Renegade mage and bartender Arcadia Bell has had a rough year, but now the door to her already unstable world is becoming completely unhinged. When a citywide crime wave erupts, Cady’s demon-friendly tiki bar is robbed by Earthbounds wielding surreal demonic abilities that just flat-out shouldn’t exist. With the help of her devilishly delicious boyfriend, Lon Butler, Cady sets out to find the people who wronged her—but her targets aren’t the only ones experiencing unnatural metamorphoses. Can Cady track down the monsters responsible before the monster inside her destroys everything—and everyone—she loves? If she survives this adventure, one thing is certain: it’s last call for life as she knows it.
I scrambled through the second-story window and balanced on a square section of slanted roofing above a portico on the first floor. Lon followed, biting out obscenities. I’d never seen him move so fast. Fire is a good motivator.
We hugged the outer wall of the house, flanking both sides of the open window. A sharp night wind whipped my hair around my face and shoulders as I butted my shoulder against the siding.
Where is Merrimoth now? I thought.
“Left the room to search for the gun,” Lon said in a low voice.
I quickly surveyed our surroundings. A small balcony lay to our left, a couple of rooms away. I risked a glance below and got queasy watching the tide crash and foam around an outcropping of jagged rocks.
Merrimoth’s contemporary house was built on stilts over a lonely expanse of Pacific coast. The shoreline that stretched in front of us was studded with crags and driftwood and endangered sea otters, and maybe the occasional wet-suited surfer seeking a thrill. I was neither sea otter nor surfer, so I figured I had a one percent chance of surviving a dive into the threatening waters below.
Long strands of golden brown hair fluttered around the back of Lon’s neck as he leaned against the house and listened. Light from the still-burning fire radiated from the open window, creating dancing shadows that deepened the long hollows of his cheeks.
Like Merrimoth, Lon Butler is an Earthbound: demons on the inside, humans on the outside—with the small exception of a wispy halo of light that ﬂoated around their heads, marking them as “other.” When Lon was transmutated, his demonic halo morphed from the usual nebulous gold-speckled green cloud to an eruption of flames that licked around his head and shoulders. He also sprouted a pair of spiraling ram-like horns, which were currently making a disconcerting knocking sound when he leaned his head against the house.
“He thinks he’s spotted where the gun landed,” he whispered.
Lon’s damned Lupara. The vintage short-barreled shotgun was intimidating, illegal, and would occasionally misfire when dropped. He’d only managed one shot before Merrimoth took possession of the gun a couple of minutes ago. I’d shocked Merrimoth with charged Heka—natural magical energy kindled with electricity—causing the gun to fly out of his hand, and he retaliated by inexplicably creating a wall of fire across the room. Which is why we were now standing outside the window above a rocky shoreline when we should be sitting down to dinner.
Ambrose Dare, the very rich and very powerful head of the Hellfire Club, sent me here to put a metaphysical leash around Merrimoth’s neck after hearing reports that his Number Two Earthbound had gone mad. Not usually my business or concern, but Dare was busy at some holiday fundraiser, and I was getting paid to care.
“We can’t stand here forever,” Lon said in a low voice.
No, we damn well couldn’t, but the alternative wasn’t exactly appealing. We could jump back inside the window and I could try to summon enough Heka to bind Merrimoth—hopefully before he found the gun or set us on fire. I longingly glanced at the nearby balcony. It was several feet away and connected to our roof by a slim ledge of cedar.
“Would it hold us?” Lon asked.
I tested it, easing the toe of my shoe on the ledge. Seemed strong enough, though it was awfully narrow. “I don’t know . . . .”
“Try to bind him again.”
“You think I’m not?” I whispered hotly.
My inherited moon power was stronger than it’d ever been, now that I was using it regularly, but that didn’t mean I understood the mechanics behind it. All I knew was that it damn sure didn’t work in the daytime, and—like the cable in Lon’s house on the cliffs—it often went on the fritz during storms.
Lon exhaled in frustration. Clever eyes studied mine as his index finger and thumb moved in unison to smooth the thin pirate mustache that trailed around his mouth and framed the matching triangle in the center of his chin. “Bind Merrimoth,” he finally said, “and I’ll do that thing you like later.”
“It’s not like my power reacts to the reward system,” I said, then added, “What thing?”
The corner of his mouth quirked. “On the chair.”
“You mean that thing you like?”
“We both like,” he corrected. “Win-win.”
I snorted a soft laugh. “I don’t think you understand the concept of bargaining.”
Jenn Bennett is an award-winning artist and author of the Arcadia Bell urban fantasy series from Pocket Books. Born in Germany, she’s lived and traveled extensively throughout Europe, the U.S., and the Far East. She lives near Atlanta with one husband and two very bad pugs.
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