Blood Grace Book 1
Their bond is fated. Their love is treason. Will they shatter a kingdom for each other?
Royal bastard Cassia trusts no one in the human court until Lio arrives as a Hesperine ambassador. Her people call him a monster, but his kindness gets past her armor, and his bite tempts her into a passionate, secret affair. When they join forces to forge peace between humans and Hesperines, these fated mates will have to risk everything for their forbidden love.
Blood Mercy is set in an epic world featuring Hesperines, a high fantasy twist on vampires. With a slow burn that builds to scorching, this romance promises an ultimate series HEA.
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Praise for Blood Mercy
“Loved the character arc of her heroine, Cassia, who (understandably) starts the story thinking only of her own safety but finds the courage to…well, I’m not going to spoil you, but she really grows! … This is a book with deeply moral vampires and some terribly monstrous humans. There’s a truly kind hero. And two societies side-by-side, one of which completely misunderstands the other…really enjoying my time in this world.”
– Colleen Cowley, author of Subversive
“The writing is as stunning as its cover. I was immediately captivated by the immersive, texturized world Roth created within the Kingdom of Tenebra and the mythology of the Hesperine (vampires)… I’m a sucker for forbidden love with high stakes. Roth raises the stakes as high as can be because every clandestine meeting between Lio and Cassia risks their lives.”
–S.L. Prater, author of The Wicked Witch of Kriegspiel
“IT’S SO LONG… And that’s a fantastic thing because it’s lovely and you just want it to keep going forever. I’m so glad this is a series because I can’t wait to see where this author takes these characters and this storyline… It’s a stunning narrative of gentle, quiet characters using whatever small means they have at their disposal to right wrongs and change the direction of an entire kingdom.”
–Elsie Winters, author of Green-Eyed Monster
“…if you’re not following Vela Roth, and you love complex BIPOC characters in fantastic adventures, healthy relationships, and tons of well-researched fantasy world building? You NEED to get caught up on her amazing Blood Grace series.”
–Dani Morrison, author of An Ignoble Invitation
“Five stars! Definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a politically heavy high fantasy, friends to lovers, gentle and emotional story. KU readers, truly, this is the biggest gem you could pick.”
– Ahana Rao, To Heart’s Content
“I love this beautifully complex world that Roth has created, and her world building is absolutely exquisite… The slow burn element of this book was agonizing, but the pain was oh so sweet. I’ll be lying in wait for book two!!!”
– Sarah Elyse @books.and.tea.princess
Lio and the lady stared at each other over her liegehound’s hackles.
The wind blew past her, and her scent struck him anew. He resisted the urge to flare his nostrils and take another deep whiff of her. He had no desire to resemble her beast.
Her hand drifted under the hound’s chin, right below all those teeth, and scratched his smear of red fur. She lowered her gaze to the animal. What better way to show Lio she did not fear him than to look away?
He did not smell a whiff of fear on her. It was her trek through the woods that had made her blood lively in her veins. Her heart beat a fast, undulating rhythm in the night, and he caught himself listening with rapt attention. Never had he heard music like this. Not even in Orthros.
He had the Blood Union and all the power the Gift afforded. She had a Hesperine-eating dog. Perhaps they were not entirely on uneven footing.
“You have nothing to fear from Knight,” she informed him. “He only goes after monsters.”
Her words could not have surprised Lio more if she had recited the Discourses on Love in perfect Divine Tongue. Lio offered her a tardy bow, a deep one to convey sincere respect. Best to err on the side of caution until he was certain of her rank. Despite her spare appearance, the lady was almost certainly important if someone had gone to the effort and expense of bonding a liegehound to her.
This encounter was simply waiting to become a diplomatic disaster. Hespera help him, he must not make a mess of things. It was not too late to salvage the situation, if the reassurance the lady had just offered was to be heeded: she did not regard Lio as a monster.
“It is a good thing you have such a dangerous protector, Lady.” Lio adopted a tone of courtly banter, testing her. “I’m afraid vicious monsters do indeed stalk the grounds tonight, seeking to devour beautiful young maidens.”
She took the bait, and he heard her laughter for the first time. That airy peal did not sound natural, but studied and wielded as a defense. She looked up from her hound, a faint smile on her lips. “If I happen upon any such creatures, I shall warn you of what they look like.”
Lio bowed again. “Gracious thanks. Knight and I might be called upon to drive them away, to ensure they do not disturb any ladies taking the evening air.”
“I appreciate your heroic offer. I am quite adept at dealing with monsters, however.”
“I suspect you are. Are you called upon to deal with them often?”
She tilted her head. “Are not we all?”
“At the risk of damaging your confidence in me, I can’t say I have a great deal of experience in monster slaying, myself.”
“You have not been in Tenebra long.”
Lio considered his next words. They sailed farther and farther from the safe waters of banter, which no one ruled. “I hold out hope no monster slaying will be necessary during our stay here.”
“Of course. You and your company ride under a different banner than the warriors of this house. You are the sort who would rather solve conflicts with words than swords, are you not?”
“I hope so.”
“Then there is a favor you can do for me. No monster slaying required.”
He folded his hands behind his back. What could she possibly want of him? What could he possibly do for her—safely? “As you say, I ride under a different banner. But perhaps I may still serve you, Lady. What is it you would ask of me?”
“Answer me a question, nothing more.” Her heartbeat jumped again in her chest, although her expression did not change. She continued smoothly, but the playfulness was gone from her voice. “Are there any among your party who perform the Mercy for the dying?”
He was sure every bit of his astonishment showed on his face. He did not answer right away, more on guard now than he had been when he’d first seen the hound. “I was not aware your people and mine used the same name for that Hesperine rite.”
“We do not. I prefer yours.”
“Then you are quite unusual among your kind.”
“Indeed. I even know the way your people honor the dying does not involve feasting on their flesh…or even drinking their blood.”
Lio discarded his assumptions about her then and there. “Then you must know I am hesitant to answer you, lest I implicate any of my companions in practices that are…difficult for most of your people to understand.”
“Of course. It is best if we do not name names. I ask only for a yes or a no. Can I persuade you to give me that much? As a deed of chivalry?”
Lio sought answers in the Blood Union. He let it draw him into the russet tendrils of light that were the veins beneath her skin. He barely managed not to gasp.
Suddenly, at last, he was in this moment. Not on the greensward dying with a helpless man. He was in the living current of her blood.
Here was the greatest beauty she possessed—a will to survive unlike any Lio had ever felt. A Will so strong it could only have grown under constant threat.
Here was the reason his people spilled their own blood on behalf of her kind. Why the embassy had walked voluntarily into this den of predators and the Queens had allowed them to do so.
This woman the Goddess had given life must fight for every beat of her heart.
Lio unraveled himself from her, struggling to resist the music under her skin. “If you would have me be your knight champion, Lady, you must condescend to offer me at least some small token of yours.”
Her smile did not reach her eyes or her blood. “Of course. You would want a flower to adorn your breast. A trophy to carry onto the field.”
“Nay, I would beg of you a treasure that is beyond my power to possess. It is yours to share or withhold. But if you will allow me, I promise I shall carry it with honor…and keep it close.” He put a hand over his heart. “Your name, Lady.”
Her blood rushed faster. She hesitated. “I thought it was agreed no names should pass our lips.”
“To protect those who might be endangered, should their names be known.”
“Did you imagine that includes only your own people?”
He bowed his head in concession. Hound or no hound, she was still a woman in Tenebra. And she was still disobeying her king. “Forgive me. A knight intends his lady no harm.”
“Only a knight can be trusted,” she told him. The hound eyed him, tensing as if to stand. “Het, love,” she soothed, and the beast stilled.
Lio met the dog’s gaze. “I have no wish to trespass on my lady’s generosity, but could I call myself honorable if I answered such a question, not knowing who asks?”
“Fair,” she acknowledged. “Yet you ask a name in exchange for a mere yes or no.”
“Not at all. For I shall give you my name as well.”
“Unwilling to endanger your comrades, but ready to place yourself on the sacrificial altar?”
He tried not to let her metaphor concern him. “A confidence for a confidence. And if that concerns you so, let me ask you this: to whom might I betray you? What reason have I to reveal your secrets?”
She was silent for a long moment, and he began to think he had lost his gamble, and she would turn and leave. But at last she nodded. “Very well. Who offers himself as my champion tonight?”
“Deukalion Komnenos. But my lady must call me Lio, as my friends do.”
“A pleasure to meet you…Lio. I am Cassia.”
“Cassia.” He smiled at her, remembering just in time to keep his lips shut. She was her name, through and through: a spice beloved among Hesperines for its fragrance and flavor. Bitter, unless sweetened.
“May I have the answer to my question, Lio?”
“The answer is no. None of us perform the Mercy. We enter Tenebra to fulfill other duties.”
A sigh escaped her, whether of relief or disappointment, the Blood Union did not tell him. And that, he wondered at. For all he beheld in her, there was a great deal he could not discern.
She dipped her head in a deep nod. “Thank you.”
He bowed again instead of asking her more questions. Nor did he offer further answers. There was much more he could have told her, of course, but their agreement was only for a yes or no. One did not reveal all one’s bargaining power during the first negotiation. He suspected she knew that as well as he did. He had haggled for all she would reveal tonight.
Would he have an opportunity to bargain for more?
Her hand shifted slightly on the dog’s head, and he got to his feet. He still watched Lio, but there was no sign of teeth now.
“I bid you good evening.” She turned away. “And good meal.”
If he had not suspected it already, that last remark convinced him. There was a great deal more about her that would surprise him.