The Curse of Tenth Grave is the 10th book in the Charley Davidson series by Darynda Jones (Available June 28, 2016).
As a Part-time PI and fulltime grim reaper, Charley Davidson has asked a lot of questions throughout her life: Why can I see dead people? Who is the hot supernatural entity following me? How do I get gum out of my sister’s hair before she wakes up? But, “How do I trap not one malevolent god, but three?” was never among them. Until now. And since those gods are on earth to kill her daughter, she has little choice but to track them down, trap them, and cast them from this dimension.
There’s just one problem. One of the three stole her heart a very long time ago. Can the Razer, a god of absolute death and destruction, change his omniscient spots, or will his allegiances lie with his brothers?
Those are just a few of the questions Charley must answer, and quick. Add to that a homeless girl running for her life, an innocent man who’s been charged with murdering the daughter of a degenerate gambler, and a pendant made from god glass that has the entire supernatural world in an uproar, and Charley has her hands full. If she can manage to take care of the whole world-destroying-gods thing, we’re saved. If not, well…
Maybe she’s born with it.
Maybe it’s caffeine.
Ignoring the dead girl standing next to me, I crossed my bare feet on the cool windowsill, took a sip of piping-hot coffee, and watched the emerging sunrise from my third-story apartment window. A soft yellow scaled the horizon and stretched across it like tendrils of food coloring suspended in water. Ribbons of pinks and oranges and purples quickly followed, the symphony a slow, exquisite seduction of the senses. Or it could have been if there weren’t a dead girl standing next to me.
She jutted out a tiny hip, anchored a fist onto it, and let loose a lengthy sigh of annoyance for my benefit. I continued to ignore her. There were few things in life more irritating than other people’s children. Hell, perhaps. Been there, done that. But for the moment, the only thing complicating an otherwise serene morning was a tiny blond-haired, blue-eyed beast in Strawberry Shortcake pajamas.
“Are you going to read it to me or not?” she asked, referring to our recent ventures into Harry Potter land.
I stopped what I was doing, which was basically trying not to drool into my cup. As a master mixologist, I felt the need to experiment from time to time on my morning elixir. To liven it up. To create new concoctions of greatness to which others could only aspire. This morning, however, I’d done good just to push the right button on Mr. Coffee. At least I think I pushed the right button. I could have started a nuclear war, for all I knew.
“I’ve already read it to you 7,843 times.”
She pursed her bowlike lips, causing dimples to emerge on either side of her mouth. But these weren’t happy dimples. They were dimples of disappointment. Dimples of frustration and irritation and fury.
I hung my head in shame.
I turned back toward the window and ignored her.
“You’ve read it twice.”
“Which is two times too many in my book,” I said, focusing on the spectacular display before me, realizing that, to the everyday passerby, my apathy toward the tiny creature might’ve seemed cold. Aloof. Cruel, even. But I’d just come from an all-night stakeout that involved a woman, a.k.a. my client, who swore that her husband was sneaking out at night and meeting his personal assistant for some very personal assistance. She wanted proof.
After showering, the only thing I wanted was to drink the key to life itself, enjoy the colors bursting before me, and figure out how to tell my client that her husband was not cheating on her with his personal assistant. He was cheating on her, in a sense, with the college kids who rented out their above-garage apartment. He snuck out to play video games and enjoy a little plant-based medicinal stress relief. After getting to know his wife, I could hardly blame him. She turned high maintenance into an extreme sport.
Now I just had to figure out how to tell her what her husband was up to. Even though there was nothing sexual about her husband’s exploits, a woman like that would still feel betrayed. If, however, I could put just the right spin on it, I could lessen the sting when I gave her the news. So, instead of my original plan of saying, “Your husband is escaping you for a few blissful hours of recreation because you are cra-cra and he needs a break,” I figured I could say something like, “Your husband is sneaking out to tutor the struggling college kids who rent out your apartment. He counsels them on how to stay focused no matter what life throws at them (or who throws it), advises them on how to shake off a bad day (or a bad marriage) and push through. He even cautions them about the dangers of illegal drug use.”
Yeah. I nodded my head, quite proud of myself. That’s the ticket. By the time I was finished with her, she’d see her husband as a paladin of the pawn. A defender of the downtrodden. A savior of the suffering.
I took another sip, ignored yet another sigh coming from the irreverent beast beside me, and let myself slip. Just a little. Just enough to see the other side. The supernatural one. Because there was nothing more spectacular than watching the sunrise in the mortal world, the tangible one, from the vantage of the immortal world. One seemed to affect the other. The raging, powerful storms of the supernatural realm grew even more vibrant. Even more brilliant. As though somehow our sunlight spilled into the domain of the preternatural.
Made sense. Preternatural inhabitants tended to spill into our world as well. On occasion.
The marvel that I could shift from one realm to the other was not lost on me. For a month, I’d lived on the crux between the two worlds, having no idea I could control where I stood in each.
In my own defense, I had amnesia at the time. Had no idea who I was. What I was. The fact that I was a god from another dimension who’d volunteered to be the angel of death in this one, to be its grim reaper, was the furthest thing from my imaginings, and even as an amnesiac, I was pretty darned imaginative.
Now that I had all my memories back—both good and bad—I saw my mission as a celestial version of the Peace Corps. Volunteer work for the good of another people and, in turn, for the good of all.
That was a week ago. I’d been back in Albuquerque a week. I’d had my memories back for a week. And still I felt disoriented. Unbalanced. Like a Weeble that wobbled but wouldn’t fall down. That couldn’t fall down. I had too much to do.
My best-friend-slash-receptionist, Cookie, was worried. I could tell. She put on a happy face every time I walked into her office or strolled into her apartment unannounced, an action my uncle Bob, a.k.a. her new husband, did not appreciate. But one of the advantages—or disadvantages, depending on one’s point of view—of being from the supernatural side of things was that I could feel others’ emotions. And I could feel the worry that ate at her every time she looked at me.
She was right. I hadn’t quite been the same since I got back, but for good reason. Three, actually. Three main ones, anyway.
First, my daughter had been taken from me when she was barely two days old. It was for the best. To keep her safe, we had no choice but to send her away. But that didn’t make it any easier. Probably because the fault lay at my feet and my feet alone.
I was apparently made of this bright-ass light that lured the departed, those who did not cross when they died, to me. Cool beans, right? I’d always considered the light a pretty nifty side effect of being grim. But that was before I had a child who was destined to defeat Satan and save the world. Now that same light worked only to lead our vast and powerful enemies straight to me. And in turn, straight to my daughter.
Thus, it wasn’t so much that we had to send Beep away to be safe. It was more that we had to send her away from me to be safe. Her mother. Her matriarch. The woman who bore her. At the bottom of a well, no less. Long story. So the torment of heartbreak I felt was a constant weight on my chest and, unfortunately, my mood.
Second, in an attempt to restore my memories, my departed father crossed through me. When people cross, their lives flash in my mind. When my father crossed, I was flooded with memories of myself through his eyes. I saw the love he felt every time he looked at my sister and me. I felt the pride that swelled his heart to twice its normal size. But as wonderful and surreal and life affirming as all that was, I’d still lost him. He was now safely tucked on the other side of this dimension, a realm to which I had no access. None that I knew of, anyway.
But his crossing was only the predecessor of the second reason for my melancholy state. When my father’s life flashed in my mind, he also made sure I saw what he’d learned since he died. In an instant, I learned secrets of an underworld I never knew existed. Spies and traitors. Anarchists and heretics. Alliances lost and nations won. And wars. A thousand wars that spanned a million years. But the most salient thing he wanted me to see was the fact that Reyes—my husband, my soul mate, and Beep’s father—was a god as well.
But not just any god. He was one of the three gods of Uzan. Three brothers who knew only death and destruction. Who devoured millions. Who ate worlds like others ate corn chips. Worse, he was considered the most dangerous of the three, the most bloodthirsty, before Satan tricked him, trapped him, and used the god’s energy to create his son, Rey’aziel. Otherwise known as Reyes Alexander Farrow.
So my husband was a god—an evil god—who’d destroyed worlds and obliterated life wherever he went. Who was known across a thousand dimensions as the Razer. And I was married to him.
But there was still so much I didn’t understand. I’d had no idea I was a god. Not really. Not until I learned my celestial name. When that happened, all the memories I had as a god came rushing back to me. I wasn’t supposed to learn my celestial name until my earthly body passed. Until I died and took up my reapery duties. But an unfortunate series of events forced a friend to whisper my name into my ear. Now I had the power of creation itself at my fingertips and only an inkling of what to do with it or how to control it, a fact that set Jehovah, the God of this dimension, a little on edge. This according to His archangel Michael.
Michael and I don’t really get along. He tried to kill me once. I refuse to be friends with anyone who’s tried to kill me.
But Reyes has heard his celestial name. He’s even met the other two brothers. Was lent out by his father to fight with them side by side during a particularly nasty war between two realms. Does he know he is a god? Does he know the most important ingredient his father used while creating him, the one that made him so powerful, was a god? Even if he doesn’t, how much of the god Razer controls Reyes’s actions? How much of him is god? Demon? Human?
In a nutshell, is he good or evil?
All evidence would point to the latter. It was hardly his fault. He was forged in the fires of sin and damnation. Did that affect him? Did the evil that forever burned in his home dimension leach into him as he grew up? As he fought to survive the cruelties of being raised in hell by a bitter fallen angel? As he rose through the ranks to become a general in his father’s army? To command legions of demons? To lead them into war and sacrifice?
After all this time, after everything we have been through, I thought I knew my husband. Now I wasn’t so sure.
One thing I was sure of was the fact that I needed to learn his true godly name. It couldn’t be Razer. That term had to be an interpretation of his true name. Or perhaps a nickname. If I knew Reyes’s godly name, I could do what Satan did. I could trap him, if need be, in the god glass I kept with me always.
I shifted back onto this plane, patted the pendant in my sweats pocket, and turned to the girl beside me. The one who clearly had no intention of leaving.
After forcing my biggest and brightest fake smile, the one made of irritation and paint remover, I asked, “Why don’t you have Rocket read it to you?”
Rocket was a mutual friend who’d died in a mental asylum in the fifties. He was also a savant who knew that names of every human being on Earth who’d lived and died. Ever. Strawberry crashed with him and his sister, Blue, though I’m not sure the departed actually sleep. I hadn’t seen Rocket in weeks, and his place was first on my list of places to hit for the day, now that my one and only case was almost over.
Strawberry crossed her arms over her chest. “He can’t read it to me.”
I was expecting her to say, “Because he’s dead, and he can’t turn the pages.” What I got was, “Because he can’t read.”
I finally leveled a semi-interested gaze on her. “What do you mean, ‘he can’t read’? He writes the names of the departed all over the walls.”
That was his main gig. Rocket scratched thousands and thousands of names into the walls of the abandoned asylum, all day, every day. It was fascinating to watch. For about five minutes, at which point my ADHD kicked in, and I’d suddenly have places to be and people to see.
She rolled her eyes. “Of course he can write names. Duh. It’s his job. Doesn’t mean he can read them.”
That made about as much sense as reality TV.
“They aren’t there for him to read, anyway,” she added as she picked at the sleeve of my T-shirt that read MY BRAIN HAS TOO MANY TABS OPEN. “They’re for her.”
As intrigued as I should’ve been, intrigue was not as intriguing as one might imagine at six o’clock in the morning. Especially after pulling an all-nighter. I took another sip. Studied the steam rising out of the cup like a lover. Wondered if I should use my powers over the next twenty-four hours for good or evil. Evil would be more fun.
Finally, with the patience of a saint on Xanax, I asked, “For who, hon?”
Her large irises bounced back to mine. “For who what?”
I shifted toward her. “What?”
“What did you say?”
“For who what?”
I fought the urge to grind my teeth into dust and asked, “If not for Rocket, for who—whom—are they written?”
She pursed her lips and went back to lacing tendrils of my hair into her tiny fingers. “For whom is what written?”
I’d lost her. And I suddenly had a raging desire to sell her on the black market. It would do me little good, though. Poor thing drowned when she was nine. Not many on Earth could see her. My luck I’d have to take her back and give the buyer a refund. Then I’d have to mark the perv’s soul for hell for trying to buy a child on the black market. Seriously, what the fuck?
I took another sip for strength and then explained as simply as I could. “The names Rocket writes on the walls of the asylum. If he can’t read them, who are they for?”
“Oh, those!” Suddenly excited, she tried to disentangle her fingers and took half my scalp with her. She spread her arms like wings and began running in circles around the apartment making engine sounds. No idea why. “Those are for Beep.”
I paused mid-scalp-rub. “Beep?” A tingling sensation racing over my skin. “My Beep?”
She stopped just long enough to shoot me a look of exasperation before flying around the apartment again. Not literally. “How many Beeps do you know?”
I blinked at her for a solid minute with my mouth slightly agape. Drool slipped from one corner as I tried to wrap my head around what she’d just said. If only I had more brain cells at 6 A.M. They didn’t even begin to amass until around 7:12, and the all-nighter didn’t help.
As I sat pondering Strawberry’s statement, the son of Satan walked in from our bedroom wearing only a gray pair of pajama bottoms and a sleep-deprived expression. The bottoms rode low on his lean hips. The expression darkened an already dark face. Black hair sat at charmingly unnatural angles. Thick lashes hooded sparkling brown irises. The boy defined the popular phrase sex on a stick.
But I had to remember what he was. It was bad enough that his father was public enemy number one, but to be an evil god from another dimension? That was a lot of evil to pack into one body, no matter how succulent.
I should have guessed long ago that he was more than met the eye. Even barely awake he had a powerful stride. Sleek. Graceful. Like that of a big cat. I slipped into the outer edge of the supernatural realm and saw the darkness billowing out of him like a cloak to cascade over his shoulders. To wash down his back. To pool at his bare feet.
The fire that bathed him in yellows and oranges and blues licked over his smooth skin like a layer of sin. It dipped between the valleys of hard muscle. Shifted with every move he made. As though it were as alive as he.
Strawberry noticed none of that. Her harried little mind, like her body, spun in circles as though she hadn’t just dropped a bombshell on me. Why would those names be meant for Beep? It made no sense.
“What do you mean, hon?” I asked her, suppressing a giggle when Reyes spotted the little beast coming in for a landing near his rubber tree plant. It wasn’t like she could actually knock it over.
Instead of answers, I got, “I love cotton candy. I’d marry it if I could.” She swooped in for a landing, taxied just long enough to catch a second wind, then took off again. “I can smell it sometimes. There was a house on fire once, but I couldn’t smell it. I can’t smell perfume or paste or oranges, but I can smell cotton candy. Only sometimes, though. All pink and fluffy. Do you like cotton candy?”
I’d been busy watching my husband head for the kitchen, trying not to let the soft grin he tossed me ease the turmoil roiling inside me.
“Cotton candy daiquiris,” I said, unable to take my eyes off him.
We had fallen into a continuous series of short conversations and awkward silences. And I had no idea why. No idea what I had done. For a man who could barely keep his hands off me a week ago, this new form of torture was disconcerting.
Did he know that he was a god? More important, did he know that I knew that he was a god?
Such knowledge could certainly put him on edge. Then again, why? I was a god. Why shouldn’t he be one as well? Maybe there was more to this than I knew. Or perhaps his recent disinterest had nothing to do with any of that.
Maybe it was due to the fact that I had done exactly what he had predicted I would. I forgot him. When I learned my celestial name, I forgot him. He’d said I would. No, wait—he’d said I would leave him, and then I would forget him. Two for two. But amnesia was a really good excuse for not remembering someone. And it’s not like I’d done it on purpose.
The fact that he was so drop-dead sexy did not help anything. The pajama bottoms did absolutely nothing to hide the fact that he had the most perfect ass I had ever seen. Steely. Shapely. Deep divots on either side. Solid, rock-hard muscle. The kind of ass no heterosexual woman could resist. Damn him.
I craned my neck to watch him walk into the kitchen and pull the carafe out from the coffeemaker.
“I just made it,” I said, referring to the coffee.
“What do you think brought me in here?” There was a softness to his voice despite the darkness surrounding him. A humor. It was nice and more reassuring than it should have been.
“Sometimes I eat it for breakfast,” Strawberry added, then pointed to Reyes from the space between a slate coffee table and a creamy sofa. “Does he ever eat cotton candy for breakfast?”
He stepped around the counter to face us, lowered his gaze, and took a sip from the black mug in his hands.
“No,” I said. “He’s very much like the Big Bad Wolf. He eats little girls for breakfast.”
He spoke from behind the cup, his voice deep and as smooth as butterscotch. “She’s wrong. I eat big girls for breakfast.”
A tingling sensation fluttered in my stomach.
Strawberry stopped at last and crinkled her nose in thought, our playful banter going over her head, thankfully.
“Did you catch the bad guy?” Reyes asked, pinning me with his powerful gaze.
I turned around in the chair I’d pulled up to the window and sat on my heels to savor the view. “No bad guys this time. Just a man trying to make it through the day.”
“Aren’t we all?” he asked, and I paused to study him.
He studied me back, his lashes narrowing as he took me in, and I wondered if he really understood, on even the basest level, what he did to women. A man just trying to make it through the day? Uh-huh. Right.
Strawberry landed again, plopped onto the coffee table, and let her feet dangle beneath her. “I like what you’ve done with the place.”
Reyes grinned and ducked back into the kitchen, hopefully to make me the breakfast of champions, whatever that might entail. I took the opportunity to once again scan the vastness of what used to be my microscopic apartment. I hadn’t seen it for over nine months, eight of those having been spent at a convent—long story—and the other one spent as an amnesiac waitress at a café in Upstate New York.
At some point during our recent adventures, Reyes had renovated the apartment building. The entire thing. The exterior remained relatively unchanged. A few fixes here and there, a good cleaning, and it was good to go.
The interior, however, had been completely overhauled. Each apartment had been updated as students graduated or long-term residents moved into one of the newly renovated ones while theirs received the same treatment. But the third floor, the top one, had received a little extra attention.
It now had only two apartments, ours and Cookie’s, each consisting of over thirteen thousand square feet of absolute luxury.
The rooftop storage units had been opened up so the ceilings in half of the apartment were now over twenty-four feet tall. Metal rafters zigzagged across our ceiling. Two adjoining gardens sat on the flat part of the roof outside, complete with lights and a pond and real plants. The whole place look positively magical.
Reyes kept only one room locked and had refused to open it when he brought me home for the first time in months, but locked doors were never much of a problem for me. The day after we’d arrived home, I took advantage of the fact that he left earlier than I did and broke in. I’d flipped the light switch and stopped short. The room had been decorated in mint green stripes and pastel circus animals and equipped with a bassinet. It was Beep’s room, and the fissure in my heart had cracked a little more.
“I’m going to see if Blue wants to play hopscotch.”
She disappeared before I could get out a good-bye. Or good riddance. Either way.
I looked past where she’d been sitting toward Reyes’s plush cream-colored sofa. He didn’t get it at a garage sale like I’d gotten my previous sofa. Her name had been Sophie, and I often wondered what happened to her. Was she lamenting the days away at a dump site? Sure, she’d only cost me twenty bucks, but she’d been with me a long time. I hated the thought of her being destroyed.
Then another thought hit me.
Speaking of discarded items, “Hey,” I said, suddenly concerned, “where did you put Mrs. Allen and PP?”
PP, a.k.a. Prince Phillip, was an elderly poodle that had once fought a demon for me, doing his darnedest to save my life. He and Mrs. Allen had been living down the hall since I’d moved in, and if anyone had a right to live here, to have one of these sparkly new apartments, it was those two.
Reyes lowered his head. “Her family had to put her in a nursing home.”
My spine straightened in alarm. “What? Why?”
He bit down. “A lot’s happened since we’ve been gone.”
“You should have told me.”
“It happened last month. You wouldn’t have known her.”
I paused to absorb that. He was right. Didn’t make it any easier to swallow. “Where is she?”
“At a retirement home in the North Valley.”
I made a mental note to visit her. “What about PP?”
“Her poodle. The one that saved my life, I might add.”
He fought a grin. “He’s with her. The home where she is allows animals.”
“Oh, thank goodness.” I slumped in the chair and put my chin on the back. Reyes was right. A lot had changed. Including the state of my cup.
“I’m going to make another pot if you want more after your shower,” I said, hopping up and heading that way.
He lifted a wide shoulder, studying his own cup. His bare feet were crossed, his other shoulder propped against the opening to the chef’s kitchen, and I slowed my stride to take it all in.
“I’m not sure I want to shower today,” he said.
A panty-melting grin as wicked as sin on Sunday slid across his handsome face. “Your aunt Lillian keeps … checking in on me.”
I stopped midstride, finally becoming intimately acquainted with true, paralyzing mortification.
He stifled a chuckle as he set his cup aside and started for the bathroom.
“Aunt Lillian!” I yelled, summoning her to me instantly. Aunt Lillian had died in the sixties. She’d been elderly at the time, but she didn’t let that stop her from enjoying the flower child generation complete with love beads and a floral muumuu. I’d always figured a hit of acid at her age could not have been good.
“Pumpkin head!” she said, her tone as hollow and insincere as her dentureless mouth. She wasn’t even looking at me. Her gaze instantly sought out the son of evil. Locked on to him like a laser-guided missile.
He tossed her a wink as he strode past, and I thought she was going to melt right then and there.
“Aunt Lillian,” I whispered accusingly. “I thought you didn’t even like my husband that much.”
“Oh, pumpkin, I’ve seen him naked. What’s not to like?” She wiggled her brows, and I gaped, appalled. Appalled that, for once in my life, I had no argument. No sarcastic comeback. No snippy comment. Because she was right as rain on a scorched desert.
I looked my husband over once again. Watched his back muscles ripple with each step he took. Our apartment was much bigger now, so it took a lot of steps to get to the bathroom. A lot of rippling.
One of those ripples was inside me. A ripple of unease. So much had changed. Way more than I was comfortable with. Which brought me to the third, but far from final, reason for my gloom. My husband hadn’t touched me in days. Since we got back, in fact. Normally, he had trouble touching anything besides me, but he hadn’t offered his services in over a week. A very long, very lonely week, made even lonelier when I’d been blindsided by a receipt I stumbled upon. He’d made a payment to the Texas Child Support Division.
He was paying child support.
He had another child.
I closed my eyes again, trying to figure out if I ever really knew the man I married.
Copyright © 2016 by Darynda Jones.
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Darynda Jones, winner of the 2009 Golden Heart for Best Paranormal Romance for her manuscript First Grave on the Right, can't remember a time when she wasn't putting pen to paper. She lives in the Land of Enchantment, also known as New Mexico, with her husband of more than 25 years and two beautiful sons, aka the Mighty, Mighty Jones Boys.