Authors: Elle James
Tags: #Suspense, #Romance, #romance series, #Elle James, #entangled publishing, #voodoo, #Entangled Suspense
Calliope grabbed the device from her hand before she could let go. “Hey, don’t ruin a perfectly good cell phone because of a guy.”
Alex drew in a long breath and let out the tension with her exhale. “You’re right. You’re right. I’d miss my phone more than Theo.”
“Not all guys are like Theo, you know,” her friend pointed out.
“You haven’t seen the ones my mom keeps throwing at me.” Alex settled back on the couch and hugged a pillow to her chest. “I don’t know where she gets them, but they’ve all had major ‘me’ hang-ups.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s always all about the guy.” She sighed as she wandered around her tastefully decorated living room, where everything had a place and everything was in it. “Why can’t I find a guy who thinks
hung the moon? A partner who will love me even when I’m majorly PMSing. Someone who will love me unconditionally, no matter how bad a day he’s had.”
As if he sensed how upset she was, Sport, Alex’s golden retriever, trotted across the room and sat at her feet, his tail sweeping the floor in a steady rhythm. He stared up at her, mouth hanging open as though he was smiling at her, his eyes pleading,
She reached down and scratched behind his ears. “I don’t think I’ll ever find someone to love me like that.”
“Sport loves you like that.” Calliope giggled.
She laughed. “You know, Calliope, you’re right. I need a guy like Sport. One who will greet me at the door, always happy to see me. Someone who can forgive me for forgetting his birthday. Someone who’s happy no matter what I feed him, or how fat I get.” She squatted next to Sport and hugged him around his neck.
“Wouldn’t it be neat if Sport were a man?”
“Definitely.” Alex loved the silky feel of Sport’s coat against her cheek.
loved her no matter what. “I wish he were a man. Then maybe my mother would quit trying to set me up.”
“Hey, Sport.” Calliope snapped her fingers. “Come here.”
The dog laid a long wet tongue across Alex’s cheek and wiggled loose to go to Calliope.
“How would you like to be a man?” The redhead rubbed her hand in his thick fur. “I bet you’d be really sexy, huh, boy? All long legs and golden hair, and a killer smile.”
“You’re torturing me.” Alex stood and brushed the dog hair off her workout pants. “I have to get ready for work. Would you mind taking Sport out for a walk?”
“I’d love to.” Calliope leaped from her chair. “Wanna go outside, boy?” She reached for the leash hanging on a hook inside the coat closet.
“Just don’t let him whiz on Miz Mozelle’s rose bushes. She never says anything, but I’m sure she doesn’t appreciate it. I don’t know what it is about her rose bushes that inspires him to grace them.”
“We’ll steer clear.” Calliope snapped the lead on Sport’s collar.
“And watch out for Granny Saulnier’s poodle.”
“Sport has a thing for her. If you’re not careful, he’ll yank your arm out of its socket going after her.”
“I’ll be careful.” Calliope paused with her hand on the front doorknob and looked back with her eyebrows raised. “Anything else before we go for a nice walk?”
“Get out of here.” With a smile, Alex lobbed a pillow at Calliope as she and Sport exited.
Later that night, Alex lay in her bed, Lucie’s Voodoo pouch lying on the pillow beside her. She’d had a particularly tough aerobics session at the gym and her muscles ached. But something was bothering her.
She lifted her cell phone and dialed.
“Hello?” Lucie’s sleepy voice answered.
“Did I catch you doing something I only dream about?” she asked.
“Never mind.” She stroked the red velvet bag. “Is Ben home?”
“No, he’s putting in a late day with the prosecuting attorney. You know, his criminal investigation stuff.”
“What, and leaving his pregnant wife to fend for herself? Who’s going to make the run to the convenience store for your latest cravings of sardines and pickles?”
“He’s got orders to pick some up on the way home. How are you, Alex?”
“Great. I’m in the best shape I’ve been in a long time, I’m healthy, my business is booming, and I’ve never been happier.” Geez, she sounded like a broken record. A pathetic broken record, at that.
That empty feeling gripped her belly and she automatically reached over the side of her bed to pat Sport’s head. His wet nose nuzzled her hand.
Was she lonely?
Was that why she’d called Lucie in the first place? “Yeah, a little.”
“Consider yourself hugged.”
“Thanks.” But a real hug would have been much warmer. From a real man—even better.
“Did Calliope give you the present?”
“Yeah. Actually, that’s why I called.” Alex lifted the pouch in her hand. “What is it?”
“A smidgen of Voodoo good luck for one of my best friends.”
She grimaced. “Uh, gee thanks, Lucie. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me.”
“Relax, Alex.” Lucie laughed into her ear. “You won’t wake up as a frog or anything. My grandmother helped me with it, so don’t worry.”
“I can’t tell you how relieved I am.”
. Madame LeBieu knew her stuff. As the well-renowned Voodoo queen of the bayou, her spells always worked the way she intended. Unlike Lucie’s…
“I can tell you’re not thrilled.” Lucie laughed. “Gran watched me every step of the way. She loves you like another granddaughter. Why would she propose something that would hurt you?”
“Let me remind you, she turned Craig Thibodeaux into a frog,” Alex said, her voice flat.
“Yeah, but it all worked out in the end, didn’t it?” Lucie sighed. “I love you, Alex. I just want you to be happy.”
“I’m happy.” Her hand tightened on the phone. “Why can’t everyone figure that out?”
“Maybe you protest too much?”
“I’m not protesting.” Alex realized as she said it that she was doing just that. Her lips clamped shut.
“Is it a crime to want all my friends to be as happy as I am?” Lucie’s voice drifted off.
Alex could imagine Lucie patting her swelling belly, and a sudden surge of maternal longing struck her right between the breasts. Why was she mooning over having a baby? Hell, she’d helped raise her younger brothers and sisters. All seventeen of them. “I’m happy. Really.” Even to her own ears, her voice wasn’t very convincing.
“Give the Voodoo charm a chance, Alex. That’s all I ask.”
Lucie’s voice cut through her ill temper and she relented. “Assuming I give it a chance, what is it supposed to do?”
A long pause met her question. Not a good sign. “I’m not exactly sure. Gran LeBieu said it would bring you good luck.”
“In terms of what?” A chill swept down Alex’s spine.
A whimpering sound rose from the floor beside her. Sport must have sensed her unease.
“It’s okay. Really. Gran LeBieu wouldn’t give you anything that would hurt you.”
“I’m shaking in my sheets here.”
“Look, if you don’t want it, bring it back with you the next time you’re in Baton Rouge.”
“And when will that be?” Lucie demanded.
“As soon as I can break free from the gym.” Alex knew that was an excuse. The thought of visiting Lucie in all her happy, pregnant glory made her own life look boring, lackluster, and downright sad.
“You’re working too hard, sweetie. Let Harry take over for a weekend. You need some down time.”
She straightened her shoulders, refusing to give into downheartedness. “No, I like being busy.”
“And you like going home alone?”
“Honey, it’ll happen for you,” Lucie said. “When you least expect it, love will knock you over.”
“Like it happened with you?” Alex snorted. “I don’t want to fall in love because of a Voodoo love potion. I want a man who loves me for me.”
“Much as I’d like to take credit, my love spell never worked. Gran LeBieu confirmed it had to be cast by a love bug. If you remember, we couldn’t find one, so we used a ladybug. She let me think it worked to teach me a lesson.”
“What?” Alex shook her head. “You mean my dumb brother didn’t need a kick in the pants to tell you he loved you?”
“Maybe he needed that kick in the pants, but he didn’t need the love spell.”
“I knew that already,” Alex said. She didn’t know whether Lucie’s news was good or bad. If the love spell hadn’t worked, what were
chances at love? She fingered the velvet bag. “So, Lucie, what is this bag, really?”
“Gran LeBieu said it would help make your wishes come true.”
Alex shuddered. “Kinda like my genie in a bottle?”
“I’m not entirely sure. I just thought you needed a tad of a push, a boost to get you started.”
“Look, Lucie, just because you’re in love and that makes you happy, doesn’t mean
have to be in love to be happy.” But she had been pretty lonely since Lucie left. And she hadn’t had a decent date in…when her visual memories started dating back to high school and she couldn’t name a single unforgettable—happily they’d been forgettable—date, she grimaced. “Okay, I’ll keep your gift for now, but I’m still not convinced I need it.”
“Which makes me all the more convinced you do.”
“I have my own business, my own home, and a wonderful, if meddling, family. I don’t need a love interest.”
“Oh, Alex. You’re my best friend in the world and I only wish you could feel how I feel.”
“That’s you, honey. And I’m happy for you.” She didn’t add, “and I miss you like crazy.” Why mar Lucie’s happiness?
“Oh, Ben just walked in,” Lucie said. “Hey,
, anything you want to say to your baby sister?”
The distinct sound of smacking noises carried across the line and Lucie giggled. “Beeennn, I’m on the phone with your sister.” Another giggle.
A pang of longing twisted in Alex’s gut.
. What the hell was going on?
“Alex? That you?” Ben’s voice blasted into Alex’s ear.
“Lucie’s gotta go now.”
More giggling erupted in the background and an indignant, “Ben! What about the baby?”
“Look, I have some ironing to do,” Alex said. Suddenly, she couldn’t stand listening to their playful antics on the phone.
“Yeah, okay,” Ben said, obviously distracted.
“Tell Lucie I’ll call tomorrow.”
…” A loud clunk was followed by the dead air of being disconnected.
Alex plugged the phone into the charger on the nightstand and turned off the light, fighting the strange pressure in her chest. What was wrong with her? She was happy. She sniffed. Was she coming down with a cold? Were her glands swelling in her throat, choking off her air?
A tear slid down her cheek.
. She didn’t need this. Self-pity was for weenies, not for black belts in karate or really kick-ass business owners.
She flung her hand out, bouncing it off the empty pillow beside her. The velvet pouch bumped against her fingers.
After a brief pause, a cold, wet nose poked up over the side of the bed.
“I’m so lucky to have you.” She ran her hand over his velvety snout. A long tongue snaked out and licked her fingers.
Sport was always there for her without being annoying or obsessive. She shivered. She’d had her share of boyfriends and stalkers. She’d rather remain celibate than go through that again.
But deep down, she ached for that closeness. And hell, she hadn’t had sex since Theo, and that hadn’t been stellar, she wondered if she remembered how to have good sex. Was she going to die one of those frigid old maids destined to read erotic romance novels to get her jollies?
And her mother would drive her stark-raving mad if she didn’t quit shoving fresh meat at her every chance she got.
“Oh, Sport, I wish you were a man. That would solve all my problems.” She settled against her pillow and closed her eyes. “It would take a lot of magic to get my mother to back off. I’m not even sure having my own choice of a boyfriend will satisfy the woman.” She yawned and snuggled in, pulling the comforter up to her chin to ward off the chill of the air conditioner.
As she drifted into a half-awake, half-asleep state, the bed sank down on the far side. Sport had leaped up beside her.
Too tired to tell him to get down, she gave up and let go.
A thrumming sound filled her dreams, building into a full bass echo of drums. Somewhere in the back of her sleep-numbed mind, she recognized the drums as those that played at the Voodoo ceremonies Madame LeBieu conducted on those rare occasions when a little extra oomph was needed to initiate one of her spells.
Just as Alex succumbed to oblivion, an eerie chant echoed through her head.
Wishes come true. Wishes come true. Wishes come true
She sighed and gave in to the magic.
If only wishes really came true.
The dark-haired stranger lay warm against Alex’s back, the fur on his chest tickling her arms. A sexy tongue teased at her ear, sending tingles across her skin.
That felt good
. She knew it was a dream, and she didn’t want to wake to an empty bed, so she forced her eyes to stay closed so she could enjoy the fantasy until her alarm blasted her awake.
She snuggled deeper in her sheets, imagining the heated skin of her dream man pressing against the back of her thighs. How long had it been since she’d slept with someone—well, besides one of her siblings in her crowded family home?
Her man whimpered softly and the errant tongue traced the side of her neck.
She scooted back to snuggle against him only to have him drape a heavy arm across her waist and lick her cheek.
Some dream man. Who ever heard of a full throttle tongue-swipe across the cheek as being even remotely sexy? Maybe it was time to wake up from this dream and kick Mr. No-more-manners-than-a-dog out of her dream and out of her bed. Through the thick haze of slumber, she had an
Sport had sneaked into her bed right as she’d fallen to sleep. He usually did that whenever they had a thunderstorm or if he sensed her loneliness.
Eyes still closed, she raised her hand to her cheek. Yup. It was wet, all right.
. That’s when she opened her eyes to the gray light of dawn sneaking around the blinds shuttering her window.
She rolled to her side and faced the culprit.
Where her ninety-pound fraidy-cat of a dog should have been lay a full-sized man with a startling resemblance to a young Brendan Fraser. And he was naked from the top of his broad shoulders down past the limp—well, she tried not to look—to his toenails.
A shocked moment passed before her sleep-fogged brain engaged, and then registered with a blinding flash of
intruder alert, intruder alert!
Screaming at the top of her lungs, she leaped out of the bed with her feet still tangled in the sheets. Instead of hitting the ground running for the door, she hit the hardwood floors face-first, cursing her brother for talking her into removing the carpets.
Before she could disentangle her legs, a thump sounded on the other side of the four-poster bed.
Oh crap, oh crap
. He was coming after her!
Frantic now, visions of being raped raced through her head as she was trapped by her Laura Ashley sheets. She peered beneath the bed, wishing she could see through the clutter of boxes to the other side.
Then a whimper sounded from the floor between the bed and the outside wall. “Sport?” Where
her dog? “You better leave my dog alone, you son of a bitch!”
With the determination of a mother wolf guarding her cub, she finally shed the constricting sheet, leaped to her feet, and grabbed for something to clobber the man threatening her dog. The only item she could find was her color-coordinated pillow that resembled a giant light-blue tootsie roll. As if she could beat a man to death with a pillow. Oh well, she only had to hold him off long enough to free Sport and make a run for the door.
Another whimper sounded from the other side of the bed, spurring Alex into action. “I
, leave my dog alone.” She inched around the bedpost and braced herself for attack.
Pushing up to his hands and knees was a man with light-cinnamon hair and soft brown eyes. And yes, she hadn’t been seeing things—he was completely naked.
When she screamed, the man yelped and pressed his cheek to the floor, cowering like a whipped dog, with his hands covering his head.
While he crouched, staring up at her with wide, nervous eyes, she committed his features to memory. A girl never knew when she’d have to identify a man in a police lineup. His hair was the same soft, reddish-brown color of Sport’s, and his eyes threatened to melt her when they rounded all scared-like. Sport had that same look when he was hiding in a closet because of a booming thunderstorm.
Get a grip, woman. This is a naked man. In your house. And he had his arm around you, in your bed! “Holy Jesus! Get out, or I’ll call the police.”
The man trembled all over but backed into the corner instead of fighting his way out.
. Out of all the houses—okay, so there weren’t that many in Bayou Miste—why did this crazy man have to crawl naked into hers?
Because you live alone—vulnerable to any bare-skinned man’s sex-fetish whim.
Her heart beat so fast she couldn’t hear past her pulse pounding in her ears. No wait, that was pounding on the door.
“Out! Get out!” she yelled, pointing her fiber-filled weapon toward the bedroom door.
The man glanced past her, his gaze nervous as if he was afraid of Alex—all five feet six inches of damned tough, angry girl.
, he was afraid. As well he should be.
The banging carried through from her living room to her bedroom.
Oh, thank God
. For once, Calliope was on time for their morning jog.
Alex backed toward the door holding her pillow in front of her like a weapon. “I’m going into the living room and I
call the police. Unless you want to go to jail, you’d better leave.”
“Alex, what’s going on?” Calliope called through the thick wood door. “Was that you screaming?”
The man’s head shot up and he rose onto his knees, peering over the top of the bed, his eyes wide, his face intent on the doorway.
Then, before she could do anything but stand there like a lunk, the man leaped over the bed and loped for the living room.
Oh, no! Calliope had a key to the front door. She prayed this once she wouldn’t use it, or psycho-man might hurt her.
Alex raced after the intruder, chasing him down the hallway. She nearly wiped out on the loose throw rug at the corner. A few steps ahead of her, he sped through the kitchen and dove for the doggie door. He yelped when he hit the floor, and struggled to squeeze through anyway. But the door was built for a medium-sized golden retriever, not for a broad-shouldered man. He backed out and stood, his gaze darting right and left.
The crashing sound of the front door banging against the wall indicated that Calliope had used her spare key. At the sound, the man’s head perked to the side and he sniffed. Then he charged through the other entrance to the kitchen, heading for the front door.
“Look out, Calliope!” she cried.
A scream ripped through the air, followed by complete silence.
. Calliope!” Alex ran through the kitchen, her heart in her throat. “That bastard better not have touched—” She screeched to a halt.
Her redheaded friend was staring at the open doorway, her mouth hanging wide open.
“Calliope?” Alex frowned when she didn’t respond. “Did you see him?” She began to wonder if the naked man was all part of her pathetic spinster imaginings.
him?” Calliope held a hand to her chest. “I saw every glorious inch of him!”
Too late, Alex realized it wasn’t shock registering on Calliope’s face, it was full-fledged gaga. “Holy shit, Calliope, you’re drooling over a naked intruder.”
“Yes, ma’am, until I run out of spit.” Her mouth still hung slack. “He was
“That man is guilty of breaking and entering, and you’re ready to jump his bones?” Alex slammed the door and turned to face her friend. “Are you that desperate?”
“Yes, oh yes. Did you see those muscles, sinews, and organs? Ah yes,
…” Calliope walked toward the door as if in a trance.
” She waved a hand in front of Calliope’s face. “Are you missing the part about breaking and entering? The man might have hurt—” Alex squealed. “Sport.
! Sport!” She spun on the same small throw rug, almost shooting it out from under her, and charged down the hall back to the original scene of the crime. “What has that son of a bitch done with my dog?” she wailed.
As soon as she entered the room, her eyes scanned the space end to end while her heart pounded against her eardrums. Not hide nor hair of the dog could be seen. She leaped up on the bed and peered over the other side where she’d heard whimpering earlier.
“Where’s Sport?” Calliope appeared in the doorway, a worried frown marring her freckled forehead. “Sport? Here boy!” Her voice trailed off as she stared into Alex’s eyes. “Where is he?”
Alex climbed off the bed and checked the window.
. “He couldn’t have gotten out this way. And the man couldn’t have gotten in.”
“If Sport is outside, he wouldn’t have gone far. He always comes home,” Calliope said, her hopeful tone choking the air out of Alex’s lungs.
“That bastard!” Tears welled in her eyes and she sank onto the side of the bed and then jumped up. “My bedroom has been violated by a strange man. And where is Sport? If that jerk—”
“Why would he take Sport’s collar off?” Calliope’s words cut through Alex’s fog of pain. Her friend fingered the bright-red nylon band lying among the sheets. “And why would he take the time to reconnect the clasp?”
The man’s eyes flashed in her memory. They were the same deep brown as Sport’s.
Why the thought of her Voodoo dream sprang into her thoughts, she didn’t know. The lingering reverberation of thrumming drums and magical chants sent a lone chill slithering across her skin, raising gooseflesh.
She hopped up from the bed and ran through the house. “Sport! Sport!”
“He’s not in here, Alex.” Calliope hurried to the front door and threw it wide. “Sport? Sport! Come here, Sport!”
Alex joined her and they stepped out on the porch calling out in unison, “Sport!”
A bush on the corner of the house shook and whimpered.
She looked at Calliope. “Did that bush just whimper?”
Calliope’s eyebrows rose. “Sport hides in that bush when he’s scared.” She nudged Alex with her elbow. “Why don’t you go check it out?”
“Me? Why me?” Alex shrank back. A naked stranger accosting her once in her lifetime was enough. She didn’t feel like risking a second flashing. “Sport.” Her voice dropped an octave and she did her best I’m-the-big-sister-threatening-your-life voice she could muster. “Come here. Right now.”
The bush shook again. But a hairy head pushed out and half of the body emerged.
The naked man.
Alex grabbed Calliope and shoved her behind her. “Go away!”
The man’s gaze darted from side to side and he whimpered like an abused animal.
“Don’t be so hasty.” Calliope tried to push her away. “Let me handle this.”
“No, Calliope. The guy is obviously a pervert.”
Although the bush covered the man from the waist down, Alex could see enough to know the guy was still without clothes.
“How do you know? He could be someone who got lost from a nudist colony.” With a determined shove, Calliope manhandled Alex out of the way and held out her hand. “Hi, I’m Calliope. And you are?”
Alex stepped back. “Did that man just bark? Tell me he didn’t just bark.”
Calliope laughed. “I believe he did.”
A scary thought wiggled its way into her subconscious, growing into a crazy, outlandish, completely idiotic idea. “You don’t suppose… I mean…” She shook her head. “No, that’s ridiculous… Lucie wouldn’t… Hell, she’s not trained in that kind of thing.”
Without taking her gaze from the man standing so hesitantly in the bush, Calliope said, “What are you talking about? You think this man is Lucie’s Voodoo gift?”
“Could it be?” Alex peered closer.
“If so, I say don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. There are much better places to stare at a horse.” Calliope vamp-walked across the porch and down the stairs. “Come on,
The man frowned and crouched lower in the bush, darting glances at Alex as if pleading with her to save him from the fiery redhead stalking him.
“If this is Lucie’s so-called gift, what happened to Sport?” Alex asked.
As soon as she said the name Sport, the man’s head jerked toward her and he stood taller.
She stared hard at the soft brown eyes and reddish brown hair. “Sport?”
The man’s eyes widened and he opened his mouth. “Woof!”
She screamed, and Calliope jumped back and screamed, too.
The naked man shot out of the bush and bare-footed it as fast as he could across the gravel drive and out into the street.
Her friend turned toward her with a hand on her hip. “Don’t scare me like that!”
Alex’s shocked brain reengaged and she yelled, “
. Calliope, we have to catch that man.”
Calliope grinned and rubbed her hands together. “Now you’re talking.”