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Giant angels with metal wings and visible song. A blind demon restored from the pit of darkness. And a girl who has never felt more broken. Brielle sees the world as it really is: a place where the Celestial exists side by side with human reality. But in the aftermath of a supernatural showdown, her life begins to crumble. Her boyfriend, Jake, is keeping something from her -- something important. Her overprotective father has started drinking again. And he's dating a much younger woman who makes Brielle's skin ...
Giant angels with metal wings and visible song. A blind demon restored from the pit of darkness. And a girl who has never felt more broken. Brielle sees the world as it really is: a place where the Celestial exists side by side with human reality. But in the aftermath of a supernatural showdown, her life begins to crumble. Her boyfriend, Jake, is keeping something from her -- something important. Her overprotective father has started drinking again. And he's dating a much younger woman who makes Brielle's skin crawl. Haunting nightmares invade Brielle's sleep, and flashes of Celestial vision keep her off kilter. What she doesn't know is that she's been targeted. The Prince of Darkness himself has heard of the boy with healing in his hands and of the girl who sees through the Terrestrial Veil. Brielle has no choice. She knows evil forces are converging and will soon rain their terror down on the town of Stratus. She must master the weapons she's been given. She must fight. But can she fly with broken wings?
Hell is loud.
Talons scratch at the stone floor and clack against the pillars circling the chamber as the great hall fills. Hisses and snarls sound all around, but the noise doesn't unsettle the Cherub.
She's been here before.
Carved into the earth, deep against its core—in a realm undetectable by human technology—lies the stronghold of Satan. A massive structure formed out of darkness, molded and hardened into stone, Abaddon sits at the very center of the Prince's domain.
Pearla's velvety black skin goes unnoticed as she slides behind a chunky pillar, pressing against the outer wall.
But the cherubic spy isn't deceived by the darkness that surrounds her. This place was created for the Prince, given to him by the Creator. And while the light of the Celestial won't permeate these walls, even here the Father cannot be escaped. Unlike the demonic crowd scratching and biting at one another, this created one experiences peace.
Her celestial feet are silent against the icy floor, her wings folded tight against her back. She keeps her white eyes pinched tight. Nothing draws attention like shards of light piercing the darkness.
And darkness is everywhere.
Pearla slinks from pillar to pillar, feeling the rough rock with her hands, searching for a familiar crevice. When at last she reaches it, she slides inside, deep into the rock wall. Facing away from the chamber, she opens her eyes just wide enough to guide her climb. She's nimble and fast, scaling the wall with precision. Pearla locates a crag high above the pillars circling the room, high above the crowd of demons pushing and shoving and jockeying for position, and wedges herself far into the wall. The silky black wings—characteristic of cherubic spies—whisper against rock as she unfurls them and covers herself. Her gaze penetrates her wings and she watches.
And she waits.
The circular hall is ringed by rows and rows of demons. She's seen some of their grotesque faces before. As members of the Prince's guard they rarely leave Abaddon without the Prince; if they do, they do so in small numbers. His guard is made up of the most loyal, the most trusted demons. But there are others here: fallen angels with smaller, less important roles in the devil's stronghold. With so many in attendance, Pearla wonders if the Prince himself will preside over this assembly, a task he normally delegates.
Rumors lend credence to this idea—reports that indicate the entire Palatine legion is on the move. Sources insist they've returned to Abaddon to receive new orders. But it defies logic. Why return thousands and thousands of the Prince's best warriors to their fortress when a small council would suffice? But the rumors persist, and as the commander of the Creator's forces, Michael is giving them due consideration. If they're true, a movement like this indicates an attack of ambitious proportion.
With a victory in Uganda imminent, the legion of light will be ready to move. And there's no Warrior better suited for a war against the Palatine than Michael, the Commander himself.
Pearla closes her eyes against the chaos below and imagines herself back in the Throne Room of the Father. Magnificent in its beauty with everything in good order. The Father glowing bright, a river of gold flowing from His throne. The Thrones—wisest of the angels—wrapped head to toe in feathers of white, hovering about the Father, singing His praises, echoing one another back and forth. Pearla fights to control her lips as memories of the Creator's goodness well up in her soul.
Worthy! Worthy! No one else is worthy! she thinks.
And then another sound, a terrifying sound, pulls her back to hell. It's the sound of bondage. Of slavery. She wills herself to remain steady as the hiss and spit of fiery chains against the cold, moist floor draws excitement from the Fallen crowded about.
A lone demon is led into the hall by a small band. They prod and poke at him like a wayward cow. When they reach the center of the room, they latch his chains to the floor. With little ceremony they leave him to stand alone before a pathetic replica of the Father's throne.
The Prince's seat of power is not without grandeur, but where the Father's throne is constructed of the purest gold and gemstones, here an extravagant dais has been carved out of rock. Behind it, a slab rises high with strange symbols and designs cut into the stone. Chief among them is a dragon, his teeth menacing, his scales polished to a shine. His tail wraps around the platform, and clutched in his serpentine coils are thousands of brightly jeweled stars. The image, a symbol of the great dragon's rebellion, has always disturbed Pearla.
And with the prisoner chained before the throne, it seems Pearla was right.
Lucifer himself is expected.
The room is full of people, but I don't see them. Not clearly. They're a blur of summer colors and shadowed faces as my legs push me across the stage. My arms bow and curve, matching my inhales and exhales. Flutes, clarinets, and instruments I can't even name trill from the speakers, the music telling a story. The dance sharing a journey.
Getting back to the stage was not an easy path, and my mind is full of the circumstances and the players that brought me here. I rise to my toes and I think of Ali, my closest friend. I think of the life that was taken from her. I think of her boyfriend, Marco, and the case built against him: smoke and mirrors to hide what really happened.
But truth is stronger than lies, and as the music slows, my black skirt whispers against my knees and I remember the first time I saw the Celestial. Light and life everywhere, and on every surface colors that never stop moving.
I think of the first time I saw Canaan, not as Jake's guardian only, but as the angel he really is—his outer wings spread wide, Jake wrapped tightly in his inner wings and pressed safely against his chest.
The music changes, dropping into a minor key, and my movements become more ghost-like. I think of the fear that nearly destroyed me six months ago, of the doubt that ate away at truth and hope.
I think of Jake.
The music is all but silent now. My body moves slowly, deliberately, but my heart trips over itself at the thought of his fiery, hazel eyes, his healing touch.
It's only right that my first performance is here, in Stratus, with him in the audience. With my dad and Canaan looking on, with Miss Macy cheering my feat from the wings. With Kaylee chattering away to Mr. Burns, telling him which pictures to snap.
The song builds, thundering drums that urge my legs faster and faster. The music crescendos and I spin, again and again. My hair pulls free of its knot, wild and free, like an angel in flight.
This choreography is my story. I let it swallow me, stretch me.
Cymbals crash like waves against rock—my doubt against the Father's will—and I drop low, bending to it, letting my fingers brush the floor, allowing myself a moment shrouded in the darkness of my curled torso before I rise once again to my toes. Light streams through the windows, turning everything around me a vibrant gold.
And then it's over. The music, the dance, my trip down memory lane. All of it. I drop into a bow, and the room erupts with applause.
When I rise I see the place clearly. The newly painted basketball court, the groupings of people here and there, standing, clapping, toasting me with plastic cups of red punch. Dad swipes at his eyes with gigantic paws, his ruddy face flushed. Jake stands near the back, whistling, cheering, a tiny orange tutu over his jeans.
Where did he get that?
Hilarity joins exhilaration, and I laugh. And laugh.
Kaylee, friend extraordinaire, skips up the stairs and wraps her arms around me.
"You were amazing," she says. "I can't believe you almost gave that up!" She stumbles toward the microphone at the front of the stage, pulling me with her. "Wasn't she fabulous?" she asks the audience. The crowd claps harder, and I smile as the tears fall.
The gathering here is humble—just my friends and neighbors—and the Stratus Community Center is not nearly so grand as the theatres I toured last summer.
But I did it. Really and truly.
It's impossible not to think of Ali now. Not to remember her childlike laugh or the way she pushed and pulled me, made me believe I could conquer the world.
She'd be proud of me.
The tears are thick now, drenching my face, running down my leotard, so I wave my thanks to the crowd and duck into the wings. Miss Macy grabs me before I get too far. She pulls me into her arms and presses her cheek against mine. She's crying too.
"You are grace personified, sweetness. I know that wasn't easy, but ..." Her voice catches and she pushes me away. "Oh, go. Kiss that boyfriend of yours and get back up here before our little fairies fly away."
I glance at the youngest of our students, lining up backstage. Their mamas are busy corralling them, smearing sparkles on their cheeks, securing tiny wings to their backs. An ache passes through me—the same ache I always get when I realize I never had such moments with my own mother.
What would she have thought of my performance today?
I pull Miss Macy in for another hug and then make my way down the stairs. Kaylee's still speaking into the microphone. She thanks everyone for coming to Stratus Community Center's Grand Reopening, tells them her Aunt Delia's slaved over the pies in the back and to help themselves.
I weave through the crowd, looking for Dad, looking for Jake. I accept pats on the back and words of kindness. From the stage the crowd looked small, but on the floor with their familiar faces and words of congratulation ringing in my ears, I'm impressed by the turnout. When I agreed to open the celebration for Kaylee, I had no idea she'd rallied so many to the cause. Canaan towers over the crowd at the back of the auditorium, so I angle toward his silver hair. The crowd is dense enough that I don't see Jake until I'm right in front of him.
He spins in a circle, showing off his tutu. "You like?" he asks, that boyish scratch in his voice endearing.
He has no idea how much I like. "Does this mean you're ready for that dance lesson?"
"Does this mean I'm ready? You're the one who's been hiding all the tutus."
I haven't. Not at all, but there's something of the truth to his words. Sharing ballet with Jake would be like admitting I'm ready to move on. That I'm ready to let dance be more to me than my big break in the big city. And that's a hard thing to let go of. At least it used to be.
I flick the orange tulle at his waist. "Apparently I didn't hide them well enough."
"Canaan got me this one."
"Garage sale," Canaan says, diving into a slice of cherry pie. "I honestly didn't think he'd put it on. Had I known ..." Canaan winks at me.
"You have to admit, omniscience would have been helpful here."
Jake feigns offense. "What are you saying? That I'm not tutu material?"
"Don't be sad," I tell him. "You're good at so many other things."
"I blame you for these two left feet."
"Yes. You said if I got a tutu you'd teach me to dance."
"So. Teach." He scoops me into his arms and spins me full circle. "Am I doing it right?"
"Not even a little bit." I laugh.
We bump into a slew of people. I try to pull away and apologize, but they're kind and clap for us. Spurred on by their support, Jake prances me around the food table, around the easels set up promoting the various programs, refusing to stop until we reach center court. He dips me, all dramatic and ridiculous, but I play along, snapping up hard and fast, our faces just inches apart.
More clapping. More whistles.
"Has anyone ever told you how hot you are?" Jake says, his words nearly inaudible in the chaos.
I'm breathless and heady and trying far too hard to come up with a new response to Jake's favorite question. Before anything remotely intelligent occurs to me, I feel a hand on my elbow.
"Elle, could you come over here for a minute?"
It's Dad. And he doesn't seem nearly as amused as the rest of the room.
Jake loosens his grip and nods at my father. "Mr. Matthews."
"Kid," Dad says, his lips a tight line. He takes my hand, pulling me from Jake. I do my best to cast Jake an apologetic look, but Dad places a hand on my back and leads me away.
"Everything okay, Dad?"
He squirms, twisting his neck against the top button of the dress shirt I bought him for Father's Day. He's already shed the new tie. "Everything's great, baby. I just wanted you to myself for a second. I'm so proud of you, little girl. You know that? Most people wouldn't have been able to do what you did up there today. Not after ..."
"No, Elle. I'm serious. You were ... heck, kid, you were ..." His eyes glaze over. "You remind me so much of your mom."
The thought makes my throat tight. He's been talking about Mom a lot lately. A lot.
"I wish I remembered her."
He sniffs. "Come on. There's someone I want you to meet."
The woman Dad steers me toward is dressed in a designer pencil skirt and a starched white blouse. A red belt cinches everything together over an impossibly small waist. She's older than I am, by a decade probably, but she's got that racially ambiguous beauty thing going for her, all olive skin and caramel eyes.
Standing here in our community center she looks far too ... expensive. Her black heels alone retail for seven hundred and fifty dollars. I know that because my ankles were featured in the ad campaign for them last summer. They place her a good three inches taller than I am, which bothers me for some reason. The euphoric state I've been reveling in fades as we step closer. My toes squirm in my ballet slippers.
My repulsion surprises me.
Am I intimidated by her?
I don't think so. I've done the model thing dozens of times, been surrounded by hundreds of gorgeous women. I know what intimidation is, and this feels different. Maybe it's the haughty look on her face, or the way her eyes keep flitting to my father.
I scratch at my empty wrist, wishing with everything in me that I could see this woman with celestial eyes.
"Sorry, Keith. No beer," she says, handing Dad a glass of punch.
"Of course there isn't," he says, yanking at his collar. The sloppy motion pulls my attention off the woman and back to Dad. I'm irritated that he wasn't kinder to Jake, but I have to admit that he looks rather dashing in his suit—or would if he'd stop trying to crawl out of it. "Baby, this is Olivia Holt."
Ah, Olivia. The Olivia.
"Liv is fine," she says.
"I'm Brielle," I say, extending my hand to the stranger. Her grip is cold, clammy. A startling contrast to the collected demeanor she exudes. "How did you two meet?"
"Just met her. Turns out Liv here is the one who saved the day. Swooped in at the witching hour."
Somehow that's not too hard to believe. I release her hand and resist the urge to wipe mine on my tights. "I've heard about you, of course. Kaylee's convinced you hung the moon."
"I'm impressed with your friend Kaylee," Olivia says. "She's done a noteworthy job here."
Olivia Holt's not wrong. With the Peace Corps taking forever to get back to Kaylee on her application, she decided she needed a project to take her mind off the wait. The Stratus Community Center was nothing but a rental hall before Kaylee petitioned the city council and gained permission to organize programs and seek out volunteers. And she did it all while juggling graduation and final exams and everything else that comes with the last semester of high school.
But there was little money, and the center was falling apart.
Enter Olivia Holt and the Ingenui Foundation.
"Kay's awesome," I say.
Olivia turns her attention back to Dad, closing me out of the circle. I bristle at the snub, but I'm more intrigued by the fact that Dad hardly notices. Olivia asks about his job and the state of the economy here in Stratus. He tells her things are rough, wiping his mouth with the sleeve of his suit jacket. Classy.
"The foundation could lift some of the strain, Keith. We have resources," she says, placing a freshly manicured hand on Dad's bicep.
Is she flirting? With my dad?
My head spins at the thought, and I lose track of the conversation. Dad's dated here and there, but always women I knew. Always women from town and never anything serious.
"Brielle's getting ready to head off to college, right, baby? Dance scholarship."
My stomach clenches. I avoid his gaze and smile as sweetly as I can at Olivia.
"Oh, congratulations. I do envy you." Her eyes drift off. "College was one of the happier times in my life."
There's a break in the crowd, and I catch sight of Miss Macy. Talk about saving the day. She winks at me and tilts her chin toward the stage.
"Excuse me. I've got a little thing to do."
"Don't let me keep you," Olivia says, waving my dismissal. "Your dad and I can figure out how to pass the time. I'm sure of it."
Excerpted from Broken Wings by SHANNON DITTEMORE Copyright © 2013 by Shannon Dittemore. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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