Chasing the Shadows
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* * * *
Nikki took a deep breath, trying to calm the butterflies battering the walls of her stomach. Though they felt more like condors than butterflies.
A steady bleeping filled the silence. Dale's heartbeat, stable for the moment. Dale herself lay on the bed, her face as white as her sterile surroundings. She hadn't yet woken. Nikki suspected she never would.
"Five minutes is all you have,” Jake prompted softly.
She took another deep breath and released it slowly, gathering her courage. Then she glanced past Jake and met Mark's red-rimmed gaze. In his brown eyes she saw a mix of emptiness, despair and deep, dark fury. The sort of fury that fired the bitter quest for revenge.
"I can't promise this won't hurt her,” she said. “I've never tried anything like this before." His nod was tight. Angry. “The doctors said she might never...” he hesitated, his gaze moving back to his wife as he took a deep, shuddering breath. “If she doesn't, I want the bastard that did this to her. I want him dead. You understand me? Dead ."
Jake placed a comforting hand on his friend's arm. Mark shook it off. “Just tell me you'll try. Tell me you won't hand this bastard over to the cops. He doesn't deserve justice. All he deserves is death. A long and lingering death."
"We'll do all we can.” Jake glanced at her. “You sure you want to do this?" She nodded. “It's our only chance of finding out where Farmer might be hiding."
"Then do it now, because we're running out of time." She walked over to the bed and stared down at Dale's still features. Goose bumps chased their way across her skin, and the sensation of evil stirred through her mind. Imagination, she thought. She flexed her fingers then raised her hands, lightly touching Dale's temples. She closed her eyes, trying to ignore the condors making such a mess of her stomach, and gingerly reached with her mind.
And met not the thoughts of a sick woman, but the trap of a vampire.
For a second, Nikki froze, like a deer caught in the glare of headlights. Farmer's laughter spun around her, cold and victorious. Her first instinct was to pull away and break the connection between them, but she resisted the urge. If they were going to stop this man, they needed to know more about him, and that might only be achieved by actually talking to him.
I know how your mind works, remember, he said, his mind voice devoid of any emotion, yet somehow chilling. It was not hard to guess you'd try something like this. Haven't you done enough to her? she spat back . Leave her some dignity in death, at least. Why should I? They gave me no dignity in life.
School children are notoriously cruel. That's a fact of life. Something we all had to live with at one time or another.
But these twelve were not children. They were adults. There were no excuses for what they did. Just as there was no excuse for taking over the minds of those two young women, forcing them to get drunk then jump off the roof. Though it was a guess, she knew it was a fairly safe one. There was really no other sensible explanation for what had happened—not that the authorities would ever consider that a sensible explanation.
An easy death, compared to the hell they gave me.
Or the death you're now giving the remaining ten.
His laughter spun around her, a flat sound that chilled her very soul. You are very clever—but not clever enough.
Malevolence swirled, and the sense of impending doom hit her like a punch in the stomach. Winded, chilled, she somehow wrenched her hands away from Dale's forehead and opened her eyes. And saw the other woman open hers. But there was no life in her blue gaze. No humanity. Only an evil colder than hell.
"Mine,” she said. It was a feminine voice, yet somehow it was also Farmer's. Silver flashed through the air. With a cry of fear, Nikki stumbled back. Heat seared along her arm. "Where the hell did that come from?” Jake shouted, rushing for the bed along with Mark. Dale's fist flew, knocking them both away, her strength seemingly inhuman. She wrenched the wires and sensors from her body, then thrust the sheet aside. Nikki flung out her hand and stopped her kinetically. Blood dripped from the wound on Nikki's arm, pooling at her feet. Another chill ran across her skin. It was an omen, but of what she wasn't sure.
Dale screamed and twisted, her movements furious, her face turning a mottled sort of red. Nurses and doctors appeared from everywhere. “What's going on here?” one said. He took one look at Dale and swore under his breath. “All of you—out. Now."
"I wouldn't advise that,” Jake said, climbing to his feet and rubbing his chin. The doctor glared at him. “Nurse, get security. I want these people out of here.” He grabbed a needle from the trolley one of the nurses had pushed in and walked toward the bed. A second nurse grabbed Nikki's arm and wrenched her away. She broke the woman's grip with a sharp twist, but by then her kinetic hold had slipped. Dale screamed. She kicked the needle from the doctor's hand then smashed him sideways with a clenched fist. Nurses ran to help him but were just as easily swatted away. Dale rose on the bed and launched herself across the room—the knife a deadly point at the end of her human arrow.
Nikki hit her again with kinetic energy, holding her still and high above the floor. Sweat trickled down the side of her face, and pain as sharp as the knife aimed at her heart slithered through her brain.
"Jake,” she groaned out, ignoring the gasps around her. “Grab the knife off her." She lowered Dale several feet. Jake pushed past the nurses and pried the knife from Dale's stiff fingers. She screamed in rage, fighting Nikki's hold on her. The arrowheads of pain became a landslide, and she knew she wouldn't be able to hold her for much longer. Not after her efforts in the sewers.
"Now, grab a bandage or something to tie her hands and feet." He found a bandage on the trolley and quickly did as she asked. “Now, doctor,” she ground out. “When I place Dale back on the bed, you be ready with that sedative, because I'm not going to be able to hold her much longer."
He climbed to his feet and readied another sedative. Nikki thrust Dale towards the bed, dumping her none too gently on top of the twisted sheets. Nurses jumped on her, holding her down as the doctor injected her. Within minutes, the fight went out of her.
"God almighty, what on earth happened there?” Mark stared at her, a mix of confusion and fear in his gaze.
Knowing she was psychic and actually seeing those skills in action were obviously two very different realities. “The man who attacked your wife is a powerful telepath. He was controlling your wife's actions just now."
"But—” His voice faded as he ran a hand across his bald head. “Remember what I said. Justice is no answer here."
Jake placed a hand on Mark's arm. “He'll get what's coming to him, never fear." The back of Nikki's neck tingled in warning. She turned. Michael was close—and the very lack of emotion in the link told her he was furious.
He stepped into the room a moment later. His dark gaze stabbed towards her, and she met it defiantly. She'd done nothing truly wrong. Granted, attempting to read Dale's memories while he wasn't there was a bit foolish. But he wasn't always going to be around, and she really did have to learn to control her growing gifts. No matter how dangerous that might be.
Power swept the room. Everyone froze but Jake and her. “Out, both of you,” Michael said, his soft voice holding no hint of the anger she could feel in him.
She shared a glance with Jake, then walked from the room. Jake swiped an antiseptic swab and another bandage from the medical cart, grabbing her arm as they entered the corridor.
"What's he doing?” he asked, as he began to patch the wound on her forearm.
"As a guess, wiping everyone's memory of what just happened.” She hesitated as Michael walked over to Dale. “And probably forming some sort of block in Dale's mind so that Farmer can't use her like that again."
"Well, at least something good will have come from this whole mess.” He finished bandaging her arm, then added, “You want me to hang around when we get back to the hotel?" She smiled and leaned forward to kiss his leathery cheek. “Thanks, but I don't need a protector. What I need is a piece of two-by-four to knock some sense into Michael's thick skull." Jake hesitated. “That's a two-way street, you know. You can't expect him to compromise his beliefs when you're not willing to do the same."
Oh, great. Now Jake was stepping towards Michael's side of the fence as well. Or maybe Michael had simply rearranged Jake's thoughts. She scowled at him. “What do you mean?" Jake waved a hand toward Michael. “I can understand your need to be a part of what he does. But you've also got to take into account that there will be cases you simply can't get involved in—for whatever reason."
"Don't you think I know that?” she said, trying to curb her irritation. “The whole problem I have is the fact that he won't let me get involved in any way. He won't tell me anything about the Circle, or Seline, or his missions. Everything I know I've dragged out of him. He has a whole separate life I know nothing about. We don't talk about it, ever."
Jake raised his eyebrows. “Sounds like there's a little jealousy happening there." She blinked. Was she jealous? Maybe. In many ways, the Circle and Seline demanded—and got—as much of his attention as she did. “Put yourself in my shoes—or better yet, remember back to when you and Mary had just met. How would you have felt if Mary had a whole separate career you knew nothing about? One that involved lots of other men and took her away from your side a good half of the year?" "I'd have been as pissed as hell."
"You can trust Michael, though. He doesn't seem the straying type." She waved the comment away. She did trust Michael and certainly wasn't worried about him straying sexually. “The point is, wouldn't you have at least wanted to find out more about Mary's other life?"
"Yes.” He paused. “But that's not all you're asking for, is it?" No. But was it asking too much to become a part of that other life—even if it was only a minor part?
She didn't think so.
Especially when he knew just about everything there was to know about her.
"What are you going to do if he continues to refuse?” Jake added softly. She thrust a hand through her hair. “I don't know.” Her gaze drifted back to Michael. “I just don't know."
But she had a horrible feeling that unless things changed dramatically in the next week or so, she might have to carry through with her threat to leave him. Because as much as leaving would break her heart, it was better than the slow death she suffered every time he went away. She couldn't survive that happening time and again. Not for the next ten years, let alone the next fifty. Or one hundred.
Maybe she was being selfish. Maybe she should just shut up and be thankful she'd found a man who loved her as much as he did.
But she just wasn't built that way. She couldn't be part-time. And part of the reason was her memories of her parents relationship. They did everything together—even die—and right to the end they'd been extremely happy. Maybe she was fantasizing it a little—after all, they'd died when she was barely a teenager. Maybe it all wasn't as rosy as she remembered. But to this day she could still recall the looks they'd shared, the way they'd touched, the way they'd talked over every decision—and she'd always wanted that sort of relationship. The sort that lasted through thick and thin. The sort that shared good times and bad.And if Michael wasn't willing to shift from his comfortable plane of existence and include her more fully in his life, then the love they shared would mean little in the end. Because she knew from bitter experience love just wasn't enough.
* * * *
Michael leaned against the wall and watched the elevator numbers rise. When he'd finally calmed down enough to open the link between them, he found it locked down just as tight from her end. Nor had she argued when he'd curtly ordered her back to the hotel. Which undoubtedly meant she was furious, though why, he had no idea. She was the one risking her life with acts of stupidity. He took a deep breath, crossing his arms as the elevator came to a halt on their floor. Nikki stepped out alone, which surprised him. He'd half expected her to drag Jake along to help argue her case. She hesitated when her gaze met his, and anger singed the air between them. Then her gaze slithered away, and the anger disappeared. Or rather, was re-shuttered.
"You had a key,” she snapped. “You didn't have to wait for me."
"I know I didn't,” he replied evenly. “I wanted to."
"Didn't trust me to do as ordered, huh?” She swiped her key card through the slot then shoved open the door.
"I just wanted to make sure you got here safely."
"Likely story.” She threw off her coat and stalked over to the minibar. “Can't have the little woman straying too far off the leash now, can we?"
His own anger rose again. “Damn it, Nikki, I had every right to be furious. What you were trying to do was stupid and dangerous, and you know it."
"What I was trying to do was my job!” She grabbed a soda out of the fridge and slammed the door shut.
“I am a private investigator, in case you've conveniently forgotten that."
"You also know how dangerous it is trying to enter someone's mind like that. Especially when the man who attacked that person has a psychic connection to both of you." She popped the top off the soda. Froth bubbled over the lip and dripped onto her shoes. She didn't seem to notice. Or maybe she just didn't care.