Home > Blood Gamble (Disrupted Magic #2)(17)

Blood Gamble (Disrupted Magic #2)(17)
Author: Melissa F. Olson

He bristled. “That’s the wrong word,” he said after a measured pause. “I am not afraid of sharks, as a concept, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to carve a few gashes in my skin and jump into the Pacific.”

I shot him a skeptical look. “Yeah, but in this analogy, you work for the shark.”

“I told you, I—”

“Yeah, yeah.” I held up a hand. “You work for Hayne. So why did he send you, if you’re skittish around the Old World?”

“Because he trusts me,” Cliff said simply.

That actually made more sense than just about anything else he might have said. Hayne owed me; I had saved his humanity. He wouldn’t send anyone he didn’t trust completely. “And because he doesn’t know that the vampires . . . concern me,” Cliff went on, looking a little sheepish. “It hasn’t come up, with me working only the day shift.”

Great. My backup was afraid of what he was supposed to be protecting me from. I pushed out a breath. I would have to make the best of it. “Well, you’re with me. There are no vampires within a few feet of me, okay? We go in, we look, we get out. As long as you stay close, anything that comes at us can die.”

He nodded, his impassive expression suddenly looking just the tiniest bit relieved. “I’m left-handed,” he offered. “Stay on my right, so I can shoot.”

I linked arms with him again, tugging him toward the ballroom. “Attaboy.”

Chapter 12

The Donatello ballroom—named after the Renaissance painter, not the Ninja Turtle, sadly—had been cordoned off with those retractable walls, so the first room we entered was fairly small. It was obviously a party, with music and chill lighting. There were twenty or so people clustered around some of those stand-up “conversation” tables. I hate those tables, mostly because I am fundamentally very lazy and I want to sit down.

Scanning the crowd, I recognized a couple of the volunteers, mostly from their clothes, but there were way more people in the room than there had been volunteers on the stage. Then again, the Holmwoods could be handing out invitations on the street, for all I knew. I did recognize Stu from Boise, the contractor who had verified the building supplies. He was chatting and laughing with the way-too-beautiful woman at his elbow, and he looked comfortable as hell. Oh, yeah, she’d pressed him hard.

I spotted a burly guy with an intricate goatee, guarding the door that separated us from the next ballroom. That would be where the vampires took the humans. Just inside the main entrance, a rectangular table near the wall held glasses of wine and champagne, plus open bottles of what was probably fancy beer. Uniformed caterers circled through the volunteers, offering fancy miniature foods. A few people didn’t seem to be eating or drinking, and I figured they were probably vampires, left out here to keep the crowd calm and happy. As long as I stayed well away from them, I could relax my radius a little.

I went to the table and picked up a glass of champagne and a bottle of beer, handing the beer to Cliff. “Hold it, don’t drink it,” I murmured. I wouldn’t put it past the vampires to roofie the drinks. Cliff nodded and took the beer with his right hand. “You see the door in the corner?” I said, trying to look casual. “I need to get a look inside. Then we’ll circle back toward the exit. Okay?”

He nodded again. I got a firm grip on his right elbow and pasted a big smile on my face. Then I reined in my radius as much as I could. “Smile,” I reminded him. “We’re at a party. We’re a little drunk and having a great time.”

One-second pause, and then Cliff’s face broke out in a warm grin. It was so unlike what I was used to getting from his mouth that I almost told him to stop.

I made aimless small talk about the show as we sort of promenaded around the edges of the room, skirting the tables with the chatting vampires. One or two of them glanced at us a little uncertainly—who do they belong to?—but they seemed to relax when they noticed our full drinks, maybe figuring us for humans in the know.

The guy with the fancy goatee didn’t move as we approached. Please be human, please be human, please be human, I thought at him, but I stayed a couple of feet away just in case.

“Hi, there,” I said brightly, giving him a wink. I fanned myself a little with my entrance ticket. I didn’t want to overdo the pretending-to-be-drunk thing, but I did allow myself to stumble a little. “Listen. I really liked the . . . um, the backup dancer? He was like, kind of tall—”

“Well, ish,” Cliff put in, picking up the game. “I’d say tallish.”

“Right, yes, thank you.” I patted him on the chest and turned back to Goatee. “Anyway. He was tallish and hot and stood next to the chick vampire? On her left, I think.” I held up my hands like I was reorienting myself. “Or would that be stage left? I can never remember.”

“Yeah,” Cliff said, nodding emphatically. “Right.”

“No, left,” I corrected, and looked at the guard again. The Goateed One was starting to look uncertain. “Anyway, could you see if he’s free and if he, like, wants my number? Or maybe just a little, um, conversation, right here?”

Goatee looked back and forth between Cliff and me. “Aren’t you guys a couple?”

“Oh, he likes to watch,” I said brightly, putting an arm around Cliff. I didn’t dare look up at his face. “We’re both very . . . willing. So can we see him?”

Goatee’s eyes narrowed, though I couldn’t tell if he was suspicious or just unsure about what to do. After a long moment, he said, “Uh, hang on.” He pushed open the door, then paused. “Just stay right there, okay?”

I nodded with my eyes big, but I was already looking past him to the room beyond. When the guard disappeared, I waited until the door had nearly swung shut before I stopped it with my foot. Leaning forward, I peered through the crack.

From what I could see, the second ballroom was identical to the first in size, but there was a surprising amount of furniture: couches and armchairs grouped with coffee tables to form little conversation areas. The lights had been dimmed, and the music in there was quieter and subtler than in the first room: something smooth and sexy with lots of cellos. Every sitting area held one or two couples—each consisting of a dazed-looking human and a vampire. And the vampires were eating.

The movies often depict vampire feedings as this sexy thing, and maybe it is for the victim, if that’s what they’ve been pressed to believe. But for vampires, feeding from humans is a transaction, cold and a little nasty. Sure, you’ll sometimes get the connoisseur who savors his meal, just like with humans, but most of the feedings we could see lacked any sort of art or finesse. It was a simple matter of one person attached to the neck or wrist of another, sucking greedily. And sometimes noisily. The humans, for their part, looked lost and vacant and small. I didn’t see Jameson.

My hand was still on Cliff’s arm, and I could feel his whole body stiffen with anger. “We should shut this down,” he murmured, his voice a low growl. “These people don’t want this.”

He was probably right, but I shook my head. “They came here of their own free will, and they’re all walking out of here alive and reasonably unharmed. Besides, I’ve got no authority to stop this, even if I could.” I did not mention that I was actually a little relieved. There was something so weird about the Holmwoods and their whole “let’s put it all out there” vibe. Part of me had been afraid they were . . . I don’t know, butchering tourists and hanging their entrails around like Christmas garlands. A roomful of feeding vampires wasn’t easy to look at, but it was also pretty routine, and I had been doing this job for too long to be outraged.

“That’s bullshit,” Cliff grumbled, but he allowed me to push him gently back from the door. Before I let it swing shut, I saw that Goatee was on his way back, with two men in dark polo shirts behind him. They looked less like vampires and more like security. “Time to go,” I said to Cliff, keeping the smile on my face as I grabbed his elbow and pulled him away from the door. The most direct route to the exit was through the cluster of standing tables, so I led him that way, taking long strides and hoping we weren’t walking too fast.

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