Wake a sleeping tiger, p.21
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       Wake A Sleeping Tiger, p.21
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         Part #22 of Breeds series by Lora Leigh

  to be hurt. Especially with such cruelty.”

  Samara’s lips trembled for a moment before she managed to control it.

  “I had wished to thank you,” the other woman whispered then, holding tight to her husband’s hands. “And to apologize. There was such rage that night inside me. When you crashed through our gates I did not imagine it could be more than another attack of some sort. We believed the property we were using there to be a secret none were aware of but our private security. I did not expect deception from Louisa’s tutor. She had been with us since my daughter was first born and I believed her to be just as devoted to her.” Hoarse. Ragged with tears, her voice broke and it took several moments before she could continue. “I wanted to thank you but had not been able to learn your identity to do so.”

  Chelsea shook her head. “I failed. Why would you want to thank me?”

  Samara’s eyes widened. “And how did you fail? Because Louisa passed?” she asked.

  Chelsea could only nod painfully.

  “You brought my baby home to pass, in loving arms, held by her momma and poppa.” Tears slipped from Samara’s eyes unashamedly. “She woke for us and we could tell her of our love. She was warm, and tucked safely in her own bed. She did not die . . .” Her shoulders trembled, the naked misery in her eyes breaking Chelsea’s heart. “She did not die alone in a nightmare.”

  Juan winced at his wife’s words, pain creasing the dark features as he pulled her closer to him, a tear escaping the corner of his eye as his brother, Esteban, looked away, blinking back the moisture in his own eyes.

  “Here, baby.” Cullen pressed tissues into her hand, and only then was Chelsea aware of the tears falling down her face.

  Finally, Samara gained control of her weeping. Taking the tissues her husband pressed into her hands as well, she dried her face, sniffing delicately before whispering her thanks to a man who appeared to be more a gentle giant at her side than a criminal cartel leader.

  “Louisa said it was your voice in the dark, speaking of her momma, that led her through the darkness,” Esteban told her then. “That you whispered her momma was awaiting her, to just come to you.” His fingers formed into a fist until his knuckles turned white as it lay against the arm of the couch. “You took much personal risk to yourself to rescue her and then to race through the night to return her to us. Whatever we have”—one hand flattened against his chest firmly—“it is yours. You have only to ask.”

  “Carte blanche,” Graeme murmured. “How very interesting.”

  “Graeme,” his wife warned softly. She said nothing more, but evidently he was willing to listen to her for the time being.

  Juan breathed out heavily, glancing to Graeme and his wife before turning back to stare at Chelsea.

  “There was a time when I believed only the promise of violence would protect us and those we cared for,” he said roughly. “Esteban and I knew very little of gentleness as boys. We knew only the lessons that the strong survive. Only those willing to break the rules were feared.” His black eyes were bottomless with hollow rage and grief. “Until Louisa was born, Esteban, Samara and I knew so very little of the true depths of love. She taught this to us . . .”

  “She was our miracle,” Samara whispered, seeming almost dazed now with the pain she was feeling. “Then, the night she was taken, when we were certain we would never see her sweet face again, an angel brought her home to us so we could whisper our good-byes. So we could surround her with our love. And for that, there is no thanks great enough.”

  As Samara spoke, Chelsea couldn’t help the tears that fell, couldn’t stop the ragged hitching of her own breath as she fought back the sobs that wanted to be free.

  “I did it for Louisa,” she told them, barely able to talk. “Not for any sort of payment or favors. There’s nothing I want.”

  “But if there were . . .” Graeme spoke up, his voice hard. “Sending your men to abduct her and sell her to the bastards who killed your daughter seems in rather poor taste to me.”

  “Graeme,” Cullen growled warningly.

  “No, he is correct.” Esteban lifted his hand at Cullen’s warning. “Were we to have ordered such a thing, then we would be no more than the monsters who hurt the niece I so treasured. Unfortunately, we were in seclusion when this attack was made. We were made aware of it when one of the Breeds in our employ managed to track us down and inform us of what had occurred.”

  “We returned as quickly as we could.” Samara leaned forward imperatively for a moment before sitting back and once again clasping her husband’s hands desperately. “The Cerves family does not accept contracts to assassinate, nor do we kidnap for ransoms. We definitely do not strike against young women who are not part of the shadows we exist within.”

  “Who offered the contract?” Cullen asked, his voice harsh. “I want that name.”

  Esteban wiped his hand over his face wearily. “Who offered it, we do not know. Fidel Sanchez, he was in charge in our absence.” Esteban’s voice hardened. “He did not know the identity of the person who offered the contract, but the man spoke to Morales and he was certain he had recognized the voice. He told Fidel he would make sure, then reveal the identity. The contract was for Ms. Martinez’s death, and he indicated the hit was personal. Fidel said there was hatred in the man’s voice. But when Fidel began putting the plan together he learned that her association with a rumored Breed was possibly that which is reported as a mating, and there was much more to be made for giving a mate to the Genetics Council.”

  “Bastards!” Samara cried out then, rage burning in her face as a shudder tore through her. “Fidel knew who took my baby and what they did to her.” The grief-laden sound was heartbreaking, as was the sight of the mother leaning forward, fighting to get control of her emotions as silent sobs shook her. “To even consider such a thing—”

  Juan brought her back to his arms, pulling her head to his chest as he stared at the floor, the pain in his face reflecting that of his wife’s soft sobs.

  “Fidel Sanchez has already arrived at your Bureau of Breed Affairs,” Juan stated when he could look at them once again. “I spoke to Director Breaker myself when my men arrived. He will be tried by Breed Law. And they will punish him for this attempt. He is being questioned by their interrogators. Perhaps he will tell them more than he told us.”

  Esteban handed his brother more tissues, his expression weary and filled with pain at the sight of his sister-in-law so torn with grief.

  “Whoever offered the contract also killed Morales,” the brother revealed then. “He contacted Fidel just after doing so and demanded he finish the job and kill Ms. Martinez. Fidel was meeting with a shooter when Juan and I arrived unannounced.”

  “And now all our people know the dangers of attempting to follow Fidel’s examples and accepting contracts we do not approve ourselves. But even more, they now know the hazards of doing any business with the Genetics Council.” Juan’s smile was one of icy vengeance.

  “And we still don’t know who’s behind it,” Cullen bit out. “Did he say anything else about the person offering it?”

  Esteban, Juan and Samara all shook their heads in denial.

  “I had his testicles in a very painful vise as well.” Samara’s smile was pure Blood Queen. “I believe had he known anything more he would have told us.”

  No doubt. Chelsea was still struggling with the reminder that these grieving parents were also murderous.

  “I’m curious,” Graeme asked, his tone somber.

  The three Cerveses looked over at him inquisitively.

  “Exactly how do you get them to the point where they’re aware you’re placing the vise on their testicles? I find they piss themselves within moments, and keeping them conscious becomes more a chore than anything else.” The seriousness of the question had Chelsea blinking back at him in shock.

  “The trick to sustaining consciousness is to not overly shock their little minds or their bodies,” Samara answered, her tone e
qually serious. “Don’t use a sledgehammer when a rubber mallet will suffice. You work your way up to the sledgehammer.”

  “Graeme, please.” It was Cat who protested the turn of the conversation. “Save the blood and gore for a later discussion.”

  “Forgive me, Ms. Parker.” True regret flashed in Samara’s gaze. “This is not the proper time or place for such things. I hope you will accept my apologies.”

  “But he asked the question,” Chelsea pointed out. “Let him beg forgiveness.” She threw Cullen’s brother a heavy frown, to which he just smiled back complacently.

  “There are rules, Chelsea, to everything,” Samara stated, her gaze still shadowed with grief, though Chelsea could glimpse the chill of logic and cold hard reason as well. “Strong, independent women fight such rules in their youth, but we learn, eventually, the way of such things.”

  Evidently she had no intention of learning the way of things then. She’d be damned if she’d apologize to it when a stupid question popped out of his mouth.

  Cullen shifted beside her and cleared his throat.

  Looking up at him, she was surprised to see the amusement flickering in his gaze.

  “The look on your face was quite extraordinary,” Samara said with a soft smile. “Perhaps he knows the way of your thoughts.”

  Not hardly. The only thing he’d cared to learn about her was how to make her orgasm. Though he was quite good at that.

  “Maybe.” She shrugged, not revealing what she thought of that.

  Samara sighed heavily then, the momentary amusement she felt drifting away beneath the grief once again. Meeting Chelsea’s gaze, she gave her a sad, wistful smile. “Perhaps one day you would allow me to tell you of the little girl you brought home to her momma and the many ways she changed a woman who held no belief in mercy or compassion before the evening I felt the first faint movement of her within my body. And I would tell you how she spoke of you.” Tears glittered in her eyes once again. “I would love to share my memories of her with you.”

  And strangely, Chelsea knew she wanted to know those memories.

  She nodded back to the mother hesitantly. “I’d like that,” she whispered. “I’d like that very much.”

  Cullen heard the hunger in Chelsea’s voice to hear the memories of the little girl she’d brought home to her parents, and in that second he realized something he knew he’d been hiding from for far too long.

  He loved her.

  His proud, courageous Chelsea, so determined to watch his back rather than accept the protection he would have given her. He wouldn’t have been happy with that, though, he realized. She was his mate, and the danger to her would never completely go away. Better she be able to fight by his side. He knew several instances when it had meant the difference between other Breed mates’ life or death.

  And nothing meant more to him than ensuring she lived. Unless it was ensuring she lived happily.

  Sitting here, seeing the utter devastation in this family at the loss of the child they loved, he knew he never wanted to face life without Chelsea. And trying to lock her away from living just to protect her would smother her.

  He didn’t want Chelsea smothered.

  He wanted her loving him as he loved her. The rest, he realized, they could work out as they went.

  Stepping into the house later that night, in the soft glow of the light Chelsea had left on earlier, he realized the house actually looked warmer than before. More welcoming, maybe.

  Locking the door behind him, he turned back to her, watching as she sat down on the couch, her expression so damned sad it broke his heart.

  “She’s a murderer,” Chelsea whispered. “All of them are. They traffic in drugs, people and anything else they can get their hands on, and I felt so sorry for her.” She looked up at him, her expression filled with guilt and regret. “I wanted so bad to hate her and all I could do was cry for her and Louisa.”

  His chest actually tightened at the knowledge of her pain, her own sense of grief.

  “It’s not in you to hate, baby,” he sighed, sitting down beside her and pulling her close to him. “And it wasn’t her you felt so much pain for. It was Louisa.” He kissed the top of her head, feeling her against him, a warm, sweet weight. “She must have been a very special little girl. One of those sweet souls that visit us for a minute to teach us the true meaning of love.”

  They had so much to talk about, he realized. There were so many things unsaid between them.

  “You were what? Twelve?” he asked. “The night we showed up at your father’s home?”

  Curled against him, she nodded against his chest.

  “The Underground had just snatched us from the grip of Council Breeds after months of running. The girls I’d been trying to protect, Honor and Fawn, were exhausted and terrified. I knew I couldn’t protect them if the ones who rescued us turned on us.” He buried his fingers in her hair, his mind on the past. “And there I stood, frantically trying to decide if the girls were safe or if I should try to plan to escape.” They’d even been too terrified to eat. “Then I glanced into the dark room next to the kitchen and saw you.” He couldn’t help but smile at the memory. “Big brown eyes and dark hair. Then you grinned and winked.” A little laugh vibrated against his chest. “Your father had been trying to convince us to eat some soup.”

  “His vegetable soup is so good,” she reminded him with remembered relish.

  “We were terrified to eat, though,” he told her somberly. “The Council scientists sometimes drugged our food or drink. And there we were, smelling the most incredible scent of food. I’d never smelled vegetable soup in my life, let alone eaten it. My mouth was watering, the girls’ stomachs were growling and we hadn’t eaten in days. About the moment you winked, your dad offered soup and milk again, trying to convince us to eat. And I refused again.” He had to chuckle at the memory. “And I heard you say, ‘Oh, that’s so dumb. Soup. Yummy.’”

  “I said that?” she asked in surprise. “I could have sworn I just thought it.”

  “But I heard you,” he told her softly. “And I knew in that moment that I could trust you. When I could never be sure of anyone else, I could be sure of the little girl watching me from the dark.” He paused, remembering that little girl Chelsea had been. So full of laughter and life. “I hadn’t known my animal instincts before then, so I didn’t understand that in that moment something so unique had happened. Those instincts had awakened for just a moment. Just long enough to recognize what a nineteen-year-old Breed had no idea how to understand. The animal inside me recognized you. Those instincts knew you were my mate.”

  She was silent for long moments.

  “You don’t have to say that . . .” she whispered, but he could sense her need to believe him.

  Cullen snorted mockingly.

  “At my wedding?” he asked, amused now when he hadn’t been then. He’d been damned confused. “I clearly heard you call me a dummy.”

  Her head jerked up, shock rounding her eyes, parting her lips.

  “And, Chelsea,” he told her gently. “I do know far more about you than just how to make you orgasm.”

  Her lips parted as she licked the curves nervously, and he could see her need to understand how he’d known what she was thinking.

  Just when he thought he’d found a way to explain it, his phone rang demandingly, the programmed ring tone one he couldn’t ignore.

  “Dammit,” he cursed.

  Amusement and lingering questions warmed her eyes as she rose from the couch and waved to the phone. “I’ll wait for you in bed.”

  “And I’ll hurry,” he promised. “You can bet on it.”

  Flipping the phone open, he brought it to his ear. “Commissioner Jenkins, how can I help you . . . ?”

  CHAPTER 21

  From Graeme’s Journal

  Recessed Primal Genetics and Mating Heat

  The Primal, whether recessed or active, lives within a world of shadows, beckoning madness and brutal stren
gth.

  The Primal is not of emotion, gentle and enduring, but icy logic and steely resolve formed by the vast reaches of an intelligence of which even he does not fully comprehend the true depths. And it is this creature whose struggle will be the most difficult to navigate within an emotion formed in chaos, rather than cold hard fact.

  That emotion called love . . .

  They were going to have to talk.

  At least, he was going to have to talk, Cullen told himself the next evening as he listened to Chelsea while she worked at the kitchen table.

  It wasn’t Chelsea who had a problem talking or expressing herself. Everything she felt for him had always been there in her eyes, in her expression. Besides that, the ambrosia scent of pure chaos was a delicate, subtle presence around her at all times now. The provocative, highly arousing scent of her love for him lingered in the air around her and infused his own unique scent.

  As he paced through the kitchen and into the living room, the restless frustration pushed at him. The need to clear up so many misunderstandings, to explain actions that even he didn’t fully understand, rode his back like a malevolent demon.

  And that demon was clawing at his chest viciously.

  Staring through the privacy glass of the front door, he let his gaze rove over the house across the street. Someone had moved in a few months ago. He’d been uncomfortable with the house being empty. Anyone could have used it to watch his home. Knowing it was occupied now made it seem less a threat.

  Glancing down the street, he saw the SUV Tobias sat in. Draeger had been watching the back of the house earlier. The two Wolves were damned good. There had been a few times that it had taken even Cullen a few minutes to locate the two Breeds.

  Turning from the front door, he made his way through the softly lit house back to the kitchen and the back door. The house was rarely dark anymore. Chelsea kept a lamp on here and there and made it a point to illuminate whichever room she was in.

  She wasn’t frightened of the dark, she’d assured him the night before when he questioned her about the habit. She simply enjoyed the light and the feeling that nothing was hidden.

  Chelsea didn’t like subterfuge in her personal life; he’d already known that. She didn’t like secrets when it came to her relationships with others and made it a point not to keep secrets that would damage those relationships.

  Leaning a hip against the counter, he watched as she worked on her laptop and talked on the phone at the same time. She was still trying to chase down leads on who had taken that contract out on her life, just as Cullen had for the better part of the day. She’d spent every spare moment running down any information or whisper of a lead she could find, as Ashley and her sister Emma made any necessary trips to chase down names or contacts.

  “Cullen has several agents working on it,” she said into her phone as Cassie Sinclair listened on the other end. “I know that a few of the enforcers we’ve been working with have some contacts that go much deeper in this game than I’ve been able to make so far. I contacted them earlier and I’m waiting for word back.”

  One leg was crossed over the other, her foot rocking rhythmically as she glared down at the video she and Cullen had both gone over more than once.

  “There’s no word yet if anyone else picked up the contract or even if it went back out. I’m confident no one within the Cerves organization will be picking it up, though,” Chelsea replied to Cassie’s query on the current status of the contract.

  Cassie was silent for several moments, and Cullen picked up the sound of a heavy sigh before she said, “Call me then if you learn anything new, and we’ll do the same. Though so far, Fidel hasn’t given us any information that the Cerveses didn’t include in what they sent to us. I’ll update Rule and get back to you soon.”

  Disconnecting the call, Chelsea laid the phone on the table, closed the laptop, then rose and walked into the living room, where she plopped down on the couch and activated the e-pad with a muttered “Dammit.”

  The frustration had been building in her through the day, just as the restlessness was building in him. And he couldn’t blame it on Mating Heat; he’d already had her twice, and all before dinner.

  “Graeme has a line on an informant who has ties to the police department,” he told her, following her into the living room. “He sent one of Lobo’s Breeds to track him down. He’s hoping to have some information soon.”

  She raised her head, her gaze lifting to him as her fingers tightened on the device. Finally, she rolled her eyes in exasperation.

  “Graeme is so full of shit,” she told him with mocking disgust. “His informant is Esteban Cerves, with Juan and Samara’s blessing, and we both know it. He hit it off with them like they’re old, familiar friends. He should be ashamed of himself.”

  “That’s basically Cat’s opinion,” he chuckled, realizing the soft light of the lamp next to her caused lighter brown highlights to shine beneath its glow.

  Dressed in cutoffs and a figure-hugging tank, her feet bare, her toes painted an outrageous shade of brilliant blue, courtesy of Ashley, she looked like the teenager he remembered her being rather than the far-too-courageous, too-stubborn young warrior he knew her to be.

  “Doesn’t listen to her, though, does he?” She watched him knowingly. “He’s going to use this fascination they have for him to suck them of information while he completely mind-fucks them.” She gave a little wave of one hand to emphasize her opinion. “What’s so damned hilarious is that Cat and I actually warned Samara it was going to happen and she just smiled, as though we were children telling tales. He’s a menace, Cullen.”

  He smiled at the exclamation, realizing how often he smiled now.

  “So I’ve told him often,” he assured her. “He just ignores me too.”

  “He needs his own pride, or a house full of screaming kids.” Pure mischievous pleasure filled her expression before it fell dismally. “Geez, I couldn’t do that to a kid.”

  Scheming little wench.

  “However he gets the information on the identity of Morales’s killer or whoever put out that contract, the closer we’ll be to learning who’s trying to kill you. And ultimately, that’s all that matters to me.”

  Laying the e-pad aside, she sat back into the couch, rubbing her arms as though chilled, a frown brewing at her brow.

  “That brother of yours is so devious he probably already knows who offered that contract and he’s just waiting to strike. Before long the poor guy will be locked in Graeme’s lair, spilling his secrets as well as those of everyone he knows.”

  “I wouldn’t put it past him,” he agreed.

  “Why would anyone even want me dead?” she mused, turning her gaze back to him and tapping a fingernail against the arm of the couch. “It doesn’t make sense.”

  No, it didn’t make sense, and no matter which way he turned in the investigation he kept running against a brick wall.

  “Ex-lovers?” he asked, though he’d already had that angle checked.

  Sliding him a sideways glance, she smirked back at him. “Yeah, all two of them, right? Besides.” She scratched at her ear with a grimace. “They’re both married and living on different ends of the East Coast now.” She flashed him a teasing smile. “I’m actu
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