Pausing, she turned, realizing that for all her striving for social perfection since she’d been old enough to say “manners,” she had committed the cardinal sin of a first meeting. “I’m sorry, what is your name?”
A name as unusual as the man. “I’m Regan Henry Alcroft. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Though pleasure wasn’t exactly the adjective to describe it. Confusing, a little scary, maybe even a tinge electric. Arousing.
“The pleasure is mine.”
It wasn’t suggestive or flirtatious, yet she felt the unmistakable jolt of desire between her thighs at his words, his voice. God, she needed to go. She crammed her ring back onto her finger and headed for the door, the lights and laughter of the party spilling out into the courtyard.
“Watch your step back in, Regan Henry Alcroft.”
Feeling like there was more to that comment than the straightforward meaning, Regan chose to pretend that she hadn’t heard him. A sick churning in her stomach, she swiped her eyes free of tear remnants and steeled her shoulders to navigate the party, and the life she had chosen.
Felix watched Regan wipe under her eyes, smooth her hair, and enter the main room of the restaurant, immediately swallowed up by the crowd.
He sank back into his chair, flicking at his tarot cards with his fingers. He should have given her a generic reading, made her smile and laugh with his charm and entertaining predictions. That was what he was good at, making women feel better about themselves, amusing them and lightening whatever load of burdens they were hauling around. It was both his gift and his curse. Both what he had bargained for and what he would give back with no hesitation if he could.
But he hadn’t done that with Regan Henry Alcroft. He had been intrigued by the paradox she presented. There was something so edgy and powerful in her eyes, the glossy vehemence of a snake about to strike, yet she carried herself with uncertainty. Her simple black dress, her traditional pearls, her pin-straight rich brown hair would be elegant on some women, and he supposed they were on her as well. But mostly they were wrong. They didn’t match the essence of her person at all, and he found it odd that her best features, those chocolate brown eyes and full lips that would be the envy of any actress, were features she chose to ignore, not highlight. She’d worn muted eye shadow and lipstick in neutral beige, and while Felix was no makeup artist, he did know that a pop of rich red on those luscious lips at a cocktail party would be more flattering.
So he had told her what he had really seen in the cards, what he really thought.
In couched terms, of course.
But she had resisted the truth, as mortals always did. And she clearly had no idea what her wedding ring was, or its power.
Or who she was married to.
It wasn’t his place to tell her.
Let Regan walk back into the party and do whatever she intended to do. If he had learned anything after more than a hundred and fifty years of life, it was to resist the temptation of a woman with pleading in her eyes.
It meant nothing but trouble, and he had no intention of watching another woman die. Not that Regan was Camille, but she shared the same yearning, unhappy quality, and that was a dangerous combination for a man, an immortal, like him.
And Regan belonged to Alcroft.
But that hadn’t stopped him from touching her, had it?
Two women in their fifties came into the courtyard, arm in arm, looking at him with a mixture of nerves and excitement. Felix pasted a smile on his face. “Would you like a reading, ladies?”
Regan’s appeal was irrelevant.
He was never going to see her again, and that was the way it had to be.
He was a demon servant, and this endless existence of casual relationships and peddling hope to paying customers was what he had condemned himself to for eternity.
“Please,” Regan begged, hating the pleading in her voice, but needing to leave the party with such a sense of urgency, she was trembling from head to toe. “I have a splitting headache. I’m doing more harm than good by trying to talk to people. They’re going to think I’m rude or an idiot or both.”
Her husband took a deep breath, his teeth clenched. He was clearly trying to keep a lid on his anger. “Fine. Have the staff call you a cab.”
Relief coursed through her and she gripped the clutch she had collected from their table. “Okay, thank you. I’m sorry, I am. But like I said, I’m barely stringing a sentence together—”
He cut her off, not looking at her, but scanning the room, smiling and nodding at acquaintances who glanced his way. “I heard you,” he said tightly under his breath. “Just go. And take some goddamn aspirin so I don’t have to listen to you complain when I get home.”
Heat flooded her cheeks. As if she ever complained. About anything. “Of course. But I don’t think I have enough money to take a cab.”
For the first time he actually turned and looked down at her, disbelief on his face as he shook his head. “Fucking unbelievable. You have an inheritance that rivals the state of Louisiana’s annual budget and you can’t be bothered to put ten bucks in your purse? Common sense, Regan, learn to use it.”
She said nothing. Just waited, angry, but more eager to leave than to delay a departure by protesting or defending herself. Not that she ever argued.
He sighed, reaching in his pocket for his wallet. Pulling out two twenties, he handed them to her. “You owe me for tonight.”
Of course she did. Nothing was given freely.
“I’ll see you at home.” He kissed her forehead. “Geez, you’re clammy. Get some rest.” Brushing his knuckles across her cheek, he said, “I love you.”
Regan’s stomach flipped again. Oh, God, she had to say it back ... she had to force the words out somehow. She didn’t love him, and she wasn’t even sure when she had stopped. But those feelings didn’t exist anymore, if they ever really had, and that saddened her, panicked her. “I love you, too,” she murmured, avoiding his eyes by pretending to pick lint off of his tie.
Then trying not to run, she waded through the restaurant to the front and surged right past the reservation desk. They were in the French Quarter on a weekend, surely she could find a cab without having to wait around for one to be called, and she needed the cool air outside. Sucking in deep breaths of the crisp December air to settle her stomach, she walked up St. Anne’s, carefully avoiding the sidewalk holes with her heels. She’d forgotten her coat, but she didn’t care. It was in the fifties and she had goose bumps in her sleeveless dress, but the lower temperature felt good on her flushed skin.
After a minute, she snagged a cab and settled on the seat, closing her eyes after giving her address to the driver. What a disaster of a night. How many more just like it would there be before she had the courage to leave her marriage?
What was the matter with her? Why couldn’t she just get the cojones to walk away, to hell with the consequences?
Eyes snapping open, she stared down at her wedding ring. When it had been off, she had felt... lighter. Free.
Angry with Beau, herself, the whole situation, she yanked the ring off her finger. Tears back in her eyes, she opened her purse and tossed it to the bottom, below a used tissue. She didn’t want to wear the ring. Didn’t want to see it. So beautiful, so binding...
Regan’s stomach crawled up in her throat again. “Pull over!” she yelled to the driver.
“What?” He glanced back at her in confusion.
“Pull over, I’m going to be sick.” Regan was already opening the door as he headed to the curb, and she violently threw up the wine and the very little dinner she’d eaten.
It splashed her arm, her hair, and all over the street. Shuddering, she hung there for a minute after the heaving stopped, then wiped her mouth and shut the door. “Okay, you can drive.”
The sooner she got home the sooner she could pack her bags and move out.
“I’m totally moving in with you.”
Regan Henry thrust up the latch to unlock the French doors leading to her bedroom balcony and shot her best friend Chris Davidson an amused look over her shoulder. She was 98 percent certain he was joking, but even after a decade of friendship sometimes the other 2 percent of randomness he exhibited threw her. “You’re moving into my bedroom?”
“Yes, and you can’t stop me.” Chris spun in a circle in the middle of the almost empty master bedroom of her newly purchased nineteenth-century house, his shoes squeaking on the wood floor. “This is the biggest bedroom I’ve ever seen in my life. A whole football team could shack up in here with us, and think how much fun that would be.”
His eyebrows went up and down suggestively and Regan laughed as she shoved open the glass doors and felt the warm spring breeze sweep over her. She set down the bottle of wine and plastic cups they had brought and flicked the switches by the doors, trying to find one that turned the outside lights on so they wouldn’t be sitting in the dark. “Neither one of us could date a football player. So not our type.”
Not that she was ready to date, but she would be someday, and it wouldn’t be a professional athlete, she could pretty much guarantee.
“True. I prefer men who can read.”
“You’re disparaging an entire sport, you know.” Regan closed her eyes and breathed deep the night air. The scent of flowers from the neighbor’s hanging baskets filled her nostrils, and God, she felt good. The deep satisfaction at having a big, expansive house, a gallery that oversaw the narrow streets of the French Quarter, a space that was just hers and no one else’s, was intoxicating.
Giddy, overwhelming, exhilarating freedom. It was hers again. All choices, good and bad, were hers alone to make since she had left her husband Beau that night of the law firm’s Christmas party. It had been an ugly three months, filled with daily communications from him that had vacillated between coaxing, pleading, charming vows of love, and pure venomous anger. She had caught him off guard by moving out that night, but it hadn’t taken him long to regroup, and he had used every weapon in his arsenal from the emotional to the financial to get her to come back to him.
She hadn’t, and she was more proud of that than anything else she had accomplished in her life. Not that he was resigned to their divorce or cooperating one iota, but she was through the worst of the paperwork and details of separating her life from his. She was moving into this house in the morning, and she was a cocktail of emotions, nervous and excited all at once.
Everyone but Chris thought she was insane for filing for divorce—her parents, grandparents, coworkers, her female friends. Chris had held her through her tears of fear over the future, and the grief of having to acknowledge that her marriage had never been what she had thought it would be when she spoke her vows. He had been there to comfort her and had popped open the champagne, the only person in her life who had ever thought Beau was not the perfect man for her. The perfect man, period. Tonight Chris was here to get a sneak preview of her impulsive real estate purchase and to break in her balcony with the wine and a couple of wrought iron chairs. They had been walking down Magazine Street after dinner when Chris had spotted, and promptly bought as her housewarming gift, the heavy scrolling chairs sitting outside an antique shop.