The Awakening Page 11

She shook her head, dragged in a lungful of air to regain a semblance of control. She wanted to go home, far from the influence of the jungle, of the heat. “I don’t know what’s happening, but if this is the way this place affects me, I don’t want to be here.”

He was suffocating, reason gone, the world spinning madly. Brandt battled his savage nature, the fierce primitive need and hunger as elemental as time. She was frightened, unaware of her legacy. He needed to remember that at all times. Maggie couldn’t get away from him, it was too late for her. He had to court her, persuade her gently, coax her into accepting her inevitable fate. The urgent demands of his body could not be allowed to destroy the fragile thread between them.

“Maggie.” He used his voice shamelessly, a blend of temptation and heat. “The forest is calling to you, that’s all it is. Nothing else. You haven’t done anything wrong. You haven’t offended me. I don’t want you to be afraid of me. Are you? Have I frightened you in some way?”

She was more afraid of herself than she was of him. She shook her head, unwilling to speak, the masculine scent of him nearly overwhelming.

“You want to know about your parents, don’t you, and all the work they did with endangered species? They were legends in their own way with the progress they made.” Brandt felt the tension began to slowly dissolve in her body. “Let me tell you about your parents, because, believe me, they were two very extraordinary people. Did you know that they protected the animals here? That without them, poachers would have succeeded in killing off the sun bear? That’s only one of their triumphs. They made it their life’s work to protect rare endangered animals. Your mother was much like you, with a smile that could light up a room. Your father was a strong man, a leader. He lived here, in this house, and he took over his father’s job of protecting the rain forest. Each year it has gotten more difficult. Poachers are bold and they have tremendous firepower.”

As he felt the apprehension drain from her, Brandt slowly released her, turned away from the danger the close proximity of her body presented. Her breasts were heaving with every breath she drew in, dragging his gaze to the firm, tempting mounds he longed to touch. He had feasted his gaze on her body, knew the swelling curves were a creamy invitation to sheer soft satin. Her heat fired his blood, and the scent of her aroused him to a painful need, his jeans stretched taut, his body in rebellion against the dictates of his brain.

Maggie’s hand trembled as she gripped the counter to support her rubbery legs. She wanted to hear every word he had to say with regard to her parents. “What do you mean, without my parents poachers would have succeeded in killing off the sun bear?” She made every effort to sound normal. She knew he had to think she was psychotic, one moment trying to seduce him, the next clawing at him.

“With deforestation, plantations, and poachers encroaching every day, the sun bear, like many other animals, are in a tremendous decline and have been for a number of years. Your parents recognized the immediacy of concern.”

“Why are poachers after the sun bear?” She was genuinely interested. Maggie had worked hard to learn about endangered wildlife, drawn to the cause from the first time she had seen a large cat.

“Several reasons. It is the smallest of all bears and is marketed as a pet. The largest it gets is about a hundred forty pounds, very small for a bear. And the bear is beautiful with a crescent-shaped yellow or white mark across its chest. It’s really the only true bear living in our rain forest, and we don’t want to lose it.”

“My parents were game wardens? Is that what you do?” Somehow the idea of Brandt being a game warden was even more appealing. She persisted in seeing him as a hunter, yet in truth he was a protector of the creatures in the forest and a poet at heart.

He nodded. “All of us in the village have dedicated our lives to the preservation of the forest and the trees, plants, and animals dwelling in it. Your parents had two particular animals they fought to preserve, and eventually it killed them.”

Her heart beat into the silence. “What killed them?”

“Poachers, of course. Your parents were too successful at what they did. Parts of the sun bear are worth a fortune.” Brandt sat at the table and picked up his mug of tea, wanting to set her at ease.

“Parts?” Her eyebrows shot up. She frowned at him, rubbing at her arms. She was itching again. That strange, uncomfortable feeling of something moving beneath her skin was back. “Poachers sell off parts of the bear? Is that what you’re telling me?”

“Unfortunately, yes. The gallbladder is especially popular for medicine. And in some places the conversion of forest habitat to plantations of oil palm have put an even larger price on their heads. Because the bears don’t have their natural foods, they feed on the heart of the oil palm and destroy the trees. Naturally the plantation owners pay money to have the bears hunted and destroyed.” Brandt watched her closely, following the movement of her hands as her palms rubbed back and forth along her arms.

“That’s horrible.”

“Leopards are disappearing as well.” His voice was fierce now. “We cannot allow the leopards to become extinct. Already the numbers are dwindling at an alarming rate. Once these species are lost to us, we cannot recover them. We owe it to them, to ourselves, and to our children to preserve these animals.”

Maggie nodded. “I’ve certainly done research in the area of saving habitats and I know the necessity, Brandt, but if it killed my parents all those years ago, I would think the danger would be even greater now.”

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