Grave Matters: A Night Owls Novel

PRAISE FOR

Night Owls


Night Owls
is a fast, fun read that kept me turning the pages. Lauren M. Roy delivers a plot that zips, dialogue that zings, and a cast of characters you’ll cheer for to the very end. Thumbs-up!”

—Devon Monk, national bestselling author of
Infinity Bell

“Filled with great characters and action. Can’t wait to read the next one!”

—Keri Arthur,
New York Times
bestselling author of
Darkness Falls

“Roy’s debut is an entertaining and exciting addition to the urban fantasy field . . . A good cast, believable interactions, and some vivid and brutal fight sequences.”


Publishers Weekly

“Things that go bump in the night are in good company in the Night Owls college bookstore . . . [An] enthralling thriller. A most promising debut!”


RT Book Reviews

“Vampires, a bookstore, and a battle over an ancient book—how could I not like
Night Owls
with that mixture? . . . A great start to a new series and one that urban fantasy fans should appreciate.”


Fresh Fiction

“A good read and lots of fun. It was action-packed, with an ending that I completely didn’t expect and hints of more drama and mystery to come. Coupled with the humor and the interesting cast of characters (plus a bookstore!!), I know that I plan on coming back.”


All Things Urban Fantasy

“It is the varied and fresh mythology of
Night Owls
that hooked us . . . An adventurous new paranormal urban fantasy.”


That’s What I’m Talking About

“Between the Brotherhood, the Creeps/Jackals, the vamps, demons, and humans, there’s a whole lot going on, yet it’s woven together well. Add in the uniqueness, which is something that’s not frequently able to be said about vampire novels, and it’s a very intrigu[ing] and entertaining world.”


A Book Obsession

“A delightful UF story line with wicked awesome characters.”


Badass Book Reviews

“[A] terrific first installment in what promises to be a spectacular new series . . . With its distinct and entertaining characters, engrossing world-building, and pitch-perfect pacing, the excellent
Night Owls
belongs in the hands of all paranormal fantasy readers.”


Bitten by Books

“An impressive debut that promises more exciting things to come.”


Yummy Men & Kick Ass Chicks

“If you are in the mood for a fast, action-packed read filled with things that go bump in the night, look no further.
Night Owls
is a blast.”


Manga Maniac Cafe

“An absolutely stunning urban fantasy debut . . . Roy managed to make this book both serious and fun at the same time, and peppered it with memorable characters that make an impact.”


Bookworm Blues

“The idea behind
Night Owls
is
genius
. A vampire running a late-night bookstore for college students? Sign me up, because those are two things that go together perfectly.”

—leeanna.me

Ace Books by Lauren M. Roy

NIGHT OWLS

GRAVE MATTERS

THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

USA • Canada • UK • Ireland • Australia • New Zealand • India • South Africa • China

penguin.com

A Penguin Random House Company

GRAVE MATTERS

An Ace Book / published by arrangement with the author

Copyright © 2015 by Lauren M. Roy.

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

Ace Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group.

ACE and the “A” design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) LLC.

For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-14565-8

PUBLISHING HISTORY

Ace mass-market edition / March 2015

Cover art by Don Sipley.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Version_1

To the Boston Cabal

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I wrote another book! I don’t think saying that’s ever going to get old, nor can I ever thank the following people enough for their love and support during the word-making process: to my agent, Miriam Kriss, for believing in my ragtag crew of monsters and monster hunters. To my editor, Rebecca Brewer, and my publicist, Nita Basu—you’ve both made this last year a dream. (Also: best. damned. cover reenactment EVER.) To Colleen Lindsay and Mia Garcia, who made this newbie’s first time on a panel a breeze.

I’ve had the most amazing cheerleaders through this whole process: my nerd family on Feathermoon, my classmates and friends from Viable Paradise XVI, and my HBG sales family. Thank you all so very, very much.

Thank you to David and Matthew Finn, Eric Tribou, Marty Gleason, and Reuben Poling, who are here for me when I need to escape writer-brain for a while and who know when to let me indulge in it, too.

To Hillary Monahan, who said just the right thing about this book when I needed to hear it most.

To my parents, Arthur and Barbara Digan, my first and biggest fans.

To Greg. For all the reasons.

Lastly, but never least, a huge thank-you to booksellers everywhere.

CONTENTS

Praise for
Night Owls

Ace Books by Lauren M. Roy

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Acknowledgments

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Epilogue

1

E
LLY DREAMS OF
heartbeats. Slow and steady ones, the kind you count in the dark to help you sleep; fluttery rabbitlike ones, thready and fearful, the kind that something nasty might hear, and track you to your hiding place. She dreams of the way Justin watches the pulse in her throat sometimes, before he remembers himself and looks away.

Then there are the dreams where the heartbeats are as loud as footsteps,
become
footsteps, and those are the worst. They always end up the same dream: the one where she runs away, pulse pounding in time with her feet as she flees from the Creeps.

The dream where, several stories above, those jackal-headed monsters catch Father Value and beat him nearly to death, then let the fall finish the job. She tries to find him, willing herself to turn around, take that stairwell, get up there and help, but her body never obeys. She runs through mazes of poorly lit corridors, accompanied only by the slamming of her feet and her hammering heart, expecting to find a Creep around every corner, rotten meat on its breath as it laughs at her, laughs and laughs and laughs, while above, Father Value screams.

Sometimes she can pull herself out of it, shouting loud enough to wake Cavale when she claws her way to consciousness. Other times, like now, she’s trapped in those endless hallways with the blood in her ears going
bam bam bam
.

Bam bam BAMBAMBAM.

And a voice calling, “Is anyone home? Hello?”

No, wait. That’s not how this goes.

It was enough to yank her out of the dream, past grogginess to fully awake, just the way Father Value had taught them.

The clock read three thirty as she rolled out of bed and slipped toward the front of the house, mentally scrolling down the list of who it might be. She’d been asleep since coming home from Sunny and Lia’s around noon. Cavale wouldn’t be home from his day job for another couple hours. Val and Justin were basically cordwood until sunset, and Chaz probably had bookstore things to do. Plus, they all had keys, and none of them sounded like a ten-year-old girl.

The knocking grew even more insistent. Every few seconds the doorknob rattled as the kid outside gave it a try.
Poor thing can’t know Cavale has half a dozen locks installed.

It was the nature of the neighborhood. He’d been able to buy the house for a song because no one lived here unless they had to, really. Crow’s Neck might have been a booming suburban haven fifty years ago, but these days it was a nearly dead sprawl. Doors left unlocked were an invitation for mischief, theft, or squatters.

Cavale’s residence being the spooky old house on the hill meant the local kids usually left them alone. They had the occasional ring-and-run—especially at Halloween, when going up to the witch’s door meant you were the bravest on the block—but Cavale said no one ever came around for boring things like selling magazines or candy bars for school fund-raisers. They were too afraid he’d scoop them up and bake them into a pie, or put a hex on them, or whatever witches were supposed to do to children these days.

Which meant when Elly finally undid the last of the locks and cracked open the door, the Girl Scout uniform tripped her up. From the khaki vest with
Troop 305
sewn on the right, Elly had her pegged as a middle-schooler. It was the color she’d worn during her own brief stint in scouting; Cavale had helped her cajole Father Value into letting her join, pooled his allowance with hers to get her a hand-me-down uniform, and gone with her to argue for a full refund at the thrift store when Elly was kicked out of the troop two weeks later for frightening the other girls with her stories.

This kid wasn’t here to sell cookies. The way she snatched her hand back, Elly must have caught her going for another try at the doorknob. Her fingers trembled as, deprived of their target, they sought out and fiddled with the bright blue beads at the ends of her many tiny braids. She looked up at Elly with wide, red-rimmed eyes and kept peeking back over her shoulder as if she were being followed.

“Please help me,” she said. “Someone’s in my house.”

Shit.
Any number of possibilities had flashed through Elly’s mind on seeing the girl’s fear, most of them having to do with bullies giving chase. A month ago, the sight of a frightened little girl would have had her thinking
monsters
and reaching for Silver and Pointy, but she didn’t bother marveling at how . . .
mundane
she’d grown. Burglars were just as real a threat as Creeps.

She opened the door the rest of the way and made room for the girl to get past her. “Come on in, and we’ll call the police.”

The girl’s eyes bulged as she peered behind Elly. Nothing scarier there than bunches of drying herbs—Cavale never did spellwork where anyone could see on a cursory glance—but any gander into the hallway would probably get the kid tons of mileage with her friends once she’d recovered from today’s real-life fright. She shook her head, though, and stayed where she was. “They won’t come. Not before my mother gets home.”

She wasn’t wrong. This section of town was low-priority unless there were gunshots involved, and even then the police were slow to respond. Elly backed up another step. “Here’s what we can do, then. Where’s your house?”

The girl pointed partway down the hill, to a one-story ranch with peeling green paint.

“Okay. We’ll call the police anyway. It’s worth a try. We can sit in the parlor and watch out the window. When your mom comes home, if the police haven’t come yet, we’ll go out and stop her before she goes inside. How’s that sound? We can have some, uh.” She’d been too damned busy these last few days to do any grocery shopping, and Cavale was useless at it. “Cereal, maybe, if the milk’s any good.”

Another head shake. “It won’t matter. Calling them
or
waiting for my mom.” She muttered something else, too low to hear.

“What was that?”

“I said, they can’t see him.” She balled her fists and stared a challenge at Elly. Now that she’d said it aloud, the words came in a rush. “Grown-ups can’t see him, but he’s been there all week, and he’s getting
mad
. My friend Leila said that guy you live with is a ghost hunter or something, and maybe you are too. So I need to hire you.” She reached into her uniform pocket and pulled out a paper-clipped stack of one-dollar bills. “I can make the rest up to you. Like a payment plan. Or I can do chores for you, mow your lawn or something. Shovel snow when winter comes.” She cast a significant glance at the tangled, overgrown mess that was Cavale’s front yard. As she talked, Elly watched some of her fear melt away, to be replaced by determination.

For the second time in as many minutes, Elly found herself tripped up.
So it’s monsters after all?
She was still getting used to interacting with people on a regular basis—people who weren’t Father Value, people who were blissfully unaware of how real beasties and ghoulies were—so she’d have to tread carefully until she was sure. Freaking out an already freaked-out kid would go all kinds of wrong. “Can . . . can your friend Leila see him?”

The girl
tsk
ed, and stopped just short of rolling her eyes. “Of course she can. She says kids are more sensitive to these things. They said so on that ghost hunting show. And now she won’t come over my house again until he’s gone.”

“You said he’s mad. Did he hurt someone?”

“No. Not yet. But he’s knocking things over and I get blamed. Mom says I’m
acting out
.” This time she didn’t stop the eye roll.

Elly raked a hand through her hair, thinking. “What does he look like?”

“I don’t know. Dead? Maybe he’s my dad’s age? Or was when he died? He’s a white guy with long hair, and he has a big hole in his chest. Sometimes it bleeds. I guess he must’ve been shot.”

Yeah, the kid was right—the police weren’t going to be any help on this one. “Do his clothes look old-fashioned?”

“No. He’s got a concert tee shirt on. One of those ones with the tour dates? When it’s not all bloody you can see it’s from last year.”

“How long have you guys lived in that house? Have your mom or dad done any kind of landscaping or something? Renovating the basement?” If he was newly dead, maybe he’d been killed there before they moved in, or someone had hidden the body on the property and the family had disturbed the grave.

But the girl said, “Since I was five, so like seven years?” and Elly’s theory went splat.

To hell with theories. The methods don’t change much between one cause of a haunting and another.
It might be easier to put a ghost to rest if all you needed to do was give their bones a proper burial, but you didn’t always have the bones to work with. A couple weeks back, they’d laid a wraith to rest with nothing more than some personal effects and a poem.
Improvisation is the best tool in your box,
Father Value liked to say, and that was how Elly lived. “All right. Let me grab a few things and we’ll see what we can do.”

The girl let out a huge sigh of relief; her shoulders lost their scrunch. She held out the clipped stack of ones, but Elly waved it off.

“When we’re done, you owe me a box of cookies.” One more aspect of that whole polite-society thing dawned on her. “Hey, uh, you got a name?”

A pause. She fingered a badge on her beige sash, with the word
safety
embroidered on it in bright green. Somewhere along the way, this girl had learned that first tenet of Stranger Danger:
don’t tell them your name.
On top of that, maybe Best Friend and Supernatural Expert Leila had told her precautionary tales about giving witches your true name. Whatever the cause of the internal struggle, it lasted only a few seconds. “Cinda,” the girl said.

“Nice to meet you, Cinda. I’m Elly.”

Cinda stayed on the porch while Elly ducked into the house to collect her tools. She was a brave kid; Elly gave her major points for keeping calm with a pissed-off ghost at home. That didn’t mean she was quite ready for a trip through the spooky witch house. That was probably for the better—Cavale had left a stack of books on the couch, most of them open to pages that were varying degrees of disturbing if you didn’t live a life steeped in magic.

Elly’s eye fell on one particular spread, depicting a demon eating a woman’s heart.
Okay, maybe even if you did.

She took a ketchup bottle filled with holy water, a pair of smudge sticks, a vial of lavender oil, a handful of crystals, a few other odds and ends, and shoved them into a plastic shopping bag. She debated strapping the silver spike to her wrist but decided against it—if Mom came home and found a strange woman doing all sorts of woo-woo shit in her house, with her sixth-grade daughter watching, well, Elly’d be in enough trouble. Best not to be armed, too.

Besides, silver didn’t do much of anything to ghosts and wraiths, whichever this might be.

Cinda leaned on the railing, staring down the hill at her house as Elly came outside. She eyed the plastic bag, clearly disappointed. “Is that, uh, your kit?”

“Yup.”

“In a bag from Food Stop.”

“Yup.”

“What are you going to do, throw a can of soup at it?”

“If that’s what it takes.” She held the bag open so Cinda could see what was inside. “If I walk down the street with a bag covered in runes, or some ancient carved box, anyone who sees will be curious, won’t they?”

“I . . . guess?”

“This draws less attention. You don’t want people knocking while I’m down in your basement getting rid of a ghost, now, do you?”

“No, I guess not.” Cinda’s mouth twisted in a bitter line. “No one really bothers with anyone else, anyway, though. It’s not that kind of neighborhood.”

Elly had no response to that—Cinda was right. The girl shrugged and led her down the hill.

*   *   *

H
OUSES IN GENERAL
were a new concept for Elly, “normal” houses even more so. Father Value would find an apartment for them to squat in from time to time, but they rarely had furniture beyond pallet beds and secondhand tables and chairs. No pictures on the walls, no magnets on the fridge—if the places even
had
a fridge.

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