Where’s the common ground between a tiger shifter foot soldier and his prince?
Grio has one job—find dormant tiger shifters and introduce them to the world of Saffron Tigers. When he finds Professor Phoenix Lamoure, he discovers that Headquarters got a couple of key points wrong. Phoenix isn’t actually a professor but Saffron Tiger royalty…a member of the lost royal line.
Phoenix didn’t have things easy growing up. His mother spent most of her life in a mental institution, and he spent his formative years in foster care. When a stranger approaches to learn about his family history, he’s wary. When said stranger actually kidnaps him, all bets are off!
Can he ever believe what Grio says? Or will he be forever convinced that he’s as crazy as his mother was?
Grio sat in his SUV, splitting his attention between the students walking across the quad and the file in his hand.
Professor Phoenix Lamoure. Actually, the guy was a TA, not a professor.
He was going to have to ride Danny next time he spoke to the man. It wasn’t often that the office sent out incorrect information, and he made the most of it when they did. Of course he’d rib Danny privately. No need to get him in trouble with the boss. Nigel didn’t have much of a sense of humor.READ MORE
Phoenix Lamoure was a tiger shifter like himself, even if the man didn’t know it yet. A lot of shifters remained dormant and died never knowing what they really were.
The Saffron Tigers, though, they were nearly extinct, so they didn’t have the luxury of letting their kind discover themselves, or not. Headquarters searched out potential weres and Grio—or Janey or Tuplo—were sent to flush them out.
Grio looked at the file again, examining the black-and-white image closely to make sure he’d recognize Phoenix when he saw the man.
There were only one hundred and nineteen Saffron Tigers left and they needed numbers, needed safety. Needed each other.
Phoenix wasn’t your typical Saffron Tiger. Instead of bulk and broadness, he was slender, the little wire-rimmed glasses perched on the end of his nose adding an air of fragility or delicateness that Grio imagined was quite false. Knowing it or not, if Phoenix had tiger blood in him, he would be fierce when he had to be.
A small group of students walked by, a shock of unmistakable bright red hair hitting his eyes. Jesus. This one wasn’t just a Saffron. He was descended from the royal line.
How had he missed that? He checked the file again. Grainy black-and-white photo from some old high school yearbook. No wonder. Not only that, the file made no mention that this one was a royal.
Slipping out of the SUV, Grio closed the door silently, then quietly stalked his prey.
The two girls in the group of six headed off toward the parking lot, and he heard, “Nixie? You want to grab a pizza and a beer?”
“I don’t know. I have papers to grade…”
Grio considered his options. He could follow Phoenix to somewhere quiet, or he could “bump into” the man now.
“Come on, man. All you do is work,” wheedled the young man.
Phoenix gave a snort. “If you were Dr. Lee’s TA, you’d work, too.”
Dr. Lee. That was more information than Grio’d had a moment ago. He decided to wing it.
“Excuse me, did you say you were Dr. Lee’s TA?”
“I did, yeah.” Eyes that were pure gold met his, warm behind the wire-rimmed glasses. “Can I help you?”
“Yes, I had a few questions for you. Is there somewhere we could go and talk?” Grio gave Phoenix his best and most earnest smile.
“Sure. Sure.” Phoenix waved at the others. “I’ll catch up, guys.”
“Thank you, I appreciate it.” Grio pushed his hands in his pockets, slouching a little, trying to fit in with all these students. Sometimes his military bearing and size made him stand out.
“Sure. Are you in Western Civ or Chaucer?”
Goddess, he wanted to touch that bright hair, see if it felt anything like it looked. It distracted him when he should have been paying attention, building a credible lie in order to get Phoenix to trust him.
“I… Uh…” Damn it, he was usually really good at this, what was wrong with him?
“If you need information about the exam in the history of the English language class, I can’t help you. He really does change it, every semester.”
Grio pulled himself together. “I’m actually interested in family histories. Your name was suggested as someone I could talk to.”
“Family history? Me?” Phoenix looked incredulous. “Are you sure you have the right guy?”
“You’re Phoenix Lamoure, yes?” When he received a nod, he beamed. “Yes, I’m sure.”
“Oh, well, here’s a bench. Have a seat.”
It wasn’t as private as he would have liked, but honestly, short of kidnapping the man right off the street, he didn’t have a lot of choice. This first meeting was meant to be a reconnaissance mission—find out what Phoenix knew of his background, of his heritage. Decide how best to share the information that the subject was a shapeshifting tiger. It didn’t always go over that well and needed to be shared as privately as possible, during the initial meeting if at all possible.
Phoenix perched easily, smile unwavering. “So what’s your question?”
“I’m exploring heritage and was wondering what yours was. You have some very distinctive features.”
“Me? Who knows? I’m just a mutt.”
Grio laughed. “A mutt? Oh, I don’t think so. What makes you say that?” A mutt. This man was all cat. Special cat at that.
“Oh, I was a foster home kid, you know? I have red hair, so that’s what? Irish? Scottish? Who knows?”
“Ah. So you don’t know who your parents were.” That was different and it would explain why a royal was on his own, with no knowledge of who or what he was. Surely the royal family would have already been well known and under protection.
“My mother was institutionalized. Have I answered your questions?” The easy smile was beginning to slip, Phoenix looking less pleased about his questions.
“You never checked into your background? I ask because you have very distinctive hair and I know a family who all have hair like yours.” Okay, so “know” was a bit of a stretch, but he knew of them.
“No. No, I’m not interested. The past is just that.” Phoenix waved his hand dismissively.
“Maybe we can have dinner together and talk about your future?” If one tactic didn’t work, he would try another.
“My future? Grading papers.” Phoenix really looked at him, those gold eyes fascinating. “Are you a student?”
“No, I’m not,” he admitted. Phoenix would need to trust him once he found out the truth about himself, and that would be harder if Grio had lied to him.
“Well, I’m sorry, but I have a ton of papers. Have a good weekend.”COLLAPSE