Once Burned Page 2

’’I need people to forget what I can do. You know why.’’

Marty stared at me almost sadly. ’’Yeah, kid. I do.’’

Then he patted my arm, not flinching at the current that shot into him with the contact. He was used to it, and besides, Marty wasn't human so it didn't affect him the same way.

’’Come inside and I'll make you a shake,’’ he said with a final fatherly pat.

I turned away so he wouldn't see my grimace. Marty was so proud of his blended concoctions that I drank at least one a week, but they tasted vile. If I hadn't noticed that they did seem to improve my health, I'd have secretly dumped most of them into potted plants instead of drinking them.

’’Um, in a little bit. I need to work the kinks out of that last set of flips.’’

His snort told me what a bad liar I was, but he didn't argue. I heard the trailer door shut moments later.

Once he was gone, I returned my attention to practicing my part of our routine. Marty's part involved escaping out of several exploding objects in time to catch me for certain jumps or trapeze swings, but since he wasn't human, he didn't need to practice as much as I did. Good thing, too, or it would cost us a fortune in props and incendiary devices, not to mention the damage it would do to the lawn. We rented the land this trailer sat on, so if we trashed it, we paid for it.

Being a member of a circus sideshow wasn't what I'd dreamed of doing when I was a kid, but that was before I started frying the circuits of every electrical device I touched, not to mention shocking people by casual contact. With my condition, I was lucky to have a job at all. The only other occupation I'd be good for was government guinea pig, as I reminded my father whenever he lamented over my career choice.

I made my jumps smooth and measured, building a rhythm that allowed me to push away other concerns. Concentration was critical to success, my old coach used to remind us, and he was right. Soon I barely noticed the collage of fence-yard-roof that repeated with every jump until they blurred together in one indistinguishable mass of colors. Then I executed my series of somersaults, flips, and twists, landing with my feet planted apart and knees slightly bent to lessen the impact. The trampoline trembled, but I remained rigid, not taking that points-killing step backward. Then I raised my arms before sweeping into a low bow, the final touch of the routine.

’’Bravo,’’ a voice said mockingly.

I straightened, everything in me tensing. When I'd begun my bow, I'd been alone, but in the scant seconds since then, four men stood at each corner of the trampoline.

They looked like normal tourists, with their T-shirts and jeans, but only Marty could move that fast, which meant these men weren't human. Even if I didn't know to be wary of alternate species, the cold smile I glimpsed on the auburn-haired member of the quartet told me they weren't here to ask for directions. I tried to rein in my now-galloping heartbeat. If I was lucky, these creatures would think it came from my recent exertions, though the scent of my fear probably gave me away.

’’This is private property,’’ I said.

’’You must be the Fantastic Frankie,’’ the tall, auburn-haired one said, ignoring that. His voice caressed my stage name in a way that sounded sinister.

’’Who wants to know?’’ I replied while wondering where the hell Marty was. He had to have heard these guys even if he didn't sense that a group of nonhumans were here.

I'd been on the trampoline when I asked the question, but was on the ground in the next instant, the auburn-haired stranger's grip bruising me. He grunted in pain as currents pulsed into him from his contact with my skin, but like Marty, those currents didn't debilitate him. His grip only tightened.

’’How the f**k did you do that?’’ he demanded, his gaze turning from blue to bright, unearthly green.

I didn't answer. My mind was awash in grayish images as soon as my right hand came into contact with his body. Just like I couldn't prevent those currents from flowing into him, I also couldn't stop seeing the worst of his sins through that single touch.

Blood. So much blood . . .

Through the panicked memory of another person's murder, I heard him curse me for screaming, and then a sharp pain preceded everything going black.

I faced my captors in what looked to be a hotel room, my hands folded in my lap as if I was placing a dinner order and they were waiters. If you ever meet another vampire, don't panic. You'll only smell like prey, Marty had warned me. I knew what my kidnappers were after seeing their eyes glow green. That was why I didn't bother lying when they asked me how I doubled as an electric eel and had the ability to siphon information through touch. If I lied, they'd only use the power in their gaze to make me tell the truth-or do whatever else they wanted-and I didn't want to give them any more control over me than they already had.

I also didn't try to run even though they hadn't tied me up. Most people didn't know vampires existed, let alone what they could do, but with my abilities, I'd known about vampires before I met Marty. My unwanted talents meant I knew all sorts of things I wished I didn't.

Like the fact that my captors had every intention of killing me;that topped the list of things I wished I didn't know at the moment. I'd seen my death after being forced to touch the auburn-haired vampire again, and it was an image that made me want to clutch my neck while backing away screaming.

I didn't. Guess I should be grateful that my unwanted abilities meant I'd experienced so many horrible deaths, I could look at my impending execution with a morbid sort of relief. Getting my throat ripped out would hurt-I'd relived that through other people enough times to know. Still, it wasn't the worst way to die. Besides, nothing was set in stone. I'd seen a glimpse of my possible future, but I'd managed to prevent Jackie's murder. Maybe I could find a way to prevent my own.

’’So let me get this straight,’’ Auburn Hair said, drawing the words out. ’’You touched a downed power line when you were thirteen, nearly died, and then later, your body began giving off electric voltage and your right hand divined psychic impressions from whatever you touched?’’

More had happened, but it wasn't information I wanted to reveal and he wouldn't care about those details anyway.

’’You experienced the voltage part yourself,’’ I said with a shrug. ’’As for the other, yeah, if I touch something, I get impressions off it.’’ Whether I want to or not, I silently added.

He smiled then, his gaze roving over the thin, jagged scar that was the visible remains of my brush with death. ’’What did you see when you touched me?’’

’’Past or future?’’ I asked, grimacing at either memory.

He exchanged an interested look with his buddies. ’’Both.’’

How I would love to lie, but I didn't need psychometric abilities to know if they doubted me, I'd be dead in moments.

’’You like eating children.’’ The words made bile rise in my throat that I swallowed before continuing. ’’And you're intending to drink me to death if I don't prove useful to you.’’

His smile widened, showing the tips of his fangs as he didn't deny either charge. If I hadn't seen similar menacing, fanged grins through the eyes of people I'd been psychically linked to, I would have been pants-pissing terrified, but a jaded part of me simply acknowledged him for what he was: evil. And I was no stranger to evil, much as I wished otherwise.

’’If she's the real deal like we heard, it could give us the edge we've been looking for,’’ his brunet companion muttered.

’’I think you're right,’’ Auburn Hair drawled.

I didn't want to die, but there were some things I wouldn't do even if it cost me my life. ’’Ask me to help you kidnap children, and you may as well start in on my neck now.’’

Auburn Hair laughed. ’’I can do that on my own,’’ he assured me, making my stomach lurch with revulsion. ’’What I want from you is more . . . complicated. If I bring you objects to touch, can you tell me about their owner? Such as what he's doing, where he is, and most importantly, where he will be?’’

I didn't want to do anything to help this disgusting, murderous group, but my choices were grim. If I refused, I'd get mesmerized into doing it anyway, or get tortured into doing it, or die choking on my own blood because I was of no use to them. Maybe this was my chance to change the fate they intended for me.

Why do you want to? a dark inner voice whispered. Aren't you sick of drowning in other people's sins? Isn't death your only way out?

I glanced at my wrist, the faint scars that had nothing to do with my electrocution marking my skin. Once, I'd listened to that despairing inner voice, and I'd be lying if I didn't admit part of me was still tempted by it. Then I thought of Marty, how I hadn't told my dad I loved him the last time we spoke, how I hadn't talked to my sister in months, and finally, how I didn't want to give these bastards the satisfaction of killing me.

My head came up and I met the leader's gaze. ’’My abilities are tied to my emotions. Abuse me mentally or physically, and you'll have better luck calling a psychic hotline to find out what you want to know. That means no murdering anyone while I'm getting information for you, and no touching me at all.’’

That last part I said because of the lustful look the scraggly brunet had been giving me. My skintight body suit and boxer shorts didn't leave much to the imagination, but it was what I trained in. I hadn't expected to be kidnapped today or I'd have worn something more conservative.

’’Don't think you can mesmerize me into forgetting whatever you do, either,’’ I added, waving my right hand. ’’Psychic impressions, remember? I'll touch you or an object nearby and find out, and then your human crystal ball will be broken.’’

All the above was bullshit. They could do anything they wanted and I'd still pull impressions from whatever my right hand touched, but I'd used my most convincing tone while praying that, for once, I'd prove to be a good liar.

Auburn Hair flashed his fangs at me in another scary smile. ’’We can manage that, if you deliver what you say you can.’’

I smiled back with nothing close to humor. ’’Oh, I can deliver, all right.’’

Then I glanced at the light socket behind him. And that's not all I can do.

Chapter 3

Auburn Hair's name was Jackal, according to what his friends called him. Their names sounded equally made up, so I mentally referred to them as Pervert, Psycho, and Twitchy since the last couldn't seem to stay still. Twitchy and Pervert had gone out over an hour ago to get some things for me to touch. I'd spent that time sitting on the edge of the hotel's lumpy mattress, listening to Jackal talk on his cell phone in a language I didn't recognize. I was getting chilly in my leotard, but I didn't pull the covers over me. All my instincts were urging me to stay still and not attract any attention to myself, as if that mattered. The predators in this room were very aware of me even if they didn't glance in my direction.

When Pervert and Twitchy came back, I looked at the duffel bag they carried with a mixture of dread and optimism. What was inside might lead to more grisly images blasting across my mind, but it would also ensure my survival.

’’Put the objects in a row on the bed,’’ I directed Twitchy, ignoring the startled look he gave me. If I acted like a pitiful damsel in distress, then that's how they'd treat me. But if I acted like a vital tool in their search for whomever they wanted these objects to lead them to, I upped my chances for survival.

At least, I hoped I did.

’’Do it,’’ Jackal said, folding his arms across his chest. His stare felt like weights dropping onto me, but I took in several deep breaths and tried to ignore him. Seeing what Twitchy took out of the duffel bag helped with that.

A charred piece of fabric, a partially melted watch, a ring, something that looked like a belt, and a knife that shone with a distinct silvery gleam.

That last item made my heart skip a beat, something I hoped the others chalked up to nervousness instead of what it was. Excitement. The movies had it all wrong when it came to vampires. Wooden stakes wouldn't harm them, nor would sunlight, crosses, or holy water. But silver through the heart meant the party was over, and now I had a silver knife within grabbing distance.

Not yet, I warned myself. I'd wait until they were so convinced I was helpless that they wouldn't think twice about leaving a silver knife within easy reach. Or until at least two of them left again, whichever came first.

’’All right, Frankie,’’ Jackal said, snapping my gaze back to him. He nodded at the objects. ’’Do your thing.’’

I mentally braced myself and then picked up the charred piece of fabric first.

Smoke was everywhere. Twin beams of light cut through it, landing on where I was half concealed by the forklift. Terror flooded me as I realized I'd been spotted. My attempt to run was stopped short, and rough hands hauled me back.

At first the smoke was so thick I couldn't see past the bright gaze lasered on me. Then I saw dark hair framing a lean face that had the shadow of stubble around the jaw and mouth. That mouth stretched into a smile that wasn't cruel, as I'd expected, but looked surprisingly good-humored.

’’Raziel,’’ the dark-haired stranger said in a chiding tone. ’’You shouldn't have.’’

I'd heard parents scold their children more harshly, but that didn't stop the torrent of fear that flooded over me.

’’Please,’’ I gasped.

’’Please?’’ The stranger laughed, revealing white teeth with two distinct upper fangs. ’’How unoriginal.’’

Then he let me go, turning around and waving farewell in a friendly manner. Relief overwhelmed me to the point that my knees trembled, but I didn't let that stop me. I lunged toward the warehouse door.

That's when the fire swarmed me, forming out of nowhere. It climbed up my legs in coiling, merciless bands, making me scream from the sudden blast of agony. I tried to run faster, but that only made the fire climb higher. I flung myself onto the floor next, rolling, every nerve ending howling with anguish, but the fire still didn't extinguish. It kept growing, covering me with ruthless, hungry waves, until a roaring blackness rushed up and consumed me. The last thing I saw as I floated above my lifeless body was the dark-haired vampire still walking away, his hands now lit up by flames that somehow didn't scorch his skin.

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