Snakebit

A Miranda and Parker Mystery #9

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Afraid of snakes? You should be…

After her last case, PI Miranda Steele is more worried about her daughter than ever. Does Mackenzie know who her real father is? And if so, what is that knowledge doing to her? Miranda’s also concerned about managing the team Parker has given her.

But all that goes on hold when Parker asks her to take on a case that has baffled him for over ten years. A case where the key player is one of the deadliest snakes in the world. Driven by love and her relentless desire for justice, she agrees. But is her new client a cold-blooded killer?

On the other hand, if she can’t solve this case, an innocent man may die and Parker will never be the same.

Innocent or Guilty?

Snakebit (adjective)

  1. Rolling a double one in craps.
  2. Doomed to misfortune.
  3. Bitten by a snake.

Snakebit is the ninth book in the Miranda and Parker Mystery series, a continuation of the popular Miranda Steele stories from bestselling author Linsey Lanier (the Miranda’s Rights Mystery series). Buy this chilling, fast-paced thriller for a story readers say they can’t put down.

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Chapter One

Where was he taking her?
Shivering with nerves, she sat in the back of the yacht and stared out at the inky night around her. The steady hum of the Catamaran’s engine working its way through the bayou matched the beating of her heart.
She was so afraid.
In the distance, swaying cypress branches made eerie shadows against the dark sky. In the lights from the yacht, here and there she could catch a glimpse of frightening creatures lurking in the reeds along the water’s bank. The smell of algae and the thick air, humid and hot even at this time of year, made it hard to breathe. Or maybe that was her nerves, too. The splash of a nearby gator coming up for prey made her start.
She rubbed her arms, then ran her hands over the lap of the slinky new gold dress he’d made her wear tonight.
The marshes and swamps had always scared her, but nothing set her nerves on edge more than the shadowy figure at the helm of the yacht. She couldn’t see him just now. He was on the bridge over the cabin, manning the ship. But his image loomed in her mind.
Dark. Handsome. Demanding. No one ever crossed him.
Suddenly the engines stopped.
Slowly the boat pulled up to a murky pier she could barely see in the mist.
She heard movement on the bridge, the sound of footsteps clanging on metal rungs. Her heart began to pound as he came down the ladder and turned to face her.
He wasn’t a tall man, but his demeanor was overpowering. With the muscular frame of a bodybuilder, his shoulders were broad and sinewy. His dark hair falling in ringlets to his shoulders, he stood watching her in silence. His copper skin glistened in the dim light. The way his cheeks would grow round when he flashed his irresistible smile at her had always made her heart stand still.
But there was no smile for her tonight.
He reached for a lantern along the wall, turned it on, and came a few steps closer to her.
He had on tight dark slacks and a silky black shirt open to the waist, accented with gold chains. The muscles of his powerful chest, so familiar to her, moved up and down as he breathed. The tattoo of a snake crawling up his neck seemed alive. It had always frightened her. As much as the live rattler he kept in his office. He claimed to have captured it with his bare hands and said it would bring him luck. But the hard look in his dark eyes tonight was more terrifying than any of that.
He was angry with her.
If his stony demeanor hadn’t told her that, the way he’d banged her a little while ago did. As soon as she’d stepped aboard the yacht, without a word he’d shoved her down on the bench where she now sat, yanked up her skirt, nearly tearing it, and punished her body with his own. She was still sore from his lovemaking, if you could call it that, and her legs were like jelly.
She hadn’t dared protest. As he often reminded her, she was his property, to do with as he pleased. She’d been his property for four years now.
Tonight he’d made her service five customers on the riverboat, one right after the other with no break. Then he’d told her to put on her gold dress with the matching heels, and taken her down the dock to his personal yacht. That had told her he was angry, too.
Nobody crossed Baptiste Duval. Ever.
If only she knew why he was so mad at her.
Had the dress cost too much? Was that the point he was trying to make? Baptiste always wanted his girls to look good. Jade had more clothes than she did. And Peaches was always getting a new outfit. But then Peaches was his favorite, his best earner. She could make a man lose his life savings at Baptiste’s craps table, then take him upstairs and put him in debt for the rest of his life for “services rendered.”
No, it couldn’t be the dress he was mad about. What then?
He eyed the little table in front of the bench. It was edged in mahogany and topped with rich green marble. An extra feature of the yacht.
He was rich and handsome and powerful. She’d fallen so in love with him when she’d first met him. She’d been under his spell so long, she could hardly tell which way was up. But that was his plan, his formula. The way he recruited all his girls.
If only she’d seen through it sooner.
He took another step toward her.
She inched away from him on the bench. “Why are you mad at me, Baptiste?”
He didn’t answer. He simply stared at her with his round, wide-set eyes. The thick gold chains around his neck glinted in the light.
He set the lantern down, reached into his pocket, and drew out a pair of dice. His lucky pair. They were loaded, she knew. She’d seen him use them to cheat customers at the riverboat a hundred times.
He turned them around in the palm of his hand, shook them in his fist and tossed them on the little table.
They came up two ones.
“Snakebit. You lose, cher.” The gravel in his Cajun voice made her shiver.
“I’m sorry, Baptiste.” For whatever he thought she’d done.
He smirked. “Too late for apologies.” He held out a hand. “Come with me.”
She didn’t move. “Baptiste. Can’t we talk this over?”
He picked up the lantern, grabbed her hand and jerked her to her feet.
“Baptiste, you’re hurting me.” Not that he would care.
He ignored her words and pulled her alongside the deck, over the side, and onto the pier.
Their shoes clattered on the stretch of boards and they headed toward the bank.
Her wrist aching from his grip, she struggled to keep up with his stride in her heels. “Where are we going?” There was nothing out there but forest.
“You’ll see soon enough.”
Panic mounted inside her. What had she done? She didn’t know. But she’d heard from time to time a girl would disappear from the riverboat. Not anyone she knew. Not since she’d been there.
She remembered she’d been talking to her friend Eileen lately. They’d shared stories about their families and where they’d come from. Eileen was from Iowa and wished she could go back to her family.
Did Baptiste know about that?
How could he be so threatened by a little homesickness? Who was she, anyway? Nobody. Little Katy May Philips from Willow Hill, Illinois. Population two hundred and fifty. Four years ago she’d run away from home because her mother wouldn’t let her go to a friend’s party. She couldn’t even remember the friend’s name anymore. Her parents must have stopped looking for her by now. Her mother and father and her younger sister must have gone on with their lives and forgotten her.
The lantern lighting the way, Baptiste pulled her deep into the forest.
They moved through the trees and over the damp ground, tangled with underbrush. There were all sorts of crawling things in here, she’d heard. Poisonous spiders and snakes and gators. Baptiste knew how terrified she was of snakes.
When she stumbled over a dead branch, he stopped, caught her up roughly in his arms and tossed her over his shoulder.
“Please, Baptiste. Take me back to the riverboat. I won’t do it ever again.” Except she still didn’t know what it was she’d done. But she could be good. She could.
He didn’t answer. He simply picked up the lantern and went on.
After what seemed like another hour, they reached a tiny little shack.
It was old, abandoned. Its screen door creaked as Baptiste opened it and stepped inside.
He hung the lantern on a hook and tossed her into a corner like she was a ragdoll. Was he going to beat her to death here? He could. He was strong enough. And out here in the wild swamps, no one would ever know.
She began to sob with terror. “Please, Baptiste. Tell me what I did and I won’t do it again. I promise.”
“You know.”
“I don’t. I don’t.”
Scowling he hovered over her. “You know the one thing I cannot abide.”
She stared up at him. The one thing. Talking to the police. She’d never known why. He had bought off most of the force. Every policeman she’s seen in the district had turned a blind eye to the fancy riverboat and the girls on the street in the Quarter who worked for Baptiste.
“I saw you, cher. You were with that fat detective who asks too many questions.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“I can read lips. Remember? You said ‘Has anyone been looking for me?’ Remember?”
Her mind cleared. She had talked to a man like that last week when she was working near one of the bars in the Quarter. He’d approached her and told her he was a detective. But all she’d wanted to know was whether her family still wanted her. She didn’t tell him anything.
“I didn’t mean anything by it, Baptiste. I wouldn’t betray you.”
“Oh, you wouldn’t, would you? What kind of a fool do you think I am?”
“But nothing happened. What could the police do to you, anyway?”
“That son of a bitch has been looking into my affairs.”
It was the first time she’d heard that. “I don’t know anything about that detective, Baptiste.”
“Oh, but I think you do. I think it is because of you he is being so nosy. And so you must bear the consequences.”
He lifted a mangy rug from the floor. A wooden platform lay beneath it. A trap door.
He opened it. The hinges creaked as a frightening dark hole appeared. A horrible stench filled the little room.
Her hand over her mouth, she cringed in the corner, wishing she could disappear.
Baptiste took a step toward her.
She cowered away from him, shaking her head. “I’m sorry, Baptiste. I won’t ever talk to that detective again. I promise.”
He extended a big hand. “Too late, cher.”
“Please.” There was a window nearby. She turned and tried to crawl to it.
He caught her by the leg. Then he bent down, shoved an arm under her, and hoisted her up. She was small. No match for him.
Frantic, she clung to his shoulders and began to sob. “Please, Baptiste. Don’t. I’ll be good. I promise.”
“Too late,” he said again. This time as softly as a father quieting a crying child.
He pried her hands off of him. She fought hard, but it was useless. He gave her a swing and tossed her into the hole.
Down she went. Down. Down. Down. Into the hole, as deep as a grave.
She hit the muddy ground with a splash. Pain shot through her. She couldn’t catch her breath. The fall had knocked the wind out of her. Was her back broken? And then she heard a sound that made her freeze with terror.
Rattles. And hissing.
Something beneath her began to move. Something slimy slithered under her back.
The bottom of the hole wasn’t just a muddy floor, she realized, her heart pounding so hard it burned. It was filled with living creatures. The hole Baptiste had thrown her down was crawling with snakes. She felt one slide under her and around her leg.
The rattling grew louder as beside her one of them raised its head, its scales glowing in the darkness.
She screamed at the top of her lungs and batted the head away. That was a mistake.
The sting to her arm came fast. She screeched in horror, panic engulfing her. The rattling pounding in her ears, the hissing making her shake with fear, she turned and put her palm down in the mud, struggling to get to her feet.
Sharp teeth dug into her wrist. Then she felt another bite on her thigh.
“Baptiste!” she cried, trying to turn around.
Another snake got her stomach. Pain sizzled through her, seeping into her veins with the venom. Tears streamed down her face. The rattling was furious now. Another stinging bite struck her knee. She sank back down into the muddy hole.
“Baptiste!” she sobbed. “I’m sorry. I’ve learned my lesson. Get me out of here.”
But now the words were only in her head. She couldn’t speak. The venom had begun to paralyze her. She couldn’t move at all. All she could do was lie there as three more snakes dug their teeth into her flesh.
Baptiste had won.
He had taken his revenge. No one ever crossed him. He always made sure of that. Especially not a helpless little hick from Willow Hill, Illinois.
She wouldn’t be that much longer. As the pain overwhelmed her, making her head swim and her lungs burn for air, she wondered what she would be like in the next life. Someone better, she hoped. Someone smarter.
Even in the inky darkness she could feel her own blood oozing out of her through her wounds. Soon her skin would turn gray and hard, and then black as charcoal. Still the stings kept coming.
One more at her throat and she was almost gone. Everything grew fuzzy. The hole disappeared. The stinging ceased. The rattles became still.
But as she slipped away, far above her all she could hear was the echo of Baptiste’s satisfied laugh.

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