I missed posting during excerpt week because I was simply too embedded in my current work in progress to polish up even a little bit for your enjoyment. So I hope you don’t mind me posting the first scene here now that the book is at the copy editor!
Ixchel always dreaded May 3, but not because she worried about growing old. No, the twenty-seven year old was more afraid of never getting the chance to see her next birthday than of sprouting gray hairs.
Which meant she usually ended up running into doors on her birthday due to excessive over-the-shoulder looking in search of brothers who had every reason to wish her harm.
And, yet, nothing bad has happened for the last nine years, Ixchel reminded herself at dawn as she and Mr. Fuzzy set off for his morning constitutional. The coddled spaniel had been in her charge for five days now while his owner was on vacation, and the veterinarian had quickly grown attached to the borrowed bundle of fur. She’d even gotten to the point where she’d deemed the dog attentive enough to run off-leash…assuming they set out the back way and stayed far from any roads, that is.
Now the dog bounded ahead just out of sight, and Ixchel hurried her steps to catch up as she heard him begin to bark. It would be just her luck if Mr. Fuzzy got skunked or otherwise ended up in trouble that would make the vet look bad when his owner returned that afternoon. Nothing like failing to take care of the mayor’s dog to turn a newcomer to the community into the county pariah.
Ixchel wasn’t terribly concerned, though. After all, Mr. Fuzzy liked to bark at squirrels, birds, and even run-of-the-mill trees that the dog thought were looking at him funny. So, most of the vet’s attention remained focused on self-chastisement. Today is just another day, she told herself. It’s high time I got over my jitters.
Ahead, Mr. Fuzzy came into view, his front paws resting on the trunk of a spreading elm tree as he yapped up into the canopy. Treed another butterfly, have you? Ixchel thought with a grin. But she still did her best to bring the dog to heel. “Here, boy!” the vet called, before craning her neck to see what the spaniel had discovered.
This couldn’t be happening. Not in the safest place Ixchel could think of in which to sink her roots. Her practice was rural enough that the vet couldn’t see any neighbors out either the front or the back doors, but the building wasn’t located deep in the back country. So there really shouldn’t have been a tremendous black feline crouched on that branch. Maybe if Ixchel blinked, she’d realize that Mr. Fuzzy had simply treed a raccoon.
Nope, still there. Still a mountain-lion-sized cat whose fur seemed to suck light out of the morning air due to the intensity of its blackness.
“Mr. Fuzzy, let’s go,” the vet called, trying to keep her voice calm but instead hearing the words emerge as a shriek. She wasn’t sure what kind of creature the huge black cat would turn out to be, yet she was pretty sure the feline could eat her charge for dinner.
But Mr. Fuzzy was too intent on the hunt to listen to his temporary mistress, and the feline appeared to be growing annoyed at the spaniel’s persistent barking. So Ixchel stood frozen in place and watched as the cat stalked down one of the spreading limbs. It was now nearly at the trunk and only ten feet above the smaller animal’s head.
This can’t be happening!
Ixchel told her feet that the smart thing to do would be to run away, with or without the cuddly-but-not-overly-bright spaniel. Mr. Fuzzy was only a dog, after all. And if the vet walked any closer, she would likely be mauled by the sharp claws that she knew to be embedded in the feline’s dinner-plate paws.
But Mr. Fuzzy was the closest thing Ixchel had to a friend at the moment. And how sad is that? Plus, she really didn’t want to imagine the bad PR resulting from a dog she was boarding being eaten by a cat. So, instead of following her own advice, the vet instead found herself striding directly toward the spaniel and lunging for his collar.
At the same moment, the cat jumped down and landed lightly on its feet mere inches from Ixchel and her borrowed pet. The beast’s eyes were a yellow more intense than Ixchel had ever seen on a living creature, and they seemed to bore through her skin and into her soul.
Focus. What did they say to do if you meet a mountain lion in the wild? Stand tall and raise your arms so you looked bigger than you really were, maybe. Or was that the recommended procedure for scaring off a bear?
Neither option seemed like a possibility when Mr. Fuzzy continued to think he was a rottweiler trapped inside a lap dog’s body. The canine lunged forward, the feline hissed, and Ixchel found her disobedient feet following directly after those of her charge.
Her heart was beating so fast the vet thought she might pass out, but she was somehow able to latch one hand into the spaniel’s collar before he could sink his teeth into the massive cat. Ixchel yanked Mr. Fuzzy up into her arms, ignoring his yelp of annoyance at being manhandled, then she forced herself to stand upright rather than turning and running away.
The vet fully expected to feel claws or teeth sinking into her skin at any moment. But, instead, the tremendous feline merely stood his ground and gazed directly into her face.
That makes no sense, the vet thought inanely. Feral cats never look you in the eye.
But the cat was looking. And he was so close that if Ixchel dropped the struggling Mr. Fuzzy, she could have reached out and stroked the feline’s fur.
Yep, I’m definitely going into shock now.
“I’m sorry we bothered you,” Ixchel said in her best soothe-the-terrifying-animal voice. “That was very rude of Mr. Fuzzy, and I’m going to take him right home and put him on bread and water. No doggie treats for him! You won’t have to worry about either of us bothering you ever again.”
As she spoke, the vet slowly backed away, her gaze still trained on the wild animal that could so easily bite off her hand. And why should he stop at a hand? The words ran through her mind like a hamster in a wheel. The cat’s jaws are so huge he could probably consume my entire arm in one gulp and have room for a hot-dog chaser.
Then, so quickly that Ixchel almost didn’t see him move, the cat turned and loped off into the shadows beneath the trees. Immediately, Mr. Fuzzy changed his tune from barking to face-licking, marring the vet’s view of the long black tail disappearing from view. And Ixchel remembered how to breathe at last.
Could it really be that simple? Could the feline actually be gone?
Lifting the hand that she’d been using to pat the brave little spaniel in an attempt to calm him, Ixchel fingered the cat charm strung around her neck. Yes, birthdays weren’t to be trusted. It was time to head back to her practice and hope that nothing else terrible happened on this third day of May.
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