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Otherworldly

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About The Book

A New York Times bestseller!

A skeptic and a supernatural being make a crossroads deal to achieve their own ends only to get more than they bargained for in this “irresistible elixir of romance and suspense” (Kirkus Reviews) from the New York Times bestselling author of Spell Bound and So This Is Ever After.

Seventeen-year-old Ellery is a non-believer in a region where people swear the supernatural is real. Sure, they’ve been stuck in a five-year winter, but there’s got to be a scientific explanation. If goddesses were real, they wouldn’t abandon their charges like this, leaving farmers like Ellery’s family to scrape by.

Knox is a familiar from the Other World, a magical assistant sent to help humans who have made crossroads bargains. But it’s been years since he heard from his queen, and Knox is getting nervous about what he might find once he returns home. When the crossroads demons come to collect Knox, he panics and runs. A chance encounter down an alley finds Ellery coming to Knox’s rescue, successfully fending off his would-be abductors.

Ellery can’t quite believe what they’ve seen. And they definitely don’t believe the nonsense this unnervingly attractive guy spews about his paranormal origins. But Knox needs to make a deal with a human who can tether him to this realm, and Ellery needs to figure out how to stop this winter to help their family. Once their bargain is struck, there’s no backing out, and the growing connection between the two might just change everything.

Excerpt

Chapter 1: Ellery 1 ELLERY
ELLERY EVANS CURSED AS THEY hauled another plastic tub of dirty dishes across the metal counter toward the deep kitchen sink.

Sweat gathered at their temples as they sank their hands in the steaming hot water, transferring the dishes into the basin to soak. The kitchen of the small diner was stifling. From the heat and sizzle of the stove, and the steam rising from the seams of Ellery’s closest coworker, Hobart the industrial dishwasher, the room felt more like a tropical island than a restaurant. It was funny, in a way, that Ellery could grumble about the heat despite living in Solis City, a city renowned for the endless winter that had plagued them for the past five years, a weird weather phenomenon that no one could explain.

According to the calendar, it was supposed to be the middle of summer, but when Ellery biked to the diner that morning, wrapped up in their heaviest coat, gloves, hat, and scarf, it had been snowing. But that had been life for all of Ellery’s teenage years. It was as if the seasons had just decided not to change one winter, and the warm wet of spring had never come. And without spring, there was no blazing heat of summer, and certainly no harvest in autumn. That was the way it had been for the last half-decade. And while there were scientists who had researched and tried to explain the situation—everything from climate change to the movements of the poles to changes in the ocean currents—no one quite understood what had happened, or why it had happened to this one particular region. Which also meant no one had any viable solutions.

Ellery was twelve when the seasons had stopped and now, at seventeen, didn’t rightly care why their patch of the world had freezing temperatures year-round and snow every month. Ellery only cared about the consequences.

They used the spray nozzle to rinse an obscene amount of ranch dressing from a salad plate. A glob shot out and landed squarely on their apron, which, gross. Ellery made a face as they shoved the plate in the rack that they would run through the dishwasher once full. They grabbed a handful of utensils from the bus pan and dropped them into the suds. Elbows deep in the water, sponge in hand, Ellery scrubbed, absently humming along to the radio that played a random pop tune in the background, ignoring the cooks yelling at each other again. The sound of pressurized water beating against the inside of the metal box that was Hobart mostly drowned out the cursing.

The door to the kitchen swung open, and Ellery looked up briefly to catch their cousin’s head popping through a slim crack. Her red hair was piled high, a pencil threaded through it; her freckled cheeks were flushed. The white apron around her waist had a blobby stain that might have been spaghetti sauce.

“Hey, El,” she said, holding up her cell. “Phone. Your mom.”

Ellery sighed. Of course she’d call in the middle of a shift. And she called Charley’s phone because she knew Charley would answer. Ellery’s phone was tucked away in the pocket of their jacket, Ellery having learned quickly that a sink full of soapy water wasn’t conducive to healthy electronics. A day in a bag of rice later, and Ellery’s phone was still spotty at best. “Can you tell her I’m busy?”

“Like the last three times? I don’t think so. I’m not taking that heat.”

“But it’ll all be—”

“Supernatural bullshit. Yes, I know. You’ve said. Many times.” She thrust the phone toward them. “Take a break. Diego won’t care. Lunch rush is over anyway.”

“There was a rush?” Ellery muttered.

Charley frowned and pointed aggressively.

Groaning, Ellery straightened from their hunch over the sink and stripped off their long rubber gloves. They pushed their short brown hair out of their eyes, snatched the cell from Charley’s hand, and escaped through the back door of the restaurant out into the alley. They wedged an old pipe, which Frank had left on the stoop after being locked out one too many times, between the door and the jamb to keep it slightly propped. Overhead, Ellery spied a rusted horseshoe nailed over the entrance and rolled their eyes.

“Hey,” Ellery said into the phone, standing on the concrete steps outside. The blast of chilly air when they exited had felt nice for a few seconds, until the absolute bone-piercing cold started sinking into their skin. Their T-shirt wasn’t an adequate defense against the temperature. At least it wasn’t snowing, though the sky was heavy and gray, ready to open at any minute. It wasn’t even close to dusk, but the alley was dark with shadows cast by the dim glow of the streetlamp a few yards away.

“Ellery,” their mom said. “How good of you to take my call.”

Ellery tipped their head back and took a fortifying breath. They slipped one hand in the pocket of their worn jeans, fingers brushing the acorn wrapped with iron wire that resided there. “Hi, Mom. How are things?”

“Good,” their mom said. She didn’t elaborate further, which meant she was lying. After all, nothing had been “good” for the last five years.

Ellery swallowed around the sudden lump in their throat. “How’s the farm?”

“Oh, it’s going along okay. One of the greenhouses failed because we had some problems with the electricity. But other than that, the farm has been fine.”

“It failed?” Ellery asked, rubbing the toe of their sneaker into the slush piled on the steps. “What does that mean? Did you lose the crops?”

A beat of silence. “Not all of them. And it’s okay. The other greenhouses are working, and we’ll have quite a yield from them.”

Another lie. Ever since the winter set in, the family farm had struggled to produce anything. It couldn’t. Not until Ellery’s dad and uncles were able to construct a few greenhouses. Even then, the crops weren’t as abundant, because the greenhouses were small and there wasn’t as much space in which to plant. Also, greenhouses used heat, and between that, the farmhouse, and the barn, the electric bill had grown exponentially, too much for the extended family to afford. In fact, everything was too much for the family to afford, so Ellery had moved in with their older cousin for the summer to work in the city and send money back home.

“Well, I was just checking in to see how you were doing. How is Charley? Is she treating you well? Are you eating enough?”

Ellery winced. “Yes. Things are good. Charley is great. My job is good. Everything is fine.”

“Oh, that’s good. When I don’t hear from you, it makes me think something bad has happened.”

Guilt twisted beneath Ellery’s ribs. “Sorry. I’ve been busy working.”

“Not too much, I hope. We didn’t let you move to the city to live with your cousin just for you to spend all your time working. I hope you’re getting out and doing things. Having some fun? Experiencing new things?”

“Sure.” It was Ellery’s turn to lie.

“Do you still have the iron acorn I gave you?”

Ellery’s lips twisted into a wry smile. Their mother believed the acorn’s iron-wire cage could combat the magic of the supernatural, providing Ellery protection from any creature with ill intent.

Once upon a time, Ellery, too, believed in the myths of the faeries who lived under the hills in vast, glittering kingdoms, and the fae king who ruled over them. They believed in the garden gnomes who made the plants grow if they left them gifts, and the nymphs who coaxed the rivers to run and the wells to fill and who required offerings during the droughts, and the mischievious pixies who would lead travelers astray for fun, unless the individual had a pretty rock or sunflower seed to give to them. Most importantly, they believed in a gracious and loving goddess who ensured a bountiful harvest each autumn to those who brought offerings and burned incense and prayed like good little sycophants. That she would bestow her favor on and protect those who worshipped and revered her and showered her with trinkets like they’d been taught to by their elders.

Ellery believed in all the stories—that magic was real, that people were inherently good, and that if they believed in something desperately enough, it wouldn’t fail them. Until they learned it was all a lie.

“Yes.” Despite not believing anymore, it was the last thing their mother had given them before they left, and sentimentality was difficult to let go of. “Did you get the money I sent?”

“We did. You don’t have to do that.”

They had this same conversation every time. “But it helped, right?”

She sighed over the line. “Yes. Of course it did. We used part of it to buy an offering for the goddess. I have a good feeling this time. I’m certain she’ll hear us.”

Ellery’s stomach sank. “Mom,” they said, their tone almost admonishing. “Why did you do that? You could’ve used it for something else, something important.”

“Ellery. It is important.”

Ellery ducked their head and squeezed their eyes shut. This was another line of conversation they had each call, one that Ellery would’ve liked to avoid. “How can you still believe in her? It’s a waste of money and time.”

Their mom huffed. And Ellery knew they had crossed a line. But they couldn’t understand how their mom still held fast to her beliefs. Ellery had watched for years as their parents and the rest of the neighboring farm folk begged and pleaded to an empty shrine in the corn, only for nothing to change. Ellery’s faith shriveled and died, like the plants in the field, and the fruit on the vine, and the livestock without feed. All of it had only served to drive Ellery away, to solidify their skepticism when it came to anything beyond what they could see or touch. Especially as they made the difficult decision to pack their bags and leave, to be one less mouth to feed, one less burden.

“I know you don’t understand,” their mom said, and Ellery bristled at the condescension. “But I wish we didn’t have to have this discussion every time, Ellery.”

“I wish for that too,” they mumbled. “Look, Mom—”

The back door swung open. “El!” Charley yelled from the other side of the threshold. “The hot weird guy is back.”

“Mom, I have to go. The hot weird guy is back, and I cannot miss this.”

“The what?”

Charley snatched the phone from Ellery’s hand. “I wouldn’t interrupt if it wasn’t important, Aunt Nance. But El really needs to go. We’ll call later. Promise.”

Charley ended the call, then grabbed a handful of Ellery’s T-shirt and yanked. Ellery stumbled into the diner, and one of the cooks yelled at them for letting in the winter air as the door slammed shut. The shock of heat from the kitchen after standing outside made Ellery dizzy, but it did not deter them and Charley as they jostled against each other for space to peek through the small circular window into the diner’s seating area.

Sure enough, the hot weird guy stood at the counter, long, pale fingers drumming on the linoleum countertop as he talked to Marisol, one of the other waitresses, to pick up his order. His black hair was cut close at the sides and long on top, brushed forward with what Charley had dubbed “emo bangs.” He wore large sunglasses that he didn’t take off despite being indoors, and when he smiled, it was wide and cheerful and showed off perfect straight teeth that would have made an orthodontist weep.

“He’s so hot,” Charley said, pressing her nose against the glass.

“You have a girlfriend,” Ellery reminded her.

“Not even just hot, but dreamy. Like he stepped right out of a movie or a runway. I mean, those cheekbones alone would land him on a magazine cover, but do you see those lips?”

“We literally live with said girlfriend. Her name is Zada, if you remember.”

Charley swatted Ellery’s shoulder. “I’m aware, but I can appreciate beauty in the form of a person. I mean, look at him.”

Ellery looked, definitely appreciating his sharp jawline, smooth skin, and pink bow mouth. And while Ellery could also appreciate the visage, they weren’t one to say it out loud. Or do anything about it. Admiring from afar was good enough for them, thank you. Because anything else would require social interaction, of which Ellery was not usually a fan. And, well, hot weird guy was 1000 percent out of Ellery’s league in every reality. They couldn’t deny that the “hot” part of the nickname was apt.

“I bet he’s a vampire.” Charley nudged Ellery’s arm with her pointy elbow. “He gives off that vibe.”

“There are no such thing as vampires.”

“Fine—a sprite, then. Or a nymph. Something supernatural.”

“Still all myths and still all not real.”

Charley clucked her tongue. “You’re no fun. Besides, who says they’re not real? Zada’s sister’s best friend knows a club where a water nymph sings, and I’ve totally seen a dryad in the produce section of the grocery store.”

Before Ellery could retort, a clattering of pots and pans sounded behind them, followed by shuffling footsteps. Diego leaned in, his large frame looming over the two of them.

“He has a bad aura,” Diego said.

Ellery sighed. “Also, no such things as auras, unless accompanied by a migraine or seizure.”

Diego sniffed, insulted. “You should stay away from him. He’s trouble.”

“Agreed,” Charley said with a sharp nod. “He’s weird.”

The thing was, hot weird guy wasn’t really that weird. He came in every so often and picked up an order under the name of “Arabelle,” paid in cash, made some stilted small talk, then left. The thing that set him apart from every other customer, aside from his otherworldly attractiveness and the ever-present sunglasses, was the fact that he was never dressed for the cold. Never wore a thick coat, or a scarf, or even a pair of gloves. He appeared impervious to the weather, the same weather that had Ellery shivering within seconds.

And when he stopped in to pick up the food order, he looked at everything with an expression that was slightly wistful and a little sad. Ellery could relate.

Today wasn’t any different. He glanced around the diner while he waited, wearing a long-sleeved shirt and jeans and an expression that was too open for the city.

Ellery couldn’t ride their bike without at least four layers of clothing, a hat, gloves, scarf, and doubled socks. Maybe hot weird guy had a car he parked around the corner that none of them had seen. That seemed like a more probable explanation than superpowers.

Hot weird guy grinned when Marisol handed over the paper bag with his order, and Ellery wondered how she didn’t swoon. His fingers wrapped around the handle, and he gave her a friendly nod. He turned his head to where Charley and Ellery’s breaths fogged the kitchen window and raised his hand in a wave.

Ellery ducked down, cheeks aflame. Charley squeaked and giggled, burying her face in Ellery’s shoulder as she laughed.

“Oh my gods and goddesses,” she said, hands clapped against her burning face. “He saw us.”

Ellery’s insides tumbled in embarrassment, and they wrapped their arms around their torso. “Shit.”

“Serves you both right for spying instead of working,” Diego said, wagging his spatula at them. “Now break time is over. You can ogle on your own time.”

Charley straightened, smoothed down her waitress uniform, and retied her apron. “Yes. Let me go serve all three of our customers.”

Ellery raised an eyebrow. “We have three customers? I thought you said the lunch rush was over?”

Diego grumbled about sarcastic teenagers and went back to the basket of onion rings he’d dropped in the frying oil a few minutes ago that were now probably crispier than they should’ve been. Ellery extracted themself from Charley’s arms and headed back to the waiting dishwater.

Ellery worked for the next few hours sliding loaded racks of dishes into Hobart for their steamy, pressurized wash, then pulling them out and stacking them once dry. Eventually they ran out of dishes and ventured on the other side of the kitchen doors into the diner proper. Sitting on a stool, Ellery wiped down menus and rolled utensils into napkins while listening to the chatter from Charley and Marisol, and the continued bickering between Diego and Frank in the back.

Customers were few and far between. Even the dinner crowd was only a handful of patrons.

“I used to be the busiest diner on this side of the city,” Diego lamented when he emerged from the kitchen a few minutes before closing, hand towel draped over one shoulder, frown lines in his brow. “Now I’m lucky to afford the power it takes to run the grill.” He shook his head. “The city is dying, and soon the entire region will be left to the shadows.”

“Maybe someone will figure out what’s wrong and fix it?” Ellery asked softly. It was a weak sentiment. They had given up hope a while ago but had found that voicing their cynicism wasn’t great for conversations.

Diego huffed. “Maybe. But it’s been five years. It is no longer news. Even our local media has accepted this new reality and moved on to other things. We’ve been forgotten, Ellery. The rest of the world turns, and we’ll remain stuck fast in winter forever.”

A shiver worked its way down Ellery’s spine, and it wasn’t because of the cold. “What will you do?”

“Stay open as long as I can, and then…” He sighed wearily. “My brother lives in Olympia. They’re experiencing a boom from everyone leaving here. Maybe I will go there and open a new restaurant. A bigger one with more seats and a larger menu.” Diego patted Ellery’s shoulder. “You have a good aura. I’ll save you a job if it comes to that.”

Ellery bit back the instinctive retort regarding auras but settled on a subdued “Thanks.” But what Diego had said was unsettling. Ellery couldn’t move again, not even farther away from their family farm. They knew their parents and extended family would stubbornly cling to what was left, try to hold on to a legacy. They’d die beseeching an imaginary goddess for a reprieve.

“Closing time,” Diego said, with a nod to the door. Night had fallen, and the remaining residents of the city didn’t often venture out once the sun went down. “Don’t forget to take out the garbage when you’re done.”

“I won’t,” Ellery said as Charley turned the sign on the door to CLOSED and locked it. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

The others left as Charley and Ellery began closing procedures. They wiped down the counters and tables and stacked chairs, and Ellery ran Hobart one last time to catch the last remaining dishes. They both bundled up into their jackets and scarves. Ellery tugged a knit hat low over their ears.

Charley checked her phone. “Zada is here in the back. Do you want a ride, or are you biking home?”

“Oh, so you do remember her name.”

Charley glared. “Fine. You can walk.”

“No! Sorry.” Ellery laughed. “Sorry. I won’t tell her about the guy we ogle.”

“Oh, she already knows. She wants to witness him in person one day. So, ride or bike?”

“Ride, definitely.”

Charley winked. “Good choice.”

Ellery grabbed the two bags of trash and trundled into the alley. After tossing the garbage into the large metal bins, Ellery unlocked their bike from the nearby post and followed Charley to where Zada’s car idled. Ellery threw their bike into Zada’s trunk, then slid into the back seat, sighing at the blast of heat from the vents.

“Good day at work?” Zada asked, smiling as she leaned over and pecked Charley on the lips.

Charley launched into the story of the return of hot weird guy and the utter embarrassment that had followed as Ellery settled into the cushion and tried not to dwell on their conversation with Diego. But they couldn’t help it as they watched the bleak landscape slide by outside the car window and noted all the closed stores and restaurants, as well as the drifts of dirty snow on the sidewalks, which hardly anyone walked on anymore. Diego wasn’t wrong; the whole area was dying—not just the farms, but the city as well. People were leaving in droves, and soon all that would remain would be the shadows and the snow and vacant buildings.

Ellery hunched down into their coat. What would they do then? Would they be forced to move? What would happen to the farm? To their family? To the city? Ellery tucked their chin to their chest and pulled their hood up over their head to block out the view. Ellery didn’t have any answers, but one thing was clear. Life as it was with an endless winter was not sustainable. Something would have to change. But Ellery had no clue as to what.

About The Author

Photograph by F.T. Lukens

F.T. Lukens is a New York Times bestselling author of YA speculative fiction including the novels Spell Bound, So This Is Ever After, and In Deeper Waters (2022 ALA Rainbow Booklist; Junior Library Guild Selection), as well as other science fiction and fantasy works. Their contemporary fantasy novel The Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myths & Magic was a 2017 Cybils Award finalist in YA Speculative Fiction and won the Bisexual Book Award for Speculative Fiction. F.T. resides in North Carolina with their spouse, three kids, three dogs, and three cats.

Why We Love It

“F.T. Lukens has a special talent for creating snappy dialogue and crackling chemistry. Add to that a crossroads deal and impossible love, and you’ve got a recipe for a delightfully cozy fantasy that will leave you warmhearted and smiling!”

—Kate P., Senior Editor, on Otherworldly

Product Details

  • Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (April 2, 2024)
  • Length: 352 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781665916257
  • Ages: 14 - 99

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Raves and Reviews

"A paranormal romance bursting with coziness, featuring a heartwarming found family and a charming love story."

– Shelf Awareness, 4/12/2024

"Notably, in a genre that has recently favored older readers, this story is accessible to teens of all ages. Its broad appeal, engaging pacing, and quest-like plot structure (which features cameos from deities inspired by Greek mythology) create a transition point for younger teens comfortable with Rick Riordan Presents....A light but nuanced story that will be a joy for teens."

Booklist, starred review

"An irresistible elixir of romance and suspense."

– Kirkus Reviews, 3/1/24

"Lukens’s signature blend of complex yet accessible mythology, queer-normative worldbuilding, and high emotional stakes makes for a compulsively readable tale."

– Publishers Weekly, 1/15/2024

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