Authors: Jaye Wells
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Some cities are naturally holiday cities. London is a Christmas city. Paris is a Valentine’s Day city. And no place in the world is a Halloween city more than New Orleans.
Maybe I feel that way because my first introduction to the Big Easy happened over Halloween a few years ago. Back then I’d headed there to find my twin sister who’d been kidnapped by our psychotic grandmother, Lavinia. Now the grandmother was dead, Maisie was the leader of the underworld, and I was the leader of all the Dark Races in the corporeal world and had made the Big Easy home. Life was funny like that sometimes.
Or maybe it was that New Orleans always felt like a liminal space, where the veil between the living and the dead was gossamer thin. Often, walking down the streets of Faubourg Marigny or through one of the infamous Cities of the Dead, you could almost swear that the veil didn’t exist at all. It seemed the Big Easy, more than any other town in America, had long ago come to terms with its mortality, and its humans reveled in how close they danced with death. As an immortal, I found myself drawn to the ironic and inevitable sense of life their knowledge of death gave the city.
Yeah, a lot of people associate New Orleans with Fat Tuesday, a time of excess and gluttonous revelry. But one could argue that Mardi Gras was just one day and the celebrations leading up to it lasted a month, but every other day in New Orleans was Halloween.
Most of the Dark Races, like mages and the fae, call Halloween “Samhain,” and it was just around the corner when I returned to my beloved city after an extended trip to Europe. As the head of the Dark Races Cabinet, I had to travel whenever a major conflict broke out between the different species of non-human beings anywhere in the world. This particular trip had taken me to Scotland to mediate a problem between a community of faeries and a family of vampires who wanted to move into a sacred faery ring. After that, I’d swung through Italy and Spain for summits with various subcouncils over matters relating to everything from territory rights for the Strega covens in Rome to some new feeding laws the vampires in Barcelona wanted passed.
When I returned home on October 27, I’d been looking forward to spending time with my main squeeze, Adam Lazarus, a seriously hot mage who I’d somehow convinced to love me. Instead, I’d gotten called into a special session of the council by the heads of all the Dark Races in America.
Don’t get me wrong, uniting the Dark Races into a period of everlasting peace is great and all, but it’s also kind of…annoying. Diplomacy doesn’t exactly come naturally to me, and it’s especially difficult when I have to play mediator between a pissed-off werewolf and a stubborn fae monarch.
“Faeries don’t own the fucking Blue Ridge Mountains,” growled Michael Romulus, Alpha of the New York pack. He sat at one end of the table and Queen Maeve sat at the other, facing off like two gunslingers.
“Maybe not, but you weres shouldn’t be allowed to colonize anywhere you damned well please,” Queen Maeve shot back.
“Guys,” I said, “if you’ll stop yelling, I’m sure we can come up with some sort of mutually beneficial compromise here.” I mentally cursed my sister, Maisie, who was stuck in Irkalla dealing with a vampire ghost uprising and couldn’t come help me play mediator. We technically ruled the council together, but normally I took point on issues with the living, while she handled the drama of the dead.
“Fat chance,” Michael said. “I know how things work on this cabinet.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.
“It’s no secret that you’re biased toward the fae.”
I frowned at him like he’d lost his damned mind. Mike and I had had our moments in the past, but to outright accuse me of prejudice was insane. Still, I avoided the whole “we’re all equals here” speech because that wasn’t exactly true. The heads of each race may have a vote, but in the end my word was law.
“You’re out of line, Romulus. If you want your request to be taken seriously, you need to drop the bullshit.”
A muscle in his jaw tightened. “Screw this.” His chair hit the ground with a crash. He stormed away from the table and out the door. In his wake, the echo of the slammed door reverberated through the chamber.
Everyone was silent for two heartbeats. Until Queen Maeve decided to speak.
“Werewolves are so touchy.”
“Shut the hell up, Maeve,” Rhea said. As the leader of the mage Hekate Council, she didn’t have a stake in the outcome of the land rights debate, but that didn’t mean she didn’t have an opinion. “You have no good reason for refusing to allow that pack on your lands.”
The Queen’s mouth dropped open. “How dare you, mage!”
“No, Maeve, how dare
?” I said, my voice threaded with steel. “You might treat your courtiers with this type of disrespect, but I’ll be damned if I let you cause hostility on my council because your mother never taught you to share.”
“I didn’t have a mother.” Her mouth puckered. “I sprung fully formed from a peat bog.”
I rolled my eyes. “Regardless, you’ve been alive, what, four thousand years?”
“Five thousand,” she said in a haughty tone.
“Might as well be five, period,” I shot back, “because you’re acting like a child.”
If it had been spring, Queen Maeve would have looked like a child and been even more prone to tantrums than usual. But as it happened, it was autumn, which meant the monarch was in her “mother” guise. As a demigoddess, she cycled through each season of womanhood—child, maiden, mother, and crone—each year. This evening, she looked like a human female in her prime. She wore the jewel tones of autumn and her long hair was bound in a wreath of acorns and ruby leaves.
While she sputtered her outrage, I held up a hand. “The Blue Ridge Mountains are large enough for your kingdom and one small pack of werewolves, isn’t it?”
“That’s not the point,” she said. “We claimed those mountains when the Dark Races began the great migration from Europe. Just as the mages stake their claim on New York and the bloodsuckers—”
Nyx, the leader of the American vamps, and therefore one of the most politically powerful vampires in existence, took exception to the derogatory term for her race and cleared her throat.
The Queen spared the vamp an annoyed glance. “Just as the Lilim did in Los Angeles. My point is, why is it okay for our territory to be invaded by the weres when you know damned well they’d need special permission to settle in mage or vamp territory?”
“Asking for permission is exactly what Mike’s doing. And P.S., Orpheus had no qualms about allowing the werewolves to settle in Manhattan decades ago.”
“Yes, well, look where Orpheus’s permissiveness got him.”
“That’s enough,” Rhea snapped. Her outburst wasn’t a surprise seeing how the deceased former leader of the mages had been her best friend and rumored lover.
“All right,” I said. “Let’s table this discussion for tonight. But I expect a resolution before Samhain.”
The queen pursed her lips and crossed her arms. “Tell that to
“I intend to. Now, is there any new business?”
Several heads wisely shook to decline my invitation. I rapped my gavel on the table. “Then this meeting is adjourned.”
* * *
After the council meeting, I left the chambers and all but ran across the grounds toward the house to find Adam before anyone could distract me with more diplomatic drama. I found him in the library on the first floor of our Garden District mansion. Even though it wasn’t that cold out, a cheery fire crackled in the hearth. The warm glow illuminated Adam’s handsome profile, which was bent over a large, leather-bound tome in his lap.
I closed the double doors behind me. He looked up and gave me the smile I’d missed like a lost limb during my travels. “There you are.”
I ran toward him and threw myself in his lap. The book slid to the floor, but we were too busy kissing to care. He tasted like home and I intended to make myself very comfortable there for a very long time. His hands came up to cup my face. His touch was warm and a tingle ran from my scalp to my toes.
When he finally came up for air, his gaze caressed my face. “Gods, I’ve missed you.”
“How’d the meeting go?”
I shook my head. “No talk. Kiss.” I dove back in for another round of tongue tango. Luckily he was willing to let me take the lead.
Before long, his hands snaked up under my shirt and cupped my breasts. I pressed into those warm hands and wiggled my ass on his lap. He pulled his lips just far enough away to say, “Keep that up and we’ll put on a show.” He nodded toward the open curtains on the floor-to-ceiling sash windows.
Normally, I wouldn’t have cared, but with Giguhl’s demonic rug rats running around at all hours, you couldn’t be too careful. I sighed and put my forehead against his. “Then I think it’s time to move this discussion upstairs.”
He groaned. “Trust me that there’s nothing I’d love more—”
“Do not say
“But,” he began in an apologetic tone, “Giguhl’s been pacing around the house all night asking when you were getting back. In fact, I’m surprised he hasn’t busted in—”
At that exact moment, the doors to the library flew open. On the threshold stood a seven-foot-tall, scaly, green demon. He wore a red smoking jacket that complemented his black horns and hooves. Despite the distinguished attire, his expression was anything but composed.
“Bael’s balls, Mancy! You promised to let me know the instant she got back.”
I sighed and dismounted my man. “Hi, G.”
“Thank the gods!”
“What’s wrong?” I glanced at Adam, who shook his head as if to say he took no responsibility for the demon. “Did you and Valva have another fight?”
Valva was Giguhl’s wife. A marriage between a Mischief and Vanity demon already had enough built-in drama to fuel an entire season of reality TV shows, but when you added their litter of demon babies to the mix, it was downright combustible.
“Well, yeah,” he said. “But that’s not the issue.”
“Did the kids destroy another car?” I asked.
His gaze skittered south. “Yes,” he said in a quiet tone. “But we bought Brooks a new one.”
My left eye twitched. “Giguhl, that’s the third car they’ve eaten this year! You really need to set some boundaries.”
“Hey! I’m doing the best I can, okay?” He threw open the lapels on his robe, exposing five distended teats.
“Jesus, Giguhl,” Adam exclaimed.
“You try breastfeeding five demonlings when your teats are scabby and tell me how much energy you have for discipline!”
I closed my eyes and prayed to every goddess I’d ever met for patience. “We know you’re doing your best. But please put your teats away.”
I opened my eyes and was relieved to see he’d pulled the lapels closed.
“Okay, now take a deep breath and tell me what’s got you all worked up.”
He sucked a huge gulp of air and then exhaled it slowly. I nodded encouragingly, ignoring Adam’s eye roll. He always said I gave the demon way too much leeway, but I had to keep reminding him that Giguhl wasn’t officially my minion to order around anymore.
“Didn’t you tell her?” Giguhl demanded of Adam.
I sighed, losing my patience. “Why don’t you tell me?”
“Okay, so Erron’s in town for the big concert on Halloween, right?”
I blinked. “Oh, that’s right. And?”
“And he invited us over for dinner tonight.”
The thought of going anywhere but to my bed was not a pleasant one. “I don’t know, G. I’m pretty exhausted.”
“You have no idea how hard it was to convince Valva to let me have a night off. We have to go!”
“Why don’t you just go alone?”
The demon dug a hoof in the carpet. “Because…”
I raised my brows expectantly.
The demon finally sighed. “It’s been so long since the three of us hung out together. I miss you guys.”
My heart dropped. In truth, I had been so busy running the Dark Races I hadn’t had much time for socializing at all. “Can’t we just hang out here?” I offered.
He crossed his massive arms and scowled. “If we hang out here, the kids won’t leave us alone and you’ll just fall asleep.”
I glanced at Adam, who shrugged, as if he hated to admit the demon was right. Exhaustion tugged at me like a gravitational force, but the hope in the demon’s eyes was battering my conscience. “Okay, we’ll go for an hour.”
The demon let out a celebratory whoop.
“One hour!” I repeated. “Not a moment longer.”
The demon waved a claw in the air. “Sure, sure. I’ll go tell Valva,” he called as he ran out the door.
I turned to Adam. “I’m going to regret this.”
Adam rubbed my shoulders. “It’ll be fun. Ziggy and Goldie will be there with the baby.”
As much as I looked forward to seeing our old friends, his mention of the baby pinged my warning sensors. Ever since the demonlings were born, Adam had been dropping little comments here and there about the two of us jumping into the parenthood pool, too. I wasn’t quite ready to swim in those treacherous waters, so I ignored the comment and focused on ensuring Adam helped enforce the only-stay-an-hour plan. “When we get home, I’m going to rip your clothes off with my teeth.”
He turned toward the door and shouted, “Giguhl, let’s hurry!”
* * *
As a former resident of the Crescent City, Erron always came in a few days early for his local gigs and stayed a few days after. He even owned a home in the Garden District not far from ours. His visit this time coincided with Voodoo Fest, a large music festival that drew many of the biggest names in music to the Big Easy. Erron would be playing the main stage on Halloween with his band The Foreskins. Their first album,
The Devil’s Bris
, hit all the charts, making them even more successful than his former band Necrospank 5000.
It was a brisk autumn night, so we headed out on foot since it was only about five blocks to Erron’s house. Giguhl was with us, but he was in his cat form instead of his very conspicuous demon guise. Since it wasn’t too cold I hadn’t made him put on a kitty sweater. He’d argued with me before we left the house, but in the end, I’d told him that either he let me do the spell to change his form or I wouldn’t be going to Erron’s at all. He’d relented and scowled at me during every second of the transformation from seven-foot-tall demon to hairless cat.