The cougar was going to turn. Tansy Meadows inhaled swiftly, biting at her full lower lip. Her heart was pounding; she could taste the familiar dryness in her mouth and feel the dampness on her palms. The rush of adrenaline made it difficult to control her shaking hands when she needed desperately to be absolutely still.
Turn, baby. She whispered the encouragement in mind, willing the animal to do so. If you turn, I’ll make you very, very, famous, she promised.
The big cat stretched lazily, its sleek body rippling with muscle beneath the soft tawny fur. The end of its long tail twitched.
Tansy’s heart nearly ceased to beat, than began to tap out double time. Come on, little mama, she coaxed, turn for me.
Her legs had long since lost feeling, so numb from inactivity, Tansy wasn’t certain she would be able to leave the tiny ledge where she had set up her blind some months earlier. It didn’t matter; nothing mattered except getting this picture.
The mountain lion was large, nearly eight feet long, very pregnant and due to give birth any day now. The slate-gray tip of its tail twitched again and again and Tansy remained utterly still, waiting her moment. Five long hours of waiting, anticipating. Five long hours of cramped sore muscles, not to mention the months of preparation.
Come on, baby, a little more, you can do it. Get that beautiful face pointed this way.
The mountain lion arched her back leisurely, tantalizing Tansy with expectancy. The cat turned her sleek head, green-gold eyes glittering like sparkling jewels. Tansy exhaled slowly as she began snapping frame after frame with her camera. As if she knew she was the object of admiring eyes, the cat preened herself, lapping at her tawny coat with her long tongue. She grimaced, showing off her gleaming yellow fangs. She even managed something Tansy thought resembled a smile right before she let out a soft, whistling call.
Mountain lions hunted mainly at night. Tansy worked with both digital and film, capturing wildlife in their natural habitats. She had captured a beautiful photographic series of this particular cat bringing down an elk calf three weeks ago, but this was her first real break since. Cougars were elusive and difficult to photograph in their natural habitats. Whenever possible they preferred a high vantage point, and their superior vision allowed them to spot humans long before humans spotted them. Tansy had been studying the female cougar, one of the most elusive animals in North America, for a long time in the hopes of capturing a cougar birth on film. She was lucky she had such an affinity with animals, even the wild ones didn’t seem to mind her presence too much.
She continued taking as many pictures as she could, knowing every angle, every frame was going to yield gold. The background was everything she could possibly have asked for. The night sky, the moon and stars, the slight wind shifting the leaves just so and ruffling the silver-tipped fur. Her subject was quite co-operative, stretching, cleaning, and displaying her long, sleek body from all angles.
Tansy particularly wanted a series of shots with a variety of lighting up close on the fur. The color was difficult to truly describe, especially with each individual hair tipped in that silvery-gray, enabling the cat to disappear at twilight, to simply blend into her surroundings and move without detection through most of her habitat during night hours. She wanted to get the sense of that camouflage in the pictures, of the stealth and power of the huntress, in contrast to the playful and motherly personality.
In the distance overhead, the thump, thump of a helicopter, blades spinning fast as it made its way across the dawn sky, interrupted the silence of the night. The cougar froze, crouching low so the few bushes and blades of grass growing on the rock hid her. She bared her teeth in a silent snarl as she looked upward.
Tansy slowly lowered her camera and remained just as still as the cat, an inexplicable awareness of being hunted creeping down her spine. Her breath caught in her lungs, and for just one moment she was disoriented, a frightening thing while on a narrow ledge with a wild cougar just a few scant feet from her.
She turned her face toward the sky as the helicopter flew directly over her. Just the sight and sound of the aircraft was unsettling to her and she bit down hard on her lower lip, peering at the craft in order to identify it, worried her parents had sent someone after her when she’d insisted she was exactly where she wanted to be. She had chosen this wilderness to be completely away from all human contact and the helicopter above her was definitely military—not forestry, and certainly not one belonging to her father.
The undercarriage of the helicopter glowed with green lights as it moved fast over her, a large bird of prey swooping low over the tall trees, and then just as suddenly dipping down below her line of vision, the noise fading quickly. She lay very still on the narrow ledge, her heart thundering in her ears. She forced air through her lungs as the lights disappeared. Her imagination was running wild—maybe she had been alone too long after all.
Movement snapped her attention back to the cougar, as the cat gave one final, almost contemptuous lick along her tawny, muscled leg, and in a single bound, leapt to the rock above her resting area. Tansy knew her den was there. The cat had chosen a small cave to give birth to her kittens.
Tansy had been able to infiltrate two previously used caves to set up her equipment in the hopes she could somehow film the event. To her disappointment, the cave the mountain lion had chosen was totally inaccessible, which meant Tansy would have to spend another year or two studying the species and waiting for the next birth cycle, after these kittens were raised. In the meantime, tonight’s pictures were worth a fortune and would give her the necessary money to continue her work.
Tansy deserved a long soak in the natural pool and an even longer nap in the mid afternoon sun. Very carefully, she stretched her sore, tired muscles. Needles and pins rushed in where before there had been only numbness. The cramps would hit soon, grabbing at her calves and thighs, a protest against the long hours of being motionless. She had no real room to maneuver, the ledge was so narrow. She breathed through the needles, breathed through the cramps, flexing and stretching with care until she was certain she was able to climb the sheer rock face as she did most days.
There were tiny crevices where she could wedge her fingers and toes. Long ago she had rigged a rope for safety. It was often an effort to remember to use it; she was so accustomed to the climb. Today, however, she was grateful for its presence. She was far more tired than usual. The natural pool would be more than welcome and nothing was going to prevent her well-deserved catnap.
Tansy stowed her precious camera and its load alongside the diary she kept of the cat’s movements, in her strongest metal box at her camp. She locked the latches with not one, but two heavy locks, and stored it well away from her food supplies, on the off chance a wandering bear became curious.
She was actually happy. Tansy stretched again. She couldn’t wait to let her mother and father know. They’d been so worried about her after her breakdown, and they’d been so frightened when she started disappearing for months at a time into the wildest places she could find. Dropped by helicopter with her gear, she lived with just a daily radio call to assure them she was alive and well. And she was more than fine now. She had suffered through hell and come out on the other side.
Happiness was a bright light spreading through her like a glow when she honestly couldn’t remember feeling happy before.
She yawned, glanced at her watch, waiting for the arranged time for the call. Her mother had obviously been doing the same exact thing on her end, because when she gave her call sign, her mother answered immediately. Sharon Meadow’s bubbly voice was like a ray of sunshine and Tansy smiled just hearing her.
“You should see the pictures I got,” Tansy greeted. “I don’t think anyone’s ever managed to get so close to a cougar in the wild.”
“You’ve always had an affinity for animals. They don’t seem to mind you being around,” Sharon agreed. “Even the meanest dog would turn into a love when you talked to them. But don’t get too close, Tansy. You are carrying a weapon, aren’t you?”
“Of course, mom. How’s dad?”
“I’m right here, Tansy-girl. I wanted to hear your voice. Are you about to wrap it up?” Don Meadows asked.
“She’s going to have her kittens any day. I thought I might be able to film the birth, but she tricked me and found the one place I couldn’t get my camera into, but I should be able to photograph the kittens within a few hours after birth.”
“Which means you aren’t coming home,” her father made it a statement.
She laughed. “You two don’t want me home. You’re like a couple of honeymooners and I cramp your style.”
“We want you with us, Tansy,” Sharon said and now worry crept into her voice.
“I love it up here,” Tansy explained. “I know you don’t understand, mom…”
Don laughed and Tansy knew he was trying to cover for her mother. “She doesn’t even like to camp in an RV, Tansy. There’s no way she can understand how you want to live in the wild without all the amenities of a five star hotel.”
Her father had taken her camping often over the years, but her mother had found excuse after excuse not to go with them. Tansy had been about ten years old before she realized her mother hadn’t wanted to come along with them and that her excuses weren’t real. Tansy, like her father, loved camping and those summers had prepared her for her current work.
“I just don’t like you being so alone all the time,” Sharon said, forcing a brightness back into her voice.
“Mom,” she assured, “this is good for me. I don’t have all the craziness out here. I can’t be around people, you know that—it’s dangerous for me.”
There was a small silence. She heard her mother choke and knew she was holding back tears. Tansy wasn’t normal. She would never be normal, and her mother loved her and wanted desperately for her to be able to be like other women. To get married, have a family. It was all her mother had ever wanted for her. Sharon had never been able to give birth to biological children. She’d adopted Tansy and wanted for her all the things she couldn’t have herself.
“Are you certain, Tansy?” Sharon asked. “I can’t help you when you’re so far away. I don’t know that you’re healthy and happy. Are you? Are you really, Tansy?”
This time the break in her voice was very apparent and Tansy’s heart clenched tightly. “It’s all right, mom. I’m all right,” she said softly. “I’m happy here. I’m productive. I’m able to make a good living at this and I really love it. My mind feels clean and clear out here.”
“I just don’t want you to be alone all your life,” Sharon said. “I want you to find someone, and be loved by him the way Don loves me.”
Tansy pressed her fingers to her eyes. She was exhausted and even over the distance, even with radio waves, she heard the pain and disappointment in her mother’s voice—not at her—she knew that, but on her behalf.
“I love both of you,” Don said firmly. “And for now, that’s more than enough, isn’t it Tansy-girl?”
Of course she wanted a husband and children, but she knew it was impossible. She’d accepted that and so had her father. Love for him, for his ability to understand how truly flawed she was and yet love her anyway, poured over her.
“Absolutely, dad,” she agreed, meaning it. “I’m really happy, mom. And I’m not ill, even the headaches are gone.”
“Completely?” Don asked, shock and hope in his voice.
Tansy smiled, happy to be able to tell the truth. “Absolutely, dad.” And thank you for all the nights you sat up with me when I couldn’t sleep, she added silently.
“That’s wonderful, dear,” Sharon’s voice was packed with relief.
“Do you need us to send more supplies? I’ll get one of our pilots to make the drop.”
“I’ll make a list and give it to you tomorrow. I need sleep now. I was up all night.”
“Take care, Tansy,” her mother said, her voice back to normal, once again upbeat and happy, as if by using her bubbliest tone, she could bolster Tansy. “If you don’t come back soon your father and I will be on your doorstep.”
Don snorted and Tansy burst out laughing. “Okay, mom. Just another few weeks and I’ll be home.” She made kissing noises and signed off, feeling very lucky and grateful that Don and Sharon were her parents.
She had always felt loved by them, even though she was so different. She’d always been different. She detested touching objects. Even dinnerware and utensils were enough to set her off, crying and rocking, so distressed, her parents would take turns comforting her, walking her up and down, singing to her. School had been a nightmare for her and in the end, they had hired private tutors—which had broken her mother’s heart.
Tansy sighed. She had so wanted to be that girl her mother could share her life with. The proms, the late night gossip sessions, the wonderful fairy tale wedding. Her mother would never have that, and Tansy wanted it for her, just as her mother wanted that life for Tansy.
Finally, after months in a hospital, she’d realized she couldn’t be that girl—would never be that girl. She’d accepted herself for who she really was, flaws and all, and she’d managed to make a new life for herself. She was content, even happy, here in the wilderness.
Tansy powered off the radio and started down the trail leading to the natural pool. The hike to the basin was long and winding, but she was very familiar with it and could go fairly fast in spite of the roughness of the terrain. The rock formation was part of the reason she’d chosen this area as her base camp. The falls were beautiful, flowing down a series of smooth rocks to a natural pool below. The swimming hole was lined with rock so it stayed clean and it was surrounded with flat granite so she had plenty of room to sun herself. The basin was the perfect place to spend a lazy afternoon after being up all night working.
Tansy liked to sleep in the morning, bathe in the pool and then catch a couple of hours of sun in the afternoon before returning to her camp and preparing for another evening’s shoot. As a rule, mountain lions had a large territory, the females often covered fifty square miles, but the female was staying close to her small cave, and Tansy was absolutely certain that she was about to give birth any day. She didn’t want to miss her opportunity, or let the female get away from her. She’d heard of cougar’s changing dens at the last moment, and she needed to be watching the pregnant cat closely.
Tansy stretched out, trying to get comfortable on the smooth granite surface. Ordinarily, after a long night without sleep, she dropped right off in the afternoon sun. She tried to tell herself she was excited over her pictures, the months of work finally paying off. The truth was, since the moment that helicopter had flown overhead, she had a vague feeling of uneasiness, as if a storm were gathering off in the distance and heading her way. The premonition persisted and was so strong, she lifted her head to search the sky for a sign of ominous, dark clouds.
A lazy hawk floated in the cloudless sky, catching a thermal and riding it just for fun. Tansy laid her head against her arm, and rubbed her cheek back and forth in a soothing gesture. It was crazy, but she felt as if she were being hunted. The area was secluded, restricted without a permit, well posted, impassable except on foot, or in winter, with snow shoes. The helicopter had shaken her more than she wanted to admit.
“Let it go,” she whispered aloud.
She closed her eyes tiredly, searching for the inner contentment she always found after a great shoot. No one else could have gotten those pictures. Well, very few. She had a way with animals, as her mother had said. If she willed something in her head, oftentimes, she could get the animal to cooperate, even the wildest. She had it all, the perfect job, the wild terrain, and the peace the mountains always managed to give her. This was the life she chose, she loved. More, this was the life she needed. No human contact what-so-ever. At last she’d found a place she could be happy.
Tansy smiled in contentment. She was very tired and needed sleep. She only had a few hours left in the afternoon. Nights on the mountain were always iffy. Let it all go and just sleep. When she woke, she could swim in the pool and then stretch out and dry off in the hot afternoon sun before making her way back to camp to prepare for this night’s shoot.
“Are you going hunting, sir?”
Kadan Montague glanced up at the crew chief, sliding his 45 smoothly into the holster at his hip and locking it down. “Something like that.” He shouldered his pack and slipped his knife securely into the scabbard before glancing at his coordinates. “This is it.”
The crew chief, recognizing his VIP didn’t want to talk, made certain the rope was secure and moved to the side to allow his passenger to step up to the open door. Kadan caught the rope with both gloved hands and waited for the pilot’s okay. The craft steadied and he went down, fast-roping, settling to earth with a slight impact and stepping clear to give the away signal. His descent had taken seconds and the helicopter swung away, shifting toward the south, flying fast for base. It would set down at the ranger station and wait, no matter how long, for a radio signal to pick him up in the lower meadow as soon as he had the cargo ready.
Kadan took a deep long breath of mountain air and looked slowly around him, feeling at home. Dawn was breaking over the mountain, spilling light along the ridges, turning shrubbery, leaves and granite to gold. Pine, fir and dogwood stretched as far as the eye could see and huge towering cliffs of granite jutted up toward the sky. For the first time in a long while, he relaxed. No one was trying to kill him. He might be in for a long hike, but he could enjoy his surroundings.
He moved with complete confidence, with the steady gait of a man used to being out in the wilderness and covering a large territory fast. He was at home in any environment, having trained with the military Special Forces as well as with the GhostWalker teams. Arctic, desert, mountain and water training gave his body the fitness to hike the rigorous terrain. He enjoyed physical activity and, although he was tired from going through several time zones and being without sleep for several days, he was wholly focused on his mission.
He traveled in the direction he estimated would be the most likely to find Tansy Meadow’s campsite. The area had several possibilities, but she had specific needs for a long term stay and that narrowed her options significantly. If she was anywhere in the zone he had targeted, he would run across her tracks. An hour into his hike, he found several trails leading upward into the higher, less dense forest and more toward the craggy granite, a good place for mountain lions. He worked his way steadily to the granite where there was more brush and fewer trees.
Kadan paused on the narrow, faint ribbon of a deer trail to take a long, slow drink of his water. He had the coordinates of the range she traveled in, taking amazing photographs for National Geographic, and he was certain the information he had was accurate. Tansy Meadows, psychic extraordinaire and elite tracker. The girl who could track serial killers with her mind. Some said she was difficult to work with, others said she was the ‘freaky’ but got the job done and every single report he read on her said she was the real thing. Of course, now, the law enforcement agencies claimed she’d lost her talent in a climbing accident, when she’d fallen and hit her head. He didn’t believe it for a moment, but if he was wrong, he was wasting time he didn’t have on a bad roll of the dice.
He had a few questions marks in his mind about Meadows. There were no pictures of her, not a single one, and she worked for numerous law enforcement agencies, yet no photographs existed. He’d tried National Geographic, but they didn’t have a picture either. Who had that kind of power? No civilian could manage to wipe out law enforcement records—unless there was never a photograph in the first place. There were plenty of articles in newspapers and her name was in numerous FBI and police reports across the country, and then there were her hospital records. No photograph existed there either, in which case, that meant little Miss Tansy Meadows had to be red flagged, yet Kadan had high security clearance and the General even higher, yet from what they could tell, no photograph of her existed. Period.
She’d been adopted at the age of five by Don and Sharon Meadows, a wealthy couple who made a name for themselves in the research, design and assembly of aircraft, specifically attack helicopters. Don and Sharon Meadows were major players in politics and frequently received government contracts for military research and design. The couple was well connected politically, but did that mean they had the clout to keep their daughter’s photograph from appearing anywhere in the news? It was possible, but doubtful. It would take far more power and influence, and for what possible gain?
The first time Kadan had heard rumors of a teenager who could track serial killers was when he’d trained at Quantico. Controversy had raged over whether there was such a thing as psychic ability and if one had it, could it really be channeled to track a killer. He had never entered into the discussions because he knew absolutely that psychic ability existed, but to harness it and be able to use it was a difficult thing. The police Tansy had worked with swore by her, but no one mentioned her training, which had been odd to him.
He continued upward, his gut telling him he was on the right path. There were no tracks yet, nothing to indicate the presence of another human being, but he was certain he was heading in the right direction. He was looking for a needle in a haystack, but he knew he would find her. Every instinct he had told him she was somewhere close. And he would bet his last dollar that she was lying her ass off claiming she’d lost her psychic abilities. If she had worked over and over with the police tracking serial killers successfully, he doubted if a climbing accident had suddenly snuffed out her talent as she claimed when she came out of the hospital, refusing to even meet with police or FBI agents again.
His gaze scanned the ground as he moved at a steady pace along the narrow trail. The path was no more than a worn deer trail, zigzagging up and down the slope, but he spotted two places where the grass was crushed and a several leaves appeared bruised. Something moved through the brush recently. He stooped to examine the ground and saw a faint track. It was nearly four inches wide and the front two toes were not lined up, with one toe further forward almost pointing and four toes all together. There were no claw marks, and the top part of the heel pad had two distinct curvatures while the bottom had three separate lobes. There was no question in his mind the track belonged to a cougar. He’d found the cat, now he just needed to find the woman.
The rangers had assured him the mountain lions were up here somewhere, and that meant that Tansy Meadows would be also. His mission was to find her and bring her back to aid him in clearing the GhostWalker name. She had the reputation with the FBI of being the real deal and the General needed Kadan to do damage control as soon as possible and to do that, Kadan needed Tansy Meadows. He had never failed in a mission yet and this one was too important.
He continued hiking using the winding ribbon of a trail. Occasionally he could see a partial track in the damp soil, and once he found a few tufts of fur in some brush where the cat had been rubbing. He decided she must be female, her tracks weren’t deep enough to indicate much weight, and he hadn’t come across any of the signs indicating a male’s territory. This was one of the few times he had gone into the mountains without someone trying to kill him and he found he enjoyed the peaceful solitude in spite of the urgency of his mission.
He took a couple of steps and then he saw it. His heart jumped in spite of his training, breath hitching in his lungs. The print of a small hiking boot was outlined in the dust of the trail and superimposed right over the top of it, was the mountain lion. All along the cat had been stalking the woman—and he was certain it was a woman by the size of the shoe—probably walking parallel to her trail for some distance before dropping in behind her.
He swore under his breath as he cast around for more tracks. There were older tracks indicating the woman used this trail often, and that the mountain lion often stalked her. He took a breath and let it out, forcing down a feeling of urgency. If the cougar often trailed her, that didn’t mean this would be the day the cat attacked. He picked up his pace, following the pair back up the granite slope toward the cliffs.
The mountain lion continued her steady pacing, staying in the woman’s track, but not moving faster as if to overtake her. If she was hunting, she wasn’t in a hurry to catch her prey. As the sun grew hotter overhead, he continued his climb, taking another long, slow pull from his camel pack, allowing the cool water to trickle down his throat so he could savor it, feeling a little exposed in the open of the granite with giant boulders towering around him.
At night it was piercingly cold. By day it could be unexpectedly hot, or without warning, a storm could move in with alarming force. He had no wish to be caught out in the open with lightening striking everywhere.
Kadan made it to the top of the rise and looked out over the spectacular view. In spite of the high altitude he had no problem with breathing, his training standing him in good stead. He paused for a moment to take stock of his surroundings. The deep timber had given way to high ridges of granite and tall castle-like formations. It was breath-takingly beautiful. Even he had to admit it, as much as he detested wasting precious time on such things.
Above him, a long fall of frothy water, spilled down, far below, into a pool of deep emerald green. The natural basin was made of granite, large boulders worn smooth from the constant assault of water. Something moved in the deepest end of the pool. He fixed his sight on the water’s surface and the intriguing ripple came again. Without taking his eyes from the ever widening circle, Kadan pulled his high powered field glasses from the case at his belt and quickly adjusted them. Instantly the emerald green of the water shimmered within touching distance. He found himself waiting in anticipation.
Closer to the water’s edge, to his left and near the lowest wall of granite, the water ringed, and something silvery-gold appeared to break the surface for a moment. Kadan unconsciously held his breath. An otter? Were there otters up here? Were otters silver and gold?
She rose up out of the water, long wet hair streaming, gleaming, and shimmering like skeins of wet silk. The droplets of water ran off the curves of her breasts, down her narrow rib cage, dipped in at her small waist to stream down her flat belly to the triangle of blonde curls at the junction of her legs. She was naked, skin glowing in the sunlight, her tan so deep it emphasized the white-gold of her hair. She tilted her head to one side, brought her long hair over one shoulder in an unconsciously provocative gesture.
The wind shifted and carried her scent to him. Kadan’s body tightened savagely in response. His body knew her instantly. She looked like some wild, pagan offering, untamed, seductive. For him. He went very still, his breath catching in his lungs. Instant awareness shook him. He certainly had his share of women, but he never reacted like this—a vicious, brutal response of his body and mind, everything in him reaching toward her.
“Whitney, you bastard,” he whispered aloud. Not for one moment would he ever believe his reaction to be natural. It was too strong, too obsessive. Too unlike him.
He crouched down for a moment, feeling sucker punched. He’d joined the military, gone through Special Forces training, continued with water, arctic, desert and even urban training, and then he’d read the call for testing of psychic abilityand he had gone immediately, tested high, as he knew he would, and had been accepted into the military GhostWalker program. He’d agreed to be psychically enhanced. He hadn’t agreed to be genetically altered, nor had he ever been told that they would match him chemically to a female.
As the extent of what had been done to the volunteers became apparent, Kadan had hoped he’d been one of the ones who escaped this particular hell. But he knew. His body knew. He tried to breathe away the monstrous hard-on that came out of nowhere. He pushed down the aggression as testosterone flooded his body with burning lust and a savage desire to possess. He’d never thought to ask any of the others what it was like, or even if all of their symptoms were the same, but he felt aggressive, dangerous, almost brutal, a primitive response preprogrammed into him.
Breathing deeply, he grabbed a handful of dirt, closing his fingers around it hard, as if squeezing the life from someone’s throat. And where was the cat? He had to make certain the animal wasn’t about to leap on her.
Once more he lifted the binoculars, breath catching in his lungs as she came back into focus. Even the way she wrung out her hair was sensuous, tipping her head to one side, the long golden strands rippling like silk as her hands squeezed the thick skein. Water beaded and ran from full breasts to belly and down to the vee at the junction of her legs. Her legs were slender, her butt firm as she waded toward the edge of the pool, the water lapping at her thighs. His tongue moistened his suddenly dry lips. He would give anything to lick the droplets of water from her skin.
Reluctantly he moved the binoculars from his fantasy vision to scan the surrounding forest and mountains. Nothing. He shifted his direction, quartering the area, looking high, from branches to boulders. The mountain lion had to be there somewhere, invisible to his sight, maybe, but not to his gut.
There was no camp close by that he could see, but it had to be there. He turned his attention back to the woman. This must be Tansy Meadows. She looked almost as if swimming in the pool and napping and sunning was a daily ritual, and if so, she wouldn’t be hiking too far from her home ground.
There was no doubt in his mind that she owned his body and that meant she had to be one of the lost girls Whitney experimented on. The demented doctor had taken infants from orphanages from all over the world and performed experiments on them. A few lucky ones had been adopted out. He had her background information memorized. Her parents had adopted her when she was five years old. She had severe problems in school and other social settings. She’d worked with the police from the age of thirteen, tracking killers and kidnap victims with amazing accuracy. He should have known it was too accurate. He should have known her psychic abilities were enhanced.
Kadan took another long look around in an effort to spot the mountain lion. If it was there, the animal was well camouflaged. Every area he thought would be the perfect place to ambush her seemed serene and peaceful. He swung the glasses back to the natural basin.
She stepped from the shimmering emerald water, moving with grace and something else, something so seductive and innocent at the same time, his body screamed at him with urgent demand. His breath caught in his throat as she lifted her slender arms toward the sun, the action thrusting her breasts upwards, the darker nipples erect from the cold. Kadan could feel the taste of her in his mouth. He took a slow deep breath to calm the surging excitement, the exultation. His body, his mind, his very soul said she was the one. He was looking at his mate.
God help him, he didn’t want to think that way—not now—not in the middle of such a huge crisis. He needed to be sane, to keep his mind and body under control. And he needed to use this woman, be ruthless in necessary. He swore softly under his breath and wiped his forehead with the back of his hand as he kept the glasses trained on her.
She lathered her body with lotion, every stroke of her hand making his body throb and jerk in need, and then she stretched out, face down, on the flat surface of the rock, her body an offering in the afternoon sun. Her bottom was curved, well muscled, joining the long expanse of her shapely legs. It was impossible, even with the field glasses, to see her facial features, she was turned away from him, her face in the shadows. His imagination could not provide a face to go with her sensual body or the erotic way she moved. He watched her for a long while, until her breathing became slow and even and he knew she slept.
She was sound asleep and a mountain lion had stalked her all the way down the trail to the basin. It was hidden somewhere above her, maybe watching. Again he scanned the surrounding area, appalled that she lay naked and exposed, where any hunter, or wild animal might come across her. Fury burned in his belly, low and mean, and for a moment, the ground around him trembled. He clamped down on his temper and forced air through his lungs as he sifted through every possible place the cougar could hide. He’d trained at the elite sniper school, taken the test of finding fifty objects hidden at multiple distances and he’d spotted every one, but the cat remained hidden.
He lowered the glasses. He’d been too long without sleep. He’d traveled to ten foreign countries in two weeks, working on forming a collective pool of multinational antiterrorist information for an elite assassination squad. The team would live in the shadows, travel to the kill zone, destroy all targets and fade away before anyone ever knew they were in the area. Each member would be totally anonymous so there could be no retaliation against families. Each member would be a GhostWalker, able to get in and out of a target zone like a shadow.
Kadan had been assigned the task and was pulling his team together when he was abruptly called home and given another mission—and this one was too important to mess up. He was known for his coolness under fire, his absolute calm in any crisis, his ability to lead his team and undertake any mission, find a way to carry it out and get his team home again, no matter the odds. He sighed. He didn’t feel cool or calm now, he felt edgy and mean. He was grateful his fellow GhostWalkers weren’t around to witness his struggle.
Deliberately slowing his breathing, he took another drink from his camel pack. He was going to have climb down to the rocks below and find a way to convince her to join him, because in the end, she didn’t really have any more of a choice than he did. He had a feeling it wasn’t going to be easy or pleasant, but completing the mission was necessary. And he had the feeling that if this woman had been given up for adoption years earlier by Whitney, she probably hadn’t been chemically matched with him, which, quite frankly, was going to make things one hell of a mess. Whitney had kept her DNA and had programmed him, but not her.
He’d thought the task was going to be heart-breaking and difficult enough just convincing and perhaps forcing Tansy to partner him in his investigation, but now, with the added threat of the physical pull between them, the mission had gone to daunting. She had suffered a breakdown and by all accounts, it had been real. He’d read the report carefully, as well as all her medical records. She’d spent weeks in a hospital and months in seclusion with her parents. She’d been fractured, shattered by her last case, her mind splintering and refusing to relinquish the evil voices of the killers she’d tracked, or the screams of their victims. He was going to have to ask her to let other, more powerful and vicious voices in. On top of that, he was going to have to somehow explain he was paired with her.
Kadan found himself unable to tear his eyes from her. The longer he watched her, the tighter and more urgently his body made demands. He had never experienced such sexual hunger. It seemed to fill every cell of his body, invade his brain, squeeze his body in a vice until jackhammers were ripping through him, driving out every civilized thought. He had to get some kind of handle on the link between them, or he would destroy any chance he had with her.
He sat down, folded his legs tailor fashion and closed his eyes, searching inwardly to center himself. He needed balance. The discomfort of the rocks, of his boots, of his body swarmed into his brain and he allowed them to wash over him, to form rings on the pool he focused on and disappear in the ripples of the water. He breathed long, deep breaths, searching inside himself for the truth of his strong emotions.
Fear for her safety. Both from animal predators and from human ones.This area was so isolated, it frightened him to think what would happen if she were found by some drunk hunter, or a man without scruples or principles. Any animal could stalk her while she lay defenseless in the sun, the cat already had. Anger.He examined the turbulent emotion from all angles. It was one he was not completely familiar with. Most of his life he had been cold and dispassionate in his dealings with people. That was what made him so good at his job. He had mastered his every emotion. Anger. It ripped through him. Boiled. Surged and pounded. Insisted on release like a heated volcano.Completely over the top and he refused to let it to the surface. He had a mission and nothing—no one—got in the way of a mission.
He took another deep calming breath, stayed in the pool of sanity while insane emotions swirled and clamored and finally abated leaving him whole again. He opened his eyes and smiled. The smile of a predator. He came to his feet, unexpectedly fluid for such a large man. His eyes found her once again. The shadows were just beginning to reach for the soft curves of her body.
He moved with sudden decision, finding the easiest way down the mountainside. It was steep and rocky and as always in the mountains, deceptively longer than the distance seemed it should. It took some hunting to find the steep, narrow staircase that actually led to the secluded basin. He made his way down as quietly as he was able. He wanted to study her while she slept, just take his time and let the image of her burn in his memory for all eternity. He wouldn’t mind throwing on hell of a scare into her either.