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Authors: Jana DeLeon

The Awakening

SOMETHING IS OUT THERE…WATCHING…WAITING

It could be a mythical creature wreaking havoc on a Mystere hotel…or a malicious vandal. It’s detective Tanner LeDoux’s first case and—much to his chagrin—the hotel belongs toJosie Bettencourt, once the most popular girl in town and his unrequited love. A woman who now doesn’t even recognize him.

Josie’s poor memory is Tanner’s luck, however. He has a chance to be the strong, sexy hero who protects her and her hotel from mounting danger. Tanner’s no believer in the old ways, but one stormy night, he sees something horrific he can’t explain. And he knows, without a doubt, whatever lurks in Honey Island Swamp means to keep Josie from him forever!

“Where is your room located?”

She felt a blush creep up her face. “On the second floor, north side.”

“Then I’ll take a north side room.”

Her mouth dropped just a bit and she held there, unable to close it or speak. Finally, she said, “You don’t think I’m in danger, do you?”

“Until I can figure out who or what is doing this and their motive, I don’t want to discount any possibilities. If a man is vandalizing your property, then it’s personal, and that’s something I want to explore with you tomorrow. He may escalate. Hiring me may cause him to escalate more quickly.”

A flood of scenarios that she’d never considered washed through her mind. Locked up in her home with the sexiest man she’d seen in forever or alone with a potential madman or mythical creature on the loose.

She wasn’t sure which was more frightening.

Jana DeLeon

The Awakening

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jana DeLeon grew up among the bayous and small towns of southwest Louisiana. She’s never actually found a dead body or seen a ghost, but she’s still hoping. Jana started writing in 2001 and focuses on murderous plots set deep in the Louisiana bayous. By day, she writes very boring technical manuals for a software company in Dallas. Visit Jana on her website,
www.janadeleon.com
.

Books by Jana DeLeon

HARLEQUIN INTRIGUE

 

1265—THE SECRET OF CYPRIERE BAYOU
1291—BAYOU BODYGUARD
1331—THE LOST GIRLS OF JOHNSON’S BAYOU
1380—THE RECKONING*
1386—THE VANISHING*
1393—THE AWAKENING*

*Mystere Parish

CAST OF CHARACTERS

Josette (Josie) Bettencourt—
The Honey Island Swamp plantation owner is certain that the creature she saw isn’t anything documented, and the damage to her equipment and fencing wasn’t caused by the normal creatures in the swamp. She asks for help, but isn’t prepared for Tanner Ledoux.

Tanner LeDoux—
The former game warden is the perfect detective for Josie’s case given his knowledge of bayou predators. Unfortunately for Josie, he doesn’t believe in swamp monsters—at least not the kinds that walk upright. But even Tanner admits that something strange is happening at Bettencourt Plantation, and he’s determined to find out what it is. He’s just as determined to keep his attraction to Josie as big a secret as the identity of the swamp monster.

Walter Vernon—
The plantation foreman has been a fixture around the Bettencourt family for over forty years, but his recent disappearances and secretive behavior have Tanner and Josie wondering what he’s hiding.

Mack Prevett—
The bar owner dismisses the plantation worker’s claims of a swamp monster in favor of too many whiskey shots. He dismisses Josie as an attention-seeking snob.

Sheriff Reynard—
The sheriff doesn’t believe Josie’s claims and accuses her of causing the vandalism herself to collect the insurance money. But does he really think the plantation owner is that desperate for money or is he still angry that she jilted him in high school?

Samuel Walker—
The attorney has a buyer interested in Josie’s plantation, but he won’t provide any details about the purchaser or their intentions for the property.

To my friend, Nancy Lea. You’ve been chasing monsters for years now, but I’m certain your happily ever after is coming.

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Excerpt

Chapter One

Josette Bettencourt stared at the group of workers gathered in front of her ancestral plantation home and for the first time in a long while, couldn’t think of a single thing to say.

The crew leader, Ray, a Creole man who was probably in his fifties, stepped forward. “We need the work, Ms. Bettencourt, and the normal dangers of the swamp are things we’re comfortable with, but not this.”

She took a deep breath and blew it out. “I want you to explain to me again exactly what you saw.”

Ray nodded. “We were repairing the fence on the north side of the property when we heard howling, but it weren’t no swamp animal that we know. Then we heard something moving in the brush—something big.”

“Did you see it?”

“It came through the brush about thirty yards from where we were working. Looked straight at us, then ducked back in the bushes and disappeared.”

“What did it look like?”

“It was taller than me by at least a foot or two and had long gray hair. It had a face like a monkey and yellow eyes.”

Okay, it didn’t sound any better the second time.

“You’re sure it wasn’t a bear?”

Ray drew himself up straight. “I know bear, ma’am. I feed my family off of this swamp most of the time.” He pointed to the crew. “All of them know bear, too. We all saw the same thing.”

The men nodded and shuffled around, clearly uneasy.

“I don’t know what to say,” she said finally. “I will look into it with Emmett, but I’m begging you not to leave.”

Ray looked at the men most of whom stared at the ground. “I can’t speak for another man,” he said, “but I will keep working for now. How many will stay?”

All of the men slowly raised their hands.

Josie felt almost dizzy with relief. “Thank you. Move your crew to the west side tomorrow and work there until I figure this out. Where’s Emmett?”

Ray shrugged. “We haven’t seen him since he got us started this morning.”

She struggled to hold in her frustration. “If you see anything out of the ordinary tomorrow, come straight to me.”

Ray nodded and started to walk away, then hesitated.

“Is there something else?” Josie asked.

“You grew up in this swamp, ma’am. You know the legends.”

“The legends are stories made up by parents to keep their children from wandering into the swamp,” she replied, stubbornly refusing to buy into age-old scare tactics.

“Perhaps, but what I saw today wasn’t my imagination and it scared me—a grown man. Stories that last so many years often have truth in them. You can choose not to believe, but please take precautions in the swamp.”

Josie softened a little, realizing the man was simply worried about her safety. “Of course. Thank you.”

Ray gave her a single nod and motioned the crew away.

She blew out a breath and strode toward the barn, wondering where her foreman had wandered off to this time. Lately, she spent more time looking for Emmett than she did working with him on the repairs needed at the plantation. He’d always been distant and short on words, but since her father’s death six months before, he’d moved on to physically absent as well as verbally.

There was no sign of Emmett in the barn, and one look at the sky let her know that daylight was running out. She grabbed a flashlight and a shotgun from a gun rack near the barn door and headed out to the location in the swamp where the crew had been working on fencing.

The area the crew had worked in that day was in the denser part of the swamp surrounding the house. Fences already existed at the perimeter of cleared land, but given the many dangerous creatures living in the swamp surrounding the main estate, the bank was requiring her to maintain a second set of fencing deeper in the swamp in order to open the house as a bed-and-breakfast. The new fencing would also keep hikers from wandering into the more dangerous areas, and provide an extra line of defense for her horses, the only luxury she’d held on to after her father’s death.

She pushed through the thick brush on the seldom-used trail until she reached the work area. Cypress trees rose in a thick wall around her and parted at the edge of the brackish water that comprised one of many ponds contained on her property. A stack of posts and barbed wire stood about twenty feet back from the edge of the water, the remains of the previous fence scattered in front of it.

She’d thought animals and the hurricane season had taken down that stretch of fence that her father had installed years ago, but what if she’d been wrong?

The silence of the swamp seemed to echo in her mind. How in the world could something so quiet cause so much unease? She crossed her arms over her chest, unable to remember a time when she’d ever felt at ease in the dense undergrowth. The myths and legends about the swamps of Mystere Parish were as long as the Mississippi River, and although her father had always dismissed them as the ramblings of superstitious swamp people, Josie couldn’t help wondering if Ray was right—if those long-survived tales had some basis in truth.

She scanned the work area one last time and blew out a breath, unsure what she expected to find. There was nothing to see here but another afternoon of unfinished work. Another half day of lag to add to the week they were already behind.

As she turned to leave, a twig snapped behind her. She whirled around and looked across the pond where the noise had come from. The sun was setting, creating a dim orange glow over the pond. She peered into the foliage on the opposite bank, but didn’t see anything.

You’re spooking yourself.

She let out the breath she’d been holding, chastising herself for getting worked up. It was probably just a deer. Then the bushes on the opposite bank parted and a head emerged. It was completely gray and neither human nor animal. Yellow eyes locked on her and she froze. One second, two seconds, three.

And then as quickly as it appeared, it disappeared in the brush without a sound.

The Tainted Keitre.

For a split second she wondered how something so big could move through the dying brush without so much as a whisper of noise, but then common sense took over and she turned and ran down the trail to the plantation as fast as her legs would carry her.

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