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Bayou Magick

Bayou Magick
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Overview

Ten years ago, Jean-Marie LeFleur fled the bayous with a broken heart, but she's come full circle and Justin isn't about to let her forget what they had together.

Length: Short Story
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Rating: Spicy

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Description

BAYOU MAGICK

By

Alicia Sparks

 

© Copyright by Alicia Sparks, February 2007

© Cover art by Kat Richards,  February 2007

New Concepts Publishing

Lake Park, GA 31636

www.newconceptspublishing.com

This is a work of fiction. All characters, events, and places are of the author's imagination and not to be confused with fact. Any resemblance to living persons or events is merely coincidence.

 

Justin dipped his pole into the dark, murky water and eased the pirogue forward. The tiny boat rocked against the waves before consenting to the turn in the bayou. With the moon almost full the water lit up like black sunshine, glistening with welcome as he approached another bend. It would have been so much easier to use a boat with a trolling motor on it, but this was quieter and the tiny pirogue moved much easier through the labyrinth than a larger boat would have.

The gold had to be out here. He had followed his grandmother's journals to the letter and every instinct he had, combined with that ancient knowledge, told him he was on the right track. All he had to do was find the tree that looked like a face, the one that held the keys to the Thibodeaux past, keys Justin needed to set his mind at ease if nothing else.

No one had questioned his ancestry. He was Cajun and proud, but everything inside him screamed out that somewhere along the lines somebody had gotten something wrong. Creole blood flowed through his veins, a fact he longed to prove. Why it was so important to him to find out, he could never quite explain. Heritage was important to everyone in LaTreche, though, and Justin's heritage had long been a subject of debate, something he wished to end.

The alligators bellowed at one another, signaling his proximity to their mating spot, somewhere he knew he shouldn't be. Gators mated in the water and the low sound of their moans told him he should turn around and head the other way. His fingers ran along the withered edges of the yellowed map, pointing this direction, forcing him to forge forward as he hoped to avoid any gators in the throes of passion. The last thing he needed was to bump into a lusty alligator and have his own sex life put to a decided end.

He folded the paper and tucked it back into his shirt pocket. There was no need for a map. It had long since been memorized by the twelve-year-old boy who had found it hidden in Aunt Pearle's attic. Since then, he had studied every line and curve, hoping that one day he would get the guts to go out into the bayou and put his curiosity to an end. This was the family's dirty secret, the one thing the aunts did not wish to become public knowledge. They had scolded him when he mentioned as a teenager that he might go looking for the gold.

"There's no gold out there. Nothing but fool's gold, and you be an even bigger fool for lookin' for it," Aunt Ella had said.

But the gold held the key to his heritage. If the legends were right, nestled in a mason jar, buried with the gold, was the paper he so desperately sought, the one that would prove his heritage and secure his deed to the land surrounding his tiny shack. It wasn't much, he knew, but in a place like LaTreche, land ownership separated the classes more than anywhere else he could think of. He might be the sheriff, but that was more of a title than anything else. What he needed, what he felt deep down inside, was the connection to the land. Without it, he felt like he could never give any woman the kind of promise that the ones around here seemed to need.

There wasn't a woman on his mind, though, as he trolled forward. Well, none who had set foot in the bayou in the last ten years. The only woman he had ever thought of setting up housekeeping with had left him high and dry--and bleeding--ten years ago. And she was not likely to come back any time soon.

The night birds began their song as he rounded the bend and spotted the gators off to the side. Some of them were lazing on the shore while others were well involved in the mating ritual. He eased closer, slowing the pirogue to a creep in order to move by the group of ten or so large reptiles.

A chill went up his back as he approached a tiny island, one he swore he'd never seen before though he had been all through the bayou. Legend told that on the full moon prior to St. John's Eve, Marie LaVeau roamed the bayous in animal flesh waiting for men to enchant. It was all a bunch of hoodoo hocus-pocus if you asked Justin, who had never really believed much in that kind of thing anyway. He had a healthy respect for those who did believe. He had seen things that defied explanation. But a woman who had died in the last century could not possibly be alive and wandering the swamps, no matter how powerful her mojo.

The moon wasn't full yet, though the chill that swept through him didn't offer any reprieve from the bayou ghost stories he'd heard as a kid. Instead, it worked its way into a full-blown shiver as the island approached, making him fully aware that he hadn't moved in at least ten seconds. Tricks from the swamp lights made him think the island was actually floating toward him instead of standing stationary as he knew it must be.

Dipping the pole back into the water and urging the boat forward once more, he thought he could reach the island before alerting the nearby gators. Too late, he realized three of them had already come up alongside the tiny boat and were floating like innocent logs next to him. They could capsize him in an instant if they chose to do so. Then, he'd be gator bait for sure. Stories he'd heard as a kid flooded his mind as he thought about the swamp pirates and how many of them had become food for the swamp reptiles. And if the gators didn't get them, the water moccasins surely had.

"Easy," he crooned to the gators as they came even closer, one of them slapping his tail against the back of the boat, throwing Justin off balance.

The gator growled, revealing white teeth sharp enough to tear off a man's legs if it decided it was hungry enough. Mon Dieu, but he hoped this thing had eaten tonight.

The wind picked up, blowing in his hair, disturbing the quiet ripples of the water, carrying his scent to the other gators and alerting them of a trespasser in their wake. Three more joined the first three, surrounding him on all sides. "Shit," he muttered as he reached for the gun he kept tucked into his jeans. If he fired a shot into the air, surely it would scare them off.

He aimed the gun at the sky and squeezed the trigger. The result was not what he had hoped for. The leader of the gators, the obvious alpha male had taken offense to the intrusion and chose that moment to buck against the side of the pirogue, almost turning it over in the process. Justin clung to the side, his gun flying from his hand. Some cop he was! Couldn't even hold onto his gun when encountering a little turbulence.

The male bucked against the boat once more, this time managing to knock the whole thing off balance. As the island grew closer, Justin held his breath and scrambled for his gun, hoping his hands would close around it before he hit the water. The smell of gators closing in on him combined with the smell of swamp water to form a nauseating aroma. He was as good as dead now as he landed in the murky water. Struggling against the water would only make things worse. The gators would be on him in a heartbeat if he flailed around. No, it was best to go under and swim to shore.

He took in a deep breath just before his head went underwater and said a silent prayer to St. Jude, knowing this was one hell of a hopeless cause. As his life flashed before his eyes, one vision came to him more clearly than anything else. Jean-Marie. Her laughing eyes, her hair spilled out on his bed, her body pressed softly against him. Her face appeared before him and then disappeared into the mist, leaving his heart feeling as heavy as his body as he sank to the bottom of the swamp.

* * * *

"Wake up, boy. You don' need to be sleepin'. You an' me got work to do."

The smell hit him at first. The swamp combined with some awful herb that smelled like burning Spanish moss. When it hit his nostrils and sank into his lungs, his stomach protested, threatening to spill his dinner, if he was still alive, that is.

From the aching in his head, he had to be alive. Otherwise, his whole body would ache, wouldn't it? Surely it hurt to be torn limb from limb by a mob of angry reptiles.

"You come to da swamp for answers. Now you be getting' 'em. Wake up."

The female voice was foreign, the accent thickly French. But the timing was off, making her sound unlike any French woman he'd ever heard before. No, this wasn't French. This was a gen-u-ine Creole accent.

His eyes fluttered open. He tried to concentrate on keeping them that way. Heavy smoke enveloped him, threatening to choke the air left in his lungs right out. He blinked and saw the night sky overhead. He couldn't possibly be in heaven if he was looking up at it, which only left one possibility.

"Where am I?" he managed, his voice sounding far off even to himself.

"You in da swamps. Where you think?"

"What happened?"

"Gators. You safe now." Her thick accent now seemed overly done, as if she were trying to sound a certain way that went against her natural speech pattern.

"You saved me?"

"That I did. But now you owe me. So, sit up, boy, so I can collect."

Justin managed to sit up without falling over, which was what he feared he would do. The whole scene looked like something out of a movie about New Orleans, one of those that never got the facts straight. The woman who sat across from him looked like all make-believe Marie LaVeau figures he'd ever seen. A turban alive with reds and greens covered her hair while her fluid skirt reminded him of the old voodoo priestess he had once seen in New Orleans. She sat with her profile to him, her high cheekbones prominently displaying her ancestry. Large gold hoops decorated her ears and arms. The smoke clouded his vision of her, making her indeed appear to be a voodoo priestess, something he knew was impossible. If he hadn't known any better, he would swear she was the voodoo priestess, the one who made the religion notorious in Louisiana, Marie LaVeau.

"Who are you?" Confusion clouded his brain. He had fallen into the water, right? That was the only explanation for the fact that he was soaked to the bone and freezing, not to mention hallucinating. A shiver ran through him as the cold worked its way into his system, saturating his insides as surely as the water had soaked his outsides. His head ached, probably from the collision with the Cypress knee that stuck out of the water. Those things were a danger to boats and to people as they peeked up from beneath the water impeding forward motion.

"Who I am is of no importance." She turned to face him as she spoke and that was when he saw the right half of her face. What should have been skin was row upon row of golden scales. Alligator scales. It was all he could do to keep from reaching out to see if they were real or just another adornment or figment of his imagination.

"What are you?" Unable to hide his fascination with the woman, he stared as she moved away from him, holding him spellbound with those golden eyes of hers, eyes that reminded him so much of another Creole woman. Her voice, which was pure spun silk, flowed from her tongue and made its way into his system, warming him as if she had infused him with a voodoo potion.

"I am the one's gonna give you a past. An' a future. But you got to pay first."

"I owe you my life," he managed. His heart had stopped pounding as feverishly as it had been. Even as the water dripped off his hair and onto his face, he kept his gaze focused on her.

"That you do. An' I plan on takin' what I need from you." Her smile was so warm and inviting he couldn't view the words as a threat, be it shielded or outright, even though everything about this situation warned him that he was in something a lot deeper than swamp water.

"Do you need my help?" Why else would a woman like her have rescued him? His head throbbed as he still tried to piece the events together, wondering how much of this was a dream and how much was a hallucination.

She nodded, her rings jingling with the movement. "An' you need my help. Come closer."

Justin scooted around to where she sat and remained perfectly still as she placed a cloth necklace over his head. "What's this?" The smell of lilacs and sage rose up to meet him as she leaned over, her fingers brushing against his chest.

"Just listen."

"To what?" He ran his fingers along the cloth as he swallowed hard. Voodoo. The word hummed in his head and the knowledge pulsed through him, causing his heart to once again quicken and his breathing to become shallow.

"To the spirits of the swamp. Hear them? They're calling to you, Justin Thibodeaux. They tell you what you need to know."

"I need to know about my family, about the gold." It was the reason he was out here, after all, the reason he had fallen into the swamp and into this mystery.

"And you shall know. But you must find it first. You must protect this gold you seek."

"Do you know how to find it?" If she did, he would be even closer to solving the mystery of his ancestors.

"No words. Listen."

She closed her eyes and began a soft humming. Justin shot her a wary look before closing his eyes also. The bayou wasn't saying anything to him that he hadn't heard before. The sounds of the night filtered in through the smoke and haze. Gators bellowing, night birds singing, various assorted rodents calling to one another, nothing he wasn't familiar with. Then, just as he was about to open his eyes, there was another sound, one he knew as well as his own voice.

I love you, Justin Thibodeaux. Jean-Marie's voice flooded his mind as clearly as if she sat right next to him. He swore he could even feel her breath on the back of his neck, her hair spilling forward to tickle his bare chest. Squeezing his eyes tighter, hoping to conjure her, he concentrated, hoping that she would appear from wherever it was she had been for ten years.

The scar below his ribs pulsed in a rhythm of its own making. Pain shot through his body at the thought of the woman who had left her mark on him in more ways than one. The sound of her voice lulled him into a comfort he hadn't known in so long. Why had he let her go like that? Why hadn't he sought her out? If he got the chance, he would hunt her down. And he wouldn't be seeking justice for her attempt on his life. He would be seeking a chance to apologize, to make things right with the one woman who would always have his heart.

"You ready yet?" The voodoo woman's voice penetrated the thick fog of his mind, forcing him to open his eyes.

"Ready for what?" The incense became heavy, stinging his eyes as the woman danced before him, her voice setting the rhythm, her eyes casting an eerie glow. Then her voice rang out like a warning.

"For your payment. There's a price you know. I can give you what you want, what you need, but you must do something for me, in return."

"I'll do anything. I owe you." He felt the words as he said them, but the haze surrounding him grew thicker, threatening to blind him.

"No. You got to do it cause' you want it, not out of debt. Do you want the power I can give you? The power to find and protect the gold?"

"That's my payment? I have to find the gold for you?" Confusion vibrated through him, causing her voice to float up to him from no particular direction, making him feel as if he'd just come off a three-day drunk. The smell of sage and burning moss penetrated his clothing, wrapping him up in a blanket of incense and smells of home.

"And protect it." Again, her voice seemed far away as he tried to concentrate on her words.

"Done. Who do I make the check out to?" Her face had all but disappeared as he spoke.

"You make it out to yourself." She stood, revealing herself to him once more. "You listen to your mojo."

"My what?"

She approached him, parting the smoke as she moved. Her fingers closed over the bag around his neck. "This is your gris-gris. Don' take it off. She be comin' wid da moon." She pointed above them to the moon, which was almost full. "An' change comin' wid her."

"What am I supposed to do with this?"

"Shhh. Quiet now. Listen to da swamp." She sat down next to him.

* * * *

Jean-Marie didn't look back when she pulled the car out of the long driveway. Gino was away at poker night and never expected her to disappear this way. His goons were off duty tonight, though God only knew why he wasn't having her watched 24/7. She waved to the night guard who opened the gate for her. She had called ahead and told him she was meeting a girlfriend in town. The girlfriend, unbeknownst to anyone else, was going to help her get the hell out of here.

Her heart pounded in her chest at the thought of leaving. Their relationship had been over for months, but she had stayed out of loyalty. That and the fact that she knew if she left he would kill her. She knew far too much about the inner workings of his business, which she knew was her mistake. But when she had hooked up with Gino Hernandez five years ago, the life he led was one that seemed full of glamour and excitement. So he killed a few people. They all deserved it. Bunch of drug dealers and con artists.

Then he had struck that family with the kids, killing them all in their sleep, or rather having them killed. He swore he hadn't lifted a finger to do the job himself. She knew he had given the order, though. That was what mob bosses did. They left the dirty work to their minions while they basked in the glory of the rewards. When she had found out about that, she had lost it. Of course, he didn't know any of this. She had let him sink himself into her body and celebrate a job well done while she was fighting both tears and nausea. She would have killed him herself if she thought she could have. Just thinking about holding a gun made her sick to her stomach.

So, she had done the only thing she knew she could do. She waited, biding her time, collecting information. Her hand wrapped around the jump drive attached to her key chain. It held enough information to put Gino away for a long time. But she couldn't do anything until she got out of Vegas. She had to go somewhere safe, somewhere far enough away from Gino that he'd never be able to find her.

Closing her eyes before pulling out onto the street, she said a silent prayer to St. Jude, knowing he was a sucker for lose causes. If Gino wanted to find her no amount of highway could keep him away. Dirt roads, now that was another matter entirely. Gino had no idea that she was originally from Louisiana because she had hidden her accent so well.

As clear as the night sky, the idea formed. She could go back to Louisiana. No one would ever think to look for her there. A tight knot formed just below her heart. She hadn't been back in ten years. Not since … she didn't even want to think about what, or rather who, had driven her away. It was better to get those thoughts out of her head.

Tightening her hands around the steering wheel, she pulled out into the street and headed for the airport. She wouldn't go to Lafayette or LaTreche. New Orleans was big enough and far enough away she wouldn't have to worry about anyone finding her unless she wanted to be found.

One more silent prayer and her hammering heart had stilled a little, but the sick feeling that had settled into her stomach hadn't let up any. Going home. Would she ever think of it that way again? So much time and stuff had gotten in the way. And Justin. God, Justin. Her heart still pounded wildly just thinking about him. She swore if she ever saw him again, she'd kill him for sure this time. If she didn't throw herself into his arms first.

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