Lots of men.
She hadn't lied about that either. The thought of his Talin with others continued to stoke the dark fire inside of him, but at least he could think past it this morning. Going downstairs, he grabbed a cup of coffee and a bagel, then left before either Nate or Tamsyn could ask any awkward questions.
He had no time for delays. He was on a hunt.
No way in hell was Talin going to get away from him a second time.
There was an Enforcement car outside her apartment. Clay's heart kicked violently in his chest.
He'd left her alone in the dark. Tally was scared of the dark.
Disgusted with himself, he was about to get out of his own vehicle and track her down when she walked out holding a small duffel bag. His relief was crushing, but hard on its heels came a jagged mix of anger and possessiveness laced with razor-sharp tenderness. How dare she put herself in danger? And how dare she not call him the second she knew something was wrong?
Instead of Clay, there was another man walking by her side, the small gold shield of an Enforcement detective clipped to his collar. As Clay watched from across the road, the detective put a hand on her lower back and urged her toward the vehicle Clay had already noted. She resisted but didn't break the touch. The detective dropped his hand, his face wearing a scowl that told Clay Talin was being stubborn.
That didn't mean the man wasn't one of her lovers.
The leopard growled and the sound threatened to travel up through Clay's human vocal cords to fill the air inside the car. He almost didn't stop the sound from escaping, no matter that he knew full well he was behaving like an ass. He had no right to judge Talin. But that was the cool, logical, human side of his brain talking - where Talin was concerned, he was less human and more possessive, domineering cat.
Sliding back the door, he got out and strode across the street.
Talin's head snapped up the second his foot hit the ground, as if she'd felt the vibration. A chaotic mix of emotions swept across her face, waves of liquid flame: Relief. Surprise. Pain. That ever-present fear.
Her lips shaped his name as he reached her side and drew her to him with an arm around her neck. She flinched at the rough move. He ignored it. "What happened?" he asked the cop and it was a challenge.
The man looked to Talin. "Is this the friend you said you called?"
Talin nodded. "Yes."
Clay let the lie go. They'd discuss it later. "I'm Clay."
"Max." He held out a hand and as they shook, Clay saw the detective note everything about him, from his jeans to his sweatshirt to the fact that he needed a haircut. "You'll look after her," the man said as they broke contact.
Clay's anger quieted at that statement, turned assessing. "What do I need to protect her from?" It looked like Max was the only remaining cop, so whatever had happened, either it had been minor or it had happened long enough ago for the forensics people to have come and gone. Which meant Talin should have called him hours ago.
His protective fury grew anew as Max laid out the bare facts. "Unless someone's just getting their kicks terrorizing her, Talin's doing more damage than she thinks."
"I need to know what you've got, so I can make sure the bastards don't come anywhere near her." Clay could feel her heart beating as wildly as a panicked bird's. But he didn't release her and she didn't fight to be let go. The leopard calmed.
Max paused. "Officially, I can't give you anything. But you're one of Lucas's top men, aren't you?"
Clay wasn't surprised the cop had made him. DarkRiver was a power in San Francisco and it was Enforcement's job to know that. Mostly because they were Psy stooges, but sometimes for other reasons - like making sure justice was done despite Psy interference.
He made a mental note to ask his contacts about Max, but his instincts said the man stood on the right side of the line. "Yes. I'm with DarkRiver."
The detective nodded, as if reaching a decision. "Then we need to have an unofficial chat after I finish up today. Anyplace safe from prying eyes and ears?"
"Joe's Bar." Isolated near the edge of DarkRiver territory and frequented exclusively by cats, wolves, and their invited guests, it was close to airtight. "You know where it is?" At Max's nod, he said, "Leave the recorder at home."
"Funny that. I have a reputation for losing my recorder." A deadpan statement. "I'll see you around eight. Talin - you need me, you call."
"She won't be needing you." Clay felt his arm tighten, sensed her panic, but couldn't control the primitive animal impulse. "We'll see you at the bar."
Talin waited until Max had driven away before tugging at Clay's arm. "Let me go."
He leaned down until his lips brushed her ear. "I told you to stop flinching." And then he bit her. A slow, painless nip but there were definitely teeth involved.
Shocked, she couldn't speak for almost a minute, during which he hustled her across the road and into his large all-terrain vehicle. Its street name was the Tank, though it was far sleeker and faster than the outmoded war vehicle.
She finally found her voice after he dumped her bag in back and slid into the driver's seat. "You bit me!"
He threw her a scowling look. "I gave you plenty of warning. Put on your belt."
She was already doing it - out of habit, not because of his order. "You can't go around biting people!"
He maneuvered the car out into the street. It didn't surprise her in the least when he stuck to the manual controls, despite the fact that they were on a road embedded with the computronic chips that allowed automatic navigation. But he did engage the hover-drive, retracting the wheels so they skimmed soundlessly over the fog-shrouded streets.