“Your respects?” He stalked forward, aware that Piers and Dane had his back. Always. “Two of your men attacked me last night.”
“No, no!” Jess lifted his hands, palms out. Probably trying to look defenseless. Failing because the tips of his claws had already broken through the flesh. “They didn’t attack you.”
“Could have fooled me,” Lucas drawled.
Jess’s dark eyes narrowed. “They just wanted the woman.” The coyote made a real bad mistake then. He glanced up, his gaze zeroing in on the third upstairs window. The window that was in Sarah’s room. He’d caught her scent.
Lucas lunged forward and grabbed the bastard around the throat. He lifted Jess up, letting the shorter man’s feet dangle above the ground. “They’re not getting her.”
The coyotes in the pickup trucks growled.
Jess’s hands flew up and his claws sliced into the flesh on Lucas’s forearm. Lucas didn’t let him go. His blood splattered to the ground.
The coyote’s face began to turn purple. Easy to see that change, even in the waning light. Lucas tightened his hold on Jess’s neck, letting the coyote know he didn’t have control here.
Jess’s eyes burned into his.
Slowly, taking his sweet time, Lucas released the coyote. Jess sucked in deep gulps of air. “B-bring ’em!”
He tensed at that, knowing this wasn’t gonna be pretty. He wanted to glance up at that third window. To see if Sarah was there. She’d be watching, peeking through the curtains, and he didn’t want her to witness this.
Michael had damn well better be doing his job.
Two coyotes jumped from the back of the first gleaming pickup. They were carrying a long tarp. A tarp that had been rolled up, tight.
Two more coyote climbed from the second pickup. They had a tarp, too.
Jess watched him, those black eyes studying Lucas closely. “My pack owed you an apology.”
“Yeah, you did. That’s why I let you past my gates.”
Jess grunted, and motioned with his right hand. The tarps were both tossed at Lucas’s feet.
What was happening? Sarah squinted through the crack in the curtain, trying to see below. Some coyotes had jumped out of the trucks. Were they going to attack Lucas? Were they pissed that he’d choked their leader?
“You need to come away from the window.”
She jumped at the voice and spun around. Michael. His long, black hair brushed the collar of his shirt and his dark eyes bore into her.
“What are you doing here?” Sarah asked. “Shouldn’t you be outside?” Protecting Lucas’s back. Too many coyotes were out there. They way outnumbered the wolves she’d seen.
“I’m where I’m supposed to be.” He filled her doorway. “You’re not. Step away from the window.”
A chill skated down her spine. Her fingers slid over the soft edge of the curtain.
“The coyote alpha already has your scent. He knows exactly where you are.” Michael’s brows rose. “And just in case one of those dogs out there has a gun, you need to move away from that glass.”
Right. Gun. The weapon she’d wanted. She hurried forward. But still wondered . . . what had been in those tarps?
Jess’s claws cut through the ropes that bound the tarps. “They were hunting the woman. She’s got one real high price on her head.” He glanced back at Lucas. “You’ve come into my territory following a hunt, and I never stopped you.”
Right. “I never attacked you during the hunt.”
Jess’s lips twisted. “True.” He sliced through the tarps. “And that’s why I brought you a little present.”
Lucas’s gaze dipped to the open tarps—to the two dead men who’d been gift-wrapped for him.
“I didn’t give the order for them to come at you,” Jess spoke quietly. “They broke the pact we had. The punishment for that was their lives.” He shrugged. “I knew you’d be coming for ’em anyway, so I figured I’d just save you the trouble.”
The men’s faces had already taken on the stark white of death. From what Lucas could see, their bodies had stiffened with rigor. They’d died hours ago. Then been hauled out to him.
“Our pact stands.” Jess stepped over the bodies. Offered his hand.
Lucas didn’t take it. “You know, I’m getting tired of bodies being dumped on my doorstep.”
Jess kept his hand up. “We’ll take the bodies with us.” And the coyotes hurried forward to drag them away. “I just wanted to give you proof, wolf. All my pack understands, you’re not to be touched.”
But Sarah was fair game?
Lucas smiled and reached for the coyote’s hand.
“Can you—can you hear what they’re saying?” Sarah asked because the curiosity was killing her.
Michael’s brows rose. “You think my hearing is that good?”
Michael shrugged and walked back toward the window.
“Wait! What are you doing?”
But he didn’t wait. He brushed back the curtain and stared down below.
“Bullets, man, bullets!” Why should she need to give him the reminder?
He grunted and lifted one strong shoulder. “The glass is bulletproof.”
What? “Then why the scare tactics?” She inched closer. “Why make me pull back?”
He didn’t look at her. Just gazed below. “Because I knew Lucas wouldn’t want you seeing the bodies.”
The bodies. Her breath caught in her throat. She’d seen her share of the dead over the years. But . . . “He’s—he’s killing them, now?”
“No.” Michael’s dark head cocked to the right. “Now . . . now he’s shaking the coyote alpha’s hand.”
She rushed forward and shoved the wolf out of her way. I’ll be damned. They were shaking hands. Her own fist slammed into the glass. Of course, it didn’t break—not the glass anyway. But her hand started throbbing like a bitch.
“Glad that’s settled,” Jess murmured. “No sense in bloodshed between our packs.”
Not when my wolves can kick your ass so easily.
“Now, about the woman . . .”
Lucas tightened his hold on the coyote’s hand. “What about her?”
The faint smile faded from Jess’s lips. He tried to pull his hand back. No dice. When it came to physical strength, Lucas could take the coyote any damn day. But when it came to underhanded backstabbing, no one beat Jess.
Well, usually no one did.
Jess stopped tugging his hand and his eyes began to glow with the light of the coyote. “I want her.”
“Um, do you?”
Those glowing eyes rose and locked on window number three. “Just have your man send her down. We’ll be even.”
“Even?” He yanked the coyote closer. “Not even fucking close,” he growled in Jess’s ear. Then he let the shifter go.
Jess stumbled back.
“You’ll have her, and you’ll have the bounty on her head.” Lucas shook his head. “Why should you get all that cash?”
But Jess locked his muscles and stood his ground, and, once more, his gaze drifted to the window. “It’s not just about the money. The bitch owes me, and she will bleed for me.”
The hell she would. “Pretty soon someone will be bleeding,” Lucas murmured, “but it won’t be her.” In one move, he could slice open the coyote’s throat. One fast move. Then his men could take out the others.
“Why’d you take her in?”
Behind Jess, the coyotes tossed the bodies back into the pickups.
He shrugged. “Maybe I was in the mood for a fuck.” “Bullshit. You think you can use her.” Jess laughed at that and spat on the ground. “She’ll be the one doing the using. And she’ll turn on you, just like she turned on her last lover.”
His eyelids flickered. “Know that, do you?”
Lucas didn’t speak.
“She shoved a silver knife into his chest. Another inch and she would have taken his heart.”
Interesting. Not quite the delicate little flower she appeared to be. Good.
“She also killed a coyote.” Jess pointed to the window. This time, Lucas glanced up, too. He saw Sarah, her palm pressed against the glass. “She and that charmer lover of hers—they set him up and they fucking killed him.”
Sarah’s stare met Lucas’s.
After a moment, he turned back to Jess. But Jess was still looking up at her, and pointing with his claws out. “I owe her payback. That bitch is mine.”
“No,” he said softly, “she’s mine.”
“The fuck you say! You can’t—”
“You took care of the men who attacked me.” He smiled and let his fangs flash. “I’ll take care of the one who murdered your man.”
Jess’s eyes narrowed. “You’ll kill her?”
“Sometimes death is the easy part,” he murmured.
Jess laughed at that, a low, rumbling laugh that groaned in his throat. “Damn straight. Make her suffer.”
So it really wasn’t about money for the coyote. It was about pain. Interesting.
“Now, Jess, I hope you don’t mind . . .” Actually, I don’t give a shit if you do. “But get the fuck off my land.”
Jess jerked his head, but didn’t move. “I’ll want proof.”
The guy just kept pushing. “You’ll have it.”
“That’s hardly enough time to play.”
Jess locked his teeth and gritted, “Tomorrow night.” Lucas inclined his head. “Deal.” So this was what it felt like when you bargained with the devil.
Jess spun away and headed for the first truck. Giving his back as a target really wasn’t his brightest move. But then, Jess had never claimed to be a genius, just a tough coyote who’d once sold out his own brother so he could take the position of pack alpha.
Loyalty. Didn’t it matter anymore?
Jess climbed into the passenger side of the truck. Raised his hand. The trucks roared to life and the tires spun on the gravel drive. Lucas was aware of Dane moving toward the trees. Moving fast.
Good. Dane would follow the coyotes. He’d watch them, and he’d see just who the bastards were aligning with in this town.
When the dust cleared, he turned back to face the house. Piers stood a few feet behind him.
“You believe anything he said was true?” He jerked his thumb back toward the house. “Did she really kill a coyote?”
“Maybe.” Not like he could judge. He’d killed a coyote, too. And so had Jess . . . funny that the bastard was demanding vengeance when he’d just killed two of his own men.
Of course, Sarah was human. Pack took care of pack, but when humans tried to hunt . . .
“And what about Rafe?” Piers whistled. “You buy that she went after him with a silver knife?”
Now that gave him pause. “We didn’t search her when she came in.” The woman had looked so defenseless. Fucking mistake on his part.
“Shit.” Piers’s eyes widened. “You think she’s still got the knife.”
“I think I’m not going to be taking any more chances with our charmer.” He glanced back up at that window and found her gaze on him. “No chances at all.”
“The coyotes left.” And there hadn’t been a giant, all-out brawl below her. She exhaled on a hard breath that fogged the glass. “That’s great, right?”
Michael didn’t answer.
She turned and elbowed him. “Right?”
“Dane’s following them.”
She glanced back through the window, squinting. Night was falling so fast now, she could barely see anything. “Why?”
“Because I want to see if the coyotes really are teaming up with Rafe.” Lucas’s deep voice filled the room.
Sarah whirled around. “You shook his hand.” She’d seen that part clearly, and she’d taken the punch right in her gut. “I told you that the coyotes wanted to take you out and you stood there and shook a coyote alpha’s hand?” She marched toward him, anger humming through her. “I didn’t think you’d be such an easy mark.”
“I’m not.” Deadly quiet.
Wait—was that some kind of warning about the coyotes or was he saying—
“Get out, Michael. Get to work with Piers.”
Michael nearly ran out of the room. When the alpha says jump . . . You say how fucking high. Rafe’s words drifted through her mind as goosebumps rose on her arms. “What happened to the bodies?”
His eyes widened, just the tiniest bit. “You shouldn’t have seen—”
“I didn’t.” Michael had made sure of that. Did they really think she was that fragile? If they only knew. “Did you kill them?”
He leaned in close and his breath feathered over her cheek as he said, “You tell me. Am I a killer?”
Yes. That’s why she wanted him. No, why she needed him.
He laughed, and the husky rumble just made the goosebumps worse. “This time, I didn’t have to lift a hand. The coyote alpha—”
Jess Ortez. Yeah, she knew the lying asshole.
“—he wanted to make up for . . . offending me. To show that our deal was still in place, he killed the two coyotes who came after me.”
“Your deal?” And the two coyotes from the park were dead? She swallowed. Don’t think about it, don’t! They would have killed you in a heartbeat. Hell, they would have, if Lucas hadn’t been there.