Mr. Trenier had not called. This was inexplicable. Why would he not have called? Unless Mr. Robichaux had not given him the message. But Mr. Robichaux had seemed dependable. And willing to help. So why had Mr. Trenier not called?
����������� "Oh, Clara!"
����������� Her mother's sing-song voice interrupted her reverie vaguely. She was standing on the back verandah, staring at the oak trees in the backyard without seeing them. The weather was still hot, but slightly less so than it had been, and Clara had been enjoying the reprieve from the suffocating atmosphere of the house. From the miserable wedding plans.
����������� "There you are, child!" her mother announced, bustling energetically onto the verandah. "I have been looking everywhere for you. Mr. Perkins is here."
����������� Clara went a little cold with dread. God, forgive her, but she hated when Mr. Perkins came to call.
����������� "He wishes to take you for a ride," her mother twittered. "Go and fetch your bonnet. I do hope he doesn't comment on your freckles." Her mother peered at the dusting on her nose, a remnant of her French Quarter misadventure.
����������� "Can't you tell him I'm not well?" Clara asked, hopefully.
����������� "Now, Clara." Her mother, under the guise of an affectionate gesture, tucked a few strand curls back into Clara's chignon. "If you would give Mr. Perkins half a chance, you might grow fond of him. He is certainly fond of you. And that makes it a good match for you. Better than you could have hoped for. It is something to build upon. It is certainly more than your father and I had. And yet look how well we turned out."
����������� Clara did not feel her parents had turned out particularly well. But she tried to manage a smile for her.
����������� "Good girl. Now fetch your bonnet. And don't look so glum. Mr. Perkins deserves a happy fianc�e, wouldn't you say, lambkin? And then when you get back we really must discuss the orange blossom issue again."
����������� Clara didn't even know what the orange blossom issue was. "Yes, Mama," said Clara, automatically. She forced herself to walk into the house, her feet feeling like lead. In a haze of habit, she found a bonnet and placed it over her hair, walked to the front hall, where Mr. Perkins was waiting, offered him her hand.
����������� He bowed over it. "How beautiful you look, my dearest darling."
����������� This profusion of endearments never failed to irritate her. She was not his dearest darling. They barely knew each other. Randolph Perkins was not particularly unattractive. Eleanor thought he was quite devastatingly handsome. Clara wished she could feel the same way. For some reason, his soft pink lips, his china blue eyes, his long eyelashes, his thick luxurious brown hair, all of it filled her with an urgent distaste that she couldn't place. It was as if her inner organs recoiled from him instinctively.
����������� "You are a trifle sunburnt, though, muffin, are you not?"
����������� Clara tried to smile at him. "Just a bit warm, Mr. Perkins."
����������� He looked pleased at that, pressed the hand he was still holding, then glanced at her mother. "We shall be back. Just a brief ride. Clara is right. It is warm."
����������� Her mother beamed. "Have a lovely time."
����������� Clara, still feeling like she was doing things through a haze, allowed Mr. Perkins to help her into his carriage and settle next to her.
����������� "Nevertheless I do think you are developing some freckles, Clara," he said, at length. "You must watch your complexion, my pet."
����������� Clara flickered a smile. She wished she could faint. Then maybe he would take her home. She concentrated on trying to faint.
����������� They did not talk. They seldom spoke. They had nothing to talk about, she thought. Clara had a vision of endless dinners, the two of them at opposite ends of the table, eating in silence. She had to find Mr. Trenier.
����������� Mr. Perkins drew the carriage up beside the park. "Shall we walk?" he inquired.
����������� She looked at him in surprise. "In the heat?" she asked. "In the park?" Both things surprised her. Mr. Perkins was not much for the outdoors.
����������� He smiled at her. "Just for a bit," he assured her, stepping out and walking around the carriage to help her out of it.
����������� He tucked her hand into his elbow and led her to a small grove of trees, under which it was a bit cooler. "That's quite a pretty bonnet," he said.
����������� "Thank you, Mr. Perkins."
����������� "Randolph," he reminded her.
����������� She tried to smile. "Randolph," she repeated, obediently.
����������� And then, suddenly, abruptly, his mouth was on hers. She felt as if she had had no warning, and she was startled by it. She endured it, as she normally did his embraces, but this one was different, had taken a distinct turn. His hands were suddenly on her breasts, pressing at them. Clara, shocked, tried to think what to do under the onslaught. Mr. Perkins, apparently unaware of her lack of enthusiasm, groaned most unattractively and then, all of a sudden, his tongue was inside her mouth.
����������� Clara gave a gasp of horror, that he, apparently, misunderstood, drawing back a hair, his hands still possessively pressing at her breasts. "Oh, I knew you were longing for me, as I have been longing for you. Clara, Clara."
����������� Clara had never thought her name had sounded uglier. A tense nausea was filling her, brewing within her, a panic. He had pressed her against a tree, his tongue rubbing against hers again.
����������� She pulled her head away, saying his name, which she hoped would give him pause. "Randolph," she said. "Randolph, please. Not here."
����������� "There is no one here," he said, urgently, leaning his head back toward her again.
����������� "But, Randolph, I-"
����������� "Your modesty is really very becoming, Clara," he assured her, impatiently, "but I have really had enough of it. We are to be married soon. I see no problem with us being as man and wife."
����������� Clara's eyes widened, as Mr. Perkins bit unpleasantly at her neck. He did not really mean to...She had only the vaguest ideas of what the marital act entailed, but she did have an idea that if she allowed Mr. Perkins to perform it, her plan would go for naught. There would be no turning back. She would be Mrs. Randolph Perkins for the rest of her life. She tried desperately to think.
����������� "Oh," she said. "Nor do I, my...darling." She hoped the endearment did not sound ridiculous. "I have been thinking of nothing but...with eagerness."
����������� Mr. Perkins looked up. He looked, unpleasantly, like a slobbering dog. "Really, my sweeting?"
����������� Clara tried a smile. "Oh, yes. But I...I am not ready today. I apologize, but I had planned...a surprise." Oh, please let this be believable, she thought, desperately.
����������� "We can have the surprise later," he told her, rubbing a thumb with distressing familiarity over one of her nipples.
����������� Clara looked down at her hands on her dress, over her breasts, still feeling in danger of becoming ill. "Oh, but Randolph," she said, catching his hands up in both of hers. "I was so...I have spent so much time thinking of how...wonderful I would be for you when...The surprise is so lovely. Really, it is so important to me."
����������� Mr. Perkins said an unpleasant word that made her flush. Then he said, "Really? Is it really that important to you?"
����������� "Yes," she said, firmly.
����������� "Then I suppose I can wait until tomorrow."
����������� Until tomorrow? she thought, in chagrin. There was no time. No time to wait for Mr. Trenier to come to her. She was going to have to go to Mr. Trenier.
����������� She and Mr. Perkins did not speak again on the return trip home. Clara, complaining of faintness, went directly up to her room and looked at herself in the mirror. She had an unpleasant mark on her neck where Mr. Perkins had bit her, and, annoyed, wrapped a scrap of lace around her neck to hide it.
����������� Then she went outside, where Delinda, the black maid, was hanging out the laundry.
����������� "I have a question for you, Delinda," she announced.
����������� Delinda peered at her. "What's that, Miss Clara?"
����������� "Do you know a Mr. Trenier?"
����������� "Mr. Trenier?" Delinda echoed. "Jean-Marc Trenier? How do you know him?"
����������� Jean-Marc Trenier. A pleasant thrill shivered over her, right down to her toes. The same thrill she got whenever she thought of him. Although she did not know it, she smiled so brightly that she shone dazzling in the fading afternoon sunlight. "I met him at a party," she said, which was close enough to the truth.
����������� Delinda shook her head. "It's no use."
����������� "No use?"
����������� "Every woman who meets Jean-Marc Trenier falls in love with Jean-Marc Trenier. You are not the first, Miss Clara. More experienced women than you fool themselves into thinking they can make him love them back. Marguerite Papillon, for one."
����������� "Marguerite Papillon?" Clara repeated.
����������� Delinda snorted. "As if that's her name," she muttered.
����������� "Who is she?"
����������� "Not the sort of woman you need to know about, Miss Clara. Look, there's no need to ask me questions about Jean-Marc Trenier. You have a pleasant fianc� who doesn't spend every free night at Storyville. Didn't you have a nice ride with Mr. Perkins?"
����������� "A lovely ride," said Clara, thinking, Storyville...
Tucker Trenier looked at the silent, stationary luggage carousel and forced himself to face the truth. His luggage was not there. He was so exhausted, so bleary-eyed, that even after forcing himself to face the truth, he could not make himself move to the little office to report his missing luggage. It took him several more dumb minutes before he forced his feet over there.
����������� "I have lost my luggage," he told the woman at the counter.
����������� "Just a moment, sir," she told him, typing away on the computer in front of her.
����������� Tucker stood where he was, swayed a bit on his feet, felt his eyelids start to droop, and then she said, "Where did you last see it?"
����������� Tucker blinked himself awake. "What?"
����������� "Where did you last see your luggage?"
����������� "Disappearing behind the check-in desk at Charles de Gaulle," he replied, a trifle tartly.
����������� The woman lifted her eyebrows. "Then you didn't lose your luggage."
����������� "No," he agreed. "You did."
����������� "The airline, sir. I had nothing to do with it, and there is no reason to take that tone with me."
����������� Tucker looked at her in disbelief. Had he taken a tone? "I'm sorry," he said, stiffly. "I'm very tired. Could I just put in a claim, please?"
����������� "You're sure it's not here?"
����������� Tucker gestured toward the empty baggage carousel. "Do you see any bags over there?"
����������� "Again, sir, there is no need for such a tone."
����������� "I'm sorry-"
����������� "Let's just take a moment to get our tempers in check, shall we?"
����������� This was ridiculous. Tucker reached into the pocket of his jeans, pulled out his wallet, took out his drivers' license and a twenty-dollar bill. "Here," he said, shortly. "I'm going to need my luggage."
����������� The woman smiled broadly. "Of course, sir," she said, pleasantly, typing his information into the computer.
����������� Tucker took his driver's license back and, scowling, thought it was just damn wonderful to be back in New Orleans.
����������� He hailed a cab and went to Reid's office. He did not know the receptionist, and the receptionist looked vaguely alarmed when he asked to see Reid.
����������� "And your name is what, sir?" she asked, in disbelief, as people sometimes did when he said his name.
����������� "Tucker," he repeated, hoping the receptionist wasn't going to call him on his tone.
����������� The receptionist disappeared into the back, and reappeared with Reid.
����������� "Tucker," he said, warmly. "You didn't say you were coming home."
����������� "It was a little unexpected."
����������� "You look like hell."
����������� "Thanks. Can I have your keys?"
����������� "My keys?" Reid repeated.
����������� "I need to crash at your place for a little while. I'm dead on my feet."
����������� Reid was reaching under his white doctor's coat, pulling his keys out of his pocket. "Why can't you crash at your place?"
����������� "There's nothing at my place. And I lost my luggage."
����������� "You lost your luggage? What did you do with it?"
����������� "Not me," he clarified, annoyed, accepting Reid's keys. "The airline lost my luggage."
����������� "Huh," said Reid. "Welcome home."
����������� "Right," Tucker agreed, sardonically, as he headed back to his waiting cab.
����������� Reid's French Quarter townhouse was decorated in Asian chic, cool and quiet. Tucker supposed Reid's latest paramour had liked Asian chic. Tucker registered nothing else before dropping onto Reid's bed and falling immediately asleep.
����������� When he woke it was dark out, and there was a lamp burning in the room. Tucker sat up, momentarily disoriented.
����������� "Good," said Reid, stepping out of his walk-in closet with clothes in his hands. "You're awake."
����������� Tucker scrubbed a hand over his face. "Somewhat. What time is it?"
����������� "Almost seven. We have reservations at Antoine's. Hurry up and get ready."
����������� "Reservations at Antoine's?" Tucker echoed, blankly. "Who told you to make reservations at Antoine's?"
����������� "I called Kingsley. He's coming over. We're doing a night on the town to welcome you home. All three Grand Dukes in New Orleans for a time. Dinner at Antoine's definitely applies."
����������� "I'm tired. I'm not going out."
����������� "Kingsley won't be happy to hear that. Here." Reid tossed the clothing at him.
����������� "What's that?"
����������� "They should fit. You can't wear what you're wearing to Antoine's. They won't let you in."
����������� "I'm Tucker Trenier," Tucker yawned.
����������� "You don't look like a New Orleans Trenier at the moment. Take a shower."
����������� Tucker, feeling the outcome of the discussion was inexorable, rolled out of bed. "What's with the Asian house?"
����������� Reid made a face and walked out of the bedroom.
����������� Tucker, chuckling, wandered into the bathroom and looked at his reflection in the mirror. Reid was right. Antoine's wouldn't recognize him. He took a shower and shaved and pulled on the pants and shirt Reid had thrown at him, and, feeling a great deal better and more cheerful at the prospect of a night in the Quarter, walked out into Reid's living area, which was dominated by low couches. Kingsley Robichaux was sitting on one, his knees practically higher than ears.
����������� "You look like an idiot," Tucker told him, by way of greeting.
����������� "Reid needs to get a new girlfriend so we can get rid of this furniture," Kingsley answered. "You look fine."
����������� "You sound surprised."
����������� "Reid told me you looked like death warmed over."
����������� Tucker looked at Reid, who was mixing drinks in his kitchen. Reid shrugged.
����������� Tucker, sighing, perched on the arm of one of the uncomfortable sofas. "I'd been traveling for hours. And the airline lost my luggage."
����������� "You've had a bad day," said Kingsley. "You need some easy tourists. We'll do Pat O'Brien's after Antoine's."
����������� "I hate Pat O'Brien's," said Tucker, as Reid handed him his standard drink of Scotch neat.
����������� "Yeah, but that's because you'd advanced beyond Pat O'Brien's," said Kingsley.
����������� "We think you're back at square one," agreed Reid.
����������� "Thanks so much for the vote of confidence."
����������� "How was Paris?" asked Kingsley.
����������� "It was fine until my mother got there."
����������� Kingsley and Reid both grinned.
����������� "Why didn't you stop her?" Tucker asked, sourly.
����������� "You know how she is," said Reid.
����������� "You're her only son, Tucker," Kingsley said, mock seriously. "She cannot live without having you in her sight."
����������� "Yeah, until she finds some guy to distract her. Thank God for that. She's deep into it with some French guy, and I crept out of the country with her none the wiser. Hopefully it will be months before she surfaces and realizes I'm not in the same time zone anymore."
����������� "I can never get over the ease with which you talk of your mother having lovers," commented Reid.
����������� "My mother's much easier to deal with when she has another male to flutter over. I have learned to embrace my mother's lovers."
����������� "How slowly are you drinking that Scotch?" asked Kingsley, looking at the level of alcohol in the glass.
����������� Tucker looked at it in surprise.
����������� "Oh, you are definitely in need of some easy marks," Kingsley decided.
����������� "Very out of practice." Reid nodded gravely.
����������� Tucker, glaring at them, tossed back the rest of the Scotch.
����������� "There you go," said Kingsley, approvingly.
����������� "A lifetime of New Orleans is not destroyed by a year in Paris, my friends," Tucker proclaimed, grandly.
����������� "We'll see," said Kingsley.
����������� Reid stood. "Hurry up. Your slow drinking has us in danger of losing our reservation."
����������� "We're the Grand Dukes of the Mysticke Krewe of Theseus. Antoine's has a room named after us. We're not losing our reservation," said Tucker. Their identities were supposed to be secret. It was the worst-kept secret in New Orleans. And that was saying something.
����������� Kingsley was regarding him doubtfully.
����������� "What?" asked Tucker, as he stood.
����������� "Yes, definitely Pat O'Brien's tonight."
����������� Tucker rolled his eyes. "Did you bring me my car?" he asked.
����������� "Yes, about that," said Kingsley. "I'm not sure you're in any state yet to drive your car."
����������� Tucker stepped outside and sucked in his breath at the sight of the silver Porsche in the courtyard, gleaming in the moonlight. He smiled fondly. "There she is." He walked over to it. "This is what I missed most in Paris."
����������� "You're still a bit jetlagged. I think I should drive," said Kingsley, earnestly.
����������� "You're a mess," commented Reid, following them into the courtyard and pulling a coat on in the chill. "The pair of you."
����������� "I haven't driven her in so long. And she is mine. I'm driving. And I'm taking her home tonight."
����������� Kingsley, looking resigned, held out the keys.
����������� "You do realize that the most serious sexual relationship you've ever had is with this car?" remarked Reid.
����������� Tucker caught himself running his hand over the hood in an affectionate stroke, and hastily drew his hand back and opened the door. "It is not," he retorted, defensively.
����������� "Even if it was," said Kingsley, "he'd be totally justified. You're a freak for not appreciating this car."
����������� "It's a car, for God's sake," Reid grumbled, sliding into the tiny, uncomfortable back seat.
����������� Tucker settled in the driver's seat, turned the car on and listened to the engine hum. He pressed on the accelerator, and the car purred in response. Tucker smiled and leaned his head back against the seat. "Okay, I take it back. If it isn't the most serious sexual relationship I've ever had, it's definitely the most satisfying."
����������� "She runs just as well for me, you know," Kingsley commented, watching Tucker shift into reverse and punch out of the courtyard.
����������� "Oh, I doubt it. I have a magic touch with this car."
����������� "Your car is fickle," Kingsley told him. "She responds to anyone."
����������� "She's a car," said Reid from the back seat. "It's a car."
����������� Tucker looked at Kingsley. "I'll still let you visit her. And you can take care of her again next time I'm out of town."
����������� "I'm calling your mother and telling her you're home tonight," said Kingsley.
����������� Tucker laughed and relaxed finally. He was home. "You lose car rights then, Robichaux."
����������� "Dammit," said Kingsley.
Clara had never been to Storyville. Indeed, she had only the vaguest idea of where it was. But that did not stop her from slipping out of the house late, when she was sure everyone was asleep, and tramping off in its general direction. It was vitally important that she find Jean-Marc Trenier before Mr. Perkins came to call the next day.
����������� Jean-Marc Trenier. She liked the name. She'd been saying the name over and over in her head all evening, through the interminable dinner, while she laid awake in bed waiting for the rest of the household to settle down. Jean-Marc Trenier. And no matter Delinda's opinion of him, she knew he was going to save her. She knew it.
����������� She started out fresh and confident, and slowly, as the walk dragged on, grew more and more dispirited. Even at night, it was still relentlessly humid. The wet air clung to her. She could feel the hair she'd so carefully arranged for Jean-Marc Trenier's benefit drooping slowly, she could feel the dress getting more bedraggled, and she began to be annoyed. Why must Storyville be so far away?
����������� When she finally reached it, she knew it long before she got there, because she could hear the noise: laughter, yelling, a loud, jarring piano. Clara began to think, for the first time, that she might be in over her head. Perhaps coming to Storyville had been a mistake. Clara walked carefully around a couple of men who were engaging in a rather bloody fistfight and steeled herself, walking up to a man who was leaning on a porch watching the fistfight listlessly.
����������� "Excuse me," she said.
����������� The man shifted his eyes to her in evident surprise. "Who are you?"
����������� "I am looking for Jean-Marc Trenier. Do you know him?"
����������� "Trenier?" he echoed, incredulously. "Who doesn't know Trenier?"
����������� "Good. Can you take me to him?"
����������� "You want to be taken to Trenier?" The man's eyes raked her up and down, and Clara wished she had brought a shawl, something to cover her figure with, despite the heat. Then the man smiled slowly. "I'll take you directly to Trenier. I'm sure he is at Papillon's. And this should be something to see."
����������� There was that name again. Papillon. Clara narrowed her eyes a little, and followed her escort to a rather grand house. The man walked familiarly up the stairs and into the house, and Clara scurried behind him.
����������� "Hector!" cried a barely dressed girl upon seeing him, and she jumped up from the sofa on which she'd been lounging.
����������� "Hello, Leonie," he said, familiarly, and gave her a rather messy kiss that widened Clara's eyes. In order to avoid seeing any more, she averted her gaze. The front drawing room was smallish but very richly decorated. Almost too richly decorated. Clara felt all the red velvet was suffocating.
����������� "That must hold for a moment," said the man called Hector, and Clara, deducing that the kiss was over, looked at him again. He gestured at her, and said, "She's looking for Trenier."
����������� Leonie gave her an appraising look. "She is?"
����������� "Is he here?"
����������� "Yes. And he's sulky as usual." Leonie's lips twitched. "Can't wait to see what Papillon thinks about this." Then Leonie swept out of the room.
����������� Clara supposed she was fetching Mr. Trenier, and stood trying to look her prettiest, her most alluring, for when Jean-Marc Trenier walked into the room.
See? This is what I mean," said Kingsley, shouting to be heard over the din. "You've lost your touch."
����������� Tucker, sipping his beer, looked at him. "What do you mean?"
����������� "You scented that blonde the instant we walked in here. You've been watching her all night. And you have not made a single move in her direction."
����������� "I haven't been watching the blonde." Tucker drained his beer to start in on the new one Reid slid in front of him.
����������� "Reid," said Kingsley.
����������� "Hasn't Tucker been watching that blonde all night?"
����������� "Oh, God, yes." Reid looked at Tucker. "I checked her out a bit for you while I was up at the bar just now. She looks a bit bored. And she's drinking hurricanes. The time is ripe, Trenier."
����������� "The time is not ripe for anything. Why can't I just enjoy the evening? Why do I have to go flirt with some silly blonde in a bar?"
����������� Kingsley sighed in disgust.
����������� Tucker glanced over at the blonde at the bar. To say she was a blonde was not to do her justice. She had sheets of pale blonde hair, silvery gold, and it shimmered, even in the dim light of Pat O'Brien's. She was dressed in jeans and a small, furry black sweater. The jeans hugged her figure. From behind, she looked absolutely mouth-watering. And for some reason Tucker could not gather himself to approach her. Kingsley was a bit right. He was out of practice here.
����������� "I'm going to go talk to her," announced Kingsley.
����������� Tucker's head whipped toward him. "What?"
����������� "If you're not going to take her, she's up for grabs."
����������� Tucker stood immediately, threading his way through the crowd until he was standing behind her. And then he stopped and wondered what to do next. He had not had a plan. That had been a bit foolish.
����������� And he knew Kingsley and Reid were watching him and he couldn't delay much longer or he would be ridiculed for the rest of his life, when he was old and gray, for his inaction with some random blonde at Pat O'Brien's.
����������� "Hi," he said, squeezing into the space next to her at the bar.
����������� She looked up at him in surprise. She would turn out to be downright stunning, Tucker thought, in something like annoyance. She had eyes that were paradoxically bright and smoky, full sinful lips. "Hi," she answered him.
����������� He leaned his head toward her, so she could hear him. "I'm Tucker."
����������� She hesitated for an instant. He saw it. "Arabella," she said, finally.
����������� If Arabella was her real name, he'd march naked when Theseus rolled at Mardi Gras that year. Tucker shrugged mentally. "Drinking hurricanes?" he asked, looking at the obvious glass in front of her.
����������� "Yes," she admitted.
����������� Tucker grinned. "Can I get you a hot coffee?"
����������� She laughed. She had a light, pleasant laugh. Tucker found himself leaning closer to her to hear her laugh. "I'm so glad you said that. I thought I must be a terrible lightweight."
����������� "They're tricky. How many have you had?"
����������� "Yes, that's quite enough for a girl your size."
����������� "Is this a scientific determination?"
����������� "I'm a native. I know my way around hurricanes. Seriously, can I buy you something else? Anything at all."
����������� A woman suddenly lurched her way between them, giggling. "We're taking off," she shouted at the blonde.
����������� "Oh," said the blonde. Tucker refused to think of her as Arabella. She shifted her eyes to look at him. "Oh," she said again.
����������� The woman looked at him, too, and put two and two together a bit drunkenly. "Oh, you can stay," she said to the blonde, lurching away.
����������� The blonde looked after her, then back at Tucker. "I'm sorry," she said, apologetically. "But I don't know my way around, and I just..." She trailed off, and Tucker filled in the blanks. She'd just met him. He could be a raving lunatic. A serial killer.
����������� "I understand," he said, sending her an easy smile, although he was inwardly a bit miffed at himself for having taken so long to approach her.
����������� "It was nice meeting you," she shouted. He had to duck his head down to hear it, and then he smiled in reply, rather than shouting back at her.
����������� She departed.
����������� Tucker took a sip of his beer to delay going back to the table.
����������� A woman's hand was suddenly on the nape of his neck. He lifted his head in startled surprise and had a quick impression of silver blonde hair before her mouth closed onto his. Tucker, shocked, could think to do nothing but lift his hands and anchor them into that curtain of hair. It felt cool and soft, like silken water in his hands, and he gathered it up.
����������� For some reason, he felt as if he had been kissing every woman, his whole life through, looking for this one. The kiss was almost frantic in its immediacy, and it got deep quickly, the friction of their tongues demanding. Tucker shifted her, cupped a hand around her hip to adjust their fit together, and she sighed into his mouth, leaning against him. The need to be inside of her washed over him in a frightening roar of thunder. He had never ever before in his life wanted any woman this urgently, this quickly, this devastatingly.
����������� Tucker's elbow hit something as he tried to gain better access to the woman in his arms. He felt it and lifted his head blearily, momentarily, to clear space for him to work. He had knocked over his beer, and it occurred to him that he was in a bar. He could not get this woman on the nearest flat surface. Not here. He was shocked to discover that he had been quite ready to have sex with this girl on the bar at Pat O'Brien's.
����������� "Get a room," the bartender growled at him, mopping up the spilled beer.
����������� Tucker thought he had never heard such a fabulous idea. The blonde was gasping for breath, her head against his shoulder, her hands clutched around his forearms. Tucker, his hands still resting on her hips, gave them a gentle caress before he could help himself and then said, "Listen-"
����������� And just like that she was gone. Slipped out of his embrace and darted away from him, quickly swallowed up by the New Orleans crowd. Tucker gaped after her, trying to decide what to do, then finally swiped a hand through his hair and headed back to the table, trying to gather his self-control. Whatever had just happened had been terrifying, otherworldly. He was a little relieved the girl had run off. She may have been some sort of witch. This seemed eminently plausible to him. A witch who would have stolen his soul had he made love to her.
����������� Reid and Kingsley were both gaping at him. He gave them a crooked, innocent smile and sat at the table.
����������� "What the hell was that?" Kingsley demanded.
����������� Tucker shrugged, affecting a nonchalance he didn't feel. He was, honestly, feeling a bit shaken. "A kiss."
����������� "That was not a kiss," Kingsley told him. "I don't know what that was, but...it shouldn't have been happening in a public place."
����������� "Do you realize that...I was two breaths away from getting up to tap you on the shoulder to remind you that this wasn't your bedroom," said Reid, severely, clearly disapproving of the spectacle Tucker had just provided.
����������� "It was a kiss," said Tucker. "This is New Orleans. You are overreacting."
����������� Kingsley and Reid continued to stare at him.
����������� "So who was she?" Kingsley asked, finally.
����������� Tucker, sighing, admitted, "I don't know."