Trick Roller (Seven of Spades, #2)

Trick Roller by Cordelia Kingsbridge
eBook ISBN: 
978-1-62649-635-4
eBook release: 
Jan 29, 2018
eBook Formats: 
pdf, mobi, html, epub
Print ISBN: 
978-1-62649-636-1
Print release: 
Jan 29, 2018
Word count: 
78,300
Page count: 
299
Cover by: 

This title is #2 of the Seven of Spades series.

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It’s the height of summer in Las Vegas. Everyone believes the serial killer Seven of Spades is dead—except Levi Abrams and Dominic Russo—and it’s back to business as usual. For Levi, that means investigating a suspicious overdose at the Mirage that looks like the work of a high-class call girl, while Dominic pursues a tough internship with a local private investigator. The one bright spot for both of them is their blossoming relationship.

But things aren’t so simple. Soon Levi is sucked into a dangerous web of secrets and lies, even as his obsession with the Seven of Spades intensifies. Dominic knows that Levi isn’t crazy. He knows the Seven of Spades is still out there, and he’ll do anything to prove it. But Dominic has his own demons to battle, and he may be fighting a losing war.

One thing is certain: the Seven of Spades holds all the cards. It won’t be long before they show their hand.

Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes:

Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.

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Chapter One

“So it’s late, the girls have been in bed for a while, and I’m nodding off myself.” Dominic set his fork and knife on his empty plate and dropped his napkin on top. “I ended up falling asleep in front of the TV.”

Across the small table, Levi was leaning back in his chair, as casual and relaxed as he ever got—which was to say not very. His keen gray eyes were intent on Dominic’s face.

“I woke up with the sense that something wasn’t right,” Dominic said, continuing his story about babysitting his two young nieces. “Then I heard this kind of quiet, secretive giggling. And let me tell you, the last thing you want to hear when you wake up confused in the dark in a strange house is the sound of giggling children. Brings back the memory of every horror movie you’ve ever seen.”

The corner of Levi’s mouth tilted—a half smile that was for him what a broad grin would be for anyone else. Dominic took a moment to drink in the sight of it.

“But my mind cleared pretty quick, and I heard some sort of wet slapping noise on top of the giggling. I jumped up and ran to the girls’ room. Vinnie and his wife shop at Costco, and for God knows what reason, they’d bought this five-gallon jug of olive oil—”

“Oh, no,” Levi said, his eyes widening.

“Yeah. Those two little miscreants had snuck out of bed, dragged the jug from the pantry to their bedroom, and dumped the oil out all over the carpet. They’d created their own Slip ’N Slide.”

Levi laughed quietly, and Dominic thrilled at the sound. Over the past few months, it had become his personal mission to make Levi laugh as often as possible. Levi was naturally solemn—not joyless, not by a long shot, but one of the most serious people Dominic had ever met. Bringing a smile to his face was a worthy feat in itself; getting him to laugh out loud was a deep source of pride.

“I almost didn’t want to stop them, because they were having the time of their lives. But responsibility won out in the end. I managed to get them both cleaned up and most of the oil off the walls and the furniture. The carpet had to be ripped out and replaced, though.” Dominic made a flourishing gesture with his hands. “And that’s why I’m currently on babysitting probation.”

His face still alight with amusement, Levi drank the last sip of his Boulevardier, the bourbon cocktail Dominic had introduced him to. He ordered one whenever he and Dominic went somewhere with a full bar, though half the time Dominic had to explain to the server or bartender in question how to make it.

“I don’t know if I would have done any better,” he said. “I’m terrible with children.”

“You’re great with Martine’s kids,” said Dominic, referring to Levi’s fellow homicide detective and closest friend.

“They’re teenagers. That’s different. I have a young niece and nephew myself, and I don’t know how to interact with them at all. Then again, I barely ever see them.”

“Why not?”

Levi shrugged. “I don’t like going back to New Jersey, and my sister doesn’t want to bring them to Vegas.”

They both fell silent as their server approached to clear their plates. “Any dessert tonight, gentlemen?” she asked.

Dominic hesitated and glanced at Levi.

“Get dessert,” Levi said. “You know you want to. I’ll have coffee.”

After their server left, Dominic sat back in his chair with a warm sense of contentment. They were at Grape Street Café in downtown Summerlin, and on a Saturday night, there wasn’t a single open table in the contemporary, brick-lined dining room. The food had been great, the company incomparable.

His eyes traveled over the man in front of him. Levi had a narrow, wiry build, his clothes concealing most of the incredible, lean musculature carved by over a decade of intense dedication to Krav Maga. He’d been growing out his curly black hair a bit, and his razor-sharp bone structure gave him a hollow-cheeked look that Dominic adored.

Levi lifted an eyebrow. “You’re staring.”

“You’re gorgeous,” said Dominic.

There it was—the slight blush spreading across Levi’s cheeks as he turned his face aside with an eye roll and a tiny smile, embarrassed and pleased in equal measure. It was one of Dominic’s favorite expressions on him.

They’d been dating for three months now, and the more time they spent together, the more fascinated Dominic became. He could admit that he was the type of person who relished a challenge, and Levi . . . Levi was a storm of intriguing contradictions, cool on the outside and boiling hot within, aggressive as fuck in certain situations and painfully shy in others. He was intelligent and driven and, every now and then, so unselfconsciously sweet that it made Dominic’s chest hurt.

He’d never felt like this about anyone.

His dessert arrived along with Levi’s double espresso. Dominic watched him drink it, knowing he would have ordered a triple if he’d thought the restaurant would serve it to him.

“Sure you don’t want a bite?” Dominic asked, offering a forkful of profiteroles drowning in dark chocolate ganache and vanilla ice cream.

Levi eyed the fork askance. “I don’t really have a sweet tooth.”

“I know,” Dominic said, and grinned. “I kind of hate that about you.”

Levi gently kicked Dominic’s shin under the table, then left his foot there, pressed up against Dominic’s.

A short time later, they stood on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, sweltering in the oppressive summer heat while they waited for the valet to bring Levi’s car around. Side by side, their physical differences were more pronounced. Levi was a tall man, just an inch under six feet, but Dominic was still half a foot taller. He was more heavily built as well, his muscles thick and brawny whereas Levi’s were lean and compact.

Dominic slid an arm around Levi’s waist and bent to kiss him, not caring that they were in public. Most people—sober people, anyway—tended to avoid starting shit with a man his size no matter how homophobic they were, and anyone who thought Levi would make an easier target was in for a nasty surprise.

When he started to pull back, Levi surprised him by catching the lapel of his dinner jacket and keeping him close.

“It’s been three months,” Levi said, his voice pitched low. “Don’t you think we’ve waited long enough?”

Dominic drew a deep breath. “You want to . . .”

“I want to spend the night with you.”

Levi had left Stanton Barclay, his boyfriend of three years, only the day before he and Dominic had slept together for the first time. They’d agreed to take things slow from that point on, so that Levi would have time to grieve his lost relationship without the complication of jumping headlong into a new one right off the bat.

Despite their best intentions, they hadn’t been able to quite keep their hands off each other in the weeks that followed. A few memories in particular stood out in Dominic’s mind—dry humping like teenagers on the couch in Levi’s new apartment, jerking each other off in Dominic’s kitchen when they were supposed to be cooking dinner, Levi sucking his cock in the front seat of his pickup. That last had been made ten times more exciting by the fact that Levi was a cop.

There were two firm lines they hadn’t crossed since April, however—no overnights and no penetrative sex.

Dominic had gone too long without responding. Levi let go and stepped away, a flicker of hurt and confusion crossing his face before it went blank. “You don’t want to?”

“Oh, I want to,” Dominic said honestly. God, did he want to. “That’s not even in question. I just want to make sure you’re ready for this.” He had doubts that three months was long enough to move past a serious relationship—but then, he’d never been in one of those himself, so what the hell did he know?

“Dominic.” Levi took his hand. “I want to be with you, move forward with you. I don’t want there to be any barriers between us anymore. I’m ready for that if you are.”

His expression was earnest, his voice sincere. After a moment’s consideration, Dominic reeled him back in and kissed him again.

“All right,” he said. “Let’s go to my place.”

Once the decision had been made, the half-hour drive across the city was pure torture. Dominic wrestled out of his jacket the moment they were inside the car. He hated wearing the thing even when it wasn’t a billion goddamn degrees out, and the anticipation of fucking Levi again only had him running hotter.

Seeing Levi’s self-control disintegrate, hearing his loud cries of pleasure, feeling that impossibly tight ass working his cock . . . Dominic was going to experience all that again, only this time with the advantage of knowing Levi so much better and caring about him so much more. His heart was already pounding.

Levi drove too fast and not a little recklessly. In record time, they arrived at Dominic’s apartment building, a three-story concrete U shaped around a central courtyard with a community pool. Dominic let Levi precede him up the stairs and watched his round ass bouncing in his trousers all the way up to the second floor.

His dog Rebel, a German Shepherd–Rottweiler mix, awaited him just inside the door, sitting at attention with her ears pricked up. She stood and wagged her tail happily as Dominic crouched to greet her.

“I’m gonna take Rebel for a quick walk,” he said to Levi. “Make yourself at home.”

Levi nodded, stripping out of his own jacket as he headed for the living room.

Dominic and Rebel made a short circuit of the building’s perimeter. Ordinarily, he enjoyed taking her on a long, leisurely stroll at night, using it as an opportunity to unwind from the stress of the day. Tonight, though, he hurried her along, anticipation building in his gut and itching beneath his skin.

The moment they reentered the apartment, he unclipped Rebel’s leash and called out for Levi.

“In the bedroom!” Levi shouted back.

After stopping in the kitchen to grab a couple of bottles of water, Dominic backed into the bedroom, shooing Rebel away and apologizing to her even as he shut the door in her indignant face. Then he turned around and promptly fumbled one of the bottles, grabbing it with his free hand in a last-second save.

Levi had turned down the covers and was stretched out naked in Dominic’s bed, jerking himself off.

“You said I should make myself at home,” he said. His smirk was slightly undercut by the breathlessness of his voice.

Dominic moved to the side of the bed as if in a daze and set the water bottles on the nightstand without looking. He heard one of them roll off and thump onto the floor, but he couldn’t have given less of a shit.

Levi’s nude body always put him in mind of a jungle cat, lithe and graceful and undeniably powerful. Mesmerized, he reached out.

Levi pushed his hand away before he made contact. “No touching until you take your clothes off.”

That got Dominic’s ass in gear. He fished the lube out of the nightstand drawer and tossed it to Levi, then stripped as fast as he could. By the time he climbed onto the bed, Levi’s cock and balls were slick with lube, and Levi was sliding a finger inside himself.

They rolled around in the sheets for a few minutes, kissing passionately and rutting against each other, all hands and mouths and rolling hips. That wasn’t going to be enough for either of them tonight, though, and it wasn’t long before Levi guided Dominic’s hand where he wanted it.

Levi was even tighter than he remembered. He tried to take it slow, work Levi open gradually, but Levi was having none of it. Helpless against the combination of whispered demands and Levi’s eager, arching body, Dominic found himself three fingers deep in Levi’s ass within minutes, lavishing kisses against his sweat-damp throat.

The first and only time they’d done this, Dominic had taken Levi from behind; he wanted it face-to-face this time. Levi made no objections when Dominic spread him out on his back and knelt between his legs, lifting his hips to prop his ass on Dominic’s own thighs. He just gazed up at Dominic with flushed cheeks and swollen lips, looking like sex incarnate.

Dominic rolled on a condom and draped Levi’s legs over his arms, but he was distracted from his goal by the mouthwatering jut of Levi’s prominent hip bones. He circled them with his thumbs, knowing how sensitive Levi was there.

Levi jerked against him and mewled like a kitten. Once he recovered, he thumped his heel against Dominic’s shoulder and said, “What are you waiting for? Come on.”

Smiling, Dominic lined himself up and pushed forward. Just like last time, Levi’s tense body refused to take more than the first inch or so of his sizeable cock. He pulled out and pushed back in, managing to get a bit deeper on the second stroke.

He went on like that with slow, careful thrusts, easing his way inside. Beneath him, Levi was biting his lip, one hand on the headboard and the other squeezing his own cock as it dripped pre-come all over his stomach.

Levi might not like to admit this, but Dominic knew a size queen when he saw one, and he’d noticed how Levi’s eyes glazed over and his mouth went slack every time he got a hand on Dominic’s cock. Right now, Levi’s trembling muscles and quiet moans made it clear how much he was struggling to convince his tightly wound body to accept what he so desperately needed.

“You gonna let me in?” Dominic asked. Then, remembering what had worked last time, he gentled his voice and said, “Gonna let me take care of you?”

Levi groaned, and his body relaxed a few degrees. Dominic alternated rocking and circling his hips, letting Levi get used to the thick girth of his shaft as he pressed gradually deeper. It felt fantastic, Levi snug and scorching hot around him.

“God,” Levi said. He released his cock to grip at his hair instead. “Do you have any idea how much I need this? It’s been three months. A dildo just isn’t the same.”

Dominic paused. “What?”

“I mean, it’s better than nothing, but it can’t compare to a real cock.”

Dominic expelled a noisy breath. His brain was flooded with images of Levi sprawled out on his bed, pumping a dildo in and out of his needy ass, maybe thinking about Dominic while he did it—

“Are you trying to give me a stroke?” he said, his voice strangled.

Levi scowled at him like he didn’t know exactly what he was doing, the teasing bastard. “I’m trying to get you to fuck me,” he said haughtily. “But so far I’m not having much success. Maybe I should change tactics.”

Dominic was still wondering what that meant when Levi braced both hands against the headboard, tightened his legs against Dominic’s arms, and lifted his back off the bed and his ass off Dominic’s thighs. Using those two opposite points of tension for leverage, he maneuvered himself back and forth on Dominic’s cock.

His mouth falling open, Dominic stared at the rippling muscles in Levi’s abdomen. He automatically moved his hands to Levi’s lower back, but Levi was supporting most of his own bodyweight, holding himself up with his shoulders just barely grazing the mattress like he was in the fucking Cirque du Soleil.

Levi was much less patient than Dominic. He drove himself onto Dominic’s cock, forcing himself to take it, cursing and moaning the whole time.

“Shit,” Dominic said. He started thrusting again, finally bottoming out. “Levi . . .”

“Give me more, come on—”

Dominic gave in and snapped his hips the way they both wanted him to.

Yes,” Levi gasped. He released the pose he’d been holding, dropping back to the bed and Dominic’s thighs. “Like that, Dominic, do it, do it—”

Dominic fucked him in a flurry of short, shallow thrusts, working his prostate over until Levi was crying out nonstop. Then he tossed Levi’s legs over his shoulders, leaned forward on his hands, and screwed him deep and hard, surrendering to the urge to just fucking ravage the beautiful man writhing underneath him.

The headboard banged repeatedly against the wall—the wall he shared with Carlos and Jasmine, and there was no way they could miss the racket Levi was making. He’d buy them doughnuts or something tomorrow to make it up to them, because he wasn’t stopping now.

He was gripped with the sudden need to kiss Levi, to have that second point of connection while inside him. Levi was flexible enough for them to kiss like this, but given their size difference, it still wouldn’t be comfortable.

Instead, Dominic hauled Levi up onto his lap as he sat back on his heels. Levi yelped at the change in position.

“Ah, fuck, that’s deep,” he said, clinging to Dominic’s shoulders. His fingernails dug in, sending a shiver of pleasure-pain down Dominic’s spine.

Dominic shoved him against the headboard and fucked up into him, his pace every bit as relentless as before. “You like that, don’t you, baby?” he growled, half out of his mind with the clutch of Levi’s body around him. “Like taking my cock deep, getting fucked hard?”

Challenge sparked in Levi’s eyes. He threaded his fingers through Dominic’s thick hair and tugged with enough force to make Dominic moan. “Yeah, I like it,” he said raggedly. “Love your big cock inside me, filling me up—”

Dominic seized his mouth in a savage kiss. Levi responded in kind, and it was vicious, as much teeth as lips and tongue. When he felt Levi tensing with approaching orgasm, he grabbed Levi’s cock and pumped it in time with his aggressive thrusts.

Moments later, Levi screamed into Dominic’s mouth as he came. His body shuddered, his phenomenally tight hole clenching and releasing around Dominic’s cock in a breathtaking rhythm. Come splashed hot and messy over Dominic’s fist and both their stomachs.

Levi slumped in his lap, his head dropping to Dominic’s shoulder. Dominic didn’t let up, straining toward his own climax, so close—

Levi’s mouth roamed over his shoulder and the side of his neck, covering him with hot, open-mouthed kisses. Then Levi bit down on the juncture of his neck and shoulder and sucked hard.

Dominic shouted out loud, smacked his hand against the headboard, and rose up on his knees, burying his cock to the hilt in Levi’s ass as orgasm swept through him. His hips hunched with every euphoric pulse until he was completely drained.

Dazed, he lowered himself back to his heels, Levi still straddling his lap and impaled on his cock. When Levi lifted his head, Dominic brushed a stray curl off his forehead and cupped his cheek, awash in tenderness.

Levi had a soft smile on his face; he was all but glowing. “That’s gonna leave a mark,” he said, grazing his fingers over Dominic’s neck.

“Good,” Dominic said, and kissed him again.

 

Chapter Two

Levi was a much earlier riser than Dominic, and he was just getting out of the shower when the summons to a new crime scene came in.

He sighed as he realized he’d have to swing by his apartment first for a change of clothes. If he’d been with Stanton, he could have just borrowed a clean shirt and called it a day, but borrowing a shirt from Dominic would leave him looking like a child playing dress-up.

He needed to shave and brush his teeth too. Maybe he should keep a few things here, just in case—

Whoa. He stopped that thought in its tracks. It was way too soon for a step like that.

When he returned to the bed, Rebel lifted her head off her paws and regarded him curiously. She’d slept with them last night, curled up between their feet, and he hadn’t minded because she was so well-behaved.

Levi scratched her ears and looked at Dominic, sprawled on his back with the covers draped loosely over his waist. He took up a lot of room, his chest and shoulders impossibly broad and the bulk of his muscular thighs outlined by the sheet. A small circle of scar tissue just beneath his right shoulder marked the bullet wound he’d sustained in Afghanistan.

Propping one knee on the bed, he leaned over and ran his fingers along Dominic’s strong, square jaw and the old break in his nose. “Dominic,” he said.

Dominic’s eyes fluttered open, and he gave Levi the wide smile that came so effortlessly to him. “Hey.”

“I have to go. There was a suspicious death at the Mirage, and it’s my turn in the rotation.”

“Mmm, okay.” Dominic turned his face so Levi’s fingers fell over his mouth, then kissed his fingertips. Levi’s breath caught. “Call me later?”

“Yeah.”

Closing his eyes, Dominic rolled onto his side and pulled the sheet up to his shoulders, snuggling into his pillow. Levi watched him for a few more moments, wishing he could stay. Dominic’s presence had a calming effect he was beginning to crave. He could relax and enjoy himself when they were together, with no need to keep his guard up because he knew nothing would hurt him. Even the recurring nightmares that had plagued him since childhood—dreams of being trapped and hunted by an unseen enemy—had ebbed over the past few months.

Levi kissed Dominic’s cheek and headed out. He wasn’t able to lock the door behind him, but he figured that anyone who broke into an apartment containing an ex-Army Ranger and a hundred-pound personal protection dog would regret that decision pretty quickly.

As he walked down the exterior hallway—Dominic’s building was like a motel, all the apartments opening right into the outside—another door opened and shut behind him. He turned around to see Jasmine Anderson, who lived next door to Dominic with her boyfriend Carlos.

She was a total knockout, with light-brown skin covered in elaborate tattoos and long braids dyed a rainbow of colors. Her enormous eyes were emphasized with winged liner, and she’d changed out her lip piercing to a silver hoop in an intricately woven design. A hemp messenger bag was slung over one shoulder.

“Hey, Levi,” she said, seeming unsurprised to see him. “You guys doing the sleepover thing now?”

“Looks like.” He waited for her to catch up with him so they could walk to the stairs together. “Are you going to work?” Sunday morning might be odd hours for a tattoo artist to keep, but this was Las Vegas.

She shook her head. “Farmer’s market. You gotta get in before all the good stuff’s gone.”

“Ah.” Levi cast about for something to say while they went down the stairs. He liked Jasmine and Carlos, but he still felt uncomfortable around them—and not just because he was usually awkward around people he didn’t know well. They were good friends with Dominic; no doubt they were judging him as an appropriate partner, and if they found him wanting, maybe Dominic would too. “Did you and Carlos have a good Saturday?” he asked, as they exited the fence around the property and entered the parking lot.

“Probably not as good as yours,” she said, giving him a wink that made him immediately suspicious. “See you later!”

She trotted off merrily to her car. Levi narrowed his eyes, then shrugged and turned to his own.

* * * * * * *

Dominic’s apartment near the University of Nevada, Las Vegas was much closer to the Mirage than Levi’s new apartment in Rancho Oakey, so the detour put him well behind schedule. He hurried through the hotel’s tropical rainforest-themed lobby, passing the enormous aquarium behind the reception desk, and drew up short in surprise when he saw Martine waiting for an elevator.

He and Martine were on the same six-detective squad in the Homicide Section; because they complemented each other’s strengths and weaknesses well, they were often assigned to work the same cases. Martine lived out in Sunrise Manor, but she still should have made it here before Levi.

“I thought for sure I’d be the last one to show up,” Levi said, joining her at the elevator bank. “What’s going on?”

“My house is full of teenage angst, that’s what’s going on,” Martine said in her strong Flatbush accent. Though she’d been born in Haiti, she’d grown up in Brooklyn. “Mikayla’s been brooding and sulking all week, throwing epic tantrums I haven’t seen since she was a toddler, and now it’s spreading to Simone. The look on Antoine’s face when I left this morning—it was like I was throwing him to a pack of wolves.”

Levi winced in sympathy.

Martine had a petite, curvy build and rich dark-brown skin. Despite the frazzled air about her this morning, her short hair was done in perfect finger coils and she was as flawlessly put-together as always. There was also a too-perceptive light in her eyes that Levi didn’t like as she scanned him from head to foot.

“So you and Dominic finally slid into home again?” she said.

One of the elevators arrived with a soft ding, expelling a chattering family of five. “How do you always know?” Levi hissed to Martine as they entered. They were the only ones who got on, but he still lowered his voice further as he added, “I’m not . . . am I limping?”

She pressed her lips together like she was trying not to laugh and hit the button for the twenty-second floor. “You’re not, but thanks for that insight into your sex life. You just—you seem relaxed, you know? That’s not something I’m used to seeing on you. Plus, you missed a spot shaving and your tie is crooked. Pretty much screams ‘post-sex fog.’”

Cursing, he unknotted his tie so he could redo it.

A uniformed LVMPD officer stood guard outside the room where the body had been found. Levi and Martine signed the crime scene log, put on booties and gloves, and stepped inside.

The room wasn’t large, but it was beautifully decorated, a vibrant color scheme of deep purples and reds contrasted against the snow-white sheets and curtains. Fresh flowers bloomed in a couple of crystal vases, and a flat-screen television was mounted on the wall opposite the king-sized bed.

Fred, the crime scene photographer, was already hard at work, along with a couple of CSIs and the coroner investigator. Standing out of the way in the corner was Jonah Gibbs, who could have been an excellent cop if not for his hot temper and absolute lack of anything resembling discretion or tact.

“What’ve we got?” Levi asked him.

Gibbs nodded to the deceased, who lay on the floor near the foot of the bed. “Dr. Stephen Hensley, fifty-three, hometown Baltimore. Here for some kind of palliative medicine conference that starts on Monday, but a bunch of them came in early to start things off with a bang—you know how it is.”

“I will never understand what possesses people to host conferences in Las Vegas in July,” Martine muttered.

“Heard that. Anyway, vic was found dead this morning by hotel security after one of his fellow docs told them he hadn’t shown up for a scheduled breakfast and wasn’t responding to phone calls or knocks on his door. She’s on her way to the substation now. Pretty shaken up.”

Levi nodded and moved toward the body. He kept his hands in his pockets to resist the unconscious impulse to touch—even wearing gloves, it was best to handle evidence as little as possible.

Hensley was a white man on the solid side, his dark-brown hair graying at the temples. He was wearing a hotel bathrobe, though Levi couldn’t tell if he had anything on underneath it. No visible wounds, but there was a puddle of vomit near his head and more bile caked around his mouth and chin.

“Overdose?” Levi asked the coroner investigator, who was kneeling beside the body.

“Almost definitely,” she said. “Early estimate for time of death is 1 to 3 a.m. That’s pretty much all I can say until the autopsy.”

Levi thanked her and continued on, surveying the room. There wasn’t much space for seven people—eight if one counted Hensley—so he kept his movements as economical as possible.

The bed was rumpled, the pillows tossed every which way and the bedspread shoved haphazardly to one side. A nearby wastebasket held two used condoms. On the bureau beneath the television stood a couple of half-empty champagne flutes, one with a clear lipstick print, alongside a bottle in a silver ice bucket now full of water. Hensley was wearing a wedding ring, but if his colleague had been the one to raise the alarm, Levi was betting he hadn’t brought his wife on this trip.

What was missing from the scene was just as important as what was present, and after a thorough search, Hensley’s wallet and cell phone were nowhere to be found. There was also a tangle of chargers out on the desk but no electronics in sight.

“What do you think?” Martine said, as they met again by the door. “Trick roll gone wrong?”

That had been Levi’s initial conclusion. A trick roller was a sex worker—or someone pretending to be a sex worker—who lured a john to a private location and then robbed them, often after knocking them out with drugs. It wasn’t an uncommon occurrence in Las Vegas, though it wasn’t usually fatal. If this was the work of a trick roller, the overdose had most likely been accidental.

However . . .

“If the sex worker was planning to roll Hensley, why bother having sex with him at all?” he said.

Always ready with a counterargument, Martine said, “Maybe she wasn’t planning to roll him at first, but he said or did something to offend her, and she changed her mind.”

“We don’t know it was a her.”

“Lipstick on the champagne glass,” Gibbs cut in.

“That doesn’t mean it was a woman,” said Levi.

Gibbs blinked. “Yeah, okay, fair point. I think we can pretty safely play the odds here, though.”

Levi shrugged; he was probably right.

Martine, meanwhile, was frowning across the room. “That’s another thing—why leave such an obvious source of fingerprints and DNA behind after you’ve robbed someone, let alone accidentally murdered them?”

Now it was Levi’s turn to play devil’s advocate. “He could have still been alive when she left, and she may have been confident he wouldn’t report the robbery given the circumstances. Or maybe she just panicked and ran.”

“Not as exotic as a serial killer, huh?” Gibbs said with a smirk.

Levi glared at him. The Seven of Spades case had been closed despite his protests, the five murders attributed to the deceased Keith Chapman, even though Levi was sure he’d been framed. When he brought the final taunting message the killer had left in his hotel room to his sergeant, Wen had given him an odd look, said it was clearly a practical joke, and asked if he wanted to take some time off to “get his head on straight again.”

Word had spread, and for weeks afterward, his coworkers had pranked him by leaving seven of spades cards with silly messages written on them all over the substation, on the windshield of his car, even in his jacket pockets when he left it unattended. Levi suspected that Gibbs had been behind at least half of them.

“Go start canvassing the rest of the floor,” Martine said sharply to Gibbs. “Take note of anyone who’s not in so we can get their information from the hotel.”

Gibbs grumbled a bit under his breath, but he went out into the hall as instructed. Mouthing off to Martine was a good way to get a dressing-down that could blister the ears off a sailor.

The Seven of Spades was a sore spot between Levi and Martine, because she didn’t believe the real killer was still at large either. So he just pretended the subject hadn’t been raised at all. “You want to handle this like usual?” he asked, meaning that she would run the crime scene while he interviewed the first witnesses.

She agreed, and he was on his way a couple minutes later. He saw no immediate need to follow up on the statement Gibbs had taken from the hotel security guard, and Martine would ensure that all relevant staff from the night before were questioned. Instead, he drove further south along the Strip to the substation his squad operated out of to interview Hensley’s colleague.

Dr. Anika Kapoor was awaiting him in the comfortably furnished room used to break bad news and question victims and witnesses of traumatic events. She was a plump woman who looked to be in her late forties, her face grooved with deep smile lines and her black hair cut in a short bob. Unexpectedly, she was accompanied by a tall, gangly white man much younger than herself.

Levi extended his hand to her first. “Dr. Kapoor, I’m Detective Levi Abrams. I’m so sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you,” she said, managing a weak smile through her tears. Gibbs had said she was shaken up; if anything, that was an understatement. Her eyes were bloodshot, and her nose swollen from hours of crying.

Though the man wasn’t crying, he looked just as distraught, his face ghostly pale and his expression shell-shocked. Levi raised an inquiring eyebrow.

“Oh, this is Dr. Craig Warner,” said Kapoor. “He’s a research fellow under Stephen and myself at Johns Hopkins.”

Her breath hitched when she said Hensley’s name. Levi handed her a nearby box of tissues, then gestured for her and Warner to sit on the couch they’d risen from when he entered. He sat in the armchair across from them and pulled out a notepad.

“I know this is painful, but could you please tell me about the last time you saw Dr. Hensley alive?”

Kapoor swallowed hard and nodded. “The three of us had dinner last night with a few colleagues at Samba, right there in the hotel. Stephen headed up to his room around ten, I think. Said he was going to call it an early night—jet lag.”

“Did either of you communicate with him in any way after that point? Phone calls, texts?”

Both Kapoor and Warner shook their heads.

“Are you staying at the Mirage as well?” Levi asked.

“Yes, we’re actually all on the same floor,” said Kapoor. “They’re part of the block of rooms reserved for the conference.”

“Did you see or hear anything suspicious on the floor last night?” This time, Levi directed the question toward Warner, who had yet to speak.

“No,” Warner said, in a voice that was surprisingly deep coming out of such a skinny frame. “I mean, there were people running up and down the hallway all night long, but . . . it’s Vegas, right?”

Kapoor agreed, and Levi spent a few minutes confirming the reason for their trip and their movements the night before. As Gibbs had said, they’d flown in early from Baltimore to do some partying before a national conference on hospice and palliative care that would officially begin on Monday. After dinner at Samba, their group had thrown back a few cocktails at one of the Mirage’s many bars before scattering their separate ways.

Kapoor had hit the casino floor, not returning upstairs until almost 3 a.m. Warner, on the other hand, had gotten so wasted at the bar he needed two friends to help him back to his room, where he’d drunk-dialed his girlfriend in Baltimore despite the time difference and then passed out in front of a pay-per-view movie.

“I don’t usually drink that much,” he said, rubbing a hand over his face. “Now I have an angry girlfriend and the worst hangover of my life on top of everything else.”

Welcome to Vegas, Levi thought, but he didn’t say it out loud because it was insensitive even by his standards. “What raised your concerns about Dr. Hensley this morning?” he asked Kapoor.

“We had all planned to meet at Cravings this morning at nine for the breakfast buffet. Stephen is . . . was . . .” Kapoor closed her eyes briefly and then soldiered on. “Punctual to a fault. When he didn’t show up, I texted him a couple of times, then called his cell. I even tried his room phone, but it just kept ringing and ringing. That’s when I knew something was wrong; I could feel it. I asked hotel security for help, and they let me into his room. He—he was—”

She started crying quietly again, pressing a tissue to her face. Warner put an arm around her shoulders.

Levi gave her some time before asking, “Was Dr. Hensley married?”

“Yes,” Warner said. “His wife is back in Baltimore—shit, she doesn’t know yet, does she?”

“Did Dr. Hensley have any other sexual partners either of you were aware of? A mistress, a girlfriend?”

Kapoor lowered the hand that had been covering her face and stared at him. “What?”

This was awkward, but it had to be discussed. “Dr. Hensley definitely engaged in sexual activity last night,” Levi said. “Our top priority is finding out who was with him in his hotel room. Did he appear to be making romantic or sexual overtures to anyone at the restaurant before he left?”

“No,” Kapoor said. “As far as I know, he went straight to his room.”

“Is it possible he would have arranged a visit from an escort service?”

There was a short silence in which Kapoor and Warner exchanged uncomfortable sideways glances that told Levi everything he needed to know. “It wouldn’t have been . . . out of character,” she said delicately.

“Wait, hang on.” Warner turned to her on the couch. “I thought Dr. Hensley died of some kind of overdose.”

She took a shaky breath. “That’s what it looked like from what I saw.”

“But all these questions . . .” He frowned at Levi. “Do you think someone else overdosed him? Like he spent the night with a hooker and she killed him?”

Levi twitched in irritation at the term hooker and said, “We don’t have an official cause of death yet. Until we do, I don’t want to speculate. But regardless of the circumstances of Dr. Hensley’s death, it’s imperative that we find the person he was with last night.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t think we can help you with that,” said Kapoor. “None of us have ever been to Vegas before. I don’t know where Stephen would have turned for . . . for companionship.”

Levi asked a few more follow-up questions but learned nothing else of relevance. “Are you still planning to attend the conference?” he asked, as they all stood. Tourist homicides could be a major headache when all the important suspects and witnesses flitted back to their hometowns, and there wasn’t much, if anything, he could do to make them stay.

Kapoor nodded. “We’re scheduled to present groundbreaking research later this week—research Stephen dedicated years of his life to. He’d want us to stay and go on with the presentation.”

“Can I ask what topic your research is on?” Levi said, making a note for himself.

“The cellular mechanisms involved in pain signaling and perception,” Warner said.

Levi gave both doctors his card with the usual instructions to call him if they remembered anything else that might help, then showed them out of the substation before heading for his desk. The first order of business was to call the Baltimore PD so they could send local officers out to notify Hensley’s wife of his death in person. Then he’d need a slew of warrants—the hotel didn’t have security cameras in the hallways, but they did in the elevators and lobby. He also needed access to the room’s phone records and Hensley’s cell phone records. If Hensley had booked an escort online, though, they were out of luck with his laptop missing.

After that, he’d vet Kapoor and Warner’s alibis in the interest of thoroughness and maybe request some of the conference materials to get a handle on Hensley’s background. He was definitely in store for a long day.

Mid-afternoon, he took a break to grab more coffee and a sandwich. Figuring Dominic would have left the weekly family lunch at his mother’s house by now, he gave him a call while he ate.

“Hey,” Dominic said, against background noise that suggested he had Levi on Bluetooth in his truck. “How’s the case?”

“We’re not a hundred percent sure there is a case yet.” Levi scrubbed his napkin over his mouth. “Even if there is, it’s looking like a possible manslaughter charge.”

“Well, you’ll crack it in no time.”

Snorting, Levi said, “Thanks. How was lunch?”

“Pretty good. Gina’s getting huge. She swears she’s not carrying twins, but she’s way bigger than any of the other women in our family were at six months.”

“You didn’t say that to her, did you?” Levi asked. Dominic was the third of five children, and Gina was his youngest sibling, currently pregnant with her first child.

“No way. I like my balls not smashed to a bloody pulp, thanks.” Dominic paused. “My mom said it.”

“Oh my God.”

“Yeah, it ignited this huge debate about who had been how big at which point in their pregnancies—everyone with their cell phones out, digging back through their photos and shouting about it for over an hour.” Despite this description of family drama, Dominic’s voice was cheerful. “Anyway, I’m going to meet Carlos at the gym now, and then I’m interning at McBride tonight and tomorrow night. But I thought maybe we could meet up for lunch tomorrow afternoon?”

“Sounds good,” said Levi. He was already looking forward to it.

“My schedule is more flexible than yours, so just give me a call and tell me when and where to meet you.”

“All right. See you tomorrow.”

As Levi hung up, he remembered a moment from the night before with crystal clarity—Dominic pressing him up against the headboard, surging inside him, calling him baby. It had been said in the heat of passion, and he didn’t know if Dominic even realized he’d done it.

He’d always disliked pet names; he’d certainly never used them with Stanton. He thought about Dominic calling him baby again in that deep, rumbly voice. Though he should have hated it, all it did was make him shiver, because it was different this time.

Everything was different with Dominic.

from The Novel Approach

After I read this novel, I didn’t want to review it because I knew I couldn’t do it justice. . . . This was one of the most intense endings, ever, and I can’t even imagine what Cordelia Kingsbridge will come up with next. Bring it on!! Shock me some more!!

from Love Bytes

If you haven’t tried this author before then I would highly recommend you do and do so quickly!