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SNEAK PEEK - Chapters 1 & 2 (unedited)


Las Vegas, Nevada, New Year’s Eve

Weaving her way through the casino, the cries of jackpot winners fueled her inner gambler while the stench of those who’d lost permeated the air.

Rhia Grant wished she could block it all out, but her inherent ability to read people with a mere glance was both a blessing and a curse. Their desperation kept her bank account nicely padded, which allowed her to remain independent of her mother’s coven.

This town ate good people up fast, but she couldn’t let that sway her need for autonomy and keep her in hiding far away from a destiny forced upon her at birth. She’d make her own way in life, thank you very much.

Her gaze caught a red-faced tourist in ripped, faded wanna-be rock star jeans was screaming at his girlfriend-mistress-whatever, for what Rhia couldn't guess. She ignored the obvious domestic meltdown to come, and continued her even paced stride down the red, purple and orange carpeted corridor of the Luck of the Draw Casino and Resort. The crowd assembled on this usually quiet Wednesday provided a titillating action for the mid-westerners here on a discount code, no doubt. The temporary boost in business was probably giving her current client heart palpitations.

Manny was on the short list with his "investors" and most likely sweating bullets waiting for her and her good-fortune potion.

Let him.

She hurried for no one. And certainly not for a man who had trouble with off-table betting when he wasn't harassing waitresses. She was here to deliver a potion, collect her fee and make it home in time for her favorite show and maybe a couple hours of getting lost in a Regency romance.

She winked at the closed-circuit camera when it whirled to capture her image. She turned the handle on the door marked UTILITY - NO ENTRANCE after she heard the click. Just for her. Walking through without a backward glance, she disappeared into the underbelly of the casino, shutting out the annoying sounds and smells of the boisterous crowd.

Everyone here thought she was a college student studying resort management. A good cover when you dealt with gamblers, desperate housewives, and wannabes of every kind. No one ever gave her a second glance. She dressed to blend, not to impress.
Today’s outfit consisted of a mud-brown jacket a polyester skirt and her ever present thick framed fake glasses. Continuing down the cold confines of the hallway, Rhia raised a hand to the back of her head to make sure her shoulder-length hair was still safely secured. She'd swept it into a tight bun to complete her dowdy image.

After winding her way for what had to be a quarter mile of complicated turns and false walls, Rhia arrived at her destination. She knocked twice on the red door so out of place in the industrial decor, it screamed "vice happening here". Manny, her client, opened the door, flashing her a crooked smile. "Right on time Rhia."

"Always for you, Manny." She paused. "And your money."

"Listen, I don't have a lot of time. I've already wired the money to your account and I need to get back up to a whale's suite in ten. Damn high-rollers are a constant drain on my time. Where's the vial, sweetheart?"

"Now Manny, rushing me is never a good idea. And I’m not your sweetheart." Rhia sat down in the leather chair beside the outdated see-through glass desk. "You wound me, Manny. I thought we had a good thing going here. I was expecting the usual, ‘You look nice today, Rhia. Your brown suit brings out the color in your eyes nicely.’”

Manny shifted from side to side. "C'mon kid, you have no idea what I'm up against this time."

"Oh, I'm sure I can guess. But it doesn't matter. It's never going to change till you're ready and in the meantime, your habit is money in my pocket." She shot back.

After a brief stare down, she sighed, and took pity on her best customer. He used to be somebody in this town, once an owner of his own casino. But when you started believing your own hype and broke rules meant for smarter men, then you got what you deserved. Manny Stein was no different from the thousands of others who let Las Vegas drag them down and out.

She reached into her jacket pocket and withdrew the coveted vial. Her potions worked and were highly sought after. By the wrong people usually. But that was another aspect of her profession she chose to ignore. Being beholden to no one was her goal.

Independence was King; or Queen, in her case.

Manny greedily reached for her hand and the vial that would guarantee him good fortune. At least for the next six days. She was no fool. If she made her potions with no expiration date, she'd never have repeat customers. And her bank balance depended on repeat business.

She held her closed hand out of his reach. “Uh-uh. You know the drill. Let me check my account, verify the deposit, and it's all yours."

Manny wiped the sheen of sweat from his forehead. The Luck of the Draw's Pit Boss nodded and waited. Irony at its best.

Rhia took out her smart phone and with a few swipes and a couple taps on the screen, smiled then presented her coveted creation to Manny. "As always, it's been a pleasure." She stood up to leave, but paused. The now mesmerized pit boss acted like he was going to down the entire vial in one swallow. "Don't forget to dilute it, Manny. I don't think I need to remind you about last year's incident, hmm?"

"Yeah, yeah. Lesson learned." He grumbled and moved to his wet bar in the corner of the shabby gray office. He poured a two-finger bourbon, straight. Dumping the entire contents into the glass, he downed his six-day good luck guarantee. "Thank you, Rhia."

She watched as his chest puffed out, his posture straightened, then he smiled. One of the side benefits of the potion. Confidence.

“Okay, I’m out of here. Until next time.”

“Hold on there, kid. I have some friends who are very interested in this stuff. As a matter of fact, they’re up in the suite I mentioned right now.” Manny’s eyes darted around the room then he ran an index finger inside the glass, running it around the inside to gather the dregs of the concoction.

She inwardly cursed after noticing a drop of sweat slide down his forehead plus moisture beading on his upper lip to know he wasn’t telling the entire truth. That he was setting her up.

Rhia's good mood vanished. Shit, she needed to leave—now. She couldn’t explain how she knew when shit was about to hit the fan. She just did. And this time wasn’t going to be bad. It felt massively bad, almost as bad as what had happened a decade ago.

"Next time. I have another appointment and I can’t be late."

Manny stared at her like she had two heads. "Um, no, I mean, these guys will pay big for this stuff. You can’t pass this up, kid. C’mon, this will be the opportunity of a lifetime…hey, what's that noise?"

"What noise?" Rhia had heard it before Manny did and instantly felt an unnatural presence in the facility, but played it cool so not to spook the already buzzed pit-boss.

"Huh, weird. Are you sure you didn't hear that?" He looked toward the ceiling still looking for the location of the noise.

Rhia shook her head and decided she needed to play along so she could get the hell out of there. “What did it sound like?”

"Oh well, kinda like a screech or something," Manny said.

She looked around again, pretending to be as interested in the mysterious noise as he was without overdoing her reaction. "Must be your imagination. Like I said, I need to be somewhere else.” Rhia stood and fast walked toward the door. “Oh, and no driving for at least an hour."

Manny lunged toward her, his hand just missing her upper arm. “You don’t understand, Rhia. You can’t say no to these guys.”

She kept a bored look on her face in spite of her racing heart. “I have rules, Manny. Unless you want this to be your last dose. I suggest you move. Now.”

Her compulsion skills weren’t the best, so she crossed her fingers and waited another beat before having to pull the witch card in full view of the pit boss which would put an end to her time in Vegas.

Finally, Manny’s unfocused gaze gave her the precious few moments she’d need to escape whatever trap waited for her in the penthouse. He stepped back and she bolted down the corridor, turned down a couple corners before pausing to take a cleansing breath. She’d forgotten Manny had horrid breath. Maybe her next creation should be a permanent fix for halitosis?

Then on her second cleansing breath, her eyes widened, and narrowed as she scented Channel No. 5. Damn. That only meant one thing. Or one someone. And the source of the screeching sound and the odd vibe that followed it made sense.


Just then flying down the hallway a pink dove with a piece of parchment attached to its left leg appeared. How predictable. She rolled her eyes as the bird swooped down towards her head, screeched and landed on her shoulder. With her mother's favorite scent wafting gently on the air the bird settled in and offered its leg. Why the hell was she ever surprised? Normal was not in her mother's vocabulary.

She untied the ribbon and removed the parchment. Written in a bold and flowery hand: Ignoring me is no longer an option. Come to my apartment this evening.

In small print, the word Please was written.

Huh. Being nice? That was new.

The threat of Manny’s “friends” forgotten, Rhia now had a bigger threat to deal with as she slipped from the casino unseen.




Six hours later, Rhia glared at the door to her mother's penthouse apartment. She’d rather be anywhere other than in San Francisco on New Year’s Eve, debating with herself whether she was actually going to give in to the one person who claimed to know her destiny. The fact that in fifteen minutes it would be her thirtieth birthday simply added to this messed up situation.

Closing her eyes, she repeated her favorite mantra several times and went in.

"Mother. I'm here." Rhia slammed the door, marched across the marble foyer, then stumbled. Damn it! She’d forgotten about the steps going down into the sunken living room. Righting herself, she continued further into the room and yelled again, “You got your wish, Lila!” Before the echo faded, her jaw dropped, and she froze.

The tongue lashing she intended to give Lila Sabine-Grant, Coven Mistress, mother, and all-around pain-in-the-ass, forgotten. The floor-to-ceiling picture window on the far end of her mother's over the top apartment never failed to beckon her closer, yet it did so this time. Instead of showcasing the spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge, a swirling mass of purple, silver, and blue engulfed the entire expanse of windows.

Shock made movement impossible. A creepy-crawly sensation traveled along Rhia’s spine and she jumped a foot when her mother finally spoke.

"Rhia dear, you're gaping and I must say it's not a flattering look for you." Lila picked at a piece of lint from the sleeve of her designer caftan.

What. The. Hell? Just hours ago she'd received a message from her mother begging, well maybe not begging, her to visit and now her mother was critiquing her reaction.

Curling her hands into fists, Rhia counted to ten. No, twenty was needed in this situation. She’d hated leaving Sin City, especially on New Year's Eve. But the idea of finally putting an end to her mother’s fanciful tale of prophecy had been too big to ignore.

But this? This was not what she was expecting.

"Mother, please tell me this isn’t about that prophecy crap again." Keeping a watchful eye on the swirling portal, Rhia skirted a chair in her way and stopped short, not wanting to get any closer to her mother or the swirl of colors beckoning her.

How the hell was she going to get out of here? She needed a freaking plan, anything to get her mother's attention off her so she could make a run for it, but what?

Heart thundering, Rhia continued inching backwards. "I'm not the destined one you think I am. I'm tired of this same old, and I mean old, conversation.

Lila sighed. "Today is the day, my dear. Your destiny can finally begin."

"Judas Priest Mother, I'm an adult, have been for a very long time and quite happy with my life. I don't need to begin anything. And whomever is waiting for me on the other side of that thing isn’t going to complete me. He’s not my fated mate. I decide what and who I want in my life.”

“Stubborn girl. You may have run ten years ago, but I let you go without giving him your location. But now time is no longer on your side, Rhia.”

"No!" Rhia shouted. "I don't want any part of this nonsense.” Screw this conversation. It was time to address the elephant in the room, the swirling vortex. “And what in the hell is that portal doing in your living room?!"

"Don't underestimate the power of foresight, young lady. You may have been on your own now for quite some time, and away from my influence but if you had stayed to learn more about your destiny, well, not bringing you back to the coven was a huge mistake. I see that now."

Her mother rarely lost her composure, so when Rhia heard the break in her voice, she paid attention. But she knew it wasn’t out of weakness but regret for losing control of her head strong daughter.

On her own since she was twenty, Rhia had plenty of time to decide what she didn't want to be and kept her high maintenance mother at arms-length. “Mother, I told you then and I’ll tell you now, I will not be sold off like a brood mare to someone I don’t know or care to know.”

Lila stamped her black stiletto-clad foot, raising her voice, "I have one hundred and twenty-seven years on you Rhia, and have witnessed many unexpected and prophesied events. If you had bothered to complete your training, then you would better understand the enormity of what is happening. It didn’t have to be this way. Now I have no time to prepare you for the fate that is yours and I—"

Rhia cut her off. "Listen, whatever your dreams or visions have showed you, they're not about me. Apparently, you and him have forgotten that little fact. So, let's just get this straight right now. I'm not going to give up my independence for anyone or to fulfil this ridiculous prophecy.”

"Have a little faith, Rhia. Open your heart to the possibilities of what I tell you. Give me a chance to explain before it's too late. You must expect the unexpected and—”  

Just then, a deafening roar drowned out the rest of her mother’s words. Rhia looked toward the portal as it began to pulsate, matching her thunderous heartbeats. It glowed brighter with each passing second, beckoning her to submit. Its hypnotic pull forcing her closer.

Then, without warning, she was lifted into the air then she was thrust forward into its depths. Rhia yelled to her mother for help. But instead, she heard her mother’s shouted words right before she was engulfed in power far beyond her own.

"Trust in him Rhia; he is your destiny."

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