Home > How to Kiss an Undead Bride (The Beginner's Guide to Necromancy #7)(16)

How to Kiss an Undead Bride (The Beginner's Guide to Necromancy #7)(16)
Author: Hailey Edwards

“No,” Linus was quick to reassure her. “Of course not.”

Woolly gave me a mental nudge, a hard one, and I finally snapped out of it.

Leaving Linus with Eva, I jogged into the kitchen for gallon freezer bags to collect evidence in.

“Let’s walk you home, Eva-Diva.” I put a hand on her shoulder. “We’ll explain everything there, okay?”

“Okay.” She glued herself to Linus’s side. “Mom won’t be mad, will she?”

“None of this is your fault.” I nudged them out the door ahead of me. “Be there in a sec.”

After they hit the lawn, I gazed up at the foyer chandelier. “Did you notice anyone on the grounds?”

The front doorknob clicked out a quick no.

“Did we receive any more deliveries?”

Again, no.

“Eva showed up on her own, dressed like this, and waited on us?”

The door opened and then shut in an affirmative. Woolly wasn’t great with telling time, but she pushed a series of images at me that left me certain Eva hadn’t been there more than fifteen or twenty minutes.

“Help us keep an eye on her?”

The door cracked open then shut firmer this time.

“We’ll be back in a few.” I patted the doorframe on my way out. “Hold down the fort.”

Jogging across the lawn, I caught up to Linus, who carried a barefoot Eva piggyback.

We filled the walk with chatter about her next dance recital, and she offered to show me some of her new grappling moves. By the time we reached the Kinase den, she had wormed off his back to run in the grass.

Hood and Lethe met us on the lawn, their expressions tight, and Eva shrank in Linus’s shadow.

In her excitement, she must have forgotten to ask permission before visiting us.

“You,” Lethe snapped. “Go to your room.”

“Mom, I—”

“The pack is on lockdown.” Lethe held firm. “That means you don’t leave these grounds without my say so, and you don’t cross the property line without an escort.”

“I just wanted to show Linus my pretty shoes,” she screamed. “He’s my best friend.”

An arrow through the heart would have hurt me less than hearing her admit that, and from the expression on Hood’s face, he was bleeding out too. Lethe, however, kept her pain masked.

“Go to your room,” she repeated. “I’ll be up to talk to you shortly.”

Red-faced, Eva flew into the house with sobs ringing behind her.

Lethe jolted when the door slammed, and buried her face in her hands. That didn’t stop me from seeing the tear roll off her chin, and I was glad when Hood folded her into his arms to give her a moment to regain her composure.

Peering over his mate’s shoulder, Hood asked me, “What’s with the bags?”

“Evidence.” I explained to them how we found Eva, then hit them with the scariest part of the news. “The shoes and purse are identical to the ones Volkov had made to match a dress he bought for me.”

Lethe jerked away from Hood, her eyes red and cheeks damp. “What?”

The front door swung open, and a kid around thirteen ambled toward us holding a box in his hands.

“I’ll take that.” I tucked the bagged items under my arm to free up my hands. “Thanks.”

Sensing the violence in the air, the kid was happy to fork it over and scram.

I dug out the card with her name on it and turned it front to back, but I didn’t recognize the handwriting.

“I’ll have Bishop run a handwriting analysis.” Linus snapped pictures and sent them. “I doubt we’ll find useable fingerprints.”

Taking that as permission to further tamper with evidence, I rustled through the tissue paper lining the bottom, but there were no other clues to be found.

“You’re right about what you said before.” I flipped the whole thing over in my hands to be sure there wasn’t some hidden message on the bottom. “I need to establish a team of specialists in Savannah. We can’t keep borrowing Hadley’s resources.” I winced. “Sorry. Your resources?”

“She’s the acting potentate. Assuming she aces her trials, and I can’t imagine she won’t, she’ll be sworn in officially. You’re right. They’re her resources now.”

“You’re sure you’re okay with that?” I had to ask. I couldn’t help myself. “It’s not too late to change your mind.”

“I love you for asking.” He took the plastic baggies from under my arm and placed them in the box before setting the lid on top and relieving me of its weight. “I love you, period. That’s why I’m here. I have no regrets. This is where I want to be, with you.”

Okay, fine. So maybe he wasn’t the only one suffering doubts that spread like kudzu during the long weeks we had spent apart while Hadley and I trained. Maybe he and I ought to just sit at the kitchen table nose to nose and say I love you until we ran out of breath or both believed it, whichever happened first. Screamed it, more like, since we were obviously both hard of hearing when it came to that department.

“I’ll have a courier deliver these to the cleaners.” He juggled the armful of evidence. “I’ll send the ring too.” He removed it from his pocket to add on the pile. “They’ll be able to determine if they’re yours or copies.”

“I threw them out,” I said for Hood and Lethe’s benefit. “As soon as I got home, I tossed everything that Volkov had given me or touched, except for the avowal, which I gave to Linus.”

“So,” Hood said, thinking it over, “someone could have fished them out of the trash.”

“Goddess.” I rubbed my hands up my arms. “That was years ago.”

“Vampires play a long game.” Linus frowned over his collection. “This might have been a contingency plan if Volkov failed.”

He didn’t come right out and accuse my grandfather, but he didn’t have to for me to be thinking along the same lines. Talk about a long game. He had played me since before I was born. Mom and Dad too. It didn’t help his posthumous case that he was the one who promised me to Volkov in the first place. I could see him ordering one of his lackeys to collect these glittery bits and pieces in case they might come in handy as leverage against me, or him.

“We’ll let you get back to Eva,” I said when Lethe’s gaze kept drifting in that direction. “We’ll update you when we know more.”

“Thanks.”

She started toward the house, but Hood stayed behind, giving Lethe and Eva time alone to talk.

“There’s a chance the shoes and clutch are new then.” He mulled over the implications. “Reproductions.”

“It’s possible, but we just don’t know yet, and it worries me they were left for her.” I hated admitting it to him, but he deserved to hear the truth. “Not much of what’s happening adds up. It’s enough like Volkov to point a finger in his direction, but not enough like him to convince me he’s directly involved. It’s possible one of his clansmen is acting on his orders or has taken initiative to return his bride to him now that he’s free.”

The ring was unfamiliar, but it must have been the one Volkov had selected for me or a duplicate.

“I should get in there.” Hood’s lips thinned like he would rather suck a lemon than do just that. “Those two butt heads on whether grass is green. It’s a miracle they haven’t knocked themselves unconscious, as stubborn as they both are.”

“Just keep an eye on Eva, okay?” I stared up at her window, the hug Lethe gave her shadowed against the curtains. “I don’t like how involved she is in this.”

“Neither do I.” Hood followed my gaze. “But she’s your goddessdaughter, and that makes her a target.”

As the adoptive daughter of Maud Woolworth, I had firsthand experience in being the chink in someone else’s armor, and Eva was worth twice as many points for anyone taking aim at me. Not only was she my goddessdaughter, but her mother was my best friend.

“Her medical condition also makes her a hot topic,” Hood continued. “Both of those things make her an ideal conduit to you.”

I cringed at medical condition, but that was more polite than the truth and accurate for the most part.

“We’ll touch base at dusk,” I promised, and then Linus and I set off for Woolly. “Do we have a location for Volkov?”

“Bishop says he’s gone to ground.” Linus furrowed his brow. “Whether that’s because he’s behind this or simply doesn’t want to be recaptured, we won’t know until he’s found.”

Last Seeds were rare and precious resources. Their immortality enabled them to run a clan with seamless efficiency rather than swapping out masters every five hundred years or so as the made vampires in charge died a death even we couldn’t reverse. The problem with that system was a clan could end up with a just and fair master who expanded their clan and its holdings, or they could be stuck with an egomaniacal warmonger like my grandfather as a figurehead.

Clanned vampires don’t kill Last Seeds, no matter how insane age turned them. That didn’t mean they were above hiring a rogue to do the job for them. But Volkov was young, a baby compared to his contemporaries. They would coddle him and indulge him as he rose to power. By that point, they would have either raised a true leader or a true monster, but it would be too late to stop him either way.

“Did he really have to wait until a week before the wedding to start this?”

“The timing is suspicious, I’ll admit.”

Two years and change. That’s how long I had been engaged to Linus. That’s how long Volkov had to make his move. Choosing to wreck my wedding? That was just him being spiteful. What else could it be?

“The final food tasting is tomorrow,” I reminded Linus. “Do you think it’s safe to move forward?”

   
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