The Curse of Tenth Grave (Charley Davidson #10) by Darynda Jones

1

Charley Davidson:

Maybe she’s born with it.

Maybe it’s caffeine.

Ignoring the dead girl standing next to me, I crossed my bare feet on the cool windowsill, took a sip of piping-hot coffee, and watched the emerging sunrise from my third-story apartment window. A soft yellow scaled the horizon and stretched across it like tendrils of food coloring suspended in water. Ribbons of pinks and oranges and purples quickly followed, the symphony a slow, exquisite seduction of the senses. Or it could have been if there weren’t a dead girl standing next to me.

She jutted out a tiny hip, anchored a fist onto it, and let loose a lengthy sigh of annoyance for my benefit. I continued to ignore her. There were few things in life more irritating than other people’s children. Hell, perhaps. Been there, done that. But for the moment, the only thing complicating an otherwise serene morning was a tiny blond-haired, blue-eyed beast in Strawberry Shortcake pajamas.

“Are you going to read it to me or not?” she asked, referring to our recent ventures into Harry Potter land.

I stopped what I was doing, which was basically trying not to drool into my cup. As a master mixologist, I felt the need to experiment from time to time on my morning elixir. To liven it up. To create new concoctions of greatness to which others could only aspire. This morning, however, I’d done good just to push the right button on Mr. Coffee. At least I think I pushed the right button. I could have started a nuclear war, for all I knew.

“I’ve already read it to you 7,843 times.”

She pursed her bowlike lips, causing dimples to emerge on either side of her mouth. But these weren’t happy dimples. They were dimples of disappointment. Dimples of frustration and irritation and fury.

I hung my head in shame.

Just kidding!

I turned back toward the window and ignored her.

“You’ve read it twice.”

“Which is two times too many in my book,” I said, focusing on the spectacular display before me, realizing that, to the everyday passerby, my apathy toward the tiny creature might’ve seemed cold. Aloof. Cruel, even. But I’d just come from an all-night stakeout that involved a woman, a.k.a. my client, who swore that her husband was sneaking out at night and meeting his personal assistant for some very personal assistance. She wanted proof.

After showering, the only thing I wanted was to drink the key to life itself, enjoy the colors bursting before me, and figure out how to tell my client that her husband was not cheating on her with his personal assistant. He was cheating on her, in a sense, with the college kids who rented out their above-garage apartment. He snuck out to play video games and enjoy a little plant-based medicinal stress relief. After getting to know his wife, I could hardly blame him. She turned high maintenance into an extreme sport.

Now I just had to figure out how to tell her what her husband was up to. Even though there was nothing sexual about her husband’s exploits, a woman like that would still feel betrayed. If, however, I could put just the right spin on it, I could lessen the sting when I gave her the news. So, instead of my original plan of saying, “Your husband is escaping you for a few blissful hours of recreation because you are cra-cra and he needs a break,” I figured I could say something like, “Your husband is sneaking out to tutor the struggling college kids who rent out your apartment. He counsels them on how to stay focused no matter what life throws at them (or who throws it), advises them on how to shake off a bad day (or a bad marriage) and push through. He even cautions them about the dangers of illegal drug use.”

Yeah. I nodded my head, quite proud of myself. That’s the ticket. By the time I was finished with her, she’d see her husband as a paladin of the pawn. A defender of the downtrodden. A savior of the suffering.

A hero!

I took another sip, ignored yet another sigh coming from the irreverent beast beside me, and let myself slip. Just a little. Just enough to see the other side. The supernatural one. Because there was nothing more spectacular than watching the sunrise in the mortal world, the tangible one, from the vantage of the immortal world. One seemed to affect the other. The raging, powerful storms of the supernatural realm grew even more vibrant. Even more brilliant. As though somehow our sunlight spilled into the domain of the preternatural.

Made sense. Preternatural inhabitants tended to spill into our world as well. On occasion.

The marvel that I could shift from one realm to the other was not lost on me. For a month, I’d lived on the crux between the two worlds, having no idea I could control where I stood in each.

In my own defense, I had amnesia at the time. Had no idea who I was. What I was. The fact that I was a god from another dimension who’d volunteered to be the angel of death in this one, to be its grim reaper, was the furthest thing from my imaginings, and even as an amnesiac, I was pretty darned imaginative.