Time: Approximately two years after Potato Surprise
“What name is the reservation under, sir?”
“Bond. Julian Bond.” Julian struggled to keep his expression disinterested, but damn, how he had longed to say those words. Ever since Shax had shown him vids of the Old Earth hero, he had indulged gleeful fantasies about being Bond.
When the central office had asked if he had a name preference for this assignment, how could he resist?
Security, discreet in maître d' guise, activated the door lock on the ornately embossed golden scanner pergola and let Julian proceed. The fact that central had snagged him an invitation here at all was remarkable. That no one questioned him once he was on the guest list was not even slightly shocking. In keeping with the rarified surroundings, Julian was in formal attire, scarlet frock coat and ridiculously tight synth-silk pants. Minimal ceramic weaponry that the scanners would miss, minimal hidden electronics, likewise.
Tonight was all about finesse rather than hit hard and run, and since the casino had the best high-tech security money could buy, this meant he was on his own, without backup surveillance. He had the means, he had the method—what he didn’t have was an exit strategy. Sometimes it was best to delay planning of that final piece until one had a feel for the room. The gaming tables gleamed with exotic woods and precious inlays. The staff all were beautiful young people, elegantly uniformed, perfectly coiffed. The guests were a cross section of every corner of the galaxies wealthiest excesses from diamond-encrusted gowns to titanium body enhancements.
He accepted a flute of champagne from a lovely in a skintight black bodysuit with little silver bells around the waist, then scanned the crowd for a likely companion for the evening. Someone flashy and memorable so his exit later would be conspicuous. Blonde Amazon with the raucous laugh. Perhaps. The…oh, sweet gods. The heavens had smiled on him. But how had the little brigand managed to get in here?
A middle management type bustled up to the casino guest in question. “Prince Shax! Such a pleasure to have royalty at the Karnak. Please let us know if there’s anything we can do for you.”
That answers that. Julian waited for Shax to turn just a hair and spot him, then he lifted his glass in salute and appreciation for Shax’s evening ensemble. The emerald green pants hugged every luscious bit of Shax’s gorgeous legs and the tails on the suit coat were just short enough to offer hints and peeks at his perfect ass.
Shax said something soft and flirty to the casino employee that made him blush and chuckle. With a beautifully executed platform-soled turn, Shax swept a drink off a passing tray and stalked toward Julian. “Well, hello there handsome. Don’t I know you?”
“We’ve met socially.” Julian offered a wry smile and extended his hand. “Julian Bond. Your mother introduced us.”
“Oh, of course.” Shax took the offered hand and turned it into an excuse to tuck his hand into Julian’s elbow and walk with him. “Fancy that. Mother insisted I pay a visit here.”
“Did she now?” Julian had just spotted his target at the Argos wheel table. He leaned in to whisper. “Fancy being my very visible arm candy for the evening?”
“Of course. What do you need me to do?”
“Stay by me and be an attention whore, dear. I just need people watching you.”
“Playing to my strengths. Smart man,” Shax murmured.
The target wasn’t remarkable in any way, average height and weight, middle-aged, except that his understated clothes would have outpriced a small interstellar ship and his security loomed behind him. Apparently, Shax followed his gaze and took the cue easily.
“Oh, Argos! Julian, do you mind? I do love this game. So exciting!”
Julian offered him a tight, indulgent smile, clear to everyone watching that he was reluctant but thoroughly invested in the lovely demon prince enjoying himself. Shax maneuvered them over so that Julian was beside the target. To anyone watching, the move made sense since the only open spot at the table was next to Mr. Expensive Suit. Shax surveyed the table and placed his chip sensors with unholy glee.
“Blue peacock. Gold ships.” Shax stretched to reach a betting square in the center for his remaining sensors. “Five blue peacock. Almost…”
“Your highness,” Julian said with amusement, as he and everyone around the table watched Shax wiggle his fine little ass as he bent over the table. “I could get you a rake to—”
“No! I can do this. I’m not that short.” With a last push of his outstretched fingers, Shax reached his chosen square, stood back up and straightened his jacket. His horns sparkled in the lights of the spinning Argos wheel and Julian’s heart cracked all over again at how gorgeous he was.
Concentrate. Just get this done.
All eyes were on Shax as his biggest wager hit and he squealed in delight, clapping his hands.
“Highness?” the croupier held the electronic rake out, ready to add the winnings and push them to Shax.
“Let it ride, m’dear. I feel lucky tonight!” Shax gave Julian a quick peck on the jaw and returned his attention to the table.
Three spins of the wheel later, through which Shax flirted with everyone at the table, his highness had quadrupled his winnings. then lost it all. He managed to look incredibly fetching as he turned his face up to Julian, smile bright but just a hint wobbly. “Ah, well. I never did know when to stop.”
Julian pulled him into a one-armed hug. “Never mind, highness. Shall we go up to dinner?”
“Perfect idea.” Shax stood on tiptoe to give him a sizzling kiss. “I do hope they have flambé. I like a little heat with my meals.”
All eyes were on Shax as he glided away from the table on Julian’s arm and up the spiral stairs to the third floor. Once they were ensconced in a lovely private room overlooking the casino floor, with a bottle of wine and an absolutely exquisite vegetable korma, Shax finally asked, “Well, did you accomplish whatever it was?”
“Oh, yes,” Julian answered with half an eye still on the floor. Mr. Expensive Suit was still at the Argos table.
“But nothing happened. No explosions. No bloodshed.” Shax’s disappointed pout was adorable.
“Keep watching, sweetheart. Any moment now.”
Right on schedule, Mr. Suit turned purple and toppled like a domino. He hit the absurdly thick casino carpet with a thud and chaos ensued as his security grabbed hold of the hapless patrons who had been on either side of him and casino management hurried to the scene.
“Julian,” Shax said softly. “We were down there over forty five minutes ago.”
“Hmm. New topical poison. Takes a bit to take effect. Will have broken down in the bloodstream by the time someone thinks to check. A simple accidental brush of hands.” Julian picked up Shax’s hand from the table and kissed his knuckles. “You were perfect, by the way.”
They sat watching the pandemonium below, Shax humming softly to himself until Julian caught the tune.
“Stop humming Secret Agent Man.”