The fur was gone. The beast always vanished in death.
Erin’s hands fisted. “His name’s Lance Harper. Judge Lance Harper.”
“Well, fuck.” Comprehension darkened Jude’s voice. “The dick in the basement.”
“Erin, I-I’m s-sorry…” Her mother’s whisper.
Erin straightened her shoulders and turned her stare back to her mother. “It’s not your fault. What he did—you had nothing to do with that.” Theresa had loved the wrong man. The wrong, psychotic man. But her mother hadn’t known. “It’ll be okay, Mom, just stay with me.”
Her mother swallowed, the gulp loud and painful. “Trying…Legs are a…m-mess…need sh-shift…”
But she wasn’t strong enough for that, not yet.
“A judge?” Dee asked and the scent of her blood burned Erin’s nose. She was still bleeding. Human. She’d scar from the wounds, they were too deep not to scar.
She could sure understand Dee’s disbelief. Her stalker had been Lillian’s citizen of the year for five years running. He’d sure been good at fooling the world.
“Huh. Never did care much for judges.”
At that, Erin fired a look over her shoulder in time to see Dee toeing the judge’s body with her right foot. The hunter had her gun against her hip, and she was painstakingly loading fresh bullets into the chamber.
Better late than never.
Jude’s hand curled around Erin’s shoulder. “Hey. You okay?”
She would be. Finally, she would be. Her eyes fell to Harper’s still face. Handsome, even in death. Refined, almost—
His eyelids flew open.
Sick understanding burned through her. The shift had saved him. He hadn’t shifted to die, he’d shifted to live.
Too late. Harper lunged up and grabbed her, jerking Dee down onto his body and anchoring her against him. One hand rose to clutch her throat and his claws dug into her jugular.
“I can kill her with one slice.” His voice was hoarse, guttural. Because Jude had nearly ripped out his throat. The wound was still there, still red and jagged and angry, but he’d healed enough, just enough.
Erin knew he wasn’t bullshitting. He’d kill the hunter in a heartbeat of time. “Harper, let her go.” She rose to her feet, deliberately keeping her mother behind her.
Jude’s fingers tightened around her.
Harper’s eyes narrowed at that small movement. “Touching her…always… touching her…” He licked his lips.
Dee didn’t move. Her face was blank, her body tense. Her blood pulsed from her wounds.
Erin shrugged free of Jude’s hold and took a step forward. Behind her, she heard the rumble of his fury. “Let her go,” she repeated.
But Harper shook his head. “Bitch…could have been…perfect…”
“There’s nowhere to go.” Jude’s hard voice. The guy hadn’t stayed back. Now he stood beside her, naked and strong and more than ready to face down the devil with her.
Gotta love a man like that.
Love. Erin’s breath caught.
“Bitch!” A scream from Harper. “Should have…been mine! My mate, my—”
“I’ll never be yours.” She shook her head. “And you should know there’s no way you’re leaving here alive tonight.”
Sirens screamed in the distance.
A cage wouldn’t hold him.
But they would stop him. “Now let her go!” Erin demanded.
“Mine,” he whispered, but sounded broken, lost.
“No, asshole,” Jude growled. “She’s not.”
Harper shook his head frantically.
Erin’s stare jerked to Dee’s face. The woman’s lips moved, soundlessly. Save her.
Dammit, she was trying! Trying to save them all. Dee, her mother—
Dee’s eyes tracked to the right. Her gaze landed on the gun she’d dropped when Harper grabbed her.
Again, her lips moved. No sound. Save her.
Dee had reloaded that gun just moments before and she’d—
No. Not save her. That wasn’t what Dee was trying to say.
Once more, the human’s lips formed words. One word, not two. Silver.
Jude tensed beside her. He’d seen and understood.
“I loved you,” Harper whispered and his hand flexed.
Dee’s head moved in the slightest of jerks, and Erin saw her body rock forward.
She’d have to move, fast. They both would.
Harper’s face twisted with hate, not love, and she knew he was going for the kill. “For you,” he said and the claws dug deep.
“No!” Erin lunged for the gun.
Dee twisted hard, jerking and squirming, and Jude was there, slashing with his claws and yanking her into his arms as he spun, attempting to shield Dee with his body.
Erin brought up the gun.
Harper smiled. “Just like me.”
She fired. The bullet blasted into his chest.
Right into his heart.
Her father had taught her that, too. Shoot to kill. Kill to protect.
“No, bastard, I’m nothing like you.”
Harper’s eyes were wide open when he fell back. All the better to see death.
Her breath came out on a hard, ragged exhale.
Jude lowered his arms and turned back to glance at the body.
A grim smile curved Dee’s lips. “And this time, you’ll stay down, asshole.”
Silver to the heart. According to the legends, a surefire way to kill a werewolf.
Or in this case, a hybrid wolf shifter.
Slowly, Erin stalked over to the judge. The gun was a solid weight in her hand as she gazed down at his face. Dee was right. The judge wouldn’t be getting up from that one.
The wailing sirens were so loud now, screaming in her ears. Doors slammed nearby. Footsteps thudded. Voices rose.
One was louder, angrier than the others. “All right…get the hell out of my way! Jude! Dee!”
Zane was there.
Erin dropped the gun. She spun around. “My mother!” Theresa’s eyes were closed and she’d sagged back against the ground. Tear tracks stained her cheeks. Had she seen Erin kill Harper? “Mother!”
Two men with stethoscopes raced toward Theresa.
“Easy…” Antonio appeared before her. He grabbed her shoulders, holding her steady. “I need an EMT here, now! She’s got severe injuries and blood loss!”
“I’m already healing,” she whispered. “But you have to understand, my mother’s not human.”
A quick nod. “Samuels!” A female EMT scrambled from the back of an ambulance. “Take care of the female victim!” He jerked his thumb toward Erin’s mother. “Then, Barlow, come over here and see about this bastard.” His hand sliced toward Harper.
One of the male EMTs left her mother’s side and hurried to the body.
“Not much they can do for him,” Jude muttered.
“Ah, hell!” Antonio closed his eyes. “Clothes! Man, I’m so tired of seeing your naked ass!”
“Yo!” Zane tossed a pair of jeans toward Jude, then his gaze snapped to Dee. “Woman, what the hell happened to you?”
A wan smile curved Dee’s lips. “Wolf tried to play with me.”
“Nothing I can do for him,” Barlow said, rising. “He’s gone.”
To hell, she hoped.
Dee’s right shoulder lifted, then fell. “He didn’t know I like to keep silver bullets handy.”
“And wooden stakes in your bag,” Zane added.
The ambulance’s siren wailed on. They were loading Theresa. “I-I need to go with her.”
“You can’t.” Antonio’s face was grim. “I’ve got at least half a dozen cops who just saw you shoot that bastard— and I’m real damn glad he was in human form at the time.” Yeah, that after-death shift would have been a hard one to explain. “You can’t leave the scene, not yet.”
Samuels climbed in after her mother’s gurney, and the EMT yanked the doors closed.
“She’ll be okay,” Antonio told her. “Samuels has a lot of experience with your kind.”
Your kind. Erin licked her lips and managed a nod.
“We’ve got to do this by the book.” His voice barely floated in the air. “There are too many eyes here. Watch what you say, Jerome.”
The ambulance pulled away. The swirling lights vanished into the darkness.
Not the same as before.
Her mother hadn’t dropped her off without a word this time.
She’d sacrificed herself. Almost died, for me.
You didn’t risk death unless there was a very, very good reason. I’d always thought she didn’t care.
Tonight, she’d cared enough to die for me.
This time, her mother had chosen her.
“Dammit. Now who the hell is that?” Antonio’s hands fisted on his hips as he craned his head. “Hey, dick, get out of here!
You’re not one of my guys so your ass needs to get lost!”
Erin followed his glare and stiffened her shoulders when she caught sight of a familiar figure, the dick in question. Ben.
He was trying to push his way through the cops. He had his badge out, and he shoved it at the officers as they fought to keep him away from the crime scene.
“Asshole, did you hear me? Get the fuck out!”
Erin’s fingers touched Antonio’s arm. “He’s a cop from Lillian. He…knows the judge.”
Antonio’s brows flew up. “Uh, the judge?”
Jude, with his spare jeans on but his chest bare and still bleeding a bit from his battle, stalked up to them. “Yeah, the dead bastard was a judge.”
And so much more. She’d tell Jude. Tell him everything when they were alone, but her mother’s secrets weren’t for all the others to hear.
Antonio’s jaw locked. “Never. Easy.”
Another ambulance sped away from the scene. Erin’s attention jerked to Jude. “Dee?” She hoped the human was all right.
“She’ll be okay. Zane threw her bleeding butt into the ambulance. He knows how weak humans can be, and the guy wanted to make sure Dee wasn’t taking any chances.”
Weak—Dee? Not likely. She’d fought with more spirit than most shifters.
A long sigh ripped from Antonio’s lips. “Asshole! Get over here!”
The cops holding Ben back glanced at the captain with raised brows.
“His name’s Ben,” Erin told him. “Detective Ben Greer.”
Another sigh. “Long-ass night, I know it’s gonna be one long-ass…” He waved toward the uniforms. “Let Detective Greer pass!” Then, for her and Jude, “’Cause we’re probably gonna need him to help cover our asses.”
Yeah, they probably would.
Ben stormed toward them, his face locked in hard lines of tension and his eyes blazing. “Erin?”
Jude wrapped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her back against the solid wall of his chest. “She stopped the killer.”
Ben craned his neck to see around them. She knew immediately when he caught sight of the body because his eyes doubled in size and his jaw dropped. “Holy Mother of Christ— Judge Harper!”
Erin was pretty sure most of the citizens of Lillian would be having that reaction. “He killed Trent. He attacked you.
Murdered another man named Bobby Burrows—”
“Butchered him,” Antonio threw in.
“He tried to rape me, and tonight, tonight, he would have killed me.” And Dee and her mother.
Death had been the only way to stop him. Her mother would understand that more than anyone else.
Erin stared into Antonio’s dark eyes. This part was for him and for the mess he’d have at the station. “He confessed. In front of me, Dee and my mother. They’ll swear to what they saw and heard.”
He yanked out his notebook. “And what else did they see, Jerome? I’m guessing some things I don’t want on the record.”
“He was a wolf shifter,” Jude said, his hold never wavering. “That’s one of the reasons he was so hard to kill, and why when your ME digs into him, he’ll find a silver bullet lodged in his chest.”
“Harper?” Ben still seemed stunned.
She’d been that way, too.
“Silver bullet.” Antonio closed his eyes. “Great.”
“It kept him down,” Jude said. “I’d already all but ripped his throat out—and he still got up. Trust me, Tony, we needed that bullet.”
Some legends were based on a bit of truth.
Jude pressed a kiss to her shoulder, then she felt the warm lap of his tongue as he licked lightly at her flesh. Shifters tended each other this way.
The way of their kind.
Her head tilted back against him and heat spread through her.
“Save it!” Antonio snapped. “Get a room later, but I don’t need this crap now!”
One more swipe of Jude’s tongue. The tending wasn’t sexual—well, okay, maybe it was. But the soft strokes meant more than just a prelude to sex.
To a shifter, it was the way to express affection.
Maybe even love.
Erin turned toward him. She found Jude watching her with eyes that were so very blue.
“You scared the hell out of me,” he whispered, and the others fell away to her.