The werewolf was there. In her apartment. In her bed?
Fucking werewolves. He hated the slobbering beasts. Always thinking they were so perfect. So strong and unstoppable.
They were nothing more than animals, hiding behind the bodies of men.
He kept watch from the shadows. He couldn’t get too close to the building. The mangy werewolf might catch his scent. And not just any werewolf, either. An alpha.
Which made him even fucking madder as he saw the lights turn off in his prey’s apartment.
The werewolf should have been dead. If he hadn’t been an alpha, he would have been dead in that alley. Drained and then ripped apart by the vampires so that they’d enjoy the power of his blood. Every last drop. Only things hadn’t ended that way.
And now the werewolf was fucking his vamp-to-be.
The foolish beast probably thought he was keeping her safe. Locking her away from the big, bad vamp. But he didn’t have to get inside that apartment in order to get to her.
I can make her come to me.
He slipped deeper into the shadows and watched as two humans skulked around her building. Humans, ah, but they could certainly be useful. He’d paid them just the right amount of money, and, no questions asked, they’d agreed to the job. In this instance, he knew it was smarter to use humans and not vamps. The alpha wouldn’t even think twice when he caught the scent of humans in her building. The humans would be able to get close enough to do the job he needed.
And he could watch. See hell come alive. All before the sun rose.
You thought I was done for the night? Think again. He couldn’t give the werewolf time to hunt him. He had to keep attacking. Had to claim his prey.
It was a good thing that, after death, a vamp-to-be like the pretty detective could regenerate. Because her death wasn’t going to be pleasant.
For her kind, it never was…
The dream came again. Dream. Nightmare. Memory. All one and the same for Jane. She was young, barely eleven, and tied down. The rope cut into her wrists and her ankles, and no matter how much she begged, no one would let her go.
When she turned her head, she could see her mom. Tossed on the floor, her limbs all twisted and a big pool of red underneath her body. Her dad…he was there, too. Another quick turn of her head showed Jane her dad’s form.
His eyes were still open, but she didn’t think he saw her, not anymore.
“There, there…no need for tears, little one. It’s all for you.” That voice was back. The voice she hated. Mean and cold and cruel and she wouldn’t look at him. She just wouldn’t.
“We waited a long time for you. You’d better not disappoint.”
She looked back at her dad. This was her house. Her mom’s house. Her dad’s house. These people—they didn’t belong there. They should never have been inside.
“You can scream if you want,” that mean voice told her.
It was all the warning she got. Pain came then. So hot. Burning, branding. She screamed and screamed but it didn’t stop. And she could smell something—something funny. Something—
It’s me. I’m burning.
Her voice broke and her cries stopped.
She didn’t want to be good. Not if he liked that.
“I’ll be back soon.” He stroked back her hair, and his green eyes gleamed down at her. “We’ll take a little break. Let you get a bit of strength back so that we can finish things up.” His blond hair was swept away from his face. A face that seemed so normal.
It isn’t. He’s not normal. He’s evil. Monster. Monster. Monster!
There were no tears on her cheeks. She’d stopped crying after…Daddy.
The green-eyed man—monster—shut the door on the way out. Her home. He had taken over. They had. In the middle of the night, monsters had come for her. Her mom had told her that monsters weren’t real. That she should never be afraid of them.
Her mom had been wrong.
She heard faint squeaks. The softest of rustles. Her eyes had closed. When had they closed? She should look around. See what was happening.
But she was afraid and she didn’t think she wanted to see anything else.
Her right side kept hurting. Throbbing.
“Mary Jane…” A soft voice. “Mary Jane…are you okay?”
Don’t be here. Don’t. Run away.
“Y-you didn’t tell them I was here.”
Now she did cry. One long tear slid down her cheek.
“I’m gonna…I’m gonna get you out.”
She shook her head and kept her eyes closed. But she felt him pulling on the ropes that held her ankles down. There was a faint sawing motion. It sounded so loud to her ears. She was afraid he would hear. “Stop.” The barest of whispers.
But the rope gave way. Her legs were free and her feet hurt because it felt like needles were shoved into them. She bit her lower lip as hard as she could, trying to hold back her cries. Now wasn’t the time to scream. She knew that.
Her eyes opened.
Her dad’s sightless eyes stared back at her.
No, look away. Look away!
Then the rope was gone from her wrists. Sawed away. He’d cut her wrists with the knife he had, but she didn’t care about that. Then he was pulling her, pushing her toward the window. Such a small window. They were in the basement. And that window was up high.
“I’ll go through first,” he said. He shimmied up and vanished.
I don’t want to leave mom and dad.
“Mary Jane!” He reached down for her. His hand was small, barely bigger than hers. Dirty. Bloody. “Come with me, Mary Jane!”
Had he been hiding, during everything? Hiding and waiting?
She looked at his hand and she—she heard the basement door opening. The faintest of clicks from the top of the stairs. He was coming for her again.
She grabbed for the dirty little hand, and he pulled her up, yanking with all of his strength. Her body slid through the narrow opening. Her shoulders. Her chest. Her stomach. Her—
The monster grabbed her feet.
”No!” she screamed.
Aidan’s eyes flew open at Jane’s shout and he bounded off the lumpy couch. Two strides had him at her bedroom door. It was locked when he reached for it, but he just kicked out, shattering that lock. The door flew open beneath the force of his kick and it bounced against the wall.
Jane was sitting up in bed. Her eyes wide and horrified. Her breath heaving. She looked terrified.
But no one else was in the room. He froze at the foot of her bed, wanting nothing more than to reach out and wrap his arms around her. “Where’s the threat?” Aidan forced those gravelly words out.
“In my own head.”
Her reply was so soft, but a werewolf could hear the softest of words. The barest of whispers.
Were those tears on her cheeks? Yes. And at the sight of those tears, he was moving toward her, helpless to stay away. He sat on the edge of her bed, but when he reached for her, she flinched.
That was when he realized that his claws had come out.
Aidan shoved his hands behind his back. He wanted to touch her more than he wanted to draw a damn breath, but he hated her fear. And right then, the scent of her fear was surrounding him.
Her hair was tousled. She wore a black tank top, one that had slid half-way down one slender shoulder, and her covers were pooled at her waist. Jane held those covers tightly, more like death-grip-tightly in her fists.
“Do werewolves have bad dreams?” Jane asked.
He nodded, then realized she was staring down at her covers, not him. “We do.”
“And when you have them, what do you do?”
“Find something to make me forget them.”
Her head lifted. Her eyes met his. There were fucking tears still glinting in her gaze. “Make me forget.”
And he did—the only way he could. Aidan leaned in toward her. He couldn’t touch her, not with his claws because he didn’t want to freak her the hell out any more than she already was. So he touched Jane with his mouth. Just his lips. He kissed at the tear tracks on her cheeks.
First his lips feathered over Jane’s left cheek, then her right.
Her lashes had lowered once more. He kissed those lashes. Hated her tears. Hated that she was afraid.
He pulled back, just for a moment. Her lashes lifted.
Giving her time to tell him to get the hell away, he slowly lowered his mouth toward hers.
Only she didn’t tell him to get the hell away.
She leaned toward him. She closed the last bit of distance between them. She…
Her lips were so soft beneath his. She tasted like heaven and sin. The best kind of temptation. Her mouth parted and her tongue swept out to slide along his lips.
She was going to drive him crazy.
He moved closer to her. Kissed her harder. Deeper. Let her feel his desire. Her every breath, her every sigh just drove him on. Just made him want her so much more.
He’d had plenty of lovers, but he’d never wanted anyone this way. So badly that he was aching. So badly that one kiss had him stretched hard and ready to erupt. He grabbed the covers near her. Yanked them back because he wanted to feel more of her. See more of her.
Her legs were long and bare. Insanely sexy. She wore a pair of panties—not bikini panties or a scrap of lace but panties that almost looked like shorts. Small and mind-blowingly sexy in a bold red color.
The black tank top covered too much of her. Time to ditch that. He kissed her neck. Let her feel the faintest edge of his teeth and when she moaned, his cock jerked in anticipation.
So fucking good.
His hand slid to the hem of her shirt. He felt the softness of her skin beneath his touch. Don’t scare her. Stay in control.
“Aidan…there’s forgetting, and then there’s fucking.”
The woman knew just how to talk dirty to him. A grin curved his lips. “Oh, sweetheart, I am more than happy to fu—”
He saw her scar, high on her right side. Every muscle in his body clamped down. It wasn’t the kind of scar one would get from a surgery. Not even from a knife wound. And not some gunshot she’d taken while in the line of duty as a cop, either. The scar was old, it curved. It twisted.
The curves of that scar are too precise. Not an accident. Something deliberate—
She yanked her tank top back down and shoved him back. “Stop.”
He’d only seen half of that scar. Just half. Enough to piss him off. His beast was snarling inside. “Someone…marked you.”
Jane jumped from the bed. “I had a nightmare. I’m fine now. Go back in the den.” Her gaze flew toward the window. “It’s still dark outside. We probably barely slept an hour, maybe two.”
He was still on the bed and still battling his rage. “You were young when it happened.” His mind flew back over what he’d learned about her. “When your parents died?”
Jane sucked in a sharp breath. “I am not talking about this with you.” She pointed to the door.
Aidan rose, slowly. “I know what kind of mark that is.” Because he’d seen others like it before.
“Good for you.” She gave a hard shake of her head. “Look, maybe werewolves need to work on tact because it is not cool to talk about a woman’s scars.” Her hand hovered over that scar, and he realized that he’d seen her do that same movement before. Seen her palm press to her side, but he hadn’t realized what hid beneath her clothes. “But in the human world, it’s just tacky to point out a person’s flaws.”
“You have no flaws.”
Her eyes widened, then she blinked. Laughed. “Trust me, I have plenty.”
Actually, he thought she was pretty perfect.
Except for the whole potential to become a vampire thing. But he was working on that.
But her laughter—as sweet as it was—faded. Suspicion swept over her face. “How do you know about my parents?”
Because I had a wolf dig into your past. Paris was particularly good at unearthing secrets.
“You investigated me, didn’t you?”
He rolled his shoulders.
“Seriously? I’m a cop! I’m a detective and—”
“Someone had to make sure you’d be a good fit as detective.”
She leapt toward him. “What?”
Hell. He hadn’t meant to say that. But he was still so pissed about her scar, about someone marking her that way. No, not marking. Branding. Because that was exactly what it was. Her skin had been burned. The scar had been too careful, too curved and precise for anything less.
She hurt, and I wasn’t there.
“Why the hell are you acting as if I’m a detective because of you?” Jane demanded. “I didn’t even know you until that night on Bourbon Street.”
“Just because you didn’t know me, it doesn’t mean that I didn’t know you.”
Her eyes widened. “What?”
“I told you before, sweetheart. I run this town.”
“The paranormal parts!”
All parts. “You think I was going to let just anyone start investigating deaths in my city? There are procedures that have to be followed. And background checks by me are part of those procedures.”
“More secrets,” she said.
Yes. “Jane…” His gaze dropped to her hand, the hand that was still pressed to her right side. “I want to see the scar. All of it.”
“Because I think there was more to your parents’ death than you realize.” Or maybe she did realize it, and he wasn’t the only one keeping secrets. Maybe…
“Fine.” She grabbed for the hem of her tank top.
But before she could lift the top, he heard the sound of breaking glass, the distinct shattering was far too close—coming from her den. Then there was a whoosh and the scent of fire had his nostrils twitching.
“What in the hell…” Jane began.
He was already running out of her bedroom. He made it to the den just in time to see another bottle hurtle through the glass door that led to her balcony. The bottle crashed to the floor, exploding on impact and sending flames racing across her floor.
Her den was already on fire. The smoke billowed as the flames greedily attacked everything in their path.
Another burning bottle came flying into her den. Freaking Molotov cocktail. A tactic that he’d even used before, when his pack had tried to smoke out vampires.
He lunged for the bottle, but it crashed before he got there, sending another trail of flames racing across her floor.
He whirled. Jane was behind him, staring in shock at her burning home. He saw that she’d taken the time to yank on a pair of jeans and grab some shoes. Her hand was clutched around her phone.
“Get out!” Aidan yelled. The flames were building too fast. And the asshole outside was launching another one right then. He could see the attack coming. “Get out now!”
But she shoved her phone into her back pocket and ran into her little kitchen, grabbing a fire extinguisher. In seconds, she was back. Jane used the fire extinguisher and shot it at the flames—
The fire is too big. She can’t stay.
He grabbed her as she sprayed white foam all around them. His arms locked around her stomach as he pulled her toward the door.
“No!” Jane yelled at him. “This is my home, I have to—” She started coughing, choking on the thick smoke. The fire was spreading too damn fast. As if it had been given a little paranormal help.
Some flames burn hotter than others. He knew that truth.
“You need to get everyone else out of this building.” Because she had human neighbors who needed to be protected. “Help them!” He wrenched open the apartment’s front door and pushed her outside.
Her eyes were huge as she nodded, then she whirled and rushed across the hall. She lifted her fist and started banging on the door. “Mr. Jenkins, we need to get out of here, now!”
Aidan ran back into her home. The fire was eating every fucking thing. Blazing out of control. The flames were dark orange, burning so bright and hot. I know those flames. I know who made them.
Someone who would be paying, in blood.
He fought his way to her balcony doors—the glass had been shattered by the bottles and the heat. He peered down at the street and saw the two men gazing up at the building. Did they think the shadows would save them? That he couldn’t see them as they hid?
Because they’d tried to harm Jane.
And now those men were out there, waiting…for her? If the flames didn’t take her, were they planning to grab her outside? The fire crackled behind him.
He spun back, stared at the engulfed room.
They won’t take her.
He ran toward the flames.
The stairwell had filled with smoke. Jane had never seen a fire spread so quickly. She coughed a bit as she helped Mr. Jenkins down the last of the steps. The building’s entrance was just a few feet away. She pushed him forward and, once she was sure he was going to make it out, she turned and pounded on the door to the right. Her downstairs tenant was an artist, Roth Sly, and he didn’t usually come home until dawn, but she wasn’t about to run out without checking to see if—for once—the guy was there.
Why didn’t any of the buildings’ alarms go off? The smoke detectors should be blaring! But they weren’t.
Her fist thudded into his door. “Roth! Roth, open up!”
No answer. She glanced up—the top of the stairs were a blackened mess of smoke.
She grabbed for the door knob, trying to twist it and get into Roth’s apartment, but the thing was locked. She kicked at the door, wishing she had some werewolf strength right then. “Roth! There’s a fire!” She kicked again.
And the door flew open. Roth blinked blearily at her. “Jane?”
She grabbed his hand. “Fire!”
His eyes widened and he stumbled out after her. His chest was bare and a pair of jeans hung low on his hips. Tattoos covered his chest and piercings slid up the side of his left ear. When he got a look at the smoke upstairs, he double-timed it with her to the exit. She looked back, though, because she was missing a werewolf. “Aidan!”
The smoke funneled down the stairs.
Roth yanked her outside. “I can hear the flames!”
So could she and what she needed to be hearing was the siren of a fire truck. All of the buildings on that block were too close together. If one went…they all could burn.
When she stepped outside, fresh air hit her, and Jane gulped it greedily. “Nine, one, one!” She snapped because Roth might have forgotten his shirt, but his smart phone was in his hand. “Call them!”
Her gaze flew around the street. Werewolf…werewolf, where are you?
“Jane!” Her name was a roar.
Her head jerked at the sound, such a powerful cry to carry over the flames, and she saw Aidan standing on her balcony. But he wasn’t staring at her. He seemed to be looking behind her. “Jane, they’re coming!” he bellowed.
Then hard hands grabbed her. Hands that bruised and yanked as she was pulled back. Her head jerked toward her attacker, and she found herself staring at a guy in a black ski mask.
Not just one asshole in a mask.
Another guy tried to grab her feet—another jerk in a ski mask. She kicked him right in his ski mask-covered face, and when she heard bones crush, Jane gave a cold grin.
The other bastard still had her arms. Was twisting them. So she slammed her head into his. The hit was hard, but she ignored the pain even as he cried out. His hold slackened on her for a moment and he stumbled back.
Her hand flew to her holster—a holster that wasn’t there. Hell. She let her body go immediately into a fighting stance because she knew he’d be coming at her again. He was bigger, but she’d be faster. She had taken down plenty of big guys before.
The bigger they are…the harder I will make them fall.
He swung at her again, but she blocked the blow with her left hand, then she did a fast jump kick right to his head.
And you fall.
But his buddy was rising, now, and he’d just pulled out a knife. The blade glinted in the night.
She was rather busy, but her head still whipped over at Aidan’s call because she’d last seen the guy standing on the balcony of her burning building.
He wasn’t on that balcony any longer.
He was flying right over the balcony.
No, seriously, no. “Aidan!” The werewolf was going to break his neck. “Aidan—”
The knife came at her, and she had to dodge back. She dodged even as Aidan jumped down to the ground. His knees barely seemed to buckle. He was holding something—something that was burning a bit—and he quickly slashed at the flames with his hands to put out that bit of fire.
And that knife is slashing at me.
She grabbed the attacker’s wrist and twisted until he dropped the knife. He made the wise decision to drop it about two seconds before she would have broken his wrist. “I’m a cop, dumbass,” she hissed at him.
“You’re dead,” he threw back at her, his voice muffled behind the mask.
She yanked his arm behind his back. Jane grabbed for his other hand and pushed him down until his knees hit the pavement. She held the jerk just like that but—
Ski Mask Number Two was up and at them—charging for her. Can you jerks not just stay down?
His hands were out, but he didn’t touch her. Because Aidan was there. He stepped into the assailant’s path and drove his fist into the guy’s gut. The fellow flew back into the air, a good five feet, and he crashed into the ground.
Aidan whirled toward her. “You’re all right?”
“Fine.” As long as she didn’t look at her burning home. “These guys attacked—”
“They set the fire. They’re after you.”
Yes, right, she’d rather figured that part out for herself.
A siren broke through the night. Loud and long and she was so glad that help was coming, even if that help was arriving too late to save her apartment. At least the other buildings could be saved. I hope.
She could see the swirl of lights in the distance. Not just fire fighters but cops. They’d get these two men taken into custody and she’d find out why they’d targeted her. Did the Master Vamp send you after me? Another damn trap?
She kept her tight hold on one of the ski mask-wearing SOBs and made sure that he wasn’t about to get away from her. This guy was going to be her key—
“Jane!” Aidan’s roar came one second before she heard the impact.
And the man she’d been holding went slack before her.
Aidan flew at her, tackling her to the ground. She heard another whistle—and someone cried out, a fast, guttural cry.
Then she heard screams. More shots.
“Get off me!” Jane yelled. She shoved against Aidan, but he wasn’t moving. Not so much as an inch, and the guy was like solid rock above her. His body completely surrounded hers.
“Can’t. He’ll shoot you, sweetheart.”
“There are other people out there!” She punched against him, as hard as she could. “Stop! Let me go!”
“You’re the only one that fucking matters to me.”
Jane stopped struggling. “They matter to me.”
His head lifted. He stared down at her. Glared. “Fuck me…”
He got off her. Ran toward a cowering Mr. Jenkins and yanked the guy behind a truck.
Jenkins wasn’t the target. If he had been…he would be dead.
She dove toward Roth. He’d just poked his head from his hiding spot—behind a street sign. Like that little sign was protecting his six foot two frame. She shoved him down onto the ground behind the truck, right next to Jenkins.
Then she ran back toward the two men she’d intended to take into custody. She put her fingers at the neck of the first fellow…
The fire truck braked at the scene, and two patrol cars came to skidding halts. “Active shooter in the area!” Jane called out, warning them. “Be on alert!”
The cops immediately pulled out their guns. Her gaze swept to the right. Aidan was by the other downed, masked man. Aidan gave a grim shake of his head.
The shooter took out the men who would’ve led me back to him. He doesn’t care who he hurts. Everyone is expendable.
And he was still out there, damn him.