“I wish I had an angel,” Tay chanted along with Nightwish that night, his not-dulcet tones carrying far too well from the living room into the kitchen.
André pointed that direction with the meat fork. “There’s something really, really off about him mangling that song, if some of the theories about Familiars are to be believed.”
Lelia looked up—briefly—from trying to slice a very ripe mango without dropping it or making more of a mess. “The one about them being angels, or the one about them being fallen angels working off their sins?”
“Yes to both, although the first one cannot have been proposed by anyone who actually, you know, had to live with a Familiar.” He used the pot’s lid as a shield as he rotated the slab-o-meat in the marinade. “Wow, you were right, the cookbook is way off on how many onions.”
Lelia giggled, then returned to cutting up the fruit without taking off her thumb in the process. I like these, but they are so slippery to cut. I wonder if anyone on late-night TV sells a mango slicer or holder?
Rodney wandered into the kitchen. “Boooosss, make him staaaaahp,” the kit fox wailed, then drank from his fountain. Lelia carefully did not see her fiancé slip his Familiar a bit of raw meat.
André pointed the meat fork at her. “Ask Tay’s mage. I just cook here, remember?”
She leaned back from the mirror and contemplated the look. The deep green-black of the corset brought out the green around her eyes. She hadn’t fully tightened the laces, since that was what André was for, but the look rocked, seriously rocked. “I miss this,” she whispered. She’d hidden the corset for six years, and it still fit. The metal clasps were not in the center, but on both sides, so she didn’t snag other people if they danced very close. The little jacket fastened under her throat and then cut away to reveal her décolleté even as it covered her shoulders and upper arms.
Lelia sensed the shields open. She turned off the light, collected her bag and gloves, and hurried down the steps as the front door opened. André let Rodney in, then followed. As usual, her fiancé far outshone her. She smiled. “Perfect timing, gentle sir. I need a slight bit of assistance.”
“Why do you need . . . my . . .”
She turned her back to him. “Because I do not want Tay trying to help me lace this, dark sir.”
“Ah, ahem, that is, yes, I see your problem. What do I do?” He sounded a bit plaintive.
“Pull the top laces in and then tighten them toward the middle.” He did as asked. “Yes, perfect. Now the bottom and snug toward the top.” She wiggled, adjusting some things. “Good, now, tie the laces into a bow in the middle, keeping the tension, please.” The middle tightened, tightened more, then loosened an eighth of an inch or so. She inhaled, then exhaled. “Perfect!”
His expression as she turned around . . . Do not laugh! He looks like he got hit with a stick. “Is there a problem?”
André blinked several times, swallowed, and managed to say, “Ah, dark my lady, you have a superstructure. It is impressive.” He backed away. “Wow.”
“Corsets do that to a lady, if fitted and adjusted correctly.” I’ll never be a 38 DD, but the boost is nice. She walked over to her sewing chair and pulled on the little jacket, fastening it just under the choker. She turned back to him as she pulled on her gloves. “Bare shoulders would be immodest.” She winked. He turned red and looked at the floor. Love, you go clubbing, you’ve seen cleavage before!
Rodney shook his head. “My lady, that is a stunning outfit and quite suitable for such an occasion.” He pawed at André’s boot. “And I do not wish to be late.”
“Nope!” Tay caroled, waving his top hat. He already sported his silver vest.
André got the hint and opened the door again, letting the Familiars out. Then he partly closed the door. “My lady, I feel I must be completely honest with you.” He kept his eyes on hers. “That outfit is beautiful, it brings out the color in your eyes, and it inspires feelings in me that are rather hard to properly master. Forgive me if I seem a bit stunned. It is not you, I assure you, it is me.”
Oops. I didn’t think about that possibility. Well, turn about was fair play, because the style of dress he currently wore made her dream of things one did not mention in polite company or public venues. Especially the way the lapis blue and black vest matched his eyes, and his silver-blue eye-shadow and mascara. She dragged her thoughts back to the present moment. “All is forgiven, although if we detain our Familiars any longer, neither of us will be forgiven.”
He inclined his head. “Just so, dark lady, just so.” He followed her out the door and locked it.
At nine, Bart Cooper appeared in the DJ booth. “Ladies, gentlemen, and all of the above, welcome to the official re-opening of Two Bats’ Bar. We are very pleased to be able to host Curling With Cats on their first US tour!” He waited for the very loud cheers to fade. “Concert swag will be available on the smokers’ patio. They accept cash, credit, debit, antiques and old jewelry only if they come with an appraisal certificate, but not first-born children. The resale market is poor, or so I have been assured.” Laughter followed his declaration. “Without further ado, Curling With Cats!”
Two women and three men took the stage. The lead singer wore a black and silver sari, while the keyboard player sported a Scottish-inspired skirt and tartan bodice outfit, with tall leather moccasin boots. The men looked more Euro-folk, although Lelia boggled a little at the cellist’s cowboy hat with a silver cat head painted on it. The lead singer nodded to the drummer, and a low growl of bass rhythm flowed from the muted kettledrums, followed by tin whistle and electric guitar. The digeridoo joined in after two measures.
In the lull following the first set, André asked, “What do you think?”
“I think they’re the only ones who could make that,” she waved at the combination of instruments on stage, “work. Now part of me wants to try wearing a sari like that, and the rest of me thinks it is a really bad, bad idea.” Not just because of the jokes Rodney and Tay would insist on making, either.
André studied her figure, appeared to be considering a comment, and then stopped. He coughed. “You mean you didn’t want a tee-shirt like that, my lady?” The pure innocence in his voice did not match the gleam in his eyes. Lelia turned to see Shoshana and Bolts coming toward them. Sho wore the classic CWC tee-shirt, along with a full black skirt tied back to show her red and electric blue underskirt. As Lelia had feared, the cat and curling target were right there. André continued, “I think you could carry off the look quite well.”
Rodney snickered. “I don’ know, boss. It might lead to target fixation.” He snickered some more as Lelia felt herself turning a bit pink. André did his best to appear as if he had no idea what his Familiar might be implying. Tay, deep in some kind of discussion with a goth-punk woman at the next table, missed it.
“Hey!” Sho and Lelia embraced. “Thanks for solving the box problem.”
“You’re welcome,” Lelia said.
“Uncle Leopard fixed the shield again, and nothing’s tried to get in.” Sho bounced to the music, the poison yellow streak in her hair glowing in the dark club. “He couldn’t come tonight.”
“Yeah, this isn’t his kind of music,” Bolts observed. “Not heavy enough.”
Sho giggled. “And he said he didn’t want to get stepped on.” All four of them chuckled.
“Right. As if anyone could miss Uncle Leopard being on the dancefloor.” Lelia rolled her eyes. The sorcerer cleared traffic with his intense presence alone.
André opened his mouth to say something, but a commotion on the edge of the dancefloor distracted them. “Oh, good sir, I am dreadfully sorry,” a woman in layers of black and pale purple chiffon and gauze said.
The leather and metal clad man standing far too close to her assured her, “Oh no, Madame, please, the fault is mine for not paying attention. Here, let’s get clear. I believe this is part of the problem.” He unsnagged a section of violet lace from the leather plates and straps on his vest.
“Truly, sir the fault is mine. Ah, let’s see, this, OK,” the pair eased away from the floor.
Bolts smiled. “A dollar says she buys the apology drink.”
André grinned back. “And then he gets the next round.” They’d all seen it before. Studs, straps, and floating sleeves and scarves led to a lot of unanticipated introductions. “At least it wasn’t a cigarette this time.”
Sho made a face. “Those aren’t fun.” Curling With Cats returned to the stage and Sho lit up again. “They’re fun!” She all but dragged her husband with her as she raced to get closer to the stage.
The concert ended just after midnight. The crowd thinned a little, with some die-hards still going strong on the dancefloor. Those included André and Lelia, although she opted to sit out one of the hard numbers. She returned to the table, where Rodney now sat, panting a little. “There’s fast and there’s fast,” he declared, tongue lolling.
Tay sniffed. “That’s why no one dances to ambient techno unless they’re already ambient. Really, really ambient.” He finished his bottle of water.
“Do you need a refill?” She gotten him one refill already, and André had taken the Familiars out onto the patio, returning with a bag as well as the animals.
“When are we going home?”
A stranger distracted her for a moment. The man seemed to be paying close attention to them. Who’s he? So many new faces. She returned to Tay’s question. “Not too long, since André and I both have to work tomorrow. Today. Whatever.”
Rodney recovered enough by the end of the song to ease down from the chair and saunter over to talk to Lady Mandrake, her husband, and a tall woman in a PVC dress with glowing laces up the front. Hmm, that looks like the kind of quick-release fastener that some boots have. Lelia giggled. Someone wanted to be ready for any occasion.
André started to leave the floor, but one of the other glamor goth men pulled him aside. Lelia shrugged and hid a yawn. She should not be tired!
The man she’d noticed earlier approached, smiling. She smiled back. He wore a dark short-sleeved shirt under a brocade and leather vest. The deep red color made the crimson on his tattoo sleeves on his arms stand out. He’d shaved his head, and she shifted him to metal-head or more goth-punk. “Good evening. I’m Sebastian.”
“I’m Lelia Chan.” He’s rather direct.
Sebastian moved a little closer. “Lelia. A lovely name.” His eyes left hers and drifted down to her chest. He spoke slowly and carefully, setting off Lelia’s alerts.
He’s intoxicated at least a little, and is about to put the moves on me. Well, it wouldn’t be the first or last time. She could sort him out if she had to. “Thank you, sir.”
“You’re welcome. I noticed you dancing. You move very well. And I like your dress.” He stayed where he was.
“Thank you. It’s an old favorite.”
He took a deep breath. “Old is good, but new can be better. Especially new friends.”
“Quite true.” I’m not liking Sebastian. That tattoo on his left hand’s wrong. She shifted her weight, moving one foot back so she could pivot or grab the chair to put between them.
“Do you need a ride home? It’s late, after all.” He leaned closer. Tay’s ears tipped back.
Lelia shook her head. “No thank you, I have transportation.”
“Let me put it a different way, Lelia. I want you to go home. With me, so I can show you some other smooth moves.”
Hell no, not if you were the only guy in the club. I’d rather walk. “No, thank you, sir. I have a vehicle.” She’d spoken a little more loudly, and Lady Mandrake and some others turned to look. “I appreciate the offer, but no.”
His smile disappeared and his eyes went hard. He hooked his hands in front of his chest, making his biceps bulge. “Your mouth says that, girl, but your body and that corset say that you’re lookin’ for some action. I wanna give it to you.”
“Sir, you misunderstand.” André was two tables away, walking quickly. “No means no.”
Sebastian spread his hands, scowling. “Look, girl, all I’m saying is—”
Street-reflexes saved her.
He swung, hard. Lelia jerked back. Smack! His hand connected, but not full-force. Cheek stinging, she backed farther away, pulling power to herself. He lunged, grabbing for her arm. She twisted to the left and dodged sideways, throwing a physical shadow-shield between them along with a chair. She reached for Tay, drawing more power for a shadow ball.
A larger Shadow struck first, silent and fast as a snake. Thud “Oof!” Sebastian’s body twisted to the right, then slammed into the back wall. Thunk. His head bounced a little. He was bigger than André, but— She’d never, ever seen André look like that. Ice had replaced his eyes. Sebastian opened his mouth, then choked. André’s right forearm crossed his throat, and the red in the stranger’s face shifted to blue. No sound came from his lips.
“Do not touch my lady,” a soft, cold voice said, colder than anything on earth, so cold the words burned as they cut through every sound around them. “Do not strike any lady, but most especially do not strike my lady.” Thumpf. André moved left hand moved. As he did, Sebastian’s eyes bulged. The right arm lowered and Sebastian staggered, collapsing to his knees, moaning and gasping at the same time. When he looked up, pure fear replaced anger.
André demanded, “Am I clear?”
The jerk nodded, one hand on his throat, one arm clutching his ribs. André turned, making eye contact with the crowd of observers. “I trust no one cares to repeat this—individual’s—error?” Lelia shivered at the imprecations and insults her love put into that word. A murmur swelled then faded as everyone found other things to do. Lelia released her shield, feeding the power back to Tay. André turned the predator eyes onto her.
No fear, show no fear, she told herself over and over as she walked to stand beside him. “Thank you, gentle sir.” He looked away, shook as if shaking off water, and met her eyes again. Concern replaced ice. “I’m fine, just lightly bruised,” she assured him. “Permission?”
He jerked his head down in assent, and she took his hand.
Darkmaster appeared as if summoned. “What happened?” He demanded, looking from them to the kneeling shape against the wall and back.
“Yon idiot decided that Miss Chan’s outfit meant she was lookin’ for a good time with him.” Lady Mandrake almost spat the words. “She said no, he pushed it, she said no, and he slapped her, then tried to grab her when she dodged. Master Lestrang informed the little piece of shit that he shouldn’t hit ladies.” Lady Mandrake sniffed. “That’s after he overbalanced and then tripped on the carpet.”
Lelia glanced up in time to see the corner of André’s mouth twitch with humor. No carpet covered any of the club’s floors. She squeezed his hand and then let go.
Sebastian wheezed, “You’ll be sorry, you skinny bastard. I’m special forces, and I know how to get even.”
Darkmaster and André exchanged a look, and they both turned on the stranger. “Show me your DD-214,” André ordered.
“Or your military ID,” the bouncer added, folding his arms so the biceps bulged.
The target of their ire swallowed. “I’m so highly classified, I don’t have a military ID.”
“Bullshit,” André and Darkmaster snapped, as Rodney called, “He’s lying, even I have an ID.”
Darkmaster made a hand gesture, and two equally large gentlemen appeared beside him. “This individual assaulted Miss Chan. He’s no longer welcome.”
“She led me on!”
Lelia opened her mouth to deny the accusation. “I di—” The bouncers pinned the man’s arms behind him and dragged him away before she finished the syllable.
“Shall I call the police so that you can press charges, Miss Chan?”
She shook her head. “No, thank you, sir. I believe he has learned from his error and will not repeat it.” And if not, he’s in for a very, very big surprise.
Darkmaster frowned. “Alright, but I don’t. Be careful, Miss Chan.”
“She will be,” Tay announced. “Very careful.” His ears remained back and the tips of his teeth showed more than usual.
“Oh yes.” Rodney chimed in. “Should the lesson need repeating.”
André stayed quiet until the head of security departed. “Silver, are you alright?” he demanded, but quietly.
She nodded, swallowing hard. “Yes, love, I am. I was moving away when he hit me, and had shadow balls ready if he tried again.”
“Hmm.” He did not sound convinced. He didn’t push things, either, not until just after one, when the pickup pulled to a stop in front of the duplex. For once he got out and escorted her to the door. He watched the yard and street as she unlocked the door and let Tay in. He handed her the bag, then said, “Love, you need something besides magic to protect yourself.”
No. Two Bats’ isn’t the street. She did her best to be calm and patient. “I have one. I didn’t want to cut him, since he didn’t have a weapon in hand.” That would be felony assault.
“He was reaching for something with his left hand.” André’s eyes had gone hard again. “I don’t like it.”
I’m not really happy right now, either, Shadow. She took a deep mental breath. “Let’s discuss it after we are both rested, please?”
He looked away, then back. “Right. You’re tired, I’m tired, it was a great concert and a fun evening, and the rest can wait.” He put his hands around her waist. “And that looks very, very good on you. Very good.” They kissed. He let go and stepped back a pace. “I go, before the inflate-a-lemur in the window comes through the window.”
Tay, fur fluffed, had his forefeet and nose on the glass, glaring at them. Lelia shook her head. “He’s worse than chaperones at a high school dance.”
“Much worse.” André waved to Tay and departed.
(C) 2020 Alma T. C. boykin All Rights Reserved