If Jude could contain the guy, they’d be more than willing to pay his price. A price she expected to be very high.

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Jude shook his head. “Not talking about the city.”

Antonio stopped his inching closer routine.

Her heart slammed into her ribs but she kept her voice quiet and silky when she asked, “Then just who are you talking about?”

A slow smile. One that whispered across his face, lifted his upper lip and had her thighs clenching.

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“You, sweetheart. You. ”

Erin gulped. Dammit—that scar on his top lip— sexy. She could see the hunger in his eyes. The man’s hunger and the beast’s.

And she felt the hot rise of her own need.

Not going to happen. She took a moment to let her heart rate ease back to normal. This wasn’t the first time she’d had a strong physical reaction to a shifter.

Okay, a really sexy shifter.

And it wouldn’t be her last. She couldn’t stop the rush of sensual awareness, but Erin controlled the wild instincts inside.

She always had. “The city will pay you,” she said again and let the ice chill her words. “And pay you well.” Because hunting a killer like the one who’d slaughtered Bobby wouldn’t be easy.

He snorted. “They’d better.” Jude didn’t look away from her. “But, sweetheart, you’ll pay, too.”

The words were a definite threat.

Shifters always thought they were the baddest assholes on earth.

Because some of them were.

The local news carried the Burrows story that night at ten. A bright, perky blonde appeared at the top of the hour announcing, “Bobby Burrows, the suspect in the so-called Slasher Crimes, was found dead in his holding cell today. Police aren’t releasing any information on this case yet, although sources say foul play is suspected…”

What?

He stared at the screen and felt the rage boil in his blood.

Foul play was suspected? Fuck, yes, he’d carved up that bastard.

And he’d done it for her.

The image on the screen flickered and a close-up shot of the mayor and the DA appeared. The DA was running his fat mouth about the security at the station.

Blah. Blah. Blah

The camera angle altered, just a bit, and his prey appeared.

So perfect.

Erin stood a bit behind the mayor. Looking all calm and lovely in her button-down shirt and pants. Controlled and elegant.

Such a beautiful lie.

He knew who she was, what she was, down deep, past the skin.

She was just like him. She liked the blood, the screams, the pleas for mercy.

He knew all about the real Erin. Flawed, broken, and wild for death.

Just like him.

He hoped that she’d liked her little present. Hoped she enjoyed all of the presents he would give to her. Soon.

He rose and went to the TV. He touched the spot just over her image.

Sweet, sweet Erin.

“No more running, love, you’re mine.”

She should have known escape wasn’t possible.

She should have known.

Chapter 3

She went to him. When the press conference was over, when the freak-out in the mayor’s office had finally subsided, Erin went straight to Jude.

She knew where he lived. She’d gotten that information from Night Watch when she called to verify his alibi.

Jude’s lair was at the edge of the city, skirting the swamps. More of a cabin than a house, and one that didn’t look overly inviting.

Raising her hand, Erin banged on the door. So, sure, it was close to midnight. And, okay, granted, the swamp looked dark and dangerous and the call of the crickets and who-the-hell knew what else had her ears ringing.

The mayor had sent her to Jude. The DA had sent her.

And she’d come because she needed to see him.

The door opened with a creak. Jude stared down at her, stubble on his cheeks, his blond hair tousled and his eyes hooded.

No shirt. His chest was bare and too close. The man had serious muscles. Damn. His jeans hung low on his body, wrapping around his hips and clinging to his strong, hard thighs.

Hunter.

“Took you long enough,” he said, voice so deep it was nearly a growl.

Light surrounded him and spilled onto the porch. She shifted, her high heels scraping over the old wood. “Didn’t realize you were waiting for me.”

Lie. She’d known that he wanted to talk to her, alone, just as she’d wanted to talk to him.

Erin had to find out what he knew about her—and how he knew it. So I won’t slip up and make the same mistake with someone else next time. “Do I get to come inside or do I have to stay out here all night?”

His mouth hitched into a half-smile. Erin inhaled.

Then Jude stepped back, motioning for her to enter.

The fingers of her right hand tightened around her purse strap and she walked forward, hesitating for only the briefest of seconds when she caught sight of the deep gouges along the doorframe.

Claw marks.

Some shifters sure did like to mark their territory. Her jaw tightened and she brushed past him, all too aware of the heat and strength of his body.

The interior of his place was Spartan bare. A couch. A giant TV. A paperwork-covered desk shoved into the corner. A big, scarred wooden table, two chairs around it, a small lamp on its surface. Erin caught a glimpse of the kitchen—or was that a closet?

“Not here much,” he said with a shrug, following her gaze. “Too busy—”

“Hunting.” She knew exactly how he spent his days. In the hours since they’d parted, she’d done her homework.

Jude Donovan. Age thirty-five. College graduate, with a degree in criminal justice. He’d been recruited to work for Night Watch when he’d barely been twenty-two. His reputation for hunting was vicious, and so were the criminals he captured. The vilest of criminals.

Humans…and she’d be willing to bet Other, too.

She reached into her bag and pulled out a check. Not the usual way things were handled in the DA’s office, but…“I’ve been authorized to acquire your services.” He didn’t glance at the check, just kept those blue eyes trained on hers. Her fingers were steady as she held the check in the air between them. “This check is for ten thousand dollars.”

No change of expression. From the looks of his cabin, the guy shouldn’t have been hesitating to snatch up the money.

“Give the check to Night Watch.”

At that, her lips firmed. “I already gave them one.” A hefty one, at that. “This one’s for you. A bonus from the Mayor. He wants this guy caught, fast.” Before word about the true nature of the crime leaked too far.

“So old Gus doesn’t think his cops can handle this guy?”

Gus LaCroix. Hard-talking, ex-hard-drinking mayor. No nonsense, deceptively smart, and demanding. “He’s got the cops on this, but he said he knew you, and that you’d be the best one to handle this job.”

Erin strongly suspected that Gus belonged in the Other world. She hadn’t caught any unusual scent drifting from him, but his agreement to bring in Night Watch and his almost desperate demands to the DA had sure indicated the guy knew more than he was letting on about the situation.

Could be he was a demon. Low-level. Many politicians were.

Jude took the check. Finally. She dropped her fingers, not wanting the flesh on flesh contact with him. Not then.

He folded the check and tucked it into the back pocket of his jeans. “Guess you just got yourself a bounty hunter.”

“And I guess you’ve got yourself one sick shifter to catch.”

He closed the distance between them, moving fast and catching her arms in a strong grip.

Aw, hell. It was just like before. The heat of his touch swept through her, waking hungers she’d deliberately denied for so long.

Jude was sexual. From his knowing eyes, his curving, kiss-me lips, to the hard lines and muscles of his body.

Deep inside, in the dark, secret places of her soul that she fought to keep hidden, there was a part of her just like that.

Wild. Hot.

Sexual.

“Why are you afraid of me?”

Not the question she’d expected, but one she could answer. “I know what you are. What sane woman wouldn’t be afraid of a man who becomes an animal?”

“Some women like a little bit of the animal in their men.”

“Not me.” Liar.

His eyes said the same thing.

“Do your job, Donovan. Catch the freak who cut up my prisoner—”

“Like Bobby had been slashing his victims?”

Hit. Yeah, there’d been no way to miss that significance.

“When word gets out about what really happened, some folks will say Bobby deserved what he got.” His fingers pressed into her arms. Erin wore a light, silk shirt—and even that seemed too hot for the humid Louisiana spring night. His touch burned through the blouse and seemed to singe her flesh.

“Some will say that,” she allowed. Okay, a hell of a lot would say that. “But his killer still has to be caught.” Stopped, because she had the feeling this could be just the beginning.

Her feelings about death weren’t often wrong.

She was a lot like her dad that way.

And, unfortunately, like her mother, too.

“What do you think? Did he deserve to be clawed to death?”

An image of Bobby’s ex-wife, Pat, flashed before her eyes. The doctors had put over one hundred and fifty stitches into her face. She’d been his most brutal attack.

Erin swallowed. “His punishment was for the court to decide.” She stepped back, but he didn’t let her go. “Uh, do you mind?”

“Yeah, I do.” His eyes glittered down at her. “If we’re gonna be working together, we need honesty between us.”

“We need you to find the killer.”

“Oh, I will. Don’t worry about that. I always catch my prey.”

So the rumors claimed. The hunters from Night Watch were known throughout the U.S.

“You’re shivering, Erin.”

“No, no, I’m not.” She was.

“I make you nervous. I scare you.” A pause. His gaze dropped to her lips, lingered, then slowly rose back to meet her stare. “Is it because I know what you are?”

She wanted his mouth on hers. A foolish desire. Ridiculous. Not something the controlled woman wanted, but what the wild thing inside craved. “You don’t know anything about me.”

“Don’t I?”

Erin jerked free of his hold and glared at him. “Few things in this world scare me. You should know that.” There was one thing, one person, who terrified her but now wasn’t the time for that disclosure. No, she didn’t tell anyone about him.

If she could just get around Jude and march out that door—

“Maybe you’re not scared of me, then. Maybe you’re scared of yourself.”

She froze.

“Not human,” he murmured, shaking his head. “Not vamp.”

Vamp? Thankfully, no.

“Djinn? Nah, you don’t have that look.” His right hand lifted and he rubbed his chin. “Tell me your secrets, sweetheart, and I’ll tell you mine.”

“Sorry, not the sharing type.” She’d wasted enough time here. Erin pushed past him, ignoring the press of his arm against her side. Her body ached and the whispers of hunger within her grew more demanding every moment she stayed with him.

Weak.

She hated her weakness.

Just like her mother’s.

“You’re a shifter.” His words stopped her near the door. She stared blankly at the faded wood. Heard the dull thud of her heart echoing in her ears.

Then the soft squeak of the old floorboards as he closed the distance between them.

Erin turned to him, tilted her head back—

He kissed her.

She heard a growl. Not from him—no, from her own throat.

The hunger.

Sure, he made the first move, he brought his lips crashing down on hers, but…she kissed him right back.

Her hands locked around his shoulders, her nails dug into his flesh. Oh, damn, but his flesh…Strong, hot.

Her mouth was open, lips parted for the thrust of his tongue. She’d tried to play the good girl and walk away, but there was no denying she wanted this— wanted him.

Tongues met. Took. Tasted.

And he tasted good. Even better than the chocolate she craved in the middle of the day. Erin realized she wanted more. So much more.

She rose on her tiptoes. Widened her mouth, and this time, the growl that she heard came from him.

His hands clenched around her hips, and he jerked her even closer to him. The hard bulge of his arousal pressed against her. Long and hard and promising such fierce pleasure. She could have him, thrusting deep and hard into her, and Erin knew the ride would be fantastic. The sex great.

She could have him.

His fingers cupped her ass.

Take him. Take him.

He ripped his mouth from hers. She sucked in a sharp breath and tried to clear the lust from her mind. She needed—

His mouth pressed against her neck. Right over her pulse.

Her weak spot.

His tongue laved her and her knees trembled. Then Jude bit her, a light, teasing bite.

A marking, nonetheless. She knew the way of shifters.

But that didn’t stop the heat that swept through her. Erin’s nipples swelled against him, her sex moistened.

Freaking animal response.

So much need.

“You want me, Erin, just as much as I want you.” The words rumbled against her flesh.

She wouldn’t deny it. She wouldn’t give in to the furious desire, either. With one serious effort, Erin made her hands stop clutching him and she pushed against his chest instead.

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