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One foot in the grave, p.1

One Foot in the Grave, page 1

 

One Foot in the Grave
 


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One Foot in the Grave


  Cover

  Dear Reader,

  If you are familiar with my work, you probably followed me through the Shadow Falls adventure. You got to know Kylie, Della and Miranda. You watched as these three girls bonded and became amazing friends—the kind of friends who stuck by each other through thick and thin, good times and bad, laughter and tears. Together they tackled parent problems, boy troubles, and, well . . . the unresolved issues of a few frustrated ghosts. Oh, and let’s not forget about the boys they loved. Boys who made our hearts race and long for one more kiss.

  I hated to say goodbye to those special friends and their journey, but I’m absolutely thrilled to introduce you to two equally strong teen girls who will have wild adventures of their own.

  In this book you’ll meet Riley Smith, who has her own fair share of tenacious spirits, difficult parents, hot guys, and amazing friendships, just as Kylie did. Riley feels alone, like an outcast, but she’s tough and soon finds she has the backbone to face down a murderer, as well as the high school bully.

  In the back of this book, you’ll find an excerpt from my new contemporary young adult novel featuring Leah McKenzie, a teen who gets a heart transplant and a second chance at life. But what happened to the donor? With the help of his grieving brother, she soon realizes she may hold the clues to how he really died. This Heart of Mine will be released in hardcover and ebook on February 27 from Wednesday Books.

  Thank you for continuing to follow me and these inspiring, kickass heroines. Keep reading, laughing, and loving life.

  Sincerely,

  C.C.

  Title Page

  The Mortician’s Daughter:

  One Foot in the Grave

  c. c. hunter

  Copyright

  The Mortician’s Daughter: One Foot in the Grave

  C. C. Hunter

  Copyright © 2017 by Christie Craig

  Material excerpted from This Heart of Mine copyright © 2018 by Christie Craig

  Cover design and illustration by Dar Albert, Wicked Smart Designs

  Published by BookEnds at Smashwords

  ISBN: 978-0-991020-67-6

  All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this book. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented without the express written permission of both the copyright holder and the publisher.

  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. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

  The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

  Dedication

  To my niece, Cara Bates,

  who loves a good ghost story. This one is for you.

  And to my good friend and writing buddy,

  Susan Muller, who shares the passion of writing.

  Acknowledgments

  So many have helped me pull this book together: My hubby, who answered constant questions about old Mustangs. Love ya, Babe! My agent, Kim Lionetti, who reads and edits my stuff and offers her words of wisdom. Thank you! And my copyeditors, Laurie Kuna and Hannah Lindsey. Thank you for your grammar-correcting, comma-fixing, and typo-finding expertise.

  Contents

  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

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Excerpt from This Heart of Mine

  Books by C. C. Hunter

  About the Author

  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 accidentally 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 r
ace 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.”

 
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