He was such a fascinating contradiction. She still couldn’t get over that he had one of the most exclusive lawyers in New Orleans at his beck and call.
"What do your parents think of you working as a busboy?" she asked. Her father would die if she’d ever done something like that. He’d always carefully screened her jobs so that they would be appropriate to his career and social standing.
Wren swallowed his food. "They don’t think much these days."
She waited for him to continue with that thought. Instead, he went back to eating. Frowning, Marguerite prompted him to explain. "Why don’t they think?"
"It’s kind of hard for them, since my parents are dead."
Her heart clenched at that. "Both of them?"
"About twenty years now."
He’d only been a baby when they’d died. How awful to not know his parents. "I’m so sorry."
"Don’t be. I’m not."
She actually gaped.
"They were total ass**les," he said quietly. "Neither one could stand me. They couldn’t even look at me without their lips curling in disgust. My mom only referred to me as ‘it.’"
"Oh God, Wren… that’s horrible."
He shrugged. "You get used to it. I’m just lucky I was an only child. If they’d had any more children, I’m sure I would have been killed."
The nonchalance of his tone stunned her. "You are joking, right?"
He didn’t answer, but the look on his face told her he wasn’t. And to think, in fits of anger she’d always thought her father was an uncaring dirtbag. He suddenly looked like Father of the Year.
"So if your parents died while you were so young, who raised you?"
"I raised myself."
"Yeah, but who was your guardian?"
"Bill Laurens. My father and Bill’s firm go way back. After my parents died, a guy brought me here to Bill and he hired Nicolette Peltier to let me stay with her and work at Sanctuary for my keep."
"You don’t have any other family?"
"Not really. The ones I have who are surviving don’t want me anywhere near them."
"I’m not right."
A chill went down her spine. Was there something about him she needed to know? "What do you mean, you’re not right?"
He took a drink of his shake before he answered her. "I’m deformed."
She glanced over at him as she drove. He certainly didn’t look deformed to her. He looked completely fine and healthy. "How so?"
He didn’t answer as he opened up another Big Mac and started eating it.
"Don’t ask me anything else, Maggie. I’m really tired, I’m hungry, and I’m in pain. If you really knew me, you’d realize that it’s a complete miracle that I’m sitting here and not taking your head off, literally. I just want to get home, okay?"
"Okay," she said even though she was dying for an answer.
They remained silent the rest of the way to Sanctuary. By the time she pulled into the small parking lot behind the house, he’d almost finished his food.
Marguerite came around to help him carry the bags.
He led her to a red back door where they were met with the same angry-looking blond man who had wanted Aimee to keep Marguerite in the bar. "She’s not allowed in."
"Move away, Remi," Wren said between clenched teeth.
"You know the rules."
"Yeah, I know the rules. In the law of the jungle, the tiger eats the bear."
Marguerite saw Aimee come up behind Remi. "It’s okay, Rem, let him pass."
Remi sneered at her. "Have you lost your mind?"
Aimee pulled Remi back. "Come on in, guys."
Marguerite didn’t say anything as they headed up the stairs to Wren’s room.
"What was that about?" she asked as soon as he closed his bedroom door.
"Lo doesn’t like anyone in her house."
"Oh. I guess I should be going-"
Wren knew he shouldn’t ask that of her. He needed rest. Hell, he needed care. But none of that mattered. He just wanted to be with her for a little longer. The danger didn’t matter. Nothing did except being able to smell her. To see her.
To touch her.
He dipped his head toward hers until she met his lips. He pinned her to the door as he kissed her.
Without thinking, Marguerite buried her hand in his hair. Wren hissed and pulled back as if in pain. Her hand was still stuck in the twisted blond locks.
"I’m sorry. I’m sorry," she said, trying to extricate her hand without hurting him more.
He frowned at her as he rubbed his head.
She reached out to help, only to have him move away. No sooner had she stepped away from the door than it crashed open. Marguerite turned to see the angry middle-aged woman there who’d been in the bar.
Wren made a strange growling sound low in his throat.
"She has to leave," the woman said in a voice that brooked no argument. "Now."
"I want her here."
"I don’t give a damn what you want," she said, her voice laden with a French accent. "This is my house and-"
"I pay you enough."
"No," she said, her tone filled with venom, "you don’t. Not for this."
The last thing Marguerite wanted was to get him into trouble. "It’s okay, Wren. I’ll go."
The anger on his face actually scared her. Wren cast a scathing glare at the woman, then escorted Marguerite downstairs to the back door.
"I’m sorry about this," he said as he led her out of the house and back to her car.
"It’s okay. I’ll see you later."
He nodded, then opened her car door for her. After enclosing her inside, he placed his hand on her window, and the look of longing on his face tore through her.
She put her hand up on the glass to cover his and offered him a smile.
As she started her car Wren stepped back, and watched until she’d pulled out of the lot before he went back inside.
He met Nicolette in the parlor. Aimee stood just behind her mother, looking completely contrite.
"You ever threaten one of my sons again and I will see you dead, tiger."
He gave a bitter laugh at that. "You can try, bear. You won’t succeed."
Nicolette held her temper as Wren left her and headed up the stairs.
"It wasn’t his fault, Maman" Aimee said. "I told him she could come-"
Nicolette backhanded her. "You ever threaten the safety of this house again, and I will see you cast out. Do you understand me?"
"Papa?" Nicolette shouted for her mate.
He came in from the door that led to the kitchen. "On?"
"Summon the council. I think it’s time we see about putting the tiger out of our misery."
Wren was standing in the small bathroom outside of his bedroom, cursing as Marvin threw water at him.
"Stop it, Marvin," he snapped at the playful monkey, who was now making faces at him. "You know I hate it whenever water gets in my eyes."
He couldn’t stand to be blinded. None of his species could, which was strange when one considered the fact that they did like to play in water.
They just hated any and all weaknesses. A weak tiger was a dead one.
His father was dead proof of that.
The door, which Wren had left slightly ajar, opened to show him Aimee in the hallway. "What are you two doing?"
Wren pulled the comb from his hair. He looked about for someplace to retreat to, but the only way out was through the bearswan. He hated that she had caught him. He didn’t want anyone to know what he was doing.
Aimee entered the room and closed the door behind her. Cocking her head to one side, she studied him with a gimlet stare that made him extremely uneasy.
Marvin jumped up and down on the sink, chattering.
"You’re trying to unmat your hair, aren’t you?"
Wren didn’t say anything as he set the comb down beside Marvin. It was none of her business.
"It’s because of that human female, isn’t it?"
He tried to move past Aimee, only to have her block his way.
"It’s okay, Wren," Aimee said gently. "I won’t tell anyone about her. Believe me, I understand all about impossible relationships."
Yeah, he’d caught her with the wolf Fang a week ago. The two of them had been about to kiss. If anyone other than Wren had discovered her with Fang, Fang would have been killed or at the very least seriously mangled. But luckily for them, Wren couldn’t care less who Aimee took to her bed. It was none of his business anyway.
She picked up the comb from the counter. "You want me to help?"
Part of him wanted to growl at her and send her scurrying away, but the other realized that help would be kind of nice. "You can try," he muttered. "But I think it’s hopeless."
He’d been trying for over an hour to comb through the mess of his hair, and so far he’d only met with failure and pain.
And all because he wanted…
He wanted the impossible. For one moment in time, he wanted to feel a woman’s hands in his hair, and it wasn’t Aimee he ached to feel there.
He wanted Maggie.
Aimee’s face softened as she tried to get the comb through a small matted lock. After a few minutes of trying that only resulted in her breaking the comb in half, she let out a frustrated sigh.
"All right, Wren, what we need is a specialist. Let me call Margie in here to help. She’s the best at getting matted hair untangled. If anyone can do this, she can."
As Aimee started out the door, Wren stopped her. "Why are you being so nice to me?" None of the other bears had ever been really nice to him. Most of them barely tolerated him.
But Aimee had always been kind.
She offered him a smile. "I like you, cub. I always have. I know you’re not dangerous… I mean, I know that you could kill us, that you are dangerous, but that you don’t pose an unfounded danger to anyone other than yourself."
"But you still fear me."
Her eyes softened as she looked at him. "No. I fear for you, Wren. There’s a big difference."
He frowned in confusion at her words.
She let out a tired breath. "You don’t like anyone around you, cub. I know you do inappropriate things just to make people leave you alone, and I fear what you will do one day that could cause the others here to turn on you permanently."
She glanced to Marvin, who was watching her as if he understood and agreed. "I know the ferocity of your people. I know Bill sent you here to keep your father’s clan from killing you before you could defend yourself. Believe it or not, I don’t want to see you hurt. Everyone deserves some happiness in their life. Even tigards."
Those words touched him deeply. No wonder the wolf was so attracted to her. For a bear, she had a good heart. "Thanks, Aimee."
She nodded, then left. Marvin started chattering at Wren as he tried to detangle his hair again. The monkey didn’t understand why Wren was trying to change himself. It didn’t make sense to Marvin.
"I know," Wren said to the monkey. "But I want her to be able to touch me without it grossing her out. One day you’ll find a Marvina of your own and you’ll understand."
"Oh my God, Margeaux! You have got to see what’s outside in the hallway!"
Marguerite looked up from where she was packing her books into her backpack to frown at Whitney, whose next class was three doors down. "What?"
"He is the cutest guy on the planet. I swear, I’ve never seen anyone hotter. He must be g*y. No straight man ever looks this yummy."
"Oh, doesn’t that just piss you off?" Tammy asked from the next seat. "You should try being an art major. All I ever saw as an undergraduate was men looking for other men. It’s why I’m in law school now. I need a profession where I might actually run across a dude wanting a female."
Whitney gave Tammy a droll stare for the mere fact that she had spoken without invitation. Marguerite, on the other hand, adored the Goth student, who always had the most interesting stories on Monday morning.
Marguerite smiled at her. "Okay, Tammy, since you’re the resident expert on men, go scope him out and tell me what you think. Whose team does he bat for?"
By the time Marguerite had the backpack on her shoulders, Tammy returned with a thoughtful scowl on her face. "I don’t know. It’s too close to call. Psycho Prep is right, he’s stunning. Offhand, I’d say straight, ’cause he has this ‘do me’ factor all over him that makes you want to take a bite out of his succulent flesh. That being said, he’s dressed in a black silk shirt that’s open at the neck, sleeves rolled back on his arms, and it’s left untucked. Of course he does have a really cool tat on his left arm. But…"
Tammy wrinkled her nose. "He has on black slacks and really, really expensive black Italian loafers. Ferragamos, I think. Gotta say that sets off my g*ydar big-time. Straight men don’t normally dress that good. Not to mention he has one of those expensive haircuts, but at the same time it’s kind of shabby. He’s not really watching anyone, male or female, who walks by. It’s weird. So I’d say our team has a fifty-fifty shot he bats for us. Or maybe he’s a switch-hitter."
"Oooh, a mystery," Marguerite said as she headed out of the classroom to see him for herself. "Let me see what I think…"