Home > How to Dance an Undead Waltz (The Beginner's Guide to Necromancy #4)(10)

How to Dance an Undead Waltz (The Beginner's Guide to Necromancy #4)(10)
Author: Hailey Edwards

I refused to acknowledge the uptick in my pulse at the sight of him. “What do you want?”

“To see how you’re doing.” He noticed the implements in my hands and started scanning headstones. “I worry about you.”

“Please don’t go there.” I planted my feet. “You lost the right to worry about me when you got engaged behind my back.”

“I don’t see another way out,” he confessed. “There’s no happy ending no matter how hard I squint at things.”

“You did this to yourself.” The hateful words hurled from my mouth before I could censor them. “You chose your match. You picked another woman over me. You should be thrilled you got who and what you wanted, that your parents didn’t resort to playing matchmaker for you.”

“I chose my family over you.” He clenched his jaw. “I didn’t pick her. I don’t want her.”

But he needed her, which was just as bad. “That doesn’t make it hurt any less.”

“Amelie—” he began.

“Amelie is a grown woman who made her own choices. Bad ones. Vampires lost their lives, and she almost cost me mine too.” I tightened my mouth into a grimace to keep my bottom lip from trembling. At least it wasn’t sadness about to cave me in. I was pissed, vibrating with rage. “I don’t need a lecture on your sister.”

“All you need is him,” he snarled. “Linus Fucking Lawson.”

“His middle name is Andreas, actually.”

“He’s waited for this since his balls dropped, Grier. You’re an ideal to him, not a person.”

“Really?” I cocked an eyebrow at him. “Given our history, that’s the best you’ve got?”

The Boaz I had panted after since I sprouted armpit hair was a pipe dream. He was smoke. All it had taken was a strong breeze to blow him right out of my arms.

His shoulders cranked tighter. “He doesn’t know you like I do.”

“The people who know you best always wield the power to hurt you the worst.”

“Is that the appeal?” A fraction of his tension ebbed. “Is he the safer option?”

Boaz was wrong. On so many fronts. This argument only highlighted the myriad flaws in his reasoning.

There wasn’t a single thing safe about Linus. Not one. The bookish exterior provided camouflage for the predator lurking under his skin, and few suspected what prowled through the chambers of his heart.

The most lethal thing about Linus wasn’t his power, his wealth, or his connections. His family name and his mother’s position made him a force, true, but none of those frills appealed to me when I possessed those same advantages.

I was Dame Woolworth, the Woolworth heir, Maud’s chosen daughter. I was goddess-touched, destined to become a power in my own right, and I was gathering dangerous allies to me. Honestly? I counted him among them.

“I have work to do.” I shouldered past him. “You should get back to selecting your china patterns.”

“Grier.” He closed his hand over my upper arm. “You aren’t safe with him.”

“Yes—” I pried him off me, a tremble in my limbs, a trauma that still reared its head in inopportune moments, “—I am.”

Unhurried footsteps strolled the path I had taken, heading straight for us, and I suppressed a groan.

Thanks, Cletus.

“Have you had a chance to collect your sample?” Linus tossed a bag of rich soil and caught it in his hand. “I can take over if you need another moment.”

“I’m on my way to do just that.” I sidestepped the pissy Elite in my path for the last time. “Good night, Boaz.”

“This is not goodbye,” he gritted out from between clenched teeth. “I’m not letting you go.”

“You let me go when you asked for another girl’s hand in marriage.” I gripped the scoop until my bones smarted. “You can’t have it both ways. I’m not interested in being the other woman, and your future wife deserves better than to enter into a marriage contract with a man who has no interest in making a life with her because he already has one with someone else.”

“Christ, Grier.” Boaz stumbled back a step. “I’m not asking you to be my mistress. I would never—” He wiped a hand over his lips like he wanted to wipe the word from his mouth. “You deserve better, you deserve everything. I would never expect you to settle for less than marriage, less than love.”

“Why are you here?” Exhaustion dragged on me. “What do you want?”

“I heard about the archer.” The firmer conversational ground helped him recover. “Reports are coming in hot and fast from the Cora Ann. Your old boss is making a stink about your disappearing act. She gave a description of Hood to the police.”

“I was going to call her.” I sought out the moon. “I had no idea what to say, what lie to tell this time.”

“Your skirt was ripped off, and there was blood on the railing. People heard you hit the water. It doesn’t look good.” He expelled a long breath. “Savannah is your home. You can’t burn this identity, or you’ll be a shut-in for the next fifty years waiting on this generation of humans to forget they ever knew a Grier Woolworth.”

A lightbulb moment flashed, blinding with its clarity. “You’re here on official business.”

The twang of my heartstrings indicated a direct hit, but I didn’t feel the impact. Numbness wrapped my shoulders like a shroud as it sank in this hadn’t been some misguided attempt at mending fences with me. The opportunity had simply been a bonus.

“I’ve been assigned to you,” he admitted. “We share history, and my superiors like that.”

“Assigned to me?” A shrill note ratcheted my voice higher. “What does that mean?”

“All the key political figures within the Society have a shadow.” Furrows gathered across Linus’s brow. “Mother has one, and I do too.” He measured Boaz with a frown. “Protocol dictates the watcher must not reveal their identity. The potential for abuse is too great when you’re talking about wealthy, influential necromancers with secrets to keep.”

Boaz smiled, all teeth. “Skeletons in your closet got you nervous?”

“I accept full responsibility for my actions,” Linus said plainly.

The barb struck home, and Boaz failed to conceal his flinch. “I don’t trust you, Lawson.”

“The feeling is mutual.” He cut his eyes toward me, and another layer of Boaz’s armor dented. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have business to attend.”

Here was more proof that Linus got me. He was speaking for himself, not for me. He was letting me choose to linger with Boaz or extricate myself from the situation. If he kept this up, kept treating me like an equal, I just might find my own voice, discover who I am when I’m not being told who I ought to be.

“We have business to attend.” I prepped the plastic baggy with more attention to detail than the press-and-seal seam required then turned my back and started walking. “Enjoy the rest of your night, Sentinel Elite Pritchard.”

Linus fell in step beside me, and we walked in silence for a long time. “Was I wrong to interrupt?”

“You got me out of there before I made a total fool of myself.” I brushed my shoulder against his. “I appreciate the save.” A crumbling headstone with letters erased by the elements caught my eye, and I knelt. “Do you think he was telling the truth about being assigned to me?”

“I can ask Mother.” He angled his face away, but not fast enough to conceal his amusement. “I doubt she knows who’s in charge of the program. Even though the Elite share the same resources as the sentinels, they’re a separate entity. They police us.”

Hearing the Elite framed that way, and knowing Boaz was one of them, unsettled me. Given his reaction to my incarceration, he wouldn’t move against me in any official capacity unless I had done grievous harm. But, I wondered as Linus joined me on the cool earth, would that same clarity of duty keep those around me safe or merely tighten the noose the Grande Dame had fit around my neck?

“Look at this.” The grave I had chosen appeared to be a popular one. A hole had already been dug. “Someone helped themselves to more than eight ounces.”

Linus scanned the area, his frown growing, then stood and crossed to another grave. “This one’s been disturbed too.” He walked farther. “There’s another one.”

I shoved to my feet and set off in the opposite direction. Almost every grave within the hedges had been visited prior to our arrival. “What do you think it means?”

“It’s possible one of the local instructors brought a class of fledglings out to stock their inventory.”

“The first rule of collection is leave no trace where humans are concerned. An instructor would get their butt handed to them by the Grande Dame if this was discovered by the deceaseds’ relatives.”

Graverobbing was sensational, headline-grabbing. In other words—it was bad news.

In a historic town, where folks got it in their heads to dig for buried pirate gold, stranger things happened on a nightly basis. But random holes being dug in the oldest cemetery in town might rate a story on a slow news day. Or a tweet or a blog post or a mention on other social media platforms.

“That’s not the biggest concern in an area like this one. We’ll have to circle back and check the active plots.” He indicated I should take what I needed while we were here. “I didn’t notice if there were any other disturbances in the area.”

After I filled my baggy, I pulled out my phone. “I’m going to snap pictures of the headstones. I doubt this has anything to do with which graves got hit, but we won’t get this opportunity again.”

“Good idea.” He removed his cell from his pocket. “I’ll start on this end. We can meet in the middle.”

   
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