Three months later
I was on fire.
Blood pounded in my ears. My breath came in shallow gasps, panting in and out. Hands were racing across my bare skin, rough and gentle all at once. I let my body arch to meet them. Up, I thought. Take me up. Drive me to the brink and send me straight over the edge.
He knew how. I knew that much.
Blindly, my fingers sought his face, and brought his mouth to mine. The kiss was sure and deep, potent as a drug. I let my fingers roam down his body and felt his urgency increase. Now, I thought. I want you inside me now. Don’t wait. Don’t stop.
A strange, wild keening filled the room. I heard my lover give a grunt. He lifted his head, shaking it as if to clear it. The sound continued, piercing as a siren. Which, as it happens, is exactly what it was. Just my luck. I was in bed with the only guy in Las Vegas who downloads police sirens as ring tones for his cell phone. His most recent acquisition: one that sounded like those sirens you hear in French films. High low. High low. High low.
Very sexy on the screen. Not so sexy in real life—particularly when sex was the thing that was getting interrupted.
“Dammit!” Detective Carl Hagen said. He drove his fist against the wall behind my head with more than a little force. He looked down at me, his dark eyes narrowed. “Hold that thought. In fact, hold that position. Move so much as an inch and I’ll be forced to cuff you.”
In spite of the way my entire body was screaming in protest, I managed a laugh. “Promises, promises.”
He gave a snort of what might have been amusement, then rolled toward the edge of the bed, reaching for the still wailing phone. As he sat up I saw him wince as he flexed the fingers of his right hand.
“That’s what you get for resorting to violence,” I remarked.
“Keep it up, Steele,” he said over his shoulder. “See what it gets you.” He flipped the phone open and the siren cut off. “Hagen,” he rapped out.
I watched in silence as the transformation took place. One moment, I had been in bed with a man. Now, I was in bed with a cop. Carl’s entire body went on alert, seemed to listen, as if he could absorb information through the pores of his skin. When he tucked the phone against his shoulder and reached for the pen and pad of paper on the bedside table, I sat up. I know serious business when I see it. Homicide detectives don’t get all that many happy calls in the middle of the night.
“Give me the address,” he said, and began to write. As always, his movements were economical, precise. I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone quite as spare, as direct, as Carl. Absolutely no effort is wasted. Though he can circle around it if he has to, he always has the point in sight. It’s what makes him so good at his job, to say nothing of certain other things.
I pulled my knees up and rested my chin against them, watching him work. We were an unusual couple, no two ways about it. Detective Carl Hagen and I became acquainted several months ago, under less than romantic circumstances, when I was questioned in the disappearance of a man named Nathan Lawlor. Though the homicide division was called in, they bowed out in the end, mostly because nobody could actually produce any evidence of foul play, let alone a body.
Nate Lawlor had simply vanished into thin air, which is essentially what happens when a vam- pire gets staked. The police, backtracking Lawlor’s steps, discovered that he had spent his last evening at the Scheherazade. A number of staff members had been questioned, including Marlene and me. When my turn came, I told as much of the truth as possible. Yes, I had waited on Nate, known he had big winnings. Yes, I had found him attractive, so much so that I broke my own personal rule and let him take me home.
But he had been as alive when I left him as he was when I arrived, I informed the police. As to his present whereabouts, I knew absolutely nothing.
That also happens to be the truth. Even vampire experts haven’t devoted a lot of time to where vamps go once the undead part of their existence comes to an end. My personal opinion, also my fervent hope, is that they occupy the lowest, most uncomfortable ring of Hell.
Since I was the last person to see Nate alive, I was initially considered a suspect. Fortunately, all my coworkers at the Sher backed me up—Marlene, in particular. I think she felt guilty for having encouraged me to go for the gusto in the first place.
The investigation into Nathan Lawlor’s disappearance stalled. Everything about his life was precisely where he had left it. The only thing missing was Nate Lawlor himself.
He was gone. But the attraction the homicide detective and I had carefully sidestepped during our interviews stuck around. About a week after the case was officially considered cold, Carl Hagen strolled through the doors of the Sher and into my life.
Closing his cell phone with an audible snap, he turned back to face me. “You moved,” he remarked. His tone was joking, but I could see the way the weariness had risen in his eyes. I knew it had nothing to do with the time of night.
“You started it,” I came right back. I scooted forward to wrap my arms around his waist. “And besides, you have to go.”
“I do,” he confirmed with a sigh. He leaned in for a long, sweet kiss then rested his forehead against mine. “The timing sucks. I’m sorry.”
“That makes two of us,” I said, but I gave him a smile. He eased back, and I saw the tiny crease running down between his brows and knew what it meant. “You’re going to be a while, aren’t you?”
“Looks that way.”
“Then I’ll head out when you do,” I said briskly, swinging my legs off the side of the bed, careful to keep my tone light. “Al wants to see me in his office, first thing. Apparently I’m being given some special assignment with regards to Temptation McCoy.”
Temptation was the current hot pop diva, and in just a few days’ time she would become the newest headliner at the Scheherazade.
Carl gave a low whistle. “Bet every security guy’s nose is out of joint.”
“You think it’s just their noses?” I asked sweetly.
Carl gave a snort.
“Anyhow,” I said as I stood up. “I might as well head out when you do. I show up late, Al’s never going to let me hear the end of it.”
Al Manelli is my boss, head of security for the Sher. The truth is, cocktail waitressing is just a cover. I actually work casino security, a thing Carl discovered when he ran a standard background check. The thing that’s not standard, and that the check didn’t reveal, would be the thing that only Al and I and my best friend, Bibi Schwartz, know.
I have a special area of expertise: rousting vampires.
It may or may not come as a surprise that Vegas is home to a thriving vampire community, always assuming that something not living can actually be said to thrive. Vamps love Vegas for the same reason humans do: the excitement. Even if you’re undead, Vegas can make you feel alive. Add to that the fact that there’s an influx of fresh faces, fresh blood, every single day of the week, and you pretty much have vampire paradise.
Though, as it turns out, there are very strict rules governing the consumption of human blood. Only the vamps at the very top of the food chain get to drink blood from live humans. Lower-echelon vampires make do with animals and the dead. Too much bloodletting tends to produce unfortunate results, such as a shortage of humans and an overabundance of vampires.
“You’re sure?” Carl said now, in response to my suggestion that we depart at the same time. “You don’t mind?”
“That you have to go, yes,” I said, moving to the overstuffed chair on the far side of the room where I had draped my clothes. “That I do, no.” I shimmied into my underwear then reached for my bra. “It’ll be easier to get up early if I start from home.”
Every relationship has its own rules. Carl and I had established ours early on. Each of us recognizes and respects the privacy required for the other’s work, and sleepovers are strictly invitation only. I don’t stay at Carl’s place if he’s not there, and he doesn’t stay at mine. They were my rules just as much as they were his. Still, I could tell he felt a little awkward about booting me out in the middle of the night.
“So that works out all right, then,” he said, but he was frowning.
“Carl.” I yanked up my jeans, fastened them, then pulled a turtleneck over my head. “It’s fine.” I crossed to where he still sat, buck naked, at the edge of the bed, stepped between his legs, and leaned down for a quick kiss. “Much as I love a man out of uniform, I think you’re going to want to put something on.”
“Jesus, you’re a pain in the ass, Steele,” he said, but I could see my tactic had worked. The frown was gone. “Remind me again. Why do I put up with you?”
I stepped back and turned away, giving the ass in question a provocative little shake.
He gave a bark of laughter, got to his feet, and strode over to a chest of drawers. He pulled on a pair of boxers and a T-shirt. He didn’t say a word, but I could see that he was no longer smiling.
“How bad is it?” I asked as he continued dressing. I sat down in the overstuffed chair and pulled my boots on. I was skirting the edges of forbidden territory and we both knew it. What the hell. The worst he could do was tell me to back off.
Carl was silent as he slid a brown leather belt through the loops of a pair of faded jeans. “Bad enough,” he finally replied. “And if I can’t wrap it up quickly, I guarantee you it’s going to turn into my worst nightmare. The media is going to go for this one like a school of sharks.”
“Somebody just reported a headless body in the parking lot over at Lipstyx.”
I sat up straight, one booted foot clunking to the floor. “What?”
I could feel my mind begin to race. A headless body was pretty extreme, even by Vegas standards. Not only that, I knew it presented possibilities even more dire than the ones Carl could imagine.
“Okay, wait. Did you say ‘Lipstyx’?” I asked before Carl could speak.
“Uh huh,” he replied, his tone glum. “So I take it you get my point.”
“I most certainly do,” I nodded.
Lipstyx was a recently opened after-hours club, of the less-than-savory variety. Which pretty much guaranteed the headlines were going to be absolutely accurate, like somebody’s idea of a bad joke, and go a lot like: “Headless Body Found in Topless Bar’s Parking Lot.”
About half an hour later, I was home and in my private office. And I do mean private. I bought my place in Vegas as a fixer-upper, then made the modifications to the floor plan myself. My dad owned a construction company when he was alive, and I can swing a hammer with the best of ’em. I am also the only woman I know unafraid of drywall. Most of my house is pretty standard. It has a kitchen, a dining room, living room, bedroom and guest rooms, and one and a half baths. The nonstandard part embedded deep in the house’s center, its contours concealed by a careful wall arrangement, is a room that’s mine and mine alone. Nobody else in the world knows about it, not even Bibi.
Other people have panic rooms—a place to go when they’re afraid. I have a place where I go to stave it off. My office is my own personal testament to the notion that knowledge is power. It contains everything I know about vampires.
I stepped in, making sure the door clicked shut behind me, and was engulfed in total darkness. I stood still for a moment, listening to the silence. I had toyed briefly with the idea of soundproofing the walls, then decided against it. Too easy for something nasty to sneak up on me. When I was satisfied that I could account for every sound I heard, I snapped on the light. A special strip at the bottom of the door takes care of any possibility of light spill.
My office is comfortable but spartan. Desk. Chair. Reference library. Weapons cabinet. Minifridge stocked with emergency rations and water bottles. The only item that could be considered personal is a sketch of a man’s face, mounted in a sterling-silver frame. Every time I look at it, I get the shivers. That’s why I keep it around.
His name was Ash. Is Ash. He still exists, as far as I know. We met in San Francisco, which is where I lived before I relocated to Vegas. Once upon a time, I thought what Ash and I had together was true love. That fairy tale ended the night we entered the elevator of my apartment building and indulged in a passionate embrace, and I staggered out six floors later with my own blood running down my chest and his teeth marks in my throat.
If it hadn’t been for Bibi, who came along moments later, chances are good I would have bled to death. It took thirty-six stitches to repair the damage. The doctor who worked on me in the emergency room told me later he had never seen anyone lose so much blood and still wake up alive.
I don’t forget what happened in San Francisco. I can’t forget. Having firsthand experience of vampires has opened up a whole new realm of possibilities for me, most of which I could have done without. It has also provided a positive side effect.
It’s given me a tool to fight them.
As I healed, a strange thing happened. I discovered that Ash’s bite had left more than just scars behind. It also left me with the ability to tell the vamps from the humans. I know who they are. But no vampire I’ve ever encountered has been aware that I can tell he or she is not alive. It’s how I took out Nate Lawlor. He literally never saw me coming.
For the first full month after the attack, I was a basket case. Unable to sleep. Starting at the slightest sound. I’m not quite sure when I realized there was a reason for this.
I was jumping at sounds because I heard things more clearly, as if all my senses had become heightened. After that, I became less afraid and paid more attention to my surroundings. My vision was better, too. My reflexes quicker. Not that I had superpowers. The best way I can describe it is to say I literally feel as if I have an edge. My nerves may have settled, but my senses are like a jagged piece of glass. Everything about them is sharper.
At the end of the third month, I sensed my first vampire. I locked myself into my apartment for a solid week; not even Bibi could get me to come out. But I wasn’t in there shaking in my shoes, at least not after the first eight hours or so. I was doing what I probably should have done in the first place, downloading and printing out everything I could find on the subject of vampires. By the time the week was out, I knew what I was going to do: I was going to spend the rest of my life destroying them.
Not just any vampires. With occasional exceptions, I’m not all that interested in the rank and file. It’s the ones at the top of the food chain that interest me. They’re the ones who feast on human blood. Encounter one of these guys and you pretty much have three choices: end up dead, undead, or a human mind-slave—a vampire’s drone.
Sometimes, as a reward for services rendered, a high-level vamp will give a lower-level one permission to feed on humans, as a sort of twisted reward. The best I can figure, that’s what the deal was with Nate Lawlor. It’s the reason I went after him the way I did. I could tell he was looking to feed, and that his timeline was short. If I hadn’t offered him the possibility of my own blood, I would have had to live with somebody else’s on my conscience.
I took a few turns around the room, my feet silent on the carpet, as I let the questions that had driven me to my place of refuge stream through my mind. Though my personal weapon of choice for offing vampires is silver, beheading also has a long history as a method of vampire destruction, particularly among vampires.
The thing is, vampires don’t do away with each other very often. They prefer preying on things with fresh, warm blood to preying on their own kind. In those rare instances when a vampire does decide to take out another vamp, they tend to choose dramatic means. Leaving a decapitated body behind sends a pretty unmistakable warning.
So was the body in the Lipstyx parking lot a vampire, or wasn’t it? If it was, who was being warned, and why?
I let my feet carry me to the wall directly opposite my desk, then paused. Mounted in the center is an enormous corkboard. You know those TV shows where the cops create a situation board to help them track what’s happening in a case? Well, they’re not the only ones. I was always good at solving puzzles. Now I do it for my own personal crusade instead of fun.
Like everything else about this room, I designed the situation board myself. It has a tray at the bottom, just like a schoolroom chalkboard. Instead of chalk and erasers, however, mine holds pushpins, red; permanent-ink pens, black; pads of sticky notes, yellow; and three-by-five cards, white, unlined.
I plucked the top three-by-five card from the stack, uncapped a pen with my teeth, and began to write, the stink of the permanent ink sharp in my nostrils. When I was finished I stuck the card, which now read Headless Body, Lipstyx, in the very center of the board. I have to admit it did look sort of stupid up there all by itself. But the thing about puzzles is that they all start out the same. You’ve got to put that first piece down.
I stepped back from the board and checked my watch. I had been home for a little more than an hour. Depending on what Carl and his team had found at Lipstyx, the body, with or without its head, just might be on its way in for an autopsy by now. I have a contact in the medical examiner’s office, one who works the night shift and would be unlikely to freak at the unusual question I was planning to pose. Blanchard would be able to tell me if the Lipstyx beheading victim was a vampire.
The reason for this is very simple: Blanchard Gray is a vampire himself.
“I’m really counting on you, Nerves,” my boss, Al Manelli, said the following morning. That is Al’s nickname for me. Short for Nerves of Steel, or, actually, of course, Nerves of Steele. He had given it to me the day I officially became part of his department.
We were in his office, deep in the bowels of the Sher. Like most of the newer casinos, the Sher’s nerve center is actually underground. Not much of a view, unless you’re assigned to watching the feeds from the security cameras. Al’s private office is to one side of what the staff calls “mission control.” Though I never give a second thought to them when I work the floor, the sight of all the monitors in mission control always sort of creeps me out. It’s all just a little too Big Brother for my taste, but then I actually do have things to hide.
I took the seat Al indicated, facing him across his desk. “What’s going on? Are you expecting problems with the Temptation McCoy show?”
“Problems? Only a few.” Al dropped into his chair with a force that made it groan. Al is not a small guy. He’s built like a fireplug, and his hands are as big as my head. “First, second, and third, we’ve got Dru Benson, Temptation McCoy’s manager. This guy gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘control freak.’ ”
“In other words,” I said, “he’s an asshole.”
Al grinned like a shark. “You said it, I didn’t. I will say that this is a guy who really likes to throw his weight around. Benson wanted to bypass us completely, bring in his own security detail, and I don’t mean just the standard extra bodyguard. I told Randolph, point-blank, that if he agreed to that, he could have my job.”
Randolph Glass, the owner of the casino, is the one who sealed the deal for Temptation McCoy to play the Sher.
“The last thing we need is an extra set of hotshots running around, taking orders from somebody on the outside,” Al went on. “What we need is one of our own in Temptation’s inner circle, monitoring things from within. Someone we can control.”
I leaned back, letting the information filter through my brain. “You think you control me?” I inquired.
Al gave a quick laugh. “See?” he said. “That’s exactly what I’m talking about. I knew you would pick that up. I don’t have to control you, Candace, and we both know it. Because we both know you’re someone I can trust.”
“So you don’t trust Dru Benson but you do trust me,” I said. “Thanks very much. What else?”
“Next we have Act Two of her show.”
“Wait a minute,” I interrupted. “What happened to Act One?”
Al gave a sigh. I watched as he fiddled with the paperweight on his desk, an ugly gray rock with splotches of pink paint on it. It looks like it’s got the measles, I swear to God. His daughter, Talia, made it in preschool, about twelve years ago. She’s sixteen now, but Al still keeps it around.
“Act One is a known quantity,” he explained. “Temptation McCoy’s greatest hits, that sort of stuff. Act Two is a great big black hole of mystery, and it’s going to stay that way until opening night. The only way we could get Dru Benson to back down on bringing in his own security was if we backed down on knowing the content of Act Two ahead of time. We know the technical details, music, light cues, that sort of stuff. But as to what will actually take place on stage . . .”
He let his voice trail off. This was not good. It was not good at all. In addition to being just plain weird, it’s also just plain stupid from a security standpoint. You can’t cover your bases if you don’t even know where they are.
“Will I have access to rehearsals?” I asked.
“For Act One, yes,” Al replied. “For Act Two, no. You’ve probably seen the publicity that’s gone out.” He stopped manhandling the paperweight and pushed a glossy flyer across the top of his desk. It touted a show that would appeal to Temptation’s loyal fans; at the same time, it promised to reveal a whole new dimension to the star.
“Please tell me she’s not planning to take her clothes off.”
Al gave a snort. “This is Vegas, so who knows?”
I considered the matter for a moment, rolling possibilities over in my mind.
“You think maybe Dru Benson is deliberately setting us up to take some sort of fall?”
Al blew out a frustrated breath. “That’s just the trouble. I don’t know. My gut tells me all this secrecy stuff is just a power play. Tit for tat, a way for Dru Benson to get back at Randolph for making him back down on the extra security stuff.”
“He doesn’t like the terms, then why doesn’t he just go somewhere else?” I asked.
“Don’t let Randolph hear you ask that question,” Al said with the glimmer of a grim smile. “It’s disloyal. Everybody knows the Sher’s the hottest spot in town. You want my read, it was Temptation’s call. She wanted to be the first to headline at the newest theater on the Strip, to set the standard, not follow one. Randolph wants her for essentially the same reason: She’s hot and she’s never played Vegas before.”
“So the stakes are high for everyone,” I said.
“Exactly,” Al nodded. “Everybody’s ass is on the line here, starting from the top and moving right on down the line.”
“But no pressure or anything, right?”
Al snorted. “I mean it, Candace. Dru Benson’s going to watch you like a hawk. He’s a real Svengali type. Been with Temptation since the very beginning. Hardly ever lets her out of his sight. It’s your job to watch her. You can be damn certain he’s going to be there, watching you.”
“So who gives the orders?” I asked.
“Depends on the circumstances,” Al said, immediately understanding the ramifications of my question. I was Al’s employee, and through him, Randolph’s. But what was best for the Sher and what the star wanted might not always coincide.
“You’ll be joining their team. You play by their rules, unless you feel your ability to protect Ms. McCoy is being compromised. That’s the bottom line. You’re there to assure her safety. That’s what they wanted, so that’s what they got. I know you can hold your own, but feel free to kick it back to me if things get dicey. Way I figure it, I’ve got nothing to lose. I’ve already pissed Dru Benson off.”
“So when do I start?” I asked.
“Tonight,” Al said. He slid open his top desk drawer, withdrew an envelope, and pushed it across the desk. “Randolph’s hosting a welcome party up in his penthouse. He wants you to attend. He thought a social engagement would be a good, neutral place to perform the introductions. After that, you’ll be on Temptation detail, full-time. You’re assigned to her for the duration of her stay in Vegas. No more working the floor.”
“My feet thank you,” I said. I took the envelope, opened it. Inside was a voucher good for any goods or services provided at the Scheherazade. In any amount. “Wow!” I said. “What’s this for?”
“Personally, I would consider it hazard pay,” Al said with a somewhat sour smile. “You’ve just become part of Temptation McCoy’s entourage. It may take you out in public a little more than usual. Randolph thought you might need a few things. You know, in the wardrobe department.”
I considered feeling insulted, decided against it. The truth is Randolph was right. My wardrobe tends to lean toward the strictly functional.
“So what you’re trying to tell me,” I said, not bothering to hold back the grin that was slowly working its way across my face, “is that, as part of my new assignment, I am actually required to shop?”
“It’s in the job description,” Al said, his expression serious. “Right below busting the chops of any unknown individual who tries to get too close to Temptation McCoy. Randolph will foot the bill, for the wardrobe I mean, as long as you do your shopping at the Scheherazade. Anything you need outside the Sher, you’re on your own.”
“I can live with that arrangement,” I said.
“I thought you might.” Al stood up, signaling an end to the meeting. “So, I’ll see you tonight. Nine o’clock.”
“Miriam can spare you?” I asked as I moved toward the door. Miriam is Al’s wife.
“Yeah,” he said. “She’s hosting some cooking gadget thing tonight. Don’t ask me what. I just hope it doesn’t involve too many knives.”
“See you tonight, then,” I said. I pulled the office door open, stepped through it into mission control. Before Al closed the door behind me, I had my cell out of my pocket and was punching buttons. If I was going shopping for high-class girl stuff, I definitely wanted reinforcements. That meant Bibi.
Need U, I text-messaged. Must shop. Now.
“Well that was fun,” Bibi said, several hours later. “I am so psyched about the bronze.”
“That’s because you don’t have to wear it,” I said, a little glumly. “It has sparkly things on the shoulders.”
Bibi gave an elaborate sigh. We were having lunch at my favorite of the casual restaurants at the Sher, one that overlooks a portion of the casino floor. I spotted Marlene, who had switched to days. When she saw the enormous pile of bags around our table, she grinned and flashed me two thumbs-up.
“Candace,” Bibi said in a tone of exaggerated patience. “We’ve been over this before. Sparkly is feminine. Sparkly is good. You have to learn to let your feminine side run wild every once in a while.”
“My feminine side ran wild in San Francisco,” I said. “I ended up with teeth marks in my throat.”
Bibi shuddered. “You don’t have to remind me,” she said. “I’m the one who found you, if you’ll recall.”
“Only vaguely,” I said. “I was trying not to bleed to death at the time.”
We both fell silent. I took another bite of my salad. Bibi sipped a diet soda. “Speaking of San Francisco, how are things on the dream front? Still tapering off?”
I gave a nod.
In addition to my newfound ability to detect vampires, there was one other lasting side effect of the attack in San Francisco. Dreams of Ash and me together. I had them almost every night. Sometimes I dreamed of the time when we were first together, before I knew he was a vampire. Other nights I dreamed of the time after, when I stayed with him even knowing what he was.
Regardless of when they take place, however, all the dreams feature one important element: Ash and I make love. In the cold light of day, my feelings for Ash are incredibly complex. At night, they’re simple. All I want is to be in his arms.
Lately, however, the dreams had begun to taper off, so much so that, at long last, I thought I might be getting over him.
Bibi took a breath, as if to ask a follow-up question.
“No more talking about me,” I said. “How’s it going with you and Randolph?”
Bibi lifted one slender shoulder. “When we’re with each other things are great, but he’s a busy guy.”
In addition to owning the Sher, Randolph Glass happens to be married. His wife spends most of her time on the East Coast. It doesn’t take much to understand why Randolph fell for Bibi. She is absolutely gorgeous. Tall, dark, and slender, with a dancer’s tight muscular build. I think her legs actually begin right beneath her cheekbones. Me, I pretty much blend right in, a fact of life that used to piss me off but now suits me just fine. Medium build and height. Brown hair, brown eyes.
“You’ll be at the party tonight, right?” I inquired.
Since Randolph’s wife is usually back East, when Randolph entertains in Vegas Bibi is often at his side.
“Mmmm.” Bibi nodded. “I’m really looking forward to it. This is a big deal for me, opening for Temptation McCoy. The whole opening number is built around my solo.”
“So what do you think of Ms. McCoy?” I asked.
Bibi’s eyebrows rose. “I haven’t met her yet. I don’t go much for the sexy little girl act myself, but the audiences love her, that’s for sure.”
“I guess her being here is really important to Randolph.”
“Being the first to bring Temptation McCoy to Vegas is a very big deal, Candace. Of course it means a lot to him. He’s got huge investments riding on this.” She gave me a sly grin. “At least we know Sher security won’t let him down.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” I said. “You’re sure I have to wear the bronze?”
“Of course I’m sure,” Bibi said. “You’ll be gorgeous, but if you don’t stop worrying so much, you’ll give yourself wrinkles and then you’ll need Botox.”
“Now that’s scary,” I said.
“You’re telling me. Go home. Take a bubble bath. Think calm thoughts. I’ll see you tonight.”
I stood up, carefully maneuvering my chair around the pile of bags. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Bibi’s feet moving out of view.
“Where do you think you’re going?” I asked. “Get back here. The least you can do is help me carry some of these. You picked most of them out.”
I hefted the bag closest to me. The shoe box inside it slid out onto the floor.
Bibi’s eyes widened. “And ruin my perfect exit?” she asked. “I think you have me confused with somebody else.”
“There’s no one even remotely like you, and you know it,” I said as I knelt down.
She gave me a megawatt smile. “You say the sweetest things sometimes, Candace Steele,” she said.
I was still struggling with the shoe box as she sauntered off.
Excerpted from Passionate Thirst by Cameron Dean. Copyright © 2006 by Cameron Dean. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.