Home > How to Dance an Undead Waltz (The Beginner's Guide to Necromancy #4)(16)

How to Dance an Undead Waltz (The Beginner's Guide to Necromancy #4)(16)
Author: Hailey Edwards

The Grande Dame and I actually had one thing in common.

Both of us had bent over backwards to earn Maud’s approval, and neither of us would ever get it.

“That only makes it worse.” His exhale rustled the paper. “I’ve contacted Mother. Sentinels are combing the cemetery to search for clues to the practitioner’s identity.”

His frustration thrummed in the twitch of his fingers. No wonder he had cracked the pattern so quickly. Jitters kept him thrumming, a high I would blame on coffee but must be adrenaline. His gaze slid toward the door, and his divided attention felt like I was holding him back.

I smoothed my thumb over the screen on my phone. “You want to be out there with them, don’t you?”

“It’s my job.” His hand touched his shirt above the city seal inked into his skin. “My duty.”

“In Atlanta, not here.” Here he was free to shed one mask from his arsenal. “You’re on sabbatical.”

“From teaching.” He closed the book and tucked it under his arm. “The hunt… I need it.”

A flash of memory swirled through me.

A wraithlike cloak flickered in my vision, overlaying his usual slacks-and-dress-shirt combo, to ripple in a wave of black mist that lapped at my ankles, a frigid pond I had waded into without taking the first step.

Though he had been busily blending since I arrived, his back to me, he was now in my personal space. His nose was an inch from mine. Less. And his icy fingers trapped the wrist of the hand that had touched him.

Ink spilled across his eyes until I was staring into a fathomless pool of still waters that lapped against the shores of my mind, eroding the memories I kept caged until I gasped and stumbled back.

“Linus?” I massaged my wrist, not because he had been rough, but because his glacial touch stung.

Midnight eyes dropped to my hand, and his lips tipped downward. “I hurt you.”

Linus hadn’t hurt me that night, and he hadn’t harmed me since then.

Itching for the spill of blood through his fingers or not, I had no reason to think he would start now.

“Have you been hunting since you came to Savannah?” I rolled a hand. “Besides the dybbuk?”

“Yes.”

My arm fell to my side. “How often?”

“Every night.”

Silence wrapped us in a cocoon of uncertainty. This was new ground, dangerous territory, and answering my questions freely meant he was as good as inviting me to walk alongside him.

The screen flashed on my cell, but I ignored the text. It might be Marit, and I had to work up my nerve to read her response. “That’s what you do while I’m at work?”

“Yes.”

Digesting, I was digesting. “Your mother knows?”

“I required her permission to operate in a city under her protection.”

That left a lot of room for what she might and might not know about her son’s activities.

While he was feeling chatty, I pressed my luck. “Are all potentates like you?”

“No.”

“For an overeducated guy, you sure toss out monosyllabic answers.”

“What you saw in Atlanta spooked you. I saw fear in your eyes when you looked at me.” He lowered his lashes as if the memory pained him. “I don’t want to put that expression on your face again. I don’t want to be that person around you.”

“That person is part of who you are, Linus.” I touched his shoulder. “You don’t have to pack away pieces of yourself to be my friend.” He deserved to hear the rest, so I gave it to him straight. “You murdered two vampires in front of me. Beheaded them. I’ve never witnessed that type of violence. It shocked me. You shocked me.” I wandered toward the couch and dropped on the cushions. “I didn’t see my friend in you that night, and it scared me.”

He made no move to follow. “I understand.”

“How can you?” I snatched up a pillow and wrapped my arms around it. “I’m just figuring it out myself.”

“I don’t regret what I did.” The way he said it made it clear he didn’t expect understanding or forgiveness, and he wasn’t going to beg for either one. “I would do it again to protect you.”

“I shouldn’t have been afraid of you.” I twisted to face him. “You deserve better.”

The sketchbook tucked under his arm slipped, and he had to stoop to catch it. “You’re entitled to your feelings.”

“See, I think I finally have a bead on the problem.” I mulled over Midas and his iceberg comment. “You keep so much of yourself hidden. Each time you share a new face with me, I wonder how many more I’ve yet to meet.” There was a Linus for every occasion. “The you who fixes me breakfast isn’t the same you who instructs me, and he’s not the same you who teaches at Strophalos or the you who killed those vampires.”

“They’re all me.” He thumbed through the pages at his side. “Each one of them.”

“Wear the masks,” I said, throwing the pillow at him, “but don’t let the masks wear you.”

“Grier.” He caught the overstuffed projectile. “It’s not that simple.”

“Yes, it is. Take them off. All of them. Trash them, burn them, stash them in a drawer— I don’t care. I want them gone.” I would pry them off his face with my fingers if I had to help him come up for air. “Be who you need to when you’re out there, but be who you are when you’re with me. Let me get to know you. The real you. All of you.”

“I’m not sure I can.” A frown knitted his brow. “But for you, I’ll try.”

“That’s all I’m asking.” I shifted gears while he stood there adorably muddled in the hope I might tip him into carelessness. “You’re being mighty forthcoming. You’re not usually so eager to let me get involved.”

Sharing his findings with me, like my opinion mattered to him, was a heady experience for me.

“Call it an experiment,” he said, recovering. “I kept you in the dark about Ambrose, and he almost killed you. I warned you about talking to Hood, and you ended up bringing him home with you. I’m sensing a theme.”

“Ah. You think if you keep me updated on this case we stumbled into that I won’t go wandering off in the middle of the day to investigate on my own.”

“I had hoped that might work, yes.”

“Hmm.” I toyed with the piping on the cushion under me. “I am currently unemployed. Why not bring me on as your assistant?”

“You’re more than that.” The answer shot out on reflex. “I wouldn’t ask that of you.”

“Okay.” A tiny weight lifted at his defense of my potential. “Partners.”

“Partners,” he echoed, flabbergasted into silence.

“We’re not equals. I get that.” He far outclassed me in the talent department. What I could do thanks to my weird blood and genetic memory, he had learned or taught himself. “I wouldn’t mind seeing what it is you do on a normal evening. Think of it as handing out warnings to perps instead of writing tickets.”

“You’re putting yourself at risk.”

Unsure of his tone, I didn’t detect a no. “I’m at risk every time I leave the property these days.”

A wraith for a shadow was the reason I got to leave the house, that and Cletus’s direct line to Linus.

“Hood will demand to accompany us.”

Guilt coated the back of my throat, but he was right. “Can we keep tabs on his whereabouts?”

Too bad it would probably get me eaten to suggest microchipping him with a tracker.

“I can trace the van.” He held up his phone. “Hardwired GPS.”

“Protecting your investment. I can respect that.”

“The van can be replaced.” Spoken like a man able to drop six figures on a tricked-out ride without blinking. “What might be in it should it ever disappear is my concern.”

“People are bound to get tired of kidnapping me,” I teased, hating his thoughts had gone there and dragged mine along for the trip. “Kidnapping me in my own ride would be an all-new low. That’s just tacky.”

“Who said I was talking about you?” Amusement lightened his eyes. “I meant the under-seat cooling trays.”

“Hey, we all have our priorities. I enjoy an ice-cold bottle of water as much as the next girl. I’m not going to knock you for appreciating a cool drink after a long night of hunting, grave digging, and whatever else it is you crazy potentates get up to in your spare time.”

“You’re sure you want to do this?”

“Get to know you or play Robin to your Batman?” Dang it. Again with the comic book references.

“Both.”

Thankfully, he gave no indication he was aware of me casting him in the role of the dark knight. “Yes.”

Savannah was my home, my past and my future, and it was time I learned every dark corner of her.

And I couldn’t have chosen a better guide.

Four hours after leaving Woolly, our patrol ended at 432 Abercorn Street. The house was a favorite stop on ghost tours, and its controversial history thrilled. But Linus had grown up in Savannah, and he knew the real story as well as I did, so I didn’t attempt to spook him. Though I was tempted. He looked so serious.

If this was an average evening in the life of a small-town potentate, I was grateful not to be one.

“Well?” I kept strolling past the old house. “Have we done our civic duty for the night?”

A slight hitch in his stride told me I had startled him with the sound of my voice. Since he wasn’t the inattentive type, I wondered if he was splitting his focus with Cletus. “The streets are quiet.”

Using my best ominous voice, I intoned, “Too quiet?”

The flat look he turned on me earned him a laugh, and the edges of his lips curled before he flattened them. “Just for that, we’re making one last stop before we head home.”

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