Home > Blood Gamble (Disrupted Magic #2)(10)

Blood Gamble (Disrupted Magic #2)(10)
Author: Melissa F. Olson

His eyes flicked over, trying to read me. “I work for Theo Hayne,” he said finally.

Interesting. It didn’t necessarily worry me—Cliff was loyal to Hayne, and Hayne was loyal to Dashiell, completely. In this situation, at least, their orders would be one and the same. But why did Cliff feel the need to make the distinction?

I didn’t really think he was going to tell me, so I didn’t ask. Who says I’m not growing as a person?

After a few more fidgety minutes of dead silence and desert views, I said, “Do you have any music?”

Cliff let me connect my phone’s Bluetooth and serve as the in-car DJ for the rest of the trip. I assumed it was mostly just to get me to shut up, but that was fine. I played what I felt like hearing, and whenever I had a signal, I looked online for more information about Demeter.

It didn’t surprise me to learn that in addition to big sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, there were a whole bunch of websites devoted to reviewing the big casino shows. It also didn’t surprise me to learn that Demeter was receiving excellent reviews.

But although I found dozens of evaluations for the show, I couldn’t find a single one that was more than two sentences long. It was like they’d all been written by marketing interns. “This show is wonderful, you should go to it.” “Way better than any other stage show in Vegas.” Like that. At least none of them said, “Now I’m pretty sure vampires are real.”

We stopped in Barstow for gas and a bathroom break, and by the time the SUV was on the road again, my initial caffeine rush was wearing off and I was starting to nod off. The next thing I knew, the SUV was slowing to a halt. Starting awake, I squinted against the sunshine and pulled sunglasses out of my bag so I could look around. We were at a red light, about to turn onto Las Vegas Boulevard. Damn.

It was a little after noon on a Friday, and the sidewalks were already getting crowded with tourists, but the traffic was still reasonably light. I found myself craning my head around to take in the sights on the Strip. Juliet was right: a lot had changed since I’d been there last. We cruised past the Luxor, the Excalibur, the MGM Grand—properties that had seemed so fun and innovative a decade earlier, and now appeared to be overshadowed by the adjacent shopping options. Teenage Scarlett had thought New York-New York was the coolest hotel on the Strip, but now it seemed kind of . . . tacky. Obvious.

A little farther north, there were a bunch of casinos that hadn’t been there on my last visit: the Mandarin Oriental, the Cosmopolitan, the . . . LINQ? What did that even mean? Caesars Palace was even bigger than I remembered, and then suddenly we were pulling up to a sand-colored tower with the word Venetian running down the front in simple carved letters.

Cliff put the SUV in park and hit a button to unlock the doors. “I’ll let you out here, go around, and park,” he explained, which was the most words I’d heard him string together yet. “Lunch is at one, yeah?”

“Um, yes. Right.”

“Here.” He handed me a card with a phone number on it. “In case of emergencies. Dashiell already gave me your number.”

“Thanks.” I pocketed the card, resolving to program the number into my phone as soon as I reached my room. Then I got my suitcase out of the back and dragged it forward onto the sidewalk. Behind me, I heard the SUV pulling away again, and I craned my head back to look at the massive building, feeling a little claustrophobic. I lived in Los Angeles, which wasn’t exactly a small town, but I rarely went into the downtown district. The rest of the city sprawled out, rather than up. I wasn’t used to being around all this . . . size. Everything was so big, and the sidewalks were packed with people, which we also don’t do much in LA.

On my left, man-made canals sparkled in the sunshine, and I could hear laughter and shouting from the handful of tourists lined up to take a ride. Beside them, a crowd seemed to be winding into the Venetian’s entrance, so I pushed out a breath and followed them.

Here we go.

Chapter 7

Inside, I was immediately disoriented. I’d sort of prepared myself for beeping, flashing slot machines, but instead I was in some sort of opulent atrium, with statues scattered all over the pretty marble flooring. I could see the casino ahead, yes, but where the hell was check-in? How was I ever going to find my way around? I looked for signs, but they seemed to be mostly for towers and different sections of the casino, plus different sections of the connecting casino, the Palazzo.

Someone jostled me, making me stumble forward, and when I turned around to look it was two laughing teenagers, who apologized—I think—in a language I didn’t recognize. I waved them on, chewing on my lip as more people pressed against me. God, I hated Vegas.

“Can I help you find something, miss?” came a voice from my right. I turned, and was relieved to see a competent-looking young woman in a black blazer. Her gold name tag said Alyssa.

“Um, check-in?” I managed to say. “Rooms? I have no idea where . . .”

Alyssa clucked sympathetically and held out an arm. “Why don’t I walk you?” she suggested. “And we’ll get you a map right away.”

“Alyssa, will you marry me?”

She smiled. “You know, I get that a lot.”

After checking in, I eventually managed to get on the right elevator and walk down the right hallway to the room where I would be staying. It was a few doors down from the other girls, who were rooming together. Beatrice had told Bethany that I would need my own space because I would be “conducting some business for Dashiell,” which sounded vague and flimsy to me, but apparently Bethany hadn’t questioned it. It was possible that they had made plans in person, where Beatrice could press her to accept whatever she wanted, but it seemed just as likely that Bethany had been secretly relieved. My absence would make it so much easier for the bridal party to discuss the important things in life, like getting your kids into private school and the perfect stretchy leggings.

After dropping off my suitcase, I exchanged the hoodie for a light jacket, shoved my wallet and phone into the pockets, and headed down to lunch with the casino map in hand. After a few false starts, I managed to find the entrance to the Grand Lux Cafe, one of the restaurants just off the casino.

I had been expecting . . . well, a cafe, with an order counter and cheap tables that hadn’t been wiped properly, but no, this was a full-on, rather decadent-looking restaurant, done in low, warm shades of glowing gold and brown. I automatically glanced down at my clothes. Jeans, boots with hidden knife holsters, and a V-neck tee shirt. Should I have changed?

“Scarlett!” a familiar voice cried. I turned my head and spotted Juliet, waving at me from a crowded table. I recognized two of the women with her as fellow bridesmaids: Bethany, and a pale, shy woman in her midtwenties, Tara (pronounced TAR-uh, “like the sticky stuff they use on asphalt,” she’d told me, almost apologetically). The last bridesmaid, Amber, was missing, and I didn’t recognize the fourth woman at the table, a Caucasian woman about Juliet’s age, midthirties. She had gorgeous, flame-red hair in a chin-length bob, but her beige sundress was frumpy and unflattering.

As I moved closer, I almost stumbled. Not from clumsiness—this time—but because I hadn’t been paying attention to my radius. At home I was used to supernatural beings moving in and out of it at all times, but I hadn’t been prepared for Juliet’s third friend to be a witch.

Of the three Old World factions, witches are the most common, probably because they’re born into their powers. Well, sort of: witchblood is hereditary, but every witch has a window of time near puberty when they need to activate their magic, if they’re going to use it at all. If you miss the window, your capacity for magic goes dormant, and you spend the rest of your life as just another human.

I can’t feel dormant witchblood, which means that whenever I sense a witch in my radius, I’m with an actual magic-user. I get a sense of how strong they are when it comes to magic, and the red-haired woman wasn’t particularly powerful—nowhere near the level of, say, Kirsten or Lex. But she was an active witch all the same, which made this weekend even more complicated. If she tried to use any magic at all in my presence, she was going to figure out what I was real quick.

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