Book 1

Hex Feet Under

When she left the love of her life to save the world, she thought he would be safe safe.

This was her destiny… sacrifice herself to stop the apocalypse. But when special agent Gwen Jones hears her ex is in danger, she has to find him.

Turning forty was supposed to be the end of my life. Not in an over-the-hill way. There was a prophecy, and I accepted my destiny.

But when the clock turns to midnight on the day of my fortieth birthday, and I’m still alive… what the actual frack, Universe?

And then, the stupid cherry on the dumb cake that is my midlife… my ex is in danger. And I know I can’t say no to the call to stop the apocalypse. I just hope Jake isn’t caught up in it.

Gwen used to be one-girl-in-all-the-world style of a Chosen One. But does turning forty mean her life is about to be over? Or is the prophecy wrong, and her life is just beginning…?

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Chapter 1

As apocalypses go, this last one was pretty tame. Not even sure it would count as a real apocalypse in the grand scheme. But the day before my fortieth birthday, some idiot decided he wanted to drill to the core of the earth and plant a bomb.

I basically just pulled a wire, took away his Caterpillar keys, and carted him off to jail. I didn’t expect a fanfare or anything. 

But I had expected to die this time.

You see, there was this prophecy. And prophecies are all well and good until one predicts your death. One Magicker, dead by midlife—that’s what mine said. So, imagine my surprise when the clock turned to midnight on my fortieth birthday. I was sitting in the giant library of my family’s sprawling mountainside home, counting down the surreal seconds until I was supposed to die.

11:59 was the longest minute of my life.

I really expected to keel over in that final second.

But nope. It was 12:01 a.m. and I was still alive. To my ever-loving surprise.

Well, to be fair, I’d expected to die a couple of apocalypses back. And then the last one. And then this one, with the Caterpillar. 

Nope. 12:07. Still breathing.

“Is she still alive?” came a voice from outside the door. It was a pretty loud whisper, but it did sound like my grandmother. Very few people were allowed in this house, so I took a guess and called out to her.

“I’m still alive, Loretta.”

“Thank God. Lucky, get in there.” The door opened and my grandfather came in, dressed in the same old black suit he always wore, carrying a basket in one hand and a plated cupcake with a sparkler candle in the other hand.

“Surprise, Peanut!” He held up the cupcake. “Happy birthday!”

I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. While I appreciated that they didn’t put the same kind of stock in the Oracle’s prophecy that I did, I’d never expected to see my fortieth birthday, so I hadn’t planned anything to celebrate. Of course, they had.

“Yes, happy birthday!” came Loretta’s voice from the gingham-cloth-covered basket.

“You can take that off her basket,” I told him, reaching for the plate. My hand was still holding the gun. I’d been prepared for something to rush me at 11:59, and when it hadn’t, I’d forgotten to put the gun down. I set it on the table and grabbed the birthday treat.

“The sparklies were getting in her eyes.” Lucky’s old hands set the basket at an angle and pulled off the cover to reveal my grandmother’s severed-but-very-alive head. Her short, white, curly hair was a little matted from being covered up, so I put the cupcake down and went over to fluff it back to its puffy glory.

“Thank you, dear,” she said, sweetly. “Now. Blow out your candle and make a wish.”

I stared at the flaring white spark hovering over the giant cupcake and tried to imagine what I would wish for. I’d always assumed my life ended at—or, frankly, before—forty. So I couldn’t even process making a wish for the future.

Just to not-die would be great.

But that seemed like a lot to ask for, given that my fate was marked before I was born. Ancient prophecies had a way of coming true.

“How’s Aderyn?” Lucky asked, putting his hand on the back of the handbasket to hold it up. He liked to prop up his wife so she could always see what was going on. Unless he was in a mood, and then he put the gingham cloth over her head and left her places to scream at him.

Downside of being vampires. Their bodies were supernaturally alive, but they were corpses. They did not heal. When something injured them, they stayed injured. Grandpa Lucky had saved Loretta’s head after decapitation. It was sweet, really. 

I ignored the question about my sister, who had missed our birthday again. We hadn’t spent a birthday together since we were twenty-one. That was not unintentional.

Funny how a death prophecy could come between sisters.

Finally, I blew out the candle and pretended I’d made a wish. But let’s be real. I wasn’t going to live much longer. The next apocalypse would be my last and everyone knew it. 

“Well, I found Addie,” Lucky continued, as though I’d said I didn’t know where my sister was. “She finally returned my call from some mountain in Brazil.”

“Of course she did.”

“She said happy birthday, though.”

“How nice for her.”

“Don’t you want to say happy birthday back?”

I didn’t answer for a moment. Generally, I didn’t like talking about my sister—even nineteen years later, I still looked for her in a room when I walked in. She’d abandoned me to my destiny, trying to escape hers. 

“Happy birthday back.” The hollow words echoed in the cavernous room and whatever Lucky had been hoping for hadn’t happened. He knew I didn’t want to talk about my sister. And today, of all days.

I cut a piece of cupcake and put it in my mouth so they wouldn’t expect me to talk. For a vampire with no remaining tastebuds, Lucky could bake a mean cake. Maybe it was the 160 years of practice, but I’d never had a bad pastry from the man’s kitchen.

“Best cupcake yet, Grandpa,” I said, ignoring the fact, as always, that he was five generations further back than my actual grandpa. But my ancestor, nonetheless.

“I got if off the computer.” 

“The internet,” interjected Loretta, not to be left out. Since she no longer had hands, her primary contribution was always commentary. And as cute as the two of them were, normally, I just didn’t have the energy or stamina for people.

Every second felt like a surprise, still.

It was 12:14. I got 14 minutes more than I thought I would have.

Except… had I really gotten more minutes than I should have?

I set the plate down. “Lucky. Do you remember what time I was born?”

Loretta’s mouth formed a little o and she glanced up at her husband. “I hadn’t thought of that,” she said. “Could midlife be forty years from the minute you were born?”

Lucky harrumphed and leaned across the thick wooden table, pushing the plate back toward me. “Those prophecies are a bunch of hogwash and your parents were fools to believe them. Eat your cake and get to bed, Peanut. There will be another apocalypse tomorrow.”

He wasn’t wrong. We’d been having a lot of craziness lately. Myra kept saying they were portents, but it was her job to think that. She was the head of the Agency for the Protection of Magick and she had to keep an eye on the bigger picture.

I was all small picture, anymore. Dudes in Caterpillars with homemade bombs. Shifters who kidnapped unwilling wives. Vampires on the prowl for amenable necks. The small stuff.

“What if it really was forty years from the minute she was born, Lucky?” Loretta worried.

Her husband waved at her. “I said. Hogwash.”

“Don’t take that tone with me.” 

I smiled and picked the fork back up. At least if I was gonna die today, I wanted to die having eaten one great cupcake. Maybe there were more downstairs. Calories don’t count when you’re dead.

Their spat ended the way it always did. Lucky put the cloth over her basket and walked over to the giant leather couch, plucking out his hearing aids and turning on the television. 

I took another bite of the cupcake, reaching over to pull off the gingham. I tugged Loretta’s basket closer to me so I could see her.

“Do you remember what time it was?” I asked her. “When I was born, I mean?”

“Now, let’s see.” Loretta’s face screwed up, to one side, and she looked up. I imagined her head would have tilted back if she’d had a neck, but that, like the rest of her body, was gone. “It would have been September 9th, of course. But I can’t remember if you were born before midnight or after it, dear, honestly. When you’ve been alive almost two centuries, the days do blur together.”

“That’s ok.” I took another bite, leaning back to cross one foot over the other as I enjoyed the cupcake. “I mean, I’m still alive. So it must be forty years to the time I was born.”

“It must be,” Loretta added, somberly. They’d been handling all of this very well. We always knew every moment we spent together might be our last. We’d gotten good at the gallows humor over the years, but always with that note of, I love you if this is the last time.

When the Oracle says before you turn forty, you never know at precisely what point before means. 

I didn’t want crying or scenes. I’d been adjusted to my short life since I was twenty-one years old. Hell, I’d walked away from the love of my life for it, hoping to spare him the pain of losing a future family. Knowing he would find someone else. I’d never expected to last much longer after that day—the day I found out about the prophecy—and I certainly couldn’t expect more, now that my life was almost over.

Time to just enjoy the cake.

“I told you two, a hundred times,” Lucky said from the couch, “The prophecy is balderdash.”

“I thought it was hogwash,” I teased him, taking the last bite of the moist, chocolatey goodness off the fork and swiping my finger along the plate for the last morsel of sweet frosting.

The doorbell clamored through the house, reminding me just how far away the front door was.

“All the same thing.” Lucky pushed himself off the couch, but I waved him back down. 

“I’ll get it. Might as well do something useful while I’m still around.”

I ran down the hallway and took the stairs down to the main level. My family’s home spread out in wings and flights. Lucky had built it, mostly with his own hands, more than a hundred years ago. It was one of the oldest homes in Copper Springs, Montana, and it was far enough from town, the only knocks on our doors were intentional.

“Coming,” I said, when the doorbell rang again.

“You’re alive?” came the voice of my former Agency partner, West Edison. It froze me in front of the door for a moment. 

I’d already said goodbye to everyone at work, including West. I didn’t want to reconnect again. Especially with him—goodbye had been hard enough the first time. We’d worked together for so many years, and it was exactly the kind of entanglement I’d tried to avoid. Dammit, West. 

I hesitated, touching the door. Did I really want to see him? Should I tell him to go?

“Gwen?” he said. “Let me in. Please.”

My heart twisted a bit. I’d been trying not to think about anyone from my real life while I’d been sitting in that study, waiting to die. But West needed me. 

I unlocked the bolts and put my hand over the alarm, disarming it with my palm print. I opened the door, steeling myself to see him again.

“Good. You’re alive.” My old partner stood, filling the doorway, with black night behind him, hands on his slim hips. “We need you.”

Prophecy time.

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