Hyacinth always assumed dying would simplify her life. But when her new boss, Archangel Michael, sends her on her first official mission—to retrieve a powerful rock from a collector in Germany—things go downhill fast. For one thing, the Dead keep popping up, expecting her to guide them to the Afterlife. For another, her part-demon nephew Geordi's powers are starting to leak out, at age seven. What if Michael finds out about him? Worse, what if Satan does?
Then there's her love life-after-death. Rooming with a dead French cop no one else can see is complicated enough. But when Jason, Geordi's lying Dioguardi Demon cousin, resurrects himself—so to speak—all Hell breaks loose. Literally. Can Hyacinth get Michael's rock back before Satan steals its powers and breaks free of his prison? Or will her single-minded pursuit put those she loves—and the rest of the world—in the path of Satan's fury?
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"The only truly dead are those who have been forgotten."
I'm pretty sure my landlady's alive, but you never know. At least, I don't.
My name's Hyacinth Finch, and a couple of months ago, I died and was brought back to life — sort of — by Saint Michael the Archangel, who's now my boss. Also sort of. It's complicated.
Basically, if you met me on the street, you'd think I was one hundred percent alive, no strings attached. But if I met you? Thanks to the "side effects" of rebirth, I wouldn't know if you were alive, dead, or somewhere in-between, unless you told me.
Then there's this whole thing where my former neighbor, Jason Jones, turned out to be related to my nephew, Geordi Dioguardi, and they both might have demon blood in them.
Well, Jason does for sure; it's Geordi we won't know about until puberty. And he doesn't know I'm the Walking Undead, or that he's being babysat by a dead cop he can't see, named Eric Guilliot. See? Complicated.
Anyway, since my landlady wanted money — cold hard cash she could spend at the market — it's a safe bet she's a breather. She blocked the stairwell leading up to the Zürich flat I share with Geordi and Eric, looking like a six-foot tall, Swiss-German metal door in her gray sweater, matching slacks, and sensible black shoes. Her hair was gray too, but her eyes were a watery blue. Not a hint of black, thank God, so at least she wasn't a demon. Probably.
I suppressed a shiver and shifted the heavy paper grocery bag in my arms, putting on my best Trustworthy Tenant smile. "Frau Blauch. So lovely to see you today."
Her frown deepened, and she pointed a finger at my nose. "Rent. You pay now."
She'd appeared from her basement apartment just in time to prevent me from getting under cover of the small overhang above the stoop. The chill late-October drizzle that had fretted all day wasn't much more than a mist now, but it was enough to dampen my bangs and drip cool rivulets into my eyes. I blinked them away, wishing again that Jason hadn't ditched us. For one thing, he's even taller than Frau Blauch. For another, he can charm the pants off just about anyone. Me included.
I suppressed a shiver of a different sort and said to Frau Blauch, "I'm happy to pay you. But you said I could have an extra week to sort out my finances."
"Ja," she said agreeably. "Rent. Due now."
The bag started to slip, the weight of peanut butter, milk, and fresh veggies pulling on my aching arms as I hiked it back up. The thing is, she was right. The rent was past due, and deal or not, I don't renege on my responsibilities. I bend the truth now and then, and my past is shadier than you might expect — okay, I'm a former graverobber and sometime dealer in goods of, er, questionable origin — but I'm an honest thief. Think George-Clooney- charming, not He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named-evil.
To make matters worse, Michael was due to pop in any day now, demanding I start my new job. He's a busy guy, leading all those souls to their Final Destination, while also fighting off Satan's minions. Since, like the kid in the movie, I see dead people, we struck a deal. If I "pre- sort" some of the Dead for him, I get time to find a good foster family for Geordi. But once he's settled, I'm off to whichever After Life is reserved for semi-reformed grave-robbing liars.
I have other ideas — like staying with Geordi permanently. But that's a whole other problem.
Frau Blauch's gaze flicked over the wet grocery bag. "You haf little boy, ja? He is upstairs, allein — alone?"
Crap. I switched gears to Conscientious Parent and nodded toward the store one door down. "I only left him for a minute — just to get some food."
Her brows lowered further, and she glanced pointedly at the streetlights, which were coming to life. It might be mid-afternoon, but the heavy gray skies meant it was dark already, and I couldn't very well explain, My dead roommate is babysitting. But our window faces the street, and Geordi'd leaned over the flower box on the sill, watching me go into the store, then waving when I came back out. I'd also seen Eric hovering near his shoulder, like a moody blond — and built — guardian angel.
If only he wasn't invisible to everyone but me.
Frau Blauch said, "Is not safe, little boy allein like zat. He has nightmares, ja? I hear him, at night. You leave him again, I call Polizei. You pay rent — tomorrow."
She ducked through the small door off to the side of the stairwell, leading to her basement rooms. She was right about this, too. I shouldn't leave him, and he did have nightmares. What kid wouldn't, after what he'd been through? Was still experiencing?
I sighed and stepped over the stoop into the musty stairwell, lugging the now-soaked grocery bag up the stairs. Geordi, bless him, heard me fumble with the lock and ran to open the door, flinging himself at me. "Tata Hyhy!"
By some miracle, I didn't drop the groceries, and I managed to get one arm around his shoulder, squeezing back. He smelled of moist earth and sweet, late-blooming flowers, and I surmised he'd been digging around in the Angel's trumpets in the planter, searching for bugs. I leaned back, and sure enough, his fingernails were black and his face was smudged.
"Find any as-yet undiscovered species of insect, Professor Finch?"
That made him giggle, but I detected uncertainty, too. I let the bag slide to the floor — who cared if a few jars broke? — and pulled him tight for a full-on, aunt-who-loves-him-more-than-life hug. Frau Blauch was right. Regardless of how close the market was, a seven-year-old shouldn't be left in what he perceived as an empty apartment.
I sought out the only adult support I had in this new "life" of mine. From the window seat, my gaze was met by a habitually cynical jade- green one, now oddly tense. I tightened my grip on Geordi and raised an eyebrow, but Eric shook his head and went back to staring out the window. Just then, the lowering sun broke through the clouds, its rays electrifying his golden hair and limning his rigid profile, making him look like a downed wire, about to arc.
Had something happened? What?
I tamped down my frustration. How much easier this would be if my babysitter wasn't dead. But Geordi's the only son of Nicholas Dioguardi, who was the only son and heir of a very nasty capo in the Sicilian Mob. I say was, because he also died recently, trying to kill Geordi's mother, my sister Lily. She died, too, but after Nick, and now la familigia wants Geordi back, something I will never let happen.
Geordi pulled back and swiped a grubby hand under his nose, giving himself a dirt mustache. His black hair and blue eyes were so like Jason's that a sudden hot lump rose in my throat.
"Tata, when you were gone, I heard a man's voice."
Shit. The Dioguardis — they had found us. My heart thudded painfully, but I tried to sound calm. "You mean outside, on the street?"
He frowned. "Inside."
"Actually in the apartment?"
He nodded, and my first thought was, Thank God. Nick's family would hardly break in, speak once, and then hide in the back room. They'd snatch Geordi and go, and he wouldn't be in my arms right now. And then what he'd said sank in and my blood turned to ice.
I said carefully, "You mean out in the hall, right?"
The frown became a glare — usually I took him more seriously. "Inside."
I blew out a breath. "I'm sorry, sweetie. I know you meant in here. But —" I made a show of glancing around, my gaze lingering on Eric, who studiously avoided eye contact. "— there's no one here. Is there?"
Geordi shook his head, but less certainly. "I heard something. And when I looked around, I heard it again."
A faint flush rose on the back of Eric's neck, and I forced my jaw to unclench.
"Sweetie, I need to get the milk in the fridge. Can you help put stuff away?" Geordi nodded, and I gave him another squeeze. "It's okay. It was probably someone outside after all — or in the flat above or below us. These old buildings — sometimes the sound carries too well."
His face lit with relief and he grabbed the milk and ran to the fridge. Ah, the rapid mood swings of the young.
I stood more slowly. Eric regarded me warily — as well he should — then abruptly gave one of his resigned half-shrugs — the ones that marked him as supremely French — and I was pretty sure I knew what went down.
As a former flic — a cop — I thought I could trust him in most things. Plus, he had a thing for me. Or I had one for him.
Okay, we were attracted to each other.
But I was already sort of involved with Jason, despite the whole Dioguardi Demon thing. Jason left before we settled anything, and Eric had made it clear he wouldn't "poach" another man's territory.
Very noble of him. And annoying.
As for trusting him in other arenas, well, just because he was an OPJ — un officier de police judiciaire — didn't mean he'd keep any promises he deemed not completely "necessary." Like the one he'd made about not trying to get Geordi to sense him.
Geordi darted out from behind the fridge door to grab the peanut butter, which my now-bruised veggies had cushioned. He ran back to the kitchenette while I scooped everything else up and followed. Even from across the room, Eric's emotions popped, hot with energy, but tempered by something cooler. Disappointment. Frustration.
I softened. It was hard to stay mad, knowing how lonely he was, with no one but me for company. And even then, only at odd hours, when Geordi was asleep or in the other room.
When all the groceries were tucked into cupboards or the fridge, I said to Geordi, "I saw Monsieur Renaud at the market. He left something outside his door for you — I would've grabbed it on my way in, but my arms were full. Do you want to go see what it is?"
My rhetorical question earned a shriek of delight. He raced from the apartment, and I heard him pounding down the hall to the flat at the end, by the stairs.
I have very vague memories of my parents, who died when Lily and I were young, and none at all of any extended generations up the ancestral tree. Which is maybe why I have a soft spot for elderly men. Not in a creepy May-December way; in a simple, "I get along with Old Guys" way. Especially Swiss-French ones, like Monsieur Renaud. Even better, his grandson was Geordi's age, so he knew what books were au courant for a seven-year-old boy.
Geordi ran in, clutching a hardbound collection of Astérix comics. With a big grin, he disappeared into his room and slammed the door. He reads fast, but I figured his new favorite anti-hero would occupy him for an hour at least.
I let out a breath, then joined Eric on the window seat, where he once more stared pensively out at the passersby below. The sun had slipped back behind the clouds, and like it, I expected Eric to have, literally, cooled off by now. But if anything, he was more agitated. Often, when he got like this, small objects nearby began vibrating and, sometimes, flew across the room. I checked, but didn't see any loose scissors or paperweights, or anything else dangerous, so I waited silently.
After a moment, he spoke without looking at me. "Ils ne me voient pas. They cannot see me. I could stand before them, and they would walk through me as though I did not exist. And I — I would be powerless to stop them."
"Not entirely powerless," I said, thinking of the flying objects. "Besides, at least you know who down there is alive. I can't even tell that, for sure."
"It is not the same. You can touch them — dead or alive. They hear you, they speak to you. No one living speaks to me, and I can touch no one. No one ... except you, mon ange."
My angel — his pet name for me. But today the words sounded bitter, not teasing.
He said abruptly, "You are angry with me, for attempting to speak with your nephew. For that I do not apologize."
"I'm not angry."
Relief flared in his eyes, followed by a sudden heat, and I fought the urge to lean into him. Sharing a flat, without being together, was like putting a diabetic in a candy factory. Not to mention I'm hiding him from Michael, because as a devout Catholic, Eric should have been taken away moments after death. But since he was my only link between my current state of limbo and the After Life, I wasn't anxious to lose him.
Well, that, and other reasons.
"I admit I was angry at first. But I know how difficult this is for you."
His jaw hardened. "I do not want your pity. I want you.All of you — I want to take you to the corner café and drink coffee in the morning, while we read the paper. Together. I want to go for a drive in the country, and I want to be at the wheel. Most of all, I want to help you, with your nephew, and whatever absurdly dangerous thing you must do when le saint Michel returns. I want to help you — and I cannot."
"You do help me. I couldn't do half what I'm doing, if you weren't here, keeping Geordi safe. Besides, the next rock probably won't be as hard to retrieve as the last one."
That's part-two of my new job. The short version is that Satan destroyed one of Michael's sanctuaries, and now they're locked in a battle to retrieve the most rock shards from the fallout. If Michael gets more, all is well. If Satan does, he can harness Michael's energy from the rocks and escape Hell, or destroy the world, or something equally fun. Guess he's still a teensy bit pissed about being evicted from Heaven. Go figure.
Eric shook his head in wonder. "Tu vois? This is what draws me to you — your ability to find the good in a situation. But ... there is no good in my situation, other than that you are in it."
I opened my mouth to protest, and he leaned forward, eyes flashing.
"Non. It is true. Were I alive, we would be together now. But I cannot ask this of you. Not when we cannot even speak in front of your nephew. I should have gone on. To Heaven, or to Hell — either would be better than this — being near you, wanting you, needing you — but not man enough to treat you properly."
I stopped, because, really, what could I say? It was my fault he was stuck here. Maybe not initially, but I'd been committing the sin of omission for months now. I took a deep breath.
"Do you want me to call Michael down? Just say the word and I'll do it. I'm forever grateful for all you've done. But I can't ask you to stay. Not when you're this unhappy."
We were so close, if he'd had breath, it would be caressing my skin. His eyes darkened. "Mon ange ... Do you not understand that you are the closest to happy, that I have ever come?"
My breath caught, and his gaze dropped to my mouth. He made a noise low in his throat, of frustration, or desire, or both, and suddenly gripped my shoulders, fingers digging in so hard it hurt, keeping me rigidly at arm's length. He felt so solid to me — so real. I brought my hands up to explore the hard muscles of his chest and shoulders, the smoothness of his neck and jaw, and from there, slid my fingers into the thick waves of his hair.
He groaned. "Mon ange, were I not already dead, you would kill me."
I shook my head, denying I had power over him, and he brushed his knuckles over my cheek, then cupped my chin, lowering his mouth until only my own breath separated us.
"Si, c'est vrai — I am as surprised as anyone. But I am not afraid to say it — I am yours." His gaze flicked over my features as though memorizing them, and when he spoke, his voice was fierce. "Et tu — t'es la mienne."
His lips parted, his eyes dark with desire. The cage of his arms relaxed, and I leaned into him.
And then a crash! from the hall sent us jumping apart.
A deep booming voice I'd know anywhere said, "Hyacinth? Child? Are you in there?"
I stared at Eric, heart hammering, adrenaline and all sorts of other, more pleasurable, hormones racing through me. It seemed my new boss had arrived at last.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Waking the Dead"
Copyright © 2019 Kerry Blaisdell.
Excerpted by permission of The Wild Rose Press, Inc..
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