Authors: Linda Lael Miller
Tags: #linda lael miller, #vampires, #vampire romance, #Regency, #time without end, #steamy romance, #time travel
He managed to eat just a little, and Brenna went back for the basin. Then, kneeling beside Valerian in the fowl straw again, she began to bathe the blood and dirt from his flesh. Even in the dim glow of that one candle, she saw the tears shimmering in his eyes.
“Oh, God, Brenna,” he whispered. “How did we get ourselves to this place?”
“Shhh,” she said and went on washing him. Her own hunger and weakness floated somewhere above her, suspended.
Presently the loving task had been done as well as it could be, given the circumstances. The tallow guttered out, and Brenna laid herself beside Valerian on the cell floor, and gathered him close with one arm. With the other hand she undid the laces at her bosom and, baring her breasts, offered him the only intimate comfort she knew about.
He was half dead of his wounds, but the blood in his veins was youthful, like the sap in a fierce young tree, and he drank hungrily from her breasts, and kissed her, and spoke pretty, disjointed words while he nibbled at her earlobe. Finally he raised her skirts and took her, with a hard, greedy thrust.
Brenna felt searing pain, followed swiftly by a treacherous pleasure, and she gave herself up to her forbidden lover with all the passion pent up in her innocent soul.
Las Vegas, 1995
The victim was a showgirl, no more than twenty years old, and she lay sprawled on the living room floor of her cramped apartment, wearing nothing but a short sea- green robe. Her shoulder-length blond hair spilled over the cheap carpeting and partially covered her face.
She was impossibly pale, even for a corpse. Daisy thought of Snow White waiting for her prince, and shuddered. There was no blood anywhere.
Daisy had been promoted to detective six months before, after the requisite four years on the street, and she had seen her share of murders. No matter how many she investigated, the bile still rushed into the back of her throat, and sometimes she had to run to the nearest bush or bathroom to throw up. On other occasions, especially when the victim was a child, she wept.
This time she felt an ugly sort of shock take hold, deep inside her. Even before her partner, O’Halloran, started filling her in on the details, she knew they were dealing with some kind of monster.
“Look at this,” O’Halloran said, crouching beside the body, which had already been outlined and photographed. In fact, the coroner’s people were hovering, ready to do their grisly duties. He brushed back a tendril of the dead woman’s glossy blond hair with remarkably gentle fingers to reveal a pair of neat puncture wounds, set about two inches apart, in the victim’s neck. “If I didn’t know better, Chandler, I’d say this was the work of one of them vampires. You know, like in the movies.” Daisy felt a chill trip down her spine. “I know what vampires are,” she snapped.
O’Halloran, a wiry, graying man of medium height, with twenty-eight years on the force to his credit, sighed loudly and stretched to his feet. His eyes were either pale blue or pale green, depending on the weather and how things were going at home. This was a blue day. “What’s the matter, Chandler—you suffering from PMS or something? Well, take a pill. I got enough problems without you flashing an attitude.”
Daisy didn’t apologize, though she knew O’Halloran was right. She
off track—her meeting with the magician had occupied her every waking thought since she’d left his dressing room the night before. When she had managed to sleep, she’d been plagued by strange, vivid dreams of a medieval courtyard and two men fighting with swords . . .
“Chandler,” O’Halloran prompted, poking her with an elbow.
Daisy jumped and shook her head once in an effort to clear her head. “Yeah, I’m with you. Sorry. What’s her name?”
“Jillie Fairfield,” O’Halloran answered, consulting his notes. “She was nineteen and worked with that hotshot magician over at the Venetian. What’s his name—?” He began flipping pages.
“Valerian,” Daisy said, feeling jolted.
“Yeah,” O’Halloran agreed, tapping his pocket-sized notepad with the end of his stubby pencil. ‘That’s him. You ever catch his show?”
“Last night,” Daisy managed.
“I’ve heard it’s really something. According to the papers, there are magicians flying in from all over the world just to see the act and try to figure out how he pulls it off. And he won’t let anybody take his picture, either.” “He’s good, all right,” Daisy said, glancing at the body again. She remembered the dancers coming out of the coach while it was suspended in midair, then sitting underneath, smiling and posing. She wondered if Jillie had been the one who’d brought out the umbrella and gotten a chuckle from the audience. Even to Daisy’s trained eye, the performers had looked very much alike.
The older cop led the way toward the gaping front door of the apartment, and Daisy went along gratefully. She’d never gotten used to the smell of death, or the clammy feeling it gave her.
“You look a little peaked,” O’Halloran remarked. “You have a bad night?”
She drew in a deep draft of desert air as they descended the wooden stairs outside. The Las Vegas sun was bright, and for Daisy it dispelled some of the chill that had settled into her spirit. “Me? I never have a bad night, O’Halloran,” she said with a manufactured smile. “And I never get PMS, either. What’s your take on this? What happened to the Fairfield woman?”
O’Halloran shrugged. “I don’t know. The coroner will fill us in, though.” He paused beside his car, a battered sixty-seven Mustang on its fourth engine, and scratched the back of his head. “This one’s different, I can tell you that much. There ought to be blood, and we didn’t find a drop. No blow to the head, no visible wounds except for those punctures on her throat. You’d better haul it over to the Venetian and see if you can track down that magician character. See what he can tell you.”
Daisy had hoped to encounter Valerian again, though certainly not under those circumstances. “I’m off to see the wizard,” she said, heading for her own car, a sporty blue convertible. “Meet you back at the office later.”
When Daisy reached the Venetian, Las Vegas’s newest and most elaborate hotel-casino, she left her car in the outer lot and stood looking at the place for a few moments, marveling. It was a spectacle in and of itself, bigger and gaudier than the Mirage or Excalibur or even Caesar’s, an elegant palace with pillars and fountains. There was a maze of canals in front, traversed by sleek gondolas with costumed attendants.
With a shake of her head Daisy went to the quay and allowed herself to be helped into one of the boats, along with several tourists. Sunlight flashed on the water, dazzling her, and she slipped on her sunglasses, turning her thoughts from the conspicuous consumption that surrounded her to the magician.
Her first reaction, when she’d learned of Valerian’s connection with the dead woman, had been to wonder if he’d had something to do with Jillie Fairfield’s death. In cases like this one, the murderer often turned out to be someone the victim had known fairly well.
The gondola coursed along the narrow channels, making its way toward the hotel entrance, and Daisy propped her elbow on her blue-jeaned knee and rested her chin in her palm. If Valerian hadn’t killed Jillie, and there was no reason to believe he had, he probably wouldn’t have heard about her death yet.
Daisy hated being the one to break news like that. She and O’Halloran usually alternated, and when they couldn’t remember whose turn it was, they flipped a coin.
Daisy murmured a curse as the gondola struck the dock in front of the hotel. It was O’Halloran’s turn, damn it. She’d told a woman, just two days before, that her fifteen-year-old son had been shot in a gang fight.
Inside the hotel was a massive casino, filled with noisy slot machines, blackjack tables, and other accoutrements of gambling. The light was dim, the temperature pleasantly cool. Cigarette smoke made simple breathing a game of chance.
Daisy hurried through, toward the nearest bank of elevators. She hated casinos; they reminded her of when she was a kid. Her divorced mother, Jeanine, had been a cocktail waitress, and every once in a while she’d gotten the gambling bug. When that happened, Jeanine either left Daisy and her younger sister, Nadine, to fend for themselves, often for days at a time, or dragged them along with her. In some ways, that was worse, because Jeanine would either park them on the curb with a hamburger and a bag of french fries to share, or point out the pinball room and order them to stay there until she came back. Only later did she allow the girls to stay with their grandmother for a short time before wrenching them away again.
Snap out of it, Daisy scolded herself as she stepped into a sumptuously appointed elevator and pressed the button for the third floor. The business offices were there, along with a number of conference rooms and hospitality suites.
The receptionist looked Daisy over coolly when she asked where to find the magician. The main entrance to the theater would be locked at that hour, and there were probably big guys posted outside the stage doors.
“You a fan?” the girl asked. Her name tag read ‘Tiffany.”
Daisy wondered how Tiffany could see, since her false eyelashes were the size of whisk brooms. In answer to the girl’s question, she pulled her badge out of her handbag and showed it with the appropriate flourish. “Where do I find him?”
Tiffany tapped acrylic nails on the surface of the desk while she thought. From the looks of her, that was no small accomplishment, but a feat involving many wires and gears. “How should I know?”
Daisy braced her hands against the desk’s edge and leaned in close. “Look it up,” she said evenly.
The receptionist flushed, and her plump lips, no doubt pumped full of collagen, quivered. She left her desk, disappearing into a nearby office, and returned a few moments later, looking resolute.
“We’re not supposed to tell,” she announced.
“Do I have to get a warrant?” Daisy muttered. Tiffany vanished again, and when she came back, she brought a man in a three-piece suit. He smiled and offered a manicured hand.
“My name is Jerry Grover,” he said. “I’m the assistant manager. And you’re Officer—”
“Daisy Chandler,” Daisy said. “Look, I don’t see why this has to be a big deal, Mr. Grover. I want to talk to your headliner—” She pretended that the name had slipped her mind for a moment. “Valerian. It’s police business, and it’s important.”
Grover smiled sleekly. He reminded Daisy a little of a lithe, vicious fish, gliding smoothly through his environment, hunting weaker prey. “If you’ll just step into my office, Ms. Chandler . . .”
Daisy shrugged and followed him. Jillie Fairfield had had a connection with the hotel, although she’d been employed by the magician. She might as well clue management in before somebody saw it on the news.
Tiffany gave her another haughty once-over as she passed. A look was nothing to Daisy—the names gang members, streetwalkers, and other misguided souls had called her had hardened her sensibilities a little.
“We found a body this morning,” Daisy said without preamble when she and Grover were inside his office. Apparently the casino brass believed in looking after middle management—the desktop was black marble, and the view from the wall of windows at the opposite end of the room was panoramic. The carpet swallowed up the lower half of Daisy’s purple Keds. ‘The victim was identified as Ms. Jillie Fairfield. She was one of the dancers in the magic show.”
To his credit, Grover paled and sagged bonelessly into the leather chair behind his desk. He recovered quickly, though, and gestured for Daisy to take a seat. “Damn,” he said. “What happened?”
Daisy settled herself in the cushy leather chair she’d just pulled up. “We’re not sure,” she admitted readily, but she had no intention of discussing the details. “Ms. Fairfield was a hotel employee before signing on with Valerian, wasn’t she?”
A thin sheen of perspiration appeared on Grover’s upper lip. “I wouldn’t know that, Ms. Chandler, without checking further. We employ a great many people, and as you probably realize, the Venetian hasn’t been open all that long. In either case, the publicity won’t be good for the Venetian, will it? Any
of crime or scandal can be devastating financially. . . .”
Daisy felt the old impatience surface inside her. A woman was dead, damn it. Jillie Fairfield was never going to dance or laugh or make love again; somebody had put her out like a candle. And all Grover was worried about was the publicity.
“You didn’t meet Ms. Fairfield personally, then? Ever?” she asked in a taut voice.
“No,” Grover answered quickly, flushing. “And I don’t know the magician, either. He’s an eccentric—in fact, he gives new meaning to the word
Daisy leaned forward, intrigued. “In what way?” Grover spread his hands, clearly flustered. “There are rumors, that’s all. It’s probably just a lot of hype, to bring people in to see his shows. . . .”
Daisy pressed. There it was again, that odd quivering in the pit of her stomach; her own instincts were telling her, as they had the night before, after the show, that there was something very strange about Valerian. Something far beyond the ordinary mystique of a magician.