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Novel: Savage Nature - Chapter 14

Drake let the cool water wash the primal heat from his skin. He had to use his brain now, think along the lines of attack his opponents would most likely use and prepare for them. The most important thing was to establish dominancy immediately to draw out their leader. Saria had complicated things immensely. A female in the throes of the Han Vol Dan had to be protected at all costs and every male in the vicinity would be edgy, moody and at times in a thrall—the most dangerous condition a male leopard could find himself in. He walked naked through the spacious room, toweling himself off, testing his leg as he went. The fiery pain had subsided into a dull, throbbing ache. It would hold. Just to be certain, he placed weapons throughout the room and on the balcony. A knife went up under the eaves. He was a careful man and he knew leopards and their tempers. It would be best to be prepared for anything. He dressed in a loose pair of drawstring pants, something he could easily rid himself of, and padded barefoot out to the balcony. Placing a chair close to the wall, but well back from the overhang, he sat outside and waited patiently for the company he knew would come.DRAKE had learned many years earlier to take advantage of any downtime and get sleep. In the middle of the worst battles, when there was a lull, he often managed a little catnap. He allowed his eyes to close, but he put his cat on alert. His leopard would let him know when the enemy came. He dreamt of her. Saria. Her soft skin. Her curves. The silk of her hair. The shape and feel of her fantasy mouth. He dreamt of taking her, a wild primitive mating that left him insatiable for her, desperate for her. Addicted to her. He stroked his hand over her slender legs and felt the inner heat of her thighs. He needed to taste her, to find her wild, exotic scent and devour her. He wanted to know every inch of her, every erotic place that made her moan and writhe beneath him, every single spot that would make her purr and tremble.
That soft junction between her neck and shoulders called to him to claim her, to mark her. To put his personal brand on her. The need to let the others know she was taken was a living, breathing, urgent demand that would never let him rest until he’d managed to make her his. He heard the soft deep growl of warning, an insistent rumble that rose in volume, warning the other males of his kind away from what was his. Drake’s eyes snapped open, his mind clear immediately. The music of the night filled his every sense. He stretched languidly, a sinuous, feline movement, a ripple of sheer power. It had been a long time and he welcomed the coming battle, was even eager for it. The call of the wild was on him now, a thrall, an urgent need to defend what was his. The leopards were out there, stalking silently through the fog, hoping to catch their enemy unaware. He knew they were unused to having to defend their lair or their females. They had been rulers of this territory for a long time unchallenged, unknown to outsiders. He was a shifter who had been honed in battles around the world. He fought whenever it was necessary—and sometimes when it wasn’t. He was skilled, vicious, and very fast. The territory he’d claimed had been open—and that was their mistake. They’d left him the loophole of a legitimate claim, and he was within the law defending it. By rights, they couldn’t come at him en masse—they would have one fighter challenge him. He waited, stretching out muscles, testing his leg, readying himself. His leopard waited in the silent, coiled way of their kind. He would have one moment of weakness, landing on his bad leg, but he’d tested the injury and knew it would stand up to a battle, especially a short one. He intended to dominate fast, to take control so there was no question the other would have to submit or die. He hoped his opponent chose submission. He wasn’t altogether certain in his present state, with a female—his female so close to the Han Vol Dan—that he could control his leopard should the other refuse to submit. A bellowing roar shook the night, the sound carrying across the lake and into the swamp. The insects went silent. The alligators and frogs ceased their calls, knowing a predator stalked the night. Drake had been waiting for that ferocious challenge. Instantly, he zeroed in on the leopard’s exact location, his vision already banding into heat waves as he shed his drawstring pants, put one hand on the railing and leapt into the air.His body contorted, a practiced shifting few could do. Fast and abrupt, Drake threw himself into his other for, embracing it, reaching for it, changing in midair so that he was fully leopard when he landed on the back of the challenging male. The wrenching sensation sent the blood singing in his veins, and made him feel truly alive. The sultry night, heavy with moisture, sank into his soul, the heat rushing through him and filling him with the joy of combat. He dropped out of the night sky, an avenging warrior, slamming into the large leopard posturing on the rolling lawn leading to the bank of the river. He smashed into his enemy hard, the other cat grunting as the air left his lungs and his legs went out from under him. Merciless, Drake sank teeth into the back of the neck and claws deep into the sides, gluing himself to the other leopard as they rolled over and over toward the river. Snarls filled the night as other leopards looked on, unable to aid their fallen champion. Rules held every society together and although primitive, they lived by the law of their kind and the newcomer had every right to defend his territory. Red eyes and bared wicked teeth gleamed as leopards loosely ringed the fighters. Drake’s opponent twisted desperately, using his flexible spine to bend nearly in half, frantic to get out from under those deadly teeth and the claws that raked his belly and sides, leaving deep, long furrows that would scar, if not kill. The teeth were merciless, and with every movement he made, they sank deeper in warning. It was clear he had to submit or die. There was no dislodging the huge beast from his back. He submitted, hatred in his eyes, but with no other viable choice, he went still, allowing the stranger his victory—knowing it would be short-lived. The rogue had taken him by surprise, but the others would be more prepared. Shuddering, he lay still and waited while the newcomer held him. Drake backed off with a warning snarl and slap of his paw to his opponent’s bloody muzzle. The leopard lay on the grass, torn and bloody, trembling. He rolled and cautiously came to his feet, tail flicking, his eyes on Drake, a golden, wicked glare. Satisfaction gleamed for one brief second. Drake leapt sideways and the leopard launching his attack missed him by a few scant inches. Drake whirled in midair, landed and pushed off hard, driving into the side of the newest attacker, knocking him off his feet. He sprang, trying for a quick hold on the back of his neck, missed and sank his teeth in the ear and skull. His own leopard was furious at the second attack, making it more difficult to direct him away from a kill. Bloodlust rose. Fury. A raging need to drive the males away from his territory or kill them to keep them away from his female. Drake’s opponent had a darker muzzle and a dark stripe down the middle of his back. There were several scars indicating he’d fought battles, and Drake’s leopard drove relentlessly into him, rolling him over so they bashed at each other with lethal, rending claws, snarling and growling as they boxed, standing on hind legs.
Drake drove hard, slashing at the exposed belly, and when his opponent curled up to protect himself, with lightning speed he sank his teeth into the neck. The snarls and growls of those watching faded into the background. The struggle now was to keep his leopard under control. He barely noticed the claws ripping into his flesh, or the teeth sinking into his shoulder as the leopard made a desperate attempt to free itself.He growled and shook his opponent, blood staining his muzzle and the other’s coat as he took a firmer grip on the throat. “Submit, Dion,” a voice called out. “Use your brain. He’s goin’ to have to fight his leopard to keep from killing you. You aren’t makin’ it easier. Damn it, you submit.” As if very far in the distance, Drake heard the human voice penetrating through the mindless fury, the demand to kill. He vaguely recognized the voice. The leopard beneath him shook with fury, raked at him again, sending a burn along his ribs. He growled deep in his throat, struggling to maintain a semblance of humanity when his leopard raged for a kill. It was his right. The opponent was in his territory. He refused to submit. Fury swept through him. He sank his teeth deeper. Using his enormous strength, he held his adversary immobile in a suffocation grip. “Dion!” The voice rose in command and fear. “Submit now!” The leopard beneath him suddenly went slack, the fight draining out of him, sides heaving, mouth open, eyes glazing. “Let him go.” The voice held a n ote of pleading.