Wild At Heart

Wild At Heart Documentary maker Dan Masters is completely out of his comfort zone in outback Australia. Park ranger, Victoria Price, couldn’t be more at home in the wilderness. After Victoria saves Dan from the jaws of a ferocious crocodile, she can’t get away from him fast enough. But her amazing rescue has been filmed and when the film’s investors see the footage, they demand Dan do whatever it takes to get Victoria involved in the movie.

Format: eBook
ISBN: 9781743480724
Published: 10/01/2013
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1. Chapter One

 

Wild At Heart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

A desperate cry; a wordless noise that rose above the low chug of the boat’s engine. It broke off, the last notes echoing from the twisted mangroves snaking into the water. Victoria cut the engine and strained to hear.

‘Vic. Are you still there?’ Eddie’s voice sounded metallic through the speakers of the ancient CB radio.

She didn’t answer. The boat drifted in the current. Nothing.

Eddie again. ‘Vic. If I don’t hear a reply I’m coming there after you. Over.’ 

Victoria pressed the switch. ‘I’m here, Eddie. I thought I heard a yell. Human. Over.’

‘Do you think it might be the poachers?’ 

Another cry. Close. Urgent. The fine hairs on Victoria’s arms rose. The cry came upriver from a tributary to her left. She turned the key and the engine shattered the silence. Victoria slammed first gear and headed in. 

The water ran slow and black. Knotted branches dipped long fingers into the water

and scraped the side of the boat. A dank smell replaced the sweet air of the open waterway. Trees grew misshapen, limbs tangled from growing in condensed living spaces. The shadows surrounding the boat grew even darker. Victoria removed her sunglasses, her eyes quickly adjusting to the subdued light.

Victoria knew the Blackbend tributary well. It was a great breeding place for fish, a fantastic feeding site for crocs – and an even better location for poachers. A croc was the perfect punishment, only you didn’t get a chance at rehabilitation. 

There was a loud splash. Victoria whipped around in time to see a gnarled grey tail thrash the water and disappear. She spun the bow. The little craft launched through the reeds. Branches tugged, caught in her clothes. She ducked and gripped her hat. The bow slammed into a wall of earth.

Another pain-filled yell. Victoria grabbed her rifle and clambered to the bow, flicked off the safety clip, lifted the rifle to a firing position and held the butt hard against her shoulder, spinning in a tight arc. All she could see was a wall of tangled growth. She went still, breath rasping, waiting for movement. Anything.

‘Vic. What’s happening? Are you there?’ There was no time to answer.

She heard the sound of a car engine whining under the pressure of a too-low gear and loose stones thrown from beneath spinning tyres. Red tail-lights flickered behind the reeds. She glimpsed a well-known logo on the side of a white 4WD. Her eyes narrowed. It was Kevin March and his band of dodgy tour guides. Those men pretended they knew the land, but they were newcomers. In it for the money, they destroyed the wildlife she was paid to protect.

The croc’s tail appeared again, parting the reeds. Her breath wadded tight. It was Big Mama, a huge and ancient croc, queen of this area. 

She was shaking a man by his leg.

The man clung to a branch above his head. With his free leg, he kicked the snout of the giant croc. Her teeth were locked tight on his foot as she whipped her head from side to side. As Victoria watched, one of the man’s hands slipped. He bared his teeth and with a strength brought on by pure adrenaline hauled his arm back to grip the branch. Victoria clawed the low hanging undergrowth, hauling the craft towards the man. She heard a shout.

‘Dan. Hang on. I’m coming! A skinny red-haired man leapt from the reeds, locked his hands around the man’s waist and pulled. Of all the stupid things to do! It’d only serve to anger the croc and she would have two thick-skulled victims, instead of just one.

Dan yelled something inaudible. Pain-ridden. Desperate.

The croc turned onto its side. The man’s leg twisted with the roll, contorting his body. The sinews on his arms strained and bulged. He pulled his lips back, baring his teeth, breath hissing.

He didn’t have much time.

Victoria acted fast. She aimed the rifle and squeezed the trigger, careful not to hit either man. Dirt spat to the side of the creature, but not enough to scare it from the nest. She aimed and fired again. No reaction from the croc. Victoria cursed. She needed to get closer.

She unclipped the oar from the inside hull and leapt over the bow. Landing, her boots sunk into thick mud. She scrambled to the croc’s head, lifted the oar high and slammed it onto its skull.

The croc whipped about, hissing, revealing long irregular rows of razor-sharp teeth. She slung the oar again. It landed with a dull thud against the solid amour of skin. With surprising speed, the croc turned its huge frame, slipped through the reeds and into the water. Waves splashed as Big Mama submerged herself and disappeared.

The red-haired man slumped as his knees buckled. She saw no blood on him. No damage done. 

Victoria threw the oar aside and knelt by Dan. He looked a lot worse off than the red-haired man. He gasped for breath, a spread-eagled lump. The boot that Big Mama had clamped on was surprisingly intact. There were rough gashes in the soles, but none went through the thick leather. She carefully slipped off his boot, checking for damage.

‘You must have some guardian angel watching over you. She must’ve had her teeth stuck in the laces instead of your foot. They’re completely shredded,’ Victoria said. Dan watched her, his face blank.

Victoria flicked her knife from her belt and slit open the laces of his other boot. ‘No blood on your feet. No bones poking through your skin. That’s a good sign,’ she murmured.

It was a promising start, but she still had to act quickly. Croc attacks were vicious. Even if the victim was lucky enough to get away, death from loss of blood was the next danger.

‘I’m going to check your legs for damage.’ Still nothing from him.

She slipped the blade under the cuff of his pants and ripped the material open all the way to his underwear, revealing toned legs. She patted his legs gently, swiftly. ‘You’re lucky. No open wounds here. I need to make sure the rest of you hasn’t been hurt.’

She exposed his stomach and torso and felt for wounds through the veneer of mud, probing his hips, his flat stomach and across his chest. Firm muscles slid beneath her touch. She reached his shoulders and she noticed a tear in his shirt, blood was beginning to seep through the material.

‘Do you always offer a massage after a rescue?’

‘What?’ 

At first his words didn’t filter into her adrenaline-charged brain. Then, as the flippant remark sank in, she realised he was more shaken than hurt. She sat on her haunches, flicking mud from her hands as a simmering anger cooled her concern. ‘Nothing but a scratch. You

are the luckiest man alive. Alive being the operative word. I should be reaching for cable ties, the way you treated that croc.’

‘The croc – where’d it go?’ he asked.

‘She’ll be back. And there’ll be no warning.’ Her gaze roamed over him. It was hard to see the colour of his now-ripped clothes or the tone of his skin through the layer of mud. 

 ‘Wait a minute. You okay, Harry?’ With a groan the man peered over his shoulder at the red-haired man.

Harry patted his chest. He smiled and fell backwards with a sigh. ‘Yeah. I’m fine.’

‘What about the others? Where are they?’ 

‘If it’s Kevin March, you’re talking about, he left about five minutes ago, headed in that direction,’ Victoria said, throwing a pointed finger away from them. ‘You won’t be seeing them any time soon.’

A young, sandy-haired man pushed through the reeds holding a rod with a carpeted bulge on the end. ‘They ran off! Can you believe – hell, what’s happened to you?’

‘I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck,’ Dan said, his voice hoarse and pain-filled.

‘It’s a good thing the sole of your boot is so thick. It’s saved your foot. She would’ve ripped it off in an instant if she’d had a better hold. You’re lucky to have gotten away from her so easily’

‘What was that?’ The sandy-haired man spoke to her.

‘Just Big Mama. She’s big, old and grumpy. One of the most vicious crocs around here.’

 ‘Big Mama? You have a name for that thing?’ Dan’s eyes shone brightly out of his mud-streaked face. There were alluvial golden flecks mixing in the deep green depths.

‘That thing, as you put it, was protecting her nest.’ Victoria saw spot of pale white through the debris, disturbed by the man’s thrashing around. She gasped, horrified.

‘Crocodile eggs! I hope you haven’t broken any.’

‘Eggs!’ He half sat, then dropped to the ground with a wet splat. ‘She just about ripped me limb from limb and you’re worried about eggs.’

‘Small price to pay.’

‘Small price!’ This time he propped himself up on his elbows, wincing with effort. His biceps bulged beneath clinging wet material. Victoria noted broad shoulders, toned arms and a well-developed chest. The golden flecks in his eyes glinted. ‘I can see compassion is not one of your strong points.’

‘I give compassion when it’s due. If this were an accident, sure, I’d be all over you, but you came here on a path of destruction and you got what you deserved. I should’ve let Big Mama have her way with you, but I don’t want her nest more destroyed than it already is.’

‘I’m all for women having their way, but she attacked me. This wasn’t something that was planned. I was told being here at this time of day was going to be completely safe.’ He raised mud-caked eyebrows. The hairs looked brown beneath the muddy veneer, but she wasn’t sure. He had a remarkably familiar face, but she couldn’t put her finger on where she’d seen him.

‘A croc’s instinct for the survival of their species is to aggressively protect their young. They’re not cute little bunnies. They’re crocs, with big teeth, thick skin, prehistoric tendencies and bad tempers. There is no safe time,’ Victoria said. ‘Now get up, I’m taking you to the station. You can make your statement there,’ she said.

‘Station? I thought you were here to rescue me.’

‘I’m here to protect crocodiles, not fools.’

‘Hey, wait a minute… I wasn’t!… Wait… Harry! Show her what we’re doing here,’ he demanded.

‘The camera!’ Harry gasped. He wobbled over to clump of reeds and stooped to pick up a large black box. Victoria recognised a very new, expensive mud-splattered camera. He flicked a switch at the back and let out a yelp, his face flushed and glowing. ‘That croc moved fast, but I’m faster! We’ve got it, Dan. I’ve shot it all.’

  ‘Get up. I’m taking both you and Dirty Harry here back to the station before Big Mama has a second chance to rip you apart. It’s an offence to poach crocodile eggs, not to mention as stupid as hell. Now move. Or do I have to pick you up and haul you in myself?’ Victoria shook her head in astonishment, mentally rolling her eyes.

‘I can’t move.’

‘Why?’ Victoria demanded.

‘You’re a crook shot, lady,’ Dan let out a heavy sigh, reaching for his shoulder. ‘The only reason you had to bash that croc over the head is because you missed it and shot me instead.’

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