Category Archives: fiction

In Pursuit of Mr. Sands: Part 2 of a KDG Consortium Story

Happy Monday, my Lovelies! Last week I began a brand new tale for your Monday morning reading pleasure.  As I said,  I’ve been in pursuit of Mr. Sands for quite some time now, and somehow he always manages to elude me. And surprise me. Just recently he made another titillating appearance, only to lead me on a merry chase. I lost him in North Africa somewhere and ended up recovering in Delphi, where I met up with some unexpected acquaintances. (More on that to come. )Never mind. There are worse places to end up, and I’m sure Mr. Sands will raise his oh so fascinating head again when I least expect him.

But for now, let’s return to the inflight meal service on Mr. Sands’ redeye flight form JFK. This is the story of my first vicarious encounter with Mr. Sands. It is also an introduction to the equally intriguing PI, Elise North. I hope you enjoy her account.

If you missed the last instalment of Mr. Sands, catch up with this link.

 

 

In Pursuit of Mr. Sands Part 2: PTSD

There was no lingering over dinner in first class. Everyone fell asleep almost immediately after they’d eaten, and the attendants made themselves scarce. What I hadn’t expected was that as soon as everyone was asleep, Mr. Sands rose from his seat and walked among the passengers touching each of them lovingly. My plan had been to discretely remove myself to the lavatory as soon as dinner was over hoping that he’d think perhaps I had a friend or family member back in economy class and had gone back for a chat. I knew incubi liked to linger over their meals, but it wasn’t expressly necessary. At least that was what all the texts in the archives said. Since this was a transatlantic flight, Mr. Sands had plenty of time to enjoy his inflight dinner service. It was my plan to watch from just beyond the curtain. But when his tender ministrations, which had begun almost immediately, were interrupted by the unexpected appearance of the blonde flight attendant, I knew I’d have to go for plan B.

“Oh you’ve begun already.” The attendant’s voice was a squeaky whisper. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

His response was to take her face in his hands and kiss her. I’ve felt the magic of seduction many times, from demigods, vampires, even demons, and it always slides right over me like oil over water. Mr. Sands’ magic was no different. I could feel it swirling around me unable to touch me. So I can only attribute the arousal I was feeling to his genuine skill as a lover well versed in the art of seduction, which was something different altogether wasn’t it?

He didn’t simply take what he wanted and send her away. He tasted and tested and teased her mouth like she was the best dessert he’d ever had, and she responded as though the kiss was the best fuck she’d ever had. With a deep intake of breath, he released her. She gave a little sigh then turned and walked away shutting the curtain behind her as though nothing had happened. The whole act had taken only seconds, and yet within those few seconds, Mr. Sands had somehow woven a complete, sizzling night of sex. I was intrigued. Perhaps shocked would be a better word. I realized I would have to guard myself carefully because sex, even ordinary sex, is its own magic, magic I thought I’d been immune to. Since Dru’s death, even the thought of sex ended with me shivering on the floor and whimpering. PTSD is a bastard. Well, any shivering I was doing now had nothing to do with PTSD or demons. I was definitely feeling the love, and while my therapist would have called it a major breakthrough to feel any kind of arousal, now was not exactly the best time.

Not only was I still in danger of being found out, but I was in danger of falling victim to my own arousal and becoming distracted, something I promised Magda Gardener would not be a problem for me. All I could do was pretend to be asleep and watch through a sliver of vision while one by one he kissed each person in first class, as though he sought something out. Each one of them writhed and moaned and sighed in his kiss as though they desperately hoped he’d find that something in them. Still, I sensed that same hint of fear I had with the attendants. The mix of fear and lust is such an intriguing blend. I slammed that door shut in my head immediately. I wanted no fear with my lust. I wanted neither. I wanted simply to watch objectively and when the time came return my report to Magda Gardener and collect my paycheck.

When he came to me, I felt that cold clench of terror, laughing demon eyes burning into me, eyes that had been Dru’s, eyes I loved. It took all the control I had not to shove up from my seat and lock myself in the bathroom in a wave of nausea and clammy sweat. I was on a job, for fuck sake! I was no coward. I could do this. I forced down the nausea. There was nothing I could do about the cold sweat, but I did my best to pretend to be asleep. Meditation technics! I tried to remember the meditation technics that my therapist had taught me when I needed to work through a panic attack, but nothing. I could think of nothing other than the incubus whose feet made a soft schuss schuss on the carpet.

Count backwards from ten. Finally the words from the meditation slammed into my brain. Breath in the fresh sea air, listen to the gulls calling overhead. And then I felt his closeness, felt the humidity of his breath against my lips. When he cupped my cheek with a large palm, when he mantled me with the heat of his body and all but pulled me into his arms, for a terrifying moment, I was sure if I opened my eyes, he would look back at me through a demon’s gaze. I might have whimpered and shivered, but then so did everyone. They were afraid too, I reminded myself.

Still, I was working, and I needed a clear head. As he leaned in so close I could taste the nutmeg and coffee of his breath, the kiss I expected didn’t come. Instead, his warm lips moved against my earlobe, his tongue snaking out to trace the seashell shape and he breathed into my ear. “Such a rare treasure you are.” Another kiss to my ear. “But sadly, one of no use to me right now. Too bad, really. You and I could have had such fun together.” His hand snaked down my neck, skimming my ribs to rest low on my hip, and just like that, my terror vanished. I opened my eyes to his stormy sea gaze. “I have no objection to a bit of exhibitionism. I promise I’ll make it good for you.” He bit my earlobe gently and gave it a tug between his teeth. “But don’t get in my way.” His last words the low warning growl of a predator.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed at knowing I was one appetizer he wouldn’t get. One of the downsides of my little gift is that I never actually experienced the magic that I can see and sense and watch going on all around me. Though to be honest, most of the time, that’s not a downside at all. Most of the time that saves my life. In this case, however, I was more of a voyeur than Mr. Sands knew, and my body was again assuring me that I would very much enjoy this show. He settled me back in my seat, blew me a kiss over his shoulder and walked away with a soft chortle, turning his attention to the blonde who was to be his main course.

My job often requires me to do unpleasant things. I do the work even the best PI wouldn’t touch with a barge pole. In fact, most would laugh my clients out the door if they were approached with such cases. It’s just as well really. It keeps them safe. Me, I don’t laugh. I never laugh. I know it’s no laughing matter. That’s why my rates are so high.

I took the job for Magda Gardener mostly out of curiosity. I expected it to be far more interesting than dangerous, and Magda Gardener paid on time, always with a bonus for work well done. I’d never encountered an incubus before, and while I knew they could be dangerous, I didn’t expect my presence would attract much attention since they could get nothing from me, and I was no threat to Mr. Sands’ little red-eye feast.

I’d had a proper invite to the show, so I watch unhindered. I observed what appeared to be nothing more than him laying one hand low on the woman’s belly while he breathed in her breath in a deep lingering kiss. But I knew by the mink and expensive whisky feel of magic swirling around me, it was so much more than that. No one else could have seen as I did. Anyone else would have been drawn into the experience, a vicarious little nibble on the side, if you will. Or, he could have simply rendered them oblivious, as the rest of first class now was. Me, I remained unaffected. At least by his magic. But I was well aware that Mr. Sands was not only getting what he needed, he was making sure I did too. Perhaps it was about more than just feeding for the man. As I struggled not to squirm in my seat, I couldn’t help wondering if he had any idea how happy he’d just made my therapist.

 

In Pursuit of Mr. Sands: Part 1 of a KDG Consortium Story

Happy Monday, my Lovelies! After last week’s final instalment of The Bet, I didn’t want to leave you bereft of a bit of Monday morning reading candy.  I’ve been in pursuit of Mr. Sands for quite some time now, and somehow he always manages to elude me. Just recently he made another titillating appearance, only to lead me on a merry chase. I lost him in North Africa somewhere and ended up recovering in Delphi, where I met up with some unexpected acquaintances. (More on that to come. )Never mind. There are worse places to end up, and I’m sure Mr. Sands will raise his oh so fascinating head again when I least expect him.

But for now, this is the story of my first vicarious encounter with Mr. Sands. It is also an introduction to the equally intriguing PI, Elise North. I hope you enjoy her account.

 

 

In Pursuit of Mr. Sands Part 1: Choosing an Inflight Meal

I followed him at a safe distance. He was fast tracked through passport control at Heathrow, as was I, and neither of us had luggage. He was my job. I wasn’t about to lose him. Once through customs and in the arrivals hall, he made his way to the first class lounge, where he got himself a coffee, and I did the same, discreetly watching him watch the woman who was ushered in by one of the first class flight attendants, who settled her into a booth and ordered her up a full English breakfast. The woman looked dazed, and her hands shook with her first bite of food.

She had good reason to be shaky, and she had good reason to be half-starved. I knew exactly what the attendant was explaining to her in hushed whispers, and so did he. He was the reason for her weakened condition. The flight attendant knew that and so did I. The thing is no one knew that I knew.

My name is Elise North. I’m a PI. At least that’s what Magda Gardener calls me, and that’s what my business card says – the one I almost never hand out. Most of the time I work under cover, and my ID changes with the job. I don’t carry a gun. It would hardly do me any good with my clients. I work on cases that need a delicate hand. I do, however, own a silver-tipped stake … more of a stiletto actually, but I know how to use it. I’m athletic, I’m fast and well trained in martial arts because, in a field as specialized as mine, if things ever go south, about the best I can hope for is to escape and run like hell. None of those skills, however, are the reason Magda Gardener hired me. I have other gifts, gifts that in the kinds of circles Magda and her people run in, are highly coveted.

Those particular gifts are the reason I was just off the night flight from New York’s JFK to London Heathrow after paying an enormous sum of money to sit across from Daniel Emerson Sands in first class. Before we were even off the runway at JFK, all the flight attendants made time to pay the man homage. A big name celebrity couldn’t have drawn more solicitous, yet quiet attention. Each one, whether male or female, approached him with a fan girl flutter of excitement. I observed the flush in the cheeks, the quickening of the pulse in throats, in temples, the moistening of lips with a flick of the tongue, the acceleration in the breath.

He kissed the fingers of the female attendants, so delicately caught up in his strong grip. Each of the male attendants he offered a warm handshake, then a clasp of the shoulder as they bent forward, almost as though they were about to share a secret … or a kiss. It came as no surprise to me that each attendant responded with a little gasp and then a grunt and a shudder of the body that would have been almost undetectable to someone less observant. Neither did it come as a surprise that with each encounter, Daniel Sands inhaled deeply and sighed as though he had just past a bakery with an open door. What also came as no surprise, and yet I still found disturbing, was the frisson of fear that accompanied the ritual. Each attendant came to Sands eager and willing, but fear was as much a part of the formula as lust. They all knew what he was. If they didn’t, he couldn’t do what he does on this flight … repeatedly.

While we taxied and took off, Daniel Sands sat quietly perusing a complimentary copy of The New York Times as though he were any other passenger in transit just wanting the journey to be over with and to arrive safely at his destination. But I knew better. I’ve known better since Magda Gardener assigned me to follow him, to learn all about him that I could. But even without the information she had given me on the man, I would have known exactly what he was the second I sat down across from him. Daniel Emerson Sands is an incubus, a particularly powerful one, and one Magda Gardener has set her eyes on. It’s a very dangerous thing to have Magda Gardener sets her eyes on you. Mr. Sands had no idea he was up against a master huntress. All he wanted was his special in-flight meal service.

The flight attendants and the woman at check-in, and all the others that Sands had contact with before boarding, they were nothing more than nibbles, appetisers, if you will. There were only seven of us in first class, but just one would be his chosen main course. As with all his inflight meals, she was upgraded from economy. I stood behind her in the line at check-in, I watched while Mr. Sands subtly bumped into her all apologetic for being so careless. I watched the way he rested a solicitous hand at the small of her back to steady her so she wouldn’t fall. I watched the way he smiled at her. I watched, and I knew from my research, that she was the one, that she would have a visit in the dream world she’d be very unlikely to forget. And she would wake up weakened and confused. But oh, the dreams. She would revisit the dreams for the rest of her life.

 

The Bet Part 5: Last Instalment of a KDG Scribe Story

Hi my Lovelies! And welcome to the fifth and final instalment of  The Bet, which is one of several in a series of Scribe stories that I’ll be sharing within the next few months. The Bet is set in an exclusive Vegas casino that deals in very unusual bets. Our boy Michael is about to learn the hard way that the lines between winning and losing are not always as clear-cut as they seem.

As you’re reading The Bet, I invite you to guess the identities of Magda and Mr. Graves, who owns buried pleasures. Enjoy the story.

If you missed last week’s instalment of The Bet, you can catch up here:  https://kdgrace.co.uk/blog/the-bet-part-4-a-kdg-scribe-story/

If you’ve just arrived at my blog and have missed the earlier episodes of The Bet,  you can find the beginning here: https://kdgrace.co.uk/blog/the-bet-a-kdg-scribe-story/

 

 

The Bet Part 5: When the Time Comes I’ll Remind You

“Yes. He comes for everyone.” She smiled up at Graves. “But more than likely when it’s your time he’ll just invite you back to Buried Pleasures for one last bet before you take the boat across the river.”

“The boat across the river.”

“A bit more elegant than being shoved in a hole in the ground to rot, don’t you think?”

“And my innocence? How can I possibly give you that?”

“You already have, Michael. If you’re lucky the symptoms will come upon you gradually, but occasionally, they can all come at once and thoroughly kick you in the ass, like a really bad case of the flu, only worse.”

“I’ve never had the flu,” he said.

“Something else to look forward to then, I suppose.”

There had never been much color in Michael’s face, but what little there was leached away with each passing second. The face that had somehow seemed carved from warm alabaster now was no less beautiful, but showed signs of exhaustion, regret, understanding even, all overlaid by bone-crushing fear. No help was coming from above, of that he was certain. What he would never again be certain of was whether there would be retribution. But then that was part of the human condition as well, wasn’t it? He stared down at his hands. “I don’t feel so well. Do you think I’m getting the flu already?”

“It’s just human frailty, Michael. Don’t worry. You’ll get used to it.”

“Is it always like this?”

“I suspect so, but then I’ve never been human, so I can only guess.”

That didn’t seem to surprise him too much. “Are you like, his angel?” he asked nodding up to Graves.

She smiled. “Interesting thought, but no. I suppose you could say I’m here to collect debts.”

“ And Mr. Graves owes you?”

“Not Graves so much. His brother does, though, big time.”

“But I don’t owe anything,” he said, looking back down at his hands.

“Oh you will. Eventually you will.” She leaned forward, very close to him, the tresses of her hair slithering and writhing. For the first time, she allowed him to see her true form, but she kept the glasses pressed tightly against the bridge of her nose. With his immortality laid aside, he was now so very fragile. She didn’t want to hurt him. She was not his enemy. In fact, she was just what he would need one day. She spoke softly, a near whisper against his ear, only a breath away from the desperate hammering of his pulse setting a cadence, which she felt up through her spine. The life force there was so sweet, so finite, exposed as it had never been before. “When that time comes, when you’re wondering how you’ll ever pay those debts, you’ll be needing an ally.”

It spoke of how frightened he already was that her little reveal elicited only a raised eyebrow and a catch of breath, recognition of what shouldn’t exist. But then what shouldn’t exist could hardly be much of a challenge for an ex angel.

“So now you’ll kill me, was that the plan all along?” He asked watching her hair warily.

“Of course that’s not the plan.” She didn’t bother to tell him what the plan was, and when he didn’t ask, she figured he had enough to take onboard at the moment. Shock made everything else fuzzy and distant, that much she remembered very well. It offered comfort in the cataclysm of change, always the place where one longed to linger when faced with the true consequences of loss and anguish. It would depart far sooner than he’d be ready. She was happy to let him linger awhile. It wouldn’t hurt.

He sat looking like a man who was lost, which was exactly what he was. “What do I do now?” he asked at last.

She shrugged. Now wasn’t really her concern. “Go home to your lover, I suppose. It’s up to you. Do whatever you want.”

When he still didn’t move, she asked, “do you have a place to stay? Is your lover in Vegas with you?”

He looked up at her as though he’d only just realized she was there, and didn’t know what to make of her. Oh he was an impetuous lad, she thought.

“Your lover doesn’t know that you’ve done this?”

He blinked as though the light in the casino had become too much for his eyes. “No, I’m here alone. All alone.”

“But you did this with your lover in mind?”

He only nodded, still blinking.

“What a nice surprise it’ll be then.”

When the thundering of his pulse grew to a rapid staccato, she said softly. “At least you hope it will be.”

He swallowed hard, as though he were trying not to vomit.

“Can I drop you at your hotel, maybe?” She asked.

“Hotel? I didn’t think about that. I flew here.”

“With your angel wings, yes I know, and now you can’t get back without a plane ticket or a car. I suppose you don’t drive though, do you?”

His lack of response was response enough. Shell shock didn’t begin to cover it, she was certain. Knocking over a teetering stack of chips, she reached out and stroked his arm. “Who you are now depends entirely on you and your decisions, Michael. Well, that and everything that happens to you from now on. Loss of innocence is as much about having no one who can protect you or make decisions for you as it is about being naked. It’s all up to you.” She lifted her head toward the ceiling. “No more control from upstairs.”

When his breathing became so rapid that she feared he’d hyperventilate, she shoved several stacks of chips in his direction. “Here, This’ll pay for a hotel room for a couple of nights, some clothes that halfway fit and a plane ticket back to wherever your lover is. Then you can make a plan, get a job, get used to your new life.”

When the only movement was still the jerking of his pulse, she stood and offered him her hand. “Come on, I’ll help you get settled in, help you learn the ropes.”

“Thank you. I didn’t think. I didn’t have a plan. I guess … I thought it would be different somehow.” His voice trailed off and his hand, clenched tightly around hers, was icy cold.

“It’s all right. One can hardly know what to expect at times like these.” She motioned him toward the exit. “Transitions are never easy.” As they turned to leave, she caught Jack Graves’ eye and gave him a nod, which he returned with a slight inclination of his head. “You’ve got a steep learning curve ahead of you, Michael, but you’ll be all right. Don’t worry.”

“Thank you.” His reply was slightly breathless. “I won’t forget how you helped me.”

She offered him an easy half smile and allowed the glasses to slip ever so slightly. “Of course you’ll forget. But don’t you worry, when the time comes, I’ll remind you.”

The Bet Part 4: A KDG Scribe Story

Hi my Lovelies! And welcome to the Fourth instalment of  The Bet, which is one of several in a series of Scribe stories that I’ll be sharing within the next few months. The Bet is set in an exclusive Vegas casino that deals in very unusual bets. Our boy Michael is about to learn the hard way that the lines between winning and losing are not always as clear-cut as they seem.

As you’re reading The Bet, I invite you to guess the identities of Magda and Mr. Graves, who owns buried pleasures. Enjoy the story.

If you missed last week’s instalment of The Bet, you can catch up here: https://kdgrace.co.uk/blog/the-bet-part-3-a-kdg-scribe-story/

If you’ve just arrived at my blog and have missed the earlier episodes of The Bet,  you can find the beginning here: https://kdgrace.co.uk/blog/the-bet-a-kdg-scribe-story/

 

 

The Bet Part 4: If You Lose, You Get What You Came For

He blinked, then blinked again. “What? You think because of what I am, I’m innocent?”

“Oh I know you are.”

This time, he did look away, but not before she saw the desperation drawn tight across his face. When he spoke it was little more than a whisper. Anyone else might have missed it, but Magda never missed anything. “I have a lover, and it’s … well it’s complicated.” He drew a shaky breath and struggled to meet her gaze again. “I’m … I have no innocence to bet.”

She managed not to laugh this time. She understood innocence well enough to be just a little bit empathetic, but she would allow herself only that little bit. Empathy was not her strong suit. She tried hard not to sound condescending, not when this was the moment she’d been waiting for, the moment that the true wager would happen. “You think having a lover, having sex means you’re not innocent? The leaving of Eden wasn’t predicated upon two people having sex, was it?”

When he didn’t answer, she continued. “Being naked and understanding that we really are naked and alone in our own skin, that’s what leaving Eden is all about, and you, my dear Michael, are nowhere near naked yet.”

“What about you?” He raked her with a look that was anything but sexual, and yet he blushed. “You’re not naked, are you?”

She finished the whisky in a quick gulp and ordered another with a nod of her head. “I cover myself, like all of us who were forced from Eden, hoping no one will notice just how naked I really am. Though I probably needn’t worry. Everyone else is too concerned about covering their own nakedness to notice mine.”

The fine muscles along his jaw tensed and relaxed. He clenched a fist on the top of the table. “And you want to see me naked?”

“It isn’t about me seeing you naked. It’s about you seeing yourself that way. You waltz in here out-glitzing a Vegas showgirl all clothed in your shiny immortality and the protection of your maker and expect to get what you want by just losing a few hands of poker.” When he opened his mouth to protest, she pointed to her Ray-Bans. “Oh I see a lot more than most, Michael, and the owner of this place, well if anything he sees even more than I do. Hell, you might as well have your maker’s signature stamped across your forehead. You’re not fooling anyone but yourself, and the gods, well they like it that way just fine. But if you want to play the game in Buried Pleasures, you place your bet. Otherwise, don’t waste my time.”

He sat for a long moment studying her as though she were trying to trick him. He needn’t have worried. There were no tricks at Buried Pleasures, and everyone there ended up as naked and exposed as everyone else. Well, everyone but her and Jack Graves, but they’d both paid their dues a long time ago. They both knew that the breath of eternity blowing in your face always smells of death.

“And if I lose?” His gaze darted from her to the deck of sealed cards then to Graves standing with his arms crossed looking down on them from the mezzanine.

“If you lose, you get what you came for.” She nodded up to Graves. “He’ll sort the details with your maker and then you’re all his.”

“Wait a minute.” Michael shot another glance at Graves. “He’s not …”

This time she didn’t even try not to laugh. “Of course he’s not Satan. Granted, I suppose the storm tunnels might be mistaken for hell, what with the scorpions and the rats, but it suits Graves. He’s the only one who deals in mortality, and that is what you want, isn’t it, to be finite, to have a beginning and an end, to be a real boy?”

He bit his lower lip and gave a barely perceptible nod. Then he glanced over at the dealer as though he were afraid she might rat him out to his boss. Magda couldn’t help feeling a little sorry for him.

“Then trust me, this is the only place you have any chance of that happening. You are sure that’s what you want?” She quirked her head to the dealer, who gave him a questioning look.

“More than I’ve ever wanted anything,” he whispered blinking back emotion.

“And consequences be damned?”

He nodded his response as though he had suddenly lost the power of speech. Then he motioned to the dealer. She opened the deck and shuffled. Michael carefully took each card dealt him as though he feared one of them might explode. She watched him rather than her own cards. The last few seconds of eternity was something she’d never seen on anyone’s face before. While this might have been exactly what Michael had wanted, she could almost taste his fear. Before he could turn over his last card, she placed her hand over his. “It’s not too late to change your mind. I’ll completely understand if you want to back out, and so will Mr. Graves.”

“I won’t … change my mind.” He tried to pull his hand free, but she held it. “Once it’s done, it’s done. There’s no going back. You know that?”

“I understand.” He took a deep breath and pulled free.

It only took one hand. One hand and the angel, Michael, lost spectacularly. Then Magda sat back and watched him change. Oh there were no feathers dropping to the floor from the wings that no one could see, no tinkle of a golden halo hitting the marble beside his chair. There was no crash of thunder or strike of lightening, no roaring voice from heaven and no flaming sword guarding the way back to paradise. His hands shook a little as he pushed the mountain of chips to Magda’s side of the table. He sank back into his chair in a motion that was more one of a weight settling than a weight being lifted. Magda knew the difference very well. A thin sheen of sweat broke on his high forehead and slowly his attention shifted to Graves, who only smiled down at him and lifted a glass in salute. At last he found his voice. “He’ll come for me now?”

 

The Bet Part 3: A KDG Scribe Story

Hi my Lovelies! And welcome to the third instalment of  The Bet, which is one of several in a series of Scribe stories. The Bet is set in an exclusive Vegas casino that deals in very unusual bets. Our boy Michael is about to learn the hard way that the lines between winning and losing are not always as clear-cut as they seem.

As you’re reading The Bet, I invite you to guess the identities of Magda and Mr. Graves, who owns buried pleasures. Enjoy the story.

If you missed last week’s instalment of The Bet, you can catch up here: https://kdgrace.co.uk/blog/the-bet-part-2-a-kdg-scribe-story/

 

The Bet Part 3: What I Want is Your Innocence

“Look Michael,” she scooted back to her chair and examined her manicure, “what I’ve lost, it’s no big deal to me. For me this really is just a game, something I do for entertainment when I’m bored. The owner and I are old friends, so from time to time he allows me play with the guests.” She nodded to the bustle of the casino awash in the bells of slot machines and the hiss and flutter of cards all muffled in the mutter and buzz of the guests. “There are plenty of other people I could play with, some even more desperate than you are, which makes the game all the more intriguing.” She patted the back of his hand, “Or perhaps I’ll just go out and enjoy Vegas. Unlike you, I find the city fascinating. So if you want me to keep playing, you’ll have to make it worth my while.”

He licked his lips and blew out a heavy breath in a gesture she’d have expected from a desperate loser, not a winner. Then he glanced around as though he expected to find a solution to his problems in some other part of the casino he’d not yet been to. “This is all I have. I don’t own anything else.”

This time she didn’t even try to disguise the predator within. She tossed back the rest of her champagne and ignored the ribbon from her hair as it slid off onto the floor. Then she slapped down the glass, her gaze never leaving his. She had to hand it to him, he didn’t look away. He didn’t even flinch. “Oh I know you don’t own anything. But that,” she waved a hand over the pile of chips, “that’s not all you have. Come on Michael, use your imagination, entice me.”

The colour rose to his pale face, and he sputtered. “What, you mean like … sex?”

She rolled her eyes, a gesture he missed what with her glasses in the way. “I said use your imagination.” She made a point of looking him over until he squirmed and blushed like an adolescent. Then she inhaled the hot iron scent of his nervousness, of his desperation, a scent so familiar in the plush halls of Buried Pleasures, a scent ever present in spite of all the perfume and deodorant and shower gel attempts to make the losing and the winning more comfortable. But on Michael, the smell of desperation was mouthwatering with its added sharp edged, thunderstorm bouquet stimulated by a new experience with which he wasn’t at all comfortable. “While you are pretty easy on the eye, I have no way of knowing how good you are in bed, and frankly, I don’t have to gamble for good sex if I want it. Besides, don’t you think that’s a bit cliché?”

He blushed even harder.

“Look, you wouldn’t be in Buried Pleasures if you weren’t desperate, if you weren’t willing to risk everything, and this,” another wave at the table, “you being my sex slave, none of that has anything to do with what you came here for, or what you’ve got to lose. So come on, Michael, make it worth my while or I’ll find someone who will.”

“I’ll bet my wings.” He blurted out, and then quickly glanced around to make sure no one was listening. No one was. In Buried Pleasures, no one cared.

This time Magda laughed outright. “Your wings? Seriously.”

“Yes! My wings.” He glanced around again and then leaned far over the table speaking between barely parted lips. “I know you may not believe it, but I’m –”

She all but snorted as a cocktail waitress delivered her a whisky and one for Michael, which he hadn’t ordered. “I know what you are, and so does he.” She nodded back to the owner. “Frankly, I’m a little surprised he let you in at all. He’s a live and let live sort of guy, Mr. Graves, and he usually doesn’t poach on anyone else’s territory.”

“What? Is he afraid God will strike him dead?”

She huffed out a laugh. “The gods don’t worry him much. But still, he doesn’t like to ruffle feathers if he can avoid it. He plays the long game, you know.”

“Well then if he knows what I am, and if he has no problem with it …”

She waved a dismissive hand. “Honestly, Michael, what the hell am I going to do with your wings? Sell them on eBay?”

His face reddened again. “I was thinking more along the line of Sotheby’s.”

“Oh please! You think some trophy hunter is going to mount them on the wall? Oh you are big game, I suppose. But angels giving up their wings is at least as cliché as people betting their bodies for sex in Vegas casinos. Wings are nothing. Wings don’t make you who you are. Wings are just the cherry on the top.”

This time he buried his face in his hands and shook his head. She waited for it, waited as though she had all the time in the world. At last, he squared his shoulders in the too tight jacked, sucked in a heavy breath and met her gaze, way better than most would have. She liked that about him. “All right. Then you tell me. What do you want?”

She leaned in toward those stunning blue eyes, letting the Ray-Bans slip again and the hair fall in a mad cascade all but brushing the pile of chips. She leaned forward until he squirmed in his little chair and grabbed onto the table with a crushing grip, but he didn’t look away. “Unlike Mr. Graves, I don’t mind poaching at all. What I want, Michael, is you’re innocence. If I win, it’s mine. If I lose, you go back to where you belong and accept your fate.”