Chasing the Shadows
Page 4

 Keri Arthur

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"I haven't got any answers. He killed himself rather than give me anything." Jake thrust a hand through his hair. “I don't like this."
"Join the club,” she murmured and looked past him as a gray-suited man carrying a heavy bag bustled into the room.
"About time,” Jake said, rising to make room for the stranger. “She's bleeding pretty heavily from her left arm."
"It's just my arm that's injured, not my tongue,” she muttered. The gray-suited stranger knelt beside her, then reached into his bag and grabbed some gloves. “You able to remove your sweater, or shall we just cut it?"
"Cut it,” she said. The less she moved right now, the better it was for the pain in her head. She closed her eyes again, leaning her head back against the wall while the doctor sliced open the sleeve of her sweater.
"Pretty nasty,” he murmured after a while. “And you're losing a fair bit of blood. You should really go to the emergency room."
"No. Just stitch it up, Doctor. I'll be fine."
"I really think you'd be better in emergency. The wound is very deep, and might have caused serious muscle damage."
She bit back her annoyance. The last thing she felt like doing right now was arguing—especially when her head felt ready to explode. All she wanted to do was take some painkillers and lie down in the dark until the pain drifted away.
"I don't care what you really think,” she snapped. “Just stitch the wound up. If you're worried about being sued, write up a release form, and I'll sign the damn thing." The doctor glanced around. “Mr. Morgan? This could come back on the hotel, you know."
"It won't. Just do as she asks,” Jake said.
The doctor muttered something under his breath. She closed her eyes again, trying to ignore the sharp sting of the needle as he began stitching her arm.
Time slithered by. “Here,” he said eventually, “is a prescription for painkillers. If you see any sign of infection near the wound, get yourself to a hospital immediately. Try not to use your arm much for the next few days."
She opened her eyes and accepted the white slip from him. He shoved the bloody cloths in a bag, peeled off his gloves and placed them in a medical-waste bag, then picked everything up and headed out the door.
"You want me to get that prescription filled?” Jake said into the silence. She nodded and handed it to him. “Don't bother with a guard near the door, either."
"Nik, I can't leave you here unprotected."
"Why not? A guard wouldn't have stopped that vampire, believe me.” She rubbed a hand across her eyes, trying to ease the ache. “Besides, it may have been just a random attack." Jake snorted. “When he knew your name? You can't honestly believe that." She didn't. But right now, she just wasn't up to looking for answers or worrying. “Look, I'll be fine—the vampire won't be missed for a few hours yet. I'll just catch some sleep, and then I'll do the search for Dale."
Footsteps sounded outside. She tensed and didn't relax any when two burly police officers appeared in the doorway. Sleep, it seemed, was a ways off yet.
She answered their questions as civilly as her headache allowed, wishing all the while everyone would just leave her alone. They “tutted” over the window, gouged the knife from the mahogany sideboard and eventually said they'd get back to her.
Not that she expected to hear from them anytime soon. Knife attacks, it seemed, weren't big news. Especially when nobody was missing or dead.
By that time, Jake was back with her painkillers. She climbed wearily to her feet and gave him a tired smile. “Thanks."
"I've arranged for you to be put into the next suite. We have to get the window here fixed anyway." She nodded, though she had a suspicion changing location wasn't going to make a great deal of difference to whoever was after her. She collected her bag and followed him into the next suite. It was almost identical to the original one.
"I've already told Mark it'll be this afternoon before we can try to find Dale. Go get some sleep, Nik. You look like shit."
"Gee, thanks, Boss. It's nice to know you're always there with an encouraging word." He grinned and handed her the keycard. “I'll head downstairs and keep an eye out for Michael." She glanced at her watch. “It's barely even seven."
"Yeah, but your boyfriend has a habit of turning up when he's least expected. I'd hate for him to walk in and find you like this. He can get pretty temperamental when it comes to your safety." She grinned. “Anyone would think you were scared of him." The sudden seriousness in Jake's expression surprised her. “Look, I know he would never hurt you, and probably not me—but I've seen what he can do, Nik. And part of me still does fear him.” He hesitated, then shrugged. “It's not just the vampire factor, either." She touched his arm, squeezing gently. “I know what you mean.” Because she did. She loved Michael, and she trusted him. But there had been a few times in the past when his reactions, his anger, had frightened her. He may have controlled his dark half, but it was still a part of him, and none of them could really afford to forget that.
Certainly Michael never did.
"Henry's stationed near your door, and there's another guard near the elevator.” Jake wagged a warning finger in front of her nose. “No arguments, missy. They'll stay until Michael gets here."
"Fine,” she muttered, too tired to argue any more. “Wake me at twelve, and I'll try finding Dale."
"You wake when you wake. Just get reception to page me when you do. Sleep tight." She watched him disappear out the door before heading into the bedroom. She grabbed a glass of water from the bathroom and took a couple of painkillers, then stripped and climbed into the party-sized bed. Shame I'm alone, she thought and snuggled deep into the silk sheets. But as sleep drifted in, dreams stirred.
Dreams that warned of death striking down someone close to her. Someone she loved.
Chapter Four
Michael climbed out of the cab and glanced up at the sky. It was close to ten, but the fog had hung around, muting the full force of the sun. Even so, he could feel it itching across his skin. He collected his bag and strode toward the hotel. He'd barely entered the lobby when the feeling that something was wrong hit him.
A feeling not helped when he saw Jake striding towards him.
"Michael,” Jake said, holding out his hand. “Nice to see you again." He restrained the urge to read Jake's thoughts and shook his hand impatiently. “What's wrong?" Jake sighed. “You're almost as bad as Nikki. There's no hiding a problem from either—"
"Is she okay?” he said sharply.
"She's fine. I'll take you there now.” Jake motioned Michael toward the elevator. Once the doors were closed, he continued, “She was attacked this morning by a vampire. She took care of him, but he managed to nick her arm with a knife, and I think she overextended her abilities." Relief ran through him. At least that explained the haze of pain he'd been getting from her all morning. “I gather it wasn't a random attack?"
Jake shook his head. “He knew her name."
"Did she get anything else from him?"
"No. He jumped through the window and fried rather than tell her anything." He frowned. That sounded more a compulsion than fear. If Nikki had overstretched her abilities, she certainly wouldn't have been much of a threat to the vampire—psychically, anyway. He could have escaped if he'd wanted to.
If it was a compulsion, it could mean real trouble. There weren't many vampires strong enough to force their will upon another brother of the night. Elizabeth had been capable of it. So was he. He knew of maybe three or four others, but none of them were currently in America. All of them were what he termed ‘master’ vampires—vampires who had lived long enough to fully understand and control all the gifts vampirism endowed.
And he had no doubt that this attack was somehow connected to the vampires who'd snatched the three women. It was too much of a coincidence, otherwise.
"How many people know she's staying here?"
"Besides me and Mary, only Mark. Nik's helping me find his wife."
"Yes, I know all about that.” The elevator came to a halt, and the door opened, revealing a burly security guard. Michael glanced at Jake. “Thanks for taking extra precautions." Jake smiled. “I love her, too, you know."
Michael nodded and tried to curb the growing need to see her. To take her in his arms and breathe in the sweet, warm scent of her. “Has she tried to track Dale Wainwright yet?"
"No. But only because of the attack."
At least he had something to thank the attacker for. He had no doubt she would have tried it otherwise—despite the dangers involved. Sometimes, she could be incredibly blind to her own safety. Jake swiped the card through the lock. “How did you know it was Dale Wainwright we're looking for?" Michael waited until they were in the suite and the door closed to answer. “The Circle sent me here to sort it out. We think a gang of vampires are behind the kidnappings." He dropped his bag on the sofa and walked over to the bedroom, pausing in the doorway to breathe deep. She smelled of cinnamon and vanilla. Of life and love, and everything he'd ever longed for. She was asleep, facing away from him, shoulders bare and one arm exposed. His body stirred at the thought of holding her close, caressing the warm silk of her skin—something he could not do just yet. She was here, she was safe and, for now, that was all he needed to know.
"Oh great,” Jake said behind him. “So Dale could be dead right now, for all we know?" "Not necessarily. The first victim lasted almost two weeks before they killed her.” Two weeks that had surely been hell, but there was no need to tell Jake that. “You want to show me where the attack against Nikki happened?"
Jake led him into the other suite, and he walked across to the window. The glass had yet to be replaced, and soot still dusted the balcony below them. “What time did the attack happen?" Jake frowned. “A little before seven. Why?"
He shrugged. “Just curious.” At that hour, the rising sun had little strength. The only way it could have killed Nikki's attacker was if the vampire was fairly new to his condition. If that were the case, even the sunrise would have been deadly. So how did he get into the hotel, if not via the streets?
"Has the Circle given you any idea what we're up against?” Jake continued. Michael glanced toward him. “We're?"
Jake's expression was resolute. “You're not getting rid of either of us on this one." He'd known he couldn't stop Nikki's involvement—he might as well try to stop the San Francisco earth from ever shaking. But he had hoped to avoid dragging Jake in as well, especially since he'd just recovered from major surgery.
"What does Mary think of you getting involved?"
Jake shrugged. “Mark's a good friend. I've known him all my life. Mary understands that." Michael studied him for a moment. Mary might have understood his friendship with Mark, but if Jake's thoughts were anything to go by, she certainly didn't understand his need to get involved with the case and perhaps endanger his life again. One long-time relationship headed for the rocks, Michael thought, and remembered Seline's warning.
He frowned and crossed his arms, watching the stirring breeze brush the remnants of the vampire from the balcony.
"Did your boss provide you with any other clues?” Jake continued. Michael smiled. Seline would laugh at the thought of anyone calling her his boss. She gave him assignments and ran the Circle, yes, but she was far from his employer. “Other than there being six vampires involved, no."
Jake grimaced. “We barely survived Jasper and Monica—how are we going to survive six of the bastards?"
"Not all vampires are as sick as Jasper.” He couldn't help the edge of self-derision in his voice. Mainly because many of them were—even him, in times past. And given what Seline had told him, these six certainly rated high in that category.
"Great.” Jake took a deep breath. “Look, I'll let you go back and get some rest. I told Nik to page me when she wakes."
Michael returned to the other suite and walked into the bedroom, stopping near the bed. He watched her breathe and listened to the steady beat of her heart—a siren's song that stirred the darkness in him despite his tight leash of control. He let his gaze drink in her face, from the fullness of her mouth to the small lines of laughter beginning to appear near her eyes. Lines that had not been there when they'd first met.
He stripped and climbed into bed. She stirred, her thoughts touching his, warm and fuzzy with sleep, yet still flushed with pain. Closing his eyes, he reached into her mind, easing the surface turmoil, drawing in her pain. After a while, she sighed, and her frown disappeared. He wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her close. And, for the first time in weeks, felt a sense of peace. Coming home had never felt so good.
* * * *
Heat wrapped around her, pressed against her. Hands caressed her, hands that were strong and yet so gentle as they explored her body and teased it to life.
Nikki sighed, enjoying his touch until it became an ache that thrummed through her entire being. Only then did she turn. She met his gaze, her stomach flip-flopping as she momentarily lost herself in the ebony warmth of his eyes.
"The wanderer returns,” she murmured, trailing her finger down his cheek, gently outlining his full lips.