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 Allure

The Hoodoo Apprentice 2

by

Lea Nolan

For Riley Finn. May you always be courageous, fair, and noble.

Chapter One

A stiff, hot wind blows across the Beaufort River, carrying the scent of parched sea grass, mucky earth, and belly-up redfish through the car window. Low tide in the South Carolina Lowcountry can be a smelly proposition, especially in the summer when temperatures soar past sweltering. Stinky or not, these salt marshes with their maze of dense green reeds, and downy white egrets are some of the most beautiful places on earth. Definitely paint-worthy.

But before I can grab my canvas and oils, we’ve got to get Miss Delia home from the hospital in one piece, which shouldn’t be a problem with Cooper Beaumont at the wheel. Fixing his eyes on the road ahead, he guides his father’s beige station wagon across the Lady’s Island bridge heading toward St. Helena Island, my summer home-away-from-home. I on the other hand, prefer to stare at him.

Shooting me a quick sideways glance, he smiles. “What are you looking at?” he asks, just loud enough to hear over the engine’s purr.

Caught gawking, my cheeks flush. “You.” Because with his square jaw, golden-brown hair, and eyes that appear blue or green to match his clothes, he’s just about the most gorgeous guy I’ve ever seen. And by some miracle, after secretly loving him for more than an entire year, he’s officially my boyfriend. It’s our very own happily ever after.

Providing we find a way to break the curse that threatens to steal his soul.

Cooper lets his right hand slip from the wheel and inches it across the front seat to clutch mine. Our fingers entwine and he gives me a squeeze. A warm tingle shoots up my arm. Even after a few weeks of being a couple, the excitement of his touch hasn’t grown old.

Miss Delia clears her throat. “Best keep both hands on the wheel, boy. I don’t want to end up back in Beaufort Memorial. The food’s awful.”

Though it couldn’t possibly be worse than what landed her there in the first place—being attacked by a pack of gigantic, seething, demon dogs with serrated fangs.

Glancing in the rearview mirror, Cooper flashes his devastatingly handsome grin, the one that makes my heart thump a little bit harder. “Don’t worry, Miss Delia, I won’t let anything happen to you.” Still, he heeds her advice and returns his hand to the steering wheel.

Squelching my disappointment at his withdrawal, I twist around to face her in the backseat. The sight still makes me wince. Though most of her stitches have been removed, bright pink scars mar her oniony, brown skin. A few larger abrasions still require bandages, but thankfully most are on her body, hidden behind clothes. Images of the savage attack flash across my mind, making me shudder, but I shake them off because Miss Delia miraculously survived.

“We took care of everything while you were away. I tended the garden and the guys cleaned up the mess from Hurricane Amelia.” I work to make my voice sound bright.

Miss Delia smiles. Even her milky-white eye looks a bit clearer. “Thank you, Emma. You’re very kind. I knew I picked you for the right reason.”

My chest swells. She did pick me. Even though I’m only fourteen, she made me her apprentice. She’s the best, most powerful Gullah hoodoo root worker on St. Helena and probably the whole Lowcountry. Though if I’m being honest, she only agreed to pass her mantle to me because I begged. Earlier this summer, my twin brother, and giant pain-in-the-rear, Jack contracted The Creep, an ancient curse that dissolved his flesh, exposed his chalky bones, and made him reek like pond scum. The memory alone churns my stomach. Thanks to Miss Delia, I learned enough hoodoo magic to destroy The Creep and cure Jack, but not enough to protect her from the monsters that nearly ate her for dinner. Which is why she was in the hospital for so long and why the station wagon’s rear compartment is crammed with her brand-new wheelchair. The hellhounds weren’t content to just slice open her flesh. Their massive paws pounced, bruised her spinal chord, and left her unable to walk.

Cooper hangs a left at the dingy-gray tract house at the corner. The tires crunch as he starts down the unmarked dirt road that leads to Miss Delia’s house. Pocked with holes and overgrown vegetation, it’s a serious hazard but we’ve traveled it so often this summer he could probably do it blindfolded. “I hope you don’t mind, Miss Delia, but Jack and I made a few changes to your house,” he says.

Her snowy-white brow quirks. “What kind of changes?”

“Just a couple accommodations to make it easier to get around. I know you practiced driving that chair in the hospital, but it’ll be different in your own house.”

She crosses her arms over her teal housedress. “Pshaw.” She shakes her head, her lips turned down in disgust. “In all my ninety-seven years, I’ve never needed an accommodation.”

“It’s not a big deal.” I play down the additions, knowing how deep her pride runs and how difficult it must be to accept her new disability. “They just added a ramp to the porch.” And widened the front door, rearranged some of her furniture, and hung a few guide rails, but she’ll discover all that when she gets there. “Maybe we can come up with some spells to help speed your healing.” Though according to her doctors, that’s nearly impossible.

She narrows her lids. “Way ahead of you, child.”

Rounding the bend, we approach her glistening bottle tree, an enormous live oak that drips with Spanish moss and dwarfs her ramshackle house. On a normal day it’s impressive, but today, with the golden, mid- afternoon sun streaming through its thousand multicolored bottles, it’s dazzling and almost seems to radiate its own light.

A sleek, silver Mercedes Benz is parked just beyond the tree, in front of Miss Delia’s lush garden.

Miss Delia strains forward in her seat. “What do we have here? Your brother hasn’t tried to drive again has he?”

I laugh, remembering Jack’s last attempt behind the wheel. We all survived, but it’s not something I’d recommend him doing any time soon. “No, he’s helping our dad with the last of the storm cleanup at High Point Bluff.” If it weren’t for my father, the plantation’s caretaker and sole employee, the place would fall apart.

Cooper pulls up next to the Mercedes and cuts the engine. Scanning the car, he whistles. “Sweet ride.”

The garden’s perfume floods the open car windows. I inhale the fragrant scent of hundreds of flowers and herbs, some rare, some mere weeds that have been cultivated for centuries by Miss Delia and her ancestors. These plants are the secret ingredients of hoodoo magic. But without her experience and knowledge, it’s just an overgrown patch of dirt.

Three designer suitcases covered with gold initials perch on Miss Delia’s porch, just steps away from the open front door.

“Were you expecting someone?” I ask.

Just then, a woman in a crisp sea-green linen pantsuit sweeps out of the house and floats across the porch. Her medium-brown skin is flawless and wrinkle-free, making her look somewhere in her midthirties, but something about the regal way she carries herself tells me she’s probably a lot older than that. She grasps the railing, her lips curled at the sides, managing a smile that doesn’t move past her cheeks.

“Well I’ll be.” Miss Delia doesn’t appear the least bit excited.

A moment later a girl who looks at a couple years older than me follows, flinging the screen door wide and letting it slam behind her. Tall and lithe, she stalks toward the suitcases on the opposite side of the porch, crosses her arms, and then shifts her weight so her right hip pops to the side. Which conveniently provides us the perfect angle to admire her clingy, low-cut halter top, skintight shorts, and fuchsia-streaked bob that perfectly offsets her light brown skin and bright pink lipstick. Though considering the sweltering South Carolina heat, she might want to

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