He started off with some standard card tricks, receiving half-hearted applause from the audience. These were followed by juggling, which I found remarkable simply because of the concentration it required from someone so obviously intoxicated. He didn't miss a move. I think the other members of the audience shared my opinion because their applause warmed up. Inspired by this, Jambini then made a great show of setting his juggling pins on fire. This brought the applause to a standstill, and some of the people in the front rows shifted uneasily.

"Is that a good idea?" I murmured to my friends.

"It never is," remarked Phoebe.

"What do you mean nev - "

Within thirty seconds after lighting the pins, Jambini had begun juggling . . . and promptly set his cape on fire. People gasped and screamed as he flung it off him onto the stage. Considering its cheap material, I was kind of surprised the cape hadn't ignited faster. He stomped on it until the flames were out, and I saw a few stagehands on the periphery ready with fire extinguishers, just in case. Once the cape was a black, smoldering mess, he lifted it up. A dove emerged from underneath it, flying up into the air, much to the awe and delight of the spectators.

"It was part of the show," I breathed, equally impressed.

"Yup," said Phoebe.

Jambini reached for the dove, which just barely slipped past him. It circled around the room, then swooped low into the audience. Along the way, it sideswiped a woman whose hair was elaborately French braided. The dove's foot got tangled in her hair, and it soon became trapped, beating its wings frantically to escape as she leaped up and began screaming.

"Was that part of the show?" I asked.

"No," said Phoebe in awe. "But it really should be."

Within seconds, the stagehands were out in the audience, where they were able to remove and confine the dove. They escorted the woman off as well, heads bent low as they murmured apologies. The Great Jambini made a flourish-filled bow, much to the delight of the crowd. Everyone loves a wacky mishap.

He performed a few scarf tricks, most of which went off without a hitch, and then came to stand in the center of the stage, face grave. "For my next trick, I need a volunteer." His eyes fell on our corner. "A lovely volunteer."

"Oh, he noticed us," said Phoebe, with a sigh. She raised her hand, along with others in the audience. When I did nothing, she elbowed me until I raised my hand as well.

After a great show of examining all the volunteers, Jambini strode up to our table and extended his hand to me. Bastien and Phoebe whistled and cheered, urging me up. I was a little nervous about being set on fire or attacked by birds, but it was hard for me to refuse an audience. I accepted Jambini's hand and let him lead me up to the stage, while thunderous applause rang out around us.

"Just shape-shift into any outfit that comes to mind," he muttered in my ear, his breath heavy with the scent of gin.

Once we were on center stage, he took the microphone and kicked into showman mode. "Now, my lovely assistant here . . . what is your name, lovely assistant?"

I leaned toward the microphone. "Georgina."

"Georgina. What a lovely name. And so, lovely Georgina, all you have to do is allow yourself to be receptive to the awe-inspiring, truly mystical powers of my magic. If you do, wondrous transformations will occur." I nodded in agreement, and more cheering ensued.

Jambini walked over to his prop table and returned with a curtain attached to a hoop and a handle. When he held it up by the handle, the curtain hung down in a way that created an enclosed cylinder, completely concealing the person inside. I obligingly stepped forward, letting the folds of fabric hide me while Jambini gave a "magical countdown." In those brief seconds, I shape-shifted my sparkly cocktail dress to the first thing that came to mind: my green foil elf dress.

Jambini whipped the curtain away dramatically, revealing me in my new attire. People gasped and clapped with delight, and I gave a bow almost as showy as his. Encouraged by the response, Jambini declared, "One more time." I stepped back into the curtained enclosure and changed this time into black jeans, a silver-sequined top, and a woman's tuxedo jacket. When he pulled back the curtain, the applause faltered a little bit before increasing to a frenzy. I'd seen these types of tricks performed before among those not gifted with shape-shifting, and usually performers simply shifted between loose dresses, items easy to get on and off. My choice of clothing kind of defied the logic of those familiar with how the trick worked. But, hey. This was magic, right?

"Show-off," Bastien told me when I returned to my seat.

"Hey," I whispered back, watching Jambini attempt to swallow a knife. He'd gotten about a third of the way there before he started coughing. With a shrug, he finally gave up and simply bowed to delayed applause. "These people deserve something for their money."

Jambini - or Jamie, as I later learned he was really named - was much more appreciative of my performance. My group met up with him in the hotel's drab bar after the show.

"Switching to pants was genius," he told me, knocking back a glass of gin. I had a sneaking suspicion that the show's actual performance was the longest he went without a drink on a given day. "People are going to be scratching their heads over that one for days."

"Maybe too much," warned Bastien. "You'll make mortals suspicious."

I shrugged, unconcerned. "This is Vegas, baby. No one'll question it. Besides, weirder things happen all the time."

Jamie was nodding along eagerly. "And that tacky holiday dress too? That was great. Really god-awful. You know, if you're moving here, I could totally hook you up with a job as my assistant." He chuckled. "People would probably get more out of seeing you than my tricks."

"That wouldn't surprise me in the least," said Bastien, straight-faced.

"Well, thanks," I said, "but I think I've got more jobs than I need. Phoebe already set me up with something."

"Poacher," said Jamie.

The other succubus laughed as she stirred cherries around in her cocktail. "Hey, I can't help it if I - "

A familiar aura spread through the room, and Phoebe fell silent. We all turned as one, watching as Luis entered the bar. Even mortals, who couldn't feel him like we could, paused and watched him stride through the room. There was just something that powerful and compelling about his dark presence.

"Boss man," said Jamie, holding up his glass in a mock toast. "You just missed my amazing performance."

"I've seen your shows before," said Luis, sitting down and beckoning the bartender over. "I don't think I really missed anything."

"Georgina was his 'lovely assistant,' " teased Phoebe.

"Oh?" Luis paused to place his order and then turned toward me. "Pray tell, what did you do to wow them? Set some scarves on fire?"

"Just some run-of-the-mill shape-shifting," I said modestly.

Jamie started in on his second gin glass. He'd ordered two when we sat down. I guess he didn't want to risk waiting the extra few minutes it would take to pour another. "That trick is always best with succubi. Even with a plant and a prepped costume, it never goes off quite as well. I used to have this girl who worked with me when I lived in Raleigh, and she did okay, but you could tell people knew how the whole get-up worked."

Alcohol was buzzing through me pleasantly, and I'd slowed down my consumption so as not to lose my head. Somewhere in that warm haze, Jamie's words tickled a memory. "Raleigh . . . when were you in Raleigh?"

"I moved from there a few years ago. I was there about . . . oh, I don't know." He took a sip of gin, perhaps to help his math skills. "Not that long. Twenty years. I did some good soul brokering, but really, my talents were better appreciated here, you know?"

"When you were there, did you know a vampire named Milton?" I asked. Remembering my conversation with Hugh while I was in the middle of a cheap Vegas bar was weird - but no weirder than hearing Raleigh mentioned twice this week.

"Milton?" Jamie's eyebrows rose, and some of his good humor dimmed. "Yeah, I know him. Scary son of a bitch. Looks like - "

"Nosferatu?" I suggested.

Jamie nodded solemnly. "How anyone as blatantly vampire as him got by as a covert operative is beyond me."

Phoebe frowned. "Did you say 'covert operative'?"

Tags: Richelle Mead Georgina Kincaid Fantasy
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