The Awakening Page 4

The rain began, great sheets of it, working to penetrate the heavier foliage above them, sending the humidity up another notch. The downpour bathed the forest in iridescent colors as the water blended with light to make prisms so that rainbows washed across the vine-draped trees. The woman, his mate, Maggie Odessa, turned her face up in delight. There was no grumbling, no squeals of shock. She raised her hands over her head in silent tribute, allowing the water to cascade over her face. She was rain-wet. The drops ran down her face, her lashes. All Brandt could think of was that he needed to lap every drop from her face. To taste her petal-soft skin with the life-giving water running over it. He was suddenly thirsty, his throat parched. His body felt heavy and painful, and a strange roaring started in his head.

Maggie’s white T-shirt instantly soaked through in the sudden deluge, rendering the material nearly transparent. Her breasts were outlined, full, intriguing, a swell of lush, creamy flesh, her nipples darker and twin hard buds of invitation. The richness of her exposed body drew his gaze like a magnet. Beckoned him. Mesmerized him. His mouth went dry, and his heart hammered out an urgent tattoo.

Drake glanced back at Maggie, his gaze lingering for a hot, tension-filled moment on the sway of her breasts.

A warning rumbled deep in Brandt’s throat. The growl was low, but in the silence of the forest, it carried easily. He coughed, the peculiar, grunting cough of his kind. A threat. A command. Drake went ramrod stiff, jerked his head around, peered uneasily into the bushes.

Maggie’s gaze followed Drake’s to the thick vegetation. There was no mistaking the sound of a large jungle cat.

Drake tossed her the backpack. “Put on something, anything, to cover yourself.” His voice was clipped, almost hostile.

Her eyes widened in amazement. “Didn’t you hear that?” She held the pack in front of her, shielding her breasts from their view, shocked that the men seemed more concerned with her body than with the danger approaching them. “You had to have heard that. A leopard, and close, we should get out of here.”

“Yes. That is a leopard, Miss Odessa. And running doesn’t do a bit of good if they’ve decided to make a meal of you.” Keeping his back to her, Drake shoved his hand through his wet hair. “Just put on something else and we’ll be fine.”

“Leopards like naked women?” Maggie quipped as she hastily pulled on her khaki overshirt. If she didn’t make light of the situation, she might panic.

“Absolutely. First choice every time—you might want to remember that,” Drake said, his voice tinged with humor. “Are you decent?”

Maggie buttoned the khaki shirt right over the soaking wet tee. The air was thick, the scent from so many flowers almost cloying in the oppressive humidity. Her socks were wet, her feet becoming uncomfortable. “Yes, I’m decent. Are we even close yet?” She didn’t want to complain but she suddenly felt irritable and annoyed with everything and everyone.

Drake didn’t turn around to check. “It’s a bit farther. Do you need to rest?”

She was very aware of her escorts watching the heavy foliage warily. Her breath caught in her throat. She could have sworn she saw the tip of a black tail twitching in the bushes a few yards from where she stood, but when she blinked, there were only the darker shadows and endless ferns. As hard as she tried, she could see nothing in the deeper forest, but the impression of danger remained acute.

“I’d rather keep going,” she admitted. She felt very out of sorts. One moment she wanted to entice the men to her, the next she wanted to snarl and rake at them, hiss and spit at them to go away from her.

“Let’s continue then.” Drake signaled and they were once more on the move. The three men were carrying guns slung carelessly across their backs. Each of them had a knife strapped to his waist. None of them had touched the weapons, not even when the large cat had made its presence nearby known.

The pace the men set was grueling. She was tired, wet, sticky, and far too hot, and most of all, her feet hurt. Her hiking boots were good ones, but not as broken in as she would have liked. She knew there were blisters forming on her heels. She was growing hungrier by the moment, but

Maggie wasn’t about to complain. She sensed the men weren’t pushing her to be cruel or to test her endurance, but for some other reason that had to do with safety. She complied as best she could, hurrying along the trail in the sweltering heat, wondering why the jungle felt so close and where the trail had disappeared.

Chapter 2

The house was surprisingly large, a great three-story structure set back in the middle of a thick stand of trees with a wide verandah that circled the entire building. Balconies on the second and third stories were intricately carved—a skilled artisan had etched the most beautiful jungle cats into the wood. It was nearly impossible to see through the branches intertwined around the house. Each balcony had at least one branch touching or nearly touching the rail to form a bridge into the network of trees, a highway high above the ground. Vines curled around the trees and hung in long, thick ropes.

Maggie studied the way the house appeared to be a part of the jungle. The wood was natural, blending into the trunks of the trees. An abundance of orchids and rhododendrons cascaded with at least thirty other species of plants and flowers from the trees and walls of the house.

The rain fell steadily, drenching the plants and trees. The rain was warm yet Maggie found herself shivering.

She turned up her face to watch the individual drops fall to earth, threads of silver gleaming in the sky.

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