I broke from the kiss to look up at Dev, who was a foot taller than us. He was grinning to take the sting out of his words, but part of him meant it. He'd thought he was God's gift to women, and men, before he came to St. Louis, and then I hadn't been overwhelmed with his charms, and the man who was the first love of his life wasn't bowled over either. It had given Dev his first-ever blows to his ego. It can be hard when a big, handsome man gets blown out of the water seriously for the first time, but he didn't hold a grudge; he was just puzzled by it.
"I thought you'd sworn off girls for Asher," I said.
A shadow passed over h
is very handsome face, and the one look was enough; there was more trouble in paradise. Nathaniel had said that Kane, Asher's other main guy, was jealous of Dev; maybe that was the shadow. I didn't envy Dev giving his heart to Asher; the vampire gave a whole new definition to moody lover.
I glanced at Micah to see if he knew what was up, but he shrugged. He was clueless, too. I didn't ask What now?, not in front of everyone, but was betting I'd hear about it in private later, either from Dev or Asher.
"He told me that if you wanted to put a ring on my finger, he wouldn't stand in our way."
I touched his hand, my other arm still around Micah. "I'm sorry, Dev."
He squeezed my hand and said, "He has Kane, so Kane thinks I should have someone else, too."
"So you won't take so much of Asher's time away from Kane," I said.
"You are so much handsomer than that werehyena," Angel said.
I knew she was defending her brother, but . . . "And comments like that are part of what make Kane insecure," I said.
"But it's true," she said, motioning at her brother. "Kane isn't horrible-looking, but he isn't in the same league as Dev, or Asher for that matter. Honestly, I don't know what Asher sees in him."
And that was one of the reasons I didn't like Angel; even when she was trying to be kind, she managed to be mean about someone else. She was as moody as Dev was easy to get along with, which was why he could date Asher, and she wouldn't have put up with it. I wouldn't have put up with everything that Dev had taken from Asher either, so who was I to complain, but . . . "Kane is handsome, he's just more Marlboro Man than Brad Pitt."
"What does that mean?" she asked.
"It means he's ruggedly handsome."
"If that's a nice way of saying he's not pretty, then I'll agree with you."
"Kane is handsome in his own way, Angel," Dev said.
"Why do you defend him?"
I studied Dev's face, watched the discomfort cross his face, and wondered if he was attracted to Kane, too. If so, then Kane's jealousy would be a double blow to him. There was such pain in his blue-hazel eyes. He let us see it raw and unfiltered for a heartbeat and then he closed his eyes, smiled, and hid behind that joking surfer-dude charm that was as fake as my cop face. Micah reached out to him, too, so that we were both holding his hands, and the moment we both touched him power flared across our skin. It raised the hairs on our arms, danced down our spines, and woke our beasts. I could feel Micah's leopard, and I could see mine, staring up at me down that long tunnel where my mind showed me my inner beasts. I knew there was no tunnel, no landscape for the leopard to pad through, but it was part of what my human mind did to make sense of the impossible. Now, because I was touching Dev, another shape looked up at me. My golden tigress started trotting after the black shadow of my leopard, but if my human body couldn't give release to one shape, it certainly couldn't do it for two. It had been a while since my multiple beasts had tried to come forward together, and it never worked well. Cats don't like to share.
It was as if the thought wanted to prove I was lying, because gold was joined by black, blue, white, and red so that the full rainbow of tigers stood gazing up at me, and the moment they were all there, the gold stopped moving. The tigers just stood there looking up, waiting. My leopard rose up, not as some mind game inside where you see dreams, but as power, rising as Micah's beast rose in a spilling wave of power and magic, as if invisible velvet fur could flow as easily as air not just across our skins, but through the centers of our bodies. Our beasts could swim through both our bodies like great furred leviathans, but they didn't take the logical route where Micah and I were touching each other; they flowed down our hands and into Dev. His tiger should have fought them off, but it didn't. The great golden cat rolled onto its side and rolled in the power as if it were being petted.
It had happened once before, when we first met Dev, but never again. I'd thought it was just some metaphysical hiccup, but Dev's face showed the same shocked pleasure now that it had that first time. The power flowed through the three of us in a continuous velvet rub of magic. I felt something deep in my body begin to build, and knew if we didn't stop there might be more than just metaphysical pleasure.
"Let's tone it down," I said in a voice already gone breathy.
"God, let's not," Dev said, and dropped to his knees, hands holding tight to ours. His eyes were fluttering as if he were having trouble focusing on anything but the sensations flowing through his body.
"It isn't that kind of party," Micah said, trying to make a joke of it, but his voice was almost as breathy as mine.
I'd known the gold tigers were spread out like a fan around us, but it wasn't until Fortune said, "That shouldn't be possible," that I realized there were others standing around us, so that we stood in a circle of weretigers.
"She smells like all of us at once," Angel said.
"They both do," Fortune said, and moved in closer to Micah, sniffing near his hair. That I hadn't known.
"What would happen if we touched them?" Angel asked.
"No one touches us," Micah said.
Thorn reached out toward us. His short curls were so dark a blond that I would have called it brown, but the day I said so he'd been deeply insulted.
But it was Thorn; he didn't like being told no. His hand touched my arm and the power flowed over his hand, but not into him. It was like he could brush the electricity of it, but the power didn't make him part of the circuit.
"Touch them both," Angel said.
"No!" Micah and I yelled together.
Thorn put his other hand on Micah's arm, and the power spilled over and through him, but Micah growled, "We said no!" The warm, comforting power suddenly grew claws and slashed out. Thorn staggered back from us, and blood blossomed on the front of his shirt.
The power went back to being warm and sensuous, but we could break the circuit now, as if Thorn had interfered with something and freed us.
Thorn was pulling his T-shirt up, showing that there were claw marks on his stomach, when Dev slammed into him so hard that he didn't just go down; he slid across the floor. Dev was on him before he could recover, lifting him to a sitting position with the handle of the bloody shirt around his neck. Dev growled so close to his face it looked like he was going to take a bite out of it. "Mine," Dev growled, "mine!"
Thorn blinked at him as if he couldn't hear him yet, but I saw one of his hands come up and caught a silver flash.
"No!" I yelled, but there was no time to do more. The men were across the room and whatever was going to happen would be over before anyone else could get to them.
I SAW DEV'S body react to the blade a second before I stumbled as I rushed toward him. My side hurt. He was my golden tiger to call, which meant I gained power through him and he through me, but there was a price. I actually glanced down to see if I was bleeding, but I wouldn't be. It would hurt like I was, but I wasn't actually cut; knowing that helped keep me moving forward, ignoring the pain.
Other guards had separated the two men by the time I got there. They had Thorn pressed to the floor with three guards on him. They weren't being gentle, and I was okay with that. Two more guards were holding Dev back, but the blade that was still stuck in his side helped him not fight that hard. It was stuck in almost to the hilt. It looked like Thorn had stabbed and tried to retract the blade, but couldn't get it out before the other guards swarmed him, or maybe the knife was stuck on a rib? I put a hand to my own side and thought, yeah, maybe. My side was a dull ache, a phantom pain of what was happening to Dev, but if the wound had been worse, so would my damage. The death of your animal to call could kill you, too, which made Thorn's behavior all the more careless.
Dr. Lillian came into the room with her own wererat bodyguard. Doctors were scarce in the lycanthrope community; the few we had were treated like gold. Dr. Lillian was still slender, with gray hair gone almost white. She looked like I th
ought fifty-plus should look, which meant she was actually much older. Shapeshifters aged more slowly than humans, and she matched her bodyguard as part of the wererats' rodere.
"What happened?" She looked at the two weretigers, and me holding my side. She came toward me first, but I motioned her to Dev. "He's the one who's hurt, not me."
"Why are you holding your side?"
"He's my golden tiger to call, and I was hooked up to him power-wise when it happened." I looked around the room and just said, "Jean-Claude, Nathaniel, Micah, are any of you feeling this?"
"I'm not," Micah said.
"I have shielded, ma petite, and am fine."
Nathaniel had a hand to his side. "It's a dull ache."
"Shit, that means I need to contact everyone else I'm tied to."
"I can answer, ow," Domino said as he came through the door. The black-and-white curls that had given him his name were mainly white, which meant that his last shift had been to the white side of his mixed heritage, and not the black.
Crispin, whose hair was only white curls, because he was pure white clan, came in with a hand to his side.
Echo jerked harder on Thorn's right arm. "If you kill a vampire's animal to call, you can kill them, did you forget that?"
"I wasn't trying to kill him."
Fortune pulled his other arm hard enough that he made a small pain sound. "Did you remember that hurting Dev would harm Anita?"
"Did you?" Echo jerked as if she meant to dislocate his shoulder.
"NO!" He said it through gritted teeth.
Lillian was kneeling by Dev now. "If you were human we'd be packing this so it wouldn't move and going to the hospital for a surgeon to help remove it, but it's not silver."
"See, I wasn't trying to kill him," Thorn said.
"Shut up," Fortune said.
"Brace yourself, Anita; I have to pull it out now."
"Give me a few seconds to warn everyone." I opened my shields a little more and let everyone connected to me know what was coming. Jade was crying in her room. I so did not need that right now, and I shielded hard from her. Everyone else got a glimpse and a warning; the "wound" hurt more with my shields down even a little. I put my shields hard in place like metal walls and said, "If Dev is ready, do it."
The guards helped brace Dev; Lillian put one hand on the hilt and the other against his side with her plastic gloves on, and pulled hard and quick.