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Seduction's Kiss (The Allure Chronicles) by Alyssa Rose Ivy

“Please, Daisy. It’s going to be fun.” That one line out of Reyna’s mouth was the beginning of the end for me.
Seduction's Kiss (The Allure Chronicles)
Seduction's Kiss (The Allure Chronicles) by Alyssa Rose Ivy
“I don’t know. I was hoping to just have a quiet Halloween this year. Driving all the way to New Orleans seems a bit extreme.” I set aside my sociology textbook. There was no way I was getting reading done until Reyna said her piece. “There’s nothing like New Orleans on Halloween. This is going to be epic.” She took a seat next to me on my bed and grasped both of my hands in hers. She was getting ready to plead. “But why the sudden decision to go? Is it about a guy?” Reyna was usually motivated by a member of the opposite sex. “No, not exactly. I just want to do something fun for a change.” Not exactly? That meant yes. “Ok, who is he?” “Just this guy I knew back in high school. We’ve started talking again, and he invited me and any friends to come crash at his place for Halloween.” She suddenly turned serious. “I’m so sick of the scene here. I need a break, but I don’t want to go alone. Please, pretty please.” I sighed, realizing that saying no would just lead to a pouty roommate for the next few days. “You promise you’re not just going to ditch me?” “Of course not! It will be awesome. He’s got so many hot friends. It’s crazy.” I tuned Reyna out as she went on and on about Tulane boys. Admittedly, my dating life at East Madison wasn’t great, but I knew a random hook up with a guy I didn’t know wasn’t going to help matters either. “There’s just one problem. Isn’t New Orleans a full day’s drive from here?” I wasn’t an expert on driving distances, but Atlanta and New Orleans aren’t exactly next door. “It’s doable. About seven hours. I’ll do all the driving. All you need to do is keep me company.” “You really want to do this?” Despite her obsession with guys, Reyna was actually a really good roommate. We’d both joined the same sorority, Delta Mu, the year before and hit it off immediately. “Yes.” She turned her doe eyes on me. I wasn’t exactly jumping at the idea of the trip, but Reyna’s one of those people who always manages to find a good time, and sometimes I just liked to go along for the ride. “Okay.” “Yes!!!” She jumped up and ran around the room. “I can’t wait to tell Chad!” “Great.” I leaned back against my pillows. “I guess I really need to find a costume then.” “Just sex up that black cat costume you wore last night.” Reyna rifled through her closet. “Sex it up?” I’d donned cat ears for our Halloween kid’s philanthropy event, but I had no plans to wear them again, and sex them up? Did she forget who she was talking to? “Yeah. Tight shirt and short black skirt. It’s easy enough.” She tossed one of her skirts at me. “Try this.” “You’re way shorter than me. This skirt is going to be up to my ass.” Reyna grinned. “That’s called sexing it up. Wait until you see my firefighter costume. It’s hot.” “Hotter than me wearing this?” I held up the black fabric. “It’s a short skirt, but also just a jacket over a red bra. It’s a little over the top, but Chad said that’s what Halloween is like there. I’m embracing my inner skank.” “Ugh.” I put a pillow over my head. “Please don’t make me go.” “You don’t have to wear that skirt. Wear one of your own, but please try to look decently sexy. We don’t want to stand out like sore thumbs.” “Then ask someone else to go.” “Nope. It’s only going to be fun if you go.” “In other words, I’m the only one you can dupe into going.” “Come on. Who else would be willing to miss the Iota party? I know you don’t care about that.” I didn’t care because none of those guys gave me the time of day. The fact that every woman in my family had been Delta Mu was probably the only reason I’d gotten a bid from my sorority in the first place. I didn’t regret my decision to join, but living with a bunch of tens when you’re a seven, on a good day with the right makeup and hair products, can get old. “Fine, I’ll come up with a sexy enough costume.” “Perfect. We’ll need to get on the road early Friday.” “But I have three classes.” “And perfect attendance. I’m sure you can miss one of each. This is going to be epic!” She hugged me around the neck. I decided not to point out that she’d called the trip epic twice. “I’m sure it will be.” “I’m going to text Chad and let him know.” “Great.” I picked up my textbook and tried to get back into my reading. Not that social phenomena particularly interested me. “He says awesome. We’re going out on Bourbon Street for Halloween and everything.” “Cool.” I plugged a set of headphones into my phone and turned on some music. Reyna would never stop talking if I didn’t, and this method usually worked better than telling her to shut up. I made it through all of three paragraphs before she pulled one of my ear buds out. “You’re the best. Just wanted to tell you that.” “Yeah, Yeah.” I smiled. “I need caffeine. Want to go over to the Java Circle to read? I heard they’ve got that white hot chocolate stuff you love.” “Sure.” Reyna knew the way to my heart. Hot chocolate. I had a mild addiction. “Great. We can strategize costumes on the way over.” I laughed. “I’ll go with the cat idea if I don’t find anything else.” “There’s no reason not to. It’s classic.” “All right, I’ll stick with it. It’s not like I have a lot of time.” “Nope. We leave in two days.” “Exciting.” She pushed my arm playfully. “Please try to get hyped up, for my sake.” “Of course. If nothing else I’ll get hyped about the food. I’ve heard it’s amazing.” “See.” She linked her arm in mine as we headed toward the stairs. “There’s always a bright side.” Chapter Two Seven hours is a long drive. Add on an extra two hours thanks to traffic, and it’s pretty much endless. I wasn’t the one driving, but sitting in the passenger seat with Reyna driving wasn’t much better. She didn’t ‘believe’ in GPS. Instead she tossed a tattered old map on my lap. “I know where we’re going, but we have that just in case.” Although at first I missed the familiar computer generated voice reading directions, it didn’t take long to get used to using a paper map again. It brought me back to my childhood. My dad’s one of the types that is all about life skills. Evidently reading maps was still a life skill in his book, because he made my brother and I master the art before the end of elementary school. I planned to call him later and thank him. A few hours into the drive I decided to ask some more questions about Chad. Reyna had been surprisingly reticent on the subject. For a girl who usually gave details, way too many details, her silence made me a little suspicious. “Are you ready to tell me about him?” “He’s just a guy I knew.” “Knew how?” I turned down the radio. “He’s the one who got away,” she said in barely a whisper. “What?” I said in anything but a whisper. Hooking up with an ex-boyfriend was always a bad idea. I knew from experience. “We’re going to New Orleans so you can hook up with an ex?” “Calm down.” She looked right at the road. It wasn’t for safety reasons. She was avoiding my gaze. “So how do I fit in? What am I going to do while you guys reconnect?” I resisted the urge to use air quotes. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. I just couldn’t do it alone. I needed my best friend with me.” Best friend? Did she really see me that way? “Since we’re hours from Atlanta I’m coming, but I wish you’d been honest with me from the beginning.” I was such a pushover. I could practically hear my brother lecturing me. He said I couldn’t spend my whole life as a doormat. He was right, but that didn’t mean I knew how to change it. “His roommate’s single and excited to meet you.” I groaned. “I am not hooking up with the roommate.” “I never said you had to. I was just letting you know. He’s really cute.” “Wonderful.” Reyna might as well have been getting a degree in matchmaker for all the effort she made trying to set other people up on dates. It wasn’t something she was particularly good at. To be honest, I couldn’t think of a single success story. She changed lanes and gunned it to pass a truck. I held onto the ‘oh my god bar’ for dear life. She reduced speed once she was settled back in the right lane. “I really owe you for this. I promise I’ll make it up to you.” “Just don’t completely ditch me. That’s all I’m asking.” “I won’t.” “Didn’t anyone ever tell you not to make promises you can’t keep?” She laughed. “Trust me on this one. I don’t even know if anything is going to happen. He invited me as a friend, remember?” “You really believe that?” I didn’t. A guy wouldn’t invite an ex to stay with him unless he planned on rekindling the old flame—or getting her in bed—or most likely, both. “I do. We flirt and stuff, but it hasn’t passed that.” “If you say so.” I wasn’t in the mood to argue, but I steeled myself for a long few days. Hopefully I’d be able to navigate New Orleans on my own. *** I checked the address twice after Reyna parked along the curb. When she said we’d be staying in an off-campus apartment I assumed it was going to be a complex or something. Instead we were parked in front of an old house that looked like it should have been condemned. Ok, that might be a slight exaggeration, but it didn’t exactly have curb appeal. “You coming?” Reyna asked leaning in through her open door. Miraculously she didn’t look like she’d been sitting in a car for seven hours. Now me on the other hand, that was an altogether different story. I’d barely slept the night before, and even if I wore makeup it wouldn’t have covered up the bags under my eyes. “Yeah, I’m coming.” I reluctantly unbuckled and got out. I wasn’t looking forward to what I knew would be an awkward introduction. Reyna pulled out my duffel in what she probably viewed as a peace offering. I put it over my shoulder and followed her over to the questionable looking set of stairs. I tentatively touched the bottom step before taking a deep breath and following her up to the porch. She knocked on the door, and I was surprised it didn’t fall off the hinges. A guy with brown hair opened the door and pulled Reyna into his arms. “Hey, Baby!” My stomach dropped. Baby? They were on pet name terms? “Hey, Chad!” Reyna kissed him on the lips playfully. “We made it.” He rubbed her back in a very familiar way. “I’m glad you decided to make the trip. I promise to make it worth your while.” I just stood there in the doorway holding my bag. I wished I had the nerve to clear my throat, but I didn’t want Chad to hate me already. I settled on a light sigh that came out sounding like more of a grunt. “Oh, sorry.” Reyna stumbled back from him. “Chad, this is Daisy, my amazing sorority sister and roommate.” “Hey, Daisy. Thanks for going along for the ride with my girl, Reyna.” Yeah, I was on my own for the weekend. “Of course. Anything for Reyna.” Door Mat. Door Mat. I repeated to myself. Chad and Reyna exchanged a look, and I knew it had something to do with me. I assumed it couldn’t be good so I showed myself into the cramped apartment. I eyed one worn out leather couch. I assumed I’d be sleeping there. I walked over to drop off my stuff and noticed a few suspicious stains. Gross. Completely and utterly gross. I was so glad I’d brought a sleeping bag with me. At least I wouldn’t have to sleep right on the thing. “Hey.” I turned and nearly collided with a guy with spiky black hair. “Hi.” “I’m Shaun.” I looked around Shaun to see Reyna flirting with Chad. Might as well make friends with the roommate. At least Reyna had been right about one thing, he was cute. “Hi Shaun, I’m Daisy.” “Really? Like from The Great Gatsby?” “Uh, yeah.” Wow, a guy my age who knew something about literature. “Cool. Listen, just to put it out there, you can sleep in my bed if you want. I wouldn’t want to subject you to the couch.” I shook my head. “Oh, that’s okay.” First he appreciates literature and now he’s a gentleman? Double points. “Come on, I saw you eyeing it’s, uh, worn in condition.” He smiled, immediately putting me at ease. “I was just glad I brought a sleeping bag.” I felt like a weight had been taken off me. Things might not be quite as awkward as I anticipated. Shaun laughed. “Really, I’d only offer my bed if I wanted to. Save the sleeping bag. Besides, I wouldn’t want to leave you out here with our other roommate around.” “Other roommate?” “Yeah. Duncan. He’s a weird one.” “Oh.” Reyna hadn’t mentioned a third roommate in the apartment. Interesting omission. In order to avoid any unnecessary drama I decided not to ask more about Duncan. If he was really that weird hopefully I wouldn’t even meet him. “Here, I’ll help you with your stuff.” Shaun grabbed my duffel before I could stop him. “Really—” “I’m telling you it’s not a problem,” He interrupted. Reyna caught my eye and winked. I shook my head in return. If she thought she was playing matchmaker she had another thing coming. Nice or not, I wasn’t interested in hooking up with some random guy. If that’s all I wanted I might as well have just continued trying my luck with the dating pool at East Madison. “Reyna? You coming?” Chad called from the doorway of his room. Wow, he was moving fast. I hoped Reyna knew what she was doing. Hopefully they were on the same page. “Looks like you have someone to keep you company.” Reyna grinned. “I’m going to take a quick nap with Chad.” “Oh, a nap?” I rolled my eyes. “Enjoy that.” With a sigh I walked into Shaun’s room. The room was sparsely furnished with just a bed and a desk in the corner. His walls were bare which surprised me. I guess most guys I knew at school had posters and stuff up. His looked like he’d just moved in. A window AC unit sat precariously on the sill appearing like it could fall at any moment. “I just changed my sheets today.” He gestured to his bed. “Really?” “Yeah. I always do laundry on Fridays.” “And you change your sheets?” He laughed. “You don’t wash yours?” “I do, but most of my guy friends don’t with any regularity.” “Oh, that’s kind of gross.” I laughed. “Are you as much of a neat freak as me?” “I prefer to think of myself as orderly.” “Orderly. That works too.” I took a seat on the edge of his bed. My guess was that Reyna’s ‘nap’ was going to last awhile. Chapter Three “The Boot isn’t anything special, but it’s where we always start.” Chad was all smiles as we walked toward the unofficial campus bar of Tulane. “Cool, we’re up for anything.” Reyna appeared equally happy, ever so often stealing glances of her hand held by his. If I didn’t know any better I’d say this guy really meant something to her. “Great.” It was already Friday night. All I had to do was make it until Sunday morning and we’d be on our way back to campus. “What’s the scene like at EMC?” Shaun asked. “It’s a big Greek scene.” Which was why joining a sorority was a no-brainer. Social life pretty much revolved around it. “There’s obviously tons to do in Atlanta, but we’re just outside the city.” “So you’re in a sorority?” “Yeah. Delta Mu.” “Nice.” “I’m guessing you’re not Greek?” “No, it’s not really my scene.” “Cool.” I didn’t care whether he was or not, but there went a potential conversation. “So this is an eighteen and up place?” I didn’t particularly feel like broaching the whole fake ID subject. “Yeah. You’re good.” “Ok, great.” Our conversation was getting stilted so I really hoped we got there soon. We turned a corner and suddenly we were surrounded by crowds of college students. Evidently this was where everyone hung out on Friday night. The door to the bar was wide open, but a large guy who couldn’t have been more than twenty-two or so sat at the door. I showed him my license and he grunted something. I assumed that meant I was fine so I trailed the others inside. The bar was smoky and crowded as I followed the others. One long bar spanned the back of the space, and loud music blared from speakers somewhere. “I’ll get us a pitcher.” Chad dropped Reyna’s hand, and we searched around for a place to sit. “Shaun, hey.” A guy called him over. Reyna and I followed him. “Hey, man. Mind if we join you?” The guy looked Reyna and I over. “No feel free.” Sometimes being a girl did come in handy. I took a seat next to Shaun, knowing Reyna would want the two seats on the other side of the table so she could sit with Chad. I made some more awkward conversation. That seemed to be the theme of the evening. When Chad arrived with the pitcher of beer I gulped down my cup in record time. I needed something to take the edge off. After about an hour we left the Boot and piled into Chad’s car to drive over to a place called the Bull Dog. This one had a different crowd. It seemed a little bit older, but definitely still college. As I stood sipping my Abita beer, it was a local beer I was told I had to try, I largely tuned out the conversation of the group we were with. They’d stopped even pretending to include me, and it wasn’t worth the effort to push myself in. Instead I people watched. That’s when I saw him. Tall, broad, and blond, he stood out in the sea of students. Even flanked by two equally tall and attractive guys, he commanded all of my attention. He was too far away to see the color of his eyes, but whatever they were they probably fit perfectly with his chiseled features. The guy could have been a model. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t pull my eyes away from him. “What are you staring at?” Reyna asked. She’d separated herself from Chad for the moment. “Nothing.” She followed my line of vision. “Oh. Which one?” “Blond.” “Of course.” She laughed. “Hey, I’ve dated guys with dark hair.” “Yes, but when given the choice you want a blond.” She brought her beer to her lips. “So? We all have our preferences.” Reyna always went for the brooding types, although Chad didn’t fit that description. “Go talk to him.” She nodded toward him. “Yeah… right.” “Why not? If he isn’t interested you never have to see him again.” She had a point. That was the upside of being hundreds of miles from home. “Come on. Live a little. He’s gorgeous. You can’t give up this kind of chance.” She placed her empty beer bottle down on the table. “Only you can make talking to a guy sound like a monumental life event.” “Not a monumental event, but a fun one. Go ahead.” “Fine.” Normally I would have just stood there staring at the guy, but she was right. What’s the worst thing that could happen? I wouldn’t have to worry about running into him again or anything. I finished my beer and set it down before forcing myself to walk toward the three inhumanly attractive guys. I stopped right next to him. “Hi.” He didn’t say anything. I tried again. “Hi there.” He gave me a funny look. “Hi? Can I help you?” “Can I help you?” His friend with the black hair elbowed him. “Ignore his manners, he’s rusty.” “Oh.” Humiliation had taken on new meaning. “Shut up.” He glared at his friend before turning back to me. “Is there something I can do for you? Do we have a class together or something?” I wanted to run, but I forced myself to hold my place. “No. I was just saying hello.” “Ok, hello.” He just stared at me, and I was ready to be swallowed into the floor. His friend with brown hair shook his head before turning to me. “Sorry about him.” I couldn’t take a second more. I spun around and headed back to Reyna. “How’d it go?” she asked. She’d already returned to Chad’s side so I didn’t want to talk about it. “I’m not feeling great. Any chance you guys want to go home?” Chad put his hand around Reyna’s waist. “We can definitely head back.” I probably earned points from the guy, my request meant he’d get laid sooner. “Thanks.” “Should we wait for Shaun and the others?” Reyna asked. Shaun disappeared within twenty minutes of us arriving at the second bar. He’d run into some of his other friends. “Nah, he’ll probably stay out late, and I’m sure he can find another ride.” Chad started heading toward the entrance. I stared at the floor as we passed by those guys again, but I allowed myself one glance as we reached the stairs. They were still in the same place completely oblivious to my exit. Wow, talk about a strike out. Reyna noticed the direction of my glance and she leaned in to whisper, “Don’t worry about it. We all have those nights.” I smiled to make her drop the subject, but I was pretty sure Reyna had never been shot down by a guy like that before. At least I was able to leave. We made the quick drive back to their house, and I kept a smile plastered on my face when I said goodnight to both of them. I could already hear Reyna’s giggles as I got ready for bed in the bathroom. I was ready to go to sleep and forget the embarrassment. Most people would have just moved on from it, but I was analyzing every detail. Was I really that unappealing? He hadn’t even smiled. Oh well, at least I wasn’t sleeping on the couch. I pulled down Shaun’s blanket and checked the sheets. They looked fresh and clean. Satisfied I wasn’t sleeping in anything gross, I turned off Shaun’s desk lamp and slid into his bed. The mattress was surprisingly comfortable. He must have had one of those ultra-padded mattress covers. I made a mental note to pick one up for myself. Thinking about shopping for bedding accessories was better than thinking about the earlier rejection. Going to sleep in a strange bed is always a weird feeling, but add in the fact that I knew the bed belonged to a guy I’d just met, and it was even weirder. I wondered why he was so willing to give it up since, as a neat freak like me, he couldn’t be thrilled at the thought of sleeping on the couch. Maybe he had somewhere else to crash. Eventually after my mind had run a few dozen laps around the evening’s events, I finally drifted off to sleep. *** Someone’s hand was on my breast. Not just on my breast, but cupping it. My eyes flew open. Where was I? As I felt something hard poking my back I remembered. I screamed and jumped out of bed. “What the hell?” “Hey, Daisy. Didn’t want to wait up for me?” Shaun’s voice was level like we were talking casually, but he’d said my name which meant he’d known it was me. That ruled out any possibility of him being drunk and forgetting who I was. I stumbled around looking for the light. I didn’t bother with the lamp. Instead I went for the overhead light. “Fuck.” Shaun cursed as the light blinded us both. “What were you doing?” “I was enjoying the beautiful girl in my bed, what did you think I was doing?” “You told me I could sleep here.” I wrapped my arms around my chest. Even though my t-shirt provided good coverage, I wasn’t wearing a bra. “Yes, I did.” He grinned. “And that offer implied you weren’t sleeping here.” “No, it didn’t. I’d never agree to sleep on that couch.” His face wrinkled up in disgust. “I thought of that. I assumed you had somewhere else to sleep.” “Somewhere else?” Understanding crossed his face. “Oh, no. I wasn’t planning on crashing anywhere else.” “You somehow got the impression that I wanted to sleep in the same bed as you?” “You want exactly what I do.” He arched an eyebrow. “No, I don’t. That’s why I jumped out of bed.” “You were surprised—that was the point. Now why don’t you come back to bed so we can get things started.” He pulled away the blanket and sheet revealing what I already knew. He was completely naked. And completely aroused. “Oh god.” I grabbed my stuff as I headed for the door. My clothes from the day slipped off the top of the duffel, so I bent to pick them up where they landed right next to his bed. As I reached for my shirt I came face to face with a picture of a half-naked woman, and from the looks of the rolled-up posters beside it, there were more like it. Of course. This perv had planned this all along. What a creep. I stood up, and did one quick look around for the rest of my stuff. I wouldn’t be stepping foot into his room again. I’d rather sleep on the floor or outside. I turned the doorknob, and it took an extra turn. “You locked the door?” I said mostly to myself as I opened the door. “I figured you wouldn’t want anyone walking in on us.” Shaun’s voice came from right behind me. I didn’t turn around. What if he was still naked? “I’m sleeping on the couch. Stay far away from me.” “You don’t have to be this way. No one’s going to judge you.” “Uh, this isn’t about being judged.” Why was I even arguing with this weirdo? “If you change your mind, the offer’s still open.” “No.” If I hadn’t been exhausted and humiliated, I probably would have done more. It wasn’t until I was curled up inside my sleeping bag that I started to beat myself up about how I wished I was the kind of girl who would have slapped him. I just wasn’t, at least not when I was sleeping in some crappy apartment in a city I’d never been to before. The trip was definitely epic—epically awful. I remained staring at the wall until I heard Shaun’s door close. “Want me to hurt him for you?” “What?” I whirled around quickly, but since I was in the sleeping bag that meant I ended up half on the floor. I say half, because a guy gently helped me back onto the couch. “Who are you?” The room was dark enough that I couldn’t really see his face. Could things get any worse? First the most attractive guy I’d ever seen rejected me, then a weirdo groped me, and now this? “I’m Duncan. I live here. I’m guessing you’re here with the girl who’s in Chad’s room?” “Uh, yeah.” All right, hopefully this roommate wasn’t as pervy. Shaun had called him weird, but I no longer trusted his judgment. “You didn’t answer my question.” He just stood there. I tried to get a better look at him, but in the nearly absent light I couldn’t make out all of his features. “What question?” “Want me to kill him?” The question had to be a joke, but he said it completely serious. He’d stepped closer to the window so I got a quick look at his face. He wasn’t bad looking—he had nothing on the Blond though. Not that his attractiveness mattered. “I think he can live to see another day, but if he goes near me again I might change my mind.” “Ok, suit yourself.” Duncan turned and walked away. I heard a door open and close, and repositioned myself in an attempt to actually get some sleep. To keep my mind off the horrible night, I started going through the list of work I’d have to do when I got back to campus. Somehow my tedious assignments were relaxing to contemplate. Despite the craziness of the night, I eventually fell asleep. The next time I woke up, no one was copping a feel, but Shaun was sitting in a chair staring at me, and he was only wearing a pair of briefs. I groaned. “What part of stay away from me don’t you understand?” I pulled the sleeping bag tighter around me. “I’m just sitting in my living room.” “Staring at me.” “It’s not like I’m jacking off in front of you.” There was something in the way he said it that made me think he’d done that in his room not too long before. So much for the polite gentleman. Between the near nudie pictures, the groping, and now the jerking off comment, I was pretty sure his entire personality the day before had been an act. “Lovely image.” I unzipped my sleeping bag. He smiled. “Yeah? You like it?” “Oh my god. No. I was being sarcastic.” I picked up my duffel “Now if you’ll excuse me I’m taking a shower.” The thought of using a shower in that apartment scared me, but I desperately needed to wash away the remnants of the horrible night. I hoped there was a good lock on the bathroom door. “Want some company?” He called after me. I spun around. “Are you serious?” He smiled sheepishly. “You can’t blame a guy for trying.” “Yes, I can.” I headed toward the bathroom. I needed to get changed and out of that apartment as soon as possible. I had a feeling that Reyna wasn’t getting up for a while, but that didn’t mean I had to wait around. “Man, you like this hard to get stuff.” “It’s not playing hard to get, it’s telling you to get lost.” I didn’t bother turning around. I didn’t want to encourage him at all. Thankfully the lock was a strong one, and the water was hot. I gave myself a few minutes to enjoy the spray before drying off and getting dressed. I brushed out my wet hair and tied it back into a low pony tail. That would have to do. I braced myself for facing Shaun again when I opened the door to the bathroom, but he was nowhere to be seen. I let out a sigh of relief. I grabbed my purse and camera and stowed the rest of my stuff behind a chair. I glanced at the microwave clock in the kitchen on my way out. Eight thirty. Hopefully I’d find something to do that early on a Saturday morning. I had no real idea of where I was going, but I assumed my best bet was the streetcar the guys had pointed out the night before. If I got on heading downtown, at least I could explore the city and get something out of the trip. The neighborhood had a different feel in the morning. There was a quiet calmness that made me nearly forget my insane experience with Shaun. I walked the few blocks to St. Charles and waited on the median. I wasn’t sure how often the cars ran, but at least I’d left Mr. Crazy behind. Chapter Four After a few frantic moments of searching, I found the exact change the driver said I needed to ride the streetcar. I slid the cash and change into the machine, and the driver closed the door behind me. Without any warning the car started moving, and the jerking motion nearly had me flying through the air. Luckily I was able to grab hold of a pole, and then I held onto the first few rows of seats before falling into an empty one. The car was mostly empty, and I was glad no one seemed to notice my latest awkward moment. As the car moved downtown, I opened the travel app on my phone. Reyna might not believe in GPS, but I did. I also believed in any app that could make my life easier. I searched for cafes, and quickly recognized the name of one. Café Du Monde. Evidently they were known for these donut like things called beignets and chicory coffee. Both sounded pretty good at the moment. The outdoor café, covered by a huge green and white stripped awning, was busy, but I had no trouble finding a place to sit. I’d barely sat down when a waiter walked over. I’d already decided on my order thanks to my app. “One order of beignets and a coffee.” The server smiled and walked off. I was positive I wasn’t the only one ordering that same thing. While I waited, I opened the app and tried to keep planning my morning. It looked like most of the shops and galleries in the French Quarter wouldn’t open for a while, but it could still be fun to walk around. My breakfast arrived, and I bit into the hot and sweet beignet. On the first bite I got powdered sugar all over my black t-shirt. Perfect. Oh well, I’d dust it off. The beignet was delicious, and the chickory coffee gave me the pick me up I needed. Hot chocolate was my comfort drink, but after the night I’d had and the lack of sleep, I needed something stronger. I glanced at my phone. Nine thirty. Less than twenty-four more hours left. We were planning to leave at eight the next morning so we’d be back in time for a mandatory sorority meeting. After finishing my breakfast, I paid and wandered around Jackson Square for a while to admire the artwork hanging from the wrought iron fence. I took some pictures of the large Cathedral and listened to a solo violinist performing a jazzy tune before heading over to Royal Street. I stepped into a few galleries, but the owners all looked at me skeptically. I wasn’t sure if it was the remaining powder I couldn’t seem to get off my t-shirt, or my age, but none of them thought I could afford their work. I couldn’t, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t look. The one exception was the owner of a photo gallery I stopped in. “Nice camera.” He gestured to the Nikon around my neck. “Oh, thanks. It was a graduation gift from my parents.” He set aside some sort of book he’d been reading. “Graduation from?” “High school. A few years ago.” “Great gift. What do you use it for mostly?” “Oh, pretty much everything. I’ve been into photography for a while.” My parents had bought me my first camera when I was seven, and I’d never stopped clicking away. He laughed. “Same here.” I really looked at the guy. He was probably in his thirties. Owning a gallery in downtown New Orleans in my thirties didn’t sound so bad. I gazed around at his street scenes and portraits. “Your work is beautiful.” “Thank you. I try to capture the essence of the city.” “This is my first time here. I’m impressed.” “Really? You’re first time in New Orleans? What do you think of the Crescent City so far?” I thought over my experience. “I’m enjoying my morning.” He laughed. “Not so much the rest of the visit?” “I had a bad night.” Ok, that was too much information, but who cared. I wasn’t going to see this shop owner again. “Ah. I think I catch your drift.” I shrugged. “You should check out the Midnight Cauldron.” “The Midnight Cauldron?” “It’s a Voodoo shop, but with a different feel from the rest. I think you’ll find Kalisa, the owner, entertaining.” “Voodoo? Like witchcraft?” “Yes and no. You should check it out. She’s just off Bourbon, but don’t let the address fool you. Tell her Harold sent you.” “Okay.” I took another look at his work not sure what he meant by letting the address fool me. “Thanks.” “No problem.” He handed me his card. “Don’t be a stranger.” “Ok.” I pocketed the card and headed out. The Midnight Cauldron didn’t look like much on the outside, but I decided to take Harold’s advice and check it out. Unlike most of the shops nearby, the door was closed, but I pushed it open. A chime jingled as I walked inside. The smell of incense hit me as I gazed around the crowded shop. A counter spanned nearly the whole store. I walked up to it and looked into the case. Rabbit feet? Frogs legs? Yeah, not the kind of stuff I needed. “Can I help you?” I jumped back startled by the sudden appearance of a woman that I assumed was the shop owner. Her long dreadlocks and mouth full of metal capped teeth weren’t what caught my attention first. Instead it was the ample cleavage that she had on display. The woman gave a new definition to well-endowed. “Hi. I was just looking around. Harold at the gallery down the street suggested I stop in.” Her lips spread into a wide smile. “Harold’s lovely, isn’t he?” “I just met him for a few minutes, but he seemed nice.” I looked around at the candles lining the store. They were in every color imaginable and created an eerie glow despite the small amount of sunlight filtering in through a crack in a window. “I see.” Her eyes narrowed like she was sizing me up. “Is there anything in particular you’re looking for?” “Not really. I’m just exploring.” “Exploring? Where are you from?” “Right now I’m living in Atlanta, but I’m from Charlotte.” I’m not sure why I was so forthcoming with details, but I didn’t see any harm in it. “Are you here with a boyfriend? Lover?” I laughed dryly. “No.” “Meaning you don’t have either?” “Exactly. I’m with a friend.” No reason to explain more. “Your friend has a man?” “Yes.” “And you’re happy for her, but secretly you’re jealous.” She stuck out her tongue slightly as she smiled. “I’m not jealous.” I crossed my arms over my chest. “No? You don’t yearn to be desired, wanted?” Of course I did, who didn’t? “Sure, but I’m not jealous of her.” “Fair enough, but you want a man. I can tell.” “Sure, who doesn’t?” I shrugged. The conversation was turning awkward. I needed to find something to buy so I could make a polite exit. “I have the perfect thing for you.” She turned and started rifling through a number of little vials. “Yes, this should do the trick.” “What?” “Come on back with me.” “Now?” I asked nervously. Wasn’t this a voodoo shop? What were the vials for? I didn’t know voodoo involved potions. I decided to voice my concern. “I didn’t know voodoo involved this stuff.” I gestured to the vials and bottles. “I practice many different types of magic.” She moved around to my side of the counter before walking over to the door to turn around the open sign to closed. She locked the door. I assumed that was all part of trying to create an authentic experience. Kalisa took things seriously for the owner of a tourist trap. What had I gotten myself into? “You know, I really think I’m fine.” “No honey, you are not fine.” She took my arm and led me back around the counter. Every part of me screamed to run, but one small part begged me to stay and see what she had in mind. How many chances like this would I have? Besides, I was in New Orleans. I might as well experience all it had to offer. When in Rome, do what the Romans do, right? I smiled to myself thinking about what Reyna would think of what I was doing. She hadn’t called which meant she was still sleeping—it must have been some night. She gathered a bunch of bottles and herbs and stuff as we walked into the back room. The worn floor boards beneath us creaked as we ducked under the sloping ceilings. She started putting a few vials into a pot cooking on an old stove. I watched curiously until a large flash of fire had me stepping away. You couldn’t deny that Kalisa had the theatrics down. A strong breeze blew out a few of the candles Kalisa had set up. I shivered. I glanced around. There were no windows. Strange. “Do you want to drink this or use it as a paste?” “Uh, the paste.” The atmosphere was great and all, but I wasn’t drinking anything. She laughed. “I was only kidding. I’d get shut down if I gave you anything you actually drank. Regulations and all.” I laughed uneasily. “I bet.” Without warning she pressed her thumb across my forehead. “I call this Seduction’s Kiss.” She ran her finger back and forth over my skin. The mixture was warm—nearly hot. “Be very careful, child. Seduction’s Kiss can be extremely dangerous.” And she was telling me this after putting it on my skin? If I’d actually believed anything she was doing was real I’d have run the other way. This was just a silly ‘rip off the desperate tourist’ routine I was positive I’d pay an arm and a leg for. I rested a hand on my forehead as I ducked to leave the back area. I could feel the beginnings of a headache. “What do I owe you?” “Nothing, child. It’s on me.” “Are you sure?” I glanced around the shop again settling on a rabbit foot. I could use the good luck. She let me pay for that. “Thanks, that was interesting.” She used a moist cloth to wipe of the remainder of the paste. “Remember what I said about Seduction’s Kiss being strong. Beware of the night.” “Okay…” I stumbled out of the store with a full on headache, but I knew it was probably from the incense. I knew whatever she’d performed wasn’t real, but she sure put on a convincing show. I’d have to recommend this store to people looking for an authentic experience. I’d add in my anecdote to the app when I got on Wifi again. I checked my phone on my way to the streetcar. Two calls from Reyna. At least she was finally awake. I called her back, and she answered on the first ring. “Where are you?” “I needed to get out of there.” “What happened? Shaun said you were all weird today.” I laughed dryly. “The guy groped me last night. He told me I could stay in his room—I assumed that meant alone.” She gasped. “No way.” “Yes. He’s a creep. This morning I woke up to him staring at me.” “I’m so sorry, Daisy.” I heard the ruffling of something. Was she back in bed? I assumed if she’d talked to Shaun she was already up. “I promise I’ll make this up to you.” “It’s okay.” I expertly slipped my money into the streetcar this time. I was learning. “I’m just going to avoid him until we leave tomorrow.” “That’s going to be hard.” “Why?” my stomach dropped. She didn’t answer. “Why would that be hard, Reyna?” “We have reservations for dinner already, and then we’re going out downtown.” “Who’s we?” I knew I wouldn’t like the answer. “The four of us.” “No way. I’ll just stay in their apartment and watch TV or something. If he’s out of there I’m fine.” “I heard their other roommate is really weird. I wouldn’t leave you alone there.” “He was nice to me last night.” Admittedly he did weird me out, but he didn’t scare me as much as Shaun. At least Duncan seemed to know how to keep his hands to himself. “Still, you have to come. Otherwise it’s just going to be the three of us.” “Can’t Chad just tell Shaun not to come? Then you two could have time alone.” “Why? So he can stay back and annoy you? At least if you come with us we’ll be in public, and I’ll protect you.” “Protect me?” I lowered my voice when I noticed the woman next to me staring. “Yes. What have you been up to all morning?” “Not too much. Taking pictures, getting breakfast, and hanging out at a voodoo shop.” “A voodoo shop?” Reyna didn’t hide her surprise from her voice. “You’re brave.” I laughed. “Just trying to enjoy what I can.” I noticed the woman staring again. “Ok, I have to go. Are you at the apartment?” “Yes. I’ll see you when you get back.” Chapter Five I don’t know what made me agree to dinner. Sure, Reyna would have been annoyed, and it would have made my living situation awkward, but Shaun was a creep. Surely that won out. But I did say yes. I felt a strange surge of confidence that made everything seem easier. Maybe Kalisa had actually done something with that ritual. Only instead of Seduction’s Kiss she should have called it Confidence’s Kiss. Whatever the reason, I found myself sitting next to Shaun at an Italian restaurant less than twenty-four hours after creep-fest had started. “I can’t wait to see your costume.” Shaun took a big bite of his pasta. “I know you’re going to look so hot.” “Oh, I’ll look hot.” I’d decided to take a different approach with Shaun. He wasn’t getting the time of day from me, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t mess with him a little. He swallowed hard, and I struggled not to laugh. “How was your morning exploring, Daisy?” Chad asked. I paused to take a sip of water. “It was mostly uneventful.” “Uneventful?” Reyna laughed. “You found a Voodoo shop.” “Like I said, mostly uneventful.” “Was it down on Bourbon? Because those places are all tourist traps.” Shaun sounded proud of himself, like he was saving me from having the wool pulled over my eyes. “Yeah. I know.” Something felt off agreeing with him though. Kalisa may have played with me, but I didn’t like saying the Midnight Cauldron was a tourist trap. If nothing else the ambience had its own value and place. Shaun set down his fork. “You should have asked me to come with you. You didn’t have to do that alone.” I laughed dryly. “Yeah, asking you wasn’t in the cards.” Chad suddenly grinned. “What? One night with him was enough?” Wait. Did Chad actually think something had happened? Hadn’t Reyna set him straight? Before I could mull it over for too long, I felt a hand settle on my leg. I was already wearing the black skirt that was part of my cat costume. I’d packed one far less short than the one Reyna had suggested I wear. “What can I say? I wore her out.” He slid his hand up higher. I smacked his hand away. “If by wearing me out you mean sending me out of his room running and screaming, then sure.” Chad laughed. “Ouch, man.” “To set the record straight absolutely nothing happened last night except this jerk trying to take advantage of me.” Take that. I was on fire. If I’d felt this way the night before Shaun would have had a hand print across his face and a sore groin from me kicking him. Reyna shot me a funny look, but I didn’t care. Chad should know that his roommate was a total pervert. I hoped he didn’t already know it. If so, he’d knowingly sent me to the lions and was not someone Reyna should be giving the time of day. You can tell a lot about a guy by the way he treats your friends. “How drunk were you, Daisy?” Shaun smirked. “I think you’re remembering things wrong.” Seriously? He was going to play that game? “Remembering things wrong?” I tossed my napkin on the table. “No, I’m remembering things perfectly. If we had such a great night, why did you have to self-service this morning?” The couple at the next table turned to look at us. I didn’t care. I wasn’t holding it in. Shaun’s response was to put his hand back on my leg. I pushed my chair back. “Shaun, please stop creeping out Daisy.” Reyna glared at him. I headed to the entrance without worrying about who would cover my tab. Considering the circumstances, I figured I deserved a free bowl of pasta. Reyna ran after me. “Daisy!” I stopped walking and turned around. She pulled me into a hug. “I’m sorry. I’m being an awful friend.” I didn’t disagree with her there. If the tables had been turned I’d be finding a hotel room or driving us home. “It’s just that I want things to work with Chad. I’ve never met anyone who makes me feel this way.” I believed her. The emotion in her words and face seemed real, but it was the way she glowed that made it impossible to deny. “I get that, but I still don’t need this.” “I know. I know. I’ll leave tonight if you want.” She meant it. Reyna was a horrible actress. That reality alone was enough to keep me there. “I think I can handle waiting until tomorrow. Just get Shaun to go out with you guys and without me.” We reached the apartment, and Reyna unlocked the door. Chad must have given her the key. “Why can’t we do the reverse? You come, and he does something else?” “Because I’m still going to be the third wheel. I get you’re into Chad, and that’s fine, but I’d rather do homework than tag along with you guys.” “Daisy? Do you hate me?” She gave me her puppy dog eyes again. I sighed. She shouldn’t have been the one making me feel guilty, but it wasn’t worth a fight. “Hate, no. I just wish I’d stayed back at school. I can’t go back and change that though. At least I had fun this morning.” “And you can have fun tonight.” Shaun and Chad walked inside the apartment, and I saw Reyna and Chad exchange a look. “Don’t worry. I won’t sit at home tonight.” I grabbed my cat costume from my bag and walked down the hall to the bathroom. “What the hell, man?” Through the door I heard Chad. “Please don’t screw this up for me.” “I’m not doing anything.” I rolled my eyes at Shaun’s denial. “You groped the girl, and from her reaction at the restaurant you were going there again.” “She’s into me.” Shaun was delusional. Completely and utterly delusional. “No, she’s not. My girlfriend’s friends aren’t yours for the taking. If she wanted to mess around then great, but she’s made her feelings abundantly clear.” Girlfriend? That was fast. “I’ll back off.” “Stay away from her. They leave tomorrow. Think you can keep it in your pants for a few more hours?” “Does Reyna have any other friends she can introduce me to?” I was about ready to burst through the door and let him have it for that comment, but evidently Reyna was listening in too. “Not a chance, and you owe Daisy about a million apologies. You were rude and gross to my best friend, and that’s not okay.” I heard the telltale sound of a slap. Wow. Reyna’s path to forgiveness had just been shortened considerably. I put on my cat ears and drew on my whisker s before walking out of the bathroom. “I’m sorry,” Shaun said as unconvincingly as possible as he still touched his cheek. “Great.” I started toward my bag so I could drop off my clothes, but Duncan walked out of his room at the exact moment, and we collided. He put his hands on both of my arms to sturdy me. “Hi.” “Hi.” He still didn’t let go. “Nice costume.” His eyes had a faint ring of greenish-yellow color in them that seemed out of place in his brown eyes. I wondered if he was wearing contacts. “Oh. Thanks.” I looked at his all black ensemble consisting of a dress shirt and slacks. I guess that was as far as he went to dress up on Halloween. Given a choice, I would have skipped my costume all together. “Do you have plans tonight?” “None I particularly want to be part of.” There wasn’t a chance I was spending any more time with Shaun. “She has plans.” Chad walked over. “We’re all going out.” “Come out with me instead.” Duncan looked at me seriously. “I’m going downtown to meet some friends.” “Daisy’s not hanging out with you.” Shaun pulled on my arm. Duncan didn’t let go. Duncan narrowed his eyes. “Why would you have any say on what she does?” “She’s coming out with us.” Reyna said from somewhere behind me. “Aren’t you guys going downtown too?” I turned to look at Chad. Chad nodded. “Yes, and I promise you’ll have a better time with us.” I turned, offsetting one of Duncan’s hands. “Why don’t we all hang out together? Then you can meet up with your friends, Duncan.” That seemed like a nice compromise. “No way.” Chad, Shaun, and Duncan all said it at the same time. Why were they being so strange? “How about we just do a girl’s night then, Reyna?” I joked. She gave me a panicked look which told me everything. She would have agreed to it if she thought I really wanted to. That’s all I needed to see. I smiled lightly. “I really want to hang out with Reyna tonight, Duncan. But I appreciate the offer.” “I have a better idea. Are you ready to go, now?” Duncan asked. “Yeah, why?” “Why don’t we go hang out with my friends first? We can meet up with these guys later.” He gestured to Reyna and Chad. I thought about it. The idea seemed reasonable enough. If I was having tons of fun with Duncan’s friends I could just stay with them. If not, I had an out. “Sounds good.” I grabbed my purse and double checked I had everything inside that I needed. Duncan waited for me at the front door. I hugged Reyna to put her at ease. “Call me when you get down there.” “I will… be safe.” She held on longer than necessary. “I will be.” I followed Duncan outside. From inside I heard Reyna. “Is she safe?” Chad reassured her. “Yes. At least I think so.” I shivered. Did Chad dislike his roommate that much? “Don’t worry about him.” Duncan patted my arm. I waited for more of an explanation of why I shouldn’t have worried about Chad’s hesitation, but none came. “How are we getting downtown?” I didn’t want to make a scene, but I also didn’t plan on getting into a car with a guy I barely knew. “The streetcar. Finding parking on Halloween would be impossible.” “Oh, the streetcar sounds great.” Public transportation sounded perfect. “You were afraid to get in my car.” He gave me a small smile as we walked. “Maybe a little.” For good reason. From what Shaun had demonstrated, you couldn’t be too careful. I figured I’d be safe enough in public though. At least I hoped I was. “Why did you invite me tonight?” He looked at me like I was crazy. “Because I wanted you with me, and I thought you’d prefer to spend time with me than Shaun.” “You’ve got that much right.” He stopped walking. “My offer from last night is still on the table.” “Your offer? Wait, about killing him?” I contemplated an excuse of why I couldn’t go. He smiled, and I relaxed. Had I really thought it was anything but a joke? “He’s okay. I’m leaving in the morning anyway.” “Oh. Leaving to where?” He stopped on the median to wait. “To school. This was only a weekend visit.” “You want to go back?” He put an arm around me as a group of guys without costumes walked over. I assumed it was a protective gesture and didn’t shrug it off. “Yes. I’ve been ready since I got here.” “Because of Shaun?” “Because of everything. I knew Reyna was into Chad, but I should have predicted just how into him she was.” “You’re single.” It was a statement and not a question. “Yes. Very much so.” What was with everyone asking me that? Kalisa was obsessed with it. “Are you a virgin?” If I’d been drinking, I’d have choked. Instead I coughed. “What?” “A virgin. Have you had sex before?” He watched me carefully. “How is that any of your business?” “It’s not, I’m just curious.” He buried his hand in his pocket. “I’m not a virgin.” Considering the less than stellar experiences I’d had though, I’d have been better off being one. “Good.” “Good? Why is that good?” Shaun and Chad were right. This guy was really weird. “Because I’d feel guilty having the thoughts I’m having right now about someone untouched.” “Uh.” Seriously? He had to get creepy too? “Maybe I should just call Reyna.” “No.” he removed his arm from around me, but stayed close. “I want you to stay.” “Evidently.” He smiled. “I promise you’ll enjoy yourself.” “No weird, creepy business then?” I knew his word didn’t really mean anything, but maybe it would help me emphasize I wasn’t in the mood to be toyed with. “No. Just a fun night out.” I needed to keep the conversation going. “What year are you?” “Oh, I’m not in school right now. I was at Baylor for a while, but I’m taking a break.” Not in school? There went the comfort from knowing he went to college with people I knew. Not that that fact would have changed anything. “How’d you end up living with Chad and Shaun then?” “They put up an ad looking for a third roommate, and I responded. The place isn’t great, but I wasn’t allowed to stay where I was living before.” “Were you living with your family?” “Something like that.” He looked down the road. “It’s coming.” Although the streetcar was mostly empty when it pulled to a stop, it was nearly full by the time Duncan paid our fare, and we walked on. He gestured for me to sit in a seat next to a girl. “I’ll stand.” I wasn’t sure if he was doing it because he wanted other people to find seats or because for some reason he enjoyed standing, but either way I appreciated having a seat. I still wasn’t used to the jerky stops and starts of New Orleans’ most famous form of transportation. By the time the streetcar reached Canal Street, it was filled to capacity. I couldn’t see Duncan when I got off the car from the back. I hadn’t even realized you could do that. He was waiting for me on the sidewalk. “Where to?” I asked. It looked like there was a party pretty much everywhere. “This way.” He took my hand in his, but I didn’t fight it. Otherwise we probably would have been separated by the endless crowds. I was really glad I’d visited the quarter in the morning so I at least had an idea of what it was like without thousands of people filling every nook and cranny. “I want to take you to one of my favorite bars.” “Ok, cool.” I hoped this one was eighteen and up too. We wove our way through the crowds. I glanced into the rows of bars and clubs teeming with people dressed in various degrees of costumes. Despite my apprehension of hanging out with someone I barely knew, the excitement seemed to be rubbing off on me. I found myself moving along to the music spilling out of one club when we were momentarily stopped. “Duncan!” A girl with long blond hair yelled and proceeded to wrap her arms around Duncan’s neck. She was dressed as a pumpkin, if a pumpkin was just a skimpy piece of orange fabric. “Come dancing with us.” She was visibly drunk. “Oh, hi.” He gave me an apologetic look. I shrugged. It wasn’t like we were on a date. “Why aren’t you dressed up? It’s Halloween. You’re supposed to be dressed up.” He shoved a hand into his back pocket. “How do you know that I’m not dressed up?” “Laurie!” The girl yelled. “It’s Duncan, the stripper who did Debbie’s party last week.” Wait. What? Did he strip? Wow, that was pretty surprising. He wasn’t bad looking, but I hadn’t met a male stripper before. Another girl ran over. This one was appropriately attired. She had an awesome lollipop costume on. She also gave Duncan a hug, so I decided to people watch while I waited. That’s when I saw him. The gorgeous guy from the bar. All six plus feet of his perfectness. This time he was wearing one of those sleeveless white t-shirts that showed off his muscular arms. But it wasn’t his muscles that jumped out the most. It was his beautiful set of black wings. Now that was a costume. He glanced up just as he passed, and my chest tightened. He looked at me with curiosity for a second before continuing on. Maybe he vaguely remembered my face but didn’t know why. I wasn’t sure what would be worse, if he remembered the humiliating moment, or if he didn’t. I suddenly felt embarrassed of my cat costume. Were the whiskers too much? “Daisy?” Duncan called my name and snapped me out of my daze. “Ready?” The girls must have walked off while I was distracted because Duncan was alone watching me. I wondered how obvious my ogling was. “Yeah, sure.” Duncan towed me along until he turned into a dark and completely unappealing dive. This was his favorite place? I kept my mouth shut. I didn’t want to offend him. Maybe this was one of those hidden gems you always hear about. Just to be safe I texted Reyna the name of the place as inconspicuously as possible, Grounddiggers. “Who are you texting?” Duncan asked as we walked through the entrance. Evidently I wasn’t as inconspicuous as I thought. “Just a friend.” I’m not sure why I didn’t just tell him who it was. I just felt like it was safer not to. He nodded at a bouncer, who like Duncan was dressed all in black. The bouncer grunted something unintelligible to Duncan. Duncan must have taken the grunt to mean enter because he pulled me further inside. Chapter Six The interior of the bar was no more appealing than the exterior. The faded black paint on the walls looked like it hadn’t been touched in years. The worn wood floors made the stairs at Chad’s apartment look high quality in comparison. I tried not to make a face, but with the musty smell in the air, I was having some doubts about whether the place could pass any health code. A large, dilapidated bar dominated the room. Otherwise there were a few tables all of which had no chairs. Compared to the other bars on Bourbon Street, this one was mostly empty. The dozen or so customers were all dressed exactly alike. Black dress shirts and matching slacks. Black was a popular color for Halloween, but wearing it head to toe seemed a bit much. Then again I was wearing all black. “Can I get you a drink?” Duncan asked. “No thanks.” I needed a few minutes first. This was not the type of bar I was used to. The bars we’d been at the other night were similar to the ones near East Madison, but this place was something else entirely. I couldn’t ignore the sense of unease spreading through me. I took a closer look at the customers. They were all male as far as I could tell. Was this a gay bar? If so, it was probably the worst looking one in the world. I had no problem if Duncan was gay, but why bring me here? And hadn’t he admitted to having inappropriate thoughts about me? The last thing I needed was some confused gay guy trying to use me to experiment or something. That would have fit with the theme of the weekend though—messed up. “You brought some company, Duncan.” A deep throaty voice asked from behind me. I turned around and came face to face with a tall guy, maybe in his mid-twenties. He was wearing black like everyone else, but his shirt was satin. “Hello, little one.” Little one? What was that about? “She’s in town visiting.” “Oh. She’s from out of town.” The new guy smiled in that ‘I’m picturing you naked’ sort of way. I stepped closer to Duncan. “Do you not like locals?” He laughed. “I just like meeting new people. I am Jeryl.” He held out a hand, and I accepted his awkward handshake. He then brushed his lips against my hand. “Lovely to meet you, little kitty.” Kitty? Oh yeah, the costume. “My name’s Daisy. Nice to meet you.” “Daisy? Isn’t that perfect?” He rubbed a thumb against my cheek. Was he checking to see if the whiskers were real? I stepped back. He was definitely stepping over the socially acceptable behavior line. That also fit perfectly with the weekend’s theme. “Perfect?” “Yes.” He still held my hand. I wanted to pull it away, but how did I do that without offending him? “You’re named after a flower, a symbol of life.” “Oh. Yeah.” My name seemed to always get people talking. Sometimes in good ways, and sometimes in bad ways. “Nice find, Duncan.” Jeryl nodded at Duncan. “Find?” I looked up at Duncan. What in the world was Jeryl talking about? Duncan put a hand on my shoulder. “Isn’t she? I noticed her yesterday, but tonight I couldn’t resist her.” “Absolutely perfect,” Jeryl repeated himself. Duncan squeezed my shoulder. “Let me show you around.” As weird as he was being, he sure wasn’t getting frisky. That was something. “No.” Jeryl put a hand on my other shoulder. “I’ll show her around.” The two men stared each other down. Something seriously weird was going on. This exchange caught the attention of several of the other customers who turned to look at us. Or maybe I should say turned to look at me. There went the gay bar question. The looks on their faces left no doubt of what was on their mind. Maybe these guys just didn’t get out much. “I will be showing her around,” Jeryl once again repeated himself. This time Duncan nodded. Jeryl didn’t seem particularly bigger or stronger than Duncan, so I wasn’t sure why he caved to him so easily. I also didn’t get why he thought it was okay to hand me off. “Uh, I’m going to stay with Duncan. You know the whole rule that you stay with the guy you show up with?” I didn’t know if it was actually a rule, but it was a pretty good attitude to have. “Is that some sort of joke?” Jeryl narrowed his eyes. “Yeah…” His gaze made it hard to think straight. Agreeing seemed like the only option. “Why don’t we both show her around?” Duncan’s hand returned to my shoulder, and although I took some comfort knowing he wasn’t ditching me, awkward took on new meaning. My two escorts walked me over to the bar. “Would you like something to drink?” Jeryl asked. “Uh, no thanks.” I may have made some bad mistakes this weekend, but I wasn’t going to add getting wasted in a bar full of weird guys to the list. “Are you sure? We keep a full bar of liquor, wine, and beer.” “Great.” Didn’t most bars? “But I’m fine.” “Perhaps something nonalcoholic?” Jeryl gestured for me to take a seat on a stool. “A club soda? Juice?” Theoretically, they could drug any drink. “No, thanks. I actually think I’m going to get going.” “But you just got here, Daisy.” The way Jeryl said my name was creepy. I would have taken more quality time with Shaun over the shiver inducing situation I was currently in. “Yeah, I’m pretty tired, and I’m not feeling great.” I turned to Duncan. “Thanks for inviting me.” I eyed the closed door like a life boat. I’d have much rather been stuck alone in the crowd outside. Duncan shook his head “You can’t leave yet, Daisy.” “Yes, I can. I remember where the door is.” I tried to shrug off Jeryl’s hand. Duncan had dropped his. Jeryl pushed down on my shoulder slightly. “But we haven’t even finished the tour.” “Maybe another time.” I attempted to step forward. He turned me so I was looking at him. “Oh, Daisy.” He waved a finger in front of my face. “It’s impolite to make promises you don’t intend to keep. You’re from out of town. You’re not planning to come back anytime soon.” He could say that again. No matter how many times I visited New Orleans I wouldn’t be taking a step into this dive. “Ok, nice meeting you. I’m going to go now.” I tried to step away again. I was immediately pulled back by Jeryl. “I insist you at least let me finish the tour. There’s so much more to show you.” “I suggest you let him.” Duncan wore an unreadable expression. “I really need to go.” There was no way I was willingly walking any further into that place. “Not yet.” Jeryl wrapped his hand around my wrist. The contact hurt. My whole body shuddered. I was in some serious hot water. What was this creep going to do to me? And why was Duncan just standing there? “Are you going to join us, Duncan?” Jeryl now seemed to want his friend’s company. Duncan nodded. “Yes.” Jeryl pulled me along as he walked toward the back of the bar. His nails dug into my wrist, and I winced. If Jeryl noticed my discomfort he didn’t show it. Somehow I wasn’t surprised. “Here, let me show you the VIP room.” He leaned in, and he definitely smelled me that time. “Lovely, lovely Daisy.” “You have a VIP room here?” I didn’t bother keeping the surprise out of my voice. I doubted Jeryl would even notice. “Of course. Doesn’t any fine establishment have one nowadays?” “Fine establishments. Right.” Duncan held up a set of those bead curtains you only expect to see two places—a hippie’s van or a strip joint. I wasn’t in either, which made their appearance unsettling. “Go on in and have a look around.” Jeryl released my hand and gave me a slight shove forward. I stumbled into complete darkness. My body went into panic mode. I squinted and carefully reached a hand out around me. “What do you think?” Jeryl asked. “Uh, I can’t see anything.” Please let this just be him being weird, I pleaded silently. “Oh, sorry. I forgot about that.” My eyes stung as a bright light suddenly blinded me. The change from pitch black to bright light was overwhelming. I blinked a few times before I could fully open my eyes. “Oh.” “It’s nice isn’t it?” Jeryl asked. I glanced around at the peeling neon pink paint on the walls and the crushed velvet couches that looked they were straight from the seventies. I guess that explained the beads. The two poles anchored into the floor and ceiling made me more than a little uneasy. They had better not have expected me to be using one of them, but none of that could compare to the giant cage off to the side of the room. Either they had huge dogs, or these people were even freakier than I thought. “Oh.” “I’m glad you like our VIP room. We don’t let just anybody see it.” Maybe this was a cult? A cult of escapees from a mental hospital? I searched for a rationale for who Jeryl was and why Duncan gave him any deference. “Why don’t you take a seat?” He gestured to a couch. “And maybe you’ve reconsidered that drink?” What the hell was going on? Was this guy for real? I blurted out the only thing I could think of that would give me an excuse to leave the VIP room. “Where’s the restroom?” “Oh, I’ll show you.” Jeryl offered. “Thanks.” Luckily I didn’t actually need to use the bathroom, because I doubted it was any nicer than the rest of the place. “It’s just this way.” Jeryl pushed me toward a set of spiral stairs. “The bathrooms are upstairs?” Could this situation get any creepier? “Yes. Is that a problem?” “Uh, maybe I’ll wait.” Walking upstairs meant getting further into the decrepit building. That wasn’t high on my to-do-list. “I know women, Daisy. You’re not the best at waiting.” He shoved me up onto the stairs. I doubted he knew too many women, at least not normal ones, but it didn’t seem like I was going to be able to turn around, so I took tentative steps up the stairs. Finally I reached the floor above. Once again I was in complete darkness. “It’s the third door on the left.” “I can’t see any doors.” “Let me show you.” Jeryl’s hand settled on my arm. He led me into the darkness. “It’s this one. The light switch is just inside the door.” “Ok, thanks.” “Want me to hold your bag for you?” “Oh, no thanks.” “Why not?” “Because I need it.” Like I was letting my bag and phone go? “You’re not menstruating.” Crazy? No, this guy was a lunatic. “Ok, I’m going in there.” “Give me your bag.” “No. I want it.” I hurried inside and closed the door. I flicked on the lights, temporarily blinding myself. “Your phone isn’t going to work in there anyway,” he mumbled. He’d evidently figured out what I was going to do. I walked into a stall. It was actually a restroom. A dingy gross one, but at least he hadn’t led me to a torture chamber or something. I tried to send Reyna a text, but it wouldn’t send. I checked the signal, no bars. No bars in downtown New Orleans? Was that possible? Next I tried the internet. Could I email her? Nothing. I checked each stall for windows so maybe I could get to the roof, but I came up empty. Okay, plan C. Run for the hills. I thanked my lucky stars I wasn’t wearing heels, flip flops left my feet open to the ickiness of the Grounddigger, but at least I could move in them. I waited a few more minutes for good measure, before pushing open the door. I expected to see Jeryl standing there, but the hall was empty. I followed the light to make my way downstairs. “What are they doing in here?” Jeryl barked. They? Were there other normal people inside now? “They insisted they knew Duncan and had to come in. They were making a scene.” Another man I assumed was the bouncer replied. I tried to quietly take the stairs so I could get closer. The problem is even in flip flops, walking down shaky, dingy metal stairs quietly was difficult. “That didn’t mean you should have allowed them in. We’re busy tonight.” Busy? If a dozen people was busy. “What should I do with them?” the same man replied. “You have to bring them back now. Who knows what they saw?” “Daisy!” a female voice shrieked. I knew that voice. “Reyna!” I tried to take the stairs faster, and I nearly fell down the last few. Duncan caught me at the bottom. “You shouldn’t have told your friends where you were.” “Why not?” My gut told me I wasn’t going to like the answer. The dozen patrons were circling in around my friends. “No one was going to kill you because we wanted you. The rest of them will be dead by the end of the night.” “What?” I gawked at Duncan. “Is this a joke, like the Shaun thing?” “I’m not in charge here.” “I’m guessing Jeryl is.” I turned to look for the creepy guy. “And what do you mean you want me?” “You call to all of us, so we’re going to keep you. That’s why I brought you. It also means I’m invited back into the nest.” He smiled. “Nest? What the hell is this place?” “Oh, this isn’t the nest. It’s just our place in the city.” Duncan grabbed my arm. “What?” Dread hit me like a fifty pound weight in my gut. What had I gotten us into? Chapter Seven “Reyna!” I screamed her name. We had to get out of there and fast. I fought to break away from Duncan only to find that all three of my friends were being held by two men each. “Daisy.” Jeryl broke into a smile. “Lovely to see you again.” “Why are my friends being held against their will?” Of course I realized I was also being held, but I decided not to go there yet. “We run an exclusive club. We can’t have just any riff raff running around.” “You mean the VIP room isn’t the only exclusive spot?” I tried my best to sound genuine. “Entry to our club has certain requirements.” He clasped his hands together. “We are willing to waive those requirements for you, dear, but not for them.” “Why? If it’s a female thing, why are you holding Reyna?” “She smells like sex.” One of the guys holding Shaun wrinkled up his face. “Human-human sex.” “Uh, yeah I don’t have sex with non-humans.” Reyna paled. “If you guys are into bestiality I’m sorry, but you’re sick.” “Who said anything about bestiality? We enjoy sex with humans.” Duncan returned his hand to my shoulder. I recoiled. This was all his fault. Or mine. I was the one who had insisted on going out with him, wasn’t I? “So you’re holding us hostage because we smell like sex?” Shaun sneered. “You don’t smell of sex.” Jeryl gave him a patronizing smile. “You smell of desperation.” The crazy guy got that right. “Is that so? Then why was Daisy in my bed last night?” I was about to argue when Shaun shot me a look. “If you’re looking for a virgin sacrifice or something, Daisy isn’t going to cut it.” Was the creep really helping me? “She’s definitely not a virgin,” Reyna added. I’d never been happier to have people talk about my sex life. “She hasn’t had sex in months.” Jeryl said it as a statement. He was right, but that didn’t mean I was going to agree. “Shaun’s telling the truth. I was in his bed last night.” “And you jumped out screaming.” Duncan squeezed my shoulder. “I was there, or did you forget?” I groaned internally. Oh yeah. Jeryl kept his gaze on me. “We can discuss this later. We have to move.” “Move?” I looked to Jeryl with my question. “We can’t get caught with the evidence here.” He reached for my hand, but I pulled it back. “Come now, I assure you we’re going to get to know each other very well.” He licked his lips. “No, we’re not.” I looked him straight in the eye. That’s when I noticed he had this same weird colored ring in his eyes that Duncan had. I looked at the other men, they had the same thing. Freaky. “We are. And right now you’re going to put your wrists together so I can bind them.” “Excuse me?” “You heard me.” “Why would I do that?” I stepped back. That turned out to be a mistake as I walked right into Duncan’s chest. “Because you’d rather I didn’t kill your friend.” I noticed he said friend in singular. Perceptive. Not that I wanted anything to happen to the guys. “Please, just let us go. Is it money you want? I don’t have much, but I’ll give you what I have.” Jeryl laughed. “Money? You think we want money from you?” He stepped closer just as Duncan wrapped his arms around me from behind. “We want something more primal from you.” He held his hand over my neck like he was going to choke me “Much more primal.” “Don’t touch her!” Shaun yelled. Jeryl laughed. “Showing concern for the girl who rebuffed you? Humans are so interesting.” “Like you’re not human?” Chad asked. “No. We’re not.” In a flash, one of the guys holding Reyna leaned her head back and rested his long sharp teeth on her neck. Fangs. The guy had fangs. Jeryl laughed at my obvious fear. “Hold your hands out behind your back, or he bites.” “What the fuck are you?” Chad struggled against his captors as he tried to get to Reyna. Duncan laughed again. “You’re denser than I thought.” “Vampires,” I said the word slowly. I knew they couldn’t actually be supernatural, but they wanted to be. I’d read about the condition online. People who want to be vampires so bad that they have sharp teeth implanted and stuff. Insane, but these guys totally fit the bill. Fake or not, those teeth could cut Reyna. I held my hands out behind me. “Let her go.” “If we let her go she’ll just call for help.” “No she won’t.” “You think your friend would leave you for dead?” Duncan asked. Jeryl tied my wrists. “It doesn’t matter. We can’t take the risk. We don’t need her, but we won’t kill her if you cooperate.” “And what does cooperating involve?” I tried to keep my voice strong, but dealing with crazy people for nearly an hour was taking its toll. I was exhausted, and I just wanted to press rewind and be back at East Madison. “Don’t scream or make a scene.” “We’re not going down quietly,” Chad growled. “Oh yes, you will.” His captors started pulling him forward. Like the rest of us, his hands were tied behind him. They led us back through the VIP room. The bead curtains seemed more menacing this time. “Get in.” I blinked in the darkness. “I can’t see.” That line was starting to get old. “Sorry.” The lights suddenly turned on again, and I saw a long, black bag in front of me. “Uh, what am I supposed to do with that?” “Get into it.” I glanced around. My friends were situated in front of similar bags. “You want to put us in body bags?” Shaun said incredulously. “Aren’t you going to kill us first?” “Would you like me to?” Duncan asked. His dead pan voice seemed a whole lot more sinister this time around. “Duncan. Go find Lloyd,” Jeryl barked. “Now? Aren’t you getting ready to leave?” Duncan glared at Jeryl. “I said to go. He’s the only one missing.” “Fine. But wait for me.” “No. We’ll see you there.” “You just want her first,” Duncan snarled. “And I will have her first, but that’s not the issue.” Have me first? That had better not have meant what I thought it did. “Why not send someone else?” “The sooner you leave, the sooner you meet us.” “Don’t harm her.” Duncan gripped my arm so tight it hurt. “She’ll be in one piece.” One piece? Gee, that was reassuring. Duncan released my arm and walked through the beads. Really? He was just going to leave? I knew he was in on this, and he’d been the one to bring me in, but still he seemed like the safest bet of all the men around us. Jeryl pointed to Chad and Shaun. “Either get in your bags, or I kill the girl.” “You just told Duncan you wouldn’t.” Shaun seemed to have no fear. “I said I wouldn’t hurt Daisy. I said nothing of the other.” “Oh yes, the one who smells of sex,” Shaun mumbled. “Hey!” Reyna yelled. I wondered if my friends were drunk. They were handling the situation almost too well. I was doing everything short of passing out. I didn’t need Mr. Fangs to experiment on Reyna again so I allowed Jeryl to push me into the bag. I really hoped there were holes to breathe through. “If something happens to any of those three, I will do nothing you ask.” “Relax, Daisy. We’ll keep them around for a while.” Jeryl zipped up my bag. The bag partially muffled the voices, but I couldn’t have concentrated anyway. I felt like I was suffocating. Were they going to kill me after all? “Calm down,” Jeryl hissed as I felt myself being lifted. “The heavier you breathe, the more air you go through.” I breathed heavier again. I was dizzy and nauseous and my chest hurt. “I’m here, Daisy.” Reyna’s voice gave me some comfort. She was one of the few people who knew just how claustrophobic I was. I refused to even take an elevator. “Think happy thoughts.” Happy thoughts? Considering I was inside a body bag, happy thoughts weren’t easy to come by. I heard more talking, and then I was put down again on an uncomfortable surface. A door slammed, music blared, and we started to move. We must have been in the back of a truck or van. I tried to pay attention to the turns at first so we’d be able to figure out where we were, but I quickly lost count. Where were they taking us? “Next time you get mad at me just hit me, okay,” Shaun teased. His bag must have been next to mine. “If we make it through this alive I’m going to kiss you for standing up for me.” “Kiss me? Is that it?” He was trying to distract me. To keep me calm. The boy changed personality so often it was giving me whiplash. “Don’t push your luck.” “You won’t be kissing that human, Daisy.” Jeryl’s voice pulled me from my momentary peace. “I’m so sorry, guys.” It really was all my fault. “I’m sorry for being an ass.” Shaun really was being a charmer. “Did Shaun just apologize?” Chad asked. “Yeah. I guess the thought of dying is making me do strange things.” “Shut up back there,” Jeryl yelled. We listened. Maybe it was the suddenly more intense tone of Jeryl’s voice or the realization that we’d been driving long enough that we couldn’t have been in New Orleans anymore, but the joking was over. We drove and drove until I lost all sense of time. Each bump hurt as we banged around in the back. I was terrified, but knowing I wasn’t in this alone helped. Still, I knew we’d be lucky to get out of this alive, and by the way Jeryl had been talking and looking at me, it wasn’t going to be pleasant. Maybe death would be better than what they had in store for me. I quickly shook off the thoughts, I couldn’t afford to panic. Eventually the vehicle stopped, and my whole body tensed. I hated being inside the bag, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to face what would be waiting for me when I was removed from it. If I was removed from it, I reminded myself. “We’re only letting Daisy out. I want her to see her new home,” Jeryl said from right near me. My new home? I shuddered. I really hoped Reyna or the guys had told someone where we were, or that someone would track my cell phone. That is if my purse had made the trip. Somehow I didn’t think my captors were concerned about my stuff. I gulped in air as the bag was unzipped. I blinked, seeing the blur of a face in the darkness. “Where are we?” “Home sweet home.” Jeryl took my bound hands and pulled me out. “This is your new castle.” I squinted to see what he was talking about, but everything was pitch black. We moved forward, and my eyes adjusted enough in the moonlight that I could see men carrying the other bags on their shoulders. I felt awful. I was the one who got us into the mess, and I was the only one walking. Still, I definitely wasn’t safe. Who knew what these crazies had planned? “Here we are,” Jeryl said with pride. I looked up to see a ramshackle old home. “Oh.” “Oh? Is that the only term in your vocabulary? This is your new nest. You should be happy.” “Nest? Happy? The only way I’m going to be happy is if you let my friends and me go. Don’t even worry about driving us back. We’ll walk.” “Walking works for me too,” Shaun agreed from a distance. He was thanked by having his bag tossed on the wooden porch. The bag fell all the way through the wood. He grunted. “Fuck, that hurt.” “Shaun!” “I’m alive, baby. Thanks for the concern though.” I let the baby thing go. Considering he’d just been dropped through a wood porch, he was off the hook. “Isn’t anyone going to get him?” I asked. “Why?” “Why? Because he’s in the dirt and stuck in a bag. Go get him.” “From what Duncan said this boy means nothing to you. Isn’t this what he deserves?” “If anyone gets to punish Shaun it’s me. I should have kicked him in the balls, but that was for me to do.” “Thanks for that.” At least he was still talking. “We’re going inside. The rest of your friends will wait out here.” “What?” I gasped. “No.” “I already told you, you’re the only one we want.” I wanted to argue, but why? They were probably safer outside. I only wanted them with me for my own protection. “Please, just let them go.” I knew the request would fall on deaf ears, but I had to try. “No.” Jeryl picked me up and slung me over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. I kicked him. “Put me down.” “No. I run this nest and you belong to it. I can do what I want with you.” “No you can’t.” I fought against him. “We can make this easy or difficult. One word and your friend dies.” Considering they’d dragged us out here in body bags I didn’t doubt the threat, but wasn’t he going to do that to all of them anyway? “What do you want with me?” “I’d be happy to explain everything to you upstairs.” Again with the upstairs? He walked into the front door, and a few men turned to look at us. “We’ve got a nice Halloween present this year.” “What’s that smell?” One of the waiting men asked. “It’s her. I can’t wait to see what her blood tastes like.” What my blood tastes like? Were they really all convinced they were vampires? “Listen, my blood doesn’t taste good. Insects don’t even like it. I never get bitten.” “Well, that’s going to change.” One of the guys laughed. “You’ll be bitten plenty.” “In lots of places,” another added. I started to shiver. This was getting real. Why were they so fixated on me? A tiny voice in my head screamed the name Kalisa. Did the witch’s potion have something real to it? Did she want me dead? Jeryl placed me on the worn floor of a bedroom. He untied my hands, but completely blocked the doorway. “Why don’t you get changed? I’ll wait outside.” Wait outside? Was he actually going to give me privacy? “Change into what?” “Your dress.” He gestured to a lace garment lying on the bed. “Why would I do that?” “Because I asked you to.” I decided not to argue. This was the first time he was leaving me alone. I needed to use the freedom to my advantage. “I’ll be outside. I want to see your body for the first time when I rip that dress off you—with my teeth.” “Great.” He closed the door, and I walked over to the window immediately. I tried to open it, but it wouldn’t budge. I pushed up against it as hard as I could. “What are you doing in there?” Jeryl called. “Just getting changed.” “You have thirty more seconds. If you’re not changed when I open this door, your friend is going to have a problem.” Damn it. I gave up on the window and picked up the dress. It was a faded white lace dress that looked like it was fifty years old. I stepped into it and started to slip my arms into the sleeves. The door burst open. “What are you doing?” “Putting on the dress.” “But you are still wearing your other clothes. Take them off first.” “Why? It will fit.” “I want you naked underneath.” “You didn’t specify that.” “Then let me make myself clear.” He walked over and put his hand over my neck again. By the look in his eyes, I seriously wondered if he was going to let go before he choked me. “I want you completely naked underneath that dress. Not a stitch of clothing. Underwear and bra included. Do you understand me?” I tried to open my mouth, but I couldn’t from the pressure of his hand. He released me, but I stumbled back. “You may think I’m stupid, but I’m not. You are going to learn to listen.” “Or what? You’re going to threaten my friend?” “Is that not enough of a threat for you?” He called down the hall. “Bring the girl up. It looks like we will have to do a demonstration.” Panic seized me. “No! I’ll do as you asked.” “Good. I’ll stay in the room this time.” “What happened to not watching?” “Watching you do as I command might be just as rewarding. And this way I know what’s going to be waiting for me.” I cringed at the thought. Not happening. I slid off my skirt underneath the dress, and I let my underwear follow. I had to pull off my shirt, but I was able to slide my bra off while covering myself with the dress. Unfortunately parts of the dress were nearly see-through. Jeryl just watched with his arms crossed, so evidently he was ok with me getting around the rules as long as I didn’t technically break them. “You may lay down on the bed now.” “Lay down?” What the hell? “Yes. I need to tie you down while I take care of some things.” “Tie me down?” “Do you have to repeat everything I say?” He grabbed me around the waist and pulled me over to the four-poster bed. “Lie down on your back, arms above your head.” “You don’t have to do this. You scared me enough, I won’t run.” His lips turned into a frightening smirk. “I have better hearing than you give me credit for.” He pushed me back on the bed. “Did you really think I’d leave you in a room with a window that opened?” Yes, but I kept that reply to myself. “The best part of being in our nest is I don’t have to gag you. You can scream all you want, and no one will come for you.” “Why do you want me? I’m not worth all this.” “You’re the most irresistible human I’ve been around in years. Your blood calls to all of us, which means you are meant for us.” “Meant for whom?” “Us. The nest.” “Wait. You don’t mean… aren’t there like fifteen or twenty of you?” “Twenty-three.” “And you expect me too…” “Have sex with them all? No. Of course not, Daisy. Your body is for me—and Duncan because he brought you in after all, but your blood. Your blood is for the nest.” “Fuck.” “I look forward to doing just that to you, Daisy, but like I said, I have things to take care of.” He grabbed my arms and tied them to the bed posts. “Might as well rest, precious. You’re going to need your energy.” “I’m not tired.” “Perhaps this will help.” He held up a needle. “It’ll make the bloodletting easier, but you’ll be conscious before I join you in bed. I promise you that. I want to make sure you get to enjoy every minute with me.” I gazed at him in horror just as he jabbed me. He left the room, and I fought against the restraints. Slowly things got fuzzy, until I couldn’t fight anymore, and my eyes fluttered shut. Chapter Eight A loud commotion woke me up. Before I could comprehend what was going on, the pain hit me. Every inch of my body hurt, and stiffness like I’d never experienced made it impossible to lift my head. I gave up trying once I realized it only made the pain worse. The sounds around me grew even louder. A mix of shrieks, breaking glass, and grunts had me fighting with my eyelids to get them open, but it was no use. I was too weak. “Help me get her untied,” a male voice hissed. I struggled once again to open my eyes, but I couldn’t. “I’m doing it,” another man replied, “She’s the last one. We’re fine.” The first voice sighed. “But she’s lost a lot of blood. The others haven’t.” I felt the gentle touch of someone sweeping me up into their arms. “We need to get her help.” “Then get her to help. I’ll stay around to take care of things here.” The second voice was gruff and held none of the concern the first one did. “If I hadn’t seen that vampire she’d been with we’d have been too late.” “But we weren’t. I’ll see you later.” I heard a scratchy sound, and then more shattering of glass. I needed to see who held me, so I worked harder to open my eyes as I felt a moment of weightlessness. I forced my eyes open and closed them again quickly. I was dreaming. There was no other explanation for how we were airborne. I’d never dreamed of flying before, but then again I’d never felt so dizzy and out of it before either. The next time I opened my lids I was staring directly into a set of beautiful blue eyes and we were definitely on the ground. In the moonlight, I took in the strong features and blond hair of the man who held me. Large, black wings spanned out behind him. It was him again. “It’s you.” “Don’t speak. You can’t afford to waste any energy.” His words were terse, but not mean. “But you need to stay awake. I’m afraid if you lose consciousness again we might not be able to revive you again.” “Revive me again?” He still held me securely against him. “There’s no time to explain, we need to go. Just relax, we’ll get help soon.” He sounded like he was saying those words for himself more than me, but I nodded as I hung on to his neck. The action sent another searing pain through me. The man winced as though he were the one who was hurt. He reached out to touch my face, but he dropped his hand before it could make contact. “Wait. Where are my friends?” “They’re safe and on their way back to New Orleans. I promise.” I nodded. I had no proof they’d moved my friends, but I had to believe it. Why go through such effort to save me just to leave the others? “I’m going to shift you slightly so I can take off.” “Take off?” I asked with confusion. “I’m sorry but it would take too long to get there any other way.” He moved me so that my back pressed against his chest, and he wrapped his arms around my waist. “We’ll be there soon.” With that he took a few steps forward and then my feet left the ground. We were flying, and I was definitely awake. I’d have added wild hallucinations to the list of weekend craziness, only this couldn’t have been one—it was just too real. We moved higher up in the sky. I looked down at the ground in time to see a big glowing area of red and orange with rising smoke. They’d burned the old house down. My eyes closed, but I opened them long enough to make sure I hadn’t been imagining it. We were flying. I tried to look around me, but I couldn’t. I was far too weak. My eyes closed again, and I settled back against his firm chest. *** “You have to help her.” My hero’s voice woke me up. He was holding me in his arms, and we were back on the ground. We were inside this time. From the looks of the hallway we were in, it was a house. “Come, let me see.” A low female voice answered. He started to lower me down, but I clung to him. The woman chuckled. “It seems she’s attached to you, Owen.” Owen? His name was Owen. The name seemed to fit. “I don’t know her.” “You just found her in a vampire nest?” “I’ve seen her a few times, and I got suspicious.” He exhaled loudly. “None of that matters. Just fix her.” “She’s not going to let go, so you’ll have to sit with her on your lap.” “That’s fine.” He shifted us and sat down. I didn’t care where I was as long as he stayed. He gave me the only comfort I’d had all night. Someone touched my face, and I opened my eyes. An old woman’s dark, brown eyes locked on mine. “You’ve been mixed up with a witch too, I see.” “A witch?” Was I right? Did all the trouble start with that potion? “Yes.” She brushed my hair back. “You were bitten by multiple vampires. That’s not common. Vampires don’t generally share their human prey. I sense a witch’s influence on you that is probably the cause.” “I saw a witch in New Orleans, but it wasn’t real. It was one of those tourist spots.” “Now that you’ve been kidnapped by vampires and saved by a Pteron, do you really doubt a witch could be real?” The woman asked. I didn’t answer. I didn’t know what to believe. And what the heck was a Pteron? “The only thing strong enough to cause this would be Seduction’s Kiss, and there’s only one witch in New Orleans crazy enough to make that anymore. Did you see Kalisa at the Midnight Cauldron?” “Yes.” “Darn that woman. She thinks she can play matchmaker, but she doesn’t realize the other forces at work.” “Matchmaker?” Owen asked. “Any witch could tell this human is something special. She sensed she was meant for a paranormal and gave it a push.” “A push?” Owen absently ran a hand through my hair. “Is that why I couldn’t stop thinking about her?” Couldn’t stop thinking about me? At a time like this I shouldn’t have cared that he liked me, but I did. Then I thought about Reyna. “Are my friends okay?” “Yes. They are all back at home. Don’t worry about them.” He paused like he was debating whether to continue. “And I might as well just get this out of the way. They won’t remember a thing, and neither will you.” “What?” Why wouldn’t I remember? “I’m afraid she’ll have to remember, Owen. Letting a witch into her mind could do damage right now. She’s weak, and that potion Kalisa gave her is potent.” She put a damp washcloth on my forehead. “And to answer your previous question, no, your thoughts have nothing to do with witchcraft. You’re a Pteron after all.” An unreadable expression crossed his face. “Oh.” “So if you’ve been thinking about this human, it’s because you like her.” The woman laughed. “A Pteron?” I decided to ask out loud this time. “Did you notice his wings, sweetie? He’s a crow Pteron, aligned with royals.” Owen balled his hand into a fist. “Stop. Don’t tell her anymore, Mayanne.” “Don’t you plan to introduce her to Levi?” “No. I don’t plan to see her again.” She made a grunt. “Somehow I doubt that.” “But she knows our secrets. What do we do?” “You don’t need to kill me. I swear I won’t tell anyone.” “After all the work I’ve done saving you, I wasn’t planning to hurt you.” He smiled for the first time. “But can you tell me something?” “Yes. Anything.” I felt like I could tell him anything. There was just something about him that made me want to spill out my life story. I also owed him my life. From the bits and pieces of my memory coming back, I knew that the vampires were close to leaving me for dead. The witch laughed as she banged around behind us. “Why were you with that vampire?” “Duncan? I was trying to stay away from a creep I was staying with. I’m only here because my friend’s visiting her boyfriend.” “So you don’t live in New Orleans?” There was a note of disappointment in his voice that made my heart soar. “I live in Atlanta.” “Ok, drink this.” Mayanne brought over a cup of something red. “What is that?” I was skeptical of drinking anything after the night I’d had. “It’s not going to taste good, but it will rid your body of the magic and anything those vampire teeth left behind.” “Go on, drink it. I promise Mayanne wouldn’t hurt you.” Owen’s words were enough. I took a sip. I recoiled, but cleansing my body of those vampires was worth it. I drank the whole thing down. She smiled. “I’m impressed. I’ve never seen a human drink that without being forced.” “I’ve had a rough few days.” “Hopefully some rest will help.” “Rest? But I have to get home.” I glanced around at the room. It looked like a kitchen that hadn’t been updated in decades. I still had no idea where we were. She shook her head. “Not yet. You need to stay and rest a few hours. I need to make sure this worked.” “I’ll stay with her.” Owen started to stand up. “I would have insisted.” She took the empty cup. “I’ll get you something else to wear as well.” I looked down at the ripped lace dress, remembering I had nothing else on under it. She seemed to sense the direction my thoughts were going in. “Do you feel strong enough to clean up?” I nodded, but then turned to Owen. “Will you still be here when I get done?” He smiled. “I am your ride home after all.” “Those beautiful wings are real?” I knew they had to be. We’d flown, there was no other explanation. “You think they’re beautiful?” he asked with genuine surprise. “Absolutely. I’ve wanted to touch them since I first saw them.” “She’s made for a paranormal, Owen. That includes Pterons.” An unreadable expression crossed his face. “I’ll wait here.” Mayanne took my arm to steady me as she led me down the hall. She opened the door to a small bathroom and helped me wash off and change into some fresh clothes. “You were very lucky tonight.” “I know. I could be dead right now.” The reality of how close to death I’d been was hitting me full force. I’d been living a nightmare. “And he’ll come around.” She helped me slip into a soft cotton dress. It felt strange to have someone I didn’t know dress me, but I was too weak to argue. Besides, anything was better than that old lace dress. “Owen?” “Yes. I can tell your feelings for him run deep.” They did. That reality was an easier one to accept. “I already knew he was attractive, and now he saved my life.” “You really think your interest lies in his appearance? He’s a handsome young man—but that’s not it.” She put some sort of first aid ointment on my shoulder and neck. “I barely know him.” “And you’re going to have to work hard to find out more.” She took the old ripped dress. “For right now you need to rest before he takes you home.” I nodded. “Thank you for all the help.” “Of course.” She led me down to a small bedroom with a double bed. “Rest here.” “Is Owen still in the house?” I asked. “I’m right here.” I turned, and he was in the hallway. “I can sit with you if you want.” I nodded. “Please, do.” I lay down on the white and red quilt, and Owen sat down in the chair next to the bed. “Don’t let me sleep too long.” “I won’t.” I tried to keep my eyes open so I could enjoy the time I could with him, but my eyes were too heavy. My lids closed. “What’s your name?” He asked in half a whisper. “Daisy.” “That’s a beautiful name.” “Thank you.” “I’m glad you’re okay. You scared me. I thought I was too late when we first got there.” “We? So there was someone else there?” “Yes. A friend.” He didn’t elaborate, so I didn’t push for more. The other guy didn’t matter. “And he’s a Pteron too?” Even though I didn’t care who the guy was, I did wonder what he was. “Yes, but you need to stop talking about us. You need to forget we exist.” “How am I supposed to do that?” I opened my eyes as best I could. He was turned to look at me. “I don’t know, but talking about us will only put you in danger or get you committed.” “Both wonderful possibilities.” “Great sense of humor.” “What did Mayanne mean by my being meant for a paranormal?” “I don’t know, but you need sleep. Rest up.” He turned away. “All right.” I closed my eyes. “If you need anything let me know.” Need anything? How about want? I decided to be bold, to take one more chance. “Could I get a kiss? Something good to turn this whole weekend around?” “You want me to kiss you?” I kept my eyes closed, unwilling to see him laugh. “If I kiss you, will you promise not to talk about us? To forget about Pterons?” “I can’t forget.” “Will you try? At least promise not to tell anyone.” “I can promise to try.” I felt the bed shift, and I stayed as still as possible. Was he moving closer to me? His lips brushed against mine lightly, but that small contact set me on fire. I reached up and wrapped my arms around his neck. The action did something to him, because the feather light kiss grew more fevered. I soaked up the salty-sweetness of his mouth. My entire body hummed and responded to his lips. His hands pressed into the bed on either side of me as he hovered over me, and I buried my hands in hair. In those moments I knew one thing. I was forever ruined for other guys. Forget the witch’s concoction—this was seduction’s kiss. Daisy and Owen’s story continues in Lure (The Allure Chronicles #1) releasing on February 16, 2015! Keep reading for a preview of Lure. www.AlyssaRoseIvy.com www.facebook.com/AlyssaRoseIvy twitter.com/AlyssaRoseIvy AlyssaRoseIvy@gmail.com To stay up to date on Alyssa’s new releases, join her mailing list: http://eepurl.com/ktlSj Lure The Allure Chronicles Alyssa Rose Ivy Book Description: There's danger in the beauty… Two years, six months, and twenty-five days. That's how long it had been since I'd seen my winged hero— not that I'd been counting. I'd suffered through years of counseling just to convince my friends and family that I wasn't crazy and knew he didn't exist. But he did. And I was done waiting. Days after college graduation I headed back down to New Orleans to retrace my steps and find Owen again only to find my life was about to get even crazier… thanks to the most beautiful and dangerous of all paranormal creatures, the Allures. One Daisy “Are you ready to tell me about your recent dreams?” My psychiatrist, the one my mother forced me to see, watched as I chipped off more of my dark purple nail polish. “There’s nothing worth sharing.” “Are you sure?” she pressed. She seemed to think pushing me made me more talkative. It didn’t. “Absolutely. There’s been nothing new for months.” My answer was completely true. My dreams hadn’t changed. Of course she’d probably want to know that I was still having the same recurring dreams that had filled my nights for over two and a half years. “You haven’t been thinking about that boy then?” She pushed her glasses up on the bridge of her nose. “I’m seeing someone new. I told you that a few weeks ago.” “Oh, yes. Andrew, isn’t it?” She leaned back in her chair. “Yes. It’s long distance, but we’ll get to see each other later this week.” I was getting really good at giving selective information that didn’t require outright lying. “Are you still planning your trip down to New Orleans?” “Yes. It’s a fantastic opportunity. I need to take the interview.” I straightened up on the couch. “Have you considered what effect this might have on you? Whether it might trigger the dreams and thoughts again?” “Of course I have.” Or rather I’d considered how my family and psychiatrist would respond to me going. I knew it was my only option. It had been two and a half years since I’d nearly been killed, and it had been just as long since I’d seen my rescuer, Owen. Although the fear from the close brush with death had started to fade, my desire to see Owen again hadn’t. It had increased. We’d only shared one kiss—but that kiss might as well have been branded on my lips for how difficult it was to shake the memory. “And you think you’re ready for it? Have you considered asking a friend or family member to go with you?” “I’m meeting Andrew there. It’s going to be fine.” She pressed her lips together. “I am glad that you are so confident.” “Why wouldn’t I be? I’m completely better now.” “How much does Andrew know? Is he aware of your history of dreams and visons involving the city?” “He knows everything. One of the best parts about him is how easy it is to talk to him.” “How did he react when you told him?” “He understood completely. He’s just glad I’m better.” Only partially true. He did understand completely, but he was the only one who knew the truth. I hadn’t given up my obsession. “Great. It’s important that you surround yourself with people who understand. Would you like me to talk to him before you go? Make sure he’s prepared for anything you may go through?” “No!” I replied a little too quickly. “I mean, I’d rather not have you talk to him.” She folded her hands in her lap. “That’s your choice.” “Thanks.” I put my bag over my shoulder. “It’s time, isn’t it?” “It is. I’ll see you back after your trip.” “Yeah. I’ll see you then.” I smiled before hurrying out of her office. I’d already paid my copay, so I walked out of the office and back down to the parking garage. It wasn’t until I was in the car that I let out a sigh of relief. Final obstacle out of my way. It was time to return to New Orleans. *** I signed into Paranormal Obsessed, the online community I’d spent way too much of my free time on lately. The way I saw it, I didn’t have much of a choice. I’d tried to tell my friends and family about my experiences in New Orleans, but none of them believed me. Not even Reyna, the one friend who’d gone through it with me. When Owen told me they’d wiped Reyna’s mind of the events, he wasn’t kidding. The problem was they’d wiped her mind of a lot more. The pre- New Orleans Reyna was more interested in playing matchmaker than going to class. The post-New Orleans Reyna was the president of the community service club. Part of me thought she was a better person now, but I’d never say that out loud. I had a new message, and I clicked on the link to open it. AT45: Hey! We’re getting ready to hit the road. We still on for Wednesday? The green “online” icon was lit so I replied back quickly. Flowergirl1: We’re still on. I just need to finish packing. AT45: Nice. How’d that appointment go? Flowergirl1: Fine. Same old. Andrew knew more about my current life than most of the people who actually knew me. I’d learned pretty quickly that trying to convince people you’d met paranormal creatures can only get you in trouble. I stopped trying when the word “committed” got tossed around. So, on the outside I was back to being the peppy, “normal” sorority girl I was supposed to be. I got decent enough grades in college and went out enough to keep my friends from worrying. I didn’t enjoy going out though because I got way too much of the wrong kind of attention from guys. There was a certain witch to blame for that. At least it wasn’t a problem online. Everything was easier when I was just typing. I tossed my tablet next to me on the bed and closed my eyes. I remembered that Halloween night like it had just happened. I’d learned to block out the bad details. The ones about being kidnapped by vampires and nearly drained to death. The details I didn’t let myself forget were the ones about Owen rescuing me from the house and bringing me to be healed. I didn’t forget about his beautiful black wings, or the way he said my name. Daisy. And most of all, I didn’t forget about the kiss. “If I kiss you, will you promise not to talk about us? To forget about Pterons?” “I can’t forget.” “Will you try? At least promise not to tell anyone.” “I can promise to try.” I felt the bed shift, and I stayed as still as possible. Was he moving closer to me? His lips brushed against mine lightly, but that small contact set me on fire. I reached up and wrapped my arms around his neck. The action did something to him, because the feather light kiss grew more fevered. I soaked up the salty-sweetness of his mouth. My entire body hummed and responded to his lips. His hands pressed into the bed on either side of me as he hovered over me, and I buried my hands in hair. I opened my eyes and sighed. The daydream was over. That was it. After the kiss, I’d fallen asleep, and the next thing I knew I was waking up in the passenger seat of Reyna’s car. She was pounding on the window asking why I’d spent the night out there. It didn’t take me long to discover that she remembered nothing—and that she thought I’d lost my mind. I heard a ding and checked the tablet screen. AT45: Oh, and I think I’ve got a new lead for you. I’ll tell you more when I see you. Flowergirl1: What kind of lead? The green signed on icon disappeared. Of course. He enjoyed teasing me with stuff like that. It didn’t matter. I was finally going back. College graduation was a week behind me, and I had a legitimate reason to return to the crescent city—a job interview for an internship at The New Orleans Times. I’d never planned to pursue a career in journalism, but after all the time I spent researching to find out every little detail I could about Owen, it was a natural decision to switch my major. I pulled out my go-to black, wheeled duffel bag and started tossing in some clothes. The bag was getting old, but the wheels still worked fine. I tossed in my bag of toiletries and two pairs of shoes. I was trying to travel light, but I needed some nice clothes for the interview. I opened my door and started to drag my duffel down the hall of my childhood home. I had no intention of making it my primary residence again. “Do you need help with your bags?” My dad called up. “No. It’s just one.” He ignored my response and met me before I’d even made it three stairs. He pulled the bag from my hand. “Thanks.” I appreciated the help even though the bag wasn’t super heavy. “Of course. I still can’t believe you’re leaving again so soon. You’ve only been home a few days.” “This internship could be a great opportunity and they scheduled the interview.” “I know. I was just hoping you’d be around a little this summer.” “I’m only going to be gone a few days. Even if I get the job, the internship won’t start for a month or so.” I highly doubted I was going to get the job, which meant every second counted during the interview trip. “All right. I guess we should get moving if you’re going to make your flight.” “Yeah, I don’t want to miss it.” I tried to keep myself as calm as possible. My dad was acting cool, but I knew he was worried about me going back to New Orleans. My mom was the one who made me see a therapist, but dad still worried in his own way. Less than three hours later I was buckled in and ready for take-off. This was really happening. In a few hours I’d be back in New Orleans. Two Daisy I checked the details of my hotel information again to make sure the name matched up with the building in front of me. It was gorgeous—even more gorgeous in person than it was online. Maybe it was worth the ridiculously high price tag I was paying for it. My mom had insisted I splurge on a nice place to stay. Since I was only staying two nights, I decided to go for it because the location was perfect. It was right down in the French Quarter. I stepped out of the airport shuttle and headed to the front doors. A bell boy held open the door for me, and I stepped into the absolutely breathtaking lobby of The Crescent City Hotel. My eyes first traveled to a beautiful chandelier with dangling crystals, before I noticed the large travertine tiles covering the floor and the dark wainscoting that framed the room. I walked over to the front desk, eyeing a beautiful mahogany bar. I’d have to check out the bar later. “May I help you?” A petite woman asked. “Yes, I’d like to check in. The name is Daisy Welford.” “One second.” She typed something into her computer. “I’ve got your reservation right here, Ms. Welford. What card would you like to leave for incidentals?” I slid my Visa across the desk. “Here you go. You’re on the fourth floor. The elevators are across the lobby.” She slid a paper envelope across the counter. “Thanks.” I returned my credit card to its spot in my wallet and pocketed the envelope with the room keys before walking over to the elevator. A man dressed in a deep gray business suit was also waiting. An elevator arrived, and I stepped in. The man didn’t move to enter. “There’s plenty of room.” “That’s fine, I’m going down.” “Uh, ok.” The doors closed. What was he talking about? The lobby was the ground floor. The guy must have been confused. I’d been judged enough the past few years to do the same to anyone else. I pushed the button for the fourth floor. I found my room and walked in. It was fairly small, with a queen sized bed, but it seemed nice. I set down my duffel and purse on the bed and looked out the window. It looked over an interior courtyard. Not bad. I had nothing planned until my interview the next morning. I needed to find some dinner, and that was a perfect excuse to take a walk around the French Quarter. I made a fast stop in the bathroom before heading right back downstairs to the lobby. I was met with a wave of humid heat as soon as I stepped outside, but I quickly got used to it. I wasn’t unaccustomed to the heat. The streets were far less crowded than the last time I’d walked them. Maybe it was the time of year, or because it wasn’t Halloween weekend. Either way, it was nice to walk around without worrying about the crowds. I was able to better appreciate the architecture and the sights and smells of the city. It reminded me of the quiet morning I’d spent downtown last time. At first I just wandered down Chartres Street, but as the sun started to set, I headed over to Jackson Square. It looked nearly identical to the last time I’d walked through, and most of the vendors were the same. I took a deep breath before heading over to Royal Street. This was my first chance to try to see some of the people I’d met my first trip to New Orleans. I wanted to start with the small photography studio. It seemed safer than the voodoo shop, which had been way more real than I’d originally thought. I stopped in front of where the shop should have been. I wasn’t all that surprised to find the store now housed a new artist. There was a lot of turnover in the art world, particularly when it came to maintaining a high priced store front. “Can I help you?” A guy who was probably in his mid-twenties asked from the doorway. “Oh. Sorry. I was just looking for someone who used to have a store here.” “Oh. My dad’s had this place for two years now. He got it at a steal because the guy who had it before him up and left without paying the rest of his lease. ” I thought about the photographer. He didn’t seem the type to just dash out. Either way, it meant one thing. There was no way I was going to find him now. It wasn’t the end of the world though. The real person I needed to see worked at the voodoo shop. “Thanks for your time.” I started to walk away. “Wait.” I turned back. “Yes?” “This is going to sound a little bit forward, but I’m going to ask anyway.” Ugh. I decided to meet his question head on. “Sorry, I’m seeing someone.” His face fell. “Oh, would he really mind if we went out for coffee one time?” “He wouldn’t, but I would.” I walked away quickly. I never knew when the after effects of the magic concoction I’d been given my last time in town would kick in. A witch had tried to remove the remnants of it from me, but she hadn’t been completely successful. I definitely attracted way more attention than I had before, and some guys (and girls) were more affected than others. By the footsteps I heard behind me, this guy was one of them. “Wait!” I didn’t turn. Hopefully he’d get bored and leave me alone. “Wait up. Please.” The desperation in his voice made me feel sorry for him. I stopped. “Hey, I didn’t mean to scare you off. You’re just the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen, and I didn’t even get your name.” “I’m not the most beautiful. If you take a few deep breaths and think about it, you’ll realize that.” “What?” “Try it. Really look at me. Am I really that attractive?” This usually worked. It let people see through the magic to who I really was. I wasn’t ugly, but I wasn’t a knock out beauty either. I fell somewhere in between. “That must be the lamest way to get rid of a guy I’ve ever heard.” He stuffed his hands in his pockets. “I bet you were making up the boyfriend too.” “I don’t look any different to you?” He looked at me seriously. “Nope. But maybe you will after coffee, or drinks, or dinner, or anything else you want to do.” “Anything? Like if I wanted to have sex right here on the sidewalk you’d be down for that too?” He grinned. “I’d definitely be down for that, but I’ve heard the jails here suck.” “I’ve got to go.” I turned around. “Where are you going?” “Shouldn’t you be watching your dad’s store? You left it open.” “Good point. Wait here.” I didn’t reply. Hopefully I’d lose him. I’d dealt with clingy guys on a regular basis since being given the magic paste appropriately called Seduction’s Kiss, but this guy actually seemed nice which made it worse. It was easy to ignore jerks, but this guy seemed like a decent one. I picked up my pace hoping he’d go back to the store. “You really won’t wait?” “I told you, I’ve got to go.” “Fine.” He pulled out his phone. “I’ll text my dad and tell him to come by and lock up.” I rolled my eyes. “Are you listening to yourself? You’d risk your dad’s stuff just to follow me?” “Sure. He’ll understand. This is fate.” “Fate?” I raised an eyebrow. “Nice try.” “You don’t agree?” I wanted to tell him the truth, it was magic, but the only thing that would accomplish would be making him think I was crazy. Wait. That could work. “You want to know what it is?” I stopped walking. “What?” “Magic. It’s magic.” “Like there’s magic between us?” “No, magic is making you think I’m more desirable than I am.” He laughed. “You really do have the best excuses.” I groaned. “Seriously? Don’t you think I’m crazy?” “Not any crazier than me.” He grinned sheepishly. “Goodbye, whoever you are.” I started walking again. I needed to lose this guy before I reached The Midnight Cauldron, the Voodoo shop where I got the stupid paste. “I’m Evan. And you are?” “No one you need to remember.” “Come on. Do I have to guess your name?” “What part of goodbye don’t you understand?” “Those two words have nothing on fate, and this is fate.” “You need to get laid or something. You’re a little bit pathetic.” I wasn’t one to make fun of people, but this guy had moved quickly from nice to annoying. “You could help me with that, you know.” “Ugh. Shut up.” “Hey, you’re the one who suggested sex on the street.” “I wasn’t being serious.” I stopped and glared at him. “Leave me alone, ok? This isn’t fate. I have things to do, and you’re going to get in my way. Nice meeting you, and goodbye.” I rounded the corner, and The Midnight Cauldron came into view. Evan was still following me. “I’ll leave if you give me your number and your name. A real number. Not a made up one.” “You sound like an obsessed stalker.” “If it helps at all, you’re the first girl I’ve done this to.” “Gee, great.” “So? What’s your name?” “I’ll meet you at Razzoo’s for a drink at nine.” “Really? You’ll actually be there?” “Sure. Just please let me do what I need to do.” “How do I know you’ll actually show up?” He shifted his weight from foot to foot. “You don’t.” “That’s not good enough.” “It’s all you’re getting. The alternative is I scream really loud and get you in trouble.” “Fine, I’ll trust you’ll really be there, but how about your name?” “It’s the name of a flower.” I took a few steps. “Daisy?” “Do I look like a Daisy?” I asked without turning around. “Yes.” I shook my head. “See you later.” “Can’t wait.” I looked over my shoulder. He was actually walking away. Phew. I had no desire to have a drink with the guy, but he at least earned points for persistence. I’d have to figure out what to do later. First I had to survive my next encounter with the witch. Three Daisy I waited until Evan had disappeared around the corner before stepping through the open doorway of The Midnight Cauldron. The smell of incense still filled the small space, transporting me back to the Halloween that changed everything. Every little detail of the store looked the same. Candles lined the window sills, and the racks displayed the same little gifts and novelties. There was some comfort in the sameness. At least this place hadn’t changed. When I reached the counter I noticed a few differences. The rack of vials had disappeared. It had been replaced by keychains and other knickknacks. I hit the bell on the desk. I wasn’t thrilled about seeing Kalisa again, but I hoped she’d lead me in the right direction. She owed me after all the trouble she’d caused. “Hi, can I help you find something?” an older woman asked. She was dressed in a flowing floral dress and had her hair tied back. “Hi. I’m looking for Kalisa.” “There’s no one here by that name.” “She owns this store. At least she did a few years ago.” I tried to ignore the panic setting in. What the hell was going on? How did this woman not know the name of the owner? “I’ve owned this place for over two years now, and it was sitting empty when I bought it.” Another store sitting empty? Nothing was adding up. “Are you sure? This store was open when I was here about two and half years ago.” “Maybe you’re thinking of another Voodoo shop.” She gave me a funny look I immediately recognized as the ‘you are crazy’ gaze. I needed to stop before she tried to get me help. “Oh. That’s got to be it. Sorry.” “It happens, but I’d be happy to help you find anything you need. Maybe a Voodoo doll? Or maybe a frog’s leg?” “No thanks.” I hurried out of the store. Either that woman was lying, or Kalisa was long gone. Had she screwed over other innocent tourists and been run out of town, or was there something else at work? I broke into a near run as I moved on to the next place I’d seen that Halloween. I wasn’t actually going to step foot into the vampire bar, Gravediggers, but I needed to know it was still open. I stayed on the far side of the street, confused when I noticed a crowd congregating outside the open doors. The last time I’d been there the place had been dead—no pun intended. I tentatively walked over. A pretty girl dressed in a tight black dress smiled at me. “Two for one martini night tonight.” “At Gravediggers?” “Uh huh. Want to come in?” “That’s okay.” “Are you sure? You can take shots off me.” “Uh, no thanks.” The Seduction’s Kiss paste was working at full force that night. Maybe being back in New Orleans made it stronger. “Are you sure?” She batted her eye lashes. I watched as a large crowd of girls all wearing matching t-shirts that said ‘Amy’s Bachelorette’ walked in. There was no way these girls were going into a vampire bar. I took a deep breath before stepping inside. Despite watching the other girls enter, I half expected a vampire to grab me from behind. Instead I found trendy twenty-somethings sipping martinis. It wasn’t a joke. Gravediggers had become a martini bar. “You okay?” The girl touched my shoulder when I walked outside. I shrugged away from her touch as politely as I could. “Fine.” I wasn’t fine. Not at all. Either everything had changed in two and a half years, or I was losing my mind. It couldn’t be. It had all happened. Owen had happened. I headed back toward the hotel. I couldn’t stomach any more time out in the quarter, and I wasn’t in the mood for dinner. I wasn’t in the mood for anything. Except a drink. I could definitely use a drink to help me relax. The hotel bar was hopping, but I managed to find a stool all the way at the end. The bartender, a guy probably in his early thirties walked over. “What can I get you?” “A Rum and Coke please.” “Captain’s okay?” “Yeah.” Paying for top shelf liquor wasn’t in my recent college grad budget. He slid the drink across the bar. “Should I open a tab?” “No thanks.” I put a ten down on the bar. If my drink cost more than that I was in trouble. “What brings you to New Orleans?” Despite the crowd, the bartender was chatting with me. I hoped it was out of boredom. I couldn’t take much more of the crazed Seduction’s Kiss response. “A job interview.” Having a cover story was convenient. It helped with my parents and with anyone I met while down there. “Oh yeah? Anything cool?” “An internship at The New Orleans Times.” “Oh cool. Good luck with the interview.” “Thanks.” I picked up my glass. “It’s tomorrow.” “Is this your first time here?” He opened a beer for another customer and handed it to him. “No. I was down here for Halloween a few years ago.” I sipped my drink. Between the alcohol and the light chat, I was starting to relax. I wasn’t crazy, there had to be an explanation for everything. “Halloween, eh? Pretty crazy, right?” “It was a crazier weekend than you would ever believe.” My stomach growled. I really needed to eat eventually. “Are you staying here?” As much as I was careful about sharing any personal info with people, I figured it couldn’t hurt. “Yeah.” “Cool. I was asking because you should try the room service then. The food here is great.” “My stomach was that loud?” He laughed. “Kind of. If I was getting off soon I’d offer to take you out somewhere, but I have to be here until five.” “Five a.m.? Are you serious?” “This is New Orleans.” I took another sip of my drink. “I guess so.” He smiled. “If you’re still up, come back by.” “Considering I have an interview at nine, I better not be, but thanks.” I smiled. All right, not a clinger. Maybe age helped dispel some of the magic’s effect. The bartender walked off, and I started to people watch. One of the best ways to get your mind off things is to focus on what other people are doing. Most people have interesting lives to everyone but themselves. “Hey, man!” I turned to see the new arrival to the bar. He was an incredibly attractive guy with brown hair. He was probably a few years older than me, and I recognized him. It took me all of thirty seconds to place how, and my whole body froze. He was one of Owen’s friends that were with him when I first saw him. He was my first clue. My first proof that what I’d remembered happening that weekend had actually happened. I waited. He was surrounded by people. The bartender evidently knew him because he immediately made and handed him a drink. “I assume you wanted your usual?” “Thanks, Alex.” He accepted the glass of something brown. Probably whiskey. I finished off my drink, still waiting for an opportunity to talk to Owen’s friend. What could I say? There was no way he’d remember me, but I couldn’t let this opportunity pass me by. Maybe Evan was right about fate—although it had nothing to do with me and him. This was about finding Owen. I took a few deep breaths and walked over to where the guy stood with some friends. “Excuse me?” The friend looked at me. “Can I help you with something?” “I was wondering if you could tell me where to find your friend Owen?” “Owen?” His eyes widened. His other friends looked at me funny. “Yes.” I kept my expression neutral. I had to play this all calm even though I felt anything but. “Do you know him?” he asked. “Yes.” He nodded to his friends. “I’ll be right back.” He walked away, and I followed. “I’m sorry to bother you, but I really need to find your friend.” “What’s your name?” he asked. “Daisy. What’s yours?” He laughed. “I don’t get that question a lot. I’m Levi.” “We met once before, but it’s been a long time.” “You look vaguely familiar.” He seemed to be contemplating something, as though he was trying to place me. “Glad I was memorable.” He laughed again. “Nice sense of humor. I wish I could help you, but Owen left town.” “What?” My chest clenched. “When?” “It’s been months now.” “Oh.” “Sorry I couldn’t help.” He started to turn away. “Wait.” I looked at him closer. He had to be a Pteron. He had the same look as Owen. “I know what you are.” “Excuse me?” Maybe I was going to get myself in trouble, but I was desperate and unwilling to give up on my only lead. “I know you’re a Pteron.” Saying that word out loud felt good. So natural despite how little I understood it. The only thing I knew was that these creatures were strong and hiding a substantial set of wings. I’d kept the name to myself for years, not even sharing it with Andrew. Owen had emphasized the importance of keeping it secret, but now that I knew he wasn’t even in the same city I didn’t care. He saved my life, but that didn’t mean I was going to keep his secrets forever. If they wanted me to shut up, they were going to have to explain why. Levi looked over his shoulder at his friends before returning his attention back at me. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” “Yes you do. Owen told me, and I’ve seen his wings. I know he’s one too.” Levi shifted nervously. “I really don’t know what you’re talking about.” “Please stop. I’ve been waiting years for answers. I’m tired of waiting.” He leaned over and stared into my eyes. “Listen, I don’t know who you are, but you need to stop. You’re only going to get yourself in trouble.” “I’m already in trouble.” I sighed. “Please, just tell me I’m right. I need to know I’m not losing my mind.” He ran a hand through his hair. “Fine. Let’s say hypothetically that you’re right. What do you want? Why are you looking for Owen?” “I need to thank him.” My reply was far too simple. There were so many reasons I wanted to find him, but thanking him again seemed like a start. “Thanking him for?” “For saving my life.” His eyes widened slightly again. “Listen, there isn’t much I can do. Owen’s gone.” “Can’t you get a message to him for me then?” “I haven’t heard from him in months. He needed a break and went off the grid.” “Off the grid?” I eyed him skeptically. “Somehow I doubt that.” “It’s true.” “Fine. Thanks for your time.” I turned away. “If it helps, I’m sorry I can’t help you more.” “It doesn’t help, but thanks.” I should have headed for the elevator, but I didn’t. Instead I headed outside. Four Owen I thought moving to the mountains would give me some peace and quiet, but I was wrong. It seems I was a magnet for people as desperate for company as I was to be alone. They say when you’re lonely the best thing to do is to surround yourself with people, but that’s not true. The more people I was around, the lonelier I felt. It was only a reminder of how I was still single and in the same place while everyone else in my life had moved on. I’m not human. Maybe I should start there. The reason I was single—and as a result lonely—was because of that fact. I’d only told two girls what I was. The first one ran away and broke my heart, and I never gave the second girl the chance. Her kiss, the heart stopping kiss that left me hungering for more, was the only warning I needed. It was too dangerous. I needed to run from her before she could do the same. It had been over two years since I’d kissed a girl. I know that sounds pathetic, but really what was the point? Sex for the sake of sex gets old when there’s nothing to back it up. My best friends had never agreed with me. They’d spent their time sleeping with any girls they could, but even they’d settled down. “Owen?” Clyde called as soon as I stepped outside my front door. You’d think living five miles from the nearest town would make visitors scarce, but I wasn’t that lucky. “Hi. Is there something you need?” I tried to keep the edge out of my voice. I didn’t need to make enemies. I was trying to blend in. Clyde laughed and adjusted the rim of his cowboy hat. He was a Montana boy who’d left his parents’ ranch to rough it in the Colorado mountains. He might have given up the ranch life, but that cowboy hat was still always on his head. “It’s always great to see you, man. Such a great sense of humor.” “I’m on my way out.” “Out where? You aren’t even wearing a shirt.” He was completely right. A shirt was only going to get in the way for what I was heading out to do. “Who says I need a shirt?” “Pretty much any store or restaurant. That is where you’re going, right? Into town?” “No, I’m going for a hike.” “With no shirt? And no water?” “You sound like my mom. Is that the point?” I wasn’t used to guys like Clyde. I’d grown up alongside the royal members of The Society, the highest paranormal elite there was. None of them worried about water or proper clothing choices. “I’m here with an invitation.” “An invitation?” I arched an eyebrow. “An invitation to a whole new world, man. I’m telling you, this is the real deal.” “It sounds like you’re offering me drugs or a prostitute. I don’t want either.” He laughed. “Good one. That’s a good one, man.” “Does that mean the invitation is for something else?” “Let’s just say I have some capital for an investment that can’t go wrong.” “Oh yeah? An investment that can’t go wrong? Sounds likely.” I crossed my arms. I was getting inpatient. “What does Coleville lack?” “Good seafood.” “Come on, seriously. What don’t we have that every other town out there has?” “Get to the point, Clyde. I don’t have all day.” He shifted his weight from foot to foot. He was wearing cowboy boots. As if the hat wasn’t enough. “A bar.” “We have a bar. It’s just not running.” “Exactly. We need to reopen it.” “And you want my help?” “Yes. You don’t have to contribute any money. Like I said, I have the capital.” “Then what do you need me for?” “Your presence. You know how much everyone in town loves you. They’ll sign everything if you’re in on it.” “I see. You want my influence.” “Maybe.” He shoved his hand in his back pocket. I looked at the kid. He wasn’t technically a kid at twenty-two, but he seemed so young. I was only a few years older, but I’d been through enough to make those years seem a hell of a lot longer. “What’s in it for me?” “Free booze, access to the hottest spot in town, and of course the money.” “There’s no money in Coleville. We both know that.” “There’s some, and we’ll bring in more. We need to make Coleville the hottest tourist destination this side of Denver.” “The only way to make Coleville that way would be to develop a ski resort. I doubt your capital is going to get you that far.” “This is only the start.” “I need to think about it.” I didn’t. I wanted nothing to do with his little bar, but I also wanted to get on with my day. “All right. That’s fair. Call me when you’re ready.” “Sure thing.” He tipped his hat. “See you, around. Looking forward to doing business with you.” “I never said I was going to.” “No. But I’ll make that maybe a yes.” He hurried off back to his truck. He wasn’t a bad kid, just over eager, I reminded myself as I walked back behind the cabin. I waited until I heard his truck pull out towards the road before transforming. I always felt better with my wings out. I took off into the sky, my long black wings taking me higher than the tree line. Luckily high altitude sickness doesn’t bother Pterons. We once shifted into crows, but evolution had different plans. We’ve been spotted a few times, and people seem to think we look like fallen angels. We aren’t angels—fallen or not. There was nothing that could compare to the feel of flight; the wind rushing around my wings, the sensation of weightlessness, and the knowledge that all of my troubles and worries were miles below me. I’d been flying since I was a kid, but I knew I’d never get tired of it. My wings were part of me. They represented my strength. In a perfect world I’d never have to hide them, but this world wasn’t perfect. Not by a long shot. I landed down by a small stream high in the mountains. I left my wings out. There was no around for miles to see. I started walking with no destination in mind. I usually didn’t have one. Maybe getting involved in Clyde’s plan wasn’t a bad one. I needed something to do, and a reason to keep me from going back to New Orleans. I wasn’t ready to face my real life yet. I noticed a pop of color on the other side of the stream. I walked around the long way. I bent down and touched the stem of the pretty purple flower. “A daisy. A wild daisy.” Just saying the name of the flower brought me back to the kiss again, back to my Daisy. At least that’s what I thought of her as. I didn’t know where she was. She could have been married by now for all I knew, but I’d still always think of her that way. I’d never told my friends about the kiss. They made fun of me enough. I didn’t need to add fuel to the fire, but I got the sense that my friend Jared knew that the girl meant something to me. It would be easy to find her if I’d bothered to ask for her last name, but finding her again had been the least of my worries that night. I needed her to promise to stay quiet and keep our secrets. I released the flower. There was no reason to pick it just so it could die. I turned and headed back the way I came still thinking about Daisy, and one long ago kiss.

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