Pepper Kirk’s life was finally perfect. Until a federal agent with an ax to grind arrives at the Arcana Royale, determined to catch the casino in corruption. In order to protect the casino she owes her very existence to, she agrees to help the handsome agent—and sabotage his surveillance while she’s at it.
Finn Mickelson’s investigation into a crime family is only a smokescreen to keep his real targets off balance. Nothing will keep this witchborn from digging into the secrets of the Royale—not even a Southern belle with honeyed tones and a sweet smile.
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
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Heidi glanced up from the paperwork spread across her desk, a frisson of awareness skating up her spine. Eyes narrowing, she stared at the door. It was the middle of the day and all of the dancers slept in their frozen states, silent and secure. No one moved in the theatre, not even Stan. Minion slept along the back of her shoulders, tufted ears folded close to her head and the imp's fuzzy kitten-like face buried in Heidi's hair. Flipping the folder closed, she waited.
The handle turned silently and the door swung inwards. A tall man with black hair leaned against the doorframe. The flirty smile on his lips didn't quite touch his devastating blue eyes. "Miss Heidi."
"Connor." The shadow man's arrival didn't bode well. He rarely ventured into the Midnight Mystery Lounge unless something was wrong. Sadly, she'd already had to deal with him twice in as many months over issues with two of her dancers. As far as she knew, however, no one else should have earned this kind of personal attention.
"You don't look very happy to see me. I'm wounded." He grinned and strolled into her office. His gaze swept over the contents of the room, from the books lining the walls to the stack of puzzle boxes decorating a shelf. Despite his apparent interest in the surroundings, she knew it was a ruse. He would detect even the faintest trace of weakness in her.
Fortunately, she'd overcome her weakness for him years before.
She closed the folder. "I'm busy, Connor. What do you need?" She added the folder to another stack and dragged a new one toward her. She didn't bother to read the words, looking at the information inside was enough to piss him off.
He dropped into a chair opposite her desk and swung his booted feet up to rest against the polished wood, one ankle over the other. "Some days I think you forget who is in charge."
"Some days I think you forget who kicked your ass." She lifted an absent hand up to brush against Minion's downy soft head and kept the little one asleep.
Warm masculine laughter spilled from his throat, an invitation for sex that would have drowned an unprotected woman in a sea of lust. "I never forget why I like you."
"Well that makes one of us. What do you want, Connor?" It was the second time she'd asked. If he forced a third, she would have to remind him that despite his position, she ruled this theatre.
The Midnight Mystery Lounge belonged to her, and it didn't matter that it sat nestled in the heart of the Arcana Royale. She owned it through her blood, sweat and tears. Everything and everyone in it was under her protection. She fought for those contracts, held them tight in her fists, and wouldn't allow the Overseers any more influence than they were due. Yes, they had some lease on the girls' souls, but she had everything else. She hoarded that control and the ability to negotiate their freedom when the right circumstances presented themselves.
"Fine. Business it is, then." Disappointment flickered across his face, too quick for her to grasp what had upset him. She ignored the tug of curiosity. Better to avoid traveling that path again. "We have an issue that needs your delicate touch."
My delicate touch? Circumstances must be dire indeed if he issued his invitation in such flattering terms. "I'm listening."
Connor pulled his legs back and leaned forward. His intense gaze locked on hers and urged her cooperation. The compulsion eddied over the surface of her skin, but couldn't quite penetrate her shields. It wasn't on purpose, his power came from deep within and he wore it like others would a finely cut suit — natural and effortless.
"An FBI agent checked into the Royale this morning. His name is Finn Mikelson." He paused, as though waiting for her to acknowledge the name.
The name meant nothing to her, however. "And I care because ...?"
"Because he is here to gather evidence about the casino's secrets and to build a case against the owners." The declaration actually surprised her.
Frowning, Heidi continued to pet Minion's head, gentle, soothing strokes. It helped her stay calm as much as it kept the imp asleep. "He's human?"
"Then why are you worried?" She saw the agitation under the words, in his bearing, and hanging around his neck like a noose threatening to string him up.
Connor tried to force a more relaxed posture. It didn't work. "He is a very stubborn human. He makes his living doing surveillance and is extremely talented."
Heidi waved a hand. "He's still human. There's more to it. Spill."
"He's a null." He pushed the words out through gritted teeth.
A null — well, that explains Connor's presence. "So the natural enchantments don't work on him."
"No." As one of four remaining Overseers, Connor wielded considerable power. That only he approached her suggested his fellow Overseers remained divided on how to handle the issue. Or perhaps he acted alone without their knowledge or approval.
She imagined it was some combination of the two. The Overseers lost one of their number just a couple of months before and had, to her knowledge, not replaced their fifth. That meant the four who remained had to drain their considerable personal resources to maintain the protections over the casino.
Exerting some energy, she wound a spell around the Minion and activated the little one's teleportation ability. The imp vanished with a poof to Heidi's private suite where she could sleep safe and undisturbed.
Inching forward on her seat, she flattened her palms against the desk. "If he is a null, then my only option is to put him in a puzzle box. I could remove the issue, but that would generate far more interest if he disappeared while here on assignment." They rarely needed to deal with the human authorities, but it wasn't unheard of. Actions demanded consequence, but did they dare risk attracting more agents to search for one downed man? She doubted it.
"No. That needs to be an absolute last resort. I want to use one of your girls. Let her seduce him, distract him, change the data if necessary —"
"My girls are not prostitutes." Nor would she sell them out to the highest bidder.
"No, but one of them owes us a favor. We're calling that favor in now."
And there was the rub.
"She is far too innocent to do what you're asking." Innocent wasn't the correct word, but the woman's innate sunshine and honesty powdered her every action like sweet sugar on glazed donuts.
"It's what makes her perfect. She need not truly deceive, just distract, enchant, seduce. I have seen your dancers. They are all capable of it." Connor didn't threaten, but she didn't mistake the steel in his tone for a request.
"I will ask her. If she agrees, fine. If not —"
"If not, she doesn't need to stay here any longer. We can revoke our agreement." The FBI agent's arrival clearly had him rattled. The thought intrigued her, but she refused to let it distract her.
"You cannot take away her sanctuary."
"Why not? If the man is successful, we will find more threats coming at us than some unhappy gamblers. If the humans discover this haven, it will have to be destroyed — along with everything it holds — to ensure no trace exists to lead them to any of our kind. We survive and thrive because we remain out of sight. Human authorities know we are here, but if they have no proof, they don't act. Strip away the curtain and everyone loses." Dramatic — yet effective.
"Fine. I will talk to her. Now get out of my theatre." She didn't envy Peppermint this task. The woman's gentle soul was a fragile, beautiful thing. She wasn't given easily to deceit.
Connor leaned over and placed his hand along the back of hers. The warmth of his palm flattened over her skin and electricity zinged through her. Her shields flared. Heidi didn't pull her hand away, but she shut down her response to the physical contact.
The Overseer's teeth flashed in a tight, feral grin. Power shimmered in the air between them — buzzing with menace. "You may run your theatre, but we both know that your throne is also your prison."
"You're boring me, Connor." She spared him a minute smile and resisted any pleasure at the fury flashing across his eyes before he could shutter the emotion. "Go away and bother someone else."
He didn't move so much as disappear. The surge cost her and she sagged back against the chair. Banishing him from the theatre was the only influence she could exert over the creature she'd once loved.
Closing her eyes, she brought her rebellious heart under control and concentrated on draining the uneasy emotions his presence stirred. Peppermint would wake in a few hours and Heidi would give her the task. And if she fails — shutting down the business would free Connor.
She quashed the thought and forced her mind back to the folder on her desk. Opening it again, she stared at the pages, but couldn't focus on the words. Destroying the Arcana Royale would answer so many problems —
But could she really sacrifice so many for the good of herself?
Pepper Kirk woke blinking. Stretching her arms over her head, she worked the kinks out of her spine and legs. She always managed to lie down before the curse swept her under. So many of the other girls didn't worry about whether they stood or sat, but Pepper — Pepper preferred to lie down. She liked the imagery and the comfort. It made it seem less like some dark curse and more like simply going to sleep.
"Just call me Aurora." She giggled to herself. Her vertebrae popped one at a time as she sat up and completed her stretch. Her routine never varied. Limbering up after hours of utter stillness may not be physically necessary, but it satisfied her. Muscles warmed, she reclaimed her hair brush from the dresser and started the one hundred strokes to loosen any possible tangles she picked up between drowsing and waking.
Little rituals that may not make sense to others were the foundation of her daily routine. The knock on her door, however, was not. The quick staccato knock preceded the door opening and she caught sight of Heidi. Her stomach plummeted. She'd done nothing to elicit the personal attention of the stage manager. Summoning a smile, she slid her foot against the crystal shoes Kiki gave her upon her departure from the Royale and shoved them further under the bed. The last three women to wear those shoes had all left the show and the theatre for good.
"Good evening, Heidi."
"Hey there, Peppermint." The flat smile and tight lines around the stage manager's eyes didn't bode well. "I need to chat with you in my office before you go on stage tonight."
"Did I do something wrong?" The last dancer summoned to her office was Kiki. The dancer had earned a notorious reputation during her tenure in the theatre — breaking the rules, pulling pranks and challenging the stage manager at every turn — she'd done a lot wrong. Fortunately, it had worked out for her, but Peppermint didn't make waves or bend any rules or flout authority. She did her part, showed up on time, and performed to the best of her ability in the back row.
The sinking feeling in her stomach turned into a whirlpool.
"No, of course not. But I have a favor to ask and I'd rather do it in private. So just come see me, okay?" Heidi's attempt at a comforting smile didn't help settle Peppermint's anxiety.
Favor? Cold chills raced over her arms. "Of course. Let me just shower and do my hair and I'll be right there." She never delayed taking care of her hair. The thickness of it took forever to dry, so better to do it early and make sure she was never late.
"Sounds good." Heidi patted the door and left, closing it behind her.
Pepper exhaled a hard breath and grabbed the edge of the dresser to stay on her feet. She didn't want to be in trouble — but a favor? That was somehow worse. What on earth could the stage manager want from her? Her heart lodged in her throat.
The shoes sparkled from beneath the bed. The last three women to wear those shoes also took lead on the stage.
Oh dear God, no.
Ninety minutes later, as put together as she could make herself, Peppermint made her way toward Heidi's office. The other dancers were equally split between their cells, with more already wandering toward the dressing room to prepare for the evening show. They all had their rituals.
She'd barely made it a few feet down the hall when Peppermint encountered her first obstacle. Wearing only a towel, Britta, the sylph, skidded to a halt and gave her a quick hug. "You're not getting ready for the show?"
"I have to talk to Heidi." Peppermint kept her voice low, but Dayna stuck her head out and Cerveau paused to stare at her. The other dancers didn't even pretend to give them privacy and the rush to head to the dressing room slowed.
"Are you in trouble?" Dayna leaned against the doorjamb to her room.
"I hope not." Peppermint tried to give her self-confidence a boost with a smile she didn't feel.
Dayna and Britta shared a worried look. It hadn't escaped the notice of any of the dancers just how much things had changed in the last few months — Kiki's recent exit, Pandora's exodus, even Roseâtre's change of circumstances. All lead dancers, all freed. And though Roseâtre still appeared in the lounge show, she didn't live with them anymore.
"It's probably about the show," Britta suggested, but her doubtful tone belied the hope in her expression.
"Or maybe we have a new dancer that needs to be trained," Dayna offered, but even Cerveau frowned. Little ever seemed to ruffle the Amazon, but it had been a long time since they'd had a new dancer join the theatre.
A very long time.
Disturbed by the troubled expressions around her, Peppermint quashed her unease. Her friends needed a pick me up. She gave Dayna a quick hug and squeezed Britta's hand. "It's going to be fine, just wait and see."
They still looked skeptical, but returned her attempted cheer. "Well, hurry back. We have to get ready."
Britta rolled her eyes. "It's not like she has to get dressed. We spend most of the show naked."
Laughter erupted down the hall and music began to play in the dressing room. "I'll be right there," Peppermint promised, and crossed mental fingers for it to be true. "Save my spot!"
Dayna and Britta moved on, but Cerveau paused before following them. She studied Peppermint with a quiet expression and gave a simple, "Good luck," that was more unsettling than the rest of the conversation.
By the time she knocked on the door to Heidi's office, all of Peppermint's faux confidence fled. The muffled "come in" invited her inside and she tried to quell the shaking in her limbs. She'd been in the office just twice before — the day she struck her deal with the stage manager and the first week after she joined the review.
Both happened more than thirty years ago.
Amazingly, nothing in the office seemed to have changed. The dark wood still looked forbidding and the low lamps cast a wild profusion of shadows across the artwork — paintings Peppermint refused to stare at too closely lest she notice the people moving inside of them.
Heidi waved her in and motioned to the chairs, her pen never ceasing its motion as she wrote in a folder. Perching on the edge of the seat, Peppermint crossed one leg over the other and then uncrossed them. Her hands opened and closed, clenching into fists and releasing. She resisted the urge to start tapping them against her lap. Minion wasn't in evidence. The little imp could never keep quiet when she was around, so the silence confirmed she must be playing elsewhere.
Closing the file, Heidi set the pen to the side and leaned back to study her. "Thank you for coming. You look lovely, by the way."
"Thank you." She refused to touch her hair, certain she must have ripped out several strands in her frenzied brushing. She hadn't been able to think about anything but this meeting and the favor Heidi wanted to ask.
"How are you doing? I know we've had a lot of changes in the revue this year, shifting leads, new styles —"
"Heidi, please forgive me, but if you don't get to what the favor is you wanted to ask, I may just pass out." Peppermint hated interrupting her, but her jitters had jitters at this point.
"Fair enough. It's not a favor I would ask you personally, and I will stress that I resisted the request at first. You deserve to know that. However the casino has an issue and the Overseers have requested your assistance."
Excerpted from "The Witchborn Detective's Porcelain Prisoner"
Copyright © 2014 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
The Witchborn Detective’s Porcelain Prisoner was filled with clues and information about the overall series but again, it is a standalone story. This was is about Pepper and Finn. Not sure what I can say that won’t give away any clues but the story is loving, intriguing, and filled with some hit-the-hero-and-heroine-over-the-head feelings – I think this one is my favorite!