“Who are you?” He breathed the words against her. “Not some angel come to save me in my dark hour of need . . .”
Hardly. She managed to lift her chin. “Let go of me and I’ll tell you everything.” Almost everything. Okay, not even almost, but at least the important parts.
A deep laugh rumbled from him. “Think you’re tough, do you?” But his hand fell away.
She sucked in a sharp breath. Tough? Not anymore. “Sarah. I’m Sarah King.” Her name would tell him nothing. It wasn’t who she was that mattered. No, it was what she was.
“And what brought you to my cell, sweet Sarah?”
Now this was the tricky part. “I saw your story on the news.”
“And you decided to run down to the station and give a killer an alibi?” One brow rose. “What a good Samaritan you are.” The sarcasm dripped all over her.
Her hands clenched into fists. “You didn’t kill John.”
Now he was the one to tense. “John,” he repeated the name softly. “You knew him.”
“Don’t lie.” The words snapped like a whip. “You might think you know about the supernaturals in this world, but you don’t. We’ve got secrets—secrets humans can’t even begin to guess.” His lips twisted. “I heard the way you said his name. You knew him.”
Yes, and she didn’t like thinking about John’s death. “You didn’t kill him,” she repeated.
“And how do you know that?” He looked around them, his gaze sweeping to the left and the right.
They probably shouldn’t stay out in the open much longer. She knew she had to make this quick. She had to get Lucas to take her with him and to keep her by his side. Day and night.
Sarah exhaled slowly. “John was at your house because he wanted protection.” True.
“He was being hunted and he knew that you could keep him safe.” Knew, hoped, same thing.
If only Lucas had been home in those early hours before dawn. Then her friend wouldn’t be dead, dammit, and she wouldn’t be on her own again.
Life sucks. Deal with it—and try to keep living. Her mantra since she was seventeen.
“Keep him safe . . . from what?”
A twig snapped. Sarah jumped but Lucas didn’t move.
“Squirrel,” he said softly, without even looking.
She was nervous as all hell. It was starting to get dark, and she knew exactly what kinds of creatures came out once the darkness trickled across the sky. “We should go . . . get out of the open.”
He didn’t move. “I’m not the running type.”
If you were one of the baddest of the bad, you didn’t have to run. You could stay and fight and kick some good old ass.
But, if you were human or . . . a weaker supernatural, you learned early that it paid to run. And run fast.
“Tell me what’s going on,” Lucas demanded. “Why was that guy—John—coming to me for protection?” A line pulled down his brows and his right hand rose to rub along the jagged edge of his ear. “Pack protects pack, but that wasn’t shifter blood dripping down my steps.”
She flinched. Be strong. Life sucks, just like vampires. Yeah vamps were real, too. All the monsters that people feared—they existed.
Lucas’s hand dropped. “He was human.”
“No, he wasn’t.” Time for her big confession. “And neither am I.” Okay, just say it. “Lucas, I need you to—”
His nostrils flared. Then he jerked her behind him in a move she barely felt, much less saw. “Lucas? What—”
“We’re not alone.”
She heard the growl then. The hair-raising sound came from the thicket of trees that Lucas faced, hands loose at his sides, his body still.
The dark hadn’t fallen yet.
But it looked like the monsters had decided it was time to come out and play.
They sprang from the bushes, bodies tense, fur up, snarls on their lips. Two coyotes with muddy brown coats and red-rimmed eyes. Saliva dripped off their teeth. Their bushy tails brushed the ground as they crouched, preparing to attack.
Oh, damn, damn, damn.
Sarah grabbed the back of Lucas’s shirt. Her nails ripped through the fabric. “You need to shift!” What was the guy waiting for? Two against one! Not the best odds. They didn’t have time to waste. The change from man to beast wasn’t instantaneous and those coyotes were less than ten feet away and—
Sarah didn’t bother screaming. She bent low, her fingers automatically going for her ankle sheath. The knife might not be much, but it was all she had. And the weapon had saved her ass more than a few times.
Lucas grunted when the first beast came at him. He didn’t retreat, didn’t so much as stumble. He just lifted his arm, caught the coyote around the neck, and threw him against a tree.
“Come on,” he said, and Sarah blinked, realizing he wasn’t talking to her. He was inviting the second shifter—because Sarah knew they weren’t being attacked by simple animals, no, these creatures had the minds of men—to attack.
Inviting the attack? Maybe the wolf shifter was psychotic, after all. Figured. That would be her luck.
The beast’s pointed ears twitched. He let out a loud barking cry, then he sprang forward.
Lucas raised his hand and his claws—claws that Sarah had hoped never to see so close to her—sank into the coyote’s body.
The creature fell, hard, his body thumping into the ground as blood darkened his brown fur.
Color her impressed. Sarah pushed her knife back into the sheath and rose quickly. “Nice job.”
Lucas glanced back at her and growled.
The wolf was in his eyes, glowing brightly. Lucas might not have shifted fully, but he’d definitely let his beast off the leash a bit.
The bloody coyote pushed to his feet with a whimper.
“What the hell is going on?” Lucas demanded as his gaze flew back to the other shifter. “You bastards know who I am and you know you’re damn well supposed to stay out of my territory.”
“Uh, Lucas . . .” Her eyes searched the thick brush. They only had about thirty minutes of sunlight left, if that much. “Can we please get out of here?”
“No, these assholes are gonna shift and explain exactly why they attacked—” He took a step forward, turning slightly as he held up his hands, and Sarah saw the waning light glint off the claws extending from his fingertips. “Or I’m gonna skin ’em.”
As far as threats went, Sarah thought that one was pretty good. Mostly because she knew that Lucas meant exactly what he’d said.
The coyote shifters must have known it, too. The creature who’d been tossed against the tree gave a half-hearted howl, and, as Sarah watched, fascinated and horrified at the same time, his body began to change. No matter how many times she saw a shift, she’d never get used to the brutal transformation. Bones snapped. Fur disappeared. His muzzle shortened. His ears flattened.
In moments, a man stood before her. Tall, thin, skin tanned a deep brown, and, of course, naked.
His head was bowed. Shaggy brown locks of hair covered his face. The pose was one of submission—like Lucas was gonna buy that. She inched to his side. The better to watch.
“Why did you attack me?” Fury vibrated in Lucas’s voice.
“Not you.” One long, bony finger lifted and pointed toward her. “The woman.”
Goosebumps rose along her arms. “We really need to get out of here.” So the bastard had followed through on his threat. He’d put a price on her.
Lucas’s blue eyes focused on Sarah. “Why are you after her?”
She held his stare. She’d explain everything to him when they were somewhere nice and safe and out of the open.
The coyote shifter said, “There’s two hundred grand being offered for her.”
No, being offered for her dead body. But, of course, the jerk coyote wasn’t going to admit that part. Surely Lucas understood though, he knew these games.
“Lucas . . .” His name slipped past her lips. She couldn’t look away from his eyes. Okay, this wasn’t his fight, so maybe he probably should just turn his back on her and walk away.
But if he did that, she might as well just jump into a grave. Without a pack to aid her in this mess, she wouldn’t survive. All her allies had vanished. Or been killed.
“I saved you at that jail,” she reminded him, and dammit, that was partly true. “Pack law says you owe me now.” She licked her lips and tasted her fear. “Help me.” She wouldn’t beg. Not yet, anyway. But maybe in about five more minutes, if more of those smelly coyotes burst from the bushes and came at her with claws and teeth.
Lucas stared down at her. Watching. Weighing. After one very long moment, his gaze tracked down her body. No expression passed across his face.
When his gaze rose again, he inclined his head in the faintest of moves, then he turned his attention back to the coyote.
Oh, Christ, please let that have been a yes.
Lucas crossed his arms over his chest and glared at the trembling man. “You caught my scent the minute you crept into the park.”
The shifter glanced up at him from beneath thick clumps of hair.
“You knew I was a wolf.” Lucas’s lips curled down in a hard frown. “And I’d bet that you knew exactly who I was.” A pause. “But you attacked anyway.”
“Her! Not you—her!”
The snarl that burst from Lucas had the guy stumbling back. “She was with me, and you attacked.” Lucas shook his head. “Wrong move, asshole.”
Sarah straightened her shoulders.
“You don’t ever, ever come at me again with bloodlust in your eyes and teeth bared, you understand?” The words vibrated with rage. “If you do, I guarantee it will be the last fucking mistake you ever make.”
The shifter gave a quick nod.
“Get out of here, and take your dog,” Ooh, big insult that, the coyotes hated being called ‘dogs’, “with you.”
The guy scrambled. He grabbed the bleeding coyote and tossed the “dog” over his shoulders. That second shifter had to be injured pretty badly if he hadn’t been able to transform back to human form.
Lucas waited for the man to turn away with his bleeding buddy before saying, “I’ve got your scents now. You’ll have two hours to get out of town. If I see you after that—you’re both dead.”
The shifter broke into a run.
“And you . . .” He slanted a dark glance her way. “Pack protection doesn’t come as cheaply as you seem to think. I don’t give a shit about the old laws.”
Her stomach dropped. “If you don’t help me, then I’m the dead one.”
What? “You can’t be that cold of a bastard. I need your help, and I’ve traveled over seventeen hundred miles to find you.” Just like John had. Hopefully, her quest wouldn’t end the same way.
She wasn’t ready to die.
Sarah sucked in a deep breath. “I know who set you up for murder. If you give me protection, I’ll give him to you.”
Both brows rose. “Oh, you’ll most definitely give him to me, one way or another.”
Her back teeth clenched. “I could have left you in jail,” she gritted.
A hard smile. “And I could have let the coyotes have you.”
She flinched. Okay, he had a point there. A rather nasty, cold-hearted one, but . . .
“You must have done something pretty bad to get a price on your head.”
Not really. She’d actually tried to do something good. That just hadn’t worked out so well.
“Sarah King . . .” He drew out her name, as if tasting it. “Are you a bad woman?”
Yes. Don’t trust me. She bit back the words. Now really wasn’t the time for that much honesty between them. So she didn’t speak but she managed to hold his stare.
After a moment, he lifted his hand and offered it, palm-up, to her. “Once you come with me, there’s no going back.”
The heated look in his eyes told her he wasn’t just talking about a few days of protection.
But right then, she would have traded what was left of her soul to walk away with Lucas Simone.
“I don’t want to go back.” The rumors she’d heard over the years, about humans being absorbed into the packs—women, mostly, who disappeared after they were linked with male shifters—those stories drifted through her mind once more.
Some wolf shifters roamed on their own. The Lones. Some Lones existed in society, blending almost seamlessly with the humans. But most of the Lones didn’t blend so well. They had breakdowns. They’d been known to go on killing rampages. Often, they were tagged as serial killers and put down.
The rest of the wolves . . . they were pack. Pack was sacred. Pack was strong.
What would she have to do in order to belong? What would she have to sacrifice?
And did it matter?
Sarah took Lucas’s hand and kissed her old life good-bye.
Lucas didn’t take the woman back to his house on Bryton Road. The place was probably still crawling with cops and reporters, and he didn’t feel like dealing with all that crap.
He called his first in command, Piers Stratus, to let him know that he was out of jail and to tell him that there were two unwanted coyotes in town.
The woman—Sarah—didn’t speak while he drove. He could feel the waves of tension rolling off her, shaking her body.