Friday, July 25, 2008

Jack of Hearts by Leigh Ellwood

The second he saw her hands extended to welcome him, he no longer felt apprehensive. The handshake was firm, her nails painted a smooth, red lacquer with nary a crack or bubble marring the finish. Blood red, so smooth one might expect the color to ripple like a tide pool when touched. These were not the hands of a charlatan, not of a person who might bite her nails in fear that her deceits might be uncovered. This woman, this dark, sensuous woman draped in fringe and knotted lace lining cuffs, collars, and hems, knew her business.

Lars folded a crisp fifty dollar bill and a rose quartz pendant into her waiting palm and took a seat in the plush chair opposite hers, then touched his elbows to his knees. He hovered over the splayed deck of cards on the table before them. "You can dispense with any theatrics," he told her. "Just tell me what I need to know, not what I want to hear."

He hoped, however, that what the psychic had to say was what he wanted to hear. He wanted to hear that Lila had indeed become reincarnated and now lived in this age. Exactly how old Lila would be now was immaterial; if she were elderly, he would change her and restore her youth. If she were still a child, he would wait. Vampires only had time ... and the desire to feed. Besides, he had waited this long ... a few mortal years were nothing to him.

The soothsayer said nothing as she pocketed the cash, then turned the heart-shaped quartz in her palm. He had given it to Lila nearly two hundred years ago as a promise to marry; she had been wearing it the day Lars was changed, the day his creator slashed past the ribbon around her throat as she blocked the vampire from Lars in a weak attempt to protect him. The memory of that terror--Lila's shrieks of pain, his creator's cold indifference--bubbled in his memory as he watched card after card slide through the dark woman's fingers. Lars swallowed back the pain and tried to focus on the deck. This was not a time to mourn; he would not let his anger overshadow what could potentially be the rediscovery of his joy.

He let the whisper of each turned card absorb the echoes in his head, until there was nothing but steady breathing and rapid shuffling, quiet yet tense. The woman's voice was a honeyed purr that tickled the back of his neck and slithered up his skull.

"Something very important was taken from you."

"Don't tell me what I already know," he countered tersely. Her retort was a frown that pinched her lovely face. Lars watched her rifle through the remainder of the deck until nothing remained facing upward but three cards, all hearts. She bit her lip. Dark eyes widened. Lars edged forward in his seat.