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The Big Easy
by Jane Hale
“Bonjour mes amis — Good day my friends!” A Cajun God had descended and stood among us.
He had me at “Bonjour.”
When I signed up for a writer’s conference in the French Quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana, the location alone enticed me. John Laveau, featured speaker and author of the steamy New York Times Best Sellers List Cajun romance series, Cajun Tart, Cajun Candy, and Cajun Cookie were icing on my vacation cake. The whole world knew John Laveau claimed kinship to the infamous Marie Laveau, New Orleans Witchy Voodoo Queen whose name conjured images of magic and stick-pin dolls.
John’s photo on the back of his books highlighted his eyes. He had heterochromia iridium, where there are two colors of iris. His fans thought it was perfectly imperfect. He’d been compared to Henry Cavill on the website Lady Boners with remarks like … “those eyes,” “that mustache,” “those curls,” “that perfect jawline.” He seemed all those things and more if you were looking for a daddy figure. I was looking for a younger sugar daddy.
We were seated in the great room of a spacious condo. I’d been gawking at the Cajun God who prowled among us and missed an important announcement. The main speaker for the conference had been replaced by his son, Jon Laveau. Jon’s novels leaned toward the dark side with titles like Cajun Swamp Siren and Cajun Bayou Babes. His female protagonist was Vanessa, a swamp Vampiress.
“Would you like another cup of coffee, Cher?” He leaned closer. His warm breath caressed my throat. “I’m Jon, your host author for the conference. I hope you like what you see, Cher?” His laughter rumbled deep in his chest. He placed his long, tanned finger beneath my chin and lifted gently. “Close your lips, Cher. Your fangs are showing.”
A voice from the other side of the room announced, “Jon likes to mingle with his guests and get acquainted with their literary needs. Share your muse and views with him. He’ll satisfy your blood thrust for literature.” Bemused laughter filled the room. “Jon and his dad’s novels are displayed in the library. Jon is available for autographs after our meeting.”
Jon positioned himself on the arm of my oversized stuffed chair and hovered. Writers descended on his person hoping to claim his attention but he included me in his conversations as a preferred confidante. Watching his performance I was reminded of the male vampire in his Cajun series. His Vanessa emulated a vampiress named Lilly in another author’s novel. Vampire hunters were required to behead Lilly; they used her head as their calling card to collect their bounty of ten thousand dollars. Jon’s bounty hunters were required to take Vampiress Vanessa’s heart for their reward.
My name on a name tag on my breast hadn’t escaped Jon’s notice. His gaze shifted continuously from guest to guest but always returned to me. His gaze lowered to feast on my name — Vanessa Vanderlick.
I’d considered tantalizing John Laveau with the comparison of my name and his son’s Vampiress, Vanessa. The absence of John Sr. moved me up in importance as an author at this conference without having to breathe a word.
Later, I stood at the library table. I flipped through pages of Cajun Bayou Babes. I felt a rustle of bodies near me. Whispers of “Jon, Jon” alerted me he was headed my way. I turned to a photograph in his book which fascinated me. I studied it. I traced the long line of water nestled in a wetland with trees surrounding it; Vanessa’s Swamp Forest vamped its nourishment from the Mississippi River.
I felt the long line of his body move against me as his fingers covered mine, maneuvering them like the panchette of a Ouija board. My gaze was fixed on the line of trees in Jon’s novel. The trees seemed to open with two trails leading in opposite directions. The shading of trees which moved to the right was a mossy green. The other trees shaded from rays of sunshine were the color of brown I’d just discovered in the iris of Jon’s left eye. His beautiful eyes bore two colors in his iris, the same as his father.
“Paure ti bete — Poor little thing,” he murmured. His fingers continued to move mine along the mossy green path of trees in the book.
A feeling of foreboding caused me to shudder. I withdrew my fingers from his. I moved them along the magnificent line of brown trees on the left in the picture. I tilted my head and gazed into the reality of heterochromia iridium. I asked, “Why poor little thing?”
“Ah, my Vampiress Vanessa, she always chooses the path of green. She loses her heart every time.” He lowered his lids to shade his iris as if afraid he’d betray a secret. “Why did you choose the trail of brown, Cher?”
I turned towards him to answer and found myself captured in his embrace. The room fell away. The people vanished. All that remained was the Cajun God and the strength of his masculine mystique. His lips moved and I read the words, “I’ve got a yearning for some fresh air. Come Cher, I’ll escort you to your hotel.”
Hand in hand we made our way through the crowded room, stopping to chat with other authors and guests. At the doors leading to the outside balcony, Jon stopped to wave to the group. “Vanessa is curious about her namesake’s Swamp Forest. She has many questions. I have many answers. We will see you tomorrow. Perhaps she will do us the honor of sharing what she learned.”
We stepped onto the balcony shrouded in a world of fog. Jon pulled me forward into the blackness of New Orleans — his Witchy Voodoo heritage. Out there somewhere was the Swamp of Vanessa’s Forest where she always lost her heart to a bounty hunter. I followed Jon convinced I’d enjoy tonight’s experience. My only question was — when it was my turn to choose a path, which would it be — mossy green, and lose my heart, or magnificent brown, the path on the left closest to his heart to capture it?
Tonight in the Big Easy I’d feast on them both.
Please visit Jane’s page Ozark Writers, Inc on Facebook. A non-profit group that promotes writers from the Ozarks. https://www.facebook.com/ozarkwritersinc/