“So…are you a werewolf?” Jane asked Dr. Bob as she paced near his exam table. The room was icy and she shivered as she posed the question to him. It made sense, though. Maybe he was just like the captain, maybe he was—
“Hardly,” Dr. Bob snorted, sounding highly offended.
She blinked. “Um, but you know about werewolves?”
“How do you think I bought my last beach house in Gulf Shores?”
He had a beach house in Gulf Shores? Gulf Shores, Alabama?
“Werewolves pay me well.”
She stopped pacing. “You’re on the take?” Aidan wasn’t using his mojo to make the guy forget. Instead, he was just bribing Dr. Bob?
How annoying. How…boring?
Six hours had passed since she’d last seen Aidan. She’d canvased the area near the warehouse and turned up a big pile of nothing. Then she’d headed to Bob’s office so she could learn more about the victim.
And to finally have it out with good old Dr. Bob. When she’d spoken with him before, they’d both carefully dodged the issue. Jane wasn’t in the mood to dodge anything any longer.
“That’s a harsh assessment.” His bloody fingers—covered in latex gloves—lifted from the body he was examining. “I do my job. I examine the bodies. I try to figure out who the killer is…but when my findings show that a supernatural being is involved, it only makes sense to go to the supernatural authorities, not the human ones.”
She shook her head. And wished she had a good drink handy. Aidan’s whiskey would have been good right then. “How long have you known about the supernaturals?”
“When a werewolf crosses your table, you know. Once the autopsy starts, there is no way to miss the signs.”
She was awful curious about those signs.
“And vampire attacks are pretty apparent. Puncture wounds. Missing blood. Not so hard to connect the dots.” He pointed toward her with a bloody index finger. “It was your captain who first connected me to Aidan Locke. I followed her orders. I started turning the paranormal cases over to him, and well, so maybe I did get a nice little bonus for my work. Is that so wrong?”
“You tried to make me think I was going crazy the other night!” Jane sputtered.
He winced. “Sorry about that. Thought you’d forget, like all the others.” For an instant, his gaze darkened. “One day, I want Aidan to make me forget it all, too. Maybe when I retire…” Sadness flickered in his eyes. “There are some things we’re all better off not knowing.” His attention turned back to the body in front of him. “Like I’d enjoy forgetting just how much damage a vampire’s bite can do to a human’s neck. How savagely the bite can cut and how deeply.” He pointed to the bruises on the victim’s chest and arms. “I’d also like to forget how much stronger they are than humans. How easy it is for them to hold us down and kill us. I’d like to forget all of that,” he added. “Because one day, I would enjoy being able to sleep all night long.”
Okay, so maybe she was starting to soften toward the guy a bit. “I always liked you, jerk.”
His lips curved in a faint smile. “What will it take for you to forgive me?”
“For making me think I might be crazy? One hell of a lot.” Especially with her past and the ghost of Dr. Farley always haunting her. “But you can start by helping me find this vamp. He killed Melanie Wagner and then this guy—”
“Different vampires killed those two.”
Jane blinked. “You’re sure?”
He tossed his gloves aside then moved toward the storage locker. Melanie was in that locker, Jane knew that. He quickly donned more gloves and pulled out Melanie’s slab. When Jane saw the other woman, she lost her breath for a moment.
She just looks so young.
“Melanie had bigger bite marks on her neck, despite her attacker’s attempt to hide them. Male vamps always have bigger teeth,” Bob told her. “The guy on the table—my money says he was attacked by a woman. Smaller fangs and, um, a whole lot less control. She made a real mess of him. So I’m thinking she was either one seriously pissed off vampire or…”
“Or a newly made one,” Jane said, thinking of the body that had been taken from the hospital. She’d wanted that woman to live. She’d worked so desperately to save her.
Aidan had wanted to make sure she didn’t rise again. I stopped him. Jane kept her voice calm as she asked, “Is he going to change?” Because if he did, Aidan had said she had to stake him. “Will he become a vampire?”
Even as she asked the question, there was a brisk knock at the door.
“No, he won’t change. I already looked at his blood under the microscope. There’s no sign of mutation.”
Her shoulders sagged as relief filled her.
The knock came again.
“Mutation?” Jane prompted, curious now that she wasn’t going to be driving a stake into the dead guy.
“After about three hours, if the victim is going to change, the blood cells mutate. They become something…new.”
That was scary shit. “If Melanie’s cells were mutating, then why’d she get out of here? If you knew what she was, why didn’t you stop her?”
Bob straightened his spine. “I don’t kill, not humans and not vampires. I just examine the dead. That’s all. Once I got the lab results in, I called Aidan’s clean-up crew. Aidan had been in here before, but I didn’t have the information for him yet. As soon as I had the results, I grabbed some coffee and I made the call.” His lips thinned. “Only she vanished while I was getting that damn cup of coffee.”
Melanie had gotten free and Aidan had found her in the alley. Death, two times.
Another knock came again. Seriously, someone was damn persistent out there. Jane slanted a fast glance at Bob and she made sure not to let her gaze dip to Melanie’s body. Melanie was going to be transferred out soon. No family, no friends—the city would pay for her burial and provide a plain headstone to mark her grave.
What a fucking terrible end for her.
Jane headed toward the determined knocking. Bob’s office door was made of frosted glass, so she couldn’t clearly see who was out there. She hesitated, wondering if she might have been tailed to Dr. Bob’s. Vamps and werewolves seemed to be everywhere these days.
No, they were always out there. I just didn’t realize the full truth.
“Aidan sent me.” A rough voice said.
She still didn’t open the door.
“I recognize the voice,” Bob told her as he closed the cold storage locker. “That’s Graham Faulkner. He’s Aidan’s left-hand guy.”
Left-hand? That was a rather odd turn of phrase. Usually a right-hand—
“A fellow named Paris Cole is his right. Two tough bastards that you don’t want to meet on a dark night.”
Jane opened the door. A tall, blond man stood on the threshold. He wore a white t-shirt and dark jeans. He smiled at her, flashing dimples. For some reason, his smile didn’t reassure her too much.
Probably because I know he’s a werewolf.
“Hello, Jane. We haven’t formally met yet. My name’s Graham Faulkner.”
So Bob had just told her.
Graham pushed his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “Aidan needs to talk with you.”
She lifted a brow. “And he didn’t pick up the phone because…?”
“Because some things can’t be said on a phone call.” His smile slid away. “And because it’s getting late, close to vampire hunting time…so he wanted me to come and escort you to the wolf mansion.”
A mansion? Sounded awfully fancy.
“You did agree to stay with him, didn’t you?” Graham pushed and he looked a bit worried. “He said—”
Jane waved away whatever he was about to say. “I don’t know you. You seem like a semi-nice werewolf, but I’m not just going to walk out of this place with you and go vanish to some werewolf mansion. Sorry, not happening.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “If Aidan wants to talk with me, he can give me a call. Or better yet…” She pulled out her phone and called Aidan. She was going to need more than Blondie’s assertion that it was safe to leave with him.
Aidan answered on the second ring. “What’s wrong?”
“Why is there some six foot plus blond guy saying I have to go for a ride with him?”
A pause. “Graham is there.”
There and currently frowning at her. “I said I would trust you,” Jane told him. Not any other werewolf.
“Graham will bring you to me. We…need to talk, Jane. Things have changed.”
Okay, now that edge in his voice was making her nervous. “Changed how?”
“For starters, I found out that your old child psychologist, Dr. Farley—she’s a vampire.”
Jane automatically shook her head, then realized he couldn’t see the move. “Not possible.”
“Very, very possible. They’ve been watching you for a long time, Jane. Making plans. I can’t let those plans come to fruition. I won’t.”
Dr. Farley had told her never to mention monsters. That people would think she was insane. Stay quiet. You’re just trying to make a tragedy into a nightmare.
No, no, everything had been a nightmare.
“Go with Graham.”
Her grip on the phone was way too tight. “Fine, but you’d better give me a full update when I see you.”
“I will.” His voice thickened. “Jane?”
“You were not what I expected. But you are exactly what I want.”
Warmth bloomed in her chest. “Werewolf, I assure you, you were the last thing I ever saw coming.” She turned away from Graham and dropped her voice. “But I want you.”
Love that sexy growl. Jane cleared her throat. “Goodbye.” She put the phone into her pocket. “Okay, Blondie, let’s go.”
He inclined his head toward her. “Your chariot awaits.”
The hunger was growing within her once more. It burned, and slithered in her guts, like a hot snake. A whimper slipped from her lips.
“It’s all right, love,” he told her.
He. The blond vampire. The man who’d done this to her…Thane.
The vampire she needed.
He strode into the room with a young girl cradled in his arms. Not too young, probably around eighteen or so. She had on a too-short, red dress and as he carried her, one of her dress straps slid down her arms.
“I caught Lisa before she could sign in at work. Guess she didn’t hear her boss Jimmy wasn’t coming back to town. He couldn’t, not after you and I got through with him…”
Lisa was out cold, but her pulse—it beat in such a tempting rhythm. Virginia could hear that sweet beat. She barely understood Thane’s words because she was so focused on that beat.
The bloodlust grew.
“I’ll let you drink her,” he promised, his green eyes hooded. “But first, I need you to do something for me.”
She wanted that woman’s throat.
No, no, stop. You’ll hurt her. This isn’t you. You don’t…
But she’d always been a killer, right? Taking jobs that she knew were shady. And this wasn’t so bad, really. It was…survival.
“You’re going to use that amazing voice of yours, and you’re going to make a phone call.”
She couldn’t. Virginia couldn’t do anything but hunger for blood.
“I have a recording that you’ll listen to. A certain alpha asshole’s voice. You’ll listen to his voice, then you’ll be him. You’ll make a call and you’ll bring my prize to me.”
She was salivating, unable to look away from the woman’s throat.
Thane sighed. “Here, take a few sips…”
Virginia pounced on the woman. She pounced even as a voice in her head cried out…No, no, don’t bite her! Don’t tear her! Don’t—
Blood flowed over Virginia’s tongue. Her eyes rolled back into her head because it was just so good. So amazing. She stopped worrying about hurting the other woman. She stopped worrying about anything but blood.
Then he yanked away her meal.
“No!” Virginia tried to reach for Lisa once more.
The vamp punched Virginia in the face. “Get back.”
She flew across the room and slammed into the wall.
“The taste calmed you down, right? You’ve been gorging all fucking day on the prey I brought you, so have a second of control, got it?”
Her breath sawed out of her lungs. Had she been gorging? She…she didn’t remember. Surely she hadn’t…eaten other people.
But then she had a flash of a sobbing redhead.
And…a man. He’d smelled of sweat and fear and he’d been begging…saying he hadn’t told the detective Thane’s name.
Wait. That man, he was…
For an instant, she remembered. The vamp had said that Jimmy wasn’t getting away from them. Then he’d said…Go ahead, love. Rip out his throat.
And, dear God…she had.
“You’re going to make a call for me,” Thane said, his voice strong and commanding. “You have to do it now. My intel says the alpha is trying to move her. He may be killing her. We have to stop him.”
Virginia nodded. “I-I’ll do what you want…”
“Good,” he said grimly. Lisa was sprawled at his feet. He pulled out his phone and swiped his finger across the screen. A few finger taps later and a man’s voice came from the phone. The recording said, “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.”
Virginia fought to push back her bloodlust.
“Can you imitate that voice?” the vampire demanded.
“Yes.” She could imitate any voice.
“Prove I made the right choice in keeping you alive. Do what I want. Get me my prey.” He tossed his phone to her. “I’ll give you the number, and you’ll repeat exactly what I say, using the alpha asshole’s voice, got it?”
Her fingers trembled around the phone. Her gaze dropped to the woman on the floor. Lisa was bleeding. “I-I do it…” Virginia whispered. “And I…drink?” The thirst was burning her again. A snake, slithering…
“Do it and you can drink as much as you fucking want. Drain her, for all I care.”
Virginia licked her lips and nodded.
They’d left the city. The bright lights of New Orleans were in the distance as Graham and Jane headed toward the swamp. Jane wasn’t a particularly big fan of swamps. Alligators lived in swamps. So did snakes—water moccasins. She hated water moccasins. Their fangs were way too much like a vampire’s for her peace of mind.
She turned in her seat, studying the man—werewolf—who was driving the car. “Want to share with me why we’re going into the middle of nowhere?” Because her cop brain told her a swamp was good for one thing—making a body vanish.
She wasn’t in the mood to vanish.
“Werewolves can’t run free in the city,” Graham said. “Out here, though, it’s our land. Pack land. When the beasts need to take over, they come here.”
That wasn’t particularly reassuring. She didn’t want to find herself in the middle of some werewolf madness. “I thought only Aidan could shift fully.”
His fingers tightened around the steering wheel. “That doesn’t mean the rest of us don’t still carry a wolf. We have enhanced speed and strength—and sometimes, we need to just run.”
She filed that bit of information away. “What made you pick this particular place as your running ground?”
“We have a house out here,” Graham said as he focused straight ahead.
“A mansion,” she murmured. Because that was the way he’d described it before.
“Yeah.” Graham laughed. “It’s been in Aidan’s family for years. Fucking huge place. Locals think it’s haunted. Maybe it is.”
“Or maybe it’s just overrun with werewolves,” she said. Howling wolves. Her phone vibrated and she pulled it from her pocket. Jane didn’t recognize the number on the screen but because of her job, she always had to answer her phone. Always. “Jane Hart,” she said as she put the phone to her ear.
“Don’t trust him.”
Her breath stilled in her lungs. That was Aidan’s voice. She’d know him any place.
“Get out of the car, now. Run—get away from the werewolf driving.”
And even as Aidan said those words, Graham’s head shot toward her. Oh, hell. Werewolf hearing. He knows what Aidan just told me.
“You owe me, remember?” Aidan blasted in her ear. Graham was frantically shaking his head even as Aidan snapped, “Blind trust—get away from him.”
But the car was thundering down the road. Going way too fast. She couldn’t just jump out.
“Jane…I don’t know what the fuck is happening,” Graham began.
She pulled out her gun and shoved it into his side. “I know what’s going on. Aidan found out something about you. Something bad. So stop this car right now and let me go…or I’ll shoot.”
He slammed on the brakes. Hard. Far harder than she’d anticipated and her head jerked forward. He tried to take her gun in the next instant, but she slammed it into his face, and Jane heard the crunch of bones.
Oh, crap. I just broke the werewolf’s nose.
She’d also dropped her phone.
“What in the hell!” Graham snarled.
“Change of plans,” Jane threw at him, keeping her tight grip on the gun. “I’m not getting out. You are.” Because she needed the car in order to get back to town. “Get your wolf ass out, Blondie, or I will start shooting.”
His eyes glowed in the car’s dim interior.
“These are silver bullets.” Just so he knew she wasn’t screwing around.
“This is a mistake,” Graham said, voice rumbling, but he was opening his door. He was backing out of the car. Jane scrambled across the front seat. “I was trying to protect you.”
She didn’t buy that. Not with Aidan’s words ringing in her ears. “Get away from the car.”
He backed up.
And she spun out of there. The wheels kicked up mud and gravel as she turned that ride back around as fast as she could. Her foot slammed down on the gas pedal and the car shot forward. A quick glance in the rear-view mirror showed that Graham was running after her. Just how fast could a werewolf run? She freaking hoped not fast enough to catch her. Her gaze whipped back to the road and the car’s headlights hit on the man there. A man with hunched shoulders who’d lifted his hands, as if telling her to stop.
The lights flashed so bright on him. She could see his face clearly in those lights.
Garrison—it was Garrison.
He was in her way. The car was about to hit him. He needed to move, but he wasn’t. He was just standing there. She slammed on the horn, but he wasn’t moving.
This wasn’t some game of chicken. This was life or death. This was—
I can’t kill him.
She swerved to the right. A hard swerve. The car careened toward the trees there, narrowly avoiding a crash with a twisting cypress. She yanked again on the wheel, trying to whip left, but then there was a terrible groaning, a sucking, and the car’s wheels just spun and spun.
And the car didn’t move forward. Or back. Stuck. Probably in thick swamp mud.
Jane jumped out of the car.
Both Garrison and Graham had closed in on her. It was so dark, she could barely see them. The moon had slipped behind the clouds.
“I’m sorry,” Garrison said, actually sounding it. “I couldn’t let you leave. My job is to keep you safe. I’ll do that job from now on.”
She swung her gun away from him and aimed at Graham. “You stay away from me. Aidan told me that I had to get away from you. That you couldn’t be trusted.”
“I heard him,” Graham said, voice thick. “But I don’t know why the hell he would tell you that. I’ve never betrayed my alpha.”
Her phone was back in the car. And it was ringing once more. She should get it—it could be Aidan calling again, but she was afraid to lower her guard with Graham.
“Aidan told me to make sure you got to the mansion,” Garrison said as he edged closer. “As far as I know, there has been no change in orders.”
She could hear another engine coming toward her, moving fast down that windy road. And the phone was still ringing. Hell. “Don’t come any closer to me,” she warned Graham. “I will shoot. Garrison, tell him—I will seriously shoot his ass.”
“She will shoot your ass,” Garrison said immediately.
She lunged for the phone. Jane saw the same number from before lighting the screen. Her fingers swiped over it.
“Jane!” Aidan’s voice sounded frantic. “Where are you? Did you get away?”
“No, the car crashed. The wolves are here, and I don’t think I’m going anywhere.”
The sound of that approaching vehicle was closer.
“Where are you? Tell me.”
“The werewolf mansion, just like you told me to be. Outside of it anyway, somewhere in the damn swamp.”
A big SUV had just come to a jarring halt a few feet away from her.
“More wolves are here,” she said, her breath rasping.
“Shoot them,” Aidan ordered her, his voice blasting in her ear. “They can’t be trusted. They are there to kill you. Shoot them on sight!”
Her weapon was up. She was half in and half out of that car, a vehicle that was sinking deeper into the muck with every second that passed. Footsteps raced toward her. The open door of the car let light spill out and she saw the first werewolf to close in on her was—
No, that wasn’t possible.
Because she was talking to Aidan on the phone.
“Shoot or die!” Aidan yelled in her ear, his voice roaring through the phone. “Don’t trust them! They will kill you! Get away, get—”
“Jane.” This soft whisper of her name came from the Aidan in front of her. Real. Strong. Her wolf.
If he’s standing right there…”Who the hell is this?” Jane snarled into the phone.
Laughter. Aidan’s laughter. And it was Aidan’s voice who told her, “You’re going to die.” Right before the line went dead.
Then the man in front of her—her Aidan—he stepped closer. “I don’t know who the hell that was,” he said, obviously having overheard the conversation with his werewolf hearing, “but it wasn’t me.”
Obviously, because he was standing right there. She knew about voice distorting software, but how could someone else sound so exactly like him?
Aidan offered his hand to her. “Come with me, Jane. I need you to come with me.”
You’re going to die.
She looked down at his hand, then back up at him. His eyes glowed faintly.
“A war is brewing,” Aidan said. “I can help you. I will help you.”
She believed that. She believed him.
Who was on the phone?
Jane holstered her weapon and reached for Aidan’s hand.
Hunger. Blood. Need blood. “Sh-she’s at some werewolf mansion. In a swamp.” Virginia reached out with greedy hands toward Lisa.
“You didn’t get her away from the werewolves.”
Thane stood between her and Lisa.
“I said—said everything you told me.” Her fangs hurt. She needed blood. “She’s at the werewolf mansion!” Those words were almost a shout.
He hit her again. The blow was even more powerful this time. “I needed Jane away from them.”
She crawled toward him. “I said—said the wolves would kill her!” The woman should have listened. “She’s with them…couldn’t get away.” The hunger made it hard to think.
His eyes glinted. “You’re lucky…I know where this mansion is. Got a wolf on the inside, though I had hoped to cut him out of the game.”
They were playing a game? Since when?
“If you want something done right…you have to fucking kill and do it all yourself.” His fangs were out. “I’ll go get her.”
Then he whirled away.
“Drink her, but don’t change her,” he ordered. “But be fast. I may need you, so you’re coming along. You and every other vamp I made in this city.”
Virginia grabbed for the woman. This is wrong. I have to stop. I’m a monster.
Her fangs sank into the woman’s neck, and Virginia couldn’t think of anything else but that sweet, sweet taste of blood.
“Gulp her,” Thane urged. “She’s just food. Doesn’t matter at all…”