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Chapter 2

The Thrill of the Hunt

Glancing sideways at him, sitting there with the wind coming in through the car window ruffling his fur and that infuriating but charming smirk on his handsome face, she couldn't help but wonder at their relationship. His quip that she knew she loved him, had caught her by surprise. But even more surprising was her own response, “Do I know that? Yes, yes I do.” Before they'd had time to digest the implications, Flash had come roaring past, then Lance. In a way she was glad. Predator-prey relationships were fraught with peril, not the least of which was the near-total lack of social acceptance. She wasn't sure she wanted to talk about it just yet.

“Aside from carrying me around like a sack of potatoes, what about that thrill of the hunt thing?” she persisted. “Do you think there's anything to it?”

Nick could still smell her arousal. If anything it was growing stronger, but since it was obvious she didn't want to go there, he followed her lead. “Actually, darlin', I kinda do,” he drawled. “It makes sense in a way. We're civilized, but maybe not as evolved as we like to think, the way he said. Otherwise, the night howlers wouldn't have been able to affect us. Mister Big said pretty much the same thing too, remember? So yeah, the thrill of the hunt? I can see it.”

“The night howlers?” Judy frowned in cute puzzlement. “What have they got to do with it?” She stopped at a red light. Both of them automatically surveyed all the cars in the intersection for any defects or illegal modifications. Finding none, they turned back to their conversation as they waited for the light to change.

“Well, you know how it is, Fluff. Most drugs make mammals go crazy thinking they can fly, or beat their head on a wall, or babble like idiots, or whatever,” he reminded her. She nodded. Their training at the Academy had been very thorough when it came to the effects of illegal drugs. “But the night howlers are different,” he continued. The light changed and she pulled away. “They actually make mammals go completely savage like they never evolved at all; down on all fours, growling, snarling, can't talk or use their paws, completely out of control with mindless rage and hunger. It's a whole different ballgame.” He shook his head. “But how is that possible if we're so evolved like we've been taught?”

They were back in Savannah Central; she turned down a street at random, cruising around looking for trouble. “I see what you mean,” she agreed. “And the effects of most drugs wear off after a while, but with the night howlers they actually had to develop an antidote to bring the mammals back to themselves.”

“Exactly! So if we were really as evolved as they say we are, the night howlers shouldn't be able to affect us like that,” he concluded with a verbal flourish. She laughed at his mild conceit, then let go of the wheel for a moment to applaud him. He bowed, sitting down. “Thank you, thank you very much,” he said in his best imitation of an Elvis Presstley voice. He went on a moment later. “But since they do affect us, it means we're not as evolved as we think, which means we can still get carried away by the thrill of the hunt like Lance was talking about.” He forbore to mention he could smell her excitement, which further supported his conclusion.

Judy wondered what he was holding back. Bunny hearing was so sharp it was almost like a lie detector when they were this close to someone; picking up the little catches in a mammal's voice, the change in their heart rate, the way they breathed – all the little things that gave away the truthfulness, or lack thereof, of their words. Nick wasn't lying, but there was something he wasn't telling her, something that made his heart race. Was it something about her? About her declaration that she knew she loved him?

His nose twitched as he detected a sudden surge in pheromones in the car. He reflected on what might be exciting her. Could it be him?

They finished their shift in comfortable companionship, not realizing they were simply basking in each other’s presence. After returning to the station and finishing their paperwork for the day, they headed down to the employee parking garage. “Do you want to come over for dinner?” Judy asked him as they made the short drive to the Downtown Covington Arms.

“Sure,” he answered. “What's on the menu? You?” he said with an exaggerated leer.

She laughed. She parked the truck and they got out. “After we get changed I need to run down to the grocery store for a couple of things.”

“My shelves are a little bare too,” he smiled. “I'll go with you.”

She perked up. “That sounds a lot better than going by myself. Where's a good place to get fresh fish?” she asked as they rode the elevator to her floor. Although her parents liked to pretend they were strictly vegetarians, they'd never turned down fried catfish or the occasional rock cod. Just as predators had begun eating vegetables on a regular basis (witness Nick's fondness for blueberries), prey had taken to fish, and sometimes fowl, just as regularly. Over time their diets had converged until they were practically indistinguishable.

“Tundratown,” he answered without hesitation. “Fishtown Market has fresh fish every day. They get them from the fishing boats down on the docks each morning. It's different every day so you never know what they'll have.”

“Oooh,” Judy exclaimed as the elevator doors opened with a chime. “Sounds fun. Meet me in ten minutes and we'll head over there.”

“Fluff, I'll be ready before you are,” he challenged her with a smile.

“Ha!” she laughed. “You still have to go up another floor, and I'm already here!” She sprinted down the hall to her apartment.

Nick already had his tie off and his shirt unbuttoned when he reached his floor, then took two giant steps across the hall to his own apartment. He grinned to himself. She’d never actually been up to his apartment before and didn't realize his place was directly across from the elevator, while hers was at the far end of the hall on her floor. The contest was more even than she knew. He tossed his uniform shirt and tie aside as he came in the door, hopping down the short hall to his bedroom as he took off his pants and flung them in the general direction of the dirty clothes hamper; he didn't bother to check if they made it.

Judy peeled off her uniform with lightning speed. The whole time he'd been in the Academy, she'd been anticipating his arrival on the ZPD, when they could see each other every day and every night, instead of having to wait for the weekends. Now it was here, her heart was pounding like a kettle drum. She flung open her closet, all her new clothes neatly arranged in tidy rows on their hangers. One evening while Nick was at the Academy, she'd wandered down to the clothing district out of boredom and run into Fru Fru, Mister Big's daughter. After cooing over baby Judy, her goddaughter, she turned to leave but Fru Fru insisted on helping her shop for clothes. The expedition turned out so well it had become a once-a-week tradition, with the result that she now had an entire closet full of new clothes with which to dazzle Nick. She already knew what she wanted to wear today. She called it her Wizard of Ooze look.

Nick's clothing decisions were simplicity itself; he put on what he almost always did, green shirt, striped tie, and tan colored pants. He grabbed his keys and wallet and was out the door in a trice. His only concern was the elevator. If someone else was using it, he'd have to wait for it. Luck was with him though and the doors opened as soon as he pressed the button. He pumped his fist in the air. Yes! He skipped in and pressed the button for Judy's floor. He ignored the pounding of his heart, as well as the possible reasons for it. Never mind that, he told himself; just enjoy the moment.

The doors opened and Judy was standing there waiting. His eyes widened. She was wearing a white, off-the-shoulder peasant blouse, with a blue-and-white gingham dress over it. The silky material fell gracefully to just above her knees; not too short, but not too long either. There were ruby red bracelets around each ankle. She was like a vision from heaven. He shook his head. “You look like an angel.” She blushed and he realized he'd said it out loud. Oh well, he thought, in for a penny, in for a pound. He held out his arm for her. “You do look like an angel,” he reiterated as she placed a gentle paw on his arm and stepped into the elevator. The doors closed and she filled the tiny space with her wonderful scent. “And smell even better,” he added warmly.

The only thing she heard in his voice was the truth, wrapped in warm caring like a hot towel. She almost felt like she was bathing in his words. She shivered and cuddled next to him. When the doors opened on the lobby they strolled out, arm-in-arm. It wasn't until they reached the parking garage that they regretfully separated so she could drive.

Neither of them noticed the traffic camera down the street, peering directly into the glass-enclosed lobby of the building.

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