Romancing the Dead
A book with bite and “a gem of a heroine”— third in the series from the author of Dead Sexy.
It’s been one heck of a week for Garnet Lacey. The Vatican witch hunters finally think she’s dead, the FBI has closed their file on her, she’s co-founding a new coven—and the gorgeous vampire she loves has just asked her to marry him. How lucky can one girl get?
The masculine principle, husband, or men in general
Could I really see myself married to a . . . vampire?
The diamond ring on my finger sparkled in the early morning light. My bicycle nearly ended up in the ditch more than once as my eyes kept straying to the golden band. Married? Me?
It wasn't that I didn't love Sebastian. It had been easy to say yes, and I'd meant it. But, Sebastian was a vampire, and, well, neither of our lives was terribly conducive to marriage. I had a tendency to pick up and run in the middle of the night, although usually that was because I was being chased by Vatican assassins or the FBI or Voodoo Queens or because the Goddess I harbored in my belly had gone all destructo-wacko on somebody.
Things had been calm for a few months now. In fact, I'd started negotiations with the owner of the occult bookstore I manage, Mercury Crossing, to buy him out with whatever loans and spare change I could patch together. I guess that must have gotten Sebastian thinking about settling. Settling!
Did I mention he's a vampire?
My mind continued to try to wrap itself around the idea of the white dress when some kind of wild dog jumped out of the ditch. Okay, actually, it was just sitting there on the side of the road, munching on the road-killed remains of Bambi's mom, but seeing it made me nearly fall off the seat of my bike.
At first I thought it had to be a wolf, except the animal was too mangy and too leggy. As it hunched over the deer carcass, its chin dripped with blood. Our eyes met and I had that freakish feeling of a keen intelligence behind the glittering alien, inhuman gaze.
So I did what any Witch who harbored the dark Goddess Lilith within her would do; I shrieked like a girl.
"Argh! Go away, you big scary thing! Run! Scat!" I pedaled like a maniac, waved my arms, and tried to think bigger, threatening animal thoughts, instead of I-could-totally-be-eaten ones.
The wolf, or whatever it was, cocked its head at me as though it thought I was the biggest dork in central Wisconsin. Then it padded into the cornfield.
At least my close encounter with the wild kingdom got me thinking about something other than Sebastian for at two or three minutes. But once my heart rate had settled to normal, it shot back up again.
Are there wolves in Wisconsin? Maybe, but was I really ready for marriage?
The sun beat down on the concrete mercilessly, and it wasn't even eight a.m. yet. Sweat slicked my arms and my legs. Hopping off my bike, I leaned it against the cast-iron fencing around a scrub oak, not bothering to lock it.
I'm sure there are plenty of bike thieves in Madison, Wisconsin, but State Street, where my bookstore Mercury Crossing is located, has a kind of hippy sensibility. I'd actually had my bike stolen once . . . and returned. I only knew it had been taken because the lock was broken and very carefully replaced.
Having my bike "borrowed" was one of the reasons I loved Madison. That and the fact that no one even gave me more than a cursory glance in my bright bloodred mini and black, sparkling halter top. I wore spiderweb tights and black Converse high-tops. My hair was a mess of short, dyed-black spikes. I passed a guy in a suit, maybe even a politician, on his way up to the capitol building, and he gave me "the nod" of stranger-small-town greeting.
I loved this town.
Could I see myself living here as a married woman? I chewed on my lip. I'd think about that later. Right now I had a shop to run.
"Hey," William said with a bright smile. "Raise your right hand!"
I slowly raised my hand, confused. I'd been shelving the discounted remaindered Wiccan books in the used section when William bounded up.
William had been my friend since I started work at Mercury Crossing. He'd recovered nicely from having been possessed by his former girlfriend, the Voodoo Queen. You'd think William might have considered giving up on his constant search for "true" religion, given that several of the ones he'd found jumped up and bit him in the butt. But, like our friendship, William was remarkably resilient. In fact, our friendship hardly faltered despite the fact that he had tried to kill me; and William went on to try an on-line UFO cult the very next day.
Speaking of which, I couldn't tell what religion William was into today; he looked fairly normal. His mouse-brown hair hung in lanky curls to his shoulders and his round John Lennon glasses perched on the end of his nose. He wore a basic brown shirt, slacks . . . I noticed the red string on his wrist. Aha! Kabala!
"Oh," William said after studying my upraised palm for a moment. "You've got your right-hand ring on the wrong finger."
"Right-hand ring?" William sounded less sure. "I've seen the ads in the New York Times Magazine. You know, treat yourself to a ring instead of waiting for a man. Oh." I watched the realization slowly dawn in William's eyes. "But, you've got a . . . well, a significant other of male variety, er, species, or former human, or ex-human. Uhm."
I thought I'd better put him out of his misery. "Yes, Sebastian asked me to marry him."
"And you said yes? Are you insane?"
It was a question I'd been asking myself. But, before I could reply, he went on. "It's going to be all Highlander, Blossom. Think about it, in a dozen years it's going to start looking like Ashton Kutchner and Demi Moore around your place. After that? Hello, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Well, except gender reversed. You know what I mean. Anyway, yikes! When you're eighty, people are going to think he's your grandson. How awkward is that going to be?"
I should never have gotten William a subscription to In Touch for his birthday, yet I had to concede that he brought up a rather salient point. If Sebastian never aged and I did, how would we explain our apparent age difference to other people? Then, there was all the physical stuff. I'd have the advantage of always having a hot, young body next to me in bed, but Sebastian, wellÉ
I shook my head; I didn't want to consider fifty-six years from now when we hadn't even set a date for the wedding yet. "We'll cross that bridge and all that," I said to William, who was still clucking his tongue at me.
"Yeah, sure," he said, unconvinced.
"Anyway, didn't that dude in Highlander love his wife forever, even when she was a hundred years old?"
William frowned as though trying to remember. He sounded disappointed to have to admit, "Yeah, I guess he did." He tapped a finger against his cheek a few time, then pointed it at me. "What about the ghouls? Are they going to be bridesmaids?"
"Come on, that's hardly fair," I said sharply. "Now you're just looking for reason not to be happy for me, William." Truth of the matter was that I sincerelydidn't want to think about the ghouls right now. The whole needing-other-people-for-sustenance thing was an issue Sebastian and I had yet to tackle."Sorry," William said curtly. "Congratulations."
I opened my mouth to say something, anything, to break the increasingly awkward silence, when he said, "Oh, and that lady from Bear Claw Press is here."
His abrupt switch of subject startled a laugh out of me. Pretty soon William smiled too. I flashed him a fond look as I made my way to the counter where the publisher's rep waited. What did I say? Resilient. William and I were cool again.
I spent the rest of the morning listening to pitches about the newest books on aromatherapy, holistic living, and acupuncture for your pets.
The afternoon was so slow that I let William go home early. Then, wouldn't you know it? About a half hour to close everyone and their dog decided today was the day to buy candles, tarot decks, and smudge sticks. I was ringing up items and answering phone calls, while trying to direct people where to find the section on Rolfing.
In the middle of all this chaos, a woman came up to the counter and introduced herself as Marge. Marge had a broad, smiling face, long graying curls, and a loud Hawaiian shirt on. "I saw your poster about the open audition for the coven."
I'd warded the poster so that only people with magical talent could read it. I squinted at Marge, giving her my aura test. She had an earthy green aura, held tightly against her body, but very strong. I'd guess she was a green Witch or a kitchen Witch with that kind of energy. There was something else that caught my magical eye momentarily. A bright glow emanated from a dog-shaped charm that hung around her neck on a silver chain.
I was about to ask Marge about the necklace when business interrupted. A long line of customers formed behind Marge. "Are you buying anything?" I asked her. She smiled and shook her head.
I expected that she'd move to the side, but she didn't. Thus, I had to reach around Marge to take an amber necklace a customer offered. Marge, meanwhile, seemed completely oblivious to the fact that she was blocking the flow of paying customers. "I'm looking forward to the meeting tonight," Marge said.
"Uhm, oh yeah, me too," I said, suddenly remembering I had been hoping to slip out early myself to go grab munchies and lemonade for the meeting tonight. Sebastian and I had decided it was time to start our own coven. It was a big step for me, committing again.
My last coven had been murdered by the Order of Eustace, a rogue paramilitary organization bent on destroying practitioners of true magic, who take very literally the line in Exodus about not suffering a Witch to live. I'd only survived because I was late to the meeting, and because I had the presence of mind to call the Goddess Lilith into me when the agents attacked. The whole event left me scarred, both mentally and physically. My eyes changed color that night in Minneapolis, and so did my whole world. I hadn't dared form a coven since.
But I'd put a lot of demons to rest since then. The order wouldn't be bothering to look for me any more. Thanks to a powerful spell that commingled my blood and Sebastian's, their agents think I'm dead.
My name had even been cleared with the FBI, which had been led to my doorstep by following an investigation into the death of the Vatican agents Lilith killed in Minnesota. Parrish, my vampire ex-lover, had taken the fall for me, actually. In fact, Parrish sacrificed his life-or unlife, given that he's also a vampire-so the case could be closed.
I wondered where he was and if he was okay.
A customer standing behind Marge cleared his throat noisily. "Oh, sorry. Miles away," I muttered as I rang up the customer, took his money and made change-all the while maneuvering around the immovable Marge. "Do you need directions or something?" I asked her.
"No." She rocked back on her heels, smiling. "Nice wind chimes."
I glanced over my head at the crystal chimes hanging on hooks from the ceiling. We had all sorts. There were jade beads strung with gold chain for prosperity; heavy, wire-wrapped amethyst crystals supported by silver wire for psychic clarity; and jangly glass bells that, well, just annoyed me. "Did you want to buy one?"
"No, just admiring them."
I gave the next person in line an I'm-sorry-about-this-oddball-standing-in-your-way smile. She pursed her lips into a thin, disapproving line and glared at Marge. For a second, I thought she might give Marge a shove, but instead she thrust the book around her with an exaggerated sigh.
Glancing at the title, I suppressed a snarky smirk and explained to the lady that it would cost her $24.99 plus tax to find Inner Peace: The Tibetan Way.
Marge said, without preamble, "My grandmother was a Witch."
"Really?" I murmured politely.
"Yes," Marge said, apparently feeling emboldened by the merest hint of interest. "I'm FamTrad."
FamTrad was short for Family Tradition, which meant that she was a hereditary Witch and may have come from a long line of women who secretly kept the Old Religion alive after the Inquisition, or Burning Times. I had no problem with the first claim, but the second always raised my eyebrows a little. There is a lot of contention in the witchy community about the origin of our religion and whether it was made up in the twentieth century or if it has been practiced as is since some prehistoric matriarchy. I'd be happy with either answer, honestly, because it's my firm belief that all religions were made up at one time or another and just because something is new doesn't make it any less real or true.
I had no doubts that the power itself was old. I had Lilith in my belly, after all. It didn't matter to me, however, if She came to me because there was an unbroken method of practice since time immemorial or if the first modern Witch just happened to stumble on the key through meditation and good fortune. For me, what mattered was that it was real. It worked.
However, that breezy attitude can get me in a lot of trouble with hard-liners. So I just smiled and nodded at Marge.
Another customer frowned at Marge's back. This one must have been from out of town, because, without the customary midwestern hesitation, he actually said, "I've got a lot of stuff here, lady, can you move out of the way?"
Marge startled and took a step to one side. She mumbled an apology and gave me a sheepish look. I smiled kindly back. I knew she didn't mean any harm. Marge just seemed like one of those oblivious people who never seem to get the hint that it's time to go. I was about to be blunt with her about it, when she said, "I think in my past life I was Mata Hari."
It wasn't that I discounted the idea of past lives. I was more than certain that, like perennials in the spring, souls passed this way again. However, a little red flag always went up when people mentioned having lived the life of a famous, or infamous, person. The majority of us weren't kings or queens. If souls did recycle, then a vast percentage had spent their previous lives much as they do now: toiling through an unremarkable existence. Again, personally, I think that's perfectly wonderful. Even as a middle manager in the 1930s, a life lived is a worthy one, lessons can be learned and wisdom gained. You don't have to be Cleopatra to have been blessed.
Between this and the FamTrad stuff, all these outlandish declarations made me wonder what Marge felt she had to prove to me. I already knew she had power. Not only had she seen the poster I'd bespelled, but I'd sensed it flowing from her aura.
It was now about five minutes to close and there were still three people waiting to be helped. So I put on my kindest, most charming smile, looked Marge directly in the eyes, and said, "Listen, I'm sorry. I've really got to ask you to leave right now, but I'd love to hear all about it tonight, Marge."
And that was my fatal mistake.
Six hours later, I was cornered-literally pushed up between my bookshelf and the window-by Marge, who was, in point of fact, telling me all of her past-life sexual exploits in excruciating detail.
I eyed the pewter statue of Kali that sat within arm's reach on the second shelf. If Marge didn't stop talking soon, I planned to use it to bludgeon my way back into the middle of the room. Thing was, I hadn't had a chance to talk to anyone else tonight, and, worse, we were running out of lemonade.
The sun had gone down several hours ago, but it was still eighty-seven degrees. At least the breeze coming in off the lake through the open windows brought a little relief. My apartment was the upper floor of a creaky, old Victorian with wiring nearly as ancient as the plaster-and-lath walls, which meant no AC. Every time I tried to plug in an air conditioner, the breakers blew.
Strategically placed fans shifted the hot air around, and I had provided lots of pitchers of ice-cold lemonade to mitigate the heat-except now we were running precariously low.
"Hmm, mm-hmm," I muttered as Marge continued to regale me with her former prowess in bed. I had tuned Marge out the first time she mentioned cunnilingus, because while it might be nice to experience, it was not a word I found palatable when bandied about with impunity.
I tried to catch Sebastian's eye, but he was completely focused on a leggy, blond foreign exchange student named Blythe. She was a comparative religions major and a Londoner. Neither of them noticed me frantically trying to get their attention.
Marge seemed to notice my focus drifting. Her eyes darted to Blythe and Sebastian furtively, and then she'd blurt out something awkwardly embarrassing about sex and espionage. All the while, she twiddled with that dog pendant of hers.
Marge started explaining some Kama Sutra position the Mata Hari had found particularly useful, and I broke in, "I've been admiring your necklace. Where'd you get it?"
She stopped midsentence and looked down at the pendant between her fingers like she'd never seen it before in her life. "Uh, this?"
Marge at a loss for words-this was interesting. "Yeah. Is it Anubis? Is it magical?" I asked, knowing full well it was from my earlier aura scan. Still, I thought maybe I'd seen one on someone else here tonight and I wondered if it was associated with some local coven I didn't know about. "Do you think I should carry it in the store?"
"Oh no, you couldn't do that," she said quickly, as if I had suggested doing something rude to her grandmother. Her eyes flashed to Sebastian and Blythe and then to the floor. "It's just something silly and personal. It doesn't mean anything."
Marge just lied to me. I looked at Sebastian, who still only had eyes for Blythe. Why had Marge glanced at them? Was the dog some kind of symbol that involved Sebastian? Legend would have you believe that vampires can transform into wolves, but Sebastian always flatly denied he had the ability to change shape. He always started getting all nerdy whenever I brought it up, quoting laws of physics and the conservation of mass, whatever that was.
Could the pendant be another vampire's symbol? Was Marge a ghoul? "So," I said, trying to act like I was changing the subject when I really wasn't, "how'd you get interested in magic?"
"Uh, well, my family, you know," she stammered, taking a step backwards.
What was going on here? Most Witches loved talking about when they "came out of the broom closet" and how they discovered, or rediscovered, the Craft. Actually, the analogy with the gay and lesbian community was a good one. We often lived in a kind of secrecy in a world dominated by a religion not only very different from our own but which actively despised and misunderstood us. In safe places like a coven gathering, people tended to like to bond over "war stories" of growing up in a hostile environment.
"So you've always been a Witch," I prompted. Stepping forward, so Marge would have to move back. "What kind?"
William inserted himself smoothly into my advance, like that rescue I'd wanted ten minutes ago. "Hey, Garnet, you're out of lemonade. Do you have more you can make? Maybe in the fridge?"
"In a second," I said, but Marge had already fled into the crowd. "Damn."
William frowned. "Oh. Did I interrupt something?"
I shook my head. "No, it's fine. I'll talk to her about it later."
So, with William in tow, I refilled the lemonade and chips, and then went to check in on Sebastian. Or, at least, I tried to.
"Hey," I said, coming up to where Sebastian stood. Sebastian looked good despite the heat. Sebastian was cool and collected with his Old WorldÐstyle long hair tied back at the nape of his decidedly unsweaty neck.
Looking at him, I could hardly believe this amazing man had asked me to marry him only yesterday. He was wickedly handsome-long, straight, black hair; sharp aquiline nose; and the sculpted, graceful body of a dancer . . . or, more accurately, a predator.
Okay, so that last part shouldn't have been sexy, but it was. Sebastian had intense gold-brown eyes, not unlike that wolf I'd met on the road. It had been the first thing I'd noticed about him. I'd never met a real person who had an honest-to-Goddess "penetrating gaze," but Sebastian did. It was captivating.
That is, when he was looking at mewhich he wasn't right now.
Not at all.“Hallaway has a wonderful gift.”
“Tate Hallaway kept me on the edge of my seat...a thoroughly enjoyable read!”
“Curl up on the couch and settle in—Tall, Dark & Dead is a great way to pass an evening.”
Letter from Tate Hallaway
Do you ever have one of those days? Lately, Garnet Lacey's been having one of those lives.
First, she accidentally drew the violent, dark Goddess Lilith into herself when the Vatican witch hunters killed her coven. Then, after fleeing to Madison, Wisconsin to start a new life, Garnet's been tracked down by everything from those persistent witch hunters, who nearly killed her and her new vampire boyfriend, Sebastian; the FBI, who tried to arrest her for Lilith's crimes; and a zombie queen, who was...well, okay, that one was just plain weird.
Garnet thought she'd laid all her past problems to rest. In fact, things finally seem to be looking up for her.
She's starting negotiations to buy Mercury Crossing, the occult bookstore she's managed for years. Plus, she seriously thinks that now is the time to start a new coven. After all, not only has nothing strange crawled out of the woodwork in months, but Sebastian asked her to marry him!
That should have been Garnet's first clue that things are about to go wrongvery wrong.
Though Garnet is used to a fair amount of strange occurrences in her life, she doesn't expect her fiancé to disappear shortly after a steamy rendezvous. After Sebastian misses a gig at the Wisconsin herbalist society where he was meant to lecture on the occult properties of various common weeds, Garnet becomes seriously worried.
As if that isn't enough, Mátyás, Sebastian's half-vampire son who is cursed to be a perpetual teenager, shows up looking for dad. The last time Garnet saw Mátyás his Vatican friends shot her in the leg with a longbow. To say they don't get along would be an understatement, especially given Mátyás' tendency to refer to Garnet as "daddy's chew toy."
And now somethinga wolf or a coyote?which might also be that hot new coven member Micah Cloud, has been sniffing around. Garnet suspects Micah is entangled in Sebastian's disappearance. Of course, there was also that annoyingly beautiful religious studies major Sebastian was chatting up at the first coven meeting...
So did Sebastian just get cold feet, or is there something more sinister going on?
It appears, dear reader, Garnet is going to need all of Lilith's strength to find out. Stop by www.tatehallway.com to read an excerpt of the first chapter. Also, feel free to join me in my own daily craziness at tatehallaway.blogspot.com.
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