Better Off Undead

January 12, 2016 – Blood and Moonlight, Book 2

Detective Jane Hart is just getting used to paranormal life in New Orleans. Monsters are real, and she’s the lucky cop who has to deal with them on a daily basis. Werewolves, vampires, witches, and demons—she has to face them all and keep their paranormal madness in check.

When a killer targets human men—and leaves their bodies scattered in local cemeteries–Jane suspects she may be looking at the crimes of a werewolf gone rogue. In order to hunt down the beast, Jane once again teams up with her werewolf lover, alpha Aidan Locke. But Aidan has been keeping secrets from Jane, dark secrets that will destroy her world.

Because Jane isn’t the hunter on her latest investigation. She’s the prey. And when a vampire attack leaves her helpless, the woman that Jane was before will vanish. She’ll become the one thing she fears most and Aidan…

Her fierce lover may have to become her executioner.

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Chapter One

Monsters were real, and she was the one who had to deal with their drama on a daily basis. Detective Mary Jane “Just Jane—Only Jane” Hart was well and truly tired of their paranormal bullshit.

Hunting human killers was hard enough. But hunting paranormal murderers? That was a whole new level of dangerous.

Jane eased out a long breath as she stared down at the victim before her. Another night, another body. She was starting to think this unfortunate trend was the new story of her life. Carefully, not wanting to contaminate the scene but needing to get closer, Jane crept toward the body.

A male, fit, looked to be in his early twenties. Handsome, at least, he had been. Before some thing with very sharp claws had gotten hold of the guy. Now the poor vic had deep slash marks all over his face and body. The left side of his face showed four long, bloody slashes. The right was a mirror image. The fellow’s throat had been ripped open and his body was bloody—his clothes torn. More slashes.

This hadn’t been some easy death. The victim had been tortured before he’d finally been put out of his misery.

Someone had been playing with his prey.

“A cemetery,” the nervous mutter came from behind her. “Poor guy was m-murdered out here?”

Jane schooled her features before she glanced back at the uniformed cop who was practically shaking in his standard issue shoes. Mason Mitchell was a good cop. Sure, he was still green on the job, and that was just one of the many reasons he appeared to be on the verge of either vomiting or passing out, but he was solid. He did the right thing, and the fellow genuinely wanted to help others.

Too bad he was playing way out of his league with this particular murder.

Mason had been the one to find the body. The one to put in the call to the station. The one to get Jane out there. Because certain cases were always referred to her these nights…any case that so much as hinted at being the work of a monster.

No way a human left those slash marks on the victim. Too deep. Too long. Too much like the marks that would be made from claws.

Her gaze darted to the ground. She didn’t see any footprints, but it was damn dark. She’d need a crime scene team out there, ASAP. She would also need to get the medical examiner, Dr. Bob Heider, on the case immediately. Like her, Dr. Bob knew the score and he would—

Jane…”

The whisper of her name was so low that, for a moment, she thought that she’d imagined it. But—

“Jane…” Low, but definitely real. She spun around, her gaze trekking over the cemetery. It was night, too freaking dark out there, and the heavy stone crypts and mausoleums seemed to surround her.

In New Orleans, people weren’t buried in the ground. The dead were put in the above-ground crypts and mausoleums for protection, and well—now the tourists sure loved to come to the “Cities of the Dead” to walk around and hunt for ghosts.

And vampires.

Be careful what you look for…you just might find what you seek.

“Detective Hart?” Mason called nervously. “Is everything all right?”

Her hand had dropped to her holster. She wasn’t packing normal bullets in her gun, not these days. After her last big case, when she’d learned the truth about monsters, Jane had made it a point to always be prepared. A smart woman keeps silver bullets and a stake at the ready. “Did you hear someone calling me?”

“Um, yeah, I was calling—”

Jane…Hart…” That rasping voice said her name again, only it was louder this time.

Mason shut up.

Jane tensed. Okay, so someone was hiding in the dark, calling her name, and watching as she stood over a dead body. Not suspicious at all.

Right.

Jane yanked out her weapon. “Stay with the body,” she ordered Mason. Because a body disappearing in this town? Oh, yeah, that happened. Far too often for her liking.

She rushed forward, heading into the deeper shadows of the cemetery. That voice had sounded as if it came from up ahead, to the right. If the killer was hanging out up there, thinking he could jerk her around, then the guy needed to think the hell again. Her right hand gripped the gun while her left held a small flash light, a light that she positioned directly over her weapon.

I will take you down. No one gets away with murdering humans on my watch.

And, for the moment, anyway, Jane was assuming the dead man was a human.

She passed the broken statue of an angel—one of its wings had fallen to the ground. Jane hurried past the angel, slid between two tall crypts and—

“Put your hands up,” Jane snarled to the shadow she saw there. “I don’t know who you are or what you think is happening—”

A woman screamed. High pitched. Terrified. The shadow burst apart, and Jane realized she was staring at two people, not one. Her light hit the couple—young, maybe teens. The girl was wearing heavy Goth make-up while the boy looked like some kind of surfer, only when the surfer opened his mouth—

Fangs. He has fangs. “I will shoot you right now,” Jane snarled at him. “If you have so much as bruised her, I will—”

“Relax, Jane, he’s not a vampire.”

The surfer’s body swayed, as if he was close to passing out.

The girl with him screamed again.

And Jane—she risked a quick glance over her shoulder. Because that deep, dark, familiar voice had come from right behind her.

She couldn’t see the speaker clearly in the shadows, but then, she didn’t need to see him. She recognized Aidan Locke’s voice instantly. Not surprising, really, considering that just hours before, she’d been in bed with the guy. “Aidan.

“He’s not a vampire. Just some punk kid.” Aidan’s voice was mild as he stepped closer to her. “And I think you’re about to scare the piss out of him, sweetheart.”

Hell. Jane focused on the couple once more. “A man has been murdered here tonight.”

The girl screamed again. Jane winced. That chick had some powerful lungs. Jane tried to sound soothing as she said, “I need you both to come with me.” Because maybe they’d seen something that night. Maybe they knew something about the killer.

They inched closer to her. There was no blood on their clothes. They were shaking, their fear obvious. Did they have any idea just how dangerous this place was? “Are you here for some weird make-out crap?” Jane demanded. “Because tourists have got to stop playing around at this place.” Before more people ended up dead.

Real monsters didn’t like it when humans came to their playground. And this particular cemetery? St. Louis Cemetery, Number 1. It was a paranormal mecca.

“S-Steve said it would be fun,” the girl squeaked.

Jane rolled her eyes. God save her from boys with stupid make out ideas. “You’re not supposed to be here unless you’re with a damn tour group.” High rates of vandalism—and the fact that the paranormals had claimed this cemetery—meant that access had been strictly limited lately. Or it should have been limited.

“Maybe you should lower the gun,” Aidan advised Jane softly.

So she was still aiming her gun. Jane wasn’t sure she trusted the kids. Actually, she didn’t trust anyone. With her past, how could she?

Jane’s right side seemed to burn as she stood there. An old reminder. As if she needed reminding.

“Jane…”

Fine. She lowered the gun. “I need to keep searching the cemetery. If the killer is here—”

“I’ll search,” he assured her.

“No, Aidan, I—”

But he was gone. And the guy was no doubt moving at that supernatural speed of his. As an alpha werewolf, there was very little the guy couldn’t do.

A good thing…and a bad thing.

Jane heaved out a long breath as she stared at the terrified couple. “Did either of you see anyone else at the cemetery tonight? Did you hear anything?” Like a dying man’s screams?

They just stood there, shaking.

The victim had been tortured. There was no way he’d gone down easily. Or quietly. “How long have you been here?” Jane demanded.

“A-about ten minutes,” the girl confessed. “We…we were gonna get here sooner, but I had to wait until my parents went to sleep before I could—” She broke off.

But Jane knew how that sentence would have ended. “Before you could slip out.” Jane huffed out a hard breath. “Trust me on this one, you owe your parents. I think their late night just saved your life.”

There was a rustle behind her. Jane turned around, her fingers still tight on her gun—

“No one else is here,” Aidan said. “The place is clear.”

But…

But I heard someone calling to me. Just a few moments ago. I heard a man’s voice. Only that voice hadn’t belonged to her lover.

Had it belonged to the killer?

“Jane?” Aidan pressed. “What is it?”

“I…” A siren screamed in the distance. More cops, maybe even the ME, coming to the rescue. “They may have seen your super speed thing,” she whispered to Aidan. “You…going to take care of that?” She hated asking because it felt so wrong.

Take care of that…Careful phrasing for a task that scared the crap out of her. Aidan Locke wasn’t just a werewolf. He was the werewolf, the alpha in town. And being an alpha meant that he had certain powers and strengths that normal werewolves didn’t possess. One of those powers was the ability to control humans—what they thought. What they remembered. She didn’t like that control because the idea of it scared her.

Sometimes, Aidan scared her, too.

She hated it when he used his power to control humans. No one should be able to influence someone else’s thoughts. “Let’s talk to them first, okay? If they didn’t see anything, you don’t have to mess with their minds. You don’t have to do it.” Because it’s wrong and I hate it.

“I’ll talk to them,” Aidan promised her. “But I don’t think anyone saw. I’m more careful than you realize.” His blue eyes gleamed in the darkness. “You go handle the dead.”

Right. That was how they did things, wasn’t it? Part of their new, twisted partnership?

Aidan was the paranormal law in New Orleans. He made sure the monsters toed the line and if they didn’t…if they crossed the line and hurt humans…

Then I’m supposed to help him take the beasts down.

Aidan’s hand rose. His fingers slid over her cheek. Such a gentle touch. He was always very careful with her. But, when the mood hit him, Aidan could change. In the blink of an eye, he could transform from a man into the form of a wolf.

A wolf with very, very big claws.

Claws big enough to slash a man to death in seconds.

“Jane?” His hand fell away from her cheek. “Is something wrong?”

Only my life. Only this nightmare that is starting all over again.

A new dead body, a new night…

What would happen next?

She shivered as she hurried back toward her victim. Right then, the dead man could be her only focus. It was her job to give justice to the dead.

And she’d give him that justice, no matter the cost.

***

Aidan Locke watched from the shadows as the cemetery became a full-on crime scene. Blue lights were flashing and the young couple that had been trembling in such fear before the sight of Jane and her drawn gun—they were now in the back of a cop car. Crying.

They didn’t know anything. When Jane had gone back to the dead victim, Aidan had questioned the two humans. Demanded the truth. They wouldn’t have been able to resist his control. After all, they weren’t like Jane.

No one else was quite like Jane.

Almost helplessly, his gaze slid back to her. She was pacing in front of the cemetery’s entrance. Her movements were tight, angry, but, every few moments, she glanced into the cemetery’s yawning gate, her stare almost…nervous. As if she were looking for something.

Or someone.

His head cocked as he studied her. His Jane was certainly an enigma. He’d never expected her. Never expected to find a woman he wanted so completely.

And a woman who could wreck him so thoroughly.

He and Jane weren’t supposed to be together, but he’d fought his pack for her. Just as he would fight anyone or anything who ever came between him and the woman he needed more than he needed air to breathe.

Jane was—

The wind shifted and the scent hit him. Strong. Powerful. Overwhelming.

Blood and death.

A primitive instinct stirred within him at that scent because he knew a vampire was close by. And when a werewolf caught a vampire’s scent, there was only one possible response—attack.

Vampires and werewolves were natural enemies for a reason. They really fucking hated each other.

Aidan could feel his canines lengthening. He had to clench his fists because his claws wanted to spring from his fingertips. The last thing he needed to do was transform right there, with cops swarming around—he would have to erase too many memories later. Far better to just stay in control. To slip away. Then he could hunt down the vampire bastard and end him.

He whirled away from the blue lights and the crowd of cops and onlookers. Humans—they’d come out to see what fresh hell had been wrecked in the city. In his experience, humans liked to watch danger from a safe distance.

Don’t get too close. Don’t let it hurt you. Just watch the pain of others.

Most humans had no clue just what sort of real danger stalked near them every day.

Aidan quickened his steps as his nostrils flared. The vampire was close. It sure took some cocky bastard to come into his city this way. Especially after the way he’d ended the last vamp who’d dared to challenge him.

Aidan turned away from the main road. He slipped between two buildings. Walked onto a dark street, one that—at first glance—appeared completely empty.

His claws were out now, long and thick and ready to attack. He could feel his beast pushing inside of him. Kill. Destroy. When a vampire was this close, the wolf always reacted with the primitive instinct to battle.

The shadows to the left moved as the vampire just fucking boldly strode right toward him. “So I get to meet the alpha on my first night here,” the vamp’s voice rang out, loud and clear and not the least bit frightened. Dumb bastard. “I’m honored.”

Every muscle in Aidan’s body quivered with the urge to attack. “What you are…” Aidan gritted out, “is dead.”

The vampire laughed. “Actually, I think the technical term is undead. But hey, I’m not here to argue—”

“I’m here to kick your ass,” Aidan snapped. He leapt toward the vampire, moving at a speed so fast humans would have seen him as a blur. He locked one hand around the vampire’s throat and shoved the guy against the nearest brick wall—the wall of the building on the right. When the vampire hit the wall, there was a hard, thudding impact, and dust seemed to shoot from the bricks behind him.

Aidan lifted his right hand, claws extended, ready to take that vamp’s head—

Jane,” the vamp gasped out.

The bastard dared to say her name?

“You must want to suffer,” Aidan whispered to him. “A long, painful death instead of the quick kill I had planned.”

“Not…here…for war…” Each word was croaked out, probably because Aidan was squeezing the guy’s throat so tightly that speech was nearly impossible. “Here…to…talk…peace first.”

Aidan laughed. “Since when do vampires believe in peace? We both know all you live for is blood and death.”

But this vampire…he wasn’t fighting Aidan. He could fight. Vamps were far stronger than humans. Yet this guy had just been waiting for him. And even as Aidan’s claws came closer to his head, the fellow just…watched him. Kept waiting.

What kind of game was the vamp playing?

Aidan freed the guy and stepped back, but he made sure to keep his claws at the ready.

The vampire sucked in a sharp breath. Yes, vamps still breathed. Their hearts still beat. They didn’t become walking corpses, no matter what the movies said. They were just fucking strong. Fucking deadly. And, in his experience, fucking evil.

“So…” the vamp finally muttered. “The stories are…true. You don’t kill…without reason.”

“I’m the paranormal law in this city. I keep the city safe, for the humans and the monsters. That’s what I do.” His gaze sharpened as he studied the vampire.

Even though it was dark, Aidan could see perfectly. Another nice, werewolf bonus. The vamp was tall, nearly Aidan’s own height. His dark hair was swept back from his forehead, and the guy’s eyes were narrowed as he stared up at Aidan.

“I’m not here to start a war with you,” the vampire said. “I’m actually…I’m not really here for you at all.”

“Why were you near that cemetery? Did you kill that poor bastard in there?”

“No.” The vampire gave one negative shake of his head.

Like I’m supposed to believe you? Vamps lie. “Then it sure is one hell of a coincidence that you were close when the guy was slaughtered.”

“I could say the same about you,” the vamp murmured. “One hell of a coincidence that you were so close when the man died.”

“I’ll just kill you now,” Aidan decided abruptly. “Make things easier—”

“I’m here for Jane.”

Aidan’s vision seemed to go red. “You have a death wish, huh? Thought as much.”

“I’m trying to do this right. I waited to talk with you first as a sign of respect. I know what you are to this city. And I don’t want a war with you.” The vamp’s words were said flatly, with no emotion.

“Smart decision.” Aidan could feel his beast, moving just beneath his skin. The wolf wanted out. The vampire had dared to tell him that he wanted Jane? Oh, the hell, no. No one else would ever have her.

Jane is mine. Just as I am hers. Always.

“My name is Vincent Connor. And despite what you think about vampires, we aren’t the enemy.”

Aidan gave a grating laugh. “Tell that to the last vamp bastard I ended. Tell that to the victims who were left dead and broken in his wake.”

Vincent looked away. “Are all werewolves good?” His voice had thickened. “Or are some of them murdering bastards that you have to end, too?”

Sonofabitch. All Aidan could do right then was growl. Because the vamp was right. Werewolves did go rogue, too, and when they did, Aidan was the one who had to stop their killing sprees.

“I am not the enemy,” the vamp said doggedly. “I am here to help Jane. I came to you because I am trying to do all of this right. I know what she is. Hell, you think you could keep her a secret? Word travels in paranormal circles, and it travels fast.”

Aidan lunged for Vincent.

But this time—the vamp fought back. In an instant, he yanked a gun from beneath his coat and pressed it to Aidan’s chest. “Silver bullets,” he said softly.

“Those supposed to scare me?” The gun was pointed right over his heart, but Aidan just laughed. “I’ve been shot plenty of times. If you fire, you’d better hope I don’t move too fast and mess up your shot…” Which he would. “You’d better hope you get enough silver in my heart to put me down because I will make you suffer so—”

“I don’t want to fire. I want you to listen.” The vamp looked down at the gun, then back up at Aidan. “I am not the enemy,” he said again.

Bullshit. “Every vamp is my enemy.”

Vincent sighed. “Will you still say that when Jane becomes a vamp?”

The wolf clawed at Aidan’s insides. “Are you threatening her?” The bastard dared? He dared?

“I want to help her. I want to help you both.” Smart vamp—he’d come packing more than just supernatural strength. “You and I both know this…situation with Jane can’t last forever.”

“Yes, it can.” And Aidan caught her scent in the air. Lavender and apples. Sweet, sensual woman. Jane. She was rushing toward him, and the last thing he wanted was for her to see the vampire.

The vampire’s head had jerked and his nostrils had flared. Vincent had obviously caught her scent, too. His face had gone slack with surprise and—

Yearning? Forget that shit. “She’s taken,” Aidan growled. “Now get the fuck…” Still, his words were barely more than a growl as he ordered, “Get the fuck out of my city…or die.” Even a silver bullet to the chest wouldn’t stop him if this guy thought he’d get his hands on Jane.

“Aidan?” Jane’s voice reached him. Worried. Desperate. “Aidan, what’s happening?”

Before he could speak, the vampire shoved him back—shoved him so hard that Aidan flew a good ten feet into the air. Someone is stronger than he let me believe. Aidan hit the side of a dumpster, and the metal groaned beneath him. He shot to his feet—

The vampire was racing toward Jane.

She’d pulled out her gun. She was aiming at Vincent. Silver bullets or wooden ones? What was she packing that night? If she fired with silver, it would barely slow down the vamp. “Jane!” Aidan roared. If that vamp tried to hurt her—

He pushed himself faster, harder, desperate to get to her. His claws reached out, ready to swipe at that vampire’s back.

Jane lifted her gun and fired.

And the vampire—

He just vanished. Fucking vanished. The bullet that Jane had shot went through the air and slammed into Aidan’s shoulder. He grunted at the impact, but kept rushing toward her. He yanked her into his arms and held her tight.

She was shaking. “He…disappeared.”

Shit, shit, shit.

“Aidan, what in the hell just happened?”

He just held her tighter as he glanced around the area. My worst fucking nightmare, that’s what. Because a normal vamp couldn’t vanish that way. Even a powerful, born vampire couldn’t do that crap.

His gaze scanned the darkness as he kept Jane locked within his arms. If that vamp came back…You’ll have to go through me before you can ever get to her.

And that was a promise he’d take to his grave.