He dropped his gaze down to her hand on his chest. She was human. Fragile. And yet she had a strength inside her that stunned him. He’d been alone all his life…
Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone by his side, just this once?
He let out a tired breath as a profound desire burned through him. Honestly, he didn’t want to live without her. Not even for a minute.
"All right, Maggie. We’ll try this your way, but if it doesn’t work-"
"You can kill them your way."
Wren pulled her face toward his, intent on kissing her. But as soon as their lips touched, her cell phone rang.
Marguerite growled in irritation as she pulled back. Normally she would ignore it, but this was one call she had to take. "It’s my dad’s ring," she explained. "Hang on a sec."
She answered the phone.
"Where have you been, young lady?"
She cringed at the anger in her father’s voice. "Hi, Dad, nice to hear from you, too."
"Don’t get smart with me, Marguerite. I just got a call from your school saying that you haven’t been to classes in days. They’re going to flunk you. What are you thinking? Have you any idea how embarrassing that will be?"
Marguerite hated the fact that tears were wanting to pool in her eyes. Most of all, she hated the fact that his words really hurt her. "Sorry to be such a disappointment, Dad. But I have-"
"I don’t care what you have, little girl. You need to get yourself back into your classrooms and your study group. Blaine said that instead of studying, you’ve been spending all your time with the local riffraff. I paid too much money for you to just blow off your responsibility because some cheap piece of trash looks good in a pair of jeans. I wish I could just decide not to show up for work for a week."
And that set her anger off. For all he knew, she’d been in a car wreck or was ill. Did he bother to find out why she’d missed school? No.
"Sorry, Dad, but I have something more important to do."
"And that is?"
She gripped the phone tight as she glanced back at Wren, who was watching her with anger in his own eyes. "I’m running away with a tiger. I’ll call you when I can."
And with that, she hung up the phone and turned it off.
Wren’s jaw went slack. "I can’t believe you just told him that."
"Oh, please," she said irritably. "He’ll just think you’re some LSU student."
She took a deep breath as she considered the repercussions of what she’d just done. "But he will start calling out government agencies to find me. So if you don’t take me with you, my ‘recovery’ by him will be quite public and your friends will know right where to find me."
He tsked at her even though his turquoise eyes were shining in humor. "You’re sneaky."
She bit her lip playfully. "Yes and no. You do need someone at your back, and I don’t think you trust many people there."
His gaze hardened to lethal blue ice. "I don’t trust anyone there…" Then those harsh eyes softened. "Except you." He cupped her face in his palm.
Marguerite sighed as he kissed her. God, this was the most hopeless relationship on the planet. A senator’s runaway daughter and a tigard wanted for murder.
In spite of herself, she started laughing.
Wren pulled back with a frown.
"I’m sorry," she said, kissing him lightly. "I was just thinking that this would be one heck of a headline for Weekly World News: ‘Prominent Senator’s Daughter Goes Back in Time to Save Tiger Boyfriend.’"
She fingered his cheek as the complete reality of this sank in. "I can’t believe the world you live in is real. I keep thinking that this is a dream and I’ll wake up any minute."
"I wish for your sake that it was a dream. I wish I were human. But you do know that if I survive this, I can’t stay with you."
As much as she hated it, she knew he was being honest. "I know."
Wren froze as he heard something outside their room.
Cocking his head, he listened closely.
"What’s wrong?" Marguerite asked.
To her shock, clothes appeared on his body as he moved slowly from the bed. He motioned for her to be silent.
He took a step nearer the door.
Out of nowhere, a man appeared in the center of the room.
Marguerite gasped as Wren spun around to confront the intruder.
As he lunged, the man vanished.
"Damn it!" Wren snarled. "They’ve found us."
The door opened an instant before Vane rushed into the room. "Did I just sense a breach?"
Wren looked at him drolly. "If you’re talking about the ass**le tiger that was here right before you, yes."
Vane cursed. "You guys are out of time."
"I can’t jump until a full moon," Wren said.
Vane gave him a wicked grin. "Yeah, you can."
One minute they were on the ship, the next they were in an ornate room that had open windows where she could hear traffic rumbling from outside.
Wren’s face was ashen as he looked around as if he couldn’t believe what it was he was seeing.
"Where are we?" she asked.
His eyes were wide as he looked back at her. "My father’s bedroom."
Wren felt as if he were caught in a vicious nightmare as he looked around a room that he hadn’t seen in over twenty years. Hell, he hadn’t even really remembered what it looked like. He’d only seen the room a time or two in his youth, and even then only briefly.
He flinched as he remembered the sight of his father lying dead on the floor between the bed and door.
Shaking the image off, Wren glanced around. The room was the height of high-tech, 1980s fashion, done in dark blues and greens, with a king-sized water bed. Abstract art hung on the walls along with the skin of a tiger his father must have killed. It was a common Katagaria trait to mount their first kill as a reminder of their prowess and a warning to any other animal who might want to tangle with them.
By the size of the skin and the wound marks on it, Wren could tell his father must have had one hell of a fight on his hands at the time. But the important thing was that his father had survived while the other beast had perished.
His heart hammering, Wren walked slowly to the open windows to see the bustling traffic that ran behind his father’s carefully guarded estate.
"Is this the house that was burned down?" Maggie asked.
Wren nodded slowly, wondering again who had set the fire and when. "We have to get out of here before someone sees us. My father tended to eat trespassers, and I don’t want to prove my uncle right by being the one who kills my father when he attacks us by mistake."
She shook her head at him. "We have to find evidence."
"There won’t be anything in here," he said simply. "My mother wasn’t that stupid."
Suddenly, there were voices outside in the hallway that seemed to be coming nearer to their room. It was definitely a man and a woman…
And they were fighting.
Wren grabbed Maggie and pulled her into an extremely large closet that appeared to only have his father’s clothes in it. He briefly considered flashing them out of the house with his powers, but since he didn’t really remember the layout of the place or the schedule of the staff or his parents, he could end up reappearing right in front of himself as a cub or his father.
Both of those could be disastrous.
For the time being, the best thing would be to stay here and wait until he got a better grasp on the situation.
He heard the bedroom door open and then slam shut.
He went cold as he recognized his mother’s angry tone. There was a harsh brittleness to her voice that was unmistakable even after all these years of not being subjected to it.
"Why have you called me back from Asia, Aristotle? I need to run wild for a while."
His father gave a dark laugh. "You’ve been running wild for too long now, Karina. It was long past time for you to come home."
"Why?" She slammed something down.
"I’ve learned some interesting things about Wren. As his mother-"
Something shattered. "Don’t you dare start that. I gave you your heir that you stupidly accepted. You have no further need of me."
He heard his father’s voice deepen. "You need to see what Wren can do."
"So it can change into a human now," she said in a bored, sarcastic tone. "Well, la-di-da. It’s long past time for it to start changing. I told you it was retarded."
Marguerite drew her breath in sharply at those harsh words. She saw the pain on Wren’s face that he tried to hide and felt rage consume her. Honestly, she wanted to kick open the door and beat his mother for her cruelty.
How could anyone say such a thing about a child she’d birthed?
"Don’t you dare walk out of here, Karina," his father growled.
Marguerite heard cold laughter from Wren’s mother. "I’m not one of your people you command, Ari. Nor am I your bitch. I don’t have to listen to you."
"Fine. But just so you know, I changed my will while you were gone."
Dead silence came from the bedroom for several heartbeats.
"You did what?" Karina finally screeched in a tone that should have shattered glass. As it was, Marguerite was rather certain her eardrums would never be the same again.
"You heard me." Wren’s father’s voice was cold and emotionless. "I’m sick of you catting around and flaunting it in my face while I pay your bills. I know about your leopard lover and I know he came back here with you. Fine. I set up a separate residence for you in New Jersey."
"New Jersey?" she snarled. "Are you insane?"
"No, I’m pissed. If you think I like the fact that the Fates damned me to mating with you, you’re wrong. You are my mate by their decree and yet you won’t let me touch you. I am damned to celibacy while you whore around with any leopard male who comes near you. Yet you expect me to keep you up. Dream on, my love. Your days of freeloading are over."
"You owe me," Karina said from between clenched teeth. "I didn’t ask to be your mate any more than I asked to give birth to a mutant abomination. If you were really a tiger, you would have killed that thing when it was born instead of stopping me from doing what was necessary to preserve our species."
"Wren is my son."
"You human," Karina sneered in a way that said "human" was the worst insult she could imagine.
"Yes," his father said angrily, "and like a human, I’ve made Wren my sole heir. If something happens to me, your entire future rests in his hands. So if I were you, I’d be praying that he’s more human than animal. Maybe he’ll take some mercy on you. But I wouldn’t count on it."
"Yeah, and before you tear the house apart looking for the will to destroy it, it’s already on file with the Laurens firm in New Orleans."
"I hate you!"
His father’s response was immediate and filled with the same scathing hatred. "The feeling is entirely mutual. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to go spend some time with my son. When I come back to this room, I expect you to be gone. Permanently. Taylor will drive you over to your new home, where you’ll find your new checkbooks and credit cards waiting there for you. You’re off all my accounts entirely and eternally."
A door closed an instant before something shattered. Marguerite could hear Karina screaming and breaking things in the room. It sounded like she was about to tear down the walls. Then Marguerite heard the sound of a feral cat roaring and hissing.
Finally, it stopped.
The sudden silence was unnerving.
Marguerite froze, half-afraid the woman would come into the closet to shred Aristotle’s clothes or something.
Instead, Karina made a phone call. "Grayson?" she said in an almost reserved tone. "It’s Karina. I believe you now. Aristotle has completely lost his mind. I’m back in town. Is there someplace where we can meet and discuss what needs to be done?"
Marguerite was stunned by how rational Wren’s mother sounded while speaking on the phone. It was hard to believe this was the woman tearing the house down only a few heartbeats before.
His poor father for having to tolerate such a volatile beast. Marguerite was just grateful that Wren hadn’t inherited his mother’s personality.
There was a brief pause. "Yes, I know where that is. Three o’clock. I’ll see you then."
Then Marguerite heard Karina hang up the phone and leave the room.
Marguerite turned to Wren, unable to believe what had happened over the last few minutes. "I think your mother and my father should have married each other."
There was no trace of amusement on Wren’s face.
"I’m sorry, Wren," Marguerite said, feeling instantly contrite. How could he find humor in the fact that his mother was a vicious cur who was about to murder his father? A cur who had practically ruined his life. "But at least you know your father did love you."
"That’s what hurts," Wren said in a low whisper. "I keep thinking that if only he’d lived… My life would have been so different."
She hugged him as she felt for his pain. "I know. I spent a long time hating my mother because she left me. At least your dad didn’t go by choice."