Enjoy this excerpt from TAMING HER TIGER (Tiger Shifters 9)
Amy Donovan hurried up the wooden stairs to the fifth floor of the Brooklyn art studio, out of breath and trying not to panic about being late. Damned weekend subways. She cleared the huge, rolling steel doors and stepped into the brightly lit, high-ceilinged loft, winter sun pouring in from the wall of windows opposite her. The gray sunlight was augmented by the overhead lights, reflecting off the scuffed pale wood floors and bright white walls.
She sighed in relief when she saw the open session hadn’t started yet.
The familiar smells of the art studio—paint, solvent, charcoal, paper, and canvas—filled Amy with that sense of belonging, settling into her bones. The familiarity helped slow her racing, panicky heartbeat as she made her way across the room to a free space. Easels, chairs, and tables were already arranged in a rough semi-circle around a central model platform, the piles of pillows in the middle of the platform were draped in neutral, tan sheets. A dozen artists, the monitor, and the model coordinator all hovered around the room. A few people stood in small groups, chatting and drinking take-away cups of coffee and tea. Others were already at chairs or easels, setting out their materials or flicking through their sketch books.
She waved at acquaintances and other studio members as she wove past a section of seats to her easel. This was the final long-pose session of a four-week cycle, her last opportunity to have the figure model in front of her while she finished her oil painting.
Thoughts of said model scattered her focus and she nearly tripped over someone’s bag. Apologizing, she hurried to her spot, pushing the momentary lapse aside. She was a professional; this was a professional setting. She refused to entertain the strong feelings and longings she’d experienced when Ethan Gupta had first taken the dais three weeks ago.
It hadn’t exactly been a sexual reaction, though that was part of it. She’d done so many life drawing sessions over the years, she didn’t really view the nude models that way—she saw lines, shadows, proportion, perspective, angles, and light contrasts. Or at least she had before Ethan.
But her reaction to him had been a lot more than just the sexual punch of seeing a man as beautifully masculine and perfect as Ethan was in real life. It was more stunned shock, a realization that she was staring at an actual muse. Her brain had exploded with images, colors, a longing to capture…something. Him.
She didn’t believe in muses, exactly. Not in the mythical sense of the word. She knew a good figure model could inspire and energize her and her art. She’d had the experience on numerous occasions. But with Ethan, everything was different. More instant, more overwhelming, more…vivid.
That first time, she’d even sensed him before he’d come into the room, as if he projected an aura of creative inspiration she could feel along the length of her spine without having to look at him. The fact that she could sense him now, even though she couldn’t see him, even though she knew the feeling was just a figment of her imagination, left her edgy and anxious.
After that first three-hour session, she found herself counting the days until the next one, and the one after that. Yet a part of her also dreaded each session, dreaded that sense of being overwhelmed and awed. The sense that her skills would never be good enough to capture the purity of the inspiration he offered.
Settling into the area she’d used for the last three sessions, she focused on putting out her supplies, collecting her canvas from one of the storage lockers provided to regular members, organizing her brushes, setting up her palette, studying her progress on her painting, determining where she needed to make adjustments and what she’d need to do to get the work done today…
One of her dearest friends, Reese Jordan, sat down next to her in a place already set up and ready for the session to start. Reese was a superbly talented sketch artist, oil painter, and sometimes sculptor. He was also the person who’d originally directed Amy to this studio and encouraged her to become a member. They’d known each other since Amy had come back to the art world two years earlier, and now she couldn’t imagine her life without him. At forty-three, Reese tended to treat her like a little sister, and he’d become the big brother as well as the art mentor Amy had never had.
He kissed her cheek. “I thought you were going to miss the class.”
“Subways,” she growled, making him grin.
On her other side, Devine, artist, gallery manager, and another of Amy’s good friends, settled into her station, rubbing Amy’s arm by way of hello. Despite being in her mid-thirties, Devine was ageless, with flawless, smooth skin, hair that changed colors and cut frequently—that week it was a beautiful pale lavender shaped to imitate a 1950s flip—and blue eyes she accented with perfectly penciled black liner drawn to make her eyes look tilted and cat-like. She’d confided to Amy once that her ever-changing look was designed to appeal to her clients because they expected artists to be eccentric and “artsy.” Devine ran a gallery in Soho that catered to art collectors of the rich-but-not-very-knowledgeable type. She could sell sand in the desert and ice in the arctic.
And for reasons Amy had never figured out, Devine kept encouraging Amy to take her art more seriously, turn it into an actual career. Despite Amy’s insistence that it wouldn’t happen anytime soon. Her refusal to accept the possibility of art as a career had never deterred Devine from nagging her about it.
Before Amy could say more than hello, the shuffling, shifting sounds of people settling into their seats distracted her. She looked past Devine…in time to see Ethan step out of the bathroom at the rear of the studio, near the storage lockers and slop sinks. He’d changed out of his street clothes and into his simple dark blue robe, a color that did fantastic things to his wavy dark hair and eyes. He paused at the back of the room to chat with the coordinator and monitor, smiling and relaxed.
Amy caught herself staring, her gaze drawn to the perfect shape of his mouth, the solid line of his jaw, the way his hair curled around his ear. She blinked a few times, trying in vain to look away. She felt like such a fool, such a cliché, becoming obsessed with a model. But once he came into the room, she had trouble concentrating on anything else. To her embarrassment, he glanced up and caught her staring. His soft smile and nod of greeting only humiliated her more. She nodded back and turned to face her canvas, heat crawling along her skin and making her scalp prickle. He wasn’t on the dais yet. He wasn’t hers to study. He was a skilled human being who deserved her respect and admiration—not her obsessive ogling.
“He’s magnetic, isn’t he?” Reese leaned closer and said. “I can’t stop watching him either.”
His voice was quiet, but Amy still looked around to see who might overhear them.
“He’s just so damned good at holding these long poses and still being…present, isn’t he?” Devine said. “It’s like watching performance art every time he hits the platform.”
“I keep forgetting I’m supposed to draw and not just stare,” Reese said, chuckling. “If I don’t sell this piece, the world has no taste whatsoever.”
Amy smiled at that. Reese’s oil paintings and charcoal sketches were displayed in galleries across Manhattan and Brooklyn. He was one of the most gifted artists she’d ever encountered, and his work sold regularly even in the competitive New York market.
“The world doesn’t have taste, darling,” Devine said. “That’s why I have a job.”
Reese snorted. “And we’re all very grateful for the job you do.”
Devine nodded at Amy’s unfinished painting. “That’ll be worthy of sale, too, when you’re done.”
Amy stared at the canvas, at the way Ethan occupied the scene she’d built around him, the long, muscled lines of his body draped across the pillows like an ancient god. “Maybe,” she said noncommittally. More than her resistance to considering art as a profession, the thought of parting with this particular painting actually caused something tight and painful to collect in her chest.
The final shuffling and noise of preparation settled and silence descended around the room as Ethan stepped up to the platform and dropped his robe.
Ethan settled onto the pillows, using the tape set down by the moderator after the last session to resume the exact position he’d held for the last month. The pose was comfortable, his upper body resting against the piled pillows, one knee bent and one arm resting on that knee. He could recline like this for the thirty-minute period without it hurting too much and without drifting off to sleep.
He concentrated on his own body, putting himself in exactly the same angles as the weeks before. Keeping his mind off the beautiful artist just to his right.
She caused him more difficulty than he’d ever had during a life drawing class. Usually, he let his mind drift into a zone that embodied the pose, managing to remain present without focusing on any of the artists around him. But an awareness of Amy kept him on edge the entire time. He’d been hyper attuned to her for the last four weeks, and it was all he could do to keep his body from showing just how much he wanted her.
After seeing her, catching her scent at the first session, he’d very nearly backed out of this job. It wouldn’t have done his reputation in the art world any good, but for the sake of self-preservation, he’d almost made the sacrifice. Only a keen sense of wanting to finish what he’d started kept him coming back. That and sheer, stubborn pride.
By the end of the first session, he’d managed to convince himself that his reaction was just because Amy bore a resemblance to a woman Ethan didn’t want to remember. The thick dark hair, the blue eyes, the pale skin were superficially the same as Siya’s. Amy’s hair was curly where Siya’s had been straight. Amy was a little taller and curvier than Siya. But the similarities in appearance were hard to ignore. And they made a great excuse for dismissing his reaction to Amy. Nothing he had to worry about. He’d be over that superficial attraction by the time he saw her again.
Unfortunately, when he’d shown up for the second session, he’d had to admit he wasn’t just struck by Amy’s beauty. She drew him the way a magnet pulled metal. He found himself overly focused on her, aware of where she was even when he couldn’t see her, conscious of the subtle shifts in her scent—honeysuckle and art studio and woman. A combination that set his blood on fire.
He’d had a very similar reaction to Siya. And that was the real danger.
He hadn’t had that kind of reaction to any other woman before or since—until Amy. It felt a little like obsession, impossible to control, overwhelming and consuming. Like being around Amy was as necessary as his next breath. He hated that feeling more than just about anything he’d ever experienced before. The same kind of preoccupation with Siya had almost gotten him killed. He could not do that again. He’d come to New York to escape the memory of Siya and what she’d done to him. He’d refused to have anything to do with the tiger shifter world, outside of his immediate family, after that.
Amy was human, which should have made her safe. But she called to his tiger so strongly it reminded him of being around a tigress. Which meant he should avoid Amy Donovan at all costs.
And yet, he couldn’t bring himself to cancel the remaining two sessions. He was a professional, it was just once a week for a few hours, and for the most part, Amy seemed intent on avoiding him. He assured himself all of that would make it easier, and he wouldn’t have to sacrifice his reputation just to avoid a human woman who didn’t seem particularly interested in interacting with him anyway.
Unfortunately, his keen sense of smell picked up her attraction, the spice of desire in her scent, the way it enhanced the womanly musk that was part of her essence. He wanted to disregard that flavor, to pretend he didn’t know she wanted him, too. She never showed any signs of acting on the chemistry and lust. He didn’t have to act on those feelings either.
But his tiger saw her resistance to her own desire as a challenge—a challenge that was impossible to ignore. So hard he’d found himself walking past her during each break at the third session, making excuses to exchange small talk with her, to pass a comment on the progress of her painting. Despite his efforts to resist, he still pulled in her scent, holding his breath to keep the flavors on his tongue as long as possible, savoring the complexity. And more often than he cared to admit, his mind wandered to more erotic thoughts, musings that had been invading his dreams during the intervening week. What her skin might taste like, feel like, what she’d look like stripped out of the loose jeans and t-shirt she always wore to the studio, what she’d look like in the throes of orgasm…
Those thoughts during a nude session were not good. The entire room would notice his erection, which wasn’t exactly the look he was going for with this pose. It happened to male models sometimes, and artists generally ignored it. But as a tiger shifter, Ethan rarely noticed being nude and never had trouble controlling his body while he was. He’d spent his life taking his clothes off in front of other shifters so he could let his tiger out. Unlike most humans, Ethan was as comfortable without clothes as he was with them.
Except with Amy Donovan in the room.
Even now, during what was thankfully the last session of the four-week cycle, it took a concerted effort on his part not to let his awareness of Amy show. The room was mostly silent except for the sounds of brushes lapping over canvas and pencils scraping across paper, or the occasional groan of a seat as someone adjusted their position. His pose kept his focus on a point in the room where the steel frame around one window butted up against the white wall, so he only caught glimpses of Amy from the corner of his eye. If he didn’t focus on it, her scent blended in with all the other smells in the large, open space, just one more part of the complex essence of an art studio.
But even without trying, he still ended up parsing her scent out from the more complicated background. And her lust was there, tamped down by her concentration but still there, heady and rich…and tempting.
If it wasn’t so quiet in the room, he might have groaned out loud.
This was the last session, he reminded himself. After this, he wouldn’t see her again, and he’d go back to living his life without this preoccupation. He couldn’t afford to lose his heart and soul to a woman again. In fact, he wasn’t sure how much he had left to lose after the damage Siya had done. Amy called to that part of him, and he just couldn’t give in to the desire and risk any more pain. So lust or no lust, Amy Donovan was off limits.
At the first break, he donned his robe and made a circuit of the room, stretching and loosening muscles that had gotten stiff over the last half hour. Some of the artists stopped him to make small talk. One or two gave him their cards, offering the possibility of future work. He managed to keep his distance from Amy, but only barely. His tiger kept urging him to walk past her, test her reaction to him, see if he could make her desire overcome her focus on her painting…
His focus on keeping Amy at a distance while still being utterly aware of her was his excuse for missing the feel of another tiger shifter nearby.
He frowned and glanced at the huge windows. What the hell was another tiger doing in this area?
Settling back onto the dais, Ethan opened his senses to that other shifter, trying to get a sense of who it was.
There were two other males in the city. When Ethan had moved here, they’d met to set up territorial boundaries which would allow them to remain neighbors without conflict. Of necessity, they did occasionally have to move through each other’s territories, but those incursions were overlooked if they didn’t last long or happen too frequently. Ethan specifically chose modelling jobs that avoided the other males’ territories—usually in places that were neutral. His freelance work as a tax accountant rarely brought him into contact with the others either.
He’d never sensed one of the other New York males nearby during his previous sessions here, but he supposed it wasn’t out of the question for one to have come into Brooklyn for personal reasons. This was neutral ground, so there was no reason for one of the other males to avoid the area. And being New York, tiger shifters from other places did make their way into and through the city on business, travel, or just as tourists. But this area of Brooklyn wasn’t on the typical tourist routes, and it was a Sunday afternoon, so there shouldn’t be a lot of reason for a tiger to be here for business.
Despite his senses being fully open, the other shifter remained just at the edges of his awareness, too far to give Ethan much information. He couldn’t even be sure if the tiger was male or female. He kept his attention on the shifter throughout the next half-hour period, and the tiger remained in the same place the entire time—maybe eating at a local restaurant?
When the break was called, Ethan blinked in surprise. He hadn’t even noticed his wrist on his bent knee falling asleep. He rose, slipped into his robe, and wandered close to the big windows in his circuit to stretch his muscles. Glancing outside in hopes of catching sight of the other tiger didn’t help. Whoever it was, they weren’t in plain sight from the studio.
With his mind on the mysterious shifter, Ethan didn’t realize he’d wandered close to Amy until her scent hit him hard. He fought off a scowl when he noticed he’d stopped just behind her. She didn’t glance back at him, but she did sit a little straighter on her chair.
Cursing his unconscious pull to her, he made an effort to look at her painting so he could pass a comment as an excuse for why he was just standing there.
For a long moment, he stared at the painting, unable to actually form a coherent word. When he could speak, he said, very quietly, “That’s magnificent. You’re amazing.”
Pleasure and surprise filled her honeysuckle scent with citrus and a touch of vanilla. He edged closer, unable to resist her, wishing there weren’t so many people in the room watching this exchange.
Wishing he could back away before he lost his mind completely.
“Thank you,” she murmured. She glanced over her shoulder, smiling shyly at him, her blue eyes sparking with pleasure through the fringe of her long lashes.
The sexy look combined with the husky sound of her voice hit him hard, right in the gut and lower. His blood pounded, his breathing sped. In that moment, he was extremely glad to have his robe on because his body reacted instantly. He took a half step closer to her when she faced her painting again, raising a hand to test the texture of her hair before he realized what he was doing. He snatched his hand back and with a grunt, he spun away from her and stalked to the farthest end of the studio.
Damn but she was dangerous. Without even trying. Even the puzzle of a strange tiger in the area couldn’t fully distract him.
If he wasn’t careful, he was going to give in to this lust, and to hell with the consequences.
He sighed when his tiger growled in his head—in approval.
TAMING HER TIGER -- Out Now!