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DAY OF THE DRAGON
by Rebecca York

Genre: Paranormal Romance, Paranormal/Urban Fantasy

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Was he dead or alive?

Ramsay Gallagher supposed it depended on how you defined life and death. He was breathing. His heart pumped blood through his body, and his brain could process information.

But though a crowd of people swirled around him, he didn’t feel alive. Not when the mental abilities that he had taken for granted all his life were lost to him

When coins clattering into a metal tray broke through his dark thoughts, he turned to his right to see a fifty something woman in a bright orange dress scooping quarters from the spout of a machine with flashing lights.

“I told you the slots near the door were the good ones,” she crowed to the balding man beside her. “They want people to see the winners.”

Outside it was well past midnight, but time had no meaning inside the casino. Ramsay looked around the vast room, struck by the contrasts of crystal chandeliers, marble floors and bright neon. In ages past, this might have been the palace of a monarch who had drained the royal treasury to create a universe of opulence and pleasure for himself. In fact it was in a hotel called Versailles. But instead of the Sun King’s courtiers dressed in their best silk and satin, it was filled with people wearing everything from tee shirts and jeans to strapless gowns and even a few business suits.  

He stood for a moment watching the crowd, wondering if he had made a mistake in coming to this strange city. But his e-mail had brought an announcement of a conference here, New Frontiers in Archaeology, and one of the seminars had intrigued him. A Dr. Madison Dartmoor was giving a paper on the excavation of an ancient tomb discovered in a remote mountain site in southern Italy, the area where Ramsay had been born.

Or rather found there as a small boy, wandering alone. He had always wondered why, and perhaps Dr. Dartmoor could give him some clues.

Had his parents tossed him away? Had they been forced to give him up? Had they gotten separated by accident?

He’d have to wait until tomorrow morning for the seminar. Tonight he strode toward the craps tables. 

The dice game, he knew, dated back to the Crusades and was a simplification of the English game of hazard. The modern American version had been born in New Orleans around the turn of the nineteenth century, and he had first played it there. Black Americans had spread it throughout the U.S.

He reached one of the tables just as a man in a cowboy hat crapped out, punctuating his failure with a loud curse.

The faux cowboy passed the dice to a guy with a belly that made him look nine months pregnant. Ramsay felt the man’s tension, which was hardly less than his own. He focused on the dice as the shooter flung the small cubes across the table, where they bounced against the side bumper.

Pair of fours, he silently chanted, willing the combination to come up. Instead the man rolled two threes.  

Ramsay clenched his fists in frustration. A few months ago, it would have been easy to manipulate dice with his mind and get them to come up any way he wanted. Now such a simple task eluded him.

But he had never been one to give up without a fight. He stayed at the table for several more minutes, trying to influence the outcome of the action. Finally, when a new shooter stepped up, Ramsay felt a small stirring somewhere inside his mind. Gathering every ounce of power he could muster, he focused on the white cubes, willing a winning combination.  

When they rolled to a stop with a three and four showing, he felt a spurt of victory. He had been the cause of the successful throw. He was almost sure of it.    

But even that amount of effort had sapped his energy. He needed to recharge before he tried any more experiments.  

He stepped from the casino into the marble and gold lobby where a three-story-high replica of the authentic Versailles facade adorned the back of the registration desk, with parterre hedges and flower beds defining the check-in lines.  

A slender blond woman turned away from the desk, catching his attention. She was attractive, perhaps in her late twenties, with straight hair cut just below her chin, light eyes and an intelligent face that made him want to get to know her better. She appeared to be alone--and not the usual patron of this establishment, at least from the people he’d seen. She was wearing a beige pantsuit, with a green and white striped knit top under the jacket and an expression that was a combination of determination and wariness.

When she started talking to a bellman, Ramsay could see she was worried about a small trunk the porter had just placed on the cart.

Edging closer, he heard her say, “Be very careful with that one.”

“Certainly, ma’am. You can go up to your room, and I’ll meet you there.”

“No, I’ll stay with the luggage.”

The ring of command in her voice sparked his interest. Obviously, she was used to giving orders. Was she here with expensive merchandise to sell? Or was she carting a boatload of money to the gambling capital of the world? Still intrigued, he strode toward her, watching her reaction as he approached the cart.

When she stepped between him and the trunk, he kept walking toward the concierge desk, where a middle-aged couple was trying to buy tickets for the night’s upscale circus show performance.

Turning, he saw that the blond and the bellman were headed toward the elevator.

On the other side of the lobby, partly hidden by a decorative pillar, two men were watching her. They were dressed in casual sports shirts and slacks, but their hard-looking faces and tense posture made him think they weren’t here on a gambling holiday. They looked more like Mafia tough guys staking out a mark. One was short and chunky, with curly brown hair that gave his head the appearance of a mop. The other was over six feet tall and bald as Yul Brynner.

Moments after the woman disappeared into the elevator with the bellman and the cart, Mophead pulled out a cell phone and made a call. It was a brief exchange

So what was going on, Ramsay wondered as he watched the men head for the bar. It looked like someone was keeping tabs on her. Was she in danger?

He should warn her. He started across the lobby, then stopped in his tracks, since he wasn’t going to find her room by picking up her scent in the elevator. Besides, her problems were none of his business.