When writing a novel, many things change throughout the journey of creation to publication. Characters' points of view are redesignated. Ideas are expanded on or completely reworked. Some chapters are even cut from the book.
I've decided to add a delteted scene every week or so, giving readers a chance to see more of Moonlight Bleu's characters. Those will include Maurika Nichols, Jordan Stevens, Quinn Holman, and Thana Brunges.
Late Evening, May 22, 2032—New Angeles
Jordan Stevens stepped past the bouncer into the carpeted hallway separating the street and the bar. Loud music, something upbeat and funky, thumped in a solid rhythm of resonating bass. Vibrations of sound traveled through the floor, making the soles of his feet tingle.
Good music and a couple of beers were just what he needed to take the edge off, the night before a big show. He straightened his shoulders, trying to ease the tightness in his chest.
Feminine laughter announced the group of people approaching behind him. “Excuse us,” someone yelled.
Lunging sideways, he hugged the wall to keep from being trampled by the boisterous group—more precisely, to keep from being touched.
They moved past him, oblivious to his reaction. He assumed they wanted to grab a table before the bar got too crowded.
That was close.
As a reminiscence psychic, Jordan’s exposure to other’s thoughts and memories was a given. If he touched someone without preparation, though, navigating through unknown emotional tangles became a nightmare—not to mention the headache that would follow.
Tonight, he was in no mood to get caught unaware by someone else’s memories. He needed to conserve his energy for tomorrow’s psychic readings.
At the end of the hallway, the music grew louder. The walls reverberated with the lyrics of the song. Words pinged around the bar, pinballing off any object in their path, the people merely bumpers redirecting the course around the room.
A young, thirtyish cocktail waitress caught his eye and pointed to an empty table on the far side of the room. “What’ll you have?”
“A Negro Modelo, please.”
“Got it. I’ll bring it to your table.” She winked and headed for the bar. The server maneuvered her way through the crowd with the grace of a professional dancer, lightly brushing against several people along the way.
Jordan shuddered at the seemingly innocuous contact.
Not for him, thank you very much.
As he made his way through the crowded space, he envisioned a mental cape covering him from head to toe. This safety mechanism kept anybody else’s memories from touching him.
He claimed the corner table with relief and repositioned a chair so he could sit with his back to the wall. The place would fill up fast. So from there, he could see anyone approaching: cocktail waitresses, the occasional fan, or possibly drinkers a little unsteady on their feet.
A necessity as a survival plan to ensure his continued sanity.
The cocktail waitress materialized out of the crowd.
“Here you go.” She slid the beer and frosted mug across his table.
“Thanks.” He dropped two fifty-dollar bills on the table. “Keep ‘em coming as long as one bill covers the tab. The other one’s for you.”
“You bet,” the woman purred. She scooped up the money, her hundred-watt smile telling him his mug would never sit empty.
After years of practice, Jordan cleared his mind with ease. All sound disappeared. He focused first on the engaging bartender, then concentrated on the bar itself. Every minute detail of his surroundings popped like the special effects in a 3-D movie. He looked for anything or anyone that might be dangerous.
People sat on bar stools, talking and drinking. Bottles of local beer, mugs foaming from the tap, and glasses filled with colorful liquids and tiny umbrellas decorated the bar top. The distracted patrons snacked from bowls of salted peanuts and pretzels. Cocktail waitresses vied for the bartender’s attention. Somewhere near the bar, a trendy smoke machine released puffed circles in timed intervals. The incandescent particles drifted toward the ceiling, where motorized fans blew the lazy shapes apart.
Jordan captured all of this in the blink of an eye.
From one heartbeat to the next, the room awoke. Sound returned. Music pounded through the room. Men and women laughed. Glassware tinkled on the bar top.
No threat stood out in the room packed with ordinary people.
The tight coil of anxiety in his chest unwound a smidge.
He lifted his mug and took a long pull off the beer. So far, the night had been very productive. His neurotic agent had picked him up at the airport this morning and driven him straight to the Harlington Theater. She’d talked the whole drive, every other sentence ending with, “We have a schedule to keep, you know?”
Did he ever.
Performing at the Harlington tomorrow would be like singing at the Grand Ole Opry. The production manager he’d met made that abundantly clear—right after he’d told Jordan all of the time slots for tomorrow’s show had been personally confirmed. The special would be aired live, which meant scheduling the numerous actors and musicians making guest appearances had been a logistical nightmare—Jordan had offered the appropriate kudos at this point—but the boosted ratings from their appearances made it worth the effort.
Next he had made a promotional appearance at a local radio station, plugging the show and guests he’d be giving readings for. Finally, exhausted from the day’s agenda, he’d checked into his suite. The hotel gave him the same suite he stayed in every time he came in town to do a show.
So why hadn’t the knot in his chest gone away?
Especially since he’d already settled in his room.
Every room retained memory signatures left behind from previous occupants, emotional fingerprints if you will. He’d sorted through the residual stains earlier, clearing the bedroom of any lingering energy so he’d be able to sleep later this evening.
Maybe even dream a little.
His lips curved. He had some pretty vivid memories involving that room. A beautiful young redhead in particular came to mind. She had requested a reading, suggesting a trade of sorts for payment. She was more than willing to barter herself, for a night, in exchange for his particular…talents.
He helped her work through a fuzzy memory.
She made love to him with complete abandon—and left while he slept.
Remembered desire flared in an instant, white-hot need burning through Jordan’s veins. The exchange of energy between them went beyond passion. They’d reached a whole new plane of connection, one he had never felt before or since--though not for a lack of trying. He knew he had a reputation as a player, but, truth be told, he’d spent the rest of his life searching for that feeling again.
I should have tried harder to find her.
The front of his jeans pulled at his hips, the crotch snug and uncomfortable. He stretched out a leg, politely readjusting himself. Even though that specific night happened twenty years ago, he could recall every moment of the evening with unerring accuracy.
Sometimes he wished he could forget.
He dragged his wayward thoughts back to the present.
Another beer slid across the table as the waitress passed.
Jordan saluted her retreating back and sunk back into his personal thoughts.
He had come to New Angeles for his final show. Living in the public eye for nearly three decades, like a goldfish in a glass bowl, he’d had enough. The siren’s song of peace and solitude had finally lured him toward the shores of retirement. Everything was in place, and Jordan felt pretty confident he would end his public career at the top of his game.
Reaching for his beer, he drained the mug in a few large gulps. His nerves hummed, leaving him a little fuzzy around the edges. He rubbed the middle of his chest, willing the tight ache to ease. His bladder let him know it needed some attention, too.
He made his way toward the men’s room, careful to keep from coming in contact with anybody. Despite his best effort, some of his mental focus slipped as he concentrated on watching his step. Experience in negotiating crowds, but mostly pure luck, got him to the bathroom door without incident.
A man stepped out of the bathroom as Jordan approached the doorway. Jordan reached out to place his hand on the bare wood of the door and hold the door open, when an overzealous drinker pushed past him, shoving him into the exiting man.
Jordan’s hand landed on the other man’s bare arm. The shocking contact was immediate. Jordan was unprepared for the sudden inclusion in another’s mind.
He stood in a bar with music playing loudly in the background. People were dancing. Others sat at tables talking and drinking.
He looked toward the bar. A very pretty, dark-haired woman sat on a barstool. She reached into the front pocket of her jeans and pulled her hand back out, fingers closed around something. With a quick toss, she popped the “something” into her mouth, picked up her glass and drained the liquid. She set her glass down and took a deep breath, exhaling on a long sigh.
She lifted her fingertips to her temples and slowly massaged her head. “A headache,” he thought to himself. “That explained her actions.” The bartender reached across the bar top and collected her empty glass.
With abrupt speed, his focus changed. He looked down at his hands, which in reality weren’t his own hands but were somebody else’s, and saw two glasses sitting on a tabletop.
The hands pulled a colored capsule apart and emptied powder into one of the drinks. The tumbler lifted off the tabletop and its contents swirled around, the powder dissolving as the grains mixed with the liquid. He watched the glass be carried to the bar and pushed toward the bartender in front of the woman he had moments before seen rubbing her temples. His stomach knotted with anxiety. All he could do was pray the man carrying the drinks passed a mirror, reflecting his likeness. With a description of the man, Jordan could approach the police.
The bartender leaned forward and spoke to the woman. She smiled in response to whatever he said and reached for the drink. She lifted the drink in a salute, as if thanking someone, and put the glass to her lips. Jordan, through another’s eyes, watched in shock while the woman drained the tumbler without hesitation.
Sound came roaring back into Jordan’s ears, and he was abruptly thrust back to the doorway of the men’s room. The man he’d bumped into moved past him without a moment’s hesitation, without a clue Jordan had just looked into his memories.
Jordan’s scrambled mental processes jockeyed for position in the race of most important issue to be dealt with. His bladder being the most insistent, his initial thought momentarily took the lead. Continuing on unsteady feet into the bathroom, he stopped in front of a urinal. Placing one hand against the wall for balance, he tried to regain his equilibrium without pissing all over his shoes.
Pleased with his success, he moved to the sink where he washed his hands and splashed some water on his face. He looked at his reflection in the mirror. Thoughts whirled in his head. Processing a vision was a bit like herding cats. The trick was finding the first doorway.
Shock pulled him from his stupor when the full import of the interjected memory hit him. The bar he’d seen was this bar, and the woman he’d seen had already ingested the drink with some kind of drug in it!
He grabbed a hold of the sink as he considered his options. He didn’t see the man exiting the bathroom he had just bumped into, which meant he couldn’t give any kind of physical description to anyone that could help. So, he certainly couldn’t just walk up to the woman and say, “Excuse me, but I just bumped into a man and received a vision of him pouring some kind of drug into the drink the bartender offered you.”
Nope. That certainly wouldn’t go over well.
Unless somebody recognized him as a famous psychic, and for some crazy reason nobody had yet, she would just think he was some freak with a lousy pick-up line.
A familiar compulsion to help steeled his resolve. With his ability came a strong sense of responsibility. He had to let the woman know her drink had been tampered with, and, just as important, that he hadn’t been the one to tamper with it.
He strode out of the men’s bathroom, purpose fueling his steps. He scanned the females seated at the bar top, looking for the dark-haired woman he’d seen in the vision. She wasn’t there. Concern gave way to panic. Maybe he was too late. Maybe she’d already left the bar.
“Find her,” his senses screamed over the din.
The bartender bent over, reaching below the bar top, and Jordan spotted her. She sat perched on a barstool, surrounded by a crowd of people. Tables and chairs all occupied, people stood around the bar in groups, clumped together as much by circumstance as by choice.
A moment’s relief at having found her eased the panic throttle back a notch.
He couldn’t even guess who spiked her drink, but he had to get close to her. Closing off his senses, he slammed a psychic door in his mind to keep everyone else out. Without taking his eyes off her, he shouldered his way to the end of the bar.
The woman’s head jerked once in a sudden tic, making her long hair sway. Wrinkles creased her forehead, and her eyes glazed with a look of confusion. She shook her head again a couple of times.
A man seated next to her looked her way.
“Ma’am, are you okay?”
So much for chivalry being dead. Every guy at the bar was gonna want to help her.
Then it occurred to him: this so-called Good Samaritan could be the man that gave her the drink in the first place. He may have drugged her as a way to get her out of the club and alone. The possibilities were endless, the consequences frightening.
A couple more men approached her, and his imagination ran wild. Any one of them could have drugged her, or even a couple of them working together.
He had to do something, and do something fast. Without a thought to the possible outcome, he strode right up to the exotic beauty. With practiced ease, and multiple pickup techniques, he slipped an arm around her shoulders and drew her close.
“Hi, Sweetheart. I’m sorry I’m late.” He leaned down and kissed the woman on the forehead. “The meeting ran over, and I just couldn’t get out of the office.” His chin lifted toward the glass she held in her hand. “I see you started without me.”
Her skin radiated warmth against his lips, and when he drew back his head, he noted a slight rosy flush to her cheeks. Several of the men standing closest to them looked on with curiosity. They weren’t quite convinced Jordan had the situation under control.
The woman stared down into her drink as if deep in thought, not bothering to look up. “Sweetheart?”
He had to make this look good or no one was gonna buy the act.
Smiling, he nuzzled the side of her head. “Is Darlin’ better?”
She appeared to think about her answer before she nodded her agreement. The gesture seemed to reassure the last few onlookers, and they turned back to their separate conversations, satisfied someone else would take care of the woman.
Relief coursed through him. He leaned down close to speak into her ear, in hopes that whoever had laced her drink wouldn’t overhear their conversation. “How are you feeling?” he murmured.
“Not very good,” she replied. “I wish somebody would shoot the vicious little woodpecker hammering away on my forehead. And this loud music isn’t helping at all.” Her hands shot out and gripped the edge of the bar. “I’m really woozy all of a sudden.”
As if to punctuate her meaning, she listed off the barstool and fell against him. If he hadn’t been standing next to her, helping her balance, she would have fallen to the ground.
“Come on, let’s get you out of here.” Jordan put his arm around her waist and lifted her off the barstool.
Early Evening, May 22, 2032—New Angeles
The sidewalks were crowded with people. Horns honked while cars jockeyed for the next empty space along the curb. Snippets of music blared now and then as doors opened and closed up and down the boulevard.
The nighttime party set had hit the streets, looking for the best place to go and let loose at the end of a long day. Most were on the prowl, searching for that ever-elusive feeling of connection with their Mr. or Ms. Right—or right now—depending on the amount of alcohol involved.
Maurika Nichols’ glance roved the passing throng of people, searching for one familiar face. Lifting her nose slightly, she breathed in the night air. A staggering number of different perfumed scents reached her. The women, as well as the men, reeked with chemical saturation.
She shook her head, trying to clear her nose of the odors. Thank God she was lupine and not an ordinary human. Otherwise, she’d be right here with the rest of them, covered in goop, hoping to find the perfect relationship.
What a lousy way to attract a mate.
Her skin tingled, reminding her of her purpose. She wasn’t interested in finding a life partner. She already had one. But she was tracking a man. A very bad man. And when she found him, she was going to kill him.
Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out several multi-colored tablets. Different flavored breath mints filled her palm. Without hesitation, she popped them all into her mouth. She chewed grimly. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
The tickling sensation she’d felt moments before receded. Confident it was safe to look up, she stared at the heavens. The lustrous full moon gleamed with hypnotic splendor. A blue hue covered the surface, dripping color onto passing clouds that shaded the night sky.
She grinned with feral anticipation. Tonight was a hunter’s moon, and she intended to make the most of it.