“Why?” Pritkin asked suspiciously.
“Oh, crap,” Billy said.
“You want to risk taking them into Faerie with us?” I demanded.
Billy groaned and looked at the Graeae, who were chowing down on finger sandwiches. “Considering what popped out last time? Hell no.”
I looked at Casanova, who was in the middle of a phone conversation. “They’re bypassing the security system almost like it isn’t there,” he informed us, relaying a report. “A group of mages have been stalled in Headliners, but there are two other teams and—
! They shot Elvis. Tell me it doesn’t show,” he demanded of someone on the other end of the line.
“They shot an impersonator?” I was surprised, if not precisely shocked. The mages were supposed to protect humans, not use them as target practice, although they seemed to forget that where I was concerned.
Casanova shook his head. “No, the real thing.” He turned his attention back to the phone. “No, no! Let the necromancers worry about the patch-up job; what do we pay them for? And have them raise Hendrix again, we’re going to need a sub.”
I lost track of the conversation because the swinging kitchen doors came flying off their hinges, straight at me. Pemphredo, whom I hadn’t even seen move, caught them and sent them spinning back across the room at the group of war mages who were pouring through the entrance. Enyo tried to stuff me under the table, but I caught her wrist. “How would you like to have some fun?”
She gave me a withering look. Obviously, she felt that our ideas of fun differed. “I’m serious.” I nodded at the mages, who were being attacked by a wave of hissing gargoyles that had apparently not appreciated the destruction of the doors. The mages were practically buried under a sea of thrashing wings and slashing claws, but I knew it wouldn’t last. “Enjoy yourself. Just don’t kill anybody.”
A big smile broke over Enyo’s face, making her look like a kid on Christmas morning, and the next thing I knew she’d picked up the massive prep table and thrown it into the breach left by the missing doors. She and her sisters ran across the room and hopped over it, cackling like the fiends they were as they took the offensive to the second wave of mages trying to get in.
“Bought us some time,” I told Pritkin, who was looking conflicted. He might be having problems with the Circle, but he obviously didn’t like the idea of them being play toys for the Graeae. Since the mages’ idea of justice was to drag me off to a kangaroo court and a quick death, I had no such problem. “Come on!”
Pritkin ignored me and pulled a mage out from under three gargoyles, who’d been introducing the man’s face to a cheese grater. Apparently, shields didn’t work so well against the Fey—judging by his agonized expression, it was a lesson the guy would probably remember.
Pritkin knocked him unconscious, then grabbed Miranda. She tried to bite him, but he had her around the throat and held her back from his face. That didn’t help the rest of him from getting badly clawed, but he grimly hung on. His concentration must have wobbled, however, because the silence bubble suddenly collapsed. He said something, but I couldn’t hear it over the klaxons, which drowned out even the gargoyles.
I couldn’t believe Pritkin was still fixated on that stupid
. It seemed harmless to me, especially now that the Circle was finding out about the gargoyles all on their own. But I knew him well enough not to bother arguing.
“Miranda!” I screamed, literally at the top of my lungs. “Remove the
! Casanova will hide you from the mages!” That got her attention, and she turned those slanted cat eyes on me. She didn’t take her claws out of Pritkin, but I didn’t really care.
“You promissse? We not go back?” she asked, her voice somehow cutting through the din.
“I promise,” I yelled, nudging Casanova, who had waded through the battle to us. He looked alarmed, but I didn’t give him a chance to protest. “You know you can do it. Tony has all kinds of bolt holes around here.”
He rolled his eyes. “¡
Claro que sí
! Just go!”
Miranda smiled, a really odd expression on her furry face, since it flashed a lot of fang. “I remember thisss,” she told me, and suddenly Pritkin was holding a spitting, hissing and squirming ball of fur. A set of four deep scratch marks appeared on his face, and I punched him in the shoulder. “Let her go and she’ll help!”
Pritkin finally dropped her, and Miranda stood, smoothing her fur and preening for a moment. Then she waved a paw at him in a curiously graceful gesture. I didn’t notice any change, but I guess he must have because he grabbed my hand and yanked me after Casanova, looking as irritated as if I’d been the one holding things up.
“I’ll show you the tunnel, but we have to hurry. I can’t be seen with you,” the vamp was saying. I looked around for Billy Joe, but he’d disappeared. I hoped he was on my errand and not off somewhere interfering with a game of craps. He could move small things if he really concentrated, and thought it was funny as hell to rig the casino games.
The golem appeared in front of us, a meat cleaver sticking out of its clay chest, but it didn’t seem to notice. We ran for the cool room and Casanova moved a large plastic bin of lettuce. He pointed at what looked like a solid concrete block wall. “Through there. The car is already in place and the driver’s going to wait to hand off the keys. Give me whatever you want put in the safe and go!”
“I’ll give it to the driver. Look, I really appreciate—”
Casanova cut me off with a gesture. “Just make sure I don’t end up putting this place back together for that
,” he said grimly.
“You have a deal,” I told him. I just hoped I could keep up my end of the bargain.
The man waiting for us at the end of the long, stifling tunnel was leaning casually against a luxurious new BMW, arms crossed, obviously bored. I gaped, my mind immediately flooded with images of hot nights, rumpled sheets and excellent sex. It wasn’t just the rich black curls, as shiny as the car behind him, which begged any female under eighty to run her hands through them. It wasn’t just the lean, muscled body, dressed in skintight jeans and T-shirt, and tanned that beautiful burnished color only olive skin gets. There was an instant attraction, a pull from those liquid dark eyes, that I knew couldn’t be real. I might admire a guy’s looks, but I don’t get that interested until I’ve known him a little longer than ten seconds.
Incubus, I thought, my mouth going dry. And judging by the level of interest my body was taking, a powerful one. I swallowed and summoned up a smile.
He immediately smiled back, taking in my abbreviated uniform with an appreciative eye. “Have you heard about our employee discount,
? Twenty percent off all services.”
“Casanova sent us,” I clarified.
“Ah, of course. I am Chavez. It means Dream Maker—”
I cut him off before he could offer to make all my dreams come true. “We, uh, really need to go.”
I noticed that he’d brought along a friend, I guess to drive him back after he turned over the keys. The handsome blond was wearing a Dante’s baseball cap and a mesh tank top that gave tantalizing glimpses of a muscular upper body. He sent me a cheerful, beach boy smile from the driver’s seat of a flashy convertible. The expression managed to call up sandy blankets, salt-laced wind and sultry, passion-filled nights.
“I’m Randolph,” he said in a broad midwestern accent, gripping my hand firmly in his big, suntanned one. “But you can call me Randy. Everyone does.”
In the end, I had to take Chavez’s card, three brochures and a flyer advertising an upcoming two-for-one night before they would listen to me. I persuaded Randy to take Pritkin to a tattoo parlor where he said a friend would patch him up. I found that story fairly fishy, since most of his wounds had already closed, but maybe his friend would have a change of clothes or a shower. All that blood made him more than a little conspicuous, and we desperately needed to blend in.
“And where are you going?” Pritkin demanded, looking suspicious.
“I said we’d talk and we will,” I assured him, sliding into the BMW next to Chavez. “I’ll meet you later. But I can’t run around dressed like this.”
Billy had shown up while we were talking and started to flow in through the rear window, but I stopped him with a look. I didn’t trust the mage. It sounded like Pritkin and the Circle were on the outs, but it could be a trap. I needed a pair of eyes on him while I was busy elsewhere, and ghostly eyes would do. Billy grimaced but floated back to Pritkin after dropping something small and metal in my hand.
“You can’t go back to your hotel,” Pritkin said. His tone made it a command rather than a recommendation.
“You think?” I pushed him back so I could close the door. “Chavez can run me by the mall. I need something to wear—even in Vegas, this outfit sticks out.” Not to mention being really uncomfortable. “I’ll even pick up lunch if you ask nicely.” Pritkin frowned, but there was no way he could force me to go with him, as he seemed to realize. After a momentary pause, he moved back so Chavez didn’t run over his toes. I decided that for him that counted as civil, so I’d grab some food after my errand.
“I need to go ice skating,” I told Chavez as we blasted out of the lot behind the liquor store, salsa music blaring from the car’s excellent sound system. He shot me an inquiring glance but didn’t press. I guess working for Casanova, you learned to take things in stride.
Vegas has a good bus system, but there are no public lockers at the downtown station so I’d had to get creative for a place to stash certain items. Leaving them at the hotel hadn’t sounded like a good idea, considering that the mages and vamps could locate my room any minute. We’d been switching hotels every day and I was using a fake name, but with MAGIC’s resources, that didn’t mean much. I’d been jumping at every sound and looking over my shoulder all week, although part of that had been caused by guilt over my newfound profession as a casino cheat.
Billy had been helping me pick up living-expense money by making sure dice and roulette balls fell where I wanted. I didn’t feel good about it, but I hadn’t dared to access my checking account or credit cards for fear that someone would trace me. I could stop by an ATM now that everyone and their brother knew I was in Vegas, but I’d lied about needing to shop. I’d stuffed a change of clothes in a duffle along with my purse and the loot from the Senate before heading off to Dante’s. The bag had gone into a locker at the ice rink, and the key had been stowed in a dark corner of Dante’s lobby. The fact that Billy hadn’t bitched about having to retrieve it showed that he shared my enthusiasm for getting certain items off our hands.
The ice rink is a popular spot on hot desert days, and the free-skate period had just started when we arrived. A crowd of tourists looking for a family-friendly activity and a smattering of locals streamed in the doors along with us, letting out a collective sigh of relief at the climate change. The rink had a sub shop, so Chavez offered to load up on fast food while I retrieved my bag. I offered to pay for the food, but he laughed and declined. “Although I will be happy to quote you a price for other things,
I ran off before I was tempted to take him up on the offer. I ducked into a ladies’ room and changed into sneakers, a wadded-up pair of khaki shorts and a bright red tank top. It wasn’t the picture of elegance, but it beat my barefoot-and-sequins look. Even in Vegas that had garnered a few glances, despite Pritkin’s blood being almost invisible on the crimson satin.
When I returned, Chavez was flirting with a dazed checkout girl, who had apparently forgotten that she was supposed to receive more than a smile in return for the two big bags she passed over. I was willing to bet that his living expenses were pretty low. “Do I look okay?” I asked, wondering whether I’d gotten most of the evidence of the food fight off.
“Of course not.” He gave me a slow smile as his eyes took in my new ensemble. “¡
! You will always stand out.”
Since my hair was sticky with cupcake residue and my clothes were wrinkled enough that a homeless person wouldn’t have had them, I took that comment for what it was—a knee-jerk reaction. Chavez was probably literally incapable of insulting a woman, no matter how she looked. It would be bad for business.
“Thanks, can we—” I stopped, my heart in my throat, and stared across the rink at a man who had just skated onto the ice. For a split second I thought it was Tomas. He had the same slender, athletic build, the same waist-length black hair and the same honey-over-cream skin. It wasn’t until a little girl stumbled onto the ice after him and he turned to catch her in his arms that I saw his face. Of course, it wasn’t him. The last time I’d seen the real thing, he’d been trying to hold his head up on a broken neck.
“What is it,
? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
I could have told him that seeing Tomas would be a lot more traumatic for me than seeing any ghost, but I didn’t. My old roommate wasn’t my favorite topic of conversation. He’d given Rasputin the keys to the wards protecting MAGIC in return for two things: help killing his master and control over me. The two went together, since his reason for wanting to get rid of his current master was so he’d be free to take out his old one. Considering that the vamp in question, Alejandro, was head of the Latin American Senate, Tomas had decided he’d need help. Maybe one day I’ll meet a guy who doesn’t think of me primarily as a weapon. Or, knowing my luck, maybe not.
Things hadn’t gone quite the way Tomas had planned. I assumed he’d survived the battle, since a first-level master isn’t easy to kill, but whether he’d eluded MAGIC’s wrath I didn’t know. But if he’d fought his way free, he was running for his life, not skating an afternoon away in full public view. “It’s nothing,” I said.
Chavez leaned on the railing beside me. “A handsome man.
, a turn-on, as you Americans say.”