Title: Touched (The Marnie Baranuik Files #1)
Author: AJ Aalto
Genre: Paranormal, Urban Fantasy
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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.
Harry was smiling, showing lots of white teeth, no fang. Batten averted his eyes like he always did; I think he was afraid that if he saw fangs he’d have no choice but to face that, no matter how many revenants he’d dusted, he was intimidated by this one. I’m not sure he could live with that. Or maybe he sensed Harry might try to mindfuck him with his unearthly gaze; Batten should know I wouldn’t allow that. Not in public, anyway.
As though egged-on by Batten’s discomfort, Harry’s aura did a cold boil, a visible phenomenon. More than just his otherworldly presence filled the room: as always I could smell menthol cigarettes under his light, clean-smelling 4711 cologne. As he approached the bed with impossible refinement, I knew he was showing off. Harry didn’t have to move like that. It was a conscious choice and he was making a point: here comes power infernal and immortal. How could any human compare?
Harry was dressed like he’d been back on his Kawasaki so I guessed it wasn’t impounded. Big motorcycle boots, this time the leather as shiny and clean as the buckles. I wondered how long he’d been in the lobby shining the street salt off of them. His mid-length over coat flapped open to reveal black Levis hugging lean powerful legs. Black leather biking gloves looked so startlingly like part of a murderer’s kill kit on his death-pale hands that I could all but feel them squeezing my throat. A grey cashmere scarf snaked several times around his neck reflected the battleship grey of his eyes. I wondered where his helmet was. Undead or not, you crack your skull open and sandpaper the road with brain tissue, story-time’s over.
“Agent Batten. Bon nuit, trou du cul,” Harry greeted, mock-tipping an invisible hat. I couldn’t be sure, as my French is not good, but I thought Harry called Batten an asshole. He turned and performed a low, sweeping bow at the bed. “How does my lady?”
“I does spiffy, and you?”
“Apart from being heartily distressed by your atrocious grammar, I do very well indeed. As visiting hours have long flown, I cannot stay long. It is pure luck the nurse let me in at all.”
Luck, my ass. It was more likely terror; it wasn’t like Harry was putting any effort into blending in. The poor nurse was probably twisting security’s arms to come flush him back out. I wondered if there had ever been a revenant in this hospital before. Or any hospital in Colorado for that matter; revenant emergencies don’t require human doctors.
Harry handed me the thermos, and palmed two round white vitamins into my hand. “Doppio espresso macchiato, dash of cinnamon.”
“And suddenly, life is fabulous.”
“Because of me, or because of the caffeine?” He knew exactly how relieved I was to see that he was intact and healthy.
I humored him anyway, downing my pills then beaming up at him. Having his answer, he put his hand inside his coat and pulled out a jubilant bouquet of tulips in a rainbow of petal pink, spring yellow, and the vivid orange of tangerine peels.
“Tulips in January?” I exclaimed.
He laid them beside the bed. “For my beloved pet, most anything is possible. Surely fetching her favorite flower is no great task. Am I …interrupting?” Harry aimed the bristly indictment in Batten’s direction.
“Whether you’re here or not makes no difference to me, vamp.” Batten propped his elbows on the chair’s arms and steepled his fingers in front of his mouth.
“After some examination of the evidence, I should think you’ll discover how little I care about your existence as well, lad.”
“Funny,” Batten said with a calm smile. “Got the impression you’re threatened by me.”
Harry threw back his head and laughed with gusto. The sound of it raised goose bumps and then rubbed them with velvet. Despite the smiling and laughing, the moment was anything but friendly.
AJ cannot say no to a Snickers bar and has been known to swallow her gum.