Disclaimer: This story is loosely based on the 1982 movie called Cat People from Universal Studios. All of the rights, original ideas, and characters belong to Allen Ormsby and Dewitt Bodeen. I'm using their basic premise and am using just a few of their characters briefly in my story. The rest of the stuff contained within is all mine. No copyright infringement is meant, and I'm writing just for fun and not for any monetary gain.

Author's Note: Sorry to leave the cliffhanger for so long. The holidays are a nutty time for me. This chapter is a way to move the story forward in a stronger way. It is setting up a way for Abby to really be exposed to the truth about her heritage. I wrote a scene in it that plays on ideas from the movie too. Hope it goes over well. Reviews are very welcome. Thanks go to my faithful beta, RadcliffePotter for her proofreading and editing. Happy reading.

Rating T: For romantic imagery.

Chapter 12

"What did you just say, Ray?" I replied, almost hysterical when I recovered the phone from the floor. "Did you just say that you don't want to marry me anymore? Why? What's happened?" It felt like someone had taken a baseball bat to my gut.

I heard Ray let out a kind of sighing laugh. "You only heard the first part of what I said, huh?"

I gulped and said, "Yeah," quietly.

"What I should have said is that we are going to have to postpone the wedding a little," he clarified. "Sorry for my poor choice of wording. I didn't mean to give you a heart attack. I love you more than life itself, Abigail Laroche, so relax."

"Good to know," I said, trying to get my heart to calm down. "So why do we have to postpone our wedding?"

"You remember the tornado warnings for up in Vicksburg, Mississippi? Well, the city got hit. Big time. Two huge twisters leveled the city and the surrounding areas."

"Oh my God, Ray. Your employees! Your restaurants!" I gasped.

Ray took a shaky breath. "Exactly. I'm actually driving up there as we speak. Depending on the damage to both people and structures, I'll have to be up in Vicksburg for a while. Weeks even, helping put things back together and taking care of those who work for me. I'm really sorry about the timing, Abs."

My heart went out to him. Anger at him never entered my mind. "You have nothing to apologize for. You can't control what Mother Nature decides to do. I know the personal responsibility you feel for everything and everyone."

"You are the best, Abigail Laroche. I will make it all up to you. Thanks for being so understanding. Do you mind contacting all the wedding people and telling them that we're on hold, only temporarily, and we'll let them know as soon as we can when preparations can resume?"

That was a lot of work, but Ray would have his hands full up in Vicksburg. "Yeah, I think I can handle that," I told him. "You'll stay in constant touch with me? Letting me know what's going on every step of the way?"

"Absolutely, Abs. Absolutely."

"Good. Then be careful. I love you, Ray.

"I love you too, Abby. I'll call you when I get settled."

"Kay. Bye Ray."

"Bye, Abs."

My hands were shaking as I hung up the phone. My life had literally flashed before my eyes. For one real moment I thought that Ray was telling me that he no longer wanted to marry me. Of course, my lovely mind jumped right to the worst-case scenario. I forced myself to take long, deep breaths to bring my heart rate back under control. Then the relief set in. After that came the disappointment. Ray and I were still getting married, but we'd have to put it off until he got things settled in Vicksburg.

"What's up, Abby?" Brian asked with concern etching his face.

I took a big sip of Coke before I answered. "Ray had to go up to Vicksburg suddenly. Two tornadoes hit the area, and he has businesses and employees up there he feels he needs to take care of."

"You went white as a sheet," Brian commented. "You really thought he was breaking off the wedding? Why would you think that?"

It took me a moment to find the right words to answer him, so I took another sip of Coke to stall. I couldn't tell Brian all my doubts and fears. We were good friends, but not that good of friends. "With all the crap that has been going on the last little while, I just thought that maybe it might have gotten to Ray. It has taken us both a long time to get to this point. I thought that maybe he'd had second thoughts."

Brian just started at me. "Are you really that dense, Abby?" he asked.

Now it was my turn to just look at him. He'd really insulted me.

"Chill out, Abs," he said in response to my narrowed eyes. "I'm not trying to be rude, but I guess you just don't see it for some reason. Ray has been ready to marry you for years. It's you who has taken so long to come around to the conclusion that you two are perfect for each other. It's you that Ray has had to wait on. I don't see him ever wanting to back out of it."

I felt my mouth hang open. Brian sounded a lot like my mom. It was eerie. Was the issue really me? Maybe so. "I'm more insecure than you'd think," was my response.

Brian only smiled at me and shook his head again. "We all are, Abs. We all are. I'll check in with you in a bit so we can go look for those labs results together."

"Thank, Brian."

"You're welcome." Then he left me to finish my meal.

I did my rounds, visiting all the big cats and some of our other predators. They all seemed in prime condition, expect that two of the black bears had gotten into a fight and needed some patching up. My Amurs were extra ecstatic to see me. All four of them greeted me with great affection, something rare for solitary leopards. The sun had set, so they were all up and about. Jane seemed a little tired, but then she was pregnant. Rose was playful. Tarzan and Austin were downright amours. It was weird, but comforting.

After learning that I wasn't getting married as soon as I'd wanted to and after how I'd found myself this morning, it was nice to feel so loved. The leopards all rubbed up against me, licked my hands, wanted me to play with them, and wanted me to stroke and pet them. Toby and Keith came to feed them, and they all had a good appetite. All in all it was a nice visit and check up.

Now I needed to check on Achilles. I'd saved what I thought was the best for last. I was still pondering his very unusual show of affection today. He had literally let me cry on his shoulder and tried to make me feel better when I had broken down in front of him and confessed all. I had never seen anything like it.

That made my mind wander to my birth mother. Valen had told me that she had gotten on well with the big cats too. She had worked with them in the circus her family ran. From what I'd read on Paul and Irena's parents, they had too. Does that mean I'm like all of them? If I share their big cat affinity, does that mean I also share the mental illness issues as well? Does it mean that I could fall into a depression so deep that I'd want to commit suicide? Does it mean that I could become some religious fanatic serial killer? What had my mother really been like? Why had she wanted out of the family business so badly? Who was my father?

Deep down something told me no, I wasn't like my mother or the Galliers. I'd grown up in a totally different environment. I hadn't been a part of their lifestyles. I hadn't had the tragedy in my life that they had had. But somehow the relation to the big cats had to be a genetic trait. That I felt confident about that. So that must mean it was common to Valen too. Maybe that was why he'd been able to get Tarzan to back down. Could he really be homicidal like his father? Controlling an animal like Achilles to be his weapon of choice? God, I hope not.

I had so many questions swimming around in my head. Maybe Ray's being out of town could be a blessing in disguise. Maybe I could use the extra time I had now before I got married to figure all of it out. It would be nice to go into marriage with Ray free of all this baggage that was weighing me down.

Achilles was pacing his cage with an agitated gate. He turned to me as I stepped through the door. He roared a greeting at me, flashing fang. "You're still trying to exert your dominance, huh?" I humorously asked him. He roared again in answer.

I wasn't supposed to be in here without another team member, but I was kind of ignoring that rule. That was me, the rebel. "How ya doing, big guy?" I cooed to him.

He made his way to bars and rubbed up against them. Then he looked me expectantly. I couldn't define what was in his eyes, but it was that same strange intelligence that I'd seen in them before. He wanted me to come closer. "What is it with you and your eyes, babe?" I couldn't help but ask. "You are the most unique creature I've ever met."

When I didn't come closer, the black leopard jumped up on his hind legs, raising himself up. He leaned on the bars and sawed at me. The look in his eyes looked almost pleading now. I couldn't resist. If Brian caught me getting up close and personal again, he'd have a fit. Screw it. Brian could have his fit. I slowly approached the huge cat. He lifted his chin so I could give it a good scratch. His purr vibrated throughout the room. I let my hand slide down his throat and belly, and then back up again, over and over. Achilles' tongue lolled out, and his eyes closed in serenity. His fur was warm and soft under my hand. I closed my eyes too, savoring his coat's velvety feel.

"You've been a good boy today, Achilles," I told him opening my eyes to look at him again.

I realized I was only inches away from him. His exquisite blue-green eyes stared right into mine. I was mesmerized, like the times before. I felt a connection so deep, it made my heart ache. This animal was a kindred spirit. Somehow we were the same. A great force inside me came to life when I was this close to him. I could it feel it rising up from within, almost coming to the surface. I was meant to find him and help him. I caught a fire in his eyes, a strange passion that I found fascinating. I wanted to rub my face in his fur— feel the softness caress my cheeks. The bars prevented me from fulfilling this desire, however. Achilles slowly and sensually started licking my face, his pink tongue making it through the bars easily. I never let the other leopards do this; lick me right in the face. I couldn't resist Achilles though. He had a power over me that I both welcomed and feared, just a little.

"Where did you come from?" I whispered to him. "How did you end up in New Orleans in a Victoria's Secret store?"

He ignored me, continuing to lick my face. I pulled back and placed one hand on each side of his face. "What are you?" I asked feeling my breath hitch as I was pulled deep into his eyes, into his soul. Did wild animals really have souls? I mentally wondered. This leopard was almost human. I could just about taste it in the air. "Who raised you to be like this?"

Achilles just growled low in his throat and pulled out of my hands. He went to the back of the cage and plunked himself down. Then he laid his head on his large front paws. It looked like he was sulking. I cocked my head to one side and studied him for a while. The leopard kept looking down at the floor, and then he'd look back up at me briefly before looking at the floor again.

"What's wrong?" I finally asked.

Before Achilles could respond, Brian showed up. "Abby," he chided me. "You're not supposed to be in here by yourself."

I sighed. "I know. I was just checking on him. Nothing that really needs two people to do."

"I'll let it go. This time. You ready to go down to the lab to see what they came up with?"

"Yeah. I'd like to work on some of samples myself too."

"You don't trust out techs?"

"I do, but it doesn't hurt to double check."

"You want to fight bad news if you get it," Brian accused softly.

I looked at him. "Exactly," I admitted.

"What is it with you and this animal? I mean I know you get attached easily, but not like this."

"I've been wondering that myself, Brian. There's just something special about him. I can't put my finger on it, but he's special."

"And if he's a killer?"

I wasn't going to face that possibility yet. "I don't know. Ask me that later if it has any basis in fact."

We left Achilles sulking in his corner and went to go down into the base of the building, down into the labs. Jamie Belford, the main lab technician, came to greet us as we entered. She was a tall red-head with dark brown eyes. She wore stylish glasses and the typical white lab coat.

"Brian said that you'd guys would be down here soon," she told us.

"Have any results yet?" I asked feeling nervous all of a sudden. I had been so sure of Achilles' innocence. Now doubt was creeping in. I wiped sweaty palms on my jeans.

"Yeah, we've put a rush on all the blood, urine, and saliva work," Jamie answered. "We worked on them all day yesterday and today. Normally, it would take longer, but we pulled it off quickly this time."

"And?" I asked impatiently.

"You initial findings were right on, Abigail," she told me. "No sign of any disease; bacteria or viral. No rabies, no distemper, and no encephalitis. There was also no sign of worms or other parasites. The black leopard is a very health specimen. Whoever it belongs to took very good care of it."

That was half the battle. The animal wasn't sick, and therefore, not a danger or mentally unstable. "Good," was all I said.

"What about any match ups with our man-killing animal the police want to know about?" Brian asked not beating around the bush.

"Come look for yourselves," Jamie said motioning us forward.

We followed her further into the lab, back to a table with all the samples collected from Achilles and from what the police had given us. While the leopard had been unconscious I had meticulously measured his bite radius and claw length and size. I had also cast a mold of his teeth. My measurements were laid out side by side with the ones I calculated out from the mutilation victims. I perused over all the evidence laid out on the table, taking my time, really looking at the results.

I was able to breathe a huge sigh of relief, the tension in my shoulders releasing. Achilles' measurements were much too large to be the killer cat. His teeth, jaw, and claws were all a lot bigger than what I'd extrapolated from what the police had provided me with. The DNA from the salvias were not anywhere near the same. We were looking at two different big cats. Both were leopards, but Achilles was not the one butchering women along the river.

"I think you owe someone an apology, Brian," I told my boss straight up.

He had the wisdom to look chagrined. "Okay. I was wrong. You were right, Abby, per usual. I'm sorry for doubting you. Again."

I smiled widely at him. "I appreciate that a lot, Brian, but I wasn't thinking of me."

"You want me to apologize to the leopard!" he asked me incredulously with wide eyes.

My smile grew wider. "Yeah. You jumped on him from the moment we discovered him. You've had it in for him from the get go. What's with that? He felt your hostility, and that made him respond in kind to you. You need to let him know that you're sorry for thinking he was a man-eater."

"It's just an animal, Abby," Brian said hesitantly. "It can't know what I think about it. It has no feelings to hurt."

I stared at Brian liked he grown a second head. "How can you say that after working around all the animals we take care of? They all have their own distinct personalities. They all are affected by how we treat them. Of course they have feelings, Brian! And this leopard is a he not an it. From what I observed today, he's very sensitive to his surroundings and his environment."

"I want more proof that this animal is not involved with the mutilations. If it truly isn't, then I'll give it a break. I want to be one hundred percent certain it's not to blame. I still feel finding it around the same time the multiations are going on is more than just a coincidence." Brian said firmly.

"You want more proof?" I asked, my voice rising. "In what way? We have all the proof we need right here." I pointed to all the items laid out on the table. "Where in the hell is this coming from, Brian? You've never been like this about a rogue wild animal before. What am I missing here?" I pressed. "I would almost swear this is something personal. What did this animal ever do to you?"

Brian went to answer, then thought better of it, closing his mouth in a grim line. He took a deep breath. "Maybe you should talk to my mom—about her and my dad's experience with a rogue black leopard. How it shattered their lives. I just don't want history repeating itself. We should have the police make Valen Gallier a person of interest in these mutilations as well, based on the evidence that he's a serial killer's son."

The last of what Brian said totally caught me off guard. How had Valen become an issue suddenly? I really was missing something here. "You lost me," was all I could think to say.

"Ray's out of town for a while, right?"


"Then you have time to come over for dinner at my mom's house. Once you've heard her story, you'll understand better where I'm coming from."

"You're inviting me to have dinner with you and your mom?"

"Yes, Abby. Why not?"

Why not indeed? It might provide me with some of the missing pieces. Help me understand what Paul had really done and why. It might help me get a better handle on what was going on with Valen as well. If I could talk to Brian's mom and talk to Female, I might just get the whole picture instead of just one side or the other.

"I guess that could be good idea," I answered after some thought. "Could I invite Beth to come to? She might want to hear about Valen's supposed father to feel more justified in dumping his ass." That was only half the reason that I wanted Beth to come. I felt I needed some moral support for some reason; like I couldn't handle the information all by myself.

"That would be a great idea," Brian said, finally brightening a little. "She needs to know how much danger she was in by dating someone like him. And my mom would love the company. How about after work tomorrow? Say around seven or so?"

Jamie had left us to ourselves, obviously not wanting to get in the middle of our argument. I wanted to talk a little more with her about all her test methods and how certain she was about her and her team's results. So I answered Brian as I started to walk deeper into the lab. "I'll check with Beth, but that sounds good to me."

"I'll talk to my mom. She will be thrilled to see you, Abs." Then he changed topics on me abruptly. "Abby, I want you to go down and talk to the medical examiner on this investigation. I want you to get access to what's left of the bodies and take a look for yourself. I want our expert to take actual measurements from the source, not just from pictures, and compare them with what we took from our newest guest. Then I will feel better about that animal, if your conclusions and results still hold."

I blinked at Brian for a moment, not sure I'd heard him right and was stopped in my tracks. "You want me to examine the remains of the victims?" I think I gulped.

"If you feel up to it," Brian suddenly relented, watching the blood drain out of my face. "If it bothers your that much I won't make you go down there. I'm sorry. That was kind of thoughtless of me." He hung his head contritely now.

"No, I'll go, Brian. You obviously feel really passionate about all this. So do I. I'd like to clear Achilles' name once and for all. Can you make the arrangements?" I said without my voice shaking. Points for me.

Brian smiled weakly at me. "Sure thing. It might be a good idea to have one of the Animal Control people back us up as well. I'll see if that Gilroy character can meet you there and have a look too."

I didn't like that idea at all. The second opinion part was all right. You couldn't be too careful. But I didn't like the thought of working with Gilroy again. The man gave me a bad vibe. Not like the one I got from Valen; his was a sexy danger vibe. Go figure. Gilroy's was more sinister than that. He scared me, made my skin itch. That couldn't be a good sign. I don't know why I felt that way. I'd just meet him yesterday and didn't know him from Adam. Something in my gut, just didn't like him, however, and was wary of him.

"Whatever you think is best, Brian," I tried to say neutrally and with a blank expression. No need to let Brian know how I felt about Gilroy. I didn't want to start another argument.

"Good. Then it's settled. I'll let you know when the police and the M.E. will let you go down and take a look." Then Brian changed topics on me again. "You've been here all day, Abs. Since really early this morning. It's late. Go home and get some rest."

He was right. I was suddenly exhausted. The aches and pains from my middle of the night sleepwalking episode or whatever the hell you wanted to call it were making themselves known again. "Yeah. I think I will. I want to talk to Jamie for a minute, and then I'll head out."

I turned once more to walk deeper into the lab. "Abs?" came Brian's tentative voice.


"I'm sorry if I've offended you or if I'm being a hard ass. You do know what you're doing. You're good at what you do. I need to not doubt that so much. I don't know what's wrong with me," he said slowly.

I smiled at him again. This time it was a real and friendly smile. "You're just doing your job, Brian. You're trying to look out for your employees and the people of this city. Part of me understands that. You're like Ray in that department. Besides, we've been friends too long for me to hold it against you for an extended period of time. I just need to know where you're coming from."

"You will tomorrow night. I promise."

"I'll hold you to that."

"I wouldn't expect anything less of you, Abs."

Rough, strong hands held me tight on each side. It was like both of my arms were in vices. I was being carried/dragged along a rocky path. The ground was parched and cracked from drought on either side. The path itself was bleached white, but the ground beyond it was a deep reddish-orange. I'd never seen anything like it. It made the path seem like the great white backbone of some strange, skeletal beast. I was being taken towards a huge tree. It was blackened, but somehow I knew it was alive. It lacked leaves, but its trunk was enormous. Large and thick branches broke out on each side of the tree. They were unevenly spaced and reached forever upward. The sky was a strange red-orange color as well— sunset maybe.

I managed to look down at myself. My attire surprised as much as the landscape. I was dressed in a soft loin cloth type bottom and bikini-looking top. I didn't have a clue what kind of material it was, but it was a light brown color. My hair flowed freely, almost down to my waist, still its rich honey-blond color.

Then I saw the people that held me. They were both men. One had dark, ebony skin. The other was a deep tan color. Both were shaved bald and painted like they were wearing leopard print. They wore the same type of loin cloth thingy I had on, but they had a tunic part that draped over their left shoulders that was a vivid, red-orange color. It reminded me of the sky and ground beyond the path.

What the hell is this? Where am I? Who are these people? I started to struggle, but found my response sluggish. I wasn't able to put up much of a fight. Have I been drugged or something? I could now hear the wind blowing and could see it move the sandy dunes in the distance. Then I heard the drums: low, soft, and primal. They were almost hypnotic. A man's voice, deep and melodic, joined the drums. It sounded like he was humming or letting a sound vibrate out of his throat. He sung not words; just an even more hypnotic rhythm added that to the drums.

My body felt like it was liquid in the bizarre men's arms. It didn't take long to arrive at the base of the gigantic tree. The dark man pushed me up against the tree's trunk, while the other tan man took one of my arms and wrapped some kind of weird rope around my wrist. The rope was attached to one of the lower tree branches. The tan man came around the other side of me and wrapped another rope around my other wrist. This rope was also attached to a lower tree branch on the opposite side as the first one. The dark man tightened the slack in the rope to pull my arms up and over my head, but not enough to cause pain. My arms might eventually go numb or start to ache from the position that they'd been place in, but not immediately.

The drums and humming continued in the background, and I found myself swaying to the soothing rhythm. It was automatic and involuntary. I should have been freaking out. Screaming, struggling, and fighting my way free of my bonds. But I wasn't. I was strangely calm about the whole ordeal. I was almost content, feeling like I was floating, boneless and tranquil. I had to have been drugged. I was not the kind of person that was into this sort of thing. I still didn't understand what was going on or why I was here.

Then I heard it—the soft growl of a big cat. The growl grew into a roar, getting louder and louder. It suddenly came to me. I was a sacrifice. These strange leopard men were going to give me to some wild animal as an offering. My mind tried to will my body into action. I wanted to thrash and tug at the ropes. I wanted to run for my life. My body would not respond. It was languid, still swaying to the soft and primal rhythm of the drums. A second growling roar joined the first.

Fear swept through my body like a tidal wave. Sweat broke out my body, and I shivered. My heart beat fast and hard in my chest. My breath was coming in short, frightened gasps. Still my body did not put up a fight to get lose and flee. I could now make out a third roar. I was going to be torn apart by a group of big cats; probably leopards if the two men's painted looks had anything to do with it. I could hear the blood rushing in my ears now.

Three black forms appeared at the top of the sandy dunes. They slowly made their way down to the tree, to me. The two leopard men were gone, vanished from sight as night began to descend. The drums and voice were still present, however. The three big cats were, in fact, three black leopards, moving stealthily towards me. They started sawing a greeting to me, the roars and growling ceasing.

The large, predatory animals started circling me, around and around as they approached. It was becoming twilight now, the orange sky now looking more and more red. I was shaking with fear. I thought my heart was going to beat itself right out of my chest. I didn't want to be slaughter by the one animal I truly loved. "Please don't hurt me," I found myself begging them.

"They are not here to hurt you, my dear Abigail. They are here as your guardians," a familiar and sexy voice informed me.

I looked around to try and find the source of the voice. Up on the sandy dunes, stood the tall, dark, and handsome figure of a man. It was Valen. He was naked from the waist up. His chest was smooth and well-toned. His arms had nice muscle definition as well. He had on black jeans, low on his hips. He was barefoot. The wind blew through his black hair, making it feather softly. Something in my stomach tightened, and it had nothing to do with fear.

As I watched him slowly walk towards me, just as the black leopards had, I now struggled against the ropes because I wanted to go and meet him. I wanted to touch him, be held in his arms. My body burned for his touch. As he got closer, I noticed his beautiful, blue eyes were not normal. They were slit like that of a cat. Just like my eyes in the dance club's bathroom mirror, and just like his the night he'd chased me into the tree at the zoo. The three leopards had now jumped up into the tree above me, taking positions on three different branches.

"What's happening to me, Valen?" I called to him. "What's going on?"

"You're ready for the dream," was all he said. "This dream."

"What?" I exclaimed as he stood inches from me. I could feel the radiating warmth of his body. "What are you doing with a bunch of black leopards?"

He smiled at me, and my lower stomach pulled tighter, hormones firing to life. "These are our ancestors, Abigail. Our people. They have come to welcome you home. I have come to welcome you into my bed. We are meant to be mates, Abigail. You and I."

"Our people?" I parroted. "They are leopards, Valen!"

"Exactly," he said, pressing his body into mine. "I told you that you had a unique heritage. We are not like other people, Abigail. Ours is a mixed bloodline. We are the last of our kind. We are meant for each other."

He kissed me then, deep and sweet. My need to respond, to touch him, finally willed my body into action. I strained hard against my bonds, the ropes. Surprisingly, they broke with my new found effort. I slipped my hands up Valen's chest, and up into his hair, pushing his lips to mine more fervently. His lips were soft, and his tongue was magical. A loud and powerful growl erupted from deep within me.

This startled me and broke the moment. "What are you?" I asked, breathless.

"Your mate. Your soul mate," he answered, rubbing his cheek against mine.

"Then what are we?" I managed to ask.

"The last of our kind," he said cryptically.

"And what kind would that be?"

"The last of the Cat People."

I stared at him, understanding and not understanding at the same time. Then he kissed me again and again, passionately, ravenously. I felt his hands start to tear at the little clothing I had on. We fell to the ground, oblivious to anything around us, focused only on each other. Some primal and savage force seemed to consume me. I wanted Valen more than life itself. No. I needed him more than life itself. I gave myself fully over to our passion play, giving as much pleasure as I was receiving.

I woke up with a start to the phone ringing. I sat up abruptly and scrambled to answer it on the nightstand. The whole thing had been a dream. Thank you, God. The problem was my body still didn't realize it had been a dream and my hormones were humming. I was alone; no Ray. I couldn't even turn to him for relief. I realized I was drenched in sweat. I was going to need a cold shower.

"Did I wake you, Abby?" Beth's voice asked apologetically after I mumbled a hello.

I looked at bedside clock. It was close to when I wanted to get up and get ready to go into the zoo anyway. "Yeah, but I was about to get up. No worries. What's up?"

"I got you message last night about dinner with Brian and his mom," Beth explained. "I wanted to talk to you as soon as possible. I can't do dinner tonight, but could we do it early next week? I've got late tours all this rest of this week. I don't want to miss out on the juicy stuff about Valen's possible father."

"You really want a reason to hate him, don't you?" I couldn't help but ask.

"Is it that obvious?"

"Oh yeah." Then I told Beth all about the information that I'd gotten out Brian yesterday in more detail. I also told her about what I'd found out about Paul Gallier on my independent Internet search.

"I'm still trying to get over being used like that by someone," Beth commented afterward. "And besides, it would be nice to know if Valen really was crazy like his dad. Maybe breaking up with him was the best thing that could have happened. Maybe it saved my life. I'd really like to know. That's terrifying stuff you dug up, Abby."

"I know. I'm still processing it all. I'll check with Brian about moving dinner. He'll be a little disappointed, but I don't want to hear all the news without you. I need someone there with me. I'm sure we can reschedule," I reassured her.

Beth laughed softly. "I'm honored that you'd pick me for moral support. My nights are free next week."

"Okay. We'll work it out. Thanks for letting me know."

"How are you holding up with Ray being out of town?" I'd told her about that turn of events briefly in my message to her last night as well.

"I miss him, but I don't think the reality of him being gone for an extended period of time has set in yet. If I keep busy at work, that'll help," I said, after some thought.

"Just be careful. I still haven't been able to get in touch with Valen to officially tell him off. I don't know if he's in town or not. If Valen finds out you're alone…," she let her voice trail off.

"The restraining order is in place, and I can call the police. But I'll be on guard." Would I really or would I be welcoming? That was a horrible thing for me to think.

"What's the wild leopard like?" Beth asked then.

"He's a dream come true, Beth. I've never been around an animal like him. He can't be a man-eater," I told her.

"I hope you're right. But if he isn't the animal killing the women that means that there's a killer animal still out there. That's kinda scary, Abs."

I nodded, and then realized Beth couldn't see it. "True. I hadn't thought about that. Hopefully, after I meet with the M.E. and the Animal Control people, they can start a more exhaustive search for it."

"Well, let me know what Brian says about dinner next week."

"Will do." Then another thought hit me before I let Beth go. "Hey, do you have an address or phone number for Female?"

It took Beth a moment to answer. "Why? You're not thinking of trying to go talk to her are you?"

Now it was my turn to hesitate. "What if I said that I was?" I finally admitted.

"If you're trying to stay away from Valen, going and seeing Female might not be such a hot idea," Beth told me.

"That thought occurred to me too. But, if she is the same Female that knew Paul, I think it might be useful to talk to her. How many people are named Female, Beth?" I then asked.

Beth sighed. "I get it, Abby. I do. You want answers. But Valen lied to me about why she'd been to prison. She could be as dangerous and unstable as he apparently is."

"If I decide to meet with her, I could make sure it's a public place," I reasoned.

"I only have an address for her, Abs. You'd have to go over there."

"I think knowing the truth is worth the risk. I need to talk to her."

Beth reluctantly gave me the address she had for Female, but not until after she'd tried once more to talk me out of it. We finally said goodbye. Beth parted with a warning for me not do anything foolish. Who me? Then I started to get ready to go to work at the zoo. That's when my thoughts started to race.

Why in the hell did I dream about Valen again? And why are the dreams such erotic ones? It's not like I'm deprived or anything, I thought wryly. I could remember more of this dream than any of the others. What had Valen said about being the last of our kind? Did he say something about our ancestors being leopards? I think my poor brain must be mixing metaphors or something. That couldn't be what he meant. That would be impossible. That would be crazy. Maybe I really do need to go see a shrink. I must be totally losing it. Maybe I just have leopards on the brain because of my new friend at the zoo.

The truth was I liked the damn dream. All of it had felt natural. It had felt like I'd come home from a long journey. I had been wandering, lost, and then I'd returned to where I belonged. Home. That's how Valen had put it in the dream too. It was like I'd finally fit somewhere. It had been warm and inviting. I had been accepted and loved. There had been no doubt, no misgivings.

Valen had mentioned something about being soul mates. That was ludicrous. But then again, maybe it wasn't. I loved Ray, I really did…but something was off with us. Brian was right that it had been me that had had all the reservations and hesitations over the years I'd known Ray. I had to force things with Ray, or at least work really hard at convincing myself about spending my life with him. With Valen it was different. I felt a pull from him I'd never felt with anyone else. I didn't know him at all, but I could almost envision us as a couple, bonded together.

I shook my head. I needed more complete answers than the one I had. I needed to face Valen and really talk to him about my heritage. Maybe it would be a good thing to run into him while I visited with Female; if she'd even talk to me. Valen and I needed to have a long and drawn out conversation. I couldn't keep running away. That's what I'd been doing. I was afraid of what I'd find, but I couldn't afford to do that anymore. I'd said that before, but then I was the one of world's best procrastinators.


Did you guys like my version of the "Myth" and the "Leopard Tree Dream" from the movie? I have always wished they had done more with those scenes. Let me know how this chapter went over. There is still more to come. Promise.