Saturday, May 25, 2013

Tiger Magic, Excerpt 2

Tiger Magic
Jennifer Ashley
Shifters Unbound Book 5
Pub date JUNE 4!

Preorder from:

Barnes and Noble
Apple iBooks

Continued from Excerpt 1

Excerpt 2:

Tiger woke flat on his back, both wrists enclosed with the hated steel, hands bound to rods on either side of him.

He roared as he came awake, jerking the cuffs and chains, which wouldn’t break. They’d used metal thick enough to withstand a Shifter. He opened his eyes to find himself in a bed, surrounded by white curtains, white walls, machines, tubes, and soft sounds of beeping.

Panic wedged in his throat. The compound, experiments, pain, fear . . .

He roared again, frantically banging against the cuffs. He’d thought himself safe in the strange place called Shiftertown, but now they’d sent him back, had trapped him again. No. No. No!

“Easy, lad.”

The voice cut through Tiger’s panic, promising strength. A hard hand pressed his chest, and Tiger tried to rise against it, jerking at his restraints. He had to get out. He had to get out.

“I said, easy.”

Tiger stared up at the hard face and intense blue eyes of Liam Morrissey, leader of the Austin Shiftertown. Liam was a Feline, his wildcat smaller than Tiger’s, his human body smaller as well. Tiger could defeat him.

But the usually laid-back, unhurried Irishman locked his gaze with Tiger’s. He wore the hard resolve of a man who held together a band of Shifters of three species and protected them against all comers. His scent and look willed Tiger back down in the bed, and Tiger found his panic lessening.

When Tiger’s vision cleared a little, he saw three men in black uniforms standing like columns at the foot of his bed, their faces blank. They held automatic rifles, loosely, but Tiger knew they were willing to shoot to kill as soon as someone gave the order.

“You stay down, lad,” Liam said, his Irish tones laced with steel. “You understand me?”

Tiger dragged in a breath. The fear hadn’t left him, but he knew he had to obey Liam or the men in black would bring up the weapons and fill Tiger’s body with bullets, too many to withstand at once.

Tiger managed one nod. His fists stayed balled, but he stopped pulling at the chains.

Liam’s hand remained on Tiger’s chest. “Good lad. You need to stay still to heal. You stay still, and everything will be fine.”

“Carly,” Tiger whispered.

Liam leaned to the bed without lifting his hand from Tiger. “What?”

“Carly. Where is she?”

Liam shook his head. “I don’t know who that is, but you’ve been whispering her name. Someone from the lab?”

“She’s my mate.” Tiger could barely speak, his voice grating and strange, but it felt good to say the word. “My mate.”

Liam blinked slowly, once, but he didn’t let his body move. “You need to stop talking and rest now.”

“She’s hurting.”

Liam leaned closer, speaking so only Tiger would hear him. “Was she at this house you broke into? She get caught in the cross fire?”

“Find her.”

“You have to give me a bit more to go on, lad.”

“Carly.” Tiger dimly remembered the name the gardener had used. “Randal.”

A machine above him clicked, and the meds or whatever they’d given him coursed through his body again. Darkness rushed at him.

Tiger tried to reach for Liam, but he couldn’t move his hands. He had to settle for pinning the alpha with his gaze, something Connor had told him never to do. “Find my mate,” Tiger rasped, and then nothing existed.


The red ’Vette’s door hung open, Carly’s foot out on the driveway. The rest of her remained behind the wheel, she staring at the blankness of the garage door as more tears slid down her face. The rearview mirror showed mascara smeared into black smudges under her eyes and streaks of it tracking her cheeks.

Carly had driven blindly around the city before ending up in front of her house, but she didn’t want to go inside right now to the silent, empty place. She didn’t want to be alone, but she didn’t want to call her mama or her sisters and tell them what had happened. Not yet. Her energetic sisters and mother weren’t home anyway—they’d gone to Mexico for days of shopping and sampling every kind of tequila they could find. Carly had decided to give the trip a miss so she could stay behind and help Armand. If she called them, they’d exclaim in sympathy and anger and give her lots of support. When that happened, she’d lose it completely.

She’d tried to go see Yvette, Armand’s wife. With Yvette, Carly could pour out her heart and find sympathy, but also sage, clear-eyed advice. Yvette knew the world, and she’d tell Carly what to do.

Except Yvette hadn’t been home. If Carly had stopped to think about it, she would have realized that. Yvette was at the gallery helping Armand, because Carly wasn’t there for the big exhibit opening. Armand was probably even now firing Carly.

And Carly didn’t care.

Nothing mattered right now. Not her sitting in her driveway in a car that wasn’t hers, not her mascara-blotched face, not the black lines that dropped from her cheeks to her pretty white dress.

She’d been so sure of Ethan, her future cut-and-dried. Ethan had been the antithesis of Carly’s father—her father had never held a job for long, gambled away money he did have, grew angry at Carly’s mother if she didn’t hand over most of what she earned to him. When her father had lived with them, Carly’s family had moved constantly, never able to stay in one house long. And then one day he’d gone. He’d vanished one afternoon when Carly was twelve, walking away from his wife and four daughters, leaving them with unpaid back rent and a mountain of bills—after withdrawing all the money they did have out of the bank account and taking it with him. He’d never come back, hadn’t wanted to see his daughters, had agreed to the divorce from afar, and had vanished from their lives.

Ethan represented stability, ambition, a man who wouldn’t lose everything on the next turn of a card or on a horse that had long odds to win, who wouldn’t leave a wife high and dry. Carly’s father had been quicksand—Ethan was a pillar.

But now that pillar had crumbled, plunging Carly into pain and uncertainty. Ethan hadn’t endangered her financially, but he’d betrayed her trust and had slapped respect in the face.

How long had he been screwing other women? From day one? Had Carly been so blinded by her need for Ethan’s stability that she hadn’t noticed?

And to have his betrayal thrown in her face in front of a helpful stranger, that hot-looking, weird-eyed . . . Shifter.

“Oh no.” Carly scraped tears from her eyes with an already sodden tissue. “The poor guy. I left him in Ethan’s house.”

She’d have to go back. This was Ethan’s frigging car anyway. Much as she wanted to run it off the road, or maybe push it into a deep, muddy creek, she had enough sense to know that Ethan would sue her for it. He liked to sue people.

Carly dragged her foot back into the car. Surely the Shifter-man with the multicolored hair would have left, caught a bus, called a friend.

But she thought of him and his slow stares, his not-quite understanding of what she was saying to him. She’d left him defenseless with Ethan, and Ethan didn’t like Shifters.

Carly started the car.

“Are you Carly?” a male voice said almost in her ear.

Carly bit back a scream. A dark-haired man peered in through the open driver’s-side window at her, regarding her with a pair of very blue eyes. Behind him stood another man, just as tall but without as much bulk, younger. A flash of black and silver showed above the T-shirt of the man staring at her, a Collar. He was Shifter.

“Is the tiger-man all right?” Carly asked him, wiping her eyes again. She had no way of knowing if this Shifter knew hers, but she was worried about him. “Did he get home?”

The Shifter blinked once in surprise, then he masked that surprise like a master. Carly had worked for a while now in the art business, which involved selling high-dollar goods. Those who bought and sold learned to school their faces and words in order to make the most profit or spend the least amount of money, but their body language could speak volumes. This man was telling her he knew all about body language but could manipulate it to serve his ends.

“I’m Sean,” the man said. “You need to come with us to the hospital. Tiger’s been asking for you.”

“Hospital?” Carly gasped. “What happened?”

“Tiger got himself shot, that’s what happened,” the Shifter said, his Irish accent becoming more pronounced. “Seven times, right in the gut.”

Chapter Three

Seven? Oh my God, is he all right? Where is he? I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Surprise flickered in the blue eyes again. “Why are you sorry? Did you shoot him, lass?” A tiny bit of anger also touched him, a flash that told her that this man would be dangerous when he was angry.

“He was hurt because of me, wasn’t he?” Carly cried. “Where is he?”

The passenger door opened, and the younger Shifter slid inside without asking permission. “Follow Sean. He’ll get us there.” The young man closed the door and touched the dash in wonder. “I’ve never been in a ’Vette before,” he said, his accent as Irish as the other man’s. “Wicked, this is.”

“Come on, lass,” Sean said and unfolded himself to walk to a motorcycle parked behind her. Though not as big as Tiger, Sean moved with ease that belied his strength, the balanced grace of a cat.

He started the motorcycle and waited for Carly to back out of the driveway before he started down the street in front of her. Carly’s hands shook a little, but her tears had dried. Concern for Tiger cut through anger at Ethan.

“I’m Connor, by the way,” the young man said as she started to follow Sean. “Still a cub, but getting there. You ever want to sell this car to me, we can negotiate.”

“It’s not mine,” Carly said.

“No? Whose, then? Think they’d be willing to sell? If not to a Shifter, I can find someone to be an in-between.”

There was nothing at all wrong with Connor, but Carly’s temper splintered. “It belongs to a two-timing, gutless, son-of-a­-bitch-bastard-asshole, and I wish you’d steal the damn thing from him!”

Oh, that felt good! Carly laid her head back on the headrest, clutched the steering wheel as she floored it down a hill after the motorcycle, and let out a long, heartfelt scream.

“Whoa,” Connor said. “Take it easy, sweetie. Maybe I’d better drive.”

“No way,” Carly said. “He told me to take the ’Vette so I’d be out of the way when he did it with his bitch, and so I’m taking the ’Vette.

She peeled around the corner after Sean, laughing as the car hugged the road and accelerated at the same time.

Connor’s eyes, blue like the other Shifter’s, rounded. “Are you saying your mate cheated on you?”

“He’s not my mate. No way, no how, never, ever. And that’s exactly what he did. Hang on.”

The road made a sharp turn, and Carly took it fast. The Corvette, made to race, slid around without a waver. “Woo!” She pounded the steering wheel. “I love this car. Way better at getting me excited than Ethan ever was.”

Connor laughed. “I like you, human woman.”

Carly’s anger flashed, sharp. “If Ethan hurt the tiger, I’ll kill him with my bare hands.”

“That’s the spirit,” Connor said. “Tiger will live. He’s tough. But he needs you, I’m thinking.”

“Did he tell you what happened to him?” Carly asked, her anxiety for Tiger cutting through her anger again. “How did you find me?”

“He’s not up to giving out much details,” Connor said. “But once we pried your name out of him, it didn’t take our Sean long to figure out where you lived. He’s a wizard with computers, is Sean.”

A Shifter computer geek. What a day.

Carly blew out her breath and made herself follow Sean the rest of the way without antics. She needed to get to Tiger and make sure he was all right. The fact that the huge, strong man had been shot, hurt, made her heart race and her mouth dry. He needed to be all right.

The small hospital outside the city limits to which Sean led Carly served a large portion of the population on the south and east side of town. Carly parked as close to the front door as she could. Connor got around the car faster than she could register and opened the door for her, helping her to her feet. Ethan had never done that.

Sean waited for them outside the front door, on his phone. “We’re coming. Just keep him quiet.”

Carly heard the exclamation on the other end before Sean closed the phone. He said nothing to Carly or Connor but strode in through the front doors ahead of them.

Inside it was as crowded as Carly would have guessed from the packed parking lot, with mothers and kids waiting to be seen, nurses hurrying through halls, and the admin desk serving a long line of people. The smell of antiseptic covered the odors of worry and illness.

Sean moved without stopping to a back corridor then continued down it and onto an elevator, pushing the button for the top floor. When they stepped off the elevator at the top, Carly heard the noise.

The roar began at the end of the corridor, a wash of sound that flowed to them past every room and the nurses’ station to the bank of elevators where Carly stood. The nurses’ station was deserted, but a knot of people clustered at the other end of the hall.

Sean said something under his breath as he picked up the pace, but Connor, behind Carly, didn’t keep his voice down.

“He’s going to get himself killed, he is.”

Sean kept walking, his broad back upright, moving swiftly. Carly jogged on her high heels to catch up.

The faces of the nurses and orderlies that turned to them were filled with fear. Three hard-faced men in black uniforms tried to intercept Sean, and another shout rose inside the room.

“You threatened him, didn’t you?” an Irish voice said. “Are you that stupid, then?”

The men looked like private soldiers or security guards in all-black fatigue-looking uniforms, but their hands and thick belts were empty. Carly saw why when she peeked around Sean into the hospital room.

The floor was littered with black detritus that Carly couldn’t place at first, but then she saw they were pieces of automatic rifles, radios, and other things too broken to identify.

The roaring came from inside the room, followed by a repeated clank of something metal. Sean blocked most of her view, but Carly could see enough to make out the giant bulk of Tiger, barely covered by a hospital gown, on his feet, one hand fisted. He was pulling, pulling, pulling at the metal bar on the bed to which he was chained.

Near him were two more Shifters, one with a shaved head and tattoos wherever Carly could see skin, the other a Sean look-alike.

The tattooed man deflected a blow from Tiger’s free fist in a practiced move. Enraged, Tiger struck out again, and the tattooed man blocked, twisting Tiger’s arm behind his back. A spark jumped in the Collar around the tattooed man’s neck.

“What in hell happened?” Sean demanded.

“Fucking guards happened,” the tattooed guy snarled. “Nurse wanted to change his IV, the three boy wonders stuck their guns into him to hold him down while she did it. He broke out of one cuff. Guess the rest.”

“Spike, let him go,” the one who looked like Sean said. “Tiger. Stop.

The last word reverberated through the room. Everyone stilled—guards, Spike, Sean, Connor, the guards, nurses, and orderlies behind them.

All except Tiger. He kept banging, roaring, his eyes yellow with rage. The Collar on his neck was silent, no matter how much he struck out or tried to rip his wrist from its restraint.

That didn’t make sense. The Collars were supposed to shock the Shifters, Carly understood, if they ever got violent, to protect humans from their immense strength. The Collars went off in reaction to adrenaline and intent to harm, so she’s heard. If a Shifter wasn’t trying to hurt anyone, the Collar wouldn’t do anything. They were meant to keep the Shifters peaceful, not to punish them all the time.

Tiger’s Collar lay quietly, looking no different from Sean’s or Connor’s. That meant Tiger wasn’t angry or trying to kill anyone.

He was scared.

They’d chained him to the bed and prodded him with guns, and this after he’d been shot. No wonder he was going crazy.

Carly ducked under Sean’s arm and moved into the room.

“Lass, no,” Sean said sharply, but Carly didn’t stop.

Tiger yanked again at his bonds, and this time, the entire metal slat broke free from the bed. The slat danced at the end of the chain, Tiger still cuffed to it, as he swung around.

The Shifters near him leapt back. Tiger roared, a strange, animal-like sound in a human throat. Blood blossomed on the front of his gown as he hefted the bar like a weapon, crimson stains spreading. Shot seven times.

“Tiger!” Carly shouted into the noise.

Tiger’s roaring ceased as though someone had hit a switch. The rod and chain clanged with the bed slat once, then went silent.

Tiger shoved his way past Spike and the other Shifter without seeming to notice them and reached for Carly. Carly stood her ground as Tiger clasped her by the shoulders, the chain and bed slat bumping gently into her back. He looked down at her with eyes tight with pain, the yellow gold tinged with red.

“I’m here,” Carly said, touching one of his hands. “You okay?”

Her words and breath cut off when Tiger slammed his arms around her and pulled her against him. He buried his face in the curve of her neck and gathered her close.

“Carly.” As though gaining strength from the name, his arms tightened around her, his voice rasping. “Carly.”

“It’s all right.” Carly lightly smoothed his hair, finding it warm and soft. “I’m all right. But you’re not, are you?”

Tiger held her in silence, his face against her neck, breathing in long, shuddering breaths.

“We need to take him into custody,” she heard a man say behind her.

“No,” the Shifter who seemed to be in charge said firmly. “The man’s bleeding half to death. I had him settled. If you pull another weapon on him, it will be me breaking the guns.”

Carly tried to loosen Tiger’s hold, but he didn’t let go. “You need to let them patch you up,” she said to him. “Seven shots. Damn, Tiger, how are you still standing?”

“Shifters heal fast,” Connor said.

The head Shifter growled. “Connor, out.

“He’s not going to hurt me,” Connor said. “I’m a cub, and a friend. He’s not going to hurt Carly either, obviously. It’s just trackers, Guardians, Shifter leaders, and dumb-ass security that upsets him.” He came up to the two in locked embrace. “You should see her car, Tiger. Classic Corvette. It’s way cool. Let them sew you back up, and maybe she’ll give you a ride home in it.”

Tiger turned his head on Carly’s shoulder to look at Connor. “I saw it. Helped her fix it.”

“Oh man,” Connor said in dismay. “You got to work on it? I have so much envy.”

“Tiger came to my rescue,” Carly said. “He performed a miracle.”

Tiger lifted his head, his eyes quieter now, and touched her face. “He hurt you.”

Carly shook her head. Ethan seemed unimportant at the moment. “He’s an asshole. What happened? How did you get shot, for heaven’s sake? I didn’t mean to run off and leave you. I’m so sorry. I was upset.”

Tiger cupped her face, rubbing his thumbs along her cheekbones. Not speaking, just gazing down into her eyes.

“Did Ethan shoot you?” Carly asked, her anger rising. She knew Ethan kept a gun, not because he shot for sport or anything, but because it made him feel superior to the rest of mankind.

“Doesn’t matter,” Tiger said.

It did matter. Carly’s rage surged like a tide to cover her hurt and grief. “I’m gonna kill him. He screws around on me, then he shoots my friend for trying to help me. Don’t worry, Tiger, by the time I and whatever lawyer I hire get finished with him, he’ll be happy he can scrape what’s left of himself off the sidewalk.”
Her warmth and strength flowed into Tiger like a bright light. He’d been buried in darkness and pain, the guards jabbing with the guns awakening memories he’d long wanted to bury.

They’d taken his mate, they’d promised to take care of her, and she’d died. When he’d demanded to see her, more and more frantic, they’d beaten him back and threatened to kill him.

The memories of the past had fused with the reality of now, and Tiger had known in his heart that Carly, his beautiful mate, was dead. Liam had lied, Sean had lied, the guards had lied. They’d taken her away, and she was dead . . .

Memories slid away. Tiger had Carly here, her scent like a bite of cinnamon, her face petal-soft under his fingertips. He leaned to her to inhale her again, exhaling to leave his mark on her. Mine.

“Tiger,” he heard Liam saying. Liam, the leader, the man he’d been told to obey.

Liam was a strong alpha, and the Shifters under his command felt the weight of his orders. Tiger had watched them all, even Liam’s father, become slightly lesser in Liam’s presence. Tiger was supposed to as well—if he obeyed Liam’s orders and showed fealty, he could live in this Shiftertown in peace. Any challenge, and Liam would have to take him down.

Liam hadn’t actually said all this specifically, but Tiger knew. Tiger knew everything Liam was thinking, because Liam’s body language, no matter how subtle, revealed every thought.

Carly’s body language showed only distress that Tiger was hurt. She didn’t give a rat’s ass about hierarchy, or who was alpha, or that she should bow her head and keep her gaze averted from Liam as a submissive must do.

Her entire focus was on Tiger, and Tiger alone. Everyone else was nonessential.

Carly’s warmth entered his body wherever hers touched his, and her breath on his face was like sweet summer air. Tiger’s pain lessened, and his breathing became easier.

The touch of a mate.

Carly moved in his embrace, trying to take a step back. Tiger wasn’t ready to let her go. He held tighter, but Carly wriggled, twisting her arm around to touch the slat that still dangled from his wrist.

“Can someone take this off him?”

Connor sprang forward, lifting the bar that hung like a lead weight. He chortled. “They made the cuff and chain to withstand Shifter strength, but not the bed. Good job.”

“Can you take it off?” Carly asked.

She was anxious, not afraid. The others wanted to bind him—Carly wanted to set him free.

“Get me a picklock, and I can open anything,” Connor said.

Spike, in silence, handed Connor a stiff piece of wire. Where he’d obtained it, or what it was for, Tiger didn’t know, but Connor grinned gleefully and started scraping at the handcuff. In a matter of seconds, the cuff loosened and fell from Tiger’s wrist.

“That’s got to feel better,” Carly said. “Now, let’s get you back into bed so the doctors can patch you up.”

More people filled the corridor outside. Tiger tasted their fear. They shouldn’t broadcast like that. A predator sensed a prey’s fear, the predator homing in on and taking out the weakest. Dangerous.

“If he can’t calm down, we need to chain him up again, ma’am,” one of the black-clad men said. He was the commander, the leader of his tiny band. He had a weather-beaten face, though he was still young, for a human, and scarred. He’d been in battles. The man had shorn off all but a blond stubble of hair, his eyes were a light blue, and he had an air of authority. Not as much as Liam or any Shifter, but for a human, he was strong.

“He’s calm,” Liam said. “See? Lass, if you can get him back to bed, and to stay still, we can fix him up in a trice.”

Tiger kept his arms around Carly. “I am healed.”

Carly ran her hand down the front of his torso. Tiger couldn’t stop his flinch of pain as she touched the raw wounds.

“Bullshit,” she said clearly. “You’re bleeding all over the place. Back to bed with you, mister.”

“Better step back from him,” the human leader said, his voice as hard as Liam’s. “He’s a danger to everyone in the facility and needs to be contained.”

Carly turned around, still within Tiger’s arms, to glare at the human. “What is with you? You need to leave him alone for two minutes. No wonder he’s so upset.”

She turned, sliding her arm around Tiger’s waist, and started guiding him to the bed. Tiger went without resisting. Now, if she’d get into the bed with him and snuggle up against his side, Tiger would be healed in no time. And he wouldn’t be afraid.

The other Shifters watched in awe as Tiger, calm and quiet, walked with Carly back to the bed. He’d stopped bleeding for now, but his gown was covered with blood, and blood stained the sheets.

He didn’t care. Tiger lowered himself onto the uncomfortable bed, then put his hand on Carly’s wrist and tugged her toward him.

Carly gave him a puzzled look, her gray green eyes red-rimmed with crying. Tiger tugged harder. Carly lost her balance and landed, sitting, on the bed next to him, her warm hip against his side.

She gave a little laugh. “They can’t work on you if I’m in the bed with you, silly. I’m flattered, but I’ll be in the way.”

“Need you,” Tiger said. He kept his voice soft, so only she would hear, but then, Shifters had good hearing.

“Let her go,” Liam said. “She’s done enough. Thank you, lass. I don’t know who you are, but you’re a bloody miracle worker.”

“She’s my mate,” Tiger said, his voice still not working right, but it grew firmer as he tightened his grip on her. “She stays.”

End of Excerpt 2
Preorder this book from:
Barnes and Noble
Apple iBooks

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Tiger Magic, Excerpt 1

Tiger Magic
Jennifer Ashley
Shifters Unbound Book 5
Pub date JUNE 4!

Preorder from:

Barnes & Noble
Apple iBooks


Chapter One

“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 silence.

“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 enraged stare.

Take the ’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.

Really 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 black.

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 gone.

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 him.

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 him that.

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 first glance.

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 asked her.

“I don’t know,” she said, frustrated. “This car is different from anything I usually drive. Hang on, let me check.”

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 wrench?”

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 Shifter.”


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 now.”

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 kill me.”

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 matter.”


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 with you.”

Because you’re 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 it on.”

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 from there.

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 in exhaustion.

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 counter.

“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?”

Chapter Two

Carly’s anguish hit Tiger in a series of waves. Shock, anger, and then a pain so harsh the edge of it hurt him.

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 comfort her.

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 house.

“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 her fault.

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 Ethan’s throat.

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, bang, 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 his shirt.

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.

Five, six, 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 to Carly.

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 fear.

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 wrist.

Bound, chained, 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 blood.

“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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Monday, May 06, 2013

Jenn's Next Big Giant Book Giveaway

This giveaway is now closed! I drew three winners: Fedora, Veronica, and Michelle, who all one a grab bag of books! Thanks for participating. More giveaways to come.

To celebrate Lone Wolf (Ellison's story) hitting the New York Times bestseller list I'm going to give away books!

From my recent visit to the Tucson Book Festival, plus other gatherings and Rhapsody book club editions, I've assembled a couple bags of books to give away. They contain romances by Lara Adrian, Sabrina Jeffries, Madeline Hunter, and many more authors, plus I'll throw in a few of my own books, signed.

All these books are brand new, fresh off the press!

I will draw at least two winners, possibly three. Each winner will receive a bag of a dozen or so books to enjoy.

To win, leave a comment below. Also include your email so I can find you when I pick the winners (feel free to be cryptic, e.g., jenniferashley (at) cox (dot) net.)

If you have difficulty leaving a comment on Blogger (which happens), email your desire to win to me at jenniferahley @ cox. net (no spaces).

I'll take names until May 15. Good luck!