Aimee caught her mother before she could attack the tiger again.
"Get out, tiger," Aimee snarled. "If I let go of my mother, there won’t be enough left of you to worry about Savitar or anything else."
Zack pushed himself away from the wall. He glared at them both. "You have even more to lose than I do. Give me what I need to cover both our asses."
Now it was her mother who laughed. "Are you completely stupid? Wren has never left his scent on anything. Look around you, idiot. There is no personal item here. As soon as an article of clothing comes off his body, he has always washed it or destroyed it. He even keeps a monkey here so that its scent camouflages his own. You will never be able to track him. Face it, Zack, the cub has more intelligence than you and your father combined."
Aimee was suddenly impressed by her mother. She’d never really thought about why Wren had arrived at Sanctuary with Marvin, but obviously her mother had known all along.
Zack’s nostrils flared in anger. "This isn’t over."
"Oui, but it is. You come here again and code or no code, I will see you dead."
Growling, Zack vanished.
The tension in the air eased considerably.
Her mother let out a slow breath as she turned toward her. "Aimee, call your wolf and warn him what has happened. I am sure he knows where Wren is and he can warn him that the tiger is cornered and desperate. In his position, Zack is capable of anything."
She frowned at her mother’s sudden reversal. "I don’t understand. Why are you being unbelievably understanding all of a sudden? No offense, Maman, it scares me."
Her mother gave Aimee a harsh stare. "I have no love of Wren, this you know. But I respect the predator within him and I do not appreciate being manipulated by another. Nor do I relish being made a fool." She shook her head. "I should have questioned why Zack and his father continually called to check on Wren after he was sent here. I allowed them to plant seeds of doubts in my mind and I saw in him what they wanted me to see. I can’t believe I was so foolish."
Her gaze softened. "I give you credit, cub. You weren’t blinded. Now we must repair this before the weight of Savitar’s wrath comes crashing down on all of us." She urged Aimee toward the door. "Go warn them. You, they will listen to."
"What are you going to do?"
"I am going to speak with your father and brothers. I fear we are on the edge of a very dangerous situation and I want them all prepared."
Aimee took a step toward the door, then paused. "I love you, Maman."
"Je’t’aime aussi, ma petite. Now go and let us make this as right as we can."
In tiger form, Wren located his mother on a bench in Central Park. Luckily the place was crowded, which would help conceal his scent and allow him to blend into the background.
Hiding in a copse of bushes, he flashed into a human with black hair, jeans, sunglasses, and a Ramones T-shirt. The kind of human his mother would never pay attention to. He probably could have kept blond hair, but he looked enough like his father that he didn’t want to chance it.
Watching her as she rummaged in her purse for something, he had to give her credit, she was beautiful in human form. Elegant. Her white business suit and red silk blouse set off her impeccable figure to advantage. Many human males paused to try to speak to her, but she quickly chased them off with caustic barbs.
For an animal, she had a great command of the human language. Her tongue was as deadly a weapon as her claws.
Shaking his head as she emasculated another would-be admirer, Wren stayed back until he saw his uncle approaching. With blond hair and dressed in a navy pin-striped suit, he was the masculine equivalent to Wren’s mother. The two of them looked like a Fortune 500 power couple.
Grayson inclined his head to her as he sat down on the opposite edge of the bench. Wren noticed that his uncle kept a safe distance so that he could bolt if Karina suddenly lunged at him… smart man.
"So what’s up?" Grayson asked.
Wren drifted a little closer so that he could hear them plainly.
"The tiger has lost its mind," she said evasively. "You were right. It’s been spending time with its offspring while I was away."
"I told you to poison the cub before you left."
She gave him a peeved glare. "Aristotle would have been suspicious, and since we haven’t been on the best of terms in the last twenty-five years, I thought it in my best interest to leave it alive."
Wren clenched his teeth at her words. Even now it was hard to hear her callous condemnation of his life.
She curled her lips in anger. "He’s now cut me out entirely. I’ve been given a tiny hovel in New Jersey of all places. My credit cards have the limits of a human peasant. He’s left me with nothing."
Grayson’s eyes lighted as if her rage amused him. "I told you not to flaunt your lover in his face. My brother is a proud beast. You’re lucky he hasn’t killed you both."
She scoffed at that. "I defy him to try it. I assure you, I can hold my own against any tiger."
Grayson passed a doubting look to her. "Perhaps you shouldn’t be so arrogant. You know tigers are known to tear the throats out of leopards."
"Only in your dreams." She leveled a sinister glare at Grayson. "I want out of this relationship. So long as that tiger lives, I can’t mate within my own species."
"I thought you loved him."
"Love?" she spat. "Are you stupid? Love is for humans."
She jerked the white glove off her right hand and held it up for Grayson to see. "I mated with him because of this. Mating is what our species does when the mark appears. It never equates to love for the Katagaria, you know that. Do you love your mate?"
"She satisfies me."
Karina got a faraway look on her face as if she was remembering something in the past. Sadness marked her perfect features. "I, too, was satisfied once," she said softly. Her face hardened again into the bitch countenance Wren knew so well. "Until I saw what our mating produced. I am the very last of my kind. If I can’t prolong the snow leopard breed, then at least let me reproduce a pure leopard and not some freakish hybrid."
Thanks, Mom. Love you, too. He would love to show her exactly what her freak was capable of.
Even she would be impressed with his ability to rip her throat out before she could even defend herself.
Grayson folded his arms over his chest and spoke in a calm, level tone as if they were discussing the weather and not the life and death of Wren and his father.
The very nonchalance made Wren want to kill them both.
"Then you know what you need to do, Karina."
"It’s not that simple now," she said with a sigh. "He’s left everything to the mutant. I’m quite sure it will see me out in the cold before it allows me near it."
Grayson snorted. "What does a leopard care about a tiger’s will?"
She hissed at him. "Don’t be stupid. Our habitats are dwindling every day. At least in the façade of a wealthy human I can make sure that I always have a refuge to be in my true form. I also know how badly you want Tigarian Technologies, but Aristotle is too suspicious of you to ever trust you at his back again. So here’s what I propose. I kill him and the mutant, and you give me a share of the estate."
"If I say no?"
"Then I take my chances with the mutant."
Yeah, Wren thought angrily. That would be an even worse mistake. Even as a cub he’d hated his mother. Too bad she hadn’t taken her chances with him.
Grayson fell silent as he considered her words. "Very well, I accept."
Dun, like he’d expected his uncle to say anything else. But then, Wren was watching a history that he already knew the outcome to.
"Good, but I know you, Grayson. I don’t trust you, either. I want some assurances."
Wow, Karina actually had had a brain. At least for a moment. Too bad her assurances had failed her in the end, but maybe they would give Wren some way to prove Grayson guilty of this deed.
"And what would that be?" Grayson asked.
"I want you to set me up as a major stockholder in your own company and I want a million dollars up front, transferred from your account to mine before I make any moves against the tiger."
Even Wren could tell that went over like a weighted cannonball with his uncle. Grayson’s features actually looked pinched and drawn. Wren half-expected the tiger to tell her to shove it.
He didn’t. "How long do I have?"
"Not long. I know Aristotle. By now, he’ll have me banned entirely from the house. But he did say that he wanted me to look at the mutant. I feign interest. Tell him I’ve calmed down and would like to see it. When he opens the door, I can kill them both."
Now that pleased his uncle. His eyes were actually alight and happy. "I need time to liquidate a few things to have the cash for you."
"You have forty-eight hours." She pulled a business card out of her purse. "That’s my account. Once the money is in there, you’ll be a far richer man."
Wren watched as she stood up and walked off. It was the hardest moment of his life to stand there and let history make itself when all he had to do was lunge at them both and kill them.
I could save my father’s life…
But his father was supposed to die. If he didn’t, then Wren wouldn’t go to New Orleans and he would never meet Maggie.
She’s not your mate.
It was true. As his mother had pointed out to Grayson, it wasn’t in his people to love. Not like humans did, and yet Wren felt something for Maggie that defied any other explanation.
He only wanted to be with her and yet he knew he had nothing to offer her.
But right now, he could save his father’s life…
And lose Maggie forever.
His father or Maggie. But men, there was no real choice. If Wren saved his father, he would alter many more fates than just his own.
His mind turned back to when Vane had been living at Sanctuary. One of Vane’s packmates had come to kill him. Only Wren had kept him from pursuing Vane.
If Wren hadn’t been there…
Vane might be dead now. And that was just one instance that Wren knew about. One life touched hundreds of others, either directly or indirectly.
"The slightest stirring in the air can set a hurricane in motion a thousand miles off."
Chaos theory. The Dark-Hunter Acheron had been the one to teach Wren that years ago. To change even the smallest thing could have extremely damaging repercussions.
No, he had to let history play itself out.
Grinding his teeth, he turned away and drifted into a secluded area so that he could shift back to his father’s house.
"You two can stay in here once Wren returns," Wren’s father said as he closed the door to seal the two of them into a guest bedroom alone.
Marguerite frowned at his actions as something inside her became frightened. She didn’t want to be alone with Wren’s father. But it didn’t make any sense. Aristotle had only been kind to her so far.
Still, she felt extremely uncomfortable.
Aristotle took a deep breath as he fidgeted with a small porcelain box on the cherrywood dresser. "Do you think Wren will be able to find the evidence he needs?"
"I hope so."
Aristotle shook his head. "My mother always told me to watch out for Grayson. She said that he had too much human in him for his own good."
Marguerite frowned at his words. "How so?"
Aristotle put the lid on the box, then turned and leaned back against the dresser. "Animals as a rule aren’t particularly jealous, but Grayson always was. He was the eldest of my parents’ offspring. I was the youngest… born very late in their lives. I had two littermates who didn’t survive. Because of that, my mother doted on me. I can remember being just a cub and catching Grayson eyeing me with malice. My mother was always afraid to leave us alone together. It was why I banned him from my company a long time ago."
Marguerite could understand Aristotle’s concern, but his actions struck her as extremely paranoid. "Yes, but jealousy doesn’t always make people homicidal."
He laughed at that. "We’re not talking about people, Maggie. We’re talking animals. In our world, it’s survival of the fittest. Winner take all."
He crossed the room to stand before her. "You love my son, don’t you?"
"I…" Marguerite hesitated. But in the end, she knew the answer. There was no denying it. "Yes."
Aristotle smiled. "A human’s love. I couldn’t wish anything better for him. Animals protect what they know. They protect what they are bound to, but humans… humans have a greater capacity for sacrifice for those who live in their hearts."
Before Maggie could move, Aristotle grabbed her by the throat and threw her to the ground. She tried to scream, only to find that she couldn’t even get air into her lungs.
She couldn’t move, couldn’t fight. It was as if some unseen force held her paralyzed.
His eyes blazed at her. "Forgive me for doing this to you. I hope you’ll understand in time."
Her desired scream came out as a whimper as he changed into a tiger and bit her shoulder.
Marguerite was completely paralyzed as pain ripped through her. She saw colors swirling around as a foreign buzzing started in her ears.