♥ Nominated for Best PNR - Wizard & Witch 2011 by The Romance Reviews (TRR) ♥
If you’re looking for a spooky read, then Beautifully Broken certainly fits the bill. But be forewarned, kiddies: reading this chilling story before bedtime might necessitate sleeping with the lights on and result in jumping at small noises. It’s also full of thrilling mystery, teen angst, and bittersweet romance.
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For as long as I could remember, I’d heard whispers in the shadows. Black, twisting shapes that chilled my blood. Slithering through night, the images flickered, green skin, crimson eyes, sharp claws illuminated even in the dark. Sunlight meant the difference between life and death.
During the day I normally felt safe with the heat of the sun brushing my skin, so that morning when the shadows showed up in my bedroom, I barely recognized their eerie whispering. The desk lamp flickered, startling me. I stared at the last line I’d typed on my essay for English class, my hand hovering over the keyboard. Homework can wait.
I raised my head and closed the laptop. A supernatural hush came over the room. My heart hammered. A hint of chilling menace climbed up my spine. Finishing my homework was the last thing on my mind.
I uncrossed my legs and jumped off the bed, nearly tripping over my long nightgown. I scanned the dark bends and edges of the room. The swirling azure colors of the witch ball suspended over my bed rotated in a slow circle. I got down on my hands and knees to check under the bed. Nothing. The closet door stood open a crack. I stood up and wavered, shoulders hitching.
My gut clenched. My skin prickled. I dragged my feet over to the closet. I pushed the door wider with my bare foot. On tiptoes, I leaned over the threshold, stretching to grasp the brass chain, then gave it a yank. Light bled across dirty laundry, illuminating metal hangers scattered on the floor. Dusty board games littered the shelf, and haphazardly hanging clothes swayed on the bar. My fuzzy, pink bunny slippers stared at me with glassy button eyes. Nothing unusual.
So why am I so freaked?
The feeling, indistinct but ominous, lingered like the remnants of a bad dream. I couldn’t isolate the source. But something felt wrong.
The closet light and lamp suddenly went out. As I turned around, my peripheral vision caught a maelstrom of shadows. I saw things in it. Something snaked past my leg. Writhed.
Stupid, stupid, stupid! Forgot to keep my telepathic shield up. Again.
Shadows murmured in an ancient language, covering the cream carpet like an opaque stain. The creatures fed off my fear, which was doled out like too much bitter candy. Within the inky blobs were gleaming eyes. Red orbs, open and staring. Spiny reptilian fingers reached to grab my ankles. Instinct jerked me from their grasp. Anthracite things with darkling eyes glared back at me.
Trembles traveled from my legs and vibrated up my neck. Dread choked me like a noose, strangling me from the inside. Bile rose in my throat. I struggled to calm myself; all I had to do was run from the room. Instead I froze, my back flat against the wobbling closet door. My eyes caught something else. An entity too dense and vertical to be serpentine detached itself from the other shadows. Bigger. Darker. Malevolent.
The amorphous blackness was deep and vast, and inside the shadow, a terrible yawning hunger rose in front of my wide eyes. The shadow hung heavily, like a spatter of crude oil, pulsating and swirling until it nearly touched the ceiling. It morphed, muscles expanding over bones, skin convulsing, a resurrection of shiny obsidian, smooth and razor-sharp, created from darkness and shadow. It throbbed, altered, trickled into limbs and flesh and—
Oh, God, it’s almost touching me!
I flinched and stumbled back, bumping into a chair. My knees buckled. I swayed, leaning hard on the doorframe. Blood roared in my ears.
The nest of smaller shadows shimmered and crouched in terror. They whispered in tangled voices, circling my legs like frightened children. Their panic increased, seeping into my gut. My palms went damp.
When scary things get scared—so not good.
Breathing out desperate little choking noises, I shook my head, hoping the image would fade. The head shake didn’t make a difference. Only reinforced my worst nightmare.
Shadows had come alive and coalesced, taking on form—human form.
I wasn’t given to premonitions, but as a cold tremor shot down my back, I was overcome by a sense of real danger.
Power surged through the demon as he swelled into a seething black mass of energy, bent on blocking my escape. His rough skin, the color of soot, held a sturdy flexibility more sinuous than flesh like a venomous viper. His strange features—part phantom, part skeleton—fought to become corporeal. Naked. Partially humanoid. No genitals. No hair. He flexed his hands, revealing long fingernails. Talons on his feet. Knife sharp teeth. The creature did not move. He watched me. His ocher eyes blazed, searing through my nightgown and scorching my skin.
Shadows slunk away, blending into the dim corners. Little red eyes blinked. However, the seven-foot-tall creature remained. The hellish warmth radiating from his body entered mine like the breath of a dragon.
I swallowed. Hard. My scalp prickled with sweat. It wasn’t as if I were some girly-girl afraid of her own shadow, but when they had glowing eyes and sharp teeth…well, I tended to freak out.
Okay, focus, Shiloh.
My gaze darted to the window. Sunlight was my only ally. If I lifted the shade, the sun’s rays would swallow the darkness. At least that was the idea. A crack of light ebbed into the room, soaking the crevasses. Inching forward, I kept an eye on the junior shadows with their onyx hands, arms…flashes of carved faces. They continually moved, sliding under the bed in a twisted game of peek-a-boo. The shadow man stood very still. Intent, watchful, calm. Dangerous.
The disgusting odor of sulfur, musty and acrid, wrinkled my nose. I wanted to say something tough and snarky, but I only gaped stupidly at Shadow Man. Big bad evil. Whatever.
I pinched my nose and focused on not throwing up.
Shadow Man raised one hand and pointed at my arm. “Debts must be paid.” His inhuman intonation slid across the space between us, resonant and sinister, like the threat of a snake before it strikes. “You bear the devil’s mark.”
The ugly scar on my forearm—the one I’d lived with for years—burned at his words, as if I’d plunged it into scalding water. I held my arm against me. Tears filled my eyes. I gritted my teeth, twitching, unsure what to do next.
Move. Now. My legs refused to budge. Terror clutched my throat. Please, oh please, go away. I wished for the courage to scream or fight rather than stiffen like a statue, immobile and breathless.
He glowered. The shadows swarmed around me. Are they his little minions? Or are they still as freaked as me? Didn’t matter, because now they had me cornered. I backed against the closet door and stared, waiting for them to attack. Shadow Man stepped closer. The freaky hellspawn crouched behind him. The circle tightened, then he stopped. He cocked his head to the side.
Someone knocked on the door. “Shiloh?” My mother’s voice, loud and anxious, penetrated the wood. Huh. Her frantic tone was almost as odd as the demonic-thingy standing in my bedroom. “What’s going on in there? I heard a noise.”
Why wasn’t my dad the one pounding on my door? He’d want to protect me. Wait—what was I thinking? He would think I was hallucinating. Only I saw paranormals in this dysfunctional family. No way am I letting the big bad evil leave this room to hurt my dad. Who knows what Shadow Man will do?
“Uh, sorry,” I croaked. “Can’t decide what to wear.”
“Be quieter then.” She twisted the knob. Thankfully, the door was locked.
Now I had no choice but to do something about this…this thing. Before it went after my parents. I glanced from the door to the demonic shadow. I recognized danger. I recognized warnings. I bit my lip, tasting blood.
“Okay.” My fists clenched at my sides. Fingernails cut deep into my palm.
“We’re gonna be late…and do something with your hair.” The soft tread of my mother’s feet padding down the hall rattled me enough to do what I’d first intended—run like hell. I took a step, then stopped. I surprised myself with a sudden burst of anger. I didn’t know where it came from, but I was glad for it. More than glad.
The eruption of hostility flushed my cheeks. I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror above the dresser—my eyes wild and mad and my cheeks stained with the blood of roses. My lips tightened. Fresh tears stung my eyes, and that pissed me off even more.
Come on, Shiloh—think. I rubbed my hurting arm over the cotton nightgown. Door or window?
Shadow Man stood between the door and me. His black and muscular physique looked invulnerable. The heat of his gaze slammed into my scar. Yellow eyes expressed lust, thirst, hunger, and death.
He crooked a finger like a hook. “Come here.” The demon’s gaze flicked sideways, settling on me with such heaviness and animosity my skin recoiled. “Now, or pay the consequences.”
Anger uncoiled in my heart. A force of Darkness unfurled, as black as the demon before me. I jerked forward, my cheeks flaming. My short fingernails dug into my palms. But I felt no pain. Only the slow graze of terrible rage. I bared my teeth in a snarl as the obscure dark power stirred within my heart: precarious, unwinding.
“Is that a threat?” I asked, but the tone was not mine. This time power flooded my voice.
“Is that a threat?” I asked, but the tone was not mine. This time power flooded my voice.
No one moved. Even the nasty little shades became rigid. Shadow Man hesitated. Our eyes locked. I held my breath, watching him. My heart beat at a dizzying pace. He flung back his head. A thin stream of smoke spewed from his parted lips. The predatory cloud-snake pulsed with electricity. His smoky vomit was viscous and black, generating an electromagnetic vibration and a sulfurous residue.
At that moment, the only things real to me were the rage coursing through my veins and the heat scorching the scar that traced a jagged line from my elbow to my wrist. A constant reminder, ensuring I’d never forget my freakishness. Well, hell.
Instead of screaming like a smart girl, I decided to be brave and sprint for the one thing that might save me. The window. As I raced past Shadow Man, a blistering heat slashed through my chest. Stumbling, I tripped over a book, and fell to my knees. I gripped the ledge of the windowsill. Panic and fury radiated through my limbs. Blazing strong, a surge of mystical energy encompassed my body, crackling with power. Static electricity lifted my long hair. I squeezed my eyes shut.
Oh, god. Please—OPEN!
Want to read more?
Read the thrilling excerpt from the sequel, MOONLIGHT MAYHEM