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Novel: Savage Nature - Chapter 5


Deep inside of her, something wild lifted its head as if awakening. Adrenaline pulsed through her, rushing like a drug through her veins, strength and energy pouring into her, lending her phenomenal strength. She shoved up hard, gathering her legs under her enough to create a small separation, just enough to roll. At the same time, she brought the knife up, slashing toward the leopard’s jugular. The cat’s front paw flew toward her knife hand, the heavy body pinning her as the great claw shifted, and to her horror, fingers caught her wrist and slammed her hand back into the muck. That human hand, coming out of a leopard’s body, terrified her. It was grotesque and wrong and not at all romantic like a young child had envisioned. Deep inside her own body, something shifted and moved, pushing aside fear to ignite a burning bright anger. As they stared at one another, fury smoldered deep inside her body. She could almost feel something inside of her, living and breathing, furious that the leopard dared to touch her. Her skin itched and her jaw ached. Her entire body hurt, probably from the vicious hit when the cat brought her down.

“Go ahead,” she bit out, trying not to sob, trembling with a combination of fear and anger. “Just do it.” He held her down with his heavy paws, breathing against her neck again. She closed her eyes and waited for the death bite. Unlike most large cats, leopards preferred to bite the throat of their prey and hold until the victim suffocated. Slowly, almost reluctantly, the large leopard backed away from her. She peeked out from under her lashes and watched it as it steadily backed up, one silent paw at a time. All the while, those yellow-green eyes remained on her facfont> She didn’t dare move, afraid she would trigger more aggression in the animal. Long after he disappeared into the fog, she lay on the ground, shaking, tears running down her face. It hurt to sit up, her back on fire. The rain soothed the fiery streaks. The bite mark on her shoulder oozed. Infection was a real threat in the swamp. She couldn’t go to a doctor, and if she went to the treateur, what was she going to say? That a leopard attacked her in the cypress grove just outside of town? The woman would have her committed. She sat in the rain, listening. Already the regular sounds of the night were resuming and deep inside her body, whatever had stirred subsided. For several long minutes, she sat in the mud with the rain pouring down on her, weeping. Her stomach lurched unexpectedly, and she rolled painfully to her hands and knees and retched again and again. She was a Boudreaux and she’d been taught since birth not to trust outsiders. Her family was shrouded in secrecy and she was cut off from the world. She could leave the river—but she knew no other way of life. Where would she go? Who could she turn to? Saria lifted her head slowly and looked around her. This was her home, the wilds of the river, the bayous and lakes, the swamps and marsh. She couldn’t breathe in a city. She wiped at the mud on her face with her sleeve. The movement caused a spasm of fire to chase down her back and small flames to burn over her shoulder. Her stomach lurched. Stifling a small sob, she pushed herself up with one trembling hand. Exhaustion set in. She stumbled her way to the dock, every step painful. She was afraid the leopard had broken something in her back. It was difficult to step onto the pirogue, but she did a lot of deep breathing as she reached for her pole to push off. Her back muscles were on fire with every movement. She looked back at the grove as she thrust the flat-bottomed boat away from the dock. Her heart jumped. Red eyes stared back at her through the mist. He was still watching her. She stared right back at him as she pushed out into the current and let it take her back downriver. The red eyes suddenly disappeared and she caught a glimpse of the big cat running, using long leaping strides, weaving in and out of the trees, heading into the swamp. Trying to beat her home? Did she believe any of her brothers would harm her? Could one be a serial killer? She’d found a second body three months ago, and now a third. She’d tried to mail the letter out herself, but found it taped to the bottom of her pirogue, scaring her nearly to death. Her brothers were tough men, all capable of killing should the need arise. But wantonly? Any of them? She shook her head, not wanting to believe it was possible. But the evidence . . . Maybe if she just told all of them when they were together, just blurted out that she’d found bodies, it might be possible to tell from their reactions. Saria found it impossible to think the rest of the way home. Using oars or a pole required back muscles, and her body protested every movement. She didn’t even care to see if the leopard cut through the swamps and beat her home. There were several boats tied up to the dock and music blared out over the water. Lights spilled out over the river. A couple of men were standing outside the bar, but neither looked up as she tied her pirogue to the dock. The bar was open, which meant at least one of her brothers was at home. She would have liked to peek in and see just which one was there, because that would rule him out as a suspect, but she didn’t dare take a chance of anyone seeflat-bott The house was nestled back in the trees with the river running on one side and surrounded by trees on the other three sides. She used to find comfort in the trees, often climbing them and surveying the world from the heights as a child. Now she searched the branches frantically for signs of a large cat as she went around to the back of the house, hoping to avoid her brothers if any others were at home. There were no lights on, and she paused on the back stairs, listening. Her hearing seemed more acute sometimes, like a switch that went on and off, as did her night vision. Right now, she could hear only her own ragged breathing. She crept into the dark house, not bothering with lights, trying not to make a sound as she made her way through the small rooms to her bathroom. Saria stripped off her ripped jacket and examined the slashing tears before she shrugged out of her shirt. The shirt was soaked with blood. She held up the remnants, looking at the gashes that could only be made by a large cat’s claws. The sight of all that blood and the tears made her feel sick. She balled up the shirt, threw it into the sink and turned her back toward the full-length mirror. The glass was cracked in places, but looking over her shoulder, she could see the grooves marring her skin. They looked angry and red—definitely an infection waiting to happen. She touched the puncture wounds on her shoulder and burst into tears. Saria stood in the shower, shaking, the hot water pouring over her, rinsing away the blood, her back and shoulder stinging horribly. Her legs gave out and she sank down onto the floor of the shower stall and cried, letting the water wash away her tears.She drew her knees up and hugged herself tight, ignoring the burning along her back. Why hadn’t the leopard killed her? Clearly he knew she’d found the dead bodies. She breathed deep to keep from vomiting. She had no idea what to do, other than scrub to remove all scent from her body and then get rid of her clothes. Leopards had a great sense of smell, and she didn’t want any questions.

Forcing her body back up, she reluctantly took the soap and poured the gel over her back, using a scrub brush to work it into her wounds. She had to stop several times and breathe deep to keep from fainting. It hurt beyond anything she could imagine. She rinsed off and repeated the scrubbing with the bite on her shoulder. She patted her body dry and rummaged in the medicine cabinet until she found iodine. Saria bit back a scream as the iodine burned through the gouge marks on her back and the puncture wounds on her shoulder. She pushed her head between her knees, breathing deep as blackness edged her vision. Bile rose and she fought hard not to get sick. “Fils de putain.” She hissed the words between clenched teeth, struggling to keep from landing facedown on the floor as the world around her darkened and white spots fluttered in front of her eyes. It took several minutes for her world to right itself, and she was able to straighten again without her legs going rubbery on her, although her back protested with a fierce burning. She breathed through it and carefully bandaged the puncture wounds on her shoulder. She couldn’t do anything about her back and knew whatever she wore would be ruined, so she pulled on an old shirt and so ft sweatpants.