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Golden Eyes (Wild 1) Maya Banks 2022/8/5 16:58:43

over to some government agency for testing.”

He gave her a fierce frown. “That’s not true. The only way I’d take you in is if you’ve broken the law. So far, all I know is that you were being hunted by poachers. That makes you the victim, not a perpetrator. Is there something you want to tell me?”

His eyes were expectant, piercing, like he could peel back her skin and see inside. It made her uneasy.

“They took me,” she said simply. Her breath caught and hovered as she relived the terror of that day.

She trembled, and his hand slid from her chin to her shoulder. Warm, comforting. Without thinking, she leaned further into his touch, wanting to be closer but afraid all at the same time.

“I won’t let anyone hurt you,” he said soothingly.

Sincerity reflected in his warm brown eyes. The hard lines of his face contrasted with the softness in his gaze. He was a man accustomed to harshness, to doing what it took to get the job done. While he was doing his best to put her at ease, she could well imagine how quickly he could turn, how unforgiving he could be with a criminal.

His other hand rasped over his short hair in a gesture of frustration. He was losing patience with her. Again, she felt the tingle of awareness as the cheetah rose and sought to take over. She shrank away from his touch, hoping to better control the urge to shift. She had been the cheetah for so long that her human form felt alien.

Duncan swore and snatched his hands away from her. He placed them on the edge of the couch and stared directly at her.

“Aliyah, I won’t harm you. In your place I’d be scared too. I wouldn’t trust anyone. You’ve been through hell. I want to help you. What can I do to make you believe that?”

The simple sincerity in his voice broke through the prickle of fear skirting down her spine. She took a deep breath and sagged. She hurt. She glanced down at her wound, frustrated to see that it was not yet completely healed. Staying in her cheetah form for so long had been physically demanding.

“It hurts,” she said. “I’m unused to it. I don’t normally take this long to heal. I’m not sure what to do to help it.”

“Is there nothing you can take that will help? Do pain relievers not affect you?” he asked in a concerned voice.

She shrugged. “I do not know. I’ve never had to use them. We heal naturally and at a much faster rate than normal humans.” She shivered again as another chill took over.

Duncan moved forward, his hands gently pushing her more upright. She glanced at him in confusion as he settled on the couch beside her. When he wrapped his arms around her, she panicked, not because she feared him, but because raw awareness gripped her as his warmth bled into her body.

“You’re cold,” he said.

He tucked the blanket carefully around her, making sure he didn’t jostle her leg.

She relaxed against his body and let her head fall back against his chest. Weariness pulled at her. Her body ached.

Remembering she was supposed to be providing him answers, she opened her mouth to speak again. She was momentarily sidetracked as his arms tightened around her chest, and he rubbed his hands up and down her arms.

It felt good. So good. And she told him so.

His hands paused in their movement for a moment, and she could feel the slight catch in his breath. Could he feel it too? This pull between them?

“What were you going to say?” he murmured.

She searched her cloudy brain for what exactly she’d intended to tell him but came up blank.

“You said they took you. Who took you? And how?”

She shrank further into his arms, and he started sliding his hands up and down again in a soothing motion.

“When I was younger, my parents moved us to Africa. As a child, I spent more time in my animal form than the other young of my kind. My parents feared I would be discovered. As I grew older, it became easier to control my shifts, and so we moved back to our home in Alaska.

“I had returned to Africa for a visit. It had been too long since I ran with the other cheetahs.”

She closed her eyes as she conjured the memories of racing across the savannah, the wind in her face, the dry, parched earth pounding underneath her paws. There, she’d been free. Truly free. And ironically enough, it was where her freedom had ended.

“I was netted and then sedated by the poachers. They shipped me back to the U.S., and I was quartered with other exotic animals. For weeks I was kept in a cage, and then, finally, they turned me out to hunt.”

A light shudder worked its way over her shoulders, and Duncan’s hands tensed against her skin.

“So that’s their set-up? They import animals to hunt here in the States?”

She nodded. “They charge exorbitant fees for trophy hunts. Instead of taking the hunter to Africa, they bring Africa to the hunter.”

Duncan stiffened in anger. She could feel the rage radiating from his body.

“Son of a bitch,” he swore. “God only knows how long they’ve been pulling this shit in my mountains. I fucking hate poachers.”

Then as if fearing he’d frightened her, he relaxed his grip and turned her chin so she could see him in her periphery.

She offered a faint smile. “They make me angry as well. What they do is not honorable.”

“They could have killed you,” he said hoarsely. “They tried to kill you.”

“You saved me.” She shifted in his arms so she could see him better. Then she reached up to touch his cheek with her hand. “Thank you.”

Their gazes connected and locked.

“I don’t understand what you are,” he said. “If I hadn’t seen it, I’d never believe it in a thousand years. And yet, you are a cheetah. How is that possible?”

She dropped her gaze then turned away once more, settling her back against his chest.

“I don’t know the answers to your questions. I only know what I am. How is not so important, is it?”

He sighed in frustration, and she wilted just a little more. She was so tired, she physically ached. She needed rest. It would help in the healing.

“I need to sleep,” she said. “I’ve not slept a full night since I was taken by the hunters.” And for one night, she wanted to feel safe. Indulge in the soft comfort of a bed instead of a cold cage.

“You can have my bed,” he said as he eased from behind her.

She was too tired to argue, and she wanted that bed badly enough that she wouldn’t offer up any false protests about putting him out.

When she tried to get up herself, Duncan stopped her with a firm hand. Then he reached down and lifted her from the couch. She clung to his neck as he walked out of the living room and into a large bedroom.

He settled her down on his bed, and she sighed in sheer bliss when her head hit the pillow. She rolled to her side and pulled at the hem of the T-shirt. Not giving any thought to the fact he stood but a foot away, she lifted the T-shirt over her head and tossed it away.

The material irritated her skin. She’d gone so long with no clothing, the slightest touch set her nerve endings afire. Her eyes were already closing when he tried to pull the covers over her body.

She put her hand down. “No. Don’t. I can’t bear it.”

“You’ll freeze,” he said.

“The material scrapes at my skin,” she murmured.

He was silent for a moment, and then she heard him walk away. A few seconds later, he returned, and she felt the soft brush of fur over her body.

She clutched at it, holding it close.

“It’s a bear skin,” he said a little uncomfortably.

“Papa,” she murmured as she snuggled deeper into the fur.

Duncan said something else, but she was sliding under.

Duncan paced back and forth in front of the fireplac

e, his mind ablaze with the day’s drama. A cheetah. She was a fucking cheetah. As mind-blowing events went, this one topped the list.

Apart from the fact that he had a beautiful, naked cheetah-woman camped out in his bed, he also had to deal with the fact that poachers were turning out animals to hunt in his mountains.

And to think he’d lamented the fact that nothing exciting ever happened in Elk Ridge.

His first priority… Hell, what was his first priority? He had an injured chee…woman. What was he supposed to do with her? And he had poachers to catch and make damn sure their days of importing exotic animals were over.

He spun around, took two steps toward the bedroom then stopped and walked back to the fireplace again. The bedroom was out. She was in his bed. Naked. There was only so much temptation a red-blooded man could take, and a voluptuous, golden-eyed goddess laid out like a Christmas present might well be construed a temptation.

He flexed his fingers then curled them until the skin stretched and whitened across his knuckles.

A sound from the bedroom had him yanking his head around.

He strode out of the living room and rounded the corner into his room. He caught the door frame with his hand as he came to a halt.

His breath stuck in his throat, swelled and rebounded into his chest.

The fur he had covered Aliyah with was bunched around her feet. She lay on her hip, but her upper body was twisted so that her back was pressed to the bed. Her left arm was thrown wide to the side, and her right hand was curled into a fist at her shoulder.

She was…quite beautiful, even in her state of distress. Apart from the inflamed-looking wound on her leg, her skin was unmarred by a single blemish. Slender legs led up to rounded hips, a tiny waist and two spectacularly formed breasts.

Jesus, they were perfect. She was perfect.

Gently rounded nipples, a soft peach color, so soft looking that he caught himself swallowing as he imagined tasting them.

He closed his eyes. He couldn’t go there. He was turning to leave when she moaned again. As he looked back over at her, he could see a sheen of sweat glistening on her forehead. Her head twisted from side to side, and then her eyes blinked open.

They glittered gold, and the pupils elongated and shrank to a vertical sliver. Her muscles twitched and jumped, and he realized she was fighting against her instinct to shift.

Unsure of whether he should stay or whether he should get the hell out of the bedroom and lock the door, he stood there not knowing whether to shit or go blind.

Her distress decided things for him.

He hurried to the bed and knelt over her. “Aliyah,” he whispered urgently. “Aliyah, wake up, honey.” He reached down to touch her damp face. Tenderly, he pushed a tendril of golden hair behind her ear, and she nuzzled her cheek into his palm.

Her eyelids fluttered, and he breathed in relief when he saw her eyes were back to normal.