Leslie Moore is struggling to get through her last semester at St. Benedict High. Even her relationship with her boyfriend Derek is falling apart. But after receding floodwaters from the Bogue Falaya River expose the bones of a woman, Leslie becomes obsessed with tracking down the killer.
Sightings of an apparition haunting The Abbey send Leslie and her friends back to the scene of the horrors from last Halloween, but no one is prepared for what they find.
After a stranger—the handsome Luke Cross—arrives in town, another girl goes missing, and the sheriff suspects the newcomer is hiding something. Leslie believes the Devereaux family is connected to everything going wrong in St. Benedict. And she means to uncover the truth, no matter the cost.
Not all secrets can be kept silent. Some eventually find their way home.
“Come not within the measure of my wrath.”
Sweat gathered under the brim of Kent Davis’s Stetson as he walked the sandy beach along the Bogue Falaya River. He didn’t feel the brisk January breeze or pay attention to the mutterings of the forensic team. The unease burning in his gut shut out all distractions. He rested his hand on his belt, brushing against his Louisiana sheriff’s badge. The rub of metal reminded him of the oath he’d sworn to protect and serve, but on days like this, he hated his job.
Dispatch had initially deemed the early morning call from a frantic jogger a hoax. After an officer confirmed there was a body, Kent arrived at the scene to confront his worst nightmare—another murder. He already had three unsolved deaths weighing heavily on his department. Two high school students and a woman from out of town had died there in a matter of months. City leaders had been breathing down his neck for answers.
Kent studied the black body bag the technicians carried. This was only going to make his job harder.
His crew combed the beach, where receding floodwaters had exposed a young woman’s grave. From the looks of her bleached bones, partially covered in the remnants of a red dress, she’d been there for quite some time. He doubted they’d find anything admissible. There would be trace evidence, but no footprints, no debris, no blood, and no signs of struggle.
He climbed the steep hill from the beach to the parking area, scanning for any clues. Everywhere was a potential crime scene. After years of being in law enforcement, he doubted he could see the world in any other way.
“I don’t like this one bit, Bill,” Kent said, approaching the heavyset coroner waiting by the open doors of his van.
“What’s there to like. We got a dead girl who’s been buried here a long time.” Dr. Bill Broussard removed a pair of black-framed glasses from his egg-shaped head. “You might find a lead in old missing persons reports.”
“I’ll access the St. Tammany Parish database when I get to the station. Until then, she’s a Jane Doe.” Kent eyed the coroner’s van. “How long will it take to know something?”
Bill cleaned his glasses and moved out of the way while a technician slammed the doors closed. He waited until the man climbed into the driver’s side before responding. “You realize workin’ with old bones makes it harder to identify the cause of death. Let me get her to the lab, then we’ll see.”
“I got enough going on with Beau Devereaux, Dawn Moore, and Andrea Harrison.” Kent tipped back his hat. “This makes four bodies and no leads.”
“As soon as people catch wind of this, the gossip mill will run wild.” Bill motioned to the van. “We already got enough rumors flying around about serial killers and rapists on the loose.”
“But at least we know this isn’t a serial killer.”
“Do we?” Bill flipped through a few pictures on his phone and showed Kent the screen.
Kent looked at the bloody mess that had comprised the remains of Beau Devereaux. The golden boy of St. Benedict had been a football star and heir to the Devereaux fortune. The day Kent found his mutilated body along the river had been one of the worst of his career. Beau’s death, on the heels of the rape and grisly murder of Dawn Moore, had shattered his faith in their small town.
He squinted at the picture. “What am I missing?”
Bill pointed at Beau’s bruised and bloody neck. “Trachea isn’t midline. It’s in two pieces. In the autopsy, I discovered his neck had been broken.”
Kent thought of the murder cases that cluttered his desk. “Same as the Harrison girl. Her neck was broken. Any chance wild dogs could have done this?”
Bill’s meaty lips thinned into a line. “Harrison had no bite marks. Only Beau suffered extensive puncture wounds. For a dog to snap someone’s neck, it would have to be big and have impressive jaw strength. Until your men find me an animal like that, I’m leaving Beau’s death a homicide.” He wiped his damp brow. “What worries me is this woman’s bones show there might be a break in her neck, too. If that’s the case, someone around here could have a long history of murder.”
Kent grew irate. He’d left the turmoil of working for the New Orleans Police Department to get away from the steady dose of homicides. Ten years ago, St. Benedict had been the answer to a prayer for him, his wife, and their two boys. He didn’t want to think such horror could have remained hidden for so long in the idyllic town.
“Send me the preliminary results of the autopsy as soon as you get them.” Kent pinched the bridge of his nose, fighting off a headache. “I want it in my hand when I tell Gage Devereaux what we found. He might recall someone who went missing. He’s lived here all his life and is bound to have heard something.”
Bill swatted at a passing fly. “He won’t be happy to hear about another body. You know how protective he is of St. Benedict.”
“Yep. I expect this will piss him off.”
The patriarch and owner of the biggest employer, Benedict Brewery, Gage oversaw everything in the town. Some called him a control freak—a trait many had seen in his son, Beau—but to Kent, Gage was thorough, detail-oriented, and would have made a great detective if he hadn’t taken over the family business.
“He’s gonna ask you if this has anything to do with the investigation into Beau’s death.” Bill frowned. “What’re you gonna tell him?”
Kent clenched his jaw. “We don’t know if any of these deaths are related.”
“Yet,” Bill added. “Seems like an awfully big coincidence to me.”
Kent pulled keys from the front pocket of his jeans. “There’re too many coincidences going on around here, and they all seem to center on this damned river. When can you get me a DNA report?”
“Might take a while.” Bill scratched his head. “Budget constraints and the backlog of cases clogging the system have slowed everything down.”
“How long are we talking? A week?”
Bill snorted. “More like weeks. A long-dead Jane Doe isn’t exactly a priority. Otherwise, we could get a rush on it.”
“Then we’ll just have to wait and see what we get back,” Kent grumbled.
Bill went to the driver’s side of the van and spoke to the technician. He then waved at Kent before walking away.
The sheriff waited as the van slowly eased onto the main road, with Bill’s black SUV following close behind.
Alone, Kent removed his hat and gazed up at the tall pines rimming the parking lot. Cresting above the tallest of the trees was The Abbey’s single charred limestone spire—its twin lost in the fire.
The serene place had witnessed so many atrocities—suicide, fire, and Dawn Moore’s murder. Kent would never understand what the Benedictine monks who founded the seminary ever saw in that cursed land. Legends about the abandoned abbey and its wild dogs had floated around the community for as long as anyone could remember.
When the dogs appear, death is near.
He’d never believed any of the stories until now. Kent feared there might be some truth to the legend, after all.
And the worst was yet to come.
Excerpt from River of Wrath by Alexandrea Weis & Lucas Astor. Copyright 2023 by Alexandrea Weis & Lucas Astor. Reproduced with permission from Alexandrea Weis & Lucas Astor. All rights reserved.
Author Alexandrea Weis, RN-CS, PhD, is an award-winning author, advanced practice registered nurse, and wildlife rehabber who was born and raised in the French Quarter. She has taught at major universities and worked with victims of sexual assault, abuse, and mental illness in a clinical setting at many New Orleans area hospitals. She is a member of the International Thriller Writers Organization and Horror Writers Association.
Co-author Lucas Astor is an award-winning author and poet with a penchant for telling stories that delve into the dark side of the human psyche. He likes to explore the evil that exists, not just in the world, but next door behind a smiling face. Astor currently lives outside of Nashville, TN.