Midnight Bayou

( 179 )

Overview

#1 New York Times bestselling author Nora Roberts presents a novel set deep in the bayou of Louisiana—where the only witness to a long-ago tragedy is a once-grand house…

Declan Fitzgerald had always been the family maverick, but even he couldn't understand his impulse to buy a dilapidated mansion on the outskirts of New Orleans. All he knew was that ever since he first saw Manet Hall, he'd been enchanted-and obsessed-with it. So when the ...

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Midnight Bayou

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Overview

#1 New York Times bestselling author Nora Roberts presents a novel set deep in the bayou of Louisiana—where the only witness to a long-ago tragedy is a once-grand house…

Declan Fitzgerald had always been the family maverick, but even he couldn't understand his impulse to buy a dilapidated mansion on the outskirts of New Orleans. All he knew was that ever since he first saw Manet Hall, he'd been enchanted-and obsessed-with it. So when the opportunity to buy the house comes up, Declan jumps at the chance to live out a dream.

Determined to restore Manet Hall to its former splendor, Declan begins the daunting renovation room by room, relying on his own labor and skills. But the days spent in total isolation in the empty house take a toll. He is seeing visions of days from a century past, and experiencing sensations of terror and nearly unbearable grief-sensations not his own, but those of a stranger. Local legend has it that the house is haunted, and with every passing day Declan's belief in the ghostly presence grows.

Only the companionship of alluring Angelina Simone can distract him from the mysterious happenings in the house, but Angelina too has her own surprising connection to Manet Hall-a connection that will help Declan uncover a secret that's been buried for a hundred years.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
In Nora Roberts's realm, human frailties like fear and jealousy are always conquered, and wild, commitment-phobic lovers are miraculously domesticated. It's that magic that makes every one of her more than 60 bestselling novels so enchanting to read. Midnight Bayou, set deep in the Louisiana bayou and on the steamy streets of New Orleans, is no exception.

There are ghosts in Manet Hall. The aging plantation mansion long ago lost its luster and has been sold and resold as owners flee the souls that still inhabit its rooms, playing out a long-ago tragedy. But former Boston lawyer Declan Fitzgerald is drawn to the house after seeing it on a visit to the city. He ditches his big-time law career and fancy fiancée, packs his bags, and relocates to Louisiana, where he plans to restore the mansion's former glory.

Upon his arrival, he meets the lovely Angelina Simone, a barkeep raised on the bayou, who like him has her own set of emotional baggage. And slowly it becomes clear that Angelina has a strange and mysterious connection to the past events replaying themselves in Declan's new home. Not even thumps in the day and night, his unsettling visions and episodes of sleepwalking, or Angelina's rebuffs make Declan give up his mission of uncovering that connection. He single-mindedly pursues his goal amid the slamming doors and flying cups and saucers, and -- through an amusing role reversal -- his relationship with Angelina blossoms.

Although you have to suspend all sense of reality to accept the supernatural happenings as everyday fact at Manet Hall, Midnight Bayou is a fast and entertaining read. Nora Roberts's legions of fans will eat it up. (G. M. Dixon)

Publishers Weekly
Triple-platinum romance doyenne Roberts spins a tale of bayou passions old and new in her latest romantic suspense novel, set on the grounds of a dilapidated postbellum mansion outside New Orleans. Declan Fitzgerald, a Harvard-educated Boston lawyer, has longed to possess Manet Hall ever since he and his friend, Remy Payne, broke into the old place as drunken students on a lark. Now, on the eve of his wedding, Declan leaves Boston, the law and his fianc?e, buys the decrepit hall and embarks on a mission to restore it with his own sweat, blood and money. But Manet Hall comes with a dark history, and restoring it means uncovering its past, which includes rape, murder and betrayal. Declan encounters an additional challenge in the person of Cajun beauty and bar owner Lena Simone, who has her own dark history and a surprising connection to Manet Hall. As Declan digs deeper at the Hall, he often hears a baby crying. The cries are followed by voices, particularly that of Abigail Manet, the baby's mother. Abigail's story, which unfolds in 1900, is woven so tightly with Declan's that he finds it difficult to escape her grasp. In the end, only Lena can bring him back from the tragic past that threatens to engulf him. Roberts's role reversal here it is the male character who hears voices and even swoons gives her faithful readers a little extra thrill, and the lush setting and the satisfying if predictable romance round out the package. Literary Guild main selection. (Oct.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Roberts spins a romantic tale of love, murder, betrayal, and ghosts in the bayou. Just days before his wedding, wealthy and handsome Declan Fitzgerald (of the Boston Fitzgeralds) leaves his fianc e, his job, and his home on the East Coast to buy a decrepit old mansion near New Orleans. Manet Hall has a dark history, and as Declan progresses with the renovations, he begins to hear a baby crying somewhere in the house. In the midst of this, Declan meets beautiful bar owner Lena Simone. Their romance begins to mirror an older, doomed love from the past listeners will have a hard time stopping the tapes on this one. Roberts can be an erratic writer, but Midnight Bayou shows her at the top of her game. The narration is very good, and for once it is not rushed; James Daniels's wonderful voice embodies both Declan's sexy machismo and his sensitive side. Sandra Burr reads the flashbacks that add so much depth to the story. Enthusiastically recommended for all libraries. Barbara Perkins, Irving P.L., TX Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A gumbo seasoned with ghosts, love, and murder on the bayou. When 30-something Declan Fitzgerald of Boston, a successful lawyer and a member of a large and loving family, breaks off his engagement to very suitable Jessica, he knows he needs to change his life. Lawyering is not fun anymore, so, recalling Manet Hall, an old deserted plantation house he once visited with law school classmate and New Orleans native Remy, he buys the property and moves down south. Declan is also a gifted craftsman, a born decorator, and very, very rich. Soon, he meets beautiful Lena, who's visiting her grandmother Odette, Declan's friendly Cajun neighbor. Declan is as certain that Lena is destined to be his wife as he was that Manet Hall would become his home. But, surprise, Lena has a troubled past (like the house) and is determined to resist Declan's courtship. While he suits Lena and works on the place, Declan experiences troubling dreams. It seems he's actually reliving the novel's parallel story, which took place in 1899. In that year, the maid, Abbey Manet (from whom Lena, coincidentally, is descended, and who married wealthy Lucian Manet), was raped and murdered by her brother-in-law Julian as she nursed her baby daughter. Her body was dumped into the bayou by her mother-in-law, who despised her. And grief-stricken husband Lucian, away at the time, being told that Abbey had run off, committed suicide. Now, in an unconvincing twist of gender and reincarnation, it's Declan who hears a baby crying , experiences childbirth and rape as the reincarnation of Abbey, while Lena is Lucian. The two accept all this with equanimity, and, Manet Hall's secrets revealed, it becomes the setting for predictable andmuch foreshadowed resolutions. Agreeably credible lovers and a neat piece of home-restoration compensate some for the hokey hauntings on the bayou. Loyal fans will enjoy. Literary Guild main selection
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780515133974
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 11/28/2002
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 331,033
  • Product dimensions: 4.32 (w) x 6.68 (h) x 1.02 (d)

Meet the Author

Nora Roberts
Nora Roberts is the first writer to be inducted into the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame. She is the number-one New York Times-bestselling author of The Villa, Carolina Moon, River's End, Dance Upon the Air, and other novels.

Biography

Not only has Nora Roberts written more bestsellers than anyone else in the world (according to Publishers Weekly), she’s also created a hybrid genre of her own: the futuristic detective romance. And that’s on top of mastering every subgenre in the romance pie: the family saga, the historical, the suspense novel. But this most prolific and versatile of authors might never have tapped into her native talent if it hadn't been for one fateful snowstorm.

As her fans well know, in 1979 a blizzard trapped Roberts at home for a week with two bored little kids and a dwindling supply of chocolate. To maintain her sanity, Roberts started scribbling a story -- a romance novel like the Harlequin paperbacks she'd recently begun reading. The resulting manuscript was rejected by Harlequin, but that didn't matter to Roberts. She was hooked on writing. Several rejected manuscripts later, her first book was accepted for publication by Silhouette.

For several years, Roberts wrote category romances for Silhouette -- short books written to the publisher's specifications for length, subject matter and style, and marketed as part of a series of similar books. Roberts has said she never found the form restrictive. "If you write in category, you write knowing there's a framework, there are reader expectations," she explained. "If this doesn't suit you, you shouldn't write it. I don't believe for one moment you can write well what you wouldn't read for pleasure."

Roberts never violated the reader's expectations, but she did show a gift for bringing something fresh to the romance formula. Her first book, Irish Thoroughbred (1981), had as its heroine a strong-willed horse groom, in contrast to the fluttering young nurses and secretaries who populated most romances at the time. But Roberts's books didn't make significant waves until 1985, when she published Playing the Odds, which introduced the MacGregor clan. It was the first bestseller of many.

Roberts soon made a name for herself as a writer of spellbinding multigenerational sagas, creating families like the Scottish MacGregors, the Irish Donovans and the Ukrainian Stanislaskis. She also began working on romantic suspense novels, in which the love story unfolds beneath a looming threat of violence or disaster. She grew so prolific that she outstripped her publishers' ability to print and market Nora Roberts books, so she created an alter ego, J.D. Robb. Under the pseudonym, she began writing romantic detective novels set in the future. By then, millions of readers had discovered what Publishers Weekly called her "immeasurable diversity and talent."

Although the style and substance of her books has grown, Roberts remains loyal to the genre that launched her career. As she says, "The romance novel at its core celebrates that rush of emotions you have when you are falling in love, and it's a lovely thing to relive those feelings through a book."

Good To Know

Roberts still lives in the same Maryland house she occupied when she first started writing -- though her carpenter husband has built on some additions. She and her husband also own Turn the Page Bookstore Café in Boonsboro, Maryland. When Roberts isn't busy writing, she likes to drop by the store, which specializes in Civil War titles as well as autographed copies of her own books.

Roberts sued fellow writer Janet Dailey in 1997, accusing her of plagiarizing numerous passages of her work over a period of years. Dailey paid a settlement and publicly apologized, blaming stress and a psychological disorder for her misconduct.

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    1. Also Known As:
      J. D. Robb; Sarah Hardesty; Jill March; Eleanor Marie Robertson (birth name)
    2. Hometown:
      Keedysville, Maryland
    1. Date of Birth:
      1950
    2. Place of Birth:
      Silver Spring, Maryland

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Manet Hall, Louisiana
December 30, 1899

The baby was crying. Abigail heard it in dreams, the soft, unsettled whimper, the stirring of tiny limbs under soft blankets. She felt the first pangs of hunger, a yearning in the belly, almost as if the child were still inside her. Her milk came down before she was fully awake.

She rose quickly and without fuss. It gave her such pleasure-that overfull sensation in her breasts, the tenderness of them. The purpose of them. Her baby needed and she would provide.

She crossed to the recamier, lifted the white robe draped over its back. She drew in the scent of the hothouse lilies-her favorite-spearing out of a crystal vase that had been a wedding present.

Before Lucian, she'd been content to tuck wildflowers into bottles.

If Lucian had been home, he would have woken as well. Though she would have smiled, have stroked a hand over his silky blond hair as she told him to stay, to sleep, he would have wandered up to the nursery before she'd finished Marie Rose's midnight feeding.

She missed him-another ache in the belly. But as she slipped into her night wrapper, she remembered he would be back the next day. She would start watching for him in the morning, waiting to see him come galloping down the allie of oaks.

No matter what anyone thought or said, she would run out to meet him. Her heart would leap, oh, it always leaped, when he sprang down from his horse and lifted her off her feet into his arms.

And at the New Year's ball, they would dance.

She hummed to herself as she lit a candle, shielding it with her hand as she moved to the bedroom door, out into the corridor of the great house where she had once been servant and was now, well, if not daughter of the house at least the wife of its son.

The nursery was on the third floor of the family wing. That was a battle she'd fought with Lucian's mother, and lost. Josephine Manet had definite rules about behavior, domestic arrangements, traditions. Madame Josephine, Abigail thought as she moved quickly and quietly past the other bedroom doors, had definite ideas on everything. Certainly that a three-month-old baby belonged in the nursery, under the care of a nursemaid, and not in a cradle tucked into the corner of her parents' bedroom.

Candlelight flickered and flew against the walls as Abigail climbed the narrowing stairs. At least she'd managed to keep Marie Rose with her for six weeks. And had used the cradle that was part of her own family's traditions. It had been carved by her grand-pére. Her own mother had slept in it, then had tucked Abigail in it seventeen years later.

Marie Rose had spent her first nights in that old cradle, a tiny angel with her doting and nervous parents close at hand.

Her daughter would respect her father's family and their ways. But Abigail was determined that her child would also respect her mother's family, and learn their ways.

Josephine had complained about the baby, about the homemade cradle, so constantly that she and Lucian had given in. It was, Lucian said, the way water wears at rock. It never ceases, so the rock gives way or wears down.

The baby spent her nights in the nursery now, in the crib made in France, where Manet babies had slept for a century.

It was a proper if not cozy arrangement, Abby comforted herself. Her petite Rose was a Manet. She would be a lady.

And as Madame Josephine had pointed out, again and again, other members of the household were not to have their sleep disturbed by fretful cries. However such matters were done in the bayou, here in Manet Hall, children were tended in the nursery.

How her lips curled when she said it. Bayou-as if it were a word to be spoken only in brothels and bars.

It didn't matter that Madame Josephine hated her, that Monsieur Henri ignored her. It didn't matter that Julian looked at her the way no man should look at his brother's wife.

Lucian loved her.

Nor did it matter that Marie Rose slept in the nursery. Whether they were separated by a floor or a continent, she felt Marie Rose's needs as she felt her own. The bond was so strong, so true, it could never be broken.

Madame Josephine may win battles, but Abigail knew she herself had won the war. She had Lucian and Marie Rose.

There were candles glowing in the nursery. Claudine, the nursemaid, didn't trust the gaslight. She already held Marie Rose and was trying to quiet her with a sugar tit, but the baby's fists were shaking, little balls of rage.

"Such a temper she has." Abigail set the candle down and was laughing as she crossed the room, her arms already outstretched.

"Knows what she wants, and when she wants it." Claudine, a pretty Cajun with sleepy dark eyes, gave the baby a quick cuddle, then passed her off. "She hardly made a fuss yet. Don't know how you hear her way off downstairs."

"I hear her in my heart. There now, bébé. Maman's here."

"Diaper's wet."

"I'll change her." Abigail rubbed her cheek on the baby's and smiled. Claudine was a friend-a battle won. Having her established in the nursery, in the household, gave Abigail comfort and the companionship none of Lucian's family would offer her.

"Go on back to bed. Once she's nursed, she'll sleep till morning."

"Good as gold, she is." Claudine brushed fingertips over Marie Rose's curly hair. "If you don't need me, maybe I'll take a walk down to the river. Jasper, he's gonna be there." Her dark eyes lit. "I told him maybe, if I can get away, I come down around midnight."

"You oughta make that boy marry you, chère."

"Oh, I'm gonna. Maybe I run down for an hour or two, if you don't mind, Abby."

"I don't mind, but you be careful you don't catch nothing more than some crawfish. Anything more," she corrected as she prepared to change Marie Rose's soiled linen.

"Don't you worry. I'll be back before two." She started out through the connecting door and glanced back. "Abby? You ever think, when we were kids, that you'd be mistress of this house one day?"

"I'm not mistress here." She tickled the baby's toes and had Marie Rose gurgling. "And the one who is'll probably live to a hundred and ten off of spite just to make sure I never am."

"If anybody could, it'd be that one. But you will be, one day. You fell into the luck, Abby, and it looks real fine on you."

Alone with the baby, Abby tickled and cooed. She powdered and smoothed, then tidily fastened the fresh diaper. When Marie Rose was tucked into a fresh gown and swaddled, Abby settled in the rocker, bared her breast for that tiny, hungry mouth. Those first greedy tugs, the answering pull in her womb, made her sigh. Yes, she'd fallen into the luck. Because Lucian Manet, the heir of Manet Hall, the shining knight of every fairy tale, had looked at her. And loved.

She bent her head to watch the baby nurse. Marie Rose's eyes were wide open, fixed on her mother's face. A tiny crease of concentration formed between her eyebrows.

Oh, she had such hope those eyes would stay blue, like Lucian's. The baby's hair was dark like her own. Dark and curling, but her skin was milk white-again like her papa's rather than the deeper tone, the dusky gold of her Cajun mama's.

She would have the best of both of them, Abby thought. She would have the best of everything.

It wasn't only the money, the grand house, the social position, though she wanted that for her children now that she had tasted it herself. It was the acceptance, the learning, the knowing you belonged in such a place. Her daughter, and all the children who came after, would read and write, would speak proper English, proper French, in fine voices.

No one would ever look down on them.

"You'll be a lady," Abigail murmured, stroking the baby's cheek as Marie Rose's hand kneaded her breast as if to hurry the milk along. "An educated lady with your papa's sweet heart and your mama's good sense. Papa'll be home tomorrow. It's the very last day of a whole century, and you have your whole life to live in it."

Her voice was quiet, a singsong rhythm to lull both of them.

"It's so exciting, Rosie, my Rosie. We're going to have a grand ball tomorrow night. I have a new gown. It's blue, like your eyes. Like your papa's eyes. Did I tell you I fell in love with his eyes first? So beautiful. So kind. When he came back to Manet Hall from the university, he looked like a prince coming home to his castle. Oh, my heart just pounded so."

She leaned back, rocking in the fluttering light of the candles.

She thought of the New Year's celebration the next evening, and how she would dance with Lucian, how her gown would sweep and swirl as they waltzed.

How she would make him proud.

And she remembered the first time they had waltzed.

In the spring, with the air heavy with perfume from the flowers, and the house alight like a palace. She'd sneaked into the garden, away from her duties, because she'd wanted to see it so much. The way the gleaming white hall with its balusters like black lace stood against the starry sky, the way the windows flamed. Music had spilled out of those windows, out of the gallery doors where guests had stepped out for air.

She'd imagined herself inside the ballroom, whirling, whirling, to the music. And so had whirled in the shadows of the garden. And, whirling, had seen Lucian watching her on the path.

Her own fairy tale, Abby thought. The prince taking Cinderella's hand and drawing her into a dance moments before midnight struck. She'd had no glass slipper, no pumpkin coach, but the night had turned into magic.

She could still hear the way the music had floated out through the balcony doors, over the air, into the garden.

"After the ball is over, after the break of morn . . ."

She sang the refrain quietly, shifting the baby to her other breast.

"After the dancers leaving, after the stars are gone . . ."

They had danced, to that lovely, sad song in the moonlit garden with the house a regal white and gold shadow behind them. Her in her simple cotton dress, and Lucian in his handsome evening clothes. And as such things were possible in fairy tales, they fell in love during that lovely, sad song.

Oh, she knew it had started before that night. For her it had begun with her first glimpse of him, astride the chestnut mare he'd ridden from New Orleans to the plantation. The way the sun had beamed through the leaves and the moss on the live oaks along the allie, surrounding him like angel wings. His twin had ridden beside him-Julian-but she'd seen only Lucian.

She'd been in the house only a few weeks then, taken on as an undermaid and doing her best to please Monsieur and Madame Manet so she might keep her position and the wages earned.

He'd spoken to her-kindly, correctly-if they passed each other in the house. But she'd sensed him watching her. Not the way Julian watched, not with hot eyes and a smirk twisting his lips. But, she liked to think now, with a kind of longing.

In the weeks that went by she would come upon him often. He'd sought her out. She knew that now, prized that now, as he'd confessed it to her on their wedding night.

But it had really begun the evening of the ball. After the song had ended, he'd held her, just a moment longer. Then he bowed, as a gentleman bows to a lady. He kissed her hand.

Then, just as she thought it was over, that the magic would dim, he tucked the hand he'd kissed into the crook of his arm. Began to walk with her, to talk with her. The weather, the flowers, the gossip of the household.

As if they were friends, Abby thought now with a smile. As if it were the most natural thing in the world for Lucian Manet to take a turn in the garden with Abigail Rouse.

They'd walked in the garden many nights after that. Inside the house, where others could see, they remained master and servant. But all through that heady spring they walked the garden paths as young lovers, telling each other of hopes, of dreams, of sorrows and joys.

On her seventeenth birthday he brought her a gift, wrapped in silver paper with a bright blue bow. The enameled watch was a pretty circle dangling from the golden wings of a brooch. Time flew, he told her as he pinned the watch to the faded cotton of her dress, when they were together. And he would rather have his life wing by than spend it apart from her.

He'd gotten down on one knee and asked her to be his wife.

It could never be. Oh, she'd tried to tell him through the tears. He was beyond her reach, and he could have anyone.

She remembered now how he'd laughed, how the joy had burst over his beautiful face. How could he be beyond her reach when she had his hand in hers even now? And if he could have anyone, then he would have her.

"So now we have each other, and you," Abby whispered and shifted the drowsing baby to her shoulder. "And if his family hates me for it, what does it matter? I make him happy."

She turned her face into the soft curve of the baby's neck. "I'm learning to speak as they speak, to dress as they dress. I will never think as they think, but for Lucian, I behave as they behave, at least when it shows."

Content, she rubbed the baby's back and continued to rock. But when she heard the heavy footsteps on the stairs, the stumbling climb, she rose quickly. Her arms tightened in a circle of protection around the baby as she turned toward the crib.

She heard Julian come through the door and knew without seeing he would be drunk. He was nearly always drunk or on his way to becoming so.

Abby didn't speak. She lay the baby in the crib, and when Marie Rose whimpered restlessly, stroked her quiet again.

"Where's the nursemaid?" he demanded.

Still, Abby didn't turn. "I don't want you in here when you've been drinking."

"Giving orders now?" His voice was slurred, his balance impaired. But he was thinking clearly enough. Liquor, he'd always believed, helped clarify the mind.

And his was clarified when it came to his brother's wife. If Lucian had a thing-and what was a woman but a thing?-Julian wanted it.

She was small, almost delicate of build. But she had good strong legs. He could see the shape of them where the firelight in the nursery grate shimmered through her thin nightclothes. Those legs would wrap around him as easily as they did his brother.

Her breasts were high and full, fuller now since she'd had the whelp. He'd gotten his hands on them once, and she'd slapped him for it. As if she had a say in who touched her.

He closed the door at his back. The whore he'd bought that night had only whetted his appetite. It was time to sate it.

"Where's the other bayou slut?"

Abby's hand fisted at her side. She turned now, guarding the crib with her body. He looked so like Lucian, but there was a hardness in him Lucian lacked. A darkness.

She wondered if it was true, what her grand-mére said. That with twins, sometimes traits get divvied up in the womb. One gets the good, the other the bad.

She didn't know if Julian had come into the world already spoiled. But she knew he was dangerous when drunk. It was time he learned she was dangerous as well.

"Claudine is my friend, and you have no right to speak of her that way. Get out. You have no right to come in here and insult me. This time Lucian will hear of it."

She saw his gaze slide down from her face, watched lust come into his eyes. Quickly, she tugged her wrapper over the breast still partially exposed from nursing. "You're disgusting. Cochon! To come in a child's room with your wicked thoughts for your brother's wife."

"Brother's whore." He thought he could smell her anger and her fear now. A heady perfume. "You'd have spread your legs for me if I'd been born fifteen minutes sooner. But you wouldn't have stolen my name the way you stole his."

Her chin came up. "I don't even see you. No one does. You're nothing beside him. A shadow, and one that stinks of whiskey and the brothel."

She wanted to run. He frightened her, had always frightened her on a deep, primal level. But she wouldn't risk leaving him with the baby. "When I tell Lucian of this, he'll send you away."

"He has no power here, and we all know it." He came closer, easing his way like a hunter through the woods. "My mother holds the power in this house. I'm her favorite. Timing at birth doesn't change that."

"He will send you away." Tears stung the back of her throat because she knew Julian was right. It was Josephine who reigned in Manet Hall.

"Lucian did me a favor marrying you." His voice was a lazy drawl now, almost conversational. He knew she had nowhere to run. "She's already cut him out of her will. Oh, he'll get the house, she can't change that, but I'll get her money. And it's her money that runs this place."

"Take the money, take the house." She flung out her hands, dismissing them, and him. "Take it all. And go to hell with it."

"He's weak. My sainted brother. Saints always are, under all the piety."

"He's a man, so much more a man than you."

She'd hoped to make him angry, angry enough to strike her and storm out. Instead he laughed, low and quiet, and edged closer.

When she saw the intent in his eyes, she opened her mouth to scream. His hand whipped out, gripped a hank of the dark hair that curled to her waist. And yanking had her scream gurgling into a gasp. His free hand circled her throat, squeezed.

"I always take what's Lucian's. Even his whores."

She beat at him, slapped, bit. And when she could draw in air, screamed. He tore at her wrapper, pawed at her breasts. In the crib, the baby began to wail.

Fueled by the sound of her child's distress, Abby clawed her way free. She spun, stumbled over the torn hem of her nightgown. Her hand closed over the fireplace poker. She swung wildly, ramming it hard against Julian's shoulder.

Howling in pain, he fell back against the hearth, and she flew toward the crib.

She had to get the baby. To get the baby and run.

He caught her sleeve, and she screamed again as the material ripped. Even as she reached down to snatch her daughter from the crib, he dragged her back. He struck her, slicing the back of his hand over her cheek and knocking her back into a table. A candle fell to the floor and guttered out in its own wax.

"Bitch! Whore!"

He was mad. She could see it now in the feral gleam in his eyes, the drunken flush on his cheeks. In that instant fear turned to terror.

"He'll kill you for this. My Lucian will kill you." She tried to gain her feet, but he hit her again, using his fist this time so the pain radiated from her face, through her body. Dazed, she began to crawl toward the crib. There was blood in her mouth, sweet and warm.

My baby. Sweet God, don't let him hurt my baby.

His weight was on her-and the stench of him. She bucked, called for help. The sound of the baby's furious screams merged with hers.

"Don't! Don't! You damn yourself."

But as he yanked up the skirt of her nightgown, she knew no amount of pleading, no amount of struggle, would stop him. He would debase her, soil her, because of who she was. Because she was Lucian's.

"This is what you want." He drove himself into her, and the thrill of power spurted through him like black wine. Her face was white with fear and shock, and raw from the blows of his hands. Helpless, he thought, as he pounded out his raging envy. "This is what all of you want. Cajun whores."

Thrust after violent thrust, he raped her. The thrill of forcing himself into her spumed through him until his breathing turned to short bursts grunted between clenched teeth.

She was weeping now, huge choking sobs. But screaming, too. Somehow screaming as he hammered his fury, his jealousy, his disgust into her.

As the great clock began to chime midnight, he closed his hands around her throat. "Shut up. Damn you." He rammed her head against the floor, squeezed harder. And still the screaming pierced his brain.

Abby heard it, too. Dimly. The baby's frantic cries pealed through her head along with the slow, formal bongs of the midnight hour. She slapped, weak protests against the hands that cut off her air, tried to shut her body off from the unspeakable invasion.

Help me. Mother of Jesus. Help me. Help my baby.

Her vision dimmed. Her heels drummed wildly on the floor as she convulsed.

The last thing she heard was her crying daughter. The last thing she thought was, Lucian.

The door of the nursery burst open. Josephine Manet stood just inside the nursery. She summed up the scene quickly. Coldly.

"Julian."

His hands still vised around Abby's throat, he looked up. If his mother saw madness in his eyes, she chose to ignore it. With her gilt hair neatly braided for the night, her robe sternly buttoned to the neck, she stepped over, stared down.

Abby's eyes were wide and staring. There was a trickle of blood at the corner of her mouth, and bruises blooming along her cheeks.

Dispassionately, she leaned down, laid her fingers against Abby's throat.

"She's dead," Josephine announced and moved quickly to the connecting door. She opened it, glanced into the maid's room. Then closed it, locked it.

She stood for a moment, her back against it, her hand at her own throat as she thought of what could come. Disgrace, ruin, scandal.

"It was . . . an accident." His hands began to shake as they slid away from Abby's throat. The whiskey was whirling in his head now, clouding it. It churned in his belly, sickening it.

He could see the marks on her skin, dark and deep and damning. "She . . . tried to seduce me, then, she attacked . . ."

She crossed the room again, her slippers clicking on wood. Crouching down, Josephine slapped him, one hard crack of flesh on flesh. "Quiet. Be quiet and do exactly as I say. I won't lose another son to this creature. Take her down to her bedroom. Go out through the gallery and stay there until I come."

"It was her fault."

"Yes. Now she's paid for it. Take her down, Julian. And be quick."

"They'll . . ." A single tear gathered in the corner of his eye and spilled over. "They'll hang me. I have to get away."

"No. No, they won't hang you." She brought his head to her shoulder, stroking his hair over the body of her daughter-in-law. "No, my sweet, they won't hang you. Do what Mama says now. Carry her to the bedroom and wait for me. Everything's going to be all right. Everything's going to be as it should be. I promise."

"I don't want to touch her."

"Julian!" The crooning tone snapped into icy command. "Do as I say. Immediately."

She rose, walked over to the crib, where the baby's wails had turned to miserable whimpers. In the heat of the moment, she considered simply laying her hand over the child's mouth and nose. Hardly different than drowning a bag of kittens.

And yet . . .

The child had her son's blood in her, and therefore her own. She could despise it, but she couldn't destroy it. "Go to sleep," she said. "We'll decide what to do about you later."

As her son carried the girl he'd raped and murdered from the room, Josephine began to set the nursery to rights again. She picked up the candle, scrubbed at the cooling wax until she could see no trace.

She replaced the fireplace poker and, using the ruin of Abby's robe, wiped up the splatters of blood. She did it all efficiently, turning her mind away from what had caused the damage to the room, keeping it firmly fixed on what needed to be done to save her son.

When she was certain all was as it should be, she unlocked the door again, left her now-sleeping grandchild alone.

In the morning, she would fire the nursemaid for dereliction of duty. She would have her out of Manet Hall before Lucian returned to find his wife missing.

The girl had brought it on herself, Josephine thought. No good ever came from trying to rise above your station in life. There was an order to things, and a reason for that order. If the girl hadn't bewitched Lucian-for surely there was some local witchery involved-she would still be alive.

The family had suffered enough scandal. The elopement. Oh, the embarrassment of it! Of having to hold your head high when your firstborn son ran off with a penniless, barefoot female who'd grown up in a shack in the swamp.

Then the sour taste of the pretense that followed. It was essential to save face, even after such a blow. And hadn't she done all that could be done to see that creature was dressed as befitted the family Manet?

Silk purses, sow's ears, she thought. What good were Paris fashions when the girl had only to open her mouth and sound of the swamp? For pity's sake, she'd been a servant.

Josephine stepped into the bedroom, shut the door at her back, and stared at the bed where her son's dead wife lay staring up at the blue silk canopy.

Now, she thought, Abigail Rouse was simply a problem to be solved.

Julian huddled in a chair, his head in his hands. "Stop screaming," he muttered. "Stop the screaming."

Josephine marched to him, clamped her hands on his shoulders. "Do you want them to come for you?" she demanded. "Do you want to drag the family through disgrace? To be hanged like a common thief?"

"It wasn't my fault. She enticed me. Then she attacked me. Look. Look." He turned his head. "See how she clawed my face?"

"Yes." For a moment, just for a moment, Josephine wavered. The heart inside the symbol she'd become reared up in protest against the horror of the act all women fear.

Whatever she was, she'd loved Lucian. Whatever she was, she'd been raped and murdered within feet of her own child's crib.

Julian forced her, struck her, defiled her. Killed her.

Drunk and mad, he'd killed his brother's wife. God's pity.

Then she shoved it viciously aside.

The girl was dead. Her son was not.

"You bought a prostitute tonight. Don't turn away from me," she snapped. "I'm not ignorant of the things men do. Did you buy a woman?"

"Yes, Mama."

She nodded briskly. "Then it was the whore who scratched you, should anyone have the temerity to ask. You were never in the nursery tonight." She cupped his face in her hands to keep his eyes level with hers. And her fingers dug into his cheeks as she spoke in low, clear tones. "What reason would you have to go there? You went out, for drink and women and, having your fill of both, came home and went to bed. Is that clear?"

"But, how will we explain-"

"We'll have nothing to explain. I've told you what you did tonight. Repeat it."

"I-I went into town." He licked his lips. Swallowed. "I drank, then I went to a brothel. I came home and went to bed."

"That's right. That's right." She stroked his scored cheek. "Now we're going to pack some of her things-some clothes, some jewelry. We'll do it quickly, as she did it quickly when she decided to run off with a man she'd been seeing in secret. A man who might very well be the father of that child upstairs."

"What man?"

Josephine let out a long sigh. He was the child of her heart, but she often despaired of his brain. "Never mind, Julian. You know nothing of it. Here." She went to the chifforobe, chose a long black velvet cloak. "Wrap her in this. Hurry. Do it!" she said in a tone that had him getting to his feet.

His stomach pitched, and his hands trembled, but he wrapped the body in velvet as best he could while his mother stuffed things in a hatbox and a train case.

In her rush she dropped a brooch of gold wings with a small enameled watch dangling from it. The toe of her slipper struck it so that it skittered into a corner.

"We'll take her into the swamp. We'll have to go on foot, and quickly. There are some old paving bricks in the garden shed. We can weigh her down with them."

And the gators, she thought, the gators and fish would do the rest.

"Even if she's found, it's away from here. The man she ran away with killed her." She dabbed her face with the handkerchief in the pocket of her robe, smoothed a hand over her long, gilded braid. "That's what people will believe if she's found. We need to get her away from here, away from Manet Hall. Quickly."

She was beginning to feel a little mad herself.

There was moonlight. She told herself there was moonlight because fate understood what she was doing, and why. She could hear her son's rapid breathing, and the sounds of the night. The frogs, the insects, the night birds all merging together into one thick note.

It was the end of a century, the beginning of the new. She would rid herself of this aberration to her world and start this new century, this new era, clean and strong.

There was a chill in the air, made raw with wet. But she felt hot, almost burning hot as she trudged away from the house, laden with the bags she'd packed and weighed down. The muscles of her arms, of her legs, protested, but she marched like a soldier.

Once, just once, she thought she felt a brush against her cheek, like the breath of a ghost. The spirit of a dead girl who trailed beside her, accusing, damning, cursing her for eternity.

Fear only made her stronger.

"Here." She stopped and peered out over the water. "Lay her down."

Julian obeyed, then rose quickly, turned his back, covered his face with his hands. "I can't do this. Mama, I can't. I'm sick. Sick."

He tumbled toward the water, retching, weeping.

Useless boy, she thought, mildly annoyed. Men could never handle a crisis. It took a woman, the cold blood and clear mind of a female.

Josephine opened the cloak, laid bricks over the body. Sweat began to pour down her face, but she approached the grisly task as she would any other. With ruthless efficiency. She took the rope out of the hatbox, carefully tied hanks around the cloaked body, top, bottom, middle. Using another, she looped the line through the handles of the luggage, knotted it tight.

She glanced over now to see Julian watching her, his face white as bone. "You'll have to help. I can't get her into the water alone. She's too heavy now."

"I was drunk."

"That's correct, Julian. You were drunk. Now you're sober enough to deal with the consequences. Help me get her into the water."

He felt his legs buckle and give with each step, like a puppet's. The body slid into the water almost soundlessly. There was a quiet plop, a kind of gurgle, then it was gone. Ripples spread on the surface, shimmered in the moonlight, then smoothed away again.

"She's out of our lives," Josephine stated calmly. "Soon, she'll be like those ripples. Like she never was. See that you clean your boots thoroughly, Julian. Don't give them to a servant."

She slid her arm through his, smiled, though her smile was just a little wild. "We need to get back, get some rest. Tomorrow's a very busy day."

—Reprinted from Midnight Bayou by Nora Roberts by permission of G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2001, Nora Roberts. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

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First Chapter

Midnight Bayou, Chapter 1

Manet Hall, Louisiana
December 30, 1899

The baby was crying. Abigail heard it in dreams, the soft, unsettled whimper, the stirring of tiny limbs under soft blankets. She felt the first pangs of hunger, a yearning in the belly, almost as if the child were still inside her. Her milk came down before she was fully awake.

She rose quickly and without fuss. It gave her such pleasure-that overfull sensation in her breasts, the tenderness of them. The purpose of them. Her baby needed and she would provide.

She crossed to the recamier, lifted the white robe draped over its back. She drew in the scent of the hothouse lilies-her favorite-spearing out of a crystal vase that had been a wedding present.

Before Lucian, she'd been content to tuck wildflowers into bottles.

If Lucian had been home, he would have woken as well. Though she would have smiled, have stroked a hand over his silky blond hair as she told him to stay, to sleep, he would have wandered up to the nursery before she'd finished Marie Rose's midnight feeding.

She missed him-another ache in the belly. But as she slipped into her night wrapper, she remembered he would be back the next day. She would start watching for him in the morning, waiting to see him come galloping down the allŽe of oaks.

No matter what anyone thought or said, she would run out to meet him. Her heart would leap, oh, it always leaped, when he sprang down from his horse and lifted her off her feet into his arms.

And at the New Year's ball, they would dance.

She hummed to herself as she lit a candle, shielding it with her hand as she moved to the bedroom door, out into the corridor of the great house where she had once been servant and was now, well, if not daughter of the house at least the wife of its son.

The nursery was on the third floor of the family wing. That was a battle she'd fought with Lucian's mother, and lost. Josephine Manet had definite rules about behavior, domestic arrangements, traditions. Madame Josephine, Abigail thought as she moved quickly and quietly past the other bedroom doors, had definite ideas on everything. Certainly that a three-month-old baby belonged in the nursery, under the care of a nursemaid, and not in a cradle tucked into the corner of her parents' bedroom.

Candlelight flickered and flew against the walls as Abigail climbed the narrowing stairs. At least she'd managed to keep Marie Rose with her for six weeks. And had used the cradle that was part of her own family's traditions. It had been carved by her grand-pere. Her own mother had slept in it, then had tucked Abigail in it seventeen years later.

Marie Rose had spent her first nights in that old cradle, a tiny angel with her doting and nervous parents close at hand.

Her daughter would respect her father's family and their ways. But Abigail was determined that her child would also respect her mother's family, and learn their ways.

Josephine had complained about the baby, about the homemade cradle, so constantly that she and Lucian had given in. It was, Lucian said, the way water wears at rock. It never ceases, so the rock gives way or wears down.

The baby spent her nights in the nursery now, in the crib made in France, where Manet babies had slept for a century.

It was a proper if not cozy arrangement, Abby comforted herself. Her petite Rose was a Manet. She would be a lady.

And as Madame Josephine had pointed out, again and again, other members of the household were not to have their sleep disturbed by fretful cries. However such matters were done in the bayou, here in Manet Hall, children were tended in the nursery.

How her lips curled when she said it. Bayou-as if it were a word to be spoken only in brothels and bars.

It didn't matter that Madame Josephine hated her, that Monsieur Henri ignored her. It didn't matter that Julian looked at her the way no man should look at his brother's wife.

Lucian loved her.

Nor did it matter that Marie Rose slept in the nursery. Whether they were separated by a floor or a continent, she felt Marie Rose's needs as she felt her own. The bond was so strong, so true, it could never be broken.

Madame Josephine may win battles, but Abigail knew she herself had won the war. She had Lucian and Marie Rose.

There were candles glowing in the nursery. Claudine, the nursemaid, didn't trust the gaslight. She already held Marie Rose and was trying to quiet her with a sugar tit, but the baby's fists were shaking, little balls of rage.

"Such a temper she has." Abigail set the candle down and was laughing as she crossed the room, her arms already outstretched.

"Knows what she wants, and when she wants it." Claudine, a pretty Cajun with sleepy dark eyes, gave the baby a quick cuddle, then passed her off. "She hardly made a fuss yet. Don't know how you hear her way off downstairs."

"I hear her in my heart. There now, bŽbŽ. Maman's here."

"Diaper's wet."

"I'll change her." Abigail rubbed her cheek on the baby's and smiled. Claudine was a friend-a battle won. Having her established in the nursery, in the household, gave Abigail comfort and the companionship none of Lucian's family would offer her.

"Go on back to bed. Once she's nursed, she'll sleep till morning."

"Good as gold, she is." Claudine brushed fingertips over Marie Rose's curly hair. "If you don't need me, maybe I'll take a walk down to the river. Jasper, he's gonna be there." Her dark eyes lit. "I told him maybe, if I can get away, I come down around midnight."

"You oughta make that boy marry you, chere."

"Oh, I'm gonna. Maybe I run down for an hour or two, if you don't mind, Abby."

"I don't mind, but you be careful you don't catch nothing more than some crawfish. Anything more," she corrected as she prepared to change Marie Rose's soiled linen.

"Don't you worry. I'll be back before two." She started out through the connecting door and glanced back. "Abby? You ever think, when we were kids, that you'd be mistress of this house one day?"

"I'm not mistress here." She tickled the baby's toes and had Marie Rose gurgling. "And the one who is'll probably live to a hundred and ten off of spite just to make sure I never am."

"If anybody could, it'd be that one. But you will be, one day. You fell into the luck, Abby, and it looks real fine on you."

Alone with the baby, Abby tickled and cooed. She powdered and smoothed, then tidily fastened the fresh diaper. When Marie Rose was tucked into a fresh gown and swaddled, Abby settled in the rocker, bared her breast for that tiny, hungry mouth. Those first greedy tugs, the answering pull in her womb, made her sigh. Yes, she'd fallen into the luck. Because Lucian Manet, the heir of Manet Hall, the shining knight of every fairy tale, had looked at her. And loved.

She bent her head to watch the baby nurse. Marie Rose's eyes were wide open, fixed on her mother's face. A tiny crease of concentration formed between her eyebrows.

Oh, she had such hope those eyes would stay blue, like Lucian's. The baby's hair was dark like her own. Dark and curling, but her skin was milk white-again like her papa's rather than the deeper tone, the dusky gold of her Cajun mama's.

She would have the best of both of them, Abby thought. She would have the best of everything.

It wasn't only the money, the grand house, the social position, though she wanted that for her children now that she had tasted it herself. It was the acceptance, the learning, the knowing you belonged in such a place. Her daughter, and all the children who came after, would read and write, would speak proper English, proper French, in fine voices.

No one would ever look down on them.

"You'll be a lady," Abigail murmured, stroking the baby's cheek as Marie Rose's hand kneaded her breast as if to hurry the milk along. "An educated lady with your papa's sweet heart and your mama's good sense. Papa'll be home tomorrow. It's the very last day of a whole century, and you have your whole life to live in it."

Her voice was quiet, a singsong rhythm to lull both of them.

"It's so exciting, Rosie, my Rosie. We're going to have a grand ball tomorrow night. I have a new gown. It's blue, like your eyes. Like your papa's eyes. Did I tell you I fell in love with his eyes first? So beautiful. So kind. When he came back to Manet Hall from the university, he looked like a prince coming home to his castle. Oh, my heart just pounded so."

She leaned back, rocking in the fluttering light of the candles.

She thought of the New Year's celebration the next evening, and how she would dance with Lucian, how her gown would sweep and swirl as they waltzed.

How she would make him proud.

And she remembered the first time they had waltzed.

In the spring, with the air heavy with perfume from the flowers, and the house alight like a palace. She'd sneaked into the garden, away from her duties, because she'd wanted to see it so much. The way the gleaming white hall with its balusters like black lace stood against the starry sky, the way the windows flamed. Music had spilled out of those windows, out of the gallery doors where guests had stepped out for air.

She'd imagined herself inside the ballroom, whirling, whirling, to the music. And so had whirled in the shadows of the garden. And, whirling, had seen Lucian watching her on the path.

Her own fairy tale, Abby thought. The prince taking Cinderella's hand and drawing her into a dance moments before midnight struck. She'd had no glass slipper, no pumpkin coach, but the night had turned into magic.

She could still hear the way the music had floated out through the balcony doors, over the air, into the garden.

"After the ball is over, after the break of morn . . ."

She sang the refrain quietly, shifting the baby to her other breast.

"After the dancers leaving, after the stars are gone . . ."

They had danced, to that lovely, sad song in the moonlit garden with the house a regal white and gold shadow behind them. Her in her simple cotton dress, and Lucian in his handsome evening clothes. And as such things were possible in fairy tales, they fell in love during that lovely, sad song.

Oh, she knew it had started before that night. For her it had begun with her first glimpse of him, astride the chestnut mare he'd ridden from New Orleans to the plantation. The way the sun had beamed through the leaves and the moss on the live oaks along the allŽe, surrounding him like angel wings. His twin had ridden beside him-Julian-but she'd seen only Lucian.

She'd been in the house only a few weeks then, taken on as an undermaid and doing her best to please Monsieur and Madame Manet so she might keep her position and the wages earned.

He'd spoken to her-kindly, correctly-if they passed each other in the house. But she'd sensed him watching her. Not the way Julian watched, not with hot eyes and a smirk twisting his lips. But, she liked to think now, with a kind of longing.

In the weeks that went by she would come upon him often. He'd sought her out. She knew that now, prized that now, as he'd confessed it to her on their wedding night.

But it had really begun the evening of the ball. After the song had ended, he'd held her, just a moment longer. Then he bowed, as a gentleman bows to a lady. He kissed her hand.

Then, just as she thought it was over, that the magic would dim, he tucked the hand he'd kissed into the crook of his arm. Began to walk with her, to talk with her. The weather, the flowers, the gossip of the household.

As if they were friends, Abby thought now with a smile. As if it were the most natural thing in the world for Lucian Manet to take a turn in the garden with Abigail Rouse.

They'd walked in the garden many nights after that. Inside the house, where others could see, they remained master and servant. But all through that heady spring they walked the garden paths as young lovers, telling each other of hopes, of dreams, of sorrows and joys.

On her seventeenth birthday he brought her a gift, wrapped in silver paper with a bright blue bow. The enameled watch was a pretty circle dangling from the golden wings of a brooch. Time flew, he told her as he pinned the watch to the faded cotton of her dress, when they were together. And he would rather have his life wing by than spend it apart from her.

He'd gotten down on one knee and asked her to be his wife.

It could never be. Oh, she'd tried to tell him through the tears. He was beyond her reach, and he could have anyone.

She remembered now how he'd laughed, how the joy had burst over his beautiful face. How could he be beyond her reach when she had his hand in hers even now? And if he could have anyone, then he would have her.

"So now we have each other, and you," Abby whispered and shifted the drowsing baby to her shoulder. "And if his family hates me for it, what does it matter? I make him happy."

She turned her face into the soft curve of the baby's neck. "I'm learning to speak as they speak, to dress as they dress. I will never think as they think, but for Lucian, I behave as they behave, at least when it shows."

Content, she rubbed the baby's back and continued to rock. But when she heard the heavy footsteps on the stairs, the stumbling climb, she rose quickly. Her arms tightened in a circle of protection around the baby as she turned toward the crib.

She heard Julian come through the door and knew without seeing he would be drunk. He was nearly always drunk or on his way to becoming so.

Abby didn't speak. She lay the baby in the crib, and when Marie Rose whimpered restlessly, stroked her quiet again.

"Where's the nursemaid?" he demanded.

Still, Abby didn't turn. "I don't want you in here when you've been drinking."

"Giving orders now?" His voice was slurred, his balance impaired. But he was thinking clearly enough. Liquor, he'd always believed, helped clarify the mind.

And his was clarified when it came to his brother's wife. If Lucian had a thing-and what was a woman but a thing?-Julian wanted it.

She was small, almost delicate of build. But she had good strong legs. He could see the shape of them where the firelight in the nursery grate shimmered through her thin nightclothes. Those legs would wrap around him as easily as they did his brother.

Her breasts were high and full, fuller now since she'd had the whelp. He'd gotten his hands on them once, and she'd slapped him for it. As if she had a say in who touched her.

He closed the door at his back. The whore he'd bought that night had only whetted his appetite. It was time to sate it.

"Where's the other bayou slut?"

Abby's hand fisted at her side. She turned now, guarding the crib with her body. He looked so like Lucian, but there was a hardness in him Lucian lacked. A darkness.

She wondered if it was true, what her grand-mere said. That with twins, sometimes traits get divvied up in the womb. One gets the good, the other the bad.

She didn't know if Julian had come into the world already spoiled. But she knew he was dangerous when drunk. It was time he learned she was dangerous as well.

"Claudine is my friend, and you have no right to speak of her that way. Get out. You have no right to come in here and insult me. This time Lucian will hear of it."

She saw his gaze slide down from her face, watched lust come into his eyes. Quickly, she tugged her wrapper over the breast still partially exposed from nursing. "You're disgusting. Cochon! To come in a child's room with your wicked thoughts for your brother's wife."

"Brother's whore." He thought he could smell her anger and her fear now. A heady perfume. "You'd have spread your legs for me if I'd been born fifteen minutes sooner. But you wouldn't have stolen my name the way you stole his."

Her chin came up. "I don't even see you. No one does. You're nothing beside him. A shadow, and one that stinks of whiskey and the brothel."

She wanted to run. He frightened her, had always frightened her on a deep, primal level. But she wouldn't risk leaving him with the baby. "When I tell Lucian of this, he'll send you away."

"He has no power here, and we all know it." He came closer, easing his way like a hunter through the woods. "My mother holds the power in this house. I'm her favorite. Timing at birth doesn't change that."

"He will send you away." Tears stung the back of her throat because she knew Julian was right. It was Josephine who reigned in Manet Hall.

"Lucian did me a favor marrying you." His voice was a lazy drawl now, almost conversational. He knew she had nowhere to run. "She's already cut him out of her will. Oh, he'll get the house, she can't change that, but I'll get her money. And it's her money that runs this place."

"Take the money, take the house." She flung out her hands, dismissing them, and him. "Take it all. And go to hell with it."

"He's weak. My sainted brother. Saints always are, under all the piety."

"He's a man, so much more a man than you."

She'd hoped to make him angry, angry enough to strike her and storm out. Instead he laughed, low and quiet, and edged closer.

When she saw the intent in his eyes, she opened her mouth to scream. His hand whipped out, gripped a hank of the dark hair that curled to her waist. And yanking had her scream gurgling into a gasp. His free hand circled her throat, squeezed.

"I always take what's Lucian's. Even his whores."

She beat at him, slapped, bit. And when she could draw in air, screamed. He tore at her wrapper, pawed at her breasts. In the crib, the baby began to wail.

Fueled by the sound of her child's distress, Abby clawed her way free. She spun, stumbled over the torn hem of her nightgown. Her hand closed over the fireplace poker. She swung wildly, ramming it hard against Julian's shoulder.

Howling in pain, he fell back against the hearth, and she flew toward the crib.

She had to get the baby. To get the baby and run.

He caught her sleeve, and she screamed again as the material ripped. Even as she reached down to snatch her daughter from the crib, he dragged her back. He struck her, slicing the back of his hand over her cheek and knocking her back into a table. A candle fell to the floor and guttered out in its own wax.

"Bitch! Whore!"

He was mad. She could see it now in the feral gleam in his eyes, the drunken flush on his cheeks. In that instant fear turned to terror.

"He'll kill you for this. My Lucian will kill you." She tried to gain her feet, but he hit her again, using his fist this time so the pain radiated from her face, through her body. Dazed, she began to crawl toward the crib. There was blood in her mouth, sweet and warm.

My baby. Sweet God, don't let him hurt my baby.

His weight was on her-and the stench of him. She bucked, called for help. The sound of the baby's furious screams merged with hers.

"Don't! Don't! You damn yourself."

But as he yanked up the skirt of her nightgown, she knew no amount of pleading, no amount of struggle, would stop him. He would debase her, soil her, because of who she was. Because she was Lucian's.

"This is what you want." He drove himself into her, and the thrill of power spurted through him like black wine. Her face was white with fear and shock, and raw from the blows of his hands. Helpless, he thought, as he pounded out his raging envy. "This is what all of you want. Cajun whores."

Thrust after violent thrust, he raped her. The thrill of forcing himself into her spumed through him until his breathing turned to short bursts grunted between clenched teeth.

She was weeping now, huge choking sobs. But screaming, too. Somehow screaming as he hammered his fury, his jealousy, his disgust into her.

As the great clock began to chime midnight, he closed his hands around her throat. "Shut up. Damn you." He rammed her head against the floor, squeezed harder. And still the screaming pierced his brain.

Abby heard it, too. Dimly. The baby's frantic cries pealed through her head along with the slow, formal bongs of the midnight hour. She slapped, weak protests against the hands that cut off her air, tried to shut her body off from the unspeakable invasion.

Help me. Mother of Jesus. Help me. Help my baby.

Her vision dimmed. Her heels drummed wildly on the floor as she convulsed.

The last thing she heard was her crying daughter. The last thing she thought was, Lucian.

The door of the nursery burst open. Josephine Manet stood just inside the nursery. She summed up the scene quickly. Coldly.

"Julian."

His hands still vised around Abby's throat, he looked up. If his mother saw madness in his eyes, she chose to ignore it. With her gilt hair neatly braided for the night, her robe sternly buttoned to the neck, she stepped over, stared down.

Abby's eyes were wide and staring. There was a trickle of blood at the corner of her mouth, and bruises blooming along her cheeks.

Dispassionately, she leaned down, laid her fingers against Abby's throat.

"She's dead," Josephine announced and moved quickly to the connecting door. She opened it, glanced into the maid's room. Then closed it, locked it.

She stood for a moment, her back against it, her hand at her own throat as she thought of what could come. Disgrace, ruin, scandal.

"It was . . . an accident." His hands began to shake as they slid away from Abby's throat. The whiskey was whirling in his head now, clouding it. It churned in his belly, sickening it.

He could see the marks on her skin, dark and deep and damning. "She . . . tried to seduce me, then, she attacked . . ."

She crossed the room again, her slippers clicking on wood. Crouching down, Josephine slapped him, one hard crack of flesh on flesh. "Quiet. Be quiet and do exactly as I say. I won't lose another son to this creature. Take her down to her bedroom. Go out through the gallery and stay there until I come."

"It was her fault."

"Yes. Now she's paid for it. Take her down, Julian. And be quick."

"They'll . . ." A single tear gathered in the corner of his eye and spilled over. "They'll hang me. I have to get away."

"No. No, they won't hang you." She brought his head to her shoulder, stroking his hair over the body of her daughter-in-law. "No, my sweet, they won't hang you. Do what Mama says now. Carry her to the bedroom and wait for me. Everything's going to be all right. Everything's going to be as it should be. I promise."

"I don't want to touch her."

"Julian!" The crooning tone snapped into icy command. "Do as I say. Immediately."

She rose, walked over to the crib, where the baby's wails had turned to miserable whimpers. In the heat of the moment, she considered simply laying her hand over the child's mouth and nose. Hardly different than drowning a bag of kittens.

And yet . . .

The child had her son's blood in her, and therefore her own. She could despise it, but she couldn't destroy it. "Go to sleep," she said. "We'll decide what to do about you later."

As her son carried the girl he'd raped and murdered from the room, Josephine began to set the nursery to rights again. She picked up the candle, scrubbed at the cooling wax until she could see no trace.

She replaced the fireplace poker and, using the ruin of Abby's robe, wiped up the splatters of blood. She did it all efficiently, turning her mind away from what had caused the damage to the room, keeping it firmly fixed on what needed to be done to save her son.

When she was certain all was as it should be, she unlocked the door again, left her now-sleeping grandchild alone.

In the morning, she would fire the nursemaid for dereliction of duty. She would have her out of Manet Hall before Lucian returned to find his wife missing.

The girl had brought it on herself, Josephine thought. No good ever came from trying to rise above your station in life. There was an order to things, and a reason for that order. If the girl hadn't bewitched Lucian-for surely there was some local witchery involved-she would still be alive.

The family had suffered enough scandal. The elopement. Oh, the embarrassment of it! Of having to hold your head high when your firstborn son ran off with a penniless, barefoot female who'd grown up in a shack in the swamp.

Then the sour taste of the pretense that followed. It was essential to save face, even after such a blow. And hadn't she done all that could be done to see that creature was dressed as befitted the family Manet?

Silk purses, sow's ears, she thought. What good were Paris fashions when the girl had only to open her mouth and sound of the swamp? For pity's sake, she'd been a servant.

Josephine stepped into the bedroom, shut the door at her back, and stared at the bed where her son's dead wife lay staring up at the blue silk canopy.

Now, she thought, Abigail Rouse was simply a problem to be solved.

Julian huddled in a chair, his head in his hands. "Stop screaming," he muttered. "Stop the screaming."

Josephine marched to him, clamped her hands on his shoulders. "Do you want them to come for you?" she demanded. "Do you want to drag the family through disgrace? To be hanged like a common thief?"

"It wasn't my fault. She enticed me. Then she attacked me. Look. Look." He turned his head. "See how she clawed my face?"

"Yes." For a moment, just for a moment, Josephine wavered. The heart inside the symbol she'd become reared up in protest against the horror of the act all women fear.

Whatever she was, she'd loved Lucian. Whatever she was, she'd been raped and murdered within feet of her own child's crib.

Julian forced her, struck her, defiled her. Killed her.

Drunk and mad, he'd killed his brother's wife. God's pity.

Then she shoved it viciously aside.

The girl was dead. Her son was not.

"You bought a prostitute tonight. Don't turn away from me," she snapped. "I'm not ignorant of the things men do. Did you buy a woman?"

"Yes, Mama."

She nodded briskly. "Then it was the whore who scratched you, should anyone have the temerity to ask. You were never in the nursery tonight." She cupped his face in her hands to keep his eyes level with hers. And her fingers dug into his cheeks as she spoke in low, clear tones. "What reason would you have to go there? You went out, for drink and women and, having your fill of both, came home and went to bed. Is that clear?"

"But, how will we explain-"

"We'll have nothing to explain. I've told you what you did tonight. Repeat it."

"I-I went into town." He licked his lips. Swallowed. "I drank, then I went to a brothel. I came home and went to bed."

"That's right. That's right." She stroked his scored cheek. "Now we're going to pack some of her things-some clothes, some jewelry. We'll do it quickly, as she did it quickly when she decided to run off with a man she'd been seeing in secret. A man who might very well be the father of that child upstairs."

"What man?"

Josephine let out a long sigh. He was the child of her heart, but she often despaired of his brain. "Never mind, Julian. You know nothing of it. Here." She went to the chifforobe, chose a long black velvet cloak. "Wrap her in this. Hurry. Do it!" she said in a tone that had him getting to his feet.

His stomach pitched, and his hands trembled, but he wrapped the body in velvet as best he could while his mother stuffed things in a hatbox and a train case.

In her rush she dropped a brooch of gold wings with a small enameled watch dangling from it. The toe of her slipper struck it so that it skittered into a corner.

"We'll take her into the swamp. We'll have to go on foot, and quickly. There are some old paving bricks in the garden shed. We can weigh her down with them."

And the gators, she thought, the gators and fish would do the rest.

"Even if she's found, it's away from here. The man she ran away with killed her." She dabbed her face with the handkerchief in the pocket of her robe, smoothed a hand over her long, gilded braid. "That's what people will believe if she's found. We need to get her away from here, away from Manet Hall. Quickly."

She was beginning to feel a little mad herself.

There was moonlight. She told herself there was moonlight because fate understood what she was doing, and why. She could hear her son's rapid breathing, and the sounds of the night. The frogs, the insects, the night birds all merging together into one thick note.

It was the end of a century, the beginning of the new. She would rid herself of this aberration to her world and start this new century, this new era, clean and strong.

There was a chill in the air, made raw with wet. But she felt hot, almost burning hot as she trudged away from the house, laden with the bags she'd packed and weighed down. The muscles of her arms, of her legs, protested, but she marched like a soldier.

Once, just once, she thought she felt a brush against her cheek, like the breath of a ghost. The spirit of a dead girl who trailed beside her, accusing, damning, cursing her for eternity.

Fear only made her stronger.

"Here." She stopped and peered out over the water. "Lay her down."

Julian obeyed, then rose quickly, turned his back, covered his face with his hands. "I can't do this. Mama, I can't. I'm sick. Sick."

He tumbled toward the water, retching, weeping.

Useless boy, she thought, mildly annoyed. Men could never handle a crisis. It took a woman, the cold blood and clear mind of a female.

Josephine opened the cloak, laid bricks over the body. Sweat began to pour down her face, but she approached the grisly task as she would any other. With ruthless efficiency. She took the rope out of the hatbox, carefully tied hanks around the cloaked body, top, bottom, middle. Using another, she looped the line through the handles of the luggage, knotted it tight.

She glanced over now to see Julian watching her, his face white as bone. "You'll have to help. I can't get her into the water alone. She's too heavy now."

"I was drunk."

"That's correct, Julian. You were drunk. Now you're sober enough to deal with the consequences. Help me get her into the water."

He felt his legs buckle and give with each step, like a puppet's. The body slid into the water almost soundlessly. There was a quiet plop, a kind of gurgle, then it was gone. Ripples spread on the surface, shimmered in the moonlight, then smoothed away again.

"She's out of our lives," Josephine stated calmly. "Soon, she'll be like those ripples. Like she never was. See that you clean your boots thoroughly, Julian. Don't give them to a servant."

She slid her arm through his, smiled, though her smile was just a little wild. "We need to get back, get some rest. Tomorrow's a very busy day."

--From Midnight Bayou by Nora Roberts, Copyright (c) October 2001, Putnam Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Putnam, used by permission.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 179 )
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(107)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 182 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 31, 2011

    Couldn't put it down.

    Midnight Bayou is one of my all time favorite Nora Roberts novels. the main characters really sizzle and you find yourself caring for them deeply. I love the ghost story and the twist involving Declan and Lena. I don't want to give anything away to those who haven't read it yet. Highly recommended read. I literally couldn't put it down and read the entire novel in less than two days.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 16, 2001

    Insultingly stupid

    This book starts off very interestingly but soon becomes so very unbelievable. Its as if Nora became bored with writing it or ran out of time. I was very disappointed.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 28, 2011

    Interesting Story Line / Romance

    The book was a good read and the story line was kinda unique, with a level of romance that wasn't over the top.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 3, 2011

    Great Novel with a Louisiana theme

    I really enjoyed this book. If you like Nora Roberts, you won't be disappointed. If you enjoy books with Cajun and Louisiana themes, as I do, then you will especially enjoy it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 25, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Ghostly - reincarnation - A great Tale...

    Nora Roberts made this story fascinating the way she wrote a story within a story in future days relating to the past - I found it quite interesting the way she made the characters come alive with an intriguing soul reconnection of what once was a past life coming to life again - just makes you wonder how real this possiblity in real life can be.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 11, 2010

    Nora's Jumped the Shark

    I loved this book right up until the end, where in my opinion; Roberts triple jumped the shark in a big way. The characters have fabulous chemistry, are loveable and the reader is rooting for them to succeed. The villains are perfectly evil and make for a few tense and scary moments. In that Roberts really triumphed. I liked the setting as well. Roberts brought the Deep South to life so much so that I find myself wanting to visit. My only concern was the ending, in which she attempted to veer away from the predictable to catch the reader by surprise. She veered much too far and is far off of the track. You didn't see it coming but it was just too forced for me. It didnt stop me from enjoying the book, I really did enjoy it, I just find myself remembering the ending more than the rest of the book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 21, 2009

    Midnight was FANTASTIC!

    This book really embodies the spirit of New Orleans...I love New Orleans and the history of it...even though this is a book of fiction, it truly is done very well keeping in the whole feeling that you only get in NOLA! Very well-written and I finished it in 2 days...GREAT READ!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 14, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    WHAT AN ENDING!!!

    I have never read a book with such an ending (well, of Nora's). Her endings are usually the typical man tries to kill woman, woman falls in love with man who is trying to protect her, hero takes down killer, hero and woman fall in love. Noooo. Sure,this is a romance book and yes, the ending is good, but in the way I thought. Such a trist!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 21, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Nora Roberts is awesome

    This book is an amazing read, I have read it 3 times, its hard to put down. The characters are awesome. I love the paranormal side of this book. I didn't expect the ending at all!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 16, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    midnight bayou

    ok when i first saw this on bookstore everytime i got there, i just ignore this because i got lots on my list. so then i get curious about the cover and the title and decided to pick it out because it always caught my eyes. i was glad then when i start reading this book. nora roberts made one story again so real and hope its realy real! the last reviewer says " it like real and jumping out of the paper of the book " funny but really! the characters made me laugh and cry and it excite me more and more when the mystery unfold...i love the way Lena and Dec fought each other i found it very sexy lol :)) the characters in the past makes me cry so touching. everything is in here Romance,Thriller,Suspence,and Humor. Nora Roberts now became my one of my favorite author! a must read book! it keeps you going turning pages. i found myself still awake around 4 in the morning you know "time is really gold" i dont waste time not to continue reading it LOVE THIS STORY!!! THIS IS AWESOME!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 27, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    fun and sultry

    I am always a Nora Roberts fan but this book is really good because you get to see the supernatural mix with the reality and all the characters are hot. They are right there in your mind just jumping off the page

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 27, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Midnight Bayou

    I really enjoyed this book. I found the story line and characters believable. It was a quick read because of the mystery involved. It keeps you guessing right up to the end.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 23, 2009

    I have to disagree with the last reviewer...

    Living an hour from the location chosen for the book does not give you the complete knowledge of an area or of the culture. I think she captured the essence of the land very well! Don't turn your nose up unless you are a Historian with a Ph.D. I am a new fan of Nora Roberts and this was the first book I read. I saw the movie recently and in the book it is different in many parts. I think the book is much better of course and even though I liked the movie I loved the book. I think it was romantic and passionate, a really good mystery surrounding a house and family. She melting the past and present characters together nicely. You will feel like you are there, and her storytelling style is comforting.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 19, 2009

    WARNING: MAJOR, MAJOR SPOILERS

    First, I live an hour outside of New Orleans and most of the stuff I read that was supposed to describe the "local culture" sounded to me like Nora Roberts did a Google search and pulled crap straight from Wikipedia. She threw in just about every cliché and overused phrase that anyone could pick up from watching Real World: New Orleans re-runs. It would take some really smooth talking to convince she actually did any serious research. But then again, it's a romance novel, right? What more can I expect?

    Any who...on to the story...

    Was it just me, or did Declan seem like Christopher Lowell? Pretty much right from the start, that's all I could think of while reading about Declan, his thoughts and dialogue. My God, the decorating descriptions he gave, as well as his penchant for antiquing, completely cancelled out that "manly-man" quality ole Nora was going for. Not that I don't appreciate those qualities in a man. It's just that trying to make Declan a man's man in light of those characteristics was just as difficult to believe as Catherine Anderson's cowboys saying "fabulous" in just about every other sentence. *insert immature comment about Brokeback Mountain here*

    When I got to the part of the story where it was revealed Declan was a reincarnated woman, I nearly laughed myself to death. This is the part of the story that makes it impossible for anyone to argue with me that the character Declan acted too much like a woman--because he had been one. I give N-Rob points for giving the reincarnation plot a twist, but it turned out to be a little more than I could handle. And no--arranging a bachelor party for his friend at a series of strip clubs does not maintain Declan's manliness after the used-to-be-a-woman fact is revealed. It just makes him unoriginal.

    After I was able to contain my laughter, I thought, "wow, she switched the genders; that's pretty cool." But then when Declan describes the "wonder of pushing life into the world" on page 318 (in his/her past life, he/she gave birth), I thought, "wow, that's pretty disturbing." It was so disturbing, in fact, that it overshadowed the rest of the story. I'm sorry, but if I'm going to read a romance novel, I don't want my hero to have given birth at any time, past or present.

    The ending was pretty disturbing as well, mainly because I reached it so abruptly. When I flipped to the last page and saw the preview for one of her other novels, I felt cheated. I don't know if Ms. Roberts had been running late on the deadline or what, but she left too many lose ends untied to be acceptable. Good thing I got this one from a used book store. I'd rather be cheated out of time than money. Mabye I was a man in a former life.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 17, 2009

    Oh yes!!

    I have read many Nora Roberts books and this one is awesome. The characters are very well developed, and you feel yourself feeling for them. The plot was great and it actually scared me a little when I read it late at night...But yes, great book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 13, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    One of her best

    Without a doubt, Midnight Bayou is my favorite of all of Nora's books that I've read. So many books these days seem very cliche. This was anything but.

    Declan's character was strong and stubborn without being over bearing. He endears himself to the reader as a man who knows what he wants and how to get it. Once he sets his mind to something he sticks with it and nothing can shake him.

    Lena's character is strong and stubborn as well. She's been hurt deeply, but not in the way most romance novels reveal. She's comfortable with where she is in her life, but realizes she could also be comfortable with opening her heart.

    Midnight Bayou made me want to tour southern plantations...haunted ones. The haunting of Manet hall is not so far fetched as to be completely unbelievable.

    An all around great book with likable characters and a compelling story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    SPELLBOUNDING!

    I loved this book!! I enjoyed that it was told from mostly the male's perspective and I really liked the lead characters. Declan feels compelled to leave his job as a lawyer and buy a house--Manet Hall--that has fascinated him for 11 years. It is in disprepair and he puts his all into bringing it back to its former grandeur. However, strange things happen while he is there, including flashbacks (memories?) of a murder that took place a long time ago. While doing this, he meets Lena, who plays an integral part in his memories. Declan has a sense of humor and makes you want to believe that people like him really exist. I would have to say my only complaint is that I wish the ending scene was longer--I would have liked to see Lena's reaction to the ring. This is defintitely one of my favorite Nora Robert's books, and I'm usually not into past lives, etc. Buy this book--you won't be sorry. Nora never disappoints!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 21, 2008

    Fantabulous Book

    This book was absolutely amazing, I love Declan and Lena they are both extremely amazing and intriguing characters, I love how they are connected by the past. I highly, highly recommend this book to others. Along with every Nora Roberts book!!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2014

    Fun, exciting, scary, classic ghost story

    I really enjoyed this ghost story! It was creepy, exciting, and fun, all at the same time! You will enjoy this book. I hope she makes this a trilogy of ghost stories!!!!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 7, 2014

    I keep reading it over and over!

    I keep reading it over and over!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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