Home > How to Break an Undead Heart (The Beginner's Guide to Necromancy #3)

How to Break an Undead Heart (The Beginner's Guide to Necromancy #3)
Author: Hailey Edwards

One

Thirteen nights into my new roommate situation had illuminated the myriad ways being an only child had not prepared me for having a live-in best friend. On Maud’s orders, sleepovers had been restricted to one night per week when we were kids. Goddess, how I hated that rule. Each time I walked Amelie home, I vowed to Hecate that she and I would live together forever after we were grown.

No bedtimes. No rules. No parents.

Chocolate in all its various, glorious forms for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Thirty-one flavors of ice cream for brunch. Pie for linner. Cake for dunch. Basically, I envisioned adulthood as one never-ending sugar high.

But what I hadn’t pictured was my Type A bestie padding around Woolworth House in boy-short panties paired with mismatched tank tops stained by chocolate milk dribbles, her hair a bird’s nest tangled at her nape, her teeth fuzzier than my socks. Or the all-cereal diet she had adopted, though I admired her dedication to marshmallowism. Or the bathing-optional clause she seemed to have penciled into her temporary lease. Or the stalking. The stalking was the worst.

Odette had a cat once, a familiar as old as the sand I tracked into her house, and it trailed her everywhere, including the bathroom. Once or twice while I was visiting, Jean-Claude would miss his cue and end up on the wrong side of the door. When that happened, he wedged his nose in the crack where the door met the frame and yowled to get in like his world was ending. But if anyone approached him to offer sympathy, he would whirl on them, hissing and spitting.

That was post-disownment Amelie in a nutshell.

Only, she was so much worse because thumbs.

When I was home, she walked a step behind me, her toes brushing my heels. When I left, she pressed her nose to the glass, her breath fogging the pane as she clocked my trips through the garden, across the lawn, or down the driveway.

Coming home was worse. Amelie waited for me in the foyer, foot tapping, arms crossed over her chest. She was ten times the nag Woolly had ever been, and even the old house was starting to fray under the constant strain of having Amelie pacing her floors night in, night out.

But what else could I do? I had ponied up the cash for the $3.5 million indenture she owed the Society for the crimes she committed during her voluntary possession by the dybbuk Ambrose, but the mandatory six-month sentence she was required to serve as a member of my household as a result of that transaction was immutable.

As far as the Society was concerned, I owned her and the rights to any services she provided during that period of time. As far as I was concerned, I had one hundred and seventy days and change to rehab Amelie before releasing her from her bond to carve out a life from the wreckage of her previous one.

A tentative knock drew me from my gloomy thoughts.

Shuffling out of the kitchen, I left Amelie shoveling in her first bowl of mini marshmallows and toasted oat cereal of the night. I hesitated in the foyer, hand on the knob, and glanced overhead at the elegant chandelier. “Well, girl? What do you think? Do I answer, or do I pretend I’m not home?”

“I can hear you,” a woman replied primly, her voice muffled through the heavy wood.

The crystals tinkled with laughter at my expense.

Me and my big mouth.

The door swung open to reveal a young woman, maybe a year or two older than me, with wavy chestnut hair that brushed her narrow shoulders. Her wide, hazel eyes belonged on an anime character. High cheekbones gave her face a familiar shape, as did her thin lips and the severe point of her tiny chin.

Her smart black pantsuit smacked of taste and money, old money, and the frugal application of jewelry made a statement. Something along the lines of I might only be wearing one ring, but I could sell it and pay off your mortgage. The diamond perched on her left hand’s ring finger might as well have been a grape. The glare nearly blinded me when she tucked her hair behind her ear. I had seen dimmer runway lights at airports. There was also the telltale hum of necromantic power haloing her. Now that I was paying attention, I sensed it through my bond with Woolly.

Crocodile tears sparkled in her eyes as she launched herself at me. “Oh, Grier.”

Woolly, who was not a fan of strangers bum-rushing her threshold, flung up a transparent barrier that sealed the doorway. The woman bounced off the compressed air before her outstretched fingertips brushed my arm, and she hit the porch on her butt with an unladylike grunt.

With her hands cupping a button nose she may or may not have been born with, her voice came out stuffy. “W-w-what was that?”

“Who are you?” I really hoped Woolly hadn’t broken her nose, plastic or not. At this rate, she was going to get a reputation. “Why did you try to attack me?”

“Attack you?” she echoed, lowering her hands to reveal her reddened schnoz. “I was going to hug you.”

“Oh.” Random tackle-hugs might even be more sinister coming from strangers than candy, if I’m being honest. “In that case—” I leaned against the doorframe. “Who are you?” The stubborn jut of her chin struck me as familiar. “Why did you try to hug me?”

“I’m Eloise Marchand.” She rose with a wobble on her kitten heels then straightened her clothes. “I’m your cousin.”

The lights overhead flickered in shocked bursts that matched the wild flutterings in my chest.

Dame Severine Marchand, the Marchand family matriarch, had disowned my mother, Evangeline, on the day I was born. Mom had refused to reveal my father’s name when asked, and Dame Marchand had severed all ties with her youngest daughter rather than risk a potential scandal over my paternity.

Eloise’s arrival might herald the extending of an olive branch, but I had been excised from their family tree before my first cry rang out through the world. Blood or no blood, I was a Woolworth, and this woman was no relation of mine.

“I heard voices.” Amelie appeared at my shoulder, a spoon fisted in her hand like she knew how to use it. Which, considering the number of empty cereal boxes in the trash can, she did, but I doubted it would do her much good here unless she planned on scooping out Eloise’s eyeballs. “Introduce us?”

“This is Eloise Marchand.” I gestured toward the High Society poster girl. “My cousin.”

“What are you doing here?” Amelie demanded, knuckles gone white. “What do you want with Grier?”

A delicate frown gathered between Eloise’s brows. “I’m family—”

“No, you’re really not.” Abandonment issues, I had them. “Try again.”

“I was three years old when Grandmother disowned Aunt Evangeline,” she said, proving me right about our age gap. “You can’t hold me responsible for the decisions she made for us all.”

Amelie flinched in my periphery, her wounds in that area much rawer than mine.

“I thought you were dead,” Eloise continued. “Our histories record you as stillborn.”

Interesting that I rated a mention at all when disownment was meant to cleanse Mom from their annals.

Less interesting was learning the Marchands had decided I was literally dead to them.

“Why show up now?” That was the million-dollar question. “How did you find out I was alive?”

“Odette Lecomte,” she whispered, reverence for the famed seer stealing her voice.

“Odette told you?” Skeptical as I was that she would pin my private business to the family bulletin board, I had begged a favor of her. While gaining entree to Dame Marchand, she might have made a few more discreet inquiries along the way. “What did she say?

“No, it was nothing like that.” Eloise flapped her hands at the notion Odette might speak directly to her. I worried she might knock herself unconscious if that rock on her finger clipped her. “I’m a practitioner. I’m training under Grandmother at the family firm.”

An unexpected pang hit me at the glimpse of yet another stolen future, one where I worked alongside a cousin, groomed by our maternal grandmother to take my place in the family business as a practitioner.

“She was supervising while I prepped the conference room for a new client meeting,” Eloise explained. “When the receptionist patched a call through, we assumed it was the client. He was nervous about our suggestion he consider inducing death in order to jumpstart the resuscitation process. He was a high-profile client and required…special handling.”

Inductions, ending human lives in their prime to raise vampires in peak condition, cost extra. “And?”

“I overheard Madame Lecomte mention Aunt Evangeline before Grandmother muted the call and sent me home for the day.” Her cheeks reddened. “I was curious why Madame Lecomte would call and drop your mother’s name.” She ducked her head. “Our mothers were twins, you see, and that bond has always fascinated me. Our family has multiple instances of fraternals whose magic—”

“Twins?” A peculiar ringing started in my ears. “No one told me.”

A heady truth swirled through me and left me weaving on my feet. Can I see a picture? That’s all I had to ask. One question, and she could show me a glimpse of Mom. No, not Mom. One of her possible futures. The hair, the makeup, the clothes, the expression—no matter how similar—belonged to someone else.

On the spot, I decided I never wanted to meet my aunt. I don’t think my heart could take seeing her.

“Mom sided with the family after the disownment,” she said, picking her manicured fingernails. “To my knowledge, she never saw or spoke to her sister again but…”

“She regretted turning her back on family,” I finished for her.

“Yes.”

“And you hoped that fence might be mended through you and I?”

“Yes,” she replied, slower this time. “After Madame Lecomte called, I scoured the family archives and discovered she lives in Savannah. A section of her file was dedicated to her friendship with your mother and Maud Woolworth.” She gnawed her bottom lip. “When I noticed the former Dame Woolworth also lived in Savannah, I followed up on a hunch, and I found you.”

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