Mal Keyne came back from the dead five years ago. Since then, she’s been fixing the god Hades’s problems for him–the kind that are best solved with a bullet. In the secret war between the gods, discretion is the name of the game, and Mal’s got it covered.
But there’s a new player in town, someone with power that doesn’t work the way a god’s power should. They’re strong enough to risk open war with Hades, and reckless enough to disregard the one rule all the gods can agree on: keep the mortals in the dark. And they’re assassinating Hades’s agents all over the city–including one of the two people Mal actually trusted.
With the help of a sheltered priestess, and a magic-wielding mortal who may or may not be on her side, Mal is going to hunt down the people–and gods–responsible. And she’s going to show them why you don’t mess with the god of death.
Targeted Age Group:: adults (appropriate for teen+)
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I wrote this book because I love the urban fantasy genre and wished there were more urban fantasy that focused more on the action than the romance. I wanted to write a story about gods, but wasn't sure whether the ancient cods would still rule over their traditional territories in the modern world, so the idea of the war between the gods was born.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
One of my favorite things about urban fantasy is the characters, especially how the protagonists often have a mix of toughness and vulnerability that I find irresistible as a reader. I wanted Mal to be able to face whatever the world threw at her, while still being a messy human just like the rest of us.
"What did you say your name was?" Across from me, the lawyer frowned at his computer. He drummed his fingers on the desk.
"Mallory Keyne. Call me Mal." I shifted in the rickety wooden chair, which creaked under my weight, threatening to plunk me down to the mangy carpet the second I let my guard down. Briefly, I wondered if I should trust a lawyer who couldn’t afford safer furniture. Then again, I couldn’t afford a lawyer, so maybe we were a good match after all.
"That’s what I thought." His frown deepened. "This says–"
"I know what it says. That’s why I’m here."
"Mallory Keyne," he repeated, shifting his gaze from the screen to my face and back again. "Daughter of Patrick Keyne and Senator Karen Keyne? Thirty-four years old?" His voice changed when he hit the last bit. He squinted at my face, as if he were trying to find where I had hidden the last ten years of my life. I wished I had thought to wear makeup to the appointment; it would have at least given the impression that I was trying to appear younger.
"That’s me." I straightened up, trying to look like someone with nothing to hide. The problem was, I wasn’t quite sure what that was supposed to look like. I was pretty sure I ended up coming across vaguely constipated instead.
"You are aware that Mallory Keyne is legally dead. Her parents identified her body."
"My parents. Identified my body." Saying it aloud made an unexpected shiver run through me–that feeling of someone walking across your grave. I wasn’t sure why. I’d had plenty of time to get familiar with the concept of death by now. Besides, I knew full well that my grave was empty. People could walk over it all they wanted; they could turn it into a running path for all I cared.
Still, I wasn’t sure I’d ever actually said it aloud before.
I shook it off. "That’s why I’m here. I need you to prove I’m alive."
The lawyer nodded, casting one more skeptical glance at the computer. Unfortunately, I suspected the information on the screen wasn’t the part he was skeptical of. "And what proof do you have that Mallory Keyne is alive?"
"That I’m alive. Me. And it would be kind of hard for me to be sitting in front of you talking otherwise. Here, want to feel my pulse?" I held my hand out across the desk.
For a second, I thought I caught him rolling his eyes. To be fair, I kind of deserved that. "You know what I mean, Ms… Keyne." I was sure I wasn’t imagining the brief hesitation before he said my last name.
I let my breath out hard. "I’ve got nothing," I admitted. "That’s why I’m here. I need help." Ciara kept telling me I needed to start asking for help when I needed it. She’d be proud of me when I told her, although I didn’t think this was the type of situation she had been talking about. She’d probably offer to buy me a coffee. And if this meeting went badly, I would need it, considering I had–I surreptitiously felt around in my pocket–a dollar and seventeen cents to my name.
"I see." He typed something on his keyboard, one of those old ones that made a loud clack-clack-clack sound. "Have you ever been fingerprinted?"
"No." For the first time, I wished my teenage rebellion had been more the "get arrested for spraying graffiti on the high school walls" kind and less the "listen to angsty music at top volume until someone bangs on the door and tells you to cut it out" kind.
I shook my head. "I checked. My dentist doesn’t keep patient files for longer than five years. They assumed I had moved away." They had been very apologetic. It wasn’t their fault–this was probably the first time they had dealt with someone like me. Then again, most of their patients probably lived within city limits, so maybe not. Next time I ran into another Marked I would have to ask them who their dentist was. Right after I got done walking in the other direction. I didn’t like to mix my work life with my social life.
Actually, it was fairer to say I didn’t like to mix my life with anything resembling a social life.
The lawyer’s fingers clack-clack-clacked over his keyboard again. "Would a family member be able to–"
His hands jumped off the keys, his eyes wide. Maybe I had been a little loud. I tried again. "Sorry. What I meant is, no, my family won’t be able to help."
"Have you talked to your family at all since you…" He paused, as if he were trying to find a delicate way to phrase it.
He wasn’t going to find one. The English language wasn’t designed for this situation. I decided to help him out. "Since I was declared dead? No."
"Not at all? In ten years?"
He sat back, hands poised over the keyboard as he waited for me to explain more. I didn’t. What was I supposed to say? I’ve actually only been alive for five of those years–I died inside city limits, so before that I was in the realm of Hades, or so I’ve been told. Besides, for a year after my resurrection I wasn’t allowed to set foot outside the temple, and they don’t exactly keep a working phone in there. And did I mention I’m pretty sure my parents wouldn’t be happy to see me alive?
The silence stretched between us until it pressed at the walls of the shoebox-sized office. Just so the chair wouldn’t give out under the weight of all that awkwardness, I added, "It wouldn’t exactly be a reunion full of hugs and kisses."
"If you want to prove you really are Mallory Keyne," said the lawyer, "that’s the first place to start. It’s where I would need to start, if you were to hire me."
I shook my head. "I don’t want them involved."
He dropped his hands from the keyboard. For a moment, he looked as if he might rest his head in his hands; he settled for straightening his tie. "You want to claim this identity, but don’t want your family involved. The family from whom you’ve supposedly spent ten years apart, letting them think you were dead while you were…" He let the sentence hang.
"Traveling." Spending five years in the afterlife had to count, right? Even if I didn’t remember any of it. Forget backpacking through Europe; that was a whole other plane of existence.
"Traveling," he echoed. "And somehow, after ten years, it has suddenly become urgent for you to return to the identity you walked away from. Without, of course, involving your family."
Walked away. That was the weakest euphemism for getting shot in the head I’d ever heard. "Are you a lawyer or the police? I thought your job was to help your clients, not accuse them of lying."
"I’m merely trying to understand what it is you’re asking me to do."
"I told you what I’m asking." That was probably the tone Ciara meant when she talked about how I drove people away. I took a breath. "Family is complicated. I’m sure you understand."
His frown shifted from skeptical to disapproving. "No matter how I felt about my family, I can’t imagine a circumstance in which I would break their hearts by letting them spend a decade believing I was dead."
"Then you need a better imagination." I sighed. "Can we not get into my life story? Just tell me whether you can give me my life back."
"I’m afraid your life story is precisely the issue here." He pushed his chair back, matching my sigh. "You claim to belong to a wealthy family. You refuse to have contact with the very people who would be able to identify you. You haven’t given any details as to where you’ve been for the past ten years, or how a dead body with your face ended up in the city morgue. And frankly, if you’re thirty-four, you could make a million dollars selling your anti-aging secrets. You’re fooling yourself if you don’t expect anyone to question your motives."
Now there was an idea. Go on Oprah and tout the secret to eternal life. Maybe get a book deal. Step one: die. Step two: impress the local death god with your… And that was where I stopped, because I didn’t want to think too hard about what Hades might have seen in me to make him choose me for this work.
"I don’t want any of their money," I said. "And if you insist on talking to them, you can tell them that. All I need is a legal identity. Something that will let me work, and rent an apartment, and have a real bank account instead of storing money in my mattress." Not that the last part would be an issue if I couldn’t do something about the first. Mr. Gibbs at the SmartMart had been fine with looking the other way and letting me work for cash, but now that he had sold the place, it had been three months since I’d had a solid source of income.
The lawyer raised his eyebrows. "And any identity will do?"
There he went with that police thing again. "No. I want mine back." Whatever I had thought about my name and my family during my first life, that name belonged to me.
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