The first thing Devon noticed about the underground lair that he was entering—though 'lair' might have been coming on a bit too strong, given that the place was well lit and decorated like a cross between a Buddhist temple and a seraglio—was the smell. It was too delicate to be called a smell, really; a scent, wafting up the stairs and past the two burly Asian men who were waiting to escort Devon into the belly of the beast. The delicate curls of incense were flavored with spikenard, a derivative of the valerian family and supposedly the stuff that drove Judas to rebel after Mary Magdalene used the costly ointment to anoint Jesus' feet, and...
Devon could feel his overactive memory trying to dive down irrelevant avenues of information in his head, and he firmly refocused himself on the men walking toward him.
"Arms up," one of the men said, his English barely scratched by a Mandarin edge. He wore a cheap, shapeless polyester suit and a bolo tie, with some sort of rough-cut brown stone for a pendant. Not exactly contemporary fashion choices, but it looked like the standard uniform for henchmen, if the other guy was anything to judge by. Devon just smiled and raised his arms, letting the man frisk him and taking note of the Taser gun at his hip as well as the piece he was trying to hide, a small-caliber pistol in the small of his back. The way he walked suggested there was something strapped down at ankle height, too, but Devon didn't plan on getting up close and personal enough to make sure.
The man's hands ran briskly down his legs, and Devon gave a tiny, experimental shimmy of his hips. The man finished his check and stepped a foot back, as square-jawed and implacable as ever. No reaction. Interesting. "This way," he grunted. The other man never spoke, but he followed behind them, sandwiching Devon between them as they headed deeper into Tian.
Tian was a Chinese word for heaven, and this place, hidden under ten feet of rock and sand in the middle of the Mojave Desert, a hundred miles from Las Vegas, seemed like an odd place to set up such a lofty den of iniquity. It was hard to get to this ghost town in the center of nowhere. The only visible things that marked the serpent's head were a crumbling adobe motel and a shuttered gas station. Few people knew about Tian, and even fewer were allowed entrance. No matter how exclusive the entertainment on offer, the inconvenience should have been enough to put people off when the glitz and glamour of Vegas was so readily available. In this case, though, it looked like the first rule of fight club was working in Tian's favor, because this serpent's belly was filled to the brim with people.
Devon was led into a large central room that looked like it had been plated with marble: floors, ceiling, walls, all of them were white shot through with a soft jade green that soothed the eye as much as it captivated. There were silk carpets here and there on the floor, recessed enclosures behind carved wooden dividers for the fortunate few who'd found a place to sit, and slender Chinese women and men weaving between the guests bearing trays of everything from drinks to drugs. Most of the clientele seemed to be male, men of many different nationalities, if the cut of their suits was anything to judge by, all drinking and smoking and trying to restrain their glances towards the center of the room, where a tall crimson candle in a gold candelabrum was slowly burning down. No one touched it, no one even bumped into it, despite the crowd. Ah-ha. A timepiece, then. Symbolizing that something everyone was waiting for was going to happen when it burned down to a nub.
"Mr. Klein." A young woman in a form-fitting silver and blue dress approached and bowed formally. "Welcome to Tian."
"Thank you, miss." Devon smiled charmingly; he couldn't smile any other way. "Its reputation has preceded it."
"I trust you will be well pleased with what our establishment has on offer. May I offer you some comfort as you wait for tonight's entertainment? A bottle of our finest champagne, perhaps, or something stronger, to calm the nerves?" She fluttered her eyelashes enticingly, and it was all Devon could do not to laugh. "Or perhaps even the company of myself, to help occupy your time until the show begins?"
He shouldn't do it. He knew he shouldn't, but Devon couldn't help himself. Being on the receiving end of a seduction was pure challenge for him. He had to prove he could outdo her, even though he was supposed to be keeping a low profile. But then, no one had ever said Devon was good at denying himself.
Devon captured her gaze with his and extended his hand. She gave hers over, almost unconsciously, and he bent over it slowly, in a gesture that appeared courtly from a distance but was smoldering up close. As he bowed, Devon pressed lightly against her body with his power.
Her scent changed instantly, growing stronger as her temperature rose, sweat and musk sliding more freely from her pores and between her legs. She gasped, then clutched her free hand to her neck. Too late, Devon realized that she was wearing the same brown stone as the guards, this time as a choker. It must have acted as some sort of warning, because an instant later she drew back, and the guards immediately reached for their Taser guns.
Shit. This was not how the op was supposed to go. "Maria," Devon muttered around his clenched teeth, "they can tell what I am."
"Can you get out of there?" Maria asked through the com, her voice so faint that if his hearing hadn't been naturally augmented, Devon wouldn't have been able to hear her.
"Not sure yet." He straightened up and smiled again. "Actually, I just remembered that I left something rather important in my car. I'll be back in a minute."
"You're not going anywhere," Nameless Guard Number One grunted, reaching for Devon's arm.
Devon reacted instantly, grabbing the man's wrist and jerking it aside as he spun toward him and neatly kicked him just above his ear. Guard Number One staggered back, giving Devon time to deal with Number Two, who had gotten his Taser free and aimed all of its fifty thousand volts at Devon.