When Jane arrived at the Saint Louis Cathedral, she expected to see the flash of police lights. She thought uniformed officers would be waiting. That police tape would be up.
But…there was nothing.
Aidan crept behind her as she advanced. The cathedral wasn’t open for visitors, not then. Jackson Square was closed down for the night. The area was dark and quiet—almost tomb-like. This isn’t right. Her hand reached for her gun as she began to slip down Pirate’s Alley, the narrow street that slid along the side of the cathedral. If you could even call it a street. More like an old pathway left over from days long gone. One tied to myth and legend. Ghost stories.
But she wasn’t looking for ghosts that night.
She was looking for her victim.
And the whole set up was making her nervous.
“I smell blood.” Aidan’s voice was a bare whisper in her ear. She shivered. She didn’t smell blood but if the werewolf said he did…
“A lot of it,” Aidan added.
Hell. She couldn’t keep inching along when someone was up there, hurt. Why weren’t other cops out there?
Her grip on the gun tightened as Jane made her way to the back of the cathedral and then—then she saw the body. A woman. Curled on the ground¸ with a heavy pool of darkness beneath her. Not darkness, blood. That’s blood.
The woman was alone. No cops. No Good Samaritan who’d supposedly called in the attack. Nothing.
And she was— “I think she’s still alive!” Jane said. Because she’d seen the faintest movement of that woman’s chest. At that sign, Jane leapt forward even as Aidan called out sharply behind her. She didn’t stop, though. She ran fast toward the fallen woman and when she got closer—
Her neck. Oh, God.
The woman was choking on blood. Her lips were moving as she tried to speak, and her eyes were wide open. Those eyes immediately locked on Jane when she crouched next to the woman.
“It’s going to be all right,” Jane told her. Oh, jeez, that was such a lie. The woman was bleeding out right in front of her. Jane put down her gun and pressed her fingers over the gaping wound that was the woman’s throat. You were supposed to apply pressure in situations like this one, right? Supposed to apply pressure and try to stop the blood flow.
Why isn’t an ambulance here? Why isn’t someone else here?
“Aidan!” Jane yelled. She didn’t see him. The werewolf had been right behind her, but he wasn’t there now. “Aidan, I need you! Call an ambulance!”
He didn’t answer. Shit. She kept one hand on the woman’s throat. The woman—that choking sound the lady made was horrifying. The victim was struggling so desperately to live. Fumbling, Jane pulled out her phone and dialed for an ambulance. The phone clicked and the operator picked up. “I need an ambulance,” Jane began. “I’m Detective Jane Hart, badge number three-three-two-eight—”
Something hit her. Not something, someone. Hard and fast. The phone flew from her hand and shattered on the pavement and Jane slammed into the pavement a second after it. She rolled, spinning, and found herself staring down the barrel of her own gun.
“Hello, Detective Hart,” said the asshole holding her gun. A stocky, shaggy-haired guy who had just made the top of her enemy list. “I was waiting for you.”
His fingers began to tighten around the trigger.
Aidan’s claws had burst from his fingertips. His teeth had sharpened, and every instinct he possessed was screaming one thing.
A vampire was close by, and Aidan’s beast had sensed the bastard. He could smell the male, could catch the scent of blood and death that clung to him. Aidan knew exactly why the leech had come out that night—
You want Jane.
Too fucking bad. Because Aidan had decided he wanted her, too.
So while Jane rushed to help the victim, Aidan turned to follow the vampire’s scent. Every step he took had him sliding away from the cathedral. Away from Jane. And toward the vampire. And every step…it made the man he was lose more control. The beast was reacting too strongly to the vamp. The beast knew its job, knew its instincts.
A vamp was close.
Kill or be killed.
Aidan was the law in that city. He was supposed to be in control, always. And vamps weren’t supposed to be turning this city into a fucking blood bath.
Another sharp turn and he was in a narrow alleyway. It reeked of garbage and stale beer but the scent that dominated the others—blood.
Mocking laughter drifted in the wind. “You think you’ve got me.”
Aidan could see the vampire. A male. Close to Aidan’s height. Broad shoulders. Powerful build. His eyes were green, bright, and his face was oddly familiar to Aidan.
Where have I seen this undead bastard before?
The vampire lifted his hands, as if to say…Come and get me. Aidan realized then why the vampire’s scent had been so strong. The vamp was bleeding. He’d cut himself and then used that blood trail to draw Aidan right to him. The wolf Aidan carried hadn’t been able to resist that scent. It had launched him straight into attack mode.
The rush of the shift swept over Aidan. The beast knew his job, all right, and he was going to do it. Bones began to pop and snap. Aidan could feel the power surging just beneath his skin.
“A throwback, are you?” Now the vamp was interested. “Oh, but your blood will give me a nice boost.” Then the vamp leapt toward Aidan. He grabbed Aidan and jerked his head to the right, baring his neck.
The beast inside of Aidan snarled and the man—well, it was Aidan’s turn to laugh. His claws sank into the vamp’s chest. The vamp yelled and jerked back.
Aidan wasn’t done. He was just getting started. “Time for your trip to hell.” There was a reason his club was called Hell’s Gate. He was the one who sent bastards like this vamp on to their next freaking life.
Primitive instinct built, blocking out rational thought.
Vampire. Kill. Destroy.
The scent of the vamp’s blood was stronger now—now that Aidan had sliced the guy open. And the vamp hadn’t fought back. Still wasn’t fighting back. It was almost as if he wanted to keep bleeding. As if he wanted—
Me, here, with him.
While Jane was…
A gunshot rang out.
Aidan’s head snapped to the right.
He wanted to go to her. And his wolf—
He wants to kill the vampire.
“Always wondered,” the vamp murmured. “Who has the control? The man or the beast? Bet you fucking hate being owned by a dog.”
Another shot ripped through the night.
“Guess what happens…” The vamp’s words were such a damn taunt. “If that sweet piece of ass dies violently…”
He didn’t have to guess. Aidan whirled and lunged toward the mouth of that alley.
But the vamp had moved—with freaking way too fast speed—and was in front of him. Vamps and alpha werewolves both were gifted with enhanced speed. The vamp shoved his hand against Aidan’s chest. “If she dies violently,” he said, flashing fangs. “She’s mine.”
“Not going to happen,” Aidan gritted out. Speaking with a man’s voice was hard. The words were little more than a rough growl.
“Let’s just see about that.” Then the vamp lifted his hand—and Aidan saw the glint of silver. Like that was supposed to impress him. The knife sliced toward him, but Aidan caught the vamp’s hand and held it in a steely grip.
Then Aidan bared his teeth.
“Animal,” the vamp sneered. “That’s all you ever—”
Aidan snapped the guy’s wrist. Screw staying civilized—time for a blood battle.
When the first bullet had thundered out of the gun, Jane had been surging up, desperate to stop the shooter.
But the bullet hadn’t hit her. Because someone had tackled the shooter right before he’d fired. That same someone was rolling around on the ground with the attacker, and Jane caught the distinct sound of a growl.
Only…that wasn’t Aidan’s. Her eyes squinted as she tried to see in the dark. She rushed forward and scooped up the gun—her gun—that had been dropped in the whole tackling moment.
“Freeze!” Jane yelled.
The tangle of limbs that was two men—they kept fighting.
“Freeze!” She yelled again. And then—she fired. The blast shocked the men and they finally listened to her. Both of them froze. She saw her rescuer’s face in that instance and surprise ripped through her. Garrison? That guy had come to her aid?
She pointed her weapon at the other fellow. “Get to your feet or I will shoot you right now.”
He laughed. “Cops aren’t supposed to shoot unarmed men.”
Cops also weren’t supposed to get ambushed behind dark cathedrals. “Get up!”
He rose and Garrison shadowed him. Were Garrison’s claws out? It looked as if they might be.
“Garrison, that woman needs help,” Jane said. “She’s still alive.” For the moment.
Garrison took a step toward the woman on the ground, then he hesitated.
“She needs help!” Jane yelled. Move!
“Vamp blood,” Garrison mumbled. “It’s too late.”
What? No, no, it wasn’t. “Garrison, either hold the gun on that jerk or put your hands on the victim and stop the bleeding! Help me!”
Garrison lurched forward. He bent over the woman. From the corner of her eye, Jane saw him put his hands on the woman’s throat. His claws were definitely out, and he seemed to be shaking. His whole body was trembling.
“V-vamp blood…” He said again, voice thickening.
“That’s a mistake,” the man who’d attacked Jane snapped. “He can’t be around her. Do you have any freaking clue how werewolves react to vampires?”
So Aidan had told her. “You’re no vamp.” If the guy was, then Garrison would probably still be locked in some kind of epic death battle with him.
The fellow laughed. “Nah…The boss is, and he’s got your wolf. Getting himself a pelt right now. Then you’ll be alone. Easy pickings.” He glared toward Garrison. “Should’ve been alone…didn’t see that dick coming…”
She hadn’t seen Garrison, either, and she had no clue why he’d followed her but…
Getting himself a pelt. Her attacker’s words echoed in her ears.
Not all werewolves could shift. Aidan had told her that, too. He could, though. He was one of the few and…oh, God. “Garrison! Where is Aidan?”
“I don’t think she’s going to make it…” Garrison muttered.
“She has to!” Because if the victim had been given vamp blood and she died right then…
She’ll come back. And I can’t kill her. Killing a victim like that just seemed too many twisted shades of wrong to her.
Her gaze flew around the dark area. “Aidan?” No answer from him.
Her attacker was laughing.
No way was anyone taking his pelt. Right. Right?
“She’s—she’s not breathing!” Garrison called out. “What do I do? What do I do?”
Jane wrenched her gaze to him.
The woman had gone deathly still. There was no more terrible choking noises. No more gasps. Nothing. Jane rushed to her.
And the attacker’s thudding footsteps sounded too loudly in her ears. He was fleeing, just leaving that woman behind to die.
“Stop!” Jane shouted. She lifted her gun. “Stop!”
He didn’t stop.
She could give chase. She could shoot. Or she could try and help that woman on the ground…
Victims matter. Victims come first.
Garrison raced past her, going after the fleeing man. And Jane reached for the woman. The victim’s body was still warm. Her eyes were open and she—
The woman gasped.
She’s still alive.
A siren blasted in the distance.
That was Jane’s voice. Calling him. Needing him.
But he wasn’t a man any longer. He was a wolf. Fully shifted, attacking. The vamp was far stronger than he’d expected—obviously not some newly turned human. The vamp had the enhanced strength that came from being born, not made, and he wasn’t going down easily.
“I planned this, you know,” the vampire said as he and Aidan circled each other.
Aidan snarled back at him.
“I wanted to get her out into the open. Lovely Jane. I needed her alone, though, away from you.” Slashes covered his chest. Slashes from Aidan’s claws. “And those gunshots tell me…it’s time to collect my sweet prey.”
Kill. Destroy. Take—
Other scents hit him then. More vampires. Closing in. Coming in fast.
The wolf howled as fury grew in him.
“Didn’t think I’d come alone, did you?” The vampire taunted. A sliver of moonlight fell on his blond hair. “It’s not as if wolves are the only ones with packs.”
Aidan spun toward the mouth of the alley. Three vamps were there. Men, young. Fangs bared. They—
Newly turned. And too eager to attack. All three of them launched at Aidan at the same time. He leapt right back at them. Fangs and claws and snarls filled the air.
“And I’m done here.” The blond vamp’s voice was satisfied. “Time for Jane to meet her fate.”
The vampire ran from that alley.
And Aidan…Kill. Destroy.
The man couldn’t control the beast, not anymore. The three new vampires screamed as they died.
EMTs raced toward Jane. “Hurry!” she yelled. “The victim is barely alive.” But the victim was still living. She didn’t know where Garrison had gone or where Aidan was—she needed the victim to get help so that she could give chase after those werewolves.
One of the EMTs swore when he got a look at the injured woman.
He took over for Jane, and she grabbed his shoulder. “Keep her alive,” she ordered him.
His expression said he didn’t know if it would be possible.
It had better be.
She pushed up to her feet and ran past the ambulance. Garrison had gone to the right when he’d given chase. She needed to get after him.
A uniform was shouting for her.
“Detective Hart, what is happening—”
“Suspect fled on foot,” she yelled back to him. “Adult male, stocky build, about six feet tall, hair came to his shoulders, and he was wearing dark clothes and—” Being pursued by a werewolf. “He fled on foot! I’m going after him!” She didn’t stop to say anything else. Her focus was already on the bastard she would catch. The man who’d lurked in the shadows while a woman died.
Her feet pounded over the pavement. She cut across the street, and when she came to a seemingly dead end, she zipped down a nearly invisible alley and through an old, broken down building. Must have come this way. No other choice.
But once she burst out of that building, Jane stopped, glancing to the left, to the right.
Where was Garrison? The road diverged up ahead. Crap. She was sure she’d come the right way so far, but…now where do I go? Her breath sawed in and out of her lungs as her heart raced.
Howls reached her ears. The actual full-on howls that a wolf would make. Her blood chilled and she gripped her gun tighter.
Then, stiffening her spine, she ran toward those howls. Aidan had said that not many wolves could do a full-on shift, so maybe that was just Garrison really getting his beast on, in a non-shifted way, but howling way and—
Blood. Bodies. Death.
She staggered to a stop in front of another too-thin alley and Jane stared straight into the too-bright blue gaze of a wolf. A freaking massively sized wolf.
“Oh, shit,” she whispered as the wolf crouched low to the ground. Its fangs snapped together and it lunged at her. “Aidan? Aidan?”
The beast slammed his paws into her chest. She went down, but she didn’t drop her gun. She kept that weapon, a weapon that was loaded with silver bullets, per Aidan’s instructions, and when they crashed to the ground, she almost pulled the trigger.
Despite what Aidan thought, she wasn’t gun happy. Quite the opposite. She only shot when there was no choice.
There was seriously almost no choice.
But he hadn’t sank those fangs into her throat, and though she could feel his hot breath on her cheek, he wasn’t attacking.
He was…sniffing her.
I sure as hell hope I don’t smell like a vampire.
Three bodies were on the ground. There was blood on the werewolf’s mouth. She should shoot. His gaping mouth came closer to her throat.
Tears stung her eyes. “I’m sorry.” Because she was getting out of that alley. She was—
Something was snapping. Popping. He was snapping and popping. His bones were reshaping. The fur on the beast’s body seemed to be melting away. He fell away from her and she scuttled back, moving like a crab as she watched him in horror. The wolf’s body had contorted, elongated, and the form of a man reappeared. A man with long, strong legs. Muscled thighs. A broad chest, a rippling stomach, and chiseled abs. His broad fingers grabbed for the ground as his claws vanished, and the muscles in his arms bulged as he drew in deep, gulping breaths. “Next time…”
He was naked. Completely naked.
Right. That made sense, though. If he’d turned into a wolf, his clothes had probably gotten shredded during the shift. But what in the hell was she supposed to do with a naked man right then? Cops were going to be swarming this area soon.
“Next time,” he said, his voice thick and rumbling, “shoot me.”
“Figured you’d been shot enough in the last twenty-four hours,” she said.
His head turned. He peered over one broad shoulder at her. His gaze was still that eerily bright blue. “Shoot me. If I ever come at you again…”
“You didn’t go for my neck with your uber sharp teeth. You just got all sniffy.” She marched away from him and toward the bodies. Don’t focus on the naked werewolf. Focus on the bodies. “Now what in the hell happened here?”
“Ambush. Vamp lured me out here with his blood. Thought he was planning a grab on you.”
Staring at the remains on the ground had bile rising in her throat. So much blood. And they’d been killed by—claws.
Aidan’s hand curled around her shoulder and she flinched away from him.
“Easy.” His voice was still a rumble. “They weren’t human. They were vamps. If you look at their teeth, you’ll see that.”
She’d already noticed the extra-long incisors.
“A vamp’s fangs sharpen when they’re in their predatory mode. And when they die, they stay that way.”
She kept her gaze up on his face. And not on other things. Dead bodies. Naked werewolf.
“Their job was to kill me,” Aidan rasped. “Too bad for them, I wasn’t in the mood to die.”
“So you took out all three of them? By yourself?”
His lips twisted in disgust. “They were newly turned. Doing the Vampire Master’s bidding. He got away.”
Um, okay, that made one against four. And he’d still taken out three vampires?
So he was as kick-ass as he’d wanted her to believe.
“His buddy got away, too,” she said, turning from the bodies on the ground. Aidan had said they were vampires, but…they’d been people before they were turned. They’d had lives. Families. And staring down at them hurt her heart.
I need to find the vampire who is turning these people. I have to stop him.
Her gaze cut over him. “We have got to find you clothes.”
“The one who was waiting with the victim. He tried to attack me, but your pal Garrison stepped in.” She gave a wry shake of her head. “This time, Garrison saved my hide instead of aiming to take my life.”
Aidan grunted. “Cause that’s his job. He’s supposed to protect you.”
He was? Since when?
“Company,” Aidan suddenly barked as he whirled toward the entrance to the alley. She got a quick view of his ass—nice—and then he was surging toward the man heading their way. A man in a police officer’s uniform. A man who was—crap, Mason. It figured they’d run into him because this area was on Mason Mitchell’s beat.
“Freeze!” Mason yelled. “Hands up! Hands—”
Aidan didn’t freeze. He rushed forward and locked his hands around Mason’s shoulders. She was surprised Mason’s gun didn’t go off but then Aidan started talking…
His words were so low. She couldn’t hear them clearly so she inched forward and then she caught the order of… “You never saw me. I wasn’t here. Go back to the main road. Search to the left.”
Mason just nodded, face a bit slack, then he turned and left the alley.
Her goosebumps were way worse. Jane hadn’t signed on for this—mind control. Dead vampires. Werewolves who lost their clothes.
Aidan glanced back at her.
“You shouldn’t do that.” Anger stirred within her. “It’s not right to play with people’s minds.”
“You wanted me to let him call in back-up? Wanted me to explain why I’m naked with three dead men?”
“My city, remember? When it comes to the paranormals, I’m the law. My pack will take care of the vampires.”
But would his pack give them justice? “They were humans once.”
Humans who might not have asked to be changed.
“They’ll get justice when I track that Master Vamp who used them to make his own army.” He glowered at her. “Now where is Garrison?”
I wish I knew. “He gave chase. When the other guy fled from the cathedral, Garrison went after him.” She brushed by Aidan, marching to the front of the alley. “Look, you need to get the hell out of here before anyone else arrives.” Get out, get clothes, and let me figure this shit out.
“No way,” Aidan said flatly. “You’re the target. That bastard wants you.”
“He wants you to die, Mary Jane.”
“Jane,” she whispered. “Everyone always calls me Jane. Not Mary Jane, got it?”
“He wants you to die, and I’m not letting that happen.”
“I’m not letting that happen, okay? I know how to protect myself, and I will.” She also had a job to do, one that didn’t involve her cowering because she was afraid some big bad vampire was coming for her. “You have to get out of here, do you understand? I don’t want you playing mind games with cops.” And if they all saw the naked werewolf… “Just go. We’ll meet up later.”
“You think I’m leaving you on your own?”
She shook her head. “I think we’re wasting time. Cops are here.” She could hear them closing in. “Get out of here. I get that you’re some kind of paranormal boss, but I’ll handle the humans.”
Voices rose, coming toward them. More cops. “Go,” she said again.
“I’ll be close.”
“Yeah, well, be dressed while you’re close.” She rushed out to face the cops. She would have to stall them, if she could, and they were coming in fast. More uniforms who must have given chase after she’d left the cathedral. “Hurry,” she said as she glanced over her shoulder at Aidan.
Only…he wasn’t there. The alley—a dead end alley—was empty. There was a wall at the back of that alley. A big, brick wall. Had to be at least fifteen feet high.
She sucked in a deep breath and whirled to face the cops. “Secure the scene,” she barked. “Get the ME out here, now. And we need to make sure every available unit is on the streets—our killer is out there. He is close, and we have to find him.”
Before more blood filled the streets.