The Ravenous Dead: Gravekeeper, Book 2
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Keira, hired as Blighty Graveyard's new groundskeeper, lives surrounded by the dead. They watch her through the fog. They wordlessly cry out. They've been desperately waiting for help moving on―and only Keira can hear them. But not every restless spirit wants to be saved.
Sometimes the dead hate the living too much to find peace.
As Keira struggles to uncover the tangled histories of some of the graveyard's oldest denizens, danger seeps from the darkest edges of the forest. A vicious serial killer was interred among the trees decades before, his spirit twisted by his violent nature. He's furious. Ravenous. And when Keira unwittingly answers his call, she may just seal her fate as his final intended victim.
Release date: March 15, 2022
Publisher: Black Owl Books
Print pages: 304
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The Ravenous Dead: Gravekeeper, Book 2
“You’ve been dead for a long time.”
Keira’s hair stuck to her face, drenched by the thick fog that rolled through the barely lit landscape. Each word came out as a cloud of condensation as she breathed in the near-freezing air. It was before dawn and Keira struggled to see the ground ahead of her feet.
Gravestones surrounded her. Some were less than a decade old, but others had been there for centuries, giving them time to crack and tilt and sink into the earth. They were all neglected. Weeds and long grass choked the ground between them. Lichen grew across the slabs, blotting out names and dates.
An immense figure lingered to Keira’s left, half-hidden by the heavy mist: a stone-carved angel, its wings sagging and its hands clasped under its chin in supplication. Age had stained it. Lines ran over its draped gown, showing where decades of water had flowed. They created tracks running from its eyes to its chin, as though it wept.
Keira shivered, drawing further into her jacket, her numb fingers clenched in her pockets. She faced a small, square grave marker. The inscription read Marianne Cobb, 1801–1835.
“Nearly two hundred years. It’s a long time to linger after death,” Keira said. Each breath of condensation merged into the mist, swallowed into the mass within seconds.
A shape swayed at the edge of her vision. Keira strained to see it more clearly, but she only caught glimpses. Curling, frayed hair, pinned into a messy arrangement underneath some kind of shawl. Bony hands wringing together. The woman hunched, keeping the gravestone between herself and Keira, her eyes averted.
She was a ghost. A faint one. Gone for more than a hundred and eighty years, but still present. Still waiting. For what, Keira didn’t know. That was her job now: to find out.
“I hope it’s not rude to point that out.” Keira tried for a smile and an easy shrug, even as a drop of condensation ran down to her chin and dripped onto her jacket. “I’m still new to this. Sorry.”
She thought the spirit tilted towards her a fraction, but it was hard to be sure through the mist. The ghosts seemed to be made up of the same fog that permanently lingered in the graveyard. They were a see-through, vacant white, their eyes turned a heavy, inky black. Every movement was slowed, as though they were trapped underwater. As the spirit’s head moved, so did stray strands of hair—floating behind it, tugged by an invisible current.
“You must have something keeping you here,” Keira pressed. “Maybe I can help.”
The spirit’s head lowered as she turned away. In a heartbeat she was gone, evaporated into the fog as though she’d never existed at all.
Keira let out a ragged breath. She pulled on the muscle behind her eyes to open her second sight again. It was sore from overuse, and a low, throbbing headache set up as Keira pushed it harder. It made no difference. Marianne was gone.
Keira let her sight relax slightly as she turned away. Chills ran along her skin, the hairs rising, as she sensed something else watching her.
Or, rather, many eyes watching her.
The graveyard held dozens of spirits. Some were so faint that Keira could barely make out flickers of movement between the gravestones. Others were so strong they seemed to glow.
The sun must have risen, but it barely touched Blighty’s cemetery. The area was shrouded in a conflicting twilight, dampened further by the mist that never seemed to fully evaporate and the tall, leafless trees that stretched dark branches into the sky.
A man stood barely ten paces behind Keira. Grizzled and with sunken cheeks, his dead eyes met hers for a fraction of a second before a cloud of fog rolled between them, obscuring him. When it passed, he was gone.
Keira cleared her throat. She’d ventured into the graveyard to meet its spirits, learn their names, and hopefully understand their situations a little better but had strayed deeper than she’d meant to. The groundskeeper’s cottage—her temporary home—felt miles away. She couldn’t even remember which direction it was. She took a step forward, her boots crunching over layers of frost, and stopped again.
Something small and dark whisked through the tall grass. Keira squinted to follow the liquid shadow, then smiled. Daisy, her black cat, hunted insects. Her tail lashed as she spotted some new prey, then she vanished again, swallowed by the gloom.
At least someone was having a good time.
Keira hunched her shoulders and kept moving, her eyes scanning her surroundings, picking out the monuments and cracked tombstones in her path.
A low, creaking noise came from her right. Just the trees groaning. They strained under their own weight, as though each new morning brought further discomfort.
That meant she was closer to the forest’s edge than she’d thought. The tombstones continued into the trees. Keira wasn’t sure how far. She had tried to find the graveyard’s end once, before encountering a presence that forced her to turn back. Something unpleasantly dark had tainted the ground. She wasn’t sure what, and a part of her hoped she might never have to find out.
Her head throbbed. Figures blinked in and out of view as she strode between the stones. She moved carefully as she tried to avoid stepping on the burial mounds, but the cemetery was chaotic, and some of the graves were so old that their only remaining evidence was a glimpse of fractured slate between thick grass.
She didn’t think it was her imagination that the spirits of Blighty Cemetery were avoiding her. They watched from a distance sometimes, but almost all vanished when she turned toward them.
Condensed mist trickled down Keira’s back like an otherworldly finger tracing her spine. She shuddered, hunching her shoulders further. She thought she must be nearing the groundskeeper’s cottage. Some of the markers looked familiar.
Keira circled a tree, running her hand across the damp, cracked bark as she passed it. Her view ahead momentarily cleared and she glimpsed an elderly woman in elaborate Victorian dress. Keira dipped her head politely as she approached. “Hello!”
Unlike Marianne, this spirit was crisp and bright. She seemed to glow like a light through the fog. Her wrinkled, angular face didn’t even turn towards Keira, but her eyes narrowed as she lifted her cane and strode through a magnificent headstone. She didn’t come out the other side.
“All right, cool, we’ll catch up another time.” Keira rubbed wet palms on her jeans. Am I imagining it, or are these ghosts being kind of…picky? I mean, I know I’m new at this, but it’s not like spirit mediums come through here every week.
Then, ahead, she caught a flash of motion. A spirit’s hand waved at her. Keira’s heart lifted and a smile grew as she lengthened her gait. “Good morning—”
A beaming man emerged from between two headstones. He was plump, middle-aged, mostly bald, and completely naked.
“Oh. Okay.” Keira cleared her throat and held up a hand to block her view of his lower half. “Well, hi, it’s nice to meet you?”
Dimples puckered his cheeks as he waved both hands. Unlike Keira, he had no compunctions about his state of undress. He was friendly at least, so Keira kept her eyes fixed on his face as she moved nearer. “Which grave’s yours?”
He patted the top of a waist-high slab. Flakes of frost spread over the stone where he touched it. Keira leaned forward to read the epigraph. “Tony Lobell, huh? Nice to meet you.”
The stone said he’d passed away in 1998, age fifty-two, making him the most recent ghost she’d met. Even though he was recent, his grave was untended, with weeds growing over the mound. A small metal holder had been attached to the headstone, but if it had ever held flowers, they’d long decayed. That struck Keira as deeply melancholy, but the grave’s state wasn’t unusual. Only a handful showed any sign of human care.
Keira tried to keep the sadness out of her voice. “Do you have unfinished business keeping you here?”
Tony shrugged. The motion jiggled his belly, revealing more than Keira would have liked. She quickly repositioned her hand. “You’re not sure?”
He tapped the side of his head and gave her a what-can-you-do kind of smile.
“Oh, you can’t remember?”
“Nothing at all? No…important messages you want passed on or anything?”
Another helpless shrug.
“Right. I’ll see if there’s anything I can do to help anyway. I’m staying in the cottage, and you’ll probably see me around a fair bit, so you know how to find me if you remember something. I’d better keep moving, but thanks for talking with me, Tony.”
He beamed and waved, and Keira couldn’t help but match his infectious smile as she shuffled past him.
The strain of keeping the ghosts in sight created a throbbing headache that radiated through her skull. The skill seemed to get easier with practice, but she didn’t think she could hold on to the second sight for much longer.
One more introduction, then I’ll call it a day.
A pale spirit stood near the forest’s edge, not far from her cottage. His old, well-mended travelling coat moved in a breeze Keira couldn’t feel. He faced away from her, staring into the trees.
“Hi,” she said as she neared him. “I don’t know if you heard me earlier, but my name’s Keira.”
The spectre didn’t respond. His arms hung limp at his sides. He seemed to sway lightly, but it was hard to be sure when his form was so heavily disguised by the flowing fog. He stood on a grave—his grave, Keira guessed—with a small, discreet headstone at his side.
Keira kept her distance as she circled him. “How long have you been—?”
Her words died as she stopped ahead of the man. He wore old, tattered clothes that looked at least a hundred years old. Weeds grew high around his legs, their tips white with frost. And his face…
He didn’t have a face. The space between his temples and his chin had been carved away, hollowed out, as though it had been hacked at with an ax. No eyes, no mouth, just a gaping hole that extended deep into his head. Keira swallowed and abruptly looked away. She felt as though if she stared into that pit of flesh for too long, she would be in danger of falling into the chasm.
“Okay. Sorry, I didn’t expect…” She swallowed again and hazarded another look. “Um, can you hear me? Can you raise your hand if you understand me?”
The faceless spirit didn’t move except to sway, his patched coat twisting around his ankles, his hair, overdue for a cut, floating as though weightless. His ears were still intact, Keira saw. He should be able to hear her. He just wasn’t responding.
She looked at the stone at his side. There was no name, only a date: November 15, 1891. Keira frowned. “That’s strange. I’ve never seen a stone without a name before.”
The spirit seemed to shiver, then his form melted away like an illusion, leaving Keira standing alone beside the grave site.
Heavy steps crackled through the frost. Keira turned. A dark figure wove towards her. She recognised the silhouette: Adage, the church’s pastor. Keira tried to shake free from the unease the faceless spirit had created and jogged to meet the pastor halfway.
Adage was swaddled in a greatcoat that bunched around his chin, with hints of his favoured cardigan visible underneath. He removed his condensation-glazed spectacles and wiped them on his sleeve. “What a morning. How are you feeling today, child?”
“Pretty good, everything considered.” Keira shrugged, and a twinge of pain in her arm reminded her she still had stitches holding a gash together. It had been barely thirty-six hours since she’d had to defend herself again Gavin Kelsey in the nearby stream, but it felt much longer than that, even though she’d slept through most of the previous day.
The pastor replaced his glasses, blinking rapidly as the lenses began to fog again. “Your overly cautious would-be doctor says you’re supposed to be resting.”
“I’ll have to apologise to Mason later. I’m too excited to do nothing.”
“I had wondered if you’d made a start already.” Adage nodded at the stones surrounding them. “Have you been able to…make contact? Is that the correct term?”
Adage alone knew about Keira’s ability to see the dead. He’d offered her a home in Blighty, occupying the abandoned groundskeeper’s cottage and with a small weekly wage in return for her helping the ghosts move over to the next life.
“You probably know the lingo better than I do. But yeah, I’ve been able to talk to a few of the ghosts here. There’s not much I can do right now when they can’t talk back, but I want to at least meet everyone and learn their names.” Keira turned to the stone behind them. “On that subject, I don’t suppose you’d know who this is? His grave doesn’t say.”
“I’m afraid I don’t. We have a map of the graveyard in the church; I’m sure that would have the name marked. Which is convenient, since I have something else I’d like to discuss with you, and I’d prefer to do it somewhere a little less humid.”
Adage had retained his sense of direction better than Keira and led them towards the parsonage. Keira reached for the aching muscle behind her eyes and opened her second sight a final time. The spirits blinked into view: vague, swirling shapes interspersed between the darker headstones.
Adage thrust his hands into his pockets. “It’s early days, I know, but have you learned anything about our resident spirits?”
They were passing Tony Lobell. He pretended to sit on his headstone, legs crossed and hands resting on the top knee as he hovered half an inch above the stone. He gave her an overly formal nod as she passed, then broke into a broad grin.
Keira cleared her throat. “Well, it looks like spirits wear whatever clothing they died in. Including no clothing at all.”
“Remarkable.” Adage’s look of curiosity morphed into one of concern. “Perhaps I should start wearing bathing suits into the shower. Just in case.”
Keira laughed. They passed through a gap in the hedge that divided the graveyard from the parsonage. The air seemed a degree warmer and the mist a fraction lighter. Adage set a brisk pace, and Keira matched it as he led her past his house and towards the modest stone church near the main road. He unbolted the main doors and stepped back to let Keira through.
She hadn’t been inside the church before. A series of large stained glass windows were positioned above the wooden pews, each one depicting a biblical story.
“You should see it on a sunny day,” Adage said, shedding his coat and hanging it on a hook beside the door. “It rains colour. This way.”
She followed him to the front of the room, past the lectern, and through the door hidden behind a curtain. Unlike the classic charm of the main hall, the back rooms were small, cosy, and arranged like offices. Desks and filing cabinets cluttered all available space, and corkboards were overflowing with timetables and lists. Adage wove through the mess with practiced ease, and Keira followed, pressing her arms to her sides in an effort to avoid bumping anything important.
He stopped in the last room and opened a filling cabinet, riffling through the papers and muttering under his breath until he pulled out a thick, yellowed sheet. “Here we are. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s been maintained by every pastor since the church was built.” He unfolded the paper onto a desk.
Keira bent close. The shapes and words were hand-drawn with what looked like many decades of ink.
“Here’s the parsonage.” Adage indicated a faded shape. “The groundskeeper’s cottage.” A smaller square near the paper’s edge. “And all the graves.” Hundreds of tiny rectangles and equally tiny names and dates were scattered over the map.
Keira brushed her hair out of her face as she leaned over the markings. The smell of dust and old parchment filled her nose. She mentally followed the path to the nameless stone and traced it along the map, eventually arriving at an old ink rectangle. It had the right date—November 15, 1891—but instead of a name, all it said was Unknown.
Adage frowned as he bent closer to the map. “That is strange. Perhaps it belongs to an infant that passed before it could be named? But then why isn’t the family name listed—”
“It’s a man,” Keira said. “In his thirties or forties, if I had to guess. He’s missing his face.”
Adage exhaled heavily and his shoulders sagged. “I’m afraid I can’t be much help, then. I don’t spend very much time among the graves.”
“Well, that’s my job now. I’ll figure something out.”
“Talking about jobs…” Adage lifted the map, tucked it under his arm, and beckoned for Keira to follow him. “I’ve been giving it some thought. People in town will want to know why you’re staying here, and there’s no easy way to explain that I hired you to speak to the ghosts.”
Keira pulled a face. She’d been in Blighty for less than a week, but it had already impressed her as one of the world’s nosiest towns. She’d need to come up with an explanation for her presence if she was going to stay for any length of time.
“I have a bit of a plan.” Adage stopped beside an ancient photocopy machine. The map was too large to fit on the glass, so he positioned the top corner and fiddled with the settings. A clattering, clunking noise filled the room. Adage had to raise his voice to be heard over it. “We’ll tell people you’re my niece. You wanted to spend some time in the country, so I hired you to tend the graveyard. No one could say that it’s not needed.”
Keira nodded. “That’s perfect. It also gives me an excuse to spend time in the cemetery.”
Adage adjusted the map to print another corner. The racket resumed. “It also allows you to leave on short notice if you ever need to—we can just say your family wanted you home. The only issue will be whether that conflicts with what you’ve told others in town. How many people know your actual circumstances?”
“Not many. It’s more than a little awkward to tell people you woke up in a forest with no memories. The only ones who know are Mason and Zoe.”
“Good.” Another page shot into the tray, and Adage adjusted the map a final time. “Mason’s a good boy. And as unlikely as this sounds, Zoe is actually quite good at keeping secrets when she needs to.”
The machine finally powered down. Adage took the yellowed map out and folded it carefully, then handed the four printed pages to Keira. “I can’t give you the original, I’m afraid, but hopefully these will help.”
“Definitely. Thank you.”
Adage indicated to the hallway that led back to the hall. “Anytime, Keira. I hope you’ll join me for dinner tonight. I’m cooking pork, and my fridge is too full for leftovers.”
“I’d love to.” That left Keira with most of the day free, and she already had an idea of how to spend it. Blighty was the kind of town that held on to records of its history. She might not have a name for the faceless ghost, but she did have one clue to pursue: his date of death.
Keira blinked as she stepped out of the church. The day was overcast, but the sun had risen enough to add a layer of glare. The light that came through the clouds seemed to reflect off the mist.
She held the maps to her chest as she followed the path back to the groundskeeper’s cottage. The papers would make her job infinitely easier; she could highlight the graves that had spirits attached and keep notes.
Except for her new John Doe. She chewed on the inside of her cheek. It can’t be pleasant to be trapped like that, but there’s not much I can do if I don’t know anything about him. How can I get a name? His death was so long ago that I doubt many people would remember it. I could ask Zoe…
Zoe, urban legend fanatic and conspiracy theorist, might be able to help. An unnamed grave would appeal to her curious nature. But Keira was also wary of relying on Zoe too much. There were limits to the questions she could ask about the town’s dead without making Zoe suspicious. Only Adage knew about her unnatural ability to see the dead, and she doubted many other people could take the news in stride like he had.
Faint chatter floated through the fog, and Keira squinted towards her cottage. Two shapes waited by the low stone fence that circled the dead garden. Even through the veiling effects of the haze, she recognised them. The taller figure’s long coat and dark-brown hair couldn’t belong to anyone except Mason, and Zoe’s voice was unmistakable.
They seemed to be arguing. Zoe waved her arms in exaggerated arcs. As Keira drew closer, she saw Mason’s face held the grim, helpless expression of a man who had explained a simple concept five times and couldn’t endure much more. Keira quickened her pace to a jog.
“Well, obviously that’s what they want you to think,” Zoe cried. “If they did it through more conventional means, people would start to suspect them!”
Mason clasped his hands together. “I’m just saying—if people are having their minds erased, why have we never noticed?”
“Because you’ve been brainwashed to think you’re not brainwashed!”
“Hey!” Keira called as she neared them.
Relief flooded Mason’s face. “Oh, thank goodness. I don’t think I could have taken much more.”
“Just because you can’t handle the truth—”
Mason pinched the bridge of his nose, his eyes closed in a grimace. “She thinks the government is putting subliminal messaging in contrails. It’s like she took two normal conspiracies and smashed them together into one awful, mutated frankenspiracy.”
“You can’t win this argument with wordplay.” Zoe threaded an arm through Keira’s and began leading her towards the cottage. “Come on, Keira. You and I can discuss theories later, once we’re away from the guy who thinks facts are more important than dramatic flair.”
Keira matched Zoe’s pace as they wove through the dead yard. “Sorry for making you wait. I was just with Adage.”
“No problem.” Mason’s expression relaxed. “How are you doing today? Other than ignoring my recommendation to rest?”
As Keira pushed the cottage’s door open, Daisy shot between her legs and frisked towards the fireplace. Keira hadn’t even seen her hiding in the garden; she could swear the cat was more shadow than feline.
“I slept for an entire day,” she said, laughing. “That’s too much rest for me. What can I get you to drink? Tea? Coffee?”
“Tea, thanks,” Mason said, followed by Zoe’s, “Anything as long as it doesn’t have chemicals in it.”
“I’m pretty sure everything is chemicals technically.” Keira waved her friends towards the seats by the fire. “But I think I saw some organic tea in the cupboards. Can we compromise with that?”
Zoe ignored the chair she’d been offered and moseyed into the kitchen area. She began opening cabinets and examining their contents. “No word from Dane, by the way. No police reports. No gossip about people trespassing on his yard. I guess that’s the benefit of harassing a hermit; they don’t have any friends to complain to.”
Keira cringed. Two days before, she’d ventured onto the sprawling estate owned by the town’s wealthiest family in an attempt to help a spirit with unfinished business. Only, her intrusion hadn’t gone unnoticed. The memory of being chased through the woods by the reclusive Crispin heir was still fresh in her mind. “Sorry about what happened. I never wanted to put either of you in danger. I didn’t realise he’d go…feral like that.”
“Eh.” Zoe peered into the cupboards beneath the sink. “Blighty’s options for fun are limited. I’ll take what I can get. Hey, where’s your toaster?”
“I don’t have one yet.” Keira had inherited the cottage and all its furnishings from the previous groundskeeper, who had left her a working stove and kettle but apparently hadn’t seen the need for certain other appliances, including a fridge.
Zoe looked more concerned than Keira thought the situation warranted. “Seriously? You’ve gotta fix that. I can bring you one from the general store.”
“Don’t worry about that. I’ll buy one later.”
“All right.” Zoe sounded sceptical but retrieved a box of Danish pastries from her pocket, popped it open, and shook it out for Keira to take one. “You know I’d never judge you, but I’m worried about what other people will think if they find out you don’t have a toaster.”
Keira snorted to disguise her laughter as she chewed. The kettle was close to boiling, so she began setting out mugs. Mason motioned her towards the fireplace and patted one of the seats. “Can I borrow you for a moment? I’d like to check your arm. Zoe can make the drinks.”
“Zoe can make the drinks,” Zoe muttered under her breath. “But will Zoe make the drinks?”
Keira obediently sat. Daisy appeared out of the shadows and leapt onto her lap and curled into a softly purring ball as Mason pulled up his own chair. He opened his medical case and began sifting through the contents. “No fever? Dizzy spells? Stiffness or swelling?”
“I bet she’s experiencing a pain in the neck,” Zoe called from the kitchen.
Mason ignored her.
“No problems at all. I don’t really feel it unless I try to lift things.” Keira watched as the bandages came away. She had two stitched cuts. The first had come from the night she arrived in Blighty: she’d woken in the forest with no memories but a cut on her head and a gash on her arm. Those—along with her clothes, a small amount of money, and an old photograph—were the only clues she had of her past life. That, and a glimpse of shadowy men hunting her through the forest.
The more recent injury had come from Gavin Kelsey, the local doctor’s son. She’d made the mistake of rubbing him the wrong way shortly after her arrival, and he’d turned out to be trouble. She was fairly sure she’d frightened him enough that he wouldn’t bother her again…but that didn’t mean she was rid of him. She’d caught a glimpse inside his mind when they’d fought. He’d killed a man years before. There was a good chance he’d try it again someday. And Keira still wasn’t sure how she could bring the town’s notice to their secret killer when his first murder had, from all perspectives, seemed like an accident.
Despite that, she figured she was lucky, all things considered.
Mason’s eyebrows knit together as he examined the mark. Then he turned back to his kit and began hunting through the equipment. “Could be worse. I’ll just clean it and redress it. The stitches will need to stay in for another few days.”
The kettle clicked off, and Zoe began splashing water into mugs with a little more enthusiasm than Keira thought it warranted. “On the subject of recluses and stitches…you wanna tell us what happened?”
“Oh. Yeah, of course.” Memories resurfaced: escaping from Dane Crispin, hiding in the mill, discovering the room where Emma Carthage’s child had perished, calling the constable, getting jumped by Gavin, and finally releasing Emma’s spirit. It had been a chaotic night, and all of it needed to stay a secret. “Sorry for disappearing. My phone died. I led Dane into the woods a little way, then hid for the rest of the night before coming home.”
“And the new scar?” Zoe waved the kettle towards Keira, inadvertently spilling water over the wooden floor. “I bet there’s a story behind that.”
She’d already lied to Mason about the cut’s origin. It was a terrible excuse, but she was committed. “You know how people tell you not to run with scissors? Well, there are no scissors in this story, but I was running with a knife.”
“Please don’t try to tell me you tripped.” Zoe’s deadpan glare warned that the excuse wouldn’t fly, but there was no turning back.
“Bingo.” She returned Zoe’s eye roll with a smile. “Pure bad luck. All the wrong stars aligned, etc. By the way—”
“Don’t change the subject.”
She stubbornly forged ahead. “By the way, I have some good news. Adage is letting me stay here.”
“He is?” Mason looked up from bandaging her arm. Some of the tension he seemed to carry in his shoulders melted away. “That’s good. That’s really good.”
Zoe brought the mugs over and put them on the small table between the seats. Her owlish eyes narrowed suspiciously as she glared back and forth between Keira and Mason. “Why’s that good news? I thought it was a given.”
Oh. Crap. Keira had forgotten that Zoe didn’t know. She licked her lips. “Well, uh, Adage had found me a job in another town. I was supposed to leave for it yesterday.”
“Yesterday?” Zoe’s eyes reduced to slits. “And you were planning to tell me when?”
“I tried to. But it came up so suddenly, and then there was that incident with Gavin in the store, and—”
“Uh-huh.” Zoe folded her arms. “Just so you know, you’re the worst best friend I’ve ever had.”
“Worst… Hang on.” Keira grinned. “We’re best friends now?”
Zoe collapsed into a chair, flipping her dark hair out of her face. “We’ve got to be, right? I know you don’t have any other friends except the plaguemonger here”—she poked at Mason’s knee with her sneaker—“and honestly, there’s no way anyone would pick him over me. Ergo, best friends. Forever.”
Keira’s laughter shook Daisy awake. The cat stretched, arching her back, and rolled too close to the edge of her lap. Keira grabbed for her but, with one arm held still by Mason, was too slow to stop Daisy from tumbling to the floor. The cat lay in an awkward pile at Keira’s feet, opened her mouth in a brief, silent meow, then stretched and went back to sleep.
“Don’t take this personally.” Zoe scratched her chin. “But I think your cat might be broken.”
Keira gave her pet a tight-lipped smile. “I like to imagine she’s a genius, but just…really good at hiding it.” Faint purrs rumbled from the floppy black feline, and it was impossible to keep the fondness out of her voice.
Zoe reached down to scratch the creature’s belly. “Sweet Daisy. Good little Daze.”
“No.” Keira filled her voice with mock indignation. “Don’t you dare call my cat that.”
Mason hid his face, but his voice was full of laughter. “It does suit her. And Daisy doesn’t have many other options for abbreviations…”
“We are not calling my cat Daze.” Keira bit her lip as she watched the rumpled, undersize feline twist itself into a new configuration. “But I am glad I get to keep her.”
“You’re staying permanently, then?” Mason finished his work and closed his kit.
“Sort of. I mean, if those people are still looking for me, I might have to move on again. But I haven’t heard any whispers about them since that night I woke up. What about you, Zoe?”
“Nothing.” Zoe leaned back and kicked her feet towards the fire. “And literally every juicy bit of gossip filters past me in that convenience store. If there were strangers in town, I’d know about it.”
“That’s good. Adage came up with an alibi for me too. I’m his niece from out of town. I’ll be the new groundskeeper for the graveyard.” She rubbed at the back of her neck. “It’s probably best not to tell anyone about the lost memories or the shady origin. Not yet anyway.”
“Of course,” Mason said. Zoe mimed zipping her lips. Keira felt a rush of fondness for the pair of them.
The clock on the mantel chimed ten. Zoe blinked at it, then swore and bolted out of her chair. “I shouldn’t have sat so long. I’m supposed to be on shift at the store.”
Keira stood and retrieved her discarded jacket. “Can I walk with you? I wanted to go into town today anyway.”
“It’s going to be less of a walk and more of a crazy run.” Zoe was already halfway to the door, drinks forgotten. “But you’re welcome to get gross and sweaty with me.”
Keira glanced at Mason to check whether her stitches could stand up to some exercise, and he nodded. “Gross and sweaty sounds fun. Let’s go.”
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