Home > Dancing with the Devil (Nikki & Michael #1)(11)

Dancing with the Devil (Nikki & Michael #1)(11)
Author: Keri Arthur

Nikki scrambled out of her way and reached for another kinetic lance. But the girl stopped, eyes suddenly distant. It was almost as if she was listening to someone. Jasper, Nikki thought with a shiver. A hint of petulance ran across Monica's face. It was an odd reminder that this was still a sixteen-year-old girl, whatever else she might have become. With another snarl of rage, Monica turned and threw herself at Jake. They went down in a heavy tangle of arms and legs.

Nikki hit the teenager with another kinetic lance, forcing her down the stairs, away from Jake. Monica snarled, then winked out of existence.

Alarm ran through Nikki. She spun, leaping for the stake she'd dropped near the wall. She hit the carpet and rolled, gathering the stake and slashing upwards in one fluid movement. Her blow met with emerging flesh.

The wood speared Monica's abdomen. Her face twisted in agony, and she melted again from sight. The bloody stake fell free to the floor. Nikki grabbed it, then turned and ran to Jake.

"I'm all right,” he muttered. “She slashed my arm open, that's all. Let's get the hell out of here." She grabbed his good arm and helped him up. The air around them burned with fury. Monica was still nearby, watching their retreat.

But she didn't attack. It was an ominous sign that Jasper had something else in mind for them.

Chapter Seven

Nikki leaned against the front of Jake's car, lightly massaging her temples. Her headache was back with a vengeance, thanks to the long hours of questioning. And still the police didn't believe her. It was evident from the look in their eyes, the tone in their voices. They just couldn't accept a sixteen-year-old girl would be capable of such destruction.

And she hadn't even hit them with the vampire theory yet.

She eased her weight from one leg to the other and studied the brightly-lit mansion. Though Monica couldn't be seen, her pain and fury lingered. She was somewhere nearby, watching and waiting. For what, Nikki wasn't sure.

Trevgard himself could not be missed. He strode from room to room like a general marshaling his troops, taking his anger out on anyone who got in his way. Both she and Jake had withstood a good ten minutes of his tirade before the police had decided to rescue them with official questions. Her headache had probably started around that time.

A wiry figure appeared in the doorway, looking around for several seconds before moving briskly in her direction. Nikki groaned. Just what she needed—another round of questioning with Detective Col MacEwan. They'd known each other a long time—he'd arrested her several times during her early years on the streets. He was the strongest denouncer of her psychic talents, and yet, oddly enough, probably the closest thing she had to a friend on the force.

Which didn't mean they actually liked each other.

"I gave the hospital a call.” He came to an abrupt halt several feet away from her, his calm tone belying the anger she could see in his brown eyes. “Jake's arm has been stitched, and they've let him go home." She nodded her thanks and crossed her arms. MacEwan hadn't ventured outside just to say that. There would be more.

"I don't believe a word of the crap you and Jake spouted in there,” he continued. “But I've no evidence to dispute it, either, so for the moment, you're free to go."

"Gee, thanks."

"I know you too well, Nikki, and I can taste a lie. When I find out what you and Jake are hiding—" He let the threat go and glared at her a moment longer. She returned his gaze evenly. She had nothing to hide—nothing but a truth he would never believe. After a moment, he grunted and turned around, walking back to the house.

At least she could finally go home. Pushing away from the car, she moved around to the driver's side. She tugged on the door then realized it was locked. And Jake had the keys. Damn. She'd have to walk. She kicked the tire in frustration, then turned to study the shadows. The gentle breeze held no trace of Monica, but with the teenager's speed that didn't mean much. She could be out of the scope of Nikki's psychic senses and still be well within killing range. Maybe she should ask one of the police officers for a lift.

She glanced back at the house and saw Trevgard gesturing angrily at some poor officer. No way , she thought, shoving her hands back into her pockets to keep them warm. There wasn't a power on this earth that could force her back in the house with Trevgard. She'd had enough of his lectures to last a lifetime. She headed off down the drive. The noise and lights gradually faded away, and the crunch of gravel underneath her boots grew louder. She turned left out of the gates and crossed the road to the softly lit pavement. The stately mansions lining either side of the street lay wrapped in darkness, and the silence hung as heavily as the clouds in the moonless sky. Yet this time, it wasn't threatening. Ahead, a figure rested casually against a lamppost. His dark shirt emphasized the lean strength of his chest and arms, and his jeans clung just right to his legs. Michael. He looked ... nice. More than nice, really.

His sudden smile sent warmth shivering through her.

"Thought you might like to get something to eat before you go home,” he said, falling into step beside her and offering her his arm.

"There aren't many places open at this hour.” She tucked her arm through his.

"I'll find us something. What do you prefer?"

Her stomach rumbled noisily. He quirked an eyebrow at the sound, and she grinned. “Actually, I could go for a really big burger right now."

His look was suddenly severe, though amusement danced in his eyes. “Fried foods are full of fat, you know."

"That's all I need—a health nut.” She grinned lightly and met his gaze. “What would you suggest?"

"Only the best, of course."

The look in his eyes made her pulse skip a beat. She cleared her throat and looked away. Perhaps linking arms wasn't such a great idea. The warmth of his body so close, the caress of his fingers against her arm—it was a reminder of how long it had been since anyone had simply held her. How long it had been since she had even wanted to be held. And it was a dangerous desire when it was centered on a man she knew next to nothing about.

"Lyndhurst doesn't have much in the way of fancy restaurants this end of town. It's residential,” she said quietly.

"If I remember right, there's one not far ahead."

He meant Roslyn's, but dressed as they were, they'd never get in. “A hamburger suits me just fine. Besides, it's late. They'll be getting ready to go home."

"Then we'll just have to persuade them to remain open,” he said with a smile. “What did the police say?" She shrugged. “Usual shit. Jake and I aren't to leave town, blah, blah, blah."

"Did they believe Monica was responsible?"

"Nope. But there again, Jake wouldn't believe it either until she attacked him."

"How is his arm?"

"Stitched. The hospital's let him go home.” She hesitated, and met his gaze. “You said earlier Monica had to return home? Why?"

"It's instinct for the newly turned vampire to return to the place of its birth. I think it's part of the centering process. To understand what you have truly become, first you must understand what you have lost.” He shrugged. “The fledglings must also find something of the past to carry with them through eternity."

"What the hell for?"

He shrugged again. “Perhaps as a reminder that once they too were human."

"Weird,” she muttered. Then she frowned. “You seem to know an awful lot about vampires."

"I have studied them for many years."

"Why?"

He hesitated. “Because my brother was killed by one."

Jasper, Nikki thought. That would at least explain Michael's fierce determination to catch the man. Or vampire, as the case may be.

"Why didn't the wood kill her, then? I thought you said wood was deadly to vampires?"

"It is, but like any weapon, you have to hit something vital. You punctured her gut. A wound like that will be painful and can take a long time to heal, but it's definitely not deadly." Then next time she'd aim for the heart, she thought, and shivered. “Why aren't we chasing her now?

She's still back at her father's place."

"And how will you explain to the police the fact that you have stabbed Monica through the heart?"

"I thought vampire bodies turned to dust when staked?"

"Only in the movies.” He smiled. “The sun will burn a vampire's flesh to dust. Otherwise, it's just a body, like any human body."

"But can they rise again? I thought it was part of the legend that vampires can heal any wound?"

"Most wounds. Which is why it is best to also decapitate. Once the head is separate, there's no chance of rejuvenation."

They approached the restaurant. Michael opened the door and ushered her inside. A waiter approached, an apologetic look on his face.

"I'm sorry, sir, but we've just closed."

"Surely you could reopen for half an hour?” Michael said, an odd edge behind the lightness of his words.

"I'm sorry—"

The waiter's words faltered. A sliver of power caressed the air, then the waiters’ eyes widened, became lifeless. A chill ran through her. It was Tommy, all over again. She dragged her arm from Michael's and punched him in the shoulder. “Stop—" He turned, and she took an abrupt step backward. Just for an instant his eyes held a darkness that burned her soul.

Then he blinked, and his gaze became guarded, wary. “Stop what?" She took a deep breath. “Release the waiter. I ... I don't like the meals here anyway." He hesitated, then nodded. Power whispered around her, then the waiter cleared his throat and gave them another smile.

"I'm afraid the chef has already gone home for the night. I'm sorry, but we can't help you." She spun and made a quick exit. The cold night air touched her fevered skin but wasn't responsible for the tremors running down her spine. Michael had controlled the waiter's mind too easily—as if it were something he did every day.

She stopped several houses down from the restaurant and took a deep breath. What kind of man so casually possessed the mind of another and then forced them to do as he asked? A man like Tommy, she thought, rubbing her arms. A man who just didn't care.

The back of her neck tingled with sudden awareness. Michael had stopped just behind her.

"I'm sorry,” he said softly.

His breath brushed warmth across the back of her neck. She tensed, but made no move to turn around.

“Why did you do it?"

"It's easier than arguing."

An honest enough answer. And so very similar to the excuses Tommy had used. “Could you control me as easily?"

He moved past her, his arm brushing against hers. Heat trembled across her skin. She rubbed the spot were their flesh had touched and watched him warily. His face was still, expressionless, but she sensed the turmoil beneath the calm exterior.

"I do not know,” he said. “I hope I never have to try." Tommy had tried, and sometimes succeeded.

The clock on the Town Hall tower down the road bonged into the silence. She counted the tones. Midnight, the hour when all things dark and dangerous came out of hiding. Things like Michael, maybe. She met his gaze again, the uneven pounding of her heart abnormally loud in the growing silence.

"If you ever do try—"

"You would never know,” he said quietly. “As the waiter never knew." She clenched her fists in impotent fury. The ease with which he'd taken the waiters’ thoughts made it clear his abilities were very strong. Where Tommy had haunted her dreams, and Jasper relied on traps to snare her mind, Michael would merely walk in and take. She could so easily become a puppet to his will. He swore softly and grabbed her arm, shaking her lightly. “I would never do such a thing to you." Yet he wasn't averse to reading her mind. She wrenched free of his grip. “Unless you had no other choice."

She could see the truth of her statement reflected in his eyes.

"I have made a promise to keep you safe,” he said softly. “Though I am a man of my word, I will not stay where I am not wanted. Do you still wish me to accompany you home?" She opened her mouth to say no, then hesitated. Intuition whispered the warning not to let this man go. She needed the protection he offered, yet she couldn't ignore the darkness she sensed was so much a part of him.

Evil far worse waited somewhere in the night.

She shifted her stance and crossed her arms. “If you are a man of your word, will you make me a promise?"

"What do you wish?” His reply was as guarded as his expression.

"Will you vow never to try to take control of my mind or make me do anything against my will?" Something in his stillness spoke of sudden anger. “If you trust me so little,” he said, “then yes, I so vow." There was a sudden distancing between them, though neither of them had moved. It could only be for the best, she told herself firmly. They were still strangers. Until she knew more about him, more about the subtle yet terrifying shifts in his nature, she had to keep distance between them. It was just possible her hero was no true hero after all.

* * * *

Michael walked quietly beside Nikki, all too aware of the tension and confusion churning her thoughts. He felt the same damn way.

Perhaps something within her recognized the darkness in him. Maybe that was why she now wore the small silver cross at her neck. Why she refused to trust him.

But why was her trust suddenly so important? He was here only to find Jasper, nothing more. She was his best, and quickest, means of doing so. Trust surely played no part in any of it. The shadows moved on the other side of the street. Michael glanced across. Only a young couple, strolling hand in hand on their way home. He looked away, studying the street ahead, unsettled by a sudden surge of envy. Just for an instant, he had shared such intimacy, and it had felt good after so many years of loneliness.

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