VERNA HARGROVE: Angel Heart
(Glorious Companions #1)
Betrayed by her mother, eighteen-year-old Kenana is sold into marriage to the elderly Prince Jubal of Mesopotamia.
Dutiful Kenana determines to make the best of the situation, honoring her wedding vows and fulfilling her wifely responsibilities to the elderly prince. However, she cannot help but wish for what might have been – especially when her strikingly handsome Guardian Angel, Malluch, returns to her life in a very corporeal form, serving as no small distraction.
Malluch’s mere presence is enough to stir feelings of unrest in Kenana, who holds fast to her resolve to remain faithful to her new husband. But Malluch’s persistence grows, and the new Princess begins to question his nature – is he truly her Guardian Angel, or a creature with dubious intentions?
Kenana struggles with the events in her past and present as she attempts to forge her future in this new world she finds herself thrust into as the wife of a royal. As she takes her place as the Prince’s bride, dark memories from her childhood begin to surface, serving to both explain and exacerbate her feelings of disquiet concerning her new life. She shows a strength of will and character in her ability to deal with her traumas and accept the situation she finds herself in, albeit without her choice.
And when word reaches the palace that the Nephilim, giants sired by evil angels and born of human women, seek to do her harm, Kenana is forced to flee the palace. On the run, Kenana will discover that those closest to our hearts can sometimes make the most unlikely of heroes. And, in one case, an unlikely guardian angel.
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READING SAMPLE BELOW:
Millennia ago, eighteen-year-old Kenana arrived in the Mesopotamian hamlet of Adah to wed the wealthy Prince Jubal.
Accompanying her were her two male slaves, Gauss and Bo. Both men, powerfully built and loyal, had afforded her protection and companionship during the long journey through the desert. The slaves would be presented to the prince as wedding gifts from her parents.
The valley was as she remembered: unspoiled, serene and majestic. Prince Jubal’s realm was strategically nestled within the high valley walls, providing both coolness from the oppressive year-round heat and fortification from invading enemies. The residence itself, a sprawling three-story stone compound, was fit for a prince.
Or a princess, she thought. Princess Kenana.
But the title gave her no pleasure. Instead, she felt sickened to her core, for Prince Jubal was an old and vile man.
Kenana sighed, studied the beautiful canyon as her clomping donkey shook its mangy head in defense against the onslaught of insects. Gnarled cypresses, clumped in groves, pressed up along a narrow stream that flowed along the canyon floor. Hawks and eagles circled above, screeching plaintively. The air was dry, heavily fragranced with desert flowers. Kenana decided if she had to live anywhere in the world this would be it. Of course, she had hardly seen much of the world.
She had always known that her mother was cruel enough to arrange this marriage, but it had truly been a surprise to discover that her father had been a willing participant, as well. Her father had insisted that marrying a prince was a blessing.
Kenana did not see it that way. The prince was old enough to be her grandfather, and she had always been uneasy in his presence, even as a child, as the prince and her father were old friends.
Now as she and the two slaves approached the heavily guarded estate, the evening sky was afire with the setting sun. Streaks of gold and crimson stretched as far as the eye could see. A high stone wall encircled the property, meant to keep invading armies at bay—and young brides at home.
She shuddered involuntarily.
Blocking their way was a spiked iron gate, with two guards standing to either side. Bo loudly announced the arrival of Kenana, the future bride of Prince Jubal, the future Princess of Adah. The guards, to their credit, simply nodded and bowed, their polished bronze helmets catching the last of the sun’s rays. Kenana tilted her head in return, acknowledging them.
That was fun, she thought, as she was led through the gates.
They followed a cobblestone path into a wonderland of flowers and plants. Kenana always felt that Jubal’s ornate gardens could have easily passed for the Garden of Eden. Kenana recognized roses, birds of paradise, daisies and azaleas, all manicured and trimmed to perfection. Bo and Gauss looked thunderstruck. Both were simple slaves, from the deserts outside of Mesopotamia, and neither had seen beauty on such a magnificent scale. Even Mae, her long-time donkey and friend, paused to sniff at the heavily perfumed air.
Suddenly, a shocking realization occurred to her: soon these gardens would be hers.
There are, she thought, some perks to becoming a princess.
The three travelers moved along a torch-lit path lined with a half dozen armed sentries. The warriors, most leaning on long spears, watched them casually, bowing when appropriate. She caught some casting admiring sidelong glances at her. She ignored them. Long ago, as a young girl visiting Prince Jubal with her father, she had learned to ignore the leering gazes of the lonely soldiers.
Beyond the row of guards was the vegetable garden. Back home, this garden would have been large enough to feed her entire village. In the center of the garden was a massive oak tree and hanging from one of its monstrous limbs was a rope swing. And sitting on it, swaying gently, was a very handsome man with silver hair. His exquisite face glowed radiantly, almost supernaturally. Dark, brooding eyes regarded Kenana unblinkingly. Kenana shifted uncomfortably on the saddle blanket under the power of his gaze. Uncomfortable or not, she was electrified and fascinated by this man’s rare beauty.
There was also something oddly familiar about him. Frustratingly, she could not remember what. But it was a haunting memory that seemed to linger deep in her soul, as elusive as a sweet dream.
Then his full lips broke into a smile and his teeth shone brightly. His eyes sparkled with a light not of this world. She returned the smile just as her donkey’s front hooves stepped into a shallow hole disguised as a mud puddle. The front legs buckled and Kenana pitched forward. She screamed, trying to hold tight to the creature’s neck, but she lost her grip and cart-wheeled to the hard-packed earth. She landed hard, skidding on her rear end. Gauss fought to regain control of the confused creature, as Bo easily lifted her back onto the saddle blanket.
“Are you okay, madam?”
“Yes, of course,” she snapped hastily, swiping a long strand of golden hair from her eyes and looking immediately in the direction of the swing.
The man was gone.
The swing was empty.
She kicked her heels sharply into the donkey’s flanks and urged the creature into the garden, toward the swing. She followed a narrow path through rows of onions and cucumbers and stopped before the oak tree. Peering down from her perch, she scanned the area. Where had the man gone?
And then she spotted something that was truly disturbing.
She slid easily from the donkey and searched the dark soil beneath the swing, wet with the recent rains. The soil was undisturbed. No footprints. In fact, there was very little sign that the swing had ever been used at all.
She bit her lower lip, eyes sweeping the garden. She searched the rows of leeks, garlic, and lentils. But she was alone with her donkey.
* * *
She eased the creature out of the garden, feeling foolish and confused. Had she imagined the beautiful man? Was her mind playing tricks on her after the long day’s ride under the sweltering sun?
But does a trick of the mind smile warmly? she wondered.
She doubted it.
Here one minute and gone the next. Like an angel….
Kenana’s father, Eber, had always taught her that angels existed, that she, in fact, had a personal angel to comfort and protect her. Visitations from the spirit world were common in her paternal family. Her grandfather, Enoch, was a revered prophet of El. Stories were told that Enoch talked to angels, and observed them firsthand. So Kenana had heard. She believed the stories.
It would not be strange for Kenana, the granddaughter of the famous prophet, to be visited by her guardian angel. But why would he make himself visible on the eve of her wedding day? Angel or not, as soon as she had a free moment, she would come back to the swing.
Perhaps the beautiful stranger would reappear.
* * *
The three travelers arrived before the manor. Kenana dismounted, swinging her long legs down to the pebble-strewn entrance. She handed the reigns to Gauss.
“Please take Mae to the stable,” she said to the older slave.
“Yes, Mum,” said the dark-haired Gauss, using the designation all slaves used when addressed by their masters.
“You will then be responsible to locate the slave quarters, and to make arrangements with the slave master for yourself and Bo.”
Gauss flashed her a smile and moved off. He had been doing that a lot of late: the warm, almost loving smiles. She wondered if he had developed a crush on her. He was a nice-looking boy, of good physical stock. The thought pleased her, but she would not pursue it.
Kenana turned to the younger slave, the blond-haired Bo.
“Unload the baggage from the other donkey, then attend to both animals,” she commanded.
“Yes, Mum.” He set off to work immediately.
Kenana watched them both briefly while gathering her nerve. Finally she turned and started up the walkway, feeling enslaved herself. After all, what about her lifelong dream to marry for love? Was it to be silenced forever?
She continued forward along the path that led to the antiquated estate. Her future home. Or prison?
I have little choice but to marry Prince Jubal, she thought, sighing. Women cannot choose their husbands in Mesopotamia, and my marriage has
been arranged for me.
The palatial yard, which she had not visited for many years, looked unchanged from the days she romped here as a child. In the flower garden, on the west side of the home, were the same alabaster benches. She recalled seeing her father, Eber, and his best friend, Prince Jubal, waste many precious hours talking about things of no value, at least of no value to her. But, of course, that was years ago when life was simple. She was no longer a child, now mature enough to marry a wealthy widower who was old enough himself to be her grandfather.
A wave of revulsion swept through her body. She paused in mid-step and fought the urge to wretch. She would soon learn whether this marriage was an act of cruelty or kindness. She inhaled deeply and held her head high, moving with assurance toward her fate.
Kenana believed she had strength to become the best princess Mesopotamia ever had.