Play it cool. Stay in control. Aidan knew he didn’t have much time, not before the pack assembly was called.
When midnight came, he’d have to leave her. Once he’d learned of the brewing discontent, Aidan had been the one to organize the assembly. He wanted every damn member of his pack there to witness the battle that would go down.
If someone is going to challenge me, everyone will see it.
“Who was on the phone?” Jane asked, voice strained.
“I don’t know.” Aidan shook his head as he paced his bedroom. The mansion was his, the old antebellum that so many claimed housed ghosts—it was his. And the memories there had haunted him for his entire life. “I heard the bastard’s voice, though.” He sounded just like me.
“He wanted me to leave the werewolves. To get away.”
His hands were fisted. “So you’d be unprotected. Thane is pulling strings, playing tricks as he tries to get you.”
She stood near the foot of his bed, staring at him with wide eyes. She had no idea what the night was going to bring, and he didn’t want to tell her. He didn’t want her to fear more. Didn’t want her to fear him.
Aidan walked to her, and his knuckles brushed over the softness of her cheek. “I never expected you.”
Her hand lifted and caught his. Staring into his eyes, she said, “I don’t like it when you’re afraid.”
For an instant, Aidan couldn’t breathe. Alphas weren’t supposed to be afraid. Not of anything or anyone.
But I am afraid. Afraid I won’t be strong enough to keep her safe.
“You’re holding back with me, Aidan. I can see it in your eyes. Tell me.”
He didn’t, though, because this was a burden he’d carry. If this was to be there last few moments together, so be it. He brushed his mouth over hers. So very carefully. Memorizing her sweet taste. He wanted to touch every inch of her. He’d carry her scent on his skin.
And her mark on his heart.
He pushed her back onto the big, four poster bed. Then he stripped as he stared down at her.
“I know…” Jane murmured, “that you didn’t bring me all the way out here just to have sex with me.”
His shirt hit the floor. He kicked away his shoes and his jeans. Soon he was completely naked and he crawled onto the bed. “Don’t be too sure. I would do just about anything to have you.”
She smiled at him. A slow curve of her lips that made him want her all the more. “In case you haven’t noticed,” Jane’s voice had gone husky, “I want you, too. So you don’t have to go to any desperate extremes for me.”
Yes, he did. Aidan lifted her shirt over her head. Tossed it. Her breasts were pushed up by a black bra that was sexy as hell, and when he pulled the jeans down her long legs, he saw that she wore a matching pair of black panties.
“You got to do all the exploring last time,” Jane said. “When do I get my chance?”
His eyes closed. He would fucking love to feel her hot mouth on his dick, but if she touched him with her lips, with her tongue—he would be gone.
And he needed to savor this time with her. To make it count.
Because it could be his last time with Jane.
He caught her hands in his and lifted them above her head, stretching her and getting Jane to arch her back. Her breasts thrust toward him and he put his mouth to the curve of her right breast, just above the silk of that bra.
One of his hands kept her wrists pinned and the other pulled down her bra, exposing her nipple. Already pebble-hard and flushed. So very perfect for his mouth. He took that nipple. Sucked and licked and lightly used the edge of his teeth because he knew that Jane liked that.
He thought that Jane might quite enjoy his rougher, wilder side. And if they had a next time…
She will get all of me.
But for now, he was keeping his control.
Her hips arched against him and the scent of her growing arousal made his cock harden even more. He wanted in her, balls deep. Her sex was heaven and he’d been in hell too long.
He licked his way to her other breast. Yanked down the bra enough to have her nipple spilling into his mouth. He loved her breasts. He could lick her nipples forever.
Her hips were rocking against his, and she lifted up her legs, putting her sex flush against his cock. Every movement of her hot core sent her sex sliding over him. She was wet already. Only fair, considering how damn hard he was for her.
“Come…in!” Jane demanded.
No, not yet.
“Keep your hands up here,” Aidan ordered her. Because if she touched him, he would be a fucking goner.
He freed her wrists, but only so he could push her legs farther apart. Then he feasted. His lips and tongue took her as he tasted her sex. A growl worked in his throat because she was so good.
Her hips slammed up to meet him. “Aidan!”
He loved it when she got demanding.
But her hands flew down and curled around his shoulders. Her nails bit into his skin. Ah…his Mary Jane wasn’t so good at following orders. Unfortunately.
He pulled away from her, sliding back on his haunches.
“Wh-what are you doing?”
He flipped her over. Jane immediately pushed up onto her knees, putting her in the absolute perfect position. Did she have any idea just how fine her ass was?
His fingers curled around her hips once more.
She looked over her shoulder at him. “Like this?”
Hers hand locked around the headboard. She arched back even more.
And he drove his cock into her. Her hot, tight sex closed around him greedily. So good that he didn’t even move for a moment. Just savored the feel of her all around him.
But then Jane moved, surging forward, then back. Demanding.
He withdrew and plunged deep, moving in perfect time with her. And this angle let him slide his hand around her body, let him find her clit and stroke her with every pounding surge of his hips.
“Yes!” Jane yelled.
He liked it when she yelled. Fuck who might overhear.
They’ll all know soon enough. There is no going back from this. And, no, he hadn’t told Jane all that tonight meant. She could be pissed later. If there was a later.
Then he felt the contractions of her release. She cried out and her neck arched. He kissed her shoulder. Drove into her again and came—a pounding, roaring thunder of his release.
And as that pleasure nearly fucking annihilated him, his mouth opened over the curve of her shoulder. Aidan bit her. Not the gentle nips he’d given her before, but the hard bite of a werewolf who wanted to claim his mate.
He was afraid she’d pull away.
Her moan was pleasure-filled and her release just kept going, heightening his own climax. He licked the wound he’d made on her skin, a wound that was faint but detectable to all others of his kind.
He’d made his choice.
His drumming heartbeat slowed. He kissed the mark again. Jane turned her head just a bit, and he kissed her lips.
Yes, he’d made his choice—and he’d deal with the fucking death and pain that followed. It will be on me. Not her.
The sex had been incredible. Quite glorious really. Spectacular. Only now—Aidan was climbing from the bed.
Way too fast.
Jane rolled over and watched him as he dressed. Her shoulder throbbed a bit and she should probably say something about that. Tell him not to be so rough next time…
Unfortunately, she’d liked the roughness. A lot. What did that say about her?
He zipped his jeans. Didn’t bother to put on his shirt. Then he turned away from her.
Okay. So he was still awkward when it came to the whole after sex business. Jane glanced around, spied her panties at the end of the bed, and she hurriedly put them back on. Her bra was semi in place, so some quick adjustments had most of her lady parts concealed. Now, if she could find her jeans and her shirt…
Aidan stood in front of her. Jane blinked. She hadn’t seen him move. That creepy fast thing he did would still take some getting used to on her end. He had her shirt in his hands. Her jeans, too.
Carefully, he slid the shirt over her head. His touch was oddly gentle—incredibly so—and his fingers seemed to linger on the faint bite mark that now marred her shoulder.
She put on her own jeans, thank you very much. Then they stood, facing each other. Jane tried to figure out what she was supposed to say. Tried to figure out how to get them back on track in this crazy tangle of—
“There are werewolves who want you dead,” Aidan said, voice quiet.
Um, not so great.
He reached into the nightstand. He was pulling out something—wait, holy hell, those were handcuffs. She started to back away—
Too slow. Always too slow when there is a werewolf involved.
Because in a flash, he’d snapped one handcuff around her left wrist and another around the post of the bed—the narrowest part of that tall, wooden post.
Her mouth dropped.
“They’re made of silver,” Aidan told her, voice still soft. “We have to restrain the werewolves sometimes, and these work best.”
Her gaze was on his fingers—fingers that had smoke coming from them as he still touched the handcuff that circled her wrist.
“They won’t hurt you, though,” Aidan added quickly. “Just keep you here.”
No, this wasn’t happening. “You don’t have sex with a woman,” Jane forced out the words through a haze of red fury, “then lock her up. That shit is not done.” Unless you were a serial killer.
Or a werewolf?
He stroked her inner wrist. “This is the moment I was talking about before. I need you to trust me.”
Trust was hard when handcuffs were involved! “Aidan…”
He pressed a kiss to her forehead. “It will be over soon.”
“What will be over?”
He glanced toward the clock on the wall. “He’ll be coming any moment.”
She yanked at the cuff. It bit into her wrist and did not give. And the bed was sturdy as all hell. That wood wasn’t just going to break apart for her. It wasn’t as if she was a werewolf with super human strength.
A knock rattled the door.
“Come in!” Aidan yelled.
The door opened. Garrison stood there, looking pretty damn miserable as he slinked inside with a tray in his hand. There was a drink on that tray. Looked like wine.
“Put it on the table.” Aidan motioned toward the table that waited near the window.
Without a word, Garrison put down the tray. Then he looked at Jane, regret in his eyes.
“Buddy, I saved your ass,” Jane reminded him as she yanked once more on the cuffs.
Garrison’s gaze darted to Aidan.
Aidan nodded. “You can report that the delivery has been made. Then you stay outside of the room. No one else comes inside, got it?”
Garrison gave a quick nod. When he scrambled from the room, Jane glared after him. This shit was not cool.
Her gun was in the chair near the door. She’d put it there after she followed Aidan inside. She’d foolishly thought she wouldn’t need a weapon in his bedroom. Now the gun was too far out of her reach.
Aidan’s fingers slid over her cheek once more. “There’s poison in that wine glass.”
“I’ll come back, and you won’t drink it.”
“Hell, no, I’m not drinking poison!” She grabbed his shirt with her right hand. “And if you think you’re leaving me like this—”
He already had. Before she could even blink, he was at the door and Jane was holding nothing. “Aidan!”
“Trust,” he said. “Give it to me this one time.” He looked…sad.
He should be sad. She’d give him plenty to be sad about. “This isn’t how partnerships work,” Jane yelled at him.
He turned away.
“This isn’t how relationships work!”
“I did trust you!” Jane shouted. “Then you cuffed me! You brought me poison! What in the hell is going on?”
Aidan looked back at her. “I will do everything to keep you safe.”
Holding her prisoner wasn’t some kind of safety thing.
“I…need you,” Aidan confessed. “More than I realized. More than—” He broke off. “I will be back, I swear it. I’ll always come back for you.”
Then he shut the door. Locked it. She saw the lock turn. “No!” Jane yanked on the cuff, frantic. “No, Aidan, get your furry ass back in here! You can’t do this to me! No!” With every yell, she pulled harder and harder on that cuff. But it didn’t break. It didn’t give.
And Aidan didn’t come back.
Always come back my ass.
“No, Aidan, get your furry ass back in here! You can’t do this to me! No!”
Aidan froze just outside of his bedroom, Jane’s yells seeming to echo around him. Paris strode down the hallway toward him, his movements a bit slower than normal because he was still healing.
Silver could be such a bitch.
“So that’s her?” Paris asked as he drew closer. “I must say, she’s got a rather healthy set of lungs on her.”
“Aidan!” Jane bellowed.
Paris inhaled. “You’re wearing her scent like armor.”
“I want everyone to know where I stand.” There could be no doubt.
Paris nodded. “And I stand with you. You know that.”
Garrison strode back toward them. The guy was sweating. “They—they’re all outside.”
Because it was midnight. A wolf’s time. Aidan tossed the handcuff keys to Garrison. “You watch from up here. When it’s decided…”
Garrison gave a grim nod. “I will remember my vow.”
To protect her.
Then it was done.
Aidan strode away even as Jane called for him. His insides felt as if they were fucking shredding with every single step that he took, but Aidan kept going. An alpha never hesitated.
Never ran from any battle that waited.
Soon he was outside. The clouds had passed away, and the sky was filled with a million stars. This far from the city, the stars always shined their brightest.
Other wolves waited outside. Fifty. Sixty. They’d come from far and wide for this night.
Vivian watched from the left. She’d been correct when she told him that word had spread. Someone had made sure the wolves were riled up.
They’d formed a circle. Aidan went to the middle of the circle. He braced his feet apart, kept his arms at his sides. And he waited.
They would all detect her scent. He’d made love to her because he needed her. But also so that these wolves would know exactly where he stood.
“She has to be stopped!” Someone yelled out.
Some dumb fool.
“She’ll turn! She’ll attack us—we know what happened before!”
There were murmurs from the crowd. Agreements. Nods.
They were working themselves up to a fury. But who had started this fury? Who had begun to stir the beasts?
“She is the enemy!” Another werewolf yelled.
The circle was closing in on him.
Aidan smiled and he let his claws come out. “Which asshole is gonna be first?”
She could hear howls. Screams. Terrible roars.
Jane stopped yanking on her handcuffs and her gaze flew to the window. What in the hell was going on out there?
A blood-chilling scream split the air.
Oh, hell, that was not good. She yanked harder on the cuffs. Dammit! Dam—
The bookshelf to her right swung inward. It moved so suddenly that Jane let out a shocked cry. The thing had seriously just swung out like some old school secret passage, all Scooby-Doo style. Now that it was open, Jane could see inside to a narrow corridor. And—Annette was there. Rushing out toward Jane.
“Am I in the Twilight Zone?” Jane demanded. It sure felt that way.
Annette reached her. “You’re about to be in the dead zone.” She pointed to the liquid that looked way too much like wine. “You can’t drink that. It’s a Sleeper’s Spell.”
Aidan had told her it was poison.
“You get more than two sips down you, and you will never wake up.” Annette frowned down at the cuffs. “That’s how they’re going to end you. Not a violent death. You just go to sleep, all nice and easy, and suddenly, you aren’t a problem for the werewolves any longer.”
But Aidan had told her not to drink it. If he wanted her to slip into some easy death, then why tell her to stay away from the poison?
“Where are the keys?” Annette cried out as she glanced around frantically.
“If I had them,” Jane retorted, “don’t you think I would have used them by now?” Her wrist was bleeding because she’d been yanking so hard on the cuffs. “Do some of your magic mumbo jumbo and make them break!”
“It doesn’t work like that,” Annette fired back at her. But her voice was a whisper—and Jane’s had been, too.
Jane cast a desperate glance toward the door. Was anyone out there? “Look for something I can use to pick the lock. Like…a writing pen, a nail file, a hair bobby pin—”
Annette handed her a bobby pin.
Relief nearly made Jane dizzy. “That will totally be our magic trick.” Because she’d seen a fellow officer accidentally get locked in cuffs before—a really bad Christmas party one year—and the guy had popped out of them with his wife’s bobby pin. Jane had watched his movements closely, and she’d even got him to show her later how he’d done the escape routine.
So she maybe had an escape artist issue. Houdini had always been her favorite magician.
A few twists of her fingers, a desperate push to reach just the right spot, and that cuff sprang open. “Voila,” she muttered.
Annette grabbed her wrist. “Come on, we need to get the hell out of here.” She tugged Jane toward the bookshelf.
But Jane stopped.
Annette spun around and stared at her as if she were crazy. “They are going to kill you! I saw it in my mirror. You’re going to die, so I have to get you out of here, now!”
The howls and screams were still coming from below. She had to go and look…
Jane hurried toward the window. Her hip bumped into the table there, sending the wine glass bobbing a bit. She stared through the glass and saw a giant circle of men and women down below. That circle was tight and…
Were there bodies on the ground?
“Werewolves get freaking crazy!” Annette told her as she pulled on Jane’s hand again. “When the beasts take over, you can’t stop them. Hurry. They had me locked up, too, but the fools got distracted by the fight. I got loose and found my way to you.”
She’d just found that secret passage? By chance? Like Jane believed that bull.
“I had a vision of this place,” Annette told her, her voice was still hushed. “A vision of you. I knew I had to save you! You can change things. Nothing has to end the way they plan!”
The circle of bodies parted just a bit and Jane saw—
He was right in the middle of that throng. Bloody and fighting, slashing out with his claws as if his very life depended on the battle.
Maybe it does.
Jane inched ever closer to the window. The wine glass bobbed again. Bobbed and fell over, shattering. Wine soaked the floor.
So much for being quiet.
The door flew open. Garrison was there, staring in shock at her and Annette. “What—how did she get in here?”
Annette turned and ran for the open bookshelf/passage.
Jane ran, too—right toward Garrison. She grabbed his shirt. “What is happening down there?”
He clamped his lips together.
“Why are they fighting? Why are they all attacking Aidan?”
His Adam’s apple bobbed. “Not…all.”
It had certainly looked as if they were all attacking to her.
“It’s…It’s a Blood Battle. Any who want to challenge the alpha can have a turn…he has to face them all, until none are standing.”
That circle had been huge. “Why do they all want to challenge him?”
Once more, his lips clamped together.
She shook him. “Why?”
It had been the answer she feared.
“Word has spread about you! They want you dead. Only, in an, um, preferably non-violent way.”
The poisoned wine. Aidan’s orders not to drink.
“If he dies, then…so do you. Pack law.” He exhaled again. “He marked you, claimed you. And he went to the Blood Battle with your scent on him. If he wins, then you will always be protected from the werewolves. If he loses…”
She could figure this out for herself. With a sinking heart, Jane said, “He dies.”
“You both die.” But Garrison shook his head. “Only I’m not supposed to let that happen. Graham and I were going to take you out the secret exit. I don’t know how that Voodoo Queen found out about it…”
Jane let him go and grabbed her gun. She checked it real quick. Yep, the silver bullets were ready to go.
Then she tried to push past Garrison. The guy proved stronger than she’d anticipated, though, as he jumped in the doorway, blocking her. “You can’t go down there!”
“He can’t protect you and fight them all! Why the hell do you think he locked you up? To keep you safe!”
She shook her head. “I’m not the kind of girl who lets someone else fight her battles.” Jane stared into his eyes. “Since I saved you, I figure you owe me. So how about moving that werewolf ass.”
“Shit.” He moved.
She brushed past him and then—
He was following her.
Jane looked back, frowning.
“I’ve got your back, detective,” he muttered, looking all determined. “The way I figure it, you and I both have the same enemy.”
“He took what we love, and one day, we will make him pay.”
They came to the top of the spiral staircase.
“And I will do my absolute best to keep you safe out there,” he said as they ran down the steps. “But just be warned, werewolves fight dirty.”
The howls and screams were louder.
“So do I,” Jane told him grimly. They burst outside.
At first, the werewolves kept fighting. Jane saw Captain Vivian Harris. The woman started running toward her.
A few of the others glanced Jane’s way, frowning.
But the main focus stayed on Aidan. Aidan—who was kicking ass and not bothering with names as he took down werewolf after werewolf. He was bleeding and bruised but positively lethal as he battled.
A battle for her.
That was oddly sexy. Way fierce, too. But entirely too dangerous. The last thing she wanted was her werewolf dying for her.
“Stop!” Jane yelled.
The wolves didn’t stop.
So she lifted her gun and fired.