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HAUNTED DESTINY (Chapter 1)
Lost souls. Old souls. Tortured souls. They gather in the dance of the shadows, swaying quietly to the whisper of eternity.
I stared at the words, repeating them silently--and trying not to laugh. "You're kidding, right?"
My friend Harmony shoved a drizzle-ruined strand of blond hair from her face and smiled. "You're gonna be so great! You're a natural."
I grinned back at her. "Yeah, I can see it now. Hello, my name is Marguerite, and I'd like to introduce you to my world." For effect, I used the same theatrical voice Harmony did when giving her Haunted Garden District tours. "The world of the dead--and the damned."
Harmony, seated next to me with a cast halfway up to her knee, laughed. "You are so not a Marguerite."
That was true. But I'd been warned from my very first day working in the French Quarter to never let anyone know my real name. So Rachelle Dugas was banished, and Marguerite took over.
"I still think you could have come up with something better."
"Like...Destiny," I reminded. That's what Harmony had tried to talk me into.
The green of her eyes went all devilish. "Or Purity."
We both laughed at that.
But there was no turning back now. I was Marguerite, and in only a few hours, I was subbing for Harmony and giving my very first tour.
"What about soul mates?" I asked, returning to the talking points she'd scribbled for me. She'd tripped and broken her ankle while leading a group through a cemetery the day before. "Do they dance, too?"
She winked. "I'll let you figure that one out for yourself," she said, reaching for a deck of Tarot cards.
Around lunchtime, the French Quarter should have been packed. It was a Saturday, and on Saturdays tourists started early (except for the ones who'd stayed out too late the night before. They were usually crawling into bed as everyone else was lining up outside Café du Monde.) Artists and street performers and horse-drawn carriages lined the Square.
But hurricanes had a way of changing that.
"You'd think the storm was going to be a direct hit," I said, watching moody grey clouds bubbling up from the south. "I don't get why everything is so dead--these are just feeder bands."
Harmony glanced up from shuffling her cards. "Drama," she said. "Everyone loves to freak out about something."
That was true. It was, in all honesty, one of the biggest reasons we'd come to New Orleans in the first place. The city had a reputation, a mystique. When you came to the Big Easy, you did things you didn't normally do. You ate food you couldn't pronounce and went into shops selling things you'd never seen before, you stayed up insanely late and took a picture next to the Bourbon Street sign post just to show everyone you'd been there. You did a swamp tour--or a ghost tour.
And, even though you told yourself it didn't mean anything, that it couldn't possibly mean anything, you nervously approached one of the psychics in Jackson Square, gave them your palm or reached for a Tarot card, and learned what destiny had in store for you.
And, yeah, you freaked out.
Harmony and I saw it every day. It was always the same. Someone would glance at our table in front of the imposing iron fence, beneath a phenomenally huge and massively old palm, then quickly look away. They would walk faster, but then turn back. And you could see the temptation in their eyes.
That was the moment you knew they were yours.
Except on a day like today, when despite the cooler temperature September always brought, the threat of something ominous chased everyone away.
"But who knows," Harmony said. "Maybe they're right. Maybe the storm's going to hook back our way. It's happened before. Maybe that's what you felt when you woke up this morning."
Even before I shot her a quick glance, I knew she would be studying me with those all-seeing eyes of hers. We'd been living together in a little apartment over on Dumaine Street for about four months, but we'd been friends forever. Literally. Our moms had been best friends. Our birthdays were hours apart. If there was such a thing as a soul sister, Harmony was mine.
And even if I hadn't told her about the weird heaviness I'd woken up with, the invisible weight pressing against my chest, she would have known. Because that's what Harmony did. She knew things.
So did I.
And yeah, having a best friend who could read your mind made things pretty fun.
Most of the time.
"Not the storm," I said. That actually would have been cool. I was kinda strange like that. I loved tropical weather, the way the pressure would drop and the trees would bend and the rain would fly in all directions...
"It's more," I said. "Something big. Personal."
Harmony reached for a tangle of blond hair and began to twirl it around a black-tipped finger. "Are you sure there wasn't a dream, too?"
I looked across the street toward the river, barely visible beyond big fountain and the levee. Harmony could read people, but I could read the future.
"I can't remember." I'd tried. I'd closed my eyes and concentrated on my breathing like my grandmother had taught me, trying to send myself back. Sometimes it worked, and I could sink back into my dreams and see a little more, understand better what was to come.
The first few times it had freaked me out. Everyone dreams, and lots of people try to interpret all the crazy things that happen. But for them, dreams are just dreams.
At least not always.
Some of mine come true.
"Here," Harmony said, and when I turned back toward her, I found her eyes glowing like emeralds on fire, with her white-blond hair hanging in an angel-like curtain against both sides of her face.
In her hands, she held the Tarot cards.
"Concentrate on what you want to know," she instructed. "And shuffle."
HAUNTED DESTINY Copyright 2011 by Ellie James