Nights for Arianna had become increasingly restless. She knew she had a lot on her mind, and she longed for a time when all she’d have to worry about were her girls and her club. She knew those days were long gone, but it didn’t stop her from wanting them. Her wants, and more importantly, her needs had been put on hold as she ironed out politics in the supernatural world, keeping her involvement politically correct while her intentions for said involvement completely to herself. Sometimes, she wanted to throw it all away. She just knew she couldn’t. There was too much at stake.
The night’s concert had given her the “out” she needed from the dinner invitation she had received, and the day’s unseasonable heat had contributed to making it the perfect day. The fact that things at Surrender had been running so smoothly had been what called her attention to how hungry she was. Even her morning cosmetic routine hadn’t completely clued her in to how apparent her hunger had become. Instead, she resorted to the contact lenses that keep her eyes a steady shade of green to conceal the near metallic shade they had turned.
“Who has time to feed?” she asked herself, knowing full well she should have taken the time to do so. But she’d grown near obsessed with the need to uncover something – anything – related to the photos that would possibly point somewhere other than the ghouls. She knew what she wanted to find, but as of yet, hadn’t managed to see it. For the moment, however, none of it mattered to her. She had some last-minute things to take care of, and wanted to mingle by the pool for what would likely be her last chance of the year to do so. The perfect poolside opportunity had presented itself to her, so Arianna slipped into her mostly respectable one-piece lime green suit, and slid her black skirt up her legs and finished her outfit with a loose, flowing sheer silk blouse. After turning off her computer, she made her way downstairs, informing Kyle that she was going to her meeting by the pool, and she wasn’t to be disturbed.
Before she settled in to the private poolside cabana, she spoke with the technicians to ensure that the propane heaters would come on as soon as the sun’s rays hit the top of the hotel lobby, so her guests by the pool would stay warm long into the night. “Three fifty-five, Ms. Casgrain,” the tech assured her. “By four oh five, nobody here will realize the sun’s gone.” Satisfied, Arianna made her way to the cabana where she would have her business meeting.
She had been expecting the meeting for weeks – ever since Andy had trashed the room at the Gold Coast (and half the floor’s electronics). It had just worked out that the Goldsmith twins had VIP tickets to the night’s show. The warm weather had prompted the twins to contact Arianna directly, and request a poolside meeting with her.
“Ah, Arianna,” she heard an almost melodious voice speak as she entered the poolside tent. “I’m glad you’re not overdressed for the meeting.” Shane Goldsmith lay on the round near-queen sized chaise, not even making an effort to look at Ari as she entered. His eyes were closed as the sun beat down upon him, accenting every chiseled ripple of his midsection. On a lounger beside him, his sister sat, her pale flesh in the shade, sharply contrasting with the minimal black bikini that barely covered her perfect curves.
“We thought, what better a day to head to the hottest pool on the Strip,” Shawn spoke, her voice similar but a few octaves higher than that of her brother. “We have a bit of unfinished business to attend to.” She motioned for Arianna to sit, which she did after removing her sandals, skirt and blouse, sharing the more than ample space on the round cushioned chaise.
“Of course,” Arianna replied with a smile. “I’d been meaning to head over to speak with you about that, but things in this town have a tendency to get a little hectic.”
“Oh, we know,” Shane said as he rolled over to get a bottle of mineral water from the ice-filled bucket they’d had delivered to the cabana. He handed the bottle to Arianna after snapping the top open, then knelt up behind her, his hands immediately seeking out her overly tense muscles that had a tendency to knot up in her shoulders when she was stressed, and when she was hungry. “We actually aren’t all that concerned about it, are we, Shawn?” he spoke idly as he rubbed at Ari’s neck and upper shoulders.
“No, not especially,” she smiled. “Most of the stuff needed replacing anyway.”
Whether Shawn spoke the truth or not wasn’t much of a concern to Arianna, whose eyes had slowly closed as she focused on the hands that worked her muscles firmly, but with what felt like professional care. Her breathing slowed slightly as she leaned her head forward and relaxed more than a little bit. She’d wanted to respond to the woman’s words, but only managed a breathed “Mmm.”
What Arianna was unable to see was that both the Twins had the slightest of smiles on their lips. They knew Ari’s guard was up but slipping, and knew at least a few of her weaknesses. Shane’s hands just kept working their firm magic on her tense muscles, the heat of the sun’s rays also helping to relax her, and further lower her defenses. Shane shifted his position behind her, his thighs parting to either side of her hips, kneeling up to get better leverage as he worked at the knots under the surface of Arianna’s flawless golden skin.
Shawn leaned forward and took the bottle from Arianna’s hand so there would be no risk of her dropping it as she shifted a bit at Shane’s subtle insistence, his massage stopping long enough that he could guide Arianna to a prone position on the round chaise, his legs almost immediately straddling the tops of her thighs so he could continue working her upper back with his hands. “We are obviously well aware of who did the damage,” he spoke casually, his eyes on his sister as he did.
“We also know why, and we would like to thank him,” she smiled, taking a sip of the bottled water she’d taken from Arianna’s hand.
“But we don’t know the reason you were involved,” Shane breathed into her ear as he leaned over her.
Arianna made a slight effort to respond, uncertain what the Twins were getting at, but her thoughts were only half-formed. Despite her normally unflappable demeanor, Ari was well aware of her stress levels and the fact that they’d kept her from being able to control herself enough to feed subtly. What she wasn’t aware of was the fact that she was inciting emotions of those in closest proximity to the cabana. The Twins, on the other hand, could hear passions igniting around them, further amusing them. The combination of Arianna drawing on the people’s lustful desires, and the Twins’ influence of a spirit of Temptation could prove rather frightening, were those around them not so thoroughly enjoying themselves and those they were with.
Shawn slid off the chair where she had been seated and grinned to her brother before pressing her lips close to Arianna’s cheek and whispering, “It’s no secret, Ari, that you would have this entire city in your pocket if you could. So tell us… have you pocketed the Shaman?”
Ari’s response was soft and incoherent, best compared to a soft moan that neither confirmed nor denied her involvement with Anderson. Shane smiled down to his sister who had remained close to Arianna, though her eyes watched her brother even as he leaned forward to Arianna’s other ear, his hand sliding up into her hair, drawing her head back as he whispered, “That kind of power, Ari, will get the Shaman noticed, and that could be dangerous for you.”
In Arianna’s mind, she imagined that it wasn’t Shane Goldsmith tugging on her hair or whispering in her ear, but instead the all-knowing and all-feeling William. Her imagination, however, felt all too real to her; to Arianna, she was actually with William, and when Shawn pressed her lips to Ari’s, Arianna instead felt William’s warm breath against her own. With no fears or inhibitions when with him, she let her guard down completely, lust rolling from her in waves, latching on to those within a fairly wide radius around the cabana.
Although the privacy of the cabana prevented the threesome from seeing anything other than what was directly ahead of them, across the surface of the water of the pool, sounds of passion grew increasingly louder in the adjacent VIP booths. Even the wait staff that had been bringing drinks and snacks from the bars to the customers had stopped walking around, engaged in various activities with patrons – something not on the standard menu, even at Surrender.
Inside the club, where there were sound techs still making sure the night’s concert would be problem free, Kyle noted that the customers had spilled out to the pool deck, leaving the indoors of the club empty. Thinking it odd, he took it upon himself to investigate what seemed to be the attraction outside, beyond the warmth of the sunshine, of course.
The scene before him was something he couldn’t have imagined on his own, but Kyle didn’t need to see it to know what was happening. He immediately recognized the emotions rising all around him, and he drank it in like an alcoholic taking in the first sip of the day. Not only could he see and hear it, but smell and taste the lust around him. Trying to get a hold of himself, never having been so surrounded by emotion, he looked for the person he knew was undoubtedly responsible for such a high level of response from everyone in the pool area. As he walked past the cabana the Twins had been occupying, he could see Arianna for only a moment before he was drawn in by Shawn.
Seemingly unaffected by the influence of the White Court – at least by no means as affected as the world immediately around them – the Twins continued to seduce the vampires who had both grown euphoric in the emotions around them. For Arianna, it started as a feeling of slight unease as memories of her first and last fatal experience with her White Court gift, but the memory was quickly pushed aside from a rush like she had only felt once before and had denied herself ever since. It washed over and through her, taking over every one of her senses, leaving her unable to control her thoughts, her will at the mercy of the emissaries of Temptation.
The time that passed seemed to go unmeasured, save by the shadows that had grown longer along the concrete deck of the pool. Eventually, however, emotions waned and several guests in various stages of undress found themselves exhausted, but with a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment they had never felt before. Arianna, even with her high level of endurance, found herself waking from what she was certain was a dream, her naked body hidden from complete exposure by the towel draped across her feet and calves, her assistant manager in her arms, and Shane Goldsmith pressed tightly behind her, his knees cradling the backs of hers.
She may not have awoken had it not been for the hand that found its way into hers, drawing her up and away from the three bodies on the queen-sized circular chaise. The towel that had been at her feet had been wrapped around her and she looked up into the golden brown warm eyes she both loved and hated. William looked down into her eyes, noting the green color of them – a color so richly deep that he hadn’t since in them since the first time he met Ari.
When he pulled her up and into his arms, he could feel that she was somewhat weak-kneed, yet he could tell from more than her eyes that she had heartily fed. “Oh God, Arianna, tell me you haven’t,” he breathed. While William would normally have had no reservations about a fellow member of the White Court feeding so fully on an easily-incited mortal, what had him unnerved was the fact that she was at her club. Though not any sort of neutral ground, White Court vampires had never done more than sip at patrons at Surrender, and even that was limited.
He drew Arianna up into his arms, keeping the towel around her, and surveyed the damage around the pool. While there were several exhausted bodies, there was nothing that would require a call to the ‘cleaning crew’ that Nigel kept on-hand. With Arianna just slightly trembling in his arms, he brought her into Surrender, nodding an awkward hello to the one sound tech still working, and proceeded up to her office where he closed the door behind them with his foot.
As she lay on the couch, Arianna blinked heavy eyelids as she looked up at William, a slight smile on her lips, even as her tongue swiped slowly along them. Finding strength, she rose to her feet, the towel falling from her, and grasped at William’s jacket’s lapels, pulling him forward to her. One hand kept a firm hold on his jacket as the other softly stroked the burned hand print on his cheek before cradling the back of his neck so she could draw his lips to her own.
He could taste on her lips just how well she had fed, but William was already well aware of it, and even though he had wanted to give in to her, he grasped at her shoulders with his strong hands and pushed her slightly away from him. When she made a further attempt to pull him back against her, he drew back his hand and swung down, leaving an imprint on her cheek that closely, though nowhere near as permanently, matched the marks on his own cheek. His voice was stern, almost disciplinarian though level, as he barked out one word: “Arianna!”
After releasing his jacket, Ari lifted her hand to cover the stinging slap on her own cheek. Her eyes had watered, but more out of a natural reaction than one of anger or pain, and she looked at him in slight shock. With wide eyes, she let her hand drop from her face. Gaping slightly as she looked at William, she finally reeled in the realization of why he had struck her. “Oh God, Will,” she stammered with a small voice, “what happened?”
Will shrugged his shoulders, not in response to her question, but to slip his jacket from his shoulders and wrap it around hers. “That’s what I want to know.” His words were calm, but there was an underlying sense of apprehension to them.
“I…” Arianna responded before turning to face the windows that run the length of her office and overlook the pool area. People were moving, if slowly, as they tried to regain their own composure, and the cabana where the Twins had been appeared empty, as though nobody had been there at all, save for Ari’s black silk blouse that was neatly folded at the foot of the chaise lounge. “I didn’t,” she said softly, “couldn’t.” Turning back to face William, ashamed at the realization of what had happened, though still fairly certain she couldn’t have possibly done what the aftermath suggested. “I only touched three people, Will.”
“You and Kyle were the only two out there who are White Court, Arianna,” William explained as he took a bottle of water from the fridge, drew a sip for himself, then offered the bottle to Arianna. With his eyes locked on hers, he calmly demanded, “So what happened?”
Squeezing her eyes closed for a moment as she tried to clear her head, she looked back into William’s eyes and swallowed. “You were there, weren’t you?” she asked, but the sound of her voice wasn’t the confident Arianna Casgrain’s that people expect; it was a scared little girl tone that William had last heard on the night they first met. He didn’t need to say anything before she came to the conclusion, “No, you weren’t.” Color drained from her face and her mouth went dry, and only then did she reach for the offered bottle of water.
William knew there was a lot more to be said about what had happened by the pool, but he knew that there was something off about Arianna. Pressing his hand to her forehead then caressing the back of her neck, William drew her into his arms into a warm embrace. “I think you should take the night off,” he spoke softly. Despite his words that could have been construed as enticing, his tone was one of genuine concern.
For the first time since the club opened two years earlier, Arianna nodded at the suggestion that she take unplanned time away from the office. “I think you’re right,” she agreed with little resistance, knowing that she shouldn’t be around people where she could be a potential danger. After a moment of her head resting against William’s shoulder, Ari drew back with a breathed, “Kyle.” Arianna tensed a little bit before pulling fully away from William to look out the windows again. “Kyle was there and I don’t see him. You have to find him, Will. This is all my fault. We can’t …” She paused, her mind racing, then softly, urgently said, “I can’t let anything happen to him.” She lifted a hand and pressed it to her forehead, all stress from before the massage found its way back to her.
“I’ll take you home, Ari,” William promised as he ushered her toward the elevator that was all but hidden in her office, “then I’ll find Kyle.” He knew that Arianna was afraid of what happened, but worse was that he knew he was concerned as well. She insisted that she only touched a few people, but everyone by the pool had been affected, and he knew he needed to find out what had happened, preferably before any news of what happened got back to Nigel; Nigel certainly needed to know about what had occurred, but without knowing the details, everything would be speculation.
When the elevator door opened in the service tunnels a few levels below the city surface, William led Arianna in the direction of the Venetian and her penthouse suite. Little was said during the short journey, but Ari held on to William as though he were a security blanket of sorts. Once inside the security of her suite, he led her to the oversized shower and started the water before taking his jacket off her shoulders. If there was one thing the years with her had taught William it was that Arianna always felt better after a shower, as though the water washed away what had been bothering her. He set out towels and got her silk robe from the closet before venturing back into the open living space of the suite, overlooking the southern part of the Strip toward Decatur, Jones, and beyond.
He withdrew his cell phone from his pocket and looked through his long list of contacts, most of which he’d never contacted, and found Kyle Jamieson’s number. After a couple of rings, he heard the young man’s voice on the other end of the line. The conversation was brief, and Kyle had just been rattled a little bit, but nothing much had happened after Arianna had been exhausted. He admitted to not even realizing he’d been taken in by the whole scene until it was over. William seemed mostly satisfied by the conversation, and was nodding an “I’ll let her know” when Arianna emerged from the shower and snuck up on him, her arms sliding around his waist from behind.
“Let me know what?” she purred, her skin still warm from the heat of the shower. She hadn’t really cared about the answer to her question, and her bite on the William’s earlobe told him that she wasn’t looking for a response.
Taking a deep breath, eyes closed, William took the backs of Arianna’s hands and turned to face her. He pressed his forehead to hers, knowing that under normal circumstances, he would take full advantage of the fact that she wasn’t at work and they were alone in her suite. But circumstances were anything but normal. “Arianna,” he said firm but softly, “now isn’t the right time.” He wanted it to be, but he knew it wasn’t.
“Come on, Will,” she said slowly, the pout on her lower lip apparent in the tone of her voice, “When has it ever not been the right time between us?”
He desperately wanted to attack her with a comment about the last few years when she couldn’t even look at him, but he knew why she had felt that way, and she didn’t need to be reminded of her feelings when yet another mystery needed solving. “Now.” He noticed her look of rejection at the single word, and although there was a hint of regret within him for saying it, he needed to keep a level head on him. “Now that you can apparently incite people without being in direct contact with them, we need to figure out why.”
Arianna looked up at William, taking his tie in her hands and pulling him toward the couch but he looked at her sternly and stood his ground, even going as far as taking her hands in his and removing his tie from them. With a scowl she sat on the couch and looked up at him. “We don’t even know if I was the one who did that,” she claimed almost nonchalantly.
William lifted his brows and looked at Arianna in a way that made her melt; as though saying “are you serious?” without actually speaking the words. “And if not you, then who, Ari?” he asked, trying not to let his frustration show. “As sweet as he is, we know it isn’t your Kyle. He freaked out, by the way, but he’s home, and intact.” The emphasis he put on the last word almost slapped Arianna across the face as hard as he actually had at Surrender. He paused for a moment before stepping forward and sitting in the arm chair near the couch, keeping his distance from Arianna. “And of all people, Arianna, with the Goldsmiths?” The way he said their name, it was as though they were as old-Vegas – and therefore worthless – as their off-strip address.
“We had business to tend to,” she confessed. “I’d arranged to set Andy up in a room at the Gold Coast for the ritual that prepared the tree he had at that thing where we delivered that Triad guy, but he trashed…” her voice trailed off. She looked at William with wide eyes, her voice again sounding small as she stated, “Andy’s the shaman!” With her realization, she rose from the couch to start frantically looking for her cell phone.
William rose from where he was sitting and went over to her as she looked for the clothes she’d worn to work; the ones that were still back at Surrender, or at least he hoped they were still there. “Ari,” he said, reaching for her arms, “Arianna relax. Slow down.” She was breathing heavily as she broke away from him and stormed into her closet, rifling immediately through clothes she hadn’t worn. William could practically see her mind racing until he stepped behind her and wrapped his arms around her, holding her close, his position allowing him to steady her and almost painfully press his cheek against hers. “Arianna, relax,” he repeated softly, and he could practically feel her pulse racing.
Once again, she broke away from his hold and spun around to glare at him. “Relax?” she near shouted, her eyes alight with a flame that William didn’t recognize. “You didn’t almost commit mass murder inside your club, did you? You didn’t let your guard down. No! I did!”
With his hands slightly raised as though surrendering, William looked at her and resisted the urge to tell her to relax a third time. “I know you did, Ari,” he said cautiously. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m here to help you however I can.” He sighed and leaned against the closet’s door frame and rubbed the back of his neck. “Now that you’re coming back down to yourself, please tell me what’s going on. Who said anything about a shaman? Andy isn’t a witch doctor.”
Arianna shook her head and rubbed her forehead, the fire in her eyes quickly fading as she stepped forward one single step. “No, but he’s a wizard. A wizard of pretty exceptional power. They said…”
William closed the gap between them and took her back in his arms in a warm embrace, “Who? The Goldsmiths?” She nodded against him and he could feel a slightly damp warmth against his shoulder, and he knew she was finally realizing what had happened, the experience and its reality manifesting itself in the tear that left a slightly darkened spot on his shirt.
“They said that his power could attract attention,” she spoke softly, her voice returning to the normal and steady tone that was the Arianna he knew so well. “They said it could be dangerous for me.”
Although he didn’t speak his words, he couldn’t help but think that Arianna had been dangerous enough and probably attracted enough attention already, and that Andy was the least of his worries. Instead, William rubbed his hands slowly, almost unconsciously up and down her spine, pausing momentarily to give her shoulder a squeeze before sliding back down to the small of her back. His thoughts, while still on Arianna and her well-being, moved in the direction of the Goldsmith twins, why they would suggest that Arianna might be in danger because of Anderson, and most oddly, why they would consider Andy a ‘shaman’ of all things. It seemed an odd term to use. “I won’t let anything happen to you, Arianna,” he reassured her.
Arianna rested her head against his shoulder, her nod causing her to rub her nose along his collar. Although her lips curled upward at his words, and she would always be warmed each time she heard them, the events from the day had served as a stark reminder that she can’t rely on him to always be there for her; a reminder that she was the only person she could rely on for her own safety. Despite the thoughts going through her head, she breathed against his neck, “Can you spend the night?”