She crossed the threshold. Aidan followed her, making sure to lock the door because he didn’t want anyone else coming in after them. The office was sound-proofed, a very necessary precaution when other werewolves were in the area—their super sensitive hearing could mean secrets got spilled.
He wasn’t in the mood to spill secrets.
He saw Jane touch her lips again as she paced in front of his desk. “What was that about? Why did you kiss me?”
Propping his shoulders against the door, he leaned back and let his gaze sweep over her. “I want to fuck you.”
She stopped pacing.
“I thought the kiss made that pretty clear.” He lifted a brow. “Was I too vague? Should I try again?”
“You’re not supposed to say things like that.” Her voice had gone hoarse.
She obviously had him confused with a human. Her mistake. “What am I supposed to say? That you’re beautiful? That you charm me? That I look at you and ache?” His laughter was rough. “Those lines are for mortals, not for me. That isn’t the way I work.”
After drawing a quick breath, she took a step toward him. “How do you work?”
“I’m a very primitive kind of guy.” That was the flat truth. “When I see something I want, I take it.”
“I’m not something. I’m someone.”
“And I’m not the flowers and candy type. I am the type who’ll give you so much pleasure you’ll scream until you’re hoarse.”
She stared at him. “Got it. You’re the way too overconfident type.”
He laughed. Damn, but she was fun. “You can judge for yourself if I deliver on my promise.” Aidan pushed away from the wall and reached for her.
“No!” Jane gave a sharp shake of her head. “Don’t touch me! That’s just—that’s not why I’m here.” She frowned at him. “And I think you’re just trying to throw me off track.”
Maybe he was. Maybe he’d kissed her because he wanted her—he did want to fuck her until she screamed with pleasure—but he also wanted to protect her. Kissing her in public like that, showing the other wolves there just where he stood with her…
No one will hurt her. At least, not until he figured out just what secrets lovely Jane was hiding from him. Secrets would come out, they always did.
“Why are you here?” Aidan asked her, keeping his voice soft.
His back teeth clenched. “She’s gone, and she won’t be coming back.” Again.
“You said she was a vampire.”
Aidan tapped his chin. “Is that what I said?” Actually, he thought he’d said that vampires—
“I called the ME. Didn’t get into the whole bullshit fight about why he didn’t seem to remember seeing Melanie the first time she was on his table.”
He didn’t let his expression alter.
“I just demanded a report,” Jane said. “He told me wood splinters were found near her heart, in her heart. So I’m guessing she’d been staked, just like a vampire.”
They needed to be clear on this. “Melanie Wagner died the night you found her outside of Hell’s Gate. Whatever was in that alley—it wasn’t her any longer.”
Her shoulders squared. “Tell me everything. I want to know it all.”
He didn’t speak.
“Now you get quiet?” Her hand brushed through her hair. “Tell me what’s happening in this town. Vampires, werewolves—let me know what I’m up against! Because I’m not just going to give up. Melanie is my victim. My job is to give her justice. I need to stop her killer.”
“You’re willing to go up against a vampire?”
She swallowed. He caught the change in her scent, the quick flash of fear. His wolf liked that scent, but the man—Aidan didn’t like for her to be afraid. In fact, he wanted to make sure that she never experienced another moment of fear for the rest of her life.
“Tell me,” Jane said again. “Tell me everything I need to know.”
She needed a drink for that. Good thing he kept some whiskey handy. After all, he did own a bar. Without a word, Aidan went to the cabinet near his desk. He grabbed for the whiskey—twenty years old, and a gift he’d gotten when he’d come into power in New Orleans—and he poured her a glass.
She crept closer to him, and when he offered her the drink, her brows furrowed.
“Sweetheart,” he drawled, “I’m about to rip your little world apart. Take the drink, you’ll thank me for it.”
“Like my world hasn’t been ripped apart before.” Jane swiped the drink from him and then she just tossed it back and downed it in two fast swallows.
“Uh, you were supposed to sip that,” he said.
She slammed the empty glass down on the cabinet. “Maybe I wanted more than a sip.”
Mental note—the woman could definitely handle her alcohol. She hadn’t so much as blinked when she downed the strongest whiskey he had.
Now she was tapping her foot, being all impatient and—still—sexy.
“You’re a werewolf,” she said.
“Guilty.” He flashed her a wide, wolfish smile.
“Do you…do you become an actual wolf?”
“If the mood is right.” If he got angry enough and the beast took over. If he let his control go just enough, then yeah, he’d shift. But most werewolves wouldn’t go that far. Most couldn’t. They got claws and sharp teeth, enhanced senses and extra strength. Only a precious few could actually shift. The bloodlines had become too weakened over time. “But I’m the exception, not the rule. For a modern day werewolf, you’re mostly looking at a guy with extra strength and amped up senses.”
“What about that little talent of making people forget?”
He stared at her.
“I was supposed to forget, remember? Is that something that all werewolves can do, or just you?”
“Most werewolves have a certain talent for…persuasion.” Her suspicion was plain to see so he added, “But my gift is stronger. I don’t just persuade, I control.”
Not with her.
“How many werewolves are running around this city?”
“They’re just like humans—they look like humans. So they get angry or aroused and a bit of their beast side comes out, nothing to worry about. Werewolves actually want to stay hidden. They want to live with humans.”
She nodded. “Keep talking.”
“Werewolves aren’t the problem here. I handle them.”
“Because you’re the werewolf police.”
Was she mocking him? He couldn’t tell. He poured himself a whiskey and sipped the hell out of it. “I keep my city in line. I make sure no werewolves get too caught up in—”
“Persuading humans to do things?”
Yes. Because power could be too addictive. “Persuading. Going wild and using claws. The usual.”
“It’s not the werewolves that humans need to fear. It’s the vampires. We’ve been keeping them out of this city for a long time now.” A really hard task considering the way the vamps flocked to New Orleans. Like there was some kind of beacon for them.
“So…” She licked her lips, a quick swipe of that sexy pink tongue. “When you say vamps…are we talking turning-into-bats, burning-in-sunlight, I’ll-drink-your-blood creatures? Or are they different, too?”
Vampires were his natural enemies. When a werewolf came around a vampire, the urge to kill exploded within him. There was no reason. There was no sanity.
There was just instinct.
Normally, the fights were brutal. Vicious. Last night, with Melanie, he’d held back. Only because he was strong. He’d felt a stirring of pity for her, and he’d ended her hell quickly.
“They’re different,” Aidan told her. If she was stepping into this world, she needed to be ready. Better to be armed with as much knowledge as possible. “Sunlight doesn’t do anything to them. They don’t ignite if the light hits them. They’re just—they’re stronger at night. The dark gives them strength, so most vamps come out then. They drink blood. They have an insatiable appetite for blood, especially the newly transformed.” Pity stirred within him once more as he remembered Melanie. “Those are the ones who don’t have a shot. All they know—it’s bloodlust. It consumes them. I’ve seen a newly turned vamp kill his own mother, his father, his sister—and never stop.” Not until Aidan had stopped him. He wouldn’t ever forget that carnage. The scent of blood had drawn him to the little house at the edge of the swamp. He’d gone in and walked into a bloody nightmare. The vamp had still been feeding on his sister.
A kid, maybe ten or eleven.
The vamp? He’d been hardly more than eighteen. Not even old enough to buy alcohol.
“How does someone become a vampire?”
“A few are born that way.” Those were the really scary bastards. The too-powerful vampires that were very, very hard to put down. Now, he was careful as he told her, “Genetic throwbacks, to a time long gone. They age normally unless…”
“Yeah, okay, don’t trail off like that.”
“Unless they die violently in the prime of their life. Something happens then. A trigger. Adrenaline kicks up their dormant genes, and they come back. They wake up—and they’re vampires.”
“So some people are just walking around with ticking time bombs inside of them?”
“Very few.” Precious fucking few. “Most are made.”
“How.” Not a question.
“A vamp feeds. Gorges. Takes enough blood to kill his prey, but right before that prey takes her last breath, the vamp gives her some of his blood.” He knew this had been the way for Melanie. “Those few drops are all that’s needed. The prey will die, for just a short while, and wake up to the bloodlust.” And he pitied anyone who got in that vampire’s path.
“That’s why you were at the morgue last night. You knew Melanie would wake up and be a vampire.”
He nodded. “I suspected she would. I saw the bite marks on her neck, same as you.” But bite marks didn’t mean a victim automatically became a vampire. Thanks to advances in science, there were ways to tell if a new bloodsucker would rise. He’d gone and talked to the ME. The plan had been to keep Melanie’s body secure until they were sure that she would change. Garrison and the rest of the clean-up crew had been given the job of tying up that loose end, only—
I wound up being the one who had to stake Melanie.
Her hand rose and slid along the slender column of her throat. “You put a stake in her heart.”
“She was killing a man when I found her. She came at me, fangs bared, eyes wild. I stopped her.” His hands clenched into fists. “Or should I have let her keep going? Vamps get an extra power rush when they have werewolf blood. She could have fed from me and then gone out and killed ten humans. Maybe twenty or—”
“Stop it.” She spun away from him.
“I’ve been keeping the vamps out of this town for a while now.” And he’d been keeping the body count to a minimum. “I’ll find the guy who did this to Melanie. I’ll stop him.”
Jane glanced over her shoulder. “Because you’ll stake him?”
“Stake him. Take his head.” Another sure fire way to kill a vampire. “Burn his ass to ashes.”
“Those are the three ways that work best. Otherwise, a vamp will just keep coming at you.”
Her shoulders hunched. “Vampires. Freaking vampires.”
Don’t forget the werewolves, sweetheart.
“That whiskey wasn’t even nearly enough for me,” Jane said. Slowly, she turned back to face him. “Who else knows about all this?”
He didn’t let his expression change.
“I’m guessing there are people in power here who know, right? Government officials in New Orleans? No way everyone is in the dark. No way you persuade everyone to forget.”
There were some secrets he could share with her, and some he couldn’t.
When the silence stretched too long, she let out a frustrated sigh. “And what was up with the dead guy? I mean, I’m supposed to buy that it’s just coincidence that right after I meet you and learn about all this craziness—and have to deal with a staked vampire—I suddenly have someone trying to abduct me? Someone who winds up dead, with silver bullets in him.”
His gaze flickered to her.
“The ME confirmed that to me. And since your fingertips were burning when you dug the bullet chunks out of your body earlier—a truly crazy thing to do by the way—I’m guessing the person who shot you is the same one who shot the man we found.”
He’d figured the same thing. “His friends turned on him because they knew I had his scent. I was tracking him. You’d seen his face—you could ID him. He screwed up, and the guy paid for it with his life.”
“His friends? They hardly sound like friends to me.” She wrapped her arms around her stomach.
Aidan inclined his head. “They were probably more like business associates.”
“Hired to do a job.” Her voice lowered as she mused, “And abducting me was the job? Why?”
Now he went to her, taking his time about it. Jane backed up until she hit his desk. Aidan kept closing in on her. He didn’t touch her, though, but he leaned in close and put his hands down—palms flat—on either side of her body, caging her between him and the desk. Her scent wrapped around him. Tempted him far too much. “Maybe someone else found out that you were…special.”
“Because you couldn’t make me forget?” Her words were a husky whisper. “How would they even know that?”
“Someone saw you.” It was the only thing that made sense to him. “Probably outside of Hell’s Gate, when you first found Melanie. Someone saw you there, and then that same person saw you when you found Melanie the second time. The watcher realized you’d forgotten nothing.”
“Someone is stalking me? Is that what you’re saying?”
“Someone is…interested in you, now.”
Her eyes were so wide and dark. “Melanie’s killer.”
That was who he suspected. “It would make sense the vamp would want to go back and find his new creation. Only Melanie wasn’t out feeding—she’d been put down.”
“She wasn’t an animal. You don’t put down people!”
She wouldn’t understand. Jane still didn’t grasp the way the paranormal world worked. “She was rabid. She would have killed anyone in her path.”
Tears glinted in her eyes. Tears of rage. “She wasn’t an animal.”
But I am. His hand lifted and stroked over her cheek. A tear had spilled from her eye, sliding in a little twisting path over her skin. He caught that tear on his fingertip. “Be careful,” Aidan warned her. “Caring too much can be a dangerous thing.”
“Why would her killer want me? So I didn’t forget, so I—”
“I told you about vampires who are…born.”
“Right, yes. They have to die violently—otherwise, they don’t even know they are vamps and—”
“There are a few tell-tale signs.” His finger stroked over her cheek. Then down, to her lips. Such plump lips. So soft. And her teeth were white and perfect. Not as sharp as his.
“S-signs?” Her breath blew against his fingertip.
“Um.” His finger slid away from her delectable mouth. Down, down his hand went until his fingers were curled around her throat. He held her carefully, feeling the fast, desperate beat of her pulse beneath his touch.
“What signs? Aidan, just spill it, already.”
“The number one indicator would be…a werewolf’s persuasion doesn’t work on a born vampire.”
Her pulse sped beneath his hand. “What?”
“No matter how strong the werewolf is, a born vampire can resist the persuasion.”
He saw the understanding flare in her eyes seconds before she said, “I’m not a vampire!”
Not yet, you aren’t. Because if she was, he wouldn’t be stroking her skin so tenderly. The beast in him would be trying to rip out her throat.
Can’t happen. He dropped his hand and stepped back.
“What are the other signs?” Jane asked.
“Aidan…” Her voice sharpened.
“Do you have any allergies, sweetheart?”
“Everyone has allergies.”
“Vamps can’t handle garlic. That part of the legend is true.”
She swallowed. “Garlic is nasty as hell. So I don’t like it on my pizza. That doesn’t mean I’m some kind of-of vamp-in-waiting.”
No, it didn’t.
“It means I just don’t like garlic,” Jane continued doggedly.
He took a slow breath and could almost taste her. The woman’s scent was truly delectable, and he’d come to crave it. Another dangerous sign. “I’d suggest a new career path for you,” he told her, seriously. “One that doesn’t have you running around with a gun all day and possibly dying a most violent death in the line of duty.” That would sure lessen her chances of waking up undead.
“I’m not a vampire.” She stepped forward.
He didn’t back up.
Their bodies brushed.
He wanted her mouth again.
“That’s what other werewolves will think, too,” he said because she needed to be aware of what would happen. “That you’re a vamp-in-waiting.” She’d actually hit on the exact term for her kind—or rather, what he strongly suspected her kind to be. “They’ll be threatened by you.”
“Why? It’s not like I’m going out to hunt them!”
“Vampires and werewolves are natural enemies. I told you that already. When a vamp gets around a werewolf, the instinct to attack, to kill, it’s a primal force.”
“But I’m not a vampire,” her voice had turned hushed. She tried to step around him. He just moved to the right and blocked her path. Frustration flashed across her face. “Do you want to kill me?” Jane asked him.
He laughed “Thought we covered this…”
“You want to fuck me.”
On the desk would be nice. Or against the wall. If she insisted on a bed, he could do that routine, too. As long as he had her.
“If the others see me as a threat, how come I’m still walking around?”
“Because you have my protection. They won’t challenge me.” They’d be fools to try. There was more he could tell her, more about alpha werewolves and vamps-in-waiting and the strange chemistry that could burn between them.
You want the one thing that will destroy you.
But he’d told her enough. For the moment.
Besides, maybe she wasn’t a vamp-in-waiting. Maybe she was something else. Soon enough, he’d know.
“They won’t touch me, but the vampire out there—he wants me?”
He can’t have you. “Jane—”
Her hip vibrated. Not her hip, her phone. The vibration was followed by a fast blast of rock music. “That’s my captain.” She yanked out the phone and turned away from him. “Hart. What’s happening?”
When her shoulders stiffened, he knew the news wasn’t good.
“Where?” A beat of silence. “On my way. Yes, yes, I can be there in fifteen minutes. I understand.” She hung up the phone and whirled for the door.
Once more, he blocked her path.
Her hands flew up and pushed against his chest. “Stop doing that!”
“You need me.”
“No, what I need is for you to get out of my way. I have a job to do, and I’m going to do it.”
He held her stare. He’d easily overheard her conversation with her captain.
Hart. What’s happening?
Detective, we’ve got another one. Another damn blood-covered female victim on the streets.
Right behind the St. Louis Cathedral.
On my way.
I need you there fast, understand?
Now she was ready to rush off on her own. Ready to find another body. But if this victim truly had been killed just like Melanie… “You know I need to see her, too,” Aidan said flatly.
Because he’d be the one who had to stop her, if this victim woke up, too.
He thought Jane would argue. He could practically see the wheels turning in her mind, but after a moment, she gave a grim nod. “Fine, but you don’t get in my way.”
What? Did she think he was some kind of amateur? “I’m the one who saved that sweet ass of yours earlier today. Don’t worry about me getting in the way.”
Her eyes narrowed. He thought about kissing her again. Instead, he backed away, unlocked the door, and got ready to hunt.
No vamps are going to turn this city into a bloodbath. Not on my watch.
“That was easy enough,” Virginia Malone said with a quick smile as she tossed the phone to her lover.
“Baby, you are a true chameleon.”
Her cheeks tinted. She actually was a chameleon, in a really weird way. She couldn’t change her face or her body, but she could change her voice, a talent she’d discovered when she’d been an eight year-old-girl living in a foster home and pretty much hating life. She’d been trying to imitate her foster mother’s furious yells and suddenly, Virginia hadn’t been speaking with some squeaky kid’s voice.
She’d been using a deep, smoker’s voice, one rich and husky, and her foster mother had stared at her as if she were some kind of demon.
The woman had actually even gone to a priest and tried to get an exorcism done on her.
I wasn’t the demon, crazy bitch. Virginia still wasn’t sure exactly what she was, but she’d teamed up with Johnny when she’d finally run away from her last foster home—she’d been fifteen then—and she hadn’t looked back.
Johnny pocketed the phone she’d tossed his way, a phone that he’d swiped from some captain at the PD. It took balls to pull off a move like that, and her Johnny, he’d never shied away from those types of snatch and grabs. She actually thought he liked stealing from cops, that he got an extra rush from those jobs.
“She’ll be here in fifteen minutes,” Virginia said, rubbing her arms. It was dark behind the cathedral, and being there, it kept reminding her of that stupid would-be exorcism. Her foster mom had held her down on the bed, and the priest had poured holy water all over her.
Had he even been a real priest? Did real priests nearly drown little girls who were screaming and begging to be let go?
Her gaze slid to the back of the cathedral. At night, with the lights shining on the back of the Jesus statue, a big, intense shadow covered the back of the cathedral. That shadow was in the pose of Jesus, reaching out his hands. And it was…
Yeah, the whole place was scary.
“If she’s coming, then we just have to be ready for her,” Johnny said with a nod.
Right. Ready. She was supposed to get on the ground and play the victim, and Johnny was going to wait in the shadows. When the detective got close enough to Virginia…I’ll tase the bitch. Then Johnny will grab her.
“Do you ever wonder…” Johnny’s voice was mild. “Just what you are?”
She laughed at that question, but Virginia could hear the nervousness in her own voice. “I’m a woman, John. You of all people should—”
“I’m talking about the way you can change your voice. There’s a reason I just called you a chameleon.”
She was growing more nervous by the moment. “What are you talking about?”
“The guy who hired us—he knew what you could do. Said your chameleon talent would come in handy.” He shoved his hands into his pockets. “Made me wonder…does he know what you are?”
She wanted him to stop saying that. She was a woman, nothing more, nothing less.
“I mean, you never knew your parents, right? What if they were different, too? What if they had your power?”
Changing her voice was hardly a power. “They dumped me, so it doesn’t matter what they had,” she threw back. But even as she said those words, Virginia was aware of an ache in her heart. That ache had always been there.
“I’m just saying…vamps are real. We’re working for one, aren’t we? And werewolves are strolling around like they’re freaking bad asses. Other things have to be out there, too. What if you’re one of those other things?”
She crouched on the ground. “Showtime is coming. We need to get ready.” She was just supposed to sprawl there, with the Taser hidden under her side. Seemed easy enough. Hesitating before she stretched out, Virginia asked, “What if she brings the wolf with her?” The whole point had been to make a grab for the detective when the big guy wasn’t around.
“That’s why we’ve got back-up, too.”
Wait, what? She hadn’t been told about any back-up.
Then she heard it—the soft pad of approaching footsteps. A man was coming from the shadows—big and strong and menacing.
For an instant, Virginia almost forgot to breathe. Their employer. The vampire. Johnny had called him? She wished he’d told her. Because the guy coming toward her…he made her nervous. Her stomach knotted more with every step that he took.
Automatically, she reached for her gun but she didn’t have it. Johnny did. Johnny had given her the Taser, and that was the only weapon she had.
Like the Taser will do any good on him.
“She’s coming?” Their employer asked.
Virginia forced a nod.
“Good, but…if she’s looking for a dead body…” The vampire’s voice was deep and dark and oddly sexy. “Don’t you think we should give her one?”
It took an instant for his words to sink in. One long, terrible instant. And then she tried to use the Taser. Virginia yanked up her arm as the vampire charged her and she fired at him.
But he was too fast and that Taser, when it hit him, it didn’t even make him hesitate. He grabbed her, locked his hand around her neck, and yanked her toward him. Virginia tried to scream…Johnny! Johnny, help me! Only no sound came from her. His hold was too tight.
“Johnny asked for a bonus payment,” the vamp revealed. “Seems he wants you to live forever…”
“Baby, it’s going to be okay.” Johnny’s voice was high and nervous.
“Since you’re bringing me such a special gift, I agreed.” The vampire’s breath was hot on her cheek. Vampires weren’t cold, despite the stories that she’d heard. They were hot. Too hot. As if they’d just stepped out of hell.
Her gaze frantically tried to find Johnny. He had to stop the vamp. This—this couldn’t happen.
“It’s going to be okay,” Johnny said again, but his words sounded hollow, uncertain.
Johnny wasn’t usually uncertain. He was cocky, assured. He was the one—the only one who’d ever cared about her. He was—
Fangs tore into her throat. The bite hurt so much, and she could feel her blood spurting out. The vampire was gulping and laughing as she fought him.
Johnny didn’t help her.
Johnny was the only one who called her Ginny.
“You’ll live forever, baby. You’ll change, then you’ll change me and we’ll both have eternity…and a fat load of cash to keep us riding high.”
She clawed out with her nails. But the vampire wasn’t letting her go. Johnny wasn’t helping her. Her neck was wet, her shirt was wet and she was—
Sprawled, on the ground. Her body was twitching, and she couldn’t stop those wild trembles. She couldn’t lift her hands or roll her body over. She could only stare above her. He was there, grinning down at her. Their employer. The vampire who’d just fed on her. “Doesn’t hurt anymore, does it?”
Yes, yes it did.
She tried to speak again but only managed a weak moan.
“This will make it all better.” He shoved his wrist to her mouth. She attempted to turn away, but he just held her locked in a grip that threatened to shatter her jaw.
Then…there was nothing. The vampire backed away. She kept staring straight up. She didn’t hear Johnny anymore. Didn’t hear his lies about how everything was going to be okay.
She was staring at the back of the cathedral, and she could see the Jesus shadow back there. The arms were reaching up to the sky.
And death—death was reaching for her.