“Not at first sight, it can take time to—”
“He said I was his mate.” Her hand rose between them. Flattened over his heart. “A wolf shifter only gets one true mate.”
“And for him, seems like I’m…it.”
“The hell you are.” He lifted her up, bringing her to eye level and letting her toes dangle in the air.
Erin blinked. “Uh, Jude…”
“Get the idea out of your head, got me? Just ’cause some fucked up psycho thinks he’s your mate—hell, screw that! You don’t belong to him.”
“And the asshole sure won’t be living long enough to ever claim you.”
Well, that was—
He kissed her. Hard and deep and her toes curled and her heart raced and she held on to him and she hoped.
Let him be right.
Because being the perfect mate for that freak—no, even God didn’t hate her that much.
Her lips parted and his tongue swept inside. He still wanted her. He didn’t care about the wolf so it was okay and she could tell him—
He broke the kiss and muttered, “Wolves are insane. Everybody knows that.”
Her heart thudded to a stop.
“If they’re in a pack, they follow their alpha like blind dogs,” Jude continued.
Not always. Some packs were family, strong and—
“And if the bastard is Lone, well, shit, that means even the pack didn’t want him. And if pack doesn’t want you, then you’re fucking screwed,” Jude said.
She shoved against him.
A quick step back. “I need to shower.” She grabbed the sheet, right before it started a fast slither down her body.
Her cheeks iced, then burned. Her right hand clenched, holding the sheet close to her chest.
“Erin—what is it? What did—”
But she shook her head and skirted around him. About six more steps and then she’d be in the bathroom. Just six more.
“It’s been a hell of a night. I just need to take a hot shower.” To wash away the memories.
She pushed open the bathroom door.
“Let me come in with you.”
No. Not now. Too close to breaking. Erin cleared her throat. “Maybe next time, tiger.” Then she was inside, kicking the door shut behind her.
And turning the lock. Not that the flimsy lock would do much good if Jude wanted inside.
The soft creak of the floorboards reached her ears. Coming this way.
The sheet fell to the floor and she put both hands on either side of the sink, holding tight.
“Erin…” He sounded hesitant. Maybe even worried. “What happened, it doesn’t change you.”
No, it didn’t. Nothing would change her.
“You don’t have to hide from me.”
She stared at her reflection, seeing the eyes that held their own golden glow. The cheeks that had hollowed, the teeth that had lengthened.
Her claws dug into the undersides of the sink. “I’ll be out soon, okay?”
More hesitation. She could feel it.
Then that soft creak again. He was moving away now.
Her breath flooded out.
If the pack doesn’t want you, then you’re fucking screwed.
Yeah, she was.
Because she was a Lone wolf, one fighting to survive. She had a psychotic mate on her trail, and a lover who apparently hated her kind.
Jude stared at the closed bathroom door, his fists clenched. He could hear the roar of the shower, so trying to speak to Erin then was not really an option.
She’d locked him out. No mistaking the soft snick of the lock.
He could get inside, no problem. A quick shove against the door and he’d be in that small room with her, the steam from the shower around them. He could join her in the shower stall. Take her into his arms and let the spray pour over their bodies.
If she thought her story about that asshole had changed the desire that he felt for her, well, she was dead wrong.
Her story had just shown how tough she was, how determined to survive. A woman with that much strength was damn sexy.
Nothing would make him stop wanting her.
But he turned away from the door. If Erin wanted space, he’d give it to her. At this rate, hell, he’d pretty much give her anything she wanted.
The bastard out there would pay. He’d see to it. A wolf. There had been whispers and rumors about the wolves for years.
They kept to themselves, always locking tight in their packs. Very, very rarely did they mate with non-wolf shifters. The wolves fought dirty, they fought hard, and they generally fought to the death. It was their way.
He hadn’t been kidding when he’d talked about the Lones. The wolves out there who either turned their back on the pack or who had the pack turn on them were the badasses the Other kept away from, if they were smart. Because some of the wolves had been known to become absolutely freaking insane.
When you were crazy, with the full strength of a wolf shifter, folks were smart if they avoided you.
Jude liked to think he was a smart guy. Not genius, nah, but smart enough. But he wasn’t gonna be avoiding that wolf. He was going after him, and he would take the bastard down.
The dog had better get ready to do some running of his own.
The hunt was on.
“Hey, Jude!” Dee’s yell caught him the minute he stepped inside the Night Watch office. “I was wondering when you’d be dragging your sorry butt in here.” She flashed him a grin, then bent low over her desk as she dove into a pile of paperwork. “I’ve been digging up your girl’s past, and man, she had quite a reputation.”
Jude cleared his throat.
Dee’s head popped up, a furrow between her golden brows. “What? You got—”
He stepped to the side.
He saw Erin flash one hell of a sharp, toothy grin at the other woman.
“—something caught in your throat?” Dee finished. “Ah.” Now it was her turn to make a weird-ass gurgle in her throat.
“Um, I’m guessing you’re the new ADA, huh?” Dee didn’t flush. Come to think of it, he’d never seen her cheeks redden. But her eyes did narrow as she fired an assessing glance over Erin.
“Guess you’re right,” Erin murmured, her fingers tightening around her purse strap. “The woman with the reputation.”
Dee blinked and pasted what Jude knew to be a false smile on her face as she pointed to the left. “There’s a waiting room for clients down that way. You can just go take a seat while I brief Jude on—”
“My life?” Erin shook her head and took a step forward. “Thanks, but I think I’d rather hear this.”
Dee glanced at him. Jude shrugged. He didn’t know what to expect from Dee’s reports. She’d been on the computer, with her hacker buddy Jasper, for the last twenty-four hours. If there’d been secrets to uncover, she would have found them all.
So what kind of reputation did his little hybrid have?
He stepped toward Dee’s desk. There was no sign of Zane, for now, and he figured that was probably a good thing. His associates sure seemed to be making friends right and left with Erin.
“Asshole,” Dee whispered when he got close to her. Her skin looked even paler today. The lady must be getting too much night hunting. If she didn’t watch it, she’d start to look like the vamps she tracked. “You knew I didn’t realize she was there. Hell, I’m not you, I can’t smell a person from thirty feet away.”
“So you were digging in my past.” Erin’s smooth voice cut across Dee’s furious snap. She paused next to the smaller woman. Dee’s skin seemed too white next to Erin’s burnished gold. “What did you find?”
Dee’s eyes narrowed on him. A look that promised she’d get her payback. Then she grabbed the leaning pile of paperwork. “I found out that you can be a pretty tough bitch.”
Erin’s expression didn’t alter.
“So can I,” Dee said, flashing a real smile. “So I tend to respect that.”
The mask cracked on Erin’s face for a moment as confusion flashed through.
“There were some stories about you getting a bit rough with some guys back in high school and college.”
Her golden gaze shot to Jude’s.
“Nothing too bad. One guy had a sprained wrist, the other mild lacerations.”
Erin winced at that. “I can explain those.”
Dee waved her hand in the air. “You’re Other. You like to play rough.” Her hand stopped the wave and her index finger pointed at Erin’s chest. “You stopped playing with the humans, though, when you realized you could hurt them.”
“Did I?” Erin asked quietly.
No, she hadn’t. Jude knew she’d just learned to play better. Holding the beast back. Not a lot of fun in that for their kind.
Especially not during sex.
Shifters were wild for a reason.
Dee’s head cocked to the right. “I don’t know. Maybe you just learned how to play better. But either way, there weren’t any more stories about the down and dirty Erin after you hit twenty-one.”
The down and dirty Erin? Jude tensed.
“You graduated from Tulane—both for your undergrad work and your JD—with honors. I figure you must have hooked up with some of the paranormals while you were in New Orleans. Always happens in the bigger cities. Guessing they didn’t care about you being a bit out of control in the bedroom, or they showed you how to control yourself.”
Erin gave a nod at that and Jude had to wonder—which option was she agreeing to? And why the hell did the idea of Erin with other men make his jaw clench, his heart race and—
“Dude, get your claws out of my desk.” Dee’s pissed voice. “This desk is new! I don’t want you marking it the way you idiots always mark everything you want.”
He jerked his claws from the wood. “Sorry.” Hell, he’d have to repair her desk. He hadn’t meant—
“Shifters do have a habit of marking things that don’t belong to them.” Erin seemed way too calm when she said that. “A flaw in genetics, I think.”
“I’m not like him, sweetheart.” The words rasped out before he could stop them. Not that he would have stopped them.
She’d put an icy wall between them since last night. He was tired of the distance and more than ready to knock that wall apart.
He wasn’t like that asshole. Erin should know that by now.
Her eyes held his. So beautiful. “No, you’re not.”
Was that a thaw? Was she going to open back up to him? Last night had been heavy for her, he knew it, but he sure didn’t want her turning from him now.
No, now, she was supposed to turn to him.
“Uh, yeah, great. Whatever this is”—Dee’s hands fluttered between them—“keep it in the bedroom, okay? I haven’t been laid in two months and all this weird-ass tension in the air is making me jealous.”
Now Erin did smile, a slow stretch of her lips.
Jude’s heart kicked into his ribs.
“Ease up, Romeo.” Dee’s elbow rammed into his chest. “Back to business.”
“After law school, you did some work in different parishes. A few years later, you settled in Lillian. Started working for the DA’s office and got the reputation for being the bitch who went after the monsters.” A fast glance at Jude. “Not your kind.
Rapists, domestic abusers. Those pigs that make me want to deliver a bit of my own abuse.”
“Dee, we’ve talked about your eye-for-eye punishments before,” he murmured.
“Yeah, we talked about how they work. ”
Phones rang in the background. Jude caught Zane’s voice, the guy was talking to Pak. “Cut through the crap. Did you find anything we can use on this guy?”
Dee’s mouth tightened, just a bit, and her focus shifted back to Erin. “I found out you were working the biggest case of your career and all of a sudden, you seemed to lose your nerve.”
“What? I sure as hell didn’t. I’ve never lost—”
“Two missed court appearances. Five late arrivals. You didn’t have your witnesses ready, and when it came time to step up to the plate in the Trent case, you struck out.”
Dee could be a vicious fighter, one who went right for the jugular when a person least expected it.
Jude lifted his hand toward Erin because the lady looked—
“You don’t know me,” she snapped at Dee. “You get on your computer and you sneak around and you think you’re looking into someone’s life and you’re learning about them. Well, you’re wrong. I worked my ass off on that case. I did everything I could, but Trent had an in with Judge Harper. Court times kept changing, with no notice to me. Witnesses vanished, and even though I did my damned job, that bastard walked.”
Dee didn’t back down. He’d never seen the woman back down. “And when you were in the middle of this case, fighting to get that abuser locked up, that freak out there made first contact, didn’t he?”
“What?” Erin shook her head.
“I saw his pattern. The attacks on the people around you. When someone hurt you, pissed you off, or just got in your face, he attacked. This case was the deal breaker. You were fighting on your own, getting knocked around by the judge and the defense attorney—and that guy out there made his move…on you.”
Jude wrapped his fingers around Erin’s shoulder. “Is this when he made first contact?” Dee was the best research agent he’d ever met, and the best attacker he’d ever seen in a bar fight.