A nod. “Yeah, yeah. I-I was working three other cases at the same time, but the Trent case was the one eating me alive.”
Echoes of frustration. Anger.
Dee tapped her chin. “He found you on that case.” Her gaze drifted to Jude as she eased into her chair and leaned back.
Like the lady didn’t have a care. “Jude, I’d lay odds that if you went to that city, used your usual finesse, you’d be able find him through that case.”
The beast inside jerked on his leash. Hunt. “Oh, I’m sure I can finesse my way in Lillian.” Finesse had to be slang for biting and clawing his way to some answers. His shoulders rolled. “Looks like I’ll be taking a road trip.”
“You mean we will.” Erin’s determined voice.
Dee’s eyes widened. “Uh, civilians don’t normally go on hunts.”
Erin flashed her perfect smile, then punched down at Dee’s desk. Her claws plunged into the wood. “Not your normal civilian.”
“Dammit! ” The human glared at them, hands fisted on her hips. “New desk, Donovan, got that? I expect a new freaking desk! I will go to Pak with this, don’t think I won’t!”
Erin’s dainty hand lifted. The claws were gone. Nice control. “I’m going with you,” she told him.
Despite the little show she’d just given, he shook his head. Claws really weren’t going to do the trick on this one. “No.”
“I’m paying you. I go.”
He braced his legs apart and stared her down. “Twice before, I’ve had clients bitch to ride shotgun with me. The first guy wound up with two broken arms and a concussion.”
“’Cause hunts aren’t for civilians,” Dee chimed in.
Erin’s gaze didn’t waver.
“The second guy,” Jude continued, “died on me.”
Her lips parted.
“Lucky for him, I managed to bring the asshole back.” But for that five minutes when the guy had lain lifeless, Jude had been nervous as all hell. A dead client didn’t pay.
“’Cause hunts aren’t for civilians,” the too-helpful Dee said again.
Erin’s nostrils flared. “I’m tired of standing on the sidelines and being afraid. Things are changing for me, now. I know that city. I’ve got connections that you don’t. I can help you.”
“You can get killed.” And if she slipped away from him, well, nervous as all hell, really wouldn’t be how he’d be describing the—
“And if I stay here, without you, what’s to say the bastard won’t make a try for me?”
“If he comes, I’ll be by your side.” Zane sauntered in, halting close to the now ravaged desk.
“Hell, no.” Erin’s hair whipped as she shook her head. “Not an option.”
“Look, I can explain about yesterday.”
“Not an option.” Her hand lifted toward him, palm flat. “And it’s not because of that bullshit yesterday. It’s because you can’t handle this guy.”
“Shot down,” Dee murmured and it looked like she was biting back a grin.
And Zane looked insulted. “The day I can’t handle a shifter is the day you can—”
“He’s a wolf.”
“—throw my ass in the grave. What? A wolf shifter? ” Not fear in his voice. More like shock.
Dee whistled. “I am so jealous. You get all the good kills, Jude.”
He slanted her a quick glance. The lady needed some therapy.
“What’s your power scale, demon?” Erin asked and her voice was loud. It seemed like the gloves were definitely off now.
Jude figured it was a good thing the office was pretty much deserted. Most of the agents were out on their own hunts.
Choking out a laugh, Dee shook her head. “You can’t ask a demon that. I mean, it’s like asking a man the size of his di—”
“High damn enough!” Zane cut through, face reddening.
But Erin’s lips curved down. “Doubt it. If the stories are true, a wolf shifter can take down a level ten demon. Are you really up for that?”
“Hell, yeah, I—”
“I’m going with Jude.” Her steely words sliced through the air. “So all this doesn’t really matter. My life, my choice.” Her eyes had begun to glow.
Jude stared down at her. Weighing. Deciding. “I can’t risk your safety.”
“If you leave me here, you risk my safety.”
“That’s not—” Zane began hotly.
Erin flashed him a feral stare. He shut up.
“You take me, you risk me.” A shrug. “Guess it’s one of those lose-lose situations.”
Those were real bitches.
“It’s my life,” she said again. “And I am sick of running and sick of blood. It’s time to go back. Escaping didn’t work.
Trust me, I can see that now.” She licked her lips. “He won’t stop until I stop him.”
“Or until you’re dead.” A piss-poor comment from Dee.
Jude glared at her. Like fuck that would happen.
Erin’s chin lifted. “If I have to, I’ll just follow you to Lillian. But I am going.”
“Uh, don’t you have a job?” Zane asked. “Cases to prosecute?”
“I’m off until Monday.” She waited until Jude looked back at her and asked, “So what’s it gonna be, tiger? You taking me?”
Again and again, sweetheart. He bit back the words and sucked in a sharp breath. “You go, you follow my rules.”
“Ah, hell, fool number three riding shotgun.” Dee squeezed her eyes shut. “Can no one trust professionals these days?”
He ignored her. “At the first sign of trouble, you back the hell off and let me handle things.”
Mistake. Oh, this was such a mistake, but—
But if he left her behind, he’d worry about her every second. Because the truth was that Jude could all but feel the bastard’s eyes on them.
Poor fucked up Lee Givens—the guy still hadn’t woken up yet. He was in the ICU, with a guard stationed at his side, courtesy of Tony’s pull. Erin had called to check on him first thing that morning, but there had been no improvement.
The docs thought it was a miracle he was still breathing. Well, breathing with the help of all those beeping and buzzing machines.
The guy out there after Erin didn’t play around. Vicious, twisted, and quick to kill.
Not exactly a dream date.
No, leaving Erin in Baton Rouge, even with Zane for protection, wasn’t an option he liked.
So that just left…shotgun.
Jude gave a grudging nod. Dammit.
The tiger brought her back. Fucking finally. His body tensed when he saw the familiar pickup truck. Then Erin appeared, midnight hair shining, and the two of them hurried toward her house.
The shifter’s hand pressed against her back right before they disappeared inside.
A familiar gesture. Too familiar.
He waited, barely glancing at the truck. He’d already marked the license down. He’d done that days before.
Less than five minutes later, the shifter was back at the door. The hunter glanced down the drive with narrowed eyes. He held a suitcase in one hand, the other hand was intertwined with Erin’s.
They hurried out. Erin climbed into the passenger seat. The shifter hesitated. Looked around. Seemed to stare right at him.
Then the tiger smiled.
He leaned back inside the truck, caught the back of Erin’s head, and kissed her.
A snarl broke from his lips and the tiger jerked up, gaze sweeping past the azaleas.
He shoved back the fury, nearly choking on the rage.
Erin’s slender hand reached up and touched the shifter’s chest. “Jude, what is it?”
Her voice drifted to him on the wind. So sweet and husky. Sexy.
And saying another man’s name.
You’re next, bastard. You’ll beg.
The tiger’s fingers closed around hers. “Thought I heard a damned dog,” he said, voice loud.
Too loud. Deliberate that.
So the cat wanted to play.
The fool didn’t understand who he was going up against. The tiger was big, tough, and deadly in his own right, but he didn’t understand a hybrid’s strength.
His mistake. One that would be fatal.
The tiger shifter tossed her suitcase in the bed of the truck, then took his time stalking around the back of the vehicle.
The urge to attack, to rip and kill and smell the sweet scent of death, had his blood heating in his veins.
But he wasn’t stupid. He knew how to hunt. And when to hunt.
Too many witnesses. Too many neighbors out and too many cars buzzing on the street.
For this hunt, this kill, he wanted to take his time and enjoy the moment.
Because after this, there would be no more games. The chase would finally be over and Erin would be his.
He just had to kill the cat first.
The bigger they were, the louder they screamed.
And Erin would scream too. She’d have to be taught a lesson. He’d enjoyed the games. They roused his appetite, but her playing with the cat hadn’t been part of the deal.
The truck drove past him. So close.
He glanced down, surprised to see that his claws were out and embedded in his palms. Blood dripped onto the ground.
The blood was dark on the dirt. Fat blobs that spread over the grainy surface.
He looked back up just as the tiger turned the corner.
Where are you running to now, mate?
Didn’t matter. Wherever she went, he would find her.
That was the way he played the game.
“Okay.” Erin turned away from the traffic and focused on the sharp lines of Jude’s profile. “What was all that about back at the house?”
His fingers were at a perfect ten and two position on the wheel. He didn’t glance her way, but the truck accelerated, and weaved in and out of traffic as he flew through the intersection. “Thought I heard something.”
“Something,” she repeated quietly, “or someone?”
She caught the curl of his lip. “What do you think, sweetheart?”
“I think baiting the asshole out there might not be our smartest move, and I think that next time, you better let me know your plans.” Because being in the dark sucked, and if she was going up against the wolf, she wanted to know everything.
“Got it.” A quick glance her way. “But, for the record, I kissed you because I wanted to do it. Because you’ve got the sexiest mouth I’ve ever seen, and because I wanted to taste you.”
“Ah…okay.” Erin reached out and fiddled with the air conditioning vent because she was suddenly feeling a little warm.
“Fair enough.” His mouth had sure given her plenty of fantasies. It was the scar—scars weren’t sexy, she knew that. Well, they weren’t supposed to be sexy, but his…
Damn. It was his mouth. The man sure knew how to use those lips.
And his tongue. He was very, very good at using his tongue and—
“Your breathing’s changed on me, Erin.” She caught the flare of his nostrils. “And your scent…”
Shifters. She couldn’t quite get used to being around another shifter again. The rules were so different. The whole polite society thing was thrown right out the window. Her legs stretched. Yeah, her scent had changed, and she figured the guy probably had caught the smell of her arousal. No point playing a game with him. “I want you, Jude.” There. That sounded confident and tough and like she didn’t give a crap if he knew that her panties were getting a bit…wet.
Just from thinking about the guy and the things he could do with his mouth.
“Oh, baby.” He accelerated as the pickup zoomed off the ramp and onto the interstate. “You know how to make me suffer, don’t you?”
No, she didn’t.
“Just so you know, we’re getting one room when we get to Lillian.” Gruff words, hard with a lust she couldn’t miss.
Her hand reached out, trailed up his thigh and she felt the strong clench of his muscles. “So I have to wait until then, huh?”
A couple of hours. Shouldn’t be too bad.
Her fingers rose just a bit more and traced the swollen length of his cock. Maybe she could—
Jude caught her hand. He tangled his fingers with hers. “Unless you want me plowing into the semi in front of us, yeah, you have to wait.”
Her gaze shot to the windshield and she saw the lumbering big rig.
He rubbed the back of her hand over the ridge of his cock in a rough caress. “But don’t worry, I’ll make it worth the wait.”
She cleared her throat. “You’d better.” Because going home was hard. There were too many secrets there. Too much pain. Being with Jude, touching him, taking the pleasure from his body would help her pull through.
She tugged her hand back. After a slight hesitation, he let her go. Erin settled into her seat and tried not to look at his crotch. Maybe she’d sleep. If she could stop thinking about him. Maybe she’d—
“Gonna tell me about the ‘down and dirty’ Erin?”
She winced. Oh, but she’d known this would come. Her eyes closed. “You’ve already met her. Not much to tell.”
Her left eye opened. Then the right.
“Playing with humans, were you?” He shook his head. “You’ll find those males don’t always have the stamina you need.”