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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“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.
“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.”
“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.”
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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