Chasing the Shadows
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"Good.” He stopped at the desk and signed her in.
"There's a message for you, Mr. Morgan.” The receptionist handed him a slip of paper along with the room keys.
Jake scanned the note quickly and grinned as he handed it across. “Looks like you might be celebrating Christmas with Michael after all."
Her hands were actually trembling as she took the paper and read it. I'll be there by ten, it said. Tell Nikki not to do anything until I arrive. Disappointment, and just a little anger, shot through her. She crushed the paper into a ball and tossed it into the nearby waste basket. Why hadn't he left something for her? He knew she was here—even a
“can't wait to see you again” would have been nice.
She forced a smile and glanced up at Jake. “Let's go up and meet your friend." He frowned, blue eyes concerned. “You sure you don't want to wait for Michael?"
"Do you think we can afford to?"
"Well, no, but—"
"No buts,” she said with a smile. “Besides, all I'm going to do is see if I can trace her through her possessions. It won't make a difference if he's here or not." Which was not exactly the truth, especially if her abilities took her into this woman's mind and made her share her experiences. Michael had once warned her she could lose herself if she wasn't very careful. So doing this alone, when he wasn't there to pull her out, was more than just a little dangerous. But she wasn't about to tell Jake that.
He still looked doubtful, but guided her toward the elevator. “If the Feds are still with Mark, it might be wise to try to find Dale in your room."
"It might be better to do that anyway,” she commented as the doors closed. “The Feds certainly won't want us involved in the case.” And she certainly didn't want them walking into the middle of everything—especially if things went wrong.
Jake nodded. “In that case, I'll escort you to your suite, then go and collect the items you'll need from Mark."
"Good,” she said, despite the sliver of unease that curled through her stomach. They stopped on the top floor and got out. The golden theme from the lobby was extended here, lending the long corridor warmth. Flowers cascaded over tables in corner nooks, and palms sat either side of the elevator doors, their fronds waving gently in the breeze of air conditioning.
"There are only two suites on this floor,” Jake said, as he swiped the key card through the lock. “And the other one's not occupied. You and Michael can come and go as you please without disturbing anyone."
He thrust open the door and waved her through. Nikki stopped in the middle of the living room and shook her head in amazement. Talk about opulent! The walls were again pale gold, offset by burnt umber chairs and curtains of rich red and gold. The windows looked out over a leafy park, though the trees were little more than shadows in the fog.
"You have a look around,” Jake said, dumping her bag on the ornate mahogany coffee table, “and I'll go see Mark."
She nodded and headed into the bedroom. The bed was big enough to hold a party in and was framed by a canopy of red and gold curtains. She touched the comforter, her fingers sinking into its rich redness. The mattress underneath was firm, but not overly so. Just the way she liked it. Directly opposite the bed was a fireplace. She smiled and flopped back onto the bed, closing her eyes as she imagined lying here in Michael's arms, the warmth of the fire caressing their bodies.... Heat stirred through her, and she sighed. Three weeks without his touch was way too long. She lay there for a while, listening to the growing hum of traffic and the musical peal of a bell as a cable car rolled past the hotel.
Then she heard the ding of the elevator returning and soft footsteps. She sighed again and pushed up from the bed. Time to get to work.
"We'd better shift some of the furniture,” she said, walking back into the living room. “The last time I tried this I ended up—"
She stopped abruptly, a cold feeling of dread enveloping her. It wasn't Jake who'd entered her room. It was a vampire.
He was young and scruffy-looking, dressed in jeans and a black leather jacket decorated in biker's colors. His face was pale, gaunt, and his brown eyes haunted.
Hasn't been turned all that long, Nikki thought. Which only made him all the more dangerous. She clenched her fist against the energy burning across her fingers and shifted her stance slightly, ready to dive out of the way should he attack.
"What do you want?” She kept her voice flat and low, not wanting to provoke him in any way.
"Are you Nikki James?” His voice was guttural, thick.
A sliver of fear ran through her. How did he know her name? She'd just arrived in San Francisco, and no one but Jake and Mark really knew she was here. “And what do you want with her?" He smiled, revealing long, sharp canines. It was rather obvious what he intended to do—suck her dry.
"You're her, ain't you?” His gaze travelled the length of her body and back again, and an excited light crept past the haunted look in his brown eyes. “Gonna enjoy tasting you, I am." His gaze seemed to intensify, and power slivered through the air between them. She frowned. He was obviously trying to get a mind-lock on her, but thanks to what she'd become, she was basically immune to the mind-control attempts of most vampires. Despite her earlier fears, she suspected even Michael couldn't really force her to act against her wishes—not that he'd ever tried. Evidently, this vampire had no idea his mind assault wouldn't work, which was odd. Elizabeth, the now-dead vampire who'd turned Michael so long ago, had taken one look and known she was a thrall. Had known mind control wouldn't work simply because Michael had, in a sense, created her. So why couldn't this one tell?
She shifted her weight from one foot to the other and continued to watch him, her hands still clenched against the energy burning across her fingertips. Sweat tickled down his hollowed cheeks, and after a few seconds, he frowned.
"Well, hell,” he muttered. “That ain't working, is it?"
"No, it's not,” she replied. “Who sent you here to kill me?"
"Yeah, like I'm going to tell you that.” He snorted and produced a knife from the side pocket of his dirty jeans. “Ready to die?"
Fear slid through her. The knife was long and sharp and gleamed silver in the room's warm light—and it was not the sort of weapon you could easily conceal. He should never have been able to get past hotel security with a weapon like that stuck down his pants. There had been at least two discreetly positioned guards near the hotel's main entrance, and it would have taken a lot of psychic strength to control their minds enough to slip past unnoticed. More strength than what this vampire had, anyway. And she had no doubt that after the recent kidnapping, security would have been doubled on every exit. So, if he hadn't come through any secured entrance, where in hell had he come from?
And why was he using a knife when he was a damn vampire?
He snarled silently and sprang, slashing wildly with the knife. She dove out of the way, but he was faster than she'd expected. The blade nicked the sleeve of her jacket and sliced into her arm as easily as butter. Biting back her yelp, she hit the carpet and rolled back to her feet. The vampire was little more than a blur, the knife a streak of silver as it arced toward her. She thrust out her hand, hitting him with the pent-up energy.
He flew across the room and smashed into an expensive looking painting. The frame and glass shattered, showering the vampire with shards as he hit the floor then scrambled back to his feet. She thrust out kinetically again, this time retrieving rather than pushing away. The vampire's eyes went wide as two jagged pieces of frame flew across the room.
She caught them deftly and forced a grin, feigning a confidence she certainly didn't feel. Warmth flowed down her arm, and the cuff of her sweater was growing damp. She had to end this quickly before she started bleeding all over the carpet.
A wild light entered the young vampire's eyes. He could obviously smell the blood, even if he couldn't yet see it. “How'd you do that?"
"Magic,” she said and waved the stake in her right hand, catching his gaze. “Want to see more?" He sneered again. “I'm going to kill you, you know. You can't beat me. I'm a vampire. I'm invincible." She snorted softly. “You've been listening to a few too many fairy tales, kid. No vampire is invincible. Not even the old ones."
He launched across the room, his body blurring. She twisted out of the way and slashed through the shadows, stabbing one of the stakes deep into his leg.
He hissed, a sound full of anger and pain, then twisted and threw the knife. She ducked and heard the blade thud into something solid. Heard the whistle of air and twisted desperately away—but not fast enough. His fist smashed into her chin and lifted her off the ground. She flew across the room and crashed into the wall. Air whooshed from her lungs, leaving her gasping and seeing stars as she slumped to the floor.
A warning tingled across her skin. The vampire was coming at her again. She thrust out her hand and reached again for kinetic energy. He slammed into her wall of power, abruptly stopping. Pain slithered through her head, a warning she was beginning to push her limits. She ignored it and climbed slowly to her feet.
Warmth trickled down her fingers. She thrust her hand into her pocket and met the vampire's gaze. It was filled with desperation and hunger.
"Tell me who sent you here to kill me,” she said.
He didn't answer, just twisted desperately, fighting her hold on him. Every movement stabbed red-hot pokers through her head. She had to end this quickly, while she still had some semblance of control.
"Tell me.” She thrust him backwards, towards the windows and the pale beams of sunlight beginning to filter into the room.
His struggles grew more violent, the pain in her head sharper.
"Tell me,” she repeated and pushed him closer.
Light caressed his left arm and, almost instantly, his fingers went a deep, dark red. He screamed. It was a sound filled with fear and anger, and shuddered right though every fiber of her being. Not very old at all, she thought, and pulled him back a little.
"I can't.” His eyes were haunted, frantic. “He'll kill me." She wondered how young he really was—or how young he'd been when he'd been turned. Despite the bravado and the tough words, she suspected he was only in his mid-to-late teens. A babe in human or vampire terms. But then, Jasper had been a lot younger, and he'd been one of the most depraved bastards she'd ever met. She raised an eyebrow. “And you think I won't?" He stared at her for a heartbeat. His desperation singed the air as he began to struggle again. Red-hot pokers gnawed at her brain, and pain shuddered through her entire being. She couldn't hold him for much longer—and when the net of power failed, she'd be in trouble.
"Are you really so desperate to die?” she said, thrusting him back into the light. He screamed again. “I can't,” he said, twisting severely. “If I go back without killing you, I'm finished."
"Then don't go back. Run for it."
"You don't know these people..."
He gave a final twist and shattered her hold on him. Agony locked her mind tight, and she fell to her knees, fighting tears and the red tide of pain threatening to engulf her. She wrapped her fingers around the remaining stake and thrust it out in front of her, knowing it would be as useless as a toothpick against a snake.
But the young vampire didn't attack.
He ran for the window and the sunlight instead.
The rest of her words were lost in the shattering of glass. She scrambled to her feet and staggered over to the window. The vampire's body became flame the minute he fully hit the sunlight, and the fire consumed him with a fierceness that turned her stomach. There was nothing left of him but black dust by the time he hit the pavement.
"What the hell has been going on here?” Jake said from behind her. The cavalry has arrived. But too late, as usual. An insane desire to laugh bubbled through her, but what came out was more a sob. She slid down the wall and closed her eyes.
"Nik? What happened? Are you all right?” Jake knelt beside her and touched her arm. She flinched, and he cursed.
"You're bleeding. Henry, get the hotel doctor up here immediately." She opened her eyes a slither and saw a big man in an official-looking black and gold uniform walk over to the phone. Henry, obviously. “Are all the exits in this hotel guarded?” she murmured. Jake frowned. “Yes. Why?"
"Because a vampire just waltzed into my room and attacked me with a very large knife he'd stuck down the leg of his jeans."
Jake glanced quickly at the man on the phone and lowered his voice to ask, “Are you sure?"
"Sure that it was a vampire?” She forced a smile and rubbed her forehead with her good hand. “Oh yeah, I'm sure. If you look down at the pavement below this window, you'll see his dust."
"Did he say anything?"
"Other than they wanted me dead, no."
"The doc's on his way,” Henry said as he put the receiver back down. “And I called the cops." Jake cursed under his breath. “Thanks, Henry. Do you mind standing guard outside the door until the police arrive?"
The big man nodded and headed for the door.
"He knew my name, Jake,” she said when Henry had disappeared. “It was no mistake." "But you're not registered here under your name—only as my guest. How the hell did they even know you were here? You'd barely arrived."