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Despite having lost half her soul, coven leader Jade Calhoun is determined to lead a regular life, and that means planning her wedding. With just five weeks until the big event, plans are halted when Jade falls victim to a ghost possession. Unfortunately, it appears the only way to keep the ghost at bay is to spend twenty-four hours a day with the last person Jade wants to share a house with—the angel who has the other half of her soul.
Things go from bad to worse when the ghost targets Jade’s friends and her fiancé, Kane. The ghost is using sex magic to steal Jade’s power, and she’ll stop at nothing to get what she wants. Even if it means forcing Jade into the arms of another man. In order to banish the ghost, fix her soul, and have a chance at her happy ending, Jade will need to find her father and uncover the decades-old secret her mother is determined to keep hidden.
You’d think after dealing with a lunatic ghost, breaking into Hell, and surviving having your soul ripped in half, planning a wedding would be a piece of cake. Right?
“I’m so sorry about this,” I said to Ms. Bella, the seamstress I’d found to alter the wedding attire. “I’m sure they’ll be here soon.”
Ms. Bella checked her delicate wristwatch and pursed her thin lips. The wrinkles around her eyes deepened. “I have to leave for another appointment in twenty minutes.”
A small dose of panic pushed me into action. My bridesmaids, Lailah and Kat, hadn’t arrived yet. They were supposed to be meeting us here at Summer House—my fiancé Kane’s family house in Cypress Settlement, thirty miles south of New Orleans. We had back-to-back appointments with wedding professionals all day. Their dresses needed the most work. Both were at least two sizes too big. They’d been purchased off the rack, sight unseen, each shipped from a different sister store of a local boutique. With only five weeks left until my wedding, we didn’t have time to find anything else.
“I understand.” I glanced at the garment rack Ms. Bella had wheeled in. The most important dress, mine, was suspiciously absent. It hadn’t come in yet. Instead of wowing my friends in my beaded silver dress, I was decked out in a cotton skirt and a long-sleeved green T-shirt that matched my eyes. I felt like a slug.
“Maybe you can fit Pyper first?” I waved at Kane’s best man—er, best woman. She was wearing an ill-fitting ladies tuxedo and had her phone pressed to her ear. “Pyper,” I whispered, trying to politely interrupt her phone call with Charlie, the manager of Kane’s club on Bourbon Street.
She waved an impatient hand and scribbled in her appointment book. “Which day?”
I leaned over her shoulder. She’d written Body Painting on the second Sunday in February. Pyper owned The Grind, the cafe next door to Kane’s club. Recently, I’d learned she was also an accomplished body paint artist who was in heavy demand during festivals.
After scratching down a name and number, she pushed back her shiny black hair and hung up. “Sorry. Charlie’s taking care of making my appointments for Mardi Gras week, and I just landed a gig for a huge exclusive celebrity party.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Celebs are getting body painted?”
“Uh-huh.” Her voice was low and husky. “It’s confidential, but let’s just say someone mentioned the names ‘Hugh’ and ‘Gerald’ as two attendees.” Her face flushed, and she fanned herself.
“Hugh? As in Wolverine?”
Pyper nodded with overzealous enthusiasm.
The seamstress grinned and her eyes twinkled. “Oh, Hugh. Now there’s an inseam I’d love to get my hands on.”
Pyper swept her gaze over the spry seventy-year-old and let out an appreciative whoop. “Ms. Bella, you’re naughty.”
The older woman laughed. “It’s not like I haven’t lived, darling.” She placed a capable hand on Pyper’s arm and tugged her to a riser in the middle of the parlor. “Step up here and let me pin these pants.”
Pyper did as she was told, phone still in her hand.
“What day is the party?” I asked.
“Fat Tuesday,” Pyper said, sucking in her already flat stomach.
I felt my lips form into a tiny pout. That was the last day of Mardi Gras. “And I’m going to miss it.”
She rolled her eyes. “You’re getting married. You won’t even be here.” Her smile turned mischievous. “I’m sure Kane can find plenty of ways to keep his new wife occupied.”
My cheeks heated as I envisioned my soon-to-be husband distracting me with his considerable talents. Then panic rose in my chest, and I tapped my foot nervously. “If we ever get this done. No way are we going to be ready in five weeks.”
“We’ll make it happen. Don’t worry. We’ll have everything done before Hurricane Shelia arrives from the Caribbean.” Her sneer did nothing to calm my nerves.
I grimaced. Kane had proposed in November, and I’d imagined a late fall wedding. But when we’d informed Kane’s parents of our plans, they’d balked, insisting they had prior commitments in Europe for the second half of the year. His mother, Shelia, had said, “Darling, you know how busy we get. Can’t you plan it for next fall?”
There was no way either of us were waiting that long. Kane had politely declined and wished his parents well.
Then she’d shocked us by announcing they’d be in town for Mardi Gras. I’d stupidly, impulsively insisted we throw the wedding together so everyone could be present. Kane had protested, saying it didn’t matter. The only one he’d miss was his mamaw, who had unfortunately passed a few years ago.
But they were his parents. They were going to be here. We had the venue. We’d already decided to get married in his family plantation home. It was gorgeous. All we needed was a caterer, invitations, the wedding gown and bridesmaid dresses altered, a cake, decorations, linens, tables, chairs, a band, flowers, dishes, a minister, and about a million other things that were going to be impossible to find during Mardi Gras. What the hell had I been thinking?
“Where is everyone?” Pyper asked, craning her neck toward the stairs and smoothing the lapels of her black jacket. Before I could answer, her phone dinged. “Wait a sec,” she said to me and pressed the phone to her ear.
“That’s a good question,” I huffed.
My maid of honor, Kat, was missing in action. She was an hour late with no phone call. Lailah had at least gotten in touch. She had some angel emergency that, for once, did not involve me. She was a guardian angel, and in addition to watching over Bea, my mentor, and Dan, my ex, she apparently had a new charge to deal with. Still, she wasn’t sure she was going to make it today.
All the amusement vanished from Pyper’s face. Right as Ms. Bella was pinning the back of her jacket, Pyper jumped off the riser, grabbed her appointment book, and headed across the room. “Sorry,” she called over her shoulder to an irritated Bella and shot me a weird look I couldn’t decipher.
I gritted my teeth to keep from yelling. What about five weeks did they not understand? “Take your time,” I said with a fair bit of sarcasm. Only, Pyper was already too far away to hear me.
Dammit! I grabbed my phone and dialed Kat again. Voicemail. I took a deep breath. “Kat, I don’t know where you are, but you promised you’d be here at noon. It’s one o’clock now. If you don’t call or show up in five minutes, I’m going to perform a finding spell on your ass.” I tossed my phone down in angry satisfaction. A second later the phone rang. “Kat?”
“Jade! I’m driving. Don’t do that finding spell. My car will take someone out.”
“Where are you?” I demanded. “The seamstress has to leave in fifteen minutes.”
“Five now,” Ms. Bella corrected.
Shit! “Make that five,” I said.
“I’m so sorry. I’m not going to make it in time. The traffic on 90 is horrible. A semi overturned, and we’ve been backed up forever. Hopefully, I’ll be there in another half hour and we can work on some of the other details. Hang on, all right?” A horn blared in the background. “Oh, shut up, you old coot!”
“Sorry. Some geezer thought I wasn’t going fast enough. I’m not going to make the fitting, but I’ll be there as soon as I can for the rest of the appointments.”
“Okay. Drive safely. And don’t flip off any old people.”
She laughed. “I’ll try to keep myself in check.”
I tossed the phone back down on the table, scowled at Pyper’s back, and gave Ms. Bella an apologetic smile. “Sorry about this. Can I call you this afternoon to reschedule?”
Ms. Bella tucked her pins and chalk into her bag and nodded. “We’ll need to get the first fitting in by the end of this week if I’m going to have time to refit once more before the big day.”
I sent her a grateful smile. “I’ll make sure it happens. Thanks again for coming. I appreciate it.”
She clasped my hand and smiled. “Anything for Eloise’s grandson.”
I forced another smile. This woman was Kane’s grandmother’s best friend. I hated that we’d wasted her time.
I helped Ms. Bella carry her stuff to her car. On the way back in, my feet dragged with weeks-old fatigue. Ever since I’d gotten back from my trip to the angel realm a month ago, I hadn’t quite felt like myself. I was rundown, and not even Bea’s herbal pills were making it better. I headed into the kitchen. “Gwen?”
My aunt straightened in front of the oven, sugar and flour covering her red T-shirt and overalls. “The cookies are in the oven. Don’t they smell wonderful?”
The aroma instantly took me back fifteen years to Gwen’s kitchen in Idaho. Despite my irritation, I smiled. “Smells like home.”
She passed me a warm snickerdoodle. I took it and sighed as I bit into the mouth-watering goodness. My aunt ran a hand over my arm. “Relax, sweetie. Everything will be fine. You’ll feel better after a cookie or two.”
“I doubt baked goods are going to fix anything.”
A trace of hurt flashed in her eyes.
Crap. I squeezed her hand still resting on my arm. “Sorry. It’s just that Kane’s mom grew up here.” I tugged her out of the kitchen and waved a hand, indicating the gorgeous house. “I wanted everything to be perfect. At this rate, we’ll be eating barbeque off paper plates.”
“Jade, darling. Kane isn’t impressed with his parents’ life. He doesn’t expect you to compete with them.”
I swallowed the self-doubt rising from my chest and shook my head. “I’m just nervous. I don’t want them to look at me like the country bumpkin from Idaho.”
She wrapped an arm around me and led me to the table. “They won’t. And even if they do, it’s their loss. Kane loves you, and that’s all that matters.”
A buzzer sounded from the kitchen, and Gwen disappeared, leaving me alone. Pyper laughed from the other room. I frowned and snatched my phone again. Missed call from Kane. Some of the turmoil eased from my chest. Smiling, I touched his number.
“Hey, pretty witch,” he said, his voice low and seductive. “I’ve been thinking about that dreamwalk we shared last night. How about we recreate that scene when I get home?”
“Hey, yourself.” I licked my lips, picturing him naked and making love to me in the water. Kane was a dreamwalker and could slip into my dreams whenever he wanted, which was usually nightly. “We don’t have a pool.”
“I’ll call a contractor as soon as we hang up.”
I laughed. “Okay then. Sounds perfect. Did you call for anything specific or just to flirt with me? ”
“I heard maybe you could use some good news.”
“Oh?” I glanced behind me at Pyper. She was busy scribbling in her notebook again. I hoped whatever she was booking was damned important. If not, I was going to strangle her. It wasn’t as if one got married every day. “Did Kat call you?” I asked Kane.
He chuckled. “Maybe.”
Shaking my head, I smiled. My best friend always knew what I needed. “Okay, what’s the good news?”
“Other than the fact that I have plans starting in exactly seven hours that involve the shower and stripping you down to—”
“Excuse me,” a soft feminine voice called in the background. “Mr. Rouquette?”
“Damn it,” he muttered. “Hold on a sec, Jade.”
Static filled the phone for a moment before Kane spoke again. “Hey, babe, I’ve got some paperwork I need to complete, and the courier is waiting for it. Can I give you a call back?”
So much for my good news. “Sure. I’ll talk to you soon.”
“Love you.” The phone went dead.
Slightly mollified from the sound of Kane’s voice, I rolled my shoulders, trying to relax, and went in search of my mother. The house was big but not that big. What could she be doing for forty-five minutes? I sent Pyper a frustrated glare as I made my way up the stairs. She gave me an apologetic smile, the same expression she’d been wearing when she’d first answered her phone. The one I’d been too irritated to decipher. Well, at least she felt guilty.
Had I really just thought that?
Oh, jeez. I was about five seconds from crossing over into bridezilla land. I took a deep breath, and the rest of my tension disappeared instantly. They were all making an effort, even if it wasn’t working out as planned.
I used to always know exactly what my friends were feeling, but with my empath ability now gone, I’d been having a hard time adjusting. When you spent your life privy to your loved ones’ emotions, it was rather disconcerting when the gift vanished.
Last month, the angel Meri had managed to gain access to my soul, and we ended up sharing it—a fate that would have eventually killed one of us. The angel council stepped in and decided to award my soul to the angel. In the transfer, my soul split, leaving each of us with half. The half Meri got also included my empath gift.
At first, I’d been relieved. I’d had peace and quiet for the first time ever. No other energy was affecting my moods. It was bliss. Until I realized how much I’d relied on that sense to help me cope with the people around me. I was like a deaf person trying to read lips without any training.
At the top of the stairs, I paused, listening. Where was Mom? Silence. Hmm. I headed right to the room we’d turned into an office for me. The door stood slightly ajar. Inside, the dark walnut desk gleamed to a shine, my laptop still sitting closed in the middle. Not a pen was out of place. The following two guest rooms were empty. I slowed as I neared the lilac room. A rustle of paper sounded from inside. Oh, no.
I pushed open the door. Mom stood in front of the antique dresser, her arms out and five candles lit. With her eyes closed, she recited, “Lost. Found. Lost. Found. Open my sight. Let the lost be found.” It was the finding spell she’d taught me so long ago.
“Mom!” I cried and ran forward. “No.” The last time I’d lit those candles, the resident ghost, Camille, had surfaced. She’d caused all kinds of mayhem at the Christmas engagement party Kane and I’d thrown a few weeks ago. Bea said there was some sort of summoning spell connected with the candles, but we hadn’t had a chance to neutralize them yet.
“Reveal yourself!” Mom commanded.
Shit, shit, shit.
The candles flickered, and a second later the flames extinguished. The remaining five trails of smoke shot out the door. Mom barreled past me into the hallway. I followed her and the smoke down the stairs and into the kitchen. The smoke curled near the pantry and sucked its way in through the edges.
She flung open the door, and right there among the canned goods was my wedding planning book. “Finally. Thank the Goddess. I’ve been looking for this all morning.”
Just as her hands wrapped around the leather binding, a chill crept over my body. My limbs went numb, and I gasped for breath, unable to fill my lungs with the icy air.
Mom spun around, holding the book out to me. Her triumphant smile fell, and she took a step back.
“Hope?” I heard my aunt’s faint voice from somewhere far off. “What’s going on?”
Static rang in my ears. The chill crawled up my spine, down my legs, and prickled over every inch of my skin, paralyzing me in place. Then, with sudden force, my muscles spasmed as the ice raced through my veins straight to my heart. Panic screamed from the depths of my brain, but I couldn’t move. Couldn’t talk. Couldn’t even think.
The one thing I could do was feel. Foreign joy and triumph sailed to my heart, conflicting horribly with my own confused fear. Giddy elation seized me, and my numb limbs moved on their own.
Frustrated tears gathered in my eyes, the only form of protest I could muster as something, someone clumsily carried my body past Gwen to the warm snickerdoodles still cooling on the rack.
My trembling hand reached out and grabbed a cookie. Without any will from me, my hand stuffed the entire cookie in my opened mouth. A high-pitched moan of ecstasy escaped from the depths of my throat as the cinnamon sugar melted on my tongue. Involuntarily, I swallowed and licked the excess crumbs from my lips. Another satisfied groan. And then in a high, giddy voice, words tumbled from my mouth. “It’s been a hundred years since I tasted anything so delicious.” I giggled and added, “Or anything at all.”
No, no, no, I screamed, but the words went nowhere. They stayed locked away in my head.
“Jade?” Gwen prompted in a far-away voice, trembling with concern.
My mother’s eyes narrowed, and sudden fear replaced the joy filling me. My heart sped up as my mother raised her arms once again. Green energy crackled at her fingertips, her earth magic clinging to her hands in a spidery electric conduit. The magic shot out at the same time she shouted, “Release her!”
The ice melted a fraction of a second before the magic hit me right in my gut. Fire exploded through me, knocking me back with such force that I rose through the air and slammed into the nook wall. I seemed to hang there for a moment then crumpled to the floor, gasping.
“Oh, no, Jade!” My mom’s voice was clear now, no static, just a ringing from having my clock cleaned by a very powerful earth witch. “I’m so sorry, honey,” she said and kneeled beside me, checking for damage.
I tested my arms, then my legs, and rolled my neck. Everything was mine again. “I’m fine, Mom,” I said and nudged her out of the way, staring right into the face of the ghost who’d just managed to possess me. “Camille,” I said in a low, dangerous tone.
“Hello, Jade,” she said in her high, tinkling voice. “I’m so glad to see you again.”