Wake a sleeping tiger, p.7
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       Wake A Sleeping Tiger, p.7
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         Part #22 of Breeds series by Lora Leigh

  “Shut the fuck up,” Cullen ordered, hating the truth of his friend’s words.

  “Admit it, Cullen.” Ranger sighed. “That girl’s been important to you since you first came to Window Rock. Lauren might have been paranoid, but she wasn’t wrong about you and Chelsea being close. She’s important to you. She always has been.”

  More important than Ranger guessed. More important than even Cullen had realized at the time.

  “She was a friend. She’s still a friend.” He sighed wearily. “How that’s changed since Lauren’s death isn’t the point, Ranger. I wasn’t unfaithful to my wife.” No matter the fact that she had been.

  “If anyone knows that, it’s me,” Ranger stated quietly. “But now, Cullen, you’re going to have to make up your mind what you’re going to do where she’s concerned. Because she’s not one of those one-night stands you keep insisting on having. You break her heart, and you’ll make enemies.”

  Sliding him a sidelong look, Cullen only grunted at the warning. It wasn’t the enemies he would make that bothered him. The thought of breaking Chelsea’s heart wasn’t the problem. If he took her to his bed, he’d keep her. He wouldn’t have a choice in the matter. It was that wild courage that was so much a part of her that held him back. A wild courage that terrified him on a good day. Chelsea would insist on fighting by his side and he’d go crazy worrying about her safety and losing her.

  He was starting to realize that was all he was doing now, though.

  Chelsea had proven she wasn’t going to be restrained with her rescue of the Cerves daughter that night in the desert. The memory of that still had the power to send fear crawling up his back. She could have died out there, alone, tortured by the monsters that had such a lack of mercy they’d killed a child with the physical and mental wounds they’d inflicted.

  And making enemies wasn’t the greatest risk he was taking. Losing her was his greatest fear, but losing himself if anything ever happened to her was a certainty.


  From Graeme’s Journal

  The Recessed Primal Breed

  The recessed Primal Breed will deny Mating Heat only as long as his animal genetics will allow—

  Two days later Chelsea stepped into the office of the Director of the Western Division of the Bureau of Breed Affairs, where Rule Breaker and his assistant director, Lawe Justice, and her handler, Cassie Sinclair, waited.

  Cassie looked as cool and composed as ever dressed in gray tailored slacks, a white silk blouse and four-inch heels. Her long black hair was drawn back into a low ponytail and secured with a white silk ribbon. She appeared both innocent and confident and it was a look she did well.

  Rule and Lawe, on the other hand, despite their expensive suits and smooth manners, were still the hard, savagely trained Breeds they were when they’d first come to the Nation several years ago. The rougher edges were smoother now, but they hadn’t lost anything in strength or the wary caution in their eyes.

  “Chelsea. It’s good to see you again.” Rule rose from his seat behind the long executive desk at the other side of the room. A smile tipped his lips and amusement filled his dark blue gaze, but she was certain that could change as quickly as any threat could rear its head.

  “Yes, it is,” Lawe agreed. “Though we expected to see you at Graeme’s dinner party the other night.”

  Her brow lifted as she shook their hands, appreciating the light firmness that didn’t pinch her hand.

  “I should have just attended,” she grimaced, taking her seat next to Cassie in front of Rule’s desk. “Our friendly commander of the Covert Law Enforcement Agency made things a little difficult while we were in the field.”

  Rule grimaced at her comment as he took his seat as well and pulled a file up on the holo-screen he used at his desk.

  “So your report noted,” he sighed. “I wanted you to come in to let you know in person that your cover has likely been blown with the commander, and definitely with his brother, Graeme. It’s rather difficult to keep Graeme out of our files whenever he decides to plunder them.”

  She nodded at that. “It lasted longer than I anticipated. Cullen, I know, is rather good at getting the answers he wants. I suspected he’d request Graeme’s help in getting those answers after he showed up at the house the other day.”

  She’d worked with him long enough to know exactly how good he was at it. She’d simply assumed after a month of no contact that he really didn’t give a damn what she was doing.

  “I should tell you Grandfather contacted me as well,” Rule sighed. “He wasn’t happy with me for offering you the position.”

  Sometimes, it was damned hard to remember that this forceful Breed and his brother were actually her first cousins. When her aunt, Morningstar, had been kidnapped by the Council, she’d been impregnated with Breeds. Rule and Lawe were just two of them. And through them they’d learned that Morningstar’s brother, Raymond, had actually been working with the Council at the time. He’d betrayed his sister to them.

  “Did Cullen call him?” she asked him warily then.

  If he’d been carrying tales to her grandfather, she might end up taking her grandmother’s black cast-iron skillet to his head.

  Rule’s lips twisted with wry amusement. “Grandfather claims less conventional means in acquiring his information.”

  “He told Rule he wasn’t pleased that the winds were forced to come to him rather than his own grandsons to inform him of the dangers said grandsons had drawn his granddaughter into,” Lawe smirked. “He was a little put out.”

  Chelsea let her fingers tighten on the arm of the chair for a second before giving a heavy sigh. Her grandfather could be temperamental at times. And if the “winds”—the breezes that whispered over the Nation—tattled on his grandchildren, then he could become extremely irate. He claimed his family should keep him in the loop no matter the trouble they were about to get into.

  She should have known she couldn’t keep what she was doing away from him. She was thankful the winds had remained quiet as long as they had.

  “I’m glad he called you rather than me,” she finally said with a little grin as her gaze met Rule’s. “He must be waiting for you to take care of the problem.”

  Lawe grunted at that. “He demanded we fire you immediately.”

  Her eyes widened in surprise and wariness. “Fire me?”

  Rule leaned back in his chair, his gaze never leaving hers. “He claimed this position would endanger you because you were too stubborn to accept help.”

  Her brows lifted at the accusation.

  “Hmm,” she muttered, restraining a smile. “And here I thought the winds knew me better than that.”

  Lawe chuckled from her side as Cassie’s silent laughter sparkled in her blue eyes.

  “Cute.” Rule nodded, his lips quirking with amusement at her response. “But I’m curious to know why he’d think you’d refuse help?”

  She didn’t have a clue.

  Unless . . .

  Lips pursing thoughtfully, she breathed a short sigh before shaking her head in resignation.

  “Cullen,” she stated, pushing her fingers across the fringe of bangs that fell over her brow. “When I refused to tell him what I was doing or who I was working for, he offered me a place on Command at the Agency if I’d let him finish whatever job I’d taken. Without my help, of course.”

  Rule’s brow lifted with a hint of surprise as he reached up to scratch at his cheek lightly. “Interesting,” he finally commented. “Cullen was rather determined to keep you in the office, wasn’t he?”

  “A bit,” she agreed. He’d been fanatical about it; she’d often accused him of that.

  “Hell of a concession to make just for some information,” Lawe pointed out.

  “Oh, he didn’t just want the particulars.” Shifting in her chair, she could feel the remembered anger returning. “He wanted me to allow him to finish the job himself while I returned to the office and waited for him. It didn’t se
em like a fair trade to me.”

  “Yeah, I bet his filing has piled up a bit,” Cassie commented with a hint of laughter.

  She had no doubt in her mind that his filing had piled up. When she’d first gone to work for him, it had taken her two months to clear up his filing system.

  “In an age of complete digital filing and retrieving, for some reason, law enforcement still loves its paper,” she sighed, glancing at the folders and files stacked on one side of Rule’s desk.

  “Can’t hack hard copy,” Lawe drawled.

  “You can’t forward it either,” Rule grunted.

  “I’d burn his files if I had to return to that office,” Chelsea informed them. “And I’m sure he’s completely destroyed my filing system by now.”

  She’d taken a week for vacation once; when she’d returned, the filing system was a disaster, not to mention the files strewn from one office to the other. What was it about men and their files?

  “I don’t intend to send you back to filing hell,” Rule promised with a quirk of his lips. “I wanted to apprise you of the situation, let you know that he’s likely aware of the operation you’re a part of.”

  Well, at least she didn’t have to worry about explaining it to him now.

  “Maybe he’ll let it go now.” She shrugged. “His curiosity has been assuaged and he can go back to his own job and leave mine alone.”

  She had to admit, knowing he was at the clubs the night he’d followed her had given her a sense of security she hadn’t known in the weeks before, or the past two nights. For some reason, the knowledge that Cullen was there meant far more than knowing Draeger and Tobias were shadowing her.

  “I wouldn’t bet on it if I were you,” Cassie whispered, her voice almost too low to hear.

  Chelsea refrained from shooting the other woman a warning look. Cullen hadn’t cared one way or the other what she was doing until that responsibility complex of his had kicked in at the news of her attack. Then he’d felt he had to protect her. He’d never considered the thought that protection wasn’t what she needed.

  “I’m betting on it.” Chelsea gave a firm nod, determined she was right.

  She knew Cullen. She’d worked with him for four years; she knew how deep his sense of responsibility went. He felt responsible for her. Felt he had to protect her. That was the reason he hadn’t wanted her in Command or in Ops. He could keep her safe in the office.

  Cassie snickered beside her while Lawe and Rule cast the other woman a hooded look. No one had ever accused Breeds of not being weird.

  “If that’s everything?” She rose slowly to her feet, her gaze encompassing the three Breeds currently seeming to have some joke at her expense. “I’d like to get to the operations center and go over the pictures and video that’s come in over the past week so I’ll to know where to concentrate my interest when I head back out.”

  Rule nodded as he and Lawe rose to their feet once again.

  “Draeger and Tobias are waiting for you outside the office,” Lawe stated, nodding to the door.

  “I’ll be down to join you in a bit,” Cassie informed her as she headed for the door. “Give me about thirty minutes.”

  “You know where I’ll be,” she called back to the other woman.

  Leaving the office, she was aware of the two Wolf Breeds waiting for her as they rose to their feet and trailed behind her.

  Cassie seemed certain Cullen wasn’t going to let this go so easily. Chelsea sincerely hoped the other woman was wrong. She knew Cullen. Working with him on this would be impossible, and she wasn’t about to quit and turn it over to him or anyone else.

  As the door closed behind Chelsea, Cassie lifted her gaze from where she’d been concentrating on a chip in the polish on her nail. As advanced as technology had become, one would think nail polish wouldn’t chip. Especially professionally applied polish.

  Her gaze locked with Rule’s concerned one, and she knew what worried him; it was the same thing worrying her now.

  “I had no warning of the attack on her,” she told them, though she knew they were aware of that. “She shouldn’t have been attacked.”

  It made no sense. There was no reason Chelsea should have been in any danger whatsoever. There was nothing there to tell her why Chelsea had been attacked, or to lead her in the right direction. All Cassie could see was the shadow of a Coyote, ragged, worn, watching her from her periphery. That Coyote had been a steady companion for years now.

  “Do you think it has anything to do with her rescue of the Cerves daughter? Those Coyotes as well as the Cerveses have been hunting for the girl that rescued her,” Rule pointed out, his hard expression concerned.

  “That’s definitely not it,” Cassie assured them. It was one of the few things she was actually certain of. “Samara and her family are back in New Mexico. They took their daughter there for burial. Samara’s determined to learn Chelsea’s identity, but her reasons aren’t clear. As for the three Coyotes . . .” She grimaced with the memory of the terror they’d inflicted on a child. “Samara Cerves is damned intelligent. She had the doctors at the estate swab for DNA as they tried to close the bite marks on her daughter’s body.” She covered her lips, her hand shaking as she turned away from the brothers and fought to hide her own emotions and the sickening horror of what that baby had suffered. When she turned back, she could at least speak. “Samara turned those swabs over to Jonas and told him if he could prove he had the Breeds responsible for her death as well as the young woman that returned Louisa, then they’d align with the Breed Underground and begin legitimizing their operations. He took them up on it.”

  “Not because he believes them,” Lawe snorted. “Still, keeping them from aligning with the Council is what matters.”

  No, Jonas believed the cartel leaders. It had been in his eyes, in his stark expression, when Cassie had accompanied him to see what those animals had done to Samara’s child.

  “Samara loved her daughter, Lawe,” Cassie stated, absolutely certain of that. “I met with her when Jonas was called in. She was inconsolable, broken. And so desperate to get her hands on those Coyotes she would have promised anything, and because of her child, she’ll never break that vow. But I have no doubt the Cerves cartel will never align with the Council whether Jonas agreed or not. As for Chelsea, I think Samara wants the girl who rescued her daughter so she can express her gratitude, though, not to harm her.”

  Samara Cerves wasn’t the woman she had been before the night her daughter was taken from her bedroom and brutalized by the three Coyotes. The Blood Queen wasn’t dead, but the blood she wanted had nothing to do with criminal activities now. She wanted the Genetics Council. Not just their soldiers, but the Council itself. And Cassie knew she’d be unstoppable.

  “Graeme has three Breeds trailing Chelsea and the Wolf Breeds we assigned her.” Rule pushed his fingers through his hair, his expression tightening in irritation. “We have no idea what designation they are, or who they are. We haven’t been able to identify them.”

  “Draeger and Tobias have sensed them.” She nodded. “They’ve tried to draw them in close enough to scent them, but they’ve not exactly been cooperative.” She stared down at her fingers, smoothing one finger over the chipped polish again. “I believe one of them is female, but I have no confirmation.” And no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t sense the answers to her questions.

  “The attack outside the club was a singular attack, and Draeger and Tobias got to her in time,” Lawe pointed out. “According to their reports she was holding her own, though. She’s well trained and knows how to watch out for herself.”

  And all that was true, but Cassie couldn’t discount Chelsea’s grandfather’s words either. She was in danger because she was too stubborn to accept help. Too stubborn to accept Cullen’s offer? But that offer hadn’t been an offer of help. Cullen wanted her out of it, period.

  “Cullen won’t let this go.” Cassie breathed out heavily at that inner knowledge. “His recessed ge
netics are either emerging or going through some transition, but whatever’s coming awake inside him is incredibly powerful. More powerful than even Graeme suspects, I believe. Possibly even as Primal as his brother. Bengal Breeds are unknown variables the way it is; their genetics are far more wild than most other Breeds. Cullen is but one of a few that we’re aware of, and according to his files, he’s the twin to one of the most dangerous Breeds we know of. If he’s Primal as well, and his genetics are becoming active, then his focus on her could be more than just that of a protector.”

  “You think it’s Mating Heat?” Rule asked. “There was no scent of Heat.”

  No, there was no scent of Mating Heat; but then, Mating Heat had its anomalies from couple to couple. They couldn’t rule it out, and Cassie knew it.

  “But her scent has changed over the past few weeks,” she said thoughtfully. “Sometimes she shows signs of the Heat, and then they disappear, as though the spark needed hasn’t fully awakened his Breed side.” She shook her head at the thought. “I’m still trying to figure it out.”

  “So we could have a possible Bengal mating? A recessed Primal beginning to emerge?” The concern in Lawe’s voice wasn’t misplaced. Primals were highly unpredictable, just as their four-legged cousins were known to be. Secretive, powerful, savage when they erupted and so mysterious that even the few that had been tested rarely showed reliable readings from one test to the next.

  “I just don’t know yet.” She shook her head, confusion threatening to turn to irritability.

  Lawe and Rule exchanged looks, their silent communication not unknown to her.

  “I’d have them tested for mating but we learned with Tanner and Cabal that even fully mated, their tests aren’t always conclusive.” Rule shook his head.

  Tanner and Cabal were, for many years, the only Bengal Breeds known to exist. Tanner was part of the original feline Breed Pride that revealed itself to the world, and he’d been the head of Breed public relations for more than a decade. His mate was the daughter of a now-deceased general who had worked with the Council, trained and killed dozens of Breeds and nearly killed his own daughter as well.

  “Ask Graeme for help,” Cassie suggested. “I believe he’s done extensive research on Bengal genetics. Perhaps he’s aware of something we’re not, or at least could give us a good guess as to what’s going on.”

  Rule’s gaze jerked back to her. “How do you know that?”

  Cassie shrugged at the question. “Graeme actually mentioned it to me at the dinner party the other night.” Now it made sense why he’d mentioned it. “I believe he’ll be expecting you to call.”

  Evidently, like all Breeds considered less than sane, Graeme was just as manipulating as those she’d been raised among, if not more so, Cassie thought.

  “I’ll contact Graeme,” Rule stated, his expression becoming thoughtful, cunning as he stared back at her. “You’ll stay on the operation as her handler and when Cullen comes demanding answers, I’ll give him the option of joining her. He can work with her or we’ll find a way to keep him away from her while she’s on it.”

  That could work.

  Cullen wouldn’t want to go against Rule, and he wouldn’t want to deal with the pressure Rule could put on the Covert Law Enforcement Agency.

  “We’ll see how that works out for us.” She sighed heavily. “Let me know when you’ve discussed it with him. Once we know his answer, then I’ll let Chelsea know the plan.”

  Rising to her feet, she left the room; the disquiet she could feel moving through her was more bothersome than she wanted to admit. She wasn’t used to handling this part of her life without the ghostly images that had aided her for so long.

  They had been coming more rarely over the past years, replaced by that war-torn Coyote that never let her fully see him. If she could stare into the eyes of the image, then she would know the Breed he belonged to. She would know then if he was the Breed that haunted her nightmares and her fears.

  The image trailed just behind her, though, shifting if she turned her head, if she tried to see him more fully, always just out of sight.

  Was he the reason those who had helped her before didn’t appear any longer? Was the Coyote somehow keeping them away? And if so, why? The haunting presence could cause her to endanger the plan she’d had in place for years, and the delicate rescue operation she was working on. That operation depended on Cullen and Chelsea, as well as Samara Cerves and her husband and brother-in-law.

  This had to work. It wasn’t just her own survival that depended upon the plans she’d been laying in place so covertly over the last years. There were others just as important. And one of them, one of those she was carefully drawing from hiding, wasn’t just important to her; she was Cassie’s only hope of survival.

  Her only chance at freedom . . .

  The operations center of the Western Division of the Bureau of Breed Affairs was as high-tech as it came and a much larger version of the mobile command Cullen used for the operations he oversaw.

  Chelsea stood at the digital information table next to the Russian Coyote Breed female Ashley, watching as the other woman arranged and rearranged the photo and video files they’d taken over the week. With those files were the written reports of the Bureau agents involved in identifying the Breeds they encountered as well as the rumors and information they’d picked up in the weeks they’d been working the operation.

  “This Breed.” Chelsea pointed to a hard-eyed, scarred Breed they’d seen only twice in the four weeks she’d been working with them. “He hasn’t shown up in any of the other files we have. We still haven’t uncovered his name or anyone else he associates with.”

  Ashley pulled the digital file to the middle of the interactive table and, with one finger from both delicate hands, enlarged it before tapping it twice. The informational file included with the photo popped up next to it.

  “No name,” Ashley agreed, her Russian accent emphasizing the somber quality of her voice as she tapped a link included with the information.

  Instantly another picture popped up. “Emma and Sharone caught him again meeting with Dane Vanderale when he was in the area last week. It seems he disappeared with Dane as well. He could be part of the South African contingent that often shadows our luscious Mr. Vanderale. His father worries, you know,” she added drolly, repeating the reason they’d heard for the hard-eyed security force that sometimes shadowed Dane.

  Dane Vanderale was the heir to a massive fortune. Known as an international playboy as well as a corporate shark, he was one of the Breeds’ greatest supporters, and his father’s company contributed heavily to the Breeds’ coffers.

  “From what I’ve gathered, Dane and his bodyguard, Rhys, are now in Somalia on business for his father, though. If he’s one of the South African Breeds, then he’d be with the heir apparent rather than lurking in our desert.” Ashley input that information into the text file.

  Moving more files into several groupings, Chelsea tapped one that held half a dozen other unidentified Breeds along with pictures of those Breeds with several known Wolf Breeds. “These I suspect are part of Lobo Reever’s pack.”

  “Reever hasn’t notified us of any new pack members, but all alphas are amazingly reticent when it comes to identifying any Breeds who request anonymity. I’ll mark them for facial rec, though, and we’ll see if we can’t verify it.”

  There were few packs or Prides outside the main four. Two Wolf Breed packs in Colorado, as well as the Coyote Breeds. The only feline Breed Pride so far was based in Virginia.

  “My alpha, Del Rey, has petitioned Director Breaker and the Navajo Nation to allow an official Coyote presence in the Window Rock area,” Ashley told her. “He’s considering alphas for the pack. I’ve sent him the pictures of the Coyotes we haven’t ID’d yet for verification. Though I haven’t seen them myself at Citad
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