"He can’t if he’s a Slayer."
Savitar turned to look at the blond tiger who’d spoken out of turn. The tiger moved forward.
By Savitar’s face Dante could tell the man wasn’t amused. "And who are you?"
"I am Zack Tigarian, cousin to Wren."
Anelise frowned as she sniffed the air. "But you’re not a snow leopard. You’re a tiger."
"I’m related to him on his father’s side. His father was a tiger."
Savitar stroked his chin as he narrowed his black gaze on the tiger. "And what do you know of this matter?"
"I know that Wren murdered both of his parents in cold blood. Both."
Savitar gave him an arch stare. "If you knew this, why did you wait to bring it before the Omegrion?"
"Because I was afraid to come forward. I was young then and afraid of my cousin. Not to mention that the human Bill Laurens snatched him away and hid him in Nicolette’s Sanctuary before I could tell anyone. Once Wren was ensconced there, I was powerless to pursue him for justice."
Savitar looked less than convinced. "And now you’re all better?"
"I no longer fear him. No. The time has come for him to pay for his crimes. Not to mention that he is showing signs of the trelosa which runs rampant through his species. He must be stopped before he kills anyone else."
Dante shook his head as anger went through him.
"What is it?" Fury asked in a whisper.
"I don’t smell a lie from him."
"Yeah, but when this much money is involved…" He shook his head glumly. "I don’t trust Mr. Versace."
Savitar let out a long, tired breath. "Well, it appears that this is a Katagaria problem. Arcadians, go home."
As they started to object, Savitar zapped them out of the room, back to their respective time periods.
All but one anyway.
Nicolette came to her feet as Vane moved to sit beside his brother Fury. "Why is he still here? He is an Arcadian."
Savitar arched a brow at her. "Truly you are one hell of an observant bear, Lo. But Vane technically straddles the fence. He is by all rights the head of the Katagaria Lykos."
Fury passed an evil grin toward the bear. "I’m just a figurehead and I have no desire to challenge Vane and get my ass kicked by my own brother."
Her gaze narrowed angrily at the two wolves. "He’s partial to the tiger."
Vane shrugged. "I’m partial to the truth, Lo. Good, bad, or indifferent."
Zack moved forward to stand behind Nicolette’s chair. "The truth is the trelosa is borne through Wren’s mother’s family. Almost every member of her family succumbed to it. It is why Wren is the last of their kind. Even she was going mad there at the end of her life. Some say that Wren killed her only after she attacked him first."
Dante watched Savitar’s face as he considered the tiger’s words.
"Maybe," Savitar said after a brief pause, "but Wren isn’t pubescent now. He’s long into his maturity."
Zack contradicted him. "He is only forty-five. Puberty for his kind can last until the age of sixty."
"Not necessarily," Savitar said. "It depends on the genes."
"He came into puberty late," Nicolette said. "I know this for a fact. And he’s only become sexually active in the last few days. Since then he has become more and more violent. Unstable. He was even arrested for it and for attacking human police officers."
She shook her head. "This very afternoon, he had his picture taken and was on the local news because the humans saw him running in the zoo as a human in a cage with other white tigers. Tell me that wasn’t madness."
She looked at each of the remaining Katagaria members to implore them to her side. "His actions pose a threat to all of us. If the humans were to ever learn…"
"Bullshit," Dante said out loud. "This reeks of greed to me."
"That’s ridiculous," Paris said. "We are the animals, not humans. Since when do any of us care about money?"
Dante held his hands up. "Hello? Ever been to my club, The Inferno? I give a major damn about the bottom line. In fact, I’m the second-richest Katagari in the world. And who am I second to? Wren Tigarian. This whole thing smells of a setup." He glared at the tiger, whose stare was completely blank.
Lysander stroked his jaw. "I don’t know. If he’s exposed us…"
"Wren is not a danger," Vane said. "I know this kid. He is quiet and withdrawn. He would never do anything to draw attention to himself."
Nicolette scoffed at Vane. "And what do you really know of Wren? Has he ever once spoken to you?"
Vane growled low in his throat, but in the end he admitted the truth. "Well… not much."
"Has he even acknowledged you in any way?"
A tic started in Vane’s jaw. "No. Not really. As I said, he’s withdrawn from the world."
"That’s right," she said, curling her lip. She looked at Savitar. "He is completely antisocial. He refuses always to listen to anyone or anything. He has threatened the lives of my sons and me. Now he is dating the daughter of a senator. Tell me what Katagari in his right mind would do such?"
Even Dante had to admit that was living dangerously.
"Are we to wait until he kills an innocent?" Nicolette asked. "Wait until he shows himself as a changeling to the senator? I have already lost enough children. I will not lose another. I want him out of my house. If I try to force him out, he will kill me or one of my cubs. I know it. He has never been right mentally."
"He killed both of his parents when he was only twenty," Zack added. "They were both highly trained and powerful predators. Imagine what he can do now that he has trained, too."
Savitar passed a disgusted look to Dante. "I’m just an observer in this. At the end of the day, the final vote falls to you guys." He looked back at Nicolette and Zack. "But remember this, if you’re wrong, it will be my wrath you face. Greed is for humans; it’s not for the Katagaria." He gave Zack a gimlet stare. "Force a wrongful hunt and it will come back on you."
"Wren is a killer," Zack reiterated. "I say we call out the Strati and put him down."
"I second that," Nicolette said.
Savitar let out a heavy sigh. "We have two motions to hunt and kill Wren Tigarian. All those in favor, say aye."
Wren sighed as he shrugged his shirt off and ran water to wash his face. He was tired, yet all he could think of was going to see Maggie again. The compulsion inside him was like a madness.
"Why do I feel like this?" he said between clenched teeth. It was suicide to pursue anything else with a woman like her and he knew it. It wasn’t as if they were mates.
He checked his hand again. Even now, there was no mark. Why did he feel like this? He’d spent all evening with her and still he wanted more.
It didn’t make sense.
He washed his face, then turned off the water and ran his damp hands through his hair. As he reached for a towel, he felt a strange fissure in the air around him…
Wren cocked his head in a very tigerlike pose as he listened and sensed the air around him.
Two seconds later, he smelled the scent of a predator.
Wren turned, but before he could even focus his gaze, something sharp pierced his chest. He cursed as he staggered back.
"Get the collar ready."
The voices seemed to come from far away. His vision dimmed. Wren cursed as he realized he’d been tranked, but he refused to succumb to it.
"Fuck this," he snarled, shifting from human to tiger.
He lunged out to find four humans in the hallway.
"Shoot him!" one snapped.
He jumped at the one with the gun. As he made contact, the human turned into a tiger. Wren felt another sting to his back as two of the humans tried to get a holding noose around his neck. If they succeeded, they would have him.
Shifting to the form of a leopard, he knew his only hope was to outrun them. He ran at the closed window and jumped out to the street below. Glass shattered and shards of it embedded his flesh.
His entire body throbbed as he hit the ground hard.
He lay on the asphalt for only an instant to catch his breath before he forced himself to get up and sprint up the back alley, toward the convent down the street. He could hear the others giving chase.
Blood was pouring from his cuts as he raced. He had to get away from them. They would kill him if he slowed down. But at the rate he was going, he couldn’t last much longer. Between the trank and his cuts, he was fading fast.
His heart pounding, he knew he’d have to find a new haven or he was dead.
Marguerite was finishing up her dishes when she heard me sound of someone knocking on her back door.
She frowned, half-afraid of going to it. No one should be in her backyard at this late hour, and she’d watched enough episodes of America’s Most Wanted to know not to even peek outside.
Instead, she reached for her phone to call the police.
Her frown deepened as she recognized Wren’s voice from outside. Why would he be in her backyard?
Maybe she was imagining it.
"Maggie, please let me in."
Still clutching the phone just in case, she pushed the curtains aside to see him on the patio completely nak*d. But more than that, he was covered in blood. His breathing ragged, his face was scratched and bruised. It looked like he’d been in some sort of accident.
"Oh my God, Wren," she breathed as she opened the door to let him inside. "What happened?"
He didn’t speak as he stumbled into her kitchen.
He fell to his knees and looked up at her as he continued to pant. "I’m sorry, Maggie. I didn’t know where else to go."
Her heart hammering in panic, she knelt beside him. "I’ll call-"
"No police," he said with a groan. "No doctors."
"No!" he snapped, grabbing the phone out of her hands. "They’ll kill me."
"Who’ll kill you?"
She watched helplessly as his eyes rolled back in his head and he passed out at her feet. An instant later, instead of a man on her floor, there was…
She staggered back, away from the creature. It looked as if it was a strange mixture of snow leopard and white tiger, and it was huge.
Marguerite had never seen anything like it. Part of her wanted to scream and another part of her was held transfixed by what she saw.
"This isn’t happening…"
She had to be dreaming.
Yet there was no arguing with what was on her floor. She looked to the bloody footprints that led inside her house. They were human.
They were Wren’s.
And they stopped at the tigard…
"I’m having a nervous breakdown. I’m delusional." That was it. She was having a flashback.
You don’t take drugs.
"Well then, mind, please explain this shit to me, huh?"
But there was no explanation. At least not a logical one. Wren had come into her house, looking like someone had beaten him up, and now there was a bleeding animal on her floor.
A big bleeding animal on her floor.
"Okay, Marguerite, you live in New Orleans. You read Anne Rice and Jim Butcher. You’ve seen Silver Bullet… But he ain’t no werewolf."
No, he was something else.
And now she understood what he’d been trying to tell her without saying it explicitly. Then again, he’d told her exactly what he was and she’d stupidly brushed it aside.
Now she understood why he’d been able to jump into the tiger cage and not get hurt. How he had healed from that bullet wound so fast.
He wasn’t human.
At least not entirely.
"I didn’t know where else to go."
His words went through her. Most likely, he’d known what would happen the minute he passed out-it was probably why he’d refused to spend the night with her before. Yet he had trusted her enough in his hour of need to seek her out.
His life was now in her hands. If she called the police, an ambulance, or even animal rescue, they would lock him in a cage and never let him out.
Or worse, as he’d pointed out, they would kill him.
Her heart pounding, she moved closer to the large cat on her floor. With a shaking hand, she reached out to touch his soft pelt. It was like stroking a thick, silky cat. She’d never felt anything softer. Impulsively, she buried her face in the fur and let it caress her skin.
"Is it really you, Wren?"
He didn’t respond in any way.
And he was still bleeding.
Terrified of him dying there on her floor, she tried to move him, only to learn that he seemed to weigh about as much as her car. With no other idea of what to do, she went to her bathroom to get alcohol, antibiotic cream, and bandages.
"What the hell," she said as she gathered them. "He healed fast enough after the gunshot. All freaky Were-People heal quickly, right?" If she bandaged him up, he should be up and around in no time.
At least that’s what she hoped.
But as she returned to his side and started cleaning his wounds, she couldn’t help but wonder who or what had hurt him and why. Most important, she couldn’t help wondering if whoever had done this would be able to find him.