Not Quite Clear (A Lowcountry Mystery)

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Contents

Title Page

Copyright Information

Also By Lyla Payne

Title Page

Dedication

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Thank You!

Secrets Don't Make Friends

Secrets Don't Make Friends

Secrets Don't Make Friends

Also By Lyla Payne

Acknowledgments

About the Author

Copyright 2015 by Lyla Payne

Cover Photography by Iona Nicole Photography
 

Cover by Eisley Jacobs at Complete Pixels

Developmental and Line Editing: Danielle Poiesz at Doublevision Editorial

Copyediting: Shannon Page

Proofreading: Mary Ziegenhorn, Diane Thede, Diane Cleary, Cheryl Heinrich

All rights reserved.

This book is a work of fiction. References to real people, events, establishments,
organizations or locations are intended only to provide a sense of authenticity, and are used factiously. All other characters, and all incidents and dialogue, are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real.

Also by LYLA PAYNE

WHITMAN UNIVERSITY

Broken at Love

By Referral Only

Be My Downfall

Staying On Top

Living the Dream

Going for Broke
(published in
Fifty First Times: A New Adult Anthology
)

LOWCOUNTRY MYSTERIES

Not Quite Dead

Not Quite Cold

Not Quite True

Quite Curious

Not Quite Gone

Quite Precarious (December 29
th
, 2015)

Mistletoe & Mr. Right
 

Sleigh Bells & Second Chances
(October 6, 2015)

SECRETS DON’T MAKE FRIENDS

Secrets Don’t Make Friends (November 17th, 2015)

Young Adult Novels Written as TRISHA LEIGH

THE LAST YEAR

Whispers in Autumn

Winter Omens

Betrayals in Spring

Summer Ruins

THE CAVY FILES

Gypsy

Alliance

Buried (January 12th, 2016)

THE HISTORIANS

Return Once More
(October 20
th
, 2015)

To anyone out there who has a ghost or two of your own. Gracie and I wish you the best of luck in figuring out how to get rid of them, and move on with your lives.

Chapter One

If anyone had tried to tell me six months ago that one day I’d be standing in front of a ghost discussing whether or not to help voodoo curse my boyfriend, I would have laughed till I cried. So little time has passed, but so much has changed. There is nothing in the world I believe impossible.

Case in point: Right now, a dead voodoo queen named Mama Lottie is staring me
down, waiting for my answer.

I squeeze my fists together, palms slick with sweat. My gut screams that throwing my lot in with this ghost can lead to nothing but trouble. After all, I don’t understand
why
she’s so keen on helping my cousin Amelia and me break our family curse. Yet my brain—and my heart—know that we’re not all going to survive if we keep trying to go it alone.

“Graciela, I suggest
you answer the nice woman so we can get the hell out of here,” Daria hisses, her eyes wide. There’s a sheen on the medium’s forehead that, like my own, probably doesn’t have anything to do with the muggy October night. Her nerves skitter off her skin, lifting into the starlit night and over to me, prodding me to make a decision.

Mama Lottie watches me from under her loose, dingy white turban,
her dark eyes enigmatic. They sear my skin, as though lifting it away to peer at the blood and bones underneath so as to better understand how to manipulate me.

A million questions flit through my mind, too many and too fast to catch. They start and end with
why
: Why should we trust her? Why would a woman who can break a centuries-old curse need help from me to curse someone else? And why do
I have an awful feeling in the pit of my stomach that agreeing will steal what’s left of my soul?

“Graciela,” Daria says again, a tremor in her voice that’s impossible to miss.

My own heart skids around in my chest, as anxious to get out of here as the rest of me. A slow smile spreads over Mama Lottie’s face, her round cheeks glowing pink, teeth so white they’re brighter than the moon. I realize
my head is nodding and force it to stop.

“I have to think about it,” stammers free from my chest and into the night.

The hesitant response doesn’t seem to upset her. It doesn’t dislodge her smile, either, though a sharp glint shines in her eyes as she studies me more closely, moving a few steps toward us. Daria backs up, and Mama Lottie opens her mouth, talking, but unlike a few moments earlier,
I can’t hear her.

I inch closer to Daria since she’s the one who can usually hear the ghosts. “What’s she saying?”

“She says she’ll give you seven days to make up your mind, and in the meantime, she’s going to give you a good-faith demonstration of her ability to follow through on her end of the bargain.” Daria swallows, tiptoeing a few more steps away from the ghost, toward my car and the promise
of escape
.

“Okay. Whatever.” My eyes are locked on Mama Lottie’s smile, which strikes me as ghoulish and sinister.
 

Maybe that’s just how it looks in my mind but she scares me, and she terrifies Daria, who has far more experience with this sort of thing than I do. Then again, this ghost has done nothing but help me since the first moment I saw her. Now that I know she hates the Draytons, though,
it seems more than slightly likely that even though she meant to save
me
from that poisonous snake, she was less than concerned about it biting my boyfriend, Beauregard, of the aforementioned Draytons.

Confusion tangles my logic, trying to trip me up, and I swallow hard before cutting a glance at Daria. “Is she… Will she let us go?”

Daria pauses, closing her eyes for a count of three before
slowly nodding. “Yes. She wants you to give your help freely. It seems to be important to her. We can go.”

“Let’s do that, then.” I take one last look at Mama Lottie, indecision twisting my lips. “Thank you. I just… This is a lot. I know we need help, but I need to talk to Amelia.”

The spirit nods, and Daria and I beat it across the lawn at Drayton Hall with squishy, fast footsteps. Her fingers
dig into my forearm when I reach for the car door, dragging me to a stop, and she holds on tight when I try to jerk away.

“What are you doing?” I demand.

“We have to ground.” Her features are pinched, complexion pasty. “Do it well, Graciela. Close the door
tight
.

I may be confused about what to do about Mama Lottie and her offer, but Daria doesn’t have to tell me twice that the voodoo ghost
following me home isn’t ideal.
 

Five minutes later we’re both in the car, the windows down, the fresh air making it easier to breathe. My fingers shake no matter how tight I grip the wheel, and from the passenger seat, the sound of Daria taking deep breaths in through her nose and out through her mouth starts to unnerve me.

“It’s okay, right? She’s not going to get us or anything?”

She gives
me an incredulous look. “
Get
us? No. She’s not a vampire.”

“You know what I mean.” I pull the car back out onto the highway, heading for Daria’s place of business instead of home to Heron Creek, where I want to go hide my head under the covers like a kid who’s convinced the monsters in the closet can’t see her if she can’t see them.

“I don’t know what she’s capable of, honestly.” Daria’s fingers
tap an incessant rhythm on her knees. “She’s not here, though. I mean, with us.”

“That doesn’t mean she won’t show up later.”

“That’s more your issue than mine, dollface.”

The glib and vaguely dismissive tone is more familiar. It releases some of the tension balled up in my neck and shoulder blades, oddly comforting. “I’ll keep you apprised.”

We ride in silence for the better part of the ten-minute
drive to her office. House. Both, as far as I can tell. I throw the car into park but don’t switch off the ignition or make a move to get out.
 

Daria reaches for the door handle, then pauses. Her eyes search my face, calmer now and back to seeking some sort of answer I seriously doubt I have.
 

“What are you going to do, Graciela?”

I pause, wondering how to put my jumbled feelings and thoughts
and instincts into words. “Um, I have no earthly idea. Basically.”

She nods, still watching me too closely. “Look, I don’t blame you for wanting help on this whole curse thing, not if it’s even half as bad as you seem to think. But that woman… I don’t trust her.”

“What do you mean?”

“Spirits are usually pretty straightforward. They want something or they’re holding on to something, and one
emotion typically rules their essence. Mama Lottie…she can hide. Her body, her intentions, her thoughts—even her words, the way she did from you when she wanted to.”

“You said she’s powerful.” Daria nods, and I straighten my back, calling on courage that’s struggling to materialize. “That’s exactly why I need her.”

“I guess that’s true. I think she can make things happen, for what it’s worth.
I’m just not sure they’re going to be exactly the things you’re expecting.” She pushes open the door without waiting for a response. It slams shut behind her.

“Join the club,” I mutter to no one in particular, checking the backseat out of habit to make sure no ghosties have decided to hitch a ride the way Anne Bonny did my first week back in Heron Creek.

I wait until Daria’s safe inside her
office before taking a deep breath, putting the car into reverse, and heading home.
 

It turns out that my old Honda pilots me to Beau’s home instead of the one my grandparents used to share. Odd, since I don’t live with him, and honestly I can’t really imagine myself in the stately mansion along the river, no matter how beautiful it or the man who resides inside happen to be. I used to have
those dreams—the giant house, the sweeping porches, the whisper of a salty breeze through the Spanish moss—but now, I don’t know. It’s not as though I’d turn it down, but maybe I think there’s more to happiness
.

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