Chasing the Shadows
Page 27

 Keri Arthur

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"How will I know you'll keep your word?"
He gave her that smile again. “You don't."
She took a deep breath. “Michael."
"Obviously, the fight he mentioned wasn't as deep as he'd feared." If Michael had mentioned their relationship to Farmer, then he was in a bad way. He wouldn't talk to her about it, so why would he do so with a stranger—an enemy?
"Where is he, Farmer?"
"Somewhere safe. You'll have to come and get him, of course." She snorted. “Yeah, that would be real wise, wouldn't it?" Farmer raised an eyebrow. “If you don't, he's dead."
They were all dead anyway, unless she was very careful. And very lucky. “Where and when?" He considered the question for several seconds, though she had no doubt he had this all planned to the very last detail.
"You'll find a park on the corner of Vincente and Twenty-eighth Avenue in Sunset. Meet me there just before dawn."
Why dawn? That was nearly six hours away. “Why not meet now?"
"Because that is what I wish, and that is what you will do." He was a cocky bastard, that was for sure. She was going to enjoy wiping that smug smile off his face.
“Michael had better be alive."
"He will be."
She didn't trust the light in his eyes. Didn't trust the smile that played about his mouth. He was up to something, though she had no idea what—beyond the fact that it boded no good for her. Farmer's image faded. She retrieved the charm and slipped it back on, then made herself some coffee. Cup in hand, she walked across to the window and stared out on the foggy night. She had to rescue Michael before that meeting. She didn't trust Farmer one iota, and if they could get Michael out and hidden before dawn, the advantage would fall on their side. They could walk in and confront him without having to worry about anyone's safety but their own. The trick was finding Michael and getting him out. She placed the cup on the sill and reached into her pocket, drawing out the silver cross.
Warmth pulsed through her palm. She clenched her fingers around the cross and closed her eyes, reaching for any images that might lie within the cross's heart. Nothing. Michael was alive, but he was still mind dead. She couldn't connect with him, not through the cross and not through the link. She opened her eyes, her gaze drawn to the southwest. He was there. And in need of help. She grabbed a pen, scrawled a note to Jake then grabbed her coat and ran out into the night.
* * * *
Michael eased over the enclosure wall and padded quietly toward the exit. Though his thirst was finally sated, he felt no more energetic. His body had taken a pounding over the last few hours, and it had pushed his natural healing capabilities to the extreme. It would be days before he regained full strength. And they certainly didn't have days left. Farmer had to be killed long before then. The guards were still near the exit. He wrapped the shadows around himself, but even that small task had sweat running down his face. Once outside and beyond the sight of the two men, he stopped and leaned back against the fence, sucking in great gulps of air.
Everything still hurt, his arm most of all. It would have to be reset, and soon, before the bone began to knit in its current position. He closed his eyes, listening to the sounds washing across the darkness as he tasted the flavors of the cold night.
The slight scent of antiseptic told him there was a hospital close by somewhere, but between him and it came the smell of evil. The remaining fledglings were on the prowl and closing in. He'd never be able to outrun them. He didn't have the strength, and once they'd caught his scent, they'd be on him quicker than dogs on a bone.
He'd have to make a stand here. At least he could keep his back to the fence. He reached up, gripping one of the branches that dipped over the top of the fence and broke it off. Snapping it in two, he pulled off all the leaves and twigs until two jagged stakes were left. All he could do now was wait. The seconds ticked by. His eyelids began to droop, and he forced them open again. But it was a battle he was bound to lose. A vampire healed mainly in sleep. Now that his hunger was sated, his body demanded rest. He shifted his stance and listened again to the sounds of the night. Footsteps whispered, drawing ever closer.
He gripped the stakes tighter and switched to his vampire vision. The shadows retreated, and three fiery figures came into view. The fledglings, moving in fast.
Sweat rolled down his face. Under normal circumstances, these three would be little more than nuisances easily swatted away. But given his current condition, the pendulum had certainly swung their way.
Two went high, one went low. He stabbed wildly, striking one in the stomach rather than the heart. The fledgling screamed in agony, his flesh smoking where it touched the wood. White ash was best, but any wood was dangerous to vampires as young as these.
One tore into his good arm, the second into his leg. He kicked it away, almost unbalancing in the process, then thrust his arm backwards, smacking the fledgling feeding on it against the fence. It did little more than ripple the chain links. It certainly didn't dislodge the fledgling. Pain became a wall threatening to topple him. He hissed, flipped the stake, and thrust it into the youngster's chin and up, through flesh and bone and brain. The fledgling was dead before he fell.
Which still left two others. He grabbed the hair of one and flung him away, but the second grabbed his broken arm and twisted it. White-hot lances of fire flashed through his brain, and a scream was ripped from his throat. He dropped to his knees, unable to stand, unable to do anything. Barely even conscious. The fledgling's touch disappeared. This is it, he thought. This is the end. Nikki's image swam through his mind, and a bitter taste invaded his mouth. After three hundred years of emptiness, fate could have allowed him a little more time for happiness...
No attack came. Through the haze of agony he thought he heard the sound of fighting, but it might have just been the roaring in his ears. He stayed on his knees for what seemed like hours, fighting unconsciousness and waiting for death.
Hands touched him. Hands that were warm and smelled vaguely of cinnamon and vanilla. Wishful thinking, surely. With the link out of action and his psychic gifts blocked by drugs, she had no way of finding him so quickly.
"Michael?” Her voice was soft, edgy, as if she were crying. “Can you hear me?" God, was there a sweeter sound on this Earth? He wanted to wake up to those tones for the rest of his days...
"You have to stay with me,” she pleaded. “I'm here alone, and you're too heavy to lift."
"Why?” His voice came out little more than a hoarse whisper, and even the effort of that one word had his head swimming.
Her laugh had a brittle sound to it. “Always questioning my decisions, even at a time like this." It wasn't his intention to question her actions. He'd just wanted to know where Jake was. He couldn't force his eyes open, but he reached out, running his fingers down her cheek. It was as wet as his. She leaned into his touch for a second, then her lips pressed into his palm. “No time for details,” she continued softly. Power surged, and the chains rattled as they dropped from his wrists. “We have to get you somewhere safe. You ready to move?"
He wouldn't be ready to move for at least several hours. But he couldn't stay here, either. Farmer would find him all too easily.
Might even be searching for him now. He would have felt the fledglings die.
"Not ... hotel,” he said. It was the second place Farmer would come looking for him.
"No.” She shifted, her arm slipping under his. “Ready?" He nodded. There was little else he could do. She counted to three then thrust upwards. He helped the best he could, but the pain became a wall of agony that rushed through his body. His breath left in a hiss of air, and sweat rolled down his spine and legs. More drips ran past his fingers. Or maybe that was blood. The fledglings had torn into his battered flesh, so anything was possible.
"The limo isn't far away. You think you can walk?"
What other choice did he have? She couldn't carry him kinetically—it would drain her energy to a point where she'd be defenseless should Farmer attack. She shifted her grip, her shoulder sliding under his good arm. Together, they stumbled forward.
But her version of not very far away and his seemed to be vastly different. They'd barely moved ten feet, and the night was little more than a dizzy blur. His breath was a desperate gasp of air and his muscles were liquid heat, barely able to support his weight. If it wasn't for Nikki, he would have fallen. Her breathing was as sharp as his, and the smell of her sweat and fear stung the night air. He wanted to comfort her, to tell her he'd be all right after an hour or so of sleep. But the words stuck in his mouth, refusing to pass his battered lips. Footsteps hurriedly approached, then another set of hands grabbed him, carefully easing him into the car.
"You'll have to take him to the hospital, Miss."
The voice was male, one he didn't recognize.
"No. It's not safe there for him at the moment."
"But his arm will need attention, and he's lost a lot of blood—"
"I'm a nurse.” Her voice held a steely determination, indicating she was barely controlling her anger. “I can take care of him. Please, just get us to the boat as quickly as you can." The driver's grunt wasn't exactly a sound of agreement. A door slammed shut, then Nikki's scent surround him. He breathed deeply the sweet smell and allowed himself to relax a little. The need to sleep was almost overwhelming, but he refused to give in to it just yet. A moist cloth touched his face, gently wiping the muck and blood away. He forced open his good eye.
Her amber eyes were bright with tears. “You're a goddamn mess." He would have smiled if it didn't hurt so much. “Yeah.” Even that one word hurt, but he couldn't leave it there when there were questions that had to be answered. “Jake?" Tears washed her amber eyes, trickled down her cheeks. He raised a hand, thumbing them gently away. Something bad had obviously happened in his absence—though surely not to Jake. She'd be in a worse state than this if it was.
She dunked the cloth into water and gently wiped his mouth. “Mary's dead.” Her voice was flat, but the drugs blocking his psychic abilities had to be fading because her pain was a tide of agony that overwhelmed anything he was feeling.
He wrapped his arm around her and pulled her close. She buried her face against his chest, her tears searing his skin. He held her while she sobbed, offering her no words of comfort simply because there were none that could ever erase such pain. Only time could dim it. After a few minutes, he croaked, “How?"
She sniffed and pulled away from his touch. “He snatched her from the airport. I guess we have to be thankful it was relatively quick. He cut out her tongue so she couldn't scream, then he drank her dry.”
She hesitated, swallowing heavily. “Jake's with the police at the moment. He'll meet us at the boat when he can."
"Why ... boat?"
She shrugged. “It belongs to a friend of Jake's. And we knew we couldn't risk leaving either of you at the hotel."
He nodded. If Farmer hadn't already discovered his escape, he soon would. And the hotel was the first place he'd look. Unless, of course, he'd reached out to Nikki. He might even now be tracking their movements. “The charm?"
"Arrived earlier this evening.” She shoved up her sleeve, revealing the coin-entwined rope charm. “When I'm wearing it, Farmer has no sense of me."
He frowned. “How do you know?"
She hesitated, her gaze suddenly evasive. “Long story. I'll tell you when you regain some strength."
She placed a gentle finger against his bruised lips. “Now is not the time for arguments or lectures. Besides, we're here."
Masts rose beyond the tinted window. The car stopped, and a few seconds later the door opened. The smell of the ocean swept in, followed by the gentle sound of lapping waves. The driver stuck his head in. “I'll give you a hand to the yacht, Miss, then I have to go pick up Mister Morgan."
"Thanks, Henry."
Hands grabbed him, hauling him out of the car as gently as possible. The driver was a big man and basically carried him down the jetty to the boat. Nikki moved forward, disappearing briefly from sight. She came back with a key and unlocked the doors.
The driver deposited him onto a bed then straightened. “I'm off, now, Miss."
The driver nodded, cast a dubious gaze his way, then retreated. Nikki took a deep breath then sat down next to him. “I'm going to have to reset that arm, aren't I?"
"I'll pull it straight, but you're going to have to splint and wrap it, because I'll be close to unconsciousness."
She bit her lip but nodded. “And blood? Your clothes are practically stiff with it. Will you need to feed soon?"
"I have, at the zoo.” He touched a hand to her lips, wishing he could kiss them. I really will be fine . Her eyes widened slightly, then a wave of love flooded the link, drowning him in its warmth. God, I missed this. She brushed a kiss across his fingertips. I didn't realize until the link was gone just how much I'd grown used to having you so close.
Nor I. But now was not the time to show her just how much he'd missed it. Missed her. I'm going to have to sleep soon, so my body can begin to heal itself. We'll have to hurry to set my arm before then.
She nodded. What do we need?
Bandages. Something to splint my arm so it can't move while the bones are knitting. She nodded again and moved away. He closed his good eye, listening to her searching through cupboards and drawers.