“It would appear you owe me a new body, luv.”
November Lonergan stared at the ghost of her dead boyfriend and contemplated how truly screwed up her life had become. Despite everything that happened that night, Mace was there, standing in her window, fading in and out like a television with a bad signal. Of course, he was.
His image flickered, strengthening as she moved closer. There was still blood on his torn t-shirt, but his silver hair looked cleaner than the last time she’d seen him. The symbols she’d painted on his skin were gone, but the scars layered across his torso remained. His dark brows were smudges over luminous silver eyes. He was beautiful even in death.
She opened her mouth to say something but realized there was nothing suitable for this situation. She’d already endured a blood ritual, two deaths, a knife fight, and a resurrection; she didn’t know if she could handle anything else. Her magic didn’t agree; it stretched and purred at Mace’s presence, reaching out for his power. Even death hadn’t severed their magic’s connection, it seemed. She didn’t give in to the temptation to move closer.
The heat of her magic and a bone-deep exhaustion had her swaying on her feet. He moved towards her before seeming to remember he was of little use in his present condition. “You don’t look very well. Maybe you should sit down.” She nodded, not so much sitting as collapsing onto her pale pink bedspread before sprawling on her back. “Or you could lie down,” Mace muttered as Ember yawned so hard her jaw cracked.
She was still fully clothed, but undressing seemed as impossible as climbing a mountain. She wiggled her toes. She needed to take her shoes off. She made a halfhearted attempt. “When did my feet get so far away?”
He glanced at her feet. “They appear to be in the same place as always.” He walked back towards the window. “While you’re just lying about, perhaps you could enlighten me on how exactly you plan to fix this disaster?”
Ember blinked up at him. Funny how quickly his affections turned. “An hour ago it was ‘Do what you have to do, luv. I could have loved you.’ Now it’s ‘Hurry up and fix this’?”
He chuckled at her terrible impression of his accent. “I was trying to be noble and romantic in my final moments of existence. Now that I still exist, I think we’ve wasted enough time on sentiment.”
“Having your soul back obviously hasn’t made you a better person.”
He laughed. “Did you think it would? I told you not to romanticize me. My soul was tarnished long before I gave it away.” Even as a glitchy apparition, she could see the moment her words penetrated. “Did you say, my soul?”
He hadn’t realized what his continued existence meant. “Didn’t you wonder why you’re still here?”
“Certainly, but that wasn’t the answer I expected. How?”
Ember yawned again, her eyelids drooping. “Can’t we talk about it tomorrow? I’m so tired.”
He gaped at her. “Seriously? You tell me I have a soul, and now you want to go to sleep?”
“Yes. I’m tired. I’ve had a rather rough day.”
“Really? Did a witch force you to cut open your stomach and create a mural with your entrails? No? Then I win.”
Ember was too tired to play. “Drama queen.”
There was a long pause before he said, “You might consider a shower. You’re still covered in blood. My blood specifically. Quite a lot.”
Ember groaned, looking down at herself with effort. She was pretty gross. She was so tired, though. “If you weren’t a ghost, I’d force you to carry me.”
There was a small chuckle. “Inviting me to shower with you? I’m sure that would go over quite well with the little alpha.”
Ember thought about the werewolf downstairs cleaning the kitchen. After the night they’d all had, she doubted Isa would concern herself with such mundane things as teenage hormones. Could the wolves hear her talking to Mace? Could they hear Mace? See him? Did they think she was in here talking to herself? Could she only see him because she was a reaper? She had so many questions.
She rolled to her feet, grabbing her things but keeping her thoughts to herself. She hurried to the bathroom and locked the door before catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror. She froze. Mace wasn’t lying. Her bright orange curls were a tangled, sweaty mess, matted together with blood and who knew what else. There were dark smudges under her eyes, making her already pale skin look chalky under the soft white lights. Her violet eyes glowed—actually glowed—like the wolves eyes when shifted. That was new. Had they been glowing since the ritual or was Mace’s presence sending her magic into hyper-drive?
She flipped the water on and stripped down, not even waiting for it to heat before stepping beneath the spray. She immediately realized her mistake, muffling a scream, bouncing from one foot to the other until it finally warmed. As the steam began to rise, she let herself relax.
“So, tell me; how precisely did I get my soul back?”
Ember gasped, slipping and yelping as her back hit the cold tiles. She stuck her head around the curtain. “There is a reason these doors lock.”
His smile was disarming. “There isn’t a lock in the world that would keep me away from you, luv.”
She rolled her eyes, letting the navy and white shower curtain fall back into place, absently wondering how much he could see in those white stripes. “That is the most stalkery thing you’ve ever said to me, and you rank really high on the creepy-lurker-stalker-guy meter.”
There was another throaty laugh. “I’m starting to think this power has gone to your head. Five hours ago you were weeping at my side like a war widow.”
Her mouth fell open, and she yanked the curtain back enough to level a glare at him. “Five hours ago, I thought I’d never see you again. Five hours ago, I thought I needed you. Five hours ago, I hadn’t known you’d been playing me the entire time. Remember? You’re the parasite, and I’m the host. You needed me. You lied to me this whole time.”
He shrugged, incredulous. “Of course, I lied. I could hardly tell you the truth. You would have booted me into the abyss, which you ended up doing anyway, I might add.”
She made a noise of disgust. This was Mace with a soul. “I’m such an idiot,” she said, mostly to herself. He tilted his head, a hint of something behind his eyes, regret maybe? She didn’t give in, letting the curtain drop back into place, determined to ignore him.
She scrubbed herself quickly, alarmed at how little it bothered her to have this conversation with him while she was naked.
“I didn’t lie about my feelings for you, luv; if that means anything.”
“Hah.” As if she was going to believe anything he said.
“I’m serious. If you believe nothing else, believe I meant what I said.”
“You said you could love me if you’d been capable. Well, apparently you were capable this whole time. So I don’t even know what to do with your half-assed confession of love.”
Why was she even talking about this? Maybe it was the shower curtain. It was like a confessional. It was so much easier to talk to somebody when you didn’t have to look at them.
“Half-assed?” he asked, affronted. “I sacrificed myself so our dear friend, Quinn, could have my body.”
Ember choked on a laugh. “Oh, please. You were kidnapped and tied to a chair with a gaping abdominal wound. It’s not like you volunteered for the job.” Ember’s eyes dropped to her feet, shuddering at the blood spiraling towards the drain.
“Well, that hardly matters. Quinn’s soul is safely housed in my body, and I’m…here? So you could at least tell me how this all came to be.”
Ember rolled her eyes. He was impossible. “Not that you deserve any explanation, but Ms. Josephine says I restored your soul the night we met in the cemetery.”
He was quiet for so long she caved and, yet again, pulled the curtain back enough to ensure he was still there. He stared at nothing, his jaw slack. “I’ve had my soul the whole time?”
“Yep.” She couldn’t help but feel a bit smug about how wrecked he looked. She dropped the curtain back into place, reaching for the conditioner.
She slathered conditioner into her hair. “That’s what Josephine thinks.”
“The swamp witch?”
“Oh, that’s right. You were dead. Josephine, the swamp witch, isn’t a witch at all. Well, maybe she’s a witch, but she’s also an Oracle because that is apparently a thing too. Oh, and Miller, my boss from the funeral home, is actually Josephine’s brother. She’s had him, like, watching me this whole time, and Donovan is her grandson, and he’s been watching the pack. She and Miller were behind everything. All of it. From the beginning.” Her voice wavered as she thought of her father and the sacrifice he made for all this to come to pass. He’d given his life for this. She shook the thought away.
He sounded dumbfounded as he said, “Good Lord, how long have I been dead? I’ve missed quite a lot.”
“You have no idea. Allister tried to kill me, but Quinn saved me by stabbing Allister with that Osiris blade, and Allister forced Quinn to absorb his magic.”
“The human killed his father to save you? I didn’t think he had it in him.”
“Former human,” she corrected. "Besides, Allister isn't dead."
"What? What do you mean? You just said Quinn killed him."
She hesitated before saying, "I revived him."
"Revived or resurrected?" Mace asked, leery.
"What's the difference?" Ember asked, deliberately avoiding answering.
"Reviving is CPR; resurrecting is bringing a soul back across the veil. Stop being evasive, luv."
"Fine, I resurrected him."
"With a spell?"
"No," she said, her tone casual. "With my hands."
She could hear his forced exhalation. “This is all very astonishing, even in our circle.”
Her heart did a strange skip at the word our. She was pathetic. She snagged the towel and wrapped it around herself.
Mace continued his exposition without any contribution from her. “Why would they go to all this trouble? How do they even know all this? How did they get here?” She yanked the curtain open and stared at him. His eyes roamed her body, starting at her toes and working their way up. He grinned at her petulant expression. “Sorry, luv. I’m dead, not blind. I’ve never been so jealous of a piece of cloth.”
She rolled her eyes. “Move, please.”
“Why? You can just walk right through me.” He wiggled his eyebrows. “I encourage it, in fact.”
When she didn’t take the bait, he moved, following her back into her bedroom. “You didn’t answer my questions. So, what are you to two witches? Or a witch and an Oracle?”
“They have a crazy theory.”
“Which is…?” he prompted, clearly exasperated.
“They believe Tristin, Kai and I are descendants of some ancient triple goddess.”
“The Morrigan?” Mace said, sounding like somebody had punched the breath from his lungs.
Ember narrowed her eyes. “Yes, exactly. They say there is some prophecy. It’s insane. They’re both crazy.”
He watched her for a moment as she wriggled into her t-shirt and pajama shorts without revealing anything and began to towel-dry her curls.
“I suppose it makes sense.”
“Nothing about this situation makes sense,” she said, slipping between the sheets with a moan that bordered on obscene. She didn’t know what sex felt like, but she bet it wasn’t as good as cold Egyptian cotton with a 700-thread count. She flipped her light off, amused as his spirit gave off a faint glow, allowing her to see his annoyed expression.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“We’ve had this conversation. Going to sleep.”
“You can’t. We have to figure this out.”
“What if I’m not here tomorrow?” he asked quietly.
Ember’s eyes jerked open, her pulse tripping. She hadn’t thought about that. Could he cross over? Would he want that? He’d been immortal for a very long time. “You mean what if you cross over? Could you? Is that something you’d want?”
He sounded sick when he said, “To be tortured for all eternity in the pits of hell? No, luv, I’ll pass, thank you. Besides, soul or no, sluagh can’t cross over into the spirit world.”
“So why do you look so worried?”
“Because there are things far worse.”
“Worse than hell?”
“Aye. I told you before; nobody gets away with the things I did.”
“We’ll figure something out,” she said before she could stop herself. Why was she still trying to help him? He wasn’t her problem. All those squishy sad feelings she’d had after he was gone were quickly turning into something else. She didn’t know what to call it, but it felt like it was burning a hole through her chest.
She reached out, her hand brushing his. Her magic shocked through her, causing them both to suck in a breath.
Again, that same spooked look. It made her shiver. What the hell could scare Mace?
“But we have to figure this out tonight.”
She wanted to tell him not to worry, but she felt drugged, her eyelids so heavy. “Tomorrow. I promise.”
“Ember.” Her name sounded like a plea, but she was too far gone.
“Tomorrow,” she mumbled, already falling into sleep.