Wake a sleeping tiger, p.13
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       Wake A Sleeping Tiger, p.13
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         Part #22 of Breeds series by Lora Leigh

  “Go where?” The strength in her voice, the demand in her tone drew him to a stop.

  He stared down at her, feeling the brutal lust; the adrenaline-laced mating hormone racing through his system had the glands beneath his tongue swelling instantly, the cinnamon taste of it slamming against his tongue and into his system with a wild, furious need nearly painful in its intensity.

  Graeme had warned him of this. Warned him that any hard surge of adrenaline would overcome the injection Cullen had taken the night before. That adrenaline was still rushing through him, building despite the fact that the danger was all but over now.

  She’d been endangered. If he hadn’t been right on her ass those gang members would have taken her and turned her over to the Council, and she would have died.

  He would have never gotten to her in time.

  “Somewhere else,” he snarled, pushing her into the passenger side of the Dragoon. “Anywhere but here.”

  Anywhere but out in the open, surrounded by other Breeds, by unknown dangers.

  He had to get her someplace he knew would be completely secure.

  Someplace where danger had no chance of touching her.

  CHAPTER 12

  From Graeme’s Journal

  The Recessed Primal Breed

  Any creature—human, Breed or otherwise—foolish enough to tempt a recessed Primal Breed’s rage is a being living on borrowed time.

  The mate who tempts such a Breed is a woman of unique and incomparable courage.

  God help her—

  He’d almost lost her.

  That thought had every bone and muscle in Cullen’s body tightening with fury as he raced from the crime scene, heading for his own home on the other side of town.

  If he had been just a single car behind her. If he hadn’t followed her. If he hadn’t sensed something wrong just before that vehicle had slammed into Chelsea’s, then she could have been gone, taken by the criminals, or worse, lying in a pool of blood, dead, in the middle of the street.

  For years he’d pushed aside that unnamed something that drew him to her. Even before she’d come to work for him, hell, before his marriage. She’d been a sweet, quiet young girl when he’d first seen her in her father’s house the night he, Cat and Honor had been rescued. Peeking from the darkness of another room, her gaze had met his, and he’d known a friend watched him with dark eyes, compassion and a whisper of fear for his safety.

  There had been nothing sexual in the fragile bond they’d shared until well after his wife’s death. But he knew it for what it was now. The animal waking just enough to ensure he didn’t overlook the woman who would one day belong to him.

  As he glanced at Chelsea’s pale face, the scent of her courage and the sight of the determined tilt of her chin had him rubbing a hand wearily over his face. And he’d thought he could contain her? That he could protect her? It was like trying to contain the wind; she’d slip through his fingers every time.

  Realizing that didn’t help the adrenaline-laced mating hormone ripping through his system now. It only spurred it. The challenge he glimpsed in her eyes every time he stared into them was the same challenge she silently shouted to the world. She was strong, that glint assured anyone willing to see. She wasn’t a victim, and she wouldn’t allow herself to become one.

  She was his mate.

  She was the one woman the creature inside him recognized as the one capable of walking by his side. And the thought of her facing any more danger filled him with fear.

  No one was undefeatable. That challenge she stared out at the world with could be silenced with one correctly placed bullet or blade. And she’d just be gone.

  If his hands hadn’t been gripping the steering wheel with an iron hold, they would have trembled. Fuck, his guts were shaking. It would take him a lifetime to get over what had nearly happened to her.

  “Why would the Cerves cartel care what the Council wanted?” she asked, her voice tight with reaction to the attack. “They know it was the Council that ordered Louisa abducted and tortured.”

  “We’ll have more information after the surviving assailant’s questioned,” he assured her. “Until then, there’s no sense in asking questions we can’t answer.”

  He couldn’t talk about this. He simply didn’t have the control he needed right now to do so with any sort of logic.

  “But there’s not been so much as a rumor of a coming attack.” Confusion filled her voice now. “I’m working every contact I know of as well as their contacts looking for intel on which Breeds are being targeted to be abducted. There’s not even a hint that anyone’s after me, or that I’m in any kind of danger. Even the Cerveses wouldn’t be able to keep that quiet, Cullen.”

  “They kept this quiet,” he snarled. “And my informants are part of the family’s main security force.”

  His informants’ heads were going to roll as soon as he contacted them.

  “He said a price went on my head,” she stated, her voice low. “They don’t know I was there that night. This could be just business for them.”

  “Doesn’t matter,” he growled. “Whoever put the contract out will pay right along with the Cerveses.”

  Her worried glance and the smell of her regret slammed into him.

  “Look,” she breathed out roughly, her hands twisting in her lap as she looked down at them for a moment. “I’m sorry you got dragged into this.”

  “I didn’t get dragged into anything.” Where the hell did that from? “I came looking for you, remember?” He shook his head at her statement. “Dammit, Chelsea, you should have come to me the first time you were attacked. I might have fought you over having any part of it, but I would have protected you.”

  “That’s just it, Cullen.” She swung around, staring at him, her expression fierce. “I shouldn’t have to fight you over it. If you needed my help I’d give it unconditionally. You should do the same or stay the hell out of it.”

  Incredulity flared through him even as his dick only got harder. Damn her. What would it take to make her understand that he just couldn’t do that?

  “It doesn’t work that way,” he gritted out. “You might think it should, you might hope it would, but to actually expect it is illogical, Chelsea.”

  “You have several female agents working in Covert Ops, Cullen,” she pointed out, anger beginning to heat her tone. “Not once have you pulled them back because they might get hurt.” Her arms crossed over her breasts and a quick glance at her showed a delicate flush on her features and a battle gleam in her eyes.

  “There’s a difference.” The tension already radiating through him only increased. “You just don’t want to see it.”

  “My training’s more advanced than theirs,” she argued. “I’ve trained for ten years with Special Forces and Navy SEALs. I’m a part of the Breed Underground and worked in a covert capacity with them, and all you want me to do is your damned filing.”

  He could smell her arousal deepening, the scent of her need filling his nostrils and intoxicating his senses.

  The adrenaline, he told himself desperately. It was all part of the Mating Heat; Graeme had even warned him about it. An adrenaline surge of any kind amped the need for confrontation and for sex. The female mate needed to assert her own independence and test the strength of her mate. She’d push until his animal pushed back. And he was damned if he couldn’t feel the animal demanding that Cullen push back.

  “This is the wrong fucking argument to have right now,” he told her firmly, shooting her a silencing look.

  A hard breath expelled from her lips as she turned and glared straight ahead again, her lips pressed firmly together, and he ached for the hurt he could sense spilling from her. She wanted something he simply didn’t know how to give her. It had nothing to do with respect or trust or a certainty of her abilities. It was the certainty that he’d never be the same if anything happened to her.

  “Breeds only mate once, Chelsea,” he finally sighed as he made the turn onto his
street and headed for the end of it where his home was located. “If anything were to happen you I’d never get a second chance—”

  He broke off, the sight of the vehicles in his drive pulling the growl he’d been holding back free. It rumbled from his chest, deeper, the sound more predatory than any he’d issued to this point.

  “God, I so didn’t need this,” Chelsea muttered from beside him. “What is it, a frickin’ family reunion? Intervention time?”

  A family reunion just about described it, along with a healthy dose of the past that he just wasn’t in the mood for.

  “For God’s sake, that’s your in-laws,” she hissed in disbelief as he pulled the Dragoon to the curb rather than blocking the four vehicles in his driveway and being forced to move to allow them to leave later.

  His former in-laws. Arthur and Marsha Holden, Lauren’s parents.

  “They’re your cousins,” he pointed out, shooting her a brooding glare.

  She shrugged with a roll of her eyes. “Can’t choose your family, but you can damned sure choose your in-laws. Your taste sucks, by the way.”

  Chelsea pushed the passenger door open and forced herself to step from the vehicle. The jolt of her feet against the pavement as she was forced to all but jump from the opening brought a muttered groan from her lips.

  “Dammit, can’t you wait two seconds?” Cullen cursed as she found herself swung up into his arms and cushioned against his broad chest.

  Her arms went around his shoulders instinctively despite the angry look she shot him.

  “If I felt like waiting, then that’s what I would have done,” she informed him, suddenly feeling every ache and bruise in her body.

  She didn’t feel like dealing with her family, not right now while she was bruised and bloody and her father was staring at her with something akin to agonized horror.

  He didn’t have a chance to reply. Her sister rushed from her husband’s side, concern in her expression as she took Cullen’s keys and ran to unlock and open the front door.

  He carried Chelsea into the house and laid her on the couch in his plain living room. Couch, two easy chairs, a few tables and a lamp. It had that unlived-in feel even though he’d lived there since the year after his wife died.

  The whole house had an unlived-in feel. She’d noticed that the few times she’d been there. It was a place to sleep when he needed it, a place to hang his clothes and shower and little else.

  “I’ll get the first-aid kit.” Malachi headed through the house, looking around as he went, obviously acquainted with it. “Damn, son, when are you going to hang a picture or two?”

  “When you buy them and hang them, I guess,” Cullen grunted.

  Behind him, Chelsea’s father, Terran, her grandfather, Orrin, and Cullen’s former in-laws stepped into the house. They looked around the living room and into the kitchen as though confused by the feeling of it. Only her grandfather’s expression reflected something other than distaste. He appeared thoughtful, his head tilted, no doubt listening to whatever he could hear in the very air itself.

  Chelsea didn’t doubt the air in the house was speaking to him, spilling Cullen’s secrets, whispering to him of whatever it was that spoke of such loneliness in the place Cullen called home.

  “Interesting,” Arthur murmured, his heavily lined face still drawn with the same grief she’d seen in it at Lauren’s funeral ten years ago.

  Tall, reed thin, his facial features rather long and too somber, Arthur Holden wasn’t a man to joke and laugh with. His wife had once been much more animated, smiling, her hazel eyes always bright with whatever emotion she felt. They weren’t like that any longer. The loss of her only child, her daughter, had stilled that sparkle and taken the animation from her expression.

  Marsha stood, appearing uncomfortable, uncertain what to do as Malachi placed the first-aid kit on the coffee table and Isabelle sat on the couch next to Chelsea and stared down at her in sympathy and concern.

  “If I close my eyes and wish hard enough, will they all go away?” Chelsea asked, her voice low enough that Isabelle and Malachi were probably the only ones who heard her.

  “Doubt it, sis.” Isabelle smiled gently, her tone filled with wry amusement. “Not this time.”

  She blew out a hard breath and closed her eyes anyway.

  “What the hell are you involved in, Chelsea?” her father exclaimed from the end of the couch, his voice angry as only a worried father sounds. “An attack in the middle of town? Someone tried to rain a war down on you, dammit, and I want to know why.”

  A damned war was a good description of it. She was determined to ignore the questions, though, until heat exploded in the cut on her forehead just as the scent of alcohol reached her nose.

  “Dammit, Isa.” She jerked, her eyes snapping open as she tried to pull away from the fiery burn. “That hurts.”

  Isabelle lifted a dark brow with false innocence. Dammit, she’d meant for the alcohol to burn.

  “Don’t ignore Dad, he nearly had a stroke on me,” Isabelle hissed down at her.

  “I’m not ignoring him.” At least she wasn’t trying to. “I don’t know what happened or why, or I would have given a family report the second I stepped into the door.”

  “Here.” Several damp paper towels dropped into Isabelle’s hands as Malachi returned from the kitchen. “Clean the blood from her skin first so we can get a good look at those scratches on her arm. They look pretty deep.”

  They were pretty deep. Glass had rained around her when her truck took the impact of the collision.

  She sat still, silent as her father, her grandfather and Arthur Holden followed Cullen into the kitchen. Marsha stood next to the coffee table, her gaze dropping to the bloodied paper towels as Isabelle dropped them to the table beside the couch.

  “Stay still,” her sister admonished her as she flinched at the probing of the wounds. “These are almost deep enough to require stitches.”

  “Almost doesn’t count.” Chelsea felt like pouting.

  She wished they’d just stop fussing over her and let her go take a shower. She’d feel much better if she could stand beneath some warm water. The longer she lay there and endured her sister’s inspection of the cuts, the colder she felt.

  As Marsha finally drew away and moved to the kitchen with her husband, Isabelle gave Chelsea a sympathetic look before drawing back, her blue eyes flicking to the kitchen again.

  “It gets easier,” her sister said softly. “The symptoms ease and even out pretty quickly once you and Cullen are more certain of each other.”

  Certain of each other? She’d be waiting awhile for that one to happen.

  “He hates it,” Chelsea whispered back. “He wants a cure for it.” She rolled her eyes despite how bad that knowledge hurt. “Go figure.”

  Isabelle shook her head, the cloud of dark hair framing her face swaying with the movement. “I don’t believe that, Chelsea. For it to be present at all, then whether he wants to admit it or not, he loves you. The emotions always go both ways when it happens.”

  It. The mating. Was every Breed who married actually mated to their husband or wife? There weren’t a lot of marriages, she knew, but if the tabloids were to be believed, each one was a mating.

  Giving her a warning look, Isabelle didn’t say anything more. A second later Arthur and Marsha moved back into the room and stepped to the couch once again.

  It had been ten years since she’d seen them, but they’d never been close with the rest of the family. Arthur’s family had once been quite wealthy and they’d always spent most of the time on their California estate until Lauren became older. They’d been in town less than a year when Lauren and Cullen were introduced. After the Holdens lost their daughter, they’d returned to California and as far she knew, this was their first visit back.

  They picked a hell of a time to visit.

  “Sorry about all this.” She tried to smile as she met Marsha’s gaze. “Not exactly what you were looking for when you
came to visit, huh?”

  “Oh dear, I’m just worried about you.” Marsha sighed as though tired. “You always were the rebel in the family, weren’t you?”

  “The troublemaker,” Arthur murmured with an attempt at teasing humor. “No wonder your father’s hair is turning gray.”

  “Yeah, that’s what he tells me all the time.” Pushing herself up, she swung her legs around and put her feet on the floor, looking up at Marsha.

  There was little resemblance to the Martinez family in the other woman. She more closely resembled her mother’s side of the family, Boston bluebloods as her father once commented.

  “We should be going, dear.” Arthur laid his hand against his wife’s shoulder with a gentle pat. “Let Terran and Orrin see if they can talk any sense into her.” He turned then as Cullen entered the room and held his hand out; the dark blue silk suit he wore, despite its tailoring, made him appear more gaunt than he would have if he’d taken the jacket off. “Maybe we’ll see each other again before we head home.”

  “Arthur.” Cullen nodded and accepted the handshake. “It was good to see you again.”

  No, it wasn’t. She could see the subtle signs of Cullen’s discomfort, which she was certain mirrored hers. She had a good excuse, though; she’d never been comfortable around them.

  Turning back to her, Arthur watched her silently for a long moment before he bent his knees and hunched next to her. She watched him warily, barely able to stifle a wince as he picked up her hand and patted it in what she was certain was meant to be a fatherly manner.

  “Take it easy, Chelsea. It’s a terrible thing when a father is forced to lose a child,” he told her, but the arrogant superiority in his tone grated on her nerves.

  “No danger.” She slid her hand from his and pushed it through her hair to dispel the feel of his touch. “I’m sure they’ve already reserved a padded cell for me.” She grinned over Arthur’s shoulder at her father’s frowning countenance. “That or chains.”

  Arthur chuckled at the comment, rose to his feet, then nodded to the rest of the family. “We’ll be going now. Let me know if you need anything.”

  Placing his hand low on his wife’s back, he led her to the door and out of the house. As the door closed, Chelsea noticed the air didn’t feel nearly as tense as it had while he was there.

  “Cullen,” Malachi stated long seconds later. “No offense, but there’s not a chance in hell I’d turn my back on that man.”

  That observation struck Chelsea as a perfect description of the undercurrents of tension she herself had felt.

  Orrin shook his gray head, his expression saddened. “He’s a man tormented by loss,” he said somberly. “And by his own inability to prevent it.”

  Malachi merely glanced at the other man, obviously not agreeing with him. “As I said.” He shrugged. “I wouldn’t turn my back on him. He was attempting to put everyone at ease, but I could smell his hatred. It was there, despite the attempts to appear differently. And it was centered on Cullen.”

  Chelsea looked up at Cullen. His expression was closed, his gaze cool as he met her father’s long look. He wasn’t commenting, but she sensed he agreed with Malachi. She knew his Breed senses were coming alive with the mating; he would have caught the scent of hatred coming from Arthur if it was there. And if Malachi said it was there, then it was.

  “Arthur never approved of Cullen,” Terran stated then, surprising Chelsea with the lack of compassion in his tone. “He and Marsha along with Ray pushed her to him, though.” He turned to Cullen with a harsh look. “I’m not a fool and I’ve been around Breeds long enough to know that the stories about the matings aren’t complete falsehoods. And they knew it too.” He nodded to the door Arthur and Marsha had used. “They never confirmed it, but I saw the knowledge in their eyes when Lauren was screaming at you from her deathbed.”

  Cullen flinched. The muscle at his jaw bunched, tightening with the fierce clenching of his teeth before he cursed under his breath.

  “Dad, we need to leave.” It was Isabelle who hurriedly made the suggestion. Moving to their father, she placed her hand on his shoulder and gave him a warning look. “Come on, now isn’t the time for this. Chelsea needs to rest. We know she’s okay, and Cullen will watch out for her far better than we can.”

  “Come, son.” Orrin joined Isabelle at his son’s side. “Wish your youngest well and we’ll see if we can’t find a drink to ease the tension of the matter.” He patted Terran’s shoulder and headed for the door. “Hurry yourselves. It’s time we leave.”

  Chelsea forced herself to her feet.

  “I stopped and packed a bag for you before heading here,” Isabelle told her. “Malachi put it in the kitchen while I was tending your boo-boos.” She shot Chelsea a teasing grin. “Call me and let me know when you need company.”

  “I will,” Chelsea promised, her gaze moving to her father once again as he stepped to her.

  “If either you or Isabelle were taken from me, I wouldn’t survive my grief,” he whispered at her ear as he gave a quick, fierce hug. “Remember that when you’re being so damned reckless.”

  He turned quickly away then and stalked from the house, the door closing heavily behind him.

  While she was being so reckless. Tears threatened to fill her eyes at her father’s words. Reckless, foolhardy, senseless. Those were his descriptions of her need to fight the injustices she saw in their world.

  “He’s scared, Chelsea,” Malachi told her, compassion filling his expression as his arm curved around Isabelle’s waist and pulled her to him. “You’re his daughter, his far-too-courageous child. He was watching the report of the attack as it happened. The nightmares he’s having aren’t even waiting for him to go to sleep. They’re flashing through his mind as we speak.”

  Chelsea blinked back the tears, the knowledge of her father’s pain as well as her own tearing at her. “I know that, Malachi,” she retorted painfully as she looked away from him, hating that both he and Cullen no doubt could sense every emotion tearing through her now. “But asking me to be anyone besides who I am is the same as killing me anyway.” She shoved her hands into the pockets of her jeans and shook her head, her lips trembling in a flood of emotion she fought to control. “And what hurts the most is that every one of you would change me if you could.”

  “Wrong,” Malachi assured her, his tone firm, though no less gentle. “I wouldn’t change you, and neither would your sister, but it won’t stop any of us from worrying.”

  “Or from aching in grief if we lost you,” Isabelle told her, her voice thick with the tears she was holding back. Moving to her, her sister gave her a quick hug before taking her husband’s hand and leaving the house.

  Her grandfather patted her shoulder, his dark gaze as fathomless as the oceans.

  “Your courage terrifies your father, just as his sister’s once did. It isn’t your courage he would change, but the dangers that would harm you.” He sighed heavily, patted her back consolingly and smiled with loving strength. “The winds have always called your name, whispering across the lands as they called you to defend those others would harm. Now, allow those you would fight for to do the sam
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