Pepper Kirk lives for the moment. Diagnosed with an incurable disease, she set out to see the world and found a place—and remission—at the Arcana Royale. For once, life is perfect. Until a federal agent appears, determined to catch the casino in corruption.
Owing her very existence to the magic that sustains her—Pepper reluctantly agrees to seduce the handsome agent and sabotage his surveillance, though she’s not sure how a woman without a dishonest bone in her body will make it work.
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.
He quickly sees through her ruse, yet he finds himself falling under the spell of her porcelain doll beauty, even wanting to help her. But for love to take hold, they’ll have to play the house in a game that’s stacked against them…or lose their lives.
Warning: Contains lies, deceptions, twists, turns, behind-the-scenes plotting, a man with a revengenda, a southern belle who just wants to live her life—and a game they didn’t know they were playing.
Pepper’s nerves strummed like a badly tuned guitar as she strode through the resort to the elevators and rode them up to the rooftop—the Palo. The five-star restaurant was among the Arcana Royale’s best kept secrets. Few casual tourists earned the points to even book a reservation. The special treatment indicated favoritism on the part of the Overseers. She chose a copper dress and simple jewelry.
Pepper wasn’t flashy like Pandora, exotic like Roseâtre, or even dramatic like Kiki—she preferred to be understated, elegant and restrained. Her pleasure came from being with good friends, sharing a few good laughs and dancing her heart out at the back of the stage. She never desired the lead role, but standing inside the restaurant, heart in her mouth, she realized she owned center stage.
I think I may vomit.
“Good evening.” The hostess approached in a cloud of Chanel No 5. The scent irritated Pepper’s nostrils, but she did her best to ignore it.
“Hello, I’m meeting someone—Finn Mikelson?” She managed to project confidence into the words. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all.
“He asked for a table for one.” Skepticism mingled with disdain in the hostess’s face. She could have been one of the Fae—she certainly exuded the air of arrogant superiority. Most of the Fae looked down their noses at humans, even humans working at the Arcana Royale.
A taller man with a darker, infinitely more dangerous air pushed past the hostess. “Right this way, Miss Kirk.” His dark eyes betrayed no hint of amusement. He obviously held a high place in the power structure, because the hostess deferred to him without a hint of argument.
Rumor held that the Palo was designed after an elegant ballroom of the Palace of Versailles. Golden tiles decorated the floors, gilded ivory columns stretched up to the ceiling and every square inch of the walls were decorated in murals ranging from the mythological to the modern. Even the ceiling seemed to be a nod to a twisted Michelangelo fresco. Thankfully, over thirty years on the stage worked for Pepper. She fought the urge to gape and followed the man through the restaurant like she belonged there.
She got her first glimpse of the target as they circled around one of the center columns. He sat at a two-seater table next to a large picture window overlooking the ever-evolving strip. Finn Mikelson glanced up. His attention struck her like a physical blow. The picture she’d seen didn’t do him justice. Nor did it hint at his impressive height.
Suspicion darkened his eyes as he rose and the waiter added a place setting for her. For one horrible moment, she thought he would call her out on joining him uninvited. He didn’t.
Sharp assessment rippled through his gaze as he looked from her to the waiter to the table and back again. Instead of challenging her, however, he merely waited. It made her nerves worse than if he’d objected. Maybe that was the point. The host held out the chair and Pepper glided forward to take a seat.
“Would you care for a glass of wine, miss?”
She smoothed the copper skirt and crossed one leg over the other. “That would be lovely, thank you.”
Nodding, the host excused himself. Mikelson sat back again and settled his napkin across his lap. “Good evening.”
A waiter returned with a glass of red wine. It wasn’t her favorite…it didn’t even make the list. But she wasn’t here to have a good time. Another waiter came by to deliver a small plate of canapés. They swept in and out, not even giving them a courtesy conversation to delay the moment she’d have to explain why she’d joined him.
“Can I help you?” Mikelson’s bemused question only increased the nervous jangling wracking through her system.
“I hope so. My name is Pepper.” She extended her hand and they shook. His fingers were long, well-formed and very strong. The heat of his skin was an unexpected treat, but once he held her hand, he didn’t let it go.
With a light tug, she pulled free. “I hope you don’t mind the intrusion. I told the head waiter I was your sister. I heard you write some terrific romance novels.” The first step to avoiding a question was to not even accept the premise of it. Plowing on, she picked up her wine glass. “You can’t imagine my delight when I heard you were coming to the conference this weekend. It’s a dream come true.”
She was uncertain of where the words came from, but she went with it. Winging it had never been her strong suit. Heidi had promised to help her—maybe this had been what she meant.
Quiet disbelief etched into the man’s face. “You think I’m a romance author?”
Pepper leaned forward, lowering her voice confidentially. “An erotic romance author. It’s okay.” She wrinkled her nose and pressed a finger to her lips. “I can keep a secret.”
What’s up next…Behind the Curtain!