New Series hits December 4th: Ofelia Archer is a witch with a plan; Zacharias Sully is a panther shifter on the case. They're about to collide.
Ofelia Archer, or “Fe” to those closest to her, was the picture of productivity as she used one dish rag to wipe down the counter and another to clean out the sink from the garnish remnants the previous bartender had refused to clean up. Even though it was his job ... and she was the boss ... and she’d told him repeatedly how she hated it when he didn’t throw away the used garnishes.
She absolutely loathed it when people didn’t do things her way. Since she didn’t want to be known as a fussy pain in the behind, though, she tried to keep those complaints to herself ... at least most of the time.
“I don’t get it,” she muttered bitterly as she scooped up orange slices, maraschino cherries, olives, and cocktail onions. “How hard is it to throw the garnish in the trash before dumping the leftover ice in the sink to melt? I mean ... really.”
Her father, Oscar Archer, sat on the other side of the bar and nursed a bourbon on the rocks as he regarded his only daughter. “Maybe he thinks you like having things to worry about,” he suggested after a beat. “There are people in this world who get off on complaining. They’re not really upset, of course, but they like to pretend they are. It’s what you might call a personality quirk.”
Ofelia narrowed her eyes. “Exactly what are you saying, Dad?”
“I’m saying that you’re my absolutely favorite daughter in the world and I don’t think anything you do is weird ... or odd ... or annoying.”
“Ugh.” Ofelia made a disgusted sound deep in her throat. “You make me want to take that bourbon away from you and kick you out of my bar.”
Now it was Oscar’s turn to be annoyed. “Technically you own this bar, but only because I sold it to you — and for a song, I might add — so you could have your own business. You wouldn’t even have this place if it wasn’t for me.”
Ofelia wanted to argue the point, but he wasn’t wrong. Krewe, an underground bar located one block off Bourbon Street in the heart of the French Quarter, had always been her favorite place on Earth. She made up excuses to visit when she was a kid, even though it was technically illegal for her to be in the space. Her father understood her attraction to the building, and the customers who frequented the establishment. Her mother was less forgiving and constantly screeched at her when Ofelia was caught dipping in the garnishes for something to munch on. Their reactions were very different, which was probably why they ultimately got a divorce and went their separate ways.
As much as her parents loved one another — and Ofelia was convinced that they did even to this day ... deep, deep down — they simply weren’t compatible. It had almost been a relief when the marriage imploded. Ofelia and her brother Felix had been adults at that point (although just barely) and they waved happily as their parents started separating family goods and talking about financial settlements.
Oscar got the bar in the divorce, which meant he also secured more time with Ofelia during the process. Marie Archer (now Marie Charles because she was remarried) got the expensive townhouse on Camp Street, which is where she still lived to this day with her new husband Henri, a man Ofelia liked a great deal even though he seemed to be something of a walking doormat to her mother.
Ofelia had figured out the truth behind her parents’ relationship a long time ago. They were both alpha dogs and neither wanted to be a beta ... ever. That meant they constantly fought about who was in charge. It wasn’t that she didn’t believe two alphas could be together — er, well, at least mostly — but those alphas occasionally had to cede control for at least a dollop of time and bend to the will of the other. Compromise was too important to completely throw out the window. It was a lesson her parents couldn’t seem to learn.
“You’re basically accusing me of manufacturing drama so I have something to complain about,” Ofelia noted.
“Yup.” Oscar purposely crinkled his newspaper as he made a big show of hiding behind it. The Advocate was Louisiana’s biggest daily newspaper, one of the few that still published regularly. Her father was a news junkie, spending his evenings watching cable news while yelling at the pundits if he didn’t agree with them. She couldn’t help wondering now if he simply hid behind the newspaper because it was a convenient way to avoid eye contact. She wouldn’t put it past him.
“That’s something Mom would do,” Ofelia said bitterly. “I’m not Mom.”
Oscar snorted. “You’re definitely not your mother. You’re more of a mix between us. She never loved this place like I did. You get that from me. She did, however, like to complain just to hear herself talk ... and you definitely get that from her.”
Ofelia was officially over the conversation. “Whatever, Dad. I was simply making a statement.”
Oscar’s lips quirked at the obstinate tilt of her head. That she got from him. She was definitely a mix. Marie was fair and Ofelia was dark, like her father. Her brother Felix was also dark but boasted his mother’s bone structure ... and his father’s nose. In fact, Ofelia and Felix looked nothing alike (other than their dark hair), to the point where most people didn’t believe them when they said they were related. Both children had fiery personalities, though, and that was because their parents — both of them — never met an argument they didn’t like.
The fact that Ofelia and Felix were often stubborn, belligerent, mouthy, sarcastic messes was a product of their environment ... and Oscar wouldn’t trade them for anything.
“What were we talking about again?” he asked absently, because he knew it would drive Ofelia to distraction.
She narrowed her eyes and glared. “I don’t find you funny at all,” she huffed, annoyance on full display. “I mean ... not at all. In fact, you’re a pain in my posterior.”
Amused despite himself, Oscar arched an eyebrow. “Posterior? Since when are you afraid of swearing? I seem to remember you got detention for a week straight for dropping the F-bomb on your middle school math teacher because you claimed algebra was for self-important individuals who wanted to lord their mathematical superiority over normal people.”
Ofelia rolled her eyes to the sky and tapped her foot on the ceramic tile behind the bar. Her father never forgot a story about her childhood ... especially one he found amusing. Her mother was more absentminded, which was annoying – or preferable – depending on the day. “I still maintain I didn’t need to know algebra. It’s not as if I use it during the course of my day. Mrs. Lipscomb said that I wouldn’t be able to carry a calculator around with me at all times and I had to learn. Guess who turned out to be right on that one.”
Oscar smirked. That little personality quirk was definitely a gift from him. Ofelia liked to be right. So did he. Of course, he couldn’t remember a single instance when Marie admitted to being wrong. That was one of the reasons their marriage crumbled. “Yes. Algebra is certainly one of the devil’s finer punishments.”
Ofelia rolled her eyes. She recognized that her father was barely listening. His responses were timed in such a manner, delivered in such a way, as to drive her crazy. He was good at that. Since he’d negotiated a regular stool at Krewe when he sold the bar to her, she was fresh out of luck if she wanted him to leave. He was free to do whatever he wanted when it came to what was lovingly referred to in the family as a supernatural haven, and he regularly took advantage of the situation.
“Speaking of your brother, have you seen him lately?” Oscar smoothly switched conversational topics. “I think he’s been avoiding me.”
“Oh, why would he want to do that?” Ofelia drawled. She was twenty-seven, a year and a half younger than her brother, but she still had the mouth of a teenager at times. She couldn’t shake it and had given up trying a long time ago. “You’re the best father ever. I can’t imagine wanting to avoid you.”
“Nobody needs the sarcasm, young lady,” Oscar shot back. “It was a simple question. Have you seen your brother?”
Uncomfortable with the topic shift, Ofelia hopped from one foot to the other. She was dressed in simple capris and a Bohemian peasant blouse because she kept the dress code at Krewe casual. Customers were more comfortable if they didn’t feel as if a show was being put on ... especially the sort of customers who frequented Krewe, that is. Since it was an underground speakeasy for the paranormal denizens of New Orleans, comfort was most definitely the name of the game.
“I’m not my brother’s keeper,” Ofelia said finally, her eyes moving to the chalkboard on the wall. She hadn’t changed the drink special in a week and she was about due to shake things up. “I’m going to take the Sazerac down and put up something else. I’m thinking a French 75 or maybe even absinthe.”
Oscar recognized exactly what she was doing and wasn’t about to be dissuaded from his informational quest. “When was the last time you saw your brother?”
She blew out a frustrated sigh. “Oh, can’t you just leave him alone?” She knew she sounded whiny, but she was beyond caring. As much as she loved her parents — and truly she did — Felix was the one she was closest with. He was her big brother, protector, and sounding board on a regular basis. They hung out together in their free time, and not just because they were siblings and it was expected. They honestly enjoyed each other’s company. “He’s doing his own thing. He’s an individual. I would think you would be proud of that instead of giving him grief over it. Most parents would kill for a kid like Felix.”
Instead of being sheepish and apologizing, or opting for introspection and personal growth, Oscar rolled his eyes. “Oh, don’t give me your crap, Fe,” he snapped. “Your brother is the most annoying thing to ever pop from my loins.”
Ofelia slapped her hand to her forehead as her mouth dropped open in abject horror. “Did you just say ‘loins’? I can’t even ... .”
Oscar ignored her. He was used to Ofelia playing the dramatic game. She was good at it. “Does your brother have a job?”
That right there was the biggest point of contention in the Archer family. Felix was something of a free spirit. The one and only thing Oscar and Marie could agree upon was that hard work was necessary to make it anywhere. A real job, a safe job, was preferable to taking a risk. Ofelia had taken that advice to heart. Felix, on the other hand, took very little to heart.
“He’s working,” Ofelia said testily. “He always manages to take care of himself. I don’t understand why you get so worked up about this. He never asks you for money, so why do you care what he does for a living?”
Oscar lowered his newspaper to the bar and fixed his only daughter with a withering glare. “So ... he’s not working, huh?”
“Ugh.” Ofelia wanted to gag him, or at least kick him out of the club until she could regroup. Technically she had the magical ability to do just that without breaking a sweat. She was a witch after all. Thanks to her mother’s lineage, she was a strong witch, too. However, she rarely put her magic on display, even though it was welcome in New Orleans, and instead opted to act like a normal human being ... who just happened to run a speakeasy for the various paranormal creatures of the city.
“I don’t understand why your brother can’t get his act together,” Oscar complained, sinking into what Ofelia recognized would be a righteous diatribe. It could go on for hours if her father got a full head of steam. “I mean ... I really don’t understand it. He’s a smart kid. He could do practically anything he wants. Instead, he chooses to do nothing.”
“Not nothing,” Ofelia countered, finding her voice. “He does stuff. He just doesn’t do stuff you think is important. He’s been performing in Jackson Square lately. He’s developing quite the following.”
Oscar’s expression only darkened. “He’s been performing in Jackson Square? How ... lovely.” He made a growling sound deep in his throat. “Only reprobates perform in Jackson Square. That’s not a real job.”
Ofelia actually disagreed. She’d seen her brother perform in the park numerous times. Sometimes he painted himself and became a human statue. Other times he hopped in and played with various bands. He was a musical marvel, something Ofelia had always been jealous of. She had negative rhythm and couldn’t keep a beat. The musical talent her brother seemed to have in spades completely skipped her.
“He’s paying his own bills,” Ofelia reminded him. “He has his own place. He never asks you for anything. I don’t see why you can’t just let him be. He’s doing the best that he can.”
“Oh, but he’s not.” Oscar wasn’t about to let his daughter bat her eyelashes at him and forget his annoyance. She was good, but he recognized when she was trying to manipulate him ... like now. “Do you know that Caesar saw him driving one of the horse carriages two weeks ago? He was right over in front of Cafe du Monde and acting like it was a normal thing.”
Ofelia hadn’t heard about the carriage gig yet. Apparently her brother was holding back. She had no intention of owning up to that in front of her father, though. “So what? He doesn’t know what he wants to do, Dad. That’s a normal thing for a lot of people. Just because you knew you always wanted to own your own business, that doesn’t mean that Felix is the same way. Why can’t you just let him figure out things on his own?”
“I did let him figure out things on his own. When he was eighteen ... and twenty ... and twenty-four. Your brother is now twenty-nine years old. He can’t be confused for a child any longer. He needs to find some direction.”
In truth, Ofelia sort of agreed with her father. Felix’s insistence on hopping from thing to thing, woman to woman, had been amusing ten years before. Now it just seemed a little sad. She wanted her brother to be happy more than anything. Unfortunately for her, he didn’t appear to be moving toward a goal. He was stagnating, and she was fearful that would turn into a permanent thing. It was one thing to dabble as a human statue, paint yourself in silver or gold from head to toe and pose for hours on end, in your twenties. Once you hit your thirties, though, you were supposed to be looking toward the future. Ofelia’s biggest fear was that Felix would give up on having a productive future.
Still, she had no intention of admitting that to her father. He would simply use it as ammunition against Felix.
“I think the more you attack him on this, the more likely he is to dig his heels in and fight you,” she offered pragmatically. “No, I’m being serious. I know you love Felix. He’s hard not to love. I also know that you want the best for him. If you try to force his hand, though, he will fight back. He got that from Mom and you know darned well how things are going to go if you don’t take a step back.”
Oscar made a huffing sound that Ofelia recognized as resignation and it made her smile. Even though he was full of bluster, her father had a good heart. He was also a practical man. He realized that what she was saying was true. Felix was unlikely to change his behavior until Oscar took a step back. He had to decide what was more important: Ordering his son around or ultimately getting what he wanted, albeit down the line.
It was going to be a tough call.
“I think your brother just does the things he does to drive me crazy,” Oscar admitted, turning back to his bourbon. It was still early for a drink in most parts of the United States, but in New Orleans, there were no societal limitations on what was appropriate. “He’s good at it, too.”
“I see. This is all about you. I ... .” She stilled when she saw movement at the front door. The bar was located off a parking garage underneath a famous — well, infamous would be the more appropriate word — hotel. Only those who knew what they were looking for could find it, and that was exactly how Ofelia liked it.
The man who walked into Krewe was tall and well built, broad shoulders tapering down to a narrow waist. His hair was so black it was blinding, but his eyes were a bright shade of blue that stood out against the contrast of his hair. Ofelia didn’t recognize him, but she instinctively knew he wasn’t a tourist.
No, he was something else.
“Can I help you?” she asked after a beat.
The man nodded. “That would be great. Do you know there’s a body in the back alley?”
Whatever she was expecting, that wasn’t it. Ofelia practically tripped over her feet as she moved out from behind the bar. “Are you kidding me?”
“We need to call the police.”
The man dug in his pocket and returned with a badge. “I am the police.”
Oh, well ... Ofelia wasn’t expecting that. This morning wasn’t exactly going how she expected.
When I was a kid, I was torn between whether or not I was going to grow up and be the Incredible Hulk or Wonder Woman. I flirted with being a Jedi Knight for awhile, but I wasn't up for the intense travel associated with the gig. In my teens, I settled on being a writer -- although I had no idea the effort that would entail.