Sarah licked her lips and tasted him. “Lucas . . .”
“Are you FBI?”
Not the sweet, after-sex words she’d hoped to hear.
He withdrew from her body, a long, sensual glide of flesh that had aftershocks trembling through her.
“Are you FBI, Sarah?”
No way this was going to end well. Naked, sated, she stared up at Lucas and gave him the truth. “I was.”
Marie Dusean stared out of her window, watching the sun rise over the sky, its fingers already like blood on the day. Her body ached. Too many years. Too many lost lives. Too many souls that called to her.
She stared at the sun and knew what would come for her. But it was okay. Marie feared no man. She didn’t fear Death, either. Why fear what you controlled?
But she would regret. She would miss.
Belle fille. She’d miss the girl so.
Her guards were leaving. Drifting away with the daylight. What was the point in them staying? More bloodshed? No. Enough of hers had died already. She wouldn’t lose more souls.
She stared at the sun and waited.
“Fuck.” Lucas rolled out of the bed. He stalked forward and grabbed a pair of jeans. “You were playing me. You think I don’t know about the Feds and their damn extermination list?” He shook his head. “I’ve been on that list since I was sixteen.”
“You’re not on the list anymore.” She could give him that, at least.
He whirled on her.
Okay, maybe that hadn’t been the right thing to say.
“You were sent to take down the wolves.” Not a question. His hands clenched into fists. The jeans hung low on his hips. His body tightened with fury. “That bastard was right, you were sent—”
“A year ago, we found the first body.” She wouldn’t talk about death and hell while she was naked. Sarah didn’t know where her clothes were or who’d taken them, so she rose from the bed slowly, trying to hide the quiver in her knees. Her body still ached from the sex, but she wouldn’t show that, either. She grabbed the sheet, wrapped it around her, toga-style, then faced him.
His brows had shot down low. “Body?”
“In Arizona. A man. The poor guy’s throat had been ripped out. At first, we thought it was just a random killing, but then the other body turned up. A month later, just when the full moon rose again.” Maybe the words came out too fast, but she needed to tell him everything. If he told her to walk, she would, but it was time she revealed all the secrets she’d been carrying. “The local papers started dubbing the killer as The Werewolf.”
Right. “The Other world doesn’t need attention like that.” Her job had been to make sure no paranormals attracted that kind of heat. A low profile equaled humans and paranormals who continued to exist semi-peacefully together. A big supernatural coming out party—well, that equaled hell. Humans were too biased against their own kind. No way would they all take to monsters with open arms.
His shoulders rolled. “A shifter was killing?”
“Killing only humans. Every month, he left another body.” Those dead haunted her. “Our crime-scene guys measured the cuts, found trace evidence on the victims and we knew we were after a wolf shifter.” At first, the crime-scene guy had thought he’d found dog hair on one of the vics. That had been the evidence they needed. Not dog hair. Close, but . . . “We thought a Lone was hunting.”
Lones were the wolves who’d been forced out of the relative safety of the pack. The wolves who’d be most likely to have a psychotic breakdown. They were the ones with the sharpest blood hunger, the fiercest rage. Their beasts were too strong, they needed—
“I was Lone for six years.”
She knew that. “But now you’re alpha.” The only Lone who’d ever come back. That was one of the many reasons he’d been watched by the FBI.
“I’m alpha only because I clawed and bit my way through the bodies to claim the pack.”
And he had killed. She knew that. Pack justice. Pack was brutal. Wild. But for the wolves, it could be all that kept them sane.
She cleared her throat. Finish it. “There weren’t any Lones in the area near the kills. There was a pack, but . . . no Lones. So I was sent in.” Because she hadn’t believed they were truly looking for a Lone. The prey was always different—men, women, all races, all ages. But the location had been centered around Fallen, Arizona. Right around the home of Rafe’s pack.
He laughed. A rough, bitter sound. “Let me guess. When you went into the pack, no one knew you were a charmer. You went in, spied in their minds, and tried to find your killer.”
That had been what Rafe wanted him to believe. She came into my pack, seduced me, used me, because her mission was to take down my wolves.
Rafe was a very good liar.
“Rafe knew exactly who and what I was.” How else would she have gotten into the pack? “Rafe knew that I was a charmer, and he wanted to use my power. He came to me.” And she’d been so stupid. “He found me at the FBI. He knew about the killings and he said he wanted them stopped before his pack was forced to leave the area.”
The tension in the room was so thick it seemed to suffocate her. Sarah tried to suck in a deep breath of air.
Lucas just watched her. “I’m guessing Rafe wasn’t on the extermination list? Not if he just waltzed into the FBI office.”
She shook her head. “He’d—he’d never hurt anyone. Always kept a low profile. He’d pulled together his own pack, and he—”
Lucas lifted a hand, stopping her. “Right. Got it. The fucking upstanding citizen came to you because he wanted the killings stopped.”
He really had seemed upstanding, at first.
“How long was it,” Lucas asked. “Before you found out Rafe was behind the kills?”
The wild, musky scent of the wolf teased Marie’s nose. She pulled her shawl closer. She was always cold, even in the summer. Death stood too close to her.
She didn’t look back over her shoulder. Just kept staring at the sun. Not so bloody anymore. Almost . . . beautiful. Parts of the world were rather nice to look at.
Others weren’t. She’d seen it all in her ninety-three years. War. Famine. Hope.
Time to let it all go.
She began to chant softly, whispering so carefully. She’d learned the words at her mother’s knee. Had passed them down to her darling Carline, only to see her only daughter die at the hands of a vampire.
Vengeance had come.
Vengeance always came.
“Rafe had taken a new wolf into his pack. A guy, barely eighteen, named Sean Walker.” Wide smile, dark eyes—his image flashed before her. He’d seemed so nice, so normal, then he’d shifted into a wolf and she’d caught the darkness in his mind. Seen the flash of bodies and the pool of red. “He’d been making the kills.”
“The guy knew you were a charmer and he let you close enough to see his thoughts?” Doubt hung heavy in Lucas’s voice.
“Rafe—Rafe brought me in as his companion, he didn’t tell the others—”
His eyes glittered. “That was your cover?”
Being Rafe’s lover. A lie that had become truth. Her chin lifted. She wouldn’t apologize. She’d made a mistake—like Lucas’s hands were lily-white. “Sean didn’t know,” she said instead. “All of the pack changed around me at some point. Sean—when he shifted, I knew.”
“And what did you do?”
Her lashes lowered. “I reported to my boss at the FBI. Special Agent Anthony Miller is the leader of our task force. I told him, and then he told Rafe.” She’d followed the chain of command, thinking it meant something.
But Miller had already known how Rafe would deal with Sean . . .
“Yes.” She hadn’t realized how brutal or how swift it would be. Two wolves, fighting to the death. But no news coverage. No nosey reporters to deal with. Just a quiet end for a murderer—at least, that’s what Anthony had thought he’d get. “Rafe . . . Rafe killed Sean.”
The FBI had believed the murders were over then. Six dead. Peace for the victims, finally.
“Then you and Rafe got close.” She could easily hear the fury underscoring Lucas’s words.
Fury and . . . jealousy.
For a moment, her lashes lowered. Rafe had understood her. Seemed to, anyway. After years of being on the outside, not having anyone who understood other than her grandmother, he’d been a temptation for her.
Sarah forced herself to meet Lucas’s gaze. She’d kept a lot from him, afraid he wouldn’t help her fight Rafe. Trust has to start somewhere.
She was already in too deep with Lucas. She’d realized that when his blood covered her and his eyes wouldn’t open. The terror had almost choked her.
No going back now. “I never knew my father. He cut out of town long before I was born. And my mother wasn’t a charmer. Or, if she was, she never found an animal that connected with her. She didn’t like—”
Sarah cleared her throat. She wouldn’t say that because Lucas wasn’t a monster. “My mother wanted me to be normal.” Her shoulders lifted, then fell. “The problem was that I never felt normal.” The little house in suburbia hadn’t been her.
“When I was six,” she told him, her voice quiet, “I took a field trip to the zoo.” It had been her first visit to see the animals. So many animals. So many cages. “When the wolves started talking to me, I thought everyone could hear them.” But her friends had laughed at her. Her teacher just said she had a vivid imagination.
And the wolves had kept talking.
Sarah swallowed. “As soon as I got off the bus that afternoon, I told my mom. The wolves had made me feel so good—like they knew me. I told my mom,” she said again, “because I was sure she’d believe me.” The wolves liked me, mommy. I could hear them whispering in my head. They’d—
Her mom had paled as she yanked Sarah away from the bus and away from the other laughing kids.
Don’t ever talk about the wolves again, Sarah! Do you hear me? Don’t mention them, and Dear God, stay away from them.
The floor groaned beneath his feet. “I’m guessing she didn’t believe you.”
“Belief wasn’t the problem. My mom knew about the Other, she just wanted her daughter to be normal.” And really, she knew now that her mother hadn’t been asking for so much.
“Normal’s over-rated,” he said, watching her closely. Did he realize how important this was? She’d never told anyone else about her past.
You can trust me.
“I couldn’t stay away from the wolves. No, I didn’t want to stay away. I snuck back to see them. Stole money from my mom and took one of the city buses back to the zoo.” She’d been terrified the whole trip, but she’d needed to see the wolves once more because echoes of their voices kept playing in her head. They’d been magic, and she’d wanted that magic so badly.
“What did your mother do?”
She blew out a hard sigh. “I scared her to death. I know I did.” Now. “She found me there. I was standing in front of the wolves.” She could still remember the cold steel of the metal railing. Her fingers had wrapped around it so tightly as she stared at the three wolves who’d come to talk to her.
Mommy, the wolves like me! They don’t like being here, though, but they like me! She’d turned to her mom, smiling, not even worrying that her mother would be angry with her for sneaking away. They say they want to leave. They don’t like it when the people come and watch, they want to run, to—
“When she pulled me away from the wolves, she was crying.” It had been the first time she’d ever seen her mother cry. “Then the wolves started howling, snarling, trying to get out—”
Lucas pulled her against his chest. Just . . . held her and it felt so good. But, then, Lucas had seemed right from that first moment, even when he was the one in the cage. “They were trying to defend you.”
“They got tranqed.” She’d never forget their cries as the darts hit them. Please, mom, stop them! Don’t let the men hurt the wolves. The wolves need me—
Never say that again, Sarah Belle King! Never! Her mother had run faster. Run so fast as she yanked Sarah away from the wolves.
Screams and howls had followed them as Sarah and her mother ran from the zoo. For months after that, those same screams and howls had filled her nightmares.
Her mother had still been crying when they finally made it out to their old station wagon.
I want the wolves. She’d whispered that as her mom buckled her into the car with shaking hands.
“After we left . . .” She lifted her head and looked into his eyes. “She said that if I told anyone the wolves talked to me, then someone would come and take me away. She said people would think that I was crazy and that I’d be locked up.” I’ve seen it before. It’s not happening again. Her mother’s tearful words. Stay away from the wolves.
“You weren’t the first charmer in the family,” he guessed, voice gruff, but the hands that held her were so gentle.
“No.” Her lips twisted into a wan smile. “A week later, she took me to visit my grandmother.” Her visit to see Grandma Belle. “Grandma Belle lived in a big hospital. There were bars on all the windows, and guards who watched everyone too closely.”
Do you want to live here? Her mother’s question. Sarah had been scared of the men in white uniforms. The men who watched Grandma Belle and the others every moment.