Romance Novel Giveaways - Freebies and Giveaways of All Things Romance Romance Novel Giveaways: The Mortician's Daughter by C.C. Hunter 💕 Series Tour & Gift Card Giveaway 💕 (Paranormal Romance)

Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Mortician's Daughter by C.C. Hunter 💕 Series Tour & Gift Card Giveaway 💕 (Paranormal Romance)







The first exciting novel in a brand-new series from New York Times bestselling author C. C. Hunter!

Her dad’s job is with the dead . . . and he’s bringing his work home with him.

Once again, seventeen-year-old Riley Smith is the new kid in school and her dad’s career has her back to being dubbed a freak. Truth is, she’s a much bigger freak than her classmates think. The only company she keeps these days is the dead who follow Dad home from work. She can see them. She can speak to them. And Fate seems to think she can help them solve their last problems so that they can move on to the other side. Which is odd, because with the loss of her mother and her father’s alcoholism, she’s got enough problems of her own.

But nothing could prepare her for the next tormented young spirit who darkens Riley’s door. The young woman’s death wasn’t the accident everyone believes. Soon Riley finds herself face-to-face with the killer and her only protection comes in the form of another spirit, Hayden, a boy her age with a heart-melting smile and understanding eyes that make her feel safe. If she can escape becoming the killer’s next victim, Riley knows she’ll have to help Hayden move on too, but what if she can’t let him go?

For thrills, chills, romance and laughter, buy The Mortician’s Daughter: One Foot in the Gravetoday.


💕 Click on the images to enlarge 💕

Chapter One



Can I go to jail for this?

The question snakes through my mind as I make my way down Dead Oak Street. The sound of my tennis shoes smacking against the cracked sidewalk fills the cold, almost-dark night. I pull my hoodie closer and hold my purse to my side like a weapon.

A full moon makes its appearance early, hanging in the sky that's still clinging to a spray of gold left over from the sunset. I chose this time purposely, hoping everyone would be in their houses eating dinner, doing homework… not out watching for strangers trying to slip something into their mailbox.

Getting caught isn't an option. Never mind if it's illegal—though it shouldn't be, I'm doing them a favor—it would bring questions down on me that I'm not prepared to answer. That I'll never be prepared to answer.

I spot an address on the street curb. My heart thumps and vibrates against my breastbone.

Three houses to go.

I keep moving and, staring down, remember the old song lyrics, Step on a crack, break your mother's back. Since my mom's dead, I don't have to worry. But what was the second chorus? Step on a line, break your father's spine.

Maybe I should avoid lines. Dad has enough crap on his plate. Crap I wish I could help him with, but I don't have a clue how to do that.

Taking a deep breath, telling myself this favor is almost done, I keep walking toward house number thirteen. Why did it have to be an unlucky number?

Homes on each side of the street line up like dollhouses and seem to be watching me. Some of them are dark, and have a menacing look. Others have gold light leaking out of their windows like love lives there. Through one, I see a TV airing the evening news. Through another, I spot a family of four having dinner. I wonder what it would be like to have that. To be part of a family. To be more than just "Dad and me." The before-Mom-died memories are so few, and even those are vague. Considering I was four, I guess I'm lucky I have any at all.

Only one house to go.

I see the house. It's dark as if no one's home. The mailbox catches my eye. It's leaning, looking tired and old. The metal door flap is hanging open.

This might be my lucky day.

I reach into my purse and pull out the envelope.

The tightness in my chest releases. I can do this.

I take the last few steps, avoiding cracks and lines. A dog barks from across the street. The barking rings like a warning, announcing a stranger is present. And I'm the stranger.

The yowling grows loud as if the animal is approaching. I accidently let the envelope slip from my fingers. I look over, hoping I'm not about to be mauled. The dog's in the middle of the road, yelping, alerting the neighborhood.

I stomp my foot, and the canine scurries back across the street.

Heart pounding, I kneel down, snatch up the letter, and slip it into the mailbox.

Done. Problem solved. I can go home now.

And so can you, Bessie.

I look up at the bowl of darkening sky. Right then I see a shooting star race across the night, leaving a trail of glitter in its wake. I smile. I know what it means. A rightness enters my chest.

Before I take my first step away from the mailbox, I hear something… someone.

"What are you doing?" The girl's voice rings out.

The rightness is shattered.

I freeze and pray her words are for someone else. Then I see the dark shadow sitting on the edge of the porch, almost hidden behind the hedges. It's from house number thirteen.

The air locks in my throat, a jolt of pin-prickling pain races under my skin.

I am so caught.

The figure pushes off the porch, walking toward me.

I consider running, but my feet feel nailed to the sidewalk. Panic fills my empty stomach.

Even worse is that when she gets closer, I recognize her. Dark hair, light olive skin, dressed in black.

I don't remember her name, but I have two classes with her. English and history. She keeps to herself. Not coming off as shy so much as… a loner. Maybe even someone with a chip on her shoulder.

I saw her roll her eyes at some girls who were being loud and obnoxious in history today. I wanted to roll my eyes too. Their behavior was out of line.

"What are you doing?" she asks again.

Yup. I am so caught. So screwed. My mind races, seeking an answer she'll believe. One that would completely avoid the truth. Not that she would believe the truth. Sometimes I still don't believe it.

I gulp down the knot of panic in my throat. "I, uh... A piece of mail had fallen out of your mailbox."

That sounded convincing, didn't it? I pray she believes me. Pray she hadn't seen the envelope in my hand before I'd dropped it.

Her brow pinches. "Oh." She stares at me, recognition widens her light green eyes. "Aren't you the new girl at school? Riley, right?"

I nod. The fact that she remembers my name when I don't recall hers makes me feel slightly guilty. "Yeah. Sorry I don't remember yours."

"Kelsey," she spouts out matter-of-factly, not in an insulted kind of way, more like in a don't-give-a-damn way. Then she continues to stare at me suspiciously. "You live in the neighborhood?"

"Two blocks over," I say. "I was just... taking a walk." I swallow, again feeling the need to get the hell away from there. Away from her.

"I should... go." I'm ready to step away when I hear a truck pull into the driveway across the street. Doors open and slam closed, and male voices boom out. I look over. The streetlight is on, and I recognize one of the two boys. Jacob Adams. Tall, light brown hair, and an oh-so-confident way of carrying himself that most boys his age don't have. He laughs at something the other guy says, and the sound seems swallowed by darkness.

The fact that I know his name says something. It says he's one of the best-looking boys at school. But it's not just that. He's also one of the few kids who's actually spoken to me in my first ten days of school. Not a whole conversation, but just a quick introduction and welcome to Catwalk, Texas. Surprised the hell out of me.

The two boys, almost too loud for the night, go inside the house, and silence falls on the street again. I can hear the streetlights buzzing, spitting out voltage. I feel a similar nervous buzzing inside me.

"So that's why you're here." Kelsey makes a disapproving noise from the back of her throat.

I don't understand what she means at first, and then bam! I get it. She thinks I'm stalking Jacob. I start to deny it but then realize I could use this. It's a plausible reason for being there. One that has nothing to do with the real reason. And really, what do I care if she believes I have a thing for Jacob. I kind of do.

"Don't waste your time," Kelsey says. "He's going out with Jami Holmes. Popular, big boobs, and a cheerleader."

Yeah, I kind of knew that too, which is why I wouldn't have bothered stalking Jacob even if I'd known where he lived. I try to think of something to say, but nothing comes out. So I just shrug.

She reaches into her mailbox and pulls out the envelope I just placed there along with two or three other pieces of mail. "But he is nice to look at," she says. "If you like his type."

"Yeah," I say like a confession, and wonder if that's what she was doing, hiding on her front porch. Stalking Jacob.

She holds the mail in one hand and gives me one more look. "See you around."

It feels as if I'm being dismissed. I can take a hint. I walk away. As I hurry back to my house, I wonder if Kelsey is kin to Bessie. Bessie is black and Kelsey's skin is much lighter, though her dark hair and olive complexion could mean she's of mixed race. We're all melting pots. Dad swears he's part Italian.

I'm a block from my house when I feel it. The sensation of being watched. The fine hair on my arms stand up. My skin tightens. My next breath brings in the scent of... I inhale again... of jasmine.

I don't think it's Bessie.

I speed up, hoping whoever it is will take the hint. Right now, all I want is to get home. Not that it feels like a home yet. We've only been in this place two weeks.

The temperature drops. Chills start at the base of my neck and slither down my spine. A new scent—this one spicy, earthy, like aftershave—fills my next breath of air.

I hug myself, watch my feet move, and increase my speed. One foot in front of the other, faster, and faster.

* * *

By the time I cut the corner to my block, the strip of gold has faded from the sky and the moon hangs bigger and brighter. I look down the street. Dad's car is parked beside my old Mustang in the driveway.

Crap. He's probably worried. I start jogging, my feet slapping against the pavement. The second I reach the driveway, my phone rings.

It's probably Dad. I check. Duh, of course it is. No one else calls me. Well, Shala, my best friend who I left in Dallas a year and two moves ago, occasionally calls. But like Carl, the one-time love of my life, she's moved on. She found a new best friend, leaving me pretty much friendless.

Moving when you're in high school is hard. Everyone already has their confidants and cliques. Add that to what my dad does for a living, and in their eyes, I'm a freak. Or at least a freak's daughter.

Not that I'm pissed at Dad or consider him strange. I'm proud of him. Very few people can do his job. I'm not even really pissed at the kids either. Truth is, I'm not just a freak's daughter, I'm a bigger freak than they could ever guess. Than anyone could guess. But that's my secret.

I bolt inside. "I'm here."

Pumpkin, my red tabby, rushes me, meowing. I pick him up.

Dad walks out of the kitchen, his cell phone in his hand. His dark hair is disheveled as if he ran his fingers through it one too many times. He needs a haircut. Normally, he's as groomed as a guy giving the six o'clock news—camera ready.

Another sign that things are going downhill. Again.

"Where were you?" he asks.

"Walking." It's not an out-and-out lie, but the twinge of guilt tugs on my conscience.

"Alone?" he asks.

"Yeah, just checking out the neighborhood."

"I prefer you do that when it's light," he says. "Or at least leave a note. You scared me.

"
"It was light when I started out. And you're a little early. But I'm sorry." I put Pumpkin down and go right for a hug. He hesitates, then puts his arms around me.

His smell is so familiar, so comforting. How long has it been since I hugged him?

"Seriously, don't scare me like that."

"I won't." I keep my cheek on his warm chest. Even with his life in chaos, he hasn't stopped parenting. I appreciate that. Not that I'm one of those kids who needs a lot of parenting. Shala used to say I needed to lighten up. That I acted like a nun.

I reminded her that I wasn't the virgin, but she wasn't referring to sex. She meant stuff like drinking, smoking weed, and skipping school. Stuff most kids do. I've never been like most kids.

To make her happy, I finally played hooky a couple of times.

"You okay?" my dad asks when I pull back.

I guess the hug was a little too much. "Yeah. I got dinner ready."

He follows me into the kitchen, but frowns and puts a hand on his stomach. "I ate one of those twelve-inch sub sandwiches, when I should have stopped at six. But I'll sit with you while you eat."

"You should eat a little something," I say. "It's beef stew."

"If I get hungry, I'll fix myself a plate later." He grabs two waters from the fridge and sits at the table. I'm not hungry either. The earlier panic took a bite out of my appetite, but I snag a bowl and dish myself a small helping from the Crock-Pot.

"How's school?" Dad unscrews his water and pushes the other toward me.

"It's okay. The new semester starts next week." I run my spoon around the chunks of beef, carrots, and potatoes before I take a bite. Pumpkin leaps up on the table, landing with feline grace.

"Down," Dad orders.

Of course, Pumpkin doesn't obey. He's a cat. I pick him up and set him down. Then I drop a piece of beef from my bowl onto the floor.

Dad sees me and shakes his head. "You're too soft."

Guilty. I hate disappointing people or even pets.

"You still planning on taking auto tech?" he asks, and almost sounds disapproving.

"Yes. Why?"

"I don't know. I mean, I wonder if there are even any other girls taking it."

"I don't care. I'm not scared of boys."

"You should be. All teenage boys are dogs. I know. I used to be one."

"I'm not afraid of dogs either." As sad as it is, I kind of agree with him. I mean, look how fast Carl moved on.

Dad frowns. "I don't want my little girl to grow up to be a mechanic. You're going to college."

I roll my eyes. "There's nothing wrong with being a mechanic. They make a killing. But for your information I'm not interested in being a grease monkey. And I am going to college." I say that with confidence, because I've already researched school loans.

The one time I brought up getting a school loan, he said no, that he could afford it. But I know after his time on the unemployment list, money is in short supply.

Which is part of my reason for taking auto tech. I don't want Dad to have to fork out money to fix all the little things that go wrong on an old car. The more I know about the Mustang, the more independent I am. And I kind of like my independence.

But eventually going out on my own means I'll be leaving Dad alone. Who'll watch out for him?

Pumpkin paws at my leg, wanting another taste. I ignore him.

"Besides, you probably already know everything the class covers," Dad says.

"Because I had a good teacher. But I could still learn a few things." I smile. He's right. I spent a lot of time under that car—with Dad. He put himself through college working for a garage. Together we redid the Mustang's engine. It was my fifteenth birthday present. Our neighbor had put a for-sale sign on the car, and the moment I saw it, I wanted it.

Not because I'm a car freak, or a Mustang freak. But I'd seen a picture of one my mom used to own. Honestly, I didn't plan on getting my hands dirty working on that car. At first Dad insisted, and then he didn't have to insist. Not because I enjoyed working on the car, but because of how much I enjoyed spending time with him.

It was our first real bonding experience. Before that, I'd always gotten a feeling Dad didn't know how to parent a daughter. My first bra and the whole starting-my-period experience almost killed him. And not once has he said the word "sex."

Working on that Mustang gave us something in common.

"Speaking of cars," Dad says, smiling, "I'm about to make your day."

"Really."

"Yup. I got your insurance card in the mail."

"Yes!" I do a little victory dance in my chair. When he lost his last job, he had to cut the insurance on my car, so I haven't been able to drive it for almost two months.

"So I can drive it to school tomorrow?" I ask and squeal a little.

"Yeah." He chuckles. "You and that car."

Thrilled I don't have to walk to school anymore, I dish a big bite of stew into my mouth and taste it for the first time. It's good. "You sure you don't want a bowl?"

"No."

He sips his water. I eat. The almost empty echo in the house reminds me how big it is. All our houses in the past have been small, older. They seemed to fit us better.

"Have you made any friends at school?" Dad asks.

I almost lie, then decide against it. "Not really."

A sudden puff of steam rises from my bowl. A chill runs down my spine. I continue to eat and ignore it. Pumpkin hauls ass out from under the table and darts under the sofa.

Dad frowns. "You should put yourself out there more. Make some friends."

I point my spoon at him and force my eyes to stay on him. Just him. "Says the man who never puts himself out there."

"I'm around people all the time."

"Dead people don't count." I lift a brow and take another bite.

"Not just dead people." He turns the water bottle in his hand. "Did you get into the honors classes you wanted for next semester?"

"I think so," I say. Good grades mean a possible scholarship. I'm going to need one.

My next intake of air brings with it a hint of jasmine. I remember smelling it earlier.

Dad leans back in his chair. "There's an antique car show going on downtown this weekend. I thought we'd go. Hang out. Talk cars with people."

"Great idea." I finish my last bite of stew and go rinse out the bowl and put it in the dishwasher. Then I pull out containers to store the leftovers.

I hear his chair scrape across the floor. "I'll put the stew away."

"I can do it." I take a deep breath. The jasmine scent is stronger now.

"Don't you have homework?" he asks.

"Yeah, but it's not—"

"Then go. You do too much around here," he says. "You should be hanging out with girlfriends and not taking care of a household."

"I don't mind."

He steps closer and brushes my hair off my cheek. "I swear you look more and more like your mom every day."

I'm surprised at his words. He hardly ever mentions her. Right then I see a familiar sadness in his light brown eyes. I go in for another hug. A short one.

When I pull back, I look at him. "You still miss her, don't you?"

"A little." He turns back to the Crock-Pot, away from me. Maybe away from what he's feeling.

I fill Pumpkin's food bowl. The cat comes running. I stare at Dad's back. Even his posture seems extra sad.

"How was work today?" I ask, wondering if that's the problem. Hoping that's the only problem. He swears it doesn't affect him, but I know it does.

"The same." He moves to the counter and lifts the lid off the Crock-Pot. A big puff of steam rises. He looks back. "Go do your homework. I'll close up the downstairs. I think I'm going to retire early with a book."

I stand there and watch him pour the stew into two bowls. "Did you get a new client today?"

He frowns up at me. "I told you, a mortician should never bring his work home with him."

But Dad does bring his work home with him. Or maybe his clients just follow him. Like right now.

The young woman stares at Dad, looking as if she's walked out of the yellowed pages of an old photo album. She appears confused and lonely, wearing an orange sundress and jasmine perfume.

Dad can't see her, can't talk to her.

But I can.





Riley has accepted that her special gift is to help dead people with their unfinished business. But she never thought she’d be tasked with helping the spirit of a convicted criminal who died in prison. He may lead her on the scariest mission yet, but helping him could mean saving the life of a child. The convict’s daughter needs a liver transplant and the one person who could still be a match is his brother…who also happens to be a gang leader.

Hayden’s not happy that Riley’s discovered who he is and is seeing him sick and unconscious in his hospital bed. This feels like as good a time as ever to cross over and put all of them out of their misery….but Riley is in danger. She’s visiting some of the most dangerous spots and confronting some of the creepiest low-lifes in town. For her, he’ll need to regain his strength and fight to keep her safe.

But dealing with other people’s problems still can’t keep Riley from her own. Her dad’s drinking has gotten worse. And she’ll soon learn it’s because he’s been keeping a huge, horrible secret that will change everything she believes about her family and her mother’s death.

💕 Click on the images to enlarge 💕

Chapter One
They are everywhere.

I turn off my car, white-knuckle the steering wheel, and lean forward to look out the windshield. I’ve never been around more than two at a time. But I haven’t been to a hospital since I discovered my “gift,” either.

Most of them follow my dad, the local mortician, home from work. For a while I thought that was the only way I could connect to them.Now I know better.

Fear slithers up my spine. What if they all come at me at once?

The heater in the floor of my old Mustang hasn’t stopped pushing warmth out, yet I can already feel it: their special kind of cold, a bone kind of cold. And their emotion. Their regrets, their fear, their loneliness, it’s all soaked up into my skin like dry earth soaks up water. It’s probably their ploy to ensure I help them.

Who needs other people’s feelings and problems crowding your chest? Believe me, I have plenty of my own.

Part of me wants to restart the car and drive away. Stay warm.Stay safe. Stay alive.

But I can’t leave.

Hayden’s in there. Or maybe I should call him Carter now. My grip on the steering wheel tightens, emotion makes my breath shaky.

I’m thankful he’s alive, but at the same time, I’m ready to kill him. How could he do this to me? If he takes that leap into the light, I’ll be responsible, and I won’t be able to forgive myself.

But how was I supposed to know that this time the ghost visiting me wasn’t dead? He was just comatose.

I pick up my phone and check my time. I don’t have a lot of it. Jacob’s picking me up in an hour to go to his lake house for a party. Truth? I don’t want to go now. But it’s too late to cancel. It’d be rude, and for me, being rude is like wearing shoes on the wrong feet. It doesn’t feel or fit right.

I reach for the door handle and give the spirits a glance and plan my route to avoid them as much as possible.Then I force myself to step out of the car. In spite of the winter wind tossing the long blond strands of hair in my face, in spite of the deadly cold, I’m sweating.

My gaze falls on one male spirit holding a motorcycle helmet, sitting on a bench in front of the ER where the ambulances unload the patients. Blood streams down his face. He’s having a hard time holding his head up. It keeps freakishly falling to his shoulder.

He appears lost and confused. So many of them are. They don’t realize they are dead. I hate when I have to be the one to spill the news.

Another man, barrel-chested and in his mid-fifties, paces back and forth at the hospital entrance. He’s shirtless and has those heart monitoring pads stuck to him, with the attached cords dangling off his chest. He’s cursing at the top of his lungs.

Dying sometimes brings out the worst in someone. But for this man, maybe it was too much anger that killed him. The dead aren’t always innocent. I’m just now learning that.

My thoughts go to Dad’s newest client at the funeral home, the prisoner’s spirit who’s been hanging around. The one I’m hoping will just figure out things for himself and take a flying leap into the hereafter. I don’t know anything about him, but his bottled-up rage tells me he wasn’t doing time for jaywalking.

Another spirit peers out a window from the third floor. I swear they’re all looking right at me.

I should be used to this. For a year and a half now I’ve been a ghost magnet. A go-to person when the dead need something fixed, or just someone to break the bad news. I handled it pretty well at first. Finding a sweet elderly man’s cat a home so he could pass on, informing family of a life insurance policy so they afford a funeral. Small stuff.

That’s the way it started. But the last fix wasn’t so small.It put me in the direct path of a serial rapist and murderer. Scary shit.

It’d be better if I knew what the heck I was doing, but apparently dealing with the dead doesn’t come with a rule book or guidelines. I’m improvising as I go, and the whole Hayden issue is proof that I may not be the right person for the job. Problem is, I don’t know where to go to resign my position. It’s not like I asked for it. One day I just woke up and dead people were hanging around.

I take a few steps away from my car and I see another one, an elderly woman with painted-on eyebrows that give her a clownish appearance. She’s dressed in a bright Pepto-Bismol pink velvet sweat suit. And she’s power walking through the parking lot, zipping her way toward me. A dead woman with a death wish. And I’m supposed to grant it.

I look away, pretend I don’t see her. Pretend I’m like everyone else. Clueless to the dead who linger among us.

I walk right past her.

“Hey.” She swings around. “My name’s Ethel Burstein. I’m looking for Fred. Can you help me find him?”

I play deaf. I can’t deal with her now. She falls back, but not before I feel the freezer-burn sensation that comes from being too close to them. I tell myself not to feel guilty. I have to get to Hayden.

Ever since the dark-haired, blue-eyed high school senior followed me home, I’ve been pushing him toward the light and away from my heart. Oh, it hurt, but I thought that was what my job was.Getting him to cross over.

Sure, I knew he was different.Just not that different.

He was young. He was hot. Not as cold.Not as faded.

He could kiss like the devil, had a shoulder perfect for leaning on, a charm that melted my willpower, and a grin that made the air I breathed sweeter. All that time, I beat myself up for falling for a dead person when I didn’t have to.

Shouldn’t he have somehow mentioned it in one of our long conversations? “Hey by the way, I’m not dead?”

I push open the hospital doors and rush to the elevators to the ICU. As I push the button, I realize I don’t have a clue what I’m going to say.

As I get off on the fifth floor and start to look around,an elderly man standing there says, “It’s not visiting hours.”

“When is…” Crap!

“You can come back in ten minutes,” the spirit says. Or not a spirit. He’s like Hayden. He’s not completely faded, not cold, not dead.

Not yet.

He must also be unconscious in the ICU.“The family waiting room is right there.”He motions down the hallway.

I move that way. He follows me. “I can’t find Ethel,” he says. “Can’t understand why she’s not here visiting me.”

Ethel? From the parking lot? This must be her Fred. My heart suddenly feels too heavy for my chest. See why I don’t love this gig?

His sadness fills my pores, and I say, “I’m sure if she could be here, she would.”

He smiles.“You’re right. We’ve been married sixty years. Good years. ”He fades away, looking content. It only soothes my ache a little.

I go into the family room. There are about five people in there. I realize a problem. What if someone else here is also waiting to see Hayden?

Three of the people appear to be together and are speaking Spanish. That probably rules them out—Hayden doesn’t speak Spanish. There’s one woman, standing by the door, who looks the right age to possibly be his mom.If that’s her, I might not get to talk to Hayden. To tell him to fight to stay alive.T o tell him how angry I am at him.

Then an older lady, sitting in the corner fidgeting with her purse strap, stands and joins the woman who could be Mrs. Carter.

“You know he did this to himself,” the older women says in a voice ringing part angry, part hurt.“Doctors told him he was killing himself, but no, he loved whiskey more than us.”

“He’s an alcoholic, Mom.”

“Yeah, and a lot of alcoholics get help.”

“And a lot don’t,” the daughter says. “You should’ve gotten angry at him long before this, but not now.”

They’re clearly not connected to Hayden, but their conversation hurts like a paper cut across the heart. Will I be here one day, thinking that same thing about Dad? He swears he’s not an alcoholic. But that’s not what I read in my mom’s old diary. And it’s not what I believe after finding his alcohol bottles in the dirty clothes hamper.

A few minutes later, everyone starts moving into the hall. I go with them.I don’t know for sure, but I’m betting the hospital only allows family members to visit ICU patients. I’m hoping to just sneak in.

I move in behind the two women, close enough that people will think I’m with them. It’s a big room, with a nurses’ station in the middle and smaller rooms lining the walls. Patient names are on placards beside the open doors. I keep walking until I see one that has Carter on it. I remember Kelsey, the one friend I’ve made since I moved to Catwalk, Texas, telling me that everyone at school called Hayden by his last name, Carter. Why had he told me his last name was Parker?

I stiffen my spine and walk into the room.

I come to a quick stop when I see him. The boy who lies in that bed looks deader than the ghost who fooled me into thinking he was. He’s thinner, his dark hair is too long, and a machine making a swishing sound is pushing air into his lungs. I watch his chest rise and fall and recall seeing his stepdad at the funeral home making funeral arrangements, thinking the end was inevitable.

Forcing myself to move closer to the bed, I’m shaking as I touch the back of his hand.“Hayden?”

I don’t know what I expect. For him to open his eyes, or the ghost I know to suddenly appear beside his own body? Neither happens. The only things in this room with me are cold sadness and a shell of what once was Hayden.

A terrible question hits. Is Hayden already gone? A sad sound leaves my lips. I pull in a deep breath and tell myself it isn’t so. Then I look back at his face. Tears fill my eyes.

“I’m really mad at you right now. You know why, too, don’t you? Why didn’t you tell me?”

I stand there, forcing myself to breathe as if my body forgot it’s on autopilot. I hear footsteps. I look at the door, but no one comes in.

I still stand frozen, my hand on his, listening to the eerie sound of the monitor marking his heartbeats.Thu…thump.Thu…thump. The noise bounces off the white walls.

My heart suddenly skips a beat, then I feel my heart fall into rhythm with his. “Look, Hayden, I don’t know if you can hear me. But please try. You need to fight. Fight to live. You can’t give up. Stay away from the light. Run from it. Live, Hayden. Please.Wake up. Open your eyes. At least show yourself to me. I want to see you.” My words shake. “I want to…dance with you again.”

“Who are you?” The voice comes from the doorway. The tone isn’t pure accusation, but suspicious enough that I want to scoot out the door.

Instead I get the feet-nailed-to-the-floor feeling. I can’t move.Footsteps enter.

Panic makes my mouth instantly dry. I turn and see a woman standing at my side, studying me…hard.

I know immediately that it’s Hayden’s mother. She has the dark chestnut hair and some of the same facial features as her son.

“Where do you know my son from?”

My tongue feels thick.

“Answer me.”

“I…I’m… My name’s Riley. I’m a friend from school.”

“I…I don’t recognize you,” she says.

“I’m…I’m sort of new.”

Mrs. Carter’s gaze falls to where I’m touching Hayden’s hand.

Afraid she thinks I’m crossing a line, I yank my hand away.

She blinks. Then her light green eyes get a teary sheen to them. “They only allow family in here.”

I don’t know what to say, so I don’t. Only when the silence grows louder than the hospital sounds do I force myself to speak. “I should…go.”

“No,” she says.“I didn’t mean…” She pulls in air, and even that sound expresses her pain. “He needs his friends.” There is so much love. Mother’s love in her voice, in her expression that a lump rises in my throat. Maybe because I no longer have a mom, seeing it, hearing it hurts twice as much.

My sinuses sting. I’m about to fall apart.

I run out of the room.

***

I’m crying by the time I reach my car. Crawling in the driver’s seat, I shiver, start the engine, and turn up the car’s heater.It spurts out cold air. “Damn!” I thump my palm against the steering wheel, feeling angry, feeling helpless, feeling way too much rage. And just like that, I know it’s not just my emotion.

I see ice crystals form on the inside of my windshield.Then from the corner of my eye, I see someone sitting in my passenger seat. He’s wearing orange. Prison garb.

Crap. What’s he doing here? How did he find me at the hospital?

I want to turn to him, scream for him to get lost, but if I do, he’ll know I can see him and then he’ll never leave me alone.

So I pretend I’m not cold. I pretend I’m not afraid. I pretend I’m not dying inside for Hayden.

Blinking, staring out the windshield, I pretend tears aren’t freezing to my cheeks.

Shifting the car in reverse, I pull out of the hospital parking lot. My hands tremble, so I grip the steering wheel tighter.

“I need you to help me!” the ex-con yells.

I manage not to flinch, at least not on the outside. Go away.Go away. Go away.

“Look at me, damn it! Look at me!”

I keep my gaze locked on the road. He slams a fist on my dashboard. If he wasn’t dead that’d hurt like hell.

“It isn’t fair,” he yells. “Listen to me!”

No, it isn’t fair. But I’m remembering what Hayden looked like, so withered, so gaunt. So dead. Then I recall the desperate love in Mrs. Carter’s eyes.

I keep driving. I turn onto the major street heading to my house.

“I said listen!” He leans so close, yells so loud, his voice hurts my ears. His cold burns my skin and turns the air so arctic it stings my throat and lungs.

Just a few more miles. I can do this. I can. How long does it take to get frostbite?

He reaches over and yanks my steering wheel. What the…?

Ghost aren’t supposed to be able to move things, but this one can. As hard as I try to regain control of the wheel, I can’t. He’s yanking it back and forth. Cars dart out of my way. Horns are blaring. Luckily, I don’t think any of the cars actually crash.

I go to slam on the brakes, but dead-prisoner guy jumps the console, sits his cold butt on top of me, kicks my foot off the brakes, and slams his on the gas. I have freezing pain coursing through me, but I manage to look around him just in time to see my car race across the median and veer right into oncoming traffic.

And leading that traffic is an eighteen-wheeler.

I, Riley Smith, at only seventeen, am going to die.




C.C. Hunter is the New York Times bestselling author of over thirty-five books, including her wildly popular Shadow Falls and Shadow Falls: After Dark series. In addition to winning numerous awards and rave reviews for her novels, C.C. is also a photojournalist, motivational speaker, and writing coach. In February 2018, Wednesday Books will publish her contemporary young adult and hardcover debut, This Heart of Mine. And the first book of her new paranormal young adult series, The Mortician's Daughter: One Foot in the Grave will release on October 31st 2017. C. C. currently resides in Texas with her husband, junkyard dog, Lady, and whatever wild creatures that meander out from woods surrounding home.


   

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14 comments :

  1. The covers are amazing! very eye catching and artistic.

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  2. I love them both but one with the blond girl is better. Thank you so much for the chance

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  3. The covers are amazing! Definitely drew my attention

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  4. These sounds interesting and great covers. Thanks for sharing the excerpt.

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  5. I like the Morticians Daughter cover.

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  6. The covers are awesome! Thanks for the opportunity to win.

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  7. I really love the covers, very eye catching!

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  8. Oh I just love the sound of this series - such an interesting premise!

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  9. Great looking book cover and I like the one with the face the best.

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