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Haunted Heroine

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Haunted Heroine

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Author: Sarah Kuhn
Publisher: DAW Books, 2020
Series: Heroine Complex: Book 4
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-Genre Tags: Superhero Fantasy
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Evie Tanaka, Aveda Jupiter, and Bea Tanaka combat a new supernatural threat...

Everything in Evie Tanaka's life is finally perfect. As a badass superheroine, she defends San Francisco from demon invasion on the regular. Her relationships with superhero partner Aveda Jupiter, little sister Bea, and hot, half-demon husband Nate have never been stronger. Maybe it's possible for a grad school dropout turned put-upon personal assistant turned superhero to have it all?

Just when she thinks life can't get any better, Evie learns she's pregnant. Everyone around her is overjoyed...but Evie has major doubts about whether she's cut out for motherhood. Before she can dwell on her dilemma, a local women's college reports a string of mysterious "hauntings," and Evie and Aveda are called in to investigate, going undercover as grad students during the creepiest time of the year: Halloween.

As she confronts terrifying ghosts and lives out a bizarre version of the grad school life she left behind, Evie can't help but wonder about the road not taken: what would her life be like if she'd stayed here instead of pursuing superheroing with Aveda? And can an overwhelmed pregnant superhero truly have it all?

She's about to find out.


Chapter one

We'd only gotten halfway through the toasts at Lucy Valdez's wedding when I had to vomit.

This was not a reaction to the wedding, or the toasts. Lucy is one of my best friends in the whole world and I was bursting with happiness over her marriage to her longtime love, Rose Rorick. The ceremony was a beautiful, intimate affair at local karaoke hole-in-the-wall The Gutter-a place that held special meaning for the couple-and I'd managed to get through my maid of honor speech without spewing adorable hors d'oeuvres all over the bright-but-tasteful floral centerpieces.

But as soon as I raised my glass and took a big ol' sip of sparkling apple juice... well. All bets were off. Nausea descended over my entire being, queasiness threading through my gut, all like: Hey, so even though you're a superheroine who's saved the city a million times over, you are also a human growing another human in your stomach, like a little parasite who makes you constantly and violently ill. Also, morning sickness is actually not restricted to morning and is, in fact, All The Time sickness. Enjoy the weird-ass things your body can do!

As Lucy's friend Celine started in on a gorgeously heartfelt rendition of the theme song to Star Trek: Enterprise, I set my glass down with an unceremonious thunk, muttered, "Gotta throw up-and no, I don't need help with that" at my husband, Nate Jones, and booked it to the bathroom.

I made it just in time, throwing myself into the dank, closet-like space of the Gutter bathroom and puking my guts out. Thankfully, most of it landed in the toilet.

"Bleeeaaarggghhh," I groaned, slumping against the wall next to the toilet and fishing in my dress pocket for the tiny bottle of mouthwash I'd taken to carrying around with me.

Then the door flung itself open with a mighty whack and I screamed.

"Evie Tanaka!" Aveda Jupiter (aka Annie Chang, aka my best friend) appeared in the doorway-container of mints in one hand, glass of ginger ale in the other. She was clad in a fabulous hot pink sheath dress, her long black hair swept into its customary power ponytail, her striking black eyes flashing with determination. She looked every inch the badass superheroine she was. But perhaps with a new dedication to fighting crime related to halitosis and stomach flu.

"I knew you were looking green around the gills during that toast," she declared, marching into the bathroom. She brandished the mints at me, raising a single imperious eyebrow. "Here."

I took them from her and popped a few in my mouth, watching as she settled herself next to me. "You need to take that anti-nausea medication the doctor prescribed," she said, her forehead creasing with worry. "Remember, we talked about that-"

"Annie." I tucked the mints into my pocket next to the mouthwash, then reached over to take the ginger ale from her. "I'm pregnant, unpredictable vom happens. Countless humans go through this every day."

"Those supposed countless humans aren't my best friend," Aveda said, straightening her spine and leveling me with one of her piercing Aveda Jupiter stares.

Five years ago, that stare would've had me scrambling, trying to figure out how to best placate and soothe her legendary diva temper. Now I just cocked an eyebrow at her and swigged my ginger ale.

"I want to make sure you're taking the absolute best care of yourself, and that I'm doing everything I can to assist you in this task," Aveda continued. Her gaze wandered to my stomach, which was still maintaining its same basic, non-pregnant shape. "And I must remain vigilant, because your body doesn't look that different yet. I know you're only two months in, but it's a little too easy to forget you've got a potential superbaby packed away in there."

"Lovely imagery," I said, chuckling as I sipped my ginger ale. It bubbled through my stomach, crisp and refreshing. "Trust me, I never forget-my body might not look different, but it feels like it's been taken over by a cantankerous alien who craves pickles slathered in peanut butter and furikake and is sick all the time and also has increased levels of undeniable horniness."

"Wait, really?" Aveda goggled at me. "Souped-up sex drive? Are you going to drag Nate into The Gutter's back room later? I know that spot has, ah, sentimental meaning for you two."

"I already tried that, before I started feeling pukey." I set my empty glass to the side and leaned back against the bathroom wall. "He wasn't into it."

"Seriously?!" Aveda's brows drew together, her stare getting more intense. "I thought you guys were always into it, maybe even too much into it, given that you were willing to... well, get into it in gross places like The Gutter's back room."

"You're one to talk-I've never had sex on the floor of a demon-possessed bridal salon," I said, allowing my eyes to drift closed. The soothing effects of the ginger ale were already wearing off and the room was feeling a little... spinny. "Anyway, Nate's been nervous about, as he would put it, 'engaging in too much physically strenuous activity.' Ever since the doctor warned me about my blood pressure."

"Mmm," Aveda said. My eyes were still closed, but I could feel her gaze on me as she analyzed this new information. "Don't you also have a medication for that? Although, given your flakiness with the anti-nausea meds, I suppose I can understand some extra caution. After all, this is Team Tanaka/Jupiter's first baby." I felt her hand close around mine, her voice warming. "Oh, Evie, just look at you. You're glowing."

I opened my eyes and smiled back at her-and refrained from noting that the "glow" was most likely from the bathroom's harsh fluorescent light beating down on us. Team Tanaka/Jupiter was my superheroing partnership with Aveda-although it was also so much more than that.

Aveda and I had been best friends ever since kindergarten. We were the only Asian Americans in Mrs. Miller's class and Aveda had defended me against an angry mob of children who deemed my snacktime Spam musubi "gross." I'd held her hair back when she puked it all up later, and we'd been inseparable from then on.

Things had taken a turn fourteen years ago, when wannabe demon queen Shasta had opened up the first ever Otherworld portal in San Francisco, set on invasion. (Shasta was also Nate's mom, making her technically my mother-in-law. And the grandmother to our baby, which I tried not to think about too much.) Unfortunately for Shasta, that portal was so shitty and unstable, it snapped shut immediately, killing her raiding party of humanoid demons and stranding her in our realm. The powers formerly housed in the bodies of her raiding party had migrated to human bodies-like mine and Aveda's. And that portal had aftereffects we were still dealing with, all these years later. First it had been smaller portals that kept opening up and depositing smaller demons on our formerly peaceful Bay Area doorstep. Aveda, who had always known she was destined for greatness, christened herself Aveda Jupiter, beloved superheroine of San Francisco. She'd fought those "puppy demons"-piranha-like pests who took the form of the first Earthly object they saw.

Nearly a decade ago, I'd become her personal assistant-this was after I dropped out of my grad school program in Pop Culture Studies due to a little incident involving the fire power I'd spent a good chunk of my life trying to suppress and the Morgan College library. Which I'd sort of burned down. Yeah.

And five years ago, we'd become legit co-superheroines-this was after I accidentally let loose with the fire power while I was posing as Aveda and had been forced to confront my various issues stemming from my need for control, my tendency to go out of my way to blend into the background, and the occasionally toxic, co-dependent bond Aveda and I had shared for so many years. Now we were best friends and true partners in protecting San Francisco from all demon threats, along with our hodgepodge collection of a found family.

"We'll make sure you take all of your medication as soon as we get back to HQ," Aveda said. "In the meantime, is there anything else I can take care of for you-ooh! Do you want to do that interview with Maisy? You know she's lurking around out there, right? She wants to get our hot takes on the wedding of the year!"

"A true shock, considering she wasn't actually invited to the wedding of the year," I said, rolling my eyes. "And no, I do not want to talk to Maisy Kane. I'm surprised you'd even suggest that, given how she's used her blog against you in the past-all that rumor-mongering and harmful gossip, making you seem like an out-of-control diva with jealousy issues..."

"I kind of was an out-of-control diva with jealousy issues," Aveda countered. "But like you, I've had a glow-up. Don't you want to show yours off for the press?" She flashed me an approving grin. "I mean, not only are you a superheroine, you're married to a hot scientist who adores you above all things, and you've finally worked out your complicated bonds with both your unruly little sister and your awesome best friend and superheroing partner." She gestured to herself, beaming. "Your life is so totally perfect right now-can you even believe that?"

My smile froze on my face as I tried to shove down the jolt of conflicting emotions that statement provoked in me.

Because yes, it was true: now that I'd reached my early thirties, my life was basically perfect. My life had never been... well, any kind of perfect, so this felt decidedly weird. And the way it was perfect was pretty freaking unexpected, given that it looked very different from how I'd imagined it all those years ago, when I was a grad student struggling to pass all my classes and make ends meet and raise my little sister after our mom died and our dad took off on an ill-advised "vision quest" that did not involve maintaining any kind of regular contact with his abandoned children.

And now this baby was going to make it even more perfect, at least according to Aveda and Lucy and my sister Bea and... well, basically anyone you might ask.

So why was I feeling so...

I shook my head, my hand slipping into my pocket to fiddle with the mini mouthwash bottle. I couldn't even put it into words, really. But whenever I thought about the baby-about it actually, you know, emerging-all I got was an instant surge of full-body dread.

And that meant that every time someone expressed joy or giddiness about it, I could only give them that frozen smile in return.

Thankfully, no one outside of Team Tanaka/Jupiter knew about the baby yet. That was another reason I didn't want to talk to Maisy-she'd use her gossip blogger instincts and just, like, know something was up with me. And then she'd leak it in the most salacious way possible and everyone would know and I really couldn't deal with that-

Ugh. Why did I feel like this? Why wasn't I actually glowing, dammit?!

"Evie." Aveda grabbed my hand and I snapped back to attention. "Are you about to get sick again? Or are you having one of those weird cramps or do your boobs hurt or..." She dropped my hand, tapping away at her phone. "I know! Let's call Bea! That always makes you feel better..."

"Annie! We don't need to bother her-"

"Evie!" Suddenly my little sister's face filled the phone screen, her brilliant hazel eyes lit with worry. "What's wrong? Are you going into labor? Is little Galactus Tanaka-Jones on their way already?"

"God no, I'm barely pregnant!" I exclaimed, shaking my head. "And please stop calling the baby that."

"Thank goodness." Her shoulders slumped with relief and her expression morphed into the same warm, giddy smile currently gracing Aveda's face. A genuine smile. Not like my frozen one. "Yeah, I guess it hasn't been that long, huh? Time just feels different on the island, ya know?"

"How is everything going in Maui?" I said, trying to steer her to another topic.

Her giddy smile widened. "Big Sis, it is the absolute best. The weather's so beautiful and we're doing so much great research and the food is just beyond. My brain feels totally challenged and I've eaten some kind of musubi every freakin' day. You have to come visit."

"I will," I said-and now my smile felt real, too.

I'd been worried about Bea moving-temporarily-to Maui to work for Hawaii's newly formed Demon Unit. She'd always been a little too impulsive, a little too driven by whatever shiny thing had captured her fancy, and she never looked before she leapt. That had, in fact, kind of been her thing for the twenty-three years she'd been alive-to leap wherever she pleased without looking. But she'd been working hard to get her shit together and the two of us had even been doing joint therapy sessions on Skype, trying to deal with the effects from familial fallout we'd suppressed for so many years. It was clear the new gig was doing her good. She was actually glowing, her skin luminous and sun-kissed.

"Are you at Lucy's wedding?" Bea asked, leaning closer to the screen. "I'm still totally devastated I couldn't be there, but she and Rose had to set that date so fast to work with Rose's schedule, and I was apparently very necessary for a big project we've got here at work, and-"

"Bea, it's okay, we know," Aveda said, giving her an amused look. "Anyway, they're coming your way for the honeymoon-you can show them around the island."

"Big yay on that," Bea said, perking up. "Wait, are you guys in the Gutter bathroom? Did you not take your anti-nausea medication again, Evie, because-"

"We've talked about that-yes, I know," I said, my smile reverting to its frozen state. "I'll take it when I get home."

"You would never accept that kind of brush-off about an important responsibility from me," Bea insisted. "You have to take care of yourself-"

"What's going on in here? Why have you been gone for so long?"

Aveda and I looked up to see Nate attempting to pretzel his hulking form into the cramped space of the bathroom, his deep rumble of a voice reverberating off the dingy walls. After banging his knee against the sink twice, he knelt in front of me, his dark eyes scanning my face. "Are you all right? I've told you, you need to let me know immediately if you're having any symptoms-"

Copyright © 2020 by Sarah Kuhn


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