© 2023 by Jordan Summers

EXODUS CHAPTERS 1-3

CHAPTER ONE

 

After a hellish week away litigating, Jaclyn Ward entered her sleek Manhattan apartment and tossed her mail on the entryway table. The Toronto business trip had been sheer torture, but she’d argued effectively enough to save her company millions. Those Toronto boys never knew what hit them, she was the best when it came to fighting and winning. And she always got what she wanted in the end. Just the same, sometimes being a top corporate attorney was a bitch. Jac dropped her suitcase and walked to the phone. The light on the answering machine blinked like the warning light on a bomb set to explode.

Thirty un-played messages. I haven’t been gone that long.

She pressed the button as she retrieved the mail. She was flipping through the envelopes when Rachel’s voice came on the line.

“Hey, Jac,” was all Jac registered of her friend’s message. Jac smiled for the first time that day as she realized how much she missed Rachel. Hopefully her friend would let her know what date she’d be returning.

Then Rachel screamed and the line went dead.

The envelopes slipped from her fingers and Jac stood by the phone, frozen, unable to breathe. Her mind went blank as the room filled with the harsh sound of a dial tone. Did she just hear her best friend die?

The answering machine clicked on to the next message, as Jac sank to her knees, the room swimming around her. She was dimly aware of Brigit’s frantic voice informing her that Professor Donald Rumsinger had returned from the jungle expedition—without Rachel. Jac’s jaw clenched and her stomach somersaulted as something deep inside her spoke:

I knew it. I knew that low-down son-of-a-bitch was up to something.

Muscles at the base of her skull took that moment to tighten into the mother of all headaches. Jac shook as the overwhelming panic subsided, slowly being replaced by a fury the likes of which a volcano couldn’t contain. She spent the next hour phoning the museum and then the local authorities down in the god-forsaken jungle, but to no avail. Apparently one missing museum employee wasn’t worth their time.

The professor had convinced everyone that Rachel wanted to stay longer for further exploration and study. He’d used that fact that she wanted a promotion at the museum to sell the idea. After all, it had been her idea to go with him. He’d made no secret that he hadn’t wanted her to go along.

Was she dead? Had he killed her best friend? Or was Rachel lying somewhere in the jungle, waiting for help to arrive? There was only one way to know for sure.

Jac knew exactly what she had to do.

Two days, twelve inoculations, and fifteen hours on four different charter flights later, Jac’s plane circled the jungle runway. She had managed to get an expedition arranged by phone, but god only knew what she would find when she stepped off this tin can masquerading as an aircraft.

She was hot, sweaty, and pissed off that the professor had somehow managed to slip in and out of New York before she could get her hands on him. Rumsinger had a three- day head start on her. If he hurt Rachel, she’d make whatever country they were in expedite his happy ass back to New York so fast that his head would spin. Then Jac would personally castrate the bastard.

Hell, she’d cut his balls off here, if she could find him.

The plane landed with a thud, jarring her to the present, then skidded to a halt. There was nothing to see out of the tiny window other than miles and miles of trees. The pilot popped through the door and made his way down the aisle. His eyes wandered over Jac’s nipples and then to her mouth, before meeting her gaze. He reached out at the last second to retrieve her bag.

“I’ve got it, thanks.” Jac’s gaze pinned him.

The man gave a curt nod and backed away.

Jac stood, grabbing her pack in one fluid motion, and then lugged it to the door. She jumped over the step that had been placed on the ground. The air was thick enough to slice with a blade. She patted her knife to make sure it was still strapped to her calf. Mosquitoes swarmed around her in a tiny cloud. Her Tomb Raideroutfit supplied little protection against the carnivores, but the fact that she looked good wearing it made up for any impracticality. She reached in her pack and grabbed her can of bug spray.

“Take that, you greedy little vampiric bastards.” She pressed down on the top and sprayed the killer mist over her arms and legs. “You’re not getting my blood.”

After the fumes cleared, Jac shaded her eyes and looked around. The guides she’d hired were a few hundred yards away and the tents were already set up. She lifted the backpack into place and hiked across the short clearing. All the green made her miss her houseplants back home. She sent a silent prayer to the heavens that Brigit remembered to water them. Considering Brigit’s absentmindedness, Jac didn’t hold out much hope she’d return to anything living. Couple that with Brigit leaving to attend MercuryCon, a huge sci-fi convention in New York, and her plants were as good as dead.

She’d walked several yards when the hair at her nape stood on end. Jac swung around, dropping her pack, the can held out in front of her like a weapon. “Just try something, whoever you are. Go ahead, make my day,” she growled in her best Dirty Harry voice, daring anyone or anything to come forward out of the jungle to face her. She felt antsy, anxious, as if the nerves in her body were firing all at once. It was a decidedly unpleasant sensation that Jac had no intention of indulging, which in turn made her even crankier. She was itching for a good fight. Anything to relieve some of the tension knotting her muscles.

A breeze swayed the tops of the trees. The green canopy tilted from side to side, like the waves on an ocean, the slight swooshing noise the only sound she heard besides a few raucous birds. Jac scanned the shadowed line, unable to shake the feeling that she wasn’t alone.

Nothing moved.

She stood there, one hand planted on her narrow hip, straining to hear that one snap or crunch that would give her enemy’s position away. “Bring it on,” she muttered. Jac waited another beat, then continued to base camp. It was time to proceed on her mission to find Rachel, kick Donald Rumsinger’s ass, and get them both back to New York before the weekend was up.

From the protection of the trees, Ares watched the tall blonde. Her hair was cropped close to her neck and those long legs were bare except for a scrap of material at the top, covering her. He’d seen plenty of women in long sheer skirts, but he’d never seen a woman in short pants. The material accentuated her lithe muscles, making her movements appear sleek and controlled. Her breasts were compact and firm, as was his preference. Her composure was cool and aloof, daring anyone or anything to step into her territory. A warrior woman through and through.

Ares lips twitched. He was willing to accept that dare and more.

Queen Rachel’s memories had been true in every respect. She’d be angry with him if she had known he’d eavesdropped on them so easily. Ares hadn’t been able to help it. The woman known as Jac had intrigued him from the beginning, and now she was here, not more than a hundred yards from him. Tempting, calling, provoking.

Ariel, the Seer had been right. His mate had arrived. It was time to hunt.

Jac reached the camp without further incident. She dropped her pack and stretched her arms over her head. Her muscles were sore from being cramped in little seats for hours. She’d managed to dismiss the weird foreboding, but couldn’t shake the sensation of eyes boring into her back and over her limbs. Her body was still hyper sensitive, which did nothing for her peace of mind. She needed release.

Some people drank or turned to food to cope with stress. Jac preferred sex. She’d choose a good tumble over single malt or a salty chip any day. Orgasms didn’t cause hangovers or give a girl a fat ass.

A handsome twenty-something guide approached her. “My name is Xavier.” He stuck out his hand. “You must be Ms. Ward.”

She nodded, grasping his palm to shake it. “Call me Jac.”

Her gaze ran the distance from his well-developed calves, up his long legs, to his wide muscular chest. Xavier’s eyes were a soft cocoa and his skin the finest sienna. He had rich black hair shorn to a short made-for-the-weather crop. His lips were full and sensuous as they split into a dazzling white smile.

Jac’s clit twitched—she hadn’t gone native before. Might be fun. Her eyes flicked to the front of his shorts, taking in the slight bulge behind the seam. Jac gave him a telling smile. Maybe she wouldn’t have to rough it on her own in the backwoods after all.

Xavier raised an eyebrow, but said nothing as his eyes zeroed in on her tits. Jac knew her nipples were hard. She didn’t bother to hide her reaction. She was a very sexual creature by nature and was in no way ashamed about being so. He guided her to her tent, pointing out the trail that led to a nearby stream.

“You have plenty of time to explore if you like before the meal will be served. I recommend the stream, but be careful. There are anaconda and caiman in the area.”

“Care to join me?” Jac asked.

Xavier’s gaze traveled up and down her legs. “Perhaps if I get done charting our course before nightfall, I will,” he said.

“I’ll be waiting.” She saluted, then stepped into her tent. The space was small, but adequate. Lucky for her, she wasn’t expecting the Ritz. Jac quickly unpacked. Pulling out the items she’d need for tonight, she glanced over her shoulder in time to see Xavier staring at her ass.

Jac smiled, then purposely dropped a pair of thong underwear onto the tent floor. Like an exotic dancer, she slowly bent at the waist, picked up the scrap of material, then slid it up the length of her long, long legs. She heard what sounded like choking, but by the time she turned Xavier was gone. Jac laughed. There was no doubt he’d meet her by the water now.

Two semi-automatic pistols were holstered and sitting on her cot. She picked them up and strapped them on against her thighs. Now she really did look like a blonde tomb-raider. She rifled through her pack and pulled out a baseball cap, shoving it on her head. Jac threw the opening of the tent back and inhaled.

The jungle had an odor of the untamed, even the flowery scent on the air smelled wild and savage. Her eyes took in the workers, each assigned to a specific task. They busied themselves with few glances coming her way. She couldn’t see Xavier, but figured he hadn’t gone far.

Jac trotted around the back of her tent to the trail Xavier had pointed out earlier. Despite the hour, the sun shone bright and unyielding, until she started down the path. Vines and roots grew in a mass tangle on the jungle floor, snaking their way up the various trees, clinging like parasites in search of elusive sunlight. Jac pushed giant ferns out of her way, taking care not to damage the plants. She’d always had a green thumb and prided herself on her ability to appreciate all things wild.

The sound of rushing water caught her attention and she picked up her pace. Just the thought of getting in a few laps to unkink her muscles before dinner had her salivating. The tri-athlete in her came out and she ran, jumping over low vegetation, ducking around branches. In a few moments time she arrived at the edge of the stream, barely winded. A waterfall flowed twenty yards away churning up frothy bubbles before smoothing into a steady current. The spray was surprisingly cool and way too inviting to pass up. If she spotted an anaconda and caiman, she’d use it for target practice.

Jac drew one of her guns out of its holster, slipped the clip to check the ammo, before slamming it back inside, and then removed the safety. She wasn’t about to be caught unprepared. She set the pistol down and undressed. The air was palpable and hotter than Hades. How could anyone live down here?

Jac forced away a lump in her throat as she thought of poor Rachel. Somewhere in this god-forsaken place her friend was hurt, or even worse. She brushed her fingers through her hair, knocking her hat to the ground, and blew out a frustrated breath. Jac wouldn’t allow herself to even go down that road. Rachel hadto be alive and she was going to find her.

The last of her clothes dropped to the jungle floor. She walked barefooted across a thick blanket of grass, before reaching the water’s edge. Jac bent over, stretching her tired calves. It felt wonderful to be naked. A light spray from the falls coated her skin, making it glisten in the sunshine. She stood up to her full height of five foot eleven, her nipples puckering in the warm air.

She stuck her toe in the water and was about to step in when a tingle of warning lanced through her a second before a set of large hands came from behind, covering her eyes. Jac sucked in a surprised breath. She hadn’t heard a thing, not a single step. A low growl near her ear told her the visitor was most definitely male, not that she’d had any doubt. Jac knew with a few select strikes she could drop this intruder, but she decided to see what kind of game Xavier was playing first.

“Who’s there?” she called out, as if she didn’t know, her body quivering with excitement.

Another low rumble sounded by her other ear.

“Xavier, is that you?” She’d lowered her voice to a teasing cadence.

He gave her a quick lick at the base of her neck.

Jac purred. “Glad you decided to take me up on my offer.”

He stuck his nose against the side of her head and inhaled, taking in her scent.

She shivered, her nipples tightened to marbles and her channel drenched.

He pulled one hand away. Jac heard him fumble with something at his side, then a soft piece of cloth replaced the hand, covering her eyes. She smiled. Jac had no idea native men were so sexually adventurous or so prepared. Her heart kicked up a notch and she licked her lips in anticipation. A breath later, strong arms surrounded her and eased her to the ground, until she was flat on her back against the cool blades of grass. Feather soft, the grass caressed her bare skin, elevating her need with its tiny green fingers.

Jac loved games, especially sex games. They were always about trust and control. Although this was a first for her, Jac never allowed her lovers to have the upper hand, to be in control, especially when it came to sex. But for some reason, given the circumstances, she didn’t mind playing subservient this time.

Ares crouched beside Jac, his eyes caressing her naked form. He couldn’t believe she’d allow him to touch her like this without a struggle. His adrenaline surged, he’d been looking forward to the fight and eventual taming. Ares tried not to think about the fact that she thought he was the man known as Xavier.

He’d seen the native guide speaking with Jac earlier. There was no disguising the hunger in the man’s eyes. He wanted her. And it pained him to think it, but she wanted him, too. A wall of jealousy rose up and slammed into him, nearly taking Ares’s breath. He would not allow this man or any man to take his mate away from him. He’d kill if he had to.

His gaze flicked over the thin line of curls on her shaven mound. Ares couldn’t wait to follow that strip with his tongue, to see what hidden paradise he could find. Soon there would be no one else for Jac, and only he would be able to satisfy the need within her taut body. But first she had to get used to his touch. Ares palmed Jac’s small breasts, squeezing the satiny flesh between his fingers. Her skin heated beneath his touch, flushing a pale shade of pink. He wondered if her body turned a darker shade of that color when she came.

He licked his finger and swirled it around each nipple. Jac’s breath caught and her lips parted. Scraping her smooth skin lightly with his fingernails, Ares ran his hands from her shoulders to her toes, leaving gooseflesh in his wake. He couldn’t get enough of her.

Switching positions, he straddled her and began licking and nibbling her nipples as if she were a decadent dessert. Her rosy buds protruded, springing to life beneath his seeking mouth, with each pass of his tongue.

She smelled of the ocean, her skin salty and almost translucent like breaking waves. Ares’s breathing stuttered as he inched down toward the tawny strip of hair between her firm thighs. He made sure to press his hard body against hers, marking her with his scent.

He could already smell the rich, musky aroma of her arousal and he hadn’t even settled between her thighs yet. Moisture eased from her opening, calling for him to claim what was rightfully his. Ares gritted his teeth and closed his eyes, trying to fight the overwhelming urges coursing through his veins as he positioned himself between Jac’s legs.

His broad shoulders kept her lush thighs spread wide, while he dipped his head and extended his six and a half inch tongue. Jac moaned as he followed the thin strip of hair to her hidden pearl, flicking along hidden nerve endings.

The second he stroked the tiny nub, the taste of her exploded in his mouth, sending Ares into a primitive, feral, and all around dangerous state. She was his. He swiped at her slit. Her honeyed essence coated his tongue, before rocketing through his body. His.

No longer able to control his need to taste, to take, to conquer, Ares stiffened his tongue and plunged inside her. When he was seated as far as he could go, he sent an energy burst straight into her womb.

Jac felt his huge, throbbing shaft as he slid down her body, branding, teasing, torturing. She wanted to feel that shaft inside her, pummeling her into mindlessness. Just the thought of having him buried inside her was almost enough to send her over the edge.

Her clit pulsed and she dug her nails into the thick grass as his tongue plunged inside of her. A second later, a wave of heat hit and Jac screamed as one orgasm after another ripped through her body like she was at the epicenter of an earthquake.

Her legs trembled. She couldn’t catch her breath. She was on fire. The native between her thighs didn’t hesitate or stop, he kept on consuming her, until Jac thought she’d burst from the physical overload.

Never in all her years of experience had she ever run across a man as voracious and sexually gifted as Xavier. He devoured her as if she was the only woman on the planet and he hadn’t even fucked her yet. Jac surrendered to the pleasure, to the utter bliss as she flew apart again.

Ares continue to feed, his hunger insatiable. Her juices slid down his chin, leaving him drunk with desire. He couldn’t get his fill. Without looking he sensed the change in time, soon it would be dark. He had to let her up to ensure that she safely reached camp. Tomorrow when they entered the jungle, he would claim his woman and take care of the red-haired bastard threatening his people.

Reluctantly he rose from between her thighs. He swiped his face with the back of his hand and then wiped her essence onto his loincloth. Her body lay twitching on the ground, racked with shudders, mewling noises coming from her throat. A rosy flush tinted her fair skin. Ares smiled, it was as he suspected, Jac did blush crimson when she came. The lips of her sex were puffed up, pink and swollen from his overzealous ministrations.

Ares licked his lips, savoring her. Then he grinned triumphantly, knowing it was only the beginning. He leaned in, taking in her ripe mouth, so red, full and luscious. Ares dipped down and captured her pout, running his tongue along her bottom lip. She moaned and he dove in, ravishing, nipping and biting. He knew she could taste her own essence on his lips. Sparks flew, his skin heated. She was everything he had expected, wanted—needed.

And she was his—all his.

Ares tore himself away, then bounded into the thick brush without looking back. He feared that if he did, he’d discover the whole thing had been an illusion. His heart slammed in his chest and his shaft ached beyond the point of pain. His breathing sounded choppy as he took to a liana and climbed to the treetops, his muscles straining with the effort. The vegetation grew so dense that he could not see Jac from this distance, but he could hear her. She started to stir. He sent out an energy burst, warding away nearby predators.

Jac rose from the ground, pulling the material from her eyes. She no longer had to worry about tension, because her body had the consistency of a bowl of soggy spaghetti. She crawled to the water and slid in. The cool liquid surrounded her, leaving her buoyant and free. She didn’t even have the strength to do a single lap. Instead she floated reliving the glorious sensations her body refused to forget.

Several minutes passed before Jac finally dragged herself from the water. The sun had set behind the treetops, signaling it was time to get back to camp. She stood on wobbly legs and dressed. In the many years she’d been sexually active, Jac had never experienced being totally sated, until now. It exhilarated and frightened her all at once. She snatched up the blindfold from the ground, turning the thin material over and over in her hands. She’d never seen anything like it. The scarf changed colors with the touch of her fingertips.

She made a mental note to ask Xavier where he got it, when she saw him again. Just the thought of what they’d done had Jac aching for a repeat performance. Maybe once Xavier caught his breath, they could go for round two in her tent.

Jac decided she owed him a raise. A big one. Hell, if he could do it again, maybe she’d try to find him a permanent position as houseboy in her Manhattan two bedroom condo. Or perhaps he could become her pet. Jac imagined him with a collar and leash. She smiled. Playing fetch would take on a whole new meaning. Xavier’s erection had been impressive, even through his clothes as he slid down her body. If he was half as big as he seemed, she’d be in heaven.

She swallowed hard and squeezed her legs together to deter the familiar ache building once more inside her. She was a red-blooded all-American girl with a healthy sex drive and enjoyed flaunting the fact. It wasn’t like she was a nympho or anything, but foreplay like this didn’t come along every day, and Jac wasn’t about to miss an opportunity to indulge while she could.

She dressed and scrambled back to camp. A fire had been built in the center of the encampment. A roasted pig slowly turned on a spit over the flame. The smell of the meat made her mouth water. With her hair slicked back and the baseball cap shoved in her pocket, Jac dropped by her tent and slipped the holster off before joining the men.

Conversation quieted when she neared. Her gaze sought out and found Xavier. He sat with a couple of the older guides on a log opposite the tents. He grinned and raised a plate, but made no move to join her. Jac shrugged it off. It was better to play it cool in front of the men. She didn’t need them finding out about their liaison on her first day in camp. That wouldn’t look good, even if she wasn’t ashamed.

A table stood off to the side, holding vegetables and empty plates. Jac snagged herself a plate and strode to the fire. Another native sat with his knife speared into the coals. As she neared he picked it up and sliced off a hunk of the pig and placed it on her plate. Jac thanked him and walked back to the table to gather a few veggies.

Xavier strolled over a moment later for second helpings. Their eyes met, but there wasn’t any fire behind the gaze. Jac’s brow furrowed. Wow, talk about hot and cold.There was no way a man could go from having so much enthusiasm while he ate her out, to nothing. At least not in her extensive experience. Xavier filled his plate and turned to go back to his seat. Jac placed a hand on his arm and stopped him.

“Yes, Ms. Ward. Can I help you?”

Jac laughed, she couldn’t help it. He sounded so formal, so professional, so utterly different. Nothing like the growling beast he’d been in the jungle. He stood there with a queer expression upon his face, as if he thought he should laugh with her, but wasn’t quite sure what was so funny.

She stifled her reaction, no sense causing a scene. Jac leaned in so no one but him could hear what she was about to say. “I enjoyed our time at the stream.”

Xavier’s smile wavered. “Our time?”

“Yes, our time.” Why was he being so coy? It was almost as if he didn’t know what she was talking about. Which was impossible. “Do you want to go for a repeat performance, later?” Jac asked, hoping she didn’t sound as desperate as she felt.

Xavier frowned. “Um…”

“You know.” She nudged his elbow. “Don’t play shy, no one can hear us.”

A look of utter confusion colored his exotic features. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Ms. Ward.”

Jac’s heart did a little flip in her chest. She knew Xavier had to be toying with her. It was the only logical explanation, but for the life of her she didn’t know why. She put her plate on the table. He was cute, but he wasn’t that cute. It was time to cut the crap. Jac remembered the scarf. She pulled it out of her pocket and waved it in the air.

“Does this jog your memory?” Jac held the material closer for his inspection. “Xavier, we’re both consenting adults. There is nothing to be embarrassed about. If you don’t want to do it again, just say so.”

Xavier’s face flushed as he looked from Jac to the scarf and back again in bewilderment. She could see the color change even in the low light. The men’s conversations around them had stopped. All eyes were upon them. And Jac didn’t give two shits.

“Ms. Ward, I’m sorry. I think there has been a misunderstanding,” he said.

Jac felt heat rise in her cheeks. She couldn’t believe after what they’d shared he could stand there straight-faced and pretend it didn’t happen. Nothing pissed her off more than a liar. Her temper flared.

“The water. The blindfold. You went down on me, remember?” Her voice rose with each word as something akin to panic set in.

Xavier’s face lost all color and his eyes practically bugged out of his head. “Ms. Ward.” He swallowed convulsively, glancing around at the men nearby. “I haven’t been anywhere near the stream today. I didn’t get finished with work in time.”

“Stop lying!”

“I swear to you.” He clasped his hands together, pleading. “If you don’t believe me, ask my men.” He pointed to the stunned faces around them. “They can vouch for me.” Xavier backed away slowly.

She heard one of the men say, “Gringa loco.”

Jac’s head swam. She looked at all the men around the fire, not an inkling of familiarity flashed in their eyes. Stumbling to a nearby log, she sat down, her body racked with shivers. Jac stared at the blackened jungle without truly seeing it. The darkness appeared ominous.

If Xavier hadn’t been the one devouring her by the stream, then who had?

CHAPTER TWO

 

Jac awoke the next morning to the sounds of men shouting. She turned over and peeked out the flaps on the tent door. Most of the camp had been torn down and packed up. All that remained was her tent. She groaned. It’d taken her forever to fall asleep after the fiasco around the campfire, then she’d slept like crap.

She wasn’t entirely convinced that Xavier wasn’t screwing with her. That was the most likely explanation. More likely than a complete stranger coming out of the jungle to give her the best orgasm of her life. But for some reason, that didn’t make her feel better.

Not one to dwell on things she couldn’t change, Jac swung her long legs over the side of the cot and got dressed. She folded her belongings in the pack, along with the scarf from the stream. Jac didn’t know why she hung onto the silly thing. She should throw it away, but couldn’t bring herself to part with it.

Since when was she into sexual souvenirs? Jac pulled the scarf back out with every intention of leaving it behind. Glaring at the offensive item, her fist clenched the jade colored material. With a groan, she wrapped it around her neck and then rechecked her equipment.

Armed and ready to go, ten minutes later she strode across the encampment to where Xavier stood. He watched her approach, his gaze wary. Jac saw the exact moment he noticed the scarf, because he cringed. She unflinching met his gaze and launched straight into the business of the day.

“Are you sure we’ll be able to catch up with the professor in two days or less?” Her tone no nonsense, Jac didn’t give him a chance to allow his discomfort to fester.

Surprise played on his features, but he readily accepted her lead. “Yes. We can reach him, if we head down river.”

“How long will it take to get to the water?”

Xavier shrugged. “About six hours. We’ll be toting the inflatable canoes.”

Jac looked at her watch, it was five-thirty. If all went well they’d be floating down the river by one at the latest. She wanted to reach Rumsinger before he slithered back under a rock.

Xavier stood in front of her as if wanting to say more.

She inclined her head. “Yes?”

“I’m sorry about last night,” he stammered. His chocolate colored eyes held genuine regret, as he shoved his hands in his pockets. “If you like we can—”

“I don’t think so,” Jac interrupted. “The moment’s past.”

She wasn’t about to get into a conversation about last night with Xavier. She never dwelled on what might have been, only what was. If he wasn’t down by the stream, then he wasn’t down by the stream. None of the other men she’d seen in camp fit the physical impression she’d been left with. Even without laying eyes on him, Jac knew the man was big—in every way imaginable. He was also strong and had a long, exquisite…tongue.

“Stick out your tongue,” she said, suddenly.

Xavier blinked, but did as she asked.

His tongue was pink and decidedly average. Definitely not the same guy. Jac stared at the jungle, ignoring the chills racing down her spine. They were not alone. Her hand moved to her holster without conscious thought. Jac gave herself a quick once over. Knife, check. Pistols, check. Her hand patted the side of her neck. Scarf, check.

She turned on her heel before Xavier could say anything more and headed to the table containing breakfast and coffee. Jac ate while the men dismantled her tent. She grabbed extra jerky, slipping it into a baggie for later. She bypassed the caffeinated coffee for water, as much as she was sweating from this humidity, she’d have to drink a couple of gallons to maintain her potassium levels or succumb to exhaustion.

Within twenty minutes everything was lifted on the guides’ backs and ready to go. Jac walked to where her pack sat on the ground and shoved the jerky and a couple of extra water bottles inside, before slinging it over her shoulders. She’d taken one step when her nipples beaded beneath her white T-shirt.

Jac’s gaze shot up as awareness sizzled through her veins. She scanned the area to see who watched her. Xavier directed men into the jungle, his back turned to her. The men worked diligently, caught up in their tasks. No one noticed Jac. Heat spread from her breasts, spiraling to her mound and over her clit.

Her breath lodged in her throat, her gaze zeroed in on the tree line. It felt as if she was being physically caressed, her nipples stroked, which wasn’t possible. Her body ignored reality and responded like an addict presented with a truck full of smack. Her panties grew damp and tension filled her. The invisible hands returned. Stronger this time. Her clit began to vibrate as if plucked by a finger. Need flowed through her, hot and relentless. Jac squeezed her legs together, stifling a moan, her heart slamming in her chest.

This isn’t possible. I’m imagining this. It has to be my imagination. Otherwise I’d be crazy.

But even as the thought tumbled from her head, she felt the familiar pleasure-pain begin to build. Oh God, she was going to orgasm. Breathing ragged, Jac clutched the pack as if the canvas bag could somehow protect her from the unseen hands. Her knees wobbled, threatening to give out. The pressure increased, until Jac thought she couldn’t take a minute more. As if sensing her impending release the heated touch dissipated, leaving her body quaking from the onslaught.

Jac exhaled. Relief mixed with a healthy dose of frustration. It was quickly followed by anger. She didn’t like being played with. And that was exactly what somebody was doing. She didn’t understand how it was happening. Jac just knew that it was. Whatever or whoever was behind it had finally stopped.

Had they quit enjoying the game or were they simply gearing up for round two. She took a moment to gulp in air and try to regain her composure. She didn’t get the chance as a giant imaginary tongue licked her slit from end to end. Jac convulsed as the orgasm took her, driving her to her knees.

She knelt on the ground, resting on all fours, desperately trying to catch her breath. Her body continued to quiver and twitch like an electrical current ran through it. Jac felt a heavy weight settle against her back, as if she were about to be savagely mounted. She knew no one was behind her, yet her muscles locked and she shuddered in…anticipation.

Her gaze bulleted to the jungle, Jac wasn’t sure what in the hell was going on, but she was determined to find out—just as soon as she could function again.

Moments later, Jac pulled herself up and brushed off her legs. She glared at the trees as if the look alone would send a ‘don’t fuck with me’ message, then scooped her pack from the ground and got in line with the men. She didn’t miss the fact that they were now staring at her as if she were truly insane. Maybe she was. Maybe she’d been bitten by a mosquito and had developed some kind of bizarre fever that caused orgasms. If that were the case, then she’d better find a sample and file a patent because she was about to be rich. She looked at her guides. She was still shaking, but no one came to her aid.

It’s comforting to know that I’m on my own—as always.

Monkeys scattered and screeched as she stepped into the rainforest. The air thickened in the shaded undergrowth. Red, green, and gray parrots squawked and flapped their wings. Any other time she’d find their commotion irritating, but after what occurred in camp, Jac barely noticed. She focused on the trail in front of her, eyes peeled for any flash of movement, anything out of place.

She’d sent one of the guides ahead to search for signs of Rachel. He’d bring back information if he noticed anything out of the ordinary. Perspiration from the intense humidity dampened her shirt. Despite the heat, Jac rubbed her arms, in an attempt to ward away a chill. Something wasn’t right.  The jungle felt off, almost oppressive.

Jac didn’t believe in ghosts—at least she hadn’t up until now—but she couldn’t think of any other logical explanation for what had occurred at basecamp. She knew she hadn’t imagined it. She didn’t have that good of an imagination. Jac slid her hand to the pistol and removed the safety. The next time the phantom visited, she’d be ready.

They marched through the rest of the morning, reaching the river at two o’clock, an hour behind schedule. Fortunately for Jac, the jungle had remained relatively quiet with no more unusual happenings. Upon reaching the water, the men inflated the canoes and settled the equipment inside, tying it securely.

The current was swift, churning up sediment from the bottom, making visibility close to nil. Before pushing off from shore, Xavier ordered another guide to run ahead through the jungle to search for signs of Rumsinger’s party.

Jac was relegated to sharing a boat with Xavier. They paddled in silence for the first hour, the only sounds coming from the ripples the oars made when they sliced through the water and the occasional flap of wings overhead.

From the river, the jungle seemed different, somehow less threatening, as if viewing it from a distance kept the danger at bay. Jac relaxed for the first time since arriving and leaned back. She imagined having the flow of the water washing over her, cascading through her tired muscles and taking the tension from her body.

A pair of dark eyes surfaced about ten feet away. The black caiman watched them with the lazy appreciation of a predator sizing up a meal. Jac bolted upright and rowed hard. There couldn’t be enough distance between her and that leftover dinosaur.

They’d been on the river for a few hours, when the guide on land shouted that a track had been discovered. Jac’s heart raced, as thoughts of Rachel ran through her head. She wondered if the professor had fed her. Had she been tortured? Would they find her body tied to one of the trees?

No, no, no—in her mind Rachel was happy, healthy, and doing fine. She simply waited for Jac to find, rescue, and return her to her rightful place—New York.

The sun had set by the time the guide returned with news of Rumsinger’s safari. He had pitched camp about five miles away as the crow flies. Jac’s party couldn’t reach him before nightfall, so they’d have to camp here for the evening.

Jac didn’t like the idea of camping in the heart of the jungle, especially when the hair on the back of her neck had been standing on end for the past ten minutes. Her fight or flight response had kicked in and she couldn’t shut it off or shake the feeling of being stalked.

Jaclyn Monroe Ward, knock it off.

She wasn’t prone to normal female outbursts. Jac prided herself on the fact that she could at any given moment, behave exactly like a man. She’d had to, to survive in the corporate world of law, but this was different—it felt different. For the first time in her life, Jac knew she was up against something formidable and she had no way of predicting the outcome. And that fact alone freaked her out—and excited her.

“You’re sure Rumsinger is five miles away?” she asked the scout, hoping that maybe he was wrong and that would explain her sense of unease.

The man nodded. “I’ve seen his camp. It is a few miles downstream.”

“Did you see any women with him?” she asked, hoping that he’d caught sight of Rachel.

He shook his head. “No, only men.”

Jac bit back her disappointment. It didn’t mean anything. He could be keeping Rachel inside a tent. “What about scouts?”

“I’ve come across no sign of scouts in the area,” he said.

“Any other signs?” she asked, fearing his answer. She’d told the guides to watch for any kind of sign that would indicate violence.

“No, I’m sorry,” he said.

“Okay, but stay observant. We don’t want them sneaking up on us in the middle of the night.”

The men set up the tents. Within an hour, the vegetation had been cleared and a fire had been built. She thought about chastising the crew for disturbing the plants, but since there hadn’t been an alternative she kept her mouth shut.

After a dinner of fruits and fish, Jac headed straight to her tent. Clouds were building on the horizon and it had looked as if they were in for one heck of a storm. She zipped the door closed behind her, desperate to escape the feeling of prying eyes. Jac seriously considered inviting Xavier to stay with her. Not for the sex, but for the company. Too bad he already thought she was crazy.

Jac hated to admit it, especially to herself, but she was scared. Not in the physical sense, although she did feel vulnerable to a certain extent. The fear masked something deeper, something she’d refused to analyze. The faceless stranger at the creek had brought out emotions in Jac that she’d managed to keep tamped down for years. Hidden primitive thoughts of being possessed completely by a dominating male, letting go of her hard won control, relinquishing her power, and allowing herself to feel protected, cherished—loved.

She’d fantasized about the stranger’s mouth, his spicy animalistic scent, and that incredible body ever since. Even though she hadn’t caught a glimpse of him, it was as if Jac held his invisible brand on her skin.

She removed the scarf to examine it. The unusual material had managed to keep her neck cool all day, despite the sudden spike in the afternoon temperature. So maybe it was worth keeping after all.

In her tent, the air practically crackled with electricity. Jac rubbed away the sudden gooseflesh rising on her arms, determined to get some sleep tonight, come hell or high water, which was saying something since they were camped on a river.

Several hours later, Jac tossed the sleeping bag off her legs and tried to get comfortable. It had been raining off and on for most of the night. She readjusted the mosquito netting, throwing her arm over her eyes, and fell back to sleep. The invisible touch she’d felt this morning haunted her thoughts all the way into her dreams.

The image was fuzzy at first, then she recognized Xavier. He stood between her thighs, getting ready to lower his head to her aching flesh. Jac shifted, spreading her legs in anticipation. Suddenly his image was wretched aside, yanked right out of her dream and replaced by one much more powerful. Jac frowned, trying to focus once more.

Tall and muscled, a dark stranger stood in Xavier’s place. He glanced over his shoulder, his jade gaze intense, fierce, holding wicked promises of things to come. Despite the heat in his eyes, his expression was solemn.

Jac squinted to get a better look at him.

Black hair, the color of night, fell to his trim waist. A loincloth hugged his well-developed ass, exposing his thick thighs and long legs. He extended his large hand out to her, but he made no move to grab her. When Jac didn’t immediately take his hand, he turned, his massive body moving fluidly with the grace of a jaguar.

That’s when Jac saw the scars marring his beautiful chest, a living testament to the battles he’d fought and won. Her gaze rose to his face and she gasped, surprised by the sheer masculine beauty of his features.

Like an erotic fantasy come to life, he waited. For what she did not know. Jac’s gaze scrolled down the length of him, pausing at the impressive bulge beneath his loincloth. Familiarity prickled at the back of her mind. She glanced up, her eyes locking with the stranger’s, drawing her near despite her efforts to resist. His power was palpable. His need tangible.

Jac fought the urge to throw herself at his feet and beg him to fuck her. Her nipples engorged, as if her body recognized his, yet she knew she’d never seen him before. Just as Jac was about to ask his name, the man smiled and then stuck out his six and a half inch tongue, rolling it provocatively, taunting her—reminding her.

Her breathing seized, recognition slamming into her as if she’d been tackled from behind by a linebacker. Everything came back in a rush—the stream, the blindfold, endless orgasms, and that tongue. The stranger threw his head back and laughed. The deep rumbling sound sent delicious vibrations through her body, bringing it instantly to life.

Jac jackknifed up, her slender hands gripping the sides of the cot for support. Her breathing was labored and a thin sheen of sweat covered her skin. She blinked a couple of times as her mind scrambled to recall where she was. The green canvas walls of her tent came into focus. She could hear the steady patter of rain as it struck the canvas. Humidity embraced her like an old friend and animals stirred within the cover of the jungle. She glanced around the tent once more.

She was alone. Always alone.

The dream had seemed so real. He had seemed real. Her body continued to tingle from the dream’s vivid images. But that’s all it was—a dream. Jac pulled the mosquito netting apart and stood up. The phantom stranger had shaken her to the core. Logically, she knew he didn’t exist, but she couldn’t stop herself from imagining what if. Jac looked down at her body, her nipples were erect, and she could feel it pulsing. There was no way in hell she’d fall back to sleep this aroused.

Jac rummaged through her bag and found her bunny vibrator. She could care less if the guides could hear the steady buzz coming from inside her tent. She needed some relief—now. She slipped the vibrator in place and turned it on, allowing the delicate rabbit ears to stimulate her clit while the dildo made slow, sensual circles inside her. Jac lay back on the cot, spreading her legs wide for maximum enjoyment, picturing the dark stranger’s amazing tongue.

It only took a few minutes of imagining the stranger’s mouth feasting upon her, the weight of his body spreading her as he impaled her with his impressive tongue, his lips practically rimming her anus, as he drove inside her harder and harder, before Jac’s breathing deepened and she came hard. She bit down on her lip to keep from crying out. Her skin heated from her release, blood roared in her ears, pounding, muting the sounds around her. She inhaled deeply, enjoying the musky odor of sex wafting in the air.

Replete, she closed her eyes and once again sought out the dark angel from her dream. This time when he appeared, his gaze held an unspoken sensual promise. Jac shivered and got the distinct impression he was out there somewhere—waiting.

Ares spent much of the night in a tree a hundred yards away from Jaclyn Ward’s campsite. He’d awoken on occasion throughout the evening to reach out and touch Jac’s thoughts, projecting his own back. When his mind received the carnal pictures floating through her during dream state, he’d almost fallen from his perch. His shaft was still achingly hard. The fact that she’d imagined Xavier getting ready to stroke inside her only made matters worse.

Anger over her mistaking him for another man fired Ares’s blood, so much so, he’d sent images of himself to taunt, tease, and remind her of what they’d shared yesterday. He’d expected shock, perhaps withdrawal, but not the curiosity or the insatiable hunger that lingered just below her cool surface. It took every fiber of Ares’s being to keep from going to her, but he wanted them deeper into the jungle, closer to the red devil he sought. Then when the moment was right, he’d claim her. In the meantime, he’d move to the other side of the river, where he’d be able to keep an eye on her canoe, and hopefully avoid temptation.

Ares made his way through the trees and across the water a few hours before dawn. The foliage was less dense on the far side, so he’d have to be twice as vigilant to keep his presence hidden. He found a limb to wait on that allowed him clear access to Jac’s tent, then made himself comfortable and slept.

The next morning after breakfast the expedition broke camp. Xavier directed the men in boats into the water, then turned back to Jac. “We should catch up with the professor tonight, if we don’t run into any problems.”

“Good, the sooner the better.” She really needed to find the bastard, rescue Rachel, and get the hell out of this jungle before her mind snapped completely. She was losing control and Jac didn’t like it one bit. “We’ll reach him even if we have to push forward in the dark,” she said, then rolled her shoulders to ease the tension that refused to leave. “I’m not letting him get away.”

Xavier nodded and waited for Jac to step into the canoe before shoving off.

They had been paddling for a couple of hours when the first gunshot exploded from the rainforest. The guide in the front canoe screamed as a bullet ripped through him, tearing a hole into his side.

Blood spurted out, spraying the men in the canoe beside him. The guides shouted. Several hands flew up, pointing to the bank. All eyes turned to the trees. Several natives lined the shore, rifles raised in their direction, then utter chaos erupted as more shots were fired.

Nightmarish screams rang out. Painful cries for the dying blended with slaps as the paddles hit the water. Jac’s anger erupted as she saw Rumsinger smile and slip into the undergrowth. She pulled her pistols out and opened fire, dropping two of the natives on the shore. The river rippled as guide after guide dove into the murky depths, seeking escape. The ones lucky enough to reach the shore fled into the jungle.

Xavier shouted orders to the remaining men to paddle to the opposite shore. Two more guides were felled. The current flowed eerily red as the blood blended with the water. Serpent-like heads broke the surface as the caiman closed in, drawn by the powerful scent of blood and carnage. Bullets plunked in the water. More men abandoned their inflatable canoes and swam for the shore, taking their chances with the second deadliest predator in the area.

Bullets whizzed by Jac’s bowed head. She ducked low and fired back, trying to buy Xavier enough time to paddle to shore. The buzz was horrendous as the groups exchanged gunfire. Metal ricocheted off equipment, zinging like giant mosquitoes, before striking one of the canoes. The craft exploded from the hail of gunfire, sending bits of yellow rubber soaring through the air, then raining down upon their heads. Jac watched in horror as canoe remnants disappeared below the surface, swallowed by the murky depths.

Frantic, she scrambled forward on her belly to ask Xavier what they should do next. He was bent forward, muscles straining, paddling with all his might. She made it to the front of the canoe, as a bullet shattered Xavier’s skull.

Fragments of bone flew in all directions. Blood and brain matter sprayed Jac, oozing down her face, drenching her clothes until the white of her T-shirt stained crimson. A second later a bullet caught her raft and it slowly sank. In her mind she screamed, but no sound came out. Her instincts took over and she stood, diving into the swirling, muddy water.

Jac broke the surface several yards away, her pack full of water and weighing her down. Undeterred, she swam for the far shore. She couldn’t afford to leave it, since she had no idea how long she’d have to survive on her own. She could hear the guides’ screams as the current or the caiman sucked them under one by one. She closed herself off to the horrendous sound. If she were going to survive, she’d have to stay focused and keep moving. The current was strong, but she was stronger. Jac’s muscles strained as she sliced through the water. Gradually by swimming kitty-corner to the shore, she reached solid ground, and collapsed on the bank.

Ares’s chest squeezed when he heard the first round of gunfire. He’d moved ahead in an attempt to out pace the group. Now, he raced back through the trees, hoping he wasn’t too late, his thoughts automatically reaching for Jac. Branches scratched at his skin, leaving red welts behind. Terror flooded his mind. Ares wasn’t sure whether it was from her or himself.

His hands gripped liana after liana. Iguanas scurried down the bark of palms, tree frogs leapt for their lives, while macaws and blue heron took flight. Ares sent out an energy pulse warning predators of his impending approach. Rage the likes of which he’d never felt, exploded inside. If the red devil took his mate away, there would be no safe place on the planet for the bastard to hide.

Ares arrived at the scene of the massacre, just as Jac staggered to shore and collapsed. The ache in his heart eased. She lived, but there was no mistaking how close she’d come to dying. Jac coughed up lungs full of water, then drug her knees beneath her. Her limbs trembled with exertion as she forced herself to stand.

His gaze scanned every inch of her creamy skin, searching for any sign of injury. Her clothes clung to her, stained with blood. She turned and stared—transfixed at the far shore.

Biting back a curse, Ares vowed again to get the red-haired demon.

Excited shouts from the other side of the river drew Jac’s attention as she gasped and sputtered for breath. The bastards were celebrating the massacre. Rage boiled inside of her like a cauldron, and Jac bit the inside of her mouth so hard it bled. She spit the coppery tasting substance onto the grass and ran her trembling hands through her short hair.

One of her guides floated face-down in the water, his lifeless body now subject to the whim of the lapping waves. Jac swallowed, fighting the rising bile in her throat.

Rumsinger wouldn’t be allowed to get away with this. He’d gone from bastard to murderer in a matter of seconds, even though Jac hadn’t seen him raise a weapon or fire a single shot. Coward.

She knew beyond a doubt he’d ordered the attack. Her heart clenched as she thought of poor Rachel. If he was capable of this, what had he done to her defenseless friend? Tears threatened to spill as the reality of the situation set in. Jac blinked them back. She didn’t have time to cry. She needed a plan. Her resolve hardened into a black, seething ball of hate. If Rumsinger wanted war, she’d damn well give it to him.

CHAPTER THREE

 

Jac settled her backpack and glanced up at the sky. It would be dark soon. She’d have to find shelter. She threw one last glance over her shoulder. The professor’s men slipped back into the trees. She didn’t know if the professor would start looking for her or if he’d leave her for the jungle to take. Either way, she wasn’t waiting around to find out. Vines and shrubs crunched beneath her soggy boots.

She blew out a heavy breath. The air on this side of the shore seemed overly perfumed. Orchids grew wild, clinging to the sides of trees, snaking their way toward the sunlight.

Huge harpy eagles sat perched high in the branches, watching, their size intimidating enough for Jac to recall the scene from The Wizard of Ozwhere the monkeys carried Dorothy away.

She trembled.

This was the jungle, not Oz. Jac continued hiking until the fading light made it impossible to see her next step. The hair on her arms raised and a shiver tingled over her spine. Jac glanced over her shoulder again. She’d had the distinct impression she was being followed, so she had kept moving long after she’d reached the point of exhaustion. She found a tree that was easy to scale because of its many branches, and proceeded to climb. It wouldn’t keep her away from all the predators, but she should be safe from most.

Finding the widest branch, Jac settled in for the night, her eyes peeled on the jungle floor. She dug through her pack for the bit of jerky buried at the bottom and greedily ate the dried salty meat, washing it down with bottled water. Tomorrow she’d search for tracks, maybe make her way back to base camp to regroup.

From a nearby branch, Ares watched Jac drift off to sleep. He’d been following her since the horrible scene at the shore, ducking behind trees when she happened to glance over her shoulder. She’d been well aware of his presence and had done a good job of zigzagging her way through the underbrush, mixing her trail enough to confuse an inexperienced tracker. He smiled, his heart swelling with admiration.

There was no sense in capturing her tonight. She’d been through too much. One more stressful incident and she might snap—but he didn’t think so. His mate was strong—a true warrior woman. She would not go down without a fight. His shaft bucked under his loincloth as he thought about how much he would enjoy taming her.

Ares tuned into Jac’s thoughts. Vengeance raged through her mind. His muscles tensed as he saw the vivid pictures of what she planned to do to the red-haired devil. A smile played at the corners of Ares’s mouth. Jac truly was perfect for him. It was too bad he could not allow her to follow through with her plans. The risk of harm was too great. So much so, that he would be remiss as a mate if he allowed her to pursue that deadly path.

Eventually she’d come to understand.

He pulled the bindings from the pouch attached to the side of his loincloth. The fabric looked flimsy at first glance, but the delicate green material was deceptively strong. Tomorrow he’d secure Jac and head back to the village. He ran the silky fabric through his fingertips. His skin heated as he imagined her wrists bound behind her back, the position shoving her small breasts out, exposing her nipples to his hungry gaze.

In his mind’s eye, he could see the pink tips pebbling, seeking the warmth of his mouth as he laved each one. She tasted of the sweetest honey, the tangiest fruit. Her intoxicating scent had driven him mad with desire, and her woman’s center had nearly been the death of him. Ares imagined his tongue buried in her wet channel, her inner muscles gripping him as she experienced her release, the shimmering contractions sucking him deeper inside. At that moment they had become one. It had been all he could do to keep from spending himself in his loincloth.

Ares growled deep in his throat.

He longed to sample her again, touch the silk of her thighs, suckle from her berry- like nipples, caress her hidden nub, and consume the cream from her moist sheath. Ares groaned as his body hardened. He shoved the fabric back into the pouch and fisted his hands in frustration. The object of his desire lay perched a few vine swings away. He loosened the ties around his hips, allowing his long, thick shaft to spring free. Taking himself in hand he began to stroke.

Ares pictured Jac’s pink mouth wrapped around the crown of his cock. His breathing hitched as he visualized his length sliding deeper into her warm, soft, moist recesses. He could almost feel her lips close around his girth as she suckled him. With one hand encircling him, she’d reach down with the other and carefully cup his sac as she increased her speed.

He stroked faster, gritting his teeth against the spiraling sensations. Ares imagined gripping her short, blonde hair, guiding her movements, as he plunged into her mouth. He imagined a deep purr escaping her throat, caressing his length in feminine appreciation.

Ares groaned, as the vision pulled him over the edge. Muscles clenched in his abdomen as his seed spilled to the ground below. He had the strange urge to bellow, to make his presence known, but he couldn’t and wouldn’t. Not yet.

He continued to aggressively milk his shaft. This would be the last time he’d waste his life giving fluids on the vegetation. The next time he came it would be buried deep inside of Jac, no blindfolds, no illusions, and no doubts about who claimed her.

Ares wiped his hands on the loincloth and fastened his ties. Tomorrow they had a long day ahead of them. He’d need all of his strength and mental acuity if he expected to face Jac and win. He rested his arms behind his head, leaned against the trunk of the tree, and smiled in anticipation. Jac was the last thing Ares saw as he closed his eyes.

Jac awoke late in the day to the sensation of something slithering over her calf. Her eyes flew open in time to see a huge brown python making its way to a higher branch. It was using her leg for leverage. Her heart skipped a beat. Jac sat perfectly still, praying the snake didn’t take note of her body warmth and have her for a snack. Her left hand twitched as she carefully reached for the pistol on her hip. It was difficult with her right palm digging painfully into the bark.

Stay calm.

There is a giant snake crawling over my leg.

Stay calm.

I’m going to be squeezed to death before I can fire off a round.

Stay calm.

It’s more afraid of you than you are of it.

Its dry scaly skin brushed her calf and paused. Jac screamed, a blood curdling, fear of dying, grab you by the balls sound that was probably heard by every living being on the planet.

So much for staying calm.

She jumped up as the snake’s tail left her body. The swift action, coupled with the weight of the backpack, threw her off balance, and over the edge of the limb. The next thing Jac knew, she was falling.

“Oh shi—i—t!”

Wind whistled around her ears. Branches whooshed by her head as the ground rushed up to meet her face. At the last second, Jac closed her eyes and stuck her hands out to brace for impact. There was a loud whap and she jerked to a stop so forcefully that it knocked the air from her lungs and made the bone in her hip pop. Her eyes flew open. Her pack dangled around her head, blocking her view of the tree. Even though she couldn’t see, it felt as if something grasped her foot.

Oh my God, the snake had her!

Jac gasped for air, trying to catch her breath. Her arms flailed as she reached out and touched the earth. The ground smelled like greenery and dead leaves, musty and damp. She twisted in an attempt to free her leg.

All she could see was her own blonde hair, bark, and leaves. Blood rushed to her head. She bent at the waist, ready to shoot the snake, when her foot slipped free. Jac dropped to the ground, landing on her butt and back with a thud.

She lay there for a few seconds, willing air into her lungs before pushing herself to stand. Jac rubbed her bruised rear, her gaze automatically following the trunk of the tree up to the lower branches, scanning each one, until it locked onto a set of jade green eyes.

The phantom.

Jac forgot how to breathe. Heavily muscled, huge, and perched like a predator, her dark fantasy stood amongst the leaves. Silent. Waiting. Watching.

Except he was no dream.

Panic struck. Jac spun on her heels and bolted into the forest. She didn’t stop to think. Every fiber told her to get as far away from the man as possible. She sprinted across the ground, leaping over fallen branches, ducking under limbs, and around giant ferns. Twigs snapped and branches creaked as the warrior pursued her. Her heart pounded in her chest as she pushed herself to run faster.

Jac heard a rush of wind and turned in time to see the dark hunter swinging from a vine, coming straight toward her. She dipped and rolled, evading his grasp. Jac heard what sounded like laughter tickle over her spine, but she didn’t stop. She whipped around trees, rushing as if the devil himself loomed behind.

Because for all she knew—he was.

Jac arrived at the river after a few hours, grateful for her years of conditioning. She was about to run up shore when the black haired man stepped from the jungle, blocking her path. A wicked grin slashed his fiercely handsome face.

Without thought, Jac dove into the water. She swam, her muscles straining against the current. She heard a splash and knew without looking he was behind her.

Chasing, shadowing, hunting.

Jac stroked harder, using every bit of experience at her disposal. The man pursuing her was strong and would easily overtake her in the water if she didn’t use her intelligence. She let herself be carried with the current, diving under the water every chance she got. She took a second to glance back. The man was still behind her, but further away. Her plan was working.

She clamored to solid ground, clawing her way onto the shore through the mud. The afternoon sun faded fast. Jac didn’t stop to empty her shoes or wring out her clothes, instead she sprinted. The vegetation thickened to the point where she was pretty sure she could find a good hiding place. She pushed on until she caught sight of a tiny break in the leaves and then dove for it, pulling her trembling legs beneath her.

The ground poked hard against her soaked body. Jac took a deep breath and held it. Damp and musky, the air pressed in, swamping her senses. The jungle was silent, as if it waited, listening. She let her breath out slowly, silently, and took another. Her ears strained to hear even the slightest noise, anything out of place.

She had started to relax, then she heard the sound of air swooshing above her.

The dark hunter was here.

Jac bit her lip to keep from crying out. She could just make out his muscled form through the thick leaves. His arms flexed and his thick legs strained as he climbed the vine to rest on a limb above her hideout. It took everything she had to keep still.

He wore a tanned hide loincloth and nothing across his wide bare chest. He hovered above her hiding place for what felt like an eternity, sunlight dappling his features. His blue-black hair hung straight to his trim waist in a blanket of ebony. Eyes the color of rare jade scoured the area meticulously. His expression was fierce, possessive—hungry…and oh so familiar.

Something inside of Jac sprang to life. Her nipples beaded painfully against the thin material of her T-shirt. She squeezed her legs together to stop the sudden ache. She may not know him, but her body certainly did. She fought the urge to spring from the bushes and throw herself, legs spread, onto the ground.

This man was dangerous, anyone looking at him could see that. Hell, for all she knew he was one of Rumsinger’s trackers. He was certainly good enough. Except, it didn’t seem likely, but she couldn’t take the chance. She had enough problems dealing with the professor. Jac certainly didn’t need Tarzanthrown into the mix, no matter how intriguing she found him to be.

There was something thrilling about being chased, something primal. Jac had never been chased before—she’d always been the pursuer. The thought of this powerful man hunting her—actually kind of turned her on.

I must be losing my mind.

Jac knew she wasn’t, but it made her feel better to think it for a moment. She stayed hidden until the man moved on. She wasn’t sure how long she’d be able to avoid him, but for Rachel’s sake she’d have to try.

Ares sensed the woman was still in the area. Her presence coated the branches, scented the plants, but he failed to detect her exact location. He’d kept her safe from predators while she traversed the waters. If he hadn’t, the caiman would’ve eaten her. And this was how she chose to repay him. Frustrated, he ran a hand through his hair. Never in all his years as a hunter had anyone been able to avoid capture while he pursued. He was an expert tracker—the best in his tribe.

Adrenaline rushed through his veins, an excitement he hadn’t felt in years surged through him. He searched the area around him. She was a challenge. A true challenge. A smile played at the corners of his mouth. Ares looked forward to their next encounter.

He continued searching, until he was sure that all trace of her had ended. His prey had found a very good hiding place. Today she’d gotten away, but tomorrow… Ares headed back toward the river, his movements unhindered by the growing darkness. The sun would be setting in a few hours.

He picked some fruit from the trees, then found a wide branch to spend the night upon. He’d resume his search in the morning. Ares sent out another burst of energy, to ensure his mate’s safety against the night predators. Tomorrow would come soon enough.

Jac found a hollowed out tree as the last rays of sunlight sunk below the horizon. Luckily mangoes and bananas were plentiful in the rainforest and she wouldn’t have to worry about starving. She settled in and ate her meal. She’d spend the night here and start out before dawn, hopefully avoiding the sexy beast following her.

Exhausted, Jac fell asleep. The dream kept repeating itself, over and over—she fell from the branch, except this time Tarzan didn’t catch her before she hit the ground and broke her collarbone.

The sensation continued, until the pain in her body was undeniable. Jac groped blindly at her arm and came into direct contact with a stick. She opened one eye. Donald Rumsinger stood in front of her with twig in hand. He was surrounded by several armed guides. The professor poked her again and she came fully awake. Her hand immediately went to her pistol. A flashlight followed her movements.

“Tsk—tsk.” The smile he bestowed upon her was sickening. His thick lips split revealing yellow teeth. His ruddy complexion seemed flushed, almost anxious. But what disturbed her the most was the stare coming from his buggy brown eyes. There was no warmth, only hatred…and lust.

Jac’s stomach rolled. She rose, stretching to her full height. The professor had to tilt his head up to look her in the face. “I’m flattered that you need an army to bring in little ol’ me.”

“Ms. Ward, it’s nice to see you again. I so missed your biting wit.” His eyes wandered to her nipples, visible through her sweat soaked, bloodstained T-shirt.

Jac glared at him and he took a step back. “Spare me the pleasantries, Rumsinger. Where’s Rachel?”

The professor paled, but didn’t answer. Her eyes narrowed, as she fought rising anger. Had he killed her? Had she gotten away? She intended to find out.

“I don’t think you’re in the position to ask questions.” He pointed to the guns aimed at her.

Jac’s voice lowered to a deadly growl. “I’m going to ask you again, where is Rachel?”

“As you’ve seen today, the jungle is a very dangerous place, Ms. Ward. Anything can happen.” His eyes wandered up her legs, pausing at her crotch.

She laughed, bringing his attention back to her face. “I didn’t think I was your type, Professor.” She tried to calm her stampeding heart. If Rumsinger touched her—Jac’s skin crawled and she shuddered. She refused to think about the professor’s meaty hands upon her body. She’d kill him first or die trying.

“When one gets desperate enough, slumming it doesn’t seem like such a bad thing.” He shrugged his shoulders and gnawed on his chapped lips.

Jac’s face blanked. Her mind scrambled to thoughts of the Tarzan-like male who had been chasing her earlier. Too bad he hadn’t caught her. Or maybe he had and that’s why Rumsinger was here. Her stomach plummeted at the thought of him tangled up with the professor. She shot a sideways glance at the armed men. There were too many to fight at one time. She could probably take a few out, but by then one of them would be able to squeeze off a shot.

“Where’s your tracker?” she asked.

Rumsinger frowned. “What tracker?”

“The wild man in the loincloth. He’s kind of hard to miss,” Jac said, watching for a reaction.

The professor blanched and the men looked warily at the jungle. “You wouldn’t happen to know where he is, would you?”

It was Jac’s turn to hesitate. If Rumsinger wanted to find him, then there was no way he worked for the professor. Maybe she and Tarzan could be allies. At least while she was here. Of course, it’s easier to work as a team if you know you’re partner’s location and don’t run away screaming when you see them.

“Come, come, my dear, I don’t have all night,” he said.

Even if Jac knew where her phantom was hiding, she wouldn’t tell the professor. “I’m just dehydrated. I’m sure I am imagining things.”

His expression turned icy. “Maybe a few days at camp entertaining the men will jog your memory.”

Doubtful, Jac thought. “So what happens now, Rumsinger?” she asked.

“You’ll come with us. It’s not safe out here alone. The men have been yearning for a little female entertainment, although I’m sure you’re not what they had in mind,” he paused, “but you’ll have to do.”

Jac looked from the professor to the men. Desire filled their eyes as they took in her long legs. One guide stepped forward and ran the barrel of his rifle over her nipples. They marbled, growing erect. Jac cursed her responsiveness under her breath. She was in no way turned on, but they didn’t know that and she doubted they’d care. Several of the men talked excitedly and pointed at her breasts. A younger man caught her eye and grabbed his crotch.

“Charming.” She crossed her arms over her chest and glared at them all. The guide snatched her pistols from the holsters, before unsheathing her knife. He held the silver blade up, admiring the weapon for a few moments before slipping it into his pants. She hoped it sliced his dick off.

It would be a cold day in hell before she’d allow a bunch of yokels to fuck her. Even if Jac had to kill every last one of them with her bare hands, so be it. Her daddy hadn’t been a SEAL for nothing—and he’d taught her well.

They marched through the jungle for the next hour or so. Her muscles screamed at her to stop. In the past two days she’d covered enough ground to qualify for two marathons. When Jac thought she couldn’t go another step, they entered a small clearing, where tents had been set up.

“Take her over there and tie her up.” The professor pointed to a tree at the far end of the encampment away from the tents. “We’ll decide what to do with her tomorrow.”

A guide placed the barrel of his rifle between her shoulder blades and shoved. Jac stumbled, kicking up dirt beneath her boots, but she didn’t fall. The man started to do it again and Jac spun around catching the rifle with her hands. His eyes grew wide with surprise.

“If you do that again,” she grit out. “I’ll shove this gun so far up your ass that you won’t shit right for a year.”

The guide pulled the gun from her hands and grinned like an idiot, but he didn’t touch her again. They reached the tree the professor had indicated. The man motioned for her to sit on the ground, then he proceeded to tie her with a nylon rope against the trunk. By the time he finished, Jac could barely feel her hands, as numbness set in.

Feeling brave now that she was defenseless, the man leaned forward and cupped her breasts, playing with her nipples through her shirt with his rough thumb. Jac’s areolas hardened as he rolled them between his fingers, pinching and pulling them at the same time.

The guide’s eyes glazed and he licked his full lips. His dark brown hair was worn in a short crop above his ears. Jac glanced at the front of his trousers. His shaft stirred behind his zipper. Her eyes darted to the rest of the men scattered around the camp. No one noticed them.

Jac swallowed hard, shoving her fear to the back of her mind.

She had to put an end to this before things got really ugly. The guide shoved his hand down the front of his pants as he continued to caress her, his breathing growing ragged. His movements increased, he released the clasp on his clothes and his small penis sprung free. He immediately began jacking off in earnest, all the while playing with her aching nipples.

Jac squirmed, trying to get away from the guide’s rebarbative touch. He didn’t attempt to shove his shaft in her mouth, thank goodness. Perhaps he was perceptive enough to realize she’d bite it off and spit it at his feet if he tried.

The muscles in the man’s face tensed and she watched in fascinated horror as he prepared to come. A groan ripped from his throat as thick semen shot out of his prick. Jac moved her head to avoid getting hit. His putrid release dripped down the bark beside her. She curled her lip in disgust. The guide smiled again, giving her nipples one last pinch, then shoved his limp dick back into his pants and walked away.

She watched the man’s retreat until he disappeared into one of the tents, then scanned the compound to ensure no one watched before testing her bonds. The rope bit into her wrists, shooting pain up her arms. She winced, but didn’t cry out.

Jac studied the layout of the camp. The tents were arranged in a half circle, opening into a center fire, like at her base camp. Acrid smoke billowed in the air, as the men piled logs on the greedy flames. It looked as if the group had been camping here for a few days. The area was well worn and had enough wood stacked up to last for weeks if need be.

For some reason the professor had established a new base, instead of moving deeper into the jungle. Why hadn’t they moved on? There had to be a reason. Was it her phantom? And where was Rachel?

She blew out an unsteady breath. Blood pounded in her ears. She wasn’t crazy about what had occurred, but as long as the men didn’t touch her anymore than that, she’d be fine. Jac jerked against the ropes, knowing it was only a matter of time before one of the others got their nerve up to come over. She had to figure out a way to escape and quick. Once she did, every last one of these bastards would pay.

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