C1 Miss Predictable: Chapter One
“ Oh, damn .” Cassandra flinched as a jagged blue bolt of lightning sizzled overhead. She planted her foot on the accelerator and roared up the curved driveway of the Olympus Hotel and Casino, praying she didn’t hit one of the many peacocks that wandered throughout the enclosed landscape.
Reaching the entrance foyer, she ground to a halt with a screech of brakes and, releasing the seatbelt, threw herself out of the vehicle. At least that was the idea. In reality her foot caught in the belt and she ended up on hands and knees on the cobbled courtyard. She scrambled to her feet and backed away from the car… Just in time.
A new lightning spear hit the roof of the vehicle. The hood flew open with a monstrous belch. Black smoke billowed high into the sky. A bellhop scampered past and screeched to an undignified stop next to the dying Chrysler, his mouth open as he stared at the charred mess.
Cassandra ignored him. Instead, she bared her teeth at the dark cloud hovering above what was left of her car and flashed a one-fingered salute at the gods. “Bloody hell. What next?” She raised her voice. “Any other natural disasters you want to throw at me?”
On the day her mother disappears, suddenly ferocious heat-seeking lighting stalks her? What storm follows a person at all, let alone from Chicago to Las Vegas?
Speak of the evil black in the sky… Cassandra cringed as another charge of lightning-fed electricity traced a path across the driveway then circled back behind the peacocks that clustered in a group in the shade of a nearby bush. The birds, already upset by the noise of the thunder, set up a frantic cry. Another follow-up flash was enough to send them in a last-ditch charge.
As one, the feathered flock raced across the driveway toward the apparent safety of the foyer. On the heels of another roll of thunder, the peacocks increased their pace until they bobbled like frantic aerobics instructors on steroids. As they reached the cobbled area in front of the open door, Cassandra found herself surrounded. She flung her arms out, trying to dodge the peacocks with little steps in an effort to get out of their way. A sharp beak prodded at her bottom and, with a shriek, she rubbed her offended posterior. Well, so much for that.
The birds surged into the building. Bellowed curses followed their entrance. Cassandra, along with the bellhop, moved closer to the door then peered inside. She couldn’t help but wince at the agitated peacocks attacking the many marble statues scattered throughout the lobby.
She hugged herself tightly around her middle and backed away. She grimaced and shook her head. Another apology. The list grew longer every minute. The car, the feathered freaks. But weren’t hotel employees trained for different kinds of situations? She wondered if killer storms were part of their training package.
Another question. Why did everyone ask questions?
“Everything’s fine. It’s just Beat On Cassandra Week.” Not a horrible answer. Twist her words a tad and no one got hurt.
Her run of bad luck had started seven days ago when her apartment had died as a result of storm damage. A deluge of water had descended on the apartment roof and flooded her place, making the building uninhabitable. No wonder the insurance company cursed the Troy name. She’d had no choice but to camp with her mom.
Cassandra curled her lip at her well-meaning-mother-avoidance plan. No paranormal interaction needed, just bury myself in work. Except three hours after she’d shifted into her mother’s one-bedroom apartment above the shop where she ran her business, Cassandra had found herself without a job. Wouldn’t you know it? The library where she’d worked had closed owing to a mold and mildew problem.
Then what does Mom do? She runs off for a weekend away and here I am a week later — no parent in sight . Cassandra snorted. What was worse was that she was supposed to look after the business.
Her mother ran a little shop selling all kinds of occult paraphernalia. Old books, crystals, wands and a myriad other things people in the woo-woo trade seemed to think was necessary. Total bunkum, as far as Cassandra was concerned.
The main focus of the business, though, was her mother’s tarot readings and crystal ball gazing. And she’d been left to run it? Damn difficult when she didn’t believe in any of this bull. The shop she could have dealt with, but the rest? No way, no how! It felt too much like suckering people in and taking their money under false pretenses. In fact, the whole thing grated on Cassandra’s last nerve. It was time to drag her runaway mom back home and restore reality to its rightful place.
Focus, Cassandra . She dragged herself back to the present and shot a perfunctory smile at the person standing behind her. Okaaay, not the bellhop as she’d assumed! Whoa, romance hero central. Heathcliff, your doppelganger’s alive and well in Vegas . Black hair and dark eyes gave him an aura of broody sex appeal, but there was something about him…
“Beat on this loveliness? Surely sacrilege?” He licked his lips.
Shudder. “The gods alone know what planned hell is next,” she responded.
Question after question. The week from hell after her mother had disappeared followed by a mad flight to Vegas. That was bad enough, but now she’d been cursed with out-of-control honesty. Friends, sleazy neighbors, everyone got the truth treatment. But if she didn’t speak, razors gripped her throat. Oh, it was definitely time to get answers. Woo-woo weird equaled her mother, not her. And an inability to lie was not only beyond strange, it was inconvenient to boot.
Cassandra winced as the guy let his gaze drift over her rumpled shirt, creased pants and wild hair. She looked like an escapee from a fashion asylum. She glared at her smoky car again. The gods suck.
“Those that rule on high are duplicitous by nature,” he said in answer to her earlier comment about the gods. “By the way, I’m Assie. Are you going to be staying with us here at the hotel?”
At her nod, he moved closer. “In that case, if you need me…for anything, call the desk. They always know where I am.” He ran his palm along her arm to her hand and pressed a light kiss to the back of it before he prowled away.
The hair lifted on the back of Cassandra’s neck. Good-looking guy, but he made her feel as if a whole army of boot-scooting ants had danced up her spine. Weird. With a fatalistic shrug, she turned her back on the driveway debacle and marched into the hotel. Once at the reception desk, she placed her bag on the counter and waited. And waited… Until she lost patience and coughed loud and long. The receptionist jumped, but pasted on a fake ‘How can I help you?’ smile.
“I need your cheapest room and what number is Cassandra Troy Senior in, please?” And don’t ask me any hard questions.
The young woman behind the desk crossed her arms. “I’m sorry, miss, but we have a reunion here at the moment. The hotel’s full. You could try the Bellagio next door.”
Warmth rushed over Cassandra’s face. Temper. Control the temper. Save it for your mother . She repeated the mantra. Her craptastic day wasn’t the receptionist’s fault—it was her mom’s. Cassandra moderated her tone and spoke in a quiet voice. “I don’t care if there’s a Perverts R Us convention here. Please, help me find my mother and get me a room.”
Cassandra’s fingertips tingled with a burst of electricity and the temptation to point at the poor woman rode high. With her luck and all the weird things that had happened to her this past week, the receptionist would keel over, and she’d end up in jail for grievous bodily harm or something.
The young blonde hotel employee glanced at her computer. “I’ll see what I can do.”
“Please. And I need to find my mother. She’s a guest here.” At least I hope she is. Cassandra sagged against the desk and concentrated on her biggest problem of all—her mom.
“I’m sorry, we can’t divulge information about our guests without prior approval.”
At the return of the receptionist’s snooty tone, Cassandra’s palms stung suddenly. She stared down at them. She hadn’t even realized she’d clenched her hands into fists. Yet here she was drawing blood.
She flexed her fingers and let the woman have it. “Listen, chicky, Mom has disappeared. The night before she left, she dumped her shop on me—because, of course, I’m reliable and predictable.” She imitated her mother. “ Leave it to Miss Predictable to run The Oracle. ”
“Ah, isn’t The Oracle a Greek lady who tells the future?” The receptionist stepped back out of spitting range, her eyes wide.
An easy question as long as Cassandra didn’t lose her temper. “She’s a distant relative.” She counted to five before leveling her gaze on the girl. “ Please, before I lose my sanity, I need to find my mother. ”
“Can I help?”
A delicious, warm heaviness pooled in the base of her stomach at the husky velvet tones. Cassandra rubbed at her chest. A dull thud double-pumped in her ribcage. Her nipples peaked under her blouse until the pebbled tips ached. His voice alone made her want to dry-hump him right here in the hotel lobby. Compelled, she spun toward the owner of the sultry tones.
Oh my God. Pay dirt. Must be a hunky Men R Us convention. First the guy outside, now this man. Cassandra faked a cough and wiped her chin in case of drool. Man, she hoped her loose words didn’t stab her in her ego.
“I need a room and I’m too angry and arrogant to take no for an answer.” And if asked a question, I can’t lie. Oh, and I live to humiliate myself.
She prayed her compulsive words didn’t insult the delicious man next to her. And a dish he was. The outside far exceeded the voice. In fact, he resembled a Greek god. Thick black hair curled around a perfect face. His olive complexion tied in with her hot deity image and black eyes gleamed at her from his six foot height . Wow. I’d have to stand on a box to kiss this guy or risk neck cramps.
“Miss, can you hear me? Do you need to sit? Or a glass of water?”
Off balance, Cassandra wobbled. She leaned against the desk for support.
“I need a room and Cassandra Troy.”
Hermes Olympus stared at the small, wild woman before him. Abusive guests weren’t sexy, but this one had him harder than the rocks making up the Parthenon. His cock twitched and operated on its own agenda. The insane impulse to beat his chest and drag her to his cave gnawed at his control.
Long, dark red hair swept down her back, with wispy strands framing her face and giving her that just-fresh-from-bed look. Sexy as hell. The sweet, innocent-looking message in her huge brown eyes contradicted the lush sensuality of full, pouty lips. She evoked images of sultry old-time movie goddesses and begged for an entire day of exploration.
He let his gaze run over her. From the top of her fiery hair, across the rumpled blouse that sculpted plump breasts—was that the outline of her nipples straining against the filmy fabric? He continued on, over a narrow waist and across the beguiling curve of hips that filled her jeans nicely.
Definitely a woman to be noticed…and desired. He gripped his hands into fists for a moment then released them. His mouth watered, craved, and his heart revved like a well-tuned Ferrari. The burning need to strip those jeans away ground his control to dust. Common sense dictated that a lobby wasn’t the best place for the loving he had in mind, but this tiny woman wielded a lush attraction. He wanted to worship at her altar, no matter the risk.
Electricity arced between them, but her signals yelled “Not yet!” She was on a mission and it wasn’t him.
“My name is Hermes Olympus and I’m the manager here. Can I be of aid?” He suppressed the longing to lick his lips at the help he had in mind.
“I need a room and I’m after Cassandra Troy.”
“I’m sorry.” He’d do whatever he could to satisfy her, but guest privacy was paramount. “Guests come here to relax in anonymity. Without prior consent, we can’t help you.”
“There’s a problem at home that needs parental explanation. I’ve had a shitty day. No, I’ve had a shitty week. A missing mother, people asking questions I have no desire to answer, and to top it all off, a storm cloud creamed my car. Please, give me a break?”
Speaking of creamed… He had a dream. It involved her, naked, in his bed. Calm, boy. What was wrong with him? Yes, he’d lusted after women before, but he’d never been so over the top. His conquests were normally calculated, planned in advance. But this woman? She tempted him like no other.
His eyes opened wide as a thought hit him with the force of a Mack truck. He didn’t just want to throw her down and bury himself deep inside her. Oh yes, he still wanted that, but it wouldn’t be enough. He wanted to get to know the woman. What made her laugh? What touched her heart? He wanted to learn all about her and the gods save him, for the first time in his life, he wasn’t thinking of a one-night stand.
He shook his head. Oh, he was in so much trouble here. She had bewitched him. The thought gave him pause—would that be so bad? Putting the problem away to be dealt with later, he turned back to Miss Temptation and hoped his fantasy thoughts and rock-hard erection didn’t show.
Hmm, hang on a moment. Mother? And she’d asked for Cassandra Troy? “Why didn’t you say? You must be Cassandra, the daughter. Your mother’s here for the family reunion. Let’s get you a room.” He moved to the desk and spoke to the receptionist, then returned with a room key card.
“No, that’s not right. We don’t have relatives in America. In fact, I don’t think we have any relatives anywhere.”
Hermes stared at the card in his hand. It was clear Cassandra Junior knew nothing of their history. How could her mother not have told her? For that matter, how the hell could she have raised the girl without Cassandra the younger ever getting a hint of what was going on? He opened his mouth then snapped it shut. It wasn’t his place. Her mother should tell her what she needed to know. It did help explain why the daughter was so frazzled right now, though.
“Here’s the key to your suite. Why don’t I show you to your room and you can puzzle this out later?”
“Ah, thanks. But I don’t need a suite. Just my mother and my gear from the car.”
“It’s no problem. Happy to help out.” In any way. Hermes bit back the comment. Scaring the woman wasn’t in his plan. He wanted to know more. A whole lot more.
With a nod, she swept toward the broken wreck of a car. Her juicy ass swayed with hypnotic movement. No waif model here. Just a real woman, not man-made. Heaven had walked into his casino, and he was duty bound to help.
Some people had all the luck.