by Amy Wilkins, Harlequin Digital
Are you ready for Beauty Awakened, book 2 of Gena Showalter’s Angels of the Dark series??? Her latest sexy paranormal romance hit stores (and ebook stores) Feb. 26, but 3 lucky winners can win a copy right here!
About Beauty Awakened:
New York Times bestselling author Gena Showalter returns with another captivating Angels of the Dark tale, as a tormented warrior is brought to his knees by the most delicate of humans….
His name is Koldo. He is scarred, powerful, his control legendary–and he lives only for vengeance against the angel who viciously removed his wings. But if he yields to the forces of hatred, he will be eternally damned.
Nicola Lane was born with a defective heart, yet this fragile human shows surprising strength as demons stalk her every move, determined to end her. She is the key to Koldo’s deliverance…and his downfall. Though he fights duty, destiny and his first addictive taste of desire, his toughest battle will be the one for Nicola’s life–even if he has to sacrifice his own….
Want to snag Beauty Awakened for yourself? To enter to win, keep reading for an excerpt from the book and leave a comment naming one of the different types of demons mentioned in the excerpt. Good luck!
Contest Rules: Contest closes 11:59pm EST on Feb. 28. Winners will be selected by random number draw from all eligible comments and announced on March 1. Open to residents of the United States and Canada only. For full official rules, click here.
Update: the giveaway is now closed, please check the comments to see if you won!
Koldo stalked down the ICU ward of the hospital. He and the warrior with him were hidden from human eyes and protected from human touch. The doctors, nurses, visitors and patients misted through them, completely unaware of the invisible world playing out alongside theirs. A spirit world that had given birth to this natural world, the human world.
A spirit world that was the true reality for all creation.
One day, these humans would discover just how exact that statement really was. Their bodies would die, their spirits would rise—or descend—and they would begin to understand the natural world was fleeting, the spiritual eternal.
Eternal. Just like Koldo’s irritation seemed to be. He didn’t want to be here among the humans, on yet another silly mission, and he really didn’t like his companion, Axel. But his new leader, Zacharel, wanted him busy, distracted, for he suspected Koldo teetered on the verge of breaking a heavenly law.
Zacharel wasn’t wrong.
After everything Koldo had endured in his father’s camp…after escaping and spending centuries searching for his mother, Koldo had finally found her—and locked her inside a cage in one of his many homes.
So, yes. Koldo teetered. But he wouldn’t ever cause the woman irrevocable harm. He wouldn’t even lower himself to break one of her nails. For now, he simply hoped to teach her the horror of being trapped by circumstance, as she had taught him. As she was still teaching him.
Later, he would… He wasn’t sure. He no longer liked to consider the future.
Because of his abhorrence of Cornelia, Koldo had landed in the Army of Disgrace. It was a terrible name for such a choice defensive force, but it was one that fit nonetheless. The members were the worst of the worst, the baddest of the bad…male and female Sent Ones who were in danger of damnation.
For various reasons, all twenty soldiers had ignored prized heavenly laws. They were meant to love, but they hated. They were to help others, but they really only hurt. They were to build up, but they only ever tore down.
Three months ago, the members had been given one year to mend their wicked ways, or they would be stripped of their abilities and kicked into hell.
Koldo would do whatever was necessary to keep that from happening—even deny himself true vengeance. He refused to lose the only home he’d ever known.
Axel grabbed him by the arm, stopping him. “Dude! Did you see the meat bags on that girl?”
And there was reason number one why Koldo had a problem working with Axel. “Could you be any more disgusting?” He jerked from the warrior’s hold, contact with another not something he enjoyed.
“Yeah,” Axel said with an irreverent grin. “I could. But someone, and I won’t say your name, K, my man, needs to get his mind out of the gutter. I wasn’t talking about her chesticles.”
Koldo ran his tongue over his teeth. “What, then?”
“Hello. Her demons. Look.”
His gaze slid to the room at his right. The door had been in the process of closing and now clicked shut, blocking the occupant from view. “Too late.”
“It’s only too late when you’re dead. Come on. You gotta see this.” Axel strode forward and ghosted through the entrance.
Koldo’s hands curled into fists, and he battled the urge to punch a wall. They had a mission, and distractions only extended their time in a place crawling with demons laughing at the pain the humans suffered and whispering into the ears of anyone who would listen.
Can’t survive, they said. There’s no hope. And these humans…so many were puppets, with clawed hands tugging at their strings. If they failed to fight back, they would become casualties in a war between good and evil, either in this life or after death. One way or another.
That’s just the way things worked.
The Most High ruled the heavens. “He” was actually a sacred trinity consisting of the Merciful One, the Anointed One and the Mighty One, and He was the King of kings, His word law. He had appointed several underlings throughout the skies. Germanus—or Deity, as some of Koldo’s kind called him, referring to a title, nothing more—was one of those underlings. A king answerable to the King.
Germanus led the Elite Seven—Zacharel, Lysander, Andrian, Gabek, Shalilah, Luanne, Svana—and each of those seven led an army of Sent Ones. Zacharel, for instance, led the Army of Disgrace.
Sent Ones looked just like angels, but they weren’t actually angels. Not in the sense the world knew, at least. Yes, Sent Ones were winged. Yes, they waged war against evil and helped humans, but in actuality, they were the adopted children of the Most High, their lives tethered to His. He was the source of their power, the essence of their very existence.
Like humans, Sent Ones battled the desires of the flesh. They experienced lust, greed, envy, rage, pride, hate, despair. Angels, in actuality, were servants and messengers of the Most High. They experienced none of those things.
Mind on the mission.
Koldo straightened his spine. Zacharel had tasked him and Axel with killing a specific demon here at the hospital. The demon had made the mistake of tormenting a patient who knew about the spiritual world around him, a male who had called upon the aid of the Most High.
The Most High was love personified, willing to help anyone who asked. Sometimes angels were dispatched, sometimes Sent Ones. Sometimes both, depending on the situation and the skills needed. This time, Koldo and Axel had been chosen. They had been nearby, headed to a training session, when Zacharel’s voice had whispered through their minds, imparting instructions.
Axel peeked his head through the center of the door and said, “Dude! You’re missing it!”
“The person in that room is not our—”
Grinning, the warrior once again disappeared.
“Assignment,” Koldo finished to no one but himself. His anger intensified.
He could move on and fight the demon he was supposed to fight, no problem, but according to Zacharel’s orders, he wasn’t to proceed without his partner.
Grinding his teeth, he marched forward. He slipped through the iron obstruction without any difficulty, stopped and glanced around. The room was small, with multiple machines attached to the motionless blonde female on the bed. A redheaded female sat next to her, chatting easily.
The redhead had no idea there were two demons standing behind her, pretending not to see the Sent Ones in the room.
“Two of the guys in my office got to arguing about who could run faster,” she said, “and soon bets were flying.”
Her voice had a whispery quality, as if filled with smoke and dreams, and it settled over Koldo like warm honey. And yet, with the soothing came a tensing. Every muscle in his body knotted up, as if preparing for war. He…wanted to fight such a delicate human? But why? Who was she?
“I felt as if I was standing in the middle of a stock exchange or something.”
Laughter bubbled from her, such beautiful laughter, pure, with nothing held back. The kind he’d never experienced himself.
“They decided to race in the parking lot instead of have lunch, and the loser had to eat whatever’s in the plastic bowl in the break room fridge. The one that’s been in there for over a month and is now black. I heard the cheers as I was pulling out of the lot, but I didn’t get to see who won.”
Wistful now. Why?
“You would have voted for Blaine, I’m sure. He’s only five-nine, so he wouldn’t tower over you too badly, and he has the cutest blue eyes. Not that his looks have anything to do with his speed, but I know you, and I know you would have wanted him to win regardless. You’ve always been a sucker for baby blues.”
He could only see the top half of her, but judging by the fragility of her bone structure, she was a tiny thing. Her features were plain, her skin as pale as porcelain, and her eyes as gray as a winter storm. Her mass of strawberry hair was pulled into a high ponytail, the ends curling all the way to her elbow.
There was an air of fatigue surrounding her, and yet, there was a sparkle in those winter eyes.
A sparkle the demons behind her would soon snuff out.
He forced his attention on the pair. One was posted at her left and one was posted at her right, and both had a proprietary hand on her shoulder. They were Koldo’s size, with dark, pupilless eyes that reminded him of bottomless pits. Lefty had a single horn protruding from the center of his forehead, and crimson scales rather than flesh. Righty had two thick horns rising from his scalp, and dark, matted fur.
There were many different types of demons, and they came in all different shapes and sizes. From the first of their kind, the fallen archangel Lucifer, to the viha, the paura, the nasili, the slecht, the grzech, the pica and the envexa. And sadly, many more. Each sought the destruction of mankind—one man at a time, if necessary.
Amid the types of demons, there were ranks. Righty was a top-of-the-line paura, and all about fear. Lefty was a top-of-the-line grzech, and all about sickness.
Demons liked to attach themselves to humans and, through whispers and deceit, infect them with a toxin that caused their anxiety levels to spike, in the case of the paura, and the immune system to weaken, in the case of the grzech. Then, the demons fed off the ensuing panic and upset, weakening the humans further and making them easy targets for destruction.
The girl must have been a veritable buffet.
Just how sick was she?
Lefty gave up trying to ignore Axel and glared at him as he danced around, slapping his face and saying, “I’m hittin’ you, I’m hittin’ you, what’re you gonna do about it, huh, huh?” in the good-ole-country-boy accent he sometimes liked to use.
Koldo despised demons with every ounce of his being. No matter their type or rank, they were thieves, killers and slayers, just like his father’s people. They left chaos and confusion in their wake. They ruined. And this pair wouldn’t leave the girl unless forced—but even then she could welcome others.
His chest burned as he switched his focus to the girl on the bed. But…his gaze lasered through the wrinkled cover, the thin hospital gown, and even skin and muscle. What he saw astonished him.
To him, the blonde was now as transparent as glass, granting him a glance at the demon that had wormed its way inside her body. A grzech, different from the one plaguing the redhead. This one had tentacles that stretched through the blonde’s mind and into her heart, draining the life from her.
The Most High often blessed Sent Ones with specific supernatural abilities during difficult situations, things like this X-ray vision, as he’d heard others call it. Until now, Koldo had never experienced anything like it. Why here? Why now? Why this girl and not the other?
The questions were overshadowed a second later, when, in the blink of an eye, Koldo learned exactly how this had happened to her, the information seeming to download straight into his brain.
Born at twenty-six weeks, the blonde and her redheaded twin had struggled to survive the heart defects they’d been born with. Multiple surgeries were needed, and both almost died countless times—each time nullifying any progress made. Throughout the years, their parents had become fond of saying, “You have to keep yourself calm or you’ll have another heart attack.”
Innocent words meant to aid the pair—or so it seemed.
Words were one of the most powerful forces known—or unknown—to man. The Most High had created this world with His words. And humans, who had been fashioned in His image, could direct the entire course of their lives with their words, their mouths as the rudder on a ship, as the bridle on a horse. They produced with their words. They destroyed with their words.
Eventually the blonde had come to believe the slightest rise in her emotions would indeed cause another painful heart attack, and with her belief, fear had sparked to life.
Fear—the beginning of doom, for heavenly law stated that what a person feared would come upon them. In the blonde’s case, the fear had come upon her in the form of the grzech. She’d caught his notice, and she’d been such an easy target.
First, the demon breathed his toxin into her ear, whispering destructive suggestions.
Your heart could stop at any moment.
Oh, the pain…it’s unbearable. You can’t live through that again.
This time, the doctors may not be able to revive you.
Demons knew human eyes and ears were a doorway to the mind, and the mind was a doorway to the spirit. So, when the blonde had entertained the terrible suggestions, constantly rolling them through her mind, the fear had multiplied and become a poisoned truth, causing her defenses to crumble, allowing the demon to slink inside her, create a stronghold and destroy her from the inside out.
She had indeed had another heart attack, and the necessary organ had weakened beyond what human medicine could repair.
Did the Most High want Koldo to help her, even though she wasn’t his current mission? Was that what this unveiling was about?
Sighing, the redhead leaned back in her chair, returning Koldo’s attention to her. Once again, he saw flesh and blood rather than spirit. The Most High’s gift hadn’t extended to her.
He didn’t have time to wonder why. A waft of cinnamon and vanilla hit him, quickly followed by the sickening scent of sulfur. A scent the girl would not be able to shed, as long as the demons stayed with her.
“It’s about time for me to go,” she said, rubbing at the back of her neck as if the muscles were knotted. “I’ll let you know who won that race, La La.”
Did she have any idea that evil weighed her down and stalked her every move?
Did she know she was full of demon toxin, just like her sister? That, if she didn’t fight, she would end up in the same circumstance, the demons worming their way inside her body?
Koldo could kill Lefty and Righty, but again, other demons would sense what easy prey she was and attack her. As unknowledgeable as she clearly was, she would surrender again.
For any kind of long-term success, he would have to teach her to wage war against the toxin. But to do so, he would need her cooperation and time. Cooperation she may not give. Time she may not have. But…maybe she was the one the Most High wanted him to help. Maybe Koldo was to save the redhead from the blonde’s fate.
Either way, the choice to aid her—or not—was Koldo’s. Germanus and Zacharel might issue orders, but not the Most High. Not even when He revealed a truth. He never overrode free will.
“You want in on this, buddy?” Axel asked him, continuing to slap at the now-snarling demons behind the redhead. “‘Cause I’m about to take things up a notch.”
“A notch above annoying is merely irritating,” he said, inwardly fuming because he already knew he was going to pick the mission. Survival always came first.
Why was he fuming, anyway? He liked the sound of the girl’s voice—so what? Who was she to him? No one. Why should he care about her and her future?
“We have a duty,” he added. “Let’s see to it.”
Immediately guilt attempted to rise. No matter who she was—or wasn’t—he was cold and callous to leave her to such an evil end, wasn’t he? His father would have made the same choice. His mother would have— He wasn’t sure what she would have done. She still seemed to love everyone but Koldo.
“Ah, come on, hoss,” Axel said. “Stop and play, that’s my motto.”
“You come on,” he called to Axel. “Now!” Before he changed his mind.
“Sure, sure.” Axel worked his way behind the demons and kicked one in the back of the knees. The other twisted swiftly to bat the side of Axel’s head with a meaty fist, sending the warrior propelling through the far wall.
Koldo stepped in front of his brethren when he returned to the room, preventing him from springing into a full-on attack. “Touch him again and you’ll discover my talent with the sword of fire,” he told the demons.
Loyalty mattered to Koldo. Deserved or not.