Tiger Magic(6)

By: Jennifer Ashley

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.

* * *

Tiger woke flat on his back, both wrists enclosed in 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.

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