Twice Tempted Page 11

’’There,’’ I said, pointing at the RV.

Maximus parked as close as he could get. At this predawn hour, everything was quiet in the employee section of the carnival. I got out, so tired I almost stumbled past the vehicles, tents, and cages along the way, yet I was also relieved. I was back to my old life where Marty and I traveled state to state performing our act. In a few months, if I was lucky, my time with Vlad might even feel like a strange, faraway dream and it wouldn't hurt so much. Propelled by that thought, I banged on the trailer door.

’’Marty, open up! It's me.’’

The door opened so fast it bashed into me. I caught a glimpse of bushy black hair before Marty's quick grip saved me from toppling. Then I was enveloped in a fierce hug around the waist. I bent until I was even with Marty's four-foot height and hugged him back so hard that a current made him yelp.

’’Sorry,’’ I gasped.

He chuckled. ’’My fault. Forgot to brace for one of those.’’

Then Marty pulled back to get his first real look at me. He inhaled, and his mouth thinned into a single slit while green enveloped his chestnut-colored eyes.

’’You smell awful, kid. What happened?’’

I knew he wasn't talking about it being a day since I showered. Vampires could scent emotions and I was probably serving up a stink platter of brokenheartedness.

’’What you warned me about,’’ I responded with an unconvincing attempt at nonchalance. ’’Guess I'm one of those people who learn the hard way.’’

Marty sighed before giving me another hug, and then he patted my back when he let me go.

’’No one's died of a broken heart yet, so you'll survive. Now come inside, you look like you're going to collapse.’’

I felt like it, too. Then Marty scowled, looking past me.

’’What's he doing here?’’

’’How do you think she got here?’’ Maximus replied coolly. ’’Now help me with this luggage.’’

I was about to reiterate that I didn't want it when someone else appeared in the trailer behind Marty.

’’Who's here?’’ a groggy feminine voice asked.

If the moonlight hadn't broken through the clouds at that moment, the darkness would've made me miss the sheepish look that skipped over Marty's face. In the next moment, I figured out why. A slender girl with long black hair blinked sleepily at us, and she couldn't have been more than twenty.

’’Marty, you're a hundred and thirty-eight!’’ I exclaimed before realizing the hypocrisy behind that statement.

’’It's not like that, we work together,’’ the girl offered, smiling hesitatingly at me. ’’I'm the new Fantastic Frankie.’’

Chapter 6

Maximus offered to drive me five states away to Gretchen's. Marty refused and said we'd figure this out. I didn't know how, but I wasn't about to involve Maximus any further. I gave him a hug and told him I'd be fine. That was getting a lot easier to say. Maybe soon, I'd even believe it.

Marty waited until Dawn - the new Fantastic Frankie's real name - went back to bed in my old room before offering his idea.

’’I'll tell her she can finish this event, then she has to find another gig. Bill the Beetle Man could use an assistant - ’’

’’You can't do that,’’ I said, exhaustion making my voice sharp. ’’Being a carnie isn't most people's first or second career choices. Dawn's broke and desperate, isn't she?’’

He nodded glumly. ’’Yeah, plus she's got a warrant on her. Petty theft, multiple counts. People seem to forget that eating isn't free. She could pull a small stretch if they catch her.’’

How like Marty to come to this girl's rescue by giving her a job, a place to live, and safety by green-eyeing any suspicious cops that came sniffing around. He'd done the same for me when I was Dawn's age and only a little more desperate. I couldn't take a young girl's best chance away from her, no matter my own crappy circumstances.

I smiled and hoped it didn't look like a grimace.

’’See, you can't fire her. Don't worry about me. I, ah, have some jewelry I can sell that'll keep me flush for a year or so.’’ Good thing Vlad had insisted that I leave with everything he'd given me. ’’In the meantime, I'll create my own solo act.’’

He reached across the fold-down table and grasped my hand. ’’You'll stay here until you've booked some slots for that act.’’

’’No, really - ’’

’’Don't argue,’’ he cut me off, squeezing my hand. ’’You're not my daughter by blood but I love you as much as Vera, God rest her soul, so shut up and let's get you a place to sleep.’’

I laughed at that, blinking past tears that were caused by happiness for a change. ’’I love you, too, Marty, and I've always thought the couch was really comfortable.’’

She's pretty good, I thought a week later as I watched Dawn perform with Marty. Granted, he had added some of the more complicated flips and tumbles to his part of the routine, but Dawn had a good sense of showmanship that made up for her acrobatic weaknesses. By the time she landed on his shoulders at the end, I could almost pretend I'd been watching myself. We looked alike with our slender builds and long black hair. Aside from wanting to shield her from the law, no wonder Marty hadn't bothered to change Dawn's stage name from the one I'd used. I doubted any of the spectators who'd seen our act before realized that I'd been replaced with a younger, less-electrified model.

I'd gone to their show to prove that I was okay with how things had turned out. Dawn was a sweet girl who needed this break and I did have other options. Limited ones, true, but options nonetheless. Starting tonight, I was reclaiming my life. Cheering Marty and Dawn on was step one.

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