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Cassandra Palmer 1

By:Touch the Dark

nd-personal ticket to the carnage, which almost made me slip and break my neck on the slick bathroom floor. After I stopped shaking enough to hold a phone, I called the Witness Protection Program emergency number, but the agent who answered got suspicious when I wouldn't say how I knew what was about to happen. She said she'd get a message to Jerry but didn't sound too enthused about disturbing his weekend. So I called Tony's lead thug—a vamp named Alphonse—and reminded him that he was supposed to find out where the government had stashed me, not risk angering the Senate by killing humans who didn't even know anything. Jerry was useless to them because his information was about to be old news.

I'd never been very successful in altering my visions' outcomes, but I was hoping that use of the Senate's name would be enough to make Alphonse think twice. The Senate is a group of really old vamps who pass laws that the less powerful ones have to obey. While they don't think any more of humans than Tony does, they like the freedom of being only a myth and go to a lot of trouble not to draw mortal attention. Killing FBI agents is the sort of thing that tends to piss them off. But all Alphonse did was give me the usual runaround while his boys traced the call. In the end, the only thing I could do was make sure that by the time anybody got to my door, I was already on a bus out of town. I figured that since the government won't even admit that vampires exist, its chances of keeping me safe from them wasn't too good.

I thought my odds were better on my own, and for more than three years I'd been right. Until now.

I didn't bother to grab anything from the office except the gun: one thing about running for your life—it really narrows your priorities. Not that my 9 mm would do much to a vamp, but Tony often used human thugs for minor errands. I really hoped he hadn't thought me worth calling in actual talent. I wasn't thrilled about the idea of taking a few bullets to the brain, but I liked even less the prospect of ending up as one of his permanent acquisitions. He'd never let me be turned because he'd had a psychic once who became a vamp and was completely psi blind afterwards, and he thought my gift too useful to risk. Now I was worried that he'd take the gamble. If I lost my talent after the change, he could stake me and get payback for some of the hell I'd caused him. If not, he'd have an immortal adept with guaranteed loyalty, since it's really hard to go against the wishes of the vamp who made you. It was a win-win situation from his perspective, assuming he saw past his rage long enough to figure that out. I checked the gun and made sure it had a full clip. If they caught me, I wasn't going down without a fight, and if worse came to worst, I'd eat the last round before I called that bastard master.

Unlike last time, there was something I had to do before I caught a ride to yet another new life. I slipped out of the agency ASAP, just in case Tony's boys decided to fudge a little on the deadline, and avoided the front door by squirming through the bathroom window. It always seems so easy when people do that on TV. I ended up with a scraped thigh, torn hose and a bitten lip from trying not to swear. I finally managed it, ran down a dingy side street to a parking garage and cut across to a Waffle House. The trip was short but nerve-racking. Familiar alleys suddenly looked like perfect hiding places for Tony's thugs, and every noise sounded like a gun being cocked.

The Waffle House had bright halogen lights in the parking lot, making me feel terribly exposed as I crossed it. Mercifully, the bank of phones was in shadow near one side of the building. I parked myself in front of the one that worked and dug some change out of my purse, but no one picked up at the club. I let the phone ring twenty times while I bit my lip and told myself it didn't mean anything. It was Friday night—probably no one was able to hear a phone over the din, or had time to answer if they did.

It took a while to get there on foot, since I was trying to stay out of sight and to avoid breaking an ankle in my new, over-the-knee, high-heeled boots. I'd bought them because they matched the cute leather mini a salesgirl had talked me into, and I'd planned to wow them at the club after work, but they weren't exactly made for speed. I'm supposed to be this powerful clairvoyant, but do you think anything popped into my head earlier about maybe wearing tennis shoes, or at least flats? Hell, no. Just like I never win the lottery. All I See is the kind of stuff that nightmares and serious drinking problems are made of.

It was one of those hot Georgia nights when the air feels like a heavy blanket against your skin and the humidity is off the charts. A thin mist showed up in the glow of the lampposts, but most of the available light came from the moon gleaming off rain-slick streets and turning puddles silver. The night had bleached the color from the buildings downtown, fading them a soft gray that blended into the shadows and hid the tops of the skyscrapers. The historic district was like something out of time that night, especially when I passed the Margaret Mitchell House on West Peach-tree. It seemed perfectly natural when one of the horse-drawn carriages that cater to the tourist trade came around the corner—except that it was going at a full gallop and almost ran me over.

I had a second to see the frightened faces of the tourists who were hanging on for dear life in the back seat, before the carriage ricocheted off the sidewalk and careened down the street out of sight. I dragged my mud-covered self out of the gutter and glared around suspiciously. Merry laughter from behind me explained how that fat old horse had been convinced to try for a new speed record. A trail of mist, almost indistinguishable from the light rain, drifted by. I grabbed it, metaphysically speaking.

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