My thanks to so many people: Jerrilyn Farmer’s son’s Latin teacher; Toni L.P. Kelner and Steve Kelner, friends and sounding boards; Ivan Van Laningham, who has both knowledge and opinions about many, many subjects; Dr. Stacy Clanton, about whom I can say the same; Alexandre Dumas, author of the fabulous The Three Musketeers, which everyone ought to read; Anne Rice, for vampirizing New Orleans; and to the reader at Uncle Hugo’s who guessed the plot of this book in advance . . . hats off to you all!
I WAS DRAPED OVER THE ARM OF ONE OF THE MOST beautiful men I’d ever seen, and he was staring into my eyes. “Think . . . Brad Pitt,” I whispered. The dark brown eyes still regarded me with remote interest.
Okay, I was on the wrong track.
I pictured Claude’s last lover, a bouncer at a strip joint.
“Think about Charles Bronson,” I suggested. “Or, um, Edward James Olmos.” I was rewarded by the beginnings of a hot glow in those long-lashed eyes.
In a jiffy, you would’ve thought Claude was going to hike up my long rustling skirt and yank down my low-cut push-up bodice and ravish me until I begged for mercy. Unfortunately for me—and all the other women of Louisiana—Claude batted for another team. Bosomy and blond was not Claude’s ideal; tough, rough, and brooding, with maybe a little whisker stubble, was what lit his fire.
“Maria-Star, reach in there and pull that lock of hair back,” Alfred Cumberland directed from behind the camera. The photographer was a heavyset black man with graying hair and mustache. Maria-Star Cooper took a quick step in front of the camera to rearrange a stray strand of my long blond hair. I was bent backward over Claude’s right arm, my invisible (to the camera, anyway) left hand desperately clutching the back of his black frock coat, my right arm raised to rest gently on his left shoulder. His left hand was at my waist. I think the pose was meant to suggest that he was lowering me to the ground to have his way with me.
Claude was wearing the black frock coat with black knee pants, white hose, and a white frothy shirt. I was wearing a long blue dress with a billowing skirt and a score of petticoats. As I’ve mentioned, the dress was scanty on the topside, with the little sleeves pushed down off my shoulders. I was glad the temperature in the studio was moderately warm. The big light (it looked to my eyes like a satellite dish) was not as hot as I’d expected.
Al Cumberland was snapping away as Claude smoldered down at me. I did my best to smolder right back. My personal life had been, shall we say, barren for the past few weeks, so I was all too ready to smolder. In fact, I was ready to burst into flames.
Maria-Star, who had beautiful light-toast skin and curly dark hair, was standing ready with a big makeup case and brushes and combs to perform last-minute repairs. When Claude and I had arrived at the studio, I’d been surprised to find that I recognized the photographer’s young assistant. I hadn’t seen Maria-Star since the Shreveport packleader had been chosen a few weeks before. I hadn’t had much of a chance to observe her then, since the packmaster contest had been frightening and bloody. Today, I had the leisure to see that Maria-Star had completely recovered from being hit by a car this past January. Werewolves healed quickly.
Maria-Star had recognized me, too, and I’d been relieved when she smiled back at me. My standing with the Shreveport pack was, to say the least, uncertain. Without exactly volunteering to do so, I’d unwittingly thrown in my lot with the unsuccessful contestant for the packleader’s job. That contestant’s son, Alcide Herveaux, whom I’d counted as maybe more than a friend, felt I’d let him down during the contest; the new packleader, Patrick Furnan, knew I had ties to the Herveaux family. I’d been surprised when Maria-Star chatted away while she was zipping the costume and brushing my hair. She applied more makeup than I’d ever worn in my life, but when I stared into the mirror I had to thank her. I looked great, though I didn’t look like Sookie Stackhouse.
If Claude hadn’t been gay, he might have been impressed, too. He’s the brother of my friend Claudine, and he makes his living stripping on ladies’ night at Hooligans, a club he now owns. Claude is simply