Home > Blood Gamble (Disrupted Magic #2)(16)

Blood Gamble (Disrupted Magic #2)(16)
Author: Melissa F. Olson

“Don’t be late to the spa,” Bethany called after me. I rolled my eyes and kept going, clamping down on my radius.

I needed to find at least one of those volunteers. Fighting against the departing crowd, I threaded my way into the lower doors, ignoring the curious looks of the ushers, who made no attempt to stop me from moving toward the front of the theater. There were a handful of other audience members doing the same thing, in order to take pictures in front of the massive stage. I held my phone up, pretending to frame a selfie, while I looked around for any of the dozen people who’d been chosen as volunteers. I already wished I’d paid better attention to how they looked, but I’d been a little far from the stage.

It would have been smart to wander the aisles a little, but I had to concentrate so hard on keeping in my radius that it was all I could do to stand there smiling at my phone as I pivoted around, scanning the crowd. Just as I was beginning to despair, I recognized a bright fuchsia dress, walking away from me. That woman and her companion had been two of the volunteers.

I hurried after them as they walked through the theater’s exit doors and into the lobby, which joined up with the rest of the casino. When I got close, I felt the tiny zing of two presses breaking.

To my relief, it felt like any other vampire press: just a simple little mind charm. Breaking the press doesn’t usually affect the human, but this time the two of them paused simultaneously, looking at each other. I stepped a little closer, pretending to dig for something in my little bag.

“Do we even really want to go to this thing?” the woman said doubtfully. “I’d honestly rather just go out to dinner. Or head back to the room. I’m sick of these heels.”

The man was looking down at something, and when I took a tiny step sideways I could see that he was holding what looked like two flyers, each about a quarter the size of a piece of paper. “You know, I don’t even really care,” he said slowly, like he was surprised. “Let’s skip it.”

“Awesome.” The woman gave him a peck on the cheek, and the guy strode over to a trash can and tossed the flyers inside. He held out his arm, and the woman took it, leaning in to tell him something that made him laugh.

It was a weird time for me to feel a pang of loneliness. They were just so couple-y. It was obnoxiously cute. I pushed the thought aside, wandering over to the same garbage can. When I was sure the couple was out of sight, I pretended to reach into my mouth for a nonexistent piece of gum. I mimed putting it into the bin, but quickly pushed my whole arm inside, grimacing, until my fingers brushed against the edge of what felt like pieces of card stock. I pulled them out, glancing around to make sure no one was watching me. Then I looked down at the top flyer.

It was thick, glossy card stock, with an old-timey font that communicated class and mystique. Thank you for participating in Demeter, it read. You are cordially invited to socialize with the cast during this evening’s Volunteer Reception. Please bring this pass to ensure entry.

Below that was today’s date and the name of one of the ballrooms, probably in the Bellagio’s conference center.

I leaned my back against the wall to think. I had the answer that Dashiell had been looking for—the Holmwoods were definitely giving away their vampire status, although that didn’t mean anyone would believe them, especially in Las Vegas. At this point, I could consider my job finished. As soon as I updated Dashiell, I could go back to the bachelorette party and collect a fat paycheck for my trouble.

But I still didn’t know what was going on with Jameson. Why was he working for the Holmwoods? Was he okay? And dammit, the disappearances bothered me. Vampires don’t always report their comings and goings, even in a city that does have a strong cardinal vampire. But Margaret wouldn’t have vanished without telling Dashiell, and Laurel had seemed convinced that Ellen wouldn’t disappear, either. If there really were these vampire hunters or whatever in town, was anyone doing anything about it?

I tapped the end of the card against my palm, weighing my options. Technically, my work here was done, but I’d been sent here to observe and report. Surely it wouldn’t hurt to make a quick stop at this party for a little more observing?

I would need to work hard on controlling my radius, though, which meant it would be good to have someone at my back. And I did have two tickets. Unfortunately, there was really only one person I could think to ask, and bringing him meant leaving Juliet unprotected, at least for a little while.

But it couldn’t be helped. I pulled out my phone and called Cliff.

Thirty minutes later, the two of us were walking through the promenade of shops, on our way to the Bellagio’s Renaissance-themed conference rooms. Or at least I hoped we were. I’d gotten lost twice trying to meet Cliff, so at this point it was anybody’s guess.

I was holding on to his arm in what I hoped looked like a romantic, old-fashioned way, and not at all like I would probably walk straight into a wall without it. He was still wearing the suit from earlier, but he’d added a tie. “Are you sure they’ll really stay put?” I said distractedly. I’d already asked this at least twice, but it was hard to concentrate on his answer when I was so focused on reining in my radius.

“As I said, Miss Bernard,” he said patiently, “Miss Nash persuaded them to order pizzas and head back to their suite for an old-fashioned slumber party.” Miss Nash was Laurel. I’d told Cliff that she was clued into the Old World, and he’d asked her to help keep the others corralled for the night. I didn’t think anyone was aware that I was in town—yet—but I didn’t want to take any chances while I was keeping their bodyguard with me. “She was very helpful,” he added.

Of course she was. I was heading into a vampire den to get the answers she wanted.

We stopped—or, rather, Cliff stopped, and I stumbled for a foot before catching myself. “I think this is it,” he said, looking from the invitation in his hand to the ballroom in front of us. I’d almost walked right by it, which did not escape my companion. He glanced down at me. “You sure about this?”

I nodded tightly. “We stay at least two feet away from everyone, do a quick circuit of the room, and get out of there. If we see Jameson, I need to talk to him.” Although I hadn’t worked out exactly what I was going to say.

Cliff’s face was expressionless, but there was something in his body language that seemed . . . defiant. I glanced down at his hands. They were twitching, like he was trying to pull an imaginary trigger.

I pulled him down the hallway a ways, past the door and toward the bathrooms, which was one place where vampires did not hang out. I risked releasing my radius again so I could scrutinize him. “Can you handle this?” I asked.

“Of course, Miss Bernard.”

“Cut the shit,” I snapped. “You seem . . . I don’t know, something. Scared. Do we have a problem?”

If anything, his face became more guarded. “No, ma’am. I am here on Theo Hayne’s orders to protect a group of human women, and as a secondary subject, you.”

“Are you aware that your right hand is resting on the butt of your gun?” I said, a little snide.

He jerked his hand away, smoothing down the jacket of his suit. “I apologize, Miss Bernard.”

I studied him. Something felt wrong here. “What is it you usually do for Dashiell?”

“I protect the mansion,” he said immediately. “I assess security threats, patrol, maintain the grounds. When Miss Beatrice’s assistant needs to run errands, I drive her. I also maintain Hayne’s weapons and vehicles. Ma’am.”

“And you do all that during the day, right? Only during the day?”

“Yes, Miss Bernard.”

I rolled my eyes and stepped forward, all the way into his personal space, and said very softly, “If you call me ma’am, or Miss Bernard, or anything at all besides Scarlett, one more time, I am going to call Hayne and tell him I need someone else, because your insistence on formality is threatening my cover story. Or would you prefer that I ask for someone else?”

“No, m—” He cleared his throat. “Scarlett.”

“Thank you. Tell me the truth. Are you afraid of vampires?”

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