Juno Books

An Excerpt From Blood Kin by Maria Lima

[ Information on Blood Kin ]

PRELUDE: The Beginning

Sounds of bells and laughter ride on the wind, punctuating feeling, lifting senses, accenting actions with melody.

I shouldn't be able to hear it, underground as I am in a place blasted out of limestone, a refuge from all the events of yesterday, from the sun that most assuredly blazes outside.

Whispers of love intertwine with the music, kisses on skin, the touch of hand, lips, a lock of hair sliding across my breasts, everything magnified, the intensity so much, so more.

My own hair cascades down my back. I feel everything: touch, scent, sound, taste, sight merge into one feeling, one being, one--

The music of the air surrounds us, envelops us, makes us part of its completion.

I gasp as we all reach our crescendo--me, my lover and the melody--all together as if choreographed.

It is gone.

I want to weep for the joy of it.

I want to weep for the loss of it.


I summoned a demon once. At least at the time, that's what I'd thought it was. I could probably chalk up both the summoning and my hesitation about its result to the fact that I'd been drinking and smoking a wee bit--okay, a lot--of something not quite so legal. One thing for sure: the damned beast had smelled rotten, like it'd been rolling in a thousand dead skunks or a few not-so-fresh corpses.

In my world, demons were nothing more than tangible evil.

And right now, evil was about to raise its stinking, ugly-ass head again--in the form of my former lover, Gideon.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not talking metaphorical he-done-me-wrongness or a badass boy who turned his back on my loving redemption. Gideon was neither the heartbreaking villain of a country and western song nor the hero of a romance novel gone amok. No, Gideon was evil. He had chosen the darkside. His power lay in darkness. He could speak to the shadows, call the shades.

I'd been in love with him and trusting and he'd convinced me to drop all my barriers, to open my naive self to him completely so we could truly be "one." I fell for it like an egg from a tall hen.

When I touched his soul, what I saw and felt inside him scared me so bad I ran from London all the way back to Texas.

But Gideon was also family. Not closely related, but all Clan were cousins, aunts, uncles, all connected. Clan blood begat Clan blood. He was blood kin.

So when Aunt Isabel showed up declaring she needed my help because Gideon was dying, that I had to leave immediately for the family compound in British Columbia--I knew I had to go.

Of course Gideon wasn't the only reason I had to skedaddle to Vancouver. I'd also Changed yesterday, and not solely the capital-C Clan Change we all undergo when we come into our true Talent. I had to be special. I'd become the Kelly heir--yeah, that one, the one who only came along every so many blah-blah generations, etc. The one who didn't have only a single Talent, but got the whole supernatural shebang, all the Talents from astromancy to weather witching. Not something I'd ever imagined, nor wanted. Leave it to me, Keira Kelly, to be genetically unique...or maybe a genetic freak.

The previous couple of days had been insane in other ways, too--missing people, the one person I'd found that I could truly be myself with in a coma, my best and oldest human friend nearly raped and murdered....

The craziness had turned downright depressing, though. Said best friend, Bea, wouldn't even speak to me on the phone.

After yet another failed speed dial, I slammed the phone Bea would not answer shut and shoved it in the pocket of my backpack. A yelp came from behind me as I tossed the pack aside.

"Ay, watch it!" Bea's nephew, Noe, a gangly just-turned-eighteen-year-old loped into my living room, avoiding the pack, which had landed next to him.

"Damn. Sorry, Noe. I didn't hear you come in."

"No prob. I didn't exactly knock," he answered.

I kept my back to him as I tried to compose myself. Had Bea sent him to talk to me? To tell me to stop bugging her? I just wanted to explain to her why I'd done what I'd done. Why sentencing a man to death at the hands of a Sidhe instead of turning him over to proper human authorities had been my only choice? Noe knew none of this, however, only that his aunt and I were in the midst of some sort of disagreement.

"So, packing, huh?" Noe said as he settled onto a nearby chair. "You gonna keep calling Bea?"

I nodded and fiddled with the fastenings on a rolling suitcase I'd pulled out of the hall closet. Most of my clothes were at Adam's, but some of the cooler weather gear that I expected to need for my unexpected and unwanted trip to Canada were still here at my house. The temperatures would most likely be mild, but I'd probably need warmer outer gear for nighttime.

"How'd you know I've been calling her?" I managed to say after a moment.

"You've only been calling the house and the cafe over and over for the past few hours," he said, leaving off the obvious "duh".

I rubbed my eyes, trying to avoid the tears that threatened. Thirty years and I still had no clue how to handle a fight with my best friend...and this one was a doozy. Less of a fight, really, and more of a complete dissonance in moral systems.

"You're heading to Canada?" Noe prodded.

"How'd you hear that?"

"I listened to the messages you left on the answering machine," he said.

"Yeah, of course you did," I muttered and put aside a pile of receipts and other detritus that I'd dug out of my duffle bag. Last time I'd used this, Adam and I had gone on a trip to a fancy vampire hotel.

"You stopping by the house first?"

Noe tried to make the question sound casual, but failed miserably. Sorry kid, I thought, you're too damn young to dissemble. Ignoring him for the moment, I turned to search through the center drawer of a small chest I used for storage. It was a pretty cool item, picked up at a craft show sometime last spring. The vendor claimed it was some sort of antique Asian style chest. I didn't care about its provenance and had bought it because it was unusual. Instead of hiding it away in my bedroom, I'd installed it in my living room, its washed out red paint and metal accents complementing my other furniture.

"Damn it, where the hell's...there you are." I slid three passports out of the back of the top center drawer, found the red one and tucked it into a travel wallet, which I then placed inside the front pocket of my backpack. Nothing like doing busywork, pretending I needed to be more prepared, even though at this point, I was as ready as I'd ever be. No need for packing much as I had plenty of clothes at the family homestead. I wasn't planning to take more than this small duffle bag and my carryon backpack, private plane or not.

I liked to travel light. Besides, if I really needed anything while I was there, it was a good excuse to take a day or two trip to Vancouver.

"All those different passports yours??"

"What--oh, yeah," I said, trying to keep my brain on what I was doing. Did I want to stop by their house? Bea was there, sure. No doubt getting some much-needed rest and recuperating from what happened last night...well, early this morning.

"Didn't know you could have so many. You a spy?"

I stared at the boy, all six-feet-something of him sprawled across an armchair, body all spare and rangy, whipcord lean in the way that only teenagers can be. "Spy?"

"Thought only spies had more than one passport."

I laughed despite my mood. "Only in the movies," I said. "I'm a citizen of the U.K. by birth, U.S. by family, and Canada, well...I'm not really sure about that one, but I've had all three since I was a kid. Since I'm going to Canada, I'm going to travel on my Canadian passport."

"Huh. That's kind of cool." He threw a long leg over the arm of the chair and started to swing it, his natural nervous energy needing some sort of outlet. One hand toyed with the pull on the reading lamp.

"So what's up, Noe? You need something?" I tried to keep it light, keep my voice from breaking. I managed, but just barely.

"I came by because I didn't want her to...you know...she's--" Noe shrugged in that boneless way teenagers do. "I came by to tell you Tia told me to come see you and tell you that she's gonna talk to her."

Despite the run-on sentence and lack of pronoun attribution, I didn't have a problem parsing his message. "Yeah, thanks," I said roughly and turned away.

"You ready, sis?" My brother Tucker stuck his head through the door, one hand on the frame as he leaned in.

"Yeah." I picked up my backpack and slung it over my shoulder, trying to avoid looking at Noe. He'd done a good thing, coming out here to talk to me. Bea was the de facto matriarch of her small family, despite the fact she was about my age. Even her elderly aunt, Tia Petra, and uncle, Tio Richard, bowed to Bea's need to lead. She ran the house as well as she ran the cafe.

Bea and I had been friends for most of our lives. She'd been my first real friend, human and more accepting of my oddities than anyone outside my family. This estrangement was killing me.

"You leaving now?" Noe asked. "Without talking to Bea?"

Tucker started to say something, but I held up a hand. "We'll actually be here until tomorrow. Tucker's here to take me out to the ranch where we're spending the night."

"We were supposed to be leaving now," Tucker added. "But the pilot's delayed because of weather and can't get here until sometime tomorrow."

Noe stood up, brightening. "So you can come by, then, now that you have time?"

Surely Bea wouldn't turn me away in person, would she? "I'll be there in a while," I said.

"You got someone to take care of the house while you're gone?"

"We do if you're willing," Tucker answered for me as he picked up my larger duffel and hoisted it over his shoulder. "It'd be a big help if you could stop by every once in a while."

"Oh, cool. You mean me. Sure." Noe beamed. He was a good kid, mostly. Just a teenager with few prospects and very little money. He attended school part time at the University of Texas at San Antonio and worked part time at Bea's cafe, but there were few other legal ways to make ready cash around Rio Seco.

Tucker grinned at the boy's enthusiasm. "Excellent." My brother dug out his wallet and slipped Noe some bills. "Thanks, kiddo. You'll save me some worry."

"You know when you're coming back?"

Not a clue, I wanted to say, but didn't really want to go into all the reasons I was leaving so suddenly. "I'm not sure exactly," I said, "but I'll call, I promise."

I damned well intended to come back as soon as I could, but so much was up in the air, I couldn't predict anything right now.

Noe nodded and in an unexpected move, he wrapped his arms around me in a hug. "I'll tell Tia." With that, I took one last look at the house that I'd sort of called home for the past couple of years and walked away.

* * *

I tried to swallow but, despite my having gulped down sixteen ounces of water before I stepped out of my Land Rover, my mouth was as dry as the Llano Estacado. Bea knew I was here in front of her small limestone house. The Rover had a distinctive engine sound, one we'd laughed about in the past. "You can't ever sneak up on someone, chica," she'd teased.

My hand clenched, fist tight. Damn it. Knock already, Keira Kelly.

The brown wooden door opened before I had a chance.

I cleared my throat, still unsure of what to say, but it was only Noe. "Hey," I said, a lame attempt at being casual. I failed as utterly as he had two hours earlier at my house. I'd gone with Tucker to the ranch, dropped him and my bags off, and returned to town to try to mend fences.

"Tia says that Bea says she needs some space." He looked down at the metal strip across the threshold, his toe worrying at a bent corner. One hand was propped up on the door frame, the other stuck in the pocket of his loose fitting jeans, waistband riding dangerously low on his hips, the top two inches of white cotton boxer topping the denim. A skinny bare chest showed evidence of a recent work-out. Tia Petra probably had Noe doing some heavy lifting at the cafe this morning. It was nearly three, the time I used to stop by my best friend's restaurant for a coffee, breakfast taco, and a quick gabfest...just another afternoon in the life of Keira Kelly.

But all that had changed with Adam's arrival, Marty's death, and now...oh so much had changed now after Bea's near murder only two nights ago.

"Space?" I repeated the word like a badly trained parrot. "She does know I'm leaving for a while?"

The boy nodded, a more miserable expression hadn't yet been invented. Noe was a great kid, eager to please, still a bit of a teen slacker, yet always there to help the family out. "She said she'll talk to you when you get back." He toed the metal strip again, one bare toe running a line across the ridges. He looked up at me finally. "You are coming back, right?"

I nodded, too full of questions, pleas, emotions I couldn't elucidate blocking my voice.

"'Kay, then," Noe nodded back at me. "She'll be here. You know she's still--" He blushed, a teen boy's embarrassment at girly stuff overwhelming his attempt to be the man of the house.

"Yeah, she's still my best friend," I said, my voice finally working. "Tell her, no matter what happens, I'll come back." I looked at him, Bea's amanuensis, the person that would report back to her. "Tell her. I will be back." I turned away, my eyes blurring. "I'll call her."

The door shut behind me and I climbed into the front seat of my car.


Boudoir it wasn't, but the bedroom met my needs. Underground, dark, cool and comfortable, suiting my nature completely. A king-size bed dominated the room, twin nightstands each with a matching lamp flanked it. There were no windows in the walls to let light in: a perfect setting for a vampire king and me his, uh, consort

"You are leaving, then."

"Yes, regretfully."

Adam kissed the top of my head and ran a hand down my arm. We lay on his bed--exhausted, satiated, and content.

I'd gone back to the Wild Moon after my attempt to talk to Bea, reaching Adam's house as day turned to dusk. We'd been up for hours, laughing, talking, making love, reconnecting in ways that I'd forgotten one could. It had been so long and I was oh so grateful. And by long, I didn't mean the scant few weeks that Adam and I had been having issues, but long as in years--to the time before Gideon frightened me so much with his foray into the dark that I'd run back to my family. I'd never let myself go again, until Adam, but until now, he'd been reluctant to take all I had to give, all I offered. Too damned bad that our new state of reconciliation would be so short lived. Going away now had not been on my agenda.

"Is she that frightening to you, this great-great-grandmother of yours?" He lay on his side, head propped up on a hand, black hair draping gracefully down onto his pillow. His scent filled the room, now just the dry spice-nutmeg and vanilla. I reveled in my enhanced senses, so happy that a scent and a touch could be so evocative, yet not trigger any disturbing visions or memories. What a difference a day...and a Change makes.

I stretched, then turned to face him, tired but in such a good way.

In less than twelve hours, I would go...west, to British Columbia, to my blood family and away from my lover. I didn't want to, especially since Adam and I had just begun soothing and smoothing after some rough times, but considering I was now the--joy of joys--Kelly heir and duty calling and all...

"Gigi's not frightening so much as..." I sat up and wrapped my arms around my knees. How could I phrase how I felt about my great-great granny a.k.a. the Clan matriarch? "The last time I saw her, slightly more than two years ago, she--"

"She hurt you."

I lay my head on my knees and looked at Adam. So gorgeous, my vampire lover, so self-assured, competent. Nearly dying the real death hadn't fazed him...at least on the outside. Ever the confident king.

"Hurt? I suppose you could call it that," I said. "Mostly, I was angry." I took a deep breath and let it out in an equally deep sigh. Digging up emotional memories wasn't the way I wanted to spend the rest of my time with Adam, but he deserved answers. I was trying to let myself be open with him, not only as a lover, but someone who actually loves, trusts.

"Gigi's edict came while I was in London," I said.

"With Gideon." Adam said this calmly, without emotion. Gideon was the man I'd been with when I'd first met Adam more than ten years ago at a soiree that was more boring than not. We'd flirted and laughed, but had never pursued anything more. On my part, it had mostly been because I'd thought Adam human--and I'd quit dating humans by then. He'd been the ultimate gentleman and, because I had a partner, he'd stayed on his side of the line.

I chewed my bottom lip, then continued. "After what happened, when he went all darkside, all I wanted to do was to come home. But home wasn't where I left it. The family had moved to Canada and I didn't want to go there. I stuck here, babysitting Marty and you know how well that turned out." With Marty murdered, I didn't bother to say aloud. Not a topic I cared to think about too much and, besides, Adam had been there for all of it. I'd failed in my one and only focus. Some caretaker I was.

"Did she ever explain to you why she was packing up the family?"

Adam wasn't fooled. It wasn't about coming back or moving or Marty, but about Gigi being Gigi--acting as queen bee of the Kelly Clan and expecting us to hop when she said "frog". We did, because that's who we were: in essence, her minions and her family. She was our Clan chief and her word is, was, and would always be law as long as she remained in her hereditary office. If I had anything to say about it, that would be for a very, very long time.

"Never. She simply told me that if I was stubborn enough to stay behind, then I'd have to take the consequences."

"What's going to happen now?" Adam's words held a mix of curiosity and concern. We'd never really discussed the possibility of my becoming the heir, nor much about specifics of the Change, other than once it happened, I'd settle into my primary Talent. I'd expected to become a shapeshifter, like my six elder brothers and my father or, perhaps, a healer, like my aunts. This? So not on my agenda...at all.

As to what was ahead of me? No bloody clue.

Sure, I knew as much about our rules of succession and what it meant to be the heir in the same way an American knows about the British Royals--that is, what one sees on TV or in books or in the news. Ours was more than legend, but a story, nonetheless, something a Clan member learns about in our own home-school classes and stories told by others. History, not reality. Something that happens to someone else, in a time and place long ago and far away. Despite the fact that my own branch of the clan produced the last heir, Minerva Kelly--somewhat affectionately known as Gigi to my generation (thanks to my inability to say "Minerva" as a child)--the stories were no more real to me than any other family tales. Gigi became the heir centuries ago, and had ruled the Clan for nearly that length of time. Frankly, she was a fact of my existence and I had never asked about the transition from the former Clan chief to her. It never occurred to me that I would need to know. Now, I did. Problem was, no one had any answers but Gigi herself.

Between my newfound position and my Aunt Isabel's information that Gideon was dying, I had to leave.

"What time will the pilot be here?"

"She's flying into San Antonio International, to the private aircraft terminal. Supposed to be there around six-thirty or so in the evening." I took a deep breath. "I'll need to head out around four o'clock so I can be on time to meet her."

Adam kissed my shoulder. "I will miss you."

I looked into his eyes, their clear green troubled with the words he wouldn't say. His fear echoed mine. We were both afraid that now that I was heir, I'd be required to stay with the Clan chief and not return.

"I will come back," I promised, echoing my earlier words to Noe. "I swear to you. Whatever happens with Gigi, I will figure something out and come back." I leaned over and kissed him, a light peck that became deeper. This is what I wanted.

"You know, you could come with me." I murmured the words against his mouth, reluctant to let go of our connection.

He cupped my chin in his hand and stroked my cheek with his thumb. "Will you take your brother with you?"

I leaned into the touch, nipping at his thumb. "Yes. Tucker came here to watch over me," I said. "He wants to come back with me."

"And Niko?" Adam asked, referring to Tucker's lover and Adam's own second-in-command of the vampire tribe.

"I don't know," I replied. "Tucker was going to ask him. For my part, he's free to come, if you can spare him. It's a private plane. Plenty of room. Easy enough to leave after dark. Vancouver's only a few hours flight." A possibility crossed my mind. "Adam, you should both come.

"Vancouver? I thought you said your family was north of there."

"Yes, but we need to stop there first. Customs. After that, it's just a short trip north. There's a private airstrip. So come. The place is huge, plenty of accommodations. Gigi won't bite."

I mentally crossed my fingers at the last. I knew what I was doing--trying to bring reinforcements. Adam, Niko, and Tucker. Three on my side. Not that I knew that sides would be taken, but anything could happen around Gigi, and often did. My goal was to get there, take care of business, where business meant Gideon's incipient death first and figuring out my heirship duties second. Then, offering Gigi a deal of some sort for her to let me come back to Texas for a few decades or so, until I was technically of age, say 50 or 60. Then, I'd return to the family fold. After all, I'd changed at 37, I wouldn't even be 38 for a few more months. Normally, the Change didn't come until our fifth or sixth decade. I hoped, because of that, I could buy some time. This thing--relationship--with Adam was practically brand new. I wanted to know what it could become.

Adam answered me with another deep kiss. Everything else left my head as I let myself respond. Before we could get much further, my phone went off.

I smiled at Adam ruefully. "Just a moment and hold that thought," I said and reached across him.

"Isabel?" I answered my mobile, wondering why my aunt was calling so soon. She'd taken a commercial flight back to Vancouver earlier today--a sort of advance guard. By this time, she should have been on the road to the family enclave.

"Keira, sweetheart," she nearly gushed at me. "You are well?"

I moved away from Adam and sat up, puzzled. "As well as I was say, oh..." I looked at the clock. "Seven hours ago, when you left. What's up?"

"Well, I wanted to be sure to contact you before the phone signal got crazy."

"Contact me about what?" Phone signal? What was she going on about? Granted, the road north from Vancouver went through mountains and such, but most phones did okay for at least most of the trip.

"Well, honey, I'm not actually sure of the details yet, but Minerva left a voice mail for me whilst I was on board the plane. Told me to tell you to stay in Texas for a day or two longer."

"Stay? What's going on, aunt? Why on earth didn't Gigi call me directly? It's not like she doesn't have my number." In more ways than one, I thought.

"Sweetie, I have no idea. All the message said was that she wanted me to tell you to hang tight and that the pilot would ring and let you know when it's time."

Adam looked at me in concern. I was sure I was throwing off all sorts of anxiety vibes. This was extremely odd. "So I should stay here? What about Gideon? If he needs to be--"

"I'm sure Minerva wouldn't ask you to stay if Gideon was anything less than stable," Isabel answered. "Look, honey, I'm sorry I don't know what's happening. I've been trying to phone Minerva but the signal here is pretty erratic. I'm going to try again now that I seem to be in a place where the phone is working. I'll ring you back if I get through. If you don't hear from me right away, don't worry. We'll get this sorted and someone will let you know--"

The call cut off. I looked at my phone--still connected. "Isabel?"

Nothing. Damn it. She must have lost signal.

"I heard most of that," Adam said. "Any thoughts?" Thank goodness for preternatural hearing. Saved me from recapping the conversation.

"None whatsoever," I said as I flipped the phone closed and stashed it back on the nightstand. "Typical freaking Kelly M.O.--it's odd, but hey, that's the way we do things sometimes, first it's all rush, rush, then hurry up and wait."

"Shouldn't you call?"

"I suppose so," I said. Getting it from the horse's mouth and all that. I dialed the main number at the enclave. Gigi didn't have a mobile as far as I knew. After several rings, the line switched over to voice mail.

"This is Keira, calling for Gigi and trying to figure out what's going on. Please let her know I called." I snapped shut my phone.

"Is that normal?" Adam asked.

"Voice mail, you mean?"

He nodded. "I have someone answering our main line clock round."

"There's often someone answering the phone at the enclave during standard business hours, but it's after eight p.m. there. I'm sure they're just letting voice mail get it. I'll try Dad."

Once again, I got voice mail and left a message.

"Do you think something's happened?"

"I doubt it. I think Gigi's message to Isabel would have been more intense if there'd been something wrong. I think it's just the Kelly usual. My family's not the best in the world at being connected with the modern technologies. Dad's been known to go weeks without checking his messages. Usually Rhys or Ianto or one of the others makes him do it."

"And so about your Gideon?"

"Not mine," I grumbled and moved closer to Adam. "Hasn't been in a long time." I snuggled into Adam's embrace. "I'm sure he must have stabilized. There's no way Gigi would have delayed me if he were truly dying."

"Do you think that Isabel was exaggerating?"

"You mean earlier, when she said he was dying?"

"Yes, could that be the case?"

"I don't think so," I responded. "Isabel isn't one to exaggerate. I think she was passing along information from Jane, who may have done. Remember, Isabel was on walkabout, hadn't been home in awhile. She never actually saw Gideon."

"You don't think this 'Gideon is dying' scenario was concocted by your Gigi, do you?"

"It's unlikely. Gigi may be a lot of things, but as far as I know, she's never felt the need to make something up. She's our matriarch. If she wanted me to come back that drastically, she'd have issued a command."

"Would you have gone?"

I thought about it a moment. Would I have? When I'd returned to Texas with my emotions in shreds, I'd balked at leaving the only place I'd known as a refuge. I'd argued with Gigi and she'd eventually relented. She hadn't insisted, nor even come close to commanding that I join them. She'd only suggested that it was in my best interests to do so.

"Yes, I would," I answered. "The reason I'm going now is because even if he's stable, Gideon's situation could change at any moment. I was and still am an Escort, Adam. If it's his time, I could be needed."

"To help him die." It wasn't a question. Adam was perfectly aware of what my duties as an escort once were...to help family members pass through to death.

"I'll help him die if that's his choice, but that's not the only reason I'd go. Gigi's my leader, and ultimately..."

I smiled as I tried to explain my point of view, even though Adam more than likely understood, being a leader himself. "Honestly, Adam, to her, my decision to stay behind in Rio Seco when they all left was nothing more than a silly adolescent rebellion. Don't forget, in her eyes, I'm only just past childhood. Now that I've Changed, I'm technically an adult, but still with a lot of learning to go. I've inherited all the abilities of the Kellys, but have no freaking idea how to use any of them. The only good thing about all of this is that I don't anticipate having any unexpected visions or episodes like I experienced pre-Change. No, I don't think Gigi or anyone concocted a story about Gideon dying to entice me home. They all know what's happened by now, at least, the ones at the enclave do, and they absolutely expect me home soon. It wouldn't occur to them that I wouldn't come home--all recent Changelings do so they can work with a mentor to learn to use their new Talent."

I gave him a quick kiss. "Something's off about this, but I'm happy to have a while longer here." Another quick kiss. "With you and--" I shut my eyes a moment.

"Bea," Adam said in a whisper. He kissed my eyelids. "You want another chance to make amends."

"Yes," I whispered back. "We've been friends for thirty years. I don't know where to even start but I have to."

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