It’s the final month of deadline so I don’t have a lot going on except work, and who wants to hear me ramble about that? In lieu of shop talk, here’s another snippet from Once Burned. If you missed the other snippets, by the way, they’re here and here. In the scene below, the heroine Leila has been instructed by kidnappers to use her ability to glean information through touch to find a vampire whose name she doesn’t know, but whose pyrokinetic abilities she’s glimpsed in previous psychic interactions.
“The firestarter?” I repeated. “He’s the one you want me to find through these objects?”
Are you out of your minds? I almost added, but didn’t because even if they were, I wasn’t.
“You can do it, right?” Jackal asked, all mirth wiping from his expression.
Sure I could, but I didn’t want to. I doubted the firestarter was a friend; Jackal calling him a bastard in that contemptuous tone plus wanting me to find where he was smacked of nefarious intentions. Anyone smart would avoid being on the same continent as that creature if they were at odds, yet Jackal and the others must be trying to ambush him. The memory of the firestarter’s charming smile right before he burned Raziel to a heap of smoldering ruins was something I wanted to forget. But if I refused to look for him, I wouldn’t live long enough to worry about forgetting anything.
Any way you cut it, I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. Or, more accurately, between a fang and a sharp place.
I reached for the silver knife. With that single touch, the grayish images from Neddy’s death invaded my consciousness as though everything were happening to me. No surprise that the firestarter was the one who killed Neddy, using the knife after some preliminary toasting. Also no shock was that he did it with the same sort of detached geniality he’d shown while executing Raziel. I pushed past the searing pain I felt, past the feeling of floating into whatever awaited people after death, and focused on the firestarter, trying to see him now instead of only then.
This part was harder. In highly emotional situations, everyone leaves a piece of their essence onto objects, but the firestarter hadn’t been worked up over killing Neddy, so only a smidgeon of his remained on the knife. Still, detached or not, nothing tied two people closer together than death. Something about the door to the other world cracking open made essences merge and imprint more strongly, so once I pushed past the seething remains of Neddy’s rage and fear, I felt the firestarter’s distinct essence. It was only as big as a thread, but I wrapped all my concentration around it and pulled.
Black and white images were replaced with full color clarity. Instead of the grimy riverfront setting where Neddy had met his end, I saw opulent drapes surrounding me. At first I thought I was in a small room, but then I realized the midnight green drapes hung around a large bed, cocooning it. The firestarter lay in the center, fully clothed, his eyes closed as though he were asleep.
Gotcha, I thought, torn between relief and dismay at finding him in what I knew was the present.
I’d only seen him before through the grayish tones of past memories, but spying on him in the present was different. No one else was in my head but me. Free from other people’s perspectives, I took my time studying the firestarter.
At first, he looked like a normal, well-built man in his thirties, but then hints of his uniqueness showed. His espresso-colored hair was past his shoulders – longer than most men dared, but on him it somehow looked supremely masculine. Black pants and an indigo shirt draped over muscles that appeared far harder than a gym membership usually accounted for, and though no flames clung to his hands, they were crisscrossed with scars that looked like former battle wounds. His high cheekbones were accented by stubble somewhere between five o’clock shadow and a beard, yet instead of coming across as unkempt, it was rugged and enticing. I hadn’t seen a man pull off that look so well since Aragorn in Lord of the Rings, and his eyes…
Opened, a rich copper shade encircled by rings of evergreen. I would have thought they were beautiful, but at the moment, they looked as though they were staring right into mine.
It unnerved me, but I reminded myself it was only coincidence. No one ever knew it when I used my abilities to establish a link. I could be the world’s biggest voyeur if I wanted, but my most fervent wish was to know less about people, not more –
“Who are you?”
I jumped. If I hadn’t seen his finely shaped lips move, I would’ve thought I’d imagined the words. Coincidence, I reminded myself again. Any second someone would come into my line of vision and I’d see who he was really talking to –
“I’ll ask a second time,” his deep, slightly accented voice said. “Who are you, and how the hell are you inside my head?”