Authors: Donna Augustine
Copyright © 2013
All rights reserved
. No part of this book may be reproduced.
This book is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the authors imagination and used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, people or places is entirely coincidental.
Strong Hold Publishing
ed by Express Editing Solutions
I was dealt pocket aces, an odd turn of luck considering how things had been going. I looked up and eyed the rest of the poker table at The Lacard Casino. I used to cocktail waitress in this very spot not long ago - the High rollers pit - where there were three types of players : the rich, the degenerate and the pro. While I stacked and restacked the chips in front of me, I sized up the other six people sitting at the table. Four rich and two degenerates, not a pro in sight; I could take down a nice pot with this hand if I played it cool.
A tingling in my skin made me turn around. I nearly jumped out of my seat when
I discovered someone was standing there, lurking. It didn't help that he looked like the Russian boxer from Rocky IV. Luckily, I knew this man, and he hadn't tried to shoot me in at least a couple of months. When he had shot me, it had been on Cormac's orders, our boss. Like I've mentioned, things have been a little rough of late.
's up Buzz?" I asked, more interested in what the older guy in the sunglasses was doing. Did he just rub his hand because it itched or because he had good cards and he was nervous?
"Need you for another shift." His words were stilted as he spoke, probably knowing what my reaction to them would be.
"I just finished less than twenty minutes ago." I turned back toward the table, and tried to ignore his presence. The old guy just did it again. Maybe he was setting up to bluff. I hadn't been here long enough to get a read on him. It was hard to concentrate with the breathing mountain casting a shadow over me, God he was a loud breather. I wouldn't look at him, still hoping he'd leave.
's sick," he said, now with a slight whine to his tone.
I wanted to remind him that we, Alchemists that is, didn
't get sick like regular people, but I couldn't say that. I had a whole table of human witnesses listening. It wouldn't matter, anyway. Kever was the king of calling out. There'd be some stupid reason his lazy butt couldn't get there. I ran my hand through my blond hair in frustration, losing a couple of strands to the cause. "Fine, but let me finish this round out."
I must have sounded a tad too eager, because just like that, all the other players at the table started to fold, even the old guy. He had been bluffing. "Forget it. I
'm coming now." I threw my cards face down on the felt and stood up.
I pulled down my skirt as I stretched out my legs. I liked to show a little skin when I played, it threw some of the guys off their game. I sighed at the waste of my outfit as I headed back across the crowded casino floor, through the jingle of slot machines with their siren
's song of booty to be had, toward the private elevator that would take me back to work.
It was a strange name to call what I was doing. If someone had told me a year ago that I would be operating a wormhole, I would have told them they had rocks in their head. I also would have conjured up an image of something glamorous and on the cutting edge of the latest science. Good thing I
'm not a betting girl. It isn't very glamorous at all.
Wait, strike that, I am a betting girl. Working in a casino, even if it
's in the super secret basement, sort of allows gambling to get under your skin. In fact, I won a few hundred off a whale playing Texas Hold'em yesterday. A whale is what we call the newbs that come to Vegas for the weekend and think they can hold their own. It's like taking candy from a baby. Normally I'd feel bad, but if they are staying here at The Lacard, they can afford the loss.
't really need the money either, since I get paid a pretty penny from Cormac to work my skills keeping this wormhole operating, but I'm saving up so that if I do decide to get out of this place, I can fall of the face of the Earth. I'm thinking of buying a Caribbean island somewhere. I'll have to if I want to get far enough away from Cormac to not be found. He's got some weird way of finding me wherever I go. I can't figure out how he does it, but it's a real downer.
's an Alchemist too, part of a group called The Keepers. I'm part alchemist on my paternal side, but I'm not one of them. If this were McDonald's, I'd be the fry girl and he'd own the chain. I just do what I have to do to get by. After all the stuff that has happened recently, I figure hanging out here might not be the worst idea - for a while, anyway.
And back to the Alchemist thing
; most people think of a chemist, or would if I could tell them. We aren't, and haven't been for a long time. As for what Alchemists really are? I'm half Alchemist and still don't have it completely worked out. The main gist of it is that our brains work in strange ways that make us heal quickly and I can alter physics with my mind. All I cared about was that my feet ached, and I wished it wasn't a huge secret because I could have used a union rep. I'd barely gotten a twenty minute break before I was called back to work a double. I'd gotten better shifts when I'd been a cocktail waitress.
I took the elevator down into the lowest depths of the basement, had my eyeball scanned
, and walked the long hallway that stretched out too far ahead to see to the room we used to open the wormhole. I thought to myself, as I passed by other Keepers in the cinder block and cement walkway, how amazing it was that the oddest things can become normal if you are exposed to them enough. If I had a reflector vest and a flag, you could've put me on street construction traffic, for all this fazed me. Yes, I was directing aliens, known as Fae and Werewolves to most civilians, in and out of different universes as opposed to cars, but it still felt old hat.
I opened the steel door and looked around the portal room
which was some two hundred feet below the ground and had a security system that would make the CIA envious. A row of computers lined one wall, and ebony stones towered on the side where I'd open the portal. I was flying solo tonight except for the occasional Keeper poking his head in to see the half-breed phenomenon at work. Some Keepers needed a little help getting the portal going, but not me. I think that's another reason they liked me on. Everybody else got the night off when I was running things. The ebony monoliths in the room helped, but I wasn't sure exactly how.
I hopped up onto a table and crossed my legs, admiring my new sexy boots that had
also gone to waste. There would always be tomorrow. I pushed my aggravation aside and reached inward, to the special spot inside of me that let me alter the physical universe, and started opening the portal. I watched the space where the wormhole would start to open glitter as the air in the room charged. The lavender sky soon peeked through the other end as I made the walls of the wormhole larger and larger, but I had to be careful. I occasionally gave it a bit too much juice and expanded it right into the walls of the room. In an area almost as large as a high school gymnasium, it was serious overkill. I didn't feel like hearing from Cormac about how he had to get the engineers back in and…blah blah blah. I told him I'd pay for it if I did it again, even though it wasn't the money that annoyed him, but the inconvenience. Have you priced out an island lately? They're pretty expensive. I really didn't want to pay for repairs, so no more fun on that scale.
There I was, sitting with this tunnel open, just gazing at its sparkling walls and the gigantic moon
at the other end. No one was there waiting on the other side; no Fae, no wolves.
So, I waited. They were probably running behind
schedule. I'm not sure what time zone it was over there.
I filed my nails, looked at the funny lead walls and waited some more.
Searched the internet on my phone, held the portal open and waited. I'm really good at multitasking.
Five hours later, leaned against the wall, phone dead with no charger, I heard the door open.
"Jo, Cormac said they bailed. You can shut it down," Dodd said.
I turned to look at
where Dodd stood at the door to the portal room. Dodd is Cormac's right hand. He's okay. He was dark haired, good looking and used it to its very fullest advantage. The staff of The Lacard often joked that the only reason anyone ever got fired or hired around here was to supply Dodd with variety. I didn't care how many girls he slept with. The only thing that bugged me was he had been there the night I'd been shot and hadn't done a damn thing to help. That really sticks in my craw.
've been holding this thing open for five hours. Five!" I held my hand up with my fingers outspread, just in case he was a little slow on math today. "He just realized it now?"
, kid," he said, but his face didn't look very sorry and the crinkling at his eyes portrayed an altogether different emotion.
"Sorry, yeah, you guys are good at throwing that word around." He knew exactly what I meant and the bastard smirked, giving up on any ruse of regret. "It
's still not funny. You're lucky I didn't scar." My hand instinctively ran over the spot on my scalp where the bullets had entered and been pushed back out by my body.
I collapsed the wormhole quickly. Even though I had been a slow starter, I was the strongest operator they had. Ever since I blew up the mountain
, a couple of months ago, I'd been able to open and close them easily. It didn't used to be like that. I used to suck. I still suck at a lot of other Alchemy things, like turning base metal into gold. I was hoping like hell I'd gotten the eternal youth thing worked out. Yes, I'm young and pretty, and I want to stay that way. But with the way our brains worked, you didn't really know for sure until you got old or didn't. Our subconscious has lots of control over how things work in our bodies and is really good at circumventing the normal human downfalls, but it is like being in a marriage where the two spouses didn't speak. I don't know what is for dinner until it is hot and in front of me. And that's if I am lucky. Some full blooded Alchemists age, and don't get any of the perks other than a claim to the blood line. Big whoop! You can't tell anyone about it anyway.
"Cormac wants to know if you
're staying here at the casino," he asked.
I gathered up my phone and purse from the room then turned back to him quick enough to catch his eyes on my butt.
"You can stop staring at my butt, and you can tell Cormac, that like every other night this past week, I will be going home to my trailer." I had initially been staying in the extra room in Cormac's penthouse but I felt I needed a sense of autonomy before his massive ego tried to run amok all over the independence I had left. His personality could bulldoze its way over most people and I refused to fall victim.
"You know what a pain in the ass this is for me?" he asked, as if I
were unaware of Cormac's controlling nature.
"Sorry," I said with a visible smirk. See how he liked it.
He rolled his eyes as he held the door for me.
"A car is waiting out the main entrance. Cormac said that none of the bus drivers will stop for you anymore
, so unless you want to walk?" He told my back as I walked down the hall.
I spun around and opened my mouth to speak but Dodd beat me to it.
"Really Jo? I know you're stubborn, but that's just stupid."
I was too exhausted to argue,
and the person I really wanted to argue with wasn't there. I turned, without another word, and made my way back upstairs to the grand entrance on the strip. I relented and took the car to my trailer.
What an odd sight
it made as I got out of a midnight black stretch limo. I'd never been embarrassed about being poor, but I was strangely awkward about showing up in a nice car? God, I had more issues than I even realized.
I climbed from the car before the driver could open the door, somehow thinking that would make it better. The driver got out anyway and tried to insist on escorting me to my door but I told him it wasn
't safe for him, slipped him a twenty and told him to get lost. I could tell he was about to start arguing but then someone screamed, "Hey, look, fresh meat!" from a couple of trailers over and he ran back to the safety of the car and sped away.
I felt all eyes on me
; nothing direct of course - I'd tussled with a couple of the people here and no one had the balls to take me on anymore - just some peripheral views and curious gaps in mini blinds. When are people going to realize that you can still see them looking through the gap?
'd made it ten steps before my awkwardness turned into irritation. "I'm a high class hooker! Are you all happy?" And just like that, everyone went back to their business. We had a few resident hookers, so my outburst satisfied their curiosity. All was right in their world again, mystery solved.
It was probably stupid to have qualified myself as a high class hooker. What? Am I too good for the street corner variety? I mean, if I
'm going to pretend I'm a hooker, I probably shouldn't put on airs.
I stopped thinking about it once I saw my oasis. No one else would look at my old run down trailer, with rusted spots on the paneling, and think
'oasis,' but to me it was a little chunk of peace in a chaotic world. After working for twenty hours straight at Micky C's, as I liked to call The Lacard, my bed was the only thing on my mind. A fleeting thought of what an ass Cormac was to put me on so many hours straight fluttered through my brain, right before sleep chased it away.