Mark of the Jaguar
The exciting sequel to Curse of the Jaguar and the second installment in The Jaguar Trilogy!
READ THE FIRST CHAPTER FREE!
Kara Nichols wants a normal romance with her boyfriend, Christian Hunt. But normal isn't going to happen anytime soon. Having narrowly escaped death at the hand of Damien Cutler, Kara and Christian find themselves facing another deadly threat looming in the dark jungles of Guatemala. With new allies, they fight for their lives against terrifying mercenary hybrids, hungry predators and a growing army as they try to save an ancient hybrid city from decimation. Can they survive the inevitable war? Or will they all fall at a traitor's hand?
She isn’t going to survive. We’ve taken too much blood.” Dr. Gage Tanner followed Damien Cutler at a brisk pace down the long corridor.
“She has to.” Damien’s face was stone cold. “We still need her blood to continue making the serum. We have orders to fill and we’re running out of time.”
Dr. Tanner shook his head. “I don’t know what else to do. I can’t give her blood transfusions; we obviously can’t match her hybrid blood.” He quickened his pace to keep up with his employer.
Damien suddenly stopped and turned to face the doctor. “Obviously.” His eyes narrowed and his steely gaze darkened. “I already have men down in Guatemala. We’ll find Kajaw Kotzuk and then we’ll have enough hybrid bodies to extract all the blood we need for the serum.”
With a swallow, Dr. Tanner nodded. “Yes sir.”
Rafael Santana narrowed his eyes and tried not to let his anger get the better of him. He needed to focus all his energy and control on cloaking his body as he followed Dr. Tanner and Damien Cutler through the maze-like corridors of Damien's laboratory compound. When they came to a large metal door with a key pad, the two men he was stalking stopped. Leaning forward as silently as the predator he was, Rafael watched as Damien punched in the code, memorizing each number. A green light appeared and a clicking sound indicated the vault was unlocked. Damien slid the heavy door open wide enough for him and Dr. Tanner to walk through before shutting it with an echoing clang. In that brief amount of time, before the vault door closed, Rafael was able to glimpse their captive hybrid friend, Siri.
His stomach dropped like an anchor being thrown from a ship. Siri looked horrible – emaciated, malnourished and sick. In those seconds, he’d been able to glimpse her lying strapped to the medical table, he could see her arms and legs were reduced to skin and bones. The pallor of her skin was pale and sickly. Her eyes were closed, but her face looked pained.
How am I going to tell Kellan?
Locked out of the secured room, Rafael had no choice but to backtrack out of the building and deliver the bad news to his cousins. One point of optimism was that he’d been able to memorize the code and location of Siri’s vault. Without a sound, he maneuvered through the halls and passed the guards unseen. He was mildly amused that even though half of the guards in Damien’s employ were now hybrids, they were still so unskilled they could not detect his unusual scent.
Let’s hope our luck holds out.
It didn’t take long before he’d maneuvered his way through Damien’s enormous underground compound and found his way to the surface once again. Only a few miles separated him and his cousins. Upon reaching the surreptitious, vacant loft apartment building where the Jade Hybrids constructed both their living spaces and headquarters, Rafael cringed at the thought of delivering the grim news. They would all be devastated to know Siri’s condition was worse than believed. Kellan, however, would be enraged.
Punching in his pass code into the key pad, Rafael rode the elevator towards the top floor, dreading its arrival. The soft ding indicating he’d reached his destination made him jump. The doors opened and he toyed with the idea of closing them and high-tailing it out of there. Why did he have to be the one to deliver the bad news?
“Just get it over with,” he muttered to himself as he stepped out of the elevator and over to the apartment door. Letting out a gusty breath, he punched in the final code and turned the door handle.
He wanted to groan out loud when he was greeted with smiles. If they only knew… Thanks to him, all their pleasant expressions would vanish, but at least he'd found her.
Not one to prance around the subject, good or bad, Rafael walked into the living room and captured Kellan’s gaze. “I found Siri.”
Kellan bolted to his feet, his piercing dark brown and gold eyes held Rafael’s. “Where is she? Is she alright?”
Barely. “She’s alive,” Rafael confirmed. “I'll show you where they're holding her. Selena, can you get me that map of Damien’s compound?”
Selena jumped up and hurried into the adjoining room they used for the technical end of their mission. She returned with a large rolled up floor plan in hand and everyone followed her to the kitchen table where she spread it out flat. Rafael snatched up a nearby pencil and leaned over the map. He drew a route beginning at the lab where he worked undercover. He flipped the paper to the next level and continued his route. Coming to a room marked 'utilities', he stopped and placed a large X.
“This is where they’re keeping her,” he told them.
“How did you find it?” Alec asked.
Rafael shrugged and simply replied, “I cloaked myself and followed them.”
“Who?” Kellan frowned.
“Damien and Dr. Tanner. I overheard them in the hall talking about Siri, so I left the lab and followed them until they came to that room. It has a key pad and I watched Damien typed in the code. I memorized it so we could go back and get her out.” Rafael wrote down the code on the bottom of the floor plan.
An impressed smile grew on Kellan’s face. “Good work.”
Rafael shrugged off the thanks. “We need to hurry.”
“Of course,” Kellan agreed.
“No.” Rafael shook his head. “I mean, we need to get her out of there tonight.” Kellan’s expression grew dark as he stared at Rafael. Rafael shifted uncomfortably. “She’s in worse shape than we thought.”
“How bad is she?” Kellan demanded taking a step forward.
Rafael swallowed. “Bad.” An almost visible tension grew among them. “Dr. Tanner is afraid she isn’t going to survive much longer. He said they’ve already taken too much blood.”
Kellan’s jaw clenched and the muscles in his body flexed with barely restrained anger.
“I got a glimpse of her,” Rafael said, his voice lower. “She didn’t look good. She was thin – really thin. And she looked sick.” The expression on Kellan’s face was painful to endure. “I’m sorry Kel.”
There was a heavy, uncomfortable silence that filled the room. No one knew what to say to ease the tension.
“It’ll be dark in about an hour and a half,” Alec said in a careful tone. “Why don’t we make assignments and get ready to leave after dark. The lab and halls should be cleared by then. We’d only have a handful of guards to deal with and we could get passed most of them by cloaking.”
Kellan was too angry to speak and just nodded.
“Oh, there was one other thing I overheard them say,” Rafael said. All eyes turned on him. “Damien said he has a team of men in Guatemala. He wants to find Kajaw Kotzuk so he’ll have more blood to use for his serum.”
Kara didn’t think the tension could get any thicker, but it did.
“We're getting Siri out tonight. Then you guys will stay here and burn Damien's compound to the ground. Torch the place. I want everything destroyed this time.” Kellan’s normally composed expression was filled with fury, his chest rising and falling heavily. “I'm going back to Kajaw Kotzuk with Siri. I've got to warn the others. If Damien wants blood, he's going to get blood.” His dark eyes flashed. “But it will be his own.”
Melanie elbowed Alec softly, keeping wary eyes on an angry Kellan. “What’s Kajaw…whatever he said?” she whispered.
“Kajaw Kotzuk.” Alec gave her a patient smile. “It means Jaguar Mountain. It’s our home.”
“What about my father, Chase and the others?” Christian asked. “You promised you'd help me find them if I helped you rescue Siri. I won't leave them behind and I'm not about to torch Damien's compound if they're inside.”
Kellan paused a second and then nodded. “We'll split into two groups. Alec can help you find your father and friends, Rafael can help me find Siri.”
“What if we can't find them tonight?” Christian challenged.
Kellan pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes. “Damien owns multiple properties and buildings. There's a chance they're not even in there.”
Christian's expression darkened. He wouldn't fail his friends and father again, nor would he let anyone torch the place until they were certain it was clear.
Christian slipped a lethal-looking knife into his boot, adding it to his already impressive array of knives and handguns with silencers. He glanced up at her. “Don't worry. I'll be back soon.”
Kara’s expression was nothing less than miserable. “Please be careful.”
Standing up, Christian took her face in his hands and smiled. “I will be and this time I won’t be going alone.”
“I know.” But he was headed straight back into the Damien's lair. What if he didn’t come back this time? She bit her lip and couldn’t meet his gaze.
“I need you to promise me one thing,” he said, his tone serious.
Her eyes met his. “What?”
“I want you to promise me that you won’t leave this apartment – for any reason. Got it?” He paused. “If you try to follow us and get yourself caught, I’m gonna whip your cute little butt when I get you back. Understand?” His eyes were grinning though his expression was still grave.
Kara let out a short sarcastic laugh. “Of course. Why on earth would I want to play hero anyway? That's your thing, not mine. Besides, I never want to see Damien Cutler again.”
He grinned. “Good. Now, are you going to kiss me before I head out or are you just going to sit there and sulk?” he asked with a grin, still cupping her face with his hands. He ran his thumb over her bottom lip.
Kara rolled her eyes. “I’m just going to sit here and sulk.”
With a laugh, Christian leaned down until his lips were a breath away from hers. “Did you know you’re cute when you pout?”
“Shut up and kiss me.”
Grinning, he leaned down, pressing a firm, lingering kiss to her lips. She reached up and wrapped her arms tightly around his neck, never wanting to let him go. His kisses were gentle and caressing, so much conveyed between them without a single word. After several more kisses, he broke away and a breath-taking smile crossed his face. “I’ll be looking forward to a similar reception when I return.”
“You’d better return,” she warned. Her expression was serious. Her voice caught, “You have to come back.”
His green and gold eyes held hers. “I'll come back.”
With one final kiss, he turned and strode out of the hall and into the living room where the other hybrids were gathered, prepared to leave.
A tear threatened to escape Kara’s watery brown eyes, but she blinked it back. Too often in their brief time together they’d been separated thanks to Damien Cutler’s evil plans. Now they’d be separated once again while Christian, Kellan and the other Jade Hybrids attempted to rescue Siri, Christian's father and their other friends.
She felt a hand gently grip her arm and she turned to see the soft, encouraging smile of Melanie Phillips, her best friend who’d already been through so much with her these last months. “He’ll be okay,” she whispered.
Kara bit her lip and forced a nod, though the tears pooling in her eyes belied her confidence in Melanie’s words. Melanie wrapped her arms around Kara who tried her best to keep her emotions at bay. Christian had defeated tremendous odds in rescuing her, first from the wolves, then from Damien's Colosseum. Each time he’d succeeded. She needed to believe that this time would be no different. He’d find and rescue their friends and come back to her. He promised.
The plan was set. They divided into two groups. Kellan, Rafael, and Enrique would go to rescue Siri while Christian, Dominic and Alec would find and free Christian’s friends and father. Miguel, not too happy at being left out of the action, was assigned to stay outside, close to the escape vehicle and alert them via their communication ear buds if trouble arose outside.
Alec knew the compound better than Dominic or Christian, so he led the way to a side entrance, while the other group followed Rafael to another door in the opposite direction. Alec wasn’t positive where Christian’s father or friends were being held but he knew several places they weren’t. They determined that the prisoners were being kept in one of three places. Alec shook his head when Christian suggested they split up and search all three locations.
“I don’t want us splitting up. That makes us too vulnerable. Besides,” he added, “you haven’t fully mastered cloaking. You can’t cloak your entire body yet and there’s a good possibility that we’ll run into some guards and need to cloak.”
Christian nodded. “Okay. Then let’s get going.”
Using his pass card and code, Alec was able to get them through the exterior entrance without any problems. Once inside all three hybrids smelled the air thick with the scent of others – some hybrid, some human. The hall stretched wide before them with several doors staggered along the left hand side. There was an intersecting corridor that led to their right.
“Which way?” Christian mouthed to Alec, who motioned for them to walk forward, keeping to the far right wall.
Guns held aloft and ready, the threesome snuck silently down the hall keeping their senses on full alert. As they reached the first intersecting hallway, Alec put up a hand to stop them. After listening, inhaling and then peeking around the corner, he determined it was safe for them to proceed deeper into the compound. Alec and Christian crossed the open intersection with Dominic taking up the rear, eyes and ears peeled for danger. A few more feet down the hallway, Alec put up another hand to halt their progress, though Christian and Dominic already smelled the guard too. Cloaked with their backs to the wall, the three watched the guard with intense eyes and raised guns as he nonchalantly walked the hall, a gun strapped to his side. When the guard turned the corner, the three continued on without the slightest sound being made.
Coming upon a flight of stairs Alec paused. After a moment’s consideration, he motioned for them to follow him down the flight to the basement. Their footsteps tread lightly on the metal stairs. They reached the bottom and inhaled the many scents of the new floor. This level contained a stronger aroma of hybrid scents. Alec cautiously guided them down the empty hallway. They froze as three hybrid guards suddenly appeared from an adjoining corridor. Rapidly cloaking themselves, the three stood motionless against the wall watching the approaching guards with apprehension.
“Do you smell that?” One hybrid guard, with dark hair, asked the others. He paused and sniffed the air.
“What? Yourself?” The two chuckled at their joke while the first guard glared at them.
“No. I probably smell you, you filthy –“
“Hey now,” the younger guard interrupted. “I showered this morning.”
“That’s a first,” the third added.
Christian watched as the guards continued down the hall, still bantering with each other. The guards turned a corner and a new voice began to speak. Christian’s muscles tensed as he listened to the fourth speaker. “I know that voice,” he whispered in a low, barely audible voice.
Kara paced the living room floor of the penthouse. Selena gave her a sympathetic smile. “It stinks being stuck here not knowing whether or not they’re okay, doesn’t it?”
Kara nodded and forced herself to sit down on one of the covered chairs. She groaned and shook her head. “I hope this is the last time they have to do something like this.”
Melanie looked up. “Isn’t it the first time they’ve done this?”
“Not technically,” Selena said. “They helped Christian rescue you and Kara from the Colosseum.”
“Oh yeah,” Melanie said with a nod. “How on earth did I forget that?”
“Repressed memory?” Kara asked with a smile. “I know I’m trying to forget it. That was a nightmare.” Melanie’s head bobbed emphatically in agreement.
They were quiet for a moment, then Melanie turned to Selena, “You're not a hybrid, right?” Selena nodded. “How did you meet Enrique?”
Selena smiled. “We met in college. We ended up in a calculus class together and I was struggling. He seemed to pick it up almost immediately and one day he sat beside me and noticed my frustration. He offered to tutor me after class.” Her smile grew. “After that things just clicked between us. He was a little reluctant to get involved, but I suspect Kellan gave him a little shove. We've been married for four years now.”
“Wow,” Kara said. “How is it being married to a hybrid?”
Selena smiled. “Not that different from being married to a non-hybrid, I imagine. They eat a lot of meat and seem to constantly be hungry. They like to sleep in and stay up late.” She shrugged. “Sounds kind of like a teenager, huh?” She laughed and Kara and Melanie joined in. “They're just like regular people with unique abilities. Enrique is very sensitive and careful never to hurt me.” She winked at Kara. “It's nothing to worry about.”
After a moment of drawn out silence, Kara asked another question that had been burning inside of her since they’d returned from the Colosseum battle and met the Jade Hybrids. “Who is Siri? And how did Damien capture her?”
Selena’s smiling face instantly became clouded and a bit guarded. She hesitated a moment before finally replying in a soft voice. “Siri is Kellan’s wife.”
Kara’s jaw dropped open. “His wife?” She exchanged an astonished look with Melanie whose expression mirrored her own.
Selena nodded, sat back and released a heavy breath. “Siri and Kellan have been friends ever since they were kids. Siri is one of the few females born into their tribe. It seems that the genes tend to favor males.” She waved a hand in dismissal. “Anyway, Siri and Kellan were both fiercely competitive growing up. It didn’t take long before everyone knew that they’d eventually end up together. They were both pretty stubborn and took the long way to get there, but eventually fell in love with each other. They were married about three months before Kellan was assigned to take a group to Colorado to investigate and stop Damien and his father’s genetic research.
“Siri naturally wanted to go too, but Kellan was against it, not wanting to put his new wife in danger. Siri’s father, one of the tribe elders, was also against it, but Siri was not one to take ‘no’ for an answer and eventually bribed, bartered and threatened her way onto the team.” Selena paused and her eyes clouded with moisture. She forced a smile. “I told Enrique that if she was going then so was I, though I planned to stay in the background and not get involved.” With a chuckle she added, “so much for that. I’ve had to play secretary to his royal evilness ever since we got here.”
Kara and Melanie smiled with sympathy.
“Anyway,” Selena continued, “we got up here, secured the loft house and began investigating. We thought we had it all planned out, and we did, but we weren’t counting on the security alarm attached to the computers. When Enrique hacked into the computers, the alarms went off. They only had a small amount of time to erase the files and gather up the DNA samples before they were surrounded by guards. Unfortunately they weren’t able to get out without casualties. Several shots were fired before they were able to round a corner. Enrique, Kellan, and Siri were in the rear and all took bullets. Siri went down and even though he was injured badly, Kellan scooped her up, dropping one of the samples in the process, and carried her the rest of the way. As they reached a window and began to crawl out, Kellan was shot three more times. He lost consciousness and dropped Siri, but Dominic was able to grab him and pull him through the window. The guards rushed in on Siri who was bleeding badly from her wound. They took her away and pursued the others. Those that weren’t injured were able to cloak. All but Siri escaped.” Tears welled up in Selena's eyes.
“I’ve never been so scared as I was when Enrique walked through the door holding his side. There was blood all over his shirt and down the side of him.” She swallowed hard, staring into space as she spoke. “Dominic carried Kellan in and laid him on the table. Alec got to work, located the wounds and stopped the bleeding. He sewed him up right there as he lay on the table. Kellan probably would have died if Alec wasn’t a doctor. He’d lost a lot of blood, so Alec gave him a transfusion from his own veins. Kellan didn’t fully regain consciousness for almost two days. ”
Selena wiped away a stray tear that had found its way down her soft olive-toned cheek. “When he finally came to, the first thing he asked about was Siri and if she was okay.” Biting her lip as more tears followed, she whispered, “None of us wanted to tell him what happened. Alec finally told him. Kellan was furious. He staggered to his feet, swaying and swore he’d leave and find her. He was so weak from losing so much blood that there was no physical way he could at that point.” Pursing her lips together she forced the smallest of smiles at Kara and Melanie who sat listening intently. “We’ve been here trying to locate and rescue her ever since.”
“How long has it been?” Melanie asked in a soft voice.
Selena shook her head. “Too long. Over a year. But Kellan hasn’t given up. He vowed he wouldn’t leave until he was holding her in his arms and the others won’t leave without their leader. Of course they too care for Siri, especially Miguel.”
Kara furrowed her brow. “Why Miguel?”
“She was like a sister to him,” Selena explained, her smile more relaxed. “Miguel’s parents died when he was young and he was raised by his uncle, Dominic’s father. Siri always felt sorry for him, being the youngest of the cousins and always tagging along trying to do what they did. She took him under her wing and taught him how to hone and perfect his skills. In return, Miguel gave her his undivided respect and admiration. The only person who loves her more is Kellan.”
Silence filled the living room as Kara and Melanie took in the heavy story, which didn't have a happy ending so far. “I hope Kellan finds her alive,” Melanie whispered.
Kara and Selena nodded in unison. “If he doesn’t, I'm afraid of what it might do to him,” Selena said in the softest of voices. “He loves her so much.”
Another moment of silence passed between them. “No offense Selena,” Kara began, “but I wish you hadn’t told us that particular story when we’re waiting for them to all return from a similar mission.”
Selena laughed. “I’m sorry. That wasn’t very smart of me, but don’t worry,” she rushed on. “I’m sure this time they will come back with everyone okay.”
“I hope so,” Kara mumbled, her heart aching from the sad tale.
(As always, this and any other excerpt or chapter from Mark of the Jaguar is copyrighted by the author. Any copying, reprinting or otherwise is prohibited without written permission from the author.)