Home > Love's Cruel Redemption (The Ghost Bird #12)

Love's Cruel Redemption (The Ghost Bird #12)
Author: C.L. Stone

Into the Night


Nathan Griffin white-knuckled the wheel of Kota’s sedan.

Ahead was a dark lane, made nerve-wracking to drive by trees closely lining either side. He wasn’t sure if it was a narrow road or a driveway, but he had gone for a couple of miles already, looking for the house he had been told would be here. The exact coordinates were unclear, as the GPS had said he’d arrived at his destination already.

The headlights weren’t the brightest, shedding only so much light immediately in front of the car. The gravel road was littered with potholes. Kota’s car didn’t have the best suspension, either.

Too bad he couldn’t have brought the Jeep...not that he could run back and get it.

He released the wheel with one hand to wipe at his lips, trying to ease the tense sensations that’d been in his heart for hours so he could pay attention to the road.

Why did they have to live all the way out here? A deer or another animal could hop out of the woods at any moment. Normally, he’d like such a rural location. It suited his outdoorsy personality. Tonight, he groaned at having to slow down. The longer it took, the later it got. The ungodly hour was already horrible enough to be intruding on them. Without a phone to call ahead, he’d be lucky if they weren’t traveling and this was for nothing.

If it wasn’t an emergency, he wouldn’t have come.

Eventually, the trees fell away, and the high beams on the sedan settled on a large, white plantation-style house. The home resembled some of the old estates in downtown Charleston. The colonial style was similar to the house Victor lived in, yet this one was wider, with a large front porch, white columns, darkened windows. The surrounding grounds were trim but bare and brown for midwinter.

The grandeur seemed out of place in the middle of the woods. It was too fancy to be tucked away and hidden from the world.

As he drove around the loop of the driveway, this opinion faded. The bushes were a little too wild and needed pruning. The grass was filled with weeds. The front porch appeared in disrepair.

Nathan parked, hitting the lock on the inside of the door, checking to make sure he had the keys in his pocket before closing it up. He gazed up at the house, the darkened windows. There were no numbers to indicate the address. Did he even have the right house?

Yet it was exactly where Mr. Blackbourne had described it to him before.

Weeds crunched under his shoes as he approached the house. He eased his foot onto the first step. It creaked, and he stopped.

They didn’t need an alarm system. The porch gave him away.

He stilled, not wanting to scare anyone who might be awake inside. He considered returning to the car and coming back in the morning.

He needed to talk to someone. Lily might be the only one who could help him.

He continued to climb up the steps and went to the front door. There was a rusty doorbell to one side. The door had a knocker.

He paused.

He closed his eyes.

He pictured Sang’s face.

Her tears. The pleas.

He looked down at his own hands, the blood that still stained parts of his knuckles.

Blood on top of older bruises.

He tried to wipe away the blood, but it had dried hard to his hands.

All the memories of the past few weeks started stirring up. Mistakes. He blamed himself. Mr. Blackbourne would say placing blame was a lost cause. It didn’t help anyone and only hindered solving the problem.

But Nathan didn’t know the solution. He only knew everything was horribly wrong.

He made a fist and pounded at the door, then stabbed a finger at the doorbell. He couldn’t hear it ring. He wondered if they rigged it to do something other than make noise. Vibrate their phones perhaps. Give them a feed image of who was outside. Clever. They needed to do this at their homes.

After a few minutes, the door inched open and a face appeared. The man was shorter, with reddish hair, light blue eyes and a glare that held strong. A frown formed on his lips. “What do you want?” he asked.

“Trout,” Nathan said quickly, letting him know he was Academy with a random response.

Without blinking, he answered, “Azalea.” He opened the door a bit wider. “Who are you?”

“My name is Nathan Griffin,” he said. He pressed his palms against his jeans at his sides, hoping to hide the marks and blood. “You’re Liam? You’ve been mentoring my team. Blackbourne. Sang...”

His eyes went from Nathan’s face to his rumpled clothes. He looked beyond Nathan as if anticipating to see other faces. “I know them. I don’t remember you.”

“I’m part of the team, too. I need to...talk to someone.”

“Y’all have too many on your team. I can’t keep track.” Liam lifted an eyebrow and leaned out of the door. “Can’t it wait until morning?”

Nathan pressed his lips together and shook his head. He couldn’t answer that question. Could it wait? Sure. He was supposed to say yes.

He should have called. He should have just sent a text message. If he had a phone, he would have.

But it couldn’t wait. He had driven all the way out here because he needed to fix things. He couldn’t go back unless he could fix it.

He didn’t know how to talk to her. How could he explain what happened?

How could he tell the others?

“I messed up,” Nathan said finally, lowering his gaze.

Liam waited a moment, studying Nathan. He sighed and opened the door wider. “Come in.”

Nathan took a small step inside the home, his sneakers squeaking against the slick floor, granite or marble, he wasn’t sure he could tell the difference. There were plants on pedestals and a stairway leading to the second floor further in. The inside was nicer and cleaner, the upkeep obvious compared to the outside. Nice furniture. Clean surfaces. Homey.

It didn’t make sense to him, but they must have their reasons for the outside looking like it did.

Nathan pressed his palms together, rubbing hard against each as if he could rub off the soreness in his hand and get rid of the memory of what had happened.

Liam closed the door behind him and then stood back. He wore jeans and a navy sweater with a white shirt underneath, and dark socks, no shoes. His face was covered in rust-colored hair, thin but growing out, unshaved for a least a couple of days. In the light, a bit better than the porch, his hair lightened in color, a bit more strawberry blond than reddish.

Liam held his morose expression and crossed his arms over his chest to examine Nathan with the same scrutiny. “Well? What do you want?”

Nathan glanced around, feeling the room echoed with every little noise they made. Most every other door he could see in the house on the first floor was closed to him, except to the right, some sort of library. Was anyone else awake? He couldn’t help feeling someone else was there and listening. Weren’t there four others on their team? He couldn’t remember.

He refocused on Liam and then looked down to the floor. “There’s been a fight. Two, actually.”

Liam bobbed his head. “Is the team breaking up?”

“They...might...” He bowed his head further and closed his eyes tight, trying to control his voice and keep his body from shaking. “It’s my fault.”

Liam sighed and then his footsteps echoed, coming closer.

A hand rested on Nathan’s shoulder. “Look at me,” he said quietly.

Nathan picked up his head. He was taller than Liam and broader. It was strange to Nathan as he felt very young and small with him, something he rarely felt with anyone.

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