Unclean Spirits: Book One of the Black Sun's Daughter

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9781439143056: Unclean Spirits: Book One of the Black Sun's Daughter

In a world where magic walks and demons ride, you can't always play by the rules.

Jayné Heller thinks of herself as a realist, until she discovers reality isn't quite what she thought it was. When her uncle Eric is murdered, Jayné travels to Denver to settle his estate, only to learn that it's all hers -- and vaster than she ever imagined. And along with properties across the world and an inexhaustible fortune, Eric left her a legacy of a different kind: his unfinished business with a cabal of wizards known as the Invisible College.

Led by the ruthless Randolph Coin, the Invisible College harnesses demon spirits for their own ends of power and domination. Jayné finds it difficult to believe magic and demons can even exist, let alone be responsible for the death of her uncle. But Coin sees Eric's heir as a threat to be eliminated by any means -- magical or mundane -- so Jayné had better start believing in something to save her own life.

Aided in her mission by a group of unlikely companions -- Aubrey, Eric's devastatingly attractive assistant; Ex, a former Jesuit with a lethal agenda; Midian, a two-hundred-year-old man who claims to be under a curse from Randolph Coin himself; and Chogyi Jake, a self-styled Buddhist with mystical abilities -- Jayné finds that her new reality is not only unexpected, but often unexplainable. And if she hopes to survive, she'll have to learn the new rules fast -- or break them completely....

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About the Author:

M.L.N. Hanover is an International Horror Guild Award-winning author living in the American southwest.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

One

I flew into Denver on the second of August, three days before my twenty-third birthday. I had an overnight bag packed with three changes of clothes, the leather backpack I used for a purse, the jacket my last boyfriend hadn't had the guts to come pick up from my apartment (it still smelled like him), my three-year-old laptop wrapped in a blanket, and a phone number for Uncle Eric's lawyer. The area around the baggage carousel was thick with families and friends hugging one another and saying how long it had been and how much everyone had grown or shrunk or whatever. The wide metal blades weren't about to offer up anything of mine, so I was just looking through the crowd for my alleged ride and trying not to make eye contact.

It took me a while to find him at the back of the crowd, his head shifting from side to side, looking for me. He had a legal pad in his hand with my name in handwritten letters -- "JAYNE HELLER." He was younger than I'd expected, maybe midthirties, and cuter. I shouldered my way through the happy mass of people, mentally applauding Uncle Eric's taste.

"You'd be Aubrey?" I said.

"Jayné," he said, pronouncing it Jane. It's actually zha-nay, but that was a fight I'd given up. "Good. Great. I'm glad to meet you. Can I help you with your bags?"

"Pretty much covered on that one," I said. "Thanks, though."

He looked surprised, then shrugged it off.

"Right. I'm parked over on the first level. Let me at least get that one for you."

I surrendered my three changes of clothes and followed.

"You're going to be staying at Eric's place?" Aubrey asked over his shoulder. "I have the keys. The lawyer said it would be okay to give them to you."

"Keys to the kingdom," I said, then, "Yes. I thought I'd save the money on a hotel. Doesn't make sense not to, right?"

"Right," Aubrey said with a smile that wanted badly to be comfortable but wasn't.

I couldn't blame the guy for being nervous. Christ only knew what Eric had told him about the family. Even the broad stroke of "My brother and sister-in-law don't talk to me" would have been enough to make the guy tentative. Much less the full-on gay-hating, patriarch-in-the-house, know-your-place episode of Jerry Springer that had been my childhood. Calling Uncle Eric the black sheep of the family was like saying the surface of the sun was warmish. Or that I'd been a little tiny disappointment to them.

Aubrey drove a minivan, which was kind of cute. After he slung my lonely little bag into the back, we climbed in and drove out. The happy crowd of families and friends fell away behind us. I leaned against the window and looked up into the clear night sky. The moon was about halfway down from full. There weren't many stars.

"So," Aubrey said. "I'm sorry. About Eric. Were you two close?"

"Yeah," I said. "Or...maybe. I don't know. Not close like he called me up to tell me about his day. He'd check in on me, make sure things weren't too weird at home. He'd just show up sometimes, take me out to lunch or for ice cream or something cheesy like that. We always had to keep under my dad's radar, so I figure he'd have come by more often if he could."

Aubrey gunned the minivan, pulling us onto the highway.

"He protected me," I said, soft enough that I didn't think Aubrey would hear me, but he did.

"From what?"

"Myself," I said.

Here's the story. In the middle of high school, I spent about six months hanging out with the bad kids. On my sixteenth birthday, I got very, very drunk and woke up two days later in a hotel room with half a tattoo on my back and wearing someone else's clothes. Eric had been there for me. He told my dad that I'd gotten the flu and helped me figure out how to keep anyone from ever seeing the ink.

I realized I'd gone silent. Aubrey was looking over at me.

"Eric was always swooping in just when everything was about to get out of control," I said. "Putting in the cooling rods."

"Yeah," Aubrey said. "That sounds like him."

Aubrey smiled at the highway. It seemed he wasn't thinking about it, so the smile looked real. I could see why Eric would have gone for him. Short, curly hair the color of honey. Broad shoulders. What my mother would have called a kind mouth. I hoped that he'd made Eric happy.

"I just want you to know," I said, "it's okay with me that he was gay."

Aubrey started.

"He was gay?"

"Um," I said. "He wasn't?"

"He never told me."

"Oh," I said, mentally recalculating. "Maybe he wasn't. I assumed...I mean, I just thought since my dad wouldn't talk about him...my dad's kind of old-school. Where school means testament. He never really got into that love-thy-neighbor-as-thyself part."

"I know the type," he said. The smile was actually pointed at me now, and it seemed genuine.

"There was this big falling-out about three years ago," I said. "Uncle Eric had called the house, which he almost never did. Dad went out around dinnertime and came back looking deeply pissed off. After that...things were weird. I just assumed..."

I didn't tell Aubrey that Dad had gathered us all in the living room -- me, Mom, my older brother Jay, and Curtis the young one -- and said that we weren't to have anything to do with Uncle Eric anymore. Not any of us. Not ever. He was a pervert and an abomination before God.

Mom had gone sheet-white. The boys just nodded and looked grave. I'd wanted to stand up for him, to say that Uncle Eric was family, and that Dad was being totally unfair and hypocritical. I didn't, though. It wasn't a fight I could win.

But Aubrey knew him well enough to have a set of spare keys, and he didn't think Eric was gay. Maybe Dad had meant something else. I tried to think what exactly had made me think it was that, but I couldn't come up with anything solid.

Aubrey pulled his minivan off the highway, then through a maze of twisty little streets. One-story bungalows with neatly kept yards snuggled up against each other. About half the picture windows had open curtains; it was like driving past museum dioramas of the American Family. Here was one with an old couple sitting under a cut glass chandelier. One with the backs of two sofa-bound heads and a wall-size Bruce Willis looking troubled and heroic. One with two early-teenage boys, twins to look at them, chasing each other. And then we made a quick dogleg and pulled into a carport beside a brick house. Same lawn, same architecture. No lights, no one in the windows.

"Thanks," I said, reaching around in the seat to grab my bag.

"Do you want...I mean, I can show you around a little. If you want."

"I think I'm just going to grab a shower and order in a pizza or something," I said. "Decompress. You know."

"Okay," he said, fishing in his pocket. He came out with a leather fob with two keys and passed it over to me. I took it. The leather was soft and warm. "If you need anything, you have my number?"

"Yeah," I said. "Thanks for the lift."

"If there's anything I can do..."

I popped open the door. The dome light came on.

"I'll let you know," I said. "Promise."

"Your uncle," Aubrey said. Then, "Your uncle was a very special man."

"I know," I said.

He seemed like he wanted to say something else, but instead he just made me promise again that I'd call him if I needed help.

There wasn't much mail in the box -- ads and a water bill. I tucked it under my arm while I struggled with the lock. When I finally got the door open, I stumbled in, my bag bumping behind me.

A dim atrium. A darker living room before me. The kitchen door to my left, ajar. A hall to my right, heading back to bedrooms and bathrooms and closets.

"Hey," I said to nothing and no one. "I'm home."

I never would have said it to anyone, but my uncle had been killed at the perfect time. I hated myself for even thinking that, but it was true. If I hadn't gotten the call from his lawyer, if I hadn't been able to come here, I would have been reduced to couch surfing with people I knew peripherally from college. I wasn't welcome at home right now. I hadn't registered for the next semester at ASU, which technically made me a college dropout.

I didn't have a job or a boyfriend. I had a storage unit in Phoenix and a bag, and I didn't have the money to keep the storage unit for more than another month. With any luck at all, I'd be able to stay here in the house until Uncle Eric's estate was all squared away. There might even be enough money in his will that I could manage first and last on a place of my own. He was swooping in one last time to pull me out of the fire. The idea made me sad, and grateful, and a little bit ashamed.

They'd found him in an alley somewhere on the north side of the city. There was, the lawyer had told me, an open investigation. Apparently he'd been seen at a bar somewhere talking to someone. Or it might have just been a mugging that got out of hand. One way or another, his friend Aubrey had identified the body. Eric had left instructions in his will for funeral arrangements, already taken care of. It was all very neat. Very tidy.

The house was just as tidy. He hadn't owned very much, and it gave the place a simplicity. The bed was neatly made. Shirts, jackets, slacks all hung in the bedroom closet, some still in the plastic from the dry cleaner's. There were towels in the bathroom, a safety razor beside the sink with a little bit of soap scum and stubble still on the blade.

I found a closet with general household items, including a spare toothbrush. The food in the fridge was mostly spoiled, but I scrounged up a can of beef soup that I nuked in a plain black bowl, sopping up the last with bread that wasn't too stale. The television was in the living room, and I spooled through channels and channels of bright, shining crap. I didn't feel right putting my feet on the couch.

When I turned on the laptop, I found there was a wireless network. I guessed the encryption key on my third try. It was the landline phone number. I checked m...

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