Enjoy this excerpt from DOWN WILL COME TIGER (Tiger Shifters 6) out now!
The ambulance had driven away from the estate two hours ago. Joseph Bennett watched from his perch in a tree outside the massive security walls as the vehicle left silently. He hadn’t been close enough to catch a scent, so he wasn’t sure which of the estate’s occupants had been inside, if any. Given the size of the staff in the mansion, it could have been anyone.
Now, hours later, he continued to study the distant lights of the main house, wondering.
He pulled in a deep breath, taking in the night scents, the green taste of the coming spring mixing with the cold remains of winter, manicured grass and damp soil, the distant chlorine tang from the estate’s swimming pool, the even more distant fresh water bite of the river. He released his breath slowly, carefully.
He wasn’t sure whether to hope Bradley Williams was still inside or not.
Rather than decide, he watched the estate and waited for a sign of the human man he wanted to kill more than he wanted anything else in the world.
He had tonight, tomorrow night, maybe the night after before Victor Romanov, his former boss and best friend, tracked him down and forced him away from Bradley. Again.
He was tempted, not for the first time, to kill Victor and get him out of the way. He wasn’t sure why he never went through with it. Maybe the fact that Victor’s wife Alexis might get to him before he could get to Bradley?
It was as good an explanation as any.
As he contemplated a way to get through the various security alarms and close to the house, a movement across the huge expanse of lawn caught his attention. The Williams didn’t keep deer on their property and that figure was too large to be a dog. He scented the air, then lifted his eyebrows.
Paige Williams. Oldest daughter of Carmen Williams. Stepdaughter to Duke Williams. Half sister to Bradley Williams.
Years of stalking Bradley meant Joseph was well acquainted with who she was, at least in general. She was a weak human, always deferring to her father, avoiding eye contact in public, staying away from attention or notice. He’d seen the video of her attending her brother’s trial for attempted kidnapping ten years ago—Joseph had been in confinement at the time or he’d have gone to the courthouse in person to murder the man. Paige had looked…bland and timid.
Since then, he’d barely caught glimpses of her, as when she did leave the estate it was usually in a limo with black windows, going to her father’s Philadelphia office where she ran a charitable something-or-other. He’d never cared enough to find out the details. He knew, in all the times he’d sat in this very tree, watching this estate, he’d never seen Paige Williams take a walk through the grounds. Especially not at three in the morning.
Even from this distance, he could see she had her arms wrapped tightly around her body, her head down. A dark hat covered her pale blond hair. Her clothes were loose and dark, too, not really hinting at a figure, and she wasn’t wearing a coat, though it was March and still too cold for a human to be out without one.
She was heading right for him, and the small pedestrian gate in the wall not far from his tree perch. He watched her approach, her scent carried to him on the wind. His eyes narrowed.
Paige Williams tightened her arms around her stomach, hugging herself against the cold she didn’t really feel. Her body was numb even as her brain exploded with so much chaos she couldn’t think.
She reached the pedestrian gate in the northern part of the wall near the main road without realizing she’d walked that far. Keying in the alarm code, she pushed open the steel door and stepped out onto the grassy shoulder lining the road, making sure the door closed behind her out of habit more than conscious thought. Once beyond the walls of her prison, she just stood there, staring into the dark.
What now? What did she think this would do for her?
Pulling in a deep gulp of cold air, she let the night scents and sounds wash through her as she closed her eyes and tried with everything she had not to think.
She frowned when a slight shiver moved down her spine, an awareness of…something. Not like the feeling she got when she knew her brother was watching her, smirking at her, or when her stepfather was around. At those times, the hair on her nape rose and her shoulders hunched under the ever-looming sense of threat and judgment from the men in her life.
This was different. She didn’t actually have any emotional response to the sensation, just a vague sort of awareness of… She didn’t know how to explain it, though this wasn’t the first time she’d felt it. If not for having experienced the sensation before, she might have wondered if it was her mother’s ghost.
Did ghosts come back to haunt you only hours after dying?
She snorted at the idea. She couldn’t imagine her mother pulling together the psychic strength to haunt anyone anyway.
Glancing around the quiet road, Paige wondered if maybe after all these years she really was going crazy, if the stress of her life, of hiding in plain sight from her family, had finally broken her. Shouldn’t she feel something about the death of her mother? Shouldn’t she hurt?
Should relief really be the only sensation coursing through her blood?
She growled at nothing and started to walk. She’d only gone a few hundred yards before she turned back. She reached the pedestrian gate, put her hand to the alarm panel, cursed, and stalked away again. She didn’t want to go back inside. She didn’t want to be in that house, that prison, where her mother had died and her stepfather greeted the news with a raised brow and a snort of disgust. Where her half brother barely paused to hear the news before shrugging and continuing on to his wing of the house.
Paige had spent years, years, inside that mansion, playing a part, keeping everything she felt, everything she knew buried deep in her heart where no one could see. For her mother’s sake.
Because despite everything, Carmen Williams had loved her children. Bradley didn’t deserve it, but then their mother didn’t really know the truth about the creature she’d given birth to, and given everything else Carmen had gone through in her sad life, Paige was grateful for that. She’d actively worked to keep her own knowledge of Bradley away from their mother.
It was one of the very few kindnesses she’d been able to give Carmen.
Now her mother was dead.
Paige stopped where the estate wall veered away from the road and stared into the darkness. Her mother was gone. There was no longer a reason to hide.
She’d squirrelled away resources and money, things neither her brother nor stepfather knew about. She could just…go. Now. Leave everything behind and go.
The relief at that thought almost dropped her to her knees. She actually had to lean against a tree skirting the road to keep from falling. No more judgmental stepfather, no more psychotic brother. No more pretending to be as weak and malleable as her mother.
Her heart pounded hard as the chaos churning through her mind quieted and the clarity of a possible future descended. A vision of hope she hadn’t dared consider, even as she’d planned for it.
She was so caught up in the thought of just…going, she didn’t recognize when that awareness of something she could never pinpoint got stronger. But her instincts had been honed on the stone wheel of years of living as potential prey to the predatory men in her life. So she was already turning, preparing to scream and fight and run, when she heard the very slight sound of shoes shuffling over grass.
The scream building in her throat caught at the sight of the stranger. His features were impossible to discern in the darkness, though she had excellent night vision, but his face seemed full of shadows and sharp edges. He was considerably taller and wider than her. His hand were at his sides, loose and weaponless. He wore a black hoodie and jeans, dark enough that he blended with the background, and somewhat to her surprise, she lost sight of him once or twice even though he didn’t move.
It was his stillness that really struck her. He didn’t even seem to be breathing.
She swallowed to wet a dry throat and considered questioning him, but she was afraid to end the standoff, afraid if she said anything at all, it would break him out of his stillness. She was almost positive that once this man went into motion, there would be no stopping him.
And because she’d lived in the same house with a killer for most of her life, she recognized another one when she saw him.
He spoke, shattering the tense silence. “It’s late. You shouldn’t be out here alone.”
His voice was husky and deep, rough like he didn’t use it much, and completely emotionless. He might as well have asked what time it was or noted that the grass was green. She couldn’t tell if he’d intended his comment to be a warning or a threat. Or simply a statement like the sky is blue.
She pulled herself up to her full height—which wasn’t very impressive—and tried to put on the privileged, icy aura she adopted when all else failed. She infused prim frost into her tone, something her stepfather had forced her to learn, when she said, “And you would be?”
He tilted his head to one side as he considered her. “Roses,” he murmured.
He said it so quietly she suspected she wasn’t supposed to hear his comment. Or maybe he just didn’t realize he’d spoken aloud.
“Are you going to answer my question or should I call the police?” she asked, still in that same clipped tone.
“You don’t have a phone with you.”
She blinked. He couldn’t possibly know that. She had left her cell behind on purpose, but she was wearing loose clothing with pockets. She could easily have it.
To make her point, she reached into her pocket, pretending to grip a phone that wasn’t there. “I will call the cops, whoever you are. I suggest you leave.”
“Who was in the ambulance?”
Again, surprise made her blink. “You’ve been watching my home? Are you a paparazzi? I assure you, there’s no story here.”
His shoulders moved, just a little, not a threat but…a gesture she couldn’t interpret.
“Who was in the ambulance?” he asked again.
She pursed her lips. He didn’t have an obvious camera on him so he wasn’t likely someone out for gossip. He felt too dangerous, too intense, for a paparazzo anyway. And there was that stillness, that emotionlessness in his voice.
For some reason, the mere fact that he didn’t seem to care about this conversation much one way or the other made her feel better. She shrugged and answered honestly. “My mother.”
His head moved just slightly, maybe a nod of acknowledgement at the news. She waited for him to offer the expected condolences. But the silence stretched on. He didn’t say or do anything beyond that almost nod.
She held his intense stare, easier because she couldn’t actually see his eyes, just the shadowed area where his eyes were on his face.
“Are you sad?” he finally asked.
“Of course,” she snapped. “What a stupid question.” She realized she’d dropped her guard and instantly put the wall back up.
But for the first time since confronting him, she saw something almost like an expression move across his face—one corner of his mouth lifted fractionally. It might have been a smile, though it could also just as easily have been a facial tic since in the next moment his mouth was flat and emotionless again.