Jared thinks life in his big cat refuge is perfect. Surrounded by tigers, lions, leopards, and cougars, Jared has moved easily from life as a college baseball star. Sultan, his favorite tiger, is healthy and happy; his wife Julianna is the same. Or so he thinks. When Jared suspects that Julianna is getting a little too close to the refuge volunteers, he faces a tough choice.
It was only twenty steps out of the trailer. Jared felt its old floors bend under his strides and he knew he had to be careful now. He saw himself leaping over the porch railing, landing in the flowerbed, smashing the yellow and orange flowers with his dirty boots. By the tenth step through the trailer’s living area, he slowed. What was he going to do? Pick up Miguel and throw him out of the flowerbed? Wrest Juliana into his arms and carry her home? Yell at them?
A flush of fever towards Juliana for making him feel this way. Anger, not lust.
He stopped himself just inside the front door and took three deep breaths. He felt Peter behind him, down the hallway, knew that Peter was watching him. He let his fists go loose, let his hands dangle but his heart continued to punch away.
Jared eased out on the front porch and stood with his arms crossed. Randy and Ken looked up right away; they were standing up and could see him. Jared leaned against the doorjamb and stared at them, trying to keep his face neutral, but he knew it wasn’t working when he saw them both blanch.
“Um, I, uh, gotta go,” Randy said. Kendall nodded and they skittered away.
Juliana and Miguel looked up. Miguel’s hand clenched on the trowel he held.
“Hey, hon,” Juliana said. “How goes the clearing?”
As if nothing were wrong, nothing was going on here, and that rankled him even more. Jared kept his gaze on Miguel, glad for a minute that his shirt was off and the hours he spent working the refuge and in the batting cage still showed on his body. He wasn’t a college kid any more but he was solid and broad-shouldered in a way Juliana said she liked.
Said she liked.
The moment dragged out. Jared was absurdly aware of the whole alpha-male thing going on and he suspected that Juliana was keenly in touch with it, too.
Miguel didn’t move. His gaze flicked away from Jared’s now and again, but as the seconds stretched out, Jared realized the kid wasn’t backing down.
“Scram,” Jared said to Miguel.
The kid finally got up, trowel still in his hand, a sword to defend the fair damsel. He was nineteen years old and clearly didn’t know what to do. He dropped the trowel and it plunked in the dirt, sent a spray of grit onto Juliana’s arm and chest. “See you later, Juliana.”
Not if I can help it.