Liam had a naturally higher body temperature, so it didn’t faze him. His protective nature kicked in, though. He wanted to bundle her up and force her to go home. “It probably won’t make you feel better, but he’s going to watch her place tonight and keep an eye out for her.”

Her brow wrinkled in confusion. “How do you know?”

“I can smell him.”

Her cold breath curled in front of her as she looked around. All the cabins were quiet, probably because almost everybody was still at the party. The nearby slopes were empty and the surrounding trees barely rustled with the wind. “I don’t see anyone.”

“He’s here. Trust me. I don’t know him well, but I know he’d never do anything to physically hurt her.”

“You can’t know—”

“Yes, I can. Shifters act a certain way around their mates. They might not be officially together, but he feels for her the way I feel for you. I saw it on his face.”

“Oh.” At his words her cheeks flushed a deeper shade of red and it had nothing to do with the cold. At least she understood his meaning.

When she still didn’t move, he gestured toward her car. “You gonna make me freeze my ass off out here all night or are we gonna go?” he asked jokingly.

Her blue eyes narrowed. “I know you’re not cold, but you’re right. Let’s get out of here.”

Once in the car he turned the heat all the way up. At least she hadn’t fought him about driving home. Not that he would have listened. She’d had a couple drinks and he hadn’t had any. There were some things he’d compromise on and others he wouldn’t. Letting her drive with alcohol in her system wasn’t something she’d ever win.

After they’d made it halfway back to town, she uncrossed her arms and flipped the heat down a couple notches. “I never said thank you, so…thanks.”

“For what?” He kept an eye on the rearview mirror as he drove. After everything that had been going on lately, he wanted to make sure they weren’t being followed.

“I don’t know, for not being a jerk about Kat, I guess.”

His eyebrows drew together. “I don’t follow.”

Her shoulders lifted slightly. “We had to leave the party early and you didn’t make a big deal about it. Plus you defused what could have been a drama-filled situation. I just appreciate it, that’s all.”

Liam still didn’t understand why she was thanking him, so he mumbled a nonresponse. Maybe the males she’d known in the past were different, but he couldn’t comprehend why she thought he’d care about leaving a party. He’d only gone to be with her in the first place.

The sooner they left meant the more time he got to spend with her alone. He’d barely had any time with her all day. Her store had been packed with holiday shoppers and as soon as they’d gotten to her house, she’d spent the next hour in her room getting ready for tonight. Part of him wondered if she’d been intentionally avoiding him, but right now he didn’t care.

Right now it was just the two of them. And he planned to take full advantage of it.

Edward leaned against the door frame as he listened to Greg, one of his APL recruits, talk. It was late and almost everyone had left. The small meeting had gone well and if they pulled off taking Katarina Saburova, his boss would be very pleased. Edward was in charge of the new recruits in the Fontana area and so far his track record was shit.

The two recent failed kidnapping attempts from his group were garish blights and he planned to rectify that soon. He’d joined the APL because he was tired of the blasé attitude of most people and even the government where supernatural beings were concerned. They walked around freely like they had every right to. It was wrong and nauseating. His own mother—whore that she’d been—had left his father for one of those abominations almost as soon as shifters had come out to the world twenty years ago. Edward might be close to forty now, but it didn’t alleviate the pain when he thought about her and that lupine shifter. She’d not only left his father but cut contact with him too. She’d become nothing more than a pathetic groupie overnight for those animals. It was like the woman who’d raised him had never existed. She’d broken his father’s heart when she’d left, but she hadn’t cared. She’d said she wanted a different life. To this day he had no clue where she’d ended up or if she was still alive. The male she’d shacked up with hadn’t been part of a pack, just some lone wolf, making it impossible to track her down.

“…Once I get Katarina’s new work schedule, I think we’ll have something solid to work with,” Greg finished.

Edward nodded absently. He hated being distracted but Brianna was in the kitchen with Tony. He hated that pretty boy and it had been hard to miss the looks he’d been giving her all night. Edward cleared his throat and stepped back inside the house. “Call me with any updates.”

Greg nodded and fished his keys out of his jacket pocket. “Will do. Talk to you soon.”

As he shut the front door behind him, Edward slipped off his coat and hung it on the rack. The house was quiet. Too quiet. “Brianna?”

No answer.

He hurried down the hallway toward the living room. Empty mugs, glasses, and a few small plates were still strewn on the coffee table. He found the kitchen empty also. His heart pounded erratically against his ribs. What if Brianna was just like all those other whores? He felt his face heat up as he thought about her and Tony.

They were probably up in her room right now. His hands clenched into fists. He didn’t have to put up with that shit in his own house. She could pack her shit and leave with Tony if that’s what she wanted.

As he started for the stairs, he heard a loud thump outside. Pausing, he waited and heard it again. This time louder. When he pushed back the sliding glass door, he stepped onto the back deck. His boots were silent as he crossed to the stairs.

Once he stood on the snow, he paused again.

“Get off me,” Brianna gasped.

Rage snaked through him. Grabbing a small shovel he’d left leaning against the stairs, he hurried toward the east side of his house.

With his back facing Edward, Tony had Brianna pressed up against the side of the house. He had one hand around her slim throat and the other was shoved down her jeans. Brianna’s eyes were wide and frightened. She struggled against him, but with her small frame she was no match for Tony’s linebacker build.

“Quit struggling, you stupid whore. You think you’re too good for me, huh? You’re gonna like everything I do to you.” Tony’s words were a low growl as he leaned toward her terrified face.

Edward was going to kill him. That was a fact. He didn’t announce his presence or make a sound. Creeping up behind Tony, he lifted the shovel and slammed it down on his head full force. The cracking sound split the night air with a violent rush.

Blood spurted from his skull as he fell into the snow. It created a crimson river that made Edward’s body heat up.

Clutching her throat, Brianna fell to the snow next to him. Coughing and sputtering, she tried to catch her breath. In that moment he felt shame for thinking she’d betrayed him by fucking Tony. He dropped the shovel and fell to his knees.

“Are you okay?”

She nodded and tried to suck in air. “Thanks…to you.”

That’s when he noticed her sweater had been torn and the side of her face was already showing a purple bruise. A dark rage threatened to overtake him. “He hit you.”

“He would have done worse if it hadn’t been for you.” That’s when she surprised him. She threw herself against him and wrapped her arms around him. When she buried her face against his neck, he realized she was crying.

It was weird to have a woman come to him for comfort. Most women—and sometimes men—turned away from him in disgust. He patted her back, hoping she’d let go, but she just held on tighter. As she gripped him tighter, something strange surged through him. She needed him. It was so obvious. He might hate that he needed her approval, but she wanted his comfort.

He tightened his arms around her slight body, but as he felt himself start to get hard, he jerked back in horror. He couldn’t touch Brianna like that. Not her. She was perfect.

Disentangling her arms, he stood and held out a hand for her. “We need to get rid of the body.”

Sniffling, she nodded as she stood. “Isn’t he your boss’s son? What’s going to happen to me now?”

“No one will ever know what happened tonight.” Edward picked up the shovel from the ground and looked at the body as a plan formed. Joseph had left to take care of some business down in Georgia and wouldn’t be back for a couple days, so they didn’t have to worry about him coming back. And Greg wouldn’t question him.

“What are we going to do?” she asked as she wrapped her arms around her trembling body.

“I keep some dogs nearby. I think we can use this to our advantage.” Edward checked Tony’s pulse to make sure he was dead. Yep. Now all he had to do was let his dogs maul the body. Once he’d been ripped to shreds, they could dump Tony somewhere in town along with his truck.

It would look like shifters had done it. Hot damn. He was sorry Brianna had been hurt, but this was the best thing that had happened to him in a while. This would bring heat from the local government and from the APL’s national office. Tony might have been a piece of shit, but his father was very important.

Edward smiled to himself. This was going to work out just fine.

Chapter 6

It was close to midnight by the time Liam and December got back to her place. He’d been very quiet on the drive back and she wasn’t sure why that unnerved her. After checking her house for potential intruders, he finally came back downstairs to meet her in the foyer.

She wished she could think it was crazy or overboard for him to do a full-service sweep of her house after a simple night out, but she knew it wasn’t. The different scenarios of what could have happened to her last night had been running through her head over and over. It was like the scenes were stuck on auto replay. On the way back to her house tonight, she’d had a flashback of that maniac trying to stab her with the needle and she’d actually jerked away in response. She’d been helpless to stop her physical reaction and she hated that. If Liam hadn’t been with her in the truck, she was afraid she’d have completely freaked out. She’d never tell him but she was so thankful he’d been driving. Her reaction had taken her completely by surprise.


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