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Excerpt: Haunted on Bourbon Street

Excerpt: Haunted on Bourbon Street

Book 1: Jade Calhoun Series

Chapter 1

There was no way I was sharing my new two-hundred-square-foot apartment with a ghost. To be honest, I didn’t know if the speculation was true, but I’d gotten the place at a steal because my landlord couldn’t keep it rented. Considering the abundance of documented ghost lore in the French Quarter, I wasn’t taking any chances.

On moving day I walked the two blocks to The Herbal Connection. The front window housed an elaborate book display of the title, Vampires of New Orleans. To the right were neat rows of Suck It wine with blood-tinged fangs on the labels. I grimaced. All signs led to the likelihood of just another tourist shop. Still, it was possible they had basic supplies I could work with.

As soon as I walked in I knew I’d found the perfect shop. The sandalwood scent dissipated and a gentle, salt-filled sea breeze tickled my senses. My favorite place on earth was the beach. Whoever ran the place was doing an excellent job. It took a highly skilled practitioner to cast an illusion tailored to each individual patron.

“Can I help you?” A southern drawl floated from the back of the shop. As she stepped from behind a display, my eyes settled on a more expensive, classier version of my Aunt Gwen. The two could almost be twins, except the shop lady had salon-dyed auburn hair and wore white linen slacks, topped off with a coral blouse, while Gwen had natural gray curls and always wore her standard red T-shirt and coveralls. Of course, Gwen rode her tractor daily, and I had no trouble picturing this woman sipping mint juleps on a veranda.

I smiled. “Hello. Yes, I need a sage and cedar smudge stick if you have it.”

“Of course we do, dear.” She crossed the room and held out her hand. “I’m Bea, owner of the shop.”

My clammy hand met her cool grip. “Jade. Nice to meet you.”

“Cleansing negative energy?”

I nodded.

She grinned. “You must be new in town.”

Looking down at my faded jeans and simple cotton T-shirt, I wondered if I had a fresh-from-Idaho vibe radiating off me. It was possible. I’d only been in New Orleans for a month. “Is it that obvious?”

She laughed. “No. I would have remembered if you’d been here before.”

Why? Did she have a photographic memory? While I’d been told my willowy frame and long strawberry-blond hair combined with my pale Irish skin was striking, I hardly stood out in the sea of characters who wound their way through the French Quarter on a daily basis.

She rushed to explain. “Most people who come in here don’t know what they’re looking at. I know almost everyone in New Orleans who has knowledge of the craft.”

Oh. Doing a simple cleanse was miles from using craft. I didn’t particularly like being mistaken for one who manipulated spells.

She hummed softly as she packaged my items, and when I handed her my credit card she peered at me. The beach breeze vanished, replaced by the sandalwood scent. A warm sensation wrapped around me in a slow circle. It took me a moment to realize it was coming from Bea. She was reading me with a witch’s spell. Instantly I dropped my barriers and sent out my senses. If she could read me, I could do the same to her. Only, I wasn’t a witch. Empaths don’t need spells to read other people.

Excitement mixed with a heavy dose of curiosity radiated from her in light, feathery waves. I realized her energy was a lot like mine. Most people’s emotions are a little thick and sometimes hard to wade through. Hers felt light, inviting and familiar. What exactly could this woman do, and what had she learned about me? I’d assumed she was just a witch practitioner; now I knew she was also some sort of intuitive.

I stepped back, blinked, and the sea-salted air returned.

“There’s something special about you,” she said.

More like a curse. I pasted on a smile and pretended nothing had happened. “That’s what my mother always used to say.”

Her eyes sparkled, and she leaned in closer. “Very interesting, indeed.” She placed her hand over mine, and a spark sent a jolt to my shoulder.

Jumping back, I pulled my hand out of her grasp.

Her smile turned to a grin, and she clapped her hands together in delight. “Oh, my dear! You simply must come by my house for tea some afternoon. We have much to talk about. Here’s my card.” She slipped it in the bag.

I grabbed the handle and turned to go. “Um, okay. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome, Jade. I look forward to hearing from you soon.”

I waved as I pushed the door open to the street, knowing I wouldn’t call her. My last memory of my mother blowing me a kiss as she headed off to her coven meeting flashed in my mind. Tears burned the back of my eyes. I blinked them back. Bad things always seemed to happen when witches and intuitives got together. No. It didn’t matter how curious I was about Bea, I knew it was best to keep to myself.


Buildings, especially old buildings, often retain an imprint of emotions from previous residents. When I’d first visited my new place I’d sensed a profound sadness. It was easy to understand why new tenants hadn’t felt comfortable there. People didn’t need to be empaths for negativity to unknowingly work its way into their being.

Fortunately, after a thorough smudging, when I opened myself up the place felt brand new. No sadness, and no evidence of a ghost. If there was one, it was gone now. Satisfied, I spent the next few hours hauling my stuff up the three very steep flights of stairs, and by the time the delivery men arrived with my new mattress, I’d sweated enough to soak right through my shirt. I’d sent them off with their tip and was headed toward the shower when a knock sounded at my door.

I cast a longing glance at my bathroom before I answered. Mortification rooted me to my wide pinewood floors, and my face burned as I stared at the man who never failed to make my stomach quiver.

“Hey,” Kane said.

“Uh, hey.”

He held up a box wrapped in elegant gold paper. “I come bearing gifts.”

Did my landlord bring presents to all his new tenants?

“Pyper asked me to bring it up.”

Of course. Pyper was my boss and Kane’s business partner. Kane owned the building and, with Pyper’s help, managed the attached strip club. Pyper also ran the coffee shop next door, where I worked part time. I wasn’t certain, but I thought maybe they had something going on the side. “Thanks. That was sweet of her.” I opened the door wider. “Come on in. It’s moving day, so the place is a little messy.”

“No, it’s okay. I don’t want to bother you.” His gaze traveled the length of my body. I couldn’t help myself. I knew I shouldn’t do it. Reading someone’s emotions was such an invasion of privacy, and I knew at that moment I resembled a character from a Tim Burton movie, but I let down my barriers and probed anyway.

To my surprise, mild appreciation mixed with humor filled my senses, until his gaze landed on my face. His energy changed to something close to pity. I flinched and raised my shields. Pity? The man felt pity for the way I looked. What else could I expect from a guy who owned a strip bar? Stupid, shallow, piece of… Whatever. It wasn’t like I would actually ever date him anyway. The strip club thing aside, he was taken. I think.

I tried to hide my scowl and reached for the gift. “Okay, then. Thanks for stopping by.”

“No problem.” He turned to go, then looked back. “Hey, do you want to come down to the club later? It’s ladies’ night.”

The invitation caught me off guard. I blinked. “Ladies’ night?”

“Yeah, free admission and free drinks all night.”

Right, because my idea of the perfect evening included watching naughty librarians and pussycats strip down to their dental floss, while drinking myself into oblivion. “No, thanks. It’s been a long day.”

He glanced past me into the apartment and nodded. “Right. Just thought I’d ask.”

I waited until he’d disappeared down the stairs then slammed the door. Son of a bitch. The closest thing to a date invitation I’d had in months had been to a strip club. What was wrong with me?

I flopped on my new mattress because I didn’t have any other furniture yet and plucked the envelope off the present. I let it slide through my fingers for a few moments before turning it over. It read: Jade, Welcome home. My foul mood vanished. A smiled tugged at my lips. I didn’t have many friends. Okay, I had one friend and right then, things were…awkward. It happens when your best friend starts dating your ex.

Being an empath has made it difficult to maintain personal relationships. When I’d been younger and hadn’t understood I was different, I’d alienated a lot of people with my ability. Let’s just say my perceptions weren’t appreciated. So Pyper’s attempt to reach out to me meant more than she could possibly know. Especially since I’d learned to keep my gift to myself. In the last ten years I’d only told one other person—my ex—about my ability.

Giddy with anticipation, I grabbed the box and carefully peeled away the tape, preserving the paper. For what, I didn’t know. I never save wrapping paper. In fact, people who did usually annoyed me. Not that I don’t want to save trees, I’m just usually too impatient to see what’s inside. Red tissue paper lined the inside of the white gift box. I fished through, finding a personal coffee maker, a mug with The Grind scrawled across it and a round jar of something called Honey Dust.

I read the label: An edible body powder.

Laughing, I put the jar down and ripped the card open. Heat radiated through my body as I read the words. Welcome to the building. Sincerely, Pyper and Kane.

Had the Honey Dust been Pyper’s idea or Kane’s? If it was Kane’s, somehow I thought I should be offended, but the image of him running his lips over my dusted skin sent ripples of anticipation through my body. I waved a hand in front of my face, fanning myself. Calm down, girl. Kane is Pyper’s man. Surely she had included it as a joke.

I set the mug and the coffee maker on the counter and carried the Honey Dust to the bathroom. The lure of my claw-foot tub was too much. As I waited for it to fill, I ran back to the kitchen to grab a bottle of merlot. My bags sat opened with stuff bulging out of them. Without any furniture, I had nowhere to store any of it, but I couldn’t have cared less. I had my own place, all to myself, and nothing else mattered. Except the bath waiting for me.

Content after slipping into the tub, I lifted the wine bottle to my lips. So what if I didn’t have any glasses yet? I wasn’t above drinking straight from the bottle.

An ominous rumble boomed outside, indicating an afternoon storm. Sighing, I set the wine on the floor, leaned back and closed my eyes, reveling in the rhythmic rain as it drummed on the roof.

When my toes started to prune I reluctantly pulled the plug and ran the shower to soap up and wash my hair. While drying off, I saw the round jar sitting on a shelf just to the left of the tub. The Honey Dust. My lips quirked into a small smile.

Feeling a little naughty, I opened the container. A sweet honeysuckle fragrance filled the bathroom. Before I could do anything else, the dust rose from the jar all on its own and swirled in a circle around me, caressing me with tiny invisible kisses.

I froze and then called out, “Hey, stop it right now!”

The whirlwind stopped at my command, and I almost choked on the thick dust of powder lingering in the air. Feeling utterly violated, I catapulted out of the tub, crying out when my ankle smashed against the side of the tub. With limbs flailing, I somehow managed to grasp the edge of the sink and save myself from cracking my skull on the toilet. How embarrassing would that be to be found dead, naked in your bathroom, in a pile of Honey Dust?

Breathing hard, I ran to the other room and pulled on the first clothes I found, grabbed my purse and slammed the door behind me. My bare feet moved faster than I thought possible down the stairs. As I jumped the last three steps into the hallway I angled right toward the exit, colliding with something—or someone—solid enough to knock me on my ass.

“Holy shit, Jade. Where’s the fire?” Pyper grunted, trying to get her feet back under her.

“Oh God! I’m so sorry.” I covered my face in horror.

“It’s all right. I’ll live.” Her voice floated down from above me. “Here, let me help you up.” When I didn’t respond, her tone went soft. “Are you okay?”

I peeked out from behind my fingers and squeaked, “I have a ghost.”

Her posture relaxed as she leaned against the wall. “Oh, okay,” she said, dismissing me.

“No really, I think the apartment has a ghost.”

“Why? ‘Cause Kane said so, and now every little thing is freaking you out?” She rolled her deep blue eyes.

“No. Because just now, as I was putting on a sampling of the Honey Dust you gave me, it kicked it up and made it whirl around me like a mini tornado. I didn’t even have the window open. You can’t tell me there isn’t something weird about that.” I pleaded, staring into her widening eyes.

Great. I’d known her less than two weeks, and already I’d become the resident freak.

“Really? That’s interesting,” she said more to herself than to me. Standing up, she angled toward the stairwell. “Come on.” She put her foot on the first step.

“Where?” I didn’t move. She wasn’t seriously going up there, was she?

“Upstairs. I have to see this,” she said, her eyes now gleeful.

“No! I am not going back up there.”

“Come on, Jade, who will believe you if you don’t have a witness? Kane doesn’t count, since no one believes him either.”

“You go if you want. I’m going to stay right here.” I pressed against the wall.

“Oh no, you aren’t.” She grabbed my hands and tugged me up.

Planting my feet, I set my shoulders and didn’t budge as she tried to pull me along. “No.”

Looking me full in the face, she burst out laughing. The laughing continued until tears streamed down her face.

“What in the world makes you think this is so hilarious?” I demanded.

Gasping to catch her breath, she wheezed out, “The Honey Dust. You have a perv ghost.” Laughter overtook her again, causing her face to turn beet-red. It clashed with the blue highlights in her thick black hair.

I sighed, resigning myself. Her hysteria somehow calmed me enough to reconsider. “You are going to pee yourself laughing at my situation. Let’s go.” Moving past her, I headed back to my apartment.

My bravado quickly waned as we hit the second floor landing. Had it not been for Pyper’s firm hand on my wrist, I’m certain I would have turned and fled. When we reached my door I raised my eyebrow as Pyper took a key out and unlocked it. It was natural for her to have a key. I just wouldn’t have thought she kept one on her person. However, I said nothing and let her tug me into the room.

She walked to the bathroom and held the door wide open.

I crept up behind her and peeked over her shoulder. The harmless-looking Honey Dust jar sat capped in the middle of my bathroom.

I gasped.

“What?” Pyper turned to look at me.

“I, ah, well, I didn’t stop to put the cap on the jar. I just dropped it…” My voice trailed off as I backed away from the room. Legs turning to jelly, I sunk down onto my mattress. Pyper disappeared into the bathroom. Visions of me in a straitjacket, surrounded by white rubber walls, filled my mind.

A few minutes went by before she popped up beside the doorjamb. “Come in here,” she called as her head jerked back inside.

I sat motionless, my mind fixated on the rubber walls.

“Get in here,” she demanded.

My mind blank, I followed her voice and stopped in the door frame. Pyper was squatting, pressed up against the wall, studying the jar in the middle of the floor.

“What?” I asked.

“This is so interesting,” she replied, not looking up.

I waited for her to continue.

“The jar is in the middle of a layer of the Honey Dust. Do you see it?” She used her finger to make a circle in the air above the jar.

I glanced down. “Yeah. So?”

“There’s something missing.” Her eyes twinkled.

Looking back at the jar and the floor caked in dust, I saw nothing else out of place—or missing, for that matter. Puzzled, I stared at her.

“Footprints!” she exclaimed. “Where are your footprints? It looks like the whole jar was dumped in here. No way could you have dumped the whole jar out, replaced the top, and set it here without leaving footprints.”

I inspected the scene. The jar sat in the middle of my bathroom with a thick layer of Honey Dust covering the floor from the tub to the door. She was right. I couldn’t have placed the jar where it was without disturbing the smooth layer.

Pyper turned and walked into the main room. “Whoever you are, reveal yourself!”

My eyes flew open in shock. “What the hell?” I hissed. “You’re not supposed to invite ghosts to reveal themselves.”

“How else do you think I’m going to see it?”

“Shhhh.” I was terrified of what her invitation might bring.

An unfamiliar energy, mixed with bitterness and satisfaction, invaded my senses. I turned to Pyper, my voice barely a whisper. “Someone is here.”

“Huh?” She took a step toward me and then jumped, wrapping her arms around her chest. “What the hell was that?” She twisted her head, searching the room.

Ice numbed my hands and moved up my arms, making me shiver. I pointed to a shadow, black as coal, moving across the far wall. We stood, paralyzed, while the image grew larger and moved toward us. Pyper’s sudden fear inched its way into my awareness. Instinct took over, and I forced as much calm as I could in her direction.

Her panic started to ease, but just barely. I renewed my efforts, forcing my will toward her. Pain pierced my heart and shot through my veins. Gasping, I clutched my chest, staring in horror at the black shadow as something grabbed my essence and yanked.

“No!” I shouted in defiance and snatched my energy back.

The shadow hovered in front of us for a moment, unmoving, then shattered into a million pieces like confetti. I stood staring, transfixed by the cascade as it faded into nothing until Pyper tugged on my hand. I glanced at her, and we both ran for the stairs.

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