Heart Of The Eagle. Lindsay McKenna

Heart Of The Eagle - Lindsay McKenna

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do you mean ‘play’?” Jim had a tough time accepting that the raptor knew the meaning of the word play. There was nothing harmless about the bird.

      Her smile widened. “Want to ride with me tomorrow morning at dawn and find out?”

      Removing his hat, he scratched his head and thought about the invitation. “He won’t attack me? I’ve heard of other falcons and eagles being so protective of their masters that they’ll attack anyone who gets near them.”

      “Nar won’t hurt you. He knows you’re a friend and not an enemy,” she assured him.

      At that moment Nar turned, chirping softly at her, and then raised one wing, preening his molten-bronze feathers. Dal smiled and leaned forward, touching the bird’s breast with her cheek. “He’s such a pushover,” she confided, lifting her head.

      Jim nodded, thinking that the eagle had one hell of a deal going for him. Not only was the bird on the receiving end of her affection, she trusted him. He knew that with a murderous beak like that, Nar had only to strike with savage swiftness to quite literally open up half of Dal’s face, if he chose. Jim wouldn’t want that fierce predator on his arm for any reason…and that left him worried for her sake. Falcons or eagles that had been kept in captivity for years were known to turn moody unexpectedly and strike their owner, inflicting no small degree of damage. Dal’s flesh was too soft, too lovely to mar with a scar made by Nar.

      “Some pushover,” he growled.

      “Follow me. I’m going to take him to his block and feed him some beef liver. On some days when food is scarce, he’ll make his presence known here at the ranch in no uncertain terms. Millie’s chased him away from the henhouse more than once,” she added with a laugh. “And Rafe has been ready to strangle him on a number of occasions for frightening the foals as he glides across the paddocks to the garage where his block is.”

      Jim followed her into the gloom of the garage. As if on some silent cue, Nar stepped like a gentleman from her arm to the large, round wooden block that stood five feet off the concrete floor. Dal rubbed her arm. “God, he’s heavy.”

      “I thought he was going to knock you over when he went into that stoop.”

      “He has, a number of times,” she said with a chuckle, going to the refrigerator. “You figure a thirteen-pound eagle stooping at thirty miles an hour and calculate the force with which he comes in for a landing! Then, when he wraps his claws around your forearm…” She pulled out a package of beef liver, unwrapped it and threw the meat toward Nar. The eagle’s right leg shot out, his talons catching the food midair. Then he mantled, flapping his wings. The feathers on his head rose and he shrilled in warning.

      Dal reached over, taking Jim’s arm. “Come on. Feeding time means leaving him alone. If he thinks you’re going to try and take that food away, he’ll fly at us.”

      Not needing any more coaxing, Jim slid his hand beneath Dal’s elbow and led her back out into the sunlight. They stood there, watching the eagle for a minute or two. Jim smiled to himself; Dal was standing less than six inches from him and wasn’t displaying any of her previous nervousness. He thanked Nar for that.

      “Isn’t it dangerous raising a bird like that?”

      She pulled the glove off her left arm and held out her hand to him. Innumerable white and even recent pinkish scars marred her artistic-looking fingers. Turning her palm over, Dal pointed to a long deep scar that ran the length of her hand. Her voice held a rueful note. “When Nar was six months old he decided to make a meal of Millie’s cat, Goodyear. You’ll see him around here, I’m sure. He’s a long-haired white and yellow cat who stole Millie’s heart. Consequently, she overfeeds him, and so we started calling him the Goodyear blimp because he resembled one. I was out with the foals when Nar flew from his aerie on the cliffs about ten miles north of here. It was the middle of the day, so I was surprised to see him. I heard his call first. And then I saw Goodyear crossing the hen yard.”

      Jim matched her grin. “So of course, Nar thought Goodyear was an ideal meal on wheels.”

      “Exactly! The only thing that saved the blimp was the fact that at that age Nar wasn’t expert at stooping and catching his quarry. He managed to skim the ground and caught Goodyear’s tail between his claws.” Dal hooted with laughter as she recalled the event. “Imagine Millie coming out of the house screaming at the top of her lungs and waving a broom, and the blimp squalling for all of his nine lives, and Nar shrieking because the cat wouldn’t stay still.”

      “So who got to whom first?” Jim asked, enjoying her warmth and camaraderie.

      “Thankfully, I did. One thing I learned about predators long ago is that you never take their quarry away from them. I tried to get Nar to let go of Goodyear, who was still squalling, and I was begging Millie not to hit the eagle all at the same time. I put my arm out and I didn’t even have a glove on, so I knew I was in trouble. Nar wasn’t going to let go, so I reached down and tapped him smartly across the legs. His right leg came up like lightning and he struck at me. Goodyear escaped and I sat hunched in front of Nar with the palm of my hand sliced down to the muscle.” She grimaced. “Needless to say, Rafe was ready to shoot Nar before he took me to the hospital for stitches and a tetanus shot.”

      Jim picked up her hand, gently cradling it between his own. He ran his thumb lightly down the length of the puckered scar. “Did you stop to think he might have struck at you with his beak and blinded you or scarred your face for life…?”

      A tingle of unexpected fire leaped to life as he caressed her hand. Dal’s mouth grew dry, and she lifted her head and stared up into his dark gold eyes. Eyes of a hawk, her mind whispered. Yes, he was like a hawk, she thought weakly, tendrils of pleasure leaping like hot fire licking through her nerve endings as he met and held her gaze. His fingers were long and warm against the dampness of her own and she felt the callused roughness of his hands. Working hands. Not soft like an office worker’s. She blinked once, ensnared within the web of his amber gaze, an ache centering in her breast. Dal sensed his caring, his genuine concern toward her. It was no game. No, the low tremor in his voice that impacted her so headily was completely sincere.

      “I…hadn’t thought of that,” she stammered, withdrawing her hand from his. Dal felt the heat of her blush and cringed inwardly. At thirty she shouldn’t be blushing. Just another Kincaid trait, she thought, embarrassed as she saw the beginning of a smile on Jim’s mouth.

      “Well,” he growled softly, “from now on, if you don’t think of it, I will. You’re too beautiful to have your skin marred by that eagle if he takes a fit of temper again.”

      She felt as if she were in a pool of golden light that surrounded them in that mesmerizing moment. All sounds ceased to exist except his low voice and the many unspoken messages conveyed by his predatorlike gaze. It was so long since a man had honestly cared what happened to her. “Well,” she heard herself say in a faraway voice, “Nar isn’t temperamental. Some birds are moody, but he isn’t. You just can’t take the food that he’s earned away from him, that’s all.”

      “Dal?” Millie’s voice carried across the yard. Dal gave Jim a quick look, as if relieved that their intimacy had been broken by the interruption.

      “Coming, Millie.” She managed a slight smile of apology. “Come on, lunch is ready.”

      “Good,” Jim murmured, “I’m starved.”

      Casting him a suspicious look, Dal tried to read between the lines of his statement. Yes, she had seen hunger burning in the depths of his eyes, and it was all aimed at her. She was trembling and that shocked her. Even her knees were weak as she walked toward the ranch house with him. How could that be? Jim had simply touched her palm. What was going on within her? she wondered. When Jack touched her, her skin crawled and she shrank deep within herself to blot out his advance. But Jim’s touch…

      Dal tried to analyze the chemistry that existed between them, scared to death.

      * * *


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