Once Burned

Page 7

"I don't," I said aloud, then cursed myself. If Jackal heard me and came to investigate, I might not be able to resist a second dose of his gaze before I spilled the truth.

Look, you've got me all wrong, I thought rapidly, hoping his antennae into my head hadn't lost its signal. I have no idea who you are, but four vampires kidnapped me and they're forcing me to locate you for them.

"Oh?" Amusement replaced the former harshness in his expression. "If that's true, I'll make it easy on you. I'm at my home. Tell the others to drop by anytime."

Flames coated his hands with the words, a warning I didn't need because I was terrified of him already. That fear combined with the death Jackal had planned for me made my reply snappy.

That's great, but I'm not only supposed to find out where you are now. I'm supposed to find out where you'll be in the future, and I'm guessing you won't be as flip about that.

His brows drew together at once, making those coppery green eyes all the more riveting-and frightening.

"You can see the future?" All traces of humor left his expression.

I heaved a mental sigh. How to explain an ability I didn't fully understand?

If I touch someone-or an object with a strong emotional essence on it-I catch glimpses of things. If the glimpses are in black and white, they're from the past. If they're in color but hazy, they're from the future. And if I concentrate, I can trace someone's essence from an object to find that person in the present, which looks clear and normal to me. That's how I found you. Jackal gave me pieces of things from people you killed.

He continued to stare at me until I squirmed. Aside from it being unbelievable that he could hear me, he seemed able to see me, too! How? I wasn't there, after all.

"I don't see you like you're thinking," he answered, a tight smile playing about his lips. "You're a voice in my head, but when I concentrate, it's though you're here yet you're invisible."That sounded creepy. I didn't have time to ponder it, because he went on.

"Someone named Jackal is after me? I don't recognize the name, but it's likely an alias. He kidnapped you, you say?"

He and three of his buddies snatched me right off my trampoline this morning, I answered, grimacing at the memory.

"Do you know where they're holding you?"

I knew exactly where I was. Even if I couldn't tell by touching items in the room, the phone had the hotel's full address printed on it. Still, I wasn't about to tell Mr. Inferno where that was until we agreed on some terms.

He grunted in amusement. "Terms? You want a reward for turning them in to me?"

I want to live, I thought at him grimly. I saw what you did to Neddy and Raziel, so I want your word that if I tell you where Jackal and the others are, you'll kill them, not me.

"Depends," he said, voice crisp as though this were a business transaction. "If you truly were forced into this as you claim, then I vow you'll come to no harm. But if you're lying in an attempt to lead me into a trap . . ."

He flashed one of those charming smiles that had been the last thing Neddy and Raziel had seen. I shuddered.

I'm not lying, I sent to him. The only people I'm trying to trap are Jackal, Pervert, Psycho, and Twitchy.

"Then you have nothing to fear from me," he said, not commenting on the other names. He clasped those deadly hands in front of him. "And it's time we were properly introduced. I'm Vlad, and you are?"

I hesitated, but replied with my real name because I didn't want to risk even a white lie with this creature.

Leila. My name is Leila.

"Leila." He said my name as though he could taste the syllables. That charming smile widened. "Now, tell me where you are."

Chapter 5

Jackal tossed the partially melted belt at me. "Try again. Knowing he's at his house is worthless. We need to know where he'll be when he's away from that fortress, not safe inside it."

I glanced at the clock on the dresser. Almost two a.m., more than eight hours since I'd spoken to Vlad-who was taking his vampire status way too seriously with that name. What was keeping him? Had he decided these men weren't worth the effort to kill? I'd love to touch the melted belt and find out, but I didn't know if I could get all of them to vamoose again. Jackal had promised me an hour alone before, but he'd barged into the room only thirty minutes later.

"I'm exhausted," I said, rubbing my forehead for effect. "Reliving all these deaths, repeatedly trying to connect to someone in the present . . . it takes a toll." And I also had a nasty headache, but I didn't think they'd care about that.

"You want me to wake you up with these?" Psycho snarled, baring his fangs at me.

Jackal laid a hand on him. "That's not necessary," he said in a soothing tone. "Poor Frankie's tired. We should let her get some sleep. I know-let's go grab dinner. I saw a tasty-looking family in Room 302. Plenty for all of us."

My stomach heaved, because the cold glint in his eyes said he wasn't bluffing. Pervert, Twitchy, and Psycho smirked, silently daring me to make their night. I got off the bed.

"Let me pee and splash some water on my face, then I'll try to find him again," I said, silently cursing them. I walked the short distance to the bathroom and shut the door. At least none of them tried to insist on coming in with me.

That stalling tactic only bought me a few minutes. Soon I was back on the bed, shivering under the air-conditioning and reaching for the silver knife.

"Why not the belt?" Jackal asked at once, stopping me.

I glared at him, too mad over his dinner threat and worried that Vlad had changed his mind to feign politeness. "It's easier to develop a connection through something I've already used."

He grunted. "Fine. Get to it, and we're not leaving unless you want us to find that family."

More rage flared, but I pursed my lips and said nothing, picking up the cold blade. Neddy's death washed over me again, and I pushed through those memories until I found the link to the fire starter. To my surprise, it barely took any time. A vast expanse of indigo replaced the hotel room around me. Vlad was in the middle of that dark expanse, stretched out full-length, his eyes glowing emerald as he looked at something I couldn't see.

For a moment, I was confused. He almost seemed as though he was swimming in his inky surroundings, except he had on a long gray coat that wasn't wet. What . . . ?

"I'm not swimming, Leila. I'm flying."

Vlad's voice flowed over my mind, sounding amused. I realized that the endless expanse around him wasn't water, but the night sky. He had to be high up, too. I didn't see any lights below.

Tip: You can use left and right keyboard keys to browse between pages.