I’m taking you back to Vegas today. Not that you weren’t expecting it, right? I take you there every chance I get. I thought I’d take you there on a warm summer evening, and not to one of the better parts of town, but to someplace a lot more dangerous. My new Work In Progress, Buried Pleasures, follows the adventures of Samantha Black, a woman with a talent everyone is after. Samantha is not in Vegas for the glitz and the glam. Sam has come to get her friend, Evie Holt, out of a very bad situation, a task that could very well get her killed or worse. Enjoy the beginning of this paranormal romance!
He was the biggest damn dog Sam had ever seen, and she’d nearly jumped out of her skin when he slipped out of the growing evening gloom and rubbed up against her hip nudging the remains of her peanut butter sandwich with a cold nose. ‘Hey you! That’s my lunch.’ And her breakfast too, she thought. In fact it would be her last meal until she made enough in tips tonight to buy something else. The dog plopped down on his enormous haunches in front of her, effectively blocking further progress unless she wanted to wrestle him out of the way, which she figured was a losing proposition. He offered a small whine, and what she could have sworn was a smile. Then he licked his chops with an enormous pink tongue, the large golden eyes locked on her sandwich. If this hadn’t been Las Vegas, if she’d been in the wilds of Wyoming of Montana, she would have sworn the beast was a wolf instead of a dog, and that he was about to call out the rest of his pack to help him bring down dinner that involved a whole lot more than a partially eaten peanut butter sandwich. Though she figured said dinner would be a bit on the under-fed side at the moment. But the dog made no threatening moves. She’d seen him before, seen him dozing in the sun next to a homeless man who often settled in the shade near the storm tunnel.
Come to think of it though, it was the man who’d always drawn her attention rather than the dog. He was big enough and looked dangerous, big enough to be a woodsman with a wolf dog. But though it was more than his size that always drew her eye when she walked past the entrances to the tunnel, it wasn’t anything she could really put her finger on. She never looked directly at him, because for some really stupid reason, to do so felt dangerous. Besides, she always felt like he was watching her. Though he never was. If anything he seemed to be watching everything, like he was taking it all in. And she was a part of what he took in. Somehow just being in the man’s vicinity made her feel, well exposed – not like he was a stalking her, but like he knew her, like he could see her secrets. Like he could see everybody’s secrets. She shivered. This whole nasty situation with Darian Fox and Evie had left her suspicious and feeling as though there were threats around every corner. But then there were, weren’t there? Why couldn’t she make Evie see that?
Her stomach growled. The dog whined and licked his chops, and she was brought back to the present moment. Frankly she found the dog’s company the most pleasant she’d experienced since her reluctant arrival in Vegas. Christ! Had it really been two months ago? ‘Time flies when you’re having fun,’ she growled under her breath. She reached out and scratched the animal’s ruff feeling strangely comforted by the feel of thick fir. She wondered how he handled the heat in July and August. It hadn’t entered her mind that he could practically bite her whole arm of in lieu of the peanut butter sandwich if he chose too, though he seemed fairly well mannered at the moment. He’d never shown any inclination to be friendly to her, or any interest in her at all when she’d walked by here before, but then again, she’d not been eating a peanut butter sandwich before. Golden eyes shifted from the sandwich to her face and back. He whined again and offered her an open-mouthed yawn sporting teeth like daggers, then his tongue lolled out the side of his mouth in a relaxed, but attentive pant, and he inched closer, eyes still locked on the sandwich.
She sighed and her stomach growled again. ‘God I’m so gullible! But only with animals,’ she added as he inched his way closer. ‘People, I know better than to trust. Especially in Vegas.’ The dog cocked his head, as though he understood every word, and he very well might, she thought. ‘Well, I suppose I could stand to lose another few pounds.’ She tore a corner off the sandwich, and stuffed it in her mouth savoring the last of her very scant meal. Then, as the dog inched forward again, she handed him the rest of the sandwich. He took it from her almost daintily before it disappeared down his gullet in a single gulp. He offered another whine and a little woof of a bark. ‘Sorry Bud. There isn’t anymore,’ she said, stroking an enormous soft ear. ‘But if tips are good tonight, I’ll bring you a Big Mac tomorrow. How would that be?’
‘Leave off the special sauce if you do. It makes him fart, and I have to sleep with the mutt.’
With a little yelp of her own, she turned to find the dog’s master towering over her. She stepped back, in danger of falling on the dog, who gave an indignant woof, which she wasn’t sure was from her nearly landing on him or from his owner’s lack of discretion in discussing his digestion. Either way if the man hadn’t caught her by the arm with a large hand she would have flattened the poor pooch.
The man was big and rugged like the dog, she thought, as he slid an arm around her waist and pulled her away from the beast, swiftly enough that she realized with a start that he didn’t trust the dog with her. For a second she tensed and her skin prickled. But it wasn’t the dog she feared at all. She trusted him almost instantly and she knew the feeling was mutual, peanut butter or not. She wasn’t keen on being touched by people she knew well, let alone strangers, and this man made her knees weak from a distance, let alone up close and personal. Before she could panic, she was engulfed in the scent of juniper and wood smoke and dry desert heat. Perhaps it was the desire to sniff again that relaxed her, that made her forget that she could be in real danger, but before she had time to really consider her safety, he settled her onto her feet and stepped back. ‘Excuse me. I didn’t mean to startle you. It’s just that Gus isn’t usually great with people.’ The dog scooted forward and sniffed her fingers with a cool nose, then looked up at the man as though he wondered what the hell the problem was.
The man offered her a smile that made her stomach bottom and, for a tiny moment, made her feel like there was nothing solid beneath her feet. Then everything righted itself and settled around her again. ‘And Gus wasn’t expecting to be invited to lunch with such charming company,’ he said. ‘The mutt’s a bit of a mooch.’
The man wore faded fatigues –patched and threadbare in a couple of places – along with heavy-duty biker boots that were scuffed and well worn. But the clothes didn’t hang on him like clothes often did on the homeless people who sheltered here. He filled them out. In fact he filled them out way too nicely for a man with whom regular meals were not guaranteed.
‘I’m just glad he was happy with peanut butter and didn’t find it necessary to have a bit more protein with his meal.’ She wriggled her fingers, and the man chuckled, and held her gaze with startling eyes that were winter storm grey and not clouded by drugs – not that she would know much about that sort of thing. His hair was dark and mussed and the stubble on his face made him look tragic and romantic, if more than a little bit dangerous. She forced herself not to look away. ‘I’m sorry. I don’t have anything else.’ She flushed in a wave of embarrassment. ‘Believe me, I really don’t.’ She suddenly found herself fighting back tears and lowered her gaze. He had no idea, she thought. There wasn’t even any change left in the bottom of her bag. She’d rounded up all of that and the few pennies she found down behind the cushions of the couch to buy a loaf of bread and the peanut butter. Even if he decided to steal her bag, fat lot of good it would do him. Even the phone was a worthless pay as you go job with barely enough time on it to call 911 in an emergency. Truth was he could easily take from her whatever he wanted. He could even take her if he wanted, and there would be nothing she could do, certainly no one would miss her. She should have been scared, she supposed, after all she knew very well that the storm tunnels could be dangerous places, but she was just too damn tired to care. She could feel his gaze move over her. It made her feel giddy and flushed and … strangely naked, but not like he was leering, more like he could … well just like he could see things.
‘I know,’ he said softly. ‘I know what you have.’ He curled a finger beneath her chin and lifted her head so their eyes met again, and the prickle of her skin returned, but this time she felt as though she were suddenly bathed in champagne bubbles, suddenly falling into the storm blizzard depths of his eyes, suddenly unable to catch enough breath. ‘I have something for you, though.’ He stepped back, sliding his hand down her arm to curl his fingers around her wrist. Then just before the strength of his grip, the power it transmitted could panic her, he took her hand and folded something into her palm. Then he whispered against her ear, ‘Gus’ll be looking forward to his Big Mac.’
She blinked and caught her breath. Did he say that, or did she just imagine it. But he had already turned, given a soft whistle, and the dog followed him into the maw of the tunnel. She watched them for as long as her eyes could see shape and movement before the blackness swallowed them up. Then she looked down in her clenched fist and opened her fingers. There was just enough light left in the evening sky that she could make out the words Buried Pleasures engraved on both sides of a poker chip. How the hell did a homeless man get a poker chip from a place like that, she wondered. She turned it over in her hand a couple of times squinting in the low light, but it seemed genuine enough. Then she shrugged, dropped it in her bag and headed for the casino, picking up her pace so she wouldn’t be late for her shift. It was a helluva walk from her apartment to the 6 Spot, and she always tried to make it before it got too dark. Not only was it a long walk, but it took her through areas that were not the safest places for a stroll. On top of that, she was in danger of being late, thanks to her encounter with Gus and his owner. She’d made enough money busking yesterday to pay the rent, but not enough to put gas in the car.
She didn’t feel good about the busking. Vegas was way too small. It would be too easy for her to draw attention, and she especially didn’t want to draw Darian Fox’s attention again. On the other hand, she didn’t feel good about joining the homeless man and his dog in the tunnels if she got kicked out of her apartment either. If the city were bigger, another day, maybe two of busking and she’d have made enough money to give her at least a bit of a cushion, but she couldn’t risk it. Word got round, even when she downplayed her abilities, which she always did. Not for the first time she resented the hell out of Evie’s little rich girl naiveté, and not for the first time she wondered why she didn’t just call Evie’s father and let him come and sort her out. How the hell did she get mixed up in this mess to begin with? But she was expendable, right? She was a nobody, not an heiress wanting to thumb her nose at daddy by trying out life on the wild side.
She heaved a sigh and picked up her pace again. She was just feeling sorry for herself. She was just tired. Evie was her friend, and she knew damn well that if the shoe were on the other foot and she were the one acting like an idiot with Darian Fox, Evie would move heaven and hell to get her out of a bad situation.
She picked up her pace yet again, telling herself dryly that she would be able to take up competitive race walking if she went a few more days with no gas money. That would beat the hell out of her job as a cocktail waitress. True, it was a shit job, but right now beggars couldn’t be choosers. While she could make good money busking, even maybe find a job at a piano bar someplace, she knew that wasn’t safe, but she had to have some money if she were going to survive until she could get Evie away from that bastard, Fox. And that meant stuffing herself into the tiny spandex excuse for a uniform and letting the half-drunk partiers at the Black Jack tables ogle her while she delivered their watered-down drinks because, what were friends for, right?