Home > Blood Heir (Aurelia Ryder # 1)(6)

Blood Heir (Aurelia Ryder # 1)(6)
Author: Ilona Andrews

It seemed so familiar.

I hadn’t realized it until now, but I had subconsciously recreated my first house, the one where I’d lived with my biological parents. It wasn’t an exact copy, but it had that same vibe of working too hard for too little money and a stubborn refusal to admit to poverty. All that was missing were empty bottles of Tito’s and Wild Irish Rose in the sink.

I walked into the kitchen and looked at the sink. Empty.

My birth father had been a carpenter. He died while building a bridge when I was eight or nine. A chunk of a crumbling overpass fell on him, crushing him instantly. It was too heavy to move, and they never recovered his body. We had to bury an empty coffin with some of his favorite things in it. I could no longer recall what he looked like.

I remembered my birth mother a little better. She was thin, bird-boned, with big brown eyes and blond hair. I used to look just like her. Her name was Jessica Olsen, and in my memories, she was always tired.

When my birth father was alive, we did okay. I had clothes, food, toys, even a skateboard. His death destroyed us. Shortly after the funeral, a man had come to the house trying to convince my mother to sell father’s tools. She kept them and apprenticed to a carpenter instead.

Money became scarce. During the week, my mother worked long shifts. She wasn’t really cut out for dragging heavy beams around, but she did it anyway. The weekends were the worst. There was nothing to do except remember that my father wasn’t there. One weekend she started drinking and didn’t stop until Monday. Next weekend she did it again. Then she started drinking after work.

All people struggle with the loss of someone they love. My mother wasn’t a bad person. She just struggled more than most. She never meant to abandon me. She only tried to escape her misery, and somehow, she forgot I existed. I went hungry a lot. I wore torn clothes. Occasionally she would have a moment of clarity, see me, and then there would be food on the table and clean, mended T-shirts. But then she slipped away again.

I became a street kid. I starved, I stole, I took my beatings, and I learned that human predators were much worse than anything the magic waves could throw at me. I was so desperate for someone to love me, I’d thought the street kids were my friends even when they hit me and stole from me. At night I would go home. I still remembered the fragile hope I’d feel coming up to the front door. Maybe this time I would open it and Mom would be okay.

Then one day my birth mother went missing, and that’s when Kate found me. Back then she worked for the Order of Merciful Aid, and she ran across me during a job. She didn’t have to care about me, but she did, and she promised me she would find my mother. Things didn’t go as planned, and my mother and I ended up in the middle of a sea demon invasion. The memory slapped me, clammy and revolting: me hanging off a cross, tied to it by ropes that stank of rotten fish, and a mass of sea demons below, scraping the flesh off my mother’s body with their tongues. Her brown eyes had stared at the overcast sky, milky and empty…

I’d hung on that cross, watching the demons devour my mother’s corpse, and hoped against all odds that Kate would rescue me. And she had.

I left the kitchen, crossing the living room to the short hallway that led to the lone bedroom and bathroom. The hallway wall was in bad shape, all plaster and old wallpaper, marked with holes where pictures must’ve once hung. I followed the hallway to where it made an L-turn just before the bathroom and stopped before the grimiest spot. They’d done a good job hiding the door.

I chose a big metal key from the key ring Tamyra had given me, inserted it into a nondescript-looking hole in the plaster about three feet off the ground, and turned it. A section of the wall gave way, as the heavy door swung inward. I stepped through it.

A large space spread before me, glowing in the flood of sunlight streaming through an enormous skylight above. Four gypsum columns soared toward the skylight, a pale, soothing cream, their finish slightly rough. The floor was limestone tile, the same sandy color as the columns and the walls. A two-foot-wide channel filled with clear water ran from the front door to the back wall, dividing the house in two. We had tapped a natural spring for it. The stream ended in a shallow basin, where lilies and lotus buds rested on the water.

On the left of the stream, three steps led to a raised platform, supporting a wooden desk. Past it a metal cauldron sat sunken into the floor, four feet in diameter, large enough for a small bonfire. Rows of shelves built into the walls offered endless storage space, and some of my supplies had already been delivered: bundles of different split wood, bags of dried herbs and minerals, and crates of glass and plastic jars and bottles waiting to be sorted. Behind them, by the blank wall, rested five long crates. My weapons.

On the right a kitchen was built against the wall, with a large island, a gas stove, a dining table large enough to seat eight, and a grouping of plush divans upholstered in green and blue. The shelves on this side of the room would hold books and pantry ingredients.

Here and there, small tables and plush cushions offered spots to sit under green diaphanous canopies embroidered with gold and scarlet. Plants thrived in big ceramic pots and vines dripped from the walls. Metal statues rested between the flowers, some delicate, some fierce. Beautiful glass fey lanterns and electric lamps dotted the walls.

Walking through the arched doorway at the back of the room would lead me to the bedroom and the bath with a luxurious shower and a square dipping pool, six feet by six, sunken into the floor.

Home… Well, almost.

I walked to the desk on the platform and pulled the lid off a small crate next to it. Inside lay a simple gladius in a plain sheath and a bundle of soft cotton. I took the gladius out, pulled the blade from the sheath, and placed it on the desk. The first sword Kate ever gave me.

The bundle was next. I unrolled it and took out a slender vase of seafoam color, with a second narrow bundle inside. I set the vase on the desk, pulled the smaller bundle free, and pried the cotton layers apart gently, holding my breath. A metal rose waited on the cloth.

Phew. It survived the trip. Derek had made it for me years ago when I first met him. Back then he’d been helping Kate with a job.

I slid it into the vase. There. Now it was home.

I spread the newspaper on the desk. It didn’t take me long to find it. Pastor Nathan Haywood, fifty-two years old, Methodist, murdered in his own church, torn apart by something during the night. Three days ago. Why had Sienna waited three days to tell me?

I scanned the articles and the obituary. Pastor Haywood must have been beloved. The article spoke about him as if he were a saint. A photograph showed a line of mourners stretching around the city block. People weeping. People hugging each other. The death had stunned Atlanta. The city was grieving.

The most recent article mentioned the investigation being passed to the Order of Merciful Aid. Perfect. I had a way in. It was risky, but far better than trying to sort this out while dealing with Atlanta’s Paranormal Activity Division.

It was barely eight in the morning. If I got a move on, I could get to the Order by nine.

I looked up. The blade of the gladius lay on my desk, reflecting the glow from the skylight.

Kate hadn’t just rescued me. She’d taken me in. If something tried to hurt me, she’d kill it. If I had a problem, she would give me room to fix it, and if I needed help, she would help me. She enrolled me in school and nagged me to do my homework. She taught me to use weapons and gave me my first spear lesson. She loved me honestly and without reservation.

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