Ben’s brows bunched. “Were…wolf?”
“Close enough.” Jude nodded.
“No, that’s not even possible, there’s no way—”
Jude held up his claws and this time, he bared his teeth.
The gulp that clicked in Ben’s throat seemed way too loud right then.
Erin reached out her hand to him, claws gone, but he flinched back. Knew it would happen.
Jude had never flinched away from her. She glanced at her shifter. No, he’d never flinched away, not even when he’d found out she was part wolf.
He’d wanted her from the beginning. No holdups. No hedging.
Taking her, as she was.
Jude’s bright blue gaze held hers.
“Erin saved your ass by getting the hell out of Lillian,” Jude told the cop. “The werewolf who killed Trent is after her and, if she hadn’t left you behind, odds are high he would have killed you.”
She managed to look away from Jude and turn her attention back to Ben. “Seems that I acquired an…admirer, of sorts.”
Her lips pulled down into a frown and she rubbed her temple. “He does things, hurts others, even kills, and he thinks he’s doing it for me.”
Jude eased closer. “He killed a perp here in Baton Rouge and smeared the bastard’s blood all over the walls in her house.
Another guy, a lawyer, made the mistake of arguing too much with Erin in court. The freak put him in the hospital. ICU.”
Erin flinched at that. She’d gone to the hospital that morning, before work, hoping to hear better news about Lee. His son had been sitting in his room, holding his hand. She’d stepped away, ducking into the empty room beside Lee’s as she fought to control her tears.
Seeing that boy, praying for his father to wake up…
He has to be stopped.
Clearing her throat, she tried to push the memory of that kid aside. Lee would wake up. Oh, but she hoped he would anyway. “I have very good reason to believe that this guy is also the one who attacked you.”
“Erin, there’s no way to know that!”
“I’ve got good reason to believe it, because he told me he did,” she broke across his words and dropped her hand. I took care of your lover. Fool wasn’t worthy. He’d been so proud of nearly killing Ben. He’d whispered his words to her that terrible night. “He’s been making my life hell for too long now. I tried running from him, hiding, but he just found me, and he started killing again.”
Ben’s mouth hung open. After a moment, he snapped his lips closed.
“It’s the truth,” she said. Might seem crazy, but crazy was her world.
“Wh-why didn’t you tell me? I thought you left because you didn’t care.”
“He’s a paranormal.” Simple. “You couldn’t have handled him. The other cops in Lillian are human, too. They wouldn’t have known how to stop him. He would have sliced right through them and—”
The cop’s head craned toward a watchful Jude. “This guy—let me guess, he can handle him, right?”
“Yes.” Erin was definite. “When he’s in his tiger form, he’s the closest physical match the bastard has.” More than a match.
Jude would be able to take the bastard down, she knew it.
“Werewolves?” Ben asked again and rocked back on his feet. “Come on, babe, I’ve dealt with some screwed-up killers in my time, but I haven’t—”
“Shifters have been around for as long as humans have walked this earth.” Jude crossed his arms over his chest. “Deny it if you want. If it makes you sleep better, do whatever the hell you have to do. But, the fact here is…you’ve got a paranormal killer out there. One who is obsessed with Erin, and you—well, you’re playing out of your league, human.”
There wasn’t room for Ben in this fight. “If you try to get involved in this, you’ll just get hurt.” The freak out there would like his pain too much. “Go back to Lillian. We’re going to stop him, and when we do—”
“What?” Ben’s voice snapped out, high and sharp. “When you stop him, I book a werewolf for murder? How’s that going to fly with the mayor and DA, huh? And what kind of cage am I going to toss him into?”
“This one won’t stay in a cage.” Jude’s voice was soft, deep. A calm opposite to Ben.
Erin knew he was right. The killer they were looking for was too strong for a human prison. “A cage won’t ever hold him,”
she said, her stomach knotting. She’d known it would come to this.
“What are you saying?” Ben reached out a hand, as if he were going to touch her, but stopped, the fingers freezing in midair.
Can’t touch the shifter. Not normal. Her chin lifted. “I’m saying we’ll let you know when this threat is gone.” That was all she was going to say. She couldn’t really tell a cop that murder was the only option. Not really murder, though. Self-defense.
“Now, I’m sorry, but I have work to do.”
“If you’ve got more questions, human, I’ll answer them,” Jude said.
Ben’s gaze drifted over her face. “This is the last damn thing I expected.”
But there was nothing more to say. Like she’d told Jude, they’d ended in Lillian.
His hand fisted and he turned away from her. “I want to know everything you’ve got on this bastard.”
Jude’s claws were gone. For now. “Then I guess you’d better get ready for a little visit to Night Watch.”
Jude took the human to the agency. Introduced him to a few of the hunters. Left him with Dee for a while so that she could brief him, one human to another.
And the fury inside him built.
Erin had been hurt. The human asshole had hurt her. He’d looked at her like she was…like she was some kind of freak.
That was the prick Erin had been dating? An ass who didn’t recognize how great she was?
The cop’s hands were shaking when he finished his briefing with Dee. Yeah, she usually had that effect on men.
“Heard enough?” Jude asked from his slouch against the wall.
A jerky nod.
“Good, then it’s time to get your ass back on the road and head home to old Lillian.” He straightened, then remembered the way the guy hadn’t even been able to touch Erin after he’d learned the truth. “But first”—his fingers clenched around the prick’s shirtfront, and he yanked him inside the nearest office.
“Jude! What the hell?”
“Beat it, Gomez.” Gomez Montiago, charmer extraordinaire.
“This is my office, I’m not just gonna—”
Jude slanted him a hard look.
The charmer jumped up from his chair. “I had to go talk with Pak anyway.”
The door slammed behind him.
Jude turned his focus back to the cop. “I ought to kick your ass.”
The human got some spunk then, because his jaw clenched and he gritted, “You can try, but I’m not as weak as you may think.”
“No?” Yeah, he was. “Are you as stupid as I think you are?”
Ben blinked and a furrow appeared between his eyes. “What? ”
“She’s not less because she’s a shifter. She’s not some kind of freak or abomination or monster. ” The tiger roared inside.
“She’s still the same woman you knew. Still smart, still sexy, still Erin.” He shook his head now, the rage burning his tongue and leaving an acrid taste in his mouth. “But after you knew the truth, you couldn’t even look at her the same way anymore.”
Humans. They could piss him off so easily.
Dee and Tony were the only ones who’d ever been different. Dee because well, she’d been introduced to the paranormal world at a very early age.
And Tony…he’d come across Jude mid-shift once. The guy hadn’t run or screamed. He’d just stayed and watched, gun drawn because he wasn’t totally stupid. When the shift was done, that gun hadn’t wavered. “That you, man? You still fucking understand me?”
Jude had managed a nod.
The gun hadn’t disappeared, not right away, but he’d helped Jude ambush two killers who’d been hiding in a slum.
When a guy had seen you at your worst and he didn’t flinch, but instead stepped up to the plate and helped get the job done—yeah, you could respect a guy like that.
“I didn’t know what she was.”
It would be so easy to rip his head off. “What she is. She’s a woman. Strong and beautiful. The same as she’s always been.”
“It’s a lot to deal with, all right? My head is spinning, I’ve got a body to deal with—”
“And you didn’t have to treat Erin like she’s something less. ” Would Erin get too pissed if he clawed the guy a bit? What she didn’t know…
“I-I care about her,” the cop mumbled and his eyes fell.
What? Care, not cared. A snarl from the tiger that was echoed by the man as he said, “You didn’t act like you do.”
“Because I saw the way she looked at you!” Ben’s fists rose up between them and he shoved against Jude’s chest.
Jude didn’t move. “Run that by me again.” Maybe he wouldn’t use his claws on the guy. Not yet.
“I always knew Erin had secrets.” Another shove with those fists. Hmmm…the guy was stronger than he looked.
Jude still didn’t move.
“I tried as hard as I could to get close to her, but she always kept me locked out.” His eyes narrowed. “She doesn’t keep you out, does she?”
A smile curved his lips. “The woman tried.” A wolf. Who would have thought—
“But you got close to her. I saw it, when she looked at you, I saw it.” Another shove. Okay, more of a two-fisted punch this time.
Jude went with it and let his body slide back.
“You’re sleeping with her.” Bitten off. “Don’t bother lying, I could see that, too. When you looked at her, it was all over your face.”
“And Erin thinks I’m not territorial,” he murmured.
The cop’s eyes were slits. “She cared enough to protect me, but not to confide in me, not like she’s done with you.”
Jude realized if the situation were reversed—damn lucky it wasn’t—he’d be bitter, too.
A hell of a lot more than bitter.
A muscle flexed along Ben’s jaw. “She left me behind. Do you think she’ll do the same to you?”
Not if he had anything to say about the matter. He was playing for keeps.
“You gonna be able to handle things if she walks on you?”
Jude stared at him.
“Guess we’ll see,” the cop said and Jude thought about punching him. Ben straightened his shirtfront. “I’m not leaving the area just yet. I’ll be around if Erin should need me.”
“Out of your league,” Jude told him again, meaning the words as a warning. He’d hate for the cop to get killed. Explaining his death to Erin would be a bitch.
“Yeah, well, maybe it’s time I got into a new league.” He shouldered past him and headed for the door.
Jude watched him, brows low. Easy prey, but…
Ben glanced back. “If you let that bastard hurt her, I’ll come after you, tiger.” A pause. “She’s not mine anymore, but—”
He broke off and shook his head, but Jude understood.
But she’s still Erin.
“Now you’re getting it,” he said softly.
The human let out a growl of his own and jerked open the door.
Gomez stood in the doorway, his hand raised. “Ah…Jude.” The hand dropped. “C-call for you. Some guy named Mickey.”
He’d known the guy was there, of course, but—wait, Mickey? Hyena-asshole Mickey?
Ben moved around Gomez and marched away.
“The guy says he’s got a tip, but only for you.”
Now wasn’t that some new shit. Mickey, offering him help on a case?
Jude went back to her, almost helplessly.
A jerk of his thumb had Zane heading out of the office, and Jude shut the door behind the demon.
Then turned the lock.
Erin glanced up at the soft click.
“Got rid of the boyfriend,” he told her and stalked slowly forward. He eyed the room. Too much paperwork on her desk and the thing didn’t look sturdy enough. He could always stand but—
Ah, that chair to the left, the one made of old leather would work fine.
“Ben’s gone back to Lillian?”
Jude didn’t want to lie. “He’s not in the game.” He’d better not be. The last thing he wanted to do was stumble on to the human while he was hunting.
And he’d be hunting again, very, very soon.
Erin rose and hurried toward him. “Jude, what is it? Why—”
He caught her hand, brought her fingers to his lips, and pressed a kiss to her palm.
Her nostrils flared, and he saw the dilation of her pupils.
“Don’t have much time,” he managed, his cock digging hard into his zipper. “I had to come and see you.” Jude swallowed.
Hell, he sucked at this relationship shit.
A frown pulled her brows low. “I don’t understand.”
He tugged her over to the chair, fell back, then pulled her down on top of him.