Chapter ONE “
Wow, talk about killer heels.” The words were out of my
mouth before I could stop them. I dropped my head for a moment, then
recovered. “I can’t believe I said that.”Openmouthed,
I stared at the body of a young woman sprawled across the hood of
a candy-apple red Ferrari on display in our dealership, the heel of
one of this holiday season’s signature Jimmy Choos embedded in
her neck.“I can,” growled Paxton Dane, the man who had
summoned me to the scene and the only other living, breathing human
within shouting distance at this ungodly hour of the morning. His tone
held a not-so-gentle chiding.Truth be told, he was right—very bad
form. Normally I had a better filter but tonight it was on the fritz. At
least I had an excuse.Murder always made me twitchy.“Death by Jimmy
Choo,” I babbled, riding a building wave of panic. “Well,
at least she went out with style.” The words and thoughts gathered
like dark clouds heralding an impending storm. “This is clearly
a new twist on the stiletto-as-a-murder-weapon theme, don’t you
think? And can’t you just hear Sherlock Holmes now? ‘Come,
Watson, murder’s afoot.’” I choked back a nervous
giggle but was singularly unable to rein in my runaway foot-in-mouth
disease. What had the poor woman done to deserve such a hasty exit? Better
yet, who could’ve done such a thing?“It’s ‘Come,
Watson, the game’s afoot,’” growled Dane, “and you
need to put a sock in it.”Again, he was right, but I wasn’t
about to tell him so. I wondered who the dead woman was. And how had
the Vegas magic so deserted her? At Dane’s scowl, I swallowed
the comment on the tip of my tongue.“The sock reference was
unintentional.” He raised a finger, silencing me. He knew me far
too well for my comfort level. When he was sure he had my attention, he
continued. “And if you can’t stifle yourself…”I
struggled to get a grip. Focusing on breathing, I gulped steady, even,
deep lungfuls of air. Finally, the morbid comedian in me beat feet.Okay,
maybe not. Clamping my lips together, I tried to think.Anyway I looked
at this … situation … it was so not good. Three
A.M. A closed and presumably locked Ferrari dealership—in my hotel
no less. A dead woman. A ruined shoe. And somehow all of it had landed in
my lap.Not entirely unusual, but certainly unappreciated.My name is Lucky
O’Toole and I am the vice president of Customer Relations for the
Babylon, Las Vegas’s most over-the-top Strip casino-resort. Drowning
in the aftermath of a still deep and turbulent romantic tsunami,
I had recently taken temporary residence in smaller quarters in the
hotel—a decision I was currently rethinking.Accessibility clearly
had its downside.Dane was a former co-worker, sometime suitor, and now
awkward friend. Despite past skirmishes and unrequited affections (his,
not mine, for once), we’d reached a grudging respect for each other,
a détente, if you will. He had said little since calling me. Instead,
standing quietly off to the side, he lurked like a gargoyle, waiting,
observing, while I absorbed the scene. Shadows angled across his features,
hiding his expression behind a mask of darkness and reflected light. Arms
folded tightly across his chest, he hugged himself. Was he seeking
comfort, or stilling himself from action?Fight or flight? I was so there
myself. Unfortunately for me, flight was not an option. Like it or not,
I was the Babylon’s professional problem solver in residence.And
the dead girl was clearly a problem.Sometimes, being a grown-up
sucked.“Murder sort of refocuses you, doesn’t it?” The
normal comfort I found in the familiarity of my voice proved elusive. Dane
had enough insight to know I didn’t expect an answer.Frozen for the
moment, I watched as the car rotated on a raised platform in the center
of the showroom, each detail captured in the accusatory beam of a single
spotlight mounted above. The young woman wore a silver spandex dress,
very short, strapless, hugging her every curve. Her feet were bare. A red
welt marred the otherwise perfect skin of her neck. As she rotated past,
I had an unobstructed view up her dress—no underwear. Of course,
this being Vegas, most of the young women went commando—no muss,
no fuss, no panty lines, no worry as to how to get them off or where you
might have left them when the evening was over. Vegas survival skills
they should print in the visitors’ guide, if you ask me. Chasing
runaway skivvies was part of my job description—the wrong pair
in the wrong place could be a catastrophe of epic proportions. Trust
me on that one.Her eyes were open, sightless. They were blue—one
a brilliant sky blue, the other a muddier, ocean-after-a-storm blue. I
found the difference unsettling.One arm flung over her head, her legs
splayed, her shoulder-length hair a spun-sugar pillow under her head,
she’d been beautiful. Stunning even. The champagne-colored crystals
of the single shoe fractured the light like a disco ball in a cheesy
nightclub. A beaded mini hobo—multicolored sequins stitched on
silver satin—dangled from a chain wrapped around her lifeless
hand. I’d bet my lifetime membership in the Conspicuous Consumers
Club it was also Jimmy Choo.Somebody had a fat wallet and impeccable
taste.Blood trickled from her wound, tracing a graceful path across the
woman’s bluish skin, then dropping silently to the hood of the
car. The reds blended until it was difficult to follow the blood’s
meander down the smooth metal to the white faux-marble tile underneath
where it pooled, a dark ominous stain. Following imperfections in the
stone, tiny rivulets of darkening color flowed outward until they painted
a freeform web.But something important was missing: the other shoe. I bent
down to peer under the car. Clean as a whistle. Boy, being Cinderella
in Vegas clearly wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.“Who is
she?” I asked Dane, hoping he had some easy answers.With his hands
jammed in his pockets, he shrugged but didn’t look at me.“You
are going to tell me how you managed to stumble upon this young woman,
in this position, after hours, in a dealership locked up for the night,
in a hotel where you no longer work, right?” I pressed, casting a
quick glance at him as he stepped into the light and parked himself at
my shoulder.He didn’t look good. Well, that wasn’t entirely
true. Several inches taller than my six feet, with ax-handle wide
shoulders, a narrow waist that hinted at washboard abs, wavy brown hair,
and emerald eyes, he always looked good—especially in his creased
501s and starched button-down. Normally, one glance at the man could
throw an unwary female into hormonal overdrive. Tonight, however, with
dark circles under worried eyes, his brows furrowed, his face pinched
with an emotion I couldn’t quite read, Dane didn’t look his
best.I didn’t blame him. Even after years of dealing with the
occasional dead person in my hotel, I still hadn’t gotten used
to it.Of course, most of them hadn’t been murdered.Before Dane
answered, he ran a shaky hand through his hair and avoided looking at
me.From past experience, I’d learned a thing or two about Paxton
Dane, most of it the hard way. If he was good at anything, the long,
tall drink of Texas charm was good at prevarication. Right now, I’d
wager my future firstborn that Dane was framing his answer. Like a woman
looking for