Once Bitten – Linsey Hall

“I need to get out of this rut.” I took a swig from my tiny box of wine—adult juice box, if you asked me—and looked down at my companion from my seat on the fire escape outside my flat. She didn’t look up from her work, busily digging through the rubbish bins squeezed into the alley. I had no idea how a raccoon had made it all the way to London. Technically, they weren’t supposed to live in England, but this old girl had made a tidy home in the alley behind my block of flats. Cordelia, I called her. Now, when I drank wine alone on my fire escape, it was like I was having a girls’ night out. As long as no one looked too hard at the fact that my gal pal walked on all fours and dressed like a furry bandit. Not to mention the fact that she had a real thing for rubbish. “Cheers.” I raised my glass to her, grinning from my perch on the second story of the building. Who needed human friends when they had a box of wine and a feral raccoon, anyway? I’d had a real friend once—Beatrix. She was gone though. Murdered last year, and the pain still tore at me. I’d tried to find the killer, but the leads had run cold months ago.

Which left me here, alone with Cordelia. The night sounds of London echoed in the distance, sirens and shouts since I didn’t exactly live in the nicest part of town. I stared down at Cordelia, watching to see what she might pull out of the bin. It was like telly. Almost. I was too broke to own a telly, so it was good enough. As if on cue, Cordelia chucked something up at me. She rarely acknowledged my presence. Shocked, I reached out to catch whatever it was that she’d thrown. My hand closed around an old rag, and a vision slammed into me.

Not again. I gasped, closing my eyes, as the image flashed in my mind. I had no idea why the visions came, but this one was a doozy. A man getting his head bashed in. Murder. Well, hell, that would get me out of my rut. The body was still warm when I found it. He’d been a man once, but now he lay sprawled on the rain-damp cobblestones. His bashed face resembled ground meat. Pity made my heart clench; nausea made my stomach lurch.

I saw death more than your average girl, but I still didn’t like it. Who would? Quickly, I scanned my surroundings, adrenaline making me feel like I might burst. Humans were still animals, and right now, there was a hunter out there. I didn’t want to be its next prey. Heart pounding in my ears, I searched the shadows of the darkened alley. There were no nooks or crannies to hide in, and the roofs were high above me. Even if someone were standing up there, they were too far away to do any harm. Sure, they might shoot me. But from the look of this poor bastard’s face, they preferred another type of weapon. I turned my attention back to the body.

Everything was slick from the recent rain, even him. A tattoo wrapped around his neck, garish and big. A dragon. Blood ran in rivulets down the cobblestones, mingling with the rainwater. I edged away from it, not wanting to disturb anything. I wasn’t a detective—not technically since I’d failed out of the College of Policing—but I did help the local department, and I was still keenly aware of my training. Except I wasn’t going to follow it, because that was how I did my best work. I couldn’t explain my skills, just like I couldn’t explain why I’d seen a vision of this man’s death and known that I needed to be here. I always hoped to beat the killer to his terrible job—to get there before he did. I never did.

Death won, every time. Every freaking time, I’d failed. Even the most important time. Bitterness twisted my heart. Just once, I wanted to save someone. To help. I’d tried to save Beatrix, but I’d been too late. I’d found her dead in an alley, just like this. She’d been killed the same way. Tears pricked my eyes at the memory of my failure.

Sometimes I saw the future, but when it came to death, I only saw the present. Or the past. I should go. Run. If I were caught standing over the body, it would be the end of me. The cops had found me at the scene of Beatrix’s death, too. They would think I was the killer. You could only get caught at the scene of a crime so many times before logic pointed to you, and I was getting up there. Especially when you knew things about the death that they didn’t. But I couldn’t go.

My feet refused to move. This poor man had had his face bashed in. I’d been too late to save him, but I could find justice for him. Maybe even stop the killer from getting someone else. It was that thought that always drove me, no matter the consequences. I ran my gaze over the man, spotting a tiny burn mark at the base of his throat. It was shaped like a spiral. I blinked at it, a roaring sound beginning in my ears. That same burn mark had been found on Beatrix’s body. Holy crap—her killer was back.

Heart racing, I pressed my fingertips to the pale skin of the man’s hand. My gift—or curse, depending on my mood—worked when I touched something. I wasn’t crazy enough to think it was magic, but I had no idea what it was. I’d never met anyone else like me. Please work. I needed to see something useful here. As soon as I touched the man’s rapidly cooling skin, a vision flashed in my mind’s eye. I couldn’t choose what I saw through physical contact with something—or someone—but in cases like this, I always prayed for a look at the killer. My breathing heaved as I tried to process the images flickering in my mind. A tall man with broad shoulders, standing impossibly still in front of the victim.

He was cast in shadow, only his icy gray eyes gleaming in the night. A million things seemed to flash in his eyes, and my head began to buzz. I felt like I was staring into the future and the past, unable to decipher any of it but knowing that there was something important there. I dragged my attention away from his eyes. I was being a freaking weirdo. The rest of him gave me the impression of stone—like this man had been hewn from granite. Tall and broad shouldered, everything about him screamed strength. He was as powerful and immovable as a mountain, and a shiver of fear raced over me. But there was something about him that drew me toward him. Something so visceral that it tugged at me.

A connection. Heat. My heart sped up, and my skin warmed. He was a killer. Why did I feel this…this pull toward him? Like knowledge. Like connection. Like two stars spinning through space about to collide with each other. No. There was every chance he was the killer. I couldn’t see a weapon in his hand—no bat or crowbar or anything for bashing—but he’d been here at the time of the man’s death.

Otherwise, I wouldn’t see him now. He shifted slightly so that light slashed across his face, revealing a sharp cheekbone and strong jaw. His lips were full—the only soft thing about him that I could see. A flash of white teeth gleamed in the darkness, two of them longer than the others. Pointed. Fangs. I stumbled back, my hand breaking contact with the body. Fangs? That was impossible. I was losing it. People didn’t have fangs.

“Come to me.” His voice rumbled with low power, and my mind spun. “What?” I croaked. My visions never spoke to me. “Come to me.” His voice seemed to roll through me, lighting up nerve endings that I hadn’t known existed. Was the murderer really telling me to come to him? How? How was this even possible? How was any of my talent possible? “Did you do this?” My voice trembled. He didn’t respond, and his shadowy form disappeared. I hated to admit what a coward I was, but relief flowed through me. The guy scared the crap out of me.

My attraction to him scared the crap out of me. He could be Beatrix’s killer. It was unacceptable I shook my hand as if to drive off the memory of the man. But I couldn’t. I needed to see. At my feet, there was a dead man with a bashed-in face, and I could help find that killer. Nerves prickled as I touched the body again, reluctantly hoping to see the moment of death. Nothing. The vision was gone. The man was gone.

“Damn it,” I muttered. My gift or whatever it was didn’t come on command, and I’d just lost the thread of the vision. It hadn’t been enough to find the killer, though I’d know that man anywhere if I saw him again. I needed more, and I needed it quick. I’d already called in an anonymous tip to the police, hoping they’d arrive in time to prevent the murder. They hadn’t, but as soon as they did arrive, they wouldn’t want me rooting through the body for answers. Most didn’t believe in my gifts. Hell, I hardly believed in them myself. Focused, I turned my attention back toward the body. Now that I needed to touch more of him, it was imperative to be careful.

I pulled a pair of disposable gloves from my pocket and slipped them on, then began to search the body for clues. I moved quickly, desperate to be done. My hand had just closed over a matchbook when I heard the shout from behind me: “Freeze!” Shit. Cold fear shivered down my spine. I’d lingered too long. Please be Corrigan. He was my only friend with the police, though “friend” was still a stretch. “Raise your hands!” a man shouted. My gaze flicked to the matchbook in my hand. The leads on Beatrix’s murder had run cold months ago.

This was now the only clue I had, and I couldn’t read it unless I took my gloves off. I should leave it for the police, but I needed something else to help me find Beatrix’s killer. Quickly, I shoved the matchbook into the inner pocket of my worn leather jacket and raised my hands, knowing how damning the gloves looked. I ran this risk every time I came to a murder scene, but I couldn’t stop myself from trying. “It’s just me, guys. Carrow Burton.” One of the policemen cursed, and I knew it had to be Corrigan. He’d told me he didn’t want to find me at one of these scenes again, even though I helped him close half his cases. Slowly, I stood and turned. Two police officers stood at the end of the alley, their forms silhouetted in the dark night by the streetlights behind them.

The taller, broader one was familiar in a good way. Corrigan. The shorter, skinnier one was just as familiar, and my heart sank. Banks. He thought I was full of shit. Worse, he thought I was probably a killer. He’d made it his life’s work to get me for crimes I hadn’t committed. At the memories, ice chilled my veins. A quick scan of the alley and building corners revealed none of the cameras that were so ubiquitous in London. It was one of the most heavily surveilled cities in the world, and this poor bastard had got himself killed in one without government eyes watching.

Just my luck. It’d been purposeful on the killer’s part, I had to imagine. But now there was nothing easy and quick to clear my name. My arms felt awkward above my head, but I didn’t lower them. “It’s not what it looks like, guys. I’m here to help, just like all the other times.” “You’ve never been standing right over a body wearing killer’s gloves before,” Banks said. “They’re standard issue, just like yours.” “Except no one issued them to you, did they?” Banks was close enough that I could see the triumph in his ratty little eyes. His pale skin was sallow and his expression pinched, but he was more excited than I’d seen him in years.

No one should be that excited while standing next to a person who’d just been viciously murdered. But Banks was right. I’d failed out of training. I was just a wannabe. My gaze flicked to Corrigan. His warm, dark skin looked ashen, and his eyes flickered with worry. “Carrow.” The disappointment in his words sent cold fear through me. Shit, shit, shit. “This looks bad, Carrow.

” His deep baritone, which normally comforted me, was heavy with concern. “Looks bad?” Banks’s voice was high with annoyance and excitement. “Bad? It looks like we caught our killer. Finally.” The satisfaction in his voice made me want to kick him. My heart pounded. “You know I didn’t do this, Corrigan. You know it.” His keen eyes assessed the scene. “Then how are you here so soon before us? The body isn’t even cold yet, is it?” How did I explain to him that I was here because I’d touched the wrong thing? A random rag thrown at me by a raccoon, in this case.

It’d probably been owned by the victim at one point, though I’d seen no clues on it. One touch with my bare skin, and I’d seen it, along with a location. I didn’t always get a location—a gut-deep knowledge of where on the planet something was happening—but this time, I had. And I couldn’t ignore it. Even though I knew I was already so many strikes down that one more “coincidence” would get me in real trouble, I hadn’t been able to ignore the possibility that I could help this poor man. That I could help Beatrix—at least by finding justice for her. That symbol burned into both bodies meant that a serial killer was back, and I could find them. I gave Corrigan my most serious expression. “I’ve helped you catch so many killers, you know I could never do this.” Corrigan’s lips twisted with regret.

He’d been a temporary lecturer when I’d gone through training, and we’d kept in touch, even after I’d failed out for insubordination and unusual methodology—my term, not theirs. He believed in my strange talent, or at least, he wasn’t willing to look a gift horse in the mouth. He was the only one, though. I’d helped him catch killers, but no one else believed me, so they’d assumed I got my info the bad way. The way they could understand. The way that was going to lead to my arrest. “I’m sorry, Carrow,” Corrigan said. “Maybe we can clear this up at the station.” More figures appeared at the end of the alley. Backup.

Dozens of people would swarm the scene now, getting to work like busy ants, trying to figure out what had happened and how to stop it from happening again. And I would be taken to the station. Then to jail. Banks’s eyes gleamed with excitement. He’d finally won, and he knew it. As the handcuffs snapped onto my wrists, my head spun. Holy crap, this was really happening. Corrigan couldn’t meet my eyes, but Banks had no trouble. He leaned in. “I’ve got you this time.

” “You have no idea what you’re doing, you idiot.” His jaw clenched, and he looked like he wanted to hit me. He probably did. My eyes moved around the rest of the scene. I recognized more than half the people— had even gone to training with some of them. Suspicion flickered in their gazes as they looked at me, and my heart sank. Memories of all the cases I’d helped them solve flashed through my mind. So many. And now I was in handcuffs.

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