Dead Shift is almost here!! I am barreling toward the end, but I wanted to give ya'll a glimpse of what is in store. You can pre-order your copy here: https://geni.us/deadshift-amazon
There should be a rule in the universe somewhere that said if someone—namely, me—had already dealt with enough shit, then no one could bother said someone for at least twenty-four hours.
Or maybe forty-eight.
A case could be made for seventy-two as well.
But since such a rule did not exist—at least in this universe—I was stuck with my ass on the grass, staring at a bullshit note and wishing I could explode the sender’s brain with my mind. Exploding a brain couldn’t be too far outside my new scope of abilities. I’d twisted the heads off a group of ghouls’ shoulders a few days ago with no more than a flick of my fingers. Making one measly brain go poof should be child’s play, right?
Though, with my teeth rattling around in my head from the ground shaking beneath my feet, I figured maybe, just maybe, my new abilities may not be a good thing. I mean, the wind whipping through the church could possibly have been a fluke, but the ground shaking like a goddamn maraca?
Still, I couldn’t peel my eyes from that note to save my life, and more? I didn’t want to.
Azrael lied to you. Killian isn’t where you think he is.
Come find me when you’re ready for the truth.
The man who I’d called “Father” my whole life was in the ground right now, his body moldering in his casket, and the man who’d set it all into motion had the nerve to pick at the bloody scab that was my wounded heart.
I reached for that stupid note, ready to set it on fire or crumble it up, or something, anything but let it lie in the grass where my dad had been put to rest. A hard hand knocked my fingers away before they could make contact, startling me right out of my ill-conceived plan. My sister stared at me like I’d grown a whole new head—and for good reason. A few months ago, she’d gotten a similar note from our brother, one that would have killed her had she not been utterly and totally dead already.
“Are you okay?” Sloane asked, rolling her eyes at herself as she did so. She’d asked me that same question quite a lot over the last few days, and each time she seemed to curse herself.
I cradled the hand she’d smacked against my chest as I inspected her features—ones that seemed to flicker every couple of seconds from regular Sloane to one so fucking frightening it was a wonder I wasn’t running away screaming.
Poker face, don’t fail me now.
“Of course I’m not okay.” Which was the god’s honest truth. I was so far from okay it was stupid—especially since my totally dead, yet somehow living sister, had started resembling Skeletor for some reason. “Are you okay?”
Yes, I could have rolled my eyes at myself like she had, but honestly, I was just trying not to freak all the way out. Sure, I’d believed her when she’d said she wasn’t alive, but I hadn’t actually seen it until now. Add that on top of Essex’s bullshit, and well…
“No,” she croaked, a fine tremor of rage making her entire body shake. “No, I’m not okay.”
Sloane appeared like she was about half a second away from sniffing out our bastard of a brother and flaying him alive. But before she could act on what I deemed wholeheartedly as righteous vengeance, a pair of giant hands lifted her off her feet. One second, she was flickering like a burning-out lightbulb, and the next, her face was tucked out of sight, hidden from view as her boyfriend hugged her tight to his chest.
Did one call a six-hundred-year-old mage “boyfriend”?
Considering I had one of those, it seemed somewhat ill-fitting. Lover felt icky, and mate seemed too serious. I’d have to find a different moniker that didn’t make me want to hurl.
“Your face, love,” Bastian murmured against her hair, holding her close when she tried to push away. “Breathe, Sloane. Tell me what happened.”
The kindness in his tone set my teeth on edge. Sure, it was for all the wrong reasons, but my anger and fear and complete inability to handle my own shit had me lashing out, anyway.
“Our bastard of a brother is what happened. See for yourself.”
Dutifully, I pointed at the rather obsequious note as I cringed at myself for breaking their moment. Instead of looking, he inspected my sister’s face, the utter care stamped all over him, making my heart hurt.
Fucking Essex and his bloody notes. I don’t care what the damn thing says. She’s not going off alone. Not ever again.
I swallowed thickly, not liking that I could read his thoughts, too. It was bad enough I could see every single ghost in this stupid cemetery, but their souls called out to me, their thoughts, their need to move on. And that was on top of all the living that had yet to disperse from the graveside service. It was one thing to assume that the people you saw on a daily basis thought you were a freak. It was quite another to fucking know. I could totally do without Bastian’s inner monologue of fear, blind devotion, and near nauseating need to kiss my sister rattling around in my skull.
“I will in a moment,” he answered, but his mind was a maelstrom of panic—none of which appeared on his face.
Looking away, I tried to find a spot that didn’t have a person—living or dead—to stare at. My options were limited, but I settled on glaring at my shoes and wishing they were anything but the sensible pumps I’d decided to wear. The inspection was short-lived, the presence of the whole damn gang pressing in on me like a visceral weight. I hadn’t even looked up, but I knew J and Jimmy were holding hands, the events that led up to today strengthening their bond. I wanted to be happy for them, too, but the happiness was drowned out by the guilt that gnawed at my gut every time I thought about what had been done to them because of my presence in their lives. Bishop followed closely behind them, along with Sloane’s vampire friend, Thomas.
Ingrid had spoken very highly of Thomas over the years, but seeing the scant glimpses the ironclad ward that protected his mind allowed, I had to wonder how much my small friend actually knew about her mentor. Did she know how much it hurt him to see Sloane and Bastian together? Or that the rejection from his family burned him to his very core? I wondered if she knew his secrets, if she was aware of just how lonely he felt.
Peering up from my shoes, I took stock of the vamp. He was beautiful in a way that unattainable models were. Sharp cheekbones, razor-sharp jaw, damn near pouty lips—everything about him was severe, too pretty, too… something. His face practically screamed “fuck off” while his body seemed coiled, ready to strike at any moment. He had the same odd stillness to him that Mags did—the kind that only the ancient vamps had.
“You know that’s a trap, right?” Thomas growled, his face condescending, but his mind was a whole other matter. Thomas’ thoughts were on my sister—on protecting her. And what was funny about it all was I doubted she knew.
“No shit.” Sloane sneered. “I hadn’t thought, what, with my brother’s penchant for deadly notes that could ever be a possibility. Whatever will I do without your ancient knowledge, Thomas?”
He raised a perturbed eyebrow, but internally he was trying very hard not to laugh.
“Well, if you wouldn’t go running into the fray at every available opportunity, then I wouldn’t have to say painfully obvious things, now, would I?” he shot back, rolling his eyes like a certified teenager.
I couldn’t help it. I snickered.
Sloane narrowed her eyes at me, her skeleton face gone for the moment. “Like you’ve got room to talk.”
It was true I had zero room to give her shit, but it was still funny. Hence why I stuck my tongue out at her. Her gaze fell back to the ground, the silly cardstock catching her focus. Mine followed, the mirth dying in my chest. I wanted to keep it—mainly to get it off the ground and away from prying eyes—but I wanted to burn it, too.
The rustle of a plastic bag startled me out of my destruction plans. J had somehow gotten from the other side of the group and over to me without me noticing, and in his hands was a pair of blue Nitrile gloves and an evidence bag. I swallowed hard, struggling not to lose it at the sheer awesomeness of my best friend.
“Thank you,” I croaked, taking the gloves and donning them by rote. How many times had J handed me a pair of those damn blue gloves? How many times had he been right here for me when I needed him?
And how many times had he been hurt because of this life—the one I dragged him into? J was human, fragile, and that fact was no more apparent now than it had been two days ago when he’d been standing right next to my father as he died. Losing Dad had been a blow, but so was the knowledge that it just as easily could have been J. It could have been him in the ground, could have been him I was mourning.
“No problem, D. You know I’ve always got your back.”
And that was the rub, wasn’t it? Having my back was going to get him killed.
With another lump-filled swallow, I took the evidence bag from his fingers and the disposable tongs he’d managed to tuck under his arm. Trust J to always be prepared for a crime scene—even at a funeral. Once the letter was stowed inside the plastic, J swiped it from my hands—tongs and all—handing it to Jimmy, who performed some kind of glittering gold mojo on it with a wave of his fingers.
“There,” Jimmy said on a sigh. “Now, the spell I see crawling all over that note is contained in the plastic.” He shook his head. “Amateur. Like we’d touch a note from that asshole.”
J threw an arm over my shoulder, tucking me into his chest. “You know everyone is congregating at Killian’s house for the reception. What do you say we avoid that mess, glut ourselves on Blanca’s tacos, and watch something good on TV? Dave and Mom have it handled. You don’t have to go.”
I had a feeling this wasn’t going to be comfort food and Practical Magic. It was most likely going to be strategy and trying to out-think a homicidal maniac with unlimited resources and a grudge.
“Yeah, come on, Adler,” Bishop cajoled as he pulled me out of my best friend’s embrace, lacing his fingers with mine. “Don’t you want some food and Sandra Bullock?” My gaze found Sarina, who definitely told him my favorite movie, the traitor. “I might even make you a margarita.”
The gesture made me smile—a little one, for sure—but Bishop acted like I was a paraplegic walking for the first time, his nearly black eyes practically swimming in relief.
“That’s my girl.”
I nodded, but my gaze still cut to that damned letter. Sandy, margaritas, and tacos weren’t going to fix this shit. Not even a little.
As it turned out, there was very little strategy—or margaritas—to be had. Instead of plotting and planning, I was on my favorite chair, resting on Bishop’s lap with my face tucked into his neck. Most of the available places to sit were taken up by my sister and our collective friends, and other than the ground shaking every couple of minutes, I was calm as could be.
Granted, every time I thought about Essex’s note, the lights in my house flickered like they might explode, but that was neither here nor there.
“So, no one is going to say anything about the penchant for earthquakes this house has?” Harper growled, her voice like the crack of a whip on my brain. I mean, sure, she’d been mentally berating me for a while now, but tossing her voice into the mix was only adding insult to injury. For someone so small, she did pack a mental wallop. “Or the fact that this one is so juiced up she might as well power a nuclear reactor? I mean, I’m all for trying to gather oneself and hiding away, but holy shit, girl, you light up like Vegas every twelve minutes, and a single temper tantrum from you is going to break the planet.”
I snorted, not bothering to open my eyes. “Tell me how you really feel, Harper. Don’t hold back.”
“That was me sugarcoating it, sweetheart. You don’t want to hear everything I have to say.”
Opening a lone eye, I half-glared at the empath. “Maybe I do.” Maybe if she said it aloud, she’d stop screeching at me with her mind. I opened the other eye and sat up. “Maybe I want to know what you’re holding back.”
Harper mirrored me, rising from her pillow of Sarina’s lap as she tried to stare me down. “You have too much power running through your veins, no outlet, and you’re shaking the fucking planet. Not to mention, no one has said a peep about whether or not the souls roiling under your skin are being put to rest, or what’s going to happen now that you’ve essentially blew up two Knoxville factions. Your father died, and that is awful. Truly, I feel for you, but you have too much going on to just sit here and wallow, especially when you’re waving a red fucking flag in front of your brother.”
Harper stood, but I was trying to process the massive truth bomb she’d just set off in my living room.
“I feel them whispering under your skin, and I know you do, too. Those souls aren’t at rest, and they aren’t at peace. You’re just another prison for them, and Essex Drake just walked up to you like you were a cute little toddler. I have to wonder why he’s not terrified of you, and when I think about that too hard, I get scared.”
That same thought had been running through my brain since Essex strolled through the cemetery like it was nothing. And one look at Sloane’s face confirmed she was thinking the same damn thing I was. “I’m scared, too. But I don’t know if I can fix it or even how I’m supposed to. Azrael is MIA again, and… I don’t trust myself to go up against Essex. I don’t trust myself to walk out in public or say hi to my neighbors or go back to work. I’m just trying to breathe here.”
“Why can’t we put the souls back in the ring?” my sister asked, an option I’d considered and discarded about a thousand times in the last three hours. “Your body can’t hold them without causing seismic activity, right? And you’re not absorbing them like normal. Then, why can’t we just shove them back in the ring, pawn it off to Azrael, and have his feathery ass deal with it?”
Because he wouldn’t come if I called him. Because he doesn’t care. Because… he cares too much about upsetting some deluded idea of balance that he’d let me die.
“As if he would even help,” I muttered instead, resettling on Bishop’s lap. His arms circled me, his fingers sifting through my hair as he massaged my scalp.
“Then he doesn’t help. But you can’t keep those souls inside you forever. Because sooner or later Essex is just going to tap you like a keg and suck them out, and then we’re just as fucked as we were two damn days ago,” Sloane barked. It would have hurt less if she had slapped me instead.
Without a thought, I got to my feet—ready to do what, I had no idea.
“You know they’re right, D,” J said from his perch on the floor, cuddled up to Jimmy. “You can’t keep all that bottled up forever. If it doesn’t kill your body, it sure as hell will kill your mind.”
Well, he might as well have stabbed me. “You think I don’t know that? You think I can’t read all your thoughts, feel all your emotions? You think I don’t feel your ideas just buzzing in the back of my mind?” I tried and failed to hold my bitter tears inside. “I know I can’t do this forever. I can barely handle today.”
“Then what do you plan to do about it?” Thomas asked from his place on the couch, a glass of my father’s favorite whiskey in his hand. “Because all I see is a scared child who runs the risk of turning out just like the parents she hates so much. If you’re the woman I think you are, I would hope the safety of those around you would be your top priority.”
I ground my teeth together to keep my rage tamped down, but still, the house rattled so hard, a crack hissed up my living room wall.
Fuck. Don’t kill him. Don’t kill him. Don’t kill him.
“But I suppose choosing to throw a temper tantrum is more your speed then?”
“Really?” Sloane squawked. “Antagonizing her? This is your plan?”
Thomas jerked his chin to spear her with a bored glare. “It worked on you, didn’t it?”
His face was filled with apathy, but his mind was a sea of bottled-up love and a boatload of regret. That and Bishop’s warm hand on my back had me unclenching my fists and jaw.
“Okay. I will agree something needs to be done, but I don’t trust Azrael, and I don’t believe Essex, and I don’t know what will happen if I extract these souls. So, if we could figure that out, that would be great. In the meantime, I think everyone should head home.”
I needed everyone out. I needed silence and not to feel everything from everyone all the time. I needed a glimpse of peace just so I could think for one fucking minute. But when everyone else stood to leave, Bastian and Darby stayed put.
“I mean you, too. You’ve stayed here for two days. I don’t need a babysitter anymore.”
“The hell you don’t,” Sloane protested. “Essex is still out there—”
“And I’ve got back up here if he decides to pick a fight. You have a life and a home that doesn’t include me. It’s about time you went back to it.”
J and Jimmy would be next door, so it wasn’t like I would be totally alone anyway.
“This is a horrible plan, you know.”
Shrugging, I snorted. “Probably. But at least my house will be empty.”
“Fine. But I swear to everything holy, if something happens while I’m gone, and you get killed, I am retrieving you from the Underworld and kicking your ass,” she threatened, pointing at me like she was chiding a three-year-old kid.
“Promises, promises,” I muttered.
Honestly? I had a feeling there was far more truth to that statement than either one of us wanted to admit.
Dead Shift Arrives November 16th!
Detective Darby Adler is about to hand in her badge.
After inadvertently taking the mantle of Warden of Knoxville, Darby has painted a huge target on her back. With bridges burned and the ABI on her tail, she’ll have to decide between staying a small-town detective or leaning into her new role.
It’s not only her job on the line—it’s her life.
Who says small towns are boring?