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Out of Mind

(The second book in the Court of Angels series)

Stella Cameron

In loving memory of Suzanne Simmons Guntrum, the sister I wish had been my own.


Two hundred pink, spun sugar pigs.

Billy Baker ripped off the top copy of the order and put it with the others on a counter behind him.

The bell still jingled a little on the bakery shop door. Willow Millet had just closed it behind her as she left. Working on her catering jobs—the unusual stuff of course, because that was his specialty—never bored him.

It was almost time to shut the place for the night. He bent over to slide a tray of napoleons from one of the glass cases.

The bell jangled again and the door slammed.

Billy popped up, smiling, always ready to serve a customer. “Hey!”

The shop was empty.

Someone had changed their mind about coming in. Shrugging, he looked down at the confections he had to get put away for the night. Many of them would go for half price in the morning.


The neon open sign in the window went out and the chain that turned it on and off swung a little. He hadn’t touched it.

A sharp sliding sound made him jump. A snap followed and he jumped again. And felt slightly sick.

The long bolt on the door had slid down and seated in its hole in the floor. A sliver of shadow in the rim of light along the jamb showed him the door was locked.

Billy’s rubber-soled shoes squished on the linoleum when he could finally make a move to go around the counter and see who was playing tricks on him.

A needle-sharp prick into the flesh between his eyebrows stopped him where he was. He muttered, “Ouch,” and touched the spot. It left a tiny speck of blood on his finger.


Not in his shop.

But there it was, a buzzing sound. Where… “Damn!” The thing jabbed him again, and again and again on his forehead.

Each time he swiped at his face, more blood smeared his skin.

His heart sped up.

This was stupid. He was panicking over a bee. And the thing was so small he couldn’t even see it.

A jab to his neck all but buckled his knees. It was a sharp, throbbing bite.

Every breath he took got shorter.

He broke out in a sweat. Another poke stung the soft tissue beneath his left eyebrow. His ear was the next target.

Whirling, he flung up his arms, beat the air, blinked while the left eye began to swell. “Get out! Go! Fucking bees!”

“Simone!” He yelled for the girl who did the light, late-day cleanup in the kitchen. “Simone.”

She didn’t come.

Thwack. A hard thing smacked the back of his head. He spun around, but there was nothing to see.

He wanted out of the shop and headed for the door to the kitchens. A broad wing, with spines he could see inside its transparent gray skin, slapped Billy’s face, knocking him backward behind the cases.

Then the poking came in a flurry, thrust knifelike points into his face and neck, his scalp, in rapid succession.

Not a bee, a bird. A bird with a bloated body, wings like spined webs, and no eyes.

Billy got to his feet and reached for the broom. A blow to his head made him giddy and the handle fell from his grasp.

Again, there was no sign of the bird.

The lights went out. It wasn’t dark in the shop yet, just dim. Bile rose in his throat. He had never seen such a creature before and now he couldn’t tell where it had gone. But he could still hear its buzzing noise, or its whirring. The wings set up a roaring and a great current of air swept over the room.

Louder and louder it roared.

From behind the case, rising, came a swift surge of darkness and two black and shining globes. Eyes that must have been shut before they bored into Billy. Talons sprang out, and the beak snapped, shooting out a long, black tongue each time it opened.

And the eyes came straight at Billy, straight at his face, eye to eye.

He opened his mouth to shout again, but a deep, dull pain flowered in the middle of his back. Gasping, clutching at the end of the nearest display case, he saw his cell phone on the counter and reached for it. His fingers slipped on the glass.

He stumbled, gagging.

The tips of two sets of talons embedded in his face, fleetingly.

Back came the bulging eyes and this time they didn’t stop. They collided with his face, and the foul-smelling tongue swiped across his mouth. The beak emitted a harsh, howling caw.

Billy grabbed at his neck and jaw, he pounded a fist into his chest, clawed at the racking pain.

His heart?

Blackness spread from the edges of his vision.

It was done.

Chapter 1

Willow walked quickly along Chartres Street.

Her breathing grew shallower, and the space between her shoulder blades prickled.

Don’t look back. Keep going.

Jazz blared from bars and clubs. People spilling from doorways onto New Orleans’s crowded sidewalks jostled her in the throng. They danced, raised their plastic cups of booze and wiggled the way they never would at home. Colored metallic beads draped necks and more strands were thrown from flower-laden balconies overhead. Laughter and shouting all but drowned out the noise of passing vehicles.

Another French Quarter evening was tuning up.

Her new enemy clawed at the pit of her stomach: panic. Until a few days ago she had been a completely in-charge, take-on-the-world woman. Then she had become convinced she was being followed.

Whenever she left her flat in the Court of Angels behind her family’s antiques shop, J. Clive Millet on Royal Street, someone watched her every move. They were waiting for the right moment to grab her—she was certain of it.

Don’t run.

Sweat stung her eyes, turned her palms slick, and her heart beat so hard and fast she couldn’t swallow.

If she didn’t prefer to ignore the paranormal talents she had in common with the rest of the Millet family, she could come right into the open and ask some or at least one of them for advice. But how could she ask Uncle Pascal, her brother, Sykes; her sister Marley; or even one of her other sisters in London if they would help? Despite some recent slips, she continued to insist she was “normal,” and so were they.

Willow suspected her family watched her more closely these days, which meant they had figured out that she was stressed. Keeping anything from them for long was impossible. She felt the smallest twinge of guilt for enjoying the comfort that gave her.

Why was she only feeling someone shadowing her rather than actually seeing a face? That was one of her talents—she saw the face of a negative human force, sometimes a long time before meeting the person.

This time she couldn’t pick up any image.

Darn it that she was burdened with the Millet mystique. She saw the looks she got. Every New Orleans native knew about the family, which she didn’t think helped her business, Mean ’n Green Concierge, all things domestic, nothing too large or too small. She only mentioned her concierge services in ads she placed for personal assistant services.

The sun was lower, a red ball that seemed to pulse in a purpling haze. And there was no air—just tight, wet pressure. Willow had grown up in the city and loved it, but heat did add to the sense of doom she felt.

Even the scent of flowers cascading from the scrollwork of black iron galleries was too sweet. That didn’t make any sense. Willow loved to smell scented petunias and jasmine, and the rich floral brew that almost overcame the aroma of hot grit and used booze. Not today.

She cut a left onto St. Louis Street. Usually she rode her green-and-white scooter with its little equipment trailer around town, but since she’d only been going to discuss an order with Billy Baker, the specialty baker she used, she’d decided to walk instead.



2011 - 2018