Phantom Warriors 2: Saber-tooth
Digital • Nov. 1, 2006
Phantom Warriors 2
Katy Manfred is tired of her boss sending her on wild goose chases. Her latest assignment is the worst one yet: Trap a saber-tooth tiger at the La Brea Tar Pits or tender her resignation. Talk about an impossible choice!
Phantom Warrior Kegar shouldn’t have snuck off the space ship, but he was eager to search for a mate. Being shot in the flank by a beautiful blonde bent on making a science project out of him wasn’t part of his plan. Naked and back in his human form, Kegar awakes to find the woman of his dreams leaning over him. It’ll take all his sensual skills to bring out the wild cat in Katy and convince her that she’s his mate, but first, he’ll have to deal with her obsessed boss. Luckily, this tiger’s up for the task.
BACCHUS (Phantom Warriors 1) | TALON (Phantom Warriors 3)|ARCTOS (Phantom Warriors 4) |LINX (Phantom Warriors 5) |RIOT (Phantom Warriors 6)| THE DARK KING (Phantom Warriors 7/Atlantean’s Quest 5)| HAWK’S SLAVE | PIT FIGHTERS: CAGE (Pit Fighters 1)
Read an Excerpt
Note for Readers: This excerpt contains adult content intended for individuals 18 years of age or older.
“A saber-tooth tiger has been spotted at the famous La Brea Tar Pits,” the television announcer said, his voice filled with excitement and more than a little skepticism.
Katy Manfred did a double take at the screen as the news station moved its feed from the studio to a live shot from a hovering helicopter over downtown Los Angeles. She saw a flash of brownish red move across the screen, but it was too fast to catch what it was before it disappeared beneath the thick foliage.
It had to be some kind of joke. A saber-tooth tiger? Puleaseee. Those cats lived in the Cenozoic period before the Holocene and had been extinct for over eleven thousand years. Katy snickered. Someone should probably inform the press.
Katy shook her head, sending strawberry blonde hair into her face. She pulled the hair tie off her wrist and swept her shoulder-length bob into a quick ponytail. She didn’t bother checking in the mirror to see if it was straight. Katy didn’t care.
The camera filming the famous tar pits, where several prehistoric bones had been recovered, swung wildly in an attempt to catch the fleeing animal. So far, other than the flash of movement, which could’ve been an obese squirrel, they hadn’t managed to film anything but trees. The camera swung around again. A crowd of people stood on the sidewalk waving and pointing.
Katy laughed. Everyone in L.A. wanted their fifteen minutes of fame. This had to be a publicity stunt. She tried to recall the upcoming filming schedules she’d read about in the popular movie industry rag, but nothing came to mind. Katy turned away from the television, muting the sound just as the phone rang.
“Manfred here.” She paused to listen. “Yes, I saw the news.”
“I want you to try to get to the La Brea Tar Pits before animal control arrives,” Roger Sylvan said.
“They’re already there. I spotted their truck when the cameras tried to capture the cat on film.”
“Then I suggest you hurry. You need to catch the animal before they do.”
“Are you sure you want me to do that, sir? Animal control doesn’t like the private sector stepping on their toes. I’m sure they can handle the situation. I doubt very much that it’s a saber-tooth tiger,” Katy said.
“I don’t pay you to question my orders, Manfred. Get down there now. If there’s even a remote chance this thing is real, I want Bio Tech to possess it. Do whatever it takes.”
“You’re the boss,” she said through gritted teeth.
“And don’t you forget it,” Roger said. Like he’d ever let her. There was a click and the line went dead.
Katy hung up the phone, then strode across the living room of her Santa Monica bungalow. The place wasn’t much, but it was all she had left of her parents. Despite the years that had gone by since the boat fire, loneliness still plagued her. The loss was as painful today as it had been when the accident occurred. Katy pushed her pain aside. She had a job to do and couldn’t afford the distraction.
She glanced at the television once more. The cameraman was still trying to catch the feline on film. She hit the power button and watched the screen dim. Going to La Brea Tar Pits was a total waste of time. Katy knew it and so did her boss, Roger Sylvan. He’d been sending her out on wild goose chases for the past few months in an attempt to get her to quit. This was what she got for dating her boss.
At first, she’d been was too stubborn to concede, but lately Katy had come to realize her resistance had more to do with the fact that she had nowhere else to go. She punched in a code on her wall and a hatch popped open, displaying her pistol. Strapping on her weapon, she headed for the front door.
Katy grabbed a canvas bag that remained packed at all times, unzipping it to ensure she had extra ammo. The dart guns and snares were already in her truck, along with a tarp covering and a reinforced net. The zoo hadn’t reported any big cats missing, but there were always private owners. It was probably somebody’s scared lion. The rich and their pets. She shook her head in disgust.
Didn’t they know these types of animals could never be tamed? How many times had she had to put down a cornered half-crazed animal just to keep it from hurting nearby humans? Too damn many. Renewed anger surged through her. These people had no business keeping predators in the middle of a city the size of Los Angeles. Once Katy caught this cat, she’d tell them so. It was her job to clean up other people’s messes. Someone was going to get their ass kicked if she had to shoot a cat today.
Katy shoved the truck in reverse and backed out of her driveway. She heard brakes screech and the blast of a horn. She didn’t care. She needed to get to La Brea Tar Pits and fast. The ride there was slow going at best, thanks to L.A.’s typical traffic flow of slow, slowest and crawl.
She considered taking to the sidewalks, but decided against it. The cat would probably hunker down somewhere in the brush until nightfall, and then make its escape. Hell, that’s what she would do in its place.
Forty minutes later, she pulled into the heavily shaded parking area at La Brea Tar Pits as several police cars exited. The crowd seemed to have dissipated somewhat, leaving only a few hardcore lookie loos around.
Katy shut the door of her truck, then strapped on the holster for her dart gun, slipping the weapon into place. She moved to her tailgate to ensure the cage and tarp were in order before approaching the people.
“Where’s animal control?” she asked no one in particular.
A man stepped forward. “They left, since they couldn’t find any trace of the animal. One had the nerve to suggest we were making up the whole thing to drum up business.”
“Were you?” Katy asked.
“No,” he said. “And I resent the accusation.”
Grumbles echoed throughout the crowd.
Katy debated whether to get back in her truck and go home. If animal control hadn’t been able to locate the cat, then she didn’t think she’d have much better luck. Sure, she was a good tracker—great even, but it was next to impossible to track animals in a concrete jungle. She supposed it wouldn’t hurt to ask if anyone had seen anything before she left.
“Anyone know where the cat went?” Katy searched the faces around her, but most refused to make eye contact.
“You aren’t going to kill it, are you?” someone called out.
The last thing Katy wanted to do was destroy the animal, but sometimes she didn’t have a choice. “Not if I can avoid it,” she said noncommittally.
A little boy pushed his way through the small crowd, then signaled for her to crouch down so that he could whisper in her ear. “I know where it went.”
“Petey, get back here this instant.” A frantic mother shoved her way to the front in search of her son.
“Where is he, Petey?” Katy used the child’s name in hopes it would reassure him enough to answer.
Petey glanced at his mom, then grabbed Katy’s hand and tugged her away from the other people. “I don’t want anyone else to hear. The kitty told me to keep it a secret.”
Katy frowned. “The kitty told you not to say anything?”
The little mop-topped boy nodded his head, sending brown curls cascading into his face. “Mommy doesn’t believe me, but you do, don’t you?” he asked, his lower lip starting to tremble.
Katy cupped his cheek and smiled. As a child, she’d been convinced she could talk to the animals. She still remembered the pain and humiliation the kids in school inflicted with their “crazy Katy” taunts. “Of course I believe you. Now show me where he is.” She nodded to his mother to let her know everything was okay.
Petey beamed, then dragged her down a path that wound around some of the outbuildings associated with the facility. “He’s over there under those bushes.” He pointed to an area off the path that dipped slightly into a small ditch.
She couldn’t immediately see anything, but that didn’t mean the cat wasn’t there. “Thank you, Petey. You’ve been very helpful.”
Katy glanced over her shoulder and saw the child’s mother waiting, a concerned expression on her face. She motioned for her son to join her, while her gaze scanned the bushes.
“You’d better get going,” Katy said. “Your mom’s worried about you.”
He smiled, showing a missing front tooth. “She worries about everything,” he said, rolling his eyes.
“That’s her job. Now scoot.” Katy rumpled his hair, then sent him on his way. She needed Petey and everyone else to stay clear of the area. Predators were unpredictable, especially when cornered. She didn’t want to take the chance of an innocent bystander getting hurt, especially a child, and she damn well didn’t want to have to put the animal down in front of an audience.
She inched closer, dart gun in hand, her eyes searching the shadows for movement. A warm breeze filtered through her hair, tearing a few strawberry blonde wisps out of her ponytail. She reached up, tucking the errant strands behind her ear.
Traffic sounds faded, giving way to the rustling of leaves in the trees. Even the birds had suddenly gone quiet. Katy knew something hunted her. She crouched lower and blinked. Intelligent green eyes stared unflinchingly back at her.
No way in hell. Her mind refused to acknowledge what she was looking at. Even as denial fluttered through her head, Katy knew there was no mistake. It was a saber-tooth tiger, or cat, as the scientific community more accurately labeled them, since the animals were only distantly related to tigers and close cousins to the lion.
Lying under a branch of the farthest bush, panting in the warm Southern California heat, the cat yawned, displaying his seven-inch serrated teeth. Despite the imminent danger, she took a step closer to get a better look.
The cat didn’t move. It seemed to be studying her as closely as she studied it.
Katy knew it was impossible, but she couldn’t shake the feeling of intelligent awareness that the animal conveyed. It was almost like it was thinking, trying to puzzle her out. She shook her head at her own foolishness. The cat was smart, but it didn’t have awareness beyond the primal. She was a meal to the animal and nothing more. Displacing her emotions and putting them on the cat was something Katy hadn’t done since she was a kid.
She stared at the cat, taking care not to look it directly in the eyes. The last thing Katy needed was for it to interpret her intentions as a challenge for dominance.
She took in the cat’s appearance as it lounged on its side, watching her. Tufts of white hair surrounded his massive twelve-inch head and accented his muscular legs and belly much like the tigers of modern day. Yet, the stripes on his body were different, less pronounced. Almost as if they were a genetic afterthought.
Shorter than a lion, but still huge up close, the cat easily weighed in at a thousand pounds of solid muscle, doubling the King of the Jungle’s body mass and then some. His fangs, which looked more like tusks, hung down like a walrus over his mouth. The lethal weapons could easily gut the largest land-based mammal on the planet.
He truly was the find of the century. At least she thought it was a he. Katy glanced at the juncture between his sinewy legs and her eyes bulged. Yep, definitely a he. This big cat was going to make some female tiger or lion, depending on his genetics, very happy indeed. Katy radioed for assistance, then raised the dart gun and aimed at the animal’s flank.
Don’t do it! The command slammed into her mind.
It was so loud that she actually reached for the side of her head to cover her ears and almost dropped her gun. Where did that come from? Katy carefully glanced around, keeping one eye trained on the cat at all times.
Tigers and other big cats had a reputation for jumping their prey from behind. Logic told her that the saber-tooth might react the same way. She didn’t want to give it any kind of opening, since all the scientific research done on this animal to date was based on theory, not fact.
She gave one final glance over her shoulder. The path behind her was clear of people. Weird. She could’ve sworn that whoever shouted was nearby.
Katy raised the gun again.
Please don’t. The voice said, but this time it came as a request, not a command.
She frowned, ignoring her quivering fingers. Didn’t they say that the first sign of schizophrenia was hearing voices? Petey’s innocent words came rushing back to her. He’d said the cat spoke to him. Was that what was happening now?
“Are you talking to me?” she asked aloud, feeling more than a little ridiculous.
The cat simply stared at her in that bored kitty kind of way.
“Of course you’re not.” She shook her head at her own foolishness. Katy aimed the dart gun and fired.
An outraged bellow echoed in her head before quickly tapering as the cat drifted off to sleep. The sound left Katy shaken.
Her backup arrived in time to help her load the saber-tooth into the cage on her truck. Katy threw the tarp over the cage and shut the tailgate, then slipped behind the wheel. She looked over her shoulder at the cat and trembled under the enormity of her find. Her orders were to head straight to the compound that Bio Tech used to temporarily house the animals that she trapped. The company would notify the owners after their staff vets thoroughly examined the beast and collected whatever reward had been offered.
If the animal went unclaimed by its owners, the company would use the creature for genetic research. Katy went out of her way to make sure all animals she brought in were claimed, even if it took her weeks to hunt down the owners. Unfortunately, the discovery of a saber-tooth fell into a different category altogether. There was no way Bio Tech would hand over the cat to anyone without a fight.
“I need you guys to draw some of the media attention away, while I take the cat to the lab. Throw the tarps over the cages in the back of your trucks, so they don’t know which one of us has the animal,” she said.
“We were told to stay by your side,” the one guard said. “And that’s what we intend to do.”
Katy knew she shouldn’t be surprised that they’d been ordered to escort her, but she was. Since when had she become so untrustworthy? She faced the men. “Do you really want to bring reporters down on top of Roger Sylvan and Bio Tech?”
As expected, their eyes rounded at the mention of her ex’s name and they shook their heads. The men were well aware of the value of her find and didn’t want to do anything to endanger their positions at the company.
“Didn’t think so,” Katy said. “Now get going.”
The security team threw the tarps over the cages in their trucks, then jumped into their vehicles and sped away, fishtailing out of the parking lot. With any luck, the media would follow them.
She started the engine and reversed out of the parking lot into the main thoroughfare. Katy glanced into the back of the truck, catching glimpses of the sleeping cat under the tarp as the wind lifted the material. He really was the find of the century.
Suddenly, taking him to the compound didn’t seem like such a good idea. If she did that, there was a good chance Roger would take all the credit for the discovery. The news choppers circled above, filming her departure, instead of following the decoys. It wasn’t like the cat would remain a secret for long.
Katy wanted credit for this discovery. Receiving credit would be the only way she could leave Bio Tech and land another job. Yet even with that knowledge, for some reason she couldn’t bring herself to share him right away.
The connection she felt with the big cat burned in her mind. Logically, Katy knew it was crazy to think the cat had been talking to her, but no matter how hard she tried she couldn’t seem to get the masculine voice out of her mind. She needed to get her thoughts straight and there was only one place to do it.
She threw the truck in gear and headed for her home. There she’d examine him further to ensure he wasn’t a hoax. Katy didn’t really have a place for a large cat, but it wasn’t like she’d take him out of the cage. That cage was the only thing keeping him from ripping her arm off. Well, the cage and the dart in his muscled flank. The tension in her neck eased a fraction. With the drugs in the animal’s system, he was no danger to anyone—at least for a little while.
Katy drove, trying to ignore the choppers following her down the freeway. The last thing she wanted was for people to camp out on her lawn in hopes of catching a glimpse of the cat. Katy took as many side streets as she could.
She’d just about given up trying to shake the pesky reporters, when a broadcast concerning a high-speed police chase on the 405 freeway interrupted the music. The choppers veered off in search of the next hot story. Katy’s shoulders slumped and she let out a long breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding.
She glanced into the back of the truck, unable to see the animal. “You and I finally have a little privacy,” she murmured, then continued home.
* * * * *
Forty minutes later, Katy pulled into her driveway and drove straight into her garage. She pressed a button on her visor and watched the door slowly lower, before killing the engine. Katy leaned down, resting her head on the steering wheel for a few moments as she considered the ramifications of this discovery and her departure from protocol.
She knew she could be fired over this incident and in all likelihood would be. It didn’t matter that she was the best tracker this side of the Rockies or that she’d dated Roger for a time. The latter would only hurt her chances of keeping her employment. And today, she’d inadvertently given Roger the excuse he needed to terminate her.
So why did she feel so compelled to see this through? It made no sense. Yet, she couldn’t ignore the little voice inside her head, driving her on, telling Katy that time was almost up.
She straightened. It was too late now. Katy thought about the animal in the cage. People from all over would come to study this cat and take blood, along with sperm samples. They’d want to know where he came from and if there were any more cats out there like him.
The last question brought Katy up short. Where had he come from? It’s not like they’d been living in the Hollywood Hills and no one had noticed them until now. Did someone dump him off? That made no sense either. How would you transport a cat that size without being seen? It wasn’t possible. And if someone had managed it, why hadn’t they come forward with their discovery? It would be worldwide news.
These were all good questions, with no easy or obvious answers. Nothing made sense. The find of the century hadn’t just dropped out of the sky.
Everyone knew that saber-toothed cats had disappeared thousands of years ago…at least all scientific data had pointed to that conclusion. Until today that is. This discovery would put zoological study on its ear. The history books would need to be rewritten.
The big cat’s discovery also opened the possibility that other creatures the world considered extinct were still around. Katy smiled. This was too good to be true. With that thought, the nerves at the back of her neck prickled with unease. Katy looked around her garage to ensure she was alone.
“You’re being ridiculous,” she chided.
She then plucked the keys out of the ignition and gathered her tote, before sliding out of the cab of the truck. Walking to the door that led to her kitchen, Katy slipped the lock and dropped her bag inside. She shouldn’t need it. She’d given the cat enough tranq to keep him out for at least five more hours. That should be ample time to examine and photograph him in the cage, before turning him over to Roger Sylvan and the Bio Tech facility.
Katy strode toward the back of the truck and opened the tailgate. The hatch groaned in protest, before she dropped it with a loud bang. She cringed. It was a good thing the cat was in a deep sleep. She smiled, then carefully loosened the ropes to remove the tarp. Her gaze swept the steel cage and her mind froze, refusing to believe what her eyes were telling it. Katy pinched the bridge of her nose and looked again.
A naked man lay inside the cage, sleeping soundly, with a tranquilizer dart sticking out of his juicy rump. His deceptively long brown lashes accentuated his chiseled cheekbones and near-perfect mouth. The man had lips that were made for… Katy tore her gaze away from his mouth. She didn’t want to think what those sensuous lips could do to a woman’s commonsense.
Heart pounding, she drank in the rest of him. A thin line of hair swirled around the flat discs of his nipples before trailing down his chest to his… Her eyes rounded and Katy gulped as awareness spread through her body. Parts that hadn’t seen any action in months began to tingle and throb. Her cheeks flamed in embarrassment and she quickly glanced at his face to make sure he hadn’t caught her ogling him.
The man took steady breaths in and out, his muscled chest rising and falling evenly. Lucky for her, he remained blissfully unaware of her indiscretion. For a second, he’d made her forget all about the saber-tooth, but thankfully, the moment had passed.
It didn’t matter to Katy if she had Adonis himself in that cage and from the looks of him it could very well be the legendary Greek god. Right now, her only concern was finding out what had happened to her prized cat.