Home > How to Kiss an Undead Bride (The Beginner's Guide to Necromancy #7)(6)

How to Kiss an Undead Bride (The Beginner's Guide to Necromancy #7)(6)
Author: Hailey Edwards

“Can I help you?” An older gentleman wielding a hose stepped from behind a display of live plants. His shirt matched the theme, but a dark-green smock made looking at him easier. “We’re having a ten percent off sale.” He gestured around his shop to the eye-popping signs. “You’ll have to forgive the mess. I’m prepping for a big wedding, and the delivery truck just left.”

“The Woolworth-Lawson wedding,” Linus said, the shop name finally gelling for him.

“That’s it.” He smiled wide. “The bride is a sweet little thing, wanted a theme to make her mother proud. That’s what she said. It’s country garden, if you can’t tell.” He laughed, clearly in his element. “You must have seen a notice in the papers.”

Admitting he was the Lawson half of the equation was out of the question, given how talkative the man was without knowing his identity. Pride he and his shop landed the illustrious account puffed up his chest with good reason. Grier could have hired anyone, in this state or any other, but she supported local businesses whenever possible. The money allotted for their wedding would be spread out across shops all over the city but no further.

“I’m Detective Baker with the Savannah Police Department.” He produced his badge, authentic and issued under that alias, and watched the man’s lips move over the numbers as if memorizing them. “I need to ask you a few questions about an order that was delivered from this location yesterday afternoon.”

“Oh sure. I’m Jake Laurent, the owner.” He turned off the hose and stored it where customers wouldn’t trip. “Let me get my glasses, and I’ll pull up the records for you.”

“I appreciate your cooperation.”

“My old man was a badge.” He pointed at Linus. “I still respect the uniform.” He dried his hands on a ratty towel near the register then removed his glasses from his pocket and propped them at the end of his nose. “Yesterday, you said?”

“The delivery was made around six.” He gave the man Grier’s address. “There was no card attached.”

“Woolworth House.” Pride lit him up once more. “Most beautiful broad in Savannah, you ask me. That’s where the big wedding I mentioned earlier is being held.”

“You’re familiar with—” he almost slipped and called her Woolly, “—Woolworth House?”

“Granddaughter number four worked for Haint Misbehavin’ during the summers before she went off to college. She used to regale me with stories about Savannah’s haunted history. That old house was at the top of her wish list of properties to tour, but the Woolworths don’t much lend her out to the public.”

Once upon a time, Maud had decorated the house for the Christmas parade of homes to give locals a peek inside the manor. She hadn’t celebrated the holiday, but Grier did thanks to her public-school peers, and Woolly loved the company. Perhaps this year, their first Christmas as a married couple, they could revive the tradition.

“Ah.” Mr. Laurent shoved the glasses up his nose. “Here’s the receipt. The transaction was made by a Danill Volkov. Would you like a copy?”

“Please.” Warm from the printer, the paper nonetheless gave him chills. “He paid in cash?”

“Yeah. Crisp too.” He rubbed his fingers together. “I made a joke about him printing his own money since he paid in sequential bills.”

“Who made the delivery?”

“Mark, my grandson. My girlfriend does them now and again, but he’s my primary runner.” He rubbed his knuckles as if they ached. “Come back around four, and he’ll be out of school. He works here for two hours every afternoon during the week. Mostly deliveries. You’re welcome to talk to him then.”

“Thanks.” Linus dipped his chin. “I’ll take you up on that offer.”

As he turned to leave, he noticed a planter with a cracked bottom two rows down. The dwarf orange tree within appeared healthy, but it was spilling out of its container.

“I have to repot that one.” The man massaged his hands harder. “It slipped out of my grip. Damn arthritis. I’ve got soil and pots in the back, though. It’ll be right as rain in no time.”

He surprised himself by reaching for his wallet. “I’ll take it.”

“Are you sure?” Mr. Laurent rounded the counter and pointed down a different row. “There are others on the shelf, ready to go.”

The others didn’t earn so much as a glance from him. “I like that one.”

“Got a soft spot for broken things, eh?”

Perhaps that was it, the call of like to like. Though he didn’t mind his fractures as much these days. Between Grier and their growing circle of friends, he felt almost…normal. Perhaps for the first time in his life.

“My fiancée loves to garden.” The slip made Linus grimace, but the florist had been talking his ear off about the wedding since he walked through the door. How could he not think of Grier? Especially now that an old threat was reemerging. “She’s restocking her mother’s greenhouse, and the citrus selection is thin.”

A lie, but a polite one. Maud’s love had been roses, and Grier followed in her footsteps. There had been citrus trees and other fruit trees once, but most had died without anyone to care for them. Only the roses had persevered without a guiding hand, growing wild over the grounds of the old house.

“Do you want to wait while I repot it, or would she prefer bare root?”

“Bare root is fine.”

“I have some burlap in the back. Let me grab a yard.”

Linus waited until Mr. Laurent disappeared into a stockroom before inking a design on his palm with the modified pen he kept in his pocket and performing a quick sweep of the area. The metal-detection sigil was basic, easily tweaked to home in on bronze particulates, but no heat seared his palm.

Whoever had sprinkled the powder onto the flowers, they hadn’t done it in here. It didn’t prove the grandson was innocent, but he felt certain Mr. Laurent wouldn’t sabotage an account he was bragging on. It risked too much negative attention later.

While the florist was in the back, Linus called Bishop. “Find Danill Volkov.”

Bishop was a member of his former team in Atlanta, but Linus had yet to find his equal in Savannah. Until he did, he paid Bishop bonuses for his occasional assistance, such as hunting down leads online and evidence analysis, tasks he could perform without leaving the city.

“No problem, boss. I’ll get it for you ASAP.”

“I have a card with handwriting I need you to analyze as well. I’ll scan and email it to you.”

“You do that. I’ll clear my schedule.”

Linus ended the call as Mr. Laurent reappeared cradling a bundle in his arms.

“There are planting and care instructions for everything we sell on my website,” the florist told him. “It’s not too difficult to parse for a gardener, but you tell your fiancée to call if she’s got questions.”

“Thank you.” Linus paid his bill, accepted the plant, and ducked out onto the bustling sidewalk.

Morrison pulled up to the curb within seconds, accepted the burlap package from him, then rushed to open the car door. Linus slid onto the backseat and waited while the driver secured the tree in the trunk where it would be safe from breaks or bends.

“Where to, sir?”

With seven hours until dusk remaining, Linus had one last stop to make. “The Lyceum.”

Morrison guided them through the crowds, and Linus gritted his teeth as they bumped over metal rails and worn stones. He used the time to check his phone for updates, and he had one from Gilly. Assured of Morrison’s loyalty, thanks to a magically enforced NDA, he didn’t hesitate—long—before dialing her.

Prepared for more bad news, he asked, “What have you found?”

“The blood sample belongs to a Last Seed. We’ve got a type, and it fits Danill Volkov.”

“How long until you get a confirmed match?”

“Four hours if we’re lucky. We called Doughty in from Buckhead. His rulings hold up best in the Lyceum.”

Doughty was a witch, and a man of science. Between the two disciplines, he made a peerless analyst.

“Keep me posted.” He ended the call as Morrison parked in front of city hall. “Back in an hour. I’ll call if I’m detained.”

There was no escaping the chauffeur routine here on the steps of the building where his mother worked, not when cameras filmed all entrances and fed her a steady diet of information.

Prior to the Siege of Savannah, she had been content allowing a human security force to police the premises while a lone sentinel monitored the upstairs’ feeds from behind a locked door. Back then, she had kept the bulk of her defenses in place on the lower levels. Now the security staff at city hall was one hundred percent sentinel. No humans who applied for the post would receive a callback ever again.

The start of lunchtime meant Linus rode the elevator twice before he got it to himself. Only then did he use his key to gain access to the lower floors. The extra descent gave him time to apply what Grier called his Scion Lawson mask.

Cool. Aloof. Bored. All the facets expected from this personality.

The car hit bottom, and he exited into the main hall. Crimson tiles with heavy veining paved the way to what he considered the arena. Rows of seating for each caste within the Society loomed high overhead, reaching all the way to the ceiling. Ahead of him sat the box where the Grande Dame and her advisors made their rulings.

The darkness in him pulsed, stronger in this place, and he gritted his teeth to keep his power leashed when it screamed within him, shrieking its intent to shred this theater to splinters it would drive into the hearts of any who tried to stop him.

Grier had been tried here. Without meaning to, he had stopped walking on the exact spot where she had stood and been judged. Sixteen years old and found guilty of a murder she hadn’t committed. Tossed away in Atramentous to rot.

   
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