As he trailed off, she set her cup down. “Others what?”

He looked at her for a long moment, as if debating something, but finally he spoke. “We have some places set aside as safe houses of sorts. No one knows about them except pack members.”

Her throat tightened as she digested what he’d told her. If he was telling her this, it meant he was starting to truly trust her. And trust implied a whole mess of things she wasn’t sure she wanted to face. If he started opening himself up, things wouldn’t just be about the physical. Not that their relationship was. It was just easy to tell herself that’s all she wanted from him. An alarm bell went off inside her head, warning her not to let him too close. Glancing down, she stared at the cup she’d set on the counter.

“Are you all right?” His voice was low and concerned as he placed a gentle hand on her forearm. When his fingers lightly stroked her skin, she had to fight off a shudder.

Turning from him, she opened the oak cabinet above the coffeepot and found a travel mug. “Didn’t you say you had plans for us today or something?” she asked as she poured the coffee from her cup into it.

He let his hand drop, but her hands still shook. If he noticed, at least he didn’t let on.

“I’d like to show you around the ranch and introduce you to everyone if you feel up to it.”

Since he didn’t seem to have any inclinations of going back to the bedroom and she didn’t want to stay cooped up in here all day, she nodded. “Sounds good.”

Jayce put the truck in park and glanced at Erin. “You okay?” She’d been exceptionally quiet on the ride over and he hadn’t missed the way she was practically plastered against the passenger door, as far away from him as possible.

The redhead’s gray eyes flashed warily. “Why did you want to bring me with you? Are you here to kill me?”

The bold question made him jerk back. “Why would you ask that?”

“Uh, you’re the enforcer and I’m nobody. I thought you wanted to talk to me after that meeting, but you never did, so…why’d you ask Connor if I could ride with you today?” She unsnapped her seat belt and kept her position close to the door.

Everyone always assumed the worst when he was around. As if he went around killing random pack members. It annoyed the shit out of him. His fearsome reputation was justified, but it had gotten blown out of proportion if she actually thought he had a reason to kill her. “For backup.”

She snorted loudly in a manner that reminded him of Kat. “Yeah, right.”

He bit back a smile. “Why did the Murphy pack report you as dead? Did you run away?”

It was so brief he might have missed it if he hadn’t been staring at her intently, but a flash of raw fear sparked in her bright eyes, then disappeared. “They probably reported me dead because they think I am.”

He’d talked to Connor about the petite she-wolf and he knew how they’d found her. Behind a Dumpster, beaten, bloody, naked, likely raped, and obviously left for dead. Humans wouldn’t have been able to hurt her that way, so he guessed shifters had hurt her. The thought of his own kind hurting any females made him see red. Shifter violence against females or those weaker was rare. If she’d been abused, he couldn’t understand why she hadn’t reported it. He’d have wiped them all out. “Should I eliminate the Murphy pack?”

Her eyes widened at the question and for the first time since she’d gotten in the truck with him, the tenseness in her shoulders loosened. “Wait, what?”

“Do they deserve to be judged?”

She swallowed hard. “I…don’t want to talk about them. They think I’m dead and that’s fine with me.” Her voice sounded so small in the truck cabin and pulled at his most protective side. Yeah, the Murphy pack was going to get a visit from him after this shit was over. “So if you don’t want to kill me, why’d you want me along?”

He gave her a searching look. She really had no clue what she was. At their first meeting he’d immediately noticed something different about her. All enforcers, regardless of race or location, had similar qualities about them and he’d picked up on some of hers. “I think you’re a born enforcer.”

She laughed wryly. “I’m so not in the mood to be messed with and I don’t care who you are. Cut the shit and—”

He growled at her dismissive tone. “I’m serious, she-wolf. You prefer to fight in your human form, don’t you?”

“Not always, but…yeah.”

“Why?” He figured he knew the answer but wanted to hear her response anyway.

Her shoulders lifted slightly. “It’s been that way since I was a cub. Once I let my wolf out, it can be difficult to rein her back in. Like, I’m not quite in control of my wolf. Not always.”

He understood that more than most. “And you prefer blades as your weapon of choice.” This time it wasn’t a question. Though her jacket was zipped up, he knew she carried two blades strapped to her chest. Hers weren’t ancient or blessed by the fae like his, but they got the job done.

She nodded. “So?”

“All traits of an enforcer. Just like your eyes. Gray with a barely perceptible ring of amber around them.” Those unique eyes narrowed and she started to talk, but he cut her off. “It’s subtle, underlying your own scent, but you have a distinctive cedar aroma you exude.” The sharp and sweet smell was barely noticeable, easily missed in a room full of other shifters. But even before her eyes, it was why he’d noticed her. Indiscernible as it was, he scented it every damn day on himself, so it had stuck out to him, making her a bright beacon. Then he’d seen her blades and wondered if he’d stumbled on another like himself. Neither his Council nor other enforcers around the globe broadcasted the unique qualities of enforcers. They didn’t want to deal with warriors or wannabe warriors coming out of the woodwork convinced they had what it took to be an enforcer.

Before the still fairly newly formed Councils around the world had decided to come out to humans, enforcers hadn’t had a designated name. He’d always been distinctively different from his father and brother in the way he’d fought. Being a shifter who preferred to fight as a human was a rare thing. Thanks to the open communication between shifters across the globe, he’d learned there were others like him. And they all had similar qualities. Despite all that, their deadly fighting abilities were the only reason the various Councils had decided to use his kind as enforcers for the general population. It was probably a good thing there weren’t many like him around. In the not so distant past, packs hadn’t been as linked to one another as they were now and had still governed themselves. Which they more or less did now. He was always a last resort for serious problems that pack Alphas couldn’t handle on their own. Or if a pack was causing other shifters or humans trouble on a visible scale.

“I don’t know what you’re smoking, but—”

He bared his teeth and lightning fast, he grabbed her by the throat and pinned her head against the window. “I’m sorry for whatever you’ve been through, but if you speak to me like that again…” Jayce trailed off as he felt the prick of her blade pressing against his chest, through his jacket.

“Get your fucking hand off me,” she rasped out, anger lacing every word.

He didn’t want to be impressed, but she’d managed to pull a small dagger from—somewhere on her person and take him off guard. And she wasn’t afraid to die. He could sense it clearly. “I could snap your neck.” It wouldn’t kill her, but it would incapacitate her long enough for him to do so.

“And I could ram this blade into your heart.”

“Withdraw,” he growled low in his throat.

Finally she pulled it back and he let go of her. She coughed a couple times and glared at him.

Jayce shook his head. “You’re definitely an enforcer. I’ve seen trained warriors practically piss their pants when I get too close.”

She rolled her eyes and tucked the small blade in her jacket pocket, likely into a sheathed covering. “I’m not afraid of you.”

He chose to ignore her statement because it wasn’t entirely true. “I wasn’t kidding about why I wanted you here. I want to see you in action if these guys get rowdy.”

She stared at him, as if she wasn’t quite sure she believed him. There was wariness in her gaze impossible to miss. “Your eyes don’t have any amber around them—they’re just gray.”

“True.” His were much paler than hers and completely one color, but the distinctive gray was still exclusive to his kind, few though there were. “I don’t know that you are what I suspect; I just want the chance to find out.”

Instead of responding, Erin flicked a glance at the one-story biker bar on the outskirts of town. The small building with no windows wasn’t much to look at. Technically it was in the next town’s district, but it was close to Fontana, and Ryan had found some information that APL members liked to hang out here. Specifically the two dead fuckers who’d kidnapped Kat. If their friends frequented this place, Jayce was going to find them.

It was eight in the morning and the parking lot was half-full. “What kind of losers are at a bar this early?” Erin asked.

“A lot of these guys probably live here and some are probably sleeping off a hangover from last night.”

She shook her head. “You so don’t need me. You could probably stare these guys down. You definitely look scary enough.”

He didn’t want to, but he half smiled at her ballsy attitude. No one ever talked to him like that. Well, except Kat. Thinking of her made his chest ache, though. He opened his door. “Let’s get this over with.”

As he opened the heavy wooden door covered with peeling bumper stickers, Erin pointed at one in disgust. It was of two stick figures, one male standing and a female kneeling in front of him with her head by the male’s crotch. The saying under it read “You belong here.” “I really hope we get to kick some ass today,” she said low enough for only him.


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