A scream ripped through the night, shattering the mood. Jaxon straightened with a gasp, disengaging himself from his date more abruptly than he intended, pushing her back. He listened, ignoring the hooker’s muttered protests. Another scream went through him like a bolt of electricity, the sheer terror in the female’s voice calling to something primal within him.
Quickly, he tucked his flagging erection into his jeans and zipped up, and then pulled Alexa to her feet. “I have to see about this. Go back to the hotel, where it’s safe.”
“Oh, come on,” she began, pouting. “It ain’t your problem. Let someone else deal with it.”
Spinning her around, he gave her a push toward the corner. “Go, now, and don’t follow me. I’ll call you.” In that moment, he knew he never would, but the reason eluded him.
Digging his iPhone from his jeans pocket, he took off at a jog, wincing at the stab of pain in his mangled leg. In human form he could walk with barely a limp, but more strenuous activity such as jogging, running, or sparring with his teammates still caused the injured limb a great deal of agony.
Ignoring the pain, he scented the air. Fear. The unknown woman’s panic clawed at his chest, more than a stranger’s should. He had to get to her, make sure she was all right. Following the scent, he slowed long enough to ring Zander. Thankfully, his friend answered right away.
“My hookup, Alexa. You’ve met her.”
“We went for a walk, but something’s going down and I had to send her back. She’s coming your way.” He gave Zan her location and the intersection he’d just passed.
“I’ll call the others and send them as backup. After I make sure she’s safe, I’ll head there myself. What’s going on?”
“Not sure, but I heard a woman scream twice.”
“Be there soon.”
“Thanks, man.” Ending the call, he stuffed the phone into his pocket again and picked up the pace. He didn’t understand this driving need to hurry, to get between this woman and whatever threat she faced. He ran full out, knowing by the sweet scent that must be hers that he was almost there. She was nearby.
His route took him farther from the Strip, across another parking lot and past more darkened buildings. Not an area where anyone should wander alone. What had brought the woman to such a desolate part of the city? He’d learn soon enough.
As he rounded another building, he spotted her. The woman whose scent would likely drive him mad if he had a few seconds to savor it. The petite blonde was struggling in the hold of a man in a dark suit, fighting like a rabid wildcat, biting, scratching, and kicking. A second man rose to his feet, gun in one hand, cupping his crotch with the other, and Jaxon felt a surge of pride knowing she’d put him on the ground. Then the first man slammed her against the side of a car and delivered a blow to her face that snapped her head back and made her cry out in pain and terror.
Tear out his fucking heart and feast on it while it beats.
Jaxon’s beast rose with a vengeance, burst from his skin without conscious thought. His roar shook the earth, brought the tableau before him to a complete standstill. He stripped off his shirt, was barely aware of the rest of his clothes falling away as skin became fur, muscles and bones contorting and reshaping, the usual pain little more than a whisper in his mind. Hands changed to paws, fingernails to claws, man to pure, raging gray wolf.
All zeroed in on the man who’d struck the small, pretty blonde.
The soldier in him knew the smart move would be to go for the man with the gun; the beast demanded blood from the one with his hands on her. The one who’d hit her.
The one who now let her go, twisted around to confront the new threat . . . and stared at him in horror. The predator in him felt a surge of satisfaction. His wolf wasn’t nearly as hampered by his leg injury as the man.
The wolf sped across the distance, leaped, and the man screamed, the last sound he’d ever make. His forepaws struck the bastard square in the chest, knocking him backward, into the side of the car. Off-balance, the man stumbled and fell, and Jaxon took him to the ground. Lunging, he went for the kill, snapped his jaws around the vulnerable neck, teeth sinking into flesh, through muscle and bone. The man’s scream ended in a rough gurgle, his hands grabbing desperately at the wolf’s fur, trying to dislodge him. To no avail.
The struggles weakened as blood filled the wolf’s mouth, rich and sweet, and he was hardly aware of the man’s companion shouting in terror. The beast longed to linger over his prize, to rip into the savory meat and take his fill. To howl his triumph over the man who’d dared to strike his—
A muffled pop and a searing pain in his shoulder brought him around snarling, his kill abandoned as he faced the remaining threat. This asshole had also wanted to harm the woman, and for that he was fucking dead. The wolf launched himself at the second man, who backpedaled with a yell, pointed the gun and fired again. His shot went wide, and Jaxon took him down as easily as he had the first goon, tearing out his throat. The urge to feed was strong, almost unbearable, now that they were no longer a threat to the woman.
Again, the scent of her invaded his senses. With the danger past, he let his limp prey drop from his jaws and finally took stock, letting the aroma of citrus and vanilla fill him, the crisp, clean essence of her imprinting on every cell of his being. A strange rush fired his blood, as though the man inside the beast had mainlined a load of coke, a comparison he could honestly make. A much younger, more reckless Jaxon had flirted with the edge of no return before he’d gotten his act together and joined the Marines.
Instinct told him that the effect of this woman’s scent had the potential to be twice as intoxicating as any drug, and much more dangerous to the man and to the wolf.
Turning, he saw her. Edging around the front of the dilapidated car with her hands on the hood, eyes wide with shock, trying to put the vehicle between them. The predator in him tensed, focused his attention solely on the woman, and he moved forward slowly. Began to stalk her—but not for the reason she might think.
She was slim and small, fine-boned, with a delicate face that was all angles and dominated by big sky blue eyes. Almost an elfin face, especially with the shoulder-length pale blond hair framing those sweet features. He doubted her head would reach his chin, and all things considered, she’d tuck against his chest and mold perfectly against his much bigger body.
And why the hell would he go all possessive over a woman he didn’t know? His irritation with himself emerged as a growl.
“N-nice puppy,” she stammered, stumbling as she kept moving backward, around the car. “Good puppy. Aren’t you p-pretty?”
The wolf snorted, which came out like a sneeze. He’d been called a lot of things, very few of them complimentary, and certainly never pretty. But from her? He could live with that.
She grabbed for the passenger door handle and tugged, only to find it locked on that side. Eyes round with fear, she stared at him, and he recognized the moment she realized she was trapped. There was nowhere to go, no escape.
The woman was his.
Kira stared at the . . . dog? Husky? Wolf?
No. She had not seen a pissed-off Rambo wannabe burst from the shadows, strip off his shirt, and turn into a big ball of fuzz. That image had to have been a product of her terrified, overwrought mind. But it had seemed so real. She blinked, studying the animal warily as it returned her regard.
The creature was huge, with creamy white fur tipped in black and gray around its face, ears, shoulders, and back. His eyes were a steely blue-gray and seemed to look straight into her soul. Despite the blood marring his coat on his right shoulder, he was beautiful.
And he’d easily ripped apart two grown men, one of them armed. Another glance at the gore confirmed that part was definitely no figment of her imagination.
He continued to advance on her, and she shrank against the passenger’s side of her Camry, heart hammering in her throat. She couldn’t outrun him if she tried, a fact reflected in those piercing eyes. They were eerily intelligent, almost daring her to try so he could enjoy the thrill of chasing her down.
“Nice puppy,” she crooned again, voice wobbling. Holding out a shaking hand, she tried a command. “Stay!” The beast stopped, cocked his head, an almost bemused expression on his canine face. “Good boy. Sit!”
Some of her fear began to ease and she wondered how well trained the animal was. Maybe he was someone’s guard dog that got lost? He’d certainly protected her from those bastards. “Roll over.”
At that, the creature’s form began to waver. Sort of reshape. She blinked rapidly, thinking there must be something wrong with her vision. But no, she was simply losing her mind after all, because fur retracted, became skin. Paws became hands and feet with very human limbs attached. Tufted black ears went away; the snout disappeared and was suddenly a regal nose.
And now a black-haired man crouched where the wolf had been seconds ago. A big, very naked man who unfolded his tall body and gazed down at her, one corner of his mouth quirking upward.
“I’ll do a lot of things on command,” he drawled lazily. “But I don’t roll over for anyone, sweetheart.”
Her brain fritzed. “I—I . . . you . . .” She trailed off helplessly, unable to form a coherent response.
Her eyes raked his body, and she thought he had to be about six-foot-four and more than two hundred pounds. He was pretty well ripped, his chest, long limbs, and torso sculpted with muscle. Thick, strong shoulders led to defined collarbones and a broad chest sprinkled with springy dark hair and graced by two bronzed male nipples. His right shoulder was marred by a bloody gouge, just stopping at the edge of a large tribal tattoo of gorgeous scrollwork that spilled over the deltoid area and ran down his arm. Did it extend down his back as well? There also appeared to be some sort of design worked into the swirls on his shoulder, but she didn’t pause to study it.
Her scrutiny drifted lower to his taut, ridged stomach, the dip of his hips. Skimmed down mile-long athletic legs. A network of scars twisted around his right thigh, knee, and calf, and she wondered how the terrible injury had happened, but it did nothing to detract from his physical potency. Inevitably, her attention settled at the apex of his thighs, to the proof that whatever else he might be, one hundred percent pure male stood before her now. A well-endowed man, even in repose, his impressive sex nestled in a neat thatch of curly dark hair.
A hysterical giggle escaped before she could stop it. Her wolf manscaped. How courteous, since he obviously didn’t have a problem with public nudity.
“See something amusing?”
The frown in his tone brought her head up and she studied his face for the first time. A single word whispered through her brain, made her shiver—lethal.
If she hadn’t already known he was seriously badass, his looks confirmed the impression. He was no modelperfect pretty boy. His spiky black hair seemed to defy gravity, somehow arranging itself into an artfully messy style that reminded her of tangled sheets. Dark brows were arched above a prominent nose and full mouth with lush lips. His ears each bore a piercing of a shiny black stud. His jaw was strong, dusky with a five o’clock shadow, and a soul patch graced his chin. Normally, she preferred men without facial hair, but on this guy? It fit him.
No, not pretty at all.
Raw. Stunning. Untamed.
He spoke, and it took her a second to realize he’d repeated the question. “No, not really. I was just thinking it’s so nice that you find time to stay well groomed. When you’re not tearing out people’s throats.” What am I saying? Shut up, idiot! “Are you going to do that to me?’Cause I gotta tell ya, I’m probably a little gamey. Really, really stringy and—”
“Relax,” he said, reaching out to caress her cheek. “I’m not going to hurt you. I heard you scream and I . . .” Suddenly he went rigid, staring deeply into her eyes. Lowering his hand, he grasped her wrist, his hold gentle but firm. His eyes glazed and he seemed to be looking beyond her somehow. Into her soul.
“What are you doing?” She tugged, trying to pull free, hyperaware of the warmth of his palm, his manly scent. A mix of fresh leaves, the outdoors, and sweat. God, he smelled good.
He shook his head, the weird moment broken. Just as quickly, his expression darkened, his mouth thinning in anger. “What are you hiding? Tell me what you stole from those bastards—the ones I killed to save your ass.”
The blood drained from her face. Oh, shit. Did he work for them, too? “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
His eyes were flinty. “Sure you do. Spill it.”
“Fuck, man. What happened here? Can’t leave you alone for a goddamned hour.”
Startled, Kira twisted and peered over the roof of her car to see two tall men—one redhead and one blond—step into the circle of light and eye the dead suits with grim expressions. The blond pushed a strand of silvery hair from his eyes and whistled.
“Shit. Cleanup on aisle six.” His voice held a note of humor, and his expression was kind as he looked up, spotting her. “Ran into a bit of trouble, huh?” So it was the pissed-off guy with the long, dark auburn hair who’d first spoken.
She nodded, windpipe shrinking to the size of a pinhole.
“Well, don’t worry, honey. We’ll take care of you,” he said gently.
Hours, make that days, of fear and worry caught up with her in a rush, and she was suddenly exhausted. The empathy from this stranger in the middle of all the chaos, not to mention the anger radiating from his two buddies, just about did her in. Tears stung her eyes and she struggled not to let them fall as her captor dragged her around the side of the car to meet his companions.
“Don’t look at them,” he ordered her, nodding toward the sprawled bodies.
Which, of course, made her look again. And almost get sick.
“For God’s sake, Law, put on some damned clothes before my eyes bleed,” the redhead growled.
“Yeah, well, it’s kinda hard not to lose the threads when we get furry, dickhead.”
Get furry. We?
Red cut her a sharp look. “She see you change?”
“Oh, fantastic. You do realize Sweet Thing is now our special guest?” At Red’s venomous glare, she pressed backward, into the man who’d come to her rescue. “We. Are. Fucked. Nick’s going to shred our asses.”
“For what?” A fourth man joined the party, jogging from the darkness. The dark-haired newcomer halted, scanning the scene. “Christ.”
“Trust me, it gets better,” Red informed him, curling his lip. He flicked a hand at Kira and the man—Law?—who now placed his body protectively between her and the others. “The fair damsel got herself into some shit. Our friend here got his hero goin’ on, wiped out the vermin, but oh, wait—the chick saw him do his White Fang impression. So now she goes with us, whereupon we can look forward to a reaming from the boss. That about right?” He snarled the question at Law.