Phineas has lived in his cage all his life. He doesn’t know anything different, and he doesn’t expect anything different. That changes when his handler dies in a car accident, and Galen is hired to replace him.
Galen has always loved animals and accepting the job at the zoo is an opportunity for him to work with more animals than just cats and dogs. The last thing he expected was to be assigned to Phineas, the golden tiger shifter who lives at the zoo. He’s always been fascinated with shifters, and he hates the way Phineas is treated like an animal. While he keeps an eye on the news for the Supreme Court decisions on shifters, he does what he can to make Phineas’ life more comfortable, but he wants to do more—so much more.
Galen didn’t expect he’d fall in love with Phineas, and he’s elated when the Supreme Court upholds the decision to consider all shifters as human beings. What he doesn’t know is that the zoo sold Phineas and that he’s going to be transferred away from Galen. Galen can’t allow that to happen, so he takes Phineas away, to the town where shifters and humans live together. Someone is after them, though, and they might not manage to reach the town in time—or without one of them getting hurt.
Phineas shook his head and huffed. The girl on the other side of the glass was looking at him with wide eyes, and he would have smiled at her if he’d been able to. He was in his tiger form, though, and tiger smiles were terrifying rather than nice.
He knew that from experience.
The girl’s mother pulled her away, and as they hurried along the path, Phineas heard the mother say, “Come on, it’s late. Dad’s waiting for us to have dinner.”
Phineas sat and looked at the sky. It wasn’t dark yet, but the zoo closed earlier in the winter than in the summer. He had no way of telling what time it was, since he didn't have a watch. He wasn’t sure he’d have been able to read the time even if he had, though. It had been a while since he’d been taught how to do that.
He shook his fur out and headed toward the back of his enclosure. Harold was probably waiting for him with his dinner, and he’d no doubt scold Phineas for being late. It wouldn’t be a real scolding, though. Harold might be gruff, but he was one of the nicest handlers Phineas had ever had.
Phineas caught the scent of meat on the air and grinned. He expected to find Harold standing by the door that led into the building where Phineas slept, but no one was there. His dinner had been left on the floor, and there was no sign of the person who’d brought it. He sniffed, but Harold’s scent was disappearing, only a trace of it left in the spots where he’d spent the most time. Phineas wasn’t sure what it meant. He hadn’t seen Harold today, and while it wasn’t the first time something like this happened, usually Harold told him he was taking a day off, or in the case of illness, Phineas smelled it on his handler before he actually got sick. He hadn’t detected anything strange on Harold the day before, though.
Phineas bumped his nose against the meat. His stomach growled, and he dug in. He’d been given some fruit that morning, but that had satisfied his human side more than his tiger one. He couldn’t wait to crunch on the bones.
Eating was a messy affair, and Phineas headed toward the small pond that was close to the glass wall once he was done. The wall was there so that the visitors could see him when he bathed and frolicked in the water. He didn’t mind, but he never shifted into his human form when the zoo was open. He yearned to feel the water on his skin, though, so after cleaning his white fur as thoroughly as he could, he shifted.
The air was cold, and he knew the water would be even worse, but he didn’t care. He’d shift back into his tiger form soon, and it had been too long since he’d bathed. Of course the water in the pond wasn’t exactly clean, but it was better than nothing, and this way, Phineas would be able to get all traces of blood off his skin.
He shivered when he stepped into the water, then jumped into it, careful not to hit his feet on the bottom. The water was cold, so he quickly rubbed his skin and ran his fingers through his long hair to attempt to untangle it. He knew better than to think he’d manage, though, and since his balls were trying to crawl back into his body, he shifted again.
He could barely feel the cold as a tiger. The thick fur covering his body did wonders, so he spent a few more minutes in the pond, swimming until he got bored. There wasn’t anything else to do in his enclosure, though, so he headed back to his home.
It was only a room with a cement floor and walls. There was a mattress in the corner and a metal toilet, although Phineas didn’t often use it. It was easier to do that as a tiger, even though it pissed Harold off because then he had to clean up.
Phineas shifted again and knelt next to his mattress, pulling his blanket around his shoulders, then pushing his hand under the mattress. His fingers touched something hard, and he brought out the book Harold had given him last summer. Phineas knew it was for children—he’d seen a lot of them in the hands of the kids visiting the zoo—but it didn’t matter. He wouldn’t have been able to read something with words anyway, but he enjoyed looking at the pictures.
Phineas carried the book next to the opening that led into his enclosure and sat with his back against the wall. He tugged the blanket higher around his neck and opened the book. The pages were made of sturdy cardboard, and Phineas did his best not to get it dirty, but it wasn’t easy. It was his most prized possession, though—his only possession. Even the blanket belonged to the zoo.
He flipped the pages, stopping on the ones he liked the most. There was a drawing of a little boy with his parents, and it was both hard and easy to imagine himself in the boy’s place—and sometimes, in the father’s. He’d never known his parents, and he didn’t have a family. He never would. He was the zoo’s possession, and since he couldn’t pass down his genetic quirk to his children, the zoo had never tried to have him impregnate another tiger shifter. Besides, even if they had, it wasn’t like they’d have let Phineas raise the cub.