DEAD AND GONE
GRAVE TALKER SERIES - BOOK 2
“Take care of yourself, kid. And stay out of trouble,” Siobhan instructed as she handed me my belongings in a giant Zip-Lock bag, along with a clipboard for me to sign. The exit from lock-up was not unfamiliar to me, but I’d never been on the receiving end of this little song and dance.
“Oh, you know me,” I answered noncommittally. I had precisely zero intention of staying out of trouble. In fact, I was actively planning on getting into a whole heap of it the first chance I got.
“Yeah,” she barked, her voice like stone, “I do.” She knocked a dark braid off her shoulder, staring me down. No one could get anything past her, and it would be foolish to try.
Siobhan Byrne was an intuitive or possibly a psychic of some sort. She couldn’t see things clearly, but she just knew stuff. It made her a force to be reckoned with in a place like this—especially when rivaling factions started to get restless. The Arcane Detention Center was just like any other jail I’d ever been to. That was, if you took away the guards with magic, and the runes carved into every surface to dampen the prisoners’ abilities, then sure, it was totally the same.
Siobhan was always in the right place at the right time, squashing brawls before they turned into full-blown riots. But she didn’t know everything, and I’d saved her ass in the cafeteria one day early in my stay. We’d become fast friends, and I’d kept my eye out for her as much as I could for someone on the wrong side of the bars.
Compared to the other inmates, my stay at this facility had been relatively short. Still, nine months in lock-up was a long time to wonder if my life would ever be normal again. Add in my daily visits from a team of Arcane Bureau of Investigation nerds who were trying to figure out the limits of my abilities, and the better part of a year seemed to stretch on forever.
“I told you to stay out of trouble, and that is what you’ll do, Darby,” Siobhan ordered, and I fought the urge to snap-to and salute her. “You know good and well they’re watching you.”
By “they,” she meant the ABI, but I wasn’t stupid. If they could have implanted a Lo-Jack in my ass, they would have. I had zero doubts I didn’t already have a magical equivalent on me somewhere.
I stared up into her bright-green eyes—and I do mean up. Siobhan had to be six and a half feet tall and was built like a feminine linebacker. She was what I would assume Valkyries looked like. Her dark hair was an impressive assortment of braids and dreads, with gold wire weaved into a few. Cuffs and rings adorned others. I could easily envision her in combat leathers and face paint, fighting off the British.
“I’m aware,” I muttered, grumpily scratching my signature on the form. After getting out of here, my first order of business was figuring out how to punch Mariana Adler right in the face.
After that, I, of course, wanted world peace.
Siobhan snorted like she could read my mind. “Fair enough. Don’t forget to say hi to that big hunk of man-meat waiting for you out there.”
She skirted the tall desk and wrapped me in a bone-crushing hug. I could only assume she meant my partner, Jeremiah, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why he would be waiting for me. As far as I knew, J had no idea I had been sent to ABI prison. Hell, before nine this morning, even I hadn’t known I was going to be given my walking papers.
“And don’t worry, your house has been taken care of while you’ve been away. Your pops is a sweetheart. I bet even your kitchen is clean as a pin. Give him a big hug when you see him, will you?”
As happy as I was to not be going home to a rancid fridge and a house left sitting for almost a year, just thinking about my dad made my heart hurt. I’d dreamt about him—and the act that got me shoved in here—every single minute I’d been stuck in this place. Would I hug him? Probably. Would I also sock him in the gut? That was also on the table. But I didn’t say any of that out loud.
“Will do. Stay safe in here, will ya?” I muttered before letting her go.
As sad as I was to leave Siobhan to this place, I wasn’t too eager to stay. I missed my life. I missed my house and my bed. But most of all?
I missed coffee.
Fun fact: I hadn’t realized when I’d agreed to this deal that I would have to go without the good stuff. Especially not for this long. What kind of evil being decided this as a punishment?
I’d been poked, prodded, evaluated, and studied like a lab rat. That, I was all fine with. But no coffee?
Yeah… Fuck Mariana Adler and the horse she rode in on.
My first step into the Tennessee spring air was bittersweet. For the last nine months, the near-constant buzz of souls and ghosts I’d lived with the majority of my life had been muted. I couldn’t see the specters, but I’d known they were there. While I seriously doubted there were no ghosts within those walls, I hadn’t been able to see their nearly see-through forms.
The whispers had been dulled, the buzz muted. Even with every single bit of juice I’d absorbed, my abilities in that place had been damn near null.
I’d figured out pretty quickly that the warding etched into every single surface made it impossible for me to see much of anything. The scientists had taken a while to come to that conclusion themselves, and their testing ramped down to only clinical study. I couldn’t say how many biopsies, vials of blood, and scans they’d done, but I knew if I never saw another needle in my life, it would be too soon.
As soon as I crossed the threshold to the outside world, the noise came rushing back. I hadn’t realized just how loud it had been, how much I’d ignored it over the years. How much I had inured myself to the knowledge that death clung to my very mind. Or maybe since I’d finally come into my real self, the call of the souls had grown even louder now.
Last year, I’d just been trying to get by—trying to keep my little “seeing dead people” secret from the humans in my midst, trying really hard not to go crazy, and most of all, trying to do my job.
Somehow, I’d mostly managed all three. Except for being a certified ABI criminal, everything was turning up aces.
With the gray building at my back, I walked further into the sun. The buzz in my head that told me when specters were near reached a crescendo. The signature was familiar, but I couldn’t say I was particularly thrilled to feel it again.
Hildenbrand O’Shea had been haunting me since I was a kid, the puberty bitch-slap turning my abilities to eleven. One second I’d been a normal kid, and the next, I was a ghost-seeing freak. Only recently did I find out Hildy was actually my grandfather. Given that he’d died sometime in the 1840s, it shattered the idea that my mother was anything close to human.
Hildy had kept a hell of a lot from me in the decade and a half he’d been in my life. I wasn’t just going to sweep that shit under the rug on the bullshit basis of family. Especially with how much his silence had cost me.
“Lass,” Hildy crooned, his Irish lilt grating my nerves. I hadn’t spoken to him since the debacle at Whisper Lake.
That little croon made me want to smash shit. It made me want to see if the juice I’d absorbed still lingered in my tissues.
“You don’t get to call me that,” I growled through gritted teeth. “You don’t get to play the wounded party. You don’t get to come to me like your actions didn’t set into motion the worst moment of my life. You don’t get to play buddy-buddy when you sat on not only my abilities, but my lineage for damn near two decades.”
I was leaving shit out. Hell, I was leaving out the mother of all things, but I hadn’t entirely processed that bomb yet.
Later. Processing could be done much later.
“You don’t,” I whispered, “get to pretend you didn’t do me wrong, Hildenbrand.” I turned my head to look at him then, his gray form a washed-out version of who he’d been in life. Hildenbrand O’Shea had been a renowned grave talker, his name living on in infamy, even after his death nearly two centuries ago. Blond-haired and blue-eyed, I resembled him a bit. Turn me into a dude and give me a top hat and cane, and we could practically be twinsies.
It was tough realizing that I’d gotten so many things from a man I despised.
“Lass,” he implored, but I’d already had enough. His silence had made me watch my father die in my arms. His silence made it so I had to strike a deal I didn’t want to make with a woman I would love to light on fire.
My left palm lit up for a single second, the remnants of a power I still didn’t understand lingering under my skin. No way was I wasting it. Before Hildy could say another word, I balled my hand into a fist and socked him right in his stupid, spectral nose. His ghostly body went flying, and I watched with no small amount of satisfaction as he landed with a ghostly thud on the steps of the ghastly ABI detention center.
Shock colored his face as he wiped a glowing spectral ribbon of blood from his nose.
“You are not welcome in my home,” I growled, my voice laced in a powerful command I had never used on Hildy. Not ever. “You are not welcome in my life. Why don’t you go bother your daughter? You two liars deserve each other.”
There had been no good reason for Hildy’s betrayal, and all his posturing that he’d been doing it for my own good, was a whole load of bullshit I refused to swallow.
Hildy’s face turned resolute, and he winked out of sight, leaving me to go fuck off somewhere else.
“Out less than a minute and already talking to spirits and punching ghosts. Way to go, Adler.”
That smooth voice did not belong to my best friend, J. Oh, no. I wasn’t that lucky. The big hunk of man-meat Siobhan had been talking about was not my partner, but the death mage ABI agent who’d simultaneously saved my bacon and torched it.
I swung my head to face Bishop La Roux, straightening my shoulders like I was going to have to punch him, too.
Dressed in a criminally hot pair of jeans and a T-shirt that should be illegal in at least five states, Bishop held out a bag with a very familiar logo on it like he was warding off a lion. Ignoring his messy hair and scruffy beard, I met his coal-dark eyes with suspicion. But instead of punching him like I had Hildy, I snatched the Si Señor bag from his hands, opened it, and dug in. The prison fare was a step above cat food, in my opinion, and just the thought of that yummy bit of heaven made my mouth water.
“Good to see tacos still work,” he said, chuckling. “You need a ride home?”
The last time he’d needed to bribe me, he’d done it with these tacos. Good god in heaven, I was a pushover. I ignored the ridiculously hot man in favor of unwrapping a taco one-handed and shoving an end in my mouth. My teeth crunched into the blissfully crispy half-steak, half-pork taco, and my eyes rolled back in my head.
I had vastly overestimated prison food. This was the best thing I had ever eaten, and not a single soul on this planet could tell me any different.
“Maybe,” I said around a mouthful of food. If he were any other man, I might have felt weird about my rudeness, but just like Hildy, Bishop was on thin ice. Though, tacos were an excellent way to strengthen his footing.
That taco was gone in another two bites, and I swallowed the yumminess before continuing, “How’d you hear about me getting out? Even I didn’t know until today.”
Bishop gave me a sly smile. “A little birdy told me.”
I nodded, the answer dawning on me. “How is Sarina these days?”
Sarina Kenzari was Bishop’s partner and a certified psychic and telepath. She called herself an oracle, but psychic was just as good a word as any. Out of everyone, she had been the only one to level with me about what she could and could not say. Though, Sarina couldn’t “see” me like she could others. To her, I was a big, old blurry spot.
“She’s good. She says hi. So, about that ride?”
I let my gaze stray to the barren parking lot in front of the building. A lone, shiny black truck parked near the street broke up the desolate landscape of naked trees and cracked asphalt. A small cluster of staff vehicles were situated at the far end of the lot. I took a gander behind me to see if the building matched the unfortunate parking lot. I’d been blindfolded when Mariana brought me here nearly a year ago, and it was exactly what I would expect a haunted asylum to look like, even though I knew it had to be a glamour.
Nothing says “stay the fuck away” like the threat of a good haunting.
“I suppose you could give me a ride if you don’t have anything better to do,” I conceded, my tone only mildly petulant.
I had to wonder how in the hell I was supposed to make it out of here if Bishop hadn’t been nice enough to pick me up. I hadn’t been allowed calls or emails, which I thought was bullshit. Even regular inmates got some form of contact.
But not me.
“No, Adler,” Bishop said, his voice a hell of a lot closer than it had been a few seconds ago. I whipped my head back to find him solidly in my space. “I don’t have anywhere else I want to be.”
Well, okay then.
There are few things worse than being on the Arcane Bureau of Investigation’s naughty list.
To keep myself out of hot water, I’ve made a deal with the devil—using my skills as a grave talker to help the ABI solve some very cold cases.
But there is something mighty amiss in this task—especially when quite a few of these cases lead me right back to my home town of Haunted Peak and the secrets buried there.