“Looks like the crime-scene guys from the LAPD did a good sweep of this place,” Michael said, not seeming to pay them any attention. “Can’t even find cigarette butts on the ground.”
“John didn’t smoke,” she said at once.
Lucas’s nostrils flared. “Someone did. I can still smell the ash.” But the evidence had been removed.
Because he was watching her so closely, Lucas saw her flinch. Interesting.
“Time to pay a visit to Marley,” he said.
“What?” Michael spun around. “Aw, hell, you still got that demon playing watchdog for you?”
Sarah’s brows pulled low. “Marley?”
He caught her hand. “Come on.” No sense going inside. The dead guy had never made it past the porch.
They’d parked the SUV down the deserted street, but he didn’t head back to it. Instead, he cut through the thin line of trees and snaked to the left, toward the old, rundown house that bordered his strip of property. That place was his, too, though no one would ever be able to find a record that said so.
He’d bought both places because he liked his privacy and they were the only two houses on the street. Yeah, he liked privacy, but he also liked protection. That was where Marley came in.
He didn’t bother knocking when he bounded onto the sagging porch, he just kicked the door in.
“Lucas!” Sarah’s horrified whisper.
An old woman spun to face him, her hair stark white and her face etched with deep lines. She shuffled toward them, her steps small and mincing. “What do you—why are you here?” Beady eyes swept the group.
He growled. “Cut the damn act, Marley.”
The old woman vanished in an instant. Demons and their glamour. Those skilled at cloaking magic could project any image they wanted to the world. Marley transformed in front of them, the white hair darkening to black, the deep wrinkles slipping away until smooth skin remained. Another mask? Probably, but it was the one Marley liked to use the most.
“Why are you here?” She asked again, glaring. “You said I’d be left alone, Lucas. I did my part. I burned those bastards to ash, but you said I’d be left alone.”
Ah, another deal. A demon who’d been desperate to slip away from the world and a wolf who’d needed vengeance. Their agreement had been fairly satisfactory.
“There a particular reason you let those assholes haul me away, huh, Marley?” He stepped closer and the demon didn’t back up. Surprising. For a while, Marley had backed up when anyone came close. That’s why she’d wanted to hide in the woods. To stay far away from everyone and everything.
Since he’d needed a guard on his house who didn’t smell of wolf, he’d humored her. Humor time was over.
Her lips lifted in a taunting half-smile. “I knew the cops wouldn’t keep you for long.”
“You saw the attack.” Not a question. He heard footsteps behind him as Michael and Sarah came inside the cabin.
Marley’s blue gaze—another lie, a demon’s real eyes were black—lowered a bit, then flickered to Michael. “I . . . I didn’t see the kill.” Quiet. “By the time I caught the scent of blood on the wind . . .”
A demon’s sense of smell was nowhere near as powerful as a shifter’s.
“. . . it was too late. The human was dead.”
Great. “I let you stay here because you said you’d guard the house.” His one retreat. The place away from the pack. Now the place was stained with blood. Hell, wasn’t everything he touched stained with blood?
“I have been guarding it, okay? I went out—I do that sometimes, you know. If you want full-time surveillance, get a freaking video camera.”
Right. Because he wanted footage of himself shifting into a wolf. That would be great when it fell into the wrong hands and got blasted all over fucking kingdom-come.
“I didn’t see the kill.” Marley tossed back her hair and lifted her hand. Her finger pointed straight at Sarah. “But I did see her.”
Sarah didn’t gasp in shock. Didn’t start yelling that the demon was lying. He glanced at her from the corner of his eye. Her face appeared totally blank.
“Something you need to tell me, Sarah?” he asked softly but Marley’s words weren’t a surprise. Just confirmation. He’d caught Sarah’s scent near the porch. Fainter, but still sweet vanilla.
Her gaze tracked to his. “I was supposed to be with John. We were supposed to meet at your place—”
“How did you even know about his place?” Michael interrupted, his voice rough as the wolf began to near the surface. “You and the dead human shouldn’t have—”
“Rafe knew about the place, so that meant I knew.”
He was getting real sick of old Rafe.
Sarah held Lucas’s stare. “I was late. I should have been here sooner, but I was late.”
If she hadn’t been late, would he have come back and found her dead body on his doorstep, too? And would he even have cared?
Wouldn’t have known her. Wouldn’t have kissed her.
A dead human.
Would he have cared?
His claws broke through his fingertips. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” Can’t trust her. He knew that. The woman wore secrets like other women wore perfume.
“What was the point? When I got here, he was already dead.” She stared down at her hands. She turned them over, staring at the palms. Lucas thought of the pool of blood that had surrounded the body.
Did it stain your hands, Sarah?
“You weren’t there,” she told him. “No one was there. So I ran.”
“Then the cops came,” Marley muttered, watching Sarah closely, “right after your girl vanished.” She shrugged. “So I had to vanish for a time, too. Until those jerks stopped searching the property.”
“No wonder you gave me an alibi.” Lucas cocked his head as his gaze slid back to Sarah. She was still staring at her hands. Still seeing blood? “You’re the reason the cops tossed my ass in jail.”
She dropped her hands, and her gaze lifted to his. “No. You got tossed in jail because you’ve got a history with the cops. It’s not my fault you and that detective—detective—”
“Bruce Langston.” Dickhead.
“—have some kind of war going on.” She straightened her shoulders. “I wasn’t just going to leave John’s body out here to rot. He deserved better than that.”
“Most folks don’t deserve the way they die.”
Michael crowded in close to her. “And some folks do.” His eyes had narrowed with suspicion. “Some folks deserve exactly what they get.”
Her small jaw clenched. “Back off, wolf,” she gritted.
Lucas slanted a hard glance at Michael.
The wolf eased back a step, but he glared at Lucas. “Don’t let your dick lead you, man. The woman lied to you!”
“He never asked me if I was here!”
“What the fuck? You never said!” Michael snarled right back.
Lucas’s gaze darted back to Marley. She was watching Michael and Sarah, a faint gleam in her eyes.
Marley. The bloody and beaten demon who’d come to him six months ago. She’d begged for his pack’s aid, saying she only wanted a safe place to stay, and in return, she’d given them her fire. Demons were so good at controlling fire.
And there had been some murdering assholes who deserved those flames.
As far as Lucas knew, Marley had never left the house since they’d made their agreement. Food and supplies were brought to her. So after six months, suddenly, she decided to take a stroll . . .
He moved quickly, catching both of her arms and pinning them behind her back.
“Lucas!” Her scream of shock.
Sarah and Michael both froze.
“Where’d you go, Marley?”
She twisted against him. “Let me go!” Fire began to lick across the floor.
“Where’d you go?”
The fire flared higher—then it shot straight for Sarah. “Get her out of here!” Lucas ordered because no way was he letting the demon go then.
Michael grabbed Sarah’s arm and hauled her toward the door. They’d taken about three steps when the door slammed closed, trapping them inside. Damn demon power.
Lucas brought his hand to Marley’s throat. “Let’s try this again,” he whispered and he let her feel the sting of his claws on her flesh. “I know you didn’t go any damn place. I know you’re lying. So who the hell did you see slice that human?”
The flames circled Sarah and Michael. The fire burned higher.
His claws pressed deeper. “If the flames don’t die, you do.” His gaze darted to Sarah.
Her eyes met his through the flames. He knew she’d see the beast shining in his stare. See the claws, see the teeth. Here’s the monster, never really hidden by the man.
The fire was so close to her skin. Charmers were weak when it came to magic. The fire would hurt her, kill her—
A growl worked in his throat as he turned his fury back on Marley. If this was the way it would end . . .
The flames died. Smoke drifted in the air. “Jess . . .” The name was a sigh that broke from Marley’s lips. “He and the coyotes . . . they killed him.”
“And what?” he whispered in her ear, not wanting Sarah to hear. “You just stood back and fucking watched?”
A tremble shook her. “It was watch or die myself.”
He knew Sarah heard the words because her eyes widened. “They were going to wait for her,” Marley said, and Lucas kept his claws near her throat. “But it took too long. You were due back . . .” She swallowed, and he felt the gulp against his hand.
He dropped his hold but didn’t step back. “Was it all a setup?” Fuck, how long had this plan been in motion? “They sent you in . . . just to set me up?”
Her chin lifted as blood dripped down her throat. “I’m a low-level demon. Barely a three on the power scale. All I can do is use the glamour. Cloak. Hide.” Her brittle laugh filled the air. “I might as well be human. A freaking rag doll for the paranormals out there.”
She’d looked like a rag doll the first time he’d seen her. A broken, bloody doll that had been thrown away. “They beat you, then they sent you to me?”
He caught the sad whisper of Sarah’s gasp.
“No.” Marley’s lips tightened. “They didn’t want their scents on me.” Her gaze darted to Michael. “They had the demons beat me, then they sent me to you.”
He knew she hadn’t lied about her attack when she’d first come to him. And he’d wanted her fire. Seemed like a fair exchange at the time.
His eyes collided with Sarah’s. Was any deal really fair these days?
“Why did you help them?” Because Marley had helped. Not just watched. Helped. Dammit. “Why?”
“Because they would have killed me if I didn’t!” Marley’s words came out, fast, tumbling. “And all I did was let them know when the charmer came. That’s all they wanted. I haven’t told them anything else, I swear.”
Because there’d been nothing else to tell. He’d never let Marley in on pack secrets.
Then, “John was a good man,” Sarah’s voice drifted through the cabin. “Did you care about that at all? Did it matter to you who died?”
“No.” Marley’s voice was much softer. “Didn’t matter at all . . . as long as I was the one who got to keep breathing.”
She would have stood back and watched Sarah die, too.
“Did you tell them we were here tonight?” Lucas asked but he already knew the answer.
“S-sorry . . .” She whispered and her head fell forward, the long locks of her hair dropped to cover her face. “And they know it’s just you and Michael. That you don’t have the full strength of your pack.” A weak, bitter laugh. “Or even the strength of your four horsemen.”
Caleb. Dane. Piers. Michael. His own apocalypse that sent death to his enemies.
Her shoulders dipped. “Th-they’ll be here soon.”
To kill you. To take the girl.
“Oh, shit,” from Michael.
“I would have protected you,” Lucas said quietly as rage pumped through him. The change was coming. There would be no way to hold back the shift. The beast’s rage was too strong.
Her head whipped up, and she stared at him with wide eyes.
“Now, I’ll have to kill you.”
She stumbled away. “Lucas—”
A howl split the night. Not the harder, longer cry of a wolf. Shorter, higher. A coyote. But that howl was immediately followed by another. Another, another.
“Fuck.” He spun around. A trap. One he’d walked right into. He yanked out his cell. Piers answered on the second ring. “Get to Bryton Road. The dogs are out.” But he wasn’t going to wait for backup to arrive. That was time they didn’t have to waste.
“Where are they?” Sarah was at the window, peeking through the old blinds. “I can hear them, but I can’t see them.”
“They’re all around us.” Michael stood right behind her, his body a long, lethal shadow. His gaze shot to Lucas. “I see at least ten.”
The floorboard squeaked behind them. “Going somewhere?” he asked Marley quietly. It was a shame. Marley had always been weak, not just in terms of power scale, but—
“They know your weakness, wolf.” Marley’s words came out with more heat than he’d expected from her. “Why do you think they sent me?”