Sneak Peek Friday–The Binding

A snippet from The Binding

…by Victoria Clapton

My short walk to Jackson Square had a surreal, rapturous feel to it, heightened by a lone musician, sitting on a darkened stoop, playing an empyrean melody that transcended passersby into a higher realm of awareness. As my first full day here in New Orleans began to wind down, I was beginning to understand that this wonderfully overwhelming energy of always “going with the easy flow” was not only tangible but also never-ending.

So far, I had yet to look out onto the street and find it empty. People were constantly moving about. With the daylight long-faded, the artists and musicians had mostly packed up their belongings, instrument cases, and easels, leaving behind the empty spaces they had occupied by day open for evening tarot readers to set up folding card tables which they would cover in scraps of velvet and satin and glowing candles as they waited for curious tourists to inquire about their future.

I took a moment to gaze up at the brightly-lit stained glass windows of St. Louis Cathedral. The various colors sparkled brightly over the night, serving as a bright beacon of hope for the city. This magnificent display of Catholicism stood erect only twenty feet away from the myriad of card readers, and in some unexplainable way, they seemed to fit well beside each other.

Following a whim, I passed several nice restaurants and boutiques as I made my way to the crosswalk where I could safely cross Decatur Street and climb up the levee to Artillery Park. From the street, I could not see the river that I knew to be close, but I had a hunch that I would be able to see it once I’d climbed all the stairs to the top.

My hunch was dead on. The views from the park were nothing less than stunning. In fact, this was the perfect spot to see Jackson Square and the cathedral in all of its magnificent glory.

And when I turned in the opposite direction, I was instantly filled with delight. Before me was the Mississippi River. I turned in a semi-circle, not sure which view I should marvel at first, until I realized I could walk down the other side of the levee and actually go to the riverfront.

A British family standing near me taking pictures was about to do just that, and I overheard them call the walkway that ran beside the river “the Moonwalk”. Not wanting to intrude upon their space, I waited for them to walk down before I headed in the same direction.

For as long as I could remember, I have been drawn to water. It has a calming effect on my mind when my its workings feel electric, and it was here at the waterside where lights were found dancing off the water ripples that I finally sat down on an empty park bench and let go of the first-arrival urge to rush around New Orleans.

City lights cast prism rainbows upon the water while soft white lights from the bridge and a slowly passing riverboat cast an older, more orange tinge upon the tiny waves. The combined illuminations decorated the waters of the Mississippi.

Lost inside my head, in my own creative world, allowing only a polite nod or smile, I mostly ignored the few people that walked by while I daydreamed about what might happen next. So far, my spur-of-the-moment decision to uproot my life had been a fortuitous adventure. Smooth and exciting, I had high hopes for the future days ahead. That is…until I was approached by a pair of strangers.

“What is a pretty thing like you doing out here all alone? How about some company, sweet thing?”

I looked up from the haze of my lazy river dream to see a man and a woman dressed in the popular Victorian Steampunk fashion that I admired but had never really had the money to try.

“I am enjoying some peace by the river.” This was my reply, for I did not wish for company. I hated to seem rude, so I didn’t say whether the two could join me or not.

As if in a choreographed dance, the two of them moved fluidly around opposite sides of me, taking up the remaining room on both ends of the bench. They were uncomfortably too close for strangers, and I felt trapped.

While I tried to figure out what sort of situation I was in, I took in their appearance much closer. The man and the woman were unnaturally good-looking and flawless, in a creepy way that seemed inhuman. Both were shorter than me. The female had brown doe-like eyes and doll-like ringlet hair that should, but didn’t, make her seem innocent rather than sinister. The accompanying gentleman had a lighter chestnut colored hair that he wore at shoulder length, and his eyes were light in color, possibly green. Their angular appearance was so model-perfect, so similar to one another that they could have been either siblings or perhaps, twin flame lovers.

Not enjoying their sudden invasion to my space, I moved, in an attempt to rise from the bench.

“Where are you going, pretty thing? We were just about to get to know one another.” The woman declared possessively.

“Zyl, this one smells like…” The man’s voice sounded slightly worried, but his concern bothered the woman little.

Cutting him off, she focused on me, “Now, what brings you to our city?”

As she spoke, she brushed her fingers through my hair, and I had to keep myself from shivering. These were the type of night walkers that Aloysius had warned me to avoid while out in the ancient streets. I was not frightened as I perhaps should have been at being cornered by two freakish strangers, but I instinctively knew I should get away from them as fast as possible.

Both of the creeps leaned in closer to me, the woman moving to re-position my hair. My hand knocked hers out of the way as I tried to stand up again. This time, they both grabbed an arm, holding me down as the female draped her arm around my shoulders. This was not good. I needed to get away from these nuts.

“Zylphia Lynum and Ambrose Northgood, I believe you are needed elsewhere.” A strong voice, filled with distaste, emanated from the shadows behind the bench where we sat, and I recognized it immediately.

Again my body betrayed me. The two moved away from me instantly, disappearing into the night without a word, and I should have left too. Yet, I remained sitting there, frozen, not by fear, but by the same deep yearning that had brought me blindly to New Orleans.

“You shouldn’t be here,” he said as he stepped into the light where I could see him.

I desperately wanted to give a snarky come back but was immediately taken aback as I found myself speechlessly gaping at Demien instead. He was standing there beneath the lamplight in a stunning greatcoat, as if he’d just stepped out of a Jane Austen novel. It was a humid night. He should have been sweating in that coat, but he seemed comfortable. Goddess in heaven and hell, he was gorgeous.

Silence wrapped around us as he gracefully sat down beside me, making no noise at all except for the rustle of a white paper bag he carried in one hand. In his other hand, he carried a cup. Both Aloysius and Josephine had warned me to stay away from this man, but I was pretty sure he’d just gotten me out of a dangerous predicament. Plus, curiosity and questions overwhelmed me.

“You know those two creeps?” It wasn’t the best question. Obviously, he did know them.

“Why are you out here alone at night?” he snapped. His sheer disapproval was emphasized with his last three words.

…because this is a free country. I am a grown woman. It’s none of your business.

I thought all of those things and worse, but did not say any of them.

“Zylphia and Ambrose are…they won’t bother you again. You are fortunate that I saw you walking to the riverside alone. If you intend to stay in this city, and I suggest you don’t, you must learn caution and common sense. If you want to see the city at night, take one of the Touchets along for protection.”

My mouth was wide open in disbelief. I could feel the night air on my teeth. I knew I looked foolish. The tone of his voice had shifted from anger to great concern. I didn’t understand.

“It’s beautiful,” I mumbled. All of my years of arguing with my father and brothers should have aided in dealing intelligently with this over-opinionated man beside me, but no…I, once again, had said something stupid.

“Yes, this city is a unique place,” he concurred.

“Especially at night. At least I think so. I’ve only viewed a small section since I moved here two days ago. Tonight was my first venture out.”

“And you attracted their attention…” Beneath the street lamps his face showed no emotion, yet I sensed confliction within him. “Here.”

“What’s this?” I wondered as I took the bag without a thought.

“Beignets and a cup of café au lait. You passed right by Café Du Monde and didn’t stop.”

“You were watching me?” True, my friends had warned me to stay away from him, but I thought their warnings came from his being a total malcontent, not because he was a stalker.

“A friend owns a bar down the street. I saw you pass by, noticed you were alone, and assumed that since you were being foolish, you would need my help.”

He’d insulted me again.

“Where do you get off? That’s the second time you’ve insulted me. You don’t even know me.” I couldn’t believe his audacity. I also couldn’t believe how much his opinion hurt me. I didn’t even know him. Why should I care if he liked me or not? I’d spent my life living with people who didn’t like me.

“You’d be well on your way to dead had I not been waiting on you to do something ill-advised. No one would have batted an eye. Locals are well-acquainted with your type. You come here in search of good times and a flirt with the supernatural, but you have no idea what really waits lurking in the shadows. You get yourself in trouble, and then we have to clean up the mess. Eat your beignets before they cool off.”

“Dead? What are…?”

“Eat and drink a little of that coffee.”

“I don’t want…”

“Sybella Rose,” he said my name as if it were painful to pronounce, as if those two words were much more than just my name.

He knew my name…probably from the same source that I learned his.

“Demien…” I hesitated because his facial expression twitched when I spoke his name. He seemed to be struggling with something. “Look, you are right. I don’t know what I am doing, but here is where I am meant to be. It’s the only place I can be.”

Before finishing what I had to say, I pulled out one of the beignets covered with powdered sugar from the bag and took a bite, failing to keep the messy white sugar from getting on everything.

Oh hell, I was going to die of overwhelming delectable-ness of food in this town. Not wasting time on words, I held up the bag to Demien to offer him one of the fluffy little pillows of awesomeness. He declined as he pulled napkins out from a jacket pocket and waited for me to finish off the doughy square.

When I came up for air, I asked. “What were they?”

“What? Not who or why…”

“No, what?” I insisted. As a great consumer of fiction novels, I am aware of all manner of creatures that go bump in the night. “There are two kinds of beauty. One, like the kind Aloysius and Josephine carry, is physically appealing, but their real attractiveness comes from their soul. They are both true individuals.”

“And the other kind?” He sounded like he didn’t want to hear the answer.

“Well, like those two who were just here, their beauty is distracting, nasty, sneaky, oily…wrong.”

A low deep rumbling sound erupted from Mr. Cranky himself. I looked over to see that Demien was laughing.

“WHAT they are doesn’t matter. You probably wouldn’t believe it if you knew, and even if you did believe it, knowing the truth never benefits the person who knows. They almost always end up dead or worse.”

I detected bitter truth in his words and wondered what made him such a pessimistic entity. “Okay, so illuminate me on this. I have supposedly walked into a situation I am not equipped to handle, but I’m not allowed to learn the truth so that I may be better informed so that I may be safe because the truth is also danger. Demien, what do you propose I do? And do NOT say leave the city!”

I carefully closed the paper bag, sealing in the freshness, so that I could eat the other two beignets later and sipped on my café au lait as I waited on him to speak.

“Learn what you can from Josephine, anything and everything she might teach you. Eat at least one meal a day from Aloysius’ kitchen. And wear this always. Never take it off.”

He was removing an oval amulet from his neck, a black stone embellished with a faded silver fleur-de-lis. As he placed the necklace around my neck, careful not to entangle it with my hair, his eyes caught mine. I leaned in closer to him. I could not help it. I needed to be nearer to him. My fingers reached up, desperate to touch the lines of his face. I wanted to kiss him.

Demien moved to the far side of the bench fluidly, like the scary two had moved, and quickly.

“Sybella Rose, stop. I am more dangerous to you than those two ever could be. Do as I said, all that I said. And don’t seek me out. This amulet will deter others like me from harming you. It will not, however, protect you from me.”

He was gone before I could reply, and I was left with an intense yearning to yell at him again. I looked all around me in every direction. After all of that, I didn’t believe for a second that he had disappeared completely, leaving me, once more, alone in the big bad dark. But he was nowhere in sight. When I stood up, I realized I was gripping his amulet. Again, I felt a sense of wrongness within me. I should be scared, but I was not. Instead, irritation and suspicion filled me.

 . . .

 

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Glorious Jumble…

December 21st, 1899

 

Raimond trailed Prince Draven through crowded French Quarter streets, pausing at each bar’s doorway to marvel at people celebrating in every available corner. He read the street signs as they walked. “Bienville?”

“Constructed the first levees.” Draven shook his head. “Woefully inadequate mounds of dirt.”

“And Iberville?”

“We’re on Customhouse Street.”

Raimond pointed up at a shiny sign.

“I wish they would stop changing street names. Iberville was a naval hero and explorer.” Draven strode up to glass doors and allowed tuxedo-clad men to sweep them open. “Died of yellow fever, or so they say.”

Raimond shook a doorman’s hand and grinned at the infusion of knowledge he gained. “This building is elegant. The total opposite of our last stop.”

“It’s quite the jewel, though not my favorite hotel.” Draven walked directly toward a spinning red and white pole and sat down in an empty chair. “I have a standing appointment and a private barber—best in town. I suggest you have a shave as well. Lot’s more people to meet before sunrise.”

“Isn’t tonight the—”

“Longest night of the year?” Draven winked and leaned back while a barber draped his neck in steaming towels. “We’ll need every minute.”

Within the hour both men passed through the back of the hotel and into a residential alley.

“The shop on the corner belongs to a painter and metal sculptor.” Draven undid a button on his shirt. “It can get a bit warm in his studio, but the cloves—”

“I smell them from here.” Raimond walked straight through the soaring French doors, inhaling the rich scent with deep breaths. “Heavenly.”

Draven admired the glorious jumble of art and treasure while Raimond negotiated a sale and filled his pockets with hand-rolled cigarettes. He paid for another carton to be picked up later. “And who is this little beauty?” Raimond knelt and offered his hand to a grey dog.

“That’s Faith,” the artist answered. “She keeps me company when I burn the midnight oil.”

“Pleased to meet you, Miss Faith.” Raimond scratched her ears and she crawled into his arms.

“Faith doesn’t warm up to everyone. Sir, you must be someone special.”

◊◊◊

Blessed Solstice to all…

Excerpt from Raimond, Chapter 28…The Hall of Villains 

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Nightmareland

Happy Halloween Horror Lovers!

From the creators of the #1 bestseller The Box Under The Bed horror anthology and its #1 bestseller sequel Dark Visions, comes Nightmareland . . .

A horror anthology with 23 stories from 14 authors!

In a rundown shack deep in the woods, a high school girl dares herself to try the strange new drug all the kids are talking about. One injection of “Nightmareland” is all it takes to unleash a person’s biggest fears to them – and then they are on their own! But rebellious Jessica thinks she will prove herself to her peers and parents.
Tremble along as she is strapped into the chair and becomes a lost child on a Florida party island, an investigator looking into a circus’ bizarre side shows, an abused prisoner locked away in a desolate concrete cell, and much more as Jessica faces the most terrifying ride of her young life.
Compiled by USA Today bestselling author Dan Alatorre, this anthology of horror once again unites the minds and pens of more than a dozen amazing authors.

Nightmareland will send you into the foggy twilight of the eerie and macabre, with heart stopping stories from:

USA Today bestselling author Dan Alatorre (The Navigators),

award-winning bestselling author Robbie Cheadle

award-winning bestselling author Ellen Best

award-winning author Kaye Booth

award-winning bestselling author Betty Valentine

award-winning bestselling author Alana Turner

award-winning bestselling author Christine Valentor

award-winning bestselling author Nick Vossen

award-winning bestselling author Alana Turner

award-winning bestselling author Victoria Clapton

award-winning bestselling author Anne Marie Andrus

award-winning bestselling author Adele Marie Park

award-winning bestselling author Barbara Anne Helberg

award-winning bestselling author MD Walker

award-winning bestselling author Dabney Farmer

award-winning bestselling author M J Mallon

Perfect for Halloween or any time, these stories will make you think twice before spending the night alone, watching TV with family, or even going on a casual boat ride.

 

CONSIDER YOURSELF WARNED!!

Read Now!

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Short Story Friday Night

Under The Square

by
Anne Marie Andrus

chicory, humidity, decadence

 

Trickles of murky water danced between shadows and fractures on the underground wall. Flickering candles twisted wilted blooms and innocent stone angels into a jungle of goblins.

“If you’re still fussing, you should have started earlier.” A redheaded vampire flashed through the arched doorway and scowled at his watch. “This space will never be anything but a tomb disguised as a fancy courtyard.”

“Like the desolate streets above us, masquerading as our city?” A man in a tuxedo slicked his mohawk straight up and adjusted his bow tie. “I thought you said rebirth was near, Mister Steven.”

“It’s so close, I can taste it. You’ve followed my instructions to the final detail?”

“Haven’t I always, sir?”

“As much as humanly possible, I guess.” Steven pointed to a steaming carafe. “Pour.”

The man’s shoulders slumped. “What am I now, your waiter?”

“I didn’t mean…that came out all wrong. Pour me a taste, Zachary. Pretty please.” Silence and a smirk followed his lingering sip. “Ah, silky smooth with a viper’s bite.”

“One coffee blunder was humiliating enough.” Zachary tipped his chin in the air. “That other swill tasted like it was blended with the ashes of the dead.”

“Sure wasn’t chicory.” Steven shuddered. “Ick.”

“Don’t worry. The tool who sold it to me, is at the bottom of the river.”

Steven planted one hand on his hip. “So, where did this brew come from?”

“Cross’ the lake.”

“Hope you’re taking my bodyguards when you leave the French Quarter.”

“So much gloom, even your soldiers can’t tell where the safe zone ends and enemy territory begins anymore. Sun hasn’t come out in years.”

“Yet, the dreadful humidity remains. Just to remind us we’re home.” Steven snapped the cuffs of his dress shirt. He inspected the linen tablecloths, uncovered serving dishes, smiled at the scent of peppermint and turned his nose up at licorice. “My chocolate?”

“All your favorites.” Zachary bowed in front of the dessert tower. “Amaretto, raspberry, almond hazelnut…but, the hazelnut still sucks.” He tapped the artery in his neck. “How bout’ a taste of this?”

“Later. Be available,” Steven said. “Eat a little cinnamon.”

“You…are damn bossy.”

Steven waggled his finger. “Leaders delegate, Zach.”

“Oh well, excuse me.” Zachary plucked a sugar cube from the pristine buffet and dropped it on his tongue. “Will it be the usual guest list tonight?”

“Yes, and I’m sure you’ll hate them all.”

“They turn the room frigid. Swear I can see my breath.” Zachary pointed to the fountain. “Your snooty, light-up water feature was frozen solid after last week’s festivities.”

“There’s a method to my madness. We’ll need the allegiance of all the coven leaders, from every corner of the globe—even the villains—to take back New Orleans.”

“Hmph.” Zachary crossed his arms. “Bastards do seem impressed. You’re still the king of decadence, like in the old days.”

“Just wait for the new days.” Steven leaned over the pastel bubbles and watched glittery fish spinning in circles. “When our family is back in power, all this melancholy will be a distant memory.”

“What about that man with the sapphire eyes?”

“You mean the warrior?” Steven sighed dramatically.

“He’s more than politics to you, isn’t he?”

“Is that a hint of green demon I hear in your voice?”

“After so many years of us…” Zachary shuffled his feet and stared at the fish. “Never mind.”

“His fire, his army—that blood.” Steven spun and pumped his fists. “The warrior is our savior. He holds the keys to an empire.”

Zachary stepped back, but not in time to avoid Steven patting his cheek as if he were a petulant child.

“My empire.” Steven flashed back through the arch. “All mine.”

♦♦♦

This story was originally written for the “3 Word Challenge” on the blog Bonnywood Manor, home of fabulous writer and friend Brian Lageose.

Check him out!

Monsters & Angels: The Series

 

A lone soldier on night watch. A single bullet through the heart. Every light in Paris flickers—the city’s thundering silent scream.
When Commander Raimond Banitierre was assassinated, French Revolutionaries lost their gallant leader. After a villain’s offer of eternal life condemned him to slavery, Raimond rebelled again, driving his vampire comrades to freedom.
Raimond escapes to Savannah, Georgia where his dream of becoming a doctor comes true. During his trial-by-fire residency on the Civil War’s battlefields, he discovers his true calling—the power to preserve memories and dignity in the face of death. His chance meeting with a beguiling mortal nurse ignites passionate nights and a long overdue crack in the door to paradise.
Vicious flames and an unholy miscalculation deliver Raimond back to the depths of hell. Being arrested for treason makes him wish for death and the arrival of Prince Draven Norman appears to be the final nail in Raimond’s coffin. Will the prince’s eccentric judgement grant Raimond a true reprieve? Is Draven’s invitation to join New Orleans mystical royalty an extension of his own treachery, or the next step in Raimond’s miraculous journey?
Has the legendary Crescent City found a spirit noble enough to protect her future?

♦♦♦♦♦

 

Fledgling nurse Sorcha Alden knew she had the skills to save lives, but she never dreamed that her own life would be the one in danger.

Driven by tragedy to honor her family name, Sorcha embarks on a journey that takes her from the bleak but familiar streets of New York, through the sultry and seductive city of New Orleans, and into the brutal jungles of Nepal. Forging friendships and carrying on her mother’s mission of healing was her dream. Plunging into a love affair with the mysterious Dr. Ashayle, could have been a fairytale.

Being murdered and waking up as a blood-thirsty monster—became her living nightmare.

Torn away from a life that had just begun, Sorcha returns to New Orleans as a newborn vampire, forced to start over in a cutthroat underworld of devilry and decadence. Complicated politics, bitter rivals and jealous ancestors stand between her and the promises she’s still determined to keep.

In a realm where the boundary between good and evil is as murky as the Mississippi River and immortal does not mean invincible, will Sorcha ever risk her shattered heart and love again? Can the magical harmony of the Crescent City give her enough courage to fulfill her eternal destiny?

Sorcha’s final word will make your jaw drop!

 

AnneMarieAndrus.com

 

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Short Story Friday

New Orleans Tripping

by

Christian Terry

 

A snore awoke George as he rolled over on the cold concrete ground in an New Orleans alley. The sweet after taste of raspberry pie that he had many hours ago lingered in his dried mouth. His head throbbed. The chirping birds and the rising sun signaling the new day didn’t make it any better. “Ugh,” He groaned as he turned on his side. “What did she slip me?” He asked to the man that awoke him perched on the wall in front of him.

Instead of getting an answer the man gave him a shrug and drank out of a wrinkly brown paper bag before falling asleep. George peeled himself off of the ground to his feet then made himself leave the alleyway. Once he left he had found himself in the middle of a busy street corner where a multitude of people marched down the streets and sidewalks. While gathering his bearings a gang of musicians rushed behind him.

Each of them carrying instruments from saxophones to snare drums. This concerned George as he cleared his throat. “Can I help y’all?” He asked. The band immediately began to play “When the Saints Go Marching In” causing a scene in the center of the very busy street. George was aghast at the scene. People never did things like this in Atlanta, only in New Orleans.

He looked at his watch, it was just seven thirty in the morning. Way too early for this, he thought. George took off into the middle of the street dodging several cars as he weaved through the traffic. He made it across the street and continued to run until he could not hear any music behind him. George ducked around the corner of a building to catch his breath. At this moment he saw the flashing lights of a neon sign that read twenty four hour fortune teller. This was familiar, he thought as he brushed through the wooden door.

A very pale woman that sat behind a purple clothed round table jumped to her feet. ” Oh no, no,no, you need to leave right now!” She yelled as George looked on in confusion. In the distance a microwave timer chimed.

“Excuse me ma’am, I think I was in here last night and you put something in my drink. You said it was a magic elixir. After I drank it I awoke on a side street with a bum. I think you owe me an apology.” He said.

The woman’s eyes almost bulged out of her head. “An apology?” She screeched. “You owe me one!”

“How so?”

“Sir you barged in here yelling, ‘Who Dat?’, went into my kitchen and ate almost all of my raspberry pie by hand without cutting it. Asked me for a healing elixir. When I said I didn’t know what you were talking about you took the bottle of vinegar that sat on my counter and drank from it. Then you broke the bottle on my floor and began to dance with the band you had following behind you.” The fortune teller said almost in a single breath.

“Impossible.” George said to himself.

The woman handed him her smartphone where there was video of George clear as day doing what she had depicted in high definition video. Guilt had struck him. It was all coming back to him. George had hired a band to follow him around the French Quarter. It just cost a total of a hundred bucks to have an mini parade at the courthouse. Two hundred for the police escort which he didn’t think he needed. At the time it was the best hundred bucks he could spend. He must’ve been really wasted that he couldn’t recognize his own actions on the video. “Did…did I choose to leave?” He asked.

“No, I showed you my baseball bat and threatened to call the cops, you took off like an Olympic sprinter.” The pale lady said.

A doorbell rang and the marching band appeared, surrounded the two, and began to play. George flashed the store’s matriarch an awkward smile.


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Short Story Friday

A Lunch Date Gone Wrong

By:

Victoria Clapton

2019

 

The bright orange glow from tonight’s full moon glowed over the mostly empty benches on Jackson Square. It was a cool, autumn evening in the French Quarter. Most of the tourists and artisans headed home over an hour ago and were now missing the magical ambience that situated on the old cobblestones.

“Are you ready, Sybella Rose?” I shivered as Demien’s hand came to rest in the small of my back, reassuring me that this idea of a date, a date with a vampire, wasn’t crazy.

I held up a heavy picnic basket my friend Aloysius had filled and smiled. “Sure.”

Like me, Demien loved to go down to the river at night, to watch the waters of the Mississippi roll by in rippling shimmers, so I didn’t even ask him where we were heading for our lunch date at 2:00 a.m. Over the levee, towards the moonwalk, we had a spot.

He made no sound as he moved, guiding through shadows. Only his long dark hair, ruffled lightly in the breeze. The sweet, citrusy scent of bergamot assaulted my senses with every step he took, and I fought the irrational urge to reach out for him, to pull him into a kiss that he may not even want.

Recently, I’ve made a career at throwing myself at the almost five hundred year old vampire walking gracefully beside me. I physically could not stop myself. I needed to touch him, to consume him, to be consumed by him.

As he showed no signs of insatiable attraction, I can only assume he is not afflicted by the malady, a curse known as The Binding, as I was. This, too, his ability to ignore the urges pressed upon us, drove me even more insane.

Someone listened to Trombone Shorty in one of the cars that pass by on Decatur Street. This town, my beloved New Orleans, embraced its culture like no other place.

“Where are your thoughts?”

I hadn’t realized that Demien had paused at the crosswalk, waiting for the signal to cross over Decatur, and now scrutinized my temporary silence.

“I was just thinking about New Orleans and its artists. Such a special place.”

The walk light flickered, and we crossed the street. I did not even bother with why a vampire cares about crosswalk procedures at two in the morning. Demien was filled with so many conundrums, keeping up with them was impossible.

“That’s why we locals fight so hard to keep outsiders from ruining it.”

I panicked for a moment, right in the middle of the road, when it occurred to me I no longer held the heavy picnic basket. Demien urged me along, shaking the picnic basket he must have grabbed from me at some point as he guided me towards our lunch destination.

Nerves assaulted me. No matter how long this went on, I continued to find myself baffled at the way Demien’s presence both calmed me and shot my nerves to frazzled. I could never predict what he would do next. His actions caught me off guard.

So, I stood there on a grassy patch near the moonwalk and the river, watching him spread out a checkered picnic blanket for me to sit upon while we dined…well, while I dined.

His movements held my attention as he carefully unloaded the basket–a bowl of fruit salad, a po’ boy dressed, a few bottles of Abita Amber. The snacks kept coming, more food than I could eat.

My mouth draped open as Demien opened each item of food, arranging it beautifully before me, and then held his hand out to help me sit in the Victorian skirt I had chosen to wear tonight.

This man, this vampire, was ruthless. Terrifying. I had seen him kill. I’d felt his violent rage against me, and I could not reconcile the horror with his heart.

“How was your day?” He motioned for me to begin eating as he stretched out his impossibly long legs and leaned back on his hands.

“You’re beautiful.” I murmured, then cursed. I hated this curse. I took a breath, then I answered his original question like a normal person. “JoJo taught me how to draw a few veves today, but I had to promise not to catch anything else in the shoppe on fire.”

“Again?” There was a smile in his tone. I could not control the magick inside of me, everyone knew it. Asking me to not let my emotions take over, to not magickly ignite the voodoo shoppe or anything else into roaring flames was almost a joke.

“Look, Mr. Vampy-Pants, this is your fault.” I was teasing, but his dead body lost whatever semblance of pretend mortality he acted out as it froze into complete stillness and his gaze settled onto the water.

He had slipped back into the dark place where he resided, and I had to do something before my stupid comment ruined our lunch date.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way, you know. Believe it or not, even though you are a huge pain in my ass…I enjoy your company.”

“You’re not eating.”

“Jerk!” I whispered under my breath but picked up the po’ boy and took a huge bite.

He scoffed but relaxes somewhat, and I focused on my food to keep from crawling into his lap and begging him to take me right there in public.

The moment between us was peaceful, enjoyable even, until a whirring sound and a warning yell pulled me from my happy place.

“Watch out!”

Demien scooped me up in a blur, and the eruption of thuds and thwacks in the place where we’d just been sitting took me by surprise.

“What the bloody hell?” I declared, though I’m less concerned with what interrupted our moment than the loss of Demien’s arms when he released me.

I took in the tenseness in Demien’s shoulders, the way he ever-so-slightly crouched, and looked beyond him to see that some punk had been out on the Moonwalk in the middle of the night in roller skates and had lost control, careening through the grass straight on top of our picnic.

Demien’s anger froze the kid into place. Having let his guard down with me, he’d slipped straight into predator mode at the first hint of me being in danger.

I stepped around my solid hunk of vampire and offered a hand to the kid who’d plummeted upon our lunch. “Here, let me help you up. Are you hurt?”

He stuttered and stammered, “N…no. I’m fine. I’m so-sorry.”

“Okay,” I said calmly. “You should go.”

Like any rational person, I thought that if anyone should get bitten here, it damned well better be me, but I kept my thoughts to myself and aided the kid to his feet.

“Sorry, again. I didn’t mean to…” The kid’s preservation instinct kicked in and he took off into the night.

I took a deep breath and began picking up the remnants of our lunch date gone wrong, and then pulled on the bond between us. “Demien, come to me.”

I didn’t know if he’d succumb to my request. He was just as likely to disappear into the night. I packed everything away except the blanket, which I flipped over.

“Demien, come and sit.”

He didn’t look at me. Deep down, I knew he couldn’t. He was fighting the demon inside of him, the predator that had wanted to kill, that still wanted to kill. But he once more found a place on the blanket.

Relief rushed through me…then insanity. Without any hesitation, I maneuvered my body until I was sitting between his two legs with my back up against his chest. My bare neck waiting, beckoning just below his mouth.

“Sybella,” he growled in warning.

His fangs brushed against my skin.

“What? Didn’t we come here for lunch?”

 

 

 

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