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Welcome to Mystic, Connecticut, where a Satyr owns the local pawn shop, a Minotaur serves the tastiest pizza in town, and the nearest gate to the Underworld resides in the alley outside a tattoo parlor.
Nix–Sea Nymph, talented artist and proprietor of Mystic Ink–just wants to run her tattoo shop in peace and quiet. Peace and quiet, however, are the least of her problems. Mortal corpses keep springing up in her alley like daisies. Hades is angry that the mortals’ souls are missing. And to top it all off, the human authorities suspect Nix of foul play.
Before long, the supernatural police force takes an interest. They dispatch Agent Calder Quinne to investigate. His assignment is simple: determine Nix’s guilt or innocence by observing her daily routine. Instead, he’s faced with an uncooperative Nymph who resents his presence and evades him at every opportunity.
Nix finds Cal far too attractive and a challenge to her self-imposed ban on relationships. She wants him out of her life as soon as possible. When Cal’s soul is stolen next and Nix wakes up missing memories of the evening’s events, even she starts to wonder if she’s guilty. Now, she has only two weeks to locate Cal’s missing soul, or he’ll be doomed to spend eternity as a Shade.
“For Zeus’ sake. Not another one!” Nix stood in the alley, garbage bag in hand, shaking her head with disbelief. A pair of work boots, toe up, peeked out from behind the dumpster, like a construction worker version of the Wicked Witch of the East.
“Not again!” Basil, her parrot, squawked loudly from his perch. The wide open side door, leading into her tattoo shop— Mystic Ink— gave the pesky bird a view of the alley outside.
“Shut up, stupid bird!” Nix yelled back. She gingerly nudged the boots with her toe. “Come on, Mister, please don’t be dead.” She pushed harder. When the man didn’t wake up and apologize for rudely passing out by her shop, she kicked the solid metal container and swore. There was no use denying it, she had another dead body in her alley. She peered behind the dumpster, studying the mortal: Pasty flesh, eyes staring sightless into space, soul departed.
Yup. Dead as a doornail. A sultry summer breeze drifted by, carrying the sickening sweet scent of decay mixed with salt water from the nearby Mystic River. She wrinkled her nose. The heat wasn’t doing the corpse any favors either. The wind reversed. Cinnamon and warm dough from the bakery next door wiped away the stench.
“Shut up! Holy shit! Another body!” Basil screeched so loud the whole neighborhood could probably hear him. “Time to call, Charon.”
Nix pitched the trash in the dumpster and stomped back into the building. She really shouldn’t be surprised. A gate to the Underworld resided at the end of the alley. Yeah, the Underworld, where Hades ruled over his souls like a dragon hording a stash of gold. Normally, it was only the souls of the dead that drifted by and not the actual bodies.
“Basil, you’re really not helping the situation.” Nix paced the shop for a moment, then stopped. Three corpses in a week was more than a coincidence. She drummed her fingers on the receptionist desk.
As far as she knew, nothing like this had ever happened to her Uncle Memphis, previous owner of Mystic Ink. After he’d disappeared, she had assumed full ownership of the business, the parking lot next door, Basil, and two employees. Along with the shop, came the guardianship of the Underworld Gate. Since Nix wasn’t a mortal, she could handle the job. There wasn’t much to it — just let the dead souls pass through. But the dead bodies . . . they were something new.
A police siren, shrill and insistent, grabbed her attention. She shot a dark look at Basil when he imitated the noise. His high pitched parrot voice was equally annoying. When the cruiser arrived, Basil stopped and belted out, “Here comes the Fuzz!”
“Great. Just great.” She wouldn’t have time now to call Charon before the mortals got involved. Again. Last time, Charon had bitched her out for letting the police take the body. As if she could stop them without throwing more suspicion on herself. She had snapped back at Charon that if Hades didn’t like it, he could come and clean his own mess.
“Uh, oh. Officer Dickface.” Basil announced. Nix winced at the nickname her assistant, Jason Argos, had given the policeman. She wished Jason would be more careful about what he said around the bird. Basil repeated everything. The more embarrassing, the more he said it. She had no clue how Basil knew what irritated her the most, but he did.
“Basil, cut it out. That’s Officer Dinsdale.” Nix always suspected Basil was more than a parrot but was still trying to prove it. Uncle Memphis had a penchant for the weird and it wouldn’t surprise her if Basil was something otherworldly. “Let’s hope the man didn’t hear you.” Before the parrot could say anything else, Nix covered his cage to quiet him down. So what if it was only seven-fifteen in the morning and she had just removed the overnight cover for the day. “Remember, if I get arrested, there won’t be anyone to feed you or scratch your ratty feathers.” Hopefully that would shut him up.
Nix went out to the alley to intercept the policeman, firmly shutting the heavy metal door and effectively muffling any chatter from Basil. The officer perked up when he saw her, his eyes automatically fixing on her breasts. It wasn’t really his fault. Mortals couldn’t help their attraction. He didn’t know that she was a Nereid — a Sea Nymph. One of the fifty daughters of Nereus, the Old Man of the Sea, Nix had inherited the natural beauty and sex appeal of her race.
Since she had taken over the shop a few weeks earlier, she had dyed her naturally blonde hair to black and had thrown in a few bright red streaks for good measure. She thought it would help her look the part of a tattoo artist better and dim the attention to her body. So far, it didn’t seem to be working.
“Ms. Eudora Nixon. Why am I not surprised you have another body?” Officer Dinsdale approached, his hand casually resting on the butt of his handgun. Connecticut’s finest in action.
“Nix. My name is Nix, Officer Dinsdale.” She tried to contain her annoyance. She hated the name Eudora and preferred her middle name, Nix, instead. The surname Nixon was fabricated so she could blend in with the mortal world.
“Yes, you have mentioned it,” he paused, “a few times. I should know since I have been here on three calls now. What have we got today?” Not waiting for an invitation, he headed straight over to the dumpster and peered around the side.
Nix piped in, for form’s sake, “I haven’t gone back there. Or touched anything. This is how I found him.”
“I wonder. What is so interesting about your dumpster, that men keep dying back there?” He sighed again, gripped the walkie-talkie clipped to his shoulder and radioed for an ambulance. He flipped open his notebook. “Did you know the deceased?”
“Was he a customer?”
Nix gaped at him. Which part of “no” did this man not understand?
“No, Officer. He was not one of my customers,” she clipped out.
“At approximately what time did you find the body?” he asked.
Nix resisted the urge to sigh. This was going to be a long morning. “A little before seven a.m.”
Pen poised over his pad, Dinsdale looked up when no more details were forthcoming. “Ms. Nixon, please don’t make me have to pull information out of you.”
As if. Nix could bench press the mortal, but she kept her mouth shut and continued providing details. The interview had concluded when an ambulance pulled up to the end of the alley. No lights and no sirens since there was no rescue involved.
The low rumble of a motorcycle engine cut through the air.
Nix tensed up. The motorcycle meant her handler, Calder Quinne, had arrived. Like her morning wasn’t crappy enough.
Officer Dinsdale, conferring with the ambulance driver, didn’t give Calder a second look as he passed by them. The mortal policeman and Calder had already exchanged official credentials when the last body was found. Dinsdale was under the impression Calder was a CIA operative. The mortal had no idea that Calder was really an agent for The Delian League — a top secret organization comprised of Gods from various world religions. The League oversaw the supernatural world, ensuring they stayed under humanity’s radar.
Calder approached with two Styrofoam cups from the bakery next door. Nix tried not to gape at his sculpted physique, displayed by a form fitting gray t-shirt and perfectly worn blue jeans. For the past two weeks, she had acted like a sappy admirer every time he had arrived. He was a Demigod —Son of Ares. No big deal. His face, framed by close cropped black hair, was really no more beautiful than other Demigods. At least that is what she kept telling herself.
She scowled. He was a male, and probably a jerk, like her ex-boyfriend Nathaniel Adonis. Besides, Calder Quinne was unwelcome. She didn’t need a handler. Really an overgrown baby sitter disguised as an evaluator. How could her father do this to her? Didn’t Nereus trust her?
“Good morning, Nix. I hope I remembered how you like your morning coffee.” He grinned, flashing perfectly white teeth. She tried to ignore his voice, a smooth and captivating baritone rumble that poured over her senses like satin. “Black, one sugar and a dash of cinnamon.”
Damn, he was charming too. And that was her coffee order of choice…. With a mental head slap, she reminded herself to keep her distance. “I’ve already had my coffee today.”
Calder shrugged, “No problem. I’ll just leave it in the backroom for you in case you change your mind.” He entered the shop using the alley door that led directly into the storage room/employee break area.
Basil swooned, “Here comes Mr. Dreamy.”
Nix cringed. She had never said anything like that — out loud.
Officer Dinsdale returned and issued the standard — We’ll call you if we have more questions — message before departing with the ambulance.
“Damn. Did I miss all the fun?”
“Jason! I thought I asked you not to sneak up on me.” Nix had nearly jumped out of her skin.
“Sorry, boss.” Jason attempted a sheepish look, but wasn’t very convincing. His blue eyes sparkled with merriment. Jason, also a Demigod, was descended from a long line of Heroes. Skull trimmed blond hair, copious tattoos and body piercings made him appear menacing, but in reality, he was a sweet guy and an accomplished artist. Technically, he was still an apprentice, but there was no reason for it. He did superb work and already had a strong client list. He could start his own shop if he really wanted. Nix planned on officially promoting him, if things ever calmed down long enough.
“I’ll start prepping for the day’s customers. Hey, did Cal arrive yet? He promised to have a hot chili eating contest with me later.” Jason and Cal had hit it off after about two minutes. Nix suspected that Jason was relieved to have another male around. She didn’t want to think that Cal might really be a nice guy. Nope. Didn’t want to go there.
“Yeah, he’s here.” Nix tried to keep her voice light and even. Jason didn’t need to know about the resentment building inside her at the whole babysitting situation.
“Awesome.” He went inside, closing the door behind him. Lights in the main shop blazed to life, as Jason turned them on, throwing pale light through the side windows into the dim alleyway.
Nix muttered, “I’m a Destroyer, damn it. I don’t need him hanging around. So what if one of my sisters went insane after her tour of duty ended. That’s not going to happen to me.” She stopped, yanked open the side door, and quickly retreated inside before anyone caught her talking to herself.