JASE knocked on the front door of the nondescript bungalow in Anchorage where his cousin, Blaise, had sent him to hopefully get some good information as to where Caleb could be. Caleb was a physician and cousin to Blaise and his older brother, Taylor, and on the run. He’d been treating Blaise and Taylor’s father for an “illness” that had turned out to be Caleb poisoning him. Jase had taken on the job of hunting him down to face his uncle, who was the head of their cougar shifter family group.
He knocked again, louder than the time before. Blaise had promised Jase his friend would be at home and expecting him. Finally, he heard movement on the other side of the door.
It swung open, and a large man filled the doorway. He had to be at least six foot seven, topping Jase’s own height by six inches. His body was heavily padded with muscle, which Jase hadn’t been expecting since Blaise had called this guy a computer geek. He was a cougar shifter but from another local family group.
“Are you Jase?” the man asked, peering at him closely.
“Yeah. And you must be Dacian.”
Dacian took a step back. “Come on inside. Blaise told me what you were looking for. You brought some kind of computer device, right?”
Jase walked into the house and waited for Dacian to shut the door before he answered. He held up the tablet he carried. “Will this do?”
The other man nodded. “You’ll just need Internet access.”
“I have mobile Internet on it.”
“Good. Come on back to my office, and I’ll get you what you need.”
Jase followed Dacian down the hallway to the back of the house, where an office was located. There was a large solid-wood desk with not one but three flat-screen monitors sitting on it. Each one was twenty-two inches in size. There was also a laptop on the very end. It was a computer geek’s heaven.
Dacian walked around the desk, then sat. He held out his hand for Jase’s tablet, which Jase gave to him. Jase took a seat in the chair on the other side of the workstation. The larger man’s fingers flew over the keyboard, which had been hidden away on a sliding shelf under the desktop.
After a few seconds, Dacian said while he continued to type, “Blaise already gave me Caleb’s cell phone number. This program I’m going to give you will track the signal each time he uses it. It’s not up to the minute, but it won’t be so far from it that you won’t have a chance to catch him before he runs if you move quickly enough. I do have to say he’s an idiot for not ditching his cell. That’s the easiest way to track someone. Hopefully, he makes it easy on you to bring him to face the head of your family group.”
“Well, his stupidity just works out in my favor. I’m surprised Blaise told you everything Caleb did to cause him to be on the run.” Most family groups kept the goings-on from others.
Dacian smiled. “Blaise knows he can trust me not to talk. Just as I trust him to keep my business private. We have an understanding.”
Jase figured they did. For one thing, Dacian looked like one tough son of a bitch who wouldn’t mind using his fists, or claws, to show his displeasure if someone crossed him. The man was huge for a cougar shifter. It was the werewolves who normally grew as big as that.
“I bet,” he said as Dacian plugged Jase’s tablet into his computer. His fingers flew over the keyboard once more.
After he finished, Dacian handed Jase his tablet. “You’re all set. Just run the program when you want to see the last time and from where Caleb used his cell phone. Usually, I charge for this, but I owed Blaise one, so this is on the house.”
“Thanks.” Jase stood. “I guess I now know who to go to if I need anything like this again.”
Drave gained his feet, then walked around his desk to Jase. “I’m your man. Blaise told me how you and your brother, Grady, like to hit the human bars and check the women out, and how now that Blaise is mated, he doesn’t join. I wouldn’t mind going out with you two sometime.”
Jase nodded. “Why not? You sure you want to take the flak from your family group if you end up going out with a human woman?”
As far as Jase knew, Taylor had been the very first of their kind to have a human for a mate. A lot of the older, more traditional cougar shifters looked down their noses at humans, thinking they were beneath them. He didn’t think that way, nor did his brother, Grady. It wasn’t as if Taylor had set out to look for one to mate.
All male cougar shifters were given a gold cougar-head pendant once they hit adolescence. Each one was made with a little bit of magic embedded inside. Only a male’s mate would set it off, causing the cat’s ruby eyes to glow. It was then the female’s choice to take his pendant from him and put it around her neck, thus causing the mating bond to form between them. If she didn’t, the male ended up a mess, unable to eat or sleep. He would only be able to think about one thing—sex. He would want to use it to bring his would-be mate closer, to force her to see he was the one for her and to convince her to take his necklace.
Dacian chuckled. “I don’t give two shits what my family group would think. I do whatever I want. I’m what you would consider the black sheep. They leave me alone, and I return the favor. It makes everyone happy.”
Jase wasn’t going to go there. Plus, it was none of his business. “In that case, I have your number and I’ll be giving you a call soon.”
“All right. I look forward to it.”
The big man walked Jase to the door after they shook hands. Once outside, he headed for his sports car parked in the driveway. Now that he had a tool to help him, he would begin his hunt. Hopefully, Caleb was as dumb as Dacian had said and would use his cell in the next little while.
* * * *
It took a few hours, but his prey finally used his cell, showing how well the computer program Dacian had given him worked. Caleb’s location was downtown in a part of the city where low-income properties could be found. It made sense he would be there, because it wasn’t an area the doctor would have been caught dead in before going on the run. Even though Caleb wasn’t that old and set in his ways like many of the family elders, he still felt humans were below cougar shifter standards. Not wanting his prey to give him the slip, Jase wasted no time driving to the designated spot the computer program had found.
Jase parked his car about a half block away from the location. Since Caleb would recognize it, he didn’t want him seeing it before Jase had a chance to get close. He walked down the street, looking at the property numbers until he arrived at the address Dacian’s program had come up with.
The apartment building looked to have seen better days. It was old and showed its age. It had a maximum of four floors and didn’t even have a secured entrance, so anyone could walk in off the street. It posed a bit of a problem—Jase had no idea what floor Caleb would be on. The program didn’t exactly give him an apartment number, just the main address.
He blew out a breath as he looked up at the building. The only thing he could do was search each floor until he found Caleb’s scent. It would take more time, and the chance of his prey giving him the slip was high, but Jase couldn’t come up with any other way to do it.
With a silent curse, Jase walked up the four steps that led to the main entrance. Inside, he started with the basement level. Not catching Caleb’s scent there, he moved on to the next floor.
Having finished the third and still no trace of his prey, Jase wondered if Caleb had already given him the slip. That would totally suck if that ended up being the case and he’d wasted all that time for nothing.
On the fourth and final floor, Jase managed to pick up an old scent trail. It was hard to detect, but it was there. He followed it down the hallway, almost to the very end. He stood between the two doors that were on either side of him. The trail led to both. Which one was the correct one was the question.
Jase did a game of eeny meeny miney moe to pick the first one to try. After one was selected, he stepped closer to the door, then sniffed around it to see if he could detect a stronger trail. If he did, it would be a sure sign Caleb was inside that apartment.
With hands on the wooden surface and his eyes shut, Jase was taken by surprise when it was yanked open. He didn’t catch himself in time to stop from falling face-first in a heap across the threshold. Something hard pressed into the center of his back and kept him from trying to gain his feet.
The female voice came from above where he lay. Jase slowly turned his head until he focused on a pair of feet directly in front of him. They were clad in white sports socks and were much smaller than his.
The thing on his back jabbed him harder. “I said don’t move. I’m not afraid to use this baseball bat on your head if I have to.”
So that was what it was. “I’m not going to do anything to warrant you to do that. If you’ll remove the bat, I’ll get up and be on my way.”
“Not so fast. Why were you trying to break into my apartment?”
“The hell you weren’t. I saw you through the peephole. It looked as if you were trying to do something to the door.”
The woman, who sounded young, was human. There was no way he could explain he was only trying to pick up a scent trail of another cougar shifter. She’d think he was lying and more than likely use that bat of hers on his head like a ball as threatened.
“I promise you I wasn’t trying to break in. I’m looking for someone. I thought this was his apartment. I think he lives across the hall.”
“If that’s so, why didn’t you knock like a normal person?”
“I wanted to surprise him. Maybe you know him. His name is Caleb.”
The woman was silent for a few seconds before she slowly pulled the bat away. “I know him. He moved in across the hall the other day.”
Jase carefully stood, not making any sudden movements. He didn’t trust that the bat wouldn’t still be aimed at his head. He lifted his gaze to the woman who was in front of him. He sucked in a quiet breath as he took in her face, which was gorgeous. She had shoulder-length brown hair and eyes that were a light green. She was a small thing. He guessed she had to stand around only five foot three. He towered over her.
“Then I’ll knock on his door.” He slowly backed up, keeping an eye on the bat she held at her side.
“I’ll watch you to make sure you do that.”
Jase spun around to hide the smile he couldn’t hold back. He doubted she’d take it the right way. He couldn’t help it, though. She looked so cute acting so tough. Actually, if he didn’t have to chase after Caleb, he would have tried asking her out. She was the first human woman he found himself really attracted to.
Instead of knocking, Jase tried turning the doorknob, which ended up being locked. A sudden crash from inside the apartment had him taking a step back before kicking the door in. He heard the woman behind him shout something as he ran through the doorway.
It took him only a matter of seconds to find the window in the living room open, along with the screen. The curtain in front of it hung outside as if someone hadn’t taken the time to pull it away before going through the space.
Jase hurried over and looked down. There was no fire escape. It was a straight drop to the alley below, which was empty. A jump like that wouldn’t do anything to a cougar shifter. Caleb must have heard Jase and the woman and escaped when Jase had tried the door. As he continued to look out the open window, he felt a now familiar sensation of something hard poking into the center of his back.
“I thought you were a friend of Caleb. Why did you kick in his apartment door?”
“I do know him, but I never said I was his friend.” Jase turned to face her. “He’s obviously gone. If you could tell me which apartment is the superintendent’s, I’ll pay for the damage I did to the door.”
She pegged him with a hard stare. “That would be me. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a thief actually wanting to pay to fix what he’s damaged before.”
“I told you. I’m not a thief.” When she poked him in the stomach with the bat, he realized she might not let him just walk away without some kind of explanation. “Look, my name is Jase. I’m looking for Caleb because he isn’t a very nice man. He tried to kill my uncle. I want to bring him to face the consequences of his crime.”
“Are you a cop?”
“No. I happened to get a lead on Caleb’s whereabouts and thought to see if I could corner him myself. Since I told you my name, will you tell me yours?”
She seemed to think it over, then said, “Katarina. If Caleb did what you said he did, shouldn’t you have tipped the cops off as to where he was? They have to be looking for him too if he tried to kill your uncle.”
Something else Jase couldn’t really explain. There were no human police involved, and there never would be. It was a matter his family group would handle. His uncle would be the one to decide Caleb’s fate.
“I didn’t want to take the chance of them showing up too late, but it would seem I did anyway. You can lower your bat. You don’t have to worry about me jumping you.” He smiled. “Unless you want me to, that is.”
Katarina narrowed her eyes. “You wouldn’t be trying to hit on me to get out of paying for the door, would you?”
“Absolutely not.” Jase took a step closer. “In fact, I really would like to take you out on a date.”
“You want to ask me out? Why?”
Jase was a little taken aback by Katarina’s question. “Because I find you really attractive,” he said slowly.
“So in other words, you’d like to fuck me, and you figured you’d better take me on a date first before you try to worm your way into my bed.”
For the first time in his life, Jase found himself dumbfounded by a woman. Katarina was beautiful, but from what she’d said, he had a feeling she didn’t have too many good experiences with men or dating.
He shook his head. “No, that wasn’t the reason I asked you out.” She arched a brow to say she didn’t believe him. “Okay, it wasn’t the only reason. I’ll admit I’m very attracted to you, even though you threatened to bash my brains in with that bat.”
Katarina gave a very unladylike snort, then motioned him to follow her as she turned away. They walked across the hall and into her apartment. Jase was pleased when she propped the bat in the corner next to the entranceway.
“About the door,” she said as she came to stand in front of him. “I have to call someone in to fix it, so I won’t know how much it’ll cost until later. Give me your phone number, and I’ll let you know once the job is done.”
“I can do that. If Caleb comes back, I’d like it if you could let me know. You never gave me an answer about a date.”
“I thought I gave you one.”
“No, you didn’t. Not really.”
Katarina rolled her eyes. “I’ll spell it out for you. I’m not interested in a one-night stand or anything casual. To be brutally honest, good-looking guys like you tend to have a wandering eye. I don’t put up with that crap. So if any of those things apply to you, I’m not interested.”
Wow, she was a tough nut to crack. She was going to make him work for it, and Jase was more than willing. She was the complete opposite of the females of his kind, who lived for the day when they set off the magic in a male’s pendant. It really turned him on.
Jase took a step closer and gave Katarina the sexiest grin he could. “Why don’t you say yes and see for yourself that they don’t apply to me. Plus, I like the fact you think I’m good-looking. I’ll take you wherever you want to go. You can plan the whole date.”
“If I say yes, I’ll drive myself. I want to be able to leave when I feel it isn’t going to work out, which will more than likely happen.”
“I have no problem with that.” Talk about a vote of confidence.
“Fine,” Katarina said as if it pained her. “I’ll go out with you tomorrow evening. You can pay me for the door then. I should be able to get someone in today since it’ll be an emergency call.”
Jase gave Katarina his cell phone number, then left after he had her promise to call him tomorrow during the day to let him know where and when to meet her that evening. As he left the apartment building, he figured he hadn’t completely wasted his time. Caleb may have given him the slip, but Jase had a date with a human woman who would more than likely keep him on his toes.
* * * *
Katarina turned the locks on her door after she closed it behind Jase. She looked out the peephole until he’d walked out of range. She turned and headed into her living room. After sitting on the couch, she placed the piece of paper she’d written Jase’s number on the coffee table. She picked up her cell, then made the call to the guy who did the handyman-type work around the building.
Once she hung up, she found her gaze drawn to the paper. Katarina couldn’t believe she’d agreed to go out on a date with Jase. She’d kind of given up on finding Mr. Right about a year ago. Usually, she seemed to attract the losers. She was a veritable magnet for bad boys, self-centered assholes, and men who were only after one thing. At twenty-seven, she was already jaded when it came to the opposite sex. In a lot of ways, she felt as if she’d be better off staying single.
An image of Jase rose inside her mind. He was a hunk—there was no question about that. All that remained to be seen was whether or not he ended up being as bad as the rest of the men she’d gone out with. The very small part of her that still held on to the hope of finding the one man who would be perfect for her prayed he’d be different.
Katarina sat back and smiled. At least she’d get to see how he passed her first test, which would be what they did on their date tomorrow evening. She’d come up with something he’d either be able to handle, or would send him running.