Fathered by an incubus, raised by a mortal mother, and liaison to the Pemkowet Police Department, Daisy Johanssen pulled the community together after a summer tragedy befell the resort town she calls home. Things are back to normal—as normal as it gets for a town famous for its supernatural tourism and presided over by the reclusive Norse goddess Hel. 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.…
Release date: October 1, 2013
Print pages: 432
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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’s touch,” 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
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