Once Burned Page 2

I was in a thick, swampish area, staring in horror as my husband's hands clamped around my throat. Pain exploded in my neck, blurring his image as I futilely scratched and clawed at his gloved hands. He increased the pressure while telling me he'd found out about my affair and exactly how he'd dispose of my body. The pain intensified until it seared its way down my entire body. Then, mercifully, it stopped, and I felt like I was floating away. My murderer stayed where he was, his hands still clamped around my throat, unaware that I was now looking down at him from outside my body. Finally, he let go. Then he walked over to where he'd parked the car, opened the trunk, and took out several items as though musing over which one to start with first . . .


I blinked, back in my own consciousness, the hazy images fading into the familiar, crystal-clear surroundings of the bar. Dean stood between me and the woman who'd unwittingly triggered my abilities by touching my right hand. He didn't make that same mistake, but Dean was close enough that I had to look over his shoulder to see her. She clutched her hand as though it hurt, her brown eyes wide as she babbled something to the man I now knew was her husband. The same man who'd murder her tonight, if I didn't stop him.

"I didn't do anything!" she kept saying. "She just started screaming . . ."

Her husband grabbed her arm. "Screw this creep show, Jackie, we'll get directions somewhere else."

"Stop them," I gasped to Dean, still feeling the phantom effect of fingers on my throat. "He's going to kill her."

If anyone in the bar had been minding their business before, that statement directed their attention to me better than a gunshot. Jackie gaped at me, but her husband's eyes narrowed. He began to push his way past the small crowd that gathered around us, dragging her along.

Dean stood in their path, blocking the way to the exit. "You're not leaving yet," he said calmly.

The husband paused, looking Dean up and down. If Dean's expression wasn't intimidating enough, the scaly green tattoos covering his skin rippled when he crossed his arms, showing bulky muscles.

"Come on," the husband muttered. "I don't want trouble-"

"Look in his trunk," I interrupted, my voice stronger. "You'll find work gloves, duct tape, and leaf and lawn bags."

The surrounding patrons had begun to stare at the husband. He laughed uneasily. "I don't have to listen to this shit-"

"Plus he has an axe, a shovel, flashlights, bleach, rope, pliers, and a book on forensics," I cut him off again. "You found out she was leaving you and you couldn't handle it. So you were going to strangle her, pull out all her teeth, and cut off the ends of her fingers so even if her body was found, no one would be able to identify her."

He looked stunned. Jackie began to shake while tears spurted from her eyes. "Phil, is-is that true?"

"No!" he thundered. "The crazy bitch is lying!"

And then he made a huge mistake and whirled around, grabbing my shoulders. Dean went to haul him back, but I was faster. The memory of experiencing everything he intended for Jackie made me merciless, and I laid my right hand on his arm, releasing the hold I had over those unwanted currents in me.

Another series of images exploded in my mind, colorless from age, but that wasn't why I touched him. My vision dimmed as I felt the current surge from me into Phil in less than the time it took Dean to yank him away. Phil fell onto the floor, and after several blinks I saw with satisfaction that he was still convulsing. A few tourists screamed. Jackie sobbed. I felt bad about that, but a few tears now were a far better fate than what Phil had planned for her.

"What happened?" one of the unfamiliar onlookers demanded.

"He grabbed her, so she Tasered him," Dean said gruffly.

I didn't have a Taser, but J.D. moved in front of me, blocking that from view with his huge eight-foot frame.

Jackie recovered herself and, with shaking hands, pulled a set of car keys from Phil's pocket. He didn't seem to notice, being too busy twitching and pissing himself. No one stopped her as she went out to the parking lot, but Dean followed her after tossing me a grim look.

Jackie's scream moments later made several people walk out, some throwing money on their tables, some not. Jackie must have seen that I was spot-on about what was in the trunk.

Raquel came up to me and wearily rubbed her beard. "You're in for it now, Frankie."

I thought she meant I had to cover the lost revenue from the tourists who were beating a hasty retreat. It was my fault that they stiffed their tabs, so I couldn't blame Raquel, but covering those expenses was worth saving a woman's life.

It was only later, after Jackie sobbingly explained to the police what happened, that I realized the full extent of what Raquel meant. By then, it was too late.

Chapter 2

Marty stared in silence as I jumped on the trampoline with more force than was needed. With his four-foot, one-inch height, he was barely as tall as the edge of the trampoline, but his sideburns, wrinkles, and stoutly muscled frame showed he was no child. I looked away from him and focused my attention inward, barely noticing the landscape rising and falling with every jump. When I was high enough, I clasped my knees to my chest in a classic tuck, then quickly twisted into a pike before my feet hit the flexible surface and bounced me upward again.

Not tight enough in the tuck! I could almost hear my old trainer shout. That's a full point deduction, Leila! You'll never make the team with scores that low.

I pushed those memories aside and concentrated on my next move-a barani ball-out. This maneuver was even sloppier than the last, my foot doing an embarrassing slip backward upon landing. Another deduction, I thought automatically, but powered through the last set of somersaults and turntables. No self-respecting judge would give me high marks for those, but they looked impressive so the carnival spectators loved them.

This time, instead of landing on the trampoline, I changed direction at the last second and both my feet slammed down on Marty's shoulders. The velocity plus my weight should've brought him to his knees and broken several bones, but Marty stood ramrod-straight. He grabbed my ankles, steadying me with a grip that was firm enough to allow me to stretch to my full height of five-six, arms triumphantly extended over my head.

"And the crowd goes wild," Marty said ironically as I bowed.

I jumped down once he let go of my ankles. "Not as many crowds these days. People have too many other things to do than go to traveling carnivals."

He grunted. "If Stan had his way, you'd use your newfound celebrity status to help with that."

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