Wren lay naked, spooned up against Maggie while she slept in his arms. He had his cheek pressed against hers as he listened to her breathe. She had the faintest little snore that warmed him through and through. He was tired, too, but he wanted to hold her as a man at least for a little while longer while the scent of her hung heavy in his senses.
It was heaven to be in her arms, and he cursed the Fates for not allowing them to mate. It wasn't fair or right. Surely they were meant to be together...
Suddenly he heard something out in the hallway.
Wren moved slowly from the bed as he felt an odd fissure ripple down his spine. It wasn't like the one he got when his father was nearby.
Eerie, powerful, disturbing.
He crossed the room, his attention focused on what he'd heard outside.
Closing his eyes, he dressed himself and Maggie an instant before he felt a presence behind him.
Wren spun around to find one of the tigers in human form who had assaulted him in Sanctuary.
The tiger moved forward to try to put a collar over Wren's neck.
Wren shoved the Katagari back, into the wall. The collar fell to the floor with a thud as the tiger growled at him.
Maggie came awake with a gasp.
"Run, Maggie," Wren said as he put himself between her and the tiger.
Two more tigers popped in.
Marguerite's eyes narrowed at the sight of the tigers and man after Wren. An unbridled fury started deep inside her. She'd never felt anything like it as it rose up.
It was the beast inside her. She knew it. She actually felt it straining and hissing.
And it wanted blood. Their blood.
Acting on pure animal instinct, she launched herself from the bed at the tiger closest to her. It turned on her to fight. For a fleeting instant, fear gripped her, and then it was gone, washed away by her fury.
And in its place was a confidence the likes of which she'd never experienced before. Trusting herself completely, she stood her ground and caught the tiger by the neck.
Wren was stunned as he watched Maggie take the tiger. He smiled an instant before something shocked him. He couldn't breathe as the electrical energy went through his entire body, flashing him from tiger to human and back again.
He hit the ground hard, terrified of what would happen to Maggie while he was completely incapacitated.
Marguerite froze at the sight of Wren. He was on the floor writhing as if in excruciating pain as he changed forms back and forth at an alarming rate.
The tiger she'd been fighting manifested itself as a human male. "Collar the bastard."
She didn't know what that was, but she was sure it was bad. She changed back to human form. "No!" she shouted, rushing at them. She threw herself down on top of Wren and wished herself out of the room.
Please let this work!
Two seconds later, she was in his father's bedroom.
Aristotle looked up from his desk with a frown. "Maggie?"
Before she could answer, the tigers poofed into the room with them.
"They're trying to kill Wren," she warned his father.
He came out of his chair ready to battle them.
As the human moved for Wren, Marguerite sprang at him. She shoved him back so hard that he actually cracked the wall.
"Stay out of this, woman, or die," he warned her.
She glared her hatred at him. "The only one who's going to die tonight is you, asshole."
Aristotle caught the man as he lunged toward her. He twisted the man's head around until a gruesome crack sounded. The man turned into a tiger before he slid to the ground, where he lay motionless.
The other two tigers vanished.
Only partially relieved, Marguerite knelt beside Wren, who was still flashing back and forth between his forms.
"Baby?" she said, wanting to help him.
"They must have hit him with a Taser," Aristotle said. "You should probably be told that if you get shocked at all, this is what will happen to you, too. You can't hold on to a form after such a thing."
Well that was nice to know, but it didn't help Wren. "What can we do to help him?"
"Nothing," Aristotle said sadly. "The electricity has to stop bouncing around his cells. Once it does he'll be back to normal, but in the meantime he's helpless."
Aristotle locked gazes with her. The heat and fear in his blue eyes scorched her. "And you two are out of time. Now that they know you're here, they'll be back for both of you. In force."
"What are we to do?" she asked, willing to fight or do whatever was necessary to protect Wren.
His father placed a hand on Wren's arm. "The full moon is cresting. It's time to send you both back to where you came from."
Marguerite shook her head as a new fear gripped her. "It's too soon. We have no proof of his innocence."
Still those eyes burned her with an intensity that was frightening. "Trust me. Go to the Laurens law office and ask them for a package. I will send it from here and they will have it in their safe, waiting for the two of you. It will prove Wren's innocence."
It sounded way too easy. "Are you sure?"
"You have no choice, Maggie," he insisted. "If you stay here, you're both dead. I only hope I have enough of my powers left after turning you to accomplish this."
"And if you don't?"
He looked away. "It's all in the hands of the Fates. Let us hope they're not entirely lacking in compassion."
Marguerite opened her mouth to argue, but before she could, everything around her went hazy.
A minute later, she found herself on a grassy lawn not too far from her small house in New Orleans.
Shocked and a bit confused, she looked around. It was the middle of the day, and everything looked as if it were normal. The sun was bright and shining over her head. The day appeared calm and tranquil.
Only there was nothing tranquil about what was happening to them right now. There was nothing tranquil about the fear and anxiety she felt.
In human form, Wren hissed, then slammed his head against the grass. She held her breath, expecting him to transform into a tigard again.
He lay still against the grass, his eyes open with a distant gaze that was filled with remorse and guilt.
"Wren?" she asked hesitantly.
"Damn it, Dad," he breathed angrily. "How could you?"
She saw the anguish in Wren's eyes and it set fire to her own. "I'm sorry, Wren. I should have stopped him."
He looked as if he wanted to scream out at the injustice. It only lasted an instant before he was up on his feet with a grim determination on his face.
Wren held his hand out to her. "C'mon. Let's go settle this. I'm not about to let him have died in vain."
She understood exactly what he felt and she was every bit as ready to set this right. "You got it."
As soon as she touched his hand, he flashed them from the street to a small alcove in the alley behind the Laurens Law Firm. Much to her relief, their clothes changed back into their usual 2005 attire.
"Thank you," she said, looking down at her pink sweater and khaki pants. "I feel much more normal now, which is really freaky when you consider just how abnormal I've become."
Smiling, Wren gave her an encouraging look before he led her inside.
The dark-haired receptionist frowned at them as they entered. A middle-aged woman who had obviously been chosen for her job because she could intimidate Evander Holyfield, she eyed them suspiciously. It was obvious she didn't recognize Wren. "Can I help you?" she said coolly.
Wren brushed a hand through his hair. Maggie could sense his unease as he addressed the woman, who had a snobby attitude that would make Marguerite's father proud.
"Yeah. I'm Wren Tigarian and I was told that my father sent something here for the firm to hold for me."
The name immediately registered on the woman's face as she stood up. She looked at him with much more respect. "Oh, you're one of Mr. Laurens' personal clients. If you and your friend will wait right here, Mr. Tigarian, I'll go get him for you." She paused as she reached the door to the office area. "Would either of you like anything to drink?"
Wren looked at Marguerite.
"I'm fine," she said quickly.
The woman looked at Wren, who shook his head in declination. "Very good, sir. I'll be right back with Mr. Laurens. Y'all just make yourselves at home."
Wow, the change in her tone was remarkable.
Marguerite could feel Wren's agitation as they waited for Bill.
Not that they had to wait very long. He entered the reception area one step behind his receptionist, who returned to her seat.
Bill frowned nervously as soon as he saw them. Not that Marguerite blamed him. They were still being hunted.
"What are you doing here, Wren?"
"My father sent something to you. He told me you'd have it in your safe."
Bill shook his head. "No, we didn't."
Wren lowered his voice so that only she and Bill could hear him. "I just left him, Bill, and he said he was going to send something here for you to hold on to. He said it would prove my innocence."
Bill's eyes showed his own upset for Wren. "No letter ever came from him. Believe me. There's nothing here. I would have told you a long time ago if I'd had something for you."
She saw the disappointment she felt mirrored on Wren's face. "Are you sure?"
"I would never joke about this."
Damn. Marguerite shivered. How could his father have not sent it? Or, God forbid, it fell victim to the mail service. This was awful.
"What are we going to do?" she asked Wren.
Wren rubbed his head to relieve the ache that was starting just behind his eyes. He was angry and disappointed.
But most of all he was sad. His heart ached for the father he'd barely known. A father who hadn't hated him after all.
That knowledge alone had been worth the trip into the past. So what if he couldn't prove his innocence? At least he finally knew that his father had loved him.
He looked at Maggie, who was dependent on him to keep her safe. And in his heart he knew what he had to do.
"I'm going to the Omegrion." His tone was low so that the receptionist couldn't overhear him.
"Are you insane?" Bill hissed. "They'll kill you."
"They'll kill me if I don't. You know that." Wren looked at her, hoping to make her understand why this had to be done. "Savitar is my only hope. I'll ask for a diki and then we'll see what happens."
"What's a diki?" Marguerite asked, her tone barely more than a whisper.
"Trial by combat," Bill explained. "Wren confronts his accuser and they fight it out."
She was aghast at the idea. "No!" she said firmly.
"We have no choice, Maggie. They'll run us into the ground. Neither you nor I will ever have rest from them. There's nowhere we can go they won't find us. Tell her, Bill."
Bill sighed heavily. "He's right. As much as I hate to admit it. They won't stop until he's dead."
Marguerite straightened up and eyed Wren with raw determination. "Fine. Then I go with you."
"No, Wren," she said sternly. "You are not going to do this alone. You need someone in your corner."
Wren stared at her. And it was then he knew the truth.
He loved this woman. He loved her strength and her courage. She was absolutely everything to him. Mated or not, he would never feel like this toward another female.
In truth, he didn't want to go alone. If he had to die, he wanted to die in Maggie's arms, with the touch of her hand on his skin to ease him on his way.
"Okay." Wren looked at the receptionist.
Bill followed his line of sight. "Terry? Could you go grab the file I have on my desk and bring it to me?"
"Sure, Mr. Laurens. I'll be right back."
Wren waited until she was out of their sight. Wrapping his arms around Maggie, he closed his eyes and teleported them to Savitar's home.
Wren didn't move for several seconds as he glanced around the large circular room. Even though he had a seat on the council, he'd never been here before. The room was large, almost overwhelming.
"Where are we?" Maggie asked as she gaped at the opulence of the place.
"A traveling island."
She arched both brows. "A what?"
"It's an island kind of like Brigadoon. It vanishes and reappears at Savitar's whims."
She looked even more confused "And who is Savitar?"
"That would be me."
They both turned to see an incredibly tall man standing behind them. Dressed all in white like a typical surfer, Savitar had shoulder-length dark brown hair and deeply tanned skin.
Wren's jaw went slack as he recognized Savitar. "You?"
"You know him?" Maggie asked.
Wren nodded. "He's the man I met in the woods after my father died."
"The one who took you to New Orleans?"
"That was me," Savitar said again as he walked past them, toward a throne that was set against one wall.
Marguerite was gaping at the man's nonchalance.
As he sat down, the room filled with people who appeared to have been in the middle of doing other things. One man was even holding a fried drumstick against his lips as if he'd been in the middle of eating dinner.
"What the hell is this?" a dark-haired man asked as he quickly flashed clothing onto his naked body. "Savitar? I was in the middle of my shower."
Savitar looked completely unrepentant.
Marguerite was about to laugh until her gaze fell to one of the tigers who had been pursuing them. The man curled his lip an instant before he changed to a tiger and rushed at them.
He leapt at Wren.
Just as he would have reached them, he slammed into what appeared to be an invisible wall. He fell to the ground yelping.
"Don't piss me off any more, you stupid punk," Savitar growled. "Now get up, Zack."
The tiger became human. His mouth was bleeding as he turned to face Savitar's throne. "I demand justice!"
Savitar laughed evilly. "Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it."
Marguerite exchanged a completely confounded look with Wren, who seemed to understand about as much of this as she did. What was going on here?
"Animals," Savitar said. "Sorry to disturb all of you. But it seems there is new evidence for you to consider."
"He knows something," she whispered to Wren.
Wren took her hand into his and held it tight.
"Nicolette?" Savitar addressed the bear who had been so nasty to them. "Care to share with the council what you told me earlier?"
Zack growled a warning to Nicolette. "Think of what you have to lose, bear."
"Worry about your own ass, tiger," Savitar said snidely. His gaze softened as he looked back to the bear. "Speak, Nicolette. To be rather cliched, the truth shall set you free."
Nicolette glanced at Wren and Marguerite before she spoke again. "Zack Tigarian admitted to both me and my daughter that he knew Wren hadn't gone mad. That he and his father were accusing him only to get his money."
Another dark-haired man frowned at Nicolette. "What about your earlier testimony? You said you had witnessed his madness yourself."
Nicolette nodded. "He has been more hostile lately, I did not lie. And he has exposed us to unnecessary human scrutiny."
Zack sneered. "He's standing here right now with the daughter of a senator. Tell me what kind of animal would do such a thing? It's obvious he is insane. He even launched himself into a tiger cage at the zoo, where he was filmed by the humans."
Savitar looked at Maggie and Wren with a stoic expression. "Do you have anything to say, Maggie?"
"How do you know my name?"
One corner of his mouth twisted up wryly. "I know everything, kid. And the vast majority of it, I wish I didn't... especially those girly thoughts you're having about Wren right now. They're really grossing me out, and I seriously wish Dante would stop thinking about Pandora's..." Savitar made a face, then appeared to shake it off. "Now speak if you have something to say that refutes these allegations."
Marguerite let go of Wren's hand to step forward as she addressed the Were-Animals who were gathered at the round table. "In every event that you accuse Wren of, I was there as a witness. He never once attacked unless it was in defense of himself or me. He only jumped into the tigers' cage because a small boy's life was in danger and he knew he could save him. That wasn't madness, it was kindness."
A blond woman sneered at her. "What does a human know?"
Savitar snorted. "Oh, I think our little human knows quite a bit about animals... especially now."
Marguerite frowned. By the tone of his voice she could tell that somehow Savitar knew she was part tiger.
Good grief, the man did appear to know everything. It was really scary to think about that.
Wren moved to stand in front of her. "I'm not mad or insane. There is no trelosa inside me. I'm here to be judged as the Omegrion sees fit, but only so long as you promise me that nothing will happen to Maggie."
Zack scoffed at him. "I would fear more for my own life than the human's."
Wren tilted his head as he felt something odd. He turned just as something flashed right behind him.
Before he could react, a man grabbed Maggie, then vanished with her.
Zack laughed an instant before he vanished, too.
"What the hell?" Fury demanded from the round table.
Savitar didn't react at all physically. He sat on his throne completely emotionless. "Well, that was certainly special," he said, his voice laden with sarcasm.
"Are you going to allow someone to threaten the sanctity here?" the jackal representative asked.
"Oh no," Savitar said. He checked his watch. "Let's give them a few minutes before I send the tiger in to finish this."
"Where the hell did he take her?" Wren demanded.
Savitar gave him a droll look. "Hold your horses or, since you're part tiger, your tail."
"She can't stand alone!" Wren roared as his anger boiled inside him. Savitar might not care about Maggie's well-being, but he most certainly did. "You have to send me to her now."
"Fehrista nam gaum."
Wren scowled at words he didn't comprehend. "What does that mean?"
"To make an omelette you must first break some eggs."
Marguerite was slightly disoriented as she found herself in a posh, overly decorated room. It looked like something one might find in a home-and-gardens magazine. Everything was highly polished and meticulously clean.
She tried to move, but the tiger still held her in a grip from behind that kept her from escaping. For that matter, she could barely breathe.
Closing her eyes, she summoned her powers and tried to make herself a tiger.
It wasn't easy.
But as Zack flashed into the room, she succeeded. The man holding her cursed before he turned into a tiger to attack her. Marguerite caught him a gash to his throat before she bit him hard in the neck.
They weren't going to take her without a fight.
He limped away from her as Zack lunged, then grabbed her from behind. She roared as she tried to bite him, too, but he held her in such a way that she couldn't.
A middle-aged man gasped as he entered the room. Dressed in an expensive black suit, he was the poster boy for the Fortune 500 set.
Marguerite cocked her head. It was Grayson. She knew him instantly due to the fact that he bore an amazing resemblance to Aristotle.
"You got him?" Grayson asked.
"No. It's his human companion."
Grayson shook his head in denial. "How is that possible?"
"Don't ask me," Zack said in an aggravated tone. "You're the elder, Dad." He indicated where the other tiger was lying on the floor, dead and bloody. "She's already killed Theo, and I'm sure Wren will track her to us any minute now."
Grayson approached them cautiously.
Marguerite snapped at Grayson, wanting to tear him apart for what he'd done to not only Wren but Aristotle as well. How could any man kill his own brother?
And over what?
It was ridiculous and both the woman and animal in her wanted vengeance for the undue pain Grayson had caused Wren.
She did her best to return to human form so that she could tell Grayson exactly what she thought of him, but her body wasn't listening to her at the moment.
Grayson moved toward her, with a deliberate intent. He manifested a butterfly knife in his fist. Twirling it open, he gave her an evil smirk. "Then I say we put her out of her misery and let Wren find her with her throat slit."
"Don't you dare touch her."
Marguerite, as well as Grayson and Zack, froze at the sound of a voice she was sure she'd never hear again.
It couldn't be...
She wasn't sure who was the most stunned as Aristotle appeared in the room before them. With his arms crossed over his chest he seemed strangely calm, and yet at the same time his anger was tangible. It was an eerie combination.
"You're dead!" Grayson snapped.
Aristotle laughed. "Do I look dead, Brother?"
"Karina killed you."
Aristotle arched a brow at that. "I thought Wren killed me. Is that not what you claimed?"
Grayson moved away from her slowly, toward the door. "You're a ghost. You have to be. Your mate killed you more than twenty years ago."
"Did she?" Aristotle unfolded his arms and threw a small Japanese throwing star into Zack's arm.
Cursing in pain, Zack let go of Marguerite.
His face a mask of malice, Aristotle turned toward his brother. "I told you a long time ago, Gray, never come between a tiger and his mate."
Grayson changed into a tiger and lunged at Aristotle. Aristotle caught him in his arms and held him close to his heart.
He gave her a grim look. "Do what you have to do to protect Wren, Maggie. He needs you," he said, then vanished.
Marguerite turned on Zack with a snarl.
Wren was livid by the time Savitar allowed him to locate Maggie.
He flashed into an unfamiliar house, ready to do battle with the devil himself if he had to.
But what he found absolutely floored him. Maggie was huddled naked in a corner, shaking and crying, while Zack's tiger body lay a few feet away from her.
Stunned and terrified of what had been done to her, Wren moved slowly toward Maggie until he could pull her into his arms. She looked up at him with tears in her eyes. His gut knotted as he mentally prepared himself for the worst.
"I killed him, Wren," she breathed, "just as I killed the other one. It was so awful." She wiped at her mouth so hard that he was amazed she didn't rub the skin off. "I can't get the taste of blood out of my mouth."
"Did they... are you okay?"
She nodded, then sobbed even harder.
Relieved that they hadn't raped her, he held her close and sent up a silent prayer of thanks. "Shh," he said, pulling her into his lap and putting clothes on her. "You did what you had to do to protect yourself. There's nothing wrong with that."
"But I killed someone."
"You're a tiger now, Maggie. The animal inside you is stronger..." He paused as he thought that through. It wasn't true and he knew it. "No. The woman inside you is strong enough to know it had to be done. If you hadn't killed them, they would have killed you."
Marguerite drew a ragged breath as she remembered Wren telling her about how harsh his life was. How brutal. At the time she'd thought he was just being melodramatic.
Now she understood.
He was right, the animal part of herself was satisfied even as the woman in her was horrified. The two parts of her were at war and at peace.
It was so strange.
How could she feel like this? Those had been people, kind of. And she had killed them.
For Wren and for herself. No, he was right. It was self-defense. Had she not killed them, they would have taken a lot more from her.
Wren got up and pulled her to her feet. His eyes were dark with worry, and it warmed her even through the pain and the horror. "Did you get hurt in the fighting?"
"A few scratches, but I'll live." She looked up at him as the whole event replayed through her thoughts and she shivered. "Your father was here."
Wren stared at her in disbelief. "What?"
She nodded. "Right after Zack brought me here, your father came in and grabbed his brother. I think he took him to the past."
"That doesn't make sense. Why?"
"I don't know. Maybe to confront him?" But even that didn't make sense. It was completely bizarre.
Wren let out an elongated breath. "There's no way to prove my innocence now. We can't even force Zack or Grayson to a confession."
"But they're dead. There's no one to accuse you."
His gaze burned her. "Our justice doesn't work that way." He lifted her hand to his lips and placed the tenderest of kisses on her palm. "C'mon, let's return to the Omegrion."
"No," she said, stopping him. "Let's run. We can-"
"No, Maggie. I've never been a coward and I will not run in this. Besides, Savitar can find me."
Hope flared inside her. "He knows the truth. He said he knows everything. If we can get him-"
"Savitar won't interfere with what the others decide. It's not in his nature."
"Then what good is he?"
Before Wren could answer, they found themselves back in the Omegrion's council room.