Home > Moonlight Scandals (de Vincent #3)

Moonlight Scandals (de Vincent #3)
Jennifer L. Armentrout

Chapter 1

Resting on her knees, Rosie Herpin drew in a deep, calming breath as she ignored the sharp pebbles digging into her skin. She leaned forward, flattening her palm against the warm, sun-bleached stone. Kneeling wasn’t exactly comfortable in a wrap dress, but she wasn’t going to wear jeans or leggings today.

She closed her eyes, sliding her hand down and to the right, tracing the shallow indentations painstakingly carved into the worn stone. She didn’t need to see to know she’d reached the name—his name.

Ian Samuel Herpin.

Dragging her fingers over each letter, she mouthed them silently, and when she finished, reaching the N on the last name, she stopped. Rosie didn’t need to keep going to know what the dates read underneath. Ian had been twenty-three. And she didn’t need to open her eyes to read the single line etched into the stone, because that line had been carved into her brain.

May he find the peace that had evaded him in life.

Rosie jerked her fingers off the stone, but she didn’t open her eyes as she brought her hand to her chest, to right above her heart. She hated those words. His parents, bless them, had chosen that, and she hadn’t the heart or the mind at the time to disagree. Now she wished she had.

Peace hadn’t evaded Ian. Peace had been right there, waiting for him, surrounding him. Peace just . . . it just couldn’t reach him.

That was different.

At least to Rosie it was.

Ten years had passed since their plans for the future—plans that had included college degrees, the house with a beautiful courtyard, babies, and maybe, God willing, grandbabies they could spend their days in retirement spoiling—ended with a gun Rosie hadn’t even known her husband owned.

Ten years of replaying the time they did have together, over and over, looking for the signs that everything they had been and everything they were supposed to have become was a facade, because they were living two different lives. Rosie had believed that things were perfect. Yeah, they had problems like everyone had problems, but there was nothing major going on. But for Ian? His life hadn’t been perfect at all. Things had been a struggle. Not a constant one. Not something he’d faced every day. What had preyed on his thoughts and emotions had been well hidden. His depression had been a silent killer. There hadn’t been a single person, not his family or his friends or even Rosie, who had seen it coming.

Not until many, many years later, after a hell of a lot of soul-searching, did Rosie come to the shaky realization that their life hadn’t been a total lie. She’d struggled through all the stages of grief before getting to that point. Some of it had been truth. Ian had loved her. She knew that was true. He’d loved her with everything inside him.

High school sweethearts.

That’s what they’d been.

They’d married the summer after they’d graduated and both of them worked hard to make a life, maybe a little too hard, and that had added to what had troubled him. He’d spent long days at the sugar refinery while Rosie attended Tulane, working toward a degree in education. They talked about those plans—a future, one that she now knew Ian had desperately wanted more than anything.

She was twenty-three, almost done with her degree, and they’d been looking for their first home when Rosie got the call from the police while at her parents’ bakery in the city and was told not to go home.

She’d been a month shy of graduation when Ian called the police and told them what he was about to do. They were just beginning the stressful process of applying for a mortgage when she learned that her husband of almost five years hadn’t wanted her to be the one to come home and discover him. It had been a week before his birthday when their walking, living, and breathing all-American dream turned into an all-American tragedy.

For so many years, she never understood why he did what he did. So many years of being so damn angry and so damn guilty, feeling like she should’ve seen something, could’ve done something. It wasn’t until she went to the University of Alabama and enrolled in the psychology program that she began to accept there’d been warning signs—red flags that most people would never have picked up on.

She learned through classes and her own experience that depression looked nothing like what people thought—like what she had thought.

Ian smiled and lived, but he’d done that for Rosie. He’d done that for his family and friends. He smiled, laughed, and got up each day and went to work, made plans and had lazy Sundays with her so she wouldn’t worry about him or feel bad. He didn’t want her to feel the same way he felt.

And he’d kept doing that until he couldn’t any longer.

Guilt finally turned to regret, and regret lessened until it was a kernel of emotion that would always, no matter what, be there when she really let herself think about where they’d be, who’d they’d be, if things had been different. And that was, well, it was life.

He’d been gone now longer than she knew him, and while each month, each year, got easier, it still killed her a little to even say his name.

Rosie didn’t believe you could simply move on from losing someone you truly loved, someone who was not only your best friend but your other half. You didn’t get back that part of you that you irrevocably gave to another person. When they left, that part disappeared forever with them. But Rosie believed you could come to accept that they were no longer there and keep living and enjoying life.

There wasn’t anything she was prouder of than the fact that she did just that. No one, not a single damn person could say she was weak, that she didn’t dust off her ass and pick herself back up, because you could never begin to understand the turbulent, ever-changing whirlwind of utterly violent emotions that came with losing someone you cherished more than anything in this world to their own hand.

No one.

She got not one or two degrees, but three of them. She went out and had fun, the crazy fun that sometimes felt like it was moments away from becoming the kind of fun that ended with the police showing up. She took what used to be a curiosity for all things paranormal, an interest she shared with Ian, and turned it into a legitimate side career where she’d met some of the best people in the world. Rosie also dated. Often. Hell, she’d just gone out with a guy at the beginning of the week she’d met while working at her parents’ bakery. And she never held back. Never. Life was too damn short to do that.

That she had learned the hard way.

But today, on the tenth anniversary of Ian’s death, it was hard not to feel like it happened yesterday. It was almost impossible to not be cloaked in suffocating sadness.

Reaching around her neck, she tugged on the gold chain she always wore. She pulled it out from under the collar of her dress, curling her fingers around the gold band. Her husband’s ring. She lifted it to her lips and kissed the warm metal.

One day she would put this ring away somewhere safe. She knew that, but that one day just hadn’t come yet.

Opening her eyes, she blinked back tears as she lowered her gaze to the bouquet of fresh flowers resting on the ground. Peonies. Her favorite, because Ian didn’t have a favorite flower. They were half-bloomed mignon peonies, crisp white with pink centers that would eventually turn all white. Picking up the damp stems, she inhaled the rich, rose fragrance.

Rosie needed to get going. She’d promised to help her friend Nikki move today, so it was time to head back to her apartment, get changed, and be a good friend for the day. She leaned—

A soft, swift curse jerked her head up. Normally, she didn’t hear a ton of cursing in a cemetery. Usually things were quite quiet. A faint grin tugged at her lips. Cursing and cemeteries typically did not go hand in hand. She scanned the narrow path to her right and didn’t see anything. Leaning back, she looked to her left and found the source.

A man knelt on one knee with his back to her as he picked up flowers that had fallen into a puddle left by the recent rainstorm. Even from where she sat, she could see that whatever delicate bouquet he’d carried was ruined.

Placing a hand over her eyes, she squinted in the sunlight as she watched the man rise. He was dressed as if he’d come straight from work. Dark trousers paired with a fitted white dress shirt. The sleeves were rolled up to the elbows, revealing tan forearms. It was late September and New Orleans was still circling the seventh level of hot, currently as humid as Satan’s balls in the afternoon, so she figured if she was close to dying in her black dress, he had to be minutes away from stripping off the shirt.

Still standing with his back to her, he stared down at the ruined flowers. His shoulders were tense as he turned in the other direction. His pace was brisk as he took the flowers over to an old oak tree festooned with Spanish moss. There was a small trash can there, one of the very few in the entire cemetery. He tossed the flowers and then pivoted, quickly disappearing down one of the numerous lanes.

Oh man, that sucked.

Feeling for the guy, she sprang into action. Carefully, she pulled half of the stems free and then leaned forward, placing the remaining in the vase in front of the Herpin tomb. She picked up her keys and as she rose, she slid her purple-framed sunglasses on. Hurrying down the worn path with patchy grass, she turned down the lane she’d seen the guy go down. Luck was on her side, because she saw him near the pyramid tomb. He hung a right there, and feeling a wee bit like a stalker, she trailed behind him.

Of course, she could yell out to him and just hand him the other half of the peonies, but shouting at a stranger in a cemetery just seemed wrong. Shouting in a cemetery at all felt like something her mother would side-eye her over.

And no one side-eyed quite like her mother.

The man made another turn and then stepped out of her line of sight. Holding on to the flowers, she walked passed a tomb with a large cross and then her steps slowed.

She found him.

He was standing before a massive mausoleum, one guarded by two beautifully erected weeping angels, and he was just standing there, as still as those angels, his arms stiff at his sides and his hands closed. She took a step forward as her gaze drifted to the name on the mausoleum.

de Vincent.

Her eyes widened and she blurted out, “Holy baby llama.”

The man twisted at the waist, and Rosie was suddenly standing within mere feet of the Devil.

That was what the gossip magazines called him.

That was what most of her family called him.

Rosie liked to refer to him as in her wildest dreams .

Everyone in New Orleans, the state of Louisiana, and probably more than half the country knew who Devlin de Vincent was. Besides all the photos of him and his fiancée that were constantly posted in the Living and Leisure section of the newspaper, he was the eldest of three remaining de Vincent siblings, the heirs to the kind of fortune Rosie, along with most of the world, couldn’t even begin to wrap their heads around.

What a small world.

That was all she could think as she stared at him. Her friend Nikki worked for the de Vincents. Well, she worked temporarily for them and currently had something going on with the middle brother. That whole situation was an absolute mess at the moment, and Gabriel de Vincent was currently on the Boyfriends Who Needed to Get Their Shit Together list.

But the de Vincents’ notorious fame or her friend’s on-again, off-again relationship with Gabe weren’t the only reasons why she knew more about them than the average bear.

It was because of their home—their land.

The de Vincent estate was one of the most haunted locations in the entire state of Louisiana. Rosie knew this because she had been a bit obsessed with all the legends surrounding the land and the family, one that included a curse . Yes. The family and the land were supposedly cursed. How cool was that? Okay, probably not cool to those involved, but Rosie was fascinated by the whole thing.

From the research Rosie had done eons ago, it all stemmed from the land itself. New Orleans had been plagued with many virulent outbreaks in the late eighteen hundreds and the early nineteen hundreds. Smallpox. Spanish influenza. Yellow fever. Even the bubonic plague. Thousands of people died and many more were quarantined. Often, the dead and the dying were sent to the same place, left to rot away. The land that the de Vincent home sat on was one of the areas popularly used throughout many of the outbreaks. Even once the house was originally built, lands near the property were still used in the later outbreaks. All that sickness and death, mixed with heartbreak and hopelessness, were going to leave some bad vibes behind.

And boy did the de Vincent land have some bad vibes.

The house itself had caught fire multiple times. The fires could easily be explained, but all the strange deaths? There was the stuff her friend Nikki had told her. Then there was the de Vincent curse, and even more crazy?

Ley lines.

Ley lines were basically straight lines of energy that traveled all over the earth and were believed to have spiritual connections. The very line that extended from Stonehenge, moved across the Atlantic, and passed through cities like New York, Washington, D.C., New Orleans. And, according to her research, straight through the de Vincent property.

Rosie would do bad, terrible things to get inside that house and investigate.

But that was unlikely to ever happen. When Rosie had mentioned it to Nikki, she was shot down faster than her running after freshly baked beignets.

She’d never met a de Vincent before and definitely not the Devlin de Vincent, but she’d seen enough pictures of him to know that Devlin just . . . well, he just did it for her.

That indefinable thing that got her hormones revving like a 1967 Impala. Wide-shouldered and narrow at the waist, the man was tall, well over six feet. His dark hair was coiffed and styled short. He had the kind of face that was universally handsome. High, broad cheekbones and a straight, aquiline nose paired with a set of full lips that came with a perfect Cupid’s bow. He had a square, hard jaw and a chin with a slight cleft in it.

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