The Awakening Page 7

The stairs were wide and curved in a sweeping circle up to the next level. Incredible photos of every wild creature imaginable hung on the walls going up the stairs. The photographs were rare treasures. The photographer had captured the very essence of wildlife, unusual action shots and beautiful pictures of plants, close-ups that depicted the dewy petals. She leaned closer, already knowing who had taken the photographs. In the corner of each picture was a four-line poem. Reading the words made her feel as if she had accidentally connected intimately with the poet. Each poem had been written in a looping masculine scrawl. The sentiments were thoughtful, beautiful, romantic even. It couldn’t have been written by anyone else. Brandt Talbot had the soul of a poet. He was an unusual man and she was already intrigued.

She inhaled again as she climbed the stairs, drawing the scent of him deep into her lungs. He seemed to belong. Here in the house. Deep inside of her where she breathed. The mysterious Brandt Talbot with his incredible photography skills and his love of wood and wildlife and beautiful words. He seemed familiar, a man who shared her favorite things.

Weariness was making her droop. Maggie became aware of how uncomfortable her skin was, wet and sticky, as she made her way up to the second story. She found a bedroom at the end of the hallway that was to her liking. The bed was made up invitingly, the fans were already circulating air, and there was a spacious private bath off the room.

She put her packs on the dresser, silently claiming the room as her own. Above the bed, up in the corner, she saw the claw marks etched deeply into the wood and she shivered. Her gaze remained there as she tossed the khaki shirt aside and peeled off the wet T-shirt. It was a relief to have the soaked material away from her tender skin.

Maggie stood in the center of the room wearing only her low-riding jeans, and she sighed with relief. Wet clothes clinging to her skin called up a strange sensation, almost as if something lying dormant beneath her skin stirred for a moment, tried to break through her pores, then subsided, leaving her itchy and tender and very irritable. She stretched her sore muscles, lifted her hands to take down her hair, shaking it loose so she could wash the heavy mass in the shower.

Her boots came off next, then her socks. It was heaven to be barefoot, her soles cool on the floorboards. Much more comfortable, she took the time to look around the large room. The second-story bedroom was spacious with wide beams and little furniture. The bed was huge with four intricately carved posters rising halfway to the ceiling. Several fans whirled above her head, providing a welcome breeze in the room. Her gaze touched once more on the strange claw marks, slid away, then returned as if drawn by some unseen force.

She crossed the room to stare up at them, finally climbed up on the bed and stretched to touch them with her fingertips. She traced each mark. The wood was shredded; the claws had dug in deep. Was it from a long-ago pet kept in the house? Something wild that had marked its territory?

The moment the unbidden thought came to her, she shivered, the marks taking on life, burning her fingertips so that she pulled her hand quickly away from the wall. Surprised, she glanced at her seared fingers but found them without a blemish. Maggie put her fingers in her mouth, soothing the sensitive nerve endings with her tongue.

She wandered across the room to the windows. The panes in the room seemed overlarge, big enough to climb through should she need to do so. Each room had similar size windows with the inevitable balcony around them. A grid of bars shielded each window, making her very aware she was in a wild setting.

Maggie stood at the window, staring out into the night. Into the rain and the forest. She could see the leaves waving and dancing in the trees as the wind increased in strength. Bone tired, she began to slowly peel away her jeans, wet from the tropical rain and sticking to her. She wanted a shower and then to lie down and sleep as long as possible. She didn’t want to think about how wild her surroundings were, how she seemed so different here in this exotic setting. She didn’t want to be aware of her body, every nerve ending heightened by the sultry air and danger surrounding her. She stood naked, staring out the window into the darkness, unable to look away.

The glass reflected back her image as a mirror might. The strange heaviness was on her again, a burning that pooled low and wicked in her body, throbbing and demanding relief. It was even stronger than the last time, as if a wave of sexual hunger gripped her, settled in her, demanded satisfaction. Maggie leaned closer to peer into the glass, inspecting her body. Her skin was unmarred, smooth and inviting.

Separated only by a thin pane of glass, Brandt’s breath stilled in his body. She was so enticing with her innocent eyes and sultry mouth. Her body was made to be touched, to be enjoyed. Made for him. His heart thundered out a savage beat and his body shuddered with anticipation.

He could almost feel the texture of her skin, soft and inviting. He knew the way their bodies would come together in frantic heat, in a firestorm of passion and hunger. When she moved, her body was a seductive invitation, her full breasts drawing his heated gaze. There was a thin sheen of sweat on her skin so that she glistened like the petals of a flower after a rain. He locked his muscles to keep from leaping through the window and lapping at every inch of exposed skin. He wanted to suckle her lush breasts, feel her fiery heat surround him. He wanted to be buried deep inside of her. He had so many plans, each more erotic than the last, and looking at her, he vowed to have her in every way possible. Drawn by the sight of her body unveiled to him, he pressed closer, his eyes gleaming gold in the dark.

Strangely, Maggie felt eyes on her, watching her. The impression was so strong she stepped even closer to the window. She doubted if any human would be out standing on the balcony in the deluge, especially with a panther near. Yet the feeling persisted that her lover had arrived and he waited for her. Wanted her. Was desperate for her. The feeling was strong, overwhelming, as if she could feel his savage hunger beating at her in her mind. His eyes were caressing every inch of her body.

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