Editor’s Note: Anne Marie is currently working on a project involving two of my favorite things, one of them being New Orleans and the other… well, I don’t want to reveal too much. In this excerpt, we get to meet the unique character of Steven, who certainly has a way with words, among other talents. I like how, even though we aren’t sure what’s going on, Anne Marie leaves us wanting to know more. Enjoy.
Perfectly Laid Plans
A gentleman with flaming red curls mingled his way through the candlelit tables, whispering in ears and returning nods before settling in his reserved seat to intercept the gaze of his perfectly coiffed date. “Your eyes reflect every shade of emerald in this room. I could positively drown.”
The man’s fork paused in mid-air.
“Has dinner been to your liking?”
“Exceptional, Mister Steven. I’ve had two helpings of the special.”
“Ah, the visiting fish. Pompano with crab meat in a sherry cream sauce—one of my childhood favorites.” Steven redirected the fork and inhaled the spicy aroma before feeding him the morsel. “We’re well enough acquainted, no need to call me Mister.”
The young man unbuttoned his collar and exposed his throat.
“And, no excuse to rush.” Steven raised the man’s palm to his lips, delicately puncturing the skin. “We have all night.”
The man gasped when Steven licked droplets of his blood, but cringed at crashing in the hallway. “Doesn’t all the racket distract you?”
“It’s the French Quarter, darling. Chaos is eternal.” Steven’s eyelids drifted closed even as a security guard flashed behind him.
“Sorry to interrupt, sir.” The guard tapped his shoulder and flinched back.
“Yet, you so rudely have.”
“There’s a heartbeat at the door.”
“Shoo it away.” Steven inched closer to his companion. “We have all the living guests required for tonight.”
“We’ve tried.” The guard kicked the chair and flattened his back against the wall. “The female won’t leave.”
“Damn it.” Steven dabbed the corners of his mouth with white linen. He squeezed his companion’s bleeding hand over a crystal goblet and stared into his eyes. “Be a good boy and don’t move a muscle til’ I come back.” He traced his finger along the frozen, chiseled jaw before turning his full anger on the guard. “Remind me never to hire you for another event.”
“She’s a persistent bitch.” The guard chased Steven as he strode across the room. “Wants to talk to the boss.”
Before they reached the door, a young nurse knocked the sentries back and barged in. “I demand to see Dr. Banitierre.”
“Quite sure he’s entangled at the moment.” Steven snapped his fingers at the room behind him while his eyes traveled over her attire. “Is tonight Halloween?”
“Meaning what?” The nurse pointed at him and waved a sealed letter just out of his reach. “Don’t you dare shoo me.”
Steven swatted her finger away and fixated on the envelope’s gold emblem. “Never mind—follow me.”
“Don’t worry. The seal is unbroken.” She hissed. “But, this is how I found your clandestine gathering.”
“Terrific. Another security breach.” Steven spun around and raised his voice to address the murmuring crowd. “Guest in the…” He squared his shoulders, adjusted the button on his suit jacket and rolled his eyes. “Nurse in the dining room!”
Curtains at the back of the chamber fluttered, and a dark figure emerged from the shadows. “I heard my name.”
“Dr Banitierre, a nurse.” Steven swept his hand out to present the guest. “Apparently.”
“What gave her away, the cap?” The doctor asked.
“We need—” She dropped the envelope and stared at tables full of crystal and empty plates. “Your hospital is completely out of food.”
“My instructions were precise.” The doctor plucked the envelope off the carpet. “Full meals, delivered to my night shift.”
“When we were finished. It’s only three…” Steven tapped his watch and glared at the waiters. “Box it all up. Now!”
“The day staff went to bed hungry.”
“That will not do.” The doctor frowned at guests licking their lips and salivating behind the nurse’s back. “Steven, control your idiots while I deal with the kitchen.”
“Did I not say, nurse in the dining room?” Steven threw his hands up and grabbed a platter of appetizers off the nearest table. “Are you all deaf?”
“We thought you were kidding.” A blond man wrestled the plate back while the lady perched on his lap grabbed a handful of strawberries.
Steven looked down his nose. “Going to eat those, little tramp?”
“No, she’ll just suck the chocolate off, like you did last night.”
“All right, then…” Steven forced a smile and offered fruit to his guest.
“I know what you all are.” The nurse waved the food away.
“Suit yourself, but stop glowering at me like I’m the enemy.”
“Just checking my hair in the mirror—I’m sorry, I meant your face.” One corner of her mouth twitched up. “If you were any paler, you’d be translucent.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment, Ms…” Steven stared at her nametag and fanned his face with both hands.
“Don’t worry, I’m not my grandmother.” The nurse crossed her arms. “Were you one of her favorites?”
“She was my teacher, but I was a lousy student.” Steven fumbled for a drink, gulped wine without looking and vomited it back in the glass. “What the devil is that?”
“The house red.” The blond man struggled not to laugh. “Shall I send it back?”
“Spare us all and send it somewhere.” Steven grabbed a bottle of water and gagged the first sip into his napkin. “I said no sparkling!”
“With all due respect, sir,” The guard offered him a seat. “You aren’t even looking at the labels.”
Steven flopped onto the chair. When he whirled around, the full chamber of snickering guests froze.
The guard begged the crowd for decorum with a slicing gesture across his neck. “You’re wheezing, sir.”
“And you’re bloody fired.” Steven bolted up and clamped his nose shut while the room collapsed into silent laughter. “Where’s the damn food?”
An army of men scampered out of the kitchen juggling boxes. “We’ll deliver these, sir.”
“This is all the dessert left?” Steven peeked under the lids and flicked his hand at the room. “Of course it is. Animals.” He handed the nurse two pink bags of bread pudding and crammed a bottle of wine in each one. “Lagniappe.”
“No kidding.” Steven scrubbed his tongue with a napkin. “Just in case you’re too lazy a cast a spell.”
“You haven’t seen my hexes yet, blood sucker.”
“Connoisseur.” Steven pinched the air with his fingers. “Please.”
“Guzzler, is more like it.”
“Hope you land in a sugar coma, nursey.”
“I didn’t risk my life coming here so I could hog all the dessert. This is for my co-workers who actually save people, instead of slurping them like malted milk shakes.”
“This was a magnificent party until you showed up. Every detail, executed to perfection.”
“Think these clowns are your friends?” The nurse kinked her neck at the crowd. “Your head is up your ass.”
“Oooo…the mouth on you, girl. Would make your grandmother proud.” Steven clapped his hands to a slow beat. “Bon travail, mini-witch.”
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