Wake a sleeping tiger, p.15
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       Wake A Sleeping Tiger, p.15
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         Part #22 of Breeds series by Lora Leigh

  And all because someone had dared to threaten part of his family.

  “I’m a big boy, Graeme—” Cullen began to protest.

  Before he could finish the thought, Graeme was out of his chair and in Cullen’s face, an enraged snarl curling his lips.

  “My brother. My sister by mating.” Clawed fingers gripped the front of Cullen’s shirt imperiously as rage hummed in the air around the creature. “We go now.”

  Cullen looked down at the hold his brother had on him, then back to the monster’s furious gaze.

  “Where’s Cat, Graeme?” he asked patiently. “Does she know the monster’s come out to play this morning?”

  Handling Graeme while in this less-than-sane, primal state was never easy. And Cullen wasn’t certain how he felt about the monster’s belief that he could protect him. He was an adult now, not a kid, and Cerves was his fight.

  “I will kill Cerves.” The monster smiled, obviously relishing the thought of the cartel leader’s blood.

  “Because of me?” Cullen questioned the threat dubiously.

  “You. Your mate. Their blood is mine,” the monster grated out in a serrated voice.

  Cullen rubbed at his forehead, fighting for patience as Graeme released his shirt slowly, though his brother still glared at him with demonic green eyes.

  “Tell you what. Hide the monster in case Chelsea awakens and leaves the bedroom and we’ll discuss it,” he offered.

  Hell, it was too early for a drink and this side of his brother almost demanded one.

  A rumbled growl of warning had Cullen grimacing in irritation. He didn’t need this, not right now.

  “Dammit, Graeme, I don’t need you fighting my battles and I sure as hell don’t need your protection,” he snapped as he felt the Primal’s demand that he submit to its wishes. “Pull the fuck back. I’ll deal with Cerves, and if you want to be a part of it, then you’ll find your sanity and discuss it rationally.”

  The Primal’s roar exploded from Graeme’s chest, exploding with enraged violence and probably waking the whole damned neighborhood.

  There was no doubt it woke Chelsea.

  Before he could push past Graeme and reach the hall entrance, the bedroom door flew open and Chelsea raced from the room wearing nothing but Cullen’s shirt, half-buttoned, the tail of which fell below her thighs. In her hands she carried the black, highly lethal, not to mention illegal, fully automatic snub-nosed PDW she carried in her pack.

  “Whoa there.” He caught her before she could lift the weapon on the Primal Breed poised to eliminate any threat it encountered.

  Snagging the weapon from her hands with one hand, he caught her around the waist with the other, practically lifting her from the floor before she could attack Graeme.

  Once she caught sight of the Primal she stilled in his hold, eyes widening before she blinked in amazement. Cullen wanted to curse in frustration.

  “What is it?” she whispered, her gaze locked with Graeme’s. “And why aren’t we shooting it?”

  No fear.

  He could smell her shock, her inner demand for fight or flight, but there was no fear.

  She was staring at Graeme. First his face, then the claw-tipped hands at his side. Her gaze went over the black shirt and dark pants he wore to the muted black boots, then back to his face as wariness filled her expression.

  “I try really hard not to shoot my brother, no matter the mood he’s in,” he informed her, holding her more firmly against him as she pushed at his arm in an obvious bid for freedom.

  “That’s Graeme?” She kept her voice at a whisper as suspicion filled it. “You’re lying. I’ve met Graeme. He doesn’t look like that.”

  The Primal smiled with savage, bloodthirsty satisfaction, a growl rumbling in his throat. Shooting him a glare, Cullen wondered if investing in a whip and chair would do any good.

  “Why is it smiling?” she asked him, ignoring the snap of teeth and warning snarl Graeme displayed. “Give me my gun back. I think we’re going to need it.”

  He glanced down at her with an irritable frown. “No.”

  “Really?” she hissed, incredulity filling the low tone of her voice. “Look at it. It’s insane. Give me my gun before it decides to bite you. Or me.”

  Graeme’s expression darkened at her statement, the stripes turning a deep, furious black.

  “Dammit, Chelsea,” Cullen cursed, holding to her as she wiggled against him. “He’s not going to bite anyone, and you’re not shooting him.”

  Graeme’s lip lifted in a dangerous curl of impending violence, his incisor glinting ominously in the low light.

  “Is it sane, do you think?” she whispered, stilling against him as her hands gripped his forearm, her obvious fascination grating at his patience.

  Grunting at the question, he shot Graeme a testy look, noticing the offended pride in his brother’s expression. “Not even on a good day. And stop calling him ‘it.’”

  “So what is it?” She ignored the order as Graeme’s nostrils flared and the displeasure in his warning growls increased.

  “You know I can hear you, right?” he grated, the animalistic tone not quite as grating as moments before.

  She shot Cullen a surprised look before staring at Graeme in supposed amazement. “It can talk?”

  “Chelsea,” he muttered warningly, wondering at what point the Primal would grow tired of the “it” title.

  If Graeme’s louder, harsher snarl was any indication, he was reaching the end of his patience. The sound was low, deep, a grumble meant to intimidate. It was all Cullen could do not to groan in resignation. Chelsea didn’t do intimidated very well.

  She stiffened against him and feminine outrage poured from her.

  “Maybe it’s hungry,” she suggested, her voice low but definitely goading now. “Do you keep kitty kibble around?”

  Silence snapped in the room.

  Graeme’s eyes narrowed, the jade green color glittering brighter and flaring with rage as he took a step closer and let loose another of those lethal roars.

  She didn’t even have the good sense to flinch.

  Not that Cullen flinched, but he was used to them by now.

  Instead, Chelsea waited until Graeme almost seemed to relax marginally at her supposedly submissive silence.

  “I’m calling Cat and reporting its bad behavior,” she whispered then, as though it were some secret and Graeme couldn’t overhear her. “Maybe she’ll come collect it. Do you think?”

  Cullen tried to push her behind him as Graeme stepped closer, nostrils flaring, the Primal’s eyes flickering with impending retaliation.

  “Cat will not be pleased with it,” she said then, and surprisingly Graeme paused, frowning again.

  “Do not threaten me,” the grating voice ordered her in a harsh, guttural command.

  “Then get from between me and my coffee. Your rude roars woke me up way too early and no one should expect me to be nice under the circumstances.” She pushed at his arm again, and this time Cullen just let her go. “Besides.” She finished buttoning the shirt she wore. “Wild animals are supposed to be kept outside, not in the kitchen.”

  She made the comment so blithely. As though a killer weren’t glaring at her, his rage building at the insult. Though at this point, Cullen was fairly confident Graeme wouldn’t lay a hand on her. Evidently, she was just as confident.

  “Before your mate blinks I could take your throat out.” Graeme flexed his claws warningly, but Cullen could actually sense a hint of surprised amusement coming from the Primal, an indication that his brother was gaining control once again.

  “I’ll be certain to include that threat in my list of complaints when I call Cat later.” She shrugged, then eyed him thoughtfully. “I bet you’re a blast at Halloween. Does Cat dress as your circus trainer?”

  Cullen barely smothered the amazed laughter that would have escaped. The choking sound he made was a piss-poor disguise, though.

  Graeme’s primal markings were
lighter on his face now, the claws retreating beneath his nails as irritation replaced the rage that had held him in its grip.

  “No wonder Cat likes you,” Graeme grumbled, his voice sounding more normal now. “You’re as much a brat as she is.”

  “I’m actually better at it.” Chelsea smiled as she snagged one of the cups of coffee Cullen had started when he first entered the kitchen. “I taught her well. You can thank me later. After I’ve had my coffee.”


  From Graeme’s Journal

  The Recessed Primal Breed

  Ah, mates! Created with a heart and soul of such proud strength and wisdom. They are the Breeds’ greatest treasures. For the Primal, they are the only hope for sanity. The flame warming the icy logic only a monster can possess—

  Cullen almost breathed a sigh of relief when Chelsea finished her coffee, ceased baiting Graeme and declared she was heading for the shower. He just knew that any moment the subject of the previous day’s attack would come up and Graeme would once again declare his intention to go after Cerves, the cartel leader.

  And Chelsea was no one’s fool. She’d instantly realize there wasn’t a chance in hell Cullen was going to let the attack slide without some sort of retaliation as well.

  Though his and Graeme’s ideas of retaliation strongly differed.

  When she left the room Cullen sat silently waiting as he heard the bathroom door close. He stared back at Graeme, then rested an arm on the table and pushed his coffee cup aside. He didn’t bother to hide his irritation.

  “She should be drinking decaf coffee,” Graeme said, his gaze flicking to the coffee cup.

  “She informed me yesterday morning that if caffeine was a problem, then up the dose of the injection,” he scoffed, his lips coming close to an amused quirk at the memory. “She wasn’t happy with either of us at the time either.”

  A noncommittal hum met the news as Graeme stared back at him knowingly.

  “You have something on your mind, Cullen?” his brother finally asked. “I can practically feel your displeasure whipping through the room.”

  Was it displeasure he felt? He didn’t think it was. Graeme had crossed a line this time and if he let it go, Cullen knew his twin would just push harder if the chance arose again.

  When Cullen didn’t immediately answer him, Graeme finally gave a heavy grimace before settling back in his chair and crossing his arms over his chest to scowl at him.

  “Go ahead, little brother,” he invited irately. “Get it off your chest.”

  Well, at least his brother hadn’t called him a recessed little snot again.

  “You will keep your monster contained where I’m concerned, Graeme.” Cullen didn’t demand it or make it an order, he made a statement of fact. “I don’t need or ask for your retaliation as though defending a child from schoolyard bullies. Are we understood?”

  He couldn’t remember a single instance in their lives when Graeme had reacted so emotionally as to strike against him.

  A grumbled, less-than-pleased growl rose from the other Breed’s chest as his lip lifted in an irritated snarl.

  “We made a pact long ago to defend each other,” Graeme reminded him, his tone a warning grumble. “Have you forgotten that?”

  His brother kept forgetting that those deep-throated sounds of dominant demand didn’t work with Cullen. That only worked within a pack or pride when the one issuing it faced another, weaker Breed.

  Cullen wasn’t weaker, he just wasn’t as crazy as his brother.

  “The pact, if you will recall, was to watch each other’s backs. To defend one another, as you pointed out at the time, would mean certain death. As would retaliation,” Cullen injected without so much as a flicker in response when Graeme’s growl deepened. “And don’t pull that alpha shit on me, you know it doesn’t work.”

  The labs beneath the Brandenmore Research Center had been a brutal hell most adults would have never survived, let alone two Breed young. The experiments conducted there had often sent both Graeme and Cullen howling in agony, when they were allowed to howl, when they weren’t medically paralyzed from doing so. They’d also begged for death more often than not.

  For a moment, Graeme’s gaze dropped to the table, one finger smoothing over the deep indents his claws had made earlier. Breaking Cullen’s gaze didn’t mean he was submitting to his brother’s demands in any way, and Cullen knew it. It was more a sign of the memories they shared of a brutal past.

  Finally, Graeme gave a heavy, somber sigh.

  “I won’t try to explain the Primal’s emergence, nor will I apologize for it,” he finally said as he leveled his gaze back to Cullen. “I was out of town when the attack took place. I saw it on the news service no more than an hour before I arrived here.” He gave his head a light shake, a frown furrowing his brow. “I went Primal the moment I saw you attempting to save your mate from Cerves’s men.” Mocking acknowledgment gleamed in his eyes. “At least I came here first rather than the Cerves compound as I would have in the past.”

  There was that, Cullen agreed, albeit silently.

  “The very fact you did it concerns me more,” Cullen admitted, still not certain how he felt about the explanation. “I thought you had control of the Primal since mating Cat.”

  Graeme had spent far too many years immersed with the insane rage of instincts so primitive they defied any attempts to understand them.

  Graeme’s lips quirked at the comment. “Well now, that was my belief as well,” he said rather mockingly as he rubbed at the side of his face, bemusement flickering in his gaze. “As I said, it just happened. An anomaly, I would guess.”

  “An anomaly?” Cullen gave a snort of amazed disbelief at the description. “I know what you were doing, Graeme. I don’t need to be watched over or protected. As I said, I’m a big boy now. I know how to take my own vengeance, if such is needed.”

  He’d learned how to kill before he was six, and after that, the creature they honed in those labs had learned how to do so with amazing effectiveness and complete secrecy.

  “And if you end up dead because some bastard thinks he can take your mate, or worse, your mate and your child should she conceive?” Graeme asked with a hint of anger now. “Am I allowed vengeance then?”

  Cullen shook his head slowly; the fear of just that had raised its ugly head with Cerves’s attack. If something were to happen to him, he didn’t want his brother risking his life and his own mate’s security for vengeance.

  “If that happens, ensure Chelsea’s and our child’s safety, if she conceives.” He blew out a hard breath as the thought of a child had his chest tightening almost painfully. “Vengeance is another matter, Graeme. Trying to place a shield around me won’t be tolerated. Don’t cross that line again. Especially not as the Primal.”

  The insanity that creature lived within was more than Cullen could bear the thought of. It was a place Graeme now needed to avoid at all costs. A sighting of the Bengal Primal, as he’d been described when his Primal genetics took over, would mean increased danger not just to Graeme but to his mate, Cat, as well. Breeds and the Council alike had once hunted the monster Graeme had been, and those years had only caused his brother to sink deeper into the insanity that held him in its grip at the time.

  “No promises.” Graeme shrugged, but Cullen read his twin’s realization that it was now unacceptable. Then he leaned forward, bracing his forearms on the table, and glared at Cullen fiercely. “Do we go after Cerves together, or do I make my own plans? Because he and his Blood Queen will be brought to the realization that the continued good health and safety of you and your mate is in their best interests and those of their men. And that will happen with or without your approval or your partnership in the matter.”

  Because they were brothers, because Cullen and now Chelsea were important to Graeme as well as the Primal lurking within him.

  That determined stance Cullen accepted. After all, he’d already made plans to find Cerves himself and secur
e the assurance that Chelsea would never be threatened by the cartel again.

  “We can agree on that.” Cullen nodded sharply. “Get your team together. I’ll meet you at the caverns after I drop Chelsea off at her meeting at the Bureau. It’s best if she—”

  “Attends that meeting with you.” Chelsea stepped into the kitchen from the corner of the hall, her arms crossing over her breasts as she stared back at him with such defiance he found himself making one of those testy, grating growls Graeme was so fond of.

  “Not a good idea.” He rose slowly to his feet, wondering the best way to handle the determined challenge in her gaze as well as her eavesdropping tendencies.

  “Happening,” she stated without anger. If she’d met his denial with anger, he might have been able to succeed in making her back down.

  The fact that she wasn’t becoming defensive over the matter assured him he was in trouble now that she knew his intentions.

  Dammit, the idea was to protect her, not to draw her deeper into whatever danger seemed to be shadowing her.

  “Not even on a bet,” he promised her, though he didn’t feel nearly as confident as he appeared and he knew it.

  She was under his skin now. He realized that in a moment of such shocking clarity it was blinding. Under his skin, a part of him, and that weakened him, to the point that he knew rebuilding his defenses might not be very successful.

  Chelsea stared back at Cullen, all too aware of Graeme’s curious gaze as they squared off.

  She had known, known to the soles of her feet that he was silently plotting something when she’d left the room. She could sense it, almost feel his intentions as he waited for her to leave the room.

  And now she could feel him silently calculating the best way, exactly what to say, what to do, to ensure that she remained safely out of any vengeance he intended to exact.

  As if she was going to stand back on this one. That was two attempts against her, and this time, they’d nearly succeeded. Whatever the hell was going on centered on her, not the operation she’d been working on. Cullen could just unruffle his Breed fur and get over this whole me-Tarzan-you-Jane attitude.

  “Just a word of warning,” she informed him with a scornful look before he had a chance to come back with an argument guaranteed to piss her off. “I will make certain you regret leaving me behind every miserable day of your existence if you do so.”

  “Emphasis on the ‘miserable’ there, bro,” Graeme pointed out with less-than-helpful amusement.

  A little help from his brother would have been nice, but it wasn’t really expected. Though, come to think of it, she had no doubt Graeme’s wife, Cat, would be right on his ass when he headed to the Cerves compound. Cat wasn’t exactly the sit-at-home-and-be-safe type. And she’d be right by his side with his eager agreement, no doubt.

  “Give it up, brother,” Graeme advised him somberly as he rose to his feet, ignoring Cullen’s glare. “Like Cat, her spirit is far too wild and independent to be caged. Keep her at your side instead, where you’ll know she’s safe from the trouble she might consider getting into. You’ll be happier for it.”

  And keeping her out of danger was proving to be rather impossible, Cullen realized, not really certain how he felt about the situation. He’d spent so many years trying to protect her that he wasn’t certain how to go about just watching her back, let alone allowing her to walk into danger with him.

  Hell, it continued to amaze him that she didn’t want to be protected or saved from the danger. She wanted to fight her own battles, and he was damned if he knew how to handle all that wild courage.

  “Plan to be at the caverns early evening,” Graeme stated then. “I’ll text you the exact time later. I want to get some intel on Cerves first and see what we’re looking at.”

  Moving to the back door, he shot Cullen a gloating smile. “See you and your mate later.”

  The door closed quietly behind him and did nothing to drown out his taunting laughter once he was outside.

  “I knew you were plotting something devious before I ever left the room,” Chelsea snapped as he rubbed at the back of his neck and shot her an implacable look. “I learned not to leave overprotective males alone together before I even hit my teens.”

  Her father and grandfather had been horrible about secretly trying to protect her. Plotting and calculating, always searching for ways to make certain there were protective eyes on her at all times. Her early teens were an exercise in just finding somewhere to breathe without someone counting each breath.

  “Is that when you developed your eavesdropping tendencies?” he shot back, the brooding look on his face hiding more than it revealed. “It might occur to you one of these days that you’re not invincible.”

  “I never imagined I was invincible.” She arched her brow back at him smugly as she propped her hand on her hip, refusing to be intimidated by him. “What I am is well trained, and you damned well know it. Giving someone else control of my life isn’t going to happen, Cullen. Not now, not ever. Not even you.”

  His eyes flared with anger then. “I don’t want control. I want your safety.”

  “On your terms,” she argued back, determined to remain calm. “On your terms, Cullen, not mine. Some trick of biology or chemistry may have ensured we’re tied to each other, and I understand you hate the hell out of it, but I will not sit back and be something or someone I’m not. Even for you.”

  The chemical reaction wouldn’t dictate her life; she’d already made that decision. She could handle being tied to him sexually for the time being, but she wasn’t counting on him to stick around because she knew he didn’t want to be here to begin with.

  “And if you end up dead because of something I could have prevented?” he asked, a haunted, shadowed look crossing his expression. “What then?”

  “Then unlike your first wife, I promise not to blame you,” she said, knowing the look for what it was. “I never asked you to save me, Cullen. I just wanted to fight beside you. If I can’t have that much of you, at least, then what use is a mating or anything else between us? I accept you for the asshole you are; the least you can do is accept me for the woman I am rather than the woman you can’t forget.”

  Lifting her chin with a small amount of pride, she turned on her heel and stalked back to the bedroom, and no doubt the shower, her accusation ringing in his ears.

  She thought he wanted Lauren back? That his need to protect her had something to do
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