Home > Tiger Magic (Shifters Unbound #5)(8)

Tiger Magic (Shifters Unbound #5)(8)
Jennifer Ashley

She slid off the stool, ready to explain that they could all leave now so she could shower and lie down. She found her legs buckling, and only Connor’s strong arms kept her from sliding to the floor.

“I’m all right,” she said. “I jus’ need to rest.” Carly heard the slur in her words and started to laugh.

“I will put you to bed,” Yvette said. “Come.”

She held out her long, slim arm. Carly grabbed the wine bottle and her glass as she let Yvette take her back into her bedroom. Once inside, Carly poured another glass and spun around, laughing. “I feel so free. No more Ethan, no more sitting around his pool or taking one of his fancy cars to go shopping. Damn, I would have hated that life.” Carly stopped spinning, but the room kept on going. “No, I wouldn’t have. I wanted to be a pampered puddle. I mean, a pumpered poodle. A . . .”

“You lie down. You sleep. You will feel better.”

Sure she would. Yvette took the bottle and glass out of Carly’s hands and gently but firmly guided her to the bed.

Carly didn’t remember much after that, but she supposed Yvette had gotten her to settle down and sleep, because the next thing she knew, Carly was waking up, her mouth like cotton, her head pounding, her stomach in knots.

She slid out of bed, noting that the house was dark and silent, the clock beside the bed telling her it was three in the morning. Carly staggered to the bathroom, sacrificed Yvette’s great meal to the toilet, then washed her face and got ready for the next long trek—down the hall to the kitchen. As tempting as it had been to drink from the bathroom tap, Austin water wasn’t the way to go on a roiling stomach. Carly needed bottled water. Cold. Lots of it.

The rest of the house was quiet, but a nightlight shone in the kitchen. Yvette and Armand must have gone home a while ago.

Connor? A glance around the kitchen showed her that it was empty, but at least someone had done the dishes. Everything gleamed. Probably Armand had cleaned up, as he usually did after Yvette cooked. She felt a moment of gratitude toward him.

Carly pulled open the refrigerator and took out a gallon jug of water. She thought about reaching for a glass.

“To hell with it.” She upended the jug and drank straight from it, swallow after swallow. She wiped her mouth, noting that she’d dribbled plenty of water onto her T-shirt, but she felt slightly better.

Not much though. She needed aspirin. Her purse in the living room was closer than the bathroom, which was all the way back down the hall.

Sipping again from the gallon jug, Carly made her way into the dark living room, navigating by the light from the kitchen. She thought she’d dropped the purse behind the chair when the weird professor and his soldier had come in, but she couldn’t remember. She couldn’t remember anything about yesterday except Ethan’s bare butt going back and forth as he banged the woman on the counter, and . . .

Carly snapped on the lamp to look for her purse. And let out a shriek.

Tiger was sitting on her couch. Not really sitting—lounging back with his long legs stretched out in front of him. The light burnished the orange in his black hair, and his yellow eyes glittered.

Connor lay on his back on the floor, his knees up, one arm over his eyes, breathing softly. He was asleep, but Tiger was wide awake and watching Carly.

Carly realized she was in a T-shirt that came to her thighs and a pair of panties, and that was it. Her long legs were bare, and there was nothing between herself and the T-shirt but empty air.

“What in the hell are you doing here?” The words came out as a croak.

“Protecting you,” Tiger said. “You are my mate.”

Carly looked wildly from Tiger to Connor and back again. “Protecting me from what? And what are you doing out of bed? Weren’t you supposed to rest, take your meds, and get better?”

“I am better.” Tiger slid his shirt up his stomach to reveal his abdomen—the skin whole and unbroken, with only round pink scars to show where the bullets had gone in. The rest of his abdomen was as hard, flat, tanned, and well-muscled as the rest of him. The man must work out three times a day.

Carly stared in surprise. “How in the hell . . . ?”

“I heal fast. Andrea helped. So did the touch of my mate.”

“Andrea? Who’s Andrea?”

Connor answered from the floor, sleepy but alert. “Sean’s mate. She’s half Fae. Has healing magic.”

“Oh. Right.”

Tiger lowered his shirt. “I protect you from the man who waits outside for you.”

“What man?” Carly went for the window, but suddenly Tiger was there next to her, holding her back.

“Wait.” Tiger snapped off the lamp, rendering the room dark again.

How he’d gotten off the couch so fast, Carly didn’t know, but he led her to the dark back window, stopping her a few feet from it, and gestured outside.

Carly saw absolutely nothing. No sinister figure waiting in the dark, no figure at all. “Where?”

“He hides well. Connor saw him and called me.”

“I think it’s that Walker guy,” Connor said. He rose from the floor in one sinuous motion, gaining his feet without making any noise. “Or one of his squad.”

“Why?” Carly glanced out the window again, but she still couldn’t see Walker or anyone else. “You have to be dreaming this.”

“He’s there,” Tiger said. “Between the shadow of the fence and the tree. He’s chosen a good place. He can look in here but not be seen. At least, not by a human.”

“Shifters can see in the dark,” Connor said. “Especially Felines. Trust me, he’s there. I called Liam, and Tiger came.”

“Why on earth should Walker be watching my house?”

Carly looked once more where Tiger indicated, but she still couldn’t see anything . . . No, there. Something moved.

The glint vanished as quickly as it had appeared, whoever was out there disappearing into the shadows again.

“They want to know how much you have to do with Shifters,” Connor said. “Brennan asked you to spy on us, right?”

“For his research project or whatever. He’s an anthropologist.”

“Sure,” Connor said. “All I heard from him was he wanted you to get to know us and report to him. He can dress it up, but that sounds like spying to me. He wants Shifter secrets.”

“Shifters have secrets?”

Connor raised his hands and looked innocent. “Do we? I don’t know what you’re talking about. We’re sweet and innocent. Honest.”

“You’re full of shit,” Carly said, wanting to laugh.

“So’s Brennan. He’s tried to get himself into Shiftertown before. Slimy bastard, he is.”

“He creeped me out a little too,” Carly said. “But why does Walker need to spy on me? I don’t know any Shifter secrets. I keep telling everyone, I’d never met any Shifters until today. I mean yesterday.”

“We will ask him,” Tiger said. He started for the kitchen in that fluid, silent way he moved.

Carly ran after him and seized him by the arm. “Wait, wait. What are you doing?”

Connor was across the room to them, his eyes wide as he took in Carly and Tiger. But he was alarmed more, Carly thought, because she’d grabbed hold of Tiger. Body language again. Connor was trying to protect her, but right now, not from the guy outside.

Tiger did nothing but look down at Carly with his golden eyes that no longer held outrageous pain. He’d returned to the quiet watchfulness he’d exhibited when he’d helped her fix the car on the side of the road.

“The best way to find out what he wants is to ask him,” Tiger said, patience in his voice.

“But he has a gun . . .” Carly sighed and released him. “And you’ve already proven those don’t slow you down, not for long anyway.”

“He might have a tranq,” Connor pointed out. “Or two.”

“He does not have a tranquilizer, only a pistol,” Tiger said.

Connor blinked. “And you know that how?”

“Sight and scent.” Tiger spoke in clipped tones, like a soldier readying himself to confront his enemy. “Protect Carly while I find him.”

Connor sighed, resigned. “You’re the super Shifter. Be careful, all right? I don’t want to have to explain to Liam why I lost you.”

Tiger answered by fading down the hall toward Carly’s bedroom. Carly followed, not nearly as silently, her bare feet pattering on the floor.

Tiger ignored Carly’s bed and her clothes, which had been neatly folded over a chair—by Yvette, probably—and noiselessly pulled up the blinds on her window. Then he started taking off his clothes.

Tiger stripped all the way down, getting out of his clothes as smoothly and quietly as he did everything else. He was nicely proportional, strength showing in the sculpted muscles of his shoulders, the flat planes of his chest, the firm length of his back.

He had a great ass too, as tight and good as the rest of him. Carly had seen at the hospital what hung between his legs in front, but even so, looking at it again made her mouth a little dry. “Maybe I’m still drunk,” she said. “But Tiger . . . Oh my God, you are hot.”

Tiger barely acknowledged her, and Carly realized after a moment that he didn’t know what she meant.

The next second, any words of explanation were pouring back down her throat, because Tiger changed into a . . . tiger.

He did it rapidly, easily, limbs sliding from human down into the bent haunches and massive paws of a Bengal. Fur rippled across his body, orange with black stripes, a tail extending to brush the floor.

He was gigantic, bigger than any tiger Carly had seen at a zoo. Her large bedroom was now a tight fit.

Connor sighed as he pressed his way around Tiger to the window. “He always does this. Shifts and then makes me open the windows and doors for him. Quiet now.”

Connor slid up Carly’s double-hung window, which gave on to the side of the house. Tiger put his paws on the sill.

“What’s he doing?” Carly whispered frantically. “He won’t fit.”

“He will. Watch.”

How the hell Tiger got out the window when he was twice the size of the opening, Carly never understood. As a little girl, she’d had a cat that could flatten herself to crawl into the two-inch-high space under her dresser, but this was even more startling.

Maybe it was the magic of being a Shifter, but damned if Tiger didn’t compact himself down and squirt through the window. He landed on the other side, went into an instant predatory crouch, and slunk into the darkness. Carly lost sight of him in a matter of seconds.

“Crap, I thought he’d wait for me.” Connor put his head and shoulders out the window and climbed through with far less grace than Tiger had.

“It’ll be okay, right?” Carly whispered. “Walker can’t hurt Tiger with his gun, and Tiger can’t hurt him.”

Connor landed on his feet outside. “Oh, I’d say Tiger can do whatever the hell he’s wanting to.”

“I mean, Tiger can’t attack him. The Collar will stop him. That’s what it’s for, isn’t it?”

“Shite.” Connor’s whisper was agitated. “Shite. Shite. That’s what he’s after. Stay here.”

Screw that. As Connor faded into the darkness, Carly grabbed her jeans and tugged them on, then stuffed her feet into sandals. She sat on the sill, swung her legs around, slithered through the window, and landed with a thump on a patch of grass that needed mowing. Carly reflected, as she started jogging toward the backyard, that at oh dark thirty in the morning, the air was at least cool.

She heard a muffled shout and then Tiger’s growl, long and low. The rage in the sound was unmistakable, a wild animal ready to kill.

“No!” Carly heard Connor’s agitated voice. “Crap. No. Stop it, now. Aw, Liam’s gonna kill me.”


Snarling came out of the darkness, and Connor yelling under his breath, but nothing from the watcher.

Carly ran forward. Trying to keep out of sight meant she couldn’t see what not to trip over in the darkness, so she slammed into the patio chair she’d dragged to this side of the house a few days ago for a little sunbathing. Carly cursed as she went down, got up, rubbed her sore shin, and picked her way more slowly across the yard.

She reached the pitch-blackness near the fence to find a man on the ground and Tiger fully on top of him, his huge paw ready to rip out the man’s throat. Connor had his hands on Tiger’s back, pulling, without result.

Tiger’s Collar was silent, no sparking, nothing. The man under Tiger was Walker, his face a pale smudge in the darkness. His face was bloody, and he was out. Or dead. The man’s pistol, broken into pieces, lay on the grass next to him.

Carly saw all this in a frenzied second, then she joined with Connor trying to pull Tiger off him.

Tiger snarled, his face wrinkling with his deadly growl. His claws were poised on Walker’s neck, Connor’s tugs and pleas doing nothing.

“Don’t kill him, all right?” Connor was saying. “They’ll find out, they’ll get Liam, and the Goddess only knows what they’ll do to you.”

“What would they do to Tiger?” Carly asked in a frantic whisper.

“Take him, quarantine him, execute him, maybe. Today was bad enough. We can’t let anyone know anything about Tiger.”

Why not? Carly wondered. And why were Brennan and Walker this interested in him?

Not the time to ask questions. Carly sank her hands into Tiger’s fur, finding it surprisingly warm and silky. He had a scruff, like her childhood cat, folds of fur loose for holding. The thought flashed through her head that he must have been adorably cute as a cub, with his mother carrying him in her mouth. Did Shifters do that?

“Tiger, listen to Connor,” Carly said. “This guy’s not worth the jail time, or being executed over.”

Tiger’s growls rippled through him, vibrating through Carly. Walker lay motionless, the bruise on the side of his head explaining why he was out. Alive, though, thank God. She could hear his ragged breathing.

“If you hurt him,” Carly went on, “if they take you away, I’ll never see you again. I’d hate that. I want to see you again.”

Another huge growl rumbled, and then Tiger changed. The fur under Carly’s hands rapidly became human flesh, and in a few seconds, Carly found herself sitting on her damp lawn with her arms around a large, well-muscled, na*ed man.

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