Witching After Forty, Book 14
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Mr. and Mrs. Walker are off on their honeymoon! You’d think they’d get a break from solving supernatural mysteries while vacationing in the Scottish Highlands, but not Drew and Ava. They’re thrown into a mystery when one of the guests at their resort is found dead. Not helping the locals isn’t an option. How could they live with themselves if they ignored all the problems and let someone else die?
“I almost don’t want to leave.” I slid my arm around Drew’s waist as we walked the footpath back to the castle that had been converted into an inn. There were several cottages near the main castle, all dating back to the mid-seventeenth century.
The castle cat, who I’d been calling Nix, peered out of a window high in the turret. I could just see her little black face peering down. She’d been a constant companion over the last few weeks. Drew and I had spent the most wonderful time here, relaxing, eating far too much, and taking advantage of the castle’s many amenities. I’d never had so many massages in my life.
The Andarsan was gorgeous inside and out. It was nestled in the Highlands and sat on a loch. We’d spent a significant amount of time doing indoor activities to work off the delicious food. We’d also spent time on the loch in kayaks or paddleboarding.
This was a picture-perfect location for a honeymoon…if it hadn’t been for the ghosts. That part had been a surprise.
The castle was very haunted. It tracked that a castle that old, even a small one like this, would have seen its fair share of death.
If I were human, I wouldn’t have noticed the wandering spirits. I would’ve spent three weeks basking in my new husband’s love and soaking up every possible amenity.
But I wasn’t human, was I? I was half witch, half necromancer. Heavy on the necro power. In fact, my ex-roomie and mentor, Owen, had told me on a number of occasions that I was the most powerful necromancer he’d ever heard of. According to him, my father’s side of the family—where my dead death powers came from—was one of the oldest bloodlines.
Everything I’d learned about my family since Owen had first told me that tracked. I’d found out that our necromancer lineage dated as far back as the freaking Vikings.
In fact, I’d recently learned that Alfred and I were related. I was still digesting that one. Alfred, the ghoul I’d inherited from another necromancer. We’d since given Alfred his old body back, in a manner of speaking. He looked like his old self, anyway. And his old self was gorgeous.
My mother and Aunt had done a ritual that had basically put them in new bodies, and ever since, Alfred and my Aunt Winnie were, to be frank, disgustingly in love. Like teenagers who couldn’t keep their hands off of each other. It was nice to not have to see that for three weeks, but time was starting to run short. We would have to go back to reality sooner or later.
“I won’t miss all the ghosts, but yeah, it’ll be hard to go back to work.” Drew gave me a little squeeze as we made our way to the onsite restaurant, and the source of all the good food we’d eaten. Except for a few excursions into the village, we’d mostly let the castle chef make our culinary dreams come true.
It would be hard getting back to our lives when we returned home, but we had to eventually. This honeymoon had been like someone had pressed pause on all the chaos in our world. No doubt when we returned home the pandemonium would slap us in the face.
The slow pace since we arrived had been nice. Although I did miss my family and friends at home. Mmm, not enough to leave yet, however. We had a couple more nights.
My phone chimed as we entered the restaurant through its enormous oak doors. They were at least ten feet tall and opened into a great hall of a dining room, decorated in a lot of wood and gilding. It put me in mind of how it must’ve looked in its heyday when lords and ladies dined before hosting great balls.
Along the front windows were intimate tables for couples to sit and enjoy the view of the loch. There was a great table for the communal dinners they frequently had, and all around that were tables for smaller parties who might not want to join in the middle. It was a great setup. Drew and I had taken our meals at the various locations, sometimes socializing, sometimes sitting together intimately.
I glanced at the message and smiled while Drew talked with the hostess. It was from Wallie and Michelle and had an audio message attached.
Once we were seated at our table, one of the cozy ones by the window, I played the audio. Of course, it started out loud, drawing the attention of others around us. I ducked my head, whispered, “Sorry,” and turned down the volume so only Drew and I could hear.
The rapid sound of a heartbeat flowed out of my phone as I grinned like an idiot at Drew. “That’s the sound of our grandbaby.” I almost squealed but caught myself before I yelled out. I did let a tiny whisper of a sound come out. I couldn’t help myself. My heart was beating almost as fast as the sound coming through the phone’s speaker. My granddaughter. Oh, my.
Drew’s smile grew into amazement as he listened, then replayed it again and again. “It’s so fast.”
“That’s normal,” I said after he handed my phone back to me. I reopened my messaging app to text the kids back. “Especially since the baby is a girl. Their heartbeats tend to be faster.” Wallie and Michelle weren’t kids technically, but they would always be my babies. And yes, I was claiming Michelle as one of mine. She was having my first grandbaby, after all.
Wow. Such a strong heartbeat. It sounds magical. Name?
Wallie texted back quickly. Yes, she definitely is magical. No name yet, but we have time to figure that out.
My grin was probably sappy and huge, but I didn’t care a bit. She’ll be here before you know it. We’re at dinner, so I’ll talk to you two later. Hugs!
I set my phone on the table between Drew and me as a tingle crawled up my spine. I glanced around the dining room trying to pinpoint the source of my ghostly spidey senses. There were no ghosts in the restaurant, or at least there shouldn’t have been any. I’d warded the place after the first time we’d eaten here. The last thing I needed was ghosts staring at me while I enjoyed my dinner. It made for difficult digestion.
The ward only worked while I was actually in the dining room. The rest of the time, the haints could do their worst with the other, oblivious diners. They couldn’t really hurt them.
Unfortunately, even when I was here in the dining area, some ghosts figured out how they could ignore the magical warning to stay out. Inevitably, one or two made their way in. Maybe they were the stronger ones? I didn’t know enough about ghosts to be sure. Probably something I should study, eventually.
My gaze landed on a man sitting alone. There was a half-eaten meal in front of him, and he seemed sad. More than that. He was grieving. The emotions flowed off him, reaching out to my overly sensitive empathy. Maybe his intense sadness was making my ghost-radar go off.
I’d been in his shoes before, so full of grief and regret I couldn’t see past it. When my Clay died, I’d thought I was drowning.
Drew covered my fingers, drawing my attention to him. He lifted my hand and kissed my knuckles. Warmth flowed through me as I leaned in to press my lips to his.
I was still getting used to being married to Sheriff Drew Walker.
Our relationship had been a bit of a whirlwind. It had only been a little over a year since we’d met. What an incredible year it had been. I’d reconnected with my necromancer powers, become close to my now best friend Olivia, adopted Zoey and Larry and Alfred and Michelle and Lucy-Fur and Lucifer and my Uncle Wade. Plus my Mom, Aunt Winnie, and Dad were essentially back from the dead.
It’d been an absolutely insane year. And through it all, Drew had been there. My constant. My rock. The handsomest, kindest, everythingest man I’d known since my dear late husband Clay died six years ago. I couldn’t help but stare into his vivid blue eyes and thank my lucky stars I’d come home to Shipton Harbor when I did… before some other woman snapped him up.
After we finished eating, we made our way to our room, which had a waterfront view. It was also, most unfortunately, the ghost’s favorite place to hang out, which made sexy time for hubby and me a little bit interesting. These ghosts didn’t seem to care much about my wards. Sure, I could’ve forced them to leave. But they usually came back ten minutes later, and sometimes when they came back they were aggravated and loud.
Once inside our room, Drew backed me up to the door and kissed me. I threaded my fingers in his hair and pulled him closer. When he ended the kiss, I smirked at him. “Hurry get under the blankets before the ghosts show up.”
He wiggled his eyebrows then pulled me behind him to do exactly as I’d said.
I jerked awake but wasn’t sure why at first. The first few days we’d woken up here, I’d been super disoriented, but it hadn’t taken long to acclimate.
Tonight was a different story. I was befuddled until I saw a dead woman standing over me. We stared at each other for a long few moments. What in the world did this one want? Most of the specters here had just been bent on disruption, irritation. Or they only wanted to live out their afterlives alone, in relative peace.
This ghost was different. It was like she was actually looking at me. She had her black hair put up in a neat bun and wore an elaborate floor-length ballgown. I didn’t know much about ballgowns, but it sure looked like expensive material to me. It had a tight bodice and long, flowing skirt. In one hand she carried a mask that looked like it came from a masquerade ball.
As impressive as she looked, I was far too sleepy to fool with the crazy lady. “Go away. I’m sleeping.” I tried to roll over, planning on ignoring the ghost, but she placed a hand on my arm. Uuuugh. It was cold and so icky when they touched me.
I sat up with a sigh, causing Drew to wake. He rolled over and then flopped back on the bed. “Not now. Why can’t they ever come visit while we’re awake?”
“They do. But most of them don’t actually try to interact.”
The woman just stared at me, so I gave her a magical boost so we could talk. She obviously wanted something and I didn’t feel like trying to sleep with her standing over me or maybe touching me again. “What do you want?”
One rule about dealing with ghosts was don’t be nice to them or you’d get a tagalong. For life and beyond. They liked to linger.
“Follow me,” the woman said, then floated through the door to our room.
“This one’s used to people doing what she says,” Drew muttered. “Figures.”
After a quick glance at each other, we pulled on our robes and headed out of the room. Drew leaned in and whispered, “This isn’t a lady in white thing, is it?”
“The urban legend?” I asked. He nodded and I replied, “Gods, I hope not.”
The ghost woman reappeared at the end of the hallway, waiting for us. Drew and I rushed to her as quietly as possible since it was the middle of the night. The castle was old and a bit creaky. The hardwood floors had been beautifully restored, but some things couldn’t be restored in a building this ancient.
We tracked her to what seemed to be the unused portion of the castle. We’d explored here before, but it had felt like it was a section that the guests weren’t meant to be in. Some of the rooms we passed looked like they were used for storage while others looked to be under construction or being remodeled.
We turned a corner and followed the ghost down yet another long hallway. Geez, how big was this place?
At the end of this one, the ghost stopped at a set of stairs, looking down them with a mix of anger and sadness. “Here,” she said in an ethereal voice. The moment Drew and I reached the stairs, the ghost disappeared. It didn’t take long to see why.
At the bottom of the stairs was the man from dinner, the one who had been so sad. He was crying over a woman’s body. From the awkward position of the body, I had to guess she had fallen down the stairs.
Moonlight shone through a nearby window, illuminating the poor dead woman. She wore a white nightgown and had blond hair really close to the color of Olivia’s hair. From this angle, it was almost a little unnerving. It could’ve been my bestie, except I knew she was home safe in Maine with her newly-turned vampire husband Sam and her mother and father, the devil and his fae lady.
Moving my gaze from the woman, I studied the man. “That’s the guy from dinner,” I whispered to Drew.
Drew made a soft grunt noise. “Yeah, but I didn’t see her with him.”
“Neither did I.” I descended the stairs with Drew close behind, walking on my tiptoes to be as quiet as possible. When we reached the bottom, the man didn’t even glance over at us. He just stared at the woman’s body with tears rolling down his cheeks. I wondered if she was his wife or girlfriend. Daughter, maybe? It was kind of hard to tell ages when she was dead.
I moved closer until I was almost touching them. Still, he didn’t look up. Nothing I did seemed to bring him out of his shock. Or was it grief that had frozen him into place?
“Sir,” I prompted without a reaction. “Excuse me, sir?” He still didn’t look over. This dude was seriously upset.
“Careful,” Drew said. “Maybe he was sad at dinner because he knew he was going to have to kill her tonight.”
A chilling thought. I bent down and touched the woman, pushing my magic into her. Maybe the deceased could tell me what happened to her.
She opened her eyes and sat straight, locking gazes with me. “You didn’t save her. You couldn’t save her.”
What the freaking frack? Before I could ask her what she meant, she fell back against the floor, dead once more. I tried to animate her again and had the same result with the same cryptic message. She wouldn’t respond otherwise.
Who were we supposed to have saved? Not her, surely, or she would’ve said me.
Drew tapped me on the shoulder. “Don’t touch anything else. We have to report this.”
Nodding, I stood and used my magic to erase all evidence that I’d touched the body. While Drew called the police, I moved to the man. He’d moved away from the woman but still sat nearby, staring at her.
“Hello. Did you know her?” It seemed like a silly question, but I really wasn’t sure if he’d known her or was just sad that she died. He could’ve been the first to find her and it shocked him into this stupor.
He didn’t answer so Drew tried. “What’s your name?”
Nothing. Drew and I shared a look. Drew motioned with his head for me to follow, and we moved to stand a few feet away. “This whole thing is weird,” I said.
“And that is seriously saying something considering what we deal with on a daily basis.”
“True,” Drew agreed with a chuckle. “I feel like something isn’t quite right with this.”
“Yeah, and I’m not talking about the dead body.”
When I looked back to try to talk to the man again, I gasped. He was gone.
Oh, yeah. That wasn’t suspicious at all.