Grim Reaper Charley Davidson is back in Eleventh Grave in Moonlight, the latest installment of Darynda Jones’s New York Times bestselling paranormal series (available January 24, 2017).
A typical day in the life of Charley Davidson involves cheating husbands, errant wives, missing people, philandering business owners, and, oh yeah…demons, hell hounds, evil gods, and dead people. Lots and lots of dead people. As a part time Private Investigator and full-time Grim Reaper, Charley has to balance the good, the bad, the undead, and those who want her dead.
Now, Charley is learning to make peace with the fact that she is a goddess with all kinds of power and that her own daughter has been born to save the world from total destruction. But the forces of hell are determined to see Charley banished forever to the darkest corners of another dimension. With the son of Satan himself as her husband and world-rocking lover, will Charley be able to defeat the ultimate evil and find a way to have her happily ever after after all?
Lord, help me be the sort of person my psychiatrist medicates me to be.
I lay on a psychiatrist’s couch, a couch I’d named Alexander Skarsgård the moment my gaze landed on its buttery curves and wide back, and wondered if I should tell Dr. Mayfield about the dead kid scurrying across her ceiling. Probably not.
She crossed her legs—the psychiatrist, not the kid, who was male—and gave me her most practiced smile. “And that’s why you’re here?”
I bolted upright, appalled. “Heavens, no. I’m totally over the whole evil stepmother thing. I just thought, you know, full disclosure and all. FYI, I had an evil stepmother.”
“No worries. She had an ugly demon inside of her at the time.”
“Wait, no, that was her outfit. The demon wasn’t that ugly.”
“No, seriously, her outfit was hideous.”
“Perhaps we should get back to the fact that you’re the grim reaper?” She pushed plastic-framed glasses up a slender nose. Thankfully, it was hers.
“Oh, right.” I relaxed again, falling back into Alexander’s arms. “I pretty much have the reaper thing down. It’s the godly part of me I’m struggling with.”
“The godly part.” She bent her head to write something in her notebook. She was quite lovely. Dark hair. Huge brown eyes. Wide mouth. And young. Too young to be analyzing me. How much life experience could she possibly have?
“Yes. Ever since I found out I was a god, I’ve felt a little off balance. I think I’m having one of those identity crisises.”
“So, you’re a god?”
“Wait. What’s the plural of crisis?” When she didn’t answer, I glanced back at her.
She’d stopped writing and was looking at me again, her expression mildly expectant. And ever so slightly taxed. She was trying to decide if I was playing her. I wasn’t, but I could hardly blame her for thinking that. Dealing with delusions of grandeur was probably an everyday aspect of her life. Trying to sort out the legit from the cons.
When she continued to stare, I said, “I’m sorry, what was the question?”
“You’re a god?”
“Oh, that. Yes, but to quote a very popular movie, I’m a god, not the God.” I snorted. Bill Murray was so awesome. “Did I forget to mention that?”
“Then you’re not the grim reaper?”
“Oh, no, I’m that, too. I volunteered. Kind of. Long story. Anyway, I thought you could hypnotize me. You know, give me a full-access pass to my pre-birth memories so I won’t be blindsided again.”
“Yes. That’s why I’m here. Because my sister refuses to do regressive therapy with me, and—”
“Dr. Gemma Davidson?” The shrink-wrap community couldn’t have been very big. Surely she knew my sister.
“Dr. Davidson is your sister?”
“Is that a problem?”
“Not for me.”
“Fantabulous.” I rubbed my hands together. “Okay, so, you know how you’re going through life, remembering everything that ever happened to you since the moment you were born—”
“You remember the moment you were born?”
“—and suddenly someone says, ‘Hey, remember that time we singed our eyebrows lighting that bowling alley on fire?’ only at first you don’t remember singeing your eyebrows while lighting a bowling alley on fire, but then you think about it and it suddenly comes to you? You totally remember singeing your eyebrows while lighting a bowling alley on fire?”
She blinked several times, then wrenched out a “Sure.”
“It’s like that. I remember being a god, but not totally. Like parts of my celestial life have been erased from my memory.”
“Your celestial life.”
“Right. Before I became human? I think I have a glitch.”
“It’s … possible, I suppose.”
“I mean, who knows? I might already have a way to defeat a malevolent god that’s loose on this plane and not even realize it.”
“A malevolent god?”
“And he’s loose on this plane?”
“Yes. And trust me when I say you do not want him here. He takes his death and destruction very seriously. And he has zero respect for human life.”
“Mmm.” She nodded and went back to taking notes.
“Zero,” I added for emphasis, making an O with my fingers. Then I waited. She had a lot to write down. When she kept at it long enough to outline a novel, I filled the silence with, “It’s funny. My husband thought it would be pointless to come here.”
She laid her pen across her notepad and gave me her full attention. “Tell me about him.”
“Yes.” Her voice was very soothing. Like elevator music. Or summer rain. Or Darvocet. “How’s your relationship?”
“How much time do we have?” I snorted, cracking myself up.
My husband, a.k.a. Reyes Alexander Farrow, didn’t find my joke as funny as I did. It happened. I felt him before I saw him. His heat brushed across my skin. Sank into me. Saturated my clothes and hair and even warmed the cool gold band on my ring finger.
As he passed over me, all darkness and billowing smoke, he paused to whisper sweet nothings in my ear. I barely heard him over the rushing of my own blood. Whatever he said made my nether regions clench in anticipation. Then he continued on his journey, materializing on the other side of the room where he stood in a corner to watch from afar. Ish.
“Just kidding,” I said as his eyes glistened in the low light. “He’s kind of awesome. He’s from down under.”
His eyes narrowed, but any threats he may have been trying to hurl my way were nulled and voided by the smirk playing about his sensual mouth. He crossed his arms at his wide chest and leaned back into a corner to observe my goings-on.
He’d been doing that a lot lately. Popping in to check up on me. It could have had something to do with the fact that I had waged war with not one god but two. The malevolent one and the Good One. The Big Guy upstairs.
I decided to ignore my husband to the best of my abilities. I was here on a job. If I couldn’t stay focused despite being bombarded with the most delicious distraction this side of the Flame Nebula, I was no better than a gumshoe-for-hire PI.
Oh, wait. I was a gumshoe-for-hire PI. Which would explain the job I was currently on. It paid the bills. Sometimes.
“Okay, let’s get back to your husband. You mean he’s from hell metaphorically?”
I refocused on the good doctor. “Oh, no. Quite literally. Technically, he’s a god, too, but he was tricked by two other gods—one of which I’ve already trapped in a hell dimension and the other of which I’m currently trying to trap and/or horribly maim—and handed over to Lucifer, who created his only son out of the god’s energy.”
She frowned and squinted her eyes like she was trying to imagine it all.
“Okay, so, basically, you take the energy of a surly god”—I held up an index finger to demonstrate—“toss in some fire and brimstone”—I wiggled my other fingers around said index—“top that with a little sin”—I pretended to sprinkle sin over the mixture—“whisk for five minutes, and voilà.” I flared my fingers as though I’d just done a magic trick. “Rey’aziel incarnate.”
When Reyes scowled at me, I fought the urge to giggle. Nothing like having your entire existence boiled down to its basest elements.
“Rey’aziel?” Dr. Mayfield asked.
I bounced back to her. “Sorry. Reyes Farrow. My husband. You know, I used to think explaining the particulars of my less-than-ordinary life to a total stranger would be difficult, but this hasn’t been bad. I was born the grim reaper: check. I was still learning about my abilities when I found out that I had once been a god with my own dimension: check. I’m married to the son of Satan, a.k.a. Reyes Alexander Farrow, who we recently found out is also a god, through no fault of his own: check. My stepmother was a hell-bitch extraordinaire: check. Somehow that seems important in this situation. And there is yet another god, a malevolent one, on this plane who is in cahoots with Reyes’s dad and wants to kill our daughter, whom we had to send away to keep safe.” I beamed at her, purposely ignoring the pang in my chest at the reminder that my daughter had to be sent away from me just to be safe. Just to have the barest glimmer of hope to live. “This has not been bad at all.”
When it looked like Dr. Mayfield was going to try to refute something I’d said, I raised a hand to stop her. “I know what you’re going to say. And, yes, technically being the son of Satan, among other things, makes my husband an iffy prospect.” I shot him a grin. “But he was a god first. The God Jehovah’s little brother, in fact, and I like to think that that part of him, the good part, is stronger than the evil part that emerged when he was forged in the fires of sin and raised by demons in a hell dimension. Though,” I said, scooting closer, “the minute you get a load of him, your first thoughts will definitely be the carnal kind, if you know what I mean.” I gave her a conspiratorial wink. When she only stared, I added, “Boy’s hot.”
Reyes dipped his head, trying to hide a grin, as the doctor picked up her pen and started outlining again.
“Nice T-shirt,” Reyes said to me. Apparently, no one else in the room could hear him.
I was wearing my I LIKE IT WHEN MY PSYCHIATRIST PLAYS WITH MY MARBLES T-shirt. It was either that or my EXCUSE ME WHILE I FREUDIAN SLIP INTO SOMETHING MORE COMFORTABLE pajama top, but I didn’t feel that wearing pajamas to a shrink session would send the right message. I was a professional, after all. Also, I’d gotten mustard on it and had to change.
The kid on the ceiling had stopped moving. He was gawking at the ol’ ball and chain commanding the room from the corner pocket. That happened a lot when Reyes was around.
I nailed him with a fake scowl. I was on an assignment, after all.
“We need to talk,” he said.
Uh-oh. Nothing good ever came out of a conversation that started with “We need to talk.” I mouthed, “Later,” and shooed him away while the doctor took a few more notes.
He laughed softly, and for a split moment, the doctor lost her focus and let her gaze dart, just for a second, over her shoulder.
He winked, the saucy flirt, and dematerialized, leaving me alone with my psychiatrist again. I was pretty sure he’d been breaking a few HIPAA laws by being there, anyway.
“Did you hear something?” she asked.
“You mean besides the thunderous and devastating ramifications if I can’t figure out how to take this god down and he completes his mission?”
“Yes. Besides that.”
“If I could just get all my memories back … I know there’s something hidden, something important that will tell me how to deal with him. Like it’s on the tip of my tongue, only with more of a brain analogy.”
“Okay. So, why does your sister refuse to do regressive therapy with you? Besides the obvious?”
“Oh, that whole ethical dilemma thing on account of her being my sister and all? Yeah, well, she’s afraid it will bring out some strange new power in me and I’ll accidently blow Albuquerque off the face of the planet. Which is ridonculous.” I snorted and rolled my eyes. “I can totally control my powers now.”
She took more notes.
“Most of the time.”
She continued to write.
“I don’t think the ‘Lumpy’s Taco Hut incident’ should count. That place was an eyesore. People should be thanking me.”
She offered me her attention once again. “Lumpy’s Taco Hut? That was you?”
Shit. I forgot that whole thing was still under investigation. “Pfft, no.” Thank Reyes’s Brother, Lumpy’s had been closed due to code violations at the time and no one was hurt.
“Ah.” She shut her notebook. “Is there anything else you want to share? Anything you think I should be aware of?”
“No.” I shook my head in thought. “Not especially. Unless you count the fact that I’m going to take over the world.”
“The whole thing?”
“Well, I’m going to try to take over the world.”
“And you feel you’re prepared for world domination?”
I lifted a noncommittal shoulder. “I’m taking a business class.”
“Good for you.” She opened up her notebook again and jotted down a few more ideas.
“I told Jehovah, through his archangel Michael, of course, that I was going to do it, too.”
“Take over the world?”
It sounded silly when she said it out loud, but I could hardly turn back now. “Yes.”
“And how did He take that?”
“Not well, but you don’t know what He did. He created an entire hell dimension just to lock my husband inside and throw away the key. Though we weren’t married at the time. This was a few thousand years ago.”
Ever since informing Michael of my plans, God had sent a legion of His minions to follow my every move. They were like the heavenly version of the Secret Service. I’d threatened, and, for some reason only they knew of, they’d taken it seriously. But why? I was angry when I said it—and I certainly meant it—but that doesn’t explain why they would take me seriously. Unless I was a real threat.
“So, God talks to you?”
I snapped back to reality. “Oh, no. Not directly.”
“Right. He talks to you through His archangel, Michael.” She wrote down every word as she said it.
“Yeah. Kind of old-school, if you ask me, what with today’s technology. You know, I thought psychiatrists just sort of listened while the patient talked. You’re gonna run out of ink there, missy.” I laughed nervously.
She gave me a patient smile. “I have more pens in my desk.”
“So, God is upset because you threatened to take over His world?”
“That’s the word on the street.”
“Are you worried?”
“Fair enough. Let’s get back to these powers. What do you plan to do with them?”
“Your powers. I mean, surely you’re going to use them for good?”
I got the sneaking suspicion she was humoring me. I was good with that. I threw an arm over my face. “There’s so much, you know? So much I could do. I could cure cancer. I could end famine. I could stop all wars and bring absolute peace to the world.”
“And why don’t you?”
I lowered my arm slowly. “I’m still kind of figuring the whole thing out. I’m saying I could do all those things. Not that I know how.”
“That would be difficult.”
“That and I think that’s why the angels are here. Not, like, in this room, but all around me. Following me. Watching me. I don’t think He wants me to do any of those things.”
“And why wouldn’t He?”
“Autonomy.” When she raised her brows in question, I explained. “That was the deal. After that whole Adam and Eve fiasco—Eve got screwed, by the way—that was the deal. He gave humans complete autonomy. Earth is ours, and it’s up to us to help our fellow man or harm him. To heal ourselves. To do good things. No matter your religion, no matter your beliefs, the lesson is the same: be kind.”
I fought the urge to add another word to the end of that statement.
I lost. “Rewind.”
Damn it. I sucked at fighting. Urges or otherwise.
“It’s a good message,” she said when she came back to me, a microsecond before she started writing again.
“It is. And I have to tell you something else.”
“I’m all ears.”
I released a lengthy sigh and fessed up. “The whole regressive therapy thing? That’s actually secondary to the real reason I’m here.”
I dropped my feet over Mr. Skarsgård and sat up to look her in the eye. Or the part in her hair. Either way, I wanted to study her reaction since I couldn’t feel her emotions. “Dr. Mayfield?”
“Hmm?” she said without looking up.
I cleared my throat and steeled myself. It had to be done. She needed to know the truth. To accept the things she could not change, so the prayer went, and there was definitely no changing this. Without further ado, I said softly, “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but you died two years ago.”
She kept writing. “Mm-hmm. And you can see me because…?”
“—grim reaper. Right. Oh, and a god, no less.”
Wow. I sat back. She took that really well. Either that or she didn’t believe me.
I bit my lip while she continued to take notes, but my attention span was only so long. “So, yeah, I’ve been hired, in a manner of speaking, by the new leaser of this office. He’s been experiencing strange events. Just the usual stuff. Cold spots. Magazines moving from one corner on a table to another. Pictures falling off the walls.”
“I see. And he hired you because he thinks the place is haunted.”
“Actually, no. He thinks the landlord wants him to break the lease to use the office for his new juicing business, which is dumb because this would be a horrible location for a juice bar. But he thinks the landlord is trying to scare him off. To frighten him away. To send him fleeing in terror. In a word, he thinks he’s being punked.”
“But you disagree?”
“You think it’s really haunted?”
“Yes, I do. And I have to admit, at first, I thought it was you.”
“’Cause you’re dead and all.”
“But you’ve changed your mind?” She had yet to look up at me.
“Yes. I’m pretty sure it’s that kid crawling around your ceiling.”
She stopped writing, but she didn’t want to bite. I could see it in her expression. She looked at me at last. Eyed me a long moment. Probably wondered if she should give in. If she should feed my delusions by looking up. After a lengthy struggle in which I lost focus and contemplated the origins of marshmallows—seriously, what mad genius came up with that delicacy?—she slowly raised her lashes and looked toward the ceiling.
Thankfully, only I could hear her earsplitting screams. She dropped her pen and pad, fell to the ground, and crab-crawled backwards. In heels and a pencil skirt, no less. I was impressed.
In her defense, the kid crawling on her ceiling looked a little like that monochrome girl who crawled out of a television set in a horror movie I once watched about an hour before a DOA popped into my bedroom, wanting me to tell his wife where the insurance papers were, only the kid was a he. A he who looked about ten years old, with long black hair and a shiny black cape. An odd fashion choice for a boy of any age. And from any era.
The good doctor cowered in a corner, the look of horror on her face both sad and strangely amusing.
“Dr. Mayfield,” I said, easing toward her with my palms patting the air. “It’s okay. He’s perfectly harmless.”
Of course, the second I said it, the little shit landed on my shoulders and sank his teeth into my neck.
Copyright © 2017 Darynda Jones.
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Darynda Jones, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, won a Golden Heart and a RITA for her manuscript First Grave on the Right. A born storyteller, she grew up spinning tales of dashing damsels and heroes in distress for any unfortunate soul who happened by, annoying man and beast alike. Darynda lives in the Land of Enchantment, also known as New Mexico, with her husband and two beautiful sons, the Mighty, Mighty Jones Boys.