Ward Against Death
CHRONICLES OF A RELUCTANT NECROMANCER - Book One by Melanie Card
Ward de’Ath expected this to be a simple job—bring a nobleman’s daughter back from the dead for fifteen minutes, let her family say good-bye, and launch his fledgling career as a necromancer. Goddess knows he can’t be a surgeon—the Quayestri already branded him a criminal for trying—so bringing people back from the dead it is.
But when Ward wakes the beautiful Celia Carlyle, he gets more than he bargained for. Insistent that she’s been murdered, Celia begs Ward to keep her alive and help her find justice. By the time she drags him out her bedroom window and into the sewers, Ward can’t bring himself to break his damned physician’s Oath and desert her.
However, nothing is as it seems—including Celia. One second, she’s treating Ward like sewage, the next she’s kissing him. And for a nobleman’s daughter, she sure has a lot of enemies. If he could just convince his heart to give up on the infuriating beauty, he might get out of this alive…
Praise for Ward Against Death:
“This book has it all–wonderful characters, action packed, mystery, and a unique setting. An excellent debut!”
~ Maria V. Snyder, New York Times bestselling author of Poison Study
© 2011 Melanie Card
Even in death, Celia Carlyle was beautiful. Sculpted features framed by a pool of blue-black hair gave her an unearthly appearance. Her long eyelashes rested dark against skin that was likely pale before death.
Ward gripped his physician’s bag with both hands, but they kept trembling. He could wake her. He had to. He’d spent his last quintaro this morning, and while his room was paid for ten more days, he still needed to eat. And there was no way he was going home to face his family as a failure twice.
Sweat dripped from his jaw, and the copper-rimmed spectacles he wore to make him look older than his twenty years slid down his nose. He tugged on his red velvet physician’s jacket and brushed a quick hand along his hairline to ensure his curled and powdered wig was straight. Despite the slight breeze blowing in from the open windows, Brawenal City’s summer nights were too hot for such things, but he had an appearance to maintain and a job to do.
He sucked in a quick breath.
An important job. One that could establish his fledgling career. If he just focused on the details, turned the situation into an intellectual problem, he might be able to forget her father waited across the hall.
He concentrated on the young woman swathed in silk sheets on a monstrous canopy bed.
How heartbreaking that someone his age could fall sick and die. Because of her beauty, her death must have been an emotional, political, and possibly financial blow to the family. In his summons, her father, Lord Carlyle, said she had died of a sudden illness. But there was no abnormal discoloration on her cheeks or around her eyes, nor any dried mucus around her lips or nose, which would have suggested an imbalance of her yellow bile. There were so few clues to this fascinating puzzle.
Ward set his bag at her feet and reached out to push back an eyelid.
He jerked his hand back. This was not a necropsy on a body he’d stolen from a graveyard. He hadn’t been hired to determine her cause of death. This was a wake. All of her family—her very powerful family—waited a wing away for word that they could have a final fifteen minutes with their beautiful and cherished daughter. Besides, when he woke her, he could just as easily ask what her symptoms were before and during the illness—even if that was cheating.
With another breath, he opened his bag and removed a vial of cow’s blood. He eased the stopper from the vial, dipped his little finger into the dark liquid, and drew an open goddess-eye on her forehead.
He could do this.
He imagined the power of the cow’s spirit igniting the innate gift within him. Grandfather said it felt as if his entire body tingled, but Ward had never experienced that sensation, or any sensation related to his gift for that matter. He was blind to it, unable to sense the ebb and flow of life energy, but still able to manipulate it. Maybe that was why he struggled to perform anything more difficult than a wake.
Or better yet, maybe he wasn’t destined to be a necromancer, but a surgeon. Surgery, however, had yet to be made legal, and his expulsion from the physicians’ academy had ended his prospects of becoming a doctor.
And that was just the way things were.
Unclenching his jaw, he resigned himself, yet again, to his situation. He placed his left hand over her heart, his right hand on her forehead, and closed his eyes. He called on knowledge from the Light Son, power over the dead from the Dark Son, and grace and well-being from the Goddess. He envisioned the veil between worlds, a gauzy film of writhing mist—or so his grandfather said—opening, and the spark of her spirit flying back through it to her body.
She gasped. Icy blue eyes flew open and examined him, her gaze jumping from his face, to his wig, to his jacket, and back to his face. Her eyes narrowed and her hand snaked under her pillow. “It’s not wise to enter a lady’s bedchamber without her consent.”
Ward plastered on his calmest, gentlest expression. The newly wakened dead often assumed they had just roused from sleep. “You’ve been unwell.”
“Unwell? Is that what my father told you?”
“In a manner of speaking.” She wasn’t acting the way she was supposed to. Noblewomen, particularly those around his age, were usually demure or aloof—not suspicious.
“Well, I’m fine, and I’m sorry my father troubled you.” She threw back the covers, sat up, and stepped onto the thick rug. “Now go, be a good doctor, and tell my family I’m healthy and sleeping.” She punctuated her last word by pulling her nightdress over her head, revealing a slim waist, athletic muscles, and pale skin marked with the purple bruises of livor mortis along her back. And no other clothes.
“But—” He flushed and spun around to face the wall. “What are you doing?” No. Wait. What was he doing? He’d seen a dead naked woman before. Just never like this.
She chuckled. “I’m going for a walk.”
“A what? No—You can’t.” She really wasn’t acting the way she was supposed to.
“I beg to differ.”
The situation was spiraling out of hand. Damn it, he had to take control. He was the necromancer, she the newly awakened. She was supposed to listen to him.
He turned to confront her. Thankfully, she was fully dressed—in men’s clothes, but at least she was dressed. “Listen, I—”
She slipped her hand under her pillow and removed a sheathed dagger.
Great Goddess! She kept a dagger under her pillow? Ward inched toward the door to block her escape without appearing obvious, although he had no idea what he’d do if she fought him. Why did he always get stuck with the difficult corpses? Grandfather never mentioned anything about noblemen’s daughters with daggers who insisted they were alive.
She shoved her feet into well-worn boots, grabbed a bulging rucksack from a nearby chair, and headed to the window.
He scrambled after her. “No, wait.” His voice cracked and he gulped air, doing nothing to still his rising panic.
She hopped over the sill into the shadow of a lilac bush.
“Please. Stop. You’re dead.”
“I don’t feel dead,” she said over her shoulder in a singsong voice as she eased through the leafy branches.
Ward scurried out the window and crashed through the bush to keep her in sight, but tripped over an ornamental rock covered in dark moss. He landed on his hands and knees in the coarse grass at her feet. The sharp chirp of crickets and the high-pitched buzz of cicadas suddenly stopped, leaving his ears ringing at the silence. Behind her lay the dark rim of a reflection pool, its semi-circle pressed against the stone wall of the tiny garden and guarded by red and white roses.
“You took ill,” he said, before she could climb the garden wall.
He nodded. “You were sick. Do you remember?”
She stared at him as if unable to understand. His heart pounded, and he waited for her to say something, anything. She sagged onto the rim of the pool, her expression stunned.
A breeze rustled the leaves on the rose bushes, making them hiss and sigh, whispering secrets.
“Then they’ve done it already.”
A cricket gave a shrill chirp.
“Excuse me?” What an insensitive thing to say. She’d just said she’d been murdered.
Her expression softened. She knelt before him and cupped his chin in her hands. “I need your help.”
“You what?” He’d barely worked his mind around the thought that she’d been murdered, and now she wanted help. His help. No. This was all wrong. She was all wrong. One moment she was suspicious, the next begging for help.
Her bottom lip quivered. She was so close, her breath caressed his forehead, and her subtle, heady perfume intoxicated him. Was it roses or lilacs? It was difficult to keep his thoughts straight. He’d never had such a beautiful woman pay this kind of attention to him before.
“Please. The Goddess sent you to me. She must have.” She grabbed his hand and held it tight. “There isn’t much time. My father will discover we’re gone and…” A single tear traced a line down her cheek.
His head swam, a wave of dizziness numbing all sensation, as if he was suspended in a dream. A beautiful, mesmerizing fantasy, but her words didn’t fit. There was something wrong with them; he just couldn’t concentrate enough to figure out what that was. It seemed preposterous she’d ask him for help.
“You were ill,” he said, one final, weak protest.
“I wasn’t, and you know it. Do I look ill?”
He shook his head, although she also didn’t look as if she’d been beaten, or strangled, or stabbed. Some illnesses showed no signs or symptoms, but as soon as he thought it, he knew it wasn’t true.
“Please. My father is sly,” she said as if reading his thoughts. “Probably a rare poison, but I need proof.”
He swallowed. It broke his heart to say it, but she had to know the truth. “You’ll only be awake for fifteen minutes.”
“I can prove it.” Her eyes shimmered with more tears.
Goddess, how could he say no?
She was just so beautiful and so desperate, he had to do something. “There is another spell, a Jam de’U.”
“Then cast that.”
“It requires time and components.” That, and he’d never attempted it before. He didn’t even know if he could cast it, but he had to try.
An angry yell from within the house made him jump.
“What am I saying? If I’m caught—”
She pressed his palm to her cheek, her eyes wide and filled with fear. “Please. You have to believe me. I’m the only one who can bring me justice. My father is too powerful.”
Could she really prove her own murder? This was ridiculous. She had to go back to her room. If they found her in the garden they’d accuse him of trying to steal her body, and he didn’t want that kind of trouble… not again. He reached for the goddess-eye brand on the back of his neck. It burned with remembered pain. Was there room for another Inquisitor’s brand, or would he lose a body part this time?
“You’re a doctor, right? You’ve taken the Oath?”
“Yes.” But at the moment he was a necromancer, not a physician.
“I ask on your Physician’s Oath.”
His breath caught in his throat. Did the Oath he’d taken in the second-to-last year of his apprenticeship apply when the person was already dead? It said he couldn’t refuse any soul in need, but surely the Master Physicians had meant soul in a literal sense. Of course, they didn’t have the mystic senses of a necromancer. Would the Goddess see the distinction when it was his turn to cross over? If he refused Celia and her soul counted as part of his Oath, he’d face an eternity of torture for being an Oath-breaker.
“Don’t let me die a tormented soul.” She stood and met his gaze. Her eyes were still desperate, but there was a hardened determination there as well.
His heart contracted. He was ten times a fool and there was nothing to be done about it.
He nodded. Up down. Side to side. It didn’t matter.
He followed as she climbed the garden wall, his hands finding holds in the stone, his body, of its own volition, dragging him up and over. All the while his mind, like a chorus in a mummer’s tragedy, jeered and moaned the end of his career on the slim chance he’d saved his eternal soul.
Celia dropped from the wall, compensating for the sharp incline below with practiced precision, and crouched low in the tall grass.
Well, the boy… necromancer… whatever, couldn’t be a player. It’d been too easy to convince him to come with her. She hadn’t even had to bring up the anonymous note claiming an assassination assignment had been handed out on her life. Unless that was his plan. Perhaps whoever was after her had hired him to keep track of her in case she ran.
Which she had every intention of doing.
The problem was, she had no idea who was after her. Telling the necromancer it was her father just made it easier to leave since there was no guarantee she was safe under his roof. For all she knew, it really was him. As the Dominus of the Gentilica, lord of all illicit activity in Brawenal City, she wouldn’t put it past him. She wouldn’t put it past any of her fellow assassins or other family members either, since most were somehow involved in the family business.
She had thought her identity had remained a secret, but someone could have let it slip, and now her options for who was trying to murder her had blossomed to anyone in the city.
The evening breeze cooled her skin and teased her loose hair, and the waist-high grass tickled her face and hands. It smelled of salt and fish and kitchen smoke. Under her foot was a rock the size of her palm, a possible weapon—though not as effective as her hands, and messier.
A thud made her glance over her shoulder. The necromancer lay facedown in the grass, his ridiculous wig askew on his head and his spectacles hanging off one ear. If he got rid of those and the old man’s coat, he’d probably be handsome.
Nope, he couldn’t be out to manipulate her. He’d melted when she spun her lie and called on the Physician’s Oath. A little pout, a few tears, and he was hers. Which meant—
She really was dead. But she didn’t feel dead. Wasn’t there supposed to be warmth and golden light when she crossed the veil?
She slunk down the hill on the east side of her father’s estate, wading through thick grass and wildflowers. With eyes and hands brushing over dirt and rock, she felt for the nearby sewer grate. If she was dead, it was fortuitous she’d tricked the necromancer into coming with her. She’d have to keep him around, at least until he did that Jam de spell thing or she’d proven him wrong.
The necromancer scrambled to his feet and staggered down the hill toward her.
“So what now?” He folded his glasses and put them in an inside jacket pocket.
Someone yelled on the other side of the wall. She grabbed the necromancer’s lapels and pulled him down.
“First,” she said, taking his wig and throwing it down the hill, “we try not to stick out.”
“That was my father’s—”
She pressed a finger to his lips and strove to keep her voice even. She needed him compliant, and the damsel in distress card was the one easiest played. “We need to escape and hide.”
“But my father bought that wig from a Yarbonian physician in Kaltreck,” he said, his voice soft and sad and small.
Goddess be damned. She felt like she’d just kicked a puppy, but the wig was conspicuous. Too dangerous to keep if they wanted to escape. It was better off left in the grass.
But his gaze stayed on the wig, and something inside her squirmed. She had very few things of sentimental value, but those she cherished the most she kept on her person so they’d never be lost. She had a pair of knives from her mother—guess the necromancer had a wig from his father.
She bit back a growl. So much for being a cold-hearted assassin. She dragged him down the hill, grabbed the wig, and shoved it at him. “Keep it hidden.”
He crammed it into the front of his jacket and opened his mouth, but she glared at him and he closed it. If they had to keep the wig, they could at least be quiet about it.
She continued her search for the sewer grate until her fingers struck the coarse bumps and pocks of old metal. Just where she remembered it. She found the hinges, braced her feet on either side of the grate, and, with it groaning in protest, heaved it open.
She didn’t feel dead at all.
Which meant the necromancer had to be a player assigned to keep an eye on her.
His jaw dropped, and his eyes grew wide, as if he’d never seen someone force open a rusty sewer grate before.
A very good player. As much as she disliked the idea, she’d have to dispose of him before they got too far.
Straddling the hole, she placed her hands on either side of it, stretched her legs down, and felt with her feet for the ladder carved in the wall. Her toe caught something, and she shifted to get a better foothold. She put on her I’m-a-helpless-woman expression and looked at him. “Please. This is our only escape.”
The necromancer swallowed and ran his hands down the front of his jacket. “In there?”
More yells from the direction of the house. Closer. Her father’s men were likely scaling the garden wall at that very moment.
“It’s this or them. Please.” She ducked into the sewer, remembering to breathe from the sides of her mouth so the stench wouldn’t overwhelm her. At the bottom, she bridged a thin stream of muck.
She peered down the sewer, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the dim light glowing from the witch-stone panels set into the obsidian walls. The cold, pungent air seeped through her clothes and into her skin. She should have dressed more warmly. No, she wouldn’t be in the sewers long. All she needed was to stop by the cavern, pick up her supplies, and slip away in the night.
She could stow away on a ship bound for theWhiteStraitand the Misty Isles, where neither the Gentilica nor the Assassins’ Guild could reach her—or, rather, where their reach was diminished. There wasn’t a place in the Union the Gentilica didn’t control, but there was no way she was going to end up like John Tanner, who had snitched to the Quayestri about her father’s protection racket in the city’s fifth ring. His eyeless and tongueless body had been found in a manure pile. At least the Guild was professional enough to forego torture and just kill the target.
The necromancer scrambled down the ladder, missed the last rung, and landed in the stream of refuse, splashing it up the back of her legs. He coughed, his breath catching in his throat as if he was about to throw up. “What did I just step in?”
Did he really have to ask? She glanced up to see if he had at least pulled the grate shut behind him. A perfect circle of starlight, without the crisscross rungs of the grate, glowed above her.
“You could have closed the grate.”
“Oh.” His real hair, shorn to half an inch in length, stood in clumps at every angle. Not much of an improvement from the wig. He was the perfect image of a scarecrow, all arms and legs and not a thought in his head. Oh, he was good.
She grabbed the rail to climb back up the access pipe. The bark and whine of the family dogs drew close.
It didn’t matter if she closed it or not. The dogs would follow her scent right to it. She had to move now and put as much distance between her and the access pipe as possible. “We have to go.”
She stepped into the sewage. A violent shiver wracked her body.
Gasping, she reached for the slimy wall. Above, the yells and barks of her pursuers grew louder, coming closer, ready to discover her still standing in the circle of starlight.
A weight landed on her shoulder and she forced her head to move the necessary fraction to see the necromancer’s long, delicate fingers.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
She shrugged off his hand and pushed away from the wall. “I’m fine.”
A line formed between his brows.
Another shiver raced through her, and she grabbed the front of his jacket to keep her balance. She couldn’t make her mind work long enough to figure out what was happening. Everything grew distant, her vision dimmed, but the noises outside the sewer grew clearer, as if she were shaking herself out of her body.
More barks, even closer. The necromancer jumped. She sensed more shivers wash over her, but couldn’t feel them. She had shaken too far out of herself.
He scooped her into his arms, stepped into the shadows, and pressed his forehead to hers, somehow drawing her back into her body with the touch of his flesh against hers. She became aware of the pressure of his arms against her back and legs.
“Tell me what to do,” he said.
“What?” Her lips felt heavy, swollen.
“If you don’t tell me where to go, we’re caught.”
“Follow this to the end, then take the next three lefts.”
He glanced up, and she began to drift away again. Scrunching up his face, he stepped into the center of the sewer pipe. If she didn’t feel so strange, she’d have laughed. What was a little sewage compared to your life?
She shivered and drifted toward… toward what? A nothingness, a black and empty abyss void of light and warmth. There was no sewer, no necromancer, no body, and no Goddess. Where was the eternal love? The embrace of forgiveness from the Mother of All?
A sliver of light far, far away caught her attention, but when she turned to it, it was gone. The Goddess didn’t want her.
Her fingers and toes were numb as if they had fallen asleep, and she couldn’t see the circle of light from the access pipe. In fact, she didn’t know where she was. The necromancer, his face streaked with muck, leaned over her.
“I’d give you a minute but I don’t think we have the time.” He wiped a filth-covered hand across his forehead, leaving another streak.
She sat up and blood rushed to her hands and feet, setting them on fire with pins-and-needles. “We have to get away from my father’s house.”
He pursed his lips as if he wanted to say something, but thought silence the better option.
“We are away from your father’s house.”
She glanced past his shoulder. Behind him the wall sloped, creating a small arch above their heads, and to her right lay a three-foot drop into the ancient sewer pipe. They were in a workman’s alcove, a place for the city’s maintenance staff to take a break or a meal, if they could stomach anything while surrounded by sewage.
“Your fifteen minutes were up.”
“My…?” They had just been in the sewer on her father’s property. Where were they now?
The stinging in her hands and feet subsided. She must have passed out. The memory of the shivers sent an involuntary one down her spine.
“My fifteen minutes were up?”
“So, I was dead?” It was true. A chill seeped into her gut. Whoever wrote that note had lied. She didn’t have a week. She had nothing. Except this strange young man who had woken her a second time. “Why?”
The necromancer looked confused and ridiculous, with his short, wild hair and mud-streaked face.
“Why did you bring me back?” she asked again.
“Look. Your family is still after us and I’m sure I didn’t get that far. ” He scrambled to the edge of the alcove.
“You could have left me for dead.” Which meant escape was no longer an option. She had nothing to live for, since she wasn’t alive.
“You only have another fifteen minutes. We need to get to a place where I can get the components for the Jam de’U.”
She grabbed his arm. “Why?”
“I don’t know how to get out of here.” He looked exhausted and worried and she couldn’t sense any insincerity in him.
Which didn’t mean she trusted him. It could mean he was an amazing actor. If she didn’t need him to keep her alive—well, perhaps not alive exactly, but animated long enough for revenge—she’d leave him.
He stared back at her with innocent, puppy dog eyes.
They were not going to work. “First, we need to find an access grate and see where we are in regards to the city.”
“There’s a grate ten feet that way.” He pointed down the pipe. “But I can’t lift it and carry you at the same time.”
“Oh.” Did thoughtfulness counterbalance his possible attempt to manipulate her? She didn’t think so.
He jumped down and reached out to help her. She ignored his hands, landed beside him, and slung her rucksack over her shoulder.
“Maybe you could suggest a hiding place,” he said, sloshing through the muck. “Someplace we can hide for a day. I think I’ll need the whole day.”
“The Jam de’U. If you factor in finding the components, plus preparation for the spell, and—”
“I get the point.”
Reaching the access pipe, she grabbed the ladder. Above glowed the soft yellow light of a lantern, which meant they were still in the second ring of the city or the palace ring, since they were the only rings that could afford street lanterns. At least he’d said something right. He hadn’t gone far.
She climbed to the grate, quieted her breathing, and listened for possible dangers. Wherever they were, it was quiet, with only the odd chirp of a cricket and the hiss of a few dead leaves dancing along the cobblestones. It might be too late in the evening for anyone to be up in the Nobles’ ring. She could only hope.
Bracing her legs on one side of the pipe and her back on the other, she reached up to grab the grate.
“What do you see?” he asked, startling her.
She clung to the grate to keep her balance, contemplating one of many possible nasty retorts. It was so difficult to remember it could all be an act. If she was smart, she’d get rid of him after he’d done his spell. She couldn’t risk that her death wasn’t real.
“What’s out there?”
She had to keep manipulating him if she wanted to discover if he was after something. “Nothing,” she said in her sweetest voice.
The grate complained like the last one and she cringed. Please let no one have heard that. Thankfully, the street remained silent, so she poked her head out of the pipe and glanced around.
Sure enough, they were still in the second ring. The street lanterns looked like the ones at the bottom of her family’s driveway. Across from her rose a high brick wall with a massive coat-of-arms of crossed swords above an open goddess-eye built into the brick. Her mouth went dry and she concentrated on keeping her mind blank.
The idiot had taken her right to the front gate of the Collegiate of the Quayestri, home of the highest law in the principalities. All it took was for her to let her thoughts wander and for some inexperienced Inquisitor apprentice to lose control of his abilities and accidentally read her memories. Everything she’d done would be projected into the air with that Goddess-awful seeing-smoke, and every officer of the law would know what she was guilty of.
And with the way her evening had gone so far, it would be one of her first assassination assignments projected. Every Tracker in residence would be after her and if caught, she’d lose her head—and that was a death no necromancer could bring her back from.
It would be a perfect end to a perfect night: to have both of the principality’s most powerful forces chasing her. And no one but a two-bit necromancing player on her side.
Ward gazed up the access pipe at the outline of Celia’s shapely bottom. She was just so beautiful, and he was just so dumb when it came to women. A little pout, a few tears…
She was using him. He knew it the moment she’d disappeared into the sewer, but she’d called on the Oath and he had sworn it, even if the Society of Physicians had forsaken him. And, as always, he found himself ankle deep in—
It was like Bantianta all over again. Except then he’d been well rested and—his stomach growled—he’d had a full stomach. His head throbbed at the memory of the Inquisitor ripping into his mind to project him digging up that man’s corpse. It had almost hurt as much as the brand the Tracker had seared into the back of his neck. Justice was swift and public when the Quayestri were involved.
The rustle of fabric on stone made him look up. He hadn’t realized he’d looked away. Now was not a good time to get lost in thought.
With feline grace, Celia landed beside him. She shifted the rucksack strap across her shoulder.
“You’ve taken us straight to the Collegiate of the Quayestri.”
Thank the Goddess. “Excellent. You can tell them about your murder. The Seers on the Grewdian Council will be able to help you.” With luck she wouldn’t ask him to come with her and he could avoid the law altogether, since there were still outstanding warrants for his arrest in other principalities. Thankfully, Ward’s little criminal activities of robbing graves and practicing necropsies had escaped the notice of any Seer’s Goddess-given gift to see the future so far, merely adding credence to Ward’s theory that the Goddess didn’t abhor surgery. But with the most powerful Seers in the Union, the Collegiate of the Quayestri, and the Prince of Brawenal’s personal Seer all situated in Brawenal, Ward didn’t want to press his luck. It had already been pressed far enough.
That didn’t sound good.
“It doesn’t work that way.”
“Of course it does.” Any nobleman could demand justice from the Council. He was sure a nobleman’s daughter had the same right.
“So you expect me to just storm in there and accuse my father, second counselor to the Prince, of murdering me?”
All right, maybe that could be a problem. The Grewdian Council probably wouldn’t trust the word of the walking dead, particularly when she couldn’t prove how she was killed. “Are you sure?”
“I’m sure, boy,” she said, her tone low, dangerous. The pleasantries were over.
He swallowed back a huff. He might be young but he was more than just a boy. Besides, she looked to be the same age as he was. In the very least, he could start standing up for himself. “I’ll have you know I’m a trained physician and powerful necromancer. I am Ward de’Ath, the fourth Edward de’Ath in a long line of powerful necromancers and—”
She grabbed the front of his jacket and yanked him closer. “Yes, yes.” Her grip softened and she stroked his lapels with her thumbs. “That still doesn’t solve the problem. We’re on the wrong side of the second ring and we’re standing outside of zealot mind-reading central.”
“Fine, what do you propose?” He straightened and leaned forward, standing nose-to-nose with her, the beautiful, mesmerizing Celia Carlyle.
She ran her palms down his chest, past his waist, and down each thigh.
Glorious heat washed over him. His body responded to her touch and he yearned to hold her, caress her, be with her…
And less than an hour ago, she’d been dead.
He jerked away, stumbled on something submerged in the sewage, and fell backwards against the sewer wall. Slime oozed between his fingers.
“On the other side of the ring,” she said, her words slow and enunciated, as if she thought him an imbecile, “is a place where we can hide.”
He pushed away from the wall and peered around in the darkness for something to wipe the muck off his hands. The back of his pants and jacket were covered in filth. His throat tightened. He’d inherited the jacket from his father, along with the wig. Now one was filthy and the other crammed without care into an inside pocket. In the blink of an eye, his life had fallen to ruin, and it was all Celia’s fault. And he couldn’t just leave her. She’d called on the damned Oath. To make it worse, only she could convince the authorities he hadn’t stolen her body—and with luck, she’d do so without him present.
Unfortunately, she didn’t seem interested in his feelings, let alone his life.
He bit the inside of his cheek. He could deal with this, figure a way out. Until then, he needed to keep on her good side… if she had a good side. “So, where is this place?”
“I just told you. Weren’t you listening?”
Before he could respond, she climbed out of the access pipe.
“Of course I wasn’t listening. I was thinking again.”
Without any of Celia’s grace, he clambered out. She was already across the cobblestone road, barely visible in the shadow of one of the many walls lining the street. If he’d taken a moment longer, she would have been gone and he would never have been able to find her.
He staggered to his feet and moved to brush off the back of his breeches, then remembered they were beyond help. Like his jacket, his shoes, his career, his life.
A hiss came from the shadow where he had last seen Celia. He could only presume it was her. And she was right. What was he thinking, standing in the middle of the street covered in human waste? Really, he was smarter than this. He’d been at the top of his class before he was expelled. He’d known his letters and numbers before he could walk.
And now he was reduced to…
He swallowed the lump in his throat and, squelching as the sewage in his shoes oozed through his stockings and between his toes, rushed to her side. “Remind me again—”
Celia crouched against the wall, her forehead on her knees.
She didn’t respond.
He knelt beside her and, with a tentative hand, touched her shoulder.
Great. Her fifteen minutes had expired and he still had no idea where to go.