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Seize the Night
By Sherrilyn Kenyon
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2005 Sherrilyn Kenyon
All rights reserved.
"I don't give a damn if they throw me down into the deepest, slimiest pit for eternity. I belong here and no one is going to make me leave. No one!"
Tabitha Devereaux took a deep breath and struggled not to argue as she tried to pick the lock on the handcuffs that her sister Selena had used to fasten herself to the wrought-iron gate that surrounded the famed Jackson Square. Selena had hidden the key in her bra and Tabitha had no desire to search there for it.
No doubt that would get them both arrested, even in New Orleans.
Luckily there wasn't a big crowd on the street in the middle of October, right at dusk, but what people were there all stared at them as they passed by. Not that Tabitha cared. She was more than used to people looking at her and thinking her strange. Even insane.
She prided herself on both. She also prided herself on being available to her friends and family in a crisis. And right now, her big sister was in an emotional turmoil second only to the time when Selena's husband Bill had been in a car wreck that had almost killed him.
Tabitha fumbled with the lock. The last thing she wanted was to have her sister arrested.
Selena tried to push her away, but Tabitha refused to budge, so Selena bit her.
Tabitha jumped back with a yelp as she shook her hand in an effort to relieve the pain. Completely unremorseful about it, Selena sprawled on the cobbled steps that led into the Square in a pair of ripped jeans and a large navy sweater that obviously belonged to Bill. Her long, curly brown hair was braided and oddly sedate. No one would recognize Madame Selene, as she was known to the tourists, except for the big sign she was holding that said, "Psychics have rights, too."
Ever since they had passed that stupid, asinine law that psychics couldn't read cards in the Square for tourists anymore, Selena had been fighting it. Earlier, the police had forced her out of the federal building for protesting — so Selena had headed over here to chain herself to the gate not far from where she had once set up her card table for reading other people's futures.
Too bad she couldn't see her own fate as clearly as Tabitha could. If Selena didn't unhook herself from this blessed fence, she was going to be spending the night in jail.
Overwrought and angry, Selena kept waving her sign. There was no reasoning with her. But then, Tabitha was used to that, too. High emotions, obstinacy, and insanity ran deep in their Cajun-Romanian family.
"C'mon, Selena," she said, trying yet again to soothe her. "It's already dark. You don't want to be Daimon bait out here, do you?"
"I don't care!" Selena sniffed and pouted. "The Daimons won't eat my soul anyway since I have no friggin' will to live. I just want my home back. This is my spot and I'm not leaving." She punctuated each of the last words with a pounding of her sign against the stones.
"Fine." Sighing in disgust, Tabitha sat down near her, but not so close that Selena could bite her again. She wasn't about to leave her older sister out here alone. Especially since Selena was so upset.
If the Daimons didn't get her, a mugger would.
And so here the two of them sat like two immovable bumps on a log: Tabitha dressed all in black with her dark auburn hair pulled back into a silver barrette and Selena waving her sign at anyone who came near them on the pedestrian mall, urging them to sign her petition to change the law.
"Hey, Tabby. What's up?"
It was a rhetorical question. Tabitha waved at Bradley Gambieri, one of the docents who led vampire tours around the Quarter, as he headed toward the tourist center to drop off more brochures. He didn't even pause as he passed by. But he did frown at Selena, who called him an imaginative name because he didn't sign her petition.
Good thing he knew them or he really might be offended.
Tabitha and her sister knew most of the locals who frequented the Quarter. They had grown up here and had haunted the area around the Square since they had been young teenagers.
Of course, things had changed over the years. A few of the shops had come and gone. The Quarter was a good deal safer these days than it had been in the late nineteen eighties and early nineties. However, some things were the same. The bakery, Café Pontalba, Café Du Monde, and Corner Café were in the same place. The tourists still gathered in the Square to ogle the cathedral and the colorful natives who passed by ... and the vampires and muggers still stalked the streets looking for easy victims.
The hair on the back of her neck rose.
Tabitha moved her hand instinctively to the hidden sheath in her boot that concealed a three-inch stiletto as she scanned the thinning October crowd around her.
For the last thirteen years, Tabitha had been a self-styled vampire slayer. She was also one of the few humans in New Orleans who actually knew what went on in this town after dark She was scarred inside and out from her battles with the damned. And she had sworn her life to making sure that none of them ever hurt anyone else on her watch.
It was an oath she took seriously; she would kill anyone or anything she had to.
But as her gaze found the tall, exotically erotic man sporting a black backpack coming around the corner of the Presbytere building, she relaxed.
It'd been a couple of months since he'd last been in town. In truth, she'd missed him a lot more than she should have.
Against her will and common sense, she'd let Acheron Parthenopaeus worm his way into her guarded heart. But then, Ash was a hard man not to adore.
His long, sensuous gait was impossible to ignore and every female in the Square, except for the distraught Selena, was held transfixed by his presence. They all paused to watch him walk by as if compelled by some unseen force. He was sexy in a way very few men were.
He held an aura that was dangerous and wild; and by his slow, languorous moves, it was obvious that he would be incredible in bed. It was something you just knew intrinsically when you saw him and it rippled through your body like hot, seductive chocolate.
At six feet eight, Ash always stood out in a crowd. Like her, he was dressed all in black.
His Godsmack T-shirt was untucked and a bit large, but even so it didn't detract from that fact that Ash was seriously ripped. And his custom-made leather pants cupped a butt so prime, it begged for a groping.
Not that she ever would. An undefinable air about him warned people to keep their hands to themselves if they wanted to keep breathing.
She smiled as she noted his boots. Ash had a thing for German Goth clothing. Tonight he had on a pair of black biker boots that had nine vampire-bat buckles going up the length of them.
He wore his long black hair loose and flowing around his shoulders. It was a perfect drape for a face that was eerily pretty and yet wholly masculine. Flawless. There was something about Ash that made every hormone in her body stand up and pant for more.
Yet for all his sexual attractiveness, there was also an aura so dark and deadly that it kept her from ever thinking of him as anything more than a friend.
And he'd been a friend ever since she had met him at her twin sister Amanda's wedding three years ago. Since then, they had crossed paths repeatedly as he visited New Orleans and helped her keep watch against the city's predators.
Now he was a regular part of her family, especially since he often stayed at her twin's house and was, in fact, the godfather for Amanda's daughter.
He stopped beside her and cocked his head. With his dark sunglasses on, Tabitha couldn't tell if he was looking at her or Selena. But it was obvious he was bemused by the two of them.
"Hey, gorgeous babe," Tabitha said. She smiled as she realized his T-shirt paid tribute to the Godsmack song "Vampires." How strangely apropos since Ash was an immortal who came equipped with his own set of fangs. "Nice shirt."
Ignoring her compliment, he pulled the black backpack off his shoulder and flipped his sunglasses up to show eerie, swirling silver eyes that seemed to flash in the darkness. "How long has Selena been handcuffed to the fence?"
"About half an hour. I figured I'd hang out with her and keep her from becoming a Daimon-kabob."
"I wish," Selena muttered. She raised her voice and slung her arms wide. "Here I am, vampires, come and end my misery!"
Tabitha and Ash exchanged a half-amused, half-irritated look at her dramatics.
Ash moved to sit down beside Selena. "Hi, Lanie," he said quietly as he kept the backpack at his feet.
"Go away, Ash. I'm not leaving here until they repeal their law. I belong in this Square. I was raised here."
Ash nodded in understanding. "Where's Bill?"
"He's a traitor!" Selena snarled.
Tabitha answered the question. "He's probably at the courthouse holding ice to a private area after Selena racked him and accused him of being 'the man who is holding her down.'"
Ash's face softened as if the thought amused him.
"He deserved it," Selena said defensively. "He told me that the law is the law and that I had to obey it. Screw that. I'm not going anywhere until they change it."
"Guess I'll be here for awhile," Tabitha said wistfully.
"You can make them repeal the law," Selena said, turning toward Ash. "Can't you?"
Ash leaned back against the fence without commenting.
"Don't get too close to her, Ash," Tabitha warned. "She's been known to bite."
"That makes two of us," he said with a hint of humor in his voice as his fangs flashed. "But I somehow think my bite might hurt a little more."
"You're not funny," Selena said sullenly.
Ash draped an arm over Selena's shoulder. "C'mon, Lane. You know it's not going to change anything for you to stay here. Sooner or later a cop will come by —"
"And I'll assault him."
Ash tightened his hold on her. "You can't assault them for doing their job."
"Yes, I can!"
Still he managed to remain calm while dealing with the Queen of Hysteria. "Is that really what you want to do?"
"No. I want my stand back," Selena said, her voice breaking from her grief and pain.
Tabitha's own chest was tight in sympathetic agony for her.
"I wasn't hurting anyone by having a table here. This is my space. I've had my stand right here in this spot since 1986! It's so not fair for them to make me leave because those stupid artists are jealous. Who wants one of their crappy paintings of the Quarter, anyway? They're stupid. What's New Orleans without her psychics? Just another boring, run-down tourist town, that's what!"
Ash held her sympathetically. "Times change, Selena. Believe me, I know, and sometimes there's nothing you can do about it except to let it go. No matter how much you want to stop time, it has to go forward and move on to something else."
Tabitha heard the sadness in his voice as he spoke comfortingly to her sister. Ash had been alive for more than eleven thousand years. He remembered New Orleans back in the days when it had barely qualified as a town. For that matter, he probably remembered New Orleans before any kind of civilization had claimed it.
If anyone knew about change, it was Acheron Parthenopaeus.
Ash wiped the tears from Selena's face and angled her chin so that she was staring at the building across the street from them. "You know, that building is up for sale. 'Madame Selene's Tarot Reading and Mystical Boutique.' Can you imagine it?"
Selena snorted at that. "Yeah, right. Like I can afford it. Have you any idea what the real estate here goes for?"
Ash shrugged. "Money's not a problem for me. Say the word and it's yours."
Selena blinked at him as if she couldn't believe what he was offering her. "Really?"
He nodded. "You could put a sign up right here that points people to your brand-new store where you can read cards to your heart's content."
Finally seeing a solution to her sister's temporary dementia and grateful to Ash for it, Tabitha sat forward so that she could look at Selena. "You've always said you'd like to be someplace where it can't rain you out."
Selena cleared her throat as she considered it. "It would be nice to look out from a building instead of into it."
"Yeah," Tabitha said. "You'd no longer freeze in the winter or blister in the summer. Climate control all year long. No more wheeling your cart up here and setting up the table and chairs. You could even have a La-Z-Boy in the back room and carry all sorts of tarot card decks. Tia would be jealous as all get-out since she's been wanting a shop closer to the Square. Think about it."
"You want it?" Ash asked.
Selena nodded enthusiastically.
Ash pulled out his cell phone and dialed a number. "Hey, Bob," he said after a brief pause. "This is Ash Parthenopaeus. There's a building for sale on St. Anne's in Jackson Square ... yeah, that one. I want it." He offered a close-lipped smile to Selena. "No, I don't need to see it. Just have the keys out here in the morning." He pulled the phone aside. "What time can you meet him here, Selena?"
He repeated it into the phone. "Yeah, and make the deed out to Selena Laurens. I'll swing by tomorrow afternoon and handle the payment. All right. Have a good one." Ash hung up the phone and returned it to his pocket.
Selena smiled up at him. "Thank you."
"No problem." The instant he stood up, the handcuff fell free of the gate and Selena's arm.
Jeez, that man had some fearsome powers. Tabitha just wasn't sure which was more impressive. The one that broke the handcuff off Selena without a scratch or the one that allowed him to drop a couple of million dollars without blinking.
He held his hand out to Selena and helped her to her feet. "Just make sure you carry a lot of bright, shiny things for Simi to buy whenever we're here."
Tabitha laughed at the mention of Ash's demon ... something ... Tabitha still didn't know if Simi was Ash's girlfriend or what. The two of them had a very odd relationship.
Simi demanded and Ash gave without hesitation.
Unless it involved Simi killing and eating someone. Those were the only times she'd ever seen Ash put his foot down with the demon he kept secret from most of his Dark-Hunters. The only reason Tabitha even knew about Simi was that the demon often joined them for movies.
For some reason, Ash really loved the cinema and Tabitha had been going to see movies with him for the last two years. His favorites were horror and action flicks. Meanwhile the Simi was a most unusual and discriminating being who made him sit through "girl" movies that often left Ash groaning.
"Where is the Simster tonight?" Tabitha asked.
Ash brushed his hand over the dragon tattoo on his forearm. "She's hanging around. But it's too early for her. She doesn't like to be out and about until at least nine." He slung the backpack over his shoulder.
Selena stood on her tiptoes and pulled Ash down so that she could hug him. "I'll carry an entire line of Kirk's Folly just for Simi."
Smiling, he patted her on the back. "No more handcuffs, right?"
Selena pulled away. "Well, Bill did say that I could protest with him later in the bedroom and I do owe him for that kick I gave him, so ..."
Ash laughed as Selena scooped up the cuffs from the street.
"And you wonder why I'm nuts," Tabitha said as Selena tucked them into her back pocket.
Ash pulled his glasses back down to cover his eerie, swirling silver eyes. "At least she's entertaining."
"And you're way too charitable." But that was what Tabitha loved most about Ash. He always saw the good in everyone. "So what are you up to tonight?" she asked Ash while Selena folded up her handmade sign.
Before he could answer, a large black Harley came roaring down St. Anne. When it reached the turn that would have taken the rider down Royal Street, the bike stopped and was shut off.
Tabitha watched as the tall, lithe rider, who was decked out all in black biker leathers, held the bike upright between his thighs with ease and pulled the helmet off.
To her surprise, it was an African-American woman, and not a man, who set the helmet down before her on the bike's gas tank and unzipped her jacket. Extremely gorgeous, she was slender but muscular, with medium brown skin and a flawless complexion. She wore her jet-black hair in braids that were pulled back into a ponytail.
Excerpted from Seize the Night by Sherrilyn Kenyon. Copyright © 2005 Sherrilyn Kenyon. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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