In the deep, bice, swampy waters of Louisiana, novice journalist Vivienne Gray falls head over heels in love with a man she supposed to be interviewing, Jase Blackwell. When Vivienne saves Jase’s life they are pulled into an ancient curse that has plagued the Blackwell family for years. There is a reason behind superstition. It’s because it’s all true. Not believing does not make it go away.
Unsure whether I was making a mistake or not, I sat back down and, from the moment we restarted the interview, it went pretty well. Jeffery and Julius answered most of my questions, and Father Joe commented here and there. Jase was the only one who didn’t talk or seem interested in the conversation. Everyone else was cooperating, though, so I didn’t mind.
That was until Julius brought up Jase’s snakebite. I learned that in the springtime, just a few months ago, Jase was bitten by a diamondback rattlesnake and had survived on his own, for about a day, in the swamp. The snake bit him in his lower abdomen, and he almost died. When they found him, he was barely breathing and had to be flown to the hospital to receive twenty-two anti-venom shots.
My reporter’s brain started spinning fast. Intrigued by his survival story and desperately wanting to know more about this man, I asked if he could show me how, what, where, when, and how he survived. He was hesitant, but in the end, the family made him do it, most likely just to make it up to me. That’s why I ended up in a dark corner of the Blackwell hunting cabin, cradling my plate, and waiting for him to say something, anything.
He must have known I’d wanted to clean my plate because he got up, walked over to take it from me, and exited through the only door. I heard him scraping both plates and then running water. He came back with two clean plates.
Not wanting any more silence, I spoke up. “So is this where you were bitten?”
He put the plates away on the shelf above the fireplace then strode back to the table, and sat down in a bit of a huff. He ran his fingers through his auburn hair and rubbed the back of his neck a few times.
I kicked an invisible piece of dirt on the ground, pretending I wasn’t watching his every move. Another shiver went down my spine. I reached up with one hand to untwist my necklace, thinking once more I shouldn’t have come out here.
Again, I barely heard him speak. “No, it’s a two-mile hike from here. I’ll show you in the morning. We got a late start today. I’m not taking you out there at night. We’ll leave at first light and get you back in time for your flight.”
My mouth felt dry. I liked his slow, southern way of speaking. Shaking my head a little and deciding to take a chance, I went to my bag and pulled out my pen and pad. I didn’t really need to take notes because I knew that nothing he said would be forgotten. I sat back down at the table, gave him a reassuring nod, and he began.
He focused his piercing eyes on the fire across the cabin. “As I said, I hiked about two miles east from here. I was looking for some wood for a bow I was working on. The rattlesnake must have just shed its skin or the rattle was broken off because I didn’t hear or see it until I was right on top of it. Mating season makes the snakes more aggressive. He got me here.”
Leaning back in the chair, he patted his lower, right abdomen. I was hoping he was going to lift up his shirt, but he didn’t. A girl can dream. Pushing those thoughts out of my head, I pretended to make a note. “You have to stay calm when you get bit like that. You don’t want to get your blood pumping too fast because the venom will spread faster. By the time I made it back here, I was feeling the effects… bad.” His deep voice was extremely attractive.
He got up effortlessly from where he was sitting at the old wooden table, walked across to the fire, and poked at it with a stick of some sort. Feeling myself shiver, I slowly walked over to where he was by the fireplace and sat down cross-legged, needing the heat. He glanced sideways at me and put down the makeshift poker. He sat, too, resting his weight on his hands behind him and stretching out his long legs. The fire danced in his eyes. They were normally a deep royal blue, but when they mixed with the yellow firelight, they seemed emerald in color. Every hair on my body felt like it was standing on end, ready to ignite.
“My head was throbbing, my right leg was numb, my back ached, and I was getting sick to my stomach.” He reached up and touched his forehead as if the pain was still there. It wasn’t me making him act this way; he was reliving the horrifying experience. He’d thought he was going to die out here.
I opened my mouth to speak, to tell him to stop. He didn’t have to tell me any more. I couldn’t stand to hear the pain in his voice anymore. But before I could say anything, he continued. “I crawled to the boat. I don’t know how I was able to start the motor, but I did. I hoped I’d pointed it in the right direction down river. I don’t remember anymore. Dad found me a few hours later. The boat was grounded on the riverbank a few miles up from here.” His eyes became distant as his thoughts engulfed him.
I never wanted him to feel that way again and changed the subject, quickly. “So since you’ve caught my gift of gab, Jase, why don’t you tell me more about your gift of silence?” I liked the way his name slipped easily off my tongue. I smiled at him, hoping he found the humor in my words. He closed his divine eyes for a moment then he was back from wherever he had gone. I got my first real smile from him, and it took my breath away.
I watched as his sublime lips parted, and he began to speak. “I find that if you listen, you learn a lot more than when you talk.”
“Ouch,” I said. “You really don’t like me, do you?” I asked, tapping my pen on my notepad, trying not to sound hurt. But I was.
“You don’t understand what I’m saying, Miss Gray,” he chuckled, sitting up and poking at the fire again.
Feeling as if he’d just called me brainless, I lashed out. “I see and understand everything, Jase Blackwell. I can comprehend everything you’re saying. You think I’m some young, dumb, blonde girl who has no business being out here. Hate to break it to you, bud, but I think you’re more afraid out here right now than I am.” His eyes never left mine during my rant. I felt my body moving involuntarily closer to him as I watched his eyes light up with amusement. “What’s so funny?” I asked in the meanest tone I could muster.
What’s with me? One minute I’m captivated by this man, and the next I want to slap him across his bearded face. I sat back with a huff then got up and walked back to my dark corner. I was ready to tell him to just forget it.
He stared into the fire and spoke quietly. “I’ve learned that when you’re nervous, you don’t know what to do with your gentle hands. You often reach up to make sure your necklace is there. It must be of some importance to you. When you get mad, your eyes narrow, and I can almost see the fire burning inside you. I can tell you’re in good shape because most people don’t hold up well in temperatures like this unless they’re used to it. You don’t mind the dirt and grime that comes with spending a night in the swamp, so I’m guessing you’re not from the city like my dad thought. The big bugs freak you out… a lot. And when your yellow hair blows in the breeze, it reminds me of sunbeams, and when you’re embarrassed, your fair skin turns my favorite shade of red.”
I stood there, not knowing what to say. If he could see my cheeks in the shadows, he’d probably be happy. Trying to shake off the chill and yearning for the heat of the fire, I emerged from the darkness. “Well, that was honestly the biggest flying monster I’ve ever seen. It was huge. It wouldn’t leave me alone. It kept coming back, and it stung me twice.” I snatched the poker out of his hand and poked at the fire with it, not wanting to talk about me. “It’s your perfume. It’s very sweet. I should’ve warned you before we left the house.” He grinned, sniffing the air with his absolutely perfect nose.
I stopped fiddling with the fire and glanced at him out the corner of my eye. I wasn’t sure if my face was giving anything away, but I was certainly doing back flips on the inside. “I don’t wear perfume. I’m allergic.”
His piercing eyes looked like he had just revealed a secret that he wasn’t supposed to, and his lips parted slightly as we once again locked eyes. My skin was on fire again, and the urge to reach for him was back.
Shaking his head slightly, he stood up, went over to our gear, and started laying out our sleeping bags. I saw him pull out a large, silver knife and place it next to his sleeping bag. Next, he moved his bow and arrows closer to the fireplace.
My eyes grew wide, and my heart beat rapidly. So consumed was I with trying to figure out Jase Blackwell that I’d forgotten I was miles away from civilization in the middle of a Louisiana swamp with a man I had only known for a few hours. He sensed my sudden edginess.
He lay down and said, “Don’t worry—you’re safe with me. I’ll never let anything happen to you.” It was as if he was stating a fact he had known all his life.
And I believed him. I did feel safe and warm when he was near. No man had ever made me feel this way. I should be afraid, but I wasn’t. I should want to be boarding that plane back to Baltimore, but I wasn’t. For some unknown reason, I knew I didn’t want to be anywhere but next to him. He laid a muscular arm over his face to block out the moonlight coming through the front window of the cabin. Or maybe it was just a sign for me to stop talking.
“Good night, Miss Gray,” he whispered.
“’Night, Jase,” I said. It was all I could manage.
With that, I went to my bag and pulled out a hair tie. I braided my long, blonde hair back as I did every night, took my boots off, and slipped into my sleeping bag. For a while, I just lay there in the moonlight, watching Jase’s chest rise and fall and thinking about how satisfying it would be to touch him. I thought about what his beard would feel like if I ran my fingers through it and gave it a tug. I thought he’d like it. I didn’t care if he saw me watching him—I couldn’t help myself. I kept my hands pinned under my head just in case I got the urge to reach out for him. All the emotions that had been running through me simmered as I realized I was lovesick for Jase Blackwell.