As it turns out, there is something a man can't live without

One

            I was having an erotic dream about a seriously hot guy with blue eyes, and black hair—not Liam McGarrity—a so-wrong-for-me man who can turn me into a quivering pile of hormones with a single glance. And definitely not my perfect-in-every-way boyfriend, Patrick, when the knocking started. It was loud and insistent.

            Some impatient someone wanted my attention at this ungodly hour of—I slitted bleary eyes at the bedside clock—five-twenty A freaking M. On a Sunday, no less. This better be good.

            I groaned heavily, missing my thousand-thread-count     sheets even before I’d tossed them aside. Patrick was just            back in town, so I was dressed in a cotton tee and matching      boxers. No sense wasting the good stuff when I’d spent the previous evening watching the What Not to Wear marathon I’d been storing up on my new DVR. A gadget.

            I’d only been able to afford after Visa upped my credit limit.

            Bam. Bam. Bam.

            “I’m coming, damn it!” Three-quarters asleep, I pulled on my robe and started out of the bedroom, stubbing my toe against the bed frame in the process while whoever the idiot was at my door keep right on knocking. Like I hadn’t heard the first ninety-nine knocks. Me and all my neighbors. I winced, hopped, and cursed, not necessarily in that order. The banging on my front door became more urgent.

            In the few seconds it took me to hobble through my darkened apartment flipping light switches along the way, I mentally ran through some possibilities. Could be Sam, my upstairs neighbor and friend. Soon to be former friend if he was the one on the other side of the door.

Patrick was a more remote possibility. He flew cargo for FedEx and often arrived and/or departed at off hours. But we were two years into our relationship and he knew me well enough to know I wouldn’t appreciate an early morning drop-in. Not when I’m at my most visually vulnerable pre-shower, hair, and makeup.

            Definitely not my mother. Even if she needed me urgently, she’d send a messenger before she’d break protocol. She doesn’t even use the telephone other than during the socially acceptable hours of 10:00 AM to 10:00 PM.

            I got up on tiptoes to peer through the peephole. Though the figure was silhouetted by backlighting from the parking area, I recognized my friend Jane Spencer instantly. Fumbling with the safety chain and flipping the dead bolt’s lever, I yanked open the door so fast that Jane’s balled fist caught me square in the center of the forehead.

            I stumbled backward, my head now throbbing along with my toe. “Jesus, Jane! What the f—”

            “Ohgodohgodohgod,” she babbled, closing the door and gripping me by the shoulders as I teetered.

            I’d met Jane at the gym almost six years ago. Though we were total strangers, we’d agreed to pretend to be friends in order to take advantage of the gym’s two-for-one special. I don’t like to think of it as a scam so much as the broadest interpretation of the term friend. My friendship with Jane quickly became a reality and we get together whenever possible. My attendance at the gym is spotty at best. Jane, on the other hand, works out religiously, hence the reason her accidental blow had me seeing stars.

            “I’m okay,” I lied, shrugging off her hold. Moderately pissed, but okay. Then my vision cleared and I looked at her. Really looked at her. Her dark brown eyes were red, puffy, and filled with a kind of abject terror I’d never seen in my calm, reasonable, rational friend. Though she looked a lot like one of the Pussy Cat Dolls, Jane was an accountant and investment broker. A geek in sex kitten clothing.

            She was covered in deep crimson blood.

            Wet deep crimson blood. It was matted in her hair and soaked through the right side of her thigh-skimming, aqua La Perl negligee. The streaks of partially dried blood continued down the side of one leg to her bare foot. My brain dealt with the blood first. Why she was outside, in the middle of the night, in her nighttime, could wait for later. “What happened? Did you have an accident?”

            Jane’s fingers trembled as they snagged in the crusting blood in her hair. I followed her as she walked stiffly into my living room, leaving single-footed, reddish brown marks on my tile and carpet as she moved, her hands hugging her bare, blood-streaked arms.

            “He’s dead. There was so much blood . . .”

            My initial hope that maybe she’d picked up some runover animal or something. “He who?”

            “Paolo. He’s dead. Oh God, worse than dead.”

            Paolo? The name didn’t register. Nor did the concept of worse than dead.  It’s one of those absolutes, like being pregnant. You definitively are or you aren’t