The sun glared down from high above when Felix Grady finally stepped out of his cabin. The day off was just what he needed. The long hours he put in while his partner Adam was off mating had worn him out. He slept late and had a leisurely lunch, but now he was tired of doing nothing. He was a tiger that enjoyed being on the move, not lounging around like a bag of lazy bones.
Taking a stroll around the compound would clear his mind before checking in with Ty and Tabitha. He knew Tabitha was in good hands with Adam, but his duties were so engrained in him that he couldn’t stop, even for a few hours. It just wasn’t the person he was.
Making a circle around the grounds, he checked to be sure all the guards were at their posts, nothing out of the norm. As a last-second change of plan, he turned, deciding to take a detour around the creek. Everyone seemed to love the little area by the creek. There was a little bank where shifters could relax, especially Kallie’s mates Taber and Thorben who were able to fish in their bear form without anyone spotting them.
He loved the compound, and the cold weather of Alaska didn’t bother him, although he didn’t have nearly enough time to enjoy it. Being the Captain of Tabitha’s guards takes priority, and with the constant threats to the clans, he rarely had any downtime to enjoy the compound as the other shifters did.
Raja stepped out from around a cabin. “I thought you were taking a day to relax? Checking the grounds at your normal time doesn’t break from your routine. You should catch up on much deserved sleep.”
Since Raja found his mate, Bethany, he had been more jubilant and full of life. The meaning of life had come back to him in full force. It was a remarkable change from the strict man that he’d been before. Now he lived for more than just his job, he had a mate that he loved. Even his sister Tora had remarked on the change.
“Can’t keep me out of the action for long.” He chuckled. “My tiger was restless and demanded I get back to some resemblance of my routine. Any updates?”
“Not yet. Connor and Lukas are working on finding Henry and Randolph, but no solid leads. Recently they found out Randolph spent years being Pierce’s second, but he’s awfully quiet so far for the death of his leader. Speaking of it, have you seen Harmony on your walk? I stopped by her studio, and she wasn’t there.” Raja came to stand next to Felix looking out over the creek bubbling its way down the path.
“No. I heard the guards have been taken off her door after she complained. Is that the wisest move?” There was something about Harmony that drove him to her. She was so scared and frightened, yet he could sense something hiding under the surface, drawing him to her. Maybe it was the person she used to be before his twin brother ruined the shine she had.
“You heard the stink she put up—did you want to listen to that long-term?” Raja shook his head. “Plus, we don’t know when Henry might actually make his move, and we can’t keep her under lock and key indefinitely. Robin will feel if she’s in any danger, and we’re counting on warning from you before he arrives.”
“I’ll do what I can.” Being Henry’s twin should have made it easier for him to determine Henry’s next move, but he was almost as blind to it as everyone else. Harmony might be their only early warning when it came to Henry’s final move.
Raja patted Felix on the back. “I better get back to Bethany. It’s our night for the family dinner. Enjoy the rest of your night off.”
Felix nodded, with a slight envy eating at him. His Lieutenant had a family that most of the clan was envious of. Most tiger shifter off-springs ended up leaving their home clan when they grew up to search for another one to make their name in, separating families across the country. Most shifters don’t have a loyalty to a family like humans do. The loyalty was only to their mate and clan. Parents and siblings were a different category altogether for shifters. Siblings normally remained close though the distances, but parents seemed to have more distances. It’s believed to come from their beast since that was how they were in the wild.
Raja and Tora had been close all their lives, and Tora mating did little to separate the siblings. What separation might have happened was closed with the birth of Tora and Marcus’ daughter Scarlet. Since mating with Bethany, the family dinners have been rotated between Tora’s cabin and Raja’s, giving each woman a chance to host.
With family and mating on his mind, he decided to extend his walk down the creek bed before going back to check on Tabitha. The lush trees lined the creek, keeping it hidden even from the cabins. It was a safe and secure spot deep within the compound, one you were never sure who you would find there.
A familiar scent of honeysuckle and toasted vanilla teased him further along the path to one of the hiding spaces that Kallie favored when she first came to the clan. There, hidden amongst the trees, Harmony sat with her back pressed against the base of one of the trees, tossing rocks at the creek.
“Harmony.” He called to her before stepping closer because he didn’t want to scare her. He knew that just the sight of him made her tense, serving as a reminder of the man that forced himself on her. It was still hard for him to believe that his twin had done such an unimaginable thing. They were raised better than that, and having the tiger inside him but being unable to shift was not enough of an excuse for Felix to forgive Henry’s behavior.
She slid her legs up tight against her chest and met his gaze, but she didn’t speak. She watched him like a tiger stalking its prey, but she wasn’t strong enough to take him down. In tiger form, he outweighed her by more than a hundred pounds, but even as a human, she was no match for him. His years of training and hours in the gym meant he could take her down without hurting her and without much effort at all.
“You okay?” He stepped closer, keeping in her line of sight and his hand way from the gun in his shoulder holster.
“I can’t take it any longer.” She leaned her head against the tree and looked at him. “I can’t stand the fear, the panic. Damn it, to be a prisoner, it’s like being with him all over again. I keep waiting for him to find me, to make me pay for running.”
“You’re safe here. He’s not going to get to you. I won’t let him. Do you understand that?” He knelt in front of her, just far enough away that they didn’t touch, still respecting her space.
“You can’t be sure of that. There’s so many threats against your clan now, with the Texas clan and the rogues.” Her jaw was set as she stared at him. He could read it in her body language that she didn’t believe him.
“I told you I’ll protect you, and I will. There are always threats to clans, but that doesn’t change my vow to protect you.” He paused, listening to the quietness, when an idea struck him. “I know you’re feeling boxed in, so how about if we take a drive? There’s no need to go into town or anything, but a drive through the area might help you recharge and get outside of the compound for a bit. What do you say?”
“I don’t know.”
He could feel her hesitation. “If we’re going to live together in the same clan, you’ll need to move past your apprehension of me. I understand why you have it, but I can’t change my looks or what Henry did to you. I also know words don’t mean much, but I’m nothing like he is. Let me prove it. There’s somewhere I want to show you.” He stood. “What do you say?”
She nodded. “Okay. To get out of here, even just for a short time, would be heavenly.”
He smiled at her. “I need to swing by to see Tabitha and get the keys for one of the guards’ SUVs then we can go. Ten minutes.”
She stood and brushed off the butt of her jeans. “Should I meet you somewhere then or something?”
“Come along—it’s fine. I’m off-duty today, but I want to check in with Adam.” He led the way up the creek a bit further until they came to a small footbridge to cross back over. There were so many things he wanted to ask her, but he didn’t. Spooking her would only send her back into her retreat, and it took too long to get her out of her tigress form to risk anything that might send her back. He’d wait until she was ready.
Silence fell over them like a warm blanket. The only thing heard was the crunch of the occasional stick under his boots. There were no birds that frequented the area—too many tigers and bears in the area that scared them off. Felix always enjoyed the quiet, but now in the quiet he found his thoughts full of the woman standing next to him.
“Hey, Felix,” Tabitha called to him as they stepped out of the trees.
“Tabitha and Adam, just the people I was on my way to see. What are you doing out here?” Felix quickly scanned the grounds, checking for any threat.
“Robin’s down with a cold and asked me to check on Harmony,” Adam explained.
“I do hope Robin is all right.” The common cold was not something Felix or the other shifters had to deal with, only their human counterparts. Once a shifter went through the change, they couldn’t catch a cold or the flu, which came in quite handy. Even though Robin was human, she would gain a higher tolerance to illness from her mating, making illness uncommon. The Alpha/clan bond between Robin and Harmony was highly unusual, especially considering Robin was human, but it was there. Robin had no idea how to handle the connection as a shifter automatically did, so it was becoming a learning process for her. In the meantime, the connection was draining her to the point of illness.
“Bethany healed her, so she should be back to normal soon.” Tabitha nodded.
Felix accompanied Robin on her daily visits with Harmony a few times a week, trying to get her used to his presence. Robin was working closely with Harmony to get her to open up and to work past what Henry put her through.
“I was going to take Harmony out for a drive. She’s suffering with a little cabin fever, and I thought a little time off the grounds would give us both a break.” He almost asked if they would like to join, but instead he kept it to himself. It wasn’t for Harmony’s sake but because he wanted to be with her without the others gathered around. He felt the need to prove to her that he was nothing like Henry.
Harmony wasn’t the first woman to see him as a threat or to fear him, and in most cases, that’s what he needed. With Tabitha’s security on the line, he had to seem like a bastard that would do what he threatened. His threat should come from his actions and body language not necessarily from words. However, when it came to Harmony, he was going out of his way to see that she didn’t fear him. Why?
* * *
Trees whipped past the SUV window as Harmony and Felix headed further and further away from the compound. Her heart beat frantically against her ribs, her mind racing through her fears. She could taste her pulse in her throat. What if this was a trap? He could be leading her to Henry. After all, they were twins—surely they had some bond.
“You’re going to have Robin calling.” Felix never turned his gaze away from the road.
“Your fear. If I can feel it this strongly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Robin calls and orders me to return you to the compound at once.” He looked over at her. “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. Do you want me to take you back?”
Part of her wanted to scream ‘yes,’ but if he were taking her to Henry would he have offered to take her back to the compound? She didn’t think so. More importantly, Robin trusted Felix, therefore she was trying to. He might look like the man who had raped and tortured her for months, leaving scars all over her body, but from what she saw of him, he was different.
Staying in Alaska close to Robin, the only person she had any loyalties to, she’d have to trust Felix and the other clan members. This was the first step on the long road to the life she once had. Not that she ever thought she’d be the person she once was. “No, I want to go.”
“I know you’re scared. I should have asked someone else to come, but with Robin a little under the weather, I was out of people you trusted. We could do this another day when Robin can come with us.”
Pawing at her jeans, she tried to wipe the sweat that had coated her palms away. “It’s fine. I wanted to get out. You know Adam wouldn’t have wanted Robin to leave the security of the compound without him, and you both couldn’t have left Tabitha unguarded.”
“Then Adam could take you and Robin, and I will stay at the compound.”
“No.” She turned away from the window to look at him. “Felix, I want to trust you, and I’m trying.”
“I understand. Every time you look at me, it’s hard for you to see me as someone other than Henry. It’s going to be over soon.”
Hadn’t she heard that since she arrived at the compound? It had been weeks of sitting around waiting for Henry to either attack or for someone to find him. In all that time, her leg nearly healed from the nasty bear trap wound. She was tired of waiting—if only she could do something about it. Even if Henry couldn’t shift, he had proven more than once she was no match for him.
“There’s a slight difference in your features. Your jawbone is a little more rounded, the dimples are a little deeper, and your eyes are different. They still hold the edge of danger, but there’s a touch of understand and friendliness to them. The biggest difference between you two is your attitude. He’s, well…”
“Insane?” he supplied.
“Yes.” She shrugged. It was awful to say it aloud, but it was the truth. “I’m sorry.”
“There’s no need to apologize. It’s true, and I’ve known it for years. When we turned eighteen, our parents moved to Australia so they didn’t have to deal with it any longer. The tiger inside him has driven him crazy from not being able to shift. The only difference between Henry and a rogue is that rogues are put down when the tiger takes over. Looks like Henry’s fate will be finding him at last.” Felix turned the SUV onto a dirt road, doing his best to avoid the potholes.
She felt her eyes narrow down at him, watching him intently. “Even though he’s your brother, you’ll kill him?”
He slid the SUV into Park and looked at her. “Yes. Brother or not, he can’t do what he’s done and get away with it. There’s no other recourse for what he’s done.” He let out a deep sigh. “Years ago, when the tiger first started to drive him toward madness, I wanted to do it then, before he could cause any problems. It might seem heartless to some, but we’re not like humans. There’s not a hospital we can put him in. It’s what our kind does when one is sick, we put them out of their misery. Henry is driven by his madness. He’s no longer the brother I grew up with.”
Without thinking, she reached across the gap and laid her hand on his lap. It’s what their kind did when someone hurt. Touch gave them comfort. Her fingers brushed against the back of his hand, and unexpected electricity shot through her. “No!” Tears welled in her eyes with the knowledge of what that meant. Oh, shit—it can’t be!