Book 2: Heart of the Shifter
Why couldn’t she understand how dangerous he was? Jace shoved open his car door and stepped out, keeping all his weight on his uninjured foot. He slammed the door behind him and leaned against the SUV. He clasped his hands on top of his head and took a deep breath, trying to calm down. What the hell? Didn’t she see him for what he was? How on earth could she possibly suggest she sing that fucking song to him? She might believe that he could build an immunity to the way the song controlled him if he practiced, but he knew better. He knew the monster it had turned him into. He stared up at the blue sky. “What the hell am I supposed to do?” He owed her his help in finding a four-year-old boy who was out there somewhere in the grasp of a psychopath. But as long as he was alive, innocents were at risk. He owed the world his death, but he couldn’t help Abby and her nephew if he were dead. There was no way to do both. So, what the hell was he supposed to do?
Abby got out of the SUV. He tensed when he heard her door slam. Instinctively, he reached for the gun he’d shoved in the pocket of his jacket, turning it toward his chest without removing it from his pocket. If she started to sing to him, he was ending it right there. Right then. Without hesitation. There was no way he was endangering her.
She walked around the vehicle, her footsteps almost silent in the deep moss. He turned his head to watch her approach, every muscle in his body taut. She looked right at him, her green eyes steady on his face as she neared him. He caught his breath, his heart thudding almost painfully. She was so beautiful… No, she was so much more than beautiful. She was light, she was love, she was courage and she was peace…peace he didn’t deserve.
She came to a stop in front of him, searching his face.
His fingers tightened on the gun, pressing the muzzle into his ribs, angling it toward his heart. “Don’t sing,” he warned her. “Don’t do it.”
She said nothing. She just stood there, studying him. He felt as though she were peeling aside all his layers and exposing the raw ugliness of his core. He didn’t want her to see it. Despite what she’d been through, there was a beauty and purity to her soul that still glittered with life. He didn’t want to be the one to finally wipe it out. “I think,” he said, forcing out the words, “that it would be best if I went on without you. I’ll find Seth and bring him back. You go to my place and hole up. It’s safe. I’ll meet you there.”
“Shut up.” She grasped the waistband of his jeans, twisting her fingers in the denim. “Just for one second, shut up.”
He ignored her. “You’re not safe with me. I have to do what’s right and that’s—”
She grabbed his shoulders, stood on her tiptoes, and kissed him.
Jace froze. Her lips were warm and soft, tasting faintly like honey or vanilla, or something sweet. Her mouth was inviting, a sensual temptation that tore through all his safeguards and plunged right to his gut.
He wanted to shove her away from him. He knew that was the only responsible choice. He wanted to be a man he could respect.
But he was so starved for what she gave him that there was no way for him to resist it. He immediately wrapped her up in his arms, dragging her against him. Her body was like heaven when she melted against him, the only thing between them was her thin shirt. He tunneled his hand through her hair, glorifying in the sensation of the silken strands sliding across his fingers.
She slid her arms behind his neck, holding tight, pulling him toward her.
He angled his head and kissed her back, deeply, intensely, offering her what little value there still was in his soul. He couldn’t believe how incredible she tasted, how soft her lips were, how much heat burned through him from her kiss.
He wanted more. He wanted every part of her. He needed to claim her for his own, to protect and cherish for all eternity. He’d never held anything so pure and beautiful in his arms before, and he didn’t want to ever release her. She was the light he’d been searching for his entire life, a confirmation that he’d been right to stay alive all these years. He palmed her hips, sliding his hands over the curves of her butt, his cock going rock hard at the feel of her body beneath his palms.
He’d been with women before, but he’d always been only partially present, always looking over his shoulder for a threat, or thinking about how to better serve his pack. But in this moment, with Abby in his arms, with her scent wrapped around him, with her body entangled with his, there was no room for anything but her. Everything else simply faded away, until all that was left was how badly he wanted her, and how much he needed to protect her.
She made a small noise of pleasure in the back of her throat, a sensual purr that awoke his wolf. It roared to life, ignited by the woman in his arms. It howled through him, greedily absorbing every essence of her. Driven by the primal call of his wolf, Jace tightened his grip on her and deepened the kiss, claiming her on every level of her being. His moral code that insisted he keep his distance from her vanished, swept away by the sheer intensity of his need for her, and his lupine instinct to claim her. She didn’t resist, melting into him, accepting his need, welcoming his demands. She was utterly open to him, trusting him, offering him whatever he wanted.
Her refusal to protect herself from him incited his need to protect her. The softer she was around him, the fiercer his need to ensure her safety. He didn’t want her to lose that softness, to shun it in favor of the hard shields he lived by. She was too entrancing the way she was, too perfect, too real. She touched a part of him that he’d shut down long ago, a part that wanted to live and breathe so badly he couldn’t shut it down now that she’d awakened it.
Her hands moved to his side, and her fingers bumped the gun in his pocket. When the cold steel pressed against his side, reality pierced the bubble she’d woven around him. He was so dangerous he’d had a gun trained on his own ribs, and now he was pouring himself into a kiss with the woman whose life he had destroyed?
Swearing, he broke the kiss, pushing her back from him. “I can’t do this,” he gasped, his voice raw, his entire body burning with the need to drag her back into his arms. “Don’t you understand what I am?” Her cheeks were flushed, her expression so completely kissable that he swore. “Hell, Abby, I’m not the good guy. I can’t be honorable when you look at me like that.”
She moved closer to him, and he stiffened, forcing his hands behind his head. He locked his fingers together, trapping himself as she rested her fingers on his bare chest.
She looked up at him. “I’ve seen evil,” she said. “I’ve tasted it. You’re not it.”
“I know I’m not evil,” he said, trying to catch his breath as she traced designs on his chest. “But I’m a killer. I’m weak, unable to control my wolf. You’re not safe with me.”
“I am.” She framed his face with her hands. “The song caught you off guard before. You didn’t have time to prepare, and you had no emotional connection with my sister. That’s why it was able to incite you like that.” She smiled, a smile so tender that something twisted inside Jace. “But you know about it now, and you have a connection to me. You won’t kill me.”
Jace wanted to be the guy she believed in. He’d once thought he was. But he knew better now. He released his hands and clasped hers, pressing a kiss to her fingertips. “Since I was born, I’ve known my reason for existence was to protect those who needed it.”
She nodded. “I can see that.”
“I created my own pack of outsiders, because I knew no one else could help them. I was their savior. I was the guy who could save them.” He pressed her hand to his heart, as if that would help her understand exactly how deeply he lived his words. “My entire being is focused on protecting others. Every living creature that crosses my path automatically falls under that protection. My connection to them is instant. That’s what has enabled me to kill the few wolves that I’ve had to destroy, because they were predators who could not be cured of their bloodlust, and my job is protection.” He’d never tried to explain himself before, but with Abby, he wanted to. He needed to. He needed someone to understand what drove him, so that his legacy would not die with him.
Empathy flickered across Abby’s face. “I know,” she said. “I could tell the moment I heard your voice on my grandmother’s doorstep. That’s why I came after you.”
“No, don’t.” He brushed his fingers over her lips, silencing her. “What I’m trying to say is that I don’t need to know someone personally to have that connection with them. It’s instant and complete. I had it with your sister by virtue of the fact that she was a living creature…and yet I killed her anyway.” He tightened his grip on her hands. “That song overruled everything that has defined me for my entire life. Protection of innocents is all that matters to me, and it broke that. No matter how much you want to believe in me, you can’t do it. Do you understand?”
Abby searched his face for a long moment, not answering. As the silence stretched on, a great yearning awoke inside him, a longing to have her refuse to accept his declaration, the same yearning he’d felt at her house when he’d offered her the gun. But at the same time, the yearning also awakened a rising fear in him that she’d give him what he wanted, because if she believed in him and gave him a chance, he knew he’d take it…and that would endanger her, and so many others. His soul burned for her to believe in him, but his moral code needed her to condemn him.
In the end, she said nothing.
She simply lifted his hand and pressed a kiss to each of his knuckles, kisses so tender and intimate that time seemed to stand still. “You’re a good man, Jace.”
He watched her lips pressed against his skin, every cell in his body screaming to drag her into his arms and take those lips as his own. “That’s not always enough,” he said softly. “And we both know it.”