Authors: Sean Michael
Tags: #Gay & Lesbian
Grio sat in his SUV, splitting is 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.
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. Know 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 otherwise 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 looked 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 be able 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."
"Please. If not dinner, then some coffee? I just need a bit of time somewhere less...public." Grio knew from bitter experience how much of a bad idea it was to expose a Tiger in public. He could also tell that he was losing Phoenix, and if he didn't get this done today, the likelihood Phoenix would trust him enough to even come near him a second time was slim. Reconnaissance had just turned into information sharing. He just wished his information was easier to share.
"I don't understand. Are you... like a private investigator or something?"
"Or something. It's a bit... hard to explain. Especially"--Grio looked around--"here."
Phoenix stood. "You're creeping me out, man. I'll see you around."
"I'm sorry, that wasn't my intention." He stood as well, trying not to loom. "Perhaps we can go to your office?"
"No way. I'm not going anywhere alone with you."
Well, he'd screwed the pooch on this one. Headquarters was going to kill him.
"Just calm down, Phoenix. I have no intension of hurting you." And the only thing that could make the situation worse would be scaring Phoenix into spontaneously shifting for the first time right here.
"What do you want? I mean, this feels totally wrong."
He'd obviously taken the wrong approach. Of course it seemed Phoenix was smarter than your average tiger. Grio sighed. "Look. I know something about your background and you aren't going to believe me and I'd rather get laughed at in private."
"I'm not interested. My mom... It was awful. I don't want to know."
"What happened with your mother?" The file on Phoenix was woefully thin.
"She died in an asylum. She committed suicide." Phoenix frowned, face confused. "Why on earth am I telling you this?"
"I have that kind of face?"
Suicide. Had Phoenix's mother known what she was? What Phoenix was?
"I'm very sorry about your mother."
"It was a long time ago. I hadn't been able to see her in years."
"Do you know why she was in the asylum?" He could tell he was pushing at a sore spot, but he really needed an in.
"Because she was delusional."
"Like she believed she was really a tiger or something?" He had to take the opening.
Phoenix looked at him, wide-eyed. "I have to go."
"What if I told you she wasn't crazy? What if I had more information? Please, don't just run. Have dinner with me. Something." He really didn't want to have to kidnap the adorable bespectacled man, but that option was looking more and more like his only one.
"She was crazy. Like screaming and tearing her skin." Phoenix began walking, luckily in the direction of Grio's SUV.
"Did she tell you that you were special?" Grio asked.
"She was my mom." Phoenix kept walking.
Grio matched Phoenix's pace easily. "Did she tell you that you had royal blood?"
Phoenix stopped, stared at him. "Go away. Go away and leave me alone."
"I can't. This is too important." He willed the man to listen to him, to take the chance.
"I'm not interested in drama. I just... I've got a good position here."
"This isn't drama. It's about destiny. It's about the survival of a species." Most of the tiger's he'd informed in the past were intrigued at this point, or at least interested enough to want to hear him out.
"I'm going for a coffee, excuse me." Phoenix's back was stiff, his whole body shouting mistrust and worry.
Fuck it. They were approaching his SUV. Grio put his hand in his pocket, unlocking the doors with the fob. Then, as they passed the car, he opened the door and bundled Phoenix right in, locking the door with his fob immediately.
The SUV was soundproofed, so he didn't hear a thing as he walked around to the driver's side. Windows were tinted, too, so passersby weren't going to realize he'd essentially just kidnapped Phoenix. Heh. Not essentially--he
kidnapped the man.
After unlocking just the driver's door, he slipped into the SUV. Phoenix jumped at him, attacking him immediately, screaming. He had height and weight on the man, though, and he grabbed Phoenix's hands, holding them tightly.
"I'm sorry, but I need your attention." He stayed calm, talked softly.
"Let me go!"
"I can't do that." He looked into the beautiful golden eyes, calling to the tiger inside Phoenix. The beast inside the man would recognize his beast as kin, as an ally. If it wasn't buried too deep.
The golden eyes flared, a fire starting deep inside. Grio growled softly, deep in his throat.
"Let me out."
"I can't." He let go of Phoenix's hands, reached over and put the man's seat belt on, all the while holding the golden gaze. "I'm not going to hurt you, but you need to hear what I have to say."
Look at that heat, that flame. Fascinating. Phoenix's eyes were amazing.
And glaring at him.
Phoenix crossed his arms, still glowering. "Just say it."
"There isn't really enough room in here to do this." He started up the engine. There was a safe house just outside of town--they had them spread out over the whole country--somewhere with room to run, somewhere with meat, soundproofed walls.
Checking his mirrors and over his shoulder and focusing on the road, Grio merged in with the traffic.
As soon as his attention was elsewhere, Phoenix unfastened his belt, trying the door.
"It's locked. Please put your belt back on in case I have to stop suddenly."