Home > The Wolven (The Keepers Trilogy #3)

The Wolven (The Keepers Trilogy #3)
Author: Deborah Leblanc

Chapter 1

A thin pink line across light brown flesh.

She’d cut herself…again.

Shauna MacDonald looked up from the palm she’d been reading and into the wide, bright eyes of its owner, Lurnell Franklin. Lurnell was a large Creole woman in her mid-thirties with an affinity for spandex and a rock-solid determination to be married before she hit forty. She visited A Little Bit of Magic, the mystic shop Shauna owned with her sisters, Fiona and Caitlin, at least twice a week for a palm reading. For some reason Shauna still didn’t understand, Lurnell had zeroed in on her. Fiona was very gifted at reading tea leaves, and Caitlin was exceptionally intuitive when it came to Tarot cards, but Lurnell would have nothing to do with either of them. She always sought out Shauna for a reading, then would argue adamantly that the marriage line, which didn’t exist on the side of her palm, just below the pinky of her right hand, was certain to appear any day. Even if she had to produce it herself.

“Didn’t I tell you?” Lurnell said, tapping a three-inch, hot-pink fingernail on the reading table. “It’s like I been sayin’, right? I know you was thinkin’ I was crazy, but this big girl here, she knows what she’s talkin’ about. You feelin’ me? You hearin’ what I’m sayin’?”

Shauna eyed her.

Lurnell waggled her head. “Oh, uh-uh. Don’t you be givin’ me eyes.” She kissed the palm of her left hand and held it up. “Look here. I swear, hand to God. All I did was wake up this mornin’, and there that line was, all pretty and pink.”

Shauna took hold of Lurnell’s right hand and turned it pinky side up. “That’s a cut, and you know it. And you know it because you put it there. You can’t make a marriage line, Lurnell. It’s either there or it’s not.”

Lurnell cocked her head, narrowed her eyes. “You sayin’ I’m lyin’ about it being for real?”

“Yep.”

Shauna let go of Lurnell’s hand, sat back and folded her arms across her chest.

Lurnell mimicked the pose. “And what makes you so sure, Ms. Big Drawers? You don’t have no second sight. You just a reader, and look at you actin’ like you all that, tellin’ me I’m lyin’.”

“Because you are. Just like you did the last two times you tried pulling this stunt. Look, just because you don’t have a marriage line doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. Time changes things, and palms change with it, so if you’ve gotta cut something, cut yourself some slack, will you? If you keep cutting your hand like that, you’re going to wind up with a bad infection.”

Lurnell tsked loudly and unfolded her arms. “Who taught you palm readin’ anyways, girl? You don’t know nothin’.”

Shauna grinned. She couldn’t help it. Lurnell always brought the same banter to the table, and she enjoyed swatting it back. “Well, if I don’t know anything, how come you keep asking me for a reading?”

Pursing her lips, Lurnell turned sideways in her chair. Shauna knew from experience that this was her way of regrouping, thinking of a good comeback. Normally she would have pounced on the opportunity and thrown out a one-liner just to fluster Lurnell, but a sudden uneasiness settled over her.

An intuitive whisper.

She sat silent, keeping her facial expression neutral while she listened for her inner voice, waiting for it to identify the source of the unrest.

The only thing that came to her was the scent of cinnamon wafting through the air.

King cake.

Her oldest sister, Fiona, was a firm believer in lagniappe, giving their customers a little extra treat with their purchases. It was usually something to eat, like pastry samples, homemade cookies, or pralines. With Mardi Gras only three weeks away, it didn’t surprise her that Fiona had chosen to share the holiday’s traditional cake.

Evidently catching wind of the scent, as well, Lurnell jumped to her feet before Shauna had a chance to push away from the reading table. “Whoa, that be smellin’ good. It’s okay if I go get some, right?”

“Of course.” Shauna got up, and the uneasiness rose with her. Since she couldn’t find a rationale for it, she mentally pushed the feeling aside. Whatever was meant to be revealed by the intuitive whisper would come in due course, that much she knew. She simply had to wait it out.

Lurnell patted her stomach, her eyes sparkling with delight. “Girl, I do love king cake. Hey, you got some of that lemon drink? You know, like the kind y’all had last week?”

“You mean lemon-snap tea?”

“Yeah, there you go.” Lurnell slapped her hands together. “I think I’m gonna have some of that, too. That’d be good with king, right?”

“We’re out of the lemon-snap, but I can hook you up with a cup of green tea if you’d like.”

Lurnell frowned. “Ain’t green tea the one’s got all them anti-oxidations in it? You know, that stuff that cleans out all your potty pipes.”

“Yep, it has antioxidants, but that’s a good thing. Keeps you healthy.” Shauna grinned. “Don’t worry about your pipes.”

“Girl, you bes’ be right.” Lurnell flapped a hand, signaling Shauna to lead the way out of the room and be quick about it. She evidently feared a rush on the king cake and didn’t want to miss out. “You know there ain’t nobody in Sistah’s but me. What I’m gonna do if a customer needs somethin’? I can’t just s’cuse myself and go to the commode, not with the crazy people they got today. Uh-uh. I’d be back in the bathroom and they’d be out front, helpin’ themselves to all my stuff, robbin’ me blind.”

Lurnell was the sole proprietor of Sistah’s, a mystic shop located on the corner of St. Ann and Rampart, which bordered the north end of the French Quarter. Like most of the tourist shops in the Quarter, it was tightly sandwiched between other shops that sold various baubles, beads, and T-shirts. Sistah’s carried similar items to those in A Little Bit of Magic—crystals, scented candles, herbs, and oils—but it served a different clientele, primarily those who dabbled in voodoo. Although Lurnell didn’t claim to practice voodoo, her specialty items easily led people to believe otherwise. Seven-day spell candles that promised to reverse a curse, remove a hex, or bring wealth and love in abundance. And incense oils that supposedly cured everything from toothaches to temper tantrums, headaches to hemorrhoids. The shop did relatively well considering the neighborhood that surrounded it and the fact that a major competitor—Papa Gris Gris’ Voodoo Shop—was located only three doors down. It was no secret that Lurnell and Papa Gris Gris didn’t play well together. In fact, they’d been enemies for years.

Shauna led Lurnell into the heart of the store, where she spotted Fiona placing slices of king cake onto a platter near the register. Caitlin was at the opposite end of the shop, talking to an elderly woman who had an exceptionally long, hooked nose. Quite a few customers were wandering about, each stopping occasionally to examine a wall display, an item on a shelf, or something showcased in a curio cabinet.

Business had been brisk all day, which came as no surprise, given that Mardi Gras was just around the corner. The parades and balls weren’t scheduled to start for another two weeks, but that didn’t matter to the diehard partiers who made their annual pilgrimage to New Orleans. Most of them came early so they wouldn’t miss one of the main local events known as Nuit du Dommage. Literally translated, it meant Night of Damage, and the parties associated with it certainly lived up to its name. It was a pre-Mardi Gras free-for-all, and it was only three days away.

Dommage and Mardi Gras were always great for business, but both drove Shauna crazy. The streets and sidewalks stayed jammed with so many people it was hard to walk and breathe at the same time. Even worse was the noise. Drunken voices shouting, singing, laughing, talking, and all of them tumbling over hawking, squawking strip-joint barkers and a melange of blaring music—jazz, blues, rock ’n’ roll—that poured out of the bars in the Quarter. Because Shauna’s hearing was so acute, all that noise at such a high volume pained her considerably. It felt like an endless number of needles jabbing into her eardrums.

Still carrying a sense of uneasiness, Shauna mingled with a few customers, making herself available in case anyone needed help.

Lurnell had already shoved her way to the front counter and was hovering over the platter of cake. Fiona stood not far away, ringing up another customer at the register. Lurnell must have viewed Fiona’s preoccupation as a grand opportunity because she slipped two pieces of king cake into her oversized purse. She was reaching for a third when Shauna saw Fiona turn toward her. Judging from the small smile dancing on her sister’s lips, Fiona had not been oblivious to the heist. Still, she smiled more broadly, walked over to Lurnell and offered her another piece of cake. Always the gracious hostess.

Not for the first time, Shauna wished she was more like her sister.

Being the caboose on a train of three sisters wasn’t always easy. More often than not, Shauna felt like the odd woman out. Fiona was tall and slender, with long, thick hair the color of gold, her eyes a perfect cornflower blue. Caitlin had the same slender build but stood five-nine, a bit taller than Fiona. Her long hair was a darker shade of blonde, which matched beautifully with her magnificent silver-gray eyes. At five-eight, Shauna had height, like her sisters. She also had the same build. Her hair, which she kept pulled up in a ponytail most of the time, was more auburn than blonde, however, and she thought her eyes were a boring shade of green.

To Shauna, Fiona and Caitlin were the epitome of femininity. The way they walked, talked. Even their closets held proof of it. Both were filled with silky dresses, pastel skirts, and elegant blouses. Shauna’s, on the other hand, held mostly jeans and T-shirts. She did own a couple of skirts, but she kept them tucked away for dress-up emergencies.

Besides height and build, Shauna shared another similarity with her sisters. She was a Keeper, responsible for maintaining harmony and balance between the humans and the three main underworld subcultures—vampires, shape-shifters, and werewolves—that lived in and around the city. Shauna watched over the werewolves, Fiona the vampires, and Caitlin the shape-shifters.

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