Yeah, different. Nice, easy word for her situation.
Because she’d always been different.
“You’re different…human and shifter. So what makes you so sure that you’d mate like the others? What makes you so sure you’d only have one mate?”
Her lips parted in surprise. “Jude.” What was he telling himself? No, no, he had to see—shifters only had one mate. One chance for children. Fate didn’t care if a shifter’s mate was a killer or a savior. The mating was forever.
The beast inside her had recognized the wolf. That part was the most humiliating for her. So humiliating, she hadn’t told Jude. Her body had known the wolf shifter at the first touch. No, not her body, but the dormant beast inside. Erin had been horrified, afraid, but, dammit, aware of him. An instinctual response she couldn’t control. One that made her sick.
“I know.” Simple words, gruff.
Her gaze met his and she saw the understanding in his eyes. Understanding and a banked rage. Erin licked her lips.
“I know,” he continued, “but I also know how your body responds to me, and I know the beast. It’s awake when I’m near, and it’s hungry for me.”
He was right.
Erin rocked back on her heels, banging her hip into the desk. She’d thought the sex was just great because she wasn’t having to hold back and because, well, Jude was freaking fantastic, but what if there was something more there?
No. No one got two mates, and sure as hell not someone who couldn’t even manage one shift.
“Forget the mating,” Jude told her and his eyes burned with intensity. “The mating isn’t what matters anyway.”
He’d know. He’d seen firsthand just how wrong those fated matings could be.
So had she.
“I’m not looking for a mate for the beast.”
But with full-blood shifters, the beast was never separate from the man. Not really.
His fist thudded against his chest. “I’m looking for someone who—”
“Get the fuck out of my way!”
Erin jerked at the raised voice. Her gaze locked on her closed door. That voice…she hadn’t heard that deep baritone in months.
“Back up, Boy Scout, or I’m gonna have to hurt you.” Zane. Loud, confident, pissed.
“What the hell?” Jude strode toward the door.
Erin, moving much slower, did the same. Shit for timing. Always.
“Try it, asswipe. I’m a cop. Lay the first finger on me and—”
Jude yanked open the door, a snarl on his lips.
Erin scrambled after him.
She caught sight of the two men in the outer office. Tall and strong, almost nose to nose.
And she knew that her day was about to get even worse.
The throbbing in her temples flared again. Harder. Aspirin. Need aspirin.
“Zane!” Jude’s voice snapped. “Who the hell is this guy?” His nostrils flared and Erin knew he was trying to catch a scent.
But he’d only smell a human because Lillian Detective Ben Greer was human through and through.
Ben shoved Zane out of his way and locked his warm chocolate eyes on her. “Erin.” Softness there, and anger.
She eased to Jude’s side, far too conscious of all the curious stares. Way too many people were around. Amy. Another assistant, Donna. And Karrie, the ADA next door was also peering in, though it looked like she was trying real hard not to be obvious. “Ah, Ben, it’s been a while.”
“A while since you left me bleeding out in a hospital bed, you mean?”
Okay, no softness that time, only anger. She stiffened and took the hit because the way she figured it, she deserved his rage. He’d been hurt because of her.
“Aw, Jude, come on! Let me take this prick outside and teach him some manners,” Zane wheedled.
Ben jerked out his badge. “I’m a cop. I’d like to see you try to teach me some—”
Zane grinned and stepped eagerly forward. The fact that Ben was a cop didn’t seem to matter much to him.
“I take it you’re Ben Greer?” Jude asked quietly. His legs were braced apart. Hands loose at his sides.
Ben’s gaze raked him. “And I take it you’re the asshole who’s sleeping with Erin now?”
Amy sucked in a sharp breath.
Jude just smiled. “Yeah, I am.”
“Then you’re also the prick who was screwing around with my case files.”
Jude just shrugged.
Erin knew it was time to take charge. She stepped forward, putting herself between Jude and Ben.
Ben. He looked the same. Handsome face. Thick, slightly curling brown hair. A dimple in his chin.
A solid guy. A good cop.
Not for me.
He didn’t understand her. Never would.
Not like Jude.
“Ben, perhaps we should go into my office and talk.” Away from all the watching eyes and straining ears.
He pulled in a deep breath. His fingers whitened around his badge. “Yeah, yeah, let’s do that.” His head cocked to the right. A move she’d seen a hundred times. A move he always made just before he threw out a challenge to a suspect.
Her heart thudded too hard in her chest. He’d come to Baton Rouge. Why? Not for me, but for…
“Let’s go talk, Erin, and you can tell me just why you interfered in a murder investigation this weekend and why the hell I found your picture clutched in the hands of a dead man.”
Ah, that would be why.
His claws wanted to spring free. Jude could feel the burn beneath his fingertips, but he held onto his control.
The cop. The one he knew Erin had cared for back in Lillian. They were in Erin’s office now. The guy stood less than five feet away—and he was watching Erin with far too much knowledge in his eyes.
“Jude, do you mind if I speak with Ben alone?”
Yeah, he did. He crossed his arms over his chest and glowered down at her.
She stared right back up at him. “I need to speak with him alone.”
Dammit. He was not happy with this crap. “I’ll be right outside.” He glanced at the cop. The guy had moved back and leaned against Erin’s desk.
Her fingers skimmed over his arm. “Thank you.”
Territorial. The word echoed in his head. The lady had no idea just how territorial he was feeling right then or how badly he wanted to rip into the cop.
Her lover. He knew it. He could see it in the man’s eyes. The detective had been with Erin. Hell, maybe he’d even loved her. Jude had heard the way the asshole first said her name.
And Erin—how did she feel? She’d told him things were over with the cop because she couldn’t fit into his “normal” world, but—
But Jude knew just how badly Erin longed for “normal.”
Rip him apart. Easy prey. Fight. Claim.
The beast raged inside.
But he was more than the beast, and he was trying to prove that to Erin. Besides, she had her own choices to make.
He clenched his teeth and stepped back. “If you need me, I’m right outside.” Course, she’d be able to take down a human no problem, so the message wasn’t so much for her.
For the cop. His gaze held the other man’s. Right outside.
When he left the room, Erin swung the door shut behind him.
“Man, are you freaking insane?” Zane demanded instantly. “You’re gonna let that cop stay in there alone with your woman? Did you see the way he was eyeballing her, like a good fu—”
Jude turned his stare on the demon, and Zane wisely shut the hell up.
Then Jude crossed his arms over his chest and got ready to wait.
He’d agreed to stay outside, but it wasn’t like the thin walls would give Erin much privacy. Not to someone like him, anyway.
If that asshole cop yelled at her again, Jude was going inside, and the claws would be coming out.
“How did you find me?” Erin asked, keeping her voice cool and easing into her desk chair.
A shrug. One that tried to make him appear careless, but the lines bracketing his mouth belied the move. “When I linked the call at Katherine LaShaun’s place to your cell, the DA had to cough up the info.”
Ah, the cell call. She’d figured that would be traced back to her sooner or later. She just had been hoping more for later.
She’d forgotten just how good Ben’s contacts were. “I had to call her. I couldn’t let those boys see their father’s body.
They never would have felt safe at that house, they never—”
“Still trying to save the world?” he asked softly.
Her lips pressed together.
Jude had understood. She’d seen the way he looked at the boys.
Had he seen himself in them? Yeah, she’d bet that he had. Just like she’d seen herself.
Her hands flattened on the desktop. “I didn’t break any laws by calling Katherine.”
“You tipped off a suspect.”
She jumped to her feet. So much for playing it cool. “Please! You and I both know there’s no way Katherine killed Trent! That’s not the kind of woman she is!”
“She thinks he killed her daughter. She’d do anything for her girl, you know that.”
She did, but…“Katherine didn’t kill Trent.”
“You seem awfully sure of that.” He walked around the desk, moving until he stood less than a foot away from her. “Why is that, Erin? And why is it that Trent had your picture in what was left of his hands?”
Because he was another freaking present. She didn’t flinch. “There are things going on here that you wouldn’t understand.”
“Oh?” His lips twisted into a cruel smile. The smile didn’t suit him. Not at all. “Like I didn’t understand about you back in Lillian? Every time I tried to get close, you just shoved me back. When I was in the hospital, you didn’t even come to see me.”
“Because I was trying to protect you!” The words burst out. Oh, no, she hadn’t meant to tell him that. Now she was—
“And I find out now that you’re cozying up with some low-rent bounty hunter!” His face reddened as his voice rose. “I saw the way he looked at you, the two of you are—wait, what the hell did you say?”
The door flew open. “Asshole, don’t raise your voice to her again.” Jude stood in the doorway, his claws out and his eyes glowing.
Ben looked at him and his jaw dropped. “What. The. Hell!”
Jude kicked the door closed with his heel but never took that deadly gaze off the cop.
“I told you there were things you wouldn’t understand,” Erin said. Then, “Jude, back off, okay? I’ve got this.”
“Bullshit. I could hear the prick yelling at you.”
Yeah, well, with his shifter hearing, he probably would have been able to hear a whisper. “This isn’t the way to handle the situation, okay?”
“He’s got claws!” Ben shook his head, hard.
“All the better to rip into prey.” Jude took a step forward.
“What’s up with his eyes? Why are they—”
“All the better to see the asshole who doesn’t need to be attacking my lady.”
“Jude!” Her snarl had him faltering and glancing over at her. “I can fight this one on my own.” Not helping. No, his big show and tell was making everything a thousand times worse.
“Sweetheart, it’s time your cop learned the truth.” In that devil-may-care grin, she caught the edge of his teeth, those too sharp canines. Erin swallowed and really hoped that Ben hadn’t seen them, too, because if he said something about the fangs, she could already hear Jude’s smart-ass response.
All the better to bite.
As much as she enjoyed his bites, Ben wouldn’t appreciate the sentiment.
And he might run screaming.
It looked like that response could be a near thing right then.
Thanks, Jude. “Ben, relax, okay? Everything is all right.”
“All right? ” he thundered, still shaking his head. Then he shoved her behind him. “Do you see that guy? He’s got claws! ”
She peered around Ben in time to see Jude shrug. “So does she.”
“There are some things I never told you about myself,” she said to Ben, using a tone she hoped was calm and easy.
He twisted around and eyed her with too-wide eyes. “What things?”
“Like the fact that I’m not…completely human.”
A shocked laugh. “Right.”
She held up her hand. Let him see her claws.
He jerked back from her and rammed into the desk. Horror was etched on his face. Disbelief filled his gaze.
The reaction she’d always feared.
“You’ve stumbled into a hell you can’t fully imagine,” Jude said.
Ben just looked between them, shaking his head. “No, Erin, I cared about you, I—”
“You cared about the woman you thought I was.” And she’d just wanted someone to love her, as she really was.
Claws and all.
“This isn’t real,” he muttered, running a trembling hand through his hair. “Can’t be, it’s—”
“The guy outside the door,”—Jude jerked his thumb over his shoulder—“is a demon. I’m a white tiger shifter.”
“And the killer you’re after—the one who left Erin’s picture in the hands of a dead man—is a wolf shifter.”