The home was surrounded by trees and shrubbery which was probably for privacy, but it could be a very good thing for Nikan. If he needed to sneak in, he’d have a decent amount of cover.

Crossing the street, he kept his walk casual, but was hyperaware of his surroundings. He didn’t see any curtains in windows fluttering or blinds sliding up from neighbors’ houses. More important he didn’t hear any concerned voices or conversations. Normally he could tune out his extrasensory abilities, especially when it came to overhearing human conversations, but now he centered himself and focused on listening to the people in the surrounding area. With the fences and giant oak trees in so many of the front yards, he had a lot of cover.

The nearer he got to the Victorian home, the more he focused specifically on it.

“Don’t pull my arm so hard, you’re hurting me,” a slightly slurred female voice said.

“Quit complaining and sit down.” Definitely Marco Moretti.

Nikan glanced back at a street sign, then looked at the numbers in front of the house. This place wasn’t listed as their property and it wasn’t the address on his brother’s license. A siren sounded in the distance, momentarily distracting him. Straining, he forced himself to focus.

“When am I going to get to see Antoine?”

“In a couple hours you two are going to be reunited.” The shifter laughed, the sound harsh.

Reunited. That didn’t sound good. He didn’t hear anyone else inside. For a fraction of a second he contemplated calling Thabit, but didn’t bother. Nikan could handle one shifter on his own. Especially one as young as Marco Moretti.

From the direction of the voices he could only guess, but it sounded like they were near the front of the house.

Right now Nikan had the victim practically in his sights. He couldn’t walk away or wait for backup. Not when she was so close. And he didn’t want to call Esperanze. Keeping her as far away from this danger as possible was the most important thing.

His phone buzzed in his pocket. Glancing at the ID he saw Esperanze’s name. Cringing, he silenced the call then turned off his phone. She would be pissed, but better that than having her show up and put herself in harm’s way.

He was doing this now.

Using the overgrown bushes and trees as cover, he used his supernatural speed to make it to the side of the house. Slat blinds covered one of the windows but there was enough space at the edge of the window that he could see into a living room. Couches, a television and a few pieces of furniture, but otherwise empty.

The distinctive lemon scent was getting stronger though. At his age, Nikan had honed his skills enough to decipher out scents and sounds. Nikan just hoped Marco Moretti wasn’t as advanced and wouldn’t scent him coming. Considering the shifter was only thirty, he’d have another thirty years before he should be able to completely distinguish sounds and scents to the point where he’d be a decent hunter. Too bad he probably wasn’t going to live that long.

Large bushes blocked Nikan’s movements from the house next door as he inched farther along the wall of the house. Stopping at another window, he peered inside. A dark haired woman with bronze skin and obvious Indian heritage sat at a kitchen table, her hands loosely tied in front of her. The binding had been done quickly, probably because the shifters didn’t view her as a threat or think she’d try to escape. Or she might have been drugged considering the way she’d sounded earlier.

Moving a fraction to the right, he caught sight of Marco Moretti by the kitchen washing his hands. There was enough distance between the woman and Marco that Nikan could take him by surprise.

Before he had time to second-guess himself, he stripped out of his clothes, sprinted across the driveway and part of the yard until he was at the line of bushes. Taking a deep breath he underwent the change. Bones broke, realigned and hurt with a vengeance. Black fur sprouted where skin had been, covering him as his wolf took over. The change was always abrupt and painful, but then a rush of euphoria engulfed him. Using all his strength, he raced back the way he’d come then launched himself through the window.

Not subtle, but he needed the element of surprise. Glass and the wood frame splintered around him, shards flying everywhere as he crashed into the kitchen. The blinds were roughly tossed to the tile floor.

The woman screamed, diving out of her chair and away from him. Good. He didn’t want her in the way.

Marco had turned at the initial crash and hadn’t wasted time shifting into his wolf form. Slightly smaller and a little more wiry than Nikan, the light brown and white wolf growled in front of him on all fours, his clothes and shoes shredded on the floor.

Nikan bared his lengthened canines, growling at the other animal. Marco growled back and swiped at the air in front of him with a forepaw.

Circling to the right, Nikan kept his movements slow and measured, hoping the closer he moved toward the woman, she’d take the hint and run out behind him now that he was between her and Marco. When he heard her feet shuffling against the floor and farther away from them, he let his beast go. These bastards had taken an innocent woman for pure profit. Not to mention they were risking vamp and shifter relations. He felt no guilt attacking Marco Moretti.

Snarling, he lunged but kept his head down to protect his throat. It took a lot to kill a shifter. Beheading was one way. Ripping out the heart was the other. Both hard to do because no shifter was going to stay still and let someone kill them.

As he flew toward Marco, he felt the other shifter’s claws dig into his shoulders then swipe down his back. Pain registered but adrenaline was rapidly pumping through him. And Nikan didn’t mind a little blood loss. Not when he could go for the killing blow. Swiveling his head back up, he crunched down on the back of other wolf’s neck.

Howling, Marco jerked back, pulling out of Nikan’s hold. Cursing himself that he hadn’t gotten a better grip the first time, Nikan pounced, refusing to let this drag out longer than it had to.

Swiping out with his claws, he sliced open Marco’s face. Another howl emitted from the shifter, but Nikan didn’t pause in his attack. He kept swiping and clawing until he had the wolf on the ground. Blood pooled all around them, spreading across the tile floor in a dark crimson. His wolf was in control now, doing what was necessary.

Without pause, he bit down, finishing what he’d started moments before. Cutting through tendon and muscle, he didn’t stop until Marco’s head was lying in a bloody heap next to his body.

At the sound of a terrified gasp, he turned to find the dark-haired woman standing in the entryway, her face pale as she tugged the remainder of the bindings off using her teeth. Why hadn’t she run away? Before he could contemplate that, a very familiar scent drew his attention toward the broken window. Looking over he saw Esperanze peeking inside with wide eyes at the destruction and carnage.

“You couldn’t have waited for me?” She started to grab the edge of the window as if to pull herself through, but there were too many glass points sticking out.

He growled at her then shifted back to his human form. Uncaring about the blood or his nudity, he shook his head. “Don’t. I’ll open the back door.”

“Who are you people?” the woman finally asked.

“We’re friends of Antoine, here to save you,” Nikan said without turning toward her as he opened the back door.

Esperanze looked him over, her eyes filled with worry. She reached out as though needing to touch him, but pulled her hand back. “Are you injured? I don’t want to hurt you more.” Biting her bottom lip, she met his gaze. A light sheen of wetness glistened there and it took him a moment to realize it was unshed tears.

“Essie, I’m fine.” Disregarding the blood on his hands and torso, he pulled her into a tight hug. His back had been slashed but as a warrior, he was already healing. In the next hour he’d be completely fine.

“You didn’t answer your phone and I got worried.” Her arms went around him without pause. A small shudder sped through her.

“How’d you find me?” he murmured against her hair, soaking up her sweet honeysuckle scent.

“You’re not the only one who can track. I followed your stupid scent,” she said.

He pulled back a fraction, but didn’t lessen his hold. “Stupid?”

“Yes, right now I’m mad at you for making me worry so it’s stupid.” She sniffled lightly, making his guilt skyrocket, but it was tempered with the knowledge that she truly cared about him. She wouldn’t be crying on his chest if she didn’t. There hadn’t been time to answer her call and they had other things to deal with at the moment.

“We’ll talk later.” Releasing his hold, he turned to face Chandra, who still stood in the doorway. “Is this where they’ve been holding you the entire time?”

Clearly avoiding looking at the dead body, she nodded and pointed at what he guessed was a pantry door. “That leads to a basement. It’s not dingy or anything. I had a television, my own bathroom and a mini fridge, but they kept me locked in there almost 24/7.”

“Did they . . . do you need medical attention right now?” He wasn’t sure how to phrase what he wanted to ask.

Chandra frowned, then her expression cleared as she shook her head. “They didn’t assault me or anything.” She looked down at Marco’s dead body and shuddered. “Don’t get me wrong, they’re both assholes and I’m not sorry he’s dead, but, no, I don’t need medical attention. . . . Where’s the other one?”

Instead of answering he looked down at Esperanze. “Will you grab my phone and clothes? I left them—”

She nodded quickly. “I saw them outside.”

As she disappeared out the backdoor, he turned to Chandra who was purposefully avoiding his gaze. Cringing, he looked around and grabbed a hand towel. Trying to cover himself with it, he held it up against his groin. “The other one is with Antoine right now. I need to call a colleague of mine and let him know you’re safe.”

“Shouldn’t we call the police?”