The invitation was hand written and wax sealed, slid under her door.
“The pleasure of your company is requested.”
The directions led her down a twisting, wet trail along the thick of the bayou. A late hurricane near the Keys bewitched the air, sent her hair flying all around, like one of the long-dead apparitions that appeared in the windows of the ruined hotels.
Tupelo Trees, standing knee-deep in in the brackish water, looked like skirted, gnarled, old women, sprouted from the underworld.
And the behemoth, orange moon seemed complicit.
Chills danced along her spine. A dark foreboding tinged her every thought.
But just as all seemed lost, she spotted a small cabin at the edge of the water.
She knocked on its metal doors.
No one answered.
She drew her velvet cape closer and knocked again.
“Who’s there?” Said a voice, low and smokey.
Instead of answering, she shuddered, imagining the beasts swimming under the dock. She banged again. The sound reverberated past her, into the wading trees, who swallowed it, zippered themselves shut, and now stood silent, watching and waiting.
The door slid open. Before her was a man with the blackest eyes she’d ever seen. Darker than the depths of the Mississippi.
His accent reminded her of the dock traders and the bearded pirates that sailed into the harbor, their tongues, a music of French and Cajun.
His teeth were brilliant, white and pointy. And while his smile was wide, his eyes were solemn, arresting.
She couldn’t find her voice.
Behind him, three other men sat at a table, holding cards. A haze of blue smoke hung above their heads.
“To what do I owe this pleasure?” he asked.
“I must be lost,” she stammered.
His house was dark, only a blazing fire in the hearth and candles, even at the card table.
“I must be at the wrong house. Are you…?”
His dark beauty,…she was unable to look away.
“Leopold Lessinger.” He bowed, and then stepped closer.
There was a razor nick just under his jawline, so beautifully placed, it seemed almost purposeful.
He raised a hand to cover it.
“Maybe I’ve made a mistake,” she said.
Electricity crawled across the sky, silhouetting the orchard of Spanish Moss hanging from the Cypress. Thunder rattled the glass.
“You must’ve received my invitation?” he asked.
“So it was you?” she said.
“I’ve been watching you for so long. I can’t believe you’re actually here.”
“Watching me?” She felt faint.
“I meant waiting for you…” he whispered and kissed her hand.
And she found herself unable to think of much of anything, except his beautiful mouth. She wanted to draw closer to this complete stranger. Wanted to inhale him.
Her mind raced with fear and an insatiable hunger, unknown to her before now.
“Oh, blackest night, what trickery have you played? What spell must have you allowed the moon, that I hunger for this madness, surrender to its will?”
Without any other word, he slipped his hand behind her neck.
And she did not try to stop him.
In the darkness, a Screech Owl’s desperate cry echoed across the water, disappeared into the night.
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