It was nearing four a.m. when Jane stormed into her apartment. They hadn’t found the victim. Dammit. Aidan had lost the trail once the victim—and the guy who’d taken her body—had apparently high-tailed it away in an ambulance. Video footage had shown her the guy’s face—and it had been the same bozo who’d attacked Jane behind the cathedral. Stocky, long hair, gaunt face.
Aidan told her that the fellow they were after had disguised his scent, that they weren’t looking for some kind of paranormal amateur.
Like she was supposed to tell her captain that crap. “No, captain, you see…we’re dealing with a man who really understands beasts. Real beasts. And so he took the body and managed to elude the werewolf that I have on his trail.”
Her captain would have sent her in for a psych evaluation. Since she wasn’t in the mood to go down that particular path again, she’d kept out the details about beasts and vampires. Now her captain believed they were looking for some guy who either had a serious issue with necrophilia or—more likely in her captain’s book—had taken the body because he believed evidence was on it that would incriminate him in the victim’s murder.
Either way, Jane was still missing a body.
And she had to deal with a very pissed off werewolf.
She knew Aidan was pissed, all right. He’d still been muttering about betrayal when he left her at the hospital. Then she’d had to calm down her captain and talk with the other cops and try and create some kind of protected crime scene in the morgue.
But at least the poor guy who’d been killed in there wasn’t going to turn into a vampire. According to Aidan, no vamp scents had been detected in the morgue. Dr. Ken Loft’s death was a simple case of murder—the kind she could deal with.
She yanked off her jacket. Tossed it aside. Kicked away her shoes and felt every ache in her body. Jane knew she needed to crash and crash hard. She’d need to hit the streets running in just a few hours. Since she apparently had some kind of Master Vampire after her, it made sense to hunt for him during the day, if he was weaker then. It made sense—
A fierce pounding shook her door. She whipped around, her heart racing.
The pounding came again, even harder than before. She inched forward, already pulling out her gun. Jane put her eye to the peephole and saw Aidan’s still pissed visage staring back at her. No, glaring back.
“Open the damn door,” he snarled. “I know you’re right there. I can hear you.”
Someone was a bossy werewolf. She put the gun down on a nearby table. She took her time about it—
He pounded again. “Mary Jane!”
Her hand flew over the lock and she quickly opened the door. “I have neighbors. Nice, normal people who like to sleep at four a.m. in the morning. They don’t need you shaking the whole building with your angry fists.”
His blue eyes glinted. Jane thought she caught a hint of fang. Was she supposed to be scared? Her chin notched up. “And didn’t I tell you? It’s Jane. Just Jane. Not Mary Jane.” She only let one person in the world call her Mary Jane, and Aidan wasn’t that guy. Not that she’d seen that particular man in a very, very long time. Because it’s safer that way.
Aidan crossed the threshold and stalked way too close into her personal space. She backed up, but only because she didn’t want him touching her. When he touched her, her body got all hot and achy, and, okay, turned on—all responses that she shouldn’t have to the guy.
He kicked the door shut behind him, but didn’t look back.
Shaking her head, she slid around him and locked the door. As if just closing it was going to do any good. “I thought you guys had to be given invitations to enter a home.” She’d seen that on a TV show.
“Vampires,” he said, shaking his head in disgust. “That’s some vampire BS on TV. Not real. I can go anywhere. Vamps can go anywhere.” He tossed a glare over his shoulder as his gaze dropped down to the lock she’d just flipped. “And that flimsy ass lock is not going to keep out a Master Vampire. All it would have taken was one good kick from me, and your door would be on the floor.”
“Um, yeah, you say that as if I’m supposed to thank you for not destroying my door.” She marched around him, heading for her balcony because suddenly, it was hard to breathe in the apartment. Why did the guy seem to take up so much space?
Before she could reach that sliding glass door, his fingers snagged her wrist. Sure enough, heat pulsed through her at his touch.
“You didn’t stay at the hospital. You didn’t stay with the other cops.” He made those words sound like an accusation.
She swung toward him. “You have got to relax. I’m a big girl. I can manage to go across town and back to my own home just fine.”
“Master. Vampire.” Aidan gritted out the words.
“Homicide. Detective,” Jane gritted right back. “That means I don’t get the luxury of hiding and pretending that bad shit isn’t happening. I have a job to do, and I’m going to do it.”
“This isn’t about some human job—”
“You’re right,” she cut him off. “It’s about human lives. Justice. You say you take care of your pack? Well, I take care of the people here, and that’s what I’m going to keep doing. I’m going to keep right on protecting them.”
“She died because of you.”
Her heart stopped beating. “Wh-what?” And the past was there, surging toward her. A woman’s scream. A man’s broken voice, begging.
For you. All for you, little one.
His hold tightened on her. “She was bait, don’t you see that? The Master Vamp asshole was trying to lure you out. He wanted to take you. He knows that I’m protecting you, and he tried to separate us so that he could get to you.”
She died because of you.
A dull ringing filled her ears. The past wasn’t leaving her alone. And the pain from the present was suddenly ripping into her. Not again. Not. Again.
“He’s going to keep coming,” Aidan growled. “He knows what you can become, and he isn’t going to stop.”
She jerked free of him. “You need to leave.”
“Jane!” Her voice was a yell. Great. Now she was the one waking the neighbors, but he’d pushed her too far. She died because of you. “Get the hell out.”
He blinked. “You’re…hurting?”
What did he think? That she was celebrating?
He reached for her hand again, but she stepped back in a fast move. His brows shot up and she could see the confusion in his eyes. “I didn’t mean to hold you too hard…” His words came awkwardly. “Sometimes, I forget how strong I am. I don’t usually spend a lot of time with female humans.”
“Your touch didn’t hurt me. Your jackass words did.” She drew in a deep breath. “Thanks for adding more guilt onto my soul, exactly what I always wanted.” Jane pointed toward the door. “Like I said, leave.”
“Guilt?” He blinked. “I didn’t…my words were to warn you. Not to make you feel guilty.”
He was making her want to scream, again. “How did you think it would make me feel to learn she died…oh, wait, what were you words? Because of me. I want to help people, not get them killed!”
He stepped toward her. Stopped. Looked helpless. “I…misspoke.”
His words were low, guttural.
Her eyes narrowed on him. “Want to try that again?”
“I. Am. Sorry!” Now he was back to angry. Or, gruff. Or something. “I just wanted you safe. I wanted you to understand your peril.”
“Consider the peril understood.” She was still pointing to the door.
“He killed her. She meant nothing to him. Human life means nothing. He won’t stop. He will just keep coming until he gets what he wants.”
Her mouth had gone dry. “And I’m what he wants.” Because he thought she was some kind of born vampire creature. Ready to sprout fangs and drink blood once she’d gotten the pesky matter of her violent death out of the way.
“You are what he wants.” Aidan’s hands clenched. “And you are what he cannot have.” He drew in a deep breath. “She didn’t die because of you. I-I didn’t mean that. My words with you…they aren’t the best.”
So she’d noticed.
“She died because he was trying to get to you. And he’ll keep trying. You aren’t safe on your own.”
Her hand lowered. Not because she didn’t want him to leave, she did. Really. But…her hand couldn’t stay up forever. “So what are you proposing? I already have a basic plan, you know. I’m going to find him. Hunt him. Stop him. I’ll see that he pays for what he’s done.”
Aidan shook his head. “Human justice—”
“Right. I know. We’ve been through this before.” She still planned to find the vamp. “But being a sitting duck isn’t my idea of a good time.”
His gaze swept over her. “I won’t let him have you.”
“I won’t let him have me.” She had silver bullets and even a wooden stake at the ready. There was no way she’d go down without a fight.
“You aren’t safe with him out there. He can make more vampires. Can send them after you. A trusted friend can become a predator.”
How had life gotten so out of control? She strode away from him. Opened her sliding glass door and stepped out onto the balcony.
“I’m staying with you.”
Of course, he’d followed her.
Her spine was so stiff and straight that it hurt. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
She could feel him behind her. Heat and power. Her hands curled around the balcony’s wooden railing. Then his hands were there, too. Not touching hers but…resting right beside hers. Curling along the railing, too. His hands were so much bigger and darker than her own.
When he asked that question, his breath blew lightly over the curve of her ear. Jane shivered. What was happening? One moment, she was screaming at him, and the next, her body was far to primed. It wasn’t normal and it wasn’t right. “You’re lying to me.”
Behind her, she felt him stiffen. She exhaled slowly and fought to keep her voice level. “You think I didn’t realize it? You’re doling out information to me so carefully. I’m not a fool, Aidan. I get that you’ve been manipulating the people in this city for years.” Cops. Government officials. Every-damn-body. She pulled her hands away from the railing and turned to face him. His hands stayed up, still holding tight to the wood behind her, so she was trapped in his embrace. “I’m not going to let you manipulate me.”
His eyes seemed to see straight into his soul.
“So how about we don’t play games? How about you don’t come over here telling me what I’m going to do? How about you talk to me? Honestly. Tell me what you’re holding back.”
A muscle flexed along the hard line of his jaw. “You don’t want to know…”
“I’m asking. I want to know.”
“Truth only, got it? When I ask you a question, respond honestly.”
Grimly, he nodded.
“Did you really lose that guy’s scent tonight?”
“Yes.” Flat. Bitter.
“Do you think the Master Vampire is going to come for me?”
“I think he plans to kill you…but only so you can come back like him.”
An insane killer. Hardly the life she had planned.
“And you being with me.” She stopped, cleared her throat. “You think you can stop him?”
“I think I’d fucking die trying.”
This was the part that she just didn’t get. “Why?”
His lashes lowered, shielding his eyes from her.
She put her hands on his chest. Her fingers balled around the fabric of his shirt, making two small fists. “Truth, remember? Why does it matter to you? Wouldn’t I become just another vamp for you to stake? Why go to all of this trouble? You don’t know me.”
Silence. She needed him to answer her. To stop with the games and just say—
“Because I want you.”
Her heart thundered in her ears.
“I want you more than I can damn well ever remember wanting anyone. I look at you, and I ache. I want to take and take until you scream as you come for me.”
Breathing was hard. Real hard. And her fists tightened even more around his shirt.
“There’s a little known fact about alpha werewolves and…women like you.”
Weren’t most facts about werewolves “little known” to people? Or else, the whole world would realize monsters were real.
“That was another sign. Another way I knew what you were.”
No wonder he’d been sniffing her so much. “What?” Jane asked as she stared up at him. “Do I smell like some kind of aphrodisiac to you?” The question was sarcastic.
But he nodded. Then he said, “You smell…like you were meant to be mine.”
She should let him go. She should really get her ass off that balcony.
“It’s a physical instinct. You feel it, too, don’t you? Back in the old days…” And now his laugh was bitter. “The very old days, a woman like you was given a protector. A werewolf alpha who would make sure that she never died that violent death, that she lived a long life—one full of happiness and a hell of a lot of kids.”
She knew where this was going. “Werewolf kids?”
“I said most werewolves weren’t like me. That they couldn’t shift fully. Do you wonder why there aren’t a lot of alphas like me running around? Because there aren’t a lot of women like you any longer. The bloodline is stronger when it’s someone—” He stopped, but he didn’t need to say anymore.
When it’s someone like me.
So that was it. He wanted her because she could be some kind of magical genetic aphrodisiac to him? Some great breeder for him? That wasn’t exactly…sexy. Or overwhelmingly romantic.
It also just wasn’t damn fun. Not words a woman wanted to hear.
Aidan drew in a ragged breath. “An alpha’s job is to protect.”
Ah. So much made sense now. Like how he’d suddenly been extra hell-bent on protecting her. When before, it had just been about making her forget.
“Nature designed us to fight vampires. No other being is physically capable of fighting them. We are natural enemies…enemies who sometimes want the same thing.”
Okay, now something new was worrying her. “So you guys—you alphas—you find women like me. You stick with them, protect them, try to make sure that they live long, healthy lives.” Minus the violent ending.
He just watched her.
“But what happens…” Jane asked, as an ache grew in her heart. “If you don’t manage to keep the women safe? What if they change? What if they become vampires?”
His jaw hardened.
“Only say it doesn’t happen when you first meet them.” Her words shot out in rapid-fire succession. “What if you’ve made some of those super alpha babies you mentioned…and then, after the woman has the kids, then she’s murdered and becomes a vamp.” Jane had always played the What if game too much. Her mother used to tell her that she borrowed trouble. Jane just liked to think that she was trying to prepare herself for coming danger. “What happens in that situation?” The ache in her heart got way worse. “Or has that situation happened before?”
Aidan backed away from her.
Oh, crap, that was an answer, wasn’t it? “The alphas…they still kill the vampires, don’t they? You told me they were driven to kill. So even if the alpha had a child with that woman, if she became—”
“Vampires are monsters. No souls. Just evil. They live to destroy everything and everyone around them. A vampire who turned like that would kill her own child in a heartbeat.”
He’s saying the alphas killed their mates.
“I won’t let that happen to you,” he promised. But there was something about his voice. A darkness. A pain…
I think he’s holding back with me again.
And she decided that if they were playing the truth game, he deserved plenty of honesty from her, too. “I don’t know what scares me more. You…or the vampires out there.”
“I’m not here to hurt you.” Intensity deepened his voice even more.
“Not right now you’re not, no.” She rubbed her chilled arms. “But I can’t count on the fact that you’ll always be on my side.” As long as she stayed human, yes, but…
Her arms fell. Her hand brushed against her right side. It was a habit that wouldn’t die. And it reminded her of a nightmare that would never end. Aidan didn’t get it. He thought he was just protecting her from a threat that was just unfolding around them. He didn’t realize…
Monsters had been in her life for a very long time.
“I think you should go now.” She made her voice sound brisk. “I’m exhausted and I’ve got a long day of vamp hunting ahead of me tomorrow. A girl needs her beauty sleep if she’s facing undead monsters who want to take her soul.”
His hand lifted. Jane tensed as his fingers slid over cheek. “It’s when you do things like that, when you say things like that…” His own voice was gruff. “That you make me want you even more.”
Her lashes lowered. “We just talked about why we are so very wrong for each other.”
“I want you.”
Her heartbeat needed to slow the hell down. “You aren’t having me.”
His lips tilted just a little and what could have been a dimple flashed in his left cheek. “We shall see.”
Then he sauntered back inside. She followed, more than ready to get him out of her apartment. Only…he still wasn’t leaving. Did werewolves just have issues getting the hell out? As she watched him in mounting horror, he eyed her lumpy sofa, looked disgruntled, but finally stretched his too-long length across the cushions. His legs dangled over the arm rest.
“Um, what are you doing, wolf?”
He looked up at her. “Getting comfortable. Unless you wanted to share that bed of yours?” Now he sounded hopeful.
“Get comfortable in your own home.”
He looked hurt. And…hot. Dammit.
Aidan gave her a quick smile. “There are actually women who would kill to have me right here. They think I’m rather sexy.”
“I think you’re rather a pain in my ass.”
His sigh was long and rough. “My Mary Jane—”
“Jane.” She was sure he did that just to mess with her.
“A Master Vampire knows who you are, so it stands to reason that he knows where you live, too. I’m staying here, in case the bloodsucker gets the idea to come for you tonight. When dawn arrives, I’ll leave you be.”
“What are you going to do? Stay here every night until he’s stopped? Sleeping on my couch?”
“I’d prefer your bed. Or we could always go to my place.”
Insane. “I had a normal life two days ago.” She whirled away from him.
“Did you?” His voice followed her.
No, I was just pretending. I always knew I was different.
“Normal is boring,” he said, before she could respond. “I promise you, sweetheart, life with me won’t be boring.”
She was bone tired and the bed was calling—screaming—her name. And maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t so bad to have a tough werewolf on the premises, at least not until she figured out how powerful that Master Vampire actually was.
Jane yanked open the closet and grabbed the quilt there. An extra pillow waited on the shelf up top, and she snagged that, too. Then she hurried back toward Aidan.
But as she approached, the guy began to appear seriously…alarmed.
He sat up quickly. “What are you doing?”
Her eyes did a little roll. “Giving you a pillow. And a quilt.” She tossed the pillow at him, but held a little tightly to the quilt. “A warning, wolf. Do not mess up this quilt. My grandmother made it for me right before she passed away, and I freaking treasure it, got that?”
His gaze took note of the way she was caressing the quilt. “If it matters, why give it to me?”
“Because you need a cover. And I have it.” She offered the quilt to him.
He didn’t take it.
“I appreciate your kindness,” he said gruffly. And when he took the quilt, his fingers brushed over hers. “I will take care of it for you.”
Right. Good. Great. Why does his touch slide right through me? Is it really just that genetic mumbo jumbo he was talking about?
Or is it something else? Something more?
She turned away from him.
He caught her hand. His fingers slid over her knuckles and his thumb brushed against the inside of her palm. Until that moment, she never would have thought that her palm was sensitive. Definitely not some kind of erogenous zone. But as he rubbed his thumb into the center of her palm, her breath came a bit faster. “If you ever want to let yourself go,” Aidan said. She glanced at him and found that bright gaze locked on hers. “I’ll be close by.”
She had to swallow. Twice. “I’d think letting go with a werewolf would be a dangerous thing.”
His thumb stroked harder against her palm. Her breasts were starting to ache. Did he know what he was doing to her? Just with that touch?
“I wouldn’t hurt you.”
“Not unless I became a vampire.”
Another hard caress, and then his hand slid from hers. “I give you my word. I will fight hell to make sure that never happens to you.”
She needed to get away from him. Just back away.
So why was she standing right there? “I can fight my own battles.”
“But who says you have to fight them alone?”
Her lips parted. His gaze slipped to her mouth. “You taste so sweet. So good. I’d love to taste you…again.”
She licked her lips.
No, dammit, she had not meant to lick her lips. Wrong move. Very, very wrong.
She took a big step away from him. “Good night, Aidan.” She hurried for her bedroom. Just as she was at the threshold to her room, she heard him say—
“Good night, sweetheart.”
Jane shut the door. Her back slid against the wood as she tried to get her body back under control. He wasn’t a man. He was a werewolf. Incredibly dangerous. And she shouldn’t want him so much.
But she did.
Dammit, she just did.