Relentless Seduction Online - Jillian Burns

1

CLAIRE BROOKS HESITATED at the door to Once Bitten. A sense of eerie foreboding made her shiver.

Nonsense. She’d read too many gothic novels in her youthful summer days.

There was no such thing as premonition, and it certainly couldn’t make one shiver. It was merely the cold, drizzly night. And her worry for Julia.

Despite the jazzy wail from a street musician’s trumpet down the street, the occasional clip-clop of horses’ hooves pulling carriages, and tourists still roaming the sidewalks, this area didn’t feel as if it was part of the French Quarter.

It was simply another New Orleans bar, the only difference being it attracted tourists with its singularly macabre theme. More importantly, it was the only clue she had.

Claire pushed the button on her phone and compared the picture Julia had sent her last night to the purple neon sign in front of her. Last night, Julia had been standing in this exact spot. So this was the logical place to begin her search.

That picture was the last communication she’d had from Julia. Despite leaving her dozens of increasingly frantic messages, Claire had heard nothing from her friend in almost twenty-four hours. What if she was already...dead?

She shook off the horrifying thought, swung open the door and stepped purposefully inside.

Creepy discordant music assaulted her ears. Her eyes stung and her nostrils itched from the smoky incense. But at least the temperature inside was warmer than the chilly rain outside.

She closed her umbrella, shrunk it to its mini size and placed it in her oversize tote bag. Searching for Julia’s mischievous smile and blond hair, Claire began to study the assortment of unique individuals gyrating around the dance floor—or in iron cages hanging from the ceiling.

In addition to people with multiple piercings, an overabundance of tattoos and unusual costumes, there was a man wearing only tight, black shorts and a leather collar around his neck. And working her way around the room was a naked woman with a large, very much alive snake wrapped around her torso. A large percentage of the patrons sported dyed-black hair, kohl-lined eyes and...fangs.

Whether they were fake, or real incisors filed to a point, the fangs didn’t disturb Claire. There was no such thing as vampires. But these people were all welcome to their eccentricities. The only thing Claire cared about was finding Julia. And if it meant questioning every vampire wannabe in this place then that’s what she’d do.

She lifted her chin and joined the occupants of the famous vampire bar, Once Bitten.

As she tried to make her way through the mob of sweaty people, she felt their stares on her as if she were the weird one. Actually, she guessed she was.

But she kept mingling, searching faces for Julia or the guy she’d disappeared with. Eventually she found herself in a darkened lounge with low, red velvet sofas forming an enclosed sitting area. Between each grouping of seats lay old-fashioned wooden coffins, on which people had placed their drinks. Coffins as coffee tables. Claire raised her brow. Clever.

These sitting areas were occupied with similar-looking patrons. Goths, freaks and vampires.

But no Julia.

A glance to her right revealed a surprisingly normal-looking bar with neon beer advertisements flashing above a mirrored wall stacked with shot glasses and bottles of liquor. Cocktail glasses hung upside down from a rack above the bar with more patrons perched on black wooden stools.

She headed there, pulling out her cell phone and bringing up the picture of Julia on the way. Snagging a lone stool, she leaned forward against the scratched, worn oak to catch the bartender’s attention.

He was wiping a tumbler with a pristine white towel, while at the same time conducting a flirtatious discussion with two coeds in low-riding blue jeans and halter tops. The girls were engrossed in whatever he was saying, and who could blame them when he wore such a dangerously sinful grin.

She summoned her inner Julia and raised her hand and waved. “Excuse me?”

The moment the man turned her way a quiver of desire shot through her. Slate-gray eyes fringed with dark lashes bore into her, freezing her in place. His collar-length black hair wasn’t dyed, nor was the thick stubble darkening his angular jaw.

His grin softened as he leisurely replaced the tumbler on a shelf behind him before sauntering over to flatten his palms on the bar before her.

“What you need, cher?” His voice was as smooth and as deeply Southern as Spanish moss hanging from a Cypress tree. He wore a wide leather bracelet on his