Fifty years ago, Jeannie Williams made her way to Las Vegas seeking fame and fortune. Instead, she lost her soul and wound up strapping on feathers, glitter, and stilettos, performing nightly shows at the Arcana Royale Casino. Every day, it’s the same.
Until the day he walks in.
For six centuries, Malcolm Reynolds has been the go-to guy for anything his family needs: warrior, diplomat, wrangler, researcher, and now an attorney. He enters the Arcana Royale, intent on negotiating the release of his cousin’s bad debt, but one look at the golden-skinned showgirl ignites a fire of need that he’s never experienced.
Now he’s in for the toughest battle of his life, because the Overseers own both his cousin’s debt and her soul. And he’s not planning on leaving the Royale without either one.
Each story in The Tales of the Arcana Royale Series is standalone story that can be enjoyed in any order.
Book #1: The Legal Vampire's Golden Goddess
Book #2: The White Tiger Shifter's Wild Amazon
Book #3: The Vampire Prince's Missing Mistress
Book #4: The Witchborn Detective's Porcelain Prisoner
Book #5: The Greek Hero's Lost Librarian
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Read an Excerpt
Malcolm Reynolds took the blood-flavored soda water from the waitress, carefully avoiding the gold dusting her fingers. The succubus-turned-waitress trailed invitational dust across the tabletop. The scent of amber essence mingled with the earthy, calming fragrance of rare vetiver. The waitress's whiskey-colored eyes beckoned to him. Malcolm hid his smirk behind another drink. The aromas might have distracted younger blood than his. The succubus's primary scent was designed to enhance tantric pleasure and ease tension and anxiety.
The succubus was the ideal waitress in one of Arcana Royale's many exotic lounges, but Malcolm was not here to have his tension and anxiety eased by the bliss she offered.
"Have the Overseers consented to my audience?" He kept his tone lazy and relaxed. His family held considerable influence, but the Overseers of the Arcana Royale answered to no one. If Frederick had not reached out to his mother, it could have been decades before they learned of his fate.
The call had roused Malcolm from a well-deserved sleep in the middle of a European day. His aunt was frantic. Las Vegas's reigning prince issued the writ directly to New York's prince who then passed the word to the Reynolds family. Frederick Reynolds would serve out the terms of his debt to the Overseers for a period to not exceed three hundred years.
Malcolm sighed into the blood. Frederick was into the Arcana Royale for over one million dollars. Aunt Ruth begged Malcolm to fetch Frederick away from his foolishness. The boy was barely a century old, but it was hardly the first time he needed to rescue his cousin.
"They are considering your request, Mr. Reynolds." The waitress's lips promised sex, sin and splendor that his soul probably couldn't afford. From her flaming tresses to her diamond-tipped heels and the acres of golden skin in between, she was a sensuous trap.
Malcolm lifted his glass in quiet salute. The opening gambit was played. He would wait, patiently, as needed. The waitress dipped her lashes, the aroma of earth and amber flooding the air around him. Malcolm didn't wave his hand, but he did let coldness seep into his expression.
The teasing wanton in her gaze fled. At five hundred, Malcolm remembered well the days of hunting for a meal. He could twist her seduction, or she could walk away. He watched her appraise the warning in his eyes and allowed himself the faintest of smiles when she turned away.
Malcolm ignored her as she strutted away, refusing to be enticed or distracted by the roll of her hips. Instead, he studied his surroundings.
This was not his first trip to the Royale. He'd come to the opening night with Frederick's father. They'd gotten drunk on bloody vodkas and aperitifs.
The Midnight Mystery Lounge was not familiar, but the tiered audience, secluded tables and stage set-up promised a show — another distraction. The Overseers knew the purpose of his request. He was seeking to settle Frederick's debt and have him released from whatever servitude they were planning. He'd promised Aunt Ruth. His uncle remained silent on the matter, but Uncle Matthias was not one to beg. He was tired of the rescue gambit. If Frederick dug his own grave, then he should have to lie in it.
Malcolm typically agreed with Uncle Matthias's sentiments, particularly where the younger and more arrogant of their kin were concerned, but Ruth was his favorite aunt. He couldn't say no to her. Malcolm Reynolds served his family in every capacity for over five centuries, from politician to diplomat to spy to courier. Since their relocation to New Amsterdam in the early 1700s, he'd undertaken the study and the framing of law.
The prospect that Frederick's servitude would be unimpeachable only whet Malcolm's desire for the challenge.
Every table boasted two to three bodies, warm and cold alike. Vampires, werewolves, witches, sorcerers and even a few demons were scattered among the warm-blooded humans. Some were here for food, some for the spectacle, and some wouldn't be going home.
But that wasn't Malcolm's problem. That was a worry for Andrew, Las Vegas's prince. Malcolm leaned back, turning the glass idly in one hand, and waited for the show to begin.
The overhead lights dimmed as though on cue. An expectant hush blanketed the darkness, relieved only by the flickering of carefully placed candles.
A lone spotlight pooled in the center of the stage, wisps of fog and smoke wafting through the long column of light. The music was subtle, a tease to the more sensitive ears of the crowd. A rhythmic pulse.
Malcolm leaned forward, excitement stealing through his gut. The sensation, so unfamiliar, trailed unease in its wake.
The heartbeats grew louder.
The raw double-bump and whoosh of blood thrumming through veins aroused his predatory instincts. Nothing on the stage moved.
A rustle of motion in the pregnant pause held him in its sway. Dancers taking their places.
A ferric scent sprinkled with a hint of jasmine caressed his senses. His fangs dropped a fraction, a young man's reaction. The outside world faded from existence as a shimmering mirage glided into the light.
Slender, blonde and beautiful like a goddess of sand and snow, she wore a costume dripping with sapphires, glittering gems that caressed golden skin and glowed against the platinum of her hair. From each wrist dripped real foxtails, and upon her head sat a crown of diamonds, sapphires and feathers.
"Ladies and gentlemen, the Arcana Royale and the Midnight Mystery Lounge present Pandora!"
From beneath lashes edged in diamond dust, emerald eyes locked with his. Sound and light exploded as the goddess of snow and sand began to dance. He drank in every motion. Her legs kicked. Her pelvis thrust. Her arms reached up toward the sky.
He was mesmerized.
His fangs extended even more.
His will eroded.
Every twist she took, every turn, brought her gaze back to him.
His blood sang with the hunt.
"Ladies! Five minutes. Move your asses!" Heidi swept through the room, slapping bare bottoms as she passed. "Into those costumes. Let's go."
Jeannie flicked a glance at the stage manager's dark and light blonde reflection striding toward her in the mirror. It was just another night. Another endless night tagged onto the caboose of an endless string of endless nights.
She didn't bother even keeping count anymore.
Tiny black lines, ticks counting down the days of her sentence, marked the mirror. Somewhere around one thousand, she'd added a second layer. After three thousand, she'd stopped counting.
What was one more night?
"How you doin', chere?" Heidi leaned against the side of the mirror, her gaze critical, her mouth pinched and her forehead puckered with frown lines. Their dressmaker-slash-stage manager-slash-backstage mother hen nursed headaches more often than not. The pain rippled across her facial muscles, tightening them in spasms.
But Heidi never commented on them.
Jeannie had long since stopped asking.
"I'm fine. I know. Five minutes." She painted a line of glitter around each eye. Her stage makeup was heavy, dense stuff, saturating every pore and bleeding away her color for the face of the Midnight Mystery Lounge.
The swathe of glitter, crystals and diamonds decorating her eyelashes reminded her that she wasn't Jeannie.
She was Pandora.
She was the showstopper.
God, I am so bored.
"Just another set, chere."
"I know, Heidi. Just another set." She didn't even bother to inject enthusiasm into the words. Heidi didn't care. Jeannie didn't care. They could not care together. It worked.
"Dearly beloved!" A voice boomed from behind them. Heidi snorted, but Jeannie kept painting lines of glitter on each of her features, thickening the lines around her eyes and her lips. She would sparkle in the smoky darkness.
At least that was the goal.
"Dearly beloved!" Three mirrors down, Roseâtre clapped her hands together over her head, her silver and gold bangles jingling together in musical accompaniment. The chatter in the dressing room died, and all eyes turned toward her. Roseâtre's real name was Ruthie, but as with Jeannie, no one cared about real names at the Midnight Mystery Lounge, the Arcana Royale's premier revue. Their audience would only know her as Roseâtre.
"Does she even remember her real name anymore?" Jeannie murmured and Heidi shrugged. Somewhere after a decade, the dancers forgot. Some forgot on purpose, deliberately blotting out memories of a past before the Arcana Royale and whatever mistake landed them in the revue. Others just faded, forgetting that life existed beyond the smoke and the glamour.
And some just stop caring altogether ...
Jeannie sighed and set the glitter brush down. Heidi moved on cue to help her don the weighted headdress with its red and white foxtails and diamond beads. It weighed over thirty pounds, and her head and neck would be in brutal pain by the end of the third number.
But she would look spectacular.
"Everyone forgets," Heidi whispered, as her fingers worked through the headdress. Behind them the girls bounced up, adjusting arm sleeves of foxtails, which drooped to the ground. The golden lamé dresses hugged every curve, chains of crystal, diamond and pale-colored gems peeked out from beneath the fabric. The girls checked each other's headdresses. Their foxtails were weighty, but only about ten pounds to Jeannie's thirty.
Kiki danced in place at the head of the line, her hips bumping to a song only she could hear. The gyration warmed her up. She would be the first up the stairs and out onto the stage. She would burst through the door, potential energy unleashed, a payload delivering a megaton of enthusiasm, lift and sensation.
Heidi adjusted another strap, testing it with a pull and murmured, "Two minutes."
Two minutes to become Pandora.
Two minutes to let go of Jeannie.
She didn't need two minutes anymore.
"Kiki!" Heidi yelled over her shoulder. "Go!"
"Holla!" Kiki whooped and charged up the steps, graceful in her five-inch heels. Sparks shot in every direction as the twelve bejeweled women bounced up the stairs.
Jeannie followed, but without the click-clack of running on the stairs. She ascended, shedding her humanity with each step. Years of practice shuttered her emotions, smothered her soul and silenced her sense of self.
At the top of the steps, Jeannie vanished.
"Ladies and gentlemen, the Arcana Royale and the Midnight Mystery Lounge present Pandora!"
The music, velvet pulsations, squeezed her heart in time to the rhythm, and she surrendered. Across the sea of night, blue eyes blazed in the darkness. Pandora stared at them. Her heart paused, startled, and then the sluggish, ho-hum beat pounded, a descant bass to the sameness of the night.
She barely hit her first mark, waiting almost a full count from the first bars of the music. With every pop of her hips, every twist of her shoulders, every kick of her legs, she sought out those blue eyes, burning like icy flames in the blackness.
Her abdomen cramped, the chill of desperation quieting only when she found those burning eyes in the cold, empty dark.
Maybe tonight wasn't the same after all.
Her body flamed under the burning blue gaze, a lover's cajoling caress sliding across her skin. Beneath the veneer of Pandora, Jeannie twisted, choking on naked want colliding with need, exposed and vulnerable. Awareness sizzled through her and she missed a second beat of a turn, her frame locked in the direction of her gaze, trapped on the twin blue flames.
Darkness plunged across the theatre, her body tingling with awareness. Jeannie dragged in a lungful of cold, vaporous air. Sweat dripped off her arms and legs, but she followed the darkened path in a daze to descend the steps for her change.
The chatter of twelve breathless dancers rose to a cacophony, piercing the veil of silence wrapped around her mind.
Heidi dragged her back toward the mirror, unsnapping straps and clips to free the headpiece. Jeannie could barely remember leaving the stage. It was as though the blue eyes were here, gazing at her, caressing her tingling flesh. She grabbed a towel and blotted her arms, desperate to halt the need trembling through her.
"Drink." Heidi pressed the water bottle into her hands and Jeannie drank. Dancing was exhausting, dehydrating work. She needed fifty to sixty ounces of water per set to prevent passing out.
The stage manager plucked the bottle away without waiting to see if she was done and jammed one of Jeannie's arms through the metal brassiere she would wear next. She maneuvered Jeannie's body, seemingly uncaring that Jeannie stood there like a lump.
Ice-cold metal punctured the heat steaming up her skin. Jeannie blinked at her reflection in the mirror. Emotion weighed down her kohl-outlined eyes, more than the fringe of diamonds decorating the lashes. Her eyelids looked drowsy, and her lips were swollen, half-puckered as though expecting a kiss.
Behind her, Peppermint buckled Amber into her harness. The dancers would fly in this act, their own private circus of the damned. The black bustier fit over the metal brassiere. Heidi pressed the water bottle back into her hand.
Jeannie swallowed obediently. It was cool. Never cold. She missed icy cold water on a hot summer's day. The temperature in the Royale was always a brisk sixty-nine. Unchanging. Unvarying.
Her only source of heat was the stage and the dance.
And twin flames that scorched her in the darkness.
Would those eyes still be there? Would he be waiting for her? Did she want him to be waiting? What if it wasn't a him? No. It was a him. She wanted him to be there.
"Pandora!" Heidi's voice jerked her back to the dressing room. The empty dressing room.
"Go!" the woman snapped, making shooing motions, and Jeannie pivoted on one shoe and strode up the steps, determination giving lift to the even strike of her foot on the metal plates.
She resisted the cloak of Pandora falling over her. Jeannie wanted to see those eyes again.
For the first time in decades, it would be Jeannie bursting out onto the stage. Jeannie who would dance. Jeannie who would search for the blue heat.
A whispered hush rippled over the audience. The tinny sound of the organ's music drifted up from below the stage. One spotlight pierced the inky dark, highlighting Roseâtre, the ringmaster for tonight's circus. A single lock of shocking white-blonde streaked through the rich black of her hair. Tall, long and leggy, Roseâtre fueled the audience's imagination.
The dancer's arms were aloft, locked in a pose that tilted her body to the side, her chin up and her gaze targeting some place far beyond the blackened theatre.
"Dearly beloved." She murmured the words, but they echoed through the chamber, riding the tin notes of the organ.
"Welcome to our circus of the strange, our sideshow of the sinister and the theatre of the bizarre. Come into our realm of dark wonder, and let us engage you in your wickedest dreams. Come, dare to dance in our shadows."
The light cut out and then the stage exploded in sound and color. The dancers cartwheeled, pirouetted and leapt. Each one was dressed in the same severe black and white gems wrapped around bare skin — alluring and decadent — but their faces. Jeannie bit her lip, tasting the heavy frosting of gloss and glitter. Their faces were macabre masks of death, pain, torture and fear.
The crowd loved it.
Silver hooped circles drifted from the ceiling, lowered on pulleys, and as they arrived at the stage, they burst into flame. One by one, the dancers dove through the circles, bounding out the other side. A sideshow of extraordinary technique, daring and danger. When the last dancer cleared the last hoop, the flames vanished and darkness whispered along Jeannie's skin.
Her hips rolled as she strode onto the stage. This was what had brought her to Vegas the first time.
The love of adventure. The arts. The performance.
It held her hostage.
Jeannie swayed to the left and the dancers to her left pulsed. She swayed to the right and the six girls on her right pulsed, their fists toward the audience, heads snapping back. They were sprawled against the stage, like so many broken dreams.
They rose and fell at the extension of her arms. Here. In this moment. She was the ringmaster. Her gaze drifted across the darkness until she found the twin flames of blue waiting for her.
Excerpted from "The Legal Vampire's Golden Goddess"
Copyright © 2013 Heather Long.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is the first in a series called Tales of the Arcana Royale and is a standalone however once you start reading this story, you are going to want to find out each and every person’s story. For me, The Legal Vampire’s Golden Goddess sets the scene for the entire series and tells about one wild ride. Jeannie Williams is our first “showgirl” that we read about and where we also meet all the other characters in the Arcana Royale. And Malcolm Reynolds…woof! What a hawty. Twists and turns and what he does about his cousin’s debt, well, I’m on his side. I can’t wait to read about the next characters’ story – you will enjoy the sexiness and the steam and the intrigue in The Legal Vampire’s Golden Goddess.