SOME SECRETS ARE BETTER OFF DEAD.
Along the banks of the Bogue Falaya River, sits the abandoned St. Francis Seminary. Beneath a canopy of oaks, blocked from prying eyes, the teens of St. Benedict High gather here on Fridays. The rest of the week belongs to school and family—but weekends belong to the river.
And the river belongs to Beau Devereaux.
The only child of a powerful family, Beau can do no wrong. Handsome. Charming. Intelligent. The star quarterback of the football team. The "prince" of St. Benedict is the ultimate catch.
He is also a psychopath.
A dirty family secret buried for years, Beau's evil grows unchecked. In the shadows of the ruined St. Francis Abbey, he commits unspeakable acts on his victims and ensures their silence with threats and intimidation. Senior year, Beau sets his sights on his girlfriend's headstrong twin sister, Leslie, who hates him. Everything he wants but cannot have, she will be his ultimate prize.
As the victim toll mounts, it becomes crystal clear that someone has to stop Beau Devereaux.
And that someone will pay with their life.
WARNING: Readers of Death by the River will encounter situations of violence and sexual abuse/rape which could be upsetting.
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About the Author
Having grown up in the motion picture industry as the daughter of a director, she learned to tell stories from a different perspective. Infusing the rich tapestry of her hometown into her novels, she believes that creating vivid characters makes a story moving and memorable.
A member of both the International Thriller Writers Association and the Horror Writers Association, Weis writes mystery, suspense, thrillers, horror, crime fiction, and romance and has sold approximately one million books. She lives with her husband and pets in New Orleans where she is a permitted/certified wildlife rehabber with the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries and rescues orphaned and injured animals.
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Beau Devereaux stared at the clock, watching the minutes tick by. The only noise in the stuffy classroom was the monotonous, raspy voice of his teacher. Like a thoroughbred chomping at the bit, he waited to bolt.
The jarring bell couldn't have come soon enough. Not even taking time to put his book in his bag, Beau headed for the door. He turned a corner on his way to the gym and spotted a familiar dirty-blonde messy ponytail.
"Leslie." Beau cornered her in the hall, pinning her between a break in the lockers. "How's it going?"
Her blue eyes ripped into him — just what he expected. "What do you want, Beau?"
What did he want? He almost laughed. He drank in her flawless, porcelain complexion, the regal curve of her jaw, her small, perfectly shaped nose, and enticing full lips. His attention settled on the notch at the base of her neck. It fluttered like a scared little butterfly.
"Can't a guy say hello to his friend?" Beau put his arm on the wall behind her, trapping her between the lockers. "We see each other in the halls but never speak. Why is that?"
He loved watching her eyes dart about, searching for a rescue, but no one would challenge him. No one ever did.
"I'm not your friend." She shoved him back. "Go talk to Dawn."
He curled his hands into fists. If he couldn't have Leslie, her twin sister, Dawn, was the next best thing. He'd started dating her to get his mind off Leslie, but it hadn't worked. They were alike physically, but Dawn wasn't Leslie. She didn't have her sass. That he still wanted Leslie infuriated him. He always got what he wanted.
Beau leaned in, letting his breath tease her cheek. The scent of her skin, like fresh spring clover, filled his nose.
"One day, I'm going to take you to The Abbey and set things right between us."
"Is there a problem?"
The deep voice tinged with pseudo-macho angst buzzed in his ear like a gnat. Beau turned around, knowing who he would find — her trusty watchdog, Derek Foster. The brown- haired son of a waitress, Derek spent way too many hours studying with the geek patrol and not enough partying with the popular crowd.
"No problem, Foster," Beau said in a reassuring tone. "Your girl and I were just talking about next week's biology test."
Leslie edged around him. "Do you even know how to spell biology?"
He bristled at the question. That smart tongue of hers begged to be tamed.
A few students gathered next to the set of lockers to his right, taking in the encounter.
Beau gave his best wholesome grin. "That's really hostile, Leslie. I'm trying here, for your sister's sake."
Derek was about to pull her away when Beau wheeled around, stuck out his elbow, and landed a perfect shot right to Derek's cheek.
He stumbled back, bouncing off some freshman girls.
"Derek!" Leslie went to his side, pushing Beau out of the way.
Holding in his satisfaction, Beau displayed a fretful frown as he rushed up to Derek. "Oh, man. I am so sorry." He put a hand on his shoulder, avidly checking the red spot on his right cheek and suppressing a smug grin. "That was my fault, Derek. I didn't see you there."
Leslie shot him an icy glare. "You're an ass, Beau."
He gave her his best wide-eyed expression, reveling in her reaction. "I'm sorry, Leslie. It was an accident. I didn't mean to hit him." Beau spoke loud enough for onlookers to hear. "Stop making me out to be the bad guy here. I know you dislike me, but can you give this attitude of yours a break?"
Derek took Leslie's hand. "I'm fine. It was an accident. Let it go."
Beau smiled sweetly at her. "You should listen to your boyfriend."
"What's going on here?"
Ms. Greenbriar's screeching voice made all three of them spin around. The middle-aged principal of St. Benedict High stood with her hands on her hips.
Beau presented the principal with one of his winning smiles. "Nothing, ma'am. Just a misunderstanding. I caught Derek with my elbow when I turned around. My fault entirely."
Ms. Greenbriar shifted her beady brown eyes to Derek. "Mr. Foster, anything you want to add?"
Derek nursed his cheek. "No, ma'am. It was an accident, just like Beau said."
She tapped her high-heel on the tile floor, glancing from Beau to Derek. "My office, Mr. Devereaux."
Beau backed away from the lockers as his stomach tightened with anger. "Yes, ma'am."
* * *
Leslie bolted out of the wood and glass double doors to St. Benedict High School, tugging Derek behind her. The strong October sun shone down, highlighting the red mark covering Derek's right cheek and sending a sharp pain through her chest.
Damn Beau Devereaux.
For almost a year she'd tolerated his comments and lewd glances, but since she'd started dating Derek, he'd stepped up his game.
"I can't believe he punched you like that."
Derek wrapped his arm around her waist and ushered her down the stone steps to the school parking lot. "He didn't punch me. It was an accident."
She halted and stared at him numb with disbelief. "You don't buy his bullshit, do you?"
"No, but what am I going to do about it? Punch him back?" Derek urged her along. "Then I would be the one in Greenbriar's office, not him."
She searched the parking lot while students on the grassy quad outside the school entrance sat on benches, tossed footballs, studied their laptops, or listened to music.
"Does anyone in this town stand up to him?" Leslie shook her head. "He's got everyone believing he's Mr. Perfect and I'm the crazy bitch."
Derek slipped the book bag off her shoulder to carry it. "No one thinks you're crazy, least of all me."
The simple gentlemanly gesture melted her heart. Leslie touched Derek's dimpled chin, feeling fortunate. "Maybe we should go have you checked out. Just in case."
"It's just a bruise. I'll be fine." He stopped on the sidewalk at the bottom of the steps. "What did he say to you, anyway?"
A car turned on a monster bass, blasting the park-like setting with hard rock.
Derek glanced at the source of the noise. "I still don't get how the guy can be crazy about your twin sister and not like you at all."
Leslie removed the band holding her ponytail. "Sometimes I think she went out with him to spite me." She ran her hand through her shoulder-length hair.
"What makes you say such a thing?"
She shrugged and fell in step beside him. "We aren't exactly the closest of sisters. It was always a competition between us when we were younger. I joined the swim team, and then Dawn joined. Dawn wanted to join Brownies, so did I. Except I gave up competing with her when we got into high school." She gazed down at the neatly trimmed grass beneath her feet. "Dawn never stopped. Sometimes I think that's why she became a cheerleader and started seeing Beau — to show me she could."
Derek put a protective arm around her shoulders. "I can't see her dating Devereaux to get back at you. He's the richest and most popular guy in town. Isn't he every girl's dream?"
Leslie stopped short, shuddering. "Not mine. There's something off about him."
"He's just a guy used to getting his way. My guess, it comes from two hundred years of inbreeding. Don't all those old, rich Southern families marry their cousins? Maybe that's his problem. Too many crazy relatives in his family tree."
A brisk wind stirred as they crossed the blacktop to the white Honda Accord she shared with her sister. The chill wrapped around her, seeping into her bones. She wasn't sure if it was a change in weather coming, or something else.
Derek nudged her. "Hey, you okay?"
She came out of her daze, shaking off the bizarre feeling. "Just really sick of dealing with Beau."
Derek smiled at her from across the roof of the car and her heart skipped a beat.
"I know what we could do. Want to sneak up to The Abbey? I could show you around. It's pretty cool."
She didn't like the idea of crawling around the derelict abbey. She'd never been to the abandoned St. Francis Seminary on the banks of the Bogue Falaya River but had heard stories from friends.
"I don't want to go there. We should get you home and see to your cheek." She hit the remote on her key chain and unlocked the doors.
"Stop worrying. I'm fine." He climbed into the car, brandishing a wicked grin. "We can skip The Abbey tour and hang out at the river."
She put her book bag in the back seat. "I have no interest in going to the river. I've told you that before."
"No. You told me you used to go there but stopped around the time we met."
Leslie wanted to jump all over him for pursuing the subject, but she didn't. Her life had been empty before she'd met Derek. They had shared classes for almost a year before getting the courage to talk.
"Do you remember the first time you spoke to me?" she asked, warmed by the memory.
"How could I forget?" He leaned over the console. "I left class early and found Beau pinning you against a locker. Seems to be a thing with him. Anyway, you threatened to tell everyone his dick was the size of a number two pencil. I was impressed."
She laughed as Beau's horrified expression came back to her. "And you told him to leave me alone and then offered to buy me a soda. Never realized how thoughtful you were."
"Then why did it take you two months to go out with me?"
Leslie started the car. "Because I wanted to see how serious you were."
A bit rough around the edges, Derek reminded her a little of James Dean, with his bashful glances and soulful brown eyes. He was from, what some would call, "the wrong side of the tracks." The total opposite of the polished Beau Devereaux. But Leslie didn't care where he came from or how he dressed — Derek Foster was the most perfect boy in the universe. Cute, smart, and funny, when he'd finally asked her out, she hadn't wanted to ruin her daydreams of him with the disappointment of reality. But she'd taken a chance, and six months later, here they were.
A funny fluttering cascaded through her stomach with one glance at his contagious smile. "If I agree to go to the river, what did you want to do there?"
Derek sat back in his seat, his eyes on the road, his smile beaming. "I'll come up with something."CHAPTER 2
Beau sat on a wooden bench outside of Ms. Greenbriar's, aka Madbriar's, door in the austere administrative offices of the school. He tapped one finger methodically on his elbow while staring out the window as students rushed by in the hall.
He waited, keeping a lid on the anxiety rising up his spine.
The occasional stares of the other students did not bother him, but he needed to get to practice. Coach Brewer hated it when any of his players were late, and Beau made it a point never to show a lack of discipline. Next to his father, Coach Brewer was the only man whose anger he tried never to incur.
"Beau," Ms. Greenbriar called from her office.
He stood from the bench, raked his hand through his hair, and put on his best smile.
Once in the tiny room, jam packed with bookcases, he took in her crummy desk and outdated computer.
This will be fun.
"You want to tell me what that was about with Leslie Moore and Derek Foster?"
"I was speaking to Leslie when Derek came up. I accidentally hit him with my elbow when I turned around." He cleared his throat, turning his eyes to the floor. "I know how you feel about fighting, and I completely understand if you want to punish me for hitting Derek Foster."
Madbriar took a seat behind her cheap desk, her chair squeaking. "Relax, Beau. You're an exemplary student and an upstanding member of the community. No one is questioning your behavior." She sat back, staring at him for a moment. "I was wondering if you could tell your dad to give me a call when he can. I want to talk to him about having Benedict Brewery donate beer for the fundraiser the school is having for the new gym addition."
Beau folded his hands, keeping the tips of his index fingers together, a thrill of amusement running through him. Everyone always wanted something from him or his family. Being the town's biggest employer, his family was expected to donate to every fundraiser in St. Benedict. He sometimes wondered how his father put up with all the parasites.
"Sure. No problem. I will let him know, but he's always happy to help out."
She pointed at the office door. "Now, you'd better get to practice."
His tension eased, and he stood from the chair. Beau wanted to pat himself on the back for an impeccable performance.
"Thanks, Ms. Greenbriar."
"And Beau, do yourself a favor," she called when he reached the door. "Stay away from Leslie Moore."
He gripped the door handle, squeezing it with all his might.
She picked up an open a folder "That girl is trouble. The kind you need to stay away from."
He nodded then hurried from her office, chuckling.
Trouble is my middle name.
* * *
A load lifted from Leslie's shoulders the moment she put the red-bricked walls of St. Benedict High School behind her. The place felt like a prison and made her stomach turn every time she pulled into the parking lot. She knew the reason — just the idea of running into his six-foot-two, muscular frame made her tremble. The months of putting up with Beau had taken their toll.
She relaxed her hands on the steering wheel, the cool afternoon breeze running through her hair as she drove toward Main Street.
She took in the rustic storefronts set between modern buildings. The hodgepodge of styles reminded her of the people in the town, an interesting blend of old families who had lived in St. Benedict for several generations, and new families running away from the urban sprawl taking over the larger nearby cities.
Derek reached over and gently touched her leg. "Why don't you like going to the river? You never told me."
Leslie glanced at a thick swath of honeysuckle vines on the side of the road, her unease returning.
"All you ever said was you went to the river with Dawn junior year, ran into Beau and his friends, and swore you'd never go back."
Leslie's shoulders drooped. "Dawn and I got invited to the river by some seniors. Being asked to party on the river at night was a big deal to me." Her stomach twisted. "Beau started out talking to me, and I knew he was interested, but Dawn didn't like that. So when I went to grab a beer, she stepped in and pretended she was me. She hit on Beau, hard. They hooked up and disappeared. I got stuck fighting off his football buddies who wanted to bring me to The Abbey and show me a good time."
Derek's face scrunched. "What did you do?"
Leslie raised her nose in the air, giving him her best snarky smirk. "I started spouting feminist literature and they ran for the hills."
Derek shook his head. "I bet that was a scary situation for you."
"It was." Her voice cracked. "When three guys start manhandling you, you want to run away. I tried to get Dawn to go with me, but she refused and stayed with Beau. So I headed back to the road and walked to town."
"At night?" His voice edged up. "That was dangerous, Leslie."
She took in the sunlight skipping over the tops of the buildings along the street. The smell of grilling hamburgers from Mo's Diner lingered in the air.
"Staying at the party was dangerous. A virgin hanging around a bunch of drunk and horny football players would only end badly."
Derek edged closer. "I don't want you to put yourself in that situation again. The only guy I want drunk and horny around you is me."
Leslie considered the inkling of possessiveness in his voice. "But you never try anything with me when you're drunk or horny."
He sat back. "That will change one day."
Near the edge of town, the buildings retreated and tall oak trees covered with Spanish moss replaced them. The gentle breeze ruffling the treetops eased her tension.
Leslie turned off Main Street and headed down Devereaux Road toward the remains of St. Francis Abbey.
Derek hooked his hand around her thigh. "I want your first time to be special. But that doesn't mean we can't fool around at The Abbey." He bobbed his eyebrows. "What do you say?"
She let her foot off the gas, slowing as the road narrowed, her sense of dread returning. "Are you sure you want to go to those ruins? The place is so eerie."
Derek flashed a boyish grin. "Hell yeah."
The trees around them dipped and the spires of St. Francis Abbey peeked out. The car cruised along the road and the ruins of the towering white marble and brick structure rose behind a patch of trees. A horrible chill enveloped her. Leslie slammed on the brakes, not wanting to go any farther.
Derek leaned in front of her. "Is something wrong?"
Tearing her gaze away from the ghastly structure, she sought refuge in his eyes and the feeling passed.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Death by the River"
Copyright © 2018 Alexandrea Weis and Lucas Astor.
Excerpted by permission of Vesuvian Books.
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