Chasing the Shadows / Page 21

Page 21


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It wasn't enough. Not yet.


Without a word, he picked her up and carried her into the bedroom. They made love through the rest of the afternoon, speaking with actions not words, until their bodies could take no more and they fell asleep. It was only when he woke and saw he was alone in the bed that he realized she had, in her own way, just said good-bye.


Chapter Thirteen


Nikki walked. Numbly. Aimlessly.


Dusk crowded the sky and fingers of fog drifted in around her, precursors to the thick, white blanket beginning to roll off the bay. People bustled past her, so full of energy and life they made her feel old. Lights blazed through the streets, lending a warmth to the oncoming night. Not that she'd ever feel warm again. It felt as if someone had ripped out her heart and left an empty block of ice in its place. She felt dead—not just her heart but her mind as well. And she wished, for perhaps the thousandth time since she'd woken, that she could just take back the words and leave things as they'd been.


But she couldn't. She'd said what she'd said and, in the process, had probably destroyed the best thing that had ever happened to her. But better death by her own words than a slow and painful one over the next few years. They couldn't have kept going as they were. Couldn't have. She pushed away the doubts that crowded her mind. She couldn't allow doubts, or she just might break down and cry. She blinked back the tears that crowded her eyes anyway, then rubbed her arms. The night was getting colder, the fog thicker. She looked around, wondering for the first time where she was. She didn't recognize any of the buildings. But then, what she knew of San Francisco came from watching the various TV shows set here over the years.


In the distance a light twinkled, catching her eye. She frowned at it for several seconds and it gradually became a cross. A church, she thought. Though she'd never entered a church in her life, there was something about that cross that seemed to draw her.


She walked towards it. Wet fingers of mist played across her skin, and the darkness seemed to close in. The noisy rush of traffic began to fade away until all that remained in the night was the rasp of her breathing, and the steady, glowing light of that cross. A light that was oddly visible, no matter what turn she took or what building rose in front of her.


A chill raced across her skin. Magic swirled through the night, so strong she could almost taste it. She licked dry lips but kept on walking. She could sense no evil in the magic that danced around her, but that didn't mean there wasn't any. Sparks danced across her fingers, lighting the night like tiny fireflies. She rounded another corner. A cathedral loomed in front of her—large, Gothic, and beautiful. The cross was as dark as the church itself, but the sense of magic still stung the air. Her steps slowed, then stopped. She listened to the night, watching the fog drift through the trees. Waiting, but for what she didn't know.


A sound invaded the odd silence. A soft tapping, like that of wood against concrete. She frowned, then jumped as her phone rang. Heart pounding somewhere in her throat, she dug the phone out of her pocket.


"Yes?"


The tapping stopped. The night seemed to be holding its breath, as if waiting.


"Jeez, Nikki, where the hell are you?” Jake said. “We've been worried sick here."


"If Michael was worried sick, he would have come looking for me.” And he would have undoubtedly found her, too. Even though she still had her end of the link shut down tight, there was still something between them that would always allow one to find the other.


"He said you needed the space. That make any sense to you?" She snorted despite the cold ache in her heart. Part of her had hoped he'd come after her. “He's probably hoping I'll come to my senses."


Jake paused. “What do you mean?"


"It means I'm leaving him. Once we finish this job, it's over between us. He won't compromise in any way, and I'm sick of being second best."


Jake blew out his breath, the sound almost a sigh over the phone. “Nikki, at least think about it a while longer. It's nearly Christmas, for God's sake."


"Won't be the first Christmas I've spent alone."


And it certainly wouldn't be the last. She had an eternity of them to look forward to. No sharing kisses under the mistletoe. No drinking eggnog and stealing a look at the presents under the tree on Christmas Eve. She bit her lip and blinked away the sting in her eyes.


"Nikki, you and Michael were made for each other. I'm sure this could all be sorted out if you just sit down and talk."


She closed her eyes, holding on to her determination by the slenderest of margins. “We have talked. And talked."


"This is stupid and you know it."


"Ask Mary how stupid I'm being. I bet she'd understand exactly why I'm doing this.” After all, she'd been second best to Jake's true passion—his job—for the last thirty years. Something Nikki had only just begun to see and understand in the last couple of days.


Jake swore softly. “Look, Michael has to go meet Farmer soon. He wants us to keep out of the hotel and to keep moving around."


"I'm out of the hotel and moving around."


"Together, Nikki. Not separately."


Anger flicked through her. He was still ordering. Still not trusting her to be able to look after herself. She studied the night for a moment and knew there was something here, something instinct suggested she needed to see.


"I have to do something first,” she said. “Take a phone with you, and I'll call you when I'm finished."


"Nikki—"


"And if they use real silverware in that fancy hotel of yours,” she cut in, “I'd grab a couple of knives. Just to be on the safe side."


She hit the “end” button then turned off the phone and shoved it back into her pocket. The soft tapping resumed almost immediately.


The night grew colder, its touch almost icy. A breeze swirled around her, tangling her hair and chasing chills down her back. Yet ten feet away, the fog stirred sluggishly through the still limbs of a tree. An old woman became visible, tapping a cane against the sidewalk in front of her with every step. She was small and gnarled, with clothes that were as gray as the fog and just as flimsy. The taste of magic increased, tingling across her skin. Sparks skittered across her fingers, sending flickers of red and gold dancing through the damp darkness.


"You'll not be needing that weapon against the likes of me." The old woman's voice was melodious, soft and yet somehow powerful. She stopped and, though a bare five feet separated them, Nikki couldn't see her eyes. It was almost as if she didn't have any—and yet, if that were the case, how could she know about the energy dancing across Nikki's fingers? Surely it wasn't caressing the night that strongly.


"Why have you called me here?” Nikki had no doubt the magic she sensed was coming from this woman. And she had no intention of dropping her guard, no matter how safe her instincts were suggesting that would be.


The old woman smiled, revealing stained teeth and black gaps. “I am not the one who summoned you. I have merely been chosen to escort and explain. Come along, young woman." She turned, tapping towards the church. Nikki's hesitation was brief. She had no idea who was crazier—the old woman, or her for following—but it didn't matter. The scent of magic was so strong it practically crawled across her skin, and it was obvious something was about to happen. Oddly enough, she felt no fear. No sense of approaching doom. Maybe her instincts had finally given up and gone away, as she'd once wished.


The old woman didn't enter the church but walked around the left side of it. Nikki followed her. The fog seemed thicker here, slapping her with wet fingers and dribbling moisture down her skin. The silence was so thick she could almost taste it, and her skin tingled as if she was walking through a wall of energy.


"Come, come,” the old woman said, almost impatiently. Her form was lost to the fog. It was almost as if she'd become a part of it.


The tingling increased, crawling like electricity across her skin. The fog was dense and cold. It felt like ice, and every step became an effort. It was almost as if she were moving through a force of some kind. But as quickly as it had appeared, the sensation was gone. She stumbled forward several steps but quickly regained her balance and looked around for the old woman. The thickness of the fog eased but it still swirled sluggishly, touching her with fingers that now seemed oddly warm. She spied the stranger on the top of a small hill just in front of her and made her way towards her. The fog parted, as if it were stepping aside. Nikki stopped suddenly, her stomach plummeting as she realized the fog was stepping aside.


Only it wasn't fog.


It was ghosts.


* * * *


Music thumped from the interior of the café. Michael stopped under the awning, eyeing the building in distaste. He'd never been a fan of rock music—in any of its configurations. Though he'd certainly heard a lot of it since Nikki had come to live with him.


Nikki ... God, what was he going to do with her?


He was only certain of one thing—he loved her, and he'd be damned if he was going to let her walk away from him when this case was over. Jake was right. There had to be a common ground somewhere. Had to be some compromise that would make them both happy. All they had to do was find it. And find it they would—even if he had to tie her to the bed to keep her in his life and talking to him. He took a deep breath and tried to push all thoughts of her aside as he entered the noise-laden building. His senses tingled with awareness—the fiend was inside, waiting.


"Table for Farmer,” he said, as a waiter walked up to greet him. The young man smiled. “Sure. This way."


Michael's gaze swept across the room and met the blue eyes of his foe. Farmer was everything he'd imagined—short, stocky, and balding. His face was hard, and tattoos covered what little skin there was to be seen. He was wearing a black leather jacket, a sleeveless jean jacket over that. Michael had no doubt his club's colors would adorn the back of the jacket—everything about this man said biker. Except, perhaps, his eyes. They were the eyes of a man lost in the wonder of his own little world. Which was odd, because Farmer had certainly seemed sane enough when he'd talked to him earlier. The younger vampire rose as he approached the table. “You would be the man I spoke to last night,” he said, offering his hand.


He was wearing fingerless leather gloves, the leather oddly damp against his palm as they shook hands. Farmer was as strong as the muscles bulging against the restriction of his jacket suggested.


"Michael.” He pulled out a chair and sat down.


"Bill.” Farmer motioned to the bottle of wine that sat on the table, the movement almost feminine.


“Drink?"


Michael shook his head and ordered a bourbon from a passing waiter. Farmer poured himself a glass then raised it, sniffing the aroma. His behavior was so at odds with his appearance, Michael was hard-pressed to hold back his smile.


"How long have you been in the city?” He reached out psychically, carefully testing the other vampire's defenses. They were locked down tight, as he'd expected. He had no doubt he could breach them but was reluctant to do so here. There were too many innocents Farmer could use as weapons. And despite what he'd said to Nikki, he didn't simply walk in and kill. Not in crowded situations like this, especially when the target was ready and watchful for tricks.


Farmer leaned back in his chair and idly sipped his wine. “Two months. I like this place. Might settle here for a while."


"You living in the Castro area?"


He was careful to keep his voice neutral, and though Farmer's gaze narrowed slightly, Michael could sense no anger. Which again was odd, given the young vampire's history of retaliation when the suggestion of being gay was raised.


"No. But I might, if I decide to stay here."


Michael nodded. “And you were the maker of the fledglings down in the sewer?"


"Yes.” Farmer paused. “Why did you kill them?"


Michael snorted. “You have no need for a harem in a city this size. You start killing too many people, and the cops will begin to notice. We survive by being unnoticed." Farmer's sudden smile was derisive. “We survive by being stronger and faster. The cops are no threat to the likes of you and me."


"Don't ever underestimate humans. They'll do the unexpected every time.” Like walk out the door rather than settle for part-time happiness.


"I disagree. From what I've seen, humans are all predictable.” Farmer took another sip of his drink.


“Take that witch I'm chasing. I can tell you now, she'll do whatever she can to rescue her loved ones." Michael's gut clenched. He was suddenly glad Nikki was out wandering the night. Farmer's minions—if he had any left—would not be able to track her down. Even Farmer himself might have trouble, despite the odd connection he seemed to have with her.


"I think we all tend to do that, human or not.” His palm began to tingle, and he scratched it idly. “Have you managed to track her down yet?"


"No. But I won't have to. She'll come to me."


Michael didn't like the confidence in the younger vampire's voice or the smirk beginning to twitch his thin lips. He raised his eyebrow. “You sound extremely confident of that."


"That's because I am. I have someone she loves."


The itching was getting stronger, creeping up his arm. Michael frowned and looked down. His hand was red, as if burned. For a moment, his vision blurred. He blinked, but as he looked up, the room spun around him. The glove, he thought. There'd been something on the glove. He thrust upwards and hit the smirking younger vampire with every ounce of psychic strength he had. Farmer's eyes went wide with fear an instant before Michael surged into his mind and took control. He forced the younger vampire to rise and walk out the door, then he threw some money on the table and followed. He didn't have much time left. There was an odd buzzing beginning to run though his mind, and the room seemed to be drifting in and out of focus. He had to take care of Farmer before whatever it was that had been on that glove took full effect.


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