Sacrifice of Passion
Deadly Legends - Book One - by Melissa Bourbon Ramirez
Something 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 dark 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.
Title: Sacrifice of Passion
Author: Melissa Bourbon Ramirez
Genre: Category – Romantic Suspense
Length: 355 pages
Release Date: June 2012
Imprint: Dead Sexy
Praise for Sacrifice of Passion:
“Danger and a mythical beast, true love, and a curse – what a suspenseful, fast-paced story!”
- Karen Whiddon, Bestselling Harlequin Author
“Sacrifice of Passion will keep you up into the wee hours — and you
won’t regret one second of it. Not one.”
- Joyce Lamb, award-winning author of True Vision
“Melissa Bourbon Ramirez’s book breathes new life into the chupacabra legend, putting a fresh, original spin on this classic (and scary!) Latin-American myth (or is it?). Sacrifice of Passion has everything I want in a summer read: riveting suspense, a sigh-worthy romance, beautiful writing, and characters that jump off the page. You won’t regret putting Bourbon Ramirez on your auto-buy list.”
- Tracy Montoya, Daphne-award-winning romantic suspense author
© 2012 Melissa Bourbon Ramirez
San Julio, Texas.
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. “White. I’d lay money there’s hardly an ounce of blood left in the poor thing. It’s been exsanguinated.”
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 had noticed 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 a 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 lisped.
Vic looked at the curandera’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.
Delaney West tossed and turned in her bed. Her head felt heavy on her pillow, darkness swirling in her mind. Fear settled deep in her core, whispering that she wasn’t alone. She thrashed her head back and forth. Tried to open her eyes but couldn’t, as if someone had glued them shut.
She could hear him now. The steady draw of breath. Close. The murmur of his voice. High. Crooning.
A smooth hand touched her belly. Slowly moved to her thigh. The other hand rubbed her shoulder. Slid down to her collarbone.
His murmuring grew louder, winding through the crevices of her brain, circling in and out like eels slithering through a cavernous underwater maze. Persistent. Demanding.
Lovely. So lovely. I’ll help you. I’ll take care of you.
Her mind whirled, battling against the fuzziness. This wasn’t who she was supposed to be with. Her lungs felt heavy. This man was not supposed to be here.
“Vic.” She felt her mouth move, but no sound came out. “Vic,” she mentally pleaded. “Where are you?”
She tried to move but felt chained to the bed. Could barely breathe. As if her body were paralyzed. A scream built in her throat, struggling for release.
She recoiled at that high voice.
Her heart hammered in her chest. The man lowered himself on her, trapping her.
“No!” Her empty voice tried to shout. “Stop!”
She flailed, and then like a rush of water funneling through a drain, the pressure lifted. And suddenly her eyes popped open.
She blinked, her breath ragged. Looked around. She was alone.
Through a haze, she saw her old trophies on the shelf above her desk. Her white vanity was littered with award ribbons from rodeo wins, and the teddy bear Vic had won for her at the town carnival her senior year leaned against the mirror.
But everything was hazy. Colorless. As if she was looking through a thin film of distorted gray gauze.
Something flickered in the corner. Shadows moved. Oh, God. Her breath caught. He was still here. Run!
Adrenaline kicked in and she jumped to her feet. Exploded through the bedroom door. Out the front entry, onto the lawn. Into the darkness.
Her bare feet pounded against the damp grass as she sprinted, forcing herself to go faster. To put distance between her and the man chasing her. Her mind went blank, nothing but the sound of her heart thudding in her ears and the beat of his footsteps closing the distance between them.
She’d get away this time. A hint of relief washed over her. With a quick movement, she darted a glance over her shoulder to see how far ahead she was. The blur of movement right behind her startled a scream from deep inside. He was right there, one step behind. He reached his hand out and grabbed her, his ragged fingernails digging into the soft flesh of her arm, then yanked her to a harsh stop.
Her skin pricked, a million little needles branding where their skin met. She clawed at his fingers. At her body where he’d touched her. Tried to rip away her soiled flesh. Tried to wipe away…him.
A howl echoed in her mind, louder and louder…until it finally released.
And then she was awake.
Blinking, she looked around. Dull moonlight filtered into her consciousness. Her feet felt cold and damp. She saw her parents’ house in the distance, the front door open, the interior of the house lit up like a beacon. She turned and saw the Chain Tree right in front of her. The place Vic was supposed to have met her so many years ago.
Nightmares had forced her outside, just like in her dream. Just like they always did.
Coming back to San Julio to face her demons definitely wasn’t working.
She looked down at herself, her stomach roiling. The T-shirt and panties she’d gone to bed in were torn, her stomach and breasts exposed. Scratches marked her skin, as if she’d fought off a monster and won.
But she hadn’t won. She never won.
Backing off the lawn, she wrapped her arms around herself.
She’d been dreaming again. Sleepwalking again. Reliving the same nightmare she’d had for the past twelve years. She never saw his face, never escaped his touch.
Desperation filled her. How much more could she take before she lost her mind altogether?
Tears pooled in her eyes. She couldn’t think or feel or process, but she couldn’t stay outside. She staggered forward, toward the house. She ran faster, but couldn’t outrun her nightmares.
She’d tried. Over and over again, she’d tried.
But the nightmares invaded her sleep. And in her sleep, she ran. Because of that night, she’d lost everything. Her chance to go to college. Her childhood friendships. Peace.
Not that Vic was the monster who she ran from in the night. She tried not to blame him. But he’d abandoned her. Left her there for someone else. Someone evil. She burst through the open door of her parents’ house, slammed it shut, and collapsed against the demons outside clamoring to get in.
She couldn’t let her nightmares come back.