The Awakening Page 18

“We never live in the village. We simply meet here to enjoy company or get supplies. Homes are scattered in and around the trees. We make certain there are no trails and that we’re constantly vigilant, looking for signs of anyone near. The poachers destroyed the village the night your parents died, and since that time we’ve kept it quite small for protection.”

“That makes sense, but it seems a sad way to live.”

“We have our own community and not all of our people reside in the rain forest. Some have chosen to live on the outskirts. We change at will, with the exception of the Han Vol Dan. The first time shifting occurs is uncomfortable and can’t be controlled. It’s best to have someone with you to talk you through it.”

“So children don’t shift shape. Only adults?”

He nodded. “And we don’t know what triggers it in each individual. Some are earlier shifters than others.” Brandt slipped his arms around her shoulders, needing to touch her, to have her close. He was feeling edgy and combative, knowing the other males were in close proximity. His friends, he reminded himself. Men he trusted. Men who had saved his life a dozen times, as he had saved theirs. They knew Maggie was his mate. They would be just as uncomfortable around her as he would be with them there until he had bound Maggie to him.

And then there was James. Brandt and the others had scented him in the forest, watching Maggie’s arrival. Twice Brandt had smelled his spoor near the house. Brandt didn’t trust James and didn’t want the man anywhere near Maggie. Their species had too much animal influence, so much so that they had to fight their very natures at times. They reacted like territorial males until the bonds were fully established. It was dangerous for all of them.

Maggie felt the fine tremor running through his body. “What is it?” She slid her arm around his waist, something she might not ordinarily have done, but he seemed to need her. There was a strange kind of power in having a strong man need her so much, to have him so intent on his pursuit of her. “You’re uncomfortable with our being here. I can feel it, Brandt.”

He pulled her back into the shelter of the trees and turned her into his arms, brought her body tightly against his so that she could feel his every muscle imprinted on her. His scent enveloped her. Brandt leaned down to nuzzle her hair aside so he could find her shoulder with his mouth. Teeth scraped back and forth gently over her bare skin. “I want you.” He whispered it softly against her ear, his warm breath teasing her senses. “I want you so badly I can’t think sometimes.”

Her entire body answered his whispered confession. Clenching. Pulsing with heat. With hunger. With anticipation.

His lips drifted up her throat, his teeth tugged tenderly on her chin, skimmed along her cheek to find the corner of her mouth. His tongue stroked. Lingered. Traced her lips until she opened for him. At once she was lost. His mouth was a mystery of intrigue, of masculine expertise and hot promises. His tongue swept inside, swept her away from her inhibitions. From sanity. From any clear thought.

Her arms crept up around his neck. Locked there, held him to her while she moved against him, a slow rubbing of her body against his. Arousing him further. Savoring the way his body hardened in response. All the while their mouths were welded together. His hands moved over her, shaped her breasts, memorized the curve of her hips, slid possessively over her buttocks. Kneaded. Massaged. Stroked.

His mouth became hotter and silkier, his tongue danced, dueled with hers. He trailed kisses over her chin, her throat, leaving tiny flames behind. His mouth settled over her breasts, suckling right through the thin cotton of her shirt.

Maggie cried out, cradled his head, arcing into him while her body nearly drowned in a tidal wave of desire. Nothing had prepared her for the heat, for the hunger.

“Let’s go away from here,” he whispered, “right now, Maggie. Come with me away from here. I need you so much right now.”

She nodded, needing him, needing him to stop the terrible ache, to fill the emptiness. “I’ve never done this before, Brandt,” Maggie admitted, wanting him to go slow, to let her catch up to his obvious experience.

His entire body went rigid. His golden eyes blazed at her with a mixture of consternation and hunger. “Are you untouched, Maggie?” There was shock in his voice.

She stiffened immediately, drew away from him. “Not anymore.” Her chin went up with a hint of defiance. “I’d have to say you changed that.”

He had inadvertently hurt her. Brandt shackled her wrist, brought her resisting body back to him. “I’m sorry, Maggie, I didn’t mean it that way.”

“I know exactly what you meant. You wish I were experienced. I’m so dreadfully sorry, but I’m not. I’ve never found a man I loved that much or was so attracted to that I wanted to have a physical relationship.” She was furious. Furious. She was not about to defend her morals to Brandt Talbot. She turned away from him, away from his pathetic little village.

Brandt knew Maggie wanted to be angry with him. He was certain she was telling herself she was angry with him, but her eyes were shiny and if tears spilled over he would have to kiss every drop from her face. Deliberately he dragged her hand to his chest and held it against him, ignoring her halfhearted struggles.

“How could you think I would want another man to put his hands on you? To touch you?” His arms circled her body, held her to him while he nuzzled the top of her head with his chin. “The last thing I would ever want would be for you to believe, even for a moment, that you cared for another man enough to want him to make love to you.” He kissed her temple. “I was only concerned for you. You should have told me immediately. What you’re feeling, I’m also feeling. I could have lost control. I must take great care with you.” He held her to him, waited for the tension to drain out of her. He was beginning to know her. She might flash at him, but she got over things quickly.

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