Jake Reece was a signature away from being a rock star when the world of magic snatched fame from his grasp. The vagaries of Atlanta’s dark underworld had weaved through the drama in his crazy life to rewrite it all.
Now he was slinging drinks at Medusa’s again.
Tonight, Halestorm’s Back from the Dead blasted from ceiling speakers as he shook tumblers, poured shots, and sang along with a group of cooks who’d just gotten off work.
A decent-size crowd was already there to check out the unique Atlanta Midtown hotspot. Where else could you go and see a Medusa statue with panties and bras hanging from it along with archetypal pictures of powerful women through history on the aged brick walls? We’re talking Madonna, Joan of Arc, Joan Jett, Marilyn Monroe, Marilyn Manson in his made-up androgynous splendor, Tori Amos, Valkeries, Lady Chablis, the Gorgon sisters, Amy Lee from Evanescence and even the seventies punk singer Wendy O. Williams from the Plasmatics.
Here Jake was in his gilded cage, making great tips even if everything else had gone wrong. He was known around town as “the bartender who almost became a rock star.” Some called him a ghetto celebrity. He hadn’t gotten anywhere, but he was well known.
Rumors of his writing a book had intensified gossip about him. Acquaintances were coming out of the woodwork to ask questions about his new confusing mystique.
“What is this I’m hearing about a rock opera based on your nightmares?” an actress asked then ordered a Cosmopolitan martini. “I know you give tarot card readings, but aren’t you taking this Madame Bell psychic thing a little too far?”
If they only knew, he thought, having to filter a credible story out of his life of metal, magic, and mayhem. “Okay, listen. I am writing a book while I put another band together, and I’ve had some wild psychic dreams that have given me ideas. That’s all. I’m not receiving information from aliens. About the rock opera, that’s later on.”
She cleared her throat and lifted the martini glass. “So you haven’t given up on music.”
He scoffed. Do these rumor-mongers ever rest? “No. Writing a book is just a side project like I’ve said a million times to everyone. The regulars around here need to start their own tabloid.”
She laughed and got up to mingle.
The truth was, he was obsessed with the new project. He believed the rock opera based on the book concept would guide his future success. Failure with the record label had only given him more drive.
Tonight, he was writing frantically before the bar got too busy. An orb of candlelight flickered over scrawled thoughts in a journal that would be added to his laptop file later.
“Are you journaling on your past life or scribbling shooter recipes,” a feisty cocktail waitress from the strip-joint, Dancers, asked.
He looked up at her and grinned. The sarcastic remark was the wittiest thing he’d heard in a while. “I’m writing about a terrifying world I’ve created from dreams.”
Her eyebrows drew together at his vague puzzling response. “Terrifying, huh?” she questioned musingly. “Your attempt to be a horror writer is terrifying. Leave that to Stephen King. I thought you had a record deal.”
“I did for fifteen minutes. The label told me I couldn’t record a concept record. They said it sounded like too much epic bombast.” He made quotation marks with his fingers. “The whole deal got dropped.”
“And what happened to your band?”
He couldn’t tell the truth that magic and drama in his life along with his grand musical vision had finally demolished his band Lost Angel. “Everyone just wanted to do their own thing.”
“So now you’re going to focus on being a famous author instead of a rock star?”
He groaned theatrically without answering. She shrugged and walked off.
On and on it went all night, the questions getting more and more annoying.
Between making drinks and shots, he returned to his journal flickering in candle goblet light. Candles were a big part of his “poet ritual,” making him feel like an artiste from centuries ago. Everyone knew he was strange, and some thought he was ridiculous. He was used to it.
On the jukebox, the old disco song Heart of Glass by Blondie came on. The song brought drunks to their feet to disco dance. One girl swung her hair around, pretending to be Debbie Harry.
He wrote feverishly for about another fifteen minutes, but then a bevy of club girls came in the door. Good. He needed a break from his crazy thoughts.
Slapping the journal shut, he placed a dilapidated paperback novel on top of it, Black Dahlia by James Elroy. Hex, a Darkened who owned a bondage club called the Dungeon, had given it to him. Jake had never read any James Elroy, just crime noir writers like Mickey Spillane and Raymond Chandler, so he just devoured it.
He loved to read anything about Hollywood: hardboiled crime novels, eighties hair bands, Jim Morrison, even stories about dreams made and shattered on the Sunset Strip. Singing with a band at the Whiskey A-Go-Go or the Starwood Club would just be a fantasy. He’d love to be a bartender in West Hollywood.
“How about a shot on me,” he called out to everyone.
The place went wild with audience mania. Welcome to Medusa’s Family Feud.
He lifted his reading glasses off his uptilted nose and slid them over his famous head of shoulder length wavy hair, a russet mane streaked vanilla, total California. There in the gilded bar mirror was the prince of a face that could’ve made him an actor, model, or porn star. His eyes made him a poet.
He reached for a tumbler while tossing his hair a bit. Sometimes he had his hair pulled back in a ponytail but not on nights a lot of girls came in. Tonight he wore a black turtleneck to look sexy and mysterious. Tomorrow, when there were more rock n’ roll guys at the bar, he’d wear his Dream Theater or Slayer T-shirt.
“Tonight, I want everyone to try my latest creation inspired by a murdered girl in the book Black Dahlia. It contains blackberry tequila, cream, and my special mystery liqueur.”
“You’re naming your stupid shots after a Hollywood noir icon?” Mr. Ruke asked, appalled. The pedantic, bitter old man was referring to Elizabeth Short, the struggling actress murdered in the forties. “Your delusions of grandeur are laughable.”
Jake held up a hand in mock appeal. His acrid repartees with Mr. Ruke were legendary. Hearing them go at it was a big part of the total Medusa experience. “Hey, it’s just my ode to a great novel.”
“It’s disgraceful,” Ruke muttered and turned back to the Ian Fleming James Bond novel he was reading at the bar. “The girl was murdered and mutilated.”
“Hey,” Roxy Rachel blurted out. “I think naming a shot after a dead girl is cool as shit.” Her dirty-water blond hair was thrown over one darkly tanned shoulder. She was the bar’s resident jack-shop model princess, tawdry and loud.
Her drag queen buddy, Secret, smacked her on the head. “Stop yelling in my ear or the next shot could be named after you.”
Much went on all night, but the drama centerpiece of the evening wound up being a stripper fighting with her gay best friend about who’d stolen dope at a party earlier. The argument was so intense it took them outside the bar.
At last call, the couple was still there. Jake chugged muddy black coffee only an alcoholic could appreciate while watching them. He finally offered to comp their huge tab just to shut them up and get them out of there. He felt like a referee on Celebrity Death Match.
That’s when he felt it—a desperate soul reaching out to him in the night, a woman, headed his way.
He closed his eyes and saw a flicker-flash image of a lissome figure in black rushing down the sidewalk toward the bar.
Out of Piedmont Park, she emerged from between two parked sports cars. Rushing across the street, the windswept girl was like a goth debutante who was late to a ball.
When she came in, the fighting couple was headed out the door. They paused to regard her curiously as though they were passing a ghost.
The mysterious visitor slid black lace panties onto the arm of the snake-headed Medusa statue. Then she flowed over to the bar and slid onto a stool.
She hadn’t actually looked at Jake yet, busy swiping her phone on a music quest, a black fingernail tapping out a tune on Spotify. He recognized the symphonic metal as Wish I had an Angel by Night Wish.
He paused a moment, time stopping, taking in her ethereal beauty. She was the hottest goth girl he’d ever seen, yet the sight of her was unsettling. Was she somebody from his past better left forgotten?
He felt a trace of magic from her along with all her complicated emotions and dire wants. He knew weird was about to rush into his life like never before. He just wanted a few moments peace before simple eye contact let loose the floodgates.
The imperious clack of long, lacquered fingernails on the bar filled his ears as he wiped down brightly colored liquor bottles. “I’ve been looking for you,” she said breathlessly and placed a purse that looked like a small coffin on the bar.
His eyes slid to hers, and he felt a rush only a sex drug should deliver, a wind blowing across his soul. A nameless bond came together without a word.
He couldn’t help but gaze at her as though she were a portrait. She was all curves and leather, a femme fatale. Luxuriously long midnight black tresses veiled a doll face of preternatural pallor like raven’s wings.
He lowered his eyes thoughtfully and then smiled, relaxing just a little. “I can’t wait to hear why.”
“Because I need you,” she said in a flat low tone. “Would you make me a Long Island Tea while we talk?”
Rum, tequila, whiskey, and gin streamed into a tumbler. The rest was history. Topped with coke and sour mix, the top-shelf drink brought a look of triumph to her eyes. And what eyes they were, green stars set in her milk white face.
A black heart-shaped pendant hung in the creamy hollow of her throat as bar light reflected off a vinyl cropped top with a ring zipper. Her black skirt bearing a pattern of skulls hung over shiny studded patent-leather boots ready for war.
“I see you knew to pay homage to Medusa,” he said.
“I’ve done my research on this place...on you.”
He stepped up to her and propped his elbows on the bar. Her eyes were almost too much for him to handle. “May I ask your name?”
There was a sharp intake of breath. “Josephine.”
His eyebrows drew together. “Have you been asking questions about me at the Dungeon? I think Hex was talking about you.”
Hex had told him all about the girl he’d met who looked like Elizabeth Short in the Black Dahlia. He regarded her in fascination—the jewel eyes, the flowing black hair, and dark sensual mystique. He could see where Hex would make a connection between Elizabeth Short and this girl. The raven-haired goddess before him, though, was much more ravishing than any struggling Hollywood actress of the forties. Still, this had to be the girl Hex was talking about.
“So let me guess,” he said. “You’re an assisted living caregiver.”
She smiled thinly. “I’m a stripper...and I’m a professional violinist.”
He stopped wiping the bar and eyed her in dark speculation, chills rushing through him. That’s why eerie connections were being made in his subconscious. He was developing a main character for his novel based on a dark-haired girl he’d seen in recurring clairvoyant dreams, haunting him. The girl in these nightmares was a violinist, one of several, playing for tips on a nameless neon strip. If you spiffed her up with goth gear and heavy makeup, the girl in his dreams and the one before him would be one in the same.
The psychic déjà vu was unnerving. He needed a shot to calm his nerves. He poured himself a shot of Jägermeister from a Jager machine featuring a stuffed bug-eyed lemur with its arms around the contraption like King Kong clutching the Empire State building. The Jager-lemur wore a tie and shades for full comic effect.
Down went the cold Jager with its numbing deal-with-the-bizarre-girl effect.
He wiped his mouth. “Have you played in a band?”
A faint smile passed over her lips. “Oh yeah. I play in the underground magic scene. There is a big market for violinists in the world of magic. Symphonic metal and goth music is all the rage.”
“I’m glad you’re not a bounty hunter sent to kill me,” he quipped then set a bottle of Whistle Pig bourbon on a shelf above the cappuccino machine.
She parted her lips in slow deliberation, manipulating the barbell piercing in her tongue thoughtfully. “Even in music there is much danger.”
His eyes widened. “Trust me. I know all about it.” Then he raised a brow inquiringly. “Is someone after you?”
“Yeah. The problem is an ex-lover wants me back...at any cost. She was my dominant and a brilliant violinist. I was her familiar.”
Jake listened intently. “Who?”
“Her name is Felicity. She fronts a goth act called Dire Portent. I was in her band...before I ran.”
He tilted his head, appraising her. He was certain she had all sorts of dirty little secrets, but he had picked up on one thing. “Are you having trouble going through your rite of passage, your Darkening?”
She sighed, sounding relieved he’d realized this. “Right.”
“And you believe I can help you tap into your unfulfilled power?”
Her kohl-lined eyes flared. “Yes.” She gasped. “That’s why I’ve come to you. Then I’ll be too powerful for Felicity to control anymore.” She smiled like a devious child as bar light ran along a lip ring. “You thought I was just approaching you for sex, didn’t you?”
He did his best shocked expression. “You don’t just want sex? What’s wrong with you? Let me guess. You’re celibate.”
She rolled her eyes, grinning big. Her black hair, oh so long, fell over her bare arms, the tips resting on the black vinyl coffin purse (And the tips were silver, oh my). She emanated a dark sensuality like chocolate.
He thought of the Dark Lust that Marci experienced from demons and wondered if sex with her would give him the same thrill.
After a moment’s thought, she lifted her eyes. “Since you’ve brought up sex, I must say it’s like music to me. I have to have it.” She regarded him like an unattained goal. “I’ve never done a rock singer before...especially one with your special talents.” Her eyes fell to the Dual Serpent amulet around his neck. “Time is of the essence, though. You have invaluable connections that I need right away.”
“Marci Stone and her girls have quite a reputation. I’ve heard all of you stopped Ariel Celique, the succubus bitch with her sex ring and designer drugs.” Her eyes fell to his chest again. “You’re all the rage now in the magic world. I even hear you’re being hunted for that amulet.”
He grinned boyishly. “Rumors abound in the underworld, don’t they? Do you know of anyone after me?”
“Oh sure. Felicity is not just coming to reclaim me. She wants you.”
She chuckled. “Why, your voice. She uses illusions along with music in her show. She can create amazing effects with the magic in your voice. She knows you’re a powerful hybrid. Plus, she has...a much greater purpose for you.”
He gazed upward, rolling his eyes. “I have no plans to open my dark side.”
“It doesn’t matter. She can tap into your suppressed dark power. You and your friends need to stop her.”
“How do I know you’re telling the truth?”
She cut her eyes away momentarily and shook her head, hair shifting on her shoulders with a breathing sound. “Look. Another guy from her band will be after you soon. He’s called Minstrel, and he’s absolutely nuts. He has been following me, trying to convince me to run off with him.” She laughed, a soft scoff. “No way.”
Jake sighed, getting it. “Okay. You want to meet Marci?”
“My Darkening may very well depend on her.”
He regarded her incredulously. “Even if she knew how to perform a Darkened ceremony, I doubt she’d personally advance your cause.”
“Her name carries weight. She could find someone who would do it.”
He paused, speechless at her determination, then: “Why haven’t you gotten in with the Darkened in this town?”
“I have. No one will do it. Felicity’s dominant scent is on me, and she’s a well known succubus in the music world. The Darkened are scared of her here. I’ve had lovers afraid of being tracked down by her.”
His eyes settled again on the heart-shaped pendant. “You’re wearing an amulet yourself. Is that to mute your aura?”
She tapped it with a long, lacquered black fingernail. “This hides her scent and helps me with my addiction to her. But a powerful psychic knows I’m her submissive once they’ve touched me—one like you. I can’t make progress.”
“So, you feel blocked. Are dreams driving you crazy? I had them before my Awakening.”
“I have ways to deal with nightmares,” she said, showing him the tracks on her arms. “But all of this anguish is worth it if I can become a greater succubus than Felicity.”
Oh, she wants to become the ultimate dark goddess of the violin—a sex
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