Heart Of The Eagle. Lindsay McKenna
of the Interior.” Her hand was slender and the fingertips cool to his touch. She was just as tense as he was, he realized. Did it show on him as obviously as it did on her? The nervous gesture of her tongue caressing her full lower lip sent an unbidden tremor through him. Jim released her hand, thinking she was like a delicate-boned bird. And then his eyes narrowed as he began to drink in her present condition: she was far too underweight, with dark smudges beneath her luminous blue eyes. The flesh across her cheekbones was stretched with fatigue and appeared almost translucent. Jim found himself wanting to hold her, to tell her that everything was going to be all right….
“I’m sorry I’m late. Millie told me we had an appointment.” She gave a forced laugh and gestured for him to take the wing chair near the desk. “Lately my memory hasn’t been what it should be. If you’ll take a seat, Millie is bringing us coffee.” Dal touched her breast as she rounded the desk, her heart pounding like a trapped animal. But one look into his eyes and she began to relax. He wasn’t the predator he seemed to be, she thought, relieved. She had been married to a man who had turned into one; that was enough. No, only Tremain’s countenance was that of a hawk. His eyes contained kindness. And understanding. Those two discoveries helped Dal relax in his presence as she walked to the desk and sat down.
Jim waited until she sat down before taking the chair opposite the desk. The tiffany-style lamp suspended over the massive cherry furniture highlighted her spice-colored hair, bringing out strands of nutmeg shot through with gold. He found himself wondering if it was as thick and silky as it looked, lying with a slight curl across her shoulders. “No problem.” He smiled, the stoic planes of his face easing. “As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t have traded my drive up to the Triple K for anything, if you want the truth.”
“Oh?” Her smile was in response to his. He had a wonderfully shaped mouth, Dal thought. Neither too thin nor too thick; his lower lip was full and somewhat flat. She wanted to know if he was Indian, but had the good manners not to ask him.
“I was about three miles from the main ranch house when I crested a small rise and saw this golden eagle heading straight for me.” He watched her blue eyes widen. Did she realize how beautiful she was? Probably not, Jim decided. There was an artless femininity to Dal that couldn’t be bought or worn at any price. She wore no makeup on her heart-shaped face—the red of her lips combined with the blush now creeping across her cheeks all that she needed.
“Oh, my God…Nar!”
“Yes, the golden eagle. He disappeared over the hill near the ranch road and I lost sight of him. When he came back, he was upset.” She touched her left arm, rubbing it gently to ease the remembered throbbing from her flesh.
Jim crossed his legs, enjoying her sudden emergence from her guarded stance. Her eyes had been lifeless, as if a part of her had been destroyed. Now he saw cobalt sparks in their depths, and breathed easier. She was pale and exhausted looking and it bothered him. “He’s yours?” he asked, a hint of teasing in his voice. “The famous Dr. Kincaid who advocates freedom for all predators, with a golden eagle on her arm?”
Dal felt heat flow up from her neck and sweep across her face. She managed a slight smile. Since Jim Tremain was from the Department of the Interior, he had to know a great deal about wildlife conservation. For a moment, she studied him, searching her memory. A man like him would be hard to forget, and some vague spark of recognition flashed in her mind. Where had she seen him before? “Nar belongs to no one, Mr. Tremain. He’s wild by nature, although he comes to visit me every morning.”
“Call me Jim,” he invited. “And what does the name Nar mean?”
A slight tingle flowed through her. His voice was husky and intimate. She sat up, clasping her hands in front of her on the desk. “That’s Arabic for fire. His plumage, when the sun strikes it just right, becomes like molten fire. I rescued Nar from sure death seven years ago.”
“Tell me about it.”
Dal took a deep breath, finding herself comfortable with a man for the first time in a long while. Jack had made her distrustful of all men and their intentions. All except her brother, Rafe. And now, Jim. Funny, she mused, that she wanted to be on a first-name basis with him, when at all other times she wanted an arm’s length between her and any other male.
“I was with my older brother, Rafe, and we were taking notes on where the nests of the golden eagle and red-tailed hawk were located on the ranch one summer. We came up to the base of a cliff and I spotted Nar floundering in the brush. Apparently something had frightened him and he had fallen out of his nest on the cliff, or else the wind had pushed him out. We couldn’t climb up the cliff to put him back into his nest, so we brought him back here.” Some of the sadness fled from her eyes as Dal recalled that special day in her life.
“He was nothing but a fuzzball of gray down. When I dismounted and went over to rescue him, he sat perfectly still. I had expected him to try and escape when I leaned down, but he seemed to realize I wouldn’t hurt him. There was instant trust and it hasn’t stopped to this day.”
Jim nodded, enjoying her sudden warmth when she talked about the eagle. What had nearly destroyed her? She appeared tentative, almost frightened. Why? “You have no jesses on him, I noticed.”
“No. I think it’s wrong to keep a hawk or eagle tied to a block, only to fly them against game. It’s a cruel form of imprisonment, to me. Nar comes and goes as he pleases. He usually comes to greet me every morning if I happen to be here at the ranch. Even during those six years when I was married and away, Nar would fly over.
“So this eagle imprinted and adopted you as his mother?” he said, making a guess.
Dal looked at him closely. He knew a great deal more about predators than she had given him credit for. A knock at the study door erased her next question.
Millie came in bearing a tray of freshly made cinnamon rolls glazed with butter and two mugs of steaming coffee. She handed each of them a mug and a plate with a roll, then left, but not before giving Dal a stern look that said, “you’d better eat that roll or else….”
Dal laughed softly. “I think Millie has decided we’re both underweight and need to gain a few pounds.”
Jim grinned, inhaling the spicy aroma of the roll, and suddenly felt hungry. “You definitely need to put on some weight, doctor.”
“Call me Dal. Everyone else does.” And then her heart banged at the base of her throat. Why had she said that? Because, her heart responded, Jim Tremain is trustworthy. Nervously, Dal picked at the roll, not really hungry, only wanting to camouflage her unexpected friendliness with a man who was a total stranger.
The next few minutes were spent in silence as they tackled their cinnamon rolls. Dal poured cream and sugar into her coffee, noticing that Jim drank his black. Then, wiping her hands on a napkin, she returned to business.
“So, what does the Interior Department want, Jim?”
He put his plate on the tray and stood up, coffee mug in hand. Some of the hardness returned to the planes of his face as he studied her. “I know this is probably going to be painful to discuss, Dal.”
Her arched brows moved downward. “What is?”
Jim took a sip of his coffee and set it on the tray. Typical of any cowboy, he allowed his hands to hang loosely on his hips. “Five years ago you and the department started a project to bring goshawks from Canada to nest here in the Rockies.”
“Yes, and it’s been a success.”
Jim nodded. “A little too successful, it seems, Dal.”
“What do you mean?”
“The Triple K has a high number of hawks and eagles that are natural to this area.”
“We have red tails, golden eagles and Cooper’s hawk.”
“Plus the goshawks.”
Dal nodded, resting her chin against