Home > Don't Hex and Drive (Stay a Spell #2)(5)

Don't Hex and Drive (Stay a Spell #2)(5)
Author: Juliette Cross

My life in Paris was full of posh parties and wild nightlife and beautiful women. Though I’d stopped filming Bollywood movies a few years ago, I still caroused with the celebrity crowd, venturing often to Monaco, Berlin, Mykonos, and the Amalfi Coast. I enjoyed the endorphin high that the fast life provided. It kept me from thinking too long, too hard about what was missing.

Permanence. A place I could call home. Though it had been hundreds of years since my mother—my only family—had died, I’d managed to fill my life with pleasure and entertainment. Travel and parties, clubs and conquests. And though that life had lost its shiny allure years ago, I’d been going through the motions, knowing it was lacking in filling that deeper, more intimate need.

“Oh? That sounds serious,” he said with a smile though there was a pensive pinch between his brow.

“Perhaps.” I laughed, noting the tone of bitterness in it.

“Tell me.” Ruben was the kind of friend I trusted deeply, no matter how much time had passed between our reunions. We were brothers of a different sort.

Clearing my throat, I tucked both hands in my pockets then faced the Crann Bethadh, remembering the ancient trees in the Carpathian woodlands. “After I’d gotten what you needed in Romania, I stayed on in the mountains.” Pausing, I tried to find the right words to express what I experienced there. “It was so, so quiet there. I hadn’t slowed down in so long. It hit me hard.”

“In what way?” he asked softly. “How did you feel?”

“Very serene. And very sad,” I confessed as I faced him. I wasn’t surprised to find understanding there. Though Ruben wasn’t as old as me, he was old enough to feel the marrow-deep hollow that came with age. And the lack of what we needed to fill that tender emptiness.

Romania was the first time I’d been alone for an extended period of time. In my everyday life, I was surrounded by people. But even amidst a throng of friends, the aching loneliness found me. It always did. In Romania, the feeling was amplified, screaming through my blood like a feverish virus.

“Anyway,” I added lightly, “it was time for a change. I’ve had other overlord vampires in the States reach out to me for work before. Seemed like now was a good time. Perhaps see what kind of trouble I can get into over on this side of the pond.”

He clasped me on the shoulder with a smile. “I’m glad you’re here. Even if you did hit one of my friends with your precious Italian sportscar.”

“Ouch.” I pressed a hand to my chest.

Though I was particular about the make and model of my cars, I wasn’t attached to any of them. I’d sold my Maserati Alfieri in Paris and bought the Lamborghini from a seller in Boston and drove it down here. I had been, literally, three blocks away from my final destination after two weeks of preparation, packing, and traveling when I’d run into Isadora.

Damn. I did feel bad for hitting her, no matter what she seemed to think. She hadn’t broken anything, but the incident had shaken me all the same. It was the kind of mistake I never made. I’d find a way to apologize properly soon enough. For now, I had a smaller token to deliver to the Savoie sisters, which I planned to do as soon as Ruben left.

Fortunately, he’d said they were the forgiving sort. That was good to hear since Jules Savoie—a name I’d heard more than a few times over the past ten years—was the Enforcer of the New Orleans supernaturals. She kept everyone in line. Her powers as a Siphon, a witch who could suck the magic from any supernatural creature in a blink, ensured that.

Ruben bit his lip on a small chuckle, his gaze sliding over my shoulder toward the western-facing windows for a few seconds. “Come on. Let’s have a drink, and I’ll tell you briefly what I know about this case.” He glanced at his watch, a silver TAG Heuer. “I have a dinner meeting uptown, but I wanted to check in with you.”

He followed me into the kitchen. “I would’ve gone to The Green Light yesterday,” I called over my shoulder, “but I had to wait on the furniture delivery and get it all straight.”

Pulling down a bottle of Maker’s Mark from the cabinet, I then grabbed two rocks glasses.

“You still like everything in order and in its place.” Ruben took a seat on the stool and tapped his fingers along the granite countertop, looking around the kitchen.

I filled both glasses with ice, poured us each a drink to the brim, and then slid his across the granite. “It’s the only way to keep the chaos at bay.”

“As you say.” He lifted his glass. “Welcome to New Orleans.”

We clinked glasses and took a deep gulp of whiskey.

“While I do want to experience the pleasures of the city,” I said, swirling the amber liquid over the ice, “why don’t you give me a brief rundown of where you are?”

“Well said.” He drained the rest of his drink in two more gulps then set it down. That in itself was rather telling. Ruben wasn’t a big drinker. But this case had him on edge. “I didn’t bother to tell you because I knew you were in the middle of the move, but another girl went missing last Saturday.”

After setting down my drink, I crossed my arms and leaned back against the counter opposite him. “That’s, what, four girls total? In four weeks?”

“Right.” His sapphire-blue eyes darkened to the color of his suit, a silvery sheen icing over them. “No bodies yet. All of them rather young.” He clenched his jaw. “College age. And taken from neighborhood bars.”

I flattened a palm on the countertop and began tapping with my index finger, the wide silver band of my ring tinking against the granite. “Their age may only be a by-product. Our predator may feel more comfortable hunting the local bar scene, late at night, where the easiest prey is in the twenty-something age range.”

“True,” Ruben conceded. “And their minds are more malleable at that age. Easily persuaded for even a young vampire.”

“How are you sure it’s a vampire? Could be a werewolf gone rogue.”

His brow pinched into a frown. “I’ve got a guy who says he’s got proof it’s one of our kind.”

“What kind of proof?”

He chuckled lightly. “He wouldn’t tell me.”

“This is one of your men, and he refused to tell you?”

I found that hard to believe. Ruben was a cool, calculated leader, but ruthless when he needed to be. It wouldn’t be wise to hold information from him.

“Not one of my men exactly.” He rolled the base of his tumbler on the rim, the ice clinking in the glass. “He’s on my payroll, but he’s a grim.”

“Ah. I see.”

Grims were notoriously private. Everything to them was on a need-to-know basis, including the most trivial of things like whether they took their coffee black or with cream. Yet, they were founts of knowledge themselves.

“So when is he handing over this information?” I asked, suddenly curious what this grim had as proof.

“Sometime this week. I’d like you there if you don’t mind.”

“Whatever you need.”

“How about dinner tonight?” The tightness around his mouth softened. “Then we can catch up properly. I haven’t seen my oldest friend in more than three years. You’ve been busy.”

I shrugged. “Always some asshole to put in his place. Bring to justice.”

“They never seem to go away, do they?”

“Never.”

He glanced behind me toward my stove. “You’re baking these days? That’s new.”

Taking his glass and mine, I rinsed them both in the sink. “Not baking exactly. You don’t bake penda.”

“A recipe from home, I take it?”

Home. Varanasi, India hadn’t been my home in over two hundred years. To be truthful, no place had. But Ruben was right. I tended to cook dishes that reminded me of the spices and scents of where I’d been born for the first time. And where I’d been reborn as a vampire. Cardamom, nutmeg, and saffron still scented the kitchen even though it was two hours earlier that I’d made the doughy balls of flour, condensed milk, and sugar then topped them with cashews and crushed pistachios.

“Yes.” I dried my hands on a dish towel and leaned back against the sink. “I thought my new neighbors might enjoy a welcome gift.”

“Isn’t the tradition for the current residents to welcome the new neighbor with some sort of baked gift? Not the other way around?”

Crossing my arms, I stared out the window that faced the side of the Savoie home next door. From here, I had a good view of the carriage house over the garage, the driveway, and the second-floor balcony with a wrought iron railing.

“I figured I’d better sweeten the deal after my incident with Isadora. Especially now that we’re neighbors.”

Ruben walked closer to the window, tucking his hands in his pockets. “I’m sure she’s fine. Isadora is a powerful Conduit.”

“It’s not her ankle I’m worried about.” I joined him at the window, catching sight of a small shed-like structure surrounded by chicken wire fencing. “Is that a hen house?”

His grin widened. “No hens. Just a very dominant rooster named Fred.”

“Huh.” Didn’t know what to say to that. There was also the roof and opaque glass walls of a greenhouse tucked in the back corner behind the carriage house. I’d bet my original Pollock painting that I knew who spent most of her time in there.

“What is it you’re concerned about?” Ruben asked.

Heaving out a sigh, I turned from the window and stepped into the living room. “I fear I’ve offended her, though I’m not sure how.” I threw up my arms in exasperation. Taking a seat on the dark suede sofa, I added, “I mean, I did apologize. But she seemed even angrier by the time I’d left her safely tucked up on her sofa.”

Ruben’s throaty laughter snagged my attention. He didn’t laugh as often as he should. “I can’t believe the famous Devraj Kumar failed to win over a woman with his illustrious charms.”

   
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