By Angie Sandro
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Format:ebook (Digital original) $1.99 $2.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around February 9, 2016. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
Ferdinand Lafitte can’t tell Bess the truth about his feelings for her, not while a powerful spell binds him. But he can guide her through the lush bayou in search of Mala LaCroix, whose fate means as much to him as it does to Bess. Yet as their search reveals the darkest kinds of sorcery, they find themselves drawn together more passionately than ever before.
In all my years at the Bertrand Parish Sheriff’s Office, I’ve drawn my service weapon only five times. I never imagined I’d come so close to pulling the trigger on Ferdinand Lafitte, the only man I’ve been attracted to since my husband passed and left me to raise our daughter alone. My heart still races from the surge of adrenaline, and I can’t stop replaying three words, over and over, in my mind: Mala’s been kidnapped.
How in the world did this happen? Hostage crises are only supposed to go down in big cities. Not dinky Paradise Pointe. Well, there’s no way to conceal what just happened. Too many patients and hospital staff had to be evacuated.
A raucous shriek comes from behind me, and I turn to see Dr. Alonso Estrada making a complete spectacle of himself as he’s escorted in handcuffs from the hospital. Four deputies hold on to the struggling man. The whole time, he’s screaming, “You can’t do this to me, Lieutenant Caine! I’m an esteemed doctor. A scientist!”
“You brought this on yourself,” I tell him, having no patience for his foolishness. I gesture for my deputies to proceed with the arrest.
Two deputies grab his legs and carry him out the door. Because he’s proving to be a danger to himself, they’ll likely secure him in a full-body WRAP for his own safety once they reach the patrol car.
Estrada’s a barking-mad scientist, a Frankenstein wannabe. If I didn’t have to interview this tool about his coconspirator, I’d send him upstairs on a psychiatric hold for evaluation. Unfortunately, he has info about the kidnapper. And so does…My eyes try to shift to the corner where Ferdinand’s being detained, but I force them to remain still. No. What I need is to get my deputies out in the street. Fast. I’ll deal with Ferdinand later.
I clap my hands. Deputies swarm from all corners of the room, like soldier ants awaiting their marching orders. They form a black and tan ring around me. “The perp we’re looking for is a mercenary, Victor, unknown last name,” I say. “Consider him armed and dangerous. Approach with extreme caution. He’s reportedly the one responsible for the attack at Dena Acker’s residence yesterday and put Deputies Winters and Kyle in the hospital. Our last report says he stole an ambulance and may have a hostage: Mala LaCroix.”
“Any description on the suspect, LT?” Sergeant Ross yells from the back.
“White male, six two, brown and brown. The victim is working with the sketch artist, so a pic will be transmitted shortly. See Sheriff Keyes for your assigned duties. We’ll need teams maintaining the perimeter and in the field patrolling the area. Time is of the essence. Any questions?” Heads shake. “Good. Let’s find this son of a bitch and drag him from whatever hole he’s hiding in!”
The group gives solemn nods and disperses in twos and threes toward the staging area to get their assignments from Sheriff Keyes. They’ve never been so quiet. Or looked so determined to do what needs to be done. They make me proud.
With an exhale, I roll my shoulders to release the tension tightening my muscles. Perspiration dots my forehead, and I dab it off with a tissue. I’m boiling. Keep it together. When Dena shared her vision of Mala getting kidnapped, I didn’t want to believe it. Hell, I’ve teetered on the edge of disbelief for months, ever since I found out the girl I practically raised as a second daughter inherited the gift of speaking to the spirits when her mother died. To find out her cousin Dena possesses a powerful ability in her own right, well, it pushes the bounds of credulity. Yet there it is.
Two tactical teams still sweep the hospital floor by floor for the suspect at large in case Dena’s vision was nothing but a fairy-fart. Past time for an update. I speak into my handheld radio mike. “Team one, report.”
“Negative contact, LT. Floors one through three are clear.”
“Team two, over.”
“No sign of the missing person, LT. But we’ve located Landry Prince. Medical is transporting him to the emergency room for minor injuries. Continuing the sweep.”
My jaw clenches with each word. “Copy.”
Duty done, I can’t avoid the inevitable any longer. My feet drag like they’re encased in concrete when I turn toward the manipulative bastard standing across the room. I’d done my best to ignore Ferdinand’s presence, but the heat of his gaze burned through my Kevlar vest and burrowed between my shoulder blades the whole time—an unsettling reminder of how strongly Ferdinand affects me, even after so many months apart.
Each step comes from sheer willpower. I’ve never run from danger, but the intensity of his black stare triggers my instinct to flee. I want nothing to do with that lying asshole, but I will be civil. For Mala’s sake. I focus on controlling my inner turmoil. He won’t break me. The man has already peered too deeply inside my soul for my liking. I’ve shown him a softer, kinder Bessie. Hell, for a short time, I wanted him to know all of me—intimately. I dropped my hard-built walls for him, and he betrayed me in the vilest possible way.
Now he stands there in handcuffs, oozing smug charm like his shit don’t stink. It’s all I can do not to run over there and cuss his ass out for putting me in this situation.
Deputy George Dubois finishes patting Ferdinand down as I reach them. “He’s clear, LT,” he says. “Want me to transport him to the station?”
I nod. “Did you Mirandize him?”
“Yes, ma’am.” The of course is implied but not vocalized.
A smile flickers on my lips. George had been relegated to desk duty for half a year, recuperating from an injury he received in the earthquake that destroyed his aunt’s house. This is his first field assignment. The only other people here who would be more worried about Mala than me are George and Landry. I need answers. For them. For myself. And for Mala. “And…?” I draw the word out. “Well? What did he say?”
George’s jaw clenches. “Do you think I’d keep it to myself if he talked? Bastard’s been tight-lipped. God knows what’s happening—”
“Control yourself, Deputy Dubois. Or you’ll be back on desk duty so fast your head spins.”
George visibly gathers the threads of his tattered emotions. “Understood. Sorry, ma’am.” His voice drips with sarcasm. “Should I continue questioning him, or would you like to take over since he’s standing right in front of you?”
Damn him. Calling me out in front of Ferdinand. I know I’m being ridiculous, talking to him through a third party when he’s within touching distance. How did a broken heart turn me into a weakling? This softening, these emotions, they’re the reasons I avoided long-term relationships after my husband died. I never wanted to experience the intensity of loss again. Far better to be alone. But somehow Ferdinand weaseled his way in after only a few dates. I’ve been suffering from the pain of his betrayal ever since.
I meet his dark gaze. “Anything you can tell us about Mala’s disappearance is crucial.”
“I’m yours to command,” Ferdinand says with a rich French Creole accent. His voice vibrates in my chest, like thunder rolling across the sky, sending a wash of warmth flooding through my body. “But I don’t know where Mala is. She wasn’t my objective today.”
My brows drop into a frown. “What was your objective?”
He shakes his shaved head. “Not until we’re in a secure location. And I’ll only speak to you, ma douce chérie.”
My sweet honey. Good Lord…this man! My face warms at the familiar endearment, and I’m glad my brown skin minimizes the blush. “Call me Lieutenant Caine, Mr. Lafitte. Let’s keep our interactions professional.”
He shrugs his broad shoulders. “As you wish,” he says, like my own personal genie. I’d like to cork him back in his bottle before he can do any more damage to my wavering heart. His slight smile shreds my self-control, and my breath catches. His grin widens, and his eyes go smoky. Crap. He’s dangerous. What’s worse? He knows it.
And judging by the slight rise of George’s red-gold eyebrows as he looks between us, he senses it, too, and is not amused. Guess I’ve deluded myself into thinking I can conceal how strongly this man affects me.
I pinch my lips together, and George gets the hint. “I can transport him if you’re busy, LT.”
“Detective Anders has my car. We’ll ride together.”
George has Ferdinand in a control hold, with one hand locking his wrist and the other on his elbow. I go to his other side. My hesitation before placing my hand on Ferdinand’s arm is only a fraction of a second, but the man’s eyes slide in my direction. I don’t meet them, even when a tingle of electricity arcs between us. The spark of sexual tension unravels the coiled frustration deep in my belly. Damn it. I feel everything. I did from the first moment I laid eyes on this man.
* * *
The ride to the sheriff’s office is silent, except for the crackle of radio traffic. I stare out the window. Mala’s out there. In four and a half hours, night will fall on Paradise, and she’ll be out there alone, in the dark, at the mercy of a psychopathic killer.
Helpless anger pulses with each minute that passes without some word of Victor’s whereabouts. It’s like he waved a magic wand and vanished an ambulance into thin air. For all I know, he’s already driven Mala outside of our parish’s jurisdiction.
I glance in the mirror, but tear my gaze away before Ferdinand can capture mine. A sigh comes from the back of the car. I know the feeling the sound implies well. Frustration.
The moment we walk through the station doors with our prisoner, I’m bombarded with questions from staff. George escorts Ferdinand down the hall to the open interview room, while I give those in-house their orders for the ongoing investigation. After my briefing, I call Anders into my office for an update on what he’s learned from Estrada. Dena follows him, attached to his hip like he’s grown a third limb. Obviously their shared experience has brought them a new level of intimacy, which I envy. Yet I’m leery of it, too. What did Estrada do to them?
I motion toward the two visitors’ chairs in front of my desk. “What have you learned from Estrada? Did he say why Victor took Mala, or how to find her?”
Anders blinks, then settles into the seat with a heavy sigh. “So far he’s refusing to talk.”
“Did he ask for his lawyer?”
“Not yet. I think he’s waiting for something, but damned if I know what.”
Dena paces in front of my bookshelf, full of jittery energy. “The thing about Estrada is he leaves nothing to chance. He’s a mad genius who talked way too much. He planned every step in advance, but I think Ferdinand showing up threw off his game. That, and Gabriella beating him with that pipe.” She chuckles, then sobers when she sees my expression. “He deserved what he got. And whatever his plan is can’t be good for my cousin. We need to find her. Fast.”
“I agree,” I say. “Has Mala contacted you again?”
Her freckled nose crinkles, and a faraway expression enters her eyes for a moment, as if she’s peeking into an unseen realm. Maybe she is. I don’t know how these abilities work.
After about a minute, she shakes her head. “Nothing.” She sniffs. “It’s like I never had the vision in the first place, but I swear, I’m not making this up. I know something’s happened to her, Bessie.”
“I’m not doubting you. I just wish we had more to go on.”
“She’s unconscious,” a male voice says. “Otherwise Ms. Jasmine would be able to find her.”
Startled, I turn to find Landry entering my office. George follows a few steps behind. “Jasmine?” I ask Landry.
“Yeah, she took over as Mala’s ancestor protector when Gaston defected. She says she can’t sense Mala’s consciousness, so her daughter must be heavily sedated or injured.”
Ah. How could I forget about Mala’s dead mother? “Jasmine’s…here?”
Landry tips his chin to the left. “She’s sitting on top of your file cabinet. She says, ‘Hey, five-oh, what’cha gonna do to find my baby girl?’”
My lips pinch back a laugh. It would be totally inappropriate, but Landry’s high-pitched imitation of Jasmine’s voice was spot-on. I can almost picture her sitting up on the cabinet, wearing a beaded red minidress and spiked heels, like the last time I arrested her for soliciting. I swivel the chair in her likely direction. “I’ll do whatever it takes to get your daughter home safely.” I share my gaze with the rest of the group. “I swear. We will find her.”
“You’re damn right we will,” George says.
Landry nods. “This is the first time I agree with ol’ Deputy Dawg.”
Dena cracks her knuckles, looking like a fierce Red Sonja. “Just point me in the right direction. I owe Victor another can of whoop-ass. Only this time, I really think someone should cut off his head. I debated the ethical…” She trails off in the wake of our shocked silence, then shudders. “Victor’s hard to kill.”
Anders reaches out to squeeze her hand. “That’s an understatement. We need to be careful when dealing with him. He’s not normal.”
Coming from this group, that’s saying something. “We’ll figure out how to deal with Victor once we find him. First we need more information.” I pick up a pencil to take notes. “Tell me what happened, Landry.”
“Mala and I were searching the fourth floor for Dena. That guy caught us in Estrada’s office and shot us with a dart gun. It knocked me unconscious. I didn’t stand a chance—” Landry bites off his words with a sharp curse. He cradles his bandaged arm against his chest. The black eye patch looks stark against his cheek, highlighting the rage seething in his single gray eye. “I didn’t even see him coming. Why would he take Mala? I don’t get it.”
Dena goes over and gives him an awkward hug. “Landry, I’m so sorry. If I’d waited for her…I never suspected Estrada was behind the attacks. And I sure didn’t think Ferdinand would betray us the way he did. Mala told me he couldn’t be trusted, but I believed him when he said he didn’t know about Magnolia’s plan. I thought Mala was overreacting.” She and Anders share a long glance, and then she nods. “This is all a bit complicated to explain. But the truth is, it’s my fault Mala’s been dragged into this mess.”
Anders leans forward in his chair. “It’s not your fault—”
“I love how protective you are,” Dena says, eyes shining. “But we both know it’s not true. I don’t regret going to find you. I do wish I’d waited for backup. I thought I could protect everyone. That my life didn’t matter since I’m already dead.”
“Your life matters,” Anders says. “You saved me.”
Dena wraps her arms around his neck, and he pulls her onto his lap. “No, we saved each other.”
My God! The pencil between my fingers snaps in half. “Have you lost your ever-lovin’ minds? This isn’t the time—” I shut up before I blurt out something I’ll regret. Swear to God, youth’s wasted on the young. With their hormones raging, they’re acting like lovesick calves who’ve lost the use of half their brains. Poor Landry’s drooping in his chair, on the verge of falling to pieces, and George keeps fingering the butt of his revolver as if he hopes something will pop up so he can shoot it.
We’re not getting anywhere fast, and I still have to interview Ferdinand. He’s waiting for me…right down the hall.
I blow out a heavy breath, rearranging my expression. Calm. “Beg pardon for ruining your moment”—sarcasm drips from my lips—“but what the hell do you mean by ‘already dead’? You seem pretty horny for a dead woman.”
Dena flushes as she slides off Anders’s lap. She stands beside him with a hand on his shoulder like she can’t bare not to touch him. “Well, we all know death isn’t the end. Most of us in this room have survived a near-death experience.”
But not everyone. “I’m aware of Mala and Landry’s ability to talk to spirits. Are you saying you’re also psychic?” I shift my frown to Anders. “I read your file. You almost died the night of the earthquake. Is this the source of your connection?”
“Yes,” Dena says. “Because of Mala’s sacrifice, I survived. Life comes with a price. I’m not exactly normal any longer.”
Landry grunts. “What’s normal?”
I wave for Dena to continue.
“Crossing back to this world changed me and Anders,” she says. “Dr. Estrada’s employer hired him to create a serum to turn normal soldiers into nearly indestructible killing machines. That’s why Estrada kidnapped me—to discover how to re-create my healing ability. Estrada’s research is potentially worth billions. Now we have him. His employer has Mala. My guess is that he’ll want to make a trade.”
I’m already shaking my head. “Department policy dictates my position. Estrada is in my custody, making him my responsibility. I can’t hand him over. Thankfully, it’s not an issue at this point.”
“Yeah, it is,” Landry says, bolting upright. “I just received this from Mala’s phone.” He holds up his cell phone to show a picture of Mala, unconscious and tied to a chair with duct tape. Even more shocking is seeing the woman lying on a gurney beside her.
I half rise from my seat. “Oh my God! He took Eva.”
George sprints for the door. “I’m on it.” The mike on my shoulder crackles. Then his voice goes over the air, broadcasting the news to all allied agencies that Deputy Evangeline Winters has been captured. He’ll have dispatch contact the cell company and trace the phone.
I fall back into my chair and rub my stinging eyes. The hits just keep coming. It’s too much. My Eva…bless her sweet soul. She’s my niece by marriage, not blood, but the girl reminds me of myself at her age. Eva’s never taken advantage of our relationship to advance her career. Ever the professional, she’s my Rock of Gibraltar. Solid and dependable.
My voice cracks as I ask, “Why Eva?”
Anders removes the phone from Landry’s shaking hand. “Revenge? She shot Victor multiple times, which kept him from kidnapping Dena.” His eyes flicker as he silently reads the text message. “He says we’ve got two days to make the exchange—the women for Estrada. He’ll text the location later for the drop.”
Anders frowns. “Estrada said he gave his research to Victor. You heard that, too. Right, Dee?”
I sweep the broken pencil into the trash and stand. “We need more intel. I can’t make any decisions until I know exactly what I’m dealing with.”
My moment of weakness ends now. Time to bite the bullet.
Sweet Honey Stirs the Pot
The interrogation room stinks of old sweat and piss. It reminds me of the immigration detention center I stayed in as a child after fleeing from Haiti. The thick, humid air coats a filmy layer over my skin, slicking down the black hair on my exposed forearms. Sweat rolls down my brow, stinging my eyes. I shrug my shoulder to wipe the side of my face, but the metal cuff, attached by a chain to a ring on the table, digs into my wrist.
Every few minutes, I glance from the glowing numbers on the digital wall clock down to the two-way mirrored window inserted into the wall below it. Is she behind there, staring back at me? What is she thinking? I shift, trying to find a comfortable position on the metal chair. The repositioning bangs my knees against the underside of the tiny table, and I grimace. The curse of being a tall man is bruised knees.
How long does she plan to make me suffer? My sweet…Elizabeth. I shake my head with a snort. Best banish the thought. There’s no sympathy for the damned. In the world I exist in, mistakes get you and your men dead. The op, which should’ve been a quick snatch and grab, ended with my team walking out of the elevator with the target and straight into the waiting arms of the local cops. And the woman I still crave like the finest Bordeaux pointed a gun at my chest, like I had a bulls-eye painted on it.
Elizabeth’s obsidian eyes held only cold contempt. Any residual warmth she might’ve felt for me didn’t shine through. Her narrowed stare sliced right to the bone.
I’d sink into morass of self-pity if I didn’t find it hypocritical and a bloody waste of time. She hates me. Nothing I say will change this. Especially after Dena tells her about my betrayal. It’s the hole I willingly dug for myself. My only saving grace: they need my help. I’ll have one chance to convince her to do what’s right.
Another twenty minutes drag by before the door opens. Elizabeth strides into the room with a stack of files in her arms. She pauses, haloed by the light shining from above. My fierce African queen. A smile twitches my lips, and I avert my face. She wouldn’t appreciate the sentiment. Best to think of her as Lieutenant Caine. My adversary. It’s safer.
She lines up the files in a row on the table, forming a barrier between us, then spends a few minutes flipping through the pages of one. A tiny knot forms on her mahogany brow, a slight frown I want to smooth away with my thumb. I focus on the file, barely able to see the words on the page. I’m familiar with interrogation techniques. Her act is a ruse designed to heighten the tension level in the target. This will be a mental battle—we’ll attack, block, and counterattack—in an attempt to find our enemy’s weaknesses to exploit. She’ll be a tough nut to crack, but I’m looking forward to the challenge.
Lieutenant Caine opens with the first salvo. “Are you comfortable, Mr. Lafitte?” She makes eye contact, and I flinch like she struck a blow. One point for her. “Would you like a cup of coffee? Water? Or are you ready to begin?”
The handcuffs clink as I shift in my seat. “I’ve had less restrictive accommodations, but I’m fine.”
“Yes, I guess you would’ve, given your occupation. You’ve lived an exciting life.”
“I’ve been blessed with good fortune.”
She taps her pen on the folder. “Interesting how you phrased that. Blessed. As if your success was granted from a celestial source, when we both know the creature living inside Magnolia LaCroix was the exact opposite.”
“One man’s heaven is another man’s hell.”
“I don’t understand.” The slight furrow between her brows returns. “Which one was it? Because I certainly can’t fathom why you’d deliberately resign yourself to remaining in hell? You could’ve left, but instead you served Ms. LaCroix for” —she glances at the file—“nineteen years.”
“My mistake. Twenty.” She scribbles on a piece of paper. “Yet it proves my point. You could’ve left, but didn’t. You chose to remain in her employ.”
I never had a choice. “Yes, for twenty years.”
She heaves a harsh sigh. “What sort of work did you do for Ms. LaCroix?”
“Whatever she asked. She was my queen.”
A bark of laughter shoots out. “You’ve got to be kidding.”
I smile and lean back in my chair. “Is devotion so hard to understand? You’re loyal to your officers, to your badge, to the people of Bertrand Parish. You would give your life for them.”
“That’s different,” she snaps.
“How? Magnolia LaCroix found me in the slums as a boy. She gave me a legitimate job. Encouraged me to finish my education and join the military. When I got out, she gave me the money to start my own security firm—”
“And you sold her your soul in return?”
“Yes.” I tap the handcuffs. “Why are we wasting time on this? Ask the important question: Who kidnapped Mala?”
“Victor took her and my niece.” Her eyes shimmer, and a tear balances on her left eyelid. One blink and it would tip over the edge to slide down her cheek. She stares at me, eyes deliberately wide, until it vanishes.
- On Sale
- Feb 9, 2016
- Page Count
- 40 pages
- Forever Yours