The Wolf’s Tiger Excerpt
Shannon stood on the doorstep and rang the bell for the third time. It was starting to get uncomfortable out here. There were at least three wolves staring at him from various vantage points near the house, and he was really starting to squirm.
Finally, a very faint come in was yelled from somewhere inside the house. He jiggled the knob, poked his head in and was met with total chaos.
A little girl that looked about five years old stood stark naked in the kitchen, sobbing her eyes out. The sound of a flushing toilet floated down the stairs, and a baby was screaming somewhere. A very stressed looking man appeared at the top of the stairs. He was wearing a pair of wrinkled green scrubs, and his brown hair was sticking up everywhere as if he’d been carding his fingers through it. “Shannon?”
Shannon nodded and waved a little.
The brunette gave him a small smile even as another wail split the air. “Just give me a few minutes,” he called. “I think the baby’s diaper exploded.”
With that, he turned around and jogged back the way he came, leaving him alone with a sobbing little girl. “Hey, sweetie,” he said as he knelt down in front of her. “What’s with the tears?”
“I’m not supposed to talk to strangers,” she said between heaving breaths.
“Well, my name is Shannon, and I’m here to talk to your uncle about taking care of you,” he responded, holding out his hand so she could shake it.
She looked at him through wide, teary eyes but she took his hand. “I’m Honor. I live here.”
“I see,” he said seriously. “Do you think you could tell me why you’re so upset?”
Her lower lip trembled. “I spilled juice on my dress. Uncle Gray said it was okay, but I needed to put on my pajamas now.”
Oh, Shannon could see where this was going. “And you wanted to put on a different dress?”
Her little face screwed up again and he rushed to intervene. “Do you have a nightgown?”
Honor looked at him with suspicion and nodded. “Well, let’s put that on then. It’s almost like wearing a dress.”
She stuck her thumb in her mouth and took his hand again. He stood up and let her tug him along. They mounted the stairs and entered one of the bedrooms. It was clearly meant for little girls. The walls were painted a bubble gum pink, with a lime green border painted about four inches wide from the ceiling down. Two twin beds were pushed up against opposite walls and there was a small white chest at the end of each. Teal and lime butterflies decorated the walls and the window was covered by a blackout shade and gauzy white curtains.
Honor started rummaging around in a dresser under the window and extracted a long, pink nightgown. She held it out to him with a hopeful smile.
Laughing, Shannon took the nightgown from her and slipped it over her head, helping her to push her arms through the arm holes. “Will you braid my hair?” she asked. “Uncle Gray doesn’t know how and no matter how many times Trina tries to show him, he just can’t get it.”
It was a good thing he’d grown up with three sisters. They’d forced him to braid their hair, paint their nails and even sit still while they gave him makeovers. He grabbed a brush from the dresser but paused when the toilet flushed for the fifth time in a row. Either someone was having stomach troubles, or they were trying to flush something they shouldn’t. He could hear Gray cooing to the still crying baby, and he knew there were three kids, so process of elimination could only mean that the other little girl was the one in the bathroom. “Honor, honey? What’s your other sister’s name?”
“Hope. She’s in the bathroom.”
Ah. “Let’s go check on her, okay?” Shannon said.
Honor nodded solemnly and pointed the way.
Shannon pushed the bathroom door open a little and had to clap his hand over his mouth to stop the laughter. The toddler was busy sticking a doll in the toilet and giving it a swirly. “Whirlpool!” she shouted gleefully.
“Oh, no,” Shannon said dramatically once he’d gotten his laughter under control. “I think your dolly is drowning!”
The little girl looked up at him with big brown eyes. “Then we gots to save her,” she answered.
Shannon nodded and scooped the naked doll out of the toilet. “I’m not giving her mouth to mouth,” he said as he peered into the toilet. “Did you put anything else down there?”
“Just my pees and poops,” Hope said with a shrug. “I’m not a baby like Faith.”
Hmm. Maybe this dolly needed to take a field trip to the dump for a couple of hours. Or forever.
“Oh, thank you so much,” Gray said as he walked into the bathroom with a still sniffling baby. “Honor, honey, you look beautiful. Hope, remember we talked about putting dollies in the toilet?”
Hope flashed him a big smile and batted her long lashes. “Yes Uncle Gray. But my dolly wanted a bath.”
Gray sighed and hefted the baby up to his shoulder. “Are we ready for dinner?”
The two older girls immediately started jumping around and shrieking. “Hot dogs!”
“Again?” Gray asked.
The baby started whimpering again and Gray started swaying from side to side. “Okay. Hot dogs it is. Again. Hope, wash your hands please.”
Shannon watched as the toddler used a liberal amount of bright purple soap and rinsed her hands off before drying them on a white towel. Of course, faint purple streaks were left behind on the terry. Clearly, these little girls hadn’t lived here long because not many parents would have white towels hanging around. At least, not in the family bathroom.
He followed the little family down the stairs and into the kitchen, where he’d first seen Honor in her birthday suit. “Do you mind holding the baby while I get her bottle going?”
Before Shannon could respond, he found himself with an armful of baby girl. He didn’t mind though. Gray measured out the powered formula and put the kettle on to warm the water a little.
Gray crossed the kitchen, opened a drawer and pulled out a couple of coloring books and two packs of crayons. “Here, girls. Why don’t you do some coloring while we wait for supper?”
“But Uncle Gray, I’m hungry,” Hope whined.
Gray pulled out a plastic tub of sliced vegetables and put it in the middle of the table. “You can munch on those while I get your hot dogs ready.”
Soon, the kitchen was filled with the smells of frying mystery meat. Shannon wrinkled his nose at the food but didn’t say anything. If he got this job, he would be asking to cook an entirely different menu. He was an excellent cook and his last employer often told him that he was a genius at making kid friendly, super nutritious food.
Finally, the hot dogs were done and the bottle was ready. The wolf served the two older girls first, handing out cups of water and dispensing small amounts of ketchup before taking the baby back and giving her the bottle.
“Hi,” he said with a tired smile. “Sorry about the chaos.”
Shannon had seen much worse. “No problem. Nice to meet you, Uncle Gray.” He flashed Gray a smile since the guy’s hands were full of formula-guzzling baby.
The wolf laughed, the sound low and rich. Goosebumps rose along his skin. What a gorgeous sound. Shannon wondered what the guy sounded like in bed. He shook his head, trying to free himself of the tempting thought. He really shouldn’t be lusting after his employer. And if he remembered correctly, wolves had a very sensitive sense of smell. If he didn’t get his errant thoughts under control, he would become aroused and Gray would no doubt scent that.
Instead, he focused on the man’s lips. Bad idea.
Finally, he settled on looking at the baby while he forced himself to listen to the guy’s words. “Actually, it’s Grayson Mitchell. But most people just call me Gray.”
“Nice to meet you. I’m Shannon Cho.”
Gray nodded at the table and the two of them sat down. “I called your references last night, and they were excellent,” Gray said.
Shannon had to suppress a sigh of relief. Thankfully, his last employer hadn’t been forbidden from sabotaging his attempt at getting a new job. “I’m glad. Things didn’t end well with my pride, and I wasn’t sure if my old Alpha would let her give me a good reference or not.”
Gray cocked his head even as he placed the now empty bottle on the table. He lifted the baby to his shoulder and patted her back. “Pride? You’re a cat? I know you’re not a wolf, but I can’t place what kind of shifter you are.”
He nodded. “Tiger. And I guess you’re wondering why I’m no longer with my pride?”
The baby burped and snuggled sleepily into the wolf’s shoulder. “I wouldn’t be doing a good job as the girls’ guardian if I didn’t ask why,” Gray responded.
This was it. Steeling himself for a quick thanks but no thanks, Shannon gave him the run down.
Gray was silent for a minute before speaking to the girls. “Honor, Hope, I’m going to put Faith to bed. Stay here and color for a few more minutes. Shannon, you wanna come with me?”
“Sure.” He pushed back his chair and followed Gray to the baby’s room.
Gray laid the baby in the crib and popped a pacifier into her mouth when she started to fuss. “So, you’re a dominant tiger then?”
“Well, my cat is exceptionally strong, but I don’t actually have any driving need to lead. My Alpha wasn’t exactly comfortable with the fact that I could beat him in a fight if I needed to. But since I’d never challenged him, he didn’t have a reason to banish me from the pride.”
The older girls were still absorbed in their pictures, and Gray paused to kiss each of them on the head. “Uncle Gray and Shannon are going to just go into my office for a few more minutes. Come and get me if you need me, okay?”
Honor looked up and nodded. Hope didn’t say anything. She simply stuck her tongue
out the side of her mouth while she concentrated on her scribbling.
Gray’s office was neat and clearly off limits to the three girls although their photos were displayed prominently. “I was impressed with your references, especially the ones from your child psychology professor. And the girls don’t often take to new people the same way that they took to you, which tells me lots. My Alpha will want to run a background check on you but, given that it comes back clean, I would like to hire you. When can you start? And do you have any questions for me?”
“Your Alpha will only find one parking ticket. I can start tomorrow. And, yes, I do have a couple of questions for you…” Shannon trailed off, not sure how to broach the subject.
When he was met with nothing but silence, Shannon decided to just come out with it. “It doesn’t seem like the girls have been here very long. How is it you became their guardian?”
The scent of grief permeated the air and Shannon had a sudden urge to wrap the wolf up in his arms and hold him close. Gray cleared his throat a few times before he answered. “My sister and her husband were killed in a freak car accident about a month ago. I was actually babysitting the girls for the week. I’ll be honest, the girls don’t seem to even realize what’s going on, and the fact that your degree is in child psychology was very appealing to me.”
Shannon didn’t know the wolf well enough to actually hug him, but he did reach out and squeeze his hand. There was one more question he needed answered, and it wasn’t nearly as upsetting as the last one. “What do you do for a living?”
Gray took a deep breath, clearly grateful for the change of subject. “I’m an emergency room nurse. I work two weeks days, off for a couple of days and then two weeks nights. Seven to seven, both shifts, assuming someone hasn’t called in sick. We’re often short staffed, so I tend to run a little late most shifts. Quinn, the Alpha’s mate, runs a daycare, and he’s been watching the girls for me.”
God, Shannon was needed here. The house wasn’t even child proofed. And he couldn’t help but wonder if it wasn’t just the girls that needed him.