It was chilly outside, and shivering slightly, she burrowed deeper into her heavy, ankle-length coat as she hurried down the block. She’d parked her car in front of a Christmas shop that wasn’t open yet. As she shut the driver’s-side door, a deep voice from the backseat made her nearly jump out of her skin.
“How did your meeting go?” Angelo asked from his supine position. She could see him clearly in the rearview mirror, which had been slightly turned, no doubt for that very reason. One of his arms was propped under his head and those astute green eyes were trained right on her.
Instead of turning around and giving away that someone was with her—even if the windows were tinted—she adjusted the mirror and started the vehicle. “It was fine.”
“Just fine?” His incredibly deep voice always sent a thrill through her.
Even as it annoyed her, Brianna found herself looking forward to the times Angelo spoke. “That’s what I said.” She didn’t have orders to report to him, so she didn’t offer up any information. She would call Connor as soon as she was in the safety of her apartment, where she had a cell phone with scrambling software on it. After that she would call Jayce. Angelo would certainly hear everything she said then and she didn’t like to repeat herself. Plus, something about Angelo’s attitude annoyed her.
She couldn’t tell what he was thinking. Ever. He stared at her with those penetrating eyes that seemed to see straight through her. It was infuriating, an emotion she wasn’t used to feeling. She was always in control, but this shifter made her want to lose her temper.
“So what’s on the agenda now?” he asked.
“We are going back to the apartment.” The apartment Connor had insisted that Angelo share with her. She didn’t know everything about shifters, but she knew they liked their space. Living in such a small place must be agitating him. “Would you like me to drop you off somewhere so you can expend some energy?”
A low, dark chuckle filled the car. “I can think of plenty of ways to expend energy inside our apartment.”
Brianna could feel her cheeks flame as the meaning of his words set in. Among her people, she was revered for her rank and because her family was considered royalty. No one had ever spoken to her like that. “It is not our apartment. You are there as a courtesy.”
“Whatever you say, princess,” he murmured, his voice making her imagine things she had no business thinking.
Dark, erotic thoughts of seeing what lay underneath his clothes. He had broad shoulders, but he was lean and tall, like the majority of her people. Except for his bronzed skin he would fit in better than she did in the height department. Instead of responding, because she knew that was exactly what he expected, she kept her gaze straight ahead.
As soon as she finished this job she would return to Ireland and forget all about this tall, dark shifter who made her belly tighten and her mind spin off into fantasies.
* * *
Damn it. Jayce idled at a stop sign in a middle-class neighborhood on the outskirts of downtown Fontana. It wasn’t inside the city limits, but just outside by a few blocks, if he remembered the map he’d studied. He’d lost the scent of Fletcher Monroe, which was completely distinctive, as it was for all shifters. His was a blend of fir and spruce, and right now that scent mushroomed off in too many directions. As if he’d driven around or run around trying to confuse his scent. If that was the case, he had done a fine job of losing anyone who might be tailing him.
“What is it?” Kat asked quietly, her helmet still on and her arms wrapped tightly around him.
Thanks to his extrasensory abilities, he could hear her perfectly despite the helmet. “The scent is too diluted.”
“So what are we going to do?”
Glancing around, he established that they were relatively alone. He pulled out his phone and brought up the list of APL names and addresses he’d saved. “We’re going on a fishing expedition.”
Kat flipped her visor up and leaned around him to see what he was doing. “What do you mean?”
He held up his phone. Connor had originally given him a physical printout, but Jayce had asked for a digital version. He might be older than most shifters, but he loved certain aspects of technology. “This has names and addresses of APL members in the area. We’re going to drive by each place to see if I can get a handle on Fletcher’s scent. If it’s stronger at one place that’s a good indication that he’s staying there or was there in the past.”
Kat nodded but didn’t say anything, so Jayce continued. “You already have this list, don’t you?”
She bit her bottom lip and the faint thread of guilt he’d scented from her days ago was back in full force. “Well, yeah. Part of it, not the whole thing. I sort of, uh . . . God, I feel like such a jerk. I found the list in Liam and December’s house and took pictures with my cell of a few pages.”
He’d figured it had to be something like that. “You’re going to eventually need to tell them what you did.”
She sighed, the sound heavy and tired. “I know. I just feel so bad. December’s been such a great friend.”
“Then she’ll forgive you.” Of that he had no doubt. He was glad Kat had admitted her small indiscretion to him. Stealing from a packmate wasn’t necessarily small, but he knew Liam and December would let it go, especially after everything Kat had been through. Her intentions hadn’t been malicious. The fact that she’d told him meant she was beginning to trust him again. That had to count for something.
“I hope so,” she said quietly.
“Hold on tight. I’m going to start with the farthest address and work my way back.” He’d visited a handful of the homes before and hadn’t scented Fletcher—though he hadn’t been looking for him then—but he was still going to stop by those places too.
After a few hours they still hadn’t found what they were looking for even though they’d driven past almost every residential listing. Jayce didn’t let frustration take over, though. He’d been doing investigations for the Council long enough to understand that things just took time. If he allowed himself to get worked up, he’d have gone crazy a long time ago.
Behind him, however, he could feel Kat getting antsy. She kept shifting against the seat, and he could practically feel the anxiety rolling off her. Not that he blamed her. She wanted action. Something told him that would happen soon enough.
As he steered through Fontana’s historic downtown and toward Avalon Street, he felt her tense behind him. Her fingers dug into his sides questioningly.
“I’m hungry and I know you must be by now too,” he said, knowing she’d hear him despite the wind and her helmet. The truth was, he could go for long periods without sustenance, but he wanted to sit down, have a meal with Kat, and talk. They were getting nowhere as it was, and a break wouldn’t kill them.
It wasn’t as if he’d be leaving Fontana anytime soon. With the recent killings and now the possibility of a missing shifter being involved, Jayce had to stay. His investigation into the blood trafficking, while important, wasn’t as important as keeping strong shifter-human relations in this region. And of course there was the matter of Kat. Leaving her . . . Nope. He couldn’t even think of that.
When he felt his phone buzz in his pocket, he thought it might be Brianna again, so he pulled in front of Sala’s, a high-end art gallery, and parked. She’d called earlier and relayed her conversation with the wife of an APL member. He’d been by that house before and hadn’t scented a shifter there, but he planned to head back tonight or in the morning and do a little reconnaissance, see what else he could dig up. Especially since Brianna seemed to think the woman’s husband had friends in law enforcement. He’d contemplated going by today, but when the police presence at the ranch materialized, he’d decided to hold off. Connor’s pack didn’t need any extra attention right now, and he wasn’t going to take the chance of accidentally starting something.
As he glanced at the caller ID he was surprised to see Liam’s number. “Hey, man.”
“Hey. I need a favor. Pretty much everyone’s on lockdown at the ranch and Connor wants to keep it that way. I’ve got a meeting soon about half an hour away. Real estate stuff. Don’t want to miss it and don’t want to take anyone away from the ranch, but I’m not leaving December either—”
“Kat and I are a block over from her bookstore. We’ll stop by and keep her company until you get back.”
Liam pushed out a big sigh of relief. “Thanks. This isn’t life or death, but it’s been brutal trying to nail down a time to meet with this guy.”
Jayce understood that for all the problems the pack was facing, life and business needed to go on. They couldn’t operate in a vacuum. “See you in a few.”
As he parked his bike in front of December’s Book Nook, Kat quickly took her helmet off. She raked a hand through her dark hair, giving her that bed-head look he couldn’t get enough of. What he wouldn’t give to take her to bed right now. She looked so fucking sexy straddling the back of his bike . . . he couldn’t hide his groan.
Kat’s head jerked up to look at him, eyes slightly widened as she slid off the bike. “You have got to learn to tone down your lust.”
“Why?” he murmured, reaching out and cupping her cheek. The need to touch her was overwhelming sometimes—a living thing inside him. He knew exactly what it meant too. He just wanted to deny it because it meant he couldn’t run away from what he wanted anymore.
“Because it smells like chocolate and it makes me hungry,” she said tartly as she swung her leg over the bike, letting both booted feet hit the pavement.
A laugh burst from him and he dropped his hand. “Sorry, sweetheart. I can’t stop my reaction to you. It just is. Come on, I’m sure you heard my conversation with Liam.”
She nodded, her eyes lighting up. “December’s been on a baking craze lately, so I hope she brought some good stuff to the store.”