Deadly Legends A Boxed Set feat. Silent Echoes and Silent Obsession
by Melissa Bourbon Genre: Romantic Suspense
National Bestselling author Melissa Bourbon brings dark twists to two Latin-American urban legends guaranteed to keep you up into the wee hours. With riveting suspense, sigh-worthy romances with heart-stopping heroes, beautiful writing, and characters that jump off the page, these thrilling romantic suspense novels will have you believing in curses and ghosts.
For the first time, Silent Echoes and Silent Obsession are together in this boxed set. Get ready for a thrill-ride…
Something deadly waits in the shadows…
On a Texas night twelve years ago, Vic Vargas kissed Delaney West so deeply that she almost came apart. Later that same night, evil crept into Delaney’s room as she slept – and everything in their world fell apart. Now Vic is a rancher living a half-empty life punctuated by one-night stands and a strained relationship with his 11-year-old son.
Then Delaney returns to San Julio, and the past comes rushing back… along with the silent echoes of that night so long ago. Livestock are dying. Some say coyote, but others whisper another darker word. Chupacabra. Bloodsucker.
The past hasn’t disappeared – nor has the instinctive desire that snaps and crackles between Delaney and Vic. And as those emotions ignite, so does the evil that hibernated for the last twelve years. The evil that waited for Delaney to return to San Julio… and to Vic Vargas.
Johanna Rios is a woman whose past has come back to haunt her.
The ghost of la Llorona is said to haunt the riverbanks, always searching for her drowned child. She also haunts high school teacher Johanna Rios, whose own mother believed so deeply in the legend she tried to drown her daughters. And now the ghost has become real, a young woman murdered, and the safe world Jo created is falling apart.
Since returning home from his last tour of duty to become a school principal, Ray Vargas has fought his attraction for his employee, the sensual woman who’d once been the girl next door. But the Llorona Killer will not stop until he claims his final victim—Johanna—and Ray will do anything to protect the woman he’s come to love.
With a serial killer out to prove the curse is real, will Ray and Johanna’s future be drowned in the ghostly waters of the past? Or will the power of their love give them the strength to stop a killer…and heal their wounded hearts…?
Johanna Rios dug her feet into the dirt of the San Julio riverbank, gasping in deep the chilled Texas air. Overhead, dark clouds loomed, closing in and pressing down on her—a spring storm bearing down fast.
“No! Mama, don’t!” She yelled at the top of her lungs, pulling against her mother’s hold on her wrist. But her mother jerked her forward until she was ankle-deep in water. Jo was strong for eleven, but not strong enough to stop a woman who had madness in her mind. Her mother.
“I told you this day would come. It’ll be over soon, Joey.” Mama spat out the nickname she’d given her. “Johanna. Terrible name. He named you that, and then left me alone. They all leave.”
Carmen, Johanna’s nine-year-old sister, stood on the north side of the bank, just visible in Johanna’s peripheral vision. She let out a high-pitched scream and ran to Jo’s side, tears spilling down her wind-chapped cheeks, but Mama yanked Johanna deeper into the river.
“She promised me. Once you’re gone, she’ll let a man”—Mama cruelly twisted Jo’s hand and yanked her daughter down until Jo was on her knees—“come to me. And this time he’ll stay.” She. Mama was talking about the curse of La Llorona. But the ghost wasn’t real to anyone but her mother. Pain sliced up Jo’s arm and she grimaced, fighting back a scream. She dug her heels into the sludge, mentally willing Carmen to run. To save herself.
But scared little Carmen came closer, unsure of what to do. And Mama grabbed her, too, then jerked Carmen into the river, shouting, “Stop crying!”
The roar of rushing water in the San Julio River filled Jo’s ears. She sucked in a shaky breath and fought back, kicking her feet against the ground, splashing the shallow water until the hem of Mama’s torn, gauzy white embroidered dress was drenched. She clawed, finally managing to pry Mama’s fingers from her wrist, and then broke free, stumbling back.
But Mama plowed into the river, her black hair flying out behind her, her dress floating up around her like an umbrella. Dragging Carmen in her wake.
“No!” Jo plunged into the river. The cold hit her with a fierce burning, worse than jumping into a barrel of smoking coals. She fought to the surface and gasped for breath, then saw Carmen being dragged down into the depths of the river by the weight of her own white peasant dress.
Mama spun around, pulling Carmen with her, the water rippling out around her. She jerked suddenly, and twisted Carmen until she was facedown in the water. The back of Carmen’s head bobbed up and down like an apple in a barrel.
In a voice low and filled with wrath, Mama said to Jo, “She cursed you, too. She’s in your blood. In both of you.”
Mama looked beyond Jo, as if she saw the five-hundred-year-old crying woman of legend. But there was only water and the central Texas woods filled with scraggly trees. “La Llorona,” she whispered hoarsely.
Jo used Mama’s distraction and grabbed Carmen away from her mother, but the current was too strong. The San Julio grabbed her sister, sweeping her downriver. Jo plunged after Carmen, snatching her leg, pulling with all her might until she could grab hold of her wrist. She dragged her limp sister toward the bank, swallowing a belly full of water as she struggled.
Her feet found the ground and she crawled onto the bank, dragging Carmen with her. A moment later, her sister coughed and water trickled out the side of her mouth. She sucked in a loud, desperate breath and struggled to sit up.
“It’s okay,” Jo said, cradling Carmen. “It’s going to be okay.”
But when Jo looked back to the river, Mama was floating. Face up, her hair cascading around her head in a silky mass.
Air caught in Jo’s throat and her eyes burned. Nothing was ever going to be okay.
Jo heard the name as if it were carried on the white tips of the current. She jerked her head around to look where her mother still stared, her heart drumming in her ears, praying that she wouldn’t see the weeping woman who’d drowned her children.
There was nothing there. She turned back to see her mother being pulled swiftly downstream. Her eyes locked with Mama’s for a second, and Jo felt a whisper of sheer terror. Like Mama was passing on the curse.
Mama’s gaze broke with hers and her eyes became lifeless. Dead. Her body rolled over in the water until she floated facedown. The water carried her downstream until all Jo could see was the flash of white from her dress mixing with the scattered whitecaps.
Dripping wet and shivering, Jo stared at the river. Carmen sobbed and Jo struggled to fight back her own tears. She had her sister. They had each other.
She was not cursed. La Llorona was dead.
Jo would not let the crying woman ruin her life. She would not be like her mother.
San Julio River, Texas
Ray Vargas stood at the front of the small crowd, his face numb as he watched his longtime friend, Deputy Sheriff Derek Braido, bury his boots in the sludge of the San Julio River. Together, they stared at the dead woman floating in the river.
Correction. A dead girl, not a dead woman. Braido had called early, woken him up just as the sun rose, saying they had an unidentified drowning victim on the banks of the river. A female, possibly a teenager, with a San Julio High class ring on her finger. No one had called in a missing person’s report, so the ring was all they had to go by. But Braido had thought Ray might be able to ID the victim. As the principal of the only high school within fifty miles, this wasn’t the first time Ray had been asked to ID a kid. That was the main reason Braido had made him a reserve deputy.
Usually Braido called him to identify some kid trying to pull one over on the deputies, using an older brother’s driver’s license to buy booze. But not this time. This time a girl had been murdered.
What a way to start the day.
Ray peered down the embankment at the girl. Dark hair covered her face, fanned out around her head. River water muddied her white peasant dress. Her body was lodged in a mound of rocks, keeping her from floating away. Only her bare feet drifted back and forth in the swiftly moving current.
The current shifted, sweeping her hair off her face.
Breath rushed out of him and his mouth went bone-dust dry. Oh, shit. Oh, God, no. He knew her. Marianne Sandoval.
His daughter’s friend.
Read a Sample of Silent Echoes…
San Julio, Texas. Present day.
Vic Vargas stood on a grassy knoll in the corner of his several hundred acre ranch, where it intersected with three adjoining properties. A group of men—his neighbors—along with Deputy Derek Braido, stood there with him, looking grim.
Vic deliberately kept his eyes off the goat carcass at his feet and instead gazed up at what he could see of the sky. The late afternoon clouds hung dark and gloomy, but the storm still refused to break.
Ominous. That was the only word that came to mind.
“A dead goat,” Braido said. Vic flashed him a glance. Vic and Derek had been friends since they were boys. They’d grown up chasing girls together and throwing back beer at the lake. Vic had stopped cold when he’d met Delaney West his junior year, fifteen years ago, but that hadn’t stopped his friend from picking up the slack. Braido had never wanted for female companionship. He still didn’t. He knew women the way he knew every facet of the law—the way he knew the back roads of San Julio.
But one thing the guy didn’t know about was ranching.
“A dead goat with no blood,” Vic said.
“This is Texas. Gotta be a coyote.”
“Nuh uh.” Jasper Locke spoke up. “McDuff lost a goat the same way. I lost some piglets myself—”
“And I lost a sheep,” Vic finished.
Red West, who stood next to his ranch hand Alan Maldano, added, “This is no coyote kill, Braido. Look at the holes on the neck. Then look at the gums.” He pointed to the wide eyes of the dead animal, and to the bared teeth. “White. I’d lay money there’s hardly an ounce of blood left in the poor thing.”
Braido stared. “Say that again?”
“Sucked dry. No blood. It’s been drained out of the body.”
Vic surveyed his surroundings. From the top of the hill, he could see the West family’s barn and house, mere specks on the horizon. Jasper’s barn was in the opposite direction, where Jasper lived with his brother Chris and their pastor uncle, Landon Locke. Acres and acres of land spread out around the rise, the verdant fields below transected by woods. Perfect for predators.
Finally, Vic looked again at the dead animal. Two ugly puncture wounds to the neck seemed to be the cause of death. He’d never seen any wild animal kill in this fashion, and he hadn’t thought to check his dead sheep for anything unusual or out of the ordinary. He’d assumed it had been a coyote, but now…
Red West was right. Something—or more likely, someone—was deliberately mutilating livestock. Vic couldn’t afford to lose a single head. The killings had to stop.
He turned his back on the unsettling scene in front of him, paced a few steps, and then turned to face it again. Standing a good distance back, he processed what he saw, crossing an arm over his chest and stroking his chin. The goat was bled dry, but no blood pooled around it.
So where was the blood?
Unsatisfied, he returned to the group of ranchers, none of whom seemed to have an answer, either.
“Mira,” a thin voice said from behind him.
Vic and the others turned, all startled to see a familiar old woman, a worn knitted blanket around her shoulders and a cane clutched in her hand, hobbling up the knoll toward them.
“Is that who I think it is?” Jasper muttered to Vic.
“Esperanza,” Vic confirmed. The woman lived down by the river. Some said she was a healer—a curandera. Most people said she was a witch. “How the heck did she get here?” he said, but inside he thought a better question would be, Why had she come?
The woman extended her crooked arm and pointed toward the dead goat. “It hath begun.”
He knew her words were English, but with her heavy accent, he wasn’t sure he’d heard her correctly.
“What did she say?” Braido asked.
She looked at Vic instead, her eyes widening as if she was noticing him for the first time. “It. Hath. Begun.”
Okay... “What’s begun?”
The woman shook her head as she came to stand next to him. “Chupacabra ith here.”
Her voice seeped through him like ink spilling through his veins. What was she talking about? The old woman had obviously been out in the sun too long. Chupacabras weren’t real.
“I can’t even begin to guess what that means,” Jasper said.
Braido cleared his throat. “I’ve heard of it. It’s local legend. Some sort of blood sucking vampire goat thing, right?”
Vic stared at Esperanza, again wondering if he’d heard her right. She thought a mythical beast was killing local livestock? “I don’t think so,” he said politely.
“Eth verdad,” Esperanza said.
Vic looked at Esperanza’s vacant, white eyes. He knew she could barely see, but her gaze still felt like it sank into the very depths of his soul. “A chupacabra killed this animal?” he asked skeptically. “Is that what you’re telling me?”
Esperanza didn’t speak much English, but she clearly understood what he’d said. She nodded and stamped her cane against the earth. “Thi. More will die,” she added.
She oriented her face to Vic, her white eyes like bursts of light that made him want to look away. “Delaney Wetht,” she said quietly, her voice haunted. “Ella está en San Julio.”
Vic surged forward, his heart pounding. Why the hell was she bringing up her? That was the last name on earth he’d expect to hear come out of the old woman’s mouth. Hell, out of anyone’s mouth. “What did you say?”
“Lo thiento, Delaney. Lo thiento.” Esperanza’s wrinkled face went blank and her knees went out from under her. She crumpled to the ground, silent.
Braido took over, helping the curandera up. “I’ll send Animal Services out,” he said as he started to lead her away. “Not sure there’s much else I can do.”
Vic glanced at Red. Apparently he hadn’t heard his daughter’s name mentioned. Or maybe he was just pointedly ignoring Vic as usual. Red and the others were already talking in taut voices, devising watch plans to protect their livestock. But the curandera’s words echoed in Vic’s head. What did Delaney West have to do with any of this?
And what was that she’d said about Delaney being back in San Julio? Since when?
Christ. That’s all he needed.
Three months ago the only thing Vic had to worry about was balancing time between the ranch and the bar. Now he had to contend with protecting the livestock that was his livelihood from some kind of blood sucking goat eater—and deal with the possible return of the woman who’d ripped his heart out with her bare hands. He plowed a hand through his hair. And that wasn’t even counting the eleven-year-old son who’d landed on his doorstep three months ago…and still would barely talk to him.
He’d better start figuring all this out or he’d be in one shitload of trouble.
Melissa Bourbon, the author of the Magical Dressmaking Mysteries (A Seamless Murder, A Killing Notion, A Custom-Fit Crime, Deadly Patterns), sometimes answers to her Latina-by-marriage name, Misa Ramirez. She gave up teaching middle and high school kids in northern California to write full-time amid horses and Longhorns in north Texas. She fantasizes about spending summers writing in quaint, cozy locales, has a love-hate relationship with yoga and chocolate, is devoted to her family, and can’t believe she’s lucky enough to be living the life of her dreams.
I’m a mystery writer. My Lola Cruz Mysteries with are soft-boiled and caperish. My Magical Dressmaking Mysteries and Bread Shop Mysteries are both cozies.
And I have my two romantic suspense based on the haunting Mexican legends of la Llorona and chupacabra. They are much darker than my other books.
Shifting from writing smart, sexy, sassy mysteries to small town cozies to darker romantic suspenses sometimes makes me feel as though I have multiple personality disorder! There's never a dull writing day, that's for sure.
When I began to think about a darker story, I automatically focused on the dark hero. The damaged heroine. It was about that time that I got into Dexter.
I should note here that I have taught creative writing (Southern Methodist University with the creative writing CAPE program). One thing I love about teaching is that it forces me to continue my own learning in new and unexpected ways. Discovering a new (to me) television show and realizing it can teach me something about characterization, is thrilling. I went through this with Supernatural (love love love those Winchester boys). went through it with Lost (rife with conflict, those plane crash victims were). I experienced it with Breaking Bad (Walter White is one heck of a conflicted cancer victim). And I went through it with Dexter.
If you haven’t seen Dexter, here’s the lowdown:
Dexter Morgan is a forensic scientist. He studies blood spatter. This television series is based on a series of novels by Jeff Lindsay, although, in the vein (no pun intended!) of True Blood, the series has taken on a life of its own. My observations are based on the TV series, not the books.
The further into the series I got, the more I wondered:Is Dexter a Villain or a Dark Hero?
My take on Dexter is that he walks a thin line between being a dark hero and a villain. This line is blurry and complicated; he is fascinating, which makes him an excellent case study. One could probably write a dissertation on the subject, in fact. The bottom line? He's a layered character who does horrible things for all the right reasons.
The show has been great food for thought in regards to crafting my own characters (for any of my different series), developing their layers and depths and figuring out how to build conflict into my stories (particularly in the romantic suspenses like the Deadly Legends book, which are, by nature, dark).
When I develop a character, good or bad, I craft his/her moral code. Even the darkest hero and the villain have a moral code. It may be twisted or skewed, but it exists and in his/her mind and actions are justified because of the code. I’ve always written this way, but the point was driven home as I watched the end of season one in Dexter. We begin to see flashbacks to Dexter’s adoptive father and the code he helped Dexter establish. Harry’s Code. It’s the guiding force in Dexter’s life, informing all of his decisions. It’s his moral compass.
Dexter is an anomaly within humanity in that he doesn’t feel anything. He says he has a hole inside him where those feeling should go. If hecouldfeel something, he’d care about his sister, also a cop.
Harry, Dexter’s father, steps in to help Dexter adapt to the world he lives in. He teaches him how to survive, kill effectively and efficiently, how to never get caught, and, on an emotional level, how to interact with the people around him so that he can fit in.
We all have our own moral code, we just don’t recognize it or live by it as intentionally as Dexter. But when crafting a character, knowing his/her code can help you stay authentic to him/her. In my Lola Cruz Mystery series, Bare Naked Lola (book 3), the mystery takes Lola to a nudist resort. The big question is, “Will she or won’t she?” Go naked, I mean. See, Lola lives by a code of striving for gender equality, seeking justice, being true to her sexy, sassy, smart, kick-ass self, preserving her family’s culture within her life, and respecting herself and her family. She’s also a good Catholic girl. A few of these elements conflict when I try to answer the question of whether or not Lola’ll take it all off in order to solve a case.
Harlow Cassidy, the sleuth in Pleating for Mercy, has her own moral code, as well. It revolves around the idea of justice, preserving the safe, small town Texas town she grew up in, and keeping family close and safe. She's not an ends justifies the means kind of woman, but she is a go-getter, willing to put herself on the line if it's the right thing to do.
Just like in Dexter, people can make a choice to go against their code. There are consequences to those decisions, and in a book, that’s exactly what you want. If Lola doesn’t go nude, she upholds parts of her code, but sacrifices other elements. If she does, she may solve the mystery, but will she respect the decision knowing what she did and how she compromised? Does the end justify the means?
In Silent Obsession, someone is killing women and making it look like the drownings of la Llorona, a 500 year old mythic woman (think Madea). The killer lives by his own code and sees what he does as justified. Skewed, yes, but authentic. The characters in Silent Echoes also have their own moral codes.
In good books, conflicts manifest in very unexpected ways. A great character, dark or not, will force us to look more closely at ourselves, to examine what we think and feel, and any character who can make us do that is well worth watching or reading about, and will, ultimately, help us as we build our own conflicted, real characters--no matter how light or dark the book.
◦What do you think of Dexter (if you’ve seen the show and know the character)?
Do you think he’s a villain or a dark hero?
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