In case you missed it, here’s a link to the first excerpt: Excerpt from Planet Dragos
Chapter 1 continued
The sensation of his warm lips lingered on her skin as he held the phone up to his ear and strode back to Aryal. The shadow across the sun darkened further.
Dragos walked by behind her. He said in her ear, “Why don’t you come see me?”
Wait, no. That wasn’t Dragos’s voice.
Dragos was not behind her either. She had watched him walk away as he talked to whoever had put Aryal into a temper.
Frowning, Pia spun in a slow circle, looking for the tall, dark man who had spoken into her ear.
There wasn’t anybody nearby. Eva had not yet noticed that Pia had stopped to have an exchange with Dragos and had continued walking to the hotel’s front doors where Dr. Medina had joined her. Pia stood alone among the swirl and eddy of people.
The day brightened again. As she glanced up, the sky was a clear, cloudless blue.
Maybe the desert heat was getting to her. Maybe she had hallucinated the whole thing.
Did she believe that?
She shook her head. Nope. She did not.
Lips pursed, she strode over to Dr. Medina and Eva. “We don’t have anything on the schedule until the wedding reception this evening. Carling’s probably sleeping, and in any case it’s not polite to bother a Vampyre in the middle of the day unless there’s an emergency. I’m sure Rune is around somewhere, but he’ll be busy doing whatever it is guys do in Las Vegas the day before their wedding. Anybody up for a little sightseeing this afternoon?”
“You know I’ll go,” Eva said.
“Yeah, well, you kind of have to.” Pia gave the other woman an affectionate push with one shoulder. “Seeing as you’re my bodyguard and all.”
With a grin, Eva nudged her back. When they’d met, they had been at odds with each other, but despite the rocky beginning they had become fast friends.
Dr. Medina watched them, smiling. “I’ll pass. After I check your vitals, I’ve got some patients I need to call.”
Pia’s smile faded, but daily checkups with Dr. Medina, along with the doctor’s attendance on this trip, was the compromise she had suggested to Dragos after they’d had their worst argument to date.
So she said, “You bet. Let’s get it done.”
Two of their guards had already completed the check-in procedure and had gone to clear the suite, and Pia, Dr. Medina, and Eva headed for the Spa Tower. The Bellagio resort was huge, so it was a bit of a hike.
Once they reached the luxurious penthouse suite, Dr. Medina checked Pia’s blood pressure and heart rate, scanned the baby magically, then gave Pia her daily shot of the drug protocol.
“All good?” Pia asked when the doctor was finished.
The older woman gave her a smile. “Everything is fine. Have fun sightseeing.”
Even though she had been given the all clear, she hesitated, torn.
Other people were arriving for the wedding, and Carling and Rune had reserved an entire floor in the Spa Tower for the wedding guests.
Of Dragos’s original sentinels, Aryal had flown in with Dragos and Pia, and Bayne, Graydon, and his mate, Beluviel, would be arriving later in the afternoon. The two newer sentinels, Alexander and Aryal’s mate, Quentin, had remained back in New York, while Tiago and his mate, Niniane, were in Adriyel and unable to attend.
Rune and Carling also had friends from Florida who would either already be here or arriving soon—Duncan and Seremela, Grace and Khalil, and Claudia and Luis—but Pia didn’t know any of those couples very well.
Part of her felt as if she should stay and be social, but the other part…
The other part didn’t want to look into their faces as they saw how much she had changed.
She would have to face the others soon enough this evening. For now she was going to give herself permission to avoid everything.
She jotted a quick note for Dragos on hotel stationery and left it in a prominent place on the hall table by the suite’s double doors. Then, grabbing her purse, she said to Eva, “Let’s get out of here.”
“Where are we going?”
“To the Riverview Casino.”
Fifteen minutes later, Pia and Eva walked into the Riverview. Like the other Las Vegas great hotels and casinos, the Riverview glittered with flashing lights and luxurious appointments—marble floors, soaring ceilings, and lavish works of art.
Unlike the other hotels and casinos, the Riverview was under the sole ownership of an Elder Races company, the Light Fae Queen Tatiana’s Northern Lights.
While a proportion of Elder Races creatures were scattered throughout the rest of the city, here they were in the majority. Demonkind servers walked by, carrying trays of drinks. Nearby, a medusa sat playing slots at three adjacent machines, his head snakes wrapped firmly around the handles. Pia stared at him, fascinated.
“Ah, Las Vegas,” Eva said as they walked across the open floor. “The Cirque du Soleil, Cher, Ricky Martin, Paul Simon… So many great things to do, so little time. Did you know that Vampyres love the fake sky at the Venetian Resort? They have gondola rides down the Grand Canal, and it’s all inside. Want to get in a little slot machine action?”
“What?” Glancing at the other woman, Pia realized Eva had noticed the direction she was staring. She was probably being rude by staring so openly, not that the medusa would notice. His concentration on the slot machines was total. “I’m not a gambler.”
“Oh, come on. Live a little,” Eva coaxed. “I could get you some chips, and we could try our luck at one of the tables.”
Pia laughed. “I still remember how hard I worked to make money. I’m not comfortable throwing it away at blackjack or roulette.”
“I bet Dragos wouldn’t be throwing his money away.” Eva grinned. “I’d love to see that dragon in a poker game.”
“That’s not going to happen here,” Pia told her. “Dragos is banned from gambling in Las Vegas. He’s too good at counting cards, and nobody with any sense will sit in on a poker game with him. All he can do is see some shows and attend Rune and Carling’s wedding.”
Eva laughed. “You didn’t tell me why you wanted to come to the Riverview instead of hanging out at the Bellagio.”
“I’m looking for the Midnight Lounge. There’s a show called Last Dancethat I want to check into.” Scanning the area, she caught sight of a sign. “It’s over there, down that hall.”
Eva kept pace beside her. Stepping inside the Midnight Lounge was somewhat disappointing. While it was indisputably the scene from the billboard, the photoshopped magic was missing. Except for a ghoul mopping the floor and another one working behind the bar, the lounge was empty and the stage dark.
“Vegas may never sleep, but they’ve got to mop the floors some time.” Eva regarded both ghouls with a smile.
Pia frowned. The damn drug protocol not only damped her immune system, it also muffled her ability to sense magic. She asked, “Can you sense anything? Any residual Power or magic?”
“Nothing out of the ordinary. Sparks here and there, magic items, individual people. It comes and goes. There are dampening fields all over casinos so players can’t communicate with each other telepathically or cheat with other kinds of spells.” Eva looked at her thoughtfully. “Why? What are you looking for?”
“Anything. Nothing.” She shrugged. “I had a weird moment back at the Bellagio. And there was somebody that looked like Dragos on the billboard for this show, but obviously it wasn’t him. When I asked Dragos about it, he brushed me off and told me to ignore it.”
Eva raised an eyebrow. “So naturally you thought to run right over here.”
When Eva put it like that, Pia felt a little sheepish. “I was running away from the hotel as much as anything.”
“You said you had a weird moment.” Eva frowned, hands on her hips as she surveyed the area. “I’m not a fan of weird, but I don’t see or sense any danger.”
“Weird isn’t necessarily bad. Just look at our lives. Every single thing in it could be labeled weird.” Pia headed to the bar where an older ghoul unloaded a dishwasher and stacked the clean glasses on a shelf. “Excuse me—is Last Danceshowing here?”
He shrugged. Like all ghouls, he had a long, mournful face. “Sure. Maybe. I don’t actually know. This is my first day back at work after a two-week vacation. After a while all the shows start to look alike, know what I mean?”
“I guess so.” Amused, she glanced at Eva, who had approached the other ghoul.
“Hey, buddy,” Eva said. “Anybody back in the dressing rooms?”
He paused to lean on the handle of his mop as if he were too tired to stand upright. “Might be.”
Eva handed him a few twenties. “Why don’t you check for us? If there is someone back there, could you tell them we’d like to speak to them?”
“Okay.” Pocketing the cash, he shuffled toward the back.
As they waited, Pia strolled over to look at the stage. It was decorated the same as the scene in the billboard, with tall ebony vases filled with long-stemmed red roses. Impulsively, she walked up the three steps to stand on the stage. There was a trapdoor in the middle of the worn floor.
As she viewed the lounge from her new vantage place, the stage lights switched on. White light hit her full in the face, blinding her, while the rest of the lounge receded into darkness.
“Sorry, did I trigger that?” she called out as she threw up a hand to shield her eyes.
From behind the shelter of her fingers, she could make out Eva’s outline where she waited by a table. The muted figure of a ghoul walked up to her, and they talked. They both seemed very far away, and neither one of them appeared to notice Pia.
“Eva?” she said uncertainly. If there was one thing Eva should be doing, it was noticing Pia, especially when she called out to her. “Eva!”
The other woman gave no indication she’d heard. And that wasn’t the good kind of weird.
Booted heels sounded on the hardwood floor, and a tall man came to stand beside her. As Pia looked at him, her heart began to race.
He had a hard profile, much like Dragos’s, and he had the same black hair, broad shoulders, and strong, sensual mouth.
“Hello, Pia Giovanni Cuelebre,” he said. His voice was deep and not quite unfamiliar.
Her leg muscles clenched until she stood on the balls of her feet, ready to run. She sensed nothing from him—no danger, no magic. No Power. But Eva wasn’t answering her, and this man knew her full name.
Taking a wary step back, she asked, “Do I know you?”
“I know you. We came close to meeting once.” Turning toward her, the man smiled. His eyes were green. “You were pregnant with your first son then. He saved your life, almost at the expense of his.”
That kicked her pulse into higher gear. Nobody except Dragos knew what her peanut had done, back when she had suffered a wound that had nearly turned mortal. She whispered, “How do you know that?”
He was much more handsome than Dragos if the truth were told. Magnetically so. But he carried the same kind of blade in his smile. “The same way I know how much your mother loves you. She told you that you could go to her if you wished. Remember?”
Shock moved through her like a slow-shifting glacier, numbing her hands and lips. “I never told anybody about that, not even Dragos. Who are you?”
“You can call me Rael if you like.” Putting his hands in his pockets, he shifted to look out over the near-empty lounge.
A thought occurred to her, as preposterous and vast as an ocean. It couldn’t be, but… so many things in her life were preposterous. Were weird.
“Rael, as in…” Her voice shook, and she had to swallow and start again. “As in Azrael?”
by Thea Harrison
All rights reserved
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