Killed in a demon’s den, body torn apart and left on the stained floor.
Not exactly the way he wanted to leave this world. But then, again, he didn’t exactly have plans to be dying soon—death dreams or not.
“Th-thought it would be easier,” the demon rasped.
The guy had just confessed to planning to kill him—surely that deserved a good, old-fashioned ass whooping. Jude’s lips peeled away from his teeth. One good bite and he’d be able to—
“Never saw…the guy’s face.”
“Then how the hell did he contact you? How’d he arrange the attack?” Zane demanded. Zane. Being in the den had to be torture for the guy. All those memories. Dee didn’t know about the demon’s past, but Jude did. Zane had told him one night when the tequila had been drained in an empty Delaney’s.
“He called me.” The demon’s fat tongue swiped over his bloody lip. “T-told me you’d be coming.”
So the stalker had maneuvered everything. He’d moved them around like freaking pawns.
Mickey. Some tip. He couldn’t wait to get his claws in that hyena.
“I-I was s-supposed to deliver you…to him…tonight.”
Jude’s hold eased, just a bit. “Were you now?” This was it. The chance he needed. “And he was going to pay you on delivery, right?”
A slow nod.
“How much?” What was the going rate for a shifter’s life these days?
Now he was just insulted. Ten grand?
“Damn, Jude, vamps are worth more than that,” Dee said, and she would know. Vamps were her specialty, after all.
“These demons are addicts,” Zane grated. “They’d kill their own mothers for ten grand. Hell, they probably have.”
Jude didn’t look away from his prey. “This one’s not on drugs.”
The demon spit out a tooth. “Just…wanted the money. Knew the others…would do anything…for some cash.”
“Same as you.” Not an addict, but a killer straight to the bone. “And you will do anything…”
“Uh-oh.” Dee let out a loud sigh. “I think I know where the tiger’s going with this.”
“No, he’s not that crazy.” A pause from Zane. “Unless maybe the demons hit him too hard in the head. Could be he’s not thinking straight, could be—”
Tony let out a long, loud groan. Then, “Fuckin’ bastard. Knew what you were gonna do. Couldn’t you have pulled it some?”
“No.” Zane’s immediate reply.
“Wh-what are you talking about?” the demon demanded.
Jude smiled at him and fully retracted his claws. After all, he didn’t want to damage the demon. Especially now that he knew he needed the jerk. “You’re gonna earn your money tonight.”
“Wh-what’d I miss?” Tony asked, the words a bit thick.
“Jude.” Erin’s voice was sharp.
She wouldn’t like the plan, but there was no option. The game was ending. He’d end it. “You’re gonna deliver me to the asshole who contacted you—and you’re gonna collect your money.”
Erin’s fingers dug into Jude’s shoulder and she spun him around. Her eyes were blazing as she snapped, “The hell he is.”
“This is a really stupid idea.” Erin’s stare could have burned a lesser man. As it was, Jude felt distinctly singed. “You’re already weak. You can’t seriously be considering going after this guy now.”
Weak. Not a word he particularly enjoyed even though he still felt like he’d been hit by a truck. Or a dozen demons. “I’m getting stronger every minute.” True. He’d always known he was lucky to be a white tiger. If he’d been a fox—hell, it would have taken days for him to recover. Simple shifter fact: The stronger and rarer you were, the quicker you healed. Kinda like survival of the fittest multiplied, and it was sweet old Mother Nature’s way of making sure her once-in-a-blue-moon shifters didn’t vanish from the earth completely.
When you were hard to kill, you got to live longer.
“You. Can’t. Do. This.”
He’d never heard that particular guttural tone from her before. The lady was walking a fine edge of rage. So was he. “This is it, sweetheart. The chance to bag the bastard and take him out.” The others were silent around them. Watching. Waiting. Even the demon prey had the sense to keep his mouth shut. “We finish this tonight, and there’s no more running for you. No more fear.”
“And if he kills you?” Her hands were small fists. Blood dripped onto the floor near her feet, and he knew that her claws were out, cutting her.
A rumble built in his throat and he crossed to her. Took her hands. Unfurled the fists. Her claws had dug deep. “Erin…”
She jerked away from him. “You almost died here.” Her right hand lifted, waving toward the peeling walls and sputtering candles. Luckily, someone—he thought maybe Dee—had broken the radio and ended the blasting stream of drums and rock.
“Almost doesn’t really count,” he murmured, and knew when her eyes immediately slit that he’d said the wrong thing.
“I saw you on the floor.” Death dream. “Blood around you. Your eyes wide open. Dead.” She shook her head, sending her hair flying around her. “Don’t tell me that doesn’t count.”
“Uh? What did she see?” Tony asked. He was up and gingerly rubbing his jaw.
Zane shook his head. “I’ll explain later, but, man, I really don’t think you want to know.”
Their voices drifted around Jude. Erin. He wanted, needed to hold her. But the others—
Ah, screw them.
He caught Erin and yanked her against his chest. He held fast when she fought him and when her head tipped back, he kissed her.
She bit him…then kissed him back. “Bastard,” she whispered against his lips.
A tremble shook her.
Or maybe it shook him. Hard to say. Her mouth widened and his tongue swept inside. This— this was what he needed.
Her taste. Her flesh. His for the taking. His.
“Uh, dude, seriously, if you two have sex, I’m outta here, fast,” Dee said, her voice gruff.
His head lifted. Sex with Erin. Always something he was up for but—
But darkness would be falling soon and a killer waited.
“You’re really going, aren’t you?” Erin asked as her hands rose to lock around his arms.
A nod. For her. He’d stop the bastard, one way or another.
She absorbed that, then said, “Then I’m coming, too.”
“The hell you are!” No, no way, she—
“My life, Jude.” Her hold tightened on him. “He’s been screwing with my life all this time. I’m not sitting on the sidelines anymore, and I’m sure not letting you go in alone with this freak waiting to tear you apart.”
Her scent filled his nostrils, sending his cock surging to full, hard attention and making his heart race with a twisted mix of lust and need and fear. Lust and need—because he always wanted her, even when he’d just left death’s cold door. Fear—the fear came because he didn’t want to risk her. She could take down demons, but if the stalker shifted, she’d die. “You can’t go with me.” Giving her a straight order wouldn’t work, but logic might sway her lawyer’s mind. “Erin, he’d catch your scent long before we closed in and the bastard would run.” Then they’d be back to square fucking one.
No. The game would end tonight.
“Uh…this really isn’t police protocol,” Tony pointed out.
“The police aren’t gonna be handling this.” Jude released Erin and stepped back. He thought maybe the move would help to ease the hunger he felt. No such luck. “Night Watch has priority. The shifter asshole is expecting me and the demon, and that’s what he’ll get.”
“Ah…not quite.” Zane cleared his throat. Jude glanced at him and saw the hunter’s green eyes fade to pure black. “He’s expecting you and he’s going to get two demons. The asshole over there—and me.” His smile held a cruel edge. “You freaking shifters think you can scent everything a mile away. Well, when he smells me, all he’ll get is demon.”
An answering grin stretched Jude’s lips. Zane had always been there for him, ready to kick ass and walk right into the dark. He slanted a glance at Erin. “Between the two of us, the wolf will go down.” The other shifter wouldn’t be expecting the threat—from Zane or from him and that would be his downfall.
Erin was one hell of a fighter. She’d more than proved that tonight. But now, it was his turn. “This is what I do,” he told her, his blood already heating. “It’s time for me to finish this hunt.”
The struggle was on her face. Fury and fear warring together. Yeah, he knew that mix well.
Jude turned to the demon who’d set him up to die. “What’s your name?”
His lips thinned.
“Ah, does he want me to beat it out of him?” Dee asked. “If I can’t go hunting with you, at least let me have some fun now.”
Jude grunted. “Okay, Kyler, this is how it’s gonna work. You’ll do exactly what I say or you’ll find out what it’s like to have a tiger rip you open.”
The black eyes didn’t blink.
“Got me?” Jude pushed.
A slow incline of his head.
“I’ll be watching you, demon. Every move.” If it looked like the demon was going to sell him out, the bastard would feel a shifter’s rage.
Erin was silent and stiff beside him. The fury and fear raged on her face and the combination seemed to come off her in waves, thickening the air.
“You hired me to do this job,” he reminded her. “So let me do it.
Her golden eyes went glacial. “It’s not just a job. It’s your life!”
And her life. “This is what I do,” he said again. What he had to do, for her. Protecting what you valued most was the way of his breed.
Nothing was more valuable to him than Erin.
Her nostrils flared. “You don’t get so much as another scratch, you understand me? Not a scratch. You go in, stop the freak, and you come back to me.”
He blew out a slow breath. “You know, sweetheart, it sure sounds like you care what happens to me—”
“Don’t be an idiot.” Her finger stabbed into his chest. “You know I—”
Oh, come on, she couldn’t stop there.
“—I do.” Soft. Sad. “So don’t leave me, got it?”
Leave her? Not an option, now or damn ever. “Got it.”
She crushed her mouth to his. Made him ache and need and lust.
Her mouth lifted. Their eyes met. “I’ll be waiting for you.”
Then she brushed past him. The lady climbed the steps with her head high and her shoulders straight. The metal door screeched open when she reached the top.
Jude realized he was holding his breath. Talk about a woman with power.
She could bring him to his knees so easily.
“Oh, damn.” Zane sounded bemused, confused, not like his usual cocky self. “That lady is…something else. Man, did you see the way she fought?” Zane had always had a soft spot for a woman who could kick ass and ignore names.
“Yeah, I did.” There had been no missing the way she’d fought to save him. A smart man held a woman who fought like that very close.
A smart man told her how he really felt, and he worked like hell to make her feel the same way.
“Uh, Jude…” Tony’s voice was back to that drawling roll now, not dazed anymore. “Are you sure about this plan? You don’t know what that asshole could have waiting for you.”
“He doesn’t know what’s coming for him.” No way was he backing down. “Don’t worry, Tony, I’m not scared of the big, bad wolf.” No, the wolf needed to be scared of him.
The sun was starting to set when Erin marched out of the den twenty minutes later. Red gold lights shot across the sky, looking weakly like trickles of blood.
Her hands fisted. “You’d better come back to me in one piece, Jude.”
He stood behind her, just inside the entrance to the den. “Don’t worry about me.”
Right. “You almost died on me once today.” Not again.
“I’ll have backup.”
She stared up at the sky and tried to pretend she was in control. I can handle this.
If she were going with him, she’d be handling it a whole lot better. If she were watching his back…
But Erin knew he was right. The wolf would catch her scent instantly.
Straightening her shoulders, she took a step forward. Dee stood next to a gray SUV, waiting semi-patiently for her. Jude had told the human to stay with her until he returned from the hunt.
A human? For protection? Seriously, she could rip the woman apart in less than ten seconds.
If she were the ripping apart type.
“There’s something you should know, sweetheart.”
She hesitated but didn’t glance back.
“I realized a few things in that filthy hole.”
Yeah, she’d realized some damn important things too. When she’d seen him and he’d been so still, a jarring realization had come real quick. Can’t lose him.
“You stopped being a case for me, hell, almost from day one.”