CRISPIN LAY DOWN beside me so that we could look each other in the eyes. He gave me those human eyes with that tiger color, and just seeing his eyes like that calmed me. Calm usually meant that the beast in question would stop and begin to retreat, but the visual in my head showed the white tiger gaining speed the way they will do when theyve committed to the huntthat last burst of speed, strength, everything thrown on one leap.

Crispin put a hand on the side of my face, and the touch helped, quieted my pulse. He leaned over me and spoke just before he kissed me. I hear the ladys call and I answer. It sounded more ritualized than anything we did at home, but it was as if he knew exactly what I needed from him.

The tiger hit the surface of my body, bucking me off the floor, slamming me into Crispins body. It was like being hit by a small car from the inside out. Crispins hands held my face secure, so the kiss didnt hurt either of us. I had a fleeting thought, that hed done this before, and then there was no thought, only pain.

The tiger roared through me, poured out of me. It felt as if it had made its own exit, as if it were tearing out through my stomach. I screamed, shrieked, and Crispin screamed with me.

He was up on his arms above me, as if he were trying to get farther away. The charm floated between us. It fucking levitated, and I dont think either of us was doing it. The tiger flowed between us like a rush of white light that you could almost see between his stomach and mine. He should have changed by now. BuTHE stayed human above me. The charm burned bright, and was almost touching his chest.

Crispin put an arm between his body and the charm. It touched his arm, and several things happened at once. The charm stopped glowing, and fell back like any other piece of jewelry. Crispins body flowed with fur, like white-and-cream water flowing over that tall body. I was drenched with clear fluid as his body remade itself above me, on top of me. But it wasnt his beast that rode him, it was mine. I lay pinned underneath him as muscles and bone moved and popped and reknit themselves. Always before when I gave my beast to a shapeshifter in an emergency it had been more like an explosion. One second human, the next theyd been their beast. So violent that bits of flesh had decorated the room, and I had been drenched in that hot clear liquid that ran from their bodies. But this was different, slower, more controlled, morepowerful.

The white tiger wasnt tearing me apart anymore; it was filling up the man on top of me. I could feel his beast, or a beast, or a power, something warm and real, and more than just the shifting of forms. I had a flashback to the first time Id been underneath a lycanthrope when they shifted. It had been Richard, and he had just won his fight to be Ulfric. Hed offered me the power to be bound to the pack. I could have ridden the power and run with the pack that night, but they were about to feed on human flesh, and I couldnt do it.

Richard had said, You refused the power. Hed been right.

Crispin stared down at me with a face gone white and fur-covered. His eyes were still in there, but the rest of him was that graceful half-man, half-cat shape. It was similar to the wereleopards, but different. The proportions were different, bigger, a little less human in the head shape, and a little more tiger.

There were brown stripes on the white fur, narrow but there; he wasnt completely white like the tiger in my vision. He stared down at me with the blue eyes that hed had all along, as if the eyes never changed the way Micahs leopard eyes were always in his face in whatever form he chose.

The only weretiger Id ever seen in half-form had been female, and pale yellow stripes on white. Again, not like the color of a real tiger. Staring at the white-and-chocolate image above me, I wondered if none of the weretigers shifted into that classic orange-and-black design. Maybe Id spent too much time with the wereleopards in their half-forms, but I gazed up at Crispin and noticed that his chest, like theirs, was less furred and more like an overly muscled human chest. The half-form was taller, more muscular, and edged by that white and pale-chocolate-striped fur, but the skin revealed was pale and human-looking down the center of his body. The wolves seemed to be furrier in half-form than the cats Id met, so far. My gaze traveled down his body to find that, like in every half-form, everything was bigger. Noticing made me turn my head, and fight not to blush. I might have told him to get off me, but I saw whod been watching the show.

Chuck, Shadwell, and Rowe stood staring down at us, guns bare but not pointed at anything. Jason said, You both screamed like you were being killed. I had to let them in or they would have busted down the door.

I raised a hand and smoothed some of the clear, slightly thick liquid away from my forehead so it wouldnt drip into my eyes. I wasnt covered in it, but there was enough of it that Id need a shower before I left the room. With as much dignity as I could muster, I said, As you can see, Im fine. Now get out.

What we just saw is a lot of things, Rowe said, and fine aint one of em.

I think because I hadnt told him to move, or maybe because things hurt, Crispin curled on top of me. He moved his much taller body down so thaTHE wasnt covering my face with his chest. It meant that certain things werent touching me as intimately as they had been through my jeans, which was fine, but it did mean thaTHE was curled around me like some gigantic stuffed toy. A stuffed toy with a pulse that snuggled against me when I touched its furred back. But Crispin had saved me, saved me in a way that Jason couldnt havein fact, that no one in town could have done. I owed him, so I didnt tell him to get up in front of the humans. I didnt embarrass him, or react like somemundane. I acted as if this were all just as ordinary as it could be, as if I did this all the damn time.

I wouldnt expect you to understand; just leave so we can Several words went through my mind: talk, finish, do what we have to do, none of them sounded right.

Jason finished for me. There are things we need to do, and theyll weird you out just as much as this. You should see your faces: white, shocked, horrified. You look like youve been to the freak show.

Thats not fair, Shadwell said. We had no idea what was happening in here.

Now you do, I said, still on the floor. Go, just go.

Shadwell licked his lips and glanced at Rowe. Rowe shrugged.

I think we should give themarshal here some privacy like she asked, Chuck said. I wondered what hed been about to say before he came up with marshal? Better not to know.

I half-expected the other men to argue, to say they didnt take orders from Chuck, but they didnt. I think they wanted out of the room, too. Sometimes the weird factor just goes too far for comfort.

Shadwell nodded, and holstered his gun. Rowe hesitated, giving the weretiger wide eyes, but a hard look from Shadwell made him holster his weapon. He didnt like it, buTHE did it. Training; it will keep you alive, and out of trouble with your superiors.

Well be outside, Shadwell said, until were relieved.

Rowe said, How do we know if theres a problem? I mean the screamingwe really thought that was it. That you were being attacked.

Sorry about that, I said, Ill try to be quieter.

The weretiger moved against me in a motion that seemed to send a wave down his entire body. His tail rose up, to twitch, and then to curve back over the very human rise of his buttocks.

He turned and gave the men the full look at that half-and-half face. His voice came growling low, Ill be good.

Rowe swallowed hard and began to lose the little color hed regained. He just nodded and started for the door. Shadwell followed him, and never looked back. Chuck was the last to leave. He hesitated with his hand on the open door.

I didnt think you knew our dancers tonight, Marshal Blake.

I didnt, I said.

He looked at the tiger on top of me. Do you usually make friends this fast?

What could I say? Sometimes.

He nodded. Sometimes, he repeated, shaking his head. You go back to making friends, Blake. Ill leave Shadwell and Rowe on the door. Though I think youre right. If the vampire threat is real, I sort of hope he picks your window tonight, Mr. Schuyler. Nothing personal, but I think if he climbs in here, he wont be climbing back out.

Jason and I spoke at the same time. No. We looked at each other, and then he motioned at me, and I said, He wont.

Crispin said, Is there a big bad vampire around?

Maybe, I said.

Oh, goody, the weretiger said, something to play with.

Chuck shook his head again, and closed the door quietly, but very firmly behind him.