Saturday, June 7, 2014

Treasure Hunting by JB McDonald

Treasure Hunting
JB McDonald
$3.50 for ebook, $12 for print

Can Love tame a jaguar god?
A Hunting Love story.
A good tromp through the jungle fending off giant bugs and hunting for long-lost ruins in South America is exactly Meg's idea of a great vacation. She takes the sudden appearance of a wounded jaguar in stride, thinking it'll make an interesting story. But when she wakes up to find a man in place of a cat, she wonders who's going to believe it!
Santiago has learned the hard way that he and human women just don't mix. When you can change into an animal at will, it tends to upset people. But despite his best intentions, he finds himself falling hard for the little blond who saved his life.
It'll take a leap of faith -- and of love. Or this treasure will slip through his fingers.
The only problem with South America—aside from giant bugs, a lack of air conditioning, and general chauvinism—was that you could walk right past an ancient ruin and never know it.
Meg had no intention of doing so, but that was easier said than done. Still, she supposed it made her travel guides happy—they were able to set up camp and remain there while she quartered the surrounding jungle one foot at a time. What she really needed, she thought as she whacked through a hanging branch and cleared six more inches, was Tarzan. Yes, Tarzan would be the perfect trail guide. And maybe, just maybe, he'd know a shortcut to any possible rui—
She stopped, having caught a glimpse of…something out of the corner of her eye. Her feet squished in the soft ground as she leaned back. An insect bit her, and she slapped at it absently.
There. Between the trees.
Heart pounding, she turned and began the mad scramble to get through the underbrush. It could have been stone. It also could have been a funny slant of light coming through the jungle canopy. Most times, it was just light, but maybe this time…
Hope sprung eternal, after all.
Sweat dripping down her back and between her breasts, her shirt plastered to her body and various cuts and scrapes adorning her arms, she finally forced her way through.
It was just a slant of light.
Meg sighed heavily and sat, checking to make sure there was a root rather than slime to sit on. She glared at a mosquito, then squished it when it had the audacity to try and bite her.
Three more weeks. Three more weeks of leave, and then she had to go back to being a staid college professor. Back to grading papers and helping students through academic crises, trying to convince them that sociology was great. She'd have to give up treasure hunting for a while longer, until the next major break—Christmas. She thought she might be able to wrangle it free without getting a complete guilt trip from her mother. Just a partial guilt trip. Okay, slightly more than "partial". But it would be worth it, to be able to gather up her savings (frivolously spent, if her father was asked) and hare back down here to South America, braving theft and soldiers and giant bugs from outer space.
She brushed some kind of uber-large beetle away and glowered.
Damn it.
She peered into the heavy green jungle overhead, trying to gauge how much light was left. Probably enough for another half hour of hacking and slicing before she had to hack and slice her way back to camp. She pushed back to her feet, rubbing sweat away with a dirty wrist, and started off again.
Another fifteen minutes flew by, another few feet were gained. Birds screamed above and animals watched her pass. The jungle was loud in a way the city never could be, filled with animals and bugs and the rustle of leaves against vines, against branches, against bark. Noises that faded into the background until a monkey screeched or a bird exploded out of nearby foliage, and eventually even those became less noticeable.
Gunfire shattered the noise. In the hair-lifting quiet that echoed afterward, her breath shuddered in her throat.
Her head whipped around, feet nearly catching in the mud and sending her sprawling. Visions of armed men attacking their camp snarled through her mind, and she felt for the rifle her guides had insisted she take. She raced back toward their base, discarding initial attempts to do so quietly. There was no chance of that happening.
She was halfway there when a shape darting from one shadow to the next sent her slamming against a tree trunk, trying to hide. A heartbeat passed before she realized that whatever that was, it wasn't human. Nobody moved with such silence through the heavy jungle, no matter how long they'd lived there. She slid out from her cover, watching for the creature.
Men shouted, but there were no more shots. Even the yelling didn't seem frantic—excited, maybe, but not panicked. Not an attack, then? An animal? She moved closer to where the thing had crossed her path, gaze casting through the humid greenery in search of—well, she wasn't sure, but in search of something.
A smear of blood caught her eye. She hesitated, logic telling her that whatever they'd shot would likely be dead in a matter of minutes. Probably an animal, probably not a person—or if it was a person, an armed and angry one.
Despite all of the reasons to leave it alone, she found herself following the thin trail the creature had left. The occasional broken twig—and how anything moved through this forest leaving it so untouched was a wonder—added to the occasional bloody stripe across leaves, marking its path. When she found a paw print as big as her fist, she nearly stopped the search. Her guides were going to throw a fit if she brought an animal back that they'd just shot. But, damn it, at the very least she had to make sure it wasn't suffering.
Meg pushed on. All things considered, it wasn't long before she stumbled across—
A tail.
She blinked.
A really long tail. Shadow-dark, with ebony rosettes and a lethally black tip. This was no little critter needing help. This was large, a predator that could eat her in a single bite. Maybe even half a bite. She really wasn't that big.
Cautiously, she pushed aside fronds to see the rest of the animal.
Jaguar, her mind whispered in equal parts awe and terror.
The cat lay coiled, a foreleg hanging almost uselessly to one side. Tawny gold eyes regarded her without blinking, ears flat back against its head. Sleek fur stretched, graceful over impossibly perfect muscles. Claws flexed into the dirt, either in threat or preparation to flee—she couldn't tell. It wouldn't get much farther on that leg, though. Blood matted the fur, a furrow cutting straight through the powerful shoulder.
Pausing, she unslung her rifle and aimed carefully through the sights. Her heart sank, staring into gold eyes that glared defiantly back at her. It was going to die—slowly and painfully, if left to the mercy of infection and other animals. What she was doing was a blessing. Really.
Her finger just wouldn't tighten on the trigger.
She cursed and lowered her rifle. With hurried, frustrated movements—what she was doing was insane, and she wasn't sure she could convince her guides to help—she slung the rifle back over her shoulder and pulled out the tranquilizer gun. She'd told the guides to use them in case of an animal attack, but obviously they hadn't listened.
She could do it, though, and she could make them listen. The jaguar would have to be enough treasure for this trip—hell, rescuing a predator ought to at least make for several years' worth of stories, right? Right, she decided, then lifted her gun and shot.
The jaguar screamed, the jungle incarnate. Then it relaxed, eyelids drooping closed as its eyes rolled back in their sockets.
Perfect. Now to lug several hundred pounds of flesh and muscle back to the camp.
Maybe she should have thought this through a little more. 

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