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“In My Immortal, Erin McCarthy weaves past and present together in a tale of shocking sins and stunning sensuality…[a] richly conceived story.”
—USA Today bestselling author Rebecca York
Erin McCarthy and her bestselling novels
“Keep an eye on this new author.”
“Both naughty and nice…sure to charm readers.”
“One of the romance writing industry’s brightest stars…Ms. McCarthy spins a fascinating tale that deftly blends a paranormal story with a blistering romance.”
—Romance Reviews Today
“Characters you will care about, a story that will make you laugh and cry, and a book you won’t soon forget…priceless.”
—The Romance Reader (5 hearts)
“An alluring tale.”
—A Romance Review (5 roses)
“Fans will appreciate this otherworldly romance and want a sequel.”
—Midwest Book Review
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“A keeper. I’m giving it four of Cupid’s five arrows.”
Titles by Erin McCarthy
A DATE WITH THE OTHER SIDE
HEIRESS FOR HIRE
Tales of Vegas Vampires
BIT THE JACKPOT
I would like to give a special thank-you to Barbara Satow, who kindly read the beginning of this book five years ago when I was a brand new NEORWA member, and who then spent hours last year helping me plot this new version after I threw out everything but the prologue. Thanks for the friendship and the great ideas.
Also, a huge thanks to both my agent, Karen Solem, and my editor, Cindy Hwang, for being so encouraging when I said I wanted to explore a darker story. Your support is invaluable to me.
RIVER ROAD, LOUISIANA, 1790
Rosa Francis was a demon.
She was a spirit, a chaotic blending of French restlessness, Spanish mores, and the pride of the gens de couleur. She was the fortitude of a mixed people heedlessly building a city in a tropical swamp at the mouth of the Mississippi, as well as the foolishness.
The father had told her she was the spirit of greed, the result of a ludicrous lifestyle reminiscent of the French Court that had no business among the cypress and the mosquito. It lived inside her, this desire for more, for extravagance, for rich and delicious foods.
For the lusty, erotic company of human men.
Some believed in her, feared her, particularly the slaves who lived in their squat wood houses on the plantations that were cropping up along River Road with increasing regularity. They understood the need to placate her, keep her ravenous appetite satisfied, and catered to her desires by leaving out their best food for her to steal and by offering her their bold men as a sacrifice to her complacency.
The Creole plantation owners, as well, believed in her, though with no fear. Their wealth, their breeding, the arrogance in their own worth, led them to view her as entertainment. Some had seen her when she’d felt the urge to show herself, had widened their eyes in amazement, then laughingly run off to tell their friends. She had on occasion flooded a field or burned a crop to let them know that, while amusing, she could still be dangerous.
Their joie de vivre aside, they understood, and faithfully followed, the slaves’ example of leaving out food and clothing, though they reserved this generosity for only one day per year. On the summer solstice, they created a feast for her and let her roam through their yards taking all she wished.
Tonight was that night, so long anticipated that she shivered in expectation, her sister Marguerite padding softly along beside her. Rosa preferred to glide, hovering slightly above the wet swamp as they passed through the Bayou St. John. The swamp was never silent, particularly at night. It was alive with the voices of thousands of living creatures humming in harmony—insects, snakes, and gators weaving in and out of the reeds and living under the protection of the mighty cypress watching paternally from the shore.
“Slow down,” Marguerite complained, “I can’t keep up with you.”
“Then fly.” Rosa was too excited to let Marguerite sour her mood. She knew her sister resented Rosa’s slim body with long limbs, having been given a round and stout figure. Father had said Marguerite was the spirit of gluttony, the embodiment of the Creole love of money and objects, food and wine. Marguerite said her body was nothing more than the love of cake.
“I won’t.” Her sister’s feet slowed even further.
Rosa laughed. “Fine. I’ll go without you. Au revoir.”
She couldn’t slow down for Marguerite or for anyone. She could practically smell the salmon, the roasted duck, the wild peas and rice, the café au lait penetrating through the moist hot air, enveloping her and urging her on. The hunger burned inside her and had to be satisfied.
She was stopping first at Rosa de Montana, a thriving plantation belonging to the equally thriving du Bourg family, for the simple reason that she felt it brought her good luck to begin her feast in a place of the same name as herself.
Phillipe du Bourg had been a generous man—with his money, his food, his favors—and as such had been wildly popular in the exclusive circle of planters in New Orleans. He threw lavish parties, had guests living with him for years at a time, and was known to have fathered a good dozen or so children on his slave women. He laughed, he danced, he gambled, he drank, and he lived a full and privileged life that had suddenly ended when he’d ridden off on his horse, wildly drunk, and had hit his head on the low-hanging branch of an oak.
His son, Damien, was not nearly so admired. He had returned from France upon his father’s death, a vicious, pampered man of twenty-four, with a pasty-faced smidge of a wife who stood four foot nine and weighed eighty-five pounds in her skirts. Damien had been quite the favorite at court and as such had been given Marie, with the blessing of her titled family, who thought nothing of her health in the disease-infested wilderness compared to the one-million-livre fortune the du Bourgs possessed.
Rumor had that Damien had been making enemies left and right, was penurious with his money, and thought no boudoir beyond his reach, including that of the mayor’s wife.
Rosa left Marguerite completely behind and sailed furiously, the wind rushing through her black hair, her wispy red sheath neither gown nor shift but more an extension of her long narrow body. She could see the gas lamps illuminating the house, the doors of its upper galleries open to allow the breeze entrance. Its white pillars stood in the shadows, racing right and left, wooden balustrades in between, an impressive structure in defiance of the soft ground on which it was built.
There was nothing in the yard. Fury ripped through her exuberant mood with the force of a cyclone. There were no lamps lit along the drive, no food, no clothes, no giggling partygoers watching from the front porch. There was nothing.
Hitting the ground with more force than was required, she sank three feet into the soft soil and stepped out in a haze of anger. The rumors were true. Damien du Bourg was not the man his father had been.
He was also standing in front of her.
Leaning on a pillar at the top of the stairs, he watched her as he smoked a cigar, pulling on it tightly before blowing out a wreath of pungent smoke. He was attractive in a way few men could claim. Rosa studied the strength of his jaw, the long cheekbones, and the haughty tilt of his head. His sandy blond hair was pulled back in a short queue, white loose shirt open at the chest, revealing a breadth of shoulders that caused her to shiver in feminine excitement. He wore no jacket, but had tight-fitting suede breeches that showed his thighs were as muscular as his arms, and his fawn-colored top boots were expensive, though well worn.
He held a flask in his other hand, which he put to his lips and drank deeply from. His expression was arrogant, rich green eyes drinking her in as his lips did the liquor.
“Do you know who I am?” Her anger returned tenfold at his bold, sweeping assessment of her.
“Since you have just stepped out of a three-foot hole, I imagine I do.”
His nonchalance was creating a maelstrom inside her, pushing and bubbling and popping. “Where is my food then?”
“I don’t have any for you.”
Her anger boiled over, and before she could stop herself her fingers had spasmed, causing a crack of lightning to flash above their heads and a torrential rain to pour down, flattening her hair to her head and soaking into her dress.
“That wasn’t very smart.” He stood dryly under his porch roof, the corner of his mouth twitching upward. “All you did was make yourself wet.”
Rosa blinked to clear the water from her eyes and frowned at him. “I want some venison or duck before I’ll leave.”
His foot propped up the column and he took another swig. “You come here and eat my food, and what do I get in return?”
He was missing the point entirely. He’d been in France too long, where the mysteries of the bayou held no sway. She quickly sailed through the ten feet between them, up the steps, and stopped inches from his face. “I don’t ruin your crops, your plantation, your life.”
As she brought the rain to a slowing, misting stop, he didn’t blink, nor try to move away from her. She could see there was no fear in his eyes. His gaze dropped to her lips. “No one told me you were so beautiful.”
Her other vice, her womanly desires, surfaced with the rapidity of the storm she’d created. It was a painful throb deep inside her, this need to feel a man’s body wrapped around her own, an all-encompassing and voracious appetite that she indulged less than she did her need for food. The roasted duck was forgotten, as were his arrogance and overbearing manners. She decided that while Damien had set out no food, he was offering to feed her other ache.
Confident of her charms, she smiled slowly, floating above the porch step, while mosquitoes buzzed around the lamplight. The starkness of his statement caused a sheen of feminine pride to set her skin aglow. She was beautiful, with the exotic look of a Spaniard, and she could have whatever she wanted. She wanted him now.
Rosa laughed deep in her throat, a sensual promise. “Yes, I am.”
His answer was to close the inches remaining between them and press his hard lips to hers, the taste of the whiskey droplets on his mouth sinking her into a spiral of pleasure. The wetness of his tongue pushing urgently into her mouth filled her with the masculine tastes of cigar smoke and whiskey, hot passion and urgent need.
Her hands gripped his head as she tasted thoroughly, enjoying his hard grip on her arms, the quick mating of his tongue with hers, his lustful willingness to succumb to sexual attraction. Beyond them on the porch she sensed movement. A small, pale woman was clutching her hands to her chest in horror, her brown hair unbound, her white nightgown prim and demure.
She belonged to the delicate French-designed house, with its long louvered windows and sweeping galleries, and its wide front steps leading from the swampy jungle to the civilization of the drawing room. But her delicateness, her fragile bloom, did not belong with this virile man whose appetites were as urgent and questing as Rosa’s own.
“Your wife is watching,” Rosa whispered in his ear now, sucking gently on the lobe.
“Is she?” He turned, still clutching her, and smiled. “Good evening, Marie. Care to join us?”
When the woman turned with a gasp and ran into the house, he laughed an emotionless laugh. “Poor Marie, she doesn’t know how to have fun.”
“And you do?”
“I do.” He turned back with a ferocity that stole Rosa’s breath, pulling her into him and molding her body to the length of his, her wet dress clinging to her small, rounded breasts.
His kisses trailed down her neck to her shoulder, worshipful hot presses that caused her to moan, her body aching with want. As his thumb brushed across her breast, teasing her nipple, she urged him, “Yes. More.”
“More,” he agreed, lifting her dress past her waist with demanding hands, stroking her thighs possessively. With sure and greedy movements he went to the straps of her sheath dress, pushing them off her shoulders to expose her breasts. With a groan of his own, he took her into his mouth, sucking and pulling gently with his teeth, cupping her bare, eager flesh with his soft hands.
Working open his pants, she pulled the hot length of him into her hands as her desire swirled and churned inside her, pushing out everything but the need to be possessed by a strong, reckless, mortal man. The storm brewed inside her, hot and tight, her infrequently indulged desires sparking like kindling, and she felt rather than saw that her thoughts had actually ignited the shrubbery on either side of the front steps.
He barely glanced over, murmuring, “The bushes are on fire.”
“Shh, I know.” She turned the rain back on with a tilt of her head, keeping her greedy hands on him, laboring over the smooth feel of his hard shaft until his panting breath hitched and he forcibly pushed her away.
His ragged groan was her triumph, her glory in bringing a man to the edge of his control.
The gentle drops of water spattered across her arms, rolling down to her fingertips, and a fine swirling mist rose around them as she delicately poised herself over him. His back was flush against the solid column for support and he urged her body downward with his hands, spreading her thighs and easing her toward him until she hovered in breathtaking anticipation.
“I would ask you for something.” His muscular arms held her hips tightly, keeping her still, his hardness teasing her softness as he denied her.
“What’s that?” She let her eyes flutter shut, not caring in the least what he wanted. There was only her need, her rolling, throbbing desires seeking to burst forth out of her in a cascade of gloriously delicious sin.
It wouldn’t be difficult to take control, drop herself down onto him and force the hot joining they both wanted, but he was whispering in her ear, distracting her, asking…
Her eyes flew open in surprise. She’d had humans make requests of her, beg for mercy, for more, for release. But this human, this Damien du Bourg, was asking boldly what no one had requested of her before. He looked serious, his eyes filled with lust, yes, but also a cold, calculated determination. She shivered under the onslaught of raindrops, her body just far enough out that the porch roof offered no protection. “How do you know I can give you what you ask for?”
“I know who you are. You can do this.” His face shined from the rivulets running down his cheeks, the lamplight reflecting off of his empty, joyless face.
She tossed her sodden hair back over her shoulder, pressing her bare breasts against the softness of his damp linen shirt. It was a foolish request, one he would live to regret, but Rosa thought Damien was deserving of regret. He had a black heart, cold and arrogant, and she was attracted to the idea of him being indebted to her.
This wasn’t the normal way of things, but she was young and impulsive. She thought it would be satisfying to see this proud man forced to serve her and the father, as he would have to if she granted him the escape from death he requested.
She hesitated long enough to warn, “If I do this, I can’t undo it. Do you understand?”
Though his eyes darkened, he nodded. “Yes, I understand. Do it for me.”
With a shrug, she told him, “It’s done.”
And with a soft groan, he moved, slamming her onto him, pumping up and down, exploding her mind and body with a thousand little gunshots of pleasure as she threw back her head in utter abandon.
“Thank you,” he murmured into her mouth as he kissed her hotly, the porch steps creaking beneath his boots as they rocked. “You won’t regret it.”
Though regret was the furthest thing from her mind at the moment, she knew, with the clarity of one who can sense without seeing, that there was going to be hell to pay for this one.
As Damien du Bourg stood in the Liverpool Museum, iPod at his ears, and stared at The Punishment of Lust by Segantini, he knew he had to have that painting.
The dreamy, muted colors of the canvas showed the regret, the pain, the hopelessness that Damien knew as intimately as himself. It was his lust that had killed Marie, and his lust that had lured Marissabelle, yet they had taken the punishment for his sins.
Like the two women drifting in the empty landscape in front of him, he too was wrapped in shroudlike, clingy bonds of pain, suspended in nothingness for eternity.
“Excuse me,” he said to the female security guard who had been discreetly trailing him.
“Yes?” She crossed her arms over her ample chest and eyed him suspiciously. Not an attractive woman, she looked like life had given her a reason to distrust, and he was sorry for that, sorry that she too knew pain.
“Do you know where I can buy a print of this painting?”
“The gift shop might have it.” Her shoulders relaxed a fraction. “Do you know where the gift shop is?”
Damien smiled, knowing the effect it would have. “No. Perhaps you could point me in the right direction?”
“I guess I can walk you over there.”
“Merci. Thank you, I appreciate it.”
She gave an unexpected smile in return, and a plain face became almost pretty. It was a rationalization on his part, that random acts of sexual kindness could make up for what he had done, but it was the only way he could live with himself, and he had a long life to live.
Damien readjusted his plans for the evening to include the suspicious security guard and her Rubenesque body.
To: Marley Turner
Subject: Hey, sis!
Hey Marley miss you lots. Would say wish you were here but if you were here I guess we wouldn’t be having any fun because this is definitely not the place for a prude like you. LOL. Parties every night and the hottest most amazing guy I’ve ever met in my entire life. I swear, I am going to stop at nothing until I have married this guy, Mar. His name is Damien du Bourg, isn’t that the most sexiest name ever? And Louisana (sp?) is sexy too, it’s hot all the time and all the guys are sweaty, it’s like a hunk calendar 24/7. Damien lives in this totally weird huge mansion—hello, it even has a name, Rosa de Montana, isn’t that cool??—and it’s like his ancestors house. Did I mention he’s totally rich? < g > He won’t let me poke around upstairs or anything but I know how to change his mind, but I won’t tell you how because maybe a nun is reading this over your shoulder and I don’t want to shock a sister. Just my sister.
When is your retreat thingie done? We may have a wedding to plan.;-)
Hugs, Lizzie (in love)
Lizzie in love, I like that!
“Oh, Lizzie.” Marley gave an exasperated laugh and reread her sister’s e-mail three times. It was hard to pinpoint what was the most ridiculous thing about it. There was the juvenile enthusiasm for a man she’d just met. And overuse of the word like.
But maybe more absurd than anything Lizzie could ever write was that Marley felt an unpleasant, swelling jealousy, an envy for her sister’s carefree selfishness. Intellectually, Marley was appalled by the reckless lifestyle Lizzie lived. But at the same time she resented the ease with which Lizzie leaped into new situations, relationships. Marley didn’t want to be Lizzie—she was too stable and cautious to willingly jump on a train wreck—but she wanted a piece of Lizzie’s exuberance. Marley wanted to be the one who made a mess, just once, and then walked away and let someone else do the cleaning up.
She wouldn’t, of course.
But she couldn’t hide from her growing sense of discontent, as spending the summer on a retreat at the Benedictine convent had proved. It had been an attempt to escape the needs and wants that swirled around her, pecking away at her emotions, leaving her worried and dissatisfied, but her strategy had completely failed. Her desires clamored even louder for attention. There was literally no peace, no retreat from her problems, her fears about her family, and her loneliness, so she was going home.
“Bad news from home?” Sister Margaret asked.
She glanced over at Margaret, who was charting her family’s genealogy on the other computer in the lounge. Marley was leaving the convent the next day on a mid-morning flight, but she had asked permission to check her e-mail and to let her family know she was returning home earlier than expected.
“Maybe. I’m not sure.”
“Did I?” Marley stared at Lizzie’s smiley faces, perky and bouncing, just like Lizzie. “My sister, Elizabeth, she’s ‘in love.’” Marley made quote marks in the air. “But she just met this guy, and there is no mention whatsoever of my nephew, her two-year-old son. She’s left him with my cousin again while she’s off with this guy. I worry about her.”
Marley hadn’t spoken to any of her family in over two months, since she’d arrived at the convent, which had been a painful attempt to distance herself from their problems, to stop trying to play savior for everyone. It had been the hardest thing she’d ever done, and now she felt doubt, guilt rising up from that well of worry her family always filled. The e-mail from Lizzie was dated mid-June and it was already late August. Marley had spent the entire summer in prayer and reflection, and by the end of her time at the convent had realized her ache to be a mother was coloring all her thoughts, all her actions, driving her unhappiness.
It had led her to the decision to adopt a child and become a single mother.
What had Lizzie spent the summer doing?
Marley was almost afraid to ask.
Especially when she replied to Elizabeth and her e-mail immediately bounced back.
Her sister’s account had been closed.
Marley frowned and opened the attachment.
The Punishment of Lust looked good on his wall. Damien’s first instinct had been to frame the print in stark, sleek black, to mirror the austere nature of the painting, the bleak landscape. But then he had decided it was a better visual reminder to surround the image in a rich, gilded, ornate frame that echoed the France of his youth, the days when he had romped at court with Louis and Marie. Not his Marie, but the king’s Marie.
It was that early life which had brought him here, to now.
He hung it in his private room, the refurbished former pigeonnier, so that it could remind him of who and what he was.
The woman on his sofa moaned in distress at his distraction, and he shifted his gaze from the painting, refocusing attention back on her as he slid his tongue smoothly between her hot, wet thighs.
As if he could ever forget what he was, what he had stupidly asked for, what he was chained to for eternity.
There was no forgetting, and there was no escape.
Mme. Damien du Bourg
River Road, St. James Parish
Father Francis Montelier
Sacred Heart Church
November 19, 1790
Dear Father Montelier,
Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been nineteen months since my last confession.
I understand, Father, that my confession here is irregular and that it may not be within your power to grant a sacrament via the post. But I hope that given my family’s longstanding relationship with you, and the personal affection I had for you as a child under your holy tutelage, you will approach my confession with a measure of understanding for the circumstances I find myself in. There is no priest here at Rosa de Montana, and my husband does not permit me to travel the distance to the local parish, so as such, I am alone with neither counsel nor religious influence.
However, neither loneliness nor lack of guidance can excuse nor explain the things I have done, and I ask you and God for forgiveness. My egregious sins are as follows:
Taking unseemly pleasure in marital relations.
Willingness to overlook my husband’s improprieties.
Envy of those improprieties and their beauty.
Self-loathing for my lack of control.
Interference with the purpose and sanctity of marriage.
Sin is rampant here in Louisiana, vice wrapping around us as oppressively as the heat, but that is no excuse for my unspeakable actions, and I ask very humbly that, in whatever way is possible, you grant me a measure of comfort and cleanliness, with your forgiveness from a loving God.
I am yours most sincerely,
Marie Evangeline Theresa Bouvier du Bourg
Marley watched out the window as the taxi turned into a deeply rutted drive, nearly consumed by low-hanging branches and lush foliage.
“Are you sure this is it?” It looked abandoned, and there was no sign, no address marker. Just thick, oppressive trees that formed a heavy canopy, blocking out the relentless sun.
“Sure it is,” the driver told her, dark eyes glancing at her in the rearview mirror. “Everyone here ’bouts knows Rosa de Montana. Lots of people coming and going all the time.”
“Why?” This didn’t look the kind of place anyone would be eager to just dash off to on a regular basis. They were miles from anything resembling civilization, and Marley thought most funeral homes were cheerier than this isolated entryway. The two dilapidated posts on either side of the drive screamed Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Amityville Horror, The Seventh Sign.
“Parties? Like cocktail parties?” Maybe Damien du Bourg was the Jay Gatsby of the bayou.
Her driver gave a little laugh and smiled at her over his shoulder. He was in his fifties, his hair a bristly gray, and he wore an ear bud for his cell phone. “Not exactly. Word is they’re more like sex parties.”
“Sex parties?” Marley adjusted her canvas summer purse on her lap and contemplated the concept. “What do people do at sex parties?”
Okay, so that came out wrong. Of course she knew that sex had to be involved, somehow, but she was having a little trouble visualizing exactly how these things played out in a crowd. It seemed to defy logic that a large gathering could dissolve into intimate hedonistic sexual gratification. Were there hors d’oeuvres? Alcohol? Did they start off mingling over dinner, cocktails…and then what? Someone rang a bell? Were there rules? Who did you hook up with? Was it in front of other people?
Yeah. She had a hard time visualizing it.
The driver gave a real hearty belly laugh, the guffaws cutting in and out each time the taxi hit a rut in the pitted driveway. “Sweetie, you sure you want to go on up there?”
“I have to. My sister is there.” She hoped, anyway. No one knew where Lizzie was, and Marley was more than a little worried, fear starting to replace her earlier irritation.
So Lizzie was unreliable. So she had run off before and always resurfaced. But never had she cut herself off from her family for over eight weeks. It was too long, and the only place Marley could think to look for Lizzie was here, at the plantation house she had mentioned in her last e-mail.
“She know you’re going to visit?”
“No.” But Lizzie would be glad to see her. Her sister was always glad to see her, even when she pouted and told Marley she was a fun-sucker, ruining all Lizzie’s good times.
It was true. She was a fun-sucker. She couldn’t help it. Someone had to be rational, even if it was boring.
They slowed to a crawl, the taxi turning into the circular drive that abutted the impressive mansion. It had definitely seen better days. The once white paint had softened to a dirty gray and flaked aggressively in all directions. The shutters clung to the house precariously, like novice mountain climbers with white knuckles, knowing if they relaxed just a little, they’d be down on the ground.
“She ain’t much to look at,” the driver said.
“No. But it’s still gorgeous.” It was massive, its long galleries sweeping left and right from the front door, a grand reminder of the days when conversation was an art, the French owned New Orleans, and sugar was the road to riches.
In the closed chill of the car, the air-conditioning blasting next to her shoulder, Marley was puzzled. This type of crumbling house, with the past struggling to remain in the present, the musty whispers of history wafting out from it, was Marley’s brand of pleasure, not Lizzie’s.
Marley loved history, the past, anything vintage or antique. A progressive Jesuit priest in college had told Marley that history and religion were the most effective means of avoiding the present, and she suspected that was true. She had certainly used both as a means to that end from time to time, though she felt no guilt for it. Every day she was firmly grounded in reality as an urban teacher and designated Sane Person in her dysfunctional family and was entitled to an occasional respite. She found that escape in antiques, and in old houses, with the stories they breathed, and how they sparked her normally dormant imagination.
On the opposite end of the spectrum sat her sister. Old made Lizzie itch. She wanted new, shiny, clean, the next big excitement, the latest and the coolest. This wasn’t the kind of place her sister would enjoy staying in, yet Lizzie had claimed she was here.
Marley had spent the last three days trying to track down her sister, with no luck. None of Lizzie’s friends knew where she was, her cell had been disconnected, and her last landlord had evicted her in June. Doing Internet research on this plantation and Damien du Bourg had revealed only that he did in fact own the property and that it was a Louisiana historic landmark, but closed to the public since it was privately owned. The house had been in the du Bourg family since its construction in the late eighteenth century, and that was the extent of what she’d been able to determine.