Home > How to Rattle an Undead Couple (The Beginner's Guide to Necromancy #9)(5)

How to Rattle an Undead Couple (The Beginner's Guide to Necromancy #9)(5)
Author: Hailey Edwards

“I’m getting hand cramps from unwrapping.” Grier smiled up at him. “Want to take over for a while?”

“Happy to help.” He knelt in front of her. “After you open this one last present.”

“This is the gift Neely mentioned?”

“No.” Linus set the small box on her knee. “This is from me.”

Tears sprang to her eyes, but he ignored them because she hated how easily she cried lately.

“You’ve already given me the best gift.” Leaning forward, she slid her smooth, warm cheek against his as she whispered in his ear. “It’s you, in case I wasn’t clear.” She withdrew. “You didn’t have to get me anything.”

The hard knot of emotion in his throat made speaking difficult, so he kissed her gently in thanks.

“Open it,” he rasped, tapping the bow on top of the silvery paper. “Then decide.”

After ripping through the box, she sucked in a breath when she opened the lid. “No way.”

“Yes way.” He tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear. “I hope you like it.”

“When can I see it?” She scooped up the key and clutched it to her chest. “When? When? When?”

“This will have to suffice for now.” He passed her his phone. “I couldn’t risk keeping it here. You would have ferreted it out. The dealership will deliver it tomorrow. That’s where I went earlier. I had to finalize the paperwork.”

Her mouth fell open as she flipped through the pictures of the Harley-Davidson CVO Tri Glide he had bought her. The onyx finish would make it all but invisible in the dark, helped by a few sigils he had inlaid into the blacked-out chrome, and the crimson pinstripe was a nod to the Society to whom she had sworn her oath to protect Savannah.

“Heated leather driver and passenger seat,” she squealed. “Does this mean you’ll ride with me?”

“Whenever you wish,” he promised, grateful to have his mask firmly in place.

The gentle touch of her hand on his cheek told him she wasn’t fooled. “You hate bikes.”

“You love them,” he said simply, “and I love you.” He kissed her palm. “I want you to be happy.”

The minivan she had been driving was practical in many ways, and she did love the hulking beast, but she gave so much of herself to her work. Every so often, he found her gazing toward the garage, toward Jolene, even before the extra safety precautions of the last nine months had made her stir-crazy.

The Tri Glide was a trike, not a standard motorcycle. Three wheels instead of two. Perhaps not as sexy as Jolene, but the extra space between the rear wheels gave her storage for her kit on the go. A call home could have Moby en route. Linus was happy to play chauffeur when required if this put a smile on her face.

“That cinches it.” She shook her head. “You’re perfect.” She gazed up at him. “How did I get so lucky?”

Linus, who had been immune to the tears and crying jags thus far, felt his throat close again. “I often wonder the same thing.”

Invitation on her lips, she curled her finger, and he was helpless but to lean in. “Escort me to the bathroom, husband dear?”

“Of course.” He helped her up and led her down the hall. “I’ll wait here.”

“I’m going to kick your butt,” she promised, her true reason for wanting privacy revealed, “as soon as I’m able to lift my leg high enough.”

Rearing back, he studied her. “Why?”

“I warned you never to doubt your awesomeness, and it sounds like you’re struggling with the concept.”

“I don’t understand.” He canted his head to one side. “You just asked—”

“I’m allowed to be insecure. I’m pregnant. I’m a literal ball of insecurity.”

“I will submit to whatever punishment you deem fitting,” he vowed, “and I will endeavor to do better.”

“It’s hard,” she said softly, for him alone, “to believe in yourself.” She cupped his cheek. “I’m happy to keep doing it for you until you get the hang of it.”

After the door closed behind her, Linus rubbed his thumb over the knob, a silly curve bending his lips.

When she emerged, he guided her back to her throne and pressed a lingering kiss to her forehead.

“What was in the box?” Lethe called. “I couldn’t see past the tender moment you were sharing.”

Snorting under her breath, Grier held up the key. “Linus bought me a new bike.”

“Oh, really?” Neely sailed in from the next room. “Then you might need this early too.”

With a flourish, he dropped a hefty box on her lap then stood back with a stoic Cruz to watch.

“Oh, hello.” She closed her eyes and inhaled. “I smell new leather.”

“Told you she was part gwyllgi,” Hood murmured to Lethe. “Fresh cow gets her every time.”

“Hood,” Lethe snapped. “Do not say cow in a room where a pregnant woman might hear you.”

“You’re both so stealthy,” Grier said dryly, “I’m sure no pregnant women will hear or take offense.”

“Open it.” Neely clapped. “I’ve been waiting for months.”

Proving she had stamina remaining, Grier ripped into the wrapping and threw aside the box’s lid.

“Oh. My. Goddess.” She lifted out a new black leather jacket with protective sigils stamped into the leather. The intricate details created an overall design as unique as Grier. “This is…” Her mouth worked. “It’s…” Her eyes filled. “Perfect.”

“It’s also spelled to fit the wearer,” Cruz added from behind his husband. “It will fit you now, and it will fit you after the baby is born.” He took Neely’s hand and held it tight, like that support was all that kept him talking. “No woman should feel her top priority after childbirth is weight loss.”

“That might be the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.” More tears threatened. “Thank you.”

“Mom struggled with low self-esteem after I was born.” He cleared his throat. “She was on and off diets, so many I can’t remember them all, which meant I was too. She grew as obsessed with my weight as she was with her own, pushed me to exercise and count calories from the time I could add and subtract.”

“And then he went and married an accountant,” Neely teased him, but Cruz’s face had gone blank.

“Oh, Cruz.”

“It wasn’t her fault,” Cruz said softly. “She would have relearned how to love herself, but my father…”

“It’s all right,” Neely murmured, petting Cruz’s chest. “You don’t have to say another word.”

The couple had practiced for this moment, he realized, and it symbolized both their earnest offer of help for Grier, should she need help battling postpartum depression, or other personal demons, and the lancing of an old wound for Cruz. For such a private man, the words had cost him, but they hadn’t diminished his glow, a lightness usually absent in him.

“Thank you for trusting us with this,” Grier said gently. “I’ll take what you’ve said to heart.”

With a tight nod, Cruz let Neely guide him into a corner for a lingering embrace.

“Okay, folks. Listen up, please.” Lethe clapped her hands. “It’s been a great party, you’ve been a great crowd, but Momma is pooped. The door is that way. You can see yourselves out.”

Rearing back, Neely slapped a hand over his eyes then dragged it down to his chin. “Oh, sweet Lord.”

“This way, ladies.” Cruz stepped into the breach, and Neely looked ready to marry him all over again from sheer gratitude. “Thank you all for coming.”

“That’s what I said,” Lethe protested to Hood. “You heard me, right?”

“Yes, dear.” He kissed her temple. “I heard you loud and clear.” He chuckled. “We all did.”

As alpha, Lethe was used to barking orders and having them obeyed. Social niceties, Society pleasantries in general, stumped her. She had no patience for them. Linus could sympathize. He was a patient man, and the ceremony of it grated on him at times. Particularly when he had less frivolous things on his mind.

Mother, what have you gotten yourself into this time?

The woman was a polarizing figure for certain, but she had led the Society through its recent tribulations with an iron fist. This attack on her, at her home, was not one he had anticipated given that success.

Forcing himself to focus on the moment, he returned his attention to Grier.

For the most part, she did an admirable job of hiding her snickers behind breathing in her expensive new gear. He wasn’t fooled by the fresh tears rolling down her face. These were from laughter. Maud had raised her to thumb her nose at the trappings of the High Society lifestyle, and she had embraced those early lessons with gusto.

With her title of Dame Woolworth, she had no choice but to play the role of Society darling at formal events. But when she was on her own time, or on the clock as potentate, she shucked all the formalities and ceremony in favor of downhome manners and Southern charm.

Linus admired her for it, wished he could emulate it, but he was a product of his raising too. He was stiff as starched linen, and he knew it. Grier humanized him. Unbent him. Wrinkled him. And he never felt more himself than when she gave him permission to be just that. If he never cracked another smile, she would still love him, and that…humbled him.

Once the room cleared of everyone but family and the driver, Woolly shut all the doors and windows and reactivated her strongest wards.

“All right.” Lethe glanced between him and Grier. “Who wants to fess up?”

“Mother is missing,” Linus said, removing the mask that had kept him steady all evening. “We can’t afford to involve the sentinels, not even the Elite, at this juncture. I’m asking for volunteers to help us locate her.”

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