As I drove one oar into the water, the sound echoing with unnerving loudness, I caught a flicker out of the corner of my eye. My head whipped. I searched the night, the rowboats along the docks. Nothing. My eyes darted to the nearest lamppost where mosquitos swarmed in a flurry. I felt it before it happened—a slow prickling along the ridges of my spine. Oh, no. No sooner had I thought it than the light winked out, plunging me in semidarkness. I drifted to a coast. A familiar draft of ice-cold air hit me in the face, and I dropped the oars with a gasping shriek.
Rey sat before me, perched on the opposite side of the rowboat, eyes narrowed into slits. Unlike the one and only time I’d seen him before, he was visible from head to toe, his long, spidery legs covered in black slacks. His blue-black hair stuck up in all directions, revealing slightly pointed ears. And that nose—God, it was disturbing. It started wide between his slitted eyes, tapered down toward a lipless mouth, and vanished seamlessly into his skin. Until this moment, I had no memory of what he looked like. But now, with him leering at me from less than two feet away, the memory of when I’d encountered him in the break room of Tiana’s Boutique resurfaced with blinding clarity.
“Hello, my sweet,” Rey greeted in that shuddery baritone, his face garish in the moonlight. “Have you missed me?” The fact that he was here confirmed it. Adam and I hadn’t stopped the curse. It wasn’t over. Josephine hadn’t finished the chant. Because if she had, Rey wouldn’t be here. Rey was the curse. Defeat the curse—defeat Rey.
“Are you not pleased to see me?” His hands were clasped in his lap, black talons glinting in the pale moon. He sat with one ankle resting on his knee—such a human stance. I wondered if it was intentional, to put me at ease as he’d attempted to do when he’d given himself a name—a very bland, ordinary name for the terrifying creature that he was. It hadn’t worked. He’d only frightened me more by refusing to break contact with me.
He made no move to touch me now. Why?
“Or are you that flummoxed by my reappearance that you’ve forgotten how to speak?” He flashed a toothless grin. I shuddered. His grin was a black hole. No teeth. No tongue. Nothing as far as I could see. And yet he spoke with perfect enunciation.
“Why are you here?” I demanded.
“You know why.”
“Josephine,” I said. “She didn’t finish the chant.” Which, in effect, hadn’t properly sealed the curse. Rey cocked his head, a predatory tilt that made my hands tremble harder. I wished I hadn’t dropped the oars, if only to have something to whack him with.
“Is that what you think? That Josephine is to blame?”
My insides ran cold.
“Sweet Elizabeth,” his heady scent washed over me, bitter, yet floral, like dead roses, “I’m afraid you’re in for a rude awakening.” And with a suddenness that shocked me, Rey clamped his fingers around my wrist, yanking me into nothingness. I no longer felt the boat beneath my feet nor heard the sprightly sound of locusts. Suddenly, the world careened into view and I was standing in the very spot I’d last seen Adam before a bullet had ripped through my back. I blinked, momentarily stunned by the scene before me. I was back at the Jefferson Plantation. Rain hung in frozen droplets all around, millions of tear-shaped beads suspended in midair. In fact, everything was frozen. The trees. The wind. The water. Not a sound. Not a peep of thunder. The hurricane was in full effect. I could tell by the slanted rain, the wildness of the trees, the heaving river beyond, the waves half crested in a violent spray, the clouds above lit with lightning. And yet it was as if someone had hit the pause button on the single most frightening moment of my life. Because twenty feet ahead of me was Adam.
With a gun pointed to his head.