Home > How to Save an Undead Life (The Beginner's Guide to Necromancy #1)(15)

How to Save an Undead Life (The Beginner's Guide to Necromancy #1)(15)
Author: Hailey Edwards

I was a half-trained assistant with no title and no prospects. The Society had already added my inheritance to their coffers. They had seized control of my assets at my sentencing. Woolly had been the only thing I fought tooth and nail to keep. At the time, she had been flush with Maud’s power, and no one but me could have given her to another master without her consent. So, really, that had less to do with my wishes and more to do with hers.

A sliver of fear pierced me through the heart. What if that was the game? Letting her rot these past few years without a necromancer tending her wards? Woolly was weak, a shadow of her former self, but she would fight a new master to her death, of that I was sure. But did the Society care?

Woolly was more than a house, more than my family. Her basement was a library full of books written in Maud’s own hand. Her entire brilliant career, every experiment, every memory, every theory, penned in leather-bound volumes. The collection was priceless, and the magical locks protecting her life’s work could not be shattered without Maud’s blood. And that was long gone.

“I’ll be back as soon as my shift ends,” I comforted the house. “You remember how to use the phone?”

The landline was a luxury I almost couldn’t afford, but the connection to me soothed her.

“Call if you need me.” I checked to make sure my cell was fully charged. “I promise I’ll come straight home tonight. No pit stops.”

The phone in my hand blared Miranda Lambert’s “The House That Built Me,” and my heart cracked open wider. She didn’t want me to go. For once, her paranoia was founded. But that didn’t change the fact that I couldn’t hole up here forever. We needed money to keep the power on and the pantry stocked. And though I would never say so to her, Dame Lawson had proven I was no safer here than I was out in the wide world.

“I’ll start making inquiries, see if I can’t find someone willing to help me repair the foundation.” Odette was my best bet. Others would ask more of me than I could give. “Just sit tight.”

The old house creaked a pitiful sound that stoked the fire smoldering in my belly.

“Everything is going to be okay,” I promised her, and I hoped it wasn’t a lie.

Leaving her unguarded made me feel just as helpless and alone as Dame Lawson had no doubt intended.

The ride to work blurred, and the tours dragged into eternity. Tips were low, more salt in the wound. I couldn’t blame my victims, though. Tonight my heart wasn’t in spooking people, not when I had been so thoroughly spooked myself, and it showed. On my way out the door, I paused to beg a favor of Neely then cut a path through the gloomy parking lot.

I pulled up short when I noticed a man inspecting Jolene with a covetous eye. No, not a man. A vampire. The one whose warning had come too late. “Not you again.”

“I had one of these once.” His pale fingers stroked the leather seat. “A long time ago.”

“Good for you.” I jingled my keys in my palm. “Step aside.” I wasn’t about to get close to him while I was defenseless. “I need to get home.”

“Have you given any more thought to what we discussed?” He glanced up, quicksilver eyes flashing. “You seem like a nice girl, and I don’t like breaking pretty things.”

“That escalated quickly.” I balled my fists to hide their trembling. “Is this a three strikes, you’re out kind of a deal?”

“You received an invitation.” He sidestepped answering me. “Are you going to accept?”

As well-informed as he appeared to be, I didn’t see the harm in telling him the truth. “I don’t have much choice.”

“The inauguration is in two days.” He scuffed a black cowboy boot on the pavement. “I’ll give you twenty-four hours to decide if my master sends you a car and driver or if he sends me instead.”

“Clan Volkov has offered me an alliance with their heritor.” The thin bluff was all the protection I could muster. “Danill won’t be pleased to hear another clan is threatening an interest of his.”

The vampire smiled, fangs on display. “I can hear your mother in your voice.”

The barb struck home. “How do you know my mother?”

“There are a lot of things I know about you, Grier. Maybe I’ll tell you a few of them sometime.” He tipped the brim of an imaginary hat and strolled across the lot into the shadows. “Night, ma’am.”

Wait.

I had to snap my jaw shut to keep the word from escaping, but my arm shot out all on its own, fingers curling with the urge to call him back. It was a trick. It had to be. Mom had no family left, and Maud and Odette were the only friends she had mentioned. This male was a predator, and he read in me a weakness he could exploit. That was all.

I climbed on Jolene and sped away before curiosity got the better of me.

Woolly gusted a sigh of relief in the form of rattling floor registers when I walked through the front door.

“All’s well?” I padded to the empty birdcage and stared at the swing like that might bring Keet back. “No trouble while I was gone?”

The floorboards groaned a nervous affirmation.

“I’m going to walk the perimeter.” I pocketed the bottle of ink and the brush just in case. “I want to get another look at things before I call it a day.”

The front door stuck a bit on my way out, but she let me go. Three hours later, dawn was a pink smudge on the horizon, and I was still clearing away the brittle vines and lichen covering the foundation to better see the etched sigils when the gate creaked behind me.

“What are you doing out here?” Amelie drifted closer. “I figured you’d be in bed by now.”

“Not that I mind you skulking through my yard at dawn when you think I’m asleep—” I grunted as I stood “—but do I get to know the reason?”

“Boaz.” She hiccupped a sob. “He’s been drafted.”

“Drafted.” The word, so unexpected, stumped me. Try as I might, I couldn’t draw a straight line between that word and his name. “But he’s already in the army.”

“No, not the army.” She wiped her cheeks with the backs of her hands. “The sentinels.”

Cold sweat beaded down my spine as memories of black-clad enforcers prowling darkened hallways surfaced. Batons in hand, they’d clanged the metal rods against the bars, against fingers, often breaking them, when inmates woke from their stupors long enough to plead for mercy that was never granted.

“They draft from the Low Society to fill their ranks, but he was passed over when he was eighteen.” Crossing to me in a daze, she rested her head on my shoulder, and I wrapped my arms around her. “We thought he was safe.”

“Until he came home fully trained,” I finished for her, a shudder in my breath.

I ought to be used to fate kicking me when I was down, but this… I just got Boaz back. I didn’t want to lose him again so soon.

“Mom got a letter a few days ago. I brought it to her while she was dusting, and she broke the crystal bowl Gran got her as a wedding gift. It slipped through her fingers while she read.” As the matron of their family, the news would have gone to her and not him. “Turns out Boaz wasn’t given leave. He was discharged. The paperwork got pushed through right after he left. He didn’t believe it until he called his commander to verify.”

The Society had ended his career with a letter, and he would despise them for that. Like he needed another reason.

“They won’t station him at Atramentous,” she said, like that made this any better. “He protested when you were taken. He was arrested twice. Bet he didn’t tell you that.” She gave a watery laugh. “He was on a watch list for a while. That’s why our folks encouraged him to join the army. They wanted him as far away from the Society as possible.”

“That idiot,” I murmured against her hair, my heart swelling.

“He really is.” She sniffled. “But he’s an asset, and they’re willing to overlook his record.”

I bit my lip to keep from asking again what exactly the army had had him doing, but she wouldn’t rat him out, and he wasn’t ready to share.

“What do your parents think?” I held her at arm’s length. “Can your mom…?”

“No.” Her bottom lip trembled. “She told us tonight she’s been fighting it for the past two years, since before he re-upped. She thought that might keep him out of their clutches, but it’s no use. Dad has a sterling service record, and Boaz followed in his footsteps. You know how big the Society is on bloodlines. They expect families to stay pigeonholed.”

“Plus, he can’t cause them trouble if he’s somewhere they can monitor him.”

Amelie went quiet, and again I wondered what I was missing.

As much as I had looked forward to spilling my guts when she got home, I couldn’t dump my problems on top of hers while she was one sob away from shattering. My troubles would keep for another day.

“Want me to walk you home?” I dusted off my knees and my hands. “I can regale you with tales from the tours you missed, including that goth bridal shower.” I didn’t wait for an answer but flung my arm around her shoulders and aimed us toward her house. “I had to confiscate a dead pigeon from the maid of honor. I don’t know where she got it. I didn’t ask. All I could think was I didn’t want to witness her biting its head off or worse.”

She leaned her head against mine. “I always miss the good stuff.”

I escorted her home, and she stole another hug before vanishing inside the house.

“Grier,” a weathered voice rasped. “Do you have a minute?”

“Mr. Pritchard.” I whirled toward the driveway and the older man standing there. “Hi.”

“Amelie told you the news.” His sigh conveyed his thoughts on the draft. “We worried this day might come. Boaz is a good man, a good soldier, but he’s reckless and pigheaded and bighearted too. It’s a dangerous combination.”

   
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