Home > The Taking (Seven Deadly Sins #3)

The Taking (Seven Deadly Sins #3)
Author: Erin McCarthy

Prologue

NEW ORLEANS, 1878

The latest yellow fever epidemic held the city in its iron grip for nine days and nights, the bodies piling up like corded wood in the cemeteries, in the hospitals, and in the streets themselves, as ordinary business and cheerful living bowed in deference to death. With nary a streak of sun in the sky, the shrouded city was quiet save for the constant clatter of carriages carrying corpses and the roar of cannons in the square to clear the putrid air. The tally of dead rose daily—dozenseach hour—and the endless opening of doors to bring out a parade of victims to the carts and wheelbarrows waiting on the streets contributed to the weary denizens of despair, darkness, and numb drudgery.

No stores, businesses, or banks were open, as those who could had fled to the country, and all conveyances were pressed into service as hearses, while the cloud of the smoke from burning bodies created a stinging mist that lingered for days. The agony of melancholy and the silence of profound grief crept into every corner, every house, as the disease swept mercilessly from block to block, taking the young, the old, the rich, and the poor with equal enthusiasm—the sick, the dying, and the dead all intermingling.

I performed innumerable last rites from morning to night each endless day as the plague raged on, both on those I knew and victims I had never before laid eyes on. Children I had only recently baptized, adults seeking absolution for their final sins on earth, those with no one to grieve them, and whole families who left this earth together—all received my prayer.

Specific tales of tragedy abound everywhere, such as the unfortunate end of the wealthy and proud Comeaux family who had dominated Louisiana business and politics for decades. Seven members of the Comeaux family sat down to dine, hearty and hale and confident in their place of power in our city, on the second day of the infestation, and twenty-four hours later all save one were dead. Camille, the Comeaux’s youngest and unmarried daughter, was left at the tender age of twenty void of her entire family. One can only ask what such a loss would do to the state of one’s mind and heart, and how many survivors came to the same sad conclusion as she did in the epidemic’s aftermath.

—From the diary of Father John Henri, Catholic priest

Camille Comeaux lit the candles on either side of the French doors to the gallery, igniting taper after taper and watching with pleasure as the flames cast dancing shadows on the wall behind, framing the doors with a moving, undulating arch of darkness.

“Don’t light too many,” Felix said from behind her, his hands coming to rest on her shoulders. “You’ll risk a fire.”Enjoying the press of his strong fingers on her bare shoulders, Camille lit another candle and still one more, pleased with the effect, excited by the danger. If the draperies caught on fire, it would only be fitting. Conjuring the dead deserved drama.

“I want to be sure it works,” she told him. She wanted that more than anything.

She knew that Felix didn’t understand her drive, her need, but then she knew he was using her, the same as she was using him. He wanted her wealth, and perhaps her body, while she wanted—needed—his power. His magic.

“It will work,” he said, leaning around her and snuffing the last two candles she had lit, squeezing the flames between the tips of his thumb and forefinger. “I don’t perform any ritual that isn’t successful.”

It was easy to believe such confidence, and Camille studied his profile, pleased with her choice of voodoo practitioner. Daring, bold, and successful, Felix was also singularly beautiful, with the thick dark hair and rich skin tone that revealed the African heritage of his mother’s family, along with the narrow, aquiline nose of his French father.

At some point soon he would take her virginity along with the vast amounts of her money he had already acquired, she knew that. Perhaps even tonight. Regardless of when it happened, it was inevitable, given the course she had set them upon, and she could not regret it. The future had been altered irrevocably when her entire family had perished in the fever four months earlier, and every day, every decision, had led her here to this moment.

This was the night she would call forth her mother and father and sisters from the grave.

Felix stared at her, and she stared back, a smile playing about her lips. There was a question in his brilliant blue eyes, a doubt that she could see the ritual through to the end, and it made her laugh out loud. She had no doubts, none whatsoever, and she would do whatever was necessary to speak to her family, to express her love, her loneliness, her grief and desperation.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.” Perhaps he thought she was mad. Perhaps she was. Certainly twelve months earlier she would never have imagined that she would be standing in her parents’ bedroom en chemise with a man such as Felix, the expensive chest of drawers from France converted to an altar for his implements to aid in the ritual. A year ago, Camille had been a pleasant, content young woman of wealthy means, her days busy with embroidery, playing her instrument, receiving callers with her mother, and doing acts of charity in the hospitals of less salubrious neighborhoods.

But she was no longer that girl. She was a woman now, a manic angry woman with no one to love her, and no one to live for. Camille grabbed the open wine bottle off the altar and drank straight from it, the sweetness sliding down her throat. “I am absolutely certain.”

Felix didn’t hesitate. He closed the distance between them and kissed her, a hot skillful taking of her mouth that had Camille’s head spinning and her body igniting as the candles had. He gripped the back of her head, his tongue tasting and teasing, his thumbs brushing over the front of her chemise, finding her ni**les and stroking them.

Camille was always surprised at how good it felt when Felix touched her, how wonderfully free and alive it made her feel. She ran her fingers over his bare chest, excited by the hard muscles, by the power his body contained. Whether it was the wine, or the excitement, or the sexual desire stirring to life, she didn’t know and didn’t care, but she could see through half-closed eyes that the room was in motion, the shadows pressing in and back out again, the furniture crisp and sharp, the candles appearing pliant and alive.

Everything was dark and warm, the yellow glow of the tapers plunging the altar into light, yet leaving the corners of the room black and secretive. Felix slid his tongue across her bottom lip and she shivered, her body aching deep inside, between her thighs. He stepped away and turned his back to her, leaving her breathing hard and reaching up into her hair to pull the pins away, to let the blonde tresses tumble over her shoulders. Her bare feet dug into the rug and she licked her moist lips, the heat from the sultry September night, from the candles, from her own pleasure and excitement, creating a deep flush on her face along with a dewy sheen between her br**sts.

 

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