Home > Tiger Magic (Shifters Unbound #5)(11)

Tiger Magic (Shifters Unbound #5)(11)
Jennifer Ashley

Carly stepped back into Tiger, and Tiger put a hand on her shoulder. “I’m a little afraid, sure,” she said. “It’s not every day I slap a piece of duct tape over a man’s mouth and stuff him into my trunk. And y’all are not reassuring. If Tiger weren’t here, my knees would be knocking together. But your daughter is obnoxiously sweet.”

Liam’s expression softened as he glanced at Katriona. “You only say that because you’re not chasing her all hours of the day and night. Mum goes to the office, and Da stays home and looks after this wee monster. I thought it was bad when she was crawling.”

“Looks like Tiger makes a good babysitter.”

“He does, that,” Liam said. “But he spoils her rotten. Lets her get away with way too much.”

“She’s a Shifter, right?” Carly asked. “What does she turn into?”

“Nothing yet. Her mother’s human, so Kat was born human, and she won’t start shifting into her beastie until she’s about three. She’s a Morrissey, so she’ll have mostly lion in her. Feline Shifters were bred from all big cats, but families tend toward one species or the other. Except Tiger. He seems to be all tiger, interestingly enough.”

“Tigger,” Kat corrected him.

“Yes, love. Is that the kind of thing your professor friend wants you to be reporting?” The dangerous glint was back in Liam’s eye. But Tiger knew Liam wouldn’t hurt Carly, not physically. First, because Liam only attacked true dangers, and second, because Liam would never get through Tiger to touch her.

“He’s not my friend,” Carly said. “I didn’t like him, if you want to know the truth. I didn’t tell him I’d work for him, because I already have a job—which reminds me, I need to go so I can get to it and not lose it. My boss cut me some slack, because my day yesterday was truly shitty, but he’s not going to give me a permanent vacation.”

Leaving. No. Tiger’s hand tightened on Carly’s shoulder. Not leaving, not for the wide world and its dangers, not without him.

Liam wasn’t finished with his interrogation. “And what is this job?”

“I’m an assistant and receptionist at an art gallery. And no, that doesn’t mean I sit and do my nails. I take orders and keep track of them, do the inventory, sell to walk-in customers, set up receptions and such for the artists, and set up exhibit openings, which are a lot more work than they seem, believe you me. Basically anything Armand needs help with, I do.”

Liam’s gaze didn’t move as he took in her words, also taking in, Tiger knew, her scent, her body language, and the nuances behind them.

“All right,” Liam said as Carly wound down. “You go off and get ready for work, and we’ll deal with duct-tape man.”

“I will go with her.” No way would Tiger let her drive off alone, into danger. The professor’s gun-toting friend might have been rendered harmless for now, but there might be more like Walker out there. Plus, when Walker’s disappearance was discovered, Carly’s house would be first on the list of places to look.

“It’s all right,” Carly said quickly, looking up at Tiger. “I’ll be fine.”

“You won’t be fine. I’ll go with you.”

“Yes, you will,” Liam said to Tiger. “But not just you. Let me see which of my trackers is in need of something to do.”

“What are you talking about now? Damn it.” A cell phone pealed, and Carly dug through the giant bin of her purse until she brought it out, nearly dropping it in the process. She looked at the readout, frowned in a puzzled way, and answered it.

“Hello? Who is . . . ?”

Her face changed from curiosity to outrage in the space of a second. “Are you kidding me? Are you . . .” She looked around at the Shifters, all of whom were watching her closely, and let out a breath. “Hang on. I have to take this.” She lowered the phone as she walked out through the kitchen and onto the back porch. Tiger, bouncing Kat, went right after her.

* * *

“Say that again?” Carly yelled into the phone, pressing it against her ear. “Ethan wants to sue me?”

“He has a list of complaints, including bringing a Shifter in to attack him.”

Carly’s rage changed from the simmer to which she’d managed to lower it to a full-blown boil. “Are you fu**ing kidding me?”

The smooth voice of one of Ethan’s friends, who happened to be a lawyer, continued: “You returned his car damaged and are in possession of a number of expensive items he’s given you, including a sixty-thousand-dollar engagement ring.”

“Sixty-thousand?” Carly thought about the ring that was tucked into her jewelry box, with no lock, no alarm system on her house. “What, is he stupid?”

“If you want, Carly, you and I can settle this. It doesn’t have to go to court.”

“To court? He cheats on me, and he wants to take me to court?”

“Now, Carly, calm down. We can—”

His voice cut off as Carly slammed her thumb on the End button. She stopped herself from flinging the phone off the porch and into the green, because it was her phone, and expensive. She settled for throwing it—hard—back into her purse, where it clattered against her sunglasses case.

She turned around to find Tiger standing three feet behind her, the glower on his face telling her he’d heard everything. Didn’t matter. Ethan was a dickhead, and she didn’t care who knew it.

“I have to go,” Carly said. The hour was early enough that she’d have time to go home, get changed, stop at Ethan’s, and drive to the gallery. The stop at Ethan’s wouldn’t take long.

“I’ll go with you,” Tiger repeated. He’d planted himself so stubbornly in her path, she’d never get around him even if she tried to force her way.

“Fine. I don’t have time to argue. You might want to leave the kid, though. My language is going to get ugly.”

Tiger held Katriona out, not to Liam but to Sean, who was approaching through the backyard. With him was a guy with a cowboy hat who studied Carly and Tiger in open curiosity.

Sean took Katriona into his hands with a bemused expression. Carly pushed past him and descended the porch steps, hurrying around the house and down the driveway to her own car. Tiger was right behind her, sliding into the passenger seat as Carly climbed behind the wheel and started it up.

Before she could pull from the curb, the back door opened and the cowboy dove in. He yanked his feet clear and shut the door as Carly peeled out into the street.

Other Shifters were out in the early-morning sunshine, walking or just standing in yards or on porches. Every single one stopped what they were doing and stared the predatory stare as Carly sped down the road to make her way out of Shiftertown.

“Whoa,” the cowboy Shifter said as the car rocketed forward. “Maybe I should drive.”

“And you are?” Carly asked, tearing around a corner and sending him down into the seat.

The man righted himself and clicked on a seat belt. “I’m Ellison Rowe. Lupine Shifter.”

“Lupine?” Carly asked, distracted. She whisked the car around another corner and onto Fifty-first, heading west.

“Wolf, darlin’.” Ellison clutched the back of the seat as Carly sped between two cars and around a truck. “Take it easy, sweetheart. I’m just mated. I want to live long enough to put a cub in the nursery.”

“I’m so sorry,” Carly said, putting on her sugary sweet voice. “I’m just mad at all things male right now, and would really like to know what are you doing in my car?”

“Liam sent me.”

“To keep an eye on me?”

Ellison pointed at Tiger. “No, to keep an eye on him. You seem to have things under control.”

“Then you’ll have to put up with how I drive.” Carly smiled at him in the rearview. “And you can help me carry things.”

Ellison tossed his hat onto the seat beside him, scraped a hand through blond hair, and grinned back at her. “That’s what I live for.”

* * *

Carly got herself showered and dressed for work in record time, including doing her hair and makeup. She enjoyed sliding into her prettiest sheath dress, a silk moiré that was bright green to go with her eyes, plus jewelry that Ethan hadn’t bought her—her earrings had come from her mother, the dangling gold necklace from her oldest sister, Althea.

She put on killer high heels that made her legs look wicked and red lipstick that made her mouth ready for kissing. But not for Ethan. Oh, no.

Carly headed out to the front room, where Tiger and Ellison were doing what Connor had enjoyed doing when he was here, watching sports on cable television. While she moved down the hall, she heard Ellison saying to Tiger, “No, see, this guy over here caught the ball, so even though this guy hit it well, he can’t stay on first base. He’s out.”

A full-grown American male who didn’t understand baseball? Shifter or not, that had to be a first.

Carly nearly danced into the living room, and Ellison rose swiftly from the couch. “Well, damn.”

Tiger said nothing at all. His gaze roved Carly, lingering on her legs and then on the curve of her waist.

“Why, thank you,” Carly said, reaching for her smaller purse to transfer into it what she needed for the day. “It’s nice to be appreciated.”

“Sure you don’t want me to drive?” Ellison asked as they went back to the garage.

“No, I’ve got it. I want to.” Being driven around in Ethan’s expensive cars or in the limos he hired for special nights out had made her feel like a princess. But today Carly wanted to feel powerful, like a kick-ass chick in a superhero movie.

She waited until Tiger and Ellison were settled inside the car before she opened the garage door, started up, and backed out. The neighbors wouldn’t be able to miss Tiger sitting in the front seat with her, but they’d be more freaked out if they caught the whole massive bulk of him.

Ethan didn’t live far away, time-wise, but his neighborhood might as well have been on another planet. People with big money lived on this hill above the river and had either inherited their riches or made money through the big corporations that had settled in Austin, or both.

When Carly pulled into Ethan’s long driveway, she felt both sick to her stomach and elated. Yesterday—had it been only yesterday?—she’d driven here so secure in the knowledge that she was going to marry a rich, successful, stable man. A man not at all like her father, a man who was already planning what they’d do on their ten-year anniversary. Someone who wouldn’t disappear into the night, leaving her with all his debts and nowhere to live.

Ethan’s obvious indifference toward her had kicked her in the teeth. Carly still didn’t know who the woman had been. Someone from work? Friend of a friend?

Did it matter? It was over. Carly had her job, she had friends and her mama and sisters, and she didn’t need Ethan. And now she was making friends with Shifters and carrying around men wrapped in duct tape in the trunk of her car. Strange how the entire world could change in one crazy afternoon.

Carly still had her keys to Ethan’s house. She unlocked and opened the front door, not bothering to knock.

Tiger and Ellison followed her in, Tiger in his usual silence, Ellison carrying the box of stuff Carly had brought with her. Ellison observed his surroundings with interest, but Tiger behaved as though he couldn’t care less where they were. Didn’t seem to mind that he was revisiting a place where he’d been shot yesterday either. Trauma like that was supposed to linger in the psyche, but Tiger walked into the house with complete indifference.

Ellison whistled. “Shit, what a spread. I could go for this.”

At one time, Carly could have too. She’d loved imagining herself living in this splendor. Now the decor seemed overdone and cold.

They went through the palatial front hall with its graceful spiral staircase and on through the massive living room, toward the kitchen. The pristine furniture in the living room had been overturned, and the door to Ethan’s study hung off its hinges, the doorframe splintered.

“Did you do that?” Carly asked Tiger.

Tiger nodded without speaking, but he had a satisfied glint in his eye.

“Good,” Carly said.

As they strode into the huge kitchen, Ethan, phone in hand, rose from a table that held his laptop and a mess of papers. “Carly? What the hell . . . ? I need to call you back,” Ethan said into the phone before he clicked it off and dropped it to the table. “Carly, what the f*ck are you doing bringing that back in here?” He pointed an unsteady finger at Tiger. “He attacked me. He nearly killed me.”

“And you shot him in the stomach,” Carly returned. “Seven times.” She motioned for Ellison to put the box on the table, which he did, letting it thump down. Carly started going through it, trying to ignore Ethan.

Why had she ever thought Ethan handsome, fun, charming? He had a rather small face, which went with the compact body he kept honed by working out with a trainer. His dark hair was perfectly cut and combed, his nails manicured. He was the epitome of the young man who’d made it.

Ethan had picked out a wife who knew how to smile at people and throw parties. Of course he had—Carly had met Ethan at the gallery when he’d come in to look at some art for his office. He’d wanted to pick out the art himself, he said, because he was the one who had to look at it all day. Carly, for some reason, had thought this showed depth of character.

She understood better now. Ethan was just fussy and didn’t trust anyone. He’d wanted to marry Carly, she realized, because he’d been looking for someone who knew how to give dinner parties and impress clients. In other words, he’d wanted his own personal caterer and receptionist. In return, Carly would get to live in a big house on the river with a pool and a view and money to do whatever she wanted. She would quit her job, of course, because any job in the art world was dead-end.

All that might have been fine if Ethan had loved and cherished her, if he’d had any compassion in him, any respect. Looking back, Carly had to wonder if Ethan even liked her.

“He looks fine to me,” Ethan snapped, glaring at Tiger. “Obviously I missed him or just grazed him.”

“Show him, Tiger.”

All this time, Carly had been hearing Tiger’s low growls, which strengthened whenever she drew closer to Ethan, lessened when she moved away. She liked it—like a Geiger counter indicating when she was getting too near Ethan’s tainted presence.

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