Home > Tiger Magic (Shifters Unbound #5)(7)

Tiger Magic (Shifters Unbound #5)(7)
Jennifer Ashley

“Take your time, Ms. Randal,” Brennan said. “My study is ongoing, and Shifters live far longer than we do.”

“Tell me something.” Carly fixed Walker with a steely look. “If I take this job, will Mr. Walker follow me around, armed to the teeth? Did you think an art gallery assistant was so dangerous that you had to bring a Glock or whatever that is into my house?”

“Walker’s my first name,” Walker said. He was the only one of the three of them who hadn’t sat down. “Captain Walker Danielson. Carrying a gun is part of my job.”

“What, like Walker, Texas Ranger?”

His hard-faced mask slipped, and he looked a little embarrassed, as though people tried to make that joke all the time. “Not quite.”

Carly assessed him again. He was kind of cute, in the I’m-a-hard-bitten-soldier kind of way, but she couldn’t forget how ready he’d been to shoot Tiger.

“Are you CIA, FBI, whatever alphabet agency?”

“Department of the Interior. Shifter Bureau.”

“Oh.” Carly had never heard of the Shifter Bureau, but she knew that Shifters were regulated. At least, articles and TV reports reassured the public of this all the time. Again, she realized how far Shifters had been off her radar—she’d given no thought to how they were regulated, or why, or who did it.

“And your job is what?” Carly asked Walker. “Intimidation?”

“I’m an officer in the Special Forces attachment to the Shifter Bureau South,” Walker answered, the red at his cheekbones vanishing. “I and my men are called in when there’s a problem, such as a Shifter going crazy in a hospital.”

“Walker thought I’d be interested in having a look at this Shifter,” Dr. Brennan said. “He seems to be a little different from the others, and a tiger, which is odd, as I’ve said. I need someone to help me get close to him.”

“Can’t you just call the Shifters and set up an appointment?” Carly thought about Liam, who’d put the nurses in Tiger’s room at their ease with one look. “I’m sure they’d give you the information or let you interview him.”

Brennan looked pained. “I have talked to them—to Liam Morrissey and his father. A while ago. They made it clear that I wasn’t welcome to return.”

“So you want me to sneak information about them to you behind their backs?” Carly said, annoyed. “You know, I’m getting pretty tired of men who want to sneak around today.”

Brennan looked puzzled, but he couldn’t know what Carly was talking about. “The Morrisseys made it clear that I wasn’t welcome in Shiftertown,” Brennan said. “Not that they object to me carrying on my research from afar. But I want to respect their wishes. An assistant would be helpful, especially a female one. Women seem to get along better with Shifters than men.”

From what Connor had said, the Shifters seemed to regard all males as threats. Not surprising that they hadn’t liked Brennan, then.

“I’ll have to think about it.” Carly stood up, wanting Brennan to get the idea that the interview was over.

Brennan didn’t. He sat leafing through his briefcase. “I can’t fit you out with fancy equipment—digital recorders, laptops, and the like. No budget. A steno pad and pen will have to be the way to go, unless you have your own laptop. If I hire you on, you can write that off as a business expense.”

“I said I’d have to think about it, Dr. Brennan.”

Walker, having never sat down, glanced through the blinds to Carly’s front drive. “Who’s that?”

Carly went to the window to look, even though she had to lean over Brennan on the sofa to do it. She’d expected to see Connor trying to ride away on his motorcycle, but instead she saw Armand climbing out of his BMW, Yvette exiting the other side. Both were talking, loudly, in French, carrying on whatever animated conversation they’d begun inside the car.

“My boss,” Carly said turning away. Armand looked angry, and Yvette was yelling at him—Carly could hear them as she made her way through the tiled foyer to open the front door. She didn’t know enough French to understand what they were yelling about, but she had a pretty good idea.

“Carly!” Armand said in his earsplitting roar as soon as Carly pulled open the door. “Ma petite.” The big bear of a man threw his arms around Carly and dragged her against his soft body. “You are all right. I heard of a shooting at Ethan’s house, and you were nowhere to be found. I was so worried . . .”

Carly had held up all the way to the hospital, throughout her concern about Tiger, having Connor stick to her, even Brennan’s weird request, but now, embraced by the fatherly Armand, she wanted to let go, hang on to him, and sob. Armand had been more of a father to her than her own ever had been.

“Carly, you poor thing.” Yvette patted her cheek as she stepped into the house, her rings cool on Carly’s hot face. “We heard about the shooting at Ethan’s house on the news, and Armand said you’d been going back there, and we had to come and make sure you were all right. But others have come too. Who are these people?”

Yvette had halted in the archway to the living room, staring at Brennan and Walker. Yvette was tall and willowy, a brunette with short and sleek hair, her pencil-slim dress hugging her figure and emphasizing her long legs. At fifty, she still looked like the runway model she’d been at twenty.

Brennan’s mouth was slightly open; he was finally reacting like a man instead of a data-collecting machine. Yvette had that effect on unsuspecting males. Walker, on the other hand, didn’t appear to be impressed by her. He only watched Yvette and Armand, his expression unchanging.

“That’s Dr. Brennan, from UT,” Carly said. “And his friend Walker. They were just leaving.”

Walker at least could take a hint. He shut the professor’s briefcase for him, and Brennan finally got to his feet.

“You have my card,” Brennan said as he straightened his tie and took up his briefcase. “Give me a call in the next few days, Ms. Randal. I want to do this. Ma’am.” He gave the straight-faced Yvette a nod and a smile and then walked out the door without looking at Carly.

Walker followed him without a good-bye, but Carly saw Walker look over Armand and Yvette again, and then the rest of the house, with an assessing eye. Brennan called to him from outside, and Walker shut the door.

“Interesting people,” Yvette said. She took up a tote bag that Armand had dropped when he’d embraced Carly and headed for the kitchen. “We’re cooking dinner for you, after your hard day. I told Armand it wasn’t your fault.”

Armand released Carly, patted her shoulders, and went after his wife. “How was I to know our Carly was in danger? Tell us everything, Carly. What happened?”

“And who is that?” Yvette asked sharply, frozen in the act of taking a wine bottle from the brown canvas bag.

Her blue eyes were now fixed on Connor, who leaned casually against the wall next to the sliding glass door that led to the back patio.

CHAPTER SIX

Carly yelped and jammed her hand to her chest. “Connor,” she said, gasping. “Don’t do that. I thought you’d gone.”

“Not me.” Connor moved to the counter with natural grace—Feline grace, Carly supposed. “I was told to look out for you, and I’m doing it.” Connor leaned his arms on the counter and gazed with interest at Yvette’s open canvas bag. “Are those shallots in there? And bell peppers? Our Sean makes them into a kick-ass ratatouille. Only he calls it Irish stew.”

Armand came to stand next to Yvette, and Connor extended a young and sinewy hand at them from the end of a well-muscled arm. “I’m Connor. Connor Morrissey. Who are you, if you don’t mind my asking?”

They kept staring at him, taking in his Collar above his T-shirt, his good-natured tanned face, his tall Shifter body. His eyes, cobalt blue like both his uncles’, were watchful. He and Walker had much the same look, Carly realized, except Connor smiled.

“It’s all right,” Carly said quickly to Connor. “This is Armand, my boss, and his wife, Yvette. They’re friends, good friends.”

“I’m seeing that.” Connor leaned the slightest bit forward, inhaling a little. “Not a threat.”

“Where’d you disappear to?” Carly asked nervously. “I thought Dr. Brennan and that Walker guy were a threat.”

“Yes, and it wouldn’t be so good if someone from the Shifter Bureau found a Shifter in your house, would it?” Connor asked, his friendly look unwavering. “I laid low. Not so low I couldn’t get back in here if you needed me, plus I took the opportunity to call Liam.” He showed the cell phone in his hand, then shoved it into his pocket. “I gave him the all clear just now, but he might overreact. Liam does sometimes.” He shrugged, as though the actions of his uncle were unfathomable to him.

“Overreact how?” Carly asked.

“He might send reinforcements. His trackers. Don’t worry, it will take a few minutes for them to get here, and Liam might change his mind.”

“How many more?” Yvette demanded. She took three red peppers out of her bag. “I only brought so much.”

Connor gestured to her. “Cook for Carly. She needs it. Ronan and Ellison aren’t much into fancy food anyway. Sean’s the gourmet.”

Yvette took a chef’s knife out of her bag. Connor watched her very closely, but Yvette only rinsed off the peppers, cored them, and started chopping them, then the shallots. Armand had water boiling on the stove, and Yvette briefly plunged tomatoes into the pot to split their skins so she could peel them and then chop them up.

Carly stood in kind of a daze while Yvette went through the soothing motions of cooking. Connor watched Yvette’s every move as she oiled a sauté pan and tossed the vegetables and tomatoes into it.

Armand uncorked a bottle of dark red wine, poured a glass, and shoved it at Carly. Connor had already helped himself to the beer Carly had left on the counter when Brennan arrived.

“Tell us what happened to you,” Armand said.

The wine, the warmth in the house, and the smell of one of Yvette’s excellent meals in the making loosened Carly’s tongue. She told them the story, without inflection, without crying, holding it all in as the words came out. She told them about giving Tiger a ride, finding Ethan with the other woman, forgetting about Tiger as she rushed away from Ethan’s, and Tiger getting shot by Ethan and ending up in the hospital.

Her friends listened in shock, horror, and sympathy. Yvette took out her anger by banging the vegetables around in the pan.

“He cannot shoot people and get away with it,” Armand said, thunder in his voice. “A Shifter is a person, eh? Like this one.” He gestured with his wineglass at Connor. “I could never shoot him. He looks like my nephew.”

“Glad to hear it.” Connor winked. “I wouldn’t shoot you either.”

“Ethan must be arrested,” Armand said.

“He’ll claim self-defense,” Carly said. She drained her glass and reached for the wine bottle to pour another. “That’s what he did when he shot his new pool man in the leg last year. Poor kid climbed the fence because the gate hadn’t been unlocked for him. Ethan saw him, said he thought he was a burglar, and shot at him. Ethan was very apologetic and paid the hospital bill, but he was never arrested for it, and the kid lost a year’s worth of work. Ethan knows powerful people.”

“As do I,” Armand said without modesty. “I will call my lawyer. The Shifters can sue Ethan if the police will do nothing. And you shall sue him for breach of contract.”

“No.” Carly lifted her hands, still holding her glass of wine. “If the Shifters want to go after him, fine. But I don’t want to face Ethan again. Not in a courtroom, not through lawyers. I’m done. It’s over.” Tears stung her eyes. No use crying, she told herself. Good riddance. “At least I found out he was a lying, cheating scumbag before the wedding.”

The tears spilled from her eyes anyway. Today had been horrible, horrible. A person didn’t walk away from a two-year relationship and an engagement with a laugh and a shrug.

“Carly.” Armand was there with another hug.

“He will be sorry,” Yvette said matter-of-factly.

“Spike and Sean will scare the shite out of him,” Connor said. “Trust me.”

“He’ll shoot them too,” Carly said, worried.

“No, he won’t. Sean’s very good at talking people out of hurting anyone, including himself. And Spike just has to stand there. They’ll be fine.”

Carly broke away from Armand. She drained the last of her wine again and poured another glass. Armand always brought the best wine—smooth, full-bodied, a caress for the tongue. The wine went down easily and made her stomach feel better.

She raised her glass. “To Spike and Sean.” Connor clinked his bottle against her glass, and Carly drank. “And to Tiger. Bless him.”

Again she and Connor toasted and drank. Yvette served up the sauté with thin strips of beef she’d precooked and a smattering of mushrooms. She deglazed the pan with a little of the wine to make a tasty sauce and put everything neatly on a plate for Carly.

“The best medicine,” Yvette said. “Good food, good friends. You eat now.”

Carly sat on a stool next to Connor at the counter and pushed the food around the plate. Because Yvette’s cooking shouldn’t be sneered at, but mostly because Yvette was standing over her giving her a steely look, Carly ate.

The mixture of peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, meat, and wine was heavenly, but it felt leaden on Carly’s tongue. Life was indeed tragic when she couldn’t appreciate one of Yvette’s meals.

“Let’s not talk about it,” Carly said, pouring herself more wine. The bottle released its last drop, but Armand had brought more. “How was the exhibit opening? From the fact that you didn’t instantly fire me, I take it you sold a piece?”

“Three.” Armand’s smile beamed out. “And interest in more. That young man is on fire.”

“Good,” Carly said. “Good.” At least someone’s day had gone well.

More food and more wine disappeared, but Carly stopped following the conversation. Exhaustion, worry, heartbreak, and too much alcohol was taking its toll, and taking it fast. Connor ate a helping of the meal and talked easily with Yvette and Armand, telling them more about the events of the day. They started discussing Brennan and Walker, speculating about what they really wanted, but Carly was finished.

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