Sisters In Blood (Blood Series Book 6) by T. Lynne Tolles

Katarina sat in front of Dominic’s desk feeling like a little girl pretending to be a grown up in its enormity. A stack of zebra stripes on fuchsia invitations piled to one side of the desktop, along with envelopes and the address list on the other. With pen in hand she dove into the task laid before her.
Sisters In Blood (Blood Series Book 6)
Sisters In Blood (Blood Series Book 6) by T. Lynne Tolles
With the aftermath of the three marriage proposals that were accepted at Devon and Darby’s wedding rehearsal dinner, Katarina thought a trip to Las Vegas would be a fun way to celebrate and an even better means of getting all the girls together now that bride Darby and groom Devon were home from their honeymoon. With Katarina’s own wedding date approaching at lightning speed, this trip could serve as a bachelorette party for her and a chance to blow off much needed steam from dealing with all the headaches of the impending nuptials. * * * The first envelope was addressed to her soon to be daughter-in-law and bride’s maid—Melanie Harper. They had grown quite fond of one another since the deadman’s blood incident with Dr. Rowe. It’s not every day that a son and father marry mere months apart. Melanie and Josh had opted to stay in Connecticut since there was nothing in Washington waiting for them. They were able to pull their resources and savings together and bought a house in town not too far from her and Dominic. Along with getting to know Melanie, the move had allowed Katarina and Dominic a second chance at reacquainting themselves with their son Josh. They had missed much of his life but when Josh cleaned out his adopted parent’s house after their recent accident, Dominic and Katarina had been blessed with hoards of pictures the Brenner’s had taken documenting every milestone of Josh’s childhood. After the destruction of the Bloodstone Heart, each one in the group received a new power they worked to master. Josh’s was strength and Melanie’s was the power of healing. Before the Bloodstone Heart incident Josh had been gifted with an unusually strong telepathic ability, unbeknownst to him, had been the result of father’s vampiric blood. But being brought up by telepathic humans can feel more like a curse than a gift. Thankfully he ran into Melanie, literally, who saw his affliction with her own psychometric ability. They learned together that what they both hated about themselves would in the future save them and their unknown family. It had been a long road, but now that Melanie and Josh were in Katarina and Dominic’s lives, wounds of the past were being healed. Josh was coming to terms with the fact that Katarina hadn’t given him up because she didn’t want him, but because society had locked her up and labeled her as insane. Dominic was just thrilled to find he had another son in Josh. And well, Anton and Josh connected from the get go. Finding they were brothers was an added bonus. * * * The next invitation was for Julianna D’Angelo. From Katarina and Julianna’s first meeting something clicked between them and they had become fast friends. Katarina often referred to their relationship as cosmic sisters; sisters that were not of blood, but of destiny. Julianna was Katarina’s maid-of-honor and at the house nearly every day. Of course dating Dominic’s son Anton contributed to Julianna’s frequenting the house, but whether they saw one another or not, they rarely missed a day without a little chat. Not long after Darby and Devon left for their honeymoon, Julianna and Anton became serious. Problems abounded with Julianna being a four hundred year-old made vampire and Anton, a born vampire descending from the original four brothers, but they seemed determined to make it work. With Anton’s apartment in New York City, Jules’s house in Boston and visiting in Connecticut, both spent more of their time traveling to meet up than sharing time with one another. Recently though, they took a page from Josh and Melanie’s book and bought a house in Connecticut. When Anton wasn’t with Julianna, he was usually with Josh. They’d become almost as inseparable as Anton and Julianna, so it only seemed logical to reside in Connecticut. When no one was traveling, Sunday night dinners at the Larsen mansion brought loved ones together. No longer was the big old house dark, cold and lonely; it was full of family, laughter and love. * * * The next invitation was to Rowan O’Rielly, soon to be Bloomington. She finished her degree at UC Santa Cruz and was creating an undergrad course teaching ‘Werewolves and Witches,’ a subject near to her heart, being both. Rowan was the last of the three surprise proposals to wed next spring. This would allow her to get settled in her job before she was up to her eyeballs in wedding planning. She and Blake, a born vampire and nephew to Dominic, planned to take a small vacation before she started work, to visit Darby and Devon in Ireland after which both couples would fly back to the states stopping on the east coast for a visit with the Larsen crew. * * * Next on the list was Alyssa Sarducci. She and Mark were presently living in the cottage below the mansion while Mark worked full time for Dominic. They’d become like family to the Larsens and Bloomingtons and were almost always in attendance of the Sunday dinners at the big house, or any other family function. Mark, Bernard, Anton, Dominic, and Josh got together for poker whenever they could, and Alyssa often filled in when one of them was absent. The problem was she was a better poker player than any of the guys, often breaking the bank and sending them all home with empty pockets. But not only was she a better poker player, the tiny wisp of a woman could out drink the humans, keep pace with vampires, and smoke a cigar like no one’s business. With the girls, Alyssa was the comic relief, always coming up with a joke or gypsy saying that always lightened the mood and kept them laughing. * * * The next invitation was addressed to Sally Keaton. She and Dean, her very own werewolf, settled in Oljone buying the Bennet house Devon and Blake had rented next to the O’Rielly sisters when they first arrived in California. Though quiet, she had made a great success out of the Cauldron Book and Candle that Darby sold to her. Alyssa, Melanie, and Sally spent hours on the phone almost daily. When Sally wasn’t talking to Alyssa, she was talking with Melanie. Blake, Dean, and Mark were often texting rude, gross, and chiding comments to one another when they weren’t hard at work, keeping them connected. Alyssa and Mark flew to California every chance they got since Dominic sent Mark to the west coast for research on almost a monthly basis and Josh and Melanie whenever work allowed. * * * The final envelope was to Darby O’Rielly. Darby and Devon had spent their honeymoon traipsing through Europe for ten weeks. A weekly call to Blake and Rowan was their only connection to the family while they were gone, but once they were back, Darby kept in constant contact with Melanie and Rowan. Though carrying their daughter for going on four months already, she showed no sign of the impending birth since the pregnancy could be anywhere between eighteen to thirty-six months with a vampire daddy. The lack of a baby bump didn’t stop Darby from buying up a storm of adorable little girl items. Since Darby heard the baby’s thoughts she knew exactly what to eat and what not to eat without feeling too sick. Devon doted on his girls as much as he could. He received a lot of razzing from the guys for his pampering, but it didn’t seem to bother him; they’d be doing the same thing when their time came. * * * With all the invitations lovingly addressed, Katarina placed each one into a shipping envelope along with tickets, itineraries, hotel reservations and marked: Girls Night Out She set the sealed envelopes on the round table in the foyer for pick up later that day, patting the pile affectionately as she thought how much fun they would have in Las Vegas. Chapter Two One by one responses came in from the girls by text, phone, and email. All were able to make the dates work, with some minor rearrangements to accommodate the weekend. It was a relief to Katarina that everyone seemed to be tickled pink to get away for some girl time. Dominic was planning a weekend of poker with the boys who were local, and Katarina was sure fun would be had by those in attendance. In between phone calls to caterers and florists, sorting out final details of her wedding throughout the following week, she shopped for the trip finding attire for swanky nightclubs, fancy restaurants, shows, and downtime at the pool and spa. When Bernard assembled the luggage in the foyer the day of the departure, Dominic asked, “Exactly how long are you going to be gone, Kat?” “Just the weekend. Why?” “It looks like you’re leaving for a month,” he said pulling her waist to him and kissing her softly. “You’re not getting rid of me that easily,” she said with a laugh, nuzzling her face into his chest. “I’ll be back before you even notice. Besides you’ll be busy with the boys. Now don’t forget, you, Josh, and Anton need to get fitted for your tuxes and…” Dominic gently touch his index finger to her lips stopping her from speaking and said, “Hush now. This is supposed to be a break from all that. I can handle things while you’re gone. You know I’ve planned a party or two from time to time.” “I know. You’re right. It’s hard to turn it off sometimes,” Katarina admitted. “It is, but you need to enjoy yourself too. Right?” “Right.” “I can’t believe the wedding is so close, a matter of days now,” she said holding him tightly, enjoying the moment. “Are you nervous?” Dominic asked. “Not about the actual wedding… Mostly about the reception.” “Don’t worry, Kat. Once we’re married, the whole place could fall down and I would call it a success. All I care about is having you as my wife. The rest is icing on the cake,” he said reassuring her. “Nicky, I love the sentiment, but let’s not jinx things. I’d really rather not have the building falling around us.” “As you wish, my dear. Now have some fun,” he encouraged. * * * “I will. I’m waiting for…” she started to say as the door opened and a tiny out of breath brunette came in with luggage that looked four sizes bigger than her. “Alyssa. You carried that all the way from the cottage? Where’s Mark?” Dominic asked. “He had a flight into New York this morning to check up on that lead you asked him about a couple of days ago,” Alyssa said plopping a large colorful tote on top of the suitcase in front of her. “Oh, right. You should have called up here. Bernard or I could have carried that for you.” “No worries. I’m a lot stronger than I look,” Alyssa said with a huge determined smile. “Is Jules here yet?” Katarina glanced at her watch. “No. But I expect her and Melanie any second. They were coming to the house together.” “I should have gotten a Suburban for you girls if this is any indication of the amount of luggage you’re all bringing,” Dominic said. Katarina gave him a little shove of disapproval. Alyssa laughed and swung the giant door open when she heard a car door outside. A squeal came from her as she spotted Julianna and Melanie making their way to the porticos. Dominic retrieved the bags from the oncoming girls as they hugged and greeted one another in high pitch twitters he was sure only other females could interpret. As soon as he set the heavy load down, he heard another vehicle make its way up the crushed gravel driveway and guessed it must be the limousine scheduled to take the ladies to the airport. Without missing a beat he lugged the bags back outside and Bernard met him with Katarina’s and Alyssa’s luggage. They helped the driver arrange bags in the trunk and after several attempts at getting everything in, he finally opted to put one large and one small bag in the passenger seat beside him in the front. Dominic and Bernard were met with a parade of kisses and hugs of hellos and goodbyes from the four women as they made their way to the car. Dominic and Bernard looked upon each other and laughed as they shared a colorful arrangement of red and pink lip imprints on their cheeks. “It’s good to be loved,” Dominic said proudly displaying his lip prints. “Indeed,” Bernard said delightedly flaunting the vibrant kisses on his face. They both waved to the ladies in the limo as it drove off. * * * On the opposite coast, Dean and Blake were driving Sally and Rowan to San Francisco airport to meet up in Las Vegas. “Now don’t forget, Blake, you need to call in your measurements for your tux,” Rowan reminded Blake while Dean sniggered. “I know,” Blake replied less than enthusiastically. “I don’t know why guys are so hesitant to wear tuxedoes. If you knew how much women loved men in a tux, you’d wear them all the time. Even a nerd can look pretty darn good in a tux,” Sally said. “Pffft,” Dean said as he changed lanes on the highway to their destination. “I don’t buy it. Tuxes make you look like a wuss.” “Do you consider James Bond a wuss?” Sally retorted. “No, but he’s not Rambo either,” Dean defended. “Well, I think you both looked amazingly handsome at Devon and Darby’s wedding in your tuxes,” Rowan said then sneezed. “Bless you,” Blake said. “Thanks.” “Of course we looked awesome. We’re manly men…at least I am. Can’t say that for old fang face,” Dean said. “Don’t start with me, Dean,” Blake said from the backseat. “You feeling okay?” Blake asked Rowan. “Yeah. I’m fine,” she said. “At least I don’t have to wear a monkey suit for this one,” Dean said proudly. Sally jabbed him in the ribs from the front passenger seat. “Seriously. What is the issue with tuxedoes?” Sally asked. “First off, their uncomfortable as all hell. The shoes they give you are intolerable. The whole thing is stifling. It’s like wearing a straightjacket,” Dean explained. “They’re not that bad, though I’ll agree if you have to rent shoes, they can be pretty uncomfortable. The tux itself isn’t horrible. My neck sometimes gets a little chaffed, but I think it’s because I don’t wear a tie much. Not used to it,” Blake said. “Chaffed? Pansy…shall I get you some flower scented moisturizer?” Dean said. “Moron,” Blake answered. “So tell me, Dean, how many times have you worn a tux?” Sally asked. “Once,” Dean replied. “That was at Darby and Devon’s wedding, right?” Sally said. “Yeah, so?” “Seems to me you got lucky that night,” Sally said. Dean smiled devilishly at Sally, obviously remembering the events of the evening. “Why, yes I did!” he said with excitement, stroking Sally’s arm. “Then if the only time you had to wear a monkey suit got you a memorable night in bed, wouldn’t you be willing to wear one again if it received such an impressive response?” Sally explained. “Ooooh… I see where you’re going with this, sweet thing. Baby likes the Deanster dressed to kill,” Dean flirted. “I think I’m going to puke,” Blake said with playful disgust. “Deanster? You are such a nut,” Rowan said laughing uncontrollably. Sally patted Dean on the arm and smirked at him. If he was a cock in a hen house, he’d have been strutting his proud self around. Dean pulled up to the airport departure curb and jumped out of the SUV. With Blake’s help he deposited the bags nearby for the girls. Rowan and Sally said their goodbyes to the men and made their way into the terminal and their awaiting plane. * * * Devon accompanied Darby on the first leg of her trip from Ireland to the states allowing him as much time as he could get with his new bride. When they landed in New York, they parted one another with a few hundred kisses. Darby headed west to Las Vegas and Devon headed south to Connecticut for some male bonding and poker. Chapter Three Unfortunately for the Connecticut group, there were no non-stop flights to Las Vegas out of Hartford or Providence, so they had a short layover in Chicago. Melanie, Alyssa, and Katarina chit-chatted throughout the flight and layover, but Julianna was silent only speaking when spoken to and with short straight-forward answers. Melanie and Alyssa went to the food court giving Katarina a moment to speak with the quiet Julianna. “Jules, you okay? You don’t seem yourself,” Katarina asked with concern. “I’m sorry, Kat. I don’t want to rain on your parade with my problems. This is supposed to be a fun time for you,” Julianna said. “I’m not going to have one iota of fun if you don’t get whatever is bothering you off your chest. You’re my best friend, Jules. What bothers you, bothers me. Maybe if you talk, I can help,” Katarina explained. “You’re right, I suppose. I’m still getting used to this ‘having friends’ thing. I’ve spent so much of my life alone, I forget sometimes what it means to have people in your life who want to make things better or listen to your worries and problems,” Julianna said. “So…what is it that’s got you so bothered?” Katarina asked. “Anton and I got into this big fight before I left and I can’t seem to set it aside,” Julianna said. “What about?” Katarina asked. “He claims I’ve been procrastinating,” Julianna said in a huff. “Have you?” Katarina asked. “No!” Julianna said reacting angrily at first, then, “well, maybe.” “You seem a little defensive,” Katarina noted. “I guess I am. It’s been an ongoing theme between Anton and me since we moved in together,” Julianna responded. “It’s understandable to go through growing pains as you get to know one another. There’s no downtime between dates anymore. You see each other in ways you’ve never seen before, whether that’s good, bad, or annoying,” Katarina explained. “I know all that, but it seems like all we do is argue,” Julianna said. “Then this is the perfect time for you get away and get perspective on why you are arguing,” Katarina said trying to spin the conversation to a positive side. “I suppose that’s true,” Julianna said forcing a small smile. “Look you have three days of girl time ahead of you. Use this to take the edge off. There’s not a woman here who doesn’t care about you and Anton. Think of us as family and enjoy yourself,” Katarina said. “You’re right. We’re here to have to fun and blow off steam. Maybe this is exactly what Anton and I need,” Julianna said. “Exactly,” Katarina agreed. “Thanks, Kat. You’re the best,” Julianna admitted. “I try,” Katarina said with a laugh, when she spied Melanie and Alyssa emerging from the crowd, smiling as they came. The second leg of their trip was a hoot. They sat in first class with a woman who looked suspiciously like Lady Gaga, and five Elvis impersonators. The Elvises ranged in age and weight, documenting Elvis’s change in appearance over the years of his career: from the boyish James Dean look of the fifties, to a heavier look and mutton chop sideburns. With polyester bell bottoms, big collars, sequins and big hair, let’s just say there was a whole lot of shaking going on. By the end of the flight they’d been through nearly all of Elvis’s most popular songs, seen a large array of famous crowd pleasing signature moves, including swiveling hips, rubber-legged dance moves, and the all-important upper lip curl. Add a few hundred ‘Thank you very much’s’ and ‘you’ve got yourself one heck of a flight.’ There wasn’t an adult on the plane who didn’t exit humming their favorite Elvis song. One smart-aleck who was last to depart the plane even announced, “Elvis has left the plane,” much to the staff’s amusement. * * * Sally and Rowan had a direct flight to Las Vegas in the early afternoon which had them arriving very close in time to the Connecticut girls. Rowan was ready for some celebration after finishing her bachelor’s degree. She, Blake, Sally, and Dean went out for a small dinner in her honor but this trip she planned on letting her hair down and doing some serious partying. Sally was all for that. She’d not done much of anything for a while. Getting the bookstore back in business after the explosion, and expanding as she had lately, was taking up a great deal of her time. Business was growing enough that she had hired a gal to take over the day to day management of the store so she could focus on expansion and also have time to herself. The flight to Las Vegas was uneventful, which is how one likes to have a flight. “Aaachew.” Rowan sneezed. “You’re not coming down with something, are you?” Sally asked. “No, but even if I were, I refuse to get sick,” Rowan announced. “Is that so. And how is it you plan to do that? After all, isn’t getting sick what always happens right before you get a break in your schedule. I remember whenever I went on Christmas break, half of the vacation I spent sick with the flu; it’s like your body is playing some kind of really bad joke on you,” Sally said. “I know and that’s why I refuse to get sick. I intend to use mind over matter. If I don’t admit I’m sick then I won’t be,” Rowan explained with determination. “Sure you will. I think you’ve been hanging out with Dean too much,” Sally joked. “That’s probably true, but just in case,” Rowan said, opening her purse and revealing a mosh posh of flu and cold deterrents, including Zircam, Echinacea, vitamin C, hand sanitizer and Zinc lozenges. “At least you came prepared.” Sally laughed. “Better safe than sorry, right?” Rowan said. “Right. On that note, hand over some of that vitamin C and the hand sanitizer. If we’re sharing a room, I better arm myself too,” Sally retorted. * * * Darby’s second flight from New York to Las Vegas was delayed, otherwise she might have met up with the girls at the time they arrived, but that wasn’t in the cards. The plane sat on the tarmac fully loaded for well over an hour before take-off. She was in first class and closed her eyes while they waited, only to be constantly interrupted by an ever-complaining French accented gent across the aisle and behind her. He was giving the stewardesses the workout of a life time. Though he didn’t look familiar, the man seemed to think everyone should know who he was. She only knew he was some kind of actor or performer only because he kept insulting the stewardesses with “Do you have any idea who you are speaking to?” or “I’ve had better service in the slums.” Like most around the obnoxious talent, Darby requested earphones to drown out the grumblings of his tirade. Soft soothing, sleep-inducing music was no match for the boisterous fellow, so it was the classic rock station and later a movie to muffle the griping. She was glad to finally leave the plane for the droning white noise of the crowd murmurings of the airport. Aside from the occasional shout or cry of an infant or child, it was bliss compared to being trapped on the plane with that egotistical belly-aching man. Her cellphone buzzed the announcement of a delayed message from the rest of the girls that noted due to the delay of her plane they had employed a separate driver to take her to the hotel so the rest could get settled. The driver would have a sign and wait for her outside the baggage claim area. Darby waded through clumps of people, weaving in and out of on-comers, following several of her plane travel mates to the baggage carousel. She checked the board for the destination her suitcase would take and hunted down the specific depository. After a few moments, a handful of people turned into a tiny mob staring at the monitor and waiting for the metal conveyor belt to whir into motion. A siren announced the start of the machine and a long line of similar black bags slowly paraded past the impatient recipients. When Darby first arrived at the baggage carousel, she stood with a straight shot to where the suitcases would pass by, but now that the crowd had moved forward, she could only see tiny glimpses through gaps of the mob. Was that her bag? She looked like she was doing some kind of strange dance as she stooped, stretched, craned, and bent to catch sight of a green canvas bag creeping by. She excused herself and pushed her way to the case conveyor lunging for her item, which knocked her off balance when she miscalculated the weight of the luggage. She yanked freeing it from a nested black duffle and dropped it at her side. A shrill sounded beside her and she jerked to her right to see the irate Frenchman who plagued her flight, ranting and swearing at her. “You miserable, swine. I think you broke my foot,” he shouted. A wide berth emerged around Darby and the hollering man. She couldn’t blame them. If she hadn’t been the means of his protest, she’d have tried to blend into the crowd and disappear herself. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to drop it on your foot. I got knocked off balance.” He was having none of her apologies. Airport security and personnel appeared from everywhere. “What’s happened here?” An overweight security fellow with one hand on his club asked Darby. “I accidentally…” Darby started. “This wretched imbecile, has ruined my career, is what’s happened,” the Frenchman whined. “Uh, I set my suitcase down and due to the crowd pushing in, I hit his foot,” Darby finished. The security guard looked at Darby and looked at the non-stop sniveling man and said, “Would you both come with me. We’ll take down a report of the injury.” “Report? Arrest her…this, this, tart is a danger to society. She should be behind bars. She…” he went on and on. “Smith, take Mister…” The security guard stopped for the Frenchman to insert his name. “Laurant.” He paused waiting for the security man to react, but when he didn’t get a reaction or the recognition he hoped, he continued, “Jean-Pierre Laurant? THE Jean-Pierre Laurant,” he said as if adding ‘the’ would make everyone recall who he was, When that did not occur, he was insulted and even more coarse. “Smith, take Mr. Laurant to the back and get his statement.” The man who Darby could only assume was Smith stiffened at the mention of his name and began fumbling for his words before leading Mr. Laurant away. “Miss?” the security guard said gesturing she walk the direction his outstretched arm indicated. She followed, wheeling her bag behind her. After a forty-five minute interrogation and the signing of the completed report, she was allowed to leave. She found an anxious man no longer holding up his name sign surmising he was her ride to the hotel. After a brief explanation of what happened as he put the bags in the trunk of the sedan, they were finally off to the hotel. Chapter Four Upon arriving at the Bellagio, Katarina quickly checked everyone in, distributing keys to the girls. There was a total of three suites. Two of the suites had two bedrooms and one was a family suite which had three. They were on the same floor and near one another. The suites were decadent and finely decorated. The living area of the two bedroom suites overlooked the dancing fountains of light that adorned the entrance to the hotel. A little down time of unpacking, and exploring their rooms, gave way to Darby’s arrival. Once she was settled in the suite she shared with Rowan, it was time to rock and roll. * * * L’Atelier de Joel was one of the restaurants mentioned when the topic of dinner came up, but after Darby explained her Frenchman woes in the airport, they opted for something more casual and ended up at Tacos and Tequila at the Luxor. Daiquiris (virgin for Darby) and margaritas passed among the ladies to start the weekend on the right foot. Katarina lifted her glass and said, “I want to raise a toast to you all for coming this weekend to help me celebrate my rapidly approaching wedding. Each of you and your significant others have become my family and I’m thrilled to have you here. To family.” The girls repeated, “Family,” and clinked glasses. “Since it’s been a while since we’ve seen one another, I thought we could go around the table and everyone give a little insight of what you and your partner in crime have been up to. “To make it easy, I’ll start things. As you probably know I’ve been busy planning my wedding. Dominic surprised me with this Vegas event to have a little down time with you. All I had to do was send out the invites and he did everything else. That’s pretty much it,” Katarina said then turned to Melanie next to her. “My turn. Right. Well, I too am planning my wedding to Josh who most of you probably know since the invitations just recently went out. Katarina and I have been doing a LOT of shopping and talking. If it weren’t for her, I’m sure I would have totally forgotten to have music for the reception. Let’s see, Josh and I bought a little house in Connecticut. I’m staying there presently and he’s staying at the Larsen’s until we’re married,” she said with a blush. Alyssa jumped in, “Lanie, you’re such a good girl—saving yourself for the wedding night.” Melanie hid her face in her hands with a smile. “I’m next,” Alyssa continued. “Mark and I are living in the cottage on the Larsen estate, thanks to Dominic’s unfailing generosity. Mark’s been traveling a lot for him. Dominic and I have been spending time cataloging all the amazing historical documents and relics we found in the archives after our dealings with Dr. Rowe, but now with that done, I’m looking into getting a job in town. I’ve applied at a couple places so we’ll see what pans out.” She turned to Sally on her right and said, “Your turn.” “Dean and I have finally got the bookstore doors open after the explosion. It’s been a godsend having a boyfriend who’s a contractor, plus with the long hours I’ve put in getting things ready for the grand opening, he’s often at the bookstore either working or overseeing someone he’s contracted. I’m going to miss that or have to keep him employed on a never-ending expansion so I can see him like I do now. While the bookstore is being fixed, I expanded onto the internet to the point it keeps me busy full time, so I recently hired a gal to manage the physical store while I take care of the internet part,” Sally told the girls. “My turn,” Rowan said excitedly. “When Sally isn’t working at the bookstore she’s been helping me plan my wedding which is now in the works. Yes, I’ve finally graduated. Yay!” Everyone gave a little cheer and tinked their glasses. “Other than that, Blake’s been working at this small start-up he really likes and it looks like they want to hire him to head up a big project they’re considering. He’s pretty excited about the prospects of being an actual employee and settling into a job other than bouncing around as a contractor. “Before I start my job at the university, Blake and I will be taking a vacation to Ireland to spend time with Darby and Devon before getting tied down with our new jobs and all,” Rowan said, looking to her right at her sister. “We can’t wait. We are so looking forward to your visit,” Darby added then continued. “As most of you know Devon and I just got back from our honeymoon.” Alyssa interjected, “Do tell… We want details,” and winked. “My lips are sealed. You’re going to have to get Mark to the altar and live out your own honeymoon fantasy,” Darby teased. “Oh believe me, I’m working on him. I’ll get him to the church one day even if I have to drag him kicking and screaming,” Alyssa said and a roar of giddy laughter spilled from everyone at the table. “No doubt he’ll be dragging Dean along with him,” Sally added. “Good then we can have a double hitching,” Alyssa said to her best friend Sally. When the laughing died down, Darby continued, “Now that we’re home we’re focusing on renovating the house. Devon had it updated to the point he can work from home, but we need the plumbing and kitchen updated. Hopefully all will be in working order when Blake and Rowan come for their visit.” Melanie asked, “Where did you go on your honeymoon?” “All over Europe. We started in Paris, then to England. After that we took a river cruise down the Reine and explored as many castles as we could. Venice was next, then Rome, then Spain. Each country was amazing in its own right. Being from California there’s not much around structure-wise that’s older than 100-150 years, it was like walking inside a history book in Europe. Everything is ancient and historical.” “Was there anything you didn’t like?” Rowan asked. “Living out of a suitcase for ten weeks. If we go again, I’d like to visit one maybe two places and stay there for a couple of weeks and explore. We wanted to see as much as we could but it was exhausting packing and unpacking, at least for me. Nothing ever seems to bother Devon,” she japed. “Guess I’m just a home body at heart. I like to unpack and enjoy my surroundings. Other than that, though, it was absolutely perfect. Great food, amazing people, and lots and lots to see,” Darby said. “Sounds fabulous. Let me speak for all of us, in saying we are glad you had a great time, but we’re thrilled to have you back home, safe and sound,” Katarina said. “Here, here,” Alyssa said raising her glass causing them to clink their glasses together once more after a refill. Dinner came and talking died down to a minimum, which is always a sign of good food. One more pitcher of margaritas and the bill arrived giving them leave to stroll the strip. * * * The girls made their way up the street in the direction that would eventually take them to their hotel. It was darker now and the lights shown in their full glory. Las Vegas was truly an adult’s playground equipped with its own stationary electric parade—like Disneyland. Katarina noted to Julianna, “Seems like with all these lights, surely one could see all this illumination from space.” “You’d think so, wouldn’t you?” Julianna retorted. Most people Katarina asked about visiting Sin City prior to visiting, seemed to struggle at putting the place into words. Now she knew why. It was beyond overwhelming; it was over the top in every sense of the word. They walked along the strip awestruck by the lights and sights. Alyssa ran a couple paces in front of them, a feat they all thought was amazing in her five inch heels, and spun in front of them arms outstretched and yelled in her best Austin Powers imitation, “This is Vegas, baby!” making them all laugh out loud along with those passing by who applauded her impersonation. The girls proceeded ahead to the Excalibur with its Camelotesque facade graced with towers, turrets, and a keep. Next to it was a small version of the Big Apple skyline at the New York casino. Not only did it have a city scape of skyscrapers including the Empire State Building but also its own Staten Island adorned with a replica of our Lady Liberty. The next casino in line was the Monte Carlo. Though it didn’t have the flamboyance of NY, NY, it was this hotel they made a beeline for. Maybe it was that ‘Monte Carlo’ instills a picture in one’s mind of being the epitome of gambling—whatever the reason, there was no discussion or argument, they all migrated to its doors. In the casino they broke into smaller groups. Darby, Melanie, and Rowan headed for the loud chiming of the slot machines, while Katarina, Alyssa, Julianna, and Sally made their way through the crowds towards the tables. The craps table split them once more keeping Alyssa and Sally tantalized with the rolling of dice. Katarina and Julianna trekked further within to the blackjack and poker tables. Katarina didn’t plan on staying long and figured some of the gals would go out on their own. Others who traveled most of the day might call it an early evening and save the partying for the next night, but a few hands of blackjack would be a fun to end the evening. Julianna motioned to her that she would be at a nearby poker table. Katarina nodded in acknowledgement. Katarina scoped out a few table and noticed she was getting odd looks and a very uncomfortable feeling from many of the dealers. Several turned their heads speaking, presumably, into a hidden microphone. She tried to play it off as a fluke and was just about to sit at a table when two huge bouncers had her by each arm and escorting her away from the table. “Excuse me. What are you doing,” she demanded. The man to her right engaged her, “Don’t be coy with us, Ms. Gold. You know very well we have a restraining order on you. You are not to come within five-hundred feet of this casino.” “I think you have me confused with someone else. My name is Katarina Jannson,” she informed them her feet not touching the floor as they whizzed through the crowd of surprised and confused gamblers. “Is that your name today, Ms. Gold? We’ve been fooled by that line for the last time. The owners are still complaining about the damage you caused during your last visit,” the sunglass clad herculean declared. “I’m telling you the truth. I’m not this ‘Ms. Gold’ you keep referring to. I’m Katarina…” “You can say it as many times as you like but I’m not buying it. True your hair is lighter, but you could have at least TRIED to disguise yourself—a hat, glasses, something, but you are so brazen you don’t even bother.” “I don’t know who you think I am but that’s not me,” Katarina implored. “Whoever you are, Ms. Gold, you will not be causing destruction and havoc in this casino while I’m on duty,” he said as the two men deposited her near the curb, whistling and hailing a cab. They made sure she got in it and the taxi was pulling away before turning an about face towards the casino. “Guess I won’t be playing blackjack tonight,” she said mumbling to herself in the backseat of the cab. “Where to ma’am?” the driver asked. “The Bellagio,” she answered. “But that’s just the next hotel,” the driver asked confused. “I know. Did you see those guys carrying me out of the Monte Carlo? They weren’t taking no for an answer,” she explained. He nodded looking a little concerned. She wondered what he thought of her if it took two big hulks to get her out. He probably thought he better not make her mad or she might be trouble for him. He didn’t charge her, but she did offer him a tip for dropping her off at the front door. She gave him a nod and he took off like a bullet. What an odd state of affairs this is, Katarina thought to herself. Chapter Five Alyssa’s phone vibrated in her back pocket while she held up the dice for a throw, when she saw Julianna at the table next to her grabbing for her phone. She blew on her dice and tossed them diagonally at the green felt watching them roll and tumble. The stickman announced, “center field nine.” Not winning, she looked at her phone and saw a message from Katarina. Thrown out of casino…explain later…at the Bellagio—calling it a night. Kat Alyssa saw Julianna holding her phone and making her way towards her. “What do you make of that?” Julianna asked. “An interesting story, I’m sure,” Alyssa claimed. “No doubt,” Julianna agreed. “You heard?” Sally said approaching them. “Yeah. Should we check on her?” Alyssa wondered. “No. She’d want you to go on with your evening. If she needed us or was concerned about it, she would have said so, or emailed me on the side,” Julianna said. “Right. How are you guys doing?” Alyssa asked the girls. “Down three hundred, but just won most of it back in the last hand,” Sally said. “Lost a hundred but seem to be holding on to that status,” Julianna said. “And you?” “Not my lucky night or maybe it’s just the table,” Alyssa admitted. “Maybe it’s just that you haven’t had enough to drink,” Julianna said. “I like your thinking. I saw in passing the Diablo Cantina. I’ve learned from past experience that when I start with tequila, I shouldn’t jump to something else. First round of shots are on me,” Alyssa said. “I hear that,” Sally said. “If we find the other girls as we make our way for the cantina we can tell them where we’re going, otherwise we’ll just text them when we get there,” Julianna suggested. “Perfect,” Alyssa said as they walked to the bar. Julianna, being the tallest, guided them through the crowd, but a fast walking dark haired man crossed their path and bumped into Alyssa, dumping his drink down the front of her. “Oh my God, that’s cold,” she screeched as the frozen drink oozed down her blouse in blobs, hitting her pretty painted toes in her strappy heel. Her attention was on her shirt when the man said, “Alyssa? Is that you?” She recognized the voice all too well and looked up in shock, “Anthony? You bonehead. What are you doing here?” she said sharing her cold sticky mess with him as she hugged him tightly. “What am I doing here? What are you doing here?” he said. “I’m here with a bunch of girlfriends for a bachelorette weekend,” she explained. “You mean that P.I. of yours is finally making an honest woman out of you?” he pried. “Getting married wouldn’t make me an honest woman by any means, but to answer your question no. Three of the gals here are getting married within months of each other and one just got back from her honeymoon,” Alyssa clarified. Julianna must have realized she’d lost Alyssa and she and Sally came back to check on her. “What’s up?” Julianna asked Alyssa then eyed the man next to her. “Julianna, Sally this is my little brother, Anthony,” Alyssa declared. “Nice to meet you,” Sally said offering her hand then Julianna followed suit. “The pleasure’s all mine,” Anthony said ratcheting the charm to overload, “Oh wait, these aren’t the gals you said were getting married, are they?” “No,” Alyssa answered suspiciously. “Hello, ladies,” Anthony said with a swagger. Alyssa socked him in the arm, “Knock it off, Anthony. You never said what you’re doing here,” she probed. “Oh right. I’m here for work,” he said taking Sally’s hand in his and giving it a kiss. “Work?” she inquired. “Yeah. I’m part of the Cirque du Soleil cast,” Anthony admitted. “Oh yeah. Mom did tell me you working in the cast. Guess I hadn’t realized it was in Vegas,” Alyssa said. “We were going to the Diablo Cantina for some drinks. Would you like to join us?” Julianna asked. “I would, but only if I wasn’t intruding,” Anthony said looking for affirmation from Alyssa that it was okay. “Of course you’d be intruding, but we’ll let you come anyway,” Alyssa said, wrapping her arm around his waist making a beeline for the bar where she could excuse herself and clean up the sticky mess. * * * Julianna ordered a pitcher and texted the other girls telling them where they were and inviting them to join if they were so inclined. Alyssa rejoined the group just as Rowan, Darby and Melanie made their introductions to Anthony. “I see everyone here has met my brother,” Alyssa said as the waitress set down tequila shots and a pitcher of margaritas. They all nodded. Alyssa thought her brother looked as happy as a rooster in a hen house. Sally was asking him more about his involvement with the Cirque du Soleil group and all seemed intrigued to hear what he had to say. Anthony relayed how he had fallen into the part when a couple of their family members took up with the cast. “After all, once a circus performer, always a circus performer, right, sis?” he said. “Yeah, I guess. For most,” she answered. “Oh, Lissy, I didn’t mean that you…” Anthony backpedaled. “No. I understand. I like what I do, but I’ll admit I miss it sometimes. Not the blisters, broken bones and bruises, mind you, but the applause and the spotlight—you know, that sort of thing.” “You know, Lissy, we could use your help. Seems our star performer was injured on the way here. Something to do with some dumb blonde who smashed his foot with a suitcase at the airport.” Darby’s eyes widened and she turned interesting shades of red and looked like she might slide under the table and disappear. Alyssa smiled and retorted, “You know how those prima donnas are. Probably stubbed a toe and has exaggerated the incident to amputation.” “True,” he agreed. “The guy is an ass, if you ask me. Thinks he’s holier than thou. You know the type.” “Yup. One of the things I don’t miss about the circus. But I don’t see what help I can be. I’m out of practice. I couldn’t possibly fill in for him.” “No, but if we moved a few people around you could take up the slack in a lesser position. They were talking of canceling the show unless we could find someone. Come on, Lissy. It would be fun. Arturo, Ernesto and Francesca as well as the twins Gabriella and Guiseppe will be preforming with us. It would be like old times,” Anthony pleaded. “I don’t know, Francesca can be such a little witch,” Alyssa said. “Please… I could really use the money and we don’t get paid if the performance is cancelled.” All the girls around the table had been completely enthralled with the conversation and had become sympathetic to Anthony’s dilemma. “Aw, come on, Alyssa. It would be fabulous to see you perform, especially with all your family,” Sally said. “Fine. I’ll talk to the director and see if I can be of help.” “Perfect,” Anthony said pulling out his phone and texting someone, then raised his shot glass of tequila and said, “Salute.” All the girls repeated throwing their heads backs, and making sour faces as they swallowed—that was everyone but Darby who was drinking cranberry juice. The girls drank and did shots with Anthony well into the night, however at some point Anthony mentioned to Alyssa that he had set her up an appointment with the director at eight thirty in the morning so she stopped doing shots and stuck to beer knowing she’d never make it to the meeting if she didn’t. * * * Darby, Katarina, Julianna, and Alyssa had breakfast in the morning. Alyssa was hurting, but grateful for discontinuing the hard liquor when she did. She asked the waitress for a tequila shot, pancakes, water, and aspirin. Alyssa asked Julianna, “How can you be so perky after all that drinking last night?” Julianna whispered, “Vampires rarely get drunk on alcohol, unless its blood wine—then we get schnockered,” she said as if she had experienced this. The waitress brought everyone’s food and the items Alyssa requested. They all watched her down the shot and chase it with the entire glass of water. Before the waitress left, she asked her to bring coffee too. “If you feel so crappy, how does having a shot help?” Julianna asked. “Hair of the dog,” Alyssa said, after taking a bite of pancakes. “Hair of the dog?” Julianna asked. Darby said, “Yes. They say having a little of the alcohol you consumed the morning after helps with the hang over.” “Okay, but what does a dog’s hair have to do with it?” Julianna asked. “I think I’ve been hanging out with Dominic too long,” Katarina laughed, “because I know this one. Back in the olden days people said if you were bit by a dog you were to put the dog’s hair on the wound to heal it. Ridiculous to think dirty old dog hair would fix things but the saying was ‘like cures like’ or ‘hair of the dog that bit you.’” “That’s very odd indeed,” Julianna admitted. “So what’s your plan today?” Alyssa asked. “I’m guessing we’ve got a while before the rest of the girls get up,” Katarina pointed out. “There were a couple of things that looked interesting,” Katarina continued. “Like what?” asked Darby. “Let’s see,” Katarina said as she pulled out a list from her purse. “There’s the Neon Museum, which is an outside walk-thru collection of the city’s neon legacy. At the Mandalay they have the Shark Reef that looked interesting. There’s indoor skydiving or the CSI experience where you go through a recreated crime scene and solve the case. There’s the pole dancing class, the car racing school, and a wine tasting and cooking class. Or we could have a salon day pampering ourselves and then there’s always gambling, gambling, and more gambling. Although I didn’t have much luck with that last night,” Katarina stated. “That’s right. What happened last night?” Alyssa asked. “Truthfully, I’m not really sure. Apparently someone who looks like me had done some damage at the Monte Carlo. Two bouncers escorted me out before I could even sit at a table. They kept calling me Ms. Gold, but I told them they’d mistaken me for someone else. Course they weren’t buying that. Seems this Ms. Gold has claimed to be other people and come in with disguises too,” Katarina explained. “No way. You mean they think you are Felicity Gold?” Darby said. “Who’s Felicity Gold?” Katarina asked. “You never heard of Hollywood’s notorious bad girl Felicity Gold? She’s all over the tabloids. You know now that I think about it, I could see where they made the mistake in thinking you were her. You actually do look an awful lot like her,” Darby explained. “You’re right. It’s like I always thought you looked familiar—like a face you couldn’t put a name to, even when I first met you,” Alyssa said studying Katarina a little closer. “Really?” Katarina said amused. “Yeah. Definitely,” Darby agreed. “If the Monte Carlo kicked you out before you even sat, it’s very likely the other casinos will treat you the same. I’m guessing they’ve already alerted the other hotels Felicity Gold is in town,” Alyssa surmised. “So why do they dislike this woman?” Julianna asked. “Oh my God, this woman is a terror. If she gets angry, and that’s just about all the time, she’ll go on a rampage, tossing chairs, throwing drinks, you name it. It’s said that she caused over a hundred thousand dollars damage at some bar one night when she threw a barstool through a fish tank that was the backdrop for the bar. Normally a fish tank wouldn’t do that much damage but they had their most expensive liquors displayed around the tank and they were all destroyed. It was a mess,” Darby relayed. “Felicity causes trouble everywhere she goes; movie sets, bars, casinos, hotel rooms, even a leer jet if I remember correctly,” Alyssa added. “This woman needs anger management classes,” Julianna deduced. “That and therapy,” Katarina added. “Oh yeah!” Darby and Alyssa agreed. “Guess I won’t be doing much gambling,” Katarina decided. “Not without a disguise or something,” Darby said. “Hmm. Well there’s plenty of other things to do, I suppose,” Katarina said. Alyssa looked at her watch and said, “Oh crap. I have to get going or I’ll be late.” “Where are you going?” Katarina asked as Alyssa high-tailed out of there. “She has to talk to somebody about helping out the cast of Cirque du Soleil,” Julianna informed Katarina. “Really?” Katarina said with surprise. “Yeah. We ran into Alyssa’s brother last night. He’s in the cast,” Julianna said. “Remember that French guy at the airport I told you about? Seems he was their star performer so they are in need of someone to take up the slack,” Darby interjected. Julianna continued, “Right, and Alyssa’s brother talked her into helping out. Turns out several members of her family are in the cast, so it might be kind of fun for her.” “That’s pretty amazing. We’ll definitely have to get tickets for the show,” Katarina declared. “That would be fun,” Darby agreed. “That’s a great idea,” Julianna said. “Any thoughts on what you want to do?” Katarina asked. Julianna looked at Darby and Darby smiled at her. They both said in stereo, “Spa!” “Perfect,” Katarina concluded. * * * Darby texted the other girls to join them in the spa when they rolled out of bed. By three o’clock they had all met and had a very late lunch in the restaurant in the Eiffel Tower replica across the street. After lunch they went up to the observation deck at the top of the tower. Keeping with the theme, they toured the other replica landmarks on site including the Arc de Triomphe, the Paris Opera House facade, the Hotel de Ville, the Alexander III Bridge, and of course the Louvre. As they walked toward the Bellagio, having taken in the sites of Paris, Sally stopped dead in her tracks staring across a crowd of people walking up the strip. “What is it, Sally? Are you okay?” Melanie asked. “I, it’s nothing, Lanie. I’m sorry. We better catch up,” Sally said deflecting whatever it was she saw or heard. Melanie let it go, but she noted Sally seemed a bit jumpy the rest of the day. Chapter Six For the evening the girls headed for Mandalay Place where they had dinner in the House of Blues and stayed for the first set of entertainment before heading to Minus 5 bar. Dominic set up reservations for them ahead of time since it was often booked up. None of the girls had ever been to anything like it and it had been the center of conversation at dinner, along with how Katarina was thrown out of the Monte Carlo the night before. “This is so amazing,” Katarina said as they walked through the entrance. Everything around them had a chilly cool blue color. Once they checked in with their reservations the girls were fitted with arctic gear including gloves, hats, and faux fur coats—ordered by Dominic, of course. They were then escorted into the winter wonderland. “Oh my God, look at that,” Darby said, pointing to the bar. It was entirely made of ice. She made her way to the bartender as LED lights flashed and changed color to the beat of the playing music. The other girls followed her pointing at huge magnificent ice sculptures of dolphins, a polar bear and penguins. They took their seats and were presented with their ordered drinks in glasses made of Canadian Ice. People danced around them while they sat on stools at a table of sculpted ice. Alyssa and Sally were asked to dance before they barely got comfortable at the table. Katarina couldn’t get over how breathtaking and fabulous every little thing was. Rowan popped vitamin C in her mouth in between sips of her dirty martini. Melanie and Darby got up to see what the other rooms looked like since the waitress told them each room had a different theme. “How are you feeling?” Julianna asked Rowan. “Perfect,” she said with a slightly stuffy sounding nose. “Liar,” Alyssa said. Rowan smiled. “How did your meeting go with the director, or whatever he was, this morning,” Katarina asked Alyssa as she sat down with Sally after returning from dancing. “I guess fine since they put me right to work on learning a couple of routines and handing me some detailed layouts scripts for the scenes,” Alyssa explained. “Was it fun?” Rowan asked. “Hard work, but yeah. It was fun. Though I might not be saying that tomorrow morning when I have to get up at the break of dawn and go through the dress rehearsal over and over again until the evening. You don’t realize how out of shape or how little you use certain muscles until you do something like this,” Alyssa said. “I can imagine,” Sally said. “We were hoping we could come to the performance, but weren’t sure how you would feel about that.” “I was planning on you all coming. Anthony’s already got your tickets waiting for you at the desk. One thing nobody has ever accused me of, is being shy!” Alyssa declared. They all laughed. “I’m really looking forward to seeing you perform,” Sally said. “Chances are you won’t know which one is me. The make-up and costumes are phenomenal, but completely disguise any trace of uniqueness. Some of the performers spend upwards of three hours getting dressed and having their makeup applied. It’s quite a process. Considering I am one of the shortest performers in the cast, you can look for me that way,” Alyssa said taking a gulp of her drink. Sally seemed distracted as she stared over the crowd seeming to focus on someone or something when Rowan sneezed. A large puff of steam made the table invisible for a moment. The girls were stunned. Rowan waved her hands, trying to dissipate the foggy cloud. Alyssa waived her arms, helping with the fog. Then Sally took off like a shot across the room and disappeared into the dancing crowd. A sudden gasp came from Darby and Rowan as a large melted hole in the table emerged into view. Katarina was sure the crowd would notice the girls, the cloud and the panicked waving of their hands, but surprisingly the people in the bar must have thought it was all part of Minus 5’s show. She was thankful for that much at least. “Oh my God. There’s a hole in the table. Did I do that?” Rowan said noting what was obvious. Katarina noticed not only was there a hole but all the ice glasses were oddly malformed and leaning at strange angles. “Uh. Rowan, you just melted the table. Your cold must be messing with your pyrokenesis,” Darby said in amazement. “What do we do?” Melanie asked. A bunch of blank faces stared back at her. Katarina, completely stumped, found herself staring at the hole trying to think of something viable to say or do. It was then that Katarina understood what Dominic had meant when he referred to Darby as the glue that kept this crowd together and why they depended on her so. “We dance,” she said flailing her arms around to the beat of the music and knocking her chair down shattering it to pieces. It didn’t take long before all at the table realized what and how incredibly smart the idea was. They say one shouldn’t throw rocks in glass houses. Katarina quickly learned that you might not want to have a bunch of drunk dancing girls in a bar made of ice. The all started spinning and dancing knocking the table over with its hole and screwy looking glasses shattering all evidence of the incident. When all was disintegrated, Darby escorted Rowan out of the bar, while most of the girls made their faux slurred apologies, to the staff and went on partying—that is after Katarina and Julianna handed the manager a thick stack of bills to pay for the damages. * * * With the incident of the table behind them, Melanie and Alyssa drudged through the crowd looking for Sally. They perused all the rooms, the restrooms and bartenders, looking for her, but no one knew where she was. They made their way to the new table the girls had acquired. “Did you find Sally?” Katarina asked. “No,” Melanie said with concern. “Why are you so worried about her?” Julianna asked. “She’s been acting weird,” Melanie said. “In what way?” Alyssa asked. “She looked as if she’d seen a ghost earlier today, and I’ve noticed several times since we’ve been here that she seems distracted or is maybe seeing something, I can’t see,” Melanie explained. “She has seemed a little jumpy, but she does see the dead from time to time,” Alyssa replied. “She told me she sees them all the time now, but whatever this was, it seemed different,” Melanie said. “Why don’t you just text her?” Julianna suggested. “She dropped her phone at the airport here in Las Vegas. It hasn’t worked since,” Alyssa said. “And you couldn’t find her here? Do you think she might have gone back to the room?” Katarina asked. “We searched the bathrooms and all the rooms we came across and there was no sign of her. I suppose she could have gone back, but you’d think she would have said something,” Melanie noted. “True, unless she wasn’t feeling well,” Katarina said. “I’ll check the hotel rooms. I’ve got to get sleep for the performance tomorrow anyway. I’ll call you if I find her,” Alyssa said. “What is it they say to circus performers to wish them luck—you know like they say ‘break a leg’ to an actor?” Melanie asked. “Most likely they’d say something with a bunch of profanity, but I suppose if you’re looking for something a little less objectionable you could say, ‘bump a nose’, or ‘merde,’” Alyssa declared. “But doesn’t ‘merde’ mean ‘shit,’” Julianna asked. “Yup. I told you performers are a strange lot,” Alyssa answered. They laughed as she headed back to the hotel for the evening. * * * “Maybe we should look around for Sally,” Melanie proposed. “I think that’s a good idea. Besides I think my nose is frozen,” Katarina said. Julianna agreed and they took their leave from Minus 5. They opted to not go into the casino area for fear someone would mistake Katarina for Felicity Gold and kick them all out for being friends of hers, but there were plenty of places to check out in the hotels. It also gave them an opportunity to do a little bar hopping. After perusing most of the shops, bars, and sights to see in the Mandalay Place Hotel, Melanie and Julianna did a quick pass through the casino while Katarina remained outside. While waiting, she received a call from Alyssa. “Hey. Any word from Sally?” Katarina asked? “No. I checked all three suites even talked with Rowan and Darby to see if maybe they had bumped into her and neither one of them have heard or seen her,” Alyssa relayed. “I’m starting to get worried,” Katarina told her. “She’s a big girl. She knows where we are if she needs us and she’s a very gifted witch. I think she could hold her own if she got into trouble,” Alyssa tried to ease her worries. “I suppose. Get some sleep, Alyssa. We’ll keep our eyes open for her as we make our way back that direction,” Katarina said. “Sounds good. If I hear anything, I’ll let you know,” Alyssa reassured her. “Thanks. Sleep good,” Katarina said spying Julianna and Melanie coming out of the casino. “Jules, Lanie…anything?” Katarina asked. “No,” Julianna said and Melanie shook her head to relay the same. “Who were you talking to?” Julianna asked. “Alyssa. She said she talked to Darby and Rowan and checked the suites, but no sign of Sally,” Katarina told them. “You’re getting worried, aren’t you, Kat?” Julianna asked. “I am, but Alyssa reminded me that Sally is a pretty talented witch. She seems to think she could hold her own if she were in trouble,” Katarina said. “I wish that made me feel better, but it doesn’t,” Melanie said. “I know. I feel the same,” Katarina admitted. “I say we still keep an eye out, but let’s hit the Cosmopolitan. There’s two places there I’d like to see: The Chandelier—I heard it’s really beautiful, and I’d like to try some ice-cream concoction at the Neapolitoan,” Katarina said. “Yum. I could go for something sweet about now,” Melanie said. “Of course if I keep this up, I’ll never fit into my wedding gown,” Melanie admitted. “You’ll be fine. After all, how often does one go to Las Vegas for a girls weekend?” Julianna said. “True. Not very often at all,” Melanie smiled. “Cosmopolitan, here we come,” Katarina said locking arms with Melanie and Julianna on each side of her like they were heading for the yellow brick road and Oz beyond. Chapter Seven As she anticipated, Katarina found the Chandelier bar remarkable. The chandelier itself was several stories high and was the focus of the bar. There was a bar within it, below it and above it. Lights danced among the crystals twinkling and projecting prisms everywhere. The bar within was literally surrounded by curtains of draped crystals. They had a drink or two at the inner bar after they admired and took in all the beauty from the enormous piece of art. Katarina, Melanie, and Julianna were ready for a sweet treat when they left the Chandelier and mapped out the route to the Neapolitan. As they walked, still eyeing the crowd for any signs of Sally, they walked by a very interesting chapel. They had seen many chapels since they had been in Las Vegas. Each hotel had at least one if not more and even the airport had a chapel for those who procrastinated to the last moment before leaving, or those who had just arrived and couldn’t wait to be married under the neon lights of Las Vegas. However, this chapel was different. It was named appropriately ‘The Pop-up Chapel’ since it housed many one dimensional cardboard cutouts of wedding guests seated in chairs like paper dolls you might find in your favorite pop-up book. A flyer on the window advertised, “Wedding on a Whim” Packages including vows, two giant eraser rings, party favors, a photo booth token to remember your special day and the option for a silk flower bouquet rental. A couple was presently at the altar exchanging vows as Julianna, Katarina, and Melanie peered in the glass walls `. Julianna and Katarina clapped and cheered as the couple kissed and the music commenced. Melanie was adoring all the posted pictures of past patrons of the pop-up chapels dating back several years. Without any warning Melanie put her hand to her mouth and ran off. Julianna turned in time to see her pass through the doors leaving the hotel. * * * “What happened?” Katarina asked. “I’m not sure. Last I saw she was checking out the happy couples on the wall,” Julianna said. Katarina and Julianna moved to where Melanie had been standing moments ago to see if they could find what might have upset her. Katarina was distracted as she skimmed over the smiling faces not really seeing them and said, “Do you think I should go after her?” “Isn’t that…Josh?” Julianna suddenly said. Katarina turned her attention to the extended hand and pointing finger Julianna held towards a picture. “Oh my God,” Katarina said and then moved in closer squinting to make sure of the identity. There was Josh with a cute little blonde slung over his shoulder, both grinning like little kids showing the camera their matching eraser rings. “It is, isn’t it?” Julianna said. “It is,” Katarina said. “You might want to give your boy a call and give him a heads-up to the shit that’s about to hit the fan,” Julianna said. Though Katarina felt she should call Josh first, it was Melanie’s breaking heart that needed attention right now. Thankfully Melanie had cause to stop once she was outside the casino instead of running on to an unknown destination. Katarina found her weeping quietly sitting on a planter partially obscured from people entering the casino. She said nothing but sat beside Melanie and wrapped her arms around her letting her have a good cry for a moment. She kissed the top of Melanie’s head and stroked her hair. Finally Melanie said, “I don’t understand.” “Neither do I, dear, but I’m sure there is an explanation.” “But wouldn’t you think he’d have mentioned being married. I mean that’s pretty big stuff,” Melanie said through her sniffles. “It is, which makes me think we’re not seeing the whole picture. You need to speak to Josh, Lanie, so he can explain. After all, it could be nothing,” Katarina pointed out. “Nothing? How can finding your fiancé has been married already and never bothered to tell you, be nothing?” Melanie exclaimed. “Well…Julianna was reading through some of the different things they do at the chapel and one of packages was a faux wedding, where there’s nothing legally binding, it’s just for kicks,” Katarina tried to explain. “A mock wedding?” Melanie said with hope as she wiped her eyes. “Yes, dear. Completely fake, so see. This could be nothing but a silly photo on a wall,” Katarina said hoping in her own heart that was true. “Yeah. It could be just that. Nothing more than a dare, or just a corny picture,” Melanie said to Katarina with a little smile, though Katarina got the impression it was more like a pep talk convincing herself it was all a ruse. “You don’t suppose he loved this girl, do you?” Melanie suddenly asked as if her confidence was suddenly faltering. “I couldn’t say, Lanie. That’s something you’ll have to ask Josh. What I will say is that whether he truly loved her or not, what he feels for you is far more powerful,” Katarina said. “Why do you think that?” Melanie asked. “Because, dear, unlike a wedding in Vegas which is sudden and unplanned, he’s gone through all the traditional steps with you. That’s got to mean something. He even sang his proposal to you in front of tons of people. That in itself is pretty amazing for a man who has been an introvert most his life,” Katarina explained. “True,” Melanie admitted with a forced smile. “Of course he didn’t look like an introvert in that picture,” Melanie countered. “No. You’re right, but I have a feeling a lot of alcohol was consumed before that picture was taken. After all let’s compare your gorgeous diamond ring to the eraser ring in the photo,” Katarina pointed out. Melanie couldn’t help but burst out laughing at Katarina’s comment as she glanced at the pretty sparkling ring on her finger. “I’m sorry I ran out on you. I guess I over reacted,” Melanie said to Katarina. “Aw, sweetie,” Katarina said hugging Melanie. “I’m not sure I would have reacted any differently if it had been Dominic in that picture with some woman slung over his shoulder like a behemoth caveman.” They both laughed heartily as Julianna came out of the hotel spotting them and heading towards them. “Hey, Lanie. How are you doing?” Julianna said as she approached. “Better than I was, thanks to Katarina,” she said with a thankful glance at Katarina as she wiped the last remnants of tears from her face. “Good,” Julianna said with a smile. Melanie said to Katarina “If it had been Dominic instead of Josh, I’d like to think I would have been there for you the way you were here for me.” “I’m sure you would,” Katarina assured. Julianna had a package in her hand and raised it to their attention, “I had them take down the picture.” “You did? That’s so sweet of you, Jules. Is that it?” Melanie said referring to the package. “Yes,” Julianna said. “May I have it?” Melanie asked. Katarina and Julianna both were shocked by her request. “Why would you want it, dear”? Katarina asked. “For one thing I’d like to have it to remind me of this moment with you and Jules—a family moment I’ve not had a lot of in the past,” Melanie said. Julianna and Katarina gave her a ‘how sweet’ aw. Melanie continued, “And just in case they really did get married however brief, it will remind me that all she got from him was a lousy eraser ring.” They all had a hardy laugh at her comment as Julianna handed over the eight by ten package to Melanie. * * * Later that night, when Melanie came back to the hotel, she checked in Sally’s room to find her sleeping peacefully within. She was relieved to see she was safe, but she also wanted to wake her to find out where she had been and if something might be wrong. It was late though and she opted to close the door quietly and let her sleep in hopes of meeting up with her in the morning. Hopefully she’d clarify her odd behavior and her running off without telling anyone where she’d gone. Now that Melanie had some alone time she had a talk with Josh confirming he had a very fuzzy memory of a weekend in Vegas with a blonde named Tiffany and a couple of her friends he’d met in college. The girls got the guys drunk to the point of barely recollecting what had gone on only to present them all with photos of their faux nuptials the morning after. Though the girls thought it was a great joke, not one of the guys responded well to the sham of a wedding and he recalled the weekend being cut short by all the guys flying back to school in protest of what the girls had done. Melanie relayed to Josh how they had been just passing by the chapel admiring the pictures on the wall and how mortified she was to have found her intended groom already married to some beauty. She told him how Katarina had come to her in her pain and talked her through her fears and pointed out what most likely had happened. She had been very grateful to her soon to be mother-in-law. Melanie was quite sure this intervening Katarina undertook in his absence was the turning point in their mother-son relationship. From that point on, despite the love he had for his adoptive mother, Melanie knew he finally accepted Katarina as his mother. Chapter Eight Melanie was one of the first to wake and sat like a sentry on the sofa in the suite waiting for Sally to make an appearance from her bedroom. But when all were awake and itching to get something to eat for breakfast and still no appearance, she opted to leave a note telling Sally where they were and for her to meet up with them. Since they hadn’t really been much south of Bellagio they decided to try a place Anthony recommended for breakfast at the Venetian called the Bouchon. It was fancy as most good French restaurants were and the food was to die for. Only in Las Vegas could you go to Venice and have French food—okay not really, but they all thought it was kind of funny to go to a hotel that catered to the lifestyle and look of Venice. Able to laugh about the picture of Josh and his cave girl wife, Melanie and Katarina entertained the girls who hadn’t been there with the story relayed by Josh. Katarina was glad Melanie and Josh had hashed things out. She hoped that Julianna and Anton would be able to laugh about the fight that had ensued before they departed. Katarina hadn’t had any alone time with Julianna to talk about it. Hopefully she would be able to revisit the conversation with her on the plane back—or sooner. Many ideas were thrown around as to what they would do for their last day in Vegas. The gangster museum came up, a gondola ride and canal shopping were mentioned, and of course the AdventureDome. After a gondola ride they went in different directions to meet up later for Alyssa’s performance in Cirque du Soleil. Seeing as how Sally didn’t show up for breakfast Melanie made it her job to go back to the hotel and see what was up. * * * As Melanie walked into the suite, a skittish Sally was coming out of her room and just about screamed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you,” Melanie apologized. Sally drew in a cleansing breath and said, “It’s not you, Lanie, it’s me.” “That’s kind of why I’m here,” Melanie said. “Oh? What do you mean?” Sally asked. “You have been very jumpy and distracted, and, well, just not yourself. I’m worried about you,” Melanie declared. “I’m fine,” Sally tried to shrug her off. “No. You’re not. Something is up and I wish you’d tell me what it is so I can help.” “Really, Lanie, I’m fine.” “Then why are you locked away up in your room?” Melanie asked. “I’m not locked away, I just got up,” Sally said plopping onto the sofa. “Where did you run off to last night? Nobody knew where you were and you never said anything to anyone.” “Did I? I’m sorry. I wasn’t feeling well, so I came back here and went to bed,” Sally explained. “But Alyssa checked and you weren’t here,” Melanie said. “That’s sweet, but I must have missed her or something. I did sit for a while to look at the lights then I came straight here. We must have passed by one another and didn’t know,” Sally told her. She seemed to have a viable answer for everything, but it didn’t make Melanie’s suspicions go away. She realized whatever was up with Sally, she definitely did not want to talk about it. Trying to change the subject, Melanie said, “Would you like to go shopping or get something to eat? You must be starving.” “No, not really. My stomach’s still a little queasy. Must be all the drinking we’ve been doing. Not used to it.” Sally said. “We could make an appointment at the spa. Maybe you could have a message or take a sauna. It might make you feel better,” Melanie suggested. “I don’t think so. I just want to hang here and get some rest,” Sally said. “Are you sure?” Melanie asked. “Yeah. I’m going to take something and get some sleep,” she said. “Can I get you anything?” Melanie wondered. “No. I’m good. Have fun with the girls. I’ll be fine,” Sally told her. “Okay, but you are going to make it for the performance tonight, right?” Melanie prided. “The Cirque du Soleil? Yeah. I’ll be there. Don’t want to miss Alyssa’s performance,” Sally said. “Okay, well, I guess I’ll meet up with Katarina and Julianna then. Are you sure you don’t need anything or just want some company?” Melanie asked. “You’re going to watch me sleep on your vacation? Don’t be silly. Go have fun,” Sally insisted. “You’ll call me if you need anything?” “I’ll call you. I promise,” Sally said. “Okay. I hope you feel better,” Melanie said as she started out the door. “I will and we’ll have a great time tonight,” Sally said. * * * Melanie met up with Katarina and Julianna at the Valencia. Julianna had found a gorgeous pair of shoes that were outrageously expensive and was hemming and hawing about whether or not she should buy them. “Those are beautiful,” Melanie said admiring the pumps Julianna was modeling. “Aren’t they?” she agreed. “I’ve been telling you that for the past twenty minutes, Jules,” Katarina complained. “Guess I needed another opinion,” Julianna said and nodded to the salesperson to wrap them up. “Was Sally in the suite?” Katarina asked. “Yeah and she had an excuse for everything I threw at her,” Melanie said. “Then it was just a case of active imagination?” Julianna surmised. “I guess, but my gut tells me she’s hiding whatever’s bothering her. Though I don’t have the foggiest idea why,” Melanie explained. “Not much you can do if she doesn’t want your help,” Julianna said. “My mind says your right, Jules, but my heart is telling me I should still be worried,” Melanie said. “It’s sweet that you’re worried, Lanie, but maybe you should back off. Some people need to work through things on their own. She’s a big girl. She can take care of herself,” Julianna replied. “I know she’s a big girl, and I realize she can do it on her own, just like all of us are, but don’t you ever want a little help? Maybe someone to notice that something’s not right in your life? Or to share the load with?” Melanie said a little annoyed. “No. I guess I don’t. Never needed it before, why start now?” Julianna retorted. “Then I feel sad for you, Jules, because opening up and letting people into your life is what family and loved ones are all about,” Melanie said standing and grabbing her purse. “I’ve got some errands to do before we go to the show tonight. I’m going to head out,” Melanie said politely as she excused herself and left the boutique. * * * “Horses for courses, I suppose,” Julianna said to Katarina referring to Melanie. “Horses for courses?” Katarina asked nervously. “Yes. It’s like…let’s see, ‘to each his own’ for Brits,” Julianna explained. “I see,” Katarina said as Julianna paid for her shoes and they left the shop. “Shall we have a drink?” Katarina said pointing to a nearby pub. “Let’s.” Once they were seated and ordered their drinks, Katarina said, “I’ve been meaning to ask if you spoke with Anton since we’ve been here.” “No. I’m taking your advice using my time here to clear my head,” Julianna said as she took a dainty sip from your drink. “You said when we talked earlier that you had been arguing a lot and that he thought you were procrastinating with certain things,” Katarina said. “Yes.” “I wonder if what is troubling Anton is what was troubling Melanie when she left the boutique.” “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.” “What I’m trying to say is Melanie made some very poignant observations about how you look at things.” “Such as.” “Letting people into your life.” “That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Anton and I are living together. You can’t let someone into your life more than that.” “Oh, but you can, and I think maybe that’s the problem. Has Anton been complaining that you don’t talk about your future with him? Or when he makes plans you procrastinate committing to them.” The look Katarina received from Julianna said volumes. “It is, isn’t it?” Katarina said. “Yes, I’d say we’ve had a conversation or two about those things.” “Jules, all he wants is for you to let him in,” Katarina explained. “But I have let him in. I love him, I’ve moved in with him, we own a house together. I’ve done all that,” Julianna defended. “You don’t seem to understand. He wants you to lean on him. He wants you to feel like you can tell him your worries and your sadness. He wants to wipe away your tears and fight your fears. He wants to feel needed.” “But I don’t need him that way. For so much of my life it’s been just me. Vulnerability was death. I’ve learned to survive by shutting down that part of myself,” Julianna admitted. “And for most of that time your survival instincts were your savior fueled by hatred and betrayal. I realize it’s not an easy thing for you, but in order for you to have a long lasting, loving relationship you have to allow that vulnerability to be seen. That’s what love is about, taking leaps of faith and allowing someone in. “Like Melanie said, sometimes you even need to push someone into helping themselves. She knows something is wrong with Sally and she’s not giving up just because Sally claims nothing is wrong,” Katarina said. “But that’s silly. What if nothing is wrong?” “Then nothing is wrong, but Sally knows how much Melanie cares for her and notices when she’s not quite herself.” “So what are you saying? I should become some bawling spineless woman so Anton can feel like I need him?” Julianna said. “Not at all. Just be aware of what you’re doing when you do it. For instance, when you have that really crappy day at work and you feel yourself packing away those feelings in your steel armor, realize you’re doing it and try venting or talking it out with Anton instead of keeping it to yourself and see what happens. I think the more you try, the more you might like the results and what it can do for you and your relationship with Anton.” “Really?” “Really… Remember how I had to poke and prod you to get you to tell me how you were feeling?” “Yes. It was very annoying.” “I remember you telling me that a lot,” Katarina said with a laugh, “but in doing so, don’t you feel better about yourself, me, and our relationship?” “I do and so enjoy our talks now,” Julianna said. “As do I. Think how much better you would feel if you could do that with Anton.” “I guess I never thought of it like that. I think I understand now what he was referring to.” “That’s great, Jules.” “I see—it makes sense. Funny but all I want to do is call him now,” Julianna said. “Then do it—no time like the present.” “Thanks, Kat. I don’t know what I would do without you?” “Oh I’m sure you would be fine, might be a little less happy…” Katarina smiled. Julianna smiled back, grabbed her shoes and ran off to make a very important call to Anton. It made Katarina happy that she could make Julianna realize what she was missing. She’s had so much hurt in her life. She hoped that she and Anton would have much deserved love and happiness in their lives. Chapter Nine The girls met at the Mirage to get their tickets for the Cirque du Soleil show. Melanie was glad to see Sally had shown though she was quiet and rather distant. She tried not to bring up the touchy subject but she did keep a close eye on her and stayed nearby in case she darted again. A crowd began to line up for entrance to the theater, and Melanie felt the tension oozing off of Sally like radiating heat. When she stopped suddenly and stared into the crowd, Melanie confronted her. “Sally, what is it? Are you okay?” Melanie asked. “I fine,” she said clearly trying to loosen her stature to reassure Melanie. “I’m not buying it, Sally. Something’s wrong and if you won’t tell me I’ll have to touch you,” Melanie said. “NO. Don’t,” Sally said nervously. “Everything is fine.” “No, it isn’t. Look at you. You’re ready to jump out of your skin. I don’t like having to use my psychometry but if you won’t tell me what is going on I will resort to other means,” Melanie threatened. “Fine. I’ve been seeing…” Sally hesitated. “You’ve been seeing…what?” “Rachel,” she said on a whisper. “Rachel. Rachel who?” “My sister Rachel. Everywhere I go, I see her. She seems to be stalking me and I’m scared she’ll hurt one of you.” “Your sister. The sister in jail?” Melanie asked. “Yes, but she must have escaped or something. I don’t know how she knew I was here, unless she’s done something to Dean and Blake,” Sally said as her eyes darted around the enclosing crowd. “Have you talked to her? Do you know what she wants?” Melanie asked. “Are you insane? The last time we spoke was in the midst of all out war with Darby and the rest, and she wasn’t really in the mood for conversation, if you catch my drift. She tried to kill me and the others,” Sally explained. “Why haven’t you told the others?” “I was hoping she hadn’t seen me, but I think that is not possible since she looked right at me this time,” Sally said. “Why do you suppose she’s looking for you?” Melanie asked. “To finish what she started—kill us,” she said with a screech catching the attention of Darby. “What’s going on?” Darby asked. “Are you okay?” “Sally’s seen Rachel, her sister, and she’s worried she’s here to cause trouble.” “How would your sister be here, Sally? She’s in jail,” Darby asked. “I don’t know but I just saw her over there.” She pointed to the left. “And I saw her a few times yesterday, but I don’t think she saw me then,” Sally said and was clearly shaken by the incident. “Sally, if Rachel had broken out of jail, the boys would have called us. It would be all over the news.” “But what if she got her powers back? She could have broken out very easily if she had her magic,” Melanie defended. “The binding spell we put on her magic could only be lifted if she was doing good; if she had made up for her sins of the past. We’ve not seen or heard of any such thing, so she couldn’t have gotten her powers back,” Darby tried to convey. Sally began trembling and tears fell from her eyes as the crowd around them grew more dense. The energy in the air seemed electrified by her tension; she was panicking and there was no telling what she would do in that state. Melanie grabbed her arm to try to calm her forgetting that her psychometry would kick in and she would see what Sally saw. The past sighting of the beautiful woman with Sally’s green eyes came at her fast and furious. Sally had been right. When she’d spotted Rachel among hoards of people she had not been looking her way, but this last sighting minutes ago, she looked right at Sally. The only thing Melanie noted that Sally had not, was Rachel didn’t look mad and full of vengeance, she looked as if searching—looking for something or someone. When their eyes met, Melanie did not see the rage and hatred someone would have in order to kill. She only registered sadness. Sally yanked her arm away from Melanie and said, “What are you doing? I told you I didn’t want you to do that,” Sally said annoyed. “I’m sorry, Sally. I hadn’t meant to. I was just reaching out to you because you looked like you were panicking. I wanted to help.” “Well, you’re not helping by looking into my head,” she said angrily. “That’s not…” Melanie started and Darby interrupted. “Sally, you’re having an anxiety attack. Maybe we should get out of this crowd and sit somewhere and talk this through.” “Why won’t either of you believe me? She’s here and she’s going to kill us. You of all people, Darby, know what she’s capable of. Why won’t you help me?” “I am helping you, Sally—Melanie is too. You need to calm down. If she wanted to kill us she would have done so already. Take a deep breath.” “Oh my God… There she is,” Sally screamed. Melanie and Darby both looked in the direction Sally pointed but they didn’t see anyone who resembled Rachel. “Where, Sally?” Darby asked. “There by the man in the bright green shirt. She’s staring right at us,” Sally said in a panic. “The guy with the blond hair and the green polo shirt?” Melanie asked confused. “Yes. Right there to his left. How can you not see her? She’s all in green herself.” “I don’t see anyone that remotely looks like her, Sally,” Darby stated. “Could she be cloaking herself?” Melanie asked. “No. I would be able to see a cloak. It distorts the area around a person. She’s standing there staring at me. It’s unnerving,” Sally said. “What if the three of us confront her—try to talk to her,” Darby suggested. “Are you crazy? You’ll give her a clear shot at killing us,” Sally said. “Look, she’s not going to take on two witches in a crowd like this, let’s go over and speak with her,” Darby proposed. “I don’t like the sound of that,” Sally admitted. “Maybe she just wants to talk to you,” Melanie said. “Fine if both of you are so hell-bent on having a little chat, by all means let’s do it, but if you get killed or hurt don’t come whining or haunting me because I warned you,” Sally said. “Good then let’s see what she has to say,” Melanie said glancing at Darby for support since this ‘somebody’ they were heading towards she couldn’t see. Sally took a deep breath and let it out as if it gave her added courage in doing so. “Okay. Let’s do this,” she said grabbing Melanie and Darby’s hands, she moved in the direction of the man in the green shirt. Three steps into the crowd, she stopped. “Where did she go?” Sally said, looking around confused. “Maybe we scared her with our united front,” Melanie said. “No. She was just there and then she disappeared. I don’t understand,” Sally said. “The point is she’s gone. If she comes back we’ll be close at hand. Everything will be okay, Sally. I promise,” Darby tried convincing her. “In the meantime the theatre doors are opening. Let’s see Alyssa do her stuff,” Melanie said. “I guess, but don’t you find it weird she just vanished like that?” “I do, but let’s not let Rachel ruin our last evening here, okay?” Darby suggested. “Right,” Sally conceded. “Let’s have some fun.” * * * When all were seated the lights dimmed the theater to near darkness and a beam of light shown on a woman on the catwalk near the ceiling high above the orchestra and patrons. A long white scarf-like fabric attached to the ceiling flowed down and skimmed the floor below where acrobats tumbled as the music grew louder. All were adorned in body suits that covered their hair making them completely devoid of any individualization. Their face paint matched their body suits and the only distinguishing characteristics that could be noted was whether the performer was male or female. Katarina knew there would be no determining what performer might be Alyssa unless she waved and shouted to them; this seemed highly unlikely in a performance of this magnitude. The woman on the ceiling dove for the cloth from her perch and slid down it with the ease and grace of a drop of dew dancing down the stem of a flower. The music swelled and the audience was entranced by the acts of unparalleled abilities each of the performers partook. From the death defying leap of the woman and her lifeline of fabric to the back flip off a pyramid of humans ending with a clash of cymbals and darkness, it had been an evening of excitement and exhilaration. * * * After the performance the girls made plans to meet Alyssa at the hotel room. When they got there and the chatter of the performance started to die down, Katarina noted the light blinking on the telephone. She checked the front desk for message. “Sally, Dean called. He needs you to call him right away. He’s been trying to get ahold of you all day—sounds important,” Katarina relayed. “Oh. Okay.” She went into her bedroom and dialed the number home. “Dean? It’s me,” Sally said. “Hi, Pookie. Sorry to call you while you’re out having fun,” Dean said. “That’s okay. It’s not all been fun.” “I’m sorry. You’ll have to tell me all about it, but right now I need you to sit down,” Dean said. “Okay. Why?” she said, though she was already sitting. “I got a phone call from the prison…” he started. “Oh my God, she escaped. I knew I saw her. I knew it was her. She’s here to kill us all isn’t she,” Sally said with panic rising within her. “NO. No, nothing like that. It’s okay, Pookie. Sssshhhh. It’s okay. Why would you think Rachel escaped? You saw her?” Dean asked. “I did. I’ve seen her a couple of times and I’ve been scared out of my mind.” “Why didn’t you call me if you were so scared?” Dean asked. “I broke my cell phone at the airport,” Sally cried. “You could have called me on the land line. Don’t cry. You know I hate when you cry, especially when I can’t be there to hold you,” Dean tried to reassure her. “I’m sorry. I just didn’t know what to do. I was too scared to think, I guess,” Sally said, wiping her tears away. “I wish I was there to make you feel better, but since you said you saw Rachel, maybe I should explain,” Dean added. “Explain what?” Sally said. “I think what you’ve been seeing is your sister’s ghost, Sal. That’s what I was trying to tell you. There was an accident at the prison. Some girls got into a fight. According to the guards, Rachel tried to break it up and got stabbed with some makeshift weapon. She’s dead, Sally. I think maybe she’s been trying to say goodbye to you.” “What? She’s dead? Rachel’s…dead?” Sally sobbed. Melanie heard her crying from the other room and popped her head into the room to find her rocking herself on the bed with the telephone to her ear. “Sally… What’s happened? Are you okay?” Melanie asked. Sally dropped the phone and grabbed onto Melanie and held her tightly as she wept. She held the phone to her ear as she held Sally and said, “Dean?” “Lanie? Is that you? Thank God. Is she all right?” “Well. No she isn’t. What happened?” In just a few words Dean explained everything to Melanie. She told Dean she’d do her best to comfort Sally and if need be she’d fly home with her. Sally cried for a long time. Katarina stuck her head into the room when Alyssa arrived to see if they would be going out with them for drinks. Melanie explained the circumstances and Katarina relayed her sympathies to Sally, who was appreciative but unable to verbalize her sentiment. Once alone Melanie laid Sally’s head on her chest and pulled covers over her. In between crying periods she would sleep a bit, all the while Melanie comforting her, though few words were exchanged. Sometime in the middle of the night Melanie woke to Sally’s voice. Sal sat at the end of the bed having what sounded like the end of a conversation. When the word, “Goodbye,” was spoken, Sally crawled back into bed and Melanie again offered her shoulder to cry on and arms to hold her. Sally spoke of the conversation she just had with Rachel and how all this time she had been afraid Rachel had come to kill them, but she had really come to make peace with Sally. She asked Sally’s forgiveness in forcing her to be a part of the Blood Moon incident and how sorry she was that she had attempted to hurt so many. It was a closure not a lot of people get and Melanie told Sally how lucky she was to have these words with her sister. Melanie remembered when Sally first started seeing the dead and how she felt she had been cursed with the ability for her involvement with Rachel’s power obsession. Melanie took this opportunity to point out that her ability was not a curse but a blessing allowing her to say goodbye and clear the air between the sisters. Sally agreed. It was something to be cherished. * * * Alyssa assembled her family members from the cast and they met up with the girls at Señor Frog for margaritas. Katarina and the rest had a blast with the Sarducci clan, learning about circus life and some of the fun jargon used among them. There was a long discussion about all the wild superstitions circus performers have, like not whistling before a performance or entering the big top on your right foot. The list went on and on, making for a very entertaining and humorous conversation. Before the evening was done, even Melanie and Sally joined in for a few drinks and a farewell salute to Rachel Keaton. Katarina noted all the girls seemed to have a good time. Julianna had a long phone conversation with Anton and she was quite pleased with the end results. She finally understood what it was that Anton wanted and with a little soul searching and another conversation with Katarina, she found she wanted the same thing Anton wanted. Rowan got over her sniffles about the time they sat on the plane, and Melanie and Josh seemed closer than ever after their talk. All was good with the girls. They had become sisters with all their adventures together—Sisters in Blood.

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