Yeah, she’d wanted to see the scene, too. But she hadn’t been allowed on sight.
Harper’s eyes darted to Jude, then back to her. “Erin, can we talk, privately?”
“No.” The instant answer came from Jude and from Erin.
Harper’s lips thinned and he dragged a shaking hand through his already tousled hair. “You and Greer have to understand.
Trent’s death wasn’t my fault.”
Oh, what? Was it hers?
“The wife recanted, she—”
“Even without her testimony, there was more than enough evidence to convict.” Flat, cold. “We both know that Trent was abusing her. The guy was guilty as the devil, and we had the chance to stop him.” But he’d walked.
Then, well, died.
“We did.” The judge rocked back on his heels, and for a moment, he didn’t look as strong or as fit as he’d appeared in the past. He looked…tired. “I guess he’s stopped now, though, isn’t he?”
“I guess he is,” Jude said, voice like a cool breeze.
Death had a nice way of stopping folks.
Harper flinched. “I didn’t know this would happen. I just—I just made the only judgment I could.”
Erin didn’t know what to say to the judge. After a moment, he turned away from her and shuffled back to his car.
Erin watched him, aware of Jude’s strong presence at her back. Harper felt guilty. She could see it, feel it. Guilty enough to seek her out.
And he’d come—to what? Neither one of them could go back and change the past. Too many ifs in the world. If he’d convicted Trent…if she’d worked harder to prove the bastard’s guilt…if Sylvia hadn’t faltered…
You couldn’t go back.
The judge knew that and so did she.
Harper stopped at his car. He glanced back at her. “I know what they say about me.”
On the take. So many criminals walked right out of his courtroom with barely a slap on his wrist. “Do you?” She murmured, but Erin knew he heard her.
“I want those bastards who break the law to pay,” he told her. “Just like you do.”
Then why didn’t they? Why did so many ease past him?
He pulled open the driver’s side door. “I do the best I can, Jerome. Guess it’s not always good enough.” His eyes narrowed. “Don’t you ever have regrets?”
Too many. Erin gave a grudging nod.
“Is the bastard ever gonna leave?” Jude murmured in her ear and wrapped his arm around her shoulders.
A ghost of a smile curved Harper’s lips. “I thought you might.” Then he climbed into his car.
Erin leaned against Jude. Damn but the man felt solid.
Harper drove away with a soft purr of his engine.
“You ready to get the hell out of this town?” Jude asked after a moment of silence. The thick, uncomfortable kind of silence that made her want to squirm.
“More than ready.” Before she had any more unwanted visitors from her past. Like a certain detective she’d prefer to avoid. Talk about regrets. Erin swallowed and tried to shove the past away. “We didn’t get any closer to finding the bastard, did we?”
He turned her toward him. “We’re gonna catch him, sweetheart.” Absolute certainty there.
But when? Before or after he killed someone else?
“We will catch him,” Jude repeated.
And, once again, Erin forced herself to nod.
Once they were in Baton Rouge, Erin tried to get back into her routine as fast as possible. But, her routine had an unexpected addition.
She’d been given a babysitter. Okay, not a babysitter so much as a six-foot-two, two hundred pound, pissy demon who tailed her every move.
Erin looked up from her files and stared at said pissy demon.
Zane raised his brows and stared right back at her.
He was five feet away. Slouched in her ratty spare chair.
And the man wasn’t going anywhere.
When she and Jude had returned to Baton Rouge, Jude had dropped his little protection bombshell on her.
Until the wolf was caught, she’d have twenty-four seven protection. One of the Night Watch hunters during the day—while Jude was out digging up leads. And at night, Jude would be with her.
Now, she was all about the Jude at night part. Yeah, that worked for her. More than worked.
But Zane, and the irritating humming the guy kept doing under his breath, well, he wasn’t so much her thing.
Jude even had the human woman scheduled to take a shift with her. A human.
That was just insulting.
One of the assistants came bustling in. “Erin, here’s the transcript from the Parsons trial—”
A long, loud whistle.
Amy jumped and dropped the folder. Her hand flew to her chest as her head jerked to the right and Erin saw her spy the lurking demon.
He smiled at her. “Hi there.”
He kept smiling at the assistant.
Don’t need this. Don’t. Need. This.
“Thanks, Amy, I’ll review it later today.” A dismissal. Probably too curt, but damn if Amy wasn’t starting to smile right back at the demon now. Great.
Erin cleared her throat. Twice. Amy finally darted out of the office, but not before she gave one long, last look at Zane.
“You’re an ass.” Erin told him, meaning it.
He blinked. “Ah, you’re just mad ’cause I’m not flirting with you.” He shook his head. “But I don’t flirt with women who can fry my brain.”
Well, at least she was in his safe zone. Erin bared her teeth. She really didn’t like the reminder of that vicious encounter.
“Didn’t we already go over this? Demon versus wolf? Why did Jude send you to watch me?”
A lazy shrug. “’Cause he trusts me.” A pause. “And he knows I’d fight like hell to protect you.”
Her eyes widened. That was new. The guy sounded like he meant those words, too. “You don’t even like me.”
“Sure I do.” A slow stretch. “Would even want to fuck you, if Jude hadn’t already claimed you.”
Heat burned her cheeks. No, no, he hadn’t just said—
A soft chuckle escaped his lips. “Relax. I said I would want to. Didn’t say I was going to.” His right foot swung in a small circle. “I like women with a wild side.”
Oh, then he’d probably love her.
But she wasn’t interested. Not at all.
He wasn’t Jude.
Erin rubbed her right temple. A vague ache was starting to build there. Not enough sleep, probably. After seeing dear old Mom, she sure hadn’t been able to sleep well.
And knowing that the wolf was still out there—
Not exactly a situation conducive to rest and relaxation.
“Where is Jude?” she asked him, sinking deeper into her chair.
She knew that. “He’s got backup, right? I mean, he’s not out there alone?”
“Jude really isn’t the backup type.”
The ache turned into a throb. “Everyone needs backup.”
Another rap at her door. Sighing, Erin called out, “Come on in, Amy, it’s fine for you to—”
The door swung open. Not Amy this time. Jude.
Her lips wanted to curve at the sight of him. She could almost forget about the ache in her temple because she was just so glad to see him.
Jude. Tall and strong, with that thick mane of blond hair. Blue eyes shining so bright.
His stare heated when it landed on her. Erin rose, bracing her hands behind the desk. “Ah, Jude, I was…ah…wondering where you—”
“Wanted to check on you,” he said, breaking into her stumbling and so not suave words. He jerked his thumb toward the door. “Zane, give us a minute, okay?”
“A minute? Damn, man, no woman likes it that fast.”
Her eyes widened. No, that jerk just hadn’t said—
Jude’s snarl had the demon jumping from his chair and heading for the door.
When the door shut behind Zane, Jude stared at her in silence.
Then he locked the door.
Erin swallowed, realizing her throat was way too dry.
“We need to talk.”
She flinched because, those words, oh, they were never good.
Knew this would happen. Jude knew all her secrets now. Everything about her mother and the wolf within.
How screwed up do you have to be to get abandoned by the pack?
“Erin?” A deep rumble as he took a gliding step closer to her.
Right then, she was very grateful that the desk was between them. “Ah…okay. Wh-what do you want to talk about? Have you—have you found out anything about the stalker?”
His lips thinned. “I got some places to check out today. I might have some news after that.”
“Good.” Her fingers knotted together. What was she supposed to say? Sorry my mother tried to attack you and sorry I’ve been lying-slash-keeping-the-truth-about-myself-from-you, but, hey, the sex between us is great and when I’m with you…I feel good.
Better than good.
No, not almost.
Even with that bastard on her trail, when she was with Jude, she felt safe. Like she belonged.
And, yes, dammit, happy.
“I need to know…” Jude’s jaw set as he walked around the desk.
So much for that safety.
He caught her upper arms and held her with fingers too tight.
Both temples throbbed now in a hard, fast beat.
“Are things different between us?” Jude asked. “Because of what I told you? Do you…? Ah, hell!” He kissed her. A deep, toes-curling- yes kiss that had her heart racing and her sex clenching.
His tongue slipped past her lips. Tangled with hers. Tasted.
And she sure tasted him.
Her nipples hardened against the lacy edge of her bra. The points ached and she rubbed them against his chest, seeking relief. No, pleasure.
Because Jude knew just how to offer pleasure.
His lips broke from hers. “Erin, the way you smell”—his nostrils flared—“sweet cream and candy—my own treat.”
She gulped and knew that her smell— sweet cream and candy—had to be flowing stronger right then.
His forehead pressed against hers. He sucked in a sharp breath and shuddered.
Or maybe she did.
“Tell me it didn’t change anything,” he growled. “Tell me you know I’m not like that psycho after you.”
Understanding broke through the sensual need. Jude was worried she’d turn from him? Because of his past?
And here she’d been afraid that her wolf heritage would send the guy running.
“I’d never hurt you, Erin. I swear.”
Her lips brushed over his. Soft, so soft. When there had never been much softness between them. “I know.” And she did.
His past might not be pretty. Neither was hers. But the truth was that she trusted him.
Dangerous, she knew. Trusting anyone, especially a shifter, was a big risk. Born with two faces, meant to lie—that’s what some said about the shifters. But Jude was different.
He was fighting to protect her. Not trying to hurt her or control her.
Yes, he’d killed. There was darkness in him. She’d felt it, seen it. Yet Erin didn’t think Jude would ever turn that darkness on her or on anyone else that didn’t deserve the fury of his hunt.
No innocents will be hurt.
She pulled back a bit and tried a smile, hoping to lighten the thick mood and ease a grin back to his lips. That sexy scar—she loved to see it rise up. “Besides, since we’re not mated, I know you’d never go territorial on me.”
No smile and his face, if anything, seemed harsher.
His hands dropped. “Mated or not, I already am territorial when it comes to you.”
Her mouth dried. What did he mean? Was it more than sex for him? It was so much more for her, but she hadn’t wanted to hope—
“I’m not an easy man, Erin. Never will be.” His shoulders were so straight. His hands had fisted. “I’d sooner fucking cut off my own hand than ever lift it against you.”
His voice shook.
So did her knees.
“But, hell, yeah, I’m territorial about you. You’re in my head every minute. I close my eyes, and I see you and I want you so much I can hardly breathe.”
Oh, that was—
“The timing for us is shit.”
True. Her timing was generally always like that.
“And I know with that asshole out there, the last thing you need is a man trying to get too close.”
Jude already was too close because the things he’d said… You’re in my head every minute. I close my eyes, and I see you and I want you so much I can hardly breathe.
She could have said the same things about him.
“So I’m gonna take him down,” Jude growled, “and I’m gonna take the fear out of your eyes and I’m gonna prove that you can trust me, that I’m not some sick freak like him.”
“No, Jude, I know—”
“You’ll see who I am.” He stared down at her. “And we’ll see if we can’t fix this damn timing.” She saw him take a hard gulp of his own. “And as for the mating…”
Her chin lifted. “I can’t control the mating. If that—that wolf is right, then—”
“Then nothing! You…you’re different from every other shifter out there, sweetheart.”