Chasing The Shadows

 Nikki and Michael - 3


Keri Arthur

Chapter One

Michael? Where are you?

The sharp voice swam through his consciousness, scattering any remnants of sleep. He opened his eyes and watched the moonlit landscape sweep by the cab's windows. Only a few more miles and he'd be with Nikki.

Michael?This time, Seline's piercing mind voice held a hint of concern. Can you hear me?

He sighed. How could he not hear her when she was all but screeching? Yes, I can hear you . He just wasn't concentrating. All he wanted to do right now was get home to Nikki. They'd been apart for nearly three weeks, and it felt like forever.

After living alone for over three hundred and sixty years, it was amazing how quickly he'd become accustomed to having her in his thoughts and in his life. He needed her, not just physically, but emotionally.

You sound tired, Michael.

He was. Tired of chasing vamps gone bad. Tired of killing. Or maybe he was just tired of doing it alone, though he had no intention of giving in to Nikki's demands to let her share this part of his life. One killer in the family was more than enough. It's been a long three weeks, Seline.

It was a tougher case than I'd originally thought. I'm sorry.

He smiled wryly. That was a first—her apologizing. She had to be after something. What's the problem?

You know me too well.Her amusement swam down the mental line between them, yet it was mixed with an anger that burned so sharply he could almost smell it.

Curiosity stirred, but he thrust it away. He'd never refused Seline anything she'd asked him to do, but after one hundred years, he was getting a little weary of helping everyone else at the cost of his own existence. Especially now, when he had someone to exist for. Seline, I'm tired, I'm almost home, and I'm in no mood for games. Get to the point.

She sighed. I think we need your help on another case.

I've just finished this one. I need a break.Needed time to regain some sense of normality— something that had been sorely missing in his life until Nikki had come along.

I know, and I'm sorry. But vamps are your area of expertise, and this case has a bad feel to it.

Was there ever one that didn't? For a moment, he studied the softly glowing aspens lining the road, then glanced at the cab driver. 'It's the next left.' Ten more minutes, and he'd be with her. The longing that had sat like a weight in his gut these past three weeks lifted, and something close to excitement bubbled through his veins.

What are we dealing with?he asked eventually.

That's it—we're not exactly sure.

Then how do you know it's me you need?Impatience edged his words, and her smile shimmered through his mind.

I'm a witch. Some things I just know.

He rubbed his eyes . Seline…

Okay, okay, I'll come to the point.She hesitated again, then all sense of amusement disappeared, replaced by a bluntness that spoke of fury. Two weeks ago, the wife of a wealthy restaurateur was kidnapped from a high profile hotel in San Francisco, and a ransom subsequently demanded. The husband paid the ransom, but his wife wasn't returned, and the money hasn't resurfaced.

He frowned. As yet, it didn't seem the sort of case that the Circle would get involved in, let alone one that would need his expertise. And… ?

Four days later, another woman was kidnapped. From a private home this time, but otherwise, everything was the same.

So the police are dealing with a serial kidnapper?

Yes. And there was a third victim—she was taken two days ago. They found the body of the first victim yesterday.

He raised his eyebrows, surprised by the fierce undertone of anger washing down the mental lines. How did she die?

They'd drained her. The autopsy revealed half a dozen different puncture wounds.

Meaning six vamps had fed off her?That was unusual, because most vampires didn't like sharing their meals. Yet it didn't really explain the anger he could feel in Seline.

Apparently. But that's far from the worst of it.She hesitated, and again the anger surged—a wave of red heat that roared through his mind. These vamps weren't just after blood and money. They were after far more than that.

What did they do?In over one hundred years of knowing her, he'd never heard her so riled— and they'd tackled some pretty damn tough cases in their time together.

The bastards mutilated her—they shaved off her hair, pulled all her nails, scarred her face and slit her nose. And cut off her breasts for good measure…

Her voice faded, but her anger remained, sizzling his mind with its heat.

So basically, they destroyed her self-image before they killed her. Or at least, took away practically everything that defined her as a woman. Obviously, they weren't just dealing with vampires, but vampires with some serious psychological problems.

A shudder ran down the mental line. I want these things caught, Michael. I want them killed quickly, before they can do this again. No one who is capable of something like this has a right to life— whether they're human or not.

He scrubbed a hand across his eyes again. He didn't want this case, but he knew he had no real choice.

Seline was right. Vampires were his field, and this sounded particularly nasty, though he'd heard—and seen—much worse over the years. This sort of defilement certainly wasn't new.

I can't leave right away. I need to see Nikki first.Lord, wasn't she going to be ecstatic over him leaving again so soon?

Fine. I'll send the helicopter over to pick you up. It should be there by four.

He glanced at his watch. That gave him six hours with Nikki. After three weeks of abstinence, it was nowhere near enough. How do you want to play this?

I want you to go undercover. I've set you up with a new profile—and seeing you don't want Nikki involved in any of these cases, I'm sending Katherine to play the part of your wife.

He'd worked with Kat a few times in the past, but her forthright manner tended to get on his nerves—as did her raucous laugh. Kat comes as a pair with her grandmother. I really don't think she's the best choice…

And I really don't care what you think of the woman. She's the best choice for the case, and she lives in San Francisco.

He bit down on his irritation. He knew it came from tiredness more than any real annoyance . Is she there at the moment?

Seline hesitated. No. But I can pull her off the other case easy enough. This is more urgent.

She's being used as bait, and you know I don't like doing that. I really do prefer to work

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