Once Burned

Page 24

"Well, her English is better than my Romanian, so she's got me beat," I replied, waving at everyone.

"Are you . . . new to residing here?" the strawberry blonde introduced as Sandra asked.

I assumed that was a nice way to inquire if I was going to be a live-in donor, and I stumbled over my reply.

"Ah, not really. I'm just helping out Vlad with, uh, a project, but I'm leaving once it's done."

"Vlad?" Ben looked surprised. His gaze swept over me again. "You're human, right?"

"Yep." The rest of them still seemed taken aback, so I had to ask. "Why? Is it unusual for Vlad to work with a human?"

Ben's brows rose. "We wouldn't know. None of us see him unless he's hungry. Then it's bend, get bitten, and beat it."

Now my brows went up, too. "Bend?" Did he mean-?

My expression must have given away my thought, because he hastened to add, "I mean bend as in this." Ben tilted his head to the side, exposing his neck. "Most of the others chat with us a little first. Vlad doesn't."

"Oh." I felt like I should apologize even though I wasn't the one with the wham-bam-bite-'em-ma'am record.

He shrugged. "Not a big deal. Can't beat the benefits." Then he smiled, looking me over again. "Hey, we're going to a club tonight. If you're not too busy, wanna join us?"

"There he goes again," the tall, rangy brunet named Damon muttered.

That was my cue to leave. "Thanks, but I can't."

"What, too good for us breathers now?" Ben teased.

Sandra elbowed him. "Rude," she hissed.

I gave the group a measured stare as I reconsidered leaving. They all looked normal, which meant I would usually hide the reason behind why I couldn't go to anything as contact-heavy as a club and then avoid them at all costs. But they weren't normal. They were the willing blood donors to a house of vampires, and either I told them about me, or I stayed away from them the whole time I was here.

I decided to take a chance. "It's not that." I held up my right hand. "My accident changed me. I can't touch anyone or I'll electrocute them, for starters."

I had their full attention now.

"What do you mean, for starters?" From the goateed guy with the black hair named Joe. "What else can you do?"

I drew in a breath. "I see things when I touch people. Bad things, mostly, but sometimes I catch glimpses of the future."

"No," Sandra breathed.

"Yes," I said a trifle grimly. Maybe I shouldn't have told them. This might be too weird even for vampire blood donors.

Ben started to grin. "That is so cool. How bad do you electrocute people? If you touch me, can you tell me my future?"

"Ooh, I want to know mine, too!" Angie said, blue eyes bright with anticipation.

The rest of them seemed equally excited. Okay, this I wasn't prepared for. I'd hoped they wouldn't be repelled by me. I didn't think I'd suddenly be popular.

"I don't always see the future," I hedged, starting to back away. "Most of the time, I just see people's sins."

"Really?" Ben looked fascinated. "If you're not going to zap me into next week, I don't have any sins, so touch away!"

I didn't want to, but it had been a long time since anyone looked at me like this: with acceptance and enthusiasm. A lonely part inside me reared up and roared, Don't screw this up, Leila! Do it!

I sighed. "Let me offload some energy first."

So saying, I went over to the bench press. It was made of metal and bolted into the concrete for safety, so it would do. When everyone was on the rubber and foam mat, I laid my right hand on the weight bench and released my strict inner hold.

An audible zzt! followed by a flash of white later, and I felt slightly dizzy. Now I didn't need to dump energy into the lightning rods before showering. Vlad had been quick to get those set up for me.

"Come here," I said to Ben, waving him over.

He approached, still smiling. He was a nice-looking boy in his early twenties, and I envied his blondish-brown curls. My hair couldn't be straighter if I ironed it every morning.

"Hold out your hand," I said. The farther my touch was from his heart, the better, even if I had drained myself.

He held out his hand and I gently laid my right one on it. A far softer bolt left me, causing him to yelp, but he didn't fall over or start peeing himself, thankfully. Then, as usual, a slew of colorless images crowded my mind. True to his word, they weren't violent, but I saw no full-color, hazy images afterward.

"Sorry, I didn't see anything about your future," I said.

His smile was expectant. "What'd you see from my past?"

The others looked interested, too. I glanced away. "You don't want me to say, trust me."

"Come on, how else will I know it worked?" Ben pressed.

"Yes, tell us," Joe added.

"Tell us" came in a chorus from the group. I shook my head, muttering, "It'll embarrass you," but I was swamped with more demands for proof.

I threw up my hands. "Fine, but I warned you. When you were twelve, you stole your little sister's favorite Minnie Mouse DVD and beat off to it every night until your dad caught you and made you buy her a new one out of your allowance money."

Stunned silence followed. Ben's face went red.

"I don't believe it," he muttered, but that was soon drowned out by laughter and good-natured ribbings. I let it go on for another few moments and then cleared my throat.

"I bet the rest of you have some embarrassing sins, too, so give him a break or I'll start copping feels."

The teasing subsided to lingering grins and the occasional giggle. Ben shot me a grateful look. Hey, compared to the sins I'd seen from other people, his was steeped in innocence.

"When I was a little girl, I wanted to be Miss Piggy so I could marry Kermit the Frog," I told Ben, winking. "Kermit. Talk about shameful."

"Ouch. You shoulda kept that to yourself," he said, giving my arm a friendly knock.

The brief contact meant only a tiny bit of electricity sizzled into him, but he winced. Then he grinned.

"My sister used to rub her socks on the floor and then chase me. Reminds me of that."

"She owed you for the stolen DVD," I quipped.

"Like you said, I bought her a new one," he replied, still grinning. "Hey, what's wrong with your ear?"


I reached up and felt something wet. Ew, I'm still sweating like a pig, I thought, but when I looked at my hand, it was red.

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