Friday, July 31, 2009

Holding Her Own by Marie-Nicole Ryan

An excerpt from
Holding Her Own
Copyright 2008 Marie-Nicole Ryan
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication

“Now I know you’re going to think I’m silly to be concerned, but someone left a voodoo doll in my chair at work.”
And who the hell would leave a voodoo doll for Kate at work? One possibility came to mind. Like a lot of the working girls, Angie had been fond of voodoo spells and candles. Her room had been awash with candles and beads and gris-gris bags.
“You sure it wasn’t your co-worker Lisette who left it?”
Kate shook her head vigorously. “No, she turned six shades of white when I asked her about it. She said I needed to take it to someone and get the curse reversed.”
He took a deep breath. “I’m listening.”
“First I went to the voodoo shop Lisette recommended. The proprietor told me someone very powerful made it, and only she or someone more powerful could undo the spell.”
A chill spread up his neck like an ice pick popsicle. Was the doll meant to unnerve Caitlin or was it meant to cause harm?
“Where’s the doll now?”
“In the glove compartment of my rental car.” She shrugged. “I know it’s silly, but I just didn’t want the thing in the condo.”
“Good. Describe it.”
“Black cloth in the shape of a human, stuffed with feathers, wrapped in black thread, except for the head. That thread was red.” She reached up and wound a curl around her finger. “Like my hair.”
“Lisette was right. We need to get the curse reversed.”
“Before the wreck, I might’ve said you were nuts, but now…maybe we should.” She smiled at him. Here he was sitting on the side of Caitlin’s bed. Close enough to touch her soft skin. The tropical fruit scent of her shampoo reached his nostrils. His dick grew hard. God, he wanted her.
But keeping her safe was more important than letting the boys out to play.
To stall for time and to regain his composure, he walked over to the fridge and pulled out two bottled waters, then carried them back. “Here.” He opened both and handed one of them to Kate.
“The real problem, as I see it, is who is trying to put a curse on me? Is it personal or has our operation been compromised?” She took a long swallow then licked the moisture from her lips.
Damn. Did she have to do that? He gulped down half a bottle before he could trust himself to speak. “There are a lot of ways we could look at it First, it’s a serious threat. Exactly who told you it was created by a powerful priestess?”
“A woman at the shop, named Lyontine.”
“I remember her. She’s been in business for a long time, but it used to be more service oriented—if you know what I mean.”
“Really? A prostitute?”
“She was a madam. Guess she parlayed her savings and bought the shop. We have to find this priestess first—no, correction, I have to find her. I want you to stay as far away from the voodoo scene as you can. I’m a native, and I’ll be less conspicuous investigating her whereabouts.”
“No. We do this together. I don’t need to be protected like I’m a damned civilian.” She shivered and set the bottle water on the floor. “I feel like someone just walked over my grave.”
“For once, will you listen to me? Keep your nose in the spreadsheets and follow the money trail. I’ll check out the ceremony and the voodoo priestess. Did Lyontine happen to mention her name?”
“Marie-Ange, I think. She’s supposed to be a direct descendent of Marie Laveau.”
“Aw hell, chèr. They all claim that.” Marie-Ange? Too close to be mere coincidence. Still he needed to see for himself. If it was Angie, he’d put a stop to her shenanigans pretty damn quick.
“Maybe it’s related to the money laundering? Perhaps the one responsible wants to scare me away from the casino so someone else more amenable can take my place?”
“Can’t rule it out. Not until we know for sure who ordered the curse.”
“I still think this is something I need to handle myself.”
He shook his head, stood and walked over to a window. The woman was reckless, stubborn and so damn sexy he could barely keep his head on straight. “You’ll be the death of me yet, chèr.”
“Is it my imagination,” Caitlin said with a giggle, “or is your accent getting thicker the longer we stay here?”
“See here, darlin’, this is my hometown. The smells, the sights, the sounds of jazz floating in the air at night…” He let out a long sigh. “I love this place with ever’ bone in my body, all the way down to my little toe.”
Kate’s eyebrows rose at least an inch, “Left or right?” Her tone was deadpan and left him confused.
“Say what?”
“Which toe? Left or right? You didn’t specify. Just for the record.” A half grin quirked the corner of her pouty lips.
He let out a bark of laughter. “Your sense of humor is improving. Keep working at it. It’s like a muscle, needs a lot of practice.”
Her green eyes gazed across the room at him through a fan of dark red lashes. Her smile widened to include both sides of her lush mouth.
No doubt about it. She was flirting with him. He grinned back…and reined in the urge to kiss her into next Monday. No point in spoiling the hint of promise in the air.
He shifted his stance. His woody had all but cut off the circulation to his crotch. “Don’t make me come over there and kiss you.”
“Wh-what?” A dimple appeared in the corner of her mouth.
“Don’t make me come over there and kiss you.”
She stood and scowled. “You can put any thought of kissing me right out of your mind.”
“Well, that settles it.” With two long strides, he closed the distance between them. He cradled her face in his hands. “See what you’ve done. Now I have to kiss you. I have to taste those lips.”
Caitlin put out a hand and stepped back. “No, you don’t.” The nerve of the man.
And then his mouth was on hers. Fierce, demanding and hot.
She weakened, along with her knees, and her body molded to his. His heat infused every cell of her body in waves setting off sparks of electricity that ignited and flashed.
Staggered by the ferocity of her body’s response and the sheer need to touch him, to feel his bare skin against hers, she backed away.
The single word was uttered as a hoarse rasp. His hands dropped from her face, skimming slowly down her body.
“No. We can’t,” she said, shaking her head. “This is crazy. You’re crazy. I’m crazy.”
Pulling away from him hurt. A pain so real and full of loss so deep it shook her soul.
Jaw clenched, Jake stood his ground but didn’t come after her.
The silence grew longer, finally he spoke. “Tomorrow, we go to Lyontine’s together. Otherwise you’ll just go on your own and get that cute ass of yours caught in a nest of alligators…or worse.”
“Agreed. Together.” Back in bed, she pulled the sheet up around her neck and pretended to sleep. But how could she? His kiss had shaken her to the core. Never had she wanted to give herself to anyone like she did Jake.

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