Love & Omens releases November 11th, so it's time to meet the characters! Blake and Sydney dated in college, and now, eight years later, they're reunited when Blake joins forces with Crescent City Ghost Tours.
Here's Blake's opening scene in chapter two:
A smile tugged on Blake Beaumont’s lips as he stood on the bank of the Mississippi River, overlooking the muddy water. A white steamboat docked a few yards away added to the picturesque view of the illuminated Crescent City Connection Bridge against the dark night sky.
The evenly spaced lights spanning the length of the bridge cast a reddish-gold glow on the water’s surface, and the smooth sounds of a street performer playing the saxophone echoed in the distance. A couple sitting on a park bench laughed behind him, the happy sound mixing with the faint music to create a soothing, welcoming melody all its own.
Man, it felt good to be home.
The February wind stung his cheeks, but he’d take New Orleans’ two weeks of fifty-degree winter over the months of frigid ice and snow he’d endured in New York. His time away had been a necessity, but he was home now and here to stay.
He jogged across the railroad tracks and slipped his hands into his pockets as he crossed Decatur Street and entered Jackson Square. The plaza buzzed with activity as crowds gathered for the nightly ghost and vampire tours, and psychics set up tables along the walkway, offering passersby spiritual advice and glimpses into their futures.
Some of the fortunetellers in the Square had actual psychic abilities, while others relied on mentalism and a keen eye for reading body language to tell people what they wanted to hear. Who was who, he couldn’t tell anymore. He’d been away for far too long.
He smiled and nodded at a woman with a floral head wrap and matching dress. Four-inch tarnished gold hoop earrings and a set of bangle bracelets clinking on her arm as she waved her hand over her crystal ball added to her gypsy-like appearance.
If this venture didn’t work out, he might be forced to set up his own table and offer readings. He could don a wizard’s cape or some other ridiculous costume and amaze people with his ability to read the energy in objects, but therein lay the problem. His psychic power was dependent on customers actually having an object with them that he could read.
Not to mention, the thought of putting his ability on display made his skin crawl. Once people found out what he could do, they wanted him to become some kind of freak show act, performing for all their friends. That, or they called him a scammer and a fraud. No thank you.
His talent would better serve him on his current path, and joining forces with the most popular tour company in the French Quarter would ensure that path led to success.
He spotted his old high school buddy leaning against the fence, and he lifted a hand to catch his attention. “Hey, Sean.”
“Blake.” Sean pushed from the fence and sauntered toward him. “Glad you could make it.”
“I’m looking forward to it. You know, I’ve lived in New Orleans all my life…aside from the recent years…and I’ve never been on a walking tour.” He stepped around a performer who’d painted his entire body gold and followed Sean toward the St. Louis Cathedral.
Built in 1794, the massive church boasted three steeples with an enormous clock adorning the center one. A crowd huddled near the steps forming a semicircle around a man in his early twenties with brown hair and a trench coat.
Sean stopped behind the crowd and nodded at the man. “It can be hard to think like a tourist in your home city. We tend to take what we see every day for granted.”
“No kidding.” Blake had moved away with good riddance on his mind, but he never fathomed how much he’d miss this place until he left. “I’ve been thinking like a tourist for the past six months, since I moved back.”
Sean waved, and the man on the steps strode toward them. “Your ideas are genius. I really think this is going to work out.”
He couldn’t fight his smile. That was exactly what he wanted to hear. “Is the rest of your team on board?”
“I had a meeting with them this afternoon. They’re in.”
“Sweet.” When he’d first had the idea of setting up the museum and adding a tour to go with the artifacts, he’d asked around in the community. He hit the jackpot when he discovered the most reputable company belonged to his childhood friend.
He’d pitched the idea to Sean, and they’d been discussing the details for the past month. If the tour tonight proved as good as the rumors, Blake would be ready to sign on the dotted line. The Big Apple may have sent him running with his tail between his legs, but the Big Easy was his home turf, and if he could make this venture work, he’d be set.
If it didn’t work, his savings would run out eventually, and he’d have to get a “real job.” Sitting in an office all day long would kill him, and after his career-ending mistake at the NYC Museum of History, starting his own exhibit was the only way he could continue using his college degree…and his ability…to earn a living.
“This is Eric.” Sean clapped the man on the shoulder, and Blake shook his hand.
“I can’t wait to investigate the museum. With all those artifacts, the activity must be off the chain.” Eric’s eyes gleamed with excitement.
“It hasn’t been too bad yet.” Nothing out of the ordinary for the most haunted city in America, anyway. Occasional knocks and sounds of footsteps were part of the charm of the nineteenth-century buildings in the French Quarter. As long as he didn’t bring anything sinister into his home, he could handle sharing his space with a ghost or two.
Eric pulled his phone from his pocket and glanced at the screen. “Syd’s ready. Enjoy the tour. I’m looking forward to working with you.” He nodded at Blake and jogged into the crowd.
“We’ve got two tours running tonight.” Sean guided him into the group. “Identical routes, but Syd will run in reverse, so they never hit a stop at the same time.”
Blake nodded. “Sounds logical. Keep the groups smaller. More intimate.”
“Sydney’s a rock star. You’re going to love her.” Sean gestured toward the woman leading the second tour, and Blake’s heart tumbled into his stomach.
“Is that Sydney Park?”
“Yeah. You know her?”
Talk about a blast from the past. Blake drifted forward to get a better look, his throat thickening as the memories came flooding back. “Knew her. I haven’t seen her since college.”
With her torn jeans, black leather jacket, and Converse shoes, her style hadn’t changed a bit. Her hair was shorter, cropped above her ear on the left side and hanging down to her chin on the right, but the shiny black color still reminded him of a raven’s feathers glinting in the moonlight. She had flawless light brown skin, a delicate nose, and a light coat of makeup accenting her dark brown eyes. A tourist said something humorous, and as Sydney’s mulberry lips curved into a smile, Blake’s heart sprinted like a racehorse out of the gates.
As she climbed to the top of the steps, she raised a hand and addressed the crowd with the same strong, confident voice that had drawn him to her all those years ago. “We’re going to divide you into two groups. Eric will take half of you…” She gestured to Eric like a gameshow model. “And I’ll take the rest. Any questions before we get started?”
A man in his sixties wearing an I got Bourbon faced on Shit Street t-shirt raked his gaze down her body and narrowed his eyes. “Yeah. What are you?”
She gave him a tight-lipped smile. “I’m a tour guide.” Holding her arm straight in front of her, she descended the steps, making a path through the crowd.
The man stumbled as he turned, his speech slurred. “No, I mean where are you from?” He pointed, wiggling his finger at her face, and Blake instinctively stepped toward them.
Sydney dropped her arms to her sides and faced the man. “I’m from New Orleans. Born and raised.” She cocked her head, her annoyance clear in her expression, but her confident posture said she had plenty of experience dealing with people like this.
The man took a gulp of his yard-sized beer. “Naw. What nationality are you? Where are your parents from?”
Eric moved in closer as if ready to defuse the situation. Blake started forward again, but Sean stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. “She’s got this.”
Sydney crossed her arms and looked the man hard in the eyes. “I’m American, and both my parents were born here in Louisiana. Any other questions?”
The man’s mouth opened and closed a few times, his shocked expression making it clear he was used to having the upper hand. Blake chuckled. No man ever had the upper hand with Sydney Park.
“You’re in that group.” She pointed, and the man sank back into the crowd.
Eric laughed and lowered his voice as he followed Sydney to the back of the swarm…toward Blake. “Wouldn’t it have been easier to tell him your dad is Korean?”
Blake tensed as she approached; with her attention focused on her coworker, she hadn’t noticed him yet.
“My mom is Irish and Haitian. Should I have to explain that too? Why would I make his ignorance any easier for him?”
“Good point.” Eric raised his hand. “Y’all on this side, follow me.” He led his group to the opposite end of the church.
“I told you she’s a rock star,” Sean said.
“Feisty as ever.” Blake fought his smile. Even after all these years, the woman still made his blood hum.
She shouldn’t have. Not after the way she left him. But he couldn’t deny the glowing embers reigniting in his core. He could either fan the flames or stomp them out before she burned him to ash again. Which would it be this time?
Standing on her toes, she mouthed the numbers as she did a quick headcount. When she reached Sean, she grinned, but as her gaze locked with Blake’s, she faltered. Her eyes widened, her mouth falling slack for a moment before she snapped it shut, swallowed hard, and continued her count.
Her reaction lit another spark inside his chest, stoking the coals that should have burned out long ago.
“Okay.” She tapped the screen of her iPad and turned it around to show the audience a square QR code. Her gaze flicked between Blake and Sean a few times before she continued, “I’m going to walk around and let y’all scan this with your phones. It will sync with the presentation so you can see the photo and video evidence of the hauntings up close as we tour.”
She shuffled through the crowd, stopping in front of each person with a phone before turning around and ignoring Blake as she moved toward the steps.
“Hey, Syd,” Sean said. “Blake’s never done the tour. Bring the code over here for him to scan.”
“Right.” Her eyes tightened, and her smile seemed forced as she glided toward him.
“Hi, Sydney. It’s good to see you.” He scanned the code, and the Crescent City Ghost Tours logo illuminated his screen.
“Hi, Blake. It’s been a while.” She looked at him, and her eyes softened, her lips parting slightly.
He could almost taste the strawberry lip balm she used to wear, and he was filled with the sudden urge to find out if she still used it. He swallowed the phantom flavor from his mouth. His emotional coals didn’t need stoking. They were already ablaze.
She looked at Sean. “You didn’t mention Blake was the friend you were teaming up with.”
He tilted his head. “I told you at lunch today.”
“Oh, right.” She blinked. “It must have slipped my mind. Well…” Her gaze landed on Blake, and he tensed. “Enjoy the tour.”
She trotted to the front of the group and began her speech as if he were just another visitor joining the outing…like what they’d shared had never happened.
“Slipped her mind, my ass,” Blake muttered as he followed the group into Pirate’s Alley.
I hope you enjoyed meeting Blake! You can read Sydney's reaction to seeing him again after all these years HERE.