WARNING: This excerpt contains MAJOR SPOILERS for KISS ME DEADLY (Nickel City Necromancer Book #1). Read at your own risk!
GRAVEYARD WALTZ (Nickel City Necromancer Book #2)
The grave had been dug up long before I got there.
“Huh.” With a hand on my hip, I sunk the end of the shovel into the muddy, overgrown grass and leaned my weight toward the wooden handle. “Well, that’s not good.”
Understatement of the year? Maybe.
As the only necromancer around these parts, I’m pretty much the self-appointed purveyor of the nocturnal things that lurk around our city’s burial grounds. Never quite know what you’ll find once you step beyond the gates after dark.
Or, really, what might find you.
Whatever happens is totally on you, by the way, because you’ve been warned. I’m used to it—weird is merely a subjective term once you’ve sunk a knife into the rotting chest cavities of feral vampires and raised the dead on the regular.
Weird is where my nights begin.
Last time? It started with a mutilated feral vampire in a Forest Lawn mausoleum and ended with a cult worshipping at the altar of their lethal venom. Not that it wasn’t a total shit show of supernatural proportions, but in retrospect three months later, it hadn’t been all terrible. Sure, the homicidal cultists did a lot of damage and my sister has since stopped speaking to me. Just so we’re clear, though, the venom worshippers weren’t the cause of the implosion between me and Ellie.
After we left some serious carnage in the backyard of a fairly affluent neighborhood, the whole ordeal was reduced to a bewildering story that took up too much airtime on the evening news for about two weeks. Unavoidable, really, when a locally-famous cupcake proprietor winds up dead at the bottom of a feral vampire nest she’d been amassing for her cult.
And thanks to the destruction wrought by said cultists, I’d discovered my powers of necromancy now included undoing vampirism.
So, yeah. That’s a thing now.
I know how that might sound. I mean, I’ve only been a necromancer for about a decade—give or take a year, maybe two—and it’s never been brought to my attention before. You’d think necromancy that powerful would come with some sort of warning.
Speaking of warnings: this right here felt like one.
It’s not giving me any warm, tingly feelings, that’s for sure.
It was a sued-for-every-damn-penny-I-owned kind of screwed, because my client—who’d been dead for two years from a car wreck, and whose ghost I’d spoken to this past weekend—appeared to be nowhere in sight. I’m sure I don’t have to point out that the dead don’t just walk off unless there’s necromantic rituals involved. Buffalo didn’t have a constant grave robbing/bone theft problem, though the cops would tell you the real problem was yours truly.
Someone stole my dead client from her own grave, and I didn’t have enough figurative or literal pennies to deal with the impending lawsuit from her fiancé. Nor did I have the patience to hunt down the nefarious creature responsible for this utter bullshit. But I’d have to, since part-time burial ground protector was now in my job description.
Graveyards, based on prior experience, were always battlefields.
Groaning, I dropped my dirt-speckled bag of necromantic tools onto the grass, fingers grazing the dagger at my thigh out of instinct. Carting around assorted ritual supplies in the humidity was, if you’ll pardon my French, a bitch. I’d take the bitter winter cold over the heat, though the frozen ground was never fun to contend with. Personal policy insured the use of a full ritual for cemetery resurrections out of respect for the dead. Anything else—like an urgent, let’s say, sudden death or homicide—required the dagger.
The midnight air tangled around me in soft currents as the humidity crawled across my skin and into my lungs. Just enough to make an uncomfortable sweat trickle down the backs of my knees beneath my trusty, grass-stained denim. I’d worn a lightweight plaid button-down over my dusty pink tank top, but the dampness still pooled under my arms anyway. The small of my back and other more intimate places were starting to feel a bit…swampy.
Leaving the shovel buried in the grass, I nearly jumped out of my skin from the handle’s hollow thwack behind me once it tipped over. Too soft to hold its weight. Any noise ricocheted farther in this quaint graveyard than it would’ve in a larger cemetery like Forest Lawn, but there weren’t any groundskeepers on duty. The rusted padlock around the gate hadn’t presented a challenge, either. It was just me and the rows upon rows of silent, mossy tombstones far from the outskirts of downtown.
Or so I hoped.
“Let’s see what we’re dealing with.”
Would’ve been a smidge easier to conjure one of the ghosts haunting this place for a friendly little chat—I could feel them in the shadows like a whisper on the back of my neck—but I was getting ahead of myself. After a solid whack against one sweaty palm, my flashlight threw a wide ribbon of white light over the open grave. I toed at the disturbed soil, dragging my boot across the dirt like it would uncover a helpful clue left by a clumsy thief.
“Where did you go?” I paced around the edge and listened to the clumps of loose earth patter into an empty coffin. Considered how in the hell I’d explain this to her fiancé, or if I could lie my way out until I located the corpse. Lying to a client’s family made me queasy and probably wasn’t in anyone’s best interest. “Who woke you up and stole you away?”
Why, I asked myself, why the hell would someone do it?
A gentle wind cut through the haze and toyed with the ginger strands that escaped my ponytail, made the edge of my shirt curl backward. I loved the scent of the nighttime air during the summer; the clean, earthy smell of dew settling on blades of grass. It cleared my panicky, scattered thoughts. I lowered to one knee, scooping up a handful of soil that had the color of dark chocolate under a waxing moon.
“This reeks of magical bullshit,” I said aloud, to myself. Don’t get me wrong, witches and warlocks aren’t terrible people. Not all of them, at least. But they sure do preoccupy themselves with trifling grudges. And, well, let’s just say that necromancy doesn’t exactly play nice with other socially acceptable forms of witchcraft.
“But,” I drawled, “most witches and warlocks can’t do true necromantic spells, so what gives? If the body is out there, it couldn’t have traveled far. A reanimation spell has a hang time of like…” The dirt sifted through my fingers in a puff of dark brown haze. I brushed the rest onto my jeans while I rose to my feet. “A few hours, tops. The magic degrades, turns them into a zombie…gets ugly real fast. They forget the soul. They always forget the most important part. It’s why they suck at it.”
Wasn’t the only ransacked grave I’d seen in recent weeks, either. It just happened to be the first one to interfere with my job. The loss of a paycheck was the furthest thing from my mind. What freaked me out more than anything was someone stealing corpses and bones. Now, grave robbing went back centuries—early physicians stole bodies for science. Who’s to say that witches or warlocks wouldn’t do that in the pursuit of their craft? In the quest for a better reanimation spell to rival my necromancy?
Sweet Jesus, please no more weirdo cults. I’m done with cult and cult-adjacent crap.
“Missing bones,” I muttered absently. Retrieving the shovel and my travel bag full of necromantic tools, I dragged the metal end along the grass to wipe away some of the mud. It hadn’t rained a lot this afternoon, but it’d left the earth softened and still messy in some places. My boots squelched across a stray puddle.
“Stolen corpses…I should’ve looked harder. My fault.”
My mind was a crowded place these days.
I’d tried to keep tabs on the other disturbed graves, but they’d been random. No pattern from what I could tell. Wasn’t in every single burial ground I’d visited, though they’d started to show up with enough frequency that I’d mentioned it to Devyn, Nate, and Rhys. Rhys, who could wring more information out of the cops, hadn’t heard much about it.
“Find the bodies, wherever they are…”
How many bodies are we talking now? Ten or fifteen? What would a coven do with that many corpses? Grind up the bones and use the human paste for spell work?
An army of zombies?
Every possibility seemed worse than the last.
An owl sung its lonely, mournful song somewhere far off while the leaves kept rhythm with the wind. The graveyard was rustic, aging, the roughhewn paths reclaimed by unmown grass and enormous weeds. Lots of crooked granite slabs and Celtic crosses. A few small, neglected crypts. Not many new burials here, but according to my client’s fiancé, hers was a family plot going back generations.
Gravel crunched under the treads of my boots. “I won’t get a warm welcome from any of the covens, but there’s a lot of questions that need answering. I mean, damn. You can’t just go around stealing dead people like that. Where’s the respect? The decency?”
And this one felt like a personal attack.
Once my flashlight found another open grave, a chill raked its claws down my arms. This one looked more imperfect, like a gnarly weed forcing itself through gravel. The realization hit soon after: something had pushed upward from beneath the ground. Not shoveled on this side of the grave—almost as if the bones clawed their way out from six feet under through their coffin and the dirt. The chill blossomed into a shiver that rippled from the base of my spine to my neck.
My mouth dropped open. “No,” I whispered. “Reanimation spells aren’t that powerful…are they?”
Red and blue flickered across crooked headstones, revealing names half-hidden behind years of moss and filth. I froze where I stood.
Shit. Shit. Shit.
Sneaky bastards. Hadn’t heard the wheels disrupt the gravel on the road or the low noise of a running engine. Not even a courtesy siren. They’d turned their lights on at the last second, snaking through the dark to hunt me down like a predator. I’d made a mistake in assuming I was safer here in a forgotten burial ground. That this was somehow out of their jurisdiction. An afterthought.
The creaky whine of a car door opening provoked a grimace. The flashlight fell out of my hand, glanced off the toe of my boot, and rolled into the grass where the crickets hummed. Gnats buzzed around my sweaty temples. I swatted away a mosquito shrieking into my ear before it had a chance to feast on me and considered the irony.
Ha. You’re so great at priorities, Sera. Way to go.
“Seraphina Mason,” a distantly familiar, masculine voice called. His gruff, no-nonsense tone warped my name into a command. I tried to match it to a face, a badge number, but I don’t think I’d cared to keep the specifics on file for future reference.
Didn’t matter who was doing the arresting, anyway, because I was screwed.
Two for two, and my odds didn’t seem to be improving. That was usually how my nights went when there was paranormal shenanigans afoot.
“Drop the shovel. Hands where I can see them.”
Why can’t I ever work in peace?
I let the bag drop first, then the shovel, the end of the handle bouncing before it came to rest. No reason to make a run for it. I turned around with a heavy sigh, squinting at the strobe lights that burned my eyeballs. As I lifted my dirt-streaked hands in front of me, the figure by the glossy unmarked car emerged from a halo of light. Blue and red reflected off the handcuffs that dangled lazily from his fingertips.
I stifled a groan and pasted over it with a tight smirk. “Fancy seeing you here, Detective Monroe.”
“Yeah, yeah, highlight of my fuckin’ night,” he answered. “Not gonna run on me, are ya?”
“Doesn’t seem worth the effort.”
“Smart move.” He was annoyed with me. And exhausted. And reaching stratospheric levels of resentment. So, really, this was a typical interaction for us.
“You sound awfully chipper tonight, Detective.”
Casually dressed for the warm weather, silk necktie flapping in the breeze, he sauntered over to show me his credentials despite having been through this charade before. He’d pushed up the sleeves of his dress shirt like it’d been a last resort against the humidity. The police lights did nothing to hide the sweat on his brow.
By my modest estimation, Detective Monroe couldn’t have been much older than Rhys. He had an overachiever sort of glint in his eye with a smarmy undercurrent, a sharp jawline that bordered on menacing, and a receding hairline. His fancy-pants cop credentials were the source of my distrust.
That feeling was always mutual.
“Don’t get mouthy on me, Miss Mason. My patience ain’t tolerating that shit tonight,” he warned, as if his patience hadn’t already been on wafer-thin ice since he woke up this morning, and somehow the sound of his condescending Miss Mason grated against my ears.
Detective Monroe was a Buffalo boy through and through—those long, nasally A’s running wild through my name gave him away. Not that my own Buffalo-born accent was much different, you know, but the harshness tended to vary by location. How had Nate made it smooth as whiskey even when the two of us wanted to rip each other’s throats out?
“They’ve had me chasin’ you around the entire damn county for longer than anyone oughta,” he grumbled.
“’Least I keep you busy,” I offered. “Thought you didn’t like being stuck in that office of yours—you said it didn’t have any windows. What did I do this time to piss you off?”
He circled around me to unbuckle the thigh holster that held my rose gold dagger.
“I’ll take that, thanks. Got anything else on ya?”
I managed a tense frown, bereft without the ass-kicking extension of my necromantic powers. He’d been reluctant to give it back after our paths crossed last time, and if he didn’t let me keep it once I got out of this, I’d be pissed. “Nope.”
“You sure?” he pressed. “Any weird shit in that bag? Nothing that’s gonna blow up in my face? I got hit with one of those—the hell do you people call them?—anyway, fuckin’ witchcraft brew blew up on me couple weeks back. Made me sick for days. I’m not fucking with that shit anymore.”
You probably deserved it, jackass.
“Candles and matches. Some lavender.” I attempted to shrug one shoulder when he grabbed my wrists. “Just the same occult crap you know and love.”
He grunted in his usual exasperated fashion. Perfectly unwilling to break ranks with much of the law enforcement around here, Detective Monroe did not enjoy getting mixed up in paranormal affairs. If he caught even a whiff of “witchy shit” or “these fucking vampire [redacted, because I’m not about using homophobic slurs tossed around by a straight guy, so you can use your imagination],” his so-called job dedication dwindled until he finally lost interest all together.
Which sometimes worked in my favor.
Right now, though, I guessed he needed something to do.
His bone structure and beefy muscles screamed that he had, no doubt, killed a man, yet he was gentle when locking the cuffs around my slim wrists. Wouldn’t win my trust this late in the game. We weren’t friends. If I wasn’t a tiny white girl this encounter would’ve gone in a hundred other worse directions. Detective Monroe gave the handcuffs a tug before he steered me toward the unmarked car.
“Seraphina Mason.” I ducked my head against the harsh lights. “You’re under arrest for a whole lot of trespassing and desecration.” I heard the unspoken addendum to the latest charges against me: you’re a sick fuck, necromancer.
Maybe, from a certain point of view. But who was the sicko stealing corpses?