The roar of that bullet echoed around Aidan. His beast was ready to full-on shift. Ready to go for every throat he saw. Ready to have a fucking river of blood around him because these fools would not hurt what was his.
They would never touch Jane.
“I said…” Jane’s voice rang out. “Stop!”
The attack had stopped, for a stunned moment. The werewolves—those who’d been attacking still had their claws out—turned toward her in surprise. And Jane just walked right through the center of the pack.
His muscles strained, jerked. His scent was on her, so no one would be foolish enough to touch her. They’d better not be. I will rip them apart.
“I figure none of you jerks can kill me right now,” Jane suddenly said as she placed her body right in front of Aidan’s. “Because if you did, then I’d die all violent-like, and that’s what you want to prevent, right? That’s why you’re having this blood fest? ‘Cause you want me to be put down? Poisoned? A death that’s all nice and easy?”
No, it won’t happen.
“You can’t attack me right now because then I might turn into some kind of super monster. So you’re stuck.” She laughed at them. “But guess what? I can attack. I’ve got silver bullets in this gun just waiting to find their way into some unlucky werewolf hearts. Anyone who makes a move at Aidan again is going to get one of those bullets. Because you don’t hurt him, got it?”
She was protecting him? Him?
“I might be pissed as hell at this wolf but—” She looked back at him, seemed confused and muttered, “But he’s mine.”
Always. Did she have any clue what she was doing? Probably not. A human wouldn’t understand a werewolf bond. Wouldn’t know that she’d just made a public declaration linking them.
So did a few of the others who suddenly backed away.
He felt Paris at his back. His friend had been there the entire time. Fighting off any attackers who’d tried to jump Aidan from behind. A Blood Battle was supposed to be fair. Come at your attacker from the front, but not everyone wanted to play by those rules.
So Paris had been making sure those assholes were taken down.
“Told you she wouldn’t be captive for long,” Paris murmured.
“Who the hell is he?” Jane said and she lifted her weapon toward Paris.
“My best friend.” Aidan made sure he stood between Paris and Jane’s gun. “Paris. And, like me, he’d protect you until death.”
“Can we all stop talking about death?” Jane’s voice was nearly a shout.
No, they probably couldn’t.
“Pleasure,” Paris said. “Though I wish we’d met at a different time.”
A time when he wasn’t fighting his own pack.
Vivian walked among the wounded. So far, none were dead. He hadn’t been trying to kill them, just incapacitate them.
Garrison stumbled to Jane’s side, and he turned, glaring at the crowd. “Everybody, stay back!”
There were snarls. Glares. But no one else attacked, not yet.
“I get that you all think I’m some kind of threat,” Jane said, her words carrying easily. “Trust me, I get it. But I am not your enemy. And Aidan—he’s definitely not. He’s your alpha. He protects the pack. Why would any of you even think that he’d ever do anything to hurt you all?”
Because someone had been planting the seeds of doubt in their minds. Someone had been working to make them believe that Aidan shouldn’t be in charge.
But it wasn’t the wolves he’d faced that night. They were weak. They had their fucking emotions on their sleeves. No, it was someone else…
Before Aidan could say another word, a new scent reached him. The scent of blood and death. The scent of…vampires.
Not just one. It seemed as if a virtual army of vamps were coming their way.
And the other werewolves had scented them now, too. There were sharp cries of distress. The flash of more claws and then those werewolves surged past Jane and Aidan. As one, they turned to face the paved road that led to the werewolf mansion, and those wolves—the same wolves who’d been lining up to attack Aidan before—now formed a solid wall blocking him and Jane off from the vampires who were coming their way.
“Um, what just happened?” Jane asked, confusion rich in her voice.
“A new threat,” he told her. “One that their beasts can’t ignore.” One that his couldn’t ignore. When a vamp gets close, the primal instinct kicks in. Kill. He wrapped his hand around the nape of her neck and brought her in close, then he kissed her. Hard and deep. My Mary Jane. “Vamps are coming this way.”
“Coming in fast and coming in hard.” He would shift fully for this battle. He’d held back with his pack. He would show no mercy to the vampires. His beast wouldn’t let him. “You have one job to do—”
“Actually, if vamps are attacking, I think I have several.”
“They’re coming for you. Stay the fuck alive, got it? That’s your job. Do it, for me.” He kissed her again, because he had to do it. “I won’t lose you. I can’t.”
Her left hand locked around his neck before he could pull away from her. “Careful, wolf,” Jane murmured. “Talk like that will make me think that you’re starting to care.”
“I do care.” No starting about it. She’d gotten to him, and, soon enough, they’d both have to deal with the consequences of that shit. But for now… “Get back in the mansion.”
“Uh, how about I watch your ass? And your pack’s back?”
The vamps were already there. He whirled around and saw the vampires collide with the line of werewolves. Blood and claws, teeth and battle. Death.
What had Annette told him?
Betrayal. Blood. Death. Yeah, he had it all that night.
His beast took over. Aidan lunged forward. His hands flew out, and when they hit down, they were powerful paws. The change burned through him, ripping away his humanity and leaving only his beast. He could attack better in this form. Could hunt, could kill, so easily.
The vampires had come onto his land. There would be no mercy.
She was in the middle of a war. Jane knew it. The vamps and the werewolves fought savagely and getting back into the house might have been a good idea, after all—
A vampire tackled the wolf Aidan had called Paris to the ground. The vamp went right for Paris’s throat.
Aidan had said Paris was his best friend.
Jane shot that vamp. The bullet ripped right into his chest and he fell back. The vamp wasn’t dead, not yet, though. Paris jumped on top of him. His claws slashed down.
He may be dead now…
Jane whirled around. Aidan was in wolf form. A truly terrifying sight because he wasn’t a normal wolf—he was like three times the size of a wolf she’d once seen at a zoo. His fangs were enormous and when he swiped with his claws—
Vamps went down.
Her gaze darted to the left. Garrison. He was—actually, holding his own. He’d just thrown a vampire a good ten feet. Impressive. And that was—
Her head whipped toward that scream. Her captain was on the ground, struggling desperately. A vamp had his teeth in Vivian’s throat.
Jane ran forward, firing at the same time. The bullet hit the vampire in the shoulder. High and hard. The impact spun him back, freeing Vivian. The captain jumped up and drove her claws into the vamp’s chest.
Hard hands grabbed Jane around the waist. She spun, ready to fire, but she saw a tall blond standing there.
He lifted his claw-tipped hands. “Not a vamp! Not!”
A vampire was running up behind him, though. Jane aimed, fired. The vampire screamed when he fell back.
“You are one fucking good shot,” Graham said, sounding impressed. “Didn’t realize just how good…”
She strained to see around him. Where was Aidan? Please, please, not at the bottom of that pile of vampires.
“Aidan can’t focus with you in danger! We have to get you inside!”
Aidan was under that pile of vampires. At least five had jumped on top of him. She fired her gun again, hitting one in the back.
Just as the werewolf—her Aidan—threw the vamps off him with a ferocious howl. Hell, yes, that was—
Something sharp stabbed into her side. She looked down, saw Graham’s hand at her waist and realized that his claws hadn’t cut her. No, not claws. He’d just jabbed a needle into her side. Jane blinked, confused. “Wh-what—”
Her knees buckled. He caught her before she fell, lifting her over his shoulder and running for the mansion. Her whole body had gone heavy, and her eyes wanted to sag closed but Jane forced them to remain open.
Graham was moving so quickly. In just seconds, they were in the mansion. The door clanged shut behind them. Graham turned to the right, held tight to her, and began running down the stairs to a lower level that she hadn’t even noticed before. Were there supposed to be basements in swamp houses? She didn’t think so—but hell, thinking at all was hard then.
“He’ll be waiting,” he muttered. “Have to hurry. Have to hurry…”
She needed to fight that jerk but her body wasn’t listening to her mind’s commands. She was too sluggish and why did her limbs feel so thick and heavy? Just what had been in that shot he gave her?
A musty scent reached her as he opened another door—the hinges creaked. Then they were in a tunnel, not a hallway. And she felt like they were still going down. “L-let go…” Jane managed, her voice weak and husky.
“Hell the fuck no,” Graham responded as his hold tightened on her. “Do you have any idea just how much money you’re actually worth?”
Then he turned, moved down another tunnel. Just what was this place? Why were there tunnels everywhere?
Tunnels…and another light. A light right up ahead. Someone was there. It was—
Graham dumped Jane onto the ground. “What the fuck are you doing?” Graham demanded.
Jane couldn’t push herself off the ground, but she did manage to turn her head so she could see the person who was in that tunnel with them. Annette. Annette held a glowing lantern in her hand.
“You’re working with the vampires,” Annette said, her voice sad, but not shocked.
“You shouldn’t be down here. Dammit, I let you go. I’m the one who arranged for all your guards to suddenly be distracted.” He grabbed her arm. “That meant you needed to get the hell out of this place before the shit went south. You knew all the passages in this place. You should have taken one and left before the vamps arrived.”
But Annette hadn’t left. Instead, she’d gone to Jane. Told her not to drink…
Annette’s gaze slid to Jane. “You injected her with the Sleeper’s Spell.”
Jane shivered. Am I dying?
“Don’t worry, I didn’t give her enough to kill her. Barely a drop.”
“It only takes two drops to kill.”
“I said one fucking drop. Just to make her easier to handle. The woman is a freaking hellcat, for a human. I had to get her away from Aidan and down here for the exchange.” He roughly shook Annette. “But you have to get out of here! The vamps won’t let you go a second time!”
Annette yanked free of him. “You sent Thane to me the first time. I wondered how Thane had gotten past my safeguards. But you told him how to get to me. How to get in my protected shop. You set all of that in motion. You used me. I thought you cared, but all along—”
“I don’t have time for this shit!” Graham yelled. He looked back over his shoulder, staring into the darkness of the tunnel.
Jane wiggled her fingers. She wiggled them. That was good, right? Maybe she was getting control back. Maybe.
“You made a deal with Thane,” Annette said. “Don’t you know you can’t deal with a devil?”
“I know I’m sick of being Aidan’s dog on a leash. Fucking third in power. That’s not me. So what if I wasn’t born with freaking alpha blood? I have saved this pack time and again. But Aidan won’t get out of my way. Aidan won’t let me have a shot—”
“Because you’re not…as strong as…him,” Jane huffed out the words.
Graham’s stare flew down to her.
“Dirty…betraying…asshole,” she muttered. In her shoes, her toes wiggled. Yes. She just needed a little more time.
“I’m starting my own pack,” Graham bellowed at her. “With the money and power I’ll get for you. The vamps will be doing my bidding. They’ll jump at my commands. I’ll be the most powerful wolf in the whole freaking U.S.”
Annette sat her lantern down on the ground. “That isn’t how it works. The vamps won’t follow any orders from you. They’ll just kill you. You should know that.”
“Wrong.” His voice was frantic. Wild. “Thane swore a blood oath to me. He’ll give me two million for her—vamps are freaking rolling in the cash because they’ve been around so shit long. They do nothing but grab wealth. And he’ll make me the leader of my own pack. He’ll get rid of Aidan.” He laughed and pointed down at Jane. “Actually, she’ll get rid of him. Once she turns, Thane plans to lock her in a cell with Aidan. Aidan won’t fight her. Fool went soft for her. Thinks she’s his mate or something. He’ll die just like his father did, then no one will be in my way! I will rule!”
Okay, so the guy was definitely a two-faced lying piece of crap.
And that bit about Aidan’s father…she stored that away for later.
Jane was now pretty sure she could control her body—mostly, anyway. She just needed the perfect moment to attack.
“I’m in your way,” Annette said quietly.
“You came to my bed. You said you loved me…You said we’d have a future.”
“We can. You can be at the side of the most powerful werewolf in—”
“Then you sent that vampire to attack me. He ripped into my neck. He said he’d kill me. You sent him.”
“I knew he wouldn’t kill—”
“Consider us fucking broken up, Graham.” And she yanked out a knife from beneath the skirt of her dress.
Nice. Jane was definitely liking Annette now.
“It’s silver,” Annette told him flatly. “And I will use it to cut out your worthless heart. My loyalty is to the pack. They saved my family. They saved me. I was nine, nine, when my family came under attack. Humans with hate in their hearts. Humans who didn’t understand magic. Who hated anything or anyone who was different. I was beaten and left on the streets and—”
“Blah, blah, blah…” Graham mocked. “Great old Aidan came to save the day. I know this story. I’ve heard it a thousand times from a thousand different people. I am so sick of him!”
“I’m not,” Jane whispered.
“I’m taking her,” Annette said as she lifted that knife higher. “I know these tunnels. I’ll get her away and Aidan can deal with you.”
“That’s not happening,” Graham said, his voice sad. “Sorry, baby.”
“It is happening—ah!”
Her words ended in a scream because someone had come up behind her. Not just someone—a big, tall, blond vampire had grabbed her from behind and tossed her against the side of that tunnel. She slammed into it, hard, and her knife flew from her fingers. Before Annette could right herself, the vampire grabbed her again, yanking her close to his gleaming fangs as he prepared to rip out her throat.
No! Jane grabbed the knife and jumped up. So maybe her knees jiggled—she was upright and she sliced that knife along the vampire’s side. “Let her go!”
And he did.
He just dropped Annette right on the ground, but another woman shot forward from the depths of the tunnel. That woman grabbed Annette, yanking her up by the hair. That woman—she has fangs—fangs stained red with blood. Annette was barely keeping the female vamp’s fangs from sinking into her neck.
Recognition surged through Jane. Oh, my God, I know her.
That attacking female vampire—she’d been the one Jane wanted to save behind the St. Louis Cathedral. The woman she’d fought so hard for.
And this is what she’d become.
Jane lunged to help Annette, but the blond male vampire laughed and, in a flash, he’d knocked the silver knife from Jane’s hand. He locked an arm around Jane’s throat and yanked her against his body. He was big and muscled and Jane swore that he smelled like death.
Because he was death.
“It’s been so long,” he whispered in her ear as he yanked her neck to the side. Her back was to his stomach and he held her in an unbreakable grip. “But I have been patient.”
Graham—that asshole—just stood there watching them. Annette was fighting for her life. Jane couldn’t get that vamp bastard to let her go. And Graham…watched.
“Do you have my money?” Graham demanded.
The vampire had been sniffing Jane’s throat, but at those words, he glanced up.
“I did everything I promised,” Graham went on, shifting his weight slightly from his left foot to his right. “So I want my pay-off.”
“Don’t worry,” the vampire—Thane—assured him. Jane knew it was Thane. She knew him. I never forgot the monster in the dark. His voice seemed to roll right over her as he told Graham, “You’ll get exactly what you have coming.”
Jane wasn’t there.
Trapped inside his beast, Aidan raged and fought his growing fear. He couldn’t see Jane. Couldn’t find her anywhere.
The vampires were retreating. As they fucking should. Their dead littered the ground. They had been far outnumbered by his pack.
Why attack now? Why come like this?
They had to know their numbers were too small to face his entire pack.
His wolf drew ragged breaths and slowly, so slowly, the man took control once more. His bones popped and snapped. The fur melted from his body. He soon crouched on the ground, not as an animal, but as a man. His fingers sank into the dank earth. The scent of blood filled the air.
Blood, but no Jane.
“Your lady was pretty incredible.” Garrison—he was there, walking up with blood dripping down his face. Paris was just a step behind him. “I’m damn grateful for her shots. She was pulling some serious Annie Oakley shit.”
“Where is she?” His voice was guttural.
“Graham was taking care of her,” Paris said. “Saw him with her…” But his words trailed off. “Maybe they went to the house?”
Aidan scanned the battlefield once more. Vivian was tending to the wounded and already giving orders about disposing of the dead vamps. He could count on her to handle the clean-up now that the battle had been won but…
Why come at us when they knew we had stronger numbers?
It didn’t make sense to him unless…
Distraction. Vampires were such master fucking manipulators.
Where. Was. Jane? He surged to his feet and ran for his house. Her scent was there, and he followed it, but…
Not upstairs. She hadn’t gone back to his bedroom.
“Here.” Garrison tossed him a pair of jeans. They kept those handy, just for the times Aidan had to shift and kick ass.
He yanked them on in an instant and he kept following Jane’s scent. Not up, but down…down below into the secret sections of the mansion. He yanked open the old, heavy wooden door. A door that led down to the tunnels.
Once upon a time, his family’s home had been part of the Underground Railroad. The tunnels ran for miles and miles, and they spit out far away from the house.
Those tunnels were perfect for werewolves who might need to vanish from an attack.
But Jane shouldn’t go out in those tunnels. They opened in the swamp. And the vampires could be waiting out there. She would have been safer inside the house.
He stepped forward, and another scent hit him.
Maybe the vamps had already found the tunnels. Maybe they’d blocked Graham and Jane from escaping.
His claws were out.
Or maybe…maybe I’ve just found the wolf who stirred up the others.
Annette had told him that she saw betrayal. She just hadn’t told him which member of his pack was going to try shoving a silver knife into his back.
I can protect my back…but if anyone hurts Jane…
They would find out just how vicious of an alpha he truly was.
No one will hurt her and live. No fucking one.
Pack mate or not, he would rip apart any fool who so much as bruised her skin. Jane mattered. Jane was his. His life, his hope, his chance at something more. And he would do anything to keep her.
He bounded through the old tunnels, the earth hard beneath his bare feet. The scent of blood grew stronger and he could tell that it wasn’t just one vamp up ahead.
The tunnels turned, branched off. His nostrils twitched. He dove low—
Just as Graham fired with his gun. No, with Jane’s gun.
The bullet missed Aidan. And Graham—the traitorous bastard—didn’t get a chance to fire again. Aidan swiped his claws over the man’s wrist, cutting deep, cutting him open, and the gun dropped to the ground.
In the next second, he had his claws at Graham’s throat.
“No!” Graham begged. “Don’t, I—”
Laughter. A woman’s wild laughter.
Aidan’s head turned. Annette was on the ground and a woman was crouched above her, a woman with dirty, blood-soaked hair, vampire fangs, and wild eyes. Blood dripped down the female vampire’s chin.
“Fucking hell,” Garrison said as he rushed around that curve. Aidan had been aware of the younger wolf following him, and he’d been too distracted with worry over Jane to tell the guy to stay the hell back.
Aidan inhaled again. Jane wasn’t there. She wasn’t in the tunnel. Just Graham, Annette—and that female vampire. A vampire he’d wanted to end at the hospital.
While Aidan held his claws at Graham’s throat, Garrison hurried past him. Garrison tackled the female vampire, rolling with her. She let out a loud, desperate scream and Aidan saw that Garrison had a wooden stake in his hand—a stake that he’d just shoved into the woman’s chest.
She looked down at her chest. Then back up at Garrison.
She tried to smile at him.
And then the vampiress went still.
“He betrayed you!” Annette yelled as she stumbled to her feet. She put a hand to her throat, but blood pumped through her fingers. “Graham—he made a deal with Thane! H-he set all of this up!”
Aidan’s gaze had jerked toward her, and at her cries, Graham surged forward with a burst of strength, momentarily breaking free of Aidan’s hold.
The tricky bastard drove his claws into Aidan’s side. Like that was supposed to hurt him. “You forget,” he said, his voice lethally soft. “I’m the alpha. I can destroy you.” And he attacked with his claws. Graham tried to block him, but Aidan was too fast. He sliced left, right. He tore into the wolf who’d dared to betray him. “Where is she?”
But Graham wasn’t telling him. Just smiling. Sick freak. Still fighting and—
Trying to stop me from going after her.
Screw that. Aidan slammed him into the wall, as hard as he could. There was a sickening thud as Graham’s head connected on impact.
Paris burst around the curve of the tunnel. Figured he’d join the party. Always trying to watch my back.
“Hold the bastard!” Aidan roared.
The tunnel branched again up ahead, splitting into two paths. He had Jane’s scent now, a fresh trail, so he could follow her easily, even without Annette shakily pointing to the right.
“Too late!” Graham yelled. “She’s…gone.” He laughed. “Gone…gone…gone…She’ll be the one to kill you. No more alpha…”
Aidan didn’t spare him another glance. If he did—he’d kill Graham. Right there. And he didn’t want to do that because he had to get to Jane. No more time could be wasted. Faster, faster he ran though those tunnels. Vamps had enhanced speed, just like werewolves. The vamp could be so far ahead.
Can’t let him get away with her. Jane has to live. She has to stay with me.
A wooden ladder appeared up ahead, leading to the surface. He climbed it quickly and grabbed for the trap door above his head. Aidan threw it open. He leapt out just as—
“No, Aidan, no!” Jane yelled.
Gunfire exploded at the same instant. Fire ignited in his chest and Aidan fell back, tumbling down that ladder.
Silver. Fucking silver bullets. Two to the chest.
His eyes began to sag closed.
Jane. My Jane.