Thursday, January 19, 2017

What A Tiger Wants (Tiger Shifters 8) EXCERPT

Enjoy this excerpt from WHAT A TIGER WANTS (Tiger Shifters 8)

Chapter One

Dmitry Chernikov parked his truck outside his older brother’s cozy house in Eirene, Colorado, opened the driver’s side door and pulled in a deep breath. Pine and snow, rich earth, squirrels, the faint scent of Nick’s diner a short walk away on Main Street, and the definite scents of his brother, his sister-in-law, and—Dom smiled—their five-month-old baby girl.

He climbed out of the truck, stretching sore muscles and savoring the crisp, sharp bite of Colorado in December. The late afternoon sun hung low in the sky. He’d driven for several days to get here, stopping a few times to sleep but otherwise continuing straight through from West Virginia. He’d been spending so damned much time at the elders’ US compound lately, helping his friend Victor Romanov with the compound’s security, he’d barely seen the inside of his own home in Vermont. Not that it had much lure. It was just the building where he stored his stuff.

He looked in the direction of Nick’s diner. Dom’s heart had been in Eirene for a long time…

The door to Nick’s house opened. Dom glanced back to see his older brother framed against a riot of bright, colorful Christmas decorations.

“Tiana says to come inside,” Nick called, “before the ladies get a look at you and invade the house.”

Dom rolled his eyes and snorted softly as he climbed the two wooden steps up to Nick’s front porch. “That would be Mitch causing all the female rioting. How’s Chrissy?”

“Sleeping so keep your voice down. I, on the other hand, haven’t slept in months.”

“You want a nap now?”

“Nah.” Nick grinned. “Just need a little more quiet before the excitement starts again.”

Dom had never seen his brother look so light and happy. Not since they were kids. In fact, Nick hadn’t looked this easy and content since before they’d found their mother’s body when they were both so young.

“What smells like peppermint?” he asked when the faint scent wafted out to him from somewhere close to his brother.

“Nothing,” Nick said. “I don’t know. Maybe Tiana’s hot chocolate. Get inside before we freeze.”

Dom raised his brows at Nick’s weird tone but shrugged it off, figuring the sleep deprivation was getting to him. Dom stomped his boots off on the mat outside the front door—a new addition he attributed to Nick’s wife—and walked into the house, shrugging out of the light jacket he used more as camouflage than for actual warmth.

“Who’s cooking at the diner today?” he asked, then looked into the living room and spotted his sister-in-law. “Tiana. You look beautiful.”

He spoke quietly because she was cradling a sleeping baby across her lap, one hand supporting the now quite large five-month-old and the other holding a tablet. The coffee table had been scooted close to the couch and held a cup of what smelled like mint-flavored hot chocolate.

Dom nodded to the cup. “Guess that is the mint smell.”

Tiana looked past him to Nick with an amused expression Dom couldn’t interpret. When he glanced at Nick, Nick was scowling.

“Hey, Dom,” Tiana greeted, facing him again and smiling. “Come on in and get comfortable. Chrissy should be waking up soon. We weren’t expecting you for a couple more days. I’m surprised Victor let you leave ahead of him.”

The whole extended Chernikov clan was gathering in Eirene for the winter holidays and to celebrate little Chrissy’s five-month birthday. Christina Loban-Chernikov was the first female born into the Chernikov family in more than a century—since Dom’s grandmother, as far as he knew. Which meant Chrissy was going to be extremely spoiled and doted on. The five-month birthday celebration was actually his grandmother, the elder Elizaveta Chernikova’s idea because she wanted another excuse to come visit her great-granddaughter.

“Last I saw,” Dom said, “Alexis was dragging Victor away from his ongoing campaign to keep the security at the compound from ever being compromised again. They’ll fly into Denver at the end of the week.”

“You drove?” Nick asked, motioning Dom into the living room. “Did they have a room for you at the motel or do you need to stay here?”

Dom took a free chair across from the couch so Tiana wouldn’t have to turn too much to talk to him. The chair was large and soft, the light from a huge front window at his back giving the room a warm glow. There was a small fire in the fireplace, but a window somewhere in the back was open to keep the house from getting too warm for their higher tiger shifter metabolisms.

“I checked into the motel before coming here,” Dom said. “And yeah, I drove from West Virginia. I needed the quiet.”

Since he’d started helping Victor with the security at the compound—neglecting his own security business to do it—he’d been surrounded by other tigers almost constantly for months now. He never spent that much time with his own kind. Even his brothers, though they were close and talked a lot. He was, in a lot of ways, a stereotypical tiger—much happier on his own than surrounding by others.
Except, for some reason, here in Eirene he felt comfortable. Not crowded. Never hemmed in. Not even with the place full of other tigers—like it had been for Nick and Tiana’s wedding back in May. Something about the place…

Or maybe it was because she lived here.

He shook off the thought, but it did remind him. “You didn’t answer my question earlier. Who’s watching the diner?”

“That new cook who came into town a few months back. She’s working out really well. Been doing a fine job giving me a little extra time to spend with Tiana and Chrissy.”

“Which means you’ll be buying her her own restaurant soon, then?” Dom asked, not entirely joking. His stoic, grumpy, occasionally broody big brother was a secret philanthropist who kept giving his best cooks money to open their own restaurants in other towns. One, a place in Vail, was starting to get international notice now. All because Nick fronted the owner enough money to open her restaurant.

Nick scowled. Tiana laughed softly. Chrissy snuffled a little in her sleep and rolled closer to Tiana, snuggling against her arm. Tiana smiled down at the baby’s soft, fuzzy head.

“Anyway,” Nick said, “Lulu has the grill, and Jane is minding the front.”

Dom had perfected not reacting to the mention of Nick’s head waitress over the last six years. He kept everything he was feeling neatly tucked under a casual screen of curiosity.

“How’s Jane doing? Ben started college this fall, didn’t he?”

“He did,” Tiana answered. “Jane survived. But barely.” She grinned. “She’s better now, but I think that’s because Ben is home for the winter break.”

“Is he? I’ll have to stop in and say hi.”

“Bet he’d love that,” Tiana said.

“I’m sure Jane will be glad to see you, too,” Nick added without any hint of innuendo.

That didn’t keep Dom from a knee-jerk suspicion that Nick already knew his secret.

Not that it mattered. Jane had made the situation clear when they’d first met, not long after Nick had moved to Eirene and Dom had come for a visit. She wasn’t interested in dating or relationships. She was well and truly done with men. And the woman was just stubborn enough to mean it.

Dom decided thinking about Jane would get him into trouble, so he switched to other topics. “How are things with the wolf pack?” he asked Nick. “They’re okay with another invasion of tigers at the edge of their territory?”

“Since the tigers are coming into my territory, it’s none of their business,” Nick said, his voice just a little deeper than it had been a moment earlier. “Their businesses in town are doing good—especially Siobhan Walsh’s boutique.”


“But there’s infighting.” Nick shrugged. “You know how it is when a new alpha takes over. There can be years of settling out.”

Dom nodded. He knew very little about wolf politics, and cared even less. But the Colorado pack’s territory butted up against Nick’s, close enough to be trouble. Anyone or anything that might cause trouble for either of his brothers was Dom’s business.

“You hungry?” Nick asked. “I’m sure I can whip something up.”

“You’re tired.” Dom waved him away. “For good reason. I’ll go across to the diner, see how good this new cook of yours really is. Before you lose her.” Dom stood and grinned unrepentantly at his brother’s frown.

He crossed to Tiana and kissed her lightly on the head, letting his gaze linger on his new niece. A baby girl in the family. He was still a little stunned by the reality of it. None of the Chernikov brothers thought they’d have kids. He let his hand hover above Chrissy’s soft, sweet-smelling head, afraid if he touched her he’d wake her up, then smiled at Tiana and headed back to the front door.

“You guys rest,” he said, slipping into his coat. “While you can. I’ll be back in a few hour.”

“Say hi to Jane for us,” Tiana said, casually.

“Will do.” He turned toward the door but didn’t miss the look Tiana exchanged with her husband. He just chose to ignore it.
Nick’s diner was a classic, homey place, with tables lined in paper that children could draw on, wooden accents, and a Formica counter with bar stools facing the kitchen, visible through a large order window. It always smelled of delicious food and good, fresh coffee.

The entire town congregated at Nick’s diner to eat and visit. This time of the afternoon, between the dinner and lunch rushes, the place was relatively quiet. Old Charlie Sanchez—an Eirene fixture—sat at the counter regaling a tourist with town “history,” which if Charlie was telling it would be embellished past the point of recognizable fact. Dom caught a few sentences and had to hide his smile—Charlie was telling a story about an ancient mythical beast that had stalked the area at night when Charlie was a kid, the beast preying on the unsuspecting.

If only Charlie knew the diner he sat in was owned by a “mythical beast.”

A handful of other people sat at the tables and booths filling the dining area. Dom recognized a few locals, but the rest were tourists.

He sat at the counter, a few stools down from Charlie and his unwitting victim, and let the feel of the place settle into his bones. More than most anywhere Dom had ever been, the diner felt like home.
Though he tried not to make it obvious, Dom watched for Jane, carefully pulling in the various scents of the place, looking for hers… And there it was, under the perpetual coffee and grease smell, under the more pervasive, territorial scent of Nick and Tiana, the very faint touch of Jane’s human, earthy, pine and fresh grass scent.

As if taking in her essence called her, Jane came out of the kitchen carrying a tray with two plates of sandwiches and fries. She was dressed in her work uniform—a pair of snug-fitting, low-rise jeans that always did amazing things to her ass, a light blue polyester shirt that should not have been sexy but somehow was because it hugged her glorious curves, and a short apron where she stored her pen and order book. Her thick, dark brown hair was pulled up into a bun, but tendrils of springy curls had escaped to frame her face, highlighting her high cheekbones. Her dark eyes were framed by thick lashes. Her full lips, as always, looked lush and kissable.

His heartbeat thudded hard and he flexed his hands against the counter, working to control the instant hit of lust.

She spotted him and nodded, smiling faintly as she carried the tray to a couple obviously in Colorado for the skiing.

“Be right with you, Dom,” she said in passing.

He returned her nod of greeting and remained casually seated at the counter, not following her with his gaze, not straining to hear her speaking to the customers…and impressed he managed that much. He hadn’t seen her since Nick and Tiana’s big wedding bash in May, which wasn’t unusual. He made an effort to go as long as he could without seeing her. Somehow he was always drawn back to Eirene, to Jane, and to the certain and hopeless knowledge that she refused to admit to the attraction between them.

He smiled in greeting when she rounded the counter, keeping the barrier between them, and stopped to pour him a coffee.

“How did you know?” he asked.

“Everyone needs coffee or tea at this time of the afternoon.”

She looked up from the cup to grin, the expression crinkling the corners of her eyes in that way he adored. He wrapped his hands around the mug to keep from reaching for her.

“When did you arrive?” she asked.

“Half hour ago. Chrissy is napping so I thought I’d get some food. And try out this new cook Nick’s hired.”

“You’re gonna be impressed. She’s almost as good as Nick. What’ll you have?”

You. Aloud, he said, “What’s best?”

She narrowed her eyes at him, her mouth pursed as she considered. The expression drew his attention to her mouth and he almost groaned aloud. He loved her mouth. She had such perfect heart-shaped lips, and all he could think about in that moment was pulling her into his arms and kissing her hard.

“Think you’ll love the fajita sandwich,” she finally said.

He blinked and focused on her eyes. Which didn’t actually help the erotic fantasies his imagination was torturing him with.

“It’s one of Lulu’s specialties,” she added. “Be right back.” She paused on her way into the kitchen, looking over her shoulder at him. “It’s good seeing you again, Dom. Always nice to have you back in town.”

He didn’t let the pain show in his expression, but he was grateful Nick wasn’t around because Dom’s scent filled with a longing he knew was pointless. He should have stayed away, despite his grandmother’s insistence that everyone be here. He really needed to keep as far from Jane as he could get. For his own mental well-being. She didn’t want him, or any man for that matter—a small mercy—and she’d made it clear years ago that she wasn’t ever going to change her mind.

The worst of it was, she was attracted to him. He caught delicious, tempting hints of it in her scent, and tormented himself by memorizing those elusive flavors of spice and want. If she hadn’t revealed that much to him, if his tiger could just be convinced there was no hope, Dom was pretty sure he’d have been over this obsession by now.

His heart thumped harder when she came back out of the kitchen and he sighed quietly. Well, maybe not exactly over the obsession. But at least there wouldn’t be even a hint of hope in his soul. There wouldn’t be this nagging sense that maybe, just maybe she’d change her mind.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

To Catch A Tiger (Tiger Shifters 7) EXCERPT

Enjoy this excerpt from TO CATCH A TIGER (Tiger Shifters 7)

Chapter One

Dr. Ryan Yin stared at the prone forms of the two tiger shifter females, so stunned he couldn’t speak.

The small, rectangular room Gregory had led him to was only just wide enough to leave a walking space between the two single beds, each bed holding one woman. The one on the left, a dark-haired, dark-eyed woman, wore black dress slacks and a cream-colored button up shirt that made her look like she’d just come from work, except her clothes were wrinkled and dirty. The blond-haired woman on the bed to the right wore brightly patterned yoga pants and a light blue tank top. Neither had shoes on, and their hair was mussed and tangled against the pillows.

The room’s plain white walls, the white sheets on the beds, and the lack of any other furniture served as a starkly simple background to the horrific sight of the two captives. Their eyes were wide and they were conscious, but neither moved as he and Gregory stood staring at them, not so much as a muscle twitch or change of expression.

The stench of their fear and anger was so thick in the air, Ryan could almost see it. The flavors of their terror, like spoiled fruit, coated his tongue and made him want to gag.

Over the last three weeks…actually it must be closer to four weeks now, three tiger shifter females had gone missing.

This was not where Ryan expected to find them.

“Make sure they don’t die, doctor,” Gregory said.

He stood just behind Ryan, at his shoulder. His proximity made the fine hairs on the back of Ryan’s neck stand up.

“What…?” Ryan had to swallow and start again. “What are they doing here? What have you given them?”

“Just look after them. Make sure they keep breathing. And everything will be fine.”

Ryan dragged his gaze from the women to stare at Gregory. The tall, young male, with his dark hair and eyes, might have been a handsome shifter if it weren’t for the stench of crazy surrounding him.

A little less than a year ago, Gregory had started gathering young male tiger shifters to him, making promises about mates and new laws. The rhetoric appealed to many males, and Gregory had raised a small army in that period of time. Most of them even ignored the fact that Gregory had very little acquaintance with sanity. He said what they wanted to hear, so they followed him. Even when he started talking rebellion.

Until now, though, Gregory had carefully remained within the rules of tiger shifter society. Ryan had been sent into the group to watch for any breach of the law, any excuse to take Gregory down. Yet for all Gregory’s talk, he hadn’t done anything outright that could get him or his group arrested and locked up.

But this…kidnapping tiger shifter females…this broke so many laws, it guaranteed a death sentence. For Gregory’s entire group.

Ryan took a calming breath. Then he said in as level a tone as he could manage, “What have you given them?”

He forced down all the anger and horror clogging his throat. The women needed him alive. If he pissed Gregory off, he ran a good risk of getting himself killed before he could do anything to help them. And if the crazy bastard had taken all three of the missing females, then there was still one more out there somewhere. She’d need Ryan’s help, too.

Gregory tilted his head to one side and stared for a long moment. The stench of his crazy washed over Ryan, an almost chemical smell mixed with a sickly sweet scent like rotting leaves on a forest floor, but Ryan had gotten used to that smell in the last nine months and ignored it. How the other young tigers could, he didn’t know. The smell had become more pronounced since Ryan had first met Gregory. It was like a dark miasma of fog around the male now, not just an underlying strangeness in his scent signature.

“The drug is new,” Gregory finally said. “There’s no name for it.”

“Where did you get it?”

“You’ll find this ironic, doctor. I got it from that human serial killer who tried to murder your sister all those years ago.”

Ryan blinked very slowly, sure he’d misheard. The serial killer—Bradley Williams—had tortured and murder a tiger shifter female eleven years ago. He’d used a drug on her to keep her contained, immobile but able to feel. The woman, Su-jin Lee-Bennett, had been Ryan’s sister’s best friend, and in her need for revenge, his sister had come close to getting killed, too.

Hiding his emotions was significantly harder as he asked, “Why?”

“Why did I deal with a tiger killer?” Gregory asked.

“That. And why have you used that drug on our own?”

“Williams was a pawn. Convenient. He’s improved his drug, you know. Less is required to keep them from moving.”

“Williams killed one of our people. A female. How could you have anything to do with him?”

“He was the only one with the drug. I couldn’t get access to the lab where that bitch elder Elizaveta keeps the old version.”

“Again, I will ask, why have you drugged and kidnapped tiger shifter females?”

“Do you really have to ask?” Gregory tisked and shook his head. “Doctor, doctor, doctor. What do you think we’ve been aiming for all this time?”

“Mates. Voluntary mates. Not…” He gestured to the two women. “Not kidnapping and rape.”

“They’ll be willing. Eventually. Just make sure they don’t die.”

Gregory walked out of the small room without looking back.

One of the two males standing guard beyond the door closed it after Gregory, and a lock clicked loudly into place.

Ryan felt ill. His stomach rolled in violent waves and for a heartbeat, he thought he might actually throw up. He’d made it all the way through medical school and a tough residency without once losing his lunch. Or control of his tiger nature for that matter. But this…

He knelt by the woman on the bed to his left. Her eyes were open and she tracked his movements with her gaze, but she didn’t so much as twitch a muscle otherwise. She was conscious, but obviously couldn’t move. Since the drug was an improved version from the one used by the serial killer, it likely worked just as it had on Su-jin—which meant that even though this woman was immobile, she could probably feel everything done to her.

“Sonofabitch,” he murmured, too quietly for the tiger guards outside the door to hear. They were loyal to Gregory in every way. If they knew what Ryan was thinking in that moment, even a little bit, they’d drag him out of here and execute him.

“I’m a medical doctor,” he said to the woman, holding his hands up so she could see them. “I need to examine you. Please try to relax. I will be as quick as possible.”

He took her pulse, checked her pupils, did a cursory exam of her limbs and body, making sure his touch was clinical and impersonal. His skin crawled from the vulnerability of the two women, and his tiger’s anger was turning his vision red. His rage spiked when he moved to the second woman. Her eyes were closed now, and her pulse was thready. She was barely breathing.

“Fuck.” He hurried to the closed door and pounded on the steel-covered oak.

One of the guards opened the door and stared at him without comment. Ryan knew the man, but not well. His name was Harlon…something. He’d joined Gregory’s group about three months ago. He was a huge male, strong and fierce in a fight. Gregory had not only taken Harlon into his fold, he’d given him a place of “honor” as one of his closest guards.

“I need my medical gear,” Ryan said, using every ounce of arrogant cockiness expected of a surgeon.

When they’d dragged him from his home in Boston, blindfolded, ears blocked, and a disgusting smelling rag over his nose to keep him from being able to track where they took him, they’d been smart enough to bring his large medical kit. It was the one thing in all this he was grateful for. He had emergency oxygen and, if necessary, a portable defibrillator. Those would help him keep the women alive. He hoped. He had to keep the unconscious woman breathing and her heart going long enough for the fucking drug to wear off.

The door closed in his face, but it wasn’t soundproofed so he heard Harlon order the other male—another relatively new member of the group whose name Ryan couldn’t remember—to get the medical kit. At least that was something.

Ryan returned to the woman who was in the most trouble. He knelt by her bed, held her wrist in one hand to monitor the fluttering of her pulse, and kept an eye on her breathing, preparing to start CPR if necessary.

“What the fuck were they thinking?” he muttered.

The first woman he’d examined twitched, her fingers moving against the mattress. That small movement made his heart thump harder. The drug was wearing off, thank god.

At least he hoped her twitch was a good sign. He had no idea how long the women had been with Gregory, or how much of the drug they’d been given. If these were the same tigresses who’d been taken over the last three or four weeks…

Damn it, how were they even still alive?

In a barely audible whisper, he said, “Keep fighting it. You’re almost free. Of the drug at least.”

He glanced at the locked door. They were seriously outnumbered at the moment. Even if she fully recovered, he didn’t have much hope of getting the women away from here yet.

Especially since he had no idea where here was.

The young males who’d escorted him here had ensured his shifter senses were blocked. They’d driven for what felt like days, based on his hunger and need to sleep and pee. Then they’d shoved him into some sort of aircraft and flown for what had seemed like several hours. From the muted sound he felt through his body more than heard, he was pretty sure they’d been in a helicopter, but he couldn’t be sure of that.

Between the days of driving and the flight, he could literally be anywhere in North or Central America right now. Maybe even South America. He thought they hadn’t crossed any major oceans, but even that was mostly a guess. They’d done too good a job screwing with his tiger senses, and they’d left him disoriented for so long he was still recovering from it. The inside of the building didn’t give him any clues either because they hadn’t removed any of the blocks until he was just outside the door to the small room where the women were being held.

Gregory had never fully trusted him, but he had accepted Ryan as one of his disciples. The fact that he’d gone to so much trouble to ensure Ryan didn’t know where they were couldn’t be a good sign.

He couldn’t worry about that now. First he had to make sure both women survived the drug. He had to find out where the third was. Then he’d have to find a way to get them all out of here. Before anything worse happened.

By the time the guard entered with Ryan’s equipment, the first female was flexing her fist. She stilled the minute the door opened, and Ryan had to hide his smile. Smart. The guard set the heavy box next to Ryan where he knelt on the ground between the two beds, then left again without a word, locking the door behind him.

The first female went back to flexing her fist. Her arm twitched a few times and one foot jerked.

“Keep fighting,” Ryan said under his breath as he opened the large, plastic orange box that held his emergency gear.

He snapped on a pair of gloves, then pulled out the oxygen canister, inspecting it for possible damage before assembling and testing the valves and oxygen stream through the face mask, and then he placed the mask over the unconscious woman’s mouth and nose, ensuring an appropriate flow rate. He got the pulse oximeter out, checked to make sure the woman didn’t have nail polish on her finger or anything else that might inhibit the readings, then gently inserted her first finger into the small clip-like device to monitor the percentage of oxygen saturation in her blood. Tiger hemoglobin levels were different than humans and his pulse oximeter was designed for humans, but it at least gave him an idea of how much oxygen was moving through her veins. Next, he took out his stethoscope and listened to her heartbeat. Slow, but as he counted, he was relieved to discover it was steady.

He turned back to the first woman. Her jaw was tight now, her head tilted back just a little.

He moved so he would be in her line of sight and said, “I’m going to check your heartbeat.”

He held up the stethoscope so she could see it. To his surprise, she gave a slight head nod.

When he was sure her heart wasn’t going to explode, he settled back on his haunches and breathed. “You’ll be okay soon.” I hope. “Try to stay calm as you come out of the drug. I don’t know what kind of after-effects it’ll have.”

As far as Ryan knew, Williams had only ever used the drug on victims he killed so he hadn’t particularly cared about residual after-effects.

Ryan glanced at the door. Then next to the woman’s ear he said, “The longer we keep the guards from realizing you’re recovered, the better.”

She blinked and he took the gesture as a sign that she understood.

Damn Gregory for using something like this on their own people. What the hell had the crazy bastard been thinking? Female tiger shifters were so rare now, every single one was important. Killing one, even accidentally, wasn’t just a horrific crime against the woman, it was a crime against their entire species.

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