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Emma Adams

The Ghost is Clear: A Reaper Witch Mystery Book 7 (Paperback)

The Ghost is Clear: A Reaper Witch Mystery Book 7 (Paperback)

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Book 7 of 9: A Reaper Witch Mystery

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

Maura has faced her fair share of monsters since moving to the haunted town of Hawkwood Hollow. When a series of disappearances in the area suggests a more sinister cause than a simple kidnapping, she assumes she can handle it alone.

The group of professional monster hunters who’ve come to stay at the inn say otherwise.

Maura’s past experience says the Wardens aren’t to be trusted, but with her own skills limited and the law enforcement standing in her way at every turn, she’s forced to accept a reluctant alliance with the newcomers… in particular, with Perry, a witch who may be hiding as many secrets as Maura herself is.

Can Maura and the squad of monster hunters deal with their newest adversary? Or will Maura herself end up being hunted instead?

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Read a sample

Reapers didn’t get holidays. Especially ones who had a ghostly twin brother following them everywhere, singing the Pokémon theme song at full volume. Okay, maybe that was just me.

Mart sang in my ear all through the flight home and continued to sing as we approached the bridge leading back to the inn. It wouldn’t have been as bad if he’d had a musical bone in his body… metaphorically speaking. He’d been dead for eight years after all, and for most of that time, I’d been the only person able to see and interact with him. As a result, annoying the crap out of me was an Olympic-level sport for him. 

“Please stop.” I stepped onto the bridge—and straight into another ghost.

An icy sensation spread through my body, as if I’d stepped under a waterfall fully clothed. The ghost yelped and sprang away from me, looking even more startled than I was. “Ahh!”

“Sorry.” Wait, why was I apologising to a ghost? They’d been a routine annoyance since I moved to the town of Hawkwood Hollow, which was the most haunted place I’d ever been to—and trust me, for a Reaper, that was saying a lot. “Relax. I’m not going to banish you. Go about your day.”

Whatever ghosts did with their time was generally of no interest to me. I didn’t recognise this particular spirit, but I pointedly ignored him as I walked past, hoping he’d get the message that I had no intention of reaping his soul. 

I slowed my pace when I realised Mart’s singing had ceased. My brother watched the ghost, who now leant over the bridge’s side, peering into the river. I might have warned the spirit of the risk of falling in if I didn’t already know he was dead.

“Hello?” he called out, seemingly addressing the rippling currents below the bridge. “Are you in there?”

“Looking for someone?” asked Mart from behind him.

The ghost jumped so violently that he tumbled over the edge, which was no doubt my brother’s plan. Mart cackled as the other spirit did an awkward pirouette and caught his balance upside-down in midair.

“Hey!” the ghost said indignantly. “What was that for?”

Mart grinned at him. “I thought it was funny.”

“That’s enough.” I shook my head at my brother, whose repertoire of pranks had grown old before he’d shuffled off his mortal coil. “Relax. It’s just my brother.”

The ghost drifted back onto the bridge, looking at both of us with a petulant air. “What do you want?”

“Want?” I echoed. “Nothing. I assume Mart was interested in why you were shouting at the water, but that’s your business.”

I’d learned a long time ago that expecting ghosts to make any sense was like expecting a world-class debate from a seagull. That my brother had decided to scare this one was unusual behaviour—he generally directed his mischief at living people, not fellow spirits—but the ghost’s twitchy behaviour triggered my suspicions.

When he didn’t reply, I asked, “Why were you shouting at the water? Is there someone in there?”

The ghost didn’t look familiar to me, but since the town of Hawkwood Hollow contained more dead people than living ones, I couldn’t possibly know every single one of its ghostly inhabitants. Even a Reaper like me had her limits on how many disembodied souls she could keep track of.

“I was looking for a friend, but I don’t think she’s around.” He turned away from the water, a mournful expression on his face. “Goodbye, Reaper.” 

Mart watched him float away with both eyebrows raised. “Have you ever seen a spirit startle so easily?”

“You’d be surprised.” I continued onward across the bridge. “When you’re dead, it can’t be pleasant when a Reaper walks right through you.”

On the other side of the bridge stood the Riverside Inn, which I entered through the transparent automatic doors. Mart floated into the adjoining restaurant ahead of me, causing plates and glasses to rattle on the nearby tables. Most of the customers here were happy to tolerate the inn’s ghostly inhabitants, though it might have been a different story if they’d been able to hear my brother’s singing.

The inside of the inn hadn’t changed much in my absence, though the walls had acquired a few new posters advertising the inn’s ghost tours. Behind the bar stood Jia, a short Asian woman with straight dark hair. She wore a T-shirt with a miniature cartoon reaper on it. That must be a new acquisition too—especially as the cartoon graphic bore a striking resemblance to one of Carey’s drawings.

“Maura!” Jia greeted me with a smile. “You’re back.”

“Hey.” I grabbed a stool at the bar and joined her. “The customers didn’t give you too much trouble, did they?”

“Nah, no more than usual.” The restaurant’s quietness was typical of the lull between lunchtime and the after-school rush, when some of the kids from the academy came here to hang out. The ghost tour business had done a fair bit to raise our coolness factor in the eyes of the local youth, not that there were many other hangout options in a town as small as this one. “How’d Saturday’s ghost tour go?”

“It went fine,” she replied. “The other ghosts couldn’t quite make up for Mart not being here, but they did their best.”

“Yeah, I’m irreplaceable,” Mart said smugly.

“Sure you are.” I gave him an eye roll. “The new timetable didn’t cause too many issues either?”

“Nah, I think the customers prefer this one.”

“Good.” After a few weeks of trial and error, we’d switched up the weekly schedule so that we had one shorter tour midweek and another, longer one at the weekend. That way, the schedule didn’t interfere with Carey’s homework, and we could still finish early enough on Saturdays to make time for our weekly movie night. “Which movie did you watch?”

My Little Pony. Again.” Jia poured me a glass of Coke and handed it to me across the bar. “Figured Mart wouldn’t mind missing out on that one.”

“Definitely not.” Mart stole a pair of ice cubes out of my glass and began juggling them in midair. “If you’d watched Star Wars, we’d have had to have words.”

I figured that he’d probably pick one of the Pokémon movies next time around, but at least he’d stopped singing. While he was distracted with juggling ice cubes, I leaned across the bar to talk to Jia. “You got my message?”

“Your incredibly cryptic message,” she corrected. “I’m guessing you extended your trip for ghost-related reasons?”

“Demons, but pretty much the same.”

Her eyes bulged. “Demons? How did you run into one of those?”

“Bad luck.” I’d thought I was going on a standard ghost-hunting trip to snag some good footage for Carey’s blog, and Mart and I had gone alone because Allie had objected to Carey missing any more school. 

Given that the ghost had turned out to be something else entirely, I was glad to have left her behind. Demons were among the most dangerous creatures in the magical world, and most people had no defence against them. When I relayed the experience to Jia, I tried to downplay how close my call had been, especially when Allie walked into the restaurant in the middle of my story. The middle-aged witch was the spitting image of Carey, with a few added grey hairs and the recent addition of a brand-new pin embellished with our company logo attached to her green cloak. Her matching green spectacles completed the ensemble, magnifying her wide eyes as I finished the tale of my lucky escape.

“Please don’t tell Carey,” Allie said. “She was already worried about you.”

“I could handle it.” I sipped my Coke. “Besides, I wasn’t the demon’s target.”

Lucky for me. Demons tended to go after weak prey, and since Reapers were among the few people who were immune to possession, they generally stayed out of our way. Most of the time.

Jia and I turned to more pleasant topics of conversation as the first wave of teenagers entered the restaurant after school finished for the day. Soon enough, Carey came running in, dressed in her usual mustard-yellow uniform. Her cat, Casper, ran in ahead of her and dove underneath a table upon catching sight of Mart. The poor thing was having trouble adjusting to our new focus on ghost tours, but Carey insisted that her familiar would eventually get used to the inn’s other ghostly inhabitants. 

Dropping her schoolbag next to the table, she beamed up at me. “Did you have a good trip?”

“An eventful one,” I said evasively. “How was your weekend? Did everyone behave?”

“Good,” she said. “The ghost tour was fine. The ghosts did what Jia told them.” 

“I was more worried about the guests than the ghosts, to be honest,” I said. “No trouble from them?”

“No, they were a pretty good crowd this time,” she said. “Jia had everything under control. Nobody threw any tantrums, and no stray ghosts wandered in or anything.”

“Well, the ghost that usually causes trouble is Mart, and he was with me.”

Hearing his name, my brother blew at raspberry at me.

Carey smiled, guessing that he’d reacted to my comment. “Go on—tell me about your trip.”

“Not much to tell.” I pulled my phone out of my pocket. “I emailed you the footage, but the ghosts were pretty elusive. You know they can be camera shy.”

“I wish I’d been able to give you the updated ghost goggles before then.” She reached down into her schoolbag and pulled out the bright-red goggles she often wore, which were equipped with a built-in camera and microphone to pick up on any ghostly presence. In theory. The goggles were still a work in progress, given how busy she was with everything else. I certainly hadn’t been that enterprising when I was a teenager.

“Don’t worry about it.” I joined her at the table. “You have enough on your plate.”

“I guess.” She turned the goggles over in her hands. “I was thinking of designing a new version that looks like a pair of regular glasses so the ghosts won’t know they’re being filmed.”

“Not a bad idea,” Jia said. “Not all spirits are as fond of being on camera as your brother is.”

My brother, who’d been dancing on the table for an imaginary audience, came gliding over to us. “What?”

“We were saying that not all ghosts like attention as much as you do.” In fairness, plenty of them did—they just didn’t necessarily like being filmed, as I’d found out when the ghost I’d sought out on my weekend adventure had hidden under the floorboards to get away from me.

Mart snickered. “If you’re referring to our shy spirit from the weekend, it was probably your attention she was trying to avoid.”

“As opposed to the entire internet?” He was probably right, though. Too bad there was no way to disguise my Reaper abilities. “Fine. Next time, you can take Jia instead.” 

“Oh, no, I’m not babysitting your brother for the weekend.” When Mart made a noise of indignation, she added, “It’s more fun to go in a team.”

“Maybe we can all go next time, then.” It’d been about six weeks since we’d started running ghost tours, and Carey had started to get anxious about the lack of new content on her blog. Since I’d had itchy feet myself, I’d volunteered to go and investigate a haunted house Carey had had her eyes on. I hadn’t counted on running into a demon, but that had been my own fault for taking a detour on the way home.

“I hope so,” said Carey. “It’ll have to wait until after Halloween. I already have people asking if I’m going to run a special event.”

“Already?” I guess time flies when you’re helping a teenage blogger run ghost tours. 

“Yeah, Jia and I have started brainstorming ideas.” She pulled out her laptop and set it on the table in front of her. “We had some free time at the weekend.”

“Not many new guests, then?”

She loaded up her screen. “We had a group show up today, but I don’t think they’re here for a ghost tour.”

“Why else would they be here?” Our next tour would take place tomorrow, and it wasn’t as if the town had much else in the way of entertainment. Even the hiking in the local area left much to be desired—nothing but damp fields and the occasional farm. 

She shrugged her narrow shoulders. “A work conference, my mum thinks.”

“Weird.” We didn’t have much to offer in that department, as the inn had no rooms large enough to accommodate more than thirty or so guests at a time, and it wasn’t near any major cities.

“What if they’re here for a special ghost conference?” Mart suggested. “Maybe I should go and introduce myself.”

“You can’t do that if they opted out.” I swivelled to Carey. “Did they?”

After we’d started running our ghost tours, we’d begun giving each new guest a form at check-in so they could choose whether to accept unsolicited visits from our ghostly residents or if they’d rather keep the hauntings to a minimum. Most ticked yes, but it prevented any customer complaints if Mart decided to prank them in the middle of the night. 

“Mum told me they all opted for no hauntings,” Carey said. “All five of them.”

Mart pulled a face. “Now that’s just rude.”

“People go on holiday for reasons other than ghost tours, Mart,” I said. “That doesn’t mean they won’t be open to persuasion to tag along on tomorrow’s tour if you have a little patience.”

“That’s what I thought.” Carey looked to her mother. “Can I ask them?”

“They’ve been out all day,” Allie told her daughter. “If you do your homework first, you can ask them when they get back.”

Carey sighed. “Right, fine. Why am I still at school again?”

Allie pursed her lips. “We’ve talked about this. You’re fifteen, and you have an important year of schooling ahead of you.”

“I’ve been working here since I could walk.” But she obeyed her mother and reached into her schoolbag for her exercise books. The two had had the same argument a dozen times over the summer, especially now the ghost tours had proven so popular. They’d resulted in an influx of bookings at the inn, and while the fact that our name was getting out there was good news, I wished it was easier to recruit new staff to help us handle the workload.

Jia had come back to town as a favour to Allie after she’d found a certain former coven leader had left town, but unfortunately, said coven leader’s departure was the reason we were having so much trouble finding new staff in the first place.

“No replies to the latest ad,” Jia told me when I asked her about this. “It’s getting a bit ridiculous.”

Carey lifted her head from her laptop. “I can put up some flyers around at school.”

“Sorry, but I’m pretty sure your classmates’ parents would object if we recruited their kids to help run ghost tours,” Jia said kindly. “The insurance would be a nightmare.”

She made a noise of objection. “I work here.”

“You also live here,” I reminded her. “Also, do you really want your classmates working for you?”

Her shoulders slumped. “I guess not.” 

“It’s not the ghost tours we need help with,” Jia went on. “It’s the rest of it. Magic can only get us so far.”

“Yeah.” Guilt at my impromptu trip abruptly rose inside me, and I vowed to take on twice the shifts this week to make up for it. No normal employer would have tolerated my erratic schedule—but then again, I’d never had much luck in the “normal employment” department. As a half Reaper, half witch who was a rogue in all but name, I’d had trouble fitting in anywhere before coming here. Granted, a significant part of that was more my brother’s fault than mine.

Speaking of whom. Noticing my brother had gone ominously quiet, I looked for him and saw that he’d begun to entertain himself by juggling plates behind the bar. 

“Put those down.” I rose to my feet. “You don’t want to break anything again.”

“I have excellent control,” he said as a plate slipped from his hands. I rushed to catch it—too late—but instead of breaking, the plate slid across the bar and landed in my lap.

“This is made of paper.” I picked up the plate and turned it over before placing it back on the bar.

“I bought them last week,” Carey explained. “Jia said one of the other ghosts made the suggestion after my mum said we can’t afford to keep buying new crockery even if the customers find the juggling entertaining.”

“Oh, good thinking.” That way, the customers could watch Mart’s antics without sacrificing any actual crockery. These were the things we had to worry about when working with ghosts. “Fine, go ahead, Mart.”

He gave me a smug look and picked up the plate again, throwing it up in the air and catching it in time to the Pokémon theme tune.

“Not again.” I pressed my hands over my ears. “If you ask me, there should be earplugs that only work on ghosts.”

“That’s too niche a market. Most people can’t hear them, remember?” Jia joined in with Mart’s singing, somehow managing to be even more out of tune than he was.

Carey laughed at us, and I smiled despite it all. It was good to be home.

Drew came to meet me at the restaurant later that evening, greeting me at the door with a kiss that made Mart wolf whistle at us. It might seem weird having a date at the place I lived and worked, but most of the restaurant’s regular patrons were accustomed to Drew showing up, and we could catch up over a meal without drawing unwanted attention. The head of the police and the town’s newest Reaper weren’t exactly an inconspicuous pairing, but hardly anyone paid attention as we settled down at our usual table next to the window.

“You should have called me before you went after the demon” were the first words out of his mouth. I’d texted him the details of my hair-raising adventure, wanting to keep him in the loop, unlike the others.

“I knew you’d say that,” I said, “but I also knew you’d immediately drop everything and come straight there, and that wouldn’t help either of us.”

He picked up his fork. “I wouldn’t have left town without warning, but I’d have been ready in case you needed my help.”

“Which I’d appreciate, but even your scary werewolf form can’t rugby tackle a demon. They’re basically ghosts.”

“I know.” He had a serious undertone to his voice. “You didn’t put yourself in harm’s way, did you?”

“No. Not intentionally.” I put a chip into my mouth. “Quit looking at me like that, Drew. I wasn’t the demon’s target, and the person who was the target was in way over her head. I couldn’t run off and leave her as demon bait.”

I’d opted not to mention the one demon that got away without being banished, as there was very little chance of the runaway demon coming after me. I didn’t need to add another column to my extensive list of enemies, and as I’d told him at least five times so far, I hadn’t been the demon’s priority.

Drew didn’t look entirely convinced, but he dropped the subject. “The ghosts behaved without you here, did they?”

“Apparently so,” I said. “Jia can handle them for the most part, and Mart was with me. How was work?”

“I’ve been dealing with some missing persons cases,” he said. “Nothing too deadly, though only you could go on holiday and run into a demon.”

“I have a knack.”

“Yes, you do.” He gave a fond shake of his head. His dark-brown hair had grown shaggy recently.

“You need a haircut.” I reached across the table to tug on a lock, and the murmur of voices in the background momentarily drew my attention to the front door. Through the glass, I glimpsed a group of people approaching, engaged in conversation.

“I know.” Drew gently pried my hand loose from his hair and clasped my fingers in his on the table. “I missed you.”

My heart skittered. I wished the people outside would keep the noise down so I could pretend we were alone. “I missed you too.”

The doors slid open, inviting in a gust of cold air, and a strikingly pale young man entered ahead of his four companions, his gaze sweeping the restaurant. When his attention landed on Drew and me, he stopped in his tracks. A taller man halted next to him, and they exchanged a few murmured words before crossing the room to the lobby without looking back.

Puzzled, I watched the doors close behind them. “Was it something I said?”

“Huh?” Drew let go of my hand. “What is it?”

“That guy.” The newcomer’s pale stillness and swift movements triggered something familiar in my memories. “I think he was a vampire.”

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