His eyes narrowed. “I won’t be a stand-in, not for any damn one.”
As if he could ever be. No, Jude was too strong, too dominant, for something like that. “I wanted to be with Ben.”
Wanted to fit in. To be loved. “But—”
“But what?” His thumb brushed over her mouth. Her eyes closed at that touch and heat streaked through her.
“But I knew, even before the attack, that we weren’t going to make it.” She’d broken it off with him just days before the attack, but the bastard out there had still gone after him. Her eyes opened and she found Jude watching her with a predatory stare. “Ben had no clue about me.” She swallowed. “Our relationship wasn’t fair to him or to me. So I ended it.” He’d wanted her to be someone that she wasn’t. Someone that she could never be.
“You got regrets about him?”
“Some.” She’d be honest about that. “But what we had is over.”
He flashed his fangs. “Good.”
His mouth crashed onto hers.
Her hands flattened against his chest. Not normal—she wasn’t, he wasn’t.
But she was still pretending, dammit.
Jude would have to learn the truth about her sooner or later.
Maybe later…much later.
His breath panted when he raised his head. “Now let’s go see what we can find out about the bastard.”
Jude realized right away that the cops liked her. Respected her. It was in their eyes. On their faces. They opened their offices to her. Broke rules that they shouldn’t have and they did it for her.
Jude and Erin poured over files. Searched databases. They looked for clues in the crimes that might have been overlooked.
Links that weren’t noticed.
They found jackshit.
At six o’clock that night, Jude leaned back in his chair, rubbing his eyes and stretching his back. As far as they could tell, the attacks by Erin’s stalker had ended as soon as she left town.
The precinct had been a dead end for them.
Time to try his way.
“Here you go.” A slim female cop with a long braid of red hair tossed a file onto the already overflowing desk. “Last info on the Trent case. Shame about the wife…”
“What?” Erin’s brows snapped together. “What are you talking about, Wendy? What happened to the wife?”
“Ah…” Wendy shifted from her right foot to the left. “Thought you’d heard. Sylvia was the vic in a hit and run. The kids were with the grandmother at the time. Sylvia had just gone out for some groceries. She was walking across the street, headed back to her car when she got hit. Such a shame.”
Erin grabbed the file and began flipping through the notes. “Yeah, it sure as hell is.”
Jude waited until the cop shut the door, then asked, “Did you know her well?” She’d paled at the news of the woman’s death. Her breath had caught.
She glanced up at him. “Donald Trent spent five years beating his wife whenever he wanted. I wanted to put the bastard away, but Sylvia recanted on the stand.” A hard exhalation of air. “She had twins, two little boys, real cute kids.” She licked her lips. “But the boys would jump anytime a door slammed or a voice was raised.”
His hands clenched. Through Night Watch, he’d seen kids, human and Other, with shadows in their eyes—and it always pissed him off to know where those shadows came from. Whenever he could, he tried to make that fear go away.
“She didn’t want him back.” Erin was definite on that. “She had a new life going. She’d moved in with her mother. Filed for divorce. But he got to her. I know he did. Threatened her or the kids, and she changed her story so that he could walk.” Her gaze fell to the folder. “Now she’s dead.”
And the kids would grow up without a mother and with a piss-poor excuse for a father.
“She’s dead and”—her brow furrowed—“and the kids are living with her mother because”—she glanced back up at him—“because Donald Trent has been missing for the last two months.”
Well, well. The trip to the PD might be paying off, after all. They’d already figured the stalking began with the Trent case.
Maybe because the stalking had come from the asshole Trent? “You ever get a sense this guy was more than human?”
“I got a sense the jerk was less than human.”
He reached for the file. Scanned the details available about Donald Trent. Age: forty-five. Height: Six-foot-three. Weight: one ninety. An ex-football player who’d busted his knee the first year in college. He’d bounced around after that, gotten into bar fights, racked up a few restraining orders from former girlfriends.
The guy liked to play rough. And he liked to hurt his ladies.
“You ever see any sign of this guy in Baton Rouge?”
A shake of her head. “You think Trent could be the one after me?”
Maybe. One way to find out. “Let’s go see the grandmother.”
“Because old Trent might have been able to hide his shifter scent, but he left his kids behind. They won’t be so skilled at cloaking without dad around.”
“I’ve been around the boys, I never noticed—”
“You said he might have been taking herbs to hide his scent.” He’d heard of that before. Even used some herbs himself once on a case. “Could be he was feeding the kids the same herbs he was taking.” He wouldn’t overlook any possibility. “But with him gone…”
Their systems would be clean.
Erin grabbed her bag. “Let’s go.”
With him gone, no one would have been around to pump the kids up, and if they were hybrids, he’d know it on sight.
Or rather, on scent.
“They don’t talk about their father. They never ask about him.” Katherine LaShaun brushed away a stray lock of gray hair that had escaped from the bun at her neck. “It’s Sylvia they talk about. They keep asking when she’s coming home.”
Erin glanced into the kitchen where the two boys were sitting at the table, pushing bright race cars back and forth. Jude stood over them, talking and smiling.
One of the boys—she’d never been able to tell Jake and Joseph apart—gave a loud laugh and revved his car.
“I’m glad the bastard is gone, and I hope he never comes back. These boys, they’re mine. I know what he did to my Sylvia. He’s not gonna get the chance to hurt my boys, too.”
No, he wouldn’t. “You’re going to call that lawyer, right?” Erin had written down the name and number of the best child custody lawyer she knew. She’d given the slip of paper to Katherine. Just in case, just in case, Trent showed up again, she wanted to make sure Katherine and the boys were protected. Permanently.
Katherine gave a grim nod. “I just—I don’t have much money.”
“Don’t worry about it. Larry does a lot of pro bono work.” Larry Myers. He didn’t handle many cases anymore, but she’d call him and tell him this one was important. His semi-retirement was built for cases like this.
“You sure I can trust him?”
“Yes.” Larry had been the lawyer her father used all those years ago, when she’d first appeared on his doorstep.
Is she coming back? The question had been hers, as she watched her mother’s taillights disappear into the darkness.
Her father—a stranger—had pulled her close. “I hope to God not.”
Erin glanced back at the boys. She’d looked for her mother for so many days after that. Years. But her mother never came back.
Erin blinked, clearing vision gone foggy. Kids always got to her. They were so vulnerable. Too easily hurt.
“You okay?” Jude stood in front of her, eyes seeing too much.
Great. Just what she wanted. Him to see her as some kind of emotional wreck. “Fine. We should go. The boys need to eat their supper.”
“Right.” He offered his hand to Katherine. “Pleasure, ma’am.”
She gave him a weak smile, and her gaze drifted back to her grandchildren.
Moments later, they were out of the house. Back in the heat and the darkness.
Erin waited until they were in Jude’s truck, then asked, “Well?”
He shook his head. “Didn’t catch a trace of shifter on ’em. You?”
“No.” So much for that theory. But if Donald Trent wasn’t the shifter after her—
“Trent pissed you off. Beat his wife. Was a general asshole who made the world a hell of a lot worse by living in it.” He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel and glanced her way. “You went toe-to-toe with this guy in a courtroom.”
Yes, she had. He’d threatened her. Screamed at her. Even had to be restrained by his lawyer once.
“Can’t help but think…the last guy who went after you in court wound up left for dead.”
She knew where this was going, dammit.
“Sure does make me wonder—if Trent isn’t the perp, maybe he’s the victim.”
And in that case, Donald Trent wouldn’t be making an appearance in that town again.
Another present? Hell.
And what about Sylvia? Had she been some twisted gift, too? She and Sylvia had fought that last day in court. In the hallway, where she’d thought they were away from prying eyes.
“Why, Sylvia? Why the hell are you doing this? He’ll walk, and he’ll come after you.”
“I don’t have a choice!” Sylvia had screamed at her. “My life, not yours! You don’t understand, you don’t know—”
Her forehead fell against the glass of the window.
An image of the two boys flashed before her eyes.
Damn you, bastard—stop!
The motel room was small. The bed was big. And Erin was close.
He’d never been good at resisting temptation, but, this time, he was gonna have to fucking try.
Jude clenched his back teeth and tried not to notice the way her breasts stretched the front of her blouse, urging the buttons to pop loose.
He’d been trying not to notice and so had all those cops at the precinct.
Seeing the other men eyeing his lady…well, his beast had been ready to attack.
“What’s the next move?” she asked, kicking off her pumps and making her way to the bed.
The next move? Stripping her, spreading her out over that bed, driving deep and hard inside her sex.
Jude cleared his throat and glanced up at the ceiling. A job. The job came first.
Hell, she was the job. And as much as his dick would like to lead him around on this case, he had to focus.
And keep her safe.
“You’re going to sleep, and I’m going to find out just what kind of paranormals rule this town.”
The mattress squeaked when she sat down. “What? Jude, I told you, there aren’t any supernaturals—”
“Ah, sweetheart, you’re not the only Other here.” Sure, the paranormals loved the big cities, but there were just too many of their kind. If you looked, you could find paranormals just about everywhere, and he knew there had to be more Other in this city—more vampires, shifters, demons.
To find them, you just needed to know exactly where to look.
“You were at the station with me, you saw the cops—”
“Yeah, none of ’em were shifters.” Wouldn’t have been vamps either. He’d never met a vamp cop. Vamps couldn’t usually hold day jobs. They just weren’t cut out for it. They were stronger at night, so most of them just stayed shut in when the sun was up.
There could have been some demons on the force, though. Maybe one or two, but without Zane there to spot his own kind, Jude wouldn’t see them.
“I worked with those cops for years.” She shook her head. Her dark hair gleamed. “I never saw anything that made me think they weren’t humans.”
He shrugged. “Maybe they were all human, but, see, the problem is, you’re looking at this situation all wrong.”
She blinked and a furrow appeared between her brows. “Uh, I am?”
“Yeah.” That top button would be popping soon. Hell, he could use one claw and have it off in less than a second. Then he could see those perfect breasts, with the pink nipples that were so sweet.
He looked back up at her eyes. “You were looking for a supernatural to help you. In a town this size, you’ve got to realize, not all paranormals will be the good guys.”
“So I found out.”
Right. “I’m not gonna look for the good guys tonight.” Hunting the bastards was always easier. “I’m gonna go out, rattle some cages, break open some coffins, and see what the hell shakes loose.”
“You—you really think you can come into this town, knowing nothing about the place, and find Other? ”
He flashed her a smile. “One of my talents, sweetheart.” It was all in knowing where to look. He hadn’t worked his way up the food chain at Night Watch by not knowing his cesspools.
Walking on the dark side was old hat to him. He knew, better than most, just how deadly the beast inside could be.
White tigers…rare. So very rare. Because they had an unfortunate reputation and an appetite for death. Other people’s.
Erin didn’t know that about the tigers. If she did, she would be running away from him as fast as she could.
And she thought a wolf was bad.
“Stay here,” he ordered, turning away. “I’ll be back before dawn.” Not much use hunting in the daylight. The creatures he wanted lived by darkness.