Authors: Elle James
Tags: #Suspense, #Romance, #romance series, #Elle James, #entangled publishing, #voodoo, #Entangled Suspense
As she skimmed across the water, Alex let the events of the day slip from her shoulders. To many people, the bayou at night might appear spooky, filled with deadly creatures and magic. To Alex, it was the time she remembered her father most. He’d bring her out to fish under the stars. She and Ben had been the oldest and spent more time with him on the occasional weekend he took off from his business of shrimp fishing in the Gulf. They’d sit in silence for the most part, hooks in the water, waiting for a nibble. Those had been good times that brought back even better memories.
Alex slid into the dock in front of Madame LeBieu’s house, tied off, and stepped up onto the rickety wooden planks. Before she reached the front porch of the weathered structure with the peeling paint, the old woman flung open the door and filled the entrance. She wore a bright pink, red, and yellow muumuu and a flamboyant red scarf tied around her head, knotted in a big bow. Her light mocha skin glowed in the moonlight, her dark eyes sparkling like the stars above. “Alexandra Belle Boyette, what you be doin’ in de bayou dis late at night?”
“Hi, Gran LeBieu.” She climbed the steps and hugged the woman who was as much a grandmother to her as she was to her own granddaughters. She’d spent many nights in Lisa and Lucie’s room along with Calliope, going over teen magazines and talking about the boys at school. “I came to see my favorite Voodoo priestess.”
The old woman waved her toward the door. “Come in, come in. I have chicory abrewin’.”
“Thank you, but I can’t stay long.” As Alex followed Madame LeBieu into her ancient kitchen, memories washed over her, making her long for the simpler times when her dad was still around, and she and her girlfriends only worried about what to wear and who to gossip about. She ran her hand along the edge of the antique stove where Lucie had concocted a love spell that nearly turned the town of Bayou Miste upside down.
“Tinkin’ ’bout ol’ times?” Madame LeBieu pulled a ceramic mug off a shelf and poured the fragrant chicory-flavored coffee from an old metal pot. “Tell dis ol’ woman what be troublin’ you.”
Alex plopped onto a stool, leaned her elbows on the big butcher block at the center of the kitchen, and buried her face in her hands. “Oh, Gran LeBieu, everything’s a mess.”
“Did not de
help wit’ de wishes?” she asked.
Alex dropped her hands and stared across at the Voodoo queen. “That’s what I’m talking about. The pouch you helped Lucie make, what kind of magic was in it?”
“A little o’ dis, a little o’ dat.” The woman raised her hands, palms up. “Did you wishes come true?”
“No!” Alex stood and paced across the room. “That
bag turned my dog into a man. Mom finally came up with a decent matchmaking candidate who kisses like nobody’s business, and I have a man-dog living with me who pees on rose bushes and chases Granny Saulnier’s pink poodle. I don’t recall wishing for any of that.” She flung her hands in the air and faced the Voodoo queen. “Help!”
“Drink.” Madame LeBieu tutted and filled another cup with chicory-flavored coffee and sipped from hers. “All will be well, if you give de magic time.”
“But I don’t have time! Poor Sport doesn’t have a clue what’s happened. Calliope is teaching him how to be a man. What happens when the spell wears off and he goes back to being a dog? He’ll be so confused. And I don’t have time to keep him out of trouble. He’s learning how to open doors and talk, but he’s still a dog.”
“Dis dog is much smarta dan you tink.” Madame LeBieu set her cup on the butcher block and smiled at her. “He learn what he need to know because he loves you. In time, you will be glad o’ dat.”
“Can you see the future?” She grabbed the old woman’s hands and squeezed. “Will this mess clear up before I go insane? Before I have to own up to the whopping lie I told my mother about Sport? I don’t know how much more of this I can handle.”
Madame LeBieu squeezed her hands. “You be fine, my sweet Alex. All will be well in time.”
“Can’t you give me something to put things back like they were? A potion. An anti-spell
pouch. Anything. I need my life back in order.”
“Was you life so great?”
She scowled. “Yes! I have my own business, I’m close to family. I was happy.”
Oh, no. Not Gran LeBieu, too. “I like being alone.”
“Do you?” Madame LeBieu’s intense gaze brooked no lies.
“Mostly.” Fine. She did miss male companionship. Her lips still tingled from that kiss she’d experienced with Ed, leaving her with a whole lot more longing than she’d started the day with. “Okay, so it’s been a little lonely lately.”
“And you not be gettin’ younger.”
“Oh, please. You sound like my mother.” She pulled her hands free of the old woman’s. “Twenty-nine is
over the hill.”
“No, but you have so much more love to give, for a man, for children.”
“I have enough children in my life, thank you.”
Madame LeBieu shook her head. “Not you own.”
“I don’t even have a man in my life, how can I even think of children?” She pushed her shoulders back. “I take it you don’t have anything in your bag of tricks to help me out of this colossal mess.”
The woman spread her arms wide. “De magic mus’ run its course.”
Tears welled in Alex’s eyes—of frustration and anger. Not so much directed at the Voodoo queen. She couldn’t find it in her heart to be mad at this woman who had the best interests of her community at heart. She was angry at her own dissatisfaction that had led to her rash wish, and her inability to alter the resulting events. “Thank you, anyway.” She rounded the butcher block and hugged the woman close, inhaling the scent of perfume that reminded her of her friend. “I miss Lucie.”
“She, too, misses you,
.” Gran LeBieu patted her back. “Give de magic time.”
“You don’t have a spell that will make me more patient, do you?” She leaned back and stared into the woman’s dark-brown eyes, almost black with her magic.
“Maybe dere is someting dat will help.” She shifted Alex away from her and went to her pantry where she kept everything from sugar and flour to the spit of a tailless raccoon. When she returned, she held something in her hand. “Close you eyes,” she commanded.
Alex closed them, laughing nervously. “You aren’t going to turn me into a frog, like you did Craig Thibodeaux, are you?”
. Shush and listen to you heart.”
Something like powder touched her face. She flinched but kept her eyes closed tight. For a moment, she almost wished she’d kept her mouth shut. Madame LeBieu’s spells always worked out, but the process sometimes proved tricky.
“Ezili Freda Daome, goddess of love and all dat is beautiful, listen to our prayers, accept our offerings, and enter into our arms, legs, and hearts.”
Alex listened as a soft rumbling like the drums of the ancients thrummed in her head. Her senses sharpened, her thoughts cleared, and her focus centered on the Voodoo queen’s softly spoken words.
“Mistress of love, hear my plea,
help dis woman’s eyes to see
As troubled times mus’ be unfold
to loose de bonds of past dat hold
and know de course when darkness reign
and sacrifice tho gives her pain
help her to embrace de right
for only love will win de fight.
Ezili Freda Daome, goddess of love and all dat is beautiful, hear me now.”
With a soft touch on her arm, Madame LeBieu broke her trance. “Go,
. De hour grows late.”
She blinked her eyes open and stumbled toward the door and out to the dock. As she steered her pirogue back home, she went over what the Voodoo queen had said, analyzing every word of the old woman’s
. What did she mean, troubled times unfolding? Hadn’t they already unfolded with Sport turning into a man?
Around the bend in the channel she went. Where the water had been smooth as glass from the route she’d come, she noticed the residual waves of a recent disturbance, headed out the opposite direction. Alex spun on her seat and studied the wake in the moonlight until another bend in the path blocked her view.
A chill slithered down the back of her shirt and she revved the throttle, sending her pirogue putt-putting toward the town of Bayou Miste and home, telling herself that whoever was traversing the swamp this late at night was probably out frog-gigging or fishing. Uh-huh. Then why did she hear the sound of drums echoing in her head like a recent memory?
Ed held his GPS in front of him as he inched along the waterway, praying he could find the way at night as easily as he had during the day. The bends and forks in the liquid back roads weren’t as clear as they’d been before, and he wasn’t sure, but he thought he’d heard another engine. He’d killed his motor immediately and listened.
Yes, it had been another motor. By the way it gave off a high-pitched, fading whine, it was a small one, headed the opposite direction. When it faded into the distance, Ed restarted his own engine and continued his trek through the bayou for several miles until he came upon what appeared to be an abandoned shack jutting out of the marsh on stilts, tucked into a strand of cypress trees on a rare knoll of solid land.
He tied off on the ramshackle jetty and climbed out of his boat.
Nothing stirred. No lights shone from the window. As it should be. The Ragsdale woman and her guard had been given strict instructions to remain at the rear of the cabin at all times. The windows in the back had been spray-painted black to block any light from shining through.
When he pushed the front door open, he waited for someone to challenge him.
Not a sound
. His senses on alert, he pulled his Glock from the case on his belt and eased through the door
The cold nose of a rifle pressed into his side.
“You better be Ed,” a deep, deadly voice stated, “or you’re dead.”
“Relax. It’s me.” Ed pushed the nose of the weapon away, cleared the doorway, and closed it behind him before flipping on his flashlight with the red lens cover.
“Well, damn. I’d hoped to get to shoot someone.” Marcus Caldwell led the way to the back of the house.
Ed chuckled. “That bad?”
“Worse,” he stated. “It’s been one of those days. One lousy day, and she’s already bored and ready to return to Baton Rouge, hit men be damned.”
“I feel your pain.” He’d thought he had it bad in town. It was nothing compared to being stuck in the bayou with a demanding, pain-in-the-ass, high-maintenance mob informant. “Any movement?”
“A couple of guys came by in a pirogue with a trolling motor right at sunset.” Marcus snorted. “Thought I might get to shoot someone then. Turns out they were frog-giggin’.”
“Did they nose around or see anything?”
“Nope. It was if they never even saw the old house back here.”
“Good. I know you’d rather be where the action’s at, but the less people who know anyone’s out here, the better.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Marcus paused in front of a closed door. “Anything going on in the real world?”
“I wouldn’t know. I wouldn’t consider Bayou Miste the real world.”
“Gotta be better than spending time with the informant from hell.”
Ed clapped a hand on Marcus’s back. “I spoke to Ben earlier. He said Leon isn’t talking, and from the calls they’ve monitored, they’ve gotten nothing.”
“So we don’t know when he’ll have his people make their move.”
“No.” Ed smiled in the faint glow of the flashlight. “Cheer up. It won’t be long. The trial is in three days. Primeaux’s thugs have to be looking for their star witness.”
Marcus patted his rifle. “I’ll be ready.” Then he opened the door to the kitchen area at the back of the house.
“About time you got back.” Phyllis Ragsdale sat in a folding chair at the collapsible camp table they’d set up in the empty kitchen. She wore shorts and a tank top that didn’t quite cover her ample, surgeon-supplied breasts. With her brassy, bleached-blond hair piled on top of her head, she leaned back and propped her bare feet on the ice chest, fresh blue polish gleaming in the light from the Coleman lantern. “Did you bring me the chocolates I asked for?”
Ed reached into the backpack he’d carried up from the boat, pulled out a bag full of every kind of chocolate bar Morgan City’s dollar store had to offer, and tossed it on the table in front of her.
“Oh, there is a God.” She dug into the bag and ripped open the first bar, sinking her teeth into the chocolate, caramel, and peanuts. “I might survive after all,” she said, chewing and talking with her mouth open. “That good fer nothin’ louse get fucked in the slammer yet?”
“No, Phyllis,” Ed replied. “He’s waiting in his very own jail cell until the trial.”
“I hope someone jacks him up.” She took another bite of gooey chocolate. “He ain’t done nothin’ but slap me around from the day we met.”
“You didn’t have to stay with him,” Marcus pointed out.
She snorted. “Yeah, and I lived in a bed of fuckin’ roses? Once ya know somethin’, you know somethin’. If he hadn’t got caught with his hand in that senator’s cookie jar, he’d still be knockin’ me around. Between me and the senator, we’ll put the bastard away.” She smiled up at Ed, chocolate clinging to her teeth. “Then I’ll have more time for the likes of you, Eddy.”
He hated it when people called him Eddy, especially trash-mouthed women like Phyllis. She’d called him Eddy from the time he’d loaded her into the SUV to the time he’d dropped her off at this Cajun-bubba version of a safe house. If he hadn’t needed her testimony so badly, he’d have thrown her to the alligators on the trip out.
“I’d better get back,” Ed said. “I have to be fishing on the bayou early in the morning.”
“I don’t want to hear your hard-luck story, Marceau. While you’re sleeping like a baby on a real bed, I get to spend the night in a folding chair, watching over Ms. Potty-mouth.”
“Oh, you can’t leave yet.” Phyllis lurched out of her chair and waddled her way over to him, walking on her heels with her wet toenails in the air. “Dontcha wanna stay and play cards? I play a mean strip poker.” She draped an arm over his shoulder and ran her fingers along the V of his polo shirt. “Really, I lose every time,” she purred, pressing her boobs against his chest.
He grabbed her wrist and removed her other hand from his shoulder. “I’d rather poke my eyeballs out. But thanks for the offer.” He stepped away before she could get her octopus arms around him again. “Why don’t you play a hand with Marcus?”
“Thanks, man.” Marcus glared at him. “I might just shoot you, anyway.”
Phyllis pouted. “He’s no fun. He keeps threatening to shoot me.”
“Yeah, he’s like that.” Ed chuckled and slipped the straps of his backpack over his shoulders. “He’s a trigger-happy son of a gun.” He leaned close to Marcus as he passed him on the way to the door and said in a tone loud enough for Phyllis to overhear. “If she gives you any trouble, shoot her in the knee. It’ll keep her from moving around and she’ll still be able to testify.”
“Hey!” Phyllis cried. “I’m not deaf.”
“Give the dog a bone.” He nodded to Marcus. “If you have any troubles, send up a flare.”
“They don’t pay me enough for this gig,” Marcus groused.
“No, they don’t.” Ed opened the door and clicked on his flashlight. “You don’t have to walk me out.”
“Please. I can use the fresh air after all the nail polish fumes.” Marcus walked him to the front door and they stood in the shadows as they scanned the bayou below for movement.
After several long moments Ed whispered, “All clear. See you tomorrow night. Can I bring you anything?”
“A gag for her mouth?”
“You got it.” He left, dropping down into the boat and turning on his GPS to get him back. He’d be glad when this assignment ended and Leon Primeaux was safely tucked away in a federal prison for life. He could get back to civilization, away from the bayou—and the temptation of kissing a certain bayou princess.
Hell, why did he have to go and think of Alex? Even after visiting the woman from hell, his libido jacked up every time he thought of Alexandra Belle Boyette and that kiss.
Alex bent to tie her tennis shoe. As it neared the end of her day at the gym, she was so tired she could barely see straight. She had struggled throughout to keep up with, much less lead, her aerobics classes, and had taken a nasty kick to the jaw in her black-belt karate class.
That’s what lack of sleep got you. She’d tossed and turned after her trip to visit the Voodoo queen. When she did drift into a troubled sleep, she’d dreamed she was running through town in her nightgown. Ed was at the end of the street, waiting for her, his arms open wide.
Joy filled her heart and she tried to run faster, but her feet sank into mud, the suction pulling her back. The sound of Voodoo drums filled her head and a dark presence stared out at her from the shadows of Bayou Miste. Suddenly, she was alone on a tuft of land in the deepest, darkest part of the bayou, surrounded by cypress trees whose branches were draped in long swaths of Spanish moss, sweeping low to the ground like arms reaching out to her.
A dark silhouette disengaged from the shadows, stalking her, his eyes glowing red in the moonless night.
She tried to scream but no sound came out. As the fiend steadily advanced on her little island amidst the stagnant water, she saw the flash of a light-colored animal headed her way. It was Sport. Not the man he’d become, but the dog she knew and loved.
Right when the man reached his hands out to clutch her throat, Sport leaped into the air and—
“Earth to Alex.”
She shook her head and looked up, taking a moment for her eyes and mind to focus on her twenty-seven-year-old sister, Harry. “What’s up?”
“You have ten minutes until your next aerobics class. Do you want me to take this one? You look beat.”
Alex dropped onto a metal folding chair and sighed. “Would you? I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I just don’t have it in me today.”
“Could it be you were up all night dreaming?”
“Yes. As a matter of fact I was.”
“About a certain hunky man?” Harry grinned.
Boy, did Harry have it wrong. But then if she explained her dream she’d probably end up spilling her guts about Sport, the Voodoo hex, and her late-night trip into the bayou. What was easier—confessing to the insanity, or letting her sister believe she’d stayed up all night mooning over a very sexy man and a kiss she wouldn’t soon forget?
“I saw you kissing him in the garden. So did Mom and everyone else. Did she finally strike gold and find you a keeper?”
Alex refused to meet Harry’s knowing gaze. “He’s all right.”
? You were playing tonsil tag long enough that he had to be more than all right.”
“Please, Harry. Ed’s in Bayou Miste on vacation. When he leaves, he’s out of my life. Why get attached?” Alex heaved herself out of the chair and walked over to the punching bag, giving it a light cuff with her fist.
“Because he’s nice, good-looking, and apparently a good kisser.” Harry grabbed the bag and held it steady.
Alex bounced up on her toes and swung at the bag like a boxer. “So?”
“So? So why don’t you see where it goes? He’ll be here at least a week. That’s plenty of time to find whether or not he’s a possibility.”
“Harry, he lives in New Orleans. That’s two hours from Bayou Miste. He has a job, I have a business. Do the math. It wouldn’t work, even if I wanted it to. Long-distance relationships don’t last.”
“You don’t have to stay in Bayou Miste, you know.”
“It’s my home.”
“So, come home to visit every once in a while. What would it hurt for you to get out in the big wide world and see more than the stinkin’ bayou?”
“Says the one who lives in Morgan City. I never wanted to leave, you did. Speaking of which, why haven’t you?”
Harry shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess I was waiting for you to go first.”
“You’ll be waiting a long time.”
“Hey, wait a minute. This discussion isn’t about me. It’s about you and the very distinct possibility of you finding someone to love.”
“In Ed?” She sighed. “The best I can hope for is a quick fling. I’m not moving, and we’re back to ‘where does he live?’” She bounced again on her toes and threw a side kick at the punching bag. “It won’t work.”
“But Mom thinks you—”
She kicked the bag again, hard enough that Harry staggered back. “Why is it Mom worries about me, when you’re just two years younger and don’t have a boyfriend?”
“Probably because you’re closing in on thirty and your biological clock is ticking.” Harry grinned and stepped away from the punching bag as Alex slammed it again with another kick. “How about I take that class for you?” Her sister backed away and made a run for the dance room where the aerobics class was held.
“Did you kick all your frustrations out, or should we go away and come back later?” Calliope led Sport into the gym, keeping out of range of the swinging punching bag.
“It’s okay, I don’t think I could kick again without falling on my ass.”
“Ass,” Sport repeated and grinned at Alex.
“No, Sport,” Alex said, reaching out to touch his arm. “That’s a bad word.”
He tipped his head. “Why?”
Alex looked from him to Calliope. “This is new.”
“We’ve been watching TV all day. He’s a childlike sponge. You wouldn’t believe all he’s learned today. He’s actually stringing together sentences. Go ahead, ask him something.”
She stared at Sport. “How are you, Sport?”
“Fine, thank you,” he said, his words stilted but clear and understandable, not barked like those of the night before. “How are you?”
Alex laughed and clapped her hands. “Very good, thank you.” She hugged him and hugged Calliope. “Amazing.”
“Yeah, I know. And I hate to leave him, but I have to work tonight, and I need to go home and change first.”
“Right. You don’t know how much I appreciate your staying with him all day.”
“It was a pleasure, really. Sport’s such a nice guy. A girl could fall for someone like him.”
“Calliope…” Alex frowned. “He’s a dog. Don’t forget it.”
She made a face. “I know.” Then she stood on her toes and pecked Sport’s cheek with a kiss. “But I love him as a man or a dog. Gotta go!” She turned and ran for the door, her eyes suspiciously moist. Before she reached it she stopped and turned. “Oh, and your kitchen sink has a leak. I put a bucket under it and called your mom.” Then Calliope was gone.
“Why she leave?” Sport asked.
Alex studied Sport, still shocked that he was speaking so well within such a short amount of time. “She has to work.”