Chasing the Shadows
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She turned away and continued down the hill. “You're wrong. So wrong." He followed her, watching the sway of her fog-dampened hair across her shoulders. “I don't want you to become a target. If you join the Circle, become a part of what I do, you will be."
"Isn't that a risk everyone in the Circle takes?"
"Yes. But because of me, the risk will be doubled for you."
"What if I said I understood that risk and was willing to take it?"
She swung around to face him again. Her anger seared the night, burned through the link. “So what the hell am I supposed to do with my life for the next three or four centuries? It's not as if I can stay home and watch the kids, is it?"
Shock coursed through him. God, he'd never even thought ... He reached out to pull her close, but she slapped his hand away.
"Loving you was my choice. Everything else that has happened between us has been yours. You can't keep making decisions for me, Michael. It'll destroy us."
He took a deep breath and released it slowly. Pictured her slender body heavy with his child. It stirred an ache fiercer than anything he'd thought possible. And while it could never be, he couldn't help the brief wish for humanity. For the chance.
"Did you want children?” he asked softly.
She swung away, but not before he caught the glimmer of moisture on her eyelashes. “No. Yes.” She made a helpless gesture with her hand. “I don't know. It's something I never really thought about until you came along."
She crossed her arms and walked on. “Don't be. You made me a thrall to save me from Jasper."
"No,” he corrected gently. “I made you a thrall because I love you and couldn't bear the thought of losing you."
She glanced at him. Tears still gleamed faintly in her wonderful eyes, but a smile touched her lips. “First time you've actually admitted that, you know."
"You knew how I felt. You have always known."
"Knowing and hearing it said are two entirely different things."
"Words can lie. Thoughts can't. That's where we share an advantage over most couples."
"We don't share all thoughts."
No, they didn't. He'd certainly never sensed her regret over losing her humanity—anger yes. But not regret. Had never suspected she'd ached to have children. Guilt rose, but only briefly. He couldn't really regret his actions when they were responsible for bringing her into his life. They continued on in silence, walking side by side but not touching. Below them, the masts of a tall ship loomed, and the salty tang of ocean became stronger.
"I have buried far more friends than I care to remember,” he said eventually. “I have no wish for you to join them."
"I think we can safely say death is something neither of us wants.” Though her voice still held an edge of annoyance, it was softer than before. “And neither of us is exactly an easy kill, anyway."
"But we are not immortal, either."
"No. But finding death by your side is better than dying slowly inside every time you leave me.” She hesitated. “Will you at least consider the possibility?"
He didn't want to, but he didn't want to lose her, either. He was beginning to see that their relationship truly was at stake over this. She'd walk away rather than settle for what she considered second-best. It was odd how quickly things had turned around. Only four months ago he'd been the one wanting to walk away—to keep her safe from the very dangers she was now fighting to share.
"I'll consider, if you'll agree to think about Jasper—and Cordell—and remember that there are things out there ten times worse than either of them. Those things could be hunting me even as we speak. You join me on missions, and they'll quickly be hunting you as well." Her fear swirled briefly around him. “You can't keep your home life and your working life separate forever. Sooner or later that's going to happen."
He touched a hand to her back, guiding her across the road toward the park. “I'd prefer it happened later rather than sooner."
"So would I.” Her gaze met his again, full of determination. “I know the risks and I don't care. I need to be a full partner in your life."
"I'll think about it.” Which was certainly more than he'd been prepared to do only a day ago.
"For now, that's all I'm asking.” She twined her hand through his and led him through the park. A building that oddly resembled a cruise ship loomed out of the fog. “Have you caught any scent of the other vampire?"
An impish smile touched her lips, and her eyes twinkled. Trouble headed his way. And he very much suspected it was the sort of trouble he was going to enjoy.
"And people? Any one in the nearby vicinity?"
He let his gaze roam the foggy darkness. The red haze of life burned near the wharf, and in some of the shops that lined the street. “No one close."
"Good.” She stopped at a park bench and pushed him down on it. “Guess what?" She straddled his lap, and he slipped his hands under her sweater, caressing the aroused points of her breasts. “What?"
"I'm not wearing any panties."
He slid his hands past her waist and hips, then up the inside of her thighs until he discovered she was indeed telling the truth. The muted ache that had sprung to life in front of the hotel leapt into renewed focus. “Wicked wench,” he murmured. He gently cupped the triangle of her curls, delved carefully into their moist heat. She was as ready for him as he was for her.
"You did say anywhere, anytime.” Her voice was teasing, her gaze hot. She slipped back on his lap and undid the zipper of his jeans. “I think it's time to prove you meant what you said."
"This is a little too public for my liking. You'll end up getting us arrested.” But as much as he wanted to pick her up and run back to the privacy of their hotel room so he could love her more fully, he didn't move. Couldn't move. Not when every part of him quivered to be inside her. To feel her warm, moist heat wrap around him.
She shifted again, capturing him, thrusting him deep. He groaned out loud at the sheer pleasure of it.
"You'll sense it if anyone comes close, won't you?” She dropped tiny kisses from his cheek to his chin, her breath a sweet caress across his skin, but one that seared deep.
"With you sitting so snugly on my lap, I very much doubt if I'd sense a herd of wild elephants running past.” He caught the end of her sweater and pulled it gently over her head. Her skin gleamed in the misty night, nipples dark and erect.
Amusement and passion shimmered through the link. “I doubt you'd have to worry about that happening."
"This is San Francisco. Anything can happen.” Including him making love in the middle of a park for every passerby to see to the woman who held his heart.
"Just think.” She slipped her hands under his sweater, her touch cool compared to the fever of his skin.
“If we were a team in the full sense of the word, there'd be no more lonely nights, no more long weeks of frustration."
"But there'd be more distraction, which could only lead to more danger for us both.” He cupped her breasts, gently kneading the puckered nubs. “Don't think to use sex as a means to change my mind. It won't work."
"I'm not.” She began to rock, ever so gently. Heat slithered through the link, wildfire ready to rupture and blow them both into bliss. “I'm just intent on showing you what you're missing out on."
"I'm very aware of what I'm missing out on, believe me." The last three weeks in Ireland had certainly been hell. Loneliness was something he'd thought himself well accustomed to—until she'd stepped into his heart and made him dream of things he'd long thought impossible. Losing her would be like snatching the sunshine from the sky. He couldn't survive the plunge back into darkness. Wouldn't want to survive.
"I need you emotionally far more than I need you physically.” He cupped a hand around the back of her neck and drew her lips close to his. “And I rest far easier at night knowing you are safe."
"I'm not safe. Not really.” Her breath tingled across his mouth, her gaze holding his. “It's just an illusion you draw for yourself. Your work is your life. Either I'm a part of that life, with all its inherent dangers, or I'm out. Standing halfway between the two, like I currently am, is the most dangerous place of all."
"You're wrong.” He brushed a tender kiss across her full lips. “And what we're doing now is the true danger. Distractions can kill."
"We are lovers, Michael. Occasionally it's nice to act like it.” A teasing smile touched her lips. “But if you're really worried, just tell me to stop."
He slid his hand down to her waist and held her in place. “The Man of Steel wouldn't have the strength to tell you to stop right at this moment."
"Then stop worrying and just start loving."
"You are an extremely bossy woman, you know that?"
"And you are the most talkative male I have ever met.” She wrapped her arms around his neck. “How about we concentrate on the business at hand before daylight comes and we really do get arrested." As you wish.
He kissed her hard and began concentrating.
* * * *
The harsh rap of knuckles against wood jerked Nikki awake. She kept her eyes closed, listening as her heart galloped in her chest. There was no sensation of danger, no hint of evil. The knock at the door echoed again.
The bed bounced as Michael rose, and she opened her eyes. The sunshine filtering past the hotel's curtains was warm and bright, so dawn had come and gone. She glanced at the clock. It was just after eight. They'd been asleep for a little more than three hours.
She sat up and looked around. The warm light played almost lovingly across Michael's well-toned back and shoulders as he pulled on his pants.
"Jake's at the door.” He leaned across the bed and quickly kissed her. “And from the feel of it, he's not happy. You'd better get dressed."
She tossed off the blankets and rose. “Something's happened."
"Obviously.” He pulled on his sweater and walked quickly from the room. A heartbeat later she heard Jake's angry tones.
She hurriedly pulled on some clothes and walked out. “What's wrong?" Jake threw the newspaper he was carrying onto the coffee table between them. “That's what's wrong." The headlines screamed at her. Another woman had gone missing overnight.
She looked quickly at Michael. “It must have happened after that couple tried to kill us."
"Not us. You.” He picked up the newspaper and studied the front page.
"Hang on,” Jake said. “What am I missing here?"
She waved toward the window. “Someone took a potshot at us through the window last night. Turns out the fiend behind these kidnappings was psychically controlling a couple with a gun." Jake's glance shifted to Michael and back again. “So why is he trying to kill you and not Michael?"
"Because he sees Nikki as the threat, not me."
"Meaning,” she answered with a smile, “he can see things other people can't. Sometimes this can include the future."
"That obviously means you're going to catch the fiend."
"Not necessarily. The future is not set in stone, you know. And knowing it means you can do something to change it."
"Well, that's just great.” Jake dropped down onto the sofa and glanced at Michael. “You'd better turn to page three while you're reading that thing."
He did, and though his expression didn't change, a wave of annoyance singed her senses.
"What?” she said.
He folded the paper and showed her the headline. Psychic recovers kidnap victim, it all but screamed. Complete with a picture of her that had been taken during the inquest into Matthew Kincaid's death.
"Oh, that's just great.” Just the sort of headline she needed while trying to stop a killer.
"It mentions the agency in the article,” Jake said. “And about an hour after that edition hit the streets, I got a call from Jeff Harris, the husband of the woman who's just been kidnapped. He wants you to try to find his wife."
And why wouldn't he, given what had happened to the other victims? She bit her lip and met Michael's gaze.
You don't have to, he said gently.
Yes I do. I couldn't live with myself if I stood back and did nothing, only... Only this time it might very well be a trap, he finished for her. She sighed. Yes .
He studied her for a moment, then threw the paper back onto the coffee table. “You remember what we did when Jasper kidnapped Jake, and we had to find him?"
She nodded. “Merged minds."
"It might be worth trying something like that again. I'll direct your abilities and hold them in check." "But what if this Farmer fellow senses you?"
"I doubt he has the psychic strength."
"Can I ask who Farmer is?” A hint of exasperation tinged Jake's voice.
"The fellow behind the shooting last night,” Michael said. “I have a meeting with him tonight."
"Is he the killer?"