Kaleb grinned. “That’s the way we do.”

“I’m Lily.” She gave me a beautiful and genuine smile. Kaleb tucked his arm around her. They were breathtaking.


Ten to one they did it with the lights on.

“Welcome to New Orleans,” I said a little too brightly. “Let’s get some hospitality going.”

We took a seat and ordered, the lights above the table dimming slightly when Michael and Emerson bumped hands. Same as with Amelia and Zooey, it calmed after a few seconds. Everyone talked a hundred miles an hour, catching up while we waited. Except for me, since I had nothing to catch up on. I held Dune’s hand under the table and observed.

Lily and Emerson both made attempts to pull me into the conversation, but they were gentle attempts. Kaleb rivaled paid entertainment, engaging everyone, but Michael was quiet. Enough to make me feel comfortable, like I wasn’t the only person at the table who wasn’t a talker.

Dune leaned close to whisper in my ear. “They like you. I can tell.”

“I like them, too,” I whispered back. “But I have no idea what to say.”

“You’ll figure it out. Or they’ll figure it out for you.”

He was right. They were so comfortable with one another that it extended to me, instead of excluding me. I understood what Poe meant now. They were impressive as a team. They were impressive humans.

After dinner, which I didn’t eat, Dune, Lily, Kaleb, and I headed toward Bourbon. Em and Michael set out to find a LAISSEZ LES BONS TEMPS ROULER baby onesie.

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“Planning ahead?” I asked Dune as they walked away.

“Em’s about to be an aunt.”

“I’m guessing Michael will eventually be the uncle?” I wondered if the tiny article of clothing would be recycled to their child one day.


Lily touched my arm. “What should we know about the Quarter? Isn’t it dangerous at night?”

“It can be, but there’s some serious bulk in this group,” I said. “I mean, not me and you, obviously, but we have the Rock and the Hulk as personal bodyguards.”

“I do not turn green.” Kaleb shook his head. “Ever.”

“Just when any guy looks at Lily for longer than five seconds,” Dune said. “Which is a lot.”

I sensed I’d be doing some jealous kissing later.

“Okay,” Kaleb admitted. “I’ve totally considered going ‘Hulk smash!’ More than once.”

Dune nodded as he took my hand. “I know the feeling, man.”

Lily winked at me, and I decided to do some thank-you kissing now.

“Head that way. We’ll be right behind you.” I pointed Lily and Kaleb toward Saints & Sinners. Then I pushed Dune into an alley.

“What are you—”

I steered him where I wanted him to go, until his back was against a brick wall. “I wish we still had the room at the Bourbon Orleans.”

“I’m glad, but I’m confused. Where is this coming from?”

“Your friends are sweet to me.” I tucked two fingers in his waistband. “You’re sweet to me. You make me feel like a completely normal girl.”

“If making you feel normal gets this kind of response, remind me to do it more often.”

I slid my hands up his stomach to his chest, and then around his neck. His hands went down, over my waist and hips and stopping on my backside. I was beyond pleased when a low groan sounded in his throat.

“We are in an alley.” His mouth was on my cheek, my neck, and going lower. “In the very, very public French Quarter.”

“That doesn’t seem to be stopping you.” I leaned my head back to give him easy access.

“I can’t. I want to touch you all the time.” Lifting me up, he turned the tables and put my back against the wall. “I want to be with you all the time. Talk to you all the time.”

“Talking is good. Not that I’m interested in conversation right now.” I wrapped my legs around his waist, and his hands moved to the backs of my thighs. His weight against me was mind-blowing. “Did I mention how much I wished we still had a room? I’m hanging on you like a tick.”

“I’m holding you like a life vest.”

“We’re not good at sexy imagery.”

He started laughing. “Do you want me to put you down?”

“No. I want to stay in this exact moment. Well, maybe where we’d end up in thirty minutes if this progressed the way I wanted, but we have work to do, and I just sent your friends to a celebrity bar, and I think I see a hobo coming, so we better go.”

One more kiss, and then I slid down his body slowly. I laughed when his eyes rolled back in his head. After I was sure we were both presentable and tucked in, I took his hand and stepped out of the alley.

Mardi Gras had come to New Orleans. On a Saturday.

Three months early.

Twenty years too late.


“Dune, wait.” Hallie stopped at the alley entryway. “Something isn’t right.”

The number of people on Bourbon Street had tripled. There were way more plastic beads and masks with feathers than usual for this time of year. Music blared, the crowds were raucous, and alcohol permeated.

Utter chaos.

Hallie took my hand and pulled me in the direction she’d indicated to Kaleb and Lily. We found them on the sidewalk, looking confused.

“It isn’t there.” Kaleb’s voice barely carried over the noise of the revelers on the sidewalk as he pointed to where Saints & Sinners used to be. “We saw the sign, and then we didn’t.”

I turned to Hallie and tried to pitch my voice over the heavy sound around us. “Do you recognize anything?”

She wrinkled her nose as she scanned the crowd. “Beer and sweat with a top note of vomit is how it usually smells here, but I’m guessing from the costumes, this is Mardi Gras. Parades on Bourbon were rerouted in the seventies. Oh, look. Love beads and Birkenstocks.”

“Great,” I replied. “The sixties. Booze and free love. Way to keep it classy, space time continuum.”

Kaleb took stock of the throng of people around us. “Look around. It’s not just the sixties.”

“I don’t see any eighties bangs. I don’t think it goes beyond the seventies, just back in time. And … the buildings have changed. Kaleb.” Lily grabbed his arm. “This is a rip world.”

My blood turned to stone. “It’s sucked us in.”

“How do we get out?” Hallie’s voice was frantic as she focused on the people around us. Not people, rips.

They stopped to stare at Hallie.

And then they started toward her, moving as one.

Chapter 17


I could feel them coming.

“You can see them?” I asked Dune, squeezing his hand.

“I can.”

“They know what I am.” Panic made my heart race as my joints went loose. “They know, and they want me.”

Dune kept his voice as low as he could in the middle of the crowd, speaking into my ear. “I won’t leave you, Hal, I swear.”

My shirt was soaked with sweat. “Get me away from them.”

Dune didn’t wait for me to finish. He jerked me toward the alley we’d just left, running hard, pulling on my hand. Lily and Kaleb followed.

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