I have a treat for you guys tonight!
In lieu of Thursday Night Write (or as part of it, depending on how you look at it), I’m going to spend the next few Thursdays offering you sneak peeks of A TEMPTATION OF ANGELS. I’m also going to surprise you with character studies of Helen (what can’t she forgive herself for?), Raum (who is he and what are his intentions?), Anna (the only chink in Darius’ armor), the fabulous Channing Boys (what’s with the dangerous scar? And which brother has a soft spot for strays?), and anything else in the book I think you might have fun with.
I started writing TEMPTATION in the Spring of 2010. The truth is, I didn’t intend for it to be my next book. I had another book I’d been working on since 2006 (before Prophecy even sold) that I presented to my editor, but it turns out, THIS was the one she wanted. I’m so glad she did, because I’ve been utterly captivated with the world, the characters, the story, and the possibilities for other stories (wink, wink) ever since.
I hope you guys are are as excited to read it as I am to share it with you. And don’t forget you can claim your free bookplate (signed and personalized) and bookmark by sending your preorder receipt (digital, taken with your phone, or however else you want to do it) to prophecy firstname.lastname@example.org by the end of the month.
Most of the excerpts I’m going to post will be shorter than this one, but tonight you get the whole first chapter. Enjoy!
Though it was late, it was not the sound of arguing that
woke Helen in the dead of night.
She lay in bed for a long time after retiring, listening to the
rise and fall of voices coming from the library. It was a familiar
sound, comforting rather than worrisome. Her mother
and father often met with the others, though the meetings
had become more frequent and heated of late. Yet, there was
something about this night, the cadence of these voices—
however familiar—that made Helen’s nerves tingle, as if they
were humming too close to the surface of her skin.
At first, she tried to decipher the words drifting through
the vents set into the floor of her chambers, especially when
they sounded in her father’s familiar baritone or the strong,
clear voice of her mother. But after a while, Helen gave up,
opting instead to let her mind wander as she stared at the
canopy above her head.
Her thoughts settled on the morning’s fencing exercises
and her argument with Father. It was not the first time she
had rebelled against the recent addition to her curriculum.
She still failed to see how fencing could contribute anything
to her schooling, but Father’s word was law when it came to
her education. He knew well that Helen’s prowess lay in the
strategy of chess, in the logic problems and cryptographs she
could solve faster than he, not in the agile movement required
of her on the ballroom floor where they practiced fencing.
Still, he pushed. Using the foil out of deference to her inexperience
was his only concession. Were Father working with one
of his usual sparring partners, he would, without question,
have used his saber. Now, in the muffled quiet of her bedchamber,
Helen vowed that in time Father would use a saber with
her as well.
She didn’t remember slipping into the emptiness of sleep,
and she did not awaken gently. It was the sound of hurried
footsteps down the hall that caused her to sit up in bed, her
heart racing. She did not have time to contemplate the possibilities
before the door was thrown open, candlelight from the
sconces in the hall throwing strange shadows across the walls
and floor of her sleeping chamber.
Scooting to the headboard, she pulled the coverlet to her
chin, too frightened to be ashamed for her childish behavior.
“You must get out of bed, Helen. Now.”
The voice was her mother’s. She moved into the darkness
of the room, the strange shadows disappearing as she crossed
to the dressing table. She fumbled with something—the
glass jars and scent decanters atop the vanity clinking noisily
“But . . . it’s the middle of the night!”
Her mother turned then, and a shaft of light from the hall
illuminated the valise in her hand. The realization that her
mother was packing, packing Helen’s things, blew like a hurricane
through the confusion of her mind. Her mother was
across the room in seconds, leaning over the bed and speaking
close to her face.
“You’re in grave danger, Helen.” Her mother pulled the
coverlet from Helen’s shivering body. Her nightdress was
twisted around her thighs, and the cold air bit her skin as her
mother’s hand encircled her arm, already pulling her from the
warmth of her bed. “Now, come.”
The carpets were cool under Helen’s bare feet as she was
led to the wall next to the wardrobe. Her mother reached into
the bodice of her gown, pulling from it a chain with something
dangling at its end. It caught the light spilling in from the hall,
glimmering faintly in the darkness as her mother removed it
from her neck. Fear coiled like a snake in Helen’s stomach as
her mother pushed aside the large mirror in the corner, bending
to the paneled wall behind it. She continued speaking as
she worked something against the plaster.
“I know you won’t understand. Not yet. But someday you
will, and until then you must trust me.”
Helen was oddly speechless. It was not that she had nothing
to say. Nothing to ask. She simply had so many questions that
they washed over her like waves, one right after the other. She
had no time to formulate one before the next carried it away.
She could not make out what her mother was doing, bent forward
in the darkness, head tipped to the wall, but she listened
as something scratched against the wallpaper. A moment later,
her mother straightened, and a door swung outward, revealing
a hole in the plaster.
Even in the dark, Helen saw tenderness in her mother’s eyes
as she reached out, pulling Helen roughly against her body. In
her mother’s hair, Helen smelled roses from the garden, and
on the fine surface of her mother’s skin, the books to which
her head was always bent. They were a memory all their own.
“Helen . . . Helen,” her mother murmured. “You must
remember one thing.” She pulled back, looking into Helen’s
eyes. “You know more than you think. Whatever else you discover,
Voices erupted from downstairs, and though the words
themselves were indistinct, it was obvious they were spoken
in anger or fear. Her mother dared a glance at the door before
turning back to Helen with renewed fervor.
“Take this.” She thrust a piece of crumpled paper into Helen’s
hand. “Take it and sit very quietly, until you know they’re
gone. There is a stair that will lead you beneath the house and
back up again farther down the road. Join with Darius and
Griffin. The address is here. They will take you to Galizur. You
have everything you need, but you must be silent as you make
your escape. If they hear you, they will find you.” She paused,
forcing Helen’s chin up so that she was looking straight into
her eyes. “And this is important, Helen: If they find you, they
will kill you.”
“I won’t leave you!” Helen cried.
“Listen to me.” Her mother’s voice became firmer, almost
angry as she grabbed hold of Helen’s shoulders. “You will do
this, Helen. You will get out of here alive, whatever else happens.
Otherwise, it’s all for nothing. Do you understand?”
Helen shook her head. “No! Mother, please tell me what’s
happening!” But she already knew her mother would not.
Already knew, somehow, that they were out of time.
Her mother lifted the chain from around her neck, placing
it around Helen’s. A key at the end of it fell to the front of her
Holding her daughter’s face between her hands, Helen’s
mother leaned in to kiss her forehead. “Lock the door from
the inside. Use the pendant to light your way—but don’t
make a move until you are certain they won’t hear you. And
be safe, my love.”
Helen was shoved into the hole in the wall, the valise
pressed against her until she had no choice but to wrap her
arms around it. She ducked, stumbling through the small
doorway, trying not to smack her head. Her mother paused
one last time, as if reconsidering, and then, without another
word, she began to push the door closed. She became a smaller
and smaller sliver, disappearing bit by bit until she was gone
entirely in the small click of the door.
“Lock it, Helen. Now.” Her mother’s voice was a hiss from
the other side of the wall. Helen fought a surge of panic as she
heard the wallpaper smoothed over the keyhole, the mirror
dragged over the opening to her hiding place.
It was worse than dark inside the wall. It was as if she had
fallen into nothingness. She set the bag down, feeling for its
clasp in the darkness. She had no idea what was on the piece
of paper her mother had given her, but it was damp with the
sweat of her palm. She couldn’t read it now if she wanted to,
and she pushed it inside the bag.
She reached for the chain around her neck until she found
the key at its end. Grasping it in one hand, she fumbled around
the edge of the wall in front of her with the other, trying to
locate the lock she knew must be there. Her hands shook with
rising panic. The door cut into the wall was almost seamless,
making it nearly impossible to find in the darkness. She was
on her third pass when she finally felt a slim line in the plaster.
Running her fingers slowly over it, she felt for the keyhole. It
seemed like far too long before she finally came upon it.
She was trying to fit the key in the lock when noise burst
from somewhere beyond the chamber. She could not fathom
its direction, for she was wrapped in the muffled cocoon of
wood and plaster that was her hiding place. Still, she strained
to decipher the sound. She thought she heard shouting . . .
weeping. And then a crash that caused her to startle. The key
dropped from her hand, falling with a clink to the floor. She
hesitated only a moment.
Whatever was happening was going to get worse before the
night was over.
Feeling along the floor for the key, Helen tried to ignore
the noise from the rest of the house. Her hiding place was not
large, and it only took a few moments for her fingers to close
around the chain attached to the key. She grasped it carefully
in one hand and felt again for the keyhole. This time, it didn’t
Using both hands, she lined the key up with the hole in a
couple of tries, turning it quickly and scooting away from the
hidden door until her back stopped against a solid block of
wood. She had only a few moments, a few precious moments
of silence, before she heard the thud of boot steps.
At first the footfalls were distant. Helen thought they would
pass her chamber completely, but it wasn’t long before they
grew louder and louder and she knew they were inside her
room. She had a flash of hope. Hope that it was Father coming
to get her. To tell her that whatever danger had been in the
house had gone. But she knew it wasn’t him when the boot
steps slowed. There was no rush to the door of her tiny room
to free her from its darkness.
Instead, the footsteps made a slow pass of her chamber
before stopping suddenly in front of the hiding place.
Helen tried to slow her shallow breathing as she waited for
the footsteps to move away, but they didn’t. Whoever had
entered her chamber was still there. She held as still as possible,
attempting to calm her mind with the knowledge that
she had spent many hours in the room, and there had never
been any hint of the secret door, even during times of bright
sunlight. Surely this stranger would not be able to see the
opening in the dark of night and with her great dressing mirror
pushed in front of it.
For a few seconds, it worked. She began to breathe a little
easier in the silence.
But that was before the room outside exploded into riotous
noise. Before she heard the dressing table cleared of its
bottles and jars, the glass thudding against the carpets and
shattering against the wood floorboards. Before she heard the
bureau overturned, the armoire pushed over. And yes, before
she heard the heavy carved mirror guarding her hiding place
tipped to the floor, the glass shattering into a million pieces.