She kept her shoulders straight and her hands loose at her sides.

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“I fell for you fast,” he told her.

What? No, no, he couldn’t mean—

She swallowed and stared up at that bloody sky.

“I’m coming back from this case, and I’ll be coming for you.”

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Her hands curled into small fists. “Good.” And she looked back at him, standing so big and strong in that doorway.

“Because if I don’t see your sexy ass within three hours, I’ll be coming for you.” He wasn’t the only one who’d fallen.

And Erin wasn’t about to lose the best thing that had ever happened to her. “Watch that ass, Donovan.”

Their eyes held.

I love you.

The words stuck in her throat. She wanted to say them so badly but—

“You too, sweetheart,” he murmured and her breath caught.

Then he was gone. Jude eased back into the den and she was left with the taste of fear on her tongue.

He watched his mate and fury iced his veins. Her face—her eyes—

Fuck, no.

This wasn’t the way the game was played.

The other shifter—he was prey.

But Erin didn’t look at the tiger as if he were prey.

No, not prey. So much more.

“Bitch,” the word was a growl that broke from his mouth.

He’d done so much for her. Sacrificed and punished—and this was how she repaid him?

Unworthy.

They could have been perfect. Unstoppable. The next evolution for their race.

The tiger had ruined that for him.

Ruined every fucking thing.

“You really think this plan’s going to work?” Erin stood on Jude’s ramshackle porch, her skin cold even though the night was too warm. She stared up at the stars and wondered just how close Jude was to death.

Again.

Bastard.

Be safe. Come back to me.

Because if something happened again, she wasn’t sure she’d get another vision. She’d sure never been able to control the dreams.

No, this time, she might not get a vision.

Just a body.

“I don’t know if it will work.” Dee stepped to her side, moving almost as soundlessly as a shifter. A good hunter, for a human.

Dee’s response wasn’t the reassuring answer she’d wanted, but Erin was quickly coming to see that Dee wasn’t exactly a reassuring kind of woman.

“You’ve been on a lot of hunts with him, haven’t you?” Erin asked, but she didn’t take her gaze off the swamp. The twisting trees, the gentle movement at the water’s edge. This was where Jude ran wild. His sanctuary.

Dee hesitated. “Ah, usually Jude hunts alone.”

Like he’d gone hunting at that den.

The human turned toward her. “He’s the strongest shifter I’ve ever met,” Dee told her. Okay, that was reassuring. Erin glanced at her as she continued, “And believe me, I’ve come across more than my share of shifters since I joined Night Watch fifteen years ago.”

Fifteen years? But the woman barely looked thirty. Hell, more like twenty-five.

Dee laughed. “Don’t worry, I was legal.” A pause. “Barely. Jude took me under his wing. Taught me how to fight the supernaturals. How to survive. He’d only been in the Watch for a few years, but he’d already gotten a reputation.”

She’d just bet he had.

“Jude always gets the job done,” Dee said simply. “You can count on him.”

Yeah, she could.

A soft peal rang out from the area of Dee’s left side. She shoved a hand into the pocket of her jeans and dug out a cell phone. “Yo.”

Erin tensed.

“What? You’re kidding! That’s great! Does he remember anything? What? Yeah, yeah, we’re on our way.”

She ended the call with a flick of her thumb. “Givens is awake. That was McCall, he’s one of the hunters we stationed with Givens for protection. A few minutes ago, Givens woke up. McCall said the guy just opened his eyes and then he asked for his son, Tommy.”

Erin’s breath rushed out. Alive.

“The way I figure it,” Dee said, “we can sit up here with our thumbs up our asses or we can hightail it to that hospital, arrive before the cops do, and maybe get some info out of Givens.”

“I don’t really like having a thumb up my ass,” Erin muttered and jumped down the steps. “Let’s go.” Jude was already hunting, so the info might not be any good to him, but at least she’d be doing something.

Other than having a thumb up her ass.

They ran toward Dee’s SUV.

“You sure this is the place?” Jude demanded.

Kyler gave a grudging nod. “Yeah, yeah, this is the address he gave me.”

A cabin at the edge of the swamp. A place that looked way too much like his own home.

Gotta get a new place for Erin. Because a dump falling into the moss really wasn’t going to cut it for her.

He had the cash. Sure, he liked to run in the swamp, but Erin needed something different.

And after the way the asshole had christened her home, she’d probably like a fresh start someplace else.

They could get that start together. Maybe another antebellum, one they could restore together. One with a lot of land for running…

Later.

“All right then,” Jude said, testing the ropes that held his hands. Damn tight, cutting-off-his-circulation tight. Zane knew his knots, how to tie ’em and how to place ’em. Thanks to Zane, the knots were perfectly positioned next to his claws. A few slices, and he’d be free. “Time to get your payment.”

A grunt came from the sweating demon. His black eyes darted from the left to the right. “This is a real assed-up plan.”

Jude grunted. “Who asked you?”

Zane eyed him with raised brows. “Guess I get to be the one to drag your sorry butt inside, huh?”

“No… he gets the job.” Because he didn’t want Kyler’s hands free for a minute.

“Fuck,” Kyler snarled.

Good thing demons were strong.

“Let’s get this shit started.”

Dee’s foot shoved the gas pedal to the floor. She took the curves and hidden twists with ease, her gaze never darting from the road.

At this rate, they’d be at the hospital in no time. The road was deserted. Dark and quiet. Well, quiet except for Dee’s revving motor.

“Does Lee know he was attacked because of me?” Erin’s fingers tapped against the side of the passenger door.

“No.”

Ah, that would be a fun conversation.

“He doesn’t know that you saved his butt yet, either.”

Headlights flashed in the distance. Maybe not so deserted. “Saving him has to count for something, right?” Erin asked quietly. She sure hoped it did.

Zane kicked open the door of the cabin. “We’re here!” He called out, pretty unnecessarily to Jude’s way of thinking.

Kyler tossed him onto the floor. “Got the shifter bastard you wanted.”

Jude didn’t grunt at the impact. He didn’t move at all.

Old floorboards squeaked around him as Zane and Kyler edged out in the room.

Jude’s nostrils flared. He couldn’t scent the wolf, but Erin had told him the guy could disguise his smell. So just because he couldn’t smell him, well, that didn’t mean the stalker wasn’t there.

His ears twitched.

Silence.

Thick and heavy. Too much silence.

He slashed through his ropes and bounded to his feet. “Where the hell is the bastard?”

Kyler was creeping toward the door. Jude grabbed him and slammed his head against the wall. Payback for the headfirst toss onto the floor. The demon went down and didn’t get back up.

Jude’s gaze raked the cabin. Not here.

But if the wolf wasn’t waiting to rip him apart, then where was the bastard?

“Yeah, saving the guy’s life has to count for something,” Dee said, her fingers tightening around the steering wheel. “It’s not like you could help the fact that this creep after you tried to kill him.”

The headlights were growing closer. The dark shadow of that other car—was it swerving a bit?

Erin licked her lips. “How many…other cabins are out this way?” She’d never seen another vehicle when she’d visited Jude before. The guy liked his solitude. Not real big into sharing property and—

Something big and black ran into the road.

“What the hell?” Dee slammed on the brakes.

But whatever the hell that was out there wasn’t aiming for them.

“Is that a fucking dog?” Dee’s breath jerked out with a hard rush.

Erin’s breath was gone. Not a dog. The beast was heading right for the other vehicle. Running fast and hard. The beast never halted, never faltered, just ran straight for the other driver.

Animal and car hit. Brakes squealed. Metal shrieked. Glass shattered. And the vehicle, a big, black SUV—pretty damned similar to Dee’s, just a different color—swerved off the road and plowed into a line of trees.

“Shit!” Dee jerked off her belt and sprang from the vehicle.

The air from Dee’s open door wafted into the SUV, and Erin’s eyes widened as she caught a distinct scent. No. “Dee!

Dee, stop!” She clawed through her own seat belt and jumped out, her heart racing. “Don’t get close, it’s—”

“Holy Christ!”

She hadn’t even known the woman was religious.

“You know, if he were awake, the guy would be a hell of a lot more useful.” Zane eyed the demon on the floor, his face grim. “Maybe you should have waited to bash his head until after we got some more information.”

There was no more information to get. “The wolf isn’t here.” He’d been played. Played.

And he’d left Erin alone.

He grabbed his cell phone. Punched in her number.

One ring.

Two.

Then… damn CALLER NOT AVAILABLE message.

His fingers crushed the phone. Shit. “Try to get Dee on the line,” he growled, and his gaze raked the cabin. Minimal furnishings. A chair. A bed. Too much like my place.

Except for the framed picture of Erin.

Bastard.

“Ringing,” Zane said, and Jude glanced back to see that the demon had his cell phone positioned at his ear.

“Tell her to get Erin inside my cabin and to lock the doors. We’re on our way.”

That picture…

He turned back around, slowly, and paced across the room.

Her hair was longer. She was smiling, walking in what looked like some kind of park.

“No answer.”

Jude reached for the frame. He traced the busted glass. It looked like someone had shoved a fist into the picture.

“We’ve got a big problem.” He looked up at Zane. No answer. Their eyes met. The broken glass bit into his hand, sending droplets of blood onto the picture.

Onto Erin.

Blood was in the air. Thick and strong and so sickeningly fresh.

“I think the bastard is dead!” Dee scrambled to a stop near the middle of the road, right before the prone body of the giant black wolf.

“Get back!” Erin screamed, running as fast as she could. An injured wolf was dangerous. Any wolf was dangerous, but an injured beast would rip and tear anything in its path.

With a burst of speed, she reached the human and jerked her back.

“Erin, stop! The wolf is barely breathing. It’s over, you’re—”

Erin shoved Dee away. A safe distance behind her. Then she fell to her knees beside the wolf. So much blood. A growl rumbled in the beast’s throat and the creature bared its teeth.

“Easy,” she whispered.

“Are you insane?” Dee blasted. “Get away from him! Let him die! Your life will be one hell of a lot better!”

Erin reached out a hand to the wolf. The too-sharp teeth snapped together, barely missing her fingertips.

“Erin!”

“It’s going to be all right,” she whispered, but the words were a lie. A tear trickled down her cheek. No, no, this wasn’t the way things should have ended.

She ignored the teeth and the claws that tried to swipe at her. An injured beast would rip and tear anything in its path.

Even if she was the one in the creature’s path. Her fingers sank into the bloody fur. The wolf’s hind legs were broken, no, shattered.

Hold on.

“Call for help,” she ordered, never taking her eyes off the wolf.

“Yeah, I need to get help for whoever is in that SUV! But not for this mangy wolf and I—aw, hell, I left my cell in the car!”

A growl rose in Erin’s throat.

She heard the soft fall of Dee’s footsteps as the human stumbled back. “Erin, wh-what’s up with you? I thought you…hated this guy.” Suspicion now. Worry.

The wolf jerked its head against her and managed to let out a long, mournful howl. The beast’s eyes jerked to the left, and it whimpered.

Such bright yellow eyes.

“This isn’t the asshole who’s after me.” The shift began then. Fast, because the wolf was weak and so was the woman.

“This is my mother.”

And she was dying.

“Where the hell are they?” Jude’s foot shoved down even harder on the gas pedal as the car lurched forward. The car was Zane’s, but he’d borrowed it while the demon secured Kyler.

The bastard likes to get up close and personal with his prey. That’s how he makes the kills. And why he’d given the order that Jude would be brought to him alive. If he’d come to the den, if he’d learned what happened…

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