Title: Living Dead Girl
Author: Nessie Strange
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Etopia Press
Date of Publication: January 15, 2014
Number of pages:294
Word Count: 63,386
BLURB supplied by Bewitching Blog Tours
Jen MacLellan has hit a dead end…
Jen knows tattooed, blue-haired Jack Norris is trouble the minute he opens his front door. And being a mortician in the avante garde East Side of Providence, Jen has seen a lot. Jack has recruited Jen’s teenage brother Drew to play drums for his less-than-respectable punk band, and Jen has no choice but to follow their gigs to keep her little brother out of trouble. But when Drew goes missing, she finds herself in the awkward position of asking for Jack’s help. Shocked that he agrees, Jen decides she may have misjudged him. Worse, she might even like him.
But when Jen is brutally attacked, she awakens in the hospital where a Sid Vicious look-alike greets her with the news: she’s dead, and he’s the reaper assigned to take her away. Yeah, not so much. Refusing to leave, Jen’s spirit watches helplessly as her loved ones suffer, powerless to ease her family’s grief or prevent the police from accusing Jack of her murder. Desperate to help them, Jen convinces the reaper to bring her back. But reanimating corpses isn’t as easy as it looks, and neither is finding a killer before it’s too late…
Providence, Rhode Island
Was it a full moon? Because it seemed like crazy hit town and we got flooded. The funeral home was packed with more bodies than usual. I’d spent the past half hour explaining to a grieving family why an open casket really wasn’t the best option for their grandmother who’d been dead for over two weeks. Believe me, it wasn’t. I’d never been so happy to lock the front door.
Dad and I were cleaning up the prep room when my nineteen-year-old cousin Ethan appeared in the doorway with his hand shoved in a bag of chips. Like all the men in the family he towered over me, a height that was punctuated by another three or so inches of reddish-brown white boy ’fro. “You guys want the bad news or the really bad news first?”
The beginnings of a migraine pulsated in my right temple, growing more insistent by the second. It was now after ten o’clock at night. The only thing I wanted was to shower and get ready for bed.
Dad closed the stainless steel cabinet where we kept all the bottles of embalming chemicals. “Just lay it all out there.”
“Man, you guys are no fun.” He stuffed another chip in his mouth, then wiped his hand on the front of his Naruto T-shirt. “All right. We got another stiff, and Drew’s at some shady party getting hammered.” Ethan grinned.
“What?” I said. “Drew is…what?”
“You know, getting sloshed, shitfaced, cocked, drunk—”
“I know what it means, you ass.”
Dad looked at me, frowning. “Isn’t he supposed to be working on a science project?”
“What, like how many beers does it take to get to the center of a—?”
“Ethan, knock it off,” I snapped. “Yes, he was supposed to be working on a science project. I should’ve known.”
“Right? Nobody does homework on Friday nights.”
“You’re really not helping.”
Dad sighed and slumped his shoulders. “Well, one of us will have to go get him.”
“Why don’t you guys flip for it?” Ethan held a quarter between his thumb and forefinger and waved it in front of my face. “C’mon. Heads, Jen gets him; tails and Uncle Andrew does it. It’s foolproof.”
Foolproof? Ha. Right. Try suckered. Dad and I looked at each other and shrugged. My sixteen-year-old brother deserved the mother of all ass-kickings. Was it wrong that I was hoping for tails? Tails meant filling out some paperwork and escorting a body from the hospital morgue. It meant no aggravation. That body wasn’t going to argue or give me an attitude. My brother?
Yeah, different story.
Ethan slapped the quarter onto the table and lifted his hand. “Heads, my lovely cousin.”
I climbed into my car, wondering why I always had to chase after that little puke. Maybe I’d seriously pissed someone off in another life. My fate seemed to be to relive this scenario over and over, and it didn’t look as though it was going to stop anytime soon. I grumbled to myself all the way there, made a couple of wrong turns, backtracked, and took the wrong exit off I-95. It didn’t help that my boyfriend, Craig, called my cell while I was lost.
“Why didn’t you pick up the phone?”
“I just did, didn’t I?”
He sighed. “Where are you?”
“Drew took off, OK?” I snapped. “I need to find him.”
“Why do you bother? The little bastard’ll come home when he needs something. Leave it to your dad.”
“But Dad asked me to do it. He’s working late tonight.” I didn’t dare tell him we’d flipped for it.
“Jen, you’ve got to get away from that family. They walk all over you, and you just let them.”
No matter how dramatic he made it seem, there was a grain of truth to his words. Still, I didn’t want to hear it. I shouldn’t have to defend my family to my own boyfriend. “Look, they’re my family and I love them. We take care of each other.”
“If that’s what you want to call it.” He snorted. “Fine. Whatever. Not like you’ll listen to me anyway. Call me tomorrow.”
I chucked the phone into the backseat and swore under my breath.
The neighborhoods went from decent to downright seedy pretty quick. Worn triple-deckers and chain-link fences lined the streets. I pulled up to the curb in front of a white, two-story house pockmarked by peeling, cracked paint. It had a small porch in the front and a garage off to the side. Cars were strewn across the front lawn like confetti.
I was ready to drag my brother out by the hair if I had to. What if I was walking into a crack house, about to be robbed and raped and murdered and thrown into a dumpster somewhere? I closed my eyes and exhaled. The music blasted so loud the walls shook. It would be miraculous if anybody even heard me knock.
Surprisingly, the door swung open right away. A tall, shirtless tattooed guy with blue liberty spikes poked his head out. His gaze traveled my body, stopping briefly at my chest before resting on my face. A wave of pungent smoke wafted out from behind him and almost bowled me over.
“Uh…hi?” He spoke as if trying to figure out whether he was supposed to know me or not. “Can I help you?”
I squeezed out a smile. “I’m looking for Drew MacLellan. Do you know him?”
He shrugged, a slight smirk forming. “I might. I know a lot of people.”
I was about to rattle off a smart-ass retort when something rustled in the bushes a few feet away. Instead of the cat I’d been expecting, a pair of legs stuck out from underneath a large rhododendron. I turned my attention back to the blue-haired guy. He followed my line of vision.
“Well that’s a relief. I guess I found Dave,” he said with a goofy grin.
“My buddy, Dave. He’s tripping his balls off.” He nodded toward the bush, still grinning, then raised his voice another notch. “Right, Dave?”
Dave’s weird, high-pitched laugh sounded more like a hyena than a human.
“Ooh-kay.” I let a brief, nervous giggle slip out. “Anyway. Drew. Um…he’s sixteen, kinda stocky with brown hair. A few inches taller than me?”
“Hmm. Not sure.” He rubbed his chin and squinted.
“This is thirteen Oak Drive, right?”
“Yeah, that’s right.” He belched. Loud.
My God, what was wrong with this guy? I pretended not to notice. It wasn’t easy.
“Well, do you know someone named Jack? He supposedly lives here. I was told that Drew MacLellan was at Jack’s house. This house.”
I was already edging toward my last nerve and he wasn’t helping. He leaned in the door frame and stared.
“Uh, hello?” I snapped a finger in front of his face.
“You know, you’ve got a nice rack,” he observed. “It kinda distracted me.”
Nice rack? Really? It had been less than five minutes and I already wanted to hit this guy. My face heated and I hovered somewhere between anger and embarrassment. “Is there anything you do know?” At this point, I didn’t care if I sounded rude. “Can you give me an answer that doesn’t include maybe? Or I might?”
“Probably.” The corners of his mouth twitched.
“Clever,” I muttered, exasperated. “Look, I just need to know if Drew is actually here.”
“Are you his girl? You look a little old to be dating a high school kid. Not that I’d blame him.” He gave me another once-over, his gaze lingering on my breasts again. “Just sayin’.”
I crossed my arms over my chest and narrowed my eyes. “Yeah, well, you look a little old to be hanging out with a high school kid. And I’m not dating him—he’s my little brother. Just sayin’.”
Blue-haired guy doubled over laughing and, after what seemed like an eternity, stood and extended his hand, still snickering. It took me a moment to realize he actually wanted me to shake it.
“I’m sorry. I was just giving you shit. I’m Jack.”
Reluctantly I reached out to meet his hand.
“Damn, you should see the look on your face.”
I pulled my arms tighter around my chest.
“Hey, chill out, princess. What’s your name?”
“Jen.” I tapped my foot. “Now, how about my brother? Where. Is. He?”
Jack laughed so hard he spilled the remainder of his beer all over the front of his pants. “Nice to meet you too, Jen.” He said my name slowly as if it was a word he’d just learned and then motioned for me to follow him into the house. “Drew’s here. Come on in.”
The place was a living, breathing advertisement of what not to do when you’re a kid: one loud, smoke-filled hellhole. The music vibrated inside my chest, and the voice from the speakers asserted that punk rock’s not dead (at least, I think that’s what he said). It was your usual garden variety of social misfits—punks, freaks, and possible hobos. They sprawled over a living room filled with beer cans, ashtrays, and beer cans being used as ashtrays. It smelled like the party had broken out in a gym locker room—one filled with sweaty, unshowered bodies and beer-soaked cigarettes.
I surveyed the room. A couple made out in the corner. The girl was tall, voluptuous, and between the plaid skirt and purple hair, looked like Betty Page had swallowed a rainbow and regurgitated a brightly colored clone of herself. She had her legs wrapped around the guy’s waist while they more or less screwed with their clothes on. I shook my head and looked away. Another girl with a shaved head sat on the edge of the sofa, smoking a small metal pipe and giggling hysterically. A guy with red plaid pants and an orange Mohawk sat on the floor and rocked back and forth with his eyes closed. Heck, there was an entire collection of pharmaceuticals scattered all over the coffee table—in plain sight, no less. My stomach flipped and I tried to ignore the feeling crawling beneath my flesh. Definitely not my crowd.
Jack pushed his way through the maze of people, and I followed him down a narrow hallway, praying it wouldn’t get any worse.
We entered a cramped kitchen where a group of five guys sat at a small round table covered with beer cans and playing cards. One of them looked up at us, cigarette hanging out of his mouth, his eyes squinting as the smoke drifted back into his face.
“New lady, huh? Nice.” The guy eyed me up and down. “Not your usual type, bro.”
Jack grinned and shrugged. “Thought I’d try something different.”
I shot him a dirty look. What an asshole. Then I spotted my target sitting at the table with his back to me. He started to turn toward us and was just about to take a swig of his beer when his eyes met mine. He froze mid-drink, a can of Natural Light hovering just out of reach of his lips. His eyes widened.
“Oh shit,” he said.
Bull’s-eye. “Shit? Oh yes.” I crossed my arms. “As in, deep shit. The kind that you’re in right now.”
Every pair of eyes in the room focused on me. I felt naked, like I was standing under the world’s brightest spotlight holding a sign that screamed LOOK AT ME, but I shoved those nausea-inducing feelings aside.
“Do I even have to explain what’s wrong with this scenario?”
He didn’t move from the chair, but he did place the beer back on the table and push it away—as if that somehow negated the fact he’d just been drinking it. “Jen, c’mon, don’t be such a bi—”
And there went my last nerve. Embarrassment forgotten, I strode over to the table and whacked him on the back of the head, hard enough to rattle his eyeballs and elicit a grunt. He flinched and the beer can toppled over, spraying its contents across the table.
“Ow! Jen, what the fuck?” He rubbed the back of his head. The room erupted into laughter. “Just listen, all right? I—”
I was fully aware that this embarrassed him—probably a fate worse than death for a sixteen-year-old trying to be the super cool badass he thought he was. I also didn’t care. I grabbed a fist full of his shirt and jerked him toward me until his face was inches from mine.
“No, you listen, you little shit. I had to drive halfway across town to find you. I’m tired, I’m pissed off, and if you don’t get out of that chair and walk your ass out to my car right now, things are gonna get a lot worse for you.”
“Hey, take it easy on the kid.” Someone laughed.
“MacLellan, dude, she’s gonna kick your ass,” said someone else, and then followed up his comment with a whistle. Both someone and someone else were adding to the serious list of grievances that grew inside my head.
Drew glowered at me, still rubbing his head, but rose from the chair. “I’ll see you guys later.”
We walked back through the house, and it wasn’t until we got to the door that I noticed Jack was following us.
“I’m sorry. We didn’t realize how late it was getting, or I would’ve brought him home.” He had his hands shoved in his pockets.
Yeah, I was sure that was exactly what he had been thinking about. Not only did I not believe him, but I wasn’t sure he was in any condition to drive, either.
“Whatever.” I pressed my lips together in a thin, tight line to prevent an onslaught of insults. “He’s old enough to know when he’s supposed to be home.”
I was just about to turn away when the door flew open. A guy stumbled out and puked over the porch railing while two of his buddies cheered him on. I remembered tripping Dave and his bush and shivered, my own gut clenching, when I realized the puker hadn’t missed him by much. Gross. I gritted my teeth. The last thing I needed was to sympathy vomit my way back to the car. Did I mention I couldn’t wait to get out of there?
Jack, who hadn’t even appeared to notice the spectacle, nodded to Drew. “See ya later, MacLellan. I’ll call you in a couple days.” His eyes fixed on mine and that smile returned. “And again, it was nice to meet you, Princess Jen. Maybe next time you’ll stay for a couple beers?”
I didn’t answer, but offered one of those fake smiles I reserved for special occasions because it meant fuck you. There was no way in hell I was going back to that house, and neither was Drew for that matter. Jack stood in the doorway and watched us leave.
“Fuckin’ bitch,” Drew muttered under his breath.
“Excuse me? You’ve got something you need to say?”
He wouldn’t look at me. I’d always thought there was something wrong with having to discipline a younger sibling. Perhaps I should have taken pleasure in it, but I didn’t. It wasn’t the same as fighting with him or picking on him, both of which were within my rights as his older sister. But discipline? It was a little too much like mothering and felt like a responsibility I shouldn’t have to deal with. I resented it. Big time. I’d always wanted to be the cool older sister that everyone liked, not a nagging pain in the ass. Like everything else in my life, however, I sucked it up and did what I had to do. Nagging pain in the ass it would have to be.
“Since when is it OK for you to be drinking?” I pulled away from the curb.
Drew sat in the passenger seat with his arms crossed, scowling. “I can do whatever the fuck I want.”
“Um, language. And no. No, you can’t.”
“Shut it, will you? You’re always up my ass about something.”
“You’re sixteen. That’s way too young to be partying with a bunch of twenty-somethings.” I glanced at him sideways, but he wasn’t even facing me.
“So what? I’m not the only person my age who drinks. Besides, I was hangin’ with the guys from the band, and that’s what they do.”
“Well, you won’t be hangin’ with them anymore.”
“You can’t stop me.”
He didn’t say anything else the rest of the ride home. We pulled into the driveway at the side of our house. I grabbed the sleeve of his shirt and yanked him back before he could walk to the door.
“Promise me you’ll lay low for a while. No more partying and coming and going whenever you feel like it. Dad’s really stressed and you’re not helping anything.”
Drew jerked himself out of my grasp and stalked into the house. I knew there was no reasoning with him. Unfortunately, just because I got to act like his mother didn’t mean he listened to anything I said. So I did the next best thing: went right to Daddy and told him about everything Drew had done.
I went to bed agitated. It was one thing to catch Drew smoking or drinking with a couple other high school kids, but this was different. Those weren’t teenagers at that party. What was Drew getting himself into? And more importantly, who the hell was this Jack guy, and what did he want with my younger brother?
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