Two days until Halloween, or, as the not-so-gentle folks in Crossroads, Mississippi, liked to say…two days until hell came calling.
Sheriff Ava Dushaine climbed slowly out of her patrol car. She could smell death in the air. It was a dank scent she’d grown used to since being appointed as a paranormal liaison in the Crossroads area just over six months ago.
Liaison, my ass. More like watch dog. She straightened her shoulders, checked her gun, and walked toward the dead body that had been tossed right in the middle of the road. A deliberate position, one that placed half of the body in the territory marked by the werewolves and half in the territory claimed by the vampires.
The deputy who’d followed beside her began to gag as soon as he got a good look at the vic.
“Suck it up, Billings,” she told the young guy, making her voice snap. Ken Billings was too green for this scene. A new transfer in her department, he obviously wasn’t accustomed to the stiffs. If he stayed with her, he would be soon enough.
But this kill…it was particularly brutal. She wanted to recoil from the sight, too, but Ava knew that wasn’t an option for her. Putting on the brave face, yeah, that was her bit. “Call for backup and tell the team we need them out here ASAP.”
Not that backup would do any good for the poor stiff on the ground. His throat had been torn out. His eyes stared in frozen horror, and his lips were parted in a soundless scream of terror.
There’d be no helping him.
Blood soaked the ground beneath his body. There were scratches and deep gouges all along his face and arms. This guy—he’d fought back. Death hadn’t been easy for him.
Jaw clenching, she paced a few feet away. The rising sun looked like a ball of fire in the distance, with streaks of red skating along the sky.
Those streaks looked just like blood in the sky. Blood followed her everywhere these days.
Dammit, this job was getting old.
She knew the deal. The werewolves waited to the left. The vampires to the right. She’d been doing her best to keep peace between the two factions, and they’d been pretending to follow the rules that the government set up for them when the supernaturals had thrown their big coming out party ten years before.
Stay on your designated land.
Don’t kill humans.
Enjoy only willing prey.
But someone was breaking the rules. This was the third dead body she’d found in a month, and Ava was tired of humans dying on her watch.
She was also tired of having the folks in Crossroads talking almost constantly about the destruction that was waiting for everyone. According to them and their good old gossip mill, the town would be facing a freaking apocalypse come All Hallow’s Eve.
Just what she needed. An impending apocalypse and a dead journalist. Because, yeah, she’d recognized the mangled human on the ground. Kyle Powell, investigative journalist. A guy who’d been digging for the wrong story. A guy who hadn’t listened to her warnings.
A twig snapped a few feet away from her. Ava didn’t jump and spin toward the sound, but her right hand did rise slowly to curl around the butt of her gun. The problem with all the supernaturals was that they could just move too fast.
“Easy.” His deep, dark voice washed over her and, just like that, werewolf alpha Julian Kasey stood in front of her. The light, woodsy scent that marked his kind clung to him as he towered over her.
But this wasn’t her first ball game. Or monster hunt. Even as Julian closed that last bit of space between them, she shoved the barrel of her gun right at his heart.
Ava offered the handsome wolf a smile. “Do I need to remind you that these bullets are made of silver?” Like she’d really carry anything else.
His face—hard, square jaw, cheekbones sharp enough to cut, and lips that hinted at both cruelty and sensuality—lowered toward hers. “Would you really shoot me, baby?” Doubt cloaked his whisper.
Ava risked a fast glance at the deputy. Right. Figured Ken hadn’t even heard the wolf’s approach. He was too busy talking on his phone and trying to keep his lunch down. “Don’t test me,” she snapped back to the wolf. Sure, they might have been lovers once—once—but that was over. She had a job to do.
She’d do it. A sexy werewolf wouldn’t stop her.
Julian cocked a dark brow, but he also stepped back. Good.
“Now put your hands up,” she ordered him.
Smiling a bit, he raised his hands. In the early light, she didn’t see any blood beneath his nails. Nails, not claws. The claws would only come out when he shifted.
“Want to tell me what you’re doing here?” Ava asked.
He shrugged but kept his hands up. “I just followed the scent of blood.”
Supernaturals enjoyed the scent of blood far too much.
So she had a dead human, one who’d had his throat ripped open, and a werewolf, right at the scene of the crime. She also knew for a fact that said dead human had been planning to interview Julian last night.
Things weren’t looking good for the wolf right then.
And it wasn’t like she had a whole lot of options. Sighing, Ava pulled out her cuffs. “These are gonna sting,” she warned him. Silver cuffs. Because of their enhanced strength, werewolves could break free of almost anything else instantly.
He dropped his hands. “You aren’t serious.”
She was. Did it look like she was joking? “I need you to come to the station with me. You can either come willingly…” Then she’d leave the cuffs off, at least for the time being. “Or I can take you in the same way I do other paranormal suspects.” She had a little more freedom than the sheriffs who only patrolled human counties and captured mortal criminals.
When the monsters you hunted could kill with claws and fangs, new rules had to be made.
The blood had drawn out a werewolf, but, even though the smell was like pure ambrosia to a vampire, she knew none of the undead would be coming to join their little party. Everyone knew vamps and sunlight didn’t mix.
She’d get to them, though, soon enough.
Julian glanced toward her patrol car. “You don’t want to make a mistake here, Sheriff.”
Oh, wait, she wasn’t “baby” anymore? If the big wolf wasn’t careful, he’d hurt her feelings. “I know claw marks when I see them,” she told him, still holding tight to her cuffs. “As far as I know, there’s only one wolf pack in Mississippi.” Nothing happened in that pack without his approval. Nothing.
His gaze, bright blue, came back to her.
“Now, Alpha,” if he was gonna be all formal, then she could be, too. “Will you play nice and get in the car, or do I have to cuff you?”
Sirens wailed in the distance. Had to be her back-up racing toward them. The deputies always responded quickly when it was a supernatural call. Humans had to stick together.
“When have I ever played nice?” Julian growled the words.
Right. Of course, the guy wouldn’t make this easy.
She locked one cuff around his wrist. There was a slight sizzle as the silver burned his flesh. His gaze held hers. “You don’t want me as an enemy,” he warned.
She reached for his right hand. She wouldn’t put the cuffs behind him. Ava figured she owed him that much. “Sometimes it doesn’t matter what we want.” Since that night they’d shared, she’d learned that bitter lesson. Her hand curled around his wrist. Staring into his eyes, she snapped the other cuff onto his wrist. “Alpha Julian Kasey,” she’d do the legal bit to make sure she covered her ass, “you’re a paranormal person of interest in a murder and, as such, you’re now in supervised custody.”
His lips curled in a very slow, wicked smile. A smile that showed the sharp edge of his canines. “Later, when you look back, this is the moment you’ll regret.”
But… “Right now, looking back,” she shouldn’t say this, she shouldn’t, but the words and anger couldn’t be held back, “the moment I regret was hooking up with you at that godforsaken bar.”
The faint lines around his eyes tightened.
“And if I find out that you’re behind these killings…” She shook her head. “Then what happened between us won’t matter at all. I’ll still lock you up.” She had a job to do. People who counted on her. A hard case of lust and need for a dangerous werewolf couldn’t distract her.
Not when human lives were on the line.
She’d put him in the backseat, behind the cage barrier that was supposed to keep suspects held captive. Julian narrowed his eyes as he stared at the back of Ava’s blond head. She was driving the small patrol car, looking straight ahead, and ignoring him as he curled his fingers along the metal frame.
He barely felt the sting of silver on his wrists. Julian was too aware of the fire of fury in his gut.
She was actually taking him in? Ava thought he’d been the one to slaughter that ass of a human? Tempting, but no.
“I know he was out there to interview you.” Her voice came, slow and sweet, gently rolling on the waves of the South that he’d learned to like. “That dead guy was Kyle Powell, the newest hire at the Jackson Sentinel.”
Yeah, Kyle had been a prick who was looking to make a name for himself by trashing the wolves. “I didn’t talk to him.”
Her shoulders stiffened. “So you admit seeing him?”
“I saw him. The guy came to my place.” When the wind was right, wolves could smell humans from miles away. “I also kicked his ass out because I didn’t want another story on how savage and animalistic my pack is.”
There was a beat of silence in the car. A beat that lasted too long. “Well,” she said finally, “you can turn into animals.”
Claws burst from his fingertips. Unlike other wolves, he could control the shift. Let just a bit of the beast out when he wanted to play. “And here I thought you liked my wild side.”
He heard the sharp inhalation of her breath. Wolf senses were damn enhanced. So enhanced that it was ridiculously easy for him to catch her muttered, “Jerk.”
If he hadn’t been so pissed, he would have smiled. “My pack is being set-up.”
“Three dead bodies.” Ava’s fingers tapped on the wheel as her gaze darted to the rear-view mirror. “Three bodies, and all the vics had their throats ripped open. All were found on your land.”
“It’s a set-up.”
Her fingers stopped tapping. “I know claw marks when I see them,” she said once again.
He thought of the raised scars that he’d kissed on her stomach. Yeah, Ava knew all about the marks that wolves could leave behind. “Then we’ve got a new wolf in town. Some asshole who’s trying to cause trouble for me and my pack. We didn’t do this.”
“You’d smell a new wolf the instant he stepped foot in Crossroads.”
Yeah, he would.
“The humans are panicking. It’s all I can do to keep them from launching after you.”
Like humans could hurt him.
The patrol car slid into a curve, nice and easy. Ava was taking her time. And her scent—sweet vanilla—was driving him crazy.
“I didn’t kill the guy,” he said again as he sucked in a deep breath and tasted her. He’d prove his innocence, one way or another, and then… I’ll have her again. “Now it’s my turn for questions.”
Her gaze darted to the rear-view mirror once more. Just for an instant of time. They cleared the curve. She accelerated, driving down the long, lonely stretch of road that led back to the human-occupied portion of Crossroads.
“What questions do you have?” Suspicion underscored her words.
He let his claws scrape over the cage. “Really just one question.” He inhaled more vanilla. “Why the hell did you just screw me and walk away?” I wanted more. Not just a taste.
A black pick-up truck slammed into the side of the patrol car.
“Ava!” Her name was ripped from him as the car tumbled through the air. Metal screamed. Glass crunched.
The scent of blood—her blood—filled his nose.