Authors: Lauren Dane
Sort of an, um, city-state government of witches. They know I’m here, obviously, and they came to take care of me. But I took care of them first.”
He just stared at her as the sounds of night, which he only then noticed had been totally silenced during the fight, sounded around them.
“Am I on one of those practical-joke shows? Did Nash put you up to this?”
She sneered a moment. “Do you honestly think I’d fuck you for a television show? Did what happened out there seem like just special effects to you?”
“Don’t get bitchy with me. You, wel , stuff came out of you and it knocked the other guy down and he’s not there anymore. Where did they go? What did you do?”
“They don’t exist. Best to think of it in those terms.”
He scrubbed his hands over his face. “So this is, like, Wicca? But with, like, death shock fingers?”
She sighed. “It’s not like that. A few of us are Wiccan, some are other types of pagan, some are Christian, Jews, Muslims, even a Zen Buddhist here and there. Wicca is different than what we are. We’re born with our magic. It’s inherent. It doesn’t need to be invoked or brought by ritual. It’s just there. I don’t know how to explain it to you. But I can tel you I took a risk just now by confiding in you. What we are, who we are is not common knowledge.”
“What did you do to them?”
“Do you really want to know?”
“I set off a chain reaction in his DNA. It unraveled until he was nothing.”
“Like one of those curses that kid warlock did in those books?”
“Wizard, and sort of. I mean, not really, but it’s the closest you need to get just now.”
His brain could sort of grasp it, but he didn’t want to. “This is fucking crazy. You murdered those men!”
“One of them shot energy at me and the other used an automatic weapon. They wanted me dead, I defended myself. This isn’t some shiny television show, Wil iam. The members of this Camarilla have shown a predilection for extreme violence and what they’re doing with this money is a big concern. They’re bad people and if it’s between me and them, it’s going to be them.”
“All I wanted was to fuck you. Just some hot sex to get you out of my head. I want a normal life. Normal women. Plural. How did it get to this?” He opened the car door and stepped out. “I want you out of here. I’m going to have the hotel management get your things and send them elsewhere. I’ll have them secure you rooms at Bellagio. I won’t tell anyone. Who’d believe me anyway? But you need to get the fuck out of my hotel and my life right now.”
He walked quickly back toward the doors and tried to ignore the way it felt when he heard her start the engine and pul away.
Nell hated the slice of pain at his words. Hated the empty spot in her gut as he’d told her to get out. She didn’t know what she expected. She never dated human men, not wanting to hide her life from anyone. But he’d appeared repulsed, horrified by her admission.
She pulled into the lot at Bellagio—nice coincidence since they were apparently staying there now—and headed inside to meet Galen and Alex.
“What the hell happened to you?” Galen rose as she approached their table in the bar.
“It’s taken care of. We’ve been kicked out of the Liege. Emery saw more than he could deal with apparently. Our things are being sent here. We should check shortly to be sure he didn’t just toss our stuff into the street.” She sat and Alex handed her his drink.
“You look like you need it more than I do.”
If she talked about it she’d cry. Cry like a fucking girl, and she wasn’t going to indulge just then, couldn’t afford to.
“I don’t want to talk about it. Tell me what’s going on.” As she said it, she pushed out a dampening spell to cover what they were saying.
“Word on the street is the mages know you’re here and they’ve taken out a contract on you.” Alex’s pretty face was serious.
“They have indeed. I just took care of that problem in the parking garage at the Liege.
Well, two problems. It’s cleaned up. I really don’t like being shot at, even more than I don’t like being stolen from by some human con artist. Makes me shirty. Alex, I want you to put out the word that I’m gunning for these mages and that human bitch Leah. I’m coming for them and they can’t hide.” It might even make her feel a bit better to scare someone after the night she’d had.
Alex nodded. “Okay. That should shake things up a bit. You may want to hang out at Darkness a bit more. All kinds of info floats around in there.” He paused and touched her hand. “You sure you’re okay?”
She shrugged. “Nothing some sleep won’t cure. Thank you.”
After she and Galen checked into their rooms, she sat on her bed and looked out over the Strip. The rooms at Bellagio were nice, she gave them that, and the view kicked ass, but even that couldn’t make her feel better, damn it.
She knew William Emery was meant for her. He was meant to be in her life. Fate brought him to her, or her to him. It didn’t matter how they met, it was that they did meet. She also understood this wasn’t something William could understand and accept at the same level she did.
It wasn’t like she expected him to be all, “Whoo, jim dandy, you’re a witch!” or anything, but his revulsion and fear hurt. Yes, it wasn’t every day you saw a witch essentially dissolve another person and al , but she’d done it to save their lives. He had no idea just what these mages were capable of. Which, she admitted, was part of why he was probably so freaked out.
How she’d get him to come around on the point she didn’t know, but she would. And then she’d make his ass pay for being a twit. Hmpf.
It was too late to call Meriel and bounce the whole thing off her. The sun would be rising in a few hours anyway. She finished off her chamomile tea and snuggled under the fluffy comforter. The air-conditioning was set to extra chilly, just how she liked it. She willed sleep to come so the look on William’s face would just go away.
T hree days later, Nash opened the door to his house and took Wil iam in with a raised eyebrow.
“I can’t believe I’m even here,” Wil iam mumbled.
Nash yanked him into the house and shut the door. “What’s going on?”
William groaned and went into the large living room. Everywhere in the house he sensed Dahlia’s touch. Vivid colors, but simple, classic lines. A little bit Old World and a little bit new. Sort of like his sister-in-law. A woman he’d been dead set against Nash marrying and had been proven wrong about.
He sighed and threw himself onto a couch, tossing an arm over his eyes. “I need your advice. I can’t believe I’m here, but you’re the only married man I know with a hot wife who isn’t cheating and has a relatively normal life.”
“Well, with flattery like that, who can resist? I take it we’re talking woman trouble?”
He sighed. “Yes. Nash, I met this woman and it’s only been, like, a week, but I can’t get her out of my damned head.”
“Have you nailed her yet?” Nash laughed. “Sorry, Dahlia and I have this thing. You don’t want to know. Anyway, have you had sex with her? Maybe you just need to get her out of your system that way.”
“I fucked her on my desk five nights ago and I would have the night after that all over again if I hadn’t been interrupted.”
Nash went silent and William peeked from under his arm to see his brother’s look of surprise. “Your desk at the Dollhouse? You had sex at work? You never do that. Your office? Your desk? I’ve had sex at the Dollhouse, but you? This woman is more than just a fuck, William. Who is she?”
That was the damned truth. “You’ve had sex at my club?”
Nash waved it away. “We’re talking about this mystery woman who got you to break your code. Who is she? What’s she like? How did you meet?”
“She’s chief of security for some corporation Leah embezzled a chunk of money from.
Leah is apparently in Vegas and Nell, that’s her, came to see me about it. She’s…she’s not a woman I’d normally look at twice. She has Scorpions and Judas Priest CDs in her car. A
’69 Camaro, by the way. She’s a jeans and T-shirts woman, but she cleans up rather well.
But Christ, I actually prefer the faded jeans and boots. Boots, Nash. And buttrock. She’s hard.” He paused a moment. He couldn’t very well tell his brother Nell was a witch warrior of some type. “Not the kind of woman who appears to be given to shopping and manicures. She doesn’t even wear much makeup.”
“So what? You’ve known her a week, you said, and you broke your no-sex-at-work rule with her. She’s not your usual type, but damn it, have you considered the reason you prefer that other type is that those women you involve yourself with are shallow? You get to have sex, you don’t have to love them, you give them shiny things and move on. Is this Nell a woman of substance and that’s what’s got you all knotted up?” Nash took a deep breath and William sat up to look at his brother better.
“Wil iam, you should be happy. Let go and let yourself enjoy this Nell. Stop questioning why you like a woman in a T-shirt and realize she’s got excellent taste in cars and apparently men. Is it so awful to think you might want to spend more than a few days with a woman?”
“She doesn’t live here anyway. I don’t even know if she’s still in town. Okay, that’s a lie.
I got mad at her and kicked her out of the Liege even though I really didn’t have the authority. Anyway, she’s at Bellagio. I checked to see if she’s still there. Like I’ve done every day since our fight three days ago. I am so fucked.”
Nash laughed. “My advice, since you asked, is to let go and see where this thing could lead. And we want to meet her, too. Not right away, so get that look off your face. But soon. Now, have you eaten today? I was making lunch. Come on back to the kitchen and we’ll keep talking.”
Nell stepped out of the cab at the hotel nearest Darkness and smoothed her very short skirt into place. As she walked, the click of her tall high-heeled boots sounded against the pavement.
It wasn’t often she played the sex-kitten part, but it was fun to try on every now and then. She had to meet a contact in the club so she thought she’d tart it up a bit to blend in. It was Saturday night and Darkness would be fil ed with paranormals of al stripes out to have a good time.
One of the doormen was waving her through when he looked up and then put a hand out to stop her. “A human called to you. Our spotter says he saw you come this way. You have to deal with it.”
“Care to be specific? Where? I didn’t hear anything.” Damn and double damn. She’d have to go and make something up to smooth things over. If she ignored it and whoever it was came to investigate, they wouldn’t get in, but it would be trouble.
“Across the street. A male.”
The Liege was across the street and there happened to be a male over there who knew her.
She turned and carefully exited back to the street and saw William standing on an outdoor plaza on the retail level of the Liege.
He saw her, too, and waved like he hadn’t chucked her ass onto the street and then hadn’t bothered to cal to apologize in the five days since. Hmpf. She did know he’d called to see if they were still staying there, though. She’d gotten that little snippet from the concierge whose mind was very susceptible to magic.
By the time she made it to him he’d procured a frosty glass of something and handed it to her when she approached. “It’s hot, so I thought you might appreciate something cold to drink. Would you like to go inside?”
His smile slipped a few watts. “Why? You came over here.”
“Because you called my name.”
He looked confused for a moment, the spell clouding his mind until he remembered cal ing for her. She was an idiot for reminding him. She needed to deal with this thing between them. Nell couldn’t afford to make these kinds of rookie mistakes.
He took her arm and led her off to the side of the wide plaza, away from prying eyes and ears. “What the hell did you do to me?”
She shook herself free. “Look here, Emery, I didn’t do anything to you. You called my name, I came over. If you didn’t want me over here, if you didn’t care about my whereabouts, why call Bellagio every day to see if I’m stil staying there? Don’t play games.”
William wanted to shake her for looking so good. Wanted to stop the way she made him feel. Vulnerable. Christ, he needed her and he did not want to.
He clung to his anger to keep him afloat in the sea of her; the scent of her, of her essential being, wafted through the air between them.
“Bullshit. Something happened. I know it did. You did something to my head.”
Her eyes widened and then narrowed. “I didn’t touch your head, asshole.” She paused, looked from side to side and then the background noise died down to nothing but their breathing and the beat of his heart pounding in his head. “There. Feel that? That’s me doing something. Before you run off squealing like a girl, I just put a little protection around us so we can’t be heard.”
“Squealing like a girl?”
She waved a hand and took a sip of the iced melon drink he’d brought out for her.
After he’d seen her across the street and called her name. But then he hadn’t. Or had he?
“You messed with my memory!”
“I did not.” She sighed loudly. “I’m going to explain and you’re not going to repeat what I tell you to anyone. If you do—” she held up a hand, fingers pressed over his lips to stay his interruption “—if you do, my friends and family would be in danger, so you won’t. I’m telling you now, if I give you these words, you won’t be able to share them unless I let you. Do you understand? I’m going to use magic on you, but only if you agree.”
She waited while he thought it over. Did he trust her enough? When it came right down to it, he supposed he did. He’d seen what she’d done in the garage to those people who’d tried to hurt them. She could have easily done the same to him if she’d wanted to.
At last he nodded and she relaxed.
“Now, across the street there’s a club of sorts. A club where my kind can go and be safe. The entrance is warded in a sense by spells so humans don’t go bumbling in. That’s what happened. You saw me and then once I’d entered the wards, you forgot. If you were walking past, you’d feel a need to keep going. All you’d see is a wal . Now that you know, I’m meeting a contact about your fiancée, so I’ve got to get moving.”