Authors: Denise Grover Swank
Tags: #Romance, #Paranormal Romance, #Science Fiction Romance, #Fantasy Romance, #Ghosts
|The Curse Defiers|
|Number III of|
|Denise Grover Swank|
|Tags:||Romance, Paranormal Romance, Science Fiction Romance, Fantasy Romance, Ghosts|
For centuries the gods have waited - for the betrayal that will release them, for the traitors who will defend them, for the warrior who will challenge them. Now at long last the gate between the human and spirit worlds is open, and with it, an army of vengeful demons poised to swarm the earth. Only the Curse Keepers, Ellie Lancaster and Collin Dailey, can stop it...
if they can break free from a tangled web of treachery, jealousy, and lies.
Torn between two men -
her heart belongs to David, yet her soul is bound to Collin’s
- Ellie no longer knows who she can trust. Demons slipping through the gate are leaving a trail of bodies in their wake, each death a chilling reminder of the power of the ancient spirits to bring humanity to its knees. Faced with an unimaginable future, Ellie realizes the time has come to turn her back on prophecy and choose her own destiny -
even if it means defying the gods themselves.
In the thrilling conclusion to the Curse Keepers trilogy, humanity faces its final battle for survival!
y Denise Grover Swank
he Curse Keepers
HE CURSE KEEPERS
THE CURSE BREAKERS
THE CURSE DEFIERS
This Place Is Death (short story)
This Changes Everything (short story)
ose Gardner Mysteries
Humorous southern mysteries)
WENTY-EIGHT AND A HALF WISHES
WENTY-NINE AND A HALF REASONS
HIRTY AND A HALF EXCUSES
THIRTY-ONE AND A HALF REGRETS
THIRTY-TWO AND A HALF COMPLICATIONS
n the Otherside Series
Young adult science fiction/romance)
ff the Subject Series
New adult contemporary romance)
BUSINESS AS USUAL
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Text copyright © 2014 by Denise Grover Swank
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by 47North, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Amazon Publishing are trademarks of
, Inc. or its affiliates.
Cover illustrated by Larry Rostant
Library of Congress Control Number: 2014908009
To my daughter Emma, whose stubbornness simultaneously exhausts and inspires me.
I felt the demon before I saw it. The mark on my palm tingled slightly, and the tattoo on my back began to burn.
“Curse Keeper.” The low voice floated in the wind.
I sighed. Yep. A demon. No one knew my recently initiated title except for the spirits and gods of the Croatan Indian tribe, along with five other people. I was Elinor Dare Lancaster—otherwise known as Ellie—multi-great-granddaughter of Ananias Dare, one of the original colonists from the Lost Colony of Roanoke. Only the colony wasn’t lost anymore. The entire thing had reappeared out of thin air a month and a half ago. The reappearance was the signal that a four-hundred-year-old curse had been broken, cracking the gate to Popogusso—the Croatan word for hell—and releasing a slew of spirits, demons, and gods that had been locked away by my ancestor Ananias and Manteo, the son of a Croatan Indian werowance. I was one of two Curse Keepers, a title passed down from generation to generation. While I was the Dare Keeper, Collin Dailey was the Manteo Keeper. And it wasn’t a coincidence that the curse had broken while he was on duty.
It had been a week and five days since I’d heard anything from the spirit world, which was one week and four days longer than expected. Collin and I had destroyed two demons over three weeks ago, and while there had been a few minor metaphysical encounters since, the spirits had been keeping surprisingly quiet, particularly considering Collin’s claim that they considered us fair game now that they knew we could and would destroy them.
Part of it was undoubtedly because I had the protection of the god Okeus. And many of the spirits still needed to regain strength after their four-hundred-year-long incarceration. But even though I hadn’t seen or heard much from them, I still sensed them. They were growing restless, causing an itch in my palm that wouldn’t go away. So although I wasn’t happy that I was about to face a Native American spirit, I wasn’t exactly surprised. But I had just gotten off a double shift from my waitressing job at the New Moon restaurant and it was close to midnight. I had to walk home, and I really wasn’t in the mood to deal with a cranky supernatural being. And from past experience, they were
The demon seemed to be waiting for me to take the lead. Since I didn’t know what I was dealing with, I decided to ask the question that would help me most in the long run. “Who are you?” Surprisingly, I’ve found that most supernatural creatures are eager to identify themselves to me. Maybe it’s an ego thing.
The demon’s answer was to appear in the middle of Sir Walter Raleigh Road in downtown Manteo, North Carolina, population twelve hundred. I had encountered giant badgers and a golden deer. A huge horned water snake and a panther-reptile hybrid. That didn’t even take into account the multiple gods with whom I’d dealt. But after all of those encounters, I still wasn’t prepared for the figure that appeared in front of me.
An old woman.
I blinked. Yeah, an old woman.
She looked like someone’s grandma. She was slightly over five feet tall and she couldn’t have weighed much more than a hundred pounds. Her face resembled a prune, and she had bushy gray eyebrows and a hooked nose that looked like a bird’s beak. Her hair was long and scraggly and pure white, hanging past her shoulders. Dressed in a faded blue housedress, she was leaning over a plain wooden cane. The only thing about her that clued me in on the fact that she wasn’t on her way home from bingo was her glowing red eyes.
Yeah, a demon.
I flexed my wrist, preparing to hold up my right hand. I could use the mark on my palm—an intersecting circle and square—and say the words of protection that would send the bitch away. Not permanently, but for at least a few days. I needed Collin with me to send it back to Popogusso for good, and that was something he wasn’t willing to do. I was on my own.
“What do you want?” I asked.
“I am here to tell your future.” Her voice sounded like she’d smoked two packs of cigarettes a day since she was fourteen.
A shiver of fear crawled up my spine. Nothing this woman could say would be good news. “Thanks, but I’ll pass. Knowing my future is a lot like knowing what all my Christmas gifts are before I open them. Why spoil the surprise?”
Her glowing red eyes shined brighter than flattened pennies. “You are the vessel that will determine the fate of the world. You will either save it or destroy it. And it will happen soon.”
Oh, shit on a brick.
“Are you sure that’s not
The old woman’s eyes narrowed as she pointed her cane at me. “Do not mock the Fates.”
Fates. Old woman. Was she one of the Greek Fates? Weren’t they a set of three? And if I remembered correctly, they always traveled with yarn and a pair of scissors. There was no sign of either, not even a loose thread on her worn housedress.
“Is there anything else? Any love notes from Okeus?”
She smiled, and it was far from a pleasant expression. “You will see the Great One soon enough.”
I almost snort-laughed. Was that what he was calling himself these days? Since Okeus had made it all too clear that he wanted to be my baby daddy and she’d called me a vessel in her premonition, seeing him was the last thing I wanted to do. “Tell Okeus that I’m pretty busy. I’ll let him know when I’m free.”
Rather than answering, she disappeared, replaced by a flame that shot into the sky.
I needed to talk to David. Stat.
I hurried the rest of the way home. Until a couple weeks ago, home had been my apartment behind the restaurant where I worked. But now I was back in the home where I’d grown up, one of two houses on the property. One house was our family residence and the other was a bed and breakfast my father had owned until his death a month and a half before. Daddy had suffered from Alzheimer’s for several years, so my stepmother, Myra, had been left with most of the responsibility for the inn, along with her part-time job at the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, the location of the no-longer-lost colony. I’d helped by working without pay around my waitressing shifts and providing financial support whenever I could. But the B&B had lost money for years, and the property was in so much debt I wasn’t sure we could ever get out of it. Even with the recent boom in business. Everyone wanted to see the reappeared colony. And since Myra had moved to Durham two weeks ago, I was stuck running the inn. Thank God David was so willing to help me. Him and our part-time—now full-time—employee, Becky.
As I walked up the path to the house, I stumbled, then groaned in irritation. I had tripped a lot over the last week, which made me wonder if all my demon-related injuries had affected my gross motor skills.
I slipped in the side door to the house, checking out the Native American symbols scrawled in charcoal around the perimeter of the door. Collin hadn’t been by for several days to put his mark on the door, so the marks needed to be redone. I decided I’d redo them in the morning in the hopes that my own power would be enough to protect us.
A soft light glowed in the office, and I found David hunched over a book, a legal pad and a coffee mug next to him. When I pushed open the French doors, he looked up, pulled his reading glasses off, and gave me a soft smile. “How was work?”
Every time I saw him after we’d been apart for more than a few hours, the sight of him stole my breath away. Dr. David Preston was a gorgeous man. He was tall and broad shouldered, with sexy dark hair that begged my fingers to touch it. His warm hazel eyes looked at me with a combination of love and lust. It was no wonder he had a mile-long waiting list of attractive college girls dying to get into his intro to history courses back at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
I sighed. “Exhausting. Frustrating.”
“Is your new boss still being a wanker?” he asked in his sexy British accent. David was a UK-born history professor who specialized in Native American studies. Talk about an anomaly. But he was
anomaly, and the thought warmed my insides.
My mouth lifted into an amused grin. “That’s putting it lightly. Though my crash course in British slang had led me to believe a wanker was a man.”
He shrugged, his eyes twinkling with amusement. “I don’t discriminate.”
After I’d sought out David’s help over a month ago to get information about the Croatan spirit world, he’d taken a leave from UNC, extending his research sabbatical at the colony site so he could study Manteo’s hut. While helping me, he’d pursued a romantic relationship. I’d tried to keep our partnership professional, but he had been impossible to resist. I still wondered at the wisdom of being involved with him with so much danger lurking around. Making him my boyfriend painted a bull’s-eye on his back. Still, I knew his physical safety wasn’t the only thing at risk.
For one thing, Collin Dailey was the other Curse Keeper, my true partner, not that he believed in helping me much. But mostly, I worried that I’d never give David everything he deserved. Dr. David Preston was a kind, thoughtful, incredibly intelligent man who had devoted his time and attention to helping me discover everything I needed to perform my duties as a Curse Keeper. Granted, he wanted to help me protect humanity, but his devotion ran much, much deeper.
He’d already confessed that he loved me. I hadn’t reciprocated yet. Maybe it was because there was too much going on to fall in love with someone, although I suspected it had more to do with the fact that I’d bound my soul to Collin’s during the short week we’d been together while trying to reseal the gate. Of course, Collin had been set on keeping the gate open the whole time and had only fooled me into thinking we were closing it. In any case, we’d had a brief, highly intense, sexually charged fling and had inadvertently bound our souls together. If Collin had his way, I’d probably be in his bed at this very moment, and if things had gone differently, I would have been eager to comply.
Only Collin had betrayed me by opening the gate and releasing countless supernatural beings, a good portion of whom, on their way streaming out of Popogusso, had vowed to make
pay for my ancestor’s crime. My father had died as a sacrifice, and I was on the supernaturals’ most wanted list. While Collin had offered me his own twisted form of apology, I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to forgive him, let alone forget. Especially since he’d pledged himself to Okeus, the malevolent Croatan god.
No, I’d decided a month ago that David Preston was an honorable man, of whom my father would have approved. I loved him in my own way, and we had a very healthy sex life. It wasn’t the highly intense connection I had experienced with Collin, but it was deeper and, more importantly, it was full of trust. I could trust David implicitly with everything. I couldn’t trust Collin with anything.
David set his glasses on the desk and scooted his chair back, motioning me around the desk. I obliged and he grabbed my hand, pulling me onto his lap so that my legs were hanging over the arm of the chair. He placed a soft kiss on my bottom lip. “You look exhausted, love. How about we go to bed?”
I sighed with a combination of exhaustion and contentment. “That sounds wonderful, but I’m almost too tired to climb up the stairs.”
“Then I guess I’ll have to carry you,” he said in a husky voice, lifting his hand to the back of my head and pulling my hair free from my ponytail.
“Then maybe I shouldn’t have had that piece of cake on my break. You’ll never hoist me up the stairs now,” I teased. Then I heaved a sigh. I hated that I always had to steer our conversation back to serious topics, but David had a right to know what was going on. “Something happened on the way home.”
He stiffened slightly. “And what was that?”
“I met a demon in the middle of the road.” I shook my head and grimaced. “That sounds like the beginning of a bad joke.”
His eyes widened and he ran his hands up my arms, checking me for any injuries. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. There was no confrontation. Not really.” I couldn’t blame him for worrying. Some of my recent encounters had left me physically injured. David too. He still had a slight limp from our battle with the two rabid spirits Collin and I had ultimately destroyed.