He’d found his prey.
He’d been searching for her, looking so desperately for a very long time now—but the hunt was over. She. Was. His.
Rayce Lovel paused just inside of the low-rent bar, a dive named Maverick’s. It was a too loud, too crowded, too smoky spot in the middle of nowhere, and it was the last place he’d expected to find his angel. But she was there, he knew it. He hadn’t spotted her yet, but he could smell her. A sweet, light scent that hung over the alcohol and cigarettes. Her scent.
Once a werewolf got his prey’s scent, he didn’t lose it.
He stepped into the room, and the snow fell off his shoulders. Fucking snow. He hated the cold and would have much preferred to be back in the Keys running wild on the beach. But she was there…in the wilds of Colorado, and that meant so the hell was he.
The band kept blasting, voices kept shouting, and the smart humans near him? They got the hell out of his way, as if instinctively sensing a beast was nearby. Sometimes, humans could do that. They could feel trouble when it was close.
Trouble was very close right then. Because he wanted his prey. He wanted Lila, and he would not be leaving there without her.
His nostrils flared as he pulled in more of her scent. Lavender and fucking candy apples—that was what she smelled like to him. Heaven. Fitting really…considering his prey was an honest-to-God angel. And angels? They didn’t belong on earth.
And they don’t belong with beasts.
He went to the bar and rapped his knuckles against the faded surface. The bartender, a woman with blue-black hair and piercings in her left eyebrow, gave him a bored look. “Want something?”
My angel. He’d been looking for her too long. The woman kept vanishing. But then…it was easy for her to disappear. Lila’s kind carried so much magic. She also carried a target on her back. A big one that was going to cause all kinds of unfortunate situations. The longer that Lila was on earth, the more dangerous she would become.
Is it already too late for her?
His gaze scanned the crowd once more. He didn’t see Lila’s tell-tale red hair anywhere, but he knew she was in that bar. “There a backroom in this place?” he asked the bartender.
“What you see is what you get.” Her response was fast, clipped and also…a lie.
Slowly now, his instincts alerted, Rayce turned his head back toward the bartender. Her pulse was beating a bit too fast at the base of her throat and her gaze had jerked away as she began to tap the countertop with her index finger. The black polish on her nail was chipped.
“I don’t think that’s true,” Rayce murmured as he rolled back his shoulders. He was wearing a heavy black coat and the sleeves of his coat brushed against the bar top. “Why don’t we try that answer again?”
Her stare—a shaky, pale blue—jumped to his. “You some kind of cop or something?”
Not a human cop, no, because he didn’t usually give a shit about what the humans did. As long as they weren’t hunting his kind, he didn’t have a problem with them. But the “or something” part of her question?
He was an enforcer, of sorts. He worked for Luke Thorne, the big, bad Lord of the Dark. Luke ruled all of the darkest, most dangerous paranormals in the world. And Rayce? Well, he was the one who hunted down the assholes who thought they could screw over the Lord of the Dark.
Only this time, my prey is a bit different. This time…well, the hunt had turned personal for him.
Rayce flattened his hands on the bar. “Where’s the secret room?” And what in the hell was his angel doing in there?
The bartender backed up a step. She licked her lips. “There—there isn’t one!” Her voice cracked on the denial.
Rayce rolled his eyes. Did he look like he was in the mood for bullshit? “You have something I want in that room. And I won’t be leaving without her.”
Then the bartender made a mistake. She jerked her head and pointed at Rayce and he knew that she’d just gotten security zeroed in on his ass. A long sigh slid from him. “You know, we could have done this the easy way. You could have told me where the room was. You could have saved the guard coming for me a whole lot of pain. And we could have all just gotten along.” He gave a sad shake of his head. “Now, I’m going to have to knock his ass out. And I’m going to have to rip this place apart until I find what I want.” He leaned over the bar. “A word of warning, when the fight starts, you might want to duck down low.”
Her eyes widened just as a hard hand clamped around Rayce’s shoulder.
A snarling voice demanded, “We got trouble here? Because trouble belongs out on the street—”
Rayce grabbed the hand that didn’t belong on his shoulder. He wrenched it around hard and fast and the fool who’d grabbed him screeched in pain.
Then the idiot swung at Rayce with his left hand. Rayce easily dodged that blow, only to come up fast and slam his forehead into the would-be bouncer’s face. Another screech came from the fellow. And then he was screaming for help. More big, burly bouncers rushed at Rayce as the crowd starting yelling and shoving and fighting…
That was the way of fights. They tended to spread like wildfires, and damn if the whole place wasn’t igniting around him. Fair enough. Rayce laughed. He loved a good fight. His hands fisted as he launched into the fray.
It sounded as if all hell were breaking loose.
Lila glanced up at the ceiling above her. It was creaking? Shaking? Both. She could hear screams and curses and the band had stopped playing.
“What’s happening up there?” she whispered as she nervously tucked a lock of hair behind her ear.
“Nothing good,” was the curt answer she got back. Hardly an enlightening response.
Lila hunched her shoulders deeper into the coat that she wore. She had her hood up, hoping to hide as much of her face as possible. “Let’s just finish the deal so I can get out of here, okay?”
The man across from her just grunted. He was tall and thin, almost skeletally so, with pale, pale hands. He was standing behind a wide counter and he had a large, round monocle over his right eye. He leaned down and put that monocle over the object he’d been examining.
“How much will you pay?” she asked him, hating the tremble in her voice and wishing desperately that she could just escape that room.
“I have to make sure it’s real before I pay anything.”
“It’s real.” No doubt. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t.” Here…the basement room of a loud bar. The secret room for secret deals—where anything could be bought and sold. Anything at all. Drugs. Weapons.
“I’m supposed to believe…” he drawled, still staring at his prize, “that you just found an angel’s feather on the street?”
No, I didn’t find it. It’s my feather, and I’m selling it to survive.
There was another loud crash from upstairs. More shouting. A few high-pitched screams. Lila’s hands fisted right before she shoved them into her pockets. “We have to hurry.” She didn’t want to get caught in whatever was happening upstairs. She should just cut and run, but she needed this deal. It had been days since she’d eaten. And, yes, her body was different from a human’s. Even so, she still needed sustenance. Not as often, sure, but Lila needed food to survive. If she didn’t get something soon…
“This feather is tainted.”
Her body stiffened. “What?”
“The angel you took this from…that angel is dangerous.” He slowly lowered his monocle and stared hard at her. “If I were you, I’d be treading very carefully around that individual. You don’t want that angel as an enemy.”
Her heart slammed into her chest. “What are you talking about?”
“I can see it on the feather.”
Bull. There was nothing to see on the feather. Was he trying to scam her? The guy was a dealer—not drugs, but magic. The very dark kind. As far as Lila was concerned, he was the dangerous one. He was also her last hope.
“This angel…this angel knows darkness.”
Her heart kept racing too fast as she tried to ignore the noises from above.
“I think she’s fallen.” He stared straight at her. “And I think she likes the darkness.”
“How is she dangerous?” No, jeez. Shouldn’t have said she! I need to stop talking!
He gave a satisfied smile. “Angels change, you know. The longer they are on earth, the more permanent that change becomes. They can evolve. Become something brand new.”
Dust fluttered down from the ceiling. She needed to get this deal finished. “How much for the feather?”
His head tilted. His head was completely shaved and the light gleamed off his forehead. “Do you have more feathers?”
“I’m not talking about more right now. I’m talking about the one you’re holding, and if you aren’t making a deal, then I’m out of here.” Lila hoped that she sounded tough and no-nonsense. He didn’t need to know that her knees were shaking.
That was it?
“After all, like I said…that angel is tainted.”
She wanted to hit him. To punch him right in the face because he was—
Right. Damn him, he’s right. I’m not supposed to want to hurt anyone. That’s not what an angel does. An angel helps. An angel loves. An angel knows kindness.
Angels didn’t trade dark magic in dimly lit rooms.
“Take it or leave it,” he added curtly. And then he also cast a nervous glance toward the ceiling. It actually took her a few moments to realize just why he was suddenly so nervous. He’d been fine moments before but now he was sweating a bit because…
There’s only silence from above.
“I…” Leave it. Leave him. Get out of here! But her stomach was in knots and she hurt from hunger. The feather had fallen out, anyway. It wasn’t as if she could do anything with it now. “I’ll take the thousand.”
A smirk twisted his thin lips. “I knew you would.”
Lila glared at him. Her shaking hand slid out of her pocket when he lifted a bag toward her.
“The money’s in there, dear one.”
She wasn’t his dear one. She wasn’t his anything. Lila took the bag, but his fingers flew out—so very pale—and locked around hers with a claw-like grip. “I’ll be wanting more,” he told her.
Too bad because she wouldn’t be selling more. She’d use the money to keep running and she would not be returning to this little town. “There isn’t anymore,” she whispered. Lila jerked her hand free and glanced into the bag. There was plenty of money in there—a thousand dollars? Looked that way. Lots of bills. Should she count? What was the etiquette on something like that?
Her head snapped up. He had that monocle to his eye again, only this time, he wasn’t looking at the feather. He was looking through the thin glass and staring straight at her.
“I see you,” he said as he peered at her. The eye behind the monocle had widened. “And aren’t you something special?”
Lila shut the bag and stumbled back.
That had been fun. Rayce smiled as he glanced around the bar. Not so crowded now. Not so loud. And not nearly as smoky. Sure, the furniture was broken. The band had grabbed their instruments and run for the door—as had most of the humans with sense. A few unconscious fools littered the floor. Hell, Rayce hadn’t even hit most of them. Just the ones who’d been dumb enough to swing at him. The rest had been battling themselves.
Humans. Didn’t they get it? If you weren’t strong enough to win the battle, then you shouldn’t start the fight.
He sauntered back to the bar and cleared his throat.
The bartender slowly rose from her hiding position. He was glad she’d taken his advice to duck.
“Hi, there.” Rayce flashed her a smile but made sure not to reveal any hint of fang. He’d done a good job of holding his beast back during the skirmish. A little more bloodshed, though, and his wolf would be out and looking for his howling good time. “About that secret room…”
She lifted her hand and pointed to the door marked “Employees Only.” Ah, yes, figured that would be the one.
The bartender licked her lips. Her voice was weak as she said, “Go in there and then…then pull back the curtain on your right. You’ll find stairs waiting.”
He’d also better find an angel or he’d be seriously pissed.
Rayce stalked forward and kicked open that “Employees Only” door. It flew back and slammed into the wall. His gaze jerked to the right. Ah, there were the curtains. He stilled a moment, pulling in scents—lavender and candy apples. I’ve got you. His angel was close. He rushed forward, yanked open that curtain and found another door waiting. He started to kick it open, too, but it flew inward right at that moment, wrenched open from the inside, and he found himself staring straight into a pair of wide sky-blue eyes. Eyes that he knew he would never, ever be able to forget.
Eyes that belonged to an angel.
His claws shot from his fingertips, a primal response because his beast had found her. Finally.
Lila wore a big, engulfing coat, and a hood hid her red hair from his view. Her heart-shaped face seemed thinner than before, and dark shadows lined her gorgeous eyes.
She stared at him in shock and her lips—unpainted and full—opened in surprise. “You.”
He smiled at her. “Did you miss me?”
She blinked and confusion flashed across her pretty face.
Because I fucking missed you.
He’d met his angel in the middle of hell. She’d been held captive, tortured by a madman named Simon Lorne. Simon had been fixated on one twisted goal—bringing his dead wife back to life. That bastard had captured Lila and kept her caged for far too long. Then he’d used his knife on her. He’d cut into her wings, determined to use her magic in order to somehow resurrect the dead.
Rayce had found Lila in that hell-hole. He’d helped her to escape but then…Then she escaped from me, too. She left me, and I need her back.
Because the angel had marked him, and Rayce was very afraid that mark went soul-deep.
“Don’t think we got introductions before,” he murmured. “I’m Rayce.” No, there had been no time for formal introductions. There had only been terror. Danger. And then she’d been gone.
“I…know you.” Her eyes widened even more. “I’m Lila—” But her words ended in a scream because Lila had just been jerked back, hard and fast. She seemed to tumble down the stairs even as he roared her name in fury.
Because, yes, he knew her name. He’d tried to learn every fucking thing he could about her since their first desperate meeting. Obsessed? Hell, yes, he was.
And he also wasn’t about to let someone take his prey. He bounded down the stairs after her, his claws still out and his fangs bursting in his mouth. Lila was at the bottom of those stairs, fighting against the two men who’d grabbed her. Her hood fell back, revealing the dark red of her hair even as one of those bastards shoved a knife at her throat.
Oh, hello, fool. Did you just ask for death? A growl broke from Rayce’s throat as he charged down those stairs.
The men holding Lila froze. One was tall and thin with a shaved head. The other was broad and muscled, with dark hair and meaty hands. The dark-haired bastard was holding tightly to Lila and one thick hand had a knife at her throat. “This doesn’t concern you, asshole,” he spat at Rayce. “Get back up the stairs and walk away while you still have the chance.”
Rayce’s gaze slid to Lila’s face. She was afraid. He hated that. Her scent changed when she was frightened. Not so sweet. Not so tempting. And he didn’t like the scent of fear on her. “I’m afraid you’re mistaken.”
The guy with the shaved head put some kind of half-eye glass thing up to his right eye and peered at Rayce. Then the fellow swore and started backing up.
“The woman you’re holding very much concerns me,” Rayce continued. He lifted his hands and let the two men see the claws that had broken from his fingertips. “Because she’s mine.”
The thin guy with the eye glass shouted, “He’s a werewolf! I see his beast! Leave her—let’s get the hell out of here!”
Then the dick with the knife was shoving Lila at Rayce. Shoving her and cutting her in the same instance. Lila gave a sharp cry of pain as she stumbled into Rayce’s arms. He caught her and held her tight even as fury burned in his blood. The bastard cut her. He cut her.
“You’re okay,” he said, trying to make his voice soft for her and absolutely failing. His words were guttural, more animal than man, and the hands that held her were too hard. But he made sure his claws didn’t so much as nick her skin as he tilted up her chin, wanting a better view of her neck and the damage that had been done to her.
Not too deep. But he hurt her.
So the guy was a dead man. Done deal. Rayce didn’t normally kill humans, but when a human attacked an angel…
Death wish granted.
“Stay here, Lila,” Rayce ordered her.
She blinked those incredibly, absolutely unearthly eyes at him.
“I have two SOBs to kill.” Then he smiled at her. “Don’t worry, it won’t take long.”
He could hear their footsteps racing away. The men thought they could flee through a back door? Ha. They needed to think again. He bounded after them.
“No, wait!” Lila cried out. “I—”
He wasn’t going to let those bastards get away. Hell, no. He surged through that narrow room and saw their exit door, still gaping open. Rayce shot through it and heard the ragged breathing of the idiots who thought they’d get away after hurting an angel.
Another narrow flight of stairs led up and he jumped up them and was then racing into the cold night. Flecks of snow fell down on him. The men were fleeing toward a battered pick-up truck. The one who’d used the knife on Lila was at the passenger side door, fumbling to get it open.
Rayce grabbed him and with one hand, he tossed that worthless piece of waste fifteen feet. The guy’s body slammed into the side of the low-rent bar as he screeched in pain.
Rayce rolled back his shoulders and closed in on the screeching fool. “You think it’s fun to cut a woman’s throat?”
The guy frantically shook his head. He’d risen to his feet, and he still clutched the knife in his hand.
Rayce heard the truck engine growling behind him. Oh, the other guy thought he could get away from the scene? Not happening. Rayce turned back toward the truck. The tail lights were flashing. He lunged forward and grabbed the bumper just as the driver tried to fly forward. The guy obviously hadn’t counted on a werewolf’s strength. Rayce lifted up the back of the truck and the two rear wheels spun in the air.
“Freak!” An angry shout from the jerk who’d cut Lila. Only that human—
Shit. He just stabbed me!
Rayce felt the knife slide into his back. And the wound burned because the tricky sonofabitch was using a silver blade.
“Bet you don’t like that, do you?” the man taunted. “Got plenty more for you…” He withdrew the knife, only to plunge it into Rayce again. Rayce had no choice. He had to let the truck go so he could defend himself. He dropped his hold on the bumper and whirled to confront the fool stabbing at him.
The knife was coming for him once more. Rayce caught the guy’s wrist in his hand.
“Know it makes you weak…know all your weaknesses…” the man gritted out as spittle flew from his mouth. “Gonna kill you…then I’ll go back…take all those feathers from her…”
So the guy knew exactly what Lila really was. “You won’t touch her,” Rayce swore and he shoved the man’s wrist back—his wrist and the knife—and it sank into the human’s chest. The guy gave a garbled cry. His eyes widened and the blood rushed to soak his shirt-front.
Rayce let the bastard fall. His body twitched and—
“What did you do?”
His head snapped up. Lila was there, standing just a few feet away. Her hood was still thrown back, and he could see the snowflakes that had landed in her red hair.
She crept forward and her gaze fell to the man on the ground. The man who wasn’t breathing any longer.
“You…killed him,” she whispered.
Rayce’s blood soaked his back. “He was having too much fun shoving his knife into my back. The dumbass thought he’d take me out.” Rayce shook his head. “Not happening.” He stepped toward her, wanting to look at her throat again, but Lila flinched and hurriedly moved away from him.
“You…you’re a killer. You have…you have blood on your hands.”
He glanced down. Sure the fuck-enough, he had the guy’s blood on his hands.
“I thought…I thought you were something else,” she said in that soft voice of hers—soft and sexy, it was the voice that had filled his dreams. Only in his dreams, she’d been saying something one hell of a lot different.
And she hadn’t been looking at me as if I were the monster.
In the distance, Rayce could hear the screech of tires. The driver had gotten away. But I have your scent. I’ll be finding you.
“Did you have to kill him?”
“He wanted to slice off your fucking wings.” Each word was savage with fury. The first time Rayce had ever seen Lila, back when she’d been held by Simon, her body had been bloody. He’d hated the sight of her pain. “Not happening.”
Lila backed away. She looked terrified, as if she’d cut and run at any moment.
As if he’d let her get away again.
Shit. I need to calm the hell down. I’m the one scaring her. “Lila…”
Her chin jerked up.
“You’re still bleeding.” Should she have healed from the wound already? There was so much he didn’t know about angels. So much no one knew. They didn’t exactly mix and mingle with the other paranormals very much. “Let me help you.”
But she shook her head. Her hands twisted in front of her. “You think…I’m yours.”
His heart stilled in his chest.
“I…I heard what you said, but I’m…I’m not. I don’t even know you.”
You will. He swallowed and tried to tread very, very carefully. “I was sent to find you.”
Fear had made her stutter. What could he do to make her not fear him? But then, his gaze dropped to the ground. Oh, right. He was standing over the body of a dead man. A man he’d just killed. That wasn’t exactly going to inspire warm and sweet feelings from her. “I did it for you.”
His head lifted and his gaze met hers. “I’ll protect you. You can trust me.”
But once more, she shook her head. “I don’t think so…you’re…you’re one of Luke’s, aren’t you? You’re dark.”
He was one of the darkest of the dark, the baddest of the bad, and still…he would not hurt her. “The driver got away. Tall, thin, with skin that made him look like the dead—he got away and he knows what you are.”
Her gaze jerked to the left—to the dark parking lot. The humans had cleared out fast after the brawl. Typical. He’d have to be leaving soon, too. Someone might have called the cops.
Someone…like the bartender he’d left inside of Maverick’s.
“What in the hell were you doing with him, angel?”
She backed up another step. “I had to make a trade.”
Uh, oh. His gut tightened. Rayce knew he wasn’t going to like this. “What did you trade?’
“The only thing of value I have.” She lifted her hand and rubbed tiredly at her temple. “I think…I’m being hunted.”
Yes, she was…and I found you.
“But not just by you.”
Wait, she’d known he was after her? And she’d kept running?
“I can feel the danger all around me.” Her gaze held his. “And I see it.”
Shit—she thought he was dangerous. “I can help you.”
“No, you can’t.” She pointed to the dead man. “I saw what you did. I see…what you are.”
Oh, hell. “Lila…” This wasn’t some kind of debate. He was there for her. He wasn’t leaving without her. “Luke Thorne wants you at his island. I need you to come with me.”
She shook her head.
“It isn’t exactly an invitation,” he growled. He was trying to be the nice guy. Did she not get that? Or did he just really suck at the nice guy role? “When the Lord of the Dark says he wants to see you…most folks go running.”
But she lifted up her slightly pointed chin once again. “I don’t answer to Luke Thorne. I’m not one of his.”
His hand flew out and wrapped around her wrist—a damn delicate wrist. Too breakable. I’ll have to be careful with her. “No, that’s right. You answer to the one who pretends to be good, right? You answer to Leo…” The Lord of the Light. Luke and Leo were twins, fucking all-powerful beings. Luke had been tasked with overseeing all of the dark paranormals, the “bad” ones, while Leo and his self-righteous ass had been given the job of protecting the “good” paranormals…the ones who walked in light.
Too bad Leo was really just a bastard who had no concept of good or bad.
Rayce’s thumb stroked along her inner wrist. He felt her pulse race beneath his touch. He stepped even closer to her and murmured, “How’s that working out for you, sweetheart? Trusting Leo? Relying on him? Because, unless I’m very mistaken, wasn’t he the one responsible for you being tortured and held prisoner for so long by Simon Lorne?”
Her lips trembled. Shit, his words had hurt her. He hadn’t meant—
“He sold me out,” she said, her voice the softest of breaths. “I won’t ever trust Leo again.”
Okay, that was good. That was—
“I won’t ever trust anyone again. Not Leo, not Luke…and not you.” She yanked her hand back from him and then, before he could stop her, she’d tossed her thick coat to the ground. Her wings spread out behind her—dark wings. Freaking gorgeous. And then she was surging straight up into the sky as her wings sent a burst of wind back at him. The powerful wind shoved Rayce to his knees.
“Lila!” Rayce roared.
But she didn’t stop. His angel flew away, leaving him there with the dead man. As he watched her fly, Rayce’s eyes narrowed. His nostrils flared.
You aren’t getting away.
And he let the shift sweep over him. His hands slammed down onto the broken cement. A howl ripped from his throat as fur burst along his body and his bones began to snap.
She would not escape.
He would track her…anywhere she went.
Moments later, the man he’d been was gone. The wolf gave chase.