Savage Nature(4)

By: Christine Feehan


Dash studied her face. “You tangle with somethin’ out in the bayou, Saria, or someone?”

Her heart jumped. Was that a taunt? She didn’t know if there was some double implication. She took another step back. “If I had a problem with someone, I’d take care of it myself, Dash. Why are you all suddenly interested in my life?”

Remy rubbed the bridge of his nose. “We’re famille, cher. If you’re in trouble . . .”

“I’m not,” she interrupted. “What’s this all about, Remy? Really? Because none of you have ever questioned where I’ve been or whether or not I was capable of takin’ care of myself. I’m at the bar alone for days at a time. None of you ever questioned whether that was dangerous or not, although I was underage runnin’ it.”

Her three brothers exchanged long, sheepish looks. Remy shrugged. “Maybe we didn’t, Saria, but we should have. I was sixteen when you were born, feelin’ my oats, cher, burnin’ through my youth. You were a babe. So maybe I didn’t pay attention the way I should have, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t mine. Famille is everythin’.”

“While you all were out feelin’ your oats, I was takin’ care of our drunken pere every night. Paying bills. Runnin’ the store. Makin’ sure he ate and had clean clothes. Orderin’ for the store. Fishing. You know. Grown-up things. Keepin’ the place runnin’ so you could all have your fun.”

“We should have helped you more with Pere,” Remy admitted.

Saria blinked back unexpected tears. Remy could be so sweet when he chose, but she didn’t trust his motivation. Why now? She risked a quick glance at her brothers’ faces. They were all watching her intently. They were utterly still. Their eyes had gone almost amber with the pupils fully dilated. It took every ounce of courage she possessed not to turn and run.

“Now I’m grown, Remy. It’s a little too late to start wonderin’ about my life now. I’m tired and want to go to sleep. I’ll see you in the morning.” Not if she could help it.

Remy stepped aside. She noticed they all inhaled as she walked by, trying to read scents off of her. She smelled like the swamp, but she hadn’t touched the dead body, just went close enough to shine her lit on it and see.

“Sleep well, Saria,” Remy said.

She closed her eyes briefly, just the simple gesture giving her another attack of nerves.





SIX MONTHS LATER



THE wind moaned softly, an eerie, lonely sound. A snake slid from the low-hanging branches of a tupelo tree and plopped into the water, swimming away, no more than a ripple in the dark water. Overhead, dark clouds, heavy with rain, boiled in the evening heat.

Saria stepped from the pirogue to the rickety dock, pausing to inhale deeply while she cast a careful look around, studying the shore and grove of trees she had to walk through. Years earlier, one of the farmers had planted a Christmas tree farm that had never quite taken off, although the trees had. The town, small as it was, had grown to the edge of the farm, and the variety of cedar, pine and spruce trees were beautiful but had grown thick, creating a forest effect behind the cypress grove on the water’s edge.

Moss hung in long silvery webs, swaying gently from the twisted cypress branches lining the river. The grove was fairly large, and with the gray mist spreading like a fine veil, the cypress trees lining the water appeared spooky and ghostlike. Behind that, the thicker farm trees loomed, a silent dark forest. Icy fingers crept down her spine as she stood there on the wooden planks, a good distance from civilization.

Night often came fast to the river, and she had waited for her brothers to leave, checking on the fishing lines and crab pots before she took off to come to the mainland. All the while, she’d had the feeling someone was following her. She’d stayed in close to the banks of the river as much as she could. Someone—something— could have kept up with her and certainly could be ahead of her now. Her brothers had gone out in the bass boat, leaving her the old pirogue, which was fine with her as a rule, but something unseen in the night made her wish for speed.

Lately she’d been uneasy and restless, her skin too tight as if it didn’t quite fit over her bones. Itching came in waves as something seemed to move beneath her skin. Her skull felt too large, and her jaw and mouth ached. Everything felt wrong, and perhaps that contributed to her gathering fear that she was being watched.

Saria sighed, moistened dry lips and forced herself to take that first step toward the farm of trees. She could bypass it, but it would take time she didn’t have. Her brothers were going to be back and they’d be angry if they caught her going off by herself again. They’d been as edgy as she was, and to her dismay, had taken to checking up on her continually. The last couple of weeks the attention had grown worse until she felt as though she were a prisoner in her own home.

She began walking, touching the knife strapped to her belt for reassurance. If someone—or something—truly was stalking her, she was prepared. She walked in silence, along the narrow path through the grove, toward the old church.

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