One Thousand and One Dark Nights
Once upon a time, in the future…
I was a student fascinated with stories and learning.
I studied philosophy, poetry, history, the occult, and the art and science of love and magic. I had a vast library at my father’s home and collected thousands of volumes of fantastic tales.
I learned all about ancient races and bygone times. About myths and legends and dreams of all people through the millennium. And the more I read the stronger my imagination grew until I discovered that I was able to travel into the stories... to actually become part of them.
I wish I could say that I listened to my teacher and respected my gift, as I ought to have. If I had, I would not be telling you this tale now.
But I was foolhardy and confused, showing off with bravery.
One afternoon, curious about the myth of the Arabian Nights, I traveled back to ancient Persia to see for myself if it was true that every day Shahryar (Persian: ??????, “king”) married a new virgin, and then sent yesterday's wife to be beheaded. It was written and I had read, that by the time he met Scheherazade, the vizier's daughter, he’d killed one thousand women.
Something went wrong with my efforts. I arrived in the midst of the story and somehow exchanged places with Scheherazade – a phenomena that had never occurred before and that still to this day, I cannot explain.
Now I am trapped in that ancient past. I have taken on Scheherazade’s life and the only way I can protect myself and stay alive is to do what she did to protect herself and stay alive.
Every night the King calls for me and listens as I spin tales.
And when the evening ends and dawn breaks, I stop at a point that leaves him breathless and yearning for more.
And so the King spares my life for one more day, so that he might hear the rest of my dark tale.
As soon as I finish a story... I begin a new one... like the one that you, dear reader, have before you now.
“You should consider moving here,” Mike says and takes a pull of the long-neck bottle of his beer, then shifts his gaze from the baseball game on the screen above the bar to me. We’re in the heart of the French Quarter in New Orleans, at some bar on Bourbon Street, having a few beers after a long day of work.
I shake my head. I’ve heard this line from my brother at least a dozen times since he and his wife moved here from New York last year.
“I’m happy in Seattle. Casey’s happy in Seattle.”
“Casey will be happy wherever you’re happy,” Mike replies. “Don’t you want to be close to family?”
“I’d be kicking your ass all the time,” I reply. “You’d be begging me to leave in a week.”
“You could try, little brother,” Mike says with a smirk. “The force could use you.”
I shrug a shoulder and drink my beer. I like working for the Seattle force. I have a dependable partner. Casey does well in school. But there’s no family for us there, and I admit it’s hard when my babysitter bails on me.
Being a single father fucking sucks.
“I’ll think about it.”
Mike nods and checks his phone when it lights up with a text. A group of girls behind us are laughing loudly, clearly having a good time. I wonder if it’s a bachelorette party.
“Franny’s wondering when I’m coming home,” Mike says with a smile. “I’m getting laid, buddy.”
I laugh and shake my head as I take a drink of my beer. “Good for you, buddy.”
“Yes, she is good for me,” he agrees.
“Ten years and two kids later and you still get that shit-eating grin on your face.” I smile, happy for my brother.
“Of course, I love her.” He shoves his phone in his pocket, swallows the last of his beer, and claps his hand on my shoulder as he climbs off his stool. “I’m out. See you tomorrow.”
Suddenly, the sexy redhead from the group behind me is standing next to me at the bar, blinking her glassy green eyes. “Hi there.”
“Having a good time?” I ask with a grin.
“Yes.” She blinks some more, and then her eyes widen in recognition. “I know you!”
“You do?” I’m quite sure I’d know if I’d met this woman.
“Yes! You were on the plane with Lila yesterday. Asher?”
“That’s right.” I take her offered hand and shake it, immediately remembering the gorgeous woman I caught in my lap on the plane. “Is Lila with you this evening?”
And if she is, how in the ever-loving hell did I miss her?
“Yep. She’s my BFF. We drink together. One time in college we made out, but it was no biggie.”
“Okay.” I laugh, wishing I’d been there to see that.
“You didn’t ask for her number.” She scowls and pokes her finger into my chest. I look down at it, then glance up at her with a raised brow.
“You just assaulted an officer.”
“I did?” She swallows hard.
“Yes. I might have to arrest you.”
“With handcuffs?” She smiles gleefully, clearly excited at the thought.
“Would you like me to arrest you with handcuffs?”
“Hell to the yes!”
“Kate?” There’s suddenly a very tall, very irritated man standing behind the fiery redhead, staring daggers into me. I can’t help but laugh.
“I’m talking to the hot Asher,” she says, not turning to look at him. “I assaulted him, and he’s a cop, and he’s going to put me in handcuffs.”
“No, I don’t believe he will.”
I laugh again. “There’s nothing going on here, man.”
“Come see Lila!” Kate takes my hand, pulling me from my stool to the table behind us. Most of the women have cleared out, leaving just a few, including the sexy as fuck woman I met on the plane yesterday. “Where did everyone go?”
“Declan took them home,” Lila replies, and her hand stops midway between the table and her lips, holding her drink. Her violet eyes widen when she sees me. “Hi.”
“We meet again.” I sit next to her, my fingers itching to plunge in her dark hair and brush it over her shoulder. “How are you, Lila?”
“Fine.” She clears her throat and smiles at me. “I didn’t think I’d ever see you again.”
“A happy coincidence,” I reply softly. “You look beautiful.”
And she does. Her eyes are a bit glassy from the alcohol, her cheeks just a little flushed. Her hair is straight and falls down her back and over her slim shoulders. Before I can ask her questions about her trip here, or anything about her, we are soon pulled into the conversation with the others at the table. But when Kate asks Lila if she’s ready to go, I’m shocked when Lila responds with, “I’m gonna have Asher take me home.”
“Atta girl!” Kate high-fives Lila, making me chuckle, then turns her sights on me. “And listen up, buddy. If you hurt her, I don’t care if you really are a cop, I’ll make your life hell. Okay?”
“Okay.” I nod soberly, glad that Lila has such fiercely loyal friends in her life.
And I barely know her.
“I hope that’s okay,” Lila says and turns to me with an embarrassed smile.
“More than okay.” I can’t help it. I have to touch her. I tuck her hair behind her ear with my fingertip and then drag it down her jawline. “But I don’t think I want to take you home and end the evening.”
“I don’t either,” she whispers, her eyes fixed on my lips. She licks hers, and just like that I’m hard as fuck. “And that’s very unlike me.”
She nods soberly. “I don’t do this sort of thing.”
“What sort of thing would this be?” I lean into her, enjoying the smell of her, the way her eyes dilate as I get closer.
“Pick up strange men.”
“Well, I’m not exactly a stranger. I mean, you’ve already been in my lap, after all.” I smile down at her, enjoying the way her cheeks redden at the memory of her falling into my lap on the plane yesterday.
“You didn’t seem to mind.”
Oh, trust me sweetheart, I didn’t mind at all.
“Would it be okay if I took you back to my hotel? It’s a couple blocks away.”
“You’re bold,” she says with a flirty grin. “And I think I’d like that.”
I stand, take her hand, and pull her to her feet, then lead her out of the bar and onto the busy street. She’s in mile-high heels, which are going to look fantastic over my shoulders, but are not appropriate for walking around New Orleans.
When she stumbles about a block away from the hotel, I simply lift her in my arms and carry her the rest of the way.
“You’re strong.” She loops her arms around my neck and presses her nose to my cheek. “And you smell good.”
“And if you keep running your fingers through my hair like that, I’m going to fuck you right here, against the side of the hotel,” I inform her, my voice completely calm but clear. She simply laughs and kisses my cheek.
“I’m sure we wouldn’t be the first people to fuck against the side of this hotel. This is New Orleans.” She smirks as I set her on her feet by the elevator.