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The Messenger

A Bound By Blood Short

Finley Scott



Copyright 2017 Finley Scott

Akansa Press, LLC

Smashwords Edition





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All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.



Also by Finley Scott:

Trouble: A Bound by Blood Short
Bad Blood: Bound by Blood Book One



If I hadn’t needed the job so badly, I would have told the old man where to stick it, but I was two months behind on rent and dangerously close to eviction. Jobs were hard to come by, so when I saw the Help Wanted sign in the window of Big Whiskey’s Bar and Grill, it seemed like a dream come true. Never in all my 25 years had I seen anyone except Whiskey behind the counter. At first, I thought the old man must have died and his heirs were looking for someone to run the joint. Except Whiskey didn’t have heirs. As far as anyone knew, Whiskey never married, never had kids. After spending five minutes in conversation with him, I understood why.

“No consorting with the customers—even during off hours.” His voice was all gravel and cheap booze.

“But—“ I tried to argue, but he cut me off.

“No buts,” he snarled. “It’s bad for business.” He threw back a shot of acrid amber liquid and sighed. “What if you mess around with one of the customers and it ends bad? You’re here, so it’s awkward now. She don’t come here no more. She’s gotta find a new place to go for drinks. Her friends can’t let her drink alone, so they go to this new place. The men go where the women are. Pretty soon, I don’t have any customers. See? Bad for business.” His logic was flawed, but I couldn’t exactly figure out how to poke a hole in it. “You ever tended bar before?”

“No.” I felt my heart plummet. Of course, he would want someone with experience. It was the same problem I ran into all over Memphis. No experience meant no job. Of course, no job meant no experience.

“Me neither when I bought the place. You just be good to the customers, keep an eye out for trouble, you’ll be fine.”

I felt a bubble of hope swell in my chest. “When would I start?”

“Now.” He dropped a large brass key on the table between us. “We close at 1:00. Make sure you lock up.”

I stared at the key as though it were a rattler poised to strike. He was leaving me by myself? “What about my training?”

“What training?” His laugh echoed off the scarred hard-wood floors. The few customers in the bar looked up to see what Whiskey found so amusing. When all they found was me, their attention returned to their drinks. “What training? Someone orders a beer, you give them a beer. They order a whiskey, you give them a whiskey. Take their money and put it in the register. Lock the door at one. Sweep the floor and turn off the lights. It’s not hard.” He stood and dug in his pocket, pulling out a second, smaller key. “This is to the room upstairs. It’s not much, but it beats sleeping on the street.” The key clattered on the table as he tossed it toward me. I barely caught it before it hit the floor.

“What room?”

“You aren’t real bright are you?” He rolled his eyes. For all that a network of lines framed them, they were sharp and knowing in his walnut brown face. “Try to keep up. Isn’t that why you were looking for a job? You need a place to stay, don’t you?” I didn’t even want to know how Whiskey knew that. “The room’s part of your pay.” Whiskey stretched with a mighty groan. “This is my first early night in over 20 years. Think I’ll take a little walk, see what Memphis gets up to when the sun’s down.” And with that, he left the bar before I could ask another question.

My eyes drifted around the room that was suddenly my domain. I stepped behind the bar and found an old apron that might have been white once, but was now a muddy gray. I made a mental note to buy bleach. Whiskey had the bar well-organized. Cold beer was in bottles in the cooler behind me. Liquor was organized by type: vodka, gin, bourbon, tequila, and whiskey. Clean glasses were on shelves under the bar out of the sight of customers. On the end of the bar sat an enormous old-fashioned cash register that looked like Whiskey stole it from a museum.

The late afternoon business was sparse. A Fae sat in a corner booth, his nose stuck in a book while he nursed a gin and tonic. A group of old goblins sat around a table in the middle of the bar, playing a game of dominos. I can do this, I thought to myself. Then one of the goblins spied me from across the room. A sly smile spread across his face as he sidled up to the bar. “Where’s Whiskey?”

“Whiskey is taking a break this evening.” I tried to keep my voice from cracking.

“And who are you?” His voice was mulish, the confrontation a simmer just below the surface.

“I’m Vincent. Is there something I can do for you?” The goblin’s dull eyes took on a predatory gleam as he looked from my eyes down to my crotch. “There’s a lot of things you could do for me,” he leered. “But how about we start with a beer?”

My skin crawled, and I was suddenly glad for Whiskey’s prohibition against consorting with the customers. Not that I was averse to being with a man, but goblins old enough to be my father…well, a lot of shifters had daddy issues, but I wasn’t one of them. I sat the beer on the bar in front of him, being careful not to touch his fingers. “That will be $3.00.”

“Put it on my tab,” he grunted.

Whiskey never in his life allowed anyone to run a tab. “Nice try.” I felt my confidence rise. “$3.00 or the beer back.”

The goblin cracked a grin. “You can’t blame me for trying.” He dropped a five on the bar. “Both you and the beer.” He winked and returned to his table. The others all leaned in, obviously drilling him on the new guy. I breathed a sigh of relief. I felt like I passed my first test. Maybe it wouldn’t be so hard after all.

As the sun went down and the stifling Memphis heat released its grip on the city, more and more Creatures filled the bar. Most Creatures were nocturnal by nature, eager to take control of the streets while the Humans were snug in their homes. Before I knew it, customers lined the bar three deep, all shouting different orders. I tried my best to keep up. They all asked after Whiskey and all gave me the third degree. Who was I? Where was I from? I thought I knew most Creatures in Memphis, but so many of the faces were unfamiliar. Apparently there was a whole underbelly of Memphis Creaturedom that I wasn’t privy to, and Whiskey's was their home base. Between answering questions, filling orders, and taking money, I fell behind. I mixed up orders, pouring rum instead of whiskey and completely overlooking customers.

“That’ll be $5,” I told a troll who looked dangerously close to his drinking limit.

“I already paid you,” he argued.

I searched my memory, but couldn’t remember taking any cash from him. “I don’t think you did.” I tried to be firm, but he heard the uncertainty in my voice and pressed for an advantage.

“Are you calling me a liar?”

I stammered, not really knowing what to say. I didn’t want to offend a customer on my first night, but Whiskey would have a stroke if I started handing out free drinks. “I just think you’re a little mixed up.”

All chatter in the bar stopped. Every eye in the place was one me. I could hear my own heartbeat, loud in my ears. “You’re calling me a liar!” He lifted the drink, and I closed my eyes and winced, preparing myself for the crash of glass as the troll threw it across the bar. But the crash didn’t come.

“He’s not calling you a liar. It’s so busy, anyone could be a little confused.” A twenty was slapped on the bar. “Let me get this one and we can all stay friends, oui?

“Uh…oui?” The troll’s voice was shaky and unsure, as though he couldn’t figure out how he lost control of the situation. I gratefully grabbed the twenty, slipped it into the register and made change. When I went to hand it over, the stranger waved it away. “Keep it,” he smiled. “You’ve earned it, chere.” I finally looked into his eyes and barely stifled a gasp. His eyes were light green, the color of seafoam, framed by inky black lashes. His high cheekbones were covered by café au lait skin, and the ripe plum lips curved in a smile that said he knew he was beautiful.

“Thank you.” I was pleased my voice sounded normal. I wanted to ask his name, where he was from. He obviously wasn’t from Memphis, but he slipped away from the bar and disappeared into the crowd. I was once again inundated with customers, but with the confrontation successfully behind me, I grew more confident as the night wore on. I barely had time to remember my name, much less think about the mysterious stranger.

The crowd began to thin out just after midnight. It wasn't called the witching hour for nothing. Midnight was when witches worked their spells, vampires hunted their prey, and shifters took their animal form and roamed the town. I felt a twinge as I watched the Creatures file out of the bar. Midnight was my favorite time. I realized working for Whiskey would put a damper on my nocturnal wanderings. I could go places as a big cat that I could never go in Human form.

"Last call," I shouted over the low hum of voices and clinking of glasses.

"One bourbon, neat." I turned, and there he was. Had he been in the bar the whole night? A flush rose up my body at the sight of him. I took the moment it took me to fill his glass to examine him from under my lashes. Damn, but he was a beautiful man. Dark hair with just enough curl that it would wrap around my fingers, smooth caramel skin, shoulders as broad as the door. I cursed the bar that blocked the rest of him, but somehow I knew his bottom half would be as mouthwatering as the rest of him.

He tried to hand me a bill for his drink, but I refused the offer. "On the house," I said. "You really helped me out earlier."

A grin curved his lips and made him, almost impossibly, more attractive. "Whiskey would have your head for giving away good booze." But he slipped the money back in his pocket and perched on the nearest bar stool.

"So you know Whiskey?" Everyone in Memphis knew Whiskey, but this Creature was obviously not a native.

"I've never met him," he confessed, his long fingers rotating the glass as he smiled up at me. "But I've heard about him. I was actually sent here with a message for him." He lifted the bourbon to his lips, and I watched in fascination as his throat flexed as he swallowed. "I was a little disappointed when I walked in and he wasn't behind the bar." His eyes took on a gleam. "But I got over my disappointment quickly." He gave me a wink, and I cursed Whiskey's no-fraternization policy. "I'm being rude," he said. He placed his empty glass on the bar and extended his hand. "I haven't introduced myself. My name is Joubert." He winced slightly. "It's an old family name. Horribly old-fashioned."

I found it charming and told him so. He gave an elegant shrug. "It could have been worse. My great-grandmother's maiden name was Leveaux. That would have been an impossible name to live up to in New Orleans."

That was one mystery solved. It explained his creamy skin and the slight lilt in his voice. "My name is Vincent." I slipped my hand in his, and a jolt of desire shot straight down to my cock. I was suddenly glad for the apron I wore.

"Like the painter," he said. "How lovely."

"So you came to Memphis to see Whiskey?" I tried to act nonchalant, grabbing a towel and wiping the bar, as though I talked to beautiful Creole men every day.

"Actually, I didn't come to see Whiskey, I was sent to see Whiskey. My aunt sent me with a message."

"She couldn't send a text?" I joked.

The look he gave me could have turned vapor into ice. I clearly said the wrong thing. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean..." My tongue tripped over the words.

His face softened at my discombobulation. "You didn't know. This is family business. It can only be handled through traditional channels."

"So are you related to Whiskey, then?" It would explain a little of the mystery of Whiskey. Whiskey had the same complexion, the same light eyes, as Joubert.

"Not closely, but I'm sure the family tree branches cross somehow. New Orleans is a small town and family trees go back centuries. We're all related to each other, even if we don't like to admit it." A small chuckle escaped his lips. "But he is a friend of my aunt's. I believe he may have been close to my mother at one time. She died when I was a baby, and no one talks about her much." Sympathy sat like a weight on my chest. I didn't have the best of parents, but at least I had both of them. "But my aunt raised me with as much love and heart as any mother." I wanted to ask about his father, but seeing as how I already put my foot in my mouth once, I felt it best to remain quiet. But still, I was shocked by how much I wanted to know everything about Joubert. Who his parents were, what was his favorite color, what was his favorite food, what were his hopes and dreams? I laughed at myself. I was acting like a love-struck 14 year old girl mooning over a cute boy. I needed to get it together. "So where is Whiskey? I was under the impression that he lived here."

"He took an early night off. I think it was his first one in quite a while."

"It's good he has you to lean on," Joubert said. "How long have you worked for him?"

"Uh..." I scratched the back of my neck and gave a sheepish grin. "Today's actually my first night."

Joubert raised one perfect eyebrow. "Seriously? He left you by yourself on your first night?"

I couldn't help but laugh. "I applied about 3:00. He hired me, handed me a key, and reminded me to lock the door when we close." I glance at the clock over the door. It was right at 1:00. "Speaking of, it's closing time." I hated to kick him out, wanted to ask him to hang around while I close up, but I really needed the job.

"Well, since you're off duty, can I buy you a drink?" His eyes were bright with a fire that drew me in. I knew I risked getting burned if I got too close, but I never wanted anything as I wanted to say yes.

"I wish I could, but..."

The light in his eyes dimmed. He backed away from the bar. "I'm sorry, I thought..."

"Wait!" I came around from behind the bar and grabbed him by the arm to stop him. "I seriously would love to, but Whiskey has a strict no-fraternization with the customers policy." I hoped Joubert would understand. "It's my first day. I can't get fired. I need this job."

Relief softened his face. "That's a stupid rule," he said. "You should flirt with all the customers. It would be good for business."

"Whiskey thinks it's the other way around," I laughed. "He thinks if I end up with a regular it could end badly and they would take their business elsewhere."

"Well, that shouldn't apply to me," he reasoned. "I'm not local, and I don't have any friends here to run off." The glow reappeared in his eyes. "So how about that drink?" He took a half-step closer. "Lock up. There's got to be at least one bar around that's still open. Memphis isn't New Orleans, but surely they don't roll up the streets this early."

It took me all of a half second to decide. "Sure." I whipped off my apron and threw it over the bar. Joubert gave me a wicked grin.

"If Whiskey wants to increased business, he needs to keep you out of that apron. His eyes scanned me from head to toe and back again, stopping at my crotch. My cock sprang to attention under his gaze.

Joubert closed the distance between us and covered my mouth with his. His lips were warm, soft, molding to mine. I leaned into him, eager for more.

"What the Hell?" I pulled away at the sound of the voice echoing in the empty bar. Lust clouded my vision, and it took a moment for me to remember where I was. Whiskey. Shit.

"What are you doing here?" It was a stupid question, and his snort of derision told me exactly what he thought of my fake outrage.

"I own the place," he grunted. "I was coming to make sure you locked up." I was rattled, embarrassed, scared for my job.

"Whiskey?" Joubert's lilting voice cut through the tension. "You are Whiskey?"

For the first time Whiskey's attention turned to the man who still had an arm around my waist.

"Who wants to know," he asked, but I could see him take in Joubert's fine features, see the shock of recognition flatten his face.

"I am Joubert Fortier." He dropped his arm from around my body and extended his hand. "I'm pleased to finally meet you."

Whiskey ignored Joubert's offered hand. "You're Lissette's boy."

Joubert's voice dropped his flirtatious drawl. "Yes sir." His voice was quiet with respect. "Aunt Adelaide said you were very close."

"You look like her," Whiskey observed, but as I looked from the older man to the younger one, I realized Joubert looked like Whiskey. "What brings you to Memphis?"

"I have a message, a message from Adelaide." His face grew tight, stoic. "She said it's time."

The words made no sense to me, but Whiskey flinched as though Joubert slapped him.

"It's time?" Disdain coated his words. "It's time?" His voice rose sharply. "It's past time. And Adelaide sent you to—what? Bring old Whiskey home?" He shook his grizzled head. "No, I'm too damn old to help Adelaide now." He examined Joubert with a critical eye. "You look like a strong young man. You handle it."

"With all due respect, sir," Joubert began, "I'm not sure what 'it' is. Aunt Adelaidea isn't always forthcoming."

Whiskey almost smiled at that, but caught himself in time, as though to smile would be to reveal weakness. "So she's not." His face softened. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry about your mother, and I'm sorry I can't help Adelaide, but I have a business to run."

I didn't know what was going on. I didn't know these people. The thought that Whiskey had a life before the bar, before Memphis, was almost too bizarre to comprehend. He seemed as much a part of Memphis as the Mississippi River, but I saw a chance to keep my job. "I can watch the bar."

"You," he sneered. "It's only your first night, and you already can't keep your dick in your pants, son."

"It's still in his pants," Joubert noted. "We didn't get that far." I bit back a laugh. "But he's very good behind the bar. You've been here 25 years. Don't you think it's time you came back home?"

"Memphis is my home now." There was an undeniable note of wistfulness in Whiskey's voice.

"I don't believe that," Joubert argued, the lilt creeping back into his voice. "You can never really leave New Orleans."

If I didn't think Whiskey incapable of tears, I would have sworn his eyes glimmered, but in a split second, the moment was gone, and Whiskey stood dry-eyed. "So Vincent, you want this job or not? I was under the impression you were desperate. If you want the job, lock the door and go on up, or give me the damn keys back."

"I was going to take him for a drink," Joubert argued. " You can't deny him a social life."

Surprise flattened Whiskey's face. People didn't usually argue with Whiskey, not if they knew what was good for them. He shook his head and sighed. "You know what? I don't care what you do. I'm too old for this shit." He jerked his head toward the door. "Go on, get out and have fun. I'll lock up."

I hesitated, thrown off-kilter by his sudden change of heart. "Are you sure? I can lock up."

"Now you're worried about doing your job?" Whiskey laughed, but it was without humor, his eyes still flat. "Naw...you two go on. It's late. We'll talk about things in the morning."

I couldn't shake my feeling of dread. I wondered if I would still have a job when the sun rose. "Go..." Whiskey shoved me toward the door. It felt as though he were trying to get rid of us, but I didn't want to question my good fortune. Joubert grabbed my hand and pulled me into the Memphis night. I breathed deeply, inhaling the humid air. This was my favorite time, the time when the Humans were tucked safely in their beds, and Creatures had the run of the streets.

"Where to?" Joubert asked.

"Beale Street is that way." I pointed toward the lights a few blocks over. Faint strains of bluesy guitar floated on the wind. Joubert made a sour face. "What?"

"It's not jazz." He grinned. "But I guess it will do."

"Snob." A giggle escaped my lips. It was a beautiful night, I was with a beautiful man, and I had a job—at least for the time being. I should have known shit was about to hit the fan.

We were steps from Whiskey's front door when the warm night air grew heavy, and the moon's light dimmed. A thick black mist, hot and suffocating, surrounded us. As soon as it appeared, it was gone, or so I thought. I turned to look for Joubert and found him on the ground, covered by the cloud. He convulsed, gasped. As Joubert struggled, the mist solidified, coalesced into the shape of a man. I didn't even think. Instinct took over. My canines sharpened, my muscles lengthened, and before a conscious thought flittered through my mind, I shifted, landing lightly on all fours.

I charged at the form and swiped with one massive paw. I wanted to bite, to tear it to shreds, but the risk of harming Joubert in the fight was too great. The figure rolled off Joubert and sprang to its feet. Its skin was dark, but underneath the warm cocoa was a gray pallor. His eyes were silver, almost white in the moonlight. The stench of death clung to him as though he just stepped out of the grave. What the hell? I snarled, ready to do my worst. The Creature crouched, his eyes gleaming, spoiling for a fight. A surge of adrenaline shot through me. It had been too long since I let my animal self go. I coiled back, ready to attack, but Whiskey ran from inside the bar, his face full of fire. He muttered a phrase that sounded like French. Fury distorted the figure's face, but instead of backing down, Whiskey took a step closer, flicked his hand and muttered a curse, and the Creature vanished. The street returned to normal, as though something from the gates of Hell hadn't just disappeared into the air.

"Get him inside," Whiskey snapped. My claws retracted and slowly, painfully, my muscles contracted and I was left on all fours, the asphalt digging into my knees. My clothes were tattered and my one good pair of shoes were ruined. I could tell I would be sore in the morning. I scooped Joubert in my arms. His body was frighteningly cold, but his breath was even, reassuring.

Once we were inside the safety of the bar, Whiskey deadbolted the lock behind us, but I didn't want to let go. "You can put him down," Whiskey drawled. "Nothing's going to hurt him in here." But how could I tell him, how could I explain that even though I barely knew him, I already felt protective of Joubert?

I couldn't release him, so I dropped into a chair and continued to cradle him in my arms. "What was that thing?"

"A soul walker." Joubert's voice was weak, but damn if it wasn't good to hear it. "You don't usually see them this far from New Orleans."

"What was it doing here?" I lived my entire life in Memphis and never saw such a Creature, and I got around.

"It was sent," Whiskey said. "to collect a debt."

"Aunt Adelaide said it was time." Joubert's face was solemn. Something passed between the two men that I didn't understand. I wasn't a part of whatever was going on.

Whiskey nodded. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry you got mixed up in this, but you're safe here."

A small smile lit Joubert's face. "Yes, this is a safe place. You've shielded it well."

Whiskey grunted and stood with a groan, as though every movement was a struggle. "Take him up to your room. Neither of you sets foot outside this bar until you hear from me. Understand?"

I nodded. To set foot outside the shelter of the bar was to draw evil to us. But..."What about you? Where are you going?"

"There are things that need to be handled, things I should have taken care of long before now. I can't hide here anymore." He jerked his head in the direction of the stairs. "Get Joubert upstairs. I'll be back by morning."

I couldn't shake the picture of the soul walker from my mind. Why would Whiskey venture out when he was safe in the bar? "Should you be out there while that...thing...is out there?" I tried, but couldn't keep the concern out of my voice.

"In case you haven't noticed, I can handle myself. That thing is probably long gone by now, but I want to make sure." Whiskey left without so much as a backwards glance. The only sound was the click of the key in the lock, Whiskey locking us in, or the evil out. Maybe both.

"Let's get you upstairs." I stood, cradling Joubert against my chest.

"I can walk, sweetie," he insisted, but he felt so impossibly good in my arms that I didn't want to put him down. 'Honestly, I don't like being made to feel like a weakling."

Slowly, I lowered his feet to the floor. He swayed for a moment before regaining his equilibrium. "I'm okay." He waved away my offer off help. A stab of hurt pierced my heart. I felt his withdrawal, not just his body, but his mind and soul. He was colder, more distant. I would never have believed Joubert would be the type to look down on shifters. It wasn't uncommon, of course, the prejudice against those of us with the gift of taking an animal form. Some thought us less than other Creatures-- a step above animals, but if I hadn't shifted, Joubert would be dead.

I kept my voice steady, devoid of any feeling. I wouldn't let him know how much I hurt. "You heard Whiskey," I said. "We need to get you upstairs. You need to rest."

He nodded and limped toward the bar. Tears stung my eyes. It was stupid, this sense of betrayal; I barely knew him. But Hell, it wasn't him. It was my whole miserable life, and Joubert seemed so kind. His first step up the stairs was steady, but by the third step, his foot caught and he stumbled. We would never make it upstairs if I waited on him to make it under his own power. Deciding, I slipped my arm around his waist and dropped his arm over my shoulder. His body tensed and a spark of anger flared in the pit of my stomach. "I can tell you don't want a shifter touching you," I said through gritted teeth, "but I would like to get to bed before dawn." He winced, but leaned into me, allowing me to support his weight. The trip up the stairs was painful. A sheen of perspiration coated his face and his breathing grew labored. When we reached the second floor Joubert staggered away from me, slumping against the wall. He gasped as though he had just run a marathon. I watched him struggle for breath, feeling helpless. He gave a wry smile at the look of alarm on my face. "I'm fine. I just need to catch my breath. A soul walker can really take it out of you." He bent over, put his hands on his knees and inhaled. "Better," he muttered. Another breath followed. "Much better." He gave one final deep, gulping inhalation and when he expelled the last breath, it left his body in a thick black cloud. Slowly, Joubert stood upright. His color was returning. He looked almost normal, except for his eyes. The humor was replaced by regret. "Thank you for saving me," he said. "It was very brave." Now that he acknowledged my actions, I found myself reluctant to accept his gratitude.

I looked down at my bare feet. My destroyed shoes were still out in front of the bar. I couldn't make myself look him in the eye. "I just bought us some time until Whiskey could chase it away." I shrugged. "No big deal."

"It was a big deal," he argued. "You didn't even know what you were up against. You just..." His voice trailed off.

"Shifted," I finished. "I shifted. You can't even bring yourself to say it. I swallowed the lump in my throat. "A shifter saved your life and you can't even bear to look me in the face. You can't even let me touch you without wincing."

Jobert pushed himself away from the wall and closed the distance between us in two shaky steps. "Is that what you think? That I pulled away because you're a shifter?" Anger contorted his beautiful face into something terrible. "You could have been killed. "His voice cracked. "Because of me. You could have died and I would have been to blame. I drew that thing to Memphis. It was after me. I can't take the chance that it will go after you, too."

Understanding washed over me, a sudden warmth of acceptance. "You mean you pushed me away for my," I stopped, almost unable to believe, "own safety?"

"Why else?" He honestly had no idea.

A million words tumbled through my mind, eloquent words about being kicked around, marginalized, rejected, all the things this life has taught me to expect. Instead, all I could make out was, "I thought...because I'm--" Tears burned the corners of my eyes, relief and shamed warred within me.

"You have an odd way of not saying things, Vincent. Unfortunately, the gift of mind reading only goes to the females in my family, so if you want me to know what you're thinking, you're going to have to trust me enough to tell me." Joubert reached out and touched my cheek with the back of his hand. My heart thrummed in my chest and my cock jumped in response to his touch. "You thought I would turn away from you because of what you are?" Incredulity tightened his voice. "What you are is beautiful." He lowered his lips to mine and fire leapt through my veins. I wrapped my arms around his chest, pulling him closer. His tongue snaked between my lips and I gasped, taking him further in. I turned my head, urging him nearer, inviting him to take what he would. He tasted of coffee and beignets, like the heat of summer, like jazz and lights and bourbon. I moaned and ran my hands over his back, down to his ass. I pressed his hips to mine, gratified to feel his own erection swelling against me. I ground against him, eager to relieve the ache that filled me.

"Chere, I don't think I should take you in the hall." His kiss-reddened lips quirked in a smile. "Where's you room?"

"I don't really know," I chuckled. "It's part of my salary, but Whiskey just handed me a key. I didn't exactly get the grand tour." I glanced around at the doors lining the long hallway. "I don't even know which room is mine." I fished the key out of my pocket and eyeballed the locks. Three doors lined the dim hall on the left, two on the right. The first door on the right was unlocked and led to a small kitchen. The next door was locked, but the key wouldn't fit. The last room on the left had no lock, no knob.

"We probably don't want to know," Joubert's mouth set in a firm line. I wanted to ask what he sensed. He obviously felt something coming from the room, but the dark look in his eyes didn't invite questions.

The lock on the door across the hall turned at the barest turn of the key, as though it had recently been oiled. "Bingo!" I said, but my relief was short-lived. The room obviously hadn't been used in some time. Dust coated every surface. Neglect and decay hung in the stale air. But even if the room had been spit-shined and polished for my arrival, it wouldn't have been more welcoming. There was one rickety chest of draws against the wall next to a long, narrow window. The glass was covered by a shade that may have once been blue, but was faded to a dull gray. A small night stand with a bare-bulbed lamp was shoved into a corner, but the most pressing concern was the bed. The very narrow twin bed. I turned to Joubert, sure my dismay showed on my face.

"It's not the Ritz," he drawled in his slow New Orleans accent. "But we can make it work." I turned my attention back to the bed. He was more optimistic than I was.

He took my hand and pulled me toward the bed. "Come," he said.

"That's what I'm hoping for."

****

The sun streamed in around the edges of the shade, casting golden shadows on the dingy walls. I was barely awake, content in Joubert's warm arms. I closed my eyes, reveling in the feel of his body pressed against mine. The door flew open, and I jumped, feeling the feline blood rise in me. "Cool your heels. It's just me." Whiskey's voice was rough as sandpaper, and he looked like hell. Where had he been all night? I realized I was naked and exposed. I reached for the sheet to cover myself.

"How did you get in here?" Being caught naked in bed with Joubert-- by my boss no less, wasn't an auspicious start to the day.

"I have a key, genius." Of course he had a key. Thoughts of him barging into my room unannounced flashed through my mind. Maybe I should look for other accommodations.

"I knocked, but you didn't answer." It almost sounded like an apology. "I thought…" His voice trailed off. He didn't have to finish. He thought we were dead. He locked eyes with Joubert. "I see you recovered from the attack." He tried to look stern, but the light in his eyes gave him away.

"Orgasms are very healing." Joubert met Whiskey's eyes evenly. There was no shame in him.

"So you like it here?" Whiskey asked. "You could be happy here?"

"At the moment, I can't think of anywhere else I would rather be." He snuggled closer to me, and desire shot straight through to my toes. My cock was awake and ready for business.

"Good," Whiskey nodded. Confusion ricocheted through me. This was an about face from the day before when Whiskey forbade contact with customers. Now he was trying to talk Joubert into staying? "I searched everywhere in Memphis for the soul walker." I noticed things I didn't at first, The shadowed eyes, the gray pallor under his brown skin. He'd aged ten years overnight. "You have to stay here. Don't leave the building, either one of you."

Joubert jumped up from the bed, glorious and unashamed in his nakedness. "Absolutely not," he snapped. "I have to go home. Aunt Adelaide needs me."

"You won't make it past Little Rock," Whiskey sneered. "The soul walker is after you. Think boy!" Whiskey's voice was as sharp as broken glass. "Why the Hell do you think Adelaide sent you here?"

"To bring you to New Orleans."

"I thought you were smarter than that. She could have called, she could have emailed…she could have sent her shadow." Whiskey waved an arm and a second Whiskey, less solid, but still very real, appeared next to him.

"What the Hell?" I yelped, but they both ignored me. With a snap, the shadow Whiskey was gone.

"She sent you here to get you out of New Orleans." His eyes narrowed. "I can bind you to the building."

"You wouldn't dare."

"I would do anything to keep you safe." His voice lowered. "I owe it to your mother." A note of pleading entered his voice, making it the voice of a stranger. "You are safe here, well protected. Adelaide needs me, more than you can understand. Please stay here." Whiskey was saying please? The world must be at its end. "Help Vincent in the bar. The soul walker has his scent now He's not safe either, not while the soul walker is still out there. He's not safe because he protected you. Are you really going to repay his sacrifice by leaving him here alone?"

"Damn you Whiskey," Joubert said. "That's not fair. But his shoulders slumped as though he knew he was defeated.

"Life's not fair. None of this is fair."

Joubert turned to look at me. I wanted him to stay. "I'll stay," he said. "For you, I'll stay."

Relief relaxed Whiskey's features. "Thank you," he said to me. "If not for you, I could never hold him here." He took a deep breath. "Kitchen is across the hall. Food truck delivers every Wednesday. Bills are paid through my bank account. A kid named Jake comes by on Monday to take the deposit to the bank. Send him with enough to cover the bills. Keep the rest of the cash in the safe. You may need access to money."

"But where are you going?" I asked. It wouldn't seem like Memphis without him.

"Home," he said. "I have to put a stop to this.

****

I stood behind the bar and watched in admiration as Joubert handled the customers' orders and questions with equal aplomb. "Whiskey is on vacation," he smiled. "Don't you think he deserves it, after all these years?" He slid the beer to the goblin across the bar and gave me a wink.

A week had passed since Whiskey left for New Orleans, with no more word than a shadow Whiskey that appeared the day he arrived in New Orleans.

A week ago, I was worried about being evicted from my apartment. Funny how life conspired to bring me what I didn't even know I needed. A job, a place to live, and someone to love. Because I love Joubert already. The only flaw was the danger that lurked outside the door, a danger I couldn't see, but that Joubert, with New Orleans magic in his blood, could sense. He kept a wary eye on the door, pulled me back if I got too close. And every night we would climb the stairs together and return to my room. There was a nicer room with a bigger bed, but Joubert turned his nose up. "I want the bed I first took you in, our bed." He would murmur words at the door, trace signs in the air over the shade, strengthening the charms that kept us safe, locking out the danger that lurked just beyond the magic. I should be concerned, scared even, but as his mouth closed over the head of my cock, as my hands grasped handfuls of the sheets and I emptied myself in his hot, wet mouth, I found it hard to worry about anything at all.





About the Author

Finley Scott was born and raised in the American South, where the weather is hot, and the music is hotter, where storytelling is a regional pastime and people still believe in things that go bump in the night. If you're in Memphis, New Orleans, Atlanta, or Little Rock- you'll find Finley's characters, and sometimes even Finley herself, walking the streets, drinking a beer, or catching a show.





A Note From Finley

Thank you for taking time to read “The Messenger,” from the Bound by Blood Series. Vincent and Joubert both have special places in my heart because they represent two of my favorite places—Memphis and New Orleans, even if there is a bot of Beale Street versus Bourbon Street and Blues versus Jazz rivalry between my two towns. You haven’t heard the last of Vincent and Joubert, and you definitely haven’t heard the last of Whiskey.



www.finleyscottwrites.com

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