Chasing the Shadows / Page 13

Page 13


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Nothing and no one seemed to be approaching their room. Yet that sense of disconnected humanity continued to come close.


Get ready, Nikki. It comes.


She flexed her hands. Energy danced across her fingertips, brighter than he'd ever seen it before. Someone knocked loudly on the door. He glanced at her. She cleared her throat, then said, “Who is it?" No answer.


After several heartbeats, the knock came again. There was no heartbeat, no thoughts, nothing to indicate there was anything human, vampire, or anything else vaguely alive, standing on the other side of the door. It could almost have been a zombie, except for the fact there was no smell, and no shambling step. He nodded at Nikki again.


"Hang on a sec,” she called. What now?


Say you're coming, then step back.


Humor momentarily chased its way through the tension in her expression. I'd rather be coming right now than facing an imminent attack from a madman, let me tell you. So would I. He reached out through the link, momentarily caressing her mind with warmth and love. She smiled. And I love you, even if you are the most irritatingly stubborn man at times. He reached for the door handle, and her smile faded.


The door was rapped a third time.


Do it, he said.


"Coming, coming,” she called and stepped backwards, out of immediate sight. Michael turned the handle and pulled the door open.


Chapter Nine


It wasn't a zombie.


It wasn't anything, human or non human.


Just a bunch of flowers.


Michael stared at them for a heartbeat, then leaned out the door and studied the hall. Nothing. No smell, no sign of anything human. Whoever—or whatever—had delivered these flowers had disappeared as fast as they'd arrived.


He glanced down at the flowers again. Why would anyone deliver flowers ... A chill ran up his spine. Maybe they were meant as a gift—but not a gift of life.


He whirled, his form blurring as he raced towards Nikki. He swept her up in his arms, not stopping as he raced toward the bathroom.


What the hell ... ?


I think it's a small bomb.


Her fear swirled around him, sharp and acrid. He jumped into the large tub and pushed her head down, then covered her body with his own. A half second later there was a rush of almost deafening noise. Heat and dust swirled through the air, covering them in a fine blanket of grey. Alarms sounded, and the sprinklers dropped down from the ceiling, the fine spray quickly soaking them. He glanced down at Nikki. “You okay?"


She nodded and wiped the muddy droplets from around her eyes. “He's crazier than we thought. He could have killed everyone in the hotel with a stunt like that."


"Unlikely.” He pushed upright, then offered her a hand. “The explosion wasn't large enough. I think he only meant to blow up the person holding the flowers."


She shivered. He pulled her into his arms and brushed a kiss across her forehead. Then he simply held her close. Held her tight. Her heart raced so hard it felt like his own, and the fear that tainted the link was as much his as hers. If he hadn't been here, she might have picked up those flowers. Might well now be dead.


"If we can find that woman today, I will kill him tonight.” Though he tried to keep his voice flat, anger reverberated nonetheless.


She shifted slightly, looking up at him, amber eyes sparkling gold in the morning light. “You can't kill him in the middle of a crowded restaurant."


He could. And had done so—twice in the last hundred years. Why people thought there was safety in numbers he never knew. In most cases, a crowd only made it far easier to both kill and escape. He caressed her cheek with his fingers and journeyed down to her full lips. “I'll do what I have to do."


"He's not a fool, Michael. He may not have suspected last night that you were with me, but he'll put two and two together soon enough."


"Perhaps.” But it was still a risk he had to take.


The heavy tread of footsteps approached their room, hearts beating fast. Jake and others. He kissed her. Her mouth was so soft and sweet against his own that he just wanted to keep on tasting her forever. But he couldn't—not right now, anyway. She sighed when he pulled away, a sound he felt like echoing.


"We have guests,” he said, stepping out of the tub.


"Nikki! Michael!” Jake's voice, edged with panic.


"Here,” he said, helping Nikki out of the spa.


Jake came in, grinning when he saw them. “You both okay?" Nikki nodded and ran her fingers through her sodden hair. The sprinklers had stopped their rain, but every inch of her was soaked, and the chill was creeping past her skin and settling deep inside. But she suspected it wasn't so much an effect of the cold, but rather the fear of what this madman would try next.


“Better than the living room, I suspect."


"Actually, the damage is constrained to the door and a bit of the wall. What was it? A bomb of some sort?"


"Of some sort.” Michael's reply was grim. “Meant to destroy nothing more than the person holding the flowers in which it was delivered."


A security officer dressed in the hotel's uniform stuck his head around the corner. “Police and Fire Services are here, Mr. Morgan."


"Tell them we'll be out in a minute.” Jake glanced at Michael. “It might be better if you remain hidden."


"I agree."


Power surged, and Nikki knew without asking Michael was adjusting the guard's memory so that he remembered seeing only her. She bit back her instinctive annoyance, knowing he wouldn't listen, and wouldn't care.


"I'll keep to shadows in the bedroom,” he said once the surge of power had faded. He hesitated, then added, “Hadn't you better contact Mary?"


Jake swore and thrust a hand through his thinning blonde hair. “Damn it, yes." His expression was filled with annoyance—at himself, more than anything else, she suspected. He usually kept Mary up-to-date with what was happening. But when a case got as nasty, as this one was, she was never his highest priority, unless the case threatened to backwash and involve her as well.


"I guess this'll be another black mark in the book,” he continued, a touch bitterly.


"Mary will understand,” she said, even though she knew the lie. Mary was past understanding. Or perhaps tired of understanding. She hungered for something Jake couldn't—or wouldn't—give her, and though Nikki didn't really understand what that something was, she could certainly understand Mary's frustration. And she'd only put up with her own frustration for four months. Mary had been battling it for thirty years.


Official-sounding voices drew close. Michael squeezed her fingers lightly, then stepped past Jake and disappeared into the shadows still filling the bedroom.


She glanced up at Jake. “We're not going to make it to Harris’ place by nine-thirty."


"No. I'll give him a call and let him know what's happened. We'll just have to get there when we can." He touched a hand to her back and ushered her out into the living room. As he'd said, there wasn't much damage to the room as a whole, except for the fact that everything was soaked. A gap stood where the door had once been, but other than a chunk of missing plaster on either side of the door and scorch marks, there was nothing else to really indicate someone had tried to blow the hell out of her. The police turned as they entered, notebooks in hands and questions she could almost read evident in their eyes.


She rubbed a hand across her eyes. Talking to the police had never been a favorite pastime, but it was something she seemed to be doing a lot of lately.


Sighing softly, she plopped down on one of the sodden sofas and got herself comfortable for a long few hours.


* * * *


Michael crossed his arms and leaned a shoulder against the wall. From his position in the bedroom, he could see Nikki and not much else. She was sitting on the sofa, legs tucked underneath her, dark chestnut hair drying in waves that fluffed around her expressionless face. She looked absurdly young and almost delicate—neither of which she truly was.


A cop sat in front of her, writing notes and occasionally asking a question. He didn't appear inclined to hurry. Michael bit down on his frustration. Needing to do something, he reached out to Seline instead.


'Bout time, she grumbled. Been waiting for hours . What, the cat's suddenly grabbed your tongue, has it? Actually, knowing her cat, it was more than a possibility. It was a big black-and-white monstrosity that only possessed one eye and half a tail, and was the meanest thing on four legs he'd ever met.


I was being discreet. Didn't want to interrupt you and Nikki at a delicate time. He smiled. You and discreet are not two words I've ever associated before . Her amusement swam down the mental line. That's because most times I don't want to be. It's more fun being a pushy old witch.


And you do it so well.


Thank you. Her voice was prim. Schoolmarmish. Which she had been, at one point in her life. We've discovered there are eight women who attended Boston High currently either living or visiting San Francisco .


I gather the first three victims were from this eight?


Yes.


And would one of the remaining five be Mary Morgan?


I'm afraid so.


Which meant they had to get Mary out of San Francisco, and the sooner the better. No easy task when the only other place she wanted to go appeared no safer. Did you run a check to locate the other classmates?


Certainly did. One disappeared in Boston last year and has never been found. Two disappeared from New York, though the body of one was found floating in the river. Apparently she bore mutilations similar to the first two victims in San Francisco. Another woman was found drained of blood in a hotel room in Albuquerque two years ago.


But not mutilated?


She hesitated. Not to the extent of the rest. The police put it down to rough sex. Any before that?


No. She was the first.


So what was the trigger? What did this woman do that started a madman down his bloody path? Did the police reports say anything else?


Yep. Apparently, she'd lost her husband a few months before and decided to do the tour they'd always planned. She'd stopped at the hotel for the night, and the manager said that while she booked in alone, she came back later with a man.


She picked up her killer?


So it would appear.


But was that man the same man who was now kidnapping and killing women here in San Francisco?


Was there a description?


Medium height, medium build, brown hair.


Mr. Joe Average, in other words.


Well, that's what he made the manager see, at least.


Is there any connection at all among these women, other than the fact they all attended the same school?


None that we can see, beyond the fact the current three victims all attended that fundraiser. But he's not going after all the women who attended that year of school, though. There are still at least one hundred girls living in or around Boston, and none of them have been attacked. So what is it about these women?


Discover that, and we'll discover our motive, I think.


Nikki glanced his way, an intent look on her face. Listening in again. He raised his mental shields a little more, and annoyance rumbled through the link, a distant but threatening thunder. When you were going through the Boston High records, did you find any reports about a couple of girls suiciding on a prom night?


Yeah, I did. Curiosity swam through Seline's mental tone. Why?


Just a feeling I've got. When I was talking to Mary, she said there was no alcohol in the building, yet both girls were apparently drunk. Might be worth investigating. Seline paused. Michael, when did you start developing precognition?


He raised his eyebrows. I haven't .


You said you had a feeling.


It was just an insight, a guess, nothing more.


It was more. I can see it in your thoughts. Has Nikki any precognition skills?


He hesitated. She can sometimes sense danger or evil, but beyond that, no. Which could mean this merging is bringing out latent talents in you, as well. All I've ever had are telepathy and telekinesis. And his telekinesis wasn't anywhere near the strength of Nikki's.


That doesn't mean there aren't more talents. It only means they're the only ones you've acknowledged.


You've tested me more than once over the years, Seline.


But you are a far stronger telepath than I'll ever be. It's possible that you could have been subconsciously blocking me.


Why would I want to do that? You know more about me than any man or woman ever has—alive or dead.


But still I don't know all your secrets. You were a man used to keeping his own council when we met. I doubt whether that man has entirely disappeared, even after I've spent over a hundred years civilizing you.


He smiled. According to Nikki, that man had not disappeared at all. I met a vampire last night. He was psychically using a young couple in an attempt to kill Nikki. Seline's amusement shimmered around him. She was well aware he was steering the conversation back to more comfortable topics. And he still lives? Michael, you're slipping. I never had much hope of finding him in a city this size—he could have been anywhere in a one or two block radius, and his scent was nowhere to be found. But I am meeting him tonight, and if he is our kidnapper, I'll kill him if I can.


If? You sense problems?


A fourth woman has been kidnapped.


Damn. She hesitated, her anger heating the link . Which one?


Her married name is Harris.


Anne Harris, that would be. She's one of the eight I mentioned. Her husband is involved in shipping. It's not her present that's the problem. It's her past.


Perhaps you'd better talk to Mary some more.


I've probed her memories. As far as she's concerned, nothing unusual happened. Then probe deeper. Obviously, something else happened either that night or during the year—something that involved these twelve women.


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