It’s a cruise ship to Hell. Literally.
Sun, sand, and ghosts. Sounds like the perfect working vacation, no? The supernatural cruise would be a chance to get a tan, enjoy a variety of cold drinks with colorful umbrellas, and make some money leading ghost tours along the Mid-Atlantic coast…or so I thought. I didn’t count on a seasick hellhound Chihuahua, a stowaway ghost, and a crazy cult cramping my style. Now I’m fighting Octonomicron acolytes, trying to keep myself in one piece, and save humanity at the same time. Oh, and that tan? So not happening.
“NO,” POOKIE said. “Hellhounds and water don’t mix.”
“Hey, it pays the bills,” I replied, peering at my laptop screen.
We were in the Delacourt Manor dining room, a relatively peaceful space with an octagonal table, carved wooden chairs, and a brand new and rather expensive brass chandelier. The morning sun streamed through the windows, enveloping us in a comforting, summery warmth. I sat at the head of the gnome-carved table, checking my calendar as my hellhound Chihuahua lay on his pillow, soaking up the rays.
It would have been an idyllic scene, if it weren’t for the claw marks on the dining room door and the deep gashes on the floor. My newly acquired home—my family’s ancestral abode, no less—had a few Lovecraftian drawbacks.
Pookie’s obsidian eyes narrowed. “You’ve always been cheap, but you weren’t this concerned about money before. Did the television gig money run out?“
“Not yet, emphasis on yet, but I have a mortgage now.” I gestured toward a wall sadly in need of fresh wallpaper. “And a house that needs, er, maintenance.”
Pookie laughed. “Are you worried about feeding the tentacled beastie in the attic? Let me reassure you as to that. The sustenance it requires is not one you find at pet stores, and I’m not volunteering.”
Sadly, Pookie wasn’t exaggerating, for once. I’d gone as far as to let the government’s paranormal strike team, PRoVE, investigate the whole house with their computers, sensors, and magic users. Their best guess was that our unwanted housemate consumed only magical energy, preferably the kind found encased in a magical being.
A hellhound like Pookie would qualify as a full meal. As would I, given my necromancy. My ancestors, all witches, had also made the grade, as they were all killed by something very much like my supernatural cephalopod roommate.
Yes, it turned out my ancestral home was literally trying to eat me.
Oh, not right now. PRoVE had helped me install protections, so the creature was temporarily contained. As long as the house was standing, the transdimensional hexes implanted in it would be kept at bay, giving me enough time to figure who had put them there, and how I could take them out.
The house—an undeniably gorgeous Victorian that had so much gingerbread trim it could pass for a wedding cake—was extreme, even in this neighborhood. Yes, I lived in the famously haunted town of Banshee Creek. Yes, many people lived in haunted houses in this Northern Virginia village. However, I was the only who kept a magical katana—now resting against the table beside me—around for protection.
Which left me with an extremely difficult mission, and a big pile of home repair bills. I had a successful career as a paranormal investigator and—ugh, I guess I have to admit this—influencer. However, keeping the house and its newly installed protections in one piece wasn’t cheap, which was why instead of focusing on handing my supernatural squid housemate an eviction notice, my attention was on the big pile of house repair bills.
I already had a frighteningly large estimate from the electrician and a similar one from the plumber. The roof, I already knew, was in bad shape. Liam Hagen, Banshee Creek’s resident contractor, was now touring the house and likely daydreaming about the luxury pickup truck he’d buy with my checks.
I needed money fast, and Danny Demento’s Paranormal Summer Cruise paid extremely well.
“Uh-oh,” Pookie sighed. “I know that look. It’s a prelude to an episode of epic bad judgement.”
“Hey, you turned your back on the luxurious demonic lifestyle of Gehenna Heights,” I replied. “In this plane, my spoiled hellhound friend, money problems are not a state of mind. We need the cash. Look, it’s just three days. That leaves us plenty of time to hunt down the Octonomicron cultists. I promise I’ll let you bite some of them.”
“You don’t think Captain Eileen was acting alone then?” Pookie asked. “I thought that was the official PRoVE theory. She’d been in the organization a long time, had become obsessed with this particular old cult, and decided to bring it back all by her lonesome by triggering their old traps and the supernatural critters contained within.”
“No, I don’t,” I replied. “And neither does Caine. He’s just using that for his reports. He hates admitting that he doesn’t know.”
Caine Magnusson was the leader of PRoVE. You may have seen the group’s all-seeing eye logo, watched its YouTube channel, or heard about its goofy antics as harmless paranormal investigators, and thus you may have surmised they were just a bunch of adventure-seeking bikers and eccentric academics. But, believe me, that’s just a cover. PRoVe was a government organization tasked with investigating supernatural occurrences. The organization was old—created by President Andrew Johnson by an executive order dating back to the 1800’s—and Captain Eileen Childs was by no means their first renegade. She was, however, Caine’s first brush with betrayal, and he had not taken it well.
Eileen, burning with the hatred of the supernatural that had caused her to study magic and join PRoVE, had read the Octonomicron books and fused them to try to kill me, Cole Hunt, the town’s guardian ghost, and Sara Parker, the vampire who managed the pizzeria. Caine felt the betrayal deeply and was determined to find the cause of it. However, we had found no leads regarding the Octonomicron books, so PRoVE’s official story was that Eileen had acted alone.
None of us believed it, though. Whoever the Octonomicron people were, it was clear they were many. They had a printing press, they had blogs, they were distributing materials. Oh, maybe some of their victims, like Eileen, acted independently, but there was a group behind it. One that had likely been around for centuries. One that had killed my family.
And I had to find out who they were.
That is, right after I got my roof repair estimate. Liam’s footsteps echoed through the house, the spring in his step sounding ominous. Anything that made my contractor happy would be bad news for my bank account.
I drew in a deep breath. “I’ll take the cruise job, put down the repair deposits, and leave Liam to fix the house. Then, I promise, we’ll go on a long, productive road trip and get to the bottom of this.”
I pulled up Danny Demento’s e-mail. All I had to do to secure a last-minute berth was reply and show up. The VIP treatment was nice, and it explained how Danny had been able to assemble such an impressive lineup of presenters, entertainers, and hosts for his trip. Nearly every high-profile paranormal investigator, medium, and parapsychologist I knew was attending.
“The job,” Pookie drawled, “is a weekend cruise down the Mid-Atlantic coast with a bunch of weirdos doing silly magic tricks. Trust me—there isn’t enough money in the world.”
“Danny Demento is not a weirdo,” I replied, typing in my registration information. “He is a marketing genius. He started with a national chain of seasonal Halloween costume stores, expanded into a line of haunted house attractions, and is now doing haunted cruises. He’s brilliant.”
And he was pulling out all the stops for this tour. The materials promised arcane rituals, esoteric knowledge, and the fulfillment of one’s secret dreams and desires. The itinerary itself was a series of run-of-the-mill coastal paranormal investigations—spooky lighthouses, haunted hotels, and ghost ships—but Danny made it sound epic. He even promised world domination. Typical Demento over-sell.
“He’s had more bankruptcies than I’ve had reincarnations,” Pookie replied. “The haunted house gig went kaput, and he had to sell the stores at a loss.”
He had me there. Danny’s finances went up and down like a roller coaster. When he was up, he was minting money, but when he was down, he went totally broke. This cruise seemed to be one of his upswings.
“You need to stop watching financial news,” I mused, reviewing Danny’s email. “It’s not good for you.”
Three days of sand and surf, surrounded by some of the most influential people in the paranormal industry. That didn’t sound too bad. I’d be able to gather information and check out if anyone had noticed the Octonomicron materials and their distinctive eight-armed symbol around. My colleagues were huge gossips, so that wouldn’t be hard. By the time the job was over, I’d have some idea of what my next step should be. Right now, all I had was a pile of Octonomicron books, Eileen Childs’s tapes, Sara’s haphazard memories, and a long list of questions.
Pookie yawned. “I’m a demon. I can’t resist a train wreck. I just don’t want to be a part of it.”
“But disaster hasn’t hit yet,” I continued. “He has money now, and he’s willing to pay a handsome fee. That’s the bottom line. You can stay if you want to, but I’m going.”
Pookie snorted. “As if you could get by without me.”
“Try me,” I said, hinting the send button.
Pookie’s eyes went wide. “Well, aren’t you the independent—wait, a minute. Are you taking the ghost guy? Am I being replaced by Mr. Tall, Dark, and Only Corporeal to You?”
My head snapped up. “The ghost—you mean Cole? No, he’s not coming. Of course not.”
Cole Hunt wasn’t just the town’s resident guardian spirit. He was also my old high school crush. He’d helped us defeat Captain Eileen, and he also wanted to solve the mystery of the Octonomicron. He thought there was an older and more dangerous force at work, and he would be a useful ally—
“Oooooh,” Pookie sighed. “Cole and Claire, sitting in a ship, K-I-S-S-I—”
“Oh, stop,” I said, scowling at him. “That doesn’t even rhyme.”
“‘Nipping’ would rhyme,” he replied. “But then he’d have to be a werewolf, not a specter.” He frowned. “Can a ghost even board a boat? Isn’t he stuck here?”
“He’s not going,” I said through gritted teeth.
Even if I wanted to have Cole around, which I wasn’t willing to admit, it wasn’t worth enduring Pookie’s teasing. And the hellhound was probably right. Ghosts tended to stay put. Cole was likely bound to Banshee Creek, the haunted town he was devoted to.
So, no beach trip with Cole Hunt. I wasn’t disappointed about that, not at all.
“Turn that frown upside down, witch girl,” Pookie drawled. “It’s not too late to back out from this sand flea-infested three-day cruise to beach hell.”
“Actually,” I said. “The confirmation e-mail just hit my inbox, so it is too late. We leave for Norfolk tomorrow.”
“Oh, wonderful,” Pookie said with profound insincerity. “I’ve longed to see Norfolk again. We had so much fun there the last time.”
And by ‘fun,’ he meant the exact opposite. The Norfolk supernatural community could be strange, not that I was judging or anything. We were all a few nachos short of a combination plate in this business, but Norfolk was missing an entire enchilada.
“I’m glad you’re so excited,” I replied, ignoring his sarcasm. “We leave in the morning, which doesn’t give us much time to pack.”
“Luckily, I travel light,” Pookie said.
“But I don’t,” I said, as I pulled up my work packing list.
Monster hunting didn’t require a large wardrobe, but my day job was a different story. I’d become a paranormal celebrity thanks to my stint as the host of the Celebrity Medium television show. I liked to think that my popularity was due to my scintillating personality and my deep knowledge of paranormal history, but looks were a big part of it. My lavender hair and stylish clothes were part of the draw, and that, unfortunately, required a lot of effort and a ton of luggage.
I got up from the table. “I better go hurry Liam up. If I don’t start packing soon—”
I jumped as a shrill scream rang out. The sound echoed through the room, making the thin glass of the old windows vibrate. Pookie yawned and glanced up at the ceiling.
“Did you warn Liam about the attic?” he asked.
“No,” I replied, leaping out of my seat, my heartbeat quickening. “I forgot.”
Luckily, I remembered to grab my sword before heading for the stairs.
Thank you, Ani Gonzalez and Lola’s Blog Tours
About the author
I’m a USA Today bestselling author of paranormal romantic comedy and cozy mystery (whew, that’s a mouthful!) set in Banshee Creek, Virginia, The Most Haunted Town in the USA. My books feature feisty, irrepressible heroines dealing with a host of paranormal critters (ghosts, cryptids, pagan gods…the sky’s the limit) and mysteries. They find love and laughter (and sometimes corpses) along the way, and readers get to follow them every step of the way.
I love quirky towns with spooky stories, and, thanks to my books, I get to “live” in one year-around. In real life I live in a Virginia suburb (which is sadly lacking in ghosts) with my husband, three children, two cats, and one adorable dog.
There is a tour wide giveaway for the blog tour of Dead Man’s Hex. These are the prizes you can win:
– a $25 Amazon gift card
– a $15 Amazon gift card
– a $10 Amazon gift card