Dying sucks. She's done it twice. Three times is not a charm!
Gwen Carter is pissed.
After gaining a second magical disability, the last thing she needs is a summons to her hometown of freaking Hoodoo, Texas. After accepting an inheritance too complicated to refuse, it goes from bad to oh crap when she witnesses a horrifying murder by black magic.
As Gwen climbs higher on the suspect list, she's terrified that she has yet to break the family curse.
Will Gwen be able to prove that the current murders are connected to the one that drove her from her beloved home in shame, or will she lose not only her life but the family legacy?
Return to Hoodoo is the hilarious first book of the Boudin, Bourbon, and Barbecue, a paranormal women's fiction series. If you like a dash of romance with your bawdy broads and nutty friends and family, then you'll love Reggi Dupree's captivating supernatural thriller.
It's never too late to embrace your magic.
What is Gwen Carter to do when she survives death twice and faces it again, summoned to her hometown of Hoodoo, Texas, only to witness a murder by black magic? Can she unravel the mystery and hold onto her family's legacy along the way? Find out in the first book of USA Today Bestselling author Reggi Dupree's paranormal women's fiction series Boudin, Bourbon, and Barbecue. – Zelda Knight
"Gwen's fearlessness and humor made the magic believable. I loved the warm family dynamic of the cousins and the red hot smoldering tension between Gwen and Ash. And every heroine needs a ride or die friend like Kyle."– Reader review
"Hoodoo is the town equivalent of going to an old friend's house. You know there will probably be dishes in the sink and a few cobwebs in the corners, but you'll also get amazing food, great conversation, and nobody will judge if you unbutton your jeans. "– Reader review
"Another laugh out loud funny book from Reggi Dupree, I didn't want to put "Return to Hoodoo" down until the end! Excellent story, an interesting world, and a 45 y/o main character who is everything but perfect and boring come together to make you want more, just seconds after you read 'The End'. "– Reader review
I'd expected a storeroom, a closet, or maybe even an old-school sex dungeon. But this was waaaay better.
I pressed my hands to my chest and stared open-mouthed at the treasure trove. I, Gwendolyn Carter, was having my very own Belle moment—minus the Beast. A trio of massive stained-glass windows filled the opposite wall, the bright sunlight converting the space to a giant crimson, lemon-yellow, and cobalt-blue kaleidoscope.
After two steps deeper into the room, the wonder faded into something else. A shiver of unease crept up my spine and grabbed hold of the muscles in my neck. Uh, this was no freaking fairytale, and if it was, it wasn't the homogenized, colonized, and safe-for-all-ages version.
Every kid in Hoodoo, including myself, had come to Azure House on a dare, throwing rocks and breaking windows, only to return the next day to find her in the same state of disarray, yet not one pane shattered. And in every visit to this mausoleum, not once did I spot this triptych of stained-glass windows—anywhere.
Well, trippy glass aside, my ancestors obviously adored books and created a setting worthy of the leather-bound tomes. Unlike the other rooms, the furniture was uncovered. The other thing missing? Dust.
The rest of the house wasn't bad, with token dust sprinkles here and there, but the library was… pristine.
I shook my head and drifted to the mantel as I squinted at the two odd iron spikes. Interesting. Must be candle holders. But where was the bottom piece to catch the wax? No, that didn't make sense, because between the two weird spikes stood an elaborate silver candelabrum filled with five long, tapered cream candles.
As I twisted the ends of one of my locs, I studied the mantel. From the door, the wood looked like any other, with outdated swirling patterns and curlicues, which would be consistent with the Victorian styling of the house. But close up, those swirls looked more like hieroglyphics. This mantel told a story, beginning on the continent of Africa, across the middle passage, with one line going to Louisiana, and the other to France, then Mexico, before merging into Texas.
Okay, that made sense. While I didn't know much about all things magic or supernatural about the family, the patriarch and matriarch were human. Or at least that was what I was told. When you grow up in Hoodoo, you learn Texas history and that of the town.
During the period that Spain controlled Texas, it gave generous land grants to its citizens. That was when Uncle Raul inherited what is now the Double R Ranch. On the other hand, my ancestor was granted his land for his gallantry fighting on the side of Mexico during their war of independence from Spain.
According to the story, he built this home for his bride, a free Black woman. Now that I've had some time to reflect, it wasn't shame that threw me earlier, but the lie. Because, hell, what she had to endure to make her way to freedom was damned impressive.
I trailed my fingers along the top edge of the pattern, tracing the tree with roots spreading wide and deep. Wait. The story didn't end in Texas or even Azure House. I leaned closer and sucked in a breath. What in the seven hells?
The tale went along and over the lip of the mantel, going along the top before disappearing beneath the spike. Okay... this was like the windows and everything else in Azure House—not precisely what it appeared.
This was probably another wrong choice in a litany of bad decisions, but perhaps the spike appeared to be embedded in the wood. I tugged, and nope. That bad boy was lodged tight.
"Oh well." I shrugged but kept hold of the cold iron. "Didn't hurt to try."
Suddenly, I heard a scream. Maria!
I sucked in a breath and spun, facing the door. Before I could call out or run to the rescue, pain sliced through my right palm. "Shit."
Well, at least there wasn't a man wearing a hockey mask standing and waiting at the door.
The stinging increased, and my palm burned as it throbbed with my heartbeat. This was not going to be good. Like at all. I curled my hand into a fist, holding it over the mantel.
Well, the good news was Maria hadn't screamed again. Wait, that could also mean that she was dead. I groaned. This was way too damned complicated. I dared to look at my hand and was happy I'd decided to keep it over the wood because a: the curiously dust-free rug was too cute to bleed to death on, and b: my palm was doing its best stuck-pig imitation.
Maria rushed into the office, her eyes widening as she stared. "Whoa, are you okay?"
"Not even." I shook my head, emitting an unamused sound between a grunt and a chuckle. "I think the house is trying to kill me."
"You seem to have that effect on people."
"Gee, thanks. That's some bedside manner you got there, Nurse Ratchet."
Maria smirked. "I aim to please." Stopping in front of me, she reached up and unwrapped the scarf holding up most of my locs.
"What are you doing?" I wanted to back up, but the thought of this beautiful room looking like a crime scene kept me rooted in place.
"What's it look like?" she asked as she folded the large silk square that matched my sweater perfectly. "Here, let me see."
I shook my head, because that bandage looked more like a tourniquet. Yes, despite the tats, I was a giant wimp. There was no shame in my game. "No, I'm fine." Which, come to think of it, my hand no longer throbbed. Blood pooled on the glossy wood, but not as much as a few seconds ago.
This house and everything connected to it was stressing me out.
"Stop being a wimp." Maria grabbed my wrist and efficiently tied the soft fabric around my hand.
"Wow, I think it's safe to say I'll live." I wiggled my fingers. "Hey, why'd you scream? You scared the hell out of me."
"Girl, I thought I saw something move."
"Like... a mouse?" Okay, that sent a shiver down my spine.
"I wish." Maria shook her head. "Let's just say whatever it was hadn't been alive in a while." A sly smile tugged at her full lips, exposing the dimples I'd always coveted. "Were you worried?"
"Not even." I glared at my cousin, ignoring her wide grin. "Let's go outside. Stella has a proper first aid kit."
"Who the hell is Stella?"
"Still weird." Maria shook her head and walked away laughing.
A frisson of electricity rolled through me.
This wasn't warm and welcoming like the energy when I entered the library. No, this was something else. It wasn't scary exactly, but different, and not in a good way. The buzz began at my feet, meandering through my trembling body. My mouth may have gone bone dry, but my brain was fully functional.
I got the hell out of Dodge.
By the time Maria grabbed the first aid kit from Stella's garage, the space beneath my platform bed, I was sitting on the top porch step. Did I mention that Maria was a nurse? If I hadn't known beforehand, I would have at her show of appreciation for the contents of my kit.
Maria unscrewed the bottle of hydrogen peroxide and grabbed a couple of Steristrips, opening one of the packs.
"Maria, what do you know about this house and the people who lived here?" I blurted to distract myself. That whole peroxide not stinging was a lie. Yes, it was better than alcohol, but only marginally.
"Not much. Everybody 'round here acts like it's top secret, and I don't have a clearance." She unwrapped my hand and poked around at my palm.
"Hey." I tugged at my hand, but she held tight.
"Stop being a baby. Considering all that blood you left on the mantel, it's not as bad as I thought." She poured the dreaded liquid on my palm, and we watched it bubble.
Hmm, no pain. I could get down with that.
We sat in silence as Maria wielded her medical magic. While I may not have returned to Hoodoo in years, Loretta kept me up to date. If gossip was an Olympic sport, then Loretta held multiple gold medals. She'd told me Maria did private care nursing in the neighboring township. The Woodlands was one of those upscale planned communities, complete with mini-mansions, the mall, and an outdoor music arena.
In other words, there was money there, and Maria took every dollar she could.
She deftly dried my hand with gauze and applied the small fabric wound closure. After one last swipe of her finger and adding a bandage, she nodded and gently squeezed my hand. "All done. What I do know is that no one has been inside since your mama left."
"No one? I'm sure Aunt Rose sent one of her minions to—"
"No one. Zip. Nada."
"But that was..." I looked up at Maria, stunned.
Maria nodded and replaced the peroxide bottle top. Then she gave me a look that simultaneously said both nothing and everything. "Exactly."
We sat in silence for a good thirty seconds as I looked out over the yard and down one of the rarer hills in East Texas and studied the cemetery. Not going to lie, as far as neighbors, I could have done worse. If the dead stayed off my property and out of my business, we'd be cool.
I jerked as my words replayed. My property. No, I shook my head. I didn't want any of it. Not the house, not the town, and not the lingering animosity. But handing it over to a stranger?
Over my dead body.
"Better?" Maria nudged my shoulder.
"Yeah, much. Thanks." I looked at the quickly healing scar. A scar that in less than five minutes had stopped hurting. Nope, not even going to think about. Not today. Not tomorrow or—ever.
Yes, bourbon and avoidance were my best friends.
I stood, smoothing the front of my jeans. Enough fuckery for the day. "No more exploring. How about an early lunch?"
"Of course. That's the least I could do after your medical expertise." I walked toward the van. "I'm starving. Hell, I can't remember the last time I…" I said to the empty space to my right.
When I spun around, I found Maria looking baffled on the porch steps.
"What's up?" I asked.
"I left my phone in the library."
"I'll get it. Come to think of it, I should lock up the house. I know this is Hoodoo, but…"
"Girl, this ain't southwest Houston. The worst thing that's happened in this town since your drama was a drunk driving accident that took out the front of Miss Gloria's Clips and Claws."
"Whatever." I rolled my eyes and then jogged past her. "Hang on, I'll grab it. God forbid you go an hour or two without your digital pacifier."
"Like you're so different." Maria followed me inside. "Don't want you getting killed before I get my free meal." She tossed the words over her shoulder while walking past me, headed straight for the library.
Maybe this time, she could share some body fluids for the cause. I shouldn't be so mean, but damn if I couldn't hide the grin.
"Nothing says I love you like..." Maria paused; no, not paused, but stopped so suddenly, her Dansko clogs damn near squeaked at the threshold of the office.
When I stopped beside her, my vocal cords went on strike. If I wasn't wearing mascara and didn't want to look like a raccoon's taller, curvier sister, I would have rubbed my eyes, but at this point, all I could do was blink.
And blink again.
"Please tell me that was there before we left," Maria whispered, her voice filled with something that sounded like fear mixed with awe.
I stared at the mantel, the one devoid of blood, and in a different position. "Unless I lost more blood than I remember, that black hole into the unknown wasn't there."
Was it weird that I was both psyched and more than a little nervous about owning a house with a door leading to a hidden lair?
"Look, your phone's on the mantel," I whispered. Because cool or not, Maria was armed with more than her wits.
Being the badass Black woman she was, Maria shoved me into the room.
I'd like to say that I marched to the mantel, grabbed the phone, and used the flashlight to get my Dora the Explora on. But…that would be a big fat lie. Because something was down there and waiting—for me.
I snagged Maria's phone from the now blood-free mantel and sprinted the hell out of this damned fifty shades of spooky house. It was never too late to back out of this ridiculous bargain that felt too much like blackmail.
But should I?