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Authors: Deirdre O'Dare

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Catastrophe

BOOK: Catastrophe
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CATASTROPHE
by
DEIRDRE O'DARE
Amber Quill Press, LLC
http://www.amberquill.com

Catastrophe

An Amber Quill Press Book

 

This book is a work of fiction. All names, characters, locations, and incidents are products of the author's imagination, or have been used fictitiously.
Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, locales, or events is entirely coincidental.

 

Amber Quill Press, LLC
http://www.AmberQuill.com
All rights reserved.
No portion of this book may be transmitted or reproduced in any form, or by any means, without permission in writing from the publisher, with the exception of brief excerpts used for the purposes of review.

 

Copyright © 2014 by Deirdre O'Dare
ISBN 978-1-61124-601-8
Cover Art © 2014 Trace Edward Zaber
Published in the United States of America
Also by Deirdre O'Dare
Beyond The Shadows
The Canine Cupid Series
The Chap In Chaps
Dark And Stormy
A Different Drummer
Druid In Drag
Fire On Ice
Guilty By Innocence
Hanson And Graber: The Price Of Magic
Homeless In Heaven
Last Train To Clarkdale
Muscle Car Man
Rez Dogs And Scooter Trash
Runes Of Revelation
Smoke And...Spots?
The Sorcerer's Apprentice
Special Delivery
The Thin Green Line
Tom Fleet's Incredible Machine
Treading Dangerous Ground
The Wild Bunch Series
Wings Of Love
Workin' On The Railroad
Wrenching
You Were Always On My Mind
Dedication
This one is kind of for Chris. She dared me to write a cat story. I had said I was allergic to cats and was more of a dog person anyway. But Deirdre cannot resist a dare, subtle or overt, so I decided that hero number one would be allergic to cats, too. The rest, as the saying goes, is history! I wound up having great fun with this story. Also a nod to the authors of a series I've gotten involved in reading, Ilona Andrews, which is the pseudonym for a husband and wife team who writes great urban fantasy shifter stories. That was my second inspiration.
Thanks to Amber Quill Press, where I was so lucky to land as an author when they accepted my entry in a contest some ten years ago. I got the word on April Fool's Day and thought it was a joke at first. That got my toe in their door and I've never looked back! I still love you all.

 

Chapter 1

 

San Mirabal Zoo
Southern Arizona
Late spring

 

Carlton Donahue wiped his dripping nose yet again and shoved the wadded paper towel into the hip pocket of his jeans. He might as well start carrying a roll of them. Regular tissues were totally inadequate. So far, this new allergy drug wasn't doing squat for him, either. Although the idea was almost as palatable as a pile of steaming dung, the thought of seeking a new career sometimes crossed his mind.

No. He'd stick it out. There had to be a way to deal with these damned allergies. A new drug, some miracle no one had thought to try for him. Animals were his life, his love. From the time he'd been a small kid, he'd worked toward this very job--a vet tech in a zoo. Not that working to help and save animals in the wild wouldn't be even better, if it were possible, but at least here he could be sure his charges got the best possible care and protect them from the worst harm and abuse. He might even help save some rare creatures from extinction.

If only he wasn't the most allergic of all to anything in the feline family. Of course, that was the section of the zoo to which he was especially drawn, as well as his current assignment. Cats drew him like iron to a magnet. It didn't matter what size, color or type. From a house cat to a giant tiger or African lion, they all had the same miserable effects on him: running nose, itchy, dripping eyes and, at times, mild to severe hives if his unprotected skin came into contact with their fur.

They also made his heart beat faster and sent a thrill to the depths of his soul.

This new allergist had him on desensitizing treatments, plus the latest corticosteroids and antihistamines. After a month he could discern no improvement, none at all. He must be crazy to put up with it, but he felt a connection to the cats near to an obsession.

He paused for a moment and looked into the habitat area where the cheetahs were housed. Ye Gods, they were beautiful. Their very appearance said swift. Lean and lithe, the sheer artistry of their sleek bodies enthralled him. They were endangered now, a fact that tore at his heart. How much poorer the world would be with such marvelous creatures gone. He'd wracked his brain for things he could do to help save them, but to date had come up with little.

Some yards away, one of the lean, spotted cats stopped and looked at him. A shiver passed over his body. Those keen green eyes touched him with the jolt of an electric current. He'd almost say the creature was trying to tell him something, but what? In that fierce gaze, he read intent, although not meaning. After a moment, the cat turned away, shaking its head in a near-human motion that seemed to speak of disgust. It glided off into the thicker foliage, vanishing in an instant.

With a sigh, Carl moved on, headed for the puma area where a female was due to give birth soon. He checked his belt for the dart gun should he have a need to tranquilize the she-puma for her safety or that of the unborn cubs--Dr. Moreno believed she carried twins, fairly common among the mountain lion species.

Three cougar subspecies were already listed on the endangered list--although this group wasn't...yet. Although habitat had been reduced by growing towns and suburbs, they seemed to be adapting well in the wild and mostly staying in the remote wilderness areas where they safest. However, the jaguar tribe, increasingly working north from Mexico and Central American, were crowding them a bit. Jaguars were larger and warier. Various experts were still not sure how the two species would get along in closer proximity, or if the food supply would adequately support both groups. Yet another worry Carl nursed in private moments. There were so many needs and so little he could do.

* * * *

Zyl paced the confines of the cheetah habitat, impatience riding him without mercy. He couldn't shift yet. It was still too light and there were too many people moving through the zoo. At all costs, he had to keep his secret. That was a primary rule of the Were-kind tribe, each and every one of them from the least rodent to the great cats and even the elephants and rhinos. You must never let a human observe your change. Only by keeping this special power a secret could the tribe do its work, protecting all the beasts from the encroaching forces of human carelessness and sometime cruelty.

For a moment, he thought about the human, the one who seemed to have a strange and powerful bond with cat-kind. He'd seen that man eyeing him earlier today, a troubled expression on his face. Zyl did not think the stranger could be a shifter, too, but there was something about him, an attentiveness and concern that few humans ever seemed to display.

To most of them, beasts in the zoo were curiosities, even sometimes objects of derision or scorn. The beasts all lived behind bars and in cages, sometimes nice, large cages where effort had been made to create a semi-realistic habitat, but cages, nonetheless. There was no hunting, no exploring, no freedom.

As he mind-spoke with the other cheetahs and some of the other great cats, he learned their frustration, their anguish at being enclosed and imprisoned. He tried to tell them that for now the restrictions kept them safe and that perhaps eventually, they or their offspring would again be free. That time had not yet come.

Although the protections might help species survive where habitat and prey had declined and other pressures weakened and constrained them, few of the beasts could understand. They asked why they were kept far from their native places, captive and coddled, and he could really not answer.

Birds in gilded cages, Zyl thought, recalling something he'd heard or read in his human form. Could these stories ever end happily?

So he paced, waiting for dusk to come and the zoo to close its gates for the night. Until the people went home. Until the caged ones could pretend for a while that they were still free. Until he could change into his human form, gather the clothes he kept concealed and go off to attend to critical business he could not do in cat form.

In his mind, he laughed. He'd heard some of the zookeepers talking. They could not agree on how many cheetahs roamed in their artificial jungle and savannah habitat. There were supposed to be twelve, but some of the people swore they had counted at least one more, one not on any of their records. How could that be? Others scoffed at that idea and insisted that one or two must have been counted twice.

The human he had seen today was one of those who insisted there was an extra one, a phantom of sorts, one that came and went. A big cat, he'd said, probably a male. Like most of the Were-kind, Zyl could vanish when he needed to and not be seen at all. Perhaps he should not let this more discerning human see him, and yet he was drawn to the man, felt the touch of his eyes and his mind. It was almost frightening, but also excited him.

* * * *

The zoo closed at dusk every evening, except for a few special events scattered through the year. The guides and security team ushered the public out, closed and locked the gates, and finally peace and quiet descended. Carl always felt a vague relief once the world was shut out for the night.

Unlike many of the employees, who lived outside the boundaries, he had a small cottage in a back corner, not too far from the barracks where the security people were housed during their three-day-on shifts. There were patrols twenty-four-seven. Besides some rare and valuable animals, the zoo also housed some that could be dangerous if they ever escaped or if an unauthorized person either evaded closing time or somehow gained access. They all knew to summon Carl if they saw any animal in distress or injured. He slept lightly with his cell phone on the nightstand, set for a loud ring.

This evening, a strange restlessness troubled him, even after the public was gone and the evening feeding completed. Instead of going home, fixing himself a simple meal and sitting down to watch TV or do research on his computer, he wandered the grounds. Ultimately, he wound up near the cheetah habitat. In the gathering darkness, he could only see a short distance into the enclosure through the thick foliage. Still, he sensed movement within the shadows.

He paused, standing close to a wall of the compound that housed the elephants, and waited. A quiver of anticipation danced over his skin, along his nerves. Even though there was no obvious cause for alarm or concern, he found he could not move on just yet.

Perhaps he blinked. He would have sworn there was nothing there an instant before, but all at once he saw a nude man walking along the high fence. Was he inside or outside of the cheetah habitat? Carl blinked again, trying to clear a blur from his eyes. Another allergy symptom. It came and went and mostly was no big problem. Except at times like this...

The man was outside, at least now. He strode with purpose toward a stone-and-cement pillar that held several signs and maps indicating what the nearby exhibits housed and giving information on the various animals. While Carl watched, transfixed, the other man reached down near the bottom and wiggled a stone free. Then he thrust his hand into what was apparently a hollow space inside and drew it back with a bundle gripped in his fingers.

Standing there by the marker, he shook out a shirt, jeans, socks and a pair of athletic shoes. Before Carl's startled gaze, the strange man proceeded to get dressed. Carl almost regretted that move. Nude, the man was lean and muscular with the build of a long distance runner. He radiated a fierce strength and power. Clothing diminished that effect, although it did not totally conceal it.

Responsibility jerked Carl out of his near-trance. He shoved away from the wall and stalked across to confront the man. All at once he was angry. Just who was this weird dude and what was he up to in Carl's domain? Despite a tingle of attraction sizzling along his nerves, he could not let a stranger invade this special place.

"What the fuck do you think you're doing? The zoo has been closed for over an hour, and the public has all left. How did you manage to evade the guards? And why were you running around with nothing on?"

BOOK: Catastrophe
10.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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