The Awakening Page 17

His touch sent fire racing through her blood. It shook her that she could have such a reaction, such an overwhelming need. A tremor ran through her body, and she stiffened slightly, something deep within her still fighting.

He abruptly pulled his mouth away from hers, his hands lingering on her breasts, his forehead resting on hers. There was the sheen of sweat on his skin and his breathing was ragged, his body fiercely aroused. “We can’t stay here alone like this, Maggie. I don’t have nearly the control I thought I did.” He kissed her again. Gently. Persuasively. “Unless you want me the way I want you.”

Everything feminine in her rose up to answer his call. She wanted him. Craved him. But as hot as she felt, as much as she wanted to wrap herself around him, something deep within her perversely denied them both the ultimate release.

“I can’t, Brandt, I’m sorry. I don’t know why. I can’t.” She curled her fingers in his shirt, held on to him for comfort.

His hands reluctantly left her breasts, skimmed over her rib cage, caressed her flat belly. “I understand, honey. Don’t worry.” He kissed her forehead, breathing deeply to pull himself back from the edge of sexual hunger. “Let’s go somewhere safe.”

“Is there somewhere safe?” She looked up at him, knowing her eyes were shining at him. His understanding only served to make him more attractive. Brandt Talbot was an incredibly sensitive man and she was falling deeper and deeper beneath his spell.

He bent his head to kiss the corner of her mouth, feeling he should be a candidate for sainthood or at the very least knighted. He took her hand and started off confidently in another direction. “I guess the village would be safe enough. We might find a person or two there.” He scowled as he said it.

Maggie knew he was thinking about the mysterious James, hoping he wouldn’t be at the village. “I would hope so. I’d like that. I’ve wanted to see it.” She enjoyed walking beside him as he named plant species and pointed out animals and reptiles she might have missed. She became aware of how completely safe she felt with him. The forest was a dark place, mystical and even haunting, yet Brandt moved so quietly, so fluidly, with such complete assurance, she realized just how much a part of it he really was. “You took all those photographs hanging in the house, didn’t you? They’re very good.” There was raw admiration in her voice.

He actually flushed. “You noticed those, did you? I hope you didn’t read any of that nonsense. I should have taken them down but I didn’t think about it.”

“I liked the poetry.”

He groaned. “It isn’t poetry. I just was trying to find something for titles but nothing fit.” His excuse sounded lame even to his own ears.

Maggie reached out and touched his hair, tangling her fingers in the silky mass for just a moment because she couldn’t resist. “Are you a professional photographer?” He was so appealing in his embarrassment that she was reluctant to help him out but she couldn’t stop herself.

“I freelance for National Geographic” Brandt admitted reluctantly. “I write articles and do consultations for various governments. Along with my job here, I try to raise world awareness about the value of the forest.”

Maggie stared at him in shocked amazement. How could she not have put it all together? “You’re the Brandt Talbot, the renowned leading expert on the rain forest? Doctor Brandt Talbot. I can’t believe I’m talking to you. I’ve read everything you’ve ever written!” Maggie found herself falling deeper under his spell. He loved what she loved. She heard it in his voice and read it in his articles. He couldn’t fake that kind of passion. “Tell me more about the species you say my parents were,” she encouraged, uncertain whether she could believe him or not. Her body seemed living proof of his revelations. Something was going on inside of her, something she seemed not to have control over, yet his explanation seemed beyond the realm of reality. She tried to keep an open mind. “Are there many of them left?”

“Of us, Maggie—you’re one of us—and no, there are not many of us left. Our race has dwindled. We’ve been hunted and killed nearly to the point of extinction. It was partly our own fault. We don’t have the most noble history.” There was regret in his voice.

“What happened?”

“In the early days, some tribes worshiped us as deities. Some of our people became obsessed with power. Like any species, there are those among us who choose a life of common good and service, and those who want to reign, to conquer. We have our own diseases and our own problems. We’re passionate, a mixture of human and animal instincts that means good and bad from both sides.” He stopped walking. “The village is just ahead of us. Maggie, even today, some of our males are obsessed with power,” he cautioned her carefully.

“Leopards don’t mate for life, Brandt. The females raise the cubs alone. Do the men walk away after sex?” She forced herself to ask the question without looking at him.

He caught her to him, his arms steel bands. “No, Maggie. We are not leopards, not animals, nor are we human. Our species mate for life. It’s how it’s done. For nine lives. All of our lives. Over and over. You’re mine, I know you are, you’ve always belonged with me.”

Relief and joy washed over her, so much so that she couldn’t respond. The thought that he might want her for all their years rather than just a mating made her happy in spite of the fact that she wasn’t altogether certain any of it was real. She let him hold her in silence while she looked around her, trying to see through the rain and trees. Sure enough, there were a couple of small structures woven into the trees and camouflaged by the wealth of plants growing in every conceivable manner. She shook her head. “This is the village? This is where everyone lives? All two buildings?” She was trying not to laugh. She had pictured something much different. A thriving busy hub, at least, like a native village.

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