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Equal parts Light and Shadow, Joanna Archer must fulfill a destiny she never wanted. Once a photographer and heiress to a casino fortune, she is now dedicated to the cause of good... but susceptible to the seductions of evil.
A deadly virus is descending on Las Vegasâa terrifying plague unleashed by the powerful overlord of Zodiac's dark side: Joanna's father. Chaos and panic grip Sin City as agents of Light fall prey to the terrifying epidemic. Death reigns supremeâand Joanna stands at dead center of an epic and terrible war long foretold, the last hope of a damned world.
But first she must somehow conquer the malevolence that grows all around her... and within.
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It's funny how a name can change the world's perception of you. Your perception of yourself. My mother used to stroke my cheek with her fingertips, calling me her Jo-babyi>my earliest identity; a child both loved and cherishedi>though obviously that was before she abandoned me. And while the man I'd once thought was my father just called me Joanna, the way he said it was telling as well, all the syllables crisply clipped and pronounced, like he was biting them off between his teeth before spitting them out. Like being Joanna, like being me, was a bad thing. And then there was the love of my life. He'd called me Jo-Jo, and that was the name I missed most of all.
Because for the past six months everyone had called me by my sister's name, and it was the one I used on myself now, fluffing my blond hair as I stood in a makeshift dressing room in one of Las Vegas's most opulent resorts, the Valhalla Hotel and Casino.
"Olivia Archer," I muttered as I straightened my Chanel pencil skirt, my feet screaming in heels as high as flagpoles. "What the hell were you thinking?"
Of course, she couldn't answer. The real Olivia was six months dead, and while I still mourned her every day and every minute, even if she'd been here I doubt her answer would've made sense to me. I mean, how did one even come up with the idea of selling women to raise money for charity? Much less entering herself in the bidding?
I'd been asking myself this ever since I received the phone call from City of Light Charities two months earlier, asking if the bachelorette auction was still on in spite of "recent events." I'd then scrambled to make sure it was, as Olivia would've done. Because that was one thing I needed to do.
Be Olivia Archer. Or be dead.
And so I stood, staring in the mirror at skin that was supposed to be mine, buffed, fluffed, and shellacked to aesthetic perfection, about to auction myself off to the highest bidder.
"Livvy-girl!" The screechi>another of my new namesi>could be heard above the emcee's cheery voice as yet another debutante was sold out front. "Olivia! No, no! Get away!"
I whirled, images of honed blades and demon faces assailing me, but there was only Cher, Olivia's best friendi>now minei>waving frantically as she danced from foot to foot. She breathed a theatrical sigh as I picked up my Dior handbag and clicked over to her in my medieval torture devices. Yanking me to her side, she whispered harshly, "That's the suicide mirror, remember? Leave that for the other hags . . . er, contestants."
She batted her thickened lashes when I glared at her. I needed this event to be a success. Which meant cheering on all the other hags. Er, contestants.
"It's true," added Madeleine Cross airily, mistaking my annoyance for disbelief. I recognized her from her photo in Vegas's equivalent of Page Six, and it turned out she was just as vain and self-absorbed as reported. She flipped back a lock of recently streaked auburn hair and ran her finger across a perfectly waxed brow. "Two socialites, sharing that mirror, were brought down by bad press after last year's event."
"Social homicide," Cher said, and both women shuddered.
I wanted to say, But it was for a good cause, and only just managed to keep my mouth shut and face straight. "Oh. Well . . . thanks. For saving me, I mean."
"'Course, darlin'! We're BFFs!" Cher gave my shoulders a squeeze before her gaze strayed over my shoulder and she gasped. "Oh my God! Don't look!"
We turned, and a squeaky sound from Cher whipped us back around. Madeleine leaned forward to peer at the offending contestant through the critical lens of our mirror.
"She's using M·A·C lipstick in . . ." She squinted before drawing back...
The Taste of NightBy: Vicki Pettersson