The fire was out. The shooter was gone. And Jane—Jane was staring up at her blackened building with eyes that were angry and a face that was smudged with soot.
Aidan approached her slowly. The shooter had been smart. He’d stayed far enough away that Aidan hadn’t caught his scent. He’d fired—using a rifle—and taken out his targets from a safe distance back.
Did he tell you fools…if you don’t succeed, you die?
Aidan rather doubted that their deaths had been part of the deal that the men had made.
One of the fire fighters approached Jane. It wasn’t hard to overhear his words. “We stopped the fire, detective. Didn’t spread to the other units, but your place…it’s looking like a total loss.”
She didn’t flinch. Didn’t say anything. Just gave a solemn nod. Her gaze was on her balcony.
The guy put his hand on Jane’s shoulder. “The fire marshal will be here soon.” He squeezed her. “I’m sorry.”
Aidan’s eyes turned to slits. The comforting fire fighter could move the hell on. There were still some smolders that he needed to address.
Aidan stepped forward. The guy looked at him. Aidan looked back, then he made a very slow process of glancing at the guy’s hand. A hand still curled around Jane’s shoulder.
The fire fighter snatched his hand back and went to go take care of the smolders.
“What did you do?” Jane murmured. “Flash some fang?”
He sidled closer to her. “Hardly.”
“Did you already make Roth and Mr. Jenkins forget that you jumped off the balcony and didn’t even get a scratch on you when you landed?”
She wasn’t looking at him. Just still staring at the balcony. Aidan cleared his throat. “They didn’t notice, so nothing to explain.” The two men had been dazed at the time. Dazed and not helping Jane fight off her attackers. The older guy—Aidan got that Jenkins might be too weak to fight back. But the Roth jerk? When a woman is getting attacked, you help her. You don’t run for cover and leave her vulnerable.
Even if the woman knew how to kick some serious ass. Everyone could use some back-up.
“My whole life was in that apartment.” Her voice hitched with sorrow.
“You’ll stay with me.”
She kept her gaze on the smoking balcony. “You have this serious tendency to dictate instead of asking. I’m going to assume that’s an alpha thing? ‘Cause you’re used to giving orders to your pack?”
“I’m not part of the pack. So ask with me.” Her gaze finally slid to him. So dark. He wished he could read all of the emotions in her eyes. “You need to—” Her words ended in a little gasp. “Is that my grandmother’s quilt?”
He lifted it up and, keeping his voice expressionless said, “Will you stay with me?”
Her hands reached for the quilt. She stroked it carefully, lovingly. “It’s my quilt.”
Like he’d risk the fire for anyone else’s quilt. He’d gone into the flames before he jumped off that balcony just to get the quilt for her. His lips curved. “I’m afraid it might be a little smoky.” And unfortunately, it had caught fire on his way out, but he’d hit at the flames once he’d made his way to the ground and he’d knocked out the fluttering fire. “But nothing a little repair work won’t fix.”
She stared up at him, her eyes so wide. “Thank you.”
His heart ached. “It wasn’t hard to bring with me. No big deal.”
“It is a big deal.” She paused. “And you know it.”
He’d just wanted to…make her happy.
“You stayed in the fire to get this, didn’t you?”
Aidan swallowed. “It mattered to you.” He was discovering that when things mattered to her—no matter how small—they mattered to him, too.
The silence stretched between them. He wished all of those fire fighters weren’t there but…hell, screw them. Aidan leaned forward and kissed her. Not a rough and hard kiss, the kind he was used to. The kind he normally enjoyed. But…careful. Savoring her. Enjoying her. Just being damn glad no one took her from me.
Now he understood the stories that he’d heard growing up. How some alphas had nearly become obsessed with their mates. That need was easy to understand now because when something mattered so much, you would do anything to protect—
He lifted his lips from her mouth, but his forehead tipped down and pressed lightly to hers.
“I will stay with you,” Jane murmured. “And thanks for asking so nicely.”
That ache in his heart spread.
“I want to be clear on this,” she added. “I’m not doing this as a way to jump your bones.”
The smoke drifted in the air. “How disappointing.”
“Roth and Mr. Jenkins could have been killed tonight. Human casualties don’t belong in this war. So if the vamp is going to keep coming after me, then I want to be sure I put as much distance between myself and any other potential victims as possible.”
“The guy doesn’t care much for collateral damage.” His gaze darted to the right—to the two bodies being loaded in black body bags.
“I care,” she said grimly. “So I’m thinking your place will come with plenty of paranormal protection?”
“You can count on it.”
“Good.” She swung away, and, holding tight to her quilt, she began to march toward the patrol cars.
She stilled. “Jane.”
“Just wanted to say…you can always feel free to jump my bones.”
Jane glanced over her shoulder at him.
A faint smile curved her lips. Then she walked away.
He rather liked her smiles.
“Baby, we’re safe.” Johnny said as he opened the back door of the ambulance. He pulled out the gurney, being real careful to put down the legs on that contraption so Virginia’s body wouldn’t bounce and fall to the hard cement flooring.
They were in a deserted warehouse, one right near the river front. He was supposed to meet the boss there just before dawn—and it was nearly that time, now. And I don’t see the vamp anywhere.
His fingers shook a bit as he unzipped the body bag. Virginia’s skin was chalky, her eyes closed. She wasn’t breathing. Her beautiful face was too still. He touched her lightly, amazed by just how cold she truly was right then.
“The hard part is over,” he told her. “You’ll wake up, the boss will have some food for you, and then everything else will be easy. You’ll transform me and—”
Her hand flew up and clamped around his wrist.
Her eyes opened. The color was darker. Deeper.
He started to smile.
Then she yanked his hand to her mouth and Virginia sank her fangs into his wrist. It wasn’t a gentle bite. She ripped and tore right through the skin and veins and muscles. She gulped and drank so deeply and he frantically tried to pull away.
But she was too strong.
Footsteps echoed around him. Faint, mocking laughter filled the air.
“I guess our girl woke up early…”
The boss was there.
His thudding heartbeat filled his ears and sweat pooled down Johnny’s back as he jerked his head toward the guy’s voice. “Help me! She’s hurting me!”
“She’s drinking. It’s what new vampires do.” The footsteps came closer, and the voice continued, ever so calm and unconcerned, “They have a hunger, you see. A great, voracious hunger that they must sate. They have to drink and drink until that hunger no longer screams in their mind, obliterating out all other thought or care.”
His knees were trying to buckle. “Ginny, baby, I’m sorry…” Johnny was sorry, but he had to do it. He punched her. Right in the face. As hard as he could.
She let him go. He stumbled away from the gurney, but she leapt up, jumping from the body bag and onto him in one move. They hit the ground with a bone-shattering impact. In a flash, Virginia’s legs pinned his arms down and her hand yanked his neck to the side.
“No!” He yelled. “You have her food—”
That had been part of the deal. The plan. The vampire was going to bring Ginny a victim.
Ginny’s teeth sliced into his throat.
“I do have the food. You’re the food.” The guy’s footsteps shuffled closer.
Ginny was drinking from him, gulping down Johnny’s blood and he couldn’t get her off him. He couldn’t make her stop. She was supposed to transform him, but not like this. This wasn’t the plan.
His body shuddered beneath her. His nails scraped across the concrete around him. “G-Ginny…”
She didn’t stop.
And soon it was hard to fight. His body became limp beneath her. Each breath was a struggle. He was cold. But at least he didn’t feel pain any longer.
“So…good…” Ginny whispered. Her head rose.
Johnny blinked and made himself stare up at her. Blood soaked her lips and dripped down her chin. Her eyes seemed so dark. Hungry. Cruel.
She wasn’t his Ginny. He tried to talk but only a rough groan came from him.
At that sound, she blinked, and some of the mania seemed to leave her face. “J-Johnny?”
His body wasn’t shuddering any longer.
“Johnny! God, Johnny!” She scrambled off him. “What happened? What did I do?”
She needed to give him her blood. If he got her blood, he’d live. Right? Wasn’t that the way it worked?
There was no more cold. No more pain. There was nothing.
Thane Durant smiled as he watched the human take his last breath. The blood had spread beneath him in a wide pool, gleaming in the night.
“Johnny?” Virginia’s voice was so broken. She looked broken as she crouched over the still human. Her hands were rushing over him, trying to bring him back. It was too late for that.
Just what he’d wanted.
Thane liked to give all of his new vampires a little test. It was important for them to understand—from the very beginning—that they would have no other attachment in life. Well, in their afterlife. No friends, no family, no lover—no one would be more important than he was.
So he liked to provide those newly turned a special meal.
A meal that went straight to the heart.
Virginia yanked her hand up to her mouth and sank her new fangs into her wrist. Oh, such a sweet gesture. She thought she’d be able to save the human with her blood.
Before her bleeding hand could go back to the dead one’s mouth, Thane leapt forward and caught it in a steely grip. “It’s such a pity to waste good blood.”
She looked up at her. She was crying. Wasn’t that adorable? He knew that she and Johnny had been involved with plenty of crimes. Kidnappings. Even murders. But she was crying over his dead body. She’d truly cared for her human, as much as she was able to care.
“I have to bring him back,” she whispered.
“He’s gone. Long gone.” To come back, the guy would have needed the vamp blood before he drew his last breath. “Nothing will bring him back.” Perhaps a bit of voodoo magic, but no one would be able to control the guy then. “We need to leave. The sun will rise soon.”
He let her go.
She instantly shoved her hand to the dead man’s mouth.
Sighing, he watched her. Such a foolish gesture.
“Drink! Drink, please!”
Thane rolled his eyes. “The dead don’t drink. They decompose.”
Her head snapped toward him. Her eyes flared with fury. “You did this!”
Now he had to laugh. “I didn’t slash his throat in a frenzy of bloodlust. That was you, love.”
She leapt to her feet and charged at him. Before she could strike, Thane caught her hands and held her tightly. All of his amusement fled. “Do I fucking look like someone you get to hit?”
Memories from his past flashed through his mind. A big fist. The snap of bones. No one hurts me now.
“You attacked me!” She cried out. Blood was still dripping down her chin.
He really did hate for blood to go to waste.
Using his grip on her arms, he lifted her up. She screamed but he leaned forward and licked that blood off her chin. “You, love,” he whispered. “You killed him, not me.” He licked away that blood, kissing her chin and enjoying the sweet coppery taste as she tried to wrench her head away from him.
“You killed me!” Virginia shrieked.
He lowered her back to the ground, but didn’t let her go. “That was your dead lover’s idea. He wanted you to be a vampire. Seems he thought you were getting old. You both were. And he wanted to stop time.” He didn’t spare another glance for the dead man. “Consider time stopped.” For you both.
Tears trickled down her cheeks. “I didn’t want this.”
“I could’ve killed you both.” His original plan. Until he’d realized that she was something he didn’t understand, not yet. The way she could change her voice—it was fascinating to him. A talent he could use. So he’d decided to keep her around, for the moment. Besides, he’d lost a few of his new recruits to the werewolf alpha. She’d be needed, soon. An expendable vampire.
“You should’ve killed me.”
He let her go. “Does the blood taste good?”
Her gaze was on the body. “Yes.”
“Want more of it?”
She shook her head no, even as she had to whisper, “Yes.”
Because the bloodlust would rise in her again. It was always that way for the newly turned. No control, just hunger. So much hunger. “I’ll take care of you,” he promised her. He offered his hand. “Come with me or stay with the dead.”
Her shoulders shook as she kept staring at her lover’s savaged throat. “Johnny, I’m sorry.”
“Why? He sold you out first.” Thane kept his hand up. “The sun will rise any moment. Do you truly want to be alone then?”
Slowly, so slowly, her hand lifted toward him. Her fingers slid over his skin.
“Good choice,” he told her.
Since she’d met Aidan, her life had truly gone to hell. Jane stood inside his office at Hell’s Gate, glancing around nervously. She’d been shot at, ambushed behind the cathedral, her apartment had been set on fire…what would be next?
She wasn’t sure she wanted to know. And if she didn’t get a few hours of sleep, she was going to collapse. Simple fact. She wasn’t some supernatural powerhouse. She was a human. Humans needed to sleep in order to survive. They also needed food. It was pretty hard for her to remember the last time she’d eaten, but the need to fall into an unconscious heap was going to take precedence for her.
Jane eyed the leather couch. It would work.
She’d just settled onto the cushions when Aidan opened the door and strode inside. “We could’ve gone to my home,” he grumbled. “It’s far bigger than this place.”
Jane was sure it was, but he’d also told her it was out in the swamp, and she’d wanted to stay in the city. Her eyes closed as she sank into that soft leather. Serious heaven…in hell. If she’d had the energy, she would have smiled at the thought. Instead, she pulled her quilt up around her body and let out a long sigh.
“I have a perfectly good bed there,” he added as the floor creaked beneath his footsteps.
No doubt, he probably had a monstrously huge bed.
“It’s a four poster,” Aidan continued, voice deepening a bit. “Made of solid, hard wood. Perfect for all kinds of…things.”
She wasn’t going to touch that one, not then. “Just need a few…hours…” Jane said, her voice already slurring. “Can crash here…then come up with a new plan…”
There were leads she had to run down. Witnesses to question. A killer vamp that she needed to stop.
Jane felt the light touch of Aidan’s fingers on her forehead as he brushed back her hair. His touch was oddly soothing. Strange to think of a werewolf as someone who could soothe.
“Crash with me anytime, Mary Jane,” he murmured. His fingers slid down her cheek.
She forced her eyelids to open, even though sleep called so temptingly to her. He’d knelt beside the couch, and his mouth was incredibly close to her. Was it so wrong that she wanted him to kiss her right then? A kiss good night?
Not that it was really night any longer. The sun was rising.
Just a few hours of sleep. Maybe two or three, then I’ll be okay.
He leaned forward. “Sleep well,” Aidan said, his voice deep and rumbly. A werewolf’s voice. His lips pressed to hers. Tender. He could be tender when he wanted to be.
Her lashes began to slip closed once more. Even though she needed to tell him… “Sorry…”
Sleep had her, and it wasn’t letting go. “If…I…scream…”
Why would Jane scream in her sleep?
Aidan stood as he watched her. Her face was so peaceful. Beautiful. Her lashes cast shadows on her high cheeks. Her breath came softly as she cuddled beneath her quilt. It smelled of ash. Once she wakened, he’d get the quilt cleaned for her, but he wasn’t moving it then. Jane seemed to need it, and he wanted her to have everything that she needed.
He wanted to be all that she needed.
So for a time, he didn’t move at all. He just stared down at her, making sure her breathing stayed soft and even. What gave Jane her nightmares? What made her scream out? Was it her parents’ death? Or something else?
And what in the hell could he do to stop her screams?
When he was sure that she’d slipped far away from him, Aidan marched back to his office door. He opened it, softly, and saw Paris waiting a few feet away, one shoulder propped up against the wall.
When his friend saw him, Paris raised his brows. “I’m guessing the sexy detective is out now?” He inhaled, his lips curving. “She does smell rather delicious…”
Aidan flashed fang. “Do not even think it.”
“Hey, ease up! I’m not alpha, so it isn’t like her scent screws with my head. At least, not the way it does yours.” He straightened away from the wall. “But I’ve got to know, is it like the stories say? Does it pull you right in? Obsess you? Make you not even able to think of anything else?” His voice lowered dramatically as he continued, “Should I go get you a chair? Do you need to sit down because you aren’t close to her anymore and you just damn well might freaking die if you don’t see her precious face?”
Muttering in disgust, Aidan flipped him off. “I need you to do a job, asshole.” But even as he growled at the guy, there was faint humor in his eyes. Paris was pretty much the only one in the pack who would dare say any shit like that. He and Paris had grown up together. Been through more battles than he could count. He’d saved Paris, Paris had saved him, and Aidan knew, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that Paris would kill—or die—to protect him.
Just as Aidan would do for him.
There was, quite simply, no one he trusted more.
“I am doing a job,” Paris said, sounding a bit offended. “I’m the one who got that dumbass Garrison out of the hospital and into a werewolf safe house so his leg could get proper treatment. You’re welcome, by the way.”
“What?” Paris crossed his arms over his chest, and, slowly some of the humor faded from his golden eyes. “What am I missing?”
“It’s something I missed.” He glanced toward his now shut office door. “About her.”
“Well, yeah, if you’d gone to talk with the woman before you approved her promotion to homicide detective, you would’ve known she was some kind of vampire and werewolf honey that would draw you in like mad but—”
“No, something else.” He exhaled slowly. “This doesn’t go beyond us.”
Paris took a few steps closer. Suddenly, he appeared very serious. Unusual for Paris.
“She has—Jane has a scar. It looks like it was made with a soldering pen.” And he’d seen vampires use those pens before. Vamps could heal very fast, from anything but fire. So since tattoo ink wouldn’t last on them—their bodies just flushed it out of their systems—they’d started using fire to mark themselves. Or rather, the fire of a soldering pen. They branded their bodies to show their affiliation with a certain vamp sector. To show their power.
And unless Aidan was wrong… “I think a vampire bastard marked Jane.” And he wanted to destroy the fool.
Paris sucked in a sharp breath.
“She was young when it happened. Probably little more than a kid.” And this is what bothered him the most. “We know her parents were killed when she was eleven.” That had been in the preliminary paperwork on her background investigation—material that had come to him when she’d been vetted for the detective position. “But our intel said it was a botched home invasion.”
“My team got that intel,” Paris said carefully.
“Right. And usually, your team knows their shit.”
“Not this time?”
“They need to go back and dig deeper. No, not they.” He gave a grim nod. “You. Just you. I want you to dig into her past personally. Learn more about the attack on her. She was taken to a hospital afterwards, right? Find the doctors and nurses who took care of her. Get them to tell you exactly what they remember about that night.”
“Long time ago,” Paris muttered. “Humans might not remember anything from back then.”
“Then bring someone to me who was there,” he said as his fingers tightened into fists. “And I will make the person remember.”
Because no one fucking marked Jane. No one.
Paris nodded. He started to turn away, then he stopped. “What did her scar look like?”
“I only saw part of it.” He would be seeing the rest. She would show him.
“But, we need—”
“I need to know who hurt her. And I need them to pay.” Simple. “Tell no one else. Come back to me when you learn more.”
Aidan turned away and reached for the doorknob. He could feel Paris still watching him, though, so he glanced back over his shoulder. “What?”
“You didn’t answer my questions from before,” Paris murmured as he tilted his head to the right and studied Aidan. “You okay…with her?”
Is it like the stories say? Does it pull you right in? Obsess you? Make you not even able to think of anything else? Should I go get you a chair? Do you need to sit down because you aren’t close to her anymore and you just damn well might freaking die if you don’t see her precious face?
Paris had been mocking, but yeah, he was fucking being pulled in by her. And with his particular past, he had to tread very, very carefully. “Get me answers.” He needed them, fast.
Before they were all in too deep.
He opened the door and headed back into his office. Jane continued to sleep and a faint furrow had appeared between her brows. Aidan made sure to lock the office door and then he went to her just as she—
“Don’t burn me,” Jane whispered. “I won’t tell…”
She whimpered. The cry was high and sharp. It was a child’s cry.
His claws slid from his fingertips. The vampire who’d hurt her would pay.
“Don’t—” Jane cried out.
Carefully, Aidan pressed a kiss to her cheek. “No one will burn you, sweetheart. It won’t happen.” Not on his watch.
Had the vampire tonight been trying to send a message with his fire? Had the flames stirred up memories of Jane’s past?
A home invasion gone wrong…that had been the story in the papers and in all the old police files. Robbers had broken into Jane’s home. She’d escaped, but her parents hadn’t been so lucky.
Her whimpers faded away. Jane. So fierce when she was awake. So strong. And asleep…
I will destroy any threat to her.
“Sleep well, sweetheart,” Aidan said as he pulled a chair closer to the couch. He knew that he wouldn’t be leaving her side. Jane might not get it, but protecting her was his number one priority.
Now, and, he suspected, always.