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    CHAPTER ONE

    “No, no, no, no, not today. You can’t do this to me today!”

    But the car died anyway. It throbbed onto the shoulder of the empty highway, bucked twice, and gurgled to silence.

    “Aw, damn it.” Carly’s four-inch heels landed on the pavement, followed by tanned legs and a tight, white sheath dress. She glared down at the car, the Texas wind tugging her light brown hair out of its careful French braid.

    She would have to be wearing white. Carly jammed her hands on her hips and skewered the Corvette with her enraged stare.

    Take the ’Vette, her fiancé, Ethan, had said. It’s a big day. You want to make an entrance. She’d been in a hurry to get on her way out of the city to the gallery where she worked, so Ethan had pressed the keys into her hand and pushed her out the door.

    Carly had agreed with him—the artist they were showcasing liked classic cars, and he was doing an exclusive with her boss’s gallery in the little town northeast of Austin. Buyers were already lined up. Carly’s commission could be enormous.

    If she could get there. Carly kicked one of the tires in rage, then danced back. Her shoes were substantial but that still hurt.

    Perfect. Ethan could be generous—and he had the filthy richness to do it—but he also forgot little details like making sure cars got tuned up.

    “His lazy highness can just come and get me, then.” Carly went around to the passenger side of the car and leaned in through the open window to grab her cell phone from her purse.

    Today. This had to happen today. Still bent into the car, she punched numbers with her thumb, but the phone made the beeping noise that indicated it was out of range.

    “No effing way.” Carly backed out of the car and raised the phone high. “Come on. Find me a signal.”

    And then she saw him.

    The man stood about ten feet from the car, not on the road but in the tall Texas grass beside it. That grass was dotted with blue, yellow, and white flowers, and this being summer, the grass was also a nice vivid green.

    It wasn’t every day a girl saw a tall hunk of a man, shoulders broad under a black and red SoCo Novelties T-shirt standing by the side of the road. Watching her.

    Really watching her. His eyes were fixed on Carly, not in the dazed way of a transient wandering around in an alcoholic haze, but looking at her as no human being had looked at her before.

    He wasn’t scruffy like a transient either. His face was shaved, his body and clothes clean, jeans mud free despite his having walked through the field. And he must have walked through the field, because she sure hadn’t seen him on the road.

    His hair . . . Carly blinked as the strong sunshine caressed sleek hair that was orange and black. Not dyed orange and black—dye tended to make hair matte and stark. This looked entirely natural, sunlight picking up highlights of red orange and blue black.

    She knew she should be afraid. A strange guy with tiger-striped hair popping out of nowhere, staring at her like he did should terrify her. But he didn’t.

    He hadn’t been there when Carly had first stopped the car and climbed out. He must have arrived when she’d bent over to get the phone, which meant he’d seen every bit of her round backside hugged by her skintight white dress.

    This stretch of road was deserted. Eerily so. The streets in Austin were always packed, but once outside the city, it was possible to find long stretches of highway empty of traffic, such as the one Carly drove down to get to the art gallery every day.

    There was no one out here, no one speeding along the straight road to rescue her. No one but herself in now-rumpled white and the tall man staring at her from the grass.

    “Hey!” Carly shouted at him. “You know how to fix a car?”

    * * *

    He didn’t have a name. He didn’t have a clan. He’d had a mate, and a cub, but they’d died, and the humans who’d held him captive for forty years had taken them away. They hadn’t let him say good-bye, hadn’t let him grieve.

    Now he lived among other Shifters, brought to this place of humidity, heat, and colorful hills. He only felt completely well when he was running in his tiger form, way out in the backcountry where no one would see him. He usually ran at night, but today, he hadn’t been able to stay in the confines of the house, or Shiftertown. So he’d gone.

    He’d left his clothes hidden behind a little rise at the side of this road. Connor was supposed to pick him up, but not for a couple more hours, and Connor was often late. Tiger didn’t mind. He liked being out here.

    He’d dressed, walked around the rise to the road . . . and saw a fine backside sticking out of a bright red car. The backside was covered in thin white fabric, showing him faintly pink panties beneath.

    Below the nice bu**ocks were shapely legs, not too long, tanned by Texas sun. Shoes that rose about half a mile made those legs even shapelier.

    The woman had hair the color of winter-gold grass. She had a cell phone in one hand, but she waited, the other hand on her shapely hip, for him to answer her question.

    Tiger climbed the slope from the grass to the road. She watched him come, unafraid, her sunglasses trained on him.

    Tiger wanted to see her eyes. If she was going to be his mate, he wanted to see everything about her.

    And this woman would be his mate. No doubt about that. The scent that kicked into his nostrils, the way his heartbeat slowed to powerful strokes, the way his body filled with heat told him that.

    Connor had tried to explain that mating didn’t happen like that for Shifters. A Shifter male got to know a female a little bit before he chose, and then he mate-claimed her. The mate bond could rear its head anytime before or after that, but it didn’t always on first glance.

    Tiger had listened to this wisdom without arguing, but he knew better. He wasn’t an ordinary Shifter. And this female, hand on one curved hip, wasn’t an ordinary woman.

    “Can you put the hood up?” Tiger asked her.

    “I don’t know,” she said, frustrated. “This car is different from anything I usually drive. Hang on, let me check.”

    Her voice was a sweet little Texas drawl, not too heavy. A light touch, enough to make warmth crawl through Tiger’s veins and go straight to his cock.

    The woman found a catch and worked the hood open, then dusted off her hands and peered at the inner workings without comprehension. “Classic car, my ass.” She scowled at it. “Classic just means old.”

    Tiger looked inside. The layout was much different from the pickup he and Connor had been tinkering with all spring, but Connor had been teaching Tiger a lot about vehicles. “Got a socket wrench?”

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