When cattle rancher Lenna Alvarez rescues a black jaguar, she discovers there’s more to the animal that meets the eye. Bonding with a centuries-old Aztec Warrior wasn’t part of her plans. Then again, neither was simultaneously facing off against an American businessman and poachers encroaching on her family lands.
With her newfound powers, Lenna is sure the poachers don’t stand a chance. Only, Lenna isn’t the only one bringing strange animal powers to the game. The poachers have them too, led by businessman Ansen Peters. Lenna is in over her head, and not even the jaguar can save her.
Ansen Peters doesn’t want the ranch. He wants the jaguar. And he’s willing to kill her for it.
Night fell around Lenna, and her ass had long since gone numb. Her camera was full of new pictures but she didn’t have anything for night photography. The equipment was bulkier and heavier than she was willing to carry through the Pantanal.
As she prepared to dismount from her tree, she tried to see how awake her legs were. Not very, judging by the tingling in her feet. She scanned the riverbank for her boat while she kicked her heels against the tree trunk and spotted two others. That was odd. When had someone else shown up? Maybe it was Valente and Luciano looking for her. But she had taken their only boat, and they would never venture this deep into the Pantanal unless she’d been missing for at least a day, not just a few hours. They didn’t know their way around like she did.
It was probably just wildlife photographers trying to get shots of the nocturnal animals. Something made her feel uneasy, though. She looked around for the occupants of the boats and spotted them approaching her jaguar.
The two men were not wildlife photographers. She knew hunting equipment when she saw it. She also knew the hunting regulations for the area. The regulations were pretty simple: no fucking hunting. Which meant there was no way these men were allowed to be killing anything out here. Which meant they were poachers. Their faces were only just visible in her camera. She doubted anything would happen to them if she reported them. Nothing ever happened to poachers.
The poachers found a spot close enough to the jaguar to hit it, but not close enough to attract its attention. She had to do something before they fired. At this distance, they wouldn’t miss.
She thought of her own shotgun tucked uselessly in the back of Luciano’s truck. She’d never needed it before, and there didn’t seem to be any point lugging it with her. It would have done her a hell of a lot more good than the machete at her hip. It looked like she was going to have to get creative.
Her voice carried over the Pantanal, farther than she would have thought possible. The deep shout certainly got their attention. They shot at her, grazing the trees around her.
Lenna couldn’t stay up here. She’d be a sitting duck. She climbed down the top branches to avoid breaking her legs and jumped down from the tree. It was still too high, and she hit the dirt with bruising force. She pushed herself back up without a moment of hesitation. She could have lost them in the wooded area, easy. But the odds of getting lost or eaten by an anaconda were higher than the odds of getting shot before she made it to her boat.
Camera still in hand and binoculars thumping painfully against her tattooed chest, she took off across the grassy plains of the Pantanal. The silencers on the guns muffled the shots, making them sound more like thumps than bangs. Though, that might have been her heart pounding in her ears. The still-rational part of her brain that was still working told her to run in a zig-zag to make herself harder to hit. The animal part of her brain told her the shortest distance to her boat was a straight line run as fast as physically possible. She had no idea where the bullets were or whether or not they were even close to hitting her, and she sure as shit wasn’t going to stop to check.
A roar that sounded more like a throaty cough filled her ears. For a split half-second, she thought the jaguar was on her. But that wasn’t her screaming. No, it came from behind her. She didn’t dare look back, not even as she heard more gunshots, not even as she heard the jaguar cry out in pain.
They shot it! They shot her jaguar!
Rage filled her, and she had half a mind to turn around, but self-preservation won out. Her boat was right there. Right there, just eight, six, four feet away. Keys, where the hell where her keys? Where were her goddamn fucking--
Lenna shoved her keys into the ignition, her eyes scouring the Pantanal for the jaguar and the poachers. The jaguar was limping away, and the poachers’ bodies were lying on the grass. One was shifting, dragging itself away from the animal. The other was not. Lenna had no sympathy for them, and she wasn't about to stick around to make sure they were okay. They could be eaten by caimans for all she gave a fuck.
The boat started without any issue. Though the poachers were down and the jaguar was obviously in no state to come after her, Lenna couldn’t wait to get as far away from here as possible.
She ran on foot through the brush, never wanting to leave her horse alone with the night predators, until she found her truck, the green paint chipping to show the silver metal underneath, in the same place she always left it. The roar of her engine drowned out the shriek of birds. Muscle memory alone guided her back to the ranch house. She practically threw herself through the front door and slammed her bedroom door hard enough to rattle the walls.
“Lenna?” Vidonia called.
Lenna leaned against the door. She knew Vidonia wouldn’t hurt her. Nobody in this house would, and not just because she could practically bench press one of their cows. She was safe here. So why did she feel the urge to push the dresser against the door and hide under the bed?
“Lenna? Honey are you okay?”
No, no she wasn’t.
She slumped down against the door and pressed her forehead to her knees. Exhaustion washed over her. This day suddenly felt so long. The solace she’d found watching the Pantanal was gone. She just wanted to curl up somewhere safe. Home should have been safe, but the memory of Ansen Peters’ standing just down the hall from her room with that sly smile made her shudder.
“Lenna, please talk to me. Did something happen? Luciano!”
There was panic in Vidonia's voice. She was afraid for Lenna.
This place was safe, Lenna reminded herself. Nobody would get past Vidonia and Luciano. Nobody could hurt her here.
“I’m fine,” Lenna said, though her voice cracked and she wasn’t sure she believed herself. “I’m fine, I’m just tired.”
There was a long silence. Lenna struggled to keep her sobs quiet. She didn’t want them to know. She didn’t want to get in trouble.
“Are you sure?”
“I’m sure, auntie.” Her voice trembled, and cleared her throat. “I’m— I’m going to sleep. I have an early morning.”
She changed into a pair of boxers, crawled into bed, and pulled the pillow over her head to drown out the screams ringing in her ears.
Amazon US: smarturl.it/mhwpantherqueenamz
Amir Lane is an LGBT+ supernatural and urban fantasy writer from Northern Ontario. Engineer by trade, they spend most of their writing time in a small home office or in front of the TV watching every cop procedural on Netflix. They live in a world where magic is an every day occurrence, and they strive to bring that world to paper.
When not trying to figure out what kind of day job an incubus would have or what a Necromancer would go to school for, Amir enjoys visiting the nearest Dairy Queen, getting killed in video games, absorbing the contents of comic books, and freaking out over how fluffy the neighbour’s dog is.
Author Website: amirlane.com
Author Facebook (Author Page): https://www.facebook.com/amirlaneauthor/
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