Someone followed her.
Someone she couldnâ€™t see or hear through any normal means,
but whose presence fairly vibrated across her psychic
Someone whose mission was death.
The wind stirred, running chill fingers across the back of
her neck. Nikki shivered and eyed the surrounding shadows
uneasily. Sheâ€™d never been afraid of the dark before--had,
in fact, found it something of an ally, especially in the
wilder days of her youth. But tonight there was an edge to
the silence, a hint of menace in the slowly swirling fog.
People disappeared on nights like this. At least they did
here in Lyndhurst.
She returned her gaze to the slender figure just ahead.
This was the fourth night in a row Monica Trevgard had
come to the park after midnight. So far, it was to do
nothing more than sit on a bench for an hour before slowly
Nikki had no idea why. If the teenager had a reason for
coming here, she sure as hell hadnâ€™t found any evidence of
it. Her actions to date made very little sense. The only
child of one of Lyndhurstâ€™s--and possibly Americaâ€™s--
richest men, Monica had spent most of her life rebelling
against her family and their wealth. And yet, ironically,
it was only thanks to her fatherâ€™s money that she was free
to walk the streets tonight. Though nothing had ever been
proven, it was a generally conceded fact that John
Trevgard had at least one judge and several police
officers on his payroll.
Nikki smiled grimly. Trevgard would probably have been
better off keeping his hand in his pocket and letting his
only child spend some time in jail. Maybe a day or so
locked behind uncompromising concrete walls would shock
some sense into the girl.
It sure as hell had with her.
Shoving cold hands into the pockets of her old leather
jacket, Nikki let her gaze roam across the fog shrouded
trees to her left.
He was still there, still following her. The man with
darkness in his heart and murder on his mind. Not her
murder, not even Monicaâ€™s. Someone elseâ€™s entirely.
She bit her lip. With two knives strapped to her wrists,
and her psychic abilities to fall back on, she was well
enough protected. At least under normal circumstances. But
the man out there in the darkness was far from normal, and
something told her none of her weapons would be good
enough if he chose to attack.
Maybe she was as mad as Monica. Four women had already
disappeared from this particular area. She should play it
safe and go home, let Jake take over the case. A teenager
looking for trouble was going to find it, no matter how
many people her father hired to follow and protect her.
Only Jake had enough on his plate already, and his night
sight wasnâ€™t particularly good, anyway.
The sound of running water broke through the heavy
silence. Though the fog half-hid the old fountain from
sight, Nikki knew it well enough to describe every chipped
detail, from the wickedly grinning cherub at the top to
the embracing lovers near the bottom. It was amazing what
became interesting when you had nothing else to do but
watch a teenager watch the water.
Only Monica didnâ€™t stop at the fountain.
Didnâ€™t even look at it. Instead, she glanced quickly over
her shoulder, a casual move that raised the hairs on the
back of Nikkiâ€™s neck.
Monica knew she was being followed. Tonight, she didnâ€™t
just wander. Tonight she was the bait to catch the watcher.
The bitter breeze stirred, seeming to blow right through
her soul. Nikki swore softly, and ran a hand through her
hair. It was nights like this, when she was caught between
common sense and past promises, that she really hated
being psychic. Had it not been for the gifts warning that
death would claim Monikaâ€™s soul if she werenâ€™t protected
tonight, Nikki would have run a mile away from here.
But she couldnâ€™ stand the weight of another death on her
conscience and had no real choice but to follow.
They neared the far edge of the park. Streetlights
glimmered, forlorn wisps of brightness barely visible
through the trees and the fog. Nikkiâ€™s unease increased.
Monica wasnâ€™t heading for the street or the lights, but
rather the old mansion on the far edge of the park. The
place had a reputation for being haunted, and though she
didnâ€™t particularly believe in ghosts, the one night sheâ€™d
spent there as a kid had sent her running from the place.
Ghosts may not exist but evil sure as hell did.
The mansion was steeped in it.
Monica squeezed through a small gap in the fence and cast
another quick look over her shoulder. There was no doubt
about it--the kid definitely wanted to be followed.
Nikki stopped and watched her walk up the steps to the
back door. Common sense told her not to follow. Psychic
sense told her danger waited inside. She clenched her
fists. She could do this. Had to do this.
She stepped forward, then froze. No sound had disturbed
the dark silence. Even the breeze had faded, and the fog
sat still and heavy on the ground. Yet something had moved
behind her. Something not quite human.
Throat dry, Nikki turned. Out of the corner of her eye,
she caught a hint of movement; a hand, merging from
darkness, reaching out to touch her...
Yelping in fright, she jumped back and lashed out with
kinetic energy. Something heavy hit a nearby oak,
accompanied by a grunt of pain. She stared at the tree.
Despite the sound, there was nothing or nobody at its base.
Something had to be there. It didnâ€™t make any sense--
bodies just didnâ€™t disappear like that. She swallowed and
ran trembling fingers through her hair. Disembodied hands
couldnâ€™t merge from the darkness, either.
Had it just been her imagination, finally reacting to the
overwhelming sensation of being followed? No. Something
had been there. Was still there, even if she couldnâ€™t see
Not that that made a whole lot of sense. She turned and
studied the dark house. Trouble waited inside that place.
But so did Monica.
She climbed through the fence and ran across the shadowed
yard. Edging up the steps, she slipped a small flashlight
from her pocket and shone the light through the open
The entrance hall was small, laden with dust and cobwebs
that shimmered like ice in the beam of light. Faded
crimson and gold wallpaper hung in eerie strips from the
walls, rustling lightly in the breeze that drifted past
her legs. The house really hadnâ€™t changed much in the ten
years since sheâ€™d last been here.
Motes of dust danced across the light, stirred to life in
the wake of Monicaâ€™s passing. She directed the beam
towards the stairs. Monica appeared to have gone upwards.
Up to where the evil lived.
Gripping the flashlight tightly, Nikki walked through the
dust towards the stairs. The air smelled of decay and
unwashed bodies. Obviously, it was still a haunt for those
forced to scratch a living off the streets. It was odd,
though, that there was no one here now---no one but Monica
and whoever it was sheâ€™d come here for.
A floorboard creaked beneath her weight, the sound as loud
as thunder in the silence. She winced and hesitated. After
several heartbeats, someone moved on the floor above.
It wasnâ€™t Monica. The footfalls were too heavy.
Reaching into her pocket, she turned on her mobile. If
things started to go bad, sheâ€™d call for help. Trevgard
might not like the publicity a call to the cops would
raise, but if it meant the difference between life or
death--her life or death--he could go to hell.
The staircase loomed out of the shadows. Nikki shone the
light upwards. Something growled; a low sound almost lost
against the thunder of her heart. She hesitated, staring
up into the darkness.
It had sounded like some sort of animal. But what animal
made such an odd, rasping noise?
One hand on the banister, the other clutching the
flashlight so tightly her knuckles began to ache, she
continued on. The growl cut across the silence again.
It was definitely no animal.
She reached the landing and stopped. The odd sounding
snarl seemed much closer this time. Sweat trickled down
her face. The flashlight flickered slightly, its beam
fading, allowing the darkness to close in on her. Nikki
swore and gave it a quick shake. The last thing she needed
right now was the light to give up the ghost. Being
stranded in total darkness was not a prospect she looked
The light flickered again, then became brighter. She moved
on, but kept close to the wall, just in case. At least she
could use it as a guide, even if the peeling remains of
the wallpaper felt like dead skin against her fingertips.
The hallway ended in a T-intersection. Moonlight washed
through the shattered window at the end of the left-hand
corridor. On her right, there was darkness so complete it
almost appeared solid.
Monica was in there somewhere. Of that she had no doubt.
But that odd sound had come from the left. Whatever it
was, she had to check it out first. There was no way in
hell sheâ€™d run the risk of being attacked from behind in a
place like this. She turned left. Two doors waited ahead.
One open, one closed.
Was it just fear or instinct that warned against entering
The wind whispered forlornly through the shattered window,
accompanied by a low moan that raced goose bumps across
It was definitely human more than animal. And it wasnâ€™t
Monica. The teenager still waited in the darkness of the
right corridor. Edging forward, she peered round the
doorframe. Nothing moved in the moon-washed darkness, but
something was in there, nevertheless. The sense of
malevolence was so overwhelming she could barely breathe.
So why do you not turn around and run?
The thought whispered into her brain, feather light but
hinting at anger. Nikki froze, fear squeezing her throat
tight. Just for an instant, her mind linked with another;
she tasted darkness and concern and the need to kill. This
was the man sheâ€™d half seen in the darkness near the fence-
-the man whoâ€™d followed her through the fog.
Turn around and leave. You cannot help the child now.
No. Why could she hear this manâ€™s thoughts? Telepathy had
never been one of her talents, even though sheâ€™d been able
to receive Tommyâ€™s thoughts well enough. And who the hell
are you to tell me what to do?
I merely try to save your life. You will not like what you
find. Not in that room, and not with the teenager.
Yeah right. Who was this weirdo? A would-be prophet of
doom? I have never run from anything in my life, and I
donâ€™t intend to start now.
The lie gave her courage. She took a deep breath and
stepped into the room.
Michael Kelly hit the fence in frustration. The little
fool had entered the room, despite his warning. Perhaps,
because of it.
She knew danger waited--he could taste the fear in her
thoughts, despite the distance between them. So why
wouldnâ€™t she run? Why did she continue this fruitless
quest for the teenager? Given the strength of her psychic
talents, she had to know the child was well beyond
He let his gaze roam to the far end of the house. Hidden
by the darkness, evil waited for his next meal, ably
served by his young companion. Unless he intervened, Nikki
James would become the fifth woman to go missing in this
Had it been anyone else, he wouldnâ€™t have particularly
cared. His task here tonight was to trap and kill a
murderer, not save lives. But her abilities added a
dangerous dimension to his task. It was for those
abilities, more than her blood, that Jasper hunted her.
He turned and walked to the end of the fence. The sudden
movement caused pain to shoot through his head, but he
resisted the urge to rub the lump forming near his temple.
He deserved that, and more, for being so careless. But he
just hadnâ€™t expected the fool to use her kinetic abilities
against him. Why, he hadnâ€™t he couldnâ€™t say. He smiled
grimly. Maybe senility was finally setting in.
He stopped and studied the houses opposite. Like the area
in general, the homes appeared deserted, forgotten. Yet
several of the nearest were occupied; he could see the
slight haze of life through the walls. Though he couldnâ€™t
actually enter the main buildings, such restrictions
didnâ€™t seem to hold when it came to garages. If he could
find a container of some kind, he could siphon the gas
from the cars.
Michael glanced back up to the house. Jasper hated fire.
It might be enough to save Nikki James.
The room smelled awful--a putrid mix of stale urine,
excrement and death all rolled up into one breath-
withering mix. She cupped a hand over her nose and mouth
and tried not to gag as she swept the flashlightâ€™s beam
across the room.
Something shied away from the lightâ€™s touch--a hunched,
humanoid shape that smelt like death.
Nikki backed away. She didnâ€™t know what hid in the shadows
and didnâ€™t really care to find out. Sheâ€™d learned long ago
that some things were best left unexplored; this was
certainly one of those times. Perhaps if she closed the
door, the thing would leave her alone. She knew from past
experience that all the doors in this old house creaked;
it was one of the things that had spooked her as a
teenager. At the very least, it would give her some
warning if the thing decided to move.
She half turned away, then stopped. A prickle of warning
ran across the back of her neck. The shadows parted,
revealing a mass of hair and pale naked flesh.
It was definitely human. And yet not.
Fear slammed through her heart. What the hell...?
The grotesque figure lunged at her. Stumbling backwards,
Nikki threw out her hand, thrusting the creature away
kinetically. It slammed into the back wall, grunting in
surprise. No sooner had it hit the floor than it was
scrambling to its feet, its agility surprising.
Glimpsing movement to her left, Nikki whirled. A second
creature ran out of the shadows, its face a mocking image
of humanity. She reached again for kinetic energy. The
heavy steps of the first creature were an express train
drawing close. Sweat trickled down the back of her neck;
she thrust the second creature back through the doorway
then flicked a wrist knife into her palm. Spinning, she
met the charge of the first, stabbing at it wildly. The
blade cut through its skin as easily as butter and her
fist slammed into the creatures pale flesh; flesh that was
as cold as ice.
Nausea rose, tightening her throat. Nikki swallowed and
tried to back away, but her feet wouldnâ€™t move fast
enough. The creature lashed out, connecting hard. The blow
flung her backwards. Her back hit the wall, and for a
moment she saw stars. Blood spurted from the creatureâ€™s
wound, spraying hot droplets across her face. Nikki
gagged, scrubbing at it with the sleeve of her jacket.
The creature made a second grab for her. Dropping the
flashlight, Nikki scrambled away, but it caught her
shoulder and pulled her back. Talon like fingers tore into
her arm, burning pain down to her fingertips. She gasped,
fighting the sudden wash of nausea. The creature snarled;
its breath was fetid, full of death, full of decay. Nikki
shuddered and slammed the heel of her hand into its face.
For a spilt second, its hold weakened. She reached quickly
for kinetic energy. A sliver of pain ran through her mind,
a warning that she was pushing her psychic strength to
far. She ignored it and forced the heavy creature away
from her. It flew across the room and smashed through the
window, tumbling out backwards with a guttural cry of
Moonlight fanned across the darkness, lifting the shadows
and touching the face of the second creature as it
lumbered back into the room. For an instant, it almost
looked pretty. Nikki backed away. What on earth were these
It snarled, and any illusion of prettiness shattered. The
creature took one ponderous step forward, then stopped.
Nikki readied another kinetic lance. The glimmer of pain
in her head became an ache. She was going to have a hell
of a headache tomorrow--if she survived tonight.
Blood ran past her clenched fingers and dripped to the
floor near her feet. She had no choice but to ignore it.
One move, no matter how small, and the creature would
Why wasnâ€™t it attacking now? It simply stood in the
doorway, shaking its head and snarling softly. It was
almost as if the creature was fighting a leash of some
She had absolutely no desire to find out just who, or
what, held the end of that invisible leash.
The creature snarled again, an angry, sullen sound. Then
turned and leaped out of the nearest window.
The retreat sent a chill up her spine. She waited tensely
for something else to happen. The breeze stirred the dust
from the corner shadows, and the heavy silence returned.
After several heartbeats, she sank down against the wall,
and drew her knees close. For a minute she simply sat
there, breathing deeply and letting the silence run over
Why did the creature retreat? The desire, maybe even the
need, to shed blood had been all too evident in itâ€™s eyes.
But it had left.
Because it had been ordered to.
Moonlight played across the glass that lay scattered all
around her. Glass that was stained with bright splashes of
red. She wasnâ€™t sure if the blood belonged to the
creatures or her, and knew in the end it wouldnâ€™t really
matter. He would come for the blood. He would smell it and
come for her.
Who he was, she didnâ€™t really know. Or care. She had to
get out of this crazy house, had to escape, while she
The thought stalled. What about Monica? Did she really
want to leave the teenager to face fate alone?
She took another deep breath and pushed upright. At
sixteen, Monica had barely begun to live. She had so much
yet to learn, so much more of the world to see.
Ten years ago, sheâ€™d left another teenager to his fate.
Heâ€™d been a hell of a lot more capable of taking care of
himself than Monica ever would be, and still he had died.
This time round, she was not letting fate get the upper
She eased off her jacket and studied the wound on her
forearm. While the three gashes bled profusely, the
creatureâ€™s talons obviously hadnâ€™t severed anything vital.
She could still move her fingers, even if it did hurt like
hell. Digging a handkerchief out of her pocket, she
wrapped it around the wound. Hopefully it would stem the
flow of blood long enough to find Monica and get out of
Putting her jacket back on, she walked across to retrieve
her flashlight, only to discover it no longer worked. She
gave it a quick shake and heard a slight tinkle coming
from the globe area. It must have smashed when sheâ€™d
"Thatâ€™s just great," she muttered, thrusting it back in
her pocket. Now sheâ€™d have to cross the threshold of utter
darkness with only instinct to guide her.
Instinct that had proven somewhat unreliable in the past.
The hallway was quiet. Her gaze was drawn to the darkness
at the far end of the hall. Monica had to be down there
somewhere. But so was the presence that tasted so evil.
She took a deep, calming breath, then walked back to the T-
intersection. A tingle of awareness ran across the back of
her neck as she neared the stairs. She hesitated, studied
the shadows that hid the staircase. The stranger had
entered the house. Michael Kelly... his name is Michael
Nikki rubbed the back of her neck. Why could she read this
strangerâ€™s mind? And why had he entered the house? Was he
here to help her, or did he have something more sinister
No answers came from the darkness, and the spark of
awareness flickered and died. Nikki frowned but continued
on. The rapid beat of her heart seemed abnormally loud in
the strange silence. Her senses warned of another door,
even though she couldnâ€™t see it. She ran her fingers along
the wall and touched a doorframe, then the cold metal of a
doorknob. Stopping, she listened to the silence.
Evil was near, maybe even in the room beyond this door.
She clenched the doorknob so tightly her knuckles
practically glowed, and wondered why in hell she was doing
The answer was easy enough to find. Monica reminded her of
Tommy, the teenager sheâ€™d left to die so long ago. To
appease his ghost, to appease the guilt in her heart,
sheâ€™d follow Monica through the flames of hell if thatâ€™s
what it took to save her soul--simply because sheâ€™d been
unable to save Tommyâ€™s.
Swallowing, she opened the door. Laughter greeted her,
laughter that was young and sweet, and yet somehow cold.
The teenager stepped out of the shadows, her smile easy to
see despite the shadows that hid her face.
"If you wish to talk to me," she said, her voice melodious
yet holding a touch of menace. "First you must follow me."
She turned and walked into another room. Instinct told
Nikki not to follow--told her to run as far and as fast as
she could. Told her Monica wasnâ€™t worth dying for.
Told her if she ran, Monica would die in her place. That
was a weight she just couldnâ€™t bear. Taking a deep breath,
Nikki followed the teenager.
Straight into the arms of the devil himself.