Grave Dance (Alex Craft, #2)

Written By: Kalayna Price

Grave Dance (Alex Craft, #2)

Kalayna Price



To Kist,

who keeps me fed and watered, and who is always quick with the emotional duct tape when everything is falling apart

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

To Jessica Wade, who believes in Alex and my story and who worked with me to make sure that story was told.

There are not thanks enough for everything you’ve done for me through the process of getting this book out on shelves.

And to the entire team at Roc, who makes this series possible.

To my fabulous agent, Lucienne Diver, for believing in my voice and getting the books out to the world.

To the Tri Mu: Christy, Nikki, Sarah, Vert, and Vikki, and to George for your encouragement and honest critiques.

To al the speakers and instructors at the Writer’s Police Academy. I took great liberties with what you taught me, but you gave me a solid base from which to spring.

To my friends and family, who encourage and support me, and to the artists, authors, and musicians who inspire me.

And to the readers. This story is for you, and I hope you enjoy Alex’s continuing adventure.

Thank you al . You al mean more to me than I can say.





Chapter 1


When I first straddled the chasm between the land of the dead and the world of the living, I accidental y raised the shade of our recently deceased Pekinese. The former champion dog floating around our backyard resulted in my father shipping me off to a wyrd boarding school.

Seventeen years later, I stil reached across that chasm, but now I got paid to do it.

“That isn’t a body, John,” I said, staring at the open black bag. “It’s a foot.” A pale, bloated, waterlogged foot.

John Matthews, personal friend and one of the best homicide detectives in Nekros City, nodded. “It’s a left foot, to be precise, and I have two more back at the morgue.

What can you tel me?”

I frowned and nudged the toe of my boot at a clump of grass sprouting between chunks of loose gravel. My business cards read: ALEX CRAFT, LEAD PRIVATE

INVESTIGATOR AND GRAVE WITCH FOR TONGUES

FOR THE DEAD. I was actual y the owner and only employee of the firm, but that was beside the point. I raised shades and gave the living a chance to question the dead

—for a fee. My work tended to take me to a lot of graveyards, the occasional funeral home, and to the Nekros City morgue. The parking pit for the Sionan Floodplain Nature Preserve was most definitely not my typical working environment. Nor was a single severed appendage my typical job.

“Sorry, John, but I need more than a foot to raise a shade.”

shade.”

“And I need some better news.” His shoulders slumped as if he’d deflated. “We’ve been scouring this swamp for two days and we’re turning up more questions than answers. We’ve got no IDs for the vics, no obvious causes of death, and no primary crime scenes. You sure you can’t give me anything?” As he spoke, he shoved the flap on the body bag farther open with the butt of his pen.

The foot lay in a sea of black plastic. The sickly scent of rot fil ed the humid afternoon air, coating the inside of my nose, my throat. The bloodless skin had sloughed off the exposed ankle, the strips of yel owish flesh shriveling. My stomach twisted and I looked away. I’d leave the physical inspection to the medical examiner—my affinity for the dead was less for the tangible and more for the spectral.

Memories hid in every cel of the body. Memories that my grave magic could unlock and give shape as a shade. Of course, that depended on having enough of the body—and thus cel s—at my disposal for my magic to fil in the gaps. I didn’t need to cast a magic circle and begin a ritual to know I couldn’t pul a shade from the foot. I could sense that fact, the same way I could sense that the foot had belonged to a male, probably in his late sixties. I could also sense the nasty tangle of spel s al but dripping from the decaying appendage.

“The foot is saturated with magic. Some pretty dark stuff from the feel of it,” I said, taking a step back from the gurney and the sticky residual magic emanating from the foot. “I’m guessing you already have a team deciphering the spel s?”

“Yeah, but so far the anti–black magic unit hasn’t reached any conclusions. It would real y help if we could question the victim.”

But that wasn’t going to happen with such a smal percentage of the body. “You said you had a matching foot back at the morgue? Maybe if we assemble al the parts, there wil be enough to—”

there wil be enough to—”

John shook his head. “Dancing jokes aside, unless this guy had two left feet—literal y—neither of the other feet belong to him.”

Three left feet? That meant at least three victims. “You’re thinking serial?”

“Don’t say that too loud,” John said, his gaze flashing to a passing pair of crime scene technicians headed toward the dense old-growth forest. “No official determination yet, but, yeah, I’m thinking serial.” His grizzly bear–sized form sagged further and his mustache twitched as he frowned.

The mustache had been a thick red accent to his expressions as long as I’d known him, but in the weeks since he’d woken from a spel -induced coma, slivers of gray had joined the red. He pushed the flap of the body bag closed. “Park rangers found the first foot yesterday morning when they were checking the paths after the recent flooding. We got wardens and cadaver dogs out here, and the second foot turned up. When we found the third, I pul ed some strings to hire you as a consultant.”

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