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Emma L Adams

Ghost and Found: A Reaper Witch Mystery Book 4 (Paperback)

Ghost and Found: A Reaper Witch Mystery Book 4 (Paperback)

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Book 4 of 9: A Reaper Witch Mystery

Welcome to Hawkwood Hollow, where the dead outnumber the living.

Life as a ghost-hunting witch is never dull. When Maura's date with Detective Drew Gardener is cut short after the body of a shifter shows up in a local park, she finds herself tasked with finding the shifter's ghost. Unfortunately, things are never that simple.

First the shifter's ghost doesn't show up. Then Maura finds herself in charge of training a new co-worker at the inn as well as helping the local ghosts with their various problems. With tensions rising among factions of the local werewolf pack, this isn't the best time for Maura to get involved in solving a murder, too… especially as the pack has no confidence in her ability to help them.

As the plot thickens, Drew's life ends up under threat, and Maura refuses to back down. The slight issue is that her Reaper powers are acting up, and she's starting to worry that her early retirement will end in an early grave.

Can Maura fix the situation and catch a killer, or will the next ghost she sees be her own?

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Ghosts really did have the worst sense of timing. I was on my way to a date with Drew Gardener when the spirit of a young man began to follow me down the darkening road. The ghost wore a mournful expression that put me in mind of a lost puppy, which might have worked if I hadn’t seen it a million times before. 

Running into these situations was inevitable in a town like Hawkwood Hollow, which contained more ghosts than living people, but I was supposed to be going on a date, not running errands for spirits. With the short skirt and heeled boots I’d picked to wear, I wouldn’t be doing much running anyway. 

When the ghost inevitably floated directly into my path, I sidestepped him. “I’m a little busy here.”

“I need your help,” the ghost said, undeterred. “Can you please take a message to my wife? I’ve been waiting forever for someone to finally see me.”

“How long have you been waiting, exactly?”

“Seven years.”

“Then you can wait a little longer.” Unfair, maybe, but this was my first shot at a serious date with the detective in weeks, and I refused to let anyone derail me, living or dead.

“I can offer you something in return.” He drifted along behind me. “I can help you get where you’re going.”

“No thanks.” 

I’d never been to the shifters’ part of town before, but asking for directions from a lost spirit was a great way to end up at the bottom of the river. I’d barely managed to shake off the ghost of my twin brother, Mart, whose annoying habit of offering a constant commentary on my decisions was not something I wanted in my dating life. Considering it’d been a long time since I’d had a dating life, and Drew couldn’t see ghosts himself, he didn’t need to endure me spending the evening conversing with the dead.

In any case, my rejection worked. The ghost sadly drifted away, while I turned left down the darkening street and kept both eyes open for the park that marked the boundary of the shifters’ part of town. Drew had texted me directions, but there was a surprising lack of working street lamps in this part of town, and someone had helpfully removed all the nearby road signs. A moon-drunk werewolf, maybe. Thick bushes bordered the roads, and patches of woodland filled the spaces between houses, providing plenty of room for young shifters to run and for older shifters to blow off steam.

Since werewolves lost their clothes when they shifted, it was probably better for all of us that they had some semblance of cover, but the result was that the park was awash in darkness as pitch-black as the afterworld. The signpost marking the park’s entrance loomed ahead of me, but it was too dark to read the words imprinted on it. I pulled out my phone and checked Drew’s message. He’d told me to meet him at the east entrance, but it was beyond me to figure out if this was the right one. The park had at least a dozen ways in and out, and that was if you discounted the fences that most werewolves simply climbed over anyway. Tricky.

I waited for five minutes before entering the park and following the path around the exterior, figuring that as long as I stuck to the right side of the park, I was bound to run into Drew at some point. Dense bushes bordered the path to either side of me, and each small noise made me tense up. Ghosts I could deal with, but I wasn’t sure non-shifters were strictly welcome in this park, and werewolves were generally the strike-first-ask-questions-later type. 

As I reached the next entrance, a head popped up out of the bushes, making me jump. Instinctively, I reached for my Reaper powers, shadows filling my hands. That had the unfortunate side effect of making the darkness even more absolute, and consequently, I hadn’t taken more than a step before I tripped, my heeled boots sending me headfirst into the bushes and on top of the intruder who’d given me such a fright.

Not a ghost but a living person, who yelped, “Mercy!” 

I disentangled myself from the stranger and stumbled out of the bushes, willing the shadows to subside. “Sorry, you startled me.”

A young woman straightened upright, clutching a pair of what appeared to be binoculars. “I’m Belinda Jennings. I was stargazing.”

“In the shifters’ park?”

She didn’t look like a werewolf. Short and slight, she wore her dark hair in pigtails, which made her look barely out of her teens, if that.

“Yes, the stars are very bright from here. Look.” She held out her binoculars in demonstration. 

Nonplussed, I found that the lenses were covered in some kind of dark fabric dotted with white splotches, like a child’s drawing of the night sky. In the real world, the trees were too thick and the clouds too dense to see the stars or moon, but I was at a loss as to whether she could see anything through the binoculars either. 

“I’ll take your word for it.” I handed them back. “Might want to look a bit closer to Earth in future in case anyone else trips over you.”

“I saw you coming, you know.”

Okay… “Can you actually see through those things?”

“Oh, not with my eyes.” She gave a high-pitched laugh. “I saw the future. I knew you were going to walk into me almost a minute before you did.”

“Wouldn’t you have known I was coming anyway, if you were looking in my direction instead of at the sky?” I’d never had much patience with people who claimed to see the future, magical or not, and if she was a genuine Seer, I was a unicorn. On the other hand… “I don’t suppose you’ve seen a werewolf on the path in the last few minutes?”

“Yes, lots of them,” she said. “There are always werewolves in here.”

Probably because you’re standing in their park. She wasn’t a shifter herself, since most Seers were witches, but I doubted she could see further than the end of her nose, and even that was debatable, considering those binoculars of hers. 

“I meant specifically on this path and within the last five minutes. Or ten.” Drew was a little late, but it was entirely possible I’d picked the wrong entrance, and he was on the other side of the park. “I’m supposed to be meeting someone here.”

“Oh, don’t do that,” she said. “This isn’t the place to be. There is an ill omen in the air. Can’t you sense it?”

All right. I’d had about enough of listening to her nonsense. “Believe me, I don’t plan on sticking around.”

I left her standing in the bushes and walked the rest of the way to the next entrance. There, to my relief, I spotted Drew waiting on the other side of the path, concealed from sight by the shadow of a large tree.

“There you are.” I trekked towards him. “Next time, I think we should pick a meeting place with more lights.”

“Hey.” The blond werewolf’s handsome face was a welcome sight, and so was the kiss he planted on my cheek when I caught him up. “I didn’t think it was that confusing to navigate.”

“Not all of us have great night vision.”

He raised a brow. “I thought that’d be an advantage for a Reaper.”

“I can navigate my own shadows just fine, but they generally don’t have werewolves lurking in them.”

“I’d hope not.” 

Joking aside, I’d been starting to worry that I’d picked the wrong route altogether and unintentionally trespassed on the ground of one of the notoriously territorial factions of the local werewolf pack. Drew had seemed insistent that not being a werewolf meant I wouldn’t be at risk of that, but being jumped by a pack of wolves was not how I wanted to spend my date night.

“I’ll keep that in mind in future,” he said. “So… are you ready to meet some of the locals?”

“Erm…” I hoped so, but I was always wary of meeting new paranormals who’d only heard of me by reputation alone. And boy, did I have one. “Provided no ghosts show up, yes.” 

“That’s unlikely,” he said. “Most shifters can’t see ghosts, so I can’t imagine they’d get much entertainment over here.”

“True,” I acknowledged. “I met one on the way here, but I sent him packing.”

“And your brother?”

“He stayed behind.”

“Good,” he said. “I’d rather keep this date between the two of us.”

My heart flipped over, and then my ears pricked up when rustling came from the nearby bushes. Noticing too, Drew followed Belinda Jennings’s progress as she waded through the bushes as if there wasn’t a perfectly serviceable footpath nearby. “Who’s that?” 

“I ran into her on the way in,” I replied in an undertone. “She said she’s stargazing and that she can see into the future.”

Drew watched her trip over a bramble and fall into a tangled heap. “Looks like she’s having trouble seeing into the present.”

“You aren’t wrong, but I tripped over her in the bushes while looking for you.”

“Maybe I should wear a flashing light on my head next time. Or carry a sign with your name on it.”

“Oi, watch it, you.” I grinned despite myself, falling into the same easy banter which came naturally between the two of us. “My eyesight isn’t that bad. At least I’m not trying to see the night sky through a pair of binoculars with the lenses covered.”

“That’s what she’s doing?” He laughed under his breath. “Maura, I don’t think you need to run into ghosts to attract trouble. You find weirdos without even trying.”

“Ha ha.” 

Talking to Drew was easy enough that I sometimes forgot how relatively recently we’d met. In fact, we hadn’t exactly given one another the best of first impressions, since I’d been trying to evacuate an unwanted ghost from an old house and he’d been the detective investigating the ghost’s death. Naturally, he’d thought I was a troublemaker, which wasn’t precisely wrong, but we’d managed to reconcile our differences, and here we were.

“How’s work?” he asked.

“Good,” I said. “Busy as usual, but we have another potential staff member coming for a trial tomorrow, and Allie seems pretty confident that this one’ll stick.”

“I hope she’s right.”

I had to admit I wasn’t feeling her optimism. Our last bartender had gone to jail for murder, and we’d had trouble finding a replacement, partly because I’d also ticked off the local witch coven when I’d driven their former leader out of town for attempting to cover up the murders in question. As a result, a good portion of the town’s witches wanted nothing to do with me out of principle, and we’d been left with a grand total of three staff members to work at the inn’s restaurant, one of whom was a fifteen-year-old who was at school most of the time. 

Really, it was no wonder that I’d had precious few hours to set aside for dating the town’s chief of police, who had a busy enough schedule of his own.

“So how’s the pack?” I asked in an attempt to change the subject. “Still trying your patience?”

“That’s one way of putting it,” he said. “The pack is divided into several factions, and I can guarantee that at least two of them are arguing at any given time. Things have been a little tense lately, since the pack chief’s youngest daughter was supposed to be marrying the son of a former rival this weekend. I say supposed to because she got cold feet at the last minute, and now she says she’s not going through with it.”

“Fun.” Frankly, I’d rather deal with the combined trouble of the local ghosts and an angry witch coven than navigate werewolf drama. I hadn’t had much experience with shifters, but this was the longest I’d spent in a single town since I’d ditched my Reaper apprenticeship following my twin brother’s untimely death. 

Since then, I’d drifted around from one town to another, some paranormal and some not. Being partway between a witch and a Reaper meant I tended to be the odd duck in most scenarios, and even moving to Hawkwood Hollow hadn’t exactly been smooth sailing, considering that I’d already burned bridges with the local coven and that the one other Reaper in town was not my biggest fan. The shifters had no reason to dislike me, though… right?

As we left the park, a commotion rose up from somewhere among the trees. A chorus of shouts and growls ripped through the night, and the detective’s steps halted. “I think there’s trouble.”

“Sounds that way to me.”

It also sounded like a situation I didn’t want to involve myself in, but standing alone in the darkness didn’t appeal either, so I kept close behind Drew as he walked towards the source of the noise. 

In a clearing, several shifters had gathered around something lying on the grass. My heart lurched when one of them shone a light onto the body of a man with broad shoulders and dark blond hair, who lay unmoving on his back, his clothes smeared with mud.

“What’s going on here?” Drew’s voice cut through the clamour.

“That’s Davey Rogers,” one of the nearby werewolves growled. “Someone killed him and hid his body in the bushes.”

“Nobody comes in here but the pack,” said another. “We have a killer in our midst.”

“Was he wounded? Let me see.” Drew moved towards the body, but two of the werewolves barred his path, their suspicious gazes landing on me. Oh no.

“Who’s she?” a burly werewolf demanded. “What’s she doing here?”

“Maura’s been with me the whole time she was here,” Drew said. 

I hadn’t, technically, but I certainly hadn’t seen a body when I’d been stumbling around the bushes. I hoped Belinda had had the sense to move away from here before she got implicated in the werewolf’s murder.

Murder. How did I always walk into these situations? 

“Who found him?” Drew asked. “Tell me everything.”

“I saw his foot sticking out of the bushes,” said the burly werewolf. “I recognised him at once. Davey’s supposed to be marrying the chief’s daughter this weekend. Who did this to him?”

“If I had to guess,” growled another werewolf, “I’d say it was someone from your faction of the pack. You wanted to stop the wedding, and you got your wish.” 

His words set off a crescendo of horrible ripping noises as the burly werewolf shifted into animal form, shedding his clothes in the process. Seconds later, two huge, furred wolves with sharp teeth squared up to one another, surrounded by a chorus of growls.

Drew moved in front of me. “Maura, I’d take cover. They’re angry, and unstable shifters can’t always distinguish between friend and foe.”

Since I was a long way from being their friend, that would get me put firmly in the foe category. I got the message and backed away, tripping over Belinda Jennings for the second time that night. “Ow. Sorry.” 

She lowered her binoculars. “You’re back. I knew you would be.”

“I never left.” I really didn’t want to hear any more nonsense from her, but with several angry werewolves standing a few metres away, I’d have to stay put for now. “When you told me there was an ill omen, is this what you meant?”

“Oh, no,” she said. “It’s not the full moon yet, you see.”

There didn’t need to be a full moon for shifters to revert to their animal forms and start brawling, and it took less than a high-profile murder for them to come to blows. 

On the other hand, while Belinda’s binoculars meant she was more likely to have seen the ground up close than the murderer, I couldn’t resist trying a question. “Did you see the man who died?”

A loud growl drowned out the end of my question. I whipped my head around, seeing that Drew had moved to position himself between the two werewolves but had remained in human form. Worry clenched inside my chest even though I knew that he was capable of shifting into a werewolf himself if necessary, and I fought the urge to drag him into the shadows of the afterworld and out of harm’s way.

Belinda caught my arm, making me jump so violently I almost gave away my location. “Can you not do that?” I hissed.

“My apologies,” she said. “Look, they’re shifting back.”

Sure enough, the werewolves turned from furred beasts into naked humans, and I averted my gaze. Typically, Drew hadn’t shifted, so his clothes were a hundred percent intact. What was with my luck tonight?

Belinda continued to stare at me, as if there weren’t a half-dozen extremely nude werewolves standing next to our hiding place. “You talk with the dead, don’t you?”

“When they let me get a word in edgeways.” It was no big secret that I could see ghosts, and besides, maybe she’d seen me talking to the spirit who’d tailed me earlier. “Why?”

“You hear things nobody else does. Like me.”

“Trust me, you don’t want to hear what most ghosts have to say.” Since the shifters were no longer growling and furred, I deduced that they weren’t going to attack Drew, so I made my careful way through the bushes and back to the path.

By the time I’d found the entrance again, Drew caught up to me. “I’m sorry, Maura, but it’ll be safer if you go home. I’m going to have to clear up this mess, or else it’ll get even more unpleasant than it already is.”

“It’s fine,” I said, except it wasn’t. Someone was dead, and the werewolves might well try to tear one another to pieces again while I was gone. If they did, Drew would be obligated to intervene, being both a pack member and the head of the local law enforcement. Yes, it was his job, but I’d hoped our night would end with a kiss, not potential bodily harm.

“I’ll message you later.” He disappeared into the bushes, while I watched him leave, wishing there was more I could do to help. Yet my only area of expertise was talking to spirits, and while the victim’s ghost might show up at some point to clear up matters, there was usually a delay of at least a day between when someone died and when their ghost appeared. I definitely did not want to stick around until then, so I found myself heading home alone. 

To no surprise whatsoever, the ghost of the young man who’d accosted me earlier reappeared as I left the park behind.

“You’re back,” he said. “Can you help me? Please?”

Sensing he’d probably follow me back to the inn if I refused, I came to a resigned halt. “What do you want me to do for you, then?”

“I need to tell my wife that I’m sorry I ate the last cookie.”

“You think she’ll remember after seven years?” In response, he just gave me that sad neglected puppy look, and I caved in. “Fine, fine, I’ll tell her.”

Don’t let any ghosts tell you that I’m not helpful when I want to be.

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