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BURN WITH ME
by R.G. Alexander

Genre: Paranormal Romance, E-book, Paranormal/Urban Fantasy

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Death was following her.

She’d left her coat in the pub, she thought absently, wrapping her arms around herself as the air chilled her. As if she might split apart if she didn’t. She made her way around the men, most of whom had taken their hats off or bowed their heads in a sad, habitual form of respect at the view in front of them. Aziza reached the front of the circle of people and looked down.

She clapped a hand over her mouth to hold in her sound of distress. A man and woman lay dead on the narrow road, their eyes open, blood pooling like halos around their heads.

They were holding hands.

“A bit wonky, this,” a stranger muttered to someone beside her. “I’ve seen jumpers before. Usually make more of a mess. These two look like they just laid down and died.”

She winced at the lack of emotion in his voice, but his words made her look closer. Really look. He was right. They weren’t unrecognizable. Just the opposite. And their bodies weren’t bent at odd angles. They seemed...posed. Heads tilted toward each other as if in affection and hands clasped. The dead woman’s hair was the color of a blueberry milkshake, and in between their bodies, not smashed to pieces as it should have been after that kind of fall, was a phone with a picture of the two of them smiling on it. Of the two of them alive.

Aziza stumbled backward, bumping into the growing crowd as she looked at their faces again. “That’s not possible.”

“Aziza?” Greg was there, pulling her into his arms as if he could protect her from what she’d seen. “Oh, Jesus Christ, don’t look, honey. You shouldn’t even be out here.”

She was having a hard time breathing. “They were on the Ferris wheel. I saw them. We just saw them, Greg.”

“What? Are you sure? Everyone got off the ride so fast, maybe you didn’t get a good enough look.”

She shook her head and pulled out of his embrace, noticing a worried Penn standing behind him. “You know I’m sure. They took a picture of themselves with that phone before they got out. They kissed. I saw them. Didn’t you see them, Penn? They were happy. Why would they jump? Why?”

Her aunt shared a look with Greg. “I think we need to get you home, love. It’s been a long night and no one should have to see this, especially not—”

“Me?” Aziza knew she seemed a little hysterical. She felt a little hysterical. What were the odds of something like this? London was a big city. If the couple had some sort of suicide pact, why would they have chosen this spot? And why had they seemed so happy?

Greg must have found her coat because someone lifted her arms and tugged it over her shoulders. She slipped her hands into her pockets and felt it—the strange vial full of sand the color of a moonless night that she hadn’t been able to part with since its arrival.

It warmed her hand again, giving her comfort. “I’m fine. It’s horrible, but I’m fine. I just—I saw them a few hours ago. I’m not wrong.”

The crowd began to part again. “Clear out,” someone called. “Let them get to the bodies.”

Aziza glanced up and turned in the direction the first responders were arriving from. Something drew her gaze beyond the blinking lights, and she almost fell over when she saw a familiar figure.

“You?” The sexy giant who’d held open the door was standing on the corner, beyond the crowd. Still watching her, though he wasn’t expressionless this time. His face seemed to be drawn tight with tension, his body practically vibrating with...anger? Frustration?

At her...or at the unexplained loss of life?

This was more than coincidence. It had to be. They—her, the bodies of the happy couple and the man who smelled like sunlight—couldn’t all be on the same out-of-the-way street, at the same time, after sharing a ride on a Ferris wheel on the other side of the river only hours before. It was unbelievable. Impossible.

Fate.

It struck her suddenly. Was this it? The night she died? She could see her watcher’s eyes as if they glowed in the darkness, the lights from the emergency vehicle flashing on his large frame while he stood, unmoving. Was his the last face she would see?

Strange as it sounded, she wanted to go to him. Wanted to be near him again before she met her fate. Ask his name. Kiss him.

A frightened voice in her head whispered, No. Don’t you see? They didn’t jump. You know they didn’t. None of this is right. Why is he here? What if it was him?

She shook her head again, unwilling to believe it. Not him. But in reaction to the possibility her hands tightened into white-knuckled fists within her pockets.

 “Ouch—oh—damn it.” She pulled out her hand and saw the blood, the small shards of glass from the vial protruding from her palm. “No. I didn’t mean to do that. Joseph...”

What if that really had been one last gift from her brother and she’d destroyed it with her carelessness? She saw the black grains covered in her blood and wanted to save them. Wanted to weep and scream. Wanted the pain inside her to finally stop.

Stop thinking.

“Not to intrude...” She heard the voice as if from a great distance. The man who’d propositioned her in the pub. He no longer sounded cocksure and seductive. “But your friend there is bleeding and obviously upset. She needs to rest now. I believe you should get her home before more authorities arrive.”

“Not that it’s any of your business, asshole, but I’m already planning on it. Oh shit, Aziza, why are you bleeding?” Greg, obviously done trying to get through to her with words, lifted her up into his arms and began to move through the crowd.

“I’ve got you,” he murmured. “You’re safe.”

She didn’t feel as safe as she usually did around him, but she didn’t demand he let her go. Didn’t insist she was fine. She wasn’t, and she was aware enough to know that, if nothing else. She studied her hand where it lay on his shoulder. It was burning. Why would glass burn?

She pulled out the largest shard and watched in silent shock as the sand began to slide along her skin toward the wound, slipping inside as if it were alive. Drawn to her the way she’d been drawn to it.

“My hand.” She spoke so softly she didn’t think anyone would hear her. The burning had intensified, the strong smell of charred flesh filling her nostrils as a pattern was branded into her palm. Could no one else smell it? See what was happening?

The pattern formed the outline of a circle and inside was a beautiful design that meant nothing to her. It almost looked like writing, maybe Arabic—it had that beautiful, artistic flow to it—but she couldn’t recognize it at all. The pain was so intense that for a moment she was afraid she would black out. She had to tell them. Had to show them.

“Penn. Greg. My hand.”

Greg stopped at the corner and waited for her aunt to catch up. “Penn, she’s hurting. Bleeding. Do we need to go to the hospital? Does it need stitches?”

Aziza‘s head fell back against Greg’s arm, and she moved her hand off his shoulder and across her body for Penn to see. The burning had become a warm tingling sensation. And it was spreading. Her whole body felt strange, but she was no longer panicked. No longer hysterical.

Penn took her hand and ran her thumbs over Aziza’s palm. “There’s nothing here.” She sounded frustrated. Worried. How could she not see it? “There’s blood, but if she was cut it isn’t visible. Could you see her the whole time? Did she get near the bodies? Touch anything?”

Aziza was floating above them as they spoke. Why would she touch the bodies? What kind of sick person would do that? And then it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. She couldn’t even see them as she rose higher and higher into the night sky.

Almost flying.