There were only a few places that allowed pets to enter without being accompanied by their owners. Shaun could shop in the market if he had Ashley's permission. The owner of the store knew Ashley, so Shaun had been allowed to do their grocery shopping. Tonight he wanted to prepare a special dinner for his master.
He didn't exactly have Ashley's approval for this idea, but then it wouldn't be a surprise if he did. Since his master trusted him in all things, Shaun felt no qualms as he pushed the cart down the aisles, searching for what he wanted. He selected the lobster tails and the ingredients for the seafood salad he planned on making. As he passed by the candles, he hesitated. He definitely wanted something romantic for Ashley, and he paused for a long moment, eyeing row after row of candles. Finally, he settled on two slender red ones with ruby-colored crystal holders.
After picking out a good wine, Shaun took his purchases to the checkout. He put everything on the counter and patiently waited his turn. He knew the clerk by name and gave her a smile as she began ringing up his things.
"Something special tonight, Shaun?" Tina asked as she scanned his items. Most of the clerks knew him quite well and were generally friendly to him.
"Master's birthday." Shaun grinned at her. Spying a small box of Ashley's favorite chocolates, he picked it up and quickly added it to the pile. Most of the time Ashley always bought Shaun's favorite, and Shaun wanted to return the favor.
"Tell Ashley I said Happy Birthday."
"I will, Miss Tina." After he bagged everything, he took the receipt from her. In a good mood, he left the store and headed back to the house.
As he walked across the park, he spotted two enforcers walking toward him. Instead of passing him by, one of them stepped abruptly in front of Shaun. Forced to stop, Shaun stared down at the ground, waiting for one of them to speak.
"Your mark, were," the older man demanded as he grabbed Shaun's arm with bruising pressure.
Not daring to struggle or argue, Shaun bowed his head as the other man pulled back his hair. Shaun felt the press of the recorder to his neck as it scanned his tattoo.
"He belongs to Ashley Winters. He's clear."
"Pity. He'd be worth ten years' salary on the market." Disgruntled, the man raised his hand and gripped Shaun's chin, forcing Shaun to look at him.
Dread nearly made Shaun tremble as he saw the gleam of avarice in the man's eyes. With a shrug, the other man said, "He's legit. Nothing you can do."
Reminded of that fact, the enforcer released Shaun and moved to the side. "Get out of here, were."
Shaun didn't need to be told twice. He hurriedly walked away from them and maintained the pace until he safely reached home. Closing the door behind him, he leaned against it, trying to still the racing beat of his heart. After a few moments, he'd calmed enough to take the groceries into the kitchen.
Pulling out one of Ashley's cookbooks, Shaun followed the recipe to prepare the lobster tails. Once he finished that, he started making the seafood salad. It kept his mind from dwelling on the terrifying encounter in the park.
After he finished preparing the food, Shaun set the candles on the table, along with the vase of flowers he'd picked earlier. Wanting everything to be perfect, he carefully set their best cutlery and plates on the table. Then, glancing up at the clock, he knew Ashley would be home soon.
Heading back to the bedroom, Shaun figured he'd have just enough time to get a shower. Knowing Ashley sometimes preferred him in his fully human state, Shaun shifted as he took off his loincloth. In the bathroom, he turned the hot water on and stepped in. The warmth eased away the last of his tension over the encounter with the enforcers. It had fed on his worst nightmare of being taken away from Ashley. That had already happened once, and Shaun remained on his best behavior, praying it wouldn't happen again.
As he lathered up the washcloth, his thoughts drifted to his master. It wasn't only Ashley's birthday, but also their first anniversary together. When Ashley had first forced Shaun to come home with him, Shaun couldn't have imagined the contentment he felt now. Ashley was something Shaun had never dared to dream of, yet his master gave everything of himself.
As he washed, Shaun smiled. Ashley spoiled him outrageously with chocolates and love. The truth of their relationship could never be known on the outside, but Shaun didn't care. He'd come to deeply love his master in a way he couldn't describe, even if his life depended on it.
Quickly washing his hair and rinsing off, Shaun finished his shower, then turned off the water. He grabbed for a towel hanging from the rack near the tub and dried off. Knowing it would please his master, Shaun returned to the bedroom and chose a pair of jeans and the black sweater Ashley had bought him for his birthday.
Quite often, Ashley wanted Shaun in his human form, something that could only be done in the privacy of their home. To the outside world, Shaun was nothing more than a pet, but it was something that no longer bothered him as it once did. He had found complete acceptance with Ashley. His master loved everything he was.
Combing through his white-and-black streaked hair, Shaun looked at himself in the mirror. Being an extremely rare breed of tiger, his looks were noticed wherever he went. The attention rarely bothered him unless somebody wanted to buy him from Ashley. His master had received many offers, but Ashley had refused every one of them. Even in his human form, nobody could mistake Shaun for anything other than a were creature. The odd coloring of his hair betrayed what he was.
Setting the comb aside, he padded silently toward the kitchen. He took the pans out of the oven and placed lids on them before carrying them out to the dining room table. After lighting the candles, Shaun returned to the kitchen and got the chocolates and wine he'd bought. As he placed the box and bottle of wine next to Ashley's plate, he heard the front door opening.
Heart racing, he sprinted into the living room and waited for his master. Clasping his hands behind his back, he stood off to the side, waiting for Ashley to notice him as his master set his briefcase and keys down.
"Kitten, I'm..." Ashley's words trailed off as he caught sight of the dining room table. Then he spotted Shaun. The smile was immediate.
Bouncing on his heels, Shaun could barely restrain himself. The moment Ashley looked at him, he launched himself at his master. "Happy Birthday, and we've been together for a year."