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Emma Adams

Here Ghost Nothing: A Reaper Witch Mystery Book 9 (Paperback)

Here Ghost Nothing: A Reaper Witch Mystery Book 9 (Paperback)

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Book 9 of 9: A Reaper Witch Mystery

Maura’s life—and her brother’s afterlife—is on the line.

Trying to stop an enemy that always seems to be one step ahead of her is a challenging enough task without also having to contend with the ghosts of her past, but the clock is ticking down until Halloween night, and Maura is willing to seek anyone’s help to stop Mina Devlin from enacting her revenge against Hawkwood Hollow for thwarting her plans.

Even her former coven.

Can Maura protect both the living and the dead from certain disaster, or has the Reaper Witch’s journey come to an end?

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Eight days remained until Halloween, and I was starting to think that fending off the apocalypse would be more doable than dealing with a legion of ghosts on the spookiest night of the year.

“Who are they?” I asked my ghostly brother, Mart, indicating the group of transparent figures who’d just floated into the restaurant in which I worked.

“Haven’t a clue.” The pumpkin-shaped hat he’d taken to wearing bobbed up and down as he spoke. Since he was invisible to most people except for me and Jia, my coworker, the pumpkin gave the restaurant’s customers some warning whenever he decided to lurk near their tables and rearrange their cutlery for a prank.

“Ghost tourists. Wonderful.” I shook my head. “Do they have any idea that this place might be the site of Armageddon in less than two weeks?”

Mart shrugged and resumed drifting through the restaurant, rattling plates and generally living up to his reputation as the inn’s most annoying spirit-in-residence. Which was saying something, given the entire town of Hawkwood Hollow was a veritable haven for ghosts. 

“Something up, Maura?” My boss, Allie, came striding over, her hat jangling with bat-shaped ornaments. It probably said something about the state of the inn that her shimmering purple cloak didn’t stand out amidst the general Halloween décor. Every customer ended up covered in pumpkin-shaped glitter or fake cobwebs within a moment of stepping through the door. 

“We have some new ghosts,” I replied. “I think they heard about the event and wanted to join in.”

Her expression relaxed into a smile. “I’m glad word is spreading.”

No surprise. I was pretty sure Allie and her teenage daughter Carey had taken out ads in every magical publication within their budget, and evidently, the local spirits had their own gossip networks as well. Everyone in the vicinity knew that on Halloween, the Riverside Inn was the place to be.

There was just one small problem: namely, that the leader of the local witch coven was missing, captured by her predecessor, who’d announced that she intended to use Halloween to unleash some nefarious plan. Not that Allie and Carey would let the small matter of an oncoming apocalypse prevent them from giving their guests a night to remember.

Jia ducked behind the counter, back from delivering a tray of Halloween-themed cocktails to a nearby table. “New ghosts?”

“Tourists, by the looks of things.” I side-eyed the transparent newcomers. “You’d think the sage would put them off.”

Our anticipation of an attack by Mina Devlin had led us to scatter sage all over the area outside the inn. Sage repelled spirits, and it also repelled any nasties from the afterworld that Mina and her allies might unleash on us. We’d especially been watching the river that ran through the centre of Hawkwood Hollow and the tunnels beneath the bridge from which the last attack had come.

“You’d think,” Jia said. “Well… I might have heard some of them saying the inn is the safest place in the area.”

I groaned inwardly. “Let me guess: they think I’m cooking up a plan to beat Mina?”

I wish. I’d certainly been trying to figure out how to stop our rogue coven leader, but nobody knew where she was hiding, much less what she planned to do on the night when the barriers between the realms of living and dead would be thinner than usual. That was Halloween, more commonly referred to as “Samhain” in the witching world. Her attempts to bargain with demons for power had caused the river to burst its banks two decades ago and was the reason Hawkwood Hollow was inhabited by more ghosts than living people. Yet she’d failed, ultimately, thanks to the local Reaper’s bid to stop her.

Now she wanted to try something similar again, and everyone seemed to think I’d be the one to stop her this time. It was an awful lot of pressure to put on one ex-Reaper who didn’t even own a scythe.

“They trust you,” said Jia. “Come on. You have to admit that you’ve got the better of her before.”

I grunted. “I think running an amazing ghost tour and stopping Armageddon in the same night might be too much to ask.”

Allie and Carey had spent the past few months planning the inn’s biggest ghostly extravaganza, and postponing it until after Halloween would be a disaster for their business. I’d been sure that we’d manage to find Mina beforehand—or that she wouldn’t be able to resist striking first—but as the days trickled by, my hopes had begun to dim.

“It’s not all on you,” said Jia. “We’re all trying to search for Mina’s hiding place. The police have been out there almost every day.”

I grimaced. “I know. Drew says that there have been a dozen false alarms, but either she’s moving between locations every other day, or she’s using some kind of concealment spell that can muddle even a shifter’s senses.”

Mina had ample resources at her disposal, including the current head of the coven, assuming Jennifer was still alive by this point—it wouldn’t have surprised me if Mina had forced her prisoner to assist her.

“Yeah.” Jia grabbed a cloth and wiped yet more Halloween-themed glitter off the counter. “I guess Mina’s hiding somewhere no tracking spell can find.”

“Nor any Reaper.” Few things could block my Reaper abilities, but Mina had been busy figuring out ways to achieve the impossible. The last time we’d clashed, the scythe I’d borrowed from the local Reaper had bounced clean off her. 

“You’d think the Reaper Council would be chasing her down,” Jia remarked. “She’s torn up their rule book and stomped all over the pieces.”

“If they have been, they haven’t told me.” I spoke in a low voice. “I wish I knew how she’s running circles around them. That’s what I was hoping to find in the library.” 

I’d taken a brief excursion away from Hawkwood Hollow to visit a library that contained what was supposed to be the biggest store of magical knowledge in the whole of the UK, but I’d come back without any concrete answers as to how Mina had managed to both repel my Reaper skills and get her hands on a book that was supposed to be the property of the Council. Granted, the latter was likely not a piece of information the Reaper Council wanted to broadcast across the country.

“It was worth looking anyway,” Jia said. “And Carey was happy with the footage you brought back from those vampires’ creepy house.”

“Vampires.” I gave a shudder. “I’d be surprised if they didn’t have a role in how she robbed the Reapers.”

To say Reapers and vampires didn’t get along was like saying the north of England was a bit rainy. Vamps and Reapers were more or less equally matched skill-wise, but each had their own advantages, and the vampires’ included thousands of years of accumulated knowledge and an immunity to Reapers. Which Mina had now conveniently acquired. Hmm.

“Ask your dad,” said Jia. “I know you’ve been avoiding paying him a visit.”

“She’s right, you know,” added Mart. 

“You don’t want to visit him either,” I pointed out. “Because you know Mum would notice if we showed up at our old town.”

I could guarantee that going to my parents’ hometown of Greenwood Lake wouldn’t bring me any answers, either—just another source of stress that I didn’t need.

“Isn’t your mother a coven leader?” Jia queried. “I know you probably don’t want to put her in Mina’s crosshairs…”

“Oh, Mina won’t know my mother’s coven exists.” No, the quiver of dread that arose at the thought of paying a visit to my old home was for another reason entirely. “Greenwood Lake is a nonentity even by the magical world’s standards, and they certainly don’t have any supersecret ways to defeat Mina.”

Jia propped a hand on her hip. “But your dad knows the Reaper Council. Isn’t it worth a try?”

He did, but I was treading a fine line with the Council already. With every Reaper I met, I risked someone coming into Hawkwood Hollow and deciding to banish every ghost in town, little knowing that they’d be playing into Mina’s hands if they did so. More to the point, the ghosts lived here, and the Reaper Council had no right to play landlord and boot them out.

“I don’t want to run off at a time when you need us,” I protested. “It’s nearly Halloween.”

Jia raised an eyebrow at me. “Is that the only problem? The inn will be quiet tomorrow, you know. No ghost tours.”

“It’ll still be Monday.” The inn’s busiest periods depended on when we were running ghost tours, but we’d been booked solid all month. Those who hadn’t been able to secure a room had opted to stay in nearby towns and pay visits to the restaurant every other day, and I expected to end up having to turn people away by the end of next week.

“Allie and I will handle things,” she said. “I think you should go and visit home. Right, Allie?”

“Yes?” Allie herself came over with her arms laden with what appeared to be inflatable ghost costumes. “Which of you ordered these?” 

“Maura should go see her parents,” said Jia. “She’s been coming up with excuses for weeks. And I don’t know who ordered them. Maura?”

“No,” I replied. “And no, this isn’t urgent enough. I can see my parents anytime.”

Or not, if Armageddon actually does happen next week.

Mart sprang up behind me and blew on the back of my neck. “That might not be true.”

“I didn’t think you wanted to see them either.” My brother had an even-more fraught relationship with our parents than I did. They’d reacted in different ways to his untimely death, and neither had been positive. 

As the living person caught in the middle, I’d caused controversy enough myself when I’d brought him back as a ghost and tethered him to me, which was not a way in which an apprentice was supposed to apply their Reaper powers. While Dad and I had recently reconciled, Mum was a different story, and my extended family on her side had blamed the Reapers for Mart’s death. Including me.

“I don’t,” Mart replied. “But we already saw Dad, and the coven ought to have forgotten we exist by now.”

“Forgotten we exist?” My phone chimed a message. I slid it out of my pocket and was greeted with an inexplicable Your package has been delivered message, topped with an image of the inflatable ghost costumes Allie had just dropped off at the counter. “What—did you use my phone to order ghost costumes?”

Mart snickered in answer.

“Are you talking to your brother?” Allie guessed. “If you want to take a half day to visit home, it’s not a problem. You’ve worked back-to-back shifts ever since you got back from your last trip.”

“I know, but… Mart, stop that.”

Mart picked up one of the ghost costumes, causing the others to slide into a pile on the floor. “Do you think this suits me?”

“You’re unbelievable.” I caught Jia hiding a grin. “You didn’t encourage him, did you?”

“I didn’t need to.” She crouched to help Allie pick up the costumes. “Seriously. Go home. Bond with your parents. It worked with your dad.”

That was different. I turned to Mart and whispered, “Do you actually think he’ll let us in on the Reaper Council’s secrets? We certainly don’t want them to know you exist.”

“They don’t have to know. I can be stealthy.” He lifted the inflatable ghost costume into the air, almost knocking several glasses over in the process. “Besides, it’ll be fun to see how Mum reacts to that boyfriend of yours.”

* * *

I’m going to regret this, I thought as I left the inn the following morning. Mart floated at my side—thankfully, minus the inflatable ghost costume—whistling the theme from Doctor Who. I had no idea where his sudden desire to go back home had come from, unless he really did think Dad had been concocting a scheme to stop Mina with the help of the Reaper Council and hadn’t let us know.

Actually, that wouldn’t be out of character for Dad. He was as committed to secrecy as any Reaper I’d met, but I was sure that nobody knew how to stop Mina. Not even him. 

In any case, I’d caved and agreed to take the morning off work for an unpleasant trip down memory lane. Drew had offered to come with me, but I’d figured my mother would be shaken enough at my sudden appearance without me bringing a new boyfriend with me as well. Let alone a new boyfriend who happened to be a werewolf and the head of the police in a town that was infested with ghosts. Oh, and that said town might be the target of a megalomaniac witch’s power play in a few days. And instead of dealing with that, I’m going back to a place that was more than happy to see the back of me.

“Are you sure about this?” I pulled out my wand. “Do you really want to visit the same coven members who started a magical duel at your funeral?”

“They don’t have to know we’re there,” Mart said. “Not if we transport ourselves in and out again without anyone else seeing us.”

“Transportation spells don’t work inside the coven headquarters,” I reminded him. “And we’d scare Mum to death if we appeared out of the afterworld in her office.”

“It’d be funny to see her face.” Mart snickered to himself. “You want to see her first, then? Not Dad?”

“I say we get the hard bit over with first.” That and if we visited Mum first, there was less chance of her popping up at the Reaper’s house when we were talking to Dad. I really didn’t want her to know about Mina Devlin.

Get the hard bit over with. Right. “All right. Let’s go in.”

In a flick of my wand, the inn disappeared, to be replaced with a country hillside that wasn’t overly different from the one we’d left behind. Neither was the cluster of small buildings that lay in the dip between two of the larger hills, bordered by the blue expanse that gave Greenwood Lake its name. Several buildings sat upon an island within the lake, and I surveyed them, taking in a deep breath.

“The house is still there.” Mart spoke from behind me, having mercifully abandoned his plan to scare the hell out of Mum and appear in her home. “Aren’t you coming?”

“Yes.” As soon as we’d touched down on the hillside, all the bad memories had come swarming back, and it took all my willpower not to turn away.

“Don’t go getting cold feet.” Mart prodded me in the back, creating the sensation of someone tipping ice cubes down the back of my shirt. “Look, hardly anyone’s outside on a dismal day like this.”

“True.” The murky, overcast sky was a blessing, really. “Okay. Showtime.”

I descended the hill, skirting the cluster of buildings, and made for the dock at the edge of the lake. My mother’s mounting paranoia had led her to set up anti-trespasser spells all around the lake, with the result that the only way to reach the island in the centre was to use one of the coven’s boats. I hadn’t tested to see whether my Reaper skills could get around that boundary, but the one time I had tried a transportation spell to get in, I’d ended up being thrown headfirst into the lake.

“You don’t need to act like we’re on our way to a funeral.” Mart hovered above one of the small boats docked at the lakeside. 

“We might as well be.” I climbed into the boat, which began moving by itself. Handy, admittedly, but the feeling of being trapped only intensified while the boat carried us to the centre of the lake. Nobody was outside, but curious faces peered from the windows, and I could practically hear the rumours fizzing in the air. 

I ducked my head. While I wished I’d worn a disguise, any witch who could see spirits would have spotted Mart, too, and he had no intention of hiding. I had to shush his increasingly high-pitched singing when the boat halted at the island, and we climbed out onto the muddy shore. 

The cluster of houses upon the island hadn’t changed a bit in the past few years, especially the central Victorian-style mansion of red brick with flowers blooming at every window. Not a single Halloween decoration in sight, but Mum was fairly traditional as far as coven leaders went. There’d be a Samhain parade on the actual night, but no inflatable ghosts or pumpkins marred the tasteful décor. 

With trepidation, I rapped on the door.

My mother answered, dressed in her usual green-cloak-and-hat ensemble. People would have said we looked alike, with our blue eyes and dark hair and pale skin, though she wasn’t half-Reaper, so her hair was shinier and her eyes brighter than mine. With tears. Uh-oh.

“Maura!” she wailed, flinging her arms around me.

This was going to end well. 

“Mum… don’t cry.” I awkwardly patted her shoulder. “Sorry I didn’t let you know in advance. I… misplaced my contacts list.”

“I called you every day!”

I know. That was why I changed my phone number. It was impossible to live any kind of life with her messaging me every hour to ask for the minute details of my day. Between that and Mart’s relentless ghostly presence causing me to end up turfed out of every job or town I tried to settle in, something had had to give. 

Now I was going to pay for those months of silence. With a martyr-like air, I followed Mum into the coven headquarters. Mart tried to drift away, but I beckoned him with a crooked finger. He wasn’t getting out of this one that easily, and I needed him here to create a diversion in case the rest of the coven decided to shove their noses in.

Mum led me into her office and promptly collapsed into tears. I gave her ten minutes of sobbing recriminations before I put my foot down.

“Mum, I called and left you a message with my new address whenever I moved house. You might have visited at any time.” Granted, I hadn’t done so with Hawkwood Hollow, but I hadn’t initially expected to stay.

“I can’t leave the coven!” She fumbled for a handkerchief. “It’s inconceivable. Your aunt Rosie would have gone snooping in my office.”

You could just fire her, you know. I bit back the comment and gave a shrug. “It was just a suggestion.”

“Oh, it’d be different if I had a successor.” She sniffed. “If you’d stayed…”

And there it is. “Mum, you know why I couldn’t stay here.”

“You might have been coven leader!” Her eyes brightened with tears again. “I’d have trained you myself.” 

“I was never going to be a coven leader.” I’d already turned away from that path when I’d taken on an apprenticeship as a Reaper, and while Mum had adjusted to that decision eventually, it’d all changed with Mart’s death. She seemed to have forgotten that our extended family had kicked me out of the coven while she’d been mired in grief.

As Mum’s sobbing intensified, I scrambled for a distraction. “I’m seeing someone,” I blurted. “Romantically.”

“What?” Her sobs cut off in a gasp. “You never told me. When did you meet?” 

I might have told her if she had let me get a word in edgeways. “I’m living in a town called Hawkwood Hollow. Drew’s the head of the local police force there. We met…” At a crime scene was the honest answer.

“What Hollow?” Mum jumped in without noticing that I’d omitted the end of that sentence. “Doesn’t sound familiar.”

“It’s kind of… small.” To say the least. “But I’ve been living there for a few months now, and everything’s going great.”

“You’ll have to bring him here!” she insisted. “What did you say his name was? Drew?”

“Ah… he’s busy, but maybe one weekend, we can come over.” If I could get her to drop her insistence at trying to convince me to move back home again. I did not need her sobbing in front of Drew, aka one of the myriad reasons I hadn’t wanted to come back.

“We have to make up for lost time!” she said. “Drew’s the head of the police, is he? He must have some stories.”

“Mm.” I made a noncommittal noise. “He’s busy. So am I, for that matter. I work at—”

“Work!” She exclaimed. “What work? You never said you had a job.”

“I thought it was implied.” I wasn’t exactly rolling in cash, as she ought to have known, and most of my previous jobs had been short-lived, courtesy of Mart’s ghostly presence. “I work at an inn and restaurant.”

“Customer service?” Her brow wrinkled. “You must hate that.”

“It’s not bad.” Okay, time to end this conversation. “Mart likes it too.”

I put a slight emphasis on his name, raising my voice, and a window slammed upstairs in response. 

Mum lifted her head. “Oh, is that your brother?”

“Yes.” And my cue to leave. “Tell you what, you two can catch up. I was going to drop by to see Dad too. Then I have to get back to work.”

Mart descended through the ceiling, knocking a stack of paperwork off Mum’s desk. “Aunt Rosie’s as nice as ever. She swore a blue streak when I locked her office door.”

Mum leapt to her feet to pick up the papers. “Oh, you didn’t, did you?”

“At least it means she’s not bothering us,” I said. “She might be family, but she’s a weasel. Actually, that might be insulting to weasels.”

Mum gave a sound halfway between a sob and a laugh. “I’ve missed you, Maura. You know, it wouldn’t be difficult for you to move back here. I can find you somewhere to live right away. Both of you.”

Not a chance. “I told you I’m not working for any coven. I like the inn. We’re busy preparing for Halloween, which is why we’re busy over the next few weeks—” 

“Samhain, you mean?” She straightened upright, pushing the papers back into place. “Why, is it a hotel for witches?”

“No… erm. It’s haunted.” I gestured to Mart. “Mart, come over here and tell Mum all about the inn.”

Mum’s eyes brimmed over with tears again. “Oh… of course. You must be so lonely!”

Mart tutted and rolled his eyes. “Lonely!”

“Mart.” I marched over to him and whispered, “Distract her. If you do, I’ll let you use the shower tonight.”

“He still likes hot showers!” Mum sobbed even harder, having heard the end of my whisper. Great. Honestly, when she was in this kind of mood, every word I said was liable to set her off. 

“Yes, he does,” I told her. “He’s fine, Mum, and so am I. Anyway, I need to see Dad.”

Mart gave a long-suffering sigh and then drifted over to Mum. “I’m not lonely. The inn has approximately a hundred ghosts living in it. And I’m the best of all.”

That ought to distract her. While Mart began an exaggerated spiel about our ghost-tour business, I managed to extricate myself from the conversation by promising to call this time and left the coven headquarters for my second unwelcome visit of the day.

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