Chasing the Shadows / Page 15

Page 15


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Yes, but—


You agree that she won't go willingly, don't you?


She didn't reply, just glared at him. He was right, and she knew it. He looked back at Jake. “No, she won't feel the compulsion. Where do you want me to send her?"


"Not to Boston, that's for sure.” Jake hesitated. “What about Long Beach? She has a friend down there—a recent friend, not one from Boston. Mary said some time ago she'd like to see her again."


"This friend's name?"


"Anna."


"Then that's where we'll send her. You want to go call the friend and make arrangements? I'll hold Mary until you come back."


Jake walked into the bedroom. Michael glanced at Nikki. She'd crossed her arms and was carefully holding herself away from him. The anger he could feel in the link was evident in the glitter in her eyes.


"This is part of what I do,” he said, keeping his voice even, unapologetic. “It's also probably the least of my sins when it comes to getting a job done. It's not something I intend to stop just because it bruises your sensibilities."


"Damn it, she has a right to choose her own destiny."


"So you'd rather she stay here and die?"


"No, and that's not—"


He touched a hand to the warmth of her lips, stopping her words. “The point is, I'm trying to stop a killer, and I will do whatever it takes to achieve that goal. I don't care whether you like it or not. It's what I do. Accept it and get past it."


She took a deep breath and released it slowly. “Fine,” she muttered. “I'll say no more about it." The stubborn look on her face suggested that while she might not say anything more, she'd definitely be thinking it. He smiled and touched her chin, gently directing her gaze back to his. “One of the things I love about you,” he said softly, “is the ungracious way you give in when you know you're wrong." He brushed a kiss across her lips. Her mouth was warm and pliant under his, and the kiss deepened. Heat simmered through the link, a yearning that could not be quenched for some time yet. Eventually she sighed and wrapped her arms around his neck.


"And one of the things I love about you,” she said, eyes dancing with amusement and desire, “is the way you make me want you, even when I'm so damn mad at you I could spit fire." Jake came back into the room. “All arranged,” he said. “I've booked Mary onto the eleven o'clock flight."


Michael nodded and began rebuilding Mary's memories, imprinting on her mind the exuberance of her seeing her friend again and making sure there were no doubts about the trip and leaving Jake for the next week. Then he released her.


"You'd better be getting ready if you want to make the plane,” he said, prompting her. Mary glanced at her watch and surged to her feet. “Ohmigod, you're right. Jake are you going to take me to the airport or not?"


"The limo has been booked, but I'll be escorting you out there.” He hesitated, waiting until Mary had left the room, then added, “I'll meet you two at Harris's later." Nikki rose. “I'll just go say good-bye, then we can get going." Michael nodded and glanced at Jake. “You got the address?" Jake handed him a card. “From what he said, she was snatched from her bedroom last night." He frowned. “Were they at a hotel or a bed and breakfast?"


"No. Private residence."


His frown deepened. “It can't be vamps snatching these women then."


"Well, it isn't human, that's for sure. Harris took a swing at the man and said he simply stepped back into shadow. If that doesn't sound like a vamp, then what the hell is it?" It certainly sounded like a vampire. The question was, how were they getting into the house in the first place? One of the few myths about them that was true was their inability to step into a private home unless invited. It couldn't be forced, but had to be freely given. It was doubtful if any man or woman would give such permission in the early hours of the morning. So how were these vamps getting in?


Chapter Ten


Nikki stepped onto the sidewalk and stared up at the beautiful old Victorian. Painted blue and yellow, it was a cheerful sight that belied the deep sense of sorrow and anger she could feel coming from inside the old house.


She shivered and rubbed her arms. Emotions were not something she'd ever been able to feel before now—not unless she was linked through psychometry to the mind of another. It was not something she wanted to feel now .


Michael climbed out of the cab and touched a hand to her back. “Let's get inside." She glanced up at him. His face had gone pink. Sunburn. “You pushing your limits?"


"It's past ten, so very definitely.” He opened the gate and ushered her through. Worry slithered through her. “It could be midday before we finished. What are you going to do then?"


"Let's worry about it then."


He climbed the steps and pressed the doorbell. A cop answered. Nikki all but groaned. It was hard enough to focus her gifts—harder still to control them, especially given the way they were currently changing. To try to do so in a room filled with disbelieving police officers would be next to impossible.


"Could you please tell Mr. Harris that Nikki James and Michael Kelly are here to see him?” Power caressed the air as Michael spoke. For a heartbeat, the cop's eyes went blank. She clenched her fists and bit back her instinctive comment.


The cop nodded and disappeared. A second later, a small, bearded man appeared, his brown eyes red-rimmed, face haggard. “Come in, come in, both of you,” he said and offered Michael his hand. “Neil Harris."


Nikki shook his hand in turn. His fingers were clammy, feeling oddly like wet parchment against her own. She had to resist the temptation to wipe his touch away afterward.


"The cops aren't too happy about me inviting you here,” he continued, voice raspy, almost harsh. “But I told them they could stick it. You found the other woman, and found her alive, and I'm not about to turn my back on any chance, no matter how remote."


He led them into the living room. Besides the cops, there were several suited men inside—Feds, she presumed. They were hovering around the phone, waiting for a call she knew would never come. Michael glanced at her sharply. Why not?


She hesitated, examining the distant, shadowy thoughts. Because he fears us. Or me. And he cares more about the revenge now than the money itself.


Which means we may not have much time to play with to rescue this woman. We don't. She rubbed her arms and tried to ignore the bitter fury that swam around her. Billie Farmer, if that was this killer's true name, had already begun to take his revenge on Anne Harris.


"So, what do you need?” Harris said, coming to a stop in the center of the room.


"Something she wore all the time. A favorite necklace or bra are usually good." He nodded and left the room again, leaving them under the watching eye of the silent police officers. Michael twined his fingers through hers, his touch furnace hot. Neil Harris returned with a jewelry box and a handful of bras. “Take your pick,” he said, dumping them all on the coffee table.


She skimmed her hand over the top of them. Muted rushes of color and heat ran across her senses, but there was nothing she would have deemed truly promising—until she reached the heart-shaped pendant that had fallen from the box. Fear practically swamped her.


She swallowed heavily and glanced up at Harris. “Do you have a plastic bag?" He frowned, but disappeared into the kitchen to get one. Michael took it from him and carefully swept the necklace into the bag before handing it to her.


Though she held it by the plastic and wasn't actually touching the metal, flashes of fear and darkness still pulled at her mind. If she went in uncontrolled, as she normally did, it could be very bad indeed. She met Michael's gaze. “How do you want to do this?"


He pushed the coffee table back against the sofa. “Sit on the carpet and relax." She did. Michael sat cross-legged in front of her and took hold of her free hand. The heat of his touch burned through her flesh, warming the ice formed by her apprehension.


"Now relax and close your eyes."


She closed her eyes, but the awareness of all those watching them burned deep, tearing at her concentration.


He gently squeezed her fingers. “Listen to the sound of my voice. Concentrate on it. On me." She took a deep breath and released it slowly. Why not use the link?


Because the link and your talents seem to work on two entirely different levels, and I don't think they're truly compatible for what we are about to try. Aloud, he murmured, “Breathe deeply and relax."


She listened to the rhythmic flow of his breathing and tried to match it. Gradually, the tension began to leave her limbs.


"Relax, relax."


His voice was a whisper that soothed her soul. Gradually, the tension, the awareness of everyone else, began to ease away. All she could hear was Michael. All she could feel was the necklace burning into her palm, the gold almost molten against her skin. But she ignored the images pushing at the edges of her mind, knowing she dare not follow them yet.


"Open your mind to me. Let our thoughts become one." She lowered her barriers. Felt him do the same. Heat danced through her, a warmth that burst like an explosion through every fiber of her being and left her tingling with awareness. His mind flowed around her, separate yet united with her own. His thoughts, his emotions, were a blaze of color that almost left her blind. She could see areas he wished kept hidden, vast tracks of forbidding darkness. Knew there would be identical areas in her own mind—memories she had no wish to share yet, even with him. It was similar, and yet so very different from the first time they'd tried this. Then, they'd been wary strangers—lovers, but still strangers, distrusting of each other, distrusting the strength of the emotions that swirled between them.


Concentrate. The cool breeze of his thoughts whispered through her. Now, reach for Anne Harris. Let our thoughts become hers, separate but one.


She wrapped her fingers around the necklace, pressing the plastic wrapped metal into her palm. It had grown suddenly cold against her skin, but her fingers twitched, burned by the images rushing from the jewelry. Her senses leaped away, following the trail that led to Anne Harris. Shapes began to form. Fear trembled through her fear, but Michael chased it away.


Concentrate on Anne, Nikki. Reach for her. See her. Feel her. Let her thoughts, her mind, touch ours without ever overriding us.


She reached—and was swept into Anne Harris’ thoughts and actions. Became an observer who did not feel or fear...


* * * *


...Darkness surrounded her, but she was not alone. She could hear them—their breathing was rapid gasps that spoke of fear. Or excitement.


She knew they watched her. Their gazes caressed her skin, heated touches that were not real, and yet they seemed to sear so very deep. She thought the watchers were probably waiting for her to break under the strain of her terror. But she wouldn't. Even though fear trembled through every limb, even though she was so damn nervous—so afraid—it felt like she was going to throw up, she wasn't going to beg them to leave her alone. She refused to give them that satisfaction, no matter what they did to her. A chill ran across her flesh. She swallowed back bile and let her gaze roam around the darkness. The newspapers said the third victim had been found in the sewers. Though this place was dark, she didn't think it was the sewers. Though there was a slight fishy odor in the air, it didn't smell as bad as she imagined any sewer would. Nor was it damp.


"Do you wonder why you are here?” The voice swam out of the darkness—cold, deep and vaguely familiar.


She jumped, her heart beating so loudly it seemed to echo like a drum. The darkness around her stirred, as if in hunger.


"I know why I'm here. You're going to kill me.” Her voice was high, almost childlike. She cleared her throat, determined to face the disembodied voice with courage. Neil had often said the only thing we truly have control over in this life is the manner in which we accept death. It wasn't until now that she really understood what he meant.


Tears stung her eyes. She wouldn't see him again. Would never get the chance to tell him she loved him—something she hadn't said in such a very long time. Moisture rolled past her chin and dripped onto her hands, clenched tightly in her lap.


"Interesting.” The voice was behind her now. “There is a strength in you lacking in the others."


"Maybe the others didn't know what you intended to do. Or maybe they thought begging would save their lives."


"And you don't think it will?"


"No. Begging makes no difference to a sick mind."


The disembodied voice laughed softly. The sound sent another chill across her flesh. There was nothing remotely human in that laugh.


"If I have a sick mind, then you are partially responsible for it." She frowned, then wondered why she was even bothering to take anything this man said seriously.


“What do you mean?"


He didn't answer. The beat of her heart seemed to reverberate through the silence, a sound that was oddly, briefly, accompanied by a more metallic-sounding beat and a rushing sigh of wind that stirred her hair and caressed her skin with momentary warmth.


"I guess I shouldn't be surprised you don't remember me,” he said eventually. “None of the others did. Until later."


She swallowed back the rush of bile. “Given what you did to them, do you really think it was memory?


Or was it just the frantic need to agree with anything you said in the hope you'd stop?" He chuckled again. “You are very clever."


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