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“We were packless.”

Packless? Kat looked at Erin, who just gave a quick shake of her head. Kat took that to mean she would explain later. Instead of asking all the questions she had, she held out a hand. “Give me your car keys. I’m driving you back to the ranch. We’ll follow Erin.”

For a moment it looked as if the young girl might argue, but instead she dug into the black satchel she had slung across her chest and slapped the keys in Kat’s hand as she strode past her to the car. “You can drive but I’m not listening to old people music.”

Old people? Kat shook her head as she slid into the front seat. Before she got in, Erin cursed under her breath.

Kat followed her line of sight to see two teenagers sauntering down the sidewalk. They were about a block away, but the sidewalk wasn’t crowded and their cocky demeanor was obvious even from where she stood.

“What is it?” Kat asked.

“I think those are the two shitheads who tried to throw a rock through December’s store window.”

“How can you tell?” December had told Kat what happened, but she hadn’t thought they’d been close enough to see who’d done it.

“Gut instinct . . . Plus I can scent them.” Without waiting for a response, Erin took off at a brisk pace in their direction.

The two boys, probably the same age as Leila, froze for a moment as they stared at Erin. They looked at each other, then ducked into the nearest store. A high-end art gallery. Erin didn’t even break stride. She continued walking and then stormed through the front door of the place.

“What’s she going to do?” Leila asked quietly.

“I have no idea.” That scared Kat a little. Erin was very contained and seemed to be in control of herself, but she’d been pretty pissed about what happened. This was a public place, and even if the guys were punks, they were still teenagers.

Less than a minute later the two boys practically ran from the store, with Erin a second behind them. As they sprinted in the other direction, she didn’t even glance over her shoulder at them; she just headed toward Kat and Leila.

Erin nodded at Kat and palmed her car keys. “See you at the ranch.”

Kat guessed she wasn’t going to find out what had happened anytime soon. She wanted to push the subject, but Erin was already getting in her own car, so Kat slid into the driver’s seat of Leila’s car. The new hostile tone from many of the locals had happened practically overnight.

It stunned Kat a little. Today at lunch she’d tried to ignore some of the heavy stares she’d felt at her back—and some outright angry ones. She’d thought about saying something, but December had seemed almost relaxed and Kat hadn’t wanted to upset her.

After she’d been questioned by the police she’d known that there would be some people who figured the cops weren’t doing their job or were trying to cover up shifter wrongdoing or something else equally ludicrous. Still, she hadn’t been prepared for downright hostility.

* * *

After an hour of driving, Jayce and Connor had finally reached their destination. They were sitting in front of a run-down two-story building with peeling, indecipherable red lettering on the outside wall. It wasn’t completely dilapidated, but there were some random spray paint tags and some of the windows had been knocked out. It was in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by overgrown grass and trees behind it. About a mile before they’d reached the place, they’d passed a couple of middle-class suburban neighborhoods, so it wasn’t that far from civilization.

They hadn’t quite reached the town that was the midpoint between Fontana and Winston-Salem, where they suspected someone was running vampire blood. This had probably been a factory of some type at one point that provided work for the neighboring town.

“I hear heartbeats,” Connor said quietly.

“Me too.” At least six. Before he could decide what their first move would be, a man wearing a down jacket, jeans, and boots walked out.

The man’s dark hair spiked with frosted blond tips and his swagger was cocky enough that it annoyed Jayce. Without hesitation, the man headed straight for Connor’s truck. Connor rolled down the window, and even though he looked relaxed, Jayce knew he was ready to strike if necessary.

“Who the hell are you?” the guy asked.

“We’re here to see Donny.” Jayce gave the name his friend Niko had given him.

The man—who looked more like a boy of eighteen or nineteen the closer Jayce inspected—stared at them for a long moment. “You two cops?”

“Do we look like fucking cops?” Jayce kept his voice bored but put some bite behind it.

He pointed at Jayce. “You can come in, but your friend stays.”

Jayce glanced at Connor and it looked like the Alpha was holding back a smile. As if keeping him outside would make him any less of a threat. Connor nodded once and Jayce got out.

“You have to leave your weapons,” Spiky Hair said before Jayce had shut the door.

Jayce glanced at him as he pulled his guns from their respective sheaths. “I’ll leave my guns but I’m bringing my blades.”

The guy snorted. “Blades against our guns? Suit yourself.”

Jayce shot Connor a covert look. The Alpha’s expression revealed the same thing he was feeling. This wasn’t an organized operation. Whoever these guys were, they weren’t high on the totem pole—probably low-level dealers. But they might be able to offer some information. Like a name. And that could lead to more names. Jayce planned to soon find out who the hell Ned Hartwig and that APL member had been so afraid of.

The moment they stepped through a rusty metal door with an EXIT sign above it, someone shoved a gun against Jayce’s head. Something he’d more or less expected.

The guy who’d entered with him made a move for his open jacket. “Did you really think we were going to let you walk in here with—”

With the speed of a shifter, Jayce kicked out at him, breaking his kneecap at the same time he swiveled and brought one of his blades up, slicing at the arm of the man wielding the gun. It dropped to the floor with a clatter. The guy he’d cut open cried out but tried to dive for his weapon.

Jayce slammed a fist across his jaw, then kicked him in the chest. He flew backward and crashed against a wall before collapsing in a motionless heap on the floor. Next to Jayce, Spiky Hair moaned in agony on the floor, clutching his leg. He hadn’t even tried to make a move for the gun that Jayce could see sheathed in a holster under his pant leg.

After divesting the guy of all his weapons and his wallet, Jayce pulled out the ID and looked at the name and address, then back at him. “That was just rude, Luis.” He injected a lot of power into the guy’s name.

“We didn’t . . . want to . . . kill you. Just make sure . . . you weren’t armed.” He struggled to speak through gasping breaths, his face contorted with pain.

“Whatever. Where’s your boss located in this building?” Since more people hadn’t stormed into the small front room Jayce had stepped into with Luis, he guessed they didn’t have video surveillance inside.

Luis pointed at the other door on the north side of the room. “Through there, up . . . stairs, make . . . left. Second door . . . on right.”

“Any video cameras on my way up?”

Clutching his leg, Luis shook his head in a jerky motion. His face was ashen and Jayce had no doubt he’d be passing out in the next couple of minutes. “Where are the cameras?” He’d seen two outside, so he wanted to gauge if this guy was being truthful. Lies had a disgusting metallic scent but fear and agony were pouring off this guy in waves, so it was almost impossible to sort anything else out.

“Two in front . . . two in back . . . connected to laptop . . . upstairs.”

The guy was being surprisingly helpful, so Jayce asked him why.

“Didn’t recognize you . . . at first. Don’t want to die.” The human’s head fell back and his entire body went limp as he passed out.

Great. Not wanting to risk being seen on the video cameras outside, Jayce texted Connor to let him know what had happened. Then he checked the pulse of the guy he’d kicked and discovered he was dead. From the kick to the chest or the impact against the wall, Jayce didn’t know. Even if it made him a monster, he didn’t care. The guy had put a gun to Jayce’s head. End of story.

Following the directives from Luis, Jayce eased the door open after listening for heartbeats. He could hear four distinct beats far enough away that he could tell the men weren’t waiting for him on the other side of the door. Once outside the second door upstairs Jayce weighed his options. Taking them by surprise seemed the best way to go. If he politely knocked, he had no doubt about the type of reception he’d get.

Kicking the door in, he quickly surveyed his surroundings to determine the biggest threat. One guy lounged on a cot by a window, watching a laptop with four separate screen shots of the outside. Two more sat at a table with vials of what looked like blood. Likely vampire blood. The fourth stood by another window with a cell phone up to his ear. Jayce had no doubt he was Donny. His entire demeanor screamed that he was the boss of the small group. Not to mention that the others were doing tasks a lead guy wouldn’t.

Jayce heaved one of his blades back and tossed it at Donny. It flew through the air with sickening speed, pinning the arm that had pulled a pistol to the wall. The weapon crashed to the floor.

The other three leapt into action. The one on the couch was the quickest, jumping up with SIG in hand. Before he’d pulled it level to shoot, Jayce had crossed the room and lifted the guy off his feet. He tossed him at the other two men like they were bowling pins and the man flying through the air a bowling ball. Shouts erupted from all of them and in a whirlwind of motion he knocked the three of them out but didn’t kill them. For human thugs they weren’t very skilled in combat moves.

Then he focused on Donny, who was trying to pull the blade free from his arm. Blood poured from his wound in a crimson stream. He groaned in pain with each struggling attempt. Jayce jerked it free and savored the howl of agony the man let out.