To Megan Hope Wheeler

The first rule of life, believe in yourself.

Well, that, and shop till you drop.

Chapter 1

That creepy crawly feeling was back, and goose bumps were popping up all over Callie Jordon’s arms.

Damn it, Callie was certain, well, almost certain, someone lurked in the shadows. The feeling was the same as when she watched a scary movie late at night and hadn’t pulled the curtains. She rubbed her arms to take away the sudden chill as her gaze scanned the park.

The last visitors in the zoo had left a couple of hours ago. There was no one in this area except herself. She was all alone.

It could be security, although Ben usually worked this side, and she knew he was still at the employee office. He wouldn’t leave until he’d had at least two cups of the too strong black coffee and a couple of the jelly-filled doughnuts.

The feeling persisted, though. Not in a stalker kind of way. More as though whoever watched her was waiting to see what she would do next. The spooky sensation had been with her for a few days now so it was nothing new.

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Get over it, she told herself.

“Hey, Callie, you still here?”

Her eyes flew open and she jumped, slapping a hand to her chest. “You scared the hell out of me, Pete!” Pete worked at the park, cleaning pens and any other odd job that came along. The money he earned helped pay his way through college. He was cute, in a nerdy kind of way.

He blushed. “Sorry.”

She took a deep calming breath. “It’s okay. I just thought…”

“That I was the bogeyman?” He grinned.

Now it was her turn to blush. “Yeah, something like that.”

“You on your way to see Sheba?”


He shook his head. “I’ll never understand your fascination with that jaguar.”

She couldn’t explain it, either.

“Don’t stay too long,” he told her. “There is life beyond the zoo.”

“So they tell me. Have a good night.”

They parted ways, but she still felt a little uneasy for some strange reason.

Shake it off. It had been a long day, and an even longer week. She worked around kids most of the time. No wonder she was edgy.

The petting zoo was not what she would call a fun place to work, let alone being the person in charge. She’d been pinched, prodded, and bitten—and that was just this afternoon.

Still, pride washed over her. Not once had she threatened to feed the little monsters to the lion. Well, at least she hadn’t today. Monday could very well be another story. Thank God she used birth control, and thank God she was off for the weekend.

So why was she still here? Yeah, yeah, Pete was right. She’d finished all her paperwork ten minutes ago. The answer was easy. She couldn’t resist checking on the jaguar one last time. Crazy? Probably, since she didn’t work with the big cats.

She released a deep sigh of longing. One day she would. As soon as the next animal keeper job came open, it was hers. It had been a long time coming. And she damn well deserved the job, too. She’d more than paid her dues.

A soft breeze carrying a hint of jasmine and ginger caressed her face, immediately calming her. She stopped, closed her eyes, and drew in a deep breath. The scents created the illusion of the rain forest. Tropical palms and a mist so light that she barely noticed added to the atmosphere. This was her Zen, her Chi.

The very first time she’d visited this part of the zoo, Callie had known she was meant to be here. Then, when Sheba arrived, she knew it for a fact. There was something special about the jaguar.

She opened her eyes and crossed the rustic bridge, then went around to the backside that was off limits to visitors.

The cats were in cages at night for safety reasons. A long row of them with a concrete roof and solid walls held the animals. The pens were small, but they connected to separate pits, as everyone at the zoo called them. The pits gave the animals a little more room to roam, and were more like their natural habitat. There were only two other cats at the small zoo. A mother lion and her cub were caged at the end of the row.

The zoo was family owned, and would never be able to compete with the bigger Fort Worth zoo, but this one was nice. At least it was until Mr. Campbell had retired and his son took over. Now, she wasn’t so sure. His son seemed more concerned with publicity and making money than the animals or people who worked at the zoo.

She slowed her approach, not wanting to startle the jaguar. Sheba was in the far corner of her cage, lying on a bed of fresh hay. “Hi, girl,” Callie kept her voice soft.

The big cat looked up, purring from deep in her throat, as if to welcome Callie. Callie knew not to get too close, even though Sheba was double caged at night. As much as she loved the cat, it was still a wild animal, and she respected that. But Sheba was so beautiful, her coat a rich reddish-brown with black spots.

There was something in the cat’s eyes that Callie could relate to, as though they were kindred spirits. Not that she would do more than think that thought. But Sheba didn’t have anyone, and neither did Callie. Two lonely souls. They had that in common.

“I brought you something.” A little extra meat. No biggie. She knew she wasn’t supposed to feed Sheba. It would be grounds for dismissal, but she hadn’t been able to resist. And Sheba loved the extra treats.

Sheba suddenly came to her feet, but rather than walk closer to Callie, as was her norm, she backed away. Her head swung to the left, then right, as though she sensed something wasn’t right.

Callie tensed. “What’s the matter, sweetie? Still upset about all the kids today?” But Callie didn’t think it was that. Visitors had never bothered Sheba in the past. No, the cat was acting really strange.

The sudden roar of a cat echoed through the zoo.

Callie’s blood ran icy cold as dread washed over her.

The noise hadn’t come from Sheba or the lion. The sound had come from the opposite direction.

And she knew something else. This cat was close. Close as in she-didn’t-stand-a-snowball’s-chance-in- hell-of-not-getting-eaten-alive close.

Stay calm.

Deep breath.

Yeah right, easier said than done.

Think, she had to think.

Her gaze searched the area. Nothing moved in the shadows. She could hear the guttural purr of the unknown cat, though. The sound coming from low in its throat.

Then padded steps.

Then silence.

Callie’s stomach churned as her gaze slowly moved up, inch by inch.

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