Dead Calm will be here in just 6 days! My trek across the country is complete, I am in my new house, and I have about 8 gazillion boxes left to unpack. Yay?
I'm pretty sure I need new feet, my back hates me, and I will never be finished with errands, but Dead Calm is almost here and I'm giving ya'll a sneak peek at chapter 1 because... well, I love you guys.
You can preorder your copy on Amazon HERE!
Now, keep in mind, Chapter One contains spoilers for the end of Dead & Gone, so if you haven't read it, I suggest you stop right now...
I needed a vacation.
That was the headline that blasted across my thoughts as I stared at the note that had been so carefully placed on my counter. I was supposed to be going on a teensy getaway with Bishop. After the bullshit we’d gone through over the last few days, taking some time off had seemed paramount. Taking a brief pause from my contemplation, I found my shirt and yanked it back on before continuing my internal deliberation.
As I stared at the cardstock, the devil on my shoulder was making a solid case for ignoring literally everything in my life, packing a bag, and hightailing it to some undiscovered corner of the map with no cell service which could only be accessed by boat. At this point, I was considering moving into a yurt or something just to not have to deal with the utter shitshow that had become my life.
Angel Darby began arguing in favor of staying to find my psychopath of a brother, while Devil Darby was still painting pictures of Bishop and me wearing very little clothing in a hut on the beach, sipping Mai Tais. I had to admit, Devil Darby was winning that fight, hands-down. And what did the line “Your mother can’t protect you anymore” mean?
As far as I knew—and that wasn’t much when it came to Mariana, but still—she hadn’t done a damn thing to protect me a day in her life. This damn note was a taunt—a dare. And I didn’t like it one bit.
Without much thought on my part, I yanked a paper towel from the holder and picked up the note to inspect it. There wasn’t a damn clue to be had on the thing, at least not to my naked eye.
You know that means you could just pretend you never saw it, right? Just drop it like a hot potato and scamper off to a cabin in the woods with Bishop.
See? Devil Darby had a solid plan.
And what happens when X doesn’t just stop at notes? Then it’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre time with a side of Halloween for dessert.
And there was Angel Darby coming in for the buzzkill.
I was still mired in my internal debate until the note was yanked from my hands. Slowly turning to the culprit, I silently blinked out my shock. Azrael stood bold as brass in my living room, an expression of unmitigated rage on his face. And while the rage wasn’t anything to sneeze at, that was not what had shocked me. Don’t get me wrong, my Angel of Death father just popping up in my living room was definitely shock-worthy. However, it was the set of ebony wings protruding from his back that really got my attention.
“I swear to everything holy, it’s like you’re trying to get killed,” he growled, incredibly put out for some reason.
Well, it’s not like I called him here.
“Is there a particular reason you’re in my living room looking like the Grim Reaper, or is this just part of your charm?”
His form flickered a little, his hair turning white as a faint purple-tinted his irises before they—along with his wings—winked out of sight. “I’m in your living room on the off chance your brother has decided to put a blood curse on this note,” Azrael said, waving the cardstock in my face. “Honestly, out of everyone, I sort of figured I wouldn’t have to worry too much about you, but the last few days have proved me wrong on that front ten-fold.”
That was totally not fair. “No part of this has been my fault. Not the poltergeist, not the ABI building attack, and certainly not the Dubois nest debacle. And if I remember right, wasn’t it you who sent me there in the first damn place? No, sir. If anyone is to blame, it’s you and your bullshit lack of information.”
Was I yelling at a death deity? Why, yes. Yes, I was.
“Picking up a note, Darby? Really?”
Why that victim-blaming son of a bitch…
He flinched at my internal tone, but I didn’t let him off the hook with just that one. “This isn’t a crime scene, Azrael, and I don’t see a dead body anywhere. I should be allowed to touch things in my own house.”
And while I’d cursed myself right as I’d touched the damn thing, I didn’t need his bullshit chastisement.
“Yes, and you shouldn’t have to worry about your siblings killing you either, but here we are. Haven’t you figured out by now that X has every intention of killing you?”
Why no, I hadn’t quite figured that out yet, Azrael. Thanks for the head’s up.
“Haven’t you figured out that that particular qualifier doesn’t make him special? I’m a cop, a woman, and I have a penchant for sticking my nose in other people’s affairs. X isn’t the first, nor will he be the last person to try. What I want to know is why you think he’d curse me, and moreover, I want to know what it is you’re hiding. There’s no way you’d just pop in here on a whim.”
I was about to spew a sight bit more profanities at my absentee birth father when my doorbell rang. Grumbling, I spun to answer it. On my front stoop was a blissfully tall man in a tight black T-shirt and a pair of jeans that had to be against a decency code of some kind.
Still, I was so mad, the whole of Bishop La Roux barely registered.
“Please tell me you have tacos,” I blurted, the hope in my voice a very real thing.
I needed those tacos. Bad.
Bishop revealed a white bag from behind his back, a frown marring his face. Then his gaze strayed from me to the man standing smack-dab in the middle of my living room. “We aren’t going on vacation, are we?”
No, I was pretty sure we were not.
After setting aside three of the twelve tacos in the bag for Bishop—what? I’m not a monster—I got busy munching while I gave my father the stink-eye. I did this for two reasons.
One: Azrael was rather put out that I was pausing our family squabble to eat my food and was acting like a big baby about it. Two: I still wasn’t quite over the fact that he was being far too cagey for a man who professed a desire to keep me breathing.
He knew a hell of a lot more than he was saying, and it was pissing me off.
Bishop and Azrael eyed each other as they sat at opposite ends of my couch, both of them smart enough not to sit in my favorite chair. Neither of them spoke, so the silence was only broken by my rather loud crunching as I unabashedly wolfed down my tacos.
“Well, isn’t this a sad sight,” an Irish voice remarked, and I paused in my oppressive crunching to glare at the man.
Hildenbrand O’Shea—AKA, my wayward and totally dead grandfather, Hildy—hovered over one of my barstools. Well, I supposed he was sitting, but I didn’t really understand the mechanics of the act. Could ghosts really sit on furniture, or did their spectral butts just hover over it? It was a question for the ages and one I hadn’t ever thought to ask.
Out of the three living-ish people in the room, only two of us could actually see or hear Hildy—a benefit of being whole or part death deity, I supposed—but only I acknowledged the ghost.
“What’s sad, Hildy? The fact that I’m still in my living room, even though I’m supposed to be on vacation, or that my birth father is a raging asshole?”
Both Azrael and Bishop started at my words, even though neither should be surprised that I’d talk to a ghost right in front of them. I’d been hiding my whole life, and I wasn’t too keen on that being the status quo.
“I’m not an asshole,” Azrael muttered, his expression almost a full-on pout.
My chuckle was mirthless as I answered, “What would you call a man that never gave you a straight answer, spoke in only vague pronouncements, and refused to give even a little insight to a rather nasty dilemma that could potentially kill you? Because that sounds like an asshole to me.”
“I thought you were leaving, lass. Why are you not?” Leave it to Hildy to get me back on track. I had a feeling there would only be so many times that I could get away with calling Azrael the asshole he most definitely was before there would be consequences.
Jutting out my chin, I gestured to the note my stupid, murdering brother left for me as I fought off a shudder. He was in my house. X had been in my. Fucking. House.
I was having a tough time not hosing everything down in bleach or setting it on fire. That teensy bit of knowledge made my skin crawl… though it still wasn’t enough to put me off my food.
Hildy’s normally genial face turned to stone as he read the note.
“What the fuck is this supposed to mean? Do you think he’s done something to…?” He swallowed, his form flickering to solid and back to transparent in a blink.
“I don’t know,” I murmured, studying Hildy with dawning realization.
As much as he professed his disappointment in my mother, she was still his kid. No one wanted to think about losing a child—which had to be tough when said child was a card-carrying menace to the planet as a whole. I took another bite of the taco as I shifted to study Azrael, who met my gaze with a nod.
I guess now I was getting it. Still…
Hildy himself turned to my father. “Is she alive? Just tell me if—”
“You know I can’t tell you that. I can tell you that she hasn’t made it to me, but you and I both know that doesn’t mean anything.”
And there went that other shoe again. I’d been so preoccupied with X being in my house that I hadn’t really given much thought to what might have been done to Mariana. She could be more than just captured, more than just dead. What if X absorbed souls like I could? What if he tortured them?
What if he did something worse?
I wasn’t such a monster that the thought of Mariana biting it didn’t sting. Nor was I such a heartless cow that the idea of her being tortured was a happy thought. That didn’t mean I’d be rushing out to save her ass, though.
Hildy shook his head at my father, a bit of rage making his whole body solid. “You’re the only person playing by the rules, Azrael. Your boy isn’t, and neither is my daughter. Stop hiding what you know or leave us be. You’re doing us no favors by keeping secrets.”
Azrael stood; the measured pace of his rise from the couch made the tiny hairs on my arms stand on end. His hair flickered from black to white, and coupling that with the eerie purple glow to his eyes, my foot took an involuntary step back.
“I am the only one playing by the rules, because if I don’t, people die. If I don’t, reality as we know it ceases to be. I play by the fucking rules because I damn well have to, and I will not be chided by a child without the barest inkling of what the universe is.”
“Then why are you here?” That question came from Bishop, who was still sitting calm as you please on my couch. His face was a mask of stone, and I couldn’t get even a glimmer of his emotions. He simply stared at the Angel of Death like he was missing a tee time or something. “You can’t tell her what she needs to know, and you can’t bend the rules, and you refuse to even let us buy a damn vowel in this shit. You’re here for a reason, right? So, enlighten us. Otherwise, stop just showing up when it suits you. Darby already has a parent who does that.”
The bite of taco in my mouth turned to sawdust, and I struggled to swallow it. I definitely should have listened to Devil Darby and just grabbed his hand and let him whisk me off to some far away locale. This whole tableau was getting us nowhere, and I didn’t need the added reminder that I got the short end of the stick in the parenting department.
Fixing my gaze to my counter, I tried not to let Bishop’s pronouncement sting, but it did little good.
“Your brother attempted to kill another of your siblings a few months ago while you were in prison. He did it with a blood curse administered via a note on her bed. It didn’t work, but your sister is different from you in many ways. You would not have been as lucky. Your distress at the note called to me, so I came. When I saw the note, I thought…” Azrael trailed off and shook his head, his hair falling back to black with the motion. “He seems determined to kill you both, and the more that his plans fail, the more desperate he becomes.”
I wanted to be shitty and say something along the lines of “Tell me something I don’t know,” but the reality of it all was staring me in the face. X wanted me dead, and he was getting desperate.
And no one wanted a desperate murderer after them.
Coming June 29, 2021
There's not enough coffee or tacos in the world to deal with Darby Adler's family. If it's not her death-dealing father, her back-from-the-dead mother, or her ghost grandfather, it's her long-lost siblings and their bid for power.
With the ABI radio silent and her siblings to find, Darby's got a major problem on her hands--especially when the local coven figures out that her father is no longer bound.
Can Haunted Peak, TN handle this family reunion?