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One Grave at a Time

(The sixth book in the Night Huntress series)

A novel by Jeaniene Frost

Dedication

For my grandmother, Kathleen.

Though you are no longer with us,

you are no less loved.

Author’s Note

The Malleus Maleficarum, or Hammer of Witches, is a real book written by Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger (though some scholars suggest Sprenger’s contribution was more ceremonial than authorial). For the purposes of my plot, however, I chose to credit the creation of the Malleus Maleficarum to only one author, Heinrich Kramer. Jacob Sprenger, you got off lucky this time.

Prologue

Lasting Peace Cemetery

Garland, Texas

“Donald Bartholomew Williams, get your ass back here now!”

My bellow still hung in the air when movement drew my gaze to the right. Just behind a headstone shaped like a small, weeping angel stood my uncle. Don stared at me as he tugged on his eyebrow in a way that expressed his discomfort more eloquently than a litany of words. In his suit and tie, gray hair combed back in its usual impeccable style, Don would look like your average middle-aged businessman to anyone observing him, except for one thing. You had to be undead or a psychic to be able to see him.

Don Williams, former head of a covert branch of Homeland Security that guarded the public against rogue supernatural creatures, had died ten days ago. Yet there he stood. A ghost.

I’d sobbed at his bedside when that fatal heart attack struck, seen to his cremation afterward, been like a zombie at his wake, and even brought his ashes back to my home so I could keep him near me. Little did I know how near to me Don had actually been, considering all those times I’d thought I caught sight of him out of the corner of my eye. I’d chalked up those brief glimpses of my uncle to nothing more than grief- induced mirages until five minutes ago, when I realized my husband, Bones, could see him, too. Even though we were in the middle of a cemetery that still had bodies strewn about from a recent battle, and I had silver bullets burning inside me like agonizing little bonfires, all I could focus on was that Don hadn’t wanted me to know that he was still grave-side up.

My uncle looked none too pleased that I’d discovered his secret. Part of me wanted to throw my arms around him while another part wanted to shake him until his teeth rattled. He should have told me, not skulked in the background playing a phantomish version of peekaboo! Of course, despite my dual urges, I could neither shake nor hug Don now. My hands would slip right through his newly diaphanous form, and likewise, my uncle couldn’t touch anything—or anyone—corporeal anymore. So all I could do was stare at him, battling confusion, joy, and disbelief combined with some irritation at his deception.

“Aren’t you going to say anything?” I finally asked.

His gray gaze flicked a few feet beyond me. I didn’t need to turn around to know that Bones had come up behind me. Since he’d changed me from a half-breed into a full vampire, I could feel Bones like our auras were supernaturally intertwined. Which they were, I supposed. I still didn’t know everything about what made up the connection between vampires and their sires. All I knew was that it existed, and it was powerful. Unless he shielded himself, I could sense Bones’s feelings as though they were a continuous stream threaded into my psyche.

That’s how I knew Bones was a lot more in control than I was. His initial shock at discovering Don as a ghost had given way to guarded contemplation. I, on the other hand, still felt like my emotions were in a whirlwind. Bones drew even with me, his dark brown gaze on my uncle.

“You see that she is safe,” Bones stated, an English accent coloring his words. “We stopped Apollyon, so ghouls and vampires are at peace once more. You can go in peace. All is well.”

Understanding bloomed along with a spurt of heart-wrenching emotion. Was that why my uncle hadn’t “crossed over” like he should have? Probably. Don was even more of a control freak than I was, and though he’d rejected my repeated offers to cure his cancer by becoming a vampire, maybe he’d been too worried about the brewing undead hostilities to let go entirely when he died. I’d seen at least one ghost stay on long enough to ensure the safety of a loved one. Making sure I’d survived this battle and protected humanity by preventing a clash between vampires and ghouls was no doubt the anchor that had held Don here, but now, like Bones said, he could go.

I blinked past the sudden moisture in my gaze. “He’s right,” I said, my voice rasping. “I’ll always love and miss you, but you’re . . . you’ve got somewhere else to be now, don’t you?”

My uncle gazed at both of us, his expression somber. Even though he didn’t have actual lungs anymore, it sounded like he let out a slow, relieved breath.

“Goodbye, Cat,” he said, the first words he’d spoken to me since the day he died. Then the air around him became hazy, blurring his features and obscuring his outline. I reached for Bones’s hand, feeling his strong fingers curling around mine with a comforting squeeze. At least Don wasn’t in pain like the last time I’d had to say goodbye to him. I tried to smile as my uncle’s image faded entirely, but grief hit me in a fresh wave. Knowing he was going on to where he belonged didn’t mean the ache of losing him went away.

Bones waited several moments after Don vanished before turning to me.

“Kitten, I know it’s wretched timing, but we still have things we must do. Like getting those bullets out of you, removing the bodies—”

“Oh shit,” I whispered.

Don appeared behind Bones while he was talking. A fierce scowl darkened my uncle’s features, and he waved his arms in an uncharacteristic display of emotional excess.

“Does anyone want to explain why the hell I can’t seem to leave?”

One

I crumpled up the invoice in front of me, not throwing it away only because it wasn’t the minister’s fault that burying Don’s ashes in hallowed ground didn’t do jack toward sending my uncle to the Great Beyond. We’d now tried everything that our friends—alive, undead, or otherwise—had suggested to get my uncle to cross from this plane to the next one. None of it worked, as evidenced by Don pacing next to me, his feet not quite touching the floor.

His frustration was understandable. When you died, unless that was just a precursor to changing into a vampire or ghoul, you rather expected not to be stuck on earth anymore. Yeah, I’d been around ghosts before—a lot lately—but considering the number of people who died compared to the number of

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