Jungle Magic By Heather Holland

Copyright© 2004 Heather Holland All rights reserved.

Copyright© 2004 Heather Holland All rights reserved.

Chapter One
“What are we hunting, Leo?” Cade Jacobs asked the leader of their small group as they trudged through the thick jungle of what was once known as Central America. The great quake of the previous century had severed all land ties Central America had held with North America, setting it adrift and bringing the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans together, merging them into what was now known as the Pacifantic Ocean. “Tiger, CJ. We’re hunting tiger,” the other man replied. “It’s a surly beast, so watch your back, kid. We’d hate to have to send you home in a box.” The small group chuckled at the leader’s joke, though Cade saw nothing to laugh about. He was no wildlife expert, but he was pretty sure tigers weren’t indigenous to this part of the world. Had one escaped from one of the zoos that had been here years before? Or had someone shipped it in just for the purpose of this ‘hunting’ trip? Cade shook his head. What was he thinking? Tigers had been extinct for the past fifty years, according to all the well-known scientists. The more his companions said, the more confusing things got. There were so many questions, and so little time to learn the answers. How he’d allowed himself to be talked into taking this assignment, he still didn’t know. Hell, he still couldn’t figure out why Caesar McDaniel had sent William Porter to hire him for this job in the first place. Field research was not his strong suit by far. He was the sit-behind-a-desk-lookingstuff-up kind of person, not a traipse-through-the-jungle type. “I thought tigers were extinct?” he found himself asking, though he hadn’t meant to voice the question. He fell into step behind the others, keeping himself alert and darting his gaze around him, watching for the slightest sign that they were no longer alone. “This ain’t no ordinary tiger, boy,” Leo responded. “Half human, half tiger. We can't allow something like that to keep living, suffering. We're doing the poor creature a favor.”

Copyright© 2004 Heather Holland All rights reserved.

A half human and half tiger hybrid? Obviously, without his knowledge, his companions had been sampling some of the local flavor and had been poisoned or something. Who had ever heard of such a thing as a half human, half tiger? He certainly hadn’t. Was such a thing even possible? He knew from his research that scientists had been playing around with genetics for the past hundred years or so, but had they really ventured into crossbreeding animals and humans? Seemed far-fetched to him. If he were a braver man, or the circumstances had been a bit different, he may have argued the point over how idiotic such a thing sounded to him. But he didn’t fancy the idea of getting shot and being left behind as an easy meal to the local wildlife. Besides, getting himself shot wasn’t a part of the deal. He was simply here to make sure they didn’t hurt any ‘rare gems’, whatever that had meant. Again, his mind drifted to how much he hated fieldwork, and how he wished he was back home in his office. “Any signs of it, Franco?” Leo called out to one of the other men. “No, sir. You’re sure it’s here?” the man shouted back. If it is here, your yelling isn’t helping to find it, Cade thought to himself. Every animal within miles had probably already high-tailed it for cover and most likely wouldn’t come out until all had quieted down for quite a while. How had these men even learned of such a creature? He was well read, always looking things up to further his education, challenge his mind, and this was the first he’d heard of a halfling. Cade still wondered about the group’s sanity, though he kept his silence. “There!” one of the others shouted, moments before firing his rifle into the brush. Cade cringed at the sound of gunfire. Damn it! When Porter had sent him out on this mission, he’d said nothing of some fantastical creature. What in hell was he supposed to do now? Save the thing, that’s what. Even if it wasn’t a halfling, if it was indeed a tiger, he was duty bound to preserve the species. To the best of his knowledge, it would be the only living member of the long-thought extinct species. “CJ, you circle around and get behind it. See if you can sneak up on it. We’ll spread out and try to herd it back toward you,” Leo ordered.
Copyright© 2004 Heather Holland All rights reserved.

Well, it wasn’t his idea of a good plan, but it did get him away from the others so that he could figure out what to do next. He slipped through the thick growth as quickly and quietly as he could. The others were making enough noise that they sounded like a herd of elephants traipsing through the jungle. He slid over fallen logs, ducked under low-lying limbs, and avoided getting entangled in thick vines. Pushing aside a large leaf, he suddenly landed face first in the dirt as something large tackled him from behind. It felt like a hand pressed against the back of his skull, smashing his face into the damp jungle floor until he couldn’t breath. Cade pulled his arms up and under him, pushing up with all this strength. The pressure at the back of his head lessened, and he took the opportunity to push back harder. He turned onto his back, just as the creature pounced again. Hot breath washed over his face, large teeth poised over his throat. A low rumbling growl reverberated through the creature, vibrating against his skin. “Why are you here?” a gritty voice asked in, surprisingly enough, English. “Come to slay the beast?” Cade shook his head. Terror threatened to grip his heart as he tried valiantly to subdue the emotion. He wouldn’t give in to fear; he wouldn’t let the unexpected sight of the creature to throw him off balance anymore than it already had. “No, I’m not here to slay the beast. I’m here to protect it.” The creature snorted. “Protect? You wish to protect me?” it scoffed, moving back to relieve some of the pressure on his chest. By God, she was beautiful. A woman’s body covered in orange, black, and white fur. Whiskers feathered her cheeks, and long, orange hair hung from her head in waves. Large, yellow-green eyes blinked at him, taking in his every move. Never would he have imagined such a magnificent creature could exist…never. Her long, black-tipped tail swayed behind her, capturing his attention, and from beneath her long, silky looking locks, black-tipped ears pointed heavenward.

Copyright© 2004 Heather Holland All rights reserved.

“You’re beautiful,” he whispered, not even aware he’d spoken the words aloud. “Who are you?” “Lyza, though I know not why I tell you this.” She tilted her head to one side, gazing at him intently. “What name have you?” “Cade Jacobs. I must say, I’ve never seen anything or anyone quite like you before.” “That would be because I am the only one,” she purred. “Banished to this place of beauty because I am different, because of what I am, though I have no control over such things.” “What are you? How’d you come to be?” he asked as a million questions popped into his mind, though he knew he needed to get her hidden, to someplace safe before Leo and the others found them. “What am I?” she scoffed. “What does it look like I am? I'm the result of man's greed. A last-ditch effort to save a species from extinction, but it failed. And now I have to suffer the consequences.” “Whoa. Wait just a minute there. You’re blaming me for what you are?” Cade ran a hand through his hair, mussing it further. “I wasn't even born during that time, and neither were you for that matter. You can't hold the past against me, no more than I can hold it against you.” She curled her lip and growled in displeasure. “Tigers were dying. No—,” she shook her head, “—they were hunted to the point of extinction. My grandfather began the research to resurrect the species. His findings led to my creation: an infant born of human and tiger genetics. Didn't quite have the effect they'd hoped for, did it?” She paced before him like a caged animal. “Why are you here, Cade? Sent to destroy the abomination? To erase the reminder of past crimes? I won't give in so easily.” “I'm not here to hurt you.” He held his hands up to show her he meant no harm. “I'm here to try and help you, Lyza. That is, if you'll let me.” He stretched a hand out to her. “Trust me?”

Copyright© 2004 Heather Holland All rights reserved.

Trust wasn’t something that came easily to Lyza. She’d been alone in the jungle since she was little; left to fend for herself in an often-brutal world by the very people who had claimed to love her. Now some stranger was asking her to trust him. She had to be out of her mind. Instinct warned her to be wary of him, to trust no one, but something about him captured her interest. Something about his words wrapped around her heart and squeezed it tight. Sadness and all her long, lonely years crept up on her, making her feel weak in ways she didn’t want or need. His thick hair was a light shade of brown, and his dark green eyes sparkled in the dim light filtering through the canopy. His muscular build had her mouth watering, and parts of her body she’d never paid much mind to began to tingle. She shook her head, trying to regain control over her body. She’d seen men before, but never one so captivating as the one who stood before her now. Slowly, she placed her hand into his, enjoying the warmth of his fingers curled around hers. “Now what?” “Now, we get the hell out of here before the others show up. I have a feeling they won't be quite so understanding.” He moved his gaze over their surroundings. “Only one problem …” She smiled. “This way, Cade.” Her tail twitched with mischief despite the danger they were now in. “We can go through the caverns. I can see in the dark and my nose will help lead us out.” The brush rustled, her only warning that someone or something stalked them. She grabbed Cade by the shoulder, jerking him to his feet. “Run,” she growled in his ear, brushing past him to lead the way through the well concealed trails she traveled. They moved through the trees as fast as her human companion could travel. She led him around a cliff, making their way through vines and thick root systems to the huge trees growing in the jungle. Lyza ducked behind some thick bushes situated close to the cliff wall. “This way,” she said, waiting for him just inside the entrance to a maze of tunnels.
Copyright© 2004 Heather Holland All rights reserved.

“What is this place?” “I think they were once part of the great city that was here, but I cannot be certain. The tunnels go through the mountainside, and the entrance is well hidden,” she explained, leading him deeper into the pitch black that surrounded them. “They lead into the heart of the ruins. Ancient magic dwells in this place. Remain silent, and stay close to me at all times. You will be safe with me.” “Booby-trapped is it?” She turned her gaze on him. “You do not follow orders very well. I said to keep quiet, and yes, it is booby-trapped. Many pitfalls lie ahead of us. Watch your step.” Lyza felt him feeling his way along the wall, his hand brushing against hers. She took his hand in hers, holding it tightly. It had to be unnerving not to be able to see where he was going, maybe holding her hand would help to ease the tension she could feel in his body. They traveled for what seemed an eternity in silence, slowly making their way through the darkness. Lyza stayed alert, watching carefully for any of the pitfalls she knew was hidden within the tunnels. She saw the pit long before they reached it. If she guessed correctly, the gap was too wide for him to make the jump. Damn! What to do? She searched around her, looking for anything she could use to her advantage. She turned to Cade. “Stay right here. Do not move no matter what. A deep pit lies just a few feet ahead.” She caressed his cheek. “I shall return.” She ran and leapt over the pit, searching the darkness for any tool she could use to her advantage. A length of vine caught her attention, but she found nothing to tie it to for support. Leaping back to the side where Cade waited, she tied one end of the vine around her waist. Lyza slid up to the edge and peered down. No bottom in sight. That, at least, was one thing in her favor. “I am going to lead you to the edge, then jump across. Tie this about your waist. Jump as far as you can when I tell you to. You won't make it, but I will not let you fall.” She handed him the vine. “Do you understand?”
Copyright© 2004 Heather Holland All rights reserved.

“Do I have a choice?” he asked, tying the vine around his waist. She smiled, though she knew he couldn't see it. “No, Cade, you do not.” “Well then, let's get this over with. At least I can't see what's going on. That's one thing in my favor,” he chuckled half-heartedly. “The ruins aren't much farther. We can seek shelter there. Ready?” “Ready as I'll ever be.” She leapt across once more. “Now, Cade,” she called out, rushing forward at full speed. She jerked backward when his weight, pulling against her, countered her forward movement, forcing the air from her lungs. Lyza dropped to all fours, digging her claws into the stone floor to stop her backward motion. He was heavier than she'd first thought. “Climb, Cade. I can't hold it forever.” She didn't have to tell him twice. He climbed up the vine, hand over hand, until he could grab the solid ledge and pulled himself up. Following the vine, he crawled along the floor until he found Lyza lying down, panting for breath. “You okay?” “I'm fine. Just winded.” She touched his cheek. “You are heavier than I thought.” “You should have asked.” He helped her up. “Come on, let's get going before they figure out where we disappeared to.” “They should not be able to find us,” she remarked. He shook his head. “You don’t know this bunch. They are determined. I don’t think giving up is in their vocabulary.” “Why are you helping me, Cade? No one else cares.”

Copyright© 2004 Heather Holland All rights reserved.

Chapter Two A dim light shone a short distance away. They had to be nearing the exit. Cade stopped, turning Lyza to face him. “I know you probably won’t believe this, but your grandfather is the one who sent me here. He knew what these men were up to and sent me to stop them, though I must confess, he didn’t mention you. All he said was that they were hunting a rare gem to this world and to protect it at all cost.” “My grandfather would not do such a thing,” she replied, dropping her gaze. “Yes, he would, and once we lose these guys, I’ll take you to him and prove it.” She turned away from him. “Come, we are almost out of here.” He followed her to the opening leading out of the darkness. The view before him was breathtaking. The jungle outside looked greener than it had before, with exotic flowers growing in vibrant shades of yellows and oranges. Multi-colored birds flew from branch to branch, and monkeys chattered somewhere out of sight. But the most spectacular part of the view was the ancient temple rising up from amongst the trees. “It’s beautiful,” Cade breathed, staring at the pyramid. “It is Kukulkan's Pyramid. Twice a year, the sun reflects on it in such a way that the serpent is completed by the sunlight. An extraordinary sight.” “How do you know that?” She smiled at him. “I possess the knowledge of those before me. This is a magical place—anything can happen here.” Somehow, he didn't doubt that. He watched her begin to make her way down the cliffside and followed along behind her, careful of his every step. A short time later, he found himself standing at the pyramid's base, staring up at its grandeur. “We will stay here until it is once again safe to walk in the jungle,” she said, her voice washing over him and making him feel things he shouldn’t be feeling. “They’ll find us, Lyza. These men are ruthless. They won’t give up so easily.” She turned, walking backward so she could face him. Her tail twitched behind her, and she crooked her finger seductively at him, leading him into the temple.
Copyright© 2004 Heather Holland All rights reserved.

The main room of the pyramid held a large, water filled pool with intricate carvings adorning the walls. Piles of material lay close to the walls that he guessed were used as rugs in the past. Urns and statues sat throughout the chamber and sunlight filtered in from an opening above. The light reflected off the water's surface, and danced over the walls and ancient works. “Do you desire me, Cade?” He swallowed the lump in his throat. “Yes.” No need to lie about it. “Then come and claim me.” She was trying to distract him, make him forget about the men chasing them with murder on their minds, and whether he liked to admit it or not, it was working. Cade pulled Lyza into his arms, stroking the soft fur of her back with his fingers. “You are the most beautiful creature I have ever seen,” he whispered, and amazingly enough, he meant every word of it. He slid his hand up along her cheek, rubbing the black tip of her ear between his fingers. Lyza purred in response, and he brought up his other hand to do the same with her other ear. “You like that, don’t you?” She nodded her head. “Very much.” Cade looked down in wonder when her tailed whipped around, hitting the backs of his legs. “I think that tail of yours has a mind of its own.” She smiled. “So do I.” Lyza grabbed hold of her tail, holding it to her and playing with the fine black hairs at the tip. “Are you sure about this? You have to be sure, Lyza. Absolutely sure.” He cupped her face in his hands. “They could show up at any time, and”—he shook his head—“I don’t even care. At this moment, all that matters is you.” She rubbed her hand over his. “Yes, Cade, I am sure. I want this more than anything. Even if it is the last thing I ever do.” He kissed her, quick and hard. “Don’t say that. Don’t ever say that. It won’t be the last, baby, I promise you that.” “Love me, Cade. Love me like there is no tomorrow.”
Copyright© 2004 Heather Holland All rights reserved.

He didn’t waste time with answering. Cade pressed his lips to hers, tracing them with his tongue. When she gasped, he took full advantage of the opening presented to him, pushing his tongue into her mouth and twisting it around hers. He stroked his hand over her breast, enjoyed the way the nipple pebbled beneath his touch. Cade rolled the hard flesh between his finger and forefinger, smiling when she arched her back, pressing her breast closer to him. “Do you have any idea what you’re doing here?” Cade asked. Lyza shook her head. “Not the slightest idea,” she laughed. “Care to tutor me?” “It does sound like a rather interesting prospect.” He moved closer, circling his arms around her waist. “How about we get to know each other a little better first?” “And just how do we do that?” Cade smiled. “I was hoping you’d ask that.” He quickly stepped back and removed his shirt, throwing it aside before removing his boots, jeans, and underwear. Once he removed all barriers, he smiled even wider at her. “How about we start out with a lesson about the differences between me and you?” Lyza cautiously moved closer. “You are different here from me,” she pointed out, cupping his bulging erection. “How about we lower this just a little?” “Lower?” she asked, clearly puzzled. “Yeah, as in go ahead and lie down before one of us ends up falling down.” Lyza giggled, but followed his lead. Once they were both lying down on a soft rug they’d found nearby, she moved her hands over him, tracing each and every inch of his body with her fingertips. Cade didn’t know if it was her claws or the soft fur covering her skin that tickled, but something did. Each time her skin passed over his, electrical currents spanned out from where they touched, making him feel as if he’d burn up at any moment. By the time she finished with her explorations of him, he wasn’t sure he’d have the strength or the willpower to hold out long enough to have his turn at exploring her, and he really wanted to explore her enticing form.
Copyright© 2004 Heather Holland All rights reserved.

Something snaked up his leg, making him jerk from the unexpected feel. “What the hell?” Lyza laughed, her tail swaying up behind her. “I told you it had a mind of its own.” “I don’t mind…I think. It just caught me off guard.” “Mmm,” she murmured, leaning back over him. Her tail moved back up his leg to caress his balls and the rounded curve of his ass. At first, Cade fought the urge to laugh—to pull away. The longer she played with him using her tail, the more he found he enjoyed the act. It was oddly erotic, in the fact that he had never even imagined such a thing occurring before. Unable to just lie back any longer, he ran his hands along her sides, ruffling her soft fur in the process. He pulled her down to him, pressing her breasts into his chest and captured her lips with his own. He pushed his tongue between her lips, twisting it with hers in much the same way he ached to twine his own body around hers. Her tail playing with his balls made his toes want to curl, and he groaned with need when she stroked his hard length with her hand. “Oh, baby. That’s it, just like that. Stroke me.” He rolled, pinning her beneath him, devouring her lips with his. Breaking the kiss, he licked and suckled a trail down her chest and abdomen until he spread open her folds, lapping at her sweet nectar. When she moaned and writhed beneath him, he smiled, flicking at her hard nub even harder with his tongue. He slid his hand over her thigh, pressing his forefinger into her tight, hot opening, stretching her for his upcoming invasion. Cade had to have her, though he wanted it to be pleasurable for her as well as him. He had to be sure he had her fully aroused before he attempted to claim her completely and in every way. Pumping his fingers in and out of her, he smiled when her legs began to quiver. It made his blood pump even harder to know he could give her such pleasure. He lapped at her hard nub, continuing to move his fingers within her core.

Copyright© 2004 Heather Holland All rights reserved.

Lyza moved her hands into his hair, kneading her fingers against his scalp, careful to keep her claws retracted. The things he did to her body with his tongue made her back arch and her muscles tighten until she quivered uncontrollably. She gasped for breath, fighting the instinct to pull away. She moved her tail around, caressing his back with its tip and tracing down to his firm backside. Rubbing all over his body with her tail, she fought for breath and the willpower to plead with him to end her torment. “Oh, Cade,” she cried out as tremors washed over her from the inside out. Her entire body shook as it alternated between contracting and relaxing. “Like that, do you?” he murmured against where they were most different. His warm breath washed over her, causing her to shake once more. “Oh yes. More.” She moved, trying to get closer to him. “I need more.” “What more do you need, Lyza? Tell me what you want me to do,” Cade said, rising up to loom over her once more. Lyza shook her head, closing her eyes so that he wouldn’t see her uncertainties there. “I don’t know. I don’t know what I want—need. Help me, Cade. Show me this.” He slid his finger along her cheek and shushed her with a low hiss of air from between his pursed lips. “It’s okay, baby. I’ll help you figure it out.” Lyza’s heart pounded in her chest as his weight pressed down against her. She wrapped her arms around him, fearful that he would try to pull away from her once more. Something firm, yet soft, probed at her womanly opening, trying to gain entrance into her most secret place. She bit her lip, not wanting to cry out. “Lyza,” he said, causing her to look up. “Kiss me, baby. Kiss me and try not to think about what’s happening. Don’t think, just feel.” “Just feel,” she repeated as his lips joined with hers. Lyza parted her lips, allowing his tongue entrance into her mouth, loving the way it twirled around her own. He pushed harder against her, but she refused to dwell on it and the slight pain she felt. Instead, she focused on his kisses and the way his tongue playing in her mouth made her feel. She wanted desperately to be with this man for always. Love. Did she
Copyright© 2004 Heather Holland All rights reserved.

love him? Was she even certain what love was? Yes. She did know what love was, and without a doubt, she knew she loved this man who was about to introduce her to one of the many things her exile had taken from her. Before she had time to acknowledge what was happening, she was gasping for air, trying to breathe through the burning pain that ripped through her. The feel of Cade stroking her hair with his hand was soothing, helping her to relax and forget about the pain. “It’s okay, baby. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I’d never hurt you,” he whispered in her ear. Lyza swallowed the lump in her throat, ignoring her slightly blurred vision from the tears forming in her eyes. “I’m okay,” she croaked in a voice she wondered had come from her. “Let me show you how good it can be now. I won’t hurt you again, promise.” She had serious doubts about that, but forced her body to relax just the same. Lyza focused her attention on Cade and the things he did with his hands. Those wonderful, magic making hands of his. He stroked her fur, teased her nipples, and slid one hand between their tightly pressed bodies to circle the hard nub in her lower regions. Again, the tension within her body built until she feared she would shatter. “Cade,” she breathed, clawing at his back, trying to get him closer. He pulled his hard length from her sheath, quickly slamming back into her. Repeatedly, he rocked against her, building the tension and pleasure even higher with each thrust of his hips. Cade slid his tongue back into her mouth, each thrust matching the pumping of his hips against hers. When the tension finally broke, Lyza’s entire body shuddered with the convulsions playing at her insides. Her breath whooshed out, and her heart thundered in her ears. Sated bliss settled over her, as Cade continued to move above her. She watched him through slitted eyes as he quickened his pace until he stiffened, groaned, and collapsed on top of her. Lyza stroked his damp hair away from his eyes,
Copyright© 2004 Heather Holland All rights reserved.

smiling as she did it. So, this was what it was like to be loved. I think I could get used to this. Turning her head, she planted a kiss on his temple.

Copyright© 2004 Heather Holland All rights reserved.

Chapter Three
“Oh, Cade,” she purred, stretching beneath him. “You liked?” She nodded her head. “Very much. So much more enjoyable than the dreams.” She stretched again. “I don't wish to get up, but I fear we must.” “Why?” “I can hear the others approaching.” “And you're just now telling me this?” He jumped up and jerked on his jeans and boots, then tugged on his shirt before turning in search of anything he could use as a weapon. He'd lost his rifle when Lyza had first tackled him. Damn! He could use that right about now. “Go, hide. I'll hold them off.” She shook her head. “No. I will not leave you to face them alone. They are evil. I can smell it from here.” He pulled her to him and kissed her lips. “No, Lyza. I won't watch them kill you. Go, I'll be fine. Remember, I know these men.” She raised an eyebrow at him. “Okay, so I know them a little bit. It's more than you have going for you at the moment.” “Do not do anything foolish,” she said, moving closer to him. “I stay by your side, Cade. You are my mate now. I cannot lose you. Not when my heart would break without you.” He placed a finger over her lips. “Shh, now's not the time for confessions.” A shot rang out, and they both flinched. “Leo, this ain't right. You've got to stop,” Cade called out. “Like hell I do. I want that hide, CJ, and I aim to get it.” Another shot echoed in the silence, causing him to wince. This was insane. “Leo, she's done nothing to you. Leave her be, or else.”

Copyright© 2004 Heather Holland All rights reserved.

Leo stepped into view. “Or else what, Jacobs? You ain't got the guts to do anything about it. I plan to have that tiger's hide, even if I have to go through you to get it.” He lifted his rifle and took aim at Cade's heart. Lyza growled, jumping between the two men as Leo fired. She toppled face first onto the stone floor, a circle of blood forming beneath her. “You bastard!” Cade shouted, dropping to his knees at her side. “Lyza. Lyza, honey, stay with me, baby. Please stay with me. Don't leave me now.” The air around them sparkled and twinkled as the sunlight filtering into the room increased to blinding proportions. Cade narrowed his eyes, holding tight to Lyza's still form. He refused to let go, no matter what happened. Her body dissolved, disappearing from beneath his arms, and he searched around frantically for her. He jumped to his feet, shielding his eyes with a hand, and moved around the room. She had to be here, she just had to be. When the light dimmed, Lyza lay on the other side of the pool, her long, fiery hair covering her face. Cade ran to her side, and dropped down to his knees. Lifting her into his arms, he gasped when the fur covering her slid away, landing on the floor next to them. Her yellow-green eyes fluttered open, and she stared at him with a puzzled look in their depths. “What happened?” Cade shook his head. “I have no idea, but I think there's something you need to see.” “What?” Her body felt strange, and she ached from head to toe. Something was definitely wrong, but she didn't know what. He lifted her into his arms and carried her to the pool's edge. “Look,” he whispered, pointing at the water's surface. Lyza gasped when she saw her reflection. “I…I'm human?” She touched her face. Her fur was gone. “But how?” Cade shrugged. “You said so yourself. This place is full of magic.” He raised his gaze to Leo. Reluctantly, he released Lyza and climbed to his feet, taking the pelt with
Copyright© 2004 Heather Holland All rights reserved.

him. He tossed it at the other man. “There's your hide. Take it and don't ever return to this place.” Leo shook his head, his eyes wide. “Damnedest thing I’ve ever seen,” he said in a hoarse whisper. He took a step back, the pelt grasped firmly in his fist. “Come on boys. We're outta here.” Cade and Lyza watched the group leave. “There has to be a reason for this.” He nodded. “I'm sure there is. You sacrificed your life for me. Why?” She glanced at the water's surface and back up at him. “Because I love you, Cade. I couldn't bear to have anything happen to you.” He smiled and kissed her lips. “Good, because I love you, too.” ***** Lyza sat with her head down, staring at her now human hands. The gods had shown her favor this day, though she couldn’t figure out why. What had she done to be deemed worthy of such a magnificent gift? She moved the pad of one finger over the soft nail of another. Such a stark contrast to the claws of a short time ago. A sigh escaped her lips. Cade had desired her while in her feline form and he claimed to love her, but would he still care for her now that she was no longer unique? Different? “What’s wrong?” Cade’s deep, husky voice asked from nearby, breaking into her thoughts. “Just thinking.” “That could be dangerous, you know?” Lyza laughed. She simply couldn’t help herself. “I suppose it could be.” She climbed to her feet, allowing her gaze to travel over their surroundings. “Now what, Cade? I don’t exactly fit in here anymore.” “Then I’d say it’s time to take you home,” he replied with a grin that melted her heart while holding out his hand to her. “Home? But this is the only home I’ve ever known.”

Copyright© 2004 Heather Holland All rights reserved.

“We could make a new home…together. That is, if you’d like to make a home with me.” Lyza couldn’t repress the grin forming on her face for a second. “More than anything, Cade. I would like that very much.” He let out a breath. “Good, because for a minute there, I was afraid you’d say no.” Lyza laughed. “You are going to be a difficult one to live with, I think.” “Nah, I’m just a nut. You’ll get used to it. Trust me.” “I do trust you.” “Good. Now, let’s get moving. If we’re lucky, you’ll know a shortcut that’ll get us to Leo’s boat before he gets there.” “Then what?” “We take it and get out of here, what else?” He kissed her forehead. “Care to lead the way?” Lyza looked around them. “Which way was your boat?” She watched Cade point to the North. “Then that’s the way we go. Most likely, they went back the way they came, through the tunnels.” “Which will take longer.” He grabbed up a handful of the silk remnants off the floor and wrapped them around Lyza’s naked form. “We can’t have you running around the jungle naked, now can we?” She shook her head. “I suppose not.” He tied off the strips and smiled up at her. “Ready to head off into a new life?” “Not really, but do I have much choice?” she asked, feeling suddenly insecure. She didn’t know how to live in society, how to fit in. However, would she survive there? “It’ll be okay, Lyza,” Cade whispered, wrapping his arms around her from behind. “I’ll teach you what you need to know, or we could go to some secluded place to live.”

Copyright© 2004 Heather Holland All rights reserved.

“You say that as if you could read my mind and know exactly what I was thinking.” “Things have suddenly changed for you. I imagine it’s a very scary time, with an uncertain future and things you know nothing about.” He shook his head. “I can’t read minds, but I can understand what you must be going through.” Cade released his hold on her and stepped beside her. “We’d better go if we have a hope of getting to that boat before they reach it.” “This way,” Lyza said, leading him into the jungle. Their progress was tediously slow through the thick foliage. Lyza wasn’t used to her new body yet, and its lack of agility. Several times, she tripped over thick roots and vines, cursing herself for her inadequacies. “Relax, Lyza, it’ll take time to get used to your new self.” “But that does not help us now. We are in a hurry and I slow us down.” Okay, so that was true enough, but it was by no fault of hers. Cade moved forward, sweeping her into his arms. “Point the way out, and I’ll get us there as fast as I can.” “You cannot carry me through the jungle.” “Watch me,” he said, flashing her a grin. “I can move faster even while carrying you than the rate we are going now, and denying it doesn’t change the fact.” He heard her huff and suppressed a chuckle. Cade kissed the top of her head. “We’ll make it before they do, baby. I promise you. And if by some chance they do beat us, then I guess I’ll just have to clobber them all and take it, won’t I?” “You will get hurt is what you will do.” “Oh, that hurt. Have you no faith in me?” “You did get me shot,” she said. He gasped in mock horror. “I did no such thing, lady. You jumped in front of that bullet all by yourself. You talk like I tossed you out in front of it.” “Okay, so it was my fault, but you weren’t supposed to point that out.”

Copyright© 2004 Heather Holland All rights reserved.

“Forgive me, I must have forgotten that part,” he laughed. He broke through the trees and allowed Lyza to slide down to her feet. “Your chariot awaits, milady,” he said with a bow, sweeping his arm toward the boat. “This is no time for jokes, Cade. They could arrive at any moment.” “Then by all means, get in the boat and we shall be on our way.” She hesitated, causing him to think something was wrong. “What’s wrong, Lyza?” She looked up at him then darted her gaze quickly away. “I don’t know how to get into the boat.” “You don’t know how to get in a boat?” he repeated, shocked by her words. “I have never even seen one until now, Cade. How am I supposed to know how to get in it?” He stalked forward, picked her back up, stepped into the boat and dropped her on one of the seats. “Like that.” She stuck her tongue out at him. “You could have been a little nicer about it.” “I’ll keep that in mind for when we have more time, but right now, I think we’re about to have company that we don’t want.” “They’re here?” she asked, sitting up straighter. “Damn it, I can’t sense a thing.” “You’re not feline anymore, dear. It’s okay.” Cade stood with one foot in the boat and one out, kicking off with the foot on shore. The boat rocked as it moved out into the water, and Cade watched Lyza grip the seat’s edge until her knuckles went white. Grabbing an oar, he moved them further out into the water, until it was safe to drop the motor. Cade turned the key, and pulled the crank. The motor sputtered and he hit it on the top with his fist. He pulled the crank again and it fired, popping loudly. On shore, the shrubs parted and Leo and his men ran out into the small clearing. They shouted at the little boat that kept moving further and further from the shore. Gunfire peppered the water around them. Cade pulled Lyza down onto the floor, revved the motor, and took off as fast as the little boat would travel. The sooner he got Lyza away from those men and to safety the better.

Copyright© 2004 Heather Holland All rights reserved.

Chapter Four
Lyza stared up at the big brick house, shook her head, and turned away. Cade caught her by the shoulders. “I can’t go in there, Cade. I just can’t do it.” “Why not?” he asked, tipping up her chin to stare into her eyes. “You look beautiful. The color of your dress brings out the green in your eyes quite nicely, and your hair doesn’t have a strand out of place.” “People kept staring on the way here.” “Well, orange hair is a little unusual, but they were staring because they’re enraptured. You’re so beautiful, they can’t help but stare.” He smiled. “But then again, it could have been the way you kept slinking down the aisle of the train car like a cat, or the way you growled when some guy got too close to you.” “I did no such thing!” she shot back, taking a playful swipe at him. She shook her head. “You truly are a strange man, Cade.” He grinned. “I know, now, let’s go in. He’s expecting us.” Lyza swallowed. “You’re sure he wants to see me? I’ve been an outcast all my life, Cade. I won’t fit in; I just know I won’t. As you pointed out, I still act like the feline from time to time. He won’t want me.” “You won’t know anything until we go in. He’s not that bad, trust me.” “You know that I do, Cade, but this is different. You don’t know these people,” she began. “And neither do you.” He took her hand and pulled her toward the door. “Come on, he can’t be that bad, now can he?” “I was left alone in a jungle when I could barely walk.” “Let’s go in and hear his side of it. If you don’t feel comfortable in there or want to leave, then we will, but at least give him a chance first. Okay?” “Okay.” She took a deep breath and knocked on the door. Her nerves were doing funny things to her stomach. It was flip-flopping and tying itself into knots as time

Copyright© 2004 Heather Holland All rights reserved.

slowly ticked by. When the door suddenly opened, she nearly turned and bolted back down the walk. “Can I help you?” an elderly lady asked. “Cade Jacobs here to see Mr. McDaniel.” “Oh, yes, Mr. McDaniel is expecting you. This way, please,” she said, leading them into the dimly lit house. “The lights hurt the master’s eyes, in case you were wondering why they are so dim.” Cade nodded. “It’s understandable.” “He’s in the library,” the woman replied without acknowledging what Cade had said. She opened a door and stood aside for them to enter. Flames crackled in the fireplace, casting an orange glow about the room. Volumes upon volumes of aged books lined the walls in bookcases reaching from floor to ceiling. Mr. McDaniel sat in a high-backed green chair, facing the fireplace, away from them. “You have brought my granddaughter home to us?” the old man asked without looking away from the dancing flames. “I’ve brought her,” Cade replied, turning to reach out a hand to Lyza, who lingered in the doorway. “Lyza, this is your grandfather, Caesar McDaniel.” “Cade has been telling me of you, Mr. McDaniel,” she quietly replied, reluctant to move closer to the man seated in the room. “Please, child, call me grandfather, and do come closer. I wish to see you.” “Has Cade told you that I have changed? That I am no longer as I was?” “Mr. Jacobs has mentioned that you have changed, but as we grow older, we are all prone to change.” Lyza cautiously stepped forward. “Yes, we are, but this isn’t quite that type of change.” “My God!” McDaniel breathed when Lyza stepped into his line of view. “How?” Lyza shook her head, causing her long hair to pull loose of its binding. “We were in one of the ancient temples,”—she darted her gaze to Cade, decided to omit the part
Copyright© 2004 Heather Holland All rights reserved.

about her being shot and plunged onward with the story—“Something happened, and a bright light began to shine. The next thing I know, I’m wholly human.” She shrugged, watching the expressions on the old man’s face. He shook his head this time. “A miracle if I ever saw one, though your birth was a miracle unto itself. When you were stolen from us, it broke my heart and your father’s too.” “What about my mother?” McDaniel lowered his head. “We didn’t tell your mother what we had done. Once you were born, the shock of it was just too much for her. Elizabeth had always been a fragile girl. I should have known better than to tamper with her happiness, but I was young and had a goal in mind. I didn’t think of the consequences of my actions.” “And what happened to my father?” “I’m not sure, child. After your mother’s death and you were stolen, he simply left one night and never returned. I have not heard from him in some years. Perhaps, I had led myself to believe he was out searching for you.” “Mr. McDaniel,” Cade interrupted the two. “Why did you send me to the Central Islands? Did you suspect she was there?” The old man sighed, rubbing his eyes with his forefinger and thumb. “I had heard the rumors about a mystical creature running loose in the jungles. I had hoped it was Lyza, but I could not be sure. When I learned of Leo and his plans to hunt the creature—” he shook his head, “—my granddaughter, I contacted you Mr. Jacobs. I had heard of your sense of humanity, and I knew if anyone would keep my Lyza safe, it would be you.” “And he did, Mr.—grandfather.” “The question now is, how much do you want, Mr. Jacobs? You have done what no other could do, returned my granddaughter to her home.” “Lyza is more than enough reward, Mr. McDaniel,” Cade replied, pulling Lyza closer.

Copyright© 2004 Heather Holland All rights reserved.

“So I see. Then I suppose it is time to start wedding plans and see to it that Lyza is properly fitted with a dress?” he provided for them. Cade gazed into Lyza’s eyes. “If she’ll have me, it is.” “A home and family of my own?” she asked, her excitement bubbling up. Cade pulled Lyza into his arms, holding her close to him. “Yes, a home and family all our own.” “I think I like that very much, Cade.” “Clarissa, can you call a wedding planner for my granddaughter? And tell them anything to make her happy, will you?” McDaniel called out to the maid. “Yes, sir,” she replied, hurrying down the hallway. “Now, there is something I must say to the both of you,” McDaniel said, rising to his feet. “When you do decide to have children, anything could happen. She looks human, but until tests are run to analyze her DNA, I cannot tell you for certain that she is completely human.” Cade held her tighter. “It doesn’t matter. I loved her before and I love her now. I’ll love our kids no matter if they have fur or not.” Lyza giggled. “See, I knew you were strange.” “Ha. Ha. Funny,” Cade said mockingly as he kissed her on the nose.

Copyright© 2004 Heather Holland All rights reserved.

Chapter Five
Six months later… Cade watched Lyza descend the great staircase, dressed in a long white, flowing gown. Her bright orange locks hung in curls about her face instead of their usual straight manner. In her small hands, she held a bouquet of white roses, and her feet were incased in small, glass slippers. For some reason, the image before him made him think of a fairy tale. He shook his head, banishing the thought to the back of his mind. Fairy tales didn’t matter at the moment, all that mattered was the woman making her way down the staircase to his waiting arms. Though he hadn’t wanted to wait the months it took to plan this shindig, he had to give old man McDaniel credit. This was certainly a day to remember, and over the past few months, they had learned that Lyza was one hundred percent human now, though no one could explain how it had happened. McDaniel’s dreams of saving an extinct species may have died a horrible death, but he had his family back. A few weeks earlier, they had all received a surprise. Lyza’s father, Mathis Langston, had finally found his way back bearing tales of his travels in search of Lyza. Mathis’s return was the final piece needed to make this day one for Lyza to truly remember. Cade watched her reach the bottom of the stairs and take Mathis’s arm. They made their way across the crowded room to where he stood in front of the preacher waiting to claim her as his bride. He’d always thought he’d be the eternal bachelor, and here he was about to be married to the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. Mathis handed Lyza off to him with a curt nod of his head. Cade took her by the hand, unable to repress the smile he felt curving his lips.

Copyright© 2004 Heather Holland All rights reserved.

Lyza smiled behind her veil. Grandfather had been right; waiting was the right thing to do. By waiting, she got her father back and a wedding to remember for the rest of her life. Cade’s hand in hers was warm, and helped to chase away some of her nervousness. So many people, most of whom she didn’t even know, stood gathered around them, but none of it mattered. Cade was the only person in the room who mattered to her at all in that moment. The preacher began the ceremony, though Lyza barely heard a word he said. She repeated her vows, not really noticing she was doing so. Her gaze was focused on Cade and no one and nothing else. He was hers for always now, and soon, she would share his name, his life, and his home. Cade lifted the veil from in front of her face, and Lyza could barely contain the tears she felt brimming in her eyes. She wouldn’t cry. She wouldn’t! He leaned close, whispering, “I love you,” in her ear. A single tear slipped down Lyza’s cheek as her lips met his in front of a roomful of witnesses. “I love you, too, Cade. Always.”

Copyright© 2004 Heather Holland All rights reserved.

Epilogue
“Lyza, are you sure about this? I mean, you may give the man a heart attack or something,” Cade insisted as they approached her grandfather’s front door. “Where’s you sense of humor, Cade? He’ll think it hilarious.” “I’m glad you think so. Maybe we should go back to the car and remove the makeup from Caitlyn’s face. I’m serious, Lyza, I do not want to be responsible for your grandfather’s demise.” “It’ll be funny. Would you relax already? Besides, it serves him right for all his ‘what ifs’ he’s been playing during my entire pregnancy.” “But painting the baby with orange, white, and black face paint isn’t exactly the way to do it, now is it?” Lyza knocked on the door before Cade could take the baby and run. She was careful to keep her little head covered as Clarissa opened the door and lead them to the library where her grandfather liked to spend most of his time. “Brought my new grandbaby to see me, have you?” Caesar McDaniel said, holding out his arms for the little bundle. It was all Lyza could do not to giggle when she handed the baby over. She watched his face carefully as Caesar pulled back the blanket and gasped in surprise. “I never would have dreamed it really would happen,” he whispered. “Whatever will you do?” She knew he hadn’t meant anything bad by what he’d asked. He was only worried about Caitlyn’s safety. “We’ll probably just wash off the face paint,” Cade piped in before Lyza could respond. She smacked him in the chest. “Ow!” he cried, rubbing where she’d hit him. “Serves you right. You weren’t supposed to say anything.” McDaniel rubbed his thumb over the baby’s cheek, pulling it away to take note of the greasy paint on his skin. “Clever.” “I thought so,” Lyza said smugly, crossing her arms over her chest.
Copyright© 2004 Heather Holland All rights reserved.

“That boy has corrupted you,” Caesar pointed out. “Hey, I’m standing right here, and I did no such thing.” Lyza giggled, kissing Cade on the cheek. “He’s right, you did corrupt me.” “I did not,” he said, glaring at her. Lyza winked. “So, Caesar, what do you think of your first great-grandchild?” “She’s beautiful, just like her mother was at this age. Take good care of her. You never realize how precious a gift such a little thing is until it’s gone.” “We’ll take very good care of her, grandfather, and we’ll be sure to bring her over often. I don’t want you to miss out on her life like you did mine.” Caesar wiped a tear from his cheek. “So much has happened in these past few years that I never dared to dream for, and I owe you so very much, Cade. You have given me so much to be thankful for and that makes me happier than I’ve been in a very long time.” “You deserve some happiness, grandfather.” “Besides, the things that you feel thankful for make me pretty dam—dang happy, too, sir.” “So, how many more great-grandbabies do you two plan to give me?” Caesar asked. Lyza looked at Cade, her eyes shinning brightly in the dimly lit room. He knew in that instant he would give her anything she wanted, even if it included a house full of babies. So long as they were together, he could handle anything life threw his way, even a baby covered in face paint to look like a tiger.

The End

Copyright© 2004 Heather Holland All rights reserved.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful