The Mambo’s Door
Femme Noir, Book 2
Genre: Paranormal, LGBT
On Sale: TBA
Ingrid Kassel is a fledgling witch, uncertain and not in complete control of her powers, especially after drinking a double-shot of vampire blood. With the same instructions as MeLeah—retrieve an object buried with a daughter of the Voodoo Queen—she angers the spirit guarding the tomb and finds herself entering a shadowy limbo, where she meets beautiful Marie, living in fear of a demon who also desires the black magic candle infused with the powerful mambo’s blood. In desperation, Marie tricks Ingrid, capturing her and seducing her to charge the candle for her own bid for freedom.
Note for Readers: You must be of legal age in your country of origin to read this excerpt.
Marie sat on the rickety wooden porch that stretched the length of the cabin on stilts, watching the path atop the narrow bern as she did most days. The bayou was quiet, something that calmed her mind and heart after a night of terrors. She wished she could sleep, to dream of another time, another place. To relive the past and pretend she still had time to change her destiny.
But those who lived in this realm never slept. And daydreams took on lives of their own. So she watched, her eyes unblinking, gazing down the narrow path leading deeper into the dark waters.
For a moment she thought maybe she had drifted into a dream, because the figure striding boldly down the path wasn’t familiar, didn’t belong. It wasn’t Baron Samedi with his top hat perched jauntily on his head, ready to deliver another warning with a smile and his dead eyes.
No, it was a woman, a pretty one, dressed like a man, wearing dark trousers and a shirt that hugged her small breasts. A hat covered her hair, but blonde strands hung beside her face—her very red, sweaty face.
The woman strode toward her porch, not stopping until she stood at the base of her steps. “You Marie?” she asked, tilting back her head.
Marie sat very still, clutching the arms of her rocking chair. A new voice. A new face. A pretty woman. Was this one of the baron’s many tests? She unglued her tongue from where it was stuck to the top of her dry mouth. “Oui. I am. Who asks?”
The woman’s crystal-blue eyes sparkled with life. Her furrowed brows bespoke impatience. “Ingrid Kassel,” she said, her voice brisk. “You have something I need.”
“As do you, chérie,” Marie said, a smile tugging at her mouth. Something she hadn’t done in a long time, but the look of irritation on the woman’s face told her this wasn’t some dead-eyed phantom sent by the loa of this limbo-land.
Ingrid, Marie repeated silently. Not a pretty name. It was as rigid as the woman’s militant posture. Still, the blonde was real, warm, breathing—and so attractive that long-dormant desires stirred inside Marie.
Who was she? What was she doing here? The woman’s pale face and wheat-colored hair betrayed Nordic origins. Why had she not been consigned to their realm, to frigid Hel? Had she somehow angered the baron on her journey to death? Or had she committed some great crime against him? Best to be careful.
“What do you seek?”
“A talisman. A candle your mother gave you.”
Marie startled. “Well, you can’t have it. The candle’s powerful magick. It’s best it stays with me.” The candle was her only weapon, her only hope. This woman would have to pry it from her cold, dead fingers.
Oh yes—she was already dead.
Marie’s interest in the woman was piqued. Her ennui lifted. She rarely had visitors. And to have someone asking about the candle… She wondered again if the baron was trying to get her prize. If so, he was destined to be disappointed. Again.
She grinned at pretty Ingrid’s reddening face.
“I’ve come a long way to find you.”
“Then you must be tired,” Marie drawled. “Why not rest on my porch?”
Ingrid blew an exasperated breath. “Marie Laveau. That’s you, right? The second one?”
What did the girl know? Did she know that “little Marie” had borrowed her mother’s fame, even impersonated her to increase her reputation and the heft of her purse? All without any true calling. Not like her mother had possessed.
“I’m the daughter,” she said with a nod.
The woman climbed three steps. “You performed good works, for the benefit of the people of New Orleans. You’d be doing that again—if you gave me the candle.”
Oh, Marie had performed all right. She’d given grand displays before thousands, using magicians’ tricks to fool the masses. She’d made impotent love potions, performed exorcisms on the mad. For money.
“What great calamity has sent you to this realm?”
“A vampire, Elizabeth Bathory, the Blood Countess herself, is in New Orleans. And she’s using witches, turning them into her minions to increase her powers. We think she intends a bloodbath. To turn the city into her personal hunting ground.”
“I’ve never heard of her. And she’s only a vampire, not a god. She has weaknesses the livin’ can exploit.”
“She’s using magick. There’s no telling what she can do now. We must stop her.”
“We?” Marie said, raising a brow.
“My coven sisters and myself.”
“You seem to be forgettin’ somethin’, gal.”
Ingrid’s sudden exhale billowed her cheeks. “What’s that? Do you need tribute, too?”
Marie swept aside her question. “You’re dead. How can you hope to deliver any talisman to your sisters when you’re trapped here?”
“But I’m not dead. I entreated Ma’man Brigit to open your tomb so I could find the candle. This is where she led me.”
Marie held still while Ingrid’s words churned inside her mind. “You’re livin’? I’ve never heard of such a thing.”
“I swear it’s true.” Ingrid climbed another step and held out her hand. “You can touch me if you don’t believe it.”
Marie ignored the pale hand. “You can touch me, too. It tells me nothin’.”
Ingrid dropped her hand and rubbed it against the side of her trousers. “You have powers. Use them to discern whether I’m telling you the truth.”
It was on the tip of Marie’s tongue to tell her she didn’t possess any powers or supernatural talents. She wasn’t her mother.
However, the woman standing in front of her did. Perhaps this was her chance to charge the candle and use it for her own purpose.
“You’re a rude woman,” Marie said, hardening her face. “You demand somethin’ from me, somethin’ precious, and yet you offer me nothin’ in return.”
“I don’t have anything to give you.” Ingrid’s mouth clamped shut, then opened again with a quick, inward breath. “Oh, except a flashlight that doesn’t work,” she said, drawing something out of her back pocket.
Marie had no idea what a flashlight was. She gave a dismissive wave toward the cylindrical item the pale woman clutched. “I been alone in this small house for a long time. I have few guests.” Unless you counted the undead things that surrounded her tiny cabin in the darkness. “I can make you tea. You can rest.” She let her gaze slip down the lithe body of the young woman. “Perhaps we can negotiate a price.”
Ingrid’s eyebrows shot skyward. “I don’t have time for this.”
Marie snorted. “Time has no meanin’ here. You have all the time you need.”
The blonde’s head shook. “I don’t understand.”
Marie glanced across the clearing toward the darkening bayou. “Darkness comes. When the light fades, you must be inside this house or you’ll die of a certainty.”
Ingrid darted a nervous glance behind her. “What happens when it gets dark?”
“Do you know where you’ve come?” Marie asked softly, using the voice that had enticed thousands into believing she was magickal.
“This be neither heaven nor hell.”
“A place of atonement. A place where one learns lessons and where one is judged before movin’ on to her destination.”
Ingrid’s eyes softened in concern. “You’ve been here a long time.”
“There be no long or short time here. Did you not hear me, gal? Time here is measured by light and darkness, just as it is in the land of the livin’. But it has no meanin’. If I meet my maman in some far-off day, she won’t know I lived decades after her death. I died a much older woman than what you see now.”
The softness faded, replaced again with an impatient scowl. “I really don’t have time for this. If it’s going to be dark soon, I need that candle now.”
The sounds of insects—flies and crickets—began to rise. Rustling in the darkest parts of the forest changed to large crashes. Gentle, lapping waves became agitated splashes.
Ingrid looked behind her. “What was that?”
“Night has come. Come inside now!”
“The tomb I came through isn’t far.”
“You won’t make it. Come inside, gal.”
Night fell in an instant, like a curtain suddenly lowering. Marie shoved off her chair, waved a hand in front of her to find the woman, and gripped her arm to pull her up the stoop and through the doorway just as the first of the creatures screeched from the forest’s edge.