Home > Dancing with the Devil (Nikki & Michael #1)(5)

Dancing with the Devil (Nikki & Michael #1)(5)
Author: Keri Arthur

She frowned at the thought and tore open the plastic, dropping the delicate gold bracelet into her hand. Her skin tingled as she closed her fingers around the charms, pressing them into her palm. Shutting her eyes, she reached for the place in her mind that could call forth the images locked within the bracelet. Gradually, they came.

A factory. Three floors. Broken windows. Dark. Her mind seized the pictures, storing them for examination at a later point. She had to go with the flow or lose it. She didn't have the strength for a second try.

The smell of the sea ... creak of boats. Inside ... evil. She recoiled. Oh God, he's here!

Panic seized control, and for an instant, the images faltered. Now she understood her earlier intuition. Evil was here in the darkness—and hunting her. Her fingers twitched against the bracelet, but she fought the instinct to break the contact. Time was running out for Monica. She had to find her quickly, and this was the only way of doing it.

And surely the man she feared couldn't harm her spirit. Could he? Sweat broke out across her brow, but she reached again for the images.

Stairs ... a basement. Two rooms, three. In the fourth one, Monica. Naked. Unconscious but alive. Something hit Nikki hard, drawing her into darkness, snaring the very essence of her soul as securely as a fly in a web.

And the spider laughed in demonic delight.

Chapter Four

Only the harsh notes of her breathing broke the silence.

There was nothing to see, nothing beyond a deep void of darkness. Yet something or someone was near. She rubbed her palms down her thighs and wondered what sort of game was about to be played. Soft laughter stirred the satin cover of night, filling the void with its corruption. She closed her eyes. He was here—in the cage that had captured her spirit—and there was no escape. Energy pulsed above her head, a net of power that somehow held her prisoner. If she stayed here too long, she would die.

Was that his aim?

Sweat trickled down her back. Fists clenched, she watched a golden shaft of light spread across the darkness. It revealed a makeshift bed. On it lay Monica.

There was no sense of death, yet she could see no sign of life. It was almost as if the teenager hovered somewhere between the two. Shivering in apprehension, she wondered what other surprises her abductor had in store for her.

As if in answer to her question, laughter slid around her. Heart working overtime, she turned. He flowed into existence from a patch of midnight, a maneuver that reminded her oddly of Michael. But the man before her now—no, he was more a boy, albeit boy with the physique of a body builder. He appeared maybe fifteen, sixteen years old, but he was strong. Powerful. Hauntingly beautiful ... and totally evil.

"Monica is mine."

His whisper sliced through her. “Why are you doing this to her? To me?” Her voice came out high, almost childlike. She swallowed, trying to ease the aching dryness in her throat.

"She has what she wanted.” His blue eyes began to change. Began to burn with a sapphire flame. She licked her lips. “And that is?"

He moved a step closer. Horror held her immobile.

"What do all the vain rich want?” he replied. “Power. Eternal life." His answer made no sense. “And me?” she asked, fearing the answer. "You, my pretty, are the first to ever elude my call." He reached out, brushing her cheek with a feverish hand. Her skin stung and bile rose in her throat. She longed to run, but even the simple act of breathing had become suddenly difficult. His hand slid lightly down her neck and across her breast. She closed her eyes, digging her nails into her palms to stop herself from screaming. She'd be damned if she'd give him that pleasure. He laughed. Her eyes flew open. Hunger stirred deep in the bright heart of his eyes.

"So brave,” he whispered. “So very brave. Our association will be an interesting one indeed." She shuddered, her mind screaming a denial her lips refused to utter. His gaze became a sapphire blaze. So bright.

So blue.

She watched, enthralled, as death closed in.

* * * *

Night had settled across cloudy skies when Michael made his way through the last of the stockyards. The cattle had stilled their restless stirring now that he no longer walked among them, and the distant rumble of traffic made little impact on the hush surrounding him.

He reached the last fence and stopped, leaning his arms against the rough railings. The red flare of life burned in the buildings opposite, and his hunger, though sated, stirred sluggishly. He grimaced. Would the desire for the sweet strength of human blood ever leave him? Three centuries had passed, and still the yearning ran through his veins, an addiction that refused to die. Four men worked within the building, their life forces visible through the large windows. The man he sought was not among them. Not that he expected Jasper to be hiding on the outskirts of the city. His foe had a taste for the high life, even if he hunted easy prey in the poorer areas. Monica was not the first young woman turned by a gentle dance with the devil.

He climbed through the railings, then broke into a run, moving quickly along the road that would take him back to the heart of Lyndhurst. A quick check earlier in the day had revealed that Lyndhurst had five detective agencies. After three calls, he'd found Nikki's. He glanced at his watch. It was nearly six-thirty—she should be there by now.

What he did then depended very much on Nikki's reaction to him. But one way or another, willing or unwilling, she would become his bait.

The sounds and smell of humanity swirled around him as he approached the business district. The streets became crowded, forcing him to slow. He might be able to prevent most people from seeing him, but he couldn't prevent them from feeling the impact of his body if he ran into them. The last thing he needed right now was to stir more hysteria. The recent disappearances of four women had caused enough trouble. Too much more, and Jasper might just leave. Despite his assurance to Seline, he knew Jasper wasn't stupid enough to stick around if hunting became too difficult. There was always another city, another time. Their final battle might be long overdue, but Jasper had time to spare. He would wait until the time was right and the odds on his side.

The building where Nikki worked came into sight. Lights shone brightly through the windows. Nikki was

... He stopped abruptly, a cold sensation he might once have named fear running through him. Energy shimmered across his skin—a powerful cord of evil that held Nikki's mind captive. He took the steps two at a time and opened the door. Two men looked up as he entered. One stood near a desk, the other kneeling beside to Nikki, one hand reaching out—

"Don't touch her!"

"What do you mean, don't touch her?” The blond stranger glared at him. Though he hunched over Nikki protectively, he made no further attempt to touch her.

No fool, this one, he thought and knelt on the opposite side of Nikki's prone body.

"You might kill her,” he said tersely, running his right hand a whisper above her body, searching for some chink in the powerful energy shield surrounding her.

He heard the man's sharp intake of breath, but paid him little heed. Nikki's breathing was shallow and erratic, her heart straining under the increasing pressure. A body could survive only so long without the will, the essence, of its being.

If she died, she would be Jasper's.

Power pulsed against his skin like a thousand dancing fireflies. He narrowed his eyes and watched the bright promenade, studying its rhythm. Urgency beat through his heart, but he ignored it. She could die if he hurried—and die if he didn't.

The tempo of the dance faltered, weakening slightly, allowing him access. He reached out to her mind, swiftly following the psychic cord through the darkness.

Fear hit him again when he realized that Jasper was also attempting a mind lock ... and that he was close to succeeding.

Nikki, Nikki, don't look at his eyes! He charged the mental shout with all the power he could. He had to break the magnetic hold his enemy had on her mind.


Her reply was weak, vague. She was so close to giving in, yet in her own way, still fighting. It was a miracle she'd held out as long as she had.

His eyes are so very ... beautiful.

No! Nikki, look away!

Confusion stirred through the link, and hope soared within him. The more she fought against the net holding her captive, the weaker it would get. But Jasper was more powerful than he'd realized, if the fiend could hold this net in place and still have the strength to attempt the possession of a mind as strong as Nikki's.

Fight him!

The net trembled, weakening with every second. Yet so was she. Psychic energy burned through him, but he held his weapon in check, denying the impulse to assault the net and destroy his enemy. He didn't understand how the net entwined her mind, and if he tried to destroy it, he might destroy her. He didn't want to do that unless it was absolutely necessary. He would just have to wait, and catch her when she came free. If she came free.

Don't give in, Nikki!


Her response was stronger this time. Wisps of urgency shimmered across the net, testing its boundaries, its strength.

A desperate surge of energy ran through the lattice of power, yet Jasper was faltering. A small tear appeared in its fabric. More energy flared through the net, but it was no longer enough to hold her. Reaching out, Michael pulled her clear. Her spirit entwined with his for an instant, a gentle yet intense caress that shocked him. Then she was gone, and he was back in his body, left with an odd sense of regret.

He opened his eyes and lowered his hand, gently stroking sweaty strands of dark hair away from her closed eyes. That caress ... It could get them both into trouble. Whether she knew it or not, she'd created a link that would not be easily broken. It could make things awkward, given that he had no intention of doing anything more than using her to capture Jasper.

She opened her eyes and stared at him blankly. Just for an instant, he saw an echo of evil in the smoky amber depths. How far had Jasper succeeded in his mind lock? There was no way to tell, no way to know until his enemy made his next move.


"You're safe,” he replied softly.

"Need to rest,” she murmured, closing her eyes again.

He wasn't surprised. After what she'd just endured, she should sleep a week.

"How is she? Will she be okay?” the blond stranger asked anxiously. Michael ignored him, focusing instead on the big man near the desk. Frustration, fear and worry were evident in his thoughts, and he was about ready to explode. Slipping into the old man's mind, he ordered him to be silent. Nikki needed attention. He didn't have the time to be involved in a war of words.

"She's fine,” he said, returning his gaze to the blond man. “She just needs to rest."

"We'll put her in the room behind you. By the way,” he said, “I'm Jake Morgan."

"Michael Kelly.” He shook the offered hand impatiently.

"Thought you might be. How long will she be out?"

Michael shrugged. “Minimum, a couple of hours. I shall stay and keep watch over her.” And what better way to start gaining her trust than by being here, guarding her, when she woke?

Jake nodded, not asking the questions Michael could see in his mind. Instead, he rose and crossed the room to speak to the older man.

Michael slipped his arms under her body and carefully lifted. She was light. Too light, really. How in hell did she manage to maintain the energy needed to feed her psychic gifts when there was so little of her?

He took her into the next room and laid her carefully on the old couch that dominated one wall of the small storeroom. She stirred and opened her eyes.

"Don't leave me,” she murmured.

Her gaze was filled with shadows and fear. He smiled and sat beside her. She shifted slightly, using his leg as a pillow. Closing his eyes, Michael carefully reached into her mind, calming the surface turmoil, stilling her fears—at least enough to allow her to sleep peacefully for several hours. That he could do this without her knowing spoke of her desperate need for rest.

He opened his eyes and gazed at her. She looked so young lying there, almost childlike. Yet he'd caught the occasional whisper of thought that spoke of a harsh past. He caressed her forehead, her skin like satin against his fingertips. Though he knew he could not afford to get more involved than he was, he found himself wishing again that he had the time to learn more about her. But that was a freedom he'd lost long ago, and it was too late now for regrets.

* * * *

Darkness drifted through her dreams. It filled her mind, washing corruption through her soul. She fought it, desperate to be free. Yet she couldn't break the chains holding her captive. In the distance she heard a voice whisper her name. She turned toward the sound, following it desperately through the darkness.

Awareness surfaced. A door slammed in the front office. Trevgard, Nikki thought, and knew by the sudden leap of tension in the main office that both his patience and his temper were growing thin. She also became aware of Michael, of the firmness of his thigh against her cheek, the gentleness of his fingers caressing her forehead. Of his scent, an odd mixture of spice and earthiness. Much too aware.

She sat up abruptly. Averting her gaze from his, she pushed her hair back behind her ears. How did you react to a man who had saved your life and yet was still so much of an enigma?

"A simple thank you would be sufficient,” he said quietly. She glanced up sharply. “I've never met anyone who can read my thoughts as easily as you appear able to.” Tommy had been able to read her thoughts, but not so easily, unless she'd been angry or tired. Michael shrugged, ebony eyes regarding her warily. “Telepathy is a strong gift in my family. Over the years, I've honed its use."

She had an odd feeling he wasn't speaking of blood relatives when he spoke of family. She frowned, but turned at the sound of approaching footsteps. Jake opened the door and entered the room

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