With: Gena Showalter
As they continued trudging through the snow, Vale asked, “What are we going to call our donut shop, anyway?”
Nola had suggested The Donut Bar and Drunkin’ Donuts, since their sweet treats paid homage to different alcoholic beverages, but both names had been taken already.
“What about Tricks and Treats? Oh! I’ve got it.” Nola clapped her gloved hands. “Happy Hour Donuts.”
“Cute, but neither one says high end. Or revs my motor. I’m sorry!”
Frick—Carrie’s favorite “curse” word. “We could simplify and go with Lee and London,” Vale said.
“I love it, but no one will know what we’re selling.”
“Maybe not at first, but we can leverage social media to spread the word.”
“True. What about Lady Carrie’s.”
Excitement instantly sparked. “Duuuude. Lady Carrie’s is perfect.”
“Well sprinkle sugar on my butt and call me a gourmet donut. Did we just name our shop?”
Vale was just about to reply—Our timing is impeccable, as always—when she spotted an ice hill up ahead. There was something about it… something odd. But what, exactly? Her eyes and brain said Nothing’s out of place.
Heart and legs picking up speed, she crossed the distance, gasped. A perfect six-foot hole had been cut into the side, leading to a perfect hollowed-out tunnel with a perfect upward tilt. Definitely man-made. What was inside? Or better yet, who was inside?
A whimper of anticipation broke free. If the tunnel led to a cavern—occupied or unoccupied, it didn’t matter—she could get Nola out of the elements sooner rather than later.
“Wait here,” she said when her sister reached the hill. “I’ll check out—”
“Nope, sorry. We go in together.”
“If there’s a wild animal squatting inside, only one of us should be its dinner.” Mmm. Dinner.
“You’re right. The other one will be dessert.”
Stubborn girl. “Fine.” Vale withdrew a long coil of rope from her pack, knotted one end around her sister’s waist and the other around her own. Nola isn’t falling to her death on my watch. Next, she withdrew ice axes. Two for each of them. “We’ll find a cavern, or drop. Whichever comes first.”
After zipping and adjusting her bag, she swung an ax, walked her spiked boots up several jagged steps, then swung the other ax. Rinse, repeat. Again and again. Nola did the same, below and to the right of her.
The higher they climbed, the darker the enclosure became, and the more her muscles protested.
Drip, drip. Drip, drip.
Ironically enough, the steady chorus of water drops tasted like melted vanilla ice cream on a hot summer day. Like hope. Hope gave her strength. Up, up. Higher still.
“I’m not sure… I can go…much farther,” Nola said heaving from exertion.
“You can. You will.” If they stopped now, they’d end up right back where they’d started. When a soft, warm—well, warmer—breeze caressed a patch of exposed skin, she gasped. “There’s something ahead, so move your butt!”
The tunnel curved to the right and—
A small pinprick of light caught her attention. “I see something!” Vale climbed faster, closing in.
The light expanded, the tunnel leveling out, opening into…a cavern! Massive ice pillars propped up a domed ceiling at least eight feet high. There was enough space between each pillar to stretch out and get comfortable.
Trembling with relief, Vale crawled out of the tunnel, dropped her tools and bag, and helped her sister over the ledge.
As Nola sank to the ground, panting, Vale pulled the logs and kindling from her pack, and used a match to start a fire. Instant heat. Oh, such glorious heat. Smoke billowed, curling upward, and she removed her goggles and face mask.
“Thank you, thank you, a thousand times thank you.” Nola removed each piece of headgear, as well, revealing a face so perfect she looked airbrushed. Dark eyes, a delicate nose, and model-plump lips, all surrounded by flawless brown skin and a fall of straight black hair.
Nola had no idea who her parents were. As an infant, someone left her near a Dumpster, with a note pinned to her shirt. All the note had said? “My name is Magnolia Lee and I need a home.”
Frowning, Nola pointed to one of the walls. “Is that…ice graffiti?”
Vale used the axes and rope to create a hanging line to dry her hat and coat before approaching the wall. Hello. Images had been carved throughout, like ancient hieroglyphs or something, and depicted some kind of battle. Twenty giant men and four women held various types of weapons, and surrounded a taller cloaked figure—the grim reaper, maybe? He clutched a scythe.
In front of the group was a headless body. She shuddered.
In front of No Head was a crowd of shorter men. At the helm, a man wearing what might have been a horned helmet, while holding a staff.
Drip, drip, drip.
The taste of melted vanilla ice cream intensified, aggravating her hunger. “Someone has to live here, or at least visit upon occasion. We could be close to civilization. I’m going to have a look around, figure out who it might be.”
“How about I be armed and ready instead.” She grabbed an ax before following the artwork around the farthest column…and entering another chamber.
No one waited within, but she did find more carvings. Impressed by the intricate details, she walked forward, drinking everything in—then drew up short. No way! More pillars littered the new enclosure, forming a perfect square, only these pillars were unlike the others. They seemed to be glistening—melting—and they had…they…
I can’t possibly be seeing what I think I’m seeing.
Her pulse points thundered, and a cold, clammy sweat slicked over the back of her neck. Each pillar contained a human being. Twenty-one males, four females.
At five foot ten, Vale was used to towering over people. These guys towered over her. They were a range of ethnicities—and species? One of the women had blue skin. One of the men had wings. Another maybe kinda sorta had gills flared on each side of his neck.
This was fake, absolutely, positively. It couldn’t be real. Vale had always had an overactive imagination. She read sci-fi and fantasy voraciously, and watched any movie or TV show featuring anything magical, futuristic or dystopian.
Maybe she’d stumbled upon some kind of frozen wax museum. Which meant she’d been right; civilization—and salvation!—really was nearby.
When tourists came through these caves, they’d definitely get their money’s worth. Come one, come all, see barbarians and their concubines on ice.
To be fair, the women appeared just as vicious as the men.
Never had Vale encountered such lifelike figurines—and those bodies! Each guy could star in a porno. Not that she ever watched those, cough, cough.
As she moved deeper into the room, different sets of eyes seemed to watch her, and it was creepy as heck. Just beyond the columns, she spotted what might be the staff in the carvings. The one the horned man had been holding. Unlike everything else, it wasn’t obscured by ice. But there was no sign of the horned man, either.
Intrigued, she reached out…
A powerful blast of wind shoved her backward, slamming her into a pillar. Electric pulses danced over her skin, stars winked through her vision, and air gushed from her lungs.
Crack, crack. Lines appeared in a handful of pillars.
Frick! This had better not be a break-it-buy-it situation.
All right, forget the staff. She straightened on unsteady legs and returned her attention to the soldiers. Yeah, definitely soldiers. They stood in various battle poses, clutched weapons and wore varying expressions of absolute, utter fury.
Her gaze skimmed over a black-haired man, only to zoom back. She believed every life was a book in progress, and her book had just gotten a lot more interesting.
He exuded enough power to crush…anyone. And he was heart-stoppingly gorgeous. The kind of gorgeous that stole your breath and your thoughts and incinerated your panties. One look at him, and she was certain she’d ovulated. He was sex, rough and raw, primal and animalistic, his masculinity a palpable caress against her skin.
No one, real or fiction, was sexier. Not even Legolas, the standard by which she measured every man.
This statue had the sinister aura of a pitiless conqueror, radiating both icy cold and boiling heat, his hard expression promising both earth-shattering orgasms and a torturous death. His eyes outshone the bluest, rarest sapphires; they were framed by long, curling lashes reminiscent of black velvet, somehow both pretty and primeval.
So many contradictions. So intriguing.
His cheekbones appeared to be carved from granite, and his lips…glory hallelujah. His lips were plump and scarlet, made for kissing. His chin was square, his jaw slanted and shadowed by stubble.
Her gaze returned to his lips, drawn like a magnet, and her fingers followed, tracing a swirling pattern over the ice—not just any pattern.
Ugh. She’d drawn a heart.
He was shirtless, revealing a ring of black tattoos around his neck and wrists. Taking up prime real estate on one of his muscle-cut shoulders was a tree of life, set inside a circle. In fact, all of the frozen men and women bore a tree of life tattoo somewhere on their gorgeous bodies.
Her attention returned to the sex god. Or war commander. He held two daggers with brass knuckle handles. Pants made of a black leathery material covered his lower half, and a silver belt buckle rested atop his snack basket—a modern gadget when everything else about him screamed ancient warrior.
“A shame you aren’t naked.” He—
Vale jolted. Plot twist. He’d just blinked.
No way, no way. Just…no way. While some part of her had always believed ancient myths were based in fact, aliens and ghosts walked among humans, and magic truly existed, she had trouble accepting what she’d seen. What she thought she’d seen.
She wasn’t crazy, most of the time; she just hadn’t found any evidence to support her suspicions. Therefore, he couldn’t have blinked. And those ocean-water blues couldn’t be staring at her, intent with challenge, daring her to come closer.
About Shadow & Ice: Gena Showalter, the New York Times bestselling author who brought you the Lords of the Underworld, introduces a scorching new paranormal romance series…Gods of War
Knox of Iviland, the most ruthless warrior in All War history, has spent his life fighting others to the death, winning new realms for his king. Now the stakes are higher than ever. If he prevails in the battle for Earth, his slave bands will be removed. Victory is his sole focus…until he meets her.
On an arctic getaway with her foster sister, street tough but vulnerable Vale London is shocked to stumble upon a cave filled with ancient gods waging epic combat. When she is inadvertently drawn into their war, she is forced to team up with an unlikely ally—the sexy god who makes her burn with desire.
Though Vale is his enemy, Knox is consumed with lust and a fierce need to protect her. But only one combatant can triumph, and he will have to choose: live for freedom, or die for love.
About Gena Showalter: Gena Showalter is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of over fifty novels in multiple series, including the acclaimed Lords of the Underworld series, Angels of the Dark series, and the White Rabbit Chronicles. She writes sizzling paranormal romance, heartwarming contemporary romance, and engrossing YA novels. Visit Gena at GenaShowalter.com or find her on Twitter and Instagram @GenaShowalter, and Facebook @GenaShowalterFans.