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

  ally very well liked, you know?”

  Yes, she was. She was one of those people who drew friends and loyalties no matter where she went.

  As he watched her a shadow passed over her expression, a thought that obviously caused her some discomfort.

  “What?” he asked her, watching her closely.

  She stared down at the device on her lap for a long moment.

  “I had some messages earlier. One of them was from Dad.” That discomfort had her shifting in her seat.

  “And?” Cullen probed, wondering what her father could have told her.

  Somber regret touched her expression before she frowned up at the ceiling.

  “Dad said if I don’t tell you, he’s going to. He’s a little pissed.” Her lips tightened, obviously not happy with her father’s demand.

  Cullen waited silently, her reluctance to tell him causing his suspicion to grow by the second.

  Lifting her head, she stared back at him, her dark gaze filled with regret. “Ranger came to see him. He tried to convince him I was trying to steal his job and asked for his help to convince Commissioner Jenkins to reinstate him.”

  Cullen stayed perfectly still, feeling a wild, icy need for retaliation brewing in him at the scent of Chelsea’s humiliation.

  She lowered her head again, fiddling with the e-pad though he doubted she was actually working on anything.

  Cullen clenched his teeth before fighting to relax his jaw. Moving to the couch, he sat on the other end and blew out a heavy breath as he turned his head to stare back at her.

  “Graeme suspects Lauren had some small ability to sense bondings or emotional connections,” he told her carefully, seeing the frown that touched her brow when she lifted her gaze back to his. “The more I think about it, the more I believe he could be right. And I believe she sensed a bond between the two of us and guessed that once you were older, you’d be my mate.” He gave a weary sigh. “I knew she married me hoping for a mating to cure her,” he admitted. “Just as I learned she and Ranger were in love. That last year, before her death, she and Ranger were actually together a lot. I assume she told him that Ray had confirmed the truth of Mating Heat and the fact that I hadn’t mated her.”

  Chelsea shook her head in confusion. “I was so young when you married. Even Granddad didn’t foresee this.”

  “Don’t fool yourself,” Cullen snorted. “Your granddad sensed far more than you realize. He might not have said anything to you, but I believe he was aware of it.”

  She looked down at the e-pad for a moment, then back to him. “Do you regret it, Cullen?” she asked, her voice low. “That you couldn’t mate Lauren?”

  And only Chelsea could ask that question without anger or resentment and that quiet sense of understanding he could feel flowing from her. She wouldn’t hate him if he felt that way, but the damage to her heart would be catastrophic.

  “I have no regrets in who my mate is,” he promised her, unable to stop the gentleness that flowed through him or the soft curve of a smile. “What happened then, or now, isn’t your fault. If fault has to be laid, then I’ll take it. I should have paid attention to the signs of Lauren’s deception. Just as I should have paid attention to those I sensed from Ranger.” The signs had been there, and his animal instincts hadn’t been completely asleep. Just rather lazy and disinterested until his mate came of age. “During our marriage, Lauren’s antagonism toward you increased, though. Little comments she would make, her fury whenever she saw you. I believe she sensed that bond somehow. Knowing the gifts your family’s shown in the past, I can’t discount it.”

  “If she had such an ability, I would have thought she’d have told everyone who would listen.” She frowned thoughtfully. “But Granddad mentioned something similar just before Lauren’s death about her knowing things she shouldn’t.” She gave a little shake of her head. “I can’t remember why he said it, though.”

  “What about you?” he asked then. “What psychic ability do you have besides projection?”

  Amusement filled her eyes as a little laugh left her lips. “Oh, I have mad skills. Haven’t you seen the floating silverware?” She was obviously restraining her laughter.

  “Smart-ass,” he retorted. Her sense of humor had always lit up the Underground offices of the Agency when she was there. God, how he’d missed it. “And I’m being serious. The Genetics Council targeted your aunt because of the predominance for psychic gifts on both sides of the family. I believe Orrin once said something about your grandmother having certain gifts.”

  Remembrance stole across her expression, and her love for her deceased grandparent clearly showed in her eyes.

  “Grandmother could dream-walk,” she remembered fondly. “But only with young children. She used it to soothe their nightmares and bring them sweet dreams instead. Isabelle has some small ability with that as well. I had no idea of my ability to do any kind of projection, though. No one’s complained but you.” Her smile was wickedly teasing.

  “What exactly is dream-walking? How does it work?” he asked.

  Chelsea shrugged at the question. “You’ll have to ask Isabelle. She doesn’t really talk about it. As for Lauren?” She laid the e-pad aside and gave a small sigh. “She wasn’t close to the rest of the family. If she’d had such an ability we wouldn’t have known about it unless it came to us through family gossip.”

  “Did your grandfather tell you Lauren had cancer before we married?” he asked, watching her carefully.

  She shrugged in discomfort, dropping her gaze to her fingers. Evidently she had known. Just as she had known he was a Breed. He remembered seeing her the night the Breed Underground had brought him, Honor and Cat to Terran Martinez’s home. She’d peeked at him from the darkness of the other room as he stood in the kitchen, determined to protect the girls. Those eyes had been filled with warmth and curiosity.

  “Look at me,” he demanded softly. “Just for a minute.”

  Lifting her eyes, she stared back at him silently, terrified of what might be coming, knowing he could shatter her heart. Cullen could feel that knowledge between them, just as he felt her love wrapping around him.

  “When I came here I was desperate for roots, for a sense of belonging,” he said sadly. “The phrase ‘young and dumb’ can apply to Breeds as well.”

  She nodded, licking her lips nervously. “I can understand that need. Anyone can.”

  He moved closer to her, reached out and touched her lips with a whisper of a caress.

  “Lauren was beautiful and so desperate to live. I was young and my Breed senses nonexistent. Most Breeds can smell a lie, no matter their age. And I didn’t have that ability. What I had was a hunger to feel normal.” Picking up her hand, he ran a finger over the back of it and sighed heavily before staring back at her once again in regret.

  “Cullen, I wasn’t jealous like that,” she whispered. “We were friends, and suddenly you just weren’t a part of my life anymore. It hurt, but I don’t resent you or Lauren in any way.”

  “You’re not listening.” His jaw tightened furiously, the need to explain, to find the words to explain, filling him with frustration. “I was desperate to believe lust was love and so eager for those roots that I fell into the whole fantasy of it.” He shook his head at the memory. “And I was too young, too dumb and desperate for that fantasy to realize that Raymond’s fondness for Lauren and his knowledge of my Breed status was a dangerous combination. They thought young lust and desperation was all it took to create a mating, and that a mating would heal her.” He laid his finger against her lips when she would have spoken. “I don’t hate her for it. I don’t even blame her for the attempt. I never have. But I couldn’t have mated her. It wasn’t possible.”

  “Because you were recessed . . .” She nodded.

  “That’s not why. Mating Heat will awaken Breed instincts and they can become active in a second,” he explained. “That wasn’t why.”

  Confusion had her staring back at him helplessly.
“Then why? I know you loved her . . .”

  “You’re not listening,” he reproved gently. “Lust and a need for roots cannot create a mating. Just because I wanted to believe I loved her at the time doesn’t count. Subconsciously, I knew better. And if I didn’t, then my Breed instincts sure as hell did.”

  Chelsea licked her lips nervously, her heart suddenly racing, hope beginning to explode through her despite her best effort to contain it.

  “There, you’re getting a clue now, aren’t you?” The soft approval in his voice had a tremor racing through her.

  He couldn’t be telling her what she was so desperate to hear.

  Could he?

  “Chelsea, I love you,” he whispered, his voice deeper, rougher. “That’s why the Mating Heat flared when I knew you were leaving the Agency and me. That’s why, when Graeme told me of your attack, there was no way I couldn’t have come to you, and the Heat was stronger when I did. I was going crazy without your laughter, your smart-ass remarks and the warmth that’s so much a part of you. I love you. I even loved you when you were a bratty twelve-year-old who winked at me and decided I was crazy for turning down her father’s soup. Some part of my instincts demanded I give you a chance to mature, though, as you became older. To grow in who you were, not who I wanted you to be.”

  Chelsea was shaking by time he finished, joy exploding inside her like fireworks as his eyes seemed to glow with a warmth she realized had always been there, just tamped back. Tamed.

  And it was hers.

  A laugh spilled from her and she threw her arms around his neck. Falling back to the cushions, he dragged her over him, the strength of his arms enfolding her.

  He was hers.

  “I love you, Cullen,” she cried, finally able to give voice to the feelings that had only grown inside her over the years. “I love you so much.”

  He pushed her hair back from her face, his touch incredibly gentle, his expression filled with everything she’d dreamed of, even when she’d been convinced he’d break her heart. Yet she’d still given him that heart to shatter if that was what he wanted to do with it.

  “Come here, baby,” he growled, hunger filling his eyes, his expression. “Come here, my love.”

  He undressed her first, then himself, the lamp’s glow washing over the sun-loved color of his flesh, emphasizing his powerful chest, hard muscular abs and lean thighs and the thick length of his cock.

  As he moved over her, his kisses sent hungry flames of need licking through her senses, pleasure pulsing through her veins like adrenaline as he pushed between her thighs, one knee pressed into the cushion of the couch and the other braced on the floor.

  His deep, rough growl as her knees lifted, clasping his hips, had her breath hitching in her throat. The signs of his pleasure made her feel more feminine, sexier than before. With one hand he guided the crest of his erection to the aching flesh between her thighs, tucked it against the slick opening, then began pushing inside her.

  The sensual, stretching heat battered her senses as he worked the stiff shaft inside her, impaling her with a rush of brilliant sensation.

  “That’s it, baby,” he groaned at her ear, his voice rough, his touch, his kiss, demanding. “So fucking sweet. God help me, I love you. Love you so much, sweet Chelsea.”

  As he thrust to the hilt inside her then, she lost her breath. The sound of his vow, the heat of his body, his possession overwhelmed her.

  He had all of her, but now, she held all of him. Heart and soul and everything in between.

  With his lips loving hers, tongue parting them and thrusting inside, he spilled the heated spice she’d grown addicted to as the sensations built to a critical level.

  She loved him. She loved this. Loved the waves of exquisite pleasure that rushed through her when he touched her, when he stole her sanity with each hard thrust inside her body.

  “I dreamed of this,” he groaned, each sturdy, powerful thrust rasping and caressing tissue growing more sensitive with each drag of his cock through the snug depths.

  Breathing heavy, their gasps filling the silence of the house, she cried out as those bands of sensual, erotic tension tightened, pushing her higher, closer to the edge of the maelstrom. With each thrust that storm inside her became more powerful, binding her heart ever deeper to him.

  “Fuck. Yes,” he groaned at her ear when the storm overtook her.

  She arched into his thrusts, feeling his hand clasp her hip, his hips moving faster, stroking flames through her senses that overtook her in the next breath.

  The explosion was fiery, waves of pure ecstasy battering at her senses now. When he followed her, the barb locked him inside her. The eruption of violent sensation detonated again, quaking through every cell of her body as his release followed hers.

  “I love you,” she cried out, sobbing with the pleasure, knowing nothing could ever be more perfect than this. “Oh God, Cullen, I love you.”

  Shock filled him.

  His father’s heart was breaking at the words he heard through the listening device he’d managed to place in Cullen’s home.

  He’d actually been willing to let Chelsea live after all. The risks in killing her himself were too high, just as putting out another contract risked having the Cerves family coming after him. From all appearances and everything he heard, he was beginning to believe that if Cullen no longer thought someone wanted to kill Chelsea, his affair with her would pass. Just as the others had, those whores whose bed Cullen had shared.

  Even Ranger’s certainty that she carried the mating mark was in doubt. After all, it could have just been a love bite.

  As the sounds of animal lust began, he hurriedly switched off the device, Cullen’s declaration to Chelsea causing his stomach to pitch with sickening disgust.

  He’d lost his daughter, the only bright spot in his life. Her loss had broken him, just as it had broken Marsha. As long as Cullen stayed away from the woman Lauren had sensed her husband was bound to, then Arthur had let things be.

  Then Ranger had warned him Cullen had become obsessed when Chelsea resigned from the Agency. Pacing, snapping, having Ranger check on her every few days, Arthur had sensed what was coming.

  He’d been certain that hiring that Coyote was the answer, but the bastard just had to try to use a blade rather than a bullet. Chelsea had lived and the Coyote had died.

  Moving to the window, he stared out across the street at Cullen’s house. The soft glow of the living room lamp, the occasional flash of a shadow against the curtains was something he’d not seen there until Cullen had brought Chelsea to his home.

  Before, the house had always been dark, not even a porch light burning. Cullen left for work before daylight and returned well after dark, and he’d never brought a woman to the house, preferring to do whatever he did with them, then return to his own bed.

  And it wasn’t like that anymore.

  His daughter was gone, and the man who could have saved her felt it was okay that he hadn’t.

  A tear escaped the corner of his eye at the memory of the hope that had been stolen from them.

  Raymond had been certain Lauren could be saved when he came to Arthur with the plan. All Lauren had to do was convince the Breed to fall in love with her; that was all it took for the Mating Heat to begin. Then Lauren would be cured. They were certain that soon, she’d be healthy again.

  Until Lauren had called while on her honeymoon. The very day after her marriage. She’d been sobbing, swearing she’d sensed Chelsea’s thoughts with her new husband. She swore she remembered the feeling from her youth, when she’d met another member of the family whose thoughts of her had been incredibly distasteful. She’d been upset for days.

  Hysterical, inconsolable, she swore Chelsea had called to Cullen’s recessed animal for that split second, and that animal was bonded to her.

  Lauren’s gift hadn’t been strong enough to read whatever the thoughts were; she hadn’t been strong enough to be healthy or strong enough to ensure
that Cullen mated her so she’d live.

  Chelsea had taken it all.

  She’d taken Lauren’s ability to read projected thoughts, her health, her strength, but worst of all, she’d taken Lauren’s mate, leaving her to die.

  Did Cullen really think that bitch would be allowed to live?

  Chelsea had to pay for letting Lauren die, just as Cullen had to pay.

  Hell, no one would have cared if Cullen took the little whore to his bed if he’d just healed Lauren. Lauren’s dreams had been to marry Ranger, to give him children and live her life with him. A healthy life.

  They hadn’t asked Cullen for that much. All they had asked was that he heal the wife he had sworn to protect.

  “Do you believe me now?” Ranger asked from the darkness behind him. “What are we going to do, Arthur?”

  Arthur sighed wearily. “Did you take care of the custodian who let you into Morales’s cell?” he asked, watching the light and shadows from the house across the street.

  “He’s dead,” Ranger assured him. “I put the bullet in his head myself.”

  “Then we’re safe,” Arthur said softly. “And we can make Cullen and Chelsea both pay for allowing our Lauren to die. Now they’ll both have to suffer for what was taken away from us, Ranger.”

  Both of them.

  CHAPTER 22

  From Graeme’s Journal

  The Recessed Primal Breed

  —Ever vigilant

  —Always searching

  Each sight, each sound, every scent that touches its senses is a piece of information, an instinctive puzzle the Primal pieces together. He’s always searching, always waiting, existing for but one reason.

  The survival of his mate . . .

  The next night Cullen eased from the bed, the restlessness plaguing him, refusing to rest. Next to him Chelsea slept deeply, her breathing slow and even. Physical and emotional satisfaction surrounded her, as did peace. She wasn’t just calm, she was at peace, and sensing that filled him with pride. Now, if only he could still the deepening sense of something not quite right, that warning energy that he couldn’t find a cause for.

  Rising from the bed and retrieving the clothes and boots he’d shed earlier, Cullen dressed quickly, silently, before making his way from the house.

  Darkness closed around him, shielding his presence. The dark clothing he wore blended into the shadows, hiding him from normal eyesight and ensuring that he blended into the dark. As he freed the Primal senses, the scents surrounding him flooded his mind. And there were so many scents.

  This was why so few Breeds lived within cities, he knew. There were too many scents. It made it difficult to distinguish individual smells unless the Breed knew what to look for or had already scented the prey.

  Tracking through the night, he made his way around the block, house to house, finding nothing to trigger suspicion or that primal warning again. Until he reached the ravine at the back of his property. There, he caught a smell he knew shouldn’t be there.

  Ranger.

  The other man had been watching the back of the house. There was a faint scent of a Desert Runner, no doubt what the man had used to travel through the desert. Now why the hell was his former co-commander watching his home?

  His eyes narrowed as his gaze swept over the ravine, his Breed sight picking up the slightest details right down to the impression of a body as it lay just out of sight, enabling the watcher to peek over the rise and watch the back of the house. And he was armed. That faint metallic scent drifted to his nostrils as a grimace pulled at his lips. Ranger needed to clean his rifle again. He was amazingly lax when it came to keeping his weapon in peak condition.

  There had been a time that Cullen had automatically cleaned Ranger’s weapon at the office when he’d cleaned his own. That had stopped years ago when Ranger had just dropped the gun to his desk one day with an absent order to clean it for him.

  Cullen hadn’t cleaned the gun. He’d all but thrown it back at Ranger, his reaction so quick, so explosive it hadn’t just shocked Ranger. It had shocked Cullen as well.

  Years of what he’d believed was friendship flashed through his mind. There were so many instances when he should have known that the friendship was deliberately cultivated and the many ways Ranger had used it.

  Some humans had an almost animalistic sense, an instinctive cunning for how to best use others. They could subconsciously size up strengths, weaknesses and the others’ potential to benefit their lives or goals. Ranger had that instinct; Cullen simply hadn’t wanted to admit that the man he called friend used it as he did.

  Jumping lightly into the ravine, he came to a crouch, drawing in the scents carefully, lifting the cover just a bit to a well of such vast knowledge and impulses that he found himself keeping it carefully contained.

  The well was chaos, supercharged, and he was pretty damned certain that it was best to keep it tightly closed, just as he often cautioned his brother to do with the Primal.

  That small bit he allowed free was like a drug rush, though. Suddenly, his senses were so sharp, so clear that for a brief second, it was dizzying. The impulse to throw the cover open flared briefly through his head, only to be instantly denied.

  He’d found the calm within his mind after coming to the Nation, after staring into a twelve-year-old girl’s dark gaze and instinctively becoming locked within the calm that was such a part of her. She’d shared her sense of security, her sense of place within the world, he realized. The moment he’d felt her shock that he refused the food, the animal instinct inside him had instantly recognized the child for what she would be, latched on and drawn that serenity she carried deep inside him.

  And it had all been done so seamlessly, without Cullen ever realizing that his Breed genetics were awake within him but simply refusing to react until ready. Not when Cullen wanted it to awaken or react, but when the animal deemed the time had arrived.

  Now, drawing on that powerful, inner darkness waiting at the edges of awareness, he identified the scents the ravine carried, and the essence of the man who had been hiding there.

  Hatred was the strongest scent, acrid and bitter, like bile against the back of the tongue. It was the strongest of the emotions left behind. Beneath it was confidence, deception. He was certain that whatever his goal was would be achieved. That certainty had its own scent, its own bitter dregs that Cullen’s senses found distasteful.

  Beneath it all—the hatred, confidence and deception—was the scent of madness. And Cullen knew that scent well; it was similar to the scent Graeme sometimes carried. But whereas the scent Graeme carried was a quick, hard assault to the senses, it didn’t carry the dark undertones of blood, no matter how much blood his brother shed.

  Graeme believed death was the only way to rid the world of monsters. Let them live and they might breed, and some freak of genetics might well breed another monster. He didn’t believe in
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