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The Graveside Bar and Grill
Author: Darynda Jones

 


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: شهريار, “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.

 

 

Chapter One


Sorry I’m late.

I didn’t want to come.

—T-shirt often seen on Charley Davidson

 

When the teenage daughter of two gods asks you to keep an eye on the beautiful doctor who takes care of her merry band of misfits—no questions asked—that is exactly what you do.

Not that Donovan St. James was whipped. He wasn’t. He’d never been whipped a day in his life. At least, not until the two most important people in his life came into the world. First, his son. A ten-year-old with more swagger than he had any right to. And then again when Elwyn Alexandra Loehr, screaming velociraptor that she was, decided to grace humanity with her presence. Before either of those entries, he never would have believed that something so tiny could render him powerless with a single glance.

But Teacup ordering him around like he was somehow in her servitude was too much. If not for the fact that said doctor—a gorgeous redhead with curves that screamed slippery when wet—walked into his bar minutes after he received the odd request, he would’ve texted the teacup back a hard no. He wouldn’t have sent it, but he would’ve typed it into his phone—probably in all caps—and smirked in satisfaction before deleting it and texting instead: When you say no questions asked...

I’m just worried about her, Elwyn messaged back. She seems distraught.

Distraught? Donovan huffed out a laugh from behind the bar and shook his head. What the hell kind of kid used the word distraught?

Distraught in what way? Brainiac.

She shot him an eye-roll emoji, then sent: You have to stop calling me that. I’m not a brainiac. I’m just well-traveled.

That was the understatement of the century. The kid had recently slipped onto another plane and then got lost there. While her journey had only lasted three days here on Earth, she’d been gone for years on the planes she’d traveled while trying to find her way back home. It was a tragedy Donovan had yet to come to terms with. She’d left a sassy, precocious, coffee-drinking five-year-old and returned a bossy teen with a god complex.

It broke his heart that he’d missed most of her childhood. They all had. And he questioned for the thousandth time why he stayed. Why he subjected himself to such strife and anguish. She had suffered. He saw it in the aging of her eyes. The sadness behind her smile. If he hadn’t sworn on his life that he would protect the girl destined to save humanity, he would’ve put Santa Fe, New Mexico in his rearview ages ago. But that promise, along with the fact that he loved the elfin more than the life he’d sworn on kept him glued to the area, no matter the turmoil. Or the apprehension.

But no one had told him he’d be taking orders from the little tyrant. He snorted aloud at her well-traveled comment, drawing the attention of his fill-in bartender, a last-minute replacement with long, chestnut hair, shimmering golden eyes, and a T-shirt that read: May my morning coffee give me the strength to make my mid-morning coffee. She was also a god and the mother of said tyrant.

Charley Davidson sashayed over to him and gave him a saucy wink. A saucy wink that Donovan ignored since her husband—a god, as well, as luck would have it—was sitting three stools away from him. Thankfully, a bar took up space between them. A bulwark, so to speak. A barrier that could give him a split-second advantage should he need it.

Not that he would, but it was nice to have options.

He turned and watched as the redhead wound her way through the sparse patronage to a corner booth. She slipped into it, the shadows sliding over her until they almost completely consumed her. He made a mental note to up the wattage on the lamp hanging over that particular table. All he could make out now was a shapely calf that spilled down into a red, low-heeled pump.

Charley broke into the seedier side of his thoughts that arose at the sight of the red pump by sidling up to him. She propped an elbow on his shoulder and said, “I like her.”

Donovan nodded, trying to make out the rest of the doctor’s outline. “Me, too.” Then he turned toward the radiant woman leaning lazily against him and realized that she was looking in the opposite direction. He refocused on the end of the bar. “You like who?”

Charley pointed to her husband, who sat with a woman on either side of him, each doing her best to flirt. Good luck with that.

“You like the women flirting with the man you vowed to love for all eternity?” And in this couple’s case, that was a real possibility. An eternity seemed like such a long time to be shackled to one person. But after being alone for so long, he’d take it.

“No,” she said with a snort. “I only like the one on his left. The raven-haired beauty with the Brazilian accent. She gives good aura.”

He squinted at the two women he’d noticed the moment they walked in—as had everyone at the bar. The dark-haired one wore a rust-colored T-shirt and a cowgirl hat, clearly trying to blend with the locals. The blonde wore a shimmering powder-blue cocktail dress, which was a little too fancy for his establishment, a biker den called The Graveside Bar and Grill. Apropos since it sat next to a cemetery.

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