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Chapter 1

"Chris, how long is this going to take?" asked the woman as she walked along with the man at her side. They were arm in arm, with the sun just getting low in the horizon. "It's getting late, we don't want to be wandering out after dark."

Crime had become something of an issue in their neighborhood, the park they were in was especially renowned for muggers and the like that emerged once that sun had finished setting. He pulled her closer from the side and whispered in her ear, "Not that much farther, just there." He pointed ahead to a bench directly under a light that had just come on.

She stepped away from him, gaining speed as she moved to inspect the seat. She saw nothing unusual about it or the lamp it was under and turned to look at him quizzically.

"Jewel," he said, nudging her gently to sit down, then kneeling in front of her, "We've been seeing each other for a long time, and I've been thinking."

She laughed and reached to push at him, but he warded away her hands."Chris, what's gotten into you, and what are you asking that we couldn't talk about somewhere warmer?"

"It's important," he insisted, taking her hands into one of his larger ones as the other fished in a pocket, "Jewel, you're the only one for me. I can't even imagine being with anyone else. Will you stick with me? Will you marry me." He drew out the box.

With only one hand supporting it, the small velvet case wobbled dangerously a moment, then tipped, clattering to the ground. Chris swore and reached for it with both hands as Jewel gasped. He presumed it was out of surprise at his proposal. He was wrong. He looked back up at her and her face was pale and she was shaking. What a response!, he thought to himself, I hope that's a yes.

She lifted a hand and pointed past him. He was confused, and turned to see what she was gawking at. There, at the edge of the light coming down was a strange creature. It was like a cat, with four great black paws and a sleek body, but it did not end where it should. Instead of a head, a torso went up to large beasts, then a slender neck, a feline face. It, she? The cat was looking at them quite intensely.

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