Jed's Sweet Revenge, p.1Deborah Smith
“I’m gonna teach you to throw a lasso, Thena,” Jed drawled.
He sidled around behind her. and she felt every inch of her skin pull tight as his hands slid down her arms to her wrists. So this was his tactic, the old touch-and-snuggle method of instruction.
“Now hold it easy,” he said as he guided her fingers into position. His breath was warm and fragrant against her neck. “Don’t hold too tight, or it might not do what you want. Don’t hold too loose, or it’ll get away from you.”
He ran his fingers up her bare arms as he stepped back. “Go ahead, swing it.”
She was so distracted by the tickling warmth that had invaded her body that she let the loop get too big. Suddenly the twirling stopped—the loop had caught Jed around the neck!
“Mercy, ma’am. I’ll come along peaceably. Just be gentle when you break me.” He stepped close to her and molded both hands to her waist. “Break me, Thena,” he whispered in her ear. “Take me apart and put me together again. You’ve got the power to do it.…”
JED’S SWEET REVENGE
A Bantam Book / March 1988
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Copyright © 1988 by Deborah Smith.
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To Polly, who knows the value of a fine book, congenial company, and friendly ducks.
“Wait, child, wait! I have to tell you! Trouble gonna fall!”
Startled, Thena Sainte-Colbet lifted her silver eyes and cupped a hand over them to block the intense Georgia sun. At once she spotted a wiry, ancient black woman marching quickly toward her across the scarred wood of the Dundee municipal dock.
Shrimpers and pleasure fishermen eyed the odd, energetic little woman with amusement. A faded print dress billowed about her thin body as she came to a hurried stop at the edge of the creaking planks and looked down, her face scarred deeply with lines of worry.
“You always fret about me too much, Beneba,” Thena said in mild reproach. With movements made sure and graceful from years of experience, Thena left her old cabin cruiser’s open cockpit and climbed atop the walkabout. She smiled. “I’m going to come over to St. Andrew’s and see your new dock tomorrow,” Thena added. “I’d visit today, but the pelicans ate five of my tomato plants and I want to set out some new plants this afternoon.” She glanced around the municipal docks. “Where did you leave your skiff?”
“Don’t turn the subject, child. Don’t talk to me like I’m old and crazy,” Beneba Everett said in a broken voice.
Thena’s eyes flickered with surprise. She quickly maneuvered her way between crates of groceries and other supplies stacked on the cruiser’s creaking fore-deck and stepped over the bow railing. Beneba stuck out a scrawny hand and Thena grasped it, frowning as she did. The elderly woman wasn’t being playful. She was truly upset.
“Trouble gonna fall!” Beneba repeated. Thena knew that Beneba only slipped into the odd phrasing of the old Gullah coastal dialect when she was very upset.
“Trouble’s coming to me?” Thena asked. She shook her head. “Maybe if I lived here on the mainland. But out on the island I’m protected, Grandmother.” It didn’t matter that their skins were different colors and their families unrelated. Beneba had always been her grandmother.
“I seen it, child. Change in the wind. Trouble is comin’. Not like before, when it found you on the mainland. This time it reaches all the way to your island. I dreamed it.”
Descended from Jamaican slaves and Creek Indians, Beneba had a rich heritage of mysticism. She’d been born with a caul over her face. She spoke to ghosts. She also foretold the future, sometimes with disturbing accuracy. Thena felt a chill creep along the back of her neck.
Beneba kept holding her hand, and they sat down together on the hot pine planks. Thena tucked her loose smock between her knees and let her bare legs swing over the green water of the Atlantic.
“What kind of trouble, Grandmother?”
“I don’t know for certain. In the dream I heard a man with a voice like low thunder. A man from somewhere far away. He could hurt you and the island. I don’t know if he will. I can’t tell.”
Thena laughed to cover the trickle of fear that ran down her spine. “I’ll pepper his behind with buckshot and the dogs will chew his hide. Everyone knows that I can take care of my island and myself. Look, Grandmother.” She pulled a wad of bills out of a pocket in her smock. “I sold four of my watercolor paintings to the tourists today. Two hundred dollars. I’m having good luck, not bad.”
Swollen rain clouds pushed in front of the July sun and shadows covered the ocean. Thena squinted toward the horizon, suddenly wishing she were back on the island that lay just out of sight. A gull screamed with a strange note that cooled her tanned skin.
“Child, I’m afraid,” Beneba warned. Her pure white hair was wound in a fat braid around her head. When she nodded in rhythm with her words, her braid nearly tumbled loose. “The signs say maybe bad luck, child. Change. The man will come and change everything. You watch out. Keep your eyes to the beaches and the coves and watch for him.”
Dark lashes the color of mahogany closed over Thena’s narrowed eyes. “No one can hurt me,” she said grimly. “When I’m on my island, I’m safe.”
The gull screamed again.
“From this man, you will not be safe,” Beneba whispered.
“Yep, that’s what Sancia is. A haunted island, owned by a witch woman.”
Jed Powers looked calmly at grizzled Farlo Briggs, who pressed a surprised, rheumy gaze on him and his answer. Farlo silently steered his fishing boat toward the green jewel of land growing larger on the horizon. Then he spoke loudly to be heard above the chug of the engine and the slap of salt water against the boat’s bow.
“Mr. Powers, you sayin’ it ain’t haunted or it ain’t owned by a witch?”
“How so? H. Wilkens Gregg of New damn York used to own Sancia, but we ain’t seen or heard from him in forty years. Everybody around here figures it belongs to the witch woman, Thena Sainte-Colbet, now.”
“H. Wilkens was my grandpa. He left the island to me when he died last year.”
Jed almost smiled at the disbelievi
“Son, you sure don’t look rich like a Gregg. You don’t look like New damn York, neither. And I’ll tell you another thing. Them cowboy boots ain’t right for island walkin’.”
“Reckon that’s all true.”
Farlo waited for an explanation that never came. The pungent ocean air rushed through the big windows of the boat’s canopy, and the engine grumbled beneath their feet. It was a southern July day, but the wind made it temperate.
“You ain’t much for yakkin’, are you, Mr. Powers? What you’re doin’ here ain’t none of my bizness, is it?”
“You talk funny. Where you from?”
“You ever seen the ocean before?”
“Mr. Powers, you sure you want to camp on that damned island for three days? I can come back early.”
“Yup. I want to have enough time to look the place over. I don’t mean to ever come back again. I’m gonna sell it.”
“Well, if you run up on that witch woman, cross yourself and don’t look her straight in the eye, ’cause she might put a spell on you. She growed up around old Beneba Everett, and Beneba is a witch. She taught her everything she knows.”
Jed leaned in his usual posture—relaxed, but ready for whatever came his way—against a metal support for the boat’s canopy. Standing six feet tall, he had a tough, work-honed frame without a spare ounce of fat on it. Fact and image bespoke a purposeful strength of character and body.
Now he squinted at the approaching island, and his mouth slid into a slight smile. The lawyers had told him when he inherited this godforsaken place that the official caretaker, Lewis Simmons, had died in 1950, and that his relatives had taken up squatter’s rights on Sancia ever since.
He’d give this Thena, this last squatter, a few thousand dollars so she could find herself another place to live, and she’d probably be thrilled to leave. Farlo’s beer-stained voice broke into his thoughts.
“… and it’s the ghost of Sarah Gregg ridin’ that horse on the beach, ridin’ just like she did forty years ago ’fore she was killed by a hurricane. Your grandma Sarah was a beautiful woman.” Farlo paused for effect as the white dunes and lush forest of Sancia Island began to take specific form in front of them. Jed was surprised to see how large it was. The western beach stretched for at least a couple of miles. “If you see her, you just tell her who you are and she’ll leave you be.”
Jed arched one brown brow. “I don’t believe in ghosts. And if I did, I don’t reckon any Gregg family ghosts would want to talk to me.” He shook his head. Sancia was Latin for “sanctuary,” the lawyers had mentioned. Well, it was sure as hell no sanctuary for him. It was only the relic of an arrogant family that had deserted his mother because she’d married a cowboy with no money. His father. Jed had a score to settle with the past, and Sancia Island was the means to do it.
Jed wasn’t much of a poet, and he struggled to describe what he felt as he watched the sun sink over the ocean in breathtaking mists of magenta and gold.
It makes me feel good, but sad, he thought. Then he drew his mouth into a grimace of self-rebuke. That didn’t make sense. Or maybe it did, and he just felt awkward trying to analyze his emotions. He thought of himself as a simple man with simple reactions, and he didn’t like feeling confused, as he did now. Jed had no love for the island, but its beauty made him ache with a wistful mixture of pain and pleasure.
He shook his head at the softheaded thoughts. Bulldozers. That’s what this place needed. Bulldozers and construction crews and condominiums for slick, silly rich people.
“Hold on, hoss,” he said aloud. “You got fifteen million bucks and an island, so don’t go talkin’ about rich people. And you’re soundin’ pretty damned silly yourself at this particular minute.”
The spoken words whisked away in the wind, and Jed had an odd sense of having been overheard by something or someone. Feeling uncharacteristically vulnerable, he clamped his mouth shut and listened to waves whisper against the sand a hundred yards away. Huge sand dunes hid his sitting place on both sides, and tall sea oats waved around him like Wyoming range grass. The oats made him feel a little more at home.
Gulls—the noisiest, craziest birds he’d ever seen—swooped and circled against the canopy of the deep, darkening blue sky. A pair of brown pelicans rode the ocean swells like small boats. A breeze caressed Jed’s face with the contented sigh of a happy lover.
He shivered for no good reason except that he suddenly pictured his beautiful society-matron grandmother, Sarah Gregg, riding a horse along the white beach that flattened out beyond the dunes. Jed closed his eyes. Damned place is hypnotic, he thought in new dismay. Ghosts, what foolishness that old fisherman talked.…
The sound of galloping hooves made him open his eyes.
Jed leapt into a crouching position, his sharp reflexes ready for whatever he might encounter. He didn’t know what he’d do if an apparition floated into view beyond the sand dunes, but he’d think of something. Pure craziness, he told himself quickly. There’s no such thing as ghosts. But he felt his heart rhythm echo the approaching hoofbeats.
What galloped into view was indeed an apparition, but a living one. Jed heard the explosion of air that swept out of his lungs in relief.
“What the …” he began, and stopped. Everything stopped—his breath, his thoughts, his awareness of the rest of the world. In all his thirty-two years, he’d never seen anyone as beautiful.
She rode the dainty little mare bareback, controlling her with nothing but body language and the subtle movements of a rope attached to a nylon halter on the mare’s delicate head. A thin white dress, sleeveless and scoop-necked, exposed her slender arms and graceful shoulders. The dress was wrapped haphazardly around a pair of golden, strong legs that clung expertly to the mare’s sides.
A trio of tongue-lolling dogs, one small and two very large, circled the prancing horse. An elegant hawk with dark auburn wings nearly the same color as the woman’s luxuriant hair hung suspended over her for a moment, then swooped down to the sand and calmly curved its wings against its sides.
A dream. I’m having a dream, Jed thought in awe. He didn’t want to wake up.
She slid off the mare and immediately whirled around in an uninhibited show of happiness, her arms spread wide, her head thrown back. The sunset framed her with glowing magic. The dogs barked cheerfully and the mare trotted up and down the beach, shaking her head and snorting. The hawk lazily nudged a periwinkle shell with its beak and fluttered its wings in an attitude of haughty disdain for more boisterous pursuits.
“Thena Sainte-Colbet?” Jed whispered. “Is this my squatter? Great gosh a’mighty.”
He tilted his head to one side, his mouth open, his usual squint-eyed toughness replaced by pure enchantment. A second later he felt tickling goose bumps spread from the back of his neck down his entire body. She was undressing.
The white smock fell at her feet and she stood by the ocean completely, beautifully naked, her back to him. With the freedom of someone accustomed to total privacy, she languidly stroked her hands through the dark brown mane of hair that cascaded between her shoulder blades. Jed’s body’s distinctly male response told him that from this view, at least, she was nearly flawless.
“Thank you, God, for this lovely day!” she yelled toward the blazing sunset. Jed smiled at the sound of her voice—Southern and yet oddly lilting, mixed with some pretty accent he couldn’t place. She walked into the waves like a goddess, and when the water swirled around the tapering indentation of her waist, she dove forward and began to swim.
For fifteen minutes he watched in wonder as she cut through the water just beyond the whitecaps. Something might hurt her, he worried. He didn’t like swimming, not even in swimming pools, and for sure not in this huge tub
When she did, the pleasant but disturbing sensations inside him accelerated. Jed was no stranger to the hot, tight feelings of physical need. But the sight of her wet body, the breasts full and high, water streaming down the gentle slopes and curves into the triangle of dark hair between her legs, brought back his earlier feeling of bittersweet spiritual pain. She rivaled the sunset, making him ache. She was even more beautiful than a mountain wildflower.
His brows flattened in a frown as he watched her limp onto the beach, favoring her right knee in a casual way that told him the limp was an old companion. She worked her knee back and forth for a moment, then walked on, the limp less pronounced.
Even after she slipped back into her dress, he thought she looked beautiful. She slung the water out of her hair with the exuberance of a playful child.
“Let’s go home, critters!” she called. Jed shook his head, not believing the quick and loyal way they reacted to her voice. The mare, a unique palomino-roan color with a white mane and tail, waited with absolute stillness as the woman swung up on her back. The hawk rose in the air and led the way back up the beach, and the dogs raced alongside as the mare broke into an easy gallop.
Jed felt as if the light dimmed after the woman and her animals disappeared from view. He sat back weakly and strained his ears to catch every retreating hoofbeat and the slap of the dogs’ feet on wet sand. Then he found himself alone again with the ocean and the sunset. Darkness was falling, and he knew he had to get up and walk back to his campsite, a mile up the beach. He had to get up. He had to.
But Jed Powers, born poor and raised hard, a ranchhand and rodeo rider who’d had most of the softness worked out of him at an early age, the son of a hell-raising father who’d taught him never to flinch, began to curse when he realized that he was trembling all over.
“Ma petites, there you go. Breakfast.”
Thena spread birdseed on the faded gray wood of the windowsill. She stepped back gingerly and watched as tiny wrens gathered there, peeping and pecking for food. She spoke to them for several minutes, this time completely in French.
Jed's Sweet Revenge by Deborah Smith / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes