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She tried to remember that as she walked away from Jagger DeFarge's car.The parking area was new and paved, and sat on an embankment right at the edge of the river.

She paused to look down at the Mississippi. It really was a mighty river. The currents could be vicious; storms could make it toss and churn, and yet it could also be beautiful and glorious, the vein of life for so many people who had settled along its banks.

The great river had allowed for the magnificent plantations whose owners had built an amazing society of grace and custom--and slavery. But even in the antebellum days before the Civil War, New Orleans had offered a home for "free men of color." Ironically, black men had owned black men, and quadroons had been the mistresses of choice. In Fiona's mind, the city was home to some of the most beautiful people in the world even now, people who came in all shades. God, yes, she loved her city. It was far from perfect. The economy was still suffering, and, as ever, the South still struggled to gain educational parity with the North.

But everyone lived in this city: black, white, yellow, red, brown, and every shade in between. Young and old, men and women.

And the denizens of the underworld, of course.

She took a deep breath as she stared at the river. She was furious, yes. She was afraid, yes. And what might have been bothering her most was the fact that she didn't think Jagger DeFarge had actually intended to wound her with his words.

God, yes! Her parents would have handled this much better. But they were dead. They had known what they were doing would cost them their last strength, their last breaths. But they had believed in a beautiful world, where peace could exist, where everyone could accept everyone else.

She walked down to Decatur Street and paused. St. Louis Cathedral stood behind Jackson Square, its steeple towering over the scene before it, including the garden with its magnificent equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson. Cafe du Monde was to her right--filled with tourists, naturally. It was a "must see" for visitors, perhaps something like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, even if it wasn't nearly so grand. It was a true part of New Orleans, and she decided to brave the crowd of the tourists and pick up a nice cafe au lait for the three block walk back to the shop on Royal Street.

Though an actual drink might be better at this moment. A Hand Grenade or a Hurricane, or any one of the other alcoholic libations so enjoyed on Bourbon Street.

But she couldn't have a drink. She couldn't drink away what had happened--or everything she feared might be about to happen next.

She made her way through the open air patio to the take-away window, ordered a large cafe au lait to go, then headed on up toward Chartres Street and then Royal. Her love for the city returned to her like a massive wave as she walked. She returned a greeting to a friend who gave tours in one of the mule-drawn carriages, and headed on past the red brick Pontalba Building. She passed shops selling T-shirts, masks, the ever-present Mardi Gras beads, postcards and sometimes, true relics, along with hand-crafted art and apparel.

Some of the buildings along her path were in good repair, while others still needed a great deal of help. Construction was constant in a city that was hundreds of years old, where the charming balconies often sagged, and where, even before Hurricane Katrina, many had struggled through economic difficulties to do what was needed piecemeal.

But there was something she loved even about the buildings that were still in dire need of tender care.

The French Quarter's buildings were an architectural wonderland. The area had passed through many hands--French, Spanish, British and American--but it had been during the Spanish period in 1788 that the Great Fire of New Orleans had swept away more than eight hundred of the original buildings. And then, in 1794, a second fire had taken another two hundred plus. The current St. Louis Cathedral had been built in 1789, so it, like much of the "French Quarter," had actually been built in the Spanish style.

She reached her destination, a corner on Royal, and paused, looking at the facade of their shop and their livelihood.

A Little Bit of Magic was on the ground floor of a truly charming building that dated back to 1823. She ran the shop with Caitlin and Shauna, her sisters, and she supposed, in their way, they were as much a part of the tourist scene as any other business. When you got right down to it, they sold fantasy, fun, belief and, she supposed, to some, religion. She remembered that, although they attended St. Louis Cathedral regularly, her mother had once told her, "All paths lead to God, and it doesn't matter if you call him Jehovah, Allah, Buddha, or even if you believe that he is a she."

She knew that her parents had always believed in two basic tenets: that there was a supreme being, and that all creatures, including human beings, came in varying shades of good and evil. The world was not black and white. Like New Orleans, it was all shades in between.

And so, in A Little Bit of Magic, they sold just about everything. They had expansive shelves on Wiccan beliefs, voodoo history and rights, myths and legends, spiritualism, Native American cultures, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Judaism and more. She ordered the books for the shop, and she loved reading about different beliefs and cultures.

Caitlin, however, was their reigning mystic. She was brilliant with a tarot deck. Shauna was the palm reader, while she herself specialized in tea leaves--easily accessible, since they had a little coffee and tea bar of their own.

They also sold beautiful hand-crafted capes, apparel, masks--this was New Orleans, after all--jewelry, wands, statues, dolls, voodoo paraphernalia and, sometimes, relics and antiques. The shop had always done a good business, and despite occasional disagreements, the sisters got along extremely well.

She sipped her cafe au lait, hoping it would give her what she needed: patience, wisdom and strength.

In a way, at the beginning, it had been easier. She'd been nineteen, an adult. Caitlin had been right behind her at seventeen, but Shauna had been only fifteen. It had been quite a fight to get the family courts to allow her to "raise" her sisters, but she had managed. She'd had help from a dear old friend, August Gaudin--a werewolf, of all things--but he had a fine reputation in the city, and he'd been her strength. At first, her sisters had been young, lost, so what she said was the law. But she had never wanted to hold them down, and now they were women in their own right, with valid thoughts and opinions.

And they were both going to be in a state of extreme anxiety now!

Squaring her shoulders both physically and mentally, Fiona entered the store. Caitlin was behind the counter, chatting with a woman who was selecting tea. She eyed Fiona sharply as she entered, but continued her explanation of the different leaves.

Fiona saw that Shauna was helping a young couple pick out masks.

She nodded to both her sisters and walked through the store to the office in the rear, where she pulled up the chair behind her desk.

First things first. Then, tonight, a trip to the morgue.

A minute later, Caitlin burst in on her.

"Is it true? A dead woman in the cemetery, drained of blood?"

Fiona nodded. "I saw Jagger DeFarge. He's lead detective on the case. Naturally I told him that he has to find the killer right away, and obviously we don't care if it's one of his own, the murderer must be destroyed."

Caitlin sank into the chair on the other side of the desk. Fiona knew that the three of them resembled one another, and yet there were also noticeable differences. Her sister had the most beautiful silver eyes she had ever seen, while Shauna's had a touch of green and hers were blue. Her own hair was very light, Caitlin's a shade darker and Shauna's had a touch of red. Their heights were just a shade different, too. She was shortest at five-seven, while Caitlin had a half an inch on her, and Shauna was five-eight.

Right now, Caitlin's eyes were darkening like clouds on a stormy day.

"He admits the killer has to be a vampire?"

"No, of course not. He didn't admit anything."

"But we all know it has to have been a vampire."

Fiona hesitated. The last thing she wanted to do was defend Jagger DeFarge.

She had kept her distance from him, for the most part. Keepers were not supposed to interfere with everyday life. They did have their councils--kind of like a paranormal Elks Club, she thought with a smile--but as long as the status quo stayed the status quo, each society dealt with their own.

She knew, however, that Jagger did well in life passing as a normal citizen of the city. He was a highly respected police detective and had been decorated by the department.

She'd seen him a few times on television when he'd been interviewed after solving a high profile case. She remembered one interview in particular, when Jagger and his squad had brought in a killer who had scratched out a brutal path of murder from Oregon to Louisiana.

"Frankly, most of the time, what appears on the surface is what a perpetrator wants us to see. Any good officer has to look below the surface. In our city, sadly, we have a high crime rate much of it due to greed, passion or envy, not to mention drugs and domestic violence. But in searching for those who murder because of mental derangement or more devious desires, we can never accept anything at face value," he had said.

Before she could reply to Caitlin's question, Shauna came rushing into the office breathlessly. "Well?"

Her youngest sister's hair was practically flying. She was wearing a soft silk halter dress that swirled around her as she ran, and even when she stopped in front of the desk, she still seemed to be in motion.

"Jagger won't admit that it was a vampire. Maybe I'm phrasing that wrong. He said that he has to investigate. He reminded me that this is New Orleans--that we attract human wackos just the same as we attract those of us who just want to live normal lives. He didn't insist that it wasn't a vampire, he just said that he needs to investigate."

"Vampires!" Caitlin said, her tone aggravated, as if vampires were the cause of everything that ever went wrong.

"What are you going to do?" Shauna asked.

Fiona frowned. "I don't know. But look, we can't all be back here. We can't leave the shop unattended."

"I put the Out for Lunch sign up in the window," Shauna said.