Shifters Unbound Book 5
Pub date JUNE 4!
Barnes & Noble
“No, no, no, no, not today. You can’t do this to me today!”
But the car died anyway. It
throbbed onto the shoulder of the empty highway, bucked twice, and gurgled to
“Aw, damn it.” Carly’s four-inch
heels landed on the pavement, followed by tanned legs and a tight, white sheath
dress. She glared down at the car, the Texas
wind tugging her light brown hair out of its careful French braid.
She would have to be wearing
white. Carly jammed her hands on her hips and skewered the Corvette with her
’Vette, Her fiancé, Ethan, had said. It’s a big day.
You want to make an entrance. She’d been in a hurry to get on her way
out of the city to the gallery where she worked, so Ethan had pressed the keys
into her hand and pushed her out the door.
Carly had agreed with him—the
artist they were showcasing liked classic cars, and he was doing an exclusive
with her boss’s gallery in the little town northeast of Austin.
Buyers were already lined up. Carly’s commission could be enormous.
If she could get there. Carly
kicked one of the tires in rage, then danced back. Her shoes were substantial
but that still hurt.
Perfect. Ethan could be
generous—and he had the filthy richness to do it—but he also forgot little
details like making sure cars got tuned up.
“His lazy highness can just come
and get me, then.” Carly went around to the passenger side of the car and
leaned in through the open window to grab her cell phone from her purse.
Today. This had to happen today. Still bent into the car, she punched numbers with her
thumb, but the phone made the beeping noise that indicated it was out of range.
“No effing way.” Carly backed
out of the car and raised the phone high. “Come on. Find me a signal.”
And then she saw him.
The man stood about ten feet
from the car, not on the road but in the tall Texas
grass beside it. That grass was dotted with blue, yellow, and white flowers,
and this being summer the grass was also a nice vivid green.
It wasn’t every day a girl saw a
tall hunk of a man, shoulders broad under a black and red SoCo Novelties T-shirt standing by the side of the road. Watching her.
watching her. His eyes were fixed on Carly, not in the dazed way of a transient
wandering around in an alcoholic haze, but looking at her as no human being had
looked at her before.
He wasn’t scruffy like a
transient either. His face was shaved, his body and clothes clean, jeans mud
free despite him having walked through the field. And he must have walked
through the field, because she sure hadn’t seen him on the road.
His hair . . .
Carly blinked as the strong sunshine caressed sleek hair that was orange and
black. Not dyed orange and black—dye tended to make hair matte and stark. This
looked entirely natural, sunlight picking up highlights of red orange and blue
She knew she should be afraid. A
strange guy with tiger-striped hair popping out of nowhere, staring at her like
he did should terrify her. But he didn’t.
He hadn’t been there when Carly
had first stopped the car and climbed out. He must have arrived when she’d bent
over to get the phone, which meant he’d seen every bit of her round backside
hugged by her skintight white dress.
This stretch of road was
deserted. Eerily so. The streets in Austin
were always packed, but once outside the city, it was possible to find long
stretches of highway empty of traffic, such as the one Carly drove down to get
to the art gallery every day.
There was no one out here, no
one speeding along the straight road to rescue her. No one but herself in
now-rumpled white and the tall man staring at her from the grass.
“Hey!” Carly shouted at him.
“You know how to fix a car?”
He didn’t have a name. He
didn’t have a clan. He’d had a mate, and a cub, but they’d died, and the humans
who’d held him captive for forty years had taken them away. They hadn’t let him
say good-bye, hadn’t let him grieve.
Now he lived among other
Shifters, brought to this place of humidity, heat, and colorful hills. He only
felt completely well when he was running in his tiger form, way out in the back
country where no one would see him. He usually ran at night, but today, he
hadn’t been able to stay in the confines of the house, or Shiftertown. So he’d
He’d left his clothes hidden
behind a little rise at the side of this road. Connor was supposed to pick him
up, but not for a couple more hours, and Connor was often late. Tiger didn’t
mind. He liked being out here.
He’d dressed, walked around the
rise to the road . . . and saw a fine backside sticking out of a
bright red car. The backside was covered in thin white fabric, showing him
faintly pink panties beneath.
Below the nice buttocks were
shapely legs, not too long, tanned by Texas
sun. Shoes that rose about half a mile made those legs even shapelier.
The woman had hair the color of
winter-gold grass. She had a cell phone in one hand, but she waited, the other
hand on her shapely hip, for him to answer her question.
Tiger climbed the slope from the
grass to the road. She watched him come, unafraid, her sunglasses trained on
Tiger wanted to see her eyes. If
she was going to be his mate, he wanted to see everything about her.
And this woman would be his
mate. No doubt about that. The scent that kicked into his nostrils, the way his
heartbeat slowed to powerful strokes, the way his body filled with heat told
Connor had tried to explain that
mating didn’t happen like that for Shifters. A Shifter male got to know a
female a little bit before he chose, and then he mate-claimed her. The mate
bond could rear its head anytime before or after that, but it didn’t always on
Tiger had listened to this
wisdom without arguing, but he knew better. He wasn’t an ordinary Shifter. And
this female, hand on one curved hip, wasn’t an ordinary woman.
“Can you put the hood up?” Tiger
“I don’t know,” she said,
frustrated. “This car is different from anything I usually drive. Hang on, let
Her voice was a sweet little Texas
drawl, not too heavy. A light touch, enough to make warmth crawl through
Tiger’s veins and go straight to his cock.
The woman found a catch and
worked the hood open, then dusted off her hands and peered at the inner
workings without comprehension. “Classic car, my ass.” She scowled at it. “Classic just means old.”
Tiger looked inside. The layout
was much different from the pickup he and Connor had been tinkering with all
spring, but Connor had been teaching Tiger a lot about vehicles. “Got a socket
When he looked up at the woman,
he saw her staring at him from behind the sunglasses. “Your eyes,” she said.
“They’re . . .”
Tiger turned away before her
scent convinced him to press her back against the side of the car and hold her
to him. She wasn’t a female someone had tossed into his cage to trigger his
mating frenzy. This was his mate, and he didn’t want to hurt her.
He wanted to take this slow, woo
her a little. Maybe with something involving food. Shifter males around here
liked to cook for their mates, and Tiger liked the rituals.
She opened the back of the car
and found a toolbox, which did have a set of socket wrenches. Tiger took one
and reached inside the car, looking for the silence within himself that would
lead him to the problem. He seemed to be able to sense what was wrong with engines,
and how to coax them back to life. He couldn’t explain how he did it—he only
knew that cars and trucks didn’t watch him, or fear him, and he could see what
was wrong when others couldn’t.
As he worked, the neckline of
his T-shirt slid down, baring the silver and black Collar that ran around his
throat. The woman bent over to him, the top of her dress dangerously open, the
warmth of her touching his cheek.
“Holy shit,” she said. “You’re a
She lifted her sunglasses and
stared at him. Her eyes were clear green, flecked with a little gray. She
stared at him frankly, in open curiosity, and without fear.
Of course she wasn’t afraid of
him. She was going to be his mate.
Tiger met her gaze, unblinking.
Her eyes widened the slightest bit, as though she realized something had
happened between them, but she didn’t know what.
She restored her sunglasses and
straightened up. “I’ve never seen a Shifter before. I didn’t know any of y’all
were allowed out of Shiftertown.”
Tiger picked up the wrench with
one hand and moved the other to the timing belt chain, which had come loose
from the gear. “We’re allowed.”
The repair needed both delicacy
and strength but Tiger finished quickly, leaning all the way inside and letting
his fingers know what to do. He backed out and closed the toolbox. “Start it
The woman eagerly rushed to the
car, slid inside, and cranked it to life. She emerged again, leaving the car
running, while Tiger scanned a few more things. “The timing belt will hold for
now, but the whole shaft is worn and could break. Take the car home and don’t
use it again until it’s fixed.”
“Terrific. Armand is going to
Tiger didn’t know who Armand was
and didn’t much care. He carried the toolbox to the back for her and closed the small trunk,
then returned to close the hood.
He found her smiling at him on
the other side of the hood as it came down. “You’re kind of amazing, you know
that?” she asked. “So what were you doing out in that field? Were you running
around as a . . . Let me guess. Tiger?”
He let his lips twitch. “What
gave it away?”
“Very funny. I’ve never met a
man with striped hair and yellow eyes. Call it a clue. Anyway, you’re a
lifesaver. I’m Carly, by the way.” She stuck out her hand, then pulled it back
from his now-greasy one. “Hang on. I think there’re some wipes in here.”
Carly leaned in through the
passenger window again. Tiger stood still and enjoyed watching her, and when
she straightened, she knew he’d been looking. “Like what you see?” she asked,
her voice holding challenge.
Tiger saw no reason to lie.
“Yes,” he said.
“You sweet-talker.” Carly pulled
out two damp wipes for him.
Tiger took them and wiped off
his hands. Wet wipes were familiar, at least. Whenever he’d been working on the
truck, Connor’s aunt always made him clean up with them before she’d let him
back into the house.
“You need a ride into Austin?”
Carly asked. “It’s still thirty miles from here to the gallery, so I’d better
take this car back to Ethan’s and not risk it. Ethan loves this car. Like I
said, Armand’s going to kill me, but I’m so late now, it’s not going to
Carly sent him a wide smile.
“Yes, you want a ride? Or are you just being polite while I ramble?”
“The ride.” He could call Connor
with the cell phone they made him carry when he got back to town. He couldn’t
miss this opportunity to get to know his mate.
“Man of few words. I like it.
Ethan, my fiancé, can talk on and on and on about his family, his business, his
day, his life—Ethan. His favorite topic.”
Tiger stopped. “Fiancé.”
“Do Shifters have fiancés? It’s
what humans call the man they’re going to marry.”
Tiger wadded up the now-dirty
wipes in his big hands. “I didn’t know you’d have a fiancé.”
Carly opened the door of the
running car as though she hadn’t heard him. “Get in. Ethan’s house is on the
river—it’s a ways from Shiftertown, but I can always get you a taxi, or one of
Ethan’s many lackeys can run you home.”
“Why are you marrying him?”
Carly shrugged. “Girl’s got to
marry someone, mostly so her older sister stops mentioning it every five
minutes. Ethan’s a good catch. Besides, I’m in love with him.”
No, she wasn’t. The slight
motion in her throat, the scent of nervousness as she replied gave away the
lie. She didn’t love him. Tiger felt something like triumph.
He got into the car as Carly
slid into the driver’s seat inches away from him. Her fingers ran over the
steering wheel as she made a competent U-turn on the still-empty road, and she
drove, somewhat slowly, back toward Austin.
Carly tried to talk to him. She
liked to chatter, this female. Tiger was fine with sitting back and listening
to her, scenting her, watching her.
As they neared the city and the
road started getting busier, Carly lifted her cell phone and called the man
named Armand. She explained she’d be late, then held the phone from her ear
while a male voice on the other end spoke loudly in an unfamiliar accent. Carly
rolled her eyes at Tiger and smiled, unworried.
“Bark’s worse than his bite,”
she said, clicking off the phone.
“I know some wolves like that.”
Carly laughed, her red mouth
opening. Tiger leaned in closer to her, not hard to do in this coffin of a car,
and brushed his scent onto her.
She glanced at him, again with
the puzzlement of knowing something had happened but not sure what. “It’s
dangerous for a woman to give strange men rides. I wonder why I’m not worried
my mate. “Because I’d never hurt you.”
“Well, you can’t, can you?
That’s why you wear the Collar. Keeps you tame. Shifters can’t be violent with
Tiger could. This Collar was
fake. It didn’t have the technology or Fae magic that would send shocks through
his system if he started to attack.
They’d tried to put a real
Collar on him, and Tiger had nearly gone insane. They concluded that Tiger
should wear a fake Collar—not that the humans realized it was fake—and proceed
This Collar would not stop Tiger
from scooping up Carly and running off with her if he wanted to. He could
sequester her, mate with her, soothe his need for her until they both collapsed
Or he could be kind and wait for
her to get used to him.
Carly kept up the conversation
all the way through midtown traffic and up the hill north of the river. She
pulled into a drive that arced in front of an enormous house, the mansion white
with black shutters and black trim. Carly parked the car and emerged, and Tiger
got out with her.
Gates on either side of the
house led to the backyard, and Carly opened one, beckoning Tiger to follow. Tiger
got in front of her and went through the gate first, his Shifter instinct
urging him to make sure the way was safe for her.
The backyard overlooked the
river and the hills opposite it, where similar houses had a view of this one. A
stair ran down the side of the hill to a private dock, where two boats bobbed.
A row of glass windows lined the
back of the house, but the glare of the sun and tint of the windows kept Tiger
from seeing inside. A man with pruning shears looked up from a bush at the
corner of the house, then stood up in alarm as Carly reached for the handle of
one of the glass doors.
“Ms. Randal, you don’t want to
go in there.”
Carly turned to him in surprise.
Tiger tried to get around Carly to enter the house first, but she was too
quick. She was opening the door and walking inside before Tiger could stop her,
and he had to settle for following a step behind her.
What Tiger smelled inside the
house wasn’t danger, however. It was sex.
He saw why when he and Carly
rounded a wall behind which stretched a huge kitchen. Cabinetry in a fine
golden wood filled the walls, the long counters shiny granite. It was clean in
here, no dishes cluttering the counters, no one cooking something that smelled
good, no chatter and laughter as a meal was prepared.
A woman sat on top of the
counter with her blouse open, her skirt up around her hips, high-heeled shoes
on her feet. A man with his pants around his ankles was thrusting hard into
her, holding her legs in black stockings around his thighs. Both humans were
grunting and panting, and neither noticed Carly or Tiger.
Tiger stepped in front of Carly,
trying to put his huge body between her and the scene. Carly stopped, her purse
falling from nerveless fingers to the floor. “Ethan.” There was shock in her tone.
The man turned around. Tiger was
growling, feeling the distress of his mate, the animal in him wanting nothing
more than to kill the person who’d upset her.
The man jumped, his mouth
dropping open, then he stumbled over his pants and had to catch himself on the
“Carly, what the fuck
are you doing here?” His gaze went to Tiger, whose
fingers were sprouting the long, razor-sharp claws of the Bengal
“And who the hell is that
Carly’s anguish hit Tiger in a
series of waves. Shock, anger, and then a pain so harsh the edge of it hurt
Tiger reached for her, but Carly
snatched up her purse and swung away, blinded. She ran from the room, out of
the house, and back into the sunshine.
The house’s windows let Tiger
trace her progress through the backyard and around to the front. She slammed
her way back into the Corvette, started the engine with a roar, and shot around
the circular drive and out into the street.
Leaving Tiger alone, unable to
He turned instead to the source
of Carly’s distress, the man called Ethan. Ethan glared at Tiger, outrage in
his eyes, and snarls built in Tiger’s throat.
The young woman Ethan had been
with—unknown, not part of this—scrambled from the
counter, her skirt catching on her black thigh-high stockings as she righted
herself. A flash of yellow satin panties broke the monochrome colors of her
outfit before the businesslike gray skirt shut it out.
The woman buttoned her blouse
with agitated fingers. “Shit, Ethan, you said she’d be gone all day.”
Ethan dragged his gaze from
Tiger, took a step toward the woman, half tripped on his pants again, and
leaned down to drag them up. “Lisa, wait . . .”
“You said she knew. You said she
was cool with it.”
The woman grabbed her purse and
started for the sliding glass door. Tiger remained in front of it, growling.
The woman looked up at him, and
a bite of primal fear entered her eyes. She didn’t know what Tiger was, but
something inside her knew a predator when she saw one. She stood a moment, indecisive,
then pivoted and ran out the other side of the kitchen toward the front of the
“No,” Ethan called. “Wait.”
He frantically zipped and
buckled as he swung around to follow her and found himself up against the solid
wall of Tiger, who’d stepped in his way.
Tiger smelled Ethan’s outrage
and shock, but no fear and no shame. “Who the hell are you?” Ethan had to crank
his head back to look at Tiger, but he had an arrogance that would make an
alpha smack him down just to make a point.
The front door slammed open, the
young woman fleeing. Ethan grimaced as he heard her car start, then turned even
more rage on Tiger.
“Carly’s sleeping with you?” he demanded. “You can tell that slut for me she can
give me back every penny I’ve ever given her.”
Feral anger rose inside Tiger in
a wave. Living outside the cage, experiencing new sensations and feelings had
dampened his rages a bit, but hadn’t erased them. Nothing ever would.
This man, this pretend-mate of
Carly’s, had hurt her. He’d not done it with calculation, but with careless
cruelty. Now he twisted the fact that Carly had walked in on him while he betrayed her to make the betrayal
Tiger’s reactions were more
basic. He saw a source of pain, and he eliminated it.
His snarls grew in volume, a
sound so deep it was felt more than heard. The glass-fronted cabinets rattled,
and dishes behind them took up the dance. The kitchen windows caught the
vibrations and rumbled in response.
A glass cabinet door shattered
and broke. Ethan gaped at it, then back at Tiger. “You’re paying for that.”
“Mr. Turner.” The gardener who’d
tried to stop Carly from entering the house now stood in the kitchen’s open
door. “He’s a Shifter.”
“Is he?” Ethan peered up at
Tiger again, taking in his Collar. He started to smile. “Son of a bitch.
Carly’s doing it with a Shifter? She won’t have anything
left when I’m finished with her. Teach her to mess around with me like that.”
Killing rage beat through
Tiger’s blood. Ethan was a small, sniveling creature, smelling of deceit, and
he dared to threaten Tiger’s mate.
Tiger slammed his fists to the
kitchen counter, a polished slab of granite. It broke into two giant chunks.
“Here . . .
you . . .” The gardener held his rake in front of him, a tool
Tiger could snap between his fingers.
Now fear appeared in Ethan’s
eyes but still not enough. “Get out of here, or I’m calling the police.”
Tiger barely heard him. Because
the man was so weak, Tiger’s need to protect Carly would be slaked with
something simple, like breaking Ethan’s neck. Ripping him apart and painting
the walls with his blood wasn’t necessary. Not this time. He reached for
Fear at last radiated from
Ethan, sickening waves of it. Tiger smelled the man’s bladder fail him, and
then Ethan turned and ran.
Running was a bad idea. It woke
Tiger’s need to hunt, to kill, the instinct to track through the jungle
something for his dinner.
Ethan ran into his living room.
The place was filled with furniture, all of it white. Tiger threw things aside
to clear his path, chairs and the sofa crashing to the floor in pieces. Ethan
dashed into a smaller room, darker, with a desk and a computer. And no escape.
Tiger barreled inside like
silent death, while behind him, the gardener shouted, “I’m calling the cops!
I’m calling the cops!”
Ethan yanked open a desk drawer
and scrabbled in it. Tiger picked up the desk and threw it aside. The wooden
thing crashed into the wall, smashing desk, wall, and computer.
Ethan came up from a terrified
crouch, something black in his hands. There was a loud bang.
Fire bit into Tiger’s gut, but
he plowed on, kicking aside the remains of the desk.
bang. Three more bullets entered Tiger’s body. The pain finally cut
through his rage, and he looked down to see blood dripping over the front of
Tiger hadn’t been shot in a long
time. The humans who’d tried to tame him in the basement had used tranqs at
first, and they’d had to shoot him several times before Tiger succumbed to the
drugs. Then they wondered, How many bullets would it take to
slow him down? And they’d tried it. They’d discovered it took more than
the four small ones Ethan had just pumped into Tiger’s front before he felt it.
Tiger reached for the pistol.
seven. The bullets hit Tiger one by one, pain escalating. Tiger snatched
the gun from Ethan’s hand and broke it in half.
Ethan was screaming now, his
terror beating against Tiger’s pain. Tiger lifted Ethan by the neck, higher,
higher. The man gave Tiger one look of intense fear, and then he went limp,
eyes rolling back into his head. Tiger shook him, and Ethan’s head lolled. He
still warm and alive, but unconscious.
Disappointing. Tiger dumped
Ethan’s body on top of the ruins of the desk and turned to leave. Blood slid
down the shirt and his torso behind it, pooling in his waistband. Kim was going
to be angry at Tiger for ruining the shirt. She always shook her finger at him
when he got his clothes too dirty.
The gardener jumped out of the
way as Tiger came out of the office. The man still held the rake, ready to swat
Tiger if he came too near, but Tiger ignored him. The gardener had done nothing
Tiger pressed his arm to his
abdomen as he found the front door of the house, left open by the other woman’s
swift exit. He staggered out on weakening legs, vision blurring.
Dimly, he heard the wail of
sirens, growing louder as he stumbled down the long driveway and out into the
street. He saw and smelled other humans popping out of front gates to peer at
him, reminding him of prairie dogs he’d seen while he’d roamed, peeking up out
of burrows to check whether the way was safe.
Shiftertown lay to the east of
this place, so Tiger turned his steps that way, feeling the warm asphalt
through the soles of his shoes.
The sirens grew louder. Tiger
remembered how afraid he’d been when he’d first heard them charging through the
city, how Connor had explained what they were and what they meant. Police,
fire, ambulance. Get out of the way, because someone needed to be saved, or
someone needed to be hunted.
Hunting should be silent.
Predators had to stalk, to move silently, to find their prey and strike before
the prey knew they were there.
Five police cars charged up the
hill toward him, followed by a small red truck, lights blazing. They cut off
Tiger from progressing east, but he could climb walls and cut through yards if
he had to.
Tiger turned in through a gate
to another house, scattering two more men with garden tools. Behind this house,
the river gleamed at the bottom of a hill, a better way to escape than the
roads. He could swim down the river, pull himself out near Shiftertown, and
make his way home from there.
Police cars hurtled through the
gates after him. Tiger jogged around the house, heading down the slope, his
breathing labored now.
The river flowed, cool and
sweet, at the end of the path at the bottom of the hill. The water would feel
good on his wounds. Tiger would wade in and then just float away, dreaming of
Carly and her scent, her red-lipped smile, and her eyes assessing him without
Another loud bang ripped away
his daydreams. Pain tore into the base of his spine, and Tiger’s knees buckled.
He landed facedown in a lawn of
green grass, the blades tickling his nose. “Carly,” he mumbled. “Carly.”
A boot landed on his backside. A
man pulled one of Tiger’s hands behind his back, and a cool cuff touched his
trapped . . .
Tiger rose, the Shifter beast
tearing out of him as he went up, and up, and up. The bloody mess of his
clothes fell away, and the cuff shattered and fell to the grass.
He roared his Tiger roar,
opening his mouth filled with fangs, his in-between beast huge and deadly.
A barrage of guns pointed at
him, including a large air rifle loaded with a tranquilizer.
Tiger went for the man with the
tranq. Too late. The dart entered Tiger’s already battered body, and the
quick-acting tranquilizer made him stumble. But it wasn’t enough. Never was.
“Takes two,” he said, his voice
clogged, clawed hand reaching for the rifle. “Maybe three.”
The man had already reloaded.
The second dart hit Tiger’s throat, right above his Collar, a third one entered
his thigh, shot by a second man, and peaceful tranquilizer poured into Tiger’s
“Good shot,” he said, or thought
he said, then he rushed to the ground at sickening speed.
End of Excerpt 1
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