Getting into Hell wasn’t hard.
After all, it was barely ten a.m. on a Sunday morning. Bourbon Street wasn’t exactly plush with tourists right then—most of the folks who’d partied the night before were back in their hotel rooms, sleeping hard and deep. The kind of sleep that the truly hung over often enjoyed.
Hell’s Gate waited for Jane. Unassuming. Dark. And with a CLOSED sign at the door. Only that door wasn’t locked. When she reached for the knob, it turned all too easily beneath her fingers.
No, getting into Hell wasn’t hard…
Her right hand slid toward her holster. She hadn’t come unarmed for this little visit.
“Hello!” Jane called out. She took a step inside and goosebumps rose onto her arms. Ignoring the chill, Jane crept deeper into the club. The lights were off. Chairs had been turned upside down and placed on top of the wooden tables. The place had that eerie, complete quiet that one normally found inside…a tomb.
And then…then she heard the clink of glasses. Her gaze shot to the bar. It had been empty a moment before but now, he was there. Standing right behind the gleaming bar top. He had what looked like a bottle of whiskey in one hand and a glass in the other. As she stared at him, he lifted the glass up, saluted her, then downed the contents in one gulp.
She pulled out her gun.
Aidan’s lips twitched. “Still love that weapon, don’t you?”
It was all real. He knows me.
Aidan put down the glass and flattened his hands on the bar’s surface. He seemed…bigger. His shoulders stretched the black t-shirt that he wore and his blue eyes were almost painfully bright.
“I want to know what’s happening,” Jane began.
“You just busted into my club, without an invitation.” He lifted one dark brow. “Is this the point when I’m supposed to say…welcome to hell?”
“What. Is. Happening?” She took another step toward him. The floor creaked beneath her boots. “Why am I the only one who seems to remember Melanie Wagner? Why isn’t there still crime tape up outside of this place? Why isn’t there—”
He smiled. That smile was chilling and it stopped the mad tumble of her words.
There was something about that smile. It was cold and dark and…sad?
She blinked and shook her head and—
He leapt across the bar. Moved in a freakishly fast lunge and was in front of her before she could suck in a breath.
Her gun pushed into his chest. Right over his heart. They’d been in this pose before, hadn’t they? The déjà vu was overwhelming. “What did you do to me?”
His head tilted. If possible, he seemed even bigger this close. “What do you want me to do?” And just like that—his voice was a sensual purr. Temptation.
No way. “You are not trying to seduce me now.”
His lips curved. Not such a cold smile this time. “To be honest, I wanted to seduce you the first time I saw you.”
“There was a dead body at the scene!”
“Was there?” Aidan mused. “I don’t remember that…”
“Seems like everyone but me doesn’t remember, and I’m calling bullshit on that.”
His smile slid away.
“Melanie Wagner had her throat cut last night. Right outside of your club. You were here. I was here. And then we both met up later and headed toward the ME’s office.”
He didn’t say anything.
So her words came faster. “Someone ran up behind us—some crazy guy with a gun. He fired at me.”
His lashes lowered, covering the brilliant blue of his eyes.
She wasn’t giving up. “You pushed me out of the way.”
“I saved your life?” he murmured. “How amazingly heroic of me.”
“I slammed into a wall. You threw me into the bricks.” She hadn’t needed saving. She could take care of herself just damn fine. “The next thing I knew, I was waking up in my bed. My captain called me, got me to haul ass to a crime scene and guess what I found there?”
Her teeth ground together. “I found Melanie Wagner. Only her throat wasn’t slit. Some sick freak had carved open her chest.”
She could hear the pounding of her heartbeat. Way too fast. “I’m not crazy.” She hated that label. Hated it. Because once, so very long ago…a shrink had told her that she was.
She was wrong. I know what I saw. Back then…and now.
“Talk to me.” Jane hated the plea in her voice.
He exhaled on a long sigh. “I knew you were going to be a problem.” His hand rose and curled around her wrist. His touch was so warm. Strong. Her hand was tense beneath his as she gripped her weapon. “Why couldn’t you just be a good cop…and forget?”
He moved again—too fast—a blur. Aidan took the gun from her and pinned her against the wall. They’d moved back at least five feet, in less than a second’s time, and now he had the gun pointed under her chin.
“What am I supposed to do with you?” Aidan murmured.
Well, he sure wasn’t supposed to shoot her. “How did you do that?”
He leaned in close to her. She saw his nostrils flare, as if he were drinking in her scent.
“You’re afraid of me,” Aidan said.
“You have a gun on me.” Fear was a normal response.
“It’s your gun. And, besides, I got tired of it being pointed at me.” Then he…he dropped the gun. But he didn’t back away. The weapon hit the floor and she was damn grateful it hadn’t accidentally gone off and hit one of them.
She stared up at him. Those hard cheekbones. That strong jaw. Those…sharp teeth? Holy hell, his eye teeth seemed to be lengthening right before her eyes.
“Tell me, detective…”Aidan said, voice rough and deep. “Do you believe in monsters?”
She stared up into his eyes. That bright blue—his gaze wasn’t just bright. His eyes were glowing. That crazy memory from the previous night had been true, too. And as he lifted his hands toward her, Jane saw that his fingernails had stretched into long, black claws.
Jane heaved forward and she kneed him in the groin as hard as she could. She thought he’d stumble back so that she could grab for her fallen gun, only he didn’t stumble. He didn’t even groan.
He did laugh, and then his claw-tipped hand rose to curl around her neck. “I’ll take that as a…yes?”
“Get away from me,” she shouted at him, rage bursting through her even as fear slid around her heart like a closing fist. What big teeth you have…what freaking glowing eyes you have…
“It would have just been so much easier if you’d simply forgotten,” he murmured. His hand wasn’t hurting her. In fact his fingers seemed to be caressing the skin of her neck, right over the spot where her pulse raced so frantically. “Now this complicates things entirely too much.”
“What are you?” What, not who. Definitely a what unless this was some kind of bad dream. Can’t be. It feels too real.
“I already told you that, sweetheart. I’m a monster. The biggest and the baddest of them all.” His fingers slid over her throat once more. “And you’re a problem.”
She shoved against him. He didn’t move, and it was pretty much as if she’d just shoved straight into a six foot three wall of stone. His hand was on her throat and she wondered—was this going to be the end for her? After everything she’d survived, was Aidan Locke just going to snap her throat? Take her out in an instant?
Her right side seemed to burn. She’d survived one nightmare before. She could do it again. She would do it again and—
“Hey, boss!” A loud voice called as someone approached the entrance to Hell’s Gate.
Aidan’s head snapped toward the door. He eased a step away from her.
“Where’s the pretty detective?” That voice asked as a man—thin, average height, with red hair—strode inside. “Is she already—”
Already what, bastard? Dead?
Because that red-haired guy in the doorway—he was the jerk who’d taken a shot at her the night before. Aidan had turned to fully face him now, and Aidan’s inattention was her chance. She flew toward her gun, grabbed it tight, and whirled to take aim at the two men.
The redhead was gaping at her. He’d lifted his hands. “Shit, no, don’t shoot!”
Aidan just sighed. “She remembers, Garrison.”
Garrison’s face flashed blood-red. Nearly as red as his hair “You said humans—they never remember!”
“They don’t.” Aidan tilted his head as he studied her. “That means our lovely detective here is something…else.”
He was insane. No, he was the monster in the room. She was the cop. She had to do something.
“Are you…are you going to kill her?” Garrison asked, seeming to strangle on the words.
“I’m the one with the gun!” Jane shouted back at him. But…but Aidan was the one with the claws. Claws that were still out.
A man can’t have claws! And a man’s eyes shouldn’t glow and—
Garrison took an aggressive step toward her. Aidan threw up his hand, slamming those claws against Garrison’s chest. “The detective isn’t dying.”
“My word,” Aidan said flatly. “My law.”
Garrison gave a jerky nod.
Aidan’s gaze slowly traveled over Jane, moving from her boots, up her jean-clad legs, over to the gun she held then finally, slowly, up to her face. “My town,” Aidan said. “My rules.” His eyes narrowed on her. “Mine.”
Maybe she should just shoot.
“Spread the word,” Aidan ordered. “Make sure everyone knows that the detective has been claimed. Anyone going near her will deal with me.”
Claimed. She didn’t like the sound of that, not at all.
And Garrison was running away. “Hey, trigger happy SOB!” She yelled after him. “I’m the one with the gun!” Since he’d shot at her before, she figured it was only fair that she return the favor.
But Aidan moved to block her shot. “Those bullets won’t do much damage to him. Pack silver if you want to take him down. That’ll be lesson one for you.”
Her temples were pounding. Her world pretty much splintering apart.
“Your old life is gone.” He snapped his fingers. “Just like that. If you’d forgotten like the other humans, none of this would be happening. You didn’t, though. Because you’re not like them.” Once again, his gaze swept over her. “And I can’t wait to find out just what you are.”
She licked lips that had gone far too dry. “Get away from the door.” Because she needed to get out of there. Once she was out of Hell, she could think again. And maybe bring back one serious cavalry to this place. I need back-up. A whole lot of back-up.
He moved away from the door. “No one will believe you. Not your fellow detectives. Not your captain. They’ll just think you’re crazy.”
She inched toward the door.
“It won’t be the first time folks have said that, though, will it?” His voice lowered.
And she knew he’d dug into her past.
She stopped her creeping retreat to the door. Her shoulders flew back and her chin jerked into the air.
“How long did they keep you in that…hospital?”
Not a hospital. A psych ward.
“You saw monsters back then, too, didn’t you? Is that why you believe so easily now? Why you aren’t screaming and saying that I can’t have claws coming from my fingertips? You’ve seen someone like me before?”
No, not like him. Not like him at all.
“You don’t want them to say you’re crazy again,” Aidan continued. “You don’t want to lose everything you’ve worked so hard to gain.” His voice was tempting. The devil had probably never sounded quite as tempting. “You keep my secret. And I’ll guard your back. That’s what a claiming is. You’re under my protection because I run this town.”
He did? She was so close to the door. “Did you kill Melanie Wagner?”
His lips thinned.
“Did you?” Jane pushed him.
“The first time…” Aidan drawled. “Or the second?”
Her gut clenched.
“Maybe you should go talk to the ME again. All of the blood in that alley…it wasn’t just Melanie’s,” Aidan murmured. “What do you think vampires do?”
Ice coated her skin. Not vampires. Not!
“They bite. They drink from their prey. They torture. There’s a reason I don’t let them in my city.”
“She was just a girl.” Her fingers were sweating around the gun. And she remembered Melanie’s chest. The deep wound.
Was a stake driven into her heart?
“Someone turned that poor girl. I knew it the minute I saw her outside of Hell’s Gate. Her throat was slashed to cover up the bite marks.”
Bite marks that Jane had seen.
“You still aren’t running away, screaming,” he said, his voice little more than a whisper. “And I sure have to wonder…why?”
Because I do know monsters. I do believe in them. Always have.
“When Melanie woke up again, she was starving. Dangerous. She attacked the first person she saw.”
She should walk out of that club. She should run. “And you…you killed her.”
“Someone stopped her.”
But he’d been that someone. She knew it. Jane gave a sad shake of her head.
“I am so curious…” He took another deep breath. “About what makes you special. But if I’m curious, others will be, too. You’ll need me.”
She didn’t need anyone.
“Running from me isn’t the answer.”
She was on the threshold of the bar’s main entrance. She didn’t respond as she ran out to her car. Yes, ran. She dove into the driver’s side, and she grabbed for the cuffs that she kept in her glove box. Did the guy really think she was just going to flee? Basically knowing that he’d killed Melanie? Aidan had all but confessed.
She locked her hands around the cuffs, jumped out of the car and—
He was there. Standing less than three feet away. Watching her with a faint smile on his lips. “Ah, so you’re into bondage, too, huh, sweetheart?”
She slapped one of the cuffs around his wrist. “You’re coming with me.”
Aidan looked at the cuff—a cuff that appeared rather ridiculous around his powerful wrist—and he laughed.
He was still laughing when she grabbed his other wrist, pulled it behind his back, and snapped a cuff on that one, too.
She pushed him forward. Surprisingly, he moved. She’d really expected a fight from him, but when she opened the back door to her car, he—still laughing, like this was the funniest thing in the world to him—climbed inside.
Shaking her head, she slammed the door shut and jumped in the driver’s seat.
“You should get a pair of silver cuffs,” Aidan advised her. “Like I have at my place.”
She did not want to hear more about the guy’s bondage issues.
“You didn’t read me my rights.”
She glanced at him in the rear-view mirror. “You’re under arrest for murder. You have the right to remain silent and the right to keep your creepy ass claws to yourself.” Her only goal right then was to get him to the police station, then everyone there could see that she wasn’t crazy.
She cranked the car and shoved her foot down on the gas pedal. They lurched forward.
He started to laugh again. “This isn’t going to work, sweetheart…Bad, bad mistake…”
“Yeah, well, it’s my mistake to make. The fact that you pretty much confessed to killing poor Melanie Wagner means you’re getting a one-way ticket to the police station.” She turned the corner. Headed fast down that street. No one was out so she cut right through the city.
“Bad mistake.” He wasn’t laughing any longer. “Don’t make me your enemy. I can help you.”
She risked another glance back into the rear-view mirror. “Right. Sure you—”
Another vehicle hit her, just slammed straight into her car with the force of an oncoming train. Jane’s words ended in a wild scream as glass shattered and the driver side door of her vehicle came flying back at her. The air bag deployed—a cloud of white blinded her, and dimly…she heard…
The roar of a beast from the back seat.