“Are you sure?” he asked.
“Yes, I’m positive. It’s definitely a woman. I need to talk to Vance. What time is it?”
He checked his watch. “About ten after eight.”
“Really? God, it still feels like the middle of the night. I could’ve sworn I just fell asleep.”
“The window coverings are probably skewing your internal clock,” he said. “I’m guessing you’re not used to waking up in the dark.”
“Not so much, no.”
“I’d like to change that one day, my sweet.” He leaned over to lightly kiss me on the lips. “I’d wake up to you every day for the rest of my existence if you’d let me.”
“Um…” Yeah, that pretty much left me flabbergasted. That was the second time in twelve hours that someone had basically asked me to spend my immortal life with them.
He barked in laughter. “Wow, it’s not often that I find you speechless,” he teased. “Listen, why don’t you get ready while I call Vance? I’ll get some breakfast too. How hungry are you? Will you be eating for one, or twelve today?”
“Ha ha, smartass.” I glared. “A Denver omelet will be fine, thanks.”
“One it is then!” He chucked me on the chin and went into the living room.
After my shower, I opened the bathroom door to find a large shopping bag sitting on the bed. I peeked inside and saw several outfits, complete with undergarments and footwear, all in the right size. I checked the labels out of curiosity. The clothing and shoes were Prada and the lingerie, La Perla. Wow, Leo knows how to shop!
I poked my head into the living area and found Leo dining on a fruit plate with my entrée waiting for me. I held up the shopping bag and said, “What’s this?”
“It’s nothing really,” he said nonchalantly. “Your clothes were ruined so I made a call last night and had some things delivered. They just arrived a few minutes ago. I hope you like them.”
“Leo, they’re beautiful. That was very thoughtful of you.” My God, there must be at least five thousand dollars’ worth of clothing here! “I’m going to get dressed. I’ll be right back out.” I walked back into the bedroom and selected a white mid-thigh length dress with ruffle trim and matching wedge sandals.
Leo stood when I came back out and kissed me on the cheek. “You look beautiful.”
Blushing, I replied, “Thank you. I feel pretty great. These clothes are amazing, Leo. You really shouldn’t have.”
“Seeing you look like this was worth every penny.” He smiled, showing a wee bit of fang. Ooh, that reminded me. I discreetly touched my teeth, checking for any changes. Nope, not a vampire.
He held out my chair, smirking at my failed attempt to be subtle. “Vance should be here within the hour,” he said.
I started eating my breakfast and asked, “So, what are you going to do when they catch this thing?”
“What do you mean?”
“Are you moving back to your place when this is all over? Are you going to start working out of your club on Tropicana again?”
“I planned to,” he replied.
“Oh,” I said, realizing I was a little disappointed. “Where do you live anyway?”
“Under the club,” he answered.
“Under the club? As in underground? I wouldn’t have considered you a cave dweller.”
He smirked. “I assure you, my dear, it is quite luxurious, modern, and most importantly, secure. Besides the human contractors, who I have paid very well for their silence, you are the only person who knows of its existence.”
“How long have you lived there?”
“Since I arrived in Las Vegas. The business above ground has changed many times over the years, but I’ve owned every one of them. There is a hidden panel in my office leading to the stairwell.”
“Why the need for such secrecy? Paranoid much?” I teased.
“You must remember being a vampire is very different now than it was before we went public. We did not have the technologies back then that would allow me to live above ground. Not to mention the fact that I’ve been involved in some…questionable business practices over the years. I needed somewhere to disappear when the need arose.”
“How questionable?” I asked.
“I’ve done many things that I am not proud of. My love, please understand that I am a very different man than I once was. I associated with a lot of dangerous people over the years because it was incredibly fruitful for me. Being alive for hundreds of years really takes its toll on your conscience though. I eventually learned that the wealth was not worth the guilt. I severed those ties and in time, I found ways to make just as much money without sacrificing others.”
“Sacrificing others’ lives?” I asked, my pitch a little higher than normal.
“At times, yes.”
“You’ve killed people? Like, actually caused their deaths?”
He looked away. “Yes.”
I really didn’t know how to process all of this. Leo had always been such a kind and generous man. Though, I couldn’t stop thinking about how scary he had been with that demon. I couldn’t help but wonder if that was a glimpse of his former self.
He knelt down before me and grabbed my hands. “My darling, the man you see before you now is the man I have been for a long time. I’ve made it my mission to atone for the sins of my past. You must believe that.” He lifted himself up to frame my face with his hands. “Do you believe me, Karli?” he asked.
I focused on reading him. I could feel his regret weighing heavily on him. I could also feel his worry for my acceptance. When I didn’t answer him, his anxiety started turning into grief, as if he felt he was losing me. I knew then, without a doubt, that he was sincere. “Yes, Leo. I believe you,” I said.
“Oh, thank the Gods,” he exclaimed as he showered my face with kisses.
“Leo, we’re not done with this conversation.” I pulled away from him. “I know you’re a different man now. I really do believe that. But I can’t just ignore the fact that you have taken lives. I’m probably going to regret asking, but I think I want to know the circumstances.”
“Of course, my love.” He grabbed my face and pulled me into a mind-blowing kiss. I almost forgot what we were talking about. Nothing else seemed to matter when I was kissing this man. A knock on the door interrupted us just as he was moving down my neck. As he walked towards the door he said, “That must be Vance.”
Suddenly feeling very awkward, I stood up to smooth the imaginary wrinkles out of my dress. Vance breezed through the door with no acknowledgement of Leo’s presence whatsoever. He came up to me and pulled me into a tight embrace. As he pulled back, he took in my obviously expensive clothes and seemed to be biting his tongue. A moron could figure out who my benefactor was.
He made a point to softly kiss me on the lips in front of Leo. Man, my lips were getting a work out that day. “Karli, you look incredible, as always,” he said.
Vance and I sat on the couch, while Leo joined us in a chair. Vance was still ignoring Leo as he said, “So, you remembered something from last night?”
“Yes,” I replied. “While I was being attacked, the demon started shifting into its human form. I only saw a quick flash, but it was enough to identify the unmistakably female body.”
“Did you see a face? Any identifying marks?” he asked.
“No, not really. Just breasts. Very large, very female breasts. I guess that doesn’t really narrow it down much in this town.”
“No, this is really helpful, Karli,” he assured me. “It confirms my theory that we are dealing with a jealous woman. Probably one of Chad’s jilted lovers. Crimes of passion are always the most violent.”
“That’s what I was thinking too,” I said. “But one thing about that doesn’t make sense. Why me? Why now? Chad and I broke up over a year ago.”
“That’s a good question.” He scooted in closer and placed a possessive hand on my knee. “I want you to stay with me until we find this thing. You’re not safe being by yourself.”
“What?” I asked, shock clearly in my voice. “I don’t think that’s necessary, Vance.”
Leo decided to add his two cents. “I agree with Karli. She’s perfectly safe here with me.” Vance’s fists clenched tightly as the air quickly filled with testosterone.
“No, Leo. That’s not what I meant,” I said, giving both men a look that said don’t mess with me. “I meant I will be going back to my apartment.”
Vance had a smug look of satisfaction. “Well, if you insist on doing so, then I insist on getting a security detail.”
“Do you really think I need a bodyguard?” I asked.
“Yes,” both men said in unison.
Vance glared at Leo before he continued. “Karli, I’m not taking any chances. I already have a team running surveillance on Chad. It wouldn’t be very hard to shift a couple of them over to you. In fact, I’ll gladly take the first watch and accompany you back to your place.” He turned to flash Leo that superior grin again. “Why don’t you gather your things now so we can leave?”
“Um…I guess I can do that,” I said hesitantly.
Leo stood to offer his hand to me, helping me off the couch. “Excuse us for a moment,” he said to Vance. He pulled me into the bedroom and asked, “My dear, you know that you are welcome to stay here. You haven’t decided to go home because of what we discussed earlier, have you?”
“No, Leo,” I replied. “Of course not. I’m going home because it is just that. My home. I really appreciate your hospitality and…um, everything else. I just need to be around my own things, in my own space. Okay?”
“If that is what you wish, then I will understand.” Christ, his disappointment was hitting me like a brick wall.
I tightened my grip on his hand, attempting to comfort him. “I swear, Leo, this has nothing to do with your past. I still want to finish our conversation, but not right now. I promise we will talk soon. Okay?”
Vance followed me home and made some calls. “I’ll have a guy stationed outside your door in an hour,” he said. “When he gets here, I’ll need to step out for a bit to make a few copies of your door keys.” He gave me an impish grin. “What shall we do until then?”
Decoding his innuendo quickly, I replied, “Vance, I just need to be by myself. I’m going to lie down…alone.” I went into my bedroom, shut the door, and flopped onto my bed.
A while later he knocked. “Come in,” I called.
He opened the door and sat down on the edge of my bed. “Everything’s in place,” he said. “My guys will be working in eight hour shifts. Tom will be out in the hall until ten when Joel will take over. You’ll see either him or Dex in the morning, depending on how late you get up. They shouldn’t bother you unless they need to use the john. Don’t go walking around naked, unless I’m here relieving one of them, that is.” He set my keys on the dresser with a wink. “I made copies for each guard. They know to knock if they need access while you’re awake and to slip in silently if you’re asleep.” Okay, I didn’t really like the idea of strange men having the run of my house, but it was better than the alternatives.
“Thanks, Vance,” I said.
He smiled. “No problem. I’ve got a few hours to spare. You up for some more study time?” he asked.
“Not right now, but I have the next few days off. Maybe you can come by then?”
“Just say when and I’ll make it work,” he replied.
“Thank you again, Vance,” I said, as he was walking out the door.