A choked laugh broke from her. “Wasn’t really a question of stamina. More like the problem of them freaking out when I got too, um—”
Yes, to both.
“Don’t worry. I like wild and I like rough.” His index finger tapped on the wheel. “But I think you already know that.”
This drive was going to be hell.
“Just so you know…I can also do slow.”
She gulped. Damn dry throat.
“I can do easy. Thrusting as light as you want, kissing and stroking the whole night long.”
Her clothes were too thick. Or maybe the truck’s cab was too hot because she was sure starting to sweat.
“Whatever you want, I can give you.”
Didn’t she know it.
“But, Erin, you’ve got to trust me.”
Easier said than done.
And Jude knew it.
She crossed her legs, fought to ignore the growing tension in her body, and stared out her window at the pine trees.
The silence in the car wasn’t comfortable and it wasn’t easy.
Just like her relationship with Jude.
Loose ends were a bitch.
He paced down the shining white hospital corridor, the green scrubs rustling softly as he walked.
If Lee Givens had been an accommodating bastard, he would have already been dead. But no, he was still alive. Still fighting to survive as he clung to life.
There was no reason for that piece of garbage to keep living.
A woman brushed by him, pretty, but scrawny. Her thin arms were around a kid, some little freckle-faced brat who had thick tears sliding down his cheeks.
“It’s gonna be okay, Tommy,” she whispered, clutching the boy. “It’s gonna be—”
He rounded the corner and caught sight of the room he wanted. 409.
But a guard stood outside. What the hell? He stumbled to a stop. Why was a cop there?
Loose ends were a bitch.
He’d learned that back in Lillian when one of those loose ends had tried to confront him one night. Better to just cut them off before they could do any harm.
Givens hadn’t seen his face. Well, he didn’t think the lawyer had. The road had been dark. Too dark for a human to see, surely and—
“Something I can help you with?” The drawling voice came from behind him and was followed by a tap on his shoulder.
One that was a little too hard.
He spun around, his clipboard up and ready. “Uh, what—” He let his eyes widen, then narrow as he studied the man before him.
A Night Watch hunter. He’d seen the guy with Donovan. Tall, dark, with eyes that seemed too sharp for a human’s.
Probably because the guy wasn’t.
His nostrils flared, just a bit, as he caught the hunter’s scent. Not shifter.
But that still left at least a dozen Other possibilities.
He forced a smile. “Just making my rounds.” He shifted the clipboard, a light move to draw attention to it.
“Room 409 isn’t on your rounds, Doctor”—the green gaze dropped to his nametag—“Walters.”
Smug jerk. “No.” He bit back the rage and kept his voice flat. “But room 407 is.” And he was standing right in front of that door then. “So if you’ll excuse me—ah, sorry, who are you?”
“I’m one of the babysitters for room 409.” A grim smile. “Since you don’t know my patient, there’s no need to know me.”
Ripping him apart would be fun. One fast swipe with his claws. He could slash the jerk’s throat. Let the blood spray and soak the too-white tiles and walls. Or he could cut down the guy’s chest. Catch the bastard’s heart and tear it out.
So many choices.
The hunter inclined his head and sauntered toward the waiting cop.
Two guards. Too much attention. The lawyer would have to wait.
A loose end he’d get—sooner or later.
The hunter glanced back at him, eyes narrowed.
With a curt nod, he hurried into room 407. The patient, an elderly man with a white mane of hair, glanced up at his approach. “Fuck. Another one of you assholes?”
Really, it was the wrong thing to say. Because his day was already pretty shitty.
“I’m tired of you pricks coming in here! I’m tired of everybody poking and prodding me. I’m eighty-seven. You can’t fix me. I’m just gonna die.”
Sooner than the jerk realized. He shoved his hand into his pocket. Felt the capped syringe he’d prepared especially for Givens. No sense in letting all that preparation go to waste. He’d known he wouldn’t be able to attack with claws and teeth on this one. Though he sure did prefer to kill that way.
So he’d bribed a nurse. Gotten exactly what he needed for a fast, clean kill.
“Why don’t you just take your overpaid, arrogant ass right back out of my room!”
He smiled and headed toward his patient. Some people really didn’t do much for the world. He stopped at the foot of the bed and glanced at the patient’s chart. “Tell me, Mr. Pope, have you had a good life?”
“What the hell kind of question is that? No, asshole, I haven’t. I got my knee blasted in the war, stupid bitch of a wife sent me to jail for ten years, the cancer fucking ate me up when I got out, and now I have to look at your sorry ass!”
No, some people really didn’t do much for the world. “Don’t worry, sir, you’ll be leaving the hospital soon.”
“The hell I will! I heard them other assholes! I’ll only be leaving in a body bag!”
He uncapped the syringe. This wouldn’t hurt. That was the only downside. He rather liked to watch pain and blood.
Hmmm…no blood. Another downside. But it would be fast. And the doctors and nurses would run in, so worried about this patient that they wouldn’t even notice him slipping out.
And a kill would really improve his day.
Not one for Erin this time. Just for him.
It had been so long since the kills had been for him alone.
He rounded the bed. “Just relax, Mr. Pope, this will only take a few seconds of your time.”
The old man gave a grim nod. “Fine, just hurry the hell up.”
They reached Lillian just after lunch. Jude didn’t drive to a motel first, good thing that because she probably would have jumped him. Instead, he took them straight to the police station.
Erin licked her lips as she stared up at the gleaming doors of the Lillian PD. The place was less than half the size of Baton Rouge’s department. It was a fat, square building, one surrounded by police cruisers and motorcycles.
She’d spent hours there before, grilling cops, talking to suspects and perps.
Coming back was bittersweet.
Erin climbed the steps with her head up.
Jude shadowed her. “We need to find out if there were any more attacks after you left town.”
“I didn’t tell a lot of folks I was leaving,” she said, as the doors drew closer. “I didn’t want everyone to know—”
“Because you didn’t trust them.”
She didn’t trust anyone. “I still don’t.” Her clothes were wrinkled, courtesy of the long ride and she hadn’t bothered with makeup that morning—there hadn’t been time—so Erin knew she probably looked like hell.
Not the perfectly pressed ADA image she’d worked so hard to maintain.
Her shoulders straightened. “Only one person knew I was up for the job in Baton Rouge. I wanted to keep it as quiet as possible. The bastard after me seemed to know too much.”
“He still does.” Jude reached for the door and closed his tanned fingers over the gleaming handle. “We’re gonna be seeing the one who knew about your transfer after we leave the station.”
Yeah, they were. Seeing the DA again was one of the reasons she’d wanted to come along. She’d worked hard to disappear. The stalker shouldn’t have found her. Unless someone had told him about her plans.
“Hey, Jerome!” A bellow loud enough to shake her bones. A cop, a tall, skeletally thin black man with faint gray in his hair, jumped up from behind the check-in desk. “You finally brought your butt back home!”
She smiled at him. “Hi, Pat.” Patrick Ramsey. Patrick one-more-year-til-I’m-out-give-me-a-desk Ramsey. The guy had taken four bullets in his career. Tossed hundreds of perps into the pen, and he’d once told her he couldn’t wait for the day he got to kiss the badge good-bye and go lay on a Mexican beach.
He shot around the desk. Pretty fast for a guy whose knee had been blasted two years ago. He wrapped her in a hug that squeezed her bones. He’d always been so much stronger than he looked. “What the hell? You didn’t even tell old Pat good-bye!
That tightass DA had to give me the news.”
She tried to breathe. Quick, shallow breaths. That was all she could manage right then.
He dropped his hold.
She sucked in a deep gulp of air. “Sorry, Pat, I-I had some personal things I had to—”
“Personal, huh?” He fired an assessing glance back at Jude. “Guess he’s to blame?”
Her jaw dropped.
But Jude gave a nod. “Guess I am.”
Pat sized him up. “You look like a cop.”
Pat’s raised brows called him a liar.
“Bounty hunter.” Jude pulled out his ID. Pat never glanced at it. “Erin’s helping me on a case.”
“You?” He stared down at her and then gave a nod. “Always said the law was too tame for you.”
Too tame. Pat had always been good at seeing below the surface. That was one of the reasons he’d done such good undercover work back in the day. She smiled but the motion of her lips felt too fake. “I need a favor.”
A shrug. “Figure I owe you a few of those.”
Yeah, he did. And she was sure glad he’d been the first cop she saw. Maybe fate was trying to throw her a bone.
But, ah, now for the delicate part. “I need to check some case files. We’re after a guy, a real bad asshole, and I need to see if his MO matches up with any unsolved crimes here.”
Pat scratched his chin. “That’s a bit dicey.”
She stared up at him. “I need this. You know me, I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important.”
His gaze held hers. Then he smiled and looked ten years younger. “What the hell. I’m down to days here now and it’s not like the bastards are gonna fire me for letting the ex-ADA review some of her old files, right? Besides, Ben isn’t here now. Gone on vacation. So it’ll be all right with the other guys in the—”
Ben isn’t here.
Erin exhaled. One less worry. Because she’d sure been dreading seeing her ex-lover.
She still wasn’t sure what to say to him. How to explain…
Her head jerked. “Uh, thanks, Pat.” She pointed toward the stairwell. “This way, Jude.” Vince would be on duty. He was always on the day shift. He’d run the search for her, and they’d see what turned up.
The door slammed behind Jude, echoing hollowly. “Who is Ben?”
Her right foot came down too hard on the step.
“I saw your face when the cop mentioned him.” A pause. “He’s…something to you.”
She turned to face him, slowly. “You caught any other shifter scents while you’ve been in the station?”
His brow wrinkled.
“Didn’t think so.” Her arms crossed. “You won’t. The city’s too small. Full of humans. Humans like Detective Ben Greer.
Humans who don’t realize what’s really happening in this world.”
“Ah…like that, is it?” But there was still something in his eyes and in the lines bracketing his mouth. Anger.
“The bastard after me—he shot Ben.” Her left foot was tapping. With an effort, she managed to still its fast beat. “Cops on the scene thought it was a robbery gone wrong, but I knew it wasn’t. The bastard left me one of his notes.”
Always the damn notes.
“This Ben—you were seeing him, weren’t you?”
Seeing him. Hoping to live a normal life with him. Even thinking about the brick house and the stupid picket fence with him.
“I was, until I realized that being with me wasn’t safe for him.” Not safe for many guys. But it had been easier with Ben. He’d been a good lover. She’d held tight to her control with him. So tight. He’d always been patient, and if he sensed she’d held back, he hadn’t said anything.
Jude caged her with his body. The stairs put them at eye level. “I’m not real worried about being safe.” His gaze searched hers.
Her stomach knotted. “Maybe you should be. You know this guy could set his sights on you, too.”
The tiger’s smile. “That’s what I’m counting on, sweetheart. That’s what I’m counting on.”
And why he had kissed her so hard and deep back at her house. Thought I heard something. “You’re playing a dangerous game.”
He shrugged. “I know the rules and the risks—and I’ve always liked to play.”
Yeah, she just bet he did.
His hand lifted and cupped her cheek. “Something I need to know, though.”
His touch jolted her. Callused fingers should never have been so gentle. And his claws, just waiting below the surface. I can do soft and easy. “Wh-what’s that?”
“You carrying a torch for the cop?”
The grated question had her mind going blank.