Jean shifted his commentary from his guard to me. 'Drusilla, a grievance must be made against these ruffians and thieves. They have stolen my clothing and given me only this... this... ' He ran out of words. 'Ugly-ass orange jumpsuit?' I offered, always ready to help Jean with his command of modern English. 'Oui, exactement. I demand that you obtain my release, tout de suite. And you must know, a woman who allows her husband to remain in such conditions for an entire evening must face reprimand.' I leaned back in the chair and crossed my arms. 'And you must know that, in this day and age, should a man reprimand his wife too much, said wife might leave her husband to enjoy a longer time in his prison cell wearing his ugly-ass orange jumpsuit.
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When I see you, Jolie, I see a woman who is far more than she realizes but who will someday grow into her powers. One who is much stronger than those who would trap her inside their cages or try to put her to harness. One with a bold intelligence, with whom I can laugh. One who surprises me." He paused, and when he spoke again, his voice was so soft I had to strain to hear. "I see a woman who makes me feel alive again, like a man, and not like a wraith who has lived beyond his usefulness in a world that no longer needs him.
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This is beautiful." Eugenie ran her fingers along a massive mahogany sideboard, on the top of which rested a red velvet sash with fine embroidery on it and, on top of the sash, a silver dagger. That little vignette was Jean Lafitte in a nutshell. Refined gentleman and renegade. Velvet and violence.
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DJ, are you awake? Freaking elf. 'Go home, Rand.' I am home. Where are you? I frowned and burrowed my face into the soft down pillow. Which wasn't my pillow. Holy crap. What had happened? I sat up and took in several observations at once, none of which made sense and all of which sent my heart rate jack-rabbiting hard enough to send my blood pressure into the ozone. First, I was lying beneath a heavy bedspread woven in a rich blue-and-cream print. The bed was an elaborate confection made to look like an antique half-tester, and a brass chandelier hung overhead. I recognized the Hotel Monteleone. I recognized Jean Lafitte's bedroom in the posh Eudora Welty Suite in the Monteleone. I didn't have a clue as to how I got here. Second, I wore only underwear. My clothes were thrown across a chair in the corner. I had no recollection of removing them. Third, the pillow next to mine still held the clear indentation of a head, and there was water running behind the closed bathroom door. What in God's name had I done? Rand! Where are you? So help me, if that elf was behind this, I'd splay him open like a catfish and watch his guts fall on the floor. Then I'd batter and deep-fry him. God, Dru. Stop shrieking like an elven shrew. I think you got too cold and went into a survival state.
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Eugenie looked great, her short spiky auburn hair edged with conservative blond tips and her face wearing a minimum of makeup. Must be Mr. Natural's influence. I gave her a hug and turned to meet Quince, who was sitting across from her. Okay, I could see the attraction. He had thick, honey-blond hair pulled back in a ponytail not unlike my own, and a green gemstone stud in one ear. He reached out a grasped my hand, shaking it firmly. 'It's great to meet you. Eugenie talks about you all the time.' 'She talks a lot about you too, Quince.' The man had no idea. He smiled and his blue-green eyes were almost enthralling. 'Most people call me Rand, but Eugenie likes my real name better than my nickname.' After a half hour of small talk, I wasn't sure I liked Quince Randolph. He was drop-dead gorgeous, no question about that. But there was something off about him I couldn't quite pinpoint. He stared too hard when he talked to you, made my eye contact than a normal person. I tried to dig into his head a little but came up blank, which was weird, except I'd done a heavy grounding ritual this morning. 'You know, I just noticed something.' Eugenie had a funny look on her face. 'You guys have the same hair and eye colo. I'd never realized it till I saw you sitting there across from each other.' 'Maybe we're very distantly related.' Rand smiled. 'I doubt it, ' I said, frowning. 'I don't have much family. And if we were related, I'd be pissed off that you have better cheekbones.
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Since when do wizards wear robes?" I whispered. "That's falling into every human stereotype ever created." Jeezum. Next thing you knew, they'd be waving around magic wands. "The First Elder thought they'd look more intimidating in robes than in business suits, " Alex whispered back. "They look like they're on their way to a costume party at Hogwarts.
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Alex leaned over and treated me to a Rhett Butler kiss, slow and deep but not too sweet. He once told Scarlett something to the effect of how badly she needed kissing, and by someone who knew what he was doing. Alex knew what he was doing. By the time he finished proving it, I was breathless. I rested my head on his shoulder, basking in his warmth and filling my lungs with his scent. "What was that for?" "That was to show you how glad I am that we got out of that mess in one piece and that we're here together." He extracted his arm from around my shoulders and sat back. "Now let's talk about your crazy stunt." Damn it, Rhett did that, too. He'd kiss Scarlett silly, then lecture her.
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We walked the length of Jackson Square, stopping to look at the work of a couple of artists who'd set up their sidewalk shops for the day. "Look." Eugenie stopped in front of an acrylic painting of a mustached man with curly dark hair, hooded eyes, and a big hooked nose. He looked like he'd steal the hubcaps off your grandmother's Cadillac. "It's Jean Lafitte, our most famous pirate, " the artist said. "He was quite a character." She had no idea. She also had badly missed the mark on his looks. His hair wasn't that curly, he'd been clean-shaven the whole time I'd known him, his nose was straight and in perfect proportion to the rest of his features, and he didn't have hooded black eyes. Still, he might find it entertaining. "How much?" I asked.
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I always hated it when TV reporters stuck a microphone in the faces of people who'd just lost a home or a loved one, wanting to know how they felt. They felt like shit. They hurt, and they didn't know how they were going to get through the night. They wanted to scream and cry and hit the guy with the microphone.
I'd pulled my unruly blond hair out of its usual ponytail for the occasion, loaded on some makeup to play up my teal eyes, and poured myself into a little black skirt, short enough to show off my legs while not offending Lafitte's nineteenth-century sensibilities. It must have worked, because the pirate was giving me that head-to-toe appraisal guys do on instinct, like they're assessing a juicy slab of beef and deciding whether they want it rare, medium, or well-done. 'You really are lovely, Drusilla.' The timbre of Lafitte's voice shivered down my spine, and I fought the urge to check out the biceps underneath that linen shirt. Holy crap. This was just wrong. I should not be absorbing his lust.
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I grabbed a shard of glass and spun around, brandishing it in front of me. It was a pretty, stippled blue piece, nice and sharp. 'Hold on, tiger. I give up.' A bear of a man stood in front of me, hands raised in mock surrender- well, except for the shotgun in his right hand. He towered well over six feet and was shaped like a linebacker, one who'd gone a little too long between haircuts. Dark curls hugged the collar of a basic black T-shirt that almost camouflaged a black shoulder holster holding some type of nasty-looking black handgun. It all matched his black jeans and boots. He looked like the poster child for an upscale GQ mercenary. The only shred of color on him was his eyes, and they were dark brown. Mr. Monochromatic. He laid the shotgun on the table near the door and stepped back, hands up, watching me from beneath hooded lids. A lesser woman would have noticed the thick muscles moving under his tanned skin when he raised his arms, or the T-shirt that fit just snugly enough to send a girl's thoughts to the Promised Land. Good thing I don't notice stuff like that. 'If you want to search me for more weapons, I'm game.' My eyes shot back to his, and I felt my cheeks flush, hot and bothered on the way to angry. Leave it to a guy to open his mouth and ruin a perfectly good moment.
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A weathered black and silver Dodge pickup towing a small motorboat pulled up behind us, and Alex circled back to greet the driver. I couldn't see who sat behind the crusted and dirty windshield, but Alex stood at the driver's window and pointed down the block where the boulevard disappeared into floodwater. The truck pulled ahead, maneuvered a deft U-turn, and backed toward the water. Alex motioned for me to follow. By the time I lurched my way to the truck, he and the pickup driver were sliding the boat down the trailer ramp. Sweat trickled down my neck, and if I hadn't been afraid of being poisoned by toxic sludge, I'd have made like a pig and wallowed in the mud to cool off. I kicked at a fire hydrant, trying to jolt some of the heaviest sludge off my boots, and heard a soft laugh behind me. With a final kick that sent a spray of brown gunk flying, I turned to see what was so funny. I needed a laugh. A man leaned against the side of the pickup with his arms crossed. He was a few inches shorter than Alex, maybe just shy of six feet, with sun-streaked blond hair that reached his collar and a sleeveless blue T-shirt and khaki shorts. His tanned legs between the bottom of the shorts and the top of sturdy black shrimp boots were scored with scars, bad ones, as if whatever made them meant to do serious damage. He'd been grinning when I turned around, flashing a heart-stopping set of dimples, but when he saw my eyes linger on his legs, the grin eased into something more wary.
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Saturday, September 17, 2005: Today in New Orleans, a traffic light worked. Someone watered flowers. And anyone with the means to get online could have heard Dr. Joy's voice wafting in the dry wind, a sound of grace, comfort and familiarity here in the saddest and loneliest place in the world.' Chris Rose, The Times-Picayune
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I talked to Zrakovi this afternoon, ' Alex said, giving me an undecipherable look. 'He's putting me back on sentinel duty for the next few weeks while you handle a special assignment.' Special assignment had an ominous ring to it. 'What kind of special assignment? And why am I hearing it from you instead of Zrakovi?' Elder Z was my boss, not Alex, however Mr. Bossy liked to think otherwise. 'You're going to be babysitting Jean Lafitte and making sure he doesn't try to take revenge on anyone for what happened last month.' At my horrified, speechless gape, Alex gave me a grim smile and held his glass of port up in salute as my dessert congealed into a lump in my stomach. 'Good luck with that, Jolie.
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I believe he's been asked to testify today, " I told Lennox, who'd continued to track Truman's progress through the room. "He's a member of the historical undead, Truman Capote, the author. He wrote Breakfast at Tiffany's and In Cold Blood."... "Hi, Truman, you're sitting next to me, " I said, pulling out his chair. I figured after he'd asked me to suck on his cherry, we should be on a first-name basis.
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I narrowed my eyes. Jean stayed awfully well informed about prete politics, and often told me things the Elders hadn't yet learned. I suspected this might be one of those things. "How do you know all this?" He shrugged. "A wise man watches as if her were un aigle and listens as if here were un faucon." Eagles and falcons. Both predators. Appropriate.
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