Jude yanked the steering wheel to the left. Every instinct he had screamed the guy had gone running, but not out of the city.
Instead, he’d gone—
For a sports car, Zane’s “baby” sure wasn’t going fast enough. He shifted hard and the engine roared. Zane would have to trail as fast as he could on the motorcycle they’d found at the cabin.
Erin. Be safe, sweetheart. His claws ripped through his fingertips.
“I got Antonio on the phone. He’s sending help.” Dee eased onto her knees beside Erin. “I-I found this in my SUV.” She handed her a loose jacket.
Her mother lay on the ground, pale and unmoving. So much blood. It was the only covering she had.
Erin put the jacket over her.
“Can’t she change? Like Jude did back at the den, can’t she—”
“She’s too weak.” If Antonio didn’t get there soon with the ambulance, she’d be dead. Erin brushed back a clump of her mother’s hair. They really looked so much alike.
When she’d been a girl, her mother had combed her hair every night before bed, laughing as she stroked her—
Her mother’s lashes lifted, so slowly. Yellow eyes, hazy with pain, tried to focus on Erin. “R-run.” Blood trickled from the corner of her mouth.
Goosebumps rose on her arms. “Mother?”
Her breath whispered out and her eyes closed.
“Oh, God!” From Dee. “Is she—”
Erin grabbed her arm. “Did you check on the other driver?”
“Yeah, yeah, it’s a guy. He’s fine, just has a little cut on his forehead.”
Her fingers tightened. “Do you have your gun?” She’d seen it earlier. Dee always carried her gun. Always.
Dee brushed back her shirt, revealing the butt of her weapon.
A twig snapped. Close. Too close.
Her mother had almost killed herself? Why?
The wolf—her mother—had headed straight for that other SUV. Attacked it.
To protect me.
The night was too quiet then. No crickets. No croaking frogs. Just silence, smothering her.
The fingers of Dee’s right hand hesitated over the gun butt. Erin held her stare and mouthed, Get. It. Out.
A growl—from the left.
They spun around. Dee brought up her gun.
Erin expected to see a wolf lunge at them.
Instead, she saw a man.
One she knew. What the hell?
Judge Lance Harper— the freaking judge! —walked from the brush, as calm as you please. Blood trickled down the side of his face. He smiled at her, revealing his fangs, and said, “Erin, beautiful Erin, I’m going to have to punish you.”
And he lifted his claws toward her.
“Shoot him!” she screamed at Dee.
His smile vanished, and he lunged for her.
Dee fired. Once. Twice.
The deafening shots echoed in Erin’s ears.
The judge froze. He looked down at his chest, at the blood soaking his shirt, and he shook his head. “Takes more than that to stop me.”
She knew that, oh, dammit, but she knew—
Dee ran forward, her gun up, but the bastard moved too fast. His claws raked down her arm, then across her chest. The gun flew from her fingers and she screamed as his teeth caught her shoulder.
“No! ” Dee didn’t understand. Harper wasn’t like other shifters. He’s like me. In human form, he was nearly as strong as a fully transformed shifter.
And when he transformed—
“Let her go, asshole!” Erin sank her own claws into his side, and twisted.
He howled in fury and pain, and he tossed Dee into the air. When she came down, Dee hit the ground with a thud, and she didn’t get up.
His head turned, just a few inches, and Harper met Erin’s stare. His brown eyes were muddy, so dark, and the grin on his face chilled her. “Always knew you liked the blood. Just like me.”
“I’m nothing like you!” She jumped back, putting some frantic space between them.
She could really have used Jude right then! When Dee had called for backup, she’d called Night Watch and Antonio. Not Jude and Zane. Dee had thought they were in the middle of their trap. Thought they were catching the stalker.
But he’d come for her, instead.
Harper raised a hand to his side. His fingers touched the blood that pulsed and flowed so hotly. “Wanted to do this…in human form.”
Her claws were up, ready. “Do what?” Hot Harper? Lance Harper? His name blasted through her head over and over again. She’d been in his courtroom so many times, been so close to him, and never suspected.
He’d tried to rape her. He’d killed. Tortured.
She shook her head. No, no, this didn’t make a bit of sense.
He watched her with those dark eyes, and his blood splattered on to the ground. He didn’t seem to notice or even to care.
“You disappointed me, mate.”
Mate. “I’m not your mate.”
The judge blinked at that, looking vaguely surprised. “Well, of course, you are. I recognized you the first moment you stepped into my courtroom.” His smile had faded completely. “I divorced my third wife for you.”
Divorced my third wife. Erin guessed she was lucky he hadn’t killed the woman. “There’s no way you could have known from one look that I was your mate.” Keep him talking. Backup would arrive soon. Had to. Just how many bullets would the guy be able to take and keep standing? Because when Antonio arrived, she knew he’d unload on the asshole.
“I knew the second I caught your scent that you were mine.”
Bullshit. She hoped. Her eyes narrowed. “So what? You decided to make my life hell because you liked the way I smelled?”
He jumped toward her. Harper closed the distance in less than a second. Stronger than me. Faster than me.
His fingers wrapped around her arms, and she felt the sting of his claws. His breath— freaking minted breath—blew in her face. “I gave you everything you wanted. I punished the fools who hurt you or got in your way. I made sure your life was perfect.”
Insane. There was a reason for the whispers about wolves being psychotic. Some of them really were. “You killed. You murdered Donald Trent!”
The claws dug deeper. “Because you wanted him stopped.” His teeth snapped together and a frown pulled his brows low, as if he truly didn’t understand. “If I’d found him guilty in court, he would have been out in what? Two, three years?” He grunted.
“Not good enough for you. You wanted more—so I gave you more! I stopped him, permanently.”
“You buried him in the woods behind his kids’ house!”
The right side of his mouth lifted. “Thought it was fitting.”
No, it was insane.
“I just had to go and watch the cops dig him up. So fucking perfect.”
Erin could only stare at him. Why hadn’t she seen the madness before? Why hadn’t the cops? All the other lawyers?
The insanity had hid so well behind his black robes.
His gaze swept over her face. “When you walked in that first day, I thought you were the most perfect thing I’d ever seen.
Just like her, that same fire burning inside.” He jerked Erin closer. “I knew when I saw you then, I knew why fate had put that bastard in Theresa’s path so many years before.”
What? Her heart iced. “H-how do you know my mother’s name?” The mother who lay dying just a few feet away. She’d risked her life to save Erin from this bastard.
He blinked and, for an instant, almost seemed confused. “I thought she was mine.” The words came, slow and stilted. “For years, I thought she was the one for me.”
A choked moan rumbled from behind Erin. Her mother’s pain-filled cry.
Erin stared into Harper’s eyes and knew.
Theresa’s voice drifted through her mind. “Such dark, dark eyes that saw into me so well…”
Her mother’s lover.
Erin jerked against him, hard, horror giving her strength as she stumbled back from his hold.
His lip curled with disgust as he grated, “When she went with that human, I couldn’t pretend about her any more. She wasn’t mine.”
Erin sucked in oxygen as hard and as fast as she could. Not. Happening.
“I left the pack.” His teeth snapped together. “I went on my own, and then you came to me.”
No, no, she hadn’t come to him. She’d just been in court, doing her job!
“The instant I saw you, I finally understood what fate had planned for me. I knew you were my reward, the mate I’d always wanted.” A laugh then, rough and wild. “You look so much like her,” he said, “but you’re better, stronger, mine. ”
“No, I’m not yours. ” Never would be.
“You know what it’s like to be different from the others. Not human. Not wolf. More powerful than both.” He lifted his hand toward her, long and deadly claws out. “We were made for each other. Perfect halves.”
She stared at that hand and remembered the sight of Bobby Burrows’s bloody body. “We are nothing alike.” She held her body perfectly still. Now wasn’t the time for an attack. Not yet.
He closed the space between them. His right hand lifted and his fingers trailed down her cheek. “I had to bide my time and make sure there were no obstacles between us.”
Yeah, he’d tried to kill all the obstacles. Erin barely breathed as she stood before him.
One sharp claw pressed against the side of her face. “Purebloods always thought they were so fucking superior. I had to show the animals how wrong they were. Every day, I had to fight and claw my way through the pack.”
Alpha. Her mother had said her lover was the alpha of the pack. Alphas were the most bloodthirsty of the wolves. The most dangerous.
“They never understood what we are!” he snarled. “Fucking idiots!”
She swallowed. “And what are we?”
The claw dug into her skin, broke the flesh. “The next evolution. We can be strong in our human flesh. We don’t have to wait for the wolf. We can kill and we can conquer as we are. Hell, we can rule the world. We don’t have to wait for the shift. We have the power every minute of every day.”
Her chin lifted and she knew the liquid sliding down her face wasn’t tears, it was blood. “I can’t shift.”
His gaze burned her. “I know—that’s why you’re so perfect. ”
Great, of all the people in the world, he thought she was perfect.
Harper licked his thin lips. “Our children won’t need to shift. They’ll be born with power. Always have it.”
Their children? “Got news for you,” she managed. There’d been no sound from Dee—or from her mother—for several moments. Be alive. “I’m not planning on having any kids with you.” That would be the last thing she’d ever do.
Whack job for a father? Hell, no. She and her mother had very different taste in men.
His breath rushed out. More mint. “It’s that fucking tiger. I’ve been watching you. Always watching.”
She knew that. She’d felt his eyes too many times.
“I’m good at hiding. I was close enough to touch you so many times and you never knew.”
Goosebumps rose on her flesh.
“I changed my hair, used contacts, held the shift so that my face was different—” He broke off, giving a muffled laugh.
“You never even knew!”
He’d held the shift? How was that even possible? The next evolution.
“I love to watch you,” he whispered. “Love to see your face.” His jaw clenched as his eyes turned arctic. “And I’ve seen your face when you look at that bastard!” Spittle flew at her. “You’ve been screwing him. Fucking around on me just like your whore of a mother!”
Her claws were out. Ready. His wounds were close. Keep talking. Hold his attention. Stir his fury.
Fury could make him weak.
Erin smiled. A slow, wide grin. “Yeah, I have.”
She shoved her hands up between them. Don’t forget how strong I can be, asshole.
His mistake—he’d stayed in human form. She could take the jerk in human form. Because she was as strong as he was that way, maybe even stronger. Maybe.
Time to find out.
She drove her claws into his bloody wounds and wrenched up as hard as she could.
His head slammed into hers and black spots danced before her eyes.
She stumbled back. He raised his claws above her—
Erin caught his right wrist, then the left, and she held him as tight as she could. Bones snapped beneath her grip.
“Perfect,” he whispered and he crushed his mouth against hers.
She bit him, savaging his lips with her teeth and his blood flowed.
But the bastard just laughed.
Furious, scared as hell, she threw him back.
Harper didn’t stumble or stagger. He landed on his feet. The bastard balanced perfectly and then swiped the back of his hand over his bleeding mouth. “I like the way you taste.” His stare dropped to her body. “When you’re with him…do you think of me?”
What? “No! ”
More laughter. “I bet I’m in your head. Late at night, when you close your eyes, you think of me, don’t you?”
She had, for so long. But not because she wanted him. Because…“You attacked me! Almost murdered Ben! You’ve terrorized me, so, hell, yes, I’ve thought about you!” Her teeth ached as they extended even more. Longer, sharper than they’d ever been. “I thought about how I’d like to kill you.”