Brimstone Kiss - By Carole Douglas

Chapter One
Not every modern career girl can have her rented house blown away by a jealous weather witch in Kansas one week and end up in the post-Millennium Las Vegas sleeping in an Enchanted Cottage the next.

But, as Disney says: fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you, and it had happened to me, Delilah Street, forever orphan and ex-WTCH-TV reporter.

The Enchanted Cottage is a charming little place from the 1945 film of that name. Robert Young played a pilot disfigured in World War II and Dorothy McGuire portrayed a plain shy spinster. They find sanctuary and happily-ever-after love in a cottage just like mine.

But this is not the 1940s and films are no longer made in black and white-unless the director is trying to be retro or pretentious or both. And nobody knows who Robert Young and Dorothy McGuire were except film buffs like me and my new boss, Hector Nightwine, producer of the internationally franchised CSI V forensic TV shows.

For a number of reasons, my life in the Las Vegas of 2013 isn't worth a five-dollar chip from Cesar Cicereau's Gehenna Hotel and Casino. Fortunately, though, I'm worth a lot to Hector. So, here I am in a pseudo-quaint cottage on the grounds of Nightwine's Fort-Knox-secure Sunset Road estate, surrounded by Hobbity English charm mixed with high-tech convenience. I am tucked under an eiderdown comforter in a high four-poster bed with gargoyles carved onto the posts while a Jacuzzi tub in the adjoining bathroom softly gurgles me to sleep.

Surely none of my half-vampire bullyboy nightmares will come home to roost in this place. It's as safe as fairy tales and Nightwine's state-of-the-art security technology can make it.

Even so, I was not quite sleeping, just snuggling into the thousand-thread-count sheets, when I heard a scratching at my second-story casement windows.

Fruit trees and blossom-bearing vines grow around my Enchanted Cottage as thick as Sleeping Beauty's thorny forest. A stray vine was probably blowing against the window glass. I opened my eyes to stare up at the peaked white-plaster ceiling. A small shifting shadow danced there in rhythm with the exterior scratching.

Had a cat climbed the vines and was now trying to get in?

I was warmer than a toasted English muffin from my formerly cold feet to the top of my brunet head. This may be Las Vegas, but I'm cold-natured. My feet and hands never seem to get warm enough at night. Now, though, they finally were.

So I didn't want to get up.

From the stairs came the faint whiff of dinner's garlic chicken. I seldom saw the kitchen witch who came with the property, along with the yard troll and the garden pixies and who knew what else, but she could bake fragrant loaves of crusty bread in the wood stove as readily as she could nuke a frozen Weight Watchers entree in the microwave.

I wasn't crazy about the garlic odor from that night's homemade dish, but I was comforted to hear my awesomely large wolfhound-wolf-cross dog wheezing in sleep from one of the downstairs rooms. This was not one of Quicksilver's frequent solo nights out on the town that never shuts down. I figure adopting him doesn't give me a lock on his nocturnal need to patrol and rock and roll with his kind.

I wriggled deeper into the warm covers, but the insinuating snare-drum rhythm of that exterior scratching kept me from sliding into sleep. It could be a kitten caught up a tree, clinging there, helpless...

Forcing myself to sit up, I shivered at an inrush of air-conditioned air and put my bare feet to the icy wooden floor. My sleep-T hem snarled in the covers as I got out of bed, almost tripping me. I moved toward the pair of windows.

A Rorschach blot of black was indeed pressed to the window glass. It was as big as my spread hand, with four clinging limbs and a bigger head. It looked like a starfish shadow.

I stumbled nearer and squinted to make it out in the dark. Surely, a young kitten-but why wasn't it mewing up a storm as cats do when trapped up so high? Only when a squeal revealed rows of tiny fangs did I realize that my visitor was a bat.

Naturally, I squealed a bit too.

Mind you, I'm a former TV news reporter, an intrepid investigator of rural phenomena like cattle mutilations. One midsummer night's window-clinging bat shouldn't set me screeching.

I reminded myself that bats were enormously useful consumers of insects and other pests and returned