Chasing the Shadows
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Her breath caught somewhere in her throat. Don't think. Don't feel . Not yet. “I don't know exactly. I just know I can't touch his mind, and that Farmer has beaten the crap out of him."
She nodded tightly and wondered how in hell something like that had happened. He was usually so careful ... but then, maybe it was a little hard to concentrate when someone you loved had just threatened to walk out of your life. Guilt swirled, but she pushed that away, too. She had no time for guilt or fear or anything else beyond determination.
She'd save him from Farmer. Find him, save him, and somehow kill Farmer in the process. She swung right and made her way down a smaller street. An old restaurant came into sight, its windows boarded up but door gone.
This was it. This was where they'd been. Where they no longer were. Jake stopped beside her. “Anyone there?"
She shook her head, her gaze searching the street, trying to catch some sense of where Farmer had taken Michael. Instinct suggested they were heading northwest. But it also suggested they shouldn't follow. Not yet.
Jake looked around, then stepped past the shattered doorway into the old restaurant. She followed him inside.
He bent and studied several dark smudges on the floor. “Blood.” His voice was as grim as his expression when he looked up.
She swallowed bile and somehow managed to say, “He's alive, Jake. Farmer wants to use him as bait."
"So what the hell are we going to do? The two of us are pretty much next to useless when it comes to fighting a vampire and his horde."
"Maybe.” She moved past him into the deeper darkness. There was something here that teased the outer reaches of her psychic senses. Something she had to find. “There are ways we can protect ourselves, at least."
"I thought garlic and holy water didn't work."
She edged forward and held out her hand. Energy tingled across her fingertips, warning she was close.
“It doesn't. But silver does. Wooden stakes do."
"So does shooting the bastard's head off,” Jake said. “I'd rather be armed with a gun any day."
"Gun's don't frighten vampires. They tend to think they're beyond them.” She knelt and brushed her fingers against the old tiles, touching a sliver of metal.
It was the cross she'd given Michael when they first met. Farmer must have torn it from his neck, because Michael would never have left this here willingly. Michael knew she'd use it to follow him—and that was something he'd never want.
She wrapped her fingers around it. Though her palm tingled, no images rushed from the cross's silver heart. He was still unconscious, and there was no telling yet just how badly he'd been hurt. But if the muted ache pounding through her brain was anything to go by, his wounds were serious. Maybe not enough to kill, but certainly enough to maim him longer than any of them had before they faced Farmer.
She walked back to Jake. “We should go back to the hotel and plan what we're going to do next." Jake's expression was shocked. “You're not going after him?" She held out her hand and showed him the cross. “Michael would never have left it. We both know he wouldn't want me to follow him, no matter how deadly his situation. Farmer took it off. He's the one who wants us to follow."
"And if we don't, he might just kill Michael."
She took a deep breath. It didn't calm the churning in her stomach or the fear pounding through her heart. “He won't until he gets his hands on me. So we keep away until we have a surefire way of killing the bastard."
"That's not going to be easy. For a start, we don't even know what he looks like."
"I'll know him when I see him.” If only because the scent of evil was never easily disguised. Jake nodded. “Then let's get back."
He led the way out the door. They walked quickly through the damp night, and while she could find no scent of evil in the darkness that swirled damply around them, it was a huge relief when the warm lights of the hotel finally came into sight.
The woman manning the reception desk looked up as they entered. “Miss James? A parcel has arrived for you."
Jake raised an eyebrow. “You expecting anything?"
She shook her head. “But Michael was. Seline was sending him a charm of some sort."
"Ah, the mystery lady who runs the Circle. We ever going to get to meet her?" Nikki gave him a dirty look as she picked up the small, wrapped box. “I can't even get him to talk about her—which is one of the things we were arguing about."
"Ah. Sorry, Nik."
She shrugged. Their argument wasn't what mattered right now. Getting Michael back safely was.
"You want something to eat?” Jake continued as they made their way across to the elevators. She shook her head. “I very much suspect if I eat anything right now, I might just throw up." He looked at her, then touched her elbow and drew her into his embrace. “He'll be okay,” he said softly.
“Michael's survived for more than three centuries. It'll take more than a psycho like Farmer to destroy him."
She closed her eyes, fighting tears. She couldn't cry. Wouldn't cry. Not until Michael was safe. A bell chimed into the silence, announcing the elevator's arrival. She didn't move and neither did Jake, and for that she was glad. In many ways, he'd become almost a father to her, and right now, she needed a father's comforting. Needed to be held. Needed to be told it would turn out all right—even if the words were nothing more than a lie.
It was several minutes before she sniffed and pulled away. Forcing a smile, she said, “Thanks." He nodded, thumbing a tear from her cheek. “Michael's a survivor. Remember that, if nothing else. And there's no way on this Earth he's going to give up life until he's had a chance to tell you off for walking out on him like you did."
Her smile became warmer, but no less strained. “You're probably right."
"There's no probably about it. I was with the man. Believe me, annoyed doesn't begin to cover it.” He hit the elevator button again and the door slid open. “You going up to your room?" She shook her head and followed him in. “Neither of us is going anywhere alone from now on. If you want something to eat, I'll follow you into the dining room. I can grab a coffee, if nothing else."
"Nik, you can't fuel you talents on nothing but coffee, you know."
"You've been hanging around Michael far too much." He smiled. “He's only echoing what I've been saying for years." She snorted softly. “This from the man who didn't believe in my talents for how many years?" "I didn't dis believe, you know."
The doors slid open again, and Jake led the way into the dining room. She waited until the waiter had taken Jake's order then placed the box on the table and began unwrapping it. Inside was a single braided rope bracelet, similar to the one she'd worn to stop Cordell's magic from touching her. Only this one had several tarnished charms woven through the thick red, yellow and blue cords.
"What is it?” Jake said, when she held it up.
"From what Michael said, it's supposed to break the link Farmer has with me.” She slipped it over her wrist and up under her sweater. The rope was slightly scratchy against her skin and oddly warm.
"A piece of rope and a couple of old coins are supposed to do that?” Disbelief edged his voice. She grinned. “Yeah, I know. But her charm worked the last time I tried one, and I'm not about to discount this one. We need all the breaks we can get."
"Amen to that."
Her coffee was brought to the table, then his meal. Jake thanked the waiter then attacked his steak with a gusto that made her look away. She might have to eat to fuel her talents, but right now just watching him was almost more than she could bear.
"So is it?” he asked, waving his knife at the charm hidden under her sweater.
"I don't know.” She leaned back in the chair, frowning as she searched for internal changes. The bracelet's pleasant warmth was beginning to flush through her, and for the first time since she'd arrived in San Francisco, she felt an odd sort of peace. It was as if she'd stepped into a cone of silence, without having realized before then just how much noise there was around her. “Maybe."
"Will that thing affect your ability to find Michael?" She wrapped her fingers around the cross in her pocket. Warmth pulsed through her fingers and shadows crowded her mind. He was regaining consciousness—but if those ghostly, distant images were anything to go by, he was still heavily drugged.
"No, it won't.” If only because their connection went far deeper—and was far stronger—than any of her talents. She would have been able to find him even without the aid of the cross and her psychometry skills.
"So what's the game plan?"
She sighed and rubbed a hand across her eyes. “I don't know. I just know we can't rush in and try to rescue him because that's what Farmer wants."
"And if he doesn't get what he wants, he'll try something else."
Jake finished his steak then pushed the remaining vegetables away and leaned back in his chair. “First things first. Weapons?"
"You've got your gun, and we've got that rifle we confiscated." He nodded. “I also took several knives from the kitchen, but I won't guarantee how much silver there is in them."
"Probably not a lot, but Farmer's younger in vampire years than Jasper, and a silver kitchen knife certainly helped do him in.” She frowned, trying to remember everything Michael had said about vampires over the past few months—which was not a lot, in reality. “What about wood?"
"As in stakes?"
She nodded. Wood in any form was supposedly deadly to vampires—not that she really wanted to confront Farmer armed only with a sharpened piece of wood. That would be nothing short of foolishness.
"I can get some."
A waiter approached and refilled their coffee cups. Jake waited until he'd left then said, “You know he's not going to be alone."
"I know.” And she didn't know how they were going to handle a harem of fledglings plus Farmer. “I wish we were back in Lyndhurst. At least we could call in MacEwan." Jake's smile was wry. “Bet you never thought there'd come a day when you'd be saying that."
"No.” MacEwan had been the bane of her existence as a teenager, and one of the biggest decriers of her talents on the police force. Yet, oddly enough, he was one of the few cops they could go to for help, no matter what the situation, simply because he'd known them long enough to trust them. Up to a point, anyway.
"We could call him,” Jake said. “Ask if he's got free time. At the very least, he might get us some credibility with the cops here in San Francisco."
"I've got a feeling we haven't that sort of time.” Which was not exactly the truth. What she was really feeling was that, as of five minutes ago, they'd totally run out of time. Her gaze drifted to the maître d', and a chill ran down her spine. Something had happened. Something more than Michael. The phone rang shrilly, and her heart lodged somewhere in her throat. The maître d’
answered it then glanced their way.
"Oh great. Just what we need right now—another of your little feelings.” Jake's voice seemed to be coming from the end of a great hollow.
She couldn't answer. Could only watch as a waiter bought the phone over to their table.
"Mr. Morgan? Phone call for you, sir."
Jake accepted the phone with a nod of thanks then said, “Hello?" There was a long silence, and in that brief moment, Jake seemed to age twenty years. She closed her eyes. Knew without being told what had happened. Jake hung up the phone and placed it on the table. For several minutes there was nothing but silence. It was as if the whole world had faded away, leaving an echoing void with only them in it. His chair creaked as he slumped back. She bit her lip, fighting tears.
"That was Anna.” His voice was remote. Empty. “Mary never made it to Long Beach."
* * * *
Voices whispered. Sharp, excited voices, heated by lust, spiked with desperation. At first, Michael wasn't sure whether they were real or just a result of the feverish pain pounding through him. More cries touched the night—the sound of fear mingled with ecstasy and lust and hunger. The darkness in him stirred and his canines lengthened. Anticipating. Wanting. He tried to force his eyes open, but they seemed glued shut. Tried to move his arms, only to have a red wall of pain rise up his left arm and knock him back into unconsciousness. When he stirred a second time, the voices were gone, replaced by the stink of evil.
"So the dead awakens.” Farmer's amused tones seemed to be coming from a great distance. “And here I was thinking I might have been a little too harsh with the boots." His voice was coming from the far left. Michael turned his head that way. Beyond the stink came the tantalizing aroma of fresh blood. The darkness in him came to life again. He needed to feed. Needed the sweet strength of human life to help him heal...
No, he thought. Not human. He could kill Nikki if he drank from her again... Nikki. Her image jumped into focus through the fogginess enshrouding his brain, and fear swelled. But she wasn't here. It wasn't her whose death he could smell. Wasn't her blood Farmer had all over him. Relief washed through him, a river that cleared some of the confusion from his brain. How much time had passed since Farmer had kicked him unconscious and dragged him down here? And where, exactly, was here?