If he had been the romantic hero of an adventure novel, Mr. Dax Larue never would have jumped into the last taxi without offering to share it. He would have lifted me in those strong arms, carried me over the curbside flood, and placed me gently inside the cab. Then, overcome by my beauty, he would have been compelled to kiss me tenderly.
What was I thinking? Overactive imagination, indeed. Just because I sighed every time I saw him did not mean I’d ever kiss the man. In my dreams, maybe.
I must have been invisible, or he simply did not see me standing there, drenched in the downpour outside Louis Armstrong International Airport. In either case, he was no romantic hero, and I was no beauty. I felt more like a soggy sandwich that nobody ordered.
Before he could close the door, I grabbed it and tossed my bag inside.
“Move over, mister, I’m getting wet out here.” Dime-sized raindrops dripped from me as I climbed inside. Well, maybe they were more the size of peanuts, but big enough to leave my hair a soggy mess. Of all times to have wilted hair.
“Where y’all goin’?” the cabby asked.
“The Legende de Lafitte Hotel in New Orleans,” we answered simultaneously. That’s when Larue first glanced at me. Bedraggled, I half wished I were invisible. Instead, I lifted my chin and decided he was blessed to be going to the same place.
“Ahhh, the haunted hotel.” The driver had a very southern Texas drawl. He pronounced the word in three syllables—hotayal.
“Betcha you’re both reporters. They’ve been comin’ in from all over. Some of the biggies from Discovery channel and Haunted Houses of History. Even that Jeremy guy from Scientific American. Ain’t none of ’em found a ghost out there yet, so far as I know. But tonight’s supposed to be the big night, huh?”
He pulled away from the curb, to my great relief. I was certain the rising water would flood the vehicle and drown us at any minute. Well, maybe it wasn’t exactly a torrent yet, but it had potential. Rain sluiced down the windshield so hard that the wiper blades couldn’t clear it. That didn’t bother the cabby. He drove as if he could navigate the area blindfolded.
“You guessed right.” My companion nodded toward the driver’s reflection in the rearview mirror. “Dax Larue from the Supernatural Seeker out of Chicago.”
I’d recognized him immediately at the airport’s baggage claim. Mister Ace Reporter, the heartthrob of every woman who has ever viewed one of the Seeker’s TV specials or followed his adventures in the magazine. My heart did not throb over him that night. It pounded irritation at his lack of chivalry. I suppose it’s entirely possible that he really hadn’t seen me standing there, but I was not in my usual generous, understanding mode.
Of course, he hadn’t recognized me. Unlike Larue, I’m never on TV except when a cameraman accidentally pans my way during a press conference. I work for a less sensational, but more solidly researched magazine.
My job is the opposite of Larue’s—to take the mystery out of the mysterious, explain the unexplained, and put the natural back into false claims of the supernatural. Sometimes I even unscrew the inscrutable. Believe me, many of the weirdoes I interview have a loose screw or two.
Working for competitive publications, with opposing points of view, I knew our paths were bound to cross sooner or later, but I hadn’t expected it to be when I was dripping wet. I’d wanted to be at my best when I met the famous Dax Larue.
Robbed of the chance to make a good first impression, I decided to speak up.
“I’m from Beyond Fantasy magazine, also based in Chicago, and I’m not here just to do a story on the haunted hotel.” I would have to think up some other reason for being in New Orleans to excuse my lie. After all, I didn’t want Mr. Larue to feel threatened by my superior career status.
“Beyond Fantasy? Isn’t that the little freebie shopping guide with the garage sale notices?”
I smiled, but ice dripped from every word. He had named the leaflet with all the blue-light specials in Chicago, and no self-respecting journalist works for a shopper’s guide. He was being snobbish. Either that or my bumpy flight and rain-soaked appearance had made me extra snarly.
“So, your paper’s not just an ad flyer?”
Unintentionally, I tilted my nose up. “It’s a quarterly journal. We don’t do television specials like the kind you host for the Seeker, but we do have an international audience.”
“Oh, yes. I think I read one of your magazines once. That story on the rather odd UFO event caught my eye. The one where that wacky woman claimed she saw something shaped like a gigantic garbage can hanging over the treetops. Was she on some kind of drugs?”
I considered a snappy comeback but checked my rain-drenched temper. Instead, I managed a wry smile. “You happen to be talking to the wacky woman who saw it, and I wasn’t on anything but a morning cup of coffee.”
I looked him straight in the eye … the ear actually, since he wasn’t facing me at the time. Cute ear. I supposed the other one was just as cute.
He turned to look at me. This time I had his attention.
“You really saw that thing you wrote about?”
“With my own two eyes. And if I’m wacky, I’m not alone. The late Peter Jennings once reported that over 40-million people worldwide have seen mysterious things in the sky. UFOs are no big deal anymore.”
As a veteran reporter for the Seeker, Larue probably knew a lot more about these things than I did; however, I determined not to let him intimidate me.
“That’s true,” he said. “But usually witnesses describe an object that at least looks like it can fly. A garbage-can shape suspended over a tree. Now that’s unusual. However, I do apologize for using the term wacky, Miss …?”
I debated whether to accept his apology. In the end, I decided to keep things formal.
“Well, Miss O’Hara, I’ll try to find a copy of your magazine and read it more carefully next time.”
I considered offering him a copy from my briefcase. The lead story had my byline on it, and I was proud of that.
But no. He probably doesn’t know good writing when he sees it. Or an excellent writer when he meets her, regardless of her disheveled looks.
A huge clap of thunder shattered the night, as well as my eardrums. Lightning blinded me for a moment.