Authors: Mary Bernsen
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Paranormal, #Fantasy, #Multicultural & Interracial, #Witches & Wizards, #paranormal romance, #Multicultural, #Interracial Romance
Table of Contents
Healing the Bayou
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1643 Warwick Ave., #124
Warwick, RI 02889
Healing the Bayou
Copyright © 2014 by Mary Bernsen
Edited by Em Petrova
All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
First Etopia Press electronic publication: May 2014
~ Dedication ~
To my husband Casey, who always supports me and all my silly ideas.
“Oh honey, I’m so sorry.”
Some distant relative I didn’t know was squeezing me tightly, flooding the shoulder of my silk dress with her tears. I politely returned the comforting gesture, patting her back, biting my lip to fight back my own sobs.
I had spent the day wandering around the church, avoiding the open caskets holding the empty shells of what used to be my mother and father. The light that made its way through the painted window panes of the church encircled their bodies, and I was ashamed of myself for not being strong enough to say goodbye properly. My grief did my thinking for me today—I would deal with my guilt tomorrow.
Occasionally a cousin or another family member, familiar from the holiday table, would creep up with sad eyes and we would exchange awkward condolences.
Most of them knew I had an aversion to being touched, so they didn’t know how to approach me. This woman, whoever she was, was clearly not aware of my condition, and it took everything I had not to shove her away. Thankfully, I had worn long sleeves so the discomfort was only surface deep.
“What will you do?” She finally pulled away, and I could breathe again. “Such a big house for just one little girl.”
That was an odd remark. Of all things to be concerned about.
“Um, it’s not really that big,” I said. “And it’s full of beautiful memories. I’ll be just fine.”
She pulled a handkerchief from her bosom and wiped her face, smudging her makeup. “Well, Eliza, if you change your mind, here is my card. I can unload it for you and we can put you into something smaller. Something more appropriate for a single young woman.”
I narrowed my eyes and arched my brow. Seriously? Who the hell was this woman? I snatched the business card from her outstretched hand and read it, keeping the disgust on my face in plain sight. A real-estate agent. This greedy leach probably wasn’t even related to me at all.
I opened my mouth to speak, but not wanting to make a scene, I changed my mind. Pivoting on my heels, I dramatically turned my back to her and walked away.
“Eliza,” she called after me.
The cheap plastic of her stilettos closed in from behind, and I raised my hand to cut her off.
“It wouldn’t be in your best interest to follow me right now,” I said without turning to face her.
I sensed her begin to retreat, and I scanned the crowd. I needed the comfort of a familiar face to take refuge with.
“Such a horrific car accident,” a woman whispered as I walked by.
“What a violent way to go,” a man said.
“And they were so young,” said another.
I guess this was why Mom and Dad always got on me about being such a recluse. There wasn’t anybody here I knew well enough to seek comfort in, and Lord knew I needed it right now. I was being suffocated by strangers.
I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to get out of there, at least for a while. Without saying so much as goodbye to anyone, I found my purse setting near the pulpit and dug for my keys as I made my exit.
The wretched heat of the Florida summer did little to diffuse the explosion building up inside. I was already sweating and lightheaded from my anxiety, and the burning rays of the sun bombarded me with such a force that I had to stop and hold myself steady using the concrete walls of the church. Leaning my full weight against my sanctuary, I buried my face in my hands. Shaking from the endurance it was taking to hold myself together, I urged myself to breathe. I needed to breathe.
As I inhaled deeply, a shadow hovering over me became visible through my parted fingertips. If this woman had followed me, she must be crazy. We weren’t in the church and I was not above losing it on her in the parking lot.
“Go away,” I said sharply.
But the figure didn’t move. It leaned against the wall next to me. I snapped my head up, prepared to lay into the woman.
“Lady—” I started.
Realizing it was a man standing there, I stopped short. He was grinning at my outburst. Heat crept into my cheeks, but considering everything else I was feeling, my embarrassment didn’t last long.
The gentleman pointed to his ear, showing me his Bluetooth, indicating he was on the phone.
, I mouthed.
He shrugged, and I couldn’t tell behind his dark sunglasses if he was irritated or not until he raised his hand and pantomimed a mocking motion with it, comically telling me that he was bored with the conversation he was having.
I admired his expensive suit. Had he been inside the church? I didn’t know many of my parents’ business contacts, so it was possible he was a friend of theirs. I tried to place him among the crowd that had gathered to show their respects, but I couldn’t find anything familiar about him.
“Yes, ma’am, I understand,” he said ever so formally into the receiver before turning his attention to me. “The boss.”
“Yeah, I figured.” I nodded. “So did you know my parents well?”
He fidgeted with the buttons on his phone. “We worked together.”
“What is it you do?”
“I’m in sales.”
“In sales? What business would a salesman have with my parents?” I hadn’t meant to say it out loud, but now the suspicious cat was out of the bag. My parents were doctors—I didn’t get the connection.
“Pharmaceutical sales,” he said.
That made sense, but still he had to think just a moment too long for my taste.
“How long have you known them?” I asked as if conducting an interrogation.
“Quite a while. Since before you were born, Eliza.”
“Really?” Maybe I was just being paranoid. He did look like a salesman.
His phone lit up from an incoming call.
“Damn it,” he said before answering. “Yes, ma’am?” His tone had reverted to the businesslike one from earlier. His insincere, devoted employee facade had returned too.
I smiled at his immediate and effortless shift in personality. Oh yeah, he was a salesman.
“Stop dicking around!” A woman screeched through his earpiece. “This should have been taken care of days ago.”
“It will be done by the end of the day,” he assured her.
I was appalled at the language that came next from the stranger on the line, and sensing the need for this conversation to be held in private, I waved goodbye to the salesman and made my way to the crosswalk to find my car.
I climbed into my newly inherited SUV and turned the ignition. Before pulling out of my parking spot the man I had just visited with hopped into a car that pulled up next to the church. The poor guy.
I circled the church and pulled out to an intersection, stopping at the red light. I glanced down at my phone—there were no messages or missed calls. I snarked at the lack of concern shown by the few friends I did have from school.
In the vehicle on my passenger side some guy was staring at me. The intensity in his gaze was creepy—as if he was trying to peel back my skin with his eyes. He was pretty hot, though, I noted when he smiled. Was he flirting? It hardly mattered. I didn’t date. Not much of a relationship could be had with someone who couldn’t let their partner touch her. Besides, I was hardly in the mood to begin dating right now.
I stomped on the gas pedal, focused on my admirer in the car behind me. Tires screeched, and I looked up just in time to see the eyes of the salesman in the passenger seat of a car coming straight at me from the side. Time seemed to slow. My heart skipped and my chest tightened. He wasn’t stopping. Why wasn’t he stopping?
Panic took over, and I jerked the wheel to the right, forgetting about the car I had been so centered on moments earlier. Luckily, he was still far enough behind that I missed him completely, slamming into the post that held up the traffic lights instead. The oncoming car redirected. It was again headed for me, and I braced for the impact.
“Take a drink, Eliza. The elixir will give you strength!”
The voice of a young woman called to me as I struggled to adjust my eyes to the darkness surrounding her barely visible silhouette. As I squinted, hoping for something to come into focus, she giggled. The air was filled with excited chatter, and slowly the dim light of a dozen or so torches revealed the stunning blonde that stood in front of me. Her slender frame was covered by a simple, white sundress that came just a little too high on her thighs. A white, golden-edged scarf was wrapped neatly around her neck. Her blue eyes gleamed at me with pure exhilaration—as if I were her god.