She’d be the most vulnerable at night. During the day, she’d be surrounded by lawyers and cops. Sharks and the police—they had to keep her pretty safe. But at night, when she went back to that big old house all by herself, she’d be a target.
Jude would make sure she wasn’t alone. Not until the freak was caught.
“You’re so cocky.” She shook her head. “You really think you can get any woman you want?”
He lifted a shoulder. “I don’t want any woman.” Just you. The need had been like a fist in the gut and a stroke to the groin from that first moment.
Like to like.
He’d heard about some shifter couples who were combustible in the sack. With sex and shifters, the human rules were ripped away and only the basic needs of the animals remained.
And the animals sure had a lot of needs.
But Erin claimed she wasn’t like him.
A good liar, his Erin. Just not good enough.
She crossed her arms over her chest. “I can’t deal with this now, Jude.”
Hmmm. He liked the way she said his name. Soft. Husky.
“I’m dead on my feet and I just—I can’t deal with this,” she said again.
Can’t deal with you.
Fair enough. The lady had been through one wild night. She needed to rest, and he wasn’t a jerk enough to deny her.
Tomorrow would be soon enough to get their partnership started.
“Lock the door behind me,” he told her.
Her eyes lifted toward the ceiling. “Yeah, because I was just gonna leave it open so every creep in the city could sneak in.”
Smart-ass. He liked that. Even rundown, she still had spirit.
A tough lady.
She’d have to be, in order to face what was coming.
He’d seen his share of psychopaths while working with Night Watch. The agency had earned its reputation for going after the scum of the earth for a reason.
They hunted those criminals that others wouldn’t, or couldn’t.
So he’d seen freaks, come upon scenes that had caused bile to rise in his throat and sweat to bead his upper lip.
The beast within had roared at the carnage, but the man had leashed him and gotten the job done.
Shadows lingered under her eyes. The woman was all but swaying on her feet. “Get in bed.” Next time, with me. “I’ll see you first thing tomorrow.”
He brushed by her, locking his eyes on the door. Don’t look back. The woman will make you weak.
With the freak shifter on the loose, he couldn’t afford to be weak.
“Thank you.” The whisper froze him at the door. Then, dammit, he looked back.
“I owe you, Donovan.” Back to Donovan, huh? “I won’t forget that you came for me.” She rocked on her heels. “I can’t remember anyone ever coming to my side so quickly.”
Leave or toss her on the bed. Jude sucked in a desperate gulp of air. The lady had no idea what she was doing to him.
That husky voice. Those deep eyes.
Had the other men in her life been worthless idiots?
Nothing could have stopped him from getting to her side.
His head jerked in what he hoped was a nod. He yanked the door open. “See you…in the morning.”
The door slammed closed behind him. He waited a minute, two, then heard the snick of the deadbolt being thrown.
Jude took the steps three at a time and was down in the lobby, leaning over the registration desk, in less than a minute’s time. He slapped his hand on the counter, letting the twenties peak through his fingertips.
“Give me the room that connects to the lady’s.” No way was he leaving her alone. Jude planned to be close enough to hear even the whisper of fear from her.
The clerk, a teen with a bad case of acne on the left side of his face, eyed the money with a narrowed gaze. “You’re not some kind of perv…are ya?”
The kid hopped back.
“I’m her boyfriend. We’re having a fight.” He smiled, showing teeth he knew to be a bit too sharp. “It’ll be over long before dawn, so just give me the damn key. ”
His fingers shaking, the kid tossed him the key.
“Good.” Jude caught the key card in his left fist. His right hand lifted, revealing the money. “The extra forty is for you. If anyone comes around sniffing after my lady, you let me know ASAP, got it?”
The money disappeared in a blink. “Uh, got…it.”
The room card bit into his palm, and Jude forced himself to ease the grip.
Just to make sure the place was clear, he scanned the lobby. Then, satisfied, he headed back upstairs.
The hunt would start tomorrow.
The beast inside jerked against his leash.
Jude woke, his heart racing and his eyelids flying open.
He strained, struggling to hear. What had woken him?
A whimper. Muffled.
He jumped out of bed and lunged across the room. One yank and the lock on the connecting door broke. “Erin!”
She screamed and sat up, her eyes wide open.
Alone. His heart was about to burst from his chest. “Sweetheart, you scared the hell out of—”
She flew at him, snarling, hands out, claws extended.
Swearing, he stumbled back, but not before those claws raked a trail of fire across his chest.
Not a shifter, my ass. “Erin!” He grabbed her. No choice. Self-preservation instincts were strong in him. His fingers locked tight around her wrists and he jerked her arms down. “Calm—”
She broke his hold. In about half a second.
She. Broke. His. Hold.
And came at him again with those razor sharp claws shooting from her fingertips.
He snarled and she froze.
Then she blinked and shook her head. “Jude?” Her claws retracted. “What are you—”
He saw the flare of her nostrils. She’d left a lamp on near the bathroom, and the light spilled in a soft circle, giving him a perfect view of her. Even without that light, he would have been able to see.
“Your chest!” Horror broke across her face. Her gaze dropped to her hands. She turned them over, staring at her palms, her fingertips. Looking like she’d never seen the things before.
“I heard you cry out,” he said, pushing his right hand against the throbbing wound. He’d had a hell of a lot worse before.
No big deal, but—
But he hadn’t expected such a fierce attack from her. “Thought you might need me.”
Her shoulders dropped. “I-I don’t remember. I guess I was…dreaming.”
“Had to be one hell of a dream.” The scent of his blood seemed too thick in the air.
“I…guess so.” She reached for him and Jude held his ground. Erin bit her lip. “I should wash this, bandage you.” She caught his arm and led him to the bathroom.
He could have stopped her. Told her it was just a flesh wound and that even without shifting, it would be gone by dawn.
But he liked the way her hands felt against him.
He’d ditched his shirt before he’d crashed in the bed. Kept his jeans on, just in case.
Good thing he’d had the denim on. He’d have to make sure he kept her claws away from that part of his anatomy.
The bathroom was the size of a closet, a miniscule one. After flipping on the lights, Erin turned from him and wrenched on the water. She snagged a cloth, held it under the flow of water, soaped it up, and then eased it across his bare chest.
The lady didn’t meet his gaze. Just kept one small hand over his heart while the other swiped the cloth over the five long claw marks.
No denying what they were.
She turned from him, her hip and shoulder brushing against him as she rinsed the blood from the cloth.
“Want to talk about it?” He inched closer, the better to trap her against the sink.
Erin’s face was pale. “I have occasional night terrors, okay? Had ’em for years, even before the creep got attached to me.”
Her lips pressed together. “I don’t remember the dreams.”
His hands rose slowly and curled over her shoulders. “If you don’t want to talk about the dream, then how about you try telling me one more time that you aren’t like me. Because I know a shifter’s claws when I see them.” And feel them.
Her gaze held his in the mirror. Her hair was a dark curtain around her face, and despite her height, she still looked fragile, delicate, against him.
Looks could be so deceiving.
“Having claws…doesn’t make me a shifter.” Her chin lifted and color finally began to drift back into her cheeks. “Any number of Other have claws.”
True enough. His head lowered over her shoulder. She’d finally ditched her business clothes and slipped on a loose pair of pajama pants and a white top. The neckline was low and scooped, showing off that perfect cleavage.
Jude bent over her. Really, he was in the best position. That sweet ass before him. Her neck, all but bared so close to his mouth.
A faint tremble shook her.
He lowered his head, setting his mouth right over her throat. Just an inch separated him from that sweet flesh.
Vamps weren’t the only ones who liked to bite.
His lips closed over her skin. Kissed. Sucked. Her head fell back, exposing even more of that tempting flesh.
His mouth eased over her. Found that sweet spot where neck and shoulder met. A favorite for his kind.
His fangs burned.
He bit her.
Not too hard. Not a marking.
Just a taste.
That firm ass rocked back against him as she moaned.
His heart thudded, the drumming filling his ears. The dream—night terror, whatever the hell it had been—was gone.
Now it was just the two of them. He was ready, more than ready, his cock hard and thick with lust, and she wanted him, he knew that.
Erin lunged forward, her palms slapping against the counter. “No.”
His teeth snapped together as he fought to rein in his hunger.
Her hair fell over her face, shielding her from his view. Erin’s shoulders heaved as she pulled in several deep breaths.
Jude glanced toward the shower and thought about hopping in, then cranking on the ice cold water.
“I’m not what you think,” she whispered, still with her head down.
Not gonna have that. “Look at me.” Guttural. The need was too stark for anything else.
Her head lifted and the coal black strands slid back. Her eyes held his in the mirror.
She said, “I-I’ve got shifter blood.”
Her head moved to the left, then right. “But I can’t shift. I can’t.” Anger, no, fury in her voice.
He’d heard of a few others like her. Hybrids. From the matings of shifters and humans. Or shifters and charmers or even demons. Some hybrids came out even stronger than the purebloods. The strength of both parents, the weaknesses of neither.
But then there were tales of other hybrids…
Those who got the weaknesses, but not the strengths.
No, I’ve felt her strength. Erin sure as shit isn’t weak.
“I’m…flawed, okay? The beast in me—hell, she may as well be dead.”
He leaned over her, grabbed her hands and trapped them against the countertop. “She’s not dead.” Erin felt so good against him.
“Look,” he ordered. Across the top of the counter, etched in deep, were claw marks. Just like the ones on his chest.
“You’ve got a beast all right, sweetheart. And whether you can shift to let her play or not, doesn’t make a bit of difference.” He turned his head, rubbed his nose against her throat.
Some cats really were all alike.
“I want you, and I don’t fucking care what you are—or what you aren’t.”
Then, before the last of his control splintered, he shoved away from her.
Erin twisted, staring up at him with those eyes that he knew could easily see right through him. In too deep.
“And you’re fucking not flawed. ”
He stormed for the connecting door. So the lock was broken. He needed space right then. Or else he was gonna pounce on her.
“You don’t know, hunter.” She’d followed him from the bathroom. Her voice sounded hollow and when he looked back, her face could have been a blank mask. “You don’t know me.” Her chin lifted. “And trust me, you’re better off that way.”
Jude had left her. Good. She didn’t need things to get sexual between them. It would just make the situation worse.
Like it could really get much worse.
He didn’t understand. When she’d told the guy she was flawed, she hadn’t been talking about her inability to shift. No, she’d always thought not shifting was a blessing.
“You don’t understand.” A whisper directed at the closed white door.
No one did.
Well, just one person…the bastard who’d left her the bloody love letter. He knew too well what she was like on the inside.
That knowledge was why he was after her.
“We’ve got a new case.” Jude kicked the conference room door closed and eyed the man who’d first recruited him.
Jason Pak. Half-Korean, half-Choctaw—and one hundred percent charmer. A tough asshole, one who liked to wear three piece suits and go gator hunting on the weekend.
Well, not so much hunting, since his gift allowed him to talk with the gators.
Pak lifted a brow. The guy was pushing fifty, maybe sixty, but there wasn’t a single line on his face. “I’m aware of the situation with Bobby Burrows. I talked to the ADA myself last night.”