Excerpt – Shadows of the Past

Chapter 1

Doug folded his hands behind his back, gripping his left wrist above his clenched fist. It gave him an outlet for the fury he couldn’t let show on his face.

“You’re a good boy, Jake.” Howard Dunstan laid a wrinkled hand atop Jake’s blond head.

“Yes, Grandfather,” Jake answered in a small voice.

Doug gripped his wrist harder to keep from pulling his nephew away from the old man. Jake was clearly afraid of him. Had Howard been mean to Jake in the past, or did the little boy simply not know him well? Doug didn’t blame Jake for the reaction. The old man made him uneasy as well, and not because he led the heads of house in the Baltimore area. At one time, Howard Dunstan had been a powerful necromancer, but the crazy light in his faded blue eyes suggested that those days had passed.

“We need to go, Father. Our flight is boarding,” Geoffrey Dunstan spoke up. His golden brown eyes locked with Doug’s a moment before shifting to Howard. “We don’t want to miss our plane back to Baltimore.”

Geoff Dunstan was the true leader of the Baltimore necromancer community. It was a community that rivaled Doug’s own, here in Cincinnati. Some suggested that Baltimore’s higher percentage of blood gifts put them on top. Even their leader possessed one—which was why Howard still held his position though senility was clearly getting the better of him.

“Of course,” Howard agreed with his son, taking his gnarled hand from Jake’s head.

Jake backpedaled quickly to return to Doug’s side.

Unable to stand seeing his nephew uneasy, Doug picked him up and set him on his hip.

“You shouldn’t coddle the boy,” Howard said. “Once a child can stand on his own, he should.”

Doug said nothing, simply holding the old man’s crazy gaze. Jake wasn’t yet four years old, and Doug would hold him when he damn well pleased. Especially after everything the child had recently been through.

Geoff cleared his throat, then addressed Doug. “Mona will be paying you a visit.”

“As you have already informed me.”

Geoff smirked. “You won’t be able to pull one over on her, Nelson.”

“It’s Deacon. And if there was something I was trying to hide, I might be concerned.”

Geoff’s smug look faded. His cousin Mona was the necromancer in the Dunstan family everyone feared. Though why they kept her as a guard dog rather than as the family’s head of house was a mystery.

“Go ahead, hide behind the name of your mad ancestor.” Geoff’s smile returned. “He’s no longer around to protect you.”

“Because I had him put down,” Doug replied. That wasn’t entirely accurate. He had only helped destroy Alexander, the undead ghoul master who had secretly led the Nelson family, hell, the entire Cincinnati community for almost two centuries.

Geoff eyed him. “However you want to spin it. Deacon.” He stopped to give Doug a sympathetic shake of the head. “It’s a shame really. With him backing you, you might have stood a chance against Mona. As it is, she will discover the truth about my sister’s murder.”

“She is welcome to it. As I told you, neither I nor my brother have anything to hide.”

Geoff pursed his lips, clearly annoyed that his taunts weren’t getting the desired reaction. “Come along, Father.” He took Howard’s elbow. “We need to go.”

“Now? What about the ice cream?” Howard whined.

“It’s this way.” Geoff gave Doug one last glare, then led his father away.

Doug released a breath, and Jake imitated him, slumping against his shoulder.

“Are you okay?” Doug asked as he turned away, walking toward the airport’s main entrance.

“That was hard,” Jake said. “I don’t like being closed up tight.”

Doug glanced down. He’d asked Jake to say nothing about what he could do with regard to ghosts, but he hadn’t instructed him to close down that side of his nature. Doug was a strong believer in making an effort to protect oneself from the influence of the spiritual world, but he was beginning to learn that it wasn’t a natural state for some people.

“Thank you for doing that,” Doug said. “I don’t think your grandfather or uncle would like it if you didn’t stay closed.”

“They don’t,” Jake confided.

Doug’s pulse jumped. “They know what you can do?”

“No, but when I try to tell the ghosts around Grandfather to go away, they start screaming.”

“Who starts screaming?” It made Doug furious to imagine those men yelling at the little boy over an ability he couldn’t yet control.

“The ghosts,” Jake answered.

Doug blinked.

“They’re not like the ghosts at your house,” Jake continued. “And I think it scares Grandfather when they start screaming. Last time, he put his hands over his ears and ran outside.”

“Huh.” Doug hadn’t needed confirmation, but the presence of ghosts suggested that Howard wasn’t playing with a full deck. When a necromancer’s natural defense against the spirit world began to fail, it was usually an indicator of mental illness, or dementia. “Does your grandfather talk to the ghosts?”

“Yes, and sometimes they get inside him and talk for him—like that bad ghost did to Daddy.”

“Really?” Doug struggled not to laugh at the notion of blood-gift-talented Howard Dunstan being frequently possessed.

“It was the fat ghost that wanted ice cream, not Grandfather,” Jake explained. “Ice cream makes Grandfather’s stomach hurt.”

Doug couldn’t stop the chuckle on that one. Was the old man lactose-intolerant and possessed by a portly ice-cream-craving phantom?

Jake grinned. “Sometimes, it makes him fart really loud.”

Doug lost it, and Jake laughed along with him. They collected smiles from people passing by. If Era were here, she would no doubt have a comment about Doug getting as torn up as Jake over a little potty humor.

Doug sobered and made an effort to push the thought of her away, as he’d been doing since she had told him that a relationship between them wouldn’t work.

“Can we get some ice cream?” Jake asked. The question wasn’t a surprise. He absolutely loved chocolate ice cream.

“As long as you don’t start farting.”

Jake burst out laughing, barely able to promise between giggles.

Doug hugged him close. “Then ice cream it is.” He didn’t even care that the stop would make him a little late.


Declan met him in the foyer of the Nelson Funeral Parlor, propping his hands on his hips as Doug and Jake stepped through the front door.

“I see where you two have been,” Declan said.

“I used a napkin, Daddy.” Jake gave his father a worried look. “Don’t be mad.”

“I’m not mad about your messy face. I’m mad that you didn’t bring me any.”

“Oh.” Jake’s blue eyes widened in surprise, then chagrin. “We could stop again and get you some.”

Declan smirked, his eyes meeting Doug’s. “Wouldn’t that be convenient?”

Doug smiled. “You walked right into that one.”

Declan released an exaggerated sigh. “Very well.” He ruffled Jake’s hair before turning back to Doug. “Did you get old man Dunstan and his sidekick sent off?”

“Yes.” Doug shook his head. “How did you put up with those—” He glanced at Jake. “I don’t know how you did it, Dec.”

“There was a lot of alcohol involved,” Declan answered lightly.

Doug doubted that, but refrained from comment in front of Jake. He wouldn’t speak ill of the little boy’s recently deceased mother or her crappy relations.

“But I’m afraid we’re not done with it yet,” Doug added.

“I didn’t think we could be that lucky.” Declan frowned at nothing in particular. “When will they be back?”

They won’t. At least, not until Samhain.”

“That’s less than a week from now.”

“I know. It gets worse.” Doug continued before Declan could comment. “We’ll be getting a visit from Mona, the inquisitor.”

Declan stood straighter, and his Adam’s apple bobbled with an exaggerated swallow.

“Come on,” Doug said, though Declan hadn’t spoken. “She can’t be that bad.”

“She makes your skin crawl. She looks at you, and I swear she can see your soul.”

“You’ve been living among those, um,” Doug spared Jake a glance, “people too long. Yes, she has a blood gift, but she’s just a lich king.” Like her uncle Howard.

“Wait until you meet her,” Declan said. “You’ll see.”

“Fine.” Doug glanced at his watch. It was already ten after six. “I need to get upstairs.”

“I explained where you were.”

“Thanks, but I’m sure this will be another strike against me.” Punctuality was practically a law within the Community. Being late to a heads of house meeting was a capital offense. Normally, such meetings were held at the Homestead—as everyone called Doug’s family home—but with it under repairs, they gathered here.

Declan clapped him on the shoulder. “Just give them the stare. You’ve got that down pat.”

Doug stared at him.

Declan laughed. “See?” He offered Jake his hand. “Ready for that ice cream?”

Jake took his hand, bouncing in place. “Yes!”

Declan gave Doug a wink, then the pair headed for the door.

Doug watched them go, smiling at Jake’s recitation of the menu and his suggestions as to what flavor his father might try. He always encouraged others to try something new, but he never varied from his own chocolaty favorite.

Chuckling to himself, Doug started up the stairs, but once he reached the second floor, his humor faded. He wished he could just go home and perhaps savor a nice glass of scotch in the den. If he could make it home in forty-five minutes, he might arrive before Era left for the—

He stopped that thought. Damn it. He needed to quit going there.

Pushing open the door to his father’s office—no, his office—he stepped inside. The thirteen people seated around the room immediately fell silent. He hoped it was a gesture of respect and not because they had been speaking about him.

“Deacon.” Ed Campbell rose to his feet, quickly followed by the other heads of house, each one representing their respective family.

“My apologies for making you wait.” Doug crossed to the large desk that was now his.

“I trust you have the matter in hand,” Beverly Morton said. “It would be unfortunate to lose our good standing with our Baltimore cousins.

“Good standing?” Doug didn’t bother to hide the annoyance in his tone. “Our Communities have had little interaction for centuries.”

“Perhaps not Community wide,” Beverly answered, “but your family has maintained its connection to the Dunstans. Both your brother and aunt married one.”

“You do not need to instruct me on my family connections.” Doug closed his mouth before he pointed out that each marriage had produced problems that he’d had to address regarding both Declan’s failed marriage and their aunt’s son, Neil.

With a final frown at Beverly, Doug turned his attention to Judith Mallory, the only person in the room who he saw as an ally. “What’s our first order of business?”

Judith sat at the nearby table, a pen in one hand and an open book before her. It was Doug’s book. The public record of his deeds as Deacon. Ironically, the task of recording his actions had fallen to Judith as the most senior member of those gathered here. She had been the lone survivor of his cousin Neil’s purge of the former heads of house.

“The estimates are back on the mausoleum repairs in Greenlawn Cemetery.”

Doug schooled his expression to hide his pleasure at the news. One of his first orders of business had been to share the truth of his family’s history and to repair the tomb of the Community’s true founder: Ian Mallory Nelson.

“Please continue,” he said to Judith.

This was one decision about which Doug had made clear he would allow no opposition. Surprisingly, no one had gainsaid him. Perhaps they, too, were willing to honor the necromancer who had truly established their Community, not his demented brother who had used his abilities for centuries to rule them from the grave.

The mausoleum repairs were approved and other matters of Community interest were discussed and addressed. After the heated exchange with the Dunstans that afternoon, Doug enjoyed the civil discussion and even the debates here in his father’s old office.

When talk turned to the upcoming Samhain celebration, Doug passed around some snapshots of the Homestead’s nearly complete restoration. Once those gathered got a good look at the beauty of the work, he didn’t hear a single complaint about his New Magic contractor. He would have loved to give the room an I told you so, but didn’t want to start something.

Perhaps he should relay some of the compliments he was hearing to Era. It would just be a business discussion. It wasn’t like he—

“And the final order of business,” Judith spoke up, drawing his attention back to her.

“Please, go ahead.” The meeting had run longer than he had hoped, but at least it was nearly done.

Ed Campbell got to his feet, and opening the door, stepped out into the hall.

Of course. Matters that involved members of the Community were addressed last. Doug wondered what tonight’s topic would be. He’d heard of no recent engagements. Though he had no true control over such things, young necromancers traditionally sought his blessing on their coming nuptials.

He was fairly certain there were no new births to recognize nor any children he needed to test for a blood gift. No one had approached him about opening a new funeral home, but he had been busy with other things.

Ed returned to the room, followed by a middle-aged woman and an elderly man bent over a cane. Ed paused to help the old man with the oxygen supply he carried with him. If Doug remembered correctly, they were part of the Campbell family.

“Deacon,” Ed addressed him. “Allow me to introduce my cousin Tracy and her father, Robert Campbell.”

“Welcome,” Doug greeted them, congratulating himself for remembering which family they belonged to. His father had always made it a point to know everyone, and Doug tried to emulate that. “What can I do for you?”

“Tracy?” the elderly man prompted, wheezing on the single word. Doug hoped he’d been shown the elevator and hadn’t been forced to take the stairs.

The woman nodded and opened the manila envelope she held. “We met with the attorney, and I think you’ll find everything in order, Deacon.”

“Attorney?” Doug asked, reaching out to accept the papers.

“Bunch of foolishness, if you ask me,” Robert wheezed.

“Father,” Tracy admonished him under her breath, but he continued anyway.

“Back in my grandpappy’s day, you didn’t need all these fancy forms. There weren’t any lawyers or the PIA to check if your death was natural or not.”

Doug’s heart surged, though he keep his expression passive. “You’re a supplicant.”

“That’s right, Deacon,” Robert Campbell wheezed. “I want you to make me a lich.”

Chapter 2

Doug’s heart continued to pound with a mix of excitement and dread. To hide his reaction, he looked down at the papers he held. It was the typical supplicant’s form, drawn up by a law office the Community used for such things. This particular paper would never be filed in the public record. It was only used here—and as a safeguard in case needed. Doug had already used such evidence with the PIA. The Paranormal Investigation Agency had insisted on seeing it when he had been falsely accused of making a man a lich without his permission.

“Deacon?” Robert Campbell prompted.

“Everything appears to be in order,” Doug answered, looking up from the legal forms.

“So when can you do it?”

Doug held up a hand. “Not so fast.” How did he handle this? Era had insisted that he would become a monster like the Deacons before him if he continued to Make, but it was also his obligation to the community.

“I don’t guess I need to explain how this works,” Doug said, trying to buy himself some time.

“I know. Witnessed it as a boy,” the old man said, not the least bit put off by the notion. “And my daughter will be my sponsor.”

“That’s right, Deacon,” Tracy agreed. “My cousin sponsored her mother. I, too, know what is involved.” In other words, she knew that she would have to give her father her own blood, frequently, to keep him from rotting too quickly. And once the blood lost its effectiveness, she would see to his true death. To be trapped in a rotting corpse that had lost its mobility was not a pleasant fate. A trustworthy sponsor was very important.

“It sounds like you’re going into this with your eyes wide open,” Doug observed.

They both agreed, the old man leaning toward him in his eagerness.

“Let me read over this”—Doug patted the form lying on his desk—“and make the usual inquires, then I’ll get back with you.”

“Of course, Deacon,” Tracy readily agreed though her father frowned.

Doug rose to his feet and walked around the desk to shake hands with each of them. He smiled and nodded while his mind sought a solution to the quandary he was in. Nothing came to mind.

Moments later, the supplicant and his family left, then he was bidding goodnight to the heads of house. They gradually filed out, discussing this latest development with evident excitement.

Judith retrieved the form from his desk and returned to her seat to write up the last of the meeting’s minutes.

Ed stopped beside Doug, his phone in hand. “I was checking my calendar and got to thinking… If I can convince Robert to wait, this would be a perfect demonstration for Samhain.”

Doug’s stomach knotted. “The Samhain Making. I completely forgot.”

Ed chuckled. “I’m not surprised. Your father didn’t need to perform a yearly demonstration of his power. Everyone knew his strength.”

And the fact that Alexander would destroy anyone who gainsaid Father.

Ed continued when Doug remained silent. “This Making is the perfect opportunity to show the Community the reason you were named Deacon.” Ed tapped his chin. “Now that I think about it, there is no one alive who has witnessed one of your Makings.”

Doug was certain this epiphany hadn’t just occurred to Ed. He’d planned this to give his family the honor of Doug’s first public Making. For that reason alone, Doug wanted to refuse him, but the problem was: Ed was right. It was a Samhain tradition that Doug would be expected to fulfill. Beyond that, Makings were never refused—despite all the supposed legalities.

“I’ll think on it,” Doug lamely replied. “Then get back with you.”

“Of course.” Smiling, Ed tucked away his phone. “It’s so refreshing that things are finally getting back to normal.” A handshake and a final farewell, and he left Doug standing there.

Doug noticed Judith quietly watching him. She abruptly straightened, then closed his book over the form she had folded inside and rose to her feet.

“You look uncertain, Doug.” She tended to drop the title when they were alone. Of course, he had almost been her grandson-in-law. She knew him fairly well.

“There’s no record in here”—she laid a hand atop his book—“but I assume you’ve Made before.”

“Several times.”

She dipped her chin, accepting that without apparent surprise, then carried the book over and handed it to him. “Is there something wrong with this particular case?”

He wanted to confide in her and tell her what Era had said, but he couldn’t seem to make the words leave his mouth.

“It’ll be my first Making as Deacon,” he said instead. “I don’t want there to be any problems.”

“I understand.” Judith continued to watch him.


“Maybe it’s the way it’s done, or the difference in your upbringing, but Making liches was hard on Elysia.”

“She absorbs the souls.” It was a feature of her unique blood gift—and it would have killed her if she didn’t have James.

“I meant psychologically. Especially Carter’s mother.”

Elysia had been forced to Make the mother of her adopted son, Carter. The young woman had been shot and was dying. To save her unborn baby, Elysia had Made her, giving her time to reach the hospital and deliver her premature son.

“That was an unusual, tragic incident,” Doug said. “I have no doubt that was hard on Ely.”

Judith held his gaze a moment longer, then seemed to come to some conclusion. “Well, I’m here if you need someone to listen.”

The gesture touched him. “Thank you, Judith.”

A knock sounded on the open door, and Doug looked over to see Judith’s granddaughter, Livie standing on the threshold.

“I saw everyone else file out,” Livie said. “You two have work to finish up?”

“We’re done here,” Doug told her.

“Good. I’ve got a roast in the oven. I was going to go check on it if you were going to be much longer.”

“I’m ready,” Judith answered before turning back to him. “Do you have plans for supper, Doug?”

“I do,” Doug lied, “but thank you.”

“Your loss,” Livie told him.

“I’m sure.”

Judith smiled and walked over to join her.

A dark portal into the land of the dead opened beside Livie, and with a final farewell, she led her grandmother through the opening and the doorway vanished behind them.

Doug shook his head, amazed anew every time he watched fifteen-year-old Livie do that. Livie had a blood gift. A terrifying blood gift that would see her shunned or worse, if word ever got out. Livie was a ghoul master, just like their insane relation, Alexander.


Doug tapped his fingers on the steering wheel as he waited for the gate to open, then started up the long drive that led to his family home. Normally, the sight of the old place after a long day was a soothing one—especially now that the scaffolding on the east wing had been removed—but that wasn’t the case tonight. A pair of large dumpsters and a scissor lift took up most of the cobbled area in front of the house, making it a challenge to maneuver into the garage.

He parked beside his father’s Lexus and shut off the engine. The garage door thumped closed behind him and the lights came on overhead. Doug glanced at his watch as he picked up his book off the front seat. It was only a little after eight, though it felt much later. Maybe he would have that glass of scotch.

The house was quiet. Declan and Jake were most likely in the east wing, going through the bedtime routine. Doug was tempted to stop in and wish his nephew a goodnight, but that would probably mess up said routine.

Doug crossed the great room on his way to the wide stairway at the front of the house. He admired the newly exposed stone floor and reconstructed ceiling with its cherry supporting timbers. If he was honest, he had hired Era as a way to get closer to her. He had originally told himself it was a means to curry favor with the Elements, the leaders of the New Magic faction here in Cincinnati, but the truth was that he was attracted to Era. 

Looking at his home now, he could admit that although his reason for hiring her to renovate might have been off, it had proved to be the right decision. As an interior designer, she did amazing work.

Doug climbed the stairs and turned right when he reached the second floor. He’d drop off his book in the office, then go find that drink.

The double doors to the den stood slightly open, and a light shone from within. Perhaps Declan already had Jake in bed and was sampling the scotch himself. Doug didn’t blame him. The last few days spent entertaining his former in-laws had been hell.

Doug pushed open the door and stepped inside. He took a breath, ready to ask Declan to pour him a glass as well, but discovered that it wasn’t Declan in the den.

“Back so soon?” Era asked without turning away from the curtain she was hanging. “Good. I could use your opinion.”

“Of course,” Doug answered, surprised that she would ask. She tended to avoid him these days. “What do you need?”

“Doug!” She turned so quickly that her stepladder wobbled.

He closed the distance between them and caught the ladder, his fingers brushing hers as he steadied it. “Careful.”

She pulled her hand away and hopped down. “I didn’t think you’d be back until later. I thought you were Declan. He’s putting Jake to bed.”

A worm of disappointment wiggled through him, but he tried to ignore it. “The agenda was a short one for once.” He tightened the grip on the book he still held.

Era must have caught the motion, because her gaze dropped to the book before returning to his face. “That’s a good thing, right?”


She looked away. “Well, next month you can get back to holding it here.” She lifted her arms to indicate the room around them. “Declan said that this room is where the heads of house typically meet.”


An awkward silence descended as they each took a moment to study the room. The recently exposed hardwood floor, wainscoting, and crown molding had all been refinished, giving the room a somber elegance.

Doug cleared his throat. “So, what do you want my opinion on?”

“It’s nothing you need to trouble yourself with.”

“So you’ll solicit Declan’s opinion, but not mine?”

“You’ve been very busy, and it is a minor matter. Actually, I wouldn’t have bothered him, but since I thought he was here—”

“I’m here.”

She met his eyes for just a moment before looking away. “Fine,” she grumbled, then turned and walked deeper into the room.

Amused at her begrudging tone, Doug watched the swing of her hips in the jeans she’d taken to wearing recently. Now that she was actively decorating the newly renovated house, she no longer wore the skirt and blazer she had favored while overseeing the construction.

Doug pulled his eyes from her backside, chiding himself as he followed her across the room. What was he doing? He should have let her dismiss him, not prolong this exchange. He would never get over this infatuation if he didn’t stop feeding it.

“I have a couple of samples for the area rug,” she explained. “Now that some of the curtains are hung, it’ll be easier to judge.”

“All right,” he agreed, trying to focus on the matter at hand.

Two rolled rugs lay before the fireplace. He was about to offer to help unroll them when both began to unroll themselves. Well, that wasn’t exactly true. As the metallic sheen in her amber eyes indicated, Era had used her magic to unroll them. He suspected that she’d used a punch of air since she couldn’t manipulate a solid object. As an Air Element, her power only extended to the gases around them.

“I think it’s a big enough sample that you can get a good feel for it,” she said. “I’ll spare you my dissertation on color and pattern—as Declan likes to call it.” She smiled at that. “What’s your gut reaction? Which do you like better?”

Doug turned his attention to the rugs, trying to squash the annoyance that arose every time she mentioned his brother. He knew it was simply friendship. Declan knew how he felt, and Era had made it clear that she wasn’t interested in dating a necromancer. But Doug couldn’t quite squash his stupid reaction.

“The one closest to the fireplace.” The words came out harsher than he intended, and he made an effort to soften his tone as he continued. “They’re both nice, but that’s the one I prefer.”

“Me, too.” Era gave him a bright smile.

His heart rolled over in his chest. Ah, hell.

“I wanted to keep the burgundy in the color scheme,” she explained, not noticing his reaction. “And I thought the gold worked well with the brass accents around the room—like the sconces and the hardware on the cabinets.”

“Hmm.” He looked where she indicated.

She continued her happy explanation, going on about curtain tiebacks and accents on the cushions. This aspect of the job was clearly something she enjoyed and was good at, but her enthusiasm reminded him entirely too much of the way she had been around him—before they’d vanquished his dead ancestor who had haunted these halls. Well, another dead ancestor. There seemed to be a never-ending supply in his family.

Speaking of family, the door opened and Declan walked in.

“Declan,” Era cheerfully greeted him. “You’re just in time.” She launched into another detailed explanation of her decorating scheme.

Declan listened, catching Doug’s eye with a faint grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. He probably saw this as a triumphant development in his machinations to get Doug and Era’s relationship back on track—despite any argument Doug might make.

While Era regaled Declan with fabrics, colors, and furniture groupings, Doug walked to the decanter and poured himself a drink.

“Pour me one as well,” Declan called to him. “It’s been one of those days.” He turned to Era. “How about you? Shall I have Doug pour you one, too?”

“No, thank you.” She glanced at her watch. “Goodness. I didn’t realize it was so late.”

“We have wine, if that’s what you prefer,” Declan offered.

“No, it’s not the beverage.” She laughed, though she sobered quickly. “I need to go.”

“I’ll walk you out,” Declan said.

Doug kept his eyes on the drinks he was pouring, well aware that Declan was most likely giving him a look to suggest that he walk Era out. He was doing such a good job that he jumped when Declan stopped beside him.

“What are you doing tomorrow?” Declan asked as he picked up his glass.

“I have an appointment at the county morgue in the morning, but I’m free tomorrow afternoon. Do you need me to stay with Jake?”

“No, nothing like that. Era needs your input on the master suite, and since that’s your place, I can’t be of much assistance there.” Something in Declan’s tone suggested that he’d been called upon to help with the rest of the house since Doug would not.

Doug was ready to tell Declan to go ahead and take care of the master suite as well, but Era had stopped beside them, a faint wrinkle on her brow.

“It won’t take long,” she reassured him. “But I’m not comfortable going forward without your input.”

“I understand. Tomorrow afternoon is fine,” he relented, unable to come up with any plausible reason not to. Besides, putting it off would not make the task go away.

“Sounds good.” She didn’t look any more pleased than he did.

“I’ll see you then.” He hurried on before Declan could say anything else. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some paperwork to file.”

Declan’s frown suggested that he wasn’t buying Doug’s excuse, but Era quickly agreed, looking relieved.

Bidding her goodnight, Doug took his drink and retreated to the office next door. It still felt weird to call it his office, but that’s just what it was.

He dropped the book on the blotter and took a seat in the chair behind the cherry desk that dominated the space. The chair squeaked as he leaned back and took a long drink from his glass, relishing the burn.

Perhaps he ought to replace the chair. Start making this place his own. He’d been hesitant at first, feeling a bit like he was betraying his father, but he was getting tired of living in another man’s shadow.

Doug’s gaze drifted to the book resting on the blotter. Jacob Douglas Nelson had been stamped on the cover and spine in gold foil. His book. The record of his deeds as Deacon—just like the other books on the shelf behind him. A record of his decisions and judgments. And Makings.

He took another drink.

In the quiet, he heard a car fire up outside. He got to his feet and walked to the window to look out onto the drive below him. Era’s little yellow Audi had been parked on the other side of the dumpster—which was why he hadn’t realized she was still here.

He remained at the window until her taillights vanished down Lichfield Avenue. Returning to his seat, he picked up his drink. His glass was empty by the time Declan stepped into the office a few minutes later.

“That was awkward.” Declan set the decanter on the blotter beside Doug’s book, then took a seat across from him.

“Don’t start.” Doug picked up the decanter and refilled his glass while Declan leaned back in his seat and sampled his own suspiciously full tumbler.

“No comment?” Doug asked, surprised when his brother remained silent.

“What else can I say?” Declan looked up from his glass. “I get that she’s had a few bad experiences at the hands of our crazy relations. I’ve been trying to make her see that not all of us are like that, but I can’t force you to lend your support to the idea.”

“I doubt she’d buy it. At least, not for long.”

Declan frowned. “Why?”

“Era told me that I’m no better than those who have served as Deacon before me. Or I soon will be—if I fulfill my obligations to the office.” Doug pulled the folded form from his book and handed it to his brother.

Declan unfolded the paper. “Huh. A request for a Making already?”

“Yes.” Doug leaned back in his chair. “Ed Campbell suggested Samhain.”

Declan looked up. “The Samhain Making.”

“A time-honored family tradition.” Doug lifted his glass in a mock toast, then took a drink before continuing. “So you see, it would be pointless to attempt any sort of reconciliation with Era. The moment she hears of that”—Doug nodded at the form Declan held—“she’ll be done with me.”

Declan returned the form to the desk. “You’re going to do it then?”

“What part of being Deacon do you fail to understand? This is not something I can refuse.”

“Mmm.” Declan took another drink.

“What?” Doug demanded. “If you’ve got a comment, spit it out.”

“I was just wondering. If not for Era, would you even consider refusing?”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“Humor me. I know you’ve Made at least once to be put in contention for Deacon.”

“I’ve Made six times. What about it? I know you don’t have an issue with it.” At least, Doug assumed he didn’t.

Declan grunted. Did the number surprise him? “So Father had already turned over the reins to you?”

“Where are you going with this, Dec?”

“I’ve heard it feels good.” Declan studied his glass. “Like amazing-sex good.”

Doug didn’t know what to say.

Declan lifted his gaze from his glass. “Well, does it?”

“It’s not a physical sensation.”

Declan’s eyebrows rose.

“It’s more like a high,” Doug allowed. A high like nothing he’d ever experienced. “Why do you want to know?”

“There are stories about some who become addicted to lich-making. I assumed that was why Father required all Makings to be registered.”

“They are forbidden entirely, and I suspect that was just a way for Alexander to maintain control. He wouldn’t care if the process drove anyone mad.”

“Probably. I was just wondering if Era had heard about an incident like that. Perhaps that’s what she fears will happen to you.”

“All she said was that it would make me a monster.”

“Does she understand that the supplicants must petition you?”

“She read about my Makings in Father’s book.”

“Ouch.” Declan flinched. “What if you talked to her? Explain what’s expected of you and that you’re not some weak-minded death addict.”

Doug looked down at the form lying on the desk before him. Did he admit to Declan that he feared that Era might be right? The prospect of Making Robert filled him with—

“To an outsider,” Declan continued, “this must seem like… I don’t know, something evil? But we know it’s a natural extension of our Community’s magic.”

“Yeah.” Doug took another drink. No, he couldn’t talk to Declan about this. He wouldn’t understand.

“So, you’ll talk to her about it?” Declan asked.

“I’ll think about it,” Doug answered, just to shut him up. If Declan had ever Made before, he might understand. But since he hadn’t—he couldn’t—Declan didn’t get it.

“Excellent.” Declan got to his feet. “Shall I leave this here?” He waved a hand at the decanter.

“Take it. I don’t need a hangover on top of everything else.”

Declan picked up the decanter. “Give her a chance. Give yourself a chance. You won’t know until you try.” Declan held his gaze for a moment, his expression earnest and hopeful, then left the room.

Doug slumped in his seat. It was at moments like these that he regretted Declan’s lack of power. Doug suddenly wished that Ian was still around. His six-times-over great grandfather would no doubt have some words of wisdom on the topic.

He set down his glass. Perhaps he should drive over to Greenlawn Cemetery. The last time he visited Ian’s grave—

Doug straightened in his chair. “Elysia.” He’d bumped into her at the cemetery, and their talk had helped him so much. Maybe she could help him again. She would understand. She knew what it was like to Make.


Doug braced a hand on the black granite monument and looked up. The early-morning sunlight glinted on the white marble angel that graced the top of the grave marker. Well, it appeared to be a tombstone here in this two-hundred-year-old cemetery, but Doug knew that no one was buried beneath the manicured grass under his feet. The monument had a secret chamber that held three burial urns. Those belonging to his six-times-over great grandparents and their daughter.

“Exquisite work, isn’t it?” a familiar female voice asked from behind him.

Doug didn’t jump. He’d felt the portal open before Elysia stepped through.

“The monument?” he asked. “Yes, you don’t see any like this anymore.”

Elysia stopped beside him, and they stood for a moment, gazing up at the marble angel. Like Doug, this was the tomb of Elysia’s ancestors as well.

“You told James you were meeting me here, right?” Doug asked, breaking the silence.

“I don’t think that’s necessary—”


“But I did as you asked.”

He relaxed. “Good. Thank you.”

Elysia shook her head. “James understands that we’re still friends. Besides, he gets to rip out your soul if you try anything.”


She smacked his arm. “I’m teasing. What’s troubling you, Doug? It has to do with Era, doesn’t it?”

He sighed and faced her. “Yes and no.”

“Go on.”

“I don’t know how much you picked up on, or if she said anything, but Era broke it off with me after the ghost trouble we had at my family home.”

“Ghost trouble? You nearly lost Era and Jake to an incorporeal wraith lord and his spirit prison. I think that goes a little beyond ghost trouble.”

He didn’t argue. “After her dealings with Alexander, it put Era off necromancers.”

“She doesn’t treat me any differently.”

“It’s more about the office of Deacon. She believes it’ll change me.”

Elysia frowned. “But you’re the one making the changes. You’re changing the entire Community.”

“In some ways, but in others, I must live up to certain expectations.”

“Such as?”

“I’m expected to Make when asked.”

“Oh.” Elysia’s gaze returned to the monument.

“Era thinks it’ll turn me into a monster, like those who held the office before me.”

“Ah. I see.”

It was Doug’s turn to frown. “I’ve Made before. So have you. It hasn’t changed us.”

Elysia eyed him. “Do you truly believe that?”

“You don’t?”

“I…don’t know.” Her gaze drifted to the monument once more. “It’s a power trip,” she said softly, then rubbed a hand over her face. “I’m finding it ironic that you bring this up now, because I faced it last week.”

“You do know that you’re supposed to submit all Makings to the Deacon’s office.”

She gave his shoulder another swat. “I didn’t Make anyone. But I wanted to.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “I really, really wanted to.”

“What happened?”

“James and I had stopped at the grocery store. That kid of ours can go through the diapers.”

Doug smiled, but didn’t interrupt.

“This woman cut me off at the checkout. She literally rammed her cart into mine and called me a bitch when I pointed out that Carter was in the buggy.”

“Wow. What was her problem?”

“Don’t know. Didn’t care.” A muscle tightened in Elysia’s jaw. “I got in her face and…” She rubbed the back of her neck. “I wanted her, Doug. I swear to God, if we’d been alone, I might have acted on it.”

“Ely. It was just anger.” He smiled. “And your maternal instincts.”

“No, it was more than that. She turned and ran. I wouldn’t be surprised if she pissed herself.”

“What did you say? Did you animate something and let her see your eyes change?”

“I didn’t touch my magic, and all I said was, ‘Bring it, bitch.’”

“Maybe she was just a mouthy coward.”

“James said she could see death in my eyes. He said he thought he was going to have to stop me from Making her right there in the check-out line.”

“All right. I get it. You were angry, and she was more perceptive than most and saw that you meant business. Hell’s blood, I get pissed from time to time and want to punch someone.”

“Yeah, punch someone. This was the first time I wanted to Make someone. I’m not talking an empty threat to scare someone. I mean I wanted her. I wanted to make her dance.” Elysia’s voice dropped to a whisper. “And when I think back on it, I still do. More than that”—she stopped to take a shaky breath—“it turns me on.”

He turned away, rubbing a hand along his jaw.

“I’m not going mad, am I?” Elysia whispered. “It gets you that way, too?”

He eyed the marble angel on the pedestal above them. “Yesterday, I had a supplicant come before me, asking to be Made.”

“Are you going to do it?”

“He came through the proper channels. The heads of house have given their approval. It’s my obligation to do it. More than that, there’s Samhain.”

“Oh. The Samhain Making,” she whispered.

“And to answer your question, yes, the prospect of Making this man excites me beyond measure.”

Chapter 3

Doug stopped the car, waiting for the garage door to roll up. In the afternoon sunlight, he had no problem spotting Era’s little yellow two-seater on the other side of the dumpster.

He gripped the steering wheel, thinking over his earlier discussion with Elysia. It had been reassuring to learn that Making affected her in a similar manner, but as he’d pointed out to her, they weren’t weak-minded. Yes, the prospect of Making was exciting, but they weren’t slaves to the sensation. They didn’t go around looking for someone to Make. The question was, did Making have an accumulative effect?

Did he tell Era about it?

With the garage door open, Doug pulled forward, noting that the Lexus was gone. Declan hadn’t mentioned going out, but he certainly couldn’t begrudge him. Not after being forced to entertain Hannah’s relatives for several days. Doug just hoped Declan wasn’t trying to give him and Era some alone time. Doug didn’t think a reconciliation with her was possible—especially considering what he must soon do.

He parked the car and went inside. Might as well get this over with.

Stopping in the library, he found Era’s briefcase on the table—her center of operation when she was here—but she wasn’t in the room.

Figuring she was waiting for him in the master suite, he walked over there.

The door stood open and Doug stepped inside. It had been a while since he’d been in here, but everything looked the same. The king-sized bed sat opposite the corner that held a three-way mirror not far from the large closet that held his father’s extensive clothing collection.

Doug sighed. He should have cleaned this out months ago.

“Era?” he called. When she didn’t answer, he checked the master bath just in case. The tiled room held a standing shower, a large sunken tub, and a long vanity with two sinks. Again, everything looked the same as when his father had used it last, right down to the toothbrush and bottles of expensive cologne.

He started to leave the room when he noticed something that didn’t belong to his father. On the beige rug before the shower lay a notebook, its cream paper blending with the rug. If not for the red pen clipped to the back cover, he might have missed it.

Unease tightened his stomach as he retrieved it from the floor. He recognized it before he read the heading on the open page. Master Suite. It was Era’s notebook.

“Era?” he called again as he left the room.

Hurrying back to the library, he called for her once more, but found no sign of her. A search of the house and inquiry of the butler and cook yielded no answers.

He pulled his phone from his pocket and stepped out onto the back patio. If she were a necromancer, he’d check the cemetery in the forest behind the house. Instead, he’d call James and ask him to track her. Her car was still here so—

A splash of color on the other side of a pool umbrella caught his eye. He quickly crossed the paving stones to the poolside and found her seated in one of the deck chairs beside an umbrella-covered table. She stared at the water, a white-knuckled grip on the edge of her chair.

“Era?” He kept his voice soft, but she still jumped to her feet, a breeze rustling the fabric of the umbrella.

She blinked, clearly struggling to collect herself. “Doug. Hey. You startled me.” She forced a smile, gripping her hands before her.

The familiar fury rose up, but he forced it down. “I think you dropped this.” He showed her the notebook, then laid it on the table beneath the umbrella.

“Oh. Right. I guess so.” She picked up the notebook, but when her shaking hands made the pages quiver, she set it down again.

“Era,” he whispered, struggling to keep his own emotions in check.

“Don’t say it.” She gripped her hands, but didn’t look up. “I just…” She stopped to take a breath.

Very carefully, he stepped closer and slipped his arms around her, gently wrapping her in a loose hug.

To his relief, she collapsed against his chest, pressing her face to his shirt. She didn’t so much hug him as huddle against him. He could feel her shaking.

Heart aching, he kissed her temple. “It’s all right.”

“It’s really not.” Her voice broke, and he squeezed her tighter.

“I thought I was strong enough to walk back in there, but…” She pressed closer.

“Forget about the master suite. I don’t need it. Just have your contractor bulldoze it or something.”

She made a sound that might have been an attempt at a laugh. “No, Doug.”

“If you’re worried about what the Community will think, don’t. I’ll take care of it.”

“It’s not that. I have to do this. I can’t let him win.”

Doug squeezed his eyes shut, trying not to reveal his anger. “That’s where Alexander held you captive.”

“It’s where he raped me.”

Fuck. He knew it.

“I know the dead can’t—” Her voice broke. “He didn’t need to. He possessed me. Controlled my body. He made me—”

“Era.” He stopped her, speaking between clenched teeth. “If it will help you, I will listen. But right now, I’m so furious, I’m about to go set fire to that room and be done with it.”

Her arms slipped around him. “Shh. Easy.”

To have her try to comfort him was more than he could stand, and he choked on a sob.

She squeezed him. “Don’t. It’s not your fault.”

“I don’t agree, but I’m not going to argue that.” He stopped, trying to gather himself. “I have no outlet for this rage.”

She leaned back to look him in the eye, her cheeks surprisingly free of tears. She studied him, her forehead wrinkled, but there was determination in her eyes. “Kiss me?”

His heart kicked and his gaze dropped to her lips. He caught himself. What was he thinking? “No.” His eyes rose to hers as he continued. “I feel like I’m taking advantage of you.”

Her frown deepened, and she took a step back. “No, that’s me. I’m using you. I’m just trying to prove to myself that I can kiss you and not freak out.”

“At the moment, maybe. I hope that wasn’t the case during our previous exchanges—before you told me we wouldn’t suit.”

“I was attracted to you.” She huffed. “I still am, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong. We don’t…suit. There’s our respective magics and”—she looked away, rubbing the back of her neck—“I’m so messed up.”


“Yes.” She picked up her notebook and tucked it into her pocket. “I need to get back to it.”

He started to speak, but she cut him off.

“Don’t coddle me.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “I can’t let him win.”

“He won’t, but I don’t think it’s a good idea that you face it today.” He held up his hand when she started to speak. “Besides, I need to clean out the room before anything can be started. I should have done it months ago, but—”

“You loved your father, even after everything. Cleaning out his things will be the final step to letting go. I get it.”

“It’s also me admitting that Alexander won.” It wasn’t until the words left Doug’s mouth that he realized that was true. “I failed to save my father.”

She gripped his forearm. “That’s—”

“No, it’s true. I tried for a long time to free my father from him. I even did some things I shouldn’t have.” Like try to take James from Elysia.

Era squeezed his arm.

“Even when that alchemical potion freed him, it was too late. After forty years as that sociopath’s puppet, the man who was my father was long gone.”

Era stepped forward and hugged him once more, only this time, she was doing it to comfort him. That bothered him.

“I’m fine,” he reassured her.

“Are you?”

He realized he was doing the same thing she’d been doing: hiding the pain to save face. She had finally broken down and told him what had happened with Alexander. He should be just as forthcoming.

“Okay, I’m not fine,” he admitted, “but maybe cleaning out Father’s room will be good for me.”

She looked up. “Why don’t you have Declan help you? He was his father, too.”

“Dec wasn’t here.”

“But I bet he suffered in his own way.”

Doug frowned.

“Please? I hate to think of you facing that alone.”

“All right, on one condition. You don’t face this alone either. Let me help you.”


“It’s only fair. You’ll need my input on the master suite anyway.”

She rolled her eyes. “Fine.”

A throat cleared, and Era stepped away from him with a soft gasp, revealing Carlton, his butler. Doug had been so distracted that he hadn’t heard him approach.

“Pardon the interruption, Deacon.” If Carlton thought anything about what Doug was doing, he said nothing. “You have company. She said you were expecting her.”

Doug frowned at his butler. “I’m not expecting anyone.” Had he forgotten an appointment? “Did she give a name?”

“Yes.” Carlton met his gaze. “Mona Dunstan.”

For a moment, Doug could only stare at the man. “Mona Dunstan is here? Now?”

“Yes, sir.”

Doug gritted his teeth, furious that Geoff had sprung this on him without warning. “Please show her to the parlor and tell her I’ll be right in.”

“Of course, sir.” Carlton bowed, then hurried away.

“Who’s Mona Dunstan?” Era asked. “And why are you so angry?”

“She’s the Dunstan family’s most feared necromancer, and Geoff failed to mention that she would be arriving today.”

“Ah.” Era stood a little taller. “Shall we go meet her?”


“Yes. You can introduce her to the Nelson family’s most feared Element.”

He hadn’t expected that. “I didn’t realize we had one.”

“Of course.” She gestured toward the house. “Shall we?”

Chuckling, Doug led her toward the door.

“I assume she has a blood gift,” Era said as they walked.

“Yes. I’ve heard she’s a lich king—which is the most common and stable of gifts,” he added to reassure her.

“So she can Make with her blood. How does that make her the other side’s most feared necromancer?”

“It’s not her blood gift that gives her the reputation. She’s supposed to be gifted at, well, getting answers.”

“Is she a lawyer?”

“She works in forensics, like me.”

“Ah.” Era considered that. “Well, I live with Cora, so no worries.”

“I understand.” Cora was one formidable lady, aside from being an Element of Water. She was an attorney and had offered to be his family’s legal representative—if it came to that.

He opened the door and held it for Era, then followed her inside. They crossed the great room and stepped into the parlor on the far side. Mona stood before the front window, but she wasn’t looking outside. Instead, she gazed up at the ceiling, perhaps admiring the newly refinished crown moldings.

“Ms. Dunstan,” he greeted her.

She jumped as if startled and turned to face him. A hint of color rose in her fair cheeks, perhaps embarrassment that he had surprised her. “Miss, actually.” She glanced between the two of them, then stepped forward to offer her hand.

Doug pressed his palm to hers. “Douglas Nelson.” She looked like she’d come straight from the airport with her travel-wrinkled slacks and untucked blouse.

“Deacon.” Her golden-brown eyes met his, her gaze direct behind the dark-framed glasses she wore. With her dark hair and attractive features, he could see her resemblance to her cousin Hannah, but Hannah would never have allowed herself to be seen looking so disheveled.

Doug inclined his head at the use of his title. “Your cousin didn’t mention that you would be arriving today. Otherwise, I would have sent the limo to the airport.”

“I should probably know better than to trust Geoff with such matters.” She looked uncomfortable, or maybe embarrassed that she had arrived unannounced. Not the reaction he expected from the most feared necromancer in Baltimore. “But don’t concern yourself,” she added. “I prefer to rent a car.”

“All right.” Doug turned to Era. “Allow me to introduce Era Brant, Element of Air.” He didn’t hesitate to add the title. It had been her suggestion after all.

Era stepped forward and offered her hand. “Nice to meet you, Miss Dunstan.”

Doug expected Mona to be surprised, or maybe apprehensive, but she eagerly took Era’s hand.

“Please, call me Mona.” She smiled.

“Era.” Era returned the smile, though she looked a bit uncertain, or perhaps surprised by Mona’s reaction.

“Your…ability fascinates me,” Mona added. “I would love to learn more about it.”

“Oh. Sure.” Era agreed, but it was obvious that Mona had caught her off guard.

Doug cleared his throat. “Though Geoff didn’t tell me the exact time of your arrival, he did, of course, inform me that you would be coming,” he told Mona. “I’ll need to contact Director Waylon to set up a time for you to meet with him, but I own the townhouse where Hannah was killed. I can show it to you at any time.”

Mona’s gaze locked with his, and for the first time, he understood Declan’s comment about how she could look into a person’s soul. There was an intensity there, a knowing that made his skin crawl.

“Thank you, Deacon.” Her words were polite, but strangely devoid of emotion. “I appreciate your assistance.”

A cool gust of air blew across the back of his neck, and he suppressed a shiver. She absolutely creeped him out—and he didn’t frighten easily.

“Could I make another request?” Her intensity softened.

“Certainly. I will do nothing to obstruct you from learning the truth. We have nothing to hide.”

“That will make this easier, but my current request is of a more mundane nature. May I visit your cemetery? My flight was delayed. It’s been a long day.”

“Yes, of course.” He wondered if she was trying to impress him with her frequent need to exercise her gift. Only the truly powerful had to exercise it often. “I’ll show you.”

“If you would only direct me to the back door, I can walk out on my own. I feel it from here. I assume the crypt beneath us is family.”

“Yes. Thank you.” The gratitude was for the politeness of not animating his ancestors. Beyond that, he was stunned. He couldn’t feel the old cemetery from here. He didn’t think even Elysia could at this distance.

“If you’ll follow me?” He led her into the great room and directed her to the patio door.

With a muttered thank you, she let herself out and hurried across the back yard.

“Well, she doesn’t seem crazy or evil,” Era said, stopping beside him.

“I’ve never heard that she was,” Doug answered. “But the rest of it seems to be true. She makes my skin crawl.”

“That’s saying something.”

He glanced over, and Era grinned. His heart twisted at her smile, and he wanted to groan at the involuntary response. So much for trying to get over her. All his work these past few weeks seemed for naught.

“What’s with the cemetery visit?” Era frowned in the direction Mona had gone. “Did she need a hit after her travels?”

Doug smiled at her phrasing. “I assume. I don’t know if she’s just neglected herself or if she’s trying to impress me with her ability to sense that old graveyard from here.”

“You can’t feel it?”

Shaking his head, he said, “I doubt Elysia could, either.”

“Huh.” Era turned her attention to the back yard once more. “Maybe she already knew about the cemetery.”

“That’s certainly possible.”

“But if not?” Era faced him.

“She’s incredibly sensitive—or powerful.”


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