The Awakening Page 25

She ran faster, determined to remove herself from the influence of the wild rain forest with its sultry, steamy heat and from the effects of her overactive libido. She ran a long distance, loping easily over fallen logs and up steep embankments. The river didn’t slow her down; she plunged in and swam, leaping to shore and shaking delicately. As she continued, she became aware of the mechanics of the leopard’s body.

The faint sound of shouting, of voices carrying through the forest, nearly stopped her heart. The noise was a great distance away, but she instantly was aware of what it meant. Brandt could be in trouble. She was running like a wild thing and Brandt could be in danger somewhere. The thought was sobering. But what could she do, trapped as she was, imprisoned within an animal form? She wanted to sob with fear and frustration. Maggie forced her mind away from hysteria and tried to think logically.

She had persisted in thinking of herself as two identities. One human, one animal. But she was neither and the creature running through the forest so easily was part of her. She continued to think, to be Maggie Odessa, but now in another form, one that was unfamiliar to her, yet felt as if it fit her.

Once she identified that Maggie was still Maggie only in another shape, she felt much calmer. She slowed down, huffing out a breath, looking about her with the eyes of enhanced vision. Her vision. She’d had it all along, she just had never used the ability. She inhaled, drew in the scents of the jungle. She wasn’t a leopard, nor was she quite human. She was different, yet still Maggie.

Cushioned paws allowed her to move in complete silence. She could feel the enormous power in the body she occupied. Unable to prevent herself from testing the possibilities, Maggie leapt easily onto a thick branch some six feet above her head. It was a simple, easy jump, and she landed perfectly balanced as if she’d been doing such things all her life.

Maggie crouched in the tree and thought about Brandt. He had told her the absolute truth. She wasn’t two people divided; she was one who would remain Maggie Odessa. She simply could take on more than one form. A feeling of unbelievable power washed through her. What a gift. Her birth parents had given her a priceless legacy. She thought about the things Brandt had told her and she understood the need for discipline. She could control the emotions and sexual tension while she was in the shape of the leopard. Being in the form of a leopard made no difference. She didn’t have to act more of the animal, she simply wasn’t exercising control over the wild nature rising so strongly.

The emotions were strong, but not unfamiliar. She certainly had wanted to be with Brandt, had enticed and tempted and seduced him as much as she would allow herself. The leopard was feeling those same things magnified by its primitive nature, the nature that was so much a part of her. Maggie relaxed, allowed the tension to seep out of her body. She could reason, use her intelligence; she could think things through, not run like a frightened child. And she could exercise discipline and restraint on her wilder cravings. The power belonged to her and she could do with it what she willed.

Brandt had been afraid she would be unable to handle the transformation, had wanted to stay with her instead of going after the poachers. She was proving him correct with her childish actions. She needed to return to the house and calmly wait for him to aid her into returning to her other, human form. If he didn’t come within a reasonable length of time, she would use this form with its abilities to hunt for him and help him in any way possible.

Maggie thought of Brandt’s words. How he had searched the world over for her. How he had always known she was his mate. How certain he was that they belonged together. She didn’t have that certainty based on years of knowing her heritage. She’d known him only a very short time, yet she felt it was right in her deepest soul. He had begged her to be there when he returned. She didn’t want to let him down. She wasn’t going to let him down. Brandt Talbot was her choice.

Maggie leapt from the tree to land softly on the ground. She had been more alive here, deep within the rain forest, than she had ever been in her life. She had no intention of allowing fear to take that life from her. Of taking Brandt from her. Everything she had ever worked toward in her life was right here, in this wild exotic setting.

She didn’t fear it, she reveled in it. The canopy, the flowers, the abundance of fauna in no way made her claustrophobic, as she knew it often made other people. The heat didn’t adversely affect her. She loved the rain forest and everything in it. And Brandt. She loved the poet in him, the unexpected surprise of his gentle side. He was the biggest reason why she wanted to stay and face what she was. Who she was. She would research the history of her species and do what she could to fit into the lifestyle.

Maggie began her journey back to the house. The leopard knew the way, padding silently, scenting the wind, her night vision excellent. She was nearing familiar ground when the loud crack of a gun split the night. A volley of shots followed. Animals shrieked, a cacophony of sound. The trees above her head became a riot of movement, wings fluttering, monkeys shrieking and leaping from tree to tree. The warning was loud and insistent in the darkness of the forest.

Maggie winced, jerked to one side, curling her lip to expose her canines as she took shelter in the thick vegetation. Her heart pounded out a rhythm of fear. At once she heard the answer of her people, a peculiar drumbeat, as old as time but effective, a kind of Morse code she should have known but had never learned. She couldn’t read the message sent by her kind, but she was aware of news being passed.

Her first thought was for Brandt. She could taste the bitter edge of fear in her mouth. She didn’t want to lose him, now that she had found him. Why hadn’t she committed to him? Why hadn’t she reassured him that she wanted to be with him? Maggie burst from the foliage and began to lope back toward the house. She would pick up the scent of Drake and Brandt from there and track them to where the poachers had set traps.

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