Better Off Undead
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.
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—
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.
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.
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.
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 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.