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Novel: Savage Nature - Chapter 8

She touched the knife at her belt. “I can take care of myself.” Why had he asked? She’d seen the way his gaze drifted over her, taking in everything. He couldn’t have failed to note her lack of a wedding ring. Still, maybe some women didn’t wear their ring. She let her breath out. Maybe under that expressionless face he was a little more interested in her than he let on. “Are you?” She couldn’t image it. She couldn’t image any woman holding his interest for long. Silence stretched between them until she stopped again and looked at him. He gave her a small smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “I doubt I could find a woman who would put up with me.” Her eyebrow shot up. “Are you that difficult?” “I imagine I might be, yes,” he admitted. His voice dropped an octave—became soft, seductive, an intimacy she was totally unfamiliar with. “You’ll be living with me for the next week. You’ll have to tell me.” Her mouth went dry. Her heart jumped and damp heat collected. His gaze locked with hers and she immediately experienced the sensation of falling into him. It was bizarre, but she couldn’t look away, as if he’d managed to take her captive in gave her imitive manner. His stare was both charismatic and alarming. Her heart began drumming a very real warning. Everything feminine in her responded to him, yet at the same time urged her to run.

She was lost in his gaze, so she witnessed the abrupt change. The green with golden flecks suddenly went antique gold. The round pupils dilated three times wider. He moved, or did he? She didn’t think she’d blinked, but his body was close to her, almost protective, shielding her from something he’d seen without so much as turning his head. Icy fingers crept down her spine. Her warning radar exploded, and this time the threat wasn’t emanating from the man in front of her. Maybe it hadn’t been all along, but his predatory magnetism had confused her. Whatever the reasons, she hadn’t recognized her alarms for what they were. “A man is back in the shadows just at the entrance to the trees. He’s watching you.” His voice was pitched very low, nearly inaudible. Had she not had such good hearing, she would have missed the whisper. “Do you know him? Look over my left shoulder.” He took another step closer, bending his head toward hers as if he might kiss her. Her breath caught in her throat. Everything in her stilled. She placed the palm of her hand on his chest, right over his soundly beating heart, but whether to push him away or to steady herself as she raised her head, she wasn’t certain. She flicked a quick glance into the tree line and her throat nearly closed. Red eyes glowed back at her. Something was there all right—someone. They knew she cut through the stand of trees to the docks whenever she came into town. Had they known she was picking up a customer? She couldn’t tell who it was, only that human eyes didn’t reflect back light in that manner. Whoever was in the forest of Christmas trees was probably her attacker. “We don’ need to cut through the grove to get to the dock. This road curves around and then goes back toward the canals. It’s a little longer but . . .” “I think a stroll through the grove is just the thing,” Drake interrupted. She shook her head. “I don’ know if you’ve been readin’ about the ghost cats people think they’ve been spottin’ in the swamps, but sometimes those things are more real than we want them to be. I’d just feel safer if we stayed in town.” “Look at me.” He kept his voice low, and she swore the tone was almost a purr it was so soft and alluring, but he’d definitely given an order. Beneath her skin, she felt an itch. If she’d been a cat she would have sworn he’d ruffled her fur the wrong way, but before she could stop herself, her gaze jumped to his. Instantly she was caught by that commanding, focused stare. His eyes were gorgeous, frightening and sexy all at once. “You’re safe with me.” His tone was just too intimate, too certain—so certain that when she stared into his eyes, in spite of her brain telling her to be logical, she believed him—and how dumb was that when she knew there was a leopard stalking and killing people? Drake Donovan might be a powerful man in his world, and clearly everything about him shouted he could handle himself—but not with a killing machine like a shifter. Cunning and intelligent, the shifter used both man and beast to bring down prey. She swallowed hard, unable to escape those piercing eyes. He’d lock in on her and there was no fleeing. It occurred to her suddenly that he was telling her something altogether different than she’d imagined. She frowned, but he was already turning her gently but firmly back in the direction of the grove. Reluctantly she took a few steps, confused by Drake, confused by her reaction to him. She scowled. Drake Donovan threw her off balance. She glanced into the deeper shadows. Nothing moved. No eyes stared back. Whoever had been there had shifted position. Still, she was uneasy and that wasn’t a good sign. She dropped her hand very casually to the knife at her waist, unsnapping the safety flap with one thumb.“We’re fine,” Drake said softly. “A man at ten o’clock and two more trailing after us.” Her scowl deepened. She was the guide. It was up to her to protect him in the swamp. This was her home turf and she should have spotted the others far before Drake became aware of them. He was messing up her warning system. She had the uncomfortable feeling he was setting off the alarms and she couldn’t see beyond him. So why would she feel safe with him? She flicked her gaze to the position he’d given her. Walking along the path merging with theirs was Amos Jeanmard. She glanced behind her and identified the Lanoux twins, Robert and Dion, one rarely seen without the other. They’d gone to school with her brother, Mahieu, but often dropped by the bar late at night to say hello. She suspected Robert flirted with her for fun, but that Dion was quite serious. From the look on his face, he wasn’t happy seeing her with Drake. She came from a society of people who were friendly but very private. The adults had long ago tried to point out to her father that she was a wild child, but when he hadn’t responded, they all seemed to think they needed to keep an eye on her, from a distance of course. “They’re neighbors,” she announced, relaxing a little. If a killer lurked in the grove, he wouldn’t show himself with so many grouped together. Once she got her charge settled into the bed-and-breakfast, she’d go back to the house and add to her supply of weapons. She wasn’t going to endanger anyone, but she had to make a living. Donovan was paying too much money and she needed it. She refused to be dependent on her brothers for income. That would give them some semblance of control over her, and now that she was grown, she wasn’t about to let them have any say in her life. She flashed a smile at the Lanoux brothers. They had obviously quickened their pace to catch up.

Beside her, Drake reacted so subtly she couldn’t put her finger on what he did, but the air charged with tension and he seemed at once dangerous, not at all the easygoing man he first appeared. His gaze settled on the two men and didn’t waver. She felt the difference, felt him coiling in readiness, and suddenly she wasn’t so certain anyone was safe with Donovan. His eyes glittered with menace and he very gently but firmly lifted her by the waist and put her behind him, facing the two brothers alone. Dion and Robert were nearly as bad, splitting apart to come at Drake from either side, looking like professional fighters instead of the amiable men she knew them to be. She was fast losing control of the situation, the tension filling the air so thick it could be cut with a knife. “These are my neighbors,” she reiterated. “My friends.” She curled her fingers around Drake’s biceps as if that might hold hi back. His body was warm, no, hot. She felt the ripple of muscle beneath his skin and an answering heat pulsed between her legs. Drake hesitated, and then, to her relief, she saw him flash a brief smile. His eyes were as focused and she noticed that his body still shielded hers, but some of the tension in him eased. Not tension, she corrected herself—the Lanoux brothers generated that—but certainly Drake was coiled and ready should an attack come. “Dion.” Saria projected more friendliness than usual into her voice. “How are you? What are you doin’ in town?” “I could ask the same question of you, cher,” Dion greeted, stopping just a short distance from them, his gaze running over Donovan, sizing him up. Apparently whatever he saw, he didn’t like, because there was no friendliness whatsoever.“I’ve got a guide gig.” She willed Dion to understand it was lucrative and he’d better not blow it for her. “Drake, this is Dion Lanoux and his brother, Robert. They’re close neighbors. Dion, Robert, this is Drake Donovan. I’m going to show him around the swamp and bayou.” “Really?” Robert’s eyebrow shot up. “Why?” “Robert!” Saria was appalled. “Mind your own business.” “You don’ mind, Donovan, but I need to speak with Saria a moment,” Dion said smoothly, and held out his  hand to Saria.