Chasing the Shadows
Page 10

 Keri Arthur

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Chapter Seven
Brightness flashed in the foggy darkness. Michael ducked to his left, and a heartbeat later a hole was torn through the window. The bullet blasted past, so close it stirred his hair and sent heat rippling across his skin before it thudded into the opposite wall.
If that heat was any indication, they were using silver bullets, not ordinary ones—which meant even a wound would have been dangerous to him. Anger rose in a wave, almost engulfing him. If it had been Nikki standing there, they would have killed her. That bullet had been aimed at his head, not his heart. Bullets can't hurt you, can they? Fear and confusion mingled in Nikki's still sleepy mind voice. He looked around. She was standing just inside the bedroom door pulling on a sweater. His sweater, not hers. Bullets aimed at my head can destroy me as easily as they can you. And these were silver. Stay there.
She nodded, arms crossed, hands lost in the sleeves. Be careful . Always. He wrapped the shadows around him and opened the window. Fingers of fog brushed dampness across his skin as he leapt from the balcony. He hit the ground with enough force to jar every bone in his body—any higher, and he might have broken bones.
He rolled swiftly to his feet and ran toward the car. The gun was still pointed out the car window. The other vamp could obviously control the couple, but not to the extent that he saw what they saw. Which was odd, because he'd obviously had enough mind-power to put the compulsion on the young vampire who'd attacked Nikki, forcing him to leap out the window rather than revealing anything. He grabbed the rifle, wrenching it from the man's grasp and tossing it aside. Then he smashed his fist through the half-open window and grabbed the driver's face, plunging deep into his mind, chasing the essence of the vampire and surrounding him with energy. It was a psychic cage, but one he wouldn't be able to hold very long.
Who are you?
No enemy of yours. The voice that came out of the depths of the stranger's mind was older than he'd expected and, oddly, full of respect.
Then why are you trying to kill me?
I wasn't even aware of your presence. We were waiting for the witch. I thought it was she seeking to touch my mind again.
A chill ran through him. That bullet had been meant for Nikki. Why waste silver on a witch?
Because this witch is not human. She shifts, becomes something else. He thought her a shapeshifter? Why? So what harm will a shifter cause a vampire?
She has the power to destroy my dreams. I have seen it.
Sweat was beginning to trickle down his face. He wished he could invade the other vampire's thoughts and discover where he was, but his mind-strength was just a little too strong to attempt both capture and invasion. If he let the net slip to attempt it, the fiend would slither away—or try an invasion of his own. And while he very much doubted the other vamp had the strength to succeed, it was a risk he wasn't willing to take. Not when Nikki's safety was at stake.
I have the power to destroy your dreams if I ever feel your presence like that again. I apologize. I didn't realize there was another brother in the city, let alone this hotel. He hesitated . Perhaps we should get together tomorrow evening. I have not spoken to someone close to my age in years.
He raised his eyebrows at the soft yearning so evident in the other vampire's voice. Obviously, despite his clairvoyant abilities, this vampire had no idea who he was. Why should I trust you?
Ah. A man who has been around longer than me, obviously. We shall meet somewhere public, if you wish.
He knew it was a risk, but one worth taking simply because it might lead to the chance of killing this fiend and ending all their problems. Where?
The Hard Rock Café on Van Ness Avenue. You know it?
I can find it.
Then I look forward to meeting you.
I give no guarantees to be there. Better to let the fiend think he was far from eager for this meeting. Of course. But if you do show up, ask for Farmer.
At least they now had a name. He released the net and let the other vampire slither from his grasp. The two people in the car blinked, dreamers just waking from a dream. He touched their minds, swiftly searching their memories. They'd just left a restaurant in Hyde Street when the other vampire had taken control. Hyde Street wasn't far from the hotel. The other vampire couldn't have been, either, simply because he wasn't strong enough to hold these two captive over any great distance. Keeping them mind-blind, Michael punched a hole into the windshield to give them a plausible excuse for stopping, and rebuilt their memories around that excuse. Then he wrapped the shadows around himself, grabbed the gun and walked away. Within a minute, their curses filled the night, then the car started up and they drove away.
Nikki appeared in the window. What little light there was seemed to caress the pale skin of her bare legs, and he found himself wishing he could do the same.
Are you really intending to meet him?
So she had been listening in. Obviously the link between them worked on a far different, far deeper, level than telepathy because he certainly hadn't felt her presence when he'd been questioning the other vampire.
Or had it simply gotten so strong over the last few months that either of them could read the other's thoughts without really trying? That perhaps from now on, it would take a conscious effort to keep the other out?
Yes. You want to throw me some clothes, then get dressed yourself and come down here?
She pulled off his sweater, giving him a tantalizing but all too brief glimpse of her firm, high breasts. She tossed the sweater down to him before disappearing inside. Why?
Because I want to go for a walk and see if I can sense the presence of the other vamp, and I have no intention of leaving you in the hotel alone.
He's nowhere near. I'd feel him if he was.
I'd still like to check, just in case.
He caught the sweater and pulled it on. It smelled faintly of cinnamon and vanilla. He smiled and hoped she was right. Hoped they didn't find the scent, just so he could walk hand in hand with her. They'd spent too little time simply being lovers of late.
More clothes tumbled down to the pavement. Be there in five . Wait. Catch this rifle and tuck it safely under our mattress. She appeared in the window again. He checked to ensure the safety was on then tossed the rifle up to her. She caught it deftly, if a little gingerly, and disappeared. He quickly dressed then walked down to the hotel entrance to wait for her.
She bounced out four minutes later, wearing a short black skirt that showcased her wonderful legs, and a dark red sweater that clung to her breasts and highlighted the fact she wasn't wearing a bra.
"You look entirely too energetic for someone who has had so little sleep,” he commented, wrapping his hand around her waist and pulling her close. “Are you going to be warm enough in those clothes?"
"The look in your eyes will keep me hot enough, believe me.” Her grin was pure cheek. “And we can always find a secluded foggy spot in which to warm each other up." That definitely sounded more enticing that hunting a vampire. He kissed her, long and tender. Her pulse was doing a double-time dance, and with the heat of her body pressed against him so wantonly, he really didn't want to go anywhere but back to the hotel room. Which was obviously the effect she'd been after when she'd donned these clothes. “You're incorrigible,” he said eventually. Her eyes twinkled with amusement and desire. “I try hard. Are we walking, or do you have something else in mind?"
Her sigh was dramatic. “Such a spoil sport."
He smiled and led her down the street. The fog was a blanket of white dampness that swirled sluggishly around them, muffling the noise of passing traffic and the late night laughter of partygoers. Street lights twinkled like forlorn stars in the distance, and from the direction of the bay came the haunting cry of fog horns. The night was peaceful, untainted by the touch of evil. It was doubtful he'd find any hint of the other vampire, but he kept walking anyway. He was enjoying the night. Enjoying doing something semi-normal with Nikki.
"Why do you think this vamp wants to meet you?” she said. He shrugged. “Loneliness. The night can be a desolate place after a few years." Her expression was curious. “Was it for you?"
He nodded. “You asked why I stayed so long with Elizabeth. Perhaps there lies your answer."
"Yet you survived it. And her."
He smiled at the slight emphasis she placed on her . “Thanks in part to the friendships I formed. But the lifestyle of many vampires does not allow them to form true friendships."
"Because they drink human blood?"
"Can two vampires ever become truly good friends?"
He hesitated. “There are a number of vampires in the Circle, and I would call them friends. But not close. It is never truly comfortable for us."
She raised her eyebrows. “Why?"
"It's the nature of the beast.” He shrugged. “Vampires are hunters. Hunters tend to be territorial."
"And no true hunter likes another in his territory?"
"Then why is this vampire inviting you to dinner?” She hesitated, and amusement spun through the link, warm and sexy. “Maybe he's taken a fancy to you."
"Wouldn't be the first time it's happened."
She pulled him to a stop, her expression slightly shocked. “What?" He grinned and kissed her nose. “Both sexes seem attracted by my natural good looks and charm." She snorted softly and whacked him lightly on the arm. “Yeah, right." He raised his eyebrows. “It's true. I've been propositioned by many a male, both before and after death."
She stared at him for a moment. “Before death?"
"Not all our English landlords were as straight as they claimed.” He tugged her across the intersection and continued on up Hyde Street hill. “I was barely twelve at the time."
"What did you do?"
"Kept well out of his way, and hid whenever he came to our farm.” He shrugged. “He found other sport to chase after a week or so."
"Good grief."
He chuckled softly. “You spent quite a few years on the streets as a teenager. Surely you saw more shocking sights than old men chasing young boys."
"Well, yeah. It's just I never figured you were one of those young boys."
"I ran very fast,” he said solemnly. “Believe me, he never caught me."
"And after death?"
"They quickly found their attention directed elsewhere." She raised an eyebrow, amusement touching her full lips. “Including the females?"
"Of course. How could you think otherwise?"
"Something to do with the expertise you show in certain fields,” she said dryly. “What if this vampire intends to lure you into a trap?"
"I doubt he'd do anything in a crowded café."
"What if he's seizing the opportunity to size up the opposition?"
"Then that'll make two of us, won't it?” He studied her for a moment. “What is it about this meeting that worries you?"
"I don't know. He doesn't sound anything like Jasper or Cordell. He sounds normal, and he's very obviously not.” She bit her lip for a moment, her gaze sweeping the fog-enshrouded darkness around them. “I think it's going to be a lot harder to stop him than it was either of them."
"Which is why—"
Anger flared through the link, singeing his senses. “Don't say it,” she warned, pulling her fingers from his.
“Not unless you want an all-out argument right here on the street." He didn't want to argue at all, here or anywhere else. You keep complaining I don't listen to you, and yet you refuse to consider my reasons.
Her gaze searched his, expression annoyed. “Maybe you're right. Maybe you should fully explain your reasons."
He reached out, brushing the moisture from the tip of her nose. “Not out here. It's too wet."
"The fog may be damp, but the night isn't really cold.” She shrugged. “I want you to talk to me, Michael."
He didn't want to talk. He just wanted to enjoy the night and her company in this brief window of peace they'd been given. But her determined expression suggested this time she would not let it go. He twined his fingers through hers again and kept walking. On a clear night, the bay would have stretched out before them. Tonight, there was little more to be seen than fog muffled lights.
"I have been with the Circle since its beginning,” he said. “In that time, both the Circle and I have gained a fair number of enemies. There are some alive today who would stop at nothing to destroy either of us."
"I'd think that would be a natural fallout from the type of work you do,” she said, voice flat. “You can't run around killing bad guys without the bad guys’ friends and relatives getting a little pissed about it." He smiled, despite his annoyance. “True. The point is, these people will do all in their power to destroy me and everything I hold dear. That has never worried me because, until you, I had no one in my life whose destruction would destroy me."
She stopped, her gaze searching his, eyes glittering liquid gold in the damp night. “Then you know precisely how I feel when you go off on one of your missions and leave me behind." He brushed his fingers against her cheek. “You're stronger than I am. You would survive my death. But I have spent over three and a half centuries alone, and I could not survive another three if I lost you."
"And you think I'd want to go on if I lost you?"
"No. But I think you'd survive the loss. I think you would go on. I think in many ways you are far stronger than I ever will be."