Eternal hunter, p.1
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       Eternal Hunter, p.1

         Part #1 of Night Watch series by Lauren DeStefano
 
Eternal Hunter
Page 1

  Chapter 1

  Jude Donovan was used to hunting killers—used to running them down like the damn dogs they were and caging the bastards.

  So when he followed his latest prey into the swamps of Louisiana, an area that looked like it had been home to nothing but beasts for the last few centuries, he wasn’t nervous.

  Until a bullet thudded into him.

  Sonofabitch. The fiery pain blasted in his shoulder even as the retort of the rifle echoed in his ears.

  “You’re not taking me back, you bastard!” The snarl came from up ahead, to the right. The tip of the barrel jutted over a fallen log.

  Jude gritted his teeth, but didn’t bother glancing down at the wound. No time for that, not now. “Bobby Burrows!” He called out the man’s name. Voice loud and hard, as if he weren’t bleeding like a freaking stuck pig. “There are two ways we can handle this…” He stalked forward. Drops of blood littered the ground around him. Great. Blood would attract the gators and hell knew what else. The bastard would pay. “First way’s easy, as in…you drop that rifle and come out with your hands up. ”

  “I’m not giving up! I won’t go to jail! I won’t!” The tip of the weapon began to move. Fuck.

  “Then we do it the hard way. ” Jude inhaled and caught the cloying scent of the swamp, the rich flavor of his own blood, and the man’s scent of fear and sweat. “I come and get you— and I rip you apart. ” Simple enough. His eyes narrowed on his target. The ground disappeared beneath Jude’s feet as he sprang forward.

  A man darted out from behind the log, eyes wild, rifle clutched tight to him. With a big-ass scope on it, of course. He lifted, aimed—

  Jude growled, a deep, inhuman sound, and he swiped out with his right hand. He caught the wanted man in the right shoulder, and saw the spatter of blood in the air. Bobby’s this time, not his.

  Wound for wound. Blood for blood. The way of his kind.

  He grabbed the weapon, wrenching it out of Bobby’s hand. Bobby, a guy in his forties, balding and with big fists, stared up at him, terror on his face. “You—you’re not—”

  Jude smiled. Held up his hands. Blood stained the claws that seemed to burst out of his fingertips. “Human?”

  A whimper.

  The smile stretched even more. His shoulder ached like a bitch, pulsing every few seconds, but Jude ignored the pain. An old habit. He leaned forward, ran his claws over the squirming man’s stubbled face. “No, I’m not. What I am, Bobby, is the worst nightmare you’ve ever had. ” He let his claws dig into skin. “Tell me, did you enjoy cutting those women?”

  Bobby’s screams pierced the night.

  The first time she saw him, Jude Donovan was covered in blood. Erin Jerome recognized him instantly—she’d seen his picture in the local paper just days before. She watched as Jude handed the wanted man he’d apprehended over to the local cops. Watched as Bobby Burrows, a man who’d cruelly sliced up the faces of his ex-wife, his two ex-girlfriends, and some unlucky woman he’d stumbled across in Baton Rouge, was shoved into the backseat of a squad car.

  She could hear Bobby’s shouts from across the street. His yells of “Monster!” And his ravings about claws and killers.

  Disgust tightened her lips. Jerk was probably already preparing for his defense. An insanity plea. Erin would bet a month’s salary on it.

  Not that she was going to let the freak get away with something like that.

  Oh, no, as an assistant district attorney, it was her job to make sure that old Bobby got to see the inside of an eight by twelve foot cell, preferably for the rest of his miserable life. Angola prison was waiting for him.

  Straightening her jacket, because this was only her second week on the job and she needed to be professional—or, at least try to be—Erin crossed the street. Her eyes were drawn to Jude.

  The bounty hunter.

  He worked for Night Watch, a huge, multi-state operation that had a main base in Baton Rouge. Night Watch was reputed to be one of the best, if not the best, bounty hunting agencies in the country. No matter what it took, their hunters caught their prey.

  A fact that, right then, made her enormously grateful. Her job would get a whole lot easier now that she had the defendant in custody.

  Her heels tapped on the pavement. Time to—

  Jude’s head shot up. His eyes, the bluest she’d ever seen, lazered in on her.

  Erin stumbled. No, oh, hell, no—

  She caught his scent then. The wild scent of her kind.

  Other. Shifter.

  Erin wasn’t human, well, not completely anyway. And she knew the truth about the world around her.

  She knew that humans weren’t the only killers out on the streets.

  Sucking in a sharp breath, she straightened her shoulders and kept walking. The animal scent of the hunter teased her, as did the thick fragrance of blood in the air.

  Dammit, this is the last thing I need. She’d tried so hard, for so long, to be normal.

  Then this guy had literally landed in her path.

  His nostrils widened as she came closer. She knew he was drinking in her scent, knew too by the faint line that appeared between his brows that he couldn’t quite understand what she was.

  Story of my life.

  “Ms. Jerome. ” One of the uniforms stepped toward her, a wide smile on his face. His partner slammed the car door, effectively isolating Bobby and ending his claws rant.

  Maybe that hadn’t been an insanity plea in the making after all.

  She crouched down, gazing at Bobby through the window. Her breath rushed out. “What happened to him?” But she knew.

  The uniforms looked at Jude.

  Jaw clenched, so did she.

  And Erin realized she’d made a serious mistake. His eyes held hers. Saw too much.

  Danger.

  Oh, yeah, this guy was a serious threat. To her.

  Not good-looking, not really, at least not in that classic, magazine way. A mane of thick blond hair teased his shirt collar.

  Framed a face that was hard, a little cruel. High cheeks. Sharp nose. Square jaw.

  No, not a GQ face. But still…

  Sexy. Somehow, he was still sexy. Maybe it was those lips. That scar that slipped right over the edge of his top lip.

  Shouldn’t have been sexy, but it was.

  He was.

  Freaking animal attraction, that’s what it was.

  The guy had an air about him, one of those I-don’t-give-adamn attitudes. A wildness in his eyes and in the curl of his lips.

  Erin swallowed. She couldn’t help taking an uneasy step back.

  His eyes followed the movement, and one golden brow rose. After a moment, he shrugged. His gaze raked over her body.

  “And you are…?”

  “Assistant District Attorney Erin Jerome. ” Gritted out. Why was there blood all over Bobby? If something happened and this case got thrown out—

  “Not the question I was asking. ” Bland as you please. That brow was still up.

  Her lips parted. “What?” No way could he have meant—

  His eyes swept over her again, and a smile lifted his lips. “Interesting. ”

  Right then, the only interesting thing she saw was Bobby. A lie. But she’d always been good at lying to herself. And about herself. “What. Happened?”

  Another shrug. “He slipped in the swamp. Fell on some branches. ”

  It was Erin’s turn to let her eyes drift over him. Drift over his too-wide shoulders and muscled chest. “Is that your blood?”

  she asked quietly. “Or his?”

  “Little of both. ”

  A headache began to pound behind her left
eye. Erin grabbed on to her patience and held tight.

  What was the guy’s deal? Was he the crazy one?

  “Uh, Ms. Jerome?” It was the uniform to her right. “You want us to go ahead and take Burrows to processing?”

  Erin shook her head. She’d been listening to the police radio, hoping for some word on Bobby. The guy had vanished less than an hour after posting bail—she still didn’t know what the idiot judge had been thinking. She’d been desperate for some word on the sadistic jerk, and then, like a sweet gift from Fate, she’d caught the news of his capture.

  She’d almost flown down to Burns Swamp. “Take him to the hospital. Get him patched up. ” She pointed at the cop. “Do not let him leave your sight for even a second, understand? Bail’s revoked. Once the docs give the ok, haul his ass back to jail. ”

  Hopefully, he’d stay locked up for the rest of his miserable days.

  The uniform, Ray Neal—she’d met him twice before—gave a nod. He and his partner climbed into the car, then drove away, taking her criminal with them.

  And leaving her alone with the hunter.

  “Wanna answer my question?” His voice was deep, rumbling.

  Goosebumps rose on her bare arms, and it was far too warm for her to have a chill from the weather.

  “Just what question was that?” She tilted her head to the right.

  “Who are you?” A pause. “What are you?”

  She let her brow furrow. She’d fooled Other before, she could do it again. “I’m really not sure I understand. I told you, I’m Assistant District Attorney—”

  “You don’t smell human. ”

  Her breath caught on a gasp. No, he hadn’t just said—

  He stepped toward her, a fast move that brought their bodies too close. Jude leaned in, lowering his head over the curve of her throat. And inhaled.

  “Stop!” She shoved him, hard, and watched with no small satisfaction as he stumbled back.

  Oh, yeah, big guy, I’m much, much stronger than I appear. He wasn’t the first one to learn that little lesson.

  She almost bared her teeth at him. Almost.

  After all, she wasn’t an animal. No matter what the whispers back home said.

  “I don’t know just what you think you were doing,” she snapped, glaring at him as she narrowed her eyes. “But you’d better watch what you do and what you say around me. ” Was the guy crazy? You don’t smell human. He couldn’t say things like that.

  The words were too dangerous.

  She reached into her purse. Dug out her card. “Call my office. My assistant will take care of any paperwork you’ve got. ”

  He stared at her a moment longer. Then, slowly, his tanned fingers rose. Long fingers, callused. Strong. He took the card, and his fingertips brushed over her hand.

  Erin didn’t flinch and she was extremely proud of that fact.

  “Good work, Donovan. ” After giving him that grudging token of appreciation, she nodded and began to march back toward her car.

  She’d taken all of five steps when she heard his whistle. Long, loud, and very appreciative.

  Erin stilled.

  I really don’t need this shit.

  “I’ve got your scent. ” Hard words. Scary words. Because she knew what they meant.

  If Jude Donovan truly was a shifter, and every instinct she had screamed that he was, then having her scent, well, it meant he had her. He’d be able to follow her, to find her, almost anywhere.

  A shifter. What were the odds she’d stumble onto him?

  One of the little perks in the Other world—the world full of supernaturals and nightmares, the world that, rather unfortunately, was her life—was that like recognized like. Demons, because, yeah, those conniving bastards were real, could

  “see” others of their breed. They could look right past the magic glamour and peer into the darkness inside.

  Witches felt the power pull from their brethren.

  And shifters, well, they could smell each other—a distinct scent. One that carried the wisp of power and the scent of the beast.

  Jude Donovan smelled of power. Of wild, strong man. Of savagery. No denying that scent.

  As for the beast…she didn’t need the marks on Bobby’s face to know Donovan had claws.

  Erin began to walk again. One determined step after another.

  And even when she climbed into her car, she could feel his eyes on her. Watching and seeing too much.

  Now, she’d have to be extra careful to stay on her guard and not let the hunter discover the secrets she kept so carefully hidden.

  “What the hell happened to you?” Dee Daniels asked the minute Jude strode past the rather unassuming entrance of Night Watch’s Louisiana branch. She stood quickly, her blond hair cut brutally short around her elfin face. There was envy in her eyes as she stared at him with her lips slightly parted. “You lucky bastard, you took prey down, didn’t you?”

  Jude grunted and rolled his shoulder. He’d shifted before coming into the agency. A fast, hard shift to speed up the healing process. His kind were blessed with a freaking phenomenal recovery system. Some shifters were lucky, they could heal almost instantly from their wounds. Others took a few days for a full recovery. It all depended on the power of the beast inside.

  Because he was a very rare shifter breed, Jude was on the luckier end of the spectrum. He could heal fully in hours.

  Yeah, he’d have a scar because the system wasn’t that perfect. More like he had his own little micro surgeon inside, stitching him back up. Soon, all that would remain of the jagged hole would be a slim line of raised flesh—once the skin melded itself back together.

  He dropped his bag near his desk. Damn but he was tired.

  He hurt.

  And he was horny.

  All because of a little human.

  No, not a human. He’d stake his life on it.

  “You tracked the bastard down in twelve hours. ” Dee gave a faint hmmm, kind of like a revving motor. “Jerk, you’ve just broken my record. ”

  The disgruntlement in her voice had a reluctant smile tugging at his lips. “Don’t worry, babe, there’s always next time. ” Dee was a bloodthirsty one. She was the toughest and sneakiest fighter he’d ever come across.

 
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