Old secrets are rising up to haunt the inhabitants of Louisiana's small, rustic St. Germaine Parish, where no one is quite who they seem, and restless spirits are rumored to roam the woods and the antebellum mansion of the town's richest family, the St. Michels.
Successful New York City artist Mignon Thibeaux doesn't believe in ghosts, but even she can't resist the rumors that the St. Michel mansion may be haunted, especially since its owner, Luc St. Michel, was the same man whom her mother ran off with 25 years ago before disappearing into thin air. Convinced that there was more to her mother's strange departure, Mignon returns to her hometown of LaValle, Louisiana to investigate. Once there, she doesn't know who she can trust - from the handsome, rugged sheriff who seems to have his own agenda, the guarded Louisiana Supreme Court judge who hides behind a wall of lies, and finally to Eleanor St. Michel, Luc's vindictive wife, who is relentless in her pursuit of the supernatural, convinced that the séances she hosts in the dead of night will appease the spirits and put an end to the hauntings.
Bayou Moon is a gripping tale of murder, revenge, and voodoo in small town Louisiana that captures all the ambience and charm of the rural South. Someone has a secret that must be kept hidden, and God help the one who tries to uncover it...
|Publisher:||St. Martin''s Publishing Group|
|File size:||275 KB|
About the Author
C.L. Bevill has worked as an army illustrator, a hospital psychotherapist, and has a master's degree in counseling. She resides in Dallas, Texas with her husband Woody and enjoys rollerblading and raising Siamese cats. She is currently working on her next book.
Read an Excerpt
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 10
It's like a lion at the door;
A MAN OF WORDS AND NOT OF DEEDS
IT WAS A WARM, cloudless, Friday morning when a living ghost walked the streets of La Valle, Louisiana. There were some who actually gasped when they saw her. One old woman turned to her equally elderly companion and whispered of the will-o'the-wisp, an evil diable at work, even in the most powerful magic that was full sunlight. She crossed herself, and spat on the sidewalk where the ghost had trod, vowing to make a protective gris-gris for herself that very night.
Bill Martinez, the pharmacist, dropped his customer's prescription all over the pharmacy's floor, scattering blue and white pills to the four winds. The customer peered curiously over the counter and asked, "Now what in the name of God has gotten into you, Bill?" He laughed. "A ghost walk over your grave?" Bill stood up straight and banged his head against the bottom of the counter, under which he had been fishing with stubby fingers for a stray pill. "Goddamnit," he muttered. His eyes were level with the counter for a moment. Then he rose up and looked back outside, watching the woman strolling down the main street of La Valle, as if she had stepped out from two decades past. He stuffed the last of the errant pills into the bottle and passed it over to his customer without saying another word. Finally, it occurred to him that his customer was still standing in front of him, staring. "What?" asked Bill.
Jourdain Gastineau, a seasoned and well-connected lawyer on the verge of being appointed Supreme Court Justice, studied the pharmacist with all of the skills he used in politics and in his thriving law practice. He hadn't known Bill to get upset about anything or anyone, much less so flustered that he had dropped pills all over the floor. He had known the pharmacist for nigh on thirty years, since they were in high school together, playing football in a mud-splattered field behind the school's main building, not a mile from where they now stood. "You want me to pay for that, Bill?" he said. "I 'spect you might like to get a little return on your investment."
Bill studied Jourdain in return, regaining his composure and most of his good humor. The woman had stopped to look at the pharmacy's window display, inadvertently centering herself in the large opening. She stood behind Jourdain, just through the plate glass window, looking intently at a display of cameras that Bill had gotten in a few days before. "You want to look out my front window, Jourdain? Then we'll speak of the money for your prescription. Though I'd think a fella like yourself wouldn't need a sedative. Being such a cold-blooded lawyer and all."
Jourdain laughed easily. "My wife is having trouble sleeping, Bill. Not that it's any of your business." He was not a tall man, nor short. His hair had turned gray, and he wasn't one to use some fancy hair dye to keep it the color it should have been. But his figure and face belied his fifty-odd years, and his clear brown eyes often sparkled with a vigor that Bill knew other men of their age had long since lost. Most of the time Jourdain's humor was easygoing, except when it took place in the courtroom or at a mediator's table. He was a well-regarded man in the small town of La Valle, a man who spent more of his time in Baton Rouge, where the true political struggles happened, and a man who was going to move up soon, if the rumors held any truth. But there had always been that hint of ruthlessness that Bill and others of his ilk had known about. Bill had discovered it on the playing fields of their youth, and suspected that other men had discovered it on the playing fields of the legal system. Furthermore, Bill knew perfectly well that it was Jourdain Gastineau's name on the prescription bottle, not his wife's.
Jourdain was still laughing when he turned and saw what Bill had already seen. His laugh was abruptly cut off by a loud wheezing noise.
Bill rubbed the bump on the top of his head with grim satisfaction. "Talk about something walking over your grave," he said.
Jourdain was wondering if he were having a heart attack, because he couldn't move. All he could do was stare. Blood roared in his ears. His vision was tunneled at the woman standing almost directly in front of him, as if she were presenting herself to him. It was her. Her fine, beautiful features were the same. That color of hair, burnished bronze, shining brilliantly in the sunshine, was so patently hers. He could remember it vividly. That was her well-shaped figure encased in a little gray business suit. A sensible suit, but curve-hugging all the same, accentuating her long legs.
Quite suddenly she looked up, and her green eyes, the color of glass that has sat in the sun for a long time, contemplated Jourdain without a hint of recognition. It seemed like time stretched out forever as their eyes locked on each other. Finally, she turned away and continued her stroll down the avenue, as if she didn't have a care in the world. She touched a bag of pecans from a stand outside the produce store and passed it by. She bent down to smell Mrs. Regret's flowers on the corner. She sauntered down the street, as if she were taunting all of those people who were watching her.
With his mouth gaping wide, Jourdain watched her, too.
"I would have known her anywhere," Bill said.
Jourdain shook himself. He turned to look at Bill. "What do you mean?" he croaked, and winced when he heard himself. He sounded like he had years ago when he was a first-year graduate fresh out of Harvard. In an instant, he had been transported back to the days when his tongue tied at the tip of a hat, and the jewels of merciless wit that now sprang forth readily escaped him.
The other man screwed up his face. "Well, goodness, Jourdain. They run off together, come ... oh ... twenty-five years ago. She was raised here. She still has cousins here. You know the Dubeauxs over to Provencal, don't you? Or maybe you don't. They're not the type to hire such a fancy-pants lawyer as yourself, and you've spent so many of the last years down to Baton Rouge. Surely, some of the St. Michels had to expect that one or t'other would be back one day. It wasn't like they fell off the face of the earth."
Jourdain stared at Bill, not seeing the man at all. His mind was working like a computer, calculating what her presence meant. It's true, all of it. But that woman ... she ... . "Isn't her," he said positively, finally, determined that it should be so.
Bill snorted. "What do you mean? I saw her, too. So did half the townspeople, by the look of the people peeking out their windows. I ain't seen so many people on Main Street at nine in the morning since the Pecan Festival in July. You'd think the woman was prancing down the middle of the street wearing nothing but a smile and a how-d'you-do?" He smiled at the mental picture that popped into his mind.
"Think!" Jourdain raised his prescription bottle and shook it in front of the pharmacist, blue and white pills rattling like a maraca. "Did that look like a woman in her early fifties?"
The other man chewed on his lower lip. He took a moment to answer. Damned if she couldn't be her twin sister, back from years ago, and that is the point Jourdain's getting at, that it was a whole lotta years ago. But there was only one explanation to be found here, the most obvious one, the one that hadn't immediately occurred to Bill. He said at last, "No, it's got to be the other one."
Jourdain nodded and left the pharmacy abruptly. He left so quickly that he didn't pay his bill, and Bill didn't think to ask for it until much later. Jourdain went to his Mercedes Benz and almost ran over the postman's cat, who wandered too much to suit Jourdain or the postman. He left the town of La Valle, driving north.
There were many others who noticed the woman. Her auburn hair, her green eyes, and her clean-limbed figure were all pleasing to the eye. Even women responded to her welcoming smile and throaty voice. She stopped several places in the course of the morning, and many people saw her. She browsed through the hardware store. She bought a bouquet of autumn mums. She chatted with two teenage boys on the corner of Main and Jacques Streets, both of whom were obviously playing hooky from school, and couldn't keep their young eyes off her legs and breasts. Before long, many more people were talking about her. The murmurs moved faster along the main street than she did. She heard the mutters a few times. There were a few people who out and out stared, but no one asked. No one had the courage, because they weren't sure if they wanted to hear the answers she might give. Nor did they care to understand why her presence coincided so closely with the return of the St. Michels, and the return of an onslaught of rumors.
It was the realtor, Vincent Grase, who confirmed her identity. She stepped into his office with a brilliant smile. He had only lived in St. Germaine Parish for fifteen years, and although he had heard the hearsay before, he didn't put it together with his first client of the day.
"Good morning," said the red-haired woman. Vincent was instantly entranced. He was in his forties, married to a shrew of a woman, and had two shrewish children who didn't care to follow their father in the real estate business; he was always looking for future Mrs. Grases, whether the female in mind was interested or not.
"Good morning," he responded enthusiastically, rising up from behind his large oak desk. He even took the time to suck in his not inconsiderable stomach for effect. He offered his hand. She took it. There was a quick shake and release, just as Vincent liked his handshakes to be.
"I'm looking for a place," said the beauty.
"To rent or to purchase?" asked Vincent. Please let it be a home to buy. Maybe one of those six-figure babies on the south side of town. Hello, Christmas bonus. Maybe ask me over for a brandy one night....
"A rental to begin with," she answered, waving a hand at one of the chairs in front of his desk. "May I?"
"Of course," Vincent agreed. He even came around the side of the desk to help her be seated, which was, of course, unnecessary. After she had brushed his wandering hands off her body, he asked, "Coffee?"
"How do you take it?"
"Black as sin." Her throaty voice was almost sinful to listen to, as she gazed up at the realtor with those pale green eyes.
Focusing on her answer, and not its implications, Vincent appeared surprised. "Most young woman, such as yourself, seem to care for a bit of sugar, a bit of milk. Something to take the edge off the bitterness." He busied himself at the table beside his desk, which contained a full coffee pot and all of the essentials. Cups clanked together as he made himself useful.
"Isn't life a little bitter?" she asked, folding her hands across her stomach.
Vincent handed her a cup of coffee and watched her full lips take a sip of the steaming brew. He thought that he knew women pretty well, and when the lovely young woman gave him a certain look, he knew that he didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of making any moves on her. Inwardly he sighed. His stomach abruptly expanded itself again in abject resignation.
"You mean you drink your coffee black to remind you that life isn't all peaches and cream?" he asked.
"That's a very accurate way of putting it. Sometimes a person has to remind oneself that life isn't always sweet and tasteful." Then she laughed. "Or perhaps it's just that I simply care for my coffee black."
Vincent looked at her for a moment. He stood propped against the front of his desk, not three feet away from one of the most beautiful women he had seen in years. Finally, he shook himself out of his reverie, and asked, "Do you have a price range for a rental, Miss ... ah ...?"
"Price isn't an object," she replied smoothly, ignoring his attempt to produce her name. "I would like to be comfortable. In a place that has at least one room with a lot of light, and nothing near a freeway. Older properties are just as acceptable as newer ones. Later, I will be looking to purchase certain properties in the area, and naturally I shall require a realtor, such as yourself."
"Naturally," said Vincent, totting up dollar signs. She wore an expensive suit, a Donna Karan, if he wasn't mistaken. Her shoes were Ferragamo's. Her purse was Dooney & Burke. The scent of money poured off her just as her exquisite perfume did. It was the kind of fragrance that Vincent was positive he couldn't buy his wife in any store around these parts, and one that he was not altogether sure he could afford even if it was available. "Do you mind me asking what kind of business you're in, ma'am?"
"Oh, I'm an artist." She took another sip. "Just an artist."
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 10
The Queen of Hearts,
THE QUEEN OF HEARTS
"HER NAME IS MIGNON Thibeaux," said Vincent Grase in a little café, three doors down from his office. "She's an artist from New York City. She was born here."
Mrs. Regret, whose first name was unknown to most of the population of La Valle, and who owned the flower shop and a bed and breakfast, looked at Vincent the way she might have looked at some creature that had crawled up on her doorstep. The red-haired woman had left his office at half past eleven, walked back to her rental car, and driven away. After she left, Vincent had stepped out of his office, intent on lunch. Mrs. Regret and three other business owners had followed Vincent like a pack of voracious hyenas. Now they sat at the counter on stools, looking at each other and at Vincent in turn.
Even the waitress at the café horned in on the conversation. She said, "She looks just like her mama."
Mrs. Regret turned her withering gaze on the waitress. "Eloise, you weren't even born when Garlande Thibeaux left La Valle."
"Of course I was," protested the waitress vehemently, rubbing her hands on a dish cloth. "I was three years old."
"Garlande Thibeaux," repeated Vincent thoughtfully, trying to mentally scrounge up the connection to his present-day client of the same last name. "Now where have I heard that name?"
"It was the biggest scandal since that Jew fella up and shot Huey Long," someone three stools down the counter called out.
"I've only been in these parts since the middle eighties, you know," said Vincent. "Give me a cup of your coffee, Eloise. Mine tastes like battery acid. Don't know how that young woman drank three cups of it."
"So what's she doing back here?" asked Mrs. Regret, irritated that the conversation had veered away from her, and away from the subject she most wanted to hear about: the presence of Miss Mignon Thibeaux in the town from which she had been absent for over two decades.
People all along the counter squirmed and wriggled to look at each other.
"Looking for a place to live, of course," said Vincent. "Why else would you go to a real estate office? Can't tell you any more. It's confidential." He sounded as if he had signed and sworn a solemn oath of office before the President of the United States. He even pulled back his shoulders and stuck out his chin in a manner that might have put people off asking the question again.
Mrs. Regret and Eloise both stared at Vincent. Neither was impressed. Finally, Mrs. Regret said, "You ain't a medical doctor, Vincent. Nor, the last I heard, are you a psychiatrist. So I don't think that's rightly correct."
Vincent looked at his cup of coffee. Upon discovering that the presence of Mignon Thibeaux had caused some sort of brouhaha, he was not about to admit that he hadn't pumped the woman for as much information as he could about her appearance in La Valle. Since she wasn't about to flirt with him, he had concentrated on finding a listing for her that was suitable. She had filled out a bit of paperwork about her preferences, told him she would check into a bed and breakfast nearby, and would be in touch. In fact, her last name had sounded familiar, but in north-central Louisiana there were dozens of French names like Thibeaux. There were Cheres, Thibodouxs, Regrets, Roques, St. Michels, and others too many to name. It had been filed away in Vincent's mind as merely a coincidence.
In any case, if he had known that Mignon Thibeaux was someone everyone was wondering about, then he surely would not have allowed her to leave his office until he had connived to get everything he could out of her. "She's an artist," he repeated, weakly. "Said she'd published a book of her paintings. Watercolors and oils, I think."
"Uh-huh," responded Mrs. Regret.
Nearby sat the postman, who happened to be the only man who knew Mrs. Regret's first name and why no one else was permitted to know it. It had been her mother's name and just as hideous a name as the postman had ever heard. He said, "I think I heard of her. She won some awards and such. You remember, Eloise. There was an article in the Shreveport Herald. Goes by just her first name, like Cher or Madonna. But no one said she was born here, and I ain't put two and two together to realize it was the very same gal."
Excerpted from "Bayou Moon"
Copyright © 2002 C. L. Bevill.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Prologue - FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 3,
Chapter One - FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 10,
Chapter Two - FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 10,
Chapter Three - FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 10,
Chapter Four - FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 10,
Chapter Five - FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 10,
Chapter Six - SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 11,
Chapter Seven - SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 11,
Chapter Eight - SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 11–SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 12,
Chapter Nine - SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 12,
Chapter Ten - FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 17,
Chapter Eleven - FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 17,
Chapter Twelve - SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 18,
Chapter Thirteen - SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 18–SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 19,
Chapter Fourteen - SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 19,
Chapter Fifteen - SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 19,
Chapter Sixteen - MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 20,
Chapter Seventeen - MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 20,
Chapter Eighteen - TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 21,
Chapter Nineteen - TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 21,
Chapter Twenty - WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 22–FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 24,
Chapter Twenty-one - SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 25–SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 26,
Chapter Twenty-two - SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 26,
Chapter Twenty-three - SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 26,
Chapter Twenty-four - SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 26,
Chapter Twenty-five - TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 28–WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 6,