The night before Jared Dupre's wedding, a specter warns him the demonic witch, Adam Montief, has kidnapped his brother in a centuries-old vendetta unknown to Jared. A powerful witch himself, Jared tracks Adam from New Orleans to a remote island off the coast of Connecticut, where he's given no choice. He must rescue his brother and break his engagement to Kendra O'Connell, or they both die. After complying, Jared engages in a sword fight and believes he has vanquished his foe, but when he returns to New Orleans, he finds evil still threatens all he loves. Kendra, not knowing why Jared broke their engagement, devastated, finds solace in another's arms. With help from an ancestor's spirit, can Jared defeat the dark magic descending over the Big Easy while winning back the woman he loves?
|Publisher:||The Wild Rose Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.71(d)|
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Crimson and gold lights flashed across the silk of the exotic dancer's ruby red dress as she swayed her hips to the sultry beat. Seated at a table near the raised stage, Jared Dupre leaned back in his leather chair and grinned. His friends, Derrick and Andre, clapped and whistled as the girl danced closer, slipping the thin straps from her shoulders, exposing pink-tipped breasts. The upscale French Quarter men's club, with its paneled walls, thick carpet, and beautiful women, was a favorite spot for out-of-town businessmen, convention-goers, and, as in Jared's case, his bachelor party.
A short-skirted waitress in a sequined halter top stopped next to Jared. Bending over so he couldn't miss her impressive cleavage, she asked him if he'd like another drink. Declining, Jared glanced around the crowded room. Where is Philippe? You would think that since his brother planned this party, he'd show up. Jared reached into his pocket for his phone to send him another text when a cold hand touched the back of his neck. "Damn it, Philippe," Jared swore, spilling his beer. He turned, a rebuke dying on his lips when he saw the space behind him was empty.
Icy fingers brushed across his cheek. Jared's breath caught. What the hell? On the faintest breath of air, he heard the words, "Come now." For a moment the sensation something was seriously wrong left him incapable of movement. As freezing air surrounded him, the sense of urgency increased. He turned to see if Andre and Derrick were reacting to the cold, but they were still engrossed in the dancer. Jared leapt to his feet, tossed some bills on the table, and grabbed his jacket.
"Hey, what you doin'?" Andre asked. "We thought we'd hit the Slick Kitten next."
Jared hesitated. He couldn't just leave his own party without an explanation, but explain what? He was hearing voices? In his world of Wiccan magic, there were many inexplicable occurrences. An invisible force tugged at his arm. He had to go, and he had to go now. "Hey, I've had a good time, but you boys go ahead. I've already seen enough T and A for one night."
"What do you mean you're leaving?" Derrick asked. "Your best man isn't even here yet."
Andre snorted. "It's not even midnight and the candy ass is fading."
"Yeah, and Philippe had a lap dance set up for you." Derrick added.
Andre leaned closer to Jared. "Hey, what's wrong? You look funny. You sick?"
"I don't know what's going on, but I feel something's wrong and I have to leave."
"Want us to come with you?" Derrick asked.
Jared shook his head. "This could be nothing but my imagination. You boys stay and enjoy yourselves." He smiled. "Perhaps one of you can take my place for the lap dance." Without another word, he turned and headed for the door.
Out on the sidewalk, the February night was unusually cool. Jared turned up the collar of his leather jacket and looked up and down the street. The unease he'd experienced inside was even stronger out here. Except for one or two lit window displays, the shops on Iberville were dark, and the wrought iron balconies above them empty. The streets of the French Quarter were never this quiet.
Senses alert, he headed toward Royal Street and home. When he heard a scuffling sound behind him, he whirled, flicked his wrist, and made the streetlight flare brighter. As a scruffy gray cat streaked past, he let out the breath he was holding and the light dimmed back to normal. But as the energy around him spiked, Jared's skin prickled and he knew he wasn't alone. The air turned frigid, and the apparition appeared.
Light from the nearby lamppost lit her translucent body as if from within. Ghosts in New Orleans were about as common as gumbo, so Jared normally wouldn't be alarmed. But considering what had happened in the club, he approached her cautiously.
When he got closer, he saw the specter had a tignon intricately wrapped around her head. Earrings of shell and beads dangled from her ears and copper bracelets encircled her arms. He discerned the faint outlines of flowers on her long, faded dress. The intensity of her striking turquoise eyes made the hair on the back of his neck rise.
When the specter reached out her hand, Jared stepped back. At a young age, witches learn to be leery of those from the spirit world. "Hey, I have no problem with you. I'll go about my business, and you go about yours."
Her earrings swayed silently as the spirit shook her head and motioned for him to follow. "You mus' come. He has bad magic, and he has your brother."
Jared glanced around the eerily empty and quiet street. "What? Who has Philippe?"
The specter turned and floated away as if expecting Jared to follow.
In the past Philippe had gotten himself mixed up with dark magic, but Jared thought he'd truly learned his lesson. Philippe even talked about going back to Tulane. Jared hesitated. Could he trust this spirit? Before he could speak, the spirit turned, placed her hands on her hips, and narrowed her eyes. "Listen to me, boy. Dere's no time to explain. Your brother in bad trouble. You t'ink I got you out here for no reason? Now come wit' me."
The vehemence in her voice and the fear in her eyes sent trepidation crawling up his spine. He cocked his head. "This is for real? Philippe is actually in danger?"
"Dat what I been sayin', boy."
Without another word, Jared followed the specter as she led him through the French Quarter, past restaurants with the aromas of gumbo and spicy rice wafting from their open doors, street musicians playing Dixieland, a group of college kids carrying red go-cups, and tourists streaming in and out of the clubs on Bourbon Street. As they made their way around a cluster of laughing teenage girls catching strings of beads, a tall girl with long dark hair and an alabaster complexion spotted Jared and with blood red lips smiled at his ethereal guide.
Jared, not wanting her to bring attention to them, shook his head and placed his finger on his lips. She nodded, but as her friends moved away, she kept looking back.
Jared rounded the corner onto St. Ann's and silently cursed. There, directly in front of him, concluding her ghost tour, stood his fiancée Kendra O'Connell. As her group wandered off, she turned, her pearl-gray wool cape swirling around her slim legs. Clad in a black sweater, tight black jeans, and knee-high leather boots with two-inch heels, she smiled and walked toward him. "Hey, is the bachelor party already over? I expected you to stay out all night."
Jared hesitated. Whatever was happening with Philippe, he didn't want her involved. But as he looked down at her pretty face, into those intelligent gray eyes, he knew that persuading her to stay out of it would take all the cunning he possessed. "No, the boys are still at the bar." Before he could finish, Kendra wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him passionately.
When she broke their kiss, she grinned and pressed her body against him. "Perfect. That was my last tour. My mom is going to close up the office, so we can go to your room at the hotel. I imagine after watching half-naked women for most of the night, you're ready for a little fun. You could only look at them, but you can put your hands all over me." She kissed him again. "We'd go to my apartment, but my wedding dress is hanging on my closet door and I don't want you to see it."
Hours watching skimpily clad girls dance hadn't affected Jared at all, but a few kisses from Kendra set his blood racing. He clamped down on his desire and gently removed her arms from around his neck. "Kendra, listen to me. Something's come up, and I can't go with you."
She frowned. "What's wrong?"
As he tried to decide how much to tell her, the spirit floated into view.
"We got to get goin', boy. You take care of dis later."
Kendra's eyes opened wide with surprise. She looked from the spirit to Jared. "Who's your friend? And what's she talking about?"
Unable to come up with a plausible lie, Jared sighed. "All she'll tell me is that Philippe is in trouble and I have to go with her."
"What kind of trouble? And go where?" Kendra asked.
Scowling, the spirit folded her arms. "Dat none of your concern. Now you get on home and let him be."
Annoyance filled Kendra's voice. "Excuse me?" When the spirit just glowered, Kendra glowered back, then turned to Jared. "Didn't Philippe show up?"
Jared shook his head. "This spirit came into the club to get me. I thought at first Philippe might be playing a joke, but what if he's mixed up with those scumbags from Black Cross coven?"
"I'm coming with you."
"No, you're not. And you can wipe that stubborn look off your face. As I said, I have no idea what's happened, but I need to find out, and I don't want you involved." Seeing the retort forming on her lips, he gritted his teeth. "Kendra, please don't fight me on this. Go home and I'll call you as soon as I can."
She tossed her long red braid over her shoulder. "Jared, those Black Cross witches are ruthless. They've even been accused of sacrificing mortals. If they have Philippe, you can't go in alone."
Bile rose in Jared's throat at the memory from two years ago. He'd found Philippe in a circle of chanting men as the head priest placed a terrified teenage boy, his arms and legs bound, at the base of their altar. Jared and eight other men from his own coven fought with magic and fists to rescue the boy. Philippe, glassy-eyed and belligerent, had faced Jared with defiance, refusing to leave.
Jared, older and more powerful than Philippe, did something that to this day still sickened him. He used magic to subdue his own brother. It had taken months in a special rehab center to cleanse Philippe of the drugs and undo the brainwashing of the Black Cross. Now Jared feared he'd fallen under their influence once again.
"I'm not sure it's even them. That's what I'm saying. Kendra, please let me handle this. If I see I need help, I'll call for it."
"You listen to what he say," the spirit interjected. "You stay here. Dis for him alone."
Kendra narrowed her eyes. "If you know what's going on with Philippe, why don't you just tell him?"
The spirit's striking turquoise eyes brightened and she leaned close to Kendra. "I tell him as soon as you git."
Kendra stared back into the spirit's eyes, then relented. "I'll stay because Jared asked me to, not because some bossy ghost did. Who are you anyway? I know all the ghosts in the Quarter, and I've never seen you before."
The spirit snorted, turned, and hovered. "You comin', boy?"
"Kendra, I've got to go. I'll call you as soon as I know something."
"All right, but I don't like this one bit. I'm not going to sleep until I hear from you." She gave him a quick hug. "I hope you're wrong and Philippe is just being an ass. Be careful and call me."
He bent down and kissed her. "Je t'aime."
She smiled. "I love you, too."
Once Kendra was well out of sight, Jared followed the spirit across Rampart heading toward Louis Armstrong Park and Congo Square. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, slaves and free people of color would meet in the square on Sundays to dance and play their music. Some say there are times when you can still hear the beat of the bamboulas and the wail of the banzas.
Jared and the spirit passed under the arch and through the gate. They stopped in the middle of the square where she pointed to the ground.
"He vowed revenge, and now he's come."
Jared raised his hand. A burning torch appeared, illuminating the darkness around them. Written across the gray stone pavers, in what seemed to be dried blood, they read, "All Dupres will die." Beneath this, a black candle dripped wax onto a photograph of him and his brother.
Apprehension coiled in Jared's stomach as he carefully scanned the area around them. The twisted arms of the ancient live oaks reached out toward them. The black night beyond the dense foliage teemed with silent spirits.
"Do you know who did this?" Jared asked.
"He a witch name of Adam. He of da Montief blood and calls hisself the Chosen One."
Despite the pulsating dark energy surrounding them and the underlying currents of his brother's terror, Jared forced himself to remain calm and asked, "When was Philippe taken, and what has this Montief done with him?"
"He got him now. He takin' him to dat dark place in the north. He'll use Philippe to get to you. He has evil magic and mus' be stopped."
"What are you talking about? What place in the north?"
"Angelique and the mirror hold da truth. They will guide you."
He narrowed his eyes. "My great-great-grand-mother?" The spirit nodded.
Jared compressed his lips into a thin line, then said, "Considering she's been dead for two hundred years, just how in the hell is she supposed to do that?"
"Don't you be cussin' at me, boy. You got her mirror — use it. Now get goin'. Da longer you stand here, da farther Montief get."
"Yeah, well, I'd like to know what this Montief person has against my family before I go chasing after him."
The spirit's eyes flashed and she snapped, "Your brother needs you. Now stop askin' me questions and get da mirror."
Jared frowned. "Wait a minute, why are you saying the mirror belonged to Angelique? The mirror came to me from my mother's side. She was the one with power. Angelique was on my father's, who has no magic."
"Da mirror belong to Angelique. You ask your papa, but not now; ders no time."
Both puzzled and irritated, Jared waved his hand and a small pentagonal mirror appeared in his palm, its ancient wood frame carved with tiny pentagrams. He stared into the glass. "Show me Philippe."
Nothing happened. He glanced at the spirit. She nodded, and again he said the words. An image finally appeared and Jared's pulse quickened. A dark, cloaked figure was shoving Philippe into a black van. His brother's face was battered and swollen and his eyes devoid of emotion.
"Fils de putain," Jared cursed.
Hands on hips, the spirit nodded. "Now you see, boy."
The guilt he felt for doubting Philippe made his words sharper than he intended. "Who are you, and what do you know about this?"
Her earrings danced as she shook her head. "Dere no time. Da truth is in the past. Da mirror and Angelique will help you. Now go. Dis square has always been our sacred place. We must cleanse away da evil Montief left here."
Jared headed back toward the gate. At the sound of voices, he turned to watch in fascination as one by one the spirits of chanting slaves, their filmy bodies swaying to a beat only they could hear, filled the square.
When he stepped onto the street, the mirror began to glow. A figure in the glass materialized and Jared saw a chiseled face with thick black hair and brown eyes set beneath arched brows. The man stared back at Jared and laughed, a sound straight out of a horror film. Jared's jaw clenched. Now that he had a face to put to the name, the truth of what was actually happening became horribly real to him.
The scene in the mirror changed to show Kendra standing in her apartment smiling as she ran her hand down the silk and lace of her wedding dress. An intense love for her flowed through Jared.
In the next second, a cold sweat broke out on the back of his neck as a streak of light shot through her window and sent her beautiful dress crumpling to the floor. The image in the mirror switched back to Montief, his features now twisted in hatred.
"Give Kendra your name, and she also dies. Leave her and she may live."
Jared held back the panic that threatened to overwhelm him and growled, "What do you want?"
The man in the mirror again uttered his chilling laugh. "I am the Chosen One, here to exact retribution from the Dupres for Augustus Montief's death."
"Listen to me, asshole. I don't know what the hell you're talking about. No one in my family killed anyone. But if you hurt my brother or Kendra, you're a dead man."
A taunting sneer replaced the laughter on Montief's face.
"Come and get me, Dupre. I'll be waiting. But I warn you, my patience is running short. I suggest you don't delay. Perhaps you'd like a demonstration?"
Before Jared could respond, Phillipe's limp body appeared, slumped in the back seat of the van. A searing flash of green light hit Philippe and he screamed.
Jared's heart clenched at the pain inflicted on his brother. The image vanished. Jared slid the mirror into a coat pocket and ran toward home. Montief couldn't be too far ahead of him. He wished he could make his car appear before him as easily as smaller objects. He increased his speed. He'd stop at the Dupre Hotel just long enough to pick up his car. The other things he'd need he could conjure.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "His Magic Touch"
Copyright © 2018 Debby Grahl.
Excerpted by permission of The Wild Rose Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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