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Authors: Jana DeLeon

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The Vanishing

BOOK: The Vanishing
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THIS INVESTIGATION WILL TAKE THEM DEEP INTO THE BAYOU—AND MIGHT NOT ALLOW THEM TO LEAVE…

Certain death awaits any outsider who enters Cache, a mythical city said to disappear when intruders threaten. But P.I. Max Duhon won’t let the Cajun superstition stop him from going there. He’ll do anything to help sexy Colette Guidry and close this missing person’s case, even admit how attracted he is to his client. But as their investigation deepens, Max finds himself protecting Colette from the inexplicable terrors of the bayou. This includes the specter taunting them with voodoo…and a shotgun. It seems they may have come too close to Cache and its eerie secrets—and dangerously close to each other.

“Once he found out what I knew or decided I didn’t know anything at all, he still would have tried to kill me. And he’ll try again, because he didn’t get the answer he was looking for.”

Max clenched his hands, not willing to think about another attempt on Colette’s life. “He’ll have to come through me to do it. We didn’t know how far he’d carry things before. We know now and we’ll be more prepared.”

“But how? We’re sitting ducks. He can just sit in the swamp and wait for us to leave.”

“I’m working on that. Just try not to worry about it. When I’ve worked everything out in my head, I’ll let you know.”

She nodded, but didn’t look convinced.

Lightning flashed, and he peered into the darkness, trying to ferret out any sign of movement. Any sign that the shooter had returned. He couldn’t see anything.

But he knew something was out there.

Jana DeLeon

The Vanishing

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*

*Mystere Parish

CAST OF CHARACTERS

Colette Guidry—
The head nurse at a New Orleans hospital knew her assistant, Anna, was in trouble when she didn’t show up for work. But given the girl’s checkered past, the police believed Anna had simply run off with yet another unsuitable man and would eventually find her way back home. The last thing Colette needed was a private investigator who didn’t believe her, either, especially one as attractive as Max.

Max Duhon—
Max looked forward to leaving police work behind in favor of more in-depth investigating without all the red tape, but the detective had as much trouble believing Colette’s story as the New Orleans police. Even more troubling was how attractive he found the sexy nurse.

Anna Huval—
The troubled young woman ran off from her hometown deep in the Louisiana swamp at age fifteen. Since then, she’d established a long rap sheet with the New Orleans police. The cops didn’t believe for a moment Anna had turned her life around, despite Colette’s assurances that was the case.

Marshall Lambert—
The wealthy collector bought a gold coin that Anna had pawned to start her life in New Orleans. He wanted more information about the seller, but the pawn-shop owner didn’t provide it. Did he spend some of his considerable fortune to track down the coin’s origin?

Danny Pitre—
The gas station attendant lent out his boat and gave Colette and Max directions to the missing village, but warned them that the villagers wouldn’t appreciate a visit from strangers.

To my recently married friend, Leigh Zaykoski.
May you and Phil have your own happily ever after….

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

Chapter Nineteen

Epilogue

Excerpt

Prologue

November 1833

The young Creole man pushed open the door on the shack and sat on a chair next to the bed. The fifty-seven-year-old Frenchman lying there wasn’t much longer for this world. The only thing keeping him alive was the news the Creole would bring.

“Have you found my son?” the Frenchman asked, then began coughing.

The young Creole winced as the dying man doubled over, his body wracked with pain. “Wi.”

The dying man straightened up, struggling to catch his breath. “Where is he?”

The Creole looked down at the dirt floor. He’d hoped the man would be dead before he returned to the village. Hoped he’d never have to speak the words he was about to say. Finally, he looked back up at the man and said, “He’s dead.”

“Nonsense! They’ve said I’m dead now for over a decade. Bring me my son!”

“Somethin’ bad went through New Orleans last year that the doctors couldn’t fix. A lot of people died.”

The anguish on the dying man’s face was almost more than the Creole could bear to see. “You couldna done nuttin’,” he said, trying to make the dying man’s last moments easier.

“I shouldn’t have left him there, but there was nothing here for him—hiding in the swamp for the rest of his life.”

“You did what you shoulda. You couldna known.”

The dying man struggled to sit upright. “I need for you to do something else. Something even more important.”

The Creole frowned. “What?”

“Under this bed is a chest. Pull it out, but be careful. It’s heavy.”

The Creole knelt down next to the bed and peered underneath. He spotted the chest in a corner and pulled the handle on the side, but it barely budged. Doubling his efforts, he pulled as hard as he could and, inch by inch, worked the chest out from under the bed.

“Open it,” the dying man said.

The Creole lifted the lid on the chest, and the last rays from the evening sun caught on the glittering pile of gold inside. He gasped and stared at the gold, marveling at its beauty. All this time, the Frenchman had been sleeping over a fortune. The Creole stared up at the man, confused.

“It’s cursed,” the dying man said. “I stole it, and now it’s taken my son and my life from me.” The dying man leaned down, looking the Creole directly in the eyes. “Promise me you’ll never let the gold leave that chest. It will bring sorrow to anyone who spends it. You must keep it hidden forever. I’m entrusting you and your family with this task. Do you understand?”

The Creole felt a chill run through him at the word
curse.
He didn’t want to be entrusted with guarding cursed objects, nor did he want that burden transferred down his family line.

“Promise me!” the dying man demanded.

But the Creole knew he was the only one in the village who could be trusted to keep the gold hidden. The only one who could be trusted to train those who came after him to respect the old ways. To respect vows made.

“I promise.”

Chapter One

The fall sun was already beginning to set above the cypress trees on Tuesday evening, when Colette Guidry parked her car in front of the quaint home in Vodoun, Louisiana. An attractive wooden sign that read Second Chance Detective Agency was already placed in front of a beautifully landscaped flower bed, but the sounds of hammering and stacks of lumber on the front lawn let her know that the office conversion wasn’t exactly complete.

She reached for the door handle and paused. Maybe this was a bad idea. She’d worked with Alexandria Bastin-Chamberlain, one of the partners at the detective agency, at the hospital in New Orleans before Alex resigned to open the agency with her husband. She shouldn’t feel self-conscious about asking for her help.

But what if Alex thinks you’re crazy, too?

And that was at the crux of it. The rest of the hospital staff and the New Orleans Police Department had already informed her that her concern over her missing employee was misplaced. Anna Huval had a history of skipping town with undesirable men and usually surfaced when the disastrous relationship had run its short course. Colette had intimate understanding of choosing the wrong man, although her choices hadn’t been near as wild or frequent as Anna’s. But her two disappointing whirls with noncommittal men had given her enough sorrow to be sympathetic to Anna’s heartbreak, even if it was self-induced.

But all that was in the past. With Colette’s guidance, Anna had turned her life around, and for the past six months, she had been on a path that guaranteed her a healthy, successful future. The only problem was no one believed it would last, and Anna’s disappearance was a signal to many that she’d relapsed into the behavior that was so familiar to her.

Colette understood exactly why people felt that way. Logically, it was the best explanation, and if Colette hadn’t gotten to know Anna so well, she would have bought completely into it, also. But despite the lack of evidence of something dire, and a seemingly logical explanation for what had happened given Anna’s past, Colette knew something terrible had happened to the young nurse’s aide.

She pushed the car door open and stepped out. The detective agency specialized in situations the police wouldn’t handle—giving concerned friends and family a second chance for answers. Anna’s disappearance fit that description. If Alex and her husband, Holt, didn’t think her case had merit, then they’d tell her, and that would be that.

The door to the agency was partially open, so she pushed it a bit farther and stuck her head inside. Alex stood talking to a contractor in the middle of what was probably going to be a reception area once it had paint, flooring and furniture. As the sunlight crept in through the open door, her former coworker looked over and waved when she saw Colette.

“Did you come to take my temperature?” Alex asked as Colette stepped inside.

“Why? Are you sick?”

“I must be to think I could handle the construction management myself.”

Colette laughed. “Well, I’m hardly going to accuse a psychiatrist of being crazy, so sick it is. Perhaps a mind-altering flu.”

“Sounds lovely,” Alex said and pointed to the only portion of the house away from the loud saws and other construction equipment. “My office is this way. It’s the only place with decent flooring and chairs.” She leaned over and whispered, “Plus, I have the gourmet single-serve coffeemaker hidden in my filing cabinet.”

BOOK: The Vanishing
12Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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