“You’ve got the blood thirst, just like me.”
A broken groan broke the air.
Erin’s gaze flew to the left. Not her mother this time, Dee. The hunter was trying to push herself up.
“Why do you care about them?” His stare followed hers. “They aren’t even worth your notice.”
No, he wasn’t worth her notice.
He held out his hand to her once more, claws stained red. “Come with me, Erin, and I’ll let your human live, for now.”
For now. Code for later, he’d be back to slice her to ribbons.
“Why do you do it?” she whispered. “Why all the killings? Bobby Burrows—”
His hand waited in the air, but he answered her. Harper had always loved to hear himself talk. That was one of the many reasons why his court had always been torture for her. “Burrows made you look like a fool. He escaped on your watch.”
Well, the cops’ watch.
“And he was worthless trash, eating away at the world. He needed to be put down.”
“That’s not your call to make! You can’t decide who lives or dies! You can’t—”
His hand fell. “I’ve spent fifteen years of my life deciding who lives and dies. I damn well know what I’m doing.”
Executing his own brand of justice and claiming to kill for her. “You’re crazy,” she whispered. Probably not the smartest thing to say to a killer, but what the hell?
“Wolves in packs don’t become psychotic.” His voice had chilled.
He hadn’t been in a pack for almost thirty years.
“Mated wolves out of the pack retain their sanity.”
He wasn’t mated. Did the guy even see where this was headed?
“You’re my mate. Since finding you, everything in my life has become crystal clear.” His lips firmed and he took a step forward—
And he stumbled.
The blood loss. It was finally hitting him.
She’d hoped if she kept him talking, kept him focused—yes!
Harper slipped in his own blood and went down, hard.
She shook her head. “I’m not your mate, asshole, and even if I was, I wouldn’t spend a day of my life with you.”
“The tiger…” His head fell down. His body shuddered. “Should have…killed him…beginning…”
No. “Jude isn’t exactly easy to kill.” One of his best traits.
His claws scraped over the pavement. “Saw the way…you…l-looked at him…Has to…die…”
“No, he doesn’t. You’re not going to hurt Jude.”
He threw his head back then, and she saw his face. A wild combination of man and beast. “You’re mine!” A barely human howl of fury.
The transformation ripped through his body and he jerked, almost convulsing on the ground.
Not a shift. No. He should have been too weak to transform. Should have been…
Bones snapped. Fur burst from his skin.
“No! ” Erin flew at him, attacking, hoping to stop the shift before it was too late. Before he was too strong. Because if he shifted, he could heal—and he could kill her.
But his shift was fast. Faster than Jude’s. Faster than any shifter she’d ever seen in her life. When her body fell against his, she sank her claws as deeply as she could into his side—not the side of a man, but the body of a wolf. She thrust her claws past the thick fur and right into the muscle.
The wolf howled, and his head— long, thick muzzle, too-dark eyes—turned toward her.
This was so not good. Erin stumbled back, sweat coating her body.
The wolf rose to his feet. His muscles vibrated and his fangs dripped saliva.
Too strong. The beast showed no signs of weakness.
Hybrid. The rules didn’t apply to him. Or maybe they did. He could obviously heal as fast as she could. When he shifted anyway. She could heal almost that fast without a shift.
The next evolution? Had he been right?
The wolf snarled, and she stopped thinking about old Darwin—and focused on the killing machine before her.
Backup! Where was Antonio?
She took a deep breath and attacked with all of her might, ripping, shredding muscle as—
He rolled and his hind legs came up, catching her in the stomach. The wolf kicked her into the air.
Erin landed on her ass but jumped back up as fast as she could. Dee was inching ever closer to her gun. A fighter. She could be a fighter, too. “Come on, judge. You want me so bad, huh? Then come and get me.” She had to keep him away from Dee and her mother.
Erin held up her claws and bared her teeth.
And knew that he was about to kick her ass.
Can’t take him while he’s in wolf form. She just wasn’t strong enough.
But she could give him one hell of a fight. And maybe, maybe Dee could get her gun and blast the jerk with more bullets.
She just had to hold him off long enough to—
The wolf lunged at her. His teeth sank into her forearm, gouging deep holes into her flesh and biting all the way to the bone.
His claws raked across her stomach and his teeth—they wouldn’t let go!
Fire ate at her belly, but she took that pain and used it to feed the beast inside who could never get out.
“Not a good way to treat your mate.” She grabbed his jaw and had to pry the thing loose with hands that shook.
His eyes rolled. She caught the faintest sight of white in that darkness, and he twisted suddenly, shoving Erin and kicking into her legs.
What? Why was he—
The hum of a motor rumbled in the distance. The wolf must have heard it before she had.
The wolf’s ears shot straight into the air. His head snapped in the direction of the approaching car, then he looked back at her.
His muscles bunched.
And damn if it didn’t look like the beast smiled.
Smiled—with her mother lying there, dying. With Dee bleeding out.
When the wolf leapt forward, Erin launched herself at him. They hit, hard, and the wolf knocked her into the dirt near the side of the road, and then he locked his teeth on her shoulder, in her shoulder.
Bad idea. So fucking bad. Her claws flew up and gouged at his eyes.
The wolf leapt away.
Yeah, asshole. My dad taught me that move, before he realized I could break the hands of any touchy-feely punks who crossed the line.
“Go for the eyes, girl. Don’t be afraid to hurt him.”
She sure wasn’t afraid to hurt the wolf.
“Erin…” Dee’s weak voice.
She glanced to the left. Dee was on her knees, weaving a bit. Her white T-shirt was soaked red.
The wolf snarled, and she knew he’d seen Dee. His teeth snapped together.
Prey. Weak and ready.
The thought was hers, a sick instinct she’d always ignored, but it was Harper’s, too. She knew it.
So when he ran for Dee, she lunged after him. Her claws sank into his hind legs, and he twisted back. His paws hit her, taking her down with one hard blow, and she fell with the heavy weight of his body smothering her.
“Run!” Her cry this time, not her mother’s. “Run, Dee!”
Because the wolf was too strong for her. Too strong for Dee.
Maybe even too strong for the backup coming.
Two bullets hadn’t slowed him. She hadn’t slowed him.
Saliva dripped onto her face. That breath wasn’t so minty fresh anymore.
Erin looked up and found his open mouth poised right over her.
This was it.
No dreams this time. No visions. Her death.
Hadn’t seen this one coming.
She’d found him too late. A man who accepted her, wanted her, maybe even could love her—too late.
She wouldn’t be healing from this.
With a snarl, those fangs went for her throat.
The roar came as she felt the first puncture. A roar that filled her ears and seemed to shake the street.
Then the wolf was knocked right off her. His teeth scraped over her neck, slicing the skin.
She rolled away, lifting a hand to her throat and touching the wet warmth of her blood.
The tiger was there, quivering with fury. Fighting with claws and teeth. Driving his fangs into the wolf’s body. Picking up the smaller beast and tossing him into the air.
A match for a wolf.
Wolves were strong, no doubt about it, but a tiger shifter was no one’s bitch.
She managed to rise to her feet. The blood flow was already starting to ease up. The slice hadn’t gone too deep, thanks to Jude. All of her wounds throbbed, but they were healing fast.
Growls and snarls filled the air. The tiger and the wolf attacked, rolled, roared, and howled.
Blood soaked their fur. Bones crunched.
The wolf sank his teeth into the tiger’s back. Jude jerked away, swiping with his front paws.
Have to help. Can’t just stand here and watch!
“Erin…” Dee’s voice.
Erin ran to her side and grabbed the gun. It slipped in her blood-soaked fingers.
“No, wait, you need—”
No more waiting. The wolf had just cut open Jude’s side.
The tiger seemed to move in a fast blur, launching at the wolf, his giant mouth open.
She lifted the gun, aimed. Move, Jude, move—just a bit. Give me a shot. A chance to end the nightmare.
His mouth locked on the wolf’s throat. Jude jerked the wolf up with his hold, and Erin had a perfect view of the beast’s back.
Her finger squeezed the trigger.
The bullet thudded into the wolf.
The tiger’s teeth clamped down harder.
One beat of time. Two. She fought to hold the gun steady. If she just didn’t have so much blood on her hands…
The tiger dropped his prey. The wolf didn’t move.
Jude threw back his head and roared his rage at the night.
Over? Please, be—
Jude jumped over the fallen body of the wolf. As he ran to her, the fur began to melt from his body. He fell before her as the bones snapped and shaped with sickening crunches. His fangs disappeared and a man’s face formed from the tiger’s.
Naked, strong, he knelt before her.
Then he looked up at her. Jude didn’t speak. He just gazed at her.
Her hands fell on to his shoulders. Over. She stared into his eyes. Finally, the bastard was dead.
And Jude was alive and strong and right in front of her.
“Erin…are you all right?” Gruff, thick. Somewhere between the man’s rumbles and the beast’s growls.
She managed a nod. Too much blood on her, but…“I’m a fast healer.”
His gaze tracked over her bloody form, then rose back to her face. “Just so we’re clear,” he told her, his voice growing stronger. “You aren’t his mate. Never were.”
She shook her head. “No, you—”
“You’re mine, sweetheart. Have been from the beginning, just like I’m yours.” His hands wrapped around her waist and he pulled her close.
A tear slid down her cheek and splashed onto his shoulder. She wanted that to be true because she wanted him so much, but—
His head tipped back a bit more. “Mine,” he said again, simply, softly.
And she echoed the word as she gazed down at him. “Mine.”
Then he was rising up, holding her too tight and so right and his mouth was on hers and he kissed her the way he’d always kissed her—
With hunger and need and lust.
She wanted to sink into him, to push the world away, but there was too much pain around her. Too much blood.
She twisted back, pulling her mouth from his. “Jude, my mother…”
His nostrils flared. He glanced behind her and swore. Then they were moving together, rushing to Theresa’s side.
Her mother’s eyes were open, and she didn’t look as pale as death anymore. No, no, a hint of color lined her cheeks. “Did you…do it?” she asked, her gaze on Jude’s face.
Shifters—always so strong. Theresa’s legs were still a twisted mess, but the gushing blood had stopped. Her mother just might pull through.
Relief had Erin’s breath catching. She was crouched in front of Jude, shielding his naked form as best she could. Her mother could see his face, but, hopefully, not much else.
Not that shifters were really known for any sort of modesty.
Jude gave a nod and said, “I ripped the bastard’s throat wide open.”
Somehow, her mother managed a weak smile at that. “Good…what the b-bastard…d-deserved.” Blood stained the corner of her mouth.
“Take it easy.” Erin put a light hand on her mother’s shoulder. “Help’s coming.”
That smile stayed on her bloody lips. “Don’t worry…baby. Hard…to kill.”
Yeah, she was, and Erin had never been happier to have a wolf for a mother. Actually, it might have been the first time she was happy about that fact.
Theresa’s right hand lifted and clamped down on her shirt. “S-sorry…”
Erin looked into her eyes and understood. “How did you know he was coming after me?”
Her hand fell away. “S-saw him…in L-Lillian… knew…wolf h-hybrid…f-followed h-him…”
“You could have died.” Anger there, the fear that wouldn’t leave because her mother was still too close to death.
Erin choked back the damn sob that rose in her throat.
“Who the hell…is he?” Dee’s strained voice. Erin glanced at her. She was up now, on her feet, wavering a bit as she inched toward the naked body.