Enjoy this excerpt from WHAT A TIGER WANTS (Tiger Shifters 8)
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.
WHAT A TIGER WANTS -- OUT NOW!