Lion hearts tiger, p.1
Lion Hearts Tiger, page 1part #1 of Heartland Shifters Series
Lion Hearts Tiger
Heartland Shifters - Book 1
Writing with C.J. Oliver
Copyright © 2019 by V. Vaughn
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Cover by Croco Designs
Editing by Jodi Henley and Angie Ramey
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When Lexi wakes up in a hospital room, she doesn’t even know her own name. But she does know one thing, she’d like the hot guy hovering over her bed to stick around. As she fights to regain her memories, she’s faced with a horrifying truth she doesn’t want—she can shift into a huge lion. And if that’s not enough of a shock, the sexy man who claims to be her mate can turn into a tiger.
Tristan is beside himself with worry over Lexi’s amnesia. The woman he wants to marry doesn’t recognize the love she has for him or the lion inside her. As he helps her heal physically and emotionally he battles with a secret he is afraid to reveal, because when the truth comes out he could lose her again. And this time it could be forever.
Darkness presses down on me. It’s suffocating, like I’m trapped under a heavy rock. I fight against it, push it away, struggling to find my way to the light. It’s there, just above me, hovering, teasing with an incessant beeping sound. Oh god, what if the light I’m trying to reach is death? Should I turn around to the darkness? I don’t care. I want to see the light, and with everything I have, I reach for it.
Very slowly, I crack open one eye and then the other. The bright light isn’t that great after all. It floods my pupils with piercing pain, and I have to close my eyes again to stop it. No way is this heaven. But that means I’m alive, so I fight to stay awake. I want so desperately to be awake.
I take in my surroundings. I’m in a bed in a stark, white room. I look toward the window to see the blind is open, and it’s either nightfall or daybreak, judging from the gray light of the in between. Outside where, though?
My body is connected by wires to a couple of beeping machines, and when I squirm, electrodes that are stuck to my chest, arms, and legs tug at my skin. An IV is in my forearm, and now that I’ve seen it, I notice a dull ache at the insertion site. I glance up to discover a bag of clear liquid is being administered into my bloodstream. Am I being drugged? Was I in an accident? What are they doing to me here?
Tears fill my eyes with the frustration of not having answers, and my head starts to throb. I don’t know what I’m doing here or how I landed in this bed, but I’m sure don’t want to be here.
I grab at my IV, struggling to pull it out, but it’s taped to my arm, and damn is it hard to rip off. Sharp pain zips up my arm as blood pools around the spot where the needle is stuck in me.
From the corner of the room, a man appears and rushes to my bed, grabbing my hands to stop me from pulling out the IV. His grip is so strong I’m sure I won’t be doing anything he doesn’t want me to.
“Shhh, Lexi, it’s okay. You’re okay,” he says.
Lexi? If that’s my name I don’t know it. I take in the stranger. He’s handsome in a rugged way, with light brown hair, vivid green eyes, and a wide, full mouth. There’s a bit of scruff along his chin that I imagine would be prickly under my fingertips, not that I’m thinking of running my hand over his face. I frown at him, noticing he’s not in scrubs but instead is wearing jeans and a snug-fitting T-shirt that accentuates the bulges of his shoulders and arms. “You aren’t a doctor.” My voice comes out strained as I speak, hoping he’ll say no. Because if he is in those clothes... I let out a small groan and notice my throat and mouth are dryer than the cracked dirt of an Arizona landscape.
“What?” His green eyes narrow. “Are you joking with me?”
I shake my head and try to sink into the bed, afraid of his tone. He must notice my fear, because his eyes fill with what I really hope is compassion, and I only flinch a little as he reaches out to run a gentle hand over my face.
“I’m sorry.” He bites his bottom lip. “I’m… I’ve been looking for you for days.”
I frown, confused. I don’t think this guy is my captor or that he even means to harm me. But what the hell is going on? Why am I missing and from where?
“Do you recognize me?” he asks.
I shake my head as tears burn in my eyes from confusion, fear, and the horrible realization that I must have amnesia. “No.”
“Tristan,” I try out the name, rolling it around on my tongue as if I can taste if it’s right. But I get nothing. Not even a glimmer of recollection. My frown deepens, and I shake my head.
He swallows. “Do you know what day it is? Or where you are?”
I think, hard. But nothing comes to me. It’s like trying to remember a gym locker combination from decades ago. I don’t know if it’s Tuesday or Sunday, just like I can’t remember the first number of my combination. But suddenly, I can. In my mind, I see a blue dial on a silver padlock that’s attached to a red locker. I smell the mix of drugstore perfume and the hormonal sweat of high school girls as I recall the numbers seven, twenty-three, and thirty-one. Prime numbers. A chuckle comes from me at the absurdity of this remembered information that is so useless to me now. I’m pretty sure I’m not in high school any longer. At least I feel like I’m older than that. I think I’m in a hospital room, but I could be in Alaska or Florida for all I know. “No. I don’t know where I am, and I don’t know you.” Tears prick my eyes, and I shake my head back and forth on the pillow. Another surge of panic floods my body with an icy chill, and I want to escape.
He strokes my face again. “It’s okay. We’ll figure it out.”
His voice is soothing and somehow familiar. Like when you hear a song from your childhood, and it evokes not a memory so much as an emotion. I feel like this man cares about me, but I have no idea who he is. And how do I know I can trust him?
“Just stay calm, Lexi.”
He calls me Lexi again. It must be my name, but the word doesn’t feel familiar. I’m numb, except for a gnawing burn inside my body and head. Was I burned? I glance down at my arms and see they’re fine. Flipping my palms over, I can see that the skin is unmarked. Surely, I’d have burned my hands trying to escape a fire. Besides, I imagine the pain I’d feel would
I lift my hands to my face and touch my skin. It feels smooth but dry, and I run my fingers over my nose. It feels normal, with a slight bump along the bridge. Then I touch my lips. The skin is chapped, flaky, and tender to the touch, as if the tissue is too swollen for the skin that contains it. Eww, I’m not the plastic-surgery, injected-lip type, am I? What if I’m in here because I’m changing my appearance? What if I’m in hiding? Jeez, I’ve got to stop this train of thought and find out the truth before I go crazy.
“Do you want a mirror? Will that help you remember?”
Before I can comment, the guy, Tristan, turns and searches the drawers of the medical cabinet nearby. He returns with a small mirror and hands it to me. Fear swirls in my gut. I’m afraid I won’t know the woman looking at me. I’m afraid I’ll never know her. What if I don’t like what I see?
I lift it to see my reflection. Big brown eyes stare back at me. The irises are flecked with gold, which matches a few gold streaks in my hair. I must get highlights, and I wonder when my next appointment is before I return to my assessment of myself. The rest of my hair is dark, and it’s limp and greasy. It’s long, I think, past my chin. It’s hard to tell for sure while lying down, and I wonder how I usually wear it. Up in a ponytail or down, cascading to my shoulders? My scalp itches, and I wonder how long ago it was washed. All trivial things to worry about, considering I have much bigger problems. Like figuring out how the hell I got here.
My skin is pale, and purple bruises mar my mouth and chin, creeping up the right side to my cheekbone, but I don’t see stitches, ruling out plastic surgery. I must’ve hit my face somehow. A car accident? Or maybe I was mugged.
Frustration mounts in me and turns into an anger so fierce I can’t contain it as I throw the mirror across the room. “This is pointless! I don’t know who I am!”
Tristan reaches for me again with pity in his eyes. It pisses me off even more, and I open my mouth to bare my teeth at him, a low growl rumbling in my throat. It’s the kind of sound you hear from an animal, and I scare myself. What the hell? Where did that come from? I close my mouth, and my top lip quivers. What is wrong with me?
“Easy, Lexi. Easy.” Tristan slowly lowers his hands onto my clenched fists. His touch is warm and comforting, maybe even familiar, because I instinctively relax.
Everything is too confusing. And wrong. The light is too bright, and the sounds are too loud. My head starts to throb again like a heartbeat ticking inside my skull. Thump. Thump. Thump. But it doesn’t sound like it belongs to me. It’s too slow, too strong. Am I dying? Now I can’t breathe. The walls of the room appear to be coming in closer. I’m suffocating, and I gasp for air before I push Tristan’s hands away and claw at the leads on my body. As I rip off one after another, blood trickles from where they were attached, and I realize I’ve scratched at my skin so hard that I’m bleeding. When I look at my fingers, I let out a startled cry. Claws?
Tristan grabs at my hands, clutching them firmly in his own as I blink to make sure what I saw was real. “Stop,” he says firmly, as if I’m a child. But there’s fear in his voice too. “You’re going to really hurt yourself if you don’t calm down.” He glances at the door to the room. It’s open a crack, and light from the corridor beyond floods in. “We need to get you out of here before you change.”
Change? He says it like I should understand the word has some secret meaning. “What are you talking about?”
He glances at the door again and then leans down to whisper, “You’re in danger here. I can’t explain right now, but you have to trust me.”
I study his face. He seems sincere. He even looks at me with longing. But trust him? If I’m in danger, wouldn’t it be safer for me to stay here in the hospital where I’m surrounded by doctors and nurses?
But there’s something about Tristan that makes me want to trust him. He has kind eyes, and the desire to believe him is deep in my bones, like I crave him when he’s not around. It makes no sense to me that my body responds to him as if we’re close while my mind sure thinks we aren’t, since I didn’t even know his name. “I don’t know you. Why should I trust you over doctors?”
“We do know each other Lexi. I wish you could feel that.” He puts his hand on my chest, over my heart.
I do feel it. His hand is awfully close to my breasts, and my nipples harden in anticipation of his touch, but I’m not sure if I’m being tricked or not. I flinch away from him, horrified that I’m feeling desire for a stranger. “Don’t touch me!” I thrash about in the bed and pull at the remaining wires still attached to my body, trying desperately to get escape their clutches. And Tristan’s. The urge to run and hide screams at me in my head, and I can’t stop myself. I cry out.
I try to grab Lexi, to settle her down, but she slaps at my hands and bucks against the bed. I know it’s her primal instinct to flee that fuels her actions, but it breaks my heart to see it and to know it’s me she wants to run away from. The sight of her battered and bruised rips me apart. She normally looks so vibrant and alive, but it’s hard to see that in her pallid, injured face.
I’d been searching for Lexi for almost a week, desperate to find her and out of my mind with worry that she was dead somewhere in a ditch. When I finally located her, it was in a human hospital on the other side of the mountain. Now I discover she doesn’t know who I am, and it destroys me inside. I can’t bear to see her like this. So much pain and confusion are flashing in her eyes. She’s scared, and that’s why she’s lashing out at me. Her lion is doing everything it can to protect its human host. Which is exactly what I’m trying to do, too.
“It’s okay, my darling,” I say in the calmest, most soothing voice I can. “Please calm down.”
But she doesn’t.
The door to the room opens fully and a nurse rushes in. “What’s going on?”
She eyes me trying to restrain Lexi, and I let go, not wanting to draw any more attention to me or to Lexi than necessary. They must’ve already done x-rays and blood tests on her, and they must suspect something is different about her.
When she sees the injuries Lexi gave herself, she makes a tutting noise. “Heavens, girl. What have you done?” She tries to reattach the electrodes while Lexi continues to struggle. “If you don’t calm down, I’m going to have to sedate you.”
Lexi stops squirming and lets the woman do her job.
A growl forms in my throat at the way the nurse talks to Lexi. I eye her, my body tense, ready to spring into action. My instinct to protect vibrates through me, and it takes everything I have not to jump on Lexi and shield her with my body. My tiger rumbles inside of me, and I have to soothe him so he doesn’t claw his way out and rip this woman to shreds.
She takes Lexi’s vitals, frowning the whole time, and then jots something on her chart. “Now that you’re awake, I’ll send the doctor in to see you.”
Those words strike fear in my heart because there’s no way she’s been here for days and doctors don’t know she’s not different. Once the nurse is gone, I search the room for Lexi’s clothes. “You need to get dressed. I have to get you out of here.”
I can’t let Lexi stay here any longer. It’s too risky. If she shifts, humans will find out that shifters exist for real. It would be a disaster. The penalty for revealing our presence to humans is excommunication from the shifter world. Lexi and I would never be able to return home to Heartland. I’d be able to handle it, but Lexi… Two shifters on their own without the sanctuary and security of our community is not something she’d want.
“Why? What’s going on?” she asks as doors click when I open every closet and cupboard in the room. I can’t find her damn clothes!
“I know you don’t remember me, but it’s dangerous to stay in the hospital.”
“Why?” she asks again, her voice demanding.
“They can’t find out that you can shift.”
I freeze and gape at her. She doesn’t know that she’s a shifter? How is that possible? Surely, she can feel her animal living and breathing inside of her the way you feel your heart beating or the heave of your chest when you breathe and know that’s why you’re alive. Before I can say anything else, the doctor comes into the room, and I glance at his name tag. Dr. Hamlin.
He smiles at me and then Lexi. “Good to see you awake, Ms. Masters.” He chuckles and glances at me as he says, “Much nicer than Jane Doe.” I try not to glare at him, regretting that I revealed anything about Lexi to the man at all. He glances at her chart, scratches his chin, and then looks at her again with a smile that isn’t so genuine. “You have a concussion from the accident. And you suffered several fractures to the clavicle, ribs and tibia, but the good news is you’re healing quickly.” He tucks the chart under his arm, and now his smile is more like a child who’s discovered new toys under his bed. “You’re a super healer.” He giggles with his glee. “In fact, we’d like to keep you here for a few more days and run more tests. To be honest, we’ve never seen someone heal this fast.”
by V. Vaughn have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes