The Visitor (Graveyard Queen, #4)

Written By: Amanda Stevens

The Visitor (Graveyard Queen, #4)

Amanda Stevens



One

The blind ghost returned in the spring, and with her more nightmares. The days warmed, the magnolias opened and foreboding settled in like an unwelcome caller.

Night after night I lay in a dreamlike state, worn out from the physical labor of my cemetery restorations, but too frightened to succumb to a deeper sleep because she would appear to me then. The look-alike specter that had followed me back from the other side. I wanted to believe she was merely my namesake, the ghost of some long-dead ancestor, but I very much feared she was a vision of my future self. A manifestation of the tortured woman I would one day become.

Discomforted by my thoughts, I glanced over at John Devlin, the Charleston police detective who lay sleeping beside me. His ghosts were gone now. His daughter’s spirit had finally been able to move on, thus breaking the tie that had kept her mother—Devlin’s dead wife—bound to him. In the ensuing months since Mariama’s departure, I’d allowed myself a glimmer of hope that Devlin and I might finally be together. We’d forged a strong bond since that fateful day. An unbreakable connection that neither ghost nor human could sever. Or so I wanted to believe.

But as the temperature climbed and the days lengthened, my blood only ran colder. A shift in the wind brought a whiff of something unnatural. Distorted shadows crept across my bedroom ceiling. As the pull from the other side grew stronger, I couldn’t help but obsess over my visitor’s ominous prophecy. What you are, I once was. What I am, you will someday become.

She’d only ever come to me in my dreams, but I was awake now and I could feel her presence stronger than ever. Careful not to rouse Devlin, I rose and tiptoed from the room, slipping down the hallway, through the kitchen and out to my office, which was located at the very back of the house. The long windows afforded a view of the garden where moonlight dappled the freesia. I stood there probing the shadows, the flutter of every leaf, the quiver of every limb spiking my pulse.

A draft seeped in through the windows, bringing the smell of dust and dried lavender. Hair on end, I peered through the layers of moonlight and darkness until I found her. I didn’t outwardly react to her diaphanous form, but everything inside me stilled as a terrible acceptance stole over me. She was here. Not just in my imagination, not just in my dreams, but here. And now I could no longer deny that I was being haunted.

She was dressed in a white lace frock suitable for a wedding or burial. Moonlight shone upon and through her so that I had no trouble distinguishing her all-too-familiar features—the straight nose, the high cheekbones and the slightly parted lips. The same understated features that stared back at me from the mirror except for one notable exception. Her eyes were missing.

Levitating outside my window, she pressed a hand against the glass and a wintry chill shot through me, a bone cold that came only from the other side. The windows rimed, a film of ice forming in the corners of the panes. Minuscule fissions fanned out from her splayed fingers as the glass crackled beneath the pressure of her brittle cold.

Why are you here? I wanted to cry out. What do you want from me?

But I already knew the answer. She wanted my essence, my life force, my humanness. She wanted what every ghost craved—to be alive. That was what made them so dangerous. That was what made them so voracious.

No sound came from her moving lips, but I could hear her message clearly in my head: The key. It’s your only salvation. Find it!

Then she dissolved into the shadows as the frost on the windows vanished.

“Amelia?”

I might have jumped at the sound of my name, but after years of living with ghosts, I’d learned to quell my reflexes. Devlin moved up behind me. The power of his presence never failed to thrill me, but I could take no pleasure in his nearness at that moment.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“I couldn’t sleep.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” I lied.

He placed his hands on my shoulders. “My God, your skin is like ice.”

“It’s cool in here.”

“Come back to bed.” His fingers trailed down my arm. “I’ll keep you warm, Amelia.”

The way he drawled my name, even more than the lingering chill, drew a shiver. “In a minute.”

He rested his chin on my head with a sigh. “Something’s bothering you. What is it? Another nightmare?”

I hesitated, my gaze scanning the darkness. I wanted so much to confide in Devlin, lay all my cards on the table, but that would mean telling him about the ghosts. If he remembered anything of his near-death experience, perhaps he would have been more receptive to my gift. But he’d awakened from his coma without any memory of those moments before and after the shooting. As his wounds healed, his disdain for the supernatural returned stronger than ever, leaving me to brood about how he would react to such a confession.

After everything he’d been through with the malicious and now dead Mariama, an attachment to an unstable woman was the last thing he’d want. So I’d taken the cowardly way out and said nothing.

For most of my life, I’d been sequestered behind cemetery walls, protected from ghosts but isolated from human companionship by Papa’s rules. The loneliness of my adolescence and young adulthood justified my silence now. Or so I told myself. I had a right to happiness, no matter how fleeting, and so I clung to my secrets as tenaciously as the ivy roots that I tugged from my forgotten graveyards.

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