Excerpt: Tiger By the Tail

Tiger by the Tail Copyright 2008 Kaye Chambers All rights reserved - a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication

Anxiety is a bitch of monumental proportions. Even as my stomach churned, I felt the sharp excitement of the night riding hard on the dusk as the limo rolled smoothly through the countryside. My escort had been nothing but correct when he'd arrived to pick me up. The driver had been courteous when he'd bowed as he opened the door. No, the problem was totally me. This was the first time in the twenty years since my family had been formally shunned that I'd ever been invited to partake of my birthright. Tonight I would be stared at, gossiped about, compared and found wanting.

Why was I so excited? Because I had never gotten to dance under the moon like I longed to do. Silly, I know, but there it is. Since my first run as a tiger at fourteen, I'd longed for a night like tonight.

Rolling marshes began to unfold as I reclined on the luxurious leather seats. For the first time, I began to wonder exactly where Meriwether Plantation was. The invitation hadn't mentioned the exact location and the handwritten note attached had advised me that the driver would ensure I was delivered promptly. Nervous energy danced across my skin and I forced myself to breathe. The digital clock set into the fine wood on the overhead console told me we were already late. Punching the call button on the armrest, I waited patiently.

"Yes, ma'am?"

The window between the back and the front seat slid silently down. The driver's green eyes glanced up to meet mine in the mirror, but it was my escort who answered the call. His face hinted at exotic roots, but his voice was so carefully neutral only his lack of a drawl told me he wasn't a native to the South.

"Is it much further? We seem to be running behind."

I tried to make it sound nice and polite, but knew the edginess invaded my tone. He heard it, too, and an answering humor danced back at me when he replied.

"I'm sorry, princess. We took the scenic route. All things considered, I thought you might prefer a grand entrance."

Oh.

The warm shiver at the first official use of my title was only slightly dampened by my chagrin at my obvious lack of sophistication in these things. My day job was a librarian. I didn't get too many opportunities to run in high circles unless it was for a fundraiser for my pet project of ancient documents and rare books. Museums all over the country had tried to lure me from my Savannah home, but it would be pretty hard to hunt in the streets of New York or Washington. Don't get me wrong, people did it, but I preferred the comfort of my old tobacco fields. A hundred years ago, my home had been a working plantation. Now, it was my playground and the crops that once turned the profits of slavery grew wild and unharvested. If it had grown coffee or cocoa? That would be another story. Tobacco held absolutely no interest to me.

The man's thoughtfulness made me wonder if he were more than just a flunky. With a return smile, I pressed the button to lower the privacy glass the rest of the way down.

"Do I need to make a grand entrance?"

I made the effort to make my voice sound light, but I knew he heard the undercurrent of fear and anticipation flowing under the cavalier attitude. Would I get a chance to work on my cool sophistication? God, I hoped so.

Deep brown eyes stared into mine, seeing more than I wanted him to. Of that, I was sure. I gave him a smile deep enough for my dimples to flash at him. A little charm didn't hurt, especially to a man who hadn't been raised around Southern Belles. White shown as he returned my smile, emphasizing the deep tan of his face.

"Maybe."

"Was that what you were told to do?"

Instinct made me ask the question. I didn't expect an answer, so was surprised when his whisper floated back to me.

"No."

He didn't elaborate, but something made me think he was enjoying being on the wild side of authority. Intrigued, I glanced over at the starched white envelope on the seat next to my prim black evening purse. It made me think of decadence. There was no doubt that the engraved writing was done in gold leaf. I'd scratched the apostrophe from the time, anyway, just to satisfy my curiosity. I'm funny like that, I suppose. I just have to know things, sometimes. Curiosity killed the cat, the saying goes. Here's hoping it was slightly exaggerated.

"What exactly were you told, then?"

The words weren't sharp, but they dripped with honey. The driver's gaze flicked back to the mirror and he slowed down a little more on the road.

"I was told to bring you promptly so you could be on prominent display for the evening."

Ouch. That certainly didn't bode well for me being able to enjoy myself.

"So why didn't you?"

"Because..."

I heard his jaw snap shut and he suddenly turned away to concentrate on the road. I could almost see him trying to decide if he was going to answer my question or not. Patience is a virtue and I was fortunate enough to have quite a lot of it. A tiger may lie in the grass for hours waiting on just the right prey. The closer the moon lurked, the more the tiger wanted her pound of flesh. Tonight, she was probably going to feast on the sheer dynamics of feline politics. Wolves, bears, and just about every other predatory variety of shapeshifter had clear hierarchies. Felines were about as clear as mud. There were just too many subspecies struggling for dominance. When I'd been born, the tigers had reigned supreme, but two rivaling factions had done the deciding factor. The two most powerful families in the entire feline community had married their son and daughter to consolidate power. It had seemed like a good enough plan on paper, but what they hadn't anticipated was that my parents would fall in love and that would make all the difference.

After the news that my parents wouldn't be blessed with another child, the political fire had heated up until they'd finally called the fight. They'd packed me up and severed their ties to the entire shifter community. There was a tiny island down the coast where my parents' house still stood, though I'd not been back there in quite some time. The memories were still too painful. I missed them. Absently, I wondered if they'd approve of my little adventure, but then couldn't resist the thought that they were probably getting a heavenly kick out of it. It was the sort of thing that would make them both appreciate the irony.

Lost in my thoughts, I turned my attention to the scenery and found myself staring at the same herd of horses we'd passed half an hour ago. How did I know? Well, they were paint horses with lots of white. Tigers like white. It shows up really nicely in the dark when you're hunting.

"Why are we driving in circles?"

My escort turned and I got the impression he was biting back a smile even though it didn't actually show on his face or in his voice.

"Waiting for dark."

"And we're doing this, why?"

My tone was dry and I couldn't resist the opportunity to needle him. I was the one sitting here in a corset, after all.

"You know, princess, sometimes it's best just to let the people who get paid to think for you do their job."

"I didn't pay you to think for me. You don't have that big of a brain."

This time, the laughter barked out and he shook his head.

"You don't know me well enough to make that assumption."

"Call it a guess."

"Will you just take my word for it? No, I didn't think so. Okay, welcome to court politics. Since the tigers are without a consolidated leader, there's a motion to appoint one tonight to sit on the Feline ruling committee. The last time it was attempted, you weren't invited so the vote wouldn't go because there is an heir apparent."

"Really? Who would that be?"

He gave me a look that spoke volumes. While it was true that tiger society was all about an oligarchy with the noble elite ruling, I couldn't see how that affected me. Then the pieces fell together. Because of the political infighting, the highest houses tended to look for mates outside of the higher echelons. That way, no two houses could merge to gain a foothold on the power structure. Of course, judging from the way it had backfired with my parents, you'd think the alarmists would be mollified. Guess not.

"Don't look at me. I don't want the job. I've got one, already."

"Well, there are some of us that think the DeSoto House is pushing to rise above their station using the dispute in the higher houses to pave their way. We're not asking you to actually take the seat; we just want to remind the DeSotos that they're out of their league."

"So I'm a stalking horse? Surely there's someone who can do a better job than that."

"If you like. Think of it like this. It's a chance to have a little fun with the people who ostracized your mother. And as for someone else who could do a better job, there seems to be some dispute over that. You see, when your parents married, House DeStephano and House DeRusso agreed to bury the feud between them. Tigers have long memories, princess, and rarely forget details. So, the balance of power between the great houses sways, but not enough for either of them to gain any significant foothold."

"Where do you fit in the scheme of things, Mr...uhm..."

I suddenly realized I didn't know his name. In my nervousness, I'd either forgotten it or he'd simply not introduced himself when he'd knocked on my door. Instead of being insulted, his humor showed through, or maybe, he was just amused at my embarrassment.

"Cole. I'm Cole Reyes. I'm nobody."

The driver frowned as he glanced at him, giving the words the impression of a lie. I thought about calling him on it, but he was just being too forthcoming for me to want to mess it up.

"Okay, Mr.-"

"Cole."

"Okay, Cole, what's in it for you to go against your alpha?"

"Sometimes, it's fun to yank a tiger by the tail, just to see if he'll be faster than you are."

 

**Currently Out of Print**