Sneak Peeks

Hot and angsty romantasy. Start reading The Wrath by Gena Showalter


Hot and angsty romantasy. Start reading The Wrath by Gena Showalter

New York Times bestselling author Gena Showalter returns with a new book in the tantalizing Rise of the Warlords series, featuring a brutal Hell king and the irresistible beauty who upends his world.

For centuries, Rathbone the Only, King of Agonies, has existed for one purpose: recovering the enchanted bones of his slain wife to bring her back to life. He’s never been closer to success. But a new enemy has risen. A band of deadly war gods who have thirty days to destroy her or suffer the consequences. With time running out, Rathbone hires a maddening harpy-oracle, unaware she has an agenda of her own.

Neeka the Unwanted is a fierce warrior on a mission: stop Rathbone and the gods. She’s seen the future if either is victorious, and it’s horrifying. She’ll do whatever proves necessary to forge a new path, even seduce the ruthless royal from his purpose. What she can’t predict? How the intense male will shatter her hard-won defenses along the way.

As Rathbone battles unexpected betrayals, cunning foes and the wild temptress he craves with every fiber of his being, he knows he must choose: hold on to a cold dream or embrace a new flame.

Rise of the Warlords
Book 1: The Warlord (9781867230885)
Book 2: The Immortal (9781867251187)
Book 3: The Phantom (9781867272731)
Book 4: The Wrath (9781038901149)

Chapter 2
Neeka the Unwanted, harpy-oracle extraordinaire, gold star entrepreneur, and all-around genius, thank you, glanced at the ex-husband who despised her. She couldn’t blame him for his sentiment, considering she had murdered him on three separate occasions. Though she only accepted blame for the first death. Her version of a divorce. It wasn’t her fault the Phoenix lord continually rose from the dead.

Presently, she occupied a small cage in Ahdán’s travel tent. He perched in front of her, sharpening a blade. His (failed) attempt at intimidation.

“Why are you looking at me as if I betrayed you?” he asked. “Especially considering the violence you’ve employed to kill me.”

Neeka listened to Ahdán with her eyes, reading his lips. At the age of five, enemies raided her camp, and a soldier stabbed her in both ears. Too young to repair the damage, she was rendered deaf for eternity. “Give me another dose of your toxin, and you’ll die before the sun sets.”

Earlier, he’d injected her with a horrible poison meant to change her species to his. It was the fourth dose he’d administered since they’d exchanged marriage vows several years ago, and each new inoculation had triggered a worse reaction than the last. Sweat still poured over her too-hot skin, soaking her bra and panties, her only garments, yet her teeth chattered from cold. Her bones ached, her muscles throbbed, and her nerve endings sizzled.

No matter an immortal’s origins, they required ten doses of the toxin to facilitate a total transformation to Phoenix. If they survived the injections themselves. Most victims died at the halfway point. Even those like Neeka, with Phoenix in their ancestry.

“Where is your thanks?” he asked. “I’m helping you reach your full potential.”

Ha! “You care nothing about my potential.” Ahdán didn’t even like her. He sought to create a mate too terrified to defy him. A good little sex robot, willing to be used and abused at his convenience. “You care about my ability to survive your flames, nothing more.” An upside of the transformation, yes. That, and the ability to revive from death as he did. But. As soon as she could withstand his fire without burning to ash, he planned to bed her. With or without her approval.

Wait. Should she seek to withstand his flames? Had she foreseen her own death and now worked to protect herself?

Was that why she’d permitted her own capture? And she’d absolutely permitted it. She’d been tucked safe and secure inside a secret realm only a rare few could access. Which meant something enticed her to leave and place herself in her ex’s crosshairs.

Neeka searched her (amazingly brilliant!) mind for answers but couldn’t resurrect the tale of her imprisonment. Beyond this particular interlude, her thoughts were blankish, as if she’d dropped into the middle of a story without reading the back blurb. A common occurrence for her, and one of the many disadvantages of being the world’s most magnificent seer.

At different points throughout any given day, her mind tired of jumping from present to future to past then back to present or future, and she short-circuited, her memory erased. Most times temporarily. Sometimes permanently.

She hadn’t always been this way, able to see forward and backward, round and round. It started after Ahdán dispensed the first dose of toxin, inadvertently torching a barrier to the ability. The best she could do now was piece together any fragments of information available.

As Ahdán droned on, she sighed. No clues there. He merely spouted complaints about her less than stellar qualities. As if she had any!

Ignore the twinge of doubt.

She tuned him out by looking away and examined her surroundings. A traditional battlefield marquee with an open floor plan, vintage cloth walls, and an all-natural, dirt-packed floor. Very last century. Former tortures had left their mark, staining the material with splatters of crimson. The air carried notes of rust and iron. It was nice and all, but again, but very last season.

Hmm. Did the words written in marker on her forearm mean anything? He-licks-her. Other than the obvious.

Think! The last thing she remembered was snuggling in bed, alone, always alone, reading a how-to guide for making better jewelry. A new passion. If males refused to notice her greatness and bestow gifts, she would perform the honor herself.

Well, whatever the reason for allowing her capture, the reward must’ve outweighed the risk.

When the tiny wings between her shoulder blades vibrated, she returned her gaze to the Phoenix. Ugh. He was mid-tantrum, banging his weapon against the cage bars.

“Pay attention to me.”

Neeka couldn’t hear his voice, but dang if she didn’t feel his whine with her entire being.

“Sure thing.” She winced, as if sorry for him. “But first, you gotta become more interesting. Go ahead. I’m waiting.”

He scowled, and she blew him a kiss. “Your harpy friend. Taliyah. She never should’ve taught you to speak. You’re much prettier silent.”

“You’re hideous at all times.” Though, granted, on the outside, Ahdán wowed with model-worthy features and a body bulging with brawn. Too bad he sucked.

She hadn’t forgotten why she’d married the sadistic brute. Save Taliyah’s sister from having to contend with his evil and empty his royal treasury. Assassinating him had been a wonderful bonus.

Ahdán pressed the tip of his blade into his index finger, drawing a bead of blood. “Your pain will be my pleasure, wife.”

She yawned. “Do you get delivery out here? This girl could use a bite.”

Most harpies adored anything fried or sweet. Not Neeka. She always jonesed for veggies. A constant source of humiliation throughout her childhood. Maybe because she’d been so sickly. Just one more aspect of her life that had made her different.

“Maybe a drink?” she added. “Your tears on the rocks, shaken not stirred.”

Blue flames crackled over his pale locks. Aw, did his inability to intimidate her sting a bit?

“To start, I’ll remove your eyes.” He stood, putting his loin cloth on display. A rising loin cloth. “I’ll ensure you can’t grow new ones.”

She smiled at him. “Know that I’ll enjoy what comes next.” Wait. She would? Why? What came next? Had Past Neeka set her up for success?

“Wife, you won’t be enjoying anything ever again. I’ll ensure that, too.”

“I’m not your wife. Not any longer. Our connection ended with your first death.”

The corners of his mouth curved in a cruel grin. “You will always be mine.”

Biceps rippling, he opened the cage door and reached inside. Just before contact, he jerked. His spine contorted to an odd angle and his chin tilted upward, his mouth opening wide, making him look as if he were howling.

What the—ah. Okay. The tip of a spear extended past his teeth, rivers of crimson streaming over his bottom lip. He twitched once, twice, before going limp, expelling a final breath.

The male responsible for the Phoenix’s latest death tossed the body aside, as if it weighed nothing, granting her visual access to his leer-worthy physique. Hellooo, man candy! He was a giant, almost double the other warrior’s size in both height and brawn. And he was hot. Not handsome. Hot. Amazingly so. He had thick black hair, crimson skin, and exaggerated features. Aggression emanated from him. The kind that boldly proclaimed: Bow or break.

Meow. If she cared about dating, and she didn’t, nope, not her, he might—might!—be her type. He wore black leathers and combat boots, but no shirt. Thank goodness! Look at the wealth of eye tattoos that littered his chest. Such a peculiar choice of ink—Neeka yelped. Those tattoos blinked. They even scanned the area as if they were truly able to see. Maybe they were. Some stared straight at her, making her wings quiver with delight.

When his (real) black diamond eyes fixed on her, she gulped. The intensity!

A cluster-ball of information rolled from a shadowy corner of her mind, handing out tidbits of information like Halloween treats. He was McBoney. Or rather, Rathbone the Only, King of Agonies. A shapeshifter and spy without equal. Closest friend of Hades, the King of the Dead. Known as a royal playboy who lacked morals and boundaries, with a fearsome temper.

He wasn’t someone Neeka had ever interacted with and yet, she had a niggle…

Him. He was the reason she had allowed Ahdán to lock her up. She sensed it.

Say yes. Whatever Red proposes, say yes. But—

“Yes!” she blurted out. Then the thought completed. Don’t be too eager. Oh. Right. Not too eager. Got it. “But also no,” she added, batting her lashes at him.

Brow furrowed, he canted his head and deepened his study of her. “You are Neeka the Unwanted, from the Eagleshield clan, but part of the Skyhawk clan. Owner of Greater than Greatest at Finding Stuff, and the oracle who left me a crumb trail of clues to this location. Yes?”

Mmm. The way he mouthed every word sent shivers spilling over her spine. She almost forgot how much she hated her moniker. “Yep. That’s me. I can do it, too. I can find anything, anywhere, at any time. Except sometimes. And other times, too.”

He pursed his lips, the only soft thing about him, with a bottom plumper than the top. “I’m told you can return my wife to me.”

“You’re hitched? Bummer.” Not for her, of course. She didn’t care about dating, remember? “I know a ton of harpies who would’ve handed you the keys to their orgasm and let you take it for a spin.”

He double blinked. Like, every set of eyes double blinked. Then those tattooed, living irises stared at her, hard, and she kind of wanted to preen or shrink into herself. She wasn’t sure which.

Frowning, he spread his arms and announced, “I am Rathbone the Only, King of Agonies.”

Nailed it! The Realm of Agonies was one of ten kingdoms in the Underworld and a place of incredible wealth. And, yes, okay, probably tons of agonies, too. “Be honest. Did you or did you not pierce your junk because you lost a bet with Hades? Rumors have flown for ages, and I’ve got my money on maybe.”

He and his eyes gave another of those double blinks. “You sent a messenger to me, claiming to know where the rest of my wife is located. You said I can utilize your services for the right price.”

What did he mean, the rest of his wife? “Hmm. That does sound like me.” If only the memory would surface.

A muscle contracted in his jaw. “Is this your attempt to negotiate a higher fee?”

“Maybe? Gotta be honest. That sounds like me, too.”

“Very well.” He didn’t mask the threat in his expression as he stated, “I’m happy to present you with a deal you cannot refuse.”

Good thing she planned to say yes. Eventually. “I’m intrigued. Tell me more.”

“I’d rather show you.” He reached inside the cage and clasped her hand, surprisingly gentle as he aided her exit.

The scent of exotic spices and juniper berries instantly enveloped her. A rich, intoxicating aroma she savored. Oh, wow. It might come from him. Eager to confirm, she stepped closer, buried her nose in the hollow of his neck, and inhaled. Mmm. Definitely him.

Great! Now she kind of wanted to stick him on a shelf, shove a wick down his throat, and burn him candle-style.

She peered up at him. “You could be bottled and sold for millions.”

He offered no comment. Just flashed her to a new location. From the Phoenix lord’s dungeon to a throne room, where precious gems glittered on the walls in swirling, colorful patterns, white flames danced atop torches, and a gold-veined marble floor gleamed.

She gawked at the opulence. But, um, the chamber possessed no doors. Not a single escape hatch in sight.

Trepidation prickled her nape. A prison for someone like Neeka who couldn’t teleport.

“Help a girl out and tell me what I’m supposed to see,” she said, ready to vacate the place ASAP.

He released her and stalked to the royal dais, where two thrones loomed. Both were elaborate and gold, identical in every way but size. Well, size and the fact that a partial skeleton occupied the smaller chair. A strange symbol had been carved into each bone. Beyond creepy.

Honestly, the guy kept getting more interesting by the second.

Rathbone eased into the empty seat and placed his hand over the skeleton’s. An astonishing gesture of affection. His intense eyes—all of his eyes—zeroed in on Neeka. “Here is the deal I offer. You will find Lore’s clavicle, right ilium, metatarsal, left femur, and skull. In return, I’ll refrain from annihilating your loved ones while you watch.”

Her gaze returned to Skeletoria, several puzzle pieces clicking into place. Aaah. Okay. Neeka’s previous self must have picked up on the king’s intention, figured out where the remaining bones were located, and made arrangements to meet him, determined to cash in. Right?

If only she could remember…

“Nothing to say?” he prompted.

Plenty. “First, the joke’s on you, Red. I’ve always loved a good annihilation.” Smug, she fluffed her hair. “Second, why put your girl back together? She’s dead.” Just in case he needed the reminder.

“She is. For now.”

Ohhh. Planned to revive her, did he? “Guess that makes her a part-time mate, full-time problem, amirite?”

His lids narrowed. “I’m willing to pay you well,” he continued as if she hadn’t spoken. “Complete my tasks, and I’ll reward you with unparalleled treasure, provide you with a kingdom of your own to rule, or oversee the deaths of your greatest enemies. Whichever you prefer.”

Her heart leaped. No one adored padding a nest egg more than Neeka. In an uncertain world, security mattered. “Granted, I probably would’ve ended the relationship rather than court a carcass, but baby boy, did you pick the right day to bargain with me. I’m currently running a special. Buy any two of my services and pay full price for both! Which is all three of your suggested payments,” she explained with a grin. For such a bounty, she would find a way to remember what she ate for breakfast nine hundred moons ago, if necessary. “Also, you’ll agree to post the online review I write for you.”

“Done,” he responded without attempting to negotiate. “You’ll be paid as soon as the job is complete.”

“Wrong. I require a down payment.”

“I’ve allowed you to live. That is down payment enough.”

“That’s fair,” she said with an enthusiastic nod. A smart negotiator knew when to push and when to accept.

He arched a brow. “Do we have a deal?”

“Not quite.” The finer details needed hammering. “What’s my time frame?”

Lowering his chin, he drummed his free fingers on the arm of the seat and stated, “You told the fae prince you had located the bones. If that’s true, and it had better be, you will complete the job today.”

Um… “What fae prince?” When? Where?

Rathbone ran his tongue over straight white teeth. “If this is a game you play, oracle—”

“No game,” she interjected. “Blame my brilliant ability. It sometimes filches my memory.”

He showed no mercy. “I suggest you filch it back. Fast.”

Time to buy herself a little, well, time. “Sorry, big guy, but you just guaranteed a tomorrow delivery at the earliest. Pressure only delays my unbeatable results.”

The muscle ticked in his jaw again. “And what speeds up your results?”

Good question. The first thing that came to mind? “Hanging out with me so I can familiarize myself with your vibe. Then, in a couple of weeks or months or years, boom, a vision will come to me. Suddenly I’ll know the answer to your every dilemma, and you’ll be oh, so glad you waited. All the reviews I’ve written agree. My customer service is matchless.”

“I’ll give you three days.”

“And yet I’ll take as many as I need.”

“Not good enough. I must put her back together quickly.”

“That doesn’t change my timetable.”

“Then we are unable to reach a deal, and annihilation is back on the table.”

“No problem—for me.” She faked nonchalance. Because what else could she do? “Your failure to reanimate your wife costs me nothing.” Or everything? That niggle… “Do you validate parking, or should I pilfer from your coffers on my way out?”

Tick, tick, tick. “What makes you worth such a risk?” he grated.

Got him. Confidence restored, she asked, “What doesn’t make me worth the risk? In all the planets in all the galaxies, there’s only one other being capable of unearthing anything anywhere, and it’s my mother.” Grenwich the Great, a harpy-Phoenix born with extraordinary tracking abilities. “She won’t charge you as much as I do, but she’ll judge you every minute of every day, and she won’t be shy with her commentary. If that’s your thing, go for it.”

He appeared thoughtful.

Ugh. Maybe I don’t “got him.” Neeka almost stomped her foot. If he fired her and hired her mother…

He slashed a hand through the air. “We’ll revisit the timing issue. Right now, I wish to hear of your dealings with the Astra Planeta.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Rathbone was mixed up with the Astra? That was a problem. Taliyah, the harpy General as well as Neeka’s best friend, had recently married the Astra’s smokeshow of a Commander, forever linking their two species. Though Neeka was the world’s best oracle—suck it, Grenwich!—she was a harpy first. Her loyalty belonged to T-bone and the Astra, not some ultrasexy Hellboy who might or might not sport a Prince Albert.

The Astra were gonna owe her so big if she had to walk away from a paycheck like Rathbone’s. Except…

Neeka was supposed to say yes to the king. Her pre-knowledge insisted. She felt it with every fiber of her being. The longer she remained in Rathbone’s presence, the clearer the sensation became.

Whatever proved necessary, she must, must, must help him find his wife’s bones. The survival of the harpies depended on it.

Wait. It did?

Yes! The realization burrowed deep, and there was no arguing. For her, it was Rathbone or bust. But. The fact that the Underworld king had mentioned the warlords after displaying such urgency could mean only one thing…

She swallowed a groan. “The warlords search for your wife’s bones, too.” Most likely they sought the female for their next blessing task. The timing fit.

“I’m not sure—yet,” he replied. “I’ll learn the answer soon enough.”

Neeka refused to lie and say she despised the males. Why complicate an already complicated situation with an outright falsehood? Rather, she offered the truth with misdirection. “You’re going to pay me to screw over those who invaded my home world? Do I sign on the dotted line now or later?”

He looked disappointed in her. “Do you think I failed to do my research while hunting for you? Harpies and Astra are allies.”

Careful. “Most are, yes. Some aren’t.” Also truth. But. He was supposed to be an amazing spy. He’d probably discovered the identity of her best friend, the Commander’s wife. Better Neeka switch tracks. “In case you’re wondering, I ain’t no hater. I’m an ally full stop.”

He did another of those double blinks. “Why sign on my dotted line then?”

Here goes another dose of honesty. “I can’t shake the impression that you’re the one I’m supposed to aid.” She rubbed the spot between her breasts, where the knowledge burned. A familiar sensation. “If I override a knowing, bad things will happen.” Maybe not at first but eventually.

The real conundrum: Being unable to explain her choice to the Astra or Taliyah. Whom she would not be betraying, by the way. Somehow, she’d find a way to help them, too, without alerting Rathbone. In fact, aiding Mr. Red was the only way to stay in the know and benefit her friends. But. Neeka didn’t need mystical foresight to understand her friends would consider her new partnership a huge betrayal. And because she’d have to pretend to side with Rathbone to keep his suspicions under wraps, she’d probably be labeled a traitor. At least until the truth came to light.

Oh, how that would hurt. Just not enough to alter her course. Besides, emotions were fleeting and always subject to change.

“Your assurance does nothing to assuage my misgivings,” Rathbone said without a shift in his expression. “If I agree to hire you, you won’t leave my realm unless we are together, and you will have no contact with the Astra.”

“I’m good with that.” Especially the stay together part. Ahdán would revive in the coming days and recommence his quest. He existed for nothing else. “So.” She spread her arms. “Do we have a deal or not?”

Rathbone stared at her, silent.

Neeka held her breath. Impatience warred with uncertainty as seconds ticked into minutes.

Petting Skeletoria’s arm, he finally nodded. “We do.”

Relief washed through her, and she grinned. “Congrats! You’ve got yourself a world-class partner. Let the adventure begin!”

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