Chapter 66: Back!
I was trying to find a position where I could get my daughter to suckle from my breast in cat form when Craig arrived, out of breath. “Oh my, Ella… She’s beautiful!” He sat next to me and picked her up, cleaning her with the towel he had over his shoulder. I got up and moved until my head was in his lap, purring deeply as I watched him bond with his girl.
“I’m sorry, it went so fast in this form and I couldn’t stop pushing,” I said over the mate bond.
“I thought she would be born in panther form since you are in that form,” he said. “Didn’t you say the young stay with the mothers in the wild for their first years?”
“Yes but she’s wolf; I think because I was pregnant before I was changed, she didn’t get the panther. Or maybe the wolf part is dominant, I don’t know. It doesn’t matter, she’s Alpha wolf, I could smell that already.” Since he already had two adopted sons of Alpha blood, I was happy he had a daughter to spoil now too. “I’m just mad that since she isn’t a panther, I have to let you take her back home. She can’t even hold her head up to feed from me, and she won’t survive the elements out here.”
“I’m so sorry it had to be this way, Ella. The boys miss you too, even though they can talk to you they cry at night sometimes because you aren’t there to tuck them in.” Our baby started to cry, and my nipples started leaking milk. I rolled onto my back and Craig tried to get her to latch on, but with the fur and the smaller nipple size it wasn’t working.
“Screw this,” I said. He picked her up and held her while I focused on being human again. Bones rearranged and shifted, fur retreated and in moments I was back in human form for the first time in months. I moved to the edge of the grass where I could lean against a tree. “Give her to me,” I said. He did, and I placed her to my breast, holding the nipple into her mouth until she latched on and started to pull. We both watched as she ate her first meal, I never tired of the feeling of providing food for my babies.
When she tired, I burped her on my shoulder then switched sides. She ate a little more then fell asleep, so I handed her back to Craig as we sat under the tree. “What should we do about this?”
Craig looked out at the ocean visible through a break in the trees, the moonlight illuminated the beach and the channel. Our island was on the horizon. “I don’t know, we put you here for good reason, Ella. I can’t risk losing you again.”
“It’s been months since we faked my death, love. The media coverage has died down, the helicopters and boats aren’t showing any more, it seems like everything is back to normal. The Cartel bought it.” I put my head in my hands. “I’m tired of missing my family, my Pack. Even my cat is getting tired of being a cat.”
We pulled Al and Mark into the conversation over the bond. After explaining the situation, Al summed things up for me. “We could sneak you back here, Ella, but if we do we have to minimize the risk. Under no circumstances can you be seen outside in human form, EVER. Not with satellites, drones and other surveillance. You can be human inside the house with the shades drawn, and change back to cat form to go anywhere. I don’t even want the staff to know about you,” he said.
“Fine,” I said. “At least I can be with my family again.”
“Well, we better pack up your stuff and get ready to go then.” I looked at him like he’d grown two heads, I’d been living alone here with nothing. “Oh yeah. Come on, I’ll bring her to the boat with me and you can hide under the tarp.” I shifted and followed him back the trail to the beach; when he called, I ran out and jumped into the boat, hiding under some fishing gear and a tarp in the bow. The moon was still out as he pushed the boat off the sand and fired up the engine. Luckily, my little girl sleeps deep, and didn’t even wake up to the noise and the motion around her.
“You know, we need to think of a name for her,” I said.
“I was so convinced it would be a boy, I didn’t think much about it. We could name her after someone we lost in the war.”
I nodded, I was thinking the same way. “I know the name is old-fashioned, but my mother died protecting me, and her name was Emmanuelle. We called her Emma for short.”
“I like it, the old names are making a comeback. She would have loved to help you raise your babies, Ella.” I was glad the cat form couldn’t cry, I was getting a little emotional. “How about Alice for a middle name?”
“After my oldest cousin’s mate?” Doug and Remi’s oldest son, David, was mated to her and she had died in the initial attack with most of the Johnson Pack leadership.
“Yes, I can’t think of a woman other than Olivia on my side that I’d want to name our daughter after.” I nodded my head. “All right, we’ll announce her to the Pack as Emmanuelle Alice Black. I’ll get Al to start working on a birth certificate and passport for her when we get back.
Two plus years later
My three babies were curled up with me on my large bed, Craig had gone down earlier to get us breakfast. Emmanuelle was tucked up under my left arm, her warm breath blowing on my shoulder as she twitched in her sleep. Her older brothers, Mitchell and Darryl, were on her right side. Darryl’s arm was over my rounded stomach, occasionally moving as the twins moved around inside me. Six months along, and I was huge again. I was exceedingly fertile, apparently.
Once Emma was weaned, I had my first heat as a panther. It was interesting, I must say- if Craig hadn’t been there for it I would have grabbed any male to screw me, the drive to procreate was so strong. Craig and I ran in our animal forms to a remote beach, where he made love to me as often as he could stand. When he couldn’t stand, I rode him. Three days of constant sex later, we dragged ourselves back home with me being pregnant again.
“Breakfast is ready,” Craig said as he poked his head in. Waking my babies, I watched as he put Emma on his hip and the boys followed him out, smiling as they went. I quickly did my business and dressed, meeting them downstairs where Craig had a plate waiting for me. “Good morning, love. How are the twins treating you?”
“Like my bladder is a speed bag,” I said. I dug into my breakfast, looking around the table. Mark and Olivia were on the other side, their oldest girls Elanor and Elizabeth to their right, fourteen-month-old Alex in a high chair on the left, and adopted son Tony and daughter Tina on the other side of him. The two of them would be turning ten soon, and were going to be strong cats. After the wolfsbane took their wolves away at the beginning of the war, they asked for and received their panthers when Al bit them last year. I loved their forms, they were matching spotted panthers like Al, but lighter in color, just not as light as Olivia was. There were now five cats on the island, something that would never happen in the wild where the cats are so territorial. It was the wolf influence that allowed it to happen.
The triplet girls with Tom and Shelley were still human, we wanted them to be older before we changed them since their wolves had caused trouble. Mark’s parents had been offered the change, and even the choice of panther or wolf. So far they had refused, preferring to remain human until their girls were changed.
We were just finishing up when Al told us over the bond to turn the news on. “BLACK KER ALIVE, STRIKES AGAIN” was the headline on the news crawl. We watched in fascination as the story went on; Ker had penetrated the security of a museum in Brussels and stole a painting, it was worth millions of dollars on the black market. Her calling card had been left behind, and only a quick glimpse of a woman in all black was caught on security video. A week earlier, a Russian oligarch had been killed in his Black Sea estate. Ker had been blamed there too, but the reports were scoffed at until this proof.
Al walked in as we continued to watch. “This isn’t good, Ella.” He looked up at the screen. “This puts you back in the crosshairs as far as I’m concerned. Until Ker is caught, you’re in danger.”
I sighed. “Well, this sucks. Don’t tell me I have to go back to the other island.” I put my hand over my belly, I didn’t want to have these babies alone.
Craig took my hand. “I think we just need to be more careful. We might see some surveillance looking for you, so I think you need to stay in our rooms. Even being down here in the dining room could be dangerous if they get a look.”
“Fine,” I huffed. “But I’m still going cat once in a while. She doesn’t like being cooped up all the time.”
Olivia smiled at me. “We can still go hunting together, Tony and Tina are ready to take down their own hogs if we are there to help.”
“I’d like that.”
Two weeks later, the four of us were moving silently through the jungle towards our hunting area on the northwest side of the island. I was leading the way with the twins in the middle and Olivia in the back. We weren’t after the big wild boars this time, but the dominant ones were still numerous and dangerous.
I froze as a new smell wafted into my nose. The other cats stopped and started to sniff as well. It was human, which was bad enough, but I recognized this one. “We have an intruder near Seashell Beach. Olivia, take the twins home and be careful. Craig, Al, I’m going after him.”
“Ella, stay put, Al and I will be there shortly. You don’t need to put yourself in danger.”
“I do, Craig. I know this guy.”
I waited until the other three cats had moved out of sight before I started stalking the intruder. I could hear him moving through the jungle towards me; he was quiet, but not cat quiet. I took a deep smell; I could pick up gun oil, sweat and bug spray along with the unique scent I remembered. I climbed a tree and waited, ten minutes later he was below me.
He hadn’t changed much. He had a camouflage uniform on with a floppy jungle hat and jungle boots. A small backpack could be seen under his ghillie suit, and his M40 rifle and spotting scope were slung alongside. A satellite phone and radio were clipped to his belt. He was outfitted for a stalk and kill, and I was the target. I just couldn’t believe the Marines had sent Gunny Rodriguez after me.
I waited until the right moment then pounced. He didn’t get any warning before I crashed down on his back, slamming him to the ground as my claws dug into his skin. He tried to roll, but I swatted him with a big paw and knocked him out.
I changed into my human form and started to remove his equipment. I used the strap from the spotting scope to tie his hands behind his back. The satellite phone and radio were immediately smashed against the trees, since they might have GPS in them. I was starting to dig through his backpack when I heard his voice. “Damn, E, that hurt.” He struggled against his bonds with no success. “I’m glad to see you alive, seeing you on a naked walk was still on my bucket list.”
I laughed. “Cheater. You didn’t even beat me yet.” I pulled out an olive-green T-shirt out of his backpack and pulled it over my body. “Besides, who wants to see a pregnant woman naked?”
It was his turn to laugh. “Ella, I’m a Marine. If a woman is naked, I want to see it.”
I left everything except the rifle. I had missed this, I thought, as my hand moved along the synthetic stock. Pulling him to his feet, I looked in his eyes. “I wanted to see you again, Gunny, but not like this. Anyone else would be dead already. Now, follow me, we need to talk to some people. I want answers.”
“I don’t know if I can give you those, Ella.” He looked at me with sorrow in his eyes. “I trusted you, I thought you were my friend. If I had known what you really were, I never would have trained you.” I could feel his eyes on me as I moved silently between the trees, he sounded like an elephant crashing through the jungle compared to me. “Damn, Ella, you move like a cat.”
“Yeah, I know.” I kept moving, I could hear my Pack members moving to encircle us as we approached the house. “Stop.” I pushed him down to his knees as Al approached behind him, making him jump as he felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Why are you here, Gunny?” I could smell his fear as a dozen wolves and panthers approached.
“To find and kill you, Ella.”