So did he, most of the time.

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“I want to come with you.”

He froze, hand poised above the door knob. Hell. Hadn’t she seen enough at Delaney’s? Much more and—

She wouldn’t want him near her. Wouldn’t want him touching her. Kissing her. Taking her.

Wouldn’t want him in the same room, much less the same bed.

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Not when she saw just what he could become.

Had become, so long ago.

No, no, I won’t lose control again.

There was more to this world than blood and screams and claws and death.

There was—

“Jude?”

Her.

“You don’t need to see”— what I do—“the bastards out there. Where I’m going would be hell to most humans.” He always knew just how to get to hell.

Like to like.

“I’m not human.”

He glanced back at her. She’d risen from the bed and put her shoes on again. Her lips were pale and plump.

“I can handle a few interrogations.” Her smile was twisted. “I’ve seen my share, you know.”

No, she hadn’t. Not his way.

But he didn’t want to leave her in the hotel. Didn’t want her to be alone, not with that freak out there.

Freak—and what am I?

So fucking be it. “When the blood starts pouring, just stand back, got me? Don’t interfere and don’t try to stop me.”

Her eyes widened. “What are you—”

“I’ll do what has to be done.” Always did. “No innocents will be hurt.” His one rule. “Just…stand back, okay?” Don’t try to stop me.

And, hell…don’t fear me.

He wouldn’t cross the line. Hadn’t, in years.

Because the one time he had lost control, the beast had run wild.

The guy was looking for a hooker.

Erin sat beside Jude, her lips pressed together, as he cruised down the strip she’d never visited.

Oh, she knew this particular strip was there. It just hadn’t been on her list of places to visit in Lillian.

“Uh…can we go over this plan again?” Because the fist in her stomach told her this was a bad idea. Very bad.

Searching for a hooker with her lover. Um, not really her thing.

But Jude didn’t even seem to be listening to her. His gaze was on a blonde. A woman with long hair, the shortest skirt Erin had ever seen, and legs clad in fishnet stockings.

Fishnets? Seriously? She’d thought that was just some kind of really lame-ass stereotype, but no, the lady was strutting in her fishnets.

The blonde led the guy with the thinning hair—the guy who’d just hurried out of his car and run to her—into the mouth of the nearby alley.

Jude shoved open his door.

“What are you doing? Jude—”

“She’s feeding. Come on!”

Feeding? Was that really the right word for it? Erin unhooked her seatbelt and bolted after him. Her stupid shoes didn’t make for the easiest of runs, but she kept up with him, snaking across the street and into the alley that reeked with the stench of garbage and sewage and hell knew what else and—

And the john was on the ground, head twisted to the side. The blonde was over him, her mouth working on his neck even as her fingers shoved into the front of his jeans.

Erin’s head jerked to the right. She really didn’t need to see this scene. Watching others screw wasn’t her idea of a good time.

“So what, drinking from the idiot isn’t enough? You’re robbing him, too?”

Now that had her gaze flying back toward the couple on the ground.

The blonde’s head snapped up and she glared at them with—was that blood dripping down her chin?

The guy on the ground gave a weak moan and whispered. “Don’t…stop…don’t—”

“Get out of here!” the woman screamed, her barely covered breasts heaving. Erin noticed that the hooker had the guy’s wallet in her right hand. Ah. So that was what she’d been looking for in his pants.

Jude took a step forward and a rat raced across the alley.

Not my kind of place. Erin braced her legs apart and tried to look like she wasn’t in the middle of hell.

The woman swiped her hand over the back of her mouth, leaving a red swatch on her chin. “Unless you’re a cop, you ain’t got no business—”

Jude growled. A low, menacing rumble that wasn’t human. Not even close.

The woman rocked back, eyes widening. “Wh-wh—”

“Don’t stop!” A fierce cry from the man. His eyes were open, but he didn’t seem to be staring at anything. Erin wasn’t even sure he’d noticed them.

The woman’s lips peeled back, and Erin caught sight of her teeth.

Fangs.

Vampire?

The hooker shifted, moving like a snake on the ground as she sized them up and put her prey between them.

Her eyes—why hadn’t Erin noticed the woman’s eyes before? They were black. A vamp in hunting mode.

Erin’s breath jerked out. She’d only ever seen two vampires— okay, three now—in her life. The assholes she’d seen before had done nothing to make her like the bloodsuckers, or even to have vague semi-warm feelings for them.

The first guy had jumped her in a park when she’d been in New Orleans. Her first week in the city. She’d broken his nose, possibly given him a concussion, then she’d run like hell.

And she’d run right into another vamp. The two had been some kind of sick team. Caging in their prey.

They’d picked the wrong prey.

That guy had gotten tossed ten feet. By the time he’d gotten up, she’d been gone.

But Erin had never forgotten their eyes or the stench of death that clung to them like a second skin.

“Come closer, and I’ll kill him,” the blonde grated, lifting her claws over the man’s throat.

Erin believed her. One swipe would be all that was needed to cut open his jugular and—

Jude lunged forward. He grabbed the man’s arm and jerked him away from the vamp in a lightning fast move. The vamp’s claws raked across the john’s neck and shoulders, drawing blood and eliciting screams from him.

Jude snapped, “Shut the hell up!” Then he shoved the guy away from him and away from the rising vampire.

The man’s eyes were finally open and aware. He raised a trembling hand to his throat and touched the trickling blood. His saucer-sized eyes stared first at Jude, then the vamp. After a few stunned seconds, he turned and ran.

“Now what are you gonna do?” Jude put his hands on his hips and sized up the vampire. “’Cause I doubt you’re gonna be able to take me.” Erin saw that his claws were out. “But, just for fun, why don’t you come and try?”

Well, damn.

So much for using the victim.

The vamp’s chin lifted and her eyes narrowed. “You know how hard it is to find a donor in this city? One who likes the bite?”

A donor. Nice way of putting it.

“Do I look like I give a shit?” Jude demanded. “Besides, I get the feeling you don’t care if your donors are willing or not.”

A smile from the vamp. One that probably would have been pretty, if the woman hadn’t been flashing bloodstained fangs.

“No, I don’t.” Then her gaze shot to Erin.

Hell.

That toothy grin widened. “Hello, there.”

Jude’s hands flew up, and those claws were wicked sharp. “I don’t have much use for vamps, so let’s make this short.”

“Umm…and I don’t have much use for shifters.” Her gaze was still on Erin. “Even those who bring me pretty presents.”

Pretty what? Presents? And why had the blood ho been looking at her when she said that?

“She’s not for you.” Jude moved a bit to the right, putting himself between Erin and the vamp.

“Oh?” The woman’s voice was low, taunting. “And I’m to think she’s for you? Humans don’t go for shifters. Everyone knows that. They hate the beasts in you.”

Jude just shook his head. “I don’t have time for this shit.” He flew toward her. Seriously seemed to fly although Erin knew he had to have jumped or—or something. His hand locked around the vampire’s throat, and he lifted her up into the air. Her feet kicked out at him, her claws ripped at the flesh on his arms, but he didn’t even flinch. “I need information.”

She stilled, her claws buried in his arms. “And I need you”—she spat at him—“to get the fuck off my street!”

His fingers tightened.

She laughed. “Can’t…kill me…this way.” Her voice was hushed, broken, but her lips were still twisted in a smile.

Erin stepped forward. No, this wasn’t what she wanted, there had to be—

Jude lifted the vamp higher, then threw her back.

“Jude!”

The vamp twisted in midair, and landed easily, too easily on her feet. Then she charged, running fast for her prey.

Not Jude.

Me.

Jude snarled and reached for the vamp, but she struck out, swiping her claws over his chest and arms and sliding right through his grasp. She came toward Erin, laughing, mouth wide, fangs bared, eyes too dark and—

Erin punched her as hard as she could, right in the face, aiming for that wide, gaping mouth and those freakishly long fangs.

There was a crunch, then a crack, and something flew to the ground.

Then the vampire fell backwards, hard.

Before she could rise, Jude was there, crouched over her, his claws at her throat. “Never said she was human,” he murmured.

The vamp stared at Erin in horror. There was more blood on the vamp’s mouth now. No, more blood coming from her mouth.

Erin glanced down at the broken cement. What was that? Was it a—

“My tooth!” At least, that’s what Erin thought the vampire said. It was a bit hard to understand her.

“It’s not like it won’t grow back.” Jude’s voice was mild.

The vamp heaved against him, but his hold was unbreakable. Erin glanced around the alley, then back at them, worried someone else would come by.

“But your head, now that’s a different matter.” His smile sent a shiver through Erin. “That won’t be growing back once it’s cut off. And if you don’t answer my questions, fast, well, I’ll just have to start using my claws.”

Erin tensed. He could do it. The surefire way to kill a vamp was to take off the head. A tiger’s claws could cut through bone and muscle so easily.

No. They hadn’t come to kill. Just to get information.

I don’t hurt innocents. His words drifted through her mind. No way could the vamp count as innocent.

How long had she been in the city? Taking her donors—willing and not? How long?

And I never knew.

No, she hadn’t wanted to know. She’d been working her cases, taking down the humans who broke the law, thinking she was safe in her little town. Far away from the Other.

She’d been so wrong. Dead wrong.

“I’m looking for a wolf shifter.”

The vamp froze beneath him.

Her eyes gave her away instantly.

“You know where the wolf is, don’t you?” His claws broke the skin of her neck, just a bit. Blood welled.

“You…don’t want to…find the wolf.” The vamp pulled her head back, trying to ease away from those claws. “Kill…you.”

“Yeah, well, don’t worry about me. I think I’ll be just fine.” He leaned in a bit closer. “While you—you’re gonna find it real hard to keep bloodsucking without a head.”

That would be a challenge. Erin cleared her throat. “Jude…” She wasn’t going to let him do this. Couldn’t let him.

“My rules, Erin, remember?” He didn’t glance her way. The air in the alley was thick and hot and sweat trickled down her back.

“Mort’s Bar! S-seen the wolf…last Saturday.”

Mort’s Bar. Erin’s breath rushed out. She knew the place. The owner, Jacques, was old-school Cajun. And Mort…that meant death.

“Guess you get to keep your head.” Jude rose slowly, keeping his eyes trained on the woman.

“Asshole!” She scrambled to her feet. Her hand rose to her mouth and she touched the hole that had been her right fang.

“Bitch!”

Erin stared back at her. The blood ho had been trying to attack her. Defending herself had been the only option.

“I hope the wolf…rips you apart!” Screamed at them. Then she was gone, bounding toward the back of the alley.

Disappearing into the shadows.

Erin finally took a deep breath and tasted shit.

She choked back her gag.

“Come on,” Jude ordered. “Let’s get out of here.”

Yes, that sounded like a great plan to her.

Jude slammed the door to the motel room. He threw the lock and waited for Erin to pounce.

But she didn’t pounce. Didn’t glance his way. Didn’t speak.

Same routine she’d had in the car.

Hell, I let the vamp live. Shouldn’t that count for something?

“Erin.”

She jumped. Jumped. She’d been the one to knock the vamp’s tooth out, and, he was pretty sure she’d broken the blonde’s jaw.

The lady had a killer right hook.

He’d remember that.

“I—it’s late.” Said without looking at him. But, yeah, it was late.

Hitting close to three a.m. late. It had taken him forever to find a working girl he thought might be a vamp.

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