Not only has Daisy now gained respect as Hel’s enforcer; she’s dating Sinclair Palmer, a nice, seemingly normal human guy. Not too shabby for the daughter of a demon. Unfortunately, Sinclair has a secret. And it’s a big one.
He’s descended from obeah sorcerers, and they want him back. If he doesn’t return to Jamaica to take up his rightful role in the family, they’ll unleash spirit magic that could have dire consequences for the town. It’s Daisy’s job to stop it, and she’s going to need a lot of help. But time is running out, the dead are growing restless, and one mistake could cost Daisy everything.…
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Roc Books by Jacqueline Carey
Labor Day weekend in Pemkowet started off with a bang. Or more accurately, a whole lot of banging.
I was sitting at a table down at Union Pier, listening to a band with my boyfriend, Sinclair—well, I’m not sure I can call him that yet. We’ve been dating for about three weeks and taking it slow.
Okay, maybe I’d better back this up.
My name is Daisy Johanssen, and I’m an agent of Hel. That’s Hel, the Norse goddess of the dead, who relocated to Pemkowet during World War I and currently presides over a modest underworld located in a buried lumber town beneath the shifting sand dunes that make Pemkowet one of Michigan’s premier resort destinations. Wild, untrammeled dunes, white sand beaches along the Lake Michigan shoreline, and a booming business in paranormal tourism.
Most of the time, things run fairly smoothly, but not always. That’s where I come in. As Hel’s liaison, it’s my job to keep the peace between mundane authorities, such as the police, and the eldritch community. Things got ugly earlier this summer when a young man from a nearby college was found drowned in the river. Undines witnessed it, there were ghouls involved—long story short, it was a mess.
Anyway, the one good thing to come out of it was that Sinclair Palmer and I started dating.
So on Friday evening of the last big weekend of the summer, we were listening to music at Union Pier, a riverfront bar located in the shadow of the SS Osikayas, the old steamship permanently docked there.
Most people who know me can tell you I have a thing for music, though I have to admit that the Mamma Jammers wasn’t a band I would have picked. As you might guess from the name, they were a jam band, which meant they played long, improvisational songs that went on for-freaking-ever while stoned-looking kids in retro T-shirts swayed and nodded.
But they were friends of Sinclair’s from Kalamazoo and he’d gotten them this gig, so I was glad to be there. It was nice to feel Sinclair’s thigh brush mine under the table, nice to feel like maybe I was a couple of dates away from using the b-word out loud, even if that wasn’t entirely fair to him.
See, my life is . . . complicated.
It’s not that there are other guys in it. Well, okay. There sort of are. Just not nice, normal human guys. Not that Sinclair’s entirely normal. For one thing, he sees auras. For another . . . well, we’re still in the getting-to-know-you phase, and I’m pretty sure there are some significant things I don’t know, like why his parents split. Why his dad took Sinclair and emigrated from Kingston, Jamaica, to Kalamazoo, Michigan.
To be fair, my issues have kind of taken precedence. I guess that’s natural. Normal or not, Sinclair’s definitely human. Me, I’m only human on my mom’s side. My father is Belphegor, lesser demon and occasional incubus. Mom didn’t mean to invoke him—she was only a teenager at the time—but that’s another story. My mom’s one of the nicest people I know, and I inherited her white-blond Scandinavian hair, pert nose, and fair skin.
From my father, I inherited night-black eyes and a propensity to struggle with the Seven Deadly Sins, especially anger. Bad things happen when I lose my temper. Oh, and also my existence represents a chink in the Inviolate Wall that divides the mortal plane from the forces of the divine, and could potentially trigger Armageddon under the right circumstances, like if I claimed my demonic birthright. So far, I’ve managed to avoid the temptation. Fear of unleashing an apocalypse is a pretty good motivator.
So, yeah, my stuff’s taken precedence, and we’re taking it slowly. Not just emotionally, but physically, too. There’s been a lot of kissing, a little above-the-waist action. Nothing lower. Which, yes, is frustrating. But I don’t blame Sinclair for being careful about dating a hell-spawn, and there’s one little detail I haven’t shared with him yet.
At the end of the pier, the Mamma Jammers wrapped up another interminable jam. After applauding, Sinclair slung one arm around my shoulders and smiled at me. “So, what do you think? You gonna come back to the house tonight and hang out, spend some time with the guys?”
I smiled back at him. “Oh, I don’t know. I don’t want to get in the way of guy time.”
“I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t mean it, darling.” Sinclair delivered the line in the lilting Jamaican accent that charmed the tourists. He had his own business, Pemkowet Supernatural Tours, which had debuted this summer as an unqualified success. I’d played a large part in it by arranging for regular appearances by pretty, sparkly fairies. Sinclair gave my shoulders an affectionate squeeze. “Hey, dem’s my bwais and you’re my girl. Of course I want you to come over.”
I’ll admit it—that gave me a case of the warm fuzzies. Still, I leaned back so I could look him in the face. “Oh, yeah? What have you told them about me?”
He pursed his lips, which, by the way, were nice and full and highly kissable. Let me state for the record that Sinclair Palmer is a bona fide hottie. He falls into that elusive sweet spot between handsome and cute, with cocoa-brown skin, high, rounded cheekbones, an infectious smile, and Tour de France–worthy thighs. “Honestly? I thought I’d let them get to know you before I sprang it on them, Daisy,” he said in a serious tone, dropping the accent. “Do you blame me?”
“Nooo . . .” I admitted. “Not really.”
“So come over.” He gave me another squeeze, his smile returning. “Ain’t no big thing, girl! We’ll put some steaks on the grill, drink a few beers.” He paused. “Maybe you could spend the night?”
A jolt of desire ran through me, and beneath my short skirt, my tail twitched in an involuntary spasm.
Uh, yeah. That was the little something I hadn’t mentioned to Sinclair yet. It has a tendency to freak guys out.
“You’re sure about that?” I asked him.
Sinclair regarded me. “You think I’m ashamed of you?” He shook his head, his short dreadlocks rustling. “I’m not. We don’t have to do anything, Daisy. Look, I’m not saying it’s time to get it on. Not tonight, not with the Mamma Jammers crashing on my living-room floor. That’s not what this is about.” His gaze was steady and unflinching. “I just want you to know I want you there. And I want them to know it, too.”
My stomach did a somersault. “I, um . . . didn’t pack a toothbrush.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Pretty weak. Is that all you’ve got?”
“Well . . . yeah.”
The Mamma Jammers launched into another song, which sounded pretty much exactly like every other song they’d played. This would be their last number, since Union Pier closed at sunset. On the far side of the river, the sun was sinking below the tree line, gilding the rippling water. After a day on the big lake, sailboats and other pleasure boats were easing upriver, making their way back to the marinas for the night. I watched a pair of tourists on Jet Skis play a complex game of tag, carving up the surface of the river, their vehicles tossing up rooster tails of water. Although I hated Jet Skis on principle, I had to admit it did look like fun.
“I’ll make you pancakes in the morning,” Sinclair murmured in my ear. “I make a mean pancake.”
“Mm-hmm.” He sounded amused. “And I’ll even let you use my toothbrush, too.”
It was at that exact freaking moment, when I was feeling good and happy and sexy and melty and excited and wanted and trepidatious and a bazillion other things, most of them nice, that my phone rang.
I fished it out of my bag. “Sorry, I’ve got to take this.”
“Work?” Sinclair asked.
“Looks like it.”
Technically, I’m a part-time file clerk at the Pemkowet Police Department, but as Hel’s liaison, I assist with any issues that might involve members of the eldritch community. Cody Fairfax, aka Officer Down-low, and I had worked together earlier this summer investigating the Vanderhei kid’s death. I thought we’d made a good team, but then, I was biased. I’d had a crush on Cody since I was in the fourth grade. Unfortunately for me, he wasn’t interested in pursuing a relationship outside his species, and the fact that he had a tendency to turn furry and howl at the moon once a month was a fairly well-kept secret. Hence, the nickname.
“Hey.” I rose and walked down the dock to get away from the Mamma Jammers’ wall of sound, the phone pressed to my ear. “What’s up? Is there a situation?”
“Hey, Daise. Yeah, maybe.” Cody sounded uncertain, which wasn’t like him. “Bart Mallick went to investigate a noise complaint at Rainbow’s End twenty minutes ago. It should have been five minutes in and out, tops.”
“So?” I didn’t mean to be rude, but this seemed like straight-up cop stuff. It’s not like Rainbow’s End was some den of mischievous leprechauns. It was a gay nightclub. “Did he call for backup? Do you think something happened to him?”
“He’s not responding to his radio.”
I covered my free ear with my other hand. “Maybe he can’t hear it.”
“Yeah, maybe. Where are you, anyway? And why are you shouting?”
Oops. Hadn’t realized I was shouting. “Union Pier.” Lowering my voice, I walked a few more yards away from the din. “Where are you?”
“I’m in the parking lot at Rainbow’s End,” Cody said. “I was passing, so I swung by to see if there was a problem. Bart’s cruiser’s here. Lights are on. But something’s funky.”
“Funky?” Okay, I was confused. “Like hinky? You think something’s going on? Drugs?”
“I mean funky.” Cody’s voice dropped to a lower register. Not a deliberately sexy register, but a growly, furry, hackle-raising register. Which, in fact, was pretty damn sexy, just not on purpose. “Even from the parking lot, this place reeks of pheromones.”
“Doesn’t it always?” I asked.
“Not like this.” Now he sounded more certain. “Look, call it a hunch. I didn’t have to call you, but I think maybe there’s something going on that should concern Hel’s liaison. Whatever it is, I thought you might want to catch it in the act. So are you in or out?”
I sighed. “I’m in, I’m in! Give me ten minutes.”
“I’ll give you six.” He hung up.
I walked back to the table where Sinclair was sitting, bobbing his head to the endless jam, looking cute and mellow and . . . emotionally available. He glanced up at me with genuine concern. “Hey, girl. Everything okay?”
“Hope so,” I said. “But I’ve got to go check something out. I don’t think it will take long. Is your offer still good?”
“Definitely.” He smiled his infectious smile. “You go take care of business and come on by.”
“Okay.” I found myself smiling in response. See? That’s what an infectious smile does. There really ought to be a better, less disease-suggestive name for it. I leaned down to kiss him. “Later?”
Sinclair kissed me back. “Most definitely.”
Approximately six minutes later, I pulled into the parking lot of Rainbow’s End alongside Cody’s patrol car.
From the outside, everything looked normal. The lot was already packed, which was a little unusual before sunset, but it was a holiday weekend. Bart Mallick’s patrol car was sitting empty and abandoned before the entrance, bubble-gum lights flashing. The place was definitely jumping. I could hear the thumping bass of techno music so loud it seemed like the entire building was vibrating. Again, not unusual. Rainbow’s End averaged five or six noise complaints over the course of any given summer.
Cody got out of the cruiser looking twitchy. Okay, that was unusual. “Hey, Pixy Stix.” His nostrils flared. “Ready to go?”
Oh, gah. One time—one time—someone called me that, and Cody decided it was a permanent nickname. Serves me right for calling him Officer Down-low, I guess. “Hang on.” I reached into the front seat to retrieve my belt and sheath. “Might as well go in prepared.”
So, um . . . yeah. About that. I have a magic dagger. Hel gave it to me herself with her left hand, the hand of death. When I’m not on her official business, I carry it in my leather messenger bag with the special inside sheath. Cody, who does leatherworking in his spare time, made it for me. He made the belt, too.
“So are you still dating the fake Jamaican?” Cody asked as I settled the belt around my waist and buckled it.
“He’s not a fake Jamaican,” I said, annoyed. “He was born there. He has dual citizenship, okay?”
“Defensive.” He grinned, a hint of phosphorescent green glinting behind his topaz eyes. “You must like him.”
“Jealous?” I retorted.
Cody shrugged. “His shtick just seems a little phony. I hear he gives his tours some big spiel about how his grandfather was a famous obeah man. That’s what gives him his ‘special connection’ to the eldritch community.”
I eyed him sidelong. “Did you just use air quotes?”
I eased dauda-dagr out of my bag. It shimmered beneath the patrol car’s lights and the bar’s neon signs, runes etched along the blade flaring silver-blue. Its name means “death day,” and it’s capable of killing even the immortal undead. “So he tells people what they want to hear. Big deal. It’s a business, Cody. Everyone does it.” I shoved dauda-dagr into the sheath. “Ready when you are.”
He nodded, his nostrils flaring again. “You really can’t smell that?”
I sniffed the air. “No. What, pheromones? What does it smell like?”
Cody wasn’t kidding.
I might not have wolf-keen olfactory senses, but the reek hit me like a ton of bricks the instant we walked through the door of Rainbow’s End: a deep, rich, redolent funk of sex. And not shampooed, deodorized, minty-fresh-mouthwash-and-clean-sheets sex, but down-and-dirty, no-holds-barred nastiness.
It took a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to the dim lighting inside the bar. As soon as they did, I saw the reason for the odor.
There was an orgy under way.
I couldn’t make out exactly what was going on because it registered as a sea of sweat-glistening, writhing flesh, entangled limbs, and heaving parts. I’m not talking about a little hanky-panky on the dance floor. I’m talking about a full-blown orgy. The majority of Rainbow’s End’s clientele were gay men, but there were knots of women here and there, and what appeared to be a few indiscriminate free agents of either gender eager to avail themselves of whatever was closest at hand. Beneath the pounding bass beat making the speakers tremble, there was a symphony of moans and groans of pleasure, resonant and weirdly melodic, like some kind of universal mantra to sexuality.
“Holy crap!” I’m pretty sure the words came out of my mouth, although I could barely hear them beneath the techno music and the om-mani-fuckme-hum.
Cody tapped my shoulder and nodded toward the dance floor, which seemed to be the orgy’s epicenter. His teeth were clenched so hard I could see the muscles along his jaw twitch. That should have warned me.
We got halfway there before the second wave hit us. Not the funk, but the effect of the pheromones.
Cody and I exchanged a glance. There was a hectic sheen in his eyes. I’m pretty sure there was in mine, too. He grabbed my shoulders and spun me around, shoving me against the edge of the bar.
My last conscious thought was, “Damn, I wish this had happened a month ago.” And then there was no thinking, just a deep, primordial desire to copulate, to be a part of the whole wet, slippery, thrusting celebration. Cody’s mouth covered mine, his urgent tongue pushing past my lips. His hands dropped to my hips, jerking me against him.
My tail shivered with pleasure. I wrapped my legs around his waist and slid my hands up his arms, lacing them behind his neck and pulling his head down. There was definitely too much fabric in the way, not to mention his utility belt.
Not good. I wanted bare skin. I wanted more. My fingertips trailed over the bronze stubble of his cheeks, finding the collar of his dark blue uniform shirt. I yanked it open with strength that would have surprised me if I’d been capable of rational thought, buttons flying. Cody reached between us to unbuckle his utility belt, letting it fall before pulling me against him again.
Yeah, better; much better. I could feel his erection straining beneath his trousers, pressed hard against my core. My hips thrust involuntarily as I ground against him. Cody was kissing me again, and I found myself moaning into his mouth. Om-mani-fuckme-hum, baby. He pushed up my tank top, hands gliding over my skin, fondling my breasts with an eager roughness that made me arch my back. . . .
Against my waist, I felt a rill of pure cold so intense it jolted me into awareness. Cody made a strangled sound deep in my mouth, jerking away from me.
“Shit!” he said fervently. There was a scorched-looking patch of skin on his bare torso, faint wisps of frost rising from it.
Dauda-dagr. I dropped my hand to its hilt, the hilt of the dagger no one but one of Hel’s agents could touch with impunity. Its coolness was bracing, further clearing my thoughts.
Cody, on the other hand, was beginning to look glassy-eyed again. He shook his head and started back toward me.
“Whoa! Down, boy.” I drew dauda-dagr and held it between us, surreptitiously tugging my tank top down over my exposed breasts. “Cody!” I shouted over the music. “Take my hand. Just be careful not to touch the dagger.”
With a shudder, he reached for the dagger’s hilt, wrapping his fingers around mine. The glaze lifted again. “Daise? What the hell’s going on?”
“I wish I knew.” My wits more or less functioning, I glanced around the bar.
Whatever was going on, it definitely centered around the dance floor, and around one guy in particular. Tall, well built, strongly etched features, a pointed tangle of beard, a grin plastered to his face, and . . . well endowed.
Like, really, really well endowed. His glistening, um, endowment jutted forth from his crotch, bobbing above the dance floor before an enthusiastic orgiast dropped to his knees before it, obscuring my view. There appeared to be a waiting line for the privilege. Staring at the grinning recipient, I felt the telltale tingle that identified him as a member of the eldritch community.
Cody leaned forward, his lips brushing my ear. “He’s one of ours.”
It was enough to set me abuzz with lust all over again. Clutching dauda-dagr’s hilt, I suppressed it. “Yeah, I know. But I don’t know what he is or why this is happening. Do you?”
“No,” he admitted. “Not a clue.”
The kneeling orgiast backed away, a long strand of . . . Okay, never mind. Part of my brain said, “Eww!” Another part . . . didn’t.
“Daisy.” Cody’s fingers tightened over mine. “We’ve got to put a stop to this. Any ideas?”
“One,” I said. “But you won’t like it. Any sign of Bart Mallick?”
“No.” He looked around the bar. “Oh . . . shit. Yeah.”
I followed his gaze. “Oops.”
Longtime patrol officer and family man, married father of three teenaged kids Bart Mallick was . . . You know what? It’s not important. Suffice it to say that I doubt his wife would have approved.
Taking a deep breath, Cody let go long enough to retrieve his utility belt and buckle it feverishly around his waist before grasping my hand again. “Can you get him out of here?”
“I think so.”
We edged our way through the orgy toward the dark corner where Bart Mallick was . . . doing what he was doing. With, let me add, a very willing partner.
“Bart. Officer Mallick?” I touched the tip of dauda-dagr’s blade to the nape of his neck. His spine straightened with an involuntary jolt. He turned his head, glazed eyes clearing slightly. “It’s Daisy Johanssen and Cody Fairfax. Can you hear me? I need you to pull up your pants, take my hand, and come with us, okay?”
With their hands atop mine and mine wrapped around the dagger’s hilt, I managed to haul Cody and Bart stumbling over myriad writhing bodies into the parking lot, away from the immediacy of the driving, incessant beat and the pervasive, compelling funk.
Officer Mallick slumped against his patrol car looking dazed. “Oh, Jesus, fuck me. Fuck me sideways!”
“Bart!” Cody took him by the shoulders and gave him a shake. “Whatever happened in there? Not your fault. Right, Daisy?”
“Right,” I agreed. Total lie. There are rules governing the eldritch world, and one of them is that desire, genuine desire, can’t be compelled. Pleasure and infatuation, yes. But genuine desire? No. It’s like true love. “Everyone okay? I have to make a call.”
Cody eyed me suspiciously. “You’re not calling—”
My finger hovered above my phone’s screen. “Look, I told you that you wouldn’t like it.” I jerked my chin toward the door. “It would take all night to use dauda-dagr to escort everyone in there out here by ones and twos, and we still wouldn’t have any way to contain patient zero in there, or the first notion of why this is happening. Do you have a better idea, Officer Down-low?”
He shook his head, and I hit the CALL button.
Although I hadn’t talked to Stefan Ludovic in more than a month, he picked up immediately. “Daisy. What is it? Are you . . . all right?”
A wave of self-consciousness washed over me. Of course, Stefan would suspect. He was a ghoul, or as they call themselves, one of the Outcast, condemned for eternity to exist on the emotions of others. And because I’d given him permission to taste mine, he was attuned to them. He couldn’t have missed that giant preternatural spike of pure lust.
“Um . . . yeah, I’m fine, but we’ve got a situation. Do you have enough people you trust to defuse an orgy without losing control?”
Stefan didn’t hesitate. “I’ll be right there. You’re a mile or so to the north?”
“Rainbow’s End,” I confirmed. “Parking lot.”
“I’m on my way.”
Not that long ago, ghouls and biker gangs were two things I’d go out of my way to avoid. That was before Stefan Ludovic came to town. He’s done a lot to improve the image of the Outcasts, which, by the way, is the name of the biker gang—or motorcycle club, to use the polite terminology—to which most of the local ghouls belong, and related to but not entirely synonymous with being one of the Outcast. Okay, it’s confusing.
Anyway, after taking over Pemkowet as his turf, one of the first things Stefan did was issue a ban on selling drugs, particularly crystal meth. Since that had been a big component in establishing a cycle of human dependency and misery that sustained a lot of ghouls, what he did was actually pretty huge. Of course, it touched off a rebellion that led to a great deal of unpleasantness, but again, long story short, Stefan came through.
So why had I been avoiding him since? One, he held out an offer so tempting it scared me, a promise that he could show me ways to experience the full intensity of my super-size emotions without risk.
Two, I’d seen him die. And not just die—die and come back. That’s what happened with the Outcast. They’re condemned to the mortal plane because neither heaven nor hell would have them.
It’s complicated, and I don’t pretend to understand it. Even Hel—that’s Hel the goddess—admits it isn’t her purview. Different cosmologies and all. But the fact is, I watched a gunshot, crippled Stefan Ludovic impale himself on his own sword so he could die and come back whole and intact, and I’m still a little freaked out by it.
Nonetheless, when Stefan and five other bikers roared into the parking lot, I was glad to see them.
“Daisy Johanssen.” Stefan greeted me formally, removing his helmet. His ice-blue eyes caught the neon light. Did I mention that he was ridiculously good-looking? Consider it mentioned. He glanced toward the door of the nightclub, his pupils waxing large before shrinking to controlled pinpoints. “I think this no ordinary bacchanal. What passes within the nightclub?”
“I’m not sure,” I admitted. “But it seems to center on a naked eldritch dude with a huge schlong.”
Stefan frowned. “Could you identify him?” I shook my head. The eldritch always recognize one another, but we can’t necessarily put a name with that recognition. “I’ll have to see him for myself.”
“No ravening, right?” Cody interrupted him. “We don’t want to make the situation worse.”
Stefan’s gaze shifted to him. Without a word, he took in Cody’s disheveled hair and ripped-open uniform shirt. “No. No ravening, Officer.”
Ravening was what happened when a ghoul lost control. As far as I could tell, that never happened to Stefan.
“You vouch for your men?” Cody pressed.
Stefan hesitated. “Under ordinary circumstances, yes. But if you succumbed to the creature’s spell, we are also vulnerable.” His pupils waxed. “We do have ordinary mortal desires, too. How were you able to break free?”
“Dauda-dagr’stouch,” I said, showing him the blade. “But don’t ask me why.”
“Ah.” He nodded. “Death’s touch offsets the drive toward life. Perhaps you and I should investigate alone, Daisy. If we can contain the source, my men can assist with the others.”
His men stood silent behind him in the parking lot, pupils glittering. I recognized one of them, his loyal lieutenant Rafe. The others were either vaguely familiar or new to me, including a blond-haired boy who didn’t look older than seventeen. But among the eldritch, looks could be deceiving. For all I knew, he was centuries older than me.
“Hel’s liaison?” Stefan inquired courteously in his faint, unplaceable accent, inclining his head in my direction.
I took a deep breath, suddenly acutely aware that beneath the thin cotton of my tank top my nipples were still jutting and hard, and I could feel the thumping techno beat pulsing between my thighs. Nonetheless, I had a job to do.
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s do this.”
Inside the bar, Stefan’s hand squeezed mine atop the dagger’s hilt as the funk hit us. Glancing at him, I saw his pupils zoom large, practically eclipsing his irises before dwindling to normal size.
No doubt. Dauda-dagr’s touch might mitigate the effect of the pheromones, but the waves of lust rolling off a hundred people making major sexy-time had to be pretty damn potent.
“You okay?” I asked him.
He nodded, his lips set in a hard line. “Where is he?”
I pointed with my free hand. “Dance floor.”
We picked our way across the crowded, teeming bar, doing our best not to step on anyone. The vortex of activity still swirled around the dance floor, and yep, there was the naked, grinning man, hands on his pumping hips as he received tribute from another eager admirer. At the risk of being totally rude, a part of me really hoped we were just talking blow jobs here, because if we weren’t, there could be some serious damage done.
“It’s a satyr,” Stefan murmured in my ear, his slightly too long black hair brushing my cheek. I shivered involuntarily at the sensation. Okay, I know the music was loud, but hot men whispering in my ear was not helping fight the funk. “I thought it might be, but I haven’t seen one in centuries.”
“Great,” I said. “What’s he doing here?”
“I don’t know,” Stefan said. “But he’s in rut.”
As a Michigan girl, I knew what that meant. Did you know male deer in rut can be dangerous to human women? Well, they can.
“Okay,” I said. “How do we get him out of rut?”
“I’m not sure.” He sounded apologetic. “But I fear it’s like ravening for us. There’s nothing to do but let it run its course.”
“Yeah, that’s not an option.” I gestured at the orgiastic sea. “This is not safe sex, Stefan. Can we use dauda-dagr to de-rut him?”
“No. But it may neutralize the effect long enough for us to establish control of this particular situation.” Stefan shifted. I wondered if his control was wearing thin. “If I may make a suggestion, I recommend that you call your patroness for advice before we make any attempt on the satyr.”
“Hel?” I asked. “She, uh, doesn’t exactly communicate using modern technology.”
He shook his head. “The lamia.”
Oh, right. Patroness was the sort of old-world terminology Stefan favored. As far as I was concerned, Lurine Hollister was my friend. Well, and my former babysitter. But she’d made it clear to Stefan that she considered me under her protection, which was okay by me. And it made sense. With an origin reaching back to ancient Greece, Lurine probably had experience with satyrs.
There was no point in trying to make a call in the nightclub. Stefan and I beat a hasty retreat back to the parking lot.
“Well?” Cody gave me an inquiring look.
“He’s a satyr,” I informed him. “And he’s in rut.”
“How do we get him out of rut?”
“Good question.” I sheathed my dagger and took out my phone. “Hopefully, I’m consulting an expert.”
Just when I was starting to fear my call was going to voice mail, Lurine picked up. “Hey, cupcake. How are you?”
“I’m okay,” I said. “Lurine, we’ve got a problem. We’ve got a satyr in rut here.”
“Really?” Her voice took on a note of surprised delight. “How fun!”
“No, not fun! This isn’t some woodland romp with horny nymphs, Lurine. He’s set off an orgy over at Rainbow’s End. A human orgy! We’re talking public health hazard, massive PR nightmare, possible lawsuits!”
“Okay, okay,” Lurine said mildly. “Keep your shirt on, baby girl. What do you want me to do? Take him off your hands?”
I tugged self-consciously at my tank top, which I had in fact not kept entirely on so far tonight. “What I want is to find a way to contain . . . wait, you can do that?”
“Take him off our hands?”
“Sure.” She sounded amused. “Why not? It’s been ages. If that’s what you want, give me a few minutes to freshen up and change my clothes, and I’ll be right over.”
“Um . . . yeah.” Glancing toward the nightclub, I did the math in my head. Lurine’s lakeshore mansion was only six or seven minutes away, but the freshening up could easily triple that amount of time. “Can’t you come as you are?”
“Daisy.” Now she sounded reproving. “I have an image to maintain.”
This was true. Over the millennia, Lurine has maintained a long series of identities. Currently, the world knows her as a small-town-girl-makes-good B-movie starlet who married a very, very wealthy octogenarian and retired to her hometown after his prompt expiration.
I sighed. “Well, if you can hurry, I’d really, really appreciate it. Is there any way we can turn down the volume on his rutting effect before you get here? I thought I might try using dauda-dagr. It works on humans.”
“Mmm.” Definitely dubious. “No, I wouldn’t recommend it unless you actually mean to kill him. You don’t, do you?”
“No! I just want to make him stop.”
“Well, then you should definitely avoid making contact or his urge could overpower yours, even with Hel’s dagger. But it may still be useful as long as you don’t touch the satyr. Try circumscribing him with salt and iron. That might hold him for a while. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” On the other end of the phone, Lurine blew a kiss before hanging up.
“Wait—” I made a face as the line went dead. “Okay, she’s on her way. Anyone know how to circumscribe someone with salt and iron?”
“Yes, of course,” Stefan said. “Do I understand that she’s offered to take the satyr into her own custody?”
“Yeah, but not until she’s freshened up, which could be a while. So what’s the deal on this circumscribing?” In my own defense, let me say that it’s not like being Hel’s liaison came with a handbook. “And crap! Where am I going to get salt?”
“There should be salt somewhere in the bar supplies,” Cody offered. “For rimming margarita glasses. Daise, are you saying Lurine’s going to take that, um . . . guy in there home with her?”
“Uh-huh,” I said. “I’m pretty sure that’s what she meant.”
He shuddered. “Brave woman.”
Well, sort of. If I understood correctly that Lurine meant to take the satyr home and screw him senseless until the rut passed, I was pretty sure she meant to do it in her true form, which was more than a match for any supernatural penis.
“Wait,” Bart Mallick said faintly, still slumped against his squad car. Oops. I’d forgotten about him. “Lurine Hollister?”
“Eldritch code of honor,” I said to him. Lurine’s nature was known to people she trusted, but it was far from common knowledge. The tabloids would have a field day if it got out. “You keep our secrets, we keep yours. Okay?”
He flushed and nodded.
“Stefan?” I said. “The circumscribing?”
“It is as it sounds, Daisy,” Stefan said. “Pour a line of salt around the subject, and draw a second circle around him with the point of your dagger.” He looked genuinely concerned. “Are you sure it’s worth the risk if your patroness is on her way?”
“I’m sure.” That was a lie, too. But this was my responsibility, and I couldn’t bear the thought of standing around the parking lot doing nothing, waiting for someone else to save the day. With every minute that passed, the possibility of things taking an ugly turn in that nightclub increased.
Stefan inclined his head. “I will accompany you.”
Cody’s nostrils flared. “I’ll go.”
The patient, watching ghouls glanced from one to the other with interest. In certain circles in the eldritch community, there’s nothing they like better than a standoff between a pair of alphas. Okay, make that most circles.
I drew dauda-dagr. “Thanks, guys, but this is going to be tricky. Either one of you would just get in the way. I have a better chance going it alone. Stefan, if it works, I’ll call you with a go-ahead to bring in the troops. Okay?”
Reluctantly, they agreed, which I guess makes me the real alpha in this particular scenario.
Taking a deep breath, I headed back toward the nightclub. Third time’s a charm, right?
“Daisy?” Stefan called. “If you can turn off the music, it may help.” He gave me a faint, worried smile. “It turns out your parents were right about rock and roll.”
Okay, so he was off by a couple of generations, and I wouldn’t exactly classify a techno dance club mix as rock and roll, but I appreciated the advice. Giving him a quick thumbs-up with my free hand, I yanked open the door and plunged into the club.
In the five minutes I’d been outside, the funk had ripened further and the om-mani-fuckme-hum had reached a deeper register that vibrated in the very marrow of my bones. Even with dauda-dagr clutched tightly in my hand, I could feel the atmosphere’s effect. Honestly, I’d never stopped feeling it, but I had a lot of experience with containing my emotions. When I was a little kid, my mom read a book about creative visualization and used the concept to make up techniques to help me deal with my frequent temper tantrums.
I tried to use one now to cope with the effect of the pheromones, imagining it as a brimming cup of desire, tipping it and spilling it away.
Yeah, that didn’t work. The contents of that cup refused to spill.
I tried a different one, one my mom had invented especially for emotions too strong and stubborn to be dismissed. I put my funk-driven lust in a box and tied a bow around it, a pretty package to open later.
Feeling clear and sharp, I headed for the bar, dodging writhing bodies and ducking under the pass-through at the service station.
“Whoops!” I tripped over someone. Well, a pair of female someones. One of them wore what looked to be a bartender’s apron around her waist, and nothing else. “Excuse me,” I said, tapping her on the shoulder. “Do you know where I can find the salt?”
She lifted her head from what she was doing, giving me a glazed look and reaching for me with one languid hand.
“Yeah, thanks, not right now.” I plucked her hand from my leg and transferred it atop the hand I had wrapped around dauda-dagr’shilt. “Are you a bartender? Is there salt back here?”
Her eyes cleared. “What the fuck?” She looked down at the figure beneath her. “Who is this? Do I even know her?”
“I have no idea,” I said apologetically. “Do you have any salt?”
“Yes!” I was getting impatient. “Look, I’m sorry, but I don’t have time to explain! Do you have any salt?”
Looking bewildered, she pointed to a shelf. It took me a few seconds to identify the plastic tub of bright green lime-flavored margarita salt as the item I wanted. “Perfect.” Grabbing it, I scooted away from the entangled pair. “Thanks.”
There was no answer. Well, not a verbal one. The funk was back in effect.
On the far side of the dance floor, the DJ booth was empty. I managed to work my way around the edges of the floor and climb into the booth, where an imposing array of lights and switches confronted me. I’m pretty sure aircraft control panels are less complicated. Since I didn’t have a clue, I hit anything and everything that looked like it might be a power switch until the bass-heavy dance mix went mercifully silent. Now it just sounded like the sound track to the world’s most ambitious gay porn movie.
I went back into the fray. Getting to the satyr was going to be the hard part. There was a constant slow-motion swirl of activity around him, a dense concentration of men swapping places, partners, and positions as they waited their turn to kneel at the altar, as it were. Men of all shapes, sizes, and ages, ranging from burly bears with furry chests to waxed-chested gym rats with six-pack abs to drag queens with heavily smeared makeup. I pushed my way into the throng, squeezing past the vertical bodies and clambering over the horizontal ones until I was close to the epicenter.
“Bitch, please!” One of the buff gym rats disengaged to give me a look of glazed indignation. “No cutting in line.”
Holding dauda-dagr in a reverse grip, I pressed the back of my hand against his forehead. “Police business. I need you to step back and clear this space, sir.”
“Huh?” He blinked at me, the glaze only semi-clearing. Either the effect of the funk was stronger this close to the satyr or gym boy was under the influence of something else. Or both.
I touched dauda-dagr’stip to his bare chest. “Step back.”
With a pained hiss, he did. If that’s what it took, fine. I stole a quick look at the satyr, who appeared oblivious to my intervention, happily grinning and thrusting away. Prying the lid off the plastic tub of lime-flavored salt, I made a circle around him and his current tribute-giver, tilting the tub to pour out a stream of salt with one hand and using dauda-dagr to clear space with the other.
Luckily, once the salt was poured it seemed to keep the orgiasts at bay, and it clung firmly to the dance floor, which was slick with viscous fluid. Yeah, that’s pretty much a straight-up “Ew!” I left a gap in front of the satyr and his partner and retraced my steps, using the point of the dagger to draw a line through the salt.
Sometimes it’s better to act than think, and doing what it would take to close the circle was definitely one of those times. Holding dauda-dagr and the salt tub awkwardly in one hand, I wrapped my free arm around the waist of the guy kneeling before the satyr and executed a sort of half-assed hip throw on him.
It wasn’t pretty, but it worked. I didn’t spend four years in Mr. Rodriguez’s Li’l Dragonz Tae Kwon Do classes for nothing.
The satyr looked down at me, his grin faltering briefly. It returned as he took a step in my direction, his erection glistening obscenely as it bobbed above me. As strange as it may sound, it was also weirdly hypnotic.
Tearing my gaze away, I used the last of the salt to close the circle, dragging the point of the dagger through the ridge of lurid green crystals to seal it.
The effect of the funk didn’t vanish, but it began to dissipate. I could feel the level of sexual tension start to ratchet down. I scrambled to my feet and faced the satyr. Looking perplexed, he reached out one bare foot to test the salt line with his toe, then withdrew it to consider his next move.
I had a suspicion the circle wasn’t going to hold him for long. I held up my left hand palm outward to show him the rune written there: Ansuz, the rune of the messenger, indicating that I was Hel’s liaison between the worlds. Mortals couldn’t see it, but the satyr could.
If it meant anything to him, I couldn’t tell. So I showed him the dagger instead. He tilted his head from side to side, the sinews of his neck tightening visibly.
“Look,” I said to him, “I don’t want to hurt you. I just need you to stay put for a few minutes. Okay?”
The satyr reached out one toe.
“No!” I shifted into a defensive posture. “I need you to stay! Do you speak English? Do you understand?”
The satyr met my gaze. His eyes were dark and deep and wild. Moving with slow deliberation, he reached for his super-size erection, wrapped his fist around it, and began to pump.
Believe it or not, I’m pretty sure that meant “Yes.”
As soon as the satyr consented to his containment, I called Stefan.
The head ghoul and his posse entered the nightclub with si- lent efficiency, spreading out to circle the perimeter just as the orgiasts were emerging from their collective stupor.
From a ghoulish perspective, it must have been a freaking smorgasbord of emotions: lust, chagrin, confusion, shock, outrage . . . I couldn’t even begin to imagine. Okay, that’s another lie. Actually, I could. It was just better if I didn’t.
The ghouls’ glittering eyes were half-closed in the dim light as they siphoned off a measure of every emotion, rendering the balance bearable.
As for the satyr, his eyes were half-lidded, too, and there was a faint smile on his lips as he stood in the ring of lime-green salt and continued to stroke himself with lazy pleasure. I’d always thought satyrs were sort of half goat, half man, but this guy was more or less human in form, the less being the tufted ears that poked out of his hair and the long, luxuriant horsehair tail that jutted out above his buttocks.
Beneath my skirt, my far more modest tail gave a sympathetic twitch. You had to give the guy credit for just putting it out there. Like, literally out there. In a way, I envied him. His urge to rut was tied to the natural world. Oh sure, giving in to it might touch off an inadvertent orgy, but at least it didn’t threaten to blow a hole in the Inviolate Wall.
I guess there might be something ironic in the idea of a prime mover in the drive toward life ending up in a gay nightclub, but I suspect that the satyr was simply drawn toward the biggest locus of desire in town. I’d felt the effect of the funk, and although fertility and procreation might be by-products, that wasn’t what it was about. Even in containment, the satyr radiated a joyful vitality, a vibrant celebration of sex for the sake of sex, for the sheer, unmitigated, nasty, down-and-dirty pleasure of it.
Which I had been very close to experiencing with Cody Fairfax.
Now that I was no longer in crisis mode, that particular fact struck home forcefully, along with a very vivid physical memory of the encounter. Damn. I could feel the bow I’d tied around my mental box of lust loosening.
“Daisy.” Stefan appeared before me, his expression neutral. “If you wish, I can assist you.”
“No.” Wrapping my arms around myself, I shook my head. “I mean, thanks, I appreciate it. But I don’t want you rummaging around in my mind right now.”
Stefan inclined his head. “As you will.” He hesitated. “Do you expect the lamia to arrive soon? I fear that neither the control of my men nor the patience of the satyr is limitless.”
“She should be here any minute. And maybe you shouldn’t hire teenaged boys,” I added pointedly, glancing at the blond kid I’d spotted earlier. “Or induct them into your posse or whatever you call it.”
“Ah.” He followed my gaze. “You took notice of my new lieutenant. Cooper is more than two hundred years old,” he continued conversationally. “He was hanged in the Irish Rebellion of 1798.”
I swallowed hard. “Oh.”
“Yes. On the scaffold, he dared God to send him to hell so that he might continue fighting.”
“I take it God declined?” I said.
“No.” Stefan arched one eyebrow. “The Lord accepted his offer. Hell declined to honor it. Since then, Cooper has been Outcast.”
Okay, see what I mean about ghouls? It’s just hard to get your head around the circumstances of their existence. And no, for the record, I had no idea why Stefan was numbered among the Outcast. Whatever he’d done to get himself cast out by heaven and hell alike, I hadn’t the faintest idea.
Thankfully, I was spared the need for further speculation, not to mention the threat of ravening ghouls and a released satyr, by Lurine’s arrival.
I’d assumed that for the sake of discretion, she would wait outside in her Town Car while we brought the satyr to her—although exactly how that was to be accomplished, I hadn’t thought through.
Anyway, I was wrong. Lurine sauntered into the nightclub, pausing to survey the aftermath of the orgy and its shell-shocked participants. She’d pulled out all the stops, wearing a shiny black latex dress that clung to her curves, stretching and undulating with every movement. Tacky, yes, but so magnificently tacky that it wasn’t. And it was offset by a classic chignon, oversize sunglasses, and crimson lipstick.
There was a collective indrawn breath as Lurine sashayed across the floor, followed by a murmur of speculation. As you might guess, Lurine Hollister was a huge icon in the gay community.
“Hey, cupcake,” she greeted me absently, adjusting her sunglasses to peer over them at the satyr. “Ooh, he’s quite the specimen, isn’t he?”
I gestured feebly around the nightclub, indicating the audience. “Are you sure you want to do this? I mean, here?”
Lurine gave me an affectionate look. “Oh, don’t worry, they’ll think half of what they saw and did tonight was a hallucination. Including me.” Her eyes widened slightly as she considered me. “You’re all riled up, aren’t you, baby girl?” She smiled. “Want to come home and watch?”
Okay, see, here’s the thing. I would trust Lurine with my life, but she is a predator, and seduction is her method. Well, one of her methods. For her, flirting is just a way of keeping her hunting instincts honed. Which I wouldn’t mind, except I actually do find Lurine in her true form incredibly hot, which she knows. I like to think of my tastes as pretty conventional, but thanks to my infernal heritage, there’s a perverse streak in there that crops up in unexpected ways.
“My lady Hollister,” Stefan interjected, his voice tense, “it would be best for all involved if you do not dally here.”
They exchanged glances. Fraught, fraught glances. Stefan’s pupils zoomed and glittered. Lurine pursed her crimson lips. “Hmm, you’re close to losing control, aren’t you? That could be interesting.”
He looked involuntarily in my direction; and yep, definitely close. His irises were an icy rim around his pupils and there was a faint sheen of sweat on his ghoul-pale brow. When I’d let Stefan drain my anger in an emergency situation, he’d been in perfect control and I’d felt a deep well of stillness within him. This was the flip side of the coin, a profound, avid, and complex hunger.
And it was directed at me and my beribboned-and-bowed box of desire.
“Or maybe not.” All the teasing went out of Lurine’s voice, giving way to protective pragmatism. “Let’s get down to business. You’re coming home with me,” she said to the satyr. “Got it?”
A wide grin spread across the satyr’s face. Placing his hands on his hips, he nodded enthusiastically, giving his pelvis a little thrust for emphasis. Kind of like he was offering up the world’s most startling door prize. And now that I thought about it, he did look like some of the figures I’d seen cavorting on Greek pottery in my favorite teacher Mr. Leary’s Myth & Lit class back in high school.
Another, more alarming thought struck me. “Ah . . . Lurine?” My fingers tightened on dauda-dagr’shilt as I glanced around the club where the stunned orgiasts were just beginning to retrieve their scattered clothing. “What happens when the circle’s broken? Is it going to start all over again?”
“No, honey,” she said complacently. “Not as long as I keep a firm grip on him. Are you ready?”
The satyr nodded even more vigorously, his shaggy pointed beard bobbing.
With the expertise of an Indy 500 race-car driver maneuvering a gearshift, Lurine reached out to grasp his ginormous shaft with one hand, tugging him out of the salt circle. “All right, then. Let’s get you home, Mr. Happy.”
I held my breath, but Lurine was telling the truth. Nothing happened as she led the satyr out of the nightclub. He trotted happily behind her, his horse-tail switching with anticipation.
I followed them to the door. “Are you sure you’re going to be okay?”
“Of course.” Lurine shot me an amused look before settling her sunglasses into place with her free hand. “I can absorb a lot of vitality, cupcake. Just get those goddamn ghouls out of here before they start ravening. And stay out of trouble for a few days, will you?” She glanced down at her throbbing door prize. “I’m going to be busy.”
“Deal,” I said gratefully. “Thanks, Lurine.”
She blew me a kiss. “Go home and take a cold shower.”
I watched Lurine lead the satyr into the parking lot, where her unflappable driver stood waiting to open the door to the Town Car. They disappeared into its depths. I couldn’t help but think about it, at least a little bit. Lurine would wait to get him home before she shifted, probably into the swimming pool, wrapping him in those shimmering, rainbow-hued serpent coils. . . .
“Daisy.” Stefan’s taut voice made me jump. “The situation appears to be under control. Your intervention was timely, and I do not sense that anyone here sustained great harm tonight. But I think it best we leave now.”
Oh, right. I took one look at him and made a shooing gesture. “Go, go! And, Stefan . . . um, thanks. I appreciate it.”
With an obvious effort, he gave me one of his courtly nods. “You did well, Hel’s liaison. I thank you for your trust.”
Stefan beckoned, and one by one, his ghouls trooped past me and out the door, clad in denim and leather. His two-hundred-year-old teenaged lieutenant, the one he’d called Cooper, was the last to pass. He gave me a broad wink with one glittering eye, tipping an imaginary hat in my direction with an engaging, crooked grin. He had a narrow face with a spray of freckles over the bridge of his nose.
Hell, I hadn’t even known there was an Irish Rebellion of 1798.
For the next forty-five minutes or so, Cody and I dealt with the aftermath, Cody having sent a shell-shocked Bart Mallick back out on patrol, which may or may not have been a good idea.
An EMS vehicle sat in the parking lot. A few of the participants got themselves checked out for minor cuts and bruises, but as Stefan had said, no one seemed to have been seriously injured. Most were content to gather their clothes and slink into the darkness. No one was especially eager to give a statement, which was fine, since we weren’t especially eager to take one. Under the circumstances, it wasn’t like we were going to be charging anyone with public indecency. Obviously, Rainbow’s End would be closing early this Friday.
Okay, so, crisis averted.
That left the unspoken.
After the last patron had departed, I glanced sidelong at Cody. “So . . . about what happened between us?”
A muscle in his jaw twitched. “Nothing happened, Daisy.”
“About what almost happened?”
He lifted his head, phosphorescent green flashing behind his eyes. “What about it?”
I looked away. “Nothing. It’s just . . . you know genuine desire can’t be compelled, right?”
Cody was silent for a long moment. When he spoke, his voice was gentle. “Daisy, I never said I didn’t find you attractive. But attraction’s easy.” He gestured toward the nightclub. “You saw what happened in there. Most of those people were strangers. And I have an obligation to my own clan, to my own people. You . . . you’re not a potential mate. You know that. And I care about you too much to mislead you, okay?”
My eyes stung. Goddamn werewolves.
My phone rang. I fished it out of the pocket of my skirt. It was Sinclair. I let the call go to voice mail and then listened to it. “Hey, girl!” He sounded affectionate, only a little worried. “Hope everything’s okay. Stop by, all right?”
Cody may have wanted me, but he didn’t want to want me. And that made all the difference in the world.
“The fake Jamaican?” he asked, a slight edge to his voice. Well, too bad.
“Ha ha.” I put my phone away. “Look, if we’re done here, I have a date to get back to.”
“After this?” Cody raised his brows. “Do you really think that’s a good idea?”
No, of course it wasn’t. I’d just been dowsed with satyr-funk and had a brief, intense make-out session with my lifelong crush, who was standing in the parking lot eyeing me skeptically, his uniform shirt half undone because I’d torn off buttons when I ripped it open. “I don’t think it’s any of your business,” I said, walking past him. “I’ll let the manager know we’re leaving.”
“What?” I turned around to glare at Cody.
“Just . . . be careful, okay?” He gave me a wry smile, resting his hands on his utility belt. “Because I know when I get off duty, I’m going to go home and kill something.”
Sure, that’s healthy. And yet the thought of Cody hunting in wolf form gave me a shiver. Go figure. “Duly noted.”
Inside the nightclub, the staff were making a cursory effort to clean up. Now that the place was empty, you could see how trashed it was. There were spilled drinks, crushed cups, and broken glass everywhere, abandoned flip-flops, discarded boxers, briefs, and panties that no one had wanted to reclaim.
The manager, Terry Miller, was still in a state of shock. He nodded absently when I told him we were leaving. “I just don’t understand what happened,” he murmured. “What am I going to tell the owners?”
I patted his arm. “Tell them the truth. It wasn’t your fault. There wasn’t anything you could do about it.”
He turned his stricken gaze to me. “But what was it?”
“A satyr in rut,” I said patiently. I’d already explained it to him twice, but apparently Lurine was right. Most mundane humans’ memories were sketchy about the events of the night. “Big naked guy?”
“Right.” He sounded uncertain. “What if there are lawsuits? Are we liable?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know, but I doubt it. You can’t insure against eldritch influence, can you?”
“Nooo . . .”
See, that’s the problem with paranormal tourism. Tourists flock to Pemkowet expecting sparkly fairies and frolicking naiads, or maybe the covert thrill of glimpsing a vampire or a ghoul, but the fact is it can be downright dangerous here. And there’s no way to anticipate or control a wild card like a rutting satyr. Although I bet I was going to get an earful about it from Amanda Brooks at the Pemkowet Visitors Bureau anyway once the story—or at least the rumors about the story—got around.
I gave Terry the manager another pat on the arm. “Look, I’ve got to go. Good luck. Officer Fairfax and I will give Chief Bryant a full report. If the owners give you a hard time, have them call the chief.”
“Okay.” That seemed to make him feel a bit better.
I ducked into the ladies’ room to wash up before I left, scrubbing my hands and face and basically as much bare skin as I could reach with soap and cold water. I felt a lot cleaner when I was done, but the effects of the funk lingered. In the mirror, my eyes looked dilated and fever-bright.
Outside, the parking lot was mostly empty. I got into my Honda Civic, knowing I should go home.
Go home, and take a cold shower like Lurine had told me. Pour myself a drink, feed the cat, curl up on the couch, and listen to someone like Billie Holiday singing plaintive songs of heartbreak, not down-and-dirty blues.
My phone buzzed. Glancing at it, I saw it was a text from Sinclair. WHERE U AT GIRL? :)
It was the smiley face that got me. I really, really didn’t want to go home alone right now.
So I drove to Sinclair’s.
Sinclair’s place was a ramshackle house in the countryside just north of town, where he was doing some fixer-upper work in return for reduced rent. You couldn’t miss it, since his renovated double-decker bus, painted bright yellow, red, and green with PEMKOWET SUPERNATURAL TOURS on the side, was parked in the driveway.
I pulled in beside the bus and sat for a moment, listening to the music spilling out of the house and wrestling with my conscience. That beribboned box of desire was straining at the seams, practically rattling. If I went in there, I wasn’t going to be able to keep it contained.
And if I didn’t?
I’d understood exactly what Cody meant when he said he was going to go home and kill something. It was that strong a drive, and it needed to be vented somehow. As far as the Seven Deadlies went, I was probably better off sticking with lust than letting it turn to envy or anger. So I went inside.
All four members of the Mamma Jammers were there, jamming, because apparently a three-hour-long jam session at Union Pier wasn’t quite long enough. They’d set up their gear in Sinclair’s living room.
Sinclair was messing around with them, banging on a cowbell with a pair of grill tongs. It was a warm night and he was shirtless and barefoot, wearing nothing but a pair of khaki cargo shorts that sat low on his hips.
Ka-pow. My mental image of the gift-wrapped box exploded. I felt the air pressure in the room change, lifting my hair with an electrostatic charge. Huh. That sort of thing usually only happened when I got angry. There was a long squall of feedback before a tube burst in one of the Mamma Jammers’ vintage amplifiers with a brief shower of sparks.
In the silence that followed, everyone stared at me. Sinclair took a long breath and blinked a few times. “Daisy? Are you okay? Is everything . . . okay?”
“Yeah.” Realizing I still wore dauda-dagr belted around my waist, I touched the hilt, taking strength from its bracing coolness. Okay. I could make myself walk away from this if I had to. “Is this a bad time? I can go.”
“What? No, of course not. I invited you here.”
I shifted restlessly from foot to foot. “Then can we talk alone for a minute?”
Sinclair gave the Mamma Jammers an uncertain look. “Are you crazy, man?” one of them said. “Go!”
Inside his bedroom, Sinclair closed the door behind us. I unbuckled my belt and let it fall to the floor with a heavy clunk. I didn’t want him to get frostbitten.
“Daisy.” He laid his hands on my shoulders. Unable to help myself, I traced a line on his bare torso with one finger, between his pecs down toward his navel. He caught my hand and removed it, although he laced his fingers through mine. “Whoa! Slow down, girl. Mind if I ask what happened out there to turn a night hanging with the boys into a booty call?”
“No.” I shook my head. “Rutting satyr-funk. It set off an orgy. But it’s okay. We defused it.”
“So this is about some funky satyr?” he asked slowly. “Not you and me?”
“A little,” I admitted.
“I’m not sure how I feel about that.” Sinclair’s face was unreadable in the dim light. “This isn’t how I wanted it to go down between us.”
“Yeah, me either,” I said. “This was a mistake. I should go.”
“Probably.” There was a certain lack of conviction in his voice. “I guess.”
Neither of us moved. “So . . . do you want me to go?” I asked him. “’Cause if you do, I think you’re going to have to tell me. Like, in no uncertain terms.”
“Okay, well, before you make up your mind, there’s one other little thing I haven’t told you.”
Sinclair raised his brows. “What?” I shifted his hand around to place it firmly on my butt, untucking my tail in the process and letting him feel it wriggle. His eyes widened and his body went rigid, but he didn’t pull away from me. “What the fuck?”
I watched his face, trying to gauge the degree of freak-out. “Look, as tails go, it’s pretty small. You should have seen the satyr’s.”
He gave me a blank look. “How is this something I never noticed?”
“Yeah.” I laid my palm flat against his chest, feeling it rise and fall. His dark brown skin was warm, as though it retained the heat of the sun on the docks. Afraid of seeing rejection in his eyes, I lowered my gaze and kept it there, centered on the groove between his pecs. “Look, I really do like you. I like you a lot, Sinclair. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t. As strange as it might sound, I wouldn’t trust myself with someone I didn’t care about right now. And I wanted to try the whole normal boyfriend/girlfriend thing. But the truth is, my father’s an incubus, I’m a hell-spawn and Hel’s agent, and this is Pemkowet. Normal’s not really in my wheelhouse. There’s always going to be an element of weird. Maybe a lot of weird. So—”
“Daisy.” Sinclair interrupted me. Removing his hand from my ass, he reached for the pendant I wore.
It was a silver whistle in the shape of an acorn and it had been given to me by the Oak King, a member of genuine old-school eldritch pagan royalty, as a means to summon him at need. Sinclair had been there when it happened. Both of us had been touched by the wonder of it.
And then I’d been stupid enough to leave it at home in my jewelry box when the ghoul rebellion went down, which is why after that I’d had it strung on a chain of dwarf-mined silver so I could wear it around my neck.
“Remember?” Sinclair asked me.
I nodded. “Of course.”
He smiled. “For a memory like that, I can handle a lot of weird.” He slid one arm around my waist, pulling me closer. “So I guess what I’m saying is, what the hell. If this is what you want, let’s do it.”
It wasn’t the time or the circumstances I would have chosen, and it shouldn’t have been good, but in fact it was good. Even knowing what had almost happened with Cody that same night, even knowing that the Mamma Jammers were right outside the bedroom and that sooner or later I’d have to face the walk of shame past them. It was still good.
“Let me see it,” Sinclair said after he’d undressed me, his voice low and husky with a mix of desire and trepidation. He sat on the edge of the bed, his knees spread. “Go on, Daisy. Show me.”
Obediently, I stood between his knees and turned around. I felt him draw one finger down my spine, lingering at the base of my tailbone, at the root of my tail. I shivered.
“Is it sensitive?” he asked uncertainly.
“Yeah.” I fought the urge to coil it around his fingers, pretty sure that would send him straight into freak-out territory. In all honesty, I don’t think anyone had touched it since my mom when I was in diapers, and the fact that Sinclair was doing it now brought tears to my eyes. “Very.”
I turned around to straddle his waist, lowering my head to kiss him until both of us were breathless. “Let’s not talk any more about my tail tonight.” I reached for the zipper of his khaki shorts. “Okay?”
Sinclair gave me a lazy grin, lying back to grab my hips and pull me atop him, my hair spilling around his face. “Definitely.”
Somewhere outside the bedroom door, the bass player for the Mamma Jammers struck up a bom-chicka-wow-wow groove. Apparently, that wasn’t his amplifier I’d accidentally blown. I don’t know if it was meant to be funny or thoughtful, but either way, it was effective.
Afterward, exhaustion hit me like a ton of bricks. My eyelids felt like they weighed a hundred pounds apiece, and the thought of trying to make polite conversation with Sinclair’s friends made me want to hibernate.
“Is it okay if I just crash here?” I mumbled into the pillow. “For a little while anyway?”
“Yeah, of course.” Sitting on the edge of the bed, Sinclair fished for his shorts. “I promised you pancakes, didn’t I?” He stood. “I’m just going to go out and explain things to the guys.”
I cracked open one eye to peer at him. “What are you going to tell them?”
He shrugged. “Guess I’ll go with the truth.”
I wanted to stay awake long enough to find out how that went, but all I remember is hearing a brief, low murmur of male voices before I was spiraling down into sleep, the memory of bom-chicka-wow-wow sex with Sinclair blurring with the memory of kissing (and yes, okay, grinding on) Cody, the satyr’s grin, and the shocking jolt of hunger in Stefan’s gaze. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I heard a deep, resonant chuckle of pure demonic amusement and entertained the fleeting thought that if my father, Belphegor, was pleased, I definitely shouldn’t have done what I did tonight.
Screw it. I’d feel guilty in the morning.
And if real life was like the movies, I would wake up in the morning to realize I’d blown things with a nice guy I actually liked by rushing into something neither of us was ready for, just like Kristy McNichol in Little Darlings. Which, in case you’re not familiar with it, is an old movie where Kristy and Tatum O’Neal make a bet at summer camp about who’s going to be the first to cash in her v-card, only they don’t call it that because . . . well, it’s an old movie. Like, an eighties movie before John Hughes made eighties movies a thing. When I was growing up, Mom used movies to teach me important life lessons, and she used the movies she knew best. Also, the movies that we could rent for free from the Pemkowet District Library, because we didn’t have a lot of money.
Anyway, I should have felt awful and this should have been a disaster. In fact, I woke to early-morning sunlight and Sinclair sprawled in the bed next to me, one arm flung carelessly over me. And I felt pretty damn good.
I held still for a moment, listening for the echo of demonic laughter. Nope. Either I’d imagined it, or dear old Dad was amused by something more complicated than the fact that his half-human daughter had thrown caution to the winds and given in to licentious behavior. Which . . . wasn’t entirely reassuring, but I’d take it.
“Hey.” Sinclair roused himself sleepily. His head was on the pillow beside mine, and his dark eyes gazed into mine at close proximity. Like, so close I almost felt cross-eyed looking back at him. “You okay, Daisy?”
I wasn’t used to this kind of intimacy. All of the sexual encounters I’d had had ultimately ended . . . well, awkwardly. This morning-after business was new to me.
“Yeah.” I tried the sentiment on for size. It fit. “You?”
My stomach rumbled.
Sinclair laughed. “Come on. Let’s make some breakfast.”
Okay, time to suck it up and take the walk of shame. It wasn’t pleasant, but it wasn’t the worst thing I’d endured in my life. I’d grown up in a small town where everyone knew my story, and I was used to curious stares. At least Sinclair’s friends were polite and didn’t make any jokes about what was obviously a total booty call or ask if I filed my horns down like Hellboy. I got that a lot back in high school when the first movie came out. I kept my tail tucked and did my best to make a good impression, memorizing their names and asking them questions about themselves.
They seemed to be good guys, laid-back and easygoing. Over a mountainous stack of pancakes—Sinclair hadn’t lied, he made them from scratch with buttermilk, and they were probably the best pancakes I’d ever had—I learned that Roddy, the drummer, was also of Jamaican origin. His mother had a Caribbean restaurant and his uncle owned the custom auto shop where Sinclair’s dad worked.
Under the guise of making small talk, I asked him why his family had left Jamaica, secretly hoping to gain some insight into Sinclair’s situation.
“Poverty,” he said simply. “Unless you have the right connections, there are no real job opportunities, no way to change your lot in life.”
“Is that why your dad left?” I asked Sinclair.
“Dad knew Roddy’s uncle Joseph.” He set a platter of bacon on the table. “He knew there would be a good job here for him.”
Huh. As an answer to a direct yes-or-no question went, that was sort of a nonanswer. “Why Kalamazoo?” I asked curiously, reaching for a piece of bacon. “I mean . . . why Michigan at all?”
As it transpired, apparently Kalamazoo, Michigan, has been host for many years to a world-class reggae festival, one of the largest in the United States. Hence, the long-standing connection to Jamaica from whence many of the festival’s headliner acts have come. I felt a little silly for not knowing this about a city only an hour away.
“Damn, girl! You need to get out of Pemkowet more often,” Ben, the bass player, teased.
“I guess,” I said. “But there’s no underworld there.”
Oops. A little silence settled over the crowded table in the breakfast nook. “You mean . . . hell?” Roddy inquired cautiously.
I shook my head. “No, I mean an actual physical underworld that exists on the mundane plane, ruled by a deity of a non-apex faith.”
“That’s what allows an eldritch community to exist and thrive.” Sinclair rescued me, sliding into the seat beside me. “Here in Pemkowet, they call it Little Niflheim. Right, Daisy?”
I nodded. Little Niflheim was where Hel held court, beneath the shifting sand dunes that had buried the lumber town of Singapore—the very dunes said to be haunted by the ghost of Talman “Tall Man” Brannigan, the lumber baron responsible for the deforestation that caused the dunes to swallow Singapore. Tall Man Brannigan, who slaughtered almost his entire family in a fit of madness and despair.
It was a typical urban legend. No one I knew had ever seen the Tall Man’s ghost, but everyone knew someone who knew someone whose cousin or brother claimed to have done so—and then died after the sighting. But Little Niflheim was real. I’d been there on a number of occasions.
“I’ve seen the world tree,” Sinclair added, cutting into his pancakes and stabbing a forkful. “Yggdrasil II.”
For the next half hour, he entertained the Mamma Jammers with the kind of patter he used to entertain the tourists, a blend of history, conjecture, and fact, all extolling the wonders of Pemkowet.
“Speaking of . . .” Sinclair glanced at the watch on his wrist. “It’s almost showtime. I’ve got to get ready for the first tour of the day.”
The Mamma Jammers packed their gear and beat an efficient retreat, thanking him for the gig and the place to crash.
In the kitchen, I helped him do a quick washup of the breakfast dishes. My body still felt languid and relaxed, but my mind was buzzing. “Hey, Sinclair?”
He shot me a sidelong look. “Uh-huh?”
I scrubbed diligently, declining to meet his gaze. “How come you never talk about your mom?”
I snuck a sideways peek of my own. Sinclair reached over to turn off the water faucet. “My mother is a very powerful woman, Daisy.”
I remembered what Cody had told me. “Oh, yeah? Is she an obeah woman?”
“She’s a judge.” His voice was flat. I felt a powerful surge of white-girl guilt. Yeah, given the first opportunity, that’s where I’d gone. Ooga-booga island voodoo. But then Sinclair’s full lips compressed to a tight line. “And yeah, she’s an obeah woman,” he admitted. “A very, very powerful one. Dangerous, too. It’s in our bloodline. If you really want to know, that’s why my father left Jamaica. My mother worked some shady magic. In her legal dealings and her personal dealings, too. He had his doubts about her intentions. He felt he might have been compromised in their relationship and didn’t want me further exposed to it. That’s why we left. And that’s pretty much the whole story. I don’t like to talk about it because I don’t like to think about it. Okay?”
I nodded. “Okay.”
Sinclair leaned over to kiss me. “Cool.” He glanced at his watch again. “Look, I really do have to run. Call me later?”
Excerpted from "Autumn Bones"
Copyright © 2014 Jacqueline Carey.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for Autumn Bones
"Carey's gift of storytelling ensure that every scene is immersive and engaging as she slowly builds to a surprising climax that will have readers starving for the next installment in this wonderfully imaginative series."—RT Book Reviews
"[It]'s supernatural chick lit, magical smalltown slice-of-life drama...a lighthearted cozy mystery...offers promise for future volumes."—Publishers Weekly Praise for Dark Currents
"Jacqueline Carey proves her versatility with this compelling and delightful piece of urban fantasy."—#1 New York Times Bestselling author Charlaine Harris
"Since the advent of Carey’s 'Kushiel Legacy' historical fantasy series in 2001, fans have come to expect the amazing from this author, and her new urban fantasy won’t disappoint them. . . . Carey’s first urban fantasy turn is as fun and fantastic as her previous efforts; fans will definitely want this, and pronto."—Library Journal (starred review)
"Carey turns to contemporary fantasy, showing off her talent for building engaging, detailed settings that feel utterly natural despite their inherent strangeness."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)