Her fingers uncurled and pressed against the tops of her thighs. No choice. “I-I think he attacked Burrows and Lee because he was…giving them to me as presents.” Yeah, sounded sick and twisted as all hell—because it was.
His knuckles tightened around the wheel but he didn’t speak.
“He watches me. It’s what he does.” Always watching. “If he sees someone that he thinks hurts me or disrespects me, then he attacks.” And in the case of Burrows, leaves a body for her to find.
Because that was the kind of present every girl dreamed of. Forget diamonds. She wanted mutilated dead men.
No, no, even she wasn’t that broken.
“One hell of a Prince Charming you got there.” The engine revved as he shot off the exit ramp and down the long, deserted stretch of road.
Tell me something I don’t know. “He hurt a man I dated back in Lillian. My…friend was shot. The bullet barely missed his heart.” A human. He’d been in the hospital for weeks. When he’d gotten out, she’d stayed the hell away from him.
Stayed away—yeah, leaving the city definitely counted as staying away. The real bitch was…she’d cared for him, but she’d had to leave to keep him safe.
Ben wouldn’t have survived much longer in her world.
“No one else but me. You’re mine, Erin. Blood, bones, beast—mine.” She’d never forget that voice. Whispering to her in the darkness.
“The first time I ever heard from the guy,” she licked her lips and said, “he sent me roses. A dozen red roses.”
Roses. Just like the ones that had been left in Lee’s parking spot. The truck flew under the streetlights. “I used to love red roses.” He’d taken that from her, too. Now when she saw them, her entire body tensed up, and she could only think of blood and death. She swallowed and looked out the window at the blur of pine trees. “He sent me a note with them. Told me I was the woman he’d been looking for his whole life.”
And she’d been flattered. Excited. Nervous. Smiling and looking around the office as she tried to figure out who her secret admirer really was.
“I got mugged a few nights after that.” A rough laugh broke from her lips. “I could have taken the guy. He was a kid, couldn’t have been more than fifteen, but I was with friends.”
A nod, one she didn’t even know if he saw because she wasn’t ready to look back at him yet. Since moving in with her father, she’d always stuck with the humans. They might fear her sometimes, when she slipped up, but at least they’d never thrown her away. “I didn’t want them to see”— how strong I am, how deadly I can be—“so I gave the guy my purse.” Not like she’d had much money in the bag. Maybe thirty bucks. No credit cards.
“Let me guess.” He turned off the winding road. Took a left. “Romeo punished the mugger.”
“Used his claws to slice open his throat.” She glanced down at her own nails. Short now, manicured. What a joke.
“Someone saw them fighting and called the cops. He didn’t get to finish the kid.” The boy had survived, barely. “I wouldn’t have even connected the stories. I was mugged. Some kid on the news had a knife wound.” Right. “I mean stuff like that happens every day.”
He pulled into his drive. She could see his cabin. Right where the woods and the swamp seemed to meet. A stark building standing against the glittering stars and the glow of the moon.
Jude killed the ignition, but made no move to get out of the truck. Neither did she. Get it over with. Tell him everything.
A touch on her shoulder.
Erin whirled around and found Jude staring at her with blue eyes that shone in the dim interior of the pickup.
“How’d you find out it was your admirer? ”
She licked her lips again. Nervous habit. Erin saw his gaze drop, then rise, slowly, back to hers. “When I-I got home from work the next night, my purse was there. Stained with blood. He left me a note. The bastard always liked his little notes.” Though he’d never left a fingerprint on them. She’d checked. The guys in the lab had owed her a few favors back in Lillian.
His note had been simple. Terrifying.
I made the bastard pay.
After that, he’d broken into her house. The first time. No security system had kept him out. And, being like she was, getting a dog, a really big, mean-ass dog, hadn’t been an option.
Not that a dog would have stopped him. Or even slowed him down.
Erin wanted to drop her gaze and because she wanted to, she didn’t. Lifting her chin, she stared into Jude’s eyes and said,
“Things escalated from there.” The scar seemed to burn.
“And you ran.” Flat. Jude shook his head and drummed the fingers of his left hand against the steering wheel. “No cops—”
“Lillian isn’t like Baton Rouge.” Too small. Not quite the atmosphere and size most paranormals craved. “The cops there wouldn’t have had the first clue about how to deal with this guy.”
The drumming fingers stilled. “I’ve got a clue.”
Yeah, she knew that and Jude had given her hope. Maybe the nightmare would finally end. Maybe.
Not alone now.
She reached for him, skimming her fingers down his cheek. She loved the soft sting of the light stubble on his flesh.
Jude stilled. His gaze held hers. Then his head moved, a graceful curl into her touch, just like a cat seeking a good rub.
The truck’s cab suddenly seemed very, very small.
But he was looking at her with hunger and need and such lust on his face. In his eyes.
I want him. Just like before. No holding back. No worrying about hurting him.
They were alone out there. Far away from prying eyes and listening ears.
One more time. She wanted him again. Couldn’t she be greedy? A little greed never hurt anyone.
Her tongue swiped along her lower lip and she wished that she could taste him.
She leaned toward him and heard the hard rasp of his breath. Her lips hovered over his.
“Don’t you know”—the words were a growl, so deep and rough they sent a shiver over her—“not to play with a tiger?”
Oh, but a tiger shifter was exactly the kind of guy she wanted to play with. “I can’t hurt you.” The words slipped out and after a second, she jerked back, horrified. No, she’d said—
His head tipped back and his brows lifted. “Ah…makes sense.”
He caught her hand, pulled it between them. “The humans didn’t like it when you played rough, huh?” The tips of her claws had just begun to appear.
“I have a…hard time holding back.”
“Not gonna complain over that.” His hold on her hand tightened. “Not gonna complain one bit.”
“You’d be the first who didn’t.” Could she not keep her mouth closed? Erin tried to tug her hand back.
No dice. The tiger wasn’t letting go. She could force the issue but…
“Then you’ve been with damn idiots. A woman with power is a fucking beautiful thing to behold.” His eyes held the glow of the beast. “You’re fucking beautiful.”
He’d just—oh, hell. “I got to third base for the first time when I was seventeen. The guy was the high school quarterback.
I-I’ve always been strong and—I didn’t mean to hold him so tight.” But she’d almost broken both his wrists. When she’d realized what was happening and eased her hold, he’d run, much faster than he’d ever moved on the field. Come Monday, no guy at the school had so much as given her a second look.
“In college, I’d been seeing this guy.” Lyle had always been able to make her smile. “Things got hot and my claws came out.”
Erin, what the hell? You cut me! How did you…?
Her teeth snapped together. “After that,” she gritted, slamming the door on that particular memory, “I learned fast that I had to always have control and be very careful in bed.” Human lovers were too weak. She could break them if she wasn’t careful.
So she’d taken her pleasure, weak though it had been, and she’d done it by always holding herself back during sex. If she let go, her partners would have found out what she really was.
Not an option.
Jude unhooked his seat belt and leaned over her. “I like your claws and you’re welcome to hold me as tight as you want.”
His lips pressed against hers. Took. Tasted. His tongue slipped inside.
A moan rose in her throat.
His head lifted and he told her, “You don’t have to hold back with me. Last night should have proven that to you.”
It had. And being with him had made her want so much more.
The past was all around her then. Reaching out with greedy hands and claws, while the only man who’d ever made her feel like a normal woman waited before her with bright eyes and a mouth that made her sex clench.
One more time. She needed him, just once more.
And she was going to have him.
Screw the voice that demanded she tell him all of her secrets. She didn’t want to see pity in his eyes.
She wanted the lust that burned hot enough to singe her flesh.
Her fingers sank into his hair as she urged him close again, and she took his mouth.
No holding back. As wild as she wanted to be. Finally.
The fury of lust was in his kiss. She could taste the reckless need and the hunger. She loved it. Her heart pounded, drumming hard and fast in her ears, and she pressed against him, loving that thickly muscled chest. Damn, the guy was perfect.
But he had on too many clothes.
So did she.
Her tongue snaked over the raised edge of his scar, and, this time, the moan was his.
Her nipples pebbled, the points aching and hard. She knew that he’d smell her arousal in the close confines of the truck’s cab. It would be impossible for a guy like him not to notice.
If only the gear shift weren’t so close to her leg, she could try to straddle him and—
He jerked back. “We…have to talk…the guy after you—”
Talking wasn’t what she wanted. “We’re safe here, aren’t we?”
A nod. “Out here”—he ran his tongue over his lips as if catching her taste—“I’d know long before anyone got close.”
That’s what she’d thought. Out in the wild. The perfect place for her tiger. “Good.” Her right hand dropped between them and rubbed over the obvious bulge of his arousal. “I want you— now.” Oh, hell, had she just said that? Sounding all confident, like she wasn’t shaking inside? What if he could see right through her? What if—
“I know.” The edge of his growing canines appeared when he gave a hard grin. “Your smell is driving me insane.” Then his hand was on her thigh, shoving up her skirt. She hadn’t bothered with panty hose. Living in Louisiana, a girl learned to ditch those at an early age. So his callused fingertips touched skin and sent a little shock right through her. Especially when those fingers curled around the inside of her thigh and slid up…
Her breath hitched. “Inside.”
His mouth lifted in a half-smile. “Hell, yeah, sweetheart. I’m going right—”
Her cheeks flamed. “I mean…” His fingers worked up an inch and brushed against the crotch of her panties. Those panties were getting damp, fast. “Not…here.” Because the fear was always there in the back of her mind.
He’d be smart enough to stay back, so Jude wouldn’t hear his movement. But he could use binoculars. She knew the guy would do just about anything to keep tabs on her.
No, no, she didn’t want that asshole to see a thing. “Your house.”
One finger eased under the elastic edge of her panties and pushed up between her folds. Erin stiffened.
Not because she didn’t like his touch, but because she did. Too much.
That finger stroked over her, spreading her cream in a long swipe and Erin gasped. “Inside.” The house. She meant the house.
He pulled away. It seemed like more beast than man stared at her from his eyes. “You’d better move fast, sweetheart.”
She shoved open the door. Fought to untangle herself from the seatbelt. Then she was all but racing for the porch, ignoring the chirp of insects and the distant lap of water.
He reached the door first, by about a good two seconds. She flew in behind him, mouth dry, body throbbing, so ready.
Jude caught her, yanking her close and crushing his lips to hers. Her back rapped against the wall and her mouth opened wider.
His cock pushed against her belly. Long and thick and just what she wanted.
No, he was what she wanted.
She grabbed the front of his shirt, jerked, and heard the pop of buttons.
He didn’t lift his head. Didn’t look horrified. No, he growled against her, and caught her skirt in his fist.
Her hands slid over his chest. Hot flesh. Strong man.
The skirt was bunched at her hips now and she knew her panties weren’t going to last long, not when he got his claws on them.
But she didn’t just want to be taken. She wanted to take. The tiger was about to see just how wild she could get.
The fingers that had curled to caress now flattened and she pushed against him, hard enough to make him stumble back.
“Erin? What the hell?”
She caught his arms and spun them around so that he was the one pinned. And she smiled. “Let’s see how much you can handle.” Power pulsed through her. The kind she’d never really felt before because she’d had to be so careful.