The vicious mugging outside a New Orleans cemetery shakes up author Braeden McKay’s quiet, structured world, but that’s only the beginning of her misfortune. An auto pedestrian accident, betrayal, murder. Is Braeden’s run of bad luck caused by the nickel her friend stole from the grave of a hoodoo woman? What can she do about it now? She has no idea where the confounded nickel is. Someone or something is bent on harming Braeden McKay, and it’s up to Detective Sanderson Montgomery to protect her while keeping his heart out of the mix. Can love, the very entanglement Braeden wants no part of, be the one force greater than any adversary – even a hoodoo curse?
e x c e r p t
St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, New Orleans, sixteen months later. . .
“What do you get when you bite a ghost?” Braeden McKay managed a weak smile and whispered, “A mouthful of sheet.”
The joke wasn’t any funnier now than it had been the first time her neighbor’s nine-year old nephew told it. Neither was spending an entire morning of her vacation in a cemetery. But she had promised Angeline she’d be her guest during the Fournier Cosmetics photo shoot. With the lure of a decadent lunch and antique shopping afterward, she could hold out a bit longer.
Four hours spent in the merciless Gulf Coast humidity, and Braeden’s natural curls resembled coppery cotton candy. She twisted her hair into a haphazard roll, fastened it with a large plastic clip, then fanned the back of her neck with the brochure from her pocket. Not that either helped.
Heading down the stone path dividing two rows of staggered sepulchers and patchwork grass, she was struck by the contrast between a century-old mausoleum and the camera crew packing their high-tech gear. She supposed the scene was no more odd than looking at a panoramic view of the cemetery with the city’s modern skyline behind it, or the honking of car horns carried through the old iron gates on a July breeze. It was one of the characteristics she loved about New Orleans: this blending of past and present, with ample deference given both.
“Now what are you doing?” She found her supermodel friend standing before a small tomb they’d discovered on a break earlier in the day.
“I’m gettin’ myself a souvenir.” Angeline leaned over the rusted iron fence marking Simone Dubois’ grave and plucked a coin off the mutilated brick. “You want me to get you one?”
Braeden eyed the coin with wariness. It was small, silver, round, and dull-edged. “You lifted that nickel from the grave of a witch.” She suppressed her shudder. “No, I don’t want you to get me one.”
Angeline straightened her five foot ten inch frame. “A gypsy, Brag. Simone Dubois was a Black Gypsy, a hoodoo woman.”
“Hardly, and don’t make it sound so sinister.” She buffed the coin against her blouse before holding it up to the light for closer inspection. “It’s not like I’m snatchin’ bodies, or pryin’ gold from their teeth. There must be fifty coins here, nickels and dimes, pennies. People are expected to take a few.”
“If you want a souvenir, I’ll buy you some beads or a feathered Mardi Gras mask like the ones we saw in the hotel lobby.” Appealing to her friend’s flamboyant side wasn’t working; Braeden tried the practical approach. “Okay, okay.” She raised her arms in exaggerated surrender. “I’ll buy the postcards this trip, for pity’s sake, and stamps to mail them. Just put the nickel back, Angie, before somebody sees you.”
Angeline’s laugh dissipated into the fissures of the tomb. She rested her boxy sunglasses atop her blonde head and met Braeden’s gaze beneath the black crystal frames. “No thanks,” she said. “I think I’ll keep my nickel. Besides, who’s gonna see me? Cooper? We hired the man to drive, nothing more. The hoodoo woman supposedly buried beneath all this . . . finery?” She reached through the rusted iron bars, tapped the base of Dubois’ tomb with the toe of her strappy sandal, and added matter-of-factly, “I think not.”
Visions of campfires and burning effigies tumbled through Braeden’s brain. “What if it’s bad luck to take it, Angie. I mean, sacrilegious or something.” The or something worried her. “What if there’s some kind of. . .”
It seemed ridiculous to even say the word out loud.
Angeline whirled, clapping her hands. “I can’t believe it, Brag! You were gonna say ‘curse,’ weren’t you?”
“S-Something like that.”
The supermodel edged through the small gate hanging lop-sided from the rusted iron enclosure. An elusive breeze caught the hem of her silk crepe skirt, and a dance of yellow designer daisies swirled about her ankles as she planted her outrageously insured derriere on the tomb’s narrow foundation ledge.
She motioned for Charlie Cooper, and the driver ambled over with a pucker on his face that reminded Braeden of tasting tart lemonade.
“Here, Cooper. Take a picture of us for posterity.” Angeline shoved her camera at him, then patted the space next to her indicating Braeden should also sit. “Just me and Brag and little ol’ Simone Dubois,” she teased. “Black Gypsy.”
Braeden stepped out of range of the shot. “Thanks, but no thanks.”
The camera whirred and clicked, clicked and whirred. “Come on, Brag.” Angeline struck another silly pose. “I mean, a curse. For heaven’s sake, you don’t really believe in such things. Do you?”
Braeden wanted to say no, but hesitated. She was three-quarters Irish after all. Wasn’t she obligated to believe in leprechauns and cluricauns, and the kissin’ of the Blarney? She even had the woven cross of Saint Brigid attached to the wall above her bed.
“Love potions, spells cast under a full moon, that ol’ black magic?” Angeline tossed the coin one-handed and snatched it back in mid-air. “The walkin’ dead?” she giggled.
She waved off the driver, stood, then shook gritty brick dust from the crisp folds of her skirt. Then she leaned over the decrepit little fence, smiled engagingly at the group of fans clustered around the tomb, and signed a few more autographs.
Angeline St. Cyr, Braeden thought with unbound affection, the quintessential PR package. Fournier Cosmetics was lucky to have her.
“It’s just a nickel, Brag.” Angeline threw her head back, laughing out loud as she caressed the coin between her thumb and forefinger. “A plain old, honest to God, made in America nickel. And it’s mine. Finders Keepers you know. Anyway, look at the date.” She turned the coin, heads up this time, and thrust it within inches of Braeden’s freckle-dusted nose. “How can there be a curse on the damn thing, sweetie? It’s not even old enough to have collected a coat of tarnish. Now,” she tapped the folded pamphlet in Braeden’s hand a couple times with one bejeweled finger, “read that to me one more time, Brag. What the brochure says about this mean ol’ gypsy who’s gonna put the whammy on me for takin’ her nickel.”