The Awakening Page 28

He caught her chin in his hand, his eyes still glittering. Still menacing. Adrenaline was pouring through his body. She felt it in the fine tremor of his body against hers. “You’ll always arouse me, Maggie.” He dropped a hard kiss on her upturned mouth. “I’m heading to the house for your medical supplies. I can travel faster without you. Don’t you move.”

She was breathing heavily, wanting him, needing him, strangely affected by the sight of such a terrible battle. “I’m sorry, Brandt. I put you in danger.”

“We thrive on danger, honey. It’s our way of life.” His teeth teased at the pulse at the base of her throat. “I’ll be back soon, I promise. Don’t be afraid.”

Maggie watched him disappear back into the foliage of the jungle. She wasn’t afraid. Not at all. She belonged here in the jungle, belonged with Brandt Talbot. Every moment she spent here, no matter what seemed to be happening, she knew the rain forest was her home and Brandt was her mate, the man she wanted to spend her life with. She had no real idea how it had all happened, but she knew she wanted to be with him. She was willing to live with the strange differences here in the jungle. There was nothing she had left behind in civilization she wanted badly enough to give him up for.

Maggie looked at the bear lying almost quietly now, eyes staring at her without hope. “But I’m going to learn how to change shape fast like he does,” she told the animal. “And I’m going to do some research into your little life, too, Mister Bear.”

Maggie was crooning softly to the animal when Brandt returned. She was almost disappointed that he was fully dressed. He handed her clothes, jeans and a T-shirt, which she hastily donned while he tranquilized the bear.

Working with Brandt was easy. He seemed to know instinctively what she needed. His hands were reverent as they moved through the bear’s fur, as he held the head to ensure the animal could breathe properly while she repaired the damage. “He should be caged,” she said, wiping her forehead with the back of her hand, smearing dirt across it. “He might not get enough to eat or some other animal might get him, as injured as he is,” she explained, moving a safe distance away from the bear where she could watch it wake up. “The injury isn’t that bad. No broken bones, and he’s lost some blood, but if someone was actually shooting at him, they were a poor shot.”

“I think he was hit by a stray bullet. The poachers sprayed the area when they realized they were under attack.” Brandt shook his head. “He’ll do fine. He’ll stay in his nest and I’ll drop by each day to make certain he’s eating. I don’t want him caged.”

“What happened to the poachers?”

There was a grimness about his mouth and his golden eyes were flat and dangerous looking. He shrugged his broad shoulders with casual carelessness. “I don’t think they’ll be bothering us again. The rain forest has a way of dealing with those who violate its trust.” His gaze moved over her face, dark and brooding, a certain ruthlessness to his expression. “I left you in the house, Maggie. The rain forest also has a way of dealing with those who are careless.”

Maggie hesitated, but she was too tired to argue with him. Rays of light were streaking through the canopy, signaling daylight had arrived. She sat down on the forest floor and looked up at him. “I wasn’t careless, I was afraid, Brandt, and I ran away like a coward. I’m sorry. I thought I was prepared for the way it would feel, but the change was slow and frightening and I panicked. It wasn’t what I had imagined.” She looked down at her hands. “I think I just ran instinctively. I thought if I left the forest, it would never happen again. I wanted to be me.”

The bear grunted, its long tongue lolling out. They watched as the body twitched and the legs jerked. “You were always you, Maggie,” Brandt said softly, aching for her, angry with himself for letting her down. Brandt reached out and pulled Maggie to her feet. “Come on, baby, let’s go. You’re tired.” He drew her into the shelter of a large, lacy fern while the bear rolled over, shaking its head.

“You’re angry with me.” She made it a statement as she leaned up against his larger frame. He was solid. Steady. She could feel his anger seething beneath the surface, yet his hands were incredibly gentle.

“You scared the hell out of me, Maggie. There’s something wrong with James. He’s always been off when it comes to women. He’s been caught shifting to impress the native women. They sleep with him thinking to gain his power or some such nonsense. He doesn’t care about them; he uses them. He wants to control them.”

“Like the men you were telling me about who wanted to be worshiped as gods.”

He nodded. “He likes power over women. I really don’t think he was involved with the poaching—that would be a death sentence to him—but he isn’t someone I want you around. Ever. I’ll never feel you’re completely safe with him in the forest. I hope the council chooses to exile him.”

His lingers tightened around hers as the bear clawed its way up the tree to its nest. When the bear had settled in completely, Brandt drew Maggie with him, weaving his way in and out easily through the plants and trees. It was a measure of the change in her that she knew immediately they were not headed to the house.

“I’m tired,” she objected. “I just want to go home.”

“You won’t be too tired to see this place; you’ll love it, Maggie. And you can sleep if you like once we’re there. There’s a small clearing right around a pool so you can lie in the sun. The forest is your home. All of it.”

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