Home > Dancing with the Devil (Nikki & Michael #1)(16)

Dancing with the Devil (Nikki & Michael #1)(16)
Author: Keri Arthur

* * * *

"Jasper Harding."

The words were torn from her. She couldn't stop herself repeating his name, though her heart wept in bitter defeat.

The darkness stilled its dance. Sweet silence filled the void.

"Repeat it,” Jasper urged, elation running through his voice.

"Jasper Harding.” She croaked in reply. How long had she sat here? How long had she resisted the drug? It felt like forever, but it was probably little more than a day or so. Fatigue trembled through every muscle, but that in itself told her little. Her head swam, though she wasn't sure if the cause was lack of food or the drug. Her throat was parched, and it hurt to swallow, let alone speak. Jasper would kill her if he weren't careful.

She studied the darkness wearily. She may have lost the battle, but not the war. Jasper couldn't guard her, or control her, twenty-four hours of every day. She'd beat him yet. If there was one thing she'd learned during her years with Tommy, it was that no matter how bad things seemed, you could never give up. Hope might only be a heartbeat away.

Jasper appeared out of the darkness, a presence she felt rather than saw. She closed her eyes, refusing to acknowledge him.

"Resistance is feeble,” he mocked quietly. “You are mine now." She made no comment. The chill air caressed her sweaty flesh, making her feel colder than she'd ever thought possible.

"Open your eyes.” His voice took on a commanding tone. “Look at me." She fought the order as hard as she could. Yet her head rose, her eyes met his. Tears tracked silently down her cheeks.

Monica stood behind him, her blue eyes full of hate. Behind them both, dawn's warm light danced through the shadows.

"Get the syringe."

Her pulse leaped at his command. Jasper laughed as Monica turned to do his bidding.

"This time we merely put you to sleep. You put up a long but useless battle, pretty one. We all need our rest."

Relief surged. At least the mad dance of nightmares was at an end. He stepped away as Monica knelt beside her. Motes of sunlight played across his flesh, raising red welts that disappeared as quickly as they appeared. She remembered Michael mentioning Jasper's lack of immunity to the sun, and wondered what time it was. Something told her it could be important.

"When we are all rested,” Jasper continued softly, “you will fully become mine." She'd kill herself before she ever let him take her. But meeting his mocking gaze, she knew how futile the thought was. She had no means to fight him, for a start. The drugs they'd been pouring into her body still blocked her psychic gifts. And physically, she doubted if she'd pose a serious threat to even an ant right now.

"I shall enjoy taking your body, as I have enjoyed taking your mind." The teenager jerked, and liquid sprayed across her leg. Nikki tensed, wondering if Monica realized ... the teenager met her gaze, her blue eyes dark with anger and hate. She glanced briefly at the needle, then back at Nikki. She knew it was almost empty. In her own strange way, Monica was offering a chance to escape.

But only because she feared losing the monster she called lover. The teenager rose and threw the empty syringe on the shelf before joining Jasper on the bed. The arm she placed around his waist was possessive. Nikki wondered how much time the teenager had left—not much, if body language was anything to go by. Her gaze met Jasper's. Malice gleamed back at her.

"Has Michael told you his secret yet?"

Nikki closed her eyes. She didn't want to hear anything else from Jasper. But not because she feared more of his lies. No, this time she feared the truth.

"Michael is one of us,” Jasper said softly. “A creature of the night. A taker of blood."

"No.” The denial was torn from her. Yet she knew in her heart he spoke the truth. It explained the darkness she sensed in Michael, explained how alike he and Jasper were. But Michael was not Jasper. Jasper laughed coldly. “Believe what you will, pretty one." She ignored him, ignored the demons whispering doubts into her mind. It was just another game, nothing more. Sleepiness overtook her, and she welcomed its pull. She had to rest if she wanted the strength to escape and discover the truth.

* * * *

Michael leaned wearily against the wall, impatiently watching the sun go down. For the last three days they'd followed every possible lead, yet had found no trace of Nikki or her captor. Everyone, even Monica and the zombies, seemed to have vanished off the face of the earth. He touched the cross around his neck. The silver tingled against his skin and would, in time, burn him. He didn't care. It was Nikki's—all that he might ever be able to have of her. He closed his eyes and reached again for the link. Darkness greeted him, a wall he could not traverse. At least she was still alive.

But until she was free of the chains holding her mind captive, there was little he could do to help her. Jasper had chosen his hiding place too well. It could take weeks to ferret him out. Indeed, the last time he had run for cover, it had taken Michael almost a year to track him down again. Nikki probably didn't have that much time left.

All he could do was wait until dusk and return to the hunt, however futile. He crossed his arms and continued to watch the late afternoon crowds rush past. A thick curtain of lace protected him from the main thrust of the afternoon's heat, but he didn't dare go any closer to the window. He wasn't suicidal. Behind him, Jake paced the length of the office and swore into the telephone. It was a futile exercise. They both knew there was little the cops could do that the two of them hadn't already tried. Hunger washed through him. He ignored it. There was no time to eat. The detour might mean the difference between finding some clue and not. He just couldn't take the risk. He sighed and cast his gaze back to the skies. The day had been an appropriate one—wet and miserable. Only now did the sun begin to break the heavy blanket of clouds. He hoped it was a sign of better things to come.

Behind him, Jake slammed the phone down. “Damn those bastards."

"They're doing their best,” Michael said softly.

"Well, it's not good enough!"

Nothing was good enough, he thought in bleak agreement. Not the cop's efforts nor theirs. Nikki was still captive to evil, and God knows what he was doing to her ... He took a deep breath and shoved the thought away.

But he couldn't so easily escape the guilt. This was his fault. He should never have attempted to use her as bait. It had only led Jasper to believe she meant something to him. He was sure it was for that reason, more than the power of her gifts, that Jasper had gone after her. Though it was, perhaps, the only reason she was not yet dead.

Only now, when it didn't really matter, did Michael realize the fool he'd been.

"Damn it all, we should be out there ourselves.” Jake swung around and snatched his coat off the back of his chair. “I can't sit here any longer. I'm going to look for her." "I cannot."

Jake turned to face him. “Why in hell not? I thought you cared for her!" Michael clamped down on his temper. “Whether I do or not has no bearing on the matter. I simply cannot go outside."

"Why? Afraid of the sun or something?"

"Or something,” Michael muttered, then turned. It was not what he'd call an ideal time to be honest—but then, what time was? It would be so easy to just reach out and touch Jake's mind, make him trust—but he couldn't. Nikki would know.

"Jasper and I have one thing in common. We're both vampires. I'll die if I walk outside right now." Jake stared wide-eyed at him. “You're kidding ... right?

"No. While I do not take human blood, I am a vampire."

"But ... you're standing in sunshine now."

"Diffused sunlight. Watch.” He reached forward, brushing aside the curtain to let the full force of the sun fall upon his arm. Instantly his skin began to turn red. He let the curtain drop back in place before the burn became too bad. “Because I have been on this earth a long time, I can stand some sunlight. Even so, if I went out there now, I'd only last ten minutes or so." Jake leaned against his desk and ran a hand through his pale blonde hair. Michael could hear the struggle in his thoughts. Lord, it would be so easy to reach out ... He clenched his fists and waited.

"Does Nikki know?” Jake said after a moment.

It wasn't a question he'd expected. And though he could see fear in Jake's eyes, it wasn't the full-blown panic he'd half anticipated. “No. But I have no doubt Jasper will tell her."

"Hell of a way to find out.” He swallowed slightly. “You don't take human blood, you say?"

"No."

"Of course, I only have your word on that."

Michael returned his gaze evenly. “If I wanted to taste your blood, you wouldn't even have time to scream."

"Well, that's just great.” Jake shuddered, then ran a hand across the sandy stubble lining his chin. “In recent days I've seen zombies, and the dead walk from the morgue. I suppose it's not too much of a stretch to believe you're a vampire. Though I have to say, you don't act very vampire-like." Michael raised an eyebrow. “And how many vampires have you met to make such a judgement?"

"Well, just Monica and Jasper, but I've seen countless Dracula movies." "The Dracula legend was based on a man. It has very little to do with reality."

"Tell that to Monica and this Jasper of yours. They're pretty much matching the legend."

"Becoming a vampire did not make Jasper what he is today. His thirst for blood was evident well before his turning."

"But turning has made him more unkillable.” Jake hesitated, eyes narrowing slightly. “Why did he really snatch Nikki? To get back at you?"

"I believe so. He thinks I care for her—"

"Which you do."

"—and he wants to make me suffer before he kills us both."

"So you and Jasper have this personal vendetta happening, and Nikki and I were unlucky enough to get in the way."

Boiled down to basics, that just about summed it up. Michael rubbed his forehead, wondering again if all the years—and all the lives lost—were worth the effort of chasing Jasper. Then he remembered his brother, Patrick, and his friend, Jenna. And people like Monica, who was by no means innocent and yet who had still deserved more than the path of death and destruction that Jasper's seduction and lies had led her to.

"As I said before, it's more than a personal vendetta. Jasper has to be stopped. It's my job to do it."

"Why?” Jake's gaze was shrewd. “You're not in this alone, are you?" Both were questions he wasn't prepared to answer right now. Risking his life was one thing; risking the lives of his companions by revealing too much about their organization was another. Jasper was still loose, and Jake just might be next on the hit list. The less Jake knew, the better for them both.

"Sometimes it takes a vampire to hunt a vampire."

"In other words, mind my own business.” Jake flashed a toothy smile that held very little warmth. “I guess we wait, then. I hope you don't mind if I keep my distance. Being around a vampire might take a little getting used to."

Michael smiled. Jake was all right. No wonder Nikki depended on the man.

"I just feel so damn useless sitting here,” Jake continued with a sigh.

"We'll find her. Don't worry."

"Yeah, right."

The disbelief in Jake's voice annoyed him. Hope was the one thing they couldn't afford to lose. But the rebuke died on his tongue. It was fear that made Jake speak like that, a fear he could well understand. An hour crawled by, then another. Night approached. Michael pushed away from the wall. At least now he could do something, instead of merely waiting.

Life suddenly sparked in the darkness of the link. He stiffened, reaching out swiftly. Turmoil, fear and confusion greeted him. Nikki didn't hear him, didn't acknowledge his presence. It didn't matter. He knew where she was.

Jasper was a dead man.

* * * *

Puddles of yellow light splashed across the floor but did little to take the chill from the room or her body. She'd watched the gentle progress of the sun for the last few hours, lethargy holding her immobile. But time and daylight would not wait for her. She had to move, had to get out of here before the day disappeared. The sunlight's waning strength said it was already late afternoon. There was so little time left.

Gritting her teeth, she straightened out her right leg. Stiff muscles protested the movement, and her stomach churned. Head swimming, she gritted her teeth and slowly straightened her other leg. Her arms were almost as difficult to move, stiff and leaden with cold. Her whole body felt numb with it, her skin icy to touch. But for the first time in ages, she felt stirrings of life in the void that had been her psychic gifts. Massaging her legs with stiff fingers, she glanced warily at the bed. Monica and Jasper lay still and silent, na**d limbs entwined around each other. If they breathed, she couldn't see it. But what interested her more was the door next to the bed. Until now, she hadn't even realized it existed. She bit her lip, then rolled over onto her hands and knees. The effort sent the room into a swim. She took several deep breaths, her gaze never leaving the figures on the bed.

They didn't stir.

Slowly she turned and put her hands against the wall, using it for support as she stood. No movement on the bed.

Sweat trickled down the side of her face. She turned around until her back was braced against the wall. Sick tension churned her stomach, but she ignored it, focusing instead on the padlock chaining the door closed. She lacked the time and energy for finesse; she hit the lock with all the psychic energy she could muster. It literally exploded, the noise reverberating around the room. She held her breath and watched the figures on the bed

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