How to Survive an Undead Honeymoon – Hailey Edwards

Mrs. Woolworth,” an elderly man warbled at us with a dentured smile. “Our honeymooners.” Linus never failed to surprise me, and his choice of post-wedding destination did not disappoint. The cozy bed-and-breakfast smack-dab in the middle of nowhere Delaware was adorable. I could picture us cuddling in bed, reading in bed, eating in bed, and other activities best suffixed with in bed. But what I couldn’t imagine was how Linus had selected this pinprick on a map for our quickie romantic getaway. Curiosity sharpened my gaze while I searched for what, exactly, about the remote inn had intrigued him. “We’ve been expecting you,” the man continued, wiry glasses slipping down his bulbous nose before catching on the wide flare of his nostrils. “I’m so pleased you chose us to take these first steps with you as man and wife.” About to thank him for his hospitality, I opened my mouth and coughed when brimstone hit the back of my throat. The potent fragrance of dark magic rolled over my skin a moment later, and I shivered, easing closer to Linus. “The inn is lovely.” He wrapped a proprietary arm around my waist. “We’re looking forward to our stay.

” The old man preened at the compliment and adjusted his glasses with a practiced nudge from his pinky. “Kyle will show you to your room.” Mr. Oliphant rang a bell behind the counter, and a teen sporting a faux hawk braided tight against his skull emerged with a scowl pulling at his bottom lip piercing. Dressed head to toe in more shades of pink than a flamingo, I envied that flare for color coordination. I couldn’t have gotten it right without help from Neely. “Escort the Woolworths to their room.” “It’s Kylie, Gramps.” He—no, she—crossed her arms over her chest. “We talked about this.

” “I had a Kyle for sixteen years.” He waved a gnarled hand. “Give me longer than a week to get used to having a Kylie.” He snapped his fingers then pointed one at her. “I’ll remember next time.” “Sure, you will.” She snorted. “And Grams will remember where she put her reading glasses the next time she loses them.” Tall and lean, Kylie vaulted over the counter with the ease of someone who had performed the move a million times and landed in front of Linus. “Where are your bags?” “In the car.

” Linus held up a key fob Kylie was quick to snatch. “In the trunk.” Kylie grumbled under her breath about having better things to do and heaved a putupon sigh. The cool stare Linus gave her, what I thought of as his Scion Lawson mask, put starch in the kid’s spine. Southern manners being ingrained in Georgia girls from birth, I almost stepped into the breach to smooth things over when it hit me. That wasn’t his Scion Lawson mask. It was his Scion Woolworth mask now. Giddiness bubbled up in me, and I couldn’t stop my smile from spreading until my cheeks hurt. Mr. Oliphant answered my grin with one of his own as he palmed the key to our room.

“You’re welcome to go on up,” he said with a conspiratorial wink. “I would take you, but my knees aren’t what they used to be. Stairs are for the young.” “That would be great.” I accepted the key, which was attached to a thin wooden disc with a hand-carved room number. “We’re tired after our flight. I wouldn’t mind grabbing a nap before dinner.” And I wouldn’t mind stealing a word with Mr. Woolworth about our accommodations. Mr.

Woolworth. Heh. That silly thrill returned, swelling my heart until it had trouble fitting in my chest. Linus shot me a questioning glance, but I kept my head down to minimize how ridiculous I felt basking in the glow of overwhelming happiness whenever I thought of him as mine. With the rings to prove it. We hit the wide staircase together, and the sense of wrongness increased as we climbed higher. The magic was…odd. Brittle and sharp. Jagged edges that scraped along my senses. And phew boy.

It was check-the-bottom-of-your-shoes foul. Our suite resembled my bedroom back at Woolworth House, with its polished oak floors and handmade quilts piled high on the queen mattress. Once inside, I used the pocketknife I had stolen from Linus forever ago to prick my finger and draw a sigil on the doorframe to seal us in. Turning to face him, I cocked an eyebrow, ready to hear this. “You have interesting ideas about romantic getaways.” The ring on his finger had inspired new confidence in him, and he backed me against the door, pinning my hips there with his. “I had limited options.” Mm-hmm. More like unlimited options. Unable to resist touching him, I traced the faint twitch in his cool lips.

“How did you say that with a straight face?” “I’ve been practicing,” he confessed. “I wanted to get this right.” “You worry too much.” I tapped his chin. “You have yet to disappoint me.” I winked just to watch heat warm his cheeks. “In any way.” “Money makes you anxious.” He trailed chilly fingers along my collarbone. “You don’t like to spend it, and you’re uncomfortable when I do.

That eliminated our more exotic options.” There was nothing I could say to that except, “Go on.” “One of your great passions is haunted history,” he said with the authority of a man who had purchased an entire building for me so that I could start my own ghost tour company. “Oliphant House was built in 1665 and converted into a boarding house after the owner’s death. It served as one of the earliest inns in the northeast. It has an interesting history and a thoroughly documented haunting. Those two things led me to believe this location might be the ideal combination of thrift and amusement.” “You know me so well.” I melted into the teasing caress of his fingertips. “Do go on.

” The touching and the talking, in no particular order. “Chandler Oliphant built his home over an energy nexus, what he called in his journals a gateway to biblical Hell. He meant its design to trap any evil spirits or demons who might emerge in a subterranean maze of halls that lead nowhere, windows painted shut, and doors that open onto sealed walls.” “Okay.” I hooked my fingers in his belt loops. “You officially have my attention.” In more ways than one. “He lived here the rest of his life and raised a family without seeing a single beast or hearing even one inexplicable noise. He went to his grave content that he had done his Christian duty and that whatever great evil lurked beneath his home was trapped within his construct. Or so the story goes.

” Tugging on the back of his shirt, I untucked it from his pants. “Well that’s disappointing.” “However, on the thirtieth anniversary of Chandler Oliphant’s death,” he continued, a slight hitch in his breath when I skimmed his spine, “several guests were attacked by unseen forces.” Black flickered in his eyes, darkening the navy hue. “Victims reported scratches that might have come from—” “A demon in desperate need of a manicure?” “How did you guess?” The corners of his eyes crinkled. “Since then, every thirty years to the day, at least one guest per cycle is harmed by The Hell Demon of Oliphant House.” “I heard those italics, mister.” Fingers gone still, I gazed up at him. “Does it make me a bad person that I’m interested again?” “Not even a little bit.” He kissed the tip of my nose.

“Would you like to hear the rest?” “You missed your calling.” I unbuttoned the shirt then smoothed my hands across his chest, all lean muscle and glimmering ink, his skin pebbling under my fingers. “You should be a guide for my ghost tours.” “There’s another reason why I thought this place’s history might appeal to you.” “Let me guess.” I pushed the shirt off his shoulders. “This week is the anniversary?” “Yes.” “I was joking.” Eyes widening, I gaped up at him. “Are you serious?” “This was the trip I had in mind when I asked that the wedding date be shifted accordingly, yes.

” “Wow.” I forgot what I was doing for a minute. “Are we the only guests?” “Yes.” The hint of smugness looked good on him. “I booked the entire inn for our stay.” “You get that if we’re the only guests, we’re the only targets, right?” He slid his hands behind me and stroked my skin in cool sweeps of his thumbs. “That was the idea.” “You booked us into a violently haunted house on the anniversary of its founder’s death to be one half of a pair of sacrificial lambs,” I said in summation. “For our honeymoon.” A beat of hesitation, a crinkle of his brow, gave away his worry.

“Yes?” “You really know how to show a girl a good time.” I linked my arms around his neck. “How did I get so lucky?” “I can’t tell if you’re teasing me,” he admitted, searching my face for clues. “Did I disappoint you?” “This is nothing I could have imagined,” I confessed. “It’s so much better.” I grinned at him. “Mystery. Food. Mauling.” The drive in from the airport had given us a short tour of the nearest town, and its total lack of takeout, dining, and entertainment options.

“There is food, right?” “Yes.” He leaned down, his breath fanning my cheeks. “I had groceries delivered yesterday.” “You’re going to cook for me?” I raked my fingers through his dark-auburn hair. “Are you sure? This is your honeymoon too. I don’t want you to work so hard you can’t enjoy it.” “I have plenty of time for it that won’t interfere with our activities.” The few hours Linus slept each week left him with twice as much time on his hands as the rest of us. Lately, he dozed off and on if he stayed in bed with me, but he required little REM to function. “All right.

” I rose on tiptoe and kissed my favorite smattering of freckles, the daisyshaped cluster beneath his left eye. “But let me know if you change your mind.” “There’s the added benefit of allowing Mrs. Oliphant to stay home.” She must be the cook to her husband’s concierge, neither of which would be needed this week. “Ah.” I should have put it together sooner. “You’re kicking the Oliphants out too.” Two less bodies in the house doubled our odds of getting attacked. Yay? “I have to admit, I’m surprised you chose this.

” I made a small hop, and Linus caught my legs around his waist. “You’re usually opposed to me getting even the least bit maimed.” “You can take care of yourself.” He carried me to the bed. “I can’t imagine whatever is haunting this place is more dangerous than anything we’ve faced together so far.” Otherwise, it went without saying, he never would have brought me here. I squealed when he tossed me onto the mattress then laughed when he landed on top of me in a press of now-familiar weight. “You can tell me if you’re disappointed.” He brushed his fingers across my cheek, my nose, my lips. “I always thought I would take you to a remote island where I could have you all to myself.

” He softened his voice. “You used to love the beach.” More to the point, I had loved a woman who lived on the beach. Odette Lecomte, the next best thing I’d had to an aunt growing up, and the person who had betrayed my parents, Maud, and me. Sand, surf, and sun no longer held any appeal. I hadn’t visited Tybee Island in years. It held too many memories. I wasn’t in a rush to walk any other beaches either. The roar of the waves, the tang in the air, the grains between my toes, would remind me of the good times and that they were all a lie. “I always pictured a beachy honeymoon.

” There was no point in lying about it. He knew me too well for that. “But I can’t see it anymore. That’s why I was relieved when you offered to take over the planning. I had no idea what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go, and you’ve been everywhere at least once.” “I have traveled a lot.” His work, both as a professor at Strophalos University and his private necromancy practice, plus his former position as Scion Lawson, had carried him all over the world. “That doesn’t mean I explored those cities or did more than show up for lectures or perform resuscitations before retreating to my hotel room to read.” “How could you visit Rome or Greece or Ireland and not go out for gelato or spanakopita or colcannon?” “I didn’t eat then,” he reminded me, “and the world had long since lost its flavor.” From what I gathered, Linus hadn’t lived much during my imprisonment in Atramentous.

He wouldn’t call it a self-imposed punishment, but that’s how I saw it. He had worked hard, made solid friends, and performed his duties as the Potentate of Atlanta to the best of his considerable abilities, but even the art he created during that period tended more toward black and gray. “Lucky for you, you’ve got me.” I linked my feet at his spine. “I’m willing to eat my way through Europe and anywhere else.” “I am lucky,” he said, earnestness and puzzlement and happiness all rolled into his tone. Three loud knocks on the door spared him from the sound pinching he deserved for finding himself even a teensy-tiny bit unworthy. It must be Kylie with our luggage. Fiddlesticks. I knew I should have searched for a do not disturb sign.

T TWO he disgruntled teen at the door looked about as thrilled to be standing there as I was to have to put on pants again. I noticed her noticing Linus’s shirt wasn’t buttoned up to his throat, and the few that had been fastened in his haste fit the wrong holes. “Sorry to interrupt.” She trudged into the room with our luggage rolling behind her. “You guys can get back to it in just a second.” She left the bags and opened the closet. “I get docked if I don’t do the whole shebang.” She came out holding two mismatched wooden stands, flicked her wrists, and set up the luggage racks. “Do you want any of your stuff hung up, or is this good?” With a grunt, she heaved each of our big suitcases onto their respective racks. “That’s good,” I rushed to assure her.

“We can handle it from here.” Our bags contained items hard to explain to humans, plus Neely had stuffed mine with lingerie I was too embarrassed to look at, let alone model for Linus. There were swimsuits in there too, which I wouldn’t need, and a few fancy dresses with even fancier shoes that also wouldn’t come in handy while sleuthing. Linus opened his wallet, let her notice its fullness. “How long have you worked at the inn?” “Officially?” Kylie tongued her piercing, flicking it back and forth. “About two years.” “Have you experienced anything strange during your time here?” A knowing smile sharpened her eyes. “You’re ghost hunters.” “Something like that,” he agreed, pulling out a fifty-dollar bill, which he dispensed the way most of us handed out fives. “Well?” He passed it over.

“Any paranormal phenomenon to report?” Weighing her words against the heft of his wallet, she appeared to debate what we wanted to hear. “Tell us the truth,” I urged gently. “Trust me, he tips better when you’re honest.” That gave her pause, but she came to a decision and closed the door behind her. “There’s a smell in the kitchen,” she whispered as if her grandfather were standing in the hall. “I thought it was eggs gone bad, but Grams claims she doesn’t notice it.” She shrugged. “She’s old, so maybe her nose doesn’t work like it used to, but come on. It seriously reeks in there.” Haunted kitchen.

Check. All those sharp knives were practically begging to stab someone. What violent ghost wouldn’t set up camp in there? “That’s all?” Linus prompted, already selecting the next bill in his stack. “I got shoved down the stairs once, but that was back when I was a kid.” Kylie glowered. “Gramps didn’t believe me.” She held up her arm, flashing a deep scar across her elbow. “He blamed me, said I must have left a toy on the stairs.” Well, okay, so calling it a ghost had been polite. Obviously, we were dealing with a poltergeist…or worse.

Hand on Linus’s sleeve, I kept him from forking over quite yet. “Can you think of any other incidents?” “Guests report weird stuff all the time, but other than the stink and the shove, no.” Pungent and violent. The telltale thrill that always preceded the hunt kindled along my nerves. “When did the smell start?” “Two days ago? Something like that?” “Thank you.” Linus passed her the bill once I released him. “We appreciate your candor.” “No problem.” She crammed the money into her pocket. “Dial two if you need anything.

It goes direct to my cell, so I’ll get the call even from home.” A tighter shrug twitched her shoulders. “We live in the cottage behind the property. It’s not a long walk, and I’m up late most nights.” “We’ll do that.” Linus escorted her out then appraised me with a thoughtful tilt of his chin. “What do you think?” “That you don’t understand the value of a dollar, or that you have some bizarre affliction that makes you unable to read zeroes. Either of those would explain why you grease palms with such large bills when half that amount would do.” “People who are hesitant to cooperate often find themselves more willing to do so when the sum of money they stand to earn far exceeds their expectations.” Given he was the one who taught me the art of cultivating informants through bribery, I couldn’t knock his system.

Though, granted, I was still more likely to offer a twenty and reserve my fifties for the hard cases. Linus just preferred to go big and save time. “You’re lucky you were born filthy rich is all I’m saying.” “You’re both richer and cheaper than I am.” “I can’t decide if that last part is an insult, but I’ll own it.” There was a time after Atramentous when I struggled to keep the lights on. Money was tight, food was a luxury item, and I spent a lot of time sitting in dark rooms to save on the power bill. Ketchup on crackers was not gourmet, let me tell you. Neither was dry ramen dusted with a flavor packet. After eating that a few times, I never forgot the cutoff date for the water again.

“How about frugal?” He crossed to me, resting his hands on my waist. “Better?” “I can live with frugal.” I decided not to tell him he could call me anything he wanted if his hands kept doing what they were doing. “It has a higher-end ring to it.” About to resume our newlywed activities, I growled in frustration when a dark figure wearing a tattered cloak with a shadowed cowl coalesced behind Linus. “Cletus.” I exhaled through my teeth. “We talked about this.” The wraith was never more than a summons away, but he groaned yet another throaty complaint about us gallivanting off alone. We had left him with Oscar and Keet at Lethe’s house with strict orders not to follow, but he must have decided he knew best.

A very Maud-like trait, if you asked me. “Grier and I would appreciate some privacy.” Linus tried his hand negotiating with him. “We’ll call if anything happens.” If. Often, it was a matter of when, but maybe this time the odds would be in our favor. A wedding gift from the universe. Wouldn’t that be nice? Sometimes being Grier Woolworth, Dame Woolworth, and the Potentate of Savannah all rolled into one made me tired. And then there was the mother-in-law factor. The Grande Dame wasn’t the call me Mom kind.

More like the bow before me type. Let’s just say, despite being on decent terms with her, she and I weren’t in danger of coordinating mother/daughter ensembles anytime soon. Not that he would breathe one word of complaint, but Linus must feel the same way. His title and duties were as much a burden as mine. Just this once, we had wanted to jet off and go on an adventure for two. Backup was always smart, given the targets painted on our backs at any given moment, but I wanted Linus to myself for a change. Still, I understood why the folks back home, who had probably received copies of our itinerary, might have concerns. The wraith shook his head once then drifted through the closed door into the hall. Linus opened it, and we found Cletus posted outside our room in a forbidding black cloud of menace. “Fine,” I grumbled half-heartedly for show.

“You can stay.”

.

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