Dee always said that weakness leveled up the playing field. Of course, Jude figured the woman didn’t really need any leveling up. She could take the vamps down just as easily when they were running at full power. A talented woman.
Jude rose to his feet. Time for him to do some hunting. No sense in Dee having all the fun.
“Where you going?” Zane asked, straightening from the window.
“To rattle some cages.” And see just what the hell shook loose.
When Jude wanted, he could play the nice guy. Play.
But he could also be a real bastard.
He held his prey pinned against the wall, his forearm lodged against Michael McQueen’s throat. “Now we’re gonna go over this one more time, Mickey.” He smiled, and let the hyena shifter see his teeth. “I’m looking for the new shifter in town.”
Mickey spat at him.
Oh, wrong move. Jude threw the idiot across the room and swiped the back of his hand over his face. “Are you trying to piss me off?”
“You’re not takin’ me in!” Mickey jumped to his feet. Quick little prick.
“Yeah, I am.” Mickey liked to get a bit rough with his girlfriends. And he only dated humans. Guess beating the hell out of them was more fun for him than going up against someone with his own strength. “But before I drag your ass off to jail, you will answer my questions.”
Mickey’s red-rimmed eyes darted for the door. The guy reeked of alcohol. The tequila drifted off him in waves. It was barely one o’clock, and Jude had found the shifter knocking them back in Delaney’s bar.
Delaney’s. On the surface, it seemed like a regular place, but the owner was one real witch.
Mickey picked up a table and threw it at Jude. He swore and leapt to the side, swiping out with his claws.
“Dammit, you jerks are gonna pay for everything you break!” Catalina’s furious voice.
Noted. But no big deal because mostly, he just planned on breaking that idiot hyena’s face.
Mickey screamed, a high, shrill animal cry, and hoisted up another table.
Jude sprang across the room and knocked the table out of the hyena’s hands. Then he shoved the jerk up against the wall and pinned Mickey there with his claws.
Another desperate cry, one that had Jude’s ears ringing. Damn hyenas. They had the shrillest voices.
Jude twisted his claws and Mickey whimpered. “Who’s the new shifter, Mickey?” The guy was scum, but he knew every bit of shifter business that passed in the city. Hyenas and foxes always knew. They picked up every bit of gossip, every whisper.
Mickey shook his head. “No…new shifter.”
Not the answer he wanted. Jude sighed. “Ah, Mickey, why do we have to do this the hard way?”
The hyena flinched, and a soft, familiar scent teased Jude’s nostrils.
No, no way. She wouldn’t be there. Couldn’t be there.
But that scent—his cock began to swell.
Had to be her.
Ah, hell. Talk about piss-ass-poor timing.
“Jude—what are you doing?”
Pretty much just what it looked like. Pinning prey.
“Help!” Mickey the idiot shouted. “This freak’s trying to kill me!”
Jude twisted his claws, because he could.
The hyena’s words choked off.
High heels slapped on the wooden floor. “You’re in a public bar, you can’t just—”
Sighing, he glanced back at Erin. Flushed face. Kiss-me red lips, and an are-you-crazy expression in her eyes. “Relax. The chick behind the bar’s a witch, the half-asleep asshole in the corner’s a charmer, and this jerkoff is a—”
“Shifter.” A whisper from her sexy lips. Her nostrils flared, just a bit.
Of course she’d know. Like to like.
Mickey whimpered and tried to appear pitiful. Jude had to give the guy credit—he looked pitiful. But he always did.
“You can’t do this.” Erin’s voice was still hushed. Maybe she wasn’t buying the whole the-bartender-is-a-witch story. “No matter what he is, you can’t just—”
A growl built in his throat. The rich scent of Mickey’s blood teased him. Maybe it was time Erin figured out just who, what, she was dealing with.
And sleeping with at night.
“Not a cop, sweetheart. Their rules don’t apply to me.” And what was she doing in the bar, anyway? Delaney’s wasn’t exactly well advertised in this city. More of a paranormals only club.
Catalina’s magic kept the humans out. They didn’t know why, but they just always walked right past the faded blue building with the white French doors on Louis Street.
“Lady! ” Mickey’s squeak. “You gotta help me! This ass-asshole’s crazy. You need—”
He heard the inhalation of her breath. “Mickey McQueen.”
The hyena blinked.
“You’re wanted for three charges of assault and battery, McQueen.”
Yeah, and Jude would be collecting that bounty soon enough. “I want the name, Mickey,” Jude snapped, barreling right over Erin’s words. She wasn’t about to haul his prey away, not yet.
Mickey shook his head, a frantic move. “L-lady—”
“Have it your way.” The burn of his lengthening canines filled Jude’s mouth. His gaze narrowed on the hyena’s throat, on the pulse that thudded faster, faster. Jude lowered his head, teeth barred, almost tasting—
“No new shifters— none! ” Mickey’s scream. Frantic. Mickey liked giving pain, but he wasn’t so much for taking it.
Jude stilled. The little asshole had to be telling the truth. Mickey had never been good at playing chicken.
No new shifters. But one new shifter was right beside him. How come Mickey didn’t realize that?
Erin grabbed Jude’s shoulder, jerked him back, and sent him hurling across the room.
Jude fell into a table. The wood gave way, smashing beneath him and sending his ass right to the floor. Hard.
“You’ll pay for that one, too,” Catalina said. The witch was just stating a fact. She didn’t sound too interested in the chaos.
His gaze tracked to Erin. The lady wasn’t even breathing hard.
“Hot damn.” An impressed voice, an annoying voice. Zane. He stood in the doorway, hands on his hips, and watched Erin with narrowed eyes and pursed lips.
Well, at least now he knew why Erin had showed up at Delaney’s.
Mickey rushed toward the door, his claws out as he lunged at Zane.
The demon hit him hard and fast, and Mickey went down with a sigh shuddering out of him and his eyes closing.
Problem one solved.
Jude shoved up to his feet. Erin rounded on him, her hands fisted. “You can’t attack suspects!”
He lunged across the room. Caught one of those deceptively delicate fists in his hands. Kissed it. The woman had just tossed his ass ten feet and he wanted her. She was sexy and strong and her eyes were so dark and gold. Perfect.
Flawed? Not fucking likely.
The tiger inside was all but licking his lips.
“Mickey is guilty as sin,” he told her. “We both know it.”
“Yeah, he is,” Zane said, stepping over the prone shifter and straightening his shoulders. His gaze swept over Erin, from her head to her toes. The asshole lingered a bit too long on her breasts. He came close to getting a jab in the face then.
She ignored the demon, keeping her attention on Jude. “There are laws, you know.”
“Human laws don’t always apply to us.” She should know that.
Her jaw worked. “You were going for his throat.”
And she’d protected the little prick. Mickey sure owed her. “I wouldn’t have bitten, sweetheart.” He dropped her hand and missed the touch of her skin almost at once. But Zane was watching with those too-sharp demon eyes of his. And Catalina was pretending to clean a glass, but he knew the witch caught every word, every look. “Just trying to push some information out of him.” It was the way he worked. He wouldn’t apologize for threatening the hyena. Wasn’t like Mickey was one of the “good”
guys, not any day of the week.
Her arms crossed over her chest. “Doesn’t seem like your push worked to me.”
Maybe. Maybe not. “Why didn’t he catch your scent?”
A furrow appeared between her brows. “What?”
Jude glared at Zane, but the guy just crept closer.
Finally, Erin glanced over at the other hunter.
“Some arm you got there, lady.” Zane offered her a smile. The same flirtatious grin he tossed at every female he saw, and one that usually gave him good results. Smiles back, phone numbers, even a couple pairs of panties.
“You.” She exhaled on a hard breath. “I recognize your voice.” She would. Shifters were great at recognizing tones and cadences in voice patterns. Came from their acute hearing. “You’re the one who called and told me to come down here.”
Yeah, Jude had figured as much. Glaring, he said, “I thought the plan was for you to stop at the courthouse.” And not bring Erin into his hunt.
The demon shrugged. “She wasn’t scheduled for court today. Had to improvise.”
Improvise. Right. Zane had sent her right after his ass, and Erin had seen him at the worst moment.
Well, technically, it could have been worse. Mickey had still been breathing, after all.
“You said Jude needed me,” Erin’s voice heated. “That it was urgent, that I had to get down to this Delaney’s place—”
“We’re the best bar in town.” A murmur from Catalina.
“He did need you,” Zane defended. “Why, you stopped the guy from crossing the line, from letting that wild beast out to attack and kill.”
Jude didn’t speak at that. He’d had control of his beast. He’d had control for years.
‘Cause the tiger had gotten loose once. He could still hear the screams sometimes. His prey hadn’t gone down easy.
He crept closer to Erin.
Zane’s head titled to the right, and he stared hard at Erin’s face. “You don’t seem too worried, lady.” A pause. “You’ve already seen the beast, haven’t you, Ms. Jerome?”
Her gaze darted to Jude.
“And you weren’t even a little afraid of him, were you?” Zane pressed.
No, she hadn’t been. Not when she’d seen him in tiger form. Erin hadn’t so much as backed up a step. No, no, she hadn’t looked afraid, she’d looked—
Not like a woman who was terrified of shifters.
And when he’d come back to her after the hunt, she’d done her one-eighty and seduced him.
Hands off to—
Hands most definitely on.
Considering the shifter asshole after her, her attitude was a bit…surprising, to say the least.
“I’m not afraid of a little cat,” Erin said, voice soft and husky.
Zane’s loud laughter shook the room.
Jude was pretty sure he heard Catalina snort.
More laughter came from the demon. Then, after a couple of deep breaths, he managed to say, “Yeah, I guess if I were strong enough to throw him across the room, I wouldn’t be scared, either.”
The guy could throw him across the room. And had. At least three times sprang to mind. Two of those instances had happened right there in Delaney’s. Some nights, the place could get good and wild.
Erin cast a glance toward Mickey’s body. The hyena was still out cold. “I need to call the precinct and get a squad car out here for him—” She broke off, shaking her head. “I-I need…” Her voice thickened a bit and she lifted her hand, pushing her fingers against her right temple. “Th-that h-hurts…”
Jude stiffened and his stare jerked to Zane. The demon’s laughter was completely gone now and he was focused totally on Erin.
Bastard. He’d been waiting, biding his time to catch her off guard.
With a demon, one big-ass portion of his strength was psychic in nature. Demons could slip right into the minds of humans.
Erin could be half-human so would Zane be able to—
“Get out.” A grated demand, shaking with fury. Erin’s head jerked toward Zane and she bared her own teeth. Wickedly sharp teeth.
A low, pain-filled cry broke from Zane’s suddenly white lips, and his knees gave way beneath him. Before he could fall face-first into the floor, the witch was there, catching him, wrapping her arms around him.
Then Catalina stared at Erin with fear in her eyes.
What did he see? What did he see?
The drumming of her heartbeat filled Erin’s ears as she fought for control. The demon—the tall, dark, good-looking asshole had to be a demon—had slipped into her mind. She hadn’t expected an attack. She’d been too focused on Jude and the demon had slipped right past her defenses.
What if he knew? If he’d seen into her, he’d know her secrets. If he told Jude—
“I want you out of my bar.” A woman, her long hair so blond it almost looked white, cradled the demon. Her green eyes glinted with a swirling combination of fear and fury. A combination Erin could respect. “I want you out, and I don’t want to see you again— whatever you are.”
Jude stepped in front of her. “Easy, Catalina. I think old Zane was the one to draw first blood. And he’d better explain himself, now.”
The fire in Erin’s temples had eased, but the ache that remained sent a wave of nausea through her. A demon’s touch. Her dad had warned her about demons and their tricks. Some demons could slip so easily into the minds of humans. Some were strong enough to see thoughts, to walk in dreams, and even to control their prey.