New Orleans, 1802
"Bonsoir, cher. What is a handsome man like you doing walking all alone?"
The whore's call pulled Ethan from his musings, and he glanced up. A woman stood a few feet away leaning against the wooden wall of a seedy tavern, her face hidden by shadows.
"Need a woman?" she asked idly.
Clearing his throat, Ethan shoved his spectacles back up his nose and blinked. He looked over his shoulder but the darkened New Orleans street was empty, willows drooping over rickety, crooked fences.
Women never talked to him. He was invisible. Well, not really, but he might as well be. Ethan was...forgettable.
He cast around for something to say. "Um. Thank you, but...but I am...late."
"I can give you pleasure like you've never known."
Her voice was throaty and smooth, like fire-warmed whiskey, but it scraped along Ethan's skin like a rusty metal comb.
The back of his neck itched, a persistent little sting.
Shadows swirled around the woman as she moved forward. Nerves snapped as Ethan edged back half a step, one hand going to the spot on his neck now itching with a vengeance. He massaged absently, all his focus on the form sliding through the dim light.
The whore stepped into the yellow glow of the gas-lit street lamp, her long skirts swinging gently, and relief eased through him.
A trick of the night. An over-active imagination.
The young woman in front of him wasn't alarming at all. Why, she was quite charming, in fact. He couldn't fathom how he had thought her a prostitute at all.
Blond ringlets were tucked up under a trim little hat perched on her head at a jaunty angle. High cheekbones, a delicate frame, and a distinct elegance declared that this woman was a lady.
She called to him. A fascination with her gilded curls and lush figure took root and dug deep in a matter of seconds. His blood crackled and heated.
"Mademoiselle," he breathed, moving toward her. Such a tiny thing. She needed to be protected, sheltered. Worshipped.
Cocking her head to the side, a smile played on her red, red lips as the woman pressed herself to him, her curvaceous body soft and warm. Unthinking, Ethan slid one arm around her tiny waist. She smelled like night jasmine, a heady scent that enthralled him.
"Would you help me? I just need a small favor."
She looked at him with hope on her exquisite face. Ethan swelled with reckless, almost drunken pride. She needed him. He would do anything for her, anything at all.
"Of course, mademoiselle. Your wish will be my very command."
The lady's smile widened now, pearly teeth flashing in the gloom. "You offer me aid in any form I should choose, of free will?"
Strange wording, but Ethan's wits flowed sluggishly, his natural caution dulled. Desire surged through him, sharp and jagged. He touched one golden curl where it lay against the tops of her pale breasts.
"I am yours."
Satisfaction flared brightly within that cerulean gaze, and the woman's expression turned fierce. Her lids lowered, giving her a sensual, slumberous look. His trousers grew even tighter. Ethan wanted her desperately, his muscles rigid with anticipation and sweat dampening his brow. He held her closer, but she slipped from his grasp with a low laugh, her eyes dancing with wickedness.
"Now, now, my darling. All in good time."
But he wanted her now. He needed her now.
Ethan stepped forward again, confused by her sudden withdrawal, but she paid him no mind.
"Ah, I hate to do this in such a dirty place. So vulgar. Ridicule," she muttered.
Ethan's confusion grew, and the beginnings of unease stirred within him. He shook his head, muddled as if he had been drinking, but he hadn't had a drop this evening. Had he?
This never happened to him. Women didn't choose Ethan, for anything, to be frank. He was just a barrister's clerk, and a poor one at that.
Ethan shook his head again, the skin on the back of his neck prickling hard enough to draw a gasp from his lips. The lady turned back sharply, her blue eyes narrowing.
"Oh, no you don't. I'm starving."
"I don't...I don't understand," Ethan said weakly. Everything stilled, as if the night itself held its breath. Murky fog hung in the air, and even the muffled sounds of the nearby tavern were silenced.
The woman's skin seemed to thin until she looked almost cadaverous, bones protruding sharply, gleaming teeth elongating. Breath strangling in his throat, Ethan staggered back as she glided forward, sinuous, as she stalked him.
"You will understand everything, Ethan Richard Hadley, in but a few moments." The thing in front of him captured his wrist in a lightning motion, her grip as unbreakable as iron. The sensual spell she had cast over him snapped. Menace poured off her, its strength frightening Ethan. The ravenous blue of her eyes now burned with an unearthly evil.
"How do you know my name?"
Her grin was hard, victorious. "Everything you are is mine now...or it will be very soon."
Fear clamored and horror screamed inside Ethan's mind. He pulled frantically against her, but he couldn't break the creature's grip. He must get away. She was danger; she was death. His death. He could see it now in her eyes.
"Come now, darling," the thing crooned, inexorably drawing him out of the light and taking him with her into the inky dark of the alley. "Come, come..."
Ethan fought her, cursing and jerking against his bondage like a wild animal caught in a hunter's snare, but soon the darkness swallowed him. A scream rent the air, full of despair and pain, dwindling to whimpers before it was silenced.
The street was quiet again. Peaceful. The fog slid away and the stars came out, twinkling down on the city and her inhabitants, who were blissfully unaware of what walked amongst them.