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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The dead were everywhere.
Bathed in late afternoon rays of sunlight, Magnus stood on a patch of land surrounded by algae-covered swamp and cursed. Why had he and Lexie been dragged to this godforsaken hellhole again? The songs of cicadas welcoming the coming twilight played in the background while the black eyes of the dead stared at him from the water.
Scarred, bruised, with fresh gaping wounds, the ghosts of men, women, and children lingered above the water. Some missing limbs and even heads, the apparitions glared at him. He preferred things the way they had been before when he'd depended on Lexie to tell him what the dead wanted. He feared her gift firmly entrenched in his center.
Lexie spoke in hushed tones to Detective Emile Glapion. Emile understood Lexie's gift having been raised by a voodoo priestess. Several officers from the St. John The Baptist Parish Sheriff's Department waited around them, peering into the water at the naked victim.
"Otis Landry was a good man." Emile's voice carried in the humid, sticky air. "I know how hard this must be for you, but can you think of any reason why anyone would cut up your landlord like that?"
Otis's bloated corpse had strange symbols carved across his torso and arms. Magnus recognized the geometric shapes and wavy lines of the devouring spell used on Renee. Her murder, as well as others' in the city covered with the same carvings, remained unsolved. By the rate the bodies were piling up, Magnus doubted the police would ever get a handle on the killings.
He floated closer to Lexie, unseen by the others, eager to eavesdrop on more of her conversation. These days, Magnus found his charge hard to read. It was as if the black inside her blocked him. He used to be able to glean her every thought, sense her feelings, and guess her next move, but now, she was a mystery — much like other women he'd known.
An image of the lovely Frances floated across his mind. But as soon as he pictured her delicate face and honey-blonde hair, he remembered the way she screamed as he pushed her over the cliff behind his family home.
He didn't like reliving that moment. It was one of many he wished to forget.
"I know Otis was related to Renee in some way." Lexie pouted her pink lips. "She called him family once."
"Distant second cousins. Not close blood. But what could Mr. Landry, Gus Favaro, and Renee have in common?" Emile asked. "They all had the same spell carved into them, but were from different worlds."
"Were they?" Lexie's knuckles shone white against her dragon cane. "They all had businesses in the French Quarter. Renee had her shop, Gus Favaro had a restaurant or two there, and Otis Landry owned several residences."
Very good. He liked it when she used her head. But what about motive?
"We know Renee had dealings with the thugs who served Bloody Mary, and she was killed inside the prison, so it had to be someone with ties to the prison or the city." Lexie shifted her gaze to the dead man. "Perhaps Otis knew the same men Renee did since they were related."
Emile rested his hands on his hips, the shiny silver badge of an NOPD detective attached to his belt. "I don't see it. As far as I can get from his records, he was a law-abiding citizen with no priors, no outstanding tickets, and up-to-date on his taxes. His maid said he was a quiet man, divorced, and lived alone with no previous run-ins with the law. Gus Favaro had no criminal history either."
"Excuse me, but this search for justice could go on and on ..." Magnus waved his cane at the restless souls. "Meanwhile, others are waiting to speak with you."
Emile stooped to investigate the water's edge while Lexie peered into the swamp.
Magnus noted the change in her face. She saw them.
"There are so many."
"So many what?" Emile asked, standing up.
Lexie tapped her fingers on the dragon's head. "The dead. They're here."
Emile scrubbed his face with his hands. "Are we talking spirits in general, or your Mr. Blackwell." Emile's gaze darted around the shoreline. "Is he here? I bet he's here."
The question brought a grin to his lips. Being a ghost did have its advantages.
Lexie casually nodded to her right. "He never leaves my side."
"That must make for fun times with Will."
Magnus blew out an aggravated breath. "Would you please tell the detective I'm a spirit guide, not a peeping Tom."
A strange howl cut through the air. Magnus reached out with his power, searching the area. Coyote? Wolf? But nothing came back to him.
Lexie stood motionless. "What was that?"
Emile chuckled at her reaction. "It's nothing. Lots of wild dogs, coyotes, even a few gray wolves out here." He scoured the dense green brush and cypress trees surrounding the water. "Unless it's the rougarou." He grinned. "Local Cajun legends say their kind live in these swamps."
Lexie's gaze tore into the detective. "Tell me you just made that up."
"All the books you've been reading lately and you've never run across the legend of the rougarou? It's a half-man, half-wolf creature that roams the swamps and kills those who wander into its territory. Perhaps you should get a book on the subject."
"Detective?" an officer called a few feet away.
Emile pointed at the ground. "Stay here and don't touch anything. Same goes for your ghost." He hurried away.
Magnus snorted as he passed. "I hope he's joking."
Lexie motioned to the apparitions crowding the water. "Is this what you saw at Kalila's home?"
She glanced back at a white shell-covered road. "We're not far from her place. Maybe these are her spirits, the ones she held captive."
"No. The ghosts haunting her swamp were different. Different faces, different clothes from different eras. These people all look to be from the same period in history."
"Then who are they, Magnus?"
He took in the dead wafting over the water as if stirred by an undetectable breeze. Their vacuous stares and tattered clothing all looked the same. Then one face in the rear caught his attention.
"There." He gestured to a lone standout among the apparitions.
With black eyes and blank stare resembling the others, Otis Landry bobbed in the water.
"Otis Landry is among them."
Magnus pressed his lips together. He didn't like what he felt coming off the murky marsh. The darkness in the ribbon connecting him to Lexie throbbed as if pleased with his discomfort.
He watched Lexie, anxious to see if she registered the change. She sucked in a deep breath and closed her eyes. Her energy bloomed like a waterspout on Lake Pontchartrain during a fierce storm. Their ribbon pulsated, and its blackness expanded. He wished to shut it off, but if he did, he would lose Lexie and his ability to stay in her world. He was here to protect her, and a little discomfort was worth it as long as he knew she was safe.
"They all died here at once," she murmured. "They're all speaking at the same time, whispering about the great storm."
"Storm?" Magnus rested against his cane. "Intriguing. Picking up anything from our victim?"
She opened her eyes. "He's telling me how much he liked me. How sorry he is I have to see him this way." She turned to Magnus. "And to get out of here while we still can. She is coming."
"Who is —?"
"What have you picked up?" Emile's question cut Magnus off as he returned to Lexie's side. "I was hoping your skills would help us out."
Magnus sensed Lexie's hesitation. This is a bad sign.
Anytime she withheld information, she was up to something. He'd seen her do it with her husband, Emile, and even him, even though he could tell when she was lying.
"I'm not sure what to tell you."
Emile's sullen frown let Magnus know that wasn't what he wanted to hear. "You know I'm going out on a limb with my department. I promised my captain you could help." He wiped the sweat from his forehead. "He's been reluctant to have you consult on cases. He's getting pressure from the higher-ups to keep you out."
This wasn't news. Opposition to her appointment as mambo had haunted her from the night she'd won her title at the haute défi.
"I can guess who is pressuring them," Magnus told her. "His tactics must be stopped."
Emile rubbed behind his neck, sizing her up as if debating what to disclose. "Harold's politically connected. He's making things difficult for you."
Magnus flinched, knowing how much the information would hurt Lexie. Harold Forneaux, her biggest opponent and the man gunning for her job, had been out to discredit her at every turn.
"He's been speaking out against me, pushing the council to vote me out. I hear what he tells other priestesses about me. Claims I'm a fake mambo." Lexie let the air out of her lungs in one long hiss. "He wants my baton juju." She rubbed her thumb over the handle of her cane.
Emile leaned closer and lowered his voice, but Magnus could still hear him.
"Then tell me something I can use to take back to my boss and impress him."
Lexie relaxed her shoulders and offered a sad smile. "Otis died here, or close by. His body was dumped in the swamp. He's sorry I had to see him like this."
Emile grimaced. "Anything on who killed him or why?"
"That's it." She shrugged. "Wish I had more."
"Lexie. I need solid leads, not random stuff that won't help us. I'm giving you a chance here; don't blow it."
Magnus detected her apprehension. It made her blackness bloom. When she was confident, happy, smiling, or with Will, her white side prevailed. She wasn't the vibrant woman he cared for when the darkness took her over. In those times, she reminded him of the evil spirit who held her soul — the diabolical Kalfu.
"There are others with him," she said softly. "Others in the water. They died here. Violently. They're keeping him from getting through. Perhaps if I knew who they were or where they come —"
"Others?" Emile furrowed his brow.
"Ask him about the past." Magnus raised his nose in the air. "The storm they mentioned. See if he knows."
"What about a storm here, a long time ago? Was there one?"
Emile stared at her.
Magnus couldn't decide if he was confused or dumbfounded.
Emile mopped his damp brow with his tie. "Yeah, there was a storm, a big one — the New Orleans Hurricane of 1915. It killed over a hundred people in a small town that used to be around here — Frenier. They buried everyone in a cemetery nearby."
The wind suddenly changed direction, making the apparitions bob and sway. Magnus sensed the charge in the air.
Lexie turned to Magnus. "We should go there."
It was not what Magnus wanted to hear. How could he keep Lexie safe when she always insisted on pursuing such escapades?
Emile held up his hands. "Hold on. You can only get there by boat, and even then, it's private land. No one is allowed in the cemetery. And it has nothing to do with our investigation."
Lexie frowned, obstinacy glistening in her eyes.
Why can't she take no for an answer?
"Who owns the land?" A hint of irritation deepened her voice. "Can we get their permission to visit?"
"If you're going to be mambo, you should get to know the local legends." Emile paused as he rubbed his chin. "The land used to belong to the famous voodoo priestess, Julie Brown. No one goes to the property because she haunts it and the owners don't want anyone getting hurt or disappearing. Dozens of people have vanished from that cemetery through the years. They say it's because Julie Brown doesn't take kindly to strangers."
"She won't hurt me."
Magnus refrained from groaning. Lexie's confidence had swelled since she'd first accepted her baton juju a few months ago, but he feared her magical powers sometimes blinded her to the dangers of her job.
"Are you out of your mind?" Emile tossed up his hands. "I'd never let you go there alone."
"I can handle myself," she asserted with a perturbed lilt. "I'm not afraid of Julie Brown's ghost."
Emile's shoulders drooped. "You're not going anywhere near those swamps without me. It's too dangerous. Bloody Mary had a lot of pull around these parts, and some of her people might be out for revenge."
Magnus clenched his fists. That was the wrong thing to say to Lexie. Damned woman thrived on danger.
Emile opened his mouth to continue when an officer in Sheriff's Department dress blues came up to him.
"Excuse me, Detective. We're about to pull the victim out of the water. Thought you might want to get a better look."
Emile glanced from the officer to Lexie and then raised his finger to her. "The answer is no. If I feel we need to go to the cemetery, I will go through the proper legal channels and get men to go with us. You're not to go there alone."
He left her to join the other officers.
Lexie picked up her dragon cane and inspected the different colored eyes — one black and one white, representing her power.
"Magnus?" she called in the sweetest voice. "Can you help me find a boat?"CHAPTER 2
Late afternoon light trickled through tree limbs arching over their flatbed boat. Lexie and Magnus circumvented the murky depths of the narrow bayou, cutting through the greenish, foul-smelling water. Magnus stared into the inhospitable landscape while the play of light created intricate patterns on the land. He chastised himself for going along with Lexie's plan. How could he protect her way out here?
Magnus checked on the man he'd enlisted to take them through the swamp. He sat at the back of the boat, wearing a camo jumper and brown hat stitched with Ned's Fishing, his hand on the engine's throttle.
"Why are we here?"
Seated on the board across the middle of the boat, Lexie kept her eyes ahead. "The spirits on the water said I needed to visit the cemetery."
"Why didn't you tell me that?" he asked indignantly.
"Because you would have told me not to. They said 'what I seek is here. She is here.' I intend to find out who she is and what I can learn from her."
Magnus didn't like that. "Do you think she is that Julie Brown woman?"
Lexie shrugged and said nothing. He could feel she was hiding something but decided not to press her. Since the moment she'd embraced Kalfu's darkness, he'd learned not to push for answers. Things got heated between them when he did.
He returned his attention to the water. "I hate boats."
"How can you hate boats? You're a ghost."
"Unfortunately, being dead does not mean you give up your fears." He used the tip of his cane to push around a few fishing nets at the bottom of the boat. "My father dragged me out on one once when I was small. I fell in and almost drowned. I've detested them ever since."
"You could have stayed on the dock."
He motioned to their mesmerized pilot. "And how would you have convinced our Mr. Ned to take you to the cemetery without me?"
A slight sneer lifted her lips. It wasn't much, but he noticed it. His Lexie had never sneered before the darkness had possessed her. Sometimes when she made that face, Magnus swore he saw Kalfu staring back at him. The voodoo god of darkness seemed to haunt her at times — in a look, a smile, the way she moved.
"I could have done it without you whispering in his ear." She turned her attention to the banks of dense green foliage and cypress trees. "My powers are much stronger now."
"But at what cost?" he muttered.
She spun around to face him. "Are you questioning my choices? You know I had none."
Magnus didn't need a reminder of the hellish nightmare they'd endured because of Emily's obsession with him.
He tempered his annoyance by rubbing the handle of his cane. He couldn't feel the wood against his fingertips, but he could sense the strength residing inside the piece — the power of Damballah.
The engine cut off. Magnus was about to whisper to the fisherman when he spotted something ahead.
The brush cleared and revealed a spot of grassy land. Cypress trees circled it, their branches hanging low in a protective embrace. Small white crosses dotted the landscape, and a crooked, little, black iron fence encircled the cemetery.
Streams of sunlight showed how far back the graves went into the trees. The wood crosses and the occasional headstones jutted from the land. Eventually, a line of thick brush blocked his view.
An eerie quiet rose as they approached the shore. The cicadas, birds, and breeze all stilled when the tip of their flat-bottom boat touched land. The ability he'd received from Lexie came to life, setting off a firestorm of warnings. A black, heavy tension jabbed at him, sweeping away the quaint charm of the surroundings. Evil lived in the cemetery.
"I don't like this."
Ignoring his concerns, Lexie climbed from the boat, letting her baton juju and the hem of her white dress drag through the shallow water as she proceeded to the shore.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Seize"
Copyright © 2019 Alexandrea Weis and Lucas Astor.
Excerpted by permission of Vesuvian Books.
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