Alaskan Tigers Book Five
The sun glared down from high above when Felix Grady finally stepped out of his cabin. The day off was just what he needed. The long hours he put in while his partner Adam was off mating had worn him out. He slept late and had a leisurely lunch, but now he was tired of doing nothing. He was a tiger who enjoyed being on the move, not lounging around like a bag of lazy bones.
Taking a stroll around the compound would clear his mind before checking in with Ty and Tabitha. He knew Tabitha was in good hands with Adam, but his duties were so ingrained in him that he couldn’t stop, even for a few hours. It wasn’t the person he was.
Making a circle around the grounds, he checked to be sure all the guards were at their posts, nothing out of the norm. As a last-second change of plan, he turned, deciding to take a detour around the creek. Everyone seemed to love the little area by the creek. There was a bank where shifters could relax, especially Kallie’s mates Taber and Thorben who were able to fish in their bear form without anyone spotting them.
He loved the compound, and the cold weather of Alaska didn’t bother him, although he didn’t have nearly enough time to enjoy it. Being the Captain of Tabitha’s Guards takes priority, and with the constant threats to the clan, he rarely had any downtime to enjoy the compound as the other shifters did.
Raja stepped out from around a cabin. “I thought you were taking a day to relax? Checking the grounds at your normal time doesn’t break from your routine. You should catch up on much deserved sleep.”
Since Raja found his mate, Bethany, he had been more jubilant and full of life. The meaning of life had come back to him in full force. It was a remarkable change from the strict man that he’d been before. Now he lived for more than just his job, he had a mate that he loved. Even his sister Tora had remarked on the change.
“Can’t keep me out of the action for long.” He chuckled. “My tiger was restless and demanded I get back to some resemblance of my routine. Any updates?”
“Not yet. Connor and Lukas are working on finding Henry and Randolph, but no solid leads. Recently they found out Randolph spent years being Pierce’s second, but he’s awfully quiet so far for the death of his leader. Speaking of it, have you seen Harmony on your walk? I stopped by her studio, and she wasn’t there.” Raja came to stand next to Felix looking out over the creek bubbling its way down the path.
“No. I heard the guards have been taken off her door after she complained. Is that the wisest move?” There was something about Harmony that drove him to her. She was so scared and frightened, yet he could sense something hiding under the surface, drawing him to her. Maybe it was the person she used to be before his twin brother ruined the shine she had.
“You heard the stink she put up—did you want to listen to that long-term?” Raja shook his head. “Plus, we don’t know when Henry might actually make his move, and we can’t keep her under lock and key indefinitely. Robin will feel if she’s in any danger, and we’re counting on a warning from you before he arrives.”
“I’ll do what I can.” Being Henry’s twin should have made it easier for him to determine Henry’s next move, but he was almost as blind to it as everyone else. Harmony might be their only early warning when it came to Henry’s final move.
Raja patted Felix on the back. “I better get back to Bethany. It’s our night for the family dinner. Enjoy the rest of your night off.”
Felix nodded, with a slight envy eating at him. His Lieutenant had a family that most of the clan was envious of. Most tiger shifter off-springs ended up leaving their home clan when they grew up to search for another one to make their name in, separating families across the country. Most shifters don’t have a loyalty to a family like humans do. The loyalty was only to their mate and clan. Parents and siblings were a different category altogether for shifters. Siblings normally remained close through the distances, but parents seemed to have more distances. It’s believed to come from their beast since it was how they were in the wild.
Raja and Tora had been close all their lives, and Tora mating did little to separate the siblings. What separation might have happened was closed with the birth of Tora and Marcus’ daughter Scarlet. Since mating with Bethany, the family dinners have been rotated between Tora’s cabin and Raja’s, giving each woman a chance to host.
With family and mating on his mind, he decided to extend his walk down the creek bed before going back to check on Tabitha. The lush trees lined the creek, keeping it hidden even from the cabins. It was a safe and secure spot deep within the compound, one you were never sure who you would find there.
A familiar scent of honeysuckle and toasted vanilla teased him further along the path to one of the hiding spaces Kallie favored when she first came to the clan. There, hidden amongst the trees, Harmony sat with her back pressed against the base of one of the trees, tossing rocks at the creek.
“Harmony.” He called to her before stepping closer because he didn’t want to scare her. He knew just the sight of him made her tense, serving as a reminder of the man who forced himself on her. It was still hard for him to believe his twin had done such an unimaginable thing. They were raised better than that, and having the tiger inside him but being unable to shift was not enough of an excuse for Felix to forgive Henry’s behavior.
She slid her legs up tight against her chest and met his gaze, but she didn’t speak. She watched him like a tiger stalking its prey, but she wasn’t strong enough to take him down. In tiger form, he outweighed her by more than a hundred pounds, but even as a human, she was no match for him. His years of training and hours in the gym meant he could take her down without hurting her and without much effort at all.
“You okay?” He stepped closer, keeping in her line of sight and his hand away from the gun in his shoulder holster.
“I can’t take it any longer.” She leaned her head against the tree and looked at him. “I can’t stand the fear, the panic. Damn it, to be a prisoner, it’s like being with him all over again. I keep waiting for him to find me, to make me pay for running.”
“You’re safe here. He’s not going to get to you. I won’t let him. Do you understand that?” He knelt in front of her, far enough away they didn’t touch, still respecting her space.
“You can’t be sure of that. There are so many threats against your clan now, with the Texas clan and the rogues.” Her jaw was set as she stared at him. He could read it in her body language she didn’t believe him.
“I told you I’ll protect you, and I will. There are always threats to clans, but that doesn’t change my vow to keep you safe.” He paused, listening to the quietness, when an idea struck him. “I know you’re feeling boxed in, so how about if we take a drive? There’s no need to go into town or anything, but a drive through the area might help you recharge and get outside of the compound for a bit. What do you say?”
“I don’t know.”
He could feel her hesitation. “If we’re going to live together in the same clan, you’ll need to move past your apprehension of me. I understand why you have it, but I can’t change my looks or what Henry did to you. I also know words don’t mean much, but I’m nothing like he is. Let me prove it. There’s somewhere I want to show you.” He stood. “What do you say?”
She nodded. “Okay. To get out of here, even for a short time, would be heavenly.”
He smiled at her. “I need to swing by to see Tabitha and get the keys for one of the guards’ SUVs then we can go. Ten minutes.”
She stood and brushed off the butt of her jeans. “Should I meet you somewhere then or something?”
“Come along—it’s fine. I’m off-duty today, but I want to check in with Adam.” He led the way up the creek a bit further until they came to a small footbridge to cross back over. There were so many things he wanted to ask her, but he didn’t. Spooking her would only send her back into her retreat, and it took too long to get her out of her tigress form to risk anything that might send her back. He’d wait until she was ready.
Silence fell over them like a warm blanket. The only thing heard was the crunch of the occasional stick under his boots. There were no birds that frequented the area—too many tigers and bears in the area that scared them off. Felix always enjoyed the quiet, but now in the quiet he found his thoughts full of the woman standing next to him.
“Hey, Felix,” Tabitha called to him as they stepped out of the trees.
“Tabitha and Adam, just the people I was on my way to see. What are you doing out here?” Felix quickly scanned the grounds, checking for any threat.
“Robin’s down with a cold and asked me to check on Harmony,” Adam explained.
“I do hope Robin is all right.” The common cold was not something Felix or the other shifters had to deal with, only their human counterparts. Once a shifter went through the change, they couldn’t catch a cold or the flu, which came in quite handy. Even though Robin was human, she would gain a higher tolerance to illness from her mating, making illness uncommon. The Alpha/clan bond between Robin and Harmony was highly unusual, especially considering Robin was human, but it was there. Robin had no idea how to handle the connection as a shifter automatically did, so it was becoming a learning process for her. In the meantime, the connection was draining her to the point of illness.
“Bethany healed her, so she should be back to normal soon.” Tabitha nodded.
Felix accompanied Robin on her daily visits with Harmony a few times a week, trying to get her used to his presence. Robin was working closely with Harmony to get her to open up and to work past what Henry put her through.
“I was going to take Harmony out for a drive. She’s suffering with a little cabin fever, and I thought a little time off the grounds would give us both a break.” He almost asked if they would like to join, but instead he kept it to himself. It wasn’t for Harmony’s sake but because he wanted to be with her without the others gathered around. He felt the need to prove to her that he was nothing like Henry.
Harmony wasn’t the first woman to see him as a threat or to fear him, and in most cases, that’s what he needed. With Tabitha’s security on the line, he had to seem like a bastard that would do what he threatened. His threat should come from his actions and body language not necessarily from words. However, when it came to Harmony, he was going out of his way to see that she didn’t fear him. Why?
* * *
Trees whipped past the SUV window as Harmony and Felix headed further and further away from the compound. Her heart beat frantically against her ribs, her mind racing through her fears. She could taste her pulse in her throat. What if this was a trap? He could be leading her to Henry. After all, they were twins—surely they had some bond.
“You’re going to have Robin calling.” Felix never turned his gaze away from the road.
“Your fear. If I can feel it this strongly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Robin calls and orders me to return you to the compound at once.” He looked over at her. “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. Do you want me to take you back?”
Part of her wanted to scream ‘yes,’ but if he were taking her to Henry would he have offered to take her back to the compound? She didn’t think so. More importantly, Robin trusted Felix, therefore she was trying to. He might look like the man who had raped and tortured her for months, leaving scars all over her body, but from what she saw of him, he was different.
Staying in Alaska close to Robin—the only person she had any loyalties to—she’d have to trust Felix and the other clan members. This was the first step on the long road to the life she once had. Not that she ever thought she’d be the person she once was. “No, I want to go.”
“I know you’re scared. I should have asked someone else to come, but with Robin a little under the weather, I was out of people you trusted. We could do this another day when Robin can come with us.”
Pawing at her jeans, she tried to wipe the sweat that had coated her palms away. “It’s fine. I wanted to get out. You know Adam wouldn’t have wanted Robin to leave the security of the compound without him, and you both couldn’t have left Tabitha unguarded.”
“Then Adam could take you and Robin, and I can stay at the compound.”
“No.” She turned away from the window to look at him. “Felix, I want to trust you, and I’m trying.”
“I understand. Every time you look at me, it’s hard for you to see me as someone other than Henry. It’s going to be over soon.”
Hadn’t she heard that since she arrived at the compound? It had been weeks of sitting around waiting for Henry to either attack or for someone to find him. In all that time, her leg nearly healed from the nasty bear trap wound. She was tired of waiting—if only she could do something about it. Even if Henry couldn’t shift, he had proven more than once she was no match for him.
“There’s a slight difference in your features. Your jawbone is a little more rounded, the dimples are a little deeper, and your eyes are different. They still hold the edge of danger, but there’s a touch of understanding and friendliness to them. The biggest difference between you two is your attitude. He’s, well…”
“Insane?” he supplied.
“Yes.” She shrugged. It was awful to say it aloud, but it was the truth. “I’m sorry.”
“There’s no need to apologize. It’s true, and I’ve known it for years. When we turned eighteen, our parents moved to Australia so they didn’t have to deal with it any longer. The tiger inside him has driven him crazy from not being able to shift. The only difference between Henry and a rogue is that rogues are put down when the tiger takes over. Looks like Henry’s fate will be finding him at last.” Felix turned the SUV onto a dirt road, doing his best to avoid the potholes.
She felt her eyes narrow down at him, watching him intently. “Even though he’s your brother, you’ll kill him?”
He slid the SUV into park and looked at her. “Yes. Brother or not, he can’t do what he’s done and get away with it. There’s no other recourse for his actions.” He let out a deep sigh. “Years ago, when the tiger first started to drive him toward madness, I wanted to do it then, before he could cause any problems. It might seem heartless to some, but we’re not like humans. There’s not a hospital we can put him in. It’s what our kind does when one is sick, we put them out of their misery. Henry is driven by his madness. He’s no longer the brother I grew up with.”
Without thinking, she reached across the gap and laid her hand on his lap. It’s what their kind did when someone hurt. Touch gave them comfort. Her fingers brushed against the back of his hand, and unexpected electricity shot through her. “No!” Tears welled in her eyes with the knowledge of what that meant. Oh, shit—it can’t be!
Electricity coursed through Felix, stealing his breath and all intelligent thought. Could this truly be happening? How could fate mate him with the woman his twin tortured? He would constantly serve as a reminder of her past—a reminder of the Hell she went through to regain her freedom.
How did he not see this week’s ago when Bethany healed Harmony’s leg? After all, he held her down—his hands were clasped around her ankles…no skin-to-skin contact. Damn, that’s how he missed it. For the mating to start, it had to be triggered from skin contact.
He opened the SUV’s door, putting one foot on the running board. “Come on.” He stepped out, shut the door and moved to the front of the SUV, leaving her to join him or stay in the car. At that moment, he wasn’t sure what he’d prefer her to do, all he knew was that he couldn’t believe his luck. It ate at him that the mate he knew he’d find one day was so distraught by his features. If it was something he could change, he would have, but this was beyond his scope of modification.
Now he knew why he was drawn to her, it was because she was his mate. Even without touching her, his tiger was able to sense it. His tiger’s eagerness toward her and the way he was drawn to her like a bug to a light should have warned him.
He should have known and ran for the hills. To leave the clan at least for a time, away from Harmony would have been better for her than being mated with him. They could have been brought together in another time and place and maybe things would have worked for them. Here and now, what hope did they have for a happy mating? They’d be forced together, neither of them able to deny the mating once the painful desire kicked in.
He looked out over the valley, the trees full of green and life again after a long winters rest. From the hillside he realized how small he was in the whole scheme of things. Even after years in Alaska, he never got used to the beauty of the land, there was always something to cherish. This was his home, the land he’d fight for, just as he would for his clan.
Harmony came to stand next to him. “You can’t pretend that didn’t happen. It’s not going to go away.”
“I know that, but, damn it, what am I supposed to do? This isn’t the mating I expected. We both know I can’t just push you up against the side of the SUV and claim you as mine.”
“What are we going to do?” She leaned against the bumper.
That was the million-dollar question. Did he have any hope of winning over the woman his brother served to alienate? “What do you want to do about it?” He turned enough toward her to watch the emotions play over her face. It was a rainbow of emotions from anger to disappointment, finally settling on sadness. He could see it glistening in her eyes, but still she remained silent, having no more answers than he did.
Just watching her, her long ruby-red hair flying around her face from the wind, he wanted to pull her against his body, run his hand through her hair until she was close enough to press his lips to hers. “There’s no reason to deny it. I can see your anger and sadness over this mating, but I don’t know how to change this. When Taber and Thorben first mated with Kallie, they looked to see if there was a way out of it—there isn’t. So it doesn’t leave us with many options.”
“I won’t deny it, you’re not my first choice for a mate. Damn it, if I’m to have a mate now while there’s this threat of Henry looming, I want a mate that I can cuddle next to at night and know I’m protected. Not fear every bump and noise of the night.”
He spun around on her, his body inches from the front of her forcing her back against the SUV. “Don’t stand there and imply that I’ve done anything but protect you since you’ve arrived at the clan. Robin and I have done everything we could to make you feel safe here. To imply otherwise does a huge disservice to not only me but to Robin. She’s been dividing her time between Adam and you and has been driving herself to exhaustion.”
“I didn’t mean—”
“If Robin isn’t there with you, she’s working with Connor going over leads trying to find something that hints to where Henry is. That woman is doing more for you than is expected, after all she’s human. She’s mated to a shifter, but it doesn’t change that she still needs sleep, food, and can still occasionally become ill. She has put her own needs aside so she could see that Henry was no longer a threat to you.” He laid a hand on either side of her on the SUV. “She’s even the one who stays on top of the Elders to make sure Henry is dealt with before they go deal with the Texas Tigers. She’s risking a lot for you and how do you repay her? By standing here implying you’re alone with no one to protect you.”
“Damn it, if you’d let me finish.”
“Go ahead.” He took his hands from the hood and stepped back.
“I didn’t mean to imply that. I only meant…” She threw her hand up in the air. “Oh never mind, you wouldn’t understand.”
“You’re right I don’t, not completely, but try me. What can it hurt?”
“I’ve always been reserved, never the go-getter of the clan. I realize and accept I’m a weaker shifter then a lot of the members, but I don’t go looking for fights. Even living with the Ohio Tigers, I spent most of my time alone. I don’t understand clan living and being surrounded by people. To have one person that I can rely on, his loyalty to me above all, and who can help me through this world would be a blessing.” She stepped away from the SUV moving forward to look out over the hillside. “Robin has her mate and the clan. Not to mention Tex that she’s helping with his abuse under the Texas Alpha. As you said, I’m making her sick because I need her too much. I’m just tired of being alone. You—well you have Tabitha and your duties. Other than that, who do I have? I’m alone and downright scared.”
He stepped up behind her, laying his hand on her shoulder to guide her around to look at him. “We can’t do anything about this mating—nor can I change my face or who I am—but I can be what you need. Harmony, I’ve been protecting you since you’ve came to the clan, that’s not going to change. On the same hand neither will my duties to the clan. I’ve worked too hard to be where I am to give it all up, and I wouldn’t want to be just a clan member again. I can’t go from being in the action to living the life of a member again. Given a chance, we could find a balance and work through it.”