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Doing It the Hard Way (Ellora's Cave)by T. J. Michaels
The big male swatted at the female's head but missed. She'd eluded his huge paw, jumped to the side of the unconscious human lying facedown on the ground, his blood mingling with the wet grass. The female crouched again, ready to spring and prepared to fight for the human. He didn't doubt he could take her, but the set of her powerful shoulders and the gleam of the moonlight off her bared canines made him think twice. He'd seen this particular female before, often out in the jungle. None of the other males ever approached her. Perhaps she was a formidable foe?
But he wasn't just another male. He was a prime of his species, a jaguar, a fully grown panthera onca who always got what he wanted. He decided he wanted her.
She thought he was after the body she guarded. Good, let her. He would back off for now, taking the opportunity she'd unknowingly given him to watch her closely and see just what kind of female he was dealing with. But he had no doubt that in the end, she would find herself underneath him while he thrust with powerful strokes into her body. Oh yes, she would yield. He would see to it. And perhaps afterward, he would keep her.
Uhhnnn, owww. Aaron was sure someone had split his head open and used a metal baseball bat to work sand into the wound. And those voices! God, why wouldn't they just shut up? The buzz overlaying the words of whoever needed to shut up drilled through his brain.
Each breath sucked into his lungs felt shallow, as if he couldn't drag in enough air, and every breath out left behind a tight burning sensation. Why couldn't he take a deep breath and hold it? Pain this intense could only mean one thing — he was dying.
The voices were louder now. Damn it. Ready to glare at the people talking when his head pounded like a drum at a rock concert, he was somewhat surprised at the gritty feel behind his lids as he forced them open. He blinked then blinked again, but the blurry images wouldn't clear. They just moved back and forth in the dimly lit room. The sound of a million cawing birds filled his ears, and the sweet scent of wet grass floated on a cooling breeze across his skin. His bare skin. Did they have bare skin in the hereafter?
He blinked a few more times, wincing as the side of his head exploded with a new round of pain. And who was the bearded old man leaning close to his face? He wanted to lift his hand to smack the man and tell him to back up a bit. The garlic on his breath made Aaron's stomach lurch but the pounding in his head was so fierce, just the thought of blowing chunks made him grit his teeth to hold back the bile while the vein in his forehead threatened to burst. The old man was speaking. What? Sounded something like mud, or blood, or...he just couldn't make it out, his thoughts were too scrambled. Oblivion had been pretty sweet compared to this. Perhaps he could slip back into it?
But not before he caught a glimpse of the angel standing just behind the garlicky old man. Now he remembered, sort of. Lightning. His plane had gone down in the jungle after the engine under the left wing caught fire. The image was blurry but he knew an angel when he saw one. Was she here to take him to heaven? He was sure he'd done at least a few good deeds to warrant making it through the pearly gates.
This angel had milk chocolate skin and a set of piercing, almond-shaped, light gray eyes that made his pulse skip a beat or two. And her hair, a shoulder-length mane any woman would kill for. Thick and curly, it hit her shoulders at the perfect length and made his fingers want to reach out and touch the silky black-as-sin tresses before he floated away to the hereafter. The image of his angel wavered.
"Wait! Come back, beautiful! Can't we spend some time? Maybe talk awhile before I leave this plane?" Could she hear his urgent whispers? Of course she could, all supernatural beings had great hearing. So why didn't she respond? Instead, she just looked at him with a strange mix of pity and irritation. What the hell kind of angel was she anyway? She was supposed to be smiling at him, preparing him for his journey. Well, she obviously wasn't interested in doing her job. Maybe if he lodged a formal complaint with God, she'd get fired.
The garlic master was back. His stomach lurched. Damn it, old man, he shouted in his head, and immediately regretted the ferocity of his thoughts. Now his neck, shoulders and ribs joined his head, pounding relentlessly against his skin from the inside out.
The older man stuck him on the top of his hand with something and the beauty faded away fast, but not before he got a good glimpse of the swell of the angel's breasts and the curve of her shoulders. Since when did cherubs wear tank tops? It sure looked good on her. And how could he be in so much pain and still manage to achieve a hard-on? Damn, she's sexy, he smirked at himself as his eyelids fluttered closed. Hell, even in his state of impending death, he was thinking with his cock instead of his brain.
I'm no better than the half-assed angel, he thought as sleep claimed him.
Reya followed Dr. Matons out of her bedroom and closed the door with a quiet snap. After brewing herself a cup of tea, she joined her old friend out on the screened veranda and plopped down in her favorite plastic patio chair. The smell of the passing storm was heavy in the air, along with the scent of charred wood and jet fuel. In spite of the evening's hair-raising events, she was calm and determined.
Vanilla and clove scented smoke floated up from Dr. Matons's pipe. She should have never asked her aunt Sulu to send the stuff. Now the old curmudgeon would never again settle for the local tobaccos.
"Well, our little patient was lucky tonight," Dr. Matons drawled around his pipe.
"Little patient?" Reya queried with amusement. She was sure she'd never met a man so long his feet practically hung off the edge of her bed, or a more muscularly perfect specimen as the one lying in her bedroom. She and Dr. Matons had spent the past several hours removing glass and plastic from various patches of skin. They'd stitched the deeper cuts across his back, wrapped his chest tightly and cleaned off all the blood. She'd seen every inch of his magnificent body and there was nothing, and she meant nothing, little about him.
"It's a good thing you were out on patrol when his plane went down. I don't know if he would have made it otherwise," the doctor said, blowing out a ring of thick smoke. "He is certainly handsome, as men go." His eyes crinkled at the sides as he watched her. The old matchmaker. Always looking for someone to pair her up with. Even an unconscious man in serious condition.
When she didn't answer but stared out into the night, he continued. "I gave him a strong painkiller, but he's not out of the woods. Do you mind if I sleep here so I can check on him during the night?"
"No, I don't mind at all. Why don't you take the office? The futon in there is pretty comfy. I'll take the couch." Her eyes hadn't strayed from the tangle of ferns and vines leading into the dark canopy of jungle no more than a hundred yards from her back stairs.
"You're not planning on going back out in this deluge, are you?"
"The storm is almost past. I'll be fine. Besides, something weird happened out there tonight. If you're still awake when I get back, I'll tell you about it."
The moon, pale and obscured by dark thunderheads, was the only light shining onto her second-story veranda. Reya unlaced her boots, toed them off and set them beside the screen door that led down the back stairs. Dr. Matons continued to puff on his pipe while she peeled off her tank top and blood-spattered pants, tossed them in a pile and loosely tied a small bundle around her neck.
"Be careful, my dear. Wake me when you return," Dr. Matons called quietly. Extinguishing his pipe, he rose and slipped through the sliding-glass door and into her living room.
Reya watched his retreating back until the subtle snap of the office door told her she was alone. Shirt, pants and shoes in a neat pile on the floor, she dropped to her knees. Muscles rippled and bunched as raw power surged through her limbs — heady, thunderous power as her body shortened then stretched. Her tall frame shuddered as thick fur burst through her pores, replacing smooth skin. The cooling breeze ruffled the sleek fur on the tufts of the ears of a black jaguar as she stalked down the stairs and loped into the surrounding jungle.
Copyright 2009 by Ellora's Cave Publishing, Inc. Jaguar's Rule copyright 2006 by T. J. Michaels
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