The Awakening Page 16

“You knew them?” Her green gaze locked with his, daring him to lie to her.

“I was a boy, but I remember them, the way they always touched each other and smiled at each other. They were truly wonderful people who always practiced what they believed no matter what the danger.”

Maggie glanced up into the trees, caught sight of the several frogs sitting openly on the leaves. Their eyes were huge, enabling the amphibians to hunt at night. Higher up, clinging to the branches of a tree, was a small tarsier with its round shiny eyes staring down at her. He looked like a fuzzy, huggable alien creature. Her mother and father had seen these little creatures just as she was seeing them, perhaps had stood under the same tree.

“Thank you for telling me about my parents, Brandt. I understand better why Jayne was afraid for me to come here to the forest. I used to talk about it all the time and she would get upset, even cry. I longed to come to the rain forest here and in South America and in Africa. When I became a veterinarian, it was with the idea that I would be working in the wild to preserve rare species.”

“Jayne Odessa witnessed the poachers murdering Lily. She had no idea of Lily’s heritage, that she was a shapeshifter.” Brandt took a breath, let it out, all the time watching her expression carefully for signs that she was rejecting the things he was revealing to her. “It must have been so frightening for Jayne to know that poachers would murder someone just because they tried to protect the animals. And then you had to grow up just like Lily, wanting to save exotic animals.”

He stroked her hair, the lightest of caresses, but the touch sent heat spiraling through her body. She ached for him but did her best to ignore it. Though he appealed to her on so many levels, she was leery of the sheer force of the attraction between them. “I may have inherited the tendencies from my birth mother but Jayne certainly influenced me, too. She surrounded herself with books and information on habitats and endangered species, supported the causes monetarily, and volunteered for all sorts of things. Of course some of her passion rubbed off on me.”

“Do you believe the other things I told you, Maggie?”

Brandt framed her face with his hands, bent his dark head toward hers as if he couldn’t bear the inches separating them. “Do you believe another species could exist? A species of shape-shifters? Do you believe you’re one of us?”

He was so close, so tempting, his golden eyes glittering with intensity. “I don’t know,” she answered carefully. “I guess it wouldn’t be all that difficult to prove.” There was a challenge in her voice.

“And have you run screaming from me?”

“I may run screaming from you anyway,” she pointed out with a small, self-mocking grin. She was watching his face, saw his sudden resolve, and her heart began beating overtime in her chest.

In the canopy overhead a monkey screamed; the flutter of wings told of birds taking flight. Brandt swung his head around quickly, alertly, his eyes suddenly flat and hard. “James! What are you doing here?”

Maggie looked in the direction Brandt was staring just as the wind shifted. She caught a vaguely familiar scent. She had smelled that presence a couple of times now, in the forest as she journeyed on her way to her parents’ home and then outside the house, near the verandah. She could barely make out the man hidden in the shadows.

“Just curious, Brandt.” The voice floated to them, almost a challenge.

Maggie instinctively moved closer to Brandt, feeling that odd “fur ruffled the wrong way” sensation she didn’t like. Brandt seemed to recognize her discomfort and circled her waist with his arm, drawing her beneath the protection of his shoulder. Before he could introduce the other man, James had melted into the bush.

Maggie held her breath, waiting, but she didn’t know for what.

Brandt left her side, tracking the other man into the foliage. When he returned he took her hand, drew her to him. “He’s gone. Don’t look so afraid.”

“Who is he?” Maggie asked.

“One of our people.” Brandt sounded grim. “One I would caution you to keep a distance from. He holds a fundamental belief that the rules apply to everyone but him.”

For no reason that Maggie could think of, she shivered violently. Her body held an aversion to the man who was hidden in the heavier foliage. Brandt immediately reacted, running his palms up and down her arms in a massage.

“Why do you touch me as if you have the right?” And why did she crave his touch? “You touch me as if it’s perfectly natural.” As if she belonged to him.

“Does it bother you so much?” His voice dropped an octave, became a husky seduction. The pad of his thumb slid over her full lower lip in a caressing stroke.

Her stomach did a flip of delight. “It bothers me because it feels…” She trailed off, her eyes locked with his. It felt right. Perfect. Exactly what she wanted. His mouth was a scant few inches from hers. The temptation of his perfectly sculpted lips was more than she could resist.

Maggie honestly didn’t know who moved first. She only knew there was magic in the brush of his mouth on hers. He was unexpectedly gentle, his lips moving over hers like the soft drift of the breeze. She felt his ravenous hunger, yet he touched her so tenderly, coaxing her response instead of demanding one. She pressed closer to him, circling her arms around his neck, needing the feel of his body against hers.

At once his lips firmed, hardened. He deepened the kiss, his hands sliding over the contours of her body, shaping her curves, dragging her closer. Brandt pushed the edge of her shirt up to give him access to bare skin. His palms found lace over her breasts, the thinnest skimming of materials to cover luscious treasure.

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