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In Deep Voodoo
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"I could kill Deke for this," Penny Francisco said, peering with a tiny pair of binoculars through the mini-blinds that covered a window of her health food store, The Charm Farm.
The normally sleepy two-lane Charm Street bustled with early traffic for the annual Voodoo Festival. But in between the passing cars, Penny had managed to get a good look at the Victorian house heavy with ornate cast ironwork that she had bought, refurbished, and lived in with Deke Black, attorney-at-law, until their explosive breakup a few months ago. A painting crew was methodically covering the rich color of Vanilla Milk, which she had lovingly chosen from thousands of paint chips, with what looked to be Pink Nightmare.
She ground her teeth until her jaw ached. "Just look at what he's doing to my house!"
"Let me guess," Marie, her quirky employee of six months, said from behind the juice bar, where she was refilling canisters of vitamin additives. "He's painting it."
Penny looked at the woman suspiciously -- many people in town had insinuated that eccentric Marie Gaston with the electric blue hair had a "third eye." "How did you know that?"
"I saw Lou Hall's painting van pull up as I was coming in this morning."
Penny frowned and looked back out the window. "Deke's not just painting my house -- he's painting it Puke Pink."
"But it's his house now."
"Still. I can't believe the historical society would allow him to paint my house pink."
"It helps that his mother is mayor," Marie offered dryly. "And it's his house now, boss."
"But I have to look at it every day." Penny jammed her hand into her coarse auburn curls as frustration billowed in her chest. Moisture gathered in the corners of her eyes, but she quickly blinked it away -- no more tears over Deke Black. "He did this just to annoy me."
"Probably." Marie cleared her throat. "Although I heard down at the Hair Affair that, um, Sheena was planning to redecorate."
Penny stiffened, pain knifing between her shoulder blades. Deke's mistress. Girlfriend. Tart. Practically everyone in the town of Mojo, Louisiana, knew about Deke's fooling around. The fact that he had moved litigious Sheena Linder into the home he and Penny had bought together was the ultimate humiliation. "I can't believe that I have to live over the doughnut shop and that woman will be living in my house."
"You live over a beignet shop. And it's his house, boss."
"The bastard could have waited until the ink was dry on the divorce papers."
"Uh-huh. Well, maybe Sheena will fall in the shower and sue him. Lord knows she's sued almost everyone else in town."
"And Deke defended her the last few times she allegedly injured herself."
"If it's any consolation, I heard she slipped on a spilled Yoohoo in the Quickie Mart last week and is laid up again."
"As if the woman needed a reason to be on her back," Penny muttered, her blood boiling.
The soaring pin oak tree that had first drawn her to the Victorian on Charm Street was ablaze with deep red foliage typical for early October. The glorious ruby color clashed horrifically with the vicious pink hue the painters were rolling onto the wood siding -- another insult. The last time the leaves had been red -- this time last year -- she had been happy . . . mostly.
Last summer had been fraught with stress as she had debated whether or not to clear the land they owned behind The Charm Farm to plant an organic vegetable garden. Deke had been vehemently opposed to the idea, saying he had other plans for the empty half-acre lot, but Penny had had the distinct feeling that her husband had been trying to undermine her business, which he had pooh-poohed from the beginning. When she'd first suggested that they convert the small rental house across the street that his father had given him into a retail business, Deke had made her feel foolish.
"A health food store in Mojo?" He'd laughed until his eyes had run. "Maybe a fish and chips joint. In case you haven't noticed, honey, the deep south really means the deep fried south."
Hurt, but determined to put her rusty nutrition degree and homeopathic know-how to good use, Penny had persisted. After a rocky start, her enterprise had taken off. As it turned out, the residents of Mojo preferred home remedies to fancy doctoring, and The Charm Farm's inventory of roots, herbs, and vitamins fit the bill nicely.
But while her business had grown steadily, the law practice that Deke had taken over from his father had started to slide. Two of his big manufacturing clients had jumped to more tony law firms in nearby New Orleans. Deke had begun to supplement his client list with personal injury cases, and supplement his diet with bourbon.
The downturn in his business had coincided perfectly with a midlife crisis. One day he had driven home a new fire engine red two-seater Lotus Elise. That was about the same time Penny had found brochures for hair transplants in his briefcase. With new lingerie and lots of TLC, she had tried to head off what had seemed to be an inevitable affair, but in the end, terminally tanned and ferociously feminine Sheena Linder had been too much for a simple man like Deke to resist.
Penny and Sheena weren't complete strangers. The women had met once when Penny had visited Sheena's Forever Sun tanning salon and asked that Sheena give her customers a flyer on the dangers of tanning so they could make a more informed decision before roasting themselves. Sheena had called her the "c" word and had thrown her out of Forever Sun, threatening to sue for trespassing and mental anguish. Penny found out later that her trip to the tanning salon had prompted Sheena to see Deke about possibly filing a lawsuit . . .
Excerpted from In Deep Voodoo by Stephanie Bond. Copyright © 2005 by Stephanie Bond. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.