Okay. So Shadow Cat is out in the world. I offer you one last chapter of Shadow Cat. If you missed the prior chapters, they’re available (Chapter 1, Chapter 2, and Chapter 3). Interested in some of my other pieces, check it here. This chapter is a little racy, but not too bad. The brief glimpses of flesh shouldn’t burn anyone’s retinas.
Endau Rompin Rainforest, Malaysia
Berani crouched in the underbrush with the low rumble of the Great River flowing in the distance. She flicked her ear as a bit of moisture dribbled inside. With the rain relenting, humidity hung heavy in the air. Giant droplets clung from leaves high overhead and splattered on the ground, providing life-giving water to the foliage below. The sun trickling through the canopy played on the misty residue and cast a dim haze of green throughout the forest.
A gurgle moved through her stomach, a reminder of her fruitless night wandering in search of food. Her muscles ached. She wanted nothing more than a long cat nap, yet refused to return to her clan with an empty stomach and her tail tucked between her legs. Hiding indefinitely in the secluded cave she’d found days earlier while eating a measly meal of berries was preferable to that alternative. No one would call her a failure.
Several feet away lay a trail worn by animals too lazy to find their own path to the waterway. A chance they took; an opportunity she exploited.
Before long, the wind carried the sound of leaves slipping on wet soil. Careless in its approach, her breakfast tromped through the forest, ever growing closer. As long as it filled her to stuffing, she didn’t care what came her way. Only a few more seconds and her prey would emerge from the tree line.
She licked her lips, and her tongue scraped against her fangs. Her heart quickened with anticipation. She tensed her hind legs and pawed the ground, ready to spring.
Then she saw it… him. A tall, dark-haired human emerge, jogging along the animal path. Her stomach contracted. How could she be so oblivious to the auditory signs? Only a human would tread so recklessly without fear of the dangers which lurked in the shadows. Cruel beyond belief, they dominated the lands, raping everything in their paths and leaving nothing but a barren husk. It was only a matter of time before they’d destroyed her rainforest and along with it, her people. Even now, only a few scattered clans remained in the Malaysian jungles.
Too late to flee without detection, she waited as he drew closer.
Sweat covered his face and plastered a lock of hair to his forehead. The loose curls varied from brown to near black as moisture darkened the color at the nape and around the edges to deep rich tones. He brushed a few strands aside, flexing a well-muscled arm with the motion. His tight, blue shirt clung to his chest and complemented grey-blue eyes, while his shorts stretched taut around thick thighs.
She just made out his deep, steady breathing as he passed within a yard of her, closer than she’d ever been to a human. The pack on his back bounced with every stride as he continued in the direction of the river and disappeared from sight.
Berani smiled inwardly. Humans—a bat’s eyesight was better than theirs.
The risk of discovery past, she allowed her tail to swing freely. She’d have to report him. Nenek would want to know the humans had returned.
The damage the species had done to the forest weeks earlier sickened Berani. It would take decades before the area even remotely recovered. She hesitated only a moment before, trailing him to the Great River. The more information she could provide Nenek, the better equipped her clan would be to deal with the human threat.
Hidden safely in the bushes, Berani watched the human tug off his shoes, walk to the water’s edge, and dip his foot. The current, more forceful than usual due to the quick rain, rippled around his toes.
He pulled his shirt over his head. The muscles in his back flexed as he exposed broad shoulders and tossed the shirt toward a nearby boulder. It landed in a heap beside his pack. He twisted and stretched, revealing an abdomen ribbed with definition and pectorals so well-defined, the muscles rippled with every move.
Berani never imagined a human’s body could rival that of a male wehr-tiger’s. Firm… virile—his did, and her body answered unexpectedly. Her heart thumped and caused an unwanted rush of blood to course through her body, heating her from the inside out. At the same time, her stomach flipped and tightened with disgust. The idea of being attracted to a human, even on a subconscious level, unnerved her.
Great Spirit! What was happening to her? The line between animalistic need and realistic thoughts blurred. She wanted to control her physical reactions but found it impossible against the sight of his masculine form. No, even more—his spirit called to her. Captivated yet repulsed, she panted from her concealment, drawn to him like a rhinoceros to the wallows.
He bent and removed his shorts, revealing a firm butt and powerful thighs designed for endurance. Light hair dusted his legs and thickened toward calves so sinewy, the strands contracted visibly as he stepped out of his clothes. Clasping his hands together, he reached for the sky. His dangling shorts swayed from his fingertips as he leaned to the side, tightening his buttocks.
Her breath lodged in her throat as primal desires coursed through her. She repressed the basal impulses he’d awakened and put the need to seek a male of superior quality to the front of her mind. A human would never make a suitable mate, regardless of his incredible physique.
The human walked a few steps toward the large rock and flung his shorts where it joined the shirt in a haphazard pile. His lack of arousal did nothing to hide the thick length of his shaft with dark curls sprinkling wildly at the base.
The clenching in her stomach increased as if driving her blood lower, creating a swollen fullness between her thighs. Would she find the texture of the spiraled coils coarse? Soft? No. She diverted her eyes. Her purpose for being here was reconnaissance. She couldn’t let herself get distracted. A splash attracted her attention.
The human waded to the middle of the shallow river, leaned back, and floated, only to stand again with his hair dripping and thoroughly darkened. He shook his head and a spray of water flew in an arc. He ran his hand through the locks, slicking them back, then dived forward, stretching his body as he swam. His long, powerful strokes caused the muscles in his arms to bunch and relax as he pulled himself through the current. Like a wehr-tiger, he moved as if swimming were second nature.
Berani willed herself to return to Nenek with news, yet remained transfixed. All self-preservation and responsibility eluded her as she flirted with the idea of mating a human. Her desires were wrong—an unnatural yearning which overpowered sensibility. Yet, she had to know more about him. She tore her gaze away and slipped into the jungle. Apprehensive but eager to confront him on her terms, she raced along the same path the human had taken until she came to a tall flame tree already in bloom.
Small brown berries and bright yellow clusters of flowers surrounded thin stems and bathed Berani in a sweet fragrance. The wide trunk, at least a yard thick, prevented her from shimmying it in her human form as she would the coconut palm. Still the large low-hanging limbs were ideal for her purpose. She made a vertical leap and scrambled up the trunk. Her back claws ripped through the bark as she struggled to find purchase and just managed to drag herself to the lowest limb which sagged under her bulk. She paused. Catching her breath, she spied a thicker branch overhead. But the brief climb had already taxed her limited skills as a cat, putting the more stable limb out of reach. No matter. She crept along the branch and listened for any tell-tale cracking which would indicate a lack of integrity. Directly over the path, she settled as the limb dipped precariously low and waited. Such was the life of a tiger.
Eric washed his sweaty clothes in the river and placed them on a rock to dry while he searched through his backpack. He pulled out a change and reached in again. “Crap.”
A vision of his towel lying on his sleeping bag came to mind, and he dropped the pack. No sense crying over spilled milk. One trait he’d learned from running a multi-billion dollar corporation was adaptability. The pharmaceutical business constantly changed, and those who couldn’t keep up went under. He’d never let that happen to Nora Tech, not with his family’s legacy at stake.
Picking up the button-down, he donned it and disregarded the sticky feeling as the damned thing clung to his skin. Uncomfortable for the moment, but it’d pass, just like the troubles his company faced now. He tugged on his boxer briefs and followed them with a pair of jeans. At least he’d remembered his socks. He pulled them up his calves, drying his legs in the process, and shoved his foot into the shoes, lacing them tight.
After the full cardio workout, an easy stroll back to the research site was exactly the kind of cool down he needed. He crammed his still damp clothes into his backpack and headed back to camp.
Shortly into his walk, he stopped in front of a cluster of small vase-like plants growing a foot off the path. The dank stench of old gym clothes permeated the air acting like a repellent to his senses. The outer portions of the vessels were speckled brown and tan, like a pinto bean, and the inside a lime green with liquid resting in the base.
A large green insect, resembling a grasshopper with a narrow head, walked around the rim of the plant until it lost its footing and fell inside. Eric knelt on both knees and leaned over the plant, careful to “look but don’t touch,” as Bryan had warned him. The insect floated in the fluid, thrashing its thin legs in a frenzied fight for life. Not a minute passed and the insect stilled, tipping on its side.
Eric sat on his heels and reflected on the gruesome finality of living in the jungles. Interesting to visit but not a place he’d choose to live. Already he tired of the forest scene. He’d leave the role of nature lover to the researchers. As for him, one typical day in the office provided more than enough excitement.
Still, the fluid might have medicinal properties or the entire plant for that matter. Just one breakthrough and it’d make the money invested in the Malaysian venture worth all the effort, bringing his company back in the black.
A movement caught his eyes as he stood. He stared at the flowers of a yellow tree, hoping to catch the motion again. He’d learned the rainforest was full of wonders if he kept his eyes opened and remained patient. There! Hidden in the tree, a black and orange corded object waved, the colors camouflaged by the profuse foliage.
He squinted and followed the thick line to its source, but lost track of it behind a concentrated stretch of leaves. He did a double take. Where did she come from?
The faint light flickering through the tree cast a glow on the exquisite bronze skin of a woman lounging on a limb, while the dense leaves concealed her legs completely. She licked her full lips, a pinkish brown, which were made for kissing. Malaysian characteristics dominated her face—high cheekbones with a slight blush. Thick, untamed brows arched high. Beautiful. Straight tresses lifted in the breeze—strawberry blond with streaks of dark brown and copper, as well as a shade so light it appeared white. Her features combined with her distinctive hair hinted at her obvious mixed ancestry. The contrast was spectacular against her honey-colored skin. A light brown, halter-like bra covered her full breasts, allowing just a hint of the fleshy mounds to peak over the top. The yellow flowers provided the perfect disguise for her.
She rose from her recline and stood on the branch, balancing on bare and dainty feet with cute, kissable toes. He traced the shape of her legs, toned and lithe, which seemed to travel forever before disappearing behind an obtrusive bit of vegetation.
She dropped from the tree.
“No.” He reached out as his stomach plummeted with her fall.
The woman landed ten feet below in a crouch, while a pitiful scrap of loincloth brushed the ground between her legs.
His brain cranked into gear. She was okay. His heart beat so hard, it threatened to jump out of his chest. Even his run had not gotten him so excited.
She rose from her squat and approached him. Her bare hips flared and narrowed toward the contours of her waist, while the indentation of her belly-button tantalized him.
Already working overtime, his heart rushed blood straight to his cock as it pulsated to the rhythm of her swaying breasts. Entranced, he wondered if the nipples creating points in the thin fabric corresponded with the color of her lips. His jeans tightened, and he resisted the urge to adjust himself as the woman sauntered ever closer, stalking him like prey, assessing him with eyes the color of an amber sunrise.
He smiled at the sultry advance of the curvaceous female. I can definitely work with this. She appeared fearless as she came within arm’s reach, and her feminine scent washed over him, a combination of cool mint and fresh rain. Enticing. Quite tall for Malaysian standards or any woman in general for that matter, she stood about a half foot shorter than Eric. No doubt she’d mold seamlessly to him.
She cocked her head to the side. As if in a dream, time slowed. The wind teased her hair, and the silky strands floated and caressed her shoulders.
Spellbound by the fascinating colors, he lifted his hand. A simple touch. Nothing more. So close. “Heavenly.”
With lightning speed, she batted him away.
He jerked back and gritted his teeth against the pain. A throbbing sensation gave way to a stinging burn, and he cringed at the four deep gashes lining the back of his hand. If the damned thing weren’t attached to his wrist, he wouldn’t recognize it as his own.
“Stupid, stupid—what was I thinking? Damn it,” he said between clenched teeth. “Look but don’t touch, Eric. Look. But don’t touch.”
Blood welled from the deep cuts moments before Berani smelled it. She crinkled her nose as the metallic scent overpowered the earthy fragrance of the forest. She’d struck him too hard. Her body and mind had instinctively gone into a defense mode when he’d tried to grab her. Too late for regrets, he should take it as a warning. A few scratches meant little in a jungle unforgiving to even minor mistakes.
Dropping his pack, the human’s eyes narrowed as he backed away and muttered incoherent nonsense. Blood dripped down the front of his shirt as he unfastened it with shaky hands and shook it over his shoulder. The shirt fell down his arm, and he eased it over his injury. His lips drew into a grimace, as he watched her while working the sleeve off his other arm and wrapping it around his wound.
He walked away, repeating a single foreign word over and over. “Shit. Shit. Shit.” The timber of his voice, deep like the angry rumble of a tiger, swept over her. He knelt on one knee and hunched over his injury like a gibbon hoarding a papaya.
A snicker bubbled from her at his foolish pose.
His mouth formed a thin line as he rose and took a threatening step toward her, releasing a tirade of gibberish.
Berani jumped back and crouched into an offensive stance as a growl reverberated in her throat. She would kill him if she must, but dead humans often brought more trouble than live ones.
“Do not come closer,” she said, not caring if he understood Malay or not.
He stopped short, and his eyes widened. Raising both hands, his shirt dangled as he took a step back. He spoke, but she found no meaning in his unfamiliar dialect, and his cool and steady voice, no doubt meant to calm her, went to waste. She was already calm… deadly calm and more than ready to rip into his throat if his actions turned aggressive.