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By Arianna Hart
Samhain Publishing, Ltd.Copyright © 2006 Arianna Hart
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFinn waited until Larry had pulled back into traffic before he walked into Strange Days. He had to wait for his eyes to adjust to the dim lights of the store. When they did, he blinked a few times to make sure what he was seeing wasn't the result of his snow-blind vision.
Talia was manning the counter, only she didn't look like the Talia from a few weeks ago. Her straight brown hair had been layered to frame her elfin face, and subtle highlights brightened the shiny mass. There were other changes, too. She'd done something to her face to make her eyes seem more sultry, and her lips pouty. And he was almost sure her breasts hadn't been as pronounced last time he saw her either.
What the hell was going on? Finn walked to the back of the store and waited until Talia had finished with the customers at the cash register. When the store emptied out, he wandered to where she was arranging some books and got a better look at her before she noticed him.
She wore tight, hip hugger jeans that showed off a mighty fine ass he'd missed the last time around. Her clingy shirt left a strip of skin bare between her shirt and her pants. Finn had the sudden urge to run his mouth along that tantalizing inch of flesh. He could feel his body harden at the thought. He really didn't need her to turn and see him staring at her with a major hard on.
Reaching around, he went to grab a book-any book-and put it in front of his pants before she noticed. The sleeve of his leather jacket knocked over the display as he snatched a book from the top of the pyramid.
Talia jumped and spun around. "Oh. You scared me."
"Sorry, didn't mean to sneak up on you. I wanted to wait until you were done waiting on your customers before I spoke with you."
"No problem, I just didn't hear you, that's all. Do you have any leads on Cassidy?"
"None yet, her case just got assigned to me today. Larry, you remember him from O'Malley's, right?" At her nod he continued, "Larry and I are going to the clubs Cassidy used to hang out at to see if we can get a description of the guy she was with. I know you said you had a bad feeling about him, and I was wondering if you could tell me a little more about him."
"I wish I could. I've been over this with the other officers, I never met the guy, and Cassidy just called him Mr. Yummy."
"You have to know something about him, you said you didn't like him."
Talia's hands fluttered to her necklace again and she clutched at it like it would provide the answers to his questions. "Look, I told you I get gut feelings about people. This guy was just, bad, evil."
"If you want me to find your friend Talia, I'm going to need a little more to go on than that. What was it that made you think he was evil?" he pushed.
"I felt it inside of him, okay? He walked into the store and the evilness just rolled off him like a tidal wave and knocked me flat." She looked at him with flashing eyes and her chin tilted up defiantly.
"What are you saying? You got evil vibes from him? And you didn't even see him?" Maybe she really was a wacko? Too bad his body didn't give a damn. It still wanted to explore that frustratingly sexy strip of skin showing along her midriff.
"I don't expect you to understand. Just trust me when I say this guy is pure evil."
"Don't get defensive, I'm trying to understand. Come on, level with me. Tell me exactly what happened."
She took a deep breath, stretching her shirt even tighter across her chest, and grasped her necklace again. "Two weeks ago, Friday, I was working in the office when out of the blue I got hit by a wave of hatred, evil, whatever you want to call it. It hit me so hard I literally fell out of my chair. By the time I recovered and came out to see what was going on, the store was empty. Cassidy said the only people here were regulars and Mr. Yummy."
"And you think it was this Mr. Yummy who grabbed her."
"I know it was. I told her not to go out with him. She wouldn't listen, and she wouldn't tell me where she was going so I could find her later. The next morning I got woken up out of a sound sleep by Cassidy's terror. I could feel her fright so badly that I was crying like it was my own. That was the day I went to the police and was told I had to wait twenty-four hours before I could file a report."
"So if you can 'feel' this guy, do you know where he is now?"
"If I did, do you think I'd be standing around waiting for you to find him?"
"Hey, I'm trying to figure this out, don't get testy. Are you a, whatchamacallit, empath, like on Star Trek?"
"Yes, I'm an empath, but no, not like on Star Trek. I feel what other people around me feel, when I let my shields down." At his blank look she racked her brain to think of another way to put explain her talents. "Do you remember in the subway when that guy attacked you?"
"Yeah. I'd dropped my shields a bit," he didn't need to know that she'd done it to try to read him. "I felt his pain and need lash out at us. The intensity of his emotions were what alerted me to his attack. I could feel him preparing to hurt you before he struck, so I pushed you out of the way."
"I'd wondered about that. I went over it in my head a few times and you weren't facing the right direction to see him either. I thought I was losing my edge."
"Nope, I just have an extra sense I can use."
"Okay, back to Cassidy. So you're saying your shields were down when this guy came in the store?"
"No, sometimes my shields aren't enough to protect me. If I'm exposed to really strong emotions, they break through my shields like a battering ram."
"So when this guy came in you could feel him, but only because he was in the same building. You couldn't feel him if he was across town."
Too bad she was such a wacko, she really believed she could feel other people's emotions. If she could do as she said, she'd be running away from him right now. "If you can only feel strong emotions when the person is in the vicinity, how come you could feel Cassidy's terror?"
"Because I am a friend of hers. Best friends. People I'm close to I can feel through my shields, no matter how far away they are."
"So what am I feeling right now?"
"You think I'm a psycho and you are wondering if you should run from the room or if you should call the loony bin."
"I can't feel you at all, that was just a guess. You keep your emotions under a tight rein, and I can't get a feel for them. Most cops are like that. Doctors and nurses too. You can't let your emotions get involved, so you lock them down tight."
She could be right. He did shut down emotionally when he was working. What was he thinking? She was a nutcase. He had emotions, he just didn't let them get in the way.
She sighed and moved to pick up the books he'd knocked over. "Let me see if I can explain it this way. If you see a guy get kicked in the balls, you flinch, right?"
Finn winced just thinking about it. "Yeah, so. It's a natural reaction."
"Exactly. You can almost feel the guy's pain. But if you see a woman get smacked in the chest, you don't wince. It may bother you, but you can't feel it, right?"
"I guess not. I don't see where you are going with this."
"To me, unless I shield, I'm like a guy watching another guy get kicked."
"You can feel everyone else's pain?"
"Yes, but more than that. I feel their happiness, their horniness, everything."
Finn shifted a little at the thought she could feel how horny he was feeling right now. Then he remembered he didn't believe her. "And what about when you're shielded?"
"Then I don't feel as much. I can block most of it like it was white noise. It's only when someone is emotionally shouting, or I'm really close to them, that they can get through my shields."
"So the only way you'd be able to find this guy is if he came in contact with you again."
"Exactly. And before you say it, I know that doesn't do you a lot of good. No jury in the country is going to buy that I know a guy is evil because I feel it. That's why I went to the police in the first place."
"That's our job. We'll find Cassidy, don't worry."
"Have you found Maria Sands yet?"
"No, but we will. I don't think it's a coincidence that Maria and Cassidy looked enough alike to be sisters."
"Neither do I and it scares me."
"It doesn't make me feel all warm and cozy inside either."
Talia looked down at the book he was holding and smiled for the first time. A dimple flashed in her right cheek, and Finn felt his blood heat all over again.
"Ah, are you planning on buying that book? Or were you just browsing?"
"Book?" Finn looked down at the book he'd been using for cover. The Kama Sutra.
Excerpted from Dark Heat by Arianna Hart Copyright © 2006 by Arianna Hart. Excerpted by permission.
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