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Excerpt: Demons of Bourbon Street

Excerpt: Demons of Bourbon Street

Book 3: Jade Calhoun Series

Chapter 1

My ex-boyfriend’s childhood home loomed in front of me. Once upon a time, the sight of the old farmhouse filled my heart with joy, comfort, and even contentment. Three emotions that didn’t come easy for me. Now guilt and fear dominated.

Peering through the heavy rain, I spotted a shadow at the window. The curtains opened, revealing a portly, middle-aged woman.

I twisted to glance at Kat in the back seat of the rental car. “Dan’s mom is staring at us.”

“Time to quit stalling then.” She unbuckled her seatbelt and grabbed the door handle.

“Wait. Give me a second.”

“We’ve been sitting here ten minutes.”

“She’s right, love.” Kane reached across the seat, his broad shoulders filling the space between us. He squeezed my hand. “It’s better to get this over with.”

“I…just need a minute.” I hadn’t seen Dan’s parents since we’d broken up almost two years ago. Mrs. Toller, who’d once thought of me as her daughter, blamed me for shredding her son’s heart. I guess he conveniently left out the part about him cheating on me. Not that I planned on telling her. Seeing her again was like using my own heart for a pincushion. Tiny little stabs, one after another.

None of that mattered now. Dan was missing because he’d sacrificed himself to save my mother from a demon. But I was going to save him, and Mrs. T’s friend was going to help.

Thunder boomed overhead in the Idaho sky.

The rain needed to stop. At least long enough for us to get onto the porch. The last thing I wanted to do was face Dan’s mom looking like a drowned rat. My faltering confidence depended on stylish hair and a dry outfit.

The familiar spark in my chest responded the second I reached for it. “Ready, Kat?”

“I’ve been ready,” she said with a heavy air of impatience.

Magic strained to burst from my fingertips. I pushed the passenger side door open and yelled, “Halt!”

Another rumble of thunder drowned out my voice. And just when I’d decided the spell hadn’t been specific enough, the rain stopped and a sliver of sunshine peeked out from behind the clouds.

“Hurry, the break won’t last,” I called to Kat as I jogged toward the house.

She caught up with me on the steps of the porch just as the skies opened up again, pummeling the farm.

“Umbrellas would have been simpler.” She pressed close to the house, trying to avoid the horizontal rain.

“I accidently left them in Gwen’s mudroom.”

She smoothed her bright red curls and moved to the door. Before she knocked, it swung open.

“Katrina! I’m so glad you’re here.” Dan’s mother crushed her into a hug, squeezing hard enough that my ribs ached in sympathy. She pressed her face into Kat’s shoulder as her body shook with muffled sobs.

“Oh, Mrs. Toller. Don’t cry. We’re doing everything we can to find him,” Kat soothed.

The older woman released Kat and sniffled.

“I’m so sorry, Mrs. T.” I grabbed her hand and squeezed.

Her lips twisted into a grimace. She tugged out of my grasp and seemed to consciously erase all emotion from her face. Too bad the disdain streaming off her prickled my skin and my heart. Sometimes being an empath sucked. Gone were the days when Mrs. T had been a stand-in mother. I’d lost her after I dumped Dan. But after all this time, I wasn’t prepared for such a personal rejection. A dull ache blossomed in my chest.

“Jade.” She gave me a short nod then turned back to Kat. “Come in. Izzy’s waiting.”

I cast a glance at the rental car, wishing I hadn’t insisted Kane wait outside. A more sensible person would have stayed at Aunt Gwen’s, but his overprotective nature prevented him from doing anything that reasonable. I waved, hoping he could see me through the heavy rain, and followed Kat into the house.

The sound of my boots echoed off the white wood floors as I moved into the spacious living room. Nothing had changed. A rustic pine wood-framed sofa, covered in deep plum cushions, and its matching loveseat framed a stark white area rug. A floor-to-ceiling bookcase lined one wall, and a mounted five-point elk hung center stage over the stone fireplace.

A wave of sadness rocked me. The last time I’d been in the house was the day Dan had proposed to me. The day I’d broken his heart.

The image of his shocked face as I revealed my empath ability swam in my mind’s eye, quickly morphing to outrage when he realized I’d been spying on his emotions for years. Shame coiled through me.

I shook the memory off. This wasn’t the time to wallow in regret. Dan had been body-snatched by a demon. And the psychic, Izzy Frankel, had some explaining to do. I spotted her standing near the front window. Striding over, I held out my hand. “You must be Ms. Frankel.”

The tall, thin woman ignored my attempt at a handshake and stared at me curiously. She tilted her head to one side, shifting her long, frizzy gray hair over one shoulder. She pushed it back and narrowed one eye. “You harbor a lot of power, but it’s too raw. You’ll never be able to save him.”

Mrs. T gasped from behind me. I glanced back. Kat held her steady with her arms wrapped around the trembling woman.

“How dare you frighten Dan’s mom,” I scolded Izzy, more than a little offended she’d dismissed my abilities so easily. “You don’t know me. Or the people who’ll be helping us.”

For God’s sake, I had my mentor, who happened to be the strongest witch I’d ever met, an entire coven, and an angel ready to fight the good fight. Not to mention a dreamwalking boyfriend, a ghost hunter, and two best friends who’d follow me into Hell if that’s what it took to bring Dan back. What did this old fraud know anyway?

I took a step forward, invading her personal space. “As far as I’m concerned, you’re the reason Dan’s in trouble. You’re in no position to criticize.”

Izzy shrank back, grabbing the molding of the window frame. Her face turned ashen. “Every reading has consequences,” she whispered. “I didn’t know. I couldn’t see…”

Cripes. I’d pushed an old lady over the edge. One I needed answers from. I reached out and took her hand. Her guilt penetrated my senses, weighing heavily on my skin, while her suppressed panic sent shock waves through my fingers. Ignoring the sensation, I pulled her over to the couch.

“Ms. Frankel,” I lowered my voice. “Izzy, where did Dan get the portraits and voodoo dolls?”

Her deep blue-gray eyes, swimming with unshed tears, met mine. “I gave them to him.”

“What portraits?” Mrs. T asked Kat in a hushed voice.

Kat murmured something back, and I was grateful when she led Dan’s mom through the kitchen door. I didn’t have the energy to explain how the souls and spirits of three sisters had been separated and then transferred into life-sized voodoo dolls and grotesque papier-mâché portraits. And that one sister, Meri, was a demon who possessed Dan through his connection with one of the portraits.

I sat back, stunned. “Why would such powerful relics be left in the care of a psychic?”

Izzy clasped her hands in her lap, staring at them. “I was there with the rest of the coven when Philip, Meri’s mate, completed the soul and spirit separation. Not long after, I had a vision that one day a man would come for the portraits, and he’d bring with him the power to release your mother. The coven decided it was best if I watched over the voodoo dolls and portraits until that person materialized.”

“A vision of Dan?” I breathed.

She slumped back. “Not exactly. The vision didn’t reveal who, just that someone would come and everything would become clear. I couldn’t believe it when Dan showed up that day. Déjà-vu hit me so strong, I almost fell over. It was the vision all over again.” She held her hands palms up. “I’d seen him countless times over the years. He’s my godson, you know.”

I shook my head. According to Dan, she was just a weird old friend of his mother’s.

She waved dismissively. “He didn’t like to claim me because of my ability. He never wanted me prying—not that I’d ever invade his privacy on purpose.”

Guilt bubbled up in my chest again. I’d pried. Many, many times.

“Well, I’d never once suspected Dan was the man who’d come for the sisters. If I had, I would have found a way to prepare him better. Lord knows I tried that day he came to the house, but he left so fast…there wasn’t much I could do.”

“Then he moved to New Orleans,” I supplied.

“Yeah.” She sighed.

I studied her, relaxing my vision so I could take in her aura the way Bea, my magic mentor, taught me. The light blurred to a streaky white then brightened as soft lavender glowed around the outline of Izzy’s body.

It was the sign of an intuitive, but not a strong one. I blinked, and her aura vanished. “You said you were there when the sisters’ souls and spirits were separated. Why? You’re not a witch, are you?”

Her gray curls tangled as she shook her head. “No. Apparently my intuitive ability was enough to complete the circle. After I had my vision, Philip insisted I should be the caretaker of the dolls and portraits.”

Philip. The angel who was Meri’s mate and also the subject of her wrath. If only I could find him. “Izzy? Do you know where Philip lives?”

Her eyes widened in shock. “Dan didn’t tell you?”

“Uh, no. I don’t think Dan knew him.”

“Izzy Frankel, stop right now!” Mrs. T shouted as she stormed in from the kitchen. “Don’t say another word.”

Kat rushed in behind her. “Mrs. T?”

“Not now, Katrina. I think it’s time you and Jade went home. Izzy has said enough.”

Izzy stood, drawing herself up, a full head taller than Mrs. T. “Renee, if you hope to hug your son again, you need to tell Jade. She can help.”

“No,” Mrs. T said in an icy tone. “She doesn’t and she can’t. The Boise coven can bring him back.”

I whirled. Mrs. T knew about the coven? It wasn’t exactly a secret, but witches didn’t usually advertise their gifts to the laymen population either.

“If they couldn’t bring Hope back, what makes you think they can do anything for your son?” Izzy asked with her arms folded.

Kat’s eyes met mine. Her shocked expression mirrored my own. Mrs. T had known my mother disappeared from a coven circle this whole time and never said a word. Was she aware a demon had taken her too?

“We told Hope not to get involved. It’s her own fault she ended up in Hell!” Angry tears streamed down Mrs. T’s face as she turned to me. “It’s your fault my only son is rotting there now.”

She had known. Intense betrayal rippled through me. I clenched my fists to my sides, trembling with anger. For all those years, I’d thought Mom had just been missing. And all along Mrs. T knew a demon had captured her.

“Mrs. T!” Kat scolded in a hushed whisper. “It certainly is not. Jade didn’t ask Dan to sacrifice himself for her mother. He did it because he’s a good man. You need to give him credit for that. If, God forbid, he doesn’t return to us, we need to honor him and his sacrifice. Not blame each other.”

I shuffled backwards toward the door. Despite Kat’s defense, what Mrs. T said hit a nerve. A big one. If I hadn’t entered Dan’s life, none of this would have happened. He’d likely be home safe, here on this very farm, right now.

“He did it for her,” Mrs. T choked out between sobs. “She broke his heart, and he did it anyway.” Dan’s mother crumpled in Kat’s arms and sank onto the couch.

Kat’s eyes locked with mine as she silently mouthed a desperate plea for help. I kept retreating to the door. There wasn’t anything I could do but leave. My presence was only making things worse.

I had my hand on the doorknob when Izzy suddenly jerked from a body spasm and then froze. Her eyes faded from deep blue-gray to a light gray mist.

The signs were familiar. My aunt Gwen is a psychic. I’d seen a trance a time or two. I dropped my hand and stepped forward.

Izzy’s mouth worked as if trying to speak, but no words came out. A low, mewing sound reverberated from her throat.

I tensed, standing stock-still. Izzy Frankel looked like she’d been possessed.

All evidence of Mrs. T’s recent breakdown vanished as she took Izzy’s hand. Her touch seemed to calm the psychic, and the mewing stopped. “That’s good, Izzy,” Mrs. T soothed. “It’s okay. Tell us what you see.”

“Dan,” Izzy wrestled the word from her lips.

“Very good. Let the rest out now. You can do this.” Mrs. T stroked her friend’s back. Her touch visibly calmed the other woman. I’d never seen such a thing before. One time I’d made the mistake of touching Gwen during one of her visions; I wouldn’t be doing that again. The shock had startled her so badly, she bolted and almost ran right through a plate glass window.

Izzy’s face relaxed, and this time when she spoke, she almost sounded like herself. “She has the power to bring him back. Her love will save him.”

Her eyes turned back to deep blue-gray, and the trance ended. Her love will save him.Damn straight. She had to mean either Kat or me. Either of us would sacrifice almost anything for Dan.

I turned to Mrs. T. “Did you hear her? We won’t stop until we have him home safe. You have my word.”

The medium-built, plump woman, who shared the same thin lips and angular nose with her son, came to stand in front of me. Pain, the kind that wounds one’s heart, brushed my senses. “I can’t trust you.”

Her words were an invisible blow. A rock-solid punch right into my soul. I opened my mouth then shut it. What could I say? I’d betrayed her son once already. Why would she think I wouldn’t do it again?

Kat stepped up beside me. “Mrs. T? Do you trust me?”

“Of course I do, sweetie. You’ve always been there for my Dan.”

My best friend sent Mrs. T a small smile. “Trust my word then. I know Jade better than anyone. She won’t stop until Dan’s safe. I won’t let her.”

Mrs. T searched Kat’s face for a long moment. Something shifted, and I had the impression an interior wall was penetrated. She turned to me. “Don’t let me down again, Jade. I already lost a daughter. I won’t survive the loss of my son.”

“A daughter…?” Dan had a sister? Why had he never told me about her?

A tremor of deep-seated sadness touched me. “You, Jade. You were my daughter in every way. When you and Dan broke up—” she swallowed. “When you left him, you left me too.” She turned slightly away from me, with her shoulders slumped.

“I…Mrs. T?” I hadn’t realized she’d suffered our separation, too. I’d missed her horribly, but I couldn’t shake the sinking betrayal that she’d known about my mother and never said anything.

She shifted to gaze at me. A single tear rolled down her cheek. “Bring him back to me.”

Izzy stepped up, forming a tiny circle. “Renee, I saw Philip there. You need to tell her. The information is powerful. The fact that Dan was taken, the reason why he could be taken. It matters. Give her all the tools she needs to rescue him.”

Mrs. T’s face went white. She froze and stared at a picture sitting on the mantle. It was one of Dan laughing, right after he’d graduated college. Kat and I had both been there that day. We’d been the cause of his mirth as we stood to the side, cracking jokes about his job prospects as an unemployable philosophy major. That day seemed like a lifetime ago.

Finally she turned, took a deep breath and met my gaze. “The angel, Philip, is Dan’s biological father.”

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