Linda’s head rested on Todd’s shoulder as she dozed in and out of sleep. She dreamt of dancing the Waltz at a ball. Todd held her in his arms, his mouth descending to take her lips—
The car came to a sudden stop.
Todd whispered, “We’re here.”
She lifted her eyelids to dark buildings. “Where is the entrance to The Club?” Linda peered through the tinted window.
“We’ve taken Walt Disney’s secret entrance. He didn’t enter the park with the public. Disney had an apartment here; the park was his baby.”
The chauffeur stepped outside to open their door. Soon they were walking along a street filled with tourists. Colorful flower boxes adorned the balconies, cafes offered tables on the sidewalks, and music streamed from the busy shops. Smiling children grasped balloons in their hands. Mouse ears floated through the streets on the heads of happy visitors. Laughter lilted from the lips of the contented but weary crowds.
Reece led them to a blue door, a nondescript door among many on New Orleans Square, gas light fixtures glowing on either side. Reece pressed the button on the intercom. “Whom may I ask is here?” a voice responded.
“Reece, Diane, Sam and Shana Foster, Todd and Linda Winslow.” A narrow opening slid open, then shut.
Linda whispered to Todd, “Why don’t Reece and Diane have last names?”
“Vampires don’t need last names; they know each other.
“They don’t have other vampires named Diane or Reece?”
Sam shushed her.
The door swung open. A butler in a tuxedo and white gloves motioned for them to follow him. In the courtyard, guests gathered around cast iron tables, enjoying refreshments, and awaiting their reservations. Lights hung from the surrounding trees as water flowed from a fish's mouth in a wall fountain. They climbed a wrought iron staircase to blue, double doors. Through the beveled glass, Linda glimpsed the lobby where tuxedoed men and gowned women congregated with champagne flutes clasped in their hands. The doors opened. They stepped into a room of crystal chandeliers, sparkling wooden floors, and two hostesses in matching, blue dresses standing behind a desk.
An old-style elevator brought them upstairs. Linda and her group entered The Trophy Room, a carbon copy of Disneyland's. Glass showcases displayed Walt Disney's favorite items—his most treasured possessions. Lights from the park filtered through the white curtains, photos of Walt Disney and elaborate murals adorned the walls, and screens from the long-gone microphones hung from the brass chandeliers. At the original club, the staff listened to the guests' conversations to cater to their every whim.They made their slow way around the room, nodding to guests, peeking into showcase displays before stopping in a corner beside a grandfather clock.
“Look above,” Shana whispered in her ear, pointing upward. “Say something to it.”
Linda lifted her glance and came face to face with a life-sized vulture, sitting atop the clock with its pointy talons hanging over the front. “You want me to talk to a stuffed bird? Why?”
“It’s a vulture with a microphone. The original one used to eavesdrop on people and then speak to them.”
“No, thank you, Shana. You go talk to it.” The bird with a pink face and a pointy beak watched her.
Todd tugged Linda from the clock and its feathered resident. “We should stay away from him. He has a mic, and someone might listen.”
“This is a social event. No one is eavesdropping.” Shana waved at the stuffed creature. Its eyes moved, and the long beak gave a squawk.
Sam grabbed Shana’s arm and led her from the creature. “We mustn’t draw attention to ourselves.”
They strolled through the small room, filled with props and pictures. Linda paused in front of Lillian Disney's framed butterflies hanging on the wall—part of an even larger California display. She could spend hours staring at the memorabilia. As she gazed at Mary Poppins' umbrella, Todd whispered it was time for dinner.
In the Grand Salon, parquet floors glistened beneath their feet. Tinted windows overlooked the busy park, allowing guests to watch the sights as they dined. Glass doors to the wraparound balcony offered patrons tables and chairs.
Off-white tablecloths and matching linen bore The Club’s distinctive crest in gold. Small lamps cast an indirect glow on the guests’ faces in unison with the crystal chandeliers and the brass sconces on the wallpapered walls. Sounds of jazz drifted through the air with the rare toots of Mark Twain’s paddleboat, adding to the unique ambiance of New Orleans. Linda closed her eyes for a moment, feeling transported to a different time and place. But too soon, Todd led her to their table.
Todd seated her beside him, facing the wall of windows. Reece chose the chair on Todd’s left with Diane settling beside him. Shana sat next to Linda while Sam—with a dour expression on his face—plopped beside her. Since the round table held settings for eight people, two seats stood empty for another couple.
Muted sounds of the park wafted inside from the open windows. The pictures on the striped beige walls drew Linda’s attention; paddle boats and peaceful scenes helped calm her racing heart. The scent of gardenias drifted through the room from the balcony flower boxes. Their seashell-shaped buds lifted eager faces to the moonlight.
Todd touched her hand. “Are you here with us, or are you somewhere else?”
“Sorry,” she replied. “I was admiring the paintings and thinking of New Orleans as the music took me away. I love the smell of gardenias.”
“One day, I hope to take you there. New Orleans’ flowers are lush and sweet, as are the silver bells and the Louisiana iris. You’ll fall in love with the city.” His brown eyes glistened in the lamp’s flickering light before focusing on a spot behind her.
Linda turned her head. Peter—Abe's oldest son—sauntered to the table, tall and handsome, with his blonde and petite wife, Patricia, at his side.
Reece rose to shake their hands. The couple nodded to everyone before seating themselves in the two empty chairs. Relieved outsiders weren’t sitting with them, Linda exhaled a soft breath. The strain had given her a headache. She reached for a glass of wine with shaky fingers, feeling Todd’s attention on her choppy movements. He knows and sees too much. Soon he’ll be asking me if I’m okay.
She glanced at him, but his attention centered on Reece. Reece stood. Todd excused himself and followed Reece to the bar across the room. They settled on stools on either side of an older gentleman. Beveled mirrors behind the bartender threw back their reflections between the shelves of bottles and crystal decanters. The gray-haired man raised his glass to them, drained it, then lifted it to the bartender for another. He slipped something into Reece’s pocket before reaching for his drink—in a lightning-quick movement that Linda wasn’t even sure if she’d seen. Reece and Todd retrieved their glasses and stood, leaving the gentleman to nurse his drink.
Once Todd and Reece returned, the waiter appeared with menus. Todd bent his head to study the choices—his way of ignoring her; he still had the power to irritate her.
Linda listened to the discussion at the table.
Diane asked Patricia, "Have you moved into your new house yet?" Smiling at the puzzled expression on Shana's face, Diane added, "Their home stands on the old mansion's site—across from Anna and Abe's cottage."
Shana asked Patricia, “Will you be working in Oasis?”
“Yes.” Patricia added, “We’re lawyers, and we’ll open an office in our home.”
“Neat,” Shana said. “You could work from your house in your PJ’s, the perfect job.”
“I better not get too lazy.” Patricia laughed while eyeing Peter.
“You’re right. I believe in fresh air and exercise.” Peter sat straighter, his gaze passing over the others. “I jog at night, but I’d love to run track in the sun.”
"One day, it might be possible." Reece joined the conversation. "Our lab is working to isolate the gene responsible for the vampire's weakness to light. We have people researching it as we speak. They can now filter the destructive UV rays with green glass, but soon we'll have the cure. We're only a step away."
“Vamps and hybrids will be alike.” Shana glanced from vamp to hybrid.
Todd chuckled. “We eat alike and talk alike; sometimes we even walk alike—"
Linda hit Todd on his arm. “You’re the same. You care for power and more power, whom to eat, and what to eat.”
Todd winked. “Vamps or men?”
“Human beings aren’t any different.” Reece’s eyes became icy as he directed his stare at her. Without his usual cheerful demeanor, the grooves on his face pulled his mouth into a frown. “Power makes the world spin on its axis.”
“Yes, it does.” Linda turned from him. She’d forgotten vampires had different wants and needs from humans. Beneath lowered lashes, her gaze roamed the other vamps sitting at the table. They sat laughing and eating, but they were still vampires.
The waiter returned to take their orders. Linda ordered Duck Le Orange, a dish she’d always wanted to try. Shana ordered fish. The vamps and Todd requested their steak, rare. Sam didn’t eat; he drank glass after glass of scotch minus the rocks with a scowl darkening his face.
Linda checked the room for familiar faces among the guests. After sneaking a second glance at the man two tables away, she kicked Shana’s foot beneath the table.
Shana’s head lifted.
Linda motioned with her head to the distinguished man seated beside a striking brunette who laughed at his every word. Even though he was an award-winning actor, he didn’t hide his boredom well.
With red eyebrows raised high, Shana mouthed the words, “Do you know who that is?”
Linda nodded. “He’s not the only famous person in the room. There’s a group of politicians at that table.” She eyed the guests sitting beside the window, laughing and speaking in loud tones. “Isn’t that the governor of Florida? Do you see who’s with him?”
Shana’s fork clattered to the table. Ignoring Sam’s sidelong glare, she retrieved it.
The room buzzed with animated conversations; actors mingled with heads of state and politicians. Chills cascaded through Linda's body as she recognized The Secretary of State. What if the President of the United States sat here? Linda didn't see him, but he could be one since he lived the life of the rich and famous and was power-hungry. She met Shana's bemused stare as if she could read her mind. A kindred spirit, Shana was closer to her than anyone else.
Linda’s stomach grumbled as their meal arrived with an army of waiters bearing trays with sizzling steaks and the sweet smell of Duck Le Orange. The room quieted. Vampires dove into their dinners with the zeal of a pack of wolves devouring their prey. Linda shivered, averting her eyes to her bloodless duck surrounded by vegetables and potatoes.
Shana shoved away her half-finished dinner. Their eyes met as the sounds of chewing surrounded them. Shana grimaced before grabbing her roll and slathering butter on it.
Rolling carts of exotic fruits and elaborate delicacies made Linda’s mouth water. She sampled the pastries while chatting with Shana. Her sweet tooth satiated, Linda glanced around the room. Todd took a spoonful of the chocolate mousse and pushed it away. The vampires drank coffee or wine as Sam twirled his wineglass, ignoring the sweets. Vamps don’t have a sweet tooth. And neither does Sam.
Music flowed from the speakers luring partners to the dance floor. Reece and Diane soon spun to the fast beat. Patricia stood, dragging Peter to his feet, claiming it was exercise. Todd and Sam exchanged looks, drinks in hand, before leaning back in their seats.
Shana grabbed the drink from Sam’s hand with one hand and yanked him to his feet with the other. With his head lowered, he followed her to the dance floor.
Linda refused to beg Todd or even look in his direction. If he wanted to dance, he could ask her. The silence between them grew long and uncomfortable until Todd stood and extended his hand to her. Her gaze lifted to meet his smug expression. Then he winked. She sighed and got to her feet.
Todd led her through the dancing couples to a spot beside the balcony doors. A flower-laden breeze wafted into the room. Linda could hear the laughter of the park’s guests strolling the street below the balcony. A ballad filled the room with heartfelt notes. Todd stroked her hair as they swayed to the slow music, and she laid her head on his shoulder. Why can’t I resist him? She floated in the soft cocoon of Todd’s body under a blanket of soothing tones. A tap on her shoulder brought her back to reality.
A man with blonde hair bowed to her, asking her to dance. She had no wish to dance with him, but Todd moved back and allowed the stranger to take her hand. Why is Todd allowing this? And who is this man?
The man with the dark blue eyes took her in his arms, and they danced to a popular love song. Light on his feet, though muscular and tall—even taller than Todd, he wore his streaked blonde hair to his shoulders. He waited for her to finish looking him over before he said, “Hello. I’m William Randall, a friend of Reece and Diane.”
“I am Linda Winslow. Todd is my husband.” She lowered her eyes from his hot gaze.
“My luck. I’m always too late. Todd is a lucky man.” He led her with ease and grace. “Are you from Oasis as the others?” His midnight blue eyes observed her, not missing a move.
“Yes.” She gave a tight-lipped smile.
He lifted a lock of her hair that had fallen across her cheek and tucked it behind her ears. His handsome face stayed pensive as he watched her.
With her eyes downcast, she said, “Thank you.”
“I must visit your town one day soon. I’ve heard good things.” He bent his head closer to hers.
“What have you heard?”
William smiled, his teeth white against tan skin. “White-sanded beaches, soothing tropical breezes, and the hotel’s guests visit from around the world. Diane is a famous hostess.”
Linda missed a step and landed on his right foot. “Excuse me, I’m sorry.”
They stopped dancing.
His eyes hooded, William stood before her.
“Did I hurt you?” she asked.
“No, my dear.” He bowed and bid her goodnight, nodding to people on his way to the door.
Relief flowed through her as she searched for Todd. Linda didn’t see him, then he and Reece strolled into the room, a third man close behind them. When the gentleman turned his shaven head to glare at the guests, the gold stud in his ear sparkled, revealing a snake tattoo circling his thick neck. He shook hands with Reece before marching from the room. Reece waited a few moments, then followed him.
Linda caught Todd’s attention.
“Are you okay?” she asked once he joined her.
“Just peachy.” His expression hardened as he eyed the guests.
“Okay.” Linda turned from him.
His fingers clasped her upper arm. “I’m sorry.”
She faced him. “Why do you do things you have to say you’re sorry for afterward?”
“Everyone does that.”
“No, they don’t. You do it. Bossy one moment and then the next, you’re sorry. You can’t take it back—ever. Cruel words linger forever.”
Todd enveloped her trembling hands in his. “Please, can we discuss this another time? Things are getting out of control.”
“We can’t speak now.” Todd kissed her hand. “Later.” He dashed from the room.
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