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Newly awakened witch Teresa Diaz and her vampire friends Justine Croft and Simone Gireaux had run out of leads in their search for Teresa’s abducted teenage daughter, Antonia. Their hope is rekindled by an unexpected message: two other teenage girls, victims of a vampire-family sex trafficking ring, have escaped a murder attempt in New Orleans and disappeared. One of them could have information that could help Teresa, Justine and Simone find Antonia.
The three friends hit the road for the Big Easy and are immediately catapulted into a complicated was between rival vampire families, their business associates and their adversaries-all of whom also want to find the missing girls. As Teresa, still mastering her magical powers, fights alongside Justine and Simone against vampires, sorcerers,and corrupt law enforcement, enemies for the past are pursuing them all. Meanwhile, Antonia’s captor, an ancient vampire named Rubicon, is using the girl for an experiment whose outcome could have world-ending implications for mortals.
From the Katrina-scarred streets of New Orleans to the most inaccessible depths of Louisiana swampland, the three women pursue tenuous clues a lethal mercenaries human and supernatural follow close behind. Will they learn where Antonia is held? Or will treachery and the frailty of human life take them to a dead end?
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Blood on the Bayou
Justine Kroft and Simone Gireaux looked from the cell phone in Simone’s lap to each other and back to the phone.
“What?” asked Teresa Diaz from the back seat. “No bueno, most likely, but what?”
Simone stared at the phone as she said, “According to Clair, one of the girls we are searching for was owned by a Colombian official who dealt personally with Rubicon. He got drunk and told her the location of Rubicon’s so called secret laboratory, and how to get into it.”
“Where my Antonia is kept prisoner?” Teresa asked.
“Très probablement,” Simone said.
The three women took a long minute to contemplate what that meant. Eyes steady on the road, Justine said, “Rubicon won’t let that go. He’ll be after that girl, if he hasn’t got her already.”
“The Colombian?” Teresa asked.
“Dios mio. We may be looking for a girl already dead.”
“Maybe,” Justine said. “But we don’t know for sure, so, New Orleans, here we come.”
Teresa sat back. “I know for sure I have to pee. So stop, soon.”
A few minutes later Justine wheeled the big SUV into the parking lot of Tammy’s Roadhouse, making sure to park facing out in the dirt lot for a quick exit if necessary. Throwing open the door, she stepped out into the fragrant night. She moaned with pleasure as she rolled her shoulders and stretched. Sunset finally allowed her to expose herself; she had been in the vehicle for eight hours since leaving Delray Beach, on Florida’s East Coast. Teresa and Simone also exited and reached for the stars.
Teresa groaned. “I really have to pee. I hate you that you do not.”
Simone grinned. “I am sure, Tee, that Tammy’s Roadhouse and Trailer Park has les toilette’s comparable to Le Ritz.”
“You’ll be lucky if they have an outhouse,” Justine said.
“As long as they have a spare seat.”
The three women headed toward the restaurant, which featured horizontal rough wood siding, red trim, and beer signs. To the right, an arched sign read, Tam_y’s Tr_iler _ark.
Teresa’s full bladder made her walk a bit stiff. Nevertheless, she stopped and stared beyond the sign at ghostly trailers lining a dark road lit by few working streetlights.
“What?” Justine asked, still not sure what magics her friend had learned during her brief stay with the powerful sorceress, Grace. “You an Oracle now?”
“Don’t know. Something. Nothing. Oracle enough to know where the bathrooms are.”
Simone and Justine followed smoothly, one step behind, two steps to the side, eyes piercing the shadows. They were automatically on alert while passing the few pickups and motorcycles in the dirt lot, though they had no reason to believe it necessary.
A woman with big blonde hair whined a sad country song from a small stage by the bar when Justine swung open the matching red front doors. Teresa headed for the lady’s room, and Tammy herself, thin, weathered, with a pile of dark hair, showed Justine and Simone to a worn leather booth. They ordered a pitcher of beer, made minor jokes at the expense of Teresa’s bladder, and ignored the stares of the few Tuesday night customers.
Justine said, “You’ve been relatively quiet since we decided to go to New Orleans. You’ve been there, I assume.”
Simone shrugged and took great interest in a ring of water from a glass of beer.
“Not such good memories from that visit?”
Simone managed a wan smile. “Some good, some bad. It was a long time ago.”
“Tee and I can go, if you want.”
“No. We go together. As I said, it was all finished a long time ago.”
Teresa returned and slumped into the booth next to her best friend, Justine. She took her friends’ affectionate kidding and ordered a large plate of fried chicken and rice. Though born in Mexico, she’d spent most of her forty-five years as a nurse in Los Angeles where she acquired a taste for fried chicken and cheeseburgers. She was a strong, full-bodied woman and could afford to eat stuff like that. At least that’s what she told herself.
Justine leaned across the table and asked Simone, “Didn’t Grace feed her while you guys were up there in magic school?”
“Only for training purposes. Grace taught her a spell to remove all her baby fat.”
“She must have failed that class.”
“Very funny amigas,” Teresa said around a chicken leg. “You just hate me because you can’t eat like this.”
They chuckled companionably; three friends having a night out.
Sated, Teresa sipped her beer and asked, “How far to New Orleans?”
“About two hundred miles,” Justine said. “We should be there about midnight.”
“Why do we always have to arrive at midnight? Can’t we arrive at noon sometime?”
Justine and Simone shot her an amused why-do-you-think look.
Mock serious, Teresa said, “Oh, yeah. I forgot.” Grinning, she threw an arm around Justine and hugged her. She pressed her lips to Justine’s short blond hair, holding her close for long seconds. They’d been best friends since before things went all to shit. Teresa also reached a hand across to Simone, who held it tight.
Though Florida was warm and humid, a whole different ambiance from California, Justine relished Teresa’s warmth. They’d been separated for a week until twenty-four hours ago.
After the vampire safe-house had been blown up they’d all gone into hiding until a new safe-house could be set up. Simone and Teresa had gone North to help the vampire witch Grace set up a new compound after her old one had been compromised. More importantly for the three of them, Grace needed to train Teresa to use her powers. Only finding her power as a bruja in the last few months, Teresa hadn’t had a lifetime to learn the craft.
Justine and Harry had gone to ground in the Florida Keys where Harry’s injuries healed and they reconnected with each other. After a couple of days of saying little, spending time in each other’s arms, they talked of what had happened. The women had gone searching for Teresa’s missing daughter, Antonia, but had found so much more. And now they were hiding. Several police departments would like a word with them, but a greater danger came from Rubicon, a thousand year old vampire with a megalomaniac desire to take over the world. The past, they discussed. Discussions of the future and vampire-mortal relationships were necessarily limited, being the familiar elephant in the room they ignored because they knew the choices and didn’t want to make them.
A phone call from Clair, the keeper of a new vampire safe house, had interrupted a moonlight stroll on the beach. In New Orleans, three girls had been found murdered, along with a man with ties to a white slavery ring. Evidence suggested two other girls had been imprisoned with them. DNA results revealed one of the missing girls was Rose Mitchell, location now unknown.
Justine, Simone and Teresa had originally left California to search for Antonia, and several other abducted girls they had leads on, Rose Mitchell being one of them. So, the question of Justine and Harry’s immediate future had been resolved. Harry, a detective with the San Diego Sheriff’s Department, had come to Florida on his own time, tracking a vampire who was supposed to be dead. He had to go back. Justine had to go after Rose.
Justine turned and planted a kiss on Teresa’s cheek, inhaling her warmth and love. “We should go.”
“What about dessert?”
“That has to go—” Justine snapped to attention. Head cocked, she meet Simone’s intense gaze, and listened.
Used to her friends’ sudden hearing or sensing of things she couldn’t, Teresa switched to alert mode. “What?”
“Screams. Not fun ones.” Justine and Simone slid out of the booth.
Teresa knew better than to ask if those screams were something they needed to be concerned about. After the death of her daughter, Justine couldn’t help but be drawn to damsels in distress. “I’ll get the check.”
# # # #
Justine and Simone moved quickly under the trailer park sign, one on each side, heads turning to find the source of the screams. At a cross street, a man shouting, then a woman’s cry cut short, drew them to a rusty thirty foot trailer at the edge of the small park.
Two burly brothers in their thirties, one bearded, one with shaved head, leaned against a well-used Camero.
“You’d think Suzie’d know better than to talk back to Kyle by now.”
“She’s purty, but sure has a mouth on her, don’t she?”
“Well, I’m hopin’ to get that mouth on me.”
“Well, she ain’t drunk tonight, so don’t get yer little pecker up just yet there Silas,” Cleanhead said.
Justine strode right past them up to the screen door. She yanked it open, stomped up the two steps and entered.
“Who the hell was that?” Silas asked, taking a step forward.
Simone strolled past them and took up station ten feet from the trailer. “That’s his wife.”
“His wife? Kyle don’t have no wife.” Silas started to step up to her, but something in her confident stance and unwavering stare stopped him.
“That’s what he thinks.”
“This ought to be interesting,” Cleanhead said, amused, but wary.
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