Menyara Chartier, a tiny, frail African American woman was sitting in front of the grave, talking in a whisper to his mother while she arranged bouquets of white lilies. The Voodoo High Priestess paused mid-sentence and turned her head as if she knew who would be there.
“Ni…” she frowned, catching herself from saying the rest of his name.
“Aunt Mennie,” Nick said, his voice catching as he closed the distance between them. She’d been the tenant in the room next to theirs where he’d grown up and she’d been the woman who had delivered him since his mother hadn’t been able to afford a hospital stay. Menyara had been the closest thing to family he and Cherise had known. “You’re still here.”
She rose slowly to her feet. At four feet ten, she shouldn’t have been intimidating to anyone above the age of five and yet there was something so powerful about her that it had never failed to quell him. Without thinking he swept her up into his arms and held her close.
“I knew you would return,” she breathed before she kissed him on his branded cheek. “Your mother, she told me to watch for you.”
To anyone else, that comment might have seemed odd. But Menyara was a gifted clairvoyant. She knew things no one else did.
“I didn’t kill my mother,” he said as he set her down again. That was the vicious rumor that had been going around.
She patted his arm. “I know, Ambrosius. I know.” She turned and indicated the tomb. “Every day I have come for you to let Cherise know she wasn’t alone.”
He looked down at the stacks of flowers that were arranged around the tomb and saw where a small group of black roses were blooming in a tiny patch of earth. “You bring her flowers?”
“No. I only arrange those the dark-haired man sends.”
Nick frowned. “Dark-haired man?”
“Your friend. Acheron. Whenever he’s in town, he comes and he visits too. And every day without fail he sends over flowers for your mother to see.”
His blood ran cold. “He’s not my friend, Menyara.”
“You may not be his friend, Ambrosius, but he is yours.”
Yeah, right. Friends didn’t screw each other over the way Nick had been screwed by Ash. “You don’t know him. What he’s capable of.”
She shook her head at him. “Ah, but I do. Even better than you, I think. I know exactly who and what he is. I know exactly what he can do. And more to the point I know what he cannot do. Or what he dare not do.” Her features softened as she touched his brand, but said nothing about its presence. “All your life, I have watched you. Your mama always say that you react without thought. You feel too deep. Mourn too great. But one day, Ambrosius, you will see that you and your friend are not so different. That there is much of you inside him.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t walk out on my friends and I damn sure don’t hurt them.”