Damn dreams. Why, why did she have them if she couldn’t stop death?
Not Jude. Not him.
“What?” The demon shook his head. “Look, you’re confused. You fell hard.” A wince. “I didn’t catch you before you slammed your head on the floor. Give things a minute, you’ll be fine.”
No, she wouldn’t be. “If you don’t tell me where he is, Jude’s dead.”
Finally, that got his attention. She saw his Adam’s apple bob. “You—you can’t—”
“Psychic, remember?” No time to go into the twisted story of her particular talents.
“Jude’s out hunting.” He rose, jerked her to her feet, and ignored the scrape of her claws over his flesh.
“Hunting where?” Hold on, Jude. Please, hold on. She couldn’t lose him.
Always too late.
Zane jerked out his cell phone and punched in a number. His jaw flexed as he waited. Waited.
Erin rocked forward on her heels. He could be dying.
“Dee! Dee—where’s Jude? What? No, I don’t have time— just tell me which damn den!” His eyes widened and Erin caught “Jamestown? You sure? Fuck.” He ended the call, his fingers whitening around the small phone.
“Zane?” There had been so much blood.
Won’t. Lose. Him.
“He’s in a demons’ den on Jamestown.” He shook his head. “We can’t go there. There’s no way you can—”
Jamestown. Erin spun away from him and ran for the double doors.
“Wait! You won’t find the den. You’ll never be able to—”
She jerked open the courtroom door. Hesitated. Demons’ den. Her neck craned as she glanced back at him. “You can find it.”
His face paled.
“If you don’t, he’s dead.”
“Dammit.” His hands clenched. “Then let’s go to hell.”
“A demons’ den is like a crack house.” Zane stared at the dark building before them. “Only much, much worse.”
Erin didn’t really care how much worse the place was. Yeah, the place looked like some kind of hole in the wall, but if Jude was inside, she was bringing him out. “You sure this is the place?”
“Yeah, yeah. Dee said he was following a lead on your stalker.”
Jude was going to die because of her. The thudding of her heartbeat filled her ears.
No. Not for me.
Erin jumped up the cracking steps.
“Wait. There’ll be a guard, armed. Always is at a place like this. He’ll—”
Erin kicked in the door. The wood exploded under her foot, shattering instantly. She barreled forward, ignoring the scrapes along her arms and face.
“Hey, bitch, what the fu—”
A big, lanky guy with pitch black eyes ran at her, spittle flying.
Erin caught him with her claws, right in the chest, and shoved the bastard back about ten feet. He hit the wall, sent plaster flying, and sank to the floor.
He didn’t get up.
A long whistle behind her. “Yeah, you’re scary,” Zane said. “And someone is stalking you? ”
Her gaze snapped to the left, then the right. Old furniture. Freaking rats running around. Enough dust to clog her nose and numb her sense of smell but no Jude. “Where is he? You said this was the right place! Where is he? ” So she sounded hysterical.
If there was ever a time for a freak-out, it was now.
Zane’s stare swept the room. Then the floor. “What’s that?”
Two deep grooves dug into the old wood. Erin stared at the markings. They’d started next to the far wall and they ended at the big, scarred chest on the other side of the room.
“Something’s behind it, something’s—”
Erin bounded across the room. The chest had to be seven feet high and maybe four feet wide. She rubbed her damp palms on her thighs. Then she grabbed one side of the chest and shoved.
The chest flew out of the way.
“They must have blocked it off. Doesn’t figure, why would they—”
“Because Jude’s down there!” Erin wrenched the knob. “And they didn’t want him getting out.” Not until they were finished with him.
Erin broke the lock and thrust the door open. A yawning black space stared back at her. The faint thud of drums reached her ears—or, hell, was that her heart? “Jude! ”
“No, Erin, you’ve got to be careful,” Zane’s hushed voice. “If somebody’s got Jude down there—”
Screw careful. He needed her.
And she damn well needed him. More than she’d realized.
I didn’t know—didn’t understand—until I saw him die.
Erin ran into the darkness.
He’d better not be dead.
Dim, sputtering candles lit the basement and revealed the massacre. A trail of broken, bloody bodies littered the floor. The moaning men had claw marks all over their flesh.
But all of the bastards weren’t moaning heaps on the floor. More of the assholes were up and they were still fighting. Five, no six of them were on the tiger. They’d backed the beast up against the far wall and they were punching him, stabbing him—
One blade drove into his side, into the already red fur, and the tiger jerked back, a keening cry on his lips.
“Oh, no, the hell they aren’t—” Zane’s snarl behind her.
No, they weren’t. She attacked, with Zane charging at the same instant.
Erin grabbed the closest asshole and spun him around.
“What the hell?” Black eyes, darker than night, colder than hell, stared down at her. Demon. They were all demons in this den. “Bitch, what do you want?”
Her claws slashed over his chest. His mouth dropped open as the blood soaked his shirt. He fell to his knees, screaming.
“I want you to get out of my way,” she gritted and shoved him to the side.
Next. She lifted her claws up, ready to fight.
But Zane grabbed the next demon and broke the jerk’s wrist when the asshole lifted his knife. Smiling, Zane punched him in the face. Blood squirted, there was a sickening squish, and then that demon went down, too.
A scream of pain ripped through the room. Erin’s gaze jerked up. The tiger had caught one demon beneath him. Claws and teeth took him out in seconds.
Another demon launched toward her. Bald head. Soulless eyes and skin too pale. And like the others, this guy was armed.
He grinned at her, then whispered, “Come play…”
Like she had to be asked twice. Taking a breath, tasting blood, Erin raced forward.
But this one was fast. In a breath’s time, he’d attacked and the blade of his knife sliced down her arm. Dammit! Fiery pain burned her flesh.
The music pounded around her. Where was it coming from?
“I love to watch a woman bleed.”
Her eyes narrowed. The guy’s breath was a stale wind in her face. He towered over her, grinning and flashing yellowed teeth. Giant, oozing sores covered his face and arms. He looked like some kind of Meth head. Maybe he was.
“I’ll slice you open, carve you up!” He lunged, but, this time, she was ready. When he came at her, her claws caught him, tearing flesh and muscle, cutting to the bone. His bloodshot eyes flared wide and a choked gasp broke from his lips.
“Or maybe I’ll slice you,” she whispered and tried really, really hard not to think about what she was doing. Not killing, no, she wasn’t killing the demons. They were still alive, just out of commission.
No, she wasn’t killing them, but if it came to that in order to save Jude, she would.
Her claws jerked free. The demon groaned, then fell.
Another demon landed on top of him. This one was a broken, bleeding mess—courtesy of a knife-wielding Zane.
So many broken bodies surrounded them. And the tiger stood poised for a final attack. His powerful body bunched as his mouth opened over his prey.
“No, no!” Erin lunged for the tiger. “Zane, don’t let him!”
Zane was already there. He grabbed the shuddering demon from the mouth of the tiger and hauled the bastard back by the scruff of his neck.
The attacking demons were done. The jerk that Zane held was the only one still conscious in the room.
Her breath caught as she looked at the tiger. So many wounds. Too many. He wouldn’t be able to hold that form much longer. No way could he—
The transformation began. Fur melted before her eyes. Bones snapped. Scrambling, slipping in the blood that pooled on the floor, she went to him and held him tight. She could feel the slow thud of his heartbeat against her. “It’s okay.” Not a lie. It would be okay. They’d gotten there in time. “You’re safe.”
He shuddered against her and as she stroked him, her fingers skimming over his wounds. The deep cuts and slashes marked his sides, his back, his chest.
Erin swallowed. No, he’d make it. Jude would live.
“We’ve got to get him to a hospital.” Her voice was cold, she was cold.
So was he. His skin had turned to ice.
Jude’s blood poured on her, soaking her clothing.
In human form now, he seemed even weaker. She grabbed his face with her hands and forced him to look at her. “Jude?
Jude, dammit—stay with me!” His blue eyes were dull. Faded, not bright like they should have been.
“No! You’re stronger than this! Fight!” A scream of fury and fear. Blood burned her nostrils. Drums pounded. Turn off the damn music. “Stay with me.” A whisper now.
Erin kissed him and tasted blood and man.
Stay with me.
His mouth didn’t move against hers. Too slack. Too cold.
“What the hell happened down here?” A sharp, furious demand.
Erin lifted her lips from Jude’s but didn’t glance back. Dee. Zane had called her again on the way to the den, told her to come. Armed.
“It was a setup,” Zane said, voice thundering. “When we got here, they were trying to slice him apart.”
They’d almost succeeded.
“Jude.” Still a whisper, but she thought she saw his eyelids flicker at the sound. “I know…I know you’re weak.” Her cheeks were damp. Blood or tears? Both? “But you’ve got to try and fight, okay? You can’t stay human.”
If he did, he’d bleed out before help arrived. She knew it. Wouldn’t lie to herself.
Her lips wanted to tremble so she pressed them together. His eyes were open, on her. Did he hear her? Did he understand?
Her fingers smoothed over his face. “Try to change back.” It was the only thing that would save him. The power of the shift. The beast could heal, the man couldn’t.
Jude wouldn’t be able to hold the tiger form long, she knew that. Probably only for a few seconds, but if he could just shift…
Some of the wounds would close. The healing powers would amp up and he’d survive.
No, no, he would survive.
The only reason he was still breathing now was because he’d shifted from beast to man. Every shift worked to mend his flesh. So if he could just transform one more time…
There might be a chance for him.
“Shift, Jude.” Her arms wrapped around him, held tight. “Shift!”
His heart rate kicked up but his head fell forward.
She held him tighter.
A growl built in his throat.
“Get an ambulance!” Zane ordered.
The thunder of footsteps on the stairs as Dee ran for help.
If he didn’t shift…
Soft, thick fur brushed against her skin.
Her eyes squeezed shut. Yeah, tears.
The crack of bones tormented her ears. Her hold never lessened. “Fight.”
Faster, faster—his heartbeat thudded in a double-time beat.
Her eyes opened. She saw white fur and the long, lean body of the tiger.
“Sonofabitch!” Zane’s cry. “I knew the bastard wouldn’t go down easy.”
No, not easy. Not her Jude.
He bucked against her, his body trembling. The shape of the tiger began to fade.
Be enough. Enough to let him live.
Moments passed. The tiger disappeared, leaving the broken man in his place.
He slowly raised his head and stared at her with confusion clouding his eyes. “Erin?”
Her smile felt like it was going to break her face. Too big. Too wide. Too—ah, hell. Erin kissed him.
And he kissed her back. Moved his lips, his tongue.
He was back.
She pulled away, just a few inches. “Don’t ever do that to me again, tiger.” Not too late. For once, finally, not too late.
His mouth hitched into a half-smile. “Trust me, not…part of my…plans.”
Her hands roved over his back. She could still feel the wounds, but they weren’t as deep. The blood flow had eased. The shift had done its job.
Jude wouldn’t die on her.
“You’re one tough asshole, shifter.” Zane whistled. “For a minute, I thought you were a corpse.”
Jude winced. He was naked, his flesh rippling as he moved. “For a…minute there, I did…too.”
So had she.
Dee’s shoes pounded down the stairs. “Help’s coming, just tell him to hold on—”
Erin glanced back at her in time to see the human stumble to a stop. Dee blinked twice, then smiled. “Shifter.”
If he hadn’t been, he would be dead.