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

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

I was bored.

My phone buzzed, cutting off Courtney Barnett’s voice in my ears. The screen showed a smiling picture of my brother, Jack. Ignoring the sounds behind me, I picked up the phone and hit Answer.

“Hey, Scarbo,” he said cheerfully. “How are you?”

“I’m fine, Jack,” I said, really hoping the sounds of sex weren’t audible through the headphone mic.

“I can hear the eye-roll in your voice, you know,” Jack replied. And I could hear the smile in his. “Are you working tonight?”

Jack thought I was a professional house cleaner who specialized in preparing homes for big events—hence my need to work nights. “Uh, sort of.” I was busy, but I wouldn’t be taking any money from Marko for this. He was a friend, not to mention the only member of the Los Angeles wolf pack who wasn’t currently treating me like something smelly they’d stepped in. That’s what happens when you break up with a beloved pack member. “But look, you don’t have to call me every other day to check on me,” I said to my brother. “I’m fine.”

“I know,” he insisted. “But it’s still hard to go from being in a committed relationship to being single, under any circumstances. I just want to make sure my baby sister is okay.”

For just a second, an old hurt resurfaced. What about the year after our parents’ deaths, when Jack had basically ignored eighteen-year-old me so he could grieve alone? I’d been so vulnerable, and being alone then had led to some bad things later.

But I reminded myself that I wasn’t being fair. Jack was here now, and he was trying. “I know. But I really am fine. How are Juliet and the kids?”

After years of awkward singlehood, my shy, gangly big brother had recently gotten married, to a widowed guidance counselor from Bakersfield. Juliet was lovely, and her two kids had taken a shine to me. The feeling was mutual.

“They’re great,” he chirped, and we spent a few minutes talking about how he was coaching Riley’s soccer team. The image of quiet Jack running up and down a field screaming at preteen girls made me grin.

“And Logan?” I asked. “Are the billing people still being a bag of dicks?”

“Ugh. Don’t remind me.” Jack’s new stepson, Logan, had spent almost a year in the hospital being treated for tumors on his spinal cord. That was how my brother had met them, while he was on rotation in the children’s cancer ward.

Logan was in remission now, and his prognosis was excellent, but Juliet had had really shitty insurance when he was diagnosed. Now she and Jack were dealing with a ridiculous amount of debt for Logan’s medical care. He wouldn’t tell me how much it was, but I got the impression that it ran into six digits.

I had been quietly stashing away most of my freelance money to give to them, but it wouldn’t make much of a dent yet. “I’ll take that as an affirmative on the dick-bag scenario,” I said mildly.

“Yeah,” Jack grumped. “Anyway. I was gonna ask you—” The phone beeped again, and when I looked at the screen, I saw Dashiell’s name above a cartoon Dracula image. Great. Molly had been messing with my phone again. If Dashiell ever saw that picture, I’d suffer the Glare of All Glares. “Hey, Jack, I gotta go. Work call.”

“Okay, gotcha. Real quick: Can you come for dinner Sunday night?”

“I don’t need your pity invite.”

“I know, I know, it’ll hurt your antisocial street cred, but Juliet’s making those hot dog things you like,” he wheedled.

“With the bread around them?” I said hopefully.

“Uh-huh.”

“Then I’m in, as long as you promise never to use the phrase ‘street cred’ ever again.”

Smiling, I clicked over to Dashiell without giving Jack a chance to respond.

“Good evening,” I said in a fakey vampire voice.

There was a pause, and then the cardinal vampire of Los Angeles said formally, “No, that has not gotten any funnier since the last time you said it.”

“It’s funny to me,” I replied, but I kept my tone light. Even if I could push Dashiell a little further these days, I was still not a moron.

“Indeed,” he said, his voice dry as dust. “If you’re quite finished, I’d like you to come to the mansion.”

“Really?” I checked my watch. Eight thirty on a Thursday night. It wasn’t an unusual time for me to get called to work, but usually Dashiell just texted me an address. Before I could check myself, I blurted, “Please tell me you didn’t kill anyone at your own house. That’s just tacky.”

I expected him to snap at me, but he just said in the same brittle voice, “No. I want to offer you a freelance assignment.”

He couldn’t see it, but my eyebrows climbed up into my scalp. Dashiell barely approved of me taking “unofficial” jobs at all; I certainly hadn’t expected him to offer me one. Despite myself, I was intrigued.

At the same time, I had made a promise to Marko. He knew I might have to leave for an Old World emergency, but I wouldn’t ditch him if I didn’t have to. “Can you give me an hour?” I said into the headphone mic. “I have a previous obligation.”

There was another brief pause—don’t listen to the noises behind you, Scarlett!—and then Dashiell agreed that it could wait an hour.

Which set off a red flag all on its own. In Los Angeles, the three branches of the supernatural share power more or less equally, and I’m considered a partner, which means that in theory I’m on the same level as them. But for the really important, life-threatening stuff, we all look to Dashiell. I can’t help but think of him as my boss, and as a cardinal vampire, he’s used to getting what he wants, the moment he wants it. Which meant that Dashiell being accommodating might be an actual sign of the apocalypse.

Or a sign that I was about to get myself in serious trouble.

As previously arranged, Marko just texted me a brief Thanks, Scarlett! when he and his wife . . . no longer needed my services. My feet had fallen asleep thanks to the hundred-eighty-pound bargest on top of them, so I shook them out, packed up my stuff, and took off for Pasadena.

When I finally arrived at the enormous Pasadena mansion that Dashiell shared with his wife, Beatrice, Shadow trotted off into . . . well, the shadows. It’s not just a clever name. Dashiell’s place was secure and spacious, not to mention completely fenced in, so it was one of the few places where the bargest could comfortably wander around, taking in smells and organizing a contained squirrel genocide. Which worked out well for everyone, since Beatrice didn’t really like having Shadow around. This may or may not have had something to do with me encouraging her to poop on the fancy Spanish tiles in the driveway.

After Shadow left to go exploring, one of the ubiquitous vampire lackeys ushered me straight into Dashiell’s office. Beatrice had decorated the rest of the house in a Spanish Revival style—or that was what they told me; I knew as much about interior design as I did about life in zero gravity—but this one room was a weird combination of Victorian-era furnishings and expensive technology. It was all very Dashiell.

He was sitting behind an enormous carved-oak desk, and when I came into the room he simultaneously stood up and winced. Like most vampires, Dashiell doesn’t like being in my radius, which makes him human again. Humanity comes with weakness and vulnerability, not to mention petty human problems like hunger and bladder control. Sometimes it really throws vampires to have that thrust on them again, but Dashiell had spent enough time around me to adjust fairly quickly. Before I could say more than “hello,” he was pointing me to the leather visitor’s chair across the desk.

“How much do you know about the Las Vegas entertainment world?” he asked abruptly. I’ll say this for Dashiell: the man doesn’t dick around with small talk. “Specifically the big casino shows?”

I blinked hard for a moment, not even trying to keep the surprise off my face. I had not anticipated a Cirque du Soleil quiz. “Um, as little as possible?” I said honestly. “I saw a Cirque show like six years back, but I’m not a fan of Vegas.” Understatement.

   
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