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September, ten years from now
Desiree Gill didn't recall how she'd gotten there, seated in a dark corner, across a small round table from one of the most famous men in the world. She had vague memories of sitting in the back of a limo and talking for hours and hours. Of lips brushing sensually across her wrist, sending an arc of desire through her. A moment later, the slightest pinprick of pain sent her soaring with fiery pleasure. Her responses had been so intense she'd finally blacked out from sheer bliss.
She knew exactly where they were now: under the green-and-white-striped outdoor awning of her favorite café on the edge of the French Quarter. A sign on the shop proclaimed that it closed only for Christmas and some hurricanes. It had closed briefly for one a few years back but had quickly reopened. The Quarter had refused to bend to the will of Katrina, even if the rest of the city was still a little ragged around the edges a full decade later.
"You were here then," he said.
It was not a question. And something in his voice took her back to struggling through waist-high water on a street full of the stench of harsh chemicals and garbage, where an abandoned dog barked inside a ruined building and something darker than the night followed close behind her. But she didn't want those memories right now. All she wanted was to be in this moment forever.
"All right," he said. "We'll let it go."
The aromas of warm grease and sugar filled the air; powdered sugar dusted the tabletop, spilled off a tall pile of beignets on the paper plates between them. A few fat, sleepy pigeons wandered across the floor, trolling for crumbs. Rain poured down in an almost solid curtain beyond the shelter of the canopy. Despite the late hour, there was still plenty of traffic moving slowly, almost swimming through the water in the street. It was a September night in New Orleans, and she had no idea how she'd ended up there after the concert, seated across from the singer she'd had a crush on since she was fourteen. A big fan of the dinosaur stadium rock band Coyote, she cherished the CDs her mom had collected as a teenager as much as she did her downloads of the band's recent work. One of the things she liked best about Coyote was that they were always relevant. They were survivors.
Also, Jon Coyote was the most gorgeous man she'd ever seen, and the most confident. She loved the way he could walk out onto a stage in a sold-out stadium, announce to the screaming audience, "For the next two hours, you belong to me," and completely make good on that boast. In another age, he would have given Alexander the Great a run for his money as a charismatic world conqueror. In this day and age, he took all that god-king charisma on the road. There was something heroic about him.
Jon Coyote looked into her eyes and said, "Welcome to my world."
"This isn't your world," she said. "You're from New Jersey."
"I've got family here." He gestured toward a shadowed far corner. "There's a bunch of my cousins sitting right over there."
She looked and saw several pairs of eyes staring at her out of the darkness. Those eyes were glowing, red, gold, and green.
"Don't pay any attention," Coyote said. "They're just showing off."
Desi didn't know what to say. She didn't know what to do. All she could figure was that she was dreaming. Dreaming of being with Jonathan Coyote was the best fantasy she could imagine, so she relaxed and went along with the whole thing.
"What are they?" she asked. "Werewolves?"
"Nah." He took a sip of chicory-laced coffee. "We're vampires."
"Oh." She looked at the bite mark on her wrist. "That explains it."
So, she was dreaming that Jon Coyote was a vampire. Seeing that this was New Orleans, that almost made sense. Except that it seemed more like the sort of thing a tourist would dream about happening in her dark and mysterious city, rather than a native like her. She might be embarrassed about what her subconscious was pulling up if she was awake.
He took her hand and stroked a finger, slowly, suggestively, across her bruised wrist. The touch sent hot shivers through her. "I'll give you a diamond bracelet to cover this, if you'd like."
She had no use for diamonds, even in a dream. She shook her head.
"What would you like?" His voice was silken, with a dark edge that hinted at danger and ecstasy.
She held up her other hand, the wrist turned toward him. "More of the same, please."
He smiled his famous knowing grin; his sapphire eyes took on a blue-neon glow. "Oh, honey. I'm gonna give you better than that."
He carried her into a bedroom more luxurious than anyplace she'd ever dreamed of. The city glittered below the wide windows, brighter than the diamonds he'd promised her. He set her down on a deep carpet of indigo blue patterned with stars. A domed ceiling arched overhead, painted with the night sky. The huge bed was framed with twisting, gilded pillars and hung with blue velvet. She wondered if she could tone down all this lavishness but didn't have the faintest idea how to manipulate a dream.
"Just relax and enjoy the ride," Jon advised. His hands slipped under the hem of her shirt and pulled it over her head. "Actually, I have no intention of letting you relax."
"I'm happy to hear it," she said, and did the same with his shirt. His chest was sculpted and nicely fuzzy. She pressed her cheek against it and breathed in his scent, losing herself in the slow, slow, steady thrum of his heartbeat. It seemed too slow. She glanced up at him worriedly. "You don't have any condition I need to worry about, do you?"
He laughed and ran his fingers through her short, curly hair. "I may be older than I look, but I'm healthy enough for what we have in mind." He picked her up again and carried her to the bed. "As for my condition..." He sat down with her on his lap and nuzzled and licked her cleavage. "You'll find the symptoms very pleasurable."
Tempting Fate copyright © 2007 by Susan Sizemore