The past is Darker than they thought…
Between helping her mother with the Darker Agency and laying the smack down on monster baddies, Jessie Darker puts the "normal" in paranormal. But lately, things have gotten a little crazy…even for a smart-assed half-demon teenage girl.
For starters, Jessie's been contracted into fifty-five years of annoying servitude. To a demon. Then there's Lukas Scott, her sexy new boyfriend. Once the former incarnation of Wrath, he's been going through some…uh, changes. Like residual anger. And trading chaste hangouts for lusty make-out sessions.
But it's when Lukas and Jessie accidentally release a Very Nasty Demon that things get really bad, setting into motion a chain of death and mayhem that threatens both Earth and the Shadow Realm. Jessie has exactly four days to fix it…before all of Hell breaks loose.
About the Author
JUS ACCARDO spent her childhood reading and learning to cook. Determined to follow in her grandfather's footsteps as a chef, she applied and was accepted to the Culinary Institute of America. At the last minute, she realized her path lay with fiction, not food, and passed on the spot to pursue writing. Jus is the author of YA paranormal romance and urban fantasy fiction. A native New Yorker, she lives in the middle of nowhere with her husband, three dogs, and sometimes guard bear, Oswald.
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A Darker Past
The Darker Agency
By Jus Accardo, Robin Haseltine, Liz Pelletier
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Jus Accardo
All rights reserved.
There were terrors on this earth the likes of which some people would never comprehend. Foul, dark things with the ability to snatch you up and gobble you down before you could say hell in a hailstorm. I knew, because I'd seen a few firsthand. Demons, ghosts, monsters straight from the pages of Grimm's Fairy Tales—the original one. Yep. They were all real.
But, to put things in perspective, the Tooth Fairy? Not so real. At least I hoped not. The idea of some tutu-wearing weirdo with a molar fetish skulking in the dark corner of kids' bedrooms gave new meaning to the word ick.
How did I know all this? My mom owned and operated the Darker Agency. A detective agency dealing in the staples. Missing loved ones, cheating spouses, child support dodgers ... But our real specialty wasn't the typical Monday through Friday sludge. Our real specialty put us neck deep in things that were just a bit ... darker.
If your family pet suddenly went bonkers, snarling and snapping with an extra row of razor sharp teeth and green acid drool, you'd probably want to give us a call. Or maybe your recently deceased husband planted himself in the deep end of your luxury in-ground swimming pool and refused to move on. Yep. That'd be us, too. We did it all. Everything that scurried in the dark, making up the long list of nightmare creatures straight from hell. Things plucked right from the brain of a first grader searching for the monster under his bed.
My own personal version of hell—aside from zombies and Seth Rogan movies? Math.
Mr. Fritz droned on at the front of the class about triangles and percentages as my best friend Kendra slipped me a small piece of white folded paper. I took it, even though I had no desire to answer the question I knew was scrawled out in elegant cursive, complete with letters dotted in tiny hearts.
Well? I'm dying here. Need details.
Kendra lived her love life vicariously through me. Kind of hysterical if you thought about it. She'd had six boyfriends since second grade. I was on my first. I sighed and scribbled back, No details. Watched a movie. Went home, then refolded the paper and slipped it back beneath my desk.
She enthusiastically unfolded the note, then frowned. It was exactly the reaction I'd expected. Kind of a sour face. Like she'd been sucking on cloves. After a quick peek at Mr. Fritz, who was still obliviously spamming the room with his opinion that math was the single most important subject in the curriculum, she responded.
This one was easy. Because my boyfriend was born in the eighteen hundreds ...
Lukas Scott, my eighteen-going-on-one-hundred-and-forty-eight-year-old boyfriend. Born in Penance, New York in the year 1864, Lukas had the misfortune of getting shackled to a crazy girl named Meredith Wells by his family in order to further their financial standing. When he caught his would-be bride tramping it up, he did what any rational guy would do.
He threatened to narc.
The problem? Meredith was a witch. Not the fresh-faced, swathed-in-pink taffeta-and-glitter kind, either. She was seven different flavors of crazy, double dipped in an assortment of nuts. With the help of a tricky demon, she cursed Lukas to spend eternity fused with Wrath, one of the Seven Deadly Sins. He'd spent decades locked in an ancient box with the other sins until someone—cough-cough-Meredith-cough-cough—tricked Damien, my dad, into opening the box.
I glared at the note, then, before handing it back, added, I'm fine with the pace of things. Which was mostly true. Before I met Lukas, my unbreakable policy was to avoid dating. I treated it as though it were white chocolate—possibly the most vile and gross thing known to man next to demon dog drool—and stayed far away. A little unusual for a seventeen-year-old girl, yeah, but I had good reason. My entire life, I'd watched my parents suffer for love. Mom, a human, and Dad, a demon, were forced to live apart due to factors beyond their control. Then I met Lukas and my resolve crumbled like over dried mud in the summer sun. It was fine, though. It all worked out. For my parents, too. They were finally getting their shot at happy, and I was over my boyfriend fear.
Would I have liked a little more kissy time? One look at Lukas and anyone would know the answer to that. With dark hair and liquid chocolate eyes, he was tall with strong arms and a killer smile. Equal parts chivalry and danger. It was no wonder I turned to goo whenever he came near. Unfortunately, he came from a period in time where, in polite society, men's hands never roamed past the wrist and naked shoulders were equal to soft-core porn. That's not to say he didn't cave once in a while. I was a bad influence on his resolve, he told me.
I kind of loved that.
Kendra took the paper from me, opened it, and frowned again. If she wasn't careful, her face would freeze like that. Really. I'd seen it happen. Of course, there'd been a gypsy curse involved, but still ...
"You're impossible," she mouthed.
I hadn't noticed him come over, but when I looked up, Mr. Fritz was standing over us. He looked from Kendra to me, gaze boring into mine. "And I must know, Jessie Darker." Huh. It was true what they said. His left eyebrow was just a little bushier than the right. "What is so enthralling that it surpasses the knowledge I'm trying to impart?" He held out his hands, giving his fingers a slight wiggle. Craps. He wanted the note.
Kendra glanced at me and biting down on her bottom lip, handed the slip of paper to Fritz. A weird smell filled the air. I held my breath as he unfolded it and the rest of the class waited, knowing he would read it out loud. Just last week he'd read a note Amy David passed to her bff, explaining in great detail what she and Tommy Moore did in his basement the previous evening. But Fritz didn't say a word. He grunted and tossed the paper back onto Kendra's desk before continuing on with the lesson.
"What the hell?" I mouthed as soon as he got to the front of the room.
With a wicked grin, Kendra held up the paper with a proud little wave for me to see. It was blank.
She was a witch. The daughter of Cassidy Belfair, leader of the New York Coven. Until recently, Kendra had major issues with her spell casting. It usually wielded unpredictable and often humiliating effects. The poor girl had cursed herself with a pair of horns at one point while trying to fix the horn in her car. But she was practicing hard and getting better every day. The horns were gone, and she hadn't turned anyone into a snake in over a month. That was major progress!
"I've got this awesome one to try on Mom tonight, too. It's a Liar's Bane," she whispered, beaming. "Makes it impossible for the person to tell a lie."
"Nice," I mouthed and turned to check the clock above the door. But the clock wasn't there. Well, it was, but something was obstructing my view. A pair of Caribbean blue peepers and a mop of blond, unruly hair. "Ahhh!"
All heads swiveled in my direction. "Is there a problem, Miss Darker?" Fritz asked, annoyed.
My eyes went from the grinning demon in my face to the unhappy math teacher at the front of the room. I did my best not to cringe, and said, "Um, sorry. I thought I saw a spider."
There was a chorus of soft snickers as Fritz shook his head. Kendra looked at me funny, but I waved her off and turned my attention back to the uninvited—and unwanted—visitor. No one could see him except me.
Valefar leaned back and kicked up his feet in the empty desk next to mine. I hated the demon, but you had to admit he had a certain kind of presence. Being a bigwig in the Shadow Realm—AKA, Hell—could do that. He batted his eyes and clutched his chest in mock dismay. "Do I get the impression that you're not happy to see me?"
I scowled in silence, hoping it conveyed hell yes, because honestly? I was never happy to see him. I was indebted to him, which translated into a multitude of unwanted and ill-timed visits. He'd made a habit of popping up at the most inconvenient times. I was convinced it was for no other reason than to annoy me. You'd think someone like him would have more important things to do than test the mental stability of a teenager. Governments to overthrow. Babies to steal. Mattress tags to rip off.
He tsked and tapped the side of his face, still grinning. "What's the matter? Demon got your tongue?" Sliding from the seat, he did a little twirl and landed on my desk. My pen rolled to the edge and went over. "It's okay. You can chat me up, Sugar Plum. They can't hear you."
"What are you doing here?" I rasped, worried someone would hear me. They didn't, though. Fritz was once again absorbed in his own lecture, while the rest of the class did their best to pass the time until the bell. "Didn't we go over the whole personal space thing a few days ago?"
In order to save my parents from a madwoman, I'd been forced to ask Valefar, my dad's boss at the time, for help by making a deal. Our arrangement freed my parents, but ultimately enslaved me. I'd agreed to work for him for the next fifty-five years. I had no idea how the whole thing was going to work in the long run. Did he expect me to go running around, tracking people down with a walker? Maybe use my dentures of death?
He cocked his head to the side and sighed. "I seem to recall telling you that you had no personal space. I own you. Remember?"
Remember? I'd been trying to forget. He'd caught me coming out of the shower a few nights ago. I'd kept that one to myself. Pretty sure Dad would blow a demonic gasket if he found out someone of the male persuasion—Hell spawn, or otherwise—was having shower visitation time with his little girl. And telling Lukas? Well, let's just say you don't go pissing off the ex-incarnation of Wrath without a really good reason. The guy still had serious anger management issues. In fact, lately it seemed to be getting worse.
I sighed. There was no point in arguing with him. I always lost. "Did you want something specific?"
"Your time in the kiddie pool is over." He waggled his eyebrows and a delighted grin spread across his lips. Sometimes it was tough to reconcile with the idea that Valefar was a powerful demon. He came across more like an irritating college guy from some obscure motorcycle frat. Always dressed in black from head to toe, with longish blond hair, sexy smile, and black chain band on his left wrist, he looked like he belonged on the set of Sons of Anarchy. "It's time to get those darling little digits dirty."
I knew this would be coming. It was already the end of January, and since our arrangement in October, he hadn't made me do much of anything. I checked up on a person here and there, and last week he'd tasked me with delivering a package to another demon's earth-bound office, but nothing that could be considered unpleasant. Annoying and inconvenient as hell, but nothing to lose sleep over. Still, we'd made a deal, and there was no way out. I was up a demonic creek without any fairy dust.
I stole a peek at the front of the class. Fritz was tapping the blackboard with a wedge of chalk and stomping his feet over the lack of participation in the room. The poor guy was likely to have a heart attack by the end of the school year if he didn't calm down a little. "What do I have to do?"
Enthusiastically, he snapped his fingers. A small slip of blue paper appeared. "This account has come due. I need you to collect."
"And by collect, I'm betting you don't mean newspaper money." I took the paper from him. "Fred Swain," I read aloud. Then I saw the address beneath his name. Sacramento. As in, California. "Are you nuts? I can't go from New York to California. Definitely not on a school night."
He hopped off the desk and whirled on me, lips twisted in fury. His brows furrowed, and he clenched his jaw to the point I was sure he'd break a tooth. Valefar might move like a human. He might crack jokes and give me ridiculous food-based nicknames. But he was a demon. A dangerous, ill-tempered, sneaky-with-his-own-agenda demon. He got off on intimidation as much as he did on making deals.
Every muscle in my body screamed for me to slip from the chair and scurry to the back of the room where I could hide in the closet, but that's exactly what he wanted. "Let me give you a friendly little reminder, Cookie. If I tell you to burrow deep and dig for China wearing a top hat and Santa Claus costume, that's what you do. We crystal?"
I nodded, mouth as dry as the desert.
Satisfied that I'd been properly cowed, Valefar flicked his hand to the left and flashed an impish grin. His moods were like the freaking wind. Brutal and devastating as a natural disaster one second, then calm and peaceful the next. It was enough to give a girl whiplash. "Besides, what's the big deal? You're a Shadow demon. Public transportation is for chumps."
Huh. I'd never really given much thought to it, but he had a point. Most human-demon hybrid kids—okay, all of them until I came along as far as we knew—didn't inherit any demonic abilities. Sure, we were a little tougher to take down than your average human, but that was the extent of our flash. Except in my case, Dad's ability to shadow—travel from one place to another instantly by simply blending into the darkness—had somehow gotten passed down to me.
Mom had been doing a lot of research, trying to find an answer, but had come up with zilch. We were no closer to understanding why I'd inherited the demon gene than we were three months ago. I still didn't know whether it was a blessing or a curse.
One of the most important things I'd learned, though, is when things that shouldn't happen do happen, the demon shit eventually hits the fan.
The few times I'd shadowed, aside from traveling to the Shadow Realm and back, had been mostly an accident. I hadn't made a habit of using the ability because, the pathetic truth was, the whole thing scared me. It felt strange, yeah, but also good. Right. Right in a way that was kind of crazy and unhinged. I'd been meaning to have a sit-down with Dad about it—if there was anyone who could give me the rundown, it'd be him—but I hadn't wanted to take up any of his free time. He and Mom spent so many years apart because of his demonic status. Now that they'd finally gotten each other, I didn't want to get in the way.
"When do I have to go?"
"I'd prefer you got it taken care of now." He winked. "And by prefer, I mean insist."CHAPTER 2
Before he left the classroom, Valefar gave me Fred's crystal. When you made a deal with a demon, they took a strand of your hair and crystallized it. While it made an awesome piece of New Age jewelry, that stupid little rock had an epic downside. It was like a demonic LoJack system. With it, the demon, or in this case, the demon's butt monkey—AKA, me—could find you anywhere. My instructions were to transport Swain to the Shadow Realm to settle up his account.
As soon as the bell rang, I slipped into the girl's restroom at the far end of the Math wing and shadowed into Fred Swain's apartment, touching down in a closet. If there was a trick to landing, I was going to have to figure it out. This time it was a closet. Next time, it could be worse. What if Val sent me to collect on some poor shmuck that lived on a boat? Shadowing into the middle of the ocean didn't sound like my idea of a good time—especially since my swimming expertise capped out at the doggie paddle. Becoming shark chow would put a cramp in my newly found love life.
I'd never been to California before. This wasn't how I pictured my first trip out West, either. Kendra and I had talked about a road trip for senior year spring break, but both her mom and mine shot that down before we could even pitch the entire plan. Go figure. I was allowed to face down evil in all its chomptastic forms, but forbidden to leave home for a week of normal partying without parental supervision. Where the hell was the balance in that? I made a mental note to bring it up next time Mom got on one of her normal life kicks.
I stepped from the closet, trying not to disturb anything. Val had given me instructions on how to collect Fred's soul. You'd think a process like that would be complicated, but the way the demon described it, the whole thing was scary simple. All I had to do was touch him and shadow us to the Shadow Realm. Wham, bam, enjoy eternity in Hell, ma'am.
Excerpted from A Darker Past by Jus Accardo, Robin Haseltine, Liz Pelletier. Copyright © 2014 Jus Accardo. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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