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Goddess of Light, Page 2

P. C. Cast

Chapter 1

  God, she adored airports. They reminded her of love and excitement and the promise of new beginnings. Not for the first time Pamela thought that it had probably been her deep and romantic infatuation with airports that had fueled her relationship with Duane. One glimpse of him in his United Airlines pilot's uniform, and all rational thought had leaked out of her body along with her ridiculously girly sigh of pleasure.

  What a moron she'd been.

  That relationship fiasco was over. Finally. Pamela closed her eyes and ran her fingers through her chic new short haircut. She wished she'd run into Duane somewhere in the Colorado Springs Airport before she boarded the Southwest Airlines jet. She would have loved to have seen his horrified expression as he realized that she had cut off all of that thick, dark hair that used to swing around her waist. The hair that he used to take such pleasure in touching and stroking and. . . Pamela shivered in disgust at the memory. Just thinking about it made her feel suffocated. Getting rid of her long hair had been the final step she had taken to free herself from the shackles of Duane's smothering love. It had been six blissful months since she'd spoken to him. After months and months of refusing his gifts, sending back his flowers, and reminding him that their marriage had made both of them miserable, the end of their relationship had finally sunk in, much to the chagrin of her family, who believed that Duane was perfect for her and that she was a fool to have left him. She could still hear her brother, her sister-in-law and her parents. He's not that bad. He gives you anything you want. He makes great money. He adores you.

  He hadn't just adored her. He had wanted to consume her. Duane Edwards had appeared on the surface to be a successful, handsome, slightly macho, charismatic man. But under that surface, where the real Duane lived, lurked a needy, controlling, passive-aggressive boy/man.

  Pamela rolled her shoulders to release the tension caused by thinking of Duane. On second thought, she was glad she hadn't run into him at the airport. She hadn't cut her hair to "show him"! She'd cut it because that's what she wanted. It fit with the woman she was becoming. She rested her head against the seat back. Her lips curved up.

  She liked the woman she was turning into. Satisfied, Pamela thought. She hadn't been so satisfied with herself in years. She didn't even care that she was mushed into the window seat of the Southwest Airlines jet next to a woman whose bony elbow kept poking her while she struggled to work the cigarette-scented crossword page of the New York Times.

  Why would anyone obsessively work crossword puzzles? Did the woman have nothing better to do with her mind? Ms. Bony Elbows cackled and filled in another blank. Pamela guessed she didn't.

  No! No negative thoughts. Self-fulfilling prophecies are powerful. Negative thoughts cause negative energy. Now she sounded like her mother, God help her. She sighed and pressed her forehead against the airplane window.

  Okay, she'd mentally start over. She wouldn't let the lady sitting beside her bug her, because that was a pointless waste of time, as was dwelling on negatives in general. Hell, who was she to judge? She glanced down at the book in her lap. It had been open to the same page for the entire flight. What had she been doing with her mind? Instead of reading Gena Showalter's scrumptious The Stone Prince, she'd been wasting her time thinking about her horrid ex. She was better than that - she'd worked hard to make it so.

  Purposefully, Pamela shifted her attention to the view outside her window. The desert was a bizarre mixture of harshness and beauty, and she was surprised to realize that she found it attractive - at least from several thousand feet in the air. It was so different from the lush green of her Colorado home, yet strangely compelling. Turning, the plane dipped its wing down, and Pamela's breath caught at her first glimpse of Las Vegas. There, smack in the middle of desert and sand, red dirt and canyons, was a city of glass and light and snaking highways, which she could tell even from the air were choked with rushing cars.

  "It's like something out of a dream," she murmured to herself.

  "Damn right! Ain't it grand," Ms. Bony Elbows rasped through a throat that had sucked down too many Virginia Slim Menthol extra-longs.

  Pamela stifled her irritation. "It is unusual. Of course I knew Vegas had been built in the middle of the desert, but - "

  "This your first time in Sin City?" She interrupted.

  "Yes. "

  "Oh, girlie! You are in for the time of your life. " She leaned in and lowered her gruff voice. "Remember, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. "

  "Oh, well, I'm not here for pleasure. I'm here on business. "

  "A pretty young thing like you can sure find time to mix the two. " She waggled her penciled-in brows knowingly.

  Pamela felt her jaw setting. She really hated it when people patronized her because she just happened to be attractive. She worked her ass off to be successful. And thirty wasn't young!

  "Perhaps I could if I didn't own my own business, and I didn't care if my client recommended my work to others, but I do. So I'm here for professional reasons, not to play. "

  Her seatmate's surprised look took in Pamela's diamond stud earrings - one carat each - and her well-tailored eggshell Fendi slack suit, the classic color of which was nicely set off by a melon and tangerine silk scarf and shell.

  Pamela read the look in her eye, and she wanted to scream, No, I did not have some damned man buy me this outfit!

  "Just what is it you do, honey?"

  "I own Ruby Slipper, an interior design business. "

  The woman's crinkled face softened into a smile, and with a start Pamela realized that she must have once been very pretty.

  "Ruby Slipper. . . I like that. Sounds real nice. I'll bet you're good at it, too. Just lookin' at you I can tell you got class. But it don't look like Vegas class. What are you doing here?"

  "My newest client is an author who is building a vacation home in Vegas. I've been hired to decorate it. "

  "An author. . . " She fluttered long red fingernails at Pamela. "That's big stuff. Who is it? Maybe I heard of him. "

  "E. D. Faust. He writes fantasy. " Pamela only knew that because she'd looked him up hastily on Amazon during their first phone call. The man had proclaimed himself, "E. D. Faust, best-selling author. " She'd had no idea who he was, but when she typed his name into Amazon's search box, her screen had blazed with page after page of titles like Pillars of the Sword, Temple of Warriors, Naked Winds, Faith of the Damned. . . and on and on. At that moment he'd instantly had her undivided attention, even though Pamela didn't particularly care for male science-fiction and fantasy authors. She read a little of everything, so she'd tried a few of the giants of the genre, but it seemed they were all too much alike. Swords, magic, spaceships, blood, testosterone. . . blah. . . blah. . . yawn. But she wasn't stupid. Far from it, and one of her primary rules was never, ever say negative things about a client. So she put on a bright smile and nodded in response to her travel partner's blank look like she thought E. D. Faust was Nora Roberts.

  "His current release is Pillars of the Sword, but he's published more than fifty books, and most of them have appeared on all the major best-seller lists. "

  "Never heard of him, but then I like a good crossword puzzle more than just about anything. " She cackled again.

  "Well, anything except a long, tall man in a cowboy hat and a cold beer. "

  She elbowed Pamela as she laughed, this time on purpose. Pamela was surprised to feel herself smiling back. There was something honest and real about the old woman that made her craggy face and her gruff manner strangely appealing.

  "Pamela Gray," she said, holding out her hand.

  "Billie Mae Johnson. " She returned the handshake with a firm grip and a warm smile. "Pleased to meet ya. If you need a friendly face or a cold beer, come on by the Flamingo. I'm usually working at the bar on the main floor. "

  "I may just take you up on that. "

  The stewardess announced that they were landing, and Pamela returne
d her seat to the full and upright position. Billie Mae shook her head and grumbled at the squares of the crossword puzzle, most of which were still empty.

  "Ya have to know that the hoity-toity New York Times has gone to hell when they start lettin' divorce lawyers from Texas write their puzzles. " She sighed and concentrated on one of the questions before looking askance at Pamela. "Hey, the snooty clue is 'metaphoric emancipation. ' The answer has seven letters. All I can think of is Budweiser, but that's nine. "

  "Is the attorney who wrote the puzzle a man or a woman?"

  "Man. "

  "Try alimony," Pamela said, smiling wickedly.

  Billie Mae filled in the letters with a satisfied grunt, then she winked at Pamela as the plane touched down. "You just earned yourself a free beer. Hope you're as good at decoratin' as you are at crosswords. "

  Pamela approached the uniformed man who was holding a sign that spelled out Pamela Gray, Ruby Slipper, in gold embossed letters. Before she could speak, the man executed an efficient little bow and asked in a clipped British accent, "Miss Gray?"

  "Yes, I'm Pamela Gray. "

  "Very good, madam. I shall take your luggage. Please be so good as to follow me. "

  She did, and had to hurry to keep up with his brisk pace as he whisked confidently through the crowded airport and out to the waiting limo. Pamela wanted to stand and gawk when he opened the door to a lovely vintage stretch Rolls-Royce, but she slid into the dove colored leather seat gracefully, thanking him before he closed the door.

  "Well met, Miss Gray!" a deep voice boomed at her from across the limo.

  Pamela jumped. Out of the shadows a man leaned forward, extending a beefy hand. As she automatically grasped it, the crystal chandeliers hanging from both sides of the car blinked on.

  "I am, of course, E. D. Faust. But you must call me Eddie. "

  Recovering her composure, she smiled smoothly and returned his firm grip. Her first impression of E. D. Faust was one of immense size. As soon as he had hired her, she had gone immediately to the nearest bookstore and purchased several of his novels, so she was familiar with his author photo. But the pictures in the back of his books hadn't begun to capture the size of the man. He filled the space across from her, reminding her of Orson Welles or an aging Marlon Brando. And he was dark. His hair, which formed an abrupt widow's peak, was thick and black and tied back in a low ponytail. His long-sleeved silk shirt was black, as were the enormous slacks and the glistening leather boots. Though insulated by layers of fat, the strong lines of his face were still evident, and his age was indeterminate - Pamela knew he must be somewhere between thirty and fifty, but she had no clue exactly where. He watched her watching him, and his brown eyes sparkled with what might have been a mischievous glint, as if he was used to being the center of attention and he enjoyed it.

  "It's nice to finally meet you, Eddie. And please, call me Pamela. "

  "Pamela it is then. " Abruptly, he tapped the dragon-head handle of his black cane against the half-lowered panel of glass that divided the passenger area of the limo from the chauffer. "You may carry on, Robert. "

  "Very good, sir. "

  The sleek limo pulled away from the curb.

  "I trust your journey has not overly fatigued you, Pamela," he said.

  "No, it was only a short flight from Colorado Springs. "

  "Then you would not be opposed to beginning your work immediately?"

  "No, I'd be pleased to start right away. Does this mean you've made a decision about the style you'd like for your home?" Pamela asked eagerly. If this exquisite car was an example of Eddie's taste and budget. . . her head spun at the possibilities. A showcase! She would create an exquisite vacation paradise fit for the King of Fantasy Fiction.

  "I most certainly have. I know exactly what I desire. I found it here in this magical city. All you need do is to replicate it. " Eddie tapped the window again. "Robert, take us to Caesars Palace. "