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All he wants is to find a killer...
FBI Special Agent Josh Blake has seen some bizarre cases in his day. His latest case is one for the record books. He has multiple homicides, corpses drained of every ounce of blood, and no suspects. When rumors surface that the French Quarter may be hiding an insidious monster bent on drenching the streets in dead bodies, he must suspend logic and place his trust in the mystical.
She wants a fresh start...
Isabelle Toussánt left her family home in the bayou five year ago, cutting all ties with her abusive whiskey swilling stepfather, to forge a new life in the French Quarter. Now a successful business owner of Madam Toussánt’s Mystical Gifts in Jackson Square, and a Seer with voodoo roots. The foundation of her new life shatters when one of her employee’s winds up dead and she is dragged into a deadly game where she becomes the target of a serial killer.
A passion neither expected...
Determined to stop the brutal slayings, Josh must rely on the beautiful Isabelle who makes him question everything he has ever known about life and death all while surrendering to a desire hotter than a Bayou night. When Isabelle disappears without a trace, with tourists flocking to the party capital for Halloween, and the body count continues to mount, Josh will be forced to push beyond the boundaries of what he thinks is possible and rescue the woman he loves before it's too late.
“I will survive,” she sang to an empty street, her voice echoing off the black pavement.
Kiri hummed the rest of the famous tune, because let’s face it, who really knew the rest of the words to that song anyway? She giggled to herself as she weaved while scrunching her nose at the distinct odor of urine. Through her hurricane-induced buzz, the lamp lights on the deserted street muted the always-present grime, making the row of buildings lining the street appear dreamy with their wrought-iron balconies draped with flowers or multicolored flags. At this time of night, all the stores were locked up tight with black mesh gates partitioned across the front doors and windows. It muted the usually vibrant tenor and made it appear desolate.
Living in the French Quarter was the absolute best decision she’d ever made. Dating Matt had been the worst. She could see him clearly now for the slimeball he was, and he hadn’t even been that good between the sheets. She snickered.
Was there anything better than being within stumbling distance of Bourbon Street? Which in Kiri’s mind should be a place everyone visited once in their lifetime. She loved the funky retro French décor. She lived close to school and walked to work at the metaphysical store Madam Toussánt’s Mystical Gifts in Jackson Square.
Life was perfect, except for the idiot man who’d dumped her. In a few months, she’d graduate from law school and become respectable. Until then, it was Bourbon Street or bust. She hiccupped and grinned at her own intelligence.
Kiri tripped over a divot in the brick-paved street. A drunken giggle escaped. She’d had one too many hurricanes tonight and would have a humdinger of a hangover in the morning. Could she help it if she’d needed a pick-me-up after her breakup? Or the fact that she’d made a move on one of the bartenders at Jean Lafitte’s and had been turned down in epic fashion?
She swiped at a tear. At least her friends had not been there to witness the classic crash and burn.
Cajun music trailed after her on the deserted street as she traveled home. It was a weeknight, and the rest of the Quarter had already tucked itself in for the night. The farther she
got away from the hedonistic pleasure of Bourbon Street, the quieter it became. Even the crickets weren’t out tonight. The air stilled around her as she not-so-gracefully weaved back and forth. Her heels made a click-clack, tap, tap, tap, but nothing else dispelled the silence that had fallen.
A low growl emitted from an alley she passed, and she nearly jumped out of her skin. She kept her pace as fast as possible in her skyscraper shoes. If she weren’t so inebriated, she might get a little worried as the snarl grew in tenor and strength, even after she had passed. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw that the darkened street was vacant.
Even though Kiri knew she was just being paranoid, the fact that the growling didn’t stop made everything inside her clench. No more watching horror movies for this girl. No matter how much she adored the genre. Not when her mind could turn a dog’s growl into an insidious werewolf bent on ripping her to shreds. The unmistakable clomp of footsteps behind her made her overactive imagination speed into overdrive, and Kiri hazarded a glance over her shoulder.
It was death and darkness. It was evil at its most pure. When the monster smiled at her, Kiri’s heart dropped into her stomach, and a scream of protest lodged itself in her throat.
Malevolence more potent than anything she’d encountered greeted her. The flash of silver glinting in the light from the street lamp as it approached finally spurred her adrenaline into gear. Kiri kicked off her heels and ran barefoot through the urine-soaked street. Pumping her legs, she sprinted as fast as her inebriated body would allow her. Her feet pounded against the pavement, and she winced when one foot landed on a sliver of something sharp and began to bleed with every footstep. Her heart thumped wildly in her chest.
She zigzagged her pattern as it gave chase. Kiri headed toward Jackson Square. Surely even this time of night there would be someone she could call out to for help. Tears spilled down her cheeks. She felt the sinister form near, could almost feel the hot breath of her pursuer wisp against her neck. And then, as suddenly as it had appeared, the feeling of being pursued by pure evil vanished.
Kiri stopped, breathing in heavy, aching gulps, and glanced around. At the corner of Chartres and Madison, there was nothing but the sound of her own inhalations. And then she giggled. It had to be the rum. It had made her see things, that was all. She was alone at the deserted intersection. In the three years she’d lived in the Quarter, Kiri had never been stalked or felt unsafe.
Shaking her head at her own silliness, she decided that what she needed was sleep to calm her overactive imagination. Kiri turned down Madison, heading toward her apartment near the French Quarter Market.
Metal clicked and scraped against wood. From the shadows emerged a figure so horrifying her scream died on a panicked whimper. Her feet froze in terror as her befuddled brain attempted to rationalize what was happening and what it was she saw. It rounded a darkened corner, the sinister glint of silver raised. In a rather graceful arc, the silver blade slashed against her throat. Agony stole her breath as her hands instinctually went to the gash, trying to keep her blood from spilling onto the pavement.
Kiri collapsed as the monster attacked, lapping at the blood pouring from her neck with its tongue. Her last thought as the world receded on a gurgled cough was that she should have stayed home tonight.
The monster slithered through the darkened streets in its host. He had taught the foolish human stealth and when to strike. He was older than time immortal and relished the kill. The power of feeling the life force flow out of a human was a heady experience he never tired of.
He and [JL1] his brethren had been around since the dawning of man. He was old. Back before man dominated this land, he had run free of the cage he found himself within now, moving from human to human. He never slept. He didn’t need to. A symbiotic life form, he couldn’t exist properly without man’s presence. He and others like him had nurtured mankind from its grass huts to the infestation swarming the globe. It was the only way he and his brethren could continually survive. He had traveled and witnessed thousands of generations of mankind. Where he went, chaos ensued.
His host jerked forward in pursuit of his prey as they chased it down an alley, her
cries and whimpers music to his ears. He was a god among mortals. And he was smiting the righteous, going after that whore of Babylon for his host.
He smiled as he attacked, sliding the blade through her throat and watching the blood gurgle in her mouth. Horror descended upon her visage as she gripped at her throat. It turned his host on. She collapsed onto the pavement, and he followed her down.
Watching terror fill the girl’s eyes as she breathed her last breath gave him strength and filled him with glee. He needed to feed. He pierced her skin below the gash and sucked her life force from her body. He exalted as he drained her dry. He sniggered as he left the corpse on her doorstep for that faithless bitch to find. It was like leaving her a valentine.
Isabelle startled awake.
Her comforter tangled around her legs like she’d gone into battle as she’d slept. She was cocooned amidst an army of pillows. The last vestiges of the nightmare lingered, making her reach for her tiger’s eye on her nightstand for protection as the memory swam up.
It hunted. It crept along darkened alleys with an all-encompassing hunger. A hunger for life. A hunger for death. A hunger to gorge on humanity and watch it wriggle like a worm on a hook. It never felt pity for its victims and instead reveled in the simplistic thrill of feeling the life extinguished by its hands [JL3] .
How many nights in a row had she had the dream now? She stared at the ceiling and counted. Three weeks, maybe more. Why now? What was causing them? She should do a gazing,
take a peek inside the dreams and see why they were happening. Maybe it was because the anniversary of her escape was nearly upon her, in eleven days. Halloween. It held a significance for her that it didn’t for most.
She loved Halloween.
It wasn’t about Isabelle dressing up as someone else. It was the day she had claimed her freedom to become who she was always meant to be. Had escaped the savagery of her upbringing and instigated her own rebirth.
This time of year was always tricky because of the memories it dredged up. For all her foresight, she had a hard time understanding her own [JL4] future and life path. Blinking, she rolled, not completely ready to face the day, but she knew that sleep would prove elusive at this point. She checked the time on her cell phone and grimaced. Yet again she was awake before dawn, awake before the rest of the city even considered getting out of bed. The majority of people in New Orleans, one of the biggest party towns in the country, didn’t scuttle from beneath the covers until the sun was up.
For three weeks in a row now, she had awoken before her alarm had a chance to blare. Maybe it was because she’d been plagued by the nightmares. Even now, the dream of a nameless, faceless entity gave her the willies. She hadn’t had night terrors like this since she was a child.
But those had been of a far different nature and tone [JL5] . Those had occurred when her gift of foresight, the ability to see things before they happened or as they happened, had all kicked into gear in her psyche. She’d been eight. Her stepdaddy had beat the tar out of her for it. He claimed she held the devil inside her to know such things. Absolute nonsense was what that had been. If there had been any evil in that house, it had been her stepdaddy, Jimmy Carver, the sometime
mechanic and full-time alcoholic.
Her dreams of late had featured an evil [JL6] so potent as to take shadowy form, stalking her through the streets of the Quarter. She couldn’t shake the gut instinct that it went far deeper than simple nightmares. As someone who divined fortunes for a living, she was privy to the intricacies of the spirit world. The good, the bad and the indifferent.
Isabelle knew that everything in life revolved around choices and fate. That the soul moved from one existence to the next. The universe, for all its apparent chaos, had a symmetry to it. In life, there were patterns that would repeat themselves until the lesson was learned.
But what was her lesson with these dreams? Were they a warning that she wasn’t heeding? Or was it just the forthcoming anniversary making her anxiety skyrocket and skew her dreams?
She didn’t know. She couldn’t get a read on the nightmares.
They made her feel hunted. Resuscitated all the feelings she’d buried when she walked away from her family five years ago. She just couldn’t get past her intuition that all but screamed, Warning, danger ahead. But damn if she knew what the danger was, and it frustrated the hell out of her. She could see things for other people with ease—their lives, their jobs, their loves—but when it came to her own life, sometimes she was a little thick in the head. It was often like she looked at it through glass smeared with Vaseline that distorted the image and her understanding of it.
Shoving the heavy ivory comforter off, Isabelle slid from her gunmetal wrought-iron bed and padded across the chilled wooden floors. Taking a deep breath, she unlatched and opened the French double doors, stepping onto her balcony overlooking Jackson Square. Belting her robe tighter, covering her cami and sleep shorts, she watched the first fingers of light creep along the eastern horizon and attempt to catch the night sky as it receded. The scent of doughy, sugary confections from Café Du Monde wafted on the muggy breeze rolling off the Mississippi.
She’d have to make the trip across the square before she opened the shop, pick up an order of beignets and café au lait for breakfast. It made her mouth water just thinking about the sweet delicacy. Isabelle loved this city. For Isabelle, it wasn’t just the storied history of the Quarter, although the fact that it had a bar originally owned by the pirate Jean Lafitte was certainly unique. Not to mention, his spirit was still there, every night, watching over the patrons in his place. Nor was it New Orleans’ succulent dining fare that was some of the best food in the world, or the vibrant nightlife, or culture.
No, this was where she claimed her independence. Away from the beatings and daily degradation. This was the city where she’d become Isabelle Toussánt, changing her name so that her stepfather would never find her. No one knew who she really was, because the person she had been perished that night five years ago. It was purely self-preservation on her part.
Since she’d escaped her old life in the bayou, she never for a second regretted leaving. But there were days, like today, when her memories and fears reminded her that she was kidding herself if she thought she was over it. That living through the degradation and oppression had not changed her indelibly. That the horror she experienced didn’t slither through the cracks of her psyche and control parts of her life when she wasn’t careful. Those feelings tended to blindside her when she wasn’t mindful and on the lookout for them. With the anniversary of her escape
nigh , it dredged up every wretched memory, including the feelings she’d not dealt with yet, notching up her anxiety even further.
How did a person heal after being abused for so long? Fifteen years, from the time she was eight until she was twenty-three. The last time, her stepdaddy had put her in the hospital because she had fought her stepbrother and won. For Isabelle, her coping method had ultimately been to carve out a new life. Free of the shackles of the past. Except the past never fully went away. Not really. She pretended every day in her shop, Madam Toussánt’s Mystical Gifts, that she was the most prominent seer in the local parish. In reality, her spiritual gift had been a curse for the better part of her life. Her atonement was gained through helping others heal and discover the best life paths for themselves. In the scheme of things, it wasn’t a bad life .
Her stepfather, the
whisky -swilling mechanic, had thought it was his holy mission to cleanse her of the devil’s influence. Her seer abilities had been proof in his eyes that she needed to be cleansed with a firm hand. Good old Jimmy Carver had never liked her, and that was just fine in Isabelle’s book. Since her mama had died of an overdose when she was eight, she’d plotted and planned until she’d finally had the opportunity to leave.
A chill walked across her soul. It had taken more than one attempt to escape Jimmy. That first time after Mama’s death when she tried to run away, he’d put Isabelle in the hospital with a concussion. By the time she was twenty-three, she’d had a plan in place to implement her escape. It was almost worse, the premeditation of it, knowing that she was going to leave one way or the other. Even if it meant he killed her, it was better than sticking around and taking another backhand or salacious word uttered with the most indifferent [JL7] menace.
As light crested the horizon, Isabelle welcomed the sun, letting it cleanse her of her morbid thoughts and memories. What was done was done. There was no changing her past. Nor did any good come from looking to times gone by. There was only a gulf of pain and shattered illusions lying in wait. The only thing she could control was her life now and how she approached the world. The rest was all up for grabs. Isabelle chose the path of light, to see the good in the world and enjoy the simple things, making each day count for more than the horrors she’d survived.
“Mee-ooow.” Hecate rubbed up against her leg. Leaning down, Isabelle gave her black fur a gentle scrub.
“Hungry?” She looked into the yellow eyes as the cat continued rubbing her face against Isabelle in adoration. “Come on, let’s get us both some breakfast, shall we?”
She ushered Hecate back inside, shutting the dark wooden doors and heading over to her food bowl. The meows turned to excessive purring as she laid the food bowl, filled with kibble, down in front of her.
She wondered what her spiritual survivors group would think of her dreams and thoughts today. Isabelle hosted a group of women, all survivors of abuse, once a month at her shop. It made her feel good having them here. They’d all left or escaped their abusers and were working at reintegrating into society. She’d never participated in the discussions, only been in attendance as hostess. Lately, though, with her dreams and visions of her past coming to life each night, Isabelle knew she needed to talk to someone. She just hated sounding like a victim.
That’s why she’d taken up boxing at the nearby gym. The next time someone tried to hit her, she’d hit back.
Isabelle rolled her shoulders, working out the kinks as another blast of the enticing yummy goodness of beignets drifted upon the breeze. That was what she needed. A sugar-induced coma courtesy of beignets, along with a kick in the pants from some chicory coffee.
Her mind made up, she opted for the sugar rush instead of her usual yoga bliss to start her morning off. Her shop opened at ten, which gave her plenty of time to indulge. Now that Hecate was fed, she’d fend for herself the rest of the day. She loved going down to the shop as much as Isabelle did and had become a mainstay. Isabelle wasted little time getting ready, donning a formfitting ankle-length cotton skirt, with hombre coloring going from deep ocean blue at her waist to turquoise, and an ivory tank top. The days were still getting hotter than the fires of hell in the Quarter, with air so thick you could cut it with a knife. The only way to survive the heat was by wearing breathable fabrics. At least it was cooling off at night
now and feeling more like fall.
Isabelle had a slate of readings today, plus the store was expecting a new shipment of tarot decks and incense, so she chose her tiger iron choker for strength and protection. The tiger eye was named thusly due to the strains of hematite threaded through the gem, which gave off a dusky silver sheen. New Orleans was a center of mystical convergence, contained in a bowl with the Mississippi on one side and Lake Pontchartrain on the other. It left the souls of the departed who didn’t cross over nowhere to go. And today, she knew she needed just a little extra protection since she was feeling so raw over the nightmares and her impending anniversary.
When she was ready to depart, she grabbed her purse and, Hecate on her heels, headed down the back stairs that led into the storeroom and to the back door that led out onto Madison. Hecate had already scuttled into the store, probably to lie in her favorite spot near the window so she could catch those sunrays and vitamin D. Her hand touched the knob. An image of death scorched her brain, and she jerked back. That’s when the metallic, sweet odor hit her nostrils. She knew the tangy flavor of death scenting the air. She had smelled it too many times as a child. How many pets had she brought home, thinking it would be different this time, only to find their corpse the next day? Shaking off the horrid memories, unsure of what she’d find, she disabled the alarm and undid the multitude of deadbolts.
Isabelle gripped the knob, steeling herself against what she was certain was a dead animal, and turned it. She cracked the door open and stared down at the sidewalk.
The scream ripped its way out of her chest, loud and visceral in a fluttering cacophony, before her brain fully processed what she saw. Death in its most virulent form glared back at her. Isabelle’s heart plummeted into her stomach, and she feared she would be sick as the tremors began. She stumbled the few feet to the alarm and pressed the panic button. Wrapping her arms around herself, she knelt by the alarm. She knew help would arrive, that she could trust it to appear. She wasn’t alone anymore, locked in a cellar for disobedience. The piercing alarm blared and drowned out her horrified screams.
She was dead.
Isabelle waited, huddled against the wall, her eyes averted, unable to face what had been done, until sirens stopped at her store. Sobs wrenched themselves from her chest. What new nightmare had besieged her life? All she wanted was a simple existence, and instead, death followed her.
Isabelle’s voice became hoarse as she hollered. And she couldn’t seem to stop. It was too brutal, too stark a reminder of everything she’d experienced in her life. She was still screaming when the first officer made it to the back door.
He watched, unnoticed, as police swarmed the scene. He couldn’t help but grin at the gawkers, the hushed frightened whispers. Little did they know he wasn’t finished with his mission. His god had imbued him with powers to pay his retribution to that faithless bitch.