Home > Tiger Magic (Shifters Unbound #5)(10)

Tiger Magic (Shifters Unbound #5)(10)
Jennifer Ashley

His perplexity touched her. Tiger knew his instincts, and was fighting them, but he was obeying orders, not thinking the problem through for himself.

Carly took his hand and squeezed it. “We’ll figure this out.”

Tiger went even more still, his gaze riveted to her. It was unnerving, being pinned by the yellow stare, but at the same time, Carly wanted to hold on to him even harder.

She spied movement behind Tiger and took several rapid paces back. “Too late. He’s out.”

Walker had kicked his way into Carly’s backseat. He opened the car door on the side opposite from her and Tiger, rolling out and coming to his feet in one movement. Pieces of duct tape hung from his wrists, but he’d managed to remove everything from his legs.

Without changing expression, Walker took in his surroundings, then turned and went for the most vulnerable person within his reach—Connor.

Connor had come out of the house he’d entered, but had returned without Liam or anyone else. He’d been jogging over to the house to its right, the one that shared the driveway, when Walker caught him.

Tiger let out a roar. He gave up on self-control, launched himself over the car, and went for Walker.

“A little help here!” Carly shouted. She ran after Tiger, though she didn’t know what she could do. She had no weapon, wasn’t a black belt in anything, and could probably lose an arm-wrestling match with a seven-year-old boy. She was used to dealing with artists, some of whom were emotionally delicate, but she’d never had to body tackle any of them to Armand’s gallery floor.

Walker had Connor in a headlock, spinning Connor around to face Tiger. The muscles in Walker’s arm bulged as he held a snarling Connor around his neck, not letting go even though Connor was beginning to shift.

Tiger’s hands sprouted immense claws, his face transitioning to a snarling tiger’s. “Don’t. Hurt. The cubs.”

He went for Walker, Carly still yelling for help.

The door of the second house opened, and someone emerged, but Carly didn’t clearly see who it was until a tall man who looked a lot like Sean got his hands around Walker’s neck and jerked him backward.

The momentum made Walker release Connor, now a young lion with the beginnings of a black mane, who fell to all fours, panting.

The rescuer spun Walker around and delivered a tight, efficient blow behind Walker’s ear. Walker had balled up his fist to punch first, but his hand went slack, and he collapsed at the newcomer’s feet.

The man looked Walker over, then shifted his gaze to Carly, giving her the same assessing stare. He was an older version of Sean and Liam, with similar blue eyes, but his dark hair was going gray at the temples. The difference was in the absolute stillness this man could achieve; it was even more acute than that which she’d observed in the Shifters at the hospital, or even in Tiger.

This Shifter looked at Carly, all the way through her, as though he knew every thought inside her head—the ones now, every thought she’d had in the past, and every one she would have in the future. His nostrils moved the slightest bit.

“Who is she?” he asked, voice deadly quiet. Not asking Carly—oh, no. He wasn’t even asking Tiger. The question had been directed at Connor.

The young lion shook himself. He sat down on his haunches, not turning back to human. The man’s blue gaze flicked to Tiger, waiting for him to answer. But Tiger remained in place, though his face and hands became human again, still protecting Connor.

Carly stepped forward into the silence. “I’m Carly Randal,” she said, trying to sound both bright and firm, as she did when arrogant people came to the gallery to sneer at brilliant paintings. “And you are?”

“He’s Dylan,” Tiger said. “Used to be Shiftertown leader.”

“Retired, are you?” Carly asked. “That’s nice.”

Dylan’s eyes flared with white-hot anger. Carly understood in that moment what it was like to be a rabbit under the gaze of a mountain lion right before that lion put out a paw and ended the rabbit’s life.

Then Dylan’s rage dissipated, and the corners of his lips quirked into a small, ironic smile. “I gave over the running of Shiftertown to my son. Who is that?” He pointed at Walker on the ground.

“His name’s Walker Danielson,” Carly answered. “From the Shifter Bureau, apparently.”

Dylan’s smile vanished. “Shite, woman. And you thought it was a good idea to haul him here wrapped in duct tape?”

Connor remained a lion, slowly blinking and looking as innocent as a youthful male lion possibly could.

“He threatened Carly,” Tiger said, fury in his voice.

“So you beat him down,” Dylan said. “Whose idea was the duct tape?”

“Mine,” Carly said quickly. Connor was too young to have this dangerous-looking man angry at him. Dylan might not be in charge anymore, but his stance said that he hadn’t stopped expecting everyone to obey him. “I didn’t know what to do with him, and I didn’t want him to go to the police, so I thought Shifters would know what to do.” Carly gave Dylan her most charming smile, one that disarmed even the pickiest of gallery customers.

“She’s lying,” Tiger said.

“I know,” Dylan answered. “I can smell it. Let’s get him inside.”

Not inside his own house, the one he’d come out of—Dylan heaved Walker up over his shoulder as though the man weighed nothing and carried him into the house next door.

No one was there. This bungalow was airy, with a gigantic kitchen and an equally large living room with a dining area fixed in one corner. A staircase rose from the middle wall of the living room, disappearing upward.

“Who lives here?” Carly asked.

“My son Liam.” Dylan deposited Walker on the floor, walked unhurriedly into the kitchen, and returned with another roll of duct tape.

“And me.” Connor came inside, human again, his shirt and jeans ripped from his change. “And Liam’s mate, Kim. And Tiger.”

Tiger stood above Walker, staring at the blood on the man’s face, his fists clenched. Fighting himself again.

“Tiger,” Carly said. “Come on over here with me.”

Tiger’s glance at her showed rigid anger and pain so deep it cut her from all the way across the room. He didn’t want to look away from Walker, the potential threat, but at the same time, he was pulled to Carly.

Tiger closed his eyes, blotting out the flash of anger, but his face was fixed, the pain obvious.

Carly walked to him and took his hand. Tiger opened his eyes and looked down at her, this time fully.

Carly wanted to both run away and stay under his mesmerizing gaze. As a very small child she’d gone to a zoo where the animals had roamed freely, and the humans walked past them in caged walkways. She remembered a mountain lion that had followed her on the other side of the grille, its golden eyes directly on her. Even now, Carly had no idea whether it had been curious about her or had thought a small child would make a good midmorning snack. She’d cried in terror, and her mother had carried her out.

The feeling, buried deep in her past, flooded out again. Tiger was a wild animal, never mind that he currently had a human body and wore normal clothes and a Collar. The wildness was in his eyes, a creature untamed.

Tiger’s gaze held her in place as though she were the small animal that couldn’t run away. The predator had her, his prey.

He touched her face. Carly shuddered with reaction, his caress a gentle contrast to the obvious strength in him.

Tiger bent to her, as though drawn by her, everything around them forgotten. He nuzzled her as he had in her yard, and Carly caught his face in her hands, rose on tiptoe, and kissed his lips.

* * *

Tiger’s world stopped. The press of Carly’s lips against his cut through his jangled confusion, the need to kill falling away.

Her lips were a place of warmth, satin smooth, the softest sensation he’d ever felt. The touch of her mouth was light, yet he felt it in every part of his body. Every part—especially his cock, which was becoming tight.

Carly’s lips formed a slight pucker, pressing moisture to his mouth. The gentle pressure was both featherlight and firm at the same time.

She brushed her lips over his, moving across them, ending at the corner of his mouth. Her movements were so slight, and yet Tiger thought this was the most important thing that had ever happened to him.

Carly touched her lips to the corner of his mouth again, then she lifted away, her brows drawn down over her gray green eyes.

Her scent had changed, ever so slightly, but Tiger sensed it. She’d been nervous, worried, angry, confused. Now into the mix came wanting. She desired Tiger. That fact spun around and settled in a hot point deep inside him.

“What’s the matter?” she asked, her puzzlement rising again. Carly touched his face with light fingertips, then she gave him a surprised smile. “Haven’t you ever kissed anyone before?”

“No.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“No.”

Tiger had had a mate, the female ripped away from him after he’d impregnated her, but they’d never kissed. It had been animalistic, that mating, though he’d become fervently attached to her, had come apart in grief when she’d died. What Carly had just done was different from anything he’d ever experienced.

“Wow.” Carly skimmed her fingertips across his lips, drawing fire. “I don’t think I’ve met a man who was a virgin.”

“I had a mate. She had a cub.”

“Ah. Then not a virgin. But you’ve never kissed?”

“No.”

“That’s weird. Wait, you had a mate?” Carly asked, her smile going away. “Where is she now? And your kid?”

“They died.”

The words came out flat and didn’t say everything he needed them to. Words couldn’t. Ever.

Carly’s look became shocked, her scent tinged with compassion. “Oh, Tiger, I’m so sorry.” She ran her hands over his shoulders, as though trying to soothe the tension there. “I didn’t know. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to tease you.”

“Their deaths were not your fault.” Again the words fell flat. Tiger couldn’t explain, couldn’t make her understand why he wanted her to feel better.

“I mean, I’m sorry for you. That she died. That the child died. That must have been awful.”

“Yes.”

Carly’s voice softened. She exuded sympathy, even more than had Iona, or any other Shifter. “There’s more to you than meets the eye, isn’t there?” she asked.

Tiger wasn’t sure what that meant—he knew English, but he’d learned it from scientists, who didn’t so much talk to him as at him or over him.

When he wasn’t certain, he didn’t answer, but Carly didn’t seem to mind. She continued to touch his face, her eyes on his, her smile returning.

“Aw, Dad, what the fuck?” Liam’s Irish tones boomed.

Tiger saw no reason to turn from Carly as Liam banged his way into the living room where his father was wrapping more duct tape around Walker on the floor. Tiger scented Liam and his daughter, Katriona, but not Kim.

“Dad, what did you do?”

“Talk to your nephew and Tiger,” Dylan said calmly. “The man on your rug is Shifter Bureau.”

Liam went silent as he contemplated the situation. Tiger noticed that Connor had disappeared upstairs.

Liam, a talker, didn’t stay silent long. “Why is he here, passed out and trussed up, and why are you here?” He pointed a blunt finger at Carly.

Liam’s daughter, a year and a few months old, was perched on her father’s shoulders, her dark curly hair and blue eyes proclaiming her the Morrissey she was. She saw Tiger and stretched out her hands.

“Tigger!”

Tigger was the name of a character in a children’s story, and Katriona insisted on giving the name to Tiger. Tiger didn’t mind. He turned away from Carly and walked slowly to Liam, indicating he’d take the cub if Liam was willing to hand her off. He wouldn’t reach for her uninvited, no. Liam needed to make the decision.

Liam’s stance exuded more annoyance than anger. He hauled Katriona from his shoulders, holding her out to Tiger before joining his father over Walker’s body.

Tiger closed his hands carefully around Katriona’s torso and lifted her high into the air. She squealed and laughed as she always did, then cuddled down against his chest as he held her close.

Katriona’s curly hair tickled Tiger’s chin as she looked around with interest at everything happening in the living room. Tiger’s body unclenched, as it always did when he was around the cubs. When his instincts got out of control, a cub’s presence could make his animal nature stop and his thoughts cease whirling.

“Well, aren’t you the cutest thing?” Carly poked Katriona in the tummy. “What’s your name, honey?”

“’Trina,” she said.

“Katriona,” Tiger rumbled. “She can’t say the whole word yet.”

“A pretty name for a pretty girl.” Carly seemed delighted with Kat.

“’Nk you,” Kat said.

Liam’s scent broke Tiger’s focus on Carly and Kat as Liam himself stopped in front of them. “Excuse me, if I can be interrupting this sweet little moment. Will one of you tell me what the hell is going on? Seeing as I heard Connor lock himself in his room, which means he’s scared about what I’m going to do, and that means there’s something for him to be worrying about. Isn’t there?”

CHAPTER NINE

“I wouldn’t know about that,” Carly said. She broke into a smile again as she tickled Katriona’s stomach. She couldn’t know how beautiful she looked when she did that. “All I know is, his name is Walker Danielson, he was spying on me, and Tiger caught him and knocked him out. He’s also friends with a professor who wants me to come and talk to you and write reports about you for him. For a research project, he said. Wants me to be his assistant. Anyway, Connor was worried Tiger would hurt Walker even more, so I thought, why not bring him to you and have you talk to him? He’s from the Shifter Bureau, and y’all are Shifters.”

Liam listened, his blue gaze trained on Carly’s face. “And Connor wouldn’t have anything to do with this, would he?”

“Connor was doing his best,” Carly said. “He was scared. Give the kid a break, all right?”

Liam moved the slightest bit closer to her. “And you? Are you scared?”

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