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‘You shouldn’t make promises you can't be certain you’ll keep,’ she whispered.

‘We could still go out on a date,’ Pete broke in. ‘I could book a table at La Boheme. The lazy blonde one can come and translate for us.’

‘I have a serial killer to catch,’ I informed him sniffily. ‘I don’t have time to go on dates so I can act as a conduit between the spirit world and the real world.’

‘You mean you’re too lazy to do it,’ Pete said.

No. I meant yes, kind of, but it was also too damned weird.

Clare smirked. ‘This is what you get for suggesting I fancied the pants off him.’

I rolled my eyes. Bloody ghosts.

***

Winter went off to speak to both the police and the Arcane Branch witches who were here to investigate the other coven members. He decided, all on his lonesome, that he’d do a better job persuading them to apply for the media embargo without my help. Apparently I had problems conducting myself in a professional manner and that might discourage them from acceding to our wishes. Pete seemed to agree with this assessment even though he’d only met my front half fifteen minutes earlier. Whatever. My ego could take the hit if it meant that Winter was the one who wasted time answering inane repetitive questions. When it comes to government agencies, whether we are talking about serial killers or rotas for recycling paper clips, the forms and bureaucracy can destroy your psyche in a manner which even Nietzsche couldn’t have envisaged. Unless you are Raphael Winter, of course. I secretly suspect he lives for that kind of thing.

Tempted as I was to take advantage of Winter’s absence and have forty winks, Clare’s obvious unhappiness precluded any naps. Given what neighbourly Pete had told us about the lies Blackbeard had spun him, I reckoned her family had probably been told something similar. Finding out for certain would at least cheer her up; she’d still be dead but she’d know that her family cared about her. Of course, that meant I’d have to be the bearer of bad tidings and tell her family that she’d been murdered. It wasn’t exactly my idea of fun by the seaside. Ice cream, yes; lying in the sun, yes. Informing a family that a serial killer had slaughtered their nearest and dearest several weeks ago and they’d not realised anything was wrong … no. It was tempting to sprint in the opposite direction as fast as my chubby little legs would carry me.

Clare’s parents lived in a quiet cul-de-sac less than twenty minutes from her house. It was the sort of place where the neighbours all spoke to each other, not just to murmur a hello in the morning but to stop and have a real chat. When someone baked cookies, Tupperware boxes were probably passed around every house on the street. My witchy senses might have never experienced precognition but I foresaw many casseroles in the Rees family’s future. I gave a loud sigh.

By my side, Clare was twitchy and nervous. ‘What if they really don’t care that I’m dead? Blackbeard might never have come here. He might never have spoken to them. They simply might not have noticed that I’m not around.’ She wrung her hands and I saw that her fingers were trembling. She might be a ghost but she was still afraid. Apparently you don’t lose your emotions or humanity when you lose your life. I wasn’t sure whether to be pleased or dismayed by that.

Unable to place a reassuring hand on her arm, I forced a smile in her direction. ‘How often did you see your family when you were alive?’

Her expression creased into worried guilt. ‘Not as often as I should have. We lived close to each other so I should have been round more often but they were always here, you know? I might have postponed a lot of dinners or days out, but it was only because I thought I could see them any time.’ Her voice dropped to a whisper. ‘I didn’t know. I didn’t know I had such little time left. No wonder they don’t care that I’m gone – I didn’t care when they were here.’

Clare was seriously over-thinking. ‘Stop it,’ I said, harshly enough to make her glance at me in surprise. ‘You were human. You are human. You did something that people all over the country do. You can’t beat yourself up for living or for making a few mistakes. To err is human, Clare.’

She screwed up her face. ‘And to forgive is divine.’ She waved a hand around. ‘I’m dead and I don’t see anyone divine around here. I’ve even managed to mess that up.’

I was starting to get the impression that nothing I said was going to make any difference. When Clare’s family heard what had happened to her and collapsed, devastated, she wasn’t going to feel any better about herself. To err was human indeed – I should never have come here. Some things were better left to professionals. What the hell did I know about grief?

I pressed my finger on the doorbell and stepped back. With any luck, no one would be in and the police would come later and do this themselves. I counted to three in my head.

‘No one’s here! We should go.’ I twisted round hurriedly and walked away far faster than I normally did.

‘Ivy!’ Clare protested immediately. She needn’t have bothered – I could already hear the door opening behind me. Arse.

I turned back slowly, my stomach churning and my mouth dry. I’d take on a platoon of zombies over this any day. Hell, I’d take on Tarquin – and that was saying something.

The woman had Clare’s face but with a few more careworn lines around her eyes and mouth. She started to smile at me but something about my expression gave her pause because her smile faltered. ‘Can I help you?’ she asked.

Big fat ghost tears started to roll down Clare’s cheeks. ‘Mummy.’ She ran towards her, arms outstretched, and tried to throw herself into a hug. Of course it didn’t work and Clare fell through her mother’s body, stumbling to the other side. She let out an anguished sob and slumped down.

I swallowed. ‘Mrs Rees.’ It wasn’t a question.

‘Do I know you?’

I shook my head. ‘No, but I know your daughter, Clare.’ Or should that be knew your daughter Clare? I’d not said more than two sentences and this was already one of the hardest things I’d ever done.

‘Clare? Where is she? How is she doing?’ She pursed her lips. ‘Honestly that girl is terrible at keeping in touch! She could be dead for all we know!’ She laughed at her weak joke. When I did nothing more than wince slightly, her hand rose to her mouth. ‘Wait. What’s happened?’

The doorstep was not the place for this conversation. ‘Perhaps we should go inside.’

Clare’s mum’s face went even whiter. ‘Tell me. Tell me where she is.’

From behind her mum, Clare pushed herself back up to her feet. She wiped her eyes and looked at me. ‘Do it, Ivy.’

I pulled my shoulders back. Woman up, Ivy. This was not the time to hide under the bed and be a wimp. Tell the truth and stop prolonging this woman’s misery. ‘I’m sorry to tell you,’ I said, in a voice that I was relieved to hear was both clear and audible, ‘that Clare has been the victim of a terrible crime.’

Her mother gasped. I ploughed on; I had to say this now, before I lost what little gumption I had left. ‘She was killed, along with the rest of her coven, by a man we believe to be a serial killer with a grudge against witches.’

Mrs Rees’s eyes were wide open. I had to give her credit – she was holding herself together better than I was. Clare stared at her, taking in every nuance of her expression. ‘In Iceland?’

What? ‘No. On Dartmoor.’

A door opened across the street and a group of laughing children piled out, the occasional delighted scream punctuating the air. Clare’s mum didn’t even look at them. ‘You’d better come in,’ she murmured. She led me into the living room and gestured. ‘Please. Have a seat.’

I moved to the nearest chair. Clare let out a small shriek. ‘Not there!’ I sprang up again. ‘That’s my dad’s chair,’ she said. ‘No one sits in that chair apart from him.’

I edged round to the sofa and did my best to look casual.

‘Would you like something to drink?’ Mrs Rees asked. ‘Tea or coffee or something?’

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