Her breathing became labored, painful. It was as if she were suffocating.
She was dying. She knew it.
Why was he doing this to her? Her thoughts turned to Wren. He would be devastated.
Fight, damn it, fight!
But she couldn’t. She had no control over her body. No control over what his father was doing to her. It was terrifying.
I’m so sorry, Wren.
It was her final thought before everything went black.
Wren found himself alone in his father’s bedroom. He cocked his head as he heard faint music playing from another room. It was the song "The Lion Sleeps Tonight."
Wren snorted. No doubt it was his father’s way of letting Wren know where they were.
He cracked open the door to the hallway and looked down it to make sure his younger self wasn’t about. Not that there was much chance of that. If he remembered correctly, he only ventured out after dark and then only a time or two. He’d been too afraid to let his father see him. Afraid of how much more his father would hate him if he knew what he could do.
God, he’d been such a fool. The very thing that had caused his father to change his feelings toward him had been the thing that had scared him most.
If only he’d known.
Wren headed down the hall, in the opposite direction of his childhood room. He found the door where the music was playing.
Just in case he was wrong, he knocked lightly on the door.
No one answered.
Hesitant, he opened it slowly to find a large white tiger on the bed. He froze not so much at the sight but at what he smelled. The air was thick with the scent of tiger mixed with that of Maggie.
But there was no sight of her.
Wren’s heart hammered at the significance. "What did you do?" he snarled at the beast that lay facing the opposite wall. "How could you eat my girlfriend, Dad? She was all I’ve ever had. Damn you!"
His rage boiling over, Wren charged the bed, intending to kill his father as he changed into a tiger’s form. He caught the tiger, then skidded to a halt.
Wren’s gaze locked with the tiger’s, whose eyes weren’t blue…
They were brown.
They were Maggie brown.
And they were large in panic.
Wren let go of her and changed back to human form. Scared of what he was seeing, he reached out to touch her, half-expecting this to be a trick of some kind. How could Maggie be a tiger?
She was human. Completely human.
"Baby?" he whispered, stroking the tiger’s face. "Is it really you?"
The tiger crawled closer to him. She nuzzled his bare chest and raised a paw to rest on his hip. He could sense her fear that was mingled with relief.
Wren wrapped his arms around her to hold her close in comfort. "It’s all right," he said, stroking her soft fur. "I’ve got you."
Two seconds later, she was lying as a nak*d human in his arms.
Wren pulled back to see those familiar brown eyes.
"I’m scared, Wren," she said, her voice trembling. "What’s happening to me?"
He cupped her face in his hands. "I don’t know. What happened while I was gone?"
"Your father brought me into this room and I thought he killed me."
Wren frowned at her words. "What?"
"He attacked me as a tiger, then everything went black. When I woke up, I was…" She changed back into a tiger before she could finish speaking.
Her panic doubled.
"It’s okay, Maggie," Wren assured her. "Take a deep breath and imagine yourself as a human."
She came back to him.
"That’s it," he said with a smile he didn’t really feel.
But he didn’t want to scare her any more than she already was. "Stay focused as a human and you’ll remain one."
"I have to tell you, being a tiger really sucks."
He laughed darkly at her words. "Sometimes. Sometimes it’s not so bad."
"This isn’t one of those times."
He smiled as he gently stroked her hair. "No, I guess for you it isn’t." He tilted his head as he tried to sense his father, but all Wren could feel was Maggie. "Do you know where my father went?"
"No, but the next time I see him, I intend to return the bite."
"Don’t worry. I’ll bite him for you." Wren pulled back from her. "How do you feel right now?"
"Woozy. Do you ever feel like you’re going to vomit when you change shapes?"
"It usually goes away quickly. Stare at something for a minute and your senses will settle down."
She stared at his lips.
Wren didn’t know what it was about that that turned him on, but his body reacted instantly to it.
"You’re right," she said. "It helps."
Wren kissed her lightly. She moaned deep in her throat as he parted her lips to taste the sweetness of her mouth. His body hardening even more, he gently cupped her breast in his hand.
He rolled her to her back just as someone knocked on the door.
He quickly dressed them both as the door opened to show his father. Hesitating in the doorway, he appeared sheepish. "I didn’t know you were back. I was coming in to check on Maggie. How’s she doing?"
Wren left the bed as rage took hold of him. "What did you do to her?"
He looked past Wren to the bed where Maggie was still lying in human form. "I’m so sorry, Maggie. But it’s for the best. You’re stronger now. You’ll live longer than you would have as a human. Believe me, you’re much better off this way."
Wren grabbed him and slammed him back against the wall. "What did you do to her?"
"I gave her my mother’s powers."
Wren couldn’t have been more stunned had his father racked him. He loosened his hold on his throat. "You did what?"
"I gave her animal powers. I figured that by the weekend I wouldn’t need them anymore anyway, right?"
Wren shook his head in denial. "It’s impossible. No one can give up their powers."
His father snorted at that. "Yes, they can. It’s not something done often. Very few of our kind are willing to let go of their magic. But it can be done."
Wren still didn’t believe it. "No. I know a Were-Hunter who’s mated to a human. She has no powers."
"Because he didn’t share them with her."
"Believe me, if Vane could share his powers with his wife, he would."
Wren’s father arched a brow at that. "Even if it meant weakening his own?"
Wren hesitated. No, maybe not. "How is it I’ve never heard of this?"
"It’s not exactly something that’s talked about in open circles. I learned about it from my mother, who gave up her powers to me when she knew she was dying of cancer. I was young and she was terrified Grayson would kill me. So she made me strong enough to hold my own against him. Now I’ve passed her gift along to your girlfriend."
Maggie sat up slowly on the bed. "Why not give it to Wren?"
His father gave an odd half laugh. "His powers are enough that he can hold his own against virtually anyone. But you… you would always be a weakness for him. Now you’re not. In a few days, you will grow accustomed to your new life and you will master those powers."
"But we’re not mates," Wren said, still unable to believe this was happening.
"You will be. I know it."
Wren shook his head. "Maggie is the daughter of a U.S. senator, Dad. How is she supposed to go back to her life now?" He watched as the horror of that sank in.
"Why didn’t you tell me?" his father asked.
"Had I known you were going to foist our world on her, I would have. But I never dreamed in my wildest imagination that you could do this."
Maggie touched Wren’s arm as she joined them. "It’s okay, Wren. Although to be honest, a choice in this would have been nice. Your father’s heart was in the right place. You can’t be angry at someone who did something because they loved you."
Wren ground his teeth. "Sure I can."
His father looked stricken.
"But I won’t."
His father pulled Wren into his arms and hugged him.
She smiled at them. "So before I shift into a tiger again, did you learn anything about your father’s murder?"
Wren nodded as he pulled away and moved to Marguerite’s side. "My mother’s brilliant plan is that she kills Dad and me, and then she and Grayson split the estate. He’s to wire a million dollars into her account in advance of the murders."
"But she doesn’t kill you," Marguerite reminded him. "After your father dies-"
"You know," his father said between clenched teeth, "it really disturbs me to be talking about my death like this."
"I’m sorry," Maggie said. She looked at Wren. "Are you sure we can’t save him?"
"No," Wren said. "It would alter things and the Fates would punish us for it."
His father concurred. "And I’d most likely end up dead in some other fashion within a few hours of his saving me. The Fates have an eerie way of keeping things in balance."
Marguerite felt for Aristotle. "So how do we prove their involvement?"
"I don’t know," Wren said. "The deposit doesn’t mean anything. I suppose I could get a copy of it, but Grayson could lie and say that he put the money there for another reason. His argument will be based on the fact that both of my parents are dead. He’ll say I killed them both."
"So you’ll need to find out who killed your mother and provide proof of it."
Wren nodded. "Could Grayson have been in the house when she died?"
Aristotle shook his head. "It’s not possible."
"Are you sure?" Wren asked.
"Positive. I banned Grayson from here a long time ago." Aristotle turned thoughtful. "What all do you remember about the night of my death? I need every detail."
Wren passed an uncomfortable look to Marguerite. "It happened around ten. I remember because I heard the clock chime just as something crashed. I sensed that something was wrong, so I left my room to go to yours. I found you there and I held you."
She saw the pain on Wren’s father’s face.
"Then I heard them laughing and I went to kill them. Mom’s lover attacked me and knocked me out. When I woke up, the house was on fire and I escaped when the floor burned out from underneath me. A fireman took me outside and I escaped into the woods. There was a man there who called out to me. He said he would take me to Sanctuary."
His father frowned. "What man?"
"I don’t know. He never told me his name and I don’t even know why I trusted him, in retrospect. He just seemed to be honest."
Marguerite considered that. "What did he look like?"
Wren shrugged. "He looked and smelled human. He was really tall, with black eyes and long, dark brown hair."
Aristotle shook his head. "I don’t know a human who looks like that."
"Are you sure?" Wren asked.
"How weird," Marguerite said as she considered that. "Who could he have been then?"
Wren shook his head. "I don’t know."
Aristotle let out a long, tired breath. "Very well then. It doesn’t sound like there’s much we can do until the night they kill me. I’ll have the bank keep me posted about your mother’s account. You stay here and teach your girlfriend how to use her powers."
Wren’s frown increased. "Where are you going?"
His father gave Wren a meaningful stare. "I want to go spend a little time with my son so that he won’t hate me entirely when he finds me dead."
"I didn’t hate you, Dad."
He smiled sadly. "Thanks, Wren. I’m glad to know it before I die."
Marguerite was amazed by the man’s strength, at the fact that he could face his death so bravely. It was unbelievable. "You’re being incredibly understanding about all this."
He scoffed at that. "Only on the outside. I assure you, inside I’m screaming right now. There’s nothing worse than knowing you’re going to die and not being able to stop it."
She cringed at the very thought. "No, I guess not."
Aristotle opened the door. "I’ll be back in a few hours. In the meantime if either of you need anything, have Maggie buzz me on the intercom."
As his father started to leave, Wren stopped him. "Thanks, Dad."
He patted Wren on the arm before he left them alone.
Wren sighed heavily. "This has been one seriously f**ked-up day, huh?"
"You might say that. This morning it was 2005 in New Orleans, I was staring at you wondering what it would be like to have the ability to change into a tiger. Now it’s the day before I enter the world in 1981 and I can turn into a tiger. Yeah, just your average day… if you’re in a Ted Raimi production."
Wren snorted at her sarcasm.
Marguerite rubbed her arms as the real horror of all this settled deep inside her heart. "What’s going to become of us, Wren?"
"I don’t know. But whatever it is, it should be interesting."
"And that is what really, really scares me."
Marguerite quickly learned that life as a Were-Tiger wasn’t easy. For one thing, her appetite quadrupled almost instantaneously. And as she was searching the deserted kitchen for chocolate to consume, since her new metabolism would burn through gross amounts of calories, Wren warned her that it was eternally off her menu. Apparently too much of it could kill her.