Home > Tiger Magic (Shifters Unbound #5)(3)

Tiger Magic (Shifters Unbound #5)(3)
Jennifer Ashley

“She’s hurting.”

Liam leaned closer, speaking so only Tiger would hear him. “Was she at this house you broke into? She get caught in the cross fire?”

“Find her.”

“You have to give me a bit more to go on, lad.”

“Carly.” Tiger dimly remembered the name the gardener had used. “Randal.”

A machine above him clicked, and the meds or whatever they’d given him coursed through his body again. Darkness rushed at him.

Tiger tried to reach for Liam, but he couldn’t move his hands. He had to settle for pinning the alpha with his gaze, something Connor had told him never to do. “Find my mate,” Tiger rasped, and then nothing existed.

* * *

The red ’Vette’s door hung open, Carly’s foot out on the driveway. The rest of her remained behind the wheel, she staring at the blankness of the garage door as more tears slid down her face. The rearview mirror showed mascara smeared into black smudges under her eyes and streaks of it tracking her cheeks.

Carly had driven blindly around the city before ending up in front of her house, but she didn’t want to go inside right now to the silent, empty place. She didn’t want to be alone, but she didn’t want to call her mama or her sisters and tell them what had happened. Not yet. Her energetic sisters and mother weren’t home anyway—they’d gone to Mexico for days of shopping and sampling every kind of tequila they could find. Carly had decided to give the trip a miss so she could stay behind and help Armand. If she called them, they’d exclaim in sympathy and anger and give her lots of support. When that happened, she’d lose it completely.

She’d tried to go see Yvette, Armand’s wife. With Yvette, Carly could pour out her heart and find sympathy, but also sage, clear-eyed advice. Yvette knew the world, and she’d tell Carly what to do.

Except Yvette hadn’t been home. If Carly had stopped to think about it, she would have realized that. Yvette was at the gallery helping Armand, because Carly wasn’t there for the big exhibit opening. Armand was probably even now firing Carly.

And Carly didn’t care.

Nothing mattered right now. Not her sitting in her driveway in a car that wasn’t hers, not her mascara-blotched face, not the black lines that dropped from her cheeks to her pretty white dress.

She’d been so sure of Ethan, her future cut-and-dried. Ethan had been the antithesis of Carly’s father—her father had never held a job for long, gambled away money he did have, grew angry at Carly’s mother if she didn’t hand over most of what she earned to him. When her father had lived with them, Carly’s family had moved constantly, never able to stay in one house long. And then one day he’d gone. He’d vanished one afternoon when Carly was twelve, walking away from his wife and four daughters, leaving them with unpaid back rent and a mountain of bills—after withdrawing all the money they did have out of the bank account and taking it with him. He’d never come back, hadn’t wanted to see his daughters, had agreed to the divorce from afar, and had vanished from their lives.

Ethan represented stability, ambition, a man who wouldn’t lose everything on the next turn of a card or on a horse that had long odds to win, who wouldn’t leave a wife high and dry. Carly’s father had been quicksand—Ethan was a pillar.

But now that pillar had crumbled, plunging Carly into pain and uncertainty. Ethan hadn’t endangered her financially, but he’d betrayed her trust and had slapped respect in the face.

How long had he been screwing other women? From day one? Had Carly been so blinded by her need for Ethan’s stability that she hadn’t noticed?

And to have his betrayal thrown in her face in front of a helpful stranger, that hot-looking, weird-eyed . . . Shifter.

“Oh no.” Carly scraped tears from her eyes with an already sodden tissue. “The poor guy. I left him in Ethan’s house.”

She’d have to go back. This was Ethan’s frigging car anyway. Much as she wanted to run it off the road, or maybe push it into a deep, muddy creek, she had enough sense to know that Ethan would sue her for it. He liked to sue people.

Carly dragged her foot back into the car. Surely the Shifter-man with the multicolored hair would have left, caught a bus, called a friend.

But she thought of him and his slow stares, his not-quite understanding of what she was saying to him. She’d left him defenseless with Ethan, and Ethan didn’t like Shifters.

Carly started the car.

“Are you Carly?” a male voice said almost in her ear.

Carly bit back a scream. A dark-haired man peered in through the open driver’s-side window at her, regarding her with a pair of very blue eyes. Behind him stood another man, just as tall but without as much bulk, younger. A flash of black and silver showed above the T-shirt of the man staring at her, a Collar. He was Shifter.

“Is the tiger-man all right?” Carly asked him, wiping her eyes again. She had no way of knowing if this Shifter knew hers, but she was worried about him. “Did he get home?”

The Shifter blinked once in surprise, then he masked that surprise like a master. Carly had worked for a while now in the art business, which involved selling high-dollar goods. Those who bought and sold learned to school their faces and words in order to make the most profit or spend the least amount of money, but their body language could speak volumes. This man was telling her he knew all about body language but could manipulate it to serve his ends.

“I’m Sean,” the man said. “You need to come with us to the hospital. Tiger’s been asking for you.”

“Hospital?” Carly gasped. “What happened?”

“Tiger got himself shot, that’s what happened,” the Shifter said, his Irish accent becoming more pronounced. “Seven times, right in the gut.”

CHAPTER THREE

“Seven? Oh my God, is he all right? Where is he? I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Surprise flickered in the blue eyes again. “Why are you sorry? Did you shoot him, lass?” A tiny bit of anger also touched him, a flash that told her that this man would be dangerous when he was angry.

“He was hurt because of me, wasn’t he?” Carly cried. “Where is he?”

The passenger door opened, and the younger Shifter slid inside without asking permission. “Follow Sean. He’ll get us there.” The young man closed the door and touched the dash in wonder. “I’ve never been in a ’Vette before,” he said, his accent as Irish as the other man’s. “Wicked, this is.”

“Come on, lass,” Sean said and unfolded himself to walk to a motorcycle parked behind her. Though not as big as Tiger, Sean moved with ease that belied his strength, the balanced grace of a cat.

He started the motorcycle and waited for Carly to back out of the driveway before he started down the street in front of her. Carly’s hands shook a little, but her tears had dried. Concern for Tiger cut through anger at Ethan.

“I’m Connor, by the way,” the young man said as she started to follow Sean. “Still a cub, but getting there. You ever want to sell this car to me, we can negotiate.”

“It’s not mine,” Carly said.

“No? Whose, then? Think they’d be willing to sell? If not to a Shifter, I can find someone to be an in-between.”

There was nothing at all wrong with Connor, but Carly’s temper splintered. “It belongs to a two-timing, gutless, son-of-a-bitch-bastard-asshole, and I wish you’d steal the damn thing from him!”

Oh, that felt good! Carly laid her head back on the headrest, clutched the steering wheel as she floored it down a hill after the motorcycle, and let out a long, heartfelt scream.

“Whoa,” Connor said. “Take it easy, sweetie. Maybe I’d better drive.”

“No way,” Carly said. “He told me to take the ’Vette so I’d be out of the way when he did it with his bitch, and so I’m taking the ’Vette.”

She peeled around the corner after Sean, laughing as the car hugged the road and accelerated at the same time.

Connor’s eyes, blue like the other Shifter’s, rounded. “Are you saying your mate cheated on you?”

“He’s not my mate. No way, no how, never, ever. And that’s exactly what he did. Hang on.”

The road made a sharp turn, and Carly took it fast. The Corvette, made to race, slid around without a waver. “Woo!” She pounded the steering wheel. “I love this car. Way better at getting me excited than Ethan ever was.”

Connor laughed. “I like you, human woman.”

Carly’s anger flashed, sharp. “If Ethan hurt the tiger, I’ll kill him with my bare hands.”

“That’s the spirit,” Connor said. “Tiger will live. He’s tough. But he needs you, I’m thinking.”

“Did he tell you what happened to him?” Carly asked, her anxiety for Tiger cutting through her anger again. “How did you find me?”

“He’s not up to giving out much detail,” Connor said. “But once we pried your name out of him, it didn’t take our Sean long to figure out where you lived. He’s a wizard with computers, is Sean.”

A Shifter computer geek. What a day.

Carly blew out her breath and made herself follow Sean the rest of the way without antics. She needed to get to Tiger and make sure he was all right. The fact that the huge, strong man had been shot, hurt, made her heart race and her mouth dry. He needed to be all right.

* * *

The small hospital outside the city limits to which Sean led Carly served a large portion of the population on the south and east side of town. Carly parked as close to the front door as she could. Connor got around the car faster than she could register and opened the door for her, helping her to her feet. Ethan had never done that.

Sean waited for them outside the front door, on his phone. “We’re coming. Just keep him quiet.”

Carly heard the exclamation on the other end before Sean closed the phone. He said nothing to Carly or Connor but strode in through the front door ahead of them.

Inside it was as crowded as Carly would have guessed from the packed parking lot, with mothers and kids waiting to be seen, nurses hurrying through halls, and the admin desk serving a long line of people. The smell of antiseptic covered the odors of worry and illness.

Sean moved without stopping to a back corridor then continued down it and onto an elevator, pushing the button for the top floor. When they stepped off the elevator at the top, Carly heard the noise.

The roar began at the end of the corridor, a wash of sound that flowed to them past every room and the nurses’ station to the bank of elevators where Carly stood. The nurses’ station was deserted, but a knot of people clustered at the other end of the hall.

Sean said something under his breath as he picked up the pace, but Connor, behind Carly, didn’t keep his voice down.

“He’s going to get himself killed, he is.”

Sean kept walking, his broad back upright, moving swiftly. Carly jogged on her high heels to catch up.

The faces of the nurses and orderlies that turned to them were filled with fear. Three hard-faced men in black uniforms tried to intercept Sean, and another shout rose inside the room.

“You threatened him, didn’t you?” an Irish voice said. “Are you that stupid, then?”

The men looked like private soldiers or security guards in all-black fatigue-looking uniforms, but their hands and thick belts were empty. Carly saw why when she peeked around Sean into the hospital room.

The floor was littered with black detritus that Carly couldn’t place at first, but then she saw they were pieces of automatic rifles, radios, and other things too broken to identify.

The roaring came from inside the room, followed by a repeated clank of something metal. Sean blocked most of her view, but Carly could see enough to make out the giant bulk of Tiger, barely covered by a hospital gown, on his feet, one hand fisted. He was pulling, pulling, pulling at the metal bar on the bed to which he was chained.

Near him were two more Shifters, one with a shaved head and tattoos wherever Carly could see skin, the other a Sean look-alike.

The tattooed man deflected a blow from Tiger’s free fist in a practiced move. Enraged, Tiger struck out again, and the tattooed man blocked, twisting Tiger’s arm behind his back. A spark jumped in the Collar around the tattooed man’s neck.

“What in hell happened?” Sean demanded.

“Fucking guards happened,” the tattooed guy snarled. “Nurse wanted to change his IV, the three boy wonders stuck their guns into him to hold him down while she did it. He broke out of one cuff. Guess the rest.”

“Spike, let him go,” the one who looked like Sean said. “Tiger. Stop.”

The last word reverberated through the room. Everyone stilled—guards, Spike, Sean, Connor, the guards, nurses, and orderlies behind them.

All except Tiger. He kept banging, roaring, his eyes yellow with rage. The Collar on his neck was silent, no matter how much he struck out or tried to rip his wrist from its restraint.

That didn’t make sense. The Collars were supposed to shock the Shifters, Carly understood, if they ever got violent, to protect humans from their immense strength. The Collars went off in reaction to adrenaline and intent to harm, or so she’d heard. If a Shifter wasn’t trying to hurt anyone, the Collar wouldn’t do anything. They were meant to keep the Shifters peaceful, not to punish them all the time.

Tiger’s Collar lay quietly, looking no different from Sean’s or Connor’s. That meant Tiger wasn’t angry or trying to kill anyone.

He was scared.

They’d chained him to the bed and prodded him with guns, and this after he’d been shot. No wonder he was going crazy.

Carly ducked under Sean’s arm and moved into the room.

“Lass, no,” Sean said sharply, but Carly didn’t stop.

Tiger yanked again at his bonds, and this time, the entire metal slat broke free from the bed. The slat danced at the end of the chain, Tiger still cuffed to it, as he swung around.

The Shifters near him leapt back. Tiger roared, a strange, animal-like sound in a human throat. Blood blossomed on the front of his gown as he hefted the bar like a weapon, crimson stains spreading. Shot seven times.

“Tiger!” Carly shouted into the noise.

Tiger’s roaring ceased as though someone had hit a switch. The rod and chain clanged with the bed slat once, then went silent.

Tiger shoved his way past Spike and the other Shifter without seeming to notice them and reached for Carly. Carly stood her ground as Tiger clasped her by the shoulders, the chain and bed slat bumping gently into her back. He looked down at her with eyes tight with pain, the yellow gold tinged with red.

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