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 Waiting in the Wings

Soulgirls - 3

by

Heather Long

As always, for my beautiful soulgirls. You make me laugh, sigh in exasperation and charm me with your personal levels of crazy. And for my personal Minion, you may get your own book yet.

Prologue

Surviving an opera took dramatic license and the ability to block out high-pitched singing. Richard Casere possessed both, thankfully, and arrived at his Manhattan penthouse none the worse for wear. The footman alerted him to the presence of his guest, and the valet waited at the door to accept his coat and scarf. Black-tie events in an election year were a necessary evil, particularly with so many courting his wealthy contributions and endorsements. He’d just as soon ignore the entire rabble-rousing lot of humans. They played politics like a blood sport.

Amusement curved Richard’s lips as he strode through the apartment to the drawing room. If they put the candidates in a ring and let them beat the hell out of each other, he would enjoy it more too.

“Malcolm.” He called the greeting and waved the man back into his seat. The head of the Reynolds family was both a great ally and a dear friend. Since Richard took over New York in the early eighteen hundreds and Malcolm assumed the mantle of leadership for his family, the men enjoyed few respites from business.

“Your Majesty,” Malcolm rose despite his order and bowed once. “Please forgive the presumptive audience.” If not for the glint of humor in his eye and the wryness in his tone, the Prince of New York might have taken offense at the disobedience.

But Malcolm never offered challenge—not once—in four hundred years of friendship.

“Drink?” Richard didn’t slow his pace until he stood at the bar. He hated the publicity stunt events, hated the speeches and—most of all—hated the company. But he attended, did his civic duty and now he hoped they all tore themselves to shreds before the election month was out.

“Thank you, I helped myself to the scotch.” The Reynolds family head toasted him with the tumbler.

“Good.” Pouring himself a drink, Richard tossed it back in one swallow and then poured a second. The warmth couldn’t touch the icy core of him—nothing did—but the burn took the edge off the agitation. “I heard about your cousin. If you need me to call Andrew, I would be happy to begin negotiations.” His teeth sharpened at the possibility. Ripping out the Prince of Las Vegas’ throat would offer some satisfaction.

“I appreciate the offer, but Frederick committed the crime—he can serve out his sentence. I mediated it down from three centuries to one. He could stand a little toughening up and discipline.” Malcolm remained standing until Richard chose the second wingback chair at the fireside and sat.

“I doubt your aunt took that well.”

“I gave her a bride to fuss over.” Malcolm grinned. “They are thick as thieves—she and my Jeannie—they will do well.”

“Ahh, how the mighty have fallen.” Richard had heard the rumors. Malcolm had refused to try and turn his bride; instead he’d chosen blood bonding. He wouldn’t risk her to the possibility of madness, but the bond would elongate her life, allowing her to walk the centuries with him. Richard had been fortunate in his own choice, but he couldn’t fault Malcolm’s reluctance.

“Mightier than I have fallen before.”

Richard tried to ignore the surge of violence in his soul. Fury seethed just below his skin, but he merely flexed his fingers, checking his rage and containing it. Fifty years made him an expert in denial.

Sitting forward, Malcolm set his glass on the table and clasped his hands together. “Now, Your Majesty, I must beg your indulgence as I overstep the boundaries of propriety and bring up a subject I know full well you will disapprove of…”

Only one subject could earn such an introduction. Richard slammed back his drink and set it down lest the glass shatter in his hand. “Malcolm, have a care—”

“I found Kiki.”

A red haze descended across his vision. “Do not toy with me.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it, my lord. Nor would I bring up such a sensitive matter if I didn’t have some confirmation.” Rather than continue his explanation, Malcolm held out a cell phone.

The thud of Richard’s heart shook the dust off his soul as the prince accepted the device and rose from his chair. He walked a few steps away and flipped the phone over. Midnight eyes, alabaster skin and a rich mane of tawny, golden-brown hair struck him like a physical blow.

The coy smile on her lips raked him over the coals. The playful glint in her eye disguised a far deeper sadness—a sadness only he saw. Everyone else saw her bombastic attitude, her unmitigated joy and her party spirit. But Kiki—Kristina—she was so much more than that.

“Where?” The word came out a hard growl.

“Las Vegas—at the Arcana Royale.” His somber voice warned the prince of more.

He didn’t look at Malcolm. “Go on.”

“She’s ‘working’ in the Midnight Mystery Lounge where I found Jeannie. Jeannie knows her—that image came from Jeannie’s phone. She texts with her friends now and again. The Lady Kristina sent her that picture two nights ago. I recognized her immediately.”

He would not crush the phone. “I hear the ‘more’ in your voice, Malcolm. Tell me.”

“I don’t think she remembers you—or her life. Jeannie said that she joined the revue a few decades ago, but she was a clean slate when she arrived. Playful, adventurous and a delight were my lady’s words. But Kiki didn’t know where she came from or why she was even there. This is not as unusual for some of the performers.”

She hadn’t left him to never return on purpose. She didn’t remember him. White-hot pain lanced through his skull. “Send emissaries immediately to bring her home. We can resolve this here…”

Malcolm’s silence stretched over the prince’s nerves. He turned to study one of his oldest and dearest friends. The ally he would trust at his back in any battle. “What?”

“No emissary we send can free her directly. Each of those who serve in that lounge is a prisoner of the casino. The Overseers own their souls—”

The phone crunched, the glass screen shattering in Richard’s hand.

“Contact Andrew. Make arrangements to allow me to fly into the city. Arrange an escort to the Royale —”

“As you wish, and I will gladly give you the run of my suite there. But Your Majesty…”

“But nothing. What wouldn’t you do to free your bride?”

“Nothing, Your Majesty. I would stop at nothing. I will approach Prince Andrew immediately.”

Richard waved him out, his own focus turning inward. Fifty-three years before, Kiki had stood in this same drawing room, furious with him. Her temper—a sight to behold—practically crackled the air around her. Their argument—he could barely remember the topic now—a mundane one. But his patience had worn thin that night, and now he regretted the words. Regretted them more than she knew.

At sundown the following evening, he awoke to find her gone.

He never saw her again.

Until tonight.

His secretary stepped into the room. “Your Majesty. Your plane will be ready within the hour. You have an audience with four emissaries of the Prince of St. Petersburg. Mr. Reynolds offered to redirect them to his corporate offices—”

“That’s fine. Malcolm has my full authority. Draft a letter to that statement and bring it to me for my seal. He will be in charge until I return.”

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