“So, was he big?”
“Are you serious?” Clenching her jaw, Tina James took a deep breath. At barely five foot tall, she rarely met someone who wasn’t big, in her eyes. When the officer continued to stare at her expectantly, awaiting a response, she blew out a frustrated breath.
“He was about six feet tall.”
“And his build?”
“We’ve been through this already,” she snapped irritably. “Didn’t I just say he was big? And, if I remember correctly, I described him to you when I came in… three hours ago!”
“Yeah, but that’s beside the point, and height and build are two different things,” he shot back. “Now, what was his build?”
Leaning back in the rickety wooden chair with a sigh, Tina tilted her face to the ceiling, closed her eyes, and sent up a silent prayer for patience.
“I just want to make sure we have our facts straight. Now, what’s his build?”
Glaring at the officer seated before her tapping his pen rapidly against the pile of papers, Tina leaned her forehead into the palm of her hand and grumbled, “He was about your size. What are you, about two-seventy, two-eighty?”
“Two-twenty, thank you.”
“Right,” she mumbled sarcastically. Who’d he think he was kidding?
She knew her snarky attitude wasn’t getting her anywhere, but she couldn’t summon the energy to be sorry for any hurt feelings she might have caused.
Since walking into the police station over three hours ago, the cop seated before her had sported a major attitude. His rude comments and behavior grated on Tina’s already frayed nerves.
I thought the police were supposed to be sensitive to the victim, she thought to herself. Instead, this one had been nothing but a giant pain in the ass. The thug who mugged her seemed more pleasant, polite even, compared to this guy.
Narrowing his eyes, the officer reached across the desk and handed her a piece of yellow paper and a business card.
“I think I have enough,” he huffed. “Here’s your copy of the report and my card. We’ll call you if we hear anything, but don’t expect it. In my experience, your purse and all of its contents are long gone by now. It’s best if you just move on.”
“Just move on?” she mimicked with an exasperated flick of the wrist.
“Yep, move on,” he repeated as he leaned back in his chair and laced his fingers behind his head.
That’s easy for him to say. He wasn’t the one who would have to clean up the mess the thieving creep who snatched her purse was undoubtedly making at her expense. There was no sense in arguing. This guy, unlike most cops, was useless.
Instead of giving him the finger and telling him which bus to take straight to hell, as she had overwhelming urge to do, Tina nodded and flipped the card over, only to frown at the number scribbled across the back.
“Is this your cell phone number?” she asked, cocking a brow with disbelief. She shouldn’t have been surprised because this guy had dirtbag written all over him, but she was.
Grinning, the officer leaned back even farther in his chair and let his eyes roam over her openly. He could have passed as a handsome man with his dark brown hair and light green eyes, but his cocky attitude and insensitivity cancelled out the few good features he possessed. All Tina saw when she looked at him was a giant asshole with a badge on his chest and powdered doughnut residue on his tie.
“Look, lady, I work eighteen hours a day.” He shrugged. “I’m lucky if I have time to shower, shave, and hit the sheets for a couple hours sleep. I don’t get a lot of time to look for a woman. Am I supposed to just let a hot little bit like you walk out without at least trying?”
Biting her cheek, Tina fought the urge to let the stream of insults and obscenities rolling around on her tongue burst past her lips.
She’d sat in the crowded station all night for him to tell her there was nothing the police could do, and now he thought he could hit on her? She’d met some doozies in her time, but this guy took the cake.
Scowling harder, Tina flicked the card back onto the cluttered desk. If he thought her an easy conquest, he was in for a huge surprise.
“Well, Officer—” She glanced at his name tag, as she hadn’t cared before now what the jerk’s name was—“Briggs, if you want to find a woman, my advice to you is this; lay off the doughnuts and stop being such a prick.”
While his face reddened with silent anger, she slipped her hands into her jacket pockets, lifted her chin, and made her way through the crowded station. Weaving past prostitutes, pickpockets and others like herself awaiting assistance, Tina shook her head.
I hope they don’t expect to be helped, she thought, peering at the victims of unknown crimes lining the bench outside the main office.
Stepping through the heavy double doors, out of the hustle and bustle of the station and onto the much quieter sidewalk, Tina couldn’t help but wonder why her amazingly good day had taken such a turn for the worse. A blast of cold air slammed against her face and sent a chill rattling through her tired body. The days were warmer than usual for this time of year, but the nights still held a bitter chill.
Wrapping her scarf around her neck, thankful the crook had at least left her that; Tina closed her eyes and inhaled the cool night air in an attempt to quell her rising ire. The police station had held countless people the entire night, and she’d been more than a little surprised at the fact considering the late hour.
“Crime never sleeps.” she mused aloud.
Taking another deep breath of the fresh night air, she smiled sadly; thankful for the calming effect it produced on her anger-fogged mind.
Thinking back on the events of the day, she could only wonder what kind of voodoo had been cast upon her to cause the day to end so badly. She couldn’t remember doing anything horrible enough to bring on a bout of bad karma, but who knew? Life was funny that way.
The entire day had flown by in a whirlwind of nonstop activity. Her shop remained busy from the moment she opened and hadn’t stopped until closing time. Then, like they say, all good things must come to an end, and she’d been mugged at gunpoint while trying to hail a cab right outside her store.
Tina had lived in the city all of her life and never once feared for her safety. Despite the fact that she’d been mugged for the first time tonight, she refused to let that change. This was her city, and muggings happened everywhere, every day. She wouldn’t let some thief frighten her.
It could have been a lot worse, she reminded herself. At least it was only a small-time crook that held her up. It could have been the psycho murderer the cops were looking for. That nut job had been killing three women a month for the last six months. While the thief might not have the power to frighten her, the memory of a murderer running loose did.
Suddenly, her bravado fell, and she found herself overcome with the desire to be home, snuggled deeply into her king-sized bed, safe and sound, with her alarm engaged and the trusty security guard at his post in the lobby.
Looking at the desolate street and sidewalk, she groaned inwardly as the last two people disappeared into the police station. Glancing at the payphone situated next to the street, she groaned inwardly.
It was cold, and she was tired, and she wasn’t getting anywhere just standing around. Reaching into the pockets of her jeans, she cursed, not surprised to find them void of everything except lint.
She didn’t even have change to call a cab. Flicking a piece of lint from between her fingers, she fought to control her temper. Looking closer at the phone sitting next to the curb, she couldn’t bring herself to be too upset she lacked the coins to use it. The filthy, haggard object looked as though she would need a round of penicillin after touching it.
Glaring back at the station, she shook her head. The least that pea-brained cop could have done was let her make a phone call inside, but, no. He’d been more interested in what she was doing after he got off work than in making sure she made it home safely. He acted as though he couldn’t care less she’d been robbed.
But it came with the territory, she supposed. The minute people found out she owned an adult novelty store, they immediately thought of her as some kind of sexual deviant, running around the city with a big purple dildo in her purse, willing to grant favors or turn tricks to whoever asked.
Now here she stood, five miles from home, with no way of getting there except to hoof it. Everything of importance had been in that purse. Her BlackBerry, her wallet with all of her cash and credit cards, her checkbook and driver’s license, the keys to her apartment, even her favorite Gloss Blossom lip-gloss.
It would be hell canceling the cards and replacing her other items. She wondered if the people who preyed on others ever felt remorse for the trouble they caused.
Probably not. An officer of the law had sent her out into the night with a killer on the loose not ten minutes earlier.
Glancing down at her feet, she groaned. Why had she picked today to wear stilettos?
“Because you're an idiot, that’s why,” she grumbled to herself.
She wasn’t getting anywhere just standing around. Deciding to get it over with, she started walking. The sooner she got home, the sooner she could wash the stench of the night away and welcome a new day.
Anger threaded its way through her once again as she made her way down the sidewalk. She could only imagine the damage the mugger was inflicting on her credit cards. They were probably maxed out by now and he’d moved on to writing checks for insane amounts, all while his crackhead girlfriend talked up a storm on her BlackBerry and used all of her favorite lip gloss.
Tina did her best to help others and to never take others for granted, which was why it was so hard for her to believe some people could be so cruel. Fighting back tears, she continued to trudge forward, her shoes pinching her feet with every step she took.
Once she got home, she could call the credit card companies and bank when they opened and try to repair any damage that jerk had done. She would also have to replace her cell phone. Half of her life was stored on that little device.
Raising her face gently toward the star cluttered night sky; she let the cold air wisp across her face. There was no reason to feel sorry for herself, and she wouldn’t let this one incident ruin her outlook on life, but she couldn’t shake the melancholy feeling swamping her, at least not at the moment.
Shaking her head, she wondered sadly, What’s the world coming to when you can’t even step out of a sex shop without getting robbed?
* * * *
The cold, night air swirled around Alex as he rode down the desolate streets. The motorcycle beneath him rumbled, sending a wave of comfort throughout his tired body. He was a long way from home, and for Alex Monroe the old saying was true; there’s no place like home.
He’d spent the entire night in his hotel room searching through cold case files, going back years and years, looking deeper at unsolved murders, trying his hardest to find something, anything that would lead him in the right direction. He needed to find this murderer and fast. It was only a matter of time before he slipped up and exposed their kind to the entire world, spelling disaster for them all.
Only sparkly, vegetarian vampires appealed to most people nowadays, and he was neither sparkly, nor vegetarian.
Rounding the corner, Alex wondered if his contact inside the precinct would have any new leads to share with him. He doubted it; the local authorities didn’t have a single shred of evidence to help lead them toward who the killer might be. He’d hoped to find some connection between the recent murders and some of the unsolved ones from the past, but so far, he’d hit a dead-end.
The sooner he got this mystery solved, the sooner the women of this city would be safe…from this killer anyway. There would always be others wreaking havoc somewhere, and he would be there to hunt them down.
It was his job. As an Immortal Detective, he would do whatever it took to end the terror rogues caused with their senseless killing.
Pulling next to the curb in front of the police station, a flash of gold caught his attention. Taking a closer look through the dim streetlight, he frowned. A lone woman walked along the desolate sidewalk. Her long, sandy-blonde hair whipped in the breeze as she pulled her lightweight jacket tighter around her small frame.
“What the hell is she doing?”
Didn’t she know there was a killer on the loose? Why would she be walking the streets alone at three o’clock in the morning? Sometimes Alex couldn’t help but wonder how humans had lived so long without being overrun by his—or any other—species.
Before he knew what he was doing, Alex pulled away from the curb and rolled his bike along the street beside the woman. Alex wasn’t your typical knight in shining armor. He wasn’t even what someone would consider valiant. It just wasn’t in his nature, but something inside him wouldn’t let him turn his back on this woman.
“Are you all right?” he called loudly over the rumble of the motorcycle.
Stopping, she turned to face him, and all thought fled his mind at the beauty revealed before him. Large, sea green eyes bore into him as her gaze widened cautiously. Despite her petite stature, her legs, encased in tight, distressed jeans, were long and shapely.
Letting his eyes sweep over her boldly, he took in every inch of her lithe body as though admiring every brushstroke of a masterpiece. Her skin was a flawless, creamy ivory with a pinch of rose color staining her cheeks and nose from the bite of the crisp night air.
“Listen,” she said wearily, “if you’re looking to rob me, you're too late. Someone beat you to it about three hours ago.”
Smiling, Alex shut off his bike.
“Actually, I was just wondering why a beautiful woman such as yourself would be walking alone in the dark when there’s a killer on the loose.”
She is beautiful, he mused.
Stunning even. He’d lived a long time and faced countless women, but could remember none who matched her in beauty. The impulse to reach out and grab her, to pull her against his chest and explore every delectable inch of her, rocketed through him like a bolt of lightning.
Taking a deep breath, Alex struggled to rein in his fast-rising desire.
What had gotten into him? There was one rule he refused to break; never get involved with a mortal. Once they found out his secret, it was all over, but something about this sarcastic little bundle pushed him, urging him to learn more about her.
Just the sight of her held him on a razor’s edge. The silky glide of her voice only added to his desire.
Cocking a brow, she tilted her head. “I didn’t have much say in the matter. Some skuzz-bucket robbed me after I left work. He took my purse, which had everything in it, and the creepy cop who took my statement didn’t offer to give me a ride home or let me call anyone to come pick me up. So, here I am.” She finished, waving her hand in the air with exasperation.
She was feisty, and much to his surprise, he found he liked it. Alex never cared much for loud sarcastic women, but something was different about this one, and he couldn’t fight the feeling that he was supposed to know her. If he’d learned one thing in all of his years, it was to follow his instincts, and at the moment, his instincts were screaming for him to grab hold of this woman and not let go.
He couldn’t let her continue on her way. Not only was it dangerous for her to be out alone this time of night, the knee-high black leather boots over her jeans looked like they would cripple her before she reached the end of the block.
How the hell do women wear those things?
“What was the cop’s name?”
“Briggs.” She grimaced. “He even tried to give me his number.” She shuddered as though the thought disgusted her, and he chuckled.
He would have a little talk with his contact about Officer Briggs’s unacceptable behavior, but for now, he needed to get her on the back of his bike and her thighs pressed firmly against his hips.
“Let me give you a ride.”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t think so.” She laughed cynically.
Suppressing a groan, Alex watched as she propped her hands on her wonderfully curved hips.
“Because, I’ve already been mugged tonight and I don’t wish to add raped and murdered to the list.”
Alex couldn’t contain the laughter that burst from his lips.
She’s witty, too.
“What’s so funny?” she snapped irritably.
Calming his laughter, Alex dismounted his bike. “I’m sorry. I have no intention of harming you. My name is Alex Monroe, and I’m here helping the local authorities catch the Monthly Murderer.” He extended his hand to her.
He was also a five-hundred-year-old vampire, but didn’t think she would appreciate that little tidbit of information. She was already baring her claws like a cat backed into a corner, and he’d learned a long time ago it was never good to put stress on an unstable structure.
Based on the night she just described having, one false move and he would catch a swift kick to the balls before she ran away, leaving him to wonder who she was, and aching to see her, and he would ache, he realized.
Just the thought of never seeing her again sent a piercing pain through him. It was absurd, these feelings he was experiencing. He didn’t even know her name and yet, he felt…connected to her somehow.
He watched silently as she gazed at him and some of the wariness left her expression. The wind gusted around them, and her sweet scent flowed over him. She smelled exotic, sweet, and wild. He felt his fangs try to shift, yearning for just a sample of her sweetness. Taking a calming breath, he willed them back into place.
“Can I see some I.D.?”
“Why?” he asked curiously.
“Well, you expect me to believe you're a cop. It would help if you could show some I.D.”
Nodding, he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a wallet, flipping it open to reveal a silver badge given to him by his contact inside the precinct.
Taking a small step forward, she examined the badge, and then nodded once.
Reaching out cautiously, she shook the proffered hand and cast him a small smile. A frisson of excitement tingled through him at the feel of her small hand cradled within his. Gently, he rubbed his thumb over the inside of her wrist discreetly, savoring the feel of her soft, warm skin.
“I’m Tina James,” she said confidently, before asking, “You’re really a cop?”
A smile tugged at his lips.
“Something like that.”