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Elle Adams

Anything Ghost: A Reaper Witch Mystery Book 8 (Paperback)

Anything Ghost: A Reaper Witch Mystery Book 8 (Paperback)

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Book 8 of 9: A Reaper Witch Mystery

Halloween is on the way, but Maura has other things on her mind than celebrations when the coven leader unexpectedly hires her to find a missing book that’s been stolen by one of her old enemies.

Before long, Maura is navigating her way between coven members concealing ugly secrets, police officers who’ve had enough of Reapers interfering in their business, and an unexpected phone call from a family member who Maura hasn’t spoken to in years. Soon it becomes clear that the secret she’s helped the local Reaper keep from the outside world is under threat of exposure - along with Hawkwood Hollow itself.

Maura has no intention of betraying all the ghosts she’s befriended to the Reaper Council, but with her enemies multiplying and her loved ones under threat, she finds herself struggling to fight the battle alone.

Can Maura get the book back into the right hands before Hawkwood Hollow’s tragic history repeats itself?

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“This is a bad idea,” my ghostly brother, Mart, whispered in my ear.

“I’m aware.” 

I pushed my foot down into the river, trying to suppress a shudder of discomfort as the cold water flowed over the top of my boot. Then I did the same with the other foot and took careful steps forward until I stood amid the gushing current. October wasn’t the best time to wade into a river that was deadly on a good day, but this was the first time since summer that the water levels were low enough to risk going in search of the tunnel again.

Biting my tongue to avoid focusing on the ongoing chill of the water soaking into my socks, I followed the bank of the river towards the bridge that connected one side of Hawkwood Hollow to the other. As I craned my neck to see into the shadows under the bridge where I knew the tunnel was located, Mart came floating past, his transparent feet skimming the water.

“It’s still covered,” he announced.

“Partly.” I could see the hole in the ground that led to the tunnel above the lapping waters, and while the notion of crawling into the tunnel after nearly drowning a few weeks ago was unappealing, I’d been waiting for this moment for what felt like forever.

“Maura,” said a voice from the bridge, “what are you doing?”

Jia. I’d hoped my co-worker wouldn’t notice my little excursion, but there she was, peering down from above, her straight dark hair blowing sideways in the breeze.

“Just having a look around,” I called up to her. “The water level is down. I can see the underside of the bridge again.”

“You aren’t going in there, are you?” She ran to the other side of the bridge and began to make her way down the slope of the riverbank to join me. “Maura?”

“I’m not,” I said ineffectually. “I’m looking.”

“Of course you are.” She reached the edge of the bank and placed her hands on her hips. “Maura, do you not remember the last time?”

“With all too much clarity.” Thanks to a spell someone had carved into the tunnel walls, my Reaper powers had been cut off, preventing me from getting out. I’d almost died. “Nobody’s been in there since the last time. They won’t have had time to put up any more anti-Reaper defences.”

Reapers were normally indestructible by nature. Collecting the souls of the dead and delivering them to the afterlife wasn’t a job any old human could do, and to do that job, we needed to be able to get into places where normal people couldn’t survive. Someone, however, had tried to find a way around those rules—someone closely tied to the reason I’d needed to get into the tunnel in the first place.

“Still.” Jia peered over the bank’s edge, her mouth tight with concern. “It’s dangerous. There’s no telling what other defences were put in there by whoever created the tunnel to stop anyone going snooping.”

No kidding. The tunnel was just one part of my plan to investigate the misdeeds of Mina Devlin, former leader of Hawkwood Hollow’s sole witch coven, who’d been responsible for countless crimes over her decades of leadership. Unfortunately, she’d been equally adept at hiding said crimes by covering up all the evidence. None of us had guessed that a massive clue lay right beneath our feet, covered by earth and floodwater. No one knew about the tunnel but her followers, one of whom had been responsible for trying to drown me, and I had every intention of finding out which one.

“I can go snooping instead,” Mart announced. “I’m not afraid of a bit of water.” 

“You’re volunteering?” I asked in surprise. Mart was usually a pain to negotiate with. He wanted payment in exchange for doing me any favours, which generally took the form of hot showers because my brother was the weirdest ghost in existence.

“Obviously not for free,” he said, “but I’m not pulling your drowned body out of the river again.”

Oh. Right. When I’d nearly drowned, it would have spelled the end for my brother as well. In complete defiance of the Reapers’ rules and the reason I’d left their ranks, Mart’s ghost was tethered to me, which meant when I died, he’d be pulled into the permanent afterlife along with me. “What do you want in exchange? I’m pretty sure you have the monopoly on our choices of movie-night entertainment for the next decade already.”

“And there are only so many showers you can take before Allie’s hot water bills go through the roof,” said Jia.

“Don’t give him ideas.” I gave Mart an expectant look. “Well?”

“If I do this for you,” he said, “you have to give me a leading role in the Halloween event.”

“That’s up to Carey, not me, but fine.” In truth, I’d already planned to give him centre stage in our biggest event of the year. He might be insufferable sometimes, but he liked nothing more than attention, and the big Halloween extravaganza would provide a sizeable audience for his antics.

“Good.” Mart flew into the darkness under the bridge and vanished through the half-submerged tunnel opening.

Jia and I watched him for a moment before she turned and eyed me. “Your face is turning blue, Maura.”

“It’s bloody freezing in here.” I didn’t want to let the tunnel opening out of my sight, nor did I like thinking of my brother being alone, surrounded by those narrow walls and slimy floors, covered in the old bones of the long dead and the etched glyphs of deadly magic.

Several minutes later, Mart emerged, shaking himself off as if he were soaking wet and not me. “Well, that was boring.”

“What do you mean?” I climbed out of the river, shivering, and took Jia’s proffered hand to climb up the muddy bank.

“There’s nothing in there that I could see.” He easily glided up to join us. “Aside from the markings on the walls, but if they’re designed to react to trespassers, ghosts don’t count.”

“Any… bodies?” I faltered.

“Bones, yes. Old ones.”

Figures. The bodies wouldn’t be identifiable, since they were most likely victims of the flood that occurred more than two decades ago. Because one of the victims had been the local Reaper’s apprentice, the Reaper had resigned from his job, which was the reason the town was full of more ghosts than the average place. Then I’d shown up and caused him to reluctantly admit that the real culprit of the floods was none other than Mina Devlin.

Not that I’d told anyone that. There never seemed to be a good time to bring up the subject, and as I hadn’t lived here twenty years ago when the river had burst its banks, explaining how I knew would result in putting a spotlight on the notoriously surly local Reaper. Also, certain police officers looked askance at anything other than hard evidence. Ghost testimony didn’t count, supposedly, and none of them could recall the events of the flood regardless. Mina had seen to that.

“Creepy,” said Jia. “Did you see any hints at which sneaky person tried to drown Maura?”

“Nope,” Mart replied. “If you ask me, we should set up an ambush in case they decide to come back to resume their shenanigans.”

Hmm. Who was it? It didn’t necessarily matter; Mina had a large number of allies, some of whom had left Hawkwood Hollow and some of whom might still be here, for all I knew. The trouble was that nobody would outright admit to being one of her supporters.

The sound of approaching footsteps came from the bridge, followed by a snide voice. “What are you two doing down there?”

Suppressing a groan, I lifted my head. On the bridge stood my least favourite police officer, Petra. Her blond hair fell in curtains on either side of her stern face as she regarded us with the look of a headmistress who’d cornered a couple of misbehaving pupils smoking behind the bike shed. 

“Nothing whatsoever,” Jia answered, which was technically true. “What’re you doing here?”

“That’s no way to talk to an officer of the law,” Petra said haughtily. “It looks to me like you’re trespassing.”

“Trespassing?” I echoed. “Does someone own the riverbank now?”

“I’d have thought you’d be more careful, Reaper,” she said. “That tunnel is dangerous, and it’s also off-limits to the public. I thought I made that clear to you after the incident a few weeks ago.”

Had she? She might have said something to that effect, but I’d been too out of it to pay her much attention.

“The tunnel’s still flooded,” I told her. “You can look for yourself. We haven’t set foot in there, so there’s not going to be anything for you to find.”

“If that’s the case, why are you here?”

Mart blew a raspberry at her. It was probably for the best that she had no ability to see or hear ghosts, though if she did, she might have taken me a bit more seriously. 

“I do live here, remember?” I pointed behind me at the Riverside Inn, farther up the slope. “I saw the water levels were lower and wanted to make sure nobody was making trouble in there.”

“That is up to the police, not you,” Petra said. “You’re a known troublemaker yourself, Reaper. Now, leave.”

“That wasn’t nice,” said Mart. “Maybe we should push her into the river.”

Please don’t. From his grin, he’d figured out what I was thinking, though we weren’t speaking mind to mind as we’d done weeks ago in the tunnel. That had been a link forged out of desperation. I still wasn’t sure how to replicate it—or if I wanted to. I didn’t need to hear my brother’s thoughts any more than he needed to hear mine. 

“Fine,” I said to Petra. “Let me know if you need me to banish anything nasty you might find in there.”

I left before she could reply, reasonably sure that she’d sooner let a zombie strangle her to death than ask for my help. I was pretty sure she’d gone as far as to call the Wardens a few weeks ago to get me kicked out of town, and while the Wardens and I had ended up working together, that didn’t change the fact that someone among the local law enforcement didn’t want a Reaper butting into police business. Never mind that I’d helped the police on more than one occasion. I was also dating the head of the local police force, Drew, who wasn’t too happy that one of his officers was willing to go to any lengths to discredit me. But if he pushed too far, his own position would be in jeopardy.

“I bet the other officers won’t stand for it,” Jia remarked to me as we turned our backs on the river. “Would they like hanging around outside in the cold to guard a tunnel nobody can get into?”

“You’d think not.” I used my wand to dry myself before walking the rest of the way to the Riverside Inn, where Jia and I worked. The inn was also my home, which was another reason I hoped the police wouldn’t take up residence outside its doors. “I’ll call Drew and make sure he knows.”

An array of Halloween decorations greeted us inside the restaurant that stood adjacent to the inn itself, connected to the lobby by a set of automatic doors. Carey had been adding new decorations every day since October had begun, with the result that there was hardly an inch of wall that wasn’t plastered in faux horror-movie posters while most of the corners were full of fake spiderwebs and other paraphernalia. Mart’s favourite was the inflatable pumpkin, which he liked to wear on his head while parading in front of our guests on our twice-weekly ghost tours.

Our major event would be on the final day of October itself, and given the rate at which Carey’s enthusiasm kept increasing, I was a little concerned that I’d wake up one morning to find that she’d hired a plethora of actors to dress as zombies for the night or something. She was already trying to convince Jia and me to dress up for the occasion, though I drew the line at wearing a black cloak and carrying a rubber scythe. 

At least she was having fun. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Halloween myself—or Samhain, as the witches called it—as it was the one night of the year when the barriers between the earth and the afterworld were thin enough that ghosts who weren’t usually able to show their faces could cross over. As if I didn’t see enough ghosts already. Until this year, my plans for Samhain had generally involved taking a sleeping pill and passing out while Mart partied with the other ghosts who came back for the night, but I doubted Carey would let me get away with skipping out on the inn’s biggest event of the year.

Allie smiled when she saw Jia and me walk into the restaurant. She’d added pumpkin-shaped clips to her glasses, and the hat perched atop her grey-streaked dark hair was adorned with spiderwebs. “There you two are. Ready for the tour tonight?”

“Sure.” At this point, our regular tour routine was old hat. It was Halloween that we needed to be prepared for. “Is Carey?”

“Yes, though I have to keep reminding her it isn’t Halloween yet,” said Allie. “She needs to save some of her energy for then.”

“Pretty sure she has plenty going spare.” I envied Carey’s ebullience sometimes, not to mention her teenage ability to forego sleep to work on last-minute preparations and not look like a walking zombie, as I generally did. 

The inn’s resident ghosts were equally excited for the big night. As Jia and I prepared for our shift, we watched Jonathan, our resident expert in conjuring up creepy shadows, practising an imitation of a spider crawling up the wall. Brian, whose ability to freeze water saved our need for an ice-cube dispenser, also watched Jonathan. I assumed Wade and Louise were in the games room watching TV. The older couple, who teamed up to create spooky effects for our guests using doors and lighting, had sort of adopted the youngest ghost, Vicky, which was adorable. Vicky herself was our guests’ current favourite ghost, much to Mart’s eternal annoyance, and I suspected his plan to take a starring role on Halloween events was part of his ongoing attempt to claim the top spot for himself.  

Soon enough, Jia and I were busy serving customers who wanted a taste of our seasonal menu. Carey had updated every drink and snack for the month with a new twist, and I was adding pumpkin-shaped sprinkles to yet another latte when Jia made a sudden noise of surprise and dropped the spoon she was holding. “What’s she doing here?”

“Who?” I raised my head to see Jennifer Ness, the current Hawkwood Hollow coven leader, crossing the room with a determined air. Weird. I handed off the latte to the customer and waited for her to approach. Jennifer had never come to the inn before. I’d gotten the impression that the restaurant wasn’t really her scene, and the witches in general had avoided the place ever since I’d ousted Mina Devlin from her position. The well-dressed coven leader with her elaborately styled hair looked decidedly out of place amid the garish posters and pumpkins. 

“This is a bit much, isn’t it?” she remarked.

“Hey, don’t knock Carey’s decorations,” Jia said, her tone carefully neutral. “She’s fifteen. Anyway, what d’you want, a latte?”

“No, I’d like to talk to Maura.”

“Really?” It was my turn to tense. “How exactly can I help you?”

She looked me in the eyes. “I have a task that I think only you can help me with. It’s urgent.”

Oh boy.

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