Wild Rain

By: Christine Feehan

They moved in an ever-tightening circle until they gained the large network of roots and branches. Rio’s muscles bunched, contracted, rippled beneath the layer of skin as he leapt into the tree, landing in a crouch with perfect balance. The cats crept silently into the thick network of tree branches to gain the verandah. The branches were slick from the downpour, but the trio of hunters maneuvered up to the house with familiar ease. Rio tested the door. Finding resistance, he drew the knife from the leather sheath concealed between his shoulder blades. In the flash of lightning, the long, wicked razor-sharp metal gleamed brightly. He slipped the blade in the crack of the door and slowly, inch by inch, forced the heavy metal bar on the inside upward.

As the door opened, then closed furtively, the sudden cold draft sent the flames of the fire blazing high, dancing and crackling before settling back down. Rio waited a heartbeat for his eyes to adjust to the change in lighting. He moved stealthily across the wide expanse of floor, carefully placing his feet, avoiding every squeaking board. A shadowy figure moved restlessly on the bed.

Rio went to the floor, on his belly even as the wildness flared in him, ripping through his body, heightening his senses. His skin itched, his bones aching and his muscles contorting. He fought it back, forcing his brain to work, to think, to reason when his body sought to embrace the change. For a moment his hand rippled with life, with fur, fingers bursting as claws clicked on the wooden floor, then retracted painfully.

He remained motionless, flat on the floor, knife in his teeth, trying to breathe through the pain, breathe away the urge for transformation. The cats separated without visible instruction, both low to the floor, two sets of burning eyes on the figure beneath the blanket. Rio could make out the shotgun against the wall beside the bed, within easy reaching distance. In the fireplace the log disintegrated into bright red coals. Light flared in the room, illuminated the bed briefly and was gone.

Chapter Two

RACHAEL came awake, instantly aware of impending danger. The smell of wet fur mixed with the scent of something feral, something dangerous. There had been no sound, but the feeling was so overwhelming she instinctively reached for the shotgun. Fingers circled her wrist in a vise-like grip, crushing bone against tendon. The shotgun was torn from her hand easily, her attacker strong beyond her wildest imagining. She jerked her captured wrist toward her as if to struggle against his hold. Simultaneously, she brought up her left hand, gripping the short rattan-filled stick and slamming it with sickening force against her assailant’s head. She rolled sideways away from him to drop to the floor, the bed between them.

To her horror, Rachael landed inches from glowing red eyes, hot breath in her face, gaping, hideous jaws filled with teeth coming straight at her. Not just any teeth, she was staring at what looked like a saber-toothed tiger. Thrusting the stick between the dripping fangs, she scrambled away, desperate to reach the fireplace and a weapon, any weapon to defend herself. A hand grabbed at her, missed, slid off her legs. She nearly made it across the room, reaching out for the heavy metal poker just inches from her fingers. Another step, a lunge and she’d have a chance. Something caught her ankle in a savage trap, tearing at her flesh, dragging her down, slashing mercilessly with sharp teeth.

Rachael imagined it was like being hit by a shark. Hard. The force of a freight train. She could hear someone swearing, animals breathing loudly, a terrible chuffing noise. Something hissed. Panic overwhelmed her, nearly shutting down her brain. Red-hot pain shot through her entire body, the agony taking her breath away. Gathering itself for another attack, a second leopard leapt at her. Gritting her teeth, Rachael threw herself forward, a scream ripping her throat as the lance-like teeth pierced and shredded flesh to crunch on bone. Her fingers curled around the poker, swinging it at the animal with desperate strength. A hand caught her wrist, abruptly stopping the vicious cut in midair.

A man loomed over her, dark and powerful, his face that of an avenging devil, thrust close to hers. To her horror the face contorted, fur bursting through skin, teeth filling the strong jaw. A leopard’s hot breath blew in her face, the teeth at her throat. Not a small, clouded leopard, but a huge black leopard. The leopard’s gaze fixed on her with merciless intent. Rachael saw the piercing intelligence in the brilliant yellow-green eyes. The haunting stare, smoldering with fire, with deadly danger, was etched into her mind. She closed her eyes, willing herself to faint, yet she could not shut out the focused stare.

Rio struggled against the beast rising in him. Too many wounds, too many days without sleep made it difficult to maintain control. He fought the change before he could make a kill. He breathed in and out. Drew the air deeply into his lungs. Forced the wildness in him back down, to settle somewhere deep inside until he was once again completely ruled by his brain and intelligence.

“Release,” he snapped. The cats obeyed, letting go of his assassin’s leg, dropping to the floor, still on guard. “Now you. Give it to me.”

Rachael was incapable of letting the poker go. Her fingers were locked around it, her mind numb with horror. She could only stare at him in shock. Terror held her mute. “Damn you, drop it,” he hissed, increasing the pressure on her wrist, knowing he could easily snap the bone if she continued to resist. His free hand clamped around her throat like a vise, instantly cutting off her air, elbow digging into her breast, knee across her thighs. His body effectively pinned hers to the floor with his superior weight. “I could break your neck,” he pointed out. “Drop it.”