Nothing screamed “Wake up, dumbass!” like regaining consciousness to the fluttery warmth of something breathing moist air into her face. A living, breathing entity, which smelled both earthy and spicy – covered in tickly fur. In other words, something that didn’t belong in the shelter with her.
Panic took complete control of her body. Despite knowing it was the middle of the night and pitch black, Carlie’s eyes flashed open to see the intruder. In retrospect, she perhaps should have feigned slumber, given she now stared into a pair of glowing eyes – one golden, the other a clear blue. Had she forgotten to note they glared – probably with murderous intent – a few paltry inches from her face? Not a good distance when it came to wild animals, especially with no bars to separate them.
Should she freak? There’s a plan. Scream my face off, get eaten, and become a tiny blurb in the paper. On to option two – scream for help. Sure, because high, piercing shrieks won’t piss it off and send it into a murderous frenzy. Skipping that route seemed prudent. What did that leave? Peeing her pants? Seeing that Carlie held the control to her bladder only tenuously at the moment, it was almost a foregone conclusion. As for closing her eyes and pretending nothing stood over her eyeing her like a tasty tidbit? No way am I letting that creature out of my sight.
Choices. Choices. To act or not to act? Maybe later she’d choose a route of escape. For the moment, it didn’t truly matter what she wanted to do as terror froze her from head to toe. She couldn’t utter a sound, not when her vocal cords refused to cooperate.
Paralyzed by fear, she just concentrated on breathing – without any whimpering or reciting of Hail Mary. Funny how staring death in its mismatched eyes could make a girl find religion. Lying like a wax statue seemed best considering any sudden motion or sound might startle the jungle cat staring intently at her.
How did she know a giant kitty hovered over her? She’d watched enough documentaries about the Lacandon jungle region to recognize those distinctive orbs of what she’d wager was a jaguar. The massive golden eye and round pupil shape gave it away, even if the fact the cat also possessed a blue one was an anomaly.
How did I not hear it enter the tent? How did it get in? She’d drawn the zipper tight and snapped it shut so nothing could sneak in and snuggle with her. It only took waking to one fist-sized, hairy spider – with a scream to wake the dead – to realize the merit of making her sleeping area as secure as possible.
A damp nose nudged her cheek. Carlie bit a threatening shriek into submission.
Did the how-it-got-in matter? Only one simple fact mattered. A big ass cat stood over her, and judging by the glint in its narrowing, mismatched eyes, the feline was damned hungry. A raspy tongue emerged and swiped across her cheek, then back, leaving a wet trail.
Oh, dear God. She waited for the jaguar to follow with a great big bite, and held her breath as her whole body tensed. It rubbed a furry head against the wet spot. Soft, silky fur did not distract her from the fact this wild creature wasn’t a domestic pet. Out came the tongue again, trailing over her cheek to her chin and then across her lips. Oh, no way.
“Gross!” she exclaimed, finding her voice. “That was so uncalled for. If you’re going to eat me, then just do it already. No need to torture me with slobber and bad breath.” She wanted to slap herself for the outburst as soon as she uttered the last syllable. So much for staying calm in the face of death.
Expecting to get her face chewed off, she waved her hands around for a weapon – didn’t find one of course, unless her hand lotion counted. She did locate the small pencil flashlight she used at night if she needed to visit a bush for a late night pee. Brandishing it, she flicked it on, the feeble beam reflecting off the eyes of the predator.
“Get away,” she said in a wobbly voice, pointing it at the feline. “Or I’ll poke you with my stupid weapon.” A human would of course laugh at her threat, but she hoped the words and menacing wave with her object would… What? Make the giant cat suddenly tremble in fear?
The jaguar, of course, didn’t run away. It cocked its head, and darn it all if it didn’t seem as if it smiled. Wait, could cats smile?
A paw landed on her wrist, immobilizing her arm. A moment later, her other arm got pinned as well. The tip of its tongue peeked again for a quick swipe at her chin. It tickled. She squirmed, arms held flat, the sleeping bag trapping the rest of her limbs and torso under the caging legs of the cat. Forget escape. The jaguar lowered its body and squished her flat, its weight impressive enough to force the air out of her lungs. The head moved to the side, the disturbing eyes – showing too much intelligence and misplaced humor – left her as the feline sniffed her skin, nuzzling the bare flesh between shoulder and neck, then lower. Lower? Wait a second. The damned creature was pulling the blanket in its teeth, the unzipping sound loud in the tent. Carlie wiggled madly to no avail. It seemed Mr. Kitty wanted its food unwrapped. The only good thing was it released her arms, and then her body, as it wiggled back, taking her sleeping bag with it.
Prey exposed, the jaguar proceeded to sniff its way up her body. The brush of a damp nose, too close to her girl parts made her pull up her legs. “Perv. Stay out of there. I’ve sworn off men for this trip, and that goes for big kitty cats too.”
It ignored her and leaned forward to smell again. Before she could stop herself, she tapped it on the head. “No. Bad kitty.”
A low growl rumbled and mismatched eyes flashed in her direction.
Okay, perhaps she shouldn’t have smacked it. Still, though, it wanted her to lie still while he sized her up for dinner? Not freakn’ likely. Yet, what else could Carlie do? Her pale, human flesh would prove no match to a creature that not only outweighed her, but sported a set of nasty teeth and claws. Doing nothing, though, seemed dumbest of all.
I am not going to sit here and let the darned thing eat me. Not without a fight. She kept her legs up to her chest when it occurred to her she was no longer frozen, nor did she camp alone in the jungle. If she shouted out, then some of her expedition’s members would surely come to her aid. If they haven’t gotten mauled already.
Nothing like optimism to brighten a girl’s night. She opened her mouth, closed her eyes against the possible violence about to erupt, and prepared to let loose the mother of all yells.
Great plan, except a hand slapped over her lips, stifling any sound.
A hand? Who was in the tent with her and the cat? How did they all fit?
She opened her eyes, but even with her flashlight still feebly shining, the shadows were too thick for her to see anything with clarity.
An arm snaked around her upper body, and she reacted, thrashing against an iron band that didn’t budge. Of the cat, she saw and heard no sign, but at least now she knew how it got in. Someone let the jaguar in my tent. But why?
The hand over her mouth loosened as her attacker shifted her body. Carlie used his lapse to make her move. Biting down hard, she heard a sharp hiss, and she kicked out, glad for once of her extra size. She broke free and scrambled for the opening of the tent.
“Help m—” She didn’t finish her yell because a heavy body landed atop her, squashing her flat. Pinned to the ground, just like one of Roberson’s bugs, she could barely lift her head. Her poor vantage point didn’t stop her from taking stock of what she could glimpse. In the moonlight filtering down, what she saw made her groan. A new set of eyes, both golden this time, perused her. A new tongue licked her.
“What is it with the cats around here?” she grumbled, too annoyed at her aborted attempt of escape to show proper fear. Besides, her mind had already surmised the felines weren’t wild, killing machines, not if they worked with humans. However, she might have preferred a quick, if painful, death to the other possibilities. Slavers. Indigenes who believed in human sacrifice. Cannibals. Why couldn’t she ever imagine something nice, like that Ed McMahon guy and a giant check? Or that cute Ashton fellow and one of his famous pranks?
Hands yanked her body upright, snapping her back to the moment. She staggered at the abrupt motion. The damp evening air kissed her skin, her nighttime attire of shorts and a tank top leaving generous swaths of flesh exposed, an important thing to note because she fully felt the extent of taut, heated skin pressed against her rear. Very naked skin, garnished with an erection that poked her in the lower back, not an easy feat given her almost six foot height, which made the guy behind her pretty freakn’ tall. And horny. Let’s not forget horny.
Sucking in a shocked gasp, she went to lunge forward, but another bare chest hemmed her from the front, not that she saw it in the pitch dark outside her tent. She couldn’t avoid feeling it, though, when her hands touched a hot and hard male upper body. For a second, she stood frozen but not cold. Not anything close to cold with the naked, heated flesh sandwiching her. Under other circumstances, she might have even enjoyed it. But common sense prevailed, and she shoved at the male in front of her.
“Get away.” She didn’t think her words would do anything, but she had to try.
A guttural cough sounded behind her and the body in front took a step back. Spun around, she didn’t wobble as strong hands gripped her upper arms, holding her steady. Carlie peeked up, and things went hazy as soon as she met the impossible gaze of her captor. The blue and gold gaze of a cat, which now stared at her steadily from the face of a man.
What the freakn’ hell is going on? was her last cognizant thought before she inhaled something powdery and her mind went blank.
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