A Very Vampy Christmas (Love at Stake 2.5) - Page 8

Chapter 4

"Sweet Mary, my feet hurt." Maggie leaned against an old streetlamp. It must be after three in the morning, and they'd been to one shop after another. Scarlett and Tootsie had abandoned them on Bourbon Street when they spotted a club with scantily clothed gentlemen dancing on the bar.

Don Orlando's gaze ran over her short black skirt, her legs encased in black hose, and her black high-heeled shoes. "You could cause a traffic accident with those legs."

She scoffed. "I'm too short."

"You're beautiful." His gaze locked onto her pink sweater.

The cad. Maggie was still surprised that he'd never had a girlfriend during his stay in New Orleans. Tootsie and Scarlett had confirmed that. She also understood why he'd run off to New York with Corky. The poor guy had simply wanted a life and an identity other than Bootsie, the failed social experiment.

Sweet Mary, she liked him. More than liked him. He was sweet and caring. Strong, yet vulnerable. And most of all, he thought she was special. Beautiful and kindhearted.

With a sigh, she glanced down the street. A recent rain had left puddles in the uneven pavement. The air was warm and thick against her skin. She was worried now. Worried that she was hopelessly in love with Don Orlando. What if they found out he was married?

"I think we did all the shops on this street," she murmured. They'd been simple tourist shops, selling T-shirts, feather boas, beads, and masks. She pushed away from the streetlamp. "Where's a voodoo priestess when you need one?"

"Don't know." Don Orlando took her hand. "Let's find Tootsie and Scarlett." He led her down the sidewalk.

"Are we going the right way?" They'd ventured up and down so many streets, Maggie was all turned around.

"Yep. Bourbon Street's over there." Don Orlando pointed to the right. "Here's a side street where we can cut through."

They turned onto the dark narrow street, lit by one storefront window.

"Did we check this place?" Maggie slowed to examine the goods in the store window. The usual stuff—beads and boas. Little stuffed alligators wearing Santa hats. "Oh, look."

Don Orlando chuckled at the large box of voodoo dolls. "The economy pack. Twenty-four voodoo dolls at one low price."

"Sweet Mary. You could take care of all your enemies in one fell swoop. Let's go in."

He gave the door a shove, and it opened. A tiny bell tinkled overhead. "Hello?"

Maggie followed him inside. The door swung shut with another tinkling noise. The narrow store was dimly lit. One side held the usual touristy stuff, but the other wall was covered with glassed-in shelves. She eased closer for a better look.

"Ugh!" She stepped back. The shelves held glass jars filled with things that looked like pickled animals and body parts.

"Looks like we found the right place," Don Orlando said.

"That depends on what you seek," a male voice spoke from the back of the room.

Maggie gasped and edged closer to Don Orlando.

There was a scratch of a match, then a small flame traveled from one candle to another till three large ivory pillars illuminated the back of the room. The candles rested on a counter, and behind them, a bald black man stood.

Don Orlando cleared his throat. "Can you help us?"

The man bowed his head. "Those who come at three in the morning are generally in need of my help." His voice had a deep, hypnotic quality to it. "Come forward so I may see you."

Maggie followed Don Orlando as they neared the counter and the glowing pool of candlelight.

Suddenly, the black man stiffened. "Pierce?"

Don Orlando halted. "Are you talking to me?"

"Of course, man. Don't you remember—" The man's eyes widened. "Oh, God, you don't." He ran a hand over his bald head. "Store's closed. Come back tomorrow." He blew out a candle.

"Wait!" Don Orlando ran toward him. "You know who I am."

"No, no. I mistook you for someone else." He blew out a second candle. "Go now. The store is cl—"

"No!" Don Orlando grabbed the last lit candle and held it away from the store owner. "Tell me who I am."

The man shook his head. "I told you, man, I don't know."

"You do." Don Orlando passed the candle to Maggie, then reached over the counter, grabbed a handful of the man's shirt, and lifted him off the floor. "You will tell me."

"Damn," the store owner wheezed. "How'd you get so strong? Okay. I'll tell you." He gasped for air when he landed back on the floor. "Sheesh, man. You don't even remember your name?"

"I remember nothing."

"Damn!" The store owner hit the counter with the flat of his hand. "I told her she was making the potion too strong, but does she ever listen to me? Nooooo. Three bat wings she put in the potion, not two like the book says. Three! And that eye of newt?" He raised his hands, shaking his head. "She should have never added that. I told her she was asking for trouble."

"Enough!" Don Orlando grabbed the candle from Maggie and set it down with a thud. The flame lurched and flickered wild shadows across the gruesome glass jugs. "Who am I?"

"You're Pierce. Pierce O'Callahan."

Don Orlando gave Maggie a stunned look. "I'm Irish?"

The store owner muttered another curse. "I told her she was making it too strong. She's always causing me trouble."

Don Orlando glared at him. "Who are you?"

"Durand Derange." With a sigh, he turned to the wall behind him and flipped on the lights.

The jars looked even more ghoulish under the flickering, purplish fluorescent light. Maggie could detect animal feet and eyeballs. "How did you erase Don Orlando's memory? I mean, Pierce." It would take a while to get used to his new name.

"More importantly," Pierce added, "can you make another potion to restore my memory?"

"Ah, man. I don't think so. Once it's gone, it's gone."

Pierce leaned over the counter. "The woman who made the potion, can she undo it?"

Durand's gaze flitted to his left. "I don't know where she is. She left before the hurricane and hasn't come back."

"Who is she?" Pierce ground out.

"My sister. Desiree." His gaze slipped to the left again.

Maggie glanced to his left and spotted a photo frame stuffed between two jars. She eased over for a closer look.

"Desiree is crazy, you know. Whatever she wants, she gets." Durand shrugged. "And she wanted you, man."

That figured. Maggie groaned inwardly. Even as a mortal, Don Orlando, or Pierce, would have attracted a ton of girls. The photo on the dusty shelf showed a beautiful young woman with glowing bronze skin, wearing a white sun dress. Beside her stood a little girl, also in a white dress. "Is this Desiree?"

"Don't look at that." Durand dashed over, grabbed the photo, and stuffed it under the counter. He glanced back at Pierce. "I told you who you are. You should go now."

What was he hiding? "Why don't you let Pierce see the photo?" Maggie asked. "It might jog his memory."

"No, no." Durand shook his head. "The photo cannot help. She erased herself completely from his memory."

"Why?" Pierce thumped the counter with his fist. "What could I have possibly done to deserve amnesia?"

"Nothing, man." Durand shrugged. "Desiree was visiting a cousin in Dallas, and they went to a rodeo. That's where she saw you and decided she had to have you. Don't ask me why. She's never wanted a cowboy before."

"Then I was a cowboy?" Pierce asked. "In a rodeo?"

"Sure, man. I hear you were really good."

"And Pierce started dating your sister?" Maggie asked.

"No, no." Durand shook his head. "Pierce didn't even know who she was till she slipped a love potion into his beer. Unfortunately, she always makes her potions too strong."

"So, she tricked Pierce into loving her?" Maggie balled her hands into fists. It was a good thing Desiree was out of town.

"Yeah," Durand continued. "Poor old Pierce was completely under her spell. When she got tired of him and came home, he followed her here. Eventually, she got so tired of him, she decided to erase herself from his memory."

Maggie clenched her fists tighter. How could any woman possibly grow tired of Don Orlando?

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