Friday, April 26, 2013

Touched by A.J. Aalto Tour & Excerpt!

The Marnie Baranuik Files, Book One
A. J. Aalto

Genre: paranormal fantasy

Publisher: Booktrope Editions

ISBN: 978-1935961574

Number of pages: 454
Word Count: 158k

Cover Artist: Greg Simanson

Book Description:

The media has a nickname for Marnie Baranuik, though she’d rather they didn’t; they call her the Great White Shark, a rare dual-talented forensic psychic. Twice-Touched by the Blue Sense--which gives her the ability to feel the emotions of others, and read impressions left behind on objects--Marnie also has a doctorate in preternatural biology and a working knowledge of the dark arts. She is considered without peer in the psychic community.

Then her first big FBI case ended with a bullet in one shoulder and a chip on the other, a queasy heart and a serial killer in the wind, leaving her a public flop and a private wreck. When the FBI’s preternatural crimes unit tracks her down at a remote mountain lodge for her insight on a local case, her quiet retirement is promptly besieged by a stab-happy starlet, a rampaging ghoul, and a vampire-hunting jackass in tight Wranglers. Marnie figures the only real mystery is which one will kill her first.

Too mean to die young, backed up by friends in cold places, and running with a mouth as demure as a cannon’s blast, Marnie Baranuik is about to discover that there’s no such thing as quitting time when you’re Touched.

Excerpt from
By AJ Aalto

Funny things occur to you when you’re dying. Bleeding out for the second time in three months, I thought deliriously, I could have used that damned No. 2 pencil. And: Soft palate impalement. That’s what Batten called it. And: I think Batten waters down his cologne. How can I prove it? And then: I’m going to die, here. I don’t want the reek of vomit to be the last thing I smell.
When I was sure she’d gone, I broke the sage pentagram with a trembling hand, accidentally flicking the onyx deep under the bed. The shuddering breath that followed was sweet, but the sharp pain of the stab wounds returned with my life. I’d never imagined anything could hurt more than gunshot wounds. Stab wounds gaped, flesh mouths silently screaming scarlet; every slight breath I hitched-in made it so much worse. Unfamiliar noises scratched and scrambled along the back of my throat, injured animal noises, sounds of plain, mindless desperation.
My cell phone was smeared with blood that had poured down my back to soak the rump of my jeans, and rolling over to free it from the sticky denim was torture. Sounds were starting to filter back: cars on the street, a motorcycle rumbling by. She’d left the door half open. Frigid winter air spilled in. Could I get up enough voice to shout for help? Would anyone hear? The front desk guy? A passerby? Out here? Not likely.
There was so much residual rage in the room I could taste it on the back of my tongue; I gagged, which tugged savagely in what must have been the worst stab wound, in my belly. I huddled around my pain, hissing through my teeth.
I should have dialed 911 first, but my heart contracted frantically for my Cold Company, hammered with an un-ignorable drumming, fists on taut skins, a violent thundering pushing hot urgency through my veins. I knew this was the Bond’s doing, the near-severing of our mystical tether firing off unrelenting pressure to reach him: my partner, my advocate, my champion, nothing else mattered. Swallowing back panic, I thumbed-in his number.
One ring. No answer.
Two rings. Harry, please!
Three rings and it went to his civilized, articulate message. I sniveled something indecipherable and tried again. No answer. No answer. If he was prone now in his casket… Oh, Harry, get out get out!
I spit out a blood-choked sob and dialed 911. Dispatch had barely said a syllable when I was gasping at her repeatedly, “she stabbed me, she stabbed me.” Part of my brain told me to smarten up, stop being a victim, calm down and tell her how to find me. But it was too incredible. What I wanted to shout was: That snot-gobbling fuckpuddle Danika Sherlock stabbed me. But what came out was a bawling, “Please, please send help!” My innards quivered nonstop. My vision started to blur. That’s never good. The operator was asking me something. I didn’t understand any of it. “Ten Springs Motor Inn…” My clammy hand reached for and found the knife she’d used. I rubbed my other glove off against my hip, and gripped the knife in my left hand, hard.
A blast of imagery slammed my head back into the copper-soaked carpet. I wrenched my eyes shut, as if that could protect a Groper from what she was seeing: that crazy nutjob had watched my cabin, had been inside, inside! Plotting it out. She had been told explicitly, repeatedly like a drill, how to break the DaySitter Bond through death or refusal to feed, mine or his. Sherlock had been waiting for her chance to strike like an injured king cobra in the shade of a Jeep. This day had been earmarked. On a calendar. In smudgy blue ink. For some reason, that struck me as insult atop injury.
If she thought she could just waltz up to Harry and say: “Marnie’s dead, so you’re with me now” she was streaming headlong toward a bad death. What a low opinion of me she must have, to think my companion would be so easily lured away. Harry would put her through a wall, repeatedly, and when the authorities found out, they’d swear out a warrant to have him staked. Kill-Notch Batten would eagerly volunteer for the job. This was the end of everything. If I lived, I wouldn’t want to.
The door swung open to the dusky outside and I froze, holding the phone half-leaning upright against one elbow. The jig was up. She’d put the blade across my jugular this time. I clutched the knife so tightly that my knuckles flared with pain, laying my thumb along the hilt like Harry had shown me long ago. I waved it at the figure in swift, warning arcs.
The legs that straddled the threshold were wide, sturdy and undeniably masculine. And dressed, I noted deliriously, for a winter night’s ride. A double-breasted chesterfield overcoat I recognized flapped around his thighs, above salt-flecked biker boots that were otherwise perfectly polished. Only one man I knew was that persnickety. A cry of relief leaked from my throat.
Harry moved swiftly across the room in his dizzying blink-step, pale lips curled back in a silent snarl. He kicked the ruined TV out of his way; it tumbled through the air casting shards of glass and metal in a shower. Sweeping down beside the bed on one knee, whispering in furious French as he always did when angry, his tongue worked the words like a spell, his mouth caressing the sounds with a voice slightly sibilant around a hint of fang. The scent of blood in the air had him trembling badly. The old ones may play poker-face better than any human, but in times of bloodshed or in the face of arterial spray, even they inevitably lost their cool and had to work hard at controlling near-ejaculatory enthusiasm.
“Who’s a brave soldier, then?” he said as he assessed and surveyed the damage with quick hands that scanned and catalogued too fast to follow, unzipping my jacket, clutching my shirt front to yank it out of his way. With a sharp jerk he shred its remains up the front.
 “This…” Apparently there was no word for it in any of his languages. He diagnosed the wounds rapidly with bleak ash-grey eyes that had seen centuries of triage and casualty, much of the latter caused by him. “Right, then. Do not fight me, love, there is no other way.”
His hand snaked behind my head and pulled my face into his left elbow. I hadn’t seen him break his skin there, but a small wound was pressed to my lips. Dizzily, I closed my eyes and calculated the odds that he knew better than me what was best. Something leaky-sweet passed my lips and hit my tongue. Heady like thinned molasses but strangely tingling, alien and funky like a tomato gone bad. I didn’t want to swallow as it trickled to the back of my throat; I gagged and turned my head.
Harry growled impatiently; the hand on the back of my head tightened, fingertips digging into my scalp as he forced my face back to his elbow.
 “Time for trust, Dearheart.”
“Don’t rush me, I’m enjoying the foreplay,” I groaned.
When I gagged a second time, he said, “You are out of options, now, DaySitter. You have lost too much.”
I’m going to die in the vomit-stink room. I opened my mouth around the wound and sucked, hastily swallowing. Unfortunate images flashed in my mind's eye: a waterlogged grave, a dripping crypt, an age-slicked corpse in a swamp. Once the cool, runny fluid of Harry’s veins cleared my taste buds, something deeper inside me rolled over with savage energy, swirled its cold fist around in my gut like it was stirring a slushy. I felt Harry’s fingertips dabbing at my wounds, and that same ancient, unnatural energy ravaged my skin, tingled icy-hot like Vick’s Vapo-Rub. I thought deliriously, revenant blood would be great for chest congestion due to cold and flu.
Harry was watching me with a medic’s attention. Satisfied, he shoved my gloves in his pocket and collected me carefully, lifted me as though I weighed nothing. Considering he could bench press a two-ton dumpster, my hundred and twenty pounds wasn’t a huge struggle. He gathered me into his chest to shelter me from the cold, hurrying from the room before I could wail an objection. The clouds were good and deep above us, solid asylum, and the wind had picked up to howling intensity, screaming through the Aspens.
 (“Don’t you die yet, Marnie—don’t you die on me yet, bitch!”)
Harry’s persimmon-red Kawasaki Vulcan lay on its side, hastily-discarded next to Room 4. He slid me into the back seat of the Buick awkwardly. I backpedaled on my hands across the faded plush tan fabric. Despite the pain ripping into various parts of my body, I’d never been happier. My Cold Company was here, and as close to alive as he’d ever be. As a big plus, I was now feeling pain right down to my toes. I wasn’t paralyzed. Yippee!
“Lay still, perfectly still. Are you hearing me? Place your hands here,” he advised, moving my hands to my burbling belly wound. “This is the one that yet requires attention.”
“She wants you,” I told him, my breath-fog making his face a momentary blur. My teeth started chattering. “She’s after you.”
He hovered inches above my face, shrugging out of his coat. He hadn’t been able to calm down enough to retract his fangs yet. In his urgency, he’d nicked his bottom lip. A translucent droplet bloomed there like a pale blue drop of alien oil and my mouth watered in response. Turning my face, I buried my nose in the bench seat.
“Calm down,” he said sternly. “Stop moving.”
“Harry, you’re in danger.” I looked at him again, avoided his mouth this time.
“Yes, it is our very good fortune she is not your adversary, isn’t it? Did you have a terribly nice visit?” Anger furrowed his brow. He hesitated, possibly considering stains, before tucking his coat around me. It smelled lightly of his 4711 cologne under embedded cigarette smoke, and the peculiar scent that marked the immortal, the burnt sugar tang of revenant power.
He whipped into the driver’s seat and slammed the door. “Here’s hoping blood can be removed from tweed. Hospital?”
I hesitated. “Can’t you heal this much damage?”
He craned around in the front seat. “Not without turning you.”
It didn’t occur to me at the time that this might be a rare, once-only offer. What I was thinking was: Surgery at the hospital with lots of drugs, or drinking sour blue vein-grease for three days before becoming eternally nocturnal? Decisions, decisions. “North Suburban’s closest. Thornton. Grant Street.”
He shoved the Buick into gear and gunned it, firing the heat on full blast. We lurched backward, peeled out of the motel parking, swerving to avoid oncoming traffic.
I gripped the bench seat with one hand while holding my wound with the other. Under my palm, something pulsed, lively-exposed, slippery and wet, hotter than my bare skin. I tried not to think about what it could be.
Harry lived fast, if what he did could be called living. He had a never-ending string of speeding tickets, his sporting tastes ran to skydiving at midnight, bungee and base jumping in the inky dark, and when he night-skied he went black diamond every time. No joining me on the bunny hill with my miner’s flashlight strapped around my head. I guess when you’re already dead, you’re sort of fearless. If my bones knit minutes after a bad break, I might fly down those hills too, head bent into the wind.
I sometimes wondered if he’d been a speed demon while alive. If Guy Harrick, Esquire had been as free-wheeling. If the breathing Lord Guy Harrick, Viscount Baldgate had been hard-living before he’d encountered the elder revenant, Wilhelm Dreppenstedt, who would become his master. If I pried, invariably Harry answered with a sly wink, which was really no answer at all.
We passed a wailing ambulance. I wondered if not staying had been a mistake. Then a brown Lambert County cop car hurtled past, siren screaming, lights flaring in the dark, and I knew: they’d have blamed Harry for the trouble. Lamaze-breathing though pursed lips, I could taste blood on the back on my tongue like a bad penny. Was it mine, or his? Was my body rejecting the essence of UnDeath that burned like a bowl of bad chili in my gut? I didn’t want to swallow, but didn’t want to spit blood in the back seat of my Buick either. Nauseous and dizzy, I could have been spitting up on an EMS guy. Harry took a wet corner at an insane speed and the car planed.
“Harry!” I cried.
“Such a fuss you make,” he said over the noise of the heater. “Keep pressure on the abdominal wound.”
“Are you hurrying for me, or to distance yourself from the scene of the crime?” I shouted.
“Right, that was offside!” He glanced over his shoulder with an injured scowl.
“I’ll be nicer when I’m not bleeding from the front and back in agony from every jolt!” I said, acerbic through clenched teeth.
 “Keep calm and carry on,” he sang.
“How did you know I was in trouble?” I asked, mostly to keep my mind off the pain. “Or where I was? I thought you were resting.”
“I woke from a distasteful dream before I could sink to full rest. I found you missing, and you didn’t answer my texts. You may, on an average day, ignore one or two out of sheer stubbornness, but eventually you surrender to me. Unless, that is, you are up to something nefarious.”
He said it as though I had some habit of disreputable activities. Before I could open my mouth to retort, he said, “After my third attempt I traced your GPS and hoped that this fortuitous cloud cover would hold.”
I laughed despite the agony ripping through my midsection. I had no idea how to trace someone’s GPS, but it didn’t surprise me that he did. Most immortals his age were technophobes, change was not in their vocabulary. While Harry’s fashion sense might be stuck in the roaring 1920s (change enough for a four hundred and thirty-five-year-old man) he bought each new gizmo. Thank the Dark Lady above that Harry was a techno-geek.
I was tired, unbelievably tired. It was going to be okay, now that Harry had me. I wanted to descend into the blessed, liquid-black trench of sleep and wallow there, breathless and without the burden of thought, for a solid year.
“Don’t!” Harry’s voice was a whip-crack. “Stay with me.”
“Necromimesis,” I slurred. “Really takes it outta ya.”
“Insanity,” he chided. I wasn’t sure if he meant my talk or my spell. “You do realize that your pseudo-death has severed your half of the Bond?”
“So dizzy...” (“Don’t you die yet, Marnie…”)
“I asked you to remain awake, DaySitter.” The authority in his husky command prickled my scalp, needling as it crawled down my spine. It was no longer Harry and me chatting. His voice dialed down to obey your master as his physical possession of my body pushed, claimed and curled like the slow spiraling pull of an icy whirlpool gripping low in my belly.
Deceptively calm, he repeated, “I asked you to remain awake and you shall. Awake and alert. You were going to tell me what happened, from the beginning?”
The voice was so polite, so pleasant, his English accent gone perfectly crisp as it always did when he was upset. Harry at his most dangerous, dripping honey from his tongue while he lulled you into submission. There was no high quite like being the focus of a revenant’s audiomancy.
“Danika Sherlock phoned me,” I reported. “She said she knew who had killed Chapel’s vic, and she was in danger. I was going to protect her, even before she blackmailed me. I should have known it was a trick. Ninth caliber, my ass.” I smirked, my head spinning. “Hey, you know who has a ninth caliber ass? Mark fuckin’ Batten, that’s who.”
Harry huffed impatiently. “Twaddle,” he muttered. “Do be serious. You didn’t sense that Ms. Sherlock meant you harm?”
“I sensed she was upset, but I had to go. She was going to expose Mark.”
Harry muttered, “He seems perfectly capable of getting his own tackle out for all and sundry.”
“Besides, fighting made-up heebie-jeebies is a two-woman job. I should be great at it, since I’m a shark. Maybe I gobble up crime. With my Great White teeth.” I gnashed them to demonstrate. “Chomp, chomp, chomp!”
“This is getting us nowhere, I see.”
“I should have called him, and not that other him.” My pulse beat like a drum under my palm in that slippery-hot wound. “But we were scared together, like a big chicken stew.”
“Other him? Odd’s splutter, do try to make some sense, woman.”
“Anyone would be upset about a ninth caliber telekinetic,” I said defensively, closing my eyes so the roof of the car would stop spinning.
“Who is a ninth caliber telekinetic?”
“No one, not nobody for real.” I tried to sit up but it hurt like hell. “No people.”
Harry sucked his teeth. “Lord and Lady, your grammar is absolutely appalling.”
(“Please hurry, Miss Baranuik, I need you.”) “Don’t I always do the right thing, Harry? I mean, to make up for doing all the wrong things?”
“I do believe you are going into shock.”
“I can’t let him get fired. It’s what he loves best. It would kill him. He’d never forgive me.”
He lifted his face, scenting the air in the car. “Peripheral perfusion. What’s this about getting sacked?”
“She kept stabbing me over and over and over and--” My voice disappeared in a breathy, tremulous whimper. Tears stung my eyes. “I felt my pain and her pain every time she touched me. Hurt so much.”
 (“You and me. We finish it. Together.”)
“I know.” He was anxiously lighting a cigarette with his monogrammed onyx lighter. “I thought…”
He’d been close enough to sense the result of the spell. “About that.” What else to say? “I’m sorry, Harry. I stuck my neck out, and this happened. I don’t learn. I’ll never leave the house again.”
“What made you think it was wise to fanny about with a bloody necromimesis spell?” He sounded angry, but I couldn’t feel him empathically. It was as if some higher power had hit the pause button on my Talent. Where usually my Cold Company’s emotions shadowed mine like a 1940s pulp fiction private dick in trench coat and fedora, now my feelings stood alone under the street light, exposed and vulnerable. Harry was right; my half of our Bond was hinky.
“I was sure it would work.” I tried to focus my vision on the back of the seat but my eyes wanted to cross and waver. “The chances of it failing…”
“Oh yes,” he sputtered. “Absolutely tiddly. Do you know how much power is required to call down the appearance of death, without calling death itself? How you managed not to cock it up is beyond me.”
“Maybe you underestimate me, Harry.”
He sucked the cigarette and flicked the butt out the window. “I hardly think so. You should not have retreated in such a drastic manner. Shooting her would have been self defense, love.”
 “I forgot to bring in my gun,” I said, but realized that was his point. It wasn’t my habit to whip the damn thing out at the first sign of danger. I never owned a gun before the Jeremiah fiasco. I don’t like guns. Well, to be fair, I liked the gun Harry bought me more than others, because it was called a “mouse gun” and I thought that sounded cute. The Beretta Cougar mini normally lived in my bedside table drawer, which I had begun to call “the mouse house”, beside a nylon innerpants holster and Mr. Buzz, my purple vibrator.
“I left my card and Agent Chapel’s together on the floor beside that impressive pool of blood you spilled in the motel room.” He swallowed hard, suppressing a shudder.
 “Easy there, big fella.”
“Hush, you,” he chided, embarrassed. “The police will call Agent Chapel, who will know I was there. He will put it together. Not to worry.”
No worries? What would Chapel think happened in that room? That Harry ate Mark’s fiancĂ©e, probably. And that I helped him. And that maybe we had Kristin Davis, age twelve, as an appetizer.
“I shouldn’t be involved,” I moaned. “I’m retired.”
Harry barked a curt laugh, and I did too, mine ending in a surprised squeak as pain ripped through my middle, squeezing tears from my eyes.
“Guess it’s a bit late for that, now.” I tried to bring the tough Marnie back, but she’d officially left the building. “Can we pretty please not mention the blackmail or the gun-fail to Batten?”
“We can do whatever you like,” Harry said, eyes on the road. It was full dark as we approached Thornton. The headlights tunneled through dusk, slicing the fallen twilight. “Just stay with me, my only love. Stay with me.”
I stared up at the fabric lining the roof of the Buick, tracked each long streak of light as the car passed under streetlights and the neon of bars and the glow of tacky fluorescents from store windows. When we veered to a sharp stop at an angle in front of the hospital, artificial light flooded the interior of the car. Harry vaulted out. Nothing I could do but lay there, bleeding and waiting. Seconds later a gurney clattered to the side of the car and Harry held the rear passenger side door open for the attendants. He spoke in confidential tones to them. They probably didn’t have enough attention on him to recognize the preternatural strength radiating off of him, marking him distinctly as immortal.
But I felt it, as he wrapped a cool hand around mine, jogging beside the gurney as it crashed into the ER. I felt it.


The sheriff of Lambert County had once been a Denver detective working homicide, and it showed in the shrewd tilt of his gaze. He moved like a blank-faced panther across the hospital room, sinuous and agile, oddly predatory for one of the good guys. If I hadn’t checked his pupils for a primal hint of flash I’d have thought him a lycanthrope in human form, but he was one hundred percent man; werekin can’t hide the gleam of lycanthropy.
The cop had perfect posture, loose at the joints, a confident bearing that warned other males his body was well-tuned, a trained weapon he knew how to use. I assumed he did a lot of martial arts in whatever spare time a small town sheriff might be afforded. He was young for his office, thirty-five at most, a true red-head, pale skinned with a smattering of freckles, narrow chin on a boy-next-door face, with swampy green eyes that were an interesting blend of sympathetic and skeptical: skeptithetic. If he smiled, I suspected he’d be handsome, though I was pretty sure I wasn’t on his Smile-At list just yet. Probably, he thought I was a troublemaker. Maybe he was right. I sipped ice water through a bendy straw and watched him pull up a stool beside the cranked-up hospital bed.
“Marnie Baranuik,” he began, rolling one shoulder. A shoulder holster creaked under the whisper of his heavy nylon jacket. The zipper was open in case he had to shoot me. Verrrry comforting. “I’m Sheriff Hood. Do you know why I’m here?”
“I’m assuming someone called you about my stabbing,” I said between sips. “Did you happen to see two miserable-looking FBI agents out in the hallway? One nerdy beanpole with classic male pattern baldness, the other with big shoulders and a real jerk face?”
He looked at me thoughtfully for a beat before shaking his head.
“No, ma’am, I didn’t. And yes, I’m here about the incident at the Ten Springs Motor Inn.”
“Incident?” I asked, hearing blame.
“Rodney, the night clerk at the Inn, told me it was a homicide. Bit of a miscommunication.” A brief apologetic smile flickered across his mouth. I was right: Hubba hubba ooh-lala. “I’ve since learned that you have a pulse.”
He scooted the rubber-footed stool closer and propped his boots on the low rungs, letting his knees fall slightly apart. One of those knees started bouncing. He sucked on something minty, which clicked against the inside of his teeth, and I thought, nicotine fit. I’ve seen my share of them. The left cuff of his pants didn’t sit exactly right: ankle holster for a back up gun. I’ve seen my share of those, too.
 “You work for Gold-Drake & Cross out of Portland,” he began. “How come you’re living in my corner of Colorado?”
“I quit. I didn’t want to work with a bunch of weirdoes who actually believe in the supernatural.” Who, plain ole Mundane Me? I tried my winning-est smile. “I’m just a regular gal.”
Hood gave me his cop face, shuttered. The knee-bouncing stilled. “In 2006, you wrote your dissertation on the comparison of black plague and crypt plague in Venice, 1630-1631, the rise of Yersinia sanguinaria at the lazarettos, and true and false accusations of vampirism. In 2008 you did a series of training seminars for the FBI and various state law enforcement agencies on preternatural crime prevention and revenant mental health crisis management.” His lips hinted at a smile again. “Revenant?”
My shoulders crept up a notch. “It’s the term they prefer.”
“You mean vampires,” he clarified. “What sort of doctorate do you hold, exactly?”
 I gave my best scowl. “Don’t profile me, sheriff. It’s rude, and I’m sure your mother raised you better.”
“She did,” he said pleasantly, like he had all the time in the world to play games with me. I certainly wasn’t going anywhere, connected to tubes and beeping machinery, and unable to stand up on my own.
“I know damn well what I wrote my dissertation on. How much of my life did you research?”
“Got a hefty file. Looks like I’m in for a night of heavy reading. How about you save me some time, tell me what’s not in there?”
“You’re not going to write anything down?” I asked. “For your incident report?”
“You haven’t really told me anything yet.” The smile reappeared and I was rewarded this time with a hint of straight white teeth. My brain melted like butter left on a hot stovetop.
“Well, I will. I intend to. Tell you, I mean. Every thing of the truth.” What the hell am I even talking about? “You’re going to want this on paper.”
“Maybe so,” he mused, scratching the back of his neck. “Since you’re about to tell me ‘every thing of the truth’.”
He fished around for a notebook in his pocket that looked like it had never been used, clicked a brand new pen. Not a lot of serious crime in Lambert County.
I shifted in the pillows propping me slightly upright, and tried not to think of staples clawing flesh together and sutures keeping skin in a taut line. Post-surgery painkillers kept the pain at a safe distance, but I could almost hear it pacing like an impatient Attila the Hun considering the distant walls of Constantinople.
 “One huge waste of your time, coming right up,” I warned him, taking a deep cleansing breath. “My name is Marnie-Jean because my mother likes hyphenated names and the old cologne Jean Nate. I enjoy setting fires in a woodstove. Conversely, I’m afraid of BBQ grills; I’m sure the propane tank is going to explode and take my face right off. I’m also afraid of home invasions, clowns, Santa Claus, and the tooth fairy. I mean, what does she use those teeth for, anyway? It’s disturbing, when you think about it.”
Hood made no notes. I guess I hadn’t said anything good yet. When I launched into the layman’s explanation of my psychic Talents and my former position at GD&C, Hood’s pen moved but his eyes never left my face. Neat trick. He searched my eyes, his own face revealing nothing, and then surprised me with a thoughtful question.
“If you know stuff just by touching things, doesn’t that get a little…busy in your head?”
Relief—validation perhaps—flooded me; for a second I thought I might embarrass myself by welling-up. I showed him my bare hands. “Usually I wear gloves all day, inside and out, to block influxes of information. Leather works best.”
“We didn’t find any gloves at the scene.” So he’d been to the scene, check. I wondered if Harry’s motorcycle was in evidence also. Boy, would he be ticked.
“Maybe she took them?” Like she took my hair. And very nearly my life. “I took them off. They were on the floor beside the bed last I saw.” Or did Harry take them? I had a vague feeling he might have, but it all seemed foggy.
“Can’t you “tell” where they are?” He wiggled his fingers mysteriously.
I shrugged. “I might be able to link to and trace my own possessions. I’ve never tried it. What I can’t do is pull visions out of thin air. That’s a clairvoyant. I have to touch something, or feel someone’s changes in emotions. I can tell when I’m being lied-to, ninety-nine percent of the time. She fooled me. No, that’s not entirely true: I knew she was pissed off. I misread the depth of her hatred, and I believed she had information, and that she was truly in trouble. Being fooled by a successful liar bothers me like I can’t even describe. No one should be able to fool me.”
Hood’s lips twitched. “Ever thought of becoming a cop?”
“Criminals give me the wobbly-knees.” I shook my head. “I do like the law. The law is one of the few things that make me feel stable. Boundaries are good when the rest of you feels ready to fly apart.”
Hood gave another unexpectedly understanding nod, and I tried to probe at his aura and see if he was faking the sympathy. I couldn’t feel him. Lord and Lady, what the hell had I done to myself? Meanwhile he was watching expectantly, pen poised.
“Thanks to my partner, I’ve developed a strong sense of smell. I bet you didn’t know that tulips have what revenants call an under-scent. It’s mild, kind of citrusy. I also like over-cooked roast beef, sun-warmed Key limes and Canadians.”
“Canadians in general, or just the way they smell?”
“Canadians smell fantastic,” I deadpanned. Hood half-smiled; I don’t think he wanted to like me but I was winning him over. “I drink more espresso than is healthy and will undoubtedly die, Balzac-like, of caffeine poisoning. I cannot say no to a cookie. Sometimes when I’m alone I sing old Monty Python songs in the bath. And at the moment, I have titanium staples where my belly button used to be.” I shook my head. “But you don’t need to know any of this. You don’t need to know about my irregular periods or my crush on Wil Wheaton. So why don’t you tell me what you’re looking for?”
“You were injured in Buffalo on your first official FBI case.” He watched me without blinking. “Gun shot wounds. The reports said you were shot by a vampire serial killer named Jeremiah Prost while you were working as a preternatural forensic consultantfor the PCU. How did he escape?”
“Everyone’s got theories on my failure. Why ask me?”
“Maybe I like the sound of your voice. Besides, I didn’t say it was your failure; you were one of many on that team, correct?”
My shoulders fell. I told him a concise version of what happened, in Buffalo and at the Ten Springs Motor Inn, including the FBI but leaving out the sex and the vomit. Then I added the vomit, because I was pretty sure he’d seen that at the scene. I left Batten’s name out of it, and implied that Danika was resentful of me but left it at professional jealousy. I hoped he bought it.
He didn’t appear to buy a single word of it.

About the Author:
AJ Aalto is the author of Touched, first in the paranormal mystery series The Marnie Baranuik Files. Aalto is an unrepentant liar and a writer of blathering nonsense offset by factual gore. When not working on her novels, you can find her singing old Monty Python songs in the shower, eavesdropping on perfect strangers, stalking her eye doctor, or failing at one of her many fruitless hobbies. Generally a fan of anyone with a passion for the ridiculous, she has a particular weak spot for smug pseudo-intellectuals and narcissistic jerks; readers will find her work littered with dark, imperfect creatures, flawed monsters and oodles of snark. AJ cannot say no to a Snickers bar, and has been known to swallow her gum.


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