Heart Of The Eagle. Lindsay McKenna
turned, her face contorted. “My God, Rafe’s got enough on his shoulders, Millie. He just lost his wife and baby a year ago. He doesn’t need me crying the blues to him. I didn’t lose someone I loved, Millie. Jack killed my love for him. Rafe lost the two most important people in his life. How can I go to him?”
“Sometimes, lamb, healing takes place between two hurt animals. You’ve seen how cats or dogs will lick each other’s wounds to speed their recovery. Maybe you need to do the same thing. Think about it.”
Running her fingers through her thick hair, Dal left the kitchen. Millie was right: she did need to confide in someone. But whom? Her parents, God bless them, were more than willing to help her. But they had a marriage that seemed to have been made in heaven—not like the one she had had. How could they understand that Jack’s love for her had been replaced with something he considered more important? He had beat her down emotionally until she had almost lost her sense of selfhood. There was Rafe, but he was barely surviving on a daily basis between shouldering the massive responsibilities of the ranch and his own internalized grief he refused to release over the loss of his family. She wouldn’t put her burdens on Rafe. She loved him too much to do that. Rafe was the oldest and always felt responsible for her and Cathy. For once, she was going to handle her problems by herself.
There was Cathy, Dal mused, standing at the picture window, staring out at the brilliant sunlight that bathed the green valley before her. Cathy was a mining engineer, a trouble-shooting expert for gem mines around the world. They had never been close as sisters growing up, each going to Rafe instead. Rubbing her temple, Dal admitted to herself that they were both pretty volatile and temperamental, whereas Rafe was an island of continuity, trust and steadfastness. Just like Jim Tremain.
A softened smile touched her lips as she mulled over her insight into Jim. She liked him. Or at least a part of her did. Her silly, blind heart. Her mind, on the other hand, distrusted him completely because he was a man who was able to infiltrate her defenses and reach out and touch her. Her blue eyes grew clouded with worry. What if Rafe decided that she should work with Jim? The brittle, damaged part of her cried out in sheer alarm over that possibility. How could she explain to Rafe that Jim Tremain knew how to get to her? And how could she explain how dangerous that was to her open wounds that hadn’t yet begun to heal? Would Rafe understand? Sometimes he was blindly insensitive to the subtle emotions.
Dal was pulled from her reverie as she noticed a dark shape growing larger and larger in the sky. It was Nar! What was he doing back there? She looked at her watch: it was almost noon. Concerned, she pulled on her sheepskin jacket and ran out the back door. Mud sloshed around her cowboy boots as she heard Nar’s shrilling cry overhead. The golden eagle swooped down and past her, ruffling her hair from the closeness of his pass as he glided out toward the last of the horse paddocks.
Dal went into an old garage that had a large oak block in the center of its quiet confines. Picking up the protective leather gauntlet, she slipped it over her left hand and arm and walked quickly out beyond the barn. She heard Nar shrilling, and as she rounded the end of the barn she almost collided with Jim Tremain.
Jim reached out, gripping her arm as she stumbled. “Sorry.”
Regaining her balance, Dal kept her eye on the golden eagle that was circling lazily above them. Her heart was pounding and it wasn’t from the seventy-five-hundred-foot elevation, either. She was wildly aware of the strength of Jim’s hand upon her arm; her senses were screamingly alive as she rested momentarily against his hard, unyielding male body. There was nothing about him that spoke of soft office life. As her right hand rested on his chest, Dal felt the smooth interplay of muscles move beneath his shirt.
“Thanks,” she said breathlessly, pulling from his grip.
“Is that the same eagle I saw you with earlier?”
Dal nodded. “Yes. Nar never comes this late in the day. I wonder if something’s wrong?”
Jim watched her as she made a series of high-pitched whistling sounds. The golden eagle, which was at least two thousand feet above them, suddenly stooped. Jim’s breath caught in his throat as the raptor’s wings folded against its body for the dive toward earth, legs outstretched and murderous-looking black talons opened. The power of the eagle was awesome as it fell like a hurtling rocket fired from the sky. Jim held up his hands to warn Dal, but it was too late.
The golden eagle broke his stoop at the last possible second, the backwash from his wings powerful as he hung suspended for a split second before coming to rest on Dal. She held her arm high above her, her knees deeply flexed and legs spread far apart as she took the shock of the eagle’s full weight.
Jim looked on in a mixture of terror for her and admiration at the spectacle before him. At that moment, he saw Dal’s face light up with such joy that he found his own heart pounding in his chest. Her blue eyes were filled with the fire of life as the eagle mantled, flapping his seven-foot wingspread, hackles raised on its head, and gave a fierce call from his blue-black beak. Jim stood transfixed, privy to something that few people would ever see. Nar folded his massive wings, his feathered legs and yellow feet in sharp contrast to the tanned kidskin glove he gripped, his amber eyes large and intelligent looking.
Dal laughed softly and raised her right hand, gently stroking his feathered breast.
“Poor day hunting, is that it?” she teased the bird. “His crop is empty,” she called to Jim. “That’s why he’s here.”
Nar lifted his majestic head, staring imperiously at Jim. Dal turned. “He doesn’t know you, so don’t come any closer,” she warned quietly.
“No need to worry,” he assured her, observing the raptor. “He’s got to be heavy.”
Dal nodded. “All thirteen pounds of him. He’s three feet in length. As you can tell, he’s fully matured because he has no white feathers under his wings here. He’s still a baby at seven years old.”
“He’s a big baby,” Jim said with a grin.
“A spoiled one. He must have been too upset after meeting you on the crest of that hill to continue hunting.”
“He wasn’t the only one,” Jim drawled, meeting her smile. My God, he thought, she was simply breathtaking. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes sparkled like dark sapphires. Jim had the urge to reach out and simply cradle her face between his hands and worship those smiling lips with his mouth. Right now, she was a child, as was he. His gaze traveled to the eagle. It was wildlife that brought Dal out of her cloak of distrust for him. He absorbed every nuance of her in those precious moments.
Jim eyed the eagle’s grasp on her arm now; Nar was barely gripping it. “When he’s upset he grips hard?”
“Yes. Remind me when he decides to leave to show you the scars I have on this arm.”
“God, he’s magnificent.”
Dal met his gaze. “Yes, he is. And he’s free.”
“And yet you’ve trained him to sit on your arm.”
She shivered beneath the husky excitement in his voice. Suddenly she was sharing one of the few joys of her life with Jim, and she wanted to. The look of excitement in his eyes told her everything. He was just as elated as she was with the majesty of Nar.
“I started feeding him when he was a baby. When he was old enough to begin to fly, I had to make a lure out of a rabbit skin with raw meat attached to it and teach him how to catch food.” She laughed. “I’d swing the lure and he’d sit on my arm looking first at me and then at it. Finally, I’d throw him off my arm and swing the lure and he’d stoop, grabbing it in his talons. After that, I’d take him out to one of the meadows, cast him off into the air and he’d hunt his own rabbits or whatever.”
“And he still returns to you after being put back out in the wild?”
“When I got here six months ago, Nar somehow knew I was home again. Every morning he’ll be sitting on the block right after