Chasing the Shadows
Page 29

 Keri Arthur

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"That's close enough, Farmer.” She flicked one of the knives down into her palm and held the point towards him.
He laughed. “You think I'm afraid of a little pig-sticker like that?"
"Given it's silver, yeah, I think you would be."
His eyes narrowed slightly. “You know a little about vampires, don't you?"
"I've been sleeping with one for months. Why in hell wouldn't I?" He grunted and shoved his hands into his pockets. His casual stance didn't fool her for a second. His arms and shoulders were tense. He was ready to move, ready to blur into night.
"Where's Michael?” she asked quietly.
His Cheshire-cat smile came back full force. “Safe. Alive."
"He'd better be."
"Or what? You'll stick me with your little knife?” He snorted . “Sweetie, you won't even see me move."
"I don't have to. I'm psychic, remember. I can smell evil."
"Yeah, right."
She raised an eyebrow. “You did a circuit of this park before you walked in here, did you not? Starting from the zoo end and working your way around?"
He sneered. “That's nothing more than a guess."
"No guess. You don't know as much about me as you think, Farmer. And what you don't know will kill you."
"Will it now? Shall we test your little bluff?"
He blurred as he spoke, and the stink of his presence ran around to the left then straight at Jake. She grabbed Jake's arm, yanking him back, then slashed the air with the knife. The darkness howled, and the smell of burnt flesh stung the air.
Farmer reappeared, rubbing a hand at the blackened cut along his forearm. His gaze flicked from her to Jake and narrowed slightly. Energy buzzed the air between them. Jake didn't move, didn't twitch. Confusion touched Farmer's expression. “Pretty fancy footwork there, missy,” he said, as if he hadn't paused to try to take over Jake's mind. “Shame it'll cost you your life." She shifted the knife slightly, reminding him of its presence. Its danger. “You were going to take it anyway, so why should I worry?"
"So you would give up your life for your lover? Now that's commitment."
"I'm not stupid enough to believe you ever had any intention of letting us go."
"And yet you came here anyway. Why? Surely you do not expect to destroy me with a couple of silver knives and the gun your friend clenches in his pocket."
"No. I actually came here to reintroduce you to some old friends." She imagined that smoky plane and reached out with a psychic hand, calling the ghosts into being. Gossamer fingers of energy flitted through her mind, then four ghostly figures flowed from the trees and into substance between her and Farmer.
Fear touched the vampire's expression. “What trick is this?"
"No trick.” Energy flowed in a steady stream from her to the ghosts, and she knew it wouldn't be long before the pounding in her head began. “I just thought you might be interested in hearing a few final words from your victims."
The ghosts were gaining form, their skin becoming flesh-colored. Pain flicked through her head, the beginnings of the massive headache to come.
"Ghosts can't hurt me.” Despite the confidence in his tone, his expression was less than certain. Mary stepped forward. While she'd gained the most form, her feet were still ethereal trails of smoke that stirred the grass behind her.
"If you are so certain we cannot hurt you, let us touch you." He stepped back quickly. “No."
Jake moved, edging quietly around the clearing. He had the gun out of his pocket, his finger on the trigger.
"What are you afraid of?” Mary asked. “We're ghosts. Nothing but angry air. As you said, we can't hurt you."
Farmer retreated another step. “This is not real. Ghosts don't exist.” His gaze cut to Nikki's. “It's just some sort of mind game you're playing."
"If vampires can exist, why not ghosts?” Mary countered. “What's wrong, Billie? Don't you like the thought of being able to say a final good-bye to your victims?" Jake edged a little closer then raised the gun. Nikki saw his finger tighten on the trigger, heard the sharp sound of the retort. But in that moment, Farmer wrapped the shadows around himself and spun away. The bullet exploded into the tree where Farmer had been, showering the immediate area with shards of wood. Farmer ran through the flesh-colored figures, scattering their misty forms, his face furious as he headed straight at her.
She hit him kinetically and flung him back towards the ghosts. Hot lances spun through her brain, a warning she was beginning to push her limits—and still the ghosts continued to siphon her energy. The shadows unraveled, revealing Farmer's horror-filled expression as he stared into the faces of his victims. He jumped to his feet and leapt away, blurring his form as he ran at Jake.
"Nine o'clock left!” She grabbed the vampire kinetically, thrusting him in that direction. The sharp sound of a gunshot bit through the night, followed by a grunt of pain. Farmer reappeared, blood pouring from a wound to his shoulder as he slid down the trunk of an old redwood. Her psychic grip faded, and he dropped heavily the remaining few feet to the ground. She bit her lip, eyes watering as the pounding in her head sharpened. It felt like there were a dozen heated knives digging into her brain. But it wasn't over yet. Far from it.
There was nothing remotely amused or superior about the young vampire's expression now. His face was mottled, twisted, eyes narrow and sparking blue fire. He disappeared into shadows again, and again his evil rushed at Jake. She ran forward, slashing the night with the knife. Farmer dodged then hit her with an unseen fist, sending her sprawling backwards. She hit the ground with a grunt, her breath leaving in a whoosh of air and the knife flying from her hand.
Farmer's weight hit her, pinning her to the ground, the shadows fleeing his features as he bared his teeth. She thrust an arm between them and smacked the heel of her hand into his nose. Blood flew, but he didn't seem to notice, just shifted slightly so he could tear into her arm. She hissed in pain, her stomach rebelling at the sound of his sucking.
She reached again for kinetic energy. The lances grew sharper, but she ignored them, lifting his body from hers enough to free her other hand. Flicking the second knife into her palm, she clenched it tight and with every ounce of strength she had left, thrust into Farmer's side. He screamed. Silver flickered, running across his skin as the smell of burning flesh rent the night air. She hit him again with kinetic energy, thrusting him away. Another gunshot echoed, then came a heavy splat as Farmer hit the ground.
She didn't move. Couldn't move. Couldn't do anything more than suck in great gulps of air in an effort to ease the burning in her brain.
Jake knelt beside her. “You okay?"
She nodded. He wasn't really looking at her, and he had the gun aimed to their left. “Farmer?"
"Being entertained by our ghosts.” He shoved a hand under her back and helped her into a sitting position.
Farmer was lying at the base of a tree, his knee as bloody as his shoulder. Three ghosts ringed him. Mary knelt beside him.
"Do you know,” she whispered. “What it is like to wish for death?" Farmer made a gargled sound in his throat. The shadows began to wrap around him, and Nikki hit him kinetically, holding him in place despite the fire in her brain.
"You said ghosts can't hurt you,” Mary continued. “Perhaps we can't. Perhaps if I reached into your chest and wrapped my fingers around your heart, it is nothing more than fear that constricts the organ so tightly."
Ghostly fingers slipped into his shadowy chest. Farmer's eyes went wide, his face changing from angry red to pasty white. Sweat dotted his forehead and upper lip, and his expression had a touch of horror to it.
But nowhere near enough for anyone—not after what he'd done.
"This is not real. You're not real. None of you.” He didn't seem to convince anyone he meant what he said, least of all himself.
"What if I squeeze your heart so tightly it bursts?” Though Mary's voice was conversational, there was nothing gentle in her expression. She'd been given the chance to avenge her death, and she was literally grabbing it with one hand. “What if I rip it from your chest and feed it to the first dog that passes by?
You've never had use for it, so what would it matter?"
Ghostly tendons tightened. Farmer made a garbled sound, his lips turning bluish. Vampires couldn't die like this—but right now, he looked on the verge of a major heart attack. Mary looked their way. Jake rose to his feet and walked over, the gun held by his side.
"Beg for mercy, Farmer,” Mary continued. “Beg like you made us beg. Perhaps then I will let you live." His gaze swept across the ghostly forms. “Please.” His voice was hoarse, his breath rapid gasps of pain.
Mary snorted. “You always were a sniveling little coward, Billie. Guess you always will be, no matter what plumage you wear."
Her misty fingers slid from his chest, and Farmer's expression seemed to collapse with relief. But a flicker of cold amusement shone in his eyes. He thought he had them all fooled. Thought he could yet escape and gain the upper hand. The shadows half concealing his body grew sharper. Sweat dripped down Nikki's chin and mingled with the blood running down her arm. She battled to keep her kinetic hold locked tight, knowing she had to keep him still until Jake got there. But her head felt like it was going to explode, and her whole body shook with effort. If she was siphoning Michael's energy, he was obviously in pretty bad shape, because she wasn't feeling any influx of strength. The three ghosts ringing the young vampire parted, allowing Jake through. He stopped beside Mary and raised the gun to Farmer's head. Ghostly fingers joined his on the trigger.
"She may let you go,” he said flatly. “But I never will." Together they fired the gun. The sharp retort echoed across the silence, and Farmer's body slumped. He was dead. It was over.
Jake lowered the weapon. For a moment, no one moved. In the distance, sirens wailed, drawing ever closer. The amphitheater looked suddenly brighter, as if a veil had been lifted. She hoped the dawn got here before the police. Hoped Farmer's body would burn where it lay, and his soul be consigned to an eternity of hell.
Mary's gaze met hers. Though she didn't say anything, Nikki understood the plea in her eyes. She took a deep breath, then reached for the last of her energy reserves and sent it Mary's way. The older woman's form solidified. “There was so much left we had to do. So many things we left unfinished.” She touched a hand to Jake's face, her smile sad, wistful. “So many angry words last spoken."
Jake made an incomprehensible noise in the back of his throat. He placed a hand over Mary's, his fingers shaking.
"I would never have really left you for long, you know,” Mary continued. “No matter what I might have said."
"I wouldn't have let you go for long.” He took a deep breath. “But there was no way in hell I was going to take the hotel job. I hate it."
"I know.” She hesitated. “But would settling here have been so bad otherwise?" He shook his head. “No. It was just the job that was too restricting."
"You would never have made a very good lawyer. You can't lie."
Mary smiled and leaned forward, brushing a kiss across Jake's lips. “Enjoy life while you still have it. Take care, my love."
Her body dissipated, became a shimmering mist that looked like a curtain of tears hanging in the rising light of dawn. But gradually that, too, faded until there was nothing left beyond memories. Jake's anguished cry filled the silence. It was the last thing Nikki heard as the darkness crashed into her mind and swept her into unconsciousness.
Chapter Eighteen
Michael sat on the edge of the bed and brushed the hair from Nikki's forehead. She stirred but didn't open her eyes, though the awareness flowing through the link told him she was awake. He skimmed a finger down her cheek to her lips. The alarming pallor of her skin had finally faded, but her cheeks still looked hollow. It was as if the ghosts had sucked every ounce of fat from her body—and she didn't have a lot to spare in the first place.
Three days had passed since she and Jake had battled Farmer and won. The police had arrived the same time as the sun, and by then the fog had burned off enough to destroy the young vampire's remains. It had been easy enough to touch the minds of the two young officers and make them believe the reported gunshots had been nothing more than cars backfiring. And that Nikki's wound was nothing more than a scratch from a fall. With the gun safely hidden in Jake's jacket pocket, and Jake himself sitting on a park bench calmly smoking and sagely nodding in agreement with everything they said, the ruse looked more than believable, even without him enforcing it. Farmer was dead. Jake and the ghosts had had their revenge. All that was left was the uncertainty that still stood between him and Nikki.
An uncertainty he had every intention of sorting out today. Now. He leaned forward and gently kissed her. Her lips were soft, warm, and her response one that invited further exploration. But he resisted the temptation. She'd once accused him of using sex to avoid difficult conversations. He had a feeling she was attempting to do the same right now. Her tension surged through the link, even if she looked so very relaxed.
"Merry Christmas, sweetheart,” he said softly.
A smile touched her mouth, and she opened her eyes. In the amber depths, pain and guilt still lingered.