Authors: Mel Favreaux
“When we come to the next good truck stop, one with showers, I’ll wake you.” He passed her a small bottle of orange juice and a pack of donuts. “Now mind you, I don’t drive at night. So we’ll be off the road by sundown. That okay with you?”
Amber allowed a small smile, grateful because she didn’t want to have to try and escape prior to nightfall for her shift. “That’s fine. Thank you, sir.”
On the evenings he stopped, they were close enough to wooded areas she was able to run in form until daybreak. When the sun rose, she would shift back and go inside for a shower and change her clothes. By the time they’d reached Butte, Montana, Amber realized she would miss the comforting silence of the old man.
A few more rides and she found herself in Libby. Looking over the map a final time, she stood at the edge of the wilderness. Her salvation lay in there. It would be a five-day hike. A few canned goods and a six-pack of water bottles were nestled in her knapsack.
For the first time in her life, hope began to blossom in her chest.
Five Years Later
(Three Days Prior to the Alpha Wedding)
She clenched her teeth, fighting the telltale tremor of her hand when passing out the dinner plates. Braedyn caught her eye as she neared.
“You don’t have to stay Amber,” he murmured so only she could hear.
“No, I’ll stay for a little longer. I owe Casey that much.”
He smiled, gave a nod, and then cast his gaze across the room to his new mate. “She will understand, I promise.”
“After dinner.” Forcing a smile she didn’t feel, Amber gave a shrug. “You know a Tigress is
Straightening her shoulders, she proceeded around the table to hand the plate to Casey’s brother, Dean. When he reached up to take the plate, his fingers brushed hers. Her stomach knotted when she looked into his eyes.
Such a deep emerald green, just like his sister’s. Inherited from their father, also attending the dinner. Casey’s family had come in for the Alpha couple’s wedding. The original challenge had been to keep secret that Walker’s Run was a sanctuary for Were creatures. That had been dropped less than an hour later when they’d discovered Casey’s family was part of a group called the Guardians who protected humanity from paranormal, preternatural and supernatural entities.
The corner of Dean’s mouth ticked and he smiled. “Thank you.”
Nodding, Amber drew away and headed back to the counter to grab her plate. All she wanted to do was bound for the door, head for her bungalow nestled in the backyard, and bunker down for the next two days. Her skin felt like it was on fire. Going in heat right now wasn’t exactly the best time, but nature and the animal chose that.
Forgoing coffee, which was her usual staple, she reached for a glass of ice water and downed it before even making it back to the table. Pouring another, she turned to see the only place open was directly across from Dean.
He’d flirted since the moment they’d been introduced, and even knowing she was a were-tiger, he didn’t seem to let up. Casey had made a comment that her brother’s favorite animal was a white tiger. Closing her eyes, Amber attempted to forget everything and just concentrate on the heavenly plate of roast beef and vegetables Aquene had made.
“I love a woman with a big appetite,” Dean said when she came up for air.
Another blush worked its way to her collar. She wasn’t used to being around humans, only those who remained in the Run and knew the secrets of its inhabitants. “I’m sorry, I burn off so much energy I have to eat a lot—”
His eyes widened and he raised his hands. “No—no, I wasn’t trying to poke fun.” He smiled again. “I’m just trying to figure out where you put it.”
In all fairness she was between eleven inches to a foot and a half shorter than everyone in the room, topping out at an even five foot. Aquene, Braedyn’s elderly mother was five-ten and the closest to her height.
Braedyn cleared his throat and blotted his mouth with a napkin. “Don’t let her size fool you, Dean. The Tigress is larger than most of the Weres here in the Run. Even me.” The Alpha in human form was the largest in the room at six-foot-six inches.
A half hour later, Amber was able to slip out into the cold. Never being much for a crowd, she had only stayed to support Casey. She owed her far more than her presence in an uncomfortable situation, but her friend didn’t expect any more than what she was able to give.
With a deep breath, she climbed the ice encrusted stairs and swept some snow off the banister before leaping onto it. Closing her eyes, she listened to the muted forest around her, trying to forget about the recent stresses.
“Are you hiding?” Dean’s gentle timbered voice rang in the silence.
“I’m just trying to get my thoughts together. I'm not a very social person by nature. I've spent a good part of the day with a bunch of new people. Now, it’s time for me,” Amber said without opening her eyes.
After a few moments of total silence, she looked up at him. “Why are you still standing there?”
“I'm intrigued by you.” He walked up onto her small porch and leaned against the railing.
“I'm pretty temperamental.” She ran her hands through her long dark hair and leaned forward, propping her elbows on her knees. “I'm not vain. I prefer my solitude. I’m loyal but fierce when necessary. I like tight jeans and stiletto boots, but this really isn’t the terrain for it.” She shrugged at him. His incredible good looks were not lost on her. The Tigress within roused, her attention piqued.
“Sounds like you've just described me,” he said with a grin.
She scoffed sliding down from the railing to stand in front of him. Letting slide his silly remark, too wary to give in. “What is it you're expecting from me, Dean?”
The corners of his mouth twitched while struggling to maintain a stoic façade when he clearly wanted to smirk. “Is it so difficult to imagine that I'd like to get to know you?”
Amber closed her eyes and moistened her lips. “Out of your own mouth, you said you went to Vegas a few years ago and
'wrapped up some of the more vicious Weres.'
” She shook her head. “They were
,” Dean reminded her. “They came here searching for you to do one of two things. One: bring you home and beat you into submission. Or two: kill you for your insolence.”
She shook her head, trying to shake away the memories it brought back. Sighing, she turned to walk inside. Dean stood in the doorway, his boot preventing her from closing the door. “I suppose you expect me to let you in?”
He raised his brows and squared his broad shoulders. “I didn’t believe our conversation was over.”
Rolling her eyes, she turned and left him standing there.
Dean stepped in and shut the door with a near silent click. He glanced around the small, sparsely furnished place. “Why are you trying to be angry with me?”
She scoffed. “
He shot her a deadpan look and cocked a brow. “I am empath, Amber. I can feel all of your emotions, and you’re trying very hard to be angry with me. Why?”
She frowned and turned her back on him, rifling through the cabinets. Not looking for anything as they’d just eaten a large meal. Even given the Tigress’ appetite, she was full. Trying to make herself look busy was the key to avoiding his question.
“Why would you be angry with me?” he pressed again.
“Dean…” Amber turned to him and clenched her fists. Her anger only barely controlled. “The last thing we need is to wage a war against the Guardians, and if you keep cornering me, it's exactly what will happen.”
Dean crossed his thick arms over his massive chest. “I haven't cornered you. I am just trying to find out why suddenly you're using your anger to push me away, when to be quite honest, I’ve felt your attraction to me from the moment we laid eyes on one another.”
Amber clenched her teeth. “Dean…don't…push me, okay?”
He took a step toward her, and she tensed. “What is wrong with you? I can sense your emotions are all over the place, but you are trying so hard to push everything into anger. Why? It’s a simple question. You
I won’t do anything to harm you.”
She leaned back against the counter. “Dean…just
…go. It’s not a good time for me right now.” Her hands shook when she dropped them to her sides.
“Quit trying to
me. I don't need some empath in my head. There is enough going on in there without you poking and prodding at my emotions.” Amber licked her lips, thinking of other areas she would prefer that exact attention be paid to. Wincing, she realized that emotion wasn’t covered quickly enough.
Dean gasped, looking surprised when his gaze found hers again. “You're going into heat, aren't you?” he asked, sounding quite amused. “Your anger is a way to keep the other Weres from you so you can lock yourself up in here for three days. There are no other tigers in Walker's Run. It must be pretty difficult for you.”
Amber’s anger flared again, and she pushed away from the counter. It was insane that he was standing here talking to her about this. What she couldn't comprehend was why he wasn't afraid. Being a Guardian, Dean had to know the dangers.
“It’s not that difficult. We don't only have sex with our kind. When we're in human form things work out.” She brushed past him and went into the living room.
“But that doesn't help you find your life mate. Obviously a wolf and a tiger can't be life mates.”
“I’ve almost an eternity to find my life mate. It’s not something I’m looking for right now. Dean, just go,
. My anger is the easiest way to deal with this.”
way to deal with being in heat is to take a lover.”
Amber growled. “It’s not like I have anyone tearing down my door, in case you haven't noticed. Since my clan swept through here right after I came, I'm lucky if half of the people in this town will even look at me. There have been a few exceptions in the past, but I usually burn those bridges before anything can come of it. I prefer to be alone.”
to be alone,” Dean countered, walking around the armchair to look in her eyes.
She shoved the chair forward, her anger bristling down her back while the Tigress reared, turned on by their wordplay. “Why did you search me out? Why are you in here badgering me with questions I don't want to answer? You said you didn't police my kind. It sure doesn't seem that way with this barrage you keep firing at me.”
“Did you ever think that because I’m an empath, I’m feeling what you are? I could tell the anger wasn't the reason you were doing it. You were using the anger as a pretense
push me away. I needed to know why. Now, I do.”
“Just let it go, okay? It’s bad enough my body goes through this without having you explain to me how I’m feeling, all right? I’m beyond horny in the human sense of things. The easiest way to suppress the feelings is by turning them into anger. It gives me time to set up all the walls necessary to block everything.”
“Is this why you are trying to run from me? You can't set up those walls so long as I’m here, breaking them down?”
“Why are you pressing this?” she growled, turning to him again. The Tigress reared, looking through her eyes. Amber ground her teeth. Sometimes using anger for a crutch didn't help.
He paused a moment, his gaze traveling over her. “Because…maybe I'm interested.”
“Interested in what? In me or what it would be like to
with a were-tiger?” She let out an exasperated breath and sat down. “Just leave Dean,
“What are you afraid of?”
Her gaze snapped to his. “I am afraid of nothing!” she spat, rising to her feet to stand in front of him. Her body responded to his proximity and strong male scent. All of the anger and cross words had been like foreplay, just making her want him even more.
“Then why won't you get close to me?” Dean smiled and raised his brow. “I know the attraction between us is mutual.”
“I refuse to be a science experiment for your own amusement. You just don't get it, do you?”
“What, the fact you're scared I’m only interested in you because I know you're a Were? You're wrong. My attraction to you was imminent the moment I laid eyes on you, Amber. I’ve never felt like this. So to answer one of your questions, my interest is in
, not what you are. I have to admit that I’d never considered having sex with one of your kind before. I know it’s possible, lots of Weres find their life mates in humans and go on to have children. There’s Aquene for instance.”
Amber growled and tried to step away from him, but he reached out and grabbed her arm. His large hand easily closed around her elbow and spun her around to face him. “Let me go. So help me Dean, I'll rip your fucking arm off if you don't.”
Dean smiled, looking in her eyes. His emerald gaze penetrating, exotic, and enticing. “You won't do that. You're struggling with your emotions too much.”
She attempted to jerk her arm away but only succeeded in pulling herself closer. Her body tingled at the contact with his lean form. “Please Dean, just let me go.”
“You see…I have a problem,” he said, narrowing his gaze on her. “I’ve a problem knowing someone else is in pain when I know there’s something I can do to make it better.”
,” she pleaded, hating the sound and the memories of weakness it brought back. “Let me go,
“Why continue to put yourself through this much pain? When things can be done to rectify it?”
The Tigress roared to the surface when she tried to pull away. He pulled her closer at the same time. “Dean!” Her voice broke, a mixture of anger and fear. “You have no idea what could happen if you keep this up.”
“Or you have no idea? You've never been with a human, have you?”