Brazil, South America
As the beat of the jungle drums grew louder, Shu fought the memories of her past humiliation in the Mating Circle. Inside the circle her father, in jaguar form looking so powerful and dangerous - his dark coat gleaming, was in the process of claiming the hissing female jaguar at its center. The flickering torches cast a seductive glow over the aggressiveness of his advances. Once upon a time she'd wished for the same for herself. A powerful male stalking her and claiming her had once been her dream. But the mating circle is not meant for a half-breed such as me.
Relief flooded her as her father finally pinned the female under his weight and she submitted to him. As they exited the circle, Shu cowered down, showing respect to her father's new mate. Keeping her form submissive and head lowered, she prayed inside the body of her hybrid tigress-jaguar, Maria would pass her without incident. An unexpected rake across her shoulder of Maria's deadly claws, assured her Maria did not appreciate her presence at the gathering. Flattening her ears, Shu fought to control the large white Bengal tigress. Next to his new mate, her father hissed then knocked her over. Despite the fact I've left the pride, gone away to school, and live as a human, I still cause trouble by just existing.
Her father's rough tongue traced over the wound on her shoulder. Lying still she accepted his gesture of comfort as she had many times in the past. Her luxurious white coat with pale silver rosettes and dark stripes was scarred in many places from her constant battles within her own pack. She had too much pride and strength to become the beta but it hadn't stopped the others from trying to force her into the role.
* * * *
Picking up her bag, Shu headed for the front door of her father's home. The screams and grunts of her father and his new mate had kept her up most of the night. When they'd finally quieted at dawn, she'd fought with her promise to remain for the week celebration of her father's mating and her own desire to leave. The vibration of her pager had finally made her decision for her.
"Shu, you promised to stay." Her father appeared in the doorway. His dark hair mused and his skin had several bite marks from Maria. She looked at them impassively. Possessive as always it seems. She had to mark my father as hers and take away my last tie to the pack.
"I'm sorry, Dad, but an emergency has come up, one I can't ignore."
He walked closer to her. "What is so important that it would make my honorable daughter break her promise?"
"A xiamen tiger has been hurt. It was brought to the doctors at the Beijing zoo. Ry-lin called me. The tiger won't allow any near enough for treatment. He said they're thinking of sedating him but the tiger reeks of human. If his hunch is right, we're dealing with a hybrid and if they sedate him and he shifts..." She knew she didn't have to go further. Her dad knew the importance of keeping their secret from full-blooded humans.
Sadness appeared in his eyes. "Go, Shu. Thank you for humoring me and attending the Mating Circle. I know it couldn't have been easy for you after..."
"Let it rest, Dad. I'm happy with my life. I get to travel and treat all kinds of exotic animals. I am needed."
He frowned. "You think you're not needed in your own pack?"
"It's your pack, Dad. Yours and Maria's now. I'm a very unwelcome reminder of what happens when mating occurs outside the pack. No jaguar wants to mate me nor does any tiger, so I'll use my education and pull as a human to further our causes. Insuring the continuance of our endangered species will be a suitable replacement for not having cubs of my own."
He lifted his hand and touched her cheek. From behind him the warning hiss of enraged jaguar came. His hand fell before he turned and faced his mate. "Maria, do I need to remind you again? She's my daughter."
Taking advantage of his distraction, she slipped out the door. Seeing Raphael, her father's second in command and her cousin waiting, she smiled. He was one of the few aside from her father who tolerated her presence. She winced as the mating scream came from the house. Her dad was once more exerting his dominance over his new mate.
Raphael shook his head. "Ready?"
"Yeah. Thanks for taking me to the airport." Sliding into the Jeep, she leaned her head back against the seat and closed her eyes. The familiar smells of the jungle comforted her as they headed towards the small airstrip where she could catch a flight out and begin the journey headed towards China.
* * * *
The rhythmic thud of the wheels touching down in Beijing woke Shu from her light sleep. Without opening her eyes she could smell the stewardess coming down the aisle. The clicks of the overhead compartments being opened finally had her opening her eyes. The reoccurring dream of the tiger had plagued her over the last twenty- four hours and uncountable miles. The piercing amber eyes haunted her and wouldn't leave her alone. Whether it was the dream or her words to her father, they promised she was his.
Standing and trying to shake off the dream, Shu grabbed her carryon and headed down the aisle. She bumped into a large Chinese man. "Bào qiàn." Her apology spoken in soft Chinese had the man pausing.
When he turned and rambled off several words in Mandarin, she held up her hands laughing. "That's all I know how to say."
The muscular and pale skinned man quickly switched to English. "Such a pretty lady as yourself should learn more than how to say sorry. I'm Daniel Sun." He gave her an informal bow.
"Hello, Daniel. I'm Shu Rodriguez, and don't let the name fool you. I was born and raised in Brazil."
"Interesting, I've been to Argentina but never Brazil. " While they waited for the line to move, he continued, "So have you come here for pleasure, Shu?"
She shook her head. "No. I'm here on business. I'm a doctor – a vet. I'm here because of an injured tiger. This will be my fourth visit to the Beijing Zoo. One of these times I'm going to come over for a visit and actually get to do the tourist thing. "
Daniel's eyes narrowed before his expression smoothed out. "Ah, I see. What a coincidence. I've come to here for the same reason. I have contracted a car to pick me up, why not share it?"
Taking a deep breath, she smelled nothing but human. He's safe enough. As a hybrid, Shu had all the strengths of her base form. Strong and agile, if she was pitted against full-blooded humans she would have no problem defending herself and winning.
"I would like that."
* * * *
When they pulled up in front of the Beijing Zoo, Shu was met by Ry-lin. His wide face was lit with relief. "Dr. Rodriguez, I'm so glad you could make it. Mr. Chen wants to sedate the tiger but I'm afraid it will do more good than harm," he said softly as he led her away from Daniel. Looking over his shoulder, he nodded to Daniel.
"I understand. We'll see if I can work my magic on him tonight after hours." Glancing at her watch, she estimated she had just enough time to tour the other cat exhibits before they closed. She turned back to Daniel before addressing Ry-lin again. "I'd like to see this tiger after checking in on some old friends. Would you like to join me, Daniel?"
On their ride over to the zoo after dropping their luggage at a small hotel, she'd found out Daniel was a protector of Xiamen tiger. At first she'd thought his words odd but shrugged it off as part of the language barrier, assuming he'd meant he was one of the people who were vital in protecting tiger's rights by holding protests and raising awareness.
He seems like a nice enough man and Lord knows I haven't had any male companionship in ages.
"Sure I'd love that!" Daniel joined her. "Lead the way."
* * * *
Daniel followed the dusky skinned doctor. What the hell kind of mess has Gregory gotten into this time and why has the zoo called in a specialist? For the love of the Goddess, I hope they haven't sedated him! Telling himself that if they had, it would've made the news had done little to help. And despite the assurances from Ry-lin, he was leery of the doctor they'd chosen. This isn't some pure bred tiger she's going to be dealing with. This is my very special brother.
As they approached the first pen, he watched her easy and confident handling of the Bengal tiger.
"Good afternoon." She spoke to the tiger as if it were human. Entering the cage at the back, she walked up cautiously on the large Bengal who was lying in the sun. Touching the flank, she continued to speak softly.
Across the pen, Daniel noticed the young tigress who was watching Shu and the male. When it surged to its feet, Daniel readied himself to tackle the cat, who outweighed him even in his cat form. Before he could get into the pen to place himself between the cat and Shu, it pounced.
"Shu!" His warning came too late.
She went down under the weight of the tigress. Outside the pen, the few people who were still there screamed.
He pushed at Ry-lin trying to get into the pen. "No, Daniel."
"She's being attacked! Let me in there. If she's his only hope, I can't let her die!"
* * * *
Under the pinning weight of the tigress, Shu chuckled. "You're getting very good at pouncing Ling. You've been practicing haven't you?"
"Oh yes, Shu. Lang even lets me practice on him. But the old growly bear won't admit to it."
"Enough, Ling," this came from the older male. "These humans don't realize you're playing with Shu. Get off her or they will rush in with the tranq guns."
"I'll have to agree with him, Ling. Let me up. After I deal with the Xiamen tiger, I'll come back and we can play away from prying eyes, okay?"
"Okay!" With the spring the young tigress gave her one more push before springing away and heading back to the other side of the pen.
Dusting herself off, she stood slowly. Aware of the few people who still loitered at the edge of the pen, she made a display of backing away slowly. Ling gave a roar. The people at the rail backed away quickly.
"Once a show off always a showoff, Ling."
"And don't you forget it."
When she reached the door, she was snatched through its opening and it was slammed shut. Daniel was running his hands over her.
"I'm fine Daniel." She pushed his hands away. He looked down at her and crossed his arms over his chest.
"You were just attacked by a tigress and you say you're fine?"
"Yes, Ling was just playing. I treated her the last time I was here–"
A man in a lab coat ran up. "Thank Goddess, you're here Dr. Rodriguez. The tiger is attacking Dr Chen. Come quickly!"
Pushing past Daniel, she raced after him.
* * * *
Sliding to a stop inside the exam room, Shu couldn't believe the pure stupidity of Chen. He was cowering in the corner and a snarling but obviously hurt tiger stood over him. Although she didn't see any blood, the crying and babbling from the doctor assured her he was still alive and very scared. I can't believe that idiot brought a wounded tiger into an exam room. If I told him ten times, I've told him a hundred,' caging in' a hurt animal is a sure way to lose a limb.
"What have you done?" Her voice was low enough the doctor could hear it but not loud enough to startle the cat.
"Get him...off...of...me." Chin's voice trembled with fear.
Looking up quickly, she saw Ry-lin through the glass observation room. He gave a quick thumbs up, letting her know he'd switched off the recording equipment. It was safe for her to begin.
Pulling deep within her, she let a rumble fill her chest. As it escaped, the unexpected sound of her natural call filled the air. A mixture of the jaguar's cough and the Bengal's purr sounded oddly sensual to cats and Shu knew it. She only hoped it would grab the attention of the injured male.
With a warning hiss at the cowering doctor, the male limped back and turned to face her. He was favoring his right foreleg. Shock rolled over her as the tiger's eyes met hers. It's the tiger from my dream!
She swayed on her feet with the realization but held it together by sheer willpower. Passing out from shock wouldn't help Dr Chen. Issuing another low purr, she backed towards the door. Her intent was to get the injured male to follow her out of the exam room and allow Dr Chen to be rescued. The door opened behind her. The tiger limped closer to her, obviously intrigued by the sounds coming from her chest.
"Let me deal with him, Shu. I've handled him before. Injured tigers are notorious for attacking..." Daniel's voice was insistence.
Finally frustrated with his interference she looked over at him. "Daniel, I know what the Hell I'm doing, back off."
He gripped her arm, hard. "You have no clue what you're dealing with, Shu!"
A roar ripped free of the tiger and he lunged at Daniel.
"Let go." She shoved him away and met the tiger head on.
Daniel's cry rang out. "Gregory, no!"
Going down for the second time in less than twenty minutes, Shu was at end of her patience. It's one thing to be pounced on by Ling and entirely another to have a pissed off injured tiger try to hurt some stupid human. Clinging to the soft fur at its neck, she hung on to the massive body, pitting her own strength against the male's. When he lunged at her throat, she shoved her arm up under his jaw.
"Listen to me 'you hard headed son of bitch', unless you want the whole world to know about shifters, calm the fuck down, or I'll give them a show they won't soon forget!"
* * * *
Deep inside the tiger, Gregory stared at the woman. She smelled of tiger and was talking about shifters. Nuzzling her, he tried to determine if she was a shifter. Despite the deep pain his front leg was giving him, he could smell the intriguing smell of Bengal and something else. Something wild and he wanted to claim it as his.
Straddling the woman's body, he trembled over her as she ran her hands down his heaving sides, taking care not to jar his injured leg. In the background, he could hear his brother speaking softly, reminding him of the humans watching, to move before they 'tranq'ed' him. Ignoring his brother and leaning in closer he tried to get a better smell of her. The Bengal small was fresh but the underlying smell of human soap did little to disguise the wild scent under it. It's addictive. I've got to have more of it. Pushing aside the neck of her shirt, he exposed her skin. The moment he got a deep whiff her scent, darkness swam over him. What the hell...
"They tranq'ed you." The soft whisper in his head surprised him.
"I claim you..." Fighting the effects of the tranquillizer, he tried to focus on her. "...as mine."
* * * *
Her heart racing, Shu looked over the heavy body of the tiger at Daniel. He was pale and cursing at Dr. Chen.
"Get him out of here." Her voice was hoarse as the full weight of the tiger sank down on top of her. Security which had finally arrived, rushed towards Daniel. "No. Take Dr. Chen and the others out of here. Leave Daniel and Ry-lin. They can help me with the tiger."
The guards looked bewildered.
"Now! I'm the specialist. Dr. Chen needs rest and in his tranq'ed condition the tiger isn't going to be giving me or anyone else any trouble."
They nodded their agreement. They'd seen her work in the past and knew she often worked with only Ry-lin at her side. Shu heaved a sigh of relief when they disappeared around the corner with the doctor and his assistants.
"Help me with him, Ry-lin." Shoving at the large heavy body pressing against hers, she could barely move him.
Ry-lin moved forward when Daniel stopped him.
* * * *
Daniel crouched down next to Shu and the tiger. Running his finger over the skin his brother had managed to expose, he brought it to his nose. Pulling his hybrid's sense of smell forward, he took a deep breath. The wild scent of cat was unmistakable. "You're a hybrid."
Narrowing her eyes up at him Shu smiled. "If you don't help move him off me, you're going to find out all too well. And we have eyes watching. We need to move him now before the tranq effects more than the cat. If he changes in front of the camera we're going to have big issues."
With a nod, he gestured to Ry-lin to help him. With a bit of grunting and a lot of cussing they finally managed to lift the three hundred and eighty pounds of sedated tiger off her. Rolling out from under him, she winced.
"You're bleeding, Shu." Ry-lin was pitched low but Daniel barely caught his words.
"Did my brother hurt you? Or was it the attack earlier?"
She shook her head. "It's nothing. Neither tussle caused it." She turned to Ry-lin. "Do you have the room prepared?"
* * * *
Shu had just shut the door behind them when Daniel cursed.
"Ah hell. He's changing."
She turned around and watched as the tiger they'd lowered to the floor, shimmered and changed into an unconscious man. Dark skinned and slender - Daniel's brother looked nothing like him. His long black hair spread out under him, covering his features and he was naked as the day he was born. Trying to ignore the fact that her hormones jumped at the sight, she focused on the nasty wound on his right bicep, as she dropped to her knees.
Ry-lin appeared at her side with clean gauze and antiseptic. Looking up at him, she took the supplies.
"Thank you." Without looking up she cleansed her hands before speaking to Daniel. "I need you to hold his shoulders. This is going to hurt like a bitch."
Once Daniel was in position, she dumped a generous portion of antiseptic over the wound. Gregory groggily jerked against his brother's hands.
"Easy, brother, we're almost done." Daniel kept his voice low and steady. He met Shu's eyes and nodded for her to continue.
Taking the gauze, she dabbed away the clotted blood and antiseptic. She frowned as the injury became clear. "This isn't a wound from a trap, Daniel. It's from a gunshot."
"You hard headed son of bitch." She realized he was talking to his brother. Looking up at her, he caught her eyes. "How bad is it?"
His soft question had her realizing he wasn't surprised. "Not bad, it's a flesh wound. A few stitches and he'll heal up fine."
Taking the curved needle and thread from Ry-lin , she stitched him quickly and efficiently. When she was done she pressed clean gauze over it to stem the fresh trickle of blood. After wrapping a clean bandage around it, she gave him a shot of antibiotics.
"Okay, I've done what I can but we've got a problem here. The tranq is going to keep him out of it for at least eight hours. We're not going to be able to keep Dr. Chen away that long."
"I'll take care of it." Daniel's voice was flat.
"Take care of what?" She looked up in surprise when he grabbed a clean scalpel off the tray. Shock washed over her when he slashed his own arm.
"What are you doing?" She watched as he started to slip out of his clothes. Folding them neatly, he placed them next to his brother.
"Our base forms are very close in size and coloring, Shu. I'll take his place. Take him back to the hotel and keep him there until the tranq wears off. Then you can bring Gregory back to retrieve me. As the Head of the Xiamen Tiger Preserve, he has the authority to transport Xiamen tigers back to the Preserve near Nanning." He pulled the tie holding his hair loose. "One other thing, Shu, if you don't mind?"
"Once I've changed - stitch me up. I don't want to get an infection because my dumb ass brother decided to play hero instead of waiting for me."
"You're asking her to stitch up a three hundred and fifty pound tiger without tranqing?" Ry-lin stepped forward. "Are you crazy?"