Hearts In Darkness

Nikki and Michael - 2


Keri Arthur

Chapter One

The breeze whispered around her, its touch furnace hot. Sweat beaded her skin, staining her T-shirt black and dripping from her ponytail.

Around her the night pulsed, a bass-heavy rhythm that made her want to dance. The air was rich with the scent of sweat, alcohol and chlorine.

Nikki stood in the shadows of an oak and sipped a lukewarm soda. Below her, on the main pool deck, bodies writhed in time to the music, unmindful of the heat or the closeness of others.

They had to be mad. If she'd had any choice, she would have been in the pool, allowing the cool water to wash the heat and sweat from her skin.

Instead, she was stuck here in the shadows with a lukewarm cola, awaiting the next move of a wayward teenager.

It was an all too familiar feeling. Six months before, she'd followed another teenager through the night, and had found herself caught in the middle of a war between two vampires.

Pain rose like a ghost, stifling her. She bit her lip, blinking away the sting of tears.

It was her own stupidity that had driven Michael away. Her refusal to trust, to admit what she'd felt, had worn him down as surely as the sea wears down a rock.

But what hurt the most, perhaps, was the fact that he'd left without saying good-bye.

She crossed her arms and stared moodily at the star-drenched sky. She'd looked for him, of course.

She'd spent the first two months after she'd awakened in the hospital doing little else. But America was a big country, with lots of places to hide. And when the man she was hunting was one with the shadows, what hope did she really have of finding him?

None. Not that it really mattered. She'd keep looking until she found him—though what happened then would very much depend on how he reacted.

The two-way clipped to her lapel squawked. 'Nik, you there?'

It was Jake—her boss and her best friend. He sounded as bored as she was. Nikki pressed the button.

'No, I'm at home enjoying a nice, cool bath.'

'Forget the bath. A cold beer would go down real well right now. The kid still in your area?'

She scanned the crowd. Matthew Kincaid, a redheaded, flap-eared teenager, stood out from the mob like a wart on a thumb. But it wasn't so much his looks as the fact that he towered a good foot or more over his peers. Basketball material for sure, if someone could teach him to catch a ball.

'Yeah. He's hovering near the bar, trying to convince some of the adults to buy him a drink.' She hesitated and took a sip of her cola. The warm liquid slid like raw sugar down her throat. She shuddered and upended the rest into the garden bed. 'He's not acting like a kid on the verge of running away from home, you know.'

'No. But his mom's paying us to watch him, so watch him we will. Besides, we need the money.'

'When don't we?' she said dryly. They'd been working together for close to ten years now, and she couldn't remember a time when the business hadn't been strapped for cash. Private investigators didn't make a lot of money—not in Lyndhurst, anyway. 'Why is Mrs. Kincaid so convinced he's going to disappear tonight?'

'A conversation she overheard when passing his bedroom last week. Apparently, he's been chatting to this girl over the Internet and has formed quite a relationship with her. He's arranged to meet her during the party.'

She frowned. 'That doesn't explain why she thinks he's going to run away.'

'The kid's unhappy at home. Hates his dad, who's an alcoholic and hardly ever home, and argues constantly with his mom.'

'Sounds like your average teenager to me.'

Jake laughed softly. 'Yeah, I guess it does. But lately, the kid's apparently been saying that he doesn't need them any more, that he's found someone who understands him.'

Nikki raised her eyebrows. 'The Internet friend?'


'Has Mrs. Kincaid asked Matthew about the friend?'

'Yeah,' Jake said, voice dry. 'And the reply is one I'm not about to use over the two-way.'

She grinned. 'Has she tried going into his computer when he's at school?'

'You need a password to get into his E-mail and chat logs.'

'Clever kid.'

'Too clever, apparently. That's why he's something of an outcast at school.'

She snorted. 'I think the ears and the height might have something to do with that.'

'On the Internet, looks don't matter.'

'They do if you intend to meet the person.'

'Yeah, but there's no indication Matthew's lied about his looks.'

There was no indication that he hadn't either, and she had a bad feeling the teenager had lied through his teeth while on-line. Given his height, his coloring, and those ears, he would surely have been the butt of many harsh jokes at school. The Internet would have given him not only anonymity but also the ability to reinvent himself.

So why would he risk all that to meet his friend and reveal the truth? And why did she have a feeling that it could all go horribly wrong?

She glanced at her watch. 'It's close to eleven-thirty now. Does his mother have any idea when the meet was going to happen?'

'Midnight, apparently.'

Witching hour. The time when all things dark and deadly came out to play. Things like Michael. Or


She shuddered and lightly rubbed her wrist. In the worst of her dreams, she could still feel Jasper's touch— in her thoughts, and on her skin. But Jasper was dead, burned to ashes by the sun's heat. His evil could never touch her again.

Could never feed off her again.

A chill ran through her. Jasper wasn't the only malevolent being in this world. She couldn't shake the certainty that evil of another kind was on the move in Lyndhurst tonight. And that it was after Matthew


The bass-heavy pounding faded, replaced by a gentler, more romantic song. On the pool deck, teenagers drew close. There was probably more kissing going on than dancing.

She looked across to the bar. Matthew was staring at the crowd, his expression a mix of envy and anger. He slammed his drink onto the counter then walked away.

'Heads up. He's on the move.'

'Where?' Jake sounded relieved.

Matthew disappeared behind the tent that housed the bar. Nikki broke into a run, keeping to the shadows as she skirted the sweating mass of slow-dancing teenagers. The teenager came into sight, arms swinging as fast as his legs as he strode along the path.

She slowed, not wanting to get too close and attract his attention. 'He's heading for the back gate.'

'Anyone else in sight?'

'Not unless you want to count the teenagers getting passionate under the trees.'

Jake snorted softly. 'I'll bring my car around. Keep me posted.'

'Will do.'

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