“A southern fried paranormal romp packed with action, humor, and a sizzling romance. Hang on, y’all, cause it’s a wild ride!” —Linsey Hall
Rowdy rednecks. Shifty shapeshifters. Deadly demon hunters.
THIS TOWN’S GOING STRAIGHT TO HELL.
With its cross-cultural mix of good ol’ boys, big bad wolves, and otherworldly beings, Behr County is the last place you’d want to be a cop. But for Sheriff Dev Whitsun, it’s Sweet Home Alabama—and he plans to keep it that way. Famous last words. When a gruesome shifter massacre rocks the community, the sexy sheriff needs more than a badge and a few silver bullets. He needs the help of an immortal demon hunter. Her name is Arta, High Huntress of the Kirvahni. Whatever that means. Dev is no position to be picky about partners right now. But when Arta turns out to be the one female he could really fall for, Dev knows he’s in for one hell of a ride. God help them all . . .
Praise for Demon Hunting in Dixie
“A demonically wicked good time.”
“A not-to-be-missed Southern-fried, bawdy, hilarious romp.”
—Beverly Barton, New York Times bestselling author
“A genuinely funny new voice in paranormal romance.”
Release date: April 12, 2022
Publisher: Lyrical Press
Print pages: 304
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Demon Hunting with a Southern Sheriff
Behr County High School, nineteen years ago
“Fight, fight, fight.”
The bell rang for first period, shrill and insistent, but the circle of excited students lingered around the two boys squared off in front of the school. Hooting and jeering, the group egged them on.
At the edge of the crowd, Livy Freeman drew her gray bomber jacket around her thin shoulders. “Dev, please. Let it go.”
Dev shook his head and glared at his adversary. Russ Barber was a senior and a star athlete at BCH. His dad owned R&B Transport, a major contributor to the Booster Club, but Dev was too angry to care.
“No,” he said, clenching his fists. “He hurt you.”
Russ took a menacing step toward Dev. “What did you say?”
“You heard me.” Dev widened his stance. “You hurt Livy. Don’t do it again.”
“Back off, twerp, and mind your own business.”
“Livy’s my friend. That makes it my business.”
“Yeah? Well, I don’t take orders from ninth graders.”
“Nah, you just smack ʼem around.” Dev sneered. “You’re the man, picking on a girl half your size. Whadda you do for kicks in your spare time, beat up toddlers?”
With a snarl, Russ shoved Dev to the sidewalk and jumped on top of him. The air exited Dev’s lungs with an audible whoosh. Russ outweighed him by at least sixty pounds.
“Shut up, you little shit,” Russ said, and punched Dev in the face.
The blow broke Dev’s nose and busted his upper lip, filling his mouth and the back of his throat with the coppery taste of blood. Black spots danced in front of his eyes. The simmering rage he had struggled to control since reaching puberty surged to the surface. With a roar, he shoved Russ, and the muscular football player sailed into the air. Russ’s expression of surprise as he shot high above the flagpole was comical and supremely satisfying…until gravity kicked in and the bully hurtled back to earth.
Dev rolled out of the way, and Russ hit the pavement with a sickening crunch.
“My leg,” Russ bawled. “My leg.”
Shaking with adrenaline, Dev got to his feet. Russ’s left foot was twisted at an unnatural angle, and the bones of his lower leg protruded through the skin. It was an ugly break, and Russ screamed in agony, a horrible, keening sound that went on and on.
Dev stared at the other boy in horror. A man in a passion rides a wild horse, Aunt Weoka had often cautioned him.
She’d warned him to control his temper, that things would happen if he did not.
“Oh, my God.” Terri Osborne, a pretty junior girl Dev had secretly admired from afar, clapped her hand over her mouth. “I think I’m going to be sick.”
“Dev, you’ve ruined everything,” Livy wailed. “Russ and I were supposed to go out Friday night after the ball game.”
Dev stared at her in disbelief. “Livy, you aren’t… Please tell me you aren’t still seeing him.”
She tossed her head, her tight black curls dancing around her temples. “Of course, I’m still seeing him.”
“Are you nuts? He tried to choke you.”
“He was drunk. It was an accident.”
“You don’t ‘accidentally’ try to wring someone’s neck. The guy’s a douche.”
“He said he was sorry. See?” Livy pushed back the cuff of her jacket sleeve, displaying a charm bracelet on her brown wrist. “It’s Juicy Couture. It’s official. Russ and I are dating.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. You deserve better.”
“Better?” Livy stamped her foot. “I’m a freshman, and he’s a senior football player.”
“So? He’s still a douche.”
“I think you’re jealous, Dev Whitsun.” She glared at him belligerently. “You’re jealous because I’m popular, and you’re not.”
Whirling, she pushed her way through the crowd and fell to her knees beside Russ.
“It’s okay, baby,” Livy said, taking his hand. “It’s going to be okay.”
“What are you, stupid? My leg’s broken.” Russ writhed in pain. “It hurts.”
A metal door crashed open, and a redheaded man sprinted out of the building. It was Noble Brock, the freshman English teacher. Dev liked Mr. Brock. Most of his teachers were older than dirt, but Mr. Brock was young and cool.
Mr. Brock pulled Livy to her feet. “Go inside, Livy,” he said. “I’ve got this.”
“But—” Livy protested.
“Now, young lady.”
Pushing Livy toward the building, Mr. Brock pulled his flip phone from his pocket and punched in a number.
“Hello, Dispatch?” he said. “Send an ambulance to Behr County High School right away. A student has been hurt.” He slid the cell phone back into his pocket and laid a hand on Russ’s forehead. “Easy, now, son. Help is on the way.”
Russ went stiff as a board, then his eyes rolled back in his head and he went limp.
“Ohmygodohmygod,” Terri said, bursting into tears. “He’s dead.”
“Hush, he’s not dead. He’s unconscious.” Mr. Brock removed his jacket and tucked it around Russ. “Stop carrying on and tell me what happened.”
“He threw Russ into the air and broke his leg.” Terri sniffed and pointed a shaking finger at Dev. “I don’t know his name. He’s a ninth grader, I think.”
“Don’t exaggerate, Terri,” Mr. Brock said. “Don’t you mean Dev pushed Russ?”
“No, I don’t.” Terri stamped her foot. “I know what I saw, and that boy threw Russ into the air. Way up. Russ hit the concrete and—” Her face crumpled. “It was awful.”
“Thank you,” Mr. Brock said. “Run down to the principal’s office and tell them there has been an accident. Please inform Miss Martha that I’ve already called 911.” Terri scurried away, and he turned to the crowd of gawking students. “Show’s over. Get to class.”
Reluctantly, the bystanders shuffled away.
“Not you, Whitsun,” Mr. Brock said when Dev started toward the building. “You stay put.”
Shit. Dev halted. He was in trouble, big trouble. Why, oh, why, had he let Russ goad him? He recalled the bruises on Livy’s slender throat and felt a surge of anger. He wasn’t sorry, not one little bit. Russ had gotten what was coming to him.
Mr. Brock walked over to examine Dev’s face. “You’re bleeding. Broken nose?”
“Yes, sir. I think so.”
“Does it hurt?”
“No, sir, not anymore.”
Mr. Brock grunted. “Fast healer, huh? What the hell were you thinking, picking on a norm?”
“S-sir?” Dev spluttered. He didn’t know which shocked him more, hearing a teacher cuss or Mr. Brock’s casual use of the term “norm.”
“Don’t play innocent. You know better, or you damn well ought to.” Mr. Brock studied him. “You aren’t kith. Don’t have the purple eyes. What kind of super are you?”
“I—I—” Dev’s shocked brain went blank. Norm. Super. Mr. Brock knew who he was, what he was.
“Forget it. We’ve got company,” Mr. Brock said as the high school principal and the school secretary hurried toward them. In the distance, there was the strident wail of an approaching ambulance. “You and Russ were fighting, and Russ tripped and fell,” Mr. Brock said under his breath. “Got it?”
“Russ’s father is going to raise almighty hell about this, so you’d better have your story straight. Rule number one, son. You never, ever out yourself to norms.”
“I don’t like lies.”
“Then don’t lie. Act like you’re in shock. Cry. Throw up. Piss your pants. Do whatever you have to, but do not tell the truth—that a hundred-and-thirty-five-pound freshman tossed an all-state football player around like a sack of dried beans and broke his leg.”
“A hundred and forty pounds,” Dev muttered. “Like anyone would believe it, anyway.”
“Terri’s not the only witness,” Mr. Brock said. “Luckily, adults don’t listen to kids. That’s the good news, but if you come clean, people—Russ’s parents and the other teachers, for starters—will think you’re delusional or on drugs.”
“Drugs? No way.”
“Drugs.” Mr. Brock’s voice was firm. “Either that, or they’ll dub you the biggest liar between here and the Mississippi line. You want to wind up in Behr-Cap?”
Dev stared at him in horror. “No, sir.”
The Behr County Alternative Program, or Behr-Cap, was a school for disruptive students. He did not want to go there.
“Then keep your mouth shut and let Principal Hart and Weoka handle things.”
Dev gaped at the teacher. “Y-you know my aunt?”
“Everybody in these parts who’s not a norm knows Weoka Waters.” Mr. Brock gripped Dev by the shoulder. “Take my advice and learn to control that temper of yours. The Council has a way of dealing with reckless supers.” He heaved a sigh of relief as a vehicle with flashing lights screamed up the school drive. “The ambulance is here, thank God. Let’s get out of the way.”
* * * *
“And I’m telling you, suspension ain’t enough.” Roger Barber slammed his fist on the principal’s desk. He was an intimidating man with a barrel chest, thick neck, and a perpetual scowl. “I want that thug expelled.”
“Dev ain’t a thug,” Aunt Weoka said, “and Russ attacked him first. Punched him in the face and broke his nose.” She pointed to Dev. “Look at that shiner. You can see for yourself.”
“The kids who saw the fight say your nephew threw Russ into the air.”
“Threw him into the air? Take a gander at my boy, Mr. Barber. Dev is three years younger than Russ and skinny as a beanpole, besides.”
“Aunt Weoka, please,” Dev muttered, slouching in his chair. “I’m not a total wimp.”
“Hush,” Weoka said. “I know Russ plays ball, but—”
Roger Barber sprang to his feet. “Plays ball? Plays ball? Russ is the star receiver for the Wildcats, woman. Going to Bama this fall. On scholarship.”
“Calm down, Roger, and stop yelling in my office,” Principal Hart said. “We do everything we can to keep our students safe at BCH, but accidents happen. I’m sorry Russ got hurt, but—”
“Hurt?” Barber’s eyes bulged. “Russ is out for the season. The Wildcats play the Hannah Blue Devils Friday night—our biggest rival—but will Russ be playing? Hell no, thanks to that little creep.” He jabbed a fat finger at Dev. “I want him gone, and what I say goes. R&B money keeps this football program afloat.”
“Thank you for the reminder, Roger.” Principal Hart folded his hands on the desktop. “The school appreciates your support, but Dev is a straight-A student, and he’s never been in trouble before.” He gazed sternly at Dev. “There is zero tolerance for fighting at BCH, young man. You’re suspended for a week.”
“A week?” Dev sat up. “What about my classes? I don’t—”
“Thank you, Principal Hart. Dev has learned his lesson,” Aunt Weoka said, flashing him a warning look. “Right, boy?”
Dev flushed and looked away. “Yessum. It won’t happen again.”
“Good. Now, tell Mr. Barber you’re sorry Russ got hurt.”
“But Aunt Wee—”
“You heard me, boy.” There was steel in her voice. “Tell him.”
“I didn’t mean to break Russ’s leg, but I’m not sorry it happened,” Dev added quickly. “Russ is a world-class jerk.”
Roger Barber lunged at Dev. Aunt Weoka’s hand shot up, palm out, and the burly man froze in his tracks. For a moment, he struggled to break free, face purpling with the effort, then gave up.
“Damn woman’s a witch,” he grumbled, slumping back into his chair. “Put the whammy on me. You seen it.”
“A witch, Roger, really?” Principal Hart said. “More likely, you’re overwrought. I suggest you calm down before you have another heart attack.”
“That boy assaulted my son.” Barber scowled at Dev. “And he ain’t sorry. You heard him.”
“Dev don’t cotton to lying,” Aunt Weoka said. “If he says Russ is a jerk, then you can bet your bottom dollar it’s true.” Ignoring Barber’s spluttering, Aunt Weoka rose and slung the strap of her worn purse over one shoulder. “Sorry for the stir, Jimbo,” she said to the principal. “I’ll see the boy causes no more trouble. Give Myrna and the twins my regards.”
“Thank you, Weoka, I will.” Principal Hart gave her a significant look. “Don’t be too hard on Dev. These things happen, and we both know it.”
Weoka gave him a jerky nod and led Dev out to her truck, a faded blue Chevy 4x4. “Get in, boy. Brought you a clean shirt.”
Dev obeyed. Dumping his books on the floorboard, he pulled off his bloodstained garment and slipped the clean one his aunt had provided over his head. He didn’t bother to ask how she had known he needed a change of clothes.
Aunt Weoka knew. She always knew.
“There’s a bottle of water and a washcloth at your feet,” she said, angling her body behind the wheel. “Give your face a scrub. You’re a mess.”
Dev obediently wiped the blood from his face and set the soiled cloth aside.
Dev peeked at his aunt’s weathered profile. By rights, she should be mad as fire, but she didn’t seem angry. Her calm acceptance made him feel worse. Aunt Wee was family, all the family he had, and he loved her. She’d raised him, cared for him, and given him a home, and how had he repaid her?
By breaking a norm, for Pete’s sake.
“Sorry about the ruckus.” The words crowded his throat. “Russ hurt Livy.”
“Never could abide a bully.”
“Me, either.” Dev balled his hands into fists. “I lost it. Told him not to do it again or else.”
“Reckon that got his dander up. Used to getting his way, I’d imagine.”
“Yeah.” Dev scowled. “He’s a wanker.”
“Takes after his daddy, then.”
“I don’t get it,” Dev said. “Livy still plans to date him.”
“There’s no accounting for taste.” She gave him a hard look. “Something else bothering you, boy?”
“Terri Osborne doesn’t know me from a hole in the ground.”
Dev sighed. “An eleventh grader. Mr. Brock was asking her questions about the…the fight, and she called me ‘that boy.’ Terri Osborne doesn’t even know my name.”
“Reckon she’ll know who you are from now on. Reckon everybody at school will.” She clucked in disapproval. “Fighting with a senior boy.” She gave him a sideways look. “Pretty, is she, this Terri?”
“Yeah.” Heat prickled the back of Dev’s neck. “She’s a cheerleader.”
“Oh, a cheerleader. That explains it. Is she norm or kith?”
“Norm.” He shrugged. “Most of the kids at school are.”
“Yep. See you remember it.”
“Yessum.” Dev swallowed. “My teacher…Mr. Brock said…” He looked down at his hands. “A-am I in trouble with the Kith Council?”
“If the Council has a problem with anybody, it’ll be me. I raised you.” She shook her head. “I knew the sap was rising. Should’ve given you The Talk long ago.”
“Gah, Aunt Weoka. I know about sex.”
“That so? Well, this ain’t about sex. It’s about what you are.”
“Which is what? I mean, exactly. I’m not a norm, but I’m not kith, either.”
“Ain’t no exact to it. You’ve got a little of this and that, a smidge of demon blood…” Her voice trailed off. “And something more. Something a whole lot more powerful.”
“You mean, I’m a freak.” Dev slammed his fists against his thighs. “I hate being different. It stinks.”
“No need to get your bowels in an uproar.” Weoka reached over and patted his cheek. “After supper, we’ll talk, and you can ask me anything you want.” She winked at him. “You can even ask me about s-e-x, if you wanna.” She chuckled when he groaned and slid down in the seat. “What say we stop by McCullough’s on the way home? Got me a hankering for salmon patties and pork and beans.”
Dev eagerly lifted his head. “With creamed taters?”
Much cheered, Dev sat up and looked out the window at the rolling farmland. The two-lane highway ended in a T at Devil’s Fork Road. Aunt Weoka stopped at the intersection and let the truck engine idle. The country store across the road was covered in metal signs advertising everything from chewing tobacco to Pepsi-Cola. Double screen doors at the front were decorated with red and yellow plates proclaiming Malbis Enriched Bread in chipped blue letters. The dirt lot beside the square wooden building was empty, but for a gleaming sedan sitting beside one of Sloan McCullough’s old-timey red gas pumps.
“Well, well,” Weoka said. “If that ain’t four kinds of trouble.”
“What?” Dev demanded. “Something wrong?”
“So, I’m a-thinking.” She pointed to the car in the lot. “You know anybody ʼround here drives a fancy car like that?”
“Me, neither.” She eased across the road and parked the truck next to the store. “That car has a Mobile County tag. What in tarnation brings rich city folk way out here?”
She was already exiting the truck as she spoke, striding for the door with the agility and energy of a woman half her age. Dev jumped out and caught a whiff of something sweet and metallic.
“Aunt Weoka, wait,” he yelled, tripping over his size-eleven feet in his haste to reach her.
He raced inside and skidded to a halt. The store had been ransacked. The antique brass cash register stood open, and the drawers were empty. Goods had been pulled off the shelves, racks overturned, and the glass case at the front was shattered. A gallon jar of pickled eggs lay smashed on the floor, the pungent scent of vinegar mingling with the smell of congealing blood.
Sloan McCullough, the gray-haired proprietor, lay sprawled on the floor, his eyes open and unseeing. Dev stared at the hole in the dead man’s chest. The cloth around the bullet wound was charred. A large round of hoop cheese sat next to the old man’s head. Many an afternoon, Mr. McCullough had sold Dev a slice from that very same wheel. Now, the buttery cheese inside the red wax rind was spattered with blood.
Dev’s stomach lurched, and he dragged his gaze from the old man. To the right of the counter were three more bodies, two men and a woman. The corpses had been decapitated. Blood congealed in sticky pools on the wooden boards. Beside each body was a puddle of black sludge. The robbers, a detached, analytical part of Dev’s brain informed him. He stared at the woman’s severed head, that same dispassionate part of his mind noting the female’s lank, greasy hair and hollow cheeks, and the oozing sores that dotted the corners of her mouth. Horrible, but her eyes were the worst, like liquified pitch. Dev half-expected them to spill out of the sockets and run down her face and onto the floor. He dragged his gaze from the abandoned skull to her body. She was wearing a filthy skirt and sweater, and her thin legs were covered in scratches and dirt. The worn loafers on her feet had holes in the bottoms. In one grimy hand, she clutched a wad of money. He turned his attention to her accomplices. They were equally shabby and disreputable looking. The trio stank of body odor and something rancid like spoiled meat.
There was a pitiful moan from the other side of the store. Winnie McCullough, Sloan’s ten-year-old granddaughter, lay a few feet away from him with a gaping hole in her belly. A huge warrior in leather clothing knelt beside her, a sword strapped across his broad back. His head was bent, his features obscured by his long chestnut-brown hair. A golden nimbus of light surrounded him. Murmuring in a strange language, he moved his hands above Winnie’s body.
The ugly wound in her belly closed, and she sat up with a gasp. “Pawpaw.”
“Shh, little one.” The man’s tone was soothing, almost tender. “All will be well.”
He touched her on the shoulder, and she slumped back to the floor. Rising, he turned to face them, and Dev took an instinctive step back, staring at him in awe. Jeez, the guy was built like a superhero, big and tall and muscular, with gray-green eyes, a straight nose and strong jaw.
Aunt Weoka waved a hand at the unconscious girl. “You healed her.”
“Aye.” The warrior seemed puzzled. “I could not bear to see her suffer. Surpassing strange, is it not?”
“I’ve seen stranger. You got a name, mister?”
“I am called Eamon.” He hesitated and added, “You are one of the elder?”
“Yup, though I ain’t been called that in a spell. Name’s Weoka.”
He bowed. “Greetings, Old One. You sensed the presence of the djegrali and sought to take them to task?”
“Nah, just stopped in for a can of salmon.” Weoka jerked her thumb at what was left of the robbers. “Not that you needed my help. A bit messy, but you got the job done.”
“I strive.” Eamon’s gaze moved to Dev. “And the youngling?”
“My nephew, Devlin. Goes by Dev for short.”
The warrior inclined his head. “Well met, Devlin.”
“Uh…hi.” Dev cleared his throat. “What’s a juhgrobby?”
“Djegrali,” Aunt Weoka said. “Fancy word for demons. Parasites, really. Catch a human and use ʼem up, then move on to the next one.”
“That’s horrible.” Dev stared at the headless corpses. “Couldn’t the humans be saved?”
“I commanded the demons to quit their mortal shells, but they refused,” Eamon said, “leaving me no recourse but to slay the hosts. When the human dies, the demon in possession dies as well. These poor souls were done for, I fear. E’en had I freed them from the demons, they would have died. Consumed from within, as it were.” His gaze moved to the old man’s body. “Alas, I arrived too late to save this one. The girl I found near death.”
“The gal’s name is Winnie,” Aunt Weoka said. “The old man was Sloan McCullough, her grandpa. He owned the store.”
“Ah. You are acquainted?”
“It’s a small community, and this is the only store between here and Hannah.” She cocked her head at Eamon. “What are your plans for the gal?”
“Plans? I do not take your meaning.”
“You saved her. She’s your responsibility.”
Eamon looked incredulous. “Mine?”
“Yup,” Weoka said. “I’m sure you meant it as a kindness, but Winnie is a norm.” She paused. “Reckon I should say was a norm—ain’t no more. Look at her. Glowing like a power plant.”
“You have the right of it, I fear. I failed to consider…” Eamon’s mouth tightened. “Changing a human is forbidden.”
“Fat’s in the fire, for sure. Reckon you’ll be hanging around to see to the gal.”
“Nay, I cannot,” Eamon protested. “I am Dalvahni, pledged to seek the djegrali through space and time. We do not tire. We do not fail. We hunt.”
Dev whistled. “You’re a demon hunter? Cool.”
Weoka shot him a quelling glare. “Gal’s a mutant now, thanks to you. Got a duty to her, too.”
“I am a warrior, not a wet nurse.”
“Should’ve thought of that before you healed her.”
Eamon frowned. “Pursuit of the enemy leads me afar, but I suppose I could spare the occasional visit.”
“Mighty big of you, but an occasional visit won’t do,” Weoka said. “Somebody has to see to the gal, regular like.”
“We could do it,” Dev blurted. “Keep an eye on her, I mean.”
“Hush, boy. Last thing I need is another young’un to raise.” Weoka straightened. “ʼSides, the gal has family of her own.”
“A norm family, Aunt Wee. Winnie’s a…a Dalvahni-oid, now. She needs us.”
“Not my doing. I didn’t change her.”
“I would be most grateful, an’ you would care for the girl.” Eamon’s voice was coaxing.
“You’re a handsome devil, but you can play your tricks someplace else,” Weoka said. “I’m too old and wise by half to be taken in by the likes of you.”
“Too wise, I doubt not, but too old?” Eamon laid a hand over his heart. “Nay, I protest. Yours is the kind of beauty unaffected by time.”
“You would be doing me a great service, milady,” Eamon said. “’Strewth, I cannot abandon my duties to care for the child.”
“Too bad. Should’ve thought of that sooner.”
“’Twould not be forever,” Eamon said. “I will return for her. On my word as a Dalvahni.”
“Humph.” Aunt Weoka looked unconvinced. “See that you do.”
He flashed her a dazzling grin. “Many thanks. I depart with my heart at ease, knowing her fate is in your capable hands.”
His brawny form wavered, and he disappeared.
“He’s gone,” Dev said, gaping at the spot where the warrior had been.
“Fled the coop and left us holding the bag.”
“He’ll be back. He said so.”
“Demon hunters have a one-track mind. Could be a hundred years before that fellow remembers Winnie and thinks to check on her. Meantime, she’s our problem.”
“Aunt Weoka, are there more of the djegrali?”
“More’n you can shake a stick at.”
“Around here, I mean.”
“Yup. A long time ago, a meteorite landed smack-dab where the town of Hannah is built. The impact thinned the veil, and things have a way of leaking in.”
“What kind of things?”
“Supernatural things, good and bad.”
“Do the norms know about the leak?”
She shook her head. “By and large, norms are clueless, and a good thing.” She gave him an odd look. “Since when are you worried about norms?”
“They’re helpless. Somebody has to protect them.”
“That would be a full-time job.” Aunt Weoka looked around the bloody shop. “Guess we’d better call this in,” she said with a frown. “When the authorities arrive, keep your mouth shut and let me do the talking.” She went behind the counter to check the phone. “Line’s out. They must’ve cut it before they robbed the place.”
“If I had a cell phone, I could call the sheriff from here,” Dev said.
He held his breath and waited. Aunt Weoka was dead set against technology. She didn’t own a television or a radio, and her only telephone was a rotary model, but that didn’t mean Dev hadn’t tried to change her mind.
“You on about that again?” she said, dashing his hopes. “Tarnation, half the time, them things don’t work in Hannah.”
“We don’t live in Hannah. We live in the county.”
“Aunt Weoka, please. All the kids at school have them.”
“You don’t have one, so I reckon that ain’t so.”
“No buts, boy, and no cell phones. Techno gadgets are for norms. The old ways are the best. Now, run down to the Bibb farm and call the sheriff. I’ll wait here with Winnie.”
Dev sighed. “Yes, Aunt Wee.”
Present day, in the woods outside Hannah.
Shifter stew, Dev thought, grimly surveying the carnage.
The smell of decomp was nauseating, a pungent reek reminiscent of rotting pork and Porta Potty. The odor assaulted Dev’s sensitive nose and clung to the back of his throat. He could taste the funk. Forcing himself to ignore the stench, he took stock of the crime scene. Someone had turned a pack of weres inside out.
More than a dozen mangled corpses were scattered around the once-peaceful forest glade. Blood and body parts spattered the ground and vegetation, but the murderer had not been satisfied with mere slaughter. The clearing in the woods was a smoking ruination of splintered trees, upended boulders that had been tossed about like so much chaff, and deep runnels gouged in the earth.
The one responsible for this butchery was not a norm. Dev was certain of that much. After more than ten years in law enforcement, he knew supers, but this was something new. The nightmarish wasteland thrummed with residual power, a magical fingerprint left behind by the killer. Behr County was a magnet for the weird and uncanny, but the kith and those Dev privately referred to as “others” generally avoided the limelight, careful not to expose themselves to ordinary humans.
Whoever had done this had been too angry or too arrogant to care.
A curvy brunette in a khaki shirt and brown pants slipped soundlessly from the woods. “Sheriff,” she said, leaping lightly over a fallen log.
Speaking of others, Dev thought, watching her land in the leaves without so much as a rustle. Compared to Winnie McCullough, Legolas Greenleaf was a klutz.
“Deputy,” Dev said. “ʼBout time you arrived. I notified Dispatch more than an hour ago.”
“Parks and I were up in Caldwell responding to a domestic.”
“Caldwell?” Dev raised his brows. “Thrashers at it again?”
“Yep. Lula went after Herman with a frying pan. Neighbors heard the ruckus and called it in. She was chasing him around the yard when we got there.” Winnie paused for effect. “Naked. I’m thinking of putting in for hazard pay.”
Dev chuckled. “On our budget? I doubt seeing Lula in her birthday suit qualifies.”
“Well, it should. Ain’t enough brain bleach in the world to unsee that.” She took in the grisly scene. “What happened here, somebody blow up a cow?”
“A herd of cows, maybe.”
Jim Parks, a graying deputy in his fifties and Winnie’s partner, stamped out of the woods. He got one whiff of the decay and retched.
“You going to puke, Jim, do it someplace else,” Dev said. “You’ll taint the evidence.”
Deputy Parks nodded and staggered off.
“Man has the gag reflex of a mama bird,” Winnie said, listening as Parks noisily emptied his stomach behind a clump of bushes. “Who found this?”
“A dove hunter stumbled across the bodies early this morning,” Dev said. “He
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