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"Honey, you need to get laid."
Grace Alexander flinched at Selena's overly loud voice in the small New Orleans café where they sat, finishing up their lunch of red beans and rice. Unfortunately for her, Selena's voice possessed a lovely octave that could carry plainly through a hurricane.
And it was followed by a sudden hush in the
Glancing at the nearby tables, Grace noted the men had stopped talking, and turned to stare at them with a lot more interest than she cared for.
Ah jeez! Will Selena ever learn to keep her voice down?
Worse, what will she do next, strip naked, and dance on the tabletops?
For the millionth time since they had first met, Grace wished Selena could get embarrassed. But her flamboyant, often extravagant pal didn't know the meaning of the word.
Grace covered her face with her hands and did her best to ignore the curious onlookers. An urge to slink beneath the table, followed by an even greater urge to kick her companion, consumed her.
"Why don't you speak a little louder, Lanie?" she whispered. "I don't think the guys in Canada were able to hear you."
"Oh, I don't know," the gorgeous brown-haired waiter said as he stopped by their table. "They're probably headed south even as we speak."
Heat stole up Grace's cheeks as the obviously college-aged waiter gave her a devilish grin. "Is there anything else I can get you ladies?" he asked, then looked pointedly at Grace. "Or more precisely, is there anything I can do for you, ma'am?"
How about a bag for my head, or a stick to beat Lanie with?
"I think we have it," Grace said, her cheeks scalding. She was definitely going to kill Selena for this. "We just need our bill."
"All right, then," he said, pulling their ticket off and scribbling across the top of the paper. He set it down in front of Grace. "Just give me a call if I can be of any further service."
It was only after he left that Grace saw his name and phone number on the top of the bill.
Selena took one look at it and laughed out loud.
"Just you wait," Grace said, suppressing a smile as she totaled her portion of the food on her Palm Pilot. "I will get you back for this."
Selena ignored the threat as she fished in her beaded bag for her money. "Yeah, yeah, so you say. If I were you, I'd hang on to that number. He is a cute little thing."
"Young thing," Grace corrected. "And I think I'll pass. The last thing I need is to be locked up for contributing to the delinquency of a minor."
Selena slid her gaze over to where the waiter leaned with one hip against the bar. "Yeah, but Mr. Brad Pitt look-alike over there might be worth it. I wonder if he has an older brother?"
"I wonder how much Bill would pay to know his wife spent her entire lunch hour ogling a kid?"
Selena snorted as she placed her money on the table. "I'm not ogling him for myself. I'm ogling him for you. It was, after all, your sex life we were discussing."
"Well, my sex life is just hunky-dory, and not the business of the people in this restaurant." Tossing her money on the table, Grace grabbed the last bite of cubed cheese and headed for the door.
"Don't get mad," Selena said, following her out into the busy crowd of tourists and regulars thronging Jackson Square.
A lone saxophone played jazz above the cacophony of voices, horses, and car engines as a wave of Louisiana heat assaulted her.
Trying her best to ignore air so thick it could barely be inhaled, Grace wended her way through the crowd, and vendors' booths that were set in front of the wrought-iron fence surrounding Jackson Square.
"You know it's true," Selena said as she caught up
to her. "I mean, goodness, Grace, it's been what? Two years?"
"Four," she said absently. "But who's counting?"
"Four years with no sex?" Selena repeated loudly in disbelief.
Several onlookers paused to look curiously from Selena to Grace.
Oblivious as usual to the attention they collected, Selena continued without pausing. "Don't tell me that you've forgotten this is the Age of Electronics? I mean, really, do any of your patients know how long you've gone without sex?"
Grace swallowed her cheese and gave Selena a nasty glare. Did Selena intend to shout it out for every human, and every horse for that matter, in the Vieux Carré to hear?
"Keep your voice down," she said, then added dryly, "I don't think it's the business of my patients whether or not I'm a born-again virgin. And as for the Age of Electronics, I really don't want to get personal with something that comes with a warning label and batteries."
Selena snorted. "Yeah, well, to hear you talk, most men should come with warning labels." She lifted her hands up to frame her next statement. "Attention, please, Psycho Alert. Me, he-man, am prone to nasty mood swings, lengthy pouts, and possess the ability to tell a woman the truth about her weight without warning."
Grace laughed. She'd rattled off that spiel about men who needed warning labels countless times.
"Ah, I see, Dr. Sex," Selena said with an imitation Dr. Ruth accent. "You just sit there and listen to them spout off all the intimate details of their sexual encounters while you live like a lifetime member of the Teflon Panty Club."
Dropping her accent, Selena added, "I can't believe after all the stuff you've heard in your sessions that none of it has ever gotten your hormones revved."
Grace gave Selena a droll look. "Yeah, well, I am a sex therapist. It wouldn't do my patients much good for me to have la petite mort while they're in the middle of spewing out their problems. I mean really, Lanie, I'd lose my license."
"Well, I don't see how you can advise them when you won't go anywhere near a man."
Grimacing, Grace led the way back to the other side of the square, across from the Tourist Information Center where Selena's tarot card and palm reading stand was set up.
When Grace reached the small card table draped with a dark purple cloth, she sighed. "You know, I would date if I could ever find a man worth shaving my legs for. But most are such a waste of time that I'd rather sit at home and watch reruns of Hee Haw."
Selena gave her an irritated smirk. "What was wrong with Gerry?"
"His fondness for mining nose gold. Especially during dinner."
Grace just looked at her.
Selena threw her hands up. "Okay, so maybe he did have a little gambling problem. But then, everyone needs a hobby."
Grace glared at her.
"Hey, Madam Selene, you back from lunch?" Sunshine asked from the next stand over where she hawked her sketches and pottery.
A few years younger than them, Sunshine had long, black hair and always wore clothes that reminded Grace of a fairy princess.
Her costume today was a wispy white skirt that would have been obscene if not for the pale pink leotard beneath it and a pretty peasant blouse.
"Yeah, I'm back," Selena said as she knelt to unlock the doors on her metal wheeled cart that she secured every morning to the wrought-iron gate with a bicycle chain. "Did I get any interest while I was gone?"
"A couple of guys took your business card and said they'd be back after they ate."
"Thanks." Selena placed her purse inside the cart, then pulled out the dark blue cigar box she used to hold her money, her tarot cards that she kept wrapped in a black silk scarf, and a thin, yet humongous, brown leather book Grace had never seen before.
Selena put her large-brimmed straw hat on her head, then turned and stood.
"Did you get all your pieces marked?" she asked Sunshine.
"Yes," Sunshine said as she grabbed her purse. "I still say it's bad luck. But at least if anyone wants to know the price for anything while I'm gone, it'll be there."
A rough-looking biker pulled up to the curb. "Hey, Sunshine," he shouted, "get your butt over here. I'm hungry."
Sunshine waved her hand dismissively. "Keep your chains on, Harry, and lay off or you'll be eating by yourself," she said as she walked slowly toward him. She climbed up on the back of his motorcycle.
Grace shook her head at the two of them. Sunshine needed dating help a whole lot more than she did.
She watched as they drove past the Café du Monde. "Ooo, I bet a beignet would be good for dessert."
"Food is no substitute for sex," Selena said as she placed the cards and book on her table. "Isn't that what you keep telling"
"All right, you've made your point. But really, Lanie, why are you suddenly so interested in my sex life? Or more importantly, the lack thereof?"
Selena handed her the book. "Because I have an idea."
Now that was something that chilled her to her bones, even in this wretched heat. And Grace didn't frighten easily. Well, not unless it involved Selena and one of her cockamamie ideas. "Not another séance?"
"No, this is better."
Inwardly, Grace cringed and wondered what she'd be doing right now if she'd had a normal roommate her first year at Tulane instead of the flighty Gypsy wanna-be Selena. One thing was sure, she wouldn't be discussing her sex life in the middle of a crowded street.
In that instant, she became acutely aware of their differences. She stood in the humid heat wearing a thin, sleeveless Ralph Lauren creme silk dress, her dark hair pulled back into a sophisticated chignon while Selena wore a long flowing black broomstick skirt with a tight purple tank top that barely covered her ample chest.
Selena's shoulder-length frizzy brown hair was pulled up with a black leopard silk scarf and she had huge silver moon earrings hanging to her shoulders. Not to mention the silver mine she had strapped to both her wrists in the way of about a hundred and fifty silver bangles. Bangles that jingled every time she moved.
People had always remarked on their physical differences, but Grace knew Selena hid her astute mind and insecurity behind her "exotic" attire. Inside, the two of them were far more alike than anyone would ever guess.
Except for Selena's bizarre belief in the occult.
And Selena's insatiable appetite for sex.
Moving to stand beside her, Selena forced the book into Grace's reluctant hands and thumbed through it. Grace did her best not to drop it.
Or roll her eyes.
"I found this the other day in that old bookstore by the Wax Museum. It was covered by a mountain of dust, and I was trying to find this book on psychometry when I came across it, and voilà!" Selena pointed triumphantly at the page.
Grace looked down at the picture, then gaped.
Never had she seen such a thing.
The man in the picture was riveting, and the picture absolutely shocking in its detail. If not for the deep impression marks on the page where it had been drawn, she would have sworn it was an actual photograph of some ancient Greek statue.
No, she corrected herselfa Greek god. Surely no mortal man could ever look that good.
Standing in full naked glory, the man oozed power, authority, and raw, animal sexuality. Even though his pose was a casual stance, he looked like some sleek predator ready to spring into action at a moment's notice.
His very veins stood out on a body made perfect with the promise of a hard, lean strength designed purely for feminine pleasure.
Her mouth dry, Grace trailed her gaze over his muscles, which bulged in perfect proportion to his height and weight. She followed the lean, hard muscles over the deep indentation that divided his pectorals, down the washboard stomach that just begged for a woman's touch.
To his navel.
And then to his . . .
Well, no one had bothered to put a fig leaf there. And why should they? Who in their right mind would want to cover up so nice a masculine package?
For that matter, who would need anything with batteries around with that in the house!
Licking her lips, Grace looked back at his face.
As she stared at the sharp, handsome features that held just a hint of a devilish smile, she had an image of a breeze tugging at sun-kissed, tawny locks that curled around a neck made for suckling. Of steely blue eyes piercing in their intensity as he raised an iron spear over his head and shouted.
She felt a sudden stirring in the thick, hot air around her, one that seemed to somehow caress her exposed skin.
She could almost hear the deep timbre of his voice, feel strong arms wrap about her and pull her back against a rock-hard chest while warm breath tickled her ear. Feel strong, competent hands roaming her body, giving her delight as they sought out her most private places.
A chill stole up her spine, and her body throbbed in areas she'd never known a body could throb. It was a fierce, demanding ache she'd never before known.
Blinking, she glanced up at Selena to see if she'd been affected the same way. If she had, she gave no clue.
Grace must be hallucinating. That was it! The spices from the red beans had finally seeped into her brain and turned it to mush.
"What do you think of him?" Selena asked, finally meeting her gaze.
Grace shrugged in an effort to subdue the slow burn of her body. Still, her eyes lingered on his perfect form. "He looks like a client I signed up yesterday."
Well, it wasn't exactly truethe guy she'd seen had been fairly attractive, but nothing like the man in the drawing.
She'd never seen anything like him in her life!
"Really?" Selena's eyes darkened in a way that warned her she was about to begin her long lecture on kismet and chance meetings.
"Yeah," she said, cutting Selena off before she could start. "He told me he was a lesbian trapped in a man's body."
Selena's face fell. Grabbing the book from her and slamming it shut, Selena glared at her. "You know the weirdest people."
Grace cocked an eyebrow.
"Don't say it," Selena said as she took her usual seat behind her table. She placed the book down beside her. "I'm telling you, this"she tapped the center of the book twice"is the answer for you."
Grace stared at her friend, thinking how true to form Madam Selene, self-proclaimed Moon Mistress, looked sitting behind her tarot cards and purple table with the arcane book beneath her hand. At that moment, she could almost believe Selena was a mystical Gypsy.
If she believed in such things.
"Okay," Grace said, giving in. "Quit stalling and tell me what that book and picture have to do with my sex life."
Selena's face became gravely earnest. "That guy I showed you . . . Julian . . . is a Greek love-slave who is completely controlled by, and devoted to, whoever summons him."
Grace laughed out loud. She knew it was rude, but she couldn't help it. How in the world could a Rhodes scholar with a Ph.D. in both ancient history and physics, even one with Selena's idiosyncrasies, believe in something so ludicrous?
"Don't laugh. I'm serious."
"I know you are, that's what makes this so funny." Clearing her throat, Grace sobered. "Okay. What do I have to do? Strip off my clothes and dance by the Pontchartrain at midnight?" The corners of her mouth lifted even as Selena's eyes darkened in warning. "You're right, I'd get sex all right, but I don't think it'd be from some gorgeous Greek love-slave."
The book fell from the table.
Selena jumped with a shriek and scooted her chair back.
Grace gasped. "You pushed that with your elbow, didn't you?"
Her eyes as round as saucers, Selena slowly shook her head no.
" 'Fess up, Lanie."
"I didn't do it," she said, her face deadly serious. "I think you offended him."
Shaking her head at that nonsense, Grace fished her sunglasses and keys out of her purse. Yeah, right, this was just like the time in college when Lanie had talked her into using a Ouija board and Lanie had made it say that Grace would marry a Greek god by the time she was thirty and have six kids by him.
Copyright ©2002 by Sherrilyn Kenyon. All Rights Reserved.