Alaskan Tigers Book Nine
At thirty-thousand feet in the air, Styx rose to his feet and searched the maps of Washington D.C., doing his best to get a firm idea of the city before they landed. Somehow, in a city of over a half a million residents and countless others who traveled into the area for work, he was supposed to find one tigress who was on the run with a bounty on her head. Easy, right? He doubted it.
They weren’t even sure if she was still there. One lone transmission to the shifter forum was all they had to go on. Trey, one of the Kodiak Bears, had traced the origin of the message, so that was their starting point. He hoped even in the midst of all the people here, he’d be able to catch the scent of the tigress. If not, it was going to make his job even harder.
Turbulence bounced the plane, sending him sidestepping until he grabbed hold of a table to keep himself upright. His stomach rolled and he swore if he looked in a mirror, he’d have a green tinge to his skin. “Damn it, Theodore, keep this damn plane still.”
“Is the big tiger scared of a little turbulence?” The youngest of the Brown brothers, Theodore, called out from the cockpit with a chuckle.
“You’re the one who put me back here surrounded by this furniture. The idea of turbulence shaking this stuff loose and falling on me isn’t my idea of a fun night.” He tried to hide the fact he hated to fly. Being shoved in a tin box with wings as they flew thousands of miles in the air had never given him comfort. If the ride was smooth, he was able to keep it out of his mind, but add in some bumps and there was no way he’d forget they could fall out of the sky with little warning.
“We’ll do what we have to in D.C.,” Theodore said. “Then we’ll take this to Jinx and Summer in West Virginia. After that, you’ll have the rest of the plane to yourself. Well, unless we find the tigress ourselves.”
“There’s no unless. We’ll find her and get her somewhere safe.” More turbulence rocked the plane, sending Styx two steps to the right before he was able to gain control. “Less chit-chat and more flying,” he bitched through gritted teeth.
He tried to turn his attention back to the maps before him, but it was no use. There was nothing new on them, no clue as to where the tigress would have gone. Maps didn’t tell him where he’d go if he were in her shoes. Only being there, getting into her mindset, would do that. He had spent many years tracking down shifters, years he’d rather not remember. He’d do it again, but this time for a good cause. There would be no blood or death, at least he hoped not, and if there were, then it wouldn’t be him causing it.
He knew what others thought of him—a ruthless assassin—but he had only done what he was ordered to do. He wasn’t proud of it, but he had made the world a little safer by eliminating those who were a danger to others. Now, as the second-in-command of the guards for Bethany—the mate of the Alaskan Tigers’ Lieutenant—he was making up for the nasty things he did in his past.
Working with Shadow—the Captain of Bethany’s Guards—and Bethany had brought out a better part of him. He wanted to do more than just kill to keep their world safe. He wanted to find the same kind of love Bethany and Raja shared.
All the years he had been traveling on missions, he had never found the one, and some days he wondered if he ever would. Maybe due to his crimes against others in his past, he would be punished. Maybe he would never find his mate.
Turbulence once again rocked the plane from side to side, sending him toward the row of seats. “I’m going to end up with two broken legs if you keep this up.”
“Take a seat, it’s going to get rough,” Theodore hollered, but Styx had already plopped down on the only row of seats in the plane and begun to buckle himself in.
With an unsupportive tiger clan in D.C., there was a good chance they’d run into some enemies as he searched for the tigress, so he needed to be in top form. That meant no broken bones from Theodore’s flying. He let his head fall back against the stiff seat and tried to get into the tigress’s mind. He wanted to keep the trip to the capitol as short as possible. Less time equaled less of a chance to run into any of the clan members who had been sent out to hunt the tigress.
The Washington D.C. Tigers might be one of the smallest clans to hold out on committing to Tabitha as Queen of the Tigers, but it didn’t make them any less of a threat. The Washington D.C. Tigers were made up of mostly men. Some would consider them a group of tigers no other clan wanted. For a moment, he wondered if he would’ve joined them if the Alaskan Tigers hadn’t taken him in. Most of the Washington D.C. Tigers had an extensive history of causing problems with other clans and even humans. It made sense to Styx that he might’ve gotten stuck with them. He considered himself lucky.
Tabitha’s rule over all tigers would put a stop to this sort of thing. They might hold out now, but eventually they’d be seen as too big of a threat to be left alone. The only reason they hadn’t been considered a high risk yet was because of Randolph and his gang of rogue shifters. One day, it would be safe for all tigers under Tabitha’s rule, and eventually all shifters. They’d see to it.
No matter the danger, he was proud to be a part of it. It not only gave him a chance to make up for his past, but it would make their world a safer place once Tabitha had completed the prophecies. Future shifter generations would grow up in a world that accepted their species. They’d no longer have to worry about being hunted down, or having to keep their secret hidden. One day, shifters and humans would live side by side in harmony. At least, they could hope.
He longed to see that day. Though, knowing he played a part in it made all the difference to him. It didn’t matter his part was small. It only mattered he was making up for his sins by changing the world into a more positive place for future generations of tigers. The future was what mattered, and Tabitha still had a lot left to do before the prophecies were complete.
He glanced out the window as the first specks of lights from D.C. were beginning to shine through the clouds. They were like diamonds in the dark, reminding him just how big the city was. This was going to be like finding a needle in a haystack. One tigress in a herd of people was going to be nearly impossible.
Find her scent. It will lead you right to her, he reminded himself. It wasn’t like he hadn’t done this before. He had been chosen for this mission because of his past. If anyone could find her, it was him. He wasn’t just known among his kind for being an assassin, but also for being the best tracker. It had been a while since he’d done this type of work, but one never forgets. It was like shifting. The knowledge was still there.
“We’ll be landing in a few, and there’s an SUV standing by for us, so figure out where you want to head,” Theodore called back to him as the plane started its descent.
“We’ll go to the transmission location and start there.” One question remained unanswered. What was she doing in Foggy Bottom? Was it special to her? Or was she sticking close to the tourists, trying to blend in? The metro area would have been busy, and there’d have been plenty of places to hide there, even at the time of night she’d sent her cry for help.
She must have figured it would be harder to find her and kill her in D.C. because of all the people, but by going there, she was also putting civilians at risk. It made the situation that much more urgent. If the hit man from her clan found her, others could get caught in the middle. It was a mess they’d have a hard time cleaning up, especially if any of them shifted. The government didn’t know their species existed, and that’s how they wanted to keep it.
When the plane came to a stop on the runway, he shot up, and gathered the maps and papers that he had laid out on one of the tables. Desperate to get out of this tin box, he shoved everything in his bag.
“Stop lumbering around back there and give me a minute to shut her down. I want to fill her up with gas as well before we leave, in case we have to leave in a hurry.”
Styx stifled a growl. He was anxious to begin the search. Waiting a few extra minutes while the plane was prepared for their return flight wouldn’t make much of a difference now, especially if it could save their lives if things went downhill later.
“I’ve got to check my phone, and I’ll warm up the SUV,” he replied. Anything to get off this damn thing. He slung the bag over his shoulder and headed for the exit, just as the engines shut down. He tugged the handle and the door opened, giving him a small set of stairs to descend.
At the foot of the steps he paused and let the cool winter air wash over him. Even the freezing temperatures didn’t stop him from enjoying the fresh, crisp air. He slipped his phone from his pocket and powered it up. The minute the screen lit up, the phone vibrated in his hand announcing a text message from Ty. The text at the bottom was a location. Translating now. May take some time.
A location? He pulled up the transmission the forum had received from the woman but he still couldn’t make heads or tails of the last line. According to Ty’s message, it was some kind of code that would lead them to her location. He stared at the text, but it wasn’t any code that he was aware of. Nevertheless, if his Alpha said it was a location, then there was no doubt about it. Hopefully, it would lead them to her, because other than tracking a scent, he had no way to locate her. No description or name. He was truly on a wild goose chase—or maybe that should be wild tigress chase. The only thing that might make her scent stand out was fear. If she controlled herself enough to mask that, then he was in dire straits.
Along with the Washington D.C. Tigers, there might be other shifters who had traveled there for vacation, tourism, or just work. Any tigress scent he caught from the location of the transmission might be hers, or it might not be. He could spend the next several hours running down false leads, instead of actually tracking the woman he was after.
He tossed his things into the back and climbed into the driver’s seat. His mind worked through the codes that he’d learned as an assassin, but none of them fit with the last line. It didn’t make sense. He’d studied every code that was out there. He might not know them all, but he knew enough about the different ones to recognize something. This was total gibberish. Where did Ty come up with it? It was just another question that was going to have to wait until his Alpha called him. He’d do his job, and when the Elders had information that would help him, they’d contact him.
He glanced at his watch and noticed it was later than he’d thought. The tourists were already tucked in bed at their hotels for the night, or exploring the nightlife the city had to offer, not down in Foggy Bottom helping her stay hidden. I hope you found somewhere to hide. Stay safe. Help is on the way.
* * *
Darkness had fallen hours before, leaving behind a completely different D.C. than the one Mira remembered from her visit here years ago. It seemed like every bump in the night held danger, and every passerby seemed more sinister now than hours before. Exhaustion had settled into her muscles long ago, but she forced herself to keep going. Someone would come to help her. If she could just hang on a little longer, she’d get out of this nightmare.
The message she’d sent to the forum would lead them to her. Well, not actually to her, but to a location that would hold another message on how to meet her. She needed to get higher, somewhere that would allow her to observe the bench where she’d left the message. If only she knew when they’d arrive. Her visions couldn’t give her useful information like that. All she could see was that help would arrive at that bench sometime when only stars were scattered through the black of the sky. It might be tonight, or tomorrow, or maybe it wouldn’t be for days, but all she could do was wait. There was nowhere she could go. If help didn’t arrive, she was on her own, and she wouldn’t live long alone.
A man with a tuneless whistle was heading in her direction. He didn’t smell like a shifter, but he could be part of a trap. She slinked farther into the alley, hoping to keep her presence a secret. Then she could move on. She fingered the hilt of the knife she’d shoved into the waistband of her jeans. It wouldn’t be enough to stop a shifter, but it might give her a chance to escape.
“Hey, darling.” The guy was heading directly for her now, his words slurred. He reeked of booze. “Whatya doing…in a place like this? You come home with me. I’ve got somewhere warm you can stay. I’ll give you some of this and you’ll never want to leave.” He wiggled his hips, trying to interest her.
He was harmless. The drunk bastard was looking to get laid, but he was barking up the wrong tree. Even if he didn’t reek of booze, and Heaven only knows what else, she didn’t have time to get her groove on with some asshole.
“Thanks for the offer, man, but you go on home. I’m waiting for someone.”
“He won’t be as…good as I am.” But the man staggered farther down the alley, leaving her in peace. “You’ll miss out on something amazing.”
“I’ve no doubt.” To her surprise, she was able to keep the sarcastic tone from her voice. To put distance between her and the drunk, she forced herself from the safety of the alley. She needed to find somewhere else, preferably somewhere where the neighborhood drunks and homeless wouldn’t stumble on her and proposition her again. She didn’t have the energy to waste on whooping their asses.
She wandered around the city for nearly an hour, waiting for the moon to reach the position she’d seen in her vision. After ensuring no one had followed her, she headed to the lookout point of the night. Each night, she’d have to find somewhere else to watch, but tonight she was going to use the rooftop deck of the hotel. Hopefully, they’d come soon, so she wouldn’t have to figure out a place for tomorrow night.
She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and checked around her once again. Looking over her shoulder was getting old. Even if she could smell a shifter, it didn’t mean her former Alpha wouldn’t have sent one of the human members with hitman to track her movements. The Alpha of the Connecticut Tigers was a vindictive man. He was going to see that she paid for her betrayal. To him, there was no greater sin than a clan member not falling in line with his demands. If she hadn’t run, she’d have been tortured for her treachery before he killed her. Her escape bought her time and a quick death if they caught her, but she was hoping for a chance at life.
Please let tonight be the night. Just as someone was leaving the hotel, she came around the corner and caught the door before it could click shut, locking her out. Her timing had been perfect. With a quick glance inside, she didn’t see anyone lurking about. She slipped inside and the warmth against her cold skin sent tiny shocks through her as her body began to adjust to the new temperature.
She took her time climbing each step so she could enjoy the warmth for as long as possible before she had to face the cold again. If she could have rented a room without using a credit card, she would have. One with a view of the bench. Hotels, especially nice ones like this one, always wanted credit cards, so she was out of luck. Instead, she was stuck with the roof access. At least this time of year no one would be up there, and if she managed to stay out of sight of the security cameras, she might be able to remain there without getting caught.
She climbed without pause until she reached the roof. There, she waited outside the door and listened. She used her shifter hearing to ensure no one was waiting on the rooftop terrace. Detecting nothing, she pushed the door opened a couple inches and glanced around, while also taking a deep breath of air to see if she could smell if any shifters had been there. Nothing.
She stepped out into the cold. While she moved toward the chest-high railing, she stayed close to the building and out of the range of the camera. She had already scoped out the location earlier in the day, while others were about and she could blend in like the average hotel guest just out to observe the view. She knew the best spot to watch the location while staying out of view of security.
She crept into place and settled in for a long night. She’d stay until the moon had moved on and the sun would be peaking over the horizon, because by then it would be too late for them to come. If they don’t come…
She tried to push the idea from her thoughts because it would mean another day on her own, scared of her own shadow. She’d never been a fierce tigress, but she wasn’t the type to be pushed around, either. Now, everything seemed sinister. Where had her backbone gone?
You had enough backbone to leave your clan. Her inner voice had been with her all her life, and it was the same one she’d heard in her visions. It was comforting. She wasn’t alone, even though it felt like she was. The voice returned again, and she relaxed. You can get through this. Have faith.
“Tell me your name or I’m not going.” If he didn’t want her to know something as simple as his name, it only made her question what else he was hiding from her.
“Once you know that bit of information, you’ll still claim you won’t be going.”
“Claim?” She didn’t like how he stressed the word, as if he had already considered other ways of getting her on the plane.
“My word is one thing everyone knows I don’t trifle with. If I say I’m going to do something, then consider it done, because the only thing that would stop me is my death. So unless you plan to kill me, you will be on that plane and headed to safety because I vowed to my Elders you would be.”
Fear crept up her spine, drying her mouth, and making her palms sweat. She didn’t like where this was going, but she was going to follow it to the bitter end regardless of the consequences. “I’ll ask you again. What is your name?”
Her legs went limp. If not for his quick reflexes, she’d have been a puddle on the tarmac. “Styx.” His name emerged in a rough whisper. The assassin.