, Japheth. Ham, fetch me water and heat it. Shem, slaughter a sheep so we may feast your brother’s return. Noah . . . you go away, and stay away until you can see fit to welcome your son properly. Speak to your God and learn forgiveness.”

Shem and Ham both scurried to do their mother’s bidding, but the glares they shot Japheth as he carried me toward the house suggested they, too, were not pleased about Japheth’s return. They did not even bother to look at me.

The house was a long, low, squat structure built of stone and logs and mud-bricks, a thick plume of smoke rising from the center.

Within, I saw the organized chaos of a busy home. Zara had bustled ahead of Japheth and I, and was barking orders at three other, younger women, who vanished from the house to carry out Zara’s commands.

The younger of Japheth’s brothers—a hawk-nosed man with slim shoulders and a scar on his face pulling his lip into a perpetual sneer—brought two buckets of water on a yoke over his neck, staggering with the awkward gait of someone carrying a heavy load. He set them down by the fire pit at the center of the room, then set a huge copper pot on a stand above the fire and dumped the water in, and returned outside to fetch more. I heard a sheep bleating, a furious, panicked sound, and then silence. A few minutes later the older brother, Shem, came in with a bloody, skinned carcass and set it on a table. He pulled a long knife from a sheath at his side and set about carving the goat with practiced expertise, his hands red with the animal’s blood.

Japheth had set me down near the fire, propping pillows behind me. He sat down beside me. “Don’t worry, Aresia. Mother will set things right. Father will come around, eventually. I know he’s a bit . . . intimidating . . . but he will calm down.” And then, more to himself than to me, he muttered, “I hope.”

“What does he have against my father?” I asked. “I know Father has a history of antagonizing your people, but your father seems to have something . . . personal.”

Japheth looked puzzled. “I don’t know. I know he hates Nephilim, but this is . . . surprising, even to me.”

Zara came over then, juggling pots of herbs and a swath of bandages. “Hush, children. Now is not the time to discuss old memories. Everything in its own time.” She waved Japheth away. “Shoo, child. Help your brother carve the sheep. Better yet, go find your father and make amends. You hurt him deeply, leaving like you did, and the only way he can show his hurt is with anger—this you know, for you are much the same. He has a sensitive heart beneath all that bluff and bluster.”

Japheth nodded, touched me on the forehead, and left the house.

I marveled at Zara. She spoke to Japheth as if he had been gone a matter of days, perhaps weeks, rather than years. She peeled away my robes, examining the bandages the healer had wrapped around me before we had left Bad-Tibira.

“Well, at least the healer knew what she was doing. Your ribs are well on their way to healing. Your nose, though. Whoever set that . . . well . . . we’ll have to re-break it, I’m afraid. You’re far too beautiful to have a crooked nose.” Zara looked down at me, her brown eyes kind but strong. “Are you ready, child?”

She didn’t wait for an answer. She reached up with calloused, powerful hands and gripped my nose between her palms, giving a hard jerk with one hand. Fire bolted through my face, a pain worse than when Sin-Iddim had broken it to begin with. I screamed, choking when blood sluiced down my throat.

“Almost done,” Zara said. “This part will hurt as well. Ready?” Once again, she didn’t give me a chance to respond.

She pressed her palms against my nose again and pulled out, away from my face, peering down at me critically before adjusting the set of my nose. I screamed past grinding teeth when the bones stretched apart, and then slid into place, guided by Zara’s hands. Blood flooded from my nose, salty and hot and thick in my mouth, coating my chin and chest. She wiped my face clean with a rag, folded it, and then pressed it to my nose tenderly, pushing my hand up to hold it in place.

“There, now . . . it is done. I will look over the rest of you.” Zara raised an eyebrow, not asking for permission.

Quick, gentle hands probed my belly, my thighs, slipped up to my womanhood, gently but thoroughly examining.

Knowing eyes met mine. “You’ve miscarried.”

I nodded. “How can you tell?”

“You flinched at my touch, and your belly still seems to be healing. The flesh between your thighs shows evidence of having been . . . brutalized, and your other injuries all speak of a man’s angry attention. Such a thing often leads to pregnancy. You are weak, weaker than you should be, even with such injuries, which means you must have lost a lot of blood not too long past. The herbs that cause miscarriage often lead to excessive bleeding.”

“All true.”

“Who was it that did this to you?”

I hesitated to answer. I wanted to trust this woman, but was not sure how far I could.

“Speak openly, child,” Zara insisted. “You’re safe here, I promise.”

“Sin-Iddim.”

Zara’s hand jerked back from me. “The king of Larsa? Who are you, girl?

I realized she had been absent when I introduced myself to Noah. “My father is the king of Bad-Tibira.”

Zara rubbed her forehead with a knuckle. “Oh, Japheth. What have you gotten yourself into?” This was muttered quietly, not addressed to me. “I see. Well, it’s no wonder my husband reacted so strongly to your presence. So you ran from your husband, and somehow ended up with my son, who brought you here? I assume they will be looking for you?”

I was not ready to speak of what had happened to me, not yet. “There will be men looking for me, yes. I doubt they will know to come here, though. No one knew I was with Japheth, except my maidservant, and she would die rather than give me up.”

Zara shook her head as she re-wrapped the bandages around my torso. “Well, we can only hope they don’t come here. We’ll have to keep watch, just in case.”

When she was done, Zara sat down next me, taking a moment to rest. She glanced at me, then at one of the other women busy preparing the meal, a calculating expression on her face.

“How much do you really know about my son?” she asked me.

“Not much,” I admitted. “He ran away from here when he was young. I know that much. He didn’t get along with his father, he told me. His father—your husband—is a devout and zealous worshipper of Elohim, and that caused a rift between them.”

Zara nodded. “True enough, if lacking in the details. Yes, they disagreed over many things, Elohim especially. Japheth thought his father was too . . . strict. He thought he should be able to do things his own way, and naturally Noah didn’t agree. My husband is . . . very devoted to Elohim, and sometimes he loses sight of how his devotion affects the rest of us, but he means well.” She paused. “The trouble is, they are too much alike. So hardheaded, those men.”

“That’s what Japheth said.” I felt drowsy suddenly, exhausted. “I hope my presence doesn’t cause trouble for your family. Japheth . . . I care about him, very much.”

Zara nodded. “I can see that, and he cares about you as well. Don’t worry yourself, child. Rest. Things will work out, you shall see.”

Before my eyes slid closed, I saw Zara pat the other woman on the shoulder, the same woman to whom she’d glanced earlier. This woman was young, and pretty enough in a plain sort of way, with long, straight brown hair and wide brown eyes. She seemed sad somehow, resigned. I was falling asleep, but a thought niggled at me, keeping me awake for another few minutes.

There was something that didn’t make sense, but I couldn’t place what it was. I forced my eyes to stay open, looking around the room. Both of Japheth’s brothers were in the living area now, along with Zara and the three women. One of them was working with Shem, the older brother, their motions together practiced and comfortable, the way she glanced at him loving, familiar; Shem’s wife then. The next woman was talking with the younger brother, Ham, and they too seemed close and comfortable, obviously married as well. That left Zara and the third woman. Zara was Noah’s wife . . . so who was the third woman?

Zara was speaking to her with familiarity, in close enough proximity to demonstrate comfort with each other. The girl was clearly not a maidservant, but she didn’t resemble any of the men, or Zara, so I didn’t place her as a sister.

I looked again at the three women, and I saw the resemblance then. The three women were all sisters. A wife for Shem, a wife for Ham . . .

The third woman, then, was . . . Japheth’s wife?

He was married?

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