The smell of prey was difficult to ignore as Jason Martin paced the woods outside of Gwinn Close. It was even more difficult when he knew exactly what the prey was, where it was, and how good it would taste.
But it was his niece's rabbit, and it was there as bait, not as lunch.
In his tiger form, a rabbit wouldn't satisfy him anyway. Not as much as catching the asshole that had been breaking the rules would.
Gwinn Close was the only sanctuary for shape shifters in North America. Everyone was supposed to follow a code of conduct that kept the town safe. Little things, like making sure a prey animal isn't your neighbor before trying to eat them.
The animal that stalked up the short rise astounded Jason. The sleek orange hide and white muzzle were all too familiar as the tiger stalked into the clearing, pink nostrils flared below aquamarine eyes. If the other shifter sensed another tiger close by, he didn't seem to notice.
And it definitely was a he. The masculine spice of strong cologne clung to him, even in animal form, and Jason's cock twitched.
It had been way too long since Mitchell had left for San Antonio. Jason didn't mind the frequent trips to seek out other shifters, but he did mind the lack of sex.
Forgetting his frustration for a moment, he watched the shifter approach the live trap with the rabbit inside. The tiger sniffed the trap, then growled and lunged.
Jason shifted and stepped out from behind a tree. "Can I help you, friend?"
The tiger stopped and dropped the trap, Mr. Bunnykins still safe inside. In a rippling movement that started from his head, the tiger shifted, fur blending into taut, tan human skin stretched over thick ropes of muscle.
Jason's mouth went dry.
"You caught me." The man stood--and he used "man" loosely, since the kid couldn't have been more than twenty-one--and brushed off his knees. The backs of his arms were marked with black tattoos that mimicked tiger stripes, and judging from the jagged dark lines that wrapped around his sides and thighs, the stripes continued all over the back of his body.
No matter how hot the guy was, his behavior was seriously dangerous. Jason reminded himself of that about a hundred times in the space of a second. "What if that was a shifter in there?"
The kid's face split into a wide grin, and the corners of his green eyes crinkled with humor. "It isn't, it's just a rabbit."
"But you can't know that for sure." Jason went to the trap and righted it. Mr. Bunnykins shivered inside. "It's not a wild rabbit in there. It's domestic. That should have given you pause."
"Sorry, I'm new here." The guy put his hand out.
"No you're not." Mitchell had been receiving complaints about the new resident within a week of the tiger moving in. Jason shook his head. "I'm Mitchell's partner. He asked me to take care of this little problem you seem to be having while he's away."
"There's no problem." Above his smile, which hadn't changed a bit, the guy's eyes narrowed slightly.
Jason didn't have patience for these kinds of games. Macho posturing bored him. "There's a problem when Mitchell says there is. We've had a couple other residents complain about being chased by a tiger when they're out on their nightly runs. That's not safe, and it's not the way we do things around here."
"I wasn't going to hurt anyone." The guy wasn't smiling anymore.
"It's not the way we do things around here," Jason repeated. "We treat each other with mutual respect. Most of us are here because we lived in fear in the outside world. We don't want to feel afraid in Gwinn Close."
"Yeah, fine." The guy sounded penitent, at least. "I'll stop scaring the locals."
Typical young guy, thinking he had to be scary or hard to get anywhere in the world. Jason backed down, let him have his moment. "So, you're the one who moved into the cabin over on White Tail Lane?"
Easier now that he believed he'd intimidated Jason, the guy nodded. "Sean. Warren."
"Sean Warren, good to meet you. I'm Jason Martin." Jason stuck his hand out for a shake.
Sean laughed and shook his head while he shook his hand. "Not quite used to this casual nudity thing."
"You'll get used to it." It didn't seem all that casual to Jason. The guy was delicious and naked and everything about him suggested sex, in a cocky--no pun intended--kind of way. Lord, please deliver me from this temptation.
"Yeah, well. No chasing the locals. Got it." His lopsided smile could have stopped Jason's heart. "Look, I'm gonna just run home, stay out of trouble. You won't be getting anymore calls."
Jason sighed. He hated telling someone how to explicitly break the rules, but...
Tigers were different than other shifters. At least, Jason assumed they were. He'd never met another predatory animal, be they wolf or puma or lion, that had the same bizarre drive to be antisocial and rebellious that tigers seemed to share. It had gotten Jason into plenty of trouble when he was younger. It would get Sean into plenty of trouble now, that was damn sure and certain.
"I know how hard it is," Jason admitted wearily. "You want to go out and raise hell? Go out into Hiawatha forest proper. Our prey shifters don't go out that way. Just be sure you don't hurt anyone, and you don't let anyone see you."
Sean nodded. "You know a lot about raising hell?"
"I do. Just don't tell anybody." With a shake, Jason let the change take him over, shifting smoothly into his tiger form. He looked back with his cat eyes, just so he could savor the look of surprise on the young man's face before he loped away through the woods.
Three days later, Jason drove to Grand Marais to pick up Mitchell. The charter plane that had brought him from Milwaukee had already landed, and Mitchell waited beside the tall, chain link fence, his bags on the ground beside him. The afternoon sunlight picked out shining highlights in his already golden hair, and his tucked-in gray t-shirt highlighted the tight column of his waist.
Jason pulled up and gave him a sheepish look out the rolled down window. "You're early."
"You're late," Mitchell countered. He tossed his bags into the bed of the truck and climbed into the passenger seat, leaning over for a kiss. Jason could have devoured him. It seemed like they'd been apart for months, not a couple weeks.
"How'd it go?" he asked when Mitchell sat back in his seat and buckled his seatbelt.
"I've got a multigenerational family moving into the five bedroom over on Sturgeon Court." Mitchell couldn't hide his relief. Jason had been with Mitchell since the beginning of Gwinn Close, when it had just been a cleared lot in the forest with a camper parked on it. They'd lived in that fifth wheel for a year while the first house had been built, then the second and third. It had been more important to Mitchell to build a community of shifters than to build a house for them, and Jason hadn't complained. It was important, and Jason wouldn't have had it any other way.
Now, three years later, Mitchell hadn't slowed down. Recruiting new families of shifters to live in the safety of Gwinn Close was still his main mission. Sometimes, Jason wondered what he'd done to deserve such an amazing, selfless man. He tried not to over-think on that one.
"I'm happy for you, babe. Move in date?" He eased the truck onto the road and settled in for the hour long drive.
"December first. They've got some loose ends to wrap up. But it'll give the builders time to finish." Mitchell leaned his head back on the seat and sighed. "It's good to be home."
They drove a little way in comfortable silence, until Jason couldn't help but bring up his encounter with Sean. "I think we have our problem with that tiger taken care of."
"Warren, right?" Mitchell asked, and then corrected himself, "No, Sean. Warren is the last name."
"Yeah, him. I talked to him. Told him to go to the state forest and stay hidden if he wanted to chase prey." Jason smiled in spite of himself. "I used Gia's rabbit as bait."
They laughed, and Mitchell reached for the radio dials.
What Jason didn't tell him, though he was eaten up with guilt, was that ever since meeting Sean, the tiger was all Jason could think about. He'd gone home that night with the best of intentions, to watch a little internet porn and take care of business to the nameless guys he would never meet. Instead, his brain had been filled with pornographic images of his own making, of sinking his hands into dark hair and digging his fingers into taut, tattooed buttocks. He'd jerked off at least once a day since then, and every time to fantasies of dominating the younger shifter.
Though Mitchell had always been very open about his own fantasies regarding other men, and they'd long ago come to an understanding that a harmless daydream wasn't cheating and was perfectly natural, something held Jason back from mentioning his thoughts about Sean. That worried him even more.
The ride home was easy, with little traffic, and it afforded them plenty of time to enjoy the beautiful scenery of Northern Michigan. It also afforded them plenty of time to fall back into domesticity. Mitchell was the kind of man who was easy to be with. Jason would never do anything to put their relationship into jeopardy. He loved Mitchell too much. But he couldn't get the new tiger out of his mind.
Give me the strength to be a man, and not a complete idiot, he silently prayed as Mitchell put his hand affectionately on his knee.