But she’d never gotten settled, and he’d never seen her again.
He glanced away from Erin’s eyes. Had to. “A Feral attacked her human. She jumped in to try and save him—and the Feral killed them both.”
Jude heard the swift inhalation of her breath. He didn’t look back at her. Not yet. This screwed-up story, on top of the hell that bastard was putting her through—
Oh, yeah, she’ll be running. Moving that sweet ass as fast as she can, dammit.
But she deserved the truth from him. Especially if the beast inside was right.
“When my dad found out, he broke.” No other word for it. His father had shattered before him. “Blamed himself. He thought if he’d just been able to make my mother love him, she would have lived.”
“You can’t make someone love you.”
No, you couldn’t. His father had even told him those same words the night his mother left to join the human, but the grief had wrecked his mind.
His father loved his mother so much that when she slipped from the world, he’d seemed to slip away, too. “He went after the Feral.”
Her hands reached for his. She unfurled the fingers he’d clenched. Lightly traced the marks made by his growing claws.
Jude took a breath and caught her scent. He closed his eyes. “He never made it back from the hunt.”
His grief had made him weak, and the Feral had been too strong.
Too heavy. Too thick.
His father had been too consumed with rage and grief.
And his old man had left him alone. With the same rage and grief gnawing at his soul.
An image of those twin boys flashed before him. When he’d seen those boys tonight, he’d seen himself.
“When’s Mom coming back?” Stupid. He’d been twelve. He knew about death. Fucking knew. But he’d asked and asked Grandpa Joe. “Where’s Dad? ”
Asked and asked.
And broken when his parents never came home and he saw those coffins days later. His mother’s wooden coffin had been covered with red roses.
Because she’d loved red roses, too. Just like Erin.
Just like Erin.
“How old were you?”
He flinched at her voice. “Twelve.”
“Where did you go?”
Not the questions he’d anticipated. “My grandpa Joe—my mom’s dad—took me in.” Grandpa Joe had been his anchor, and when he’d finally let loose his own grief and rage, his grandpa had been there.
“What—what happened to the Feral?”
This was the part Jude dreaded. His eyes were on her hands. So delicate next to his. “When I turned twenty-one, Grandpa Joe died.” There’d been no one to hold him back then. No one to grieve, in case he failed. “The next day, I started hunting.”
And he hadn’t stopped until he’d found his prey. “I hunted the bastard down and I ripped out his throat.” The blood had been hot on his tongue. The tiger had been so very thirsty. “I found out I was good at hunting.” At killing. Too good.
“That’s why you ended up with Night Watch.”
His gaze lifted to her face. “Yeah. Pak heard about me. I’d shoved my way deep into the Other world.” It had taken months, but he’d tracked the bastard. “Pak offered me a job.” An outlet for the rage the guy had still seen brewing beneath his surface.
“Why’d you take the job?”
Huh. Again, not the question he’d thought she’d have. “Because the tiger’s always been fighting his leash and hunting satisfies him.” Me.
She didn’t speak. Was she afraid now? Did she think he was a twisted freak like that asshole after her?
A revenge kill. Yeah, not something nice and orderly. Not something the good guy was supposed to do.
But he’d never told her he was good. There were dark places in him. So damn dark.
That’s why he was so good at his job. It was easy to hunt the sick freaks when you could think like them.
“Don’t be afraid of me.” The words were ripped from him. They came out as a demand, instead of the plea they should have been. “I swear, Erin, I’m not like the asshole out there. I would never, never hurt you.”
He turned away. Jumped from the bed. “I-I’ll—” What? What was he going to do? He couldn’t leave her, not with that prick out there. He couldn’t—
“Why did you tell me this?”
His head jerked back toward her. She’d risen from the bed and was walking toward him. “Because I wanted only truth between us. You deserved to know.” She’d taken him into her body so sweetly. Given him so much.
Trust—he’d given it to her.
She knew his darkest secret now. His darkest shame.
The next move was hers.
She stopped in front of him. Her hand lifted and stroked his cheek. Then her arms wrapped around him, and she held him close.
And he held her tighter than he’d ever held anything in his life.
The bastard was in the motel with her. Touching her. Kissing her. Taking her.
Did Erin really think that cat would keep her safe?
Or was this to punish him? Was she angry with him? Hadn’t he shown her how much he cared for her?
That he’d do anything for her?
She’d gone to the Trent house. He knew it. She’d seen those kids.
Did she know what he’d done? For her. Always.
Maybe she’d wanted that kill for herself. Maybe that’s why she was with the hunter. She was angry—
No, no, he couldn’t have that.
She had to understand that the kill had been for her.
He yanked out his cell phone. Punched in the numbers for 911. Yes, yes, this was the easiest route. They’d report his call, but they wouldn’t be able to trace him. Not with a disposable cell like the one he’d picked up hours before.
The call was answered on the second ring.
“911. What is the nature of your emergency?”
“Tell Detective Benjamin Greer that he can find Donald Trent’s body buried in the woods behind Trent’s mother-in-law’s place.”
“What? Wh—who is this?”
He pressed the small button on the cell, ending the call.
When Erin found out exactly what he’d done, she’d appreciate him again. After all, he’d returned Donald to his boys. To his family.
“For you,” he whispered, and turned away from the hotel window.
The next day, Jude worked beside Erin, digging into case files she’d snagged from her old office. Good thing the DA was slow as hell about reassigning cases and cleaning up paperwork.
They were in the old Lillian government building, home of the District Attorney’s office, and the files were spread around them. Jude still thought there was a link to the crimes somewhere but she—
She didn’t know what was happening.
Erin snuck a glance at him. Last night, he’d pulled away after his confession. She’d tried to reach out to him, but, she’d hesitated.
Because his story had scared her. To know that he could kill so easily. Had killed so easily.
Two men in her life. One who swore she was his mate—and he was killing for her.
The other man— her lover—with a past bloodier than her own.
But at least Jude wasn’t claiming to be her mate.
What should she say? She knew he wouldn’t hurt her. Maybe she should just start with that. As for the darkness inside him—
Like to like.
Who the hell was she to judge?
“Erin Jerome? ”
The deep voice, rich with surprise, had her tensing.
Jude shot to his feet and turned to face the door.
A man stood there, tall, with broad shoulders, his black hair graying just a hint at the temples. He wore a gray suit, not his usual long, black enveloping judge’s robe.
Because they weren’t in court. Because it was a Saturday and they were in the bowels of the pit and I sure didn’t expect to see—“Judge Harper?”
He smiled at her, but then flashed a worried glance Jude’s way. “Ah, I…didn’t realize you were back with us.”
She stepped forward. “I’m not. Just finishing up some old business.” True enough.
Judge Lance Harper. The judge with a reputation for playing with the ladies. The judge with three ex-wives. The judge with the giant house on Blakely Road.
The judge who’d let Donald Trent walk.
He was the judge she and a half dozen cops suspected was on the take. Because Harper let too many criminals walk from his court.
Too many bastards like Trent.
His handsome face turned solemn. “If you’re reviewing your files, then you know about…Sylvia.”
Her eyes narrowed. What was that? Regret? Did the guy feel guilty about what had happened?
She sure did. “Yes, I know.”
“Pity.” He sounded like he meant it. Where had his pity been when he’d let Trent walk? “I remember she had those two boys…”
Jude straightened his shoulders. He had at least three inches on the judge and a good forty pounds. “The boys are being taken care of.”
Harper blinked. “I’m sorry. Are you the new ADA?”
“No.” A growl. His gaze raked the older man. Harper was in his early fifties but the guy could have passed for forty. All those gym memberships she’d heard about.
Brown eyes narrowed. “Then who are you?”
Erin grabbed Jude’s hand. “He’s with me.” That was really all the judge needed to know.
Arrogant ass. She’d always hated going into his court. She’d made a point of wearing her longest skirts and her most concealing blouses.
Hot Harper might have been a favorite with some of the other female lawyers, but no way had she ever wanted to be considered for wife position number four.
“Ah…I see.” Harper blinked. “Does Cartwright know you’re down here?”
District Attorney Kent Cartwright. “Yes. He knows.” Kent had been the one to help her get the job in Baton Rouge. He’d also been the guy Jude grilled for half an hour that morning. Kent swore he hadn’t told anyone where she went, and Erin was inclined to believe him. His responses had been too genuine.
“And why are you down here, Judge?” The demand came from Jude, but it was a question also on the tip of Erin’s tongue.
Being in the basement was on par with slumming for Harper.
And on a Saturday?
His lips thinned. “I was…planning to meet an associate here. To discuss a private matter.”
Oh, yes. Right. Ten to one odds said the associate was a female.
A most likely married female if they were meeting in the basement, far away from prying eyes.
“Erin!” Cartwright’s sharp voice. He shouldered into the room, casting a quick, somewhat bemused stare at Harper. “Erin, I just got a call from the PD, thought you’d want to know…”
Not good. Couldn’t be good.
“A tip came in last night.” The tiny room was too crowded. “The caller said he knew where Donald Trent’s body was buried.”
The air seemed to leave her body in a hard rush.
Her eyes locked on Cartwright. The DA was just a few years older than she was. He had a politician’s open face. Light brown hair. Worried blue eyes.
Good old Kent. He hadn’t given her secrets away. No, not him.
“Where?” The question was soft.
His lips thinned. “According to the tapes from 911…the body is in the woods behind Katherine LaShaun’s place.”
She slammed the files closed. Jude was already moving, shoving past the other two men. Clearing her way.
He was real good at clearing the way.
Erin hurried into the hall. Rounded a sharp corner behind Jude and—
Smacked right into Lacy Davis. A clerk in the DA’s office. Friendly, flirty, married Lacy.
The woman grunted and stumbled. “Erin?” Her eyes, dark green, widened. “When did you get back in town?” Her gaze drifted over Erin’s shoulders and a red flush stained her cheeks. “J-Judge H-Harper, what are you doing here? I thought you’d—”
She did not have time for this. Jude stood next to the elevator, holding the doors open and waiting for her. Great. “Got to go, Lacy, we’ll catch up”—not really, they’d never been close—“later.”
She hurried forward, heart racing. Donald Trent’s body? Oh, hell.
“Not so fast, Jerome.”
Kent’s voice. The hard and sharp tone that he usually just delivered in court.
She glanced back at him. She saw the judge reach for Lacy’s hand. He leaned in close and murmured something to her.
Erin’s jaw locked and she gritted, “Kent, if they found his body—”
He slanted a quick glance over at the judge, then stalked to her side. “You don’t work for me anymore,” he said, softer now. Probably so the judge wouldn’t overhear. Like that guy was paying them any attention now. “You can’t go storming onto a crime scene.”
“But it was my case.” Still was, if he only knew what was really happening.
“Was,” he threw back at her. “It’s just mine now.” His shoulders straightened. “I always liked you, Erin.” A gentleness in his eyes. Flashed there so briefly. “You’re tough, smart, but my favors for you end here. You don’t work for me anymore,” he said again. “And I can’t let you interfere with an investigation.”
Hell. The damn thing was—he was right. No way should she be at a crime scene. But she needed to be at this one.