Eve looked out over the moonlit landscape as she took the stone and dirt pathways around the prairie. The red silk gown clung to her body, brushing against her flesh in cool whispers. Her hair had fallen loose and now hung about her shoulders and back. A gentle breeze lifted the locks, sweeping them across her throat.
Eve knew she wouldn’t be able to sleep. Every time she closed her eyes, she would think of Midnight. She knew it would be nearly impossible to see the black panther in the dark, behind the railing and fences, but she tried to find him anyway.
The preserve was safe—safer than wherever the big cat had been before she found him, safer than the wild. Still, she worried. There was no sign as to how the human tracks got inside the restricted area, but that didn’t mean whoever had snuck in wouldn’t come back. When she stopped to think about it, she only became more worried. Was it teenagers pulling pranks? Poachers? Someone trying to set up canned hunts for bored businessmen? Just the idea of drugging a wild animal so some dumbass could shoot it caused a silent rage to well up inside her stomach. One of her cougars had come to her that way. Even with the cougar drugged, the amateur hunter had missed the kill shot and ended up permanently injuring the animal.
Eve crossed over a wood plank bridge with rope sides, absently running her hands over the small plaque that bore her family’s name. It was one of the few things her mother had done in support of her career. Unfortunately, it wasn’t out of love for Eve but because animals were the charitable cause that year.
Before her the wild grasses grew, rolling like ocean waves in the blue moonlight. The bridge led to a path in the woods. She knew the area well, but it wasn’t wise for even the seasoned staff members to go in there at night. No one had ever been hurt at the preserve, but she didn’t want to risk it. They liked giving the animals as much freedom as possible and that included plenty of space to roam and run.
Eve looked down at the creek flowing gently beneath the bridge from the woods. A nervous smile came to her lips as she thought of the handsome Russian. He was a stranger and yet she’d felt connected to him. Her heartbeat sped. She’d wanted to run home and tell Midnight all about him. Silly, really. She knew that.
Eve gave a nervous laugh. She needed to stop drinking. It was making her loopy. The last time she drank she’d been accosted by wild dreams. Maybe that was why she took a shot of whiskey before leaving the trailer. Tonight, when she went to bed, maybe her dream lover would reappear, only this time Mr. Dark and Dangerous would replace the unknown face above hers and his silken accent would be the one whispering in her ear. Her stomach tightened. On a basic, primal level, she had wanted the stranger to kiss her, to keep kissing her until they were both hot and feverish with need. She’d wanted him to make love to her right there on the balcony. Only, she’d chickened out and had run away like a coward.
Hearing a noise, Eve jumped slightly. She turned and smiled to see Midnight. She had hoped he’d find her. Leaning down, she held her hand out to the cat. His powerful body moved, perfectly healed, as he stalked forward to her. His golden gaze watched her with his silent intensity.
“Hey, how was your first day out in the wild?” she asked in a soft whisper. Automatically, her fingers ran over him to make sure he was unharmed. Satisfied that he’d not gotten into any scrapes with the other cats, she let him go. He looked at her and she shivered. “You seem well. I’m glad. I’m well too. I met someone tonight.”
Midnight watched her.
“He…” She paused, hesitating. “Truth be told, he was gorgeous.” She again reached to stroke the cat’s fur. A secret smile came to her lips. “He tried to kiss me and I ran away from him. I didn’t even learn his name.”
Midnight didn’t move. Eve’s smile faded.
“I did just what I always thought I would in a situation like that. I ran away like a coward. I should have… Oh, Midnight! I should have just done what I wanted. But I started to worry. Was he married? Did he know my parents? Would he think I was a whore? Who was he? Why was he interested in kissing me? Why would he be interested in me at all? Before I knew it, I had talked myself out of any adventure by analyzing it to death. And now I’ll never see him again.”
Suddenly, Midnight stiffened and sprinted off into the nearby woods. Eve started to follow after him and then hesitated. She couldn’t break her own rule. The cats weren’t used to humans being in their forest at night. Even though she’d nursed them all back to health, they were still wild animals and she respected that.
“Midnight?” she called softly. “Are you there?”
She craned her neck, looking for Midnight for several long minutes, hoping he would come back. He didn’t. He was gone. Sighing, she turned to go back to her office. Suddenly, Eve froze. The handsome stranger was there. She couldn’t see his face in the deep shadows and yet she knew who it was.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
“I came to find you,” he answered in his low, sultry tone, sending chills over her entire being.
“Me?” Eve asked. It was like a dream come true and that scared her. “Why?”
“You ran away before I could introduce myself.” The handsome man came toward her, stalking with liquid grace to reach her. He no longer wore the tux, but a pair of tight blue jeans that molded to his hips and strong thighs. A black T-shirt hugged his well-built stomach, hugging delectably large biceps and a thick chest, bending with each flex of his perfect muscles. His body moved with effortless charm. “I am Viktor.”
“You came here to tell me you are Viktor? Just Viktor?” Eve asked with a nervous laugh. She couldn’t move. The bridge beneath her feet shifted slightly with his weight. Dark hair spilled over his shoulders in brilliant waves of blue-black. His dark eyes penetrated, like a wild beast. She shivered, her body heating at the look. She grew damp between her thighs. It was the same instant attraction she’d felt on the balcony and it again took her by surprise.
“Yes, just Viktor.”
Eve shivered. His voice was silk, gliding through the air to caress her. “Dr. Evelyn Maitland. I’m in charge of the Jameson Preserve.”
Did her voice just become husky? What was happening to her?
“I know,” Viktor said. His gaze dipped down to her lips and she knew he wanted to kiss her.
“You know?” Eve asked, growing suspicious. “Are you a patron? Is that why you’re here?”
“No, but I wish to be.” Viktor lifted his fingers to touch her face. “And I am here for you. I know all about you, Eve. I know of your kind heart, your love for these animals and for this place. I know that you are a rarity among people.”
Eve’s throat worked nervously. The way he looked at her unnerved her. It was deep and probing, as if he knew every intimate thought in her head. She endeavored to hold still. A potent ache stirred deep in her belly and she wanted to pull him closer.
“And I know what you want.” Lashes dipped low over his eyes as his gaze raked over her silk dress. “I know what you need, what I need.”
Eve’s mouth opened, but she couldn’t speak. Her breasts ached, the nipples reaching for him. People just didn’t speak so plainly, so boldly, so directly. They never just laid it out there, good or bad, without some kind of hidden agenda. But, looking at him, she knew there was no other motivation than what he said. He wanted her—simple as that.
And he meant to have her.