Falke’s Renegade – Puma Nights #3

FalkesRenegade300x454ISBN: 9781426890987

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Veterinarian Heidi Falke can tell that something isn’t as it seems when she rescues an injured jaguar. Black jaguars aren’t native to the area, and as a Falke, Heidi knows that some men can walk in the shape of a beast…literally. She won’t let this seductive shapeshifter leave without getting some answers.

Javier Montero is on a mission: find the shapeshifter who killed his family and get the justice he deserves. This unexpected detour won’t put him off for long, and what he has with Heidi can’t be anything more than sex–even if it does feel different from anything he’s ever known.

With Javier, Heidi discovers passion she never thought possible. She wants their connection to lead to a future together. Javier made a vow never to mate again after his loss…but if he wants to keep Heidi in his life, he’ll have to decide how far he’ll go for vengeance.

“Isn’t that a pretty boy? Yes you are. You know you are.”

Heidi Falke laughed as she stepped into the doorway of the room where her sister-in-law was currently bathing what had to be the ugliest little mutt they’d ever had in the clinic. “How’s he doin’?”

“He’s a pretty boy,” Beth said in baby talk without looking up. “Yes, he is.”

The scrappy dog snarled and growled under its breath, but at least it had quit snapping at them. Two mornings ago, they’d arrived at Heidi’s clinic and found the mutt tied to the front door. A note stapled to the leash revealed he’d been found in the woods.

Heidi, Leavenworth’s only veterinarian, loved all animals but couldn’t blame whoever had delivered the scrawny critter-a cross between a terrier, maybe some poodle and possibly muskrat-to her door. She probably wouldn’t have kept the thing if she’d been the one to find it either.

They’d tentatively named him Fugly at Beth’s husbands’ suggestion. It had taken one whole day before Fugly finally let Beth get close to him. The dog didn’t care much for Heidi, and that was okay with her. Watching as her sister-in-law pampered the little rat, Heidi shook her head. She still wasn’t sure what Beth saw in the yappy, ill-tempered mongrel. Bath time was obviously not Fugly’s favorite pastime.

“What are the boys going to say when you bring that thing home?”

Beth glanced up from the soggy dog. “What can they say?” She giggled, and, true to his nature, Fugly growled.

Heidi rolled her eyes and grinned. “Been married a year and they still bow down to your whims. I swear.”

Beth’s smile transformed into something secretive, something private Heidi had seen pass between her brothers and sister-in-law. Whatever their secrets, the three of them were deliriously happy together.

Heidi clenched her teeth and kept her own smile in place, even though that deep, niggling jealousy tried to worm its way to the surface. “I’m going to…” She pushed away from the doorjamb.

Beth’s expression changed to concern. “You okay?”

“Of course.” Heidi couldn’t let her family know what went on in her mind and heart when she saw the happiness in her mated brothers and their wives. Would she ever have a turn? Not here. That was for sure. But how could she ever leave her family to find it?

“Doctor Falke?”

Relieved, she turned her attention to her receptionist. “Yes?”

“There’s a call for you. Ritchie Handleman. He says it’s an emergency.”

Heidi made a face and headed toward her office. “Thanks, Mrs. Blake.” Ritchie Handleman had been her first boyfriend in high school. He worked at the Bavarian Inn now, but she hadn’t talked to him in ages and didn’t know he had a pet that might warrant an emergency call to the town vet. She sat at her desk, lifted the receiver on the phone and poked the flashing button.

“Hey, Ritchie. What’s up?” There was a lot of static on the line, and she missed his first few words. “You’re breaking up. What did you say?”

“Heidi?” Still a lot of static, but at least she could hear him. “I’m up near Beaver Pond. Dave and I are bear hunting.”

She flipped through a stack of bills, only half listening. “And?”

“I shot something I thought was a bear. I mean it was all black. But it’s a cougar.”

She stopped reading. “A black cougar?” Her mind raced. A black cougar? They didn’t exist. “Is it dead?”

“No. Do you want to me to finish it off?”

“No! God, no. Is it conscious?”

“Well, it’s breathing. It tried to run after I shot it, but not far. Looked like I got it in a leg. It’s bleeding pretty badly.”

“Tell me exactly where you are.”

He did one better and gave her GPS coordinates.

“I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.” Beaver Pond was just barely off her fathers’ property, a popular bear baiting spot. She could get there easily by ATV from the edge of Falke land. “Keep a safe distance from it, but keep it in your sights.”

“Gotcha. Will do. Hurry. He doesn’t look good.”

“On my way.”

She dropped the phone into the cradle and ran out of her office and down the hall, calling for Beth.


Heidi spun around as Beth came out of an examining room. “Put that rat in a cage. We got something big to go see.” Excitement coursed through her, and she couldn’t contain it. “Come on, hurry. And grab your tranq gun.” She rushed into another room, unlocked a drawer with the key she pulled from her pocket and grabbed a variety of bandages.

Beth met her in the hallway, tranq gun in one hand and several red-and-white tipped darts in the other. “What is it?”

“Whatever it is, it doesn’t belong in our woods,” Heidi said with a giddy laugh as she led the way through the lobby. “Mrs. Blake, please cancel my appointments for the rest of the day and reschedule what you can. We’ll be back as soon as possible.”

She didn’t wait for a response but jogged outside to her Land Rover. Having planned to go four-wheeling after work, she’d lucked out-her ATV was already on the trailer attached to the SUV.

She sure hoped Ritchie wasn’t wrong about the cat. A black cougar… “This might be your big break, Beth.”

“Tell me!”

Heidi laughed and her tires threw up some gravel as she squealed onto the highway to her fathers’ property. “Ritchie thinks he’s shot a black cougar.”

Beth’s mouth drop open. “That’s…impossible.”

“I know. But still, it’s worth checking out. He obviously shot something, and if it’s not a bear…”

They reached Ritchie and his brother Dave in less than the fifteen minutes she’d promised. Heidi killed the ATV’s engine, and she and Beth jumped off at a dead run up the short hill.

“Glad you made it,” Ritchie said. “It’s right over there.”

“Oh…my…God…” Beth stopped beside Heidi, who stared at the massive cat sprawled on the pine needle-covered ground not ten feet away.

Definitely not a bear, although it was as big as some bears she’d seen in Washington. Its side rose and fell with fast, shallow breaths, but it looked unconscious. Though Heidi wasn’t willing to get too close until she was certain.

“That’s not a cougar,” she said, her breathing a little hard.

“It’s not?” Richie asked.

Heidi shook her head, but didn’t respond further. The jaguar seemed to awaken at the sounds of their arrival. It began to struggle weakly, growl and hiss. Relieved to see it still had some fight left, she glanced at Beth and nodded.

Beth loaded a tranquilizer dart into the gun and took aim. “That cat does not belong in the Wenatchee Forest.”

Heidi believed her. Beth was the resident expert, having just finished her Ph.D. dissertation on big cat genetics. Beyond typical family pets, Heidi knew everything there was to know about cougars, bears, wolves and even coyotes, but beyond simple recognition, anything that lived outside of the Pacific Northwest was beyond her specialty or concern.

She glanced at Ritchie. “You really mistook that for a bear?”

“Yeah, well, it’s got black fur. And it grunted like one.” He looked a little sheepish, his cheeks turning pink. “You gotta admit it’s bigger than any cat I’ve ever seen ’round here.”

“Go ahead, Beth. Tranq it. We’ve got to get it back to the clinic ASAP.”

Beth shot the dart into the cat’s shoulder. The cat flinched and growled, letting them know it was definitely still alive and pissed off. They waited a few minutes for the drug to take effect. After checking the cat’s heartbeat, Heidi went to work bandaging the wound on its right hindquarter to stem the blood and discovered the bullet had passed through the leg.

Beth was there with her, helping her reposition him when needed. This cat was bigger than her brothers. A good fifty pounds, at least. And her brothers in catamount form were larger than the average cougar.

“He might need surgery if the bullet hit the bone.”

“I’m really sorry,” Ritchie said, still standing next to his younger brother. “I hope he’ll be okay. I didn’t know who else to call.”

“You did right,” Heidi assured him. “He’s probably broken free of some private owner, or maybe even a zoo. He’s in too good of shape to have lived out here long.”

“Okay, boys. You’re going to have to help us get this big guy on the ATV,” Beth said. “I’ll bring it up the hill.”

Heidi nodded and sat back on her heels. This cat was gorgeous. She ran her hands over his silky coat, softer than a cougar’s. Black, but not solid, its spots plainly seen in the sunlight. No, not spots, rosettes they were called. Spots inside spots. Almost the same markings as African leopards.

“Damn,” she muttered. She’d have to call around to see if they could figure out from where this big guy escaped.

Beth pulled the ATV up next to the cat, and it took all four of them to drape the unconscious feline over the back of it. He was huge, heavy, well over two hundred pounds.

“We’ll put him on the ATV trailer. Ritchie, I want you to take the ATV to my dad’s house and leave it in the backyard when we’re done.”

Ritchie nodded.

“I’m going to take it slow, but I need you two-” she pointed to Beth and Ritchie, “-to make sure he doesn’t start sliding off.”

It was slow going as she maneuvered the ATV back the way they’d come, but they made it easy enough. And although it was a bit unnerving to have a wild predator within reach, Heidi reminded herself that Beth’s tranquilizers were potent enough to keep the cat out for quite a while, plenty of time to get the big guy back to the clinic and safely ensconced inside a cage.

Leavenworth Veterinary Clinic was housed in a small, converted log home. Heidi backed the trailer into the garage, which also served as a kennel. A chain link cage, with a couple of doggy doors to the fenced backyard, took up the back wall.

Paco, the ten-year-old cockatoo being boarded by an elderly couple on vacation, squawked at her when she jumped out of the Land Rover.

“Later, Pac.” She bypassed his mesh cage near the door to the clinic and grabbed the hand truck from the storage area in front of the kennel. With a lot of grunting on both women’s parts, they got the jaguar transferred to the hand truck and into the operating room.

“We can’t get him onto the table by ourselves,” Beth said.

“I’m worried about that wound.” Heidi headed to the sink to scrub up. “Look at the blood on the bandage. I’m going to have to do it right here.”

“Are we putting him in the kennel after we’re done?”

“Only place big enough for him.”

Beth shook her head, a wrinkle appearing between her brows. “He’s going to be mad, and a pissed off jaguar is the most dangerous of the big cats. They’ve got horrible tempers. You think the kennel is strong enough to hold him?”

Heidi hadn’t known that about jaguars. She was going to have to do some reading up on them.

“Doctor Falke?” Mrs. Blake said, knocking on the doorframe. “Oh… Oh, my. What is that?”

“A very large feline patient.” Heidi adjusted the seat of her rolling stool as low as it would go.

“It’s beautiful.”

“Yes, he is,” Beth said with appreciation, running her hand over the cat’s humongous head.

“Mrs. Blake, would you please put the list of Washington zoos and private large animal sanctuaries on my desk? We’re going to have to find out where he’s from.”

“Of course. May I?” The receptionist motioned toward the jaguar.

“Sure. Better do it now while he’s still out.”

Mrs. Blake took a few tentative steps and reached out her hand, touching his ear, his nose, the thick fur at the nape of its neck. “He’s much softer than Falke.”

Heidi smiled. He was much softer than any of her brothers in catamount form as Falke. The family “pet” had become the unofficial town mascot, a four-legged celebrity. She’d grown up with six shape-shifting brothers in all and, though she’d envied them that ability over the years, always believed they were stunning in their cougar form.

Sorry, brothers, she thought now, you guys don’t hold a candle to this big boy.

The cat took a deep breath, and Mrs. Blake jumped back. Heidi was right there with a syringe to keep him knocked out so she could perform the minor surgery.

“I best go see to that list,” the receptionist said with a nervous chuckle before departing.

“I’m going to draw his blood and run it through the computer.” Big cat genetics was where Beth’s heart lay. She was an asset at the clinic, an expert most rural vets couldn’t afford, not to mention the best assistant Heidi could ever hope for. Though she’d put her career on hold for a while-or maybe indefinitely for all Heidi knew-Beth still kept up her research, gathering data wherever she could. And this jaguar offered an opportunity she couldn’t refuse. “Then I’ll go sterilize the kennel and get it ready. Unless you need me in here.”

“Naw, it’s pretty routine, but thanks.” Heidi rewashed her hands, pulled on latex gloves and leaned over her patient.

After she cleaned out the wounds, both entrance and exit, and stitched everything up, she x-rayed the leg. Her suspicion had been right. The path of the bullet had caused a fracture in the cat’s femur, not bad enough to require pins or a rod, but severe enough to require a cast for it to mend properly.

“Bet you aren’t going to like this,” she murmured to the unconscious jaguar as she prepared the materials she’d need.

Beth rejoined her shortly after Heidi finished wrapping the plaster cast.

“Poor baby.” Her sister-in-law petted the jaguar’s head. “It’s a good thing the shooter was Ritchie and not some hunter from outside the area.”

“Agreed. The kennel ready?”

“Yes. We’ll have to use a padlock though. When he comes to, he’ll probably try to do anything he can to escape.”

“Unless he’s someone’s pet. He might be happy to get a good meal.”

Beth rolled her eyes. “People keeping wild cats as pets…”

Heidi laughed as they joined forces to push the rolling cart into the garage. Before Beth found out that Falke, the cougar, wasn’t really the family pet, she’d made her feelings clear regarding humans who thought they could domesticate wild animals.

Paco squawked at them then made a rude wolf whistle when they bent over to maneuver the jaguar off the cart.

“I swear that bird has the worst manners,” Beth said.

“Hey, he’s male. Stands to reason he’d appreciate a pair of fine asses.” Heidi chuckled. “Would you get the biggest water dish we’ve got and fill it up? This fella’s going to be thirsty when he comes out of sedation.”

Beth left the room, and Heidi sat back on her heels to pet the jaguar’s head again. “It’s not the Ritz, big guy, but it’ll have to do until we can find where you belong.”

A short time later, the sound of Beth’s footsteps announced her return, but they stopped short of Heidi and her furry patient.

“We’ve got a problem.”

Permanent link to this article: http://annaleighkeatonbooks.com/2014/09/falkes-renegade-puma-nights-3/

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