AUTUMN BONES CHAPTER ONE
Labor Day weekend in Pemkowet started off with a bang. Or more accurately, a whole lot of banging.
I was sitting at a table down at Union Pier, listening to a band with my boyfriend, Sinclair—well, I’m not sure I can call him that yet. We’ve been dating for about three weeks and taking it slow.
Okay, maybe I’d better back this up.
My name is Daisy Johanssen, and I’m an agent of Hel. That’s Hel, the Norse goddess of the dead, who relocated to Pemkowet during World War I and currently presides over a modest underworld located in a buried lumber town beneath the shifting sand dunes that make Pemkowet one of Michigan’s premier resort destinations. Wild, untrammeled dunes, white sand beaches along the Lake Michigan shoreline, and a booming business in paranormal tourism.
Most of the time, things run fairly smoothly, but not always. That’s where I come in. As Hel’s liaison, it’s my job to keep the peace between mundane and eldritch authorities. Things got ugly earlier this summer when a young man from a nearby college was found drowned in the river. Undines witnessed it, there were ghouls involved—long story short, it was a mess.
Anyway, the one good thing to come out of it was that Sinclair Palmer and I started dating.
So on Friday evening of the last big weekend of the summer, we were listening to music at Union Pier, a riverfront bar located in the shadow of the S.S. Osikayas, the old steamship permanently docked there.
|Most people who know me can tell you I have a thing for music, though I have to admit that the Mamma Jammers wasn’t a band I would have picked. As you might guess from the name, they were a jam band, which meant they played long, improvisational songs that went on for-freaking-ever while stoned-looking kids in retro t-shirts swayed and nodded.
But they were friends of Sinclair’s from Kalamazoo and he’d gotten them this gig, so I was glad to be there. It was nice to feel Sinclair’s thigh brush mine under the table, nice to feel like maybe I was a couple of dates away from using the b-word out loud, even if that wasn’t entirely fair to him.
See, my life is… complicated.
It’s not that there are other guys in it. Well, okay. There sort of are. Just not nice, normal human guys. Not that Sinclair’s entirely normal. For one thing, he sees auras. For another… well, we’re still in the getting-to-know-you phase, and I’m pretty sure there are some significant things I don’t know, like why his parents split. Why his dad took Sinclair and emigrated from Kingston, Jamaica to Kalamazoo, Michigan.
To be fair, my issues have kind of taken precedence. I guess that’s natural. Normal or not, Sinclair’s definitely human. Me, I’m only human on my mom’s side. My father is Belphegor, lesser demon and occasional incubus. Mom didn’t mean to invoke him – she was only a teenager at the time – but that’s another story. My mom’s one of the nicest people I know, and I inherited her white-blonde Scandinavian hair, pert nose and fair skin.
From my father, I inherited night-black eyes and a propensity to struggle with the Seven Deadly Sins, especially anger. Bad things happen when I lose my temper. Oh, and also my existence represents a chink in the Inviolate Wall that divides the mortal plane from the forces of the divine, and could potentially trigger Armageddon under the right circumstances.
So yeah, my stuff’s taken precedence, and we’re taking it slowly. Not just emotionally, but physically, too. There’s been a lot of kissing, a little above-the-waist action. Nothing lower. Which, yes, is frustrating. But I don’t blame Sinclair for being careful about dating a hell-spawn, and there’s one little detail I haven’t shared with him yet.
At the end of the pier, the Mamma Jammers wrapped up another interminable jam. After applauding, Sinclair slung one arm around my shoulders and smiled at me. “So what do you think? You gonna come back to the house tonight and hang out, spend some time with the guys?”
I smiled back at him. “Oh, I don’t know. I don’t want to get in the way of guy time.”
“I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t mean it, darling.” Sinclair delivered the line in the lilting Jamaican accent that charmed the tourists. He had his own business, Pemkowet Supernatural Tours, which had debuted this summer as an unqualified success. I’d played a large part in it by arranging for regular appearances by pretty, sparkly fairies. Sinclair gave my shoulders an affectionate squeeze. “Hey, dem’s my bwais and you’re my girl. Of course I want you to come over.”
I’ll admit it, that gave me a case of the warm fuzzies. Still, I leaned back so I could look him in the face. “Oh, yeah? What have you told them about me?”
He pursed his lips, which by the way, were nice and full and highly kissable. Let me state for the record that Sinclair Palmer is a bona fide hottie. He falls into that elusive sweet spot between handsome and cute, with cocoa-brown skin, high, rounded cheekbones, an infectious smile, and Tour de France-worthy thighs. “Honestly? I thought I’d let them get to know you before I sprang it on them, Daisy,” he said in a serious tone, dropping the accent. “Do you blame me?”
“Nooo…” I admitted. “Not really.”
“So come over.” He gave me another squeeze, his smile returning. “Ain’t no big thing, girl! We’ll put some steaks on the grill, drink a few beers.” He paused. “Maybe you could spend the night?”
A jolt of desire ran through me, and beneath my short skirt, my tail twitched in an involuntary spasm.
Uh, yeah. That was the little something I hadn’t mentioned to Sinclair yet. It has a tendency to freak guys out.
“You’re sure about that?” I asked him.
Sinclair regarded me. “You think I’m ashamed of you?” He shook his head, his short dreadlocks rustling. “I’m not. We don’t have to do anything, Daisy. Look, I’m not saying it’s time to get it on. Not tonight, not with the Mamma Jammers crashing on my living-room floor. That’s not what this is about.” His gaze was steady and unflinching. “I just want you to know I want you there. And I want them to know it, too.”
My stomach did a somersault. “I, um… didn’t pack a toothbrush.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Pretty weak. Is that all you’ve got?”
The Mamma Jammers launched into another song, which sounded pretty much exactly like every other song they’d played. This would be their last number, since Union Pier closed at sunset. On the far side of the river, the sun was sinking below the tree-line, gilding the rippling water. After a day on the big lake, sailboats and other pleasure-boats were easing their way upriver, making their way back to the marinas for the night. I watched a pair of tourists on Jet Skis play a complex game of tag, carving up the surface of the river, their vehicles tossing up rooster-tails of water. Although I hated Jet Skis on principle, I had to admit, it did look like fun.
“I’ll make you pancakes in the morning,” Sinclair murmured in my ear. “I make a mean pancake.”
“Mm-hmm.” He sounded amused. “And I’ll even let you use my toothbrush, too.”
It was at that exact freaking moment, when I was feeling good and happy and sexy and melty and excited and wanted and trepidatious and a bazillion other things, most of them nice, that my phone rang.
I fished it out of my bag. “Sorry, I’ve got to take this.”
“Work?” Sinclair asked.
“Looks like it.”
Technically, I’m a part-time file clerk at the Pemkowet Police Department, but as Hel’s liaison, I assist with any issues that might involve members of the eldritch community. Cody Fairfax, a.k.a. Officer Down-low, and I had worked together earlier this summer investigating the Vanderhei kid’s death. I thought we’d made a good team, but then, I was biased. I’d had a crush on Cody since I was in the fourth grade. Unfortunately for me, he wasn’t interested in pursuing a relationship outside his species; and the fact that Cody had a tendency to turn furry and howl at the moon once a month was a fairly well-kept secret. Hence, the nickname.
“Hey.” I rose and walked down the dock to get away from the Mamma Jammers’ wall of sound, the phone pressed to my ear. “What’s up? Is there a situation?”
“Hey, Daise. Yeah, maybe.” Cody sounded uncertain, which wasn’t like him. “Bart Mallick went to investigate a noise complaint at Rainbow’s End twenty minutes ago. It should have been five minutes in and out, tops.”
“So?” I didn’t mean to be rude, but this seemed like straight-up cop stuff. It’s not like Rainbow’s End was some den of mischievous leprechauns. It was a gay nightclub. “Did he call for backup? Do you think something happened to him?”
“He’s not responding to his radio.”
I covered my free ear with my other hand. “Maybe he can’t hear it.”
“Yeah, maybe. Where are you, anyway? And why are you shouting?”
Oops. Hadn’t realized I was shouting. “Union Pier.” Lowering my voice, I walked a few more yards away from the din. “Where are you?”
“I’m in the parking lot at Rainbow’s End,” Cody said. “I was passing, so I swung by to see if there was a problem. Bart’s cruiser’s there. Lights are on. But something’s funky.”
“Funky?” Okay, I was confused. “Like hinky? You think something’s going on? Drugs?”
“I mean funky.” Cody’s voice dropped to a lower register. Not a deliberately sexy register, but a growly, furry, hackle-raising register. Which, in fact, was pretty damn sexy, just not on purpose. “Even from the parking lot, this place reeks of pheromones.”
“Doesn’t it always?” I asked.
“Not like this.” Now he sounded more certain. “Look, call it a hunch. I didn’t have to call you, but I think maybe there’s something going on that should concern Hel’s liaison. Whatever it is, I thought you might want to catch it in the act. So are you in or out?”
I sighed. “I’m in, I’m in! Give me ten minutes.”
“I’ll give you six.” He hung up.
I walked back to the table where Sinclair was sitting, bobbing his head to the endless jam, looking cute and mellow and… emotionally available. He glanced up at me with genuine concern. “Hey, girl. Everything okay?”
“Hope so,” I said. “But I’ve got to go check something out. I don’t think it will take long. Is your offer still good?”
“Definitely.” He smiled his infectious smile. “You go take care of business and come on by.”
“Okay.” I found myself smiling in response. See, that’s what an infectious smile does. There really ought to be a better, less disease-suggestive name for it. I leaned down to kiss him. “Later?”
Sinclair kissed me back. “Most definitely.”