Swallowing, Erin tried to ease back.
“Erin—wait, you’re hurt! ”
Yeah, but he didn’t need to worry about her. The scratch she had was nothing compared to the wounds still on his body.
“I’ll be okay.”
“Can’t you shift to heal?” Zane asked. The demon he’d hauled away lay bound near his feet. Good thing Zane carried his own cuffs— Other proof cuffs she’d glimpsed in the car. They were made out of some kind of special titanium. “You’re losing a lot of blood.”
She’d lost more blood than she would have liked, but her wound had already started to heal.
Jude caught her arm. Lifted it, turned it for better inspection. “You don’t…have to shift.” He sounded stronger. Good.
She shook her head. No, for her, the healing didn’t depend on the shift. A lucky thing, because otherwise, she’d be very easy prey.
His gaze rose to hers. “I saw…what you did.”
“I couldn’t let them kill you.” Her voice was rough and scratchy. She didn’t want to think about what she’d done to those men. No, demons, not men. Not human.
“You’re not…weak.” His eyes widened and he sucked in a sharp breath. “You’re the…next step, aren’t you? Evolution of the whole damn…species. Why shift when you’ve got all the power…in human form…”
Her brow furrowed. Next step? The guy must still be weak. She wasn’t anything special. Far from it.
“Donovan!” The door at the top of the stairs banged open. Voices shouted in the background, but Antonio’s voice was clear as he demanded. “Donovan, dammit, you down there?”
“Help’s arrived,” Dee murmured.
“The cops? Hell.” Zane shook his head. “You called them, Dee? Them? ”
“I called 911,” she told him as Antonio flew down the stairs. It sounded like a dozen men were behind him. “Told them we had an officer down.”
“He’s not an officer,” Zane said, rubbing a hand over his face and then staring at the demons littering the floor. “I fucking hate dens.”
“Yeah, well, Jude’s also not human, but I didn’t tell them that, either.”
“Donovan!” Antonio leapt over the last few steps. “What the hell happened here?”
Jude pushed up, staggering a bit as he rose to his feet. Erin wrapped her arms around him as she tried to steady him as much as possible.
“Ambush,” Zane explained succinctly. “Who would’ve thought these drugged out assholes could even manage something like this?” Disgust was rich in his voice. No, not just disgust, almost…hatred.
“That…one.” Jude lifted his hand and pointed to the bound demon. “He’s not using.”
“Aw, Christ, man, you’re naked!” Antonio spun around. “You trying to make me go blind or something?”
There was a line of cops behind him. Men and women. A few EMTs were sprinkled in the bunch. Erin moved quickly, putting herself between Jude and the crowd. Not that Jude probably gave a rat’s butt about his modesty, but she did.
“What happened to his clothes?” one of the officers called out.
Antonio’s hands went to his hips. “This is a crack house—who knows what the drug heads were doing? Maybe they cut
’em off, thinking he was holding out on them.”
The man was fast on his feet, and his explanation sounded like a good cover story to her. Especially since Jude’s clothes were lying in a mangled pile to the right. “Dee,” she called softly, trying to catch the other woman’s attention. Dee worked with Jude. Did that mean she knew about his policy of keeping backup clothing in his vehicle?
“On it,” the woman said immediately and headed back for the stairs. “Uh, Tony, not to tell you how to handle your shit, but with all this Other stuff going on down here, don’t you think you’d better clear the scene?”
He gave a grim nod then ordered, “Bishop and Peters—get over there and see what kind of damage the assholes did to Donovan. The rest of you— upstairs. Make sure the scene is secured. None of these pricks will be leaving the area until I’m done with them.”
Dee brushed by him.
Antonio snagged her arm. “Next time, could you let me know what I’m walking into?”
“Wasn’t time for that.” One shoulder lifted, fell. “I thought he was dying.” She glanced back at Jude. “He was dying, and I needed the cavalry to get its ass here as fast as possible.” Then she jumped up the steps, hurrying her way to the top, right behind the line of retreating cops.
The EMTs moved toward Jude.
“No, no, I’ll be okay. I don’t need—”
“Stitch him up and then get the hell out of here,” Antonio ordered.
The guy in the front, the one with the name tag reading John Bishop, gulped. “We—we’re gonna need to take him to a hospital.”
“No hospital,” Jude’s growl.
“You heard the man,” Antonio said.
“He could have internal bleeding. Severe blood loss. He could have—”
“Get some thread and get a needle.” Antonio glowered at him. “Stitch up any wound bigger than your hand, and don’t worry about anything else.”
Good advice. The cop obviously knew his Other business. Jude’s internal wounds would already be healing and his body would be compensating for any blood loss. White tigers were amazing healers. If the stories were true, they were almost the fastest of the shifters when it came to wound repair.
The wounds on the surface would take the longest time to heal. Shifters recovered from the inside, out. Mother Nature’s way of taking care of her priorities. Priorities like the heart and lungs and all the internal organs.
“You’re a hell of a fighter, Erin.” His voice was a soft rumble.
The EMTs went to work on him.
She forced a smile and stepped back, knowing she was in the way. “So are you.” If he hadn’t fought so hard, for so long, they never would have made it to him in time.
His gaze bored into hers. Not dull anymore. So very blue.
Jude. He was back. She could almost see the strength pouring into him.
“You had one of the…dreams, didn’t you?”
Erin forced a nod. She’d never forget that vision. Until the day she died, Erin would always remember what it was like to see Jude murdered before her.
She took another step back.
“You weren’t too…late this time.”
No, not this time.
Jude didn’t even wince when Bishop drove a two-inch needle into his shoulder. Probably not necessary, not like he could get an infection, but—
“Thanks for…saving my ass, sweetheart.”
Her lips trembled into a smile. “You’re welcome.” And she slipped in the blood and fell on her ass.
Come nightfall, the demons would be making his delivery.
A bound and beaten tiger shifter—all ready for the kill.
He smiled as he stared into the swamp. Thick trees, lazy moss, muddy water.
When he was finished, he’d toss the body out here and let the alligators take care of Donovan. What was left of him.
The body would never be found. No evidence, no crime.
It’d be for the best that way. The shifter had too many friends. Too many hunters on his side.
Yes, it would be far better for the world if the bastard just vanished, and he would make certain that was exactly what the shifter did.
Erin would be all alone then. She’d think her lover had abandoned her.
All lost and alone—what would she do? Turn to me. He’d take her, of course, but not until she’d paid for bringing the tiger into their lives.
A little pain would be good for their relationship.
An alligator cruised past him, never slowing, never glancing his way.
“Dinner’s coming,” he whispered.
The woman was amazing—and she’d seriously saved his ass.
The EMTs were done. Done jerking on him. Done driving their needles into his flesh.
They’d stitched him up. A good thing because he needed the stitches. Until the healing was finished, the stitches would keep the wounds from worsening. When the skin mended, the stitches would fall away, and he wouldn’t have to worry about leaving a trail of blood behind him when he hunted.
Because, hell, yeah, he was going hunting.
Dee tossed him a pair of jeans. His backup clothes. Jude jerked them on, managing not to wince at the pull from his injuries. Nudity didn’t bother him a bit, but there were humans around, and they expected certain things.
“Good job,” Tony told the EMTs.
“He needs to be in a hospital.” From Bishop, the chatty one. The other guy hadn’t said a word the whole time he worked.
When he’d first strode from the stairs, Jude had seen the way the fellow eyed the demons on the floor. Too much knowledge had been in his stare.
The guy knew they were in a den, the demon equivalent of a crack house, and he wanted out.
Was he a demon? Could be. Then again, he could be just about anything.
“I’ll make sure he sees a doctor,” Zane said. “Night Watch has a physician on staff.”
Since when? The guy was a world class bullshitter.
The EMTs filed up the stairs. Most of the demons had already been hauled up to the upper level. Other paramedics had come to patch those lucky bastards. Tony had wanted them stitched, then shuttled to the jail, ASAP. The sooner the demons were off the street, the better for the rest of the city.
The door slammed behind the EMTs with a loud, hollow clang.
Jude rose, feeling every ache and pain in his body. He met Zane’s stare, then Tony’s. Yeah, most of the demons were gone—all but one, in fact.
The ringleader. Zane had gagged the asshole when the EMTs first went to work. A good precaution, that.
Time for some payback. Jude stalked toward him, with Zane and Tony right at his heels.
The demon’s eyes widened and a high cry broke against the gag.
A smile curved Jude’s lips. “Hey there, asshole. What? Did you think I’d forgotten you?” No way. This one, the guy who didn’t reek of drugs and decay, was the ringleader. The one who’d set up his ambush.
The one who’d wanted him dead on the stinking floor.
Jude lifted his claws and put them right over the demon’s chest. “I’m having a really bad night, as you can see…”
“Jude.” Erin’s tense voice.
He stilled. This wasn’t going to be pretty, but then, she’d already proved she could handle the hell that came in his life. He wouldn’t tell her to leave because he knew the attack was tied to her. Had to be. He’d been hunting her stalker, only to become prey.
Oh, yeah, the demon would pay.
He glanced back at her. “You don’t have to see this.” He’d told her about the darkness inside of him, but this could take it to a whole new level for her. Fighting to protect was one thing. Savaging a demon for information was another.
And it just might be something she couldn’t accept.
Erin’s gaze held his. “Yes, I-I think I do.” She wet her lips. Her kiss. It had been like the woman’s kiss had brought him back. “I’m not leaving you.”
He sure wasn’t leaving her. Jude managed a nod. Don’t fear me.
Her eyes narrowed.
No choice. He turned back to his prey and jerked the gag loose with his left hand. “Tell me the name of the asshole who hired you to kill me, or I’ll cut your heart out and fucking stuff it down your throat.”
Erin sucked in a sharp breath. I warned her.
And he was really holding back with the asshole. If he’d had his way, Jude would have already been attacking because in his mind, he could still see the demon swarm going after her.
“I-I wasn’t s-supposed to k-kill you!”
His claws dug in. “Erin, you sure you want to see—”
“I don’t want to see this,” Tony muttered. Jude glanced his way, but never lessened his hold on the prey. “And I can’t see this! I’m a cop, I can’t let you assault a—”
Zane punched Tony in the face. The cop went down, out cold. Zane shrugged. “Now he doesn’t have to get all cop-worried on us. Clear conscience. Nice sleep.”
“Fair enough,” Jude said because it was, unfortunately, a routine they’d done before with Tony. The guy would wake up soon, pissed, but in the clear.
“Uh-oh.” Dee dropped beside Tony. “I think he hit his head when he fell.”
“I think his head just hit my fist.”
She shoved Jude’s mangled clothes beneath the cop’s head. “No, that was his face. ” Her fingers skated through his hair.
“No bumps. No blood.” She rose, brushing off her hands. “Next time, watch where he falls.”
Because, unfortunately, there would be a next time. For them, there always was.
But now…Jude looked at the demon jerkoff. Now the focus was on the guy who was breathing hard and sweating and clogging Jude’s nostrils with his stench. “Ready to die?” he asked the bastard.
“No! ” The demon tried to jerk back, but his cuffs were locked tight to the chair. “H-he just wanted you hurt, w-weak—not dead.”
“You would have killed him.” Erin’s voice. Cold and absolutely certain. “You wouldn’t have just hurt him.”
The hair on Jude’s nape rose. Knowing that Erin had experienced one of those weird-ass death dreams about him made his stomach knot. That close, huh?