Nikan briefly glanced at the other male then looked back at her and nodded politely, as if he was unsure why she was telling him. “Okay.”
“I want to drive,” she said as the elevator dinged and the doors whooshed open.
Now his eyebrows shot up. “What?”
“It’ll be easier if I drive. When we’re following Antoine there will be periods of time when we won’t see the vehicle and since we won’t know where they’re taking him we can’t use the navigator. This way I won’t have to shout out instructions if we get turned around. It will make things smoother.”
Thabit palmed a set of keys. “I’ll let you two figure this out and meet you at the entrance. I’m driving a black four-door sedan. Low key, shouldn’t draw attention.”
Nikan didn’t even glance at Thabit as he left, but kept his focus entirely on her. He gave her this look like he was trying to figure something out. Then he tossed her his keys. “If there’s any damage, you’re paying me back for the deposit.” The slight note of humor and his quick acquiescence took her off guard.
It also pleased her since she’d expected resistance. As an alpha warrior, he’d just let her know how much he valued her without saying a word. By letting her be in control of this situation, he’d made it clear that her beta status didn’t matter in his eyes. They were equals. Something warm blossomed in her chest, spreading throughout her entire body. Nikan was different from any alpha she’d ever known. Different from any man she’d ever known. She planned to tell him just that very soon.
As they headed for the rental, her boots clicked against the pavement. Turning, she started to respond when he gave her a look so hungry and lustful it took her off guard.
“Don’t think I’ve forgotten our conversation. No matter what happens with Antoine today, we will finish it.” His dark eyes flashed a shade darker and she knew it wasn’t a trick of the light.
Unable to find her voice, she nodded. She had no doubt they’d finish the conversation. Given what she had to say, things between them would change forever.
Nikan crouched low, peering down from the roof of the run-down two-story building he and Esperanze were on. Neglected duplexes and empty warehouses dotted the industrial area where crime had left its mark. The farther into this northeast neighborhood they’d driven, the more working girls and drug deals they’d seen—in broad daylight.
The abandoned building with boarded up windows and graffiti tags they were using as their lookout was thankfully uninhabited. He and Esperanze had decided to park beside it once they realized they were close to Antoine’s meeting place.
Thabit had chosen the building next to theirs so they weren’t all clustered together. Nikan had his hands-free earpiece in so they were able to easily communicate. He might not have liked the way the guy eyed Esperanze, but Connor had sent him. After they saved Antoine’s woman, he didn’t plan to stick around and grab a beer with the guy. He intended to get Esperanze alone as soon as possible so they could figure out what was going on between the two of them.
Across the street behind a dilapidated chain link fence with huge chunks cut out of it, a flashy black Mercedes had been idling for the past ten minutes in front of a ramshackle warehouse. Though they couldn’t see past the tinted windows, Nikan was sure the Moretti brothers were inside since it was the scheduled meet place. And they’d been early.
“I see him,” Esperanze whispered next to Nikan. Crouching down in the same position as him, her leg was lined up against his as she peered over the building. She passed him the binoculars Thabit had let them borrow.
He could see well without them, but took them anyway. Antoine was pulling up in his gray Land Rover. As he stepped out of the vehicle, he started to glance around, then caught himself. Nikan only hoped whoever was inside the car hadn’t noticed.
A moment later, the driver and passenger door opened and the two men from earlier stepped out. Before they’d even spoke to each other, Marco, the one Nikan had knocked out, punched Antoine in the stomach, then in the face.
Esperanze let out a hiss and Nikan instinctively rested a hand on her knee. Energy hummed through her, but she didn’t make a move. There was nothing any of them could do.
“They’re probably still angry at him for our appearance this morning and they might be testing to see if he brought backup,” he said.
Her mouth was a grim line. “I know, but I hate seeing him get beat up.”
“He’ll heal,” Nikan said softly, knowing it wouldn’t make a difference to Esperanze. With each punch, she tensed underneath his fingers.
After a few minutes, they stopped abusing him and practically dragged him to the car. They shoved him into the back. Then Marco slid into the front seat of Antoine’s Land Rover while Gregorio got back in their own vehicle.
His packmate Ryan had sent what he could dig up on their financials on the drive over and it looked like for the last six months the two brothers had been making sizable deposits into a couple offshore accounts. Since Antoine had only been doing this the past few weeks, Nikan figured they’d had other victims before him. They probably picked the weakest vampires they could find or those who had something to lose like Antoine, then used them up until they killed them.
“Come on.” Nikan squeezed Esperanze’s knee before they raced across the roof toward the door that led downstairs.
“I’m already in my vehicle. They’re turning north on New York Avenue. Tell Esperanze to drive parallel to it from the east and if they turn in your direction I’ll keep going straight,” Thabit’s voice streamed through his earpiece.
“Did you hear that?” he asked Esperanze as they slid into the rental.
“Yep.” She zoomed away from the old building, her hands clasped tightly on the wheel and her jaw firmly set.
Minutes later, Thabit told them the Mercedes was heading their way and the Land Rover was following. Nikan was impressed as Esperanze fell in behind the cars, but made sure to keep a couple cars in between them. He kept Thabit apprised of their position and once they’d been following the Moretti brothers for five minutes, they turned off and let Thabit take over.
It took some slick driving, but Esperanze hadn’t been exaggerating. She’d definitely memorized the layout of the city.
“Damn, woman, I’m getting turned on watching you drive like this,” he said, loving seeing this side to his sweet, beta female.
Esperanze grinned even as her cheeks flushed red. When Thabit reminded them that he could hear them, they darkened even more.
After that Nikan forced his gaze to the road in front of them. When they started heading deeper into the downtown historic district, the Land Rover and Mercedes split up.
As Thabit relayed the information to them, Nikan had a split second decision to make. “Can you keep up with the Land Rover?” he asked Esperanze.
She nodded. “I can try.”
“Thabit, stay with Antoine, see where he’s headed. We’ll follow the other guy.”
“Will do. I’ll call you back once we reach a destination.”
As they disconnected, Esperanze took a sharp turn, running through a yellow light as she turned down a street parallel to the one Marco Moretti had turned down a block ahead of them.
“We’re headed into a pretty nice neighborhood,” she said.
Nikan nodded in agreement, keeping an eye out his window, watching the Land Rover move along next to them each time there was a break in buildings. As they pulled up to a light, he saw Marco turning to the right, away from them.
“He’s moving east,” he said.
After a quick glance to make sure they were clear, Esperanze gunned it and made another turn. Weaving in and out of vehicles, she zipped along until they were only a few cars behind the Land Rover. It was hard not to be impressed with her. She was moving smoothly, but not drawing any attention to them.
When the other vehicle pulled down a narrow, brick paved street, Nikan went with his gut. “Keep going.”
“You sure?” Her fingers tightened on the wheel.
“Yeah, he’ll know if we’re following.” It was a very residential place. Nikan figured he wasn’t cutting through as a shortcut. “Turn here.” He motioned to the next street. As she did, he was already gripping the handle. “Pull in behind that van.”
She did as he said, but frowned when he slid out of the car. Before she could ask what he was doing, he said, “I’ve got his scent, I’m tracking him on foot from here. Stay put and I’ll call as soon as he stops.” If he stopped. Without waiting for a response, Nikan took off. Even in human form, he was a hell of a lot faster than humans. It might look odd for him to be sprinting through a quiet residential neighborhood, but it wasn’t against the law.
Right now they couldn’t afford to be seen. Luckily it was cold enough outside that there weren’t any moms pushing strollers or people out jogging. The biting wind rushed over him as his feet pounded against the sidewalk. He was moving so fast that if someone glanced out their window, they’d probably question if they’d seen anything at all. He’d prefer running in wolf form but that would definitely get him noticed.
The Moretti brother he was after had a distinctive lemon undertone that was part of his natural scent. Everyone had an odor that was unique to them and Nikan was homing in on this guy faster and faster. Historic homes, bare trees and cars parked on the cobblestone streets flew by him, but when he turned down another street he spotted the Land Rover moving in his direction.
Nikan slowed and ducked behind a parked truck with an extended cab. He could hear a few muffled voices in the near vicinity, meaning some people were in their homes, but it was a very quiet day on the streets.
Peering through the slightly darkened glass of the truck’s back window, he spotted Marco Moretti parking on the street then walking toward a two-story Victorian style home. He paused and glanced around, but it was a quick sweep. As he headed up the front steps, Nikan walked a little farther down the sidewalk to get a better view and watched as Marco slid a key in the front door then stepped inside.