“I don’t care about your problems,” he told me fiercely. “How much to take them away?”
“This isn’t a money matter. You know what I want.” I tried to discreetly pull the tight satin shorts I was wearing into a more comfortable position, but I think he noticed. It’s hard to look intimidating in a sequined devil costume complete with pointed tail. Sinful Scarlett did not go well with my strawberry blond curls and whitest of white girl’s complexion. I looked like a kewpie doll trying to play tough guy—no wonder he wasn’t impressed. But I’d had to think of some way to reach him without being recognized, and borrowing a costume from the employee locker room had seemed like a good idea at the time.
Casanova lit a tiny cigarette with a brushed gold lighter. “If you have a death wish, that is your affair, but I won’t put my head in a noose by crossing Antonio. The man is psychotic about revenge. You should know.”
Considering that Tony, a master vampire and my old guardian, was at the head of the list of people who wanted me in an urn on their mantel, I couldn’t argue the point. But I had to find him, and the person I strongly suspected was with him, or the urn wouldn’t be necessary. There wouldn’t be anything left of me to require a funeral. And since Casanova had once been Tony’s second in command, it was a good bet that he knew where the crafty old bastard was hiding.
“I think Myra’s with him,” I said shortly.
Casanova didn’t ask for details. It wasn’t exactly a secret that Myra was the most recent person to try and help me shuffle off the mortal coil. It hadn’t been personal—more of a career move, you might say—until I’d put a couple of holes in her torso. It was safe to assume it was personal now.
“My sympathies,” Casanova murmured. “But I am afraid that is all I can offer. You understand that my position is somewhat . . . tenuous.”
That was one way of putting it. That Casanova had occupied such an important place in Tony’s criminal organization was unusual, to say the least. Demons are normally considered unwanted competition by vampires, but incubi aren’t exactly tops on the demonic power scale. In fact, most other demons view them as something of an embarrassment. Casanova was an unusual incubus, though.
He’d taken up residence in an attractive Spanish don centuries ago, thinking he was simply trading an aging host body for a newer version. He hadn’t realized until the possession was in progress that he’d actually invaded a baby vampire, one too young to know how to evict him. Before the vamp figured it out, they’d reached an understanding. The centuries of practice Casanova had in seduction helped the vamp feed easily, and having a body that wouldn’t age and die on him suited Casanova. So when Tony decided to organize the incubi of the States into a moneymaking deal for him, Casanova was the perfect choice to run it.
His Decadent Dreams spa is located in a monstrosity of a building adjacent to Tony’s Vegas casino, Dante’s. While vacationing husbands throw away the family fortune at the roulette wheel, their neglected wives take consolation in the extravagant spa treatments, among other things, on offer next door. Tony gets rich from the proceeds, the incubi get more lust to feed from than even they can use, and the ladies come out with a glow that lasts for days. It’s actually one of Tony’s less reprehensible businesses, except for being highly illegal—unlike some people seem to believe, prostitution is not okay with the Vegas PD. But then, vamps have never paid much attention to human law.
“What’s the penalty for slaving these days?” I asked idly. “Bet it makes that noose look pretty good.”
For the first time, Casanova lost his superior look. He dropped his cigarette, and hot ashes splattered his suit, leaving tiny burn marks on the silk before he could brush them away. “I never had anything to do with that!”
I wasn’t surprised at his reaction. Tony had been breaking both human and vampire laws by engaging in the very profitable but extremely dangerous trade of selling magic users. The Silver Circle, the council of mages who act for the magical community the way the Senate does for vamps, are violently opposed to the idea, and their treaty with the vamps specifically outlaws it. Ignoring the treaty risked war, and the Senate would have staked Tony for that alone, if they didn’t already have plenty of reasons to want him dead.
“You’ll have a hard time convincing the Senate of that if your boss tries to pin the whole thing on you.” Judging by his expression, Casanova felt that was a good possibility. He knew his employer as well as I did. “But if I find him first, Tony will be out of the picture and you’ll be in the clear. It’s to your advantage to help me.” I expected that line to work—self-interest was usually the best way to get a vamp’s cooperation—but Casanova recovered quickly.
He lit another cigarette with steady fingers. “Why are you so sure that I know where he is? He doesn’t tell me everything. He has that Alphonse character to help him now.”
Alphonse was Tony’s current second in command and personal bodyguard. He was easily the ugliest vamp I’ve ever seen, and his personality was no more attractive than his face. But I much preferred him to his boss. Alphonse didn’t actually like me, but I doubted he’d hunt me down if Tony wasn’t around to give the order.
“Tony had to leave somebody in charge when he disappeared. I’m betting it was you, and that you know where he is.”
He regarded me through a haze of smoke for a long minute. “I’m in temporary control,” he finally admitted, “but only of Vegas. You want to contact Philly.”
I shook my head emphatically. That was what I definitely didn’t want. There were too many people in Philadelphia, Tony’s main base of operations, who remembered me less than fondly. Way less. “Uh-huh. They might give me something, all right, but it wouldn’t be information.”
Casanova’s lips twitched, and the amusement in those whiskey-colored eyes was even more attractive than his usual smoldering seduction. I swallowed and pretended indifference, which won me an actual grin. But no information.
“You know as well as I do that the family does not take disloyalty well,” he murmured. “That is especially true from a demon/vampire hybrid that most regard as a freak. And the fact that I have recently taken over temporary control on this coast hasn’t won me any more admirers. There are many waiting for me to put a foot wrong, and betraying the boss would definitely qualify.”
I hadn’t been prepared for candor, and it threw me. I stared at him as a surge of fear fluttered through my stomach and up to my throat. I tamped it down; I couldn’t afford to show uncertainty now. If I didn’t find some way to get Casanova to open up, pretty soon Myra would be doing the same to me—with a knife.
I leaned across the table and played my best card. “I understand all about the family’s idea of revenge. But think about it. “If Tony gets staked by me or the Senate, you’ll be in a perfect position to grab some property. Wouldn’t you like to own this place yourself?”
Casanova ran a hand through his shoulder-length chestnut hair, which fell in perfect waves without any obvious artifice. He was dressed in a raw silk suit in a rich brown that almost matched his eyes. I wasn’t an expert on men’s clothes, but his saffron-colored tie looked expensive, as did his gold watch and matching cufflinks. Casanova had caviar tastes, and I doubted Tony overpaid him—generosity wasn’t one of his character traits.
He looked around longingly. “What I wouldn’t give to redecorate, ” he said. “Do you have any idea how difficult it is, getting patrons past the ambiance?” I could see his point. The gloomy opium-den interior and dragon’s-head bar, complete with an occasional wisp of steam emanating from its carved nostrils, didn’t exactly scream romance. “My boys have to work twice as hard as they should. I engineered a water leak last month to give me an excuse to gut the lobby, but there’s so much left to do, and don’t even get me started on the entrance! It scares off half the would-be customers before they make it in the door.”
“So, help me out here.”
He shook his head regretfully, expelling a thin stream of smoke with his sigh. “Not possible,
. If Tony found out, he’d ruin me. I’d have to find a new body after he staked this one, and I’ve become somewhat attached to it.”
It figured Casanova didn’t want to risk it. Hanging out on the sidelines, waiting to see who won, was the practical move—and practicality is pretty much the defining vamp characteristic. Unfortunately, that option wasn’t open to me.
A legacy from an eccentric seer had recently left me Pythia, the title for the world’s chief clairvoyant. Agnes’ gift came with a whopping amount of power that everyone wanted to either monopolize or eradicate, but I was stuck with it for the moment since she’d thoughtlessly died before I could figure out how to give it back. I hoped to pass it on to someone else, assuming I lived so long, but in the meantime, Tony wanted to kill me, the Senate wanted to make me their stooge and, oh, yeah, I’d also managed to piss off the mages. What can I say? I’m an overachiever.
“Tony isn’t going to win against the six senates,” I said flatly. “They have reciprocal agreements—if one is hunting him, they all are. Sooner or later, they’ll catch up with him and he’ll start blaming everyone else for what happened. They’ll stake him anyway, but ten to one he’ll incriminate you and a lot of others before then. Help me out and maybe I can get to him before they do.”
Casanova studied me while he stubbed out his cigarette in a black lacquered ashtray. Dark eyes swept over my outfit, and a faint smile came to his lips. “Rumor has it that you’re Pythia now,” he finally said, stroking the back of one long-fingered hand lightly over mine. “Can’t you use your power to deal with this? It would be worth a lot to me.” My skin felt warmer than usual where he touched me, a feeling that spread outward along my arm. His voice dropped an octave, going husky. “I could be a very good friend, Cassandra.”
He raised my hand, turning it over to run a finger lightly down the middle of the palm. I was about to make a sarcastic comment about my so-called power when he bent his head. His lips brushed along the line he’d drawn, silken soft yet feeling like they left a brand, and I forgot what I’d been about to say. He looked up at me through dark lashes, and it was like staring into the face of a stranger, one with a darkly beautiful visage and a hypnotic gaze. I remembered the old saying that the only difference between Don Juan and Casanova, the world’s two greatest lovers, was that when Don Juan ended relationships, the women hated him, and when Casanova left, they still adored him. I was beginning to understand why.
I snatched my hand back before I was tempted to use it to drag him over the table. “Cut it out!”
He blinked in surprise and reached for me again. This time, the warm feeling was stronger when we touched, sending a frisson of heat dancing across my skin. I had a sudden image of sultry Spanish nights, the scent of jasmine, and warm, golden skin sliding against mine. I closed my eyes, swallowing hard, trying to reject the sensations, but that only seemed to help them become more real. Someone pushed me back against a thick feather mattress, practically burying me in its plump folds, and I could actually feel the soft weave of the sheets under my hands. A fall of silken hair spilled all around me and strong hands skimmed down my sides, a teasing touch that barely registered but flooded my veins with heat.
Then, with no warning, the sensation changed, going from seductive warmth to scorching heat. For a moment, I thought Casanova’s touch would actually burn me, but he released my hand before it edged over into real pain. I opened my eyes to find us still sitting in the bar; the only signs that anything had happened were my flushed face and pounding pulse.
Casanova sighed and sat back in his seat. “Whoever did the
knew what he was doing,” he told me, signaling for a refill. “Out of curiosity, who was it? I would have said there were none I couldn’t break.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” I rubbed my hand where it felt like he’d left an imprint of his fingers behind, and glared at him. I didn’t appreciate the attempted distraction—I was not his afternoon snack—nor whatever had ended it so painfully.
I didn’t know anyone had a prior claim or I wouldn’t—”
“What’s a gesh?” He spelled it for me, which didn’t help. A waiter brought us both new drinks and I gulped some of mine, my mood blackening by the second.
“Don’t play games, Cassie; you know what I am. Did you think I wouldn’t see it?” he asked impatiently; then something in my expression made his eyes widen. “You really don’t know, do you?”
I stared at him resentfully. More complications; just what I needed right now. “Either make some sense or—”
“Someone, a powerful magic user or a master vampire, has put a claim on you,” he said patiently, then corrected himself. “No, not a claim. More like an immense KEEP OFF sign a mile high.”
I sat there, feeling a new wave of heat creep up my neck. I remembered a cultured, amused voice telling me that I belonged to him, always had and always would. I was going to kill him.
“What does that mean, exactly?”
is a magical bond, usually involving a taboo or prohibition over personal behavior.” He saw my confusion. “Do you remember the story of Melusine?”
A childhood memory surfaced, but it was vague. “A fairy tale; French, I think. She was some half fairy who turned into a dragon, right?”
Casanova sighed, shaking his head at my ignorance. “Melusine was a beautiful woman six days of the week, but was cursed to appear as a half serpent on the seventh. She married Raymond of Lusignan after he agreed to a
prohibiting him from ever seeing her on Saturday, even though she refused to say why. They had many happy years together until one of his cousins convinced Raymond that Saturday was the day she spent with her lover, and he spied on her to find out the truth. That broke the
, causing Melusine to become a dragon permanently and losing Raymond the love of his life.”