HE LEFT TO KEEP HER SAFE
Believing he’s too dangerous to be among people, feline hybrid Tanner Howland retreats deep into the forests of Washington State—with no choice but to leave behind the woman who’s captured his heart. What he doesn’t know is that she followed him…
SHE WOULDN’T STAY BEHIND
Heartbroken and determined, Dr. Zarina Sokolov tracks Tanner into the wild. Her presence unleashes Tanner’s protective instinct—big time. Locals have been disappearing and he is desperate for Zarina to leave. As the kidnappings escalate, Tanner must embrace the dangerous instincts he fears so much. But with Zarina at his side, he’ll have to learn to control his animal impulses, or lose himself—and the woman he loves—to the beast within.
Sighing, Tanner closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the wall of the cabin again. Zarina didn’t say anything else, not wanting to interrupt him if he was silently saying a prayer of thanks. She frowned a little, realizing she didn’t know whether he was religious or not. Then again, there was a lot about Tanner she didn’t know. He kept a lot of stuff to himself. She wished he didn’t do that. Maybe she could make his life better if she knew more about him. Which, strangely enough, was part of the reason she was so attracted to him. That stoic, stubborn nature of his was alluring—when it wasn’t driving her crazy.
Tanner’s eyes abruptly snapped open, and he pushed away from the wall, completely alert. A moment later, Zarina heard the sound of footsteps approaching the cabin. She turned to see Burt, along with another man and a dark-haired teenage girl who was about eighteen or nineteen. The man was probably the same age as Burt, but his face was more lined and his eyes more weary.
It wasn’t until the trio stopped in front of them that Zarina caught sight of the half-healed scar along one side of the girl’s neck. Four parallel wounds, the two in the middle deeper than the ones on either side. It took Zarina only half a second to recognize those scars had come from a shifter—or a hybrid.
Zarina shot a quick look Tanner’s way, telling herself it wasn’t possible. She searched his face for some indication he was the one who’d hurt the girl, but he merely returned her gaze.
“Zarina, you know Burt already,” Tanner said. “This is Chad and his daughter, Lillie.”
Burt gave Zarina a nod while Chad and Lillie took turns shaking her hand. Zarina should have realized the girl was the man’s daughter as soon as she saw them together. They had the same gray eyes, aquiline nose, and arching brows.
“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you getting here so fast, Tanner,” Chad said. “And for bringing your friend.” He looked at Zarina. “I don’t know what we would have done without her, except maybe lose Lorraine. How is she?”
Zarina opened her mouth to point out that there would have been a lot less drama if they’d simply taken the woman to a hospital like normal people, but the sight of three huge, fierce-looking men coming toward them made her forget what she’d been about to say.
It wasn’t just the blatant anger on the men’s faces that stunned her speechless. It was the fact that she recognized them. But even as she stood there with her mouth hanging open, she told herself she had to be wrong. There was no way they could possibly be the men she thought they were, because the last time she’d seen them, Stutmeir’s goons had been dragging their dead bodies out of an abandoned ski lodge not more than fifteen miles from here.
“What the hell is she doing here?” one of the men snarled, showing off inch-long fangs to go along with his suddenly flaming red eyes. Dark-haired with a broad nose and full lips, he was nearly as tall as Tanner. “She’s one of those damn doctors who tortured us. I’d know her scent anywhere.”
Zarina was still trying to wrap her mind around the fact that the hybrids were alive when the one who’d spoken strode toward her, his clawed hands itching to do damage. She barely had enough time to get out of the way before Tanner stepped in front of her and stiff-armed the guy in the chest.
“Back off, Spencer,” Tanner growled, his tone more menacing than Zarina had ever heard it. He pinned the other two hybrids with a glare. One had blond hair and a stocky build while the other was a tall, muscular dark-skinned man. “Peter and Malcolm, that goes for you too.”
That warning only got them more riled up. Zarina watched in alarm as Peter and Malcolm snarled and bared their fangs. Clearly, they were ready to go through him to get to her.
Tanner didn’t give them a chance. He dropped his hands to his sides, his claws extending to their full length so fast that blood splattered on the wooden planks of the porch. Then he bared his fangs at the men and roared so loud, people five miles away probably heard it.
Zarina reached out to grab his arm, desperate to stop the fight before it started, but Tanner slipped left and caught the blond-haired Peter in midjump. Latching onto the man’s shoulders, Tanner spun him around and sent him crashing into one of the pillars supporting the porch. Peter slammed into it with an audible crunch. Something told Zarina the sound wasn’t entirely from the wood breaking.
Peter hadn’t even tumbled to the ground before Tanner was moving again. He intercepted Malcolm just as the man lashed out at Zarina’s face with his claws. Their sharp points missed her by mere inches, and she gasped as Tanner ran headlong into her attacker, shoving him away from her.
Tanner and Malcolm went down in a pile, quickly becoming a rolling ball of muscles, snarls, growls, and flashing claws. A split second later, Spencer joined the fray.
Crap. This was going to get so much worse.
Heart pounding, Zarina hurried forward to intervene, but an arm wrapped around her waist, jerking her to a stop before she’d gone more than a few feet. She glanced over her shoulder to see Burt holding onto her. A few feet away, Chad was doing the same to his daughter. All around the camp, people poked their heads out of doors and windows, a few of them venturing out of their cabins to see what the commotion was about.
“You can’t get between them, not while they’re like this,” Burt insisted. “You do, and you’re the one who’s going to get hurt.”
Zarina knew Burt was right, but that didn’t keep her from fighting against his grip anyway. Tanner was in danger. That was all she cared about.
But Burt refused to let her go, so she was forced to watch as Peter joined Spencer and Malcolm. The three hybrids looked barely human now, their eyes completely lost in a glow of red and fangs flashing.
Tanner might be bigger than all three of them and a former Army Ranger to boot, but there was no way he could fight that many out-of-control hybrids all at once. He was so focused on Spencer and Malcolm that he never saw Peter coming at his back. Malcolm gripped Tanner’s shoulder, digging his claws in deep and flipping Tanner over. Peter immediately lunged forward and sank his fangs into Tanner’s free arm, pinning it to the ground and holding him tight. That’s when Spencer leaned in close and lifted his hand, his claws aimed at Tanner’s exposed neck.
Zarina’s heart seized in her chest. Oh, God. Spencer was going to kill him.
Paige Tyler is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of sexy, romantic fiction. Paige writes books about hunky alpha males and the kick-butt heroines they fall in love with. She lives with her very own military hero (a.k.a. her husband) and their adorable dog on the beautiful Florida coast.
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