27 October 2007

Vegas Magic

Rain was pouring from clouds every bit as dark as her mood when Mia Tarone dashed through the heavy doors into DunVegas. Bright flashes of lightning were answered with snarls of thunder. The storm had sprung to life in an otherwise clear Vegas night sky when she was only feet from the entrance, triggered by any one of the many paranormal battles being waged for fun and sport inside the resort.

With demons and druids, witches and warlocks, shifters and succubi all sharing the convention grounds there was no way for her young mage senses to tell what forces from this world or any other had triggered the meteorological outburst. She would have to take down her meta shields to tell, an act akin to bathing in blood before dining with a vampire. Going unshielded into the ParaPleasures convention would be literal suicide for her.

Mia was many things – desperate, unschooled, furious, and at times over the past year she’d flirted closely with the idea she might not be totally sane. Suicidal had not yet appeared on her radar.

Shaking the water from long black hair dampened by the downpour, Mia paused by the matched pair of shockingly green hell hounds frozen statue-like by spell lock at the front door. They looked pissed, a natural state for a hell hound even if he weren’t currently decorating a lobby. Their irate expressions were probably due to the unsophisticated attempt at Emerald City humor someone had forced upon them. She bit back a grimace and murmured a phrase in the ancient tongue. Letta heluta.

The hounds’ skin shimmered faintly, then the green color bled to deepest black. Mia saw a glow of what she hoped was gratitude in their crimson eyes. Briefly she considered freeing them from their stone-like prisons.

“You were always a soft touch. Kept you from being the top baccarat dealer that your hands could have made you.” There was both affection and scorn in Amanda Bast’s voice. The curvy blonde had snuck behind her on quiet cat feet.

“I was the top dealer on the DunVegas staff for two years. I’d still be here if –“

“Still thinking in if’s and could-have-been’s? I thought you’d had that scared out of you months ago. I never would have called you to let you know Xin Li had checked in if you hadn’t convinced me you were past that kind of thinking Mia.”

“No worries Amanda. Momentary lapse.” Mia forced herself to hold the unblinking gaze of the suddenly doubtful hostess, hoping that she was managing to look more sincere than pissed. And that the smell of her lie wasn’t even now being picked up by Amanda’s sensitive shifter senses.

An uncomfortably long moment later, Amanda nodded. “All right then. But don’t let your anger rule your actions, little one. Mr Li was not in a peaceful mood when he checked in this evening. He’s not a man I’d like to see the bad side of.”

“I’ll be careful. I don’t have nine lives to try to get this right.”

She was rewarded for her attempt at a joke with a sultry chuckle. “You only need one life if you play your cards right. Xin was entranced with you a year ago. I’ve never known him to look twice at a woman when he’s here on a trip, before he laid eyes on you. He’s shut me down more than once.”

Even knowing the hostess could no more help her sensual nature than she could avoid an attraction to cat nip, the very thought of the passionate, demanding lover she’d known so briefly passing a night with her very sensual friend brought a snarl to Mia’s lips.

Amanda gave her an unapologetically seductive smile. “I’m just saying. Deal him a straight hand, with no deceptions, and there’s no reason to think he won’t be able to answer your questions Mia.”

Mia bit back a snort of disgust. If there was anything she had learned in the last year, it was that mages never played anything straight. She was putting an awful lot of trust in what had been a one night stand with the powerful fifth level mage. “I have no doubts about exactly what Xin Li is. What I need to know is what I am, what I’ve become. And I know with complete certainty that I won’t last another year if I don’t get some answers from Xin Li before he disappears again.”

If she didn’t get on the good side of Lady Luck soon, she’d be lucky to last another week.


The employee access card Amanda slipped her, along with a spell of distraction, allowed Mia to slip unnoticed into the staff corridor. Quickly she followed familiar halls to the elevator bank, careful to use a repetition loop to disguise her presence on the security cameras. Her magic might still be mostly wild and dangerously unpredictable, but she had learned the basics of defense and deception the hard way – do, or die. So far she’d kept death at bay.

Minutes later, she stepped off the elevator onto the thirty fourth floor and stopped in front of the oversized closed door. Xin had been given the Jade Suite, one of the half dozen high roller accommodations the resort kept for its most preferred guests. Her stomach clenched at the memory of her only other visit to the room.

One year ago, during the Fourth Annual ParaPleasures Convention, she had done the unthinkable and allowed herself to be seduced by one of the guests. Or maybe she'd been the one doing the seducing. Either way her life as she'd known it had ended. One truly earth shaking night had changed her forever.

When she’d walked away from the baccarat table after her shift a year ago, she had thought nothing of her future. Caught up in the power of the moment, she had thrown every personal principle and DunVegas employee rule to the winds and jumped for what she’d thought would be a fleeting taste of paradise.

Instead, she had landed in a hellish world she’d never dreamed she would be a part of. A world where she was hunted for her power, where only her wits and a bit of luck had kept her ahead of the mages who would drain her of both life force and magic force and think nothing of it after the act was done.

Now Xin Li was back in Vegas. She had every intention of making sure he tasted a bit of her personal hell before this night was through. He had been her ticket down to the depths; because of him, she’d spent weeks walking the edge between sanity and dementia, afraid of every shadow. If Amanda hadn’t found her cowering in the DunVegas maze one desperate night she’d likely have ended up dead long ago.

Amanda had been hiding her from the power hungry mages that flocked to the city for months now. Slowly Mia had learned to hide her powers, even if she couldn’t quite master their use. Now Xin Li was going to give her back her life, or give her a damn good reason why he couldn’t.

Whatever Xin had done to change her, there had to be a way to fix it and make her normal again. Human again. Damn it, she couldn’t even get close enough to another mage to ask a basic question such as “Is it possible to get rid of these powers besides dying” without ending up running for her life. She’d never met such a greedy, grasping, murderous bunch before- and that was saying something, considering the vamps and death demons that used to literally haunt her table in the card room.

With one last check of her mental shields, she straightened her shoulders and took a deep, centering breath. Hand raised in the air to knock, Mia felt the brush of power as the double doors swung open before she could make the first touch.

Xin Li. He stood framed by the open doors. Tall and slender, his body was a lean mass of muscled perfection.

Gorgeous. Mia’s breath froze in her chest. For an instant, the memory of how that skin had tasted rushed through her senses, a haunting symphony of mouthwatering spice flavored by the slightly bitter tang of salt. Nothing had ever tasted so sweet on her tongue.

He was built like a runner, with not an ounce of fat to mar the sculpted lines of strength. Dressed in nothing more than a pair of black trousers that rested low on his hips, it was all too easy to picture the body beneath. The taunt skin of his abdomen teased Mia with its smooth hollows, and her fingers itched with the hunger to trace delicate lines across the silky surface.

She barely had the impression of shocked gray eyes before she heard the spell he whispered. Ganla draumela.

It hit the walls of her shields and passed through with the ease of a sword cutting through a silken veil. In the space of a heartbeat the world faded to black, leaving nothing but the taste of defeat and the fear of death to follow Mia into the darkness.
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