Wake a sleeping tiger, p.8
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       Wake A Sleeping Tiger, p.8
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         Part #22 of Breeds series by Lora Leigh

  el.”

  Citadel was the Coyote stronghold overlooking the valley where the major Wolf Breed pack was based.

  “There are a lot of Breeds in the area who aren’t verified,” Chelsea murmured.

  Unverified meant they weren’t registered and no alpha claimed them. The Bureau didn’t request names or designations, only verification that they were part of the packs or Pride and indeed friendlies.

  “Too many,” Ashley agreed. “If our information is correct, the Council is using known gathering places of pack and Pride members in the area to gather their own intel.”

  There were no new packs, other than Del Rey’s request to begin one, and no new alphas had stepped forward to notify the Bureau of their presence.

  “I checked with a friend at the Navajo Council and she has no information of Breeds requesting land to settle on either,” Chelsea said as the door opened and Cassie strolled into the room. “Before they can settle in the Nation, they have to request permission from the Council and submit DNA to prove their ties to the People.”

  “Wouldn’t it be so much nicer if the Breeds aligned with the Council would just identify themselves?” Cassie grinned wryly as she stepped to the table. “It would make our job much easier, wouldn’t it?”

  It would at that.

  “And it would make Chelsea’s job easier if one bad-assed recessed Bengal Breed wasn’t so nosy,” Ashley drawled.

  Chelsea covered her face in exasperation. “What is his problem? That man is driving me crazy.”

  “Maybe he wants to mate you like all those juicy tabloids are writing about,” Ashley teased with a mock shiver. “Let me know if you become all hysterically horny and start fucking like rabbits. The tabloids pay prime cash for the details, you know.” Lifting one hand, she checked her nails with exaggerated care. “And my nails are due a little work.”

  Cassie chuckled at the little Russian’s antics. Ashley was simply her favorite Breed, period. Even a near miss with death hadn’t brought her down from her quirky antics.

  “He probably wants to turn me into one of those insipid little secretaries he had before me. I was such a disappointment to him,” Chelsea scoffed. “Those wide-eyed little debutantes made me want to lobby the Nation for stupidity tests before hiring.”

  A low laugh spilled from Ashley’s lips. “Yeah, I hear he went through a lot of those before you came around. All vying for a place in the hotshot commander’s bed. They didn’t last long, I heard.”

  Working through the pictures, Chelsea frowned at the statement.

  “The longest was two months,” she finally sighed, taking a moment to glance up at them. “They all quit, most in tears.”

  Ashley began moving pictures again as well, adding some to Chelsea’s piles and using some to make her own.

  “Jonas Wyatt had the same problem until Merinus Lyons hired his wife, Rachel, as his assistant,” Cassie told them. “Jonas was a goner the second he laid eyes on her.”

  “Maybe Cullen has the same problem with you,” Ashley chimed in, the laughter still filling her voice. “Breed men have such a hard time admitting when they’ve met their match. Would it not be simply fitting if all those protective, alpha instincts toward you were all caused because he is crazy in love with you?”

  Chelsea snorted at that one despite the ache she felt that it wasn’t possible. “I rather doubt that’s the problem. Cullen’s still in love with the wife he lost almost ten years ago. He became so distant after her death that I rarely saw him until I went to work for the Agency.”

  She met Cassie’s incredibly bright blue eyes as the other woman watched her closely.

  “Breeds can be very difficult and very stubborn,” Cassie said softly. “But he is a Breed, recessed or not. I don’t get the sense that Cullen loved his wife as deeply as you suspect, though. Not to say he didn’t love her, just not with the depth that a Breed can experience.”

  Chelsea shrugged at that. Abandoning the pictures, she propped her hip against the digital table and crossed her arms beneath her breasts as she glanced between Cassie’s and Ashley’s somber expressions.

  “Lauren was his first relationship after he was placed within the protection of the Breed Underground. They married six months after his arrival. It was just a few months later that she told him she had a particularly virulent form of cancer. She died just before their second anniversary.”

  “How did he meet her?” Ashley asked, the compassion in her tone thickening her accent.

  “She was Ray Martinez’s assistant.” Chelsea grimaced. Her uncle Ray had betrayed her entire family for most of his life, especially his daughter Claire, or Cat as everyone called her.

  “She was your cousin as well, was she not?” Ashley asked.

  Chelsea nodded. “Fourth cousin, actually. Though we weren’t very close.”

  Lauren’s father had come from a very well-to-do family until that family had gone bankrupt and her parents had moved into her grandparents’ home. Even then, her father, an attorney, had done quite well for himself, and Lauren had always felt as though she were better than the rest of the family.

  Her parents had left after Lauren’s death and, as far as Chelsea knew, didn’t even visit.

  “A man as strong as Cullen would feel he had failed her,” Cassie stated cryptically. “And the tabloid stories may be far-fetched, but the bonding between Breeds and their mates is well-known. Cullen didn’t have that bond with his wife, I don’t believe.”

  Lauren wasn’t one for bonds, though, Chelsea remembered.

  “Before she died Lauren blamed everything and everyone in those last months,” she remembered. “Especially Cullen. Just before she died she accused him of not loving her enough. That his love could have saved her. Dad was there when she said it. He was shocked by her cruelty.”

  Terran Martinez had been so shocked by Lauren’s accusations that he hadn’t even attended her funeral.

  “She sounds much like Claire’s father, Ray,” Ashley pointed out.

  “They were very close.” Chelsea shrugged, staring down at the table once again for long moments. “Dad once commented that they were very much alike. But Cullen loved her. He was devastated when she died.”

  “No wonder,” Cassie sighed heavily. “Such guilt to put on any husband, especially a Breed.”

  The looks Chelsea caught Ashley and Cassie exchanging brought a frown to her face, but she refused to ask about it.

  “But now all his Breed instincts are going crazy because you were attacked,” Ashley pointed out. “That Breed is a goner for you, my friend.” She gave a quick little flip of her hand for emphasis. “Breed males are so weird with it too. You will see.”

  No, she wouldn’t, Chelsea knew, though she kept that to herself. Cullen had loved Lauren so deeply that no other woman would ever compare. Especially not her.

  She wasn’t super girly, she rarely wore makeup and she had no idea how to simper and charm. She didn’t want to keep home and hearth while he fought the battles alone. She wanted to fight at his side, at least for a while. She wanted to be his partner, not his secretary.

  She would have settled for working Command, overseeing each operation with him. She was good at communications and logistics, but he wanted her filing and answering his phones instead. And she had hated every moment of it. Hated it so much that she’d begun resenting him for it. That was when she’d known it was time to leave.

  “Draeger and Tobias’s report of the night Cullen followed you to the clubs included the information that they could smell his anger coming from him in waves,” Cassie said.

  Chelsea sighed at the description. “I think I could smell it, and I’m not even a Breed.”

  “Oh, trust me,” Ashley drawled in amusement. “The scent of it rolled off him. That was one jealous Breed glaring at every male you spoke to, my friend.”

  She highly doubted the jealous part, but he had made it impossible to do her job.

  “Every Breed there kept glancing
at him as though asking his permission to speak to me.” She rolled her eyes in disgust.

  “Because they could smell his lust covering you like a blanket.” Ashley laughed. “They are animals, you forget. They would not tempt another Breed’s rage by showing interest in the woman he had so marked.”

  A blush worked over her face at Ashley’s teasing comment.

  “I hate those pesky noses the lot of you possess,” she assured them. “Every one of you.”

  Their laughter was good-natured and teasing, but Chelsea caught the thoughtful look on Cassie’s face before it was quickly replaced by amusement. There was something the other two weren’t telling her, some secret they all seemed to share where Cullen was concerned.

  If they believed that deeply that he somehow cared for her as more than a friend, then they were wrong. He’d had four years to figure it out if he did. The fact that he hadn’t proved her suspicions. Cullen might desire her, definitely wanted to protect her. But he didn’t love her and his lust wasn’t enough—

  Unfortunately it was all he was willing to give her.

  CHAPTER 7

  From Graeme’s Journal

  Recessed Primal Genetics and Mating Heat

  Wild and unpredictable, the recessed Primal genetics are like the animal itself—waiting, stalking and ready to pounce with deadly force—

  Four weeks into the operation to identify any unknown Breeds and their target, and still she and her team hadn’t been able to narrow the list of possibilities. Cassie of course headed the list of targets; the price on her head was highest. Ashley ran a close second. After that, Alpha Reever, Cullen’s brother, the Western Division’s director, and the highest-profile Breeds in the area brought the list to over a dozen.

  Until she could find a parameter, a name—hell, she’d love to find a loose-lipped Genetics Council puppet willing to spill a few secrets. That was just her favorite scenario. Finding the Genetics Council Breeds or their potential abduction targets wasn’t coming easy at all.

  There were suspected Council Breeds in the area, but anywhere Breeds congregated, there were suspected spies, especially if Coyote Breeds were among them.

  Tracking down the source of the information had proven impossible, and actually identifying a Council spy and getting him to talk was even more so.

  Entering the house a week later, Chelsea headed to the shower, hoping to clear her head. If she didn’t manage to find the answers soon, Director Breaker would shut her down as quickly as he’d given her the go-ahead on it.

  The attack the week before hadn’t helped matters in the least. Now her team as well as the director seemed suspicious that she’d somehow given herself away as she navigated within the underground world of contacts and information. Chasing down rumors of Breeds. That had been her primary focus in the Breed Underground. Though she’d been searching for Breeds seeking safety rather than spies, she admitted.

  She’d been part of the Breed Underground since she was sixteen years old and still worked with them occasionally. Going covert was just about a requirement for the job.

  She hadn’t given herself away.

  So why had she been targeted that night? And why was it suddenly impossible for her to gain information that she’d been accessing easily in the ten years prior?

  She’d begun working with the Breed Underground just after Cullen’s wife, Lauren, had died from the cancerous tumors they’d found in her brain. Cullen had worked with the Breed Underground only rarely at that point, though if needed, the few Breed agents he had were assigned to aid certain Breed Underground cases.

  He’d worked one of the cases when she first joined, and she remembered being sent home immediately when she’d arrived at the meeting. When she protested, he told her he didn’t think her family needed to lose another of its daughters. Especially because of foolish courage.

  Because he had lost Lauren, he thought it was perfectly okay to shatter her dream of working with him and send her home as though she were a child. Her knowledge that Lauren had only tried to use his love, she had kept to herself. He’d been hurt enough, she’d told herself painfully. No matter how angry she was, she wouldn’t hurt him more.

  Her cousin had always been a bit superior, a little smug, but in the year before her death, she’d become cruel and cutting, seeking to hurt everyone and anyone she could focus on.

  Especially her husband.

  Unknown to her father, Chelsea had learned Cullen was a Breed before he’d ever married Lauren. It had been that first night Cullen had arrived in the Nation. She’d overheard them talking as she watched from the darkness in the other room, and her father had called him a Breed.

  A year or so later she’d been practicing the survival skills she’d been learning, when she followed her father one night into the desert. There, he’d met with several Navajo, their faces obscured by shadowed markings, and Cullen.

  “I may be recessed, but I’m still a Breed,” Cullen had stated in reply to her father’s doubt that Council Breeds were in the area searching for someone. “They can’t sense me, but I can damned sure sense them.”

  Chelsea had remained silent, a shadow within a shadow as her grandfather had been teaching her. When the meeting concluded and her father returned to the house, Chelsea had remained hidden, sensing that perhaps all the men he’d met with hadn’t left the area.

  She remembered the feeling of another presence, not a danger, but watching, waiting. And someone had been. They’d outwaited her, so still and silent in the night that after two hours she was certain she had been wrong.

  Still, she’d been careful creeping back to the house and into her room. Two days later, her father and her cousin Lincoln Martinez had been waiting when she came home from school, aware of the meeting she’d overheard. And from that day, her cousins had taken over her training.

  Her father had worried; he still worried. Her grandfather railed at her constantly for putting herself in the slightest danger, while her sister, Isabelle, always remained quiet but concerned.

  The phone calls and visits she’d received from her family after Cullen learned of the attack just pissed her off. Her grandfather’s mutterings that the winds were failing him because he hadn’t known of it, her father’s angry demands that she stop whatever she was doing and her sister’s quiet concern had gotten on her nerves fast.

  Stepping from the shower, she quickly dried her body and then her hair before staring into the mirror silently. She was twenty-six years old and her family thought she was wasting her life chasing danger. But it wasn’t danger she was chasing.

  She’d never forget the night Cullen and two young women had come to her father’s house. Bloody and bruised after an attack by Council soldiers. The girls hadn’t been crying; they’d been stoic, their eyes filled with nightmares. And Cullen’s eyes had burned with rage, with determination despite the blood that marred his hair and his clothes.

  She’d been so angry, furious as she overheard her father and the warriors standing in the shadows discussing the attack of the Council soldiers against the three. A Breed and two young girls he was trying so desperately to protect. The Council Breeds chasing them were intent on recapturing them, torturing them.

  And Cullen had stood silently, the two girls huddled behind him, uncertain of the men who had saved them and clearly willing to go to battle again. She’d wanted nothing more than to be at his side and help him.

  Reaching up, she touched a single tear that drifted from her eyes at the memory. She’d shed a lot of tears as a teenager for Cullen. And she’d trained, worked her ass off just to fight beside him to make certain other Breeds were protected. Such fierce determination to survive should have never been threatened in such a way.

  He didn’t want her working by his side, though. He wanted her in the office, away from him.

  Breathing out heavily, she swiped the nearly dry strands of straight hair back from her face, her gaze critical now. She wasn’t nearly as beautiful as Lauren had been.


  Her shoulder-length black hair wasn’t the rich, textured black ribbon that Lauren’s had been. Her brown eyes were flecked with hints of green. Her skin was much lighter than Lauren’s. She didn’t have the dark Navajo bronze skin; rather hers was the color of a good suntan, closer to that of her Caucasian mother.

  She was short, her breasts fuller, and she was rounder than her cousin had been. She wasn’t girly, a debutante or fragile and she’d never wanted to be. At best, she could only claim pretty, maybe.

  Damn sure she couldn’t claim the man she often wondered if she’d fallen in love with when she was no more than a young girl staring through the darkness and seeing that fierce will burning in his eyes.

  It was still there. That determination to survive, to fight, to protect those he took responsibility for. And she still wanted nothing more than to fight by his side.

  Shaking her head, Chelsea tucked the towel tighter at her breasts and strode into her bedroom, where she came to a hard, shocked stop.

  As though conjured there by thoughts alone, Cullen stood leaning in the door frame between her bedroom and the short hall leading into the living room.

  Dressed in a short-sleeved khaki shirt, jeans and boots, arms crossed over his broad chest, his gold-flecked green eyes hooded and brooding, he watched her with silent intensity.

  Her fingers tightened at the tuck of the towel as her heart fluttered with sudden nerves.

  “Forget how to knock or call?” she asked as she strode across the bedroom to her dresser. Pulling out drawers, she collected a pair of panties and a bra and tucked them between a pair of yoga pants and a loose gray T-shirt.

  “And give you warning that I was coming? You might have left,” he told her, his tone querulous.

  The sound of his voice had remembered pleasure washing through her senses. Reaching up, she rubbed at the reddened area between her neck and shoulder, her eyes closing with the subtle sensations that shot through her body.

  “I would have still been here.” Chelsea shrugged, turning back to him. “Give me a minute and I’ll get dressed.”

  She was not getting involved in one of their irate discussions dressed in only a towel.

  “Why?” He tilted his head to the side, his expression appearing darker somehow, sexier. “I’ll just have to take the clothes back off you soon. Why go to the trouble?”

  She almost dropped her clothes. Eyes widening, she stared back at him, unable to believe the words that had just come out of his mouth.

  “Why make it easy for you?” Casting him a narrow-eyed look, she hurried back to the bathroom, dressed and, for a moment, actually considered texting Draeger to see if he and Tobias wanted to play cards for a few hours.

  Wouldn’t that put a crimp in Cullen’s little plan?

  Asshole.

  She didn’t need another Breed to fight her battles, though, she finally decided. She might have waited far too many years for him to show more interest than it took for him to hand her a file.

  Returning to the bedroom, fully dressed but no less nervous, Chelsea found him in the same position she’d left him in. He hadn’t shifted an inch, nor had his expression changed.

  Smoothing her hands over her hips, she drew in a deep breath and steeled herself for the coming confrontation. She could see the storm brewing in his eyes, feel it brewing in herself.

  “I hope you aren’t expecting to tear my clothes off anytime soon,” she told him sweetly as she stalked across the bedroom to the doorway. “I’d at least like a cup of coffee first.”

  Brushing past him, she almost let out a silent breath of relief when he caught her arm, drawing her quickly to a stop.

  Staring up at him, she was caught by the flecks of amber fire in the jungle green as they seemed brightened by the anger that narrowed his gaze.

  “Why didn’t you tell me what you were doing for the Bureau?” His lips pulled back from his teeth and she swore his incisors looked just a little more prominent than she remembered them being. “Why didn’t you come to me first?”

  Lifting her eyes, Chelsea stared back at him and forced herself to breathe slowly, evenly.

  “Would you like a cup of coffee before we begin this argument? Or do you just want to start now?” she asked, her lip curling in disgust. “Because I find it highly distasteful arguing in my bedroom. And I’m sure as hell not doing it while you’re holding on to me as though I were a suspect in need of detaining.”

  His gaze flickered, then dropped to where he was holding her firmly. He released her slowly, almost finger by finger, until she was free. “Answer my question.”

  “Not until I’ve had my coffee,” she informed him, her voice sharper than she intended. “Hell, maybe a drink too. Dealing with you is becoming harder by the day.”

  Of course, it would help if she didn’t allow herself to get drawn into conversations about his former marriage or her own doubts about her ability to measure up to the femininity his deceased wife had once possessed. That was always guaranteed to put her in a bad mood.

  Add the instant arousal the minute she caught sight of him into the equation and there probably wasn’t enough coffee or alcohol to settle her nerves.

  Stalking through the dimly lit living room and into the spacious kitchen, Chelsea raked her fingers through her hair and told herself she was not going to become distracted by his touch or that gleam of lust she’d glimpsed in his eyes as she moved past him.

  If she didn’t keep her wits about her, then Cullen would end up destroying any chance she had of proving herself as a dependable agent. She wasn’t going to allow that.

  Sliding two cups beneath the dual spouts of the coffeemaker, she programmed in the strength of the brew and waited the five seconds or so it took to fill them. When she turned back to him, she placed his cup on the table before cradling her own and leaning against the counter.

  And if he started toward her as he had the last time he was in her kitchen, then she was going to run. She was not letting him touch her. For some reason, his touch just fried her brain synapses.

  The fact that they were facing off in the kitchen once more wasn’t lost on her, though. The irony of it was really kind of amusing.

  Every discussion her family had ever had that was of any importance had taken place in a kitchen over coffee or alcoholic drinks. Hell, it was here where she’d met with Ashley and Cassie just after her contact, an employee for a desert tourist guide business, had called her and given her a lead on the Genetics Council’s upcoming plans.

  A week after she’d resigned from the Agency and walked away from Cullen. A week of questioning herself and her decision, and the answer to what she was going to do after Cullen, had come in the form of that phone call.

  Taking the information she’d gotten from her contact, she’d contacted Ashley and Cassie, asked them over for coffee, then proposed the operation she was currently conducting. Cassie had immediately called Director Breaker, and within the hour he and
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