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

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

The doctor ran a practiced eye over Tiger. “If you guarantee he’ll sit there and let me finish, I’ll do it. I’ll give him something for the pain, but it’s still going to hurt. If not, I’m putting him under heavy sedation, very heavy, you understand? Most people die under that kind of sedation, even Shifters.”

“He’ll be good.” Carly beamed a smile at the man. “Promise. Right?” she asked Tiger.

Tiger closed his hand around Carly’s wrist, feeling it slender and fragile, bones covered with silken skin. “If you stay.”

“I’ll stay.” Carly turned her smile on him, and suddenly the world was right.

Tiger said nothing. He stroked his hand up and down Carly’s forearm, mesmerized by the softness of her, the sweet scent. The doctor walked away, still annoyed. The other Shifters remained outside a certain perimeter around the bed, as did the soldiers behind them.

It didn’t matter. Carly had said she’d stay with him. Tiger would make sure it was forever.

* * *

Carly watched the doctor clean Tiger’s wounds, medicate them, suture the biggest ones, and steri-tape the others, with bandages for all. Tiger lay quietly while he worked, making no noise, holding Carly’s hand but not squeezing it.

No way could Carly have withstood someone poking and prodding tender wounds without sedation. She’d have flinched, fought, cried out, or at least snarled some swear words. Tiger did nothing, said nothing, didn’t move. The commander of the soldiers watched him, but kept his men back.

When the doctor finally walked out, leaving the cleanup to the nurses, Tiger pushed the sheets aside and rolled out of bed, stark na*ed except for his bandages. Carly tried not to look, but it was sure hard not to. He was a big man, and not just tall and wide. He was big all over. All over. She averted her gaze, but she had to force herself. He was . . . mesmerizing.

“Where do you think you’re going?” she asked him.

“Home.” The word came out with strength, but also with a wistfulness.

“You can barely walk.”

“I can do it.”

Tiger looked stronger, that was true. But, crap, he’d been shot. In the stomach.

Liam, who apparently was Sean’s brother, started to put his hand on Tiger’s shoulder, then lifted it away before he touched him. He turned to the head soldier. “You can release him to my custody now. He’ll be fine.”

The soldier frowned, light-colored brows drawing down. “Give me a minute.” He turned away, signaling his men to keep watch, pulled out a cell phone, and made a call quietly in the corner.

“We can take it from here,” Liam said to the nurses. “He’s good at healing himself, truly.”

“He can’t do any lifting, bending, running, anything stressful,” the head nurse said in a severe tone. “He has to keep the wounds clean, the dressings changed, and he has to take all the antibiotics. Every single pill. Can you get him to do all that?” She looked at Carly.

“Me?” Carly said, touching her chest. “I don’t—”

“We’ll look after him just fine.” Liam took the piece of paper with the prescription and gave the nurse a smile that would make any woman melt. The nurse, middle-aged, hard-faced, experienced with difficult patients, held out a few seconds before she thawed.

“All right, then,” she said, her tone softer. “You call if there are any problems.” Now she spoke to Liam and Liam alone.

The soldier turned back, his frown even more formidable. “My commander told me to let you take him,” he said to Liam. The man obviously disagreed—strongly—with his commander, but he didn’t look the type to disobey orders. “But if there’s any more trouble with him, I’ll have to take him in.”

“Right you are,” Liam said, not sounding worried.

Tiger was already heading out of the room, pulling Carly behind him. Connor stepped in front of them and held up an armful of folded clothes that smelled newly washed. “You’re forgetting something.”

The nurses didn’t hide their need to stare at Tiger’s body. They’d seen their fair share of na*ed flesh, but Tiger was different.

He was all muscle, with a liquid tan on his torso and arms, pale below the belt. Large all over, but not too bulging, tight and strong rather than overly bulked. Tiger wore his nakedness casually—Carly noticed that the other Shifters hadn’t seemed to remember he was unclothed until Connor had stopped him at the door.

Tiger slid on the jeans and T-shirt without bothering with underwear. Connor insisted Tiger put on the combat boots he’d brought instead of going barefoot, and Tiger growled impatiently as he tugged them on.

Tiger kept hold of Carly’s hand as they walked through the corridor, down the elevator, and out to the parking lot. Patients and hospital staff stopped what they were doing and stared as the contingent of Shifters moved through.

Liam led, giving a smile and a nod to everyone he passed. The tall tattooed man with the shaved head followed him, drawing more attention. Behind him came Tiger and Carly, then Connor and Sean bringing up the rear. Kids stared, women’s lips parted, men moved to stand protectively in front of women and children.

No one said a word, but again, body language spoke volumes. The Shifters were feared. Even tamed, controlled, and regulated, humans sensed the violence barely contained. Humans pretended to despise or be fascinated by the creatures, but the adult humans who watched these Shifters walk by and out of the building exhibited basic, watchful fear.

Carly had never thought much about Shifters one way or the other. She knew the ones in Austin lived in the Shiftertown, which was out by the old airport, but she rarely had cause to drive that way in the course of her day-to-day life.

“Look at this car, Liam,” Connor said when they reached the Corvette. “Isn’t it awesome?”

“And not mine,” Carly said. “I need to take it back to Ethan’s.”

She stopped, the words sticking in her throat. Carly never wanted to drive up his driveway again, to see the house that she was supposed to have moved into next week. She’d never look at it again without experiencing a vision of Ethan, pants around his ankles, thrusting hard and fast into the woman on the counter.

A knife-edge of pain went through her heart. She gasped for breath, and then Tiger’s hand was on her arm, turning her to him. He laid a large hand gently between her breasts, right over the hurt.

Carly looked up through tears at him. His golden eyes held sympathy, understanding. “You were never his,” he said.

“I guess not.” Carly tried to laugh. Tiger’s hand was warm, his touch over her heart soothing. The image of Ethan blurred, the pain still there but moving away from her immediate focus.

Connor broke in. “Hey, if you need me to drive the car back, I’ll do it.” He held out his hand. “I’ll be careful. Honest. Or, I can wreck it for you, if you want.”

“Sean will take it,” Liam said sternly. He looked around the little group. “And Spike.” His smile came back as he observed the six-foot-six, tightly muscled man with the shaved head and tatts all over his body.

Sean laughed. “Good choice. Can’t wait to watch this.”

Carly too would love to see Ethan’s face when first the handsome Sean and then the edgy biker-from-hell Spike emerged from Ethan’s beloved ’Vette.

Carly had to turn from Tiger to hand the keys to Sean. Tiger stayed next to her, not even a step away. “Be careful,” Carly said to Sean. “Ethan has powerful friends. I don’t want him arresting you for stealing the car, or for scaring him.”

“Don’t you worry about that, lass,” Sean said, closing his hand around the keys. “I’ll keep Spike on a leash.”

Spike growled, a wildcat sound, and showed his teeth in a smile.

“Sure I can’t come with you?” Connor asked hopefully.

“No,” Liam said. “I’m giving Carly a lift home—or wherever she wants to go—and you’re taking Tiger back to Shiftertown.”

“Carly stays with me.” Tiger’s growl cut over Liam’s order. His warmth covered Carly’s side, straight through the white dress that wasn’t so white anymore.

“Hmm.” Liam didn’t jump to tell Tiger to let her go. The others hung back as well, as though hesitating to come between a dog and his treat.

I guess it’s up to me.

“Tiger, honey, I have to go.” Carly rubbed his forearm, then rubbed it again, liking the feel of tight skin over steel. “I’m sorry I dragged you into my problems, and that you suffered for them.”

Tiger stared down at her as though her words were meaningless to him. The stare was intense, unnerving.

“I’ll come see how you’re doing tomorrow, all right?” Carly said.

“Stay with me.” The words were a statement, not a request.

“I can’t. I have to go home. Look at me, I’m a mess. Then I have to find Armand and explain to him why I left him in the lurch today of all days. If I’m lucky, he’ll be sympathetic and give me a few dollars severance pay when he fires me.”

Again, Tiger’s eyes didn’t register the gist of her words, only that she was speaking. When she finished, he tilted his head, like a cat examining its prey. “I will take you.”

“No, you won’t.” Carly tapped his chest gently, avoiding the bandages under the shirt. “You’ll go home and rest, like the nurses said, and take your medication. If you run around the city, you’ll open the wounds again and need another clean shirt. I said I’d come see how you were doing, and I’m not lying. Least I can do.” She stood on tiptoe and kissed his cheek, tasting the bristle of whiskers. “I like you, Tiger.”

Tiger’s eyes softened as he looked down at her. Carly was aware of the others listening, poised, amazingly still. No human being could stand that still.

Tiger touched his cheek where Carly had kissed him, then he touched her cheek. His fingers were featherlight, though she’d seen him break apart the bed in the hospital as though it were paper.

“Connor,” Tiger said, the deep rumble in his voice again. “Go with her.”

“I said I’d take her home,” Liam broke in.

“No.” Tiger’s word was harsh. “Not you. Not anyone but Connor.”

Liam studied Tiger a moment, then switched his gaze to Connor, who was trying his best to look innocent and neutral. Finally Liam nodded. “All right. Connor.”

“Keep her safe,” Tiger said sternly.

Connor relaxed from his watchful stance. “You got it, big guy,” he said to Tiger. “This means I get to take your bike, right, Sean?”

Sean got in on the growling, looking annoyed, but he pulled out his keys and tossed them to Connor. “Not a scratch, not a speck of dirt.”

“Would I let you down, Uncle Sean? Come on, Carly, it’s a sweet ride.”

They expected her to go home on the back of a motorcycle? In this dress? Well, it was a day for the bizarre.

Tiger didn’t let Carly go that easily. He pulled her close, leaned into her, and buried his face in her hair again. She thought maybe he’d try to kiss her, right there in the parking lot, and wondered what she’d do if he did. Being kissed by Tiger would be . . .

She had no idea, but her body went hot and shivery at the same time. He was strong, powerful, and a little bit crazy.

Tiger straightened up. He didn’t kiss her, but he traced her cheek, staring down into her eyes again before he finally lifted his hand away.

Connor took that as a cue to walk toward the row of motorcycles parked in front of the clinic, gesturing for Carly to follow him.

“See you, Tiger,” Carly said, then walked off after Connor. Her shoes were killing her, so she paused to take them off and sling them from her fingers. She’d be more comfortable riding without them.

When she looked back over her shoulder, she saw Tiger’s gaze still fixed on her; he stood motionless while the others made moves to go. Carly gave him a little wave and turned to follow Connor again, but she felt Tiger’s stare on her back the whole way.

* * *

“Why did Tiger want you to bring me home, and not Liam?” Carly asked as she let Connor into her house.

She tried not to look at the suitcases she’d pulled out of the closet so she could pack to move in with Ethan. Good thing she hadn’t had time to start moving her stuff into storage, even though she’d already put a lot into boxes. Ethan had encouraged her to hang on to her house and rent it out—it wouldn’t be as good as owning a commercial property, but it would bring her some real income, he’d said. He didn’t consider being an art gallery assistant a viable or long-lasting occupation.

“Hmm?” Connor asked. He contemplated the few small paintings on the living room wall that artists had given Carly as gifts. “Why me? Because I’m a cub. Not a threat.”

“A cub?” Carly looked him up and down. “You said that before. You can’t be much younger than I am.”

“Just turned twenty-two. That’s cub age for a Shifter. When I hit about twenty-eight, or maybe later, I’ll start my Transition, which I’m so not looking forward to, trust me. But after that, I’ll be full grown, ready to find my own mate. That part I’m looking forward to.”

Carly saw a young man, college-aged, lanky but tough, as tall as his uncles if not as bulked. When he was twenty-eight and looking for his mate, women were going to line up for him. She was surprised they weren’t following him around now, drooling.

“But I’m not a Shifter,” she said. “Why should you have to wait six years before you go out with a human woman?’

“I don’t. But I’m not in a hurry. Not having reached my Transition means I don’t have the mating frenzy yet. So, sure, I could go out with you, or whatever human girl took my fancy, and we could kiss and cuddle, and even have sex. But I wouldn’t feel the need to scent-mark you, hide you from all other males, and have sex with you until we both couldn’t walk, or until you started a cub. Whichever came first.”

Carly stopped. Her shoes still hung from her fingers, her feet enjoying the cool of her tile floor. “That’s what Shifters do?”

“Yep. Females as well as males.”

“So, Tiger was afraid that if Liam drove me home he might . . .”

“Drag you off to bed and sex you ’til you screamed? Aye, he was. Even though Liam has a mate of his own, and a little cub—Katriona; she’s so cute—to Tiger, he’s just another full-grown Shifter male, not to be trusted.”

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