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Golden Eyes (Wild 1) Maya Banks 2022/8/5 16:58:43

With a look at the cheetah and an unspoken “stay” he walked around to the passenger side and pointed the end of the rifle to the floorboard, leaving the stock in the air. He then pushed the passenger seat forward so there would be maximum room in the extra cab.

Leaving the door open, he walked back around to the driver’s side where he’d left the cat on the ground. Her tail twitched, and she let out a low purr when she saw him. Sucking up his courage, he squatted down and gingerly extended his hand to her head.

She didn’t flinch or draw away from his hand. She didn’t move at all. He stroked her fur, and her eyes closed as the purring grew louder.

“Are you up for a ride home?” he murmured. “I need to get you into the truck. We need to get that arrow out of your leg. It has to hurt like hell.”

She bumped against his hand then licked his palm. When she struggled to get up, he automatically reached to help her.

He tensed, wondering if he’d just made a huge blunder. But she didn’t hiss or growl, nor did she try to make a meal of his arm.

He continued to soothe her, talking nonsense, hoping his tone would keep her calm as he urged her toward the truck door. Though nothing about this day should surprise him at this point, when she docilely crawled into the backseat of the truck, he shook his head and wondered if he’d somehow fallen into the twilight zone.

She settled onto the seat, her body stretched out, eyes closed, paws hanging over the edge. He quickly shut the door in case she changed her mind and decided she didn’t like strange, enclosed spaces.

He didn’t spare any speed getting home. On the way he called the dispatcher, gave her a description of the poacher and instructed her to put out an APB as well as call all the hospitals or clinics in the area. He really needed to be tracking down the fuckers himself, but there was a little matter of a cheetah in his possession.

After he hung up with dispatch, he called Doc Robbins again. He got no answer and decided to make a quick run by the vet’s house just in case he was outside tending animals. Then Duncan could leave the cheetah, and she’d get the care she needed.

He pulled into the driveway of the clinic that doubled as Doc’s residence. There was no sign of the beat-up old Suburban, and Duncan sighed. Any other time, Duncan would be tripping over the older man. But now that he needed him, he couldn’t find hide nor hair of him.

“Guess you’re stuck with me,” Duncan muttered in the cheetah’s direction as he backed out of the driveway.

A few minutes later, he pulled up to a rustic cabin about two miles out of town. He turned the truck off and got out, quickly shutting the door behind him.

The warm interior of the cabin was a welcome change from the brisk evening air, and his clothing was still damp with sweat. A long, hot shower was a high priority. Just as soon as he got his cheetah squared away.

The back mudroom made the most sense. It wasn’t warm or inviting, but he could lock the cheetah in until Doc Robbins could come out.

Would she be hungry? And what did cheetahs eat? Red meat, obviously. He rummaged in the fridge and found a thawed steak he’d planned to eat for dinner. He filled up a bowl with water and set the food and the dish in the mudroom.

Satisfied with his arrangements, he walked back out to the truck and cautiously peered in the window. She was just how he’d left her. He eased open the door, and she picked up her head, pain still evident in her eyes.

She made a low chirping noise that sounded strangely vulnerable. He soothed a hand over her head in an effort to comfort. She closed her eyes and let out a purr.

“Come on, girl. You’ll be more comfortable inside. And I have food. A nice, juicy steak.”

He pulled slightly at her nape, and she hobbled out of the truck, favoring her leg as she jumped down. Would she follow him? She hadn’t been resistant so far.

He started for the house and looked back to see her walking slowly, painfully behind him. He held the door open and felt a moment’s relief when she padded inside.

He led her to the mudroom, and when she went inside, he shut the door, locking it behind her. As he walked back to the kitchen where his phone was, he shook his head. What a day. Just when he’d thought he’d seen it all, something always managed to crack that theory.

He called Doc and the answering machine picked up, but this time Duncan left a short message for Doc to call him back as soon as possible. He tossed the phone aside then headed back out to his truck to unload his rifle and bring it in. As he came back in, the phone was ringing, and thinking it could be Doc Robbins, he hurried over to answer.

“Hey Duncan, I hear you had trouble today,” his close friend and fellow cop, Nick said.

“Yeah, I ran into some poachers,” Duncan replied as he headed toward the bedroom.

“Get a bead on them?”

“Yeah, I already gave Mandy a description of one of the assholes. I’ll follow up on the others when I come in tomorrow morning. They weren’t from around here, not that I’m surprised by that.”

“Figure out what they were hunting?”

Duncan paused. “Yeah, I did.”

“I’ll talk to you about it tomorrow. I’m kind of beat. Long day.”

“Everything okay, man?”

“Yeah, just tired. I’m gonna hit the shower and head to bed. I’ll see you in the morning.”

After hanging up, he trudged to the bathroom, already salivating over the idea of a hot shower.

For several long minutes, he stood under the hot spray, letting it wash over him. He cracked a grin as he soaped his big body. A cheetah. He had a fucking cheetah in his mudroom. It didn’t get any more bizarre than that. He was going to take pictures because Nick would never believe him otherwise.

He took his time drying off and dressing. When he’d finished, he went into the living room to start a fire. His house was small, but it was his, and it was in his dream spot. He owned the acre of land the house sat on, and the view from his back deck was something you only found on postcards.

When the fire was crackling and a nice blaze had caught, he walked back to the kitchen, intent on fixing something to eat. The steak he’d planned was out, but he could make do with a sandwich.

Thoughts of the cheetah, and curiosity, niggled at him. Had she eaten? Was she in a lot of pain? Was she pacing the room, eager to be free?

Finally, he put the sandwich down and walked over to the door. A peek wouldn’t hurt.

He cracked the door and eased it open. A single light bulb hung from the ceiling, bathing the small space in a harsh glow. But when he looked across the floor, it wasn’t a cheetah that he saw.

All the air escaped his lungs in a gigantic what-the-fuck whoosh. He staggered against the door and had to grope for the doorknob to steady himself.

Lying on the floor curled into a protective ball, an arrow protruding from her thigh, was a naked woman.

Duncan nearly shut the door, but the woman stirred, and the same golden eyes of the cheetah stared back at him. Fear flashed in her gaze, and she gathered her arms protectively around herself, feebly trying to shield her nudity. He could see her shiver, and blood trickled down her leg.

Her discomfort moved him to action, despite the argument he waged with his sanity.

“Holy Mother of God,” he muttered as he knelt beside her.

She shrank away from him, and a sound of fright rushed past her lips.

“Shhh, I won’t hurt you,” he soothed. He reached for her, to touch her, to offer comfort in some way.

She tensed when his hand rested on her shoulder, but she didn’t flinch away. Wide, frightened eyes regarded him questioningly.

“I won’t hurt you,” he said again. “I’m here to help you.”

She relaxed the smallest fraction underneath his fingertips, and the fear in her expression turned to pain.

“Who are you?” he murmured. What are you?

Her mouth opened, and she licked he

r lips. A hoarse sound rose from her throat, and she frowned. Her hand gripped her neck and massaged. She seemed to have difficulty speaking.

He felt sudden guilt for having placed her in the mudroom. It was cold and uncomfortable, but Christ, he’d thought she was a cheetah. She was a cheetah. Cheetahs had fur. This woman was naked. Very naked. And very beautiful.

“Don’t speak,” he said firmly when she opened her mouth again. “Let me get you into the living room where you can warm up.”

“The arrow,” she whispered. “It has to come out.”

Her low voice slid over him with a shock. He couldn’t place the accent.

He curled his arms underneath her body and carefully lifted her, trying hard not to jar her wound. A small moan leaked from her lips as he shifted her against his chest.

She didn’t respond. Just let her head sag against his shoulder.

He carried her into the living room and marveled at the fact that she probably weighed more as a cat than she did as a human—was she human? Could you call someone who had been a cheetah just an hour ago a human?

“You can stretch out on the couch in front of the fire. I’ll get you something to cover up with and take a look at that arrow.”

The two simple words sounded exceedingly heartfelt, and he could feel the ache behind them. With extreme care, he laid her on her side on the couch then reached for the afghan hanging over the back. Her skin was ice cold to the touch. Again he felt a pang of guilt for having stuffed her in the mudroom.

He arranged the blanket over the upper part of her body and over her behind to give her enough modesty while keeping the material a good six inches from the arrow. She clutched the ends of the afghan and pulled it tighter to her chin.

Without thought, he ran his hand through her hair, pushing it from her face to behind her ear. She was beautiful. Stunningly so.

And she was a cheetah.