This short story fits at the end of Destructive Magic (Relic Hunter Book 2)
We popped out of my living room and into the French Quarter in New Orleans.
“You’re bringing me back here? Didn’t I embarrass myself enough in this town?” I laughed.
Coyote slid his eyes down the cream-colored dress he’d bought for me after dragging me from the swamp. I felt myself flush. The dress was silky, cut to skim over my curves without being overly provocative. With the flat gold-toned sandals, it could go from strolling along Bourbon Street to an elegant restaurant easily. My whole ensemble was a vast improvement over my last magical arrival in The Big Easy. That time had been a graceless, undignified, and panicked entrance consisting of choking on swamp water while trying to haul myself from the filthy bayou, spewing profanity, and prayers to every god I knew of. Coyote had been the one to pull me out of the swamp, and he found the whole thing hilarious.
His dark amber eyes lit with amusement. “Since you were nearly eaten by alligators when you last arrived in town, I thought you might want your revenge.” He said, holding out his arm.
“I am not eating alligator,” I said, looping my arm through his and listening to the music that rolled out of the bars. Other people strolled by as the humid air swirled around us, carrying the scents of cheap and expensive perfumes, beignets, and alcohol.
Coyote wore a blue dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up. The light color of the shirt brought out the bronze tones of his Native American skin. My skin looked pink and pale next to his. He steered me through the crowds, and I realized that I hadn’t had a night out among people in a very long time.
“I suspected as much.” He said, leaning down and speaking just loudly enough to be heard over the conversations that rolled around us.
“Don’t do that,” I said out loud, objecting to his reading my thoughts.
“So, stop me.” He said, laughter in his dark amber eyes.
I rolled my eyes and smoothed down a strand of my copper-colored hair. “I keep forgetting you like to eavesdrop on my private thoughts.”
“Oh, my little witch. There’s so much for you to learn.” He laughed again and steered me into an old building with dim lighting and crowded tables. “Especially when I consider all of the interesting details I pick up from your mind when you don’t think I’m listening.”
I had to laugh. He was right; I’d given him far too much information already, so I contemplated other things to distract him. I thought of him riding in the beat-up rental car with his head hanging out the window and that blissful look on his face. I thought of him standing on the back porch of the broken-down trailer in the bayou, leaning against the railing with that indolent sexy smile while I electrocuted myself on a rusted chain-link fence.
“In my defense, I did not expect you to charge it up like that. You really should be more careful. I believe I warned you once before about terrible consequences.”
“You spelled that dog to be vicious,” I complained.
“I did no such thing. That dog had territorial issues.” He said, sliding his hand across my lower back as the hostess came over. Even her professional demeanor couldn’t cover the appraising glance she gave him. He was quite beautiful if one could get past the swagger and his tendency to amuse himself at my expense.
“Now that is NOT fair.” He wailed.
Now she thinks you’re crazy because you’re talking to yourself, I thought and grinned. He looked from me to the hostess and realized her expression had indeed changed from a little dazzled by his beauty to entirely perplexed by his outburst. He smiled at her in that roguish way that he’d perfected, and she quickly returned to awed, as most women would. I sighed with disappointment because I’d hoped for better from her. The hostess snapped her eyes to me as if surprised she hadn’t noticed me earlier.
“It appears you are trying to undermine my natural charm. Perhaps I should not take you out in public.” He whispered as she showed us to a corner table.
“Did you expect me to wear this dress to have dinner with someone else?” I asked innocently. I kept a neutral expression on my face.
Coyote appeared to contemplate the question for a few seconds longer than I found comfortable before dropping his eyes to the table and shaking his head. “This will no doubt get me into trouble, but no, I did not.”
“How come every time you’re with me, you talk about getting into trouble. Like I am the one leading you astray. From this side of the table, it seems you have always been the one to throw me into the deep end of the pool because watching me flail around amuses you.”
A waiter in a white shirt and bow-tie approached our table and held out a wine list.
“I was thinking tequila,” Coyote said, propping his elbow on the table and resting his chin in his palm. “It seems much more celebratory than just wine.”
“I hear it leads to trouble,” I warned.
“Let’s find out.” He held up two fingers, and the waiter hurried off.
“So did you save the world, my little witch?” Coyote asked, leaning back in his chair and playing idly with the salt shaker.
“I suppose,” I replied.
“And was it dangerous?”
“I was up against a crazy Bokor who knew some serious Voudoun. And your friend, Madame Couvalier isn’t exactly a den mother…so yeah, it was dangerous. Like you knew it would be.”
“And yet here we are.” He grinned. “Do you suppose that means you are more dangerous.”
I barked out a laugh. “Oh, let’s not get carried away.”
The waiter put two shots of tequila on the table with a little tray of lime wedges. Coyote picked my hand up by the wrist and rotated it in his, so my thumb was on top. His other hand grasped the salt shaker, and he shook salt onto the soft fleshy part of my hand between my knuckle and thumb. I pulled my hand toward me, but he held onto it firmly. He replaced the shaker and picked up the shot glass. He lifted my hand, licked the salt off, downed the shot, replaced the glass, and bit the lime wedge in one smooth motion without ever breaking eye contact with me.
I swallowed loudly and closed my eyes as the intended heat slid through me. Then, I dropped my head forward and burst out laughing. “Only you would do that.”
“Was it inappropriate?” He asked, feigning contrition.
I grabbed the salt shaker and repeated the production, licking my own hand. As I tossed the lime wedge down on the plate, I fixed him in a solid glare. “There will be no licking my hand, my cheek, or anything else. You said dinner.” I almost added, ‘and this is not a date,’ but upon considering it, I decided I didn’t want to add that qualifier.
“I am somewhat disappointed.” He said, grinning at me.
If I were honest, I was too, but I’d examine that later.
“I can wait until dessert if it means that much to you. Beyond that, I can’t promise to contain myself.” Coyote said, casually lifting his shoulder.
I gave him my best-aggravated look. “You always play these games with me,” I said, rolling my eyes at him. “Can’t we just have a nice civilized evening?”
The waiter returned with two more shot glasses and a long white plate with crispy fried nuggets of some sort. “It’s so much more fun to be uncivilized. For instance…watch that man at the bar in the gray t-shirt. The one that he outgrew five years ago.”
I followed Coyote’s glance and saw the man he meant. “Don’t do anything to him.” I pleaded.
“Arienne, I’m shocked you think I’d do something bad. That man is lonely. He’s here with his friends, but there is a deep, soul-killing loneliness that is slowly driving him crazy. Now, look at that pretty blond at the other end of the bar. She is bubbly and so filled with life that every man here has noticed her.” Coyote looked at me, “Every man except me, of course.”
“Mainly because you’re not merely a man, right?”
“The nice part is that you meant that as a slur, but it is true. I am so much more than that.”
I nodded. “I know. I can hardly believe my good fortune to be honored with your greatness.” I quipped.
He laughed. “As I was saying. What if that bubbly tidbit of joy were to walk over to our lonely friend and strike up a conversation? What if they fell in love and lived happily ever after?”
“What if?” I said, trying to puzzle out where he was going with his little scenario.
“Let’s find out.” Coyote moved his chair around, so we were facing the bar, and I watched the blond catch sight of the man in the gray shirt. Her eyes seemed to linger on his face for a moment, and she gave a shy smile. The man looked behind him to see who she was smiling at and that one simple action had her picking up her drink and heading through the crowd to join him. Coyote moved the plate of fried nuggets between us, took one, and popped it into his mouth, chewing thoughtfully. I did the same, finding the meat inside to be a little firm and a little fishy. “That’s alligator, isn’t it?” I said, swallowing.
“Revenge is sometimes fishy,” Coyote said, eating another one. The flickering lights of the wall sconces caused the gold flecks in his eyes to dance as he gave me a challenging look. He pushed the salt shaker closer to me, and I took another one of the alligator nuggets instead.
“Do you really think they’ll fall in love?” I asked, watching the couple talk and laugh.
“I hope not. His wife would kill him.” He said.
I nearly choked on the alligator bite. When I’d managed to swallow it without needing the Heimlich Maneuver, I laughed and looked at him with wide eyes. “That was not nice.”
Coyote laughed and took the other shot of tequila, this time licking his own hand. Again, I was a little disappointed, but I took the other shot myself, watching as the romance fizzled at the bar. The blond took her drink back to her original seat, and the man turned his attention to his friends.
“Looks like it didn’t work out,” I said.
“That was the point,” Coyote replied, bumping his shoulder against mine. “Sometimes, I nudge things, and nothing extraordinary happens. Sometimes it does.”
I thought about that and knew what he was getting at. He did goad me into things, but I always charged ahead rather than doing the smart thing and walking away. It really wasn’t his fault that I landed myself in so many messy situations.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “You’re right; it isn’t because of you that I do the stupid things I do.”
“No, but I’m sorry that sometimes you keep doing them because of me.” He replied.
I thought about that as the waiter came back. Coyote waved him away. “Let’s move on. We’ll see what else this city has to offer.” He stood and dropped a crisp hundred on the table and steered me back into the humid and noisy street.
We walked down the center of the road, surrounded by people. I don’t generally like drunken crowds, but two shots of tequila had me feeling a little more relaxed than usual. Coyote draped his arm around my shoulders, and I sighed. He was going to make this as challenging as possible. Like always.
I felt the tingle of Coyote’s magic against my skin, and people moved out of our way, so we weren’t crushed or jostled in the bacchanalian crowd. Red plastic cups were the accessory of the evening, and half-dressed young men and women danced to the music that filled the streets from the open doors of countless bars and restaurants. Most people sported multiple strands of metallic colored beads that clicked and sparkled in the colorful lights as the wearer moved. The city was vibrant, and the pulse of energy was intoxicating, intensifying the effect of the two shots of tequila. There was a sensuality to the steamy air that clung to me like a warm and provocative mist. Coyote’s hand dropped to my hip, and he gracefully moved behind me, placing me on his other side as we approached a cross street.
We exited the large crowd and found ourselves surrounded by a somewhat more refined group of revelers. His hand remained on my hip, and I slid my eyes to him, noticing how carefully he kept his gaze straight ahead. A faint smile lifted the corners of his mouth.
“What are you up to?” I asked.
“Just trying to enjoy our celebration of your latest success.” He said.
Somehow I doubted the veracity of that innocent answer. With Coyote, rushing wasn’t possible; he parceled out information as needed and wouldn’t be cajoled into disclosing his intentions before he was good and ready. He steered me into an elegant restaurant with crystal chandeliers and cream-colored carved crown moldings that accented the high ceilings. The walls were painted in a luxurious sage green. The hostess greeted Coyote like she was expecting him, and we followed her to a corner booth. I slid onto the dark red velvet seat, and Coyote slid in beside me, bumping his leg against mine.
“Enough already.” I groaned, shaking my head.
He looked around the room. “Nice, isn’t it?” He asked, draping his arm around the back of the booth and settling in to look around.
My eyes swept the room, taking in the people who were all well dressed, the white table cloths, and the murals of moss-draped trees that adorned the room’s four corners. The whole place was rendered in shades of deep red, sage green, and cream. I stumbled on that thought, shaking my head at the possibility and returned to taking in the surroundings.
There was sparkle and a murmuring hum that was soothing. I looked again at the murals and the soft color palette, realizing that I matched the room perfectly. From my dark copper hair to my sage green eyes that were the same color as the walls and my cream dress, I looked like I had been put together to match the decor.
I felt the gentle shimmer of his magic, and I narrowed my eyes as I looked at him. “What are you up to?” I asked.
Coyote sighed. “I am not up to anything. Can you please suspend your suspicion of me for a few hours and just enjoy the night?”
He was so incredibly handsome, and his tone so sincere that I opened the menu and smiled. “I can enjoy the night,” I said, relaxing into the evening again. I whispered, “I’m still waiting for something to blow up and mayhem to ensure…but I can enjoy it.”
I heard his exasperation, and it made me grin. He drummed his long, elegant fingers on the table for a moment before he spoke again.
“So tell me how you managed to solve the little problem of the Dominion.” He said, sipping the wine that the waiter had brought to our table unbidden.
I lifted my shoulder and considered the question. “Luck.” I laughed and told him the whole story of what happened after I’d returned to Boston. He was attentive and laughed as I described some of the highlights that I honestly found embarrassing.
His laughter was pure joy; there was never any venom, and it never made me feel diminished. In fact, I told him some of my more inept moments just to make him laugh because his delight brought out my ability to see the humorous side of my plans going awry. And Coyote, when he is amused, is magnificent. In all the time I’d known him, he’d never made me feel inadequate or foolish, even though I was pretty sure the slap-stick nature of my exploits could be conceived as such. He asked questions, pointed out other possible avenues I could have taken, and seemed genuinely interested in what I said.
We spent a long time eating delicious and elegant food, swapping stories of magical mishaps and mayhem. We talked about my former career as an archeologist, and for once, it didn’t feel painful to remember that my Ph.D. was now useless.
Coyote confessed some of his antics. I questioned him about some of the Native American legends about him, making sure to stick to the G-rated stories of the mythical trickster spirit rather than the more lurid tales. He asked about my first forays into using magic and how I’d met Basir, my three-pound owl companion, and best friend.
We laughed and talked like the good friends we’d become. After a delicious dinner that had me wishing the light, crispy lobster puffs could be found in Boston, we exited the restaurant through the back door and walked through a lush courtyard. My hand brushed against his accidentally, and he caught it, running his thumb over the back of my hand affectionately. I was glad the light had faded to darkness because I was sure I blushed.
Excellent jazz music flowed out of a small club on the other side of the courtyard, and Coyote dragged me inside the dimly lit establishment with a joyful smile on his face. The band played with a smooth sensuality while the singer’s bluesy voice glided over the notes. The piano began the first strains of Misty Blue, one of my favorite songs.
Coyote pulled me to him on the dancefloor and slid his arm around my back. I draped my hand on his shoulder and let him lead me through a slow, swaying dance that felt so natural until I remembered that I wasn’t much of a dancer. I stumbled, and he whispered a soft laugh.
“What happened?” He asked, his golden-brown eyes lit with amusement.
“I remembered I couldn’t dance,” I admitted.
“Odd how you were doing fine until you ‘remembered’ that.” He said, spinning me gracefully and catching me again, closer to him this time. “How about you try to forget it again, and we’ll see how you do?” My body relaxed against him, and we glided across the floor. I felt free and uninhibited in his arms, and I smiled at how the other people seemed to watch us. He leaned his cheek against my hair, and I could feel his smile. If he were anyone other than the mythical Coyote, I would have turned my face and kissed him.
The music changed to an Etta James song I couldn’t name, and he twirled me around dramatically, guiding me through the steps with such grace that I wondered how much of my own lissome movement was being controlled by his magic. We danced and drank good bourbon and breathed in NOLA’s energy until the early morning hours in that French Quarter jazz club. When the club started to empty, we headed back to Bourbon Street’s raucous crowds, holding hands and talking about my new gardening business.
I told him my plans for my little magically-enhanced venture, and about a few of the new charms, I was experimenting with. It was low-level earth magic, and it solidified me as an amateur witch, albeit one who’d just spent a fantastic night in New Orleans with the dashing Coyote. I laughed at myself, thinking that the most romantic night I’d had in ages was clearly going nowhere. I wrapped my arm around his arm and slid back into my usual awkward academic persona, forgetting the carefree and dangerous woman I’d been for the past few hours. The minute I did that, the city streets vanished, and we were standing on the porch of my barn in the Berkshires.
I sighed, sorry to see the night end. I lifted my gaze to him and smiled brightly. “That was so much fun. Thank you.” I was a little tipsy, enough so that I’d hoped he’d kiss me, but not enough that I took any initiative of my own.
“It was.” He said, smiling at me with that enticing grin that made my heart beat a little faster.
I opened my mouth to say something, but without another word, he vanished.
I blinked and looked around before I burst out laughing. “Damned, dog!” I called out, knowing he was listening. I shook my head in self-reproach. I knew better than to have any sort of romantic designs on Coyote…he was fun and flirtatious, and that was all he’d ever be for me. That night, it had been enough.
I let myself back into my house, and Basir flew from the rafters and landed on the kitchen island. I ran my hands through his soft feathers and kissed his head. He turned his beak toward me and pecked my cheek.
“Thanks. I needed that.” I said, straightening up and sighing. My goodnight kiss had come from an unexpected source, but at least I’d gotten one. I let out a wistful groan. Basir raised his wing and smacked me upside the head.
I laughed. I needed that smack to put things back in perspective.