Thanks to the generosity of the author, here's an exclusive extract from Jacqueline Carey's upcoming Autumn Bones. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.
Here's the extract:
New York Times bestselling author Jacqueline Carey returns to the curious Midwest tourist community where normal and paranormal worlds co-exist—however tenuously—under the watchful eye of a female hellspawn… Fathered by an incubus, raised by a mortal mother, and liaison to the Pemkowet Police Department, Daisy Johanssen pulled the community together after a summer tragedy befell the resort town she calls home. Things are back to normal—as normal as it gets for a town famous for its supernatural tourism, and presided over by the reclusive Norse goddess Hel. Not only has Daisy now gained respect as Hel’s enforcer, she’s dating Sinclair Palmer, a nice, seemingly normal human guy. Not too shabby for the daughter of a demon. Unfortunately, Sinclair has a secret. And it’s a big one. He’s descended from Obeah sorcerers and they want him back. If he doesn’t return to Jamaica to take up his rightful role in the family, they’ll unleash spirit magic that could have dire consequences for the town. It’s Daisy’s job to stop it, and she’s going to need a lot of help. But time is running out, the dead are growing restless, and one mistake could cost Daisy everything…
Although I meant to make an early evening of it, I ended up staying at Mom’s later than I intended. We were on our second wine cooler when her neighbor Gus lumbered over to offer us a couple of the bratwursts he was grilling; which, by the way, I confirmed he hadn’t made himself. Gus is an ogre, and while he hasn’t eaten anyone in the last century, I have my suspicions regarding a few of the neighborhood cats and dogs over the years.
Anyway, the bratwursts were store-bought, so we invited Gus to join us on the deck, where he sat hunched to approximately the size and shape of a boulder-strewn hillock, and gazed adoringly at my mom.
I think it’s sweet that he has a crush on her, and aside from his latent appetite for human flesh, he seems to be a gentle soul.
Once the sun set, the mosquitoes began swarming. But by then it seemed a shame to go home too early, so Mom and I said goodnight to Gus and went inside to watch an episode of Gilmore Girls. Which, yes, I’ve seen half a dozen times, but if you’re not familiar with it, it’s about a single mom in a quirky little town raising a teenaged daughter she’d had out of wedlock when she was just a teenager herself, and it’s cute and smart and funny, and since it originally aired when I was, like, twelve years old, it’s always been our show. I bought Mom the first season on DVD with my first official paycheck.
Of course, one episode turned into two, then three, before I finally made it home to find an indignant Mogwai demanding that I refill his bowl.
“That’s all there is,” I told him, emptying the dregs of a bag of cat food. He flicked one notched ear in my direction. “Hey, it’s not my fault if you struck out today and were forced to survive on kibble alone, mighty hunter.”
Mogwai lifted his head from his dish long enough to give me a look of disdain.
“I’ll go to the store in the morning,” I promised.
Lying alone in bed, I let myself relive the memory of waking up this morning in Sinclair’s bed with his arm over me, trying to decide how I felt about it. Short answer: I felt good.
So as I drifted off to sleep, I resolved that tomorrow I’d do something nice and distinctly girlfriend-like for him. Cookies. Yeah, cookies. He didn’t know it yet, but I knew my way around the kitchen, too. I’d bake cookies for Sinclair.
It was a good idea, anyway.
The morning started out well enough. Since it was Sunday, I was technically off-duty. I woke up in time to make a run to the grocery store before the after-church hordes descended on it, stocking up on cat food and baking supplies.
By noon, I had my wet and dry ingredients whisked, sifted and separated and the late, great Katie Webster blasting some Swamp Boogie Queen blues on the stereo. My trusty electric hand-mixer was plugged in and ready to go when my phone rang. It was a local number, but not one I’d programmed into the phone.
I turned down Katie. “Hello, you’ve reached Daisy Johanssen.”
There was a lot of noise in the background on the other end, too. “Hi? This is Mark Brennan at Bazooka Joe’s. You asked me to call?”
My mind was a blank. “I did?”
“If those kids came back?”
Oh, crap. Right. I shifted my phone to a better angle. “The kids running the shell game? They’re back?”
“Yeah, right here down on the dock,” he said. “Got a pretty big crowd, too.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I appreciate it.”
Okay, so the cookies would have to wait. On a hunch, I exchanged my cute but slippery-soled sandals for a pair of white Keds sneakers. If my suspicions were right, I might need speed and agility. For the sake of mobility, I would have preferred to wear dauda-dagr on my belt, but since I didn’t want to spook the alleged kids, I went with the messenger bag instead, strapping it across my torso. Since I wasn’t sure how well my face was known in the wider eldritch community yet, I added a pair of sunglasses.
Being an agent of Hel sometimes requires compromise. At least I looked enough like a tourist to pass.
Truth be told, I actually enjoy this part of my job. It’s a game in a way; one that involves enough adrenaline to make it fun, but low enough stakes that I won’t castigate myself if I lose a round. Although I do like to win. It’s when things get serious, like they did earlier this summer, that it gets scary.
My apartment was a couple of blocks away from the docks. At a brisk walk, it only took me minutes to get there.
Sure enough, it appeared that a trio of kids were running a shell game. To the mundane eye, it was a charming affair. There was the young hawker, who looked like a miniature version of a young Justin Bieber in an oversized baseball cap, sweeping bangs over his eyes, doing the whole “Ladies and gentlemen, step right up!” bit. And there was the operator, a solemn-looking towhead, kneeling on the dock over a piece of cardboard, his hands moving swiftly as he shuttled a dried pea between three empty walnut shells. Last was their bagman, a chubby-cheeked, freckled redhead holding twenty-dollar bills fanned like playing cards in one hand. Norman freaking Rockwell would have been proud of these three.
I sidled through the crowd, ignoring a few protests. Blinking my eyes, I concentrated on seeing through the trio’s glamour.
Hobgoblins, all three.
I have to say, it was obvious they were having great fun. Their feral nut-brown faces were contorted with gleeful malice, long, pointed noses drooping toward wide, grinning mouths filled with an erratic straggle of teeth. Sharp, bristly ears twitched with mirth and bright little hedgehog eyes gleamed with delight.
“You sir, you look like a sharp-eyed gent!” the Bieber-goblin said encouragingly in a clear, piping voice, identifying a new mark. “Try your hand?”
A portly tourist in a polo shirt and Dockers cleared his throat. “I don’t want to take advantage, son.”
“Oh, it’s all right, sir,” the Bieber-goblin assured him. He laid one hand on the towhead’s shoulder. “Nate here just needed to find his rhythm. He’s got it now.” He winked. “Right, Nate?”
The ostensible Nate returned his wink, hands moving more swiftly as he passed the pea from shell to shell. “Right you are, Tommy!”
Oh, gah! It worked, though. I watched the portly tourist pony up a twenty dollar bill for his bet. The seemingly freckle-faced bagman made a big show of inserting the twenty into the array of bills he held fanned in his hand. The towheaded operator made a number of smooth passes with the pea and the walnut shells, just fast enough to be credible, just slow enough to be detectable. The portly mark was sharp-eyed enough to follow him. With a show of reluctance, the bagman plucked out two twenty-dollar bills and made good on the bet.
“Double or nothing, sir?” the Bieber-goblin asked.
And again, I had to admit, it was a pretty damn clever scam. It was a reverse shell game. The hobgoblins were paying out worthless fairy gold in exchange for cold, hard, mundane cash.
I almost hated to bust them.
While the mark debated whether to go double or nothing, I pushed my way to the head of the crowd. Beneath my skirt, my tail swished back and forth in an involuntary stalking reflex. The Bieber-goblin’s long nose twitched as he detected an eldritch presence in the gathered throng. His bright, beady eyes scanned the faces before him, pausing with uncertainty when he reached mine.
I held up my left hand palm outward, revealing Hel’s rune. “Sorry, guys. You’re busted.”
“Scatter!” he shouted.
I lunged forward to grab him... and promptly went sprawling as someone clipped me hard behind the knees. Damn. Apparently, there was a fourth hobgoblin. I caught myself on my hands on the piece of cardboard they were using as a gaming table, which promptly slid out from under me, sending me to my belly. The air went out of my lungs with a whoofing sound and my sunglasses clattered to the dock.
“Thanks!” The Bieber-goblin vaulted over me, stooping to snatch up my sunglasses with one gnarly, long-fingered hand. “I’ll take these.” Someone let out a startled shriek as he put them on his face. In the heat of the moment, he’d dropped his glamour. “Oops.”
Spinning on the cardboard like an old-school breakdancer, I took him down with a leg sweep and pinned him to the dock. “Gotcha.”
Behind me there was more shrieking and a loud, angry buzzing sound interspersed with oohs and ahs. I barely had time to wonder what the hell was going on before someone grabbed my ponytail and yanked it hard enough to make me yelp. The buzzing sound was right at my ear, vibrating the air like a hummingbird on steroids.
“Loose him, you churlish, ewe-necked trollop!” a voice shrilled. The Bieber-goblin squirmed out of my grip and took off at a run.
“Dammit, Jojo!” I scrambled to my feet. A dozen cameras went off as I confronted the hovering fairy. “I’m working!”
Jojo didn’t even deign to reply, just gave an indignant sniff and winked out of sight.
“Aw, man!” one of the tourists complained, fiddling with his camera. “Why’d you have to scare her off, lady?”
My temper stirring, I gave him a look that shut him up, then scanned the area. Three of the four hobgoblins were nowhere to be seen. They couldn’t vanish into thin air like fairies, but they were fast, and they could camouflage themselves as rocks or bushes in the blink of an eye. As long as they held still, it was hard to spot them.
Lucky for me, the bagman-goblin wasn’t as speedy as the others; and when the Bieber-goblin yelled scatter, he’d taken off down the dock where there was nowhere to hide for a good hundred yards.
I took off after him, my Keds thudding against the wooden docks. Hearing my footsteps, the bagman-goblin turned on the jets. If I’d had a clear shot, I could have caught him, but there were tourists strolling the docks, and that little bugger was agile. He scooted underneath a distinguished-looked Great Dane being walked on a leash and bounded over a baby-stroller being pushed by a young couple.
I had to go around them, apologizing breathlessly. I should have caught up to the bagman-goblin in the park with the gazebo, but by the time I reached it, he’d gone to earth, hiding.
“Where are you, you little creep?” I looked around. “C’mon, I know you’re here.” A group of tourists gave me an odd look.
I ignored them. There was a hedge of boxwood around the base of the gazebo. And unless I was mistaken, that bit of shrubbery on the end was trembling. Squinting, I peered through the camouflage glamour to see the bagman-goblin trying very hard to hold perfectly still, his narrow chest heaving with exertion.
So lazy hobgoblins could get out of shape. Who knew? I tackled him before he could run again.
“Oof!” Lying on his back, he raised his hands in surrender. “Okay, okay! I give.” He batted his lashless beady-bright eyes at me. “We were just having fun.”
“I know.” I plucked a crumpled wad of twenties from his clutch. “And I’m just doing my job.”
“Spoilsport,” the hobgoblin grumbled.
“Uh-huh.” I sorted through the bills, separating the real ones from the fairy gold counterfeits.
“We’ll give you half our take,” he said in a wheedling voice.
“No can do.” I dropped the false twenties on his chest, where they turned to dry, brittle oak leaves. “And I’d like my sunglasses back.”
“Yeah?” The hobgoblin smirked. “Good luck with that.”
I got off him and stood, patting my messenger bag. “You know, I could have drawn steel on you and I didn’t.”
A hint of fear crossed his face. “You wouldn’t. Not for this.”
“Don’t push me,” I said sternly. “You know you’re not supposed to break mundane laws. Do you want me to report you to Hel?”
“Over a pair of cheap dollar-store sunglasses I didn’t even take?” Now the hobgoblin sounded incredulous.
“No, you nitwit. For defrauding tourists. What’s your name?” I asked him. He didn’t answer. Reaching into my bag, I unsheathed a few inches of dauda-dagr, enough to let him see the hilt. “On pain of cold steel, what’s your name?”
Although they’ve developed a higher tolerance in the last few centuries, most of the fey retain an aversion to iron and its alloys. They can be around it, but they can’t bear its touch. “Tuggle,” the hobgoblin said sullenly. “Name’s Tuggle. You really going to tell her?”
There was no way in, well, hell, that I was going to bother the Norse goddess of the dead by reporting on a relatively harmless hobgoblin scam—and Hel has her own ways of keeping tabs on what’s going on aboveground in the mundane world—but Tuggle didn’t know it. I thought about forcing him to rat out his accomplices and decided against it. I was here to keep order, not make enemies. “We’ll see,” I said to him, easing dauda-dagr back into its hidden sheath. “Tell the others to consider this a warning. And I really would like those sunglasses back.”
Tuggle shrugged. “I’ll see what I can do.”
“Thanks, Tuggle.” I gave him a hand up, which he accepted. “No hard feelings?”
He shrugged again. “Eh.”
“Hey, lady!” a concerned voice behind me called. “You okay?”
I turned around. “Fine. Why?”
It was a teenaged kid, maybe sixteen or seventeen, out wandering the town with his girlfriend. They were doing that thing where they had their arms wrapped around each other’s waists and their hands in each other’s back pockets. All the cool couples in high school used to stroll the halls that way. Of course, Jen and I had made fun of them, but secretly, I was always a little envious of them. I’m pretty sure Jen was, too.
“It’s just that you’ve been talking to that bush for a while,” the kid said in an apologetic tone.
His girlfriend blinked. “Wait a minute. What bush?”
Apparently, Tuggle the hobgoblin was skilled at maintaining a glamour and had a knack for timing a getaway. Glancing behind me, I saw he’d made his escape, probably shifting back to his freckle-faced kid guise when no one was looking.
Oh, well. At least I’d made my point.
“Welcome to Pemkowet,” I said to the teenagers. “Where weird shit happens.”