The Awakening Page 29

She glanced up at the sky. “It’s sure to rain.”

“Maybe,” he agreed. “But trust me, you won’t care.” She did trust him. She went with him willingly. The sight robbed her of speech. She stood close beside Brandt, just staring, enthralled by nature’s beauty. Water cascaded from a hundred feet above them, a white frothy foam pouring over the smoothly rounded rocks. It fell into a large natural pool, deep, the water almost crystal clear out away from the falls. It gleamed an inviting blue, the surface shimmering with a rainbow of colors. Abundant ferns created a living, lacy screen around the exotic pool. Flowers of every kind cascaded like the falls from the trees so that colors and perfumed scents filled Maggie’s senses and turned the spot into a magical, mystical paradise.

Maggie was tired, her muscles aching from the unexpected change, and the soles of her feet hurt from walking barefoot earlier. In the steamy heat of the forest, the cool water was an inviting sight. Maggie looked uncertainly at Brandt. There was still a hard edge to his mouth in spite of her explanation, so she ignored Brandt, not wanting to look any longer at his masculine body, not wanting to inhale his spicy scent. Not wanting to know that she had put that edge to his sculpted mouth. She chose a spot where the massive boulder forming the basin was flat and she could seat herself near the water’s edge. Removing her shoes and socks, she rolled up her jeans and without hesitation plunged her feet into the water. She expected it to be icy cold, but it wasn’t.

Maggie was hot and sticky, the jungle sultry and humid despite the early hour. A bead of sweat trickled along her skin, in the valley between her breasts. She glanced up at Brandt to find him watching her in silence. At once her stomach did a melting flip and her heart began to pound. Naked desire burned in his gaze. Maggie rubbed her hands on her thighs nervously. “It’s going to be hot today.” Her voice came out a croak.

“Yes, it is.” His gaze holding hers, Brandt stripped off his shirt in one fluid motion and flung it carelessly aside.

She stared up at his chest. The slow burn in her belly began to spread, building into something wild. Without thought, Maggie stretched languidly, her arms above her head, tilting her face toward the sky, exposing the line of her throat, lifting her breasts beneath the thin tee.

“It isn’t fair that you can do this to me with just a look,” Maggie said. “I came back, Brandt. I came back when I didn’t have to.” But she did have to come back. She was afraid that if she was away from him, she might cease to exist. She would be Maggie, but walking through life, not living it.

“It’s my fault you were out there alone,” Brandt said. He allowed his gaze to drift over her, a slow, lazy inspection of her lush curves. “I’m not blaming you for being afraid. I blame myself for leaving you alone when I knew you were close to the change.” He moved to stand beside her while she sat at the water’s edge. His fingers tangled in her hair, rubbing in the silky strands. “I didn’t mean to snap at you, Maggie. The Han Vol Dan is a frightening experience even for those of us who know what to expect. I’m proud of you that you went through it alone and still had the courage to come back to me.” It humbled him as nothing else could have.

Brandt knew he looked stiff and grim and aloof, but fear for her was still an ugly presence in his heart, and he couldn’t seem to calm the demons raging in him. He had wanted to break James’s neck, and the thought of the man roaming freely, presenting a threat to Maggie, made him resent his decision to allow James to escape the jungle justice.

His hand trembled as he reached down and simply pulled her shirt over her head and tossed it on top of his own. “We can change easily and naturally, fast and on the run if there is need. It’s only another form, not a change of character.” Her skin gleamed at him, as smooth as silk. She was utterly beautiful to him, as exotic as any of the creatures in his care. “I’m going to show you, Maggie.”

His hands were on the waistband of his jeans and her heart pounded as she heard the rasp of the zipper. She tilted her head to get a better view as he pushed the jeans away from his body without a semblance of modesty. He was ferociously aroused, thick and hard and tempting beyond her ability to resist. She instantly forgot she was tired.

“I love looking at you.” The words slipped out of their own accord. Honest. Simple. Life in the rain forest.

For the first time he seemed to relax, some of the tension seeping out of him. “It’s a good thing, honey, because I’m very partial to looking at you.” He stepped away from her. “I think about the leopard in my mind first, Maggie, before I actually start the change. It takes practice, but you’ll be able to do it.”

She was sweating. Just looking at him and hearing the sensual note in his voice was making her ache in the most wonderful places. He robbed her of air even in wide-open spaces.

Brandt reached down, locked his fingers around her wrist, and effortlessly pulled her to her feet. “Watch, Maggie.” He held his arm away from her while the fur raced over his skin.

Maggie had eyes for other things. She allowed her palm to slide up his thigh, to cup his heavy sac, to linger playfully along his erection.

“I’m showing you something important here,” he said, trying to sound stern.

“And I’m looking,” she answered truthfully.

“You’re doing more than looking.” His breath caught in his lungs as her fingers danced, closed tightly around him, slid, and caressed.

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