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Kira passed more than a thousand trees draped in twisted vines and slithering black serpents. On a fool’s mission, caught in a hopeless labyrinth of never-ending twists and bends, despair found her. For hours, she‘d been in the forest, running in circles, trudging through sweltering swamps and breath-sucking tropical forests. Wearily, she dropped onto a stump, buried her head in her hands, and wept.

At every pause, she‘d held the medallion in her hands, closed her eyes, and repeated the chant. “Full moon, winter‘s night, hear my call, see my plight. Come daughter of hope, savior of grief, come with me to a place of peace.”

She waited, and when nothing happened, wailed. The very air around her wove a thread of malevolence through her befuddled brain, and she knew with certainty if she didn‘t find the spot where she’d landed soon, she‘d no longer need air.

Courage and determination had knocked on her door that morning, and then led her to the medallion in Balion‘s bedchamber. Tired of playing the pawn in their silly war games, and weary of attending a one person pity-party, she lifted the talisman from the table and reminded herself she‘d almost died in this strange land three times. If she hoped to see her parents again, the time had come to take matters into her own hands.

She was a psychological profiler, for God‘s sake, an intelligent, educated woman who could surely outsmart a bevy of medieval characters from a distant, albeit very distant, past. Out of temper, not to mention options, reality smacked her in the face harder than the rain that had suddenly materialized. Hopeless, her situation loomed utterly hopeless.

Soaked clear through to her skin, she rose from the stump and headed for a cave ahead. Nestled between clusters of tawny cliffs, the shelter looked as good as the next place to sort out her thoughts, and, it would be dry. Tired, hungry, and oh so wet, she entered, slumped against a wall near the entrance and slithered to the ground.

She closed her eyes, and moments later opened them, her gut-wrenching sixth sense screaming danger. Low-pitched growls heaved the stagnant air, paralyzing her with fear, tenfold in comparison to the day The Scarlet Angel held the knife to her throat. A primordial scent filled the cavern, the same odious aroma that drifted over her the day the beast chased her in the forest.

The cat advanced, his golden eyes flaming with an odd mixture of lust and death. With nauseating dread, she knew she had looked into those orbs before. A series of vignettes rushed forth—Garrick entering a room and leaning against the trunk of a tree. Her suspicions had been right, impossible as it seemed. Mother of Jesus help me, Garrick and the cat are one in the same.

Feral heat enveloped her and hot breath fanned her cheeks as the great predator moved in at a foot-dragging pace. Foolishly, she‘d left the spear behind, and nothing fell within her grasp as her hand searched the ground, no heavy sticks, no steel pipes this time. Kira‘s short life flashed before her, and her mother‘s violet eyes and father‘s strong jaw.

She whispered a prayer, “Let it be quick.”

Lethal, white fangs gleamed deadly when the spotted leopard opened his mouth and let loose a savage roar. Mammoth paws clawed the air as he closed the empty space between them. He could have killed her in a heartbeat, but Kira sensed, sickly, he wanted something from her before he devoured her. Hot, primal arousal drifted over her, under her. In a moment, she’d upchuck her breakfast. Retracting his claws, his paw reached out and scraped her cheek, the unadulterated desire emanating from every pore of his furred body.

Before she knew what had happened, the massive paw slid around her neck and thrust her face down to the ground. She heard the sickening sound of leather ripping, felt the cold brush of air whisper against her naked bottom. His breath warm and fetid, he pinned her to the ground with one paw, slid the other beneath her and raised her hips high into the air. Nausea swirled again in her stomach. Something hard pressed against her buttocks―a hot, seeking probe—sending convulsions coursing through her. A heavy stone lay within her grasp. She reached for it, her fingers digging into the earth as the beast purred and ran his sandpaper tongue along her upper spine. With stone in hand, she slammed it against his leg and cringed when the bone snapped and he released a tortured howl. In that infinitesimal moment, she slipped from under him and flipped onto her back.

Icy fingers of fear snaked up her spine as she looked into the beast‘s eyes. With teeth barred, his enormous head descended until it was inches from her face. More terrifying than anything she had ever seen or imagined, including the wild boars, the masked assassins or the black serpents inhabiting this godforsaken land, she let loose a blood-curdling scream.

Then she closed her eyes and sent a prayer skyward.

Thanks for reading, Keta
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