Big Cat Mates, Book 2
by Cynthia Sax
eBook ISBN: 06256-02010
When an uptight tiger shifter meets a no-rules hacker, chaos reigns, empires fall, and old enemies resurface. Can Nikhil embrace his wild side and risk everything for love?
Nikhil Baagh moved through the hotel foyer, maintaining his loose, leisurely stride, keeping the excitement shimmering through him under tight control and his increasingly restless inner tiger on a short leash.
Hunt prey. Within him, his cat paced back and forth, back and forth, eager to finally meet their adversary face-to-face.
No hunting. To protect the shifters and humans depending upon him and his business, Nikhil now played by the rules — civilized human rules. He no longer chased threats through the city streets and mauled them into submission.
Instead he designed elaborate schemes to capture his prey, like tonight’s exclusive charity gala constructed to flush out Verve — the mysterious female hacker and constant pain in his tuxedo-clad ass. He’d dared his unknown adversary to attend, leaving the taunt buried in his new computer code, knowing she’d be unable to resist the challenge.
“Is she here?” he asked, his deceivingly flat voice concealing his anticipation.
“Don’t know, boss.” Bruce, the bear-shifter head of Tiger Tech’s security, opened the door for him.
“You don’t know?” Nikhil raised one of his eyebrows as he entered the ballroom. “Purple is her signature color. How many women are wearing purple?” He came to a halt.
A herd of beings dressed in black, white, and purple dotted the social landscape before him. Men sported tuxedos with purple ties and cummerbunds. Women wore ball gowns in every shade of purple, jewels sparkling in their ears and hair.
Prey. His tiger pulled at his restraints, wishing to chase, hunt, kill.
Not prey. Perspiration beaded on Nikhil’s forehead, the effort to contain his hostile animal tremendous. “How did this happen?”
“She hacked the invite list and, posing as your assistant, sent a request for your guests to wear purple,” Bruce explained, standing protectively at his side.
“Clever.” And dangerous. Claws pricked Nikhil’s skin; his tiger was incensed by the hacker’s evasive tactic.
I should leave. Nikhil curled his hands into fists and glared up at the chandelier, the crystals sparkling like stars in the night sky. I can’t control him for much longer.
But leaving would be conceding defeat. Verve had bested him on previous occasions, exposing security breaches in his top products and mocking his abilities. She wouldn’t best him tonight.
I can control my animal. I’m stronger than this. Nikhil gritted his teeth. “Notify me if you spot anyone, especially any female, acting unusual. I’ll have a look around.”
Nikhil prowled through the room, casually greeting guests, not stopping; the half-wild tiger inside him required constant movement. She was here. He knew it, his big cat bristling with awareness. She —
Nikhil’s nostrils flared, the sweetest scent dancing on the recirculated air, the scent of warm, ripe female.
Mate, his tiger howled, clawing at his insides, thrashing, struggling for his freedom.
Nikhil couldn’t fight the mating call, his brain overwhelmed by primitive instinct, by unparalleled need. He raised his head, glanced around him, and caught a glimpse of platinum blonde hair, pale shoulders, black lace over lilac silk. He pivoted on his heels and gave chase, following the female, his female. His gaze was fixed on her voluptuous form as she wove between guests.
The mayor greeted him, his monkey suit pulled tight over his rotund build. Nikhil ignored the chatter, hurrying to catch up to his unknown beauty, leaving the powerful politician gaping after him.
Nikhil breathed deeply, inhaling the mystery woman’s aroma, torturing himself with her scent, the hacker forgotten, all his concentration on the female, on his female. My mate. His lips curled upward in a grim smile.
“Boss.” Bruce’s massive hand landed on his arm, the bear shifter slowing his progress. “We think we might have found her.”
“Later,” Nikhil growled, allowing his tiger to flash in his eyes, his canines dropping as his mate’s scent dispersed. “Get her name and number, and I’ll contact her later.”
He shrugged off the male’s grip and surged through the crowd, losing sight of his prey. She’d disappeared into the herd, camouflaged by the common color scheme. Nikhil chased her natural fragrance blindly, clinging to that fragile trail, unable to see her. Panic seized him, twisting his stomach into tight little knots.
I can’t lose her. I can’t. He opened his mouth to better capture the scent, to reduce the likelihood of his mate eluding him. Nikhil prowled along the busy bar, guests gathering around the watering hole, and her fragrance grew stronger.
A professional football player at the end of the bar threw back his head and laughed, drawing Nikhil’s attention. As the athlete lumbered away, a smile on his broad face, the source of his amusement was revealed.
The woman sat with her head bowed, the purple streak in her almost-white hair hiding her face. My mate. Nikhil purred with happiness, his beast appeased, his intellect returning. She’d perched her lush body on the tiny barstool, the hem of her skirt riding upward, exposing endless expanses of curvy calves and thighs.
“Is this seat free?” Nikhil placed his palm on the black vinyl, claiming the coveted spot beside her.
“No.” She gazed up at him, her violet eyes framed by dark eyelashes, their brilliance as shocking as a punch to his gut. He sucked in his breath sharply. “It comes at a price.”
“Whatever that price is, I’ll pay it.” As Nikhil slid onto the barstool, one of his knees brushed hers, and a hum of awareness reverberated up his thigh, over his groin, his cock hardening, his tiger rolling playfully inside him.
“You already have.” Her lips curled into a secretive smile.
The bartender placed a cup and saucer in front of him, indicating it was for him. Nikhil lifted the cup and sipped the tea, the flavor soothing and familiar, the grassy notes mixing with an undertow of malty spice. “How did you know Indian white was my favorite, goddess?”
An intriguing flush crept across his mate’s cheeks. “How did you know who I was?”
Do I know who she is? Nikhil perused his plus-sized beauty, his gaze pausing on her trembling lower lip, her generous bosom, her legs so close to his. She was a stranger. He’d remember meeting such a gorgeous, intriguing female. His tiger would never forget her scent.
“Oh, I’m sorry.” She covered her smile with her hands. A tattoo of entwined violets circling one pale wrist. “You don’t know who I am, do you, Mr. Baagh?”
“Call me Nikhil, please, and I know who you are,” he bluffed. She made a mistake. She thinks I should know her. His mind spun while his body ached. Gods, I want to know her.
“Then who am I?” his goddess dared, twining a violet strand of hair around her finger, the tendril’s color matching her eyes, matching the flowers in her tattoo… matching the font of the code his mysterious hacker had changed.
Mate became prey and prey became mate. Nikhil’s heart pounded. His cock bobbed. His tiger howled with happiness.
Feigning a casualness he didn’t feel, he placed his arm around his mate, his prey, his equal. She trembled, her response exciting him. “Online, you’re known as Verve,” he murmured into her ear, tickling her earlobe with his lips, tasting salt and woman. “I don’t yet know your real name.”
“Violet,” she whispered, holding up her tattooed wrist.
“Violet.” Nikhil raised her hand to his face and rubbed his cheek along the design, grinding his scent into her skin, branding her as his. “You’ve been a bad girl, goddess, touching what is mine, harming my code. Tigers are very protective of anything we consider ours.” He pressed his lips to the inside of her wrist, feeling her pulse beat reassuringly strong and gratifyingly fast against him.
“Couldn’t resist.” Her eyes darkened, the musk of her arousal tormenting his tiger. “Your code was so beautiful, yet flawed.” He licked her skin, and her head lolled back in a sublime act of submission, her hair spilling like silk over her shoulders. “So very flawed. The others could hurt you.” She panted as he nibbled up her arm, leaving a trail of pink on her pale skin. “Couldn’t allow that.”
“Why?” He brushed his lips over hers, tasting mint and desire.
“Because.” She linked her fingers behind the back of his neck and pulled him to her, capturing his lips, his tiger pleased by her aggression, her dominance, her strength. Their tongues twisted, twirled, danced, and his questions vanished, decimated by a raw, savage passion.
“Get a room,” some asshole quipped, the words slurred.
Bloody hell. We’re in public. Nikhil pulled away from Violet, appalled by his lack of control. Years of taming his animalistic nature undone in an instant by his purple-haired mate. “We can’t do this here.”
“Can’t we?” She reached up and tugged on his tie, carelessly unraveling his carefully constructed public persona.
He caught her wrist and pressed his fingertips into her tiny blue veins, the pulse of her blood pleasingly strong. “Not here.” Nikhil met her gaze, allowing his tiger to show.
Violet’s kiss-plumped lips lifted into a cheeky smile, his mate showing no fear. “Then we’ll continue this in your room.” She slid her feet to the floor, her skirt riding up.
He smoothed the lace down, brushed his palm over her curves. “I’m the host. I have duties to perform.” His body belied his words, his cock pressing against the zipper of his tuxedo pants.
Violet leaned forward, flattening her large breasts against his chest. “You’re a billionaire. Blow it off,” she whispered, resting her cheek against his. She slowly, leisurely ran her hands down his lapels, her touch setting his soul on fire, torching any remaining restraint. “Break the rules with me.” She walked away, her hips swaying and her head held high.
Males turned their heads, watching her, and Nikhil growled, his tiger dangerously close to the surface, ready to defend his claim. Guests cleared a path as he stalked forward. “Breaking the rules puts the people I protect in danger. They depend upon me.”
“They’ll survive for one night.” Violet slid one of her palms along his, her fingers soft and warm. “Embrace my chaos, Nikhil. Allow me to lead you into anarchy.”
He should resist her, but he couldn’t; the need to be with her was too strong. “For one night.” One night of freedom wouldn’t hurt him. “Tomorrow, we’ll play by my rules.”
“Me? Play by the rules?” Violet threw her head back and laughed, uncaring that the crème de la crème of the business world stared at her. She was wild and free and fearless — everything Nikhil had once been and wished he could be again.