A Novel Way to Die - Steffanie Holmes

Chapter One

“Oh, great.” Morrie rolled his eyes at the architectural monstrosity towering over us. “Another human fishbowl. Why can’t our favorite bloodsucker’s assistant buy blocks of pokey terraced houses where no one will notice us breaking and entering?”

“It does look like Grand Designs had a baby with Alcatraz,” I ventured. In the gloom, all I could discern were vague shapes, which made the house seem even more sinister. Who wanted to live in a place like this, all sharp corners and jutting steel? Give me a homely fire in a pokey upstairs flat with a cat on my lap, a book in my hand, and ghosts in the walls, and I was perfectly happy.

Especially if the chair opposite me contained the brooding figure of Heathcliff Earnshaw, and a lanky Moriarty bent down to hand me a plate of roast beef with lust in his eyes, while the kind fire-rimmed eyes of Quoth the raven burned into me from the shadows.

That was exactly where I wanted to be right now – back at Nevermore Bookshop, tucked up in front of the fire with a mug of Quoth’s amazing hot chocolate warming my fingers. Not freezing my arse off in the crisp October air, about to commit yet another crime, all in the name of freeing the world from a bloodthirsty vampire.

How is this my life?

It had been nearly a year since I came back to Argleton from New York City to lick my wounds and figure out the person I’d be after I lost my eyesight. I never expected that person to be the vampire-hunting, murder mystery-solving, book-slinging daughter of Homer with three gorgeous boyfriends and a cat for a grandmother. Nevermore Bookshop had the last laugh on that one.

Over the last few months, I’d added ‘cat burglar’ to the list as Morrie and I sought out the boxes of Romanian dirt Dracula hid to ensure his immortality. If he was killed and his servant buried him in dirt from his homeland, he would regenerate. We couldn’t go after him until we’d made sure every last one of those dirt boxes was destroyed.

I drummed my fingers nervously on the skintight black catsuit I wore. At least cat-burgling outfits were fierce.

We rounded the edge of the building. All was in darkness, save for the bright moon that hung over us, reflecting dappled light from the steel front door. To be fair, most things were in darkness for me these days. In the months since I cleared Morrie of murder charges, my eyesight deteriorated to the point where my night vision was now only shapes and shadows.

I was basically the worst cat burglar in the world. Luckily I had the Napoleon of Crime at my side.

Morrie pulled out his lock-picking kit and got to work on the door while I stared over my shoulder at the bright moon, letting my eyes adjust to make out the rough shapes of the minimalist front garden, the street beyond, and the woods of King’s Copse edging the property. My guide dog Oscar sat at my heels, his ears pricked for movement. He’d gotten awfully good at navigating in the dead of night, thanks to our recent nocturnal adventures.

Poor Oscar. I’m sorry I made you into a criminal. I should probably start calling myself a dog burglar.

“We’re in, gorgeous.” Morrie’s rich voice broke the silence.

I heard the door click open. Morrie went inside first, using an app on his phone to disable the alarm. I waved Oscar in after him, hoping he didn’t have mud on his paws that would leave prints behind. Not that it mattered – the man who owned this house, Grey Lachlan, rarely spent any time at his properties. He was too busy renovating the flat across the street from the bookshop and making our lives miserable.

“What’s the layout of—ow.” Something hard and metal slammed into my forehead, sending me sprawling backward. My tailbone cracked against the hard tiles. Oscar barked with distress. He was supposed to lead me around obstacles, but he was a dog and he was not perfect and he probably got lost in the dark, which was something I could relate to.

“Ssssh, boy.” I wrapped my arms around Oscar, nuzzling his neck until he licked my face. Morrie helped me to my feet. He flicked on the light, revealing the shape of a random steel sculpture with eight spindly arms like spider’s legs that attached to the walls with bungee cords.

“Who puts a medieval torture device in their bloody entrance