Mikael Jarvela may only be a half shifter, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be alpha of the eastern Finland farm-turned-sanctuary his father founded. Six wolves, a red fox, a black jaguar, and a lynx all think of him as the head of the family. But Mikael doesn’t have anyone to call his own until he comes across an injured Siberian tiger in the woods.
From the moment the newcomer recovers and Mikael and Maxim meet face to human face, the attraction between them is undeniable. They strike up a tentative relationship, but they’re both proud men, and their egos keep getting in the way.
Just when it looks like their romance is doomed, an outside threat to the farm family -- to Mikael -- forces Maxim to choose between the life of solitude he knows and the love and companionship that could be his if he stays.
They developed a routine after the first time Maxim managed to shift. He began to heal slowly but surely. He could eat like no one Mikael had ever met, and according to Lark’s peculiar sense of humor he was to be kept away from the horses. Secretly the little lynx was happy to be cooking for one more person, even if the one person ate more than two people combined.
By the time it was his birthday week, the last week of May, Mikael was able to work around the yard if he didn’t go very far from the house for the obvious, striped reason.
Maxim, mostly in his tiger form because it seemed easier that way while he was still weak, lounged on an old couch they had dragged onto the front porch, and Mikael could feel the tiger’s gaze following him around as he worked. While Mikael hadn’t managed to find the courage he would need to ask if Maxim recognized the partial cat within him, Maxim hadn’t exactly said anything, either.
They still slept in the guestroom together, but Maxim was always in his tiger form, only to shift back for his morning bathroom routine and breakfast. Then he’d shift back and go somewhere to lounge, always ready to hide in case there was a sound of an engine from the driveway. It was obvious he was still healing, but he was beginning to widen his territory by walking a wider circle around the yard each day.
The previous Thursday, another shopping day, Mikael had made plans to go to do the shopping himself, but the way Maxim’s pale eyes were fixed to him and the tiger’s long tail kept flicking back and forth in an increasingly agitated manner made him change his mind. He made an excuse to stay home, and Noah had jumped in and gone with Zoya instead.
Maxim, on the other hand, relaxed and then moved to his room to lie on the bed and catnap there for a long time. He was clearly too proud to ask Mikael to stay and certainly too proud to show he was pleased when the man decided not to go.
When Maxim was in his human form, he was good company. They sat on the bed or sometimes, rarely, even in the living room with Lark, Anton, and Noah; and in his Russian accent, Maxim would make dry, witty comments about things they saw on TV. The tiger was very intelligent, but there was something secretive about him, and he hadn’t given them many details about his life before he stumbled to the farm’s lands.
Mikael enjoyed Maxim’s accent a lot. The way he didn’t use articles before words much, and often said “did not” instead of “didn’t” or the like, made him sound ... well, sexy, for some reason.
One evening, they were ready to go to sleep. Mikael was coming out of his bathroom, rubbing his hair with a towel and wearing only his sleep shorts -- the weather was getting warmer, and the tiger was a living furnace during the night -- when Maxim cleared his throat from his spot on the bed.
Mikael lowered the towel and looked at the shifter, who was wearing not his dark blue bathrobe, but a pair of boxer shorts and a T-shirt.
“I thought ... I might try to ... not shift.” Maxim looked away from him.
“Oh ... Okay. Let me go get a shirt then.” Mikael recovered from his minor shock, and was about to turn when Maxim made a sound to object. “If you want me to ... sleep in my own bed now, then of course I can ...” Mikael said quickly.
“No, no, I mean ... you don’t need to put on shirt for me,” Maxim said quietly, and Mikael could have sworn there was a light blush on his cheeks.