Chasing the Shadows / Page 8

Page 8


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"It's a cell. Dale Wainwright is in there."


Michael twisted the handle, but the door was locked. So he leaned a shoulder against it and pushed as hard as he could. The door had been built to withstand the strength of a human, not a vampire, and it gave way with very little resistance.


"It's a wonder the Department of Public Works hasn't done anything about this,” Jake said. “It would surely be stuffing up the storm water flow."


"Remember that most vampires can easily read and control a human mind. People might have been sent down here to investigate, but maybe they report back only what they're told to report back.” Michael glanced over his shoulder. Nikki was studying the shadows behind them, her thoughts a haze of rising dread.


I know they're close, Nikki. We have to move as quickly as we can. We won't make it.


Had he been alone, he would have. But she knew that as much as he did. We can try. She studied him for a moment, thoughts closed to him, then nodded and moved back to his side. He wrapped his fingers through hers again and entered the cell.


Dale Wainwright lay on filthy straw in one corner of the small room. She was naked, curled up like a babe, her breathing rapid, pulse weak and irregular. Even though he wasn't using the infrared of his vampire vision, he could see the bruises marring her torso and legs. She'd been sexually assaulted more than once already.


Anger rose like a wave. He'd never understood the mentality that enjoyed inflicting pain on others—even though he'd been turned by a woman who'd certainly thrived on it. But at least Elizabeth had restricted her games to those she'd turned. Most of the time, anyway.


Jake's soft curse filled the night, a sound Michael felt like echoing. Nikki disentangled her fingers from his and hurried over.


"Dale's alive.” She stripped off her sweater and draped it over the other woman. “But she needs help fast. Jake, you got your cell phone handy?"


"Certainly have."


Behind them, the darkness came alive with the sensation of evil. The time to escape or to call for help had slipped away. Michael wrapped a hand around the phone, preventing Jake from dialing.


"Wait,” he said softly. “Because we are no longer alone."


Chapter Six


A blanket of evil wrapped around Nikki's senses, almost smothering her. She rose slowly and studied the darkness beyond the cell door. Though she could hear or see no movement, she knew they were there. She could smell them. It was almost as if the air recoiled from their presence. Jake pulled the gun from his pocket. The sound of the safety being clicked off was almost bullet loud.


“What now?” he asked, voice soft but harsh.


Whether that came from anger or fear she wasn't sure. Michael's gaze skated past Jake and met hers.


"Fledglings,” he said, voice as expressionless as his face. “I'll face them alone. You two stay here."


"You can't,” Jake said.


"Definitely not,” she echoed. She crossed her arms and stared at him defiantly. The link between them was void of emotion, which only meant he was controlling himself very tightly. “You can't face six of them alone."


"I've done it before."


"And still bear the scars,” she retorted. “Stop letting your concern for me overwhelm common sense." His annoyance briefly seared her mind, even though his expression remained impassive. He stared at her a moment longer, then said, “Very well."


Unease stirred. He had to be up to something because he'd never give in so easily otherwise. Power spiked her senses, then the darkness swirled around him, whisking him from sight. A heartbeat later the door slammed closed.


Anger surged, as did kinetic energy, crackling like lightning across her fingertips. If he thought a closed door would stop her, he was sorely mistaken...


This is my job, Nikki. This is what I do. Let me do it without having to worry about you. We're full partners or we're nothing. The sooner you accept that fact, the better off we'll be. He didn't answer. The sound of fighting filled the air, punctured with grunts of pain and the snarl of things not long dead.


"Damn fool,” Jake muttered. “Nikki, get that door open."


"Willingly.” She flung out her hand. The pent-up energy surged, wrapping the door in sparks. She pulled back and wrenched the door off its hinges.


Air stirred, rushing at them.


"Vamp!” She hit him with a lance of kinetic energy, thrusting him back against the wall. “Nine o'clock high."


Jake fired the gun. There was a howl of pain then shadows unraveled, revealing a leather-clad vampire. Jake's shot had taken him in the shoulder. His eyes were bloody, hostile, showing little sign of the human he'd been as he struggled against her hold. Jake fired again. The vampire's head jerked back, and blood and other matter splattered the wall behind him. She let him drop and briefly closed her eyes, trying to control her rising nausea. Would seeing someone die, human or not, ever get easier?


She hoped not. At least it meant part of her was still human, no matter what else she had become. Air stirred again, stronger this time. “Two more,” she warned, and kinetically picked up the door, throwing it sideways at the vamps.


There was a grunt of pain, then the sound of a body hitting the wall. Several more gunshots bit into the night. Then she was hit and thrust backwards onto the ground, the weight of someone—or something—holding her down.


The shadows rolled back, revealing the gaunt, needy face of a man who looked no more than twenty. He was snarling, canines extended and dripping, his body quivering with the force of his bloodlust. Memories of another time and another vampire, rose, but she thrust them away and raised her fist. He caught the blow long before it landed and twisted her wrist brutally. Agony tore up her arm, almost blinding in its intensity. Then his teeth sank into her flesh, and horror filled her as he began to greedily suck her life away.


Energy surged, a wave so strong she shook with the intensity of it—a wave she had no hope of fully controlling. It rolled from her body and battered the vampire away, smashing him though the brick wall and out into the darkness of the junction beyond. And there it consumed him. Literally. The smell of burning flesh stung the air, and his screams echoed. Bile rose in her throat, momentarily overwhelming the pain beginning to pound through her entire body. The light of the flames danced across the brick walls—walls across which shadows danced. Michael, still fighting. She pushed upright. Her legs were almost boneless, and it felt like her brain was on fire. But she ignored both and staggered over to the shattered remains of the wall.


Jake came up beside her and fired another shot. The sound seemed to echo through her brain, making her wince. The bullet took the fledgling in the shoulder, spinning him half-around. Michael quickly finished the young vampire off.


Nikki sank down on her haunches, closing her eyes as she rested back against the wall. It was over. She could relax. And ache.


"How in hell did that vampire catch fire?” Jake asked.


"It was Nikki's doing.” Michael's voice was little more than a harsh growl. He knelt beside her, a warm, angry presence she felt rather than saw. “Are you all right?" She nodded fractionally. The smell of burnt flesh still stung the air, and her stomach continued to roll. Nor was it helped by the hot lances of fire digging into her brain. If she moved too much right now, she'd throw up for sure.


He touched her wrist, fingers firm against the wound caused by the vampire's bite. Stopping the flow of blood, she suspected, and wondered how savage the fledgling had been. But she didn't open her eyes to find out. Didn't dare. Not with the way her stomach was rebelling.


"Jake, you'd better call the cops.” Michael's voice was again emotionless, but even though the link between them was lost to the haze of pain consuming her mind, she could feel his anger.


"You can't wrap me in cotton forever,” she said softly.


"But surely I can expect you to listen to common sense." Wisps of fury reached past the barrier of pain separating their minds, and for first time in her life, she was thankful for the agony that came with overextending her abilities. She wasn't ready to face the full extent of his anger just yet, even though she knew she'd have to eventually.


"They were only fledglings, Nikki. Six of them would never have taken me."


"Yet you once told me a fledgling was more dangerous than a vampire who'd passed the bloodlust stage."


"To humans, not to a vampire."


"But I'm neither, am I?” Because I'm a thrall and stand somewhere between the two . Just where, she wasn't entirely sure—and she had feeling Michael wasn't, either.


"Being a thrall doesn't make you invincible."


"Just like being a vampire doesn't make you invincible."


"That's different."


"How?"


She felt his gaze on her, could almost taste his frustration. “Now is not the time to discuss this."


"It never is,” she said, unable to keep the hint of bitterness in her voice. God, why wouldn't he just listen?


"The cops are on the way,” Jake said. “I told them to come through that hole we found in the hotel's basement. Easier than trying to find the nearest street entry, especially seeing I can't tell them where exactly we are."


"And the paramedics?"


"On their way as well.” Jake hesitated. “What about those bodies out there in the tunnel?"


"I'll move them if you'll come over here and keep pressure on this wound." His touch left her, to be quickly replaced by Jake's cooler grip. “How are we going to explain this wound, your bruises and the blood on the wall?"


"We don't. I'll ensure they won't see or question it." Touch their minds, take it all away, she thought with a shudder. “Michael, you can't—"


"I can and I will.” He rose, and though she heard no footsteps, she knew he'd moved away. Jake took a deep breath and released it slowly. “I don't think I've ever seen him so angry." She snorted softly and opened her eyes. Pinpricks of red light pranced crazily everywhere she looked—even across his face. They weren't real, just a side effect of the hammering in her brain. She blinked, and the spots faded a little. She wished the pain would ease as quickly.


"He doesn't like being disobeyed."


Jake smiled. “You'd think after living with you for four months, he'd be used to it."


"You'd think,” she muttered and glanced at her wrist. The vampire had certainly done a number on it. No neat pinprick holes for him, that was for sure. She dug her other hand into her pocket and dragged out a handkerchief. “Here, use this. Better than you being attached to my wrist until the police and paramedics get here."


Jake grabbed the handkerchief, but the minute he released her arm the blood began to pulse freely. Even though she knew she couldn't die from blood loss, it was still an alarming sight. And one that explained Michael's sudden departure. Maybe it wasn't so much anger as the need to distance himself from the smell of her blood. It was little more than ten months ago that she'd sliced her wrist in an effort to save his life, and in doing so had almost destroyed his control over his demon half. Had almost brought the vampire fully to the surface. His struggle for control continued, though he would never admit it to her. But she'd seen it in his eyes, seen the flicker of darkness the one or two times she'd cut herself. She loved him and she trusted him—but even so, she sometimes wondered if one day she'd wake up and find herself tied to a stranger. A stranger desperate to kill her.


"How's Dale doing?"


Jake finished tying the handkerchief then rose and walked over to the other woman. “Not good,” he said, touching her neck. “Pulse is still thready, and her skin is clammy. It suggests heart problems to me." She remembered the tingling, achy sensation in her chest and arm when she'd been in Dale's mind, and knew that Jake was more than likely right. “Let's hope the paramedics get here soon, then."


"They're on the way,” Michael said, appearing by her side once more. “I can hear them. Hear their heartbeats."


"And no doubt the person behind all this will, too." He reached out, brushing something from her cheek, his fingers so warm against her skin. “You tell me. You've been sensing him, haven't you?"


"Sort of.” She frowned, not sure she could really explain. It wasn't so much that she could feel the other vampire's presence—not in the way she'd been able to sense Jasper or Cordell. This vamp was evil, but in a totally different way from those other two. His evil was born more of anger. An anger so deep it had all but consumed him.


Michael raised an eyebrow. “Are you saying these murders are the result of a need for revenge?" She shrugged. “That's what I'm sensing.” She hesitated, listening. Footsteps echoed in the hush. The police and paramedics were finally here.


Michael glanced at Jake. “Why don't you go meet them while I disappear. For the moment, it's better if I remain an unseen partner in these investigations."


Jake nodded and moved out of the small room. Michael leaned forward and kissed her. “I'll be close,”


he said, breath brushing warmth against her lips. “And I agree with what you said earlier. You and I really do need to talk."


She stroked his cheek and wondered if she'd ever tire of his touch. Ever stop wanting him. “Only if you intend to listen."


"I'll listen, if you promise to do the same. It's a two way street, my love." The endearment stirred her heart. Yet as she stared into the depths of his beautiful eyes, she could see only determination. In reality, that two-way street was still headed one way—his, not hers. He wasn't ready yet to hear what she had to say, no matter what he said. But she had to try anyway. Voices drew closer. He kissed her again, harder this time, stealing her breath and leaving her dizzy with wanting. Then the shadows wrapped around him and he disappeared.


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