His hand caressed up my thigh without restriction, as I still had nothing on under the robe. A primal sound came from me when his fingers stroked between my legs.
"Seems you enjoyed it, too," he whispered.
I tugged at his shirt, ignored the pieces of the table everywhere, and slid my legs around him.
"I need you."
I wasn't just talking about how much I wanted him. I'd hated the distance between us the past few days. Right now, I was desperate to feel close to him. To believe that everything would work out, no matter how crazy things got.
He pushed me back against the couch, yanking down his pants. I groaned at the deluge of sensations his first thrust caused, biting his shoulder to keep from shouting at how good it felt.
Bones pressed my head closer as he moved deeper inside me. "Harder," he said with a moan.
I sank my teeth in, swallowing his blood when I broke his skin. The small wound healed as soon as I drew away to kiss him.
His mouth covered mine, stealing my breath with the intensity of his kiss. "I love it when you bite me," Bones growled once I broke away to gasp in air.
I held him tighter, my fingernails digging into his back. "Show me how much."
A low laugh escaped him. He began to move faster.
"I intend to."
Bones woke me with beignets and coffee, and we lingered in bed a while afterward. The surliness between us from before was gone, at least for the time being.
Since my meeting with Marie was tonight, we were still under her guest column, so we still had safe passage in the city. To take advantage of that, we toured the French Quarter. I didn't need a jacket with the hot August weather, but I did put on sunscreen.
Bones led me from Bourbon Street to Jackson Square, then to the Saint Louis Cathedral, which looked very similar to some of the churches I'd glimpsed in Paris. After that, we stopped at Lafitte's Blacksmith shop, one of the oldest buildings in the Quarter. While outside sipping a gin and tonic at one of the tables, I looked up to find a ghost suddenly standing next to us.
"Sod off, mate," Bones told him. "As I was saying, luv, during the Great Fire - "
"It's wretched justice that only the crazies care enough to talk to you when you're dead," the ghost muttered. "No vampire or ghoul will even bid you good day."
Bones made an irritated noise. "Right then, good day, now off you go."
"She'll wonder who you're talking to," the ghost smirked in my direction. "Think you're mad, she will - "
"I can see you," I interrupted.
If someone partially transparent could look baffled, he did. Eyes that might have been blue narrowed.
"You don't feel touched," he accused.
"You mean psychic? I'm many things, but not that. Isn't it a little rude, though, to plop down and start chatting away when we were having a conversation? You didn't even say 'excuse me.'"
"Kitten, I warned you about talking to them." Bones sighed.
"I didn't think you'd speak to me," the ghost replied, starting to smile. "The undead" - he nodded at Bones - "just ignore us. They're among the few who can see us, but they don't even care!"
He spoke with such impassioned resonance, I would have patted him if he had been solid. Instead, I gave him a sympathetic smile.
"What's your name? I'm Cat."
He bowed, his head going through the table. "I am Fabian du Brac. Born 1877, died 1922."
Bones leaned back in his chair. "Fabian, splendid to meet you. Now, if you please, we're rather busy."
"You're Bones," the ghost stated. "I've seen you before. You're always too busy to talk to us."
"Bloody right I am, nosy spectre - "
"Bones." I tugged his arm. "He knows who you are!"
"Kitten, what does that..."
His voice trailed off as what I was mentally shouting penetrated. Then he turned his full attention to Fabian and smiled.
"Why, mate, I reckon you're right. Sometimes I need to be reminded of my manners, I do. Born in 1877, you say? I remember 1877. Times were better then, weren't they?"
Bones was right about ghosts being talkative. Fabian blathered on rapturously about bygone days, the sewage of modern culture, favorite presidents, and the changes in Louisiana. He was like a walking encyclopedia. It was amazing how much a phantom could pick up. Like, for example, the recent influx of out-of-town ghouls in New Orleans. Their hushed gatherings. Gregor's name kept popping up, along with whispers about a threat to the ghoul species.
"Gregor and ghouls, eh?" Bones prodded. "What more did they say?"
Fabian gave him a shrewd look. "I don't want to be forgotten any longer."
"Of course not," Bones agreed. "I've got a grand memory, I'll remember you forever."
"That's not what he means."
It was one of the few times I'd spoken in their conversation. Hell, I couldn't swap tales about early-twentieth-century life, the sadness of seeing automobiles replace horses, or what the air smelled like before fossil fuels. But this part I understood.
"Fabian wants companionship," I said. "He's lonely. That's what you mean, isn't it?"
"Yes." Maybe it was the reflection of the sunlight, but there could have been tears in the ghost's eyes. "I want a home. Oh, I know I can't have a real family anymore, but I want to belong to someone again."
Some things never change. The need for companionship transcends mortality or immortality.
Bones had a resigned expression on his face. "Taking in strays, Kitten? Not without rules first. Any deviance from these, Fabian, would result in an immediate exorcism by the most qualified spook-slayer I could find, savvy?"
"I'm listening." Fabian tried to look blase, but he was almost quivering in excitement.
"First, you do not report any information about me, my wife, or my people to anyone alive, dead, undead, or otherwise. Got it?"
Fabian's head bobbed. "Agreed."
"Privacy is to be respected just as if you were a real boy, mate. If you think being a ghost allows for voyeurism, you're mistaken."
An indignant huff. "I will excuse your misassumption of my character on the basis of current debauchery, which is so common among modern persons."
"Is that a yes?" I asked with a laugh.
"Right." Bones cracked his knuckles. "And lastly, no bragging about your accommodations. I don't want to be chased everywhere by needy spirits. Not a bloody word, understood?"
"Then we have an agreement, Fabian du Brac."
The ghost smiled one of the happiest smiles I'd ever seen. Bones rose from his chair. I followed suit, taking a last swallow from my glass.
"All right, Fabian, you're one of mine now. Can't say it's the best arrangement you could aspire to, but I promise if you abide by our accord, you won't ever lack for a home again."
We left the outside patio area and headed back to the house, the ghost trailing behind us with one hand on my shoulder.
BONES TOLD ME TO WEAR BOOTS. AT FIRST I thought they were for storing weapons, but nothing beyond my feet went into my new leather boots. My other new clothes consisted of a pair of midnight-blue pants and a white blouse. I didn't have on any jewelry except for my engagement ring. Liza had wanted to do my hair, but I declined. This wasn't a party. It was a polite confrontation.
We left the house on foot after our escort arrived. His name was Jacques, and he was a ghoul. Jacques had skin dark as pitch, and a subdued but resonating power emanated from him. Bones had negotiated beforehand that he would walk with me to a certain point. After that, Jacques would show me the way. I wasn't armed, and my lack of weapons made me feel like I was only half-dressed. I missed my knives. They felt familiar and comforting to me. Guess that in itself marked me as a weirdo.
Bones walked abreast of me, my hand in his. From the sureness of his steps, he knew where we were going. Jacques didn't chat on the way. I didn't talk, either, not wanting to say anything the ghoul could later use against me. Just like being arrested, I had the right to remain silent. Of course, anything I wanted to say to Bones, I could just think at him. Times like this, his mind-reading skill came in handy.
Fabian hovered about a hundred feet away, flitting in and out of the buildings as if he were minding his own ghostly business. Jacques never once looked in his direction. It was amazing how ignored ghosts were by those who could see them. The age-old prejudice between the undead and the spectral dead was working to our advantage, however. Bones wasn't allowed to accompany me all the way to my appointment, but Fabian wasn't bound by any such agreement. Liza had been stunned when we brought him home with us. It hadn't occurred to her to befriend a ghost either.
We stopped at the gates of Saint Louis Cemetery Number One. Bones let go of my hand. I gave a look inside the locked burial grounds, and my brow went up.
"It's the entranceway to Marie's chamber," Bones replied, as if we were waiting at the front door of a house. "This is where I leave you, Kitten."
Great. At a graveyard. How reassuring. "So I'm meeting her inside the cemetery?"
"Not exactly." Bones had a tone that was both ironic and sympathetic. "Underneath it."
Jacques twisted a key in the gates' lock and gestured at me. "This way, Reaper."
If Marie Laveau wanted to disquiet someone with her version of home-court advantage, stepping inside the cemetery led by a creepy ghoul while the gates locked behind me was definitely the way to do it.
"Alrighty then. After you, Jacques."
Marie Laveau's crypt was one of the larger ones in the cemetery. It was tall, probably six feet, wider at the base and narrower toward the top. There was voodoo graffiti written on the side of it in the form of black x's. Dried and fresh flowers were laid at the front of the crypt, where a chipped inscription indicated the name of the legendary voodoo queen. All of these things I had a few seconds to notice before Jacques pointed to the dirt in front of the headstone and said something in Creole. Then the ground began to peel back.
From the grating sound, something electronic controlled the movement. Inside the small fenced area around the headstone, a square hole appeared. There was a dripping noise within, which made me wonder how anything could be underground in New Orleans without being flooded. Jacques didn't share my concern. He simply jumped into the black opening and repeated his earlier directive.
"This way, Reaper."
I peered into the complete darkness of the pit to see the shine of his eyes looking up at me. He was about twenty feet down. With a mental shrug, I braced myself and followed, feeling a small splash as I landed.
Jacques reached out to steady me, but I brushed him off. No need to play the helpless female. The opening above us began to close with that same low creaking sound at once, adding to the eeriness.
Over an inch of water covered the floor of what appeared to be a tunnel. There were no lights, and nowhere to go but forward. As I sloshed through the passageway after Jacques in the near blackness, I realized why Bones had insisted on the boots. They kept out whatever unpleasant squishy things I stepped on as I kept pace. The air was moist and had a moldy smell to it. When I reached a hand out, the wall was also wet. Still, I kept going, grateful that my inhuman vision meant I wasn't completely sightless in the darkness.
"I thought you couldn't build things underground in New Orleans," I remarked. "Doesn't this flood?"
Jacques glanced back at me while still walking. "It's always flooded. Unless you are invited underneath, the waters are released in the tunnel."
Well. Marie apparently used drowning as a deterrent. That was one way to control nosy tourists.
"That would only work on people dependent on breathing. What about the rest of the population?"
Jacques didn't reply. His verbal quota had probably been exceeded. After about thirty yards, we came to a metal door. It opened on well-greased hinges to reveal a lighted landing behind it. Jacques moved to the side to let me pass, then touched my arm as I went by him.
There was a whoosh. Suddenly the tunnel we'd just walked through was engulfed in protruding blades. They came out of the walls from all sides, as if we'd just entered inside a demon's mouth. A few feet back, and I'd have been julienned where I stood.
"Neat," I said. I could appreciate a good booby trap as much as the next person. "Must have cost a fortune, all that silver."
"They're not silver."
The woman's voice came from the top of the stairs in front of me. Smooth, buttery. Like creme brulee for the ears.
"They're steel blades," she continued. "I wouldn't want undead intruders killed. I'd want them alive and brought to me."
Just like before when I jumped into this rabbit hole, I braced myself. Then I walked up the stairs to meet the voodoo queen.
As stated on her headstone some seventy yards away, Marie Laveau had died in 1881. Beyond that, her being a ghoul and her reputation with voodoo was all I knew. Bones hadn't wanted to go into detail in her own backyard, so to speak. His caution spoke volumes about the person coming more clearly into view with my every step. From what I had heard about Marie, I half expected her to be seated on a throne, turbaned, with a headless chicken in one hand and a shrunken skull in the other. What I saw made me blink.
Marie was seated in an overstuffed chair, possibly a La-Z-Boy, bent over nothing more threatening than needlework. She had on a black dress with a white shawl thrown over her shoulders. On her feet were smart little heels that could have been Prada. With her shoulder-length dark hair curling around lightly made-up features, I had a weird flashback to a scene in a movie. She could have been bent over cookies, saying, "Smell good, don't they?" while I broke a vase that wasn't really there.