She swallowed and he saw the hard movement of her throat. His hands clenched when she said, “I know it won’t. Why do you think I’ve been running?”
The door to Catalina’s swung open with a soft swoosh. Zane’s head appeared and his brows lifted. “Jude, you ready to—”
Footsteps. The slam of a car door.
Jude swore when he saw his ADA drive away. Running away. “Not finished, Erin.”
Not by one hell of a long shot.
By the time she got back to her office, her hands had stopped shaking and the ball in the pit of her throat, that weird tangle of fear and fury, had finally dislodged.
Erin managed to make it through the rest of the day in a semi-normal fashion. No snarling at the other lawyers. No flash of claws or teeth.
But Jude’s words kept echoing in her head.
And they twisted with her mother’s words, spoken so long ago. “Kill or be killed, that’s the only way we know.”
Her mother had been very, very good at killing.
She hadn’t wanted to be like her mother. But the freak on her trail was giving her no choice.
Hell, yes, she knew the prisons couldn’t hold some paranormals. She knew that. But the only other option—
She’d never taken a life before.
The bastard was wrenching her choices away. Because she knew—she knew he wanted her to kill.
So she’d be just like him.
Erin went to court at the end of the day. A last-minute trip. The demon had been right. She hadn’t been scheduled for a court appearance, but the cops needed her help, so she had to go. Erin needed a warrant to search a suspected drug dealer’s house on Grant Avenue, and the cops waiting in the wings didn’t have any more time to waste. They needed to get in that house before midnight.
At 6:09 p.m., the warrant was signed, the cops were ready, and Erin was so damned ready to get back to her house that she was all but growling. She headed across the middle of the big atrium of the courthouse, eager to—
A rich, musky scent teased her nostrils.
Pine trees. Sweat. Animal.
Her heart slammed into her chest just as some guy with a too-large briefcase crashed into her back. He grunted an apology and stumbled away, but she didn’t even spare him a glance.
She closed her eyes for a moment and drank in that scent.
He was there. Close enough to smell.
The whiff of his scent was deliberate. She knew it. She’d learned that lesson the hard way. He could control his scent, disguise it. The bastard had told her about his little secret technique that fateful night. He’d bragged about it.
But now, he was baiting her with his smell. Letting her know that he was close. Watching.
Her hands curled and her claws dug into her palms. Her eyes opened and her head turned to the left. There. The door marked exit in bright red letters. The stairwell.
Erin was at the door before she had time to fully realize what the hell she was doing. She shoved it open, sucking in a hard breath, then she climbed down the steps. The jarring metal echoed with every move she made, and she followed that scent with her palms sweating and the hair on her nape rising.
Tired of running. Tired of the blood.
The killings had to stop.
The stairs ended at another door. Big and thick. Erin knew the parking garage was on the other side of that door. She’d mapped out the building before her first court date. Since she’d attracted the freak, learning all the exits in the buildings she frequented had become a priority for her.
Erin licked her lips. The guy’s scent hung in the stairwell. He’d been there, recently, and he could be waiting for her now, just on the other side of that door.
Her fingers lifted. Touched the cold metal.
Was she strong enough to take him?
Not if he shifted. No way she could handle him then, but if he was in human form, well, his ass was hers. Nice little side benefit from her mother’s side of the family.
Not that dear Mom had ever cared about how strong I was.
Erin exhaled. Run or fight? Her choice was simple, and she really was tired of running.
Her cell phone vibrated in her purse, the shaking followed immediately by a loud chime.
Erin grabbed the phone, yanking it out. Jude. She recognized his number now. She pressed the receive button on the screen and lifted the phone to her ear. “He’s here.” A whisper.
Static crackled in her ear. Stairwells were bad for cell phones, she knew that but—“Jude, the asshole is here.” Waiting for her on the other side of that door.
“What?” A bark. “Where are you?”
“Courthouse.” She shouldn’t have been there. Another lawyer had been assigned to this case but he’d wanted to wait until morning for the court order and the cops had needed someone to move now. “Parking garage.” A quick breath. “I can smell him.” Almost feel him.
“Get the hell out of there! Don’t give him a chance to get close to you!”
“This time, I’m going to get close to him.” No more running. No more dead bodies or blood in her home.
“No! No, I’m coming. Shit, I’m on my way.”
“Then hurry,” she whispered, and ended the call. Hurry because I’m not going to run again.
He was too close. She couldn’t just stand there and let him get away. She couldn’t let him escape and attack someone else, for her.
Lee’s bloody face flashed before her eyes. The guy was in ICU, hooked to a dozen tubes and needles. Because of her stalker?
No one else could get hurt. She couldn’t stand by and let another person face the shifter’s fury.
The sick bastard needed to be stopped, and she’d do her damnedest to fight him.
And then the scent changed.
Fuck, fuck, fuck!
When Jude’s pickup screeched to a stop in the dim garage, his claws were out, his fangs barred, and he was ready to kick ass.
And he was scared—dammit, scared. When the hell was the last time he’d been scared of anything?
She’d better be all right. Better be completely safe. Completely unharmed. ’Cause if she had so much as a scratch on her, the freak would beg for death.
He shoved open his door, jumped out, and ran across the parking area. His nostrils twitched as he caught the other shifter’s scent. He’d stalked her, tracked Erin here.
“He’s gone.” Erin’s voice. Quiet. Steady.
Jude whirled around and found her standing in front of an open door, a stairwell.
She was alone. Hell. “You should have gone for help.” The words blasted out of him, deeper than normal, because the beast was too close to the surface. She’d stayed there, come looking for the freak. Was the woman crazy?
Her shoulders straightened. “I’m sick of running, Jude. I tried that. It didn’t work.” She shook her head. “That’s not how I’m going to play this game anymore.”
He closed the distance between them in two seconds flat. Jude grabbed her arms and pulled her toward him. “This isn’t a game. He’s a killer. A cold, seriously fucked-up”—he could still see the blood on her walls and the grin that he had sliced across Bobby’s face— “killer.” A game. His hold tightened on her. “If he gets hold of you, he’ll—”
“I know exactly what he’ll do.” Erin jerked away from him. Just broke from his grasp as if he weren’t even holding her.
Why do I keep forgetting how strong she is?
Her eyes were stark. “He caught me once before.”
His heart seemed to stop. No, not here. He didn’t want to learn this here, with that bastard’s stench in the air around him.
Jude swung away from her, his gaze searching the shadows of the garage. “How the hell do you know he’s gone?”
Jude glanced back at her. “Erin?”
Her hand lifted, pointed to the right. “He left me a present.”
He stalked forward and saw the roses propped up against the cement wall.
Fresh. Bloodred. Not a bloodstained message this time. Flowers.
Oh, yeah, a real perfect Romeo.
“That’s Lee’s parking space.” No emotion in her voice.
Jude’s eyes lifted and he saw the reserved spot with the lawyer’s first initial and last name.
“There’s a card, but I-I haven’t read it yet.”
He would. Jude grabbed the flowers, jerked out the card and tossed the roses onto the pavement. The scent of the flowers was sickeningly sweet, combining with the stench of the shifter, a stench that seemed lighter now, weaker.
‘Cause the bastard was gone.
With steady fingers, Jude pulled out the card. Maybe he should have taken it to Tony. He should have used gloves, he should have—
Did you like my present?
What in the hell? His gaze flew to Erin, and he found her staring at him, her body still.
“What does it say?” she whispered.
Jude shoved the note back into the envelope. “Let’s get out of here.” A car horn sounded in the distance. The place was all but deserted. He knew most of the lawyers and assistants would have checked out around five. Being there, standing in that empty garage felt too much like a trap.
One Jude wasn’t about to get caught in. “Where’s your car?” he demanded.
But she shook her head. “The note, Jude. What did it say?”
His jaw clenched. “Screw your car, you’re coming with me.” He shoved the note in his pocket. If the jerkoff had been dumb enough to leave any prints, and Jude figured the guy hadn’t, they were probably long gone by now. A guy smart enough to sneak into a police station and kill a man while the cops were less than twenty feet away really wasn’t gonna be the type to leave fingerprints on his little delivery.
Crossing to her side, Jude reached for Erin’s arm. She didn’t fight him, and he knew the lady could have used her strength.
She climbed in the passenger side of his pickup. He slammed the door shut behind her, raced back around, and jumped inside.
He cranked the truck and the engine snarled to life. His fingers curled around the gear shift.
“What did it say?” Her hand brushed over his. Soft. Delicate.
With an effort, he managed to unclench his jaw enough to growl, “‘Did you like my present?’”
A sharp inhalation of air. Her hand fell away and she sagged back in the seat.
He twisted the wheel, slammed on the gas pedal, and got the hell out of there.
The green pickup raced down the street, the motor rumbling as the tiger drove away, too fast.
Running scared. He watched that truck, and he smiled.
Erin had found his note. She knew what he’d done for her. Proving his love wasn’t hard. He enjoyed giving presents to his mate.
The tiger would soon realize he didn’t have a place in this equation. Erin would know he didn’t belong.
Just the two of us, love. Just us.
He’d been angry when he found the shifter at her house. In her house.
No other male should be so close to Erin.
But he’d investigated the tiger today. Found out that he was a hunter. One Erin had foolishly hired.
As if the bastard would be a match for him.
Perhaps Erin had already realized her mistake.
He could still smell her. He’d been so close to her today. Close enough to touch and to taste.
When she’d found his roses, had she smiled? Had her lips lifted in that slow, beautiful smile he liked so much? Erin loved red roses. Always had.
That dick of a lawyer never should have gone after her like he had in court. The prick had been in her face, screaming.
No one treated Erin that way.
The traffic light turned red and he walked across the street, keeping his gaze on the shrinking taillights.
He couldn’t wait to see Erin again. Couldn’t wait to claim her. It had already been so long since he’d held her body beneath his and given in to the hunger.
Did she miss him as much as he missed her? Did she long for him?
The answer came from the beast inside. The beast that wanted Erin just as much as the man did.
Soon it would be time for the games to end.
Time to take what was his.
If the tiger got in his way again, well, he’d just slice the bastard apart. Wouldn’t be the first time he’d killed a rival.
Not the first time. Not the last.
“You just missed my exit.” The first words she’d spoken since they left the parking garage. Erin thought the words came out pretty calm. Pretty steady.
Did you like my present?
She’d managed, barely, not to flinch when Jude told her the words of the note. But even before he’d said them, she’d known.
It was the freak’s MO.
Her gaze lifted to Jude’s face. His jaw was clenched, the eye she could see narrowed. “Jude?” Her hands were balled into fists. The better to not touch him.
“We’re not going to your place.” He didn’t take his gaze off the road. “The bastard was there last night, he was inside the night before that. Sweetheart, your place is sure as shit not safe.”
But it was hers. And right then, she needed some security, some—
“You’re spending the night with me.”
The truck slowed, then turned off on the next exit. “And before we get there, you’re gonna start talking. You’re gonna tell me everything I need to know about that asshole.”
He’ll turn from me. Jude won’t touch me again.
He wouldn’t look at her with hunger in his eyes. Wouldn’t touch her with desire.