Read The Taking Online

Authors: Erin McCarthy

The Taking (9 page)

Now they would both pay unless he made it clear he wasn’t worth her praise. “Don’t thank me. I didn’t do anything,” he told her gruffly.
“Oh, I know not intentionally,” she said, her fingers fiddling with a fertility doll in a bowl on the table to her right. “But . . .” She looked at him, so earnest, her dark eyes shining. “It doesn’t matter. What matters is that because of you, I left.”
And may she never speak those words out loud again. “What did you want to ask me?” he said abruptly. “If it’s about your party, I already told your employee no.”
He was being rude and caustic, and he hated it, but it was the best thing to do. It would keep her away from him in the future. Trying to ignore the confusion on her face, he stared at her coldly, waiting for her response.
“Yes,” she said, clearing her throat. “It’s about my party. I know you told Jen no, but I was hoping that you would change your mind. It’s an important fund-raiser. All the proceeds go to the Save Our Cemeteries organization, which preserves and restores our historic cemeteries. The pay is more than reasonable, I think, and we’d only need you for two hours.”
The pink on her cheeks deepened. He thought she would finally slink off, but Regan had more backbone than he’d given her credit for. She straightened her shoulders and asked, “Why not?”
“Because I don’t want to.”
Her lip curled at his behavior and they stared at each other for a long moment, before she looked away. It wasn’t fair. She was a beautiful, intriguing woman and he could only look, not touch.
Though why he would even bother to lament life’s unfairness at his age and experience was ludicrous. He knew better.
“I see.” Her voice was all wealthy ice princess. “Well, if it’s not too much trouble, would you at least point me in the direction of some research materials?” Regan lifted her bag and dug around in it, pulling out a black leather book. “I found this personal journal from the nineteenth century in my new house and I’d like to research some of the spells in it. I’m pretty sure they’re voodoo spells.”
Hating that he had put that reserve into her normally sweet and melodic voice, Felix put out his hand. “No, it’s not too much trouble. Can I see it?”
“Of course.” She handed him the book. “Thank you.”
He flipped the book open to the first page.
June 28, 1878. 1 received this journal for my twentieth birthday today as a gift from Mr. Tradd, the man my parents wish for me to marry. I imagine it will be so.
Felix’s entire body went still, heat rushing into his head, his mouth, the shock so palpable he could taste its acerbic bitterness on his tongue. No. It couldn’t be.
But he flipped a few pages and it was.
Camille’s journal.
The voice of his long dead lover reaching out from the past in her formal handwriting and increasing madness. “Where did you get this?” he asked, his voice tight.
“In the chest of drawers in the house I just bought. The chest is original to the house, and it had a secret compartment, which is where this was hidden. A pretty cool find, isn’t it?”
Or disturbing, depending on your perspective. “Where is your house?”
He knew what she was going to say, even before the words left her mouth. Felix could picture the room in the house on Royal Street, the elaborate scrollwork on the chest of drawers shadowed by the many candles Camille had lit, his altar resting on top.
“Royal Street, here in the Quarter. It’s on the corner of Ursuline, the big gray house. I just bought it.”
“I think I know the one,” he said, trying to keep his voice normal, forcing his shoulders to relax. “It’s a beautiful house.”
“Thanks. The movers just left. I knew I didn’t have enough furniture to fill it, but I didn’t realize how much I really need to buy. I’m going to be an interior designer’s best friend for the next few months.”
What a horrible, ironic, coincidence that she would buy that house, of all the properties in the Quarter. Or maybe it wasn’t coincidence at all. So very few things were.
“I don’t see any spells in here,” he said, fingers gripping Camille’s journal, the innocent and innocuous words of the days before her family’s death blurring before him. It was painful to read even one of the bland, pleasant entries, devastating to realize what Camille had been when he had met her, and what she had become.
Guilt, for his greed, for his role in her madness and death, rose up in his throat, threatening to choke him.
“They start in the middle. I haven’t had a chance to really read the journal, I just found it last night, but when I have more time in the next few weeks, I’d like to research the spells, and see if I can figure out who the owner is.”
Felix flipped to the middle of the book, knowing precisely who the owner was.
To Cause a Rash
Boil the root and bark of a tree.
Drop in nine black peppercorns and boil it down again.
Sprinkle it over the person’s food.
“Can I keep the journal for a few days?” he asked. He wanted to see if there was any evidence of his existence in Camille’s life. That would be seriously unfortunate if she had addressed him by name in her journal.
She made a face of obvious reluctance. “Actually, I’d prefer to keep it myself. Maybe I could make some copies of it for you?”
Regan was already reaching out her hand to take the book back, and Felix opened his mouth, having known he would even as he knew he shouldn’t. “How about I just meet you and we could go through it together?”
Her face split into a pleased smile. “Sure. That would be great, thank you.”
“The coffee shop on Frenchman?” A public place was smarter, though maybe not safer. He wanted to walk through that house again, wanted to see the balcony, feel if there was any sense of Camille in its walls at this point, but it wasn’t a good idea at all. Divorce or not, Regan Henry was still entangled with Alcroft, and if he heard that Felix was alone with her in that house, of all places, it would not be pretty.
Plus he wanted to see how Regan fit into the puzzle of the demon world, what her role, obviously unknown to her, was before he walked into the heart of that house and the past.
“That would be lovely,” she said with another smile.
Lovely was not the word he would have chosen, but as he handed back to Regan the damning book that he hadn’t even known existed, he thought it was the perfect way to describe her Ivory soap beauty.
“As are you,” he said, the words flowing from him as naturally as sap from a maple.
Chapter Four
Felix watched Camille stroll around his shop in her smart fashionable gown, her hands stroking across the fronts of glass jars containing herbs. She wore a proprietary smile, taking pleasure he knew, in the fact that her being there was not acceptable by anyone’s standards.
She liked to flirt with danger and he was happy to oblige her.
“What can I do for you this fine day, Miss Comeaux?”
“Oh, so formal,” she protested with a playful pout. “There is no one here, Felix, surely I can be Camille to you.”
Leaning in front of her, allowing his arm to brush her breast, Felix moved back the jar that she was at risk of knocking to the floor “Have a care with the snake’s blood, Camille.”
She shivered in delight. “Say it again.”
“Snake’s blood?” he teased.
“No, my name.”
Pressing his lips to her soft, delicate neck, he murmured, “Camille. Camille. Camille.” He could feel her pulse jump beneath his touch.
“That is more the thing,” she said, her voice breathy, her fingers digging into his arms. “But our pleasures must wait. I have come for a very important reason, you know.”
Felix straightened and flicked his tongue over her bottom lip, enjoying the shine he left on the pretty pink flesh. “No, I was not aware anything is more important than my mouth on your body.”
Her eyes darkened with desire, the peaks of her pert breasts rising and falling rapidly above the bodice of her gown. “You are very bad and I won’t be dissuaded from my purpose.”
“What purpose, precious?” Felix drew his finger across her décolleté, watching as goose bumps rose in the wake of his touch. He appreciated her physical perfection, the beauty of her young and ripe figure, and her willingness to share it with him. He was greedy, he knew that, and wasn’t ashamed of it.
You either took what you wanted or you spent your life longing for it. He had no wish to leave his desires unsatisfied, not when they were so easy to acquire. The only thing preventing anyone from possessing what he wanted was the sticky and misguided issue of morality, and Felix had abandoned his long ago.
Perhaps he’d never had it. His mother had certainly never displayed any moral reservations when it came to survival.
“I wish to irritate a certain Miss Janise who has been rather outspoken in her dislike of me.”
“And what have you done to poor Miss Janise to generate such animosity?”
Camille gave a moue of disgust. “Poor Miss Janise, indeed. She has barely a penny to her name, yet somehow she is all the rage in every ballroom this summer.” She pulled back from him, her hands smoothing down the front of her gown. “Everyone blathering on about how beautiful she is, how accomplished. What has she done, save simper behind a fan? The girl cannot string two intelligent words together, and yet she has had the audacity to have doors closed to me!”
So that was the crux of the problem. Camille’s misconduct was beginning to have repercussions and she was choosing to blame it on Miss Janise and unfair gossip. “Miss Janise will marry and find herself in a delicate condition,” he said, mocking the polite phrasing for a woman who is carrying a child. He would never understand society’s obsession with pretending men and women did not take pleasure in each other’s bodies. “And she will be out of your hair and out of your league.”
“That’s just it! I have no wish for her to marry well. She does not deserve it.” Camille paced across the shop and picked up a random voodoo doll and set it back down.
Felix came up behind her, lifting her soft blonde curls and letting them fall through his fingers. “She will live a boring and predicable life, whereas you were made for adventure.”
She whirled around and moved out of his touch. “I want to cause her to become ill so she will miss the Hansons’ ball this Saturday. I need a spell.”
He had no doubt she thought she did. And since he wanted her money, Felix saw no reason that Camille couldn’t have what she wished, just as he took what he wished. “I have just the thing for you. Two dollars is all it will cost you.”
“Two dollars?” Camille gave him a look of reprimand. “Felix, that is rather high for a close and personal friend.” Yet she was already reaching into her reticule.
“Which is why I discounted my standard price. It will be worth it, Camille, when Miss Janise is suddenly afflicted with a horrible head-to-toe rash and dares not show her face in public for a fortnight.”
Her eyes lit up. “A rash? That is brilliant.”
“Indeed. All you need is tree bark and peppercorns, which I happen to have, and ill intent, which you have.” He slid the money from her hand into his pocket and hooked his finger in the front of her gown, between her creamy breasts, and pulled her over to him. “One splotchy, itchy Miss Janise coming right up.”
She laughed and threw her arms around him. “We are quite the pair, aren’t we?”
“We most certainly are.”
A match made in greed.
So wrong, yet so right.
“It’s a beautiful house,” Regan’s mother said begrudgingly as they walked out into the courtyard to say their good-byes.

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