It’s finally here! Today’s the official release of my mmweretiger romance, Forest of Thorns and Claws, set in the jungles of Sumatra and featuring Dr. Donovan McGinnis, a British veterinarian and animal conservationist, and Kersen, a local who also happens to be a tiger shifter.
You can follow the blog tour here, and don’t forget to comment on the tour posts to win a $15 gift card at Riptide!
Day One Blog posts:
Donovan McGinnis, a veterinarian and conservationist at a research center in Sumatra, is fighting to save the rainforest from poachers and politicians alike. One day he discovers a tigress trapped by a snare, and while treating her injuries, she bites him. He becomes ill with strange symptoms that leave him feverish and dreaming of the jungle and blood.
Kersen and his family are part of the Siluman harimau, a clan of tiger shifters hidden away in a secret village near the rainforest. When Kersen’s sister is caught, he knows he must free her before she infects someone with their magic and reveals their secret.
But Donovan has already been turned, and only time will tell if he can control the tiger within. Kersen must help him, but will the fierce attraction between the pair bring ruin to them all? With the rainforest under threat from outside forces, they may be doomed anyway, unless Kersen and Donovan can find a way to defeat the danger from inside and out.
Gunung Leuser National Forest, Sumatra
May 14, 2013
Donovan McGinnis paused to wipe the sweat from his brow with his camouflage T-shirt, then peered through a dense curtain of strangler fig. Ahead of him, sunlight highlighted a small clearing in the rainforest. Behind him, three men, all members of the Tiger Conservation and Protection Rangers, held still and listened. They were kilometers into the rainforest—about two and a half hours away from their base camp near the village of Ketambe. It was important to keep quiet and tread carefully. Here in the jungle, wild animals weren’t the worst threat.
Worst were the poachers and their cleverly hidden snares.
This was the front line of an epic battle, but not one that most of the world was aware of. Every day, Donovan and his men fought to preserve what little rainforest was left on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, home to some of the rarest creatures on Earth. A lot of people didn’t even know that there was such a thing as a Sumatran elephant or rhinoceros. The orangutans tended to draw the tourists, and their population was in better shape. But the most endangered of all was the creature he loved best.
The Sumatran tiger.
“Stay there,” Donovan whispered. Amin, his best tracker, nodded and signaled to the other men. Amin was in his early twenties, beardless as many of the locals near the jungle tended to be, with short black hair and brown skin. He wore cargo shorts and a dark-brown T-shirt, the better to blend in with the dark undergrowth of the rainforest. He was Donovan’s lead assistant at the research center.
Slowly, Donovan parted the vines and stepped into the clearing. Moving cautiously, he searched through a cluster of orchids on the forest floor, alert for signs of disturbance. High over their heads, leaves rustled, perhaps with the wind.
The jungle was quiet today. That wasn’t a good thing.
Using a long collapsible walking stick, he poked the underbrush, noting broken stems and vines which appeared to have been arranged. It didn’t take long for him to find something—a thin, braided rope beneath a cluster of vines. A taut line and a loop was a classic tiger snare. The poachers were here, all right. At least this one was empty. With deft fingers, Donovan felt for the trigger and deactivated it, breathing easier once it was done.
“Found a snare.” He waved for the others to come forward. They gathered up the pieces to throw into the evidence bag, as Amin logged the location.
“That’s eight you’ve uncovered so far today.” Amin sounded impressed. He took the bag once Donovan was done with it, handing it back to one of the porters.
Donovan sighed. Not yet sundown, and already so many traps. The poachers were getting more desperate—only about a hundred tigers were left in this particular forest, and the forest itself was being gnawed away by coffee and palm oil planters. The big corporations funneled money to the nearby farmers in the hopes they’d do the dirty work of clearing the forest and planting the illegal crops. Most of the time, the provincial government turned a blind eye. Sometimes trying to combat it all felt like a hopeless task. In fact, tomorrow he’d be over in Blangkejeren to testify against a paper company trying to take even more of the supposedly protected national park.
But despite the conflicts between the local government and conservationists like himself, Donovan loved Sumatra and this area in particular. The jungle was magical to him. The locals believed there was actual magic in the area and called this forest “Hutan Duri dan Cakar,” which translated into “Forest of Thorns and Claws.” The thorns referred to actual thorns in the plant life. Enduring the prick of such thorns was said to bring health and long life.
He kept hoping for a glimpse of the claws today. Claws of the tigers, that was.
Using the walking stick for support, Donovan stood. “Eight, right. I think we’ve cleared this area. We’ll keep moving toward the west. Stay quiet. We could still run into whoever’s setting these things.”
The fact that the jungle was so quiet worried him. Even the birds and monkeys were keeping clear of this area, which meant there was probably a large predator somewhere nearby. It might be a man. As they began walking, Donovan kept a hand near his rifle, strapped to his shoulder. Vines and ferns brushed his bare legs; it was too humid to wear trousers out here, so he did as the locals did and wore long shorts instead. Also plenty of mosquito repellent.
They’d been walking for maybe fifteen minutes when he heard something thrashing in the dense undercover ahead. Donovan signaled his team to be silent and brought out a pair of binoculars. With a sinking feeling, he tried to spot the source through young teakwood trees and bird of paradise plants.
A frantic yowl confirmed his fears. That sound could only come from a large cat.
“Get the tranq gun ready! I’m moving in closer to see how badly it’s been trapped.” Donovan was no longer concerned about noise. If it was a young tiger, its mother would have already been on them; therefore it had to be a solitary animal.
He kept watch for more snares as he crept closer. Branches swayed maybe twenty meters off, but he still couldn’t see the animal. This wasn’t good; it meant the tiger was probably rolling on the ground, perhaps injured. “Radio the home station,” he told Evan, one of the junior rangers and a conservationist from Germany. “We may be bringing this one back with us.”
Evan quietly began to report the incident to the rehabilitation center as Amin handed Donovan the tranquilizer gun. Donovan checked his watch. They were going to need reinforcements for an extraction. There goes the rest of the day.
“Hang back for now. Once it goes down, I’ll need everyone to help me free the animal.” Donovan gripped the gun in one hand and tucked his collapsible walking stick into his backpack’s side pocket. As he drew closer, he focused on where the snarls and growls pierced the jungle. It was a positive sign that the tiger was making so much noise. A noisy tiger was a live one.
Crouching low, he climbed over a dead branch, then rounded a large rubber tree and finally spotted the animal in a clump of tall reeds. The tiger’s orange and black coat showed clearly through the foliage as the creature flailed, its left front paw trapped by the cruel rope of the snare. The tiger snarled in anguish.
It was a small specimen, most likely a female. There was blood where the snare had cut into the animal’s paw, probably also cutting off circulation. Yeah, they’d want to keep this one overnight, in case she had broken bones or damaged ligaments. Females were particularly important to the breeding pool; this one appeared to have just reached maturity, making her vital to their conservation efforts.
The tiger yowled and licked at the injury, her muzzle red with her own blood. Poor thing. I wonder how long she’s been here.
Donovan raised the tranquilizer gun, and lined up the tiger in his sights. He hoped the poachers weren’t close. It would be Evan’s job to keep Amin and the porters safe while Donovan aided the tiger.
His finger grazed the trigger, ready to fire, when a low growl to his left made him pause. That’s not the snared tiger. Slowly, Donovan lowered the rifle. He glanced at a dense thicket of reeds to his left.
A pair of yellow eyes stared back at him.
Fear paralyzed Donovan’s limbs, and his heart pounded. This was a bigger tiger, with a well-defined scruff around the face, which suggested a young male. He stared at the animal, unable to break eye contact as it silently watched him. It was a gorgeous beast, with an unusual swirling of marks on one shoulder. The power in that gaze was electric. And dangerous.
One pounce: that was all it would take for the tiger to kill him, and a grown tiger could leap about eight meters. Donovan glanced at Evan, who was still on the phone with the center. The rest of the team hadn’t noticed the tiger yet; the foliage was in the way. He could try to tranq this animal as well. But then they’d have two tigers to deal with.
When he looked back, the second tiger was gone.
Shit. No help for it—I’d better warn them.
“There’s another tiger—watch out! I’m going to try and put the first one to sleep,” Donovan called back to Amin. No point in being quiet now; the louder they were, the more likely they’d scare away the extra animal.
Saying a prayer, Donovan raised the rifle again. He zoomed in on the fleshy part of the tiger’s shoulder as she rested for a moment, panting. With a muffled pop, the dart buried itself into the flesh, the red tufted end sticking out. The tiger yowled and lurched to her feet, and then curled in on herself, trying to chew at the rope. But it was useless. The poachers used a tightly woven nylon cord, and the tiger’s big fangs, so good at crushing bones and cutting arteries, were just too unwieldy to get through it. The cord would only cut her lips and gums.
“Tiger should be down in five minutes. Where’s our backup?” Donovan scanned the jungle. No sign of the other tiger. Muttering, he strode back to Evan and took the radio headset, putting it to his ear. “Roark? We’re bringing a young adult female in with us.”
Roark was an old friend of his—he’d met Roark while in London at university, where they’d both studied biology and ecology. Donovan liked to hike through the rainforest and get dirty, but Roark preferred managing the rehabilitation center.
“Yeah, I heard you. There’s a team heading your direction, but it’ll take them at least an hour. You think you can keep it under until then? Perhaps make a stretcher of some kind?”
It was impossible for them to move the tiger any other way. “We’d better. There’s another tiger nearby—possibly a sibling. The good news is the five of us should be able to carry the one we found.”
“If you can, then get out of there. You’re taking the Punjab trail? I can meet you along it on your trek back with some guys to help get you to the truck.”
Good enough. There were days Donovan wished for superpowers, to fly or sense enemies nearby. Or his very own satellite camera to spy for him. “The poachers might be in the area as well. I’m hoping not close enough to realize they’ve caught something. Warn the men to keep their guns ready.”
“I’ll do that. Have you had a chance to examine the animal yet?”
Donovan glanced over at the tiger, who was sitting, panting hard. Soon now. It swayed, eyes drooping. “Not yet. I’ll call to let you know if we need anything.”
“Brilliant. Keep me updated. We’ll prepare a holding pen for it. Hopefully it won’t need to stay long. Our budget’s tight enough for this month. The province seems to forget we’re a nonprofit organization.” Roark’s crisp London accent made him sound cheerful, even though Donovan knew this stuff worried him.
Donovan’s anger rose when he thought about funding and provincial politics. “Plus we’ve got the bloody hearing to attend tomorrow. Damned government and their greed.” There was a soft thump as the tiger tried to stand up and fell over instead, succumbing to the drug. “Have to go. Over and out.” He switched off the radio, returning it to Evan. “Try to put some kind of stretcher together—I have some spare tarp in my bag. And stay here until I give the okay to come closer.”
With that, Donovan approached the snared tiger, coming within three meters of it. The panting had subsided into deep breathing, and the tiger’s eyes were closed. Good. He scanned the nearby brush, looking for its companion, but the jungle was still quiet, and would probably remain so until all the humans and predators were out of the area.
Cautiously, Donovan pulled out his walking stick, stepping forward again. He extended it and poked the sleeping tiger in the side. No response. Nodding to himself, he put the aluminum walking stick back, then reached into his backpack for his veterinary kit, which included a simple ear thermometer, gauze, medical tape, and stethoscope. Crouching beside the tiger, he listened to its heartbeat. Steady and slow. Just as it should be.
Next he listened to its lungs, checked the rolled-back eyes, the teeth, tongue, and then moved to check the animal’s injuries. The tiger was indeed female, sexually mature but young, and he didn’t think it had ever given birth before. It looked to be in excellent health, except for the snare around the left forepaw, digging cruelly into the flesh. Bright blood marred the white fur, dripping onto the forest floor. If he didn’t work fast, they’d soon have ants and other nasties to deal with.
He used a knife to cut the main line of the snare, then safety shears to carefully cut the cording from the wounds. She’d likely pulled a muscle or two while struggling. Once the cords were cut, he disinfected the wound and applied a bandage to it. That would have to do for now. He didn’t think any bones had been broken. They’d know more after the animal woke up and began walking around.
“Let’s get out of here,” he said, as Amin ventured near with the makeshift stretcher. It wouldn’t get them back to the center, but it should work until they met up with the other team. The porters set the contraption by the tiger’s head, eyeing her nervously. Donovan waved them out of the way and went to stand next to her head, smiling at the way her tongue lolled. “Evan, we’ll each grab a leg and drag her on. Don’t worry. She’s out cold.”
Together, they pulled the two-hundred-and-fifty-pound tigress forward, enough so that her front half was on the stretcher.
Donovan adjusted the tiger so that her front paws were somewhat secured to the stretcher. It was going to be awkward, but they’d make do. “All right, everyone. Help me pull her. Pay attention to her eyes. If she starts to come to, I’ll need to dose her again.” He’d probably need to at least once, but it was risky using too much sedative on a big cat. No telling how they’d react.
As they began the laborious chore of dragging the tiger back to the center, Donovan felt the itch between his shoulder blades that meant somebody was watching them. When he looked, however, all he saw was the forest.