Shady Lady, p.1Ann Aguirre
Table of Contents
If Death Is the Answer, What Was the Question?
There’s No Dave Here
Hard to Handle
Voyage to Monkey Island
Heaven and Hell
The Island Witch
Reports of My Death Have Been Much Exaggerated
Dead Man Says What?
Deals with the Devil
Welcome to the Jungle
Where Fire Eats the Sky
Unearthing Her Bones
Demon in the Dark
The End Is the Beginning Is the End
The Day After
Dark Tides Rising
The Black Rose
Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
Safe as Houses
Once Upon a Time in Mexico
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Praise for the Novels of Ann Aguirre
“Riveting. . . . Full of well-drawn characters, a nearly tangible setting, and the threat of death around every corner, this spinechilling paranormal mystery is sure to keep readers turning pages—and glancing over their shoulders.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A well-paced plot with a satisfying amount of suspense. Aguirre mixes the supernatural with real-life details and makes this well-crafted story feel authentic.”
“Fans of the first book, never fear; this is a good, solid follow-up that left me hungry for more.”
“Reading Hell Fire is a completely sensory experience that would be half as immersive in the hands of a lesser writer.”
—All Things Urban Fantasy
“Sets a new bar for Ann Aguirre.”
“Hell Fire has a searing triangle romance, breathtaking paranormal elements, intimate adventure, mature point of view, and solid writing craft.”
“Ann Aguirre proves herself yet again in this gritty, steamy, and altogether wonderful urban fantasy. Outstanding and delicious. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.”
—#1 New York Times bestselling author Patricia Briggs
“An authentic Southwestern-flavored feast, filled with magic, revenge, and romance, spiced with memorable characters and page-turning action. ¡Muy caliente!”
—New York Times bestselling author Rachel Caine
“Corine has a great narrative voice—snappy and full of interesting observations on everything around her. . . . [Blue Diablo is] fast-paced and entertaining.”
—Charles de Lint, The Magazine of Fantasy Science Fiction
“The fast and furious pace combined with interesting characters, powerful antagonists, and the promise of romance make for a strong first entry in the series.”
—Monsters and Critics
“Ms. Aguirre plunges readers into a fast-paced tale where her human characters are enhanced by their extraordinary gifts. Blue Diablo delivers a strong start to the series with a well-defined heroine, intriguing paranormal elements, and an emotion-filled romance.”
“Rising star Aguirre moves from outer space to the Southwest in this new first-person series. With murder, magic, and romance, this is an enticingly dangerous journey. Don’t miss out!”
“The first Corine Solomon urban detective fantasy is a great tale filled with magic, paranormal powers, demons, and spirits bound to the necro. The heat between the lead couple is palpable. . . . This is an enthralling romantic urban fantasy.”
—Midwest Book Review
Also by Ann Aguirre
CORINE SOLOMON NOVELS
SIRANTHA JAX NOVELS
Published by New American Library, a division of
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First published by Roc, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
First printing, April 2011
eISBN : 978-1-101-47768-7
Copyright © Ann Aguirre, 2011
All rights reserved
REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.
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For Sharon Shinn,
whose words made me sigh
and wish I could ever write so well.
She has since proven herself as gracious
and charming in person as one would imagine.
Thanks for everything.
Once more, I’m starting with Laura Bradford, who goes beyond the call. Thank you for the DMV, District 9, and the Toys “R” Us Bakugan mission. I hit the jackpot the day you said, “I don’t know if I can sell a science fiction novel, but I think I want the challenge.”
As always, I thank Anne Sowards. Her notes make every book better and I am so lucky to work with her, along with all the other talented people at Penguin.
Next, there’s Lauren Dane. She never fails to make me feel better when the chips are down, and she’
Here’s a shout to Bree and Donna. Both of you have been there, and I appreciate it more than words can say. I’d give either of you my seat in the lifeboat any day.
The incomparable Ivette takes meticulous care that everything in the book makes sense.
I also need to thank Stacia Kane. She convinced me to write what I wanted and not worry about convention. The book is better for her bravery and its daring.
Then there’s Laura Bickle. She gets my work from the ground up; thanks for being a sounding board during revisions.
Additionally, thanks to the fine staff at La Finca in Catemaco, who made my research trip a fabulous vacation, and thanks to the real “Ernesto,” who took us out in his lancha, showed us the sights, and did not suffer a dire fate.
Thank you to Teté, a New Age expert, and Estelle, a real-life curandera, for insights that enriched this book and brought Tia to life.
Finally, I thank my family. If they weren’t so awesome, I’d never be able to keep a schedule. My kids are fantastic, and I’m so proud of them. They’re smart, capable, kind, and a whole lot of fun. I’m lucky to have them.
Then, of course, there’s my husband. To give you an idea the kind of guy Andres is, when he comes home from a long day of work—and a longer commute—to find I’m cranky because my draft isn’t going well, oh, and I’ve been interrupted eleventy-four times by peddlers, he listens and then cooks dinner. I’d never ask it, but how cool is that? He also has an epic ability to plot logical consequences for the messes my characters find themselves in. Without him, this book wouldn’t be as good.
Many thanks to my fabulous proofreader. You know who you are.
As always, I must convey my utmost appreciation to my readers. You guys are the best. Please keep writing; that’s [email protected] I love hearing from you.
If Death Is the Answer, What Was the Question?
Lust sizzled through me. There were two of them, a matched pair. I knew a woman wasn’t supposed to want such things, but sometimes we had desires—dark desires—that couldn’t be denied. There was no doubt about it.
That was the sexiest set of salt and pepper shakers I’d ever seen.
Briefly, I imagined Chance’s reaction to my infatuation. Corine, he’d say, why don’t you make love to them? You’re making me jealous, woman. With some effort, I put him from my mind. My ex didn’t deserve to be the voice inside my head.
Instead I focused on the treasures I’d found outside my back door. Crafted of pure silver, they depicted lovers reaching toward each other, separated by whatever distance their owners dictated. I studied the artful lines and the graceful arches of the spines. These were classically inspired, likely a representation of Eros and Psyche. On closer inspection, I noted that the pepper flowed from holes in Psyche’s fingertips. I couldn’t believe where the salt came from.
Wonderful. The designer had a sense of humor.
I didn’t expect trouble from these two. Mentally bracing myself, I curled my left palm—now marked with a flower pentacle—around Psyche, lifting her out of the pretty white box. Heat flared, but it brought no pain. As I’d thought, there was no trauma attached. Though I would have loved to keep these, my gift whispered of the fortune I’d make selling them to a professor visiting from Spain. In my mind’s eye, I saw a flickering image of my prospective buyer. I’d recognize her when she came in, and make sure to show them to her.
After the mess in Georgia, I was happy to be in Mexico. Things hadn’t been the same since I found my mother’s necklace; for a moment, I saw myself kneeling in that demon grove, shadows gone green from the Spanish moss, the smell of verdant decay in my nose like a damp, mildewed rag. I reached out and took the necklace—against Jesse Saldana’s warnings—and lived my mother’s death. I hadn’t survived it, or at least, when I came back, everything had changed. My ability was no longer the simple “touch” it once was; I thought I’d received my mother’s power, but I wasn’t a trained witch. Nor did I know who to trust with the revelation. At this point, I didn’t know how to discipline my new power, and that was made for a bad situation, considering the cost at which I’d gained it. In time, I’d move beyond the pain of all those deaths in Kilmer, and these peaceful months at home had helped.
But I was curious about these salt and pepper shakers. As a handler—someone who could read the histories of charged objects—sometimes I wanted to see the stories, even when I didn’t have to, especially when there was no grief or trauma involved. I didn’t read every item that came across the counter in the pawnshop, but when I thought something might have a happy story to tell, I wanted to see it for myself.
As I reached toward Eros, the bell above my door tinkled. Sunlight cut through the shadows, golden motes of dust whirling in the air and hinting at how hot it was outside. The heavy rock walls and cool plaster interior made it possible for me to stand my shop with just a simple oscillating fan. In fact, it was cooler than any un-air-conditioned building I’d ever seen in the U.S.
I recognized the man standing in the doorway, though he was not either of the ones I might’ve expected. Kel Ferguson stood well over six feet and he was heavily muscled. Tattoos covered his skin, even on his skull, written in angelic script. He had eyes like shadowed ice and he professed to be the Hand of God, tasked with killing those who would push the world toward the end of days. Once, in Laredo, he’d claimed if he had been on the job at the time, he could’ve prevented the Holocaust.
I didn’t know if he was crazy, but I did know the man was damn near unkillable. In Texas, I had watched him take multiple wounds so deep they showed bone; I saw him fall. And then he rose again, ready to fight on. Whatever else he might be, I was pretty sure he wasn’t entirely human. I also wasn’t sure whether we were still on the same side. I froze, eyeing him across the counter.
“Corine.” He inclined his head toward the saltshaker. “Don’t touch that.”
My right hand rested on the counter, mere inches away from Eros. I’d intended to read him, now that Psyche had told me where they were destined to wind up. Another thirty seconds and it would’ve been too late, assuming he was right in his warning. Somehow I didn’t think Kel had come all this way to mess with my head.
“Why not?” There was no point in remarking on his lack of niceties.
“It’s hexed,” he told me.
Damn. Despite my uncertainty about his motives, I didn’t doubt him. After what I’d seen him do in Laredo, I had to take him seriously. His reactions and recovery came from something greater than insanity; that was for sure. I wasn’t ready to admit he had a direct line to the divine or anything, but his presence had saved my ass once before. There could be no discounting him now.
It was lucky I hadn’t lifted Eros out of the box he’d come in. In all honesty, I didn’t know who had sent the set. I’d found them this morning and assumed they comprised part of Señor Alvarez’s last shipment—that could’ve been a costly mistake.
Alvarez had done a stellar job running the pawnshop while I was gone, but he seemed relieved to be out of the store. Much as I didn’t understand it, he preferred being on the street looking for lost riches. Hm. On the other hand, maybe I knew why he didn’t want to deal with customers all day. That was my least favorite part of running the place.
Belatedly, I realized I was fixating on the mundane to keep fear from paralyzing me. A hex meant nothing good, but it remained to be seen how bad it was. I squared my shoulders and edged the white case away from me with the heel of my hand.
“The killing kind.”
A shudder rolled through me. “So if I’d picked it up, I’d be dead on the floor. Right now.”
Dammit, I owed him my life. Again. I hated having unpaid debts. Right now, I could think of better positions to be in: I owed my life to
“That’s why I’m here,” he said, and the tattoos against his skull glowed just a little, as if bearing witness.
I raised a brow. “To save me?”
“I’ve been assigned as your guardian until the immediate danger passes. I’m told you’re going to be important.”
“Oh, no.” I shook my head. “I helped Chance find his mother. I took care of business in Kilmer, and now I’m finished . I run a pawnshop. That’s all I want or need. It’s a good life.”
“Very well,” he said. “For the moment, put aside the matter of whether you have a role to play in things to come. Do you think you’ll survive to enjoy the quiet life if you don’t deal with Montoya?”
Montoya. Christ on a cracker, that name brought back memories I didn’t want. In rescuing Chance’s mother, I’d pissed off the jefe of a major cartel. It wasn’t like television, where it was all automatic weapons, either. These days, the cartels used warlocks, shamans, and voodoo priests—any advantage to get their merchandise to market and crush their rivals. Chance’s luck would keep him safe, even if his mother hadn’t forced Montoya to swear off pursuing vengeance against her son—and she’d called the Knights of Hell to witness the agreement.
So Chance was fine. Like a cat, he always landed on his feet. And I didn’t miss him at all. Really, I didn’t. He’d expected me to give up everything I’d built on my own here, just slide right back into the life I had left behind. But I was a different person. I wouldn’t go back, and if he’d wanted me as much as he claimed, he would’ve considered making some changes too, not expected me to yield everything for the joy of being with him.
Shady Lady by Ann Aguirre / Fantasy / Romance & Love have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes