Wake a sleeping tiger, p.23
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       Wake A Sleeping Tiger, p.23
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         Part #22 of Breeds series by Lora Leigh

  mercy. Justice was justice, he would often say, and unaccepted acts required what the world viewed as unacceptable reactions.

  This scent of madness, rather than a sharp, shocking burst, was just an assault to the senses, despite the faintness of it. And it lingered in a way that had a sudden rumble of a growl threatening to escape his throat.

  A second later, he stilled, another scent reaching his senses as it crept up behind him. The Wolf was making just enough noise to alert Cullen that he was there.

  Rising from his crouched position, Cullen caught sight of the Breed moving through the shadows, the dangerous wariness he used to stalk the night almost hidden, yet Cullen recognized it instantly.

  Remaining crouched, he waited, drawing in Draeger’s scent and realizing the Wolf wasn’t there because he’d sensed Cullen’s presence. It wasn’t a scent he was stalking, but the feeling that something far too dangerous lurked in the night.

  Animal senses could be amazingly perceptive with or without scent.

  Releasing a soft, growling alert of his presence, more a welcome than a warning, he saw the Wolf tense before immediately relaxing. In the next breath he dropped into the ravine, then crouched a good ten feet from where Cullen relaxed back on his haunches.

  “Aren’t you a surprise,” Draeger muttered, his voice pitched low enough that Cullen was certain it went no farther than them. “I couldn’t smell you out here, but I damned sure felt that burst of whatever the hell you released. Had the hairs on the back of my neck standing straight up.”

  Wonderful. He’d end up having to tell Graeme about this, simply to see if it was something his brother had experienced and if accessing those darker senses could be hidden.

  “Hmm,” Cullen murmured, meeting the Wolf Breed’s look. “Tell me, have you caught his scent?”

  He didn’t have to say who.

  “I found it about half an hour ago,” Draeger told him as he neared Cullen. “I was canvassing the area to make certain it went no farther. So far, it’s confined here, but his scent is off some way. Has my instincts bristling.”

  “Yeah, yours and mine both,” he admitted, rising slowly and moving closer to where Ranger had positioned himself. “He had his weapon with him. I know because I recognize the scent of it. He doesn’t keep it cleaned. It has a distinct scent from the ammunition he uses.”

  “Damn, son, that’s a hell of a nose you have,” Draeger commented, surprised. “I caught the scent of a weapon, but that was about it. I couldn’t pin it down.” Rising to his feet, he came nearer, drawing in the scent at the location Ranger had rested. “That’s still all I catch.” Cullen could feel his intense gaze flickering back to him again. “Why did you slip around me? You could have let me know you were out here.”

  Cullen shrugged. “I didn’t slip around you. I was restless and decided to check the area myself. I caught his scent as I neared the ravine and decided to check it out.”

  “As you neared the ravine?” Draeger asked with a bit of surprise. “I was in the ravine and almost at this position before I caught the scent.”

  Propping his hands on his hips, Cullen let his gaze sweep through the night as he ignored Draeger’s comment.

  “This is downwind of the house,” Draeger pointed out, resting one hand on the sidearm at his thigh. “Would have been easy to hide here, it’s farther out than we patrol.” He breathed out heavily. “Bastard.”

  “Where’s Tobias?” Cullen asked him.

  Draeger tapped his ear, indicating the small communications device he and Tobias used. “He said to tell you the dinner smells coming from your house every evening are killing him.”

  Cullen let a grin edge at his lips. He’d end up gaining weight at this rate.

  He looked around once again, asking himself what the hell Ranger was doing watching his home.

  Home.

  It had always just been “the house” before; now, because of Chelsea, it was home. It was the soft glow of lamps lighting the room, the smell of something she was cooking drifting through the house, the scent of lemon furniture polish after she straightened each room and now, the faint glow of the kitchen night-light she’d plugged in at the counter, a welcoming invitation of warmth.

  It was also a perfect tool used by predators to detect movement in the house.

  “Let’s get back to the house.” Cullen turned and headed back the way Draeger had moved in.

  Concentrating on Chelsea with that little edge of power he’d released, he realized he could sense her. She was still sleeping, a deep, heavy sleep that she rarely slipped into.

  Sliding beneath the arch of the covered patio, he eased behind one of the stucco columns, drew two of the cigars he carried in his pocket free and handed one to Draeger.

  “’Preciate it.” The Wolf nodded. “Fucking Tobias found my stash and I haven’t had a chance to replace them yet.”

  “He’s still alive?” Cullen asked, his voice low but amused as he lit his own cigar before extending the lighter to the other Breed.

  Lighting the rolled tobacco, Draeger gave the lighter back to Cullen.

  “I fucking hate Dane for getting me started on these,” he growled.

  Cullen shot Draeger a wry look. “His family makes these damned things in Africa, just for the Breeds. The blend was specially created so it doesn’t block our senses or linger in them once we’re finished. All the pleasure, none of the pain,” he drawled.

  “Hmm.” Draeger made an agreeable sound. “This is some good stuff, though. I can be madder than hell and ready to rip someone’s head off. Smoke one of these fuckers and I’ll consider letting them live for a while longer.”

  Holding the slender cigar between two fingers, Cullen considered it for long moments. Maybe he should have Graeme check them out. Lifting it to his lips, he drew in the fragrant smoke once again. Hell, he’d been smoking them this long, a few more days wouldn’t hurt.

  “You know, Tobias and I were at the Cerves compound meeting with a contact when Chelsea busted through those gates with that little girl of Samara’s.” He leaned back against the column beside him, facing Cullen. “We saw you rush her out of there as fast as hell, before Samara came looking for her. I was terrified that kid would be dead before they got her to the doctors waiting in the estate and certain Samara would kill Chelsea if that happened.” Compassion flashed in his expression. “Instead, she’s spent weeks since searching for the woman who rescued her little girl and gave her those final days with her.”

  “Doesn’t sound like the stories of the Blood Queen, does it?” Cullen remarked. “I didn’t see you there. You were keeping yourselves well hidden.”

  “We were there for intel and stayed in the shadows,” he sighed. “You know they took the kid because the Cerveses refused to use their informants to keep the Council apprised of Breed movements in the area.” A bitter smile touched the Wolf’s expression. “See, little Louisa loved all things Breed. And if Louisa loved it, then there wasn’t a chance in hell they were touching it. So those Coyotes took her daughter instead. She’s childless and looking for a daughter. I have a feeling, after that little meeting you told me about at Lobo Reever’s, Samara Cerves thinks she’s found a daughter.”

  Cullen hadn’t missed Samara’s affection for Chelsea before they’d left the Reever estate. The other woman, though grief stricken, had remarked that she’d always imagined Louisa would have the same gentle soul Chelsea had, as well as the same reckless courage.

  “Not as long as she’s a criminal.” Cullen shook his head. “Chelsea won’t have it.”

  Draeger chuckled at the observation.

  “When Chelsea was attacked by that Coyote I wondered if that had something to do with her rescue of Louisa,” the Breed admitted then. “Then came the Morales hit and I was sure of it. So I did a little checking and finally found the Coyote’s partner. Tobias and I had a little talk with him earlier today. It seems the one who attacked Chelsea told him the hit came not because of anything she’d done
.” He paused, watching Cullen carefully.

  “It was because of me,” Cullen guessed then. “Someone guessed I was getting ready to take her as my lover.”

  Draeger nodded with a short, abrupt movement before inhaling from the cigar, then lowering it to his thigh.

  “The partner didn’t know who it was. It was information he was supposed to get later, but didn’t, because I killed his little friend. But if it’s because of you, after the shit Ranger was spouting and now his presence in the ravine, I’m guessing it was him.”

  That wasn’t the man he’d known, Cullen thought bitterly. The man he’d known had been a friend and a confidant. But the hatred Cullen had glimpsed in Ranger’s eyes now made him a very dangerous stranger.

  Drawing on the cigar he frowned, that restlessness and sense of wild fury clawing at him again. Lowering the cigar to his thigh, he drew in the scents of the night and still couldn’t place what was bothering him so deeply.

  Just to be sure, he directed his senses to the Wolf Breed. What he sensed from the Wolf was the same as it had always been. That core of animalistic honor, human will and Breed fury. A silent, soul-deep fury they all felt, but fought to hide even from themselves, Cullen knew.

  At least, until they mated.

  “Whoever it is,” Cullen said softly, the knowledge of it a certainty that filled his head, “they’ll try again. I can feel it coming. I’ve felt it for days now.”

  His gaze swept the night beyond the patio and still couldn’t detect anything, but he could feel it. Like a tendril of sullen fury reaching out to him, he could sense it.

  “Yeah,” Draeger agreed, a hiss of sound that would have done any feline proud. “I can feel it like a breath at the back of my neck. Tobias has been itchy too. Tonight that feeling’s particularly irritating, ya know?”

  Yeah, he knew exactly what the Wolf was talking about. That feeling had his nerves on edge.

  “You should get her out of here, Cullen,” Draeger told him quietly. “Get her to Graeme’s. She’d be safer there.”

  Yes, she would be. Hell, he should have stayed there instead of bringing her back.

  Maybe he should move her tonight.

  A faint sound from Draeger had his head jerking around, his gaze finding the Wolf.

  He was slumped against the post he’d been leaning on, his eyes open, panicked as he slowly slid to the ground.

  Aware but unable to move. Helpless.

  Stunned by the paralytic the Council had created to hold Breeds’ bodies completely still, muscles relaxed, no matter how much pain the scientists inflicted.

  Even as his gaze found Draeger, Cullen was jumping for the back door, desperate to get to Chelsea. And it was already too late.

  He felt the dart bite into his neck, the instant, burning, paralyzing effects sweeping through his body as the wild fury he’d sensed trapped inside him broke the bonds containing it.

  His mate was defenseless.

  GRAEME’S ESTATE

  The report in his hand fluttered to the metal table as Graeme froze, becoming completely still, the Primal jerking awake. Instantly the twin bond he shared with Cullen snapped into place; everything his brother sensed or felt in that moment, Graeme knew with crystal-clear awareness.

  The absolute fury and maddened rage of Cullen’s Primal struggled against the paralytic, fully awake now and pushing past Breed resistance.

  There was no time to warn his mate.

  Bengal markings burned over Graeme’s skin, claws ripping through the tips of his fingers as strength surged through his body and a roar echoed through the caverns.

  Within seconds a powerful black motorcycle shot into the night, the creature riding it enraged and out for blood. And it knew the faces of its victims and the scent of their malevolence.

  Hell, he should have killed Ranger and Arthur Holden when he’d wanted to, years ago.

  CHAPTER 23

  From Graeme’s Journal

  The Recessed Primal Breed

  Once called to protect his mate, and given freedom by the Breed pushed to the last edge of hope, the Primal will know no mercy.

  Nor will the Breed—

  Chelsea came awake instantly, her eyes flaring open, an overwhelming sense of panic causing her to roll off the bed and drop soundlessly to the carpeted floor.

  The black silk shirt Cullen had worn earlier still lay crumpled on the floor next to the nightstand and her pack. Pulling the compact automatic weapon from the side pocket of the pack, she laid it beside her and hurriedly pulled the shirt on, quickly buttoning it. Thankfully it was a short-sleeved shirt and she didn’t have to take time to roll the sleeves up. She grabbed the wrinkled sweatpants that lay half under the bed and jerked them on quickly, her gaze moving around the darkness, searching for whatever had brought her awake.

  The automatic, icy containment of all emotions, especially fear or panic, kept her heartbeat regular, or kind of regular, allowing her to hear every sound rather than her racing heartbeat.

  Unfortunately, there was nothing to hear.

  The house was quiet. And dark.

  The soft glow of the kitchen night-light was absent, the partially open bedroom door showing nothing but darkness beyond. And she knew Cullen would have never turned that light out.

  He wasn’t in the bed with her either. She peeked over the edge of the mattress, just to be certain, and there was definitely no Cullen.

  The knowledge that whatever woke her was dangerous crawled over her flesh. That sensation assured her that danger was in the house with her.

  Holding her weapon carefully at the side of her thigh, she crept silently to the partially open door and let her gaze slide to what she could see of the hall.

  Where was Cullen? Why wasn’t he in the bed with her?

  He wouldn’t have left her alone and gone anywhere without her. He was too protective, too possessive.

  So where was he?

  Staying completely silent and allowing her gaze to adjust to the darkness, Chelsea lowered herself closer to the floor before sliding through the narrow opening between the door and the frame. Any movement of the door would alert an intruder that she was awake, and she wanted to make certain she saw them first.

  Once in the hall, she remained low to the floor, watching the darkness carefully.

  There were no odd shadows or shapes that she could glimpse, nothing to indicate why the lights were out or what had brought her so quickly awake.

  She could only see part of the kitchen and living room, and she debated the best way to slide from the hallway. The living room door was closer, but something kept drawing her gaze to the kitchen. A sensation or overwhelming impulse.

  Moving her gaze around the darkness again, she noticed that everything looked normal. If there was danger, and she was certain there was, then it was just out of sight. But which way?

  Rather than moving, she stayed completely still and waited.

  Watched.

  Part of her training for the Breed Underground had been just this. Remaining still and silent, unmoving while she tried to outwait her trainers.

  In this case she wasn’t trying to outwait anyone as nice as her trainers.

  She could feel the tension slowly gathering inside her, an assurance that whoever was out there was waiting as well.

  Where are you, Cullen?

  The ice around her emotions threatened to crack when she couldn’t sense him, couldn’t feel him. Whatever she felt in that moment sent a chill up her spine, and panic threatened to break through the ice.

  She felt maddened violence unchained. What the hell could that be?

  Where was Cullen?

  Even as that thought passed through her, the suddenness of the attack, when it came, shocked her.

  The blow to her head wasn’t enough to knock her out. Instead she was thrown to the floor, her weapon falling from her hand as she fought to remain conscious.

  A second later, harsh fingers gripped the hair at the back of her neck, dragging
her to her feet as she cried out at the pain.

  “There you are, pretty girl,” a dark, sinister voice crooned, his curved canines flashing in the dark as black eyes gleamed with malicious pleasure. “Wanna be my chew toy?”

  “Not yet.” The voice that came out of the dark sent a searing surge of bitter betrayal tearing through her.

  The Coyote quickly jerked her around to face the man who spoke: Arthur Holden. But standing beside him was Theodore Ranger, and in their eyes she saw the promise of pain.

  “Let’s go,” Ranger ordered, nodding to the back door. “Before we’re seen.”

  Pain exploded in her head then, stealing consciousness and hope.

  Her last thought . . .

  What happened to Cullen . . . ?

  Cullen felt Chelsea’s sudden silence. It wasn’t like sleep where he could sense her peace or her calm. She was suddenly just gone.

  Minutes later the back door opened, the scents of the three passing mingled with Chelsea’s. The fury already raging through him exploded with greater force at the scents he identified. Arthur and Ranger and with them a Coyote Breed whose malignant scent and stench of old blood marked him as a Council Breed.

  As they passed, carrying his mate, strength surged through him, Primal power and strength erupting beneath his flesh. Claws tore through the tips of his fingers, stripes burned across his flesh and a consuming, insane rage pushed the last of the effects of the paralytic from his body.

  Distantly, he realized the shock Draeger experienced as Cullen flipped to his feet and into a crouch. He heard the sound of a heli-jet that had landed just after he went down and was powering up, preparing to lift off.

  Launching himself toward the black craft, he ran across the property behind his house, a roar ripping from his throat. The heli-jet lifted from the ground as he neared it, gaining altitude even as he pushed himself up, springing toward the aircraft with another enraged roar.

  He almost managed to secure a fingerhold.

  Almost.

  A feline scream shattered the night as he hit the ground and the heli-jet shot through the night sky, taking his mate with it.

  With his teeth bared, the furious guttural sound tore from his throat, echoing through the night as his twin appeared beside him.

  They’d taken his mate.

  “Get the Runner,” Graeme snarled. “She has a tag under her skin and I have the tracker. We’ll find her, Cullen. I promise you, we’ll find her.”

  Chelsea came awake slowly, fighting the nauseating pain in her head. Arthur and Ranger hadn’t given a damn about damage, had they? She could feel her eye already swelling, throbbing horribly right along with her head.

  Concussion maybe. Several deep bruises, nothing broken, and she was fucking cold. Of course, she wasn’t exactly dressed for strolling through the desert night.

  “Our little chew toy’s awake.” A sinister chuckle sent a chill racing up her spine. “We’ll get to play soon.”

  Forcing back a shiver, she told herself Cullen would be there soon. He’d come for her as soon as he realized she was gone.

  “Open your eyes, bitch.” A kick to her thigh, hard enough to pull an involuntary cry from her lips that was met with a low chuckle.

  Chelsea glared through the tangle of hair that fell over her eyes. The longer they waited to kill her, the better her chances of survival.

  The other two Coyotes weren’t alone at the low fire—drinking coffee, and that coffee smelled almost good; sitting with them were Arthur and Ranger.

  “Look how angry those eyes are,” Arthur sighed. “As though she has a right to that anger.”

  She had a right to her anger. Of course, she wasn’t the crazy one.

  “You made all this incredibly easy, Chelsea,” Arthur told her, regret filling his tone and his expression. “Though I had actually decided to let you live, to let my anger go. Until Cullen mated you.”

  The two Coyotes sitting at the fire watched her with cold, unblinking eyes.

  “Cullen will kill you, Arthur,” she told him, her voice bleak. “You’ll never get away with it.”

  “Why do you think that?” The taunting smile on his face was actually scary.

  Carefully taking in everything around her, Chelsea began quickly formulating the best way to escape. Her options were actually rather limited, though.

  Arthur stood next to the Runner parked just behind them; Ranger sat on the hood, his booted feet propped on the metal brush guards as he watched her with hard, hate-filled eyes. To his side was another Runner, the running lights at the sides of the vehicle actually lit and glowing dimly in the darkness of the night.

  There were two Coyotes hunched next to the fire, sipping coffee silently, their gazes hooded as they watched her. The third Coyote stood by the Runner, anticipation gleaming in black eyes, his scarred face highlighted by the flickering flames.

  “You didn’t answer me, Chelsea,” Arthur snapped, frowning at her as he walked toward her, the hatred in his face causing her stomach to sink. “What makes you think Cullen will kill me? Do you think he knows either Ranger or I was there?” His smile was triumphant. “Word will reach Cullen in a few days that you were taken by the dogs that killed the Cerves brat. And your body will never be found. But he can sense you, can’t he?” His look was filled with pleasure now. “And he’ll know the hell you’re experiencing. A hell even these dirty dogs can’t compare to.”

  Arthur missed the looks the two Coyotes slid
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