Chasing the Shadows
Page 12

 Keri Arthur

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She shrugged. “We're not sure. Probably."
Jake glanced at Michael, his expression hard. “He's a dead man?"
"If I can discover for a certainty he's behind the killings, yes."
"Good.” Jake's gaze returned to her. “Are you up to helping Jeff Harris?"
"I have very little choice, really. You've arranged a meeting?" He nodded. “Much to the annoyance of the police and Feds, I think.” He glanced at his watch. “Mary wants us to have breakfast together, then we'll head on over. I said we'd be there by nine-thirty."
"That's not leaving much time for breakfast. Mary won't be amused."
"She never is.” He pushed up from the sofa. “I'll see you in the dining room in ten minutes." He strode from the room and slammed the door closed. “A marriage in trouble,” Michael said softly.
"Yeah, and you'd better take note, buddy boy, because that's us a few years down the road if you don't start listening to me."
His dark gaze met hers, as unreadable as ever. “You and I are far different."
"Bull. Mary's taking no more notice of Jake's desires than you are of mine." He raised an eyebrow. “And is Jake taking any notice of Mary's desires?"
"He's here, isn't he?"
"Only to recover. You and I know he has no intention of taking the security position permanently." She crossed her arms and all but glared at him. “Mary knew what Jake did for a living when she married him. She has no right trying to change him this late in the game."
"Yet you have the right to try to change me?” A slight smile touched his lips. “I have never made any secret of my opposition to you joining me in my work."
"I'm not asking you to stop like Mary's asking Jake. All I'm asking is to be included in that section of your life."
"And in the meantime, deliberately ignoring every opposing argument I give. A marriage works two ways, Nikki. It's give and take."
She raised an eyebrow. “We're not married."
He hesitated. “No. But the principle is the same."
"So you're saying I take and don't give?"
His frustration flitted through the link between them. “No, that's not what I'm saying at all."
"Then what are you saying?"
"That for any relationship to last long-term, there has to be some sort of give and take between the wants and desires of both people."
She crossed her arms and glared at him. “And just what have you given up in this relationship? Your solitude and loneliness? Gee, that's mighty big of you."
"Sarcasm will not get you anywhere."
"But neither is simply trying to talk to you."
He made a cutting gesture with his hand, and the frustration in the link became clouded with anger. “I said I'd think about it. Leave it at that, Nikki."
"God, you're so damn frustrating at times."
"So are you,” he retorted. “Go have a shower."
She thrust her hands onto her hips. Energy tingled at her fingertips, but she resisted the temptation to knock him against the nearest wall. “Stop treating me like a child and giving me orders all the time."
"Fine,” he said, voice tight. “Don't have a shower. Do what you please. I'm heading downstairs to the dining room."
She swept the newspaper off the coffee table and threw it at his retreating back. He didn't even look back at her, just walked out the door and slammed it closed. She watched the sheets of newsprint flutter to the ground and sighed. She seemed to be doing that a lot lately—throwing things at his retreating back. And while she knew it was only a venting of her anger, it was one she'd definitely have to control. It wouldn't take much to slip into using her kinetic powers instead, and that was far more dangerous. Besides, he was right in what he'd said yesterday. If she wanted to be treated like an adult, she should start acting like one. Throwing things at him might provide short-term satisfaction, but in the long run, it wouldn't help either of them.
With another sigh, she walked over to the door and picked up the newspaper. After dumping it onto the coffee table, she walked into the bedroom.
And discovered a stranger standing in the middle of the room.
* * * *
Michael rubbed his eyes as the elevator doors slid shut. He hadn't meant to get angry, but it was just so damn frustrating that she wouldn't listen. He'd agreed to consider her request—was it asking so much that she do the same?
The elevator slid open, and he strode into the dining room. Jake was nowhere to be seen, but Mary sat at a table near one of the windows. He hesitated, but in that moment she turned around and saw him. He smiled at her raised hand and wove his way through the tables toward her.
"Michael, so nice to see you again,” she said, voice warm, cultured. He clasped her offered hand gently, her fingers like cool parchment against his own. “As it is nice to see you again.” He kissed her fingertips then pulled out a chair near the wall. While it was nowhere near ten and the sun itself offered no danger, he wasn't about to take a risk after last night's attack. “Jake been called away?"
She nodded, a small, tight smile touching her lips. “It's always one thing or another." Her voice was edged with the bitterness he could read in her thoughts. Mary, the loving, patient wife, had just about had enough. He hesitated, not sure he really should interfere, but unwilling to sit back and watch two people he liked drift apart. He smiled slightly. Nikki was certainly a bad influence. A year ago he wouldn't even have sat here, let alone been thinking about discussing Mary's personal problems when he had enough of his own.
"Jake will never change."
She leaned her chin on her clasped hands, her gaze touched with amused weariness. “Don't you think I know that?"
"Then why—"
"Why am I complaining so?” she cut in. “Because I have spent thirty years of my life loving him and supporting his endeavors. I think it's beyond time he started supporting mine."
"But your desires lie here in San Francisco. His do not." She raised a finely penciled eyebrow. “And you think I desired to spend thirty years of my life in a town like Lyndhurst?"
"No one could want to spend thirty years in a town like Lyndhurst,” he said with a smile.
"Except Jake. And possibly Nikki.” She sighed softly. “I love San Francisco. And I love Boston, where I grew up. They are so much more ... refined ... than Lyndhurst. Is it asking too much that he move his business to either city?"
The sharp premonition of danger stabbed his mind, and he raised an eyebrow. Why had no one mentioned the fact Mary had grown up in Boston?
"No,” he said slowly, “I guess not."
"There. Someone finally agrees with me. Perhaps you should talk to Jake for me."
"Perhaps.” He touched her thoughts, lightly controlling. The spark of awareness left her eyes. “Tell me, did you attend high school in Boston?"
"Yes,” she repeated dutifully.
"Were any of the following women your classmates at that high school?” He reeled off the names of four kidnap victims.
She frowned. “All but Dale Wainwright were in my class."
He wasn't entirely surprised. “Did you know Dale at all during school?"
"We met afterward, when she married Mark. I believe she was three years my junior."
"Did anything unusual happen during your years at high school?"
"Think back a little more.” He pressed his mind control a little deeper.
"Nothing.” She hesitated. “There was one prom that was somewhat tragic."
"In what way?"
"Two girls got drunk and leapt from the roof of the hall."
"Any idea why?"
"How did the alcohol get into the hall then?"
"No idea."
This was getting him nowhere fast. If Seline was checking the records, she'd undoubtedly find mention of this incident. He'd talk to her later this morning.
He crossed his arms and stared at the window for a moment. “Did these three girls do anything unusual during the evening?"
"Nothing different from the rest of us."
"And nothing else happened?"
He released his hold on her mind, and she blinked. “Now, what was I saying?"
"It's not me who needs to talk to Jake,” he said, giving her the prompt. “But you.” And knew the irony of the words even as he said them.
"We have talked. I talk, he talks, and still we get nowhere. I think we've both grown more selfish over the years, and it's me who's cracked first."
"You've spent too long together to simply walk away now." She sighed. “It's the only reason either of us is still here." He reached across the table and squeezed her hand. In that instant, he was slammed by the rush of fear running through the link.
Nikki. In trouble. He thrust upwards. “I'll be back in a moment." Mary smiled gently. “Don't worry. I've grown used to men running out on me of late." He hurriedly kissed her cheek, then ran out of the dining room. He didn't wait for the elevator, but blurred his form and raced up the stairs.
A heartbeat later he reached their room and shoved open the door. Nikki spun as he entered, hand raised, energy dancing in sparks across her fingertips. She relaxed the instant she saw him. What's wrong? He quickly looked around the room but could see or feel no immediate threat. We have a visitor.
She nodded toward the bedroom behind her. He strode to her side, sliding his hand down her arm until his fingers were twined through the warmth of hers. In the center of the bedroom stood a man. He was ordinary looking—short, plumpish, with thinning red hair and pale blue eyes. His face was pockmarked, leftover evidence of the acne he must have suffered as a teenager. He was dressed in black boots, faded jeans, a black T-shirt and a leather jacket.
But he wasn't real.
Wasn't actually there.
His image rippled, sparked, and energy caressed the air, raising the hairs along Michael's arm. Have you talked to him?
She shook her head. I was about to, when you came in.
Then do so. He released her fingers. I'll remain silent, so he doesn't sense I'm here. She walked into the room and stopped in front of the flickering image. “Who are you?" The man jerked, like a mannequin brought to life. Michael very much suspected that this wasn't the true form of the man behind the murders. And if the marks on the image's neck were anything to go by, he was also very dead.
"I'm sending you a warning. Leave this city now, or I will destroy you." The image's lips didn't move. The voice was disembodied but familiar. It was the man he'd talked to last night.
"And why would you want to do that?” She circled the image, studying him from all angles. She paused when she saw the man's neck and glanced across at Michael. This man is dead. By several hours, I'd say. He crossed his arms and leaned a shoulder against the door frame. But he didn't entirely relax. This image might well be the forerunner of another attack.
"What I do is nothing more than justice,” the voice said. “You have no right to stop me."
"What you're doing has nothing to do with justice, and everything to do with revenge. Don't lie to me or yourself."
The image's mouth slid into the gruesome replica of a smile. “You are more intuitive than I'd originally thought."
"And you're sicker than I'd originally thought.” Nikki stopped near the front of the image again. “And I have no intention of going anywhere until I stop you."
No reply came. The image hung in the room, waiting for its master to give it life once more. It might not be wise to antagonize him, Michael advised. We're working with a sick mind, and it's doubtful his reactions will be predictable.
Antagonizing him might be our only way of stopping him. At least if he's coming after me, he's not kidnapping other women.
I wouldn't be too sure of that. This plan, whatever it was, smelled of precision. Their killer might be mad, but madness certainly hadn't incapacitated his brainpower. He's here for a reason. He's not here just to deliver a warning.
An image can't harm me.
It can if it's meant as nothing more than a distraction. He glanced over his shoulder. While he could hear no sound or movement, the awareness of ... something ... surged across his senses. She glanced at him, eyebrows raised. You think he plans another attack?
But it's daylight, so his vamps can't move around. And the cops have the hotel monitored. Fledglings could take them easily enough. Yet it wasn't fledglings he could sense. It was something else, something undefinable.
Something that felt vaguely human, though he could neither smell blood nor hear a heartbeat. Zombie?
Remember what they smell like.
She shuddered. No disguising that .
No. He pushed away from the bedroom door frame and moved to the center of the main room, trying to get some sort of directional feel for whatever it was he sensed.
"Are you sure you just won't give up this madness and go?” the voice said. She glanced at Michael. He moved back until he was near the suite door, then nodded.
"Oh, I'm sure."
"Then I apologize, but you really leave me no choice." The image disappeared. For several seconds, neither Michael nor Nikki moved. Barely even breathed. The happy tune of a cable car bell mingled with the rumble of traffic rising up from the street below. On the floor immediately underneath them, people moved, talked or made love, the pulse of their hearts a distant but flavorsome beat.