She stared at the pages, then at him.
"One hundred," he told her.
"Your little self-published Divinely Wicked book on cathedrals and churches made it to one hundred.
Jade, that's almost unheard of! That's an incredible coup." Not believing him, she met his eyes, then picked up the paper. Her type of book didn't tend to be a popular success, though she had done well enough because she was her own publisher. The Internet had given her the ability to reach markets she might not otherwise have touched. Because of the Internet access, she had also been picked up by the bookstore chains, as well as by a number of the remaining independent bookstores that specialized in history and anything medieval.
"Fine, don't believe me. Look!" he told her.
She looked. And there was her book and her name.
"You don't think there's been a mistake?" she asked him.
He laughed. "You sound like me."
"No," she told him, flashing him a smile. "You're a total neurotic. You can't believe in your talent because you are successful, and you're always terrified that you're not talented enough to be successful, and no matter how often we all pat you on the back, you're still neurotic." He nodded cheerfully. "I know. You sound just like me," he repeated.
She sighed, looking at the list again. "I'm just amazed. And happy, of course."
"It's a great book. Fabulous photography. And you did it all yourself."
"Most of it. But Shanna did some."
Jade's waiter came back to the table. Jade ordered more coffee; Matt ordered beignets and coffee.
Jade continued to stare at the list.
"It is unbelievable," she said, flashing him a smile.
"So when's the party?"
"Naturally you're having us over-the Wednesday Eve Group-tonight."
"I know that. But you're buying lots of champagne- and no cheap stuff-and maybe even some caviar."
"You told me once that you hate caviar."
"That's beside the point. At such an occasion in life, you should have caviar. And we're all going to toast you and say good things and celebrate."
"Maybe we should. But do you think there's time to get hold of everyone?"
"Jade, Jade, Jade," he said impatiently. "Why do you think I'm here so early? We'll start calling everyone right away."
"We?" she queried.
"Well," he said modestly. "The Ripper of London, hardcover by yours truly, is in the top ten," he told her casually, pulling the actual paper from his back jeans pocket and tossing it on the table.
"Matt, really?" she inquired, excited for him. He already had the Arts and Entertainment section opened to the right page. His book, number eight, had been circled in bright red, and the word yeah! had been written around it several times. "Congratulations!" she told him.
"Thanks!" he grinned happily.
"So ... you're higher up. Why am I having the party?"
"You have the nicer apartment."
"Town house in an actual old antebellum colonial with a French restaurant right next door that serves the best desserts known to man? Beautiful, flower-filled, vined brick balcony on the second floor overlooking the street, with a view of a great jazz club and beautifully kept streets? Um. Let me rethink this. I have a third-floor walk-up in a part of town where they tell the tourists not to go. Yes. I've thought it through. You have the nicer apartment. You have the party."
"You could move," she told him.
"Are you kidding? I live next to the best, craziest voodoo practitioners I have ever met. My neighbors are totally insane. I love them all. Including the one-eyed, one-balled Jack Russell owned by old Mammy Louise upstairs."
"He pees on your shoes all the time."
"How mad can you get at a one-balled dog?"
"I have nothing against the little fellow; he never pees on me. And hey, I like your place myself," she assured him. "You were the one complaining."
"I wasn't complaining. Yours is simply the better place for a party."
"Fine. I'm happy to have a party. I'll invite everyone." !
"Just call your sister." He flushed. "I already made a few phone calls." She arched a brow. He grinned. "Well, you had to agree. You had to be excited. You had to want to celebrate!"
The waiter brought more coffee and beignets. Matt pushed the basket toward her. "Fresh and warm!" he said hopefully.
She pushed the basket back. "I've had plenty. Thank you."
He accepted her refusal, quickly gobbling down one of the powdered-sugar-covered breakfast rolls. He let out a little sound of sensual pleasure at the taste of the food, and licked his fingers.
"I'll buy the caviar," he told her.
"Good. You should. I don't like the stuff, and neither do you, so if you want it, you go find it."
"You'll do the champagne?"
He snuffed a second beignet in his mouth, chewed, and swallowed in seconds flat
. He gulped his coffee and rose.
"You're in a hurry," she said.
"I have to speak with my agent. Strike while I'm hot. I've got work at home, and bills to pay, and caviar to buy."
"What time am I having our party?" she asked him.
"Eight. After dinner-didn't want you to have to cook."
"Not at all. It was just fast thinking," he said.
"Chips and dips and-"
"A few desserts from the French restaurant would be nice."
"I'm sure they will be."
"Don't forget the little éclairs, okay?"
"I'll try not to."
He grinned and started to weave his way through the tables and the crowd to the street. Realizing she still had his paper, Jade called him back.
"Matt! Your USA Today!"
"Go ahead. Keep it. I bought twenty of them!"
She glanced down at the listings again. She had to admit that she was pleased. And naturally she was proud of Matt. He was making his way to the top in a tough world.
She sipped her fresh cup of coffee, not in such a hurry herself this morning. She wondered if she would invite Rick. Sergeant Rick Beaudreaux. He knew everyone in the group; they knew and liked him. She'd been dating him now for three months. He was everything she'd been looking for all of her life-until now.
What the hell was the matter with her? she wondered.
He really was wonderful. Beautiful blue eyes, sandy blond hair, bronze, muscled physique. All exterior, of course, but he was simply an all-around great human being, pleasant, soft-spoken, with the easy disposition of a confident person. He had worked Drugs in Miami before returning to New Orleans, the city of his birth. He told her that he had worked Homicide for a while, but now he worked Drugs again, spending a lot of time with kids in the schools, and also doing press releases for the department. He was polite; he was kind. He was clean-and always smelled good and inviting. He danced, biked, Rollerbladed.... He liked Sunday walks-around Sunday football, of course, but that was okay. He would miss a game when necessary. He liked a drive in the country, a picnic in the cool days of autumn.
He had a smile that could devastate; he really cared for her, admired her work, and was always willing to pitch in-no matter how tired he might be.
He hadn't said so yet, but he must be wondering why she wouldn't sleep with him. Why she didn't seem quite ready.
She wondered that herself.
"Yes, I'm inviting him," she murmured aloud.
A woman, a tourist who appeared to be from the north- she had very white legs, a sunburned nose, and was wearing a straw hat-looked at her oddly from a nearby table. "Sorry!" Jade said, and grinned.
The woman grinned back. "I talk to myself all the time, honey. You get better answers that way!" Jade nodded and turned her attention back to the newspaper. Yes, she was inviting Rick. When the others were gone, Rick would stay. She didn't want to lose him. Not that he seemed to be pressuring her. She had told him what had happened in Scotland. He was a cop. He had understood. It had all been traumatic.
She hadn't told him about the dreams, though....
She took a big swallow of coffee. She was having him stay. That might take care of the dreams. Maybe she was a victim of her own Victorian frustration. Too bad they didn't have a psych major in their crowd.
And then again, maybe not. She wasn't so sure she wanted to share her dreams with anyone.
The coffee was good. Still hot.
She set down the Arts and Entertainment section of the paper and picked up the front page.
Her heart seemed to stop right there in her chest.
The headline read: slaughter in the big apple; RITUAL KILLINGS STUN RESIDENTS
He watched her from across the street. It was easy enough to do so.
She sat out in the open-air section of the cafe, near the street, near the sun. There was a roof over the outer section of the cafe, but she sat as close to the street as she could, and she tilted her face toward the sun frequently.
She loved the sun, the brightness. She smiled when it touched her face, the planes of which were delicate and beautiful in a perfect, classical sense of the word. He could remember the smell of her flesh, the softness of her skin. Her perfume, subtle in the darkness and the shadows. To him, she was such a beacon that he knew where she had been every second.
She had beautiful eyes, wide open now to the daylight. Blue eyes, deep eyes, touched with a hint of green. Sea eyes, he thought with a strange shudder. They were framed by flyaway brows and hair the color of sunshine and shadow itself, light brown, highlighted with natural streaks of pure gold and here and there a strand of red. So familiar. So different, and yet...