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Authors: Jana DeLeon

Tags: #Suspense

The Reckoning

HIS JOB HAD BROUGHT HIM BACK TO VODOUN

In a tiny bayou town with far too many wicked secrets, the sudden disappearance of a six-year-old girl is a mystery Sheriff Holt Chamberlain is determined to solve. But teaming up with Alexandria Bastin is a complication he didn’t expect. Nor is he prepared to collide with the dark side of Cajun culture—and his own troubled past.

SHE GAVE HIM EVERY REASON TO STAY

The frantic search leads them to a place said to hold magic, an eerie island where Alex is also working her charm on him. At one time, he’d been forced to leave her brokenhearted. And now, dangerously close to the truth, he’ll do anything to protect her from the evil that surrounds them—an evil that might hold the key to sending a little girl home.…

Alex stared at him a moment, then blurted out, “Someone was shooting at us. You got hit by a bullet. Are you even going to mention that?”

Holt frowned. “I wasn’t planning on it. At least not until I have an idea on the matter.”

Alex shook her head. “Well, at least let me dress that wound while you try to formulate a good idea about someone trying to kill us. And make sure you change the dressing twice a day. The last thing you want is an infection.”

“Good advice,” he said and stepped closer to her, knowing what he was about to do was a really bad idea, but unable to come up with one good reason not to.

He pulled her close to him in one sudden motion that made her gasp. Before he could change his mind, he lowered his lips to hers.

Immediately she pushed back and stared at him, her eyes wide. “I think I’ll wait in the truck.”

“It’s not safe out there,” he said.

“It’s safer than being in here.”

Jana DeLeon

The Reckoning

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 at 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*

*Mystere Parish

 

 

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CAST OF CHARACTERS

Alexandria Bastin—
The sexy psychiatrist was the only person who believed her cousin when she insisted her six-year-old daughter had been kidnapped and not taken by her estranged husband. But finding the missing child means that Alex comes face-to-face with her own ghosts in the form of temporary sheriff Holt Chamberlain.

Holt Chamberlain—
He’d hoped leaving Vodoun would eliminate his desire for Alex, but ten years of military service hadn’t lessened it one bit. Now a child is missing and his only chance of finding her is working side by side with Alex, the woman he ran away from all those years ago.

Sarah Rhonaldo—
Her opinions of her estranged husband were at an all-time low, but Sarah didn’t think for one minute that Bobby had kidnapped his daughter. She is convinced a stranger has taken Erika and is afraid it had something to do with her own childhood secrets.

Bobby Rhonaldo—
Sarah’s cheating husband has his share of faults, but he’s always been a good father. Would he really take Erika away from the mother she loves more than anything?

Erika Rhonaldo—
Has the six-year-old’s father taken her to South America or was she lured into the swamp by the witch that lives on the island?

Sheriff Jasper Conroy—
Holt’s cousin has always despised Sarah for reasons Holt has never been able to uncover, but would his cousin’s hatred for the woman really descend to refusing to help her find her missing child?

Lorraine Conroy—
Sheriff Conroy’s mother knows the real reason behind her son’s hatred for Sarah, but that is one of many secrets she’s determined to take to the grave.

Martin Rommel—
Lorraine’s much younger friend is the cause of raised eyebrows everywhere in Vodoun, but is he using the older woman for her money or does he have other reasons for sticking close to the Conroy family?

Mathilde Tregre—
Fifteen years ago she was accused of kidnapping little girls and sacrificing them on her island in order to gain mystical power, but the police never found any evidence to convict her.

To my friend Leslie Langtry. Together, we will remain sane with our focus on that private island, cabana boys and the invention of calorie-free beer.

Contents

Prologue

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

Prologue

New Orleans Press, October 31, 1976

Three children are missing in Mystere Parish from the tiny bayou town of Vodoun. All three attended first grade at Vodoun Elementary and had been playing in the backyard of one girl’s home before the mother realized they were gone. A search party of the neighboring swamp has yielded only a hair ribbon and a torn piece from one girl’s dress.

According to the sheriff’s department, the investigation is ongoing, and they are looking into several possibilities. Locals have formed their own search parties to continue sweeping the swamp, and some of them have a different take. Some believe that a voodoo priestess who lives on an island in the swamp kidnapped the girls for sacrifice. The island, which is surrounded by thousands of toy dolls in various states of decay, is the sort of things nightmares are made of.

The sheriff’s department states that deputies have searched the island and are satisfied that the girls were never there, but this is hardly the first unusual story to emerge from the swamps of Mystere Parish. If anyone has information as to the whereabouts of the missing girls, please contact the Sheriff’s department in Vodoun, Louisiana.
—Staff Reporter

Chapter One

Psychiatrist Alexandria Bastin clutched the cell phone at her cousin’s words. “Repeat that.” She couldn’t possibly have heard her correctly.

“The witch took her! She took my baby!” Sarah’s wailing pierced Alex’s ear, even through the phone.

“Calm down, Sarah,” Alex said and waved off a nurse who had paused during her rotation to see if Alex needed help. “Take a deep breath and tell me everything.” She hurried down the hall and into her office to escape the normal noises of the busy hospital. “How long has Erika been missing?”

“Since this afternoon. She went down the street to play with her friend.” The hysterical tone in Sarah’s voice continued to rise with each sentence. “She was supposed to be home at three, but she never came. I waited and waited and she never came.”

“What did the friend’s mother say?”

“That Erika left in time to get home. She’s gone, Alex, and no one will believe me. My baby! What happened to my baby?” Sarah began sobbing. “I called and called but you never answered.”

Alex grabbed her purse from her desk drawer and locked her office. “I’m on my way. Sarah, can you hear me?”

The sound of frantic sobbing was all Alex heard as she rushed into the elevator. As soon as the elevator door closed, the call dropped. Alex looked at her display and cursed when she saw the list of missed calls from her cousin. She’d been tied up all afternoon giving a videotaped statement for a commitment hearing and had turned off her phone, but now she wished she hadn’t.

Mentally, she willed the elevator to move faster and as soon as the door opened to the parking garage, she ran to her car, pressing in Sarah’s number as she ran. The busy signal had her cursing again.

She jumped into her car and tore out of the parking lot toward the highway. Even with a fast car and a lead foot, it would take her at least an hour to get to Sarah’s house. She pressed redial, and the busy signal sounded once again. Glancing in her rearview mirror, she merged onto the highway and immediately moved to the fast lane.

Out of options, she dialed 9-1-1.

“This is Dr. Alexandria Bastin. I’m a resident psychiatrist at Memorial Hospital in New Orleans. I have reason to believe that a patient is suffering from a serious mental episode and I cannot get her to answer the phone. I’m on my way, but I need someone to check on Sarah Rhonaldo at 152 Cypress Lane in Vodoun.”

She pressed her foot down harder on the accelerator and prayed that Sarah hadn’t done something foolish. Her cousin had separated from Erika’s father three months before, and it hadn’t been pleasant—especially not for Sarah’s husband, her best friend, or the bed she’d caught them having sex in, as it had met a tragic end, hatchet style.

Alex had managed, with the help of a great attorney, to get the charges reduced to destruction of private property, but Sarah’s Paul Bunyan routine hadn’t scored her any points with the local sheriff. Given that their families had been warring since the dawn of time, the bed-hatchet escapade cemented Sheriff Conroy’s belief that Sarah was worthless trash.

She could only hope Sarah hadn’t done anything to jeopardize her health…or her parole. Alex didn’t even want to think about what might have happened to Erika until she got face-to-face with Sarah and heard the entire story.

* * *

A
TRUCK DISPLAYING THE
sheriff’s logo on the side was in front of Sarah’s house when Alex pulled up just before seven p.m.
This can’t be good.
She pulled in behind the truck and parked. She’d been hoping for an ambulance, but there was no sign of a paramedic anywhere. Which meant whatever had happened to Sarah, her health was fine, but given that the sheriff was still there, her freedom might be in question.

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