We rode the elevator up to the penthouse and stepped inside. Leo walked into the bedroom as I followed. The master suite was decorated using the same color scheme as the main living area, eggplant and gold. The large windows continued into the bedroom. Off to the left were two huge, marble bathrooms. His and Hers. One had a walk-in shower for two and the other had a large, jetted tub. A girl could get used to living like this, that’s for sure.
Leo set my bag on the king-sized bed. “Please make yourself at home. Order anything from room service that you’d like.”
Still feeling a little guilty about Vance, I needed to set the record straight. “Um, look, Leo. I really appreciate you helping me out. I just didn’t want you to get the wrong impression so I thought it’d be best if we cleared the air right now.”
He walked up to me and kissed the top of my head. “Relax, dear one,” he said. “I have no expectations. I will be down at the bar until closing and upon my return I shall sleep on the couch if I feel the need. I meant what I said earlier. Make yourself at home. Order a nice dinner, take a long bath, do whatever you need to do to relax.”
“Thank you again. I really don’t feel right about taking your bed, though.”
“There’s nothing to feel guilty about. I only require a few hours of sleep per night and I usually do not retire until after sunrise. It’s not going to kill me to spend a few hours on the couch.” He kissed my hand and turned to walk out the door.
Starving, I perused the room service menu and decided to order a burger and fries. I also added some strawberries and champagne on a whim. I figured, why the hell not? How often would I have this opportunity? I wandered around for a bit before settling in on the couch. I flipped through the TV channels but didn’t find anything worth watching. Before too long, there was a knock on the door.
The server wheeled the food cart over to the table and began setting a place for my meal. He then popped the cork to my champagne and placed it in a bucket of ice. I signed the receipt, adding a generous tip, and then handed the book back to him as he was leaving.
I devoured my burger and most of my fries while I was watching the fountains below. The water danced in a hypnotic symphony of lights. I know that they are a tourist attraction, but I don’t think I could ever tire of watching them. They were always so comforting whenever something was troubling me.
After dinner, I decided to take a bath. I turned on the faucet while I set the strawberries and champagne next to the tub. I looked around the room and found some bubble bath under the sink. I poured it in and inhaled the peaches and cream aroma. When the water was full, I undressed and carefully stepped in.
I sank back into the tub and enjoyed the feeling of the jets pulsating against my body. I ate a strawberry and took a sip from my glass of bubbly. Wow, this is really good champagne! I closed my eyes and thought about everything that had happened over the past few days, tracing my steps to this very place. I was in the freaking penthouse master bathroom waiting for its registered guest, someone who both terrified and fascinated me. And all because I had to get away from someone who drove me to the brink of insanity every time I saw him. Ironically, I found myself wanting desperately to be back in my apartment with said man because for some reason, I felt drawn to him like gravity. Despite my inability to turn off my thoughts, I got out of the bath about an hour later feeling much more relaxed, and possibly a little tipsy. I picked up the bottle to pour another glass and realized it was empty. Did I really drink that whole thing?
I wrapped a giant bath towel around my body and went through my bag to find my nightgown. Okay, so it was more of a short, red satin and lace chemise instead of an actual gown. I was obviously still angry with Vance when I packed it. I pulled it over my head and combed my hair.
I still felt a little restless so I checked my phone. No missed calls. Hmmm. I thought for sure Vance would have called by then. Feeling curious, I started looking through the walk-in closet. Leo had at least two dozen outfits in there, all designer labels. There were several pairs of black slacks with matching blazers, some jeans, light sweaters, button-up shirts, and t-shirts. Funny, I couldn’t really imagine him as a t-shirt and jeans kind of guy. I looked down to find a pair of lace-up boots, Italian loafers, and running shoes lining the shelf below.
I pulled out the built-in drawers and found some undershirts and several pairs of socks. There was only a single pair of dark blue silk boxers. Oh my, Leo must almost always go commando! Filing that delicious image away for later, I tried the TV again. I really needed a distraction. I flipped through the channels until I settled on some Discovery channel documentary.
Around midnight my phone rang. Thinking it was Vance, I ran to the bedroom to grab it. Nope, it was Leo’s cell. I pressed the talk button as I put the phone up to my ear.
“Karli, something came up and I will be a little later than expected.”
“Um, okay. Is everything all right?” I asked.
“Don’t worry about a thing,” he replied. “I will be back in the room as soon as possible. Will you please close the drapes before you retire just in case I do not return before sunrise? I need to go now. Sweet dreams, dearest.” Click.
Okay, that was weird. I wonder what he’s up to……
Knowing myself too well, I decided to brush my teeth and go to bed, rather than let my imagination get the best of me. I closed the curtains as Leo had requested and crawled into the big pillow top bed. Oh my, those sheets were heavenly! They must have had at least a one thousand thread count! And the pillows were like giant marshmallows! I snuggled under the covers and had to stifle a moan from inhaling Leo’s manly scent. No bed should ever feel or smell this good; you’d never want to leave! I took a deep breath and let myself be consumed by ecstasy. It may have been the alcohol, but my body was so at ease that I fell asleep almost immediately.
I woke up in a dark room, feeling disoriented. I started to panic, but then I remembered where I was and calmed down…until I realized that Leo was spooning me! Omigod, I could feel his erection on my back. Oh…his very large erection. Wait, no…snap out of it, Karli. I had to get out of his bed!
I tried slipping out of his arms undetected, but he just tightened his grip! I felt his penis jerk to attention. He nestled in closer, cupping my left breast as he started lazily kissing the back of my neck. Oh God, that feels good! No, no, no. I need to stop this! I can’t do this! Oh my, that feels really good! He started kissing my shoulder as he was pressing himself against me. His hot breath was sending shivers down my spine, making my body soften towards his. When his fangs grazed my skin, I almost came right then and there. My body wanted this so bad, but my mind was telling me to get away fast! In the end, my mind won as I jerked my body out of his grasp, rolling to the edge of the bed.
With a little chuckle, he rolled over and switched on the bedside lamp. “Good morning, angel,” he grinned.
Trying not to point out the fact that he wasn’t on the couch, since this was his bed and all, I said, “Good morning. Um, what time did you get in?”
“A little after three.” He stretched as he got out of bed. He was wearing nothing but the blue silk boxers I had found, making no attempt whatsoever to cover his glorious body. Including the part that was currently about to escape his shorts. Oh yeah, he definitely knew how good he looked and he wanted me to see what I was missing. Look away, Karli! Look away!
What time was it anyway? I searched for the alarm clock, trying to divert my eyes. Just after eight. Ugh, I never get up this early!
“So what happened last night?” I asked, desperate for a distraction.
“All in due time, my dear. I’m going to take a shower. Why don’t you order some breakfast?”
“Okay…can I get you anything? Wait, do vampires eat real food?”
Laughing, he said, “You really haven’t spent much time around vampires, have you?” Nope, I’ve tried to avoid them at all cost until recently.
“Is it that obvious?” I asked. I sat up in bed, desperately hoping my hair didn’t look as bad as it felt.
“It’s cute,” he replied. “Let’s see, how can I sum this up for you? You already know we need blood for sustenance, and that we have a very low tolerance to UV exposure. Yes, we can consume human food and drink, but we do not require it. Personally, I tend to prefer foods with a sweet taste, like fruits or fine chocolate. I really don’t care for the rest of it. I enjoy a good scotch, as you are aware, or some nice champagne, like the kind you enjoyed last night.”
I blushed, feeling a little embarrassed about polishing off the entire bottle. Why didn’t I hide the evidence?
“How often do you need to um…drink blood? Where do you get it from? Can you just get some from a blood bank or butcher shop?”
Smiling, he said, “Quite the curious little one, aren’t you?”
“Hey, I figured if you’re answering, I’m asking! You guys could make it a lot easier on me by launching some What it’s like to be a vampire website but nooo, you insist on being all secretive instead.”
He laughed. “Our suspicious nature has been in place since our creation thousands of years ago. I don’t think the technology of today will ever sit well with our kind, despite its conveniences. There is simply too much at risk if the world knows too much about us.” He paused. “Somehow I think you’re different though, so I will answer any question you’d like. The frequency in which we need to eat depends on the age of the vampire. Newer vampires require blood every day. I only need to drink once every month or so, although I do so much more often because I enjoy the experience. We can survive on stored blood if necessary, but it is wretched. It would probably be the equivalent to you drinking spoiled milk.”
“Yes, well thankfully, most vampires I know do not have any trouble finding a willing host.”
“Why is that?” I asked.
“Perhaps you will find out one day, my love. I do believe you got a bit of a preview the other night.” Oh God, it’s definitely not just a rumor! Yikes!
“How did you become a vampire?” I asked.
He sat down on the bed and looped his finger around the strap to my chemise. “You know, to a vampire, that is a very personal question, my dear.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know. Forget I said anything.”
“That’s quite all right. I enjoy talking with you like this.” He started rolling the satin between his fingers, tracing a line down to the V between my breasts. “Have I told you yet how much I love this thing you’re wearing? I am very partial to red.”
I scooted back and brushed his hand away. “Leo,” I scolded as I pulled the comforter up.
He laughed again. “Let’s see, where should I start? I was born in 1494 in a quiet village on an island now known as Santorini. I relocated from Greece to London at the age of nineteen and was made a vampire during my stay there, in the year 1522.”
“That explains the accent,” I said.
“What do you mean?”
“Your accent,” I clarified. “I just couldn’t figure out where it was from. Now I know.”
He smiled. “Have you given it much thought? Do I dare to hope that means you’re thinking about me in my absence?”
“What? Um…” Shit, I need to get back on track. “We’re getting off the subject. Who made you a vampire?”
“Her name was Renata,” he said. “She took me as her lover while I was still human and enthralled me from the very beginning. Back then, our existence was still shrouded in secrecy but I always knew something was different about her. Yes, her heart beat the same as mine, but I started noticing that she did not eat and she would never agree to meet me during the day. One evening, while we were making love, she fed off me. I experienced a pleasure like no other I had ever known. Afterwards, she explained to me what she was and offered to give me the gift of being like her. I was always an enterprising young man, and the idea of being an immortal had appealed to me. She turned me that same evening and we were together until I moved to the U.S.”
“When was that?” I asked.
“In the early nineteen hundreds,” he replied.
“Wow…you were with the same woman for almost four hundred years? Were you exclusive?”
“Yes, we were. Renata was very special. She was incredibly wise as well as sexy. She taught me the ways of a vampire; I would have never survived the early years without her. Times were very different back then.”
“Yeah, but that’s quite a commitment for someone.”
“She was quite a woman.”
“Damn, nobody can accuse you of being afraid to commit,” I remarked. “How did you leave her though, if she meant so much to you?”
He shrugged. “It was time to move on.”
“Just like that?” I asked. “Why do I get the feeling there is more to this story?”
“Just like that,” he repeated.
Okay, so obviously he wasn’t going to elaborate. Time to change the subject. “So, that would make you over five hundred years old!” I said. “I can’t imagine all the wonderful things you’ve seen.”
“True, I have seen great change and progress throughout the years. But I have also seen far too many wars, famine, disease, and cruelty. In life, there must always be balance. You cannot have the good without the bad. That doesn’t change no matter how long you exist. You will come to see that in time.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“My pet, I can sense that your immortality is near. I could taste it in your blood. Once that happens, things will become much clearer for you. Hopefully by then, you will not feel the need to hide your true self.”
Oh shit, I do not like where this conversation is heading.
“I’m not hiding anything,.” I lied.
He sighed as he held my face with his hands. “Karli, I do not know what you really are yet, but I do know that you are not a witch. You may be fooling the rest of the world, but the blood does not lie. A witch becomes immortal around their twenty-first year. You are almost to your twenty-fifth. A witch’s blood tastes woodsy, like cinnamon or cloves. Your blood is sweet, like honey…with a nutty undertone. The contrast is too great to deny.”
“I…” I pressed my lips together and tried again. “Um…” Yeah, I really didn’t know what to say to that.
He shook his head. “Look, I can sense that you are getting upset so let’s not discuss this anymore today. I just hope in time you will learn that you can trust me with your secrets. You are safe with me, Karli, no matter what preconceived notions you may have of me. Now if you’ll excuse me, I really must take a shower. We have other important matters to discuss when I’m done.”
I paced uncontrollably while Leo was in the bathroom. What the hell was I going to do? I thought about leaving until I realized that would only confirm his suspicion that I was hiding something. I decided to stay and pretend things were normal.
I put on the complimentary hotel bath robe and ordered breakfast from room service. My omelet looked great but I really wasn’t hungry anymore. Leo came out of the master suite wearing a pair of black slacks with nothing else. His hair was wet and he smelled like that wonderful manly soap again. He saw the fruit plate I had ordered for him and smiled at me as he grabbed a piece of pineapple.
While taking a bite he asked, “Is there something wrong with your eggs?”
“No, I’m just not very hungry,” I replied. I took a sip of coffee and continued poking at the eggs with my fork. “So, are you going to tell me what happened last night?”
“Ah, yes,” he replied. “Jordyn is dead.”
I dropped my utensil. “What? When? How?”
“Well, she stepped away for a break last night around eleven. Thirty minutes later, I noticed that she hadn’t returned. She had been dancing behind screen number one before her break and the lights were still off. I checked with Kendra who told me that she had mentioned stepping outside for a cigarette.”
“Yeah, but she’s never late coming back from breaks.”
He nodded. “That’s what Kendra said too, so she tried calling her cell phone but did not get an answer. I found Jordyn’s robe in the employee break room and took it with me to capture her scent. My men and I left the bar and began searching the casino and surrounding areas. The trail was leading us towards a service entrance, which continued to a loading dock. That’s where we found the source of the sirens we’d heard. There were several police cars blocking off the alley. Upon closer inspection, I saw Jordyn, lying dead on the ground. Her heart had been ripped out of her chest and pieces of her flesh were missing from her upper arm and torso. Detective Alexander pulled up shortly thereafter. I stepped away to call you while he was getting caught up to speed by the officers who arrived first on the scene.”
“Oh my God, it happened again?” I groaned as I held back the bile rising in my throat. “I think I’m going to be sick.”
Leo nodded. “I’m afraid so.”
I took some deep breaths. “That explains why he didn’t call.”
“Pardon?” he asked.
“Um, nothing. Please continue.”
“Well, I sent my man inside to notify Kendra while I stayed on the scene. Vance filled me in on the details. Apparently, a housekeeper found her there while she was taking out the garbage. Jordyn’s injuries seem to be consistent with Leslie’s. They won’t know for sure if it is the same suspect until Forensics can run some tests, but they now know that Leslie was killed by a Stryker demon.”
“I’ve never heard of a Stryker demon before,” I said. “Do you know anything about them?”
“Yes,” he replied. “Their breed is near extinction which is probably why you’re not familiar with them. Strykers usually stay in their human form and are pretty docile unless provoked. The ones who give into their inner beasts, though, can shift into hideous creatures with sharp teeth and claws. They’re known for feasting on their victim’s skin and hearts.”
“Oh my God, that’s disgusting!” I cried.
“Yes, they can be very vicious while in attack mode, but they typically pick their victims at random. That is what is most perplexing. It seems an awfully big coincidence that both women work at the same place.”
“What else did Vance say?” I asked.
“He asked for your whereabouts because he wanted to ensure that you were safe. I told him that I had just spoken with you and that you were still upstairs in my suite. He insisted on going up to see you but I told him that was unnecessary. I mentioned that you were likely readying yourself for bed and needn’t be bothered. I assured him that I would remain close to you throughout the evening and talk with you in the morning about the events that transpired.”
“Oh, I bet that went over well. Lovely, now Vance probably thinks I slept with you.”
He smiled. “Would that be such a bad thing?”
I stood up from the table. “I really need to get back to my apartment,” I said. “Will you please call the front desk and ask for a cab while I get dressed?” Needing to get away from Leo so I could calm down, I shut myself in the bedroom and got dressed. I packed my bag, picked it up, and started walking briskly towards the door.
Leo stepped in front of me and asked, “Are you upset with me, my love?”
“I’m upset about the situation,” I replied. Okay, not entirely true.
“No, Karli, I can sense your anger and it is being projected directly towards me. Did I do something to offend you?”
Sighing, I replied, “Look Leo, I don’t want you to think that I’m not grateful for your hospitality. I am, very much in fact. And I actually had a nice time here until about five minutes ago. But to be quite frank with you, I really do not appreciate your high-handedness where I am concerned. You barely know me! I can speak for myself and decide who I do, or do not want to see. You had no right keeping Vance away from me last night. I probably would have turned him away but you didn’t even give me the chance.”
“My sweet, I did not mean to upset you. I only kept him from you because I thought that’s what you would have wanted.”
“And why would you think that?” I asked.
“It made sense based on the events in your apartment,” he replied.
“That’s bullshit, Leo, and you know it!” I shouted. “You kept him away from me because you could. And because you knew it would upset him. I don’t know what fucked up history is between you two and right now I really don’t care. What I do know is that I am not going to be a pawn in your little battle of egos!”
“Karli, please calm down.” He caught my eyes and I started feeling the same wave of calmness that I had felt that night at the bar.
“Omigod!” I yelled, realizing what had happened. “You just used some Jedi mind trick on me! You did that to me the night I cut my hand, didn’t you? Admit it!”
He held up his hands. “I deny nothing, but I will explain if you’ll allow me to.”
“Ugh! You know what, Leo? Fuck your explanations! Just stay away from me and stay the hell out of my head!” I stormed out of the penthouse and hit the elevator call button.
From the doorway he said, “I called my company driver, Richard. He should be downstairs waiting for you in front of a black town car.”
“Yeah, thanks,.” I grumbled. I got in the elevator and rode it down to the casino floor. I saw Richard out front but decided to hop in a cab that had just pulled up instead. I didn’t need to be indebted to Leo any further. I asked the cabbie to wait just a minute while I ran back inside. I ran up to the front desk clerk and threw the key fob on the counter. “Please make sure that gets back to the gentleman in penthouse two,” I called as I walked away.