Authors: Elle James
Tags: #Suspense, #Romance, #romance series, #Elle James, #entangled publishing, #voodoo, #Entangled Suspense
She and Calliope resumed their hunt of Naked Man. Hopefully, he was headed back to Alex’s cottage.
Disappointment hit her like a wet blanket in the face when she didn’t see her handsome stranger again. Oh, well. She didn’t have time to stop, and he probably thought she was wacky anyway, chasing after a naked man while wearing nothing more than her skimpiest nightgown.
The people of Bayou Miste were used to crazy things happening, what with their very own Voodoo queen a mere hop, skip, and jump away on the bayou.
She slowed to a walk, her tender feet having had enough of the gravel and already-warming pavement. If Naked Man, who she suspected might be her dog, wasn’t back at the house, she would definitely get dressed before she ventured any farther afield in her search.
“Sport!” Calliope called out ahead.
Alex trailed behind, convinced she lived in the twilight zone of jokes, and wondered when the punch line would hit her in the face.
When her house came into view, she heaved a sigh of relief. Calliope was talking to the bush in low, soothing tones.
Naked Man shook the bush with every quiver of his large body crouched beneath.
, Alex.” Calliope turned, her face beaming. “I think you’re right. I think that’s Sport!”
Alex shoved a hand through her hair. “What did I do to deserve this?”
“I don’t know, but when you figure it out, I want to do it, too.” Calliope stared back at the shaking bush. “Then whenever I need a date, all I’ll have to do is visit the local humane society.”
“Don’t go making plans yet. We don’t even know if this
“It is. I just know it.”
Alex stepped closer to the bush and held out her hand as she did when she was trying to coax Sport out of the closet on a stormy night. “Sport? Come here, boy.”
The man with sad-puppy eyes rose just enough so his head was clear of the azalea blossoms, then he whimpered.
“Come on, boy.” She couldn’t believe she was standing in her front yard in her baby-doll nightgown coaxing a naked man out of her bush. “I’m
going to have words with Lucie.”
The man crouched back down.
“It’s okay, boy,” she said in the soft singsong voice she used when she wanted Sport to drop the sparrow he’d been chewing on. “I’m not mad at you. I’m just mad at that sorry excuse for an amateur Voodoo priestess.”
Her soft words and gentle tones were doing the trick, because the man inched out from behind the bush and walked toward her.
Her heart rate jumped to what it was after a particularly tough session at the gym.
What was she thinking?
This guy was a man, not a dog.
He was tall and muscular, not short and furry. And all that naked skin was…well…intimidating in full sunlight.
She took a step backward with her hand held out, inching up the steps to the front door. “Want a biscuit, boy? Want a treat?”
The man’s eyes widened hopefully.
When she opened the door, he shoved past her and ran for the kitchen, the same way Sport did when he knew he was getting a special dog yummy.
Alex groaned and stared at her friend. “I’m going to
Calliope’s eyes glowed. “Did you see those gorgeous glutes?”
Ed jogged to the end of town on one side of the canal, crossed over a bridge, and jogged back on the other side. He took his time, studying the clapboard houses, some on stilts, others hugging the ground, daring to take on another storm surge just as they’d experienced in Katrina and even more recently during torrential rains that had afflicted the bayous. Everywhere there was old metal, there was rust, and paint seemed to be in a constant state of mildewing or peeling.
He might have found it rather depressing if not for the optimism of the azalea bushes and flowers planted in front of every other house. With the constant humidity and abundant rain, the flowers bloomed in wild abandon.
Though he studied the town for potential dark, shadowy areas and henchmen hideouts, his mind couldn’t help but drift back to his strange encounter of the naked and near-naked kind earlier. After bumping into the sexy lingerie kitten that morning, he’d had to wait a good ten minutes for his hard-on to subside before he could resume his morning workout. That hadn’t kept him from looking around every corner in hopes of catching another glimpse of the naughty nightie. Alas, no luck. At least the town was quiet, and so far there was not a threat to be found.
A cool shower helped wash away the sweat and residual attraction to the sex kitten in blue. Once he’d slipped into a white polo shirt and jeans, he decided he’d better get what he needed to establish his cover. Having grown up in Baton Rouge, he should know everything there was about fishing. Yet none of his foster parents had ever taken him.
Lucky for his partner, his father had been a shrimper, and no doubt had taught him all there was to know about shrimping and fishing in the bayou and along the coast. Apparently, Ben’s dad had passed away a couple years ago.
The single good thing about Ed losing his parents at a young age was that he didn’t still mourn their loss. He’d barely known them.
He could see the sorrow in Ben’s eyes whenever he spoke of his father. They’d been close. Well, as close as a man with nineteen children could get. Holy hell, had they really had nineteen children?
As he stepped out the front door of the cottage he’d rented from Mrs. Boyette, Ed felt the vibration of his phone in his pocket. He dug it out and hit the talk key. “Marceau.”
“Hey man, how was your night?” Ben said in his usual too-cheerful-in-the-morning tone. Must be a Boyette trait.
“Mom get around to inviting you to dinner?”
“Hey, I’m supposed to be keeping a low profile here. How am I supposed to do that having dinner with the biggest family in town?”
“You’ll be one of the family by the end of the meal. The better to blend in with the locals.”
“So, who’d she send?”
“Which one of my brothers or sisters came to deliver the invitation?”
“A couple of southern belles in old-fashioned dresses, talking in stereo.”
Ben chuckled. “That would Dolley and Madison, home early for summer vacation from Tulane University. Probably on their way to work at the Beauregard plantation. They lead tours through the old plantation house during the summer. Make an impression on you, did they?”
“They don’t take no for an answer,” Ed groused. “And way too cheerful before nine in the morning.”
“They get that from Mom. Have you had a chance to look around town?”
“Yeah. Took me fifteen minutes.” He slid into the nondescript gray Jeep they’d rented for the field op and closed the door before continuing. “Not much to it.”
“It’s usually pretty quiet, but we do get tourists coming in to do some fishing and the occasional bayou tour.”
“I’ll be on the lookout for the strange-looking tourists, then.” Ed twisted his key in the ignition. “Speaking of strange, is streaking a part of the norm in Bayou Miste?”
“Streaking?” Ben paused. “What do you mean?”
“As in men running naked down the street followed by women in their nightclothes.”
Ben laughed. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Never mind. I’m on my way to Morgan City for a fishing pole and whatever else I need to look like I’m going fishing.”
“You could get that stuff at Thibodeaux’s Marina right there in Bayou Miste.”
“I want to at least appear to look like I know what I’m doing.” He backed out of the driveway and headed north. “And that I own my own gear.”
“Wait a minute,” Ben said. “You mean you’ve never been fishing? Ever?”
“I tried to tell you, this bayou vacation isn’t my thing.”
“You’re in for a treat. Make sure you hook up with Joe Thibodeaux. He’ll take you out and show you what fun real fishin’ in the bayou can be.”
“I’m here on an op to watch for trouble and protect a witness, not to have fun.”
“Man, you have really got to lighten up. You’re an old man at what…thirty?”
“Thirty-two. Same as you, man.” Ed drove out of town and headed up the highway toward Morgan City. “Anything new on Leon Primeaux?”
“Still sittin’ pretty behind bars.”
“You mean his army of thugs haven’t broken him out of jail yet? Has anyone been in to visit with a file-filled cake or a sawed-off shotgun disguised as a toothbrush?” Ed asked. “Are they monitoring his calls?”
“So far he’s been quiet.”
“Hard to believe Louisiana’s Mafia king is being quiet.”
“I don’t like it. That man has so many minions scattered all over the state of Louisiana and beyond, I’ll bet he’s already contacted one of them to put a hit on our witness.”
“Exactly the reason why we have her in such a remote location. Keep your eyes open. Could be just about anyone after her. Or more than one person. It’s easy to hide a body in the bayou, and there are plenty of people willing to do just about anything for a buck.”
“That’s why I’m here running interference for a witness instead of investigating murders and corporate espionage.”
“Got you out of the office, didn’t it?”
“I’d rather be investigating a double homicide on the seedier side of Baton Rouge. At least then I’d know what I was looking for.”
“Look, Ed, I gotta go. I’m appearing in court in a few minutes,” Ben said. “Let me know how dinner at the Boyette house goes.”
“Yeah, if I survive. Somehow, I get the feeling I’m the main course to be served up.”
“You don’t know how true that might be.”
“Wait, what do you mean?”
“Outta here.” The line went dead.
Ed dropped his smartphone on the seat beside him as a speed limit sign flashed by. Hell, he’d been speeding. All he needed was to get hauled to jail for reckless driving and blow his cover. He eased his foot off the accelerator and reminded himself he was supposedly on vacation. A mile out of Bayou Miste, he noted a dingy, run-down shack of a barn with a sign perched precariously over the entrance.
. Since when did raccoons drink beer?
It had a well-worn gravel parking lot with fresh trash scattered around the building. Probably the local watering hole. At least he’d find some entertainment there. If it was a popular gathering place, he might have a chance to study the people, maybe look for those who looked as if they didn’t belong.
Hell, by the time he finished dinner with the Boyettes that evening, he’d probably be ready to toss back a beer or two.
In Morgan City, he purchased hooks, a bag of plastic worms, and a cheap tackle box. Although he went for the least expensive of the accessories, he sprang for the nicer rod and reel. Hell, he’d never owned a fishing pole.
He juggled his purchases as he clicked the button to release the locks on the Jeep.
“Dat dere’s a nice pole ya got, mista.” A tall, burly man with dark curly hair and brown-black eyes climbed out of an old pickup. He wore a coverall with Littington Refineries embroidered on the front and a matching baseball cap rimmed with greasy fingerprints.
“Thanks,” Ed said, lifting the hatch.
The young man stuck out his massive paw. “Name’s Theo Ledet.”
Ed shifted his fishing pole to his other hand with the tackle box, and clasped the man’s hand. “Ed Marceau.”
Theo crushed his fingers in a bone-crunching grip. “Goin’ fishin’?”
No, I’m going snipe hunting
. “That’s right.” He pulled his fingers free and shook blood back into them. What did they feed these bayou bumpkins?
“Hear dose largemouth bass be bitin’ in Bayou Black.” Theo leaned against his truck, as if settling in to chat for a while. “Where ya be takin’ out at?”
Not exactly sure what the guy was asking, Ed answered with his canned response, “I’m vacationing in Bayou Miste.”
“Dat so? Where you from?”
“New Orleans,” he responded, also part of the lie, since he lived in Baton Rouge.
“Bayou Black’s just a hop, skip, and a jump from Thibodeaux’s Marina.” Theo shoved his cap to the back of his head. “Tell ol’ Joe Theo said hey, will ya?”
“Will do.” Ed shoved the tackle box into the rear of the Jeep. “Thanks for the tip.”
“Who ya rentin’ from in Bayou Miste?”
“Renting a cottage from Mrs. Boyette.” Not that it was any business of Theo’s.
“Mighty fine woman.” Theo pushed his hat to the back of his head. “Dat be my gal’s mama.”
“Really?” Ed glanced up. Best to know who to stay away from. Theo looked like he would be the winner of any barroom fight. Ed had no intention of poaching on the big lug’s territory. Again, not that he was interested in dating any of the bayou princesses. An image of a dark-haired beauty in a baby-blue nightie popped into his head. Well, it wouldn’t hurt to talk to one. Might help establish his cover better. “Which one is your gal—girl?”
“Alex. She and I been goin’ out fo’ a couple months now.”
“That’s nice.” He slid his pole into the back of his vehicle, leaning the end over the backseat, then he shut the hatch, hoping the man would get the hint and leave.
“It’s dolla beer night at de Raccoon Saloon tomorra night, if ya got a hankrin’.”
“Just might.” He edged toward the driver’s door. “If you’ll excuse me, there’s a largemouth bass with my name on it out there.”
The man scratched his head. “You shore ’bout dat?”
Ed shook his head. The man was a few fries short of a Happy Meal. “Just a saying. Nice talking with you.” He dropped into his seat and shut the door before Theo could say another word. With a wave, he backed out of the parking space and headed back to Bayou Miste, praying Mr. Ledet wasn’t going to show up for dinner at the Boyettes’ that night. Dinner with eighteen kids and their boyfriends would be like eating at a school cafeteria, with all the noise and food fights he’d found annoying when he was a kid himself. He wondered if he could bow out of the invitation without incurring another visit from Dolley and Madison of the perpetually synchronized variety of twins.
“How’d it go today?” Alex called out as she strode into her house. Exhausted from leading two aerobics sessions and one kickboxing and one black-belt karate class, she’d done nothing but worry about what was going on back at her house with Sport and Calliope. Thank God, it was Calliope’s day off from her job at the Raccoon Saloon. Alex wouldn’t have known what to do with Sport while she ran her business in Morgan City. Her sister Harry helped out at the gym, but she had her own classes to lead and the bookkeeping to attend.
“We’re in the kitchen,” Calliope called out.
Before she could set her purse on the hall table, the man she’d chased through town that morning burst through the doorway to the kitchen and ran full-out at her.
Alex backed away, her hands held up. “Whoa! Down, Sport.”
Unfortunately, Sport had never learned any manners, and he hit her square on, planting his hands on her shoulders.
She bumped against the door and squinched her eyes shut as Sport licked her cheeks, his entire body shaking.
! Stop.” She braced her hands on his shoulders and pushed him away. “Damn it, stop!”
Calliope laughed. “We’ll have to work on that.” She leaned against the wall, smiling. “He catches on quickly, if you work with him.”
“I’m sure.” When Alex had Sport at arm’s length, she scrubbed a hand across her wet face and looked at her dog…er, man.
He wore baggy jeans, cinched at the waist with a thick black belt, an equally baggy shirt half-tucked into the jeans, and nothing on his feet.
“Where’d you find the clothes?”
“In a bag marked ‘dirtbag’ in the hall closet.” Calliope grinned. “I assumed they were some of Theo’s.”
She nodded. “Yeah, I meant to give them back weeks ago, but I didn’t want to get into another argument with him. I can’t believe I went out with him in the first place. What was I thinking?”
“You were drunk and thinking you hadn’t been laid in a year.”
Alex’s lips twisted. “Thanks for the reminder. He wasn’t even that good.”
“So why’d you dump him?”
“What do you mean?” Alex glared. “We weren’t exactly going together.”
“He thinks you were.”
“One night in the sack and he thought we were practically married. I mean, really. He left extra clothes at my house like he was moving in. After
.” She pulled the ponytail out of her hair and ran her fingers through the curls. “Shit, I’ll never, ever get that drunk again.” She reached up and pushed a hank of hair out of Sport’s eyes and got her hand licked for the effort. “No.”
Sport frowned, his shoulders sagging.
“Your mom called to remind you about dinner tonight,” Calliope said.
Alex rolled her eyes. “You told her we couldn’t make it, right?”
“She wouldn’t hear of it. Said she had a surprise for you.”
With a groan, Alex flopped onto the recliner in the living room, extending the leg rest to raise her aching feet. “I’m too tired to deal with family tonight. Besides, what are we going to do with Sport? We can’t leave him alone until we find a way to undo the spell.”
“Any luck getting hold of Lucie?” Calliope circled the recliner and stood in front of her.
Alex sighed. “I called no less than twenty times. She wasn’t answering her phone.”
“We could make a trip out to Madame LeBieu’s place.”