“Who is the detective on this?” Jude asked.
“Ben Greer. He’s coming in early to handle things.” Kent’s stare bored into her. “You know he’ll do this right.”
Yes, and she also knew he wouldn’t let her anywhere near the case, either. Erin gave a grudging nod.
Then the DA brushed by her. He caught the elevator Jude had kept for her and vanished behind the heavy metal doors.
Erin looked over her shoulder. The judge and Lacy were gone. They’d probably ducked into one of the rooms for a
“They won’t have anything for hours anyway,” Jude said. “The cops will have to search the woods with dogs.”
He was right.
“Then it’ll take ’em time to dig up the body.”
Her eyes closed. “What will it do to the boys?” They’d already been through enough.
A brief hesitation, then, “Call Katherine. Tell her to get the boys out of there—and to keep ‘em out until this mess is over.”
Erin’s lashes lifted. “But that’s against protocol—” She stopped. She didn’t work for the Lillian DA any more. He’d just said so himself.
“Call her,” Jude repeated, eyes intense. “Tell her to get the boys the hell out of there.”
The cops would be on their way over to her place now. There wouldn’t be much time.
“They don’t need to see their old man’s body dug up.”
No, and they didn’t need their only safe haven turned into hell right in front of their eyes.
Screw protocol. Not her case? Fuck it. Those boys were hers. She snatched out her cell phone. Dialed the number she’d memorized yesterday. When a woman’s soft voice answered, she said, “Katherine, it’s Erin Jerome. We don’t have much time, and I need you to listen carefully…”
A line of motorcycles blocked the entrance to Mort’s Bar. Pickups snaked and twisted, filling up the parking lot, and the blare of country music trembled in the air.
Erin slammed the door of Jude’s truck and stared at the bar. Night had fallen, bathing the city in darkness. The thick darkness hid the sagging sides and the dipping roof of Mort’s.
She’d been in this bar once before. A blind date that had gone to hell very fast.
Not her kind of place. Too loud. Too drunk. Too many men with free hands.
Gravel crunched beneath Jude’s shoes. She glanced at him when he rounded the front of the vehicle. “You think the vamp was telling the truth?” The guys in this place tended to run more toward the “good old boys” and not the paranormal predators.
Though she sure knew those good old boys could be predators, too.
“She was.” He sounded absolutely certain.
Erin raised a brow.
“She knows if she lied, I’ll just come back for her.” A barring of his fangs. Damn, he already had his fangs out. This wasn’t going to be a good night. “And if I do that, I won’t be so nice.”
Right. Because he’d been all goodness and light during that first showdown.
Her eyes darted back to the entrance. Smoke drifted lazily from the front door. Not a fire, just a shitload of folks with cigarettes, cigars, and who knew what else inside. Her hands balled into fists. “No sense standing around here all night. Let’s go.”
They started forward together. A loud wolf whistle split the air, and Jude froze. His gaze immediately tracked to the left, to the two men sitting on the back of a gray pickup truck. His growl vibrated in the air. “Don’t make me come over there and kick the shit out of you.”
The men jumped up and hurriedly ran into the shadows. Erin figured they weren’t in the mood to lose their shit.
Jude spared her a glance. “I don’t have time for assholes.”
“Neither do I.” But she smiled. Because Jude made her feel…aw, hell, he just made her feel.
A burly bouncer blocked the bar’s door. “Twenty bucks.” He didn’t look up from his comic book.
Jude tossed him the cash and sauntered inside.
As soon as she crossed the threshold, the smoke got five times thicker. It flooded her nostrils, seeming to burn her nasal passages. What was that? Not cigarettes. This was stronger. Almost like incense but—
“Got us someone smart in here,” Jude whispered, reaching for her hand and pulling her close as he surveyed the crowd.
“Bastard’s blocking all the scents with the kymine.”
“What? Ky-kymine? What’s—”
“A scent that fucks up a shifter’s nose, that’s what.” His eyes swept the crowd again. “Vamps in the west came up with it a few years back. They use it to even up the hunting field.”
Erin felt like she had to sneeze. She rubbed her nose, trying to stop the itch.
“Won’t do you any good.” He glanced up at the air vents. “Bet they’re pumping it in from there.”
Great. “So…they knew we were coming?” Not a good thought. Hell, she didn’t even know who “they” were. The good old boys? The not so good old boys?
She inched a bit closer to Jude and felt the sting of her claws as they began to stretch beneath her skin. If they were in for a fight, she wanted to be ready. “You think the vamp sold us out?”
“Could be.” He didn’t sound particularly concerned. “Or maybe this isn’t for us.”
“If the bastard has been hunting here, the kymine could be for him.” A man in an oversized cowboy hat and his giggling girlfriend staggered past them. “It’d explain how the vamp knew he was here.”
Yes, it would. Erin breathed slowly through her mouth. If she didn’t use her nose, didn’t move it at all, she’d be fine.
“So what do we do next?”
“Well…” He steered her away from the door. So much for not moving. Jude didn’t stop advancing until his back was against the wall and he had a good view of the crowd. “We can march up to the bar and announce that we’re here for the wolf.”
She eyed the bar. It was surrounded by men with thick stomachs and big arms, and the women with them—short skirts and give-em-hell grins.
How would that conversation go? Hi. We’re looking for a werewolf. Um, no. “What else can we do?”
He turned to her. Winked. “Got a little voyeur in you?”
“I can’t hunt in here, and neither can he. But outside…that’s fair game.” He pointed to an exit in the back. A rounded ceiling led the way to darkness. A couple, kissing, groping, headed for the thick door.
Voyeur. “Watching’s not so much my thing.” But she had a feeling choice wasn’t going to be a big option right then. “I’m more for doing.”
His teeth were a brilliant white flash. “I’ll remember that.”
Then he stalked toward the back exit.
And she followed him.
The kymine was driving him crazy. Jude shoved open the back door and sucked in a sharp breath of clean air.
Vampires. One day, he’d pay them back for the kymine. That crap was being sent all over the U.S., funneled by the undead freaks.
Sometimes, he really hated vamps.
“Jude? You okay?” Erin’s voice. He glanced back at her. She hadn’t been hit as hard. He’d noticed that right off. So he hadn’t told her that the kymine was blistering the inside of his nostrils. Hadn’t told her that if they hadn’t gotten the hell out of that stinking bar, blood would have started pouring from his nose in another two minutes.
But now that they were out, he’d start healing. Unfortunately, even for the strong shifters, it took some time to get kymine out of the system.
Admitting weakness with so many others around hadn’t been an option. Better to just suck up the pain and move on.
Story of his life.
Whispers floated to his ears.
“Jude?” A thread of worry thickened her voice. “Are you sure you’re—” “
“I’m fine,” he muttered.
But her brows were drawn low and she crept closer to him. “You don’t look so good.”
The door swung shut behind her.
Moans teased his ears. Pants. The couple he’d followed outside were already busy. Judging by the man’s groans, they sure seemed to be having one great time in the dark.
“I’m fine,” he said again and turned away to scan the thicket of woods around the bar. The perfect place for sex. Groping in the dark. Fucking in the wild.
The man and woman were completely oblivious to everything but their need. Great prey for a wolf, one who wouldn’t have to bother going inside the bar— damn hole in the wall—and dealing with the kymine.
The vamp hadn’t told him about the kymine. Probably because she’d been the one to sell it to the bar owner. No wonder she’d known about the wolf.
This really was the perfect place to hunt. Pity he wouldn’t be able to smell the beast coming. It would take at least an hour for the kymine’s side effects to clear up, but if the wolf came hunting, he’d be able to hear the bastard.
The door squeaked behind him. He reached for Erin, pulling her into his arms and dipping his head toward her mouth.
They’d pass for a lust-driven couple. Hell, he was lust driven around her and—
Click-click. Fuck. He knew that sound.
The unmistakable cock of a shotgun.
Jude froze. His lips hovered over Erin’s, close enough to taste the sweetness of her breath and the sudden fear on her tongue.
“Move away from her! Do it, freak! ”
His fangs burned as they lengthened even more in his mouth. His claws ripped through his skin.
“I’m fuckin’ tired of yer kind comin’ here, screwin’ with my bar!”
Slowly, Jude dropped his hands and moved his body a few precious inches from Erin’s. He kept himself between her and the asshole with the shotgun.
He turned his head and found himself staring down the double-barrel.
A short, gnarled old man with tufts of greasy gray hair had a white-knuckled grip on the gun. His finger looked all too ready to pull that trigger.
“Get away from him, girl!”
Jude tried to figure out his next move. He was fast, but that shotgun was close.
He blinked. Erin’s voice had been too calm. Didn’t the woman see the gun?
The old guy’s face scrunched. “Girl, I’m savin’ yer life! Knew what he was soon as I saw his face. Bastard couldn’t take that gas.”
Ah, so he had this gun-toting jerk to thank for the kymine.
The jerk spat a wad of tobacco on the ground. “Get away from him. He’ll rip ya apart!”
“The hell I will,” Jude snapped and got ready to rip that little gnome apart.
“I’m not a girl.” Her fingers curled around Jude’s shoulder. He looked down, saw her claws and knew when the gnome whispered, “Shit” that he had, too.
But the hold on the gun never wavered. The gnome just shrugged and said, “Then I’ll blow both yer asses away. No fuckin’ werewolves are comin’ in my bar and wreckin’—”
“We’re not werewolves,” Jude said quickly. He could take the gun, but what if the gnome got off a shot and it hit Erin? He didn’t know how fast she could heal.
Or if she could heal like a shifter.
No. No way could he risk her.
“The fuck ye say. I see them claws!”
Yeah, and the guy didn’t look like he was real interested in learning about all the differences between shifters. No, the fellow looked like he was only interested in firing that big-ass gun.
“Sorry, sweetheart,” Jude said to Erin and meant it. Odds were good this would hurt her.
But not hurt as bad as a shotgun blast.
The gnome’s finger tightened around the trigger.
Jude shoved Erin away—shoved hard. Her body flew into the air.
He grabbed for the gun just as the deafening blast blew the hell out of his ears.
Fire scorched his right side. Sonofabitch.
He caught the smoking barrels and wrenched the gun from the old man’s hands.
The guy whimpered.
Jude glared at him, all too aware of the blood trickling down his side. He didn’t even want to look at that wound. “Now you’ve pissed me off,” he snarled, the words sounding distorted to him, thanks to the ringing in both ears. “You have no idea who you’re messing with.”
The man’s eyes widened. Fear had his face going slack.
“Yeah, yeah, now you’re getting the picture.” He threw the gun aside. The day he’d ever choose a gun over claws, well, that was a day that hadn’t ever come for him.
The gnome scrambled back, his fingers clawing at the door.
Ignoring the pain, Jude lurched forward. He caught the little bastard around the neck and lifted him high into the air.
“You’re not going anywhere.” His side hurt. “Erin?”
A muffled groan. He jerked around and saw her pushing up onto her knees. She tossed back her hair, glaring at him. “You could have just said ‘duck.’”
Duck or fuck? He couldn’t tell for sure because his hearing was still screwy, but since they had an audience he’d go for duck.
Jude shook his head. Ducking hadn’t been good enough. He’d needed her clear and safe.
“Oh, hell, Jude!” He saw her lips form the horrified words. Erin jumped to her feet. Raced to him. “You’re bleeding!”