He left her.
She continued to sip her beer, looking at the pictures.
The tour had crowded into the bar. She knew that, during the Civil War, the lady of the house had hanged herself in an upstairs room after someone in New Orleans spilled the beans about her liaison with a Union soldier.
The tour guide was telling the story.
At first, she was just aware of the drone of his voice. Then she became aware that...
He sounded slightly familiar. There was a roll to his Hs. ...
She spun around. The tour group was leaving the bar. A half dozen stragglers were blocking the exit She could see the guide ahead. He was dressed in a black cape. Her heart thundered. Lots of guides wore black Dracula capes in New Orleans. This was Anne Rice's city. Lestat's town.
But lots of guides didn't necessarily have Scottish accents.
He was ahead, far ahead.
She started running along the street, terrified but determined.
She was jostled into a group of costumed revelers, coming from or going to an early Halloween party.
She was passed from a white rabbit to a Tin Man and on to a dancing pack of cigarettes.
"It's all right, it's all right, excuse me ..."
She kept running. A three-man band blocked her way. She sidestepped them.
On Bourbon Street the crowd became fierce. She ran, pushing and shoving, trying to keep up.
She reached a man wearing a black cape. She caught his arm, whirled him around.
His face was lined with weariness. His hair was gray; his eyes were powdery blue. She had never seen him before.
"Sorry!" she said softly.
He nodded and walked on.
She stood still in the middle of the street, feeling the rush of humanity go past her, hearing laughter and music and feeling as if it were all passing over her, by her.
Then the street seemed empty before her.
And up ahead, just up ahead, under a streetlight, stood a man.
She hadn't seen him in over a year.
Except in her dreams.
But he was here now. As tall as she remembered, dark, striking. His long-sleeved shirt was black, as were his trousers. His hands were casually shoved into his pockets. He might have been any striking young tourist. A businessman, out to see the sights of New Orleans. A musician, a politician, ad exec, plumber, electrician ... any tourist.
Except that... he wasn't.
She started walking toward him, half certain that he would turn away.
It wasn't him. It couldn't be....
He stood dead still, waiting.
He didn't walk away, and he didn't disappear.
And as she came to him, the noises of the city rushed to meet her. The jazz, the talk, the laughter, the footsteps She was fairly tall, but she had to look up at him. Yes, it was he. In the flesh. The dark hair, the slender-appearing but hard-muscled physique.
The eyes ...
Like amber. Like fire.
"Hello, Jade," he said softly. "We have to talk."
They had to talk? He had been there during the night of her greatest danger and her greatest fear. He had probably saved her life-but then he had left her, leaving the police to think that she was crazy, leaving her to doubt her own sanity.
Then he had entered her dreams. Invaded her sleep, stolen into her soul. He had touched her, somehow.
He had touched her; it had been real.
He had ruined-absolutely destroyed-her chances with the most perfect man she was ever likely to meet.
She hauled off and hit him with every bit of strength she had in her.
It might have been a stupid thing to do.
He was a good six feet, three inches tall, and muscled like a son of a bitch. If he'd taken it the wrong way ...
Fear or instinct caused her to draw up an arm again. He caught it. She attacked him with words.
"Bastard. You were there. You saw everything. You just disappeared. And how amazing! I start to dream about you-"
He held her wrist; he had caught her flying palm in air, and now held it by her side. Gently? She couldn't feel the grasp, yet she knew that she couldn't have moved had she tried.
"What the hell is going on?"
He shook his head. "I don't know what you mean."
"I think you do."
He stepped back suddenly. "Look, I hardly know you. Excuse me." To her amazement he turned and started walking away. She stared after him, mouth agape, hands on hips.
"Excuse you?" she repeated. "Excuse you?"
She raced after him. He was in black again. Black form-hugging jeans, long-sleeved knit shirt, casual black jacket. It rode his shoulders very nicely. His dark hair, still longish, curled over his collar
. It glistened in the lights of the street.
She caught hold of his shoulder, drawing him back. "You can't just walk away from me."
"Should I stand here so you can hit me again?" he inquired politely.
"No, no ... but you ... you have to talk to me!"
He arched a brow. She did want to hit him again. He wasn't just attractive; he was compelling in an almost frightening manner. Devastatingly good-looking, dark eyes, dark hair, and an air of self-confidence, assurance, even arrogance.
She knotted her hands into fists at her sides.
"Fine! Don't talk to me!"
She turned that time, and started to walk away.
He didn't follow. She stopped, turned back. He was waiting, a smile lightly turning the fullness of his lips.
"Who the hell are you?" she whispered. "What is going on?"
"Where's your cop?"
"He ... he's sick. Wait a minute, what do you know about-"
"I've been in New Orleans a few days. Naturally I wanted to see you. I made a few inquiries."
"Oh?" She walked back toward him. "And whom did you talk with to make these inquiries?"
"A man never gives away his sources."
She was going to walk away again, but even as she thought it, her mind struggled-he was in front of her right now. No matter how impossible he was, she wanted to keep him there.
Maybe he sensed her flight. His hand was on her arm. She felt as if she were shaking inside.
Being with him ...
"I ... I-"
"How about a drink?"
"Some little out-of-the-way place?" she inquired.
"No, let's go back to your friend's bar. Drake's? Is that it? Great music." She lifted her hands. "Why not?"
She started to lead the way. Then she suddenly paled, pushing through the crowd, and turned back. She looked at him. "I thought I saw ... I thought I heard-"
"Yeah, I thought so, too."
"Wait a minute! I didn't even finish my sentence. I thought I saw-"
"The tour guide from Scotland. Right?"
She fought to keep her jaw in place. "Right."
"I know. It wasn't him."
"Oh, yes. I'm certain."
She turned around again. She stepped up on the sidewalk. " 'Bathe a Beauty for a Buck,' " he said, reading the neon advertisement. There was laughter in his voice. And something about it touched her....
She turned to look at him. He shrugged. "Poor things must be really dirty."
"I thought you were familiar with New Orleans."
"Too familiar. It's just that I haven't seen that particular sign before." His hand touched the small of her back. She nearly jumped through the doorway. That was the way to want someone! she thought The slightest touch, here, there, anywhere, in the night, in the morning, in pain, in pleasure ...
Derrick saw them coming back in. He lifted a hand to Jade. "Hey, kid, saw you running." He nodded, acknowledging the man behind her. "Jade, I got you a fresh beer. Sir, what will you be having?"
"Whatever Jade's having works for me."
Jade smiled. "Derrick Clayton, this is ..."
"Lucian. Lucian DeVeau," her companion said, shaking Derrick's hand.
"Lucian. Nice to meet you."
"Thanks. You, too."
Jade stared at him, sipping her beer, gulping it. Here he was, here at last. She should be calling the police.
He'd be gone before they ever arrived. She knew it.
He turned on his bar stool, watching the band. He seemed to like the music. She studied the planes of his face. Powerful, handsome. And arrogant. He knew his own strengths and abilities.
"Is it real?" she asked softly.
"What?" he turned back to her, his eyes as black as the night, with that vague, strange hint of red.
"Yes, it's real. Never changed to accommodate a new place or time, I'm afraid."
"I met you in Scotland. You said you'd come from there."
"DeVeau is hardly Scottish."
"People do move, you know."
"So where were your people originally from?"
He leaned toward her. "France, most probably."
"Do you speak French?"
Now he hesitated. "Yes. I like the language."
She was frustrated, getting nowhere at all.
"You saved my life." She wasn't sure if it was a statement or a question.
"Yes," he said simply.
"But then you disappeared, and let everyone think I was a drug addict or a lunatic." He sipped his beer, staring ahead at the bottles behind the bar, not looking at her. "They knew you weren't on drugs. They took you to a hospital. I'm sure they tested every fluid in your body."