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“And he doesn’t care about me being out with you?”

He and Connor had exchanged a few choice words over that very thing earlier this morning, but Jayce had won. Once he’d explained how things were between him and Kat, Connor had backed off immediately. Connor might be Kat’s Alpha, but Jayce was making a claim on Kat. Even if she didn’t realize it yet, she would soon enough. Connor was mated, so he understood Jayce’s need to keep Kat close.

He needed time with her to reestablish their former trust with each other. Not to mention that she could be helpful to him. Of course he’d like for her to be under lockdown at the ranch, but he knew her well enough to realize that she would hate him if he tried to force that on her. By letting her help him, he was letting her get her revenge on the APL in a nonviolent way. And she would never be out of his sight. If he could see her, he could damn well protect her. Of that he had no doubt. “Connor and I have an agreement.”

A frown tugged at her pretty lips. “What does that mean?”

“It means you’re coming with me today,” he said instead of telling her how he felt about her. How she wasn’t leaving his sight because as his mate, she was his to protect.

“Good,” she growled, her voice low and determined. “I want to bring these assholes down.”

He palmed his keys as they headed for the front door. “Remember, never underestimate your opponent.”

“Lesson number two. I remember.” He shot her a surprised look, at which she shrugged. “I remember all of them. I thought you might give me a freaking quiz or something,” she muttered.

Smiling—something he seemed to be doing a lot more of lately—he stepped outside and headed for his bike.

He’d checked the location earlier using an online mapping system. From the aerial view he knew the house was across the street from a park. A thickly wooded one at that. That was how they were going to make their entrance.

As he drove toward the house, he tried to keep his thoughts professional, but it was hard to do that when Kat’s arms were around him and her lush breasts were pressed up against him. He’d woken her again early this morning and taken her from behind. The memory of her cries was still fresh in his mind and all he wanted at the moment was a replay.

He forced himself to think of violent memories instead. God knew he had enough of them. It sucked, but it was the only way to keep his body under control. Steering into the park, he was thankful to see it deserted. Not that he’d expected anything different.

In a poorer section of town, this park was a far cry from the well-kept one near downtown. Most of the equipment was rusted, a few swings broken, and it was apparent that probably no one had cleared the layers of snow from the merry-go-round all winter. Hence the rust coating everything. The new park used plastic equipment—more proof that this was an older place. Continuing past the play area, he slowed his speed along the winding paved road until they were deep into a thick cluster of trees.

Waiting a beat, he listened for the sounds of human hearts in the direct vicinity and didn’t hear any. Good. They wouldn’t have to worry about any homeless people seeing them.

“Should I leave my helmet here?” Kat asked as she slipped it off.

“Yeah. But keep your gloves on.” He wasn’t sure if anyone would be home, but if the house was empty, he was planning a little B&E.

She nodded, tugging on them as if to make sure they were still there. He flexed his own fingers, the leather of his custom-made gloves soundless with his movements.

“This way.” He nodded east, deeper into the woods. If the map was correct, one of the overgrown trails would eventually deposit them on the street where Ralph and Jackie Anderson lived.

“How do you know they’ll be gone?” Kat whispered.

“I don’t, but Brianna was able to glean that the husband works a three-two shift.” Three days on, two days off, then two days on and three days off. “He should be at work today.”

“What if the wife is home?” No one was visible except a few animals in the trees, but she nevertheless spoke quietly.

“Let’s just hope she’s not.” Brianna had said she was supposed to meet the wife for coffee today, so hopefully they wouldn’t have to wait long for her to leave.

As the woods started to thin slightly, he realized they were close to their destination. He stepped in front of Kat without missing a beat. “Stay behind me.”

Her measured movements were almost as silent as his. If he’d been human he doubted he would have heard her walking. She was honing her abilities very quickly. Even as a human she’d been almost preternaturally graceful. Her fighting skills, raw though they still were, were impressive.

Stopping about ten yards from where the woods opened onto the street, he motioned toward the small yellow house with white shutters. It was across the street, about four houses down from their position. “That’s the one.” His heightened sight allowed him to see the numbers on the mailbox, but he also recognized the house from the street view of the online address locator. Technology was a scary thing sometimes and only reminded him why supernatural creatures had decided to come out to the world twenty years ago. They wouldn’t have been able to hide their existence much longer.

Walking parallel to the street, they veered off the overgrown paved path and cut through the brush. Except for a few small animal tracks, most of the snow here was untouched. They would need to cover their tracks when they came back.

As Jayce stopped in front of the house, he felt Kat sidle up next to him. “Can you tell if anyone’s home?”

“Be still and listen. What do you hear?”

She was silent for several long beats. “Lots of things. How do you decipher it all? I hear a few televisions, a couple arguing, someone probably taking a shower, and what sounds like two people having sex.”

He grinned because he’d heard that too. “You’ll learn to focus and hone your senses the older you get. It’s just a matter of time. The yellow and white house and that one”—he pointed three doors down to a one-story blue ranch-style house in need of a paint job—“are empty. I promise you’ll eventually be able to sense those things.” Maybe not as clearly as he was able to, but she would get much better.

She let out a frustrated sound and he didn’t blame her. He’d been doing this for five centuries. Sifting out sounds and scents was second nature to him. Hell, most shifters didn’t have the exceptional gift he did. But to him, separating what was important and what wasn’t was like breathing. That innate sense was why he was a good investigator.

“I’m going to cross the street, jump the fence, and go in through the back door if they don’t have a security system. Once I’m in I’ll open the front door for you. When I give you the signal, run to me.” Jayce knew she wasn’t as fast as he was, but if she concentrated she should be able to move fast enough so that unless someone was looking directly at her, she would be able to get inside almost completely undetected. And if not undetected, at least there’d be no way anyone could give a description of her. She would just look like a blur of movement. Most people saw what they wanted to see and would write off seeing her as their imagination.

“Sounds good.” Her nod was curt.

He’d known Kat long enough to know that she’d have no problem with this, especially if it would give them a lead on finding the shifter who was killing people.

After a quick visual scan, he sprinted across the street in a burst of speed, barely touching the ground before launching himself over the fence. Unfortunately they had a chain-link fence rather than a privacy fence. He might be fast, but he’d still have to pick the lock on the back door. But he stopped when he spotted a sensor in the corner of the kitchen through a back window. So they did have a security system.

Crouching low, he crept around the side of the house, conscious of the windows in the house next door. The drapes were pulled shut and they were a dark color, none of that sheer stuff that allowed people to see outside. He wasn’t too worried about anyone seeing him from that house, though; he could still hear the moans of two people having sex inside. Something he wished he was doing with Kat that very instant.

After pulling the breaker to shut the power down, he hurried to the back door once again and made quick work of the lock. If the system was wireless, he might be screwed, but he was betting it wasn’t. As the door creaked open, he waited for an alarm, but no sound came. Quickly he checked the house to make sure there weren’t any surprises—and picked up all the scents he needed—then opened the front door a bit and waved Kat over.

She sprinted across the street, not quite as fast as he had. He’d already have taken care of what he needed to without her, but she needed to be part of this. “First we’re going to the main bedroom so you can get the owners’ scents. It’s unlikely that they invite anyone else into their bedroom, so it’s an easy way to distinguish which scents belong to them and which don’t once we scan the rest of the house.”

“That makes sense,” Kat whispered.

Once in the bedroom, he quickly picked up both their scents, but he wanted to see what she got. “What do you smell?”

She slowly looked around the neat room—queen-sized bed, two dressers, elongated oval mirror in the corner, and open closet door. “A light vanilla scent, but not the kind from a lotion or food. It’s really subtle.”

“Good. That’s the wife.”

“How do you know?”

He shrugged. “I just do.” Males and females had distinctive differences in their scents, but this wasn’t the time to explain it. He wanted to see what she picked up; then he wanted to get her the hell out of there. “What else?”

“I smell cologne—the cheap kind—and cigarettes, but I don’t think anyone smokes in here. It’s just”—she glanced toward a wicker hamper visible in the closet—“subtle, like it’s coming from someone’s clothing. I also smell something oily. I can’t put my finger on it, but it smells almost . . . rotten. It’s so faint I can barely pick up on it.”