Chasing the Shadows
Page 9

 Keri Arthur

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"Damn you,” she muttered. It was bad enough that she had to face the police and their endless questions. Doing so when she was feeling hornier than hell was only going to make the experience all that much more uncomfortable.
His soft chuckle stirred air past her ear. I promise to relieve your tension once we're alone. Knowing the cops, that's going to be an unpleasant amount of time from now. The wait will be worth it.
She raised an eyebrow and half grinned. Now there's a statement from a man totally confident in his own abilities.
After three hundred and sixty years of life, I should be. Shadows caressed her cheek, warm and gentle. Yet in all that time, I have never felt anything like this. What we share is special, Nikki. And so very rare.
She sighed. Even the very rarest of jewels can be smashed if care isn't taken. That's all I'm asking you to allow me to do. Care.
And that was the whole trouble. He cared too much, and it was smothering her. She glanced up as the first of the police officers arrived. The look in his eyes told her it was going to be a longer night than even she'd anticipated.
She sighed again and slowly climbed to her feet. She was not looking forward to the next few hours.
* * * *
In the end, it wasn't as bad as she'd anticipated, though it was every bit as long. The San Francisco police seemed a whole lot more accepting of her abilities than the cops back home, which really shouldn't have surprised her, given the reputation for tolerance the city had as a whole. Even the Fed's seemed willing to accept the concept of her abilities, even if one or two of them had looked skeptical. A paramedic treated her wrist and reluctantly gave her some painkillers for her headache. A heartbeat later, power stirred the air. Michael, enforcing his will on the medic. The same thing happened any time one of the officers took notice of the blood staining the wall. His mind took theirs, bending their attention towards something else.
Her anger rose several notches every time. She understood his reasons, but understanding didn't make what he was doing any easier to accept. Didn't make it right. And it was just another thing in an ever-growing list they would have to talk about.
It was close to midnight by the time they were finally allowed to leave. By then, the pounding ache in her head had eased to a softer thud. A police officer escorted them back up the tunnel, and another helped them past the guard's crumpled body and out through the brick wall. It wasn't until they neared the lobby exit that Michael finally stepped free of the shadows.
He wrapped a hand around hers, but his attention was on Jake. “Are you going to see Mark Wainwright?"
Jake shook his head. “He'll be at the hospital with Dale, and I very much doubt if they'll let me in to see them tonight. I'll wait until morning."
"When you see him, ask him if she knew the other two women. If Nikki is right and these kidnappings are based on revenge, then there has to be some connection among the three victims. We need to find out what it is."
"Then you don't think the vamp behind all this will give up and make a run for it?"
"No. There's too much planning gone into it."
Jake sighed. “Thought I might have been a little too optimistic. I'm heading off to bed before Mary decides to kill me. I'll see you two in the morning."
"Night Jake,” Nikki said as Michael pulled her into the elevator. Jake waved a sketchy good night and disappeared up the stairs. Michael wrapped an arm around her shoulders and drew her close. She yawned and leaned her head against his shoulder and closed her eyes. Being held had never felt so good. So safe. “I'm so tired it feels like my legs are shaking."
"I know.” He brushed a kiss across the top of her head. “I'm afraid it's sleep not loving for you tonight, my love."
She glanced up at him, a grin touching her lips. “I don't have to stand to be loved, you know." His warm, sexy smile sent shivers of desire skating across her skin. “True. But you do have to be awake."
She raised an eyebrow. “Have I fallen asleep on you yet?"
"No, but there's always a first time."
"It won't be this time, believe me.” Not when the ache for his touch was so bad it was almost painful. He caressed her cheek, running his finger down to her lips. “Are you sure? Given what happened tonight, it might be better—"
She stopped the rest of his words with a kiss. She didn't want to think about what had happened tonight. Not now. Not yet. Because thinking would mean acknowledging that her gifts were changing in ways she couldn't even begin to imagine. That she might be changing just as much as her gifts. Heat slithered through the link and burned through her senses. Michael groaned and pulled her so close their bodies were almost one. Their kiss deepened, became a long and sensual exploration that left them both panting with need.
The elevator came to a halt and the doors opened. Michael swung her into his arms and carried her out.
"Saving my energy, huh?” She wrapped her arms around his neck and lightly nibbled his ear. His smile shimmered through the link, a glow she felt clear down to her toes.
"Definitely. You fall asleep on me now, and I'll be one very frustrated vampire."
"No chance of that.” She undid the buttons on his shirt and ran her fingers across the hard plane of his chest.
"Good grief, woman, wait until we're inside."
She laughed softly. “I do believe the vampire is shy."
"No. Just not an exhibitionist.” He kicked the door shut, his gaze hot and filled with passion. “But I'd make love anywhere you want, anytime you want. I will never be able to get enough of you." She touched a hand to his cheek as her heart did an odd flip flop. “Never is a long time."
"With you by my side, it won't be."
She kissed his cheek. “I do love you, you know.” Even if his old-fashioned ways sometimes frustrated the hell out of her.
"There's only one frustration I'm interested in curing right now.” He placed her on her feet and began to undress her. “The rest can wait."
"For now,” she agreed softly. “For now."
* * * *
Michael brushed a kiss across Nikki's shoulder, then slowly disentangled himself from her. She stirred slightly, murmuring something he couldn't quite catch. The link between them came briefly to life, and a contented rush of love swam around him. He smiled, gently brushing the hair from her closed eyes. It was hard to believe that only four months ago he'd been considering walking away from all this. Odd how swiftly things had changed. He couldn't even begin to imagine life without her now. He kissed her cheek, then rose and went into the living room. After pouring himself a wine from the bar, he walked over to the window and studied the fog-blanketed street below. Seline? he said, reaching out with his mind.
Here. Her instant reply suggested she'd been waiting for his call. Did you find Nikki?
Yes. Nose deep in trouble, as usual.
Seline's smile shimmered through his mind. I'm liking this girl more and more. You're really going to have to introduce us.
That would probably create more havoc than I can handle. The last thing Nikki needs is you telling her all the ins and outs of getting around my moods. She has enough tricks of her own. Seline laughed, a warm, throaty sound. Sounds like you're starting to hit trouble. That he was—though he still didn't entirely understand why Nikki refused to listen to common sense. But he had no intention of admitting that to Seline. All he'd get was an I-told-you-so. We've rescued the third victim. She's been sexually assaulted and looks to have suffered a heart attack, but the doctors seem reasonably confident of a recovery.
At least she's alive. I gather you found nothing on the fiend behind all this?
No, but Nikki seems to think it centers around revenge. If that's true, then it means the three women are all connected somehow.
They are. Apparently all three went to the same high school in Boston. Did they know each other?
From all reports, they were classmates rather than friends. There had to be some deeper connection than that. The man behind these kidnappings didn't just want revenge, he wanted to destroy them—emotionally as much as physically. Can you get a list of everyone who was in their classes and do a crosscheck? I've got a feeling we'll come up with a lot more missing women.
Doing it as we speak. She hesitated. Why does Nikki think it's revenge behind all this?
She's sensing him. He sipped his wine, watching the lights of an approaching car flare against the wall of white fog. Have you found anything else about thralls yet?
We found an old journal from one of the ancients that looks promising. It's just taking a little time to translate it. Worry whisked down the line between them. How is Nikki sensing him? I thought her only gifts were telekinesis and psychometry?
They were. And yet she has been able to sense my thoughts from the beginning, which suggests a latent ability in telepathy.
Telepathy is not clairvoyance. She shouldn't be able to sense this fiend with telepathy. Nikki was starting to do a lot of things she shouldn't be able to do, and it was worrying the hell out of him. Her gifts are mutating faster, Seline. And that's not all—remember the flame imps?
Remember them? Had a chat with them a month ago. Wonderful creatures, they are. Wonderful or not, they appear to have given Nikki the ability to produce flame with just a thought. And if it were a developing gift, it was one they had to get under control fast. Pyrokinesis is a rare talent these days. And a dangerous one. She hesitated again, and her confusion swirled around him. What about you?
He frowned. What do you mean?
There's been a connection between you and Nikki from the very start. It's that connection that allowed you to share your life force and make her a thrall. But unlike most thralls, Nikki was given eternal life out of love, not necessity.
So? The car crested the hill and the light separated, becoming twin beams of brightness before abruptly dying. The fog swirled around the vehicle, almost washing it from sight. He smiled. Whoever was in that car would undoubtedly regret their parking choice in the morning. They were stopped in a tow-away zone.
So what if you shared more than you were meant to share? And what if that sharing went both ways?
Both ways? He certainly hadn't developed any of Nikki's talents ... the thought stopped cold as he remembered this afternoon. Remembered sharing the sensation of evil with her. I don't get what you mean, he said. Even though he was beginning to.
She sighed. Remember, I'm only theorizing, but what if that warning we found—the one that suggested it was better not to turn those with psychic talents into thralls—was more a warning of the dangers involved to the maker, not to the thrall?
How can it be dangerous to the maker? Other than the initial shock of transferring his life force, he'd felt no different, nor had he noticed any change in his psychic abilities—until this afternoon. Thralls are generally created as little more than servants, are they not?
He gave a mental nod. Servants, or, as in Elizabeth's case, obedient lovers. So what if turning someone with psychic talents created a thrall who was not a servant but an equal? One who could not be ordered around?
He raised his eyebrow. Nikki would certainly be pleased to hear that snippet of information. I can see where it would create problems for those vampires who did not care for their thralls. Indeed. And what if turning someone you loved into a thrall took it one step further?
He took another sip of wine and watched the silent car as the implications of her statement swirled through his mind. You think there's been some sort of psychic sharing between us?
No. What I think is happening is more a merging. And if that's the case, you're both going to have to be very careful until you discover the full extent of the merger.
People can't share psychic talents, Seline.
You're right. People can't. But you and Nikki are no longer just people. Amusement threaded her mind voice. The possibilities of this union are damn exciting, let me tell you. The only union I'm interested in with Nikki is one of the heart. I don't want her joining the Circle. I don't want her accompanying me on missions.
And what of her wants?
Nikki had voiced her wants loudly enough, but he had no intention of giving in. It was just too dangerous—for them both. Her pain this evening had been a knife stabbing deep inside, momentarily freezing him. Had he been fighting older vamps rather than fledglings, he could have been in real trouble. You can't keep her wrapped in cotton for the rest of eternity, Michael. Nikki had said much the same thing. He wondered if the old witch had been talking to her behind his back. It's only been four months. Cotton is allowed, I think. Her chuckle surrounded him. Three hundred and sixty years old and still so much to learn. Better than being one hundred and eighty and thinking I know it all, he said, amused. I don't claim to know it all, but I do claim to be a very wily old witch. The wise listen to me. He smiled. And how often has that gotten me into trouble in the past?
Only three or four times. Her mind voice was prim.
You forgot to add the dozen in that amount. No one had gotten out of the car yet. Curious, he switched to the infrared of his vampire vision. Listen, when you're doing the crosscheck for classmates, could you also check how many of them might currently be in San Francisco? It could give us a lead to the next victim.
In other words, mind my own damn business and stay out of your love life. Her cackle spun around him. You know that's impossible. And the check is being done as we speak. I should have the results in the morning.
Then I'll talk to you in the morning. He broke the connection between them and studied the car with a frown. The couple inside were not getting passionate, as he'd half expected, but simply sitting there. He mentally reached to touch their minds. Only it wasn't their minds he found, but that of another vampire.