Avengers heat, p.6
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       Avenger's Heat, p.6

         Part #4 of Moon Shifter series by Katie Reus

  Despite the reality of what they were on their way to see, a ghost of a smile tugged at the corner of his lips. She was so stubborn. Knowing it was a useless argument, he got in on the passenger side of the car.

  “So, you get any sleep?” he asked as she steered away from the house.

  Swallowing hard, she gave him a haunted look. It was just for an instant; then her eyes were guarded again as she shook her head. “No, I . . . had a dream about the day you found me.”

  Holy shit. Erin never talked about that day. Ever. And she rarely showed any weakness. By admitting she’d had a dream—or more likely nightmare—about that dark day, she was basically doing that. “I’m sorry, Erin.” He didn’t know what else to say and felt like a jackass with the meaningless apology.

  “Don’t be,” she said quietly, the words almost a sigh. “You were there, right before I woke up. Your face is never clear in my dreams, but your presence is. I’m . . . glad you’re here for this case, Noah.” It sounded as if it almost pained her to admit that.

  But he’d needed to hear the words. Needed to know she actually did want him in her life. Because he sure as hell needed her.

  After that the drive was quiet, neither saying much. Under normal circumstances he’d be tempted to flirt with her a little, especially after that kiss a couple of hours ago. Not now. Not when she had shadows under her eyes, which he figured were because of the case and the nightmare she’d had. And soon enough they’d be dealing with the death of one of their own kind.

  The Colbys were humans who lived out in the swamp. Their family had owned the property for close to a hundred and fifty years and they’d known about the existence of shifters and vampires long before the rest of the world had. It wasn’t deep swamp country so the trip took about twenty minutes from the city. The only lights out that far away from civilization were a brilliant splash of stars and the almost full moon.

  Once they’d turned off the highway and onto the dirt road/driveway where he directed her, Erin dimmed the headlights down to the parking lights and didn’t stop until they pulled up to a two-story logcabin-style home. It looked as if it had been recently built—or more likely rebuilt—making Noah guess they’d been hit bad years ago by Hurricane Katrina.

  Erin grabbed a small backpack from the backseat and slid the straps over her shoulders after they stepped out of the car. Noah’s father was there to meet them with Lionel Colby, a gray-haired former marine who’d been in Vietnam.

  Lionel nodded once at Noah, the action curt. “Been a long time. You look good, son.”

  Noah nodded back. “You too, sir.” He was actually older than Lionel by about two, maybe three decades, but he’d always called this human sir. Noah motioned to Erin. “This is Erin Flynn.”

  Erin held out her hand and shook Lionel’s once before looking at Angus. “Where’s the female?”

  Angus almost looked surprised for a moment, then jerked a thumb behind him. “This way.”

  Noah knew Erin’s question seemed harsh, but he understood her. Understood that she didn’t want to make small talk with the human or Angus when she needed to be doing her job. It was just the way she was hardwired.

  Lionel stayed back, saying he didn’t want to go too far from his sleeping wife, while they trekked down a heavily trodden dirt path. Cypress and cedar trees surrounded them. That cedar scent was so similar to Erin’s own natural smell it almost stopped Noah in his tracks. She had a sweet magnolia aroma that always surrounded her, but underneath it was cedar. Just like with Jayce. Noah hadn’t asked but he figured it had something to do with her being an enforcer like the other wolf.

  About fifty yards down from the house, near the marshy bank, a female body had washed up and was stuck between two logs. The moonlight bathed her body in perfect illumination. Her clothes had been shredded in places, probably getting caught on debris traveling down the river. Her body was bloated, but even so it was obvious she’d been very pregnant when she died. Her distended belly was even more so—Noah hardened his jaw and looked away.

  Seeing any female like this made his wolf want to kill. He caught his father’s gaze and saw the same rage lurking beneath the surface. As Alpha, it was in his father’s blood to protect. That need was a living, breathing thing for good Alphas and right now Noah could see his father’s wolf wanted blood.

  “We haven’t touched the body,” Angus said quietly as he turned to look at Erin. “Knew you’d want the scene undisturbed.”

  “Did you call anyone else? Tell anyone else about this?” she asked.

  Angus shook his head. “Not even my mate knows.”

  “Good, let’s keep it that way. Does your friend Lionel know this is to be kept under wraps?”

  Angus paused for a moment. “He should, but I’ll make sure. Meet me back at the house when you’re done.”

  Erin turned away from him to get to work, then stopped him before he’d taken more than a few steps. “Angus, I don’t mean to be a ballbuster or anything, but anytime anything happens in this case I need you to call me first, not Noah. Not anyone. I understand this is your territory and that people will be contacting you with anything out of the ordinary—like tonight—and I’m very grateful you have such a pulse on this community and are willing to help. I just—”

  Angus cut her off. “Not a problem.”

  It was subtle, but Noah watched as Erin breathed out a soft sigh of relief. “Thank you.”

  Nodding, Angus left and Noah watched as Erin took off her backpack. She pulled out a small kit then handed her pack to him. “Would you mind?”

  Shaking his head, he took it. “What are you going to do?”

  Bending down, she tucked her pants into her knee-high boots before wading into the thick mud. Hooking her pack over his shoulder, he followed suit. His boots made sucking sounds each step they took toward Kaigen D’Amico.

  “Take pictures of the area, check under her fingernails for any DNA, see if there’s anything other than her that doesn’t belong in this picture. We’re going to need to call local law enforcement soon. They’ll have more resources and be able to look for more evidence, but it’s better if we have the first crack at this scene to check for scent . . . though I don’t smell anything other than normal swamp and forest smells . . . and her death.” She knelt down by the body and gently took the dead woman’s hand.

  Yeah, Noah smelled the decaying body too. Had been trying to ignore it from the moment they’d arrived at the scene. “They probably dumped her somewhere upriver, maybe thought the gators would dispose of her body or—”

  He stopped when Erin sucked in a sharp breath. “I don’t think that’s it. I think she was buried just like Meli. Look at this—her clothes and arms are caked with dark soil, as if she was buried. But it looks like someone dug her back up.”

  Noah frowned, moving closer and bending down next to her. “Why would anyone do that?”

  Erin held out the woman’s arm and turned it slightly over. She wiped away more of the dirt, leaving streaks along the woman’s lifeless limb, but revealing nasty bite marks. “To feed on her like fucking scavengers,” she bit out.

  After Erin wiped her arm nearly clean, Noah stared at the bite marks covering her exposed arm. He had a feeling they’d find more on her body. “Could be a feral vamp.”

  Erin looked over her shoulder at him in surprise. “What? Vamps can’t go feral . . . can they?”

  “Not feral like our kind, but I don’t know another word for it. I’ve seen it happen before to those who shouldn’t have been turned in the first place. They feed on anything, including the dead. It’s just a guess though. I can’t imagine another creature feeding like this.”

  Shaking her head, Erin looked back at Kaigen’s lifeless, bloated body and sighed. She took out her cell phone and began snapping pictures, though he could see it pained her to do so. “I’ve got a digital camera in my pack, will you grab it too?” she asked as she shoved her phone into her jacket pocket.

  As she took more pi
ctures she began talking. “You know, the Rolling Stones were my mom’s favorite band.”

  At first he didn’t realize why she was telling him, then he made out a couple of the letters on the long black, ripped T-shirt covering most of the woman’s belly. The Rolling Stones.

  “She used to sing my baby sister and me their songs at night before going to sleep. Well, anything by them or the Beatles. So many of my memories have faded over the last few decades, but I remember some so clearly.” Her voice broke on the last word as she stared down at the body. “This never should have happened,” she whispered almost to herself.

  Noah gently grasped her shoulder, knowing she wouldn’t want more and knowing it wasn’t the place to comfort her anyway. Surprising the hell out of him, Erin reached up and placed her hand over his, but didn’t turn around. The action was so small, but it touched him that she was accepting his comfort. Finally.

  He wanted to say something, anything, but froze when he sensed intruders. There was a new, foreign scent in the air that didn’t belong. At the same time, Erin stiffened. Slowly, she withdrew her hand and he heard the soft buzz of her unzipping her jacket.

  As she withdrew her blades whisper quiet, he turned, scanning the area, but didn’t see anyone. Didn’t mean they weren’t out there. Moving out of the swampy embankment, he quickly stripped out of his clothes and shifted form. As a wolf his senses were more attuned to his surroundings.

  He spotted two eyes in the trees to the west. In this form they almost appeared to be glowing and he could see the heat signature of the individual was much lower than his or even a human’s. Not all shifters had the ability to see heat signatures, but it was one of his rare gifts. A familial trait he’d gotten from his father. Right now, he saw a vampire.

  Growling low, he took a step forward, knowing Erin was directly next to him. The individual turned and ran deeper into the woods.

  Hell no.

  He looked up at Erin. Using hand signals, she motioned that they should follow. He nodded and ran ahead of her. He didn’t care that it would infuriate her. She might be an enforcer and working this case, but she was still his to protect.

  Using his speed and animal grace, he was practically silent as he raced through the woods. Jumping over fallen branches and leaves, he was thankful for his night vision. Behind him, he barely heard Erin moving. Even in her human form she moved so damn fast it was like she was practically flying, her feet barely touching the ground.

  A distinctive, almost cinnamon and mango scent teased his nose as they ran right into a small clearing and found themselves surrounded by four vampires. Damn, they were as quiet as he and Erin were.

  They all wielded short blades similar to the two Erin always carried and now held expertly in her grip. If he’d been in human form, he’d have cursed.

  When one of the vampires sliced his blade through the air in a defensive gesture at them, Noah growled low in his throat and bared his canines to their full, intimidating length. Without having to look at Erin, he knew how they’d do this. He’d fought alongside her before when their now-deceased neighboring pack Alpha thought he could attack their land. Of course then she’d been in wolf form, but the concept was the same.

  Turning so that his back was to her, he knew she’d done the same to him as they prepared for an attack. His hackles rose, an almost inaudible growl rumbling from his throat. Whatever happened, these fuckers weren’t going to hurt Erin.

  Chapter 4

  Erin had her back to Noah, but knew he’d provide cover no matter what happened. She could focus solely on the two vamps in front of her. A male and a female. They were both tall, blond, and looked like they might be of Nordic descent. At her brief glimpse of the other two vamps that Noah was facing off with, she’d seen they were both female. One very short, maybe five feet flat, with jet-black hair and bronzed skin. The other female was of average height and had midnight black skin, the whites of her eyes and teeth standing out starkly in the darkness. And they all looked ready to fight. Bodies tensed, they each held blades firmly in their hands.

  Erin might be new to her position as enforcer, but she wasn’t new to fighting. Some vampires were damn strong, but she was a lupine shifter and growing stronger every day now that she’d fully embraced who she was. Not to mention she’d been training with Jayce, a five-hundred-year-old scary bastard who knew more ways to kill someone than she could probably imagine.

  Of course there were only a few ways to kill vamps. But Erin hoped tonight didn’t come to that. She didn’t need to screw up the balance between supernatural beings in New Orleans by killing some vamps.

  “Try not to kill them,” she murmured to Noah, who only growled softly.

  The blond man to her right laughed, the harsh sound slicing through the eerily quiet night air. All the forest creatures had gone silent, knowing instinctively that bigger and deadlier predators were in their domain.

  “Don’t kill us?” He laughed again and lifted one of his blades higher. When he pulled it back as if to throw at her, she reacted.

  It was so instinctual she barely thought about it. Erin whipped one of her blades at his neck lightning quick. It sailed through the air with a swishing sound before embedding itself directly in the middle of his thick neck. There was no way that would kill him—death hadn’t been her intent. She just wanted him incapacitated.

  The man’s bright blue eyes widened, flashing to an amber glow then back to blue, as his knees hit the hard earth. With his free hand, he reached for his neck. He made a gurgling sound as blood spurted everywhere. Even though time seemed to stretch on for minutes, everything happened in milliseconds.

  The blond woman who reminded Erin of a Barbie doll let out a vicious shriek and lunged at her, blade raised. Okay then, maybe they’d have to kill them after all. Though she really didn’t want to.

  In her periphery, she watched the blond man slowly pull the knife from his neck and drop it as she dodged to the left. The female sailed past her, letting out another curse.

  “If I’d wanted to kill him I’d have nailed him in the heart.” A hard thing to do since targets usually didn’t stand still. Not to mention she’d have to remove the organ from his body afterward.

  The female didn’t respond. Just spun around to face Erin, her expression one of rage. Behind the female, Noah took on the other two females. Erin tried not to cringe as the black one sliced a blade across his ribs. He snarled, his head snapping to the right as he tore into the woman’s shoulder with his teeth. Yeah, he could definitely take care of himself and she didn’t need to be focusing on him. Not if she wanted both of them to survive. If he needed help, he’d let her know. “If you guys would all stop for a moment, we could talk!” she shouted, hoping at least one of them might stop.

  No such luck. The blond man got up and both he and the female rushed her. She took a few steps back and realized from their smug expression they thought she was running.

  Running backward, she covered a few more yards then jumped up using all the strength in her legs until she latched onto a tree branch. Fighting two vamps one-on-one had disadvantages and she was all about utilizing her surroundings. She’d learned early on that anything could be a weapon and there was no such thing as fighting fair.

  Gathering momentum, she swung back once, then let go, flying toward the man first since he was still healing. With her legs, she latched onto his shoulders and stabbed down hard into his back. She didn’t aim for the heart, but damn close. His fangs tore into one of her thighs as his claws did the same with her calves.

  She let out a hiss as she withdrew her blade then slammed it into the back of his neck this time, severing his C1 and C2 vertebrae—something she’d done in the past. It wouldn’t kill him since he was a vamp, but it would incapacitate him long enough to cut off his head if she wanted to. But she didn’t. If any of the vamps would stop attacking, maybe they could all talk. Erin wanted to know what the hell they were doing out in the woods near a dead shifter’s body and why they
’d run from her and Noah. “I don’t want to kill you!” she shouted.

  Before she could attempt to dislodge from him, strong arms wrapped around her, tackling her to the ground. The blond female screamed nonsensical words at her as she slashed at Erin’s neck with her short blade.

  Erin lifted her knees, throwing the woman off balance and making her land right in Erin’s face. Hauling back, she head-butted her in the nose. A completely human style of fighting she’d picked up and loved. It always took her opponents off guard. It wasn’t a lethal move, it usually just pissed people off while simultaneously surprising them.

  Using the precious few seconds she had, Erin twisted her entire body to the side, then swiveled back, slamming her elbow across the woman’s face. A crack rent the air as she made contact.

  The woman didn’t roll off her, but as she cried out, her head snapping back once again, Erin thrust her blade into the woman’s stomach and twisted. The woman’s green eyes widened as she stared down at her body in horror. Her claws unsheathed and she slashed Erin’s face, but Erin just twisted deeper then ripped upward. Her entire face felt like it was on fire as the pain exploded but she was so amped up on adrenaline, the agony just fueled her resolve to keep these vamps on the ground.

  She wasn’t going to kill her, but she was going to keep this female down.

  Sliding out from under the now-immobile female, Erin set her booted foot into the woman’s stomach and yanked her blade out. As she jumped to her feet, the male on the ground started twitching.

  “Son of a bitch,” she muttered. She’d hoped she’d have a few more minutes.

  Before attacking him again, she turned to find Noah tossing one of the vamps off his back with a snarl while another was running at him with a T-shirt that was almost completely ripped off. They were all covered in blood.

  Wanting to help him, she snatched up her other blade, but froze as an unfamiliar male voice tore through the air.

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