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

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

One

A full moon bathed the rear deck of the Cora Ann in buttery yellow light, and I basked in the pale beams the way a human might soak up the sun. Head tilted back, eyes closed, I let the past month fall away in a weak attempt at forgetting how wildly off course my life had veered since the wheel got wrenched from Maud’s iron grasp.

“I don’t blame you for dying,” I murmured, the thrum of the boat’s engine drowning out my confession, “but I do wish you had told me the truth.”

And I wished I had listened to what advice she had given me.

“That boy will only break your heart.”

That boy was Boaz Pritchard, and Maud’s prediction had come true.

Hindsight had me questioning if maybe, just maybe, she hadn’t been looking down her nose at him the way I thought all this time. She might have just been viewing our compatibility, including our social inequalities, through the lens of centuries of life experience.

“I thought I might find you out here.” Marit bellied up to the metal railing I had been leaning against and peered over the edge into the churning black waters of the Savannah River. “You’re not thinking of jumping, are you?”

“What?” I jerked back like the metal had scalded me. “No. Why?”

“Hey, broken hearts have driven smarter people to do dumber things.”

“I’m not going to drown myself over Boaz.” Rolling my eyes with dramatic flair, I did a bang-up job of stemming the tears summoned by that single name. “He’s not worth it.”

This time my voice only broke a little at the mention. Maybe one day it wouldn’t crack at all.

“Attagirl. Glad to hear you know your worth—and his.” She raked me over with a wandering eye. Having never seen me decked out in the full Southern belle regalia required for all women who worked for Haint Misbehavin’, she gawked. “If boy troubles didn’t drive you out here, then what gives?”

The moon drew my eye again. “I was just wishing Maud was here to give me some advice.”

It took her a second to peg the name. “Your adoptive mom?”

“Yeah.” The topic of Maud parched my mouth. “She died a few years back.”

“Mama died when I was ten.” She cast her gaze out into the night. “You lost your birth mom early too?”

“I was five.” Evangeline Marchand was a memory pressed between the pages of a scrapbook. “I never knew my father.”

“That’s rough.” Her smile wilted. “I want to whack Papa with a stick at least fifty times a day for being overprotective, but I wouldn’t trade his mother-henning for all the world.” She took my hand, squeezed. “I wish you had that. We all deserve someone who takes care of us, even when we don’t need it.”

The well-tread path of my thoughts led me back to Boaz and all the small ways he had cared for me. Groceries when I was light on funds. Gas in Jolene’s tank. Heck, Jolene. He sold me his first love for a dollar at a time when I almost had to search couch cushions to make the payment.

But this time, rather than a straight road, there was a fork.

The tattoo between my shoulder blades. The grimoire on my desk. The home-cooked breakfast in my belly. The blood-ink pen in my pocket. Those were not-so-small gestures as well. And the man who had made them…

Yeah. I had no idea what to do about him either.

“We better get back in there.” I swished my dress from side to side, a bell tolling, then swirled past her. “The dry run commences in fifteen minutes, and I have to greet my victims at the table.”

The victims in this case were crew members paid overtime to fill the seats. Considering how most still blamed me for Marit’s accident, I wasn’t expecting any tips. I barely expected civility.

The ghost boy who was actually responsible for Marit’s near-death experience was around here somewhere, getting ready to shake things up on cue. The crew might never believe I was innocent, but the bosses would overlook my iffy record if I brought paranormal activity to each of my shifts. Oscar would make me too indispensable to pink slip. I just had to get them to notice the correlation first.

I might not have to work for a living these days, but I loved the job, and I wanted to do it well. Plus, the kid needed to get out and stretch his legs. Woolly made a great playmate, but Oscar needed more stimulation than the old girl could provide, and I wanted to give him zero excuses for going poltergeist on us.

Worrying the simple rubber cord around my neck, I rubbed my thumb over the dented brass button that acted as a tether for the ghost boy. The nervous habit earned me a funny look from Marit, so I tucked it back into the neckline of my dress.

Laughing off my weirdness, she linked her arm through mine and escorted me into the refurbished dining room where Oscar had almost killed her. Other than a slight hitch in her stride, a faint catch of her breath, she didn’t give away how much crossing the threshold disturbed her. With a wink, she broke from me to join the bosses at the center of the room.

Her father, Sean Voorhees, owned River Street Steam. Beside him stood Cricket Meacham, the owner of Haint Misbehavin’ Ghost Tours. Combining their businesses had birthed Haint Misbehavin’ Haunted Cruises.

“Ladies and gents, this is the night you’ve been training for,” Cricket rasped around the unlit cigarette in her mouth, her voice low and scratchy. “This new venture promises to rocket Haint Misbehavin’ straight to the top of the charts for best ghost tour company in Savannah.” She beamed at us like a proud momma. “While this isn’t our traditional walking tour, I trust you’ll all do your best to keep it spooky.” Her gaze landed on me. “No mistakes. No excuses. No second chances. Flub tonight, and you’re out of rotation for next week’s grand opening.”

Had I still depended on this income to survive, I might have gulped a little. Okay, fine. I did anyway.

Cricket was fierce, and she handed out second chances the way Scrooge passed out presents at Christmas, and I was on my third. Basically, I was her Tiny Tim. I could not afford to screw this up if I wanted to maintain a slice of normal in my life.

As it was, she made no secret of the fact I was stepping into Amelie’s shoes. Even with no effort on her part, my former best friend was giving me a hand up yet again.

I bobbed in a brief curtsey to show the boss lady I understood and located my table, easily identified by the azure tablecloth that matched my dress. I sashayed over, guide face on, and restrained an eye-roll as panic flashed across the familiar crewmen. One guy not so subtly made the sign of the cross over his navel, for all the good that would do him. I doubt it worked on indigestion.

“Well, butter my biscuits, aren’t y’all a handsome bunch?” I palmed the lacy fan dangling from a silk ribbon on my wrist and flicked it open with a practiced flourish that had taken me all week to master. Points to Cricket for realizing we required a new prop since parasols were unwieldy indoors and in numbers. “I’m your hostess this evening.” Hostess sounded classier than Hi, I’m a River Haint. So I wasn’t complaining. “Welcome aboard the Cora Ann for the maiden voyage of the Haint Misbehavin’ Haunted Cruise.”

Falling into my Blue Belle persona, I made eye contact with each guest at my table to engage them. The last set of peepers, the tawny brown of crushed pecan shells, almost flustered me into a growl. The chair had been vacant when I stepped out on the balcony for a breath of night air, but it wasn’t empty now.

Sandy-blond hair hung in dreads down the small of Hood’s muscular back. He kept the length twisted in a loose tail at his nape. Dressed in a black tee, tactical pants and boots, he mostly blended in with the other guests in their casual attire if you discounted the way humans leaned away from him in response to their hindbrain going nuclear in his presence.

Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.

I did not need a babysitter.

“Sir?” I kept the sugary drawl as I snapped my fan shut. “Might I have a moment of your time?”

The four other men heaved sighs of relief over not being singled out by who they viewed as the attempted murderess in charge of their dinner entertainment.

“Sure thing.” Hood rose with fluid grace that put vampires to shame and trailed me back out onto the balcony. After the door shut on his heels, he smiled. “Something on your mind?”

“What are you doing here?” I whirled on him. “You’re supposed to be waiting by the truck. The truck you insisted on using to drive me here.” After he insulted Jolene. And, to be fair, after discovering Detective Caitlin Russo of the Savannah Police Department had a habit of escorting me to work like I was a flight risk instead of so rooted in this town I drew strength from standing on its soil. There was also the small matter of the bounty on my head, the master vampire on my heels, and the Marchand family breathing down my neck. Okay, fine. So maybe he was right to worry about me. “How did you end up on the boat?”

“That would be my doing.” Marit, who must have spotted my hasty exit, released a dreamy sigh in his direction. “I saw him standing out there, looking gorgeous and bored, and I thought he might dress up the place.”

Hood grinned at her. All lips, no teeth. Polite. Oh boy.

“Marit explained how you were short on guests, so I volunteered.” Mischief danced in his eyes. “I’m pleased to be of assistance.”

“I just bet you are,” I grumbled. “Marit, do me a favor. Don’t invite strange men you find loitering in the parking lot onto the boat in the future.”

“He’s so pretty, though.” She fluttered her lashes. “Plus, he gave you a ride to work. I figured a friend of yours couldn’t be all that dangerous.”

The urge to laugh burbled in my throat and almost choked me. My friends? Not dangerous? Ha.

“Where did you find him?” Marit made goo-goo eyes at Hood. “Do you have any brothers?”

“Only one,” Hood answered. “He’s unmated.”

“Unmarried,” I corrected in a rush. “As in single.”

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