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Dirty Little Secrets

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www.lilianahart.com

 

Chapter One

 

Fourth generation mortician. That’s a lot of dead bodies. 

I thought I’d be proud to carry on the family legacy, but that was before I knew the job would be hell on my social life. I mean, who wanted to date a woman who drained blood on a regular basis and whose scent of choice was embalming fluid?

Sure, I got a little lonely sometimes. It mostly happened when I was preparing a body in the middle of the night instead of snuggled up next to someone warm with a pulse. But dead bodies were my business. And I hated every fucking minute of it. I never wanted to take over the family funeral parlor. I wanted to be a doctor. Well, technically, I was a doctor, but I preferred to be one for the living.

My parents died early last year, and the gossip and scandal involved would have broken someone with a lesser constitution, but I’d managed to hold my head up. Mostly. It was because of my parents that I’d had an impromptu career change. The only thing I had left of them was the crumbling old Victorian I grew up in and Graves Funeral Home—believe me, it was a hell of a legacy.

I had little choice but to resign my job at the hospital, pack my bags and move back to Bloody Mary, Virginia—population 2,902. The good thing about owning a funeral home in Bloody Mary was that hardly anyone ever died, despite the rather macabre name. The bad thing about it was I had a shitload of student loans to pay back and not a lot of income.

Did I mention the budget cuts?

Ahh, my life was simple before the budget cuts. The mayor’s decision to be more fiscally conservative left King George County without a coroner. So, I, J.J. Graves, in a moment of temporary insanity, volunteered for the job. In all actuality, I was strong-armed into taking the position out of a sense of duty to the community and the guilt of tarnishing my family’s good name. Well, tarnishing it any more than it already was.

Which brought me here. Alone in my bed in the middle of the night. My bedroom so cold white puffs of breath clouded above my face every time I exhaled because I couldn’t afford to crank the heater above 65 degrees. My toes wiggled and fought for release beneath the nubby covers I’d tucked under the mattress too tightly, and goosebumps spread across the top of my skull and tightened the skin so much that it felt as if the follicles might snap off.

I’d been wide awake for more than an hour, thinking of my family, what was left of my legacy, and how much my life in general sucked. Not for the first time, the thought entered my mind that it wouldn’t be so terrible if I just packed a bag and left everything behind me without a word to anyone. I didn’t have any family to worry over my disappearance. No children to leave belongings to. Sure my friends would miss me for awhile. But eventually the people who’d watched me grow up would only have passing thoughts about that Grave’s girl whose parents killed themselves. All the while I would be starting a new life. Hopefully someplace warm.

But like I always did, I immediately dismissed the thought. It took more courage than I had to start over and leave everything familiar behind. I needed something in my life besides a half-assed career and a mountain of debt. A man would be nice. A man who’d be willing to have sex would be even better. But chances of that happening were somewhere between negative four and zero. Not because Bloody Mary didn’t have its fair share of men, but because I was just picky. Bloody Mary wasn’t exactly teeming with single males under the age of forty who had health insurance and all their own teeth.

I huffed out another white puff of breath and rolled over, punching my pillow and clearing my mind of all thoughts that didn’t involve counting sheep. I’d had trouble sleeping since I’d moved home. Maybe it was because the house was empty and made weird noises and my imagination assumed the cold blasts of air and the rattling pipes were the haints of all my ancestors shaking their heads in pity. Or maybe it was because the mattress was old and lumpy. Who the hell knew? But I’d learned to function on just a few hours of sleep when I was in medical school, so I was used to having bags under my eyes and skin that looked like it never saw the light of day.

The silence of the house smothered me—a heap of decaying wood and rotting shingles that crushed me with the weight of neglect and responsibility—so I burrowed under the covers, searching for peace of mind and the comfortable spot on the mattress that always seemed to elude me. I’d almost talked myself into getting up and starting a pot of coffee when the phone warbled on the bedside table.

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