Home > Tiger Magic (Shifters Unbound #5)(9)

Tiger Magic (Shifters Unbound #5)(9)
Jennifer Ashley

Tiger pulled her close, his strength undiminished, the heat of his body intense against the cooling night. His hot skin was smooth under Carly’s fingers, and she couldn’t resist running her hands down his back.

Tiger leaned in, and Carly thought he’d kiss her, but instead he brushed his nose along her cheekbone, then nuzzled her from forehead to chin.

Carly had never had a man nuzzle her before. She’d never realized how sensual that could be, how intimate.

She touched Tiger’s cheek, which was bristly with whiskers, his golden eyes still as he watched her. Tiger turned his face against her palm, and the tip of his tongue brushed her fingers.

The heat of him, the touch of his mouth, made Carly go shaky, hot and cold, giddy. Warmth blossomed in her female spaces, as did the need to have him touch her there with his strong hands.

Lust. Must be. That and reaction to her vast hurt and anger at Ethan.

But Tiger’s presence was blotting out Ethan’s face, his voice, his mean sarcasm. Ethan drained rapidly away as the hot sensations of Tiger snaked through Carly’s body.

Tiger nuzzled her again, his breath warm. The tip of his tongue touched her cheek, hesitant, then again, bolder, a trail of fire. Tiger drew back then, hands coming up to cup Carly’s face as he studied her.

Connor cleared his throat. “So, um, does this mean you aren’t going to kill him?”

Tiger’s fury came back into his eyes. “He threatens my mate.”

“Maybe that’s true, big guy. But, like I said, if you damage him more, we aren’t going to be able to cover it up.”

“You won’t be able to anyway,” Carly said. “When Walker wakes up, he’ll tell the police that Tiger knocked him out, or he’ll tell the Shifter Bureau, probably both. What do we do about that?”

Connor looked down at Walker, stretched out and silent. “I don’t know. But we can’t kill him. No matter how we tried to hide that, someone would find him and figure out he was at one time mauled by a Shifter.”

“I wasn’t suggesting killing him,” Carly said. “Sheesh. I meant maybe putting him to bed and reasoning with him when he wakes up.”

Connor huffed. “Reason with an armed Special Forces dude, who’s probably trained to take out Shifters with his bare hands?”

“He didn’t take out Tiger.”

“Yeah, well, Tiger’s different.”

Tiger paid no attention to Connor. He continued to look down at Carly, smoothing back a lock of her hair with gentle fingers.

Connor groaned and scrubbed his hands through his hair. “Goddess help me, why do I have to make all these decisions? Carly, you have any duct tape?”

“Probably.” Carly looked at Walker and shared Connor’s dismay. “Crap.”

“Hurry. Before he wakes up.”

The hardest thing was convincing Tiger to let her go. Tiger rose with Carly, towering over her, a giant of a man. A na*ed giant of a man. In her yard.

“I’ll be right back,” she said to him. “I’m only going to the garage. You stay here, and keep out of sight. If my neighbors see you, they’ll have every cop in the city up here.”

Tiger took a step back into the shadows. At least he understood the danger. Carly felt Tiger’s hard gaze on her back as she ran across the yard, though, remembering at the last minute to dodge the patio chair on her way to the open window.

* * *

Blood. Tiger smelled the saltiness of it, the tang that made the beast inside him want to feed. Animal triumph had shot through him when he’d smacked Walker with his paw, one blow knocking him out. His claws had raked the man’s face, drawing blood, waking up the carnivore he was.

Carly’s scent had blotted out the blood smell, sending Tiger’s thoughts in a wildly different direction. He smelled her female need, her ongoing anger at the man Ethan, her worry about Tiger and Walker lying at his feet.

Her scent had wrapped around Tiger’s senses, soothing him down from his anger. He was able to change to human, to touch her, relax into her.

Nuzzling her made him forget all about Walker and even Connor; licking her had been even better. Tiger had observed Liam and his mate—and Sean and his mate, Spike and his mate, and others—touching mouths. Kissing.

Tiger wanted to do that with Carly, but he wasn’t sure how it worked. When he’d asked Connor about kissing some time ago, Connor had laughed and said that Tiger would figure it out when the time came.

Tiger wasn’t so certain. He was pretty sure there was more to it than pressing lips together, and he wanted to get it right with Carly.

Now that Carly was gone, back into her house, her scent wasn’t as intense, and the blood smell came back. The need to make the kill surged. The tiger in him wanted to finish this, to rip out Walker’s throat for threatening Carly, slam his body down, and walk away. Quick, efficient, satisfying.

Tiger clenched his fists, his growl barely contained. Connor was right that if he hurt Walker the humans would find Tiger and take him away, and then they’d discover that his Collar was fake. Liam and his family would pay the price for that. Then Tiger’s captors would put him into a cage again and experiment on him, or simply shoot him full of drugs until he died.

Tiger started to shake. He wanted to run . . . Run, never stop. Never let them take you.

Never see Carly again.

No. Tiger needed her and needed her touch. Only Carly.

Carly came out of the house again, this time through the back door. Her scent drifted to him from across the yard, calming the fight-or-flight instinct to where Tiger could manage it. He exhaled.

“Found it.” Carly held out a roll of dull silver tape to Connor.

Connor took it. “Hurry. I think he’s coming around.”

He unrolled a long length of tape, then wound it around Walker’s ankles and calves. Connor forestalled Carly running back for scissors by letting his fingers sprout claws and slitting the tape neatly with one Feline razor-sharp nail.

“Handy,” Carly said.

Connor’s fingers became all human again, and he wrapped Walker’s wrists with another layer of tape. Walker swam to wakefulness, eyes focusing as Connor cut a six-inch strip of tape.

Carly took the strip from Connor. “Sorry,” she said to Walker as she pasted it over his mouth.

Walker only looked at her quietly over the duct tape. No anger, no frustration, no emotion at all.

Tiger didn’t like that look, one that said Walker wasn’t worried about anything they did to him. Carly didn’t seem to like it either. “Maybe some more tape, Connor,” she said, sounding nervous.

Connor added an extra layer to Walker’s legs and wrists before he handed the tape back to Carly. “Tiger, want to carry him?”

“No.” The word came out harshly. With the blood smell strong, Tiger wouldn’t be able to contain himself. He’d take Walker far from Carly and Connor and kill him.

Connor understood. “It’s all right. He’s not that big.” He got to his feet, heaved the bound Walker over his shoulders, and balanced the load. Connor wasn’t full-grown yet, but he was wiry and strong.

“Tiger, get dressed and meet us in the garage,” Connor said. “Carly, I’m going to need the keys to your car.”

Carly already had them out. Tiger ignored Connor’s instructions and followed them into the house and through to the garage, not trusting Walker not to twist his way out of the bonds. The man was a fighter. He’d know how.

Inside the closed garage, Carly opened the car’s back door, looked inside, and put her hands on her hips. Tiger liked when she stood that way—the stance emphasized the curve of her waist and her sweet backside.

“If we put him in there, someone will see him, won’t they?” she asked Connor.

“I’m thinking they will,” Connor said.

Carly heaved a sigh and clicked the remote on her key chain, and her trunk popped open.

Connor rolled the inert Walker into the trunk. Carly reached for the lid. “I’m really sorry,” she said to Walker before she and Connor slammed the lid shut.

Only then did Tiger let himself retreat to Carly’s bedroom, fetch his clothes, and carry them back with him to the garage. He also brought Carly’s purse from the living room. Having lived for months in the same house with Liam and his mate, Kim, Tiger had learned that these large bags were full of things females considered essential. They fussed when they didn’t have them.

Carly gave Tiger a wide smile he’d treasure for a long time. “Why, thank you, Tiger. What a sweetheart you are.”

“Hey,” Connor said as Tiger pulled on his clothes. “I have to wrap a guy in duct tape and stuff him into your trunk after Tiger knocks him out, and he’s the sweetheart?”

“You’re sweet too, Connor.” Carly dropped a kiss onto Connor’s cheek.

Tiger’s growl stifled itself. If Carly had done that to any other Shifter, he’d have had said Shifter on the floor. But Connor was a cub. Not a threat. Cubs were never threats.

Carly gestured Tiger toward the backseat. “Get in.”

Connor held out his hand. “You’re not coming. You stay here, out of trouble.”

Carly said, “No,” at the same time Tiger did. Connor looked at them both in exasperation.

“You are not driving my car around with Walker wrapped up in the trunk,” Carly said. “Besides, I need it to go to work tomorrow—today. Apparently, I still have a job.”

“I’ll bring it back,” Connor began, but Tiger ended the discussion by getting himself into the front seat of the car.

“She comes,” he said. “We protect her.”

Carly smiled in triumph and slid into the driver’s seat. “Besides,” she said, “You have to ride Sean’s motorcycle back.”

“All right,” Connor said, looking weary. He shut the door for Carly. “But Liam’s going to shit himself, I’m thinking.”

“How did you get to my house anyway?” Carly asked Tiger as she hit the control to open the garage door. “I don’t see a car outside, or another motorcycle. Connor didn’t sneak out and get you while I was asleep, did he?”

“I walked.”

Carly blinked at him. “You what?”

“Walked.”

“Walked,” she repeated. “From Shiftertown.”

Tiger shrugged. “Hitched a ride a couple of times. Connor told Liam where you lived when he called. I heard.”

Connor had been moving toward Sean’s motorcycle, still in Carly’s garage, but he swung around and leaned to look through the car’s window at Tiger. “Wait a minute. Does Liam even know you’re gone?”

“No one saw me,” Tiger said.

“Oh, shite.” Connor thumped his forehead to the window frame. “Goddess, Tiger, you’re going to get me into so much trouble.”

CHAPTER EIGHT

Carly waited until Connor was ready on Sean’s motorcycle before she started the car. She backed out, thankful that it was still too early for even her hardiest neighbors.

She drove sedately, trying not to attract attention, following Connor as she pulled out onto the main streets.

“Where are we going?” she asked Tiger.

“Shiftertown,” Tiger said. “Best place.”

Carly drove on with misgivings. She wasn’t exactly afraid to go to Shiftertown, but she didn’t like to think what all those Shifters would do with someone from the Shifter Bureau tied up with duct tape and delivered to them.

She supposed she could drive her car straight to a police station and let Connor and Tiger suck it up, but the thought of Connor’s worry over Walker, Tiger, and her changed her mind. Connor was in over his head and scared. Carly didn’t have the heart to give him to the police to question and maybe arrest on top of everything else.

And she remembered what Connor said they might do to Tiger—Take him, quarantine him, execute him, maybe. Carly didn’t want that to happen either.

Tiger stared straight ahead as Carly drove, the streetlights creating bands of light that moved across his face. What he was thinking, she couldn’t guess, and Tiger didn’t offer to share his thoughts. He was mysterious, even more so than the other Shifters she’d met today, and none of them had stirred her desires simply by touching her.

Carly glanced at him as she drove, and sometimes she’d catch him looking back at her, his eyes enigmatic but holding heat.

Shiftertown lay behind the old airport, in houses no one had wanted even before the airport had closed down and moved to where the Bergstrom Air Force Base used to be. When Shifters needed a place to live, the Shifter Bureau and the city had designated the area exclusively for them.

Shifters had moved to the Austin Shiftertown from all corners of the globe, because most countries didn’t want Shifters living in them at all. Obviously the Morrisseys had come from Ireland. But Tiger? Carly couldn’t place his accent. American but neutral. Not from Texas or anywhere in the South anyway.

The sun was just coming up as Carly drove into Shiftertown. She expected to find slums, but after she passed a few derelict stores, a boarded-up gas station, and an empty field, she found old bungalows, neatly painted with equally neat yards, bathed in early-morning sunlight. Some houses were placed one behind the other, with driveways that served both houses.

She followed Connor to a two-story bungalow that looked little different from the one next door to it. The two houses shared a driveway, which was nothing more than two strips of concrete. A small white pickup, another nice Harley, and a smaller car were parked in this driveway. Connor halted the motorcycle next to the other one, and Carly pulled over at the curb and stopped the car.

Tiger was out before she could emerge, and Connor scrambled off the bike, heading to the trunk. Tiger grabbed Carly’s wrist as she was about to push the remote to pop the latch.

“No,” he said in a stern voice. “He’s almost free.”

“What? How on earth could you possibly know that?”

“Smell is different. Connor, get Liam.”

Tiger put himself between Carly and the trunk as Connor ran for the house, but Tiger made no move to dig inside and stop Walker from breaking loose.

“You know, you could just knock him out again,” Carly said.

Tiger shook his head. “If I touch him again, I’ll kill him. Liam will want him to stay alive.”

Carly stopped, the odd phrasing striking her. “What do you want?”

Tiger looked down at her, his eyes becoming fixed. She read confusion in them, puzzlement. “I don’t know,” he said.

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