“So you’re telling me that Melanie Wagner had no friends, no family, no associates at all?” Jane asked, her voice tight with anger as she grilled the club owner who stood—sweating and shifting nervously—in front of the Bourbon Street strip club where Melanie had worked.
Correction…dancing club. The guy—Jimmy Cross—had been fast to point out the difference to Jane. Though Aidan knew there wasn’t any damn such difference.
When Jimmy had sputtered and rambled about his hole-in-the-wall business, Jane had just narrowed her phenomenal eyes on him.
Aidan crossed his arms over his chest and continued watching the exchange. He hadn’t really expected this human to be much help in Jane’s investigation, but if she was determined to interview witnesses, he hadn’t been about to let her head out into the city alone.
Yes, she was a capable detective. More than capable. And her trusty gun was back in her holster. But…
I need to stay close to her.
He’d seen her scar, recognized it for what it was, and fear had blasted through him. It was odd. Aidan hadn’t known fear, not until he’d known her. She’d stirred too many dangerous emotions inside of him.
If word got out about her scar, if other werewolves found out about the mark…werewolves who actually knew the old stories like he did…
We are screwed.
He had to figure out a way to protect Jane. To keep her alive. Because when the others learned what he had, what she truly was…it wouldn’t be about preventing a violent death for her…
They would want her eliminated as soon as possible.
An assassin would be sent after Jane. A painless, easy death. A professional who knew just how to end a life, without bringing Jane back as the monster that she may become.
His claws stretched from his fingertips and Aidan made sure to keep them hidden from the still-sputtering human, a man who reeked of drugs and addiction.
“I want her employee files,” Jane snapped.
“I don’t—f-files?” Jimmy stammered.
“Jesus save me,” Jane muttered as she threw her hands into the air. “Yes, employee files. You know, those forms you are supposed to have people fill out when they start working for you? Melanie’s emergency contact should be on them.”
Jimmy just blinked.
Sighing in disgust, Jane took a step toward him. “I’ve got a woman lying cold in a morgue—a woman who has a family out there, somewhere. They need to know what happened to her.”
A search of Melanie’s tiny apartment had turned up no clues.
I don't know…Maybe she didn’t have any family looking for her.
Maybe there was no one.
And maybe that’s why the vampire targeted her. With no one to miss Melanie, she would have been the perfect victim.
“I-I don’t have any employee files.”
“How did you even know the woman was of legal age?” Jane fired back at him.
Jimmy’s cheeks were fire-engine red. “She said she was, okay? She wanted to work here. The tips were good.”
“I’m sure they were,” Jane said, voice icy. “And guess what else I’m sure of? I’m sure that if you didn’t check her age, you didn’t check ages for any of your other employees, either. I’ll be making a phone call and getting this place investigated, count on that. If you’ve got underage girls here, consider your ass shut down, Jimmy.” She spun on her heel, marching back toward Aidan.
There was fury in her gaze. The woman was sexy when she was enraged.
Actually, she was rather sexy all the time. He thought so, anyway.
“Let’s go,” Jane said, her voice tinged with her fury. “This joker is—”
“Wait!” Jimmy called out frantically. He surged after her, his hands outstretched.
Before the guy could touch her, Aidan was in his path. “You don’t want to do that.” A lethal promise.
Jimmy looked at his hands, looked at Aidan, and looked at his hands again. “No, no, I wasn’t—wasn’t gonna hurt her!”
Hell, no, he hadn’t been.
“I just—just needed to tell her…” Jimmy licked his fat lips and then smoothed a hand over his sweaty brow. “I did see Melanie hanging with someone af-after work one night.” He spoke quickly, the words spilling over each other. “I remember ‘cause…I thought she was finally loosening up a bit…hanging out with customers…”
Jane pushed Aidan back. “You know the customer’s name?”
Jimmy shook his head. “He was a…pay in cash only guy, if you know what I mean.”
“I know,” she said with a roll of her eyes. “Tell me more about him.”
“Big.” Jimmy cast a glance up at Aidan. “About his size, but blond. Kinda pale.”
When he didn’t say more, Jane shook her head in frustration. “Anything else?”
Jimmy just shrugged. “He was an average white guy, okay? Good lookin’, I guess. Melanie seemed to like him.” He scratched his chin. “You know, I think she might have left with him the night she…” His voice trailed away.
Jane squeezed her eyes shut. “The night she died?”
“Uh, yeah.” Jimmy’s fingers were shaking a bit.
“Can you talk to a sketch artist?” Jane prompted when her eyes opened again, after she’d done with what looked like some kind of fast counting/cooling down technique. “Get me a better idea of who the hell this guy is?”
Jimmy rubbed his sweaty forehead once more. “I can do better. I-I think I got him on video.” He turned and headed toward the back of the club.
Jane strode after him, and since Jane was following him, so did Aidan. They passed at least five stripper poles and two golden cages on their way to the back. Then the hallway snaked to the right, and Aidan saw that the area was filled with small, private dance rooms. Jimmy led them past those rooms and into a little office.
In that closet-sized office, two computer screens sat on the desk. Jimmy keyed up the computer. “I had the feed runnin’ when she left…” Jimmy muttered.
“You recorded your guests?” Jane demanded. “Jimmy, that shit is illegal!”
He curled his body over the keyboard. “You want the video or not?”
“Yes, I want it! Give me the damn video!”
His fingers tapped over the keyboard. “And, for the record, copper, I wasn’t videoing the rooms…this was right outside my place. A freakin’ public alley. People shouldn’t fool around out there if they don’t want others seeing them…”
The video popped up on the screen.
Melanie was there, waiting, pacing. Alone.
A man closed in. He was tall with blond hair that swept back from his face. When she saw him, Melanie raced into his arms. She also immediately offered her neck to him.
Aidan saw the flash of the guy’s teeth.
Same fucking vampire from the alley. Same jerk who tried to end me. Thane Durant. I knew it…
And the guy’s description…shit, Aidan hadn’t wanted to scare Jane unnecessarily, but when she’d been telling him about the vampire asshole who’d killed her family…that guy’s description had sure matched up with the bastard in the alley who sent his little army after me. But there could be plenty of blond vamps out there. There could be—
“Freeze it, right there,” Jane ordered, her voice shook a bit and she’d paled as she stared at the screen.
Jimmy’s fingers tapped on the keyboard once more. “Weird freak is biting her.”
Yes, he was. But Aidan’s gaze left that video feed and slid toward Jane. Her pupils had turned to pinpricks as she stared at the image.
Fuck me. She recognizes him. Thane is the vamp who killed her family. He’s been after Jane…all this time? He marked her.
Aidan couldn’t wait to tear that sonofabitch apart. It took all of his self-control to stop his claws from bursting out right then.
“I’m confiscating that video,” Jane said. Her gaze was still on the man. Her breathing was coming too fast. Aidan could smell her fear. Hate that scent.
Aidan knew, without a doubt, that he was looking at the vamp who’d wrecked Jane’s life so long ago. But Jane wasn’t falling apart. Wasn’t freaking out. She’d wrapped herself in steely control as she stood there, her chin up, her face cold.
She is one hell of a woman. His respect for her notched up even higher.
“I’ll take the video footage,” Jane continued, “and you will be getting a visit from my buddies at the PD. No underage girls, Jimmy. None had better be found here.”
Jimmy’s sweating just got worse as he saved the footage onto a flash drive for her. Then Jane’s fingers curled around the drive. Aidan could tell that she wanted to say more, but Jane clamped her lips closed. She stormed out of the bar and Aidan quickly followed her. The place was dead quiet right then.
Just like a tomb.
When they left the club, Jane turned to the right and hurried toward the alley they’d seen in the grainy video. The alley was empty then, just the faint scent of old garbage lingering in the air.
“She knew what he was,” Jane said, her breath exhaling in a hard rush. “You saw her—she offered her throat to him.”
Yes, she had.
Jane paced in the alley, looking for clues that just weren’t there. The ground was wet—not surprising really, since the city washed the streets every day. Any clues were long gone.
“Why the hell would she do that?” Jane stopped and her hand automatically went to her right side. A habit that he now understood. “Why run to a man who could kill you as easily as he embraces you?”
Aidan had to glance away. “Maybe she thought she loved him.”
“She loved a vampire? You said they were monsters.”
“That doesn’t mean that someone can’t love a monster.” He looked down at his own hands. His claws were gone. Not gone, just beneath the surface. His beast was always beneath the surface, waiting for a chance to come out and attack. “Especially if he did a good job of hiding his darkness on the inside.” And I know all about that.
“The vamp who attacked her—the vamp who sure seems like he was Melanie’s lover—you know him.”
Aidan stiffened. I know him. And you do, too, don’t you, sweetheart? He wanted her to tell him, to confide in him…
I want Jane to trust me.
“I saw your face when you looked at the video.” She tapped her foot on the cement. “Spill it, Aidan. If we’re partners on this, you share with me.”
He advanced toward her. “Partners?” He tasted the word. And wished he were tasting her again. Nothing had ever tasted so sweet. “Is that what we are?”
She squared her shoulders. “You tell me.”
Ah, she was a tricky one. His hand lifted and he brushed back the hair that had fallen over her cheek. “I thought we were lovers.”
Her pupils expanded, making her eyes go even darker. “We had sex. Once.”
“But you came for me more than just once, sweetheart.”
Her hand flew up and pressed frantically over his mouth. “You did not just say that to me!”
Her reaction—her flush, her frantic movements—she was just so cute that laughter rumbled from him.
Jane dropped her hand. “You don’t say things like that,” she muttered, “not in public.”
He laughed harder. “We’re in an alley.”
“Aidan…”A warning edge entered her voice.
So he choked back the laughter. “We’re in a dirty alley, not a public place.” His head tilted as he studied her. “And who says one time with you is enough for me? You asked what we were, so I’m saying…we’re lovers.” You’re mine, Mary Jane. “I rather thought you enjoyed being with me.” He had the delicious bite marks and scratches on his body to prove it.
Her gaze flew to the mouth of the alley. “You’re talking about this now? Here? You have shitty timing, wolf.”
His lips twitched. “I have been told that.” Paris had always said he had shit for timing and tact. Alphas weren’t really known for tact, though. More for brute strength and animal cunning. Paris was the guy with the tact. He could charm his way out of any situation.
That charm saved our asses when we were kids. Aidan had wanted to fight and claw, but Paris had always used his head.
That’s why I know I can count on him. Paris would bring him the information that he needed, Aidan was sure of it.
But for now… “Don’t you want to be my lover?”
She threw up her hands and spun away from him. “Okay, we are not talking about this now.” She paced to the right and peered up at the side of the building. “I can see the video camera. I’m guessing some of Jimmy’s clients liked to bring the dancers back this way after the, um, show was over. A piece of crap like Jimmy probably used the videos for blackmail, especially if the creep has underage girls working for him.” She pulled out her phone and, a few seconds later, he heard her start talking to someone else. By the sound of things, the guy on the other end of the line had to be another cop. A few more terse words were exchanged, and Aidan realized Jane was definitely keeping her word. Cops were going to be swarming at Jimmy’s place soon.
She shoved the phone into her pocket. Jane glanced toward him once more. “Okay, that’s done. So spill it.”
His brows climbed.
“I need a name. Tell me who the vampire is. Tell me what you know about him.”
Fine. He could do that. “When I knew him before, he went by the name of Thane Durant. Rumors are the guy is very old, so I figure he probably adopts a new name every twenty years or so.” That was the usual game that vampires played. “And he’s one vicious sonofabitch.”
“I figured that.” But there was a deeper knowledge in her voice.
“Thane Durant killed Garrison’s parents. He and his newly turned vamps attacked them. Had a gorge fest. See, vamps like werewolf blood because it gives them a power boost. They killed Garrison’s parents, tortured them for hours until there was no blood left.”
Her flush had faded. She wasn’t even blinking as she stared at him.
Shit, this is too much like—
“That’s what they did to my parents,” Jane said, her voice hoarse. “They didn’t kill them outright. They…I heard noises. Laughter. My parents were begging…” Her gaze fell to the cement. “Then they brought them in to me. And I-I was the one who started begging. Asking them to let my parents go. They didn’t.” She swallowed and the faint click was painful to hear. “They killed them in front of me.”
In an instant, he moved toward her and wrapped his arms around her body, pulling her close. He’d wanted her to confide all in him, but now Aidan wished that he could take her pain away. Nothing would make him happier than easing her sorrow—
Or giving her some much deserved vengeance.
“How did Garrison survive?” Jane asked as she held herself still in his embrace. He wished she’d hug him back.
“I got there. Vamps scented me, and they hauled ass.” And he’d walked into a bloodbath. “Garrison can be a dick, I get it. But once upon a time, he was a scared kid, crying over his parents’ broken bodies.” So when he wanted to kick Garrison’s ass—and after the fool had shot at Jane, that ass kicking had been foremost in his mind—Aidan would have a flash of the wolf as that young kid.
Even werewolf alphas could feel empathy. Actually, they could feel a fucking lot. He pulled Jane closer. “How did you get away?”
“It was him.”
She was breaking his heart. And when the fuck had he gotten a heart?
“There are some faces that you never forget, and I haven’t forgot his.” Her body trembled against his. “When I saw the video, I-I knew. I just couldn’t say, not in front of Jimmy. Freaking Jimmy.” She shook her head in disgust.
“His jaw, his nose…his eyes…they’re all the same. The vampire in that video—Thane—he was the vampire who killed my parents. He hasn’t aged a day,” she murmured. “As soon as I saw that video, I felt the punch right to my gut. He was the one who did this to me. All of this time, it’s been him.”
“How did you get away?” Aidan asked again as he bit back his rage. He hated to think of her being scared, alone, hurt. It won’t happen again. I won’t let you face him alone ever again.
She pulled free of his arms. “I told you, he stopped burning me. Took a break. When he went upstairs, I got out. H-he’d left me in the basement, and I crawled out the window.”
Her voice had hitched the faintest bit.
Werewolves couldn’t smell lies, despite what some rumors said.
But he recognized hers. And he wondered just what she was holding back from him. But he’d already pushed enough, and the last thing he wanted was to cause her more pain. “Partners,” he said.
Her head nodded jerkily. “We can be. I actually think we’d make a pretty good team.”
If she stopped lying to him. If he stopped lying to her.
“You have paranormal connections that we can use. I have human sources.” Her chin notched up. “We know the vamp we’re after, we can shake this town apart and find him while he’s weak. We can stop anyone else from getting hurt and give justice to Melanie Wagner.”
“And to your family.”
She blinked fast and Aidan knew Jane was trying to stop her tears from falling. When would she get it? She could let go with him. She could cry or scream or fight…he would take all of her.
“We can do this,” Jane said determinedly. “I know we can.”
If he was her partner, then it would only be expected that he’d stay close to her. He nodded. “I know our next stop.”
Her eyes widened. A tear slid down her cheek but she quickly brushed it away with the back of her hand. “That was, ah, really easy. I expected more of a fight.”
When they were talking about her life? About giving her justice? No fight from him. He caught her hand. Kissed her knuckles. He liked to do that, with her. She wouldn’t realize that it was a claiming thing, of course, a werewolf thing. Whenever she met someone new—a new paranormal, anyway—she’d probably offer her hand. It was what polite society dictated. A handshake. But when any paranormals took her hand, they’d catch his scent and know to back the hell off.
She had his protection. She had him.
“Sweetheart,” he told her softly, “I’ll be your partner. I’ll be your lover. I’ll be anything you want.”
Ice slid straight into his heart. “It will never come to that.” I won’t let it. He’d already decided not to make the same mistakes that other alpha wolves had made in the past.
The same mistake his father had made.
Jane will never be turned.
“Because I won’t die violently.” She nodded and pulled her hand from his. “Right. I’d actually prefer to die when I’m ninety-eight, sitting in my rocking chair as I fall softly to sleep.”
His chest hurt. “Jane…”
But she gave a brisk shake of her head and squared her shoulders. “What’s the next stop? Who do we see?”
He glanced up at the sun. They couldn’t afford to waste more daylight. “You familiar with the voodoo shops in town?”
She laughed. “Who isn’t?”
“The shop we need is just a short walk away.” And at this time of day, it should be closed down for business. The perfect time to pay a little visit to a shop that dealt in secrets. He turned and she immediately fell into step with him.
“And…why are we going to the voodoo shop?”
“Because the fire that ate up your apartment last night wasn’t natural. It shouldn’t have burned so fast and so hot.”
“Okay.” She sounded a little breathless. “Not natural. That’s because it was supernatural?”
“A special fire blend I’ve seen before. Only normally it’s used on vampires. They shouldn’t have access to it, not unless someone sold me out.” A seriously bad mistake.
“And that someone would be?”
“Annette Benoit, the best damn voodoo practitioner I’ve ever met.” He paused. He liked Annette. Respected her. But if she’d sold that fire to Thane…
That’s the wrong damn team to play on. Aidan yanked out his phone and called Hell’s Gate. Graham answered on the third ring. “Get a team to Annette’s,” Aidan ordered.
A stark pause. “Is she…okay?”
Once upon a time, Graham and Annette had been close. Very close. “She may have betrayed us.” May have…I know she did. “Can you handle guard duty on her or do I need to call in someone else?” A blunt question.
“I’ve got it.” Graham’s response was flat. “You know pack always comes first for me.”
“Then get to the shop. I need you.”
His footsteps thudded as Aidan and Jane headed down the street.
Jimmy Cross raced around his office, sweat soaking his clothes and his stomach knotting painfully. He had his phone to his ear as he snapped, “You said this would never happen! That no cops would come banging on my door.” With his left hand, he spun the dial on his safe. “You were so wrong. Detective Hart just walked out, and the bitch is sending in a whole team of cops! They are going to shut me down!” He grabbed the money inside the safe and started tossing it into his duffel bag.
“What did you tell her?”
“Not that I’d been letting you feed on my girls. Shit, man, why’d you have to take an interest in Melanie? You changed her! Of course that crap is gonna bring the cops around. Cops and werewolves.” But he’d played it cool. Mostly. He hadn’t let on that he knew just what Aidan Locke truly was.
I’m lucky I didn’t piss myself. Freaking alpha…right there. When Aidan had grabbed him, Jimmy had nearly lost it.
“What did you tell her?”
“I didn’t give her your name!” I just showed her your face. “I’m cutting out of this town. By the time the cops get here, I’ll be long gone.” He was really sick of vampires. “You forget me, and I’ll forget you.” He’d sure made a good pile of cash with the guy, though. And all he’d had to do was look the other way while some girls vanished. It wasn’t as if anyone had cared about those girls anyway. They’d wanted to make money with their bodies. They had.
“Where are you going, Jimmy?”
He strained, trying to see if he heard cop cars coming. “I’ll go to my uncle’s place in the swamp. Lay low there just a bit.” That was as far as he’d planned. “Forget me, man. Believe me, I’ve already forgotten you.” He hung up the phone and raced for the back door.
Jane had visited the Voodoo Shop before. If you lived in New Orleans, you pretty much had to visit the shop. It was just…well, a thing.
But when Jane knocked on the door, she didn’t hear any movement inside. And the CLOSED sign hung at a slightly diagonal slant on the front window, a window that also featured a grinning skull wearing a black hat. Jane glanced over at Aidan with raised brows.
“She’s in there,” he said. “Let’s go around back.”
Well, that was easier said than done. Because there wasn’t a way to get to the back, not unless you scaled a six foot wall and managed to avoid the broken bottles that rested on top of said wall. Those bottles were a mainstay in New Orleans. Security that dated way, way back. You didn’t want someone climbing your wall and sneaking onto your property? Put some broken bottles up there. That way, the would-be intruder couldn’t get a handhold without slicing himself deep and hard.
“Don’t worry,” Aidan assured her. “I’ve got this.”
Good to know. Truly but—
He leapt over the wall. Seemed to fly over the thing.
She spun around, her gaze frantically searching the street to make sure no one had just seen that crazy move. He couldn’t freaking bound up over six foot tall walls like that in public! But, luckily, no one else seemed close enough to see him. She rushed toward the front of the shop. Jane put her ear to the glass. There was a crash inside and then a woman screamed. Fear and fury were in the cry.
She screamed a second time, and the sound held only fear.
Hell. What is happening in there? Jane kicked at the door. Her second kick actually got it open. “Police!” Jane yelled as she raced through the shop. It smelled strongly of incense and…beignets? “Police!” She rushed through the beaded curtain to the back.
And that was when she found Aidan…and the woman she guessed had to be Annette Benoit. Aidan had his hands up—his clawed hands—and the woman was trapped between Aidan and the back wall.
Beside them, what looked like a dozen beignets—all covered with gobs of powdered sugar—littered the floor.
“Stop!” Jane yelled. She hadn’t meant to have a partner who’d go off into crazy town at the drop of a hat. “Move away from her, Aidan!”
“She’s working with Thane.”
The woman’s light brown gaze flew toward Jane. She gave a frantic shake of her head.
“She was eating beignets for goodness’s sake. Not working with a Master Vamp.” Jane put up her gun. “Back away, Aidan, now.”
Growling, he did.
Relief flooded across Annette’s face. “Glad someone can control the beast.”
“Annette…” Her name was a dark rumble from Aidan. “You think I can’t smell him here? Can’t scent the fire you the made for him?”
Jane peered closer at Annette. She couldn’t scent any of that stuff that Aidan was talking about, but her attention had been caught by the green scarf that the woman had around her neck.
Annette was, quite simply, stunning. Her hair was long, black, and perfectly straight. Her eyes deep set and exotically tilted at the corners. Her skin was a soft cream, smooth, totally unlined. Her chin curved gently, her cheekbones stretched high, and her full lips trembled a bit with fear.
Jane’s gaze drifted over the scarf. And there, right at the upper edge of the silken material, she saw the faint mark on Annette’s throat. “He bit you.”
Annette’s hand flew up and she repositioned her scarf. “I don’t know what you’re—”
“You’ve got vamp bite marks on your neck,” Jane said flatly. “Thane was here. You made fire for him.”
Thane. Just saying his name made Jane feel sick. When she’d seen that video—seen the monster from her nightmares on the computer screen—she’d nearly lost it.
Her knees had shook. Bile had risen in her throat. And deep inside of her, the girl she’d been had been screaming.
He’s real. He’s real…Not a nightmare.
A monster who was back in her life once again.
But she’d kept her shit together, barely. She hadn’t freaked out in front of Jimmy and even though her stomach was still in knots, Jane was doing her job. Later, when she was alone—maybe she could break apart then.
I’ve been holding it together for so long. I’m scared to let go.
She blinked. Aidan was frowning at her, and that was definitely a beast glow lighting his stare. Crap. He was probably scenting her fear and thinking that the woman caused it.
As if having the same fear, Annette cast her a desperate stare. “Control the beast!”
It wasn’t an order. More of a plea. Like Jane was supposed to be able to magically keep Aidan from going all wolf. Jane cleared her throat. Keep that shit together longer. “Your fire nearly killed me last night!”
“But it didn’t!” Annette spoke quickly. “Because Aidan was there. I knew he’d be there. I knew he’d get you out. And I knew…” She exhaled on a deep sigh. “That he’d eventually come to me.” She twisted her hands in front of her body. “What was I supposed to do?” Annette asked, eyes flashing. “Thane would’ve killed me if I hadn’t given it to him. He left me alive only because I’m useful to him. If Thane can’t use you, then he eliminates you.”
Thane. Jane’s heart raced in her chest. “You seem to know an awful lot about him.”
Annette gave a nod. “About him. About Aidan. About what’s going to happen to you, Detective Hart.” She inched toward a table in the middle of the room. A black mirror rested on that table. A broken mirror. “I saw a lot of death today when I scried.”
“You should have called me immediately!” Aidan threw at her.
Annette swayed a bit on her feet. Her hands curled around the table. “He took too much blood. I passed out after he left. When I woke up, the fire was over and I was just happy the sun was up.” Her fingers slid over the broken glass. “Do you know how many people are going to die before midnight?”
What kind of question was that? “Tell us where he is,” Jane said. “Tell us where this Thane is and we can stop him.” She wanted to find the bastard and make him pay for all his crimes. Personal? Hell, yes, it is.
Annette glanced at Jane’s right side. “The end,” she said, her voice suddenly sad. “It never looks the way we expect, does it?”
Omega means the end.
Annette picked up a piece of glass, then she sliced the broken shard over her hand.
“What are you doing?” Jane shot forward. She yanked the woman’s scarf from her neck and started to quickly wrap her wound. Blood was dripping everywhere. “That’s crazy! Why are you—”
Annette’s blood had hit some of the broken mirror. Annette leaned over the table staring down into the glass. “Others know,” she murmured, her voice strangely hollow. “Others have figured it out. You were missing, but now you’re found.”
“Um, okay…” Jane started to edge away from the other woman. Creepy-ville.
Annette’s hand flew out and locked around hers. Her grip was tight, almost painful, and Annette’s gaze never left the mirror. “There isn’t an escape. Death will come for you.”
“I wasn’t really looking to have my fortune read,” Jane said. Especially not such a shitty fortune. Why couldn’t happiness come for her? A long life? Wealth?
“Easy or hard, that is the only choice. Which do you want, Mary Jane Hart?”
Unease slithered through Jane. Okay, so she knows my full name and we just met. Apparently, the woman was very, very in the know. “I’ve never been one to do anything easy, and as for hard—if you’re talking about some kind of violent death…” And she totally thought that was what Annette meant. “Then I’ll just pass on that option, too. Give me what’s behind door number three.”
Candles had been lit around the table. Thick, white candles with flames that danced, but at Jane’s words, the candles sputtered out.
Annette exhaled on a shuddering sigh. “Then door three is yours.” Her fingers fell away from Jane’s. “Though I don’t think you will like what you find there.”
“You’re a creepy woman, you know that, right?” Jane murmured, deciding to be straight-up honest with her impression of the lady.
Annette laughed, the sound tired. Bitter. “You think I asked to be this way? Spirits have been haunting me my whole life. I talk to the dead more than I do the living.” She finally looked into Jane’s eyes. “I didn’t ask for this life, just as you didn’t ask for yours. But we’re both screwed and we just have to make the best of it.”
Jane glanced at the broken, black mirror. “Were you talking to the dead then? When you did the whole blood dripping thing?’”
“They were showing me the way. Just like my guides always do.” Her voice was heavy with weariness. “I hope you’re ready for what’s coming.”
“Just what is coming?” Jane wanted to know.
“Betrayal. Blood. Death.”
“Lovely.” Jane paced toward Aidan. He’d been quiet during the exchange, but she could feel a feral intensity practically burning off him. “So she’s the contact who was going to help us?” A proclamation of death was hardly helpful.
“Where is Thane?” Aidan asked Annette.
But Annette shook her head. “I don’t know. Probably out someplace, planning her death.” She pointed one ringed finger at Jane.
Only fair, I’m plotting his downfall, too. He won’t get away from me. Justice will come for him.
Before Jane could speak, her phone began to vibrate in her pocket. She picked it up and read the text there. “We’ve got another body,” she said, body tensing. “An anonymous caller phoned it in. Warehouse district. A whole lot of blood at the scene.”
Which probably meant—not a knifing, not a shooting…
A vamp attack.
“Captain wants me there,” Jane continued. She nodded toward Annette. “I, um, may have broken your door earlier.”
“You were trying to save me.” One of Annette’s slender shoulders rose and fell. “You always wanted to be the hero, didn’t you? It’s that trait that will destroy you in the end.”
She could really live without hearing more of Annette’s predictions. Doom and gloom, much?
“My men will fix the door,” Aidan told her. “And they’ll also make sure you have a guard, just in case Thane pays you another visit.”
Annette backed up a step. “Guard…” She tasted the word. “Does that mean I’m a prisoner? Because prisoners have guards.”
“It means my men are already outside. I caught the scent when they arrived. You won’t be making another move without the pack knowing just what you’re doing.”
“A pack betrayal means death,” Annette said simply, as if stating a fact that everyone knew.
Since Jane wasn’t aware of that particular pack rule, she stared at Aidan with wide eyes. “She’s not serious.”
He didn’t speak.
“Aidan, you aren’t killing her!”
“She was ready to have you die, Jane.”
“She was attacked by a vampire!” Now Jane put her body in front of Annette’s. “She’s still got the bite marks on her neck to prove it! You don’t kill a victim—you help her!” Seriously, shouldn’t that be obvious?
His face was implacable.
“Wanting to be a hero,” Annette said, voice nearly whisper soft. “That’s a flaw that you have. Be very careful, Mary Jane Hart. Don’t let it kill you.”
Jane didn’t move. “It’s just Jane, okay? And since I’m trying to save your ass, maybe try to be a little more grateful and a little less doom and gloom.”
Annette gave that faint, husky laugh again.
“She doesn’t die,” Jane said flatly. “Got me, partner? Your men can keep an eye on her—some protection sounds great. But you give the order that they aren’t to hurt her.”
Behind her, Annette cleared her throat. “No one orders an alpha.”
“I wasn’t ordering.” Okay, she had been. “I was asking.” She stared at Aidan. “Don’t do this. I get that there are different rules in your world, but just…don’t, okay?”
He closed in on her. “If I do this for you, what do I get?”
“Um, the joy of saving a life?”
“That won’t cut it for him,” Annette warned darkly. “Be careful making deals with the wolves. They’re slyer than foxes.”
Aidan’s warm fingers closed around her chin. “What do I get?” Aidan asked her again.
They had a murder victim waiting. “What do you want?”
His eyes heated.
He didn’t even have to say the word. She just knew.
“I don’t trade sex for favors,” Jane snapped at him.
Annette grabbed her shoulder. “You are playing with fire.”
“You’re one to talk,” Jane muttered back to her, never taking her gaze off Aidan. “You’re the one selling fire to vamps.”
Annette’s hand fell away. “True…”
“So name something else,” Jane told Aidan flatly.
She knew her eyes widened. Talk about asking the impossible.
“There will come a time when I want you to trust me. No questions asked. You just do what I say. One time. That’s the deal. You agree and we’re done here.”
“Fine.” Easy enough to say.
He smiled and his expression softened. “Thank you.”
His whole face changed when he smiled. He became way less intense, not so scary and just…sexy. Jane cleared her throat. “You’re welcome.” She actually wanted to throw her arms around the wolf and hug him. Crazy. “We have a body waiting, so let’s go.”
He nodded and turned to leave the back room. Before Jane could follow him, Annette had reached out to her again. Annette came in close, putting her mouth to Jane’s ear and barely whispering, “Trusting him is a terrible mistake.”
Goosebumps rose on Jane’s arms.
“Annette!” Aidan stood in the doorway, his smile gone. Even though Annette had whispered her warning, Jane knew Aidan had still heard the other woman. And he was pissed.
Jane shrugged away from Annette and headed out with Aidan. She reached for his hand. Curled her fingers with his. “Don’t worry, wolf,” she told him. “I make my own decisions about who I trust.” And so far, Aidan had been there for her. He’d saved her ass. He’d given her more pleasure than she could stand and—
He was her partner. For now. So, for now, she’d trust him.
And she sincerely hoped she wasn’t making a fatal mistake.
Hello, door number three.