Say You Love Me. Rita HerronЧитать онлайн книгу.
MILLS & BOON
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To all those who lost and suffered during the hurricanes. New Orleans is a beautiful place. I hope you find love and happiness in your future!
THE BAYOU KILLED.
But it also gave life. And it was home.
As was the covens.
They thrived in the swampland, creating their black magic just as they would tonight as he began his own private kingdom.
The magic circle had been formed. The mandrake root had been pulled, a task that had put him at risk for death. But he had withstood the maddening shriek as he’d confiscated the plant, knowing the importance of it for his ritual.
At sixteen, he was finally a man.
He studied the thirteen-year-old girls as they were brought before him, the flames from the open fire illuminating their pale, frightened faces. They stood shivering in thin white virginal dresses, their heads bowed in fear, yet sublimation. Symbolic, yes. But the translucent cotton also offered a reprieve from the vicious heat of the bayou and teased him with a peek at the supple bodies that lay beneath. Two blond girls studied him as if he had not earned the right to be a man.
But he had.
Just as the full moon glowed—hypnotic, beckoning the animals to prowl, the wild to hunt, the men to mate. Just as the drums of Mardi Gras pounded out the ancient voodoo-priestess spells.
It was time for the passage.
And he could choose among the girls offered.
Automatically one stood out. He’d watched her for ages. Known he wanted her. Her eyes haunted him.
Her hair flamed as red as the sunset on the deep murky Mississippi River. Her temper matched it.
She was a bad girl. Defiant. Adversarial. A fighter.
One who needed to be broken.
He met her gaze and held it, uncertainty gnawing at him like the mosquitoes clawing at his bare legs. He could never please his father. Wasn’t tough enough. Big enough. Enough of a fighter. The other boys laughed at his artwork. Called him a sissy and other vile names.
Would he be man enough for Adrianna?
Yes. He had spread the mandrake root oil on his body, inhaled the intoxicating aroma, grateful the aphrodisiac would entice Adrianna to succumb to his wishes. She just had to get near him….
A frog croaked from the depths of the backwoods. An alligator lay stone-still, searching for his own prey. Waiting, watching, ready to pounce. The mysteries of the wild surrounded him, the scent of jasmine, marshy land, danger. Spanish moss draped the cypress trees along the swampland with gnarled witchlike fingers, hiding its secrets, ready to snatch another lost soul to the tangled wild vines and brush of the backwoods. Yet honeysuckle and verbena sweetened the air.
“Now, son.” His father, tall and commanding, placed his hand on his shoulder. “You have chosen the first, the one to begin your kingdom?”
“Adrianna,” he said, his palms sweating. Drums pounded as the masked musicians and the clan danced around the fire. The witchdoctor screeched his secret chant. Sobek had to be pacified tonight.
“Ahh, the feisty one. The one with the witch’s eyes.” An odd expression replaced his smile. “She would be the perfect sacrifice to the Crocodilian gods.”
He trembled at the thought. “No, father. I want to keep her for myself.”
“No, son. She has the evil in her just like her mother.”
His father gestured toward Mrs. Small, a frail woman who’d been drugged since her arrival. His father had found her on Bourbon Street and brought her and her daughter to safety with the clan. The tenth woman his father had added to his own kingdom.
Now he knew his father’s true reason.
Adrianna’s mother brushed her daughter’s hair from her cheek in a loving gesture, then suddenly pushed her forward. Did she know the extent of her offering?
His father jerked her up beside him and the voodoo priestess doused her with oil and whispered a spell of love and fertility.
Adrianna’s icy look chilled his blood as if she had silently cast a death spell upon him. Maybe she was a secret member of one of the covens, a witch who had enticed him for her own sick motives. Or maybe she was born of the swamp devil himself. After all, no one knew her father’s identity.
The clan surrounded them, chanting and clapping to the beat of the drums, urging them to start the celebration into adulthood. Snakes hissed and spewed venom from the depths of the fiery pit. The crude carvings of the crocodile surrounded them. The battle between good and evil.
He reached for Adrianna, the special necklace he’d crafted for her dangling in his other hand. His gift—the serpent swallowing its tail—symbolized the great work of alchemy: the transformation into a higher form already inherent within it. That was his present for Adrianna. If evil possessed her, he would cure her of it. Then he could save her.
But she screamed in protest, then threw the necklace into the dirt and spit at him. His father slapped her and she wrenched free, grabbed a rifle near the fire, raised it and a gunshot blasted the air. The bullet slammed into his father’s chest and sent his body flying back. Shouts and cries erupted. He went numb at the sight of the blood spilling from his father’s crumpled body. Like a scarlet river, it ran down his father’s white shirt and splattered onto the ground.
“I could never love you,” Adrianna screamed at him. “You can’t make me.”
Then she turned and ran into the bowels of the bayou. Like predators ready to swallow her, the weeping willows