Tiger – Laurann Dohner

Zandy knew she was in a world of shit. She was still unsure how going out for a few drinks to drown her sorrows had landed her in such a mess, but it had. A glass crashed into the wall near her, beer splashed her skin, and she huddled in her seat to make a smaller target. A body landed just feet away. The man grunted from hitting the floor hard and struggled to get back on his feet. She stood quickly and the wood chair scraped the floor as she turned. The fight had moved her way. Drunken idiots were doing their best to beat the living crap out of each other and she was trapped on the far side of the bar. Her gaze frantically searched for an exit—a door or even a window to flee through. Three solid walls surrounded her and the only way out would be to struggle through the tight press of combating bar patrons. “Oh hell,” she muttered. One of the tables close to her toppled when a man stumbled back against it after taking a fist to the face. The table missed crushing her feet by inches and she spun back around, stepped up on the seat she’d vacated and climbed on top of the corner table. There wasn’t anywhere else to go. Two more bodies hit the floor too close for comfort.

One more dived on top of the fallen pair and they rolled dangerously close to her perch. Blows were exchanged and one even pulled the hair of his opponent. Her view of the room was much better from the higher vantage point on the tabletop but it assured her she was still trapped. Two small groups of men fighting over the football game on television had turned into a brawl that encompassed the entire length of the room, wall to wall. At least forty men were involved. The few women who’d been inside the bar were rushing out the doors and Zandy envied them. No way could she safely navigate through the fight to follow them outside. Her back pressed tightly to the wall, her breath came out in pants and she prayed the cops would arrive to break it up before the worst of the fighting reached her. The brawling men on the floor hit the underside of her table, it shook and a whimper escaped her parted lips. She glanced to the next table, ready to jump for it, but a burly man suddenly crashed into it.

It collapsed under his weight and she winced as he landed on top of the broken thing. Regret filled her. She should have stayed home. She’d just wanted to forget her misery by spending her evening sulking over the bitch-slap life had given her. Leaving Los Angeles to move to Northern California had seemed like a dream come true when she’d been offered a better-paying job. She’d relocated, sunk every penny of her savings into buying her first house and had thought everything would work out. Within three weeks she knew what a clusterfuck of a mistake she’d made after starting her new life. Her boss turned out to be a sadistic slave driver and a chauvinist pig. The jerk knew how much she depended on keeping her job and wasn’t above taking full advantage. He’d spent the last week making her miserable.

He’d upset her to the point that she’d ended up in Mickey’s Bar and Grill. Another mistake. Two men grappled, wrestling while on their feet. They slammed into the wall near her and tripped over the man still trying to untangle his drunken body from the destroyed table. Both of them fell on top of him. Zandy frantically stared across the room again, praying everyone would just stop fighting. The doors of the bar were thrown open and she watched several unusually tall men come inside. They all wore matching black uniforms and riot gear. Their black helmets, vests over their chests, and shield-covered faces were ones she was happy to see. Joy rushed through her that help had arrived and they’d get control of the room fast.

She wasn’t the only one to notice their arrival. Bodies surged her way—panicked drunks possibly afraid of being arrested—and Zandy screamed as someone fell against her table. It tipped, wood snapped under the man’s weight, and her hands flailed to grab something—anything—but she ended up slamming hard into the floor, on her ass. Pain shot up her spine and stunned her, but she recovered quickly when someone nearly stepped on her fingers. Zandy struggled to get to her hands and knees. She frantically crawled for another table to hide under it since being on top of one hadn’t been good but she didn’t make it. Something big and fleshy landed on her back, shoved her flat against the floor, and knocked the air right out of her lungs. The man on top of her didn’t get up. He was impossibly heavy and more weight ground her against the unforgiving hard surface when another body landed on top of him. Their weight shifted enough for her to barely gasp in air.

Someone’s heel backed into her hip, a man cursed loudly and weight crashed down over her legs when he tripped backward. Zandy groaned from the pain of having at least three men sprawled on top of her. It rapidly turned even more hellish as more men tripped over the fallen ones. The horror of her situation filled her thoughts when she tried to move. They had her pinned. She couldn’t even drag air into her lungs from the massive amount of weight holding her down and she was about to die on a disgusting bar floor under a dog pile of drunken idiots. She managed to tuck her face against one of her upraised arms in an attempt to protect it when someone elbowed or punched the back of her head. The bodies shifted as they began to fight each other. She drew in a painful breath, her entire body feeling pulverized, and managed to choke out another terrified scream. Why don’t they realize they are killing me? Don’t they know I’m under them? Oh god! More bodies landed over her until her hips and rib cage felt as if they were about to snap from the pressure of their combined weight.

It taught her a new definition of pure agony. It hurt so much she couldn’t have drawn breath even if she’d been able to inhale. A fist hit her arm, material tore and something dug painfully into her ass cheek. One of her shoes slid off when bodies rolled a little over it. Rough denim scraped the underside of her foot and most of the weight over her felt as if it centered on her lungs. She couldn’t breathe. Pure panic gripped her when no amount of struggling moved anyone on top of her. She clawed at the wood floor, not caring how dirty it was anymore and she twisted her face. Her eyes opened. She spotted the leg of a table inches from her outstretched arm and managed to curl her fingers around the wood.

Zandy tried to pull her body but her strength waned. Spots appeared in front of her eyes. Her face felt really hot and knew she was suffocating. She blinked, focused on just her hand and her arm shook from straining muscles. Wood scraped the floor. The table moved a tiny bit, instead of her. More spots flashed and she knew in that moment that she was about to die. Fuck. Her head slumped until her cheek rested on the cold floor. Her lungs burned but no air entered her open mouth.

A memory of her mother flashed through her mind—her twenty-first birthday when she’d received the lecture about the dangers of going to bars and how nice, God-fearing girls avoided them. Her mother was all about avoiding sin. Zandy fought the blackness that threatened to take her, unwilling to let go of life. She could just imagine the police informing her parents of how she’d died, pictured how disappointed they’d be in her once again. They’d turn her death into a lesson about drinking for everyone in the family. They might even go as far as sharing with the entire church how she’d died on a bar floor. An animalistic roar rose above the sounds of the brawl. Zandy had heard stories of people near death hearing singing angels but nobody had ever whispered about scary noises. In that moment she knew she was going to hell. She admitted she’d probably earned a little eternal damnation for some of the things she’d done in her thirty-one years of life but it still sucked.

Life slipped away from her and she had no choice but to accept her fate as everything just faded to black. Tiger fumed. The NSO had offered the local sheriff any support that he may need but no one had expected the older human to take them quite so literally. Reservation had received an emergency call from Sheriff Greg Cooper asking them for immediate assistance to break up a bar fight. He and his deputies couldn’t handle the disturbance alone. He glanced with annoyance at the Species males he’d quickly assembled. “Don’t hurt the stupid, drunken humans. Just break it up and clear out the building.” None of his Species males wanted to be there. They would have preferred to still be on guard duty.

Dealing with humans never boded well. Species were feared or looked down on by full humans. Their altered human and animal hybrid genetics made them different, stronger, and most people couldn’t accept them. Being asked to police residents of the nearby town spelled disaster to Tiger’s way of thinking but he just followed orders. Justice had reached out to their neighbors, offered help to promote goodwill and they were stuck breaking up a brawl. The two humans nearest him saw Tiger when he gripped their shoulders to pull them apart. One glance his way and they fled out the door, more afraid of him than whatever anger had made them punch each other in the first place. He moved to the next fighting group, shouldered his way between them and tore off his face shield to make sure they could see his features. “Stop,” he snarled, not hesitant to use fear as a way to empty the bar. A female scream sounded from the back of the room and Tiger’s head jerked in that direction.

The female sounded terrified. His gaze fixed on a redheaded female cowering on top of a table in the far corner but she suddenly fell to the floor and out of sight. Tiger glanced at his men who were working to herd the humans outside but it wasn’t fast enough to reach the woman quickly. He kept looking toward where she had disappeared. He was taller than the humans and had a better view but he didn’t see her head reappear. What is a small human female doing in the middle of a fight? He had no answer but figured she had no common sense. Human females were fragile and nonaggressive. Tiger’s instincts screamed that she was in danger. He decided to wade in to get her and shoved his way in that direction. “Get out,” he snarled at the humans, grabbing them without care and pushing them apart.

The small female still wasn’t visible but he saw males dropping in that area. He watched another face disappear in the sea of heads and had a horrible feeling that the woman was somewhere in that tangled mass of falling bodies. A drunk human spun and threw a fist at Tiger’s face but his reflexes were better. He jerked his head to the side. The fist missed him by an inch and his large palm closed over the hand before it could draw back to take another swing. His temper boiled over and he applied a little too much strength. The male he gripped screamed as bones broke and Tiger roared at the drunk before releasing him. The drunk yanked his injured hand to his chest, began to sob as if he were a female and stumbled toward the bar exit. Tiger moved on, his gaze searching for a small redheaded female as he tossed bodies out of his way. His enhanced hearing picked up a soft feminine whimper seconds later over the cursing, the sound of flesh hitting flesh, the heavy breathing of the people around him and of furniture being broken.

He zoned in on that area, plowed into the bodies and tossed them behind him. The female was in serious trouble and he didn’t give a damn if he damaged a few humans in the process of finding her. Tiger halted where he’d last seen the redheaded female and found a group of males sprawled on the floor. They were throwing punches with elbows and fists. One man kept tossing his head back into the stomach of a man under him who pulled his hair. Tiger quickly scanned the pile and spotted a dainty arm sticking out from under it all. It was a thin, pale one and distinctly female. Her hand was palm down next to the leg of a table, light-pink polish on her fingernails. She didn’t move. Rage tore through Tiger.

The drunken idiots were on top of the female, crushing her under their bigger bodies and only that small amount of her could be seen. He couldn’t spot any of her body except for her lower arm, her wrist and her hand. Another roar tore from his throat. He bent, roughly grabbed the first body he reached and threw the male away from the pile. The male screamed as he flew through the air and crashed into the wall. Tiger didn’t give a damn. He grabbed another male, pitched him in another direction and freed one of the woman’s legs. He finally freed her and dropped to his knees next to the very still female. Her head was turned his way but her long red hair spilled over her features, hiding them. He roared again, demanding help from his males when he realized her chest wasn’t rising and falling.

Slash suddenly appeared on his knees across from him with the female between them. More males came to his aid, keeping other humans away and cleared the area. Tiger’s hands shook as he quickly but gently assessed the woman. She had footprint marks on her ass, back and thighs where males had stepped on her body. A snarl ripped from his throat. He wished he had killed the ones who had done this to her. He took great care when he turned her over in case of broken bones. He gently eased her onto her back, guessing she only weighed about a hundred thirty pounds and stood about five-foot-four in height. She wore jeans and an elbow-length pink shirt. The sleeve was torn from elbow to shoulder, proof that she’d not only been trampled but hit.

Her bones were small and he quickly pressed his head sideways over the mound of her soft breasts. He heard no heartbeat and made an anguished sound. “Shit,” Slash hissed. “They killed the small female.” Tiger rose and gripped her rib cage, checking it for fractures, but didn’t feel any. She was warm as he touched her skin. He calculated how long it had been since he’d heard her whimper and guessed it was under a minute. It wasn’t too late. He checked her ribs again, knew if they were crushed it would be hopeless, but again didn’t find any broken bones. “What the hell are you doing?” Sheriff Cooper gasped.

“Are you feeling that woman’s boobs?” “No,” Tiger snarled. He tore at his vest, ripped it off, and gently lifted the female’s head enough to use it to pillow her from the floor. “She’s not breathing,” Slash informed the older man. “Those drunks crushed her.” “Son of a bitch!” Sheriff Cooper sighed. “Just son of a bitch.” Tiger ignored the males to concentrate on the female while he tipped her head back and laid her flat on the floor. His heart hammered but he’d been trained to respond to emergencies by Dr. Trisha. Justice had insisted all the officers know basic lifesaving skills and Tiger had agreed.

He’d never been happier for those classes than he was at that moment. His hand shook slightly as he shoved the red hair out of the woman’s face. She was pretty with her delicate human features, full, pouty lips, and slender nose. Her cheek that had been against the floor was slightly red but the rest of her skin was entirely too pale. She still wasn’t breathing. He sat up and located the correct area then placed his hands between her breasts. He hoped their generous size cushioned his palms enough to prevent bones from breaking. He did thirty chest compressions. “What the hell are you doing now?” The sheriff inched closer. “CPR,” Tiger growled.

He tore off his shirt, balled it up, and shoved it behind the back of her neck to keep her head angled. He checked to make sure her airway was clear, pinched her nose carefully, opened her jaw to part her soft-looking lips and pressed his mouth over hers. His gaze diverted to her chest. He stared at creamy cleavage peeking from the top of her shirt and forced air into her lungs. Her chest moved as he breathed for her. Tiger sucked in air, covered her lips again and blew air inside her. His gaze locked on her cleavage, saw her chest expand. He started a new cycle of chest compressions and she jerked a little under him. He pulled back and watched her facial muscles twitch. He lowered his head to rest his ear over her breasts and heard her heartbeat.

She inhaled on her own, a gasp more than a breath, and he relaxed as he straightened. “She’s breathing again and has her heartbeat back.” He stared up at the sheriff. “They must have pressed all the air from her lungs until her heart stopped but I got to her in time.” “I’ll call an ambulance.” The older human grabbed his radio. “Thank you so much.” Tiger studied the female carefully. Her color improved as she breathed and he hated the sight of her on that floor. He had been trained to protect a downed, injured person and wait for assistance once he he’d done whatever he could but something inside him abhorred her lying where humans had injured her.

He bent forward and gently eased his arms under her. She was as light as he’d guessed as he lifted her against his chest and used the strength in his legs to stand. His gaze met Slash’s. “Grab my stuff. I’m going to take her outside for fresh air while we wait for the ambulance.” Slash nodded, grabbing Tiger’s destroyed shirt and discarded vest. Tiger shifted his precious burden and turned, assessing the rest of the bar. His males had cleared the humans. The fighting had ceased and his officers attended to the injured. A few of them were the ones he’d thrown to reach the female but he didn’t feel guilty.

He strode out of the bar and walked around the building, desperate to get away from the humans who’d harmed the female. They were drunk, stupid, and he didn’t want to risk her being in danger again. He carried her to one of the Jeeps they’d arrived in. He used his elbow to test the heat of the hood before he gently laid her across it sideways and kept his arm in place to cushion her head while he studied her face. Her coloring was much improved, nearly normal but still pale. He surmised it might be her natural coloring with her red hair. The long strands were curly, long and beautiful. It fell probably halfway down her back and was soft. The woman stirred a little, moved one of her legs and her lips parted slightly as a sigh left her. Tiger prayed she wouldn’t wake until the ambulance arrived.

She’d see his altered features, realize he was Species and perhaps start screaming. The parking lot lights were bright and she’d see him clear enough to know he wasn’t one of her males. He really hated it when human females saw him and pierced his eardrums with their shrieking. Sometimes they did that and it drove him nuts. He watched her face, hoping she wouldn’t wake but he could tell she was going to. She moved again, shifting her head in the crook of his arm. Tiger looked down at her as she blew out a breath, scenting a pleasant fruity smell. Her eyes opened. Tiger waited for her to notice his features and start screaming. Her eyes were dark green and beautiful.

She stared at the sky, blinked, and finally focused on him. Confusion was an easy emotion to read. She blinked again and studied his features. She took a breath and her gaze traveled over his bare shoulders, arms, and chest. He winced inwardly. He had forgotten that he’d torn off his shirt and knew she’d probably believe she was being sexually assaulted at seeing his upper body displayed. She didn’t scream but instead did the last thing he expected when she looked back up at him. A smile curved her lips and he could have sworn he saw amusement flash in those beautiful eyes. Zandy had opened her eyes to a sea of stars in a dark sky. Her mind felt foggy, as if she’d just come out of a deep sleep, but she wasn’t in her bed.

She blinked and shifted her gaze a little only to stare into the most striking pair of catlike blue eyes she’d ever seen. Their color, shape and the really long eyelashes framing them mesmerized her. The shade of blue was unique and she realized gold encircled the outer rims of the oval irises. She could have stared into them forever but curiosity made her study his regal bone structure, also strange with thicker, raised cheekbones, yet very appealing. He was the most masculine man she’d ever seen—handsome, striking and fascinating all at the same time. His golden skin tone flattered the mane of thick hair framing his face. Streaked colors of light-to-sandy blond mixed with red were woven through locks that fell over a pair of really broad shoulders. Her gaze stopped just above dusky-colored, flat nipples. She savored the sight of his hairless, wide, perfect chest. Lots of tan skin, well-defined muscles and impressive-sized biceps snagged her attention.

Her gaze dipped lower to his flat belly, his tight six-pack abs clearly displayed. Her heart speeded up to thump wildly against her ribs. He was magnificent—a god. Not a god, a small voice of consciousness stated. He’s got to be an angel. She frowned, trying to think past her confusion. Does hell have angels? Wasn’t Lucifer a fallen angel? She was foggy on her bible studies from her childhood but she was pretty certain that’s what he was. That meant the gorgeous creature before her had to be a fallen angel too. “I’m ready to go with you,” she whispered. He blinked and his eyebrows rose slightly.

“Go with me where?” He had a deep, raspy voice and it gave her the good kind of chills. She’d heard the devil could tempt anyone to sin and if he sent fallen angels who looked like this one after the newly dead, she was totally agreeable to do anything he wanted. She smiled. “You can take me straight to hell if you’re there too.” A smile softened his features and made him even more handsome. “You have been drinking too much.”

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