“I don’t understand.” Dr. Bob Heider pushed the tortoiseshell glasses up on his nose. “Who is it that you are looking for?”
This game wasn’t funny. It was seriously pissing her off. “The victim who was brought in earlier tonight. Melanie Wagner. Have you learned anything else about her?”
Dr. Bob’s forehead—already impressively high with his receding hairline—seemed to rise even more as he stared at her in confusion. “I don’t know any Melanie Wagner.”
Jane’s temples were pounding. “The dead woman in there!” She pointed behind him, to what she and the other cops called the crypt.
Dr. Bob glanced over his shoulder. “There aren’t any bodies in there.” But he seemed to be sweating a bit. “Look, I just stepped out to grab some coffee and I-I came back in—”
“In to what?” Jane demanded. “In to find that a body was missing. I mean, come on, Dr. Bob! It’s not like a dead body just gets up and walks away when your back is turned!”
He looked away from her. “No new bodies here, detective.” His voice was flat.
Okay, fine, so he wanted his turn at hazing the new detective. She’d had her share of pranks played on her this week, but now was not the time. This case wasn’t a damn joke. She marched around him and headed into the crypt. “There is a new body. The woman right—”
No one was there.
There was no body up on the exam table. And when she went to the cold lockers, pulling them open as Dr. Bob protested behind her, she didn’t find a twenty-one-year-old woman. “What in the hell?”
“Uh, detective…” Dr. Bob cleared his throat. “Have you been drinking tonight?”
She whirled toward him. “A woman was murdered! Her body was brought here! To you.”
He shook his head.
This made zero sense to her.
The guy actually looked confused. Legitimately confused. And that couldn’t be happening.
Maybe good old Dr. Bob was the one that had been drinking. Just what was in his coffee mug? She inched closer to him and inhaled, rather the way Aidan had done when he’d gotten close to her. All serial killer style. But the doc didn’t smell like booze.
“Look, Doctor—” Jane began.
“It’s late,” Dr. Bob said, cutting through her words. “I’m going home and getting some good sleep. Even the coffee doesn’t work on me anymore.” His heavy eyebrows lowered consideringly as he stared at her. “I’d suggest you do the same thing.”
He’d suggest she—
But…but he took her elbow and guided her out of his office. She craned her neck, looking around, but Jane didn’t see Melanie’s body. Moments later, she was out in the hallway, feeling stunned and confused.
Maybe…maybe the body had been transferred somewhere else. Yes, that had to be it, right? The body had been transferred. That was all.
She hurried out of the building, her shoulders hunching a bit as she went outside. The night was oddly cold for New Orleans. She hated the cold.
And I hate losing a damn body even more.
She rushed past the mouth of the alley, yanking her phone out. She started to dial her captain, but she heard the soft tread of steps behind her.
Was that Aidan, still tailing her? Had he hung around, waiting for her to reappear?
She spun around, but, this time, she didn’t draw her gun. She kept her phone clasped in her hand.
Aidan stared back at her, his body half-hidden by shadows.
“Guessing that didn’t go so well,” he murmured.
“Trust me, it’s better this way.”
She wasn’t about to trust him. As a rule, she didn’t trust anyone.
He stepped closer to her. His hand rose, wrapped around hers and he took her phone away.
“Uh, what are you doing?” Maybe she would be grabbing that gun.
His fingers brushed over hers. That touch—it warmed her. Had her breath catching, and she wasn’t a breath-catching type of girl.
“Why do you seek out violence?” He moved even closer to her. “Violence and crime and danger. Why do you want that to be your life?”
It wasn’t like that. She was helping people. Helping victims. Making a difference. “Let go of my hand.”
But he just stroked her with his fingertips. “Tomorrow, I’ll be a stranger.”
“You’re a stranger tonight.” A stranger who was still touching her. Why hadn’t she jerked away?
Why did she…like…his touch?
“You never found a body,” he said as he came even closer to her. Was it her imagination, or had his blue eyes started to…shine?
She wondered how she’d missed that bright blue gaze before. His eyes were rather gorgeous, really. She’d never seen that shade of blue before. She could probably look into those eyes forever.
If she was the forever type.
And he was still talking.
“You didn’t find the body outside of Hell’s Gate. You don’t know anything about Melanie Wagner.”
“You were on Bourbon Street, but you were just having a few drinks. There was no murder. No investigation.”
His eyes were definitely shining. Maybe more like glowing.
His fingers slid over hers once more. “And you didn’t meet me.” Regret seemed to tinge his voice. “You never met me. Forget me.”
He leaned in once more, closing the last bit of distance between them. For an instant, she thought that he might kiss her.
His lips tightened. Anger hardened his face and then he pulled back.
She just stood there.
“Go home.” His voice was so deep and dark, wrapping around her. Almost sinking into her. “Get a good night’s sleep. Have some fucking fabulous dreams.” Then he pushed the phone back into her hand and turned away. The guy just started walking away from her.
“Um…excuse me.” She put the phone into her pocket. Pulled out her gun.
He’d frozen in the middle of the sidewalk.
“I don’t know what that little speech was about, and, granted, my night is pretty weird so far…”
He was cursing. Cursing and whirling back to face her.
She smiled and lifted her gun. “But you just won the award for the biggest creep factor ever. I’m not forgetting my victim, and I’m not forgetting the murder, and the very fact that you think I would…I mean, what, was that supposed to be some kind of lame seduction attempt or something? You were trying to seduce me into silence?”
His jaw dropped open.
His eyes were still shining bright.
“Didn’t work,” she told him. “But it sure as hell did make me suspicious of you.”
He rushed back toward her. She locked her knees and didn’t back away.
“You didn’t forget.”
“No, buddy, I didn’t.”
“You should have forgotten.”
She heard other footsteps then. Footsteps coming up from behind her. She didn’t want to look away from Aidan, though, because she was sure he was the threat.
“Humans always forget. It’s how things work with me.”
“We’re going into the police station,” she told him in her I’m-In-Control-and-You’re-A-Criminal voice. “You’re going into interrogation and I—”
More footsteps. More people rushing up behind her. She had to look over her shoulder.
Two men were running toward her. Men with eyes that shined nearly as brightly as Aidan’s did. What in the hell was happening?
“She didn’t forget,” Aidan said, sounding horrified. “You were late, I had to take care of the prey …and she didn’t forget.”
One of the men froze. A thin guy, with rounded shoulders. He was under the street light so she could see the messy mop of his red hair. As she watched, the redhead gave a sad shake of his head and he—he pulled out a gun.
“Then you know what happens…”
The guy was aiming his weapon at her.
Jane whirled to face him. She made sure she brought up her own gun. “I’m a cop!” Jane yelled. “Put down the weapon, now!”
But he wasn’t putting it down. His finger was squeezing that trigger and she knew the bullet was going to hit her. She had to fire back.
The bullet thundered out from his gun. Her fingers squeezed her trigger.
She expected to feel the slam of impact and—
Aidan shoved her aside. Hard. Her head slammed into the side of the building and Jane went down, moaning. She kept her gun, clinging to it desperately even as the world seemed to go dark around her.
“You asshole!” Aidan bellowed. “Look what you did!”
Aidan was bellowing. That meant he hadn’t been hit, right? And neither had she. At least, not by the bullet.
“Jane?” Aidan crouched in front of her. “Jane, you’re okay.”
Her head was splitting. That pain didn’t feel so okay.
Was blood sliding down her temple? It felt wet.
“I’ve got you.” And he did. Aidan lifted her up, cradling her in his arms. “Everything is going to be okay. I’ll take care of you.”
The hell he would. She didn’t trust him. Not for an instant. But he was holding her tight and her head was splitting and her eyes wouldn’t stay open.
She was passing out. She didn’t want to pass out. She had to stop the shooter.
“I’ve got you,” Aidan said again.
And his words…they chilled her.
“What in the fuck do we do now?” Garrison Aimes rubbed a hand over his sweaty forehead as he paced in the bedroom.
Jane’s bedroom. A bedroom that smelled just like her.
Aidan only spared Garrison the briefest of glances. If he looked at the fool too long, he’d kick his ass. Idiot—why the hell did you fire at her?
That was the trouble with guys like Garrison. Third generation punks who thought they knew everything.
They knew nothing. But he’d make real sure that—by dawn—Garrison understood exactly who was in charge. Garrison was just lucky that Jane’s bullet hadn’t thudded into him. But when Aidan had pushed Jane to the side, he saved her and Garrison from bullet wounds because Jane’s aim had been thrown off.
I bet you don’t miss often, do you, sweetheart?
Aidan sat on the edge of Jane’s bed. His hand lifted and smoothed over her cheek. She had a cut up on her temple. A big knot had formed around it. She’d hit the wall too hard. His fault, dammit. So it was only right that he make things up to her.
His claws had extended. He sliced his wrist and saw the blood drip out slowly from the small wound. Locking his jaw, he pressed the blood to her lips.
“What in the fuck are you doing?” Garrison demanded.
“Fixing your mistake.” Fixing all of the mistakes—the way he always did. Aidan figured this was his third fix of the night, not that he was counting or any shit like that. He’d eliminated the vamp threat, he’d patched up the homeless guy and made him forget his attack and now…now he had to take care of Jane. “Jane, drink.”
Her lips opened. She took his blood without any hesitation. Probably because she was concussed and didn’t realize what the hell was happening.
I could be giving the woman a smoothie for all she knows.
But as she took a few sips of his blood, Aidan released the breath he’d been holding. Contrary to myth, a vampire’s blood didn’t have any power to it—well, not the power to heal, anyway. The power to kill? Hell, yeah. It was his blood that mattered.
The blood of an alpha.
By the time Jane woke up, there would be no bump on her head. No wound. No concussion. “And no memory of this night,” he said, leaning in close to her. With his blood now linking them, there would be no way for her to resist his command. She’d forget the murder. Forget everything that had happened.
And he’d pay one more little visit to Dr. Bob…just to be sure there weren’t any glitches. That’s why I get paid the big damn bucks. To make sure shit gets handled properly. Only there had been more than a few screw-ups that night. First of all, if the tests had shown that the vic was going to become a vampire, the clean-up crew should have been notified right fucking away. Dr. Bob should have kept the place secure until they arrived.
And I shouldn’t have found a vamp feeding in the alley.
Aidan pulled his wrist away from her lips. For just an instant, her eyes opened, and he felt a hard, thick punch to his gut. Her eyes—dark but framed with gold flecks—locked on him. A guy could really get lost in a gaze like hers. Think all kinds of thoughts…
I need to get out of here.
“You don’t know me,” Aidan told her, his voice almost a caress. “You’ve never met me.” A real shame. Because he was sure that they could have enjoyed the hell out of each other. “Go back to sleep.”
Her lips trembled. “But the monsters are waiting.”
What? His gut clenched. “No monsters are going to get you. Trust me on that one.”
The trembling left her lips, and for an instant, it almost looked as if she were smiling. “Silly…I don’t trust…anyone…” Her breath sighed out and her eyes closed.
He smoothed her hair away from her face. Her wound was already healing. She was—
“Uh, yeah, are you gonna hold her hand all night?” Garrison snapped.
Aidan rose slowly from the bed. He rolled back his shoulders and flexed his fingers. Then, in a blink, he whirled and grabbed Garrison around the neck. He shoved that asshole against the nearest wall and held him there, dangling the smaller man a foot off the ground as he glared at him. “Do you know who I am?”
“Y-yes…” Garrison gasped as he clawed at the fingers around his neck. Like that feeble clawing crap was doing anything.
“Really? Because the way you keep acting all alpha damn tough, it confused me. Made me think that perhaps you believed you were the one in charge.”
Garrison’s face had turned red. Reddish purple.
Aidan brought his nose in closer to the guy. “Let’s be clear. I don’t give a flying shit who your grandfather was. You’re some lame ass punk that I agreed to allow in the city, but another screw-up from you, and you won’t just be dealing with a banishment, you’ll be dealing with death.”
Garrison wasn’t breathing. Was that due to fear? Or Aidan’s grip?
Aidan eased his hold and Garrison sucked in a heaving gulp of air.
Then he let the fool drop.
“S-sorry!” Garrison cried.
“She’s the woman you need to apologize to. You shot at her. She’s human. If that bullet had hit—”
“I-I thought…I was…pr-protecting the pack! Protecting…y-you…She wasn’t…wasn’t f-forgetting…”
“Humans always forget. Sometimes, they just need a little push.” Or a blood bond. “You owe her now. As payment, you’ll be watching her back, got it? You’ll be making sure that human detective over there is protected.” He didn’t even know why he was giving this order but…oddly, it seemed important to know that Jane would be watched. Guarded.
New Orleans was a dangerous place. Especially to a woman who might look too hard at—
Aidan glanced over his shoulder at the bed. Jane was sleeping.
Beautiful Jane. Had he not thought she was beautiful before? He’d been wrong. The woman was drop-dead gorgeous.
And her scent was the best sin…
“Watch over her,” Aidan growled. “Swear a blood oath on it. Now.”
“I-I swear! I’ll guard her. Never harm!”
Satisfied, Aidan nodded. “Good, now it’s time for us to get the hell out of here.” He had an ME to see. Dr. Bob should have locked down his damn lab better—so much shit could have been avoided if the guy had just stuck to the original plan. But now…screw-up after screw-up tonight.
Aidan couldn’t afford to let these screw-ups continue. Vamps weren’t going to get a foothold in his town again.
He’d see the ME. Then tie up any other loose ends. There had been too many cops outside of Hell’s Gate. A few of them had seen too much. I’ll deal with them.
Damn. Sometimes, his job was exhausting. Especially when idiots like Garrison made everything harder.
Garrison rushed to the door. His face was still red.
Aidan moved much slower. He peered over at the nightstand and saw a picture there. A picture of Jane, with her arm around the shoulders of a man with dark hair and dark eyes—eyes just like hers. They were both smiling in the picture. Jane looked…happy.
He grabbed the picture. Tucked the frame in his jacket. Taking things that didn’t belong to him...he’d always done that. Started back when he was a kid who had nothing. He was usually more restrained but…
She’d forget him, and he’d remember her.
That was the way it worked in his world.
So maybe he deserved a little keepsake for his trouble.
Once more, almost helplessly, he risked a final look back at her. She was snug in her bed. He’d put her gun on the nightstand beside her. He’d noticed that the woman seemed to really like her gun.
Mary Jane Hart.
No, he wouldn’t be forgetting her anytime soon.
The distant sound of a car horn penetrated the fog of sleep that surrounded her. Jane blinked open her eyes, then moaned at the bright light that spilled through her blinds. Too bright.
She rolled onto her side—the side that took her away from the sunlight—and her gaze fell on her nightstand.
And the gun there.
Why was her gun there?
She always put the gun inside the nightstand drawer. She took the clip out and she put the weapon up securely before she slid into bed. It was her routine and—
And she was still wearing her clothes.
She sat up then, moving fast, damn fast, her heart racing. Her hand lifting, touching her head, and she expected to feel blood on her temple. Blood, a giant goose egg, something but…but her skin was smooth.
I was near the alley. An idiot with a gun came up on me and…Aidan. Aidan pushed me away.
The scene played through her mind, again and again. Alley. Gun. Brick wall. But…what in the hell had happened after that?
She licked her lips. They’d gone bone-dry on her.
She didn’t remember coming home. Didn’t remember leaving her gun out. She did vaguely remember—
Bright blue eyes. Aidan, leaning over her. No monsters are going to get you.
Jane jumped from the bed. She ran though the small apartment, looking left and right, high and low, making sure that she was alone.
Aidan had been here. She was sure of it, but…but he was gone then. And her mind felt so weird. Foggy. She yanked open the doors that led out to her small balcony, and the blast of sunlight hit her right in the face. Squinting, she lifted her hand to shield her eyes as she headed out onto the balcony. Car horns floated in the wind, and the faintest notes of jazz drifted to her.
It was real. I know it was. But…her fingers slid toward her head once more. She’d hit her head last night, hadn’t she? Only it didn’t feel sore to the touch. There was no bump. No tender skin.
Her hand lowered. What was going on?
A phone began to ring behind her, the sound was loud, jarring—mostly because she meant for it to be. Jane glanced over her shoulder and saw that her phone was on her nightstand, right beside her gun. The phone was blasting out rock music, a signal that her boss was calling her.
Good. She really wanted to talk with the captain. Jane hurried back inside and swiped the phone before it could ring again. “Captain—” she began.
“We got a murder,” Captain Vivian Harris cut her off. “A body dumped right by the ME’s office. Can you believe that shit?”
“I—” Yes, yes, she could. Because she’d been at the ME’s last night and all hell had broken loose…hadn’t it?
“It’s a Jane Doe. Uniforms are on scene, but I want you there. You’ll be the lead on this one. Your first lead as a homicide detective.”
No, it wasn’t her first lead. Last night—that case, that girl—had been her first run as lead detective. The captain should know that.
“Get there, now. Show me what you can do, Hart.”
The call ended.
Her mind was still fuzzy. Things were just…not adding up. But she didn’t have time to sit and piss and moan all day. She had a case. A victim who needed her.
Two damn victims.
She’d figure this crap out, but first—shower. Dress. Haul ass to the crime scene.
There wasn’t a crowd waiting this time. This wasn’t Bourbon Street and dozens of onlookers—gawkers—weren’t trying to stare at the dead body. There was only a thin band of yellow police tape blocking the alley entrance way. And two uniformed cops were standing guard near the tape. One of those cops—he was familiar to her. Because he was there last night, too.
The light glinted off his blond hair and when he looked at her, a familiar horror filled his eyes.
His gaze dipped down to the badge she’d clipped to the pocket on her jeans. “Detective. The, uh, crime techs are already working. The ME’s—he’s with her.”
Since the ME had been right next door, it was hardly surprising that Dr. Bob had beat her to the scene. She ducked under the police line, then paused. “Is it as bad as last night’s scene?” Jane asked Mason.
His brows furrowed. “Ma’am?”
She jerked her thumb over her shoulder. “The victim. Is she cut up like the last one?”
Mason swallowed. “L-last one?”
The guy was way too green. “Never mind.” She’d see for herself. Jane turned and made her way down the alley. The place reeked—not from the stale scent of garbage but from death. Blood, decay—and she could see why.
There was a pool of blood near the back of the alley. Thick. Dark. Far too much blood.
Techs were snapping pics of the scene. Dr. Bob was crouched over the body.
The woman on the dirty ground—Jane couldn’t see her face, not yet. But she could see her body. Bare toes. Bare calves. Totally naked body. Hell, just like poor Melanie Wagner. This wasn’t good—two dead girls dumped in a twenty-four hour period. There was a great, gaping hole in the poor girl’s chest, and there was—
“Oh, Jane, didn’t realize you were already here.” Dr. Bob moved back, giving Jane a view of the woman’s body. “Poor thing,” he murmured. “What kind of freak would do something like this to such a pretty girl?”
Everything stopped for Jane. Just—stopped. For an instant, a thick and heavy silence surrounded her. She didn’t hear the traffic, didn’t hear the techs murmuring, didn’t even hear the rustle of the papers in Dr. Bob’s hands. She heard nothing, and she saw only that victim.
A victim with wide-open, dark eyes. With long red hair that spread beneath her head. Skin that was too pale.
A broken doll, cast aside.
Only…Melanie’s throat wasn’t slashed open this time. There was no long cut that went from ear to ear. Her throat was smooth. Perfect. It was her chest that had the giant hole.
Dr. Bob frowned. “Jane? You okay?” He tilted his head as he studied her. “You’ve gone white.”
“No, I am not okay,” she gritted out. Melanie had been an only child. Jane knew that—she’d pulled the records on the woman last night. So she wasn’t staring at some twin. And it wasn’t someone who looked like Melanie.
It was Melanie. Straight down to the little mole on the right side of the woman’s mouth. “You know her!” Jane snapped at him. “We both do. She was the victim from last night!”
“What?” Dr. Bob just appeared lost.
“The one who had her throat sliced open on Bourbon Street.” This was insane. “You were there! You were—”
He stepped closer to her. Alarm flared on his face. “Jane…” Now his voice was low, carrying only to her. “No victims were brought into my office last night. For once, things were quiet.” But worry was plain to see on his face. “Are you…are you feeling all right this morning?”
No, she sure as hell wasn’t. “She’s Melanie Wagner.”
“You know the victim?”
They both knew her! They’d found her last night. Only…something was wrong. Way wrong. She spun away from Dr. Bob and marched toward Mason. She grabbed the uniformed cop and dragged him closer to the body. “Recognize her?” Jane demanded.
Mason gave a frantic shake of his head. “Did…did someone take her heart?”
“No,” Dr. Bob glanced back at the body. “But she was stabbed, right in the heart, by something very sharp.”
Stabbed…only last night, Melanie’s throat had been slit.
A woman couldn’t die twice.
Dr. Bob cast another worried frown Jane’s way. Mason hurried back to his post. And Jane tried to figure out what in the hell was happening. “Fingerprint check,” she whispered. “She’s going to come up in the system.” Because that victim was Melanie Wagner, she’d bet her life on it.
That poor broken doll was Melanie, and Jane didn’t know what the hell was going on.
Thirty minutes later, the body had been bagged and tagged. Bob Heider had made certain that the woman was taken care of—after all, it was his job to deal with the dead. Detective Jane Hart had watched every move that he made during his exam of the scene, and then she’d spent far too much time studying the alley.
She’s going to be trouble.
Bob watched as Jane marched out of that alley. As soon as she vanished, he pulled out his phone. The crime scene techs were far enough away that he didn’t worry they’d overhear him. It wasn’t as if he were going to have a long conversation. With this particular fellow, he never did.
The phone rang once, twice.
Bob felt sweat trickling down his spine.
“What the hell do you want?” A deep voice rumbled.
Bob kept his eyes on the alley’s entrance. Just in case Jane came back, he wanted to be ready. “We’ve got a real big problem.” And, unless he was wrong… “I’m pretty sure she’s headed your way right now.”
He hunched his shoulders. “She remembers.”
So the cocky guy liked to think. “I like her.” His breath heaved out. “Don’t hurt her.”
One of the techs glanced his way.
Bob ended the call and shoved the phone back into his pocket. He forced an attentive expression for the tech even as he thought…
Please, please…don’t kill Jane. Because, sure, he might have been lying to her—her and plenty of other cops, but…he didn’t want Jane dead.
He didn’t want her body coming across his table.
He liked her. She was one of the good people. The kind that cared and tried to make a difference. With her past, hell, it was amazing that she gave a shit at all. But she did and…
Don’t kill Jane.
His shoulders slumped and he turned back to the body bag that waited on him.