Authors: Jordan Summers
Nic was surprised to find Mindy’s car gone when he arrived. Where could she be? He hadn’t seen her at the police station. He didn’t think she’d go to school or work, not after finding a body.
Mindy’s car wasn’t the only thing missing. The police were gone, too, but the crime-scene tape still surrounded the area near her front porch.
Nic rolled down his window and sniffed the air. He needed to make sure he was alone before he pulled over. Other than a few deer in the distance, he didn’t detect anything of size. He guided the truck over to the side of the road and put it in park, then slipped out of the cab.
He listened to the sound of the wind. Nic stood perfectly still while the woods whispered their secrets. As soon as he was sure it was safe, he loped over to Mindy’s yard and scented the area.
Death hit him instantly. It clung to the grass and soiled the dirt with its foul odor. The coppery scent of blood followed on death’s heels. Marco may have been a pain in the ass, but he didn’t deserve to die.
Nic slowly circled the area, sniffing every few feet to make sure he didn’t miss anything. As he moved further out, he caught the elusive scent that had bothered him before. It was all over the yard. The strongest concentration hung in the air where the body had been. His wolf bristled. Nic followed the odor toward the woods.
Before he could reach the trees, Nic came across an odd
. He circled the spot, smelling every inch of the diameter. The stain wasn’t blood. Wasn’t chemical. And it definitely wasn’t man made.
Nic crouched down to examine the spot. He dipped a finger into the residue. The second the ashy substance hit his skin, it burned like acid. Nic ignored the pain long enough to sniff his finger. The stench of magic filled his nostrils and he stumbled back, landing on his butt.
It wasn’t possible. Couldn’t be. They were myth. Legends created to scare children into behaving.
There was only one creature Nic had heard of that left that kind of stain behind, and as far as he knew, it wasn’t real.
The hair on the back of his neck rose, warning him that he was being watched. Nic didn’t react. Instead, he wiped the ash off his finger, ignoring the blisters it had left behind.
Nic slowly scanned the area with his senses and detected—
. He rose to his feet. For the first time in his life, Nic knew what it felt like to be prey. He didn’t like the sensation one bit and neither did his wolf.
He left the stain and headed toward his truck. Not once did Nic take his eyes off the woods, until he drove away. The idea that the bogeyman might be after Mindy terrified Nic and left him shaken. If he hadn’t been certain about his growing feelings for her before, the deadly threat solidified them.
What had she gotten herself into? It was more imperative than ever that he find her. If what Nic had discovered was real, then Mindy wasn’t safe. No one was.
* * * * *
Mindy nearly fell out of her seat when Nic burst into the animal clinic. Seeing him in person only added to her sense of guilt and confusion. She’d spent the morning at the police station giving them her statement. She’d had no choice but to tell them about Nic. That didn’t mean she felt good about the decision.
His face was flushed and he was out of breath. His big body tensed when he saw her. She expected him to start yelling any second.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
The question surprised her. Didn’t he want to know why she’d given the police his name?
Nic’s gaze roamed over her, settling for a breath or two on her hickey before moving on.
“I’m fine,” she said, finally finding her voice. “I’m sorry. I had no choice. I had to tell them.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Nic said. “I’m just glad you’re all right. I was so worried when the police stopped by my workplace and told me there’d been a murder. They didn’t tell me who died.” He pulled her into his arms and held her close. “I thought I’d lost you.” Nic’s voice cracked.
Mindy pushed out of his embrace. “I didn’t want to get you into trouble, but I couldn’t lie.”
He grabbed her hand, threading his fingers between hers. “There’s nothing to apologize for. You did the right thing.”
“You’re not mad?” She’d be mad if she were in his shoes.
Nic smiled. “No, honey. I’m relieved.”
She stared at him. “It was horrible.” Her voice quivered.
“I can imagine. I’m sorry you had to go through something like that alone,” Nic said. “I wish I could’ve been there for you. I should’ve been there. I won’t let you down again.” His body quaked. “If only he had been there when I left.”
“He wasn’t?” Mindy asked, watching his face closely.
“No!” Nic frowned. “I would’ve noticed a dead body.”
He took a deep, exasperated breath and his expression changed. Fury replaced concern. The switch was so abrupt that it left Mindy shaking. Nic gently moved her aside and rushed into the main part of the clinic.
“What are you doing?” she asked. “Nic, where are you going?” Mindy raced in after him.
Nic didn’t stop until he reached the recovery area. Only a few animals were currently housed back there—a couple of dogs and two cats.
The second he entered the room, they all whimpered and clawed to get out of their cages. Nic ignored their reaction and moved deeper into the room. When he reached the largest cage, he crouched next to it.
“What happened to the animal inside this cage?” he asked. His tone was deadly serious. Mindy took a step back.
Celina came running into the room. Her eyes widened to the size of saucers when she saw Nic next to the empty cage.
Nic’s gaze slid from Mindy to her friend. Rage returned, making it look like his blue eyes were glowing. “Where is it?” He pointed at the cage.
Celina’s tawny face paled and her hand fluttered to her throat. “It’s gone. I took it to a preserve and released it.”
Mindy glanced at her. Why was Celina lying?
* * * * *
Nic could smell the lies emanating from Celina’s skin. The sour odor stank up the room, but this was neither the time nor the place to confront her. Not in front of Mindy.
He should report to Aidan immediately.
And say what? I think the bogeyman is real?
Nic snorted. He wasn’t about to present his findings to the Alpha until he had proof. An odd stain and a foul odor weren’t enough. Not after everything that had happened this morning.
“Mindy, I think you should stay with me until the authorities find out who’s responsible for Marco’s death,” he said.
Mindy slowly shook her head. “I can’t do that.”
Nic could see the fear shimmering in her brown eyes, smell it tainting her supple skin. And it broke his heart. “I know you’re scared of me, especially after the morning you’ve had.”
“I’m not scared,” she said. “I just can’t leave my animals alone.”
He let her believe her own lies because Nic knew they were the only thing keeping her from falling apart. But there was no way he was going to leave her unprotected. She was his mate. It was his duty to take care of her. It was his honor, even if she didn’t know it yet.
“Then you leave me no choice,” Nic said. “I’ll be over after you get off work.”
Mindy’s eyes widened. “Nic, you can’t just barge into my life. A lot has happened. I need time to think.”
“So you can convince yourself that I’m a murderer?” he asked. “I don’t think so.” Nic’s gaze slid to Celina.
She took a step back.
“Tell her,” he demanded. “You
she’s safe with me. And you know why.”
“She might,” Mindy said. “But I don’t.”
Celina swallowed hard. “He’s telling the truth,” she said.
* * * * *
Mindy’s head whipped around. She’d expected her friend to take her side of things. “How do you know?”
“I just do,” Celina said.
“Well, forgive me if I don’t take your word for it,” she said.
“Mindy, someone left a body on your front lawn,” Celina said. “Until we know who or what put it there”—she glared at Nic—“I don’t want you being alone. Izzy would agree if she were here.”
“But what if—”
“He didn’t do it,” Celina said. “Trust me.”
“Do you know what you’re asking?”
Celina sighed. “Yeah, I do,” she said, glancing at Nic.
“Why do I feel like I’m not part of the conversation taking place?” Mindy asked.
Celina grabbed her hand. “Believe me, this is all about you,” she said. “Nic had better protect you with his life.”
“You know I will,” he said, then sprang to his feet. He pressed a quick kiss on Mindy’s mouth before she could protest, and strode out of the clinic.
Mindy watched him go, then glared at Celina. “Are you crazy? What if he killed Marco?”
Celina met her accusing gaze unflinchingly. “Do you believe that? Do you really believe that Nic is a murderer?”
Mindy opened her mouth to say yes, it was possible, but the words refused to come out. Her heart wouldn’t let them. It just didn’t believe that the same man who’d made love to her so tenderly, so passionately, had turned around the same night and killed a man. It didn’t make sense.
Celina’s gaze softened. “I know you haven’t known him long, but I can tell you right now that he’s serious about you. He’s committed more deeply than you can imagine.” She touched Mindy’s hickey, then pulled her hand away.
Mindy sighed. “A hickey doesn’t mean anything,” she said. “Last night we talked about being exclusive, but with everything that’s happened I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“You’re wrong,” Celina said. “You saw how scared he was when he came in here. That’s not something he could’ve faked. Nic
protect you. His kind redefines loyalty. If you don’t believe me, call Izzy and ask.”
“Izzy has never met Nic,” Mindy said. “Has she?”
“No, but she’ll still
,” Celina said.
Mindy looked at her. Really looked. For the first time in all the years she’d known her, Celina appeared fragile. Was it because of Slade? Or was it something else?
Before she took a leap based on blind faith, there was one question she needed answered. “Why did you lie to Nic about the hybrid?”
Celina’s gaze dropped and sadness etched her face. “You’ll understand why soon enough.” She sighed. “When you do, it’ll be clear why I couldn’t let anything happen to him,” she said, and walked away.
Izzy wasn’t the only one who spoke in riddles.
* * * * *
Nic showed up at Mindy’s house like he’d promised, and knocked on her front door. Mindy opened it and stared at him. He had a black duffle bag slung over his shoulder and wore a stained white T-shirt with his blue jeans. His hair was tousled and he was grinning.
She almost smiled back, but stopped herself. “I still don’t think this is a good idea,” she said.
Nic studied her small porch and shrugged. “I don’t have a problem sleeping right here,” he said.
Mindy was tempted to let him, but then her gaze strayed to the crimson stain she hadn’t quite been able to get off with her power hose. What if whoever killed Marco came back while Nic was on the porch?
Her heart thundered in her chest. She wouldn’t be able to live with herself if anything happened to him. Mindy glared at him, but Nic’s smile only widened. His eyes fixed on the hickey, and the strangest thing happened. The spot heated.
Mindy brushed her hand over it, and something in Nic’s blue eyes flared. She stepped back. “Come in.”
Nic walked into the living room and dropped his duffle bag next to the couch.
“Can I get you anything to drink?” she asked.
“Water,” Nic said.
Mindy went into the kitchen to retrieve a bottle. When she returned, Nic was sprawled out across the couch, his wide shoulders and long legs eating up every square inch. He sat up when she handed him the water.
“Thanks,” he said, then popped the cap and swallowed half the bottle in one gulp. “I know this isn’t something you want to talk about, but I need to know if there’s been anything strange going on lately.”
“Define strange,” she said. Her whole life was odd thanks to Izzy.
Nic set his bottled water down on the coffee table. “Let’s start with the animal at the clinic,” he said. “What was it and how did it get there?”
“It was a mutt. A big mutt, but a mutt nonetheless,” she said. “I almost hit him with my car. When I first saw him, I thought he was dead.”
“But it wasn’t?”
Mindy shook her head. “No, but the animal was injured. Celina and I rushed it to the clinic, where Dr. Fields patched it up.”
“What kind of mutt was it?” Nic asked.
“Wolf and something. Dr. Fields thought it had been bred with a Russian Bear dog, but the lab results were inconclusive,” Mindy said. “Once it healed, Celina carted him off to the preserve.”
Nic sat forward. “Are you sure?”
“As far as I know, that’s what she did.” Mindy couldn’t meet his eyes when she was lying. Why was she protecting Celina, when her friend had tossed her to the wolves?
* * * * *
“Anything else unusual happen?” Nic asked. He didn’t know why Mindy was lying, but he decided not to press her. He was afraid if he did she’d shut down.
She thought about his question and shook her head. “Not really. I don’t think Izzy’s warning from the wind counts.”
“What?” Nic asked. What did she mean by that?
She blanched. “Nothing,” she said.
Nic touched her hand. “You can tell me. I won’t laugh.”
Mindy stared at him in indecision. Nic thought she would refuse to answer, then she took a deep breath and slowly let it out.
“Remember how I told you my sister was eccentric?” she asked.
“Well, there’s a little bit more to the story than that.” Mindy sank into the chair. “Truth is, Izzy is odd. It’s not just her fascination with monsters.”
Nic inwardly cringed, but kept his expression neutral. He didn’t want Mindy to see what effect her words had on him. He needed her to continue talking.
“Sometimes Izzy knows things before they happen,” Mindy said, and glanced away.