“One of of [romance’s] brightest stars”( ROMANCE REVIEWS TODAY) shows off her dark side.
New Orleans, 1840s. Sent to watch over the decadent city, the angel Gabriel loses himself in the liquid pleasure of absinthe. So when his mistress, Anne, is murdered—and all evidence points to him—a foggy Gabriel cannot be sure he didn’t do it. His penance: to be forever denied love. Then in modern-day New Orleans he meets forensic scientist Sara Michaels...
New Orleans, 1849
Anne Donovan would do anything for John Thiroux.
She would die for him.
Sitting in front of the cracked mirror Madame had provided for her in the tiny, shabby room that was hers based on the fact that John paid to keep her available, Anne brushed her auburn hair. Embracing the familiar tingle in her body, the heaviness in her breasts, the ache between her thighs that always arose when she thought of her lover, she sighed with contentment, anticipation. John was everything to her, an absolute angel of a man, and she was in completely and utterly in love with him. He had saved her from the steady stream of obnoxious men she'd previously had to endure in various bawdy houses to stay off the streets, and his favor allowed her to send money to her cousin for her daughter's upkeep. It was true she'd had a private benefactor prior to John, but that one had been an oddity, and Anne had been grateful to exchange him for the beauty and passion of her current lover.
The knock on her door cut through her lazy daydreaming and had her pushing her chair back and hastily dropping the tarnished hairbrush down on the vanity table next to her rouge. She wasn't ready. She didn't have John's tray set with his drink poured, pipe out, his favorite spoon lying next to the bottle. Panicked at the thought of doing anything less than pleasing him entirely, Anne was yanking at the bodice of her gown to adjust it and rushing across the room when Madame popped her head in. Relief flooded her for a brief, glorious minute, until she heard the woman's words.
"I'm sending a gentleman in to see you."
Fear slid over top of her relief, as Anne stared at Madame's round, fleshy, dissolute face. The phrase felt foreign, unheard for months, familiar in the sick pit it created in the depths of her stomach. "What? You can't meanÉ" Her heart pounded at the thought of pleasuring another man besides John. Touching a stranger, taking him into her mouth and body, enduring the strain of humiliation, revulsion. She had thought that behind her. "JohnÉ"
"Mr. Thiroux requested this," Madame said with a wink. "He's in a strange mood tonight, honey, drunk already, and asked to watch you in play with his gentleman friend."
That gave her pause. John had never made such a request before, but then again, she did recall him mentioning that he enjoyed the fact that she'd known so many men, that she had her choice of protectors, and yet preferred his body to others. He often talked at length about how she would one day tire of him and seek another, which she knew beyond a doubt she never would. Her heart, her soul, belonged to him, and she craved him, ached for his approval, burned for his body, longed for his love.
She stood indecisively. Decisions were not her strong suit. She'd made a significant numbers of poor ones, the succession of which had led her to the unfortunate lifestyle she had found herself in prior to meeting John. Yet none so important as this decision now, because she could not jeopardize her position with him. "I don't knowÉ that doesn't seemÉ"
"Would you want to anger him?" Madame demanded. "Ruin a good thing for you and me? You don't have a choice. This man is an artist, like Mr. Thiroux. He'll be gentle, and he'll be in in two minutes. Remove your gown and save some time."
Though it still seemed as though this could be a mistake, Anne hastened to obey as the door closed. She would do anything John wanted. Anything. She would die for him.
Gabriel St. John knew that he was fallen. From angel to demon, favorite to disdained, he embraced the change, welcomed the passion, wallowed in the ecstasy he found day after day in the bottom of the bottle, and night after night in the arms of his favorite whore. In the two years of his tenure walking the earth as a Watcher, he had absorbed the stench and pain of human misery surrounding him until he could no longer suffer the helplessness and hopelessness they brought upon him. Their sad, desperate, begging eyes were a much easier burden to bear when his over-heightened angelic senses were dulled from vast quantities of whiskey, opium, and the beautiful green fairy of absinthe he had come to adore. It was a drink he had come to worship, to crave with every ounce of his preternatural essence. His absinthe was his clarity, his respite, his one true love.
"Good evenin,' Mr. Thiroux," a stout woman in full-blown scarlet silk said to him.
Gabriel stepped inside the parlor, such as it was, of The House of Rest For Weary Men. The name of the two-bit bordello never failed to amuse him, the irony even more prominent in his case, given that while he was weary, he was not a man, and in either case, rest was never what a man sought at this particular address. Escape. Fleshly pleasure. A bawdy good time. Oblivion. They were all sought at various times by various men for mere pennies passed to Madame's hand. Gabriel was never bawdy, but he longed most vigorously for escape, for a contentment that eluded him, for the respite the grandiose name promised.
"Good evening, Madame Conti, you're looking well." In fact, Madame was looking rather ill at ease, standing in front of him, blocking his way to the creaky, slanted stairs that led him up to Anne, where his glass and spoon would be waiting. Perhaps he'd forgotten to pay. He wasn't really sure when he'd last fronted Madame money for his nightly sojourns, but several months prior he had sold a painting for a significant amount, and had settled his affairs far enough into the future that he had lost awareness of the time.
"You're early tonight," she commented, fanning her heavy bosom vigorously with a faded lace fan.
"Impatient." He gave her a smile and took a step forward, assuming she would move. The dryness in his mouth was irritating, the shake in his hands increasing.
Madame Conti didn't move, which annoyed him. Moreover, she placed one fleshy hand on his chest and stopped any progress he might have made. "Anne isn't ready for you yet, Mr. Thiroux."
Gabriel despised the use of his false name. But he disliked being made to wait even more. Staying away for twelve hours of daylight was becoming more and more of a struggle for him. "I do not care. Whatever she is doing can be done in my presence."
"In all certainty. But I'm guessin' you don't want to see it."
Gabriel stared at Madame Conti, nee Ginny Black, and narrowed his eyes. A former prostitute who had invested wisely, Madame was a shrewd businesswoman, with a mixed vocabulary, acute intelligence, and a devious mind. She didn't miss an opportunity to make money.
"What might I see?" Though he already had a suspicion, and it did not please him.
It was an innocuous remark, but Madame tipped her hand by shifting slightly in front of him again. Rage lit through him, clashing with the craving for his drink and pipe, and sent heat rushing into his face. "She's with another man, isn't she?"
There was no response, which was as telling as an admission. Gabriel brushed past her and pounded up the steps, down the hall, and shoved open the door to Anne's room. What he saw made his stomach twist in an unpleasant knot. Anne was beneath a man, her slim pale legs spread. A broad shouldered man with black hair was mounting her with noisy enthusiasm. Gabriel couldn't see Anne's face, but she was giving encouraging mewling sounds. His sounds. They belonged to him.
Madame slid to a stop behind him. "It's just business," she said. "No sense letting her laze around all day."
"Dispense with him or I will," Gabriel told her. He wasn't exactly sure why he was so angry, but Anne was his. She and his opium and absinthe were all intertwined in his mind, and he loved his pipe and his drink, loved the pleasure she gave him while his mind sharpened and his body floated, while he stretched and strained to achieve an escape from mortality.
Stepping into the hall, Gabriel wiped at the cold sweat on his forehead, struggling to ignore the pervasive nausea clawing at his innards. He knew his human body was addicted to the alcohol, the opium, and the absinthe, and he felt no remorse for that, just merely resented the inconvenient symptoms of withdrawal. Leaning against the wall, he waited. It was a mere jaw-locking, bile-producing three minutes later that a man brushed past him, cursing while Madame offered him three girls in compensation for the one he'd lost.
Gabriel didn't even glance at the man, that irritated, whining voice familiar, yet not enough for him to care, to look up, to connect the pieces that floated around his agonized, sloshing brain. He was amazed that Madame had carried out his demand to get rid of Anne's unexpected client, but then again, Gabriel spent an obscene amount of money in her establishment monthly. He was a preferred client.
Anne appeared at the door, clad in a dressing gown, rich auburn hair spilling over her shoulders, green eyes wide and full of tears. "Are you angry with me?" she asked, voice trembling, anxiety palpable. "Madame said it was what you wanted, that you wished to watch, but I didn't know it wasÉ"
Anger was a pale description for the depth of what he felt, but he found it wasn't directed at Anne. She was a simple woman, and she had always aspired to please him. Madame was manipulative, and Anne not bright enough to see her obvious lies. It startled him to recognize he retained such a well of compassion.
Yet he still was disgusted at what he had seen, so he cut her off by saying roughly, "Just get my drink." He pushed past her, stripping off his coat and tossing it on the chair at her vanity table.
The sight of the rumpled bedcovers increased his fury. The night was ruined, tainted, the idea of stepping in and escaping gone, replaced by the ugly and brutal reality that escape was ever elusive. He had thought perhaps tonight he'd sketch after he drank, was feeling a pleasing tug of creativity, but it was all shattered by the sheets, soft and yellow with age, disheveled and stained.
Reaching over, he tore the sheets completely off, and tossed them in the corner of the room. Mouth dry, he undid his shirt collar, and sat in his chair, sighing. He felt tired all the time, his human body protesting the abuse he rendered it. His tray was next to him- pipe, glass, spoon all waiting. The bottle. Gabriel unstopped it, poured it into the tumbler until it was half full, and reached for his spoon, the sugar already carefully resting in its well. The shaking in his hands had stopped, and he focused with total clarity on the task, body tingling with anticipation, heart beating faster. When he poured water over the spoon, the liquid in the glass below kicked up a deliciously beautiful cloud, and he watched it, appreciating the swirls and ebb and flow as the absinthe turned a milky white. While it stirred and mixed and mesmerized, he struck a match and lit his pipe. The opium took him down into a relaxing languor, the absinthe pulled him back up into sparkling awareness. Together the two gave him a shade shy of bliss. Between draws on his pipe, the first glass went back smoothly, settling into his limbs and easing the ache. The second he drank just as fast, and by the time he was pouring and stirring the third, a cloud of smoke rising around him, blurring his vision and his brain, he remembered Anne, and beckoned her to him.
She went on to her knees in front of him, undoing his trousers, and stroking his bare flesh as he relaxed back, eyes closed, glass in hand. He sipped and reached, seeking the sharpness of mind, the sense of confidence, of clarity, the absinthe brought. It was ironic that escape could be achieved by such pure and clear thinking. Gabriel felt more intelligent when he was in the bottle, more rational, more decisive. Perhaps the night could satisfy him after all.
Anne was caressing him with her hands, the tip of her tongue, the moist inside of her mouth, and the pleasure was acute, bright and crystallized, right. Opium, absinthe, and Anne, and he was almost out of his mortality, could almost reach the pinnacle of perfection that he had known as an angel.
Except that he was not in heaven, nor in the presence of God, but sitting in a rickety chair in a dingy room on Dauphine Street, one of the many such rooms around New Orleans, where sex was bought, and hungers of all sort satisfied for a mere sixteen cents. He should have been ashamed that he had descended into such depths of depravity, but he no longer cared. All that mattered was that medicinal ecstasy rushing through his veins, that pulsing in his head, that throbbing intensity that Anne's tongue and fingers drew out from his groin as she licked and sucked on his flesh.
All that pleasure, all that shattering desire coalescing into rigidity, an acute sense of self, and the need to take, to own, to feel everything, yet nothing, to be utterly in control, yet surrender, surged up in Gabriel, and he accepted the physical release. His human body let go of its messy brand of satisfaction into Anne's mouth, and he closed his eyes, sank back, went up, then down, embracing the darkness, the incoherency, the oblivion.
When he pried his lids back open, he had no idea how much time had passed, but the candle on the night stand had burned out, the bottle was empty, and Anne was sleeping in her bed. His mouth was dry and he reached for his glass and tossed back whatever drops of diluted absinthe were still clinging to the bottom of the cloudy glass. There was a sour smell in the room, but Gabriel ignored it, knowing a foul odor was not out of place in The House of Rest.
He was relaxed, still floating, his vision sharp and clear, tumbling over the familiar hulks of furniture in the room despite the dark, and he enjoyed the vision of Anne lying in bed, one arm above her head, the other carelessly abandoned at her side. Most of her figure was in shadow, but the free arm was milky white, caught in a pool of moonlight bursting through the slats of the broken shutters on the window. That elegant limb beckoned to Gabriel, made him struggle to reach the paper and pencil he kept next to his chair, at the ready in case he felt the urge to sketch. He hadn't, not in months, but Anne At Rest spoke to him, and he moved his pencil quickly, capturing the bed, the hidden figure, the beautiful, illuminated arm.
Standing up, he stretched his stiff, weak body, ignoring that all too familiar nausea, and walked towards his lover. She was a good girl, Anne, with none of the brashness of many common whores, and she did a fine job of tolerating him. Some nights he even suspected she felt love, such as she was capable of, for him. He read it in her anxiety, her eagerness, that desperate desire to please. In return he felt something like gratitude. Now he simply wanted to capture her features, her expression, see and appreciate how her lovely worrisome face relaxed into innocence in her sleep.
Still two feet from the bed, Gabriel's boot heel slipped on the floor and he cursed, nearly going down before grabbing the bedpost for balance. Glancing to see what had halted his progress, he saw a dark spot on the floor, raised like a puddle. Unsure what it was, he shifted forward, his hand sliding along the side of the mattress as he leaned for a better look. There was dampness beneath his fingers, and he realized the puddle appeared to be originating from the bed, a stained trail descending from the sheet to drip upon the floor.
Head snapping up, mouth hot, room spinning from the alcohol, Gabriel rushed his gaze past Anne's perfect arm and hand, to her face.
Or where her face should have been.
Unrecognizable, covered in blood, Anne was lacerated from hairline to waist with multiple stab wounds, a bowie knife placed mockingly in her other hand, her chemise and huge areas of her flesh shredded.
She was dead.
Bile rose in his throat, and he turned and spilled the contents of his stomach on the floor beside that dark circular stain of her life's blood, his heart racing, his mind registering a rapid succession of shock, horror, regret, fear. Anne had just been alive, warm and anxiously eager to please him. Now she was irrefutably and grotesquely dead.
Slashed to bloody bits while he floated in a pleasure cloud of drugs.
While he could never die, she had viciously been yanked from this mortal coil, and for him there would be no escape.
Letter from Erin McCarthy
Not every book that I write pops into my head so cohesively as my May release, Fallen, did. It was September of 2006 and I was in New Orleans, reflecting on the slow but positive recovery of the city from Hurricane Katrina, when I walked into a bar on Bourbon Street and saw a man playing the keyboard. He had long, elegant fingers, and his eyes were closed, like he appreciated the music he was creating, and I instantly knew there was a story there. I wandered around the French Quarter with my friend, romance writer Kathy Love, and within two hours, we had the basic outline for what would become Fallen.
The second in my Seven Deadly Sins series, Fallen features the sin of gluttony, or addiction, which I see as the ultimate over consumption. Fallen angel Gabriel St. John loses himself in the throes of absinthe and opium in the nineteenth century and wakes to find his mistress murdered. Unsure if he is responsible for the heinous crime or not, he spends one hundred and fifty years trying to reconcile his morality with his sins. When a similar murder occurs in contemporary times, Gabriel contacts the victim's daughter to see if modern forensics can solve both crimes, and ultimately exonerate him.
Sara Michaels is struggling to accept her mother's death and to live with her own fears that somehow she too will become a murder victim. Traveling to New Orleans to work with Gabriel St. John is supposed to be a sabbatical, a way to achieve a sense of closure, but the instant chemistry between her and Gabriel is anything but peaceful. A recovering addict herself, she knows that their passion might lead them to the ultimate destruction.
Once you have surrendered to the obsessions that have stained your soul, how can you ever trust your heart to recognize love... once you have fallen?
I hope you'll enjoy the second book in the series and appreciate the struggles and the ultimate happiness Gabriel and Sara achieve.
As an aside, the keyboard player on Bourbon Street has become a friend of mine, and is responsible for choosing the piano piece Gabriel plays for Sara in Fallen. It plays in the background of the book trailer for Fallen on my website, www.erinmccarthy.net, if you're interested in hearing it.
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