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Primal Flavor

Book three in the Cajun Heat series.

Being a human in a parish filled with shifters, Colette Robicheaux has learned to be tough as nails. A hunter with the kind of lethal skills that make most men nervous, all it takes is a single hot look from Zachary Trahan to make her melt into a puddle of goo. And this tiger shifter doesn’t fight fair, using his

hot body and his many skills in the kitchen to melt her panties. But there’s a danger in the swamps that threatens to tear them apart, an evil that could turn this hunter into prey.

When chef Zachary Trahan took a break from work to hunt, the last thing he expected to find was his mate. A human huntress with a hot temper, a quick trigger finger and the kind of body destined to keep him up at night, Colette makes his tiger purr. He’ll have to fight his

stubborn mate, her impossible family and the threat hiding in the swamps before he can finally claim her for his own.

A Romantica® paranormal erotic romance from Ellora’s Cave

PRIMAL FLAVOR

Danica Avet

Chapter One

An undisclosed location

She ran. The stitch in her side had grown into a searing pain and her feet didn’t just ache, they burned, but she couldn’t stop. They were out here with her. They could be behind the next bush, next to that tree, anywhere. And she wouldn’t see them until it was too late. If she had been like them, able to change at will, this might have been a fair fight. Or if they’d given her a weapon, she might have been

able to defend herself at least with one of them. But they’d stripped her naked and turned her loose. She stumbled over a log and nearly pitched headfirst into a tree trunk. It might have snapped her neck, which would’ve been a lot better than what they had planned for her.

this

she

anyway? She paused and looked around, desperately trying to catch her breath. She had no idea where she was and fear made her blind. She was a city girl who’d never stepped toe into anything other than a park,

Why

was

fighting

yet here she was in a vast, strange wilderness and the monsters were chasing her. How did she get here? Why? The last thing she remembered was flirting with the guy the others called Roscoe. She knew she shouldn’t have gotten into his car with him, but she’d been fooled by his beautiful blue eyes and his charming smile. All the loneliness she’d felt since arriving in New Orleans seemed worth it with Roscoe smiling at her like that, as though he knew how isolated she’d been. It’d seemed harmless until a hand appeared from the backseat

and slapped a chemical-drenched cloth over her face. When she’d awakened in a cold cage, Roscoe was nowhere to be seen, but they had her surrounded. Why did she keep thinking Roscoe would sweep in and protect her? He’d been the one to trap her, but something, like a whispered memory, pecked at her mind here one second and gone the next. It had to be a false, stupid hope that someone would save her. Her skin pebbled at the memory and she rubbed her arms, peering through the shadows at the woods around her. She really didn’t want to die

here the way they planned. No one was coming to save her. Not Roscoe, not anyone unless she could rescue herself. She wanted to go home, apologize to her mom for their last fight and bury her head in that comforting embrace. But Kansas was a long way away from…wherever this was. A twig snapped behind her, sending her into another full-out sprint. Panic steered her. She was only twenty-four, only a stupid human girl who’d thought moving to New Orleans was the perfect way to celebrate her independence. She’d wanted to be wild and party

like a rock star, to enjoy Mardi Gras, to laugh and have fun because you only live once. A harsh, breathless laugh escaped her as she clipped a tree trunk with her shoulder, burning pain searing her skin. If these monsters had their way, she wouldn’t see any of the things she’d moved to south Louisiana for. Even as the thought crossed her mind, something sharp slashed at the backs of her legs, right above her knees. She screamed as she fell to the ground, hitting it hard enough to punch the air out of her lungs. But she didn’t give up. She tried to get back on her feet, but her

legs refused to work. The excruciating pain and warmth spreading down her calves suggested a horror she didn’t want to comprehend. But still, she didn’t quit. She dug her fingers into the thick dirt and dragged herself along the ground. Down here the scent of earth, decay and a thick musk suggested she was in a place that didn’t see much sunlight. Probably a swamp of some kind, a quiet place where she could become the animal the monsters thought her. She didn’t know how far she

managed

slow

to

move,

but

her

progress allowed the others to find her, their heavy footfalls vibrating through her. She refused to look back, stubbornly trying to get away. She hadn’t made a sound since she fell and she wouldn’t do it now. Logically, she knew she wasn’t going to get away. She was going to die out here and no one would ever know how it happened. Tears burned her eyes as she realized her mom’s last memory of her was going to be the horrible fight they had and she said a silent prayer, begging for her mom’s forgiveness. A man’s bare foot appeared in front of her. It was an elegant foot

for such an ugly man. She didn’t need to look up at him to know he was naked. That was the way they’d all appeared to her, but then they weren’t like her. “Animals,” she spat at the foot, not caring that she was antagonizing them. “Filthy, stupid, fucking animals.” They laughed and the foot in front of her hooked under her injured shoulder and flipped her to her back. They surrounded her, wearing those weird masks they’d worn when they first appeared to her. How they’d managed to keep them on while shifted to their

animal forms wasn’t worth worrying about. Not when they each lifted the mask to reveal their normal-looking faces. No, not normal because there was an intense, sick hatred in their eyes as they glowered down at her. The leader, the one who’d flipped her over, stopped her with a single foot on her throat. She knew him from somewhere, as though he was someone important, someone she should recognize. “We’re not the animals here, Miz Denton,” he said in a calm tone. His teeth gleamed white in the darkness as he smiled. “We’re

the true rulers of the world and we allow your kind to live in it, allowing you the pathetic belief that you actually matter. It sickens me how humans like you actually believe you’re something special.” He squatted next to her, more of his weight pressing down on her throat. Spots danced before her eyes. He whispered as though confiding a secret. “If I had my way, we’d slaughter you all, but this is much more fun, don’t you think? One by one we’ll eradicate your disgustingly weak species from this earth and enjoy a good hunt while we’re at it. Before you

die tonight, Miz Denton, you’ll discover the true meaning behind the power we wield.” The pressure on her throat eased and she coughed, blood spraying over his foot as he stood. “Why me?” she couldn’t help but cry. “Why?” He laughed and it was such a warm, charming sound, it reminded her of Roscoe, the betraying bastard with his heavenly blue eyes. “Do you remember a young man named Paul, Miz Karen Denton of Topeka, Kansas?” She felt her jaw drop in shock as the man she’d rejected two weeks

earlier appeared next to the monster. Paul had been a friend from work, a jackal shifter and he was cute, but she didn’t like him enough to go out with him. “You thought you were better than me?” he asked her now with a sneer on his face. His muddy- brown eyes raked over her naked body seconds before he spit on her. “Get that look off your face, whore. I wouldn’t touch you with my enemy’s hand now.” The smile that curled his lips made her bite back a whimper. “You’re going to pay, you little human bitch.” Claws slid from the tips of his

fingers and his teeth grew until they extended over his lip. Karen, who’d sworn she wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of hearing her scream, couldn’t hold back her cries of agony and fear as fangs and claws tore her to pieces. Every tear, every bite, every rending of her flesh wrung another shriek from her throat until she had nothing left, until she couldn’t feel anything else, until the last thing she saw was the leader standing over her. His face and hands were coated in her blood. “And thus ends another successful hunt for Fang and Claw,”

he announced to the equally bloody shifters surrounding him. “Paul, my boy, you’ve shown great aptitude for this. Consider yourself inducted into the club. And don’t forget her heart is yours.” The chuckle he made after this announcement was accompanied by a rip in her chest. His smile followed her into the abyss as she welcomed the succor of death.

* * * * *

Colette Robicheaux paused in the middle of loading her boat for the night’s hunt, her head turning in the direction of the eerie scream.

Her cousins paused as well, their happy chatter falling silent as the cry echoed around the swamps they called home. There was a tension among them now that hadn’t been there before. They all knew that despite what the authorities said, those screams weren’t from a cougar. They were too frequent, too agonized and human to be anything else but a woman in extreme fear and pain. Colette’s heart sat in her throat, a lump that threatened to choke her with rage and sympathy for the woman. But there was no telling exactly where the sound came

from. “We should go look for her,” her oldest cousin Cotton said firmly. Beau, his brother, scoffed. “You know we won’t find her. Whatever’s out there gets rid of all the evidence.” Cotton turned on his younger brother, the two falling into the comforting sameness of sibling arguments. Colette tuned them out, her eyes trained on the distant woods without adding to their stress relief. They were both correct. They should go look for that woman, but Beau hit the nail on the head. They’d never find her.

The hunters and families of Bayou Ange, the small woodland community in the far corner of Pointe-Aux-Chat Parish, had been searching for the source of those screams for as long as she could remember. Parties would go out, combing the woods they were all so familiar with only to return with nothing. Their human senses, despite years of honing them by hunting the wild game in the swamps, weren’t able to detect anything unusual. And the few times her shapeshifter cousins came to Bayou Ange, they never discovered

anything weird. The animals they relied on for food remained unfazed by the screams, as though they were a part of the natural landscape. The ground never held evidence of what sounded like murder long enough to call in the authorities. It was a pointless exercise to hit the woods month after month searching for the woman who screamed, but that didn’t stop Colette from wishing she could. The more superstitious people thought the screamer was a ghost. Colette thought that was a load of bullshit. It was a real person, they all were and they were

out there at the mercy of a monster. “Are we goin’ froggin’ or what?” Cotton finally demanded as he clicked on his headlamp. Colette didn’t even need to turn around to know her cousin was sulking. She could hear it in his voice. She knew he was pissed because he’d lost the argument to go after the woman to Beau’s logic. “We don’t get paid for sittin’ on our asses doin’ nothing.” Beau muttered something in Cajun French, which started off another round of arguing. Colette finally tore her gaze away from the dark woods. The scream wouldn’t come again. Not tonight at least.

But this time next month they’d hear it. And she’d have to struggle with the urge to run into the woods to find that woman and do something about her agony. She turned just in time to see Cotton launch a fist at Beau’s head. “Hey! Stop that and let’s catch some frogs.” Despite outweighing her and towering over her much shorter frame, the boys broke apart and stepped into the boat. Colette shook her head as she climbed in after them, sitting up at the engine, which she kicked over with one tug. The motor purred to life,

cutting through the tension that had killed some of their happiness at being in their beloved woods. Colette cast one more glance over her shoulder, unable to help herself. One day she’d find the source of those screams and God help whoever caused them. “Whatcha waiting for? Kick it in the ass!” Beau called back to her, his violet eyes sparkling with excitement. Colette shot him an answering smile and revved the motor, sending the boat jetting down the bayou, the Robicheaux boys letting out Cajun “yodels” that could

probably be heard clear to Maison Rouge, the distinctive “Aiyeee” echoing around the swamp.

* * * * *

He stared at the shack, his sensitive nose picking up the scent of the woman he’d left here hours before. There was no trace of her now. He was too late. He’d intended to get back in time to confront his mysterious boss, to press for his acceptance into the inner circle. The girl had trusted him, falling into his arms as though she belonged there the same way the others had, their human senses

too

danger. And he was too late again. His wolf snarled and snapped with frustration and fury. There wasn’t even the faintest hint of a trail to follow. Karen’s scent disappeared at the door as though it never existed. But he knew. He’d carried her in here at his boss’s request. And she was gone. Vanished without a trace. His claws punched through the tips of his fingers and his fangs threatened to slide free of his gums as he imagined the hunt, the capture. But he’d missed his chance.

in

weak

to

tell

they

were

Again. Not next time though. Next time, he’d prove his worthiness and end the mystery once and for all.

Chapter Two

The tiger crouched, patient and attentive as he watched the feral hog root in the grass, his snorts of contentment belying the danger of the beast. Zachary Trahan, the rational mind inside the tiger, cautioned his animal half to go slowly. This was their first hunt in months, the first time they’d been able to get away from work long enough to take time for themselves. There were no demanding brides or mothers calling him at all hours to make sure their cakes and menus were just right. There were no

junior chefs following him home, begging for the chance to work in his kitchen. And there were definitely no women trying to entice him into doing something completely stupid, like mate with them. The fur on his scruff stood at attention, his tiger offended by the very thought of being tied down with any single female. Zach soothed his animal and directed its attention back to the hog that had wandered closer. His mouth watered for a taste. When he was human, he preferred his food cooked a little more, the chef in

him mindful of the parasites he chanced by eating on the hoof. But the tiger wasn’t bothered by things like blood and the possibility of developing trichinosis. It wanted the thrill of the hunt. Even though the hunt had taken him farther into the swamps than he normally ventured, Zach had allowed his animal to guide him, following his instincts. The well- worn path leading from Maison Rouge had been used by thousands of shifters over the last three hundred years as they let their animals run wild. But the tiger hadn’t wanted to follow the usual

path that would lead him to the areas heavily populated by game. It’d wanted to explore a bit, to test its boundaries and seek out a little solitude. And it had been wonderful. Zach appreciated the nonstop business brought to his bakery door by the sudden popularity of Pointe- Aux-Chat Parish. Tourists bought his desserts by the pound as they hung around the small town in hopes of catching a glimpse of the members of the all-shifter band Saber. Some of the models, debutantes and dignitaries who flocked to Maison Rouge to be

fitted for custom gowns by fashion designer Kitty Chambers loved to indulge in the chocolate he made. The weddings and mating ceremonies that kept popping up as his neighbors took that ridiculous step meant his catering business had increased as well. Things were finally looking up for him. And he hated it. His eyes narrowed on the hog as though it represented every annoying customer brought to his door. When he’d started out with the plan to take over his grandmother’s bakery and also run a side business, he’d never imagined it would eat

into so much of his time. But there were many days he didn’t sleep because he wasn’t sure he could trust his assistants to recreate his recipes to his exact specifications. Yes, he’d handpicked each one and personally trained them. Yes, they were the cream of the crop and well-qualified, yet he couldn’t let go of the fear they would fuck everything up. The hog snorted, lifting its head to smell the wind, dragging Zach away from his musings. His ear flicked as he caught a sound so faint, he wasn’t certain if it was a figment of his imagination or not.

He ignored it, remaining perfectly still. This hog was going down. If it turned into a fight, so much the better. A fight was better than waking up after a night of fucking to see a female flipping through bridal magazines. He shuddered at the memory. Ugh, goddamn women. Every muscle in his body tightened as he prepared to spring from the undergrowth, his ears flattening, his legs bunching slightly. His leap would cover two- thirds of the distance between him and the hog. His heart pumped faster with anticipation and the

sudden surge of adrenaline coursing through his body. His claws dug into the soft soil beneath him as he used the ground as a springboard. He leapt out of the leaves in an explosive burst of speed that had the hog’s head swinging in his direction. The little beady eyes widened momentarily, the wild boar rearing back on its hind legs in preparation to run and even took a few steps toward him as though his was the path of greater safety. The tiger snarled, wanting it to run, needing it to lead him on a chase that would drain the stress from his

body. Except the hog no sooner reared back when it fell to the ground with a heavy thud, causing Zach to sail over his prey, missing it completely. Sliding across the dirt, claws scrambling for purchase, Zach didn’t come to a stop until he hit a tree on the other side of the clearing. He barely registered the pain of slamming into the trunk, bouncing to his feet in one smooth motion. Someone had shot his fucking hog. He growled low in his throat, his lip curling away from his fangs. Someone had robbed him of his one moment to enjoy a good,

long hunt and a tasty meal he hadn’t cooked. Someone was going to get their ass handed to them. He didn’t care if they were human or not. And he knew it was most likely some pathetic excuse of a human hunter. No self-respecting shifter would use a gun to hunt. No one, but no one stole his kills and lived to brag about it. Zach crouched next to his former prey, no longer interested in sating his anger and hunger on it. It wasn’t any fun now that it was dead. No, he would save his aggression for the moron who went hunting in shifter territory.

Everyone in the fucking country knew certain areas in each county and parish were reserved for shifters, yet this fucktard had brought a high-powered rifle, complete with sound repressor, into that territory. And shot his fucking kill. He should have been outraged that a human had fired a weapon in an area where young shifters could be practicing their hunting skills, but all he could think of was his thwarted fight. He bit back a roar, not wanting to give away his position. Sure, he’d probably get a visit from Sheriff Picou for scaring one of the

parish’s fragile humans, but that was a small price to pay for losing his kill. It wasn’t as if he’d kill the motherfucker as much as he’d like to. God knew neither he nor his tiger wanted anything to do with non-shifters. Their males were too weak to fight, their females were too weak and small to fuck, and it was illegal to eat them even in his animal form, so what the fuck good were they? He didn’t hate them. He simply had no use for them. And for one of them to steal his hog — He almost shook his head at their stupidity and arrogance. A twig snapped nearby and he

turned his head slowly to watch the shadows. It wasn’t nighttime yet, but the dwindling sunlight was a plus for him, not the human. His vision made a mockery out of the goggles humans had to wear and he was able to see everything. He waited, but still nothing approached. He also didn’t feel the ground vibrating from a clumsy human’s footsteps. If he could have frowned in his tiger form, he would have. Where were they? Usually when humans went hunting feral hog, they had four-wheelers and a crew of three or four to help pull the hog out. Yet

he hadn’t heard a single thing since that twig snapped, nor did he scent anything that didn’t fit the surroundings. It was a puzzle, something he absolutely hated. “You can come on out. I know you’re there.” The voice caused him to jump. Not only because it came from the opposite direction he’d expected to see the hunter, but also because it was accompanied by the deadly sound of a gun being pumped. No more than five feet away from him. Even better, the voice, while low and husky, was undeniably female. He searched the shadows,

impressed despite his contempt of humans. Whoever she was had somehow moved around him, remaining downwind the entire time and slipped into cover so thick he couldn’t make her out. Then he caught the gleam of a rifle barrel. Slowly, details about the figure behind the gun emerged, but only because she stepped out of the protection of a bush. She wasn’t wearing fancy camouflage the way he’d seen some hunters employ in the hopes their prey wouldn’t see them coming. Her plain, faded jeans were frayed at the hems and had rips that came

from long, hard use, not a

designer’s mind. From his position

on the ground, her legs looked to be

a mile long, the jeans lovingly

following her thighs to round hips, yet she couldn’t have been more than five foot two. The plain green t-shirt tucked into the waistband displayed a neat waist and smaller breasts than he usually liked on his women. Her shoulders were narrow, but there was no denying the strength in her upper body, the feminine muscles evident through the thin cotton.

His tiger was intrigued despite

its frustration over losing a kill. He

appreciated a predator and hadn’t really considered human females as the kind to hunt. The ones he’d seen and rolled his eyes at had been all fluffy and frivolous and about as dangerous as a gnat with one wing. This one was different though. Eager now, the tiger forced Zach’s eyes away from those interesting little teacup tits to her face. And he promptly forgot about her body. Every shifter in Pointe-Aux- Chat Parish knew about the very small community nestled in the deepest part of the swamp called Bayou Ange, or Angel Bayou. Shifters didn’t really go there

unless they were authority figures and even then, they went in groups. Zach had never given the small community much thought since the people there went to nearby Germantown instead of Maison Rouge for anything they needed. All he really knew about them was a combination of historic fact found in the parish’s archives and gossip he heard in his shop. But he was aware that if you ended up in Angel Bayou without an invitation, shifter or not, you were bound to earn a hurting when you were discovered. And you would be discovered. The Robicheauxs, the

largest family in Angel Bayou, were some of the most legendary hunters in the state. Something that didn’t endear them to Zach. In his mind, hunters had no business living near shifters in case they were ever tempted to snag a prize of the two- legged variety. And the pale-violet eyes staring down at him so impersonally belonged to none other than a Robicheaux. That was another thing he knew about the family. It didn’t matter what ethnicity they married into, the strange purple eyes were dominant in the line. Those eyes gave her away as belonging to the

close-knit clan of rough, tough hunters who were said to fight a fence post if it got in their way. That was why the Pointe-Aux-Chat Sheriff’s Office went in the community with backup when they were called out, which was frequently. The men liked to fight. A lot. He wasn’t so sure how the family managed to avoid being banned from Germantown, but he’d had several shifters from that area come to his bakery and talk about how the Robicheauxs had torn up the town again. Strangely enough it was always said with

affection and a touch of amusement, as though they were proud of the heathens. But in all the time he’d heard stories about the Robicheaux clan, Zach had never once heard mention of a female unless it was someone’s wife. Yet there was no mistaking he was looking at one now. Those tits had given her away. Well, and the hips and the voice that made the fur on the back of his neck stand straight up.

Once he was able to drag his gaze away from her mesmerizing eyes, he catalogued the rest of her features. Long, bold nose with a

bump on the bridge. High cheekbones, square, almost masculine jaw, stubborn chin with a cleft and a cute, rosebud mouth. His gaze snagged on those lips, which seemed completely out of place on the rest of a face that screamed hard woman. Light-pink, like sugar-crusted rose petals. He remembered that interesting concoction from culinary school and her lips looked just as delicate and delicious. Which was insane, really. He didn’t kiss humans. But her pale lips and light eyes stood out to him. Set against her sun-bronzed skin with the slightest

tint of red beneath, she was strangely exotic and sexy to him. Even his tiger was intrigued by her, eager to catch her scent, but with her downwind, that wasn’t happening. The loaded rifle cradled in her capable hands didn’t waver once while he stared at her. The muscles of her arms stood out as she took the weight of the weapon, but she didn’t seem strained. This was a strong, dangerous woman. She didn’t seem afraid to be faced with a tiger that outweighed her by several hundred pounds. If anything, she seemed almost bored.

“You’re trespassing,” she said suddenly, her voice calm and collected. “And don’t try to act like you don’t understand me. Tigers aren’t indigenous to south Louisiana.” She lifted the rifle up to align the sight with her eye. “So why don’t you tell me what you’re doing here trying to steal my kill, furboy.” Zach was in love. Well, no, not in love. He didn’t do love. He did lust. His tiger, on the other hand, wanted to knock her to the ground and lick her from head to toe. Idiot fucking cat. It liked the fact that she was threatening him. Shifter

females didn’t do that. They all rolled over way too easily, giving in to him before he’d even decided what he wanted from them. This human, who should have been pissing herself in fear, wasn’t scared of him, wasn’t intimidated by his size and looked as though she couldn’t care less if he walked out of the swamp or was carried out in a body bag. Strike that, she was a Robicheaux. She probably knew exactly how to skin and dispose of his body in such a way that no one would ever find his bones. And his tiger liked it. Zach told

the animal to shut up, even as he fought his body’s urge to shift and show her exactly how happy he was to see her. His tiger wanted to share the hog with her, feed her the best bits of meat and then lick off the juices. It didn’t even care he’d have to cook the meat first. It wanted her to be happy with him. It wanted to please her. In more ways than one. Oh fuck, this is so not good. “I’m going to count to three. If you don’t shift and tell me why you’re on my land, I’m gonna start shooting body parts starting with the tip of your pretty ear.” The

barrel moved inches to the right. She was a human living in a parish populated by shifters. If she wanted him to shift and see him naked, who was he to deny her? Besides, he couldn’t try to charm her into a friendly wrestling-slash- fuck match if he was in animal form. With that thought in mind and his blood boiling hot for sex, he shifted.

Colette, only daughter of Willis and Laurette-Marie Robicheaux, knew it was a bad idea to tell a shifter to change to human. Not because they would attack. She’d

shoot the big bastard between the eyes before he could say “rar”. No, it was a bad idea because he’d be naked when he lost his fur. She knew it. She might have been a human in a world of shifters, but everyone knew the basic facts. They were stronger and faster than “normal” people. They had senses Homo sapiens had long abandoned in the quest for technology and science. But there was one thing shifters couldn’t do and that was keep their clothes when they went from one form to the other. Depending on the size of their animal, their clothing would either

rip or fall off. When they shifted back, they were naked as the day they came into this world. Some of her cousins turned furry when they wanted to, so it wasn’t as though she didn’t know exactly what she was doing. Knew it and also knew it was oh so wrong. And she couldn’t wait. When she’d seen the striped body fly through the clearing when she shot at the feral hog, her heart nearly stopped beating. She knew who this tiger was. She didn’t need him to shift into his sexy, muscled, panty-wetting human form. But she wasn’t about to stop him.

It was a universally known truth in the entire tri-parish area that Zachary Trahan was the sexiest tiger-shifting chef in the world. A lot of women weren’t sure which was more important, the way he looked or how he handled desserts. Colette would’ve scoffed over the claims she heard while she was in Germantown, except she’d been to his shop once. Just once and she’d fallen into instant lust with the baker. So knowing how close he’d come to being shot by her while she hunted on her family’s land nearly had her dropping her rifle. Only

years and years of gun safety had kept her from doing something stupid. She’d had to take a minute, or more like ten, to calm her nerves. She knew she hadn’t shot him. She was one of the best marksmen in her family. But a rogue wind, a shift of his body, the slightest jerk of her arms could’ve left him either dead or critically injured. He could’ve been killed. No more Zach the sexy tiger, no more sweets from his bakery. Gone in a split second.

was there in his tiger

form, his eyes trained in the direction she’d just abandoned. And she’d just had to soak in his

But

he

beauty. Yes, beauty. For the most part, appreciating the beauty and the strength of the animals she hunted extended to a kind of awe over the shifters who populated the parish. How many times had she wished she could change into an animal, to experience life in a completely different way? Too many to count. But there was no way to turn a full human into a shifter, no magic pill, no exchange of bites or saliva that would make it happen. But that didn’t mean she couldn’t admire them anyway. The way she was admiring Zach right now, her pussy heating up as

the man was revealed. Gold, black and white fur receded so quickly and smoothly, she barely had time to blink before her gaze was caught by golden skin and muscles. Cher bon Dieu, the man had some muscles. She practically ate him up with her eyes, devouring every square inch revealed to her like some kind of weird striptease. Not that she’d ever been to a strip joint. There was a place her cousins’ wives had told her about in Texas where muscled men took their clothes off, but she’d never been. Not for a lack of trying though. She just hadn’t been able to convince

her male relatives there was a women-only hunting ground and she simply had to go. But now, after seeing Zach Trahan in the nude, she wasn’t sure any other man could measure up. Like, really measure up. Her gaze was drawn down his rippled stomach—she’d never seen that before in real life, only on television —to the long, hard length of his shaft. Heat raced through her body, arrowing straight between her legs to warm her pussy and shoot up to her face in a blush she was positive would set her hair on fire. Which was ridiculous. It wasn’t

as though she were some virgin. Despite the sheltered life she’d led in Bayou Ange, Colette had gone to college just like her male cousins and she’d done her fair share of crazy things, had unfurled her wings as a young woman and taken a couple of lovers. But none of them had been built like this. She suddenly felt cheated, even as she acknowledged if her first lover had been as big as Zach Trahan, she would’ve been walking bow-legged for months. The tiger-shifter had a bibette that would make a horse look twice. Realizing she was staring at it as though he were a

snake charmer, her gaze shot up his gorgeous, muscled torso to tangle with sultry yellow eyes. Thanking God she was downwind and he couldn’t smell the hungry musk between her legs, she pretended she was facing a game warden and let her “I don’t know anything” mask fall in place. The sexy twist to his lips was almost a smirk and it told her that he knew better. Damn. She tightened her hold on the rifle. “What are you doing on my family’s land?” she demanded.

answering, he

stretched, lifting his arms over his

Instead

of

head and elongating his body. She told herself it was a natural reaction to let her gaze skim over him again. And it was perfectly normal for her stare to linger on his impressive groin. What would something that size feel like moving inside her? What kind of lover was he? Did he like to take his time, or did he like it fast and hard? Her nipples tightened. A quick glance up at his face showed he’d definitely noticed her body’s reaction since his eyes had dropped to her chest. Good Lord. “What are you doing here?” He dropped his arms to his

sides, adopting a relaxed pose that should have looked ridiculous since he was buck naked, but Zach Trahan seemed as composed as he would if he were fully clothed. Colette bit back a snarl of envy. She avoided looking in mirrors unless she absolutely had to, and never when she was naked. Yet in her twenty-eight years, one thing she’d learned about men from watching her cousins was that they had absolutely no shame. How many times had they whipped it out to pee when she was on the hunt with them? As far as they were concerned, she was

one of the guys even if she had to squat to pee. But that wasn’t all. Getting drunk and streaking around the swamps on their all- weekend hunts was nothing to them. She knew from growing up with all boys that most men were oblivious to the little thing called modesty. However, she’d think being buck naked in front of a stranger would affect them somehow.

self-

no consciousness in Zach’s gaze and his impressive dick didn’t wilt beneath her study. If anything, it seemed to grow another inch. And

But

there

was

she was staring at it again. Have to stop staring at his junk. Her mama would beat her ass if she knew she was gawking at a naked man’s groin, no matter how sexy he was. Her mama would cluck and find something for him to wear. But the last thing Colette wanted to do was cover up a single inch of naked Zach. “I was hunting,” he said after a few more seconds, his voice dragging her gaze from his cock. She hadn’t realized she’d been looking. Again. “And you stole my kill.” Colette was as hot-tempered as

any Robicheaux over certain things. She hated cruelty in any form, having been known to take down men twice her size if she caught them abusing an animal. She hated bullies. She also took her sense of honor very seriously. No one called her a liar or a cheat, or a thief in this case. Ever. Having the man she’d been openly infatuated with for nearly a year say she stole anything from him was like having a bucket of ice water thrown over her during a heat wave. The rifle went back up, her ire lending her tiring arms renewed strength. She wouldn’t be able to

keep it up for long though. She either had to shoot him or send him on his way. And after that accusation she was leaning more toward the former. “A kill you tried to make on private property,” she told him in a cold voice that would have warned any one of her relatives she was about to lose her control. The tiger had no sense of self- preservation because his smirk became a full-blown grin that would’ve made her weak at the knees if she hadn’t been on the verge of a volcanic explosion. “About that… You’re not quite

what I expected from what I’ve heard about the Robicheauxs.” It was as though he wanted to die a very slow death. Another quirk of hers, one not many people ever tweaked, was her defensiveness about her family. Oh, she knew exactly what everyone in the parish thought of the residents of Bayou Ange. Most of the time she could ignore the comments, the mockery and condensation when they spoke to or of the Robicheaux, Brule, Boudlache and Gautreaux families who inhabited their small community. They were called backwards. Kayaks, a derogatory

term for people who lived so far down the bayou they may as well be another species of Cajun. She and her cousins and brothers had heard it all applied to them, but especially to their fathers. If the people in Pointe-Aux-Chat Parish only knew over fifty percent of the “backwoods coonasses” from Bayou Ange had college degrees, maybe they’d realize the err of their assumptions. But her parents always told Colette not to worry what other people thought. It wasn’t their fault their mamas didn’t raise them right. For the most part, she was able to ignore

the snide remarks. Not right now though, not with him.

She flipped the safety on her rifle. “Why is that? Because I’m wearing shoes?” she sneered at him, finally well over her lust. Thank God she hadn’t made more of a fool of herself. He was so not worth the screaming orgasms she gave herself. Colette vowed to fantasize about someone else from now on. One of his thick, black eyebrows rose and his smile faltered. “I’m sorry?”

a

Robicheaux

You

“You

didn’t

expect

to

see

wearing

shoes?

didn’t expect one of us Kayaks to have the ability to formulate a complete sentence? Or know words with more than two syllables? What?” She let each question snap like a whip until his smile was completely gone and a frown furrowed the smooth skin between his eyebrows. “You know what? I don’t want to know. Just get your ass off my property before I put a hole in it. And trust me, I don’t miss.”

Chapter Three

This was not going as planned. Zach stared at the suddenly pissed- off Cajun woman in front of him and tried to figure out a way to soothe her and work his way into her bed. Because this Robicheaux woman in high temper was hotter than the ghost chili peppers he’d been trying to incorporate in one of his recipes. Her eyes nearly glowed with her anger and her cheeks had darkened. He was almost a hundred percent positive she’d started out flushed from arousal and embarrassment, but that

quickly changed to anger over some imagined slight. Which brought him back to why she would be angry with him. He hadn’t asked her what her favorite position was. Hell, with the way all the blood had left his head to pool in his dick, he wasn’t capable of much thinking at the moment anyway. The instant her little nipples stood out in sharp relief against the smooth cotton of her t- shirt, his mind went blank. He hadn’t even known what he said to her to piss her off. How could he when all he could imagine was finding out how much of a handful

her small tits would be for him. Would she fill his palms? Or would he be able to cover her completely? Those had been the images dancing in his mind. At least until she lifted that damn rifle again, hiding her perky, friendly nipples from his line of sight. And yeah, he had a one-track mind at the moment. It’d been at least a month since the last time he had time for anything but a fast jerk-off session. And this woman, this human woman with a fiery, fierce personality wouldn’t expect him to mark her and live happily ever after or some crazy shit like that. A

marking was a solemn bond between mates, a promise of fidelity and forever. Humans didn’t do the whole marking thing, meaning if a shifter ever tied up with one of them, the human could go on their merry way. No sane person hooked up with humans for that very reason. Since he had no plans to marry or mate at any point in his sane life, Zach wondered if he’d maybe been a little hasty ignoring all the come- hither glances from human women. If they were looking for a little rough, casual sex, he could do that. Especially with this woman.

“Let’s just relax,” he said with a calm he didn’t quite feel. His tiger figured this was a perfect moment to display his dominance over her. It urged Zach to spring at her, tackle her to the ground and fuck

the anger right out of her. His balls ached at the thought even though his logical mind said that was considered sexual assault. “I think

we’re just

misunderstanding.” He gave her his most charming smile. Her eyes narrowed on him. “So on top of trespassing on private property and insulting my family, you think I’m crazy?”

having a

For the first time in his life, Zach was stunned speechless. His tiger scrambled, trying to figure out what she meant. He should have been used to not understanding females, which was why he limited his contact with them to fucking. He fucked a woman, made sure she screamed with pleasure, found his own and was out the door shortly after. It was a system that worked to lower his chances of becoming entangled in the web of male helplessness that caught so many of his friends. One after the other, he’d watched them tie themselves in knots over their mates, from the

start of the attraction to the mating and beyond. There was no understanding the female mind and from what he’d heard of human females, they were the worst of the lot. Which failed to explain his sudden need to get this one in bed. Or take her right here on the ground. “I don’t think you’re crazy,” he said slowly. The rifle lowered a bit. “You’re talking to me as though you think I’m crazy,” she accused. Zach abruptly dropped the charm. “Woman, I don’t know what crawled up your ass, but I’m

trying to talk to you. Now you can either tell me what I said wrong, or shoot me.” He really hadn’t expected her to choose the last option. He just counted himself lucky she was either a worse shot than she boasted to be, or couldn’t bring herself to actually put a hole in him. The rifle barrel dropped and a nearly soundless expulsion of air was all he heard before the dirt two inches in front of his toes kicked up to slap against his shins. Zach’s jaw dropped in shock even as little Zach gave a jerk of excitement. He was a sick fucker. Sick, sick,

sick because he should not have found being shot at by a tough, possibly insane Cajun woman the least bit sexy. But he did. God help him, he and his tiger were just about frothing at the mouth with lust. He had no idea what her name was, or if she needed medication for that chip on her shoulder, but he knew he needed to find out as much about her as he could. “Colette?” A male called out in the distance, breaking his lust- induced daze. “Cher, where you at?” He appreciated learning her name, but would have preferred

learning it from her. Zach’s tiger growled, possessiveness nearly overwhelming him. It was a struggle to keep from shifting right then and there. It hadn’t even occurred to him that she might not be single, that she might not be his for the taking. The thought echoed around his head and he backtracked. He didn’t want her permanently or anything. He just wanted her in every position physically possible and some of those that weren’t if he could find a good pulley system. Hearing another man calling for her, using a familiar endearment

pissed him off more than fucking up an easy recipe. He wanted to go find the bastard and rip his head off. She lost some of her anger, the aggression and tension easing from her slowly as though she realized he wasn’t going anywhere. Then she spoke. “They won’t be as nice when they get here.” The Cajun Ice Princess voice taunted his tiger to warm her up. “Go on and get out of here. They won’t miss on purpose if they decide to shoot you.” He could hear a good-sized party of what he supposed were her fellow hunters, probably her

family and a possible husband walking toward them, but he didn’t move. “You shoot at every man you meet, Colette, or just the ones you like?” It was a calculated gamble to unsettle her as much as she unsettled him. Her lips softened and parted, a pink tide of color sweeping up her neck to settle in her cheeks. The rifle dropped some and yup, there were pert, hard little nipples pressing against her shirt. “W-what?” she stammered in a voice that wasn’t nearly as frigid as it had been before. “No.” His tiger purred. She might not

want to be attracted to him, whether it was because she didn’t like shifters or some other reason, but she was. He might be upwind of her, unable to catch any hint of her feminine musk, yet his animal half was an expert at reading body language. He didn’t need to smell her attraction. It was written on her face, in her dilated eyes, flushed cheeks and the rapidly beating pulse in her neck. In the expression that twisted with want and anger and frustration. The party crashers were coming closer and he knew his time with her was coming to an end. For now.

He had every intention of finding out more about this lone Robicheaux female, more specifically if she was married or not, so he could pursue her. It was a hunt of an entirely different kind, but one he and his tiger were positive would end successfully with her pussy clamped around his dick as she screamed his name.

“Colette,

where

you

at, bêbe?”

the male voice, mature with a thick Cajun accent called out again.

She turned her head slightly in the direction of the call.

opening he

needed. Using the strong muscles

It

was

all

the

of his legs that gave him such an impressive jump, Zach launched himself at his newest prey. Her head jerked back around, her pretty eyes wide with shock, her mouth falling open and then they were going down. He could’ve been a complete jerk and let her take the brunt of their weight, but again, Zach’s tiger wanted to make even this show of dominance and intimidation easy on her. He wrapped his arms around her lean body and twisted slightly as they headed for the ground so he took her weight. She’d jerked the gun up at the last minute,

sandwiching it between their bodies, the barrel warm, but it was the surprisingly small woman cradled in his arms who heated him up the most. Finally—fucking finally, he could smell her and his dick gave a jerk of excitement despite being used as a gun rest since that was exactly where the butt of her rifle was. His tiger considered that a small price to pay to have her this close, her arousal making his head swim. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, a purr of arousal and contentment rumbling in his chest. Sweet vanilla musk with a

hint

couldn’t identify made his mouth water with the urge to taste her thick cream at the heart of that scent. For a moment, she was perfectly still although he could feel the frantic pounding of her heart against his chest. The tight buds of her nipples poked at him through the fabric of her shirt. Their bodies had aligned perfectly, his thigh nestled against the juncture of her legs, the warmth of her pussy scorching him through her jeans. He opened his eyes to see her gaping at him with a shocked

he

of

some

kind

of

spice

expression. Beautiful eyes with deep, black pupils that dilated as he returned her stare, letting her see the intent on his face. Because he had to kiss her. Despite knowing the men in her family, one of them possibly a lover—his tiger snarled at the thought—were coming closer, he had to have one taste. She sucked in a ragged breath and Zach made his move. Velvety soft, her lips cushioned his in a kiss that held him transfixed. All it took was a single touch and he was a goner. The lust was still there, riding him hard, demanding he strip her naked and

take her, but it was held back by something stronger. Something foreign that wanted to cherish this moment, to extend the game. He lifted his head slightly, tilted it to the left and kissed her the way he’d originally intended, catching her words with his mouth, his sudden strike knocking her hat back. This time though, it wasn’t a chaste meeting of lips. This time, he kissed her the way he’d wanted to from the minute he saw the sugar- coated color of her mouth and the almost doll-like shape of her lips. He kissed her, his tongue parting those plump contours and surging

forward. He didn’t bother holding back his groan of…groan of, what was it? Relief to finally know her taste? Pleasure because she tasted as sweet and spicy as he’d believed? Or excitement because her tongue met his in tentative greeting? When her body softened against him, molding to his nakedness, Zach knew it was a combination of everything. His tiger pulled back slightly, letting him take the lead, knowing this was a job for the man. The cat could mark the female later, keeping her the way it wanted to, but right now they needed to gentle her, to show her how good it

would be between them. The man twisted their bodies, rolling her beneath him without breaking the kiss, her legs falling open. The scent of her musk grew stronger, headier. Zach moved over her, settling his body in the cradle of her hips, shuddering when her legs hooked around the backs of his. There. This was where he wanted her. If her clothes weren’t in the way, he could take them both to heaven. Just a little shift and slide and pure bliss. Their kiss turned fierce. The rifle rolled away from them when she lifted her arms to wrap around his shoulders,

the fine muscles of her body tense. Then she was rolling him over. He wasn’t sure how she did it since she shouldn’t have been able to, but he found himself on the ground with her on top, her hips rocking against him. Holy fuck. He let out a growl of need, his hands gripping the surprisingly soft curves of her ass and grinding her down. He had to get her jeans off and dive inside that tight little— “Colette!” She moved a lot faster than he would’ve thought a human could, leaping to her feet and pulling her

hat back into place before he could grab her and refuse to let go. She muttered something under her breath, her movements nearly frantic as she wiped her arm across her lips and patted herself down, dusting away the leaves and dirt. Zach glared at her heart-shaped ass when she bent over to pick up her rifle, his tiger snarling. She did not just wipe away our kiss. Yeah, Zach wasn’t too happy about that either. Women didn’t just walk away from him, especially not human women who were so wet their arousal practically humidified the air around him. His

dick gave a little leap of excitement. Okay, so he kind of liked that she was all business as she started toeing away the evidence of their tussle. Until she kicked some dirt over him. He glared at her, but she didn’t seem moved despite the honeyed scent telling him she wasn’t as unaffected as she pretended to be. The man shouted again, rousing Zach’s anger. He tensed, ready to charge the trees to find the fucker. He didn’t know who the hell it was, but that bastard was going to eat it. He’d never felt so violent and sexually frustrated and fuck, his

balls ached with the need to come inside Colette’s tight cunt, to feel her squeeze him as she— Then she said, “My dad and cousins will kill you if they find you here. Tu va.” Zach relaxed again, stacking his hands under his head, ignoring her order to leave. Okay, cousins and fathers he could handle. “You do like me,” he couldn’t help but tease. He had no doubt her relatives were packing enough weapons to take over a small country, yet he didn’t feel overly inclined to leave. It did kill some of his desire and his balls still hurt, but he could think

again. Sort of. Colette Robicheaux had knocked him for a big loop. Especially after that amazingly hot kiss. He had needs and so did she. Needs they could both satisfy if she sat on his face. His tiger purred. “I knew you liked me.” The words came out as a barely disguised crow of triumph. The attractive flush on her cheeks darkened even more despite the glower she sent him. “I just don’t want the responsibility of feeding you to the alligators.” Oh yeah, his tiger liked her a lot. Spicy, tough and strong. She might not be able to claw at him and bite

back the way a tigress would, but he had no doubt she’d make the mating dance fun. Whoa, wait. Mating dance? Zach put the brakes on his tiger’s erratic thoughts. They’d always agreed neither of them wanted a mate, or the mess of being tied down to one female. And it wasn’t as though this human was possible mate material anyway. He just wanted her for fucking. A few times. At the very least half a dozen times, didn’t he? The tiger sent the word mate to him with a hopeful purr, completely forgetting its former resistance to the idea. The fucking traitor. Zach slammed

the door shut on the idiot feline’s thoughts, unwilling to even entertain them. Not now when his cock and balls ached with unfulfilled desire. He’d heard a lot of men do something they later regretted, like getting mated before they wanted, because they were desperate to come. He refused to be one of those unfortunate bastards. The crashing grew closer and Colette’s arousal dissipated beneath a wave of panic that smelled like burnt sugar. His tiger surfaced enough to let Zach know he didn’t like it at all. He rolled to his feet, unwilling to cause her further

anxiety. For now. He needed to get away from her for a little while anyway, get his body and his cat back under control. But that didn’t mean he’d let this little Cajun off the hook. He glanced over at her just in time to see her gaze stray to his erection. He bit back a triumphant grin even as the betraying organ strained toward her. “I’ll see you around, Colette,” he said, her name rolling off his tongue as though it was meant to be there.

was

rubbing off on him, getting him all

Gah.

The

fucking

cat

sentimental and shit. But he didn’t show her how unsettled that left him. He surveyed her again, taking in the tough stance, the pert tits and those lips. Too bad she had that baseball hat on her head. He wouldn’t mind seeing if she had brown hair to match her eyebrows or something else. Next time, he promised himself. “Not if I can help it, Monsieur Pussy Cat,” she shot back with a halfhearted snarl that was kind of ruined by her puffy lips, beard- burned cheeks and the heady scent surrounding her like perfume. “And stay off Robicheaux land.”

Zach chuckled at her fierce tone, enjoying her Tom & Jerry reference, which would’ve pissed him off if it had come from anyone else. He gave into his tiger’s need to shift, the change coming over him as naturally as breathing. Once complete, he gave a full-body shake to settle his fur properly, his keen ears catching Colette’s soft gasp. He looked at her with the tiger’s eyes, finding her even more exotic than before now that he’d had a little taste of her lips, knew her scent and flavor. She held her gun in a loose grip, the muzzle pointed at the ground, her eyes wide and her

puffy lips relaxed. He preened a bit for her viewing pleasure, satisfied that he’d left a little mark on her. It wouldn’t last long, but he’d be back. He chuffed at her before he turned and began jogging in the direction of town. Zach had a lot of work to do if he was going to make time to find out more about his future lover. He didn’t even realize he’d moved her from one-night fuck category to something a little more intimate. His human mind was too focused on information, but his tiger purred at the unnoticed slip.

* * * * *

“Colette!” She jumped, dragging her gaze away from the palmetto leaves that still swayed from the tiger’s passing. Her heart beat so fast she thought it might leap out of her chest. Not from fear or panic, but from unadulterated lust. And wouldn’t that be a sight for her relatives. They’d never seen her flustered over a man. Not even Pierre Dubois who’d asked her to share his duck blind with him a couple years ago. She’d politely turned him down and ignored the teasing from the others. They’d

have a field day if they knew she was on the verge of fanning herself over a man, a shifter who kissed like he wanted to eat her alive. Her heart gave another leap, more moisture soaking her already wet panties. Her gaze fell to the perfect outline of Zach’s big paw prints in the soil and she hurriedly began kicking dirt over them. She didn’t need her relatives to know she’d just had the most erotic experience in her life with a shifter. They’d shit a brick. They weren’t prejudiced against shifters, not with some of their own

family members turning furry whenever the urge struck them. No, they were prejudiced against men who might try to despoil her. If she hadn’t gone to college, she’d probably still be a virgin. And since she’d never been stupid enough to bring any of her lovers home with her, her family most likely thought she was on the verge of becoming an old maid, but what they didn’t know about her wouldn’t hurt them or anyone else. Unless they found out what she’d been doing. If they knew Zach had just…what? Rolled around on the ground with her,

kissing her as though it were his mission in life? Her cheeks heated again. She flipped the safety on her rifle and cradled it in one arm to press her free hand to her cheeks one at a time in an effort to cool them. God, she hadn’t been this giddy since she left home at eighteen. She wasn’t a kid though. She shouldn’t be on the verge of giggling to herself. The man was insane. She’d shot at him, for crying out loud. And he’d kissed her in, what? Retaliation? Was that the appropriate response for shooting at a man though? Then her thoughts centered. Oh.

Shit. Colette’s mind abruptly shifted gears from giggling schoolgirl to possible future inmate. She’d shot at someone. Well, it wasn’t exactly the first time. Three weeks before she’d found the slaughtered carcasses of doe, which were extremely out of season, and tracked the kills back to a couple of shifters. Antoine and Vernon Schumacher, idiotic brothers who lived in Germantown, had tried to intimidate her into forgetting about their little foray into bloodlust. A well-aimed bullet had caused them to turn tail and run. She hadn’t

seen them since then, but she had reported them to Wildlife and Fisheries. She shook her head. She was babbling in her brain. And it didn’t matter anyway. The Schumacher brothers didn’t count since they were idiots and everyone wanted to shoot them. Zach was a respected member of Pointe-Aux-Chat society. He could go back to Maison Rouge and tell Sheriff Picou what she’d done. What the hell kind of defense could she summon? He turned me on so I was trying to get rid of him. No, that wouldn’t work. She was certain taking potshots at the

opposite sex as a means of social interaction was frowned upon. She doubted anyone would believe her anyway. They’d think she was crazy. Which was a way to avoid going to prison, but then she’d end up institutionalized. The crashing footsteps of her menfolk arriving had her spinning around. Her dad, two of her uncles and five of her cousins stumbled into the clearing, faces relaxing when they saw her. She knew they had faith in her abilities. They’d trained her well, but that wouldn’t stop them from worrying about her. For once though, she was glad

they hadn’t waited for her to send them her all-clear signal. They’d prevented her from doing something stupid. Like stripping naked and taking a ride on Zach Trahan’s joystick, a ride many women before her had taken. Her heart dropped as cold reality and jealousy reared their ugly heads. He could say whatever he wanted to. Zach wasn’t coming back. He wouldn’t brave the possible anger of a united Bayou Ange to see her again. Why would he? He could have any woman in the tri-parish area and had, if the gossips were correct. The chances of

her ever going to Maison Rouge were slim to none. If her inner schoolgirl threw a tantrum over never seeing him again, Colette ignored the whiny putain. Zach wasn’t the kind of shifter who’d have anything to do with her. More than likely he’d just been trying to charm her out of shooting anything sensitive. And to her ever-lovin’ shame, it’d worked. Then her family crowded around her, marveling at the hog, chastising her for not answering them, slapping her on the back for a good hunt and basically distracting her from thoughts of a very naked

and aroused Zach Trahan. But Colette knew images of the sexy shifter would visit her at night when she was home alone and trying to sleep. She knew it as surely as she knew her dad would quiz her on what had her so distracted. She read it in his eyes, recognized the interrogation to come because he didn’t miss a thing. While her cousins began preparing the hog for transport out of the swamp, her dad studied the ground around the kill. Colette knew the instant he realized a bigger animal had been in the area.

His body tensed, his shoulders going rigid as he caught sight of Zach’s bare, human footprints mixed with the tiger’s paw prints. He studied the ground more, his sharp gaze following the tracks away from her, his LED lantern granting him a better view of the area. His lips thinned when he saw the furrowed gash her bullet had left in the ground and its proximity to Zach’s footprints. Colette cursed herself for not doing a better job of clearing the area, even as she realized she’d been distracted by her pussy. She lowered her eyes when her dad

looked her way, pretending to be interested in what Cotton and Beau were saying. She wasn’t sure she was ready to answer any questions he had for her and prayed he would wait until they were alone before he began to grill her. “He’s got to weigh a good three- twenty,” Cotton said with obvious pride in Colette’s abilities. “And she got him with a clean shot.” Beau gave him a shove before leaning over to truss the hog’s legs together. “Of course she did. I taught her everything she knows.” That caused everyone in the group to laugh, earning Beau some

good-natured ribbing since he consistently shot three inches higher or lower than where he aimed. Colette was thankful for the distraction, laughing along with them. Once the hog was ready for the drag back to the trucks, her bigger cousins each grabbed a rope and began to pull the kill along the ground. Colette followed behind with her uncles and dad, who were congratulating themselves on a good hunt. Each group had taken down one of the nuisance hogs, which would provide them all with plenty of food. With alligator

season starting in a couple of weeks, they’d needed some meat for their freezers since none of them would have time for a hunt before then. She felt her dad’s eyes on her several times, but he didn’t approach her until they finished the two-mile trek to the trucks. It took nearly the entire group heaving and pulling to get the hog in the back of her Uncle Tudu’s pickup. “We’ll see y’all at the house,” her dad’s youngest brother called out as his sons piled into the cab. “Good job, Collie girl. We’ll have this pig butchered before you get

there.” He tore out of the clearing, spitting dirt behind him to his sons’ laughter. She waved after them, determined to pretend everything was normal. But as soon as the taillights disappeared down the trail, a tense silence fell over the clearing. She’d ridden to the hunt with her dad and her Uncle Frog, the eldest Robicheaux brother, something she now regretted. It would’ve been nice to tell them “see y’all in a bit” and take off in her truck instead of riding back with them. When her dad cleared his throat,

she flinched. “Colette, what the hell is goin’

on out here?” he asked in a tone

clearly said he expected a

rational explanation. Ugh. This was not going to be pretty because she had no rational explanation to give him.

that

Chapter Four

Zach glared at the roux he was stirring, the sounds of his junior chefs bustling around the kitchen barely a blip on his radar. He hadn’t been able to find out jack shit about Colette Robicheaux other than rumor and gossip, neither of which he gave much credence to. He seriously doubted her Haitian- descended mother had conducted a voodoo ritual just so she could have a daughter. Nor did he believe she was the anti-Christ, or a mutant, or a foundling. He shook his head and added

more flour to his roux. Even Father Bryan, a rational man who’d been known to give sound advice to any and all who approached St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, hadn’t been able to shed much light on the people of Bayou Ange. Zach hadn’t even known priests could swear that way, but apparently Father Bryan had been told very firmly and politely that they didn’t require his services. The very small, family-built chapel called Our Lady of Angels had its own deacon, who happened to come from one of the founding families of Bayou Ange. It was as though they were

taboo, which was weird. Unfortunately, he hadn’t been able to make a trip to Germantown since he met Colette. Between dinner parties he had to cater and a sudden surge in birthday parties and weddings he had to bake cakes for, he hadn’t had time to do more than jerk off to fantasies of having her on her knees, ready to take everything he had to give, all because memories of her kiss haunted him. His research had taken him to the one place he’d wanted to avoid at all costs, but the need to know about her had him sucking back his

pride and common sense to approach the Pointe-Aux-Chat Parish Sheriff’s Department. He’d had to know exactly where Colette lived and that information sure as hell hadn’t been in the phone book or on the internet. The only address he could find for any Robicheauxs in Bayou Ange had been for Bayou Ange Swamp Tours. And the tour company was run by Colette’s family. Something he’d found out by bribing the very cranky, pregnant deputy Daisy Reinhardt with a box of beignets. He frowned down at his roux as he remembered that meeting. He’d

have to start being more of a badass and less of a sap for pregnant females because she’d been rude. Of course, when he’d arrived she’d just been escorting some Orleans Parish Sheriff Detectives out of her cubical. He’d overheard them talking despite the noisiness of the station and their attempts to speak quietly. It seemed they were extending professional courtesy by sharing information about a woman who went missing a couple of weeks before. Daisy hadn’t been in the best mood after that and when he voiced his question she’d stared at

him for several long minutes. “Are you out of your goddamn mind?” she’d asked, even as she snatched the box of beignets out of his hands. Left with nothing to hide behind, not that he was hiding per se, Zach had stuffed his hands in his pockets. “I just want to…” Drive to Colette’s house as a man instead of sneaking in like some kind of stray. “I’m thinking about offering them a business proposal for the tourists who take their swamp tours.” That hadn’t been on his mind at all, but now that he thought about it, his tiger liked the idea. It would

get his foot in the door. If, however, things didn’t work out the way he wanted, Zach wasn’t opposed to sneaking in the back door. Nothing, but nothing was going to come between him and finishing what he and Colette had started in the woods that day. Daisy had squinted up at him over a fluffy, powdery mound of beignet, giving him the cop look, but Zach wasn’t worried about Daisy even if she was the most miserable pregnant woman he’d ever had the misfortune to know. She’d put her beignet down, not seeming to care that she had a

powdered-sugar mustache, and pulled herself closer to her desk. He’d barely kept himself from asking if she needed a wireless keyboard since her large beach ball- sized baby bump meant she had to strain her arms to reach it. He turned his attention to a bulletin board boasting easily two dozen pictures of women, all young and human, bolted to the wall. Nothing tied the women together as far as his untrained eye could tell, except their human status. They had disappeared from different parts of south Louisiana, worked different jobs and ranged in

ages from eighteen to thirty-eight. That was all. And yet they’d all disappeared, one a month for the past two years. Daisy mumbled to herself, her fingers tapping at her keyboard. When he had time, which wasn’t often anymore, Zach liked to watch cold criminal case shows and documentaries about prolific criminals. If what he’d learned on television was correct, the women all disappeared before or during a full moon. He glanced at the calendar to see the next one was in a couple of weeks. He filed the thought away as Daisy’s printer

began to churn. Zach snatched the page off the printer to see she’d printed Colette Marie Robicheaux’s house address. Thanking her, he’d left without a backward glance. If the black bear deputy had known he was planning to go to Bayou Ange to possibly start World War III, she would’ve taken the beignets and locked him up for his own safety. Because he might not know a lot about the Robicheaux’s, but he’d gotten the gist of their protectiveness toward their women. Words like “crazy”, “possessive”

and “jealous bastards” had been thrown around with wild abandon by more than one male. It seemed the Robicheaux men made some shifter males look like slackers when it came to taking care of what they considered theirs. And Colette, as the only born Robicheaux female, was definitely theirs. Sticking his nose in Bayou Ange because of a kiss seemed like a stupid thing to do. It was just too bad he couldn’t forget about her or that kiss. He scowled at the perfectly golden roux at the bottom of his pot, absently reaching for the “Holy

Trinity” of seasonings—chopped onions, bell peppers and green onions, dumping them into the pot. He stirred, trying to ignore the hard-on that threatened to desecrate his kitchen. He’d tried to stop thinking about Colette, about her using that little rosebud of a mouth on his dick or running the slick crown across her pert tits before he came all over them. Zach cursed under his breath, glad his heavy chef’s coat hid his erection. He’d damn well done his best to put her to the back of his mind while at work, but thoughts of her invaded when he least expected it.

Like now. He’d already traumatized half his junior chefs with his bad temper. He didn’t want to make the rest faint like the maiden aunts he didn’t have. Casting a dark glare over his shoulder at the younger chefs he could practically feel watching him, he sent them back to work without a single word. They jumped back into the fray, preparing the food on the menu for a wedding the following day. He muttered under his breath and added water to his roux. Once he’d filled the pot as much as needed, he threw in the crab claws, boiled crawfish tails and

stepped back. He turned his attention to the poor sucker who’d lost the toss to work as his personal assistant for the day. He would’ve much preferred to have Dwayne, his catering assistant, on the gumbo, but the man was too valuable to waste on something so easy. “Let this come to a full boil before you add the shrimp, then add more water and let it come to another boil.” He pointed to the combination of seasonings he’d carefully measured out before he began the roux. “Then, and only then, do you add the seasonings.

And if you so much as think about adding your own flavors, I’ll break your fingers. Got it?” The shaking, quaking fox shifter nodded, the stench of his fear filling Zach’s nose. His tiger let out a rumble of discontent. It didn’t want to be around these shifters who were so scared of him they couldn’t look him in the face without nearly pissing themselves. It amazed him how Colette managed to do that and make it seem completely natural. Most females, even the ones who had only enough bravery to approach him for sex, never went toe-to-toe

with him the way a fragile human had. The way one elusive, sexy gun- toting Cajun woman had. His dick gave an eager lurch, ready for them to indulge in yet another naked-Colette-being- fucked fantasy. He bit back an annoyed groan and marched away from the catering prep area of his kitchen to the bakery at the front of the building. His workers here, while more seasoned and familiar with him than his catering crew, refused to look at him as well. Okay, so maybe he shouldn’t have thrown that whole wedding cake out, but what good was it being a

chef if he couldn’t throw an artistic tantrum now and then? Even Emily, his baking assistant, refused to look his way and she’d been with him almost from the time he took over the business after his grandmother’s passing. He bit back an annoyed sigh and made a mental note to foot the bill for yet another night out for his kitchen crews in apology for his bad temper. Some people are so goddamn sensitive. Annoyed, horny and frustrated beyond belief, Zach was about to enter his office to return the five million fucking messages left for

him when a sudden hush throughout the building made him pause with his foot in midair. He glanced at his workers, who weren’t even looking at him, but had their stares fixated on the doorway leading to the customer area. He hadn’t seen them look that attentive at the last shop meeting. Wondering what could possibly hold their attention so thoroughly, he glanced over his shoulder and nearly lost his balance. Cold violet eyes in triplicate glared at him from leathery faces lined by the sun and time. Three men, brothers he

assume, by their close resemblance and the almost exact same shade of silver hair covering their heads, stood in the doorway to his kitchen as though they belonged there. Even over the sweet tang of various fruits, the slightly bitter scent of chocolate and the underlying mouthwatering smells of gumbo, jambalaya and stew cooking, Zach could make out the acrid scent of gun oil and metal. The men were packing, which might have accounted for the sudden dearth of activity in the entire building, but somehow he didn’t think his people or

customers were worried about weapons. No, it was the cold, menacing look on the humans’ faces that had his workers smelling as though they were about to run for cover. His tiger roused itself from a boredom-induced sleep long enough to figure out which one was his female’s father. The one in the middle. There was an unholy fire burning in his eyes that could only come from the father of a woman he feared was about to be completely defiled. And he had every right to be scared because Zach planned to thoroughly enjoy

Colette’s body from the top of her head to the bottoms of her feet. Several times because once wouldn’t be enough. Zach turned to face the man, who until that fateful day in the swamps had been the most important man in Colette’s life, studying him carefully. Time hadn’t bowed her father’s shoulders or curled his back. He stood straight and proud, his sharp eyes missing nothing. Zach and the older man studied each other like opponents, which Zach supposed they were since they wanted different things for the same

woman. “Mr. Robicheaux,” he greeted Colette’s father politely and glanced at the men on either side of him, acknowledging them as well. “Can I help you with something?” The man in the center opened his mouth, but before he could say anything the front door of the bakery slammed open and a familiar female voice shouted, “Daddy!” Zach’s tiger went from mildly interested to eager, tail-twitching excitement. His eyes went to the empty space behind the men, his senses expanding as though he

could feel her approach. He caught a scent carried in by a sultry breeze from outside that made his tiger purr and his cock threaten to leap out of his jeans. The luscious scent that haunted his dreams, making him come all over his sheets like a teenager for nearly a full week, preceded Colette’s reentrance into his life. And then she appeared behind her relatives. Sort of. He saw the top a white-blonde head over the middle man’s shoulder before a pair of anxious violet eyes peeked over it, searching out and finding his. Since this was his first time

seeing her without the shadows of the swamp or her baseball hat, Zach felt as though someone had just slammed him right between the eyes with a two-by-four. She wasn’t pretty. Not in a classical, or even in a girl-next-door way. She was so much more than that. She looked exotic and wild, the features and colors that made up Colette Robicheaux appealing to his tiger on a visceral level. It started with her unusual eye color combined with her darker skin and ended with the shock of white- blonde hair she had pulled into a sloppy ponytail. The silkiness of the

strands straggling down the sides of her face and along her slender neck told him it was her natural color. He’d seen plenty of women who’d bleached their hair to get the same color only to end up with strands with the consistency of straw. There was no way Colette Robicheaux would ever pass for drop-dead gorgeous by society’s standards, but then Zach had never followed the herd. If he had, he would’ve done like every other male tiger shifter he’d ever met and set out for a nomadic lifestyle. Instead, he returned to his hometown and became a chef, a

very domestic career choice for a cat species known for wandering far and wide. And he was fine with that. He enjoyed his career, enjoyed being his own man and not following trends. It was what made him a good chef. He did what he wanted, not what current fashion or trends demanded. Colette was not the kind of woman who’d ever grace a magazine unless it was about women and guns or hunting. She wouldn’t prance around in a bikini or spend hours looking for the perfect pair of shoes to go with a purse. When her dad shifted to the

side, allowing Zach a better look at her, he almost smiled. She was a fashionista’s nightmare and if his friend Kitty saw the human in her current getup, she’d probably faint dead away. The woman who’d been haunting Zach’s dreams for the last week wore a sleeveless t- shirt with the acronym B.A.S.T. on the front, another pair of tattered jeans and boots that belonged on a construction site. It was over a hundred degrees outside and sweat clung to her skin, giving it a glittery quality that left him with a sudden hunger to treat her like a salt lick, yet she didn’t seem fazed in the

least by the heat. The hesitancy in her gaze disappeared when she saw him, replaced by the same hunger and determination he’d seen on her face that day in the swamp. “Daddy,” she said to the man standing in front of her. “I know Mama said she wanted that special cake from here, but I don’t think she meant you had to go in the kitchen to get it.” She flicked a curious glance around his spotless, busy workspace, sniffing the air curiously, and wrinkled her nose. Then she settled a decidedly disinterested look on him. “I don’t

see what the big deal is though. A cake’s a cake.” But her gaze said she was talking about him. The dismissal in her voice set his tiger to pacing in agitation. He didn’t know what infuriated him more, that she didn’t see anything special about him, or his cakes. People came from all over the country to entice him to bake for them. Women fell over themselves to get his attention even if they smelled as though they were scared when they had it. Was she insinuating that any man would do? Or did she really mean she didn’t think his cake was anything

home about? Both

thoughts agitated him, stirred up his tiger and his pride until he was nearly crazed.

Zach forced himself to calm and studied her closely. There was no way she meant it. She had to be downplaying her interest in him, and his food, so her father didn’t have an aneurysm. Then she looked away with a yawn. Zach had to remind himself—and his animal— that she was human. They were stupid sometimes. Maybe she hadn’t gotten a good look at him in the swamp, didn’t realize his peak physical condition, the size of his

to write

cock, the muscles that would ensure he could protect and tend to her as needed. He had to fight the urge to strip out of his “uniform” of chef’s coat and cargo pants to show her now. Instead, he waited until she glanced his way again and shot her a look so heated and hungry her cheeks turned dark pink and her pretty, kissable lips parted on a silent breath. There. That’s what he wanted to see. The reminder that they’d shared a kiss so intense it’d left him with an obsession over her mouth. The tiger was satisfied she finally recalled how good they

were together. The chef still wasn’t satisfied, but he began devising ways to bring her around to his point of view. As for her relatives? Her father and the uncles she was so worried about, the ones who’d invaded Zach’s territory and thought to keep him from doing what he wanted with her? They bristled at the look. Her daddy reached for the bulge on his side with a muttered curse. Things were just about to get very interesting.

She

couldn’t

believe

this

was

happening. After a week of working herself to the bone in an effort to fall asleep without having to masturbate like a horny teenager, she was standing right where she’d sworn she wouldn’t go. Colette had made a promise to herself after telling her daddy and uncle an abbreviated story about her meeting with the tiger that she would have nothing to do with him ever again. She’d even sworn to go on a diet, forgoing her Trahan’s Bakery desserts as a way to cut off contact with him permanently. It would kill her to stop having her treats shipped to her post office

box, but she’d do it if it meant staying off the radar. But word had come to Bayou Ange about a shifter, a big, arrogant bastard of a cat asking about the lone female Robicheaux. Everyone in her family and extended family had gathered at her Papaw Blue’s house for a discussion that had resulted in five fights, the consumption of a whole roasted pig, several cases of beer and shouts of revolution. Thankfully Colette had managed to wrestle the sniper rifle out of her grandfather’s hands and prevented him from going on a big-game hunt.

Everything would have blown over if her mama hadn’t decided she absolutely needed a cake from Trahan’s bakery. Colette had argued for a solid twenty minutes with her mother about that damn cake, drowning in a miasma of exasperation over her mom’s stubbornness and an intense need for the Trahan Triple Decadence Chocolate cake. Feeling herself weaken with the envie to have that cake and eye Zach’s fine body, she’d promised to bake one for her mom if she just let it go, forgetting for a moment that she was a complete disaster in the kitchen.

The silence that followed this stunning revelation was when they both heard the unmistakable roar of her dad’s truck. Her mom hadn’t even seemed surprised when Colette ran out the door and hopped in her own truck to go after him. No, her mom’s hysterical laughter and rapid French told her that Laurette-Marie was on the phone with her aunt, the two of them getting a kick out of the excitement happening in Bayou Ange. Colette spent the thirty-minute drive to Maison Rouge imagining all kinds of horrific scenarios. She’d

pictured her daddy shooting Zach dead and winding up in prison. She’d pictured Zach mauling her daddy and ending up in prison. Yet entering the bakery with the scent of delicious sweets permeating the air to see her daddy and uncles standing shoulder-to-shoulder facing a relaxed and almost indolent Zach hadn’t appeared in any of her imaginings. The stupid tiger didn’t seem to realize he was in danger. She tried to ignore the heat that flared in her lower abdomen when she saw him again, especially when he looked a million times yummier than the

desserts lining the showcases of his shop. The aura of his power seemed to seep from every inch of the shiny, modern appliances and worktables. He looked like a king and seeing him in the light reminded her of just how beautiful he was. A bandana covered most of his head, but she could see the strands of black, gold and white peeking out the back. It gave him a piratical appearance, which was only compounded by his sensual topaz eyes. Then he sent her that look. It was a look she’d never been the

focus of before

nearly

and

it

buckled her knees. The heat and intent in that gaze said he had plans for her and they didn’t involve playing cards. It was the kind of stare her body recognized as a silent promise, reminding her of how well he kissed, how easily he made her forget everything. Heat and moisture flooded her pussy even as her nipples hardened into sharp, throbbing peaks. His eyelids lowered even farther in a blatant come-hither glance that had her feet moving before she realized it, obeying his silent command without thought. Only the solid wall of her relatives in front of her

kept her from making a complete fool of herself. And that’s when her daddy reached for his gun. Colette nearly had a heart attack, but luckily her Uncle Tudu was a little less rash and caught his brother’s arm, stopping him. “Jail time, Willis. You promised Mama you wouldn’t shoot anyone.” Her dad stopped trying to whip out his gun and levered one finger at the tiger shifter who didn’t seem to realize how close he’d just come to being murdered in his own kitchen. In a voice that would’ve made an evangelical preacher

jealous, he thundered, “You stay away from my daughter, y’hear? She doesn’t need trouble like you.” God, please strike me dead. But of course He didn’t. Colette had to suffer through the pitying and amused looks from everyone in the damn building. How many women her age had to put up with an overprotective father who seemed ready to go to prison over his daughter? She wasn’t sure she wanted an answer to that question. She only wanted the embarrassment and humiliation to end. She shot Zach an agonized look.

He didn’t seem as relaxed now. If anything, he appeared highly pissed off. Either he didn’t like being threatened, or he didn’t like anyone implying that he would want anything to do with a human in the first place. The fury on his face was enough to make Colette glad she wasn’t the focus of that look, even though she didn’t want her dad to be the target either. To prevent anyone from spilling first blood, Colette touched her dad’s tense shoulder. She cast a quick glance around the bakery, trying to judge the audience. Since the chances of anyone knowing

Cajun French were low, she addressed him in that language to give them a little privacy. “He doesn’t really want me. He’s just trying to get you riled up.” It didn’t seem to help her dad’s tension much, but at least he seemed less likely to go for Zach’s throat. She glanced over at the tiger, who apparently wanted to be the victim of a homicide case. He stared back at her, his gaze thoughtful, as though he were trying to see inside her mind. That was definitely a place she didn’t need him or anyone else and she broke eye contact with him

immediately. “C’mon, Dad. We don’t need one of those cakes. Let’s just get back to the office. We have a group coming in two hours and we still have to get the boats ready if we’re going to fill our tags, yeah?” If there was one way she could distract her dad, it was by mentioning hunting. The only thing that made Willis Robicheaux as happy as being with his beloved Laurette-Marie was hunting, pitting his wits against his prey. “And I’m sure Mom could probably use some help getting the bait ready. You know how she

sometimes

sauce.” He shot her a wry look over his shoulder, one that said he knew she’d cooked that half-assed story up as a way to draw him away from his goal for the day. But he didn’t fight her. He glanced back at Zach, who hadn’t taken his gaze off Colette. “Just stay away from her, yeah? There are places we could leave you where no one would ever find you.” Colette swallowed a groan and made a mental note to send her mom a text saying to expect Sheriff

enough

doesn’t

use

Picou sometime today. She had no doubt someone would call him, or was in the process of calling him to let him know that one of the crazy Robicheauxs had just threatened Pointe-Aux-Chat Parish’s beloved baker. Which meant Father Bryan would make yet another futile attempt to coax them into attending St. Patrick’s services. Joy. “C’mon, y’all, we got work to do,” she urged, hoping the reminder that alligator season was starting the following day would motivate the older men to vacate the building.

It did, but it was like herding cats. None of them wanted to turn their backs on the real feline standing on the other side of the room. There was a lot of bumping into each other and the door, snarling at each other and muttered curses until Colette managed to drag her daddy and uncles out of the bakery, the crowd in the lobby parting for them like the Red Sea. The smothering heat should have made it impossible for her to feel anything except misery, but when she turned around with her family in tow, it was to see nearly the entire town of Maison Rouge

blatantly staring at them. As if they were freaks in a circus. If her face got any hotter, she’d probably burst into flame, yet she didn’t lower her gaze from the curious eyes staring at them. Nothing to see here, people. Just the parish misfits visiting. Carry on. Colette kept her head high, leading the way through the throng of respectable Maison Rougians to the trucks parked down the street. Her mother was going to have a cow when she told her about this and it was all Zach Trahan’s fault. She kept chanting that in the back of her mind as she walked toward

her truck, her dad and uncles talking behind her. They’d already moved on to what concerned them now, the upcoming gator season, but Colette was left stewing in embarrassment and regret. She didn’t know what bothered her more, Zach’s silence when he was threatened by her dad, or that she cared at all. She was an idiot for worrying over it. He’d given her that look to remind her of the kiss to stir up trouble. She knew enough about Zach to know he was one for finding mischief. He fought with Monk Badeaux on a regular basis and everyone in the parish knew

Monk was the most easygoing man ever. So yeah, she knew he’d only looked at her so provocatively to make her dad angry. Which he was. Mission accomplished. But her stupid heart ached anyway. Glowering at the crowd around her, she stepped up to her truck and looked back to make sure her dad and uncles were doing the same when her gaze collided with a pair of ice-blue eyes. The hair on the back of her neck stood straight up as she performed a quick analysis of the man staring at her so blatantly. Handsome in a pretty- boy way, swarthy skin with

perfectly cut, russet-brown hair, he was tall and lean, his strength evident despite his rangy build. The gray uniform he wore was as familiar as her face in the mirror.

Frog

spat out under his breath, but loudly enough for her to hear several feet away. Colette broke off her staring contest with the stranger, noting he stood with the Schumacher boys. Her skin pebbled as a case of the frissons erupted. There was something very wrong about seeing a member of the Wildlife and Fisheries Strike Force hanging with

“Game

warden,”

Uncle

two of the shifters responsible for slaughtering doe out of season. Especially since there was a weird unity about the trio, as though they were friends. That shouldn’t have been the case after her call to the LDWF. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but the whole picture unsettled her. “Let’s go,” her dad called out, rousing Colette from her uneasy musings. A glance in his direction showed he appeared just as uncomfortable as she felt. Somehow though, she didn’t think it was his usual distrust of the people who wore the gray uniform.

“We’ll follow behind you.” She nodded and climbed into her truck. She no longer cared about the crowds of onlookers staring at and gossiping about her family. No, there was something really weird going on. She felt the sudden need to gather her family close to protect them and herself. It was an instinct that went beyond a hunter’s unease for game wardens. This was something instinctive, like primitive knowledge that a storm was coming. How and when it would hit, though, was anyone’s guess. As she drove in front of the

bakery, movement caught her attention. Zach stood at the window, his eyes boring holes through her windshield, compelling her to look at him. But she didn’t turn her head. Couldn’t. With a strange new game warden in town, there was no telling what trouble he would stir up. In this case, family won out over lust, no matter how much her body wished differently.

Chapter Five

The tiger hunted, slinking through the swamp, led by instinct. It followed a different path from the one it’d taken the previous week because this time he wasn’t in search of the kind of prey he could eat. No, this time he was after the female who’d foolishly pretended she didn’t want him. His ears flattened, a dangerous growl rumbling in his chest that had the nocturnal animals scurrying for cover.

the

implied disinterest from Colette,

Yeah,

he

hadn’t

liked

especially after he’d scented her desire for him, kissed her plump lips. Things couldn’t have changed that drastically in a week, could t h e y? No. The tiger shook the thought away like a bothersome fly. She’d been lying, mostly to her family, but a part of him worried she was lying to herself for some reason. It’d taken all his considerable willpower not to storm through the flimsy barrier of her protective relatives, throw her over his shoulder and take her to his office where he could paddle her ass in private. Maybe give it a kiss or two between swats, but

whatever. He planned to teach little Miss Colette Robicheaux a lesson. If he decided he wanted her, she should accept that as gospel. He was well aware how arrogant the thought seemed, but he didn’t retract it. He was practically a connoisseur of women, yet she thought he was, what? Playing with her? Humoring her? If she only knew. When it came to fucking, he didn’t play. His upper lip curled over his fangs at the thought. He was going to spank her cute little ass bright pink for that. The fire in his veins flared to a scorching inferno as he

followed his instincts, searching for her. He’d driven as far as the first bridge leading to Bayou Ange before shifting and taking to his paws for the rest of the trip. He didn’t want the entire community to know there was a predator among the sheep. Not yet at least. The scent of the woods here was of natural animals, a complete change from what he was used to living among so many shifters. Scenting a fellow shifter was part of life, allowing them to recognize the animal lurking beneath the human skin, but here there was none of

that. Just the soothing scent of earth and stagnant water mingled with abundant vegetation and the animals that lived here. It was peaceful and he would have lingered if he hadn’t had a greater mission. The tiger’s eyes narrowed against the darkness as he crept closer and closer to Bayou Ange. Following the directions he’d gotten from Daisy, he knew he was close, but even if he hadn’t known, he would have by the smells, the scent of food cooking and the animal musk of dogs. Full dogs too, not wolf shifter assholes like the

wildlife agent who’d arrived in Maison Rouge the day before. He snorted in disgust. It never failed to amaze him how, when a new male arrived in the area, the single females suddenly swarmed as though they’d never seen one before. Like the human he had his sights on. If Colette had looked at that wolf any longer, Zach would be sitting in jail right now for ripping the fucker a new asshole. He rumbled in displeasure and paused to test the wind. He was downwind of the dogs and the community that was backlit against the shadowy night. He didn’t see

anything special, nothing that suggested this was a community of crazy people. The houses sat on nine-foot pillars, which would protect them in case the bayou flooded, but it was the smaller home set away from the other houses that caught his attention. The scent emanating from it belonged to Colette while the truck parked beneath the house looked to be the same make and model she’d driven earlier that afternoon. Bingo. If he had been in his human form, his smile would’ve made Colette’s knees knock together with nervousness even as it made her

pussy cream. He sneaked closer, staying downwind of the hounds, and rounded Colette’s truck, intent on reaching the stairs leading to the house level when he came face-to- face with a wolf. He and the canine slid to a stop, staring at each other with growing awareness and, on Zach’s side, mounting possessiveness. There was no mistaking the frigid blue eyes of the big wolf, or his pretty red coat. The tiger’s lip curled in disgust, a dangerous growl rumbling in his chest. The wolf, the game warden, had

the nerve to return Zach’s warning growl as though he had every right to be here at Colette’s house. The sound caused the tiger’s hackles to rise and his body to tense. It, along with Zach, wasn’t happy to have this ball-licking, tail-chasing canine at his female’s house. The wolf didn’t belong here, sniffing around Colette, and the tiger would make damn sure the dog knew he wasn’t welcome.

* * * * *

Colette stepped out of the shower, shivering at the cooler air in the bathroom and reached for

her towel, her hands shaky. Rivulets of water streamed over skin gone rosy from a combination of scalding-hot water and a powerful orgasm aided by her detachable showerhead. Her heart slammed against her rib cage as she dried herself, patting at her sensitive skin rather than rubbing briskly the way she normally did. God, she had to stop thinking about Zach or she’d never leave her house. This intense and insane hunger she had for him was not helping her. She wrapped the towel around her torso, tucking the edge under

her arm to hold it in place while she finished the rest of her nightly ablutions. After piling her hair up on the top of her head, she brushed her teeth. Once done, she opened the container of very expensive moisturizer her cousin Kanda had recommended. It would probably surprise the people of Pointe-Aux- Chat to know just how much time she spent moisturizing her skin. With as much time as she spent outside in the elements, she needed as much moisture as she could slap on her face. The constant humidity in the area helped a lot, but it only did so much.

Once she finished basting herself with the moisturizer and then her favorite lotion, she grabbed her brush and strolled out of the bathroom and down the hallway. The house was silent. A welcome change from the way it’d nearly rocked off its pilings earlier. Colette bit back a groan as she flopped on her sofa to brush her hair. Her dad and uncles had called a powwow at her place to discuss the game warden and the baker. She smirked. It sounded like some kind of weird book title, but her smile soon faded because both men were bad news. Just in very

different ways. She pushed thoughts of Zach from her mind, concentrating on a stubborn tangle as she pondered the newest trouble in Pointe-Aux- Chat Parish. The game warden was the bigger threat. There had been pointed interest in the way he watched her and her family, a calculating speculation in his gaze that had nothing to do with suspicions of illegal hunting. With the Schumacher brothers at his side, it just gave her the frissons. And not the kind of frissons she felt when she thought of a certain sexy tiger shifter.

“Dammit.” She bounded off the sofa, the brush falling to the floor as she hurried to her eat-in kitchen and the pitcher of ice-cold water she kept in her fridge. Her water bill was going to be outrageous this month from the number of hot, and cold, showers she’d taken and the gallons and gallons of cold water she’d consumed in the hopes it would douse the fire in her blood. It never worked. She suspected the only thing that would cool her off would be having a certain man between her thighs. Pounding away at her with that big dick. Her

pussy gave a slow, hard clench at the thought. It didn’t matter what she did, or didn’t do, her mind always circled back to Zach and how he made her feel. Colette hefted the pitcher out of the fridge with a groan. She should pour it over her head and be done with it. A couple of droplets hit the tops of her feet and she shivered, some of the desire fading. No, that was okay. She wasn’t couillon enough to douse herself with ice like one of those polar bear club swimmers. She reached for one of her insulated mugs when she heard a low snarl.

The heat between her legs was forgotten at the dangerous threat in the sound. She carefully placed the pitcher on the counter and crept across the house to the front door, not wanting to alert the animal making all the noise. It wouldn’t be the first time a cougar had found its way to her house, or one of the natural black bears that roamed the woods and swamps, and come looking for something to eat. But it didn’t mean she wanted any of them rooting through her trash, tearing shit up. Colette grabbed the BB gun she kept next to the door. She had no

intention of killing anything that might be scavenging for food, but she sure as hell could make its ass hurt. She opened the door, giving silent thanks to her brother Anton who was nearly obsessive- compulsive when it came to squeaking doors. He’d gone after every hinge in her house earlier that evening with a can of lubricant, spraying and spraying until they all opened without a sound. She did a quick check left and right to make sure the animal wasn’t on her porch. As she suspected, it was all clear. Carefully, using the stealth she’d

honed after years of hunting, she eased down the first few steps leading to her carport. The snarling was much clearer now, but as she crept down the stairs, BB gun at the ready, she realized it wasn’t one animal down there, but at least two. Her heart pounded and her palms grew damp as she prayed two bears weren’t about to start fighting. That would require more than the BB gun. She approached the carport level of her house and her mouth dried. The snarls were interspersed with growls and what sounded like scrambling claws. Fuck, they were

fighting. She paused a moment, trying to decide if she should just head back up and get a bigger gun. Then something reddish brown rolled across her line of sight, appearing out from beneath the house and crossing the ground- level landing to her stairs. A wolf. Not indigenous to the area. They had coyotes and sometimes a stray red wolf would pass through, but both canines were half the size of the big fucker she’d just seen. And that meant only one thing. It was a shifter. She shook her head, confusion taking over some of the fear. What

the hell was a wolf shifter doing at her house and what was it fighting? Then she saw a familiar striped body charge after the wolf. She lowered the gun, shock and anxiety swirling inside her. The two shifters disappeared under the house again, a massive ball of fangs, claws and fur. Whatever they were fighting over, it looked as though they had every intention of killing each other. She eased down one more step only to see the wolf latch on to Zach’s throat, his teeth sinking deep. Her breath caught. They were trying to kill each other. Colette

forgot everything but the desperately stupid crush she had for Zach. It didn’t matter that he’d only been amusing himself at her expense, or that her daddy would root for the wolf to finish the tiger off, or that he was being attacked by a strange shifter. It only mattered that she put a stop to it somehow. She lifted the BB gun and aimed, but they were moving too fast for her to get a good bead on the wolf. She couldn’t kill him and not just because her BB gun wouldn’t do any good. Although the wolf was hurting Zach, he was still human.

Sort of. “Shit,” she whispered, the sound not breaking into the intense battle going on beneath her house. The two males—she could tell that much when the wolf flipped over to go after Zach again—rolled right into her truck, which groaned beneath their combined weight. She winced. But before she could shout to get their attention, they rolled in the opposite direction and slammed into one of the beams supporting her house, making the entire structure shudder. Colette’s eyes widened as she stared at the beam that now listed to the side.

They

damn house. Outrage replaced some of her fear. It was fine for him and whomever the damn wolf was to have some kind of pissy shifter fight under her house. What did they care if they were destroying everything she worked hard for? They’d trot back to Maison Rouge and leave her with a disaster. The more she watched them rolling around, hitting her truck, bumping into her boat trailer and repeatedly wrapping each other around the pilings of her home, the angrier Colette grew. But it wasn’t until

her

were

going

to

destroy

they knocked over her crab traps, crushing the fragile wire beneath their heavy asses that she finally had enough. She stomped back upstairs, muttering under her breath, no longer caring if they heard her or not. She almost hoped they did hear her, because then they’d know they were in deep shit. “Goddamn arrogant shifter men,” she mumbled to herself as she stormed into her house. Her eyes shot around the somewhat clean space, looking for something, anything to teach them a lesson. She was so tired of shifter

men thinking because they were “alphas” they could just trot right over everyone, shifter and human. Smug bastards. She could get a shotgun and scare the hell out of them, but she didn’t want to alert her family about their unexpected visitors. For whatever reason, she wanted to keep Zach’s appearance beneath her house a secret and it had nothing to do with the curl of arousal that returned, stronger than ever now that she knew he was here. The house shook again and she became a little more desperate to

find something that would stop the fight. Then the pitcher of ice-cold water snagged her attention. Colette didn’t need a mirror to know her grin was evil because she could feel it. It was full of an unholy glee that would’ve made her cousin, and Our Lady of Angels’ Father François make the sign of the cross and call for an exorcism. The Bayou Ange church might not be as big and fancy as St. Patrick’s in Maison Rouge, but her cousin took his duty to his congregation, and family, seriously. She marched across her house and snagged the sweating pitcher. It

worked to break up fights between domesticated cats and dogs, didn’t it? The ice cubes she’d thrown in before her shower clinked softly against the sides of the pitcher as she carried it across her kitchen and out of her house. Stomping down the steps to the halfway mark, she looked over the shifters still fighting and snarling and throwing fur all over her carport. They were both bleeding, but the more she studied them, the more she realized the wounds were superficial, as though they didn’t want to hurt each other too much. Her blood pressure shot through

the roof. While they didn’t seem to want to kill each other, they didn’t seem to mind destroying the things she used to make her living. The crab traps were flattened mounds of wire and Styrofoam, her battered truck was more battered than before and she was almost positive the piling holding the very center of her house was listing even more than it had a few minutes before. The fuckers. Colette hefted her pitcher and waited for the perfect moment. Condensation from the ice melting in the sticky heat dribbled over her fingers to splatter on the wooden

steps beneath her feet. But still she waited, willing the idiots to roll in her direction. As though they heard her, Zach did a kick with his hind legs she’d seen housecats do, sending the strange wolf hurtling in her direction. Luckily for her, and them, the canine caught himself before he hit the wooden steps. He hopped to his feet and waited for the tiger to come to him, almost as though he was taunting the cat. Zach, of course, answered with a muted snarl. The minute the two males tangled up together right beneath her, Colette leaned over

the railing and emptied the bracingly cold water over both of their hot heads.

* * * * *

Really, he shouldn’t have been enjoying himself so much, but it’d been a while since Zach had a fight as perfectly balanced as this one. While he’d never go so far as to say the wolf was a tough opponent, he would admit that the canine didn’t give up. He outweighed the wolf by at least a hundred pounds, but no matter how many times he swatted the wolf away, the canine would bounce right back to his feet

and come back for more. It was as though he had some stake in the outcome, as though this fight was for a mate. The thought wiped out any feelings of camaraderie he might have felt for the wolf. The ball-licking bastard could just forget about going near Colette. He had no idea how long they fought, only that once in a while he caught the strong, drugging scent of Colette, which only fired his blood even more, fueling his strength when he might have tired. This fight, it was for her. She’d probably never know the lengths he’d go to protect her, to make her

safe and to mark her as his. And that was fine with him. The fight didn’t matter. It was a small step in the direction his tiger demanded he go and Zach was damn tired of fighting the cat. Pinned under the wolf for a moment, he kicked out at his opponent’s belly, flinging him across the carport. Unfortunately, the bastard still didn’t give up, scrambling back to his feet. Zach had to admire the wolf’s spunk. There weren’t many who’d go up against him in his cat form and keep bouncing back like a Weeble. But that didn’t mean he would just

let the wolf taunt him, the way it was doing now. Zach read it in the cold, blue eyes, the clear, smug fuck-you attitude that had kept this fight going longer than normal. He was tired of it. Tired of the fight, tired of this wolf thinking he had some kind of right to be here and he was damn tired of being down here when the luscious woman he smelled was upstairs. He hadn’t come here for this. He’d come here to somehow get that woman in bed, not play with wolves. It was time to end this. Now. Zach launched himself at the

wolf, covering the fifteen feet between them in two bounding leaps. The canine must have

realized this was different because when they clashed, there was a new strength in the animal. They wrapped up in each other, claws digging into fur and skin, fangs extended, muscles straining for supremacy. Battle heat and bloodlust filled the air around them. Someone was going home hu

Ice-cold water rained down on both of them. The shock of the freezing water, complete with chunks of solid, square cubes,

slapping him in the face made him let out a ridiculous squeak. He would have been embarrassed by the sound except the wolf yipped like a puppy spanked with a newspaper. Just like that, the fight was over. He and the wolf separated, shaking and flinging the icy water from their fur. If he had been in his human form, goose bumps would have sprang up all over his body. It was like jumping into a cold shower after being in the sun all day. Sudden, painful and unwelcome. “Now that I have your attention, do you mind getting the fuck off

my property before I call the police? Or my family?” The sweet, husky voice shouldn’t have surprised him. He’d known she was crazy, but now he had proof. She’d stood up to him in the swamp last week and marched through a crowd of predatory shifters as though they were sheep in a petting zoo. But looking up to see Colette Robicheaux standing on the stairs above them in nothing but a towel, a towel that did nothing to hide her lush, pink charms from him since she was above him, left him wondering if crazy wasn’t a good thing after all.

Because she didn’t seem to realize, or care, that she was flashing him and the wolf, that they could see straight up the towel to the lush center of her body. The wolf. Zach shook off his pussy stupor and rounded on the wolf still peering at the delicate petals of Colette’s sex. The cold water had stopped the bloodlust, but it did nothing for the possessive jealousy that raged through Zach. He slammed one massive paw across the wolf’s head, spinning the canine around a hundred and eighty degrees. That was fine with him because it meant he was no

longer looking at Colette. “I swear to God if y’all start fighting again, I’m getting my gun to shoot you both in the ass,” she threatened from above. “Now get the hell out of here.” No, it wasn’t a threat. It was a promise. He heard it in the calm steadiness of her voice. The wolf must’ve recognized it as well. He shot Zach a look promising retribution, but he slinked away from her house, his body low to the ground as though to avoid being seen. Zach stared after the retreating canine. He was glad to see the bastard go, but there had

been something weird about the whole incident, something that— “You can carry your happy ass out of here too,” Colette said, interrupting his thoughts. “I don’t know what the hell you think you’re doing here, but you’re not welcome and I really don’t want to have to shoot at you. Again.” Zach forgot about the wolf’s intentions. If he knew what was good for him, he wouldn’t come sniffing around Colette again. But his tiger purred because in the animal world, any retreat meant the last shifter standing won the prize. He swung his head around to

look at his prize poised on the stairs as though she were some beast master, her lightly muscled arms folded across her chest and her face set in a scowl. The stance, which he supposed was meant to be intimidating, was ruined by the peekaboo show she gave him with her towel and the thick fall of hair spilling over her shoulders. Seeing her like this, her bare skin glistening from her recent shower and the smothering heat, her hair fluffed around her head, Zach felt like a conquering hero. And his prize was the crazy woman eyeing him the way she would a

slug. He sauntered to the foot of the stairs and looked up at her. He wanted her to run, to take this dance to the next level and its natural conclusion—covering her with his body and fucking her into submission. A loud purr rumbled deep in his throat at the thought. Her eyes, those amazing purple eyes, widened when he put one paw on the bottom step. “Don’t even think about it,” she warned in a firm tone. He ignored that and strolled up the stairs as though he had every right to. Which he did by right of

battle. She didn’t back away. Not at first. She threatened him with all sorts of awful things involving her family, guns, knives and his various body parts, but his tiger wasn’t daunted. It heard the breathlessness in her voice and scented the sudden musk of her arousal. In the tiger’s world, the female was supposed to put up a fight, to demand that her possible mate show his worthiness. Colette, human by nature but a predator by choice, was following the mating dance perfectly. When he was four steps below her, she started to back up, the pitcher in one hand and her other

hand on the railing. Her feet were tiny with the cutest little red-tipped toes. He wanted to lick his way from those toes, up her surprisingly long, lean legs until he could nuzzle the tender skin in the crook of her leg, bringing him closer and closer to her sweet cleft. “S-stop,” she stammered. “I’m not playing, Zach. You shouldn’t be here.” He shifted between one step and the next, not even aware of it until she stumbled over the top step, the pitcher falling out of her hand and rolling down the stairs. Zach sidestepped the container, his only

goal the woman watching him with hungry eyes. He swore he could almost feel her gaze like a touch as she looked him over. His cock strained upward, toward her, the crown growing damp when she fixated her stare on it. “Oh,” she breathed and the air thickened with the musk of her arousal. “Um.” “You threw water on me,” Zach said as he stalked her across the porch and into her house, closing the door behind them with a soft click. He didn’t break eye contact with her, not even bothering to look away from her long enough to

glance at the inside of her house. He only needed to find a spot for him to finish this first step of the dance. “You let that wolf look up your towel.” He growled, causing her eyes to widen even more. “I did not!” He backed her up against the arm of her sofa. She stopped with a gasp, but he had her exactly where he needed her. He reached out, his hands itching with the need to touch her skin and when he made contact with her flesh, it was as silky soft as he’d imagined. His dick lurched. This was the moment he’d dreamed about for a week, the feel

and scent and sight of her exactly the way he’d imagined. “Mine,” was all he could say in response to her denial. No wolf was going to look at her again, no other man was going to be able to give her what he could and he’d make damn sure she realized that. Her mouth opened, the indignation in her eyes sparking into the spitting fury he recognized, and enjoyed, so well. “What did you say?” she asked through clenched teeth, her anger burning bright enough that he could feel it. Yeah, he was a sick man, but he found he actually liked her hot

temper and her unpredictability. He liked it enough to repeat his caveman, chest-thumping claim. “Mine. You’re mine.” In a million years, he would’ve never expected her to grab her towel and throw it at his face. He supposed she did it to distract him. And it worked, but probably not the way she intended. The minute he saw her lightly bronzed skin bared, the pale-pink nipples that topped her perky little tits and the smooth, flat plane of her stomach that ended in a little strip of pale- brown hair, he caved. And did as his tiger had been urging him to do

for a week, tackling the swearing, snarling, pissed-off Cajun to her sofa.

Chapter Six

Colette found herself naked and sandwiched between her sofa and a hard, hot place. Oh sure, she’d dreamed of this exact position several times. The position that had her naked thighs wrapped around Zachary Trahan’s naked hips and his big, thick cock pressed tightly to her pussy. She just never realized her dreams were absolute shit compared to the real thing. She hadn’t imagined the hair- roughened body pressing against hers would be a lot different from the nude body of her youthful

lovers. She hadn’t known how satiny-smooth his skin was or how the muscles of his shoulders would feel beneath her hands. She needed to let him go, shove him off her, move away from him before he could lead her into temptation. Except this was a temptation she never thought to touch, to smell, or to be buried beneath. It kind of helped that Zach was also a lot heavier than she was, but she found she liked the weight of him. It made her feel as though she had no control, as though she was being ravaged. Her body thrilled at the thought,

especially when he grabbed her hands, pinning them to the sofa on either side of her head. They stared at each other. His eyes were all sexy and gold and slumberous and trained on her. Not some other woman. Her. The breath caught in her throat as he levered himself over her. He was solid and hot. God, he was hot, scorching her where they were plastered together from chest to hips. The massive erection he sported was even hotter, reminding her why she’d stared and let herself be caught.

his fault. He’d

mesmerized her with his cock, the

It

was

all

subtle bobbing as he climbed the stairs and stalked her, emptying all thoughts of self-preservation from her mind. The man didn’t have a lick of self-consciousness, not that he needed it, but it still awed her. And it was that awe that put her in this position. Captured. Helpless. His for the taking. Her pussy gave a slow clench of excitement. Colette tried to ignore the moisture gathering along her channel, preparing the way for that much man to enter her. There would be no sex, she told her traitorous body. No fucking. No thrusting. No— He leaned down to

kiss the tip of her nose. “Mine.” Colette blinked up at him. She’d heard him right. Did he honestly think that was hot? That she would get off on hearing him say that she belonged to— Zach kissed her cheek. Colette turned her head to the side, not giving him her mouth. She had stuff to say. Important— He kissed his way across her cheek to her ear. He nipped on the lobe, which suddenly seemed to contain a zillion nerve endings and each one of them connected to her pussy. But even the hard, heavy

pounding of her heart couldn’t drown out his growled, “Mine.” Colette closed her eyes as the moist heat of his breath caressed her ear. It was one of the most sensitive spots on her body and he seemed to know it, tracing the outer shell with his tongue. Not licking, barely touching her, he caused her blood to heat up. Her pussy ached. She’d thought he turned her on before, when he was just some man who’d kissed her and appeared in her dreams. She hadn’t known what desire and hunger meant before now. Before he set to tormenting her with her

own body. “My Colette.” Her nipples had tightened when she’d stupidly thrown her towel at his face. Why had she done that again? Oh. Right. She thought it would blind him. If she had breath to spare, she’d snort at her idiocy. He hadn’t even blinked when the towel hit him in the face, his gaze trained on her body. Her very naked, very aroused body. And then wham she found herself here. Under him, with his mouth trailing down her throat, tongue lapping at her skin and his cock leaving a damp trail over her stomach.

“I knew you’d taste like this,” he murmured into the hollow of her throat. “Salty and sweet.” More cream flowed along her channel, her womb contracting hard at his words. His purr reverberated through her entire body. Colette bit back a whimper. She should not be doing this, this… Whatever this was. But her need, the one that had sparked to life when she first saw him at his bakery demanded to be fulfilled. It demanded appeasement. He slid down her body, the wedge of his torso forcing her thighs wider. Her cheeks burned as she realized the

spread lips of her pussy were leaving a line of juices on his

rippled abs. He didn’t seem to care, his mouth nibbling and licking and

Her back arched when he took one of her nipples into his mouth, a strangled whimper catching in her throat. The man was the devil. An absolutely evilly tormenting devil because he released her tight peak before he did more than swirl his tongue around it. “Mine.”

her

whimper this time. Not when his breath washed over her damp

Colette

couldn’t

hide

nipple, making her very aware of what he was doing. He was claiming her. The thought alone should have been enough to snap her out of this, but then he was there again, his mouth taking her, his tongue lashing her. She’d read that before, that some hero in a book gave the heroine a tongue lashing and thought it sounded silly. Maybe it was for others, but with Zach’s tongue flicking and lapping and circling her nipple, Colette found nothing about this silly. It was arousing, amazing, torturous, awful and awesome, but

not silly. And then he left her tormented breast to tease the other neglected peak. She squirmed beneath him, not getting far at all. Her thighs were soaked. She was probably leaking all over his stomach, but there was no helping it. Not when he had her pinned and was going at her like a cat with a bowl of cream. The continuous purring didn’t help either. Not when she could feel it vibrating between her legs. Then he was sliding away from her again, leaving her damp, swollen nipples to the cruel, cool air of her living room. Her arms were free,

but there wasn’t a chance in hell she was going to stop him. In fact, she held her breath, anticipation and excitement and a touch of fear holding her immobile. His weight wasn’t pinning her down any longer. He didn’t need to because she wasn’t going anywhere. Then his mouth left her skin and he was gone. Her eyes popped open. A glance down had her cheeks burning hotter than ever. Zach had made her forget that he’d tackled her to the sofa, that she was naked as a jaybird. His mouth had made her forget she was sprawled in the most

obscene way, her hips propped up on the arm and her legs spread wide, everything on display for him. She should have clamped her knees together faster than you could say “sin”, but the glowing gold eyes staring down at her exposed sex, the dangerous glitter and hectic color riding high on his cheekbones made her feel sexy. Not obscene. As though this was the most natural thing in the world, as though offering her body to him in such a blatant position was the perfect conclusion to the crazy tango they’d been a part of.

So instead of closing her legs, instead of covering herself the way she would have with any other man, Colette lifted her arms over her head and arched her back. Surrendering herself to the man who’d touched her heart without even knowing it.

At what point had he died and gone to heaven? Zach couldn’t say. Maybe he’d fallen down the stairs and broken his neck. Or maybe she really shot him this time, not missing the way she had before. Whatever it was that had brought him to this point, he couldn’t be

sorry. Not when she lay spread before him like a caramel-and- strawberry dessert topped by whipped cream. He stood over her, his cock aching and leaking, his balls tighter than ever, and stared. It was all he could do, the awe nearly overwhelming. When he’d tackled her, her hair had fanned out into a wavy, white cloud around her head, the perfect contrast for her red sofa. Violet eyes had gone black with want after he took his time making her pale nipples bright pink and swollen. Her bronze skin, with the slightest difference in color

showing where she worked in the sun, was flushed and dewy with want. She sprawled over her sofa, her legs spread wide in welcome, the deep-pink of her swollen folds glistening with her juices. It was enough to bring any man to his knees and he was no different. There was a loud crack and distant pain when he dropped to the wooden floor, bringing his hungry gaze level with the heart of her body. He hadn’t stopped purring from the moment he tackled her on the sofa and the sound ramped up louder. The scent of her on his skin, her sticky need

coating his stomach, all of it combined to make Zach and his animal two of the smuggest sons of bitches this side of the Mississippi. Normally, with any other woman, he would’ve eased into tasting her, gentled her to his hand. Because with other women, they were scared of him despite their desire. Not with Colette. All he could smell was her vanilla spicy scent and the strong musk of her arousal. All he could see was the way her body wept. For him. No one else. He wanted to mark her, his gums throbbing with the tiger’s need to sink his fangs right into the

skin of her inner thigh, but he needed her to come first. Needed to make this so good for her she wouldn’t even realize he was keeping her. Zach pushed the annoying thought away. His tiger was talking crazy again, something they didn’t need right now. Not with that beautiful, wet cleft beckoning his mouth, his tongue. Placing a hand on either side of her pussy, he leaned forward and tasted her without preamble. He made a hungry, desperate sound in the back of his throat as he curled his tongue from the entrance of her

wet cunt to the swollen pearl of her clit. Salty and sweet, his Colette was like a cool glass of water on a hot summer day. The more he had, the more he wanted, lapping at her, tasting her, drinking her down like a man dying of thirst. And maybe he had been until now. All he knew was that the taste of Colette was better than anything he’d ever baked, anything he’d ever tried. He devoured her, nipping, lapping, licking and sucking, oblivious to everything but her unique flavor. He curled his tongue into her cunt, scooping her

delicious arousal into his mouth before he circled her tight little nubbin. Over and over, tracing a traveling figure eight with his mouth to make certain he didn’t miss a single square inch of her. Her cries were vague sounds he heard over his constant purring and growling. Her hands tugging at his hair spurred him to take more, to slide two of his fingers into the tight clutch of her pussy.

her

muscles nearly snapping his questing, searching fingers in half.

The pleasure she gave him, the delicious taste of her, to see her

“Zach!”

she

screamed,

flushed, damp face tightened into a frown of concentration had him forcing his eyes open all for the joy of watching her. Her white teeth sank into her bottom lip as she tugged and pulled on her nipples, tormenting the peaks to a darker color. He curled his fingers inside her cunt, searching for that special spot, and rubbed. She screamed again, more of her delicious moisture soaking his fingers and running down his hand. He growled, lapping up every drop, his own arousal put on the back burner. He wanted to make her come again and again, until he’d

wrung so much pleasure from her that she would never look at another man, until he was so entrenched in her body that it would respond only to him. He went to another place in his mind, his only thoughts to make Colette need him as much as he needed her. Nothing mattered as much as that. As much as making her realize she was his. When she came down from the orgasm, he brought her back up again. Orgasm after orgasm until they seemed to roll right into one another. His gaze trailed up the graceful

arch of her body to her flushed face. To her parted lips that panted and moaned and cried out his name, to the damp eyelashes trembling on her cheeks. Beautiful. How could he have ever thought she wasn’t? She was exotic and gorgeous, and oh so his. Zach shoved the goddamn tiger away again, not wanting the distraction, but the animal’s unwelcome thoughts helped center him. Colette’s face was twisted in an expression of tortured pleasure, her knuckles showing white where she gripped the sofa. Her tiny breasts with their flushed peaks,

rose and fell as though she’d run a marathon. Sweat glistened on her skin, giving it the appearance of sugar sprinkled over chocolate. Beautiful. He pressed a gentle kiss to her mound, the scent of her seeping into his pores, and rested his chin on his pussy. His pussy. Some of his urgency had fled during his exploration of Colette’s body. Sure, he couldn’t wait to be inside her, couldn’t wait to feel what it was like to have her tight cunt wrapped around him, squeezing his dick until his eyes rolled to the back of his head, until he wished he could

die from pleasure. But it wasn’t as important as soothing her, as necessary as bringing her down gently and easily. His hands stroked over her smooth, silken skin, not to arouse, but to relax. She was so soft on the outside, but the more he touched her legs, her stomach and ass, her back, the more Zach felt the strength of her lithe body. She was human, but she was strong. She was female, yet she evened the playing field against a predator with fangs and claws. It was sexy as all fuck. Without knowing how long it

took for her breathing to even out, for her shuddering and quivering to stop, Zach did something he’d never done before. He thought of someone else. He gently cared for her, tended to her until she quieted again. His cock was still hard, his balls still ached, but this wasn’t about him. It was about her, this hard woman who drove him insane. He smiled against her thigh, not really caring that his legs were falling asleep. This was something new and exciting and unbearably sexy. It was intimate and theirs.

When

he

heard

a

delicate,

unexpected

sound,

he

lifted his

head from where he’d rested it against her mons, breathing in her scent, reveling in it. A guarded glance showed her eyes were closed, her face relaxed. Sleeping. She let out another soft snore. Zach frowned down at her. Should he be insulted she’d fallen asleep? Offended? Flattered? He chose the latter. She wasn’t the kind of woman who’d let her guard down for just anyone. She had the suspicious squint and quick trigger finger of someone who shot first and asked questions later. So yeah, he was going with flattered that she could sleep with him here,

that she’d let him touch and taste her until she couldn’t take any more. Zach glanced at his dick, still hard, still hopefully pointed at the object of his lust. “Sorry,” he muttered to the poor, neglected shaft. Shaking his head at himself, he stood, stifling a wince as the blood returned to his calves and feet. He must’ve gorged himself on her for — He looked for a clock and winced. Nearly an hour. He’d gone down on her for nearly a whole hour, wringing orgasm after orgasm from her with little care for

anything but tasting her. A grin tugged at his mouth and if anyone else had been in the room with them, they would’ve seen his chest puff out just a bit. Yeah, he was damn proud he’d eaten this hard woman into a near coma. She didn’t move a muscle when he scooped her into his arms, lifting her with no problem. Her limp body settled against his chest, her head coming to rest on his shoulder. All that silky blonde hair floated over his naked skin, trailing down to tickle his ribs. As tough as his Colette was, she had some soft spots, he was coming to realize. Her

long hair, her painted toenails, smooth, silky skin that smelled like rich vanilla and spice all pointed to a woman who was more than the gun she wielded. Even her home was softer than he would’ve imagined. Now that he wasn’t blinded by lust, he saw she’d decorated it with flair and drama using bright, bold colors completely at odds with her camouflage-wearing self. The scarlet sofa was the focal point of the entire living room that had dark mahogany bookshelves packed with paperbacks, a blinding-white love seat, abstract paintings all

made a living area that looked as though it belonged in an apartment loft in a big city, not in the swamp. Interesting. His tiger wanted to explore more, but first he needed to get his tired female to bed. Zach carried his light burden down a door-lined hallway. He felt absolutely no shame in opening each door to see what kind of room it guarded and to sniff each one, making sure it didn’t conceal another male’s scent. What he found was a guest bathroom, two guest rooms and what was obviously Colette’s hunting room. She had three gun cabinets lining

one wall, a desk opposite with maps nearly wallpapering the room. Zach had no doubt if he opened the closet, he’d see nothing but camouflage. Strange how that turned him on. He eyed her speculatively, wondering if she wore camo undies when she went hunting. His cock definitely liked the idea. A cute camo thong and matching bra he could tear off with his teeth before he fucked her against a tree. He swallowed a pained whimper as his dick gave another pulse of want. He ignored the ache, nearly running out of the room of temptation.

The last door though, the one at the end of the hall, was the one that made his tiger purr, made him want to roll over the bed to capture her scent on every inch of his skin. But her bed didn’t look big enough for him. He’d have to see about fixing that, but until then, they’d just have to get real close. He placed her in the center of the queen-sized mattress and pulled the cool sheet over her body. She sighed softly, turning on her side toward him, curling into a little ball. He looked around at the blatantly feminine room, at the pale-pink touches that almost

matched her nipples, at the lingerie spilling out of her dresser drawers. He gulped down deep breaths of her spicy-sweet scent. Colette was a definite surprise. One he couldn’t wait to explore. Now that he had her settled, at least for a little while, he began to poke around her house, exploring everything about Colette. The pictures on the walls and shelves in every room spoke of a woman who loved her family. The diplomas on the walls left him feeling like an idiot. This woman who spoke with a flat Cajun accent, who hunted and conducted tours in the

swamps, had graduated summa cum laude from Loyola University with a Bachelors of Science degree. And as if that wasn’t enough, there were awards for marksmanship. The woman could’ve killed him if she’d wanted. She knew anatomy and could shoot the center of a dime out at fifty yards. That she hadn’t was all the evidence he needed to prove she liked him. The thought left him with a bounce in his step as he continued exploring the house. He peered in her fridge to see she had nothing in it. He frowned, recalling the ladder of ribs he’d felt under his hand as

he carried her to her bedroom. She didn’t eat enough. A quick peek in her cabinets showed boxed foods and her freezer held frozen dinners he wanted to toss in the trash before she could heat them up. He shook his head in disgust even as he admired her beautiful range. It was brand new and looked as though it’d never been used. Going by the lack of raw ingredients in her kitchen, it was obvious the woman needed someone to take care of her. He returned to her bedroom to see her sleeping peacefully. He had enough time to put his plan into motion before he woke her up. He

pressed a quick kiss to her forehead, inhaling her scent. “Don’t go anywhere,” he whispered as he straightened next to the bed. Feeling absolutely no shame, he took her keys off the rack next to the door, discovered which one went to her house, locked up and shifted with the keys in his mouth. He then spent a good twenty minutes marking his territory. Only when the whole area was saturated with his scent did he leave. The half-hatched plan in his mind solidified as he hurried back to his car and the box of condoms he kept in his glove compartment.

When

Colette

woke,

she

wouldn’t know what hit her.

* * * * *

“I told you she was nothing but trouble.” The sulky words, accompanied by a full pout by a grown man were enough to make him grimace. Once he left Colette’s house, he’d met up with the Schumacher brothers at some hidey-hole they had in the swamp. At first Roscoe thought the meeting would be in the coveted ceremonial area, except he was doomed to be mightily disappointed tonight. He should

have known better. He would’ve preferred meeting directly with the big boss after all this time, of putting a face with the voice he’d taken orders from for the last four months, but instead he’d been stuck with these morons. They had nothing worth saying, nothing of note to give him other than ignorant observations they made. They’d contacted the group via a convoluted chain and somehow gotten to the right person, which meant the boss told Roscoe to come out here. In the middle of fucking nowhere, yet he was strangely okay with that

because he had a feeling everything he’d been working for was coming to fruition. He’d finally take part in the hunt. He just had to get through spending time with Antoine and Vernon. How he’d ended up working with this pair of idiots was beyond him, but here he was, following orders as usual. He forced his eyes away from the sullen faces of the Schumacher brothers, his wolf insulted to be near them. It was a proud animal and it was also a very pissed-off animal after that fight with the tiger. Yet another disappointment

he’d have to get over tonight. He considered the brawl a draw. Later, when things weren’t so urgent, he’d go back for a rematch. But right now he had things to do, a woman to draw into a trap and a point to prove to the world. He scrubbed a hand over his jaw as he recalled his last sight of Colette Robicheaux. She didn’t fit the description he’d been given before he ever arrived in Pointe-Aux-Chat Parish. She wasn’t some veritable Amazon, some beast of a human female who stood eye-to-eye with male bear shifters, a woman with leathery skin and hair like straw

from a life of working outside the way he’d been told. She was none of those things. Colette was barely five foot two. Her hair was pale, but not white with age. Her skin was dark from genetics, but glowed with health and youth. Her eyes were eerily pale, but then so were his. And she had a nice body. He’d gotten a very good look at her body from his spot on the ground with her standing over him. If circumstances were different, if his purpose here were different, he might have approached her for something other than his plan. He might have

tried to tempt her to play with the big bad wolf.

did have a plan and it

didn’t involve finding out if the Cajun woman liked it doggy style. “She’s the one?” he asked the idiots who’d called his boss. “That little woman?” Vernon, the smarter of the Schumacher brothers, which wasn’t saying much, growled, his muddy- brown eyes glowing yellow for a brief moment. “She ain’t what she seems.” He muttered something in French under his breath. “She’s a hunter,” Vernon said when Antoine nudged him.

But he

And with those words, the jackal shifter sealed Colette’s fate. While he might doubt her danger to these two idiots, even the man known as Roscoe could see there was something dangerous lurking under the small human’s skin. It was in her witchy eyes and the way she walked, as though she didn’t fear anything. Unfortunately for her, Roscoe was something she needed to learn to fear. Because with one phone call, the call he was making right now, Colette Robicheaux’s life would change and it wouldn’t be for the

better.

Chapter Seven

The smell of food and the insistent growling of her stomach dragged Colette from the hottest, most erotic dream she’d ever had. It blew all the others out of the water with its attention to detail. Zach, if her fantasies were to be believed, had a very talented tongue he enjoyed using on hapless females. Her body ached and throbbed with desire, but it was muted, as though she’d come so many times her hormones were overworked and fully sated. Like a tick about to burst.

Colette’s eyes popped open. A glance around told her she was in her bedroom and everything looked exactly the same, but the delicious aroma wafting from the doorway beckoned. Had she left something in the oven overnight? Or had someone broken into her house to…cook? She shook her head. Impossible. She would’ve heard it if someone broke in. Maybe her mom had brought her breakfast? She glanced at the clock. It wasn’t even midnight yet. No way in hell would her mom be out so late. Her heart skipped several beats as another possibility

intruded. One that involved a man with sultry gold eyes and a body to die for. No, it’d been a dream. There was no way Zach was in her house cooking. There was no way he’d buried his face between her legs and feasted on her like a starving man until she’d passed out. No way. But thoughts attempted to surface along with realizations. Like, she was completely naked. There wasn’t a stitch of clothing between her and her sheets. That meant nothing, she rationalized. She sometimes slept naked, especially when she got sunburned,

but she hadn’t been burned yet. That would happen over gator season. The next thing that caught her attention was her hair. It was loose. She never left it loose when she slept. It was so long and got so insanely wavy, she had to braid it before she went to bed to avoid tangles. Yet, she hadn’t done that tonight. And she didn’t remember coming to bed at all. All she remembered was— Her eyes widened. Had it been real? She let out a breathless laugh and shook her head. No, of course not. Men didn’t just eat a woman out until she fell

asleep and put her to bed without getting anything in return. Except when she bolted up in her bed and swung her legs over the edge of the mattress, her thighs screamed. But her inner muscles didn’t feel stretched or sore. The discomfort was isolated to her inner thighs, which didn’t fit with full-on hard, fast sex. A flash of memory, of her sprawled on her sofa with her legs spread wide, her hips propped on the sofa arm, nearly fired her circuits. Heat scorched up from her womb straight to her face. She slapped her hands to her cheeks and closed her eyes.

“Oh. My. God,” she whispered into the quiet of her room.

to eat while it’s

hot, you should come on out,” someone, a man, called from the direction of her kitchen. Colette paused, every muscle in her body tensing at the unexpected sound of someone else in her house. No, not someone else. A man… Zach? She didn’t know. She hadn’t heard him talk enough to know his voice right off the bat, but whoever he was, he hadn’t been invited. Habit had her reaching out to the .40 caliber she kept in her nightstand. The sheet threatened to

“If you want

take her to the ground when she stood, so she tossed it off and crept across the room to the basket of clothes she hadn’t gotten around to folding and putting away. She placed the handgun on the pile so she could clothe herself, grabbing the first thing that came to hand. Luckily it was one of her cousin’s old shirts and fell to mid-thigh when she pulled it over her head. Partially clothed and ready to take care of whomever might be in her house, she picked up the gun again and slipped down the hall. The door to her hunting-slash- home office was ajar, but she didn’t

sense anything suspicious. It should have pissed her off. Normally it would have, except judging by the way her heart skipped several beats and her breathing quickened, she wasn’t angry so much as excited. She almost snorted at herself. Excited. Yeah, that was an understatement. If that was Zach in her kitchen, she wasn’t sure what she’d do. Fall to her knees in worship for the amazing orgasms? Shoot him for real this time because he’d ruined her for any other man? Maybe throw herself in his arms and declare her love? She stopped just a few steps

away from the end of the hallway where it met the living room. The man moving around her kitchen made no attempt at disguising his sounds. There was the soft clang of something being placed in the sink. The quiet rasp of skin over hardwood floor as he moved from the cabinets to the fridge and back again. “Well? Are you coming or not?” There was a taunt in the voice, clear as a bell and without even turning the corner Colette knew she’d see Zach rummaging around her kitchen. She tugged on the hem of her t-shirt with her free hand,

sucked in a deep breath before straightening her shoulders and rounding the doorway. But he wasn’t rummaging in her kitchen. Instead, he leaned against her counter, his arms crossed over his chest, which did nothing to hide his erect cock and muscled body. He should have looked funny standing in her kitchen, naked as the day he was born, but even though he wasn’t dressed in his chef’s coat, didn’t have his longish hair hidden by a bandana, wasn’t surrounded by assistants and his stainless-steel appliances, he looked as if he owned the space. The sexy

smirk on his face, the one she’d known was there, faded when he caught a glimpse of her and his arms fell to his sides as he pushed away from the counter. “Do you go everywhere with a gun?” he asked as he stalked toward her. “I know you don’t sleep with one under your pillow.” Her heart didn’t skip a beat. It flat out stopped and she felt the color leave her face at the realization that he had been moving around her house while she slept. Around her bedroom. The color she’d lost returned in full force. He had to have seen her toys.

The many toys she’d purchased and enjoyed over the years were carefully placed in areas where they wouldn’t be immediately seen, but Zach was a tiger and she imagined he had a cat’s curiosity. Colette was so lost in her horrified thoughts, she didn’t realize Zach was next to her until he plucked at her baggy t-shirt. “Do you like this shirt?” She shook her head and blinked. “What? Yes, of course I do. I’m wearing it, aren’t I?” He circled her, but she spun around to keep him in her sights. It wasn’t much of a hardship considering a naked Zach

in motion was the sexiest thing she’d ever seen. But that wasn’t important at the moment, right? She totally needed to ignore the tingling in her pussy and find out what he thought he was doing in Bayou Ange. In her house, more specifically. Dragging her admiring gaze away from his flexing ass, she looked into his face. “Why are you here?” Gold eyes scanned her bare legs with appreciation. “I’d think that’s obvious.” Gawd. Her face felt as though it were going to explode from the force of the blood rushing to it. She

was embarrassed, turned-on and a little pissed. She drew herself to her full five foot two and a half inches and planted her free hand on her hip. The other still clutched the gun, although she kept it pointed at the floor. For now. “What the fuck does that mean?” Colette demanded in a near growl. If he thought just because she’d…let him give her a half dozen orgasms in one night that it meant he could expect to get full-on sex… well, he was probably right. But it would have been nice if he—

said,

breaking into her internal rant. He

“I

was

cooking,”

he

spoke it so simply, as though it were perfectly natural for him to cook for the women he’d tongue- fucked into a coma that she didn’t know how to respond. He plucked at the sleeve of her shirt again. “Where’d you get this?” She slapped at his hand with a frown, still slowly turning to keep him in her sights. She was starting to get a little dizzy, but it was better than having him at her back. Even if part of her wanted him to toss her on the table and fuck her hard and fast. Her stomach gave a slow, hungry clench that had nothing to do with the delicious smells in the

kitchen and everything to do with the tiger shifter eyeing her like a wounded gazelle. “My cousin left it here after we went froggin’ one night. Why? You have a problem with it?” But he seemed to lose interest in the shirt because he shrugged, ending his circuit around her by heading for the stove where pots and pans she hadn’t even realized she owned sat on burners. “Sit down so you can eat,” he said over his shoulder. She didn’t of course. This was her house. But the way Zach reached into the correct cabinet for

a plate and began loading it with

food, she began to wonder exactly how much time he’d spent going through it. And how was she supposed to think about food when

she was staring at his ass? Watching

it flex and bunch with every move

he made? Or the long, muscled lines of his legs when he shifted from one foot to the other? Or— He turned around and his cock pointed directly at her. Again. Her heart fluttered with excitement and want. The logical Colette, the one who knew Zach being in her house was a bad thing, tried to tamp down the arousal.

“What are you doing here?” she asked again as he approached her with a heaping plate of food. It looked delicious and her stomach growled. “Right now, I’m feeding the hungry beast in your stomach,” he said easily, bypassing her to put the plate on the table. Colette allowed herself to relax since his back was to her, but before she could do more than squeak, Zach spun around and snatched her off her feet. In a split second she found herself perched on his lap, her gun clattering to the tabletop. She gasped, her head lifting, and

stared directly into his gorgeous eyes, which were only inches away from hers. The look in them, hungry and devious, sent a quiver of awareness through her. If she hadn’t recognized the need in them, the hard column of his cock pressing into her hip would’ve told her exactly what he planned to do. But just in case she still didn’t understand, he told her. “Later, I’m going to feed an entirely different beast,” he whispered against her lips. He pressed a quick kiss to her mouth and pulled away. “Now eat.” Stunned from that brief moment

of contact, a kiss that reminded her too easily of what he’d done to her on her sofa, how he’d turned her anger into arousal, Colette looked away from him and at the plate of food he pulled closer to them. Two thick, fluffy pancakes sat at the center, surrounded by a moat of berries. Sliced strawberries nestled between blackberries and raspberries in a neat circle around the pancakes, which were golden perfection. Her stomach yowled. Zach reached out and sorted through the berries, rejecting several before he plucked a plump blackberry from the pile. Then he

held it up to her mouth. Colette reared back in surprise, her gaze flying to his. He wanted to feed her? He traced her bottom lip with the berry, letting it drag across her skin, the heat in his eyes requesting —no, demanding entrance. Her stomach twisted with the abundance of butterflies that had taken up residence there. Without thinking, she gave him access, opening her mouth for him. Satisfaction gleamed in the gold depths of his eyes as he placed the ripe berry on her tongue. Colette reflexively closed her mouth and captured his fingers between her

lips in a suckling kiss. His pupils dilated, the black swallowing the gold until only a thin ring remained and a deep purr rumbled in his chest. Unable to help herself, caught in the intense sensual pull he had, she flicked her tongue over the tips of his fingers in a shy caress. The movement caused the berry to burst, combining the salty taste of Zach’s skin with the tartness of the fruit, her eyes closing from the tart flavor.

“You

have

a

nice

kitchen

for

someone

who

doesn’t

cook,”

he

said conversationally. Colette opened her eyes again to

see a smile flirting with his sinful lips. “I’m not good at it,” she confessed. “My mama tried to teach me, but I preferred being on the water or in the woods with my dad and cousins.” He placed a slice of strawberry on her tongue, his fingers stroking her bottom lip and leaving a trail of fire behind. “You’re close to your dad, huh?” She would’ve responded to that, but he popped a raspberry in her mouth when she opened it. “So what do you do at the tour company?” Between bites of succulent berries he kept pressing on her,

Zach slowly drew out information about her. She told him about the Bayou Ange Swamp Tours, how her dad had started it when he returned from college and brought his brothers in with him. How she’d grown up with a true love for the beauty of Pointe-Aux-Chat Parish and had gone to school to study biology so she could have a better understanding of her surroundings. She told him how her parents met, that her mom was a third-generation Haitian whose twin sister married a clouded leopard shifter and lived in New Orleans. She told Zach everything

he wanted to know without even meaning to and in doing so, she learned more about him as well. “How did you end up becoming a baker?” she asked when he was busy searching for another “perfect” berry. Since there were only a few left, she figured he was stalling. He shrugged, the purring growing softer for a moment before starting up again when he looked at her with another raspberry pinched between his fingers. He fed it to her, his eyes on her lips. “I came to live with my grandmother when I was four. My mom wanted nothing

to do with a kid, so she dropped me off and that was the last time I saw her.” He shrugged again and reached out to pull a small covered bowl toward him. “Mamaw had the bakery, which had been in the Trahan family for over a hundred years. Since Mom was her only child and had no interest in it, she taught me the recipes that have been passed down for generations.” She watched his hand as he broke off a piece of pancake and dipped it in what appeared to be some kind of homemade syrup. He held the dripping cake up to her mouth. Colette opened obediently

and the tartly sweet flavor of blackberries exploded on her tongue. She closed her eyes with a soft moan as the butter from the cake mingled with the berries. It was…she couldn’t even think of the right word for it, her mind too busy buzzing with delight to think properly. Zach continued, his words nearly drowned out by the food ecstasy humming through her body. “I knew the bakery would be mine, so I worked hard at learning, went to school and then studied abroad for a couple of years before taking over for Mamaw. She died

about three years after I got back from Europe and I’ve been running the bakery ever since.” His tone gave no hint of his feelings on the matter, but the purring stopped completely. “I started the catering business a few years ago and that’s it.”

She continued eating what he fed her, but she chewed over her thoughts more than the food, her heart aching for him. His mother had left him to go roaming and his grandmother, the only mother he really knew, had died leaving him alone. Colette couldn’t imagine being alone, couldn’t imagine not

having the safety net of her family ready to catch her when she fell. That he had no one but himself did something to her, made her hurt for him and want to wrap him in her arms and give him all the love he’d been missing. He popped another bite of blackberry-soaked pancake into her mouth, but she didn’t chew right away. She couldn’t because her mouth was suddenly so dry she wasn’t sure she could swallow. That was the second time the word love had come to mind involving him. Which was ridiculous. She didn’t know enough about him to

be in love. In lust, yes, because he was a sexy motherfucker, but that was all. She ignored the little voice in the back of her mind that insisted on reminding her of the stories every Robicheaux man had about the first time they met their wives. Love at first sight had been mentioned more than once. Lightning strikes, dumbstruck and struck stupid were more commonly used when it came to how they described their first meeting with their wives. It was something of a family tradition to love fast, hard and forever. Colette just never thought it

would happen to her. She peeked up at him as he surveyed the plate with a frown and her body melted. No, it wasn’t love. Not yet at least, but it could be. If Zach stuck around, if he continued to be as irresistibly sexy as he was now, all without trying, she’d find herself falling for him. Hard. It was a scary thought, even scarier when she knew the chances of him returning the sentiment were slim to none. “What are you doing here?” she asked him yet again. His gaze shifted from the plate to her face. She tried to tell herself it was a trick of the light, that there

was nothing beyond sexual heat in his eyes, but when he looked at her, she saw something more than lust shadowing his gaze. Was it love? No, but it was affection. “I’m here because I can’t stay away.”

The surprise in her eyes equaled the surprise in his brain. Had he really said that? The way her face softened and her arm slipped around his back to hug him told him yes. Yes, he’d just confessed something he would’ve preferred to keep to himself a little longer. At least until he was more comfortable

with the weird emotions driving him to be with her. Zach didn’t deal in deep emotions. He liked his life simple and uncomplicated. He saved the messes for his kitchen because they were easier to clean up.

But when she slipped one of her arms around his back and pressed her cheek to his chest in a one- armed hug that had nothing to do with sex and everything to do with a budding friendship, he froze for a moment, stiff in her hold. He didn’t want to be friends with Colette. He wanted to fuck her, to burrow so deeply inside her that the affection

she felt for her family would warm the colder corners of his life. Which was stupid. He didn’t need anyone, never had. Even his grandmother had ceded to his independence, knowing it didn’t do any good to hold a tiger down, or attempt to. Yet Colette’s arm around him in a platonic hug warmed him in a way nothing else had for a very long time. It was almost like an acceptance. She wasn’t asking anything of him, didn’t say she was sorry for his childhood or any of the things he imagined women would say. She gave him her silent support and he appreciated it the

same way he couldn’t help but admire her appetite. Nothing made him feel better than to know his food filled her belly and that she enjoyed it. He didn’t think she was even aware of the sounds of pleasure she made in the back of her throat as she ate, or the way she wiggled slightly in his lap when she wanted the next bite. It’d wreaked havoc on his control until they’d started talking about him. Zach didn’t want to think about feelings and things like affection or possibly obsession—there was no way he’d ever use the L-word in conjunction

with anyone. Especially a human who didn’t understand the importance of mating. No, this was an anomaly, sex with affection and maybe friendship. He could do that. He’d never tried being friends with a woman he fucked before, but he figured that was better than just being a friend. His tiger began purring again, forgetting about the food he’d been gently placing in her mouth, forgetting about messy emotions and things he’d rather not think about. It was busy inhaling her sweet vanilla scent, feeling the soft press of her breasts against his

chest. She was tiny compared to him and fragile, but she’d come out of the hallway with her gun and fire in her eyes. His tiger had thought only one thing at the time and that was “What a woman”. Now though, Zach’s attention switched from food to sex. His cock had finally deflated for the first time the entire night and all it’d taken was the thought of his absent mother and dead grandmother to do it. Now though, oh now Mini Zach swelled to life, pushing into the soft hip nestled in his lap. He held his breath, certain she’d leap away from him in disgust because

this didn’t seem like the right moment for him to get a hard-on. But she didn’t move away. Her warm breath washed over the light dusting of hair on his chest, which seemed to be connected to his balls because the puff of air sent a tingle south. Then she kissed his nipple. Zach’s gaze dropped to the woman nestled against his chest, his heartbeat kicking up a notch when he saw her cloud of white-blonde hair spread across his skin. His dick pulsed in excitement even as she brushed her lips over his nipple yet again, velvet softness against the slowly hardening nub.

“Colette,” he rasped, his hands tightening on her. He wasn’t sure how much he could take. If she was just trying to soothe him, it wasn’t working. He had a split second to feel hot, moist air before she latched on to the suddenly sensitive peak and suckled. Zach cursed under his breath, one of his hands sliding up to sink into her hair. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to pull her away or hold her closer, but when her tiny pink tongue began to work his flesh in a perfect mimicry of what he’d done to her a few hours earlier, he decided to enjoy it. For as long as

he could. But allowing her to initiate sex didn’t mean he couldn’t help. He kept one hand on her head, holding her close even as his other hand slid up her silky thigh, under the hem of the t-shirt to cup the round curve of her ass. His tiger purred louder at the contact, his fingers kneading the surprisingly generous flesh while she suckled and nipped at his skin. The scent of her arousal, the sweet musk he wanted to roll around in, thickened the air around them. Zach’s heart pounded like a jackhammer as his fingers slid along the silken crevice of her ass

until he encountered the slick folds of her sex. She moaned against his skin as he traced her slit, her teeth sinking into his flesh. Her hands came up to grip his shoulders, blunt fingernails digging deep as she squirmed on his lap, her legs separating as though to invite him inside. His dick started leaking, leaving trails of dampness on her hip. He was going to come without ever making it inside her, but he wasn’t even sure he cared. He knew he’d get it up again after a very short reprieve. Colette was like Viagra and an aphrodisiac rolled into one.

Then she began to slide off his lap. Zach let out a snarl, not happy with her moving until he realized she was sliding between his legs. The tiger liked that image a lot and quickly bit off the animalistic sound. The man, however, nearly discovered what it was like to have a heart attack. Seeing Colette, the tough woman who seemed to live with a gun in her hand, on her knees between his legs, her hair a thick curtain around her tanned face and her witchy eyes trained on his cock, was enough to make any man weak in the knees. “You did so much for me

earlier,” she said absently, her hands stroking his thighs. “But you didn’t take anything for yourself.” Hungry eyes met his, striking him dumb. “It’s my turn.” Holy shit, yes! Did he say that out loud? She wasn’t staring at him as though he’d grown a second head, so no, he hadn’t. But he wanted to. Especially when she captured the base of his cock in her strong hands. Stacked one on top of the other, they still weren’t long enough to cover his entire length, but a slow, strong stroke upward managed to touch every square inch of sensitive skin. Then when

she leaned forward and lapped at the crown, cleaning up every drop of pre-cum, Zach had to grip the edges of his chair to keep from snatching her off her knees and fucking her senseless. But Colette was the one who seemed determined to drive him insane, using her hands and her tongue to go at him like a woman trying to catch a dripping ice-cream cone on a hot summer’s day. She lapped, she licked, she nibbled and she stroked, working him from base to tip and back down, over and over but never once did she take him into her mouth. It was a tease,

her parted lips skimming along his length, her heated gaze trained on his face as though gauging his reaction. It wasn’t until he thought the top of his head would blow off that she finally wrapped those lips around his dick and took him as far as she could. Zach’s eyes rolled to the back of his head and his entire body shook from the need coursing through him. His tiger was of the mind that now was as good a time as any to tell her she belonged to him forever and ever. This bliss, this tormenting pleasure she gave him with her little, inexperienced

suckles was better than anything he’d ever had with the many women he’d been with. It was because of her, because it was Colette. Tough, hard Colette with soft lips and an innate ability to drive him out of his mind. She didn’t draw on him as though she were trying to suck his brains right through his dick, it was more of a soft draw, her tongue working the underside of his cock as she stroked upward with her hand. He groaned appreciatively, his hands leaving the seat of his chair to tangle in her long, soft hair. Every movement of her head had

the strands tickling his thighs, brushing his calves and stroking his stomach. “God, baby,” he moaned when she swirled her tongue around his crown again. “God yes. Yes.” His balls were drawn tight, the tingling at the base of his spine growing stronger the more she worked his flesh. He wanted to hold out, to enjoy the moment, to draw out the anticipation. But it seemed his sly little Cajun woman knew more than she let on because just when he thought he might have been able to hold off his climax, she gently scraped her teeth

along his length. The scent of her arousal was thick enough to taste and his mouth watered. Eating her out, having her come over and over on his tongue had been a pleasure unlike any other. She gave another slow draw on his dick that numbed his brain. He wanted to come, wanted to selfishly enjoy the moment, but he needed something more. Without giving it further thought, or stopping to wonder if he was thinking rationally, Zach swept his arm over the table, tossing everything to the floor. The warm suction around his dick

disappeared as Colette lifted her head with a strangled gasp. But he was too far gone to put into words what he wanted. Sliding his hands beneath her arms, he lifted her off the floor and plopped her onto the table. She looked so surprised, so shocked, if he would’ve been in his right mind, he would’ve smiled. As it was, all he could think was he needed her pussy and he needed it now. The condoms, though, were in another room. Next to her bed in fact because that’s where he’d put them when he returned. He stood, eyeing her. He was

too damn impatient to get them and playing Russian roulette with her eggs wasn’t something he would ever do. Although the tiger liked that thought, wanted his seed to bathe her womb, to mark her from the inside out and do it over and over again until it found fertile ground. Zach pushed the images of Colette round with his cub away. That was something for him to think about a lot later. Like with a full bottle of whisky. He studied the table. It was sturdy enough to hold him. An old farmhouse-style piece that could withstand weight and time. He sat

next to Colette, dropped flat on his back and grabbed her. She squeaked and said something as he positioned her over his face. The hem of her shirt had ridden up, giving him a perfect view of her slick, swollen cleft and the round, golden curve of her ass. “Zach!” she exclaimed in a breathless voice that throbbed with excitement. “What are you doing? We’re too heavy for the tab—” He pulled her hips down and buried his tongue in her dripping cunt. She sucked in a loud breath, her entire body going tense from shock. But her pussy creamed for him, the

thick honey of her arousal coating his tongue. “Oh. Oh God!” His tiger purred, glad to have her where it wanted her most, her scent filling his nose until it was all he could smell, her sweet, tart flavor flooding his mouth and causing his taste buds to contract in delight. He began to purr against her spread nether lips, his tongue searching out her cream before he lapped at the taut bud of her clit. His dick pulsed with excitement, but that was nothing compared to what happened when he felt her warm breath wash across the sensitive tip.

He stroked one hand up her back, pushing her shirt until it wadded beneath her armpits. Silky, warm skin, a beautiful woman sitting on his face, her pussy giving him all the cream he could possibly eat and her little mouth lapping at his dick. Had any man ever been so lucky? Even when she awkwardly tongued his cock, her panting moans vibrating along his length, it was better than anything he’d experienced with any other woman. But once she caught on to this new position, the one that would allow them both to tease and

torment and race to completion, Zach knew Colette was his perfect partner. She gave as good as she got, tortured him even as he tortured her to the point she cried out against his dick, which in turn made him groan and purr against her clit. The back and forth, the give and take was what he’d always wanted but never had. She wasn’t scared of not pleasing him, of not telling him what she wanted. When she ground her pussy harder against his mouth, he took his cue from her and scraped his teeth along her clit. Zach growled, the tingling at the

base of his spine warning him that his climax wouldn’t hold off much longer. He latched on to her clit, lashing it with his tongue even as he slid his fingers into the tight clasp of her cunt, searching for the rougher- textured spot. When he found it, Zach curved his fingers and rubbed. He felt her orgasm, felt her inner muscles clench around him seconds before she screamed. With his dick buried in her mouth. That scream, the vibration of sound turned the tingle into a shudder as the pleasure in his dick shot up his spine, lighting up every nerve

ending along the way before it shot down to his balls. Then he was coming in her sweet, hot mouth, jet after jet of seed coating her tongue and the lovely, hard woman swallowed it all. Minutes, or hours, later, Zach lifted his head from the tabletop to see Colette’s thigh draped over his chest. Her cunt was still slick from her arousal, her even breaths puffed across his flaccid cock and when he shifted a little she let out a small groan. His back was killing him and he was pretty sure his legs were dead, having been draped over the edge of the table for so

long, but none of that stopped the satisfied grin spreading across his face. They still hadn’t made it to her bed and the box of condoms he’d placed right next to her vibrator. A glance at the clock showed dawn wasn’t far off. He couldn’t be seen leaving her place, not if he wanted to remain a tiger with skin intact. They wouldn’t be breaking open any of the condoms tonight, but as he again picked up his protesting lover, carrying her to bed yet again, Zach silently promised both of them he’d rectify that situation as soon as possible.

Chapter Eight

He had to be out of his mind. For the twelfth time since he left Maison Rouge, Zach told himself this was not his brightest idea ever. Yet he didn’t turn around and drive back to civilization. He didn’t shrug and consider her a loss. And despite the idiocy he’d been telling himself, he knew with this seemingly simple act, he was putting Colette in a completely new category. After last night, he had to. Between his cat who’d been reluctant to leave her house even though he’d marked it repeatedly,

and his dick, there was no denying that Colette was entirely different from the women who normally shared his bed. He usually didn’t walk away from them with his dick hard and his balls aching. Only with her. As if he didn’t realize she was different, that she wasn’t his average one-night stand, his passenger was further proof. The Triple Decadence Chocolate cake he’d baked fresh that very morning sat in a box on the seat next to him. He’d had to slow his Jeep down to avoid sending chocolate perfection onto the floorboards. His tiger purred

happily. It couldn’t wait to see her again. This time though, he was purposely doing it with her family around, because he wanted her to realize he wanted her. The tiger wanted her to be proud of it, proud to know she’d caught the attention of a predator of his caliber. The arrogant son of a bitch. But there was no denying the cat wanted to prove to her and everyone else that she was the one he wanted. Okay, so maybe she hadn’t gotten that memo. She should’ve at least awakened today and called him to thank him. Right? They had history. Sexual history. He frowned

at the road ahead. Unless she thought that was all they had? Maybe she figured she’d gotten hers and she’d never see him again. He snorted. That might have been the case with other females, but with her, things were going in a completely different direction. Zach was still struggling to come to grips with that, with the knowledge that he was actively pursuing one woman. Part of him realized even though he felt differently toward her, it was just for sex and most likely wouldn’t last longer than a couple of days, but he never chased

after women. Never. Not even as a young cub with more cum than brains. The girls came to him. Then the women. But Colette hadn’t called him, or come to Maison Rouge today. He frowned at the bumpy road. Why hadn’t she come to town to see him? Hadn’t what they’d done together on her sofa and kitchen table been enough to hook her? What if she wasn’t as enthralled by their lovemaking as he was? Now that was a scary thought, one that kept circling his head and it made his tiger defensive and testy, not a good combination when he was

supposed to be a sea of calm for frantic brides and their mothers. So Zach had done something extreme and out of character. He’d left the execution of tonight’s wedding reception in his kitchen assistant’s hands. The look on Emily Doucet’s face had been priceless and if he hadn’t been distracted by his tiger and his libido, he might have found it funny. The wedding wasn’t big and it wasn’t going to be publicized like the other functions he’d catered for, so he didn’t see what the big fucking deal was. He cringed a bit at the bold-faced lie. Okay, so he was a control freak. It

was what made Trahan Catering a success. But he’d convinced himself that letting go of the reins a little wouldn’t sink his business. He hoped. It wasn’t as though he had any other option. The cat hadn’t let him sleep after he left Colette’s house, yowling and grunting in his head, wanting her. Fucking lovelorn feline. If Zach didn’t know better, he’d think his other half was pining or something. It was ridiculous, of course. He’d only seen her three times, two of which had involved weapons pointed at him. The third time, her gun had been pointed at

the floor, which he saw as a vast improvement. His eyes almost drifted closed at the reminder of how she’d welcomed his tongue and hands, how she’d tasted. It’d been damn near impossible to make himself shower today. He and the tiger had wanted Colette’s scent to remain on his skin all day long as a reminder that he had brought her to climax so many times she fell asleep on him. Twice. Only knowing others would smell her desire, might find pleasure in her musk had been the deciding factor in him thoroughly cleaning himself this morning. But he

mourned that sweet scent, wanted to carry it in his pores forever. Zach scowled at his hands. No, not forever, he growled at the tiger. The cat didn’t gainsay him this time. Because right now, the big bastard was content. It knew they were going to track down their errant human. It was aware of the flashes of bodies in the trees, racing him down the road, but it didn’t care. Zach wasn’t worried either. He knew it was Bayou Ange’s version of an early-warning system. There was no telling if the kids— because the short, quick figures

couldn’t be anything else—had been playing in the woods around the community, or if they’d been placed there purposely, but he knew by the time he found the street he was looking for, everyone in Bayou Ange would know he was coming. The word echoed around his mind, reminding him of the explosive climax he’d had that emptied his cum into her mouth. His cock strained against the fly of his jeans and he had to shift his legs to ease the pressure. This whole being-hard-all-the-time thing was getting old. How was he supposed

to work with his dick aching like a toothache all fucking day? And all it took was the reminder of what she’d looked like after he’d gorged himself on her pussy, tasting her sweet cunt until she passed out for him to harden. Zach groaned. “Don’t think about it,” he muttered under his breath as he saw a break in the trees ahead that signaled a change in scenery. “You’ll probably have to face down her relatives and if you do that looking as though you’ve got a solid lead pipe in your pants, they’ll know exactly what you want with — Holy shit,” he whispered as he

cleared the tree line. The hair on the back of his neck lifted at the complete lack of life to be found. There wasn’t a single soul in sight, which was unexpected for a Saturday afternoon. Kids should be playing, people should be cutting grass or cleaning cars, or loaded for bear waiting for him to arrive. He was almost disappointed. For some reason, he’d imagined the entire community forming a human wall across the street to prohibit him from entering, but while he didn’t see a welcome mat, he didn’t feel as though they were telling him to get out. It was

anticlimactic to say the least, especially after the stories he’d heard about this area when he was growing up. He took a right on Robicheaux Lane and his jaw dropped. No wonder he hadn’t seen anyone on the main street. They were all here. Waiting for him. His foot eased off the accelerator and the Jeep slowed to a stop. Easily two hundred adult humans and what looked like fifty million kids crowded the base of one of the houses on the lane. A group of women of varying ages stood on the porch above, but none of them were Colette. Two younger

men stood guard over an older woman. Both males had blond hair, darker than his human obsession, but something in the shape of their faces reminded him of Colette. The woman had darker skin and looked a lot like the kids in the pictures he’d seen at Colette’s house. Zach put the Jeep in park and turned off the engine. For such a large crowd, it should have been loud, but deafening silence occasionally punctuated by the engine cooling down was all he heard. Even the children were quiet and watchful, speaking in such soft tones he couldn’t hear them. The

dogs that he’d worried about the night before didn’t make a sound either, just sat watching him. Then they all heard the distant roar of boat engines growing progressively louder, coming closer. The older woman on the veranda waved for Zach, beckoning him over. The others with her began arguing, their hands moving as they tried to talk her out of it, but she continued motioning him to join them.

was a bad idea.

Getting out of the vehicle and joining that family on the porch, most of whom didn’t appear to

He

knew

it

want him there, would not really

endear him to Colette. But the older woman had to be her mother, the woman who’d sent her family into town to get a cake for her. He glanced over at the Triple Decadence Chocolate cake he’d originally intended to sweeten up his human and knew exactly how

to play this.

* * * * *

Colette ached all over, but it was

a good kind of hurt. It’d been a

productive day of hunting. The sun beat down on her, burning her skin and warming her soul. If things

continued the way they had today, they could have their tags filled in no time at all. She glanced at her dad, who had a tired but happy smile on his face. Uncle Frog rode with Beau in one boat, while Uncle Tudu ferried Cotton in another to either side of Colette and her dad. Everyone had the same relaxed, pleased look on their faces. They’d done good work, taking on a ridiculous number of tags that spanned nearly the entire Bayou Ange community. The next three days they would push hard, catching as many gators as they could before they slowed

the pace a little and hit the much more remote areas. They’d begin staggering the boats, leaving one out of circulation for the day, allowing each of them a day or two off a week. From the boats at least. Their days off would be spent working the swamp tours, but it was easier work than hauling gators into the boat. Today had been her younger brothers’ day at the office and tomorrow was hers. Colette faced front again, closing her eyes against the wind. If she was completely honest, she usually looked forward to her days at the office, using it as a break.

Not so much now. Not after Zach had come into her house and…what had he done? Tormented her to the point she fainted and fell asleep? Twice? Then put her to bed without fucking her, again, leaving her to wake up alone and disoriented. She hadn’t known if the night before had been a dream or not. Not until she dragged herself downstairs to meet up with her family and saw the mess the wolf and the tiger had made of her crab traps. And seen the mass of claw marks on each wooden support holding up her house.

“What’s goin’ on?” Uncle Tudu shouted over the roaring engines, causing her to open her eyes again. The boats slowed as they neared the dock. She forgot about the night before and Zach as she realized nearly all of Bayou Ange was crowded around her parents’ house. Her heart leapt into her throat as an almost crippling panic crept over her. She didn’t dare glance back at her dad, knowing he had to be just as freaked out as she was and if she saw the same fear in his face that she felt, she’d break. Just break. She popped her phone out of the holster on her hip,

flipping it open. No missed calls. Her brothers would’ve called her if something had happened to their mama. There was no question about that. Several distant cousins ran forward to grab the lines she and her cousins threw out, tying the boats up to the dock. Colette was out of her ride before it came to a complete stop, the stomp of boots behind her letting her know her dad wasn’t far behind. The crowd of cousins and friends and very distant relatives parted for them as she and her dad ran for the house. The confused looks on the faces of

those around them helped calm some of her panic. If it had been something bad, there would be tears, prayers, something. She didn’t see any of that, but she did glimpse a strange SUV parked in front of the house. The sight of that vehicle slowed her momentum, bringing her back to hurry along with her dad. “Is it a game warden?” she asked him under her breath. All day long she’d had the weird feeling they were being watched. Not as a group because her cousins would’ve said something, but her specifically. She hadn’t seen any

evidence to support her belief, but there was no mistaking that itch between her shoulder blades. It was the same feeling she got when she was on the wrong side of a feral pig or an alligator that was waiting for the perfect moment to snap. It spoke of danger. “I don’t know,” her dad said in a low tone. “Don’t look like a state vehicle.” And the worry that the game wardens would bust in their house to look for something against them wasn’t unfounded. Game wardens were the only authorities who could enter a private home without

a search warrant. The people of Bayou Ange had been the victims of more than one random search. Sure, some of those searches had been the result of probable cause. Usually everyone obeyed and followed the state’s regulations for hunting and fishing, but sometimes someone tried to slip one more fish, or one more buck under the radar. Colette didn’t and she knew her dad and uncles didn’t either, but it didn’t stop the fear of being searched. They pounded up the steps side- by-side where they could finally hear voices raised in argument.

They were shouting too loudly for her to understand their words, but she recognized her brothers’ bellows. Beneath their shouts was her mother’s smooth, lyrical voice that intertwined with a much deeper, gravelly masculine voice she didn’t want to recognize. A peek out the corner of her eye showed her dad’s scowl deepening, the Robicheaux jealousy rearing its ugly head. Then she caught the scent of food. Her stomach growled, completely insensitive to the trouble that might be waiting for them in her parents’ house. It only

knew the three sandwiches she’d had three hours ago may as well have been consumed yesterday by how hungry she was. She tried not to recall the midnight breakfast she’d consumed while sitting on a naked man’s lap because that caused a hunger of an entirely different variety. Her stomach yowled again. Colette slapped a hand to her abdomen as though that would muffle the sound, but there was no mistaking the scent of her mama’s red beans and pork chops. Her mouth watered. Her dad passed her, probably more jealous than hungry. Colette

wasn’t far behind, actually running into her dad when he stopped dead in the doorway of the house. Going to her tiptoes, she peeked over his shoulder and promptly wished a hole would open up and swallow her. Not that she’d go very far. If a hole opened on the porch, she’d end up under the house, but that was preferable to knowing she’d somehow brought this trouble to her family. Zach stood next to her mom, nodding at her instructions as he cooked at the battered stove her mom had cooked thousands of meals on. It was a lot different from

the stainless-steel, industrial- quality appliances in his kitchen, or the unused appliances at her house, but he didn’t seem to care. He leaned over at the waist to sniff, a lock of hair he’d tucked behind his ear falling forward to caress his cheek. Colette almost died when her mom reached out to brush his hair away like the mother she was, especially since it caused her father to let out a roar of rage and throw himself forward. She tried to catch him, but there was no stopping a Robicheaux when he thought someone was flirting with his woman. Colette

covered her face with both hands, not sure she wanted to see something as pretty as Zach Trahan maimed by an older Cajun man. Especially after the amazing night he’d given her.

* * * * *

Zach liked it when he entered the house at Mrs. Robicheaux’s invitation simply because Colette’s scent was stronger in here, as though she spent as much time at her parents’ house as she did her own. He’d learned the reason her kitchen was bare was because she ate at her childhood home every

night. And that while she was a tough girl, there were plenty of men interested in her, none who’d

caught her attention though, Mrs. Robicheaux assured him. There was

a sly cast to the matronly

Robicheaux’s eyes that told Zach

she knew exactly why he was here

and she didn’t mind at all, that she wanted him to win her daughter’s attention. He hadn’t said a word to deny or affirm her suspicions, but he found his tiger liked the thought of having Laurette-Marie Robicheaux’s approval.

Idiot cat. “We’re nothing like people

think,” she told him over her sons’ howling as she stirred a batch of cornbread. She had a lyrical voice that spoke of her Haitian descent. “My man taught his children to love the land and what they hunt. To respect it.” She closed the oven on her pan of cornbread. “My Colette provides food for the table. She and the others make sure we have enough meat while they’re busy working the lines or the tour business,” she stated proudly. Her words made Zach realize the people of this community were probably closer to nature than the shifters who claimed to love it.

These people didn’t hunt for sport the way most shifters did these days, making Zach very aware of how often the predators went on hunts just for the hell of it. They were living off the land the way their ancestors had, treating it with the same respect and reverence most people reserved for artwork. They didn’t shun technology, but used it to aid them without letting it overwhelm them. The Robicheaux family was a perfect example of how spirituality and science could work together if balanced correctly. While she cooked and taught

him the secrets of her red beans, Laurette-Marie chatted about her family who lived in New Orleans, her sister who married a leopard shifter from Thailand and her niece who danced. Zach soaked up the information she doled out with the same careful hand she used to season her food. He learned Colette hadn’t had a serious boyfriend since she came back from college. He learned that his Cajun woman wasn’t the first in her family to bring back a shiny college diploma. It seemed the Robicheauxs had been hiding their intelligence behind stereotypes, which had

probably helped them out several times in their lives. Zach’s tiger appreciated their sneakiness and even approved of the way they’d used it to their advantage. The time spent in her kitchen, learning her secret recipes for creamy, flavorful red beans and listening to her stories of the family reminded Zach of being young. His grandmother had been the same, more open and friendly as long as she had her hands occupied with food. It relaxed him despite the constant complaining and sullen glares thrown his way by Mrs. Robicheaux’s sons.

And when the door flew open, Zach gave the new roar about the same attention he’d given Colette’s whining younger brothers. None at all. And who could blame him? Mrs. Robicheaux, the tiny, round woman had shown him how to make the perfect pot of red beans. If she wasn’t already married and the mother of the woman he was interested in, he might have asked her to combine forces with him to take the culinary world by storm. Instead he closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, his mind sorting through the spices she’d thrown together, spices that had eluded

him for so long. Cayenne pepper, red peppers, garlic salt, black pepper and a host of other little touches combined to create a flavor that made his mouth water for another taste, but the last time he’d tried to sneak another spoonful, Mrs. Robicheaux had smacked his hand.

the

noise

an

abrupt end. Zach glanced over his shoulder curiously, his gaze colliding with Colette’s. And just like that, his thoughts turned from food he wanted to sample to the woman he

“Shush,”

in

she

said and all to

came

the

room

needed to taste again. His body came to abrupt, painful attention. He straightened slowly, the distance between his nose and the pot bringing the other scents of the Robicheaux home to him. The woman he couldn’t get out of his mind stood staring back at him from a face red and sweaty from the heat. Strands of hair had fallen from her baseball hat, sticking to her cheeks and the sides of her neck. She wore another sleeveless shirt, this one sporting a vintage New Orleans Saints logo that was pasted to her torso. Sweaty, dirty from whatever she’d

been doing, Colette Robicheaux was the sexiest thing he’d ever seen. His cock, which had thankfully behaved itself from the moment he walked into her mother’s kitchen, suddenly hardened. Because he recalled her looking nearly exactly like this sans clothing last night as he tasted her. If he had been alone with her, he would’ve tackled her to the ground the way his tiger urged him to. He would’ve torn her clothes from her to get to her deliciously satiny skin and licked her from head to toe the way he had the night before. But her father popped

up between them, violet eyes sparking with rage Zach suddenly understood. The older man was the patriarch of this small clan, had given the Robicheaux family their first female in several generations and was understandably protective of her. The tiger understood the father’s feelings, knew that if he had a daughter who shared her mother’s white-blonde hair and pretty purple eyes, he’d eviscerate any male who came sniffing around her. The hair on the tiger’s scruff lifted at the thought, a grouchy snarl curling its upper lip. His

daughter would be locked up until she was fifty. Or he could send her to an all-girls’ school, then a convent. He gave a mental nod. That sounded better. Zach broke off his staring contest with the elder Robicheaux. Holy fuck, what was he thinking? He was here because… Because he wanted to fuck Colette a few times. Maybe feed her because the jeans she wore sagged on her lean hips. She definitely needed to be fattened up. He’d noticed that the night before as he carried her to bed. And that’s when Zach frowned.

“I can hear your stomach growling from here, woman. Why didn’t you eat today?” he asked, cutting off her father’s tirade about guns and neutering and a whole bunch of other shit Zach didn’t want to hear. The sudden silence in the kitchen, punctuated only by Laurette-Marie’s quiet chuckle and the soft sizzle of pork in the pan, could’ve been cut with one of her professionally sharp knives. Colette’s jaw dropped and her cheeks flushed a deeper shade of pink. Her dad, who was starting to get on Zach’s nerves, looked

between them, a frown furrowing his forehead. The loud boys, her brothers, snorted before breaking into laughter. Since he’d been taught to respect his elders, even when they irritated the ever-lovin’ fuck out of him, Zach turned his attention to the kids. “What’s so funny? She’s too skinny.” Colette spluttered, earning a glare from him. “You need to eat more or you’ll waste away to nothing.” Without waiting for an invitation, Zach grabbed one of the knives from the butcher’s block and opened the cake he’d brought. He

cut a slice of the moist dessert with practiced ease, placing it on the saucer Mrs. Robicheaux handed him. He’d cut a much larger piece than he normally did when he was doling out cake, but his woman obviously needed it. He shot her father a hard glare as he thrust the dessert in her face. “Eat. Supper won’t be ready for a little while.” Her wide-eyed gaze traveled from his face to the cake and back again, but she made no move to take it from him. Frustrated beyond belief because he couldn’t take the insistent growling of her stomach,

he forked up a big bite and held it up to her mouth. “Open up.” Fire sparked in her eyes, a mutinous line firming her lips for a moment before she opened her mouth. Zach knew she wasn’t opening for food, but to deliver what would no doubt be one of her scathingly frigid retorts. But he and his tiger weren’t without sneakiness. He shoved the bite of cake in her mouth first. Her lips automatically closed over the tines of the fork and he forgot his ire, the sudden surge of desire washing everything away.

He thought for certain she’d spit the piece of cake back at him, his heart pounding with nervousness as he waited for her reaction. He hadn’t felt this self-conscious about his cooking since college. He wanted her to love it even as his body reacted to the eroticism of feeding her, his tiger purring as he imagined the food energizing her for the play he wanted to do later. It was similar to how he’d felt last night with her on his lap. He’d thought nothing could be better than that moment, but he was proved wrong. The anticipation causing his heart to beat as he

waited for her reaction was so much more. Because it meant more to him now. She meant more to him. Zach scanned her face, waiting for the blend of dark, milk and white chocolate to hit her taste buds. He knew the instant it did, the fire in her eyes banking beneath a tide of pleasure that softened her expression to one he’d kill to see over and over again. She made a strangled sound in the back of her throat, her eyelids sliding shut. The breath caught in Zach’s chest and his tiger growled softly, realizing this was what she’d look like when

he was buried to the hilt inside her. She would soften around him, the hard woman melting beneath her desire to accept everything he had to give her. He’d already seen her pleasured to exhaustion, had seen her body twisted with the agonizing torment of orgasms so intense they left her screaming for mercy. But he hadn’t seen her like this, relaxed. Open and calm, accepting what he would give her. This is what she’d look like as he rocked into her slow and easy, taking his time to enjoy the hot clasp of her body. It wasn’t sex, or just about sex. It was about

connection and caring. She opened her eyes again, slowly this time, as though the lids weighed a ton. They stared at each other over the mound of cake Zach held, awareness heating the air between them. His cock twitched, pressing against the fly of his jeans, wanting at the wet silk of the pussy he smelled. Hunger of a different kind filled him. He wanted to taste her again, to just dive back into her cunt and gorge himself on her salty-sweet flavor. Then she smiled at him. It was the first time he’d ever seen it, watching the way her face lit up, a

little crease in her cheek that could’ve been a dimple flashing at him. When she reached for him, Zach nearly dropped the cake at their feet and threw her over his shoulder. It probably would’ve resulted in his balls being crushed by her knee because his woman didn’t reach for him. Colette snatched the saucer out of his hand and proceeded to eat it like a woman starved. “You obviously don’t know Collie,” someone said, the words buzzing around his head, annoying the tiger since it’d forgotten they weren’t alone. Her youngest

brother Alcide approached. “The only time Colette isn’t eating is when she’s sleeping.” “Yeah, try being a growing boy with an older sister in the house who fights with you over food,” the other brother said. “Can we get a piece of this cake, or—” Colette snarled, “Mine” around a mouthful of food. It wasn’t the most attractive sight Zach had ever seen, but that might have had more to do with the fact that she shoved him out of the way to protect the cake. “He brought this for me,” she told her brothers with the kind of protective snarl his tiger

appreciated even as he hated that it wasn’t directed at him. The two boys, who were probably in their early twenties, turned to their mom and started the whining, bellowing thing again with Colette grumbling at them from her spot at the table. Mrs. Robicheaux jumped into the fray with the long-suffering look of a mother who’d been wrangling children for years. Zach watched in amazement and a touch of longing. He had no siblings and his mom had dropped him off to his grandmother when he was a cub. While his grandmother had tried to

be a mother to him, she’d been too old and set in her ways for a rambunctious boy. He’d never experienced the kind of easy affection the Robicheaux family had. “Don’t get too comfortable,” the Robicheaux patriarch muttered beneath the boisterous argument happening only a few feet away. “My daughter deserves better than to be used by some cookin’ tiger, y’hear?” Zach dragged his gaze away from the quartet at the table, the woman who had drawn him here laughingly huddled over the cake

like a hen with an egg as her brothers tried to tickle her ribs to get her away from it. He looked over at the man who had given that woman life and knew he was the biggest obstacle to being with Colette. Braving the possible dangers of Bayou Ange had earned him Mrs. Robicheaux’s respect. Cooking with her and feeding her daughter had solidified it. She would accept him, even seemed to encourage his pursuit. Because she thinks you want forever with Colette, his conscience told him. The tiger didn’t know what the big deal was. It wanted forever

with Colette. Expected it. Mate, it growled in his mind as he watched her laugh with her brothers, taunting them with bites of the cake he’d made. She glanced over at him, some of her laughter fading as awareness crept into her eyes again. The scent of her desire called to him, but so did the spice of her uncertainty and a dash of fear. It pissed his tiger off because it knew she wasn’t scared of him so much as what he wanted from her. Zach’s world tilted on its axis. He could do exactly as he’d planned when he first saw her and get her in bed, fuck her the way his

body demanded. It would be great, beyond great really. She’d enjoy it too. He’d make sure of that. But suddenly sex didn’t seem like enough. Oh, he would get it. He just had to figure out how to make it a permanent kind of thing. Which meant he had to figure out some way to win her father over. I told you so. Zach growled at his tiger.

Chapter Nine

It was the strangest dinner Colette had ever shared with her family. Not because they had a guest, but because of who it was. Zach should have looked out of place at her mom’s table, his stunning good looks enough to make her forget about food a couple of times, yet he appeared completely unfazed by the glares her dad threw his way. He and her mom chatted about recipes as though they’d been friends forever, while her brothers bugged him about the rock stars living in

Maison Rouge. Colette hadn’t been able to think of a single thing to say to him after he’d fed her the most decadent cake she’d ever tasted. She cast a wistful glance at the box on the counter. Her mom had taken the cake away from her, declaring it would spoil her dinner. Whatever. Everyone in Bayou Ange knew Colette ate like three grown men. She couldn’t help it. If she didn’t burn so much energy working and hunting, she’d be as big as a house and she didn’t care. Food, especially the Cajun-Haitian-fused cuisine her mom made was her

biggest weakness. But desserts were her other weakness, something Zach’s bakery had proven to her again and again. How could she have purposely cut off her sweets supply? She had to be some kind of idiot because God Himself would’ve loved that cake. That cake. She purred in the back of her throat at the memory of the silky chocolate melting on her tongue. Zach shot a look her way, no doubt his sharp ears able to pick up the small sound she made over her brothers’ loud talk. Her cheeks heated, her pussy giving a hungry little quiver that had her squeezing

her thighs together. God, horny in her mama’s kitchen. It was blasphemous, but she couldn’t seem to help it. Not with him here in her territory, his big body sprawled in the chair as though he’d visited her mom’s house all his life. But there was no forgetting who or what he was. It was there in the way he studied them, the predator studying her family in turn before watching her with a hunger she knew was all about sex. And suddenly, even though she knew she was still in her mom’s kitchen, Colette was right back there on her sofa with Zach’s heavy

frame pinning her down. Back on her kitchen table with her pussy riding his mouth as she took his cock between her lips. She experienced it all over again, the close intimacy of him feeding her, their faces only inches apart. Her gaze dropped to his lips as he smiled at something her brother Daniel said. Those lips had tasted and sucked at her, his tongue had lapped at her until she thought she would die. Until she thought she had died. Heat speared her pussy, leaving her soft and wet for him all over again. His nostrils flared, drawing her

gaze upward. He watched through hooded eyes, the glinting gold reminiscent of what he’d looked like the night before. She knew he could smell her over the food. Knew he was probably hard as a rock beneath the fly of his jeans, the crown of his dick slick with desire. Colette’s breath quickened at the thought. There were many things she regretted about the night before. She hadn’t let him kiss her again. Why had she turned away from him? Because she feared him

wanted him. Zach

could hurt her badly. His

even as she

reputation as a free spirit, a male who enjoyed sex and none of the ties that went with a relationship had preceded him. And yet she didn’t care. Sort of. Despite his possessive, demanding words the night before, claiming her as his, she knew it’d been lust talking. Not him. And he hadn’t exactly fought to kiss her, to claim her lips. Her cheeks burned. Well, not the lips on her face at least. She reached for her glass of ice water and gulped it down. It didn’t help, the same way it hadn’t helped any other time she tried to cool herself from the inside out. The

quirk of his sexy mouth suggested he knew exactly what she was trying to do, just as he knew it wouldn’t work worth a damn. Colette dropped her glass at that quirk, the heavy glass sliding from her fingers to hit the table. It drew the attention of her family who all stared at her as though she’d lost her mind. Well, the men stared at her. Her mama gave her a knowing smile before looking back down at her plate. Following suit to avoid drawing more attention her way, not in the least bit interested in food for the first time since she could remember, Colette pushed

her beans around. Another thing she regretted about the night before was that she hadn’t felt what it was like to have Zach’s dick spread her pussy wide, stretch her inner muscles and slide home with one hard thrust. Her fork almost slid from her hand as her fingers set up a tingling that had nothing to do with lack of sensation and everything to do with the remembered feel of his bare skin. Golden satin stretched taut over muscles that flexed as he moved over her, the slick glide of his cock along her stomach, the wet trail of her pussy on his stomach.

She wanted to be in charge. She wanted to have him beneath her, at her mercy, her body— “Right, Colette?” She almost strangled on her tongue. Instead, she jumped and bit it, her head jerking at the sudden intrusion into her dirty, nasty, sexy thoughts. The taste of blood flooded her mouth, but she only betrayed the pain by the smallest wince. Everyone was looking at her again. “What?” she asked when they continued staring. Daniel rolled his eyes, shooting Zach a commiserating look as

though to say “women”. She was going to kick his ass as soon as she could walk straight. “Zach wanted to know if he could take the swamp tour tomorrow,” he said slowly and carefully. “I told him we didn’t have any clients scheduled, so you could probably do a short tour, right?” “Well now,” her dad said loudly, looking between her and Zach as though he wasn’t sure he liked that. “Tomorrow’s Colette’s day off. Weren’t you going to New Orleans to visit your Uncle Sun and Aunt Antoinette tomorrow? Isn’t Kanda

expecting you?” That naturally had Colette’s mom looking up from her plate in shock. It was no stretch of the imagination to say Willis Robicheaux did not get along with his brother-in-law. It was a “hunter, nearly extinct species thing” that started the minute Sunan Banthao, a Thai immigrant who was also a clouded leopard shifter, learned his mate was related to a hunter. The two men were never seen in each other’s company, didn’t speak of each other—as though ignoring the other meant they didn’t exist, but neither did they attempt to stop

their wives and children from being friendly. It was a silent feud no one spoke about, but for Colette’s dad to throw an impromptu trip to New Orleans to visit a shifter he didn’t like meant he was desperate to get her away from Bayou Ange. He ignored the incredulous stares Colette and her mom sent him, turning to Alcide, whose eyes nearly bugged out of his head. “You can take him on the swamp tour.” Alcide gaped. “You mean, you’re letting me drive the airboat again?” Her dad opened his mouth and closed it again, a chagrined

expression on his face. The last time Alcide had taken the airboat out, he’d somehow gotten a thick cypress branch caught in the propellers, causing extensive damage and had nearly gotten himself killed at the same time. Colette, along with everyone else, waited to see what the patriarch of their family would say. The minute stretched out and she couldn’t help but glance over at Zach to see how he was taking this obvious ploy to keep them apart. He didn’t seem worried in the least. He sprawled with one arm draped over the back of the chair, the other

drawing patterns on her mom’s tabletop, his heavy-lidded stare trained on her. Her palms grew damp. The small smile playing at the corners of his lips seemed to suggest he gave a rat’s ass what her dad planned. Considering how he’d slipped into the neighborhood and left, without anyone but her knowing, she figured he probably had a right to be smug. She really shouldn’t have thought of that again because it reminded her of what he’d done when he arrived in Bayou Ange. The spark in his eyes told her he knew exactly where her mind had

gone. “That’s enough,” her mama said firmly, silencing everyone at the table and drawing Colette’s attention. “Alcide is not driving the airboat. At least not until I’ve gotten grandchildren out of him.” Her brother squawked but it did no good against his determined mom. “He’s going on the boat with you tomorrow as planned while Daniel takes Beau’s place, the way y’all were planning to do all season. Colette will take the chat on a tour of the swamp and that’s it. Fini.” Alcide continued mumbling under his breath, but dropped his

eyes to the table in front of him, unwilling to challenge their mama when she got that expression on her face. Not even Colette’s dad gainsaid her, although his body language spoke volumes. He glared at Zach, eyes glittering with anger. “Now, how did the hunt go?” Mama asked with false brightness.

* * * * *

Hours later, Zach crouched in the shadows behind Colette’s house, waiting for her father to leave. The older man had walked his daughter home, bringing a dog with him. The hound had gotten a

whiff of Zach’s markings all over the place and refused to go near it. Listening to Colette and her dad curse as they realized all her traps were scent-marked by him, had him rethinking the means he used to keep others at bay. He hadn’t given any thought to what would happen with her traps and equipment once he marked it. His only concern at the time had been making sure the damn wolf knew she was off-limits. Now though, realizing she was going to have to have new traps made and spend hours trying to clean the ones he and the wolf hadn’t smashed, he

wanted

frustration. “You shouldn’t see him,” her father said in disgust as he helped her sort equipment that could be salvaged from the mess they’d left behind. “He’s nothing but trouble.” Instead of arguing, Colette shrugged. “That’s what Mama said her dad told her about you when y’all started dating,” she said absently, picking through the smashed crab traps. “Besides, I’m not dating Zach. He’s just coming around because he’s bored.” If her father hadn’t looked as though he could spit bullets, Zach

in

to

gnash

his

teeth

would’ve stormed out of the brush and stalked Colette up those stairs again so he could paddle her ass in private. And this time he’d really do it. She thought the only reason he was hanging around was because he was bored? Her dad seemed just as insulted, but for an entirely different reason. “I don’t like it,” he spat and folded his arms over his chest. “You’re not some kind of toy he can play with and go on his way when he’s finished with you.” Colette said nothing in response and after several minutes of silence, Willis sighed heavily and caught

her arm as she went to walk past him. With the familiarity of a parent knowing when he stepped over the line, he pulled her into his embrace, hugging her tight. “I’m sorry,” he muttered after nearly squeezing her to death. “You’ll always be my little girl, yeah? You deserve a good man who will take care of you, not someone who just wants to have a good time.” He leaned away to look her in the face. “How about Pierre Dubois, hanh? He’s a good provider and he cooks too. Maybe not as good as the tiger, but he makes a good sauce picante.”

Zach vowed to find this Pierre Dubois and castrate him, especially when Colette gave a little laugh. Yes, the rival had to go. Why she hadn’t told him about this Pierre character was something he’d find out as soon as he had a moment alone with her. Tonight. Colette thought he’d put his mark on her and her home before? She hadn’t seen anything yet. As for her dad, he’d have to work out exactly how to win the old Cajun over. Cooking hadn’t worked. The man approved of this Pierre guy because he would be a good provider. He and his tiger almost snorted

at the thought. Who better to take care of a female than a shifter who could hunt with her? A male who could cook her all the sweet delights she seemed to love? There was no way he’d ever forget the look of ecstasy on her face as she sat down with her after-dinner dessert. He’d always assumed the phrase “the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach” applied only to men, but he was quickly learning his Colette was a woman who adored food. He was a chef. He created dishes that had members of Hollywood’s A-list begging him to cook for them. His desserts were

quickly becoming a tourist attraction and the demands to ship internationally had grown over the last year. There was no way this Pierre person cooked better than he did. So no, he wasn’t worried about some human winning Colette from him. She was too wild and predatory herself to ever be content with a non-shifter. His tiger purred softly as it watched her work with her dad, the fine muscles of her body moving together in a symphony of lethal grace. Tonight, he was going to have her. Tomorrow, they were spending the

day together under the guise of a swamp tour. He licked his lips. He’d have to work double-time when he got back to the bakery in a couple of days, but it would be worth it because he planned to fuck Colette until they were both raw and barely able to move. A plan solidly in place, he rested on the cooling soil, watching father and daughter work together in perfect synchronicity. It was evident this wasn’t the first time they’d cleaned up, or worked on traps, because as one would do something, the other was there to provide help without being asked.

Even knowing Willis was his main obstacle to being with Colette— well, besides her continued belief that he was just amusing himself with her—there was something poignant about watching them together. He couldn’t help but picture this same type of scene, but instead of Willis and Colette as the stars, it was Zach and a little girl with her mama’s violet eyes. This time though, instead of shying away from the images in his head, the fantasy of a life spent with Colette, Zach considered it rationally, or as rationally as a horny tiger shifter could. She was

tough. He liked tough women. She was independent. Maybe too independent, he thought as she lifted a crate too heavy for her. She wasn’t afraid of him, or anything really. He admired that, even as he worried about her. And it was that worry, the constant concern he felt for her, that made Zach think about what he expected to happen with Colette. What’d started out as raging lust was turning into something else, something softer and warmer than just sizzling sexual attraction. Father and daughter sat side-by- side on the tailgate of her truck,

their hands working on straightening wire. Willis said something under his breath that made Colette laugh and Zach’s heart did a strange flip-flop in his chest. He wished he could say it was something like indigestion, but watching her dad reach out to tuck hair behind her ear in a move he’d probably done a million times over the years, Zach finally stopped fighting his instincts. If it took him the rest of time, he’d make Colette his.

* * * * *

the

When

Colette

woke

up

following morning, it was with the knowledge that Zach hadn’t come over, hadn’t knocked on her door, sultry eyes watching her like a hungry beast and his signature killer smile ready to slay her. She stumbled off the sofa, nearly going to her knees when her legs finally came to life. Pins and needles burned all the way down to her toes. She leaned against the sofa with a wince. No more sleeping on the sofa. It wasn’t exactly comfortable for all its chic design. She was never going to let her cousin Kanda help her furniture- shop again. Yes, it looked good, but

it was a bitch to sleep on. Not that she made a habit of crashing in her living room. The last time— A blush heated her cheeks at the memory of the last time she fell asleep on the couch. If Zach had been there, he could’ve carried her to bed the same way, but he hadn’t shown. Once her legs were under her control again, she shuffled to the door, her heart pounding with excitement. Maybe he was standing on the other side with a knowing smirk on his face. But a peek showed no tiger lounging on her porch, no naked Zach storming up

the stairs. Disappointment sat heavy in her throat. She stood in the middle of her living room, feeling lost. How ridiculous was that? The man had only come to her house once, yet in that one night he’d managed to leave his imprint everywhere. She couldn’t look at her kitchen without seeing him leaning against the counter, or sprawled on her table. Her sofa was another piece of furniture she couldn’t look at without remembering what he’d done to her on it. Getting horny over furniture was just messed up. Seriously messed up.

The muscles of her face hardened as she realized he’d taken the coward’s way out. “Well, fuck him,” she said to the empty house, trying to ignore the way it seemed to absorb the sound of her voice and bounce it back. “Better he left now before I put a hole in his troublesome ass.” Concentrating on how much work he’d caused her, how much money his actions were going to cost her was a lot easier than thinking about how easily she’d been suckered in by a handsome face. She hurried through her morning routine, grumbling under

her breath all the while. As she bathed, she scrubbed her skin harder than usual, causing her to tear up a little. She wasn’t crying over a puffed-up excuse of a house cat. Her sunburn stung, that was all.

And when she got out of the shower, her eyes were dry. No tears, no problem. Maybe it was time to ask Kanda to come out for a visit. She hadn’t had a night out with her best friend and cousin in months. Or maybe she really should go to New Orleans. It had to be better than hanging around Bayou Ange, watching the road for

a man who’d run at the first sign of trouble. If she played her cards right, she could get Beau or Cotton to take her place on her dad’s boat for a couple of days. She pulled on a pair of her favorite jeans and a white tank with the B.A.S.T. logo on the front. She’d probably have to be designated driver for the boys on one of their wild nights, but it would be worth it if she could leave the area for a few days. Thinking of going away, if only for a weekend, helped center her and drive away the hurt Zach’s desertion caused. She didn’t need him or any man. She’d proved that

time and time again. Sure, it would’ve been nice to fuck something other than her toys for a change, but did she really want to deal with the problems that entailed? Like, what if he was a bad lay? What if the gossip around the parish was all wrong? Or what if he had fleas? The evil thought popped into her mind and it helped wipe a little of her anger away. She knew he didn’t have fleas, but it was a great image. And she used it to get her out the door of her house. Colette clomped down the stairs, her thoughts far away. At least until she saw something shiny

out the corner of her eye. Knowing she and her dad had picked up the traps she could keep, she stopped well short of the bottom stairs and stared. Brand-new crab traps were stacked neatly along the steps, the metal gleaming in the early- morning light. Beside them were spools of new ropes, her others going straight to the trash since the deer would scent the tiger on them and flee. The come-alongs, cargo straps, and even the waders she’d left on her carport to air out had been replaced, everything shiny, bright and new. Her eyes widened in shock even

as they darted over everything, trying to take it all in. She hadn’t owned new equipment for…well, a long time. Most of what she used was inherited crap from her dad and cousins. It was like Christmas. She darted down the rest of the stairs, nearly tripping over her feet in her haste. She stumbled through the maze of traps, touching them reverently. New, never-been-used before, they were the best things she’d ever gotten. Over the years, she’d made a wish list of things she wanted to buy, things she needed to replace, but something always came up to

prevent her from getting them. While she made a living on the water, she’d never strike it rich, so her wish list was almost more of a bucket list of things she’d love to have. Here, she saw everything she needed to hunt and fish. It was as though whoever bought this had taken her dog-eared hunting magazines and went shopping. She reached out to touch a high-dollar game bag, her fingers trembling a bit.

The question was who had done this? Her dad? She shook her head at the thought. Her parents made decent money, but they didn’t have

the kind of money it took to fully equip someone out. In fact, she didn’t know anyone in the Bayou who could afford something like this and even if they’d all pooled their money together, she would’ve heard about it. Nothing stayed a secret in Bayou Ange for long.

everything. If I

missed something, let me know.” Her heart seemed to stumble in her chest before galloping wildly, hope blossoming like a morning glory with the first rays of sunlight. Colette tried not to let it show on her face, yet there was nothing but happiness and relief at hearing that

“I hope

I

got

voice. She spun slowly to look at him, barely able to keep a goofy smile off her face. It proved impossible, especially when she studied him. The immaculate, unruffled tiger shifter who’d invaded her life and her dreams looked harried and stressed. His jaw was dark with scruff, something that only made him sexier than ever, his hair was mussed as though he’d run his hands through it multiple times and his clothes were wrinkled. The rumpled appearance seemed to magnify his sex appeal, at least for Colette. He’d been sexy all clean

and put together in his casual way, but looking like a man who’d obviously stayed awake all night to replace her things, he was a dream come true. In more ways than one. Her heart melted at his apparent care and her stomach clenched with want. Sexiness, thy name is Zachary Trahan. She’d missed him. Silly and pathetic as it sounded in the much quieter, logical part of her brain, she’d wanted to wake up the same way she had last night, with him cooking her a snack and then making her fantasies come true. The anticipation of seeing him

again, even if she’d planned to bitch him out for ruining her traps and equipment, had come to an abrupt halt when he didn’t show. Now though, wonder overcame any anger she’d felt the day before. Wonder that he’d gone through the trouble to replace everything.

found herself

asking. He grimaced and stuffed his hands into his pockets. “I wasn’t thinking that night.” He tilted his head back to stare at the underside of the house above him for a few minutes before looking at her again. His face was resolved, as

“Why?”

she

though he’d come to a major decision. “My tiger,” he paused and shook his head. “No, I don’t think rationally where you’re involved.” He ran a hand through his hair. Colette wasn’t sure the last time she’d seen such a stressed-out man, maybe her dad the day before when he realized Zach was staying for supper. “I was an idiot,” he finally said in a near mumble. “And I’m sorry.” His shoulders lifted as though a huge weight had fallen from them. Colette had seen hard-given apologies before. She had two younger brothers who’d made her

teenage life hell. How many times had her mama made the boys tell her they were sorry for some infraction or another? Zach reminded her of that, except where she’d still wanted to wring her brothers’ necks, she felt more inclined to forgive the man in front of her. Only this once, and only because he’d made restitution. She supposed a better woman would turn down his expensive gifts, telling him an apology was more than enough, but she wasn’t couillon. The crab traps alone were nearly forty bucks apiece and he’d bought her five dozen. She’d be

able to make enough to pay him back for them in a couple of seasons since she wouldn’t have to constantly trade them out for repair. And she would pay him back, she decided as she studied him. He’d broken her traps, yes, but he hadn’t done it alone. The wolf had helped. The other things he’d apparently scent-marked, well she didn’t even want to try to figure that one out, but she would’ve had to replace those things eventually anyway. It wouldn’t do any good to think this thing with him— whatever it was—would last for

long. “Thank you,” she finally told him when he started looking nervous again. “You didn’t have to do this, but I appreciate it. And I’ll pay you back as soon as I get a chance to put them on the water.” She did her best not to think about ways she could pay him back. On her back, on her knees, on his lap. Her heart sped up and the apex of her legs ached at the thought. She prayed to everything that he wouldn’t guess what was on her mind, that she wasn’t eyeing him like a hunter did a ten-point buck. Lucky for her, Zach was just as

stubborn as she was because he shook his head. “I don’t want you to pay me back.” Oh the ways she wanted to let him take his payment. If he was half as naughty as rumor suggested, he would’ve come up with that nefarious plan on his own and taken advantage of her. Or maybe that was just wishful thinking on her part. Men, apparently even those who’d tried to make a meal out of her, didn’t seem to realize she had damsel-in-distress fantasies as well. Zach, though, didn’t seem to pick up on her hunger, her need for

him to twirl his invisible mustache and say, “I know exactly how you can pay me back, Miz Robicheaux… bend over.” Stifling a wistful sigh, she finally shrugged when he cocked his head to the side. “You can’t always get what you want and all that. I’m paying you back.” To show the discussion was closed, she slapped her hands on her thighs, feeling lighter—and hornier—than she had before. “So, you ready for your swamp tour?”

Chapter Ten

She did it again. If Zach’s cock grew any harder, he’d burst out of his jeans and fuck Colette on the bench seat of her truck. He’d tried distracting himself with views of the boring road, glimpses of more houses perched in the swamp, counting potholes, anything but the woman sitting next to him smelling of sex and sin. And looking at his lap with longing. The scent of her arousal was thick in the air, the constant shifting of her legs as she drove and those sly, hungry glances were

enough to leave him with sweat trickling down his back. He clutched his knees, his fingers pressing deep, hoping a little pain would distract him. Then she peeked over at him again, her tongue pressing to her sexy upper lip. He bit back a whimper. He’d spent a lot of time thinking last night as he ran all over trying to replace the traps he’d broken and the equipment he’d ruined with his possessiveness. All that thinking had been about Colette, about why she of all the women he’d known touched off the need to own her, to put his mark on her in

some way. It wasn’t until he found himself promising desserts for two hungry she-bears that he realized he was whoring himself out for her. For Colette. And he didn’t even mind. When Kitty required beignets for an entire month in exchange for allowing her mate and husband, Monk, to help him find the traps and have them transported to Maison Rouge within three hours, Zach had agreed without a second thought. When Daisy demanded cakes once a week for every week of her pregnancy in exchange for her mate’s help, Zach hadn’t batted

an eyelash. Not when it meant he was able to get Ram’s band to help him cart everything through the swamp to Colette’s house in quick order. The best part though, was Monk and Ram hadn’t said a word about his weakness for the human hunter. They’d just given him knowing looks and helped out where they could. And it was only as he listened to the complaints of Ram’s friends as they made numerous trips back and forth to her house that Zach realized she’d somehow burrowed herself into his heart. He wasn’t calling it love. Yet. He liked her,

liked everything about her, even her stubbornness. The flashes he kept having of a life without her in it, without smelling her sweet scent or hearing her soft drawl were like waking nightmares. His tiger’s hunger for her and need to stamp his territorial markings all over her only solidified the knowledge that Zach needed Colette in his life. He would have her in his life. He just had to figure out how. His first thought was that he couldn’t just fuck and mark her the way he would’ve if she had been a shifter. Even if she was shifter savvy, it wouldn’t mean a goddamn thing to

her unless she cared for him. His stomach twisted and his tiger rumbled unhappily. And there was the thought that kept circling around his head all night. What about him could possibly entice a woman to care for him? It was such a pathetic thought, he’d shied away from it several times. He’d never really battled his self-esteem. He was a tiger, after all. He knew he was handsome, had lethal grace, could fuck like a dream and all other things women had been telling him since he was old enough to know what to do with his dick, but not a

single one of them had ever fallen in love with him. They hadn’t exactly fought to keep him in their beds. There’d been one crazy woman who did all kinds of weird stalker shit to him, but he hadn’t even been her main focus. She’d gone after the easygoing Monk Badeaux. Zach had been a side project. They hit a big pothole and the truck bucked hard, drawing his attention to the woman driving. She handled the big vehicle as if it were nothing, confident in her ability to take care of herself. God, what a sexy woman. Zach wasn’t

sure he could’ve picked a better mate for himself. And he didn’t even stumble over the word in his mind the way he had weeks ago. A long, wooden building with the faded words, Bayou Ange Swamp Tours, appeared up ahead, distracting Zach from his thoughts. He glanced over at Colette, their gazes catching for a moment. His heart tripped over itself and his cock lurched for freedom. Only the knowledge that he had to show her there was more to him than sex held him in his seat. Otherwise, he would’ve been all over her like white on rice.

After what seemed like hours, she looked away, blinking at the empty parking lot. “We’re here,” she said in a hoarse tone. “Let’s go.” Normally Zach would’ve done the gentlemanly thing and opened her door for her. He wanted to do that, to show her he wasn’t an asshole, but he didn’t need her to get a good look at the lead pipe in his pants. He took the time it took her to get out of the truck and climb the steps of the building to readjust his dick, try some deep breathing exercises, anything to make his erection go away. No such luck. Colette’s fumbling

with her keys caused them to fall from her hands. When she bent over to pick them up again, Zach had to bite his lip to keep from groaning at the round curve of her ass, hands itching to palm the firm globes. He’d never been so desperately hungry for a woman, especially not a woman he’d vowed not to touch. For now. Once he made her fall in love with him though, all bets were off. He just needed to survive the excruciating pain in his balls until that happened. She turned to wave to him, her pert little tits swaying beneath her

top. “I hope this only takes a few weeks,” he muttered to himself as he eased from the truck. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to last any longer than that before he touched her. The Bayou Ange Swamp Tour office was nicer on the inside than it appeared from the outside. He heard Colette moving around somewhere in the back, but didn’t follow. No, God knew he needed as much time as he could afford to regain his control. Instead, he wandered the lobby area, staring at pictures and sketches that had to date back to the late nineteenth

century and documents that

preserved

beneath glass. Looking at them, seeing the obvious pride the Robicheaux clan had for their history and preserving it, made him realize he didn’t have anything left in the bakery showing how long it’d been in his family. Probably because he’d never really felt as though they were his family. He frowned at a picture of people who’d taken the tour before, a much younger Colette standing next to her dad, beaming at the camera. His grandmother used to try to tell him about his legacy,

been

had

photocopied

and

tried to get him to love and appreciate the importance of being a Trahan with a business that had thrived for nearly a century, but he hadn’t wanted to hear it. What good would it do anyway? His grandmother hadn’t really wanted him. He wasn’t really part of her family. He’d been a burden on her, something his mother had dropped off like a bag of dirty laundry. His frown turned into a scowl he could see in the picture frame. Zach didn’t spend much time thinking about his childhood, didn’t dwell on the sense of abandonment that plagued him,

but being around Colette, seeing how much her family cared stirred old ghosts. He was positive some therapist somewhere would say he had issues or some shit like that. If they were brave enough to even speak. Maybe he’d clung too hard to his resentment toward his mother, hadn’t given his grandmother a real chance to be as close to him as she’d obviously wanted. Because looking back, he could see how she’d tried to love him. She’d taught him everything she knew about the business, but all Zach had seen was making a name for himself, the

fame and fortune that came with being the best chef in the state. Moving on to another set of pictures, these surrounding an old newspaper clipping, he made a promise to himself to go through the things his grandmother had left for him with her passing. He hadn’t been interested in his ancestors before, only caring that they’d paved the way for his ambitions, but thoughts of having a mate and cubs made him want to know more about those tigers who’d settled in Maison Rouge. If he had kids, no when he had kids with that crazy Cajun woman, he wanted them to

know about his family as well as hers. He highly doubted, though, that his tiger ancestors would turn out to be half as colorful as Colette’s. He focused on the article in front of his face, one that spoke of another ancestor named Alcide Robichau who’d settled in what was now called Bayou Ange in 1768. A hunter, trapper and businessman, he’d opened a very small trading post, which flourished in the community of Bayou Ange. There was no mention of his relations with shifters, or why shifters never seemed to settle

in the area, but Zach figured the words “hunter” and “trapper” had a lot to do with it. The trading post became a general store, the buildings having been flooded out over and over through the centuries. The last reincarnation of the original general store had been constructed in 1893 by François Robicheaux. By 1979, the building had gone out of use as a store and that’s when the newest descendants, Willis, Claude and Eugene turned the old family business into a swamp tour company. A picture beneath the

article showed the three guys who’d barged into his bakery two days before, except much younger. Their hair was long as was the style in the 70s, mustaches hiding their upper lips, but there was no mistaking the purple eyes of the Robicheaux family. “Dad swears he’s going to take that picture down,” Colette said as she entered the room again, a bag over her shoulder. “He says it makes him look like a damn hippie.” Zach couldn’t care less about the picture, not with the light shining through the windows, highlighting

her pale hair and dark skin. His dick, which had thankfully deflated through his little tour of the room, swelled to painful proportions. His tiger liked. The man thought she resembled an angel. Then she gave him that sly, hungry look again that made his blood pressure shoot through the roof and sweat gather along his hairline. “I’m making a pot of coffee for the ride,” she said when all he could do was stare at her. “I’ll also pack some water and a few snacks.” She paused to study him and his cock twitched at the speculative look in her eyes. “Maybe a lot of

snacks.” She turned around again, her braid whipping behind her as she returned to the back of the building. He waited until she cleared the doorway before he tried adjusting himself again. Treat her with respect. Be gentle with her. She’s not some quick shifter fuck. She’s the woman you want to mate. Repeating the words did nothing for his erection. He banged his forehead on the wall. This was going to be the longest day of his life.

* * * * *

Colette guided the boat down Bayou Lupe, enjoying the serenity of being on the water without hunting. The occasional bald eagle circled overhead, great wings expanded and eyes on the swamp, looking for food. Fat catfish splashed here and there while silverfin carp leapt alongside the boat. Zach sat on the bench in front of her, the slight breeze ruffling his multicolored hair. His broad shoulders, which had started the tour bunched and tight, slowly relaxed as he saw the swamp through her eyes. She could’ve

taken the party barge out or the airboat the way Alcide would have, but with only two of them on the tour, she’d opted for the smaller sixteen-foot aluminum boat. It made it a lot cozier and they could go places she didn’t normally get to show her clients. She slowed the boat as they came to a fork in the bayou. “This is where Daddy caught a fourteen- foot alligator when he was twenty,” she told Zach, who’d turned to look at her. She pointed at the trunk of an old cypress tree. “You can still see where the line rubbed into the wood. He won the record for the

biggest alligator ever caught in Pointe-Aux-Chat Parish,” she finished proudly. Zach looked suitably impressed, which she appreciated. It was probably no big deal for him to catch an alligator or fight with one. He weighed as much, if not more, than most of the bayou beasts in his cat form. Since he showed up in her life, she’d done a little research on tigers and discovered they were one of the few predators that would attack other predators if food was scarce and even eat them. For some reason it pleased her to know he was the kind of predator

who made others wary. But he hadn’t made a single move on her since they got into her truck. Colette frowned at him as he studied the tree trunk, his gold eyes thoughtful. He’d surprised her. When they got in the boat, he’d looked at her and asked, “Can you show me your favorite places to go?” Colette hadn’t known what to say to that. In all the years she’d been doing tours with her family, no one had asked her where her favorite spots were. Of course, none of her past clients had stared into her eyes as though they were

searching for something private and deep. She’d blushed, pleased and flattered and horny. Thank God she’d taken a quick shortcut into the office before meeting Zach at the boat. She shifted to the side to hide the bag she’d grabbed on her way out of the building. If Zach was just being polite, he’d never know what was inside it. If he wasn’t… Just then he glanced at her and she forgot all about alligators and hunting and the bag of hope behind her. “Zach,” she started, emboldened by her need for him. She took a step away from the

wheel. Fuck it. You only live once, right? I want this man more than anything else and I’m going to have him. As though the fates were completely against her, a crack of lightning streaked across the sky, followed by the ominous roll of thunder. Colette whipped her head around to see the clouds that had seemed so idyllic and picturesque before had turned dark and threatening. Another peal of thunder warned more was to come. And they were in an aluminum boat. “Shit,” she spat as she stepped

behind the wheel again. “Hold on.” Zach didn’t even question her, gripping the sides of the boat as she spun them around and shot down the left branch of the fork in the bayou. “I know somewhere we can ride this out,” she shouted over the roar of the engine and the bass-like rumbles of the thunderstorm. She couldn’t believe she’d let herself become so distracted by him that she’d forgotten to pay attention to the weather. South Louisiana was infamous for its summer thunderstorms. They rolled up out of nowhere, dropped several inches of rain and

disappeared as quickly as they arrived. The sky continued to

darken, telling her it

developing faster. The cabin, more like a hunting shack, she frequently used for deer season was only a mile up the bayou. She’d planned to show it to Zach anyway, but hadn’t thought they’d be forced to seek it out by a storm. As if Mother Nature wanted to show her just how stupid she was, fat, cold raindrops fell from the darkening sky, slapping her face. The deluge helped drown out some of her arousal. It was hard to hold on to a fantasy when drops of

was only

rain the size of nickels were stinging your face like angry bees. Zach turned to look at her, his gold eyes concerned. “I got this,” Colette shouted over the noise. “I’m sure I won’t melt.” His face got this weird, tight expression she didn’t have time to examine, but he didn’t look away from her. He probably thought she should’ve been like other women would be in the same situation. Shrieking about their hair, flapping their arms helplessly and a million other things her cousin would’ve done if she were caught in the rain.

Kanda wasn’t exactly a ball of fluff, but she wasn’t far from it either. Colette shook her head and concentrated on navigating the bayou, the sheets of rain making it more of a nuisance than difficult. She’d grown up here, the cabin she was taking them to had been built for her thirteenth birthday. These were her stomping grounds, her personal playground. Her territory. She rounded the bend, the rickety cabin looking as solid and as untouched as she imagined Mount Everest was. The minute she saw it, her tension melted away. They were safe. She slowed down, letting

the boat drift the last few yards to the dock. Without being directed, Zach leapt to the dock once they were within distance, the rope in his hand. He quickly helped tow her to the shallows and secured the rope to the tie-off piling. Another crack of thunder sounded overhead and the rain went from a cold, steady shower to a howling, freezing squall. Wind gusted along the bayou, nearly sending Colette to her knees in the boat. Zach was there though, his hand reaching down to help her to her feet. Normally, she would’ve given him The Look, but it seemed

the weather was against her today. She gripped his hand, the wind swallowing her yelp of surprise when he lifted her out of the boat as easily as she would’ve lifted a piece of paper. But he didn’t set her down once her legs cleared the dock. No, the man flung her over his shoulder, ass pressing against the side of his neck, and took off running for the cabin. Colette swallowed a scream, positive he was going to drop her on her head, and clutched his shirt and planned. Planned to kick his shifter ass when they made it inside. Contrary to her fears, Zach

didn’t drop her. Neither did she bounce on his shoulder like a sack of potatoes the way she had when her cousin Cotton had done the same thing when she was younger. Of course, Cotton wasn’t a shifter known for his grace. He glided across the uneven ground leading to the shack. It wasn’t exactly comfortable for her, but it wasn’t awful either. She still intended to give him a piece of her mind when she was on her feet again. And that happened quicker than she expected, the world going topsy-turvy as he slid her off his shoulder, her body rubbing against

his hard chest all the way down. Not as though he’d done it on purpose, though. Their clothes were soaked and clinging to each other, which made the move difficult. And erotic. Her breath caught in her throat when her top caught on his chest, causing the fabric of her bra to abrade her sensitive nipples. It reminded her of his mouth, the roughness of his tongue as he flicked it over her tight peaks. And just like that heat blossomed in her cunt, the hunger kept at bay by the cold rain returning with a vengeance. Zach straightened his hands on

her hips as he stared down at her. The rain had plastered his hair to his head, strands sticking to his face and shielding most of his eyes, but there was no mistaking the golden gleam. Her heart slammed against their chests, the world fading away to nothing as she stilled like a deer in headlights. Another crack of thunder caused the rickety porch boards beneath their feet to rattle, breaking the intense moment of intimacy as though it never happened. He didn’t pull her closer, didn’t smash his mouth to hers and take her against the door the way her mind

pictured. How she wanted to feel him fucking her, slamming into her with the crisp, cool summer rain pounding over them. But it wasn’t destined to be. Not when he became all business again. “Sounds like this storm is getting worse. Let’s get inside,” he ordered with a gentle push in the direction of the door. “I’ll go back for your stuff later.” A trickle of shock raced down her spine and she shot a panicked look in the direction of the boat where the bag she’d grabbed sat. She wasn’t concerned it would be ruined. She’d learned long ago not

to bring anything that wasn’t waterproof on the bayou with her, but the contents of that bag would tell Zach exactly where she’d thought this day was going. And he’d know how stupid she’d been. She turned to the cabin with a nonchalance she didn’t feel. “Don’t worry about it. The storm should stop in a little while.” I hope, she silently added as she opened the door to her hunting sanctuary. It wasn’t as easy to pretend indifference when the man she wanted entered her home away from home behind her, but she managed to turn to him with a

fake,

Camp Colette.”

bright

smile.

“Welcome

to

* * * * *

“Have you found them?” Roscoe held the phone to his ear with one hand and the pair of binoculars with the other, studying the woods around the small shack Colette and the tiger had taken shelter in. He’d been trailing them from far behind, following the sound of her boat engine with the pirogue he’d “borrowed” from the idiots who’d called him in for this job. They weren’t his concern. The Schumacher brothers were only a

means to an end for him. “Not yet. There are a lot of nooks and crannies in this fucking swamp,” he said into the phone, which wasn’t a complete lie. He’d nearly lost them a couple of times, only his skills as a tracker helping him find them again and again. The thunderstorm had helped to mask his approach and he sent a silent thanks to Mother Nature. “I’ll find them though.” “I know you will,” his boss said with a satisfied sigh. “We want this one bad. She’ll make a perfect example of how we won’t tolerate those who think to get above

themselves.” The man was always careful not to let anything vital slip over the phone. “We only have a short time left, so make sure you get in good with her.” He lowered the binoculars and had to squint to see the cabin from the great distance he’d chosen to keep watch on it. The tiger had been at her house all night, hadn’t even gone to his bakery the way he usually did. A quick trip into town, a visit to pick up something to eat, told Roscoe how unusual it was for Zachary Trahan to abandon his post at his business. One of the little foxes, a cutie who’d let Roscoe

know in no uncertain terms that she was available anytime he wanted her, had chatted about her boss. The tiger was tough, something he already knew, but he was also a hard worker who didn’t play around with his employees. He was driven, determined and one hell of a baker. Since coming to town, Roscoe had found himself visiting that damn bakery more than he would back home. He hated to admit how addictive Trahan’s beignets were, but if he didn’t get at least a dozen daily, his whole day was shot to shit.

possible

replacements?

his

impatience. Realizing he’d just been staring into space, thinking about beignets, Roscoe sat with his back against the tree, his floppy hat protecting his face and the phone from the deluge. As much as he’d love to get out of the rain, his job was to trail the target until he could bring her in to the group. This time wouldn’t be any different. For the most part. Except this job came with an added bonus, one he’d been waiting months to receive.

of

“How

are

your

Worth

with

our

a

time?”

hint

boss

asked

“The Schumacher’s are idiots,” he said bluntly, keeping his eyes trained on the cabin three miles away. He couldn’t see anything clearly, even with his shifter- enhanced vision, but he’d be able to tell if Colette left again. Lordy be, he’d gotten a good look at her in that wet t-shirt. If he wasn’t on this job… “How?” his boss barked when he didn’t say anything else. “Are they unsuitable for recruitment?” He bit back a sigh, pushing away the image of Colette’s perky tits and tight nipples. Sometimes he really hated his job. “They do

stupid things to bring attention to themselves. They drink, they abuse their shifter status, thinking it allows them to be dickheads, and they’re fucktards who don’t listen to orders.” “They’re still hunting out of season,” the boss guessed with a regretful sigh. “That’s unfortunate. Regardless, we’ll help them out this time and end our association once we’re finished with the ceremony.” That was one bit of good news today, Roscoe thought as he tucked his collar closer to his neck to keep more water from dripping down his back. “Got it. Anything else?”

“Just keep a close eye on our friend. I plan to enjoy her company very soon.” The call ended as abruptly as it’d begun, leaving Roscoe to sit in the rain, wet and alone while the tiger got his groove on. And if that striped idiot didn’t tap that ass, Roscoe would lose all respect for him. Someone had to be enjoying themselves this dreary afternoon and if he had a hot little piece like the human huntress, Roscoe definitely wouldn’t be complaining.

Chapter Eleven

The interior of the cabin wasn’t as bad as he thought it’d be. It wasn’t big by any means, more like a single room studio with everything crammed inside. It also wasn’t entirely Colette’s. Zach stiffened when his sharp senses caught the scent of several men mingling with hers. She didn’t seem to realize he wasn’t pleased, moving around the cabin to open the little window to let air in, lighting a hurricane lantern and arranging things for no reason. Pissed at the thought of this

being her love nest, one she’d shared with several men, Zach tore his gaze away from her rain-soaked body. He couldn’t look at her. Not with that white shirt plastered to her skin showing off the shape of her perky tits and tight nipples. He’d nearly stripped her naked on the leaky porch and fucked her right there in front of the entire world. Think of something else, like the men she’s probably been bringing here. His tiger snapped at him. “Who else knows about this place?” he asked casually, turning away from her as she bent over the cot. Damn

woman

mush! “Oh, a lot of hunters use this cabin for reasons like this,” she said, her voice muffled. “All the camps in Bayou Ange and along Robicheaux land are considered available for a safe haven if needed. And it smells like someone took advantage of that,” she muttered. “I don’t mind letting people stay here ’cause I’ve been caught out on a hunt when bad weather crept up, but I try to leave it as clean as I found it. Someone obviously doesn’t feel the same.” She marched across the room, a pair of

brain

was

making

his

dirty underwear hanging from a stick she’d grabbed. She threw the no-longer tightie-whities into the trashcan and slammed the lid. “Ugh, that’s so fucking gross.” Relieved because there was no imagining the disgust in her voice or scent, Zach relaxed and really looked around. “This is all yours?” “Yeah, Dad had it built for me when I was thirteen.” She went back to the cot and bent over again. “I’m burning these sheets,” she mumbled under her breath. “Mama didn’t like it, but Dad swore nothing would happen to me out here. The first few years, he or one

of the uncles slept in a tent a few yards away in case I needed them, but after I turned eighteen, I’d come out here alone to think or to hunt.” She opened a cabinet that contained huge waterproof bags with sheets and blankets. She gave the linens a hard shake to remove some of the wrinkles before bustling back across the room and remaking the bed with quick efficiency. “I come out here every deer, duck and turkey season and sometimes when I have a free day from the tours or hunting, I’ll stay here to relax. It’s nice to have a place where you can be away from

everything.” Her braid had fallen over her shoulder, the end brushing the clean sheets she pulled over the mattress, but it was her ass that held his attention. The subtle sway as she stepped this way and that doing an innocent chore was more seductive than a striptease. Her jeans, slightly baggy before, now clung to her ass and shapely legs. He remembered exactly what the haven between her thighs tasted like. His mouth watered for another taste. But he’d purposely left his condoms in his car. Because he was

an idiot who was trying to be noble and honorable and win her affection, not just her body. He bit back a frustrated growl. Even though he had every intention of keeping Colette as his own from now until eternity, he wasn’t ready to plant his seed just yet. He wanted to enjoy her, learn more about her and accustom himself to the idea of cubs. And figure out how to be a father. He hadn’t had one, so it wasn’t as though he had many examples to follow. She stood after smoothing her hand over the sheets again. “That’s better.”

Then she turned, her uplifted breasts practically begging for his mouth. At least that’s what Zach told his conscience as he launched himself at the woman who tempted him by simply existing. Her eyes widened, but she didn’t even attempt to move out of his way. If anything, she reached for him, her body going soft the instant he grabbed her, taking her to the cot. It squeaked and protested at their combined weight, a sinful screech that sent shivers down his spine. But it was the woman beneath him, staring up at him with sultry eyes and parted lips that truly shot

tremors of painful need through his body. She was everything. He kissed her because he couldn’t help himself, pouring all his future hopes, his hunger and his need into her mouth, stroking his tongue against hers, swallowing her soft moan. He imagined it became a part of him, the same way her scent and taste was embedded on his memory cells. Her hands scraped through his hair, short fingernails abrading his scalp with just enough roughness to make his dick jerk with excitement. Her tongue danced with his, tasting him with quick, hungry forays that

made him growl, want and need warring with his future plans and goals, which involved this very woman whose love he was trying to win. He pulled back at the thought, staring into her lust- glazed eyes. It sounded so clichéd in his mind, but would she respect him if they had sex right now? Did she see him as a male she could spend her life with? One she could learn to love? Insecurities, the ones that he hadn’t even realized he had made him roll off her. Unfortunately, he’d forgotten he was on the cot and landed on the floor on his back

with a loud thud that shook the shack. Even as his back set up a round of protesting and his cock wilted from having the air knocked out of his lungs, it was rewarding to see Colette’s wide eyes peering at him over the side of the cot. “Cher bon Dieu, are you okay?” And that’s when Zach knew there was no falling in love with her. He loved her. It’d taken having his lungs fight for oxygen and hitting his head on the floor hard enough to see stars, but he loved Colette Marie Robicheaux. His tiger didn’t seem the least bit surprised. It had known from the beginning,

or at least a few minutes after they met, that she was meant to be theirs. The cat had followed its instincts, while the man had ignored his primal urgings. And of course, the tiger planned to lord it over the man for being stupid. Now they just needed to get their female to return the affection. She had to feel something other than just lust though, otherwise she wouldn’t have been concerned about him. Right? She slid off the bed to kneel next to him on the floor, her brow furrowed with apprehension. “Zach? Are you okay?”

He was gaping at her like a landed fish, staring at her as though he’d never seen a woman before. And he hadn’t. He’d never seen the woman he loved before. It was a weird feeling, knowing this woman was going to be his. Oh yeah, he’d have to make sure she agreed and shit, but she would. He hadn’t gotten where he was in his career by giving up. Make her fall for you. Right. That meant not fucking her like a beast in rut. “I’m fine,” he finally gasped when she reached out to him. If she touched him, he was a goner. He

was a strong man, but he wasn’t that damn strong. No man was. “I’m thirsty.” He sat up and slid away from her in the same move to avoid her hand. “I’ll just…go get the coffee and the other stuff.” He leapt to his feet, telling himself it wasn’t cowardly to run in the face of such temptation. He was only flesh and blood for God’s sake. “But it sounds like it’s raining harder,” she said faintly. He made the mistake of looking back at Colette. Sitting in the middle of a rickety cabin on her knees, the jeans tight around her thighs, her t-shirt as thin as gauze,

nipples jutting against the material like ripe berries and her lips swollen from his kisses, she was Eve, tempting him to sin. And Zach ran like the fucking wind. She was right though. It was raining harder, the wind howling louder and the damn raindrops were a hell of a lot colder. It was an awkward walk with his dick as hard and stiff as a baseball bat in his jeans until he got about halfway to the dock. By the time he reached the boat, he was able to actually walk properly instead of like a dog dragging his dick on the ground.

Good thing too because the wind whipped up the current on the bayou enough that the boat bobbed dangerously. Zach carefully stepped in and grabbed the huge canister of coffee they hadn’t touched all day. The bag she’d carried with her sat in the back of the boat. Remembering how she hadn’t let it out of her sight, he snatched it up as well, glad to see it was waterproof. Knowing his woman, it probably held enough ammunition and guns to take down a herd of buffalo and strangely enough, that pleased him. He loved her self-sufficiency.

Hell, he loved everything about her. And hopefully by the time he got back to the cabin, she’d be sleeping or something. Anything but tempting him to unleash his animal all over her sexy body.

* * * * *

Colette peered out the window, watching Zach’s stiff walk toward the bayou. When he stopped to grab at his crotch, she had to bite back a laugh. For a moment, okay several moments, she’d feared he wasn’t interested in her that way anymore. It was a natural conclusion when the man had flung

himself to the floor as though God Himself had thrown him there. And when she tried to assure herself that he hadn’t been hurt, he scrambled away like a hermit crab. She shook her head and thought about that weird look on his face. That was the only way she could describe it. And she’d seen it twice since he showed up at her house with the traps. He looked both happy and terrified, uneasy and satisfied, as though he wasn’t sure if he should be thrilled or depressed, or both. Colette frowned at his back, watching as he stopped to tilt his face up to the stinging,

cold

freezing-cold shower. He’d kissed her, gotten her so hot and hungry for him, hungrier than she’d been before and then he bolted like a virgin on his wedding night. Like someone who wanted something so badly he didn’t want to ruin it. She’d seen—and felt— how much he wanted her. There was no mistaking the hard length of his cock where he’d pressed it against her stomach. And despite how worried she’d been for him when he hit the floor, she’d taken a moment to look him over, feeling like that cougar in The Graduate. She

a

rain.

Like

a

man

taking

wanted to eat him alive. Zach was moving again, striding with his normal grace, his discomfort either gone or easier to manage. He leapt into the boat, grabbed the thermos and stopped for a moment before striding to the back of the vessel. Her heart hammered when he leaned down only to rise with her backpack. He was bringing the bag she’d packed for seduction. He didn’t look in it, just picked it up, probably because he thought she might want it. And that’s what made her want to love him. He didn’t make her ask for things, or expect her to tell him

when she wanted something. It was as though his instincts told him what she wanted most and he provided it. She hadn’t known she needed to visit her old haunts today, but doing so had helped center her, helped her realize that life was what you made of it. Life was really simple when you removed all the things she’d thrown up to make it complicated. Did it really matter that he would move on? He wanted her, she wanted him. Sex was natural. And Colette believed she knew enough about Zach to decide if he was just after a piece of ass. If he was, he

had a weird way of getting it. He could’ve fucked her so many times and left without a backward glance, but he hadn’t. Was it honor? She touched the swollen tissue of her bottom lip, remembering how he’d nipped at it, his tongue soothing the tiny hurt, that purr rumbling in the back of his throat. She wasn’t going to ever get him out of her mind or her heart. Despite all the warnings she’d given herself, the warnings her father had given her, Zach was on the fast track to winning her completely whether he wanted to or not. And maybe that was his

worry. That she’d fall madly in love with him and stalk him the way that woman had earlier in the year. Oh yeah, just because Colette didn’t live in Maison Rouge and wasn’t friends with everyone in it, didn’t mean she hadn’t heard the story of the raven shifter who stalked two cat shifters like a big game hunter. The Robicheaux women had been scandalized and amused, even as they admitted Zach was worth stalking. She’d kept her mouth shut, but part of her, the jealous, possessive Robicheaux half, had wanted to go raven hunting. And wouldn’t that

have made Zach happy? To have two women fighting over him? One of whom he hadn’t even talked to. Yeah, she’d pined a long time for him, so it was no surprise she was falling for him. Her impossible crush was growing into a love she knew would haunt her for the rest of her life and the man kept running from her as though she had the plague. Before today, she would’ve suspected he wasn’t interested in her, but that kiss, that sizzling, dangerous kiss had told her the real story. He wanted her a lot. And for some reason he was holding back.

Her gaze narrowed on his broad- shouldered frame as he climbed out of the boat and began strolling back to the cabin. Why was he holding back? Was it to drive her insane? Because she was halfway there. Sex was all she could really think about. Making love with Zach was all she wanted right now. The fire in her blood burned her from the inside out, clawing at her to do something about it, something naughty and out of character. They were alone in the woods, on land no shifter would dare approach without a hell of a lot of friends. He was bringing a bag

filled with condoms to her. A smile tugged at her lips as she figured out the easiest way to break through whatever strange blocks he’d thrown up between what he thought he was doing and what she wanted to do.

The walk in the rain helped clear his head. The freezing-cold drops along with the sharp wind helped to reduce the swelling in his dick. It was as good as a shower sans heat. He was finally able to think again once the blood that had pooled in his groin returned to his brain.

He had to figure out a way to tell Colette he cared about her. Cared, not loved. He might know he loved her, but he wasn’t ready to tell her. He didn’t think she’d laugh in his face or anything. She didn’t seem the type, but he’d never shared feelings with anyone. The last time he’d ever told a woman he loved her, she’d left him. Pausing well short of the house, Zach closed his eyes and tried to wipe that memory from his mind. But of course, because he wanted differently, his brain latched on to something that happened so long ago he shouldn’t have been able to

remember it, except he did. “I love you, Mama!” he cried as his grandmother held him still to keep him from running after his mom. “I’ll be good, I promise!”

She trembled, her thin frame swaying as though she were a tree in a storm. He waited for her to snap the way their porch had in the house they’d been living in with one of Mama’s boyfriends, but she didn’t. She shook herself and smiled, showing a lot of teeth, her gold eyes weird and bright.

“Not this time, Z-Man,” she said with a little laugh. “Mama’s got things to do and you can’t come with me.”

“Myra, don’t do this,” Mamaw said in a sharp voice, her fingers squeezing Zach’s wrist enough to make him wince, but she didn’t seem to notice. “You know you’re always welcome here. Both of you.”

Mama shrugged and tucked her hair behind her ear. “Yeah, and it’s so exciting here. I need more than this. I always have.”

“What about your son? He needs you.”

Zach stopped fighting his grandmother’s hold because he wanted to know the answer as well. But Mama didn’t even look at him again. A horn

honked outside the bakery. It was Darryl, her newest boyfriend, a jackal shifter who gave Zach the creeps. Mama turned to the door.

“I gotta go. Zach, be good for your Mamaw, okay?”

“Mom!” he screamed, kicking at the older woman holding him in a tight grip. He began to cry, not even caring that he was acting like a big baby. “Mommy, don’t leave me!”

The door closed behind her and his voice bounced off it. All the strength left his body and he sagged to the floor, staring through the glass window as the beat-up Trans Am tore off down the

street with a squeal of tires. He didn’t scream anymore. It wouldn’t have done any good because she was gone. Gone, gone, gone. The words echoed around his head as tears dripped down his face like rain. It was the cold drops of rain sliding down his cheeks, mimicking that long-ago day he’d mostly forgotten that dragged him out of the memory. Yeah, he hadn’t cried since that day, not even when his grandmother died. He’d mourned her, but he hadn’t shed a tear. And he’d never told her how much he loved her. His throat tightened with regret, but he swallowed the

lump down. It was too late to do anything about his grandmother other than pray that she understood his heart better than he had. But the woman in the cabin he walked toward would be only the second person he ever told he loved. When he was ready to do it. Not today, and maybe not tomorrow. One day soon, though, he’d tell her he loved her with every fiber of his being. And hopefully she’d respond in kind. Hopefully, she’d tell him she loved him first, freeing him to repeat the vow. Yeah, that sounded better.

With a little bounce in his step and a lighter heart, Zach climbed the stairs of the porch and opened the door. “I got the coffee and your bag—” Both items hit the floor, the thermos rolled somewhere under the cot and the bag just flopped next to his feet. His jaw was down there with both things and he wasn’t even sure he could pick it up because the one thing he hadn’t expected when he opened that door was to see Colette sprawled on the cot, gloriously nude. Not naked since that just implied a lack of clothing. No, she was definitely

nude because with her hair floating around her shoulders, one leg bent at the knee and the other hanging off the cot with her foot flat on the floor, she was sex personified. Sweet vanilla musk and the scent that was all Colette filled the air. His dick leapt for joy. Or it seemed as though it had, the room in his jeans suddenly disappearing as his hard-on roared back to painful life. Painful because if he didn’t unzip his pants soon, he’d have zipper tracks on the underside of his cock for the rest of his life. But despite the danger to his favorite body part, he couldn’t look

away from her. Caramel-tinted skin stretched over smooth, lean muscles, her supine position giving her sweet valleys he couldn’t wait to explore with his hands and mouth. With her legs parted just a little, not enough to be porn-star naughty, but somewhat modestly, he could see the slick lips of her pussy. His balls ached, backed up from not coming once in over twenty-four hours. Without meaning to, forgetting all his thoughts of seducing Colette into loving him, he took a step forward. Then another. Each

footstep slamming into the floor as though he’d lost all coordination. Her pale hair teased him, hiding most of her breasts except for the very peaks, which were tight and berry-colored. Her eyes glittered with hunger and knowledge, feminine knowledge. But they didn’t have anything to protect her. Nothing to keep her from becoming pregnant. His tiger roared with approval. It wanted to plant its seed in her no doubt fertile belly and watch her swell with his cubs. He’d keep her that way, and make sure she enjoyed it. The cat even swore it wouldn’t mind

baking and cooking all day if it kept its mate pregnant and happy. Yet Zach didn’t take another step, overriding the tiger’s instinctive need to spread its seed. “Colette.” His voice sounded as though it were coming from a pit, the blood rushing through his body making it difficult to hear himself speak. “We can’t.” He licked his lips. He hadn’t closed his mouth once yet. If he wasn’t careful, he’d start drooling like a dog. “I want to,” he said with heartfelt regret. “God I want to, but we can’t.” She sat up, swinging her legs over the side of the cot, her knees

several inches apart. Zach bit back a whimper of want. Oh, he wanted to crawl to her, to burrow his head between her thighs and lap his way to heaven. He’d done it once, had adored every slick second, but he didn’t have that control. Not right now. The only thing keeping him from tearing into her and marking her was the knowledge that it had to be her decision. She thought this was just sex, just a little fun while they killed time. If it had been any other woman and if it had been before he met Colette Marie, Zach would have been on board with that plan. Now though, it was just

her. Just this woman crooking her finger at him with a knowing smile. “Come here, Zach,” she said in her rich, husky contralto. “No. We can’t, Colette. I…you.” He shook his head. “Just, no.” Instead of being insulted, of clamming up and being embarrassed, she pouted. Her bottom lip turned down and he was a goner, unable to refuse that feminine moue. He shuffled closer, every footstep making his heart pound harder and his balls tighten more. If the wind changed direction, he wouldn’t even need to touch her to go off like a Roman

candle. The tingling at the base of his spine warned him how close he was to hitting the end of his rope. And that’s when he’d tear his clothes off and fuck her until they both screamed “uncle”. He stopped a couple feet away, close enough that if she wanted to whisper some dreaded secret like “I really just wanted to see if I could make you come with one finger” or just sit there looking like his every dream come to life, he could without a problem. But Colette, the dangerous, insane woman, obviously didn’t think he was close enough. She reached out quicker

than he could react, hooking her fingers into the waistband of his jeans, and tugged him forward with a sharp jerk. Zach nearly fell into her, only his excellent balance keeping him from toppling them both over, but while he was occupied trying not to hurt her, she was busy unfastening his jeans. There was instant relief when his cock burst free of the material. He looked down at the sexy woman sitting on the bed, intending to tell her they didn’t have any condoms, when she lapped at the slick crown bobbing in front of her face as if it were a

decadent lollipop. “Fuck!” He’d been far too close to the edge to last for long before she even touched him. His hands gripped the thick waves of her hair, holding her as his hips instinctively thrust. She opened her mouth, enveloping him in instant wet heat until he hit the back of her throat. He needed to stop, but instead he pumped into her mouth, the soft friction of her tongue rubbing the underside of his dick with just the right amount of pressure to tease. After that, he fucked her mouth in short thrusts to keep from gagging her, but still

pleasing himself. The tingling at the base of his spine grew stronger, like the faint rumbling of a volcano warning of an upcoming eruption. Colette was too hot, too sexy. He wouldn’t be able to hold off much longer. He really did need to stop, a voice said in the back of his mind. Using her like a sex doll would not endear him to her, but the scent of her lust grew stronger, sharper. Then her hands slid into his pants as she worked him with her mouth, her lean fingers finding and gripping his ass as though to help him thrust. “Colette,” he groaned, every

muscle in his body tight with the effort of holding back. “Fuck, baby, I can’t…I’m gonna come.” The hot, wet torture of her mouth continued, her tongue a sweet friction against his dick that made his balls draw up tight and the tingling at the base of his spine sharpen. Zach wanted to come and it seemed she wanted him to, yet there was more than just pleasure he planned to take care of today. He had to mark her. The primal, urgent need to leave some kind of imprint on her that would tell every male she belonged to him was stronger than his pleasure.

With that in mind, he pulled away from her, something he found more difficult to do than he would have liked to admit. Colette protested, her fingers digging into his ass, fighting him, but he won in the end by grabbing her wrists. He leaned forward, using his chest to ease her down to the mattress, straddling her hips. Her hair fanned out around her like a white cloud, tempting him with its softness.

each other,

separated only by a few inches. Zach’s cock pulsed and twitched, leaving a damp trail over her

They

stared

at

smooth stomach. He imagined rubbing that slick trace of his scent into her skin, imprinting her with it, except he wanted it all over her. The thought excited the man and the tiger, his balls tighter than ever, but he didn’t want to come alone. Without condoms, he’d have to get creative and the image in his mind had his dick leaking like a faucet. “I want to scent-mark you,” he whispered, his gaze memorizing every inch of her face. “I want to come all over you, Colette, and leave my scent in your skin so no man will go near you.” Even if he hadn’t smelled how

much she liked the idea by the sudden increase in her arousal, he would’ve felt it because her heart picked up speed and her body heated, a flush flowing upward from her chest until her cheeks were bright pink. Her pupils dilated, leaving a very thin circle of violet behind. “You…” She stopped to wet her lips, but she didn’t try to get away. “You want to mark me?” His dick leapt at her use of the word mark, as though eager to get on with it and his gums itched with the need to release his fangs. He wanted to mark her in more than

one way, but this was the only one he’d be able to do right now. Until he knew exactly where her feelings lay, he wasn’t going to leave a permanent sign of possession. His tiger roared at him, scraping at his mind in a fierce temper tantrum, but Zach refused to budge. He’d already had one woman he loved reject him. He wasn’t going to allow it to happen again if he could help it. “I want to put my scent on you,” he told her, skirting a permanent marking. He leaned down, running his lips along her jawline, the silken skin drawing him. “I want to come

like

lotion.” Her breath caught, a soft gasping sound that was all the agreement he needed. Still, he waited until he heard the words he needed. “Yes,” she sighed against his cheek when he lifted his head to look at her. “Yes.”

all

over

you

and

rub

it

in

Colette would’ve never thought the idea of having a man come on her skin would be sexy, but Zach made her very open to things she would’ve balked at with her old boyfriends. Of course none of them had made her as hot as Zach did.

He made her want to push her own limits, to explore every decadent pleasure he was willing to share with her. Before him, she would’ve never attempted a sixty-nine like they’d done on her kitchen table. Her cheeks heated at the memory, her thighs growing slicker than ever as her pussy ached for Zach. Then she didn’t need memory at all because the real thing was trailing his mouth over her jaw, the stubble on his cheeks scraping at her skin gently, marking her. Her heart leapt at the use of that term. Colette had heard stories from Kanda about the mysterious

marking males left on their females. Her aunt had a scar on the back of her neck where Colette’s Uncle Sun had marked her when they mated. She’d never heard of a shifter male coming on the skin as a way of marking, but figured it was probably something her aunt and cousin would’ve died rather than mention. While she had a good open relationship with Kanda, there were some things she’d rather not hear and this would’ve been one of them. Yet when Zach’s mouth found hers, kissing her with all the heat and aggression she’d wanted to feel

earlier, Colette forgot about markings and just felt. Slowly, as though to test her, he eased his legs between hers, one by one until his hips were snug against the apex of her thighs. She wanted to tell him about the bag, but she couldn’t get enough air and really, who gave a fuck about condoms when she was being kissed as though Zach’s life depended on it. And then he started purring again, the sound vibrating through her body, rattling her to her very core. Her pussy wept with want and she eagerly wrapped her legs around his hips, his cock coming to

rest against the parted lips of her cunt. Zach caught Colette’s gasp with his mouth, growling as he began to stroke the length of his erection through her folds. She tried to form a thought, tried to think of why this seemed strange, but when the rounded head of his cock rubbed against her erect clit, a sizzling bolt of lightning shot through her, evaporating all logic and rationality. She arched her hips, wanting more, her hands fighting to be free of his hold, but he held on to her, moving faster, using the lubrication from her cunt to glide along her

sex. Her heart pounded with each pass, the air in her lungs getting trapped somewhere in her throat as bolt after bolt of pleasure zapped her, leaving her a quivering puddle of need. She hooked her heels into his jeans, forcing them down his thighs. He hadn’t gotten undressed, was still fully clothed except for his bare ass and dick. For some reason, the thought made her cream, her inner muscles tensing. He kissed her again, his tongue thrusting, pumping into her mouth in the same rhythm of his cock sliding along her slickness. She sucked on his tongue, anchoring

her ankles behind his tight ass to hold him in place, arching her back so every thrust made his shirt scrape over her tight nipples. Wet. Hot. Slick. Colette moaned into his mouth. She was so close. So ready for him to stop humping her and come inside her. She needed it. Needed to feel his broad shaft stretching her muscles, rubbing every inch of her— Zach circled his hips, grinding down on her clit hard and she exploded, shock and pleasure combing into a keening cry that erupted when he lifted his head. Colette had faint impressions of his

tense face slick with sweat, gold eyes glittering dangerously, sharp fangs sinking into his bottom lip, but he slammed his cock against her clit again and she burst into flames. Before she lost herself to the pleasure, before it swallowed her whole, she heard a magnificent roar and felt the hot wash of his satisfaction land on her stomach. Scent-marked in the most primal of ways. And it made her want to smile.

Chapter Twelve

Zach was pleased. He felt like strutting around the parish with his chest puffed out because Colette carried his scent. Resting on his side after the most embarrassingly loud climax of his life, he stroked her naked back, her smaller body sprawled over his chest. After he came, he’d taken the time to rub his seed into her caramel-colored skin, taking primitive satisfaction in how well he’d pleased her. She’d sighed and smiled and stretched like a kitten being stroked. Then he’d stripped off his damn

clothes, needing full-skin contact with her. That had been at least an hour ago and while he wanted to fuck her, his tiger—only partially pleased with smoothing their scent into her—wanted more. So did Zach. But there was so much more they wanted to do, so many positions and pleasures awaiting them and patience had never really been his strongpoint when it came to sex. Colette shifted her weight, her hip pressing into his hardening cock. She paused and lifted her head where it rested on his chest. Her face still glowed from her

orgasm, her lips swollen from his kisses. She looked like a woman who’d been well loved. “You’re ready to go again already?” she asked in a husky voice that suggested she might have strained her vocal cords with her scream of pleasure. “Mais, yeah, of course I am, but don’t worry, I won’t do anything to get you pregnant. We’ll just wait until we’re at your place or mine.” He tried to make it seem as though it wasn’t a big deal when he was nearly dying to have her cunt wrapped around him, squeezing until he came. His dick twitched at

the thought. “I didn’t think to bring anything.” Her eyes, which had been sultry and lazy moments before, twinkled with mischief and her lips trembled as though she fought a smile. “Oh,” she said in a shaky voice. “That’s… Wow, Zach, that’s so nice of you. You know, not to want to risk me getting pregnant.” She cleared her throat, her body shaking slightly. “I guess we could, you know, just play and all, right?” Feeling as though he was being punk’d, Zach frowned at his mate, who didn’t know she was a mate, determined to show his dominance.

“What’s so funny?” She shrugged, trying to appear innocent. She looked like a devious angel with fucking on the mind. Especially when she began to shimmy down his body, her nipples dragging along his chest seconds before her lips nipped at his ribs. “It’s just a very sweet thing,” she said instead of answering him. She paused to lap at his navel, his cock resting between her perky breasts. “You’re sacrificing pleasure to protect me.” Zach’s entire body tensed as she moved farther south, her silky skin skimming over his aching dick.

“It’s…not a sacrifice,” he managed to choke out when her tongue discovered the slick head of his dick. He fisted the sheets near his hips to keep from grabbing her, but God, it was hard. And not just the erection she lapped at like the naughty girl he wanted her to be. He’d love for her to be even naughtier and take him down her throat. He shook his head. What was he supposed to be saying? “It’s no problem.” She grasped his cock in one hand, pumping the base as she wrapped her lips around the tip and hummed. The sound traveled

down his shaft to his balls where his cum practically boiled in preparation to erupt again. Sweat gathered along Zach’s hairline as he fought the urge to just let go. This was for both of them. This playtime was necessary if they were going to build the foundation for a future. Colette released his cock from the haven of her mouth with a soft pop, but she didn’t let him go completely. No, his little vixen seemed bound and determined to drive him insane because she rubbed her cheek against the turgid length, the softness of her skin taunting him, the hungry,

mischievous look in her eyes tempting him to show her his true colors. “It’s so sweet, especially when I have a whole box of condoms in my bag,” she purred, her hot breath whispering across his strained erection. Her tongue peeked out again, licking him from root to tip where she swirled it to lick the pearls of seed beading up. Blood thundered—not rushed—

through

as

his

veins,

roaring

though he

stood

next

to

white

rapids. It

took

him

several

heartbeats before

his brain

could

process her words. When he did

though, he lifted his head from the pillow, eyes wide as he stared at the sly woman lapping at his cock. “What?” he croaked. She sucked slightly, closing her eyes as though she loved nothing more than the taste of his dick. Fuck, who knew she could be so deliciously bad? “I said, I have a whole box of condoms in my—” Her words ended in a shriek as he flipped her over when he leapt out of bed as though his ass were on fire. Zach didn’t even care that the woman he wanted so much it made his teeth ache laughed as he bolted

across the room to the bag he’d brought in earlier. The tricky female had prepared for this exact moment. Part of him wanted to paddle her ass for making him think they had to play it extremely safe, while his tiger purred at his female’s ability to think ahead. He nearly tore the bag apart in his desperation, his claws itching to punch through the tips of his fingers, but he managed to hold the beast at bay. The box of condoms looked like a sign from God. He almost expected to see a celestial light surrounding the blue packaging as

though to say the entrance to heaven could be found there. He shook his head of the blasphemous thoughts and turned with the box in his hand, only to nearly swallow his tongue. Colette lounged on her stomach, knees bent as she kicked her feet in a lazy, feminine movement that left him biting back a growl of want. Her hair tumbled around her exotic face, her arms supporting her upper body. She was a study of dark skin against white, the sleek lines of her back flowing into the sexy dip of her spine before rising up to create a round, juicy ass and long, lean

legs. Zach’s heart slammed as he came face-to-face with the unleashed sensuality of the woman who’d captured that pathetically small organ. How could he have ever thought she wasn’t beautiful? In this moment, her face lit up by happiness and her skin glowing from pleasure, she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. So beautiful in fact, his throat tightened. The man who won Colette’s heart and soul would be the luckiest man in the world. And he was determined it would be him. He narrowed his eyes on the

woman who was driving him insane. Her grin faltered, the laughter fading from her eyes as heat rekindled in the violet depths. When he took a step toward her, she leapt to rest on her knees, her hair swirling around her shoulders. “Don’t run,” he warned her as he tore into the box, a strip of condoms rolling out like a welcome carpet. He tore one off, dropping the rest to the ground and quickly covered his hard cock with the latex. His tiger roared because it knew this meant they wouldn’t come inside their female, but Zach quieted the animal. Colette’s gaze

darted around the mostly empty cabin as though seeking a way past him. “Don’t do it.” If she ran, he’d chase her and take her with more force than he intended. But he should’ve known Colette would see his warning as a challenge. She launched herself off the bed. Zach’s tiger, roused from its pout by her sudden movement, tried to anticipate the direction she planned to take, leaping to the left. Both the man and the tiger had forgotten, though, that they were dealing with a seasoned hunter who’d stalked as much prey as they had.

Colette feinted left and went right, laughter trailing behind her as she darted around the small, rickety table in the middle of the room. There wasn’t a lot of room for her to move around and Zach had reach. With that thought in mind, he spread his arms wide and attempted to crowd her into one corner. Her breathless laughter and the scent of her feminine musk filled the air, leaving him slightly lightheaded as lust caused all the blood in his body to rush to his groin. She kept the table between them, darting left and right, her

high breasts dancing as she tried to stay out of reach. Impatience beat at him, urging him to toss the table out of the way, but his tiger wanted to keep playing with her, wanted her to let the anticipation build. The mating dance required some effort on his part. This was what had been missing with the other women who came to his bed. They didn’t play, didn’t attempt to evade him with sly smiles and pale hair, didn’t tempt him to be the animal he was. Then Colette made a crucial mistake in their game. She tried the same move twice, feinting to the

left when she intended to go right. And this time Zach was ready, catching her in his arms when she tried to go around him again. Even though he had her, her naked, slick body pressed to his, she didn’t give up. She wiggled, her breathless giggles sounding out as he carried her across the room to the bed. She almost slid out of his hold a couple of times, but Zach finally had his prize and he wasn’t about to give her up. He fell to the bed with her, careful to keep his weight off her, but the move still caused the frame to groan and slam into the wall

behind the headboard. Ignoring the way her eyes widened at the sounds, Zach’s hands slid down his mate’s curvy back, over her round ass and gripped her thighs. With one quick move, he spread her legs wide and with a slow thrust, slid his cock home.

Colette’s breath was caught somewhere, probably on the other side of the room where she’d dared to play with the tiger and got caught. Mostly though, it’d been punched out of her lungs with one forceful thrust of Zach’s cock. She was so wet it didn’t hurt so much as

it stung a little as muscles that hadn’t handled anything his size were stretched to their limits. But even then, even as her body fought to accept him, her pussy telling her brain this was a bad idea, Colette’s nerve endings tingled with absolute pleasure. And kept tingling because he wasn’t finished fitting every inch of his hard length into her body. Her eyes widened when he finally hit bottom, a squeal rising up in the back of her throat. She’d never, never ever had that sensation, wasn’t even sure she liked it. It was a pressure and ache all at once, her

brain urging her to slide up and away from the battering ram trying to pound through her body. Then Zach stopped trying to punch through her cervix and went still. Colette let out a little sigh of relief and stared up at the man holding her legs open. His hands nearly circled her thighs, his strength such that he held her hips above the mattress as though her weight was nothing. It was both erotic and terrifying to know how much stronger he was, but her body chose to accept it as sexy beyond fucking belief, her pussy softening and growing moist, as though it

was putting out the welcome mat. “Put your feet on my chest,” Zach ordered in a harsh voice that would’ve made her nervous if it hadn’t been for the obvious strain on his face. She wet her lips, the playfulness she’d felt before melting beneath a wave of intense sexual need. But she did as he commanded, planting the soles of her feet on his bulging pecs, her heart leaping into her throat when the move caused his cock to rub what seemed like every square centimeter of her cunt. Once she was in the position he wanted, he began to move again.

And her whole world shattered. It wasn’t that he was hurting her. It wasn’t that he pounded into her hard and fast, bumping her cervix with every thrust. No, it was none of those things. Instead, he devastated her with tenderness and slow, shallow thrusts that sent ripples through her entire body like a pebble in a still lake. It started off small, just a little tingle of pleasure, but then the next thrust hit another nerve, building on the pervious pleasure and again and again, each grind of his hips set off fireworks in her womb. Colette lost herself in the bliss,

her hands finding and gripping his thighs as though Zach was the only thing keeping her grounded. Sweat popped up all over her skin, her pores opening as though they wanted to absorb everything he had to give her. And she did. She took it, sliding with him, letting him rock them to orgasm, letting Zach control their pleasure and she didn’t take her eyes off him once. How could she when he caught her gaze with his, demanding she watch? It added to the intimacy of the moment, combining with the slick, sucking sounds of his cock sliding through her wetness, the

soft slap of his balls hitting her ass when he gave her a little more of a thrust than a glide. Their harsh breathing filled the air, causing it to grow even more humid. And then it crashed over her like a category 5 hurricane. Colette tried to fight it. She couldn’t have told anyone why she wanted to hold that orgasm back, maybe from fear that it would destroy her. And it was a well-founded trepidation because it did destroy her. It started at a molecular level, the very foundation of her being quaking at the pleasure this man gave her and radiated outward. She was vaguely

aware of someone making loud, high-pitched sounds, of her entire body shaking and shuddering, but it was muted because of the euphoria that enveloped her like a blanket of fire, burning her to the bone and leaving her a brand-new person. Zach’s hold on her legs tightened to the point of pain and his gentle glides became sharp, fast slams as he worked her for his own pleasure, the steady pulses of her inner muscles fighting him when he withdrew. Sweat gathered and dripped. Bodies strained together, muscles tensed, smooth finesse

became desperate poundings until finally, with a loud groan, he hit her cervix one last time, sending her into another orgasm, but this time she dragged him with her beneath the flames.

* * * * *

“We should get going,” Colette gasped against Zach’s mouth. “Mm-hm,” he rumbled in reply, nipping at her chin. She tasted like salt from the sweat coating their bodies and all luscious female. “In a minute.” Her fingers dug into his

shoulders, her high breasts pressed into his chest and her tight pussy gripped his dick like a vise. Long strands of sweat-soaked hair stuck to her, to Zach, getting in their faces and everywhere else, but he didn’t care.

panted as he

rocked her onto his cock. “I think it stopped raining.” It had, but there was no way he was going to rush through this. He’d already used two of the condoms from the box, taking her as gently as he was able to that first time, then he’d taken her yet again soon after. This time, though, was

“I

think,”

she

about the need to leave an impression, and more of his scent, on her. He sat with his back against the cold metal railing, Colette in his lap, her feet planted on either side of his hips in a near squat. They weren’t going at it like bunnies like last time. No, that had been about raw lust. He’d flipped his mate onto her knees and taken her from behind, her hands gripping the railings of the headboard as though they would save her life. The purr that had started from the moment they kissed hadn’t stopped and it only ramped up in power the slower they ground

against each other. She fit him like a tight glove. If he wasn’t so concerned with making sure she remembered this day for the rest of her life, he’d pat himself on the fucking back. She’d had to adjust to him, her pussy rippling and stretching around him, her eyes wide with surprise that made a man feel as though he was twenty feet tall. She grunted softly, her hips rocking on him with a little more force. He watched her, hands on her ass, helping her find the perfect position so his cock rubbed her G- spot. When she arched her back, he

bent his knees to give her support, each movement fluid as though they’d been lovers for years instead of a few hours. The new position slid him even deeper, her face flushing and going slack from pleasure. He could come just from watching her orgasm. “Zach,” she breathed as she let go of his shoulders to grip her breasts, pinching and rolling the hard peaks, tormenting herself. More of her sweet moisture flowed down his dick, her inner muscles tensing around him. “Oh God, cher bon Dieu,” she cried out, a string of Cajun French leaving her in a

torrent of words he couldn’t make out. But he didn’t need to know what she was saying because he felt it the minute she went over the edge. Felt it and loved it, the top of his head nearly blowing off. Colette’s body went rigid, her spine arching back over his knees a split second before her pussy clenched around his dick, squeezing and milking him. He lost it, unable to hold back any longer. He gripped her waist and used his greater strength to bounce her on his cock, hard and fast. Throwing his head back, he roared, going off like a

rocket, the sharp, nearly painful pressure in his balls shooting into the condom in rapid pulses. His climax could’ve lasted for hours or only a few seconds, but when he came back to himself, it was with a satisfied smile on his face and a very slick, panting female on his limp cock. They’d both come hard, their lungs struggling to catch their breath, muscles slack and this was usually when he said, “Thanks for the fun. See ya later.” Yet when Colette made a move as though she would climb from his lap, he held her captive.

He leaned forward, nuzzling the center of her chest, lapping at her silky flesh, tasting the salt from her sweat and the essence that was Colette. The amount of sweat clinging to their skin made them stick together. His tiger, the clean freak who wanted his fur and paws immaculate at all times, would have normally found the stickiness of Zach’s skin disgusting, but now made it purr in contentment. He was inside his mate, her sated body limp over his. Life couldn’t be any better. His gaze trailed down the exposed column of her throat to the

tender crook where her neck met her shoulder and his gums ached with the need to release his fangs. Okay, so life could get better. He wanted Colette to wear his mark, a small scar showing his possession. Unlike shifters, her mark wouldn’t fade after a while. She’d hold the symbol of his territory forever. His purring increased in speed and volume. “You sound like a motor boat,” she murmured without lifting her head. “Is that a problem?” Even from his position, he could see her lips curl in a contented

smile. “No. It just takes some getting used to, is all.” Zach released his tight hold on her waist and stroked her flanks, enjoying the way the muscles flexed as though reacting to his touch. “You wanted this to happen today, didn’t you?” He knew she had, but had to hear it from her. She tilted her head down to look at him with a drowsy gaze. “The bulk package of condoms wasn’t enough of a clue? Should I have bought a case of them instead?” She lifted herself from her limp sprawl, the muscles of her stomach contracting with the movement

and her channel squeezing his dick until his eyes crossed. When he could finally see straight again, she’d perched herself on his chest, arms crossed and bony elbows digging into his pecs, but he ignored all that because her face was only inches from his own. “Zach, I’ve wanted you from the moment I first saw you. I’m not like a lot of women you’ve probably been with.” Something passed behind her eyes, a shadow that made his tiger tense, yet she didn’t let it linger. “I don’t play games and I don’t lie. With me, what you see is what you get, so if I show up

with a box of condoms it’s because I plan to enjoy myself with you. My only worry was that you didn’t return the sentiment.” Some of his tension had faded at her words. No, Colette wasn’t like women who thought playing coy and hard to get was the way to go. He wouldn’t go so far as to say she didn’t play games because he remembered how she’d made him chase her around the cabin, but it had been a mutual game, not one she initiated to keep his interest. Then the rest of her words sank into his mind and he glared at her. “Are you couillon, woman? Of

course I want you!” She snorted and rolled her eyes. “Yeah and that’s why you didn’t come out here prepared, hanh? Because you could barely keep your hands to yourself.” He refused to acknowledge the blush he felt climbing his face in a cascade of heat. “I was trying to show you I wanted you more than just for sex.” He heard the defensive tone in his voice, but couldn’t help it. He didn’t just want her for fucking. He could get that anywhere. Okay, maybe not Colette-style sex, but if that was all he was after, he could’ve saved

himself some time and blue balls to get it. Zach prepared to tell her exactly that, but her wide, strangely vulnerable stare stopped him. “What?” “You want more than sex?” His stomach clenched in dread and nervousness because unlike before, she didn’t sound excited. If anything, she seemed closed off to him. Even her scent had changed, although her pulse fluttered madly at her neck. Unsure and not liking it one bit, Zach said the first thing that came to mind. “I want exclusive rights.” It wasn’t a lie, per se. He wanted exclusive rights to

her heart and her soul and her body for the rest of their lives. He just wasn’t ready to tell her all that. Yet. Colette stared at him, those weird shadows dancing behind her eyes before she nodded. “Okay. I want that too,” she added quickly, slanting a dangerous glare on him. “If some shifter swishes her tail at you, I reserve the right to cut it off. And your punishment would result in something else getting the chop. Got it?” The low menace in her voice and the cold bite in her eyes should have turned him off. He didn’t do possessive women, but Colette

proved to be yet another exception to the rule. His dick twitched at the danger, the way it did every time she did something to reveal the predatory female in human skin. He lifted her off his cock with a little toss that had her tumbling to the foot of the bed. Before she could splutter in outrage, he had the used condom off and a new one on and was sliding into her slick cunt. At first she threatened him with all kinds of awful things that involved his balls and her hunting knife, but after a few strokes, her fingers dug into his ass, pulling him closer and her teeth were in his

shoulder,

stifling

her

screams

of

pleasure.

* * * * *

She really hated to leave the cabin, but the thunderstorms had passed at least two hours before and the sun would be setting soon. Colette peeked at Zach under her eyelashes as he helped her strip the bed. He hadn’t put his shirt back on yet after cleaning up a little from the cistern water, his golden skin gleaming in the afternoon sunlight. Her heart tripped in her chest when he caught her gaze and smiled. She looked away again, her

stupid blush making him chuckle. Her entire body tingled from the most amazing orgasms she’d ever experienced. He’d definitely proved himself to be the kind of lover who left a woman sighing with pleasure and begging for more. If it hadn’t been for the fear that her father would come looking for them, Colette would’ve tied him to the small bed and kept him as her secret forever. Because it would have to remain a secret. Maybe her dad would be accepting of her relationship with Zach by their thirtieth anniversary. Her heart fluttered at the thought. She

did her best to keep her cool. He

hadn’t

permanent markings. She frowned at the pile of sheets that carried the strong scent of sex, bundling them into a single tote so she could clean them at home. He had to mean he seriously wanted to mate her, right? A man didn’t demand exclusivity of a woman, mark her in such a primal way if all he wanted was a booty call. Right? A tiny voice, the one that continued to be cynical despite the happiness in her heart and the heavy pleasure still coursing through her body, said he was just marking her the

about

said

anything

way he would a tree he wanted to use as a scratch post. It was the same voice she tried to ignore when she thought she saw something stronger than affection in Zach’s gold eyes. What would a tiger with his reputation want with a crazy coonass whose family threatened him on a daily basis? A quick fuck, that’s what. “Everything okay?” he asked when she sat staring at the bundled sheets like an idiot. He crouched next to her, all of that golden skin filling her vision. “Colette?” Blinking to clear the visions of heartbreak dancing before her eyes,

she ducked her head. “Yeah, everything’s fine. I was just thinking I’m gonna have to come back here in a few weeks to give it a good cleaning, that’s all.” She aimed a blank smile over his left shoulder. “Deer season starts in a few months.” She caught his frown out the corner of her eye as she climbed to her feet. “Let’s go.” He grabbed the laundry bag laden with soiled sheets and hefted it onto his shoulder without being asked. Not that she would’ve. Colette was so accustomed to doing for herself, she didn’t bother asking people anymore. Her shaky, scared

heart warmed at how easily he fit himself into her routine. Not barreling over her like a steamroller, but acting as an extension of herself, as though he’d been working at her side all her life. As they left the cabin, Colette tried to pretend as though it were no big deal when he reached out to grab her hand, lacing his fingers through hers as they walked down to the dock. But it was a huge deal. Even with the boyfriends she’d had in college, they hadn’t reached for her. She’d had to initiate the contact with them, something she frequently didn’t bother doing

because it seemed weird and unnatural to hold hands with someone. With Zach though, it was another way he made them fit together as though they were two halves of a whole. Remembering exactly how well they fit together in a biblical sense, Colette shivered. “Will you come back to my place tonight? I want to cook for you,” he said as he helped her load the boat. Caught in the middle of stepping into the boat, his question took her off guard, which was the only reason she slipped between the boat and the dock, plunging feet first into the bayou. She barely

had enough time to hold her breath before she went under, her movements stirring up the muddy bed and obscuring her vision. Not that she needed it. She let a few bubbles escape her mouth and followed them to the surface, using her hands to find the bottom of the boat so she didn’t hit it with her head. She heard muted roars and splashing somewhere above her, but tuned it out to find her way back above water. When her hand broke the surface, Zach was there to grab it, hauling her out of the bayou, wet clothes and shoes and all.

“Fuck, Colette,” he shouted at her as he pulled her into the boat. His hands ran over her, pressing here and there. “Talk to me, dammit! Are you okay?” She blinked the water from her eyes, thick, south Louisiana air filling her lungs when she gasped like a landed fish. “Okay,” she whispered as she coughed. “I’m okay.” His hands left her abruptly, drawing her gaze to him rather than the puffy clouds overhead. Zach’s lips were white where they were pressed together, lines of tension bracketing his mouth. His

eyes were pure gold, his pupils tiny pinpricks of black. Wondering what his problem was, she looked him over, wondering if he’d hurt himself when he pulled her out of the water. He still hadn’t put his shirt on and it looked as though every vein in his arms stood in stark relief against his skin as though he’d just pumped enough iron to build a train.

asked

tentatively, her voice still hoarse.

nodding

with short jerks of his head. Colette sat up, slinging the hair off her face and looked around. “I

“Are

you

okay?”

she

He

closed

his

eyes,

haven’t done that since I was little,” she remarked with a self- depreciating laugh that fell flat when Zach didn’t join her. She cleared her throat and got to her feet. Her clothes were soaked. Again. Shit. “Well, at least it won’t be hot on the trip back to the office,” she muttered as she walked to the back of the boat. When she got behind the wheel, Zach knelt in the same place, his head bowed. He had to have hurt his back lifting her out of the water, but was too proud to admit it. Shaking her head at stubborn men, she started up the boat. “So what do you want to cook

for me?”

Chapter Thirteen

He was having a heart attack. That was the only logical explanation for the way it continued to pound despite the danger being long past. Colette didn’t seem to have a problem putting her fall into the bayou behind her. Probably because she hadn’t seen the fucking alligator slide into the water from the far bank and head straight for her, he thought, his heart once again jumping into his throat. His tiger had gone on instant offense, roaring a warning at the fucking

lizard threatening its mate. When her hand broke the surface of the water, he hadn’t thought twice, just pulled her out. And other than spluttering a little, she’d acted as though it wasn’t a big deal. “So what do you want to cook for me?” He lifted his head at that, staring at her with a blend of frustration, relief and pained love. The dip in the bayou had left her clothes plastered to her body again. Her hair slicked over her delicate skull. Skin glistening like wet honey, she looked like a mermaid. A mermaid who didn’t seem to realize the

danger she’d been in, or if she did, accepted it as a normal part of her life. “Zach?”

He blinked, realizing she was staring at him as though he needed help. And maybe he did. If loving Colette was going to be this dangerous and frightening, it seemed he hadn’t given her father enough credit for surviving her youth. “Alligator,” he muttered as he lifted his ass to sit on the bench in the center of the boat facing her. “I’m cooking alligator.”

remarked

with

he

“Sounds

good,”

she

enough

enthusiasm

that

could have cheerfully strangled her. His tiger rumbled at the thought. Okay, maybe not strangle her, spanking her sounded better. “Do you need me to supply the meat? ’Cause I have a few bags in my freezer from last season.” She chattered on, pointing out all the spots she’d hunted, where she caught this alligator, where she shot that buck, not in the least bit shaky after falling into alligator- infested waters. Listening to her, nodding when she seemed to expect a response, Zach pondered ways he could keep her safe. There was no way he could take as much

time off from the bakery as he had lately. Emily had sounded as though she thought he was dying when he told her to cover for him today. An absence of more than two days in a row would have the place crumbling into ruin. Logic told him Colette knew how to take care of herself, had survived this long without him in her life, but that thought process was about as helpful as tits on a bull because logic had nothing to do with how he felt about this woman. His tiger was outraged that she held herself in so little care. It wanted to wrap her in bubble wrap

and put her on a shelf somewhere so she didn’t get hurt. Yeah, that would go over like gangbusters. She’d skin him alive and use his pelt to wipe her feet every day. No, he’d have to trust that she wouldn’t do something dangerous and get herself killed. Trust. The word alone made his stomach sour and cramp. “What’re you thinking about to make that face?” she asked over the roar of the motor. But before he could lie to her, his nose caught a scent that snapped him out of his self-pitying thoughts. A look around showed

they were back to the fork in the bayous where they’d stopped before, but this time there was a new, unwelcome scent all over the area. His tiger let out a subvocal growl that traveled along the bayou, sending birds to the sky. The wolf. He smelled that ball-licking, ass-sniffing wolf. “Good Lord, you’d better hope the wind doesn’t change direction, or your face’ll get stuck that way,” Colette teased as she brought the boat around the curve in the bayou. But the minute they cleared the trees, she killed the engine. The expression on her face went from

happy and carefree to a mask, the smile dropping away as though the sun suddenly fell from the sky. Zach swiveled on his bench, knowing what he would see before he even turned around. Unfortunately, he was correct. The bastard wolf, also known as the Wildlife Enforcement Agent, sat in a boat in the very center of the bayou, his mirrored sunglasses hiding his wintry blue eyes. The tiger snapped at Zach’s mind, wanting at the fucker for coming near his woman again, but the gun on the dog’s hip stopped him from doing something stupid and

leaving Colette helpless.

* * * * *

It finally dawned on Colette, as she was driving back to the office, that Zach had been worried about her. He sat facing her on the bench in the middle of the boat, a brooding expression on his handsome face. It was the most adorable look ever, melting her heart in ways she really didn’t need right now, not if she was going to keep her shit together. But seriously, how could she resist? She was used to him being sexy. Demanding. Mischievous and even

charming. But worried and brooding? No, not so much. And he was that way because he’d worried about her falling in the water. He’d run his hand through his hair numerous times, tugging on the strands, eyeing her the same way her dad had when he’d discovered she wasn’t his little tomboy anymore. Who would’ve guessed Zach and her daddy had anything in common? But it appeared both men thought she needed a keeper. If it had been any other man, she would’ve disabused him of that notion immediately and violently. Except she actually felt as though

Zach’s worry equaled care. It had to. You didn’t worry for someone if didn’t care for them. Right? She puzzled over that for most of the trip, making little comments here and there, trying to figure out if Zach was worried for her in a my girlfriend and possible mate almost drowned kind of way or a I really didn’t feel like dealing with a legal inquisition if she drowned kind of way. But all thoughts of how Zach cared for her, if he cared at all, were pushed to the back of her mind when she saw that boat in the middle of the bayou. The weird sixth sense she relied

on when she was hunting returned with full force, warning her this wasn’t good. She had to tell her fight-or-flight mode that she wasn’t doing anything wrong because every instinct told her to swing the boat around and make a run for it. Her breath caught in shock and a shiver worked its way down her spine. Fear, primal and harsh, slammed into her. Colette could have blamed her mom’s stories about her great- great-grandmother being a famous mambo in Haiti for her sudden and crippling belief that something bad was going to happen. She could

have blamed the old tales of voodoo her mother told her, but she didn’t. No, this agent heralded something else. Danger. But she didn’t run. Instead, she let the boat coast up to the LDWF vessel, careful to keep a few feet between them. Unless the warden asked for special permission to check out her boat, she wouldn’t make it easy for him. Zach’s head snapped around, drawing her attention. He scented the air and his eyes flashed pale yellow, the tiger peeking at her from his human face. That simple look helped calm her a little. She

wasn’t alone and no one would be dumb enough to take on a tiger shifter, even if that someone was a wildlife agent. Right? But the agent didn’t look the least bit worried about Zach, ignoring the tiger shifter in favor of her. He was good-looking from close up, yet he did nothing for her. Even when he flashed her what she supposed was a charming, white- toothed smile, all she saw was a fox with a mouthful of feathers. “Y’all hunting today?” The drawled question was accompanied by him whipping off his sunglasses. “No sir.”

Those cold eyes trailed over her as far as they could, a weird knowledge in them that left her feeling naked. Zach didn’t seem to appreciate it either, a harsh, warning growl rumbling in his throat. The agent glanced at the tiger shifter, seemingly unfazed by the obvious danger he was in. The two men stared at each other, an unspoken challenge passing back and forth. Colette could almost see the pissing contest going on, but she was left completely in the dark by their silence. All she knew was the longer they stared, the tenser the

men became until they resembled solid blocks of stone. Hoping to get the fuck away from him, Colette did something her daddy said never to do. She engaged a warden in conversation. “Afternoon, Agent Roscoe,” she said after a quick glance at his name tag. “We’re just doing a little sightseeing. How can I help you?” He looked away from Zach to give her another smile, this one more playful than before. “Well now, you could help me by going out to dinner with me.” Her jaw dropped. She would’ve liked to say it was because in all her

years of running into agents, she’d never had one ask her on a date, but the truth was, she’d never seen a man leap across a distance of five feet without preparing for it the way Zach did. He landed in the agent’s boat, rocking it with his sudden weight and launched himself at the other man like a freight train hurtling off a cliff. The two men toppled over, disappearing from her sight except for the occasional fist and foot as they fought. She didn’t know whether to cheer for Zach or to haul ass. She couldn’t believe he’d done that, even as she thought of

ways to thank him with sexual favors for doing something she’d always wanted to do. “Hold it right there, jackass,” the low threatening growl came accompanied with the ominous click of a hammer being cocked. Colette’s heart dropped to the pit of her stomach, all the blood draining from her face as she realized the warden had pulled his gun. “No!” she shouted, trying to reach out to the other boat to pull it or herself closer. “Don’t shoot!” The annoying drawl muttered something she couldn’t hear, but seconds later Zach’s head popped

over the edge of the boat. His face was stark white, his eyes glittering dangerously as he moved to let the warden up. Both men had red marks on their faces from the fight and the warden’s nose looked a little bloody. But none of that mattered when she saw the gun in the warden’s hand. “Zach,” she said through numb lips, all the strength in her body fading as she pictured the man she loved being blown away before her very eyes. “It’s okay, Colette.” While his face was pale and tight, Zach’s voice was steady and sure. “The

agent

and

I

just

had

a

little

disagreement.

We’re

cool

now,

right, Roscoe?” The warden’s eyes raged with cold fire as he glared at Zach, but he nodded. “We’re cool. Just get the fuck back in your boat, cat.”

Colette watched as Zach flashed massive fangs at the wildlife agent before he casually leapt back into her boat, barely rocking it. He sauntered closer, coming to stand beside her, his warmth pushing away the chill that invaded her at the thought of him dying right then and there. She shuddered, nausea crawling up her throat, but he

threw an arm around her shoulder, pulling her into his side. The warden watched them, something calculating in his gaze before he looked directly at Colette. “Y’all be careful now,” he said with a smirk that threatened to destroy the cocoon of warmth Zach lent her. “I’ll be seein’ you around, miss.” With a shuttered glance at the tiger standing next to her, the warden turned over the engine and drove away, the wakes of his waves causing her boat to bounce. Still, Colette couldn’t speak. The only thing she was capable of was

throwing her arms around Zach and squeezing him tight.

Zach breathed in her scent, the underlying fear nearly drowning out his markings. He closed his eyes and buried his face in her hair, holding her close. Her heart pounded against his chest, but he couldn’t say or do anything more than hug her, let her hug him. He’d never come so close to dying before. Looking down the barrel of a gun with a cold-eyed shifter on the other end gave him a new appreciation for how a deer felt. And for the wolf to whisper, “It

ain’t time for us to dance just yet, pahdnah.” He shook his head and tightened his hold on Colette. There was something wrong with that wolf. Maybe he’d do a little snooping, talk with Sheriff Picou when he got back to town, but whatever he did, he wouldn’t allow that bastard to ruin what he and Colette had just shared. “It’s okay,” he murmured against her crown, tenderness crowding out some of his anger at the wolf. Colette had been genuinely worried about him and he didn’t think it was the general

empathy most people had for each other. She cared about him. She had to, right? “I thought he was going to kill you right in front of me,” she whispered into his chest, her body shivering. She tilted her head back to look at him, her eyes nearly swallowing her face. “I’m sorry, I just need a minute, okay?” He kissed her forehead before tucking her back against his chest. “What’re you sorry for? You didn’t do anything wrong.” Her small laugh was shaky at best, but some of the tension left her. “I’m sorry for falling apart like

this.

I

just…I

don’t

know,