Night with a Tiger
by Marissa Dobson
For Adam Merks the Alaskan Tigers have always come first, but when he finds Robin, his loyalty is divided. His tiger demands he stay home to guard his mate while his duty to his clan pushes him toward danger.
When a rogue shifter murders her husband, Robin Zimmer, is sent running for her life. Looking over her shoulder with every turn, she’s tired and nearing the end. When Adam finds her, she has a choice—trust a shifter or continue running on her own.
Will Adam be able to show Robin the benefits of their mating and living within a shifter clan before the unknown scares her away?
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With the precision of years of experience behind the helm, Adam Merks landed the helicopter. The private landing strip, just south of Dallas, Texas, was quiet. The only sound he heard as he stepped onto the grass was the rustle of leaves and the chirps of birds in the distance. His rented four-by-four pickup truck was parked twenty feet ahead, shining like a black diamond in the evening sun. It seemed too clean and new for where he was going. It would make him stand out, but this vehicle was the best Connor could do on such short notice.
Anxious to begin his search for Robin Zimmer, he tugged his small duffle bag from the helicopter and headed to the truck. With a little luck on his side, he’d be able to seek out Robin before night fell on the sleepy little town she was holed up in this week.
Slinging his duffle bag over his shoulder, he jogged toward the truck desperate to get out of the sweltering sun. After living in Alaska for years, he wasn’t used to the heat, especially not this type in April. He held no desire to spend any unnecessary time here. The sooner he found Robin and convinced her he only wanted to help, the quicker he could return to Alaska and the cool spring weather.
Opening the driver’s door, he found a pair of black cowboy boots and matching hat. Just the right outfit he needed to fit in at Royalwood. Tossing his bag onto the passenger’s seat, he leaned against the truck and unlaced his black steel-toe boots. All Alaskan Tigers guards wore these boots for traction in the Alaskan snow. He slipped on the cowboy boots and wiggled his toes inside, trying to get used to the feel of the pointed toe. He then reached in the cab for the cowboy hat before a quick glace in the side mirror at his reflection. Adam was stunned. The hat made him look the part, but now he had to blend in and appear to be just another southern boy passing through. In a small town like Royalwood, he would also have to act the part for people to look passed him.
Ready to get the day moving, he jumped into the pickup and started the engine, desperate to get the air conditioning on to cool down the sweltering heat filling the truck. With the cool air circulating, he unclipped his cell phone from his belt. Sliding his finger over the screen to unlock it, he sent Ty a text message. Arrived and on my way to Royalwood. I’ll be in touch once I make contact with Robin.
He dropped the phone into the cup holder and shifted the truck in Drive. Determination ran through him. If there was any hope to save Tabitha and all of the tiger shifters, he had to find Robin before Pierce and his gang of rogues. She held a key to Pierce’s organization, and it was Adam’s job to find out what it was.
* * *
Robin Zimmer stood outside the small café, soaking up the warm sun shining through the trees, debating her next move. The problem of finding a job in a small town was near impossible, and if she didn’t find something soon, she’d have to move on. Royalwood, Texas was supposed to be her chance to add funds to her stash before moving on again. Running from Pierce and his men began to take its toll, not only on her bank account, but also on her state of mind.
She wasn’t sure how much longer she could handle life on the run, and was eager to end this cross-country marathon. She rolled her stiff shoulders. Maybe I should give myself up? Could what Pierce had in store for her be any worse than what she was already doing to her exhausted body? When she ran as far as she could from Virginia, she considered the option, but surrendering to Pierce meant her ultimate death. Would that be such a bad thing? She shook the disheartening thought from her mind. Damn. There’s got to be a way out of this. I just have to get some food and time to think.
Strolling down the deserted street, she made her way to the family restaurant across from the hotel. Robin cursed again. She had no plan when she ran, only packing clothes for cold weather. Since it had been late February, and cold, winter still sank its claws into the residents. In Texas there was no winter, not like in Virginia. It was now early April and close to eighty degrees, completely unsuitable for long sleeves, but her budget wouldn’t extend to purchasing new clothes. Two months on the run and she was exhausted.
This might be the last hot meal she’d enjoy if she couldn’t find a job. The bag of chips and cold sandwich she had picked up at the gas station just didn’t cut it day after day. Her finances weighed heavily on her mind for the first time in her life. Only eight weeks ago, she had a position in one of the leading law firms, without even a trace of a worry where money was concerned. Now her world was completely turned upside down. Pushing open the restaurants door, she let the coolness of the air conditioning wash over her, and enjoyed a moment of calming.
“Hey sweetie, sit wherever you’d like.” An older woman, with a little extra around the middle and gray sprinkling through her otherwise chestnut, short hair, called to Robin from behind the counter.
“Thanks.” Walking to the furthest table where she could watch the street and still have her back against a wall, her gaze fell over the few people in the restaurant. To determine if they might be the ones trailing her, she visually searched them for clues. On the run, she had no choice but to be cautious, to question every person’s intentions. Her life depended on knowing who was around her and where the nearest exits were.
Satisfied that no one seemed dangerous, and an emergency exit to her right, she settled onto the hard, wooden chair and opened the menu. Even over the top of the menu, her gaze watched everyone. No one appeared suspicious, but still she couldn’t relax. The hairs on the back of her neck stood up. She sensed something coming. During her time running from town to town she had learned to trust her body’s instincts. Gut reactions had saved her more then once.
The waitress that welcomed her, eased up to the table. “So, what can I get you?”
“Umm…I’ll take the special, to go. Please.” Robin wiped her sweaty hands on her jeans. She knew, without a doubt, she had to get back to her hotel room. Maybe even out of town.
“Sure thing, just hang tight. I’ll get you the meatloaf special, but you’d enjoy it better if you ate it while it’s hot.” The waitress jotted down the order on her notepad.
“Thanks, but I’m in a hurry today.” She pulled out the money for the meal and handed it to the older woman. “If you could rush it, I’d appreciate it.” To get the message of her hastiness across, she added a little extra to the woman’s tip.
The bonus served to work just as Robin planned. Within a few minutes, she was crossing the quiet street to her stuffy hotel room, the hot food in her hand. Taking a quick glance around the parking lot as she made her away to her door, one new addition caught her gaze. A shiny, black truck with an extended cab that seemed out of place. Royalwood was a small farming community; no one here owned a brand new truck. This town was off the beaten path, enough that it was unlikely a businessman would be passing through. It’s time for me to move on. Someone or something is coming, and I don’t want to be here when it arrives. Speeding her pace, she sprinted to her door. The need to get inside and out of the open was overwhelming.
Once darkness fell, she’d slip into her car and drive out of town as fast as she could. Not expecting to move on before she had time to gather a little money, she didn’t have her next destination in mind yet, but she’d find somewhere and try again. What choice did she have?
Keeping close to the buildings lining the street, she stayed in the shadows in case anyone was watching. She finally reached her room. She balanced her takeout container and drink in one hand, and slipped the key into the lock with the other. Boots clicked on the concrete sidewalk, coming toward her, as the lock slid home, it was too late. Taking a deep breath, she pretended to be just another traveler entering a hotel room, but no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t suppress the fear pounding in her chest.
Fear stinks to a shifter, more than any other emotion. Those where the last words her husband said to her before he died. Damn him! If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be running across the country, scared they’ll find and kill me.
The man tipped the rim of his cowboy hat, giving her a glimpse of the greenest eyes she had ever seen. They reminded her of wet grass after a heavy rain. Gripping the door handle, she eased the door open, wishing she could step inside and find the safety she craved, but if this man was a shifter, the thin, wood door would do nothing to stop him from getting her. She forced a smile, and backed into the room. She made an attempt to slam the door, but a large boot stopped the speed of her effort.
“Don’t be afraid, I’m here to help.” He stepped toward her, forcing her further into the room.
“Please…” Panic threatened to close her throat. Robin swallowed the lump and backed away from the stranger. “Please, I don’t want to die.”
Stepping into the small room, he shut the door and then shoved the curtain aside to peek outside. “I said, I’m here to help. Why do you think I want to kill you?”
“You don’t?” She couldn’t hide the surprise from her voice. She sat the food on the dresser, not removing her stare from him. “If you’re not here to kill me, then why are you here? What do you want? If it’s money, I don’t have much, but take it.” She tossed her purse toward him.
He turned away from the window and grabbed the purse in the air. He laid it on the table. “I don’t want your money, Robin. I’ve been sent to find you, to keep you safe. I know the people who are after you and the situation behind your disappearance. I understand it’s a lot to ask, but you need to trust me because if not things are going to get hairy fast. There’s been a shifter here—outside your door within the last few hours. It might not be the people after you, either way I’d rather err on the side of caution and ask you to come with me, to somewhere safer.”
“How am I supposed to trust you? How do I know you’re not with them, trying to lure me out of Royalwood to kill me?” She wished she had put her husband’s gun in her purse. Damn! A gun’s not going to be any use in the suitcase. It could have been the one thing that saved her if the situation got out of hand. It wouldn’t kill a shifter, but it might give her time to escape, if not she could hope it would piss him off enough to kill her quickly.
“I realize trust at this point is difficult. It wasn’t long ago that I was put into a similar position that you find yourself in. I was given a choice, which I chose to trust. If you want to save your life, you’ll do the same.” As he advanced toward her, she scurried to the side of the bed. He didn’t let the bed stop him, stepping around it to stand in front of her. “Tabitha, the Queen of the Tigers and my Alpha’s mate, feared you would not see the helping hand before you and reject it out of fear. I’m telling you the truth. I know your husband tried to trade your life for his own, and he was still killed and now they’re after you. We must act quickly. Is there anything I can do to prove my intentions are true to you?”
“Why do we have to leave so quickly?” She was against the wall, unable to go any further. If he wanted to kill her, he was close enough to do it, and there was nothing she could do to stop him. She was no match to a shifter.
“If whoever was here earlier returns, they’ll smell my scent. Pierce would have sent a team, if not more, to find you. I’m alone. I can’t fight the rogues and protect you at the same time. Please, grab your things. I’ll explain everything once you’re somewhere safe.”
“I don’t need you. I’ve stayed alive this long and I can continue until they give up.” It pained her to turn down help, but to trust him might lead her to an early grave.
“You’re doing a great job, going from town to town, hiding in a different hotel room. Is that truly how you want to live?” He grabbed her small, wheeled suitcase from the side of the wall and tossed it on the bed. “If you want to reclaim your life, gather your stuff. I’m leaving in ten minutes. Be ready if you’re coming with me.”
“Are they really here?” Her stomach turned at the thought that if this stranger hadn’t shown up, she might not have been able to escape before the rogues returned and found her.
“Yes, I believe the scent I caught is from one of the rogues.” He walked to the window. “Nine minutes.”
Do I trust him? She wrapped her arms around her stomach, hugging her body. What do I have to lose? If he was here to kill me, I’d be dead already, and if the rogues were close, she didn’t stand a chance. If she wanted to live, then this man was her only chance.
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