Kiss of Awakening by Jennifer Snyder

A mountain of boxes sat before me, each of them filled with material things that wouldn’t mean shit to anyone else besides me. It wasn’t the objects that meant something, though, it was the memories attached to them—the memories that involved my father.
Kiss of Awakening
Kiss of Awakening by Jennifer Snyder
His entire life—everything he’d ever worked for, everything about him—rested inside cardboard boxes printed with liquor brand names across the sides. Gazing at the boxes before me, it somehow seemed disrespectful to have placed his belongings in something used to ship alcohol. My father didn’t even drink. Ever. Unsure as to why this thought had situated itself front and center in my mind so suddenly, I chewed my bottom lip while thinking of a way to justify my box choice. “They have sturdy bottoms, Dad,” I said into the air, just in case my father’s spirit happened to be around. While I wasn’t a religious person by any standard, that didn’t mean I couldn’t hope there was some sort of an afterlife. Brushing a few strands of my dark hair away from my face, I hoped that my father’s afterlife consisted of something far more enjoyable than watching me all sad-faced and teary-eyed as I packed up his belongings. Afterlife, what the hell? How was it possible that my dad was gone? Sinking down into the recliner, my eyes skimmed the living room. The walls were now naked, and the entire room seemed eerily empty. My vision blurred with impending tears as I continued to gaze around the vacant-looking space. Zeroing in on the prescription bottles sitting on the end table beside me, I finally lost it. The tears I had been holding back spilled from my eyes as I thought of how painful my father’s final moments most likely were. Dead at forty-eight. Even in my twenty-one-year-old mind frame, forty-eight seemed so young. William Blake’s health hadn’t been top notch for years, but it still wasn’t horrible enough for one to think he would pass away anytime soon. Then again, that all depended on who you asked. Dr. Brenner would mention his various health issues—including the stage his lung cancer was currently in—when asked. Most likely, he would talk about my father’s poor lifestyle choices, like smoking and his not-so-healthy diet. Then to lighten the mood, Dr. Brenner would state that my father should have kicked the bucket a few years ago, but he’d held on a little longer than expected just to piss off the man upstairs. But, if you asked a friend or a coworker about my father’s death, they would all tell you how unexpected it seemed. One of them would probably mention how they’d rarely ever seen him take time off, and how he always seemed so chipper and happy, never once leading them to believe he had stage three lung cancer. The one thing no one would say, but I had found myself often thinking, was how William Blake was apparently a damn good actor, because even I didn’t know how bad everything was until a few months ago, when he decided to stop treatment. It wasn’t that I didn’t know about his cancer, because I did. I had been the one to take him back and forth to his appointments, to feed him applesauce or Jell-O when nothing else sounded good and he was too weak from the radiation to lift his arms. I had been there when he decided to shave his head completely bald so no one would be the wiser when it all fell out anyway. He never complained, so I assumed he was fine. I assumed he would pull through, unscratched and smiling. The good guys are supposed to win. Always. But he didn’t. My father was stripped from this world too soon, leaving behind a hole in my heart and boxes filled with his things nobody besides me would even give a damn about. And now here I was, packing up his belongings because his assets weren’t enough to cover the remainder of the mortgage on the house, and I damn sure didn’t have the money to pay it off myself. The property was going on the market immediately. While I had been told I still had a few weeks until I needed to clear the premises of his things, I didn’t feel as though it was right. If the lenders were that fucking heartless and greedy when it came to such things, then I wanted my father’s belongings out of there as soon as possible. Wiping my damp cheeks and sniffling, I straightened my back. It was time to stop moping and pack up more stuff. I’d decided the week after my father passed that I would only allow myself five minutes a day to breakdown and mourn him, because he would be pissed at me for anything more. In fact, now that nearly two weeks had passed, he would tell me to get over it. My father was loving, but he also didn’t care for a whiner. God, I missed him. Hoisting another box into the air, I started up the stairs toward my old room. It was the only room I had left on the second floor to go through. Oddly enough, I’d started in my father’s bedroom. My mind enjoyed working backward apparently. At least that’s what my best friend Bree had said. She claimed she would have saved his room for absolute last, because it would be the hardest. Me, I wanted to get the hard part out of the way as soon as possible. So far it had worked out for me. Gripping the doorknob, I turned and then stepped inside my old room. Flipping on the switch, the room became bathed in light. It reflected off the mint green walls and white furniture. The hint of a smile twisted the corners of my lips as I scanned the room I hadn’t set foot inside in so long. I’d moved out a few years ago, right after high school graduation, and unlike some of my peers, I hadn’t ever been forced to move back. Setting the cardboard box on my old bed, I turned toward the bookshelf that still harbored some of my childhood favorites. As I skimmed through my tattered copies of R.L. Stine books, my cell vibrated from in my back pocket. It was Bree. I’m here. Where are you? I hung my head back and sighed. Shit. I was supposed to meet her for a late dinner, but I’d gotten caught up in packing and lost track of time. I’m sorry. I forgot. I’ll be there in fifteen. ~ Kenna Thursday nights were always our girls’ night out time. I wasn’t sure how this little tradition had slipped my mind. Bree had sent me numerous text messages checking on me all day and reminding me about dinner. She wanted to help me pack my father’s things, but I’d declined every offer as nicely as I could. It was something I preferred to do alone. Tossing one of my many Fear Street Saga novels into the box on my bed, I flipped off the light behind me and darted down the stairs. I raced through the house, turning off lights as I went, and quickly grabbed my coat from the back of the couch before bolting out the front door. Something caught my eye the moment I pulled the door open—a black envelope resting in the center of the worn-out welcome mat. Bending at the knee to pick it up, I glanced around, searching for whomever had left it. A cool breeze blew, rustling the fallen leaves and making the bushy evergreen trees in the front yard wave and sway. There was no one there, at least not that I could see. Chewing along the inside of my cheek, I eyed the envelope in my hand. My name had been written in thick red letters along the front. To anyone else, this would have been the most bizarre thing ever to happen to him or her. For me though, it wasn’t. The handwriting had been all I needed to know who the letter had come from. How she’d managed to set it on the doorstep without me hearing her car pull up was beyond me though. The letter was from my absentee mother, Mara Valmont. Usually I received gifts and cards from her on birthdays and holidays, a random envelope delivered just because, however, was a rarity. Silently, I wondered what the occasion was. Had I missed a holiday? Halloween was Saturday. Did that count? Or had she heard of my father’s passing and decided to console me in the form of a letter? Flipping the envelope over, I debated whether I should open it. Did I really care what she had to say in regards to my father’s passing? Had she even known about his cancer? I wasn’t sure if the two of them had remained in contact after she left when I was five. My father never talked about her, except when I asked him to. Over the years, my asking had become nonexistent simply because I’d vowed not to care about her, mimicking the way she so blatantly didn’t give a shit about me. Remembering my birthday and sending something every holiday didn’t make her a mother. Not in my book. Biting my bottom lip, I stared at the envelope. Curiosity would eat at me until I opened it, but I wasn’t sure I could handle a sob letter from her. If that’s even what it was. Pursing my lips together into a thin line, I tapped the coarse-papered envelope against the palm of my hand repeatedly. God, this was a moment my dad would say his famous motto with a large shit-eating grin. I could picture it clearly in my mind’s eye. The way his lips would twist at the corners as he locked eyes with me and said, “Choose your own adventure, sweetheart.” Then, he would toss his hands up in surrender. “Screw it,” I muttered, and flipped the envelope over. “I’ll just open the damn thing.” Sliding my nail along the top, I cut it open. Reaching in, I pulled out a thick piece of paper, which was roughly the size and feel of a postcard, and read my mother’s message. The time has come, my sweet girl, for you to find out who you really are. The Kiss of Awakening is upon you. Love, Mom Attached with the postcard was a plane ticket stamped for New Orleans. Skimming over the ticket, I noticed the departure time was for tomorrow night at seven. My eyes dipped back to the postcard. Arching an eyebrow, I stared at the blood red letters, wondering what my mother had meant. An eerie sensation slipped along my spin as I reread her first sentence. What I really was? What the hell did that mean? Flipping the card over, I noticed more writing. New Orleans, The Bourbon Orleans Hotel I was completely confused. Apparently Google was about to be my best friend, because that was the only thing that popped into my head next—how I was going to Google the heck out of that place in search of some answers. Chapter 2 Turning into the parking lot of the Sandburg Café, I spotted Bree’s tiny car and pulled into a spot available near it. My stomach churned as I wondered if I should mention anything about my mother’s creepily cryptic letter to her. Generally, when my birthday or a holiday rolled around, Bree always seemed eager to know what my mother had sent. I attributed this to the fact that my mother’s gifts were never something anyone remotely sane would consider as a gift for that specific event. When I was younger, my dad had always said that my mother was a free spirit and that it was reflected in her gifts. He’d also said her being a free spirit was why she couldn’t be tied down with the two of us. Each year, her exotic gifts were always a reminder of that for me, a marker for how much distance she felt needed to be between us this year as opposed to the last. One year, I received numerous scarves from Belize, the next it was hats from Paris, and then another it was bone jewelry from Africa. Bree had always envied my gifts, never once thinking of them the way I did. She would be excited to learn something had come from her today, even if it was just a cryptic letter. After stepping through the double doors of the Sandburg Café, I searched for Bree. I spotted her along the far wall, seated at a bistro table. Her blond hair was pulled back into a messy bun, and she was still dressed in her fancy clothes from the clothing boutique she worked at downtown. I smoothed my hands over my hair, and brushed some lint from my jacket, feeling frumpy and grimy from cleaning and packing all day in comparison to her. “Hey.” I walked to where she was seated. “Sorry I’m late. I must have gotten caught up in packing stuff and just lost track of time.” “It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.” Bree smiled softly. Her blue eyes held a sympathetic glare to them I didn’t like. “My offer still stands if you need any help, you know. I hate that you’re doing this all on your own, Kenna.” “I know. I—” I started to list my reasons as to why I preferred to handle it all on my own, but she cut me off. “You would rather do it yourself; it’s your way of closure,” she finished for me. “I don’t get it. In fact, I think it’s the unhealthiest way to go about it, but I’ll respect your wishes. I guess.” She sighed. “Thanks.” I leaned back in my chair, and folded my hands in my lap. Bree and I had known each other since we were little. We’d been best friends for as far back as I could remember, and at times, I thought of her as more of a sister than anything else. When I first found out about my father’s cancer, she had cried nearly as much as me. And when he passed away, she was the first person I called. Bree knew everything about me. If anyone could understand why I insisted on taking care of packing my father’s things on my own, it was her. I had always been the strong, independent type when it came to even the smallest things. Bree knew this about me, even if she didn’t understand it at times. “So, what are you ordering? I’m starved.” Bree swiped the laminated menu off the table and glanced at it, even though she had long ago memorized everything on it—same as I had. “What I get every time—chicken caesar salad with a vanilla chai latte,” I said without bothering to glimpse at a menu. “That’s still such a gross combination to me.” She wrinkled her nose. “I don’t see how those two could possibly taste good together. You’re so weird.” “Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it,” I said. “And you have no room to talk, Ms. I-enjoy-ranch-dressing-on-my-pizza.” A slight chuckle drummed between us. It faded out too soon though, leaving us trapped in an awkward silence. Things had been a little strained between us since my father’s passing, and I hated it. I’d attempted to remedy it when I could, but it was exhausting at times. As I debated on mentioning the letter from my mother to her, our waiter sauntered toward our table. I couldn’t have been more thankful for the shift in tension between us. “Hey, sorry I haven’t taken your drink orders yet. This place got a little busy for a minute.” He smiled as he reached to scoop up our menus. “Are you ready to place your full order, or do you ladies still need some time?” “Nope, we’re good.” I leaned my elbows on the tabletop. “Chicken caesar salad and a vanilla chai latte, please.” “Got it.” The waiter nodded as he jotted down the abbreviations for my meal. He shifted to Bree. “And for you?” Once Bree placed her order, and the waiter had walked away, her attention shifted to me completely. “Spill it. What’s bothering you?” I pursed my lips together, and swiped a crumb off the table onto the floor. I had never been good at hiding things from Bree. “Nothing really. It’s just that something sort of strange happened to me today.” “Like?” she prompted. My teeth sank into my bottom lip as I thought of how to phrase what I was about to say next. “My mom left me a letter on the doorstep at my dad’s.” The words fell from my mouth without a hint of hesitation once I had committed to saying them. “Woo, a mysterious letter from the infamous Mara Valmont?” Bree’s eyes flashed with excitement, exactly like I knew they would. To her, my mother was a sexy, mysterious presence that was unpredictable—the type of things characters in fairy tales are created from. To me, she was selfish and atrocious. I hated everything about her, even though I knew little. My mind had made up all the gaps and chunks of things I didn’t know by replacing them with vial things and characteristics I thought she would have, because anyone who abandoned their child had to be evil, right? Bree seemed to worship someone I had often despised. The current expression on her face was proof of that. Digging in my purse, I searched around for the black envelope. When I finally found it amid the sea of pens and random receipts that made up my purse, I handed it to her. Her eyes brightened tenfold as she took it from my fingers. “Look at this paper stock,” she said. “This shit is expensive. Shanna prints off the business cards for the clothing store on something similar, and it costs a freaking fortune every time.” Awesome. My mother couldn’t visit me—ever—but she could spring for the most expensive paper imaginable. Bree mumbled under her breath as she read the note to herself. She’d never been one to read silently. I always joked that it was because she loved to hear herself talk too much. When she was finished, she slapped the card down onto the tabletop. “What the hell is all that supposed to mean?” she asked. I shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine.” The waiter paused at our table with our drinks just then. He set Bree’s Coke down in front of her, and flashed me a smile as he carefully placed my latte in front of me. “Your food will be out soon.” He did this little head move that shifted his surfer-style hair from his eyes, and flashed me a kilowatt smile I was sure he’d practiced for years before being able to execute it smoothly. “Thanks.” I gripped my mug and pulled it closer without giving him the reaction he was obviously going for. Clearly a little mystified by my lack of reaction to his charming ways, he tucked the tray he’d carried our drinks on beneath his arm and walked away. I was used to people being overly nice to me—I’d been told numerous times it was because my big brown eyes seemed innocent and doe-like—but damn, this guy was laying it on a little thick with his staring and constant smiling. “Wow, chalk one up for Kenna!” Bree chuckled. “That guy is totally crushing on you.” I rolled my eyes, even though I knew she was right. “Please, he’s just being nice.” “Whatever, I saw him undressing you with his baby blues the second he walked up to the table to take our order.” “Anyway…” I attempted to change the subject. “Thoughts on my mother’s mysterious letter? What about the plane ticket?” “Plane ticket?” Bree opened the envelope all the way, and pulled out the plane ticket for New Orleans. “Yeah, you should flip the postcard over and read the back too.” As I said this, Bree read the ticket. “Holy shit! New Orleans? I’ve always wanted to go there!” she shouted. I laughed at her excitement, but deep down, I wondered why I hadn’t felt something similar upon opening the envelope and finding the ticket. “Me too,” I said. I’d always felt a pull to New Orleans. There was something about it that called to me, something mystical and captivating that brushed against a deep-set yearning to visit. Every novel I read, every TV show or movie I watched where New Orleans was the setting made me crave to visit that much more. Now that I finally had the chance—and to do so for free, or so it seemed—there was something tugging me back, something urging me to keep my feet planted firmly in North Carolina. “I’m going with you,” Bree suddenly said, snapping me from my thoughts. “Let me just check and see if there’s another seat on your flight.” “What? I haven’t decided if I’m even going yet,” I insisted. My stomach tightened into knots as my mind raced through reasons as to why I should stay home as well as why I should go. “I need to figure out if I can afford to first, and then talk to my boss.” Bree set her cell down on the table, and glared at me through her long lashes. “Are you freaking kidding me right now? It looks like everything has been paid for except your food, and your boss will let you off the hook for the weekend to clear your head. Most of the time companies have a grieving period you’re allotted when someone close to you passes away. Since you haven’t taken one yet, I doubt there will be an issue. I’m sure he will completely understand, even on such short notice.” Dropping my head back, I sighed. She was right. There truly was no reason for me not to go. Still, I attempted to toss a few more things out there. “What if he can’t get someone to cover for my shifts this weekend?” I asked. “Then he can run the damn bar on his own,” Bree said matter-of-factly. “It’s not like he hasn’t done it before, I’m sure.” “I haven’t been there long enough to ask for time off,” I muttered. “The last thing I need is to lose this job.” “He can’t fire you for this. It’s a grieving period, Kenna.” I tapped my finger against my latte. “What about packing the rest of my dad’s stuff up? It’s not going to pack itself.” “You’re not supposed to have all of his things out for another week or so. That’s just you being you and getting everything out sooner in an effort to stick it to the lenders.” I pursed my lips together, and glared at her from across the table. Our waiter came with our food, but I didn’t drop Bree’s gaze. Her lips twisted into a smile. She was right and she knew it. There wasn’t a tangible enough reason to not go. “Can I get you ladies anything else?” the waiter asked. “Nope, we’re good. Thanks,” I said without looking up at him. “All right,” he said before walking away, a hint of disappointment in his tone. “Heartbreaker.” Bree smiled wickedly. “Am not.” “Yeah, I think you are. You’re hell bent on destroying people’s dreams today,” she insisted. “First that poor waiter. All he wanted was a hot piece of ass from you. Then you moved on to crush mine. All I wanted was to go to New Orleans—the freaking best place ever—with you this weekend, and you’ve shot me down. The trip is practically paid for, Kenna. Fucking go!” Letting out a deep breath, I squeezed my eyes shut and hung my head in defeat. “Fine. Book your ticket. Let’s go.” “Seriously?” “Seriously,” I said. “Oh my God, this is going to be so much fun! Halloween in New Orleans, holy shit!” “Yay, woohoo.” I mocked her excitement with heavy sarcasm. Picking up my fork, I stabbed it into the bulk of my salad, hoping she was right. Chapter 3 Something about the city of New Orleans rubbed me the wrong way, instantly putting me on edge. While I couldn’t pinpoint what made me feel this way, I could say that being here, there was an altogether different feeling than what I’d anticipated surrounding the place. Maybe this was simply because everything I knew about New Orleans had come from reading books and watching television, I wasn’t sure. The atmosphere I had always felt jump off the pages and float from my TV was nothing as intense and lively as what I witnessed the moment we stepped off the plane. In my fantasies, the Crescent City didn’t have such a distinctly ominous energy lingering in the thick air either. This place was sensory overkill on all levels. Even so, the yearning I had previously felt pulling me toward the city all my life dissipated, leaving me with a sense of uneasiness that I couldn’t explain. Maybe it was because, with coming here, the desire to see my mother had resurfaced, bringing with it new anxieties and worries. “Woo, we’re here!” Bree waved her hands in the air like a mad person, her voice a piercing shout. “Hello, New Orleans!” People around us stopped and stared. Smiles twisted their lips as they chuckled at the crazy girl obviously not from here. All I could do was laugh, while feeling thankful my best friend had insisted on coming with me. New Orleans was going to be a blast with Bree at my side, regardless if I got to meet my mother or not. “Okay, so…we’ve landed and picked up our luggage,” Bree said to no one in particular. She appeared to be checking things off a mental list. “Now we need to find the hotel.” She clapped her hands together, and grinned at me. “Let’s do this!” She gripped the handle on her suitcase. I watched her as she walked along the sidewalk toward who knew where. “How about we hail a cab,” I called after her, my words wrapped neatly inside a small chuckle. “Right.” She lifted her arm high above her head, and waved wildly to gain the attention of a few cabbies passing by. Steering my suitcase toward her, I took note to how warm it was here. I’d Googled the weather beforehand, and had been surprised to see it would be in the high sixties to low seventies for our entire trip. The warmth this late in October felt amazing. In comparison with the upper fifties and gray clouds ready to let loose any second I had left behind, I would take this sunshine and gentle breeze any day. “Told you this was my lucky shirt.” Bree cast a sideways glance in my direction as a cab rolled to a stop in front of us within seconds. I rolled my eyes, but grinned. Her lucky shirt was a green sweatshirt with a wide neck that hung off her shoulders. It had the words “Lucky Shirt” printed across the front with a four leaf clover in the center. After stowing our luggage into the trunk of the cab she managed to hail, we climbed in and gave the name of the hotel to the driver. My heart thumped loudly in my ears as I sat beside Bree in the backseat, thinking of how crazy it was I’d just jumped on a plane destined for New Orleans roughly two hours ago, and now, here I was, riding in a cab through the city in search of the hotel my runaway mother had booked a room for me at. “What do you want to do once we check in?” Bree asked. “I don’t know.” I shrugged, my eyes taking in the tall buildings that had such an otherworldly feel to them. These buildings had character. The lights bounced through the night sky and illuminated the city in an array of vibrant colors. . Bree bumped into me with her elbow. “Earth to Kenna. I asked if you were hungry?” My stomach grumbled, giving her an answer before I could. “Starved apparently.” “Me too. We should find a place to eat.” Bree leaned back in her seat, gazing at the city. “Ugh, I’m famished actually.” When the cab pulled up in front of The Bourbon Orleans Hotel, I climbed out of the backseat and stared up at the building. I had stayed in a massive hotel before, but this place was something else. “Nice.” Bree smiled, gazing up at the length of the building. Our driver pulled our luggage from the trunk and set it on the curb. Once I paid him, we started toward the entrance. After checking in, Bree and I took the elevator to the third floor where our suite was. The woman at the desk had called our room the “Bourbon Balcony Left Suite,” but I had no idea what that meant. Upon stepping into the room though, I decided all her talk could be summed up into one word—expensive. My mother had obviously no qualms about spending money on something as insignificant as a hotel room for a weekend. “No freaking way! This is all for us?” Bree dropped her suitcase at the door, and stepped farther into the suite. “Wow,” was all I could manage. The place was impressive to say the least. With a modern style and charming ambiance, this hotel room was nicer than my damn apartment. Painted red bricks formed an accent wall behind the couch to our left, a sleek coffee table rested in the center of the room, while a striped recliner sat in front of us, and a flat-screen TV hung mounted along the wall to my right. A set of modern-looking stairs made a formation along the wall nearest the windows. “Oh my God, there’s an upstairs?” Bree bolted through the room toward the stairs. I watched her as she took them two at a time until she disappeared at the top. “Kenna, get up here! You won’t believe this place!” When I reached the top of the black staircase, my jaw nearly hit the floor. A four-poster bed with a sheer white canopy draped around the top fit for a queen was what I found. “Isn’t this insane for a hotel?” Bree slipped the palm of her hand along the reddish satin bedspread. “Right?” I swept my gaze around the sage green walls and dark-themed furniture. Bree flopped down on the bed and patted her stomach. “Okay, so now that we’ve taken in this crazy beautiful place, we need to find some food.” She sat up on her elbows. “But then what?” “I don’t know.” I walked over to the desk beside the doorway to the room in search of a brochure listing restaurants or attractions nearby. A binder filled with menus for room service caught my attention. “Oh, let’s order something from that.” Bree had moved to where I stood, and was reading the menu over my shoulder. “The room is already paid for, and from the looks of this place, I don’t think ordering one bout of room service is going to break your mother’s bank.” Pursing my lips together, I contemplated her reasoning. I was starved and didn’t particularly feel like searching for a place to eat, and then have to wait even longer for the food to be prepared. “Okay,” I caved. “What do you want?” I skimmed the long list of options available. “How about we get a pizza?” Generally, I wasn’t a lover of the greasy, cheesy mess, but right now, I sure could go for an extra-large slice. “Yum, that sounds so freaking good right now!” I smiled. “I’ll call it in.” Picking up the receiver, I punched in the numbers for room service. While I placed our order, Bree crossed the room and opened the French doors that I presumed led out to the balcony. She disappeared from my view for a few seconds before coming back with a wide grin on her face. “You have got to check out this view when you hang up!” She beamed. I nodded and finished placing our food order. Once I hung up, I set the binder back on the desk and headed toward the balcony. The second I stepped outside, the sights and sounds of the New Orleans nightlife met my ears. “It looks like some people are celebrating Halloween a little early.” Bree pointed to a couple dressed in skeleton costumes walking hand in hand down the sidewalk. “We should go shopping for a costume tonight, and ask around to see where the best parties will be tomorrow night.” “Maybe after we eat.” My eyes skimmed the street line, taking in the bright blue lights of the place across from us. They seemed to light up its balcony in a ghostly way. “Sounds like a plan.” Bree headed back, no doubt to explore the rest of the room, with an ample amount of excitement in her steps. Staring after her retreating form, I wished I had half the enthusiasm about being here that she seemed to harbor. With a sigh, I walked to the side of the balcony and leaned against the iron rods that made it up. My eyes skimmed over everything going on beneath me. I took in the narrow street below, zeroing in on each person as best I could as they passed through the strangely colorful shadows. Jazzy music seemed to stem from nowhere and everywhere all at once. New Orleans was invading my senses one at a time. Closing my eyes, I breathed deeply, allowing myself a moment to decompress and enjoy the fact that I was here—I was in New Orleans—as a warm breeze brushed against my skin and through my hair. The sound of a large bird flapping its wings close by caught my attention. I snapped my eyes open and turned swiftly the moment I realized how close the noise actually was. I was startled when I saw no bird at all. There was nothing there—nothing except for another black envelope with my name scrolled across the front in my mother’s handwriting. Chapter 4 My heart dropped to my toes as I stared at the envelope, wondering how in the hell it had gotten there. There was no way Bree or I would have missed it. And that noise—flapping wings? My mind jumped from thought to thought as I scurried for an explanation that made the most sense. Finally, I settled on one—my mother must be seriously old school and have some carrier pigeons, because I refused to think it could have been anything else. But, did carrier pigeons even exist anymore? Swallowing hard, I moved to pick up the envelope before the warm October wind blew it away. It was the same thick and incredibly durable paper as the previous note. My heart hammered as I wondered what this message would say. What if it was an invitation to meet with my mother someplace? Would I go? The sounds of Bree talking with someone inside floated up the stairs and filled my ears, but I couldn’t move to see whom she was speaking with. My entire body had frozen now that I was holding another letter from my mother. “Food’s here.” Bree popped her head out the balcony door. She was holding a small cardboard box. Her eyes dipped to the envelope in my hand. “What’s that?” “I’m pretty sure it’s another letter from my mother.” My stomach flipped as I weighed the possibility once again that it could be an invitation to meet her. I wasn’t sure I was ready. I’d created a vision of what she looked like and each of the quirky characteristics I assumed she had when I was little, and I wasn’t sure that was something I was willing to have tested. I liked the image I had given her in my mind, and I was stubborn enough to want to hold on to it forever. Bree stepped to where I stood. “Where did you find it?” “It just sort of…appeared.” “Things don’t sort of appear, Kenna. We must have missed it in our excitement to check out the city from up here.” “Maybe you’re right,” I said, even though I didn’t believe the words. The letter had appeared out of thin air, or been dropped off by a bird of some sort. Looking up at the night sky, I searched for any creepy-looking bird perched somewhere staring at me, but didn’t see anything. Even with the city lights, it was too dark now to spot something if it was there. “Well, don’t just stand there.” Bree smiled. “The food’s getting cold. We can read it while we eat.” Forcing my legs forward, I stepped back into the hotel room, taking special care to be sure the balcony doors closed securely behind me. The last thing I needed was for some creepy ass bird to fly through them and attack me while I was trying to eat. Bree flopped down on the bed, and opened the box our pizza had come in. Marinara sauce and garlic met my nose, causing my mouth to water. I sat down on the edge of the bed, and Bree handed me a napkin. “Well, aren’t you going to open it? I know you’re dying to find out what it says.” She took a bite of her pizza and stared at me. Taking in a deep breath, I readied myself for whatever I would find inside. I slipped my nail along the outer edge of the envelope to open it, and then pulled the postcard-like paper free. My mother’s signature red ink was the first thing I noticed as I read her words. The Midnight Cauldron, off Bourbon Street, tomorrow Love, Mom My eyes focused intently on the letters that made up her—yet again—cryptic note until they blended together. My heart palpitated in my throat as I turned the name The Midnight Cauldron over in my head. There was something ominous sounding about the place, something that made a slight shiver slip along my spine. “So, I’m assuming that’s the name of a club or something,” Bree said around a mouthful of pepperoni pizza. “What do you think?” “Maybe. It could be a store or a restaurant too.” The words fell from my lips without much thought, because my mind was elsewhere. What if this was a place my mother worked at? What if she owned it? What if it was some strange, witchy coffee place she would be sitting at all day while waiting for me to show up? “Hmm, could be. We should Google it,” Bree suggested. Snapping from my thoughts, I reached for my phone and typed in the name of the place. I took a bite of my pizza while I waited for the results to pop up, but nothing did. Nothing that seemed like anything. “It didn’t bring up any shops or clubs.” I scrolled down my screen with my thumb. “Maybe you should add in New Orleans or Bourbon Street to narrow it down some?” Bree shifted to get another slice. Wiping my fingers on a napkin, I typed in New Orleans. An occult shop by that name popped up on the next search. “Bingo.” Excitement I should have been feeling this entire time surged through me at the sight of the shop name across my phone screen. “It’s some sort of witch shop.” “I can see that.” Bree wiped her mouth with a napkin. “This place is probably crawling with witch shops and palm readers. Isn’t that stuff what this town was built around?” “I don’t know about all that.” I tapped on the shop website, and scrolled through all the pictures and clickable links for herbs and spells available for purchase. “But in books and on TV, yeah, witchcraft and voodoo play a prominent role in New Orleans.” Bree slapped my thigh. “Oh my God, wouldn’t it be freaking awesome if we went to this place and found out you’re part witch or something?” Her words sent spasms of panic ricocheting through my body as they fueled the strangeness that surrounded this trip for me a little more than they should. The idea of learning that I was some kind of witch—or something far worse—was enough to make me doubt coming here and send me packing. “Yeah, I don’t think so.” I shook my head while attempting to appear unfazed by her words. “That would suck.” “Why?” Bree tossed her pizza crust and napkin into the trash. “My life is insane enough already. I don’t need to add some crazy hocus pocus into it to screw it up even more.” She moved to the dresser and piled her hair into a messy bun on top of her head. “Shut up. You’re life isn’t insane.” Her eyes locked on mine through the mirror, and I could see them soften as she worried over what she’d just said, having obviously remembering I had lost my dad only weeks ago. “I didn’t mean that things with your dad haven’t been… That they weren’t…” she trailed off. Screwing my face up to hide even the smallest sense of sadness, I took a bite of my pizza. “I know what you meant. Jeez, I’m not as sensitive as you think.” I was more sensitive than I often let on, but that was just me. It was how I was wired. I could conceal my emotions like the best of them, when I wanted to. Taking a bite of my pizza crust, I glanced around the room. I suddenly felt as though I was grasping at straws while trying to find something to say that would fill this awkward moment that had crippled our conversation so quickly. “You know, I didn’t even think about it until now, but do you want me to see if I can get the hotel to switch us to another room? One with two beds maybe?” I asked. Bree rolled her eyes. “We’ve known each other since we were like five. It’s not the first time we’ve had to sleep in the same bed together. It’ll be like old times, except this time it’s a sleepover in New Orleans!” I laughed. “Okay.” Bree walked to her suitcase, and pulled out her zebra print makeup bag. “We’ve found our room, eaten, and located some witch shop your mom wants you to go to sometime tomorrow. Now all there is left to do is have some damn fun!” She rummaged through her makeup bag until she found her eyeliner. “Let’s doll ourselves up and find a bar, because I know you could use a drink just as badly as I can.” “You have no idea.” I grinned at her as I tossed the remainder of my crust into the trash. Having a drink to drown the odd feelings that had only festered and grown inside of me since arriving in New Orleans sounded unbelievably good. Deciding to push all of the craziness that was my life aside, and embrace the simple fact that I was in a city I had always wanted to visit with my best friend on Halloween weekend, I stepped to my suitcase to freshen up as well. Chapter 5 Once Bree and I had finished primping, we headed downstairs to check out the bar I’d seen on our way up. Before we even made it to the door, Bree snubbed her nose at it. “We need to find something a little less cigar-smoking old men like,” she insisted. Peeking in through the dim windows that separated the bar from the main hotel lobby, I realized she was right. The place was practically empty, with the exception of four or five bald old guys who I was sure smelled like cigar smoke, sipping on scotch. As we exited the hotel, the sounds of the New Orleans nightlife met my ears once more as the bright, colorful glow from the lights blinded me for a moment. Following along the sidewalk, we took in the various restaurants and little shops—trying to decide which ones we should visit tomorrow when we ventured out to find that crazy cauldron place—as we continued in our pursuit of a hip bar. Even though we had yet to find a place, the night air was still electric with liveliness. I could feel the energy of the city brushing against my skin as though it were lulling me in further. “Oh! This place sounds interesting.” Bree tugged on my arm in an effort to get to wherever she had spotted faster. “I like the name.” I zeroed in on the area down the street she was pulling me toward, trying to see what she saw. A gray building with turquoise shutters attached to each window caught my eye, mainly because of the sign that said Cats Meow in neon letters. It was such a strange name. Pushing on the door, we stepped inside. Music floated to my ears as the door closed behind us, sealing us off from the chaotic sounds of Bourbon Street. While I recognized the lyrics to the song playing throughout the place, I wasn’t familiar with the voice singing them. Glancing around at the lively décor and the nearly plastered people crowding around, one thing became quite clear—this was a karaoke bar. “Ah, look at this place!” Bree gripped my arm. Excitement oozed from her like never before. “How genius is this place? It doesn’t get any better than this!” I pursed my lips together. “There’s not a chance in hell you’re getting me on that stage. No matter how many drinks you send my way.” “It would be fun though.” She tilted her head to the side, and flashed me a pouty face. “No.” “Fine.” Bree dropped her pleading stare. “First let’s order a drink, and then we can revisit this conversation after we’ve downed it.” I laughed. “Whatever, I’m not budging on this one. Karaoke is not my thing. Period.” “Yeah, yeah.” She waved my words away as we walked toward the bar. The amount of people standing around the dark wood of the bar made me instantly smirk at the thought of how much these bartenders must make a night in tips. What I walked away with in my pocket on a peek night was surely chump change compared to what these people cleared on a slow night. When we finally made our way through the thicket of people and claimed a small section of the mahogany bar top for our own, I leaned closer to Bree. “What are you ordering?” She shrugged and eyed the wall of liquors. “I don’t know. What about you?” My eyes scanned the shelves behind the bar, taking in the variety. “Hmm, I think I might have a whiskey sour.” “Yuck, those things make my mouth pucker, they’re so sour.” “Hence the name.” I grinned. My eyes traveled down the length of the bar, searching for the bartender. The second I spotted him, a slight shiver slid through me. Not only was the guy easy on the eyes, but he was already looking my way. I knew the trick he was using—the old wait until one of them glances around to seek you out so you don’t seem as though you’re rushing them to place an order. I used the trick myself many times, but in the moment, I felt like a regular girl who’d just spotted the hot bartender checking her out. It was a nice feeling. “There was something you made for me once that was great, but I can’t remember what it was now.” Bree tilted her head to the side. I could feel her glare boring into me as though the drink in question was written on me somewhere. Holding the bartender’s eye, I thought back through all the drinks I’d made for Bree. The list was long. She had been my guinea pig numerous times while I attempted to figure out the right strengths of popular drinks. “Which one? I don’t know which time you’re talking about. What color was it?” The sexy bartender pulled himself from against the counter where he’d been leaning, and walked our way. I watched him intently, his movements smooth and effortless. Either I was suffering from a severe case of wishful thinking, or this guy was seriously interested in me. Licking my lips, I flashed him a small smile in case it was the latter of the two. Normally, I wasn’t one to blatantly flirt—not unless I was behind the bar at Spark, attempting to earn some killer tips for whatever reason—but this guy was incredibly good-looking. Not flirting with him while his attention was fixated on me would be like trying not to breathe. “The one that was pink…or maybe it was red…” Bree trailed off. “A cosmo.” I wasn’t one hundred percent sure that was the one, but it was the first reddish drink that popped in my head, so I went with it. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure that was it.” Bree nodded. “I think I’ll have one of those.” “Hello, ladies,” the bartender said, his voice deep and silky smooth all at the same time. “What can I get you tonight?” I arched a brow at his tone as mild surprise from the sexiness of it slipped through me. He leaned against the counter in front of me, and stared at me. My brow arched a little higher from his gesture. Maybe I had been right about him—he was into me. Holding his stare, I didn’t answer him right away. Instead, I took a moment to assess the colors of his eyes. They were a steely gray I’d seen on few and far between. It was different and I liked it. It made him that much more alluring. I leaned toward him so he could hear my order over the song currently being butchered by a chick who had obviously had too much to drink. “I’ll take a whiskey sour.” The ghost of a smile twisted at the corners of his lips. “Not the type of drink I would have pegged you for.” “What did you think I would order?” Curiosity sprang to life inside of me. This was a game I had just recently started to play during my shifts at Spark, now that I was a little more familiar with how to make things. “Something fruity,” he admitted, that hint of a smile still lingering on his lips. Shifting his gaze from me, he glanced at Bree. “What about you? What would you like?” She had leaned to the side so that she could take in the scene unfolding between the bartender and me. I could see the twist of a smile playing at the corners of her lips. “A cosmo, please.” Gripping the edges of the bar, he pushed himself away. “Coming right up.” His grayish eyes shifted to mine again, and he winked. When he turned away, I watched him as he created our drinks with ease. Bree nudged my arm. “What was that?” “What?” “You were flirting with him.” There was a dumbfounded tone etched into her words. An impish grin sprang onto my face. “And?” Bree shook her head and smiled. “And nothing, I just haven’t seen Kenna Blake flirt like that in a while, that’s all.” Skimming my eyes over the bartender’s face, I took in the slight amount of stubble along his chin and cheeks. Some guys looked homeless when they didn’t shave every day, but not him. He pulled it off in a crazy good way. “Well I haven’t seen someone look that good in a while either,” I muttered. Bree laughed and the bartender lifted his stare my way, catching me watching him. A wolfish smile formed on his face that did things to me I hadn’t felt in forever. Seconds later, he was setting our drinks in front of us. “Here you go, ladies. Enjoy.” Someone at the other end of the bar vied for his attention. He nodded in his direction, letting him know he’d seen he was ready to place an order, and then shifted his gaze back to me. “How much?” I asked, fishing my wallet out of my purse. “Your number.” There was so much confidence woven into his words that I almost blushed. “My number? Well, what if I said I’m not comfortable with that?” “Then I’d say I have my work cut out for me.” His wolfish grin grew to a whole new level. Bree kicked me with her foot, and cleared her throat before taking a sip of her drink. I knew what she was telling me—to give him my damn number—but I was having fun letting my flirty side free, and I intended to keep that fun flowing through the night, even if that meant being a bit of a tease. “I’d say you do.” I picked up my whiskey sour, and took a small sip of the tangy goodness. “Challenge accepted, then,” he whispered before sauntering toward the other end of the bar. I watched him as he pressed his palms against the counter while he listened to the order being placed. His eyes shifted my way, and he flashed me another knee-weakening smile. “He’s hot,” Bree said. “Give him your number.” I shook my head. “No way. I’m only here for one solid day. I’m not giving some random guy my number, especially not one I’ll never see again.” “Okay, then don’t, but ask him what time he gets off.” My eyebrows drew together. “Why?” “So we can have a hot tour guide to show us where all the cool clubs and stuff are while we’re here. He can even tell us where to get a costume, or where all the best parties are on Halloween.” Gripping the little stir straw, I swirled it around in my cup. “I don’t know. I figured I’d just flirt a little with him and leave it at that. He is cute, but I don’t know if I want to hang out with him.” “Oh, come on. I have a boyfriend—hell, compared to you I’m practically married—and I wanna hang out with him. He’s sexy as sin, Kenna. I mean look at the guy.” My eyes drifted toward him. He was talking with some woman old enough to be his mother who was dressed in the worst leopard print top I’d ever seen. She was definitely a cougar on the prowl, but he didn’t look to be lying down for her anytime soon. As though he felt my stare on him, he glanced my way. His tongue darted out and licked along his bottom lip before he dropped his stare back to the woman trailing her fingertips along his forearm. He was hot. Hotter than hot. And I wanted him. “We’re in New Orleans. Let’s get us a hot tour guide for the weekend,” Bree insisted as she continued to persuade me to go for him. “God, I feel like you’re my pimp trying to coax me into my first time.” I laughed. “Kellen would shit a brick if he heard you talking right now. You know that, right?” “I know. But Kellen isn’t here, is he?” She arched one of her perfectly plucked brows, and eyed me. “Besides, the guy isn’t for me, he’s for you.” A shit-eating grin formed on her face as she nudged me with her elbow and brought her straw to her lips. Before I could respond, the sexy bartender was back in front of me. His stare even more intense than before. “So, what’s your name?” he asked. The corner of my lips twisted into a smile as I locked eyes with him. “Kenna.” “Kenna…” He rolled each letter off his tongue in a way that made me quiver. “I like it. It’s unique.” “Thanks.” I took another sip of my drink, knowing his eyes would fall to my lips as I did so. “What’s yours?” “Delvin,” he said. “Well, look at the two of you,” Bree chimed in. “Both of you have equally unique names.” “And what’s yours?” Delvin asked her. “Bree.” She flashed him a small smile. Her drink was nearly finished, and I could tell she was already feeling some of the effects from it. Lightweight. “Nice name. Guess you’re in the unique name club as well.” His index finger glided in slow circles across the bar top as he brought his gaze back to me. “So, what are you lovely ladies doing after you leave here tonight?” “I’m not sure,” Bree answered before I could. “Know of any place cool to dance at?” “You mean cooler than this?” He motioned toward the stage where someone was doing an awesome job of singing Genie in a Bottle by Christina Aguilera. “Yeah, I don’t want to listen to people sing all night. I want to dance,” Bree muttered. “Got ya. Well, it just so happens that I do know of someplace.” Delvin leaned in a little farther as the chick singing hit all the high notes near the end of the song. “I could take you to the hottest dance place in New Orleans, if you feel up to waiting until I get off.” I took another sip of my drink, and then licked the sweetness from my lips. “And when is that?” Delvin’s eyes darkened, my gesture drawing his stare right where I wanted it. “My replacement should have been here an hour ago, but she’s generally late.” He lifted his gaze as someone called his name down the bar. “So, give me another few minutes for her to get here, and then we can go. Is that all right with you?” His eyes came back to mine. There was a slight challenge swirling within their color. It was almost as though he expected me to decline, and then talk some sense into my friend for even asking. Again, he had me pegged wrong. Nodding in agreement, I flashed him a small smile. “Sounds good.” Chapter 6 Standing in front of The Gold Mine Saloon, I took in the rustic yellow building and the brightness of the neon lights casting eerie shadows through the night. One thing about New Orleans I had learned was that these people were not afraid to use color on anything. I loved that. Delvin pushed us through the little sporadic groups of people standing outside of the door. I wasn’t sure if they were waiting to head inside, or if they were taking a breather and catching some fresh air. Either way, none of them seemed to mind when we brushed past them and inside. Filing through the brick red door, we crossed the threshold and each of my senses came to life once more. Music blasted through the place, encasing me in seconds. The bass from the song playing vibrated my chest as I walked farther inside. Cool air brushed against my skin, but I was sure once I had a drink and danced for a bit, the coolness in the air would fade to nothing. Delvin maneuvered between Bree and me so he could slip his arms over both our shoulders. “You ladies care for another drink?” I glanced at Bree. She nodded her agreement as her hips swayed to the music. “Sure,” I said. Delvin lowered his lips to my ear. “Same as before?” “Yeah, but we’ve got it. You don’t have to foot the bill for this round,” I insisted, grabbing my wallet. “It’s fine. Really, I don’t mind.” Bree looped her arm through mine. “Kenna, will you come to the restroom with me?” From her tone, I knew she was planning to lecture me. A small smile twisted my lips as I wondered what I had done wrong this time. “Sure.” I locked eyes with Delvin. “Be right back. Don’t ruffee our drinks while we’re gone, okay?” I was only half-kidding with him. The knowledge that I’d just met him, and knew virtually nothing about the guy except his first name and place of employment, was not lost on me. “First of all, I would never do something like that.” His eyes went from sexy cool to crazy serious in an instant, leaving me feeling guilty for having said the words. “Second, everyone would know if I did, and I would be arrested on the spot. They have special cups here.” “Special cups?” I furrowed my brows. “Yeah, they appear to be normal, but the second someone puts something in them, they change color. Solid red lines appear vertically along the outside.” “Oh wow, that’s pretty badass.” “I know, right?” He grinned. “The moment the bartender spots a colored cup, they call for security. Then they scroll through the video surveillance to find out who did it.” “I love that idea.” It was something I could mention to Landon when I made it back home that might get us talking under the pretense of it being an awesome safety feature to incorporate in the bar. “Bathroom,” Bree reminded me as she tugged on my arm. “Yup, let’s go.” “It’s over there, to the left.” Delvin pointed us in the right direction. Weaving through people talking and dancing, we finally made it to the restroom. Pushing open the door, I stepped inside first. Two girls stood at full-length mirrors freshening their makeup while someone else occupied one of the three stalls. The sounds of bass from the song playing thumped through the bathroom, echoing off the white block walls. One girl pulled a bottle of body spray from in her purse and practically bathed herself in it as Bree and I walked past. I crinkled my nose at the thought of smelling like a cheap whore all night thanks to her. Bree gripped my shoulders, and spun me to face her. She locked her eyes on mine. “Listen, I brought you in here to tell you that if Delvin wants to foot the bill tonight, then fucking let him.” I arched a brow at her word choice and tone. “Wow, I knew you were planning on lecturing me in here, but jeez.” “I’m just saying. We’re both broke. If he wants to pay for our drinks and stuff, then shut up and let him. It’ll save us both a shit ton of money. Did you see how expensive those last two drinks were?” I had. Compared to the price of them at home, they were roughly about three bucks more here. I chalked it up to a tourist city thing. “Fine.” I shook her grip off, and dug in my purse for my Chapstick. “Good. Now run a brush through your hair and enjoy that hot specimen of the male species who’s seriously into you,” she insisted. “You better listen to her,” said the girl who hadn’t doused us in cheap perfume. “She knows what she’s talking about. A free drink is a free drink. If this guy is hot and he wants to buy all your drinks tonight, then let him. You’re not twisting his arm or leading him to expect anything in return, right?” I shook my head. “No.” “See, listen to her.” Bree pointed at the girl. “That’s exactly what I’m saying.” Rolling my eyes, I leaned against the cool wall and waited for Bree to finish primping. I ran my Chapstick over my lips a few more times and then capped it. “All right, go get him, tiger,” Bree said once she was finished reapplying her eyeliner. Looping her arm though mine, she tugged me in the direction of the door. When we made our way back to the bar, Delvin was sitting on a stool with three drinks in front of him, talking with the sex vixen of a bartender behind the counter. Jealousy spiraled through my insides and I hated it. It wasn’t a feeling I generally felt, ever. I didn’t get jealous when it came to relationships. I just wasn’t that type of girl. However, to get that sensation zinging through my insides over someone I had just met was insane. Even I knew this. As we approached Delvin, the beautiful bartender shifted her bright blue eyes to us and smiled. She said something to him, but I couldn’t be sure what, causing him to spin around in his seat and face us. My eyes latched onto his charming smile, and I noticed from in the edge of my vision that the bartender had already backed away and was now serving someone else. “Here are your drinks, ladies.” Delvin motioned to the cups. I reached for the one containing a yellowish concoction, assuming it was my whiskey sour. “No red lines I see. Thank you.” The smile slipped off Delvin’s face. “I said I would never do that, and I meant it.” His voice took on a somber tone. “My little sister was drugged and then raped two years ago before these ingenious cups were put on the market.” Solemn was not the word I would use to describe Delvin’s expression; it was equal parts crazed and grim combined. “I’m sorry.” Guilt sloshed around my stomach. I moved to sit on the stool beside him. “I didn’t know, and I didn’t mean anything by it. I was just—” “Don’t be. It wasn’t your fault,” he cut me off, and ran a hand through his thick hair, giving it an even more tousled look than before. “I just wanted to reiterate how serious my statement was and let you in on why.” Bree slipped onto the stool beside me. “That’s horrible.” She’d slid her cosmo toward her and had already began taking large, greedy sips. When Bree said she wanted to party, she meant it. The girl might be a lightweight, but she never let that stop her from getting shitty and loving it. “Did she report it? Some girls don’t, you know?” A deep breath expelled from Delvin’s lungs, and he nodded. “Yeah, she did. Then she convinced her boss to invest in these glasses so it wouldn’t happen to anyone ever again on her watch.” Something clicked in my head just then. The female bartender he’d been talking to was his sister. “She’s your sister?” I pointed her out. Glancing back toward her, Delvin smiled. “Yeah, that’s her.” When his gaze shifted back to me, there was a glint of smugness reflected in his steel gray eyes. “Relieved now?” My heart dropped to my toes. Had he noticed my flare up of jealousy a minute ago? “Oh! Dance with me!” Bree shouted as the song playing faded away to something else, saving me from having to answer him. “I love this song!” Getting a firm grip on my upper arm, Bree set her drink down and pulled me onto the dance floor with her. The beat to the song playing seemed familiar, but I couldn’t figure out why until I heard the lyrics begin. It was the new Iggy song. The beat pounded through the air, provoking me to move and dip my hips to it. After a few minutes of feeling the vibrations from the beat move through me, I closed my eyes and tipped my head back, letting go. My movements became more fluid and in sync with the music the longer I felt the beat. “There’s my girl,” Bree shouted. “Let loose!” Snapping my eyes open, I grinned at her. She was mimicking the same motions I was using. A few strands of her blond hair had fallen free, and her eyes were closed as she lost herself in the moment as well. A guy moved up behind her, and began the typical dry-humping-her-backside moves every guy seemed to consider dancing. I slowed my movements, making sure she was okay with this before I lost myself once more. This was what the weekend was supposed to be about, letting loose and having fun with my best friend, forgetting everything back home, all the responsibilities waiting for us when we returned. Not about guys, or strangely cryptic notes from my estranged mother. Chapter 7 Warm hands gripped my hips, and I spun to see who it was. At this point in the night, I’d had to fend off one too many groping drunks. While I was feeling a little tipsy, I still had standards. Beer goggles were not an issue for me. Ever. No one grew sexier the more I drank unless they started out that way. Delvin’s incredible eyes were what I found. He pressed against me, his movements matching mine perfectly. It wasn’t the typical dry humping most guys I had witnessed dancing tonight did, but even if it was, I didn’t think I would mind. Not from him. “I couldn’t help myself.” He pressed his lips against my ear so that I could better hear him. “You look too good out here to be dancing alone.” Wiggling against him, I smiled. “Thank you.” The song changed to another one, and then another, and another as we continued to grind against each other for what felt like hours. Sweat moistened the back of my neck, making the fine hairs there stick to my skin. Lifting my hair from off my neck, I twisted it into a messy bun on top of my head with the hair tie from my wrist. As I secured my hair in place, I skimmed the people around me, searching for Bree while I caught my breath. Delvin gripped my hip and leaned toward my ear. “She’s over there, getting herself another drink.” He pointed to her at the bar. Relief trickled through me at the sight of her. “Thanks.” I smiled. “I can’t believe I lost track of her.” “I’ve been keeping up with her for you.” He gripped the edge of his T-shirt and moved it in a fanning motion. “Whew, it’s hot in here. I’m thinking about getting something else to drink. You want something?” “Sure.” I nodded. “I need to catch my breath for a minute too.” Starting toward the bar, I fanned myself. Once I reached Bree, I bumped her with my elbow. She was sipping on another cosmo. “How many is that for you tonight?” I’d seen her head to the bar a few times, but I assumed she was still drinking the same one we’d ordered together the previous time, but looking into her glossed-over eyes right now, I could tell I was wrong. Bree looked wasted, and the guy standing beside her seemed thrilled about this. While he was decent on the eyes, the slight smirk of anticipation twisting his lips was enough to make me want to smack him silly. “A few,” Bree slurred, confirming my suspicion of how wasted she actually was. Delvin appeared at my side, holding two bottles of water. “Here. I bought you something.” “Thanks.” I took it from his fingers with a wide smile. “How did you know I wasn’t planning on drinking anymore?” “Lucky guess.” He shrugged and then that smug little glint from earlier entered his eyes again. “I’m also betting your about to call it a night, aren’t you?” I laughed. “Yeah, I think I should probably get her back to the hotel. I’m pretty sure she’s had enough.” My eyes skimmed over Bree. She was slurring and waving her arms around animatedly while her eyes continually rolled back in her head as she talked with the guy who had been glued to her all night. Delvin quirked an eyebrow. “Hotel, huh? Are you a tourist, then?” I wasn’t sure if I was imagining it, but there seemed to be a slight level of disappointment etched into his words. I nodded. “Yeah, I’m only here for the weekend.” Rolling back on his heels, his lips twisted into the sexiest frown I had ever seen on a man. “Oh, I see. Here for Halloween or something?” “Something.” I nodded and took a small swig from my water. The coolness felt amazing against my dry, scratchy throat. “So where are you from?” I couldn’t believe we’d danced and hung out practically all night, but still hadn’t held a true conversation. “North Carolina.” “Awesome. I’ve never been. I bet the mountains are beautiful.” “They are.” I spun to check on Bree, not wanting to tell him that I lived in the city and not the mountains. She was still talking with that guy. When I noticed she was nearly finished with her cocktail, I tapped her on the shoulder. “Hey.” “Hey!” She spun to face me and slung an arm over my shoulder. “Paul, this is Kenna. She’s my best friend.” She gave me a big, wet kiss on my cheek. Paul smiled wide. “Nice to meet you. I’ve been enjoying myself with your friend here.” “Oh, I bet you have.” There was loads of bite to my words. I could pinpoint his type from a mile away—he was only looking to get lucky. “Bree, honey, as soon as you’re finished with that drink, we’re leaving.” She nodded. “Okay, yeah, sure.” Drunk Bree was so freaking happy it was sickening. This was another reason why I loved her. Some people became rude and obnoxious when they were hammered, while others seemed to become just plain mean, but not Bree. She transformed into the nicest person around, ready to toss money at any hobo on the side of the street and feed every stray animal she came across. “Aw, come on.” Paul cocked his head to the side. “Things were just starting to get good.” He reached out and stroked his long fingers against the side of Bree’s neck. Her eyes widened at his inappropriate touch. “I have a boyfriend.” She slapped his hand away and set her cup on the bar with a loud crack before turning to look at me. “I think I’m ready to go home now.” She hiccupped once between her words, breaking up her sentence, and I laughed. “No, darlin’.” Paul attempted to spin her toward him. “Stay. The night is still young.” I watched him, shocked by his level of confidence, as his lips parted and he ran his tongue along his bottom lip. He stared at Bree with a fake, pleading look pulling at his features. In the dim light of the bar, I could have sworn the guy had fangs. The second I did a double take to be sure, his lips smacked together, sealing his teeth off from my view. Chill bumps slipped along my skin as I continued to stare at him. His eyes, while still blue, held an unnatural glint to them, something that made him appear animalistic and ravenously hungry all of a sudden. Delvin stepped between Paul and Bree. He gently gripped her shoulder, and pushed her toward me. “Yeah, I’d say you’re done, sweetheart. Let’s get the two of you back safely. Okay?” Blinking, the strangeness that surrounded Paul seconds before vanished as though it had all been a trick of the mind. Once again, he was just some creeper who was being too clingy with my best friend. The odd gleam in his eyes was gone, and when he opened his mouth to offer walking us home as well, his teeth were perfectly normal and blindingly white. What. The. Hell. Obviously, I’d had my fair share of alcohol tonight as well. Chalking my bizarre moment up to alcohol and pure exhaustion, I opened my mouth to tell Paul his offer wasn’t necessary when Delvin cut me off, saying something similar. Paul tossed his hands up in the air and grinned. “All right, duly noted.” Heading toward the exit, Delvin walked us through the crowd of people. As we passed the bar, I noticed his sister nod at him. “Hold on for just one second,” Delvin insisted. “Let me tell her I’ll be right back.” “Okay.” I watched him force his way to the bar. He said something to her, but I couldn’t make out what, and then he was at my side again, his hand pressing against the small of my back as he ushered Bree and me outside. Pushing through the red door, we stepped onto the sidewalk. The night air was cool compared to the stuffiness of inside. I felt my muscles relax at having put distance between Paul and Bree. Thank goodness for Delvin, who knew how long it would have taken me to convince that creeper we would be fine walking to the hotel alone. Delvin dropped his hand from my back and crammed it into the front pockets of his dark jeans. “Where are you staying?” I took a small sip of my water before answering. “The Bourbon Orleans Hotel.” “Fancy,” he muttered in a joking tone that brought a smile to my face. A blush tinted my cheeks. I was as far from fancy as could possibly be, but Delvin didn’t know that. Bree mumbled something similar to my thoughts, but it was hard to decipher. My eyes lifted to the night sky and I noticed the large moon for the first time. “Full moon on Halloween.” I tucked a strand of hair that had fallen from my bun behind my ear as a slight breeze blew across my skin. “That can’t mean anything good.” Delvin shrugged his shoulders. “Eh, just another reason for the crazies to get even crazier.” “Like?” I prompted, hoping he would elaborate a bit. “New Orleans already has a certain energy to it, but add Halloween and a full moon, and things are sure to reach all new levels.” The energy he was talking about was something I had noticed upon entering the city. It was unlike anything I’d ever felt before. “Got ya.” I nodded. “Costumes!” Bree suddenly shouted. “You need to ask him where all the great costume shops are.” Her words were bunched together, but I could still pick them apart. “I can swing by in the morning and pick you ladies up if you want? There are quite a few places to costume hunt in New Orleans,” Delvin offered. “Thanks, but there’s something else I planned on doing in the morning. I wouldn’t want to tie up your entire day or anything.” There was truthfully only one place I wanted to go tomorrow—The Midnight Cauldron. The hope that I would finally get to meet my mother had blossomed in my chest, regardless of the cryptic notes from her, creepy bird sounds, and the fear that my life might turn into something from a paranormal TV show. “Oh yeah, Kenna wants to check out some witch shop called cauldron something,” Bree blurted in her drunken state. A hysterical laugh slipped through her lips. “She got a postcard from her mom about it.” Shooting her death rays did me no good; she continued to run her mouth between drunken giggles. “The notes were like rhymes or something…” Bree trailed off. “The Midnight Cauldron, that was the name of it!” Glancing at Delvin, I noticed from his reaction the name of the shop rang a bell with him. I wondered if he had been there before. If so, maybe he knew who owned the place. The website hadn’t listed a name for an owner, nor had it given specific directions to find the place. “What do you need from there?” Delvin asked. His jaw became hard set as his lips formed into a thin line. “I take it you’ve heard of it,” I stated the obvious. “Yeah. That place deals with some serious magic, some of it dark.” A shiver ran along my spine at his words. This wasn’t something I didn’t know already—in fact, anyone who visited its website could see the type of place it was—but hearing it confirmed was spooky. “Have you been there?” I asked. “No. I haven’t ever had a reason to.” He took in a deep breath. “The lady who owns the place is a true witch. A lot of people around here claim to be—they dabble in pretending to know what they’re talking about—but that woman, she’s real. Everyone knows it. If you can, I’d recommend staying away from there all together.” His words had lodged a lump in my throat. I was finding it hard to swallow. I wondered what the chances were that the woman he claimed to be a real witch was my mother. Was Bree right when she’d said I might leave New Orleans with the knowledge that I was a real life witch? “I can’t,” I admitted. “And here we are…” Bree slurred. “Home, sweet home.” Glancing to the building we stood in front of, I noticed we’d made it back to The Bourbon Orleans Hotel in what seemed like record timing. I glanced at Delvin, noticing an awkwardness that seemed to be constricting his features. He obviously wanted to ask why I was so adamant on visiting The Midnight Cauldron, but didn’t. “Are you okay getting her up to your room by yourself?” he asked instead. “Yeah, we’ll be fine. Thanks though.” I looped my arm through Bree’s. Her head dipped down to rest against my shoulder, and a soft moan pushed past her lips. “I love you,” she mumbled as she nuzzled into the crook of my neck. “I love you too.” I chuckled. She was definitely ready to call it a night. “Well, I guess this is goodnight.” I shifted to glance at Delvin once more. He flashed me that same wolfish smile I had seen on his face numerous times tonight, and cocked his head to the side. All the tension from moments before had melted from his features. “What, no goodnight kiss?” My head fell back as I laughed loudly, his bold words surprising me. “Nope. Maybe tomorrow night though.” I winked. While I might not be looking for a one-night stand, that didn’t mean I wanted to pass up the opportunity to hang out with him again before I headed home on Sunday. There was more to him than met the eye, and I wasn’t opposed to learning as much as I could while I had the chance. He lifted his chin. “Tomorrow night, she says.” Smoothing a hand along his scruffy chin, he smiled. “I can wait that long, I guess. Are we still on for in the morning?” “We’re on for tomorrow, but I don’t know about in the morning.” I nodded toward Bree. “I’m not too sure how she’ll feel. How about we shoot for the afternoon?” Bree muttered something about feeling perfectly fine, and then burst into a fit of tinkling laughter. “Can I get your number now, so we can discuss a time tomorrow?” My lips quirked into a small smile. “You’re all about getting my number, aren’t you?” “I did say at the beginning of the night that I had my work cut out for me, but that the challenge had also been accepted,” he reminded me. “I’d say I’ve proven myself worthy tonight. I managed to find some fun for you two and get you both back to your hotel safely.” Letting go of Bree, I slung my purse around and dug through its contents for my cell phone. Once I found it, I handed it to him. “You’re right. Thank you.” I smiled. “Add your number please.” Delvin licked his lips, and flashed me his most charming smile of the night. “With pleasure.” After adding his number into my phone, he handed it back to me. “Thanks.” I locked arms with Bree again. “I’ll see you tomorrow sometime.” “Absolutely,” he said while walking away from me backward, his hands crammed into the front pockets of his dark jeans. I pushed through the hotel doors and headed straight for the elevator. This night had been never-ending, but it had also been a blast. I was thankful I had let Bree talk me into hanging out with Delvin and enjoying everything New Orleans had to offer in terms of nightlife. Exhaustion crept through my limbs in the form of a pulsating sensation as the elevator stopped at our floor. Steering Bree toward our room, I vowed to designate tomorrow night as my night to get shitty, because taking care of her tonight was going to be the pits and she would owe me. Big time. Chapter 8 The Midnight Cauldron would not have been easy to find on my own. Stating it was off Bourbon Street was precise actually, because the creepy shop was strangely tucked into an alley. I was positive most didn’t even know it was there, even with the gothic-looking sign hanging at the corner. Delvin had been a lifesaver. As we cut down the alley, the door to the place came into view, making my heart rise in my throat and unease surge through my stomach. Wind chimes made of bones hung at the entrance to the shop, and twin statues resembling voodoo dolls stood at attention on either side. Odd artifacts and potion bottles with various symbols printed on the fronts decorated the front window. Everything about the place sent chills along my spine. Bree paused a few feet away from the door. “Yeah, I think I’m just going to stand out here and wait for you.” Her voice was hoarse after last night’s events, and she looked paler than normal with large circles beneath her eyes, but her fear of the place was still visible in her expression. “Gee thanks.” I frowned. I didn’t need her to hold my hand, but I damn sure didn’t want her hanging out here while I stepped into who knew what all by my lonesome. My eyes shifted to Delvin. I preferred to keep him in the dark about what had brought me here, because of how crazy it all sounded, but I would be perfectly fine with him stepping inside and keeping me in his line of vision. “I’m with Bree. I think I’ll just wait out here too.” He crammed his hands into his jean pockets as an incredibly boyish look swept across his face. “Okay. I’ll be right back.” I smiled, but it was forced. Inhaling swiftly through my nose, I stood perfectly still as I gathered up the courage to enter. My heart raced inside my chest as I stared at the ominous-looking shop in front of me. What if I were only a few feet away from my mother? What would be the first thing I said to her? Would I ask her any of the questions I’d thought of over the last few years? My eyes landed on one of the voodoo dolls decorating the entrance, and my throat constricted. What if I was about to learn something that would change my life completely? “Well,” Bree spoke up, pulling me from my freak-out frenzy. “Aren’t you going inside?” Steeling my back, I stepped toward the door. “Yeah.” Gripping the cool knob in my sweaty palm, I twisted. “Be right back.” Once I entered the little shop, the door closed behind me, making me flinch at the sound. The musky scent of incense filled my nose, and burned my eyes. I paused a few steps past the threshold as I took the bizarre place in. A wooden counter dominated the wall farthest from the entrance. Dried bunches of herbs and flowers hung from the ceiling behind it, and shelves cluttered with glass jars of every shape and color adorned the wall. Dusty leather-bound books stacked in precarious piles along the left of the counter drew my attention, as well as the abandoned mortar and pestle set beside them. Someone had been busy making something before I’d walked in, but where were they now? My eyes scanned the remainder of the shop, this time searching for a person instead of soaking up details of the eccentric place. Even so, there were a few things that captured my attention—like the wall filled with diverse masks of assorted colors and sizes. There was one in particular that stood out to me—the face was solid white, its eyes seemed swollen to mere slits, its mouth partially open as though frozen in the midst of a painful scream, and on its head, there was a set of animal ears painted light red and gray. From one angle, they resembled ears; from another, they resembled horns. “Kenna Blake,” a woman said from behind me, her voice breaking the eerie silence trapped inside the shop. Spinning to face her, I flinched at her close proximity and appearance. Dressed in a gown of various colors that cascaded to the floor and pooled around her feet, the woman smiled, flashing her slightly discolored teeth. Fuzzy dreadlocks framed her face, and the only thing marring her dark, beautiful skin was a sporadic sprinkle of freckles beneath her mysterious eyes and across the bridge of her nose. “I’ve been waiting for you.” She held out a hand toward me, her bracelets made of bones and frayed ropes clanked around in the movement, echoing through the silent shop. “Come, let us find your gift.” Placing my trembling hand in hers, I followed her through the shop. “I take it that means you’ve spoken with my mother?” I asked, surprised by how steady my voice sounded. “Yes, many times,” the woman said in a cryptic fashion. “I mean recently,” I clarified. “You’ve spoken with her recently. Is she here, in New Orleans?” “It’s possible she may still be around.” The woman dropped my hand the moment we reached the wooden counter. Stepping behind it, she bent at the waist to glance through some shelves beneath. I kept my eyes trained on her as best I could, taking in her outward appearance. She wasn’t old by any means. Her face was practically wrinkle-free, but there was something ancient about her nonetheless. It seeped from her movements and swirled through the dark colors of her eyes. Coming up empty handed, the woman frowned. “Just a moment.” It was obvious she hadn’t been able to find whatever it was she’d been searching for. “I’ll be right back.” I watched her as she walked toward a doorway covered by a curtain of beads that moved and swayed in an unfelt breeze, disappearing through them. The eerie silence that had filled the place when I first stepped inside became present again, but only for a moment, because soon the woman was back. In her hands, she held a red box the size a small piece of jewelry would come in. Flashing me a toothy grin, her discolored teeth on display for me once more, she held the box out toward me. “This is a present from your mother.” “For what?” It was still unclear to me the motive behind not only this present, but also the entire trip. A mixture of elation and restraint shifted through her eyes, and I got the feeling she knew more than she was about to say. “Happy Halloween, of course.” My mother had never given me anything in honor of Halloween before. Strange didn’t even begin to describe this situation. “Go on.” Excitement glistened in the woman’s dark eyes. “Open it.” Chewing the inside of my cheek, I dropped my gaze to the box in my hand. Nervous butterflies burst to life in the pit of my stomach as I carefully pulled the hinged lid back. My jaw slacked as I stared in bewilderment at what was inside. Nestled snuggly in the slit cut deeply into the box’s black velvet interior was the most stunning ring I had ever laid eyes on. The band was silver and incrusted with diamonds, but the spaces between each was black, as though it had been tarnished by age. In the center was a large blood red, heart-shaped stone. Diamonds swirled along the surface of the stone, giving it a vintage look that I absolutely loved. “Try it on,” the woman suggested, her voice barely above a whisper. As if her words held within them some form of bewitching magic, I pinched the ring between my fingers and handed her the box so I could try it on. As I slipped the cool metal over the ring finger of my right hand, a sigh of contentment floated from my lips. It fit beautifully. “Was this my mother’s?” The woman nodded. “It was.” Questions began to pour through my mind, and I lifted my eyes to the woman, ready to voice them all at once. The woman pressed a finger to my lips, stilling my mind. “Shh.” She shook her head. “I know you think you have questions now, but in time, more important ones will fill their place as the night progresses. Trust me, child. All will be answered in due time.” Swallowing the words on the tip of my tongue, I took a tentative step back. My mind cleared and the reality of how weird this entire situation actually was slammed into me all at once. The desire to get out of here burned beneath my skin, forcing my feet into motion. “Okay, umm.” I made my way toward the exit. “Thank my mother for the ring, if you see her.” A prickling sensation slipped along my spine, causing the fine hairs at the back of my neck to stand on end as I gripped the handle to the door and pulled. Once outside, the door shut behind me again, and the sounds of busy Bourbon Street filled my ears. My eyes skimmed over Bree and Delvin leaning against the wall opposite the shop entrance. Bree’s head was cradled in her hands, and I knew she was still suffering from her hangover, while Delvin seemed to be content standing there and messing around on his cell phone while he waited. Letting out a loud breath, I tugged on the ring as I started toward them, and realized quickly that it wasn’t going to budge. The damn thing was stuck. I couldn’t even get it to spin on my finger; it was as though someone had put super glue along the inside of the band, and now it was permanently fused in place. Delvin lifted his gaze from his cell as I approached. “That was fast.” “I’m glad.” Bree squinted at me through the bright midmorning light. “I don’t think I could have waited out here in this heat much longer.” I didn’t respond to either of them; I was too busy trying to get the ring off. Bree stepped to where I was. “What’s that? Was your mom in there?” I held my hand out to her. “A ring, which, for whatever reason, won’t come off. And no, she wasn’t. It was just some crazy witch lady.” “Oh.” She shrugged a shoulder halfheartedly. “Well, at least the ring is pretty.” “True,” I muttered. “Told you that place was spooky.” Delvin grinned. “That lady is the real deal.” “I can see that.” I dropped my hand to my side, and released another breath. “I’m so glad that’s over with.” “So that was it? That was what your mother wanted you to come to New Orleans for?” Bree pressed. “A ring?” “I guess so.” “I mean, I’m glad that we came here—it’s been a dream trip for me—but a ring? Seriously? Why couldn’t she have mailed it like all the other gifts?” I shrugged. “I have no clue.” I didn’t understand it any more than she did. Why pay for this elaborate trip so I could gain possession of a ring? It made absolutely no sense. “Maybe it’s a family heirloom and she didn’t trust shipping it through the mail,” Delvin offered. I risked a glance at him, thinking how bizarre this all must sound to him, while wondering how I should explain it, but my lips sealed together the second my eyes landed on him. Everything about him looked the same as before, but there was some sort of yellowish, golden glow shimmering around him that resembled bright flecks of glitter. I blinked, thinking it was a trick of the light, or something in my eyes maybe, but when I brought my gaze back to him—the shimmering glow was still there, swirling around his form. “Could be,” Bree answered for me. “But let me just say, I don’t think you want Kenna to even attempt explaining it all to you. It wouldn’t clear anything up. Trust me.” “I’ll take your word for it.” He smiled, and I was glad the conversation was going to be dropped. “So, are either of you hungry yet? I could go for some lunch.” My eyes shifted between Bree and him, taking note of the fact that he was the only one with the colorful shimmers floating around him. Delvin lifted his eyes from his cell before pocketing it, and glanced at me. Bree had said something to him, but I hadn’t. My mind was too preoccupied attempting to figure out what the hell I was seeing. “So are you in, then?” His brows furrowed, and a teasing smile slipped into place on his face. “What’s wrong? You look like you’re about to pass out or something?” “Nothing,” I said. “Yeah, I’m in.” I blinked rapidly this time, and forced my eyes away from him. As we stepped out onto the busy sidewalk, I scanned those around me. My heart constricted in my chest once I realized every male within my line of vision had similar shimmering glitter floating around their bodies like Delvin. While some were the same shade as his, there were others that were a deep brown, green, blue, and one or two that were even solid black. What the hell was wrong with my eyes? What was wrong with me? Chapter 9 “Kenna?” The feel of Bree’s hand smoothing along my back startled me, and I flinched. “Are you all right?” I nodded. “Mmm-hmm.” I was sure I didn’t seem convincing. How could I? I was freaking out! Was I having a stroke? Were these the signs for something like that? Rubbing my eyes, I opened them reluctantly. No glitter swirled around Bree, and for a fraction of a second, I thought everything was okay, but then I remembered there never had been anything around her. It had only been around Delvin—and every other male in my line of vision. “Do you have a headache or something?” Delvin asked, concern swelling within his words. “Yeah, a slight one,” I lied. How the hell was I supposed to tell them I was seeing shit floating around every guy I looked at? Delvin would think I was nuts, and Bree would be worried sick. “It hit me out of nowhere.” Bree smoothed her hand over my forearm. “Maybe something to eat would be a good thing for all of us.” “Sure.” I nodded, rubbing my temple to add to my headache excuse. “Let’s grab something.” “There’s a place around the corner,” Delvin said. “Do you feel like walking or should I drive us?” I couldn’t look at him. If I did, I’d see the glitter shit again and be right back where I was seconds ago—on the verge of a panic attack. Had that witch put some sort of spell on me without me realizing? Surely not. No matter what I had just told Delvin about thinking she was the real deal as well, witches, magic, all that mumbo jumbo, it didn’t exist. Did it? Was this what she meant about me having questions later on? “Walk, walking would be good.” I let my hands fall to my sides. Plastering a small smile onto my face, I risked a glance at Delvin. The golden specks floating around him had dulled in color. I took this as a sign that maybe whatever was wrong with me was beginning to fade. “I think some fresh air would be good for me right now.” We followed Delvin around the corner, and down the street. A café caught my attention near the end, but not for the right reasons. The colors of the place were vibrant, but it was the group of people standing outside the doors that captured my attention and held it. Five people—three guys, and two girls. To anyone else, they most likely appeared normal while they stood talking to one another, but to me, there was something strange about the way their shimmering glitter seemed to float around each of them with no prejudice to their sex as I’d seen before. My eyes shifted back to Bree, thinking this thing—whatever it was—must be getting worse, but when my eyes focused on her, there was nothing there. She was shimmer free still. What was going on? Risking another glance at the group as we approached them, I noticed something else odd—each of them had the same color lingering in the air around them. It was golden brown. The longer I stared at the group, the more noticeable their color became. When my eyes locked with one of the girl’s, my heart stopped and I forced myself to contain a scream at what I saw. In the course of one heartbeat, her face had morphed into a wolf. My hand flew to my mouth as the entire group shifted to look at me, each of them no longer having a human face. What had been on that witch’s finger? It was the only thought spiraling through my head. She had to have drugged me with something seriously trippy for me to be seeing this shit. Dropping my stare to the sidewalk and slowing my speed, I waited three breaths before shifting my gaze back to them. Their eyes were still trained on me, but they were no longer wolves. The golden brown still hung suspended in the air around them. Smug, knowing smiles plastered on their faces as they each gave me a slight wave as I passed them into the café. It was the type of gesture bikers gave one another on the road in passing, the signal of acknowledgement that you’re one and the same. An eerie sensation slithered along my spine as panic laced my every thought. Was I becoming something like them? Bree leaned into me. “Well those hotties sure did notice you,” she whispered. I attempted a smile, but it fell flat. Bree’s brows pulled together, and she looped her arm through mine. “Let’s get something to eat, and then we can go back to the hotel and relax.” I nodded. “Okay.” Maybe that’s what I needed, to relax. If I ate something and then took a nap, this craziness might go away. “This is one of my favorite places to grab a quick bite to eat,” Delvin said from behind us, oblivious to the crazy moment I’d just had and the conversation Bree and I shared. “They’ve got soups, salads, and sandwiches. My favorite is the French Dip.” “Sounds good.” Bree nodded. “I think after we eat we’re heading back up to our room to relax for the afternoon.” “Oh, all right.” There was a slight amount of disappointment etched his words that caused me to shift my gaze to him for a split-second. The moment my eyes landed on him, I noticed the shimmering yellow that had surrounded him earlier was now dotted with tiny flecks of gray. “Are you still wanting to get costumes for tonight?” In all of this hoopla, I’d completely forgotten about it being Halloween. Bree paused to stand behind a couple waiting to place an order. I got the impression she was waiting for me to answer him this time. “Sure.” I shrugged. I didn’t want to disappoint Bree by staying in all night on our final night in New Orleans. The Halloween experience here had been the reason I agreed to come in the first place. Also, I was still holding onto the idea that food and rest would make these colors and strange visions of people shifting into creatures vanish. The soft sounds of Bree snoring on the bed beside me filled our room. After the three of us ate at the café, Delvin drove us back to our hotel. I couldn’t have been happier to see the inside of our room. It was free of any males, as well as any strange people who would turn into wolves as I stared at them. With the TV volume on low, I lay in bed beside Bree, browsing the internet for “causes of seeing colors around people.” So far, I had found a list of various scary things for a probable cause—stroke, seizure, or a migraine. After ruling each of those horrendous possible causes for my creepy color seeing out, due to lack of other symptoms mentioned, I decided to head in a new direction with my search. I’d just typed in “shimmering colors around people,” when something popped up that caught my attention—“observing aura color.” My breath left me, as everything inside my body seemed to freeze, while I read through the search engine findings. Each of them pointed to someone being able to see another’s aura. While I had heard of such a thing before, I’d never come across a person who claimed to actually do it in real life. Clicking on one of the links, I waited for my browser to refresh. Skimming down the page, I took note to the area where each “aura color” was described. While none of them were depicted as being shimmery or like little flecks of glitter floating around the person, which was what I had seen, the colors descriptions seemed plausible. Once I came to the meaning of yellow—and read how it generally meant the person was healthy, upbeat, and vibrant with life—I instantly believed auras were what I had been seeing. Yellow was the primary color around Delvin, and even in the short time I’d known him, I could tell this description fit him perfectly. Next, I typed in “seeing aura color around men only” and waited for what it would bring up. I frowned when it brought up the same things—various color breakdowns and how tos. Pursing my lips together, I set my cell aside and lay back against the overstuffed hotel pillow. Bree stirred beside me, but didn’t wake. Thinking of everything I’d just learned, I closed my eyes and drifted off into that place between being asleep and awake. My breathing grew easy and shallow as my mind drifted from one thought to another. Then, as though a bolt of lightning had stuck me, an idea woke me completely. It wasn’t anything on the witch’s finger or some sort of a spell; the ring was causing this. Chapter 10 I lunged from the bed and scurried into the bathroom in search of a bar of soap. Quickly unwrapping the one beside the sink, I turned on the water and soaked my finger while rubbing the edges of the soap around. Lathering up my hands, I gripped the ring and tugged, praying it would slip off and stop all of this craziness. The damn thing didn’t budge. Spraying more cool water over my hand, and lathering on even more soap this time, I tried again. It was the same result though. The ring was fused to my finger. My muscles tensed as my heart raced in my chest. I had to get this ring off. Had to. Wiping my hands vigorously, I nearly jogged to my suitcase. Unzipping it, I dug through like a mad woman in search of my bottle of lotion. Bree woke during my rampage. She yawned and stretched her arms above her head as I squeezed way too much raspberry-scented lotion onto my fingers. Tugging at the ring with slippery fingers, I sighed in frustration. “I take it you didn’t sleep well,” Bree mumbled through a yawn. “No. I didn’t sleep at all.” My frustration from the moment was present in my words. Bree shifted to the edge of the bed, and stared at me. “What are you doing?” Gritting my teeth together, I forced myself to take in a deep breath before I spoke. “I’m trying to get this damn ring off, but it won’t budge,” I insisted. Slipping off the bed and onto the floor in front of me, Bree folded her legs. “Have you tried soap and water?” “That was the first thing I tried.” I tipped my head back and let out another loud breath of frustration. “Then I went for my lotion, but it’s not working either. Nothing works. This thing is fused to my fucking finger!” “Oh my God, chill. There has to be someplace around here we can pick up a bottle of baby oil. I bet that stuff would work.” “If it doesn’t, then I’m going to freak out.” My voice wavered when I spoke, clearing any doubt she might have been harboring regarding my level of seriousness or anxiety. “Is it too tight or something?” I narrowed my eyes at her. “Of course it’s too tight. If it weren’t, then it would have come off on the first try.” “I meant, is it hurting you? If not, then you can wait until we get home and head to a jeweler to see if they can cut it off or something.” Cutting it off was probably what would have to happen. “No, it’s not hurting me,” I muttered. I needed to calm down. Freaking out wasn’t helping me. If it was the ring causing me to see those crazy shimmers—and at this point I was pretty damn sure that was exactly what was happening—then at least in a few days everything would be back to normal. A few more days. I could do that. “Here’s the bright side. It could have been butt ugly.” Bree reached up and freed her hair from the tie constricting it. After running her fingers through her blond mess of hair, she piled it back up on top of her head. “So, how are you feeling? Still want to go costume shopping?” “Better.” At least I would be, once I got this ring off. “Want me to send Delvin a text and see if he’s still up for taking us to that place he was talking about so we can get costumes?” Bree stretched her arms above her head. “Sure.” I snatched my phone off the table beside the bed and sent him a quick text. Thirty minutes later, Bree and I were riding in Delvin’s car, headed toward the costume shop. I was sitting in the passenger seat—via Bree insisting—looking out the window, desperately trying to avoid staring at Delvin. The same glittering crap from earlier still hung around him, and just like before, it was the same vibrant shade of yellow. Biting my bottom lip, I continued to refrain from staring at him like some creeper while I tried to wrap my head around how this ring could cause such crazy effects. Monday morning, I would be at my local jewelers, hand outreached, and waiting for them to snip this sucker off. Until then though, I was planning on ignoring the weirdness and having the time of my life, even if that meant getting shitfaced drunk in order to do so. “You are not choosing one of your usual costumes,” Bree informed me once we stepped through the threshold of the store. “That means no cat, devil, vampire, or witch costume. Understand?” I chuckled. She knew me too well. “But those are always the cheapest, easiest ones to pick.” For the last three years in a row, I had been a cat, using the same costume. In fact, the ones she’d just rattled off were the only costumes I ever purchased…even as a child. They were easy, and for whatever reason, I never had any desire to be a princess like every other little girl. I had chose witch or vampire hands down every single time. “No. Not happening this year,” Bree insisted, waving her index finger at me. “This place has so much more to offer than that.” Delvin placed his arm over my shoulder, and pulled me into his side. “I wouldn’t mind seeing you in a cat costume…as long as the body of the thing was some tight black leather.” I narrowed my eyes, and shifted free from his arm so I could utter a witty comeback while making eye contact, but the words never made it past my lips. The second my eyes landed on him, I fell silent. The yellow I’d seen shimmering around him before had become tinted with flecks of deep red at some point. “What?” Delvin tossed his hands up in front of him in surrender, obviously misinterpreting my expression for something else. “I’m just saying.” “Yeah well, it’s not happening. Kenna is going as something else this year, even if I have to use physical force,” Bree said, nudging me with her elbow. Snapping out of my trance-like stare, I locked eyes with her. A small smile, one I knew she would be expecting, twisted the corners of my lips. “Fine, I’ll look for something other than those four. Promise.” As we strolled through the shop, I allowed my eyes to drift back to Delvin occasionally. The flecks of red splattered through his usual yellow were fading. I kicked myself mentally for not reading what each of those aura colors had meant the moment I decided it seemed like the best possible answer for what I was seeing. Seeing. The first message from my mother flashed through my mind. What had her exact words been? I followed Bree down an aisle filled with various slutty costumes while thinking. “The time has come, my sweet girl, for you to find out who you really are. The Kiss of Awakening is upon you.” That had been it. My eyes studied the ring glued to my finger as Bree paused to flip through some French maid costumes. “To find out who you really are,” the words passed through my head again. Maybe I was a physic or something? Could that run in my family? What about seeing auras? The only part that truly stumped me was where she had said, “The Kiss of Awakening is upon you.” I wasn’t sure how to tie that in anywhere. No one had kissed me. “Oh, look!” Bree spun around to face me, holding a long flowing red dress out. “We could both be devil girls.” “I thought you said I wasn’t allowed to be a devil again,” I countered with a smug smile twisting my lips. “Yeah, but this one is different from what you normally wear,” she protested. “It’s not the $5.97 headband and tail with that stupid little pitchfork wand you always get. This one looks hot!” Taking in the costume she was holding, I nodded. It was a hot number. Flowing red and black fabric made up the dress. A pair of black elbow gloves and a headband with two little red devil horns attached to the front completed the costume. “And look.” Bree spun the outfit around to show me the back. “There’s even a pair of black angel wings.” “What is it?” I asked. “A dark angel enchantress.” She read the tag. “So there, it’s not even marketed as a devil costume. Boom, you’re done. Now let’s find something for me.” I took it from her, and draped it over my arm. It wasn’t a bad costume. In fact, I was positive it would make me feel sexy, especially with the high slit along the side. “A dark angel, huh?” Delvin uttered from behind me. I turned to face him, a smile on my face. “Yeah, I guess so…” My voice broke off. The flecks of red were back in his aura. Either I was growing used to seeing such things now, or else I had flipped off the deep end at some point, because the sight of them didn’t frighten me this time. In fact, all I wanted to do was pinpoint which emotion he was feeling that had caused the sudden change. “Nice.” He folded his arms over his chest, and stroked the scruff along his chin with one hand. “Hopefully, I’ll get to take the two of you out on the town tonight. That way I’ll see this sexy costume on you. I’m betting it will look even hotter than the black leather I fantasized about earlier.” The flecks of red swelled as he continued to stare at me, and I knew in an instant red meant lustful. Chapter 11 After spending nearly two hours in the costume shop, Bree finally decided on being my opposite and going as a slutty-looking, good angel. Once we left there, Delvin showed us a few of the amazing things New Orleans had to offer during Halloween. We went to the Voodoo Music Experience in the city park, and listened to different types of music playing while getting to experience some authentic New Orleans culture. There were various shops we stopped at, along with some type of street fair. The best place by far, though, was the Hermann-Grima House Mourning Tour. It might have just been a place to see how the Creoles lived, but because it was Halloween, the place had been draped in black, and one room had also been set up to look like a funeral was occurring. The entire place was gothic creepy, which suited my mood for the night fine. Somehow, I had managed to keep my cool the entire time while seeing various-colored auras surrounding men around every corner. When it came to the creepy flashes of people morphing into wolves—or at times what I thought were vampires—before my eyes, I attributed it to keeping with the Halloween theme and continued doing my best at pretending to appear normal. By seven o’clock, Bree and I parted ways with Delvin so we could all change into our costumes and meet back up in an hour or so. I couldn’t have been happier for the break. “So…do I need to leave the two of you alone for a while tonight?” Bree walked to where I stood in front of the bathroom mirror reapplying my eyeliner, and adjusted my wings. “I’m not opposed to it, you know.” “What’s that supposed to mean?” “I mean, do I need to head downstairs to that stuffy bar and give you two an hour or so alone so you can finally get laid?” I gawked at her. “Are you serious? You know I don’t do the whole one-night stand thing.” “Please.” She waved a hand at me. “I think you would more often if you’d give it a shot. Guys are always falling all over you. You’re hot. This guy happens to be sweet and sexy all tied together with a perfect little bow. You’d better have a one-nighter with him.” “Oh my God, would you listen to yourself?” I attempted to go for a serious tone and expression, but my lips betrayed me as they twisted into a smirk. “If it happens, then it happens, but I’m not looking for it. Okay?” Bree’s eyes widened. “Ha! I knew it. You are so into him.” I was, but now that he had some creepy yellow shimmer shit floating around him, it was sort of hard to focus on him anymore. Once we finished making ourselves up, I shot Delvin a text, letting him know we would met him at the front of the hotel in about twenty if he was ready. He instantly sent back a text, telling me he was heading out the door. Turning out the lights and gathering our stuff, Bree and I headed downstairs to meet him. Foolishly, I had assumed I would feel stupid walking through the fancy hotel wearing devil horns and black wings, but surprisingly, I felt incredibly hot. The guy who worked the front desk seemed to be drooling as the two of us walked past him toward the double doors, which boosted my confidence even more. “I love Halloween.” Bree smiled wide. “It’s the one night of the year I can dress as slutty as I want and get away with it.” “You know, Kellen would die to see you in this outfit right now.” “Oh, I know.” She winked. “That’s why I just blew up his phone with pictures of me in it before we headed down here. I should be getting a response back from him any minute now.” I laughed as we pushed through the doors and out onto the sidewalk. Her phone chimed with an incoming text the moment the door closed behind us, and I knew it was Kellen. Her giddy giggles confirmed my theory. Taking in the night sky and early nightlife scene of the city, I realized Bree and I weren’t the only ones decked out in full costume already. There were numerous people dressed up walking the street and popping in and out of shops. A guy in a giant pea costume—his yellow aura adding to his look—drove past us in a small red car, and I nearly died laughing. “What’s so funny? I don’t look that bad.” Delvin breathed against my ear. I flinched at his close proximity, having not heard him walk up. “Do I?” “Hey.” I smiled, taking in his appearance. Dressed in a deep red suite, it was hard to see where his suite ended and his aura began, because the color floating around him resembled the fabric. Obviously, he was enjoying seeing me in the costume I was wearing as much as he’d said he would. When he stepped closer, the scent of his masculine cologne filled my nose and kick-started my heart. Bree was right. I truly needed to get some action tonight, and from the looks of it, Delvin was ready and waiting for the taking. Tugging at the collar of his deep red blazer, he cocked his head to the side. “So, do you like?” Skimming my eyes over the length of him, I took in his striking suit, shiny black shoes, crisp white shirt beneath, and red silk tie. A set of red devil horns were perched on top of his head, and he’d drawn a wiry mustache above his upper lip. “Yeah, but what are you? The devil?” I wondered. “I figured every dark angel needs a devil on her arm.” He winked, sending chill bumps across my skin. I arched a brow. “I can’t argue with that logic.” “Oh, and I hope you ladies don’t mind, but we’re meeting up with a few of my friends.” His eyes were still trained on me and as hungry as ever, but his voice was calm, collected, and hinted that he was in control of his emotions. From the way his aura was shifting from yellow to red, I highly doubted he was as in control as he seemed. Bree snapped her phone shut and was finally back in the present with us. Sometimes, once she got on her phone, with Kellen it was like everything else around her faded into nothingness. “All right, let’s grab something small to eat from someplace, and then start our bar hoppin’ for the night.” Bree locked one arm through Delvin’s and the other through mine, oblivious to the tension-filled moment we had been sharing. “Come on, bartender. Show us where the best drinks in the city are made on Halloween night.” Chapter 12 Sweat beaded across the back of my neck. Running my fingers through my hair, I paused in swaying my hips until I was able to gather the tangled mess off my neck so the stuffy air of the nightclub could touch it. The movement didn’t help to cool me as much as I would have liked. “I need some water,” Bree shouted near my ear. “I’ll be right back. Are you good?” I nodded. “Yeah, I’m fine.” “Are you ordering something?” Kelly, one of Delvin’s friends he had invited bar hopping with us, asked Bree. “Yeah, I’m so freaking thirsty,” Bree shouted. “Me too. I’ll come with you.” I watched as Bree and Kelly made their way toward the bar. Bree’s angel wings slapped people as she walked, but she didn’t seem to notice or care. My eyes scanned the crazily dressed crowd as my hips moved to the beat of the song playing again. Warm hands slipped around my waist, and a solid body pressed against me from behind. “I noticed your dancing partner left you hanging, so I figured I’d take her place for a second.” Delvin’s lips brushed against the outer edge of my ear. “Well, thank you,” I breathed. Smoothing my hands over his, I continued moving my hips to the rhythm of the music. Chill bumps broke out along my skin as his touch shifted to graze along the sides of my torso, pausing only once he was mere inches from my breasts. Closing my eyes, I let myself focus on the feel of his hands on me, as well as the sensation of tequila flowing through me. Delvin’s thumb brushed against my padded bra beneath the silken fabric of my costume, and my breath left my lungs in a rush. I entwined my fingers within the hair at the nape of his neck, and tugged a little. Normally, I wasn’t so feisty while dancing, but with each minute that passed tonight, I felt something dark and wicked unfurling within me—something that made me feel alive and sexy in ways I had never felt before. At one point, I questioned whether it was the alcohol letting all of my inhibitions fade into the woodwork for the night, but as the night progressed—and the auras of the guys surrounding me continued to create my own laser show inside the club—I felt something shifting inside of me. Leaning back against Delvin, I pressed myself as close to his groin as I could while continuing to sway my hips to the beat. His sharp inhale from my gesture filled my ears and brought a grin to my face. Biting my bottom lip, I spun to face him. “Holy hell,” he muttered, pressing his lips against my ear as his hands resumed their previous position on my hips. “You’re going to be the death of me tonight.” Tipping my head back, I laughed. When my eyes fixated on him again, his aura had shifted to that deep, rich red once more—the one I now recognized as extreme pent up sexual tension. Running my fingers through his hair, I then trailed down toward his temple, across his scruffy cheek, and right over his plump lips. He stared at me, motionless, as though he were frozen by my movements. The urge to press my lips to his burned through me, and I inched closer. Electricity fizzed through the air around us. My breath grew heavy with want as the distance between us was erased, and Delvin’s hypnotic eyes locked on mine. Bree suddenly gripped my elbow, and I jerked back, startled. “Hey, Kelly said the parade is getting ready to swing through here. Want to head outside for some fresh air, and check it out?” My heart hammered in my chest as my lungs inhaled greedy breaths of air they’d previously been starved of. Heat prickled across my skin. I could go for some fresh air. “Sure,” I shouted over the music. “Point the way toward the exit.” Delvin gripped my wrist as I started to walk away. “I’ll come too.” Night air collided with my sticky, hot skin the moment we pushed through the doors at the front. Wadding my hair up on top of my head again, I enjoyed the feel of the coolness kissing the back of my neck. Bright lights and colorful costumes filled my line of vision as the parade marched through the street in front of us. Smiling, I gazed out at the scene, soaking it all in. It wasn’t long before Delvin was at my side, his hands snaking around me in an effort to pull me closer. Warmth swam through my veins at the contact. I bit my bottom lip, enjoying the sensation of being folded into his arms more than I should. His lips grazed the back of my neck in the gentlest of kisses, and a gasp of sheer pleasure disbursed from me at the touch. Closing my eyes, I allowed his warm lips to skim over my throat. He nipped and sucked along the length, causing my insides to melt and burst to life at the same time. “I don’t think I’ve ever wanted anyone as much as I want you right now,” he whispered against my ear. “Wanna sneak off into that alley over there with me?” No one had ever been so bold with their words with me before. Even though I knew I should be appalled by his lack of finesse, I felt the exact opposite. Shifting to look at him, I gazed into his eyes—the ones that had captivated me the first moment I saw him—and hesitated in answering. Here was another choose-your-own-adventure moment, and oh my God, would it be an adventure with him. The dark, wicked thing that had been caressing my insides tonight, making me dance in ways I normally wouldn’t, was now coaxing me to give in to temptation. “Lead the way,” I whispered against his ear, surprising even myself. Arching an eyebrow, he flashed me that wolfish grin of his. “Really?” I nodded, and that was all the assurance he needed from me. As I allowed Delvin to pull me through the crowd toward the alleyway at the side of the club, I glanced over my shoulder at Bree. She was clapping and moving her little hips with Kelly and two other friends of Delvin’s, lost in the energy of the parade. Delvin brushed his thumb against my palm in lazy circles that made my knees weak. “She’ll be preoccupied for a while. Don’t worry. We’ll be back before she notices you’re gone.” There was no time for me to answer him—whether I chose to protest or not—because the second we slipped into the alley, he had me pressed against the rough brick of the club, locking me in place between the confines of his arms. An amused smirk graced his lips before his mouth collided with mine. Instantly, my mouth moved beneath his, and my hands roamed past the scratchy material of his blazer. Drawing my hands between us, I slipped my fingers beneath his cotton shirt so I could feel the hot skin of his solid abs pressed against my palms. Delvin’s tongue invaded my mouth, making my heart race. With each caress of his tongue against mine, spiciness filled my mouth. It was unique and unlike anything I had ever tasted before. Dropping my hands from his abs, I gripped the back of his head in an effort to keep him in place while I pinpointed the taste by taking control of the kiss. He misinterpreted this move for something else, and bunched the fabric of my dress into his hands so he could raise it higher. His lips parted from mine for a split-second, just when the taste in my mouth was building to something incredible, and he muttered, “God, I’ve been waiting for this all night. Kiss me like that again.” A jolt surged through my body the instant the words passed his lips, and I sealed my mouth against his once more. The fire from the previous kiss was still present, but it had built to a new level, one that sent energy crackling and fizzing through the air around us. Pulsating red lights lit the darkness behind my eyelids, and I opened them to see what it was. Delvin’s aura was throbbing. Its deep, dark red acting as a strobe light in sync with the beat of my heart—or maybe that was his. Moving my hand through his hair, I noticed the ring on my finger was a bright, glowing red as well. A low sound emanated from Delvin as the heat in my mouth cooled to a sweetness unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. The red of his aura speckled with flecks of gray, and the rhythm Delvin had set for us slowed. While my mind seemed to gather all of this, I couldn’t process any of it because something was happening to me. My insides were burning and cooling as though I was suffering from an insane bout of hot flashes. Every trace of the tequila I had consumed evaporated from my mind and body until I was completely sober. Delvin’s hands fell to his sides. The edges of my dress he’d held fell to my feet in a swooshing motion. He grew ridged in his stance. While his lips had long ago paused in their movement against mine, I couldn’t pull back. I couldn’t stop whatever was happening. The taste was amazing, and the rush I was getting—an incredible high I had never felt before—rocketed me higher. Alcohol couldn’t touch this feeling, nothing could. “Kenna, what the hell are you doing back here?” Bree shouted. Her words startled me, and I broke the serious lip-lock Delvin and I had shared. “I was worried sick about you!” “I—” I started to explain, but then Delvin dropped to the ground in front of me, lifeless, and I couldn’t speak. Whether he was unconscious or dead, I wasn’t sure. Either way, it couldn’t be a good thing, because the color of his aura had turned nearly solid gray. It was dull and stagnant in its movement, nothing like the deep red that had seemed to float and pulsate freely around him moments before. “Oh my God.” Bree dashed from the edge of the alley. “Is he okay?” “I-I don’t know.” I bent to make sure he was breathing, but couldn’t bring myself to touch him. “We were just making out… I don’t know what the hell happened.” Flecks of murky green spread through the ominous shade of gray his aura consisted of. A new color being added into the mix must have been a good thing, right? It had to mean he was still alive and well. That was my theory anyway. “Well, check for a pulse or something,” Bree insisted. The sounds of the parade echoed through the little alley we were tucked away in. With the taste of whatever divine sweetness it was that had come from Delvin still lingering in my mouth, I reached out and pressed two fingers against his throat. There was a pulse, but it was faint and sluggish. “Is he alive?” Bree demanded. “Should I go get Kelly and the others? We should probably take him to the hospital.” While I had heard everything she was saying, my mind had been focused on something else entirely—the way the lingering sweetness was now pulsating to life and surging through my body like rapidly growing vines spreading beneath the surface of my skin. Tipping my head back, I closed my eyes and enjoyed the sensation coursing through me. Bree’s voice, as well as the sounds of the parade, muted as I basked in the awareness of this, whatever it was, encasing me in ecstasy. “Lovely sensation, isn’t it?” an unfamiliar female voice asked. “It’s like a drug. You’ll never have another hit quite like that again though.” I opened my eyes to see Bree seemingly frozen in time with her mouth half open as though she were in the midst of saying something. Delvin still lay crumpled over in front of me, but the sounds of the parade had grown silent, and a lone Styrofoam cup had paused in its wind-blown path down the alley. A woman with skin kissed by the sun, dark flowing locks of silky hair, and brown eyes the shade of honey stared at me with a somehow familiar smile. “It won’t keep you from trying to reach that level time and time again though.” She grinned. Her heavily made-up eyes locked on mine, and all teasing left them in an instant. “So, my love, now that you’ve completed the Kiss of Awakening, are you ready to learn what you are?” Like a swift punch to the gut, it hit me who the beautiful woman before me was. “Mom?” My voice sounded scratchy and barely above a whisper, but she’d heard me nonetheless. “What’s going on? What just happened?” I stood and motioned to Bree and Delvin, the parade, everything. “In the flesh.” She placed a hand on her hip, and I zeroed in for the first time on what she was wearing—a skimpy black dress that hugged her curvy figure in all the right places. A vibrant red aura clung to her—one that was much brighter than what had been around Delvin while we were kissing—taking her beauty to a whole new level. “This was your awakening, honey. Happy late birthday…you’re a succubus now.” Chapter 13 “Are you freaking kidding me?” Those were the only words my brain could grasp. “Nope, not in the least.” She smiled wide. “That lucky boy right there was your first. You never forget your first. I remember mine—” “He’s practically dead!” I shouted, cutting her off. “He’s not dead,” she insisted. “He’s just sleeping. Although, you could have killed him, if you hadn’t been interrupted by your little friend there.” You could have killed him, the truth in her words splashed through me like icy water. My vision dropped to Delvin. His face was incredibly pale, and his frame seemed broken as the grossly colored aura cloaked him. His vibrant yellow, or even the deep red from when we were dancing, was so much nicer to look at than this. “I could have killed him,” I repeated. The knowledge of this truth penetrated my heart, inflicting pain directly to my soul. Succubus, the word floated through my mind in a toxic fashion. “It’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up over it. We have to eat, sweetheart,” she said as though we were discussing the reason we kill animals for food with a small child. “If you don’t want to kill them, stop when you see their aura begin to shift into this bland gray color. That’s the best guide to keep your feeding in check. Once it turns this color, there are only seconds before you’ve depleted their entire life energy supply.” Folding my arms across my chest to hide the fact that my entire body was trembling, I attempted to keep up with what she was saying, while at the same time thinking there was no way this was real. I had to have gotten seriously drunk, and this was a bad alcohol-induced nightmare I would wake up from any minute. “Am I going too fast for you, my love? I remember how much this was to take in all at once.” My mother’s voice was soft, sympathetic sounding even, but I didn’t acknowledge her. Instead, I closed my eyes, still wishing for this to be a nightmare I would wake from soon. “You are so damn beautiful,” she said suddenly. “I’m sure you had no issues gaining a boyfriend or admirers before, but now…oh, sweetheart, you’ll never go hungry. Trust me.” There was a weird lit of pride etched into her words that sent a shiver along my spine. What was a succubus exactly? Some freakish thing comparable to a vampire? I squeezed my eyes shut, and brought my fingers to my temples. Never in my life had I been so confused. This was a moment I should be happy about—after all, I had come to New Orleans with the small hope that I would get to see my mother again. But now that she was standing in front of me, I just wished she’d disappear, taking all of this insane talk about being a succubus with her. “You’re confused, but that’s okay. It’s understandable. Once you get used to the idea, and feed a few more times, this entire succubus business won’t seem so bad.” My eyes snapped open. “Get used to the idea? As in, this is permanent? I have no say so?” “Of course not, it’s your inheritance.” “Great, and here I thought all of this would go away once I got this damn ring off.” I pursed my lips together as I glanced at the piece of jewelry on my finger. The ring had been an effervescent shade of red while I’d been kissing Delvin, but now—after I had apparently sucked the life out of him—it was back to its original coloring. My mother’s head flung back, and a tinkling laughter bellowed from her. “The ring was just a little beacon so I could find you tonight. It had nothing to do with the events that occurred. All of that would have happened to you regardless of whether you wore the ring.” My heart palpitated as her words swept through my mind. “Even if I had found some way to get the thing off, the night would have still unfolded the same?” “You got it, sweet girl. It’s part of who you are. It’s in your blood. There’s no way to get around it.” While there was no sense of sympathy or compassion directed toward me through her words this time, she still crossed the distance between us, and placed a hand on my shoulder. “There are just a few rules you need to be aware of, and then I’ll let you be.” “You’ll let me be?” Was that how she viewed her absence in my life—that she was just letting me be? For whatever reason, all the things I had wanted to say to her so badly over the years blasted through my mind, and I was filled with more anger than I ever remembered feeling before. I narrowed my eyes at her. She was staring at me with her lips pressed into a thin line, and her eyes wide with an emotion I couldn’t name. Not for lack of trying, but because it disappeared so quickly, there wasn’t enough time to categorize it. “You’re upset with me. I get it, I do. You have every right to feel angry, but these things are important, Kenna. So hear me out.” Her face softened as she pulled in a deep breath before beginning. “You have to feed off a man—any man—every three days, if not, come the fourth day, you’ll be dead. It’s sort of like the way humans need water. Choose your aura colors wisely. Some of them have horrible side effects, and always ask the men if they would like you to kiss them again once you’ve brushed your lips across theirs once. Trust me when I say, feeding off someone undeniably willing versus not is so much more enjoyable to both taking part.” As she spoke, I stared at her—the woman who was my mother, the woman who left me without a reason as to why when I was only five years old, the woman who was telling me my birthright was to be a succubus like her—taking in her words as best as I could. “This is real, Kenna.” She leaned forward and kissed me on my forehead. “Happy Awakening, baby girl.” My eyes closed the instant her lips made contact, and I was instantaneously cocooned in a warm blanket of familiarity, remembering a time when she would do that same movement daily. A fluttering noise filled my ears as a cool breeze brushed across my face, then Bree was talking again, and the sounds of Halloween in the French Quarter filled my ears once more. Chapter 14 Bree tossed a few more crumpled articles of clothing into her suitcase. “Have you gotten a text from Delvin yet?” My heart dropped to my toes at the mention of his name. Milliseconds after my mother had vanished—to which I’m still assuming she didn’t vanish into thin air, but merely flew away somehow—Delvin had come to, complaining of not feeling well. Bree had gotten his friends, and one of them had driven him home like he had asked. I hadn’t heard from him since. This both saddened and relieved me. While Delvin had been one sexy ass bartender, we didn’t even live in the same state, and I wasn’t one who believed in long distance relationships, so leaving without him saying anything to me was best. There was no awkward moment to bypass or paper thin expectations for the future. Plus, I didn’t have to deal with the worry that he would remember what I had done to him and call me out. Never saying goodbye worked out perfectly. I could put all of this behind me as though it had never happened. I shook my head and busied myself with arranging the inside of my suitcase perfectly. “No, nothing.” “He must be pretty damn sick, then.” She crinkled her nose and zipped her suitcase closed. “I hope we don’t get it. That’s all I need when I get back home.” “I think you’ll be fine,” I said, knowing she had nothing to worry about and wishing she would drop the entire conversation. Delvin wasn’t sick. Well, not really. He was just drained of his freaking life energy, but I wasn’t about to explain that to Bree. This was one secret I wouldn’t ever share with her. “Are you ready to head down?” My breath left me in a small wisp of relief. “Yeah, if you are.” She stood her suitcase up and rolled it toward the door. “I’m ready.” She sighed. “I just can’t believe Delvin seriously isn’t going to call or text you goodbye. I really thought you two had a connection.” My heart palpitated in my chest. I wished Bree would forget about Delvin. Her remembering him would make it that much harder to keep this insane secret heritage from her. It would also make it that much harder to forget about. “I need to use the restroom before we leave,” I lied. Really, I needed a moment to collect myself—a little time to calm my nerves from having heard his name for the millionth time in twenty-four hours from her. I was positive she was about to head down the road of remembrance and talk about how crazy it was that we were making out one second, and then the next he was on the ground, practically comatose from sickness, like she had more times than I could count already. “Do you care to head down and hail us a cab?” “I’m not making any promises that I’ll have one by the time you get down there.” She gripped the handle of the hotel room door. “After all, I’m not wearing my lucky shirt today.” I laughed, but it was forced. “I’m sure you’ll be fine.” “Yeah, yeah. We’ll see.” She pulled open the door and rolled her suitcase out into the hall while I darted up the stairs toward the bathroom. “See you in a minute.” “Yeah,” I called down to her. The loud click of the thick door closing behind her had me releasing a breath I hadn’t been aware I’d been holding. How the hell was I going to keep something this big from Bree? She had always been good at reading me; it was one of the things that came with being best friends for so many years. Chewing the inside of my cheek, I replayed last night in my head for the millionth time, wondering if at any point I could have been drugged. I had never wished for that to be the case so badly in my life. Slapping the plastic room key I held against the palm of my hand, I glanced at the ring I still wore, deciding that not everything was from a drug-induced hallucination. The ring was tangible evidence of that. Fingering it, I slipped it over my knuckle repeatedly while I continued to think. After everything that had happened with Delvin last night, the ring had loosened on its own. I’d left it in place with a mild hope that the connection it had with my mother still held, because regardless of how I felt about her last night, I still hoped for another chance to speak with her sometime soon. Inhaling deeply, I made my way back down the metal stairs. I gripped the handle of my suitcase and pulled the heavy hotel door open. One of my wheels got stuck in the track of the door, and I fought to get it free while struggling not to become crushed by the door. A hand reached out and took control of the suitcase for me, pulling it away from the door with ease. Glancing up, I locked eyes with a bell boy who couldn’t have been much older than me. He flashed me a smile I was sure he thought made him look slick and debonair, but it didn’t have the effect on me he was hoping for, because the only thing I could focus on was the shimmering deep red swirled together with a bright shade of orange surrounding him. His eyes trailed over me as the red flecks of glitter darkened and spread through the orange even more. “Here you go.” Letting the door click closed, I reached for my suitcase with a polite smile. “Thanks.” “No problem.” He rolled my suitcase to his side, his wide smile never once dimming. “Let me help you down with this.” I smoothed my hands along my jean-clad thighs. “Um, okay. Thank you.” Why was he looking at me like a lovesick puppy? “Did you have a nice stay?” I nodded. “Ugh, yeah. My friend and I had a great time. Thanks.” The red was now practically dimming out the vibrant orange I figured was his usual aura color. It hit me then—this entire thing was real. I hadn’t been drugged or dreaming, and everything my mother had said had been real. Right? Doubt crept back into my mind, because I wasn’t sure if the succubus part was true. I couldn’t seem to wrap my mind around it. Sure, obviously I could see auras, but that didn’t mean the other part was real. I licked along my bottom lip and brought my eyes back up to meet with the bell boy’s. He was staring at me as though I were a slice of chocolate cake he couldn’t wait to devour. When we paused in front of the elevator, I pushed the down button and then crammed my hands into the back pockets of my jeans. Would it be horrible of me to test it out, to kiss him and see if there was a repeat sensation from last night? The memory of how I had felt crashed through me the same way I supposed an addict felt when craving another hit of their drug of choice. The doors to the elevator opened, revealing it empty. After we stepped inside, the bell boy pressed the ground floor button and the doors slipped closed before us. If I was going to do this, now was my chance. There would be no better moment and no better candidate than this guy, who I would never in my life see again. Allowing this reasoning to fuel my actions, I erased the miniscule distance between us and pressed my lips against his. A heady haze instantly floated through me as the spicy sweet taste of a fireball candy filled my mouth. While it wasn’t as intense a flavor or sensation as it had been the night before, it was still absolutely amazing. The elevator jerked to a stop and the doors slid open with a ding. I released the bell boy, feeling the euphoric dizziness from what had been transpiring between us dance through me. My fingers touched my parted lips as my heart picked up pace inside my chest. I gripped the handle of my suitcase and jerked it free from the dazed and confused bell boy’s hand before hightailing it out of the elevator. It was real. I was a freaking succubus. Holy hell. Thank You Thank you for reading Kiss of Awakening, I hope you enjoyed it! Please consider leaving an honest review at your point of purchase. Reviews help me in so many ways! * * * If you would like to know when my next novel is available, you can sign up for my newsletter here: https://jennifersnyderbooks.com/want-the-latest/ * * * Also, feel free to reach out and tell me your thoughts about the novel. I’d love to hear from you! Email me at: jennifersnyder04@gmail.com * * * To see a complete up-to-date list of my novels, please take a moment to visit this page: http://jennifersnyderbooks.com/book-list/ Sneak Peek Please continue reading for a sneak peek of Seduce A Succubus Kiss Novel – Book 1 Life isn’t so bad for succubus, Kenna Blake. True, she seems to be the only succubus with a conscience and a specific strategy for finding her male meals, but she has a cute new apartment, a budding graphic design business, and the most unique friends she’s ever had. * * * Her personal love life, however, is non-existent. * * * Until the legendary vampire Randal Vincent sweeps into her life. Even though he isn’t someone she set out to date, at least she can kiss him without killing him. But when you’re dating someone who’s the inspiration for Dracula, there are bound to be a few hiccups along the way… Available Now Preface A silver fog emanated from him the moment our lips touched. I attempted to pull away, to release myself from the kiss, but couldn’t. It was as though my lips had been fused to his by whatever force he possessed. The vapor circled me in a taunting manner, teasing me with its icy touch as it slipped over my exposed skin. He pulled me closer, his mouth devouring mine. I was unable to break away, watching as the silver mist encased us in its frigid grasp. It seeped from his pores and every orifice of his face. A scream built in my chest, but never made it past my parted lips. My lips grew numb as the icy vapor made its way inside my mouth. In seconds, I felt as though I was drowning in ice water from the inside out. My muscles tightened and constricted as my lungs began to ache and burn. I struggled to breathe, but my chest fought against me. I slumped forward, the weakness and fatigue from the cold completely overtaking me. My eyes fluttered closed. Moans of pleasure rippled through the guy’s throat as he continued to fill me with his foreign essence. I needed to break free from him. My thoughts slipped through my mind at a sluggish pace as I searched for a solution. Nothing came to mind. Nothing. They say that just before you die your life flashes before your eyes. As my mind gave into the arctic sensation coursing through me, I waited for the flashes to begin, because there was no mistaking Death’s icy hands. The flashes never came though. Instead, my vision blurred and darkened around the edges. The mist grew thicker, encasing me in a beautiful light as my heart pounded with fear. Yes, Death was finally coming for me, and a small part of me thought maybe I should embrace it. Chapter One Dating isn’t for me. As I sipped my whisky sour, the thought grew, weighing me down with its truth. I spun on my stool to face the entrance of Mystic. My eyes skimmed the people loitering in the corridor, waiting to speak with the hostess. I wondered if any of them were my blind date. Assuming he would have to be alone had me ruling out every male standing there. Every guy in view was either with a group of people or had a woman decked out to the nines plastered to his side. What the hell had I been thinking when I agreed to let Sage set me up with someone? Blind dates rarely ever worked, which was why they had such a stigma attached to them. I knew this—hell, everyone did—but I had still agreed. I was desperate apparently. Releasing the breath I had been holding, I attempted to relax my facial muscles and then took another sip of my whiskey sour. Desperation looked good on no one, least of all me. I straightened my back and took in a few measured breaths. Maybe I should have signed up with that stupid dating site for supernaturals, Cupid’s Paranormal. I’d stumbled upon it a few months ago. At least then I would have had a picture of the guy I was meeting tonight. My pride had gotten the best of me though. I was too young to be filling out questionnaires on some random dating site. Somehow that measure of pride had left me hanging high and dry when Sage mentioned setting up a date with one of her guy friends. I slipped my fingertip along the condensation building on the outside of my glass, suddenly unsure how this situation was any different from the dating site route. I finished the remaining swigs of my drink and set my empty glass on the bar top. I dug my cell out of my purse to check the time. So far, Sage’s guy friend was almost ten minutes late. Was there a rule for how long I was supposed to wait? Or was it evident that I had been stood up? Not only was the entire blind date situation new to me, but I had also never been stood up before. A slight chuckle slipped past my lips when a thought occurred to me: I’m probably the only succubus to have ever been stood up in the course of history. “Can I get you another one?” The bartender flashed me a friendly smile. I had noticed her eyeing me, and I was sure it was because I was babying my drink. I shook my head. “No, I’m good for right now. Thanks.” My cheeks warmed with embarrassment as I caught sight of a minute amount of sympathy in her stare. As a bartender, I knew there was nothing sadder than seeing someone getting shitty all by his or her lonesome. Well, unless you could tell by the way a person continuously sneaked glances at the door that he or she was also being stood up. Damn it. I hadn’t planned on being that girl tonight, but it didn’t seem as though I had much of a choice. “Are you sure? It’s on the house,” she added. A cheesy smile made its way to her face, and I felt the heat of my embarrassment strengthen. I obviously looked so pathetic that it had garnered me a pity drink. Wonderful. I had been known to do the same for customers when I saw this scenario play out on my shifts at Spark. It was never easy to witness someone being stood up. Even if I had never been on the receiving end—until now—I had always been able to imagine the humiliation the person felt. Now that I had experienced the situation, I would be even more sympathetic when I saw it, because this feeling sucked. Hardcore. “All right, sure.” I smiled, giving in. “One more won’t hurt.” A free drink was a free drink, regardless if it was because the bartender felt sorry for you. “Good.” Her pink aura made her appear bubblier now that she was happy for me and not consumed with pity. “Then, if the guy you’re waiting for doesn’t show up, at least you got a free drink out of the deal. Right?” She had great logic. In fact, that was right along the lines of what I said to people in a similar situation. Was there some sort of bartender etiquette manual I had never been privy to reading? I pushed my empty glass toward her. “Thanks.” “So, is this a first date or is it a douche bag boyfriend keeping you waiting?” she asked as she poured my drink. I watched her, making sure she got the ratios right. “It’s a blind date actually.” Her face scrunched up. “Oh. Yeah, those are generally a fifty-fifty chance that they’ll fall through. I think it’s the nerves that get to people, you know? The anticipation of walking up to someone you’ve never seen before and having them judge you based off your looks right there on the spot.” “Yeah, but would it kill the person to at least text the mutual friend and come up with some reason for why they couldn’t show, even if it was lame, so they could tell the other person?” “You would think, but some people would find that to be even more embarrassing. It’s easier to say they forgot.” She slipped my new drink across the bar top toward me. “Enjoy, and I hope whoever he is, he shows soon.” “Thanks, me too.” I picked up the glass and took a sip before spinning around to face the entrance again. She was right. There was a huge amount of anxiety that coincided with blind dates, but that didn’t mean it was an excuse to leave the other person hanging. I had battled through it fine, so what was this guy’s excuse? Where was he? I skimmed the area near the hostess section again, searching for any guy looking as lost as I felt. No luck. There were only two, and they both seemed caught up in conversation with those around them and exactly where they were supposed to be. “Hey, how’s it going?” a random guy two barstools down blurted. Not sure if he was talking to me or on his phone, I kept my eyes trained forward and locked on the front doors. “Hello? Lady in red, I asked, how it’s going?” I arched a brow. Apparently, he was talking to me. I spun to face him. “Fine.” I wasn’t fine, but I wasn’t about to give him details. In fact, I wondered if he had heard my conversation with the bartender and that was why he had decided to speak to me. I released a breath, hoping to soften my features, knowing I had to appear frazzled. A free drink and a random guy to flirt with wasn’t a bad way to end a night, right? I could turn this night around with cards like that. I hoped. The guy was all right in the looks department, but the sight of his gray aura put me on edge. Demons weren’t my thing. I was sure this made me sound judgmental, but I hadn’t liked demons even before the bizarre Halloween in New Orleans a little over a year ago when I found out I was one. They were vile, wicked, and dangerous in the movies, and I could say that I was at least one of those things each time I kissed a guy. “I’ve been watching you tonight. Are you waiting for someone?” That wasn’t creepy sounding at all. “Yeah, I am.” “Did he stand you up?”A slight smirk twisted his lips. It made me dislike him even more. Any hope I’d had of potentially turning this night around flew out the damn window at the sight of it. “I haven’t written it off as that just yet. I’m giving him another ten minutes. Who knows, he could have gotten caught in traffic or something.” “Resorting to a countdown.” The curve of his lips intensified. For whatever reason, I found myself smirking along with him, suddenly able to see the humor in the situation. “Give it up, sweetness, and admit he’s stood you up. It’s obvious, even to me.” He leaned back on his stool as his body shook with the laughter he was struggling to hold in. “What tipped you off? I’m new to this side of things.” “I bet you are.” His eyes appraised me, making me feel violated. “The way you kept looking at the door with this sad little look on your face. You know, if you’re feeling down, sweet cheeks, I can surely feel you up.” He winked. What. The. Hell. Worst pick up line ever. “Um, no thanks. I wouldn’t call what I’m feeling at the moment sadness. It’s more along the lines of annoyed.” “I’m just sayin’.” He raised his fat-fingered hands in surrender. The shit-eating grin still twisting at his lips widened. “Just wanted to put it out there. I have no problem helping you get a little sexual frustration out, if that’s your deal. After all, we’re one and the same, sweetheart.” Was it written on my forehead that I needed to get laid? Surely not. I knew the guy was a demon of some sort, but that didn’t mean he was psychic. “Wow.” My brows lifted to my hairline as I continued to stare at him. “Not gonna happen, okay? Just because you’re a demon doesn’t mean I’ll sleep with you.” I put my back to him and took a long swig from my drink. Hysterical laughter met my ears. He was laughing at me again. I fought the urge to bolt to my car. Obviously, I wasn’t cut out for this. Dating while I was normal had been hard enough, but since becoming not normal, it was ten times harder. “I’m just screwing around with you, cupcake.”I could feel the guy’s eyes on me still. “You can stop at any point now,” I called over my shoulder. This blind date had better show up soon, because I wasn’t planning on sitting here for much longer. Sage would be getting a call from me the second I stepped outside too. “Okay, I get it. You’re not interested. You know I could have said that dress looks great on you…” His tone was all sweet and apologetic. It almost made me want to attempt to hold a decent conversation with him while I finished my drink. “And then I could have added as a matter of fact, so would I, but I didn’t. Maybe that one would have been better received?” This guy was a trip. I took one last sip from my drink and then set it down. I’d been stood up. It was blatantly obvious at this point, and there was no way in hell I was sitting here listening to this douche and his corny pickup lines any longer. My night was over. I was tossing in the towel. “Sexy as sin, red dress, dark hair…” someone uttered from behind me. I rolled my eyes. Great. All of a sudden, I had become a supernatural asshole magnet. “You must be Kenna.” Or better yet, maybe this was my date finally making an appearance. I turned to glance at the guy. “I am.” He was broad-shouldered and tall with shaggy brown hair and chocolate eyes. His face looked as though he hadn’t shaved in days, and his clothes—while decently chosen—had a wrinkled and unwashed look about them, like they had been more of an afterthought he had scooped off the floor on his way out the door. This could not be whom Sage had set me up with. She and I didn’t know each other incredibly well yet—I had only known her since I started working at Spark a little over a year ago—but she had to know me better than this. Had to. “I’m Dex.” He held out his hand for me to shake. I noticed he had a slight southern accent, which was a redeeming quality. Something about a guy with an accent had always called to me. “Sorry I kept you waitin’. The other night was crazy. I’m still catchin’ up on lost sleep.” He yawned and stretched his arms above his head. The edge of his wrinkled T-shirt lifted up, exposing a small section of his toned stomach. Hmm, maybe that had been why Sage chose to set me up with him. He was easy on the eyes, in all of his unkempt glory. I had to give her credit there. I locked on his aura—golden brown. Shit. Sage set me up with a werewolf. “Sage told me your name was Jack?” An amused smirk graced his lips that came off as arrogant. I hated arrogant guys. “It is. Jack Dexter, hence the nickname Dex.” “Right, okay.” Screw the toned abs and cute accent; I was right back to wondering how Sage could think this guy was my taste.“The other night was a full moon, wasn’t it?” I held his stare, already running through ways to cut this date short. I’d had enough for one night. “Yeah.” He yawned again, but managed to cover his mouth this time. “They leave me feelin’ drained for a few days. You get that way, don’t you? I mean, if you wait too long before feedin’?” Definitely not a topic I dove into on a first date, or ever. Then again, I didn’t date supernaturals, so there was nothing to compare it to. Maybe this was normal for a date of this caliber. I wouldn’t know. “I do.” I forced a tiny smile into place. “I try not to get to that point though.” “I get that.” He motioned for the bartender. When she paused in front of him, he ordered a beer with a crazy name I’d never heard of before and then shifted his attention back to me. “So, are you ready to get a table?” “Sure, but I don’t think there’s one available.” His eyes skimmed the place. “Looks like I should have called ahead to reserve us one.” “That might have been a good idea. They are pretty busy.” Sarcasm dripped from my voice, but he didn’t seem to notice, or if he did, he didn’t let on. After Dex paid for his beer, the bartender locked eyes with me and smirked while mouthing worth the wait. I bit my bottom lip to suppress a smile. Sage could have done a hell of a lot worse, I knew this, but just because Dex was good-looking didn’t mean I would easily forgive him for keeping me waiting as long as he had. He’d lost a shit ton of brownie points before I’d even laid eyes on him because of it. “Let me go add my name to the list. I’ll be right back.” He’d slipped off his stool and started toward the hostess before I could respond. “I’m going to head to the restroom, so I’ll meet you back here in a minute.” “Sounds good.” He nodded. I started in the direction of the restroom, passing the demon who had tossed those horrible pickup lines at me. He smiled like a Cheshire cat as I walked past him. A glimmer of want burned deep in his eyes and it sickened me. It was then I realized what he was—and how his earlier comment of us being one and the same fit—he was an incubus. The male version of me. There was something so vile about him though. I didn’t care for the way he was watching me, as if I were a piece of meat he couldn’t wait to sink his teeth into. It gave me the heebie-jeebies. I continued past him, digging my cell out of my purse as I went. Sage deserved a nasty text from me about tonight. I clicked on my messages and scrolled down until I found her name. As I rounded the corner to the restrooms, I typed out a message to her. Well, Dex just now showed up. He was nearly thirty minutes late! ~ Kenna I hit send and then pushed through the restroom door. Sage responded instantly, just as I knew she would. Her phone was never far from her. But he did show. That has to count for something, right? I pressed my lips together, fighting another grin, and started a response, but another text came through from her. He’s cute. Don’t you think that gets him off the hook? I chuckled, my thumbs clacking across my cell screen. That he is, but it doesn’t cancel out how long he made me wait or the crap I had to put up with while waiting, either. ~ Kenna “Um, excuse me, miss?” a sultry, male voice called out to me. My eyes darted to find whom it belonged to. An incredibly sexy, tall, dark-haired guy stood a few feet from me at a urinal. I couldn’t move. A hot flush crept across my cheeks. I had walked into the men’s restroom. How does that even happen? “Yes?” I knew I should leave, that I should head straight out the door without looking back, but my legs were rooted in place. He smirked as he situated himself back into his pants and zipped them up. The sound of his movement echoed through the tiled room. “I think you have the wrong restroom.” “I-I think you’re right.” I spun on my heel, ready to bolt from the embarrassment of the situation. My face, neck, and ears grew impossibly hot as I gripped the handle to the door and pulled. It didn’t budge. I pulled again, harder this time, but it was still closed solid. A hand appeared on the door as a presence pressed against my back. My nose filled with the masculine scent of his cologne as the warmth from his body lapped at the backs of my knees. “I think you’re supposed to push.” His voice teased the back of my neck as he opened the door in front of us. “Oh, right.” My teeth sank into my bottom lip as my embarrassment continued to redden my face. Why the hell was there a handle then? I darted across the little hall as soon as the door opened wide enough for me to slip through, and pulled open the door marked for women. My heels clicked against the tile at a pace that matched my erratic heartbeat as I made my way to the sink. Glancing in the mirror, I took in my disheveled eyes and red-as-a-tomato cheeks. I placed a hand over my heart and willed it to simmer down while I inhaled a few slow, measured breaths. As if my night hadn’t been bad enough already, now I could add walking into the wrong restroom and making a complete idiot of myself in front of the hottest guy I had seen in forever to the damn list. Fan-freaking-tastic.

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