You have thought that after Skull Island, Captain James Conrad would have stayed out of the jungle. Hahaha, you would, wouldn’t you? Any sane person would have. But, no. Conrad and Weaver signed on to Monarch. They’d gone from Skull Island to the desert to mountains. Anywhere Monarch deemed their expertise necessary. They made a great team. Them, Brooks and San. They believed in the work. They believed in the protection of creatures like Kong. They believed humans could co-exist with these monstrous creations of nature, like the Ewe had on Skull Island.
The boat looked like something out of an old black and white movie. Monarch had wanted to bring in a newer, better, more sound boat but the local governments had all said no. This is what they could find that was big enough to accommodate their team: Conrad, the tracker; Weaver the photographer; Brooks and San, the scientists; three mercenary security guards; and a Monarch big wig.
“Daddy, listen, as soon as this boat leaves the dock, I’m going radio silent.” Conrad could hear the man on the other end of the satellite phone shouting. “Shout all you want, it won’t change anything. Don’t you trust the men you hired to protect me and your team?” She cocked her hips to side and raised an eyebrow, looking out over the swirling brown water. “If anything happens, I will call. I call promise. Your men survived the Vietnamese jungle and your team survived Skull Island. A little Amazonian excursion should be a cake walk for them. I love you. Let me prove to the board why you put me in this position.”
Conrad and Weaver had been watching her talk on the phone. She’d defused a notoriously explosive executive with a few simple logical sentences and then HUNG UP ON HIM. They expected her to have packed like the little rich girl she was. She hadn’t. She’d packed a full military duffel and nothing else. She’d dressed practically as well. Khaki camp shirt with a white undershirt underneath, not unlike what Weaver wore now and loose fitting BDU shorts that. Her hair was pulled up into a messy bun so Conrad couldn’t tell exactly how long it was. But he subconsciously licked his lips, imagining it as long as her legs and both wrapped around him.
“Hey.” Weaver elbowed him in the side.
He cleared his throat. “What? Sorry.”
“I said, she’s not what we’d expected.”
“No, definitely not.”
She turned around and smiled. Both of them swallowed. Fuck, she was beautiful. “Conrad! Weaver! Excellent, now we can get underway.” She extended her hand to both of them. A firm handshake. She knew her worth and didn’t try to impress or compensate. Weaver liked her immediately. “Katrine Bailey, my father spoke highly of you both and your work on Skull Island. It’s a pleasure. If you’ll follow me, we can be off.”
“What about Brooks and San?”
“Already on board, I believe they’ve commandeered the state room for work purposes.” She grinned and tucked her tongue between her teeth, waggling her eyebrows. Weaver burst out laughing. “There’s only a few rooms left. We might have to bunk together.”
“And you’re alright slumming with the crew?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?” She slung her duffel over her shoulder as Conrad reached for it and hustled up the gangplank. “Javier! Los dos ultimos han llegao. Vamonos.”
Conrad looked out over the Amazon River. A creature once worshipped as a god still lived in these waters. As well as anaconda and crocodiles, even some tiger sharks, piranha and other carnivorous fish and parasites. They were given express instructions in their briefing not to go into the water without wet suits and not to go anywhere, land or water, alone.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” He glanced over his shoulder at Katrine.
“But then, I guess when you’ve seen one jungle, you’ve seen them all.”
“Yes and no.” He turned to lean against the railing to face her. “I’m sure there’s wildlife here that isn’t in Vietnam and vice versa. And I don’t believe anything here could survive on Skull Island.”
“Except the god we’re searching for.”
He chuckled. “Perhaps.”
“You know what I think?” He turned away from her. “I think it’s a man.”
“Yes, the reports say it walks on two legs but has hands or paws like a crocodile or alligator. I assume it breathes through gills.”
“I thought you weren’t a scientist.”
“I’m not.” She leaned her back against the rail. “I just love monsters.” She looked up into the sky. “My mother used to tell me stories. Fairy tales and version of the old classic horror novels. My father, he’s the skeptic.”
“Zachary Baily is a skeptic.”
“Oh absolutely. He’s devoted his life to Monarch in an effort to be proved wrong. Sometimes is, sometimes he isn’t.”
“And you? Are you a skeptic or a believer?”
“Oh Captain, I’m definitely a believer.”
It had taken them two days to get far enough up river to be where they wanted. They’d stopped to collect samples and other scientific data. Weaver got to some great pictures. Conrad and Katrine (Kat) continued to discuss Monarch’s monsters.
“You’re not what I was expecting when the briefing said ‘Monarch executive’.”
She adjusted her sunglasses and leaned back. Sweat made her clothes cling to her. Conrad was a professional but he was still a man. And fuck, if she wasn’t the tastiest thing he’d seen in a long time. She had a confident ease about her. In some ways, she reminded him of Weaver, but she wasn’t like anyone he’d ever encountered.
“I didn’t want to be. But Daddy paid for college and surprisingly my thesis wasn’t laughed out of the building. It helped that I made it based on a literary degree instead of a scientific one.” She watched him behind the sunglasses. Was he aware that he was looking at her like he wanted to devour her alive? Her lush lips curved into a smirk.
“What was your thesis?”
“That humanity uses monsters as a way to deal with thoughts and emotions they cannot understand. Lovecraft, though a raging fucking bigot, is the perfect example. He used the fear of the unknown to express his thoughts and opinions. We all know that Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein as some self-therapy for her inability to carry a child. Red riding hood was to worn young girls coming into womanhood of the dangers of strange men.”
“And Monarch recruited you?”
She laughed, rolling onto her side. “Oh Heavens no. My father knows of my love of monsters and creatures. He’s been grooming me to join the company since I was a child. The board of directors, however.” She sighed and rolled back onto her back. “They feel that I am a product of nepotism. And they’re not wrong. But it doesn’t mean I don’t deserve my position within the company.”
The engine made a strangle sound before the boat lurched to a stop. The momentum knocked her off their perch. She tried to catch herself from going over the side. “Kat!”
She had a moment of freefall before she hit the water. The crew joined Conrad at the railing, shouting for her. It took her a moment to gather her bearing before she broke the surface, spitting up brown water. “I’m alright!” Conrad had unbuckled his holster and pulled his shirt off.
The shouts grew louder, the Spanish running together so she couldn’t translate. They began pointing behind her. That’s when she saw the narrow snouts of a pair of crocodiles gliding through the water in her direction. She began swimming for the boat. There was a splash.
“Conrad! Wait!” Weaver rolled her eyes in exasperation.
He wasn’t going to make it in time. She could feel the water move with the swift swimming of the reptiles. She braced herself for the attack, for the pain, drawing in as deep a breath as she could so she could fight back underwater as long as she could.
Conrad felt something move underneath him. Was it another animal trying to head the crocodiles off? He watched in horror as the crocodiles slipped below the surface. He saw the fear on her face. She took a deep breath then nothing happened. She paused and disappeared under the water.
Nothing prepared her for what she saw in the murky river. A man! A man with frilly gills and clawed, webbed hands, wrestling not one but two crocodiles! Her sense of self-preservation won out and she resurfaced. Conrad grabbed her from behind.
“I saw it!”
“Let’s get out of the water.” She didn’t have to be told twice. They swam back to the boat. The guards and crew helping them back aboard. They covered them both in blankets.
“I saw it.” She shivered, despite the heat of the day. Adrenaline gave her the shakes. “I saw it.”
“You saw what?”
“The creature. The gill man. He-he saved me.” She looked at the water then she looked back at Conrad. “You came for me.”
He blushed. “It was nothing.”
Kat grabbed the front of his blanket and crashed her lips against his. He stiffened then returned the kiss, resting his hands on her shoulders. The longer the kiss continued, his hands moved further up. To her neck, her jaw and finally into her hair. When they broke the kiss, they were the only two sitting on the starboard side of the boat.
She swallowed. “Thank you.”
“You’re-you’re welcome.” Conrad let his hands slip from her hair.
From the cursing in the Spanish, she could tell they were going to be here for a bit. She stood up and dropped the blanket. “Come on, Captain Conrad. I think I need to thank you properly for saving my life.” She headed below deck, tossing her wet shirt at him.
Conrad caught it then looked down at it. Weaver’s laughed made him look up. “You better hurry.” He grinned, not needing to be told twice. He dropped the blanket, followed after her. Her surprised scream and laughter made Weaver shake her head. “Finally.” She snapped a picture of what appeared to be a man covered in scales like the crocodiles. “Their sexual tension was killing me.”