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Susan Sizemore is the New York Times, Award Winning Author of The Vampire Primes paranormal Romance series, the urban fantasy Laws of the Blood series and numerous historical, contemporary and futuristic romances. She has numerous short stories in many anthologies. Her fantasy novels include works for Ace, Five Star, Prime Books and Tor. She is the author of original works, MEMORY OF MORNING, PRIMAL CALL, BY SUN AND CANDLELIGHT and WRITTEN IN INK exclusively available in ebook format.

Living Dead Girl by Susan Sizemore

Serafina Raider did not volunteer for the job of ghost hunter. Instead she was murdered and magically returned to her body to take up the role of defending the world against evil spirits. She doesn't want the job, or her partner, Devan Nolan, the man who killed her.

But in Black Snow she does accept the task of hunting down a serial killer even if ghost hunters are specifically forbidden from interfering in mortal affairs.

In Bad Wolf, Serafina must take on the escaped ghost she has tracked and trapped before. Only this time the danger is worse. The ghost has attached itself to a werewolf and is forcing the haunted creature to murder innocent humans.

In Caged Glass, Sera knows she must finally defeat the ghost of her mother. Sera would rather be running a restaurant instead of ghost hunting with her partners, Devan and Tony.

But defeating the ghost with traditional methods proves impossible. Sera has to learn to use magic and must put her trust in a pair of witches who are also the grandparents who abandoned her when she was a baby. The need to protect those she loves, along with dire threats concerning her own future from the forces of Heaven, push Sera to do whatever she must to defeat the dangerous ghost of her own mother.

CURATOR'S NOTE

Susan Sizemore has a New York Times bestsellling series about a ghost detective. Living Dead Girl contains three interconnected novellas. Serafina Raider didn't volunteer for the job of ghost hunter, but when she was murdered and magically returned to her body, she had to take up the role of defending the world against evil spirits. Her work is edgy and entertaining. – Kevin J. Anderson

 
 

BOOK PREVIEW

Excerpt

You know that movie? The one with the kid who could see dead people? Well, that's the sort of person I am, only here's the way it goes in my world—there aren't that many ghosts. There are a lot of weird energy fluctuations. Some personalities are strong enough to leave brief impressions on places or things. There are interdimensional rifts that send through monsters. But when it comes down to it, there aren't that many real ghosts hanging around haunting the living and making nuisances of themselves.

When the real ones show up, they aren't up to any good—believe me, your dear late Aunt Betsy is not hovering over you with the protective wings of an angel. If Aunt Betsy's spirit is with you it's because she's trying to suck the living essence from your soul, and you really don't want to know what happens next.

I do, and it gives me nightmares so you don't have to have them. No need to thank me. Actually, a pat on the head and Well done, Sera! occasionally, would be appreciated, but don't tell my partner 'cause he already thinks I'm a softy.

Speaking of my partner, and job, what I do is to make sure that we don't get to the happens next part when the dead attack the souls of the living. I send Aunt Betsy and her ilk to hell. Do I get paid for it? No. Hell, I'm lucky to avoid arrest and lock up in a psychiatric facility after some of the scrapes I get into.

Why do I do this, then?

Let me tell you.

I had a date.

Now, you might think that Serafina Raider, rock star's daughter, up and coming model, wouldn't have any trouble getting dates. Oh, you'd be so wrong. First off, I have trust issues. And my people skills never had a chance to develop properly, what with one thing after another getting in the way of my childhood.

You think you know about all that blighted childhood—because of the tabloids and entertainment shows and one or two unauthorized biographies of my dad, we Raiders can seem more like a media industry than the private family we try to be. It's a wonder we haven't done a reality show, though it would have to air on the SyFy network.

Oh, that poor girl, you think after you ingest the media tidbits about me, some of which are true, I hate to admit. She was kidnapped as a child, not recovered for four years, what that horrible man did to her! You can imagine all sorts of salacious, sick things from what you've seen in the media, but the truth is much weirder.

And wounding. And, in many ways, strengthening.

Not that it didn't leave scars. Not that I didn't have scars already—what doesn't kill you makes you—well, you know.

Once I came home from captivity my father made sure the media ghouls were kept away from me. For a while all I wanted was to keep away from everybody. Lots of therapy, a determined effort, and time, helped me to start at least trying to come out of my shell. One of dad's ex-girlfriends gave me some jobs with her modeling agency. And, I met someone.

Devan Nolan.

If not the richest man in the world, pretty high up on the Forbes list. Heir to an industrial empire. Founder and CEO of his own computer empire. Rich, rich, rich. Also young, good looking, and charming. Intense, intelligent, driven—I was so drawn to the energy of the man from the moment we met.

A lot of my formative years were spent among horny, high charisma musicians. Male sexuality wasn't a surprise to me, in fact I thought I was jaded and immune to it. I'll even admit it—the rock star's daughter was a virgin. Never mind your lurid imaginings, the stuff that happened to me when I was taken had nothing to do with that.

Maybe it shouldn't have been a surprise that the first male that made my brain and hormones go Zing! was a quietly confident guy in a suit and reading glasses. Not that Devan swept me off my feet or anything. I was too cautious for any sort of fling. And he was too much of a gentleman.

Or so I let myself believe.

Honestly, I got myself into it. All because I'd come to the foolish conclusion that it was time I learned to emotionally trust people outside the small circle not actually named Raider, or who had at one time or another slept with someone named Raider.

Devan and I were introduced by mutual friends at their very secluded house on a well-guarded private island. It wasn't a casual pick-up at a photo shoot or backstage at a concert or anything like that. Because that kind of pick-up wasn't the sort of thing I'd let happen. Or my father would let happen. Or my father's bodyguards.

When we met, Devan had just flown in from some sort of business meeting. He tried to summon up energy to be a good guest, but he was frazzled and distracted and so weary the first thing I wanted to do was tuck him in for a nap. He caught me totally off guard by bringing out the sort of protective instincts that had only been stirred before by Dad when he dragged his soul-drained carcass off the stage on the last night of a tour. When he'd given himself completely and wanted his kids around him to get Kent Raider back.

Those were the times when taking care of Dad felt good, and not just like a good deed.

Anyway, when I met him I sensed that Devan Nolan needed some time and caring. But in every other way Devan didn't remind me of Dad at all. Part of the attraction. Seed of the disaster.

But, oh, the charm, the wit, the intelligence! Oh, the brains on that man. Name a subject and he knew about it. He was more than knowledgeable; he talked in a way that taught, made everything interesting. Now, the men in my life are really, really bright, but I've never felt any sexual attraction for them.

And I certainly recognized the attraction to Devan. I'm not saying this didn't scare me. But I acknowledged it, told myself I could deal with it. I lectured myself that it damn well was time I dealt with it if I wanted to have any kind of normal life at all.

I held these lectures hiding under the covers in my guest room after bidding Devan goodnight. At no point was I ready to admit to wanting him under the covers with me. I wanted to inch toward intimacy, but I didn't want it yet.

I thought he was worth making the effort for.

We spent six days in each other's well-chaperoned company before returning to our daily lives.

He said he'd call, and did.

I panicked.

I put off seeing him that first time. By the time he called back the next day, I was ready to agree to an honest to god date.

He suggested the opera in Venice.

I was not quite that ready, not for going out on the town where photographers lurk and occasionally manage to get past even the best security guards.

I suggested making him spaghetti in my loft. I figured he wasn't a stranger by now, and safe in my own territory I could impress him with some home cooking.

He drove himself and parked in the basement garage. He took the private elevator up to the top floor. We made sure no one saw us together.

In retrospect, that was the biggest mistake of my life. Well, I couldn't see into the future. At least I couldn't then.

There were several hard-earned skills I was proud of, and cooking was one of them. I don't have my dad's musical talent, or my brother's drawing ability, but, damn, I can cook! I'd even considered going to culinary school and opening a restaurant. I had a fantasy of being the secret master of the cuisine at a ravingly popular little place and never having to come out from the kitchen.

Even though the Bolognese sauce I served him took two days' work of chopping, sautéing, and simmering, the meal I fed Devan was simple. It consisted of a pear and chèvre salad, homemade focaccia and pasta, Chianti, and finished off with watermelon sorbet.

He was not unimpressed with my culinary skills. I was not unimpressed that Mr. Rich Guy knew his way around a kitchen and was helpful with prep, plating, and clean up. Dinner conversation mostly consisted of meals we'd eaten in interesting places.

"I wouldn't be surprised if you'd had lobster in orbit, since I know you did the space tourism thing with the Russians," I said as we retired with wine glasses to the central seating area of my loft. My wine glass held ginger ale.

"You sound jealous," he replied, with the deviously innocent smile I was going to grow to hate.

"Well—yeah. Not that I think I'm quite up to actually leaving the planet—but it sounds like the best adventure of all time."

He sat on the couch. I took a chair opposite him, with the wide glass coffee table between us. He continued beaming at me, and I continued basking in it. Sucker that I was.

"No space lobster," he told me.

"Was being in space fun?"

"Once I stopped vomiting."

I waved a hand at him. "Too much information."

"Sorry. You have quite a bit of Japanese décor," he said as he looked around.

I nodded.

The loft I live in really did used to be the attic of an old garment factory. Now the building is a very refurbished and expensive piece of real estate that's in my name but I suppose is part of rock 'n' roll history. Back in the early days of Raider the band used this very loft as rehearsal space. I have memories of sitting on the floor playing with dolls while Aaron did homework or drew pictures. It's a wonder social services didn't take us away for the assault on our delicate childish eardrums.

"I wouldn't exactly call anything in here décor," I answered. "The shoji screens come in handy for marking off the various 'rooms' since the space is just one big—space."

"Is being in this space fun?"

I laughed. "Most of the time. More wine?"

Even asking him if he wanted seconds made me cringe a little. Memories of too many times when dad couldn't stop at seconds, or twenty-seconds. But Devan was different …

Devan took a sip from his nearly full glass. "I'm good. I noticed the kimono hanging over your bed, black silk embroidered in silver cranes and red chrysanthemums. It's vintage 19th century, right?"

The bedroom was an area blocked off behind three painted screens, and I hadn't shown it to him when I gave him what little tour there'd been. I considered that some things, like my most private place, should be off limits on a first date, even if my hormones tried to lure me into temptation.

I wasn't terribly pleased by his snooping, but I wasn't particularly offended, either. The place was open, airy, it was easy to catch glimpses of things.

"Yes," I answered.

"Your great grandmother was a Japanese war bride."

Thus showing he'd done due diligence about me. It only made sense for very rich people to check out anyone they were going to be spending time alone with. I understood, but now I was beginning to be offended.

"Yes. I am one eighth Japanese." More to the point, I am proudly an all-American mutt.

"It shows in your bone structure, and your hair color."

"My hair is not naturally black, and the bones could come from my Scottish, Spanish, Indian, or African ancestry." My voice was cold and clipped, even though I was trying not to get angry. Devan had to have a reason for this inquisition, didn't he?

"Or German. Your mother was of German and Irish descent."

I didn't talk about my mother outside of family. When other members of the family talked about her, it wasn't with any fondness. We'd never actually met.

"Would you like a blood sample?" I asked, holding out my arm. So much for trying not to get angry. "Or would you prefer doing DNA testing with saliva?"

"I don't need any of that," he said. He made a nonchalant gesture, and he was still smiling. Still exuding charm.

My thought now was how to get him to leave. Oh, I could have simply told him to get out. But like I said, I was attracted to his intensity and hormones were still perking away beneath my annoyance. I was making an effort to trust Devan, couldn't give up the attempt at the first little hiccup. He was heading somewhere with this, and my curiosity also outweighed my natural caution.

He put his glass on the table. The way the light hit the wine, for a moment the glass seemed like it was full of blood, and that blood was a warning.…

Should not have ignored that.

He turned up the intensity of his gaze a notch or two. I couldn't look away if I tried.

"Do you know what a shinigami is?" he asked.

I laughed, maybe a little nervously, but this was familiar territory. "Do you know what my brother Aaron is?" I asked.

"Owner, founder, and manga artist of Raider Press."

I nodded. "I live with Aaron's mania for Japanese comic books—a term he loathes and lectures me on. He claims that manga and comics are not at all the same, but I don't get the difference. They both have artwork and supernatural characters and soap opera story lines. He says—well that's our argument."

My brother and I have a complex relationship. He'll get all guilty that it was me and not him it happened to. Or sometimes he goes off on these tantrums about how my mother was responsible for his mother's death. This is usually when he's really mad at dad about something but dad isn't around so Aaron takes it out on me.

I'm okay with it, sort of. I'd yell back and remind him that while my mom was a husband stealing whore bitch, she's dead too. So we're both motherless and we're family, right? We'd then hug and be best friends again.

Aaron's a fantastic artist, by the way.

"I don't know how many Manga and Comic Cons I've worked in Raider Press's booth—usually wearing a leather corset," I told Devan. "I grew up watching Bleach. So, yes, I know what a shinigami is."

Faint smile from him again—beginning to be supercilious rather than charming. "You know about cartoon versions of soul reapers and soul societies, but you don't know anything about the truth of ghost hunting. There's been no reason you should until now."

Oh, for crying out loud! Not only did this sound crazy, it was also faintly familiar. Memories tried to stir, but I'd gotten very good at pushing them down.

But now I was back to being the same old paranoid me. I stood up and pointed. "Good bye. The door's right behind you."

He stood up, but he wasn't going anywhere. "The term shinigami is actually fairly new to Japanese culture. It comes from a Japanese play written about a German fairy tale in the 19th Century. But the Japanese term has taken hold for us in the modern world. Perhaps we change to reflect modern culture. I don't know. I do know we've been around as long as there have been souls to rescue and reap, and we are from all times, places, and cultures. Besides, Lord Enma, the Japanese death god is currently in charge of ghost hunters, so we might as well be shinigami."

"We?" I shouldn't have asked. It only encouraged him.

"Shinigami. Guardians of the living. Healers of the dead. Corpse killers."

Corpse—

Oh, shit. Major craziness finding me in my one safe place.

"Uh huh." I waved fingers at him. By now I had my cell phone in my other hand and was ready to call 911. I wondered if I'd need to make a run for all those sharp knives on the kitchen counter. "Please leave."

Somehow the glass table wasn't between us anymore, and he'd tossed my phone across the room. "I am a shinigami," Devan said. "You've been chosen to join us."

At this point I leapt on the chair in an effort to get around him, which gave him the opportunity to grab me around the waist. I didn't let the panic take over, but I fought like a demon.

I tried to twist away, but he held on and managed to keep my feet from touching the floor. He carried me out to the terrace. I shouted for help, but the sounds of the city below negated any chance of my being heard. When he dropped me I landed painfully hard on my knees on the blue Moroccan tiles.

"Fight me," he said. "You know how."

He loomed over me. I do not deal well with that. I jumped to my feet.

"The old man taught you how to fight," he added as I lunged at him.

Not fair!

The callous reminder of my lost years threw my kick off just enough for him to spin away. He grabbed my foot and twisted as he moved, and I went down on the tiles again. This time on my backside. He dropped down on top of me, totally knocking the breath out from my lungs.

"You are 100 percent crazy!" I yelled at him.

"And you are 100 percent dead."

I looked down at the body on the terrace floor. The one with the glowing blue dagger sticking out of its—my—chest. Blood was staining my white lace shirt.

No pain. But the white-hot fury burned me.

"You fucking killed me!" I shouted.

"There's no reason to swear."

"I've been murdered!"

Devan grabbed me by the shoulders. I was surprised at how warm his hands were. That's when I noticed the blue glow that surrounded us. A thread of blue light connected us to the knife piercing my body.

Confusion swirled around me. I knew that I wasn't breathing but that I could still talk. I could still feel—physically, emotionally. In fact, I felt more than ever … I felt more alive.…

"What the?"

Devan shook me and got my full attention. I looked into his eyes. They were very blue, as blue and glowing as the light around us.

"Listen to me," he said. "You don't have much time to make your choice. Your body is shutting down. Your brain won't last long without oxygen. You can go one of two ways now. Your spirit can depart for whatever afterlife awaits you. Depart without your getting to work through all the pain and terror that scars you. Or you can accept the gifts and responsibilities of the shinigami and become part of the team."

I had a million questions. I also knew on a level that was deeper than instinct that I didn't have the time to ask them. I was terrified. I was furious. I was being used yet again.

I could feel my whole being straining against a black wind trying to blow me away.

All I had was the choice.

"I don't want to die!"

He took that as a yes.

I hate sobbing—I taught myself not to cry about anything years ago. But what did I discover I was doing when I took my next breath? I was crying like a baby. Even worse, my head was nestled against Devan Nolan's chest and the bastard's arms were around me. Like I needed to be comforted and he was the only one in the world who could do it.

The best way to break the sort of hold he had on me is to just go limp and slide out of the grip. I did that and jumped to my feet facing him. As I did I noticed that my white blouse didn't have any blood on it. I tasted tears and the dark wind still blew in the back of my mind but I began to imagine that I'd hallucinated the whole thing.

"Hallucination, no," Devan said. "But you can start believing in every nightmare you've ever had. Welcome to the team, rookie," he added. "I'll be showing you the ropes."

Which is how I became a shinigami.