Genre: Paranormal erotic-romance, time-travel
Publisher: Ellora’s Cave
Number of pages: 85 pages
Word Count: 40k
Cover Artist: Syneca
Maya Rousseau’s fantasy vacation in Avignon France heats up when an eccentric enchantress tricks her into drinking mojo-laced absinthe.
An unexpected encounter with the green fairy causes Maya’s reality to have a serious melt down. She travels back in time and wakes up naked in the bed of her favorite bad boy Bohemian artist, the tall, dark and mysterious André Bosco. There’s nothing wrong with that except it’s 1903.
For André it’s love at first sight. He begs Maya to become his cherished model, muse and lover. The chemistry and shared passion between them is overwhelming. André’s a generous-hearted dream man but there’s a catch. Every hour they spend together bonds them tighter and time is running out. The same powers that flung Maya back to 1903 are preparing to snatch her back.
With a hundred and ten years separating these soul-bound lovers it’s uncertain if they can find a happy ending without the help of a little magic and La Fée Verte.
Note: Story contains super hot sex with an unattainable man, enchanted hallucinatory beverages, mischievous time-twisters and green fairies.
Maya rubbed her tired eyes with the heel of her hand and blinked. It didn’t help. The glare of a dry July day and endless hours looking at art had left her in a dazed state of overload. The rods and cones of her retinas were kaput. Her feet ached too. She’d packed more than she could comfortably handle into her single allotted vacation day in Avignon and was now suffering from a bad case of too much of a good thing.
Tired or not, she felt alive. This was what her soul had been starved for. Since morning she’d wandered Avignon’s street exhibits, tented galleries and somber museums filled with masterpieces, gazing in awe. She’d enjoyed an outdoor concert on the bank of the Rhône and photographed the sunbaked Romanesque ruins of a medieval bridge, where she had stopped just long enough to eat a light lunch. She loved photography and Avignon was the perfect place to indulge a hobby she wanted to take further. When she got home she intended to look back and feel as inspired to revive her art career as she felt at that moment.
The daytrip to Avignon would have been perfect excerpt for one important omission. She’d failed to locate the art studio of her favorite modernist painter, the mysterious André Bosco. It was a shame, because Bosco was the real reason she’d been attracted to Avignon in the first place. She’d been a fan of the obscure painter for years and had hoped to see the place where he had launched his brief but brilliant career, which had inexplicably ended in 1903.
What she’d expected would be a simple task had turned into a bust. To her disappointment she’d seen no plaques displayed anywhere mentioning Bosco, and no one seemed to know much about him. Even the guidebook had been vague, mentioning a single abandoned building as a possible site of Bosco’s studio. A daylong search had proven fruitless and ended in frustration. Within the next hour she’d have to leave Avignon without touching base with one of the great inspirations in her life. Considering Bosco was a local artist of merit, it surprised her that he was so little celebrated in Avignon.
Maya turned the corner and headed into one of the older parts of town. The buildings were quaint. A few were in need of repair. The shadows stretched longer and the narrow streets bustled with foot traffic. The evening festivities had already started and she realized it was time to leave.
A few yards in front of her, a team of young male dancers burst onto the crowded sidewalk and claimed a small circle of smooth pavement as their stage. A heartbeat later they were dancing a wild routine that had them spinning and kicking in unison like the blades of a blender.
Maya dodged past the acrobatic dancers but got trapped in the crowd that had gathered to watch. She recoiled at the last second from one dancer’s lethal backflips and high kicks, which were executed an arm’s length from her nose. She pushed past the dancers but the crowd closed in and she got sandwiched between the exuberant performance and a gritty sandstone wall.
This sort of thing had been happening all day. The official festival d’Avignon had something interesting planned for every hour of the day but all over the city spontaneous off-festival performances took place anywhere a crowd gathered.
The dancing was fun but she was thirsty, tired and just wanted to sit.
“Excusez-moi.” Maya crept along the wall, managing to push through the throng of observers. She reached the doorway of an interesting looking bistro, tugged the door open and darted inside.
Once inside she entered a soothing candle-lit Victorian-era building and found herself in a charming Bohemian-themed bistro with cranberry-red velvet cushions on the seats and colorful curtains of glass beads dangling from the windows. Glowing hand-blown glass lanterns sat upon polished tabletops. A framed Gauguin print of an ebony-eyed Tahitian beauty holding a bowl of pink flowers hung near the bar. The pungent scent of amber incense and cherry pipe tobacco perfumed the air.
It was like stepping back in time to another era. Maya’s senses were instantly transported back to the heady days of the modernist art movement at the beginning of the twentieth century. She savored the feeling because it was her favorite fantasy time period, and one she would have loved to experience firsthand.
It surprised her that for such a busy festival day the bistro was empty of patrons. The only other occupant of the bistro, and presumably the proprietress, was a woman who appeared to be in her fifties who was dressed in the theatrical garb of a flowing- sleeved poet’s shirt, a black satin corset and flouncy red skirt and tall boots. She stood beside the bar looking like some sort of piratical gypsy queen.
“Bonsoir.” The lady spoke French but addressed Maya with a familiar accent.
Maya smiled at the lady. “Puis-je commander un café glacé, s'il vous plaît?”
“Of course you can have an iced coffee.” The woman’s keen gaze locked on Maya. A thick layer of black kohl ringed the lady’s eyes and lent her an unsettling appearance. “I speak English and I’m going to guess that you grew up not far from my hometown of New Orleans.”
“I’m from Thibodaux!” Maya laughed. “There’s no hiding the accent, is there?”
The lady reached for a coffee press and packed it with fresh grounds. “Seeing as how you’re a Louisiana girl I’ll add a touch of chicory to your coffee.”
“Thank you.” Maya sat at the bar, fully realizing just how much her feet hurt from walking all day on cobblestones.
“My name’s Miss Ruby.” The lady brushed her long black hair away from her face and appeared to be studying Maya with intense interest. “What’s yours?”
Miss Ruby poured hot water over the coffee grounds and pushed down on the press. “Rousseau is a wonderful name for an art lover.”
“You sound certain I’m an art lover.”
“Why else would you be in Avignon in July? I know what drew you.” Miss Ruby toyed with one of her dangling chandelier earrings while she waited for the coffee to strengthen. “I realize my current costume makes me look ridiculous as I say this, but I really do possess the gift of second sight and prophecy. You see, I’m a world-class enchantress with the highest security clearance.”
A nervous laugh burst past Maya’s lips. “I didn’t realize enchantresses had to earn security clearances.”
“They certainly do!” Miss Ruby’s eyes flashed. “You wouldn’t believe the stringent tests we must pass. A world-class enchantress must prove beyond a shadow of doubt that she is trustworthy, ethical and has the highest good of others in mind before she’ll be granted the powers I have.”
Maya wondered if Miss Ruby was another bit of festival street theater or an ex-pat who’d forgotten to take her medication. “What special powers do you possess?”
“I’m like a fairy godmother, but my work tends to be grittier than what a fairy godmother might attempt. The moment I meet someone I know exactly what their soul needs. I understand the inner workings of time and space and use them to advantage. I don’t actually break the laws of nature but I know how to bend them. In fact my specialty is time-twisting. I’m like a witch but I call myself a ‘Beneficent’ because I always serve the highest good. The gift is hereditary. My mama was a New Orleans Voodoo queen. I could have stayed in New Orleans too, but I chose to travel the world as a high-level enchantress and an ambassador of magic.”
“I see.” Maya recoiled. It was just more of her bad luck in Avignon. First she’d failed to locate Bosco’s studio and now a crazy lady dressed like a carnival psychic had trapped her in a weird conversation.
Miss Ruby poured the steaming coffee over a tumbler filled with ice and slid the glass toward Maya. “Enjoy.”
Maya sipped the chilled, chicory-laced coffee with relish. “I feel revived.” She drank fast, not wanting to linger in the deserted bistro. She decided it best to gulp the iced coffee, pay and run for her life before the conversation got stranger.
Miss Ruby picked up a chamois and busied herself polishing the brass rail that ran the length of the elegant mahogany bar.
Maya’s gaze wandered toward the far wall and fixated on a framed pencil sketch of a handsome man with a proud, compelling face. The sketch was framed beneath glass and the paper had yellowed at the corners and crumbled with age. She studied the man’s face and guessed he was in his mid-thirties. He had a thick head of wavy dark hair and a rugged face with square, noble features, chevron brows and luminous eyes that glanced sideways from the portrait and seemed to follow the viewer around the room.
Maya found herself unable to look away. The man had a magnetic quality she seldom saw in contemporary faces. It was a look that could only belong to someone who possessed the self-confidence and perhaps a touch of arrogance not to care what the world thought. The generous arch of the man’s lips was so sensuous her thoughts wandered toward what it must have felt like to be kissed by him.
“You like Bosco, don’t you?” Miss Ruby leaned close. “He has a interesting face, doesn’t he? He can appear both compassionate and feral in turn. I’ve heard many differing opinions about the portrait over the years.”
Maya started. “Is that a portrait of André Bosco, the Fauvist painter?” she gasped. “I’m a great admirer of Bosco! I had no idea a portrait existed.” Her heart fluttered. “Did he really look like that?”
“You know of Bosco?” Miss Ruby looked elated. “So few do. History has all but overlooked him, which is a shame because those familiar with his small body of work have hailed him as one of the most innovative painters of his time. Some say Bosco inspired his more famous peers and set the example for the Fauvist moment by showing the world how to paint like a wild beast. Of course, a few of his nastiest critics called him a ‘paint waster’, but it’s clear Bosco had vision.”
Miss Ruby waved her hands through the air in an expansive gesture. “A few art historians have credited Bosco with being the original wild beast, in part because of his physical intensity and unruly head of hair, but also because he had a habit of tossing his paintbrushes aside and smearing the brightest colors across the canvas with his fingertips, with passion. It was said by those who watched him work that he ravished his canvases like a ferocious lover.” She giggled.
“He sounds exciting.” Maya drew a sharp breath. “Years ago, I saw an original Bosco in a traveling museum show of modernist work. Bosco’s painting was the most expressive piece of art in the entire show. I kept wandering back to look at it again and again. The painting was of a white stallion but the colors were vivid—every hue of the rainbow was hidden in the lines and shadows. Before I left the museum I bought a postcard of the painting and carried it around in a battered sketchbook for years. Bosco was my greatest inspiration. I heard a rumor he had a studio somewhere in Avignon?”
“He did.” Miss Ruby pointed upward. “His studio is a corner room on the third floor. The landlord of the building has preserved it.”
“Bosco’s studio is here?” Maya tensed. “Can I see it?”
“No.” Miss Ruby shook her head. “I don’t have permission to open the room, but the landlord will return on Sunday. You can ask him then.”
“I won’t be here on Sunday.” A note of desolation crept into her voice. “This is my last full day in France. I have to start making my way back to Paris tomorrow for my flight home. I’ll miss my only chance to see Bosco’s studio.” Maya leaned across the bar, feeling absolutely desperate to get a look at Bosco actual living space. “Please reconsider—I promise not to touch a thing.”
“I’m sorry.” Miss Ruby nodded toward the top of the bar, where an ornate brass skeleton key dangled from a green satin ribbon. “The landlord is the only one allowed to use that key to open the studio.”
“Damn.” Maya swallowed the last of her iced coffee and set the empty glass on the counter. She now felt torn about getting up and leaving when something as interesting as André Bosco’s studio was so near. “What’s inside the studio?”
“Everything.” Miss Ruby sounded glib. “The room is exactly as Bosco left it in 1903. He abandoned his paints, brushes, unfinished canvases, clothing—even a small amount of money. It’s a real mystery—no one knows what happened to him.”
A chill shivered up Maya’s spine. “No one knows?”
“There are romantic tales that claim Bosco fell in love with a model. She left him and he simply walked away one day never to be heard from again. What happened after that is an unknown. No doubt that is the reason he hasn’t enjoyed the same success as of some of his peers. Bosco abandoned his art, or perhaps changed his name and drifted. Even his legal name is in dispute, but no one really knows who he was or what became of him.
“The only thing that’s certain is Bosco disappeared from this hotel on the eve of having his work shown at an influential art salon. Wealth and success were headed his way and he chose to chase after a woman instead. Beyond that, history never heard from him again. Even the paintings destined for the salon showing in Paris disappeared and no surviving Bosco paintings have been authenticated after 1903, so you see, his career as an early Fauvist was fleeting but intense.”
Maya’s gaze fixated on the portrait. “It’s sad. He showed such promise.” She studied André Bosco’s commanding face. The depth of his eyes in contrast to his dark brows fascinated her. As she carefully examined the sweeping graphite lines of the sketch an odd thing happened—Bosco’s gaze seemed to sharpen and for the briefest moment she felt as if a living man confronted her.
“That portrait is uncanny.” Maya swayed from side to side, changing her angle of view. “When I move, Bosco’s gaze shifts too.”
“He’s watching you as intensely as you’re watching him.” Miss Ruby chuckled. “I think he likes you.” She turned and opened a locked cabinet built into the wall, opened the cabinet and removed an emerald green, liter-tall apothecary bottle stopped with a wax-dipped cork.
The sides of the bottle were smeared with colorful paint-stained handprints. A yellowed label that had begun to separate from the glass featured a voluptuous winged fairy cloaked in a wisp of green silk. The dreamy-eyed fairy basked beneath ornate golden lettering identifying her as La Fée Verte, the fabled and sometimes fickle green fairy who lurked within absinthe’s golden-green depths, waiting to inspire or destroy those who partook of her.
Miss Ruby proudly presented the bottle to Maya. “This bottle of absinthe belonged to Bosco.” She pointed to the flecks of dried paint on the label and bottle. “This was the paint palette Bosco was using when he disappeared. Look at the vibrancy of the lime greens, sorbet orange and warm pinks. The colors are gorgeous. This is just one of the many personal items he left behind. Being a high-level enchantress from New Orleans, the landlord entrusted me to take possession of the absinthe. I put my own protective mojo on it.”
Maya reached out to touch Bosco’s broad handprint on the bottle with reverence. His palm print dwarfed hers and she immediately saw that he must have been a man of large build. The intimate act of tracing her fingertips against the same spot where Bosco’s had once rested made her hand tingle. Touching Bosco’s handprint seemed to forge a galvanizing link to a past she would have loved to be part of.
Bosco had lived at a time when the world had just begun to awaken to its true potential. Queen Victoria had recently died, marking an official end to the Victorian era. Albert Einstein’s first important papers on thermodynamics had just been published and few outside his rarefied circle of peers knew his name. The Wright brothers were still perfecting their first fragile aircraft. The Eiffel Tower was a newly completed wonder and Europe and the rest of the world had yet to go to war.
Over a century ago, at the moment Bosco had picked up the bottle with paint- stained fingers and left his handprint on the glass, most people had seen a gleaming future on the rise but few had glimpsed its looming shadow.
“You’re touching that bottle as if you were stroking a lover’s thigh,” Miss Ruby said softly. “I can see by your faraway expression that you’re a bit enamored with Bosco. I understand. I’ve been smitten with the past too. It can be so enthralling.”
“I wouldn’t say I was smitten.”
“Is seduced a better word?” Miss Ruby reached behind the bar and retrieved a fluted parfait glass that stood on a delicate pedestal, a spade-shaped filigree spoon and a tiny silver dish filled with sugar cubes. “I can’t allow you to enter Bosco’s studio, but I can offer you a small taste of his absinthe.” Her hand poised above the cork, she said, “Would you like to try it?”
Maya stared at the tempting but slightly forbidding bottle. “Isn’t absinthe dangerous?” She squirmed on the barstool. “I‘ve heard it can cause madness.”
Miss Ruby’s posture stiffened. “I’m not going to let you consume that much. I’m only offering a taste so you can say you shared a drink with André Bosco. But if you’re not interested...” She started to put the bottle back into the cabinet.
“Wait!” Maya lurched forward. “I’d be honored to sample Bosco’s absinthe.” Her head spun from this crazy but thrilling offer.
“There’s a ritual that goes along with this.” Miss Ruby pointed toward the green fairy on the label. “If you want La Fée Verte to bring you a beautiful vision, you must offer her a gift.”
“What kind of a gift?”
Miss Ruby reached over the counter and, with a bold gesture, removed one of Maya’s tiny, gold hoop earrings from her lobe. Before Maya could protest the earring was plopped into the bottom of the fluted glass.
“Why did you do that?” Maya gasped in surprise.
“You can have it back later. La Fée Verte will bring you a lovelier vision if you offer her a personal item with your essence on it.” Miss Ruby lifted a pitcher of water and poured it into the glass until it was half full. She then balanced a lacy silver spoon across the top. “Pick up two sugar cubes,” she commanded. “Kiss each, make a wish and set them on the spoon.”
Maya picked up the sugar cubes and kissed both. The kisses left a sweet grainy texture embedded in her lipstick. She licked her lips and set the stained sugar cubes on the spoon. When set side-by-side the lipstick marks on the two sugar cubes formed a perfect pink heart. She almost pointed out the coincidence to Miss Ruby but decided to keep the thought to herself.
Miss Ruby uncorked the bottle of absinthe and poured a drizzle of golden-green liquid over the sugar cubes. A piquant and slightly bitter herbal scent filled the air. The cubes absorbed the soft-green color as they dissolved and washed through the tiny slots in the spoon. As the absinthe mixed with the cool water it formed delicate whorls that sank in the glass like exhausted dancers gracefully melting to the floor. A moment later the liquid turned a cloudy, opalescent shade of pale-jade.
Miss Ruby glanced at Maya. “Did you make a wish?”
Maya nodded. She’d wished she could meet a man as exciting as André Bosco but didn’t believe for a moment that it could actually happen.
“La Fée Verte can transport you for a brief time to another reality, but remember you belong in the present and no matter the temptation to remain in her realm, you will have to return. Your fate lies in the present.” Miss Ruby dipped the spoon into the glass and stirred. The golden earring twirled at the bottom of the glass, making soft tinkling sounds before settling. She withdrew the spoon and pushed the fluted glass toward Maya. “Your magic potion is ready. Enjoy.”
Maya picked up the glass and braved the first sip. The absinthe was diluted and well sweetened, and many sharp and bitter herbal undertones were present. The first moment on her tongue reminded her of a distant memory of nibbling a bouquet of flowers when she was a toddler. The memory of cloying “greenishness” of the flower stems and leaves was now vivid in her mind. “I taste licorice and something like tarragon...”
“Yes, anise and tarragon are ingredients. There’s much more. The full recipe is something of a mystery, especially as it was made during the last century.”
Maya took another sip and began to enjoy the unusual flavor. The absinthe as it was prepared was both refreshing and warming, most likely due to its high alcohol content. “I think I’d better go slow with this.” She picked up the spoon and stirred it, watching with fascination as a pastel-green tornado formed inside the glass.
“Oh my goodness!” Miss Ruby pointed toward an antique clock on the bar. “I’m late! I have to go. I’m supposed to be at the Place de l’Horloge right now, in the central square, getting ready for an evening performance of the Pirates of Penzance.”
“You’re in a play?” Maya said in bewilderment.
“Do you think I dress like this every day?” Miss Ruby rattled the dozens of gold bangles on her wrists with a dramatic flourish. “I said I was a world-class enchantress, not a kook!”
Maya gazed at her unfinished absinthe with regret as she pushed herself away from the counter. “I should get going so you can lock up.” She set a generous stack of francs on the table. “Thank you, Miss Ruby, for your hospitality. I’m so glad I walked inside your bistro. This might end up being the highlight of my trip to Avignon.” She stole one last, wistful look at Bosco’s portrait.
“Your trip’s not over yet.” Miss Ruby took hold of Maya’s shoulder and urged her to sit. “You don’t have to leave. Stay if you like. I’ll lock the front door and you can finish the absinthe in peace and moon over Bosco’s portrait to your heart’s content.”
Maya’s heart leaped at the attractive prospect. “I couldn’t do that.”
“Why not? Who will it hurt? If I allow you to leave so soon, Bosco’s spirit will be cross with me.” Miss Ruby pulled a rakish patch over one eye. “Relax and finish your absinthe. I’ll check back in an hour or so.”
“Are you sure?” The invitation tempted her.
“If I can’t trust a Thibodaux girl with an innocent face like yours, who can I trust?” Miss Ruby hurried toward the front door holding an old-fashioned ring of brass keys. “I’ll be back soon!” She picked up a velvet pouch and left the bistro, locking the front door behind her with the twist of a key.
Maya sat at the bar feeling astonished she’d allowed such an odd thing to happen. She’d just been locked inside a virtual stranger’s place of business and left alone to drink a possibly narcotic beverage from an antique glass, and it felt like a relief.
This weird situation was not the sort of thing she would take part in on a normal day, but what the hell. Life was short and who knew if or when she might ever return to Avignon?
As she sipped the absinthe her gaze darted toward the far wall. The thrilling thought occurred that she was alone in the presence of André Bosco’s spirit. She had him all to herself. How lucky was that? Without doubt this was as close as she might get to a man’s whose talent and mysterious ways had always intrigued her.
She took another sip of absinthe, noticing some odd effects. She imaged pale green sparks were hovering just beyond her peripheral vision but when she turned to look they fled. The colors surrounding her grew brighter. She saw myriad tiny rainbows shooting off the strands of glass beads dangling in the window. For a moment the café became a kaleidoscope of swirling color. She became dizzy and clutched the brass rail for balance.
“Wow,” she muttered. She’d consumed so little. This stuff hit a lot harder than she’d expected.
Outside, the streets of Avignon were filled with pedestrians heading toward their varying evening amusements, yet not a single soul glanced through the bistro windows as they passed, or showed the least bit of curiosity about a lone woman seated inside. She even waved at a few passersby and was ignored, as if she were invisible to the outside world.
A glint of light caught her attention. Maya glanced at a slender tendril of pale-green light darting across the café. She tried to follow the green flash of movement with her gaze but couldn’t keep up. The light zipped around the bistro with the speed of a hummingbird. The sparkling streak seemed to know where she would look next and appeared everywhere she turned her attention.
“La Fée Verte,” she whispered. “Is that you?”
Maya could have sworn she heard the faint sound of sweet laughter and wondered if the green fairy was toying with her. She wasn’t sure how she felt about that. La Fée Verte was said to be a real mischief-maker, often leading fools into madness. This could be bad.
She stood on unsteady legs, stepped away from the bar and glanced down. The geometric design of the black-and-gray linoleum floor burst into a sunny meadow of bright pink and yellow tulips rolling onward as far her eyes could see.
“Ah!” She blinked and the floor returned to its usual staid pattern of black-and-gray interlocking squares. “Oh my God. This isn’t good. I have to get out of here.” She made her way cautiously toward the door.
“Maya,” a husky male voice called to her.
She turned and looked for the caller, but no one was there. She scanned every empty corner of the bistro. “Who said my name?”
“Go upstairs.” The voice spoke with confidence that hinted at a strong personality used to being obeyed.
She turned her gaze toward André Bosco’s portrait and studied the sketch. The voice had come from that direction and she now wondered if Miss Ruby was playing a prank at her expense.
She made her way toward the portrait, intent on lifting the framed sketch from the wall and exposing the hidden microphone.
She reached toward the portrait and lifted it carefully off its nail. The solid wall beneath showed no signs of tampering. Her fingertips grazed the back of the frame, feeling nothing out of the ordinary. She couldn’t remember all she’d heard about absinthe but wondered if unexplained phantom voices was one of its many startling properties?
“Maya, come to me.” The man’s voice now carried a touch of loneliness. “Please.”
She rehung the portrait on the nail. Bosco stared back at her as if he were waiting for something pivotal to happen and in danger of losing patience.
She brushed her fingertips against the sides of the frame. “I wish we’d lived at the same time. I would go looking for you in a second.”
A tiny orb of glowing green light raced around the edges of the frame. Maya stared in wonder as the streak of green circled above her head and zipped toward the bar. She turned to follow the apparition with her gaze. The orb whizzed back and forth in front of the bar, flying in ever tighter loops. A moment later the brass key to Bosco’s studio fell from its hook to the floor with a hollow ping.
“No way,” Maya muttered. “That’s trespassing—breaking and entering or whatever they call that sort of criminal activity in France.” She approached the bar on wobbly legs, intent on putting the key in its proper place and leaving this strange bistro ASAP.
She bent down to retrieve the brass skeleton key from the floor and gingerly picked it up by its satin ribbon. She lifted it in front of her face, allowing the key to sway in the air. The key felt heavy in her hand as if it carried a greater weight or some looming responsibility hidden within. She reached upward to set it back in its proper place on the tiny brass hook above the bar.
“Use it,” the male voice whispered so close to her ear that his warm breath bathed the side of her cheek. The convincing impression of tall man with a solid build standing at her back overwhelmed her.
She gasped and turned. Of course there was no one there, but she was left with the distinct impression a man had been near. The ethereal visitation had left behind the pleasing scents of warm skin, well-worn leather and the slight nutty fragrance of linseed oil.
The zippy orb of light returned and circled above Maya’s head in chaotic figure eights before flying up a staircase at the back of the bistro.
“Oh no.” Maya shook her head. “I’m not going to do that. That’s wrong.” She glanced accusingly at Bosco’s portrait and noticed he was almost smiling. His lips hadn’t moved but a look of amusement seemed to gleam in his eyes.
The small amount of absinthe she had drunk was making her feel very strange. She stood frozen as the glass beads hanging in the bistro’s windows grabbed the last fading rays of sunset and shot bursts of splintered rainbows around the room. The atmosphere felt charged, as if an electrical storm were brewing. “Wow, what have I gotten myself into?”
A man’s broad hand cupped the back of her neck and stroked downward with the gentlest touch, causing a cascade of tiny shivers to dance along her spine. The phantom’s hand was both possessive and sensuous and made her sigh with pleasure.
“Come upstairs,” the voice pleaded sincerely. “I miss you.”
She gulped a worried breath. This was too much. She wondered if this was a purely absinthe-induced aberration or if André Bosco was actually talking to her across time and space. As crazy as that question sounded, she couldn’t tell the difference between absinthe and a wild flight of imagination.
She stared at the key in her hand. It shimmered in the low light and warmed in her palm. The thought floated in her mind that Bosco’s private sanctuary was only three flights of stairs away. The distance was nothing. She was tempted to sneak upstairs, unlock the door to Bosco’s studio and take a peek. She could do it and return in five minutes. Who would it hurt?
“No one,” she whispered. It would hurt no one. She’d unlock the door with care, take a quick look at Bosco’s abandoned studio and leave. Her curiosity would be quelled. The key would be placed back on the hook and no one would know or care that she’d ever done such a thing.
It was going to happen. A thrill shot through her. She climbed the stairs on unsteady legs, clutching the railing for support. The stairwell was narrow, steep and the steps uneven. Slim windows glazed in leaded stained-glass cast jewel-toned light across the walls.
When Maya reached the top of the third flight her heart pounded as much from exertion as excitement. She glanced both ways down a dim hallway wondering which corner room was Bosco’s.
The streak of green light sped past, turned to the left, swooping and twirling through the air until it reached the end of the hallway, where it lingered in front of a heavy door before slipping through a keyhole and disappearing.
“La Fée Verte, lead the way...” Maya laughed and turned left. The dense patterns woven into the hallway carpet began to writhe like the flexing scales of a giant python and made her dizzy. Her ankles wobbled and she dared not glance downward and lose her balance. This wasn’t funny. She was beginning to feel seriously weird. Her pace quickened as she realized she had better just open the studio, take a look and get out of there before things got any stranger.
The last door at the end of the hall was latched and locked with a heavy, old- fashioned brass padlock as wide as her fist. She slipped the brass key into the lock and heard a soft click as it opened. She lifted the padlock from the latch and turned the doorknob. The door opened with a dry squeak. She leaned inside the room as an explosive burst of acid-green light detonated in her face, knocking her to the floor.
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I’m an artist, an author, mother and wife. I write for Ellora’s Cave, Loose Id Publishing and a couple new publishers to be announced soon. I try to bring a touch of the mystical and a big sense of adventure to everything I write because I believe there’s a bold, kick-ass heroine inside all of us who wants to take a wild ride with a strong worthy hero.
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