Sarah glanced at Harper. “You ready for this?”
Harper didn’t answer. They were sitting in the parking lot of the San Francisco. The casino included a six-story luxury hotel, formal dining options, and an entertainment center for comedians, bands, and live shows. The elegance made it difficult for her to associate the place with demons, but the extravagance felt well-suited.
“It’ll be fine,” Sarah told her. “Most demons don’t have the Sight, and they won’t have reason to mistrust us.”
“Well, other than just for the sake of it,” Harper said. “No, it’s not that. It’s just — this isn’t my area, you know? I’d rather be learning more about my Sight or even practicing kickboxing.”
Sarah nodded. “Me too. Chloe usually handles this kind of thing.”
Harper thought back to Alec’s insistence that Chloe couldn’t come. “What did she do, anyway? It’s hard to imagine Chloe as notorious amongst demons.”
“She took out vampires,” Sarah said.
Sarah nodded. “Yes. But that’s her story, and now isn’t the time.”
She got out, slid her purse over a shoulder, and waited. Harper bit back a sigh and joined her.
They both dressed to look sharp in their heels and makeup, though Sarah’s black dress was low cut in the front, and Harper wore a red blouse that showed about a million miles of bareback. She wasn’t a stranger to dressing up for an evening out, and after a couple of minutes, she stopped thinking about the provocative style choice. She noticed Sarah seemed to have a more challenging time with this.
Before they reached the doors, she stopped to say, “Sarah, if we’re going to look natural, you’ve got to stop picking at your dress. We haven’t even made it inside yet, and you’ve adjusted it four times.”
Sarah’s face filled with color, which didn’t flatter her freckled cheeks and red hair. “Right.”
“Hey, don’t worry about it,” Harper said. “New dresses take time to get used to. Happens to us all.”
Sarah looked embarrassed anyway, and just as uncomfortable. But she only thanked Harper and went in. The entrance opened into a comfortable lounge with plush seating, expensive decor, and an unstaffed concierge desk. There were elevators on both ends of the hall.
They went to the left, but nothing happened when Harper punched the button to open the doors. She glanced at Sarah.
“Wait a moment,” Sarah said.
Thirty seconds later, a cultured woman’s voice came from the elevator. “The San Francisco is currently closed. For your convenience, please call guest services for updated information on our hours.”
Sarah leaned forward and spoke in a clear voice. “Convivium.”
“Welcome,” the voice said. Then the elevator doors opened, granting them entry.
“Was that Latin?” Harper asked as the doors closed them in.
Sarah hit the button for the third floor. “Yeah. Pretentious, right? That’s this whole place, though. You can dress it up as nice as you’d like, but the San Francisco is still a demon den at the end of the day. The passcode means feast on.”
Harper made a face. When the elevator doors opened, they stepped into a spacious lobby that led to the casino floor. Though it had familiar aspects, it was different than most casinos Harper had visited. There were more table games than slots, and the machines were in groups of three spread out for privacy. The games were silent to allow for the light orchestral music played throughout, and the lighting was low and seductive.
“Shall we find the bar?” Sarah asked.
Harper nodded. She stepped further in, noting the well-dressed servers carrying silver trays. It wasn’t just drinks they were offering.
“Convivium,” Sarah muttered.
The bar was a rich marble with comfortable seating and plenty more servers, so none would have to wait. Harper saw no menu, nor any products on display. Sarah lingered a few feet away from the bar, so Harper took the lead. She perched on a velvet-topped stool and smiled at the woman who approached.
Harper tapped her nails on the bar, wondering what was common among demons. She settled for, “Your pleasure.”
“As you wish.”
Harper watched as she moved back, disappearing behind a false wall that kept the inventory private. Her Sight let her see past the sweet smile. In reality, she was gaunt, narrow, gray, and chained. Though Harper didn’t know what she was, she somehow knew the binds were a choice.
The other servers were the same, she saw. It explained why they weren’t scantily clad and flirtatious. They gave in different ways to this… feast.
Sarah sat down next to her.
“Are you all right?” Harper asked.
Sarah always seemed so reasoned and confident. Now, though, something in her demeanor felt off, and it was more than the dress.
“Yeah. I just don’t like it here,” Sarah said, her voice low.
“Haven’t you been here before?” Harper asked.
“No. Never needed to. Besides, Alec was against coming here,” Sarah clasped her hands together, grip tight. “Now I can see why. I don’t like the way it feels.”
Harper frowned, looking around. She saw that everyone in the casino wore different expressions, but there was a general feel about them that seemed the same. When she looked back at Sarah, the shapeshifter shared that vibe.
She leaned in. “The place amplifies, Sarah, that’s all. Whatever you’re feeling, it makes it stranger. Most come here feeling hungry. Convivium, right? Lust, power, greed, whatever it is, they want more. It’s affecting you.”
Sarah didn’t look reassured by this. “How do you know? Did that woman tell you? The one who left that?”
Harper blinked and saw a drink before her. She hadn’t noticed the chained demon come back with it. It was smoldering, with a pleasant aroma spiraling up from it.
“No. I know because it’s working on me too. My Sight…”
“I don’t like this,” Sarah said.
“Why?” Harper asked. “Is it fear?”
“It’s disgust,” Sarah said, her voice tight. “Everyone here is sickening to look at. The greed, the selfish exploitation of themselves and others — how can they live like this?”
Harper reached out for her arm, feeling a deep intuition that touch was needed. Sarah stiffened more but didn’t pull away.
“We’re here to find Conner, remember? The rest doesn’t matter. Focus on that.”
“Yes, right,” Sarah agreed. “But where do we start?”
Harper considered her drink. “We have to ask.”
Sarah looked uncertain. “Yeah, but who?”
Harper smiled and picked up the drink. “Her pleasure, I said. If you live to serve — no, if you exist to serve — then I suppose your pleasure would be fulfillment.”
“Harper, don’t!” Sarah reached out as Harper raised the glass, but it was too late. She swallowed down the contents. It burned at first, then turned into light. In her mouth, her throat, her chest. It was heaven and hell, and then it was over. “Harper?”
There was no point in correcting Sarah, not now. It would only make her more anxious, and there was a job to do.
“Are you all right?” Sarah asked.
With Harper’s voice, and Harper’s words, Ileana said, “Just fine. We need to talk to some of the dealers.”
Her descendant wanted to be her, at least here, at least now. The least Ileana could do was oblige.