I don’t know how much time had passed before someone grabbed my elbow. I jumped up, conjured some fairy dust, and threw it towards the gate imagining a volt similar to a stun gun. “Fuck! What the hell was that?” some guy yelled. I looked up to see a man shaking his arm like he was drying a Polaroid. There were a few people behind him wearing black nylon jackets, stifling their laughter. Great, well at least someone could find some humor in this situation.
“Oops. Sorry,” I replied. “It was a…um, defense bolt. It just kind of slipped out. I’m a little on edge here under the circumstances. Why did you just grab me?”
He narrowed his eyes at me. “I tried getting your attention but you weren’t responding. That’s when I grabbed your arm through the gate and you shocked the shit out of me. Seriously, what the hell? That wasn’t a normal defense bolt. You didn’t have time to chant the incantation. And where is your mulberry root?”
“How the hell would you know---”
“I’m a warlock,” he explained. “A very good warlock. I’m also the lead homicide investigator for preternatural cases in Clark County. My name is Detective Alexander. Look, here’s my badge.” He held a black wallet up against the gate. “It has my name on it with this little picture. See? That’s me, Vance Alexander. Now would you care to unlock the gate so my men and I can get in there? We need to figure out what happened here tonight. Unless you want to clean up the stiff in the fridge yourself?”
“Did you really just say that?” What a dick! I gave him a fierce glare telling him as much. “Seriously, how cold hearted can you be? A woman died here tonight. She died a violent, horrible death! That ‘stiff’ as you like to call her has a name, you know. It’s Leslie Russo. Just in case you think that might be helpful in your little investigation, Detective.”
As I lifted the gate, I noticed the men with Forensics and Coroner written on their backs were doing anything possible to escape my attention. They figured out where the kitchen was and filed back there as fast as possible, seemingly trying to avoid my wrath. The detective appeared completely indifferent, making me hate him even more. It was obvious that I wasn’t needed so I just sank into a booth and resumed contemplating whether or not I needed hand lotion.
“Is there anyone else here with you?” Detective Asshole asked.
“Miguel and Hank are in the kitchen, but I’m the one who found her. They came when they heard me scream. Miguel only speaks Spanish so I hope you have a translator.”
“That won’t be a problem,” he said. “Don’t go anywhere. I’m going to interview them and I’ll be back to take your statement.” He seemed to be waiting for some sort of response but I refused to give him any. Finally he took the hint and walked away. After about twenty minutes, he was sitting across the table, looking at me expectantly. “Miss, are you ready to give your statement now?”
“Sure…Fine...Whatever.” I was not going to make this easy on him.
He pressed a button on a recorder and said, “Let’s start by getting your name. I’ll need you to say and spell your first and last name for me, please.”
“Karli Lane. K-a-r-l-i L-a-n-e. Now what?”
“I’ll need your ID, best contact phone number, and supernatural affiliation,” he replied.
I handed him my license. “I’m a witch, although I don’t practice much. My cell phone is all I have. The number is 702-555-8974.”
He studied my ID carefully. “So, you’re turning twenty-five this year, huh?”
“Yeah. So? Why do you care?”
“No reason. Just a statement of fact, Ms. Lane. Now, let’s talk about what happened. Please state the events as they occurred. No detail is too small.”
“There’s not much to tell. I needed lemons. The lemons were in the fridge. I opened the door and found her like that.”
“Why did you need lemons?” he asked.
“Because I was planning to open a lemonade stand,” I snapped. When he gave me an irritated look I added, “We’re in a bar. Why do you think I needed lemons?”
“I’m the one asking the questions here, Ms. Lane. You’d do well to remember that.”
“Ego, much?” I asked.
“Excuse me?” he countered. When I didn’t reply, he gave me an annoying hand gesture, suggesting that I should continue.
I sighed. “I was trying to be nice for the girls tomorrow and get some prep work done for them.”
“When was the last time you saw Ms. Russo alive? Do you know of anyone who would want to harm her?”
“I saw her right before midnight. I was heading to the ladies room and she was over in that corner.” I pointed to the wall. “I don’t know of anyone who would want to harm her.”
“Now, I know this next question may seem odd, considering we’re in a bar on the Las Vegas Strip, but did you see any strangers in here tonight? Anyone that stood out more than others?”
“You’re kidding me, right? I see strangers all goddamn day!” All right, now I was getting really irritated. I didn’t care how snarky I sounded. “Did anyone stand out? Maybe…I guess. There was this one guy. Big vampire. I’ve never seen him before yet he carried himself like he owned the place. He paid with a card. Let me see if I can get you a name.”
“That’d be great. Thank you, Ms. Lane.”
I walked over to the bar and flipped through the credit card transmittals until I found the one I was looking for. “Here it is. I found it. His name is Leonidas Markos.” Hold up, why do I know that name? I looked over at the detective and his jaw seemed to be ticking. Okay…that’s weird.
“Leonidas Markos. Are you sure?” he asked as he joined me at the bar. There goes the jaw tick again!
I looked at the slip again just to be sure. “Yeah, that’s what it says. What’s the big deal?”
“As in Leo Markos, President of Markos Enterprises? You know, the company that owns this bar? He acted like he owns the place, Ms. Lane, because he does. Are you honestly trying to tell me that you’ve never met the man you work for? I know for a fact that he personally keeps an eye on all of his employees, especially here in town.”
“Are you accusing me of lying?” I shouted. “Look, I would assume we’re talking about the same guy, but I don’t know for sure because I’ve never met him! Why is that so hard to believe anyway? He only bought this place a few weeks ago! Sure, he was in here tonight…and maybe we had a moment, but I never actually talked to the guy!”
He stood up from his stool and slammed his fist down on the bar. “What do you mean you ‘had a moment’?” he mocked in falsetto. Why the hell was he getting so angry?
Taken aback by his reaction, I lowered my voice before answering. “It was nothing really. He ordered some scotch from table twenty. I poured the drink. His waitress served it to him. Before he drank it, he stood up to face me, held the glass up, nodded, and then he took a sip.”
“Then what happened?”
“Um, his fangs came out.”
“His fangs came out,” he repeated.
“Yeah. It was top shelf scotch. I’m guessing it tasted pretty good.”
“I’m sure it was great alcohol, Ms. Lane.” He rolled his eyes. “Look, I think I have all I need for now. I’ll be in touch if I have any additional...”
I didn’t hear the rest of his sentence because at that exact moment the coroner came by, rolling Leslie’s body out in a black bag. I froze, feeling completely numb. I think I may have muttered something unintelligible, but I can’t be sure. The gravity of the whole situation just hit me at once. I slumped against the back counter and stared at the procession of investigators marching out the door with Miguel and Hank trailing behind them. I have no idea how long I stayed that way.
“Ms. Lane, are you okay? Can you hear me?”
I looked up and saw that the detective had moved behind the bar and was now standing directly in front of me, with concern filling his piercing blue eyes. Surreptitiously, my eyes took inventory while he was helping me into a sitting position on the floor. My God, why didn’t I notice how stunning he was before? He was tall, maybe 6’4” with dark blonde hair that was styled into short, sexy tufts. His bronzed skin was testament to the fact that he lived in the scorching desert.
My gaze traveled down to his expansive chest which seemed to be testing the limits of his oxford button-up. It tapered down to a lean waist and strong leg muscles that I could see flexing beneath his jeans as he squatted down in front of me. His deep, baritone voice rumbled in the back of his throat, sending chills straight down to my spine.
“Ms. Lane, can you…” His words brought me back to his face, specifically to his mouth. Oh my, I could spend hours kissing those lips!
I cleared my throat. “Karli,” I said. “Call me Karli.”
He let out a sigh, seemingly relieved by my response. “Karli, look, I know you’re pretty shaken up from the events this evening. I don’t think it’s safe for you to drive yourself home. Is there someone who can come get you?”
“No, there’s not,” I replied.
“Maybe a boyfriend, or---”
“No. No boyfriend, no roommate, nothing. I’m all by myself.”
He smiled. “Okay, then I’m going to take you home. Do you have keys to lock up around here?”
“Um, yeah.” I absently handed him my keys as he led me out the back door.
I remember riding in a car, a newer BMW maybe, with “Sweet Home Alabama” playing at one point in the background. Then I was standing in front of my apartment, staring at the beautiful detective. He unlocked the door, twisted the handle, and handed my keys back to me.
“Okay, here you go,” he said. “Safely at home. You’ve had a long day and I’m sure you’re---”
“Detective?” I placed my hand on his forearm, effectively cutting off his speech.
“Vance.” He smiled, showcasing his amazing dimples. “It’s only fair if you insist that I call you Karli.”
“Vance,” I repeated, reveling in how his name rolled off my tongue. “Would you like to come in for a nightcap?” When it seemed like he was hesitating I added, “To be honest, I don’t feel like being alone yet. It would really help me relax if you’d come inside for just a bit.”
“Well, when you put it that way, how could I refuse?” He held the door open and gestured for me to step inside. “Please, after you.”
When we crossed the threshold, I closed the door and flipped the deadbolt. My kitchen/living room combo was right off the foyer so I motioned for him to take a seat on the couch. I went through the cupboards until I found what I was looking for. “I only seem to have Jameson’s. Is that okay with you?”
“That’s perfect,” he replied.
I handed him a highball and excused myself for a moment. As I was walking down the hall I said, “I’m sorry, but if I have to stay in this damn outfit for another minute, I’m going to scream. Make yourself at home!”
As soon as I closed my bedroom door I began searching through my dresser for my favorite Victoria’s Secret boxers with a shelf bra tank. Yes, I found it! Baby pink tank with pink plaid short shorts. I didn’t want to go all femme fatale on him but I was definitely going for flirty. I deserved a little flirty after the day I’d had. Once I was changed, I pulled my hair up into a ponytail and started back down the hall. Vance didn’t notice me at first because he was catching the basketball highlights on Sportscenter. As he took a sip of whiskey I asked, “Do you have a favorite team? I’m a Lakers girl myself.”
He looked up at me while he was drinking and started choking. “Omigod, are you okay?” I asked as I ran over to the couch preparing to perform the Heimlich.
He lightly tapped his chest with his fist and wheezed, “Swallowed…wrong tube…I’ll be fine.”
“Oh, okay.” I sat down next to him while taking a sip of my own liquid courage. “So, you never answered my question. Do you have a favorite team?”
“The Bulls,” he replied. “I’m from Chicago originally.”
“How long have you been in Vegas?”
“A long time.” He set his glass down onto the oak coffee table and shifted his body towards me. He grabbed my hand unexpectedly, sending a little volt of electricity up my arm. “Look, Karli, I’m sorry if I came across as a callous bastard earlier tonight. I’ve been doing this job for a really long time. Too long, I think sometimes. I see a lot of gruesome things in my line of work so I’ve become desensitized to the violence of it all. I didn’t mean to discredit any feelings or emotions you may have had back there. You’re entitled to process it as you see fit. I feel like I robbed you of that opportunity. For that, I cannot apologize enough. I truly am sorry.”
Wow, I didn’t see that one coming. “How do you get used to it?” I asked. “I mean, how could you ever get used to seeing that much suffering? I’ve always thought of myself as a strong person, someone who wouldn’t break down in a crisis situation. But this was so brutal and so bloody. I’d be a fool to think that she didn’t fear for her life or experience any pain when that monster attacked her. No one should have to go through something like that.” With the images fresh in my head again, I couldn’t speak anymore so I just wept softly. Vance gathered me into his chest and held me there, trying to console me with soft whispers. When I could finally form words again, I pulled back from him and said, “Oh God, look at me! I’m a blubbering mess! Now I’m the one who should be apologizing!”
He wiped a rogue tear from my cheek and placed his hands on each side of my face. “Shh,” he whispered. “Cry all you want, Karli. Let it out and don’t worry about anything else.” I tried tucking my chin but he lifted it gently with his finger, forcing me to look up at him. “Karli, listen to me. You’re strong. And you’re beautiful.” As he kissed the spot where he’d just caught the tear, he said, “You’re probably the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met.” He began peppering my jaw with sweet kisses until he reached my mouth. His lips were hovering right above mine when he added, “And if I don’t kiss you right now, I will probably regret it for the rest of my life.”