Home > Tiger Magic (Shifters Unbound #5)(4)

Tiger Magic (Shifters Unbound #5)(4)
Jennifer Ashley

“I’m here,” Carly said, touching one of his hands. “You okay?”

Her words and breath cut off when Tiger slammed his arms around her and pulled her against him. He buried his face in the curve of her neck and gathered her close.

“Carly.” As though gaining strength from the name, his arms tightened around her, his voice rasping. “Carly.”

“It’s all right.” Carly lightly smoothed his hair, finding it warm and soft. “I’m all right. But you’re not, are you?”

Tiger held her in silence, his face against her neck, breathing in long, shuddering breaths.

“We need to take him into custody,” she heard a man say behind her.

“No,” the Shifter who seemed to be in charge said firmly. “The man’s bleeding half to death. I had him settled. If you pull another weapon on him, it will be me breaking the guns.”

Carly tried to loosen Tiger’s hold, but he didn’t let go. “You need to let them patch you up,” she said to him. “Seven shots. Damn, Tiger, how are you still standing?”

“Shifters heal fast,” Connor said.

The head Shifter growled. “Connor, out.”

“He’s not going to hurt me,” Connor said. “I’m a cub, and a friend. He’s not going to hurt Carly either, obviously. It’s just trackers, Guardians, Shifter leaders, and dumb-ass security that upsets him.” He came up to the two in a locked embrace. “You should see her car, Tiger. Classic Corvette. It’s way cool. Let them sew you back up, and maybe she’ll give you a ride home in it.”

Tiger turned his head on Carly’s shoulder to look at Connor. “I saw it. Helped her fix it.”

“Oh man,” Connor said in dismay. “You got to work on it? I have so much envy.”

“Tiger came to my rescue,” Carly said. “He performed a miracle.”

Tiger lifted his head, his eyes quieter now, and touched her face. “He hurt you.”

Carly shook her head. Ethan seemed unimportant at the moment. “He’s an as**ole. What happened? How did you get shot, for heaven’s sake? I didn’t mean to run off and leave you. I’m so sorry. I was upset.”

Tiger cupped her face, rubbing his thumbs along her cheekbones. Not speaking, just gazing down into her eyes.

“Did Ethan shoot you?” Carly asked, her anger rising. She knew Ethan kept a gun, not because he shot for sport or anything, but because it made him feel superior to the rest of mankind.

“Doesn’t matter,” Tiger said.

It did matter. Carly’s rage surged like a tide to cover her hurt and grief. “I’m gonna kill him. He screws around on me, then he shoots my friend for trying to help me. Don’t worry, Tiger, by the time I and whatever lawyer I hire get finished with him, he’ll be happy he can scrape what’s left of himself off the sidewalk.”

* * *

Her warmth and strength flowed into Tiger like a bright light. He’d been buried in darkness and pain, the guards jabbing with the guns awakening memories he’d long wanted to bury.

They’d taken his mate, they’d promised to take care of her, and she’d died. When he’d demanded to see her, more and more frantic, they’d beaten him back and threatened to kill him.

The memories of the past had fused with the reality of now, and Tiger had known in his heart that Carly, his beautiful mate, was dead. Liam had lied, Sean had lied, the guards had lied. They’d taken her away, and she was dead . . .

Memories slid away. Tiger had Carly here, her scent like a bite of cinnamon, her face petal-soft under his fingertips. He leaned to her to inhale her again, exhaling to leave his mark on her. Mine.

“Tiger,” he heard Liam saying. Liam, the leader, the man he’d been told to obey.

Liam was a strong alpha, and the Shifters under his command felt the weight of his orders. Tiger had watched them all, even Liam’s father, become slightly lesser in Liam’s presence. Tiger was supposed to as well—if he obeyed Liam’s orders and showed fealty, he could live in this Shiftertown in peace. Any challenge, and Liam would have to take him down.

Liam hadn’t actually said all this specifically, but Tiger knew. Tiger knew everything Liam was thinking, because Liam’s body language, no matter how subtle, revealed every thought.

Carly’s body language showed only distress that Tiger was hurt. She didn’t give a rat’s ass about hierarchy, or who was alpha, or that she should bow her head and keep her gaze averted from Liam as a submissive must do.

Her entire focus was on Tiger, and Tiger alone. Everyone else was nonessential.

Carly’s warmth entered his body wherever hers touched his, and her breath on his face was like sweet summer air. Tiger’s pain lessened, and his breathing became easier.

The touch of a mate.

Carly moved in his embrace, trying to take a step back. Tiger wasn’t ready to let her go. He held tighter, but Carly wriggled, twisting her arm around to touch the slat that still dangled from his wrist.

“Can someone take this off him?”

Connor sprang forward, lifting the bar that hung like a lead weight. He chortled. “They made the cuff and chain to withstand Shifter strength, but not the bed. Good job.”

“Can you take it off?” Carly asked.

She was anxious, not afraid. The others wanted to bind him—Carly wanted to set him free.

“Get me a picklock, and I can open anything,” Connor said.

Spike, in silence, handed Connor a stiff piece of wire. Where he’d obtained it, or what it was for, Tiger didn’t know, but Connor grinned gleefully and started scraping at the handcuff. In a matter of seconds, the cuff loosened and fell from Tiger’s wrist.

“That’s got to feel better,” Carly said. “Now, let’s get you back into bed so the doctors can patch you up.”

More people filled the corridor outside. Tiger tasted their fear. They shouldn’t broadcast like that. A predator sensed a prey’s fear, the predator homing in on and taking out the weakest. Dangerous.

“If he can’t calm down, we need to chain him up again, ma’am,” one of the black-clad men said. He was the commander, the leader of his tiny band. He had a weather-beaten face, though he was still young, for a human, and scarred. He’d been in battles. The man had shorn off all but a blond stubble of hair, his eyes were a light blue, and he had an air of authority. Not as much as Liam or any Shifter, but for a human, he was strong.

“He’s calm,” Liam said. “See? Lass, if you can get him back to bed, and to stay still, we can fix him up in a trice.”

Tiger kept his arms around Carly. “I am healed.”

Carly ran her hand down the front of his torso. Tiger couldn’t stop his flinch of pain as she touched the raw wounds.

“Bullshit,” she said clearly. “You’re bleeding all over the place. Back to bed with you, mister.”

“Better step back from him,” the human leader said, his voice as hard as Liam’s. “He’s a danger to everyone in the facility and needs to be contained.”

Carly turned around, still within Tiger’s arms, to glare at the human. “What is with you? You need to leave him alone for two minutes. No wonder he’s so upset.”

She turned, sliding her arm around Tiger’s waist, and started guiding him to the bed. Tiger went without resisting. Now, if she’d get into the bed with him and snuggle up against his side, Tiger would be healed in no time. And he wouldn’t be afraid.

The other Shifters watched in awe as Tiger, calm and quiet, walked with Carly back to the bed. He’d stopped bleeding for now, but his gown was covered with blood, and blood stained the sheets.

He didn’t care. Tiger lowered himself onto the uncomfortable bed, then put his hand on Carly’s wrist and tugged her toward him.

Carly gave him a puzzled look, her gray green eyes red-rimmed with crying. Tiger tugged harder. Carly lost her balance and landed, sitting, on the bed next to him, her warm hip against his side.

She gave a little laugh. “They can’t work on you if I’m in the bed with you, silly. I’m flattered, but I’ll be in the way.”

“Need you,” Tiger said. He kept his voice soft, so only she would hear, but then, Shifters had good hearing.

“Let her go,” Liam said. “She’s done enough. Thank you, lass. I don’t know who you are, but you’re a bloody miracle worker.”

“She’s my mate,” Tiger said, his voice still not working right, but it grew firmer as he tightened his grip on her. “She stays.”

CHAPTER FOUR

Carly’s eyes widened. “What exactly are you talking about?”

“It doesn’t work that way,” Liam said quickly, over her words. “It’s a bit different in Shiftertown, laddie. I’ve explained it to you.”

Tiger closed his eyes. Liam, Sean, and Connor had told him about the mating rules—the mate-claim signaled to all other Shifters that the female was off-limits to all other males. The subsequent ceremonies performed by the clan leader, one under sunlight, one under the light of the full moon, bound the mates together under the eyes of the Father God and Mother Goddess.

But the Father God and Mother Goddess had never found Tiger in the basement of the experiment station during his nearly forty years of captivity. Why should Tiger wait for them to acknowledge his mate?

Dylan, Liam’s father and a stickler for the rules of Shifters, had admitted to Tiger one day that the rituals were artificial, put into place at a time when Shifters had fought each other nearly to extinction. To avoid Shifter males battling each other to the death over every female, they’d come up with scent-marking and the mate-claim, and the sun and moon ceremonies performed by the clan leader.

Tiger had listened, wanting to learn everything he could about who and what he was. But he knew—and Dylan knew—that the rules didn’t mean anything. A Shifter recognized his mate when he met her. He scented her, he saw her, he felt her heat, and he knew.

Carly was Tiger’s mate. No doubt about it.

With steady hands, Tiger ripped open his annoying hospital gown and tossed the shreds to the floor. The sheets around his waist bared his chest and abdomen, tanned from working shirtless on cars with Connor. Red circles of bullet holes pockmarked his chest and stomach, blood smeared around them.

The holes had already half closed. Tiger pointed at them.

“The touch of a mate,” he said to Liam. “Heals, you said. Iona said.”

“Shifters are good at healing themselves,” Liam answered, but with less conviction. “And you’re a very strong Shifter.”

A super Shifter, Iona, the woman who’d rescued him, had called him. Iona had been wonderful, and Tiger would always be fond of her. But she hadn’t been his mate.

“Stop this before you confuse me more.” Carly pulled away from Tiger and stood up. “You’re saying I closed that up?” She pointed at a wound, red and angry. “Those holes still look pretty bad to me.”

“They’re not.”

Tiger noted that everyone in the room stood a certain distance from the bed, as though an unseen barrier kept them back. They were afraid of coming too close to his mate, he thought in satisfaction. They were acknowledging her.

“I don’t believe you,” Carly said. “You look terrible, and I feel just awful for getting you hurt on top of everything else. So you let the doctors do their thing. Please?”

Tiger closed his hand around hers again. “Only if you stay.”

She gave him the perplexed look again, then she let out her breath. “Oh, why not? I’m sure I’ll be fired on top of everything else today. What the hell.”

“We’ll see you don’t lose by helping us, lass,” Liam said, in the reassuring way only he could. “Thank you.”

“Least I can do. My mama always said a person should acknowledge everything she’s responsible for, even if she didn’t mean it.” She paused. “Wish Ethan’s mama had taught him that too.”

Tiger felt her pain through her grip on his hand, and his anger surged again. He remembered the surprise and then outrage on Ethan’s face when Carly had bounded through the door to find him sexing another woman. The man had blamed Carly. But a male didn’t cheat on his mate. No matter what.

Which meant Carly had never truly been Ethan’s mate, not even in the human understanding of the bond. With Ethan’s act of betrayal, Carly was free of him. Free for Tiger to claim.

Another voice joined the throng. “Is he sedated?”

Tiger recognized the doctor who, through the first haze of Tiger’s rage and pain, had extracted what bullets remained in Tiger’s flesh. Tiger had come awake on the table and started to change in his panic, which had led to his being chained to the bed again.

Stupid clinic should have let Connor be there to calm him down. Then Tiger might not have flashed back to the sterile experiment rooms in what humans called Area 51, might not have been completely terrified.

“He’ll be all right,” Liam said, using his most charming, most Irish tones. “He just needed a bit of calming, as you can see.”

“Then I need him in the OR to finish.”

The doctor started to walk away, leaving the three nurses and another man in white scrubs looking unhappy.

“No,” Tiger said. Everything in him tensed again.

Carly’s brow puckered as she ran a soothing hand along Tiger’s wrist. “It’s okay. He just wants to sew you up.”

“He does it here. I don’t go back to that room.”

“Why not? It’s where he’ll have all the stuff he needs to put you back together, and sterilized so you won’t get an infection.”

She sounded so reasonable, so calming. And yet, she hadn’t seen the rooms they’d taken him to in the stone building in the desert, where needles and probes had pierced his flesh, where electrodes had crackled through his brain and under his skin. The experimenters wanted to see how much he could stand, so they put him through everything imaginable.

“It makes him remember bad things,” Connor said.

The cub, the youngest of them here, understood. Connor had always understood Tiger more than the others had.

Carly called after the doctor. “Wait. Why can’t you work on him in here?”

The doctor, looking harassed, turned back. “Because the light is bad, and I need my equipment.”

“Bring it in. It’s either that or have all these people fighting to get him to your operating room again.”

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