It was, he realized almost reluctantly, the kinda place he used to go with Clea when they were dating. Quintessentially her. Hell, she was probably happy here. Shit.
It was nine o’clock and people were queuing to get in, as they were at every bar or club up and down the street. A mountain of a man stood guard at the door. Wolf got a glimpse of an MC patch on his shirt as he and Grim entered. A grinning skull, smoke pouring from its empty eye sockets. Voodoo Kin. Made good sense to have your crew working your business, but it put his back up all the same.
Inside, soft lighting glowed on photos of the city and its celebrity residents. He recognized Louis Armstrong and Fats Domino, but jazz had never been his thing. Clea always teased him about it, calling him uncultured and turning her nose up at his preference for metal and thrash. The place was buzzing, the atmosphere lively and happy, and Wolf hated it. He wanted it to be a pit. He wanted proof of the kinda man Shango was to be painted on the walls. Human trash like him didn’t deserve success like this.
“C’mon, man,” Grim said, nodding toward the bar. “Let’s get you some Dutch courage, huh?”
“I don’t need it,” Wolf said, following Grim anyway. He looked around for Clea as they elbowed their way through the packed bar area, but there was no sign of her. The stage at the back of the restaurant was empty, but a mic stand and piano were in place, spotlights shining on the instruments, promising a show.
Grim bought them a couple of beers, but Wolf simply held onto his, not wanting to drink. The cold bottle felt good in his hands, pushing back some of the body heat generated by the other customers milling around. Even with the air conditioning on though, it was a sticky-hot night. Kinda night he used to love. He and Clea would run around New Orleans from dusk til dawn, drinking, laughing, then fall into his apartment as the sun came up. They’d fuck like they’d never get enough of each other, then he’d run out for coffee and beignets, and they’d eat and then fuck all over again.
“Don’t get misty-eyed,” Grim said, making him jump. “You’ll miss the show.”
“I wasn’t,” Wolf lied. He considered, then took one quick swig of beer. At the far end of the room, the stage lights brightened up, attracting everyone’s attention, then dropped low again to bathe the stage in a dreamy golden glow. Wolf felt his adrenaline spike, his body practically vibrating with it. It was the same feeling he got before every fight, a drumming in his blood that he always welcomed.
Cheers popped around the room as Clea swept through the velvet curtains at the back of the stage. That surge of adrenaline pumped harder, urging Wolf to rush down the room and grab her. He could only stare though. And she was well worth staring at.
Her gold dress looked painted on, clinging lovingly to every lush curve. The color did incredible things for her dark skin and bouncy curls, transforming her into a fiery, shimmering creature, too beautiful for mere men to even look at, let alone touch. The dress touched the floor at the back, but skimmed her knees at the front, showing off perfect legs that Wolf had wrapped around his neck too many times to count. She’d wrapped a chunky gold and red necklace around her throat, an Aztec-style statement piece that he recognized with a jolt. He’d given it to her for Christmas one year, the last Christmas before he fucked everything up. She loved that kind of shit, big and bold and sunny.
She’d kept it. She’d kept his gift. Wolf allowed himself the smallest flicker of hope.