Chasing the Shadows
Page 25

 Keri Arthur

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"I don't believe you,” she said, forcing her voice to remain flat. “It was daylight. Neither you nor your fledglings can move around in the sun."
Farmer chuckled. It was a cold sound that churned her already agitated stomach.
"Ah, but I didn't have to breach the sun's barrier. I just took over the mind of another and had him kidnap her for me."
She clenched her fists, fighting the urge to smack the image's smug smile from his face. “You're just playing mind games, you bastard."
"Actually, no. Both my parents were married.” He snorted softly at his own joke. His image wavered as he shifted his stance, and electricity stirred the tiny hairs along her arms. “However, perhaps you should call her friend in Long Beach and check. And call the airlines while you're at it, just to see that she didn't board another flight."
"I will, believe me."
His smile widened. His canines were wicked points that dug past his bottom lip. She rubbed her arms, but it didn't stop the goose bumps fleeing across her skin.
"Good. Then think about the decision you must make. I will let you save one. The other I will destroy. You will have an hour to decide, then I'll reappear to hear your decision." His image faded a little, then flickered back to full strength. “Oh, and remember, I know everything you do, so don't think you can mount a rescue attempt for either of them without me knowing. You move from that hotel room, and I'll kill them both. Clear?"
"Clear,” she murmured between clenched teeth.
His image disappeared just as Jake walked into the room. “What was that?"
"Message from Farmer. We've got an hour, then he's going to kill either Mary or Michael.” Though she seriously doubted Farmer had any intention of letting her save even one. Jake took a deep, shuddering breath. “At least that means they're both currently alive."
"Hopefully. Did you manage to find some sort of safe house?" He nodded. “Friend of mine owns a boat. It's ours for the next couple of days.” He handed her a business card with all the details scrawled on the back.
She slipped it into her pocket. “Did you find something of Mary's?"
He placed the white garment in her hand. Almost instantly images assaulted her, hitting her mind so hard she staggered back several steps.
Jake grabbed her arm. “What's wrong?"
"Nothing.” She flicked the bra out of her palm, holding it by her fingertips near the catch. The flood slowed to a trickle of shadows that, at least, she could cope with.
"Is there a problem with the bra?"
"No. I was just caught off guard by the sheer power of the images.” She moved out into the living room and sat down on one of the sofas. Placing the bra on the coffee table, she grimly met Jake's look. “This is going to be extremely dangerous. If the images I got just then were any indication, the minute I try to find where she is, I'm going to link right into her mind. Which means I'll be seeing and feeling everything she does."
Jake stared at her, face paler than before. “Dear God..."
"Exactly. I could lose myself in her, especially with Michael not here to pull me out." "If you think it's too dangerous..."
"No.” Besides, a little thing like losing her mind was nothing when Mary's life was at stake. She had to at least try. Had to. “But you'll have to keep close watch on me. If I start looking too stressed, you pull me out, any way you can."
He didn't ask how he was supposed to do that. He obviously knew she had as little idea as he did.
"When I nod, place the bra in my hand.” She edged back on the sofa and crossed her legs. Closing her eyes, she breathed, slow and deep, trying to follow the process Michael had shown her. Only he'd been there to help her, guard her...
Fear rose. She chased it away. She had no time for that now.
Breathe in, breathe out. Slow. Rhythmic. Gradually, the tension began to leave her limbs and her mind. She lowered her barriers, felt the buzz of expectation run through her psychic senses. She opened her hand and nodded. The minute the bra touched her hand, images burned through her soul. She wrapped her fingers around the material, pressing it into her palm. Her senses leaped away, following the trail that led to Mary. Shapes began to form. Fear trembled through her.
She thrust it from her again and concentrated on Mary. Imagined their thoughts as two separate streams that ran side by side, touching but not merging.
Then she reached—and was swept into Mary's thoughts...
...the darkness moved. Breathed. Fear shuddered through her, so strong it caught in her throat, making it difficult to catch her breath. She tried to shift back. The bed rocked underneath her, creaking loudly—but not loudly enough to cover the rattle of the chains that held her. They were tight, biting into her wrists and ankles.
Two blue lights appeared in the night. Eyes, she realized. Eyes ringed by bloody red. Teeth gleamed at her. Sharp, bloody canines.
Oh God...
She'd heard Jake talking about vampires. She'd never truly believed him. Until now.
She whimpered, her breath a shudder her heart pounding so loud it seemed to echo not only in her ears but through the night itself.
The eyes moved closer. Became a man. A man whose teeth were extending even further. She couldn't scream. Couldn't do anything. Simply stared in horror at the thickset man approaching her. Her heart raced so hard it hurt, and she couldn't seem to breathe fast enough. "Do you know who I am?"
He was the devil come to life. She could think of nothing more apt for the man who stood in front of her. An odd sort of mewling sound rose up her throat, and she edged away. He clamped a hand around her ankle. She kicked at him, but her feet were bare and had little impact. Her blow drew little response beyond a chuckle.
"I'm gathering you don't, so allow me to introduce myself. I am Billie Farmer, the man whose high school years were hell thanks to you and your upmarket cronies."
Her eyes widened at the name. Beads of sweat rolled down her face, even though she felt so cold she was shivering.
His hands were like fire as they slipped up her legs and forced them apart. His fingers stroked her thigh, his touch bruising. Oh god, oh god ... She began to struggle, desperate to get away from his touch, his intentions.
"And now I shall return the favor.” His voice was still conversational. Almost friendly. The chill in her body increased as he continued, “Your final hours here on Earth will make hell seem like a holiday resort."
His teeth dripped blood onto her thigh. It was a liquid heat that seemed to burn like acid. Her breath caught and her heart seemed to stutter to a halt. Then he lowered his head and his teeth sank into her flesh, tearing and sucking, and all she could do was try to scream...
...cold water slapped her face, all but drowning her. Nikki blinked, shuddering, as the link between her and Mary snapped. For several seconds she did nothing more than breathe deeply, trying to ease the fierce churning in her stomach. Trying to ignore the horror and fear pounding through her. God, Mary didn't deserve what this monster was about to do to her. None of these women had. He had to be stopped. She had to stop him. Tonight. No matter what. She wiped her sleeve across her face then looked around. She was at the opposite end of the sofa and no longer held Mary's bra—it was on the floor under the coffee table. She doubted if she'd thrown it there—Jake must have wrenched it free to help break the connection between her and Mary. He moved across the room, a glass of water held in one hand. He squatted in front of her, his fingers shaking as he touched her forehead. “Are you okay?"
She nodded and grabbed the glass he held, drinking it quickly. And noted her hands were shaking almost as much as his.
His gaze continued to search hers. “And Mary?"
She couldn't lie to him, as much as she wanted to. He would never forgive her is she was anything less than honest with him. “He's feeding off her.” She hesitated, fighting the tears that stung her eyes. “I think he intends to suck her dry."
He didn't move, didn't blink. Just continued to stare at her in that remote, angry way of his. “Is she still alive at this moment?"
"How long has she got?"
She hesitated. “I don't know.” But it wouldn't be long, if what she'd seen was any indication. Her spirit might already be walking that foggy plane.
He thrust to his feet. “Then the sooner we get to her the better. You ready to move?" Even if she wasn't, she would. Time was of the essence. She rubbed her forehead then looked at the clock. “We have fifty minutes to get in, get her and get back here." He nodded and swept up the bra, shoving it in a plastic bag before handing it to her. “Where is she?"
"Not in the sewers this time, though I'd guess he's still using them to get around."
"Where then?"
She glanced down at the bag in her hand, contemplating the stirring shadows. Trying not to think too much about the distant but powerful images that spoke more of death than life. “We'll head towards the Castro area. I'll know more once we get there."
"Will we need weapons?"
"I don't know. Maybe."
"Then let's go get some, then go rescue my wife."
He spun and stalked from the room. Nikki grabbed her coat and Seline's charm and ran after him. But even as she closed the door, she knew they were going to be too late.
* * * *
Michael barely had time to jump to his feet before the fledglings were on him. He staggered back until he hit the wall, but they still tore at him, using hands and teeth, greedily sucking where they cut. Their desperation stung the air, making it difficult to breathe. His head swam with pain, and the room was drifting in and out of focus. But he couldn't let go. If he did, he was dead. Not because they'd suck him dry, but because in their desperation they'd tear him apart.
One fledgling ripped into his broken arm. Pain flashed white-hot and a scream tore up his throat. Gritting his teeth, his breath little more than a hiss, he rolled the chain around his knuckles then punched the youngster in the face. The blow wasn't full strength—couldn't be, given the amount of blood he'd lost—but the chain still shattered the fledgling's nose. Gore flew, spraying across his face. His mouth watered as the darkness in him rose, eager to taste the sweet offering. He swallowed heavily and hit the young vampire again. This time the blow was hard enough to make the fledgling stagger backwards. The minute he did he was dead. The smell of his blood stung the air, and two of his loop mates swooped down on him, too consumed by the need raging in their blood to consider who or what they were killing. Which left him with only one. He wrapped the chain around the youngster's neck and pulled it tight. The fledgling didn't notice, just continued to suck greedily at his flesh. Michael took a deep breath, gathering strength, then ripped the youngster free and smashed him against the wall. There was a sound similar to wet meat splattering, then the fledgling slumped to the ground. Not dead yet. But certainly more bait for his loop mates, which would buy him more time. But he had to get going. Had to move while he still could.
He pushed away from the wall. The night swam around him, unfocused and blurry. He blinked, but it didn't seem to help. Weakness crept through his limbs until it felt as if every muscle trembled. Too much blood lost. Too much pain.
Nothing he could do about either.
He edged closer to the ladder and stared up at the sewer plate. It looked pretty grimy, as if it hadn't been moved in ages. Even if he had the strength to climb the half-shattered ladder, it was doubtful if he'd be able to move the cover. He'd have to find an easier way out. He stepped past the remaining two fledglings. They didn't even look up, too busy consuming their loop mate. The aroma of blood wrapped around him, and his canines lengthened. He stumbled away, battling the need, the desire, to take what his body so desperately craved. He stopped at the intersection, swaying slightly as he considered his options. But really, he didn't have any. Farmer had gone left, so he had to go right. The last thing he wanted right now was to run into the fiend. He was in no fit state to battle a mouse, let alone a monster. He half ran, half stumbled through the darkness, splashing through puddles of muck and God only knew what else. The smell of the sea increased, indicating he was heading towards it rather than away. Sewer plates appeared at regular intervals, but he kept on running, wanting to put some distance between him and the remaining fledglings before he stopped.
Eventually, exhaustion caught up with him. He collapsed against the wall, body bathed in sweat and muscles so weak they almost felt liquid. Had he been human, he'd probably be suffering a heart attack right about now. His pulse rate was unbearably high, even for a vampire. He leaned the back of his head against the wall and closed his eyes, listening to the darkness as he gulped in air. Air he didn't really need but his body seemed to crave.
Footsteps whispered, distant but urgent. The fledglings were coming after him. They were obviously sated, or the second fledgling wasn't as badly injured as he first thought, because there was no way they could have consumed their two loop mates in such a short space of time. Either that or Farmer was returning and had ordered them away from their feed and after him. He had to get out of these sewers—now.
He staggered on to the next cover. Climbing the ladder was an awkward and painful process. He lurched from one rung to the next, pulling himself up one-handed, jarring his broken arm with every movement. By the time he reached the top his muscles burned and his vision was so blurred he couldn't see his arms.
Hooking one leg through a rung to hold himself steady, he pressed his hand against the cover and pushed with every ounce of strength he had left. For several seconds nothing happened. Sweat dripped in a steady stream down his face, stinging his eyes. Something popped, as if a seal had broken, then the cover disappeared with a suddenness that almost had him falling backwards. Fog swirled through the darkness above. Obviously, he hadn't been unconscious for as long as he'd feared. He gripped the rim and pulled himself up, then rolled onto his back as he breathed deep the salty tang.