Gaby Jordan has never been normal. Seeing and talking to ghosts is an everyday occurrence for her. And while it’s creepy sometimes, it’s never been dangerous. Now that her voodoo queen grandmother has placed a curse on a serial killer, Gaby is squarely in danger’s path. The killer’s not pleased with being cursed, and he’s convinced Gaby can remove it.
Helping Gaby isn’t at the top of former cop Mitchell Stone’s list, but after meeting the fiery beauty, he’ll do anything to keep her safe. The attraction between Mitchell and Gaby is fast and intense, but amid the ghosts, voodoo spells, and murder, they’re racing to escape a deadly, deranged madman.
Each book in The Shadow Sisters Series is a standalone story that can be enjoyed in any order.
Book #1: Black Rose
Book #2: Blood Orchid
Book #3: Scarlet Bells
Book #4: Dark Lily
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New Orleans, 1993
"I have to do this, Gaby." The beautiful woman, whose red hair framed pale, perfect features, stared into her daughter's eyes. "Mama Madeleine says it's the only way to keep you safe. Do you understand? Can you understand?"
But a child of three wasn't interested in understanding anything except that her stuffed dog, Mojo, probably shouldn't get wet. Hard to keep that from happening though, with rain falling in buckets from a sky blacker than the mashed-up beans and dirty rice she'd eaten last night.
"Mojo and me want to go home and watch a scary movie," Gaby said firmly.
Her mother looked sad, but she smiled. "You can do that another time. Right now, I want you to think about the best adventure ever."
"Haunted house." Gaby giggled when thunder shook the train platform under her feet. "Wanna take a ride with a ghost."
Her mother sighed. "I know. You've always loved ghosts. You've always seen ghosts. Sometimes real, sometimes not. That's the problem."
"Ghosts don't scare me." Gaby watched a freckle-faced boy walk past pulling the wrapper off an ice cream bar. "They just want someone to talk to."
The hands clasping her arms tightened briefly. "That's what Mama Madeleine says too. Now —" she pressed her lips together, kissed Gaby's cheek and forehead and hugged her hard before pulling back, "— it's time. Could be it's past time. I pray it isn't, but we'll see. Remember this, Gabrielle. I love you. I'll always love you. You're going on a big adventure tonight."
Gaby's eyes brightened. "Mojo too?"
"Of course Mojo too." Touching her lips to her daughter's golden hair, she whispered, "You be good, you hear me? You do as you're told, and you be good. Mama Madeleine says it's all arranged. I don't think your — Caleb will give us any trouble." Her face went cold as stone. "I can't imagine he'll give us a second thought."
Peering down the platform, Gaby wished she could have a Fat Boy ice cream bar like the freckle-faced boy. But maybe on the train, before she brushed her teeth, she could get something like it. "Are Mojo and me going far away?" she asked.
Her mother nodded. "Very far, baby." She stood and took Gaby's hand. Beside them, the waiting train sat sleek and silent, except for the puffs of steam that shot from underneath it. "There's a lady on board. She'll be taking care of you for a while. You call her Auntie Tallulah."
"You do whatever she says, you hear me?"
Thunder and lightning clashed wildly around them. "Yes, ma'am." Gaby glanced sideways. "Will there be ghosts on the train?"
They walked to the nearest car. "There will always be ghosts, Gabrielle, and you'll probably always see them. But you'll have to learn not to talk about them. Auntie Tallulah and another lady will help you with that. They'll help with other things as well." Tears shimmered in her mother's eyes as she gave Gaby over to an older woman. One last kiss, and she stepped back.
The older woman had a painted red flower on her hand. Pretty. "Come with me, child," she said. "We have a long journey ahead of us."
Gaby cocked her head. "Where are we going?"
"Away from here."
A cape with a hood hid her face, but she sounded kind, and Gaby thought maybe this woman would buy her that Fat Boy ice cream bar. "Okay." She looked up into the high shadows between train cars. "Is he coming too?"
The old woman followed her gaze. "Is who coming, child?"
"That boy." Gaby pointed. "The one with the wooden face."
"Ah. You see a boy?"
"With a wooden face." Gaby lowered her arm. "He's gone now. He put his name in my head. He said he was called Billy, and he smiled at me. He's not a ghost. Do you know him?"
The woman shook her head inside the hood of her cape. When she spoke, however, her words weren't for Gaby, but for Gaby's mother, still standing on the platform. "I think more things than we might wish will travel with us to our destination. We can only hope that the evil foreshadowed by Mama Madeleine will steer itself onto a different path."
"We can hope." Tears streamed from her mother's eyes. "But I've never known Mama Madeleine to be wrong. Not ever." She might have added something to that, but a brilliant streak of lightning forked through the blackened sky. Shaking her head instead, she moved back. And disappeared into the night.
New Orleans, Present Day
"It might sound cliché, cher, but you've come a very long way in a very short time."
Mitchell Stone watched without comment as a woman, somewhere in that shady region between forty-five and sixty, drifted across the floor of the small delta blues club he'd purchased last week.
She ran a finger over the dusty, papered wall. "It's gaudy and seedy and probably infested. Your grandfather'd claw his way out of the grave if he hadn't gone there in a pile of ashes. Why did you buy it?"
Mitchell raised a big-ass mug of beer to his mouth. "Mostly to piss him off, I imagine. But I'm told the place has potential."
An amused brow went up. "You see potential in moldering walls and a crumbling foundation?"
"I see a good location. It's close enough to the French Quarter to pull in a slightly off-beat crowd, not close enough to become a haunt for tourists. And speaking of haunts, I've been informed there are two ghosts with attitudes in residence. Could be that's true. I've lost an eight-by-twelve wall mirror and two dozen glasses so far." He drank down a long mouthful of beer before asking, "What's the problem this time, Flora? Or do you go by Phoebe these days?" Sliding onto a velvet chair across the table from where he sat, she unbuttoned her silk coat and smiled in that demure way of hers. "I've been using Phoebe lately." She considered him. "You sound bitter, Mitchell. It's not like you."
"Wasn't," he agreed. "Back when I was living my own life."
"You were an excellent cop."
"What can I say? I like blood, guts and the occasional fist in my face."
"It's a spectacular face. Why would you want to mess it up?"
"Because I don't want to go into an incinerator looking as slick and polished as my bastard grandfather."
"The redoubtable Henry Jekyll — sorry, Jenson — Stone." She reached for Mitchell's beer, drank with gusto. "I saw him once. Never met him, of course. Your father knew better than to introduce a man like him to a woman of my dubious charms." She paused for a meaningful beat. "You're very rich these days, cher."
"I was rich before these days. Old Henry Jenson and his daddy saw to that."
"He should have left his business holdings to your father."
Mitchell grinned. "If he'd done that, no one in our family would be rich. Not for long anyway. Now tell me what you want that you think I can get, before boredom overwhelms me and I decide to kick that moron who thinks my slot machines are fronts for punching bags out on his ass."
"I need a favor."
"Figured that when you sashayed in."
Her sigh sounded uncharacteristically weary. "It saddens me to hear you say that, Mitchell. I always liked you. I know my liaison with your father was brief, but I swear you were the smartest adolescent I ever met. Smarter than your grandfather, and head and shoulders above his spawn."
Mitchell took the beer back and finished it off. "That prick over there's really doing a number on my slots, Phoebe."
Her lips smiled, but her spectacular gray eyes didn't. "You have a quantity of mean in you. I like that. I appreciate it. When was the last time you pulled yourself out from the underbelly of New Orleans?"
He let her see his teeth. "Who says I'm out? No badge doesn't mean I've lost my taste for fun."
"Only you'd see it that way."
"Must be a genetic thing."
"Quite possibly. You micks surely do love your brawls and fracases. And you're a black Irish heartbreaker to the core, cher, with your leather and long hair and your dislike for razors." Her smile dazzled. "A fashion plate you're not. But it's no lie for me to tell you I've never seen such hypnotic black eyes as you possess. And don't get me started on those to-die-for features from your mama's side."
"I'll put my own fist in my face if you don't get to the point, Phoebe. Why are you here?"
Her moment of humor vanished. Her voice dropped. "I'll lay it out straight and fast. I have a daughter, or rather I had one. I gave her away when she was three years old."
Now that, Mitchell reflected, is interesting. And totally unexpected. He leaned back in his chair. "Why did you wait three years to give her away?"
"Because I loved her. I wanted to keep her. Unfortunately, circumstances dictated that I take a different path."
As he signaled for two more mugs of beer, Mitchell kept an eye on the ham-fisted slots player. "Go on," he said.
She let her gaze travel around the club. "I count twenty patrons in here, most of them pie-eyed and looking for a fast fuck. Do you plan to provide that service?"
The idea made him grin. "Think about what you just said, Phoebe. My mother's Irish. She was born in Kilkenny and raised a strict Catholic. I open a brothel here on earth, she'll strike me dead from her corner of heaven, then stand guard with St. Peter at the Pearly Gates to make sure I don't trick my way in."
Her lips twitched. "You could've just said no. I was only teasing in any case."
"That's why I didn't say no. Go back to your daughter. What's her problem?"
"She's in trouble."
"So the giving-her-away thing didn't improve her quality of life."
"Cynic." She sneered.
"Procrastinator," he countered. "Losing patience fast here, Phoebe. What kind of trouble are we talking about? And bear in mind, my days as a detective in homicide are behind me."
Phoebe's expression went from serene to outraged in a blink. Folding her arms, she glared at him as only she could. "My baby is not a criminal. She isn't even aware of the danger she's in. At least, I hope she isn't. His focus has been elsewhere lately. Problem is, his primary target vanished a few months back, and I'm afraid I'm losing my appeal."
Okay, being anywhere but here at this moment would be good, Mitchell thought. Or he could simply hustle her out the door. Who was she to him anyway? His father'd had a blistering two-month affair with her between marriages — three of which hadn't lasted even that long. The way he saw it, he didn't owe his old man, or anyone associated with him, a damn thing.
His life had been a veritable parade of whores and gold diggers. He had to admit though, the only one he'd liked, the only one he'd formed any kind of lasting attachment to, was bayou-born Phoebe, aka Flora Lessard, who sat here in a club he owned but didn't want, speaking Jabberwocky to him and, without so much as a single fist to the face, had made his head ache like a man after a weekend drunk. Where the hell was a sinkhole when he needed one?
He waited until the beer arrived, courtesy of a server wearing a blood-red body suit, before he asked, "Whose focus are we talking about, and why are you losing your appeal?"
Crossing her legs, she drummed delicate fingers on the table top. "Do you know the name Leshad?"
"I've heard it. Serial killer, leaves obscure calling cards at the scene. Rumor has it he seldom does his own dirty work. The phrase 'superstitious psychopath' has been applied more than once. Guy's a freak, and rumor has it, not a fan of voodoo."
"Leshad's terrified of voodoo. He was even more terrified of my late mother, Madeleine. Also of Madeleine's late, long-distance friend, Twila Black, and most recently, of Twila's great granddaughter, Rosemary Sayer."
Mitchell searched his memory. "The calling-card murder count was at twenty-four when I left the force six months ago."
"The overall number will have climbed since then, but it's the victims who possess the sight that I'm most concerned about. Certainly, the others matter, but their deaths — how can I put this? — provide nothing more than operating money for Leshad. They keep the cash flow up and his filthy operation in the black. Very comfortably in the black, I suspect."
"Why are you most concerned about the victims who possess the sight?"
"Partly because I'm one of them, like my mother and her friend Twila Black. Twila's sister, Tallulah Black, possessed some vision as well, but not a sufficient amount for Leshad to use."
Was this intriguing him or annoying him? Mitchell wasn't sure. Maybe it depended on what Phoebe expected him to do. "Where does your fading appeal enter into this?" he asked, although he had a feeling he could guess the answer to that one.
She maintained her benign expression. "I'm Madeleine's daughter, cher. I possess certain modest sensory abilities. Leshad assumes I inherited my mother's full gift of second sight. I didn't, but it's what he thinks."
"So you can't spin straw into gold or turn him into a gargoyle." Mitchell lifted his beer and a shrewd brow. "But he believes you can, and that's what counts."
"Exactly." She gave a casual shrug. "You might think I'm lying when I tell you I don't mind that he believes those things about me. With Twila's great granddaughter out of the picture, Leshad's psychic-link list is dwindling. There may be others on it who can do what he wants done, but none so directly connected to the person who performed the original deed as me." She brought her steady gaze to his face. "Me and the daughter I gave away."
Now they were getting somewhere. "You're worried that Leshad will bypass you and go for your daughter."
"Yes, I am. Very worried." Again, those amazing gray eyes locked on his. "There was a time, Mitchell, when Leshad's answer to any and all problems was to kill it, then rinse the blood from his hands and move on. But it must have finally dawned on him that voodoo doesn't work that way. Not long ago, he wanted all of us dead. Now, he doesn't. But he does still want me. I hope."
"Yeah. Did I mention I'm getting a headache?"
A hint of impatience roughened her subdued voice. "You need to understand something of Leshad's mindset. He's powerful, and he's frightened. That's not a good combination. He has innumerable sources, and my feeling is that one of those sources has lately suggested that I might not possess the kind of power he requires."
"But you do, or you did, possess a daughter."
Her chin came up in a defiant gesture. "Maybe you think only an unfeeling monster could give up her child the way I did, but I knew early on what she had inside her. What she still has. What I'm afraid Leshad now knows she has."
"How could Leshad know what abilities a child I assume you gave away several years ago might or might not possess?"
"Because I have reason to believe he's — well, I'll use the word acquainted, though I'm sure it's a great deal more than that by now — with my daughter's biological father. His name is Caleb Josiah Best. You'd know him as CJ Best. State Senator CJ Best."
The woman got around, he'd give her that. Mitchell drank more beer. A box of matches in a munitions dump had nothing on this situation. A smart man wouldn't go near it, to say nothing of a jaded ex-cop.
She offered him a faint smile. "I can see the wheels turning, Mitchell, and God knows, facts are facts. You're a loose cannon. A wild child, like I was, and currently an unpredictable adult. But you have a conscience. At least the child you were back when I knew him had one. You're a good person, and I have a daughter in danger."
Mitchell regarded her half-lidded, still not entirely convinced. "What does Leshad want with any of you? Psychically."
"My mother put a curse on him."
The throbbing in Mitchell's temples increased until it sounded like a damn voodoo drum itself. "Look, Phoebe —"
She raised a forestalling hand. "You don't have to buy in. Just accept that Leshad does. He's been cursed, and he wants someone to uncurse him."
"Simple as that, huh?"
"Hardly. There's nothing simple in Leshad's world, and nothing he won't do to achieve his goal."
In the shadows of the room behind him, several glasses crashed to the floor. Rubbing a tired eye, Mitchell smiled. "Yeah, I hear you, guys." When Phoebe frowned at the storeroom, he shrugged. "Ghosts don't like what you're saying any better than I do. Apparently, voodoo spooks more than just us flesh-and-blood humans. How much does your daughter know?"
"Her name's Gabrielle. Gaby. And I would say little to nothing."
"Any reason for that?"
"I haven't spoken to her since she was three. She's twenty-six now, just." The stunning features in front of him hardened. "Don't you give me that look. I did what I had to do. I've watched her in my own way since the night I put her on a westbound train. It's a helluva lot more than many in my position would have done."
Excerpted from "Dark Lily"
Copyright © 2016 Jacqueline Goff.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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