Which he had, especially in the last three weeks. But it wasn't something he was about to discuss with Seline, no matter how close a friend she was—not until he'd talked to Nikki first. We've been living together less than four months. I hardly think she's worrying about the future just yet. He took the stairs two at a time, then walked down the hall to the bedroom.

She's a very independent individual. Remember that, or you may just get yourself into trouble.

The note was on his pillow. He switched back to the infrared of his vampire vision and picked it up, quickly scanning it. The uneasy tension sitting in his gut intensified, and he sat down on the bed, staring almost blindly at the paper.

Seline's concern whisked through his mind. What's wrong?

What wasn't wrong? Don't bother sending Kat on the helicopter.


He crushed the note in his fist and threw it across the room. I already have help. Nikki's in San Francisco investigating the disappearance from the Diamond Grand.

Chapter Two


Nikki spun at the sound of her name and grinned as she saw Jake's blonde head bobbing up intermittently from the sea of humanity streaming toward the airport exits.

She shouldered her bag and made her way toward him. He grabbed her arm and pulled her into a bear hug that darn near squeezed every ounce of breath from her lungs.

She laughed when she finally could and planted a quick kiss on his cheek. 'I missed you, too,' she said, then stepped back and studied him critically. 'You look good.'

No longer was he the pale-looking wraith she'd seen off at the airport only a month before. There was color—and weight—back in his cheeks and a sparkle in the blue of his eyes. And his suit fit him comfortably, rather than looking as if it were hanging on a rack.

'I feel good, too.' He wriggled his left arm and fingers. 'See, full movement.'

She smiled. He'd had a stroke on the operating table, and for awhile there, the doctors had feared he might lose mobility down the left side of his body. 'I'm glad.'

'So am I.' He grabbed the bag from her shoulder and swung it across his own. 'You wouldn't believe how boring it's been at the hotel—until recently, that is.'

'Oh, I'd believe,' she said dryly. 'And it couldn't be any more boring than sitting alone in front of the TV all day, with no one to speak to except the mail carrier.'

Jake raised his eyebrow, blue eyes amused. 'I take it from that comment that Michael managed to escape on another case without you?'

'Yeah. This time he went to Ireland, and I couldn't even keep in mind contact with him. I've spoken to him three times in as many weeks.'

'So why didn't you just stay in Lyndhurst?'

She looked away from the intensity of his gaze and studied the blush of dawn visible through the windows. 'I guess I was getting a little sick of people gossiping behind my back.' Sick of people giving her those sideways glances. She felt guilty enough over Matthew Kincaid's death. She didn't need everyone else dumping on her as well.

'Ah.' Jake took her arm and guided her toward the exit. 'So why not take a vacation? Michael offered to pay for it, didn't he?'

She snorted. 'Yeah. But I'm not some chattel he can toss money or a trip at when he wants to get rid of me. If I want to go on a vacation, I'll damn well pay for it myself.'

Jake glanced down at her, eyebrow raised again. 'That sounds like trouble brewing in paradise.'

'Maybe.' She frowned, not sure she could make him understand how she felt—especially when she still didn't really understand it herself. 'He just takes it for granted that he'll pay for everything. He never lets me contribute money-wise to anything we do. Anything I want he gets for me, and it's gotten to the point where I'm afraid to express an interest in anything .'

Jake's smile was wry. 'Some women would kill for a man like that.'

'I know—and I know I haven't got a lot of money to contribute, anyway.' She hesitated and shrugged again. 'I just hate being dependent on him, I guess.' Hated the feeling that she wasn't his equal in any way.

'Have you talked to him about this?' Jake steered her toward a waiting limo. The chauffeur opened the door and gestured her inside.

'Nice,' she murmured, running her fingers across the plush leather seats as she sat down. 'The hotel's, I gather.'

Jake nodded and sat down opposite her. 'And from your avoidance of the question, I gather you haven't tried talking to him.'

'Well, no.' She sometimes thought it would be easier to talk to a brick wall than to try to get serious with Michael—at least when it came to what she was supposed to do with her life. As far as he was concerned, he loved her and he would support her. End of story. No discussion required.

And as yet, she hadn't really pushed it. A tiny part of her feared to do anything that might shatter the magic that had been the last four months.

Jake was regarding her quizzically. 'Why not?'

Heat crept into her cheeks, and she looked away again. 'We… umm… get distracted.'

He grinned. 'At least one part of your life together is still working well.'

Very well, she thought with a smile. She'd never thought sex could be so varied—or so damn good. She glanced out the window and wondered if he was home yet. Wondered if he ached to be touched as much as she did.

Wondered how he'd react when he discovered she wasn't there.

'You need to talk to him, Nik,' Jake said into the silence. 'Remember, he's the old-fashioned type.'

'Considering his age, you'd have to say very old fashioned.' She leaned back into the seat's luxuriousness. Time to change the subject. Talking about Michael stirred up longing in all the wrong places. 'So, tell me about the case.'

The amusement died from Jake's face. 'Do you remember Mark Wainwright? You met him at one of Mary's dinner parties just before we took on the Kincaid case.'

She frowned. 'He was that bald-headed man, with the white-haired wife, wasn't he?'

'Yeah. They came to San Francisco three weeks ago for business reasons and have been staying at the Grand.' He hesitated. His voice, when he continued, was low and very controlled—yet his anger seemed to burn the air. 'Two days ago, his wife, Dale, disappeared. A ransom note turned up yesterday, demanding a million dollars in cash.'

As ransoms went, it wasn't particularly large—not when you were as rich as Mark Wainwright supposedly was. 'I gather the police have been called in?'

Jake nodded. 'And the Feds. But Mark has asked if we'd mind investigating as well.'

She raised an eyebrow. 'Does he know about our spate of unsuccessful cases?'

'He does.' Jake's voice was grim. 'Trouble is, he knows Dale's time is limited anyway, and he's willing to try anything.'

'Why does he think her time is limited? Isn't he going to pay the ransom?'

'He is, but neither he nor the police are holding out much hope. This isn't a singular kidnapping, you see, but the third within two weeks. The body of the first victim apparently turned up yesterday. The whispers I've heard say she was pretty mutilated.'

She raised her eyebrows. 'Didn't her husband pay the ransom?'

'He did. And that's what has Mark worried.'

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