Home > Dancing with the Devil (Nikki & Michael #1)(4)

Dancing with the Devil (Nikki & Michael #1)(4)
Author: Keri Arthur

Nikki James. She's a private investigator following Jasper's current girlfriend. She's a strong psychic— very strong, in fact.

And Jasper craves power. He will kill, then retrieve her.

Anger rose at the thought of Nikki as one of Jasper's lumbering creatures. And yet, he had to acknowledge the image as one possible outcome. Nor would it stop him from using her as bait. He took of quick gulp of wine. I'm going to befriend her. Hopefully, Jasper will turn up pretty quickly, and I can get rid of him before he kills again.

Take care, Michael. You're playing with fire on this one.

Michael frowned. He had an odd feeling Seline knew more about the situation, or at least about Nikki, than she was letting on. But he also knew there was no point in questioning the old witch. She'd tell him what she thought he needed to know and nothing more. There was little more to add, so he bid her good night and broke the contact. Yawning, he stretched his legs, trying to relax the tension cramping his muscles.

Picking up his glass, he rose and walked across to the window. The blinds were open, and the pale light of the rising dawn streamed in through glass. Michael leaned a shoulder against the window frame and sipped slowly at the wine.

The sun had killed many of his kind, and it was a pleasure he'd long thought lost to him. Only time had taught him otherwise. He lifted his glass to the dawn's light and watched it reflect through the pale amber liquid. Wine was another pleasure he'd thought lost. He'd been told he could only survive by taking the life of others—that anything else would kill him. More lies. His changed metabolism might mean he could consume no food, but it didn't prevent him from taking fluids. Wine would never sustain him, but it couldn't kill him, either.

He took another sip and wondered what had happened to the woman who had turned him. Dublin in the 17th century had been an unforgiving place, and he'd fallen under Elizabeth's spell so very easily. Perhaps he'd just been desperate to escape the emptiness of his existence—even now, he wasn't entirely sure. He had a sudden vision of Nikki, her delicate features and smoky amber eyes, surrounded by a halo of dark hair. In very many ways, she reminded him of Elizabeth.

The sun's light grew stronger. He swallowed the remaining wine in one swift gulp and closed the curtains. As much as he would have liked to watch the flags of dawn color the sky, he had to sleep. There was much to do when night next fell.

* * * *

Nikki drove her old car into the first available parking space near the office. Climbing out was difficult; every battered muscle protested fiercely against movement. Taking a deep breath, she leaned against the car for a moment, waiting for the various aches to subside. The painkillers the doctors had given her were about as useful as a sun hat in a thunderstorm. What she really needed was a nice hot bath and some sleep—nothing too long, just three or four days. She grimaced and turned. Yeah right, that was likely to happen.

A long, white limousine dominated several parking spots out front of the single story building that housed the agency. Monica's father. She grimaced. Just what she needed to finish the perfect evening. The cool breeze ran around her, rich with aromas from the bakery down the road. She took a deep breath, then sighed in pleasure. Fresh, hot donuts. Was there a better smell on this earth, other than chocolate?

Maybe it was just what she needed. And if nothing else, it would delay the confrontation with Trevgard a good ten minutes.

Besides, she hadn't yet decided what she was going to tell the old fart. Shoving her hands in her pockets, she headed off to the bakery and ordered half a dozen donuts. No doubt Jake would need some form of sweetening if he'd been entertaining Trevgard for any length of time. Energy boost ready, she finally walked back to the agency.

"Where the hell is my daughter?"

Trevgard's demand hit her the moment she opened the door. His fury hit a second later, as breathtaking as a punch in the gut. Yet behind the bluster, she sensed concern. Trevgard might look and act like an ogre, but right now, he was a man very worried about his daughter. She shrugged and slammed the door shut. “I don't know.” Though it was an honest enough answer, it was one Trevgard was not likely to appreciate.

"Why not? I'm paying this agency damn good money to keep tabs on her."

"Now, John, relax.” Jake's voice was at it mildest. A sure sign he'd reached the end of his tether. “Rest assured that we want to find Monica as quickly as you do. Just give Nikki a chance to explain what happened last night."

She dropped the donut box on her desk and walked across to the counter that held the percolator. “For a start,” she said, pouring herself a coffee into a mug that had seen better days, “I did find her. She wants be left alone."

"What? Why didn't you—"

"John,” Jake warned quietly.

She flashed him a smile of thanks. Trevgard on the warpath was not something she needed right now. The ache in her head was bad enough already.

"I told you before I wouldn't take photos. And I couldn't drag her back with me because she wasn't alone. Her friends were a bit protective."

To emphasize her point, she put down her coffee and took off her jacket. The white blob of the bandages stood out like a sore thumb. Trevgard's rotund face paled, thin mouth twitching slightly. His worry level rose several notches. She wondered how he'd react if she told him four of those protectors were zombies. Yeah, right. After he'd stopped laughing, he'd probably arrange to have her locked away somewhere.

"Are you all right?” Jake leaned forward, blue eyes concerned. She nodded absently, her attention still on Trevgard. The sooner she could get rid of him, the better. There was a lot she had to tell Jake, and if she didn't get some rest soon, she'd fall where she stood.

"I'll find her again tonight.” What she would do when she found her was an entirely different matter.

"And how will you achieve this miracle?” Trevgard asked, tapping stubby fingers against the desktop.

“It's taken you nearly a week to get this far."

She raised an eyebrow and glanced at Jake. This one he could field. She wasn't about to explain that their problem hadn't been finding Monica, but rather keeping track of her long enough to talk to her. Their reputation was on the edge where Trevgard was concerned. Any further, and there was a very real possibility he could ruin them. All it took was a word or two in the right places—and Trevgard had them all in his pocket.

"Lyndhurst is a big place, John.” Jake's deep voice was calm, despite the flicker of annoyance she saw in his eyes. “We've been using conventional methods up until now to try to track her. Tomorrow night, we'll try something different."

"Like what?"

His gaze shifted between the two of them, distrust evident. But then, he hadn't become a multimillionaire by naively trusting the world. He'd made his money the hard way, trusting few, working long hours and saving every penny. It was a pity his daughter wasn't a little more like him, at least when it came to trusting. Maybe then she wouldn't have gotten so involved with evil. The image of sapphire blue eyes swam briefly through her mind, and her hand shook, splashing coffee across the carpet. She sat down quickly, hoping Jake hadn't noticed. It would only lead to questions she couldn't possibly answer.

"We'll need something of Monica's. Something she wore quite a lot,” Jake said quietly. "Why?” The older man's question was gruff, full of suspicion.

"Have you ever heard of psychometry?"

"No.” Trevgard's gaze narrowed. “Why?"

Jake's smile was so bland, she had to sip her coffee to hide her grin.

"Not many have,” he continued. “Psychometry is the ability to hold an object and sense some history of the owner. If the link is strong enough, you can sometimes use the object to trace people."

"Yes? So?"

"So, Nikki has that ability. We think we can use it to trace your daughter."

"Right. And my left foot plays ‘Jingle Bells.’ What are you two trying to pull?” Heat suffused his cheeks, making them look mottled. And him uglier, if that were possible. Jake shrugged. “If you don't believe us, why don't you go see Anita Coll? Nikki found her daughter alive and well, two days after the cops had given up looking for her." Trevgard suddenly looked thoughtful. Definitely no fool, despite outward appearances. He might not like the agency, or their methods, but he would use them—or anyone else—in order to bring his wayward daughter back.

He nodded abruptly. “All right. There's a charm bracelet Monica wore up until a week ago. I'll go get it—but if you think I'm going to let it out of my sight..."

"Fine,” Jake interrupted smoothly. “You can be here when Nikki makes the attempt to find Monica." Nikki opened her mouth to protest, but snapped it shut when Jake glared at her. She sipped her coffee and seethed in silence. Did Jake really expect her to find Monica with Trevgard breathing down her neck? Her talent wasn't always reliable, and distractions only made matters worse. Trevgard rose. “I'll go fetch it now, then."

"Fine. But don't bring it back until...” Jake hesitated and she held up her fingers. “About six this evening. Nikki has to rest before she tries this."

The older man grunted and strode to the door, his steps powerful despite his short legs.

"Phew,” she said, once he'd gone. “Talk about a powder keg."

"He's worried, believe it or not. But he's definitely in line for a heart attack if he keeps going.” Jake relaxed back into his chair. “And don't say the world would be better off. It's not polite."

"Neither am I.” She yawned. “Sorry. It's been a long night."

"So tell me what really happened tonight, then you can go home and rest." "It's a long story, boss.” And not one she was sure she could really explain.

"I have all day, kiddo."

She smiled wryly. That was a lie, and they both knew it. In his early forties, Jake didn't fit the typical image of private investigator. Absent were the scruffy looks, clothes in serious need of an iron and scuffed shoes. Jake's image was more the successful businessman. Not only did it make his clients more at ease, it gave him an extra advantage on the job. His look at the office was never the one he used in the streets.

She dug out a couple of donuts then tossed the box across to him. He caught it deftly and munched in silence as she gave him an edited version of the night's events. The zombies she left out, not sure if she could convince him they really existed. Jake had a hard time believing anything he couldn't see for himself. He whistled softly when she'd finished. “Sounds like Monica's got herself into something serious."

"It's more than serious. The man she's with ... he's evil, Jake. Pure evil.” She leaned back in her chair, shuddering at the seductive memory of fiery blue eyes. “I don't think we have a hope of getting her away from him."

He shrugged. “We have to try."

She bit into her doughnut. Yeah, they had to try, but she didn't hold much hope of succeeding. Evil had too strong a grip on Monica now.

Jake rose and poured himself a cup of coffee. “And this man that helped you, Michael Kelly? Where does he fit in?” he asked.

She shrugged. “I don't know."

"There's too much going on here that we just don't understand. I don't like it, Nik." She struggled to smother another yawn. “Neither do I. Not a lot we can do about it, though."

"I could take you off the case."

"And just who would take it over? You?” She grinned at him. “You're so busy now, you don't have time to scratch."

"This is true.” He shrugged. “One of these days I'm going to have to hire myself another investigator.” He gave her a sympathetic look as the yawn she'd been fighting broke free. “Why don't you go home and get some sleep? You look dead on your feet."

His words revived memories of the fetid breath and cold flesh of the creatures. She shuddered and rose quickly. “It's an offer I can't refuse. I'll leave the rest of the donuts, in case you want them."

"An offer I can't refuse.” He grinned, and helped himself to another donut. “Just make damn sure you're back by six. I might be tempted to murder our client if I have to put up with him for any amount of time tonight."

"Then I'll make sure I'm late,” she replied sweetly and stepped out the door before he could throw something at her.

* * * *

In the end, exhaustion and a broken alarm clock made her late getting back to the office.

"And what happened to six o'clock?” Trevgard said the minute she opened the door. His voice was mild given the anger she could sense in him. She looked at the clock. It was nearing six-thirty, so he had every right to be annoyed.

"What happened?” Jake asked, his irritation undisguised.

She grimaced. “Alarm clock."

Jake just shook his head. He'd been telling her for weeks to replace the damn thing, but she hadn't considered it a priority.

She glanced at Trevgard. “I'm sorry to keep you waiting. Did you bring the bracelet?" He nodded. “Yes. Jake has it."

Jake gave her the bracelet, sealed in a plastic bag. He knew from past experience that too many people handling an object spoiled her ability to get a strong reading. She sat down, stomach suddenly churning. She'd done this a hundred times before. It was simple. Easy.

But never before had her life been at risk.

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