Marguerite lay on the bed beside Wren, who was still sleeping in cat form. She'd learned from Vane that the Were-Hunters as animals had full human cognition.
"If Wren won't hurt you in human form, then he won't hurt you as an animal."
That knowledge had eased her mind a great deal. It was so strange, though, to be touching a huge, wild cat and have no fear of it.
How could this animal be the man she knew?
Marguerite touched his velvety soft ears. His fur was incredibly white, and when he was in his "true" form, there were no stripes or spots on it. He looked like a big, fluffy cat. As a tiger, he had the typical black tiger markings that bisected the white fur.
She moved her hand to sink it deep in the pelt of his neck. It was like clutching the softest silk imaginable. She could feel the strength of him. It was scary and oddly comforting.
Without a second thought, she sank her face there and held him close. Poor Wren had been through so much. If she could, she would ease the pain.
All she could do was offer him comfort and hope that their plan would work. The last thing she wanted was to see him hurt anymore. Vane had told her much about Wren's childhood, about how alone he had always been. It was something she understood very well. All her life she, too, had been an outsider. Never good enough. Never what others wanted her to be.
It was a lonely place to live.
Her heart aching, she nuzzled the soft fur as she gently petted his uninjured side.
Wren came awake to the most incredible feeling of his life. Someone was stroking him...
No one had ever laid a gentle hand on him in animal form before. The hand on his side was warm, soothing. It stroked and smoothed his fur in a sensuous rhythm that wasn't sexual in any way. It was comforting. And that meant more to him than anything else ever had.
Other Were-Hunters knew better than to touch him when he was like this. Humans feared him as an animal.
And his parents... they had never been affectionate.
At least not to him.
He knew instinctively that it was Maggie who was petting him now. Her scent was heavy in his fur and he loved it.
He also remembered what he'd been about to do when the damned Dark-Hunter had drugged him.
But at the moment, suicide was the furthest thing from his mind. He just wanted to stay here and feel the delicate strength of Maggie's hand on his body. There was nothing else like the peace he felt inside. The happiness.
How he wished there was nothing else in the world except the two of them...
Marguerite gasped as Wren rolled over, changing as he moved from the tigard into a man. Those pale blue eyes seared her with heat.
She touched the healing cut on his bottom lip. "Are you okay? How do you feel?"
"Dizzy. Hazy. Nauseated."
She wrinkled her nose at his honesty. "Do you need to go to the bathroom?"
He shook his head. "I just need a few minutes to let the last of the drug burn through my system. I hate friggin' tranks."
"I can imagine." She brushed the hair back from his beautiful face. "You still planning on being stupid?"
"I don't have any choice."
"Vane says that you do. If you can prove-"
"How?" he asked. His voice sounded so very tired. So reserved and resigned to his bum fate. "There was never any evidence to show who killed my father or my mother."
She refused to believe that. There had to be something left behind to help Wren. Something that could prove his innocence. "Tell me what happened."
Wren grew quiet as he remembered the last few hours of his father's life. He'd never spoken about it to anyone before. But the nightmares still haunted him at times.
"I'd just been learning to shift forms and I couldn't hold on to anything for long. One minute I'd be human and helpless, and then in the next I was a leopard or tiger or tigard. My mother was completely disgusted by me and my appearance. It was why they never had any more children. I overheard from others that they'd gotten along well together until my birth. After that, my mother refused to let my father touch her for fear of having another thing like me."
Marguerite's heart ached for him. She couldn't imagine having her parents flat out reject her. Her father could be judgmental, preoccupied or missing at times, but he'd never been deliberately cruel.
Wren toyed with a lock of her hair as he continued talking. "My father seldom looked at me as a cub. They kept me locked away in a small cage in their house until I started going through puberty. My father knew I needed someone to train me on how to use my powers, so he hired a cousin to come in and teach me... Zack."
The one Vane said had accused Wren of the murders. But Marguerite didn't bring that up at the moment. First she wanted to understand the chain of events. "So your cousin showed you how to use your powers?"
"No. He was too disgusted that I couldn't hold a solid form, so he quit a week after my father had hired him." Wren drew a ragged breath. "So my father decided he'd have to do it himself. It was the only time in my life that he'd ever spent any time with me. At first, he was so angry at me, so cold, that I kept trying to leave any way I could. I'd run out of the room, or use my burgeoning powers to flash myself into other parts of the house or outside. Angry and disgusted, he'd drag me back and try to teach me again."
"Drag you back how?"
Pain haunted his eyes. "It's not important."
She knew better. The tightness of his body told her differently. His father's actions had cut Wren straight to his soul.
"Once I began having some degree of control, my father calmed down. He was even starting to like me, I think. It's what hurt most when he died. I'd spent my whole childhood alone, only seeing my keeper who came in once a day to change my food and my box. Every now and again, my father would come in, stare at me with a look of disappointment or hatred, and then leave without saying anything. So when he started paying attention to me, it was the most incredible thing."
He paused and looked away. She could see the memories that ached. She only wished she knew some way to soothe them.
"We'd moved me from my cage into a bedroom," Wren said quietly. "I was asleep when I heard something crash down the hall. I changed into human form to see what it was and I found him in his bedroom with his throat open. There was so much blood and bruising that you couldn't even see his face."
"What did you do?"
"I sat there crouched in human form, with my hand on his. I couldn't move, couldn't think. I'd never seen a fresh kill before. All I could do was stare at him."
"But you don't know who killed him?"
"I knew," he said in an angry tone. "I heard my mother and her lover. They were off laughing about it in another room."
Marguerite swallowed as panic consumed her at the bitter hatred in his voice. Maybe he'd killed his mother after all.
"I was so angry that I wasn't thinking. I went into the room where the two of them were toasting each other with champagne. I ran at my mother, but her lover caught me and threw me to the ground. He was going to kill me, too, but she stopped him. I found out then that that had been their initial plan. She was supposed to kill me and my father so that my uncle could take control of Tigarian Tech. But she said that she didn't trust my uncle. If I died, she was sure he'd leave them with nothing. Their only hope to keep any of my father's money was to keep me drugged and control it as my guardian."
Anger coiled through Marguerite that anyone could do such a thing, never mind to their own son. What had been wrong with his mother?
"So what did they do?" she asked.
"I'm not sure. I was trying to use my magic to get away from her lover, the next thing I knew, I woke up in a locked room as the whole house was burning down around me."
She frowned. "How did you get out?"
"The floor burned out from under me. I went crashing downstairs and a firefighter saw me and thought I was a pet. They threw a blanket over me and pulled me out right before the whole house went down. As they took me out, I saw the bodies of my mother and her lover and my father, who were lying on the lawn where they had placed them."
A tic beat rapidly in Wren's jaw. "Before they could hand me over to animal control, I bit the firefighter and escaped. I headed straight for the trees and shrubs that surrounded the house. And I just kept running until I came across another man who told me to jump into his car."
"Wasn't that unbelievably dangerous?"
He snorted. "Probably, but he knew who and what I was and he said that my father had sent him to take care of me. I wasn't really thinking clearly at the time. I was wounded and scared, and had nowhere else to turn. All I knew was that if he had a chance, my uncle would kill me, too, and the man who came to me smelted human. My uncle hated humans, so I figured he was my safest bet."
Marguerite was amazed by Wren's tale. She couldn't imagine just how terrifying that night must have been for him. "Why didn't you ever tell anyone what had happened to your parents?"
He gave her a droll look. "Who would believe me? Animals don't kill for money. That's a human crime."
"You're not an animal."
"Yes, Maggie," he said, his eyes burning her with their intensity. "I am. Never delude yourself on that count. Until I was twenty-five years old, I was nothing but a tigard cub. The ability to become human is a byproduct of the magic that some insane king forced onto my people centuries ago. But at the end of the day, I have the heart and instincts of an animal. And I will always act like an animal."
Still she didn't buy it. "And yet your so-called animal uncle killed for a very human reason and he's now setting you up. I think there's more human in you than you admit."
He looked away from her. "I've been living my whole life in Sanctuary. I knew if I ever left it that my father's family would come for me. Now they have." He locked gazes with her. "They'll kill you to get to me. Do you understand that?"
His words sent a wave of fear over her, even so, she refused to cower. She didn't know what would or even could happen, but she wasn't going to run from this. She wouldn't let them intimidate her.
Wren let out a ragged yet determined breath. "I have to face them."
"And that is the animal in you talking. Face them and fight to the death." She brushed his hair back, hoping she could dissuade him from killing himself so needlessly. "Stop for a minute, Wren, and think like a human. What's the best way to get back at someone who's greedy?"
"You kill them."
She rolled her eyes as she dropped her hand to his bare chest "No, you make them poor. You take away the money that means so much and you lock them in a cage."
He scoffed. "I'd rather kill them."
She narrowed her eyes at him.
To her surprise, he smiled at her. "Okay, let's say for a minute that I'm listening to you. What do you suggest I do?"
"Vane said that we could go back in time to-"
"Us," she said firmly. "It's the one place where they won't be looking for me. If I stay here, you won't have any way of knowing that I'm okay and I won't have any way of knowing that you're all right. If we go back together, we can find something that ties your uncle to the murders."
Wren clenched his teeth and gave her a skeptical grimace. "It's going to be dangerous."
"They're already trying to kill us. What could be more dangerous than that?"
By his face she could tell he conceded that point to her. "I've never tried to carry someone across time before. What if I screw it up?"
"Vane swears you won't."
"Vane ain't got nothing to lose by this. I do."
She took his hand into hers and met his gaze without wavering. "I trust you."
Wren let out a deep breath at that. No one had given him trust before. And he couldn't believe she would give it to him now, when she had so much to lose.
Gods, if he had any brains at all, he'd leave her here for Jean-Luc to guard, and yet Wren knew she was right. He'd have no way of knowing if she was safe or not. He'd be so concerned for her safety that he wouldn't be able to focus and do what he must to prove his innocence.
He dropped his gaze down to her hand on his chest. She was human. Fragile. And yet she had a strength inside her that stunned him. He'd been alone all his life...
Wouldn't it be nice to have someone by his side, just this once?
He let out a tired breath as a profound desire burned through him. Honestly, he didn't want to live without her. Not even for a minute.
"All right, Maggie. We'll try this your way, but if it doesn't work-"
"You can kill them your way."
Wren pulled her face toward his, intent on kissing her. But as soon as their lips touched, her cell phone rang.
Marguerite growled in irritation as she pulled back. Normally she would ignore it, but this was one call she had to take. "It's my dad's ring," she explained. "Hang on a sec."
She answered the phone.
"Where have you been, young lady?"
She cringed at the anger in her father's voice. "Hi, Dad, nice to hear from you, too."
"Don't get smart with me, Marguerite. I just got a call from your school saying that you haven't been to classes in days. They're going to flunk you. What are you thinking? Have you any idea how embarrassing that will be?"
Marguerite hated the fact that tears were wanting to pool in her eyes. Most of all, she hated the fact that his words really hurt her. "Sorry to be such a disappointment, Dad. But I have-"
"I don't care what you have, little girl. You need to get yourself back into your classrooms and your study group. Blaine said that instead of studying, you've been spending all your time with the local riffraff. I paid too much money for you to just blow off your responsibility because some cheap piece of trash looks good in a pair of jeans. I wish I could just decide not to show up for work for a week."
And that set her anger off. For all he knew, she'd been in a car wreck or was ill. Did he bother to find out why she'd missed school? No.
"Sorry, Dad, but I have something more important to do."
"And that is?"
She gripped the phone tight as she glanced back at Wren, who was watching her with anger in his own eyes. "I'm running away with a tiger. I'll call you when I can."
And with that, she hung up the phone and turned it off.
Wren's jaw went slack. "I can't believe you just told him that."
"Oh, please," she said irritably. "He'll just think you're some LSU student."
She took a deep breath as she considered the repercussions of what she'd just done. "But he will start calling out government agencies to find me. So if you don't take me with you, my 'recovery' by him will be quite public and your friends will know right where to find me."
He tsked at her even though his turquoise eyes were shining in humor. "You're sneaky."
She bit her lip playfully. "Yes and no. You do need someone at your back, and I don't think you trust many people there."
His gaze hardened to lethal blue ice. "I don't trust anyone there..." Then those harsh eyes softened. "Except you." He cupped her face in his palm.
Marguerite sighed as he kissed her. God, this was the most hopeless relationship on the planet. A senator's runaway daughter and a tigard wanted for murder.
In spite of herself, she started laughing.
Wren pulled back with a frown.
"I'm sorry," she said, kissing him lightly. "I was just thinking that this would be one heck of a headline for Weekly World News: 'Prominent Senator's Daughter Goes Back in Time to Save Tiger Boyfriend.'"
She fingered his cheek as the complete reality of this sank in. "I can't believe the world you live in is real. I keep thinking that this is a dream and I'll wake up any minute."
"I wish for your sake that it was a dream. I wish I were human. But you do know that if I survive this, I can't stay with you."
As much as she hated it, she knew he was being honest. "I know."
Wren froze as he heard something outside their room.
Cocking his head, he listened closely.
"What's wrong?" Marguerite asked.
To her shock, clothes appeared on his body as he moved slowly from the bed. He motioned for her to be silent.
He took a step nearer the door.
Out of nowhere, a man appeared in the center of the room.
Marguerite gasped as Wren spun around to confront the intruder.
As he lunged, the man vanished.
"Damn it!" Wren snarled. "They've found us."
The door opened an instant before Vane rushed into the room. "Did I just sense a breach?"
Wren looked at him drolly. "If you're talking about the asshole tiger that was here right before you, yes."
Vane cursed. "You guys are out of time."
"I can't jump until a full moon," Wren said.
Vane gave him a wicked grin. "Yeah, you can."
One minute they were on the ship, the next they were in an ornate room that had open windows where she could hear traffic rumbling from outside.
Wren's face was ashen as he looked around as if he couldn't believe what it was he was seeing.
"Where are we?" she asked.
His eyes were wide as he looked back at her. "My father's bedroom."