Alaskan Tigers Book Fifteen
After years under an abusive and vindictive Alpha, Merrie nearly loses herself to her tigress, sending her to the brink of going rogue. She’s finally putting the pieces back together and reclaiming her life. And through it all is one man.
Sparks has been her rock.
The one she gave her heart to.
Forever the one who got away.
So why, when he touches her, does she feel the magic so many of her kind have spoken about? And why does he look at her like he’s ready to claim her?
As she’s regaining her balance between her human and animal side, she realizes the truth. And it is a truth neither of them is ready for.
Making his way out of the airport, Sparks was edgy. His tiger paced within him, anxious. He’d waited weeks to be reunited with Merrie, each day apart his beast grew more unsettled. Now that the time had finally come, he was unsure. Would she be the same? Their daily video chats made it seem as if nothing had changed between them. Their bond remained strong. Still he couldn’t help but think things would be different. After all, it was the reason she’d came to Alaska.
Years spent under their abusive Alpha had impacted her, her beast too close to the surface. Her tigress had threatened to take over, sending her rogue, leaving their Alpha, Korbin, no choice but to send her to Alaska. As her Alpha, he could feel her pain and knew she needed help, but his resources limited him. Ty and the Alaskan Tigers could give her the help she desperately needed.
“She got it, and now she’s coming home.” He reminded himself as he made his way toward the baggage claim. He packed light with only a carry-on, but baggage claim was where he’d meet his ride. Someone from the Alaskan Tigers would be down there waiting for him, he just wasn’t sure who.
Shifting his bag further up his shoulder, he stepped off the escalator and onto the first floor. Baggage claim was directly ahead, and in a few minutes, fresh air. To his tiger, that was freedom. Being confined on the airplane was like being locked in a cage. He needed to stretch his legs and eventually let his tiger run off some pent-up energy.
“Sparks,” a deep voice called, cutting through his thoughts.
Scanning the area until his gaze landed on none other than the Alaskan Tigers Alpha—Ty. Crossing the area quickly, he came to stand in front of Ty. “Sir, I didn’t expect you here.”
“Ty.” Correcting him, he tipped his head toward the door. “Let’s get out of here, and I’ll explain. Unless you have other luggage.”
“Just this.” He assured the man before him. Had Korbin known Ty would meet him? Even though Sparks loyalty was to Korbin, the connection extended to Ty and Tabitha. They’d lead their species into a better future, and Sparks would do his part to see it happen. On a more personal note Sparks owed Ty for sending Korbin to Ohio to lead the clan. Without Korbin none of what they were building in Ohio would have been possible. Likely the clan would have been torn apart by the uncertainty and fear each of them had. Korbin had united them as a clan again, bringing them back from the brink of no return and giving them the future they deserved.
Easing their way through the crowd, they headed toward the doors. With every step, Sparks’ beast relaxed, allowing the tension to drift from his muscles. Freedom. Stepping out of the building, he took a deep breath, filling his lungs, and forcing himself to relax further. The brisk air was colder than he expected, but it reenergized him from the inside out.
Scanning the area, his gaze landed on another man from the Alaskan Tigers, Felix. He was unmistakable. His twin brother, Henry, had been a member of the Ohio Tigers under the former Alpha. Though member wasn’t accurate, Henry had been more of a prisoner than anything.
“I see you recognize Felix.”
Sparks glanced at Ty and realized the Alpha had stopped and was looking back at him. “Uh…”
“Don’t worry, it’s hard not to. It’s part of the reason he’s here.” Ty nodded toward the SUV. “Adam is behind the wheel. He can focus on getting us back to the compound while the rest of us have a little chat. Get in.”
Little chat? Sparks was here to escort Merrie back to Ohio, to keep her company on the flight, nothing more. What did they have to chat about? By this time tomorrow, they’d be in the air heading back across the country. Yet this felt like more, something personal.
Rather than question Ty where they’d be overheard, he climbed into the SUV. Moments later Felix was in the front passenger side, Ty had joined him in the backseat, and Adam was pulling away from the curb.
“Is Merrie all right? Has something happened?” He shifted enough to have both Ty and Felix in view.
“She’s fine.” Ty assured him. “In fact, the change in her is remarkable since she arrived. The problem is you.”
“Excuse me?” Sparks eyebrows knitted together in confusion. How was he the problem?
“You’re Merrie’s mate. You know that, don’t you?” Before he could answer Felix continued. “You haven’t had the confirmation for your beast yet, but your tiger knows. He sensed it, and if you’re as in tune with your beast as we are, you’d have recognized the signs, even without the electric currents when you touch.”
“Still I don’t understand what this has to do with anything.” Sparks wasn’t ready to admit it to himself, let alone out loud, but he had been wondering about it. His tiger was drawn to her, like a moth to a flame, yet there had never been any physical signs of their mating. He tried to brush it off, but it nagged him.
“Layla and Korbin have been in touch with me and Tabitha. Your Elders know the connection between the two of you. Layla felt it when she touched Merrie before she left.” Ty explained. “Merrie has been through a lot, and though she’ll deny it if you ask her, she’s concerned about returning to Ohio. She’s afraid she’ll lose control again. It’s why we thought bringing you here, to establish your connection with her before her return would help her. It will give her the support she needs and will encourage her to continue to thrive once she’s back in Ohio.”
“Even though Merrie tried to keep to herself she’s made an impact on us here. She’s come to mean a lot to my mate, Harmony, to me, and to others.” Felix added.
“It took some time for her to be comfortable around Felix and even longer for her to open up around him.” Adam spoke for the first time since they got in the SUV.
“Merrie had limited contact with Henry but what she did had a lasting impact on her.” Sparks nodded in agreement even though it was unlikely Adam saw it.
“She tried to help Henry.” Felix shifted in his seat to look back at Sparks. “One night after they attacked my brother, trying to force his beast free, she went to him. She treated his wounds and tried to make him comfortable. For her kindness, my brother attacked her.”
“I remember.” Sparks ran his hand over his face and tried to push the memories away. “She managed to stumble out of his holding chamber and down the hall before collapsing. Her beast was already too close to the surface, making her lose track of time as she fought against losing control completely. She had been too afraid to shift, afraid of what might happen. She made the decision to die rather than shift alone.”
“But you found her.” Ty filled in for him, as if urging him to continue.
With a nod, Sparks went on. “I assured her I wouldn’t let anything happen. The trust she had in me at that moment was something I hadn’t experienced before. She stared into my eyes and let go, she knew I wouldn’t let her beast overpower her. That’s when I first felt the connection between us. I knew there was something more, but the signs of mating never happened. There was just this overwhelming connection. I knew when she needed me and no matter what I was doing then I’d stop and go to her. The simple caresses we shared seemed to ease some of the pain for her. Before Korbin arrived, I was debating about taking her and Rachel and leaving. The situation was too unstable.”
“You were afraid for the women.” Felix nodded. “Through Harmony I’ve seen the torture and horrors the former Alpha inflicted on his members. I’m surprised anyone survived it, and I’m impressed Merrie’s beast didn’t take over before we were able to save her.”
“Merrie doesn’t realize how strong she is. She’s a fighter. Otherwise I’d have lost her long ago.” Sparks tiger rose within him, snarling at the thought of losing her.
“You didn’t because you were there to help her through it.” Ty glanced out the window as Adam made another turn. “She’s going to need your strength when she goes back to Ohio. There will be triggers she’ll have to face and only she can overcome them. She’s going to need you to be there to help her through it. Remind her of everything Harmony and Robin have taught her during these last few weeks.”
“Harmony, Robin and all of us are only a phone call away. Robin and I can be in Ohio in a matter of hours if she needs us. Harmony—”
“Harmony isn’t ready to go back to Ohio.” Felix interrupted Adam to explain. “I’m not sure she’ll ever be. Still, she’s just a phone call away.”
“It’s possible the triggers will be too much for Merrie, and she won’t be able to live in Ohio. Have you considered that possibility though?” Ty asked.
Sparks stared out the window, thinking about how often the very thought had crossed his mind. “Too often.”
“I’m aware of your new position.” Ty eyed him. “As the Captain of Layla’s Guards your responsibilities will be with protecting the Alpha Female. There’s no doubt for any of us it will limit your time for Merrie. You’ll always be on call. If you don’t already know that talk to Felix and Adam, they’ll tell you. I take Tabitha’s protection seriously, and if there’s a hint of trouble they better be by her side, ready to protect her.”
“I’m dedicated to Korbin and Layla.” Sparks let out a deep breath and prepared to voice something he already knew. “If I can’t balance the two, I’ll step down from my position. As Alpha Female Layla needs a Captain of her Guards who can be there to protect her. If I’m worried about Merrie, I can’t do my job to the best of my ability. If we need to leave Ohio, I’m willing to do that for her. Merrie’s stronger than she thinks, and I believe she can overcome any triggers Ohio might hold for her. I also believe she’ll be able to help those members still having problems with the unfortunate past we’ve had to endure.”
“I’m glad you’ve already considered the possible outcomes and have prepared for what you might have to do. If you need to leave Ohio, I have no doubt you’ll be able to find another position within one of our dedicated clans. It might not be as the Captain of the Guards to the Alpha Female but depending on the reason you left, we should be able to find you a position as an Elder Guard. Your skills are needed, especially as we continue to move forward with uniting tiger shifters.”
“The reason I left?” Confused, he glanced at Ty.
“If you’ve left because your attention is divided between your guard duties and Merrie. Another Elder Guard position might not be the best fit, especially while acclimating with a new clan.” Ty explained. “We’ll face that if it comes to it. Just know we’ll help Merrie however we can. If you think she’s struggling then feel free to reach out to us, even if she won’t. We can’t help if we don’t know what’s going on.”
“That’s one of the reasons we met you at the airport.” Adam glanced at Felix. “Your turn.”
“The other reason is I wanted you to see me before you arrived at the compound. Since I wasn’t sure if we met during my trips to Ohio, we needed to now. You needed to be prepared for the resemblance I shared with Henry. From what Merrie has told us you had contact with Henry while he was there. She didn’t mention how it went but knowing my twin most if not all contact was negative.” Felix let out a breath before continuing. “I didn’t know what was happening to him while he was there. He was supposed to be cared for, not tortured. It was my mistake not making surprise visits. Instead, they had time to prepare for my arrival.”
“To drug him before you arrived. It was done to ensure he never told you what was happening.” Sparks reached into the side of his bag and pulled out a picture frame. He glanced down at the family photo. Felix and Henry were in their early teens before the family trouble fully developed. In a lucid moment, Henry had shared with him it was the last family photograph they’d taken. “When Henry escaped, he destroyed nearly everything in his cell. Everything except this. I thought you might like it.”
Felix took the family photo from Sparks and glanced down at it, a smile spreading across his face. “We just arrived at the family’s hunting cabin. It was in the middle of nowhere, allowing us the freedom to shift. Every year we’d make the trip and spend two weeks there. This was the last time we went there.”
“Why?” The question was out in the open before Sparks had a moment to think it through.
“By then we knew Henry couldn’t shift, but he seemed to be dealing with it. We didn’t realize he wasn’t until…” Felix’s words faded off as he turned his attention back to the photograph.
“During their last night at the cabin Henry took his father’s shotgun from the safe and shot him in the chest. It nearly killed him. If the bullet had been centimeters to the left, it would have stopped his heart.” Ty leaned forward, placing his hand on Felix’s shoulder. “You saved your parents’ lives that night.”
“And sealed my brother’s fate.” Felix turned the frame over and turned back to Sparks. “I appreciate you bringing this to me. While it brings back that night, it also reminds me of the happy times we shared.”
“We’re almost at the gates.” Preparing to make the turn onto the road that would lead them back to the compound Adam slowed down.
“That leaves us with one final thing.” Ty glanced out the window as the compound came into view. “Merrie has worked hard to put the painful memories behind her. Follow her lead. She’ll let you know what she can handle and what she can’t. She’s nervous about leaving, but we hope your company will help eliminate the stress, especially once she knows you’re her mate. However, she doesn’t know you’re coming. Layla thought it would be best to surprise her.”
“She hates surprises.” Sparks shook his head. “Hopefully this will be an exception.”
They pulled through the gates as Ty’s cell phone buzzed. “Carran said Merrie is down by the creek. Sparks head down there, and Adam will drop your bag in the room across the hall from her. She has a video call scheduled with Korbin and Layla in an hour. After the call, tell her you want some coffee, there’s some in the dining hall, she knows the way. We’re having a surprise gathering for her, to let her know we’ll miss her, so we need you to get her down there.”
“Day or night there’s always fresh coffee in the dining hall.” Adam pulled the SUV up next to what appeared to be the main building and put it in park. “Just keep her away from there until after the call, the women are preparing for the celebration.”
“Got it.” He climbed out of the SUV, and when Adam got out, he handed his duffle bag to him.
“Just past those trees you’ll find the creek. Trust me you can’t miss it.” Adam hoisted the bag onto his shoulder and nodded toward the tree line.
Sparks didn’t need directions. He could sense Merrie the moment they drove through the gate. He wasn’t sure if it was their connection or if the fact the rest of the shifters in the area weren’t connected to him as they were in Ohio. He didn’t really care. He just knew he wanted to find his woman.
My woman or at least, I hope. Maybe this is all a mistake.
“Damn you, Sparks.” She bitched but it wasn’t him, it was her. She was the one struggling with her emotions. They were hers to deal with and accept, not his, and she had to do it soon. In less than twenty-four hours, she’d be back in Ohio and face-to-face with Sparks as well as her Elders.
“What did I do?” A deep voice broke through her thoughts causing her to bolt off the ground, her hand reached out, grabbing hold of the tree behind her for support as she stumbled over one of the above ground roots.
“I didn’t mean to startle you.” Sparks stepped out from the tree line. “Hello, Merrie.”
“Sparks!” Her heart raced as she stared at the man who had filled her every thought. “What are you doing here?”
“Sneaking up on you apparently.” His lips curved up into a smile as he continued toward her. “I can’t remember ever seeing you this relaxed. You didn’t even sense me as I neared.”
She hadn’t sensed him because her thoughts were too occupied with facing him again. She stared at him, debating for a moment if he was truly there or if she’d fallen asleep and was only dreaming. His dark brown hair had grown a little longer since she left, making her want to run her fingers through it. Even with his coat on she could see the shirt he wore stretched across his chest with enough tightness it gave anyone looking an idea of how toned those muscles underneath were. Damn, he looks better than I remember.
As her tigress purred within her, she forced herself back to the issue at hand. “How can you be here? What about Layla? Who’s guarding her?”
“Layla’s fine. She’s the one who sent me. Korbin already had guards in place, before they handed me the ticket. You know Layla she worked on him until he agreed she’d be fine for a few days without me.” He came to stand in front of her. “We knew you were coming home and she thought you’d like some company on the trip. Otherwise it would have been you and Taber.”
“You’re the Captain of her Guards, leaving her places her in jeopardy. You shouldn’t have done this for me.” She shook her head before meeting his gaze again. “Sorry, that sounds ungrateful. I’m just surprised to see you. How did you get here?”
“I took a commercial flight out early this morning. We couldn’t get a nonstop flight. With the delays, I was starting to believe I wouldn’t make it before you called Layla. That would have ruined the surprise.” He reached into the inside pocket of his coat and pulled out a white envelope. “Layla wanted me to give you this.”
“What is it?” She stared down at the envelope he held out to her, her heart frantically beating against her ribcage.
“She wants your help with the clan. She’s seen the changes in you and how far you’ve come in such a short time. You can do wonders for those in Ohio.” He wiggled the envelope in front of her, as if reminding her to take it. “I’m assuming it’s all in here.”
“Oh, Sparks!” Not caring about the envelope, she closed the distance between them and wrapped her arms around his neck. “I’ve missed you so mu—” Electricity sizzled through her, warming her from the inside out and cutting off her words.
“What the hell?” She pulled back from him. “No, it can’t be. Before…we…we’ve touched before. I don’t understand.”
“Let’s go somewhere to talk.” Instead of shock or surprise, he shot her a bright smile as his gaze stayed focused on her.
“What? Why can’t we talk here? Sparks, what’s going on?” Taking a couple steps back to allow herself some distance she tried to process what happened.
Only one thought circle through her mind: Mates? How? This isn’t possible.