Home > Blood Gamble (Disrupted Magic #2)(7)

Blood Gamble (Disrupted Magic #2)(7)
Author: Melissa F. Olson

“Who did you send?” I instantly regretted the digression, which sort of took the wind out of my angry sails.

“Margaret,” he replied nonchalantly. I had met her: a plump, sexy vampire who radiated confidence and charm—when she wanted to. I could see how she’d be a good choice for a mission that involved interacting with humans. “She sent me several photos from the opening night reception, and was supposed to call me after the show.”

“She didn’t call,” I guessed, temporarily distracted by the story.

“No. I presume she has been killed.” His voice was still completely calm, and before I could really absorb that idea, he handed the phone across the desk to me. “These were taken right before the performance,” he explained. “Scroll right.”

I shot him a glare, but now I was too curious to resist. Accepting the phone, I saw that the photos had been taken in an elegant ballroom, with everyone in formalwear. There were a couple of surreptitious shots of a gorgeous couple, the same man and woman pictured in the newspaper article. I scrolled again. The last photo was of just the man, Arthur Holmwood, with a second man leaning down to say something in his ear. The second man was in profile, with only part of his face visible to the camera, but his body language was deferential. “I know him,” I said absently. I swiped my fingers on the screen to zoom in, my brow furrowing. Then I looked at Dashiell in disbelief. “No fucking way. It’s gotta be a mistake.”

Dashiell shook his head. “No mistake. It’s him.”

The second man in the photo was Jameson Thomas, formerly of New York City. And he was a null.

Chapter 5

Years earlier, I had been betrayed by my psycho ex-mentor, Olivia, the woman who had first introduced me to the Old World. Olivia’s crimes included, but were not limited to, killing my parents, attempting to slowly brainwash me into becoming her clone, stalking and threatening my loved ones, and trying to turn me into a vampire. I managed to get away from her, but afterward I felt like I couldn’t trust anything she’d taught me. Which, at the time, was everything I knew about the Old World.

Shaken and lost, I had wanted to get out of town for a while, and to learn more about nulls who were not homicidal maniacs. To my surprise, Dashiell had agreed on both counts. He’d suggested I go to New York and stay with Jameson, who worked for a cardinal vampire named Malcolm. Partly, I think, he wanted to keep me out of Olivia’s reach, but at the time, I had also thought he wanted me to see what an ideal relationship between a null and a cardinal vampire looked like. Stupid, naive Scarlett.

Dashiell arranged for a sort of null exchange visit, but when I arrived in New York I learned very quickly that Malcolm didn’t just employ Jameson, he controlled him, with a combination of threats, passive-aggressive demands, and fervent praise. He acted as a sort of father/minor deity to Jameson, who was aware of some of it, and manipulated by the rest. Malcolm didn’t take the manipulation as far as Olivia had, but in many ways he was worse than her. He was just better at hiding his tracks. I probably wouldn’t even have noticed how controlling he was if I hadn’t just been through a similar experience.

Eventually, I realized that Malcolm’s twisted treatment of Jameson was what Dashiell wanted me to see. The point was to show me that as confused and lost as I felt, it could all be a hell of a lot worse. It was a very Dashiell-like demonstration . . . and a lesson I hadn’t forgotten.

Despite all that, though, I had liked Jameson. We’d even had a little chemistry, although I was struggling with complicated relationships back home, and we never acted on it. Since my visit, Jameson and I had texted sporadically, usually when we were thinking of one of the movies we’d watched together. And one time he’d wanted to know how to get blood out of wool. My life is weird. Anyway, the last time I’d heard from him, a few months earlier, he was definitely still in New York.

As I stared at the grainy photo of Jameson in Las Vegas, obviously deferring to Arthur Holmwood, my first reaction was to feel like an idiot. I should have figured out last week that the Holmwoods had a null. Arthur and Lucy were putting on an incredibly costly show at an incredibly costly casino property. Of course they would need to make appearances during the day, and for a vampire, that would only be possible with someone like me.

But at the same time, I couldn’t believe that the null in question was Jameson.

Well, actually, I couldn’t believe that Jameson had left New York. “This . . . it doesn’t make any sense,” I sputtered. “Jameson works for Malcolm the way I work for you. He always has.”

Malcolm was the cardinal vampire of New York City, but unlike Dashiell, he didn’t believe in sharing power. Actually, as far as I could tell, he didn’t believe in sharing anything. I couldn’t see him letting his null go to Las Vegas to work for the Holmwoods.

Unless he hadn’t? Had Malcolm sent Jameson to spy, the way Dashiell wanted to send me? If so, why? I doubted that Malcolm gave a shit about the Holmwoods risking exposure or hurting humans.

Too much didn’t add up here.

I handed the phone back to Dashiell. “Like I said,” I began in a calmer voice, “I’ll go to Vegas and look into the show for you. But call off the bachelorette party. I’m not risking Juliet.”

“And we’re not risking you,” Beatrice replied, squeezing Dashiell’s shoulder. “You were right when you told Dashiell that showing up as his representative would look . . .” she searched for a word, and settled on, “aggressive. This gives you a nice cover story to explain why you’re in town. And all the reservations have been made in Juliet’s name, which is different from yours.” Juliet hadn’t taken my brother’s last name, at least not yet.

“But Jameson knows me,” I argued. “He’s not going to believe me being there is a coincidence.”

“He doesn’t have to,” Dashiell countered. “It just has to be plausible.”

I rolled my eyes. Ah yes, Old World politics. You can’t attack someone with a perfectly acceptable story, even if you think they’re lying. It’s not like putting up a controversial Facebook post. Proof is the only thing that matters.

“But what if they come after me?” I demanded. “What if these Holmwoods decide I’m a threat anyway? Juliet and her friends will be caught in the crossfire.”

“That’s why we have arranged for one of Hayne’s men to serve as the party’s ‘driver,’” Beatrice explained. “He is ex-military, and spent years as a professional bodyguard in the Middle East. I have instructed him to focus specifically on Juliet and the other humans on this trip.” She gave me a wry little smile. “If it comes down to them or you, he will save them.”

I had to doubt that. Besides, an ex-military bodyguard, around the clock? “Jesus, how much did that cost you?” I muttered under my breath. Dashiell and Beatrice both gave me a blank look. I sighed. Vampires. They genuinely didn’t understand how people worried about money.

I was quickly losing ground in this argument. “What about my job here?” I said, a last-ditch attempt. “Who’s going to handle any messes that come up while I’m gone?” Yeah, things had been slow, but it wasn’t like we could schedule crises in advance. I never knew when I might be needed.

Beatrice cut her eyes over to Dashiell, who gave me a smile that was just a little too classy to be called smug. “I spoke to Mr. Cruz on the phone a few minutes ago,” he informed me. “He has agreed to be on call for Old World emergencies in your place. All three leaders will assist him, along with Corry, who is able to take care of Shadow.”

Dashiell had been busy. I was kind of surprised that Jesse had agreed to clean up crime scenes in my place, but then again, he’d changed a lot since getting divorced. He wasn’t seeing things as quite so black-and-white anymore.

I got up from my visitor’s chair and paced the back of the room for a minute, a habit I’d picked up from my ex-boyfriend, Eli. I didn’t like this. I didn’t like anything about it. And I really, really didn’t want to go back to Las Vegas. But I couldn’t help but think of Margaret, the vampire who was presumed dead because she had gone to investigate in my place. And Jameson—was he okay? What the hell was he doing in Vegas? I swallowed, my mouth dry. Dammit, I wanted to know what was going on.

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