Her lips curled in a humorless smile. “Too much for them to walk away.”
True. So why lie? “We reached a deal.” How would she take this?
A faint line appeared between her brows. “What did you promise?”
Not much, just . . . “To kill you.”
The scent of death surrounded her. Sarah stood in the medical examiner’s office, eyeing the closed metal lockers. Bodies were in there. A body was on the table next to her, the toe tagged and a sheet tossed over the victim’s face and chest.
“I don’t think we should be here,” she managed quietly, but what she really wanted to say was This is stupid! The cops are close! We need to get the hell out of here!
But after telling her that he was planning to kill her—um, what?—Lucas had pulled her down the stairs, shoved her into an SUV, and driven her back to the city. One of his shifters had been waiting for them at the door. Michael, the tall, dark shifter who seemed to follow Lucas’s orders so very well.
“No one will be back here for another hour.” Michael went to the metal locker on the right and jerked it open. Cold air wafted to them, and he yanked out a slab. “Kelly gave me the schedule and the key—we’re clear.”
Lucas stalked to that slab and the dead body on it.
“That’s John, isn’t it?” Sarah forced herself to speak and was rather impressed by the even tone of her voice. Sure, her nails were digging so hard into her palms that she was pretty sure she’d draw blood soon, but she sounded normal.
Michael grunted and pulled back the sheet.
Sarah stumbled and her elbow slammed into an instrument tray. Scalpels and tweezers and she didn’t even want to know what else clattered to the floor.
“First dead body?” Michael drawled.
No. About the twentieth. Was she supposed to get numb to them? “A dead friend,” she snapped back and whirled away from him. She hadn’t realized the attack had been so . . . brutal. John’s throat had been ripped wide open. No, not ripped. Clawed.
And Michael was going to mock her? Asshole. How would he react if he were looking at one of his shifter buddies? Oh, wait, if he was anything like the coyotes, he’d be the one doing the killing, so he probably wouldn’t give a shit if a packmate died.
Her shoe kicked against the scalpel. She bent and began picking up the surgical instruments. She crouched low, and slid the scalpel up her sleeve, securing it with the band of her watch.
“Sarah?” Lucas’s quiet whisper.
She rose quickly, and dumped the other items back on the tray.
His fingers wrapped around her shoulder. “You okay?”
“No, I’m not.” She faced him. “I don’t like seeing my friend sliced open, okay? It’s not one of the highlights of my night.”
“While the coyotes are in the city, you go where I go.” His lips tightened. “And I need to check this body, so I know it sucks, but you have to stay here.”
She inclined her head in a brief nod. She understood all this, it just didn’t mean she had to like the situation. And that thick smell of disinfectant was making her sick.
He caught her chin and tipped her head back. “You hurt for him and you’re furious that this happened to him. Right now, there’s no time for the hurt. Just focus on the fury, and it’ll get you through this.” His hand fell away.
She blinked. Focus on the fury. Interesting. It almost seemed like the wolf cared how she felt. No, don’t fall into that trap. He sees you as a tool he can use, just like Rafe.
“Claws ripped his throat open, no doubt.” Michael’s voice. Her gaze shot to the left. He was leaning over John’s body, his eyes slitting as he studied the wounds on John’s neck. “No knife did this.” He glanced at Lucas, nodding. “Definitely shifter.”
Lucas stepped closer to the body. “Wolf or coyote?”
Sarah’s breath froze in her throat. She couldn’t help it, she had to look at John’s face. Still handsome in death with his strong nose, high cheekbones, and that stubborn jaw. But his blue eyes were closed, no longer snapping out energy. The bronzed skin was too pale.
I’ll meet you in LA. Simone is the one we need. We can end this thing. He just has to help us. Then the road ahead is free.
She brushed past Lucas. Ran her hand over the too-icy flesh of John’s cheek. This wasn’t the kind of freedom he’d been talking about.
“I smell coyote all over the poor bastard,” Michael said.
“So do I,” Lucas agreed. “But the guy was a charmer, he worked with the coyotes.”
So their smell would be on him.
Sarah felt the stare on her and she looked to the left, meeting Michael’s assessing brown gaze. “He worked with them . . . like she worked with the wolves.” Not a question from the dark wolf.
But, yeah, they’d both been spies of a sort.
I’m sorry, John. If she’d gotten to LA sooner, would she have been able to stop this?
Michael pulled back the sheet and studied John’s arms. “No defensive wounds.”
“Because he didn’t have time to fight,” Lucas said and she knew he was right. “Probably never saw the guy coming.”
No, because if he had, John would’ve fought.
She pulled her hand away from John. Her fingers balled into a fist. She could still feel the cold touch of his flesh. “If it was fast, then he didn’t suffer much.” Shouldn’t that have been comforting? Why wasn’t it?
Michael exhaled. “There’s no wolf scent on this guy, and those marks on his neck . . .” He scratched his chin. “Not quite as big as a wolf’s . . .”
“Then we know what got him.” Lucas yanked the sheet back over John’s body. “Close him up, Michael.” He caught Sarah’s arm. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
Finally. This time, she was the one to pull him along as she hurried outside. She wanted air. Her cheeks felt too chilled, almost as cold as John’s. Her feet thudded down the hallway. The tiles gleamed up at her and the fluorescent lights dimmed a bit overhead.
Her left hand slammed against the exit door. She sucked in a deep breath of fresh air. Not death. She tried to rush forward—
But Lucas’s hold stopped her.
He yanked her back, pulling her into the shadows and caging her body between his and the hard brick building. He still had her right hand, his fingers holding it tightly. “Did you think I didn’t notice?”
He shoved back her sleeve and the scalpel glinted.
The wolf saw too much. She’d remember that. Now she just snapped, “If you hadn’t taken my knife, I wouldn’t have needed a backup weapon.”
He slipped the scalpel free and tossed it on the ground.
Great. “You told me you were going to kill me,” she reminded him. Don’t think about John. Not yet, don’t. “So, yes, I took the chance to grab a weapon—”
“Is that what I said?” His thumb brushed over her wrist. Her pulse pounded quickly beneath that light touch. And since when was the alpha wolf given to light touches?
“Y-yes . . .” The heat from his body was slowly banishing the cold. “You made a deal with the coyotes. You said—”
“You really think I haven’t lied to them before?” He smiled at her then, flashing those sharp teeth. “You and I already have a deal, don’t we? And it’s a deal that doesn’t involve your death.”
But if he’d lied to the coyotes, how did she know he wasn’t lying to her? Especially since I’m lying to him.
“You’re gonna have to trust me for this to work,” he told her and his breath feathered over her cheek.
“Trust isn’t exactly easy for me.”
“Do you have a choice now?”
“I’m not going to kill you to satisfy those bastards.” Flat. “And I’m not turning you over to them.”
There was no one else she could trust. If he turned on her, she was dead. But if he wanted me dead, I would have been dead last night. A shifter is always armed. One slice of his claws, and I would have been on a slab next to John.
“Now what thought just ran through your mind?” He asked, his lips coming close to hers. “What made fear flash in your eyes?”
She took a breath and tasted him. “I want my knife back.”
Lucas shook his head. “That’s not what caused the fear.”
He was very good at reading her. “You want me to trust you. I want you to trust me.” She licked her lips and watched the dip of his gaze as he followed the movement. “You don’t attack me, I don’t attack you, but I want that knife. I’m not going to be defenseless.” And she wasn’t, not really, but he didn’t know that. A woman had to keep some secrets in this world.
His lips pressed against hers and he stole her breath. Then his tongue slipped into her mouth, bringing his wild taste, and Sarah’s heart raced even faster.
The door squeaked open. “Lucas?”
He raised his head. “You’re not defenseless.” Then he eased away and called, “We’re here, Michael.”
Her gaze darted to the scalpel. It wouldn’t be hard to pick it up . . .
“It looks like a coyote hit,” Lucas said, “but I want to see the house again. There was no time yesterday. As soon as I got out of the car, the cops swarmed me.”
Ahem. Ah, yes, that had actually been her fault. Should she mention that part of the story now?
“Your house is still a crime scene, man.” Worry hardened Michael’s face. “It’s taped off and the cops are probably patrolling the area.”
Lucas laughed softly. “Like a few human cops are going to stop me.”
Like anything would stop him.
Dane had to keep his distance from the coyotes. If he came within a mile of them, they’d catch his scent. So he pulled his motorcycle to the curb, hid in the shadows, and used his night-vision binoculars to watch the bastards.
He counted ten of them. The youngest was a kid, barely looked eighteen. The oldest seemed to be skating close to forty. Two women were in the group—but he couldn’t tell if they were coyote shifters or humans.
Their base was a ranch-style house, one that was fairly secluded in a patch of woods. Nothing fancy, because the coyotes wouldn’t have wanted to draw attention to themselves. It wasn’t as easy to kill when attention was on you.
After a few moments, all of the coyotes went in the house. He lowered the binoculars and pulled out his phone. Three seconds later, he had Lucas on the line. “2408 Wyler Road.”
“Any signs of Rafe?”
Lucas had briefed them all on Sarah’s story, and Dane knew Rafael Santiago. Their paths had crossed once in Chicago. “No. No signs . . .” He inhaled, caught only the scent of coyote, “of any other shifter.”
“Keep your eyes on ’em. If you see any sign of a wolf . . .”
“I’ll report right away.”
“Do that. And watch your back.”
He always did. Dane tucked the phone into his pocket. It was going to be one damn long night. But maybe the coyotes would oblige him and produce the wolves—then he could have some ass-kicking fun with his pack.
A twig snapped behind him. Dane didn’t glance back. He kept his gaze on the house. Ass-kicking fun. Looked like he’d get that good time sooner than he’d thought. His claws pushed through the tops of his fingertips. The wild scent of shifter filled his nose.
So did the lush scent of woman.
“It’s really not my style to attack from behind.” Her voice floated to him. Soft, sexy.
He spun around. She smiled at him, a flash of white teeth and sexy red lips. Small, curved, and tempting, the pretty redhead stood just in front of a line of thick trees. The moon shone down on her, illuminating her pale skin.
“It’s not my style,” she said again, and her gaze darted just over Dane’s shoulders. “But it is his.”
And a freight train slammed into him.
To appease Michael, Lucas waited until the patrol car’s tail-lights disappeared around the corner, then he jumped out of the SUV and headed for his house. Sarah moved just as quickly, hurrying out and sticking to the shadows as she headed for the house on Bryton Road.
The scents of the night hit him. Gasoline. Alcohol. Stale cigarettes. And blood. Lots of blood.
He slipped under the yellow police tape and stalked toward the porch steps. With his enhanced vision, he could still see the giant bloodstain that marred the wood. The poor bastard had bled out fast.
Guess that was a good thing.
Some prey deserved to suffer, some didn’t.
“I’m still not scenting wolf,” Michael muttered from behind them. “Least not any wolves that don’t belong here.”
’Cause he let some of his pack visit—very rarely, but sometimes.
“Maybe . . . maybe the attacker blocked his scent,” Sarah said quietly, near the porch but with her face carefully averted from the steps. “It is possible, you know.”
Yeah, he knew. He’d blocked his scent with herbs a few times when he didn’t want the coyotes to know that he was hunting. But . . .
He closed his eyes and inhaled deeper. So many scents. Some old, some faint. Others fresher, stronger.
His eyes opened and, very slowly, Lucas turned his head to stare at Sarah. She’d wrapped her arms around her body, as if to keep warm. But it wasn’t a cold night. Far from it.