Exclusive Excerpt: Heather Graham’s One-Eyed Jack From Romantic Times: Vegas

ROMANTIC TIMES: VEGAS Anthology CoverWe’re living it up in Las Vegas at the RT Booklovers Convention, and we have to admit, we’re having a very happy Hump Day. We wanted to offer up a taste of Sin City for this week’s excerpt, so we asked Heather Graham to share her short story from the Romantic Times: Vegas Volume I, “One-Eyed Jack,” exclusively available here at the Convention. We’re especially excited about this story because it is a brand new Cafferty and Quinn Paranormal Mystery! To the excerpt!

There really was nothing quite like watching the fountains of the Bellagio at night.

Water spouted and seemed to dance in the neon glow from thousands of lights, every droplet catching dazzling prisms of color.

Danni stood with Quinn, losing herself in the spectacle. She felt his arm around her shoulders and the heat and breadth of him so close.

“Beautiful,” he said, bending slightly so that his whisper was against her ear, his breath a sweet tease. “Yes?”

“Yes,” she replied. She turned her head and looked at him, seeing his smile. Quinn had a great smile. Just a little bit lopsided, entirely endearing. It had the ability to change him; Quinn was six-four, broad-shouldered, tightly muscled, and could go to battle for a cause with an authority and power that was chilling. But, his smile . . .

He’d suggested the Vegas trip as a cool romantic interlude for the two of them. Their day-to-day lives were hectic, to say the least. Hard on a relationship—their line of moonlighting work, their true vocations in life—making it even more so. They dealt with fear, danger, and death far too often when they were home. The Cheshire Cat, Danni’s shop on Royal Street in the French Quarter, took up the street frontage of the historic house she’d inherited from her father. It was there that she and Quinn carried on her father’s trade collecting very special things—objects that were imbued with evil, or, that, by their very nature, seemed to create evil in the minds of men—and kept them from doing further harm.

A getaway—they really desperately needed a getaway now and then. And Vegas!

Vegas.

She hadn’t been sure. Vegas was a party town. A little something for the wicked child in every adult. Shows, music, gambling, casinos, garish lights! Not that she was against a party, or that a few turns at some wicked pleasure might be so bad. But, romantic? A Caribbean island was romantic, a trip to Paris was romantic, but Vegas . . . she wasn’t so sure. Vegas almost seemed like a neon version of Bourbon Street at home.

No, she thought. It hadn’t really been the thought that a pristine beach on a hidden island would be so much better—it was the dream. A bizarre dream she’d had the night before Jeremy had called them . . . a dream about running desperately from a giant one-eyed Jack.

But there was nothing to worry about, she was having a wonderful time—and no giant one-eyed Jacks were running anywhere.

Since they had arrived, everything had been wonderful and spectacular. The gondola ride at the Venetian had proven to be especially charming—Quinn’s old school friend, Brent Callahan, had been their gondolier. Brent had a spectacular tenor voice and he’d crooned love songs the entire way, pretending to be an Italian stranger, of course.

They’d even played craps for a while, and—she was proud to say—she’d been on fire! She’d rolled nicely, the table had been filled with cheers and laughter, and she and Quinn had managed to leave nicely ahead of the game.

You couldn’t beat the cost of the trip, either. For years, Jeremy Anatoli, one of Quinn’s oldest and dearest friends, and Brent’s partner, had offered them a romantic getaway—or just a weekend away—whenever they wanted it. He was an executive host and assistant manager for the Excelsior, the very elegant casino hotel where they were staying. He had picked up their room, show tickets, anything else they might have desired.

The room he’d arranged for them was spectacular; the bed was mammoth and incredibly comfortable. It sat on a dais, heart-shaped with matching heart-shaped pillows. Floor to ceiling windows offered an amazing view of the strip. There was a full beautiful bathroom, and in addition, across from the bed, a heart-shaped whirlpool tub that helped fill out the “romantic” part, along with the champagne and strawberries that had awaited them.

“Ready to . . . gamble again, see a show, hit a club . . .?” Quinn asked.

She grinned. “. . . go back to the room.”

Quinn had the best slow smile. “I was hoping that might be your agenda, but, I thought I’d let you make the suggestion,” Quinn said. “I mean, I’ve been trying to subtly suggest. A whisper in your ear here and there, my fingers dancing lightly down your spine . . . a little too far and all. But, as far as actually making the decision . . .”

She turned in his arms, came up on her toes, and kissed him on the lips. She meant for it to be a light kiss, a tender kiss. But, somewhere in the back of her mind, that word suggestive might have been lurking. Along with sensual and seductive. Their kiss deepened, became much more, tongues locking, steamy, liquid, and sweet, and for a moment, she forgot they were in public, the waters of the fountain bursting all around them. They broke apart and she blushed.

“Vacation in Vegas—no one even noticed!” Quinn assured her.

And it seemed they had not.

They turned. The Excelsior wasn’t far. The streets were crowded, but not too much so. In an odd way, this area of Vegas was not unlike Bourbon Street—people were out in mass, happy, laughing, ready to leave their workaday world behind—and enjoy being wicked children. They passed the old and the young, the inebriated and the sober, crowds, couples, and loners.

Soon they were passing through the elegant cut-glass doors of the Excelsior. Greeters in handsome uniforms waved and smiled as they walked through entry—and, of course, straight into a massive sea of clinking, clanging, singing, and buzzing slot machines.

Quinn glanced down at Danni and shrugged. “Hey, this is the journey, not the destination.”

She laughed. “Actually, I do like slot machines. The ones with great graphics. But . . .”

“On our way to a destination,” he said.

Soft music, in stark contrast with the cacophony of the slot machines, played in the elevator. Their hallway was quiet. Quinn keyed the door open.

As yet, no one had closed the drapes. The room was in wonderful shadow with just a soft glow burning from a nightlight and the brilliant colors of the strip shining just beyond.

Danni started forward to pull the drapes; Quinn pulled her back into his arms. “No one can see in here,” he assured her. “We’re far, far above the crowd, enwrapped in the night.”

“Ah, risqué!” she told him.

He kissed her. Quinn had such a way . . . his lips were forceful. Somehow they were damp and liquid and hot and entirely coercing. A kiss was never just a kiss . . . it went deeper, their mouths fused and not, tongues playing with intimacy and sweet suggestion.

She slipped her fingers beneath his jacket; he moved, never breaking the kiss, to let it fall to the floor. His fingers went to her waistband, her’s to his belt buckle. Kissing and touching, laughing, whispering and teasing, they shed their clothing. In minutes, they had walked and stumbled to the bed. As they fell upon the ridiculously heart-shaped mattress, Danni wondered with awe how each time they touched it could feel so electrifying and new, and yet, still wonderfully perfect and comfortable. She marveled at the heat and feel of his muscled chest beneath her fingers, at the way he moved, at the sheer vitality of life in him and the way he touched her in return . . .

They’d probably both been thinking foreplay . . . and play. Maybe more of the champagne from the bottle in the bucket. A few slowly shared strawberries . . .

But maybe the fountains were erotic as well as romantic.

Maybe it was just the heart-shaped bed, or the play of colors beyond the windows. Maybe it was Vegas, with that wonderful touch of wicked.

They were quickly, almost frantically, wound together, limbs entwined, arching, writhing, feeling as if the neon lights that lit up the night beyond their shadows had burst within them. And, hot, damp, gasping for breath, they stared at one another and laughed. Danni rubbed the ball of her foot against his calf. “Okay, whirlpool tub now. Strawberries, um, tasting, licking, savoring . . .”

“Then you’d better move quickly,” Quinn said. “That kind of pillow talk will get you pulled back into the covers again!”

Laughing, she leapt up. “Suds! I love suds. A huge whirlpool tub with suds everywhere, sleek, slippery, sensual . . .”

She froze a foot from the tub. She blinked.

They hadn’t been alone in the room.

There was a man in their tub.

Not a voyeur, a thief, a masher . . . not a threat of any kind.

A dead man!

He lay in the empty tub, arms crossed over his chest, face contorted, mouth and eyes wide open, as if he had died of . . .

Fear. On his face a scream that could never now tear from his throat.

She didn’t scream herself; she stood, stark naked and shivering fiercely, ice cold when she had been feeling so deliciously warm, staring at the whirlpool.

“Danni?” Quinn asked. “Is something wrong? What is it? What’s the problem?”

She swallowed and turned and looked over at him where he lay, the shadows in the room all but hiding his face.

“Definitely something wrong, yes. We do have a problem. Quinn.”

“What is it?”

He leapt out of bed, faster than should have been possible.

“Danni . . .”

“There is a dead man in our bathtub.”

And a one-eyed Jack had been tossed on top of his dead body.

Romantic Times: Vegas was published by 13Thirty Books exclusively for the RT Booklovers Convention. To keep an eye on our antics, you can find our Convention blogs here. And for more mysterious reads check out our Everything Mystery page.

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