Home > Blood Gamble (Disrupted Magic #2)(13)

Blood Gamble (Disrupted Magic #2)(13)
Author: Melissa F. Olson

“When I figured out who you are, I sort of thought you were here to figure out what’s happening to the vampires,” Laurel said, and I forced my attention back to her.

“Well, who’s the cardinal vampire in Vegas right now? Shouldn’t he or she do something?”

Laurel shrugged. “There isn’t one, as far as I know. The last I heard a couple of vampires were fighting over it, but neither was really powerful enough to win.”

Uh-oh. That was bad all on its own. No cardinal vampire meant a whole bunch of invisible killers were running around the city without any oversight. Crap. “Does this Wyatt have a theory?” I asked instead.

Laurel nodded. “He thinks there are skinners in town.” At my confusion, she added, “Hunters? Human assassins who kill vampires and werewolves for money.” Her face darkened. “Some of them even hunt us, although they usually restrict themselves to boundary witches.”

Skinners. The idea rang a bell, even if the specific term did not. Years earlier, I had spoken to a very bad man who had hinted about something like this. I’d never heard about any of these skinners in Los Angeles, though. “Why are they called—” I began, then held up a hand. “No, wait, I don’t want to know. Look, all of this is interesting, and I’m sorry about your friend, but I’m not sure what you want me to do about it.”

Laurel chewed on her lower lip for a moment. “I thought . . . I thought you might be here to help. Maybe that was naive.”

I had to hold in a sigh. “I’m not not here to help, but I’m just the scout. My assignment is to see tonight’s show, assess the situation, and tell my boss what I learn. If I happen to get information about your missing vampires, I’m happy to pass it on to you, but that’s not exactly my mission.” Mission? Great, I was starting to sound like Lex.

“Fine.” Laurel stood up, looking a little pissy. “I haven’t seen the show, either. Maybe it’ll give both of us some insight.”

Now why did that sound so ominous?

After I closed the door behind Laurel, I started pacing my enormous room. I felt like I’d handled the confrontation more or less okay, but the news about the missing vampires troubled me. And I was also a little weirded out that Laurel saw me as someone who could do something about it. Most of the time I felt like the best I could do was project an image of competence—and I never did a particularly good job of it.

I checked my watch. The vampires would be waking up for the night in fifteen minutes. Surely Dashiell would know what to do. I would call and run all of this by him.

I took a quick shower to get rid of the signature Las Vegas smell: cigarette smoke and consumerism. Then I put on a green jersey dress and my black boots, complete with holsters for two of my throwing knives. The very tips of my knife handles were visible when I wore a dress, but you’d have to be looking for them. And there was no way I was going out in the city unarmed.

When I was as ready as I would get, I made the call to Dashiell, who didn’t answer. I resisted the urge to swear on his voice mail, and instead left a message explaining Laurel’s visit and the missing vampires. I told him I’d call again after the show, or at midnight if I got held up.

While I was at it, I called Corry to check in on Shadow, who was doing fine—although she’d shredded my comforter to protest my absence. I just shook my head at that. Shadow was so weird. And, of course, the reason why I can’t have nice things.

A little after six, I was alone in the elevator, heading downstairs to meet Juliet and her friends. I tried to give myself a pep talk about being normal and human, not just for my sister-in-law, but also in case anyone else from the Las Vegas Old World figured out what I was. Laurel had been onto me pretty quickly. I would need to be ready to convince people that my being here was just a coincidence.

In any other city, this probably wouldn’t have worked—Dashiell would have needed to contact the established cardinal vampire and inform him that a null would be traveling through town. But since Vegas didn’t have a confirmed cardinal, at least not one that we knew of, there was no one for Dashiell to call. It was a loophole, but I was gonna cling to it.

Chapter 9

I was supposed to meet Juliet and her friends on the second floor of the Venetian, in the shopping area where the indoor gondolas turned around. It was crowded with people on their way to restaurants and shows, and as I walked out of the elevator bank and joined the throng, I actually staggered, needing to grab the canal railing to steady myself.

There were vampires everywhere.

It wasn’t that there were thousands of them in my immediate vicinity, but as soon as one passed through my radius, another seemed to follow from a different direction, and then two more, and so on. It was disorienting, like being invisible in a crowd of moving people. I had a knife in each boot and a third in the small black clutch I’d borrowed from Molly, but I still felt practically naked with the need to protect myself.

The vampires were beginning to look around, too, because they felt themselves switching in and out of humanity. Nulls are rare, but at least Las Vegas did have another null hanging around. Hopefully these guys were looking for Jameson. I didn’t want to blow my cover this soon, so I concentrated on shrinking my radius down to about two feet around me. I retreated to a less-crowded area a few feet away and tried to look innocuous.

“Hey, Scar!” Juliet’s voice came ringing down the hall. I turned to see her walk up with the others—and immediately felt like a heel.

Juliet was wearing a tight white sheath that made her olive skin seem to glow. A bright pink sash that read The Bride was draped across her front. Tara, Bethany, and even Laurel were wearing black dresses that only made Juliet stand out more. All of them had on high-heeled pumps in bright colors—Juliet’s were royal blue, and the others varied from red to purple. Even Tara tottered on four-inch spikes, one hand on her belly. They all looked so together, so coordinated. So . . . bridesmaidy. Hashtag squad goals.

With an effort, I did not glance down at my own casual dress and knee-high boots, which had seemed fine back in the room. “Hi,” I said, accepting Juliet’s light hug. “You look amazing.” I glanced at Bethany. “Did I miss a memo or something?”

Bethany’s thin lips were pursed with disapproval. I was starting to think that was just her go-to face. “I guess you didn’t read through the itinerary,” she sniffed.

My sister-in-law pulled me forward, steering us down the hallway. “I know it’s dorky,” Juliet said in a low voice. “But Bethany really wanted to, and I couldn’t say no. You look great, by the way.”

“I could go back up and change . . .” I said distractedly. I was still trying to keep my radius tight around me, a difficult task that only got harder with someone talking to me.

“No, no. Don’t even worry about it. I’m just happy you’re here.” She gave me a little squeeze and released me, which nearly made me stumble.

“You okay?” Juliet said, looking worried.

I summoned a smile. “I’m great. I had a drink at the bar on the way here, and I think it was just stronger than I anticipated. It’ll wear off.”

She shot me a grin. “Well, I’m glad you’re enjoying Vegas.”

Oh, yeah. I was having the best time.

I don’t remember much of the walk to the car, because I was too focused on getting there with my radius contracted as much as possible. I had it down to about a foot around me, which was smaller than I’d ever managed before, but holding it there was straining my concentration to the breaking point. Normally my null abilities don’t tire me out at all—it doesn’t work like that—but the mental effort required to suppress my radius was like flexing a muscle and holding it that way. It made my brain tired.

Laurel must have figured out what I was doing, because after a few minutes she sidled up to me and took my arm to keep me steady. She even managed to make it look like she needed me to help her stay balanced on her high heels. I couldn’t spare the concentration to form actual words, but I shot her a grateful smile. I didn’t even care if she was just kissing my ass so I’d help her with her friend.

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