Tiger Magic(10)

By: Jennifer Ashley

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, or so she’d 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 a 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.

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