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The Diablo's Curse

Read by Vico Ortiz
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From the award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of The Wicked Bargain comes a high-stakes race to defeat a curse designed to kill--about a teen demon who wants to be human, a boy cursed to die young, and the murderous island destined to bury them both.

Dami is a demon determined to cancel every deal they've ever made in order to tether their soul to earth and become human again. There's just one person standing in their way: Silas. An irresistibly (and stubborn) cute boy cursed to die young, except for the deal with Dami that is keeping him alive. If they cancel the deal, Silas is dead. Unless... they can destroy the curse that has plagued Silas's family for generations. But to do so, Dami and Silas are going to have to work together.  That is, if the curse doesn't kill them first. . . .
Chapter 1

January 13, 1821

The best part of being human, Dami decides, is feeling alive.

Dami feels alive every time they eat a delicious meal, like a plateful of freshly fried maduros (their first meal as a human). They feel alive every time they kiss someone attractive, like when they kissed a boy and a girl in the same night (their first night as a human). And right now, a little over four months later, sitting in the Green Dragon Tavern with a bad poker hand, losing a rich white boy’s money, Dami feels well and truly alive.

Life, Dami thinks with a smile, is dangerous.

The rich boy’s name is Charles Edward Talbot III. He’s seventeen, so the same age Dami has estimated for themself. Charles Edward Talbot III sounds like an ass, not that Dami would know, as they’ve never met him. They just observed him from afar for a day so they could copy his face, walk, mannerisms, and speech well enough to pretend to be him. It’s easy, pretending to be someone else. Especially when that someone has access to a lot of money.

The real Charles Edward Talbot III is now at boarding school rubbing elbows with other white boys who were fortunate enough to be born rich. The Charles who Dami is pretending to be returned home early due to illness and will take a few weeks to recover. No one questions this because, of course, Charles is moneyed and you can do whatever you want when you’re rich enough. Even Charles’s father, who lives somewhere in the massive estate the Talbots call home, barely looked up from his newspaper when “Charles” announced their return.

(It’s a bit rude, actually, that man’s complete and utter dis­regard for his son. But it serves Dami well.)

The Green Dragon Tavern is full of people, as it always is. The endless music of conversation, of tinkling glasses and pouring ale, of uproarious laughter and shouts like cymbals and the guiro-­like scrape of wooden chairs on squeaky floorboards—­it’s a symphony to Dami’s ears. Even the nearby fireplace crackles in a percussive undertone. Being a part of the clamor of reality is all Dami ever wanted.

And now they have it. And they’re losing this poker game. Badly.

Dami’s already burned through Charles’s weekly allowance, so they’ll probably have to sell more of his stuff soon. Or . . .

“What if I throw in my waistcoat?” they ask the table. It’s a nice waistcoat. Powder blue with silver-­threaded flowers and opalescent buttons. It brings out Charles’s pale eyes. One of the Talbots’ staff members must know it, because Dami took it from the very front of his closet.

“You really want to walk out of here naked?” asks Saul, a bearded older man seated across from Dami. Dami has played poker with Saul nearly every night this week. Dami hasn’t won once, but they think they’re starting to get the hang of the game.

They haven’t gotten the hang of winning, mind you, but that hardly matters when you’re losing other people’s money.

“I could think of worse things,” Dami says.

“It’s snowing,” Saul reminds them with a laugh.

He has a point there.

“I do like that waistcoat,” says a greasy blond boy not much older than Dami—­or Charles, for that matter. The boy has mentioned his name at least six times tonight, but Dami is determined not to know it.

“I’d look good in that waistcoat,” Greasy adds thoughtfully, staring at Dami’s clothes with a wolfish gaze.

“Right.” Dami lowers their cards. “Well, in that case, I fold.”

Greasy scowls as Saul guffaws and others around the table chuckle or hide smirks behind their hands. Dami winks at the oily trust-fund boy and waltzes over to the bar top, weaving around tables pushed together and dodging drunken hand gestures.

Leaning against the bar, Dami finds the bartender. He’s a young man with muscled arms and a pleasant face. Oh, hello. “Hot ale, please.” Dami flashes their signature winning smile.

“Of course, Mr. Talbot.” He slides a basket of freshly baked buns and a plate of butter over. “For your wait.”

“Don’t mind if I do.” They wink at the bartender, who offers a hesitant smile before turning back to the liquors.

Dami slices a bun open with the provided butter knife, mouth already watering as the warm scent hits them. The bun is fluffy and soft, exactly how Dami has learned they like them best. After meticulously buttering each steaming half, Dami closes their eyes and breathes in the warm, salty scent. Like the first rays of morning light to kiss your skin.

When Dami was a demonio, they never realized how good food smells—­even the simplest of meals. It was an aspect of living they’d never really thought about; after all, if you’ve never experienced smell, there isn’t much to wonder about.

Life without touch, without taste, without smell was empty. Now that Dami has experienced them all, they’re never returning to that hollow existence. Not even the King of Hell could drag them back to their former half life.

The first bite of bread is so airy and warm—­with just a hint of sweetness—­that Dami nearly groans. The second is a little drier, but when that melted butter hits their tongue, it’s euphoria. The third bite drier still—­almost stale. That doesn’t make sense; these rolls just came out of the oven.

The fourth bite collapses, filling their mouth with a dry powder that sits like chalk on their tongue. Or sawdust. Or—­

Dami gags and spits into their hand. Again. And again. But their mouth is a desert, and all they can taste is—­

“Here you are,” the bartender says, placing a steaming pint in front of them.

Dami grabs it and takes a huge swig. But the moment the hot liquid hits their tongue, it turns to powder—­this time so much their mouth feels stuffed with it.

The bartender and Dami lock eyes. It takes every ounce of Dami’s self-­control to keep the powder sitting in their mouth without choking on it or retching all over the bar. Instead, Dami breathes through their nose, heart pounding, as they lower the pint back to the bar top. The liquid sloshes in the glass, mocking them.

“Are you all right?” the bartender asks with a frown. Except he isn’t the handsome young man Dami was admiring just moments earlier—­his face has transformed into something older, something crueler. A trim black beard accentuates his defined jaw, and as his gaze meets Dami’s, his eyes glow like burning coals.

Dami gets up so quickly they knock the stool over and trip over it. They catch themself on a nearby table and beeline for the door. The pounding of their pulse drowns out the tavern’s song. Their mouth tastes like death. The powder is so close to the back of their throat.

It can’t be him. Something is wrong. He’s dead—­

“Charles!” The greasy boy from the poker game is the last human on earth Dami wants to see right now, so naturally he’s the one who steps right in front of the exit, just feet away. “Do you have a moment? I was thinking—­”

Dami shoves past him, slams through the front door, races around to the alleyway on the side of the building, and bends over, gagging as powder pours from their lips. They spit and cough, eyes watering as they scrape their tongue with their shirtsleeve. It’s barely enough; their mouth is pasty. But every time they spit, they clear a little more.

Catching their breath, spitting, shuddering, Dami crouches over the snowy brick, pressing their palms against their closed eyes.

El Diablo is dead, they remind themself, like they have nearly every night since they betrayed him.

“El Diablo is dead,” they whisper, like they have in Charles’s dark bedroom after waking from dreams full of their former keeper’s laughter.

But if he’s dead, why do they keep seeing him everywhere?

Slowly, Dami wipes the wet from their eyes as they take a steadying breath. The stuff from their mouth is now piled between their shoes. Painted in night, the powder is gray and fine, with a tinge of yellow. Almost like . . .

Dami runs their fingers through the pile—­then yanks their hand back. The pounding in their ears crescendos in a tidal wave. They know exactly what it is, and as reality crashes into them with all the force of a hurricane, Dami can’t breathe.

Piled on the ground, undeniably, are ashes.
"A tumultuous and romantic adventure." —Kirkus Reviews

"Evocative.... Novoa explores themes of masculinity, gender, and colonization, and meditates on how the histories of queer and immigrant peoples intertwine." —Publishers Weekly

"A fast-paced tale full of demons, queer kids, and pirate treasure." —The Bulletin

"[A] propulsive fantasy." —Booklist

"An energetic, dynamic, and satisfying adventure." —School Library Journal
Gabe Cole Novoa (he/him) is a Latinx transmasculine author with an MFA in Writing for Children who writes speculative fiction featuring marginalized characters grappling with identity. When he isn't being nerdy at his day job or buried under his TBR pile, you’re likely to find him making heart-eyes at the latest snazzy outfit he wants to add to his wardrobe. Gabe is the author of the Beyond the Red trilogy, written under a former pseudonym. He also runs a popular writing-focused YouTube channel, bookishpixie, and is active on Twitter. @thegabecole View titles by Gabe Cole Novoa

About

From the award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of The Wicked Bargain comes a high-stakes race to defeat a curse designed to kill--about a teen demon who wants to be human, a boy cursed to die young, and the murderous island destined to bury them both.

Dami is a demon determined to cancel every deal they've ever made in order to tether their soul to earth and become human again. There's just one person standing in their way: Silas. An irresistibly (and stubborn) cute boy cursed to die young, except for the deal with Dami that is keeping him alive. If they cancel the deal, Silas is dead. Unless... they can destroy the curse that has plagued Silas's family for generations. But to do so, Dami and Silas are going to have to work together.  That is, if the curse doesn't kill them first. . . .

Excerpt

Chapter 1

January 13, 1821

The best part of being human, Dami decides, is feeling alive.

Dami feels alive every time they eat a delicious meal, like a plateful of freshly fried maduros (their first meal as a human). They feel alive every time they kiss someone attractive, like when they kissed a boy and a girl in the same night (their first night as a human). And right now, a little over four months later, sitting in the Green Dragon Tavern with a bad poker hand, losing a rich white boy’s money, Dami feels well and truly alive.

Life, Dami thinks with a smile, is dangerous.

The rich boy’s name is Charles Edward Talbot III. He’s seventeen, so the same age Dami has estimated for themself. Charles Edward Talbot III sounds like an ass, not that Dami would know, as they’ve never met him. They just observed him from afar for a day so they could copy his face, walk, mannerisms, and speech well enough to pretend to be him. It’s easy, pretending to be someone else. Especially when that someone has access to a lot of money.

The real Charles Edward Talbot III is now at boarding school rubbing elbows with other white boys who were fortunate enough to be born rich. The Charles who Dami is pretending to be returned home early due to illness and will take a few weeks to recover. No one questions this because, of course, Charles is moneyed and you can do whatever you want when you’re rich enough. Even Charles’s father, who lives somewhere in the massive estate the Talbots call home, barely looked up from his newspaper when “Charles” announced their return.

(It’s a bit rude, actually, that man’s complete and utter dis­regard for his son. But it serves Dami well.)

The Green Dragon Tavern is full of people, as it always is. The endless music of conversation, of tinkling glasses and pouring ale, of uproarious laughter and shouts like cymbals and the guiro-­like scrape of wooden chairs on squeaky floorboards—­it’s a symphony to Dami’s ears. Even the nearby fireplace crackles in a percussive undertone. Being a part of the clamor of reality is all Dami ever wanted.

And now they have it. And they’re losing this poker game. Badly.

Dami’s already burned through Charles’s weekly allowance, so they’ll probably have to sell more of his stuff soon. Or . . .

“What if I throw in my waistcoat?” they ask the table. It’s a nice waistcoat. Powder blue with silver-­threaded flowers and opalescent buttons. It brings out Charles’s pale eyes. One of the Talbots’ staff members must know it, because Dami took it from the very front of his closet.

“You really want to walk out of here naked?” asks Saul, a bearded older man seated across from Dami. Dami has played poker with Saul nearly every night this week. Dami hasn’t won once, but they think they’re starting to get the hang of the game.

They haven’t gotten the hang of winning, mind you, but that hardly matters when you’re losing other people’s money.

“I could think of worse things,” Dami says.

“It’s snowing,” Saul reminds them with a laugh.

He has a point there.

“I do like that waistcoat,” says a greasy blond boy not much older than Dami—­or Charles, for that matter. The boy has mentioned his name at least six times tonight, but Dami is determined not to know it.

“I’d look good in that waistcoat,” Greasy adds thoughtfully, staring at Dami’s clothes with a wolfish gaze.

“Right.” Dami lowers their cards. “Well, in that case, I fold.”

Greasy scowls as Saul guffaws and others around the table chuckle or hide smirks behind their hands. Dami winks at the oily trust-fund boy and waltzes over to the bar top, weaving around tables pushed together and dodging drunken hand gestures.

Leaning against the bar, Dami finds the bartender. He’s a young man with muscled arms and a pleasant face. Oh, hello. “Hot ale, please.” Dami flashes their signature winning smile.

“Of course, Mr. Talbot.” He slides a basket of freshly baked buns and a plate of butter over. “For your wait.”

“Don’t mind if I do.” They wink at the bartender, who offers a hesitant smile before turning back to the liquors.

Dami slices a bun open with the provided butter knife, mouth already watering as the warm scent hits them. The bun is fluffy and soft, exactly how Dami has learned they like them best. After meticulously buttering each steaming half, Dami closes their eyes and breathes in the warm, salty scent. Like the first rays of morning light to kiss your skin.

When Dami was a demonio, they never realized how good food smells—­even the simplest of meals. It was an aspect of living they’d never really thought about; after all, if you’ve never experienced smell, there isn’t much to wonder about.

Life without touch, without taste, without smell was empty. Now that Dami has experienced them all, they’re never returning to that hollow existence. Not even the King of Hell could drag them back to their former half life.

The first bite of bread is so airy and warm—­with just a hint of sweetness—­that Dami nearly groans. The second is a little drier, but when that melted butter hits their tongue, it’s euphoria. The third bite drier still—­almost stale. That doesn’t make sense; these rolls just came out of the oven.

The fourth bite collapses, filling their mouth with a dry powder that sits like chalk on their tongue. Or sawdust. Or—­

Dami gags and spits into their hand. Again. And again. But their mouth is a desert, and all they can taste is—­

“Here you are,” the bartender says, placing a steaming pint in front of them.

Dami grabs it and takes a huge swig. But the moment the hot liquid hits their tongue, it turns to powder—­this time so much their mouth feels stuffed with it.

The bartender and Dami lock eyes. It takes every ounce of Dami’s self-­control to keep the powder sitting in their mouth without choking on it or retching all over the bar. Instead, Dami breathes through their nose, heart pounding, as they lower the pint back to the bar top. The liquid sloshes in the glass, mocking them.

“Are you all right?” the bartender asks with a frown. Except he isn’t the handsome young man Dami was admiring just moments earlier—­his face has transformed into something older, something crueler. A trim black beard accentuates his defined jaw, and as his gaze meets Dami’s, his eyes glow like burning coals.

Dami gets up so quickly they knock the stool over and trip over it. They catch themself on a nearby table and beeline for the door. The pounding of their pulse drowns out the tavern’s song. Their mouth tastes like death. The powder is so close to the back of their throat.

It can’t be him. Something is wrong. He’s dead—­

“Charles!” The greasy boy from the poker game is the last human on earth Dami wants to see right now, so naturally he’s the one who steps right in front of the exit, just feet away. “Do you have a moment? I was thinking—­”

Dami shoves past him, slams through the front door, races around to the alleyway on the side of the building, and bends over, gagging as powder pours from their lips. They spit and cough, eyes watering as they scrape their tongue with their shirtsleeve. It’s barely enough; their mouth is pasty. But every time they spit, they clear a little more.

Catching their breath, spitting, shuddering, Dami crouches over the snowy brick, pressing their palms against their closed eyes.

El Diablo is dead, they remind themself, like they have nearly every night since they betrayed him.

“El Diablo is dead,” they whisper, like they have in Charles’s dark bedroom after waking from dreams full of their former keeper’s laughter.

But if he’s dead, why do they keep seeing him everywhere?

Slowly, Dami wipes the wet from their eyes as they take a steadying breath. The stuff from their mouth is now piled between their shoes. Painted in night, the powder is gray and fine, with a tinge of yellow. Almost like . . .

Dami runs their fingers through the pile—­then yanks their hand back. The pounding in their ears crescendos in a tidal wave. They know exactly what it is, and as reality crashes into them with all the force of a hurricane, Dami can’t breathe.

Piled on the ground, undeniably, are ashes.

Reviews

"A tumultuous and romantic adventure." —Kirkus Reviews

"Evocative.... Novoa explores themes of masculinity, gender, and colonization, and meditates on how the histories of queer and immigrant peoples intertwine." —Publishers Weekly

"A fast-paced tale full of demons, queer kids, and pirate treasure." —The Bulletin

"[A] propulsive fantasy." —Booklist

"An energetic, dynamic, and satisfying adventure." —School Library Journal

Author

Gabe Cole Novoa (he/him) is a Latinx transmasculine author with an MFA in Writing for Children who writes speculative fiction featuring marginalized characters grappling with identity. When he isn't being nerdy at his day job or buried under his TBR pile, you’re likely to find him making heart-eyes at the latest snazzy outfit he wants to add to his wardrobe. Gabe is the author of the Beyond the Red trilogy, written under a former pseudonym. He also runs a popular writing-focused YouTube channel, bookishpixie, and is active on Twitter. @thegabecole View titles by Gabe Cole Novoa