Query And First Chapter Of JAGUAR

Query:

Valaria is young, in prison and pregnant.  She is also a Jaguar.

The brutal slaying of her mate prompts her audacious escape from an illegal predator collection on the edge of Exmoor Forest, England. Heavily frequented by humans, the woodland presents an even more dangerous proposition than her natural home in the lush rain forests of South America. But Valaria finds an unexpected, and unlikely, ally in the form of a local shepherd and animal rights defender, Tom Smith.

Her captor and tormentor, Edward Forsyth, is in hot pursuit and must track Valaria down and kill her, or risk spending the rest of his life behind bars if his illegal collection of predators is discovered. For Edward this is not an option and his greatest desire is to hang her head on his trophy room wall.

Putting herself between the barrel of a gun and her offspring to ensure their freedom may be her only option.

Chapter 1

Her eyes of fire burned through the darkness, fueled by hatred so intense the very center of her soul was a furnace.

Valaria’s amber coat rippled in the moonlight as she glared through the mesh of her enclosure. A low, threatening growl rose from deep inside her chest. She paced up and down the perimeter, the frustration of her bondage clearly visible to anyone who might be watching. Aurelius, her mate, lay at the back, near the entrance. His pain wracked form shuddered; each breath sending spasms through his body. No amount of licking could stem the flow of his life’s blood ebbing from the wound inflicted by his keeper earlier that day.

“Don’t let our cubs be born in captivity, Valaria,” his voice barely audible, consciousness slipping away from him. “My time is near but you need to escape to ensure our young are born free.”

Valaria patrolled her prison, her gaze alternating between the only thing she loved and the vast expanse of freedom just outside her reach.

Aurelius had told her to escape, but how?

He had said he wanted the new life growing within her to be born free. She could see no way to make his wish come true. All she could see was a lifetime of captivity ahead, for both her and her unborn offspring.

Her attention snapped back to Aurelius as her mate’s final, shuddering, breath left his body. Her roar of anguish echoed through the countryside, sending startled birds into flight and animals scurrying for cover.

With his death her only link with home was torn away.  She walked up to Aurelius, his familiar scent strong as she nuzzled his still form. The healthy sheen left his coat as she watched. No longer did the moon reflect off his muscular body, painting abstract patterns on the rosettes as he breathed. No longer did his eyes glisten as he looked with love into hers. Still. Lifeless. A piece of meat in her partner’s cast off clothing. She lay down next to him, their flanks touching; the remnants of his warmth surrounding her with a surrogate comfort.

Valaria slept fitfully that night and dreams of her homeland filled her mind. The warm moist air surrounded her coat giving her a dewy sheen. The canopy of trees above her went on to the ends of the earth, or at least as far as she had ever been. Her nose twitched and her breathing came in irregular pants as she ran through the forest floor, the damp musty air filling her nostrils.

Her first kill flashed through her mind in fragmented pieces: the pounce; the squeals of the Tapier as she brought it down; the smell of terror as she closed her vice-like jaws around its trachea, abruptly cutting off its cries; the spasmodic death throes as it fought to live.

High above her head parrots and monkeys screeched out their warnings.

She dreamt of the two-legged beasts, with their vile odor, as they taunted her and prodded her with sticks through the bars of her prison. One pointed a hollow stick in her direction and opened its mouth roaring at her while others joined in. The stick spat and a sharp pain pierced her flank. She tried to pull the sting out with her teeth, but the forest spun and a cloak of darkness enveloped her.

Her dreams were shattered by dogs barking. She woke; her mate’s body a block of ice beside her. She stretched out, shaking the freezing cold from her bones and looked around.

With a heavy, aching heart her eyes fell on Aurelius, an empty shell of the once proud, strong beast who once filled her life with meaning. Gently and with infinite tenderness she groomed him, as if carrying out this act of love would restore him to her. There was no warmth in his body, no purrs of contentment from the carcass she once called mate.

For the first time in her short life, Valaria felt utterly alone. Aurelius, the only anchor to her former world, had been torn away from her by one of those cruel man beasts. She stopped grooming him, resigned to her loss and walked to the front of the enclosure as an act of farewell. She could not bear to look at him anymore. The thing lying in the shadows wasn’t her beloved mate, full of strength and majesty, but a husk, hollow and lifeless.

Valaria vowed, at that moment, to escape as soon as an opportunity arose. She vowed her cubs would be born free, or she would die trying. Death was better than this life of captivity.

A low growl rumbled in Valaria’s chest as the familiar scent of the human who had taken her precious Aurelius from her reached her nostrils. But, this time there was an overpowering odor which she recognized from prey in her homeland; fear. A new and distinct odor she had never detected from this human before. She wondered what had caused the change.

She backed further into the shadows, ears flattened and lips curled back into a grimace, bearing lethal saliva-speckled teeth, housed in a jaw that could crush a tortoise shell as if it were no more than an egg. Her massive head was held low, below her powerful shoulders, as she crouched ready to spring. The scent of fear had changed the stakes, and now the human before her was not a dominant beast but just an obstacle in her path to freedom.

 

Edward Forsyth strode through the French doors of his study into the bitter winter morning. He took a deep refreshing breath and exhaled a cloud of vapor. Piercing blue eyes surveyed his estate, a small one in comparison to others owned by his small and exclusive circle of friends. It was large enough, though, to secrete his collection of highly dangerous predators, among them Valaria, a young female jaguar.

He stretched his arms and arched his back to exorcise the cold from his athletic body, one in surprisingly good shape for his 47 years. The only tell-tale mark of his age was the hint of silvery grey in his raven hair. He had the face of a hawk, not dissimilar to some of the specimens in his collection. His eyes scanned the grounds of his estate, searching for his assistant.

“George? George, where are you?  He’s never around when you need the lazy sod,” growled Edward.

George Winterbourne’s hazel eyes rolled as he sighed, exhaling a cloud of cigarette smoke. “Why doesn’t he just leave me alone?  I can’t even get a five minute break. I’ve been up since the crack of dawn mucking out his bloody animals.”

“George, I know you’re skulking around having a smoke somewhere. Get round here now. I’ve got work for you.”

“Bloody slave driver,” said George through gritted teeth. He crushed the cigarette butt under the heel of his boot. He ran his fingers through his mop of raven hair, smoothed his close cropped beard and crunched his way up the gravel path surrounding Eastville Manor.

As he rounded the corner of the house, Edward’s eyes bore into him, chilling him to the bone.  His eyes locked onto Edward’s pale fingers as they drummed an impatient tattoo on the concrete railing surrounding the terrace, “And where have you been?”

“Err, I’ve been seeing to the Snow Leopard, sir,” George hunched his shoulders. Damn, how could Edward make him feel two-inches tall, he was bloody six-feet-two for god’s sake.

“Don’t lie to me!  The Snow Leopard enclosure is around the other side of the house. So, where have you been?”

“I… I was having a smoke, sir.” George stared at the ground, his face flushed with anger at the verbal battering he always seemed to be on the receiving end of from his boss.  If it wasn’t for the damned high wages Edward paid he would have told him where to stuff this job a long time ago.

“Animals need routine, and I need to know what has been done so that I can plan the rest of the day.”

“Sorry, sir, it won’t happen again.”

“It had better not. Now what have you done so far this morning?”

A surge of panic flew through George’s body as he pictured the pitch fork entering the side of the male jaguar. How could he cover up that injury?  Hopefully the wound was only superficial and the jaguar was okay. Aurelius had attacked George’s pitch fork as he had tried to put the jaguars’ food through the hatch yesterday evening. George had panicked and speared Aurelius. He prayed he hadn’t done any permanent damage to the cat. Damn, I haven’t checked the jaguars yet, and I’ve got to get to those cats before the boss sees the male.

“I’ve done all the way round to the Florida Panther, sir,” George’s eyes slid away from Edward’s glare.  Heat climbed in his face.

“Good, so it’s just the Maned Wolf and the Liger left to do then, eh?”

“Er… yes, sir.”

“Right, finish those two and then we’ll go and check on the jaguars. I’m pretty sure the female is pregnant.”

“Yes, sir, I’ll report back when I’m done.”

By now sweat was pouring down George’s face, stinging his eyes, despite the bitter cold. As soon as Edward turned and strode back into his study, George bolted. He ran around to the jaguar enclosure as if the very devil itself was on his tail. As he rounded the corner the still form of the male jaguar came into view and all color drained from his face.

George’s mind worked overtime. If I could get the male out and make it look as if I had killed it while it was trying to escape, then perhaps the boss wouldn’t be so mad with me.

He went round to the rear of the enclosure and retrieved the offending pitchfork. He also picked up a small coil of rope and tied a noose in one end. He planned to open the door just enough to enable him to lasso the male jaguar so that he could drag it out. He would skewer the cat in the side once more this time leaving the pitchfork embedded in its flank, then call for the boss and show him what happened.

George fumbled in his pocket for the key to the door. His sweaty palms didn’t help matters. The keys jangled as he extracted them from the rubbish cascading from his pocket. He placed them on the ground and prepared the rope. The pitchfork lay, forgotten, on the grass by his feet.

He was too intent on Aurelius to notice Valaria concealed in the shadows as he approached the door. The coil of rope was held in his right hand and the keys in his left.

 

Valaria watched intently as George approached the door to the enclosure with cautious steps. The sweet perfume of his overwhelming fear caressed her, making her quiver with anticipation. Every muscle taught as a bow string at full stretch just waiting for the archer to release the arrow. And the arrow was Valaria.

The tip of her tail twitched back and forth as George retrieved the keys and approached the enclosure. She had to restrain the adolescent urge to lunge at the mesh of her prison before the door opened. The golden glow of Valaria’s eyes penetrated the gloom as she focused on her prey fumbling with the key, trying to place it into the lock on the door.

Wait… be patient, she told herself. Not long now.

The lock on the door sprang open and George pushed it ajar. He pushed too hard and as it swung open Valaria pounced.

She had timed her attack to perfection. Her keeper, framed in a halo of almost blinding winter sunlight, was the ideal target. Emitting a ferocious roar she launched herself at him.

Her keeper was catapulted backwards when the 160lb mass of teeth and claws barreled into him like a freight train. The razor sharp claws of her front paws dug into his shoulders to maintain a firm grip as her mouth snapped around his neck, closing off any further cries. She almost smiled with pleasure as she rejoiced in this act of revenge. Aurelius stood at her side for this kill, he watched with approval. She held this position until she sensed the life leave her tormentor. She released George’s flaccid body and scanned her surroundings.

She was free!

 

Edward Forsyth was sat in his study reading when George’s screams shattered his train of thought.

“What the bloody hell is going on out there?” Edward leaped to his feet and instinctively reached for his shotgun before sprinting out of his study to investigate. He skidded to a halt in a spray of gravel as he rounded the corner to the jaguar enclosure. His eyes locked onto the form of Valaria. His years of experience with wild animals jarred him into action. He brought the shotgun up on aim and fired. His hands, trembling from the initial shock of seeing Valaria outside her enclosure, meant the first shot went wide of the mark and his second shot was fired at thin air where only a fraction of a second earlier a female jaguar stood astride her keeper.

Edward tore his eyes away from George’s tortured face and, as he looked up, they met those of Valaria. The power of her gaze left him shivering, wishing he could turn away.  But he couldn’t drag his eyes from her glare. And in that brief moment Edward felt fear for the first time in his life.

 

Valaria paused by the edge of the line of conifers lining Edward Forsyth’s estate. Her efficient eyes picked out the forms of the two humans who had caused her mate so much pain and humiliation. They looked small and insignificant now, not the domineering beasts who used to make her cower before them like a young cub before its father.

Like a phantom departing with the night, she was gone.

 

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