For once, Joanne Walker's not out to save the world. She's come to terms with the host of shamanic powers she's been given, her job as a police detective has been relatively calm, and she's got a love life for the first time in memory. Not bad for a woman who started out the year mostly dead.
But it's Halloween, and the undead have just crashed Joanne's party.
Now, with her mentor Coyote still missing, she has to figure out how to break the spell that has let the ghosts, zombies and even the Wild Hunt come back. Unfortunately, there's no shamanic handbook explaining how to deal with the walking dead. And if they have anything to say about it—which they do—no one's getting out of there alive.
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Saturday, October 29, 9:45 p.m.
My wig itched like a son of a bitch.
I wanted to say I didn't know how I'd gotten myself into it, but the truth was, I knew exactly how I had: Phoebe Kostelis, normally my fencing teacher. Tonight, however, she played the part of my short Sapphic sidekick, working the crowd outside the party hall like she'd been born to it. They looked happy to be worked, since she wore only slightly more clothing than I did and had a body that even I coveted in a strictly Platonic sense.
I hadn't thought this much about ancient Greeks since college, which probably meant I wasn't having enough fun. Phoebe, on the other hand, was having a blast, wheezing with laughter as she clutched the arm of a cop I didn't know. At least, I thought he was a cop: he was dressed as one, anyway.
But then, Phoebe was dressed in a scrap of cloth wrapped around her breasts, a very short skirt and a blond wig that suited her even more poorly than long hair suited me. At least my wig and my natural hair color were the same: black. Phoebe's hair was also black, and being blond did her olive complexion no favors. On the other hand, she was having fun, though I wasn't convinced it was more fun than she'd have as a brunette. It didn't matter either way, as long as she kept everybody's attention off me.
I should have known better than to let her choose my Halloween costume. The last time she'd dressed me I'd ended up in an itty-bitty gold-lamé shirt, and jeans that stopped somewhere several miles south of my navel. This time she'd put me in a midriff-baring, boob-enhancing, hip-riding leather-pleated-skirt thing with ass-kicking boots and a variety of increasingly useless-looking weapons. I'd flat-out refused to wear it without a mask. Phoebe insisted that particular outfit didn't have a mask. I insisted there was no way on this earth she could get me out of the house with my facenot to mention other body parts unfamiliar with seeing the light showing. She'd finally given in and provided me with a golden mask "from season six" that left my mouth and jaw exposed, but hid more recognizable features, like my slightly too-beaky nose. Between it and the wig, I hoped nobody would know it was me.
I walked through the doors a few feet behind Phoebe, who cleared the way with a quarterstaff taller than she was. I didn't really think she needed the quarterstaff: one glower from beneath Phoebe's Frida Kahlo eyebrow was enough to quell me, and I had an eight-inch-height advantage over her.
Of course, it was a party, which meant the glower wasn't really in place. Instead of skedaddling, people grinned, and then they got a load of me. A wolf whistle broke out, followed by a smattering of applause and a cheerfully bellowed, "Damn, Joanne, your legs go all the way up, don't they?"
So much for not being recognized. I had a peace-knotted sword on one hip and a round yin-yang thing on the other. I loosened the yin-yang and shook it threateningly, but no one looked even slightly threatened. Someone did start a betting pool on whether Phoebe or I would win a fight. I put ten dollars on Phoebe and made my way farther into the room.
The noise was astonishing. Phoebe and I had been there all afternoon setting up, only leaving an hour or so earlier to go change into our costumes. Since then, an easy two hundred people had jammed into a hall meant for maybe a hundred and fifty, and enough of them were cops that somebody really should've taken the moral high ground and called the fire marshal. Instead, people were dancing, laughing, shouting at each other, waving red cups of cheap party drinks in the air and generally looking as if they were having a good time. I'd never helped throw a party before, much less one people came to by the hundreds. I felt all proud, and felt even better when Thor the Thunder God came through the crowd to stop in front of me with a smile. "Can I get you a drink?"
I looked him up and down, like he had to pass muster before I decided he was worthy of fetching refreshments. He did. In fact, at a guess, there was nobody more mustery at the party. He wore a tight-fitting sleeveless blue shirt with half a dozen shimmering circles set in two rows down his front, and jeans, which made him a rather modern god. Still, the loose blond hair and the goatee he'd grown out over the last few months went a long way toward the look. So did the sledgehammer he'd strapped across his back. It looked like a much more effective weapon than either of the ones I was carrying, and I was briefly jealous. He'd forgone a traditional Viking helmet, but since the man looked like Thor in his day-to-day life, he really didn't need it to pull off the costume. His smile broadened, becoming more godlike as he looked me up and down in turn. "I thought you didn't do Halloween."
"I thought so, too," I said dryly. "Phoebe thought otherwise." I tugged the mask off and rubbed my nose. If people were going to insist on knowing who I was, at least I could indulge in breathing. Besides, I'd been kidding myself about being unrecognizable. Phoebe'd chosen the outfit because I had the physical stature for it: in bare feet I stood half an inch under six feet tall, and had the breadth of shoulder that came with working on cars most of my life. Or, I guessed, if I was going to stay in character, with swinging a sword all my life. I'd actually only been doing that for about six months, which was a lot more than I'd ever imagined doing. Anyway, Seattle's North Precinct police department wasn't littered with women my height, so even though the point of a costume party was disguise, I probably would have had to arrive as a short bald man to actually be mistaken for someone other than myself.
Thor was still grinning at me. "I think this is one matchup they never had on the show. We should get our picture taken."
"You're seriously deluded if you think I'm going to let anybody take my picture in this getup." Thor waved at somebody as I spoke, then turned me around. A flash went off in our faces and I tried to lurch two directions at once: toward the camera to destroy it, and toward Thor, possibly to destroy him, too. Our photographer squeezed away through the crowd, leaving me to bonk my head on Thor's shoulder and groan. "Thanks a lot. Anyway, I never saw the show. Why would she be running around with Thor? I thought she was, like, Greek."
"How could you have never seen it?" Thor asked incredulously. "Don't you ever just turn the TV on and watch whatever's on?"
I shrugged. "Not really, unless I catch a Law & Order marathon. I don't watch a lot of fantasy shows."
"Mmmph." He considered me a moment. "Maybe I wouldn't, either, if I were you. You want that drink?"
All of a sudden, I did. Thor's reminder wasn't enough to get my panties in a bunch the way it would've a few months agowhich was good, since there was no way to discreetly debunch panties under my teeny-weeny skirtbut an out-loud mention in public was a tad on the overwhelming side. Overwhelmed must've shown in my face, because Thor pushed off through the crowd, people making way for the thunder god without thinking about it.
A dippy little grin edged its way across my face as I watched him go. He was a good guy, probably better than I deserved. Certainly better than I'd treated him as when we'd first met and I'd saddled him with the Thor nickname. I mean, yeah, he was tall and blond and gorgeous and had shoulders slightly wider than the Grand Canyon, but I'd been pissed off that he'd replaced me as a mechanic at the cop chop shop, and had given myself license to call him whatever I wanted.
I'd been, if you wanted to get right down to it, a bit of an asshole. I hoped I was starting to improve, but in the meantime, Thorwhose real name was Edwardhad admitted that as nicknames went, Thor wasn't bad. I wouldn't have expected him to put on a costume and run with it, but people surprised me all the time. Sometimes I surprised even myself.
Like now. I popped up on my toes to gain another inch in height, and for once I ran with it and gave myself permission to see a little more clearly.
Not just see, but See. Edward had an aura that suited the nickname I'd given him: it was all stormy grays and blues, with shattered bits of white crashing through it. He was, by nature, good-humored, and those sparks of brilliance were usually wit, but I expected if he got his dander up, they'd be as deadly as the lightning Thor was supposed to be able to call.
For a few seconds, the entire room danced with light. Everyone was in high spirits, obvious from not only the laughter and ribald teasing, but the warmth and camaraderie of people feeding each other's energy and keeping it going in a positive cycle. It felt good to revel in that energy, but watching it constantly made the real world harder to see, and despite it all, I still preferred the real world.
It'd been nearly a year since I'd been laid out in a parking lot with a sword in my lung and a smirking coyote offering me the choice between death or life as a shaman. In all my waking hours I'd never thought of wanting any kind of mystical gifts or healing powers, but I'd wanted to die even less. It had occurred to me once or twice since then that even in the absolute worst of circumstances, there were choices to be made. The sticky bit was that we tend to think of choices as being one good thing versus one bad thing. When the available options all suck, you took the one you could live with.
In my case, that was a very literal what I could live with. It'd taken me the better part of six months to chin up to the responsibilities I'd agreed to, and finally doing so had changed the shape of my life. Now the least of my esoteric skills was turning second sight on and off, letting me see more deeply into people without so much as a blink.
A party was not the time to be dwelling on my unnatural skill set. I did blink, even if it wasn't necessary, to clear away the glimmering colors, and moved to lose myself in the crowd. Edward would be able to find me; I was taller than almost everyone in the room, and he was taller than I was. I squirmed by a pair of clowns whose eyes were on the level with my breasts. The one with his nose in my cleavage looked entirely too pleased. I threatened him with the yin-yang thing and his companion had the good sense to turn his face away. I moved in the other direction, hiding a laugh. Being amused by people ogling my chest seemed out of character for my leather-clad persona, never mind me.
A big chunk of a man in a blue satin evening gown with a matching bolero jacket edged through the crush, trying not to step on anyone. I escaped the clowns and waved my mask in greeting. "Hey, Billy. You look great."
Billy Holliday, paranormal detective extraordinairehe saw dead peoplemy work partner, and overall one of the solid, reliable linchpins of my life, looked me up and down and said, "You look surprisingly naked."
I covered my bare stomach with the mask and wondered if a blush could start as low as the xyphoid process. It felt like it. "I don't think that was the response I was looking for."
Billy, without a hint of genuine repentance, said, "Sorry," as his wife appeared at his elbow. "I've just never seen you quite so, um."
Quite so um. There were probably worse compliments a girl could get, but overall I think I'd have preferred better. Then again, married men probably weren't supposed to open with a salvo of you're surprisingly naked to begin with, so maybe I should take what I could get.
"Bill, you're not supposed to let the pregnant wife get lost in the madhouse." Melinda Holliday stood a full foot shorter than her husband, and wore a velvet tuxedo that properly squired his evening gown. Wonderfully long tails nearly dragged on the floor, and she adjusted a cummerbund stretched over a very round belly as she examined me. "Joanie. You look "
I sighed. "Surprisingly naked?"
"Well," she said cheerfully, "yes. Fantastic, actually, but surprisingly naked. Who convinced you to wear that?"
I said, "Phoebe," in a voice that I hoped spelled her doom.
Melinda laughed, which boded poorly for my doom voice. "Half the force will thank her for it. Have you seen Michael?"
"Michael? Morrison?" I didn't know a lot of other Michaels, but I never thought of my boss by his first name, and found it bewildering that Melinda did. "Morrison's at my party?" I had a fair amount of experience with the world ending. None of it had looked anything like a costume party, or else I'd have put Morrison's attendance down as a sure sign of the apocalypse.
Melinda's eyebrows shot up. "You invited him, didn't you?"
"I didn't think he'd come!" Curiosity got the better of me as I craned my neck to look around. "What's he dressed as?"
"A cop, of course." Melinda sounded delighted.
I squinted. "He is a cop. That's not a costume. Unless he's in uniform, but that's cheating."
Billy, sounding every bit as pleased as Melinda, said, "Oh, he's in costume." I turned my squint on him, then peered around again. Morrison typically wore suits, except for when protocol demanded he pull out the full captain's dress uniform. I hadn't seen him in that since a funeral in June, and while he'd looked as handsome and solemn and reliable as a police captain should, I didn't think he should get away with it as a Halloween costume. Especially when I'd let Phoebe put me into some strategic bits of leather and a sword. I'd have died of hypothermia if the party wasn't a success.
Thor reappeared, bearing drinks and a look of amusement. "Have you seen the captain?"
"I don't even believe he's here." I took one of the plastic cups he offered and sniffed its contentspink and foamy suspiciously. "What is this?"