Home > How to Rattle an Undead Couple (The Beginner's Guide to Necromancy #9)(4)

How to Rattle an Undead Couple (The Beginner's Guide to Necromancy #9)(4)
Author: Hailey Edwards

The Grande Dame and I were known for our tepid relationship. Linus and I…were not. Our PDA bordered on scandalous by Society standards. Her missing my shower could be spun as a fit of pique. Him absent a major family event would fuel gossip for months. Both of them MIA?

Guests would seize on that morsel, and gossip would flourish. She had publicly confessed to an ailment, a heart condition, to convince the Society that Maud had died naturally of a hereditary condition and not as the victim of a gruesome crime, and the lie had yet to bite her on the butt.

Handled the wrong way, her absence might sharpen the jaws of public opinion, predators scenting weakness, until they snapped shut on her. The weak did not survive the Society, let alone lead it. We couldn’t afford to miss a single performance cue in front of this audience.

As much as it pained him, Linus had no choice but to fall in line. He would smile for the photos, play the role of doting husband, and pretend nothing was wrong. Tonight, he would wear one of his masks to protect his bruised heart, and I wouldn’t say a word. Heck, I would fit the familiar contours to his face if he needed help smoothing the rough edges.

“We’ll find her.” I scooted to the edge of the swing. “I promise.”

Linus helped me to my feet and brought me into the circle of his arms. Fingers linked at his spine, I held him as close as my belly allowed until his wooden posture softened against me, and his hand found my stomach.

“They’ll pay for this,” he murmured in my ear. “For targeting our family.”

“Yes,” I said, kissing the hard line of his clenched jaw. “They will.”

Even if I had to wrestle on a real bra and wiggle into actual pants to make it happen.

Two

A boy.

A son.

The party blurred in Linus’s mind, all except for the moment when Grier sliced into the cake to discover their child’s gender. The news had tasted bittersweet. He’d had his heart set on a daughter, an heiress for the Woolworth line, but…a boy. A bigger surprise than the simple cake had promised for certain. Not good or bad, but different from what he had expected given the probabilities and his own expectations.

A son.

His mother would be thrilled. She had always preferred boys.

The pang that struck him glanced off his heart. He couldn’t afford to show his worry, not when these moments were being documented for some magazine or another, and not when Woolworth House teemed with guests invited by his mother to witness this auspicious occasion, and who might begin to press harder about why she herself wasn’t present if they noticed his distraction.

Closing his eyes, he gave himself a moment alone to gather his thoughts in the quiet parlor Maud had fashioned into an office before returning to the party. The door opened and then shut, but he guessed the intruder before he saw him.

“Congratulations.” Hood clasped him on the back. “Boys are fun.”

“You have two daughters,” Linus reminded him. “You love girls.”

“I do.” He beamed then released him. “I’m trying to ease the sting here.”

Worry lanced through him that Grier might have noticed his confliction too. “Am I that transparent?”

“Eva idolizes you, and you’re Kaleigh’s favorite barf rag.” He leaned against the desk. “They’re your only experience with kids, right?”

“Yes.”

“Then there you go.” He smiled again, softer this time. “You prefer logic and order. You were hoping for the known versus the unknown. In your shoes, I would have felt the same.” He rubbed his jaw. “There are Society expectations too. Girls inherit the title, the money, the family holdings.”

Only rich and influential families could afford to let their sons inherit. Their boy was secure in his place in the world, regardless of whether they had a daughter later or not. And that had been the point Hood was making.

“Thank you,” he told his friend. “Ours is a dangerous world, and children aren’t spared from it.”

“Believe me.” Hood set his jaw. “I’m aware.”

Eva’s accelerated growth rate had made her a pariah in some circles. There were those in the pack who shunned her, even with her mother as the alpha.

“Oscar will be thrilled,” Linus said to distract Hood from his worries for Eva. “We’ll have to build a new range, maybe expand the obstacle course, once our son is old enough to appreciate the finer points of settling his differences with foam darts.”

“The old one was getting stale anyway.” He chuckled. “That reminds me— Where is Corbin?”

Corbin Theroux was a Deathless vampire. As Grier’s only progeny, he was welcome at Woolworth House any time he visited Savannah. A sentinel by trade, he was often deployed on high-risk missions due to his unparalleled healing abilities giving him a slightly inaccurate reputation for indestructability.

He was also Oscar’s honorary big brother and responsible for introducing them all to the world of pump-action foam dart guns.

“We sent him an invitation via Boaz a month ago. We assumed he would have better contacts to get it where it needed to go.” Linus cast another glance at the door. “He didn’t RSVP, and he’s not here tonight, but he’s got time.”

The party for family and friends wasn’t until next week, but Corbin often made use of his room when he was in town to recharge between missions. Usually, he would have reached out to confirm by now.

“Pity.” Hood’s lips pulled to one side. “I planned on having a chat with him.”

“Oh?”

“Did Lethe tell you she found a picture of a boy in Eva’s room?” He gave up on trying to hide a full-on grimace. “It was Corbin.”

“He’s not a boy,” Linus pointed out. “He died in his early twenties.”

“That makes it worse.” Hood exhaled through his nose. “He won’t age, and he won’t change. That’s appealing to a girl who’s in a constant state of flux.”

“I see.” Linus raked his fingers through his hair. “I’ll talk to him, let him know to be gentle with Eva.”

“I would appreciate it.” Hood held up his hands. “I like Corbin, I do, but finding out my little diva has a crush on him makes me want to disembowel him.”

“Grier would take exception to that,” Linus warned him. “I would recommend you restrain those urges.”

The vampire was a member of their family, the same as Hood, and she wouldn’t tolerate infighting.

“Children form attachments all the time.” Linus attempted to comfort him. “They usually don’t last.”

Staring him down, Hood made it plain that argument didn’t hold water. “Except when they do.”

Heat prickled on Linus’s nape, but he kept it from rising into his face. He had loved Grier for a long time before she reciprocated, and she had nursed a crush of her own for most of her life. Not often, but sometimes, the fascination held, deepened, and blossomed into that elusive more.

“Point taken.” Linus cleared his throat. “Are you available to help us with a problem after the party?”

“That nap everyone keeps talking about sounds good right about now, but I guess I can stay conscious for a while longer. What’s up?”

The door opened before Linus could answer, and Lethe strolled in, cocked her hip, then locked her arms over her chest.

“I’m all for male bonding, but this is kind of a big deal for Grier,” she growled, “and you’re both ditching her?”

“I needed a moment,” Linus said, apology in his voice. “I’ll explain later.”

“This wouldn’t have anything to do with the driver sweating bullets in the kitchen,” she asked, “would it?”

“We can’t talk now.” Linus shook his head. “Thirty minutes, and Neely will clear out the house. Grier and I will tell you what we know then.”

“Okay.” She studied his face. “You need an excuse for vanishing, though.” She rustled through the drawers and pulled out a box she shouldn’t have known where to find. “Here.” She handed it to him. “You were probably waiting for the family party to give this to her, but oh well. If we’re doing the stiff-upper-lip thing, then you need to make sure no one wonders what was more important to you than your wife’s baby shower.”

The words caused him to flinch. “Does Grier…?”

“Grier would forgive you if you ate every crumb of the leftover cake.” Lethe patted his arm. “She’s upset, but this makes me think you’re not the problem.” She narrowed her eyes. “Keep it that way.”

With that, she exited the room and returned to Grier’s side, where he ought to be. He had become too comfortable in his skin, in his life. He had let himself grow used to keeping his masks locked away and allowing those closest to him to see him for who and what he was, inside and out. But this was not the time for openness or transparency, and so he fitted the mask of Scion Woolworth, the title soon to belong to their child, on his face then rejoined the party.

“It’s both creepy and impressive how you do that,” Hood murmured behind him. “I wish I had that skill.”

“I’m glad you never had to cultivate it.” Linus kept his tone even, his expression bland. “There are things I envy about gwyllgi and warg culture, and your ability to air your grievances rather than subvert them tops the list.”

“There are things I would change about our people,” Hood confessed, “but that’s not one of them. I prefer to meet anger and fear head-on. I can be a patient hunter, but I’ve found the judicious application of teeth solves a great many more problems than conversation.”

As he wound through the crowd toward Grier, Linus huffed a laugh under his breath. “There is that.”

Radiant as the full moon, Grier held court over her fawning admirers. The photos would be stunning, and he doubted anyone noticed the faint strain bracketing her mouth or the slight darkness to her eyes. As much as he regretted his mother’s interference at times, he was grateful to have this occasion caught on film so they could reflect on it during happier times.

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