eBook release: October 17, 2017
Print release: October 17, 2017
The Foundling, Book One
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The Foundling, Book 1
Her beginning may be our end . . .
Deep in the humid Mississippi bayou, a half-wild child is dragged from the murky waters. She has no memories, no family and is covered in mysterious markings. Adopted by the policeman who rescued her, Luce Boudreau follows him onto the force, determined to prove herself in the eyes of those who are still suspicious.
However, there’s more of a battle ahead than Luce could possibly imagine. She may be an orphan without a past, but no one – including Luce herself – could ever be prepared for the truth of her dark, powerful destiny . .
Brand new urban fantasy series by Hailey Edwards, bestselling author of the Gemini and Black Dog series. Perfect for fans of Jennifer Estep, Darynda Jones and Ilona Andrews.
Bayou Born Excerpt
Fluorescent lights charged the short hallway with a buzzing hum that vibrated beneath my skin. The urgent swish as my polyester uniform pants rubbed together made me wince, but each fixture I passed under carried me nearer to sweet, sweet freedom.
Three steps, two steps . . . Almost there.
“Hey, Boudreau,” John Rixton hollered at my retreating back. “I got something to show you.”
Hanging my head on a soft groan, I pulled up short of my goal and clenched my fingers over dead air, the exit door still a foot away. So much for my quick escape. “I haven’t fallen for that line since Joey Tacoma asked me to follow him behind the bleachers at my first football game.”
“Will you come here if I swear not to peer pressure you into showing me yours if I show you mine first?”
Pursing my lips in consideration, I checked the time and decided I could afford to humor him for a few minutes. “Promise you won’t show me yours, period, and you’ve got a deal.”
“Done and done.” Not even the hard pass on a private family-jewel viewing managed to douse the glee that had him bouncing on the balls of his feet. “Come on, Bou-Bou.”
I arranged my features into a cutting scowl that struck fear in the hearts of lesser men, usually those on the wrong side of a Mirandizing, and faced him. “Don’t ever call me that again.”
“Fine.” He waved me toward the break room. “Just get moving.”
Following a faint strain of tinny music, I paused beside him on the threshold leading into the blacked-out room. No fluorescent tubes flickered to life. Instead the area was lit by a single flickering candle. Not suspicious at all. “Do I have to do this?”
“Yes.” He tapped the back of my boot with the toe of his to get me moving. “You really do.”
Dragging my heels, I wandered over to inspect a cupcake of dubious origins. Definitely homemade. Its icing had gone flat from having been smeared on while the cake was still warm. Its foil-covered base had been used as a paperweight to pin open one of those fancy greeting cards that played music or allowed for voice recordings. I stood there a moment until the message looped back to the beginning in order to fully appreciate the torture being inflicted upon me by my friends and coworkers.
“Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you,” it sang cheerily. “Happy birthday dear—” here came the audience participation bit “—woohoo, Luce! Luce as a goose! It’s your birthday! Yeah! Birthday girl!” That done, the card played on. “Happy birthday to you.”
After snuffing out the candle with a put-upon sigh, I chucked the chocolatey lump across the room into the wastebasket. The dull thud when it landed mirrored the enthusiasm with which it had been thrown. Picking up the card, I ripped out the music box and crushed it under my booted heel. Then I tore the card down the center and waited.
“Twenty-one seconds,” Rixton crowed, flipping switches as he strutted into the room. “I win. Pay up, suckers.”
The suckers in question ought to know better than to bet against Rixton. He was smart, he played dirty, and he knew me better than most anyone. Being partners did that to people, and we’d been paired up going on four years. Rising from their hiding places, the handful of other cops who treated me as a person instead of a sideshow attraction reached for their wallets with good-natured groans aimed in my direction.
“I baked that cupcake from scratch, you heathen.” Maggie, dressed in a smart, white blouse smudged with blue finger paint and a swishy black skirt, reeled me in for a hug that made my ribs creak. She had serious muscle definition for a kindergarten teacher. Must come from wrangling six-year-olds all day. “Why are you an enemy of happiness?”
“You want happy, hire a clown.” I kept up my grumpy façade lest the others figure out my core was one hundred percent marshmallow fluff. “Or slap red lipstick on Rixton. He’s the next best thing.”
“I heard that.” He popped a rubber band around the thick wad of cash he had collected, mostly dollar bills, and tossed it to me, cackling when I caught the roll without taking my eyes off his. My reflexes amused him to no end. “The only lipstick you’ll find on me comes straight from the Mouth of God.”
Maggie choked on air. “Does Sherry know you call her that?”
“She’s still his wife, so that’s a no.”
I screwed up my face at him. “Mouth of God? Really? You’re lucky she doesn’t sew yours shut.”
“Why do you call her that anyway?” Maggie walked over and toed the trash can as though she were mentally pro/conning going dumpster diving. Possible cooties versus guaranteed chocolate. Even I could do that math. But the fact she even considered mounting a rescue mission was telling. She had spent so much time enforcing the five-second rule that she might have actually started believing in honor among bacteria. “That’s weird, even for you.”
“Trust me.” Cartoon hearts all but burst in his eyes. “If she ever put her mouth on you, you’d know how she got the nickname.”
Pressing a fist against her lips, Maggie puffed out her cheeks. “I just threw up a little in my mouth.”
She wasn’t the only one left tasting acid. Granted, my reflux was one part TMI and two parts anxiety as my internal clock ticked down the minutes until midnight. Either way, I could do with a couple of Rolaids and a Pepto chaser right about now.
“On that note, I’m out.” I waved to the room at large. “Thanks, guys. You’re all the best. Each and every one of you. Don’t let anyone tell you any different.”
“Leaving so soon?” Maggie accepted a kiss from me on the cheek, an apology for not saving the cupcake for her, but I had a hard-ass, birthday-hating rep to protect. Plus, watching my greeting-card-fueled rampages had become somewhat of a departmental tradition. “You never want to hang on your b-day.”
“We can do something tomorrow.” I patted Rixton’s shoulder, mostly in sympathy for his long-suffering wife. “All four of us.”
“It’s a date.” He tapped my rubber-banded haul with his fingertip. “Your treat?”
“Make you a deal. Keep your grubby mitts off my cheeseburger fund, and I won’t tell Sherry about the nickname.” I thumped his knuckle when he faked having trouble letting go. “Old Sherry might have laughed it off, but Pregnant Sherry is hormonal and a teensy bit frightening.”
“I’ll remember this when we’re naming godparents,” he groused.
“Ignore him. Go home. Do whatever it is you do on birthdays that best friends aren’t allowed to know about, despite the double pinky swear I gave in fourth grade to keep all your secrets.” Maggie buffed her nails on her blouse. “A vow I have yet to break, thank you very much.”
A groan eased past my lips. “Mags . . .”
“Don’t Mags me. That old rotary phone was on the kitchen counter when I dropped off those cake samples yesterday. The ones my maid of honor is supposed to help me narrow down to a favorite? Then today, when I left the swatches for bridesmaid dresses with your dad, it was on the coffee table. That means someone is carrying it around with them like a security blanket. Kind of like they did when we were kids.”
I spluttered a denial, but Maggie, being a teacher, was immune to both spittle and protestations of innocence.
“You spiral on your birthday, Luce. I would have to be blind or stupid not to notice, and despite what my kindergarteners think, I’m neither.” The toe of her pumps started tapping, and had I been a student, I might have caved under her expectant stare. “You get twitchy the week before your birthday and start hovering over that relic like a bee waiting on a particularly ugly flower to open its avocado green petals. After your big day, you’re back to normal, and it’s back where it goes. Does it even work?”
“That old thing?” Heart thudding against my ribs, I forced out a laugh so tight it squeaked and inched toward the exit. “It’s got sentimental value, that’s all.”
“Play you for answers.” She held out her fist and waited for me to accept her challenge. “Real ones.”
“I’m not going to rock, paper, scissors away my secrets.” I bit the inside of my cheek. “Not that I’m admitting I have any worth winning.”
Nose wrinkling like she smelled the lie on my breath, Maggie decided to let it—and me—go. “See you tomorrow, Lucey-goosey.”
“How is that fair?” Rixton pouted. “I can’t call you Bou-Bou, but she can call you Lucey-goosey?”
“Tuck in your bottom lip before you trip over it.” Maggie flung out her arm, barring the door and corralling Rixton in the break room. “It’s a nickname her dad gave her.”
Grateful for the intervention, I mouthed Bless you then hit the hall at a brisk walk. I kept my head down, gaze trained on the grungy linoleum tiles, but I couldn’t leave. Not yet. I had come this far, I might as well go the rest of the way.
Chief Timmons believed in a literal open-door policy, so all I had to do was stroll into his office and circle his desk to complete my birthday ritual.
A framed news clipping hung on the wall behind his chair, mixed in with the awards and commendations he’d received during his tenure. The article I’d come to visit had been printed fifteen years ago, and age had yellowed the paper. The caption read Hero Cop Adopts Wild Child Foundling. But the grainy portrait wasn’t of a young girl wearing her Sunday best, long sleeves covering her arms despite the heat, her hair in ringlets, her tiny hand clasping the much bigger one belonging to the man who had claimed her as his daughter. No. The feature highlighted a feral child shown waist-deep in murky swamp water, hair matted against her scalp, her thin frame caked with muck that concealed her peculiar markings as she gnashed her teeth at a uniformed man, one Edward Boudreau, who extended his arms toward her.
This journalistic gem had been one of many such features responsible for launching Wild Child Mania, and the temptation to disappear it into an evidence locker under a false ID was strong tonight.
The chief had packed away the reminder during the nineteen weeks I’d attended the Canton Police Academy as a fresh-faced twenty-one-year-old on account of all the naked mud-wrestling jokes cracked at my expense. But he’d rehung it on graduation day in a special ceremony aimed at whipping the media circus that was sometimes my life. And here I stood, fifteen years from the printed date, watching the shrine to my otherness gather dust in its place of honor.
Maybe the hype wouldn’t have escalated to this point if I hadn’t been found in Canton, Mississippi. The sign posted on Peace Street calls Canton the City of Lights, but the description of “City of Lights, Camera, Action!”, used on the town’s website, feels more accurate. We’re also called the film capital of Mississippi, and despite the small-town atmosphere and Southern charm oozed by the locals, some folks kept glitz and glitter in their eyes long after the film crews left.
I caught my reflection in the glass and winced. The woman staring back at me looked older than twenty-five, and there was nothing glamourous about her. Maybe it was the severe French braid tasked with keeping her unruly chocolate-cherry hair tamed. Or the weight of too many things seen churning storms in her sea-glass-blue eyes. Or maybe it was the fact I didn’t know for sure she was twenty-five at all. Foundlings didn’t exactly come with a manufactured date stamped on their heels.
“Happy birthday, Luce,” I murmured to my mirror image. “Whoever you are.”
I spun on my heel to leave as a partial seizure locked my knees and sent golden flecks crawling across my vision. Deep muscle contractions twitched through my arms and shoulders, chased by a localized burn that sizzled in concentric rings from my wrists up to my nape. As fast as it attacked, it retreated, and I sucked in lungfuls of air stained by the chief’s favorite cologne.
Inhale. Exhale. Rinse and repeat. Easy as, well, breathing.
I shuffled into the hall, my feet weighing a hundred pounds each, and tugged the long sleeves of my uniform down my wrists until the fabric brushed the heels of my palms. Habit curled my fingertips over the cuffs to pin them in place. I held on so tight as I battled the receding tide of nausea, I winced at the sting as my fingernails bit into my skin.
At the other end of the building Maggie and Rixton chattered on as though no time had passed, their familiar voices carrying out the break-room door, and snatches of their conversation grounded me.
“Boo-boo? Ah. I get it. B-o-u. Not B-o-o.” Maggie’s snort rang out behind me. “Bou-Bou Boudreau sounds like a hooker name.” At his offended gasp, she amended, “But a classy one.”
“Right? That’s what I’m saying.” The squeal of his boots as they twisted on the linoleum was a familiar sound. He was dancing. Or trying to at any rate. Most of his moves resembled a plucked chicken in its death throes. “Slap me some skin, Magpie.”
“That is not going to be my new nickname.”
The sound of their good-natured bickering trailed me into the parking lot. I made it all of two steps before a buzz in my back pocket had me reaching for my cell. I read the brief text and put Dad’s favorite swear to use. “Sunday witch.”
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t above using the alternative. Once in a while an earnest son of a bitch really hit the spot. But Dad had raised me in grand Boudreau tradition, meaning there was a bar of soap kept in the medicine cabinet for washing dirty words out of clean mouths, and living at home again meant falling back on old habits.
Staring at the phone’s screen didn’t change the message. The echo of Rixton’s laughter still rang in my ears when I forwarded him the bad news that our only lead on the missing person case dumped on our desks yesterday had dead-ended.
I loved being a cop, wearing the badge, making a difference. But some nights, like this one, when a case was a ticking time bomb, and it felt like I had a brick of C-4 strapped to my chest instead of a badge, I questioned what had convinced me that one person could make a difference in this world. The answer, of course, was more of a who.
Sergeant Edward Boudreau.
The blip of a siren had me turning as a dusty cruiser pulled in the lot and ejected two of my favorite guys on the force.
Speak of the devil.
“Hey, Dad.” I propped my lips in a smile for him, then winked at the wiry black man beside him. “Hey, Uncle Harold.”
Harold Trudeau wasn’t Dad’s brother by blood, but they had been partners for over twenty-five years, and that made us family. We all started walking at the same time and met on the sidewalk beside a sleeping anthill. I was average height in bare feet, but I had inches on them in boots. They blamed osteoporosis. Swore up and down if I’d met them twenty years earlier I would have had to tip my head back to meet their gazes.
But twenty years ago I hadn’t existed. Luce Boudreau was a twenty-five-year-old woman with a fifteen-year-old identity.
“Hey, birthday girl.” Dad hesitated a moment then wet his lips like he wasn’t sure he wanted an answer to his next question. “You heading home?”
Home was a farmhouse situated on a few dozen acres outside town. After Dad suffered a transient ischemic attack last year, a mini-stroke, I had taken up residence in my old room. Someone had to keep an eye on him. Uncle Harold was a shameless enabler with a heavy hand when it came to mayonnaise.
“Yeah.” I wrapped Dad in a hug meant to reassure. Not once had he ever asked me outright what I got up to with that old rotary phone of his, the one that hadn’t tasted a live dial tone since the seventies. I had slept with it as a child and given it a place of honor on my nightstand as a woman, and that told him it meant something to me. He just wasn’t sure what. “Be safe out there. Love you.”
“Love you too, Lucey-goosey.” He held on longer than he ought to have, and we both knew it, but I didn’t rush him. His health scare had served as a reminder of how little time any of us have on this earth, and we seemed to have decided by mutual, unspoken agreement, to love each other that much harder until we ran out. “Call if you need me.”
I murmured assurances that I would and extricated myself from his grasp before he noticed the cold sweat gluing my shirt against my spine.
“There’s a checkpoint on Natchez Trace Parkway.” Harold planted a kiss on my damp forehead. “Watch your speed on the way home, dumplin’.”
“Will do.” I waved them off then trotted across the lot. “Night, fellas.”
Alone at last, I caved to the pressure mounting under my skin. I couldn’t climb behind the steering wheel of my Bronco fast enough, punch the gas pedal hard enough, I couldn’t freaking breathe until my tires skidded on the unpaved road leading home.
I sucked in a few of those calming breaths recommended by the self-help books Dad had dog-eared during what remained of my childhood. No dice. The next bolt of agony zinged from my nape down my arms, and my hands spasmed open around the steering wheel. I regained motor control through force of will, righting the Bronco before it bumped off the shoulder into a water-filled ditch.
I flicked my gaze to the radio display as the eleven dissolved into a twelve with two trailing zeroes. Gravel pinged the undercarriage as I hit our driveway. I parked in a spray of loose stones and stumbled out, squeezing the lock button on my key fob as I ran across the yard then leapt onto the low porch.
“Hold on, hold on, hold on,” I chanted under my breath. “I’m coming.”
The blip of silence between that first shrill and the next had me blinking perspiration from my eyes. Quick as my shaky fingers allowed, I jammed house keys into their corresponding locks on the front door. Frantic by the third trill, I contemplated breaking a window on the fourth. The stubborn door swung open on the fifth, and I raced up the stairs to my bedroom. By the sixth ring, I had lunged for the phone on my nightstand and gripped the old-fashioned handset in a bloodless fist. I mashed it to the side of my head so hard I sealed the shell of my ear on the receiver. “Hello?”
Heavy silence roared until I got lightheaded from waiting. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t—
“Luce,” Ezra husked, my name a benediction on his lips. “I thought you had forgotten our date.”
And just like that, my world righted.
Copyright © 2017 Hailey Edwards
All rights reserved — a Piatkus publication