Sheridan hustled down the corridor, knowing she didn’t have much time before someone spotted her. This whole trip had been one unpleasant surprise after the other. Working for the Vida Verde organization had been a dream come true, until she’d found out that the scientific environment she now worked in was a haven for questionable
scientific activity. Despite Jaime and Belinda Esteves’s agreement that she would fare much better doing her research deeper in the jungle, Sheridan couldn’t help wondering if they’d been pressured into sending her to this particular establishment.
Hell, she couldn’t even pinpoint her location on a map. She had no idea where she was. She only knew that the flowers she needed for her experiments were suddenly plentiful and at hand. Eager to continue with her work, she’d tried to ignore her misgivings. The research facility had, at first glance, looked legitimate. The few scientists she’d met and spoken with had credentials. Some were botanists or chemists, and like her, they’d been closemouthed about their work. At least here, being antisocial was the norm. A place where she finally fit in, she thought, on the verge of hysterical laughter. She looked around nervously.
Man, I have got to get moving before they see me.
Ricardo Montaña was a problem and had been for years. Living in Quebec, far away from South America, had ensured that she dealt with him very little. She’d had a bad feeling about Ricardo from the beginning. The way he looked at her, as if she were his next meal, made her more than uncomfortable. For years he’d been watching her, visiting out of the blue, bringing her gifts she always, nicely, returned. Instead of upsetting him, her refusals spurred him to bring something even better each time he returned.
Her parents tolerated him because he helped fund the labs where they worked. Successful scientists couldn’t be too choosy when fighting for grant money. Her parents were the best of the best. The Keyes name meant something in academia, even if she hadn’t yet put her own stamp on it.
Her work meant everything to her, which was the only reason she’d accepted the last gift Ricardo had given her -- a precious and unique flower that met the requirements for her botanical research. He’d named the fragrant gem the Sheridan Rose, though the rare bloom had little in common with the perennial flower.
Sheridan huffed. The Sheridan Rose is the reason I’m in this mess in the first place. Maybe it’s time I put work on the back burner and tried to get a handle on my life, like finding a way to live without all the danger and drama I’m currently in. Some way to fit into normal society instead of constantly being that freak on the outside looking in.
A small chime sounded on her wrist, and she stifled the noise by pressing a button on her watch. She ran through the jungle, past yet another gap between the aboveground shallow caves, into a section of the compound she wasn’t supposed to know about. Then again, if Pedro hadn’t mentioned the caves, she still wouldn’t know about them.
Sheridan couldn’t believe what Pedro had told her, and she had to see it with her own eyes. She understood the need to guard the valuable research at the facility, but she couldn’t fathom holding a man prisoner for weeks at a time. For God’s sake, Ricardo wasn’t the law!
And if he was holding a man captive, then the question became: what else was he hiding out here in the middle of the jungle?
Pedro, her one real friend and the head of information technology security at the compound, had advised her to be careful around the place. Just yesterday, he’d whispered a warning for her to leave. Despite losing such a valuable research opportunity, she was prepared to do just that. But not until she verified the truth of a man chained up in a cave. When she eventually reported this to the authorities, she wanted to present fact, not speculation.
The guard changeover would end soon, she reminded herself as she raced to her destination. Thanks to Pedro’s directions, which bypassed security, she should be able to enter the cell undetected and leave before the next security change.
Another item on her “why this place is crazy” list.
Half the men who worked on the compound growled at her, literally growled
at her, when she neared them. Like animals. And they were all bigger, stronger, and decidedly more animalistic than any men she’d ever come into contact with. The few women she’d seen always dressed like prostitutes, and she’d never seen the same woman twice. Entertainment for Ricardo’s guards? Part of some bizarre experiments? Where the hell
did Ricardo find these people?
She paused when she reached the door Pedro had told her to find. Once inside, she’d see the truth for herself. Ricardo had a mysterious background: money, power, and a menacing air. But was he a criminal? If so, what kind? The Esteveses spoke highly of him. If he was as bad as Pedro hinted, would the Esteveses have allowed her to go with him, so deep into the jungle that she’d never get out on her own?
To his credit, Ricardo never made advances. He acted like a perfect gentleman, and he’d even brought Elena along to keep Sheridan company in her off-hours. No one at the facility had touched her, and except for the growls and the hungry gazes from the men, she couldn’t complain that she hadn’t been treated right. Yet she felt the danger nonetheless. And, if she were honest with herself, most of her anxiety came from Ricardo himself.
Hell, he’s a good twenty years older than me. He can’t be interested, not when he’s got a woman like Elena by his side.
She snorted. His secretary, my ass.
The older woman was a model, for God’s sake.
Sheridan shook her head, smacking her face with the long ponytail holding back her plain Scots red hair. Not blue black like Elena’s. She didn’t have the woman’s bronzed skin, dusky lashes, or bright green eyes that glowed like emeralds. Or the toned, slender curves that magazines paid thousands of dollars for to use in their advertisements -- well, they didn’t exist in Sheridan. Yeah, I’m plain and plump. What a bargain.
Swearing under her breath, she used the device Pedro had given her and disabled the electronic lock, an incongruous sight against the natural splendor of the cave walls. Outside, bats chattered, monkeys howled, and the clicking of insects could be heard. A sudden, soft breeze cooled the sweat soaking through the back of her sleeveless shirt. The shorts she wore helped her stay comfortable. The jungle insects were never a factor when it came to selecting clothing. Sheridan just told the others she used a special spray to deflect their attention. The truth was, Sheridan had never been bothered by them.
She pushed past the keypad and entered the cell. According to Pedro, the cameras that secured the rest of the compound didn’t work in the caves. She had nothing to fear about discovery, so long as she avoided the actual guards.
Sheridan glanced at her watch again. Fifteen minutes until the new set came on duty.
She shut the door behind her, and it automatically locked. She wished she could see more than what the moonlight through the hole in the ceiling illuminated. Sheridan found herself in an abandoned cave, barely larger than the room she used as a laboratory. Why had it been closed in by a man-made wooden door? And why did an electronic keypad protect it?
Something rattled a few feet in front of her. She jumped and scuttled back into the shadows.
A low growl sounded, as if from a wounded animal. Chains rattled again, and she frowned.
“Hello?” she whispered.
No one answered, but as her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she spied something -- someone -- held against the wall across from her.
Oh my God, Pedro was right! There’s a man trapped here in this cell. And he’s hurt. I can sense he’s truly injured.
Her palms itched, the need to soothe, to heal so strong, she couldn’t ignore the compulsion. The intensity of her need should have shocked her -- she’d never felt so drawn to pain before -- but she couldn’t think past the overwhelming urge to heal.
She darted through the moonlight into the shadows against the wall, where he stood. Except he wasn’t so much standing as fighting to stand upright. The scent of blood and infection hit her hard, and tears filled her eyes.
“So much pain,” she whispered. She reached out to him and laid her hands on his slick chest. Moist from blood or sweat, she couldn’t tell.
He jerked, amazing her that someone who felt so much hurt could still be awake and aware. Then he straightened to an imposing height several inches taller than her.
“Don’t touch me,” he growled.
Light gray eyes so bright they looked white blazed down at her, almost glowing in the darkness. The preternatural shine should have scared her, but she couldn’t stop staring at the giant man bound to the wall. He was huge
. He had large muscles, a well-conditioned body, and the headiest scent she’d ever smelled. Sheridan swayed closer, wanting to inhale him, and quickly stopped herself. Come on, Sheridan, focus.
She wished she could see him better, but she’d take what she could get.
Unable to help herself, she ran her hands over his chest, trailing heat over his skin, allowing the healing to pour through her fingers into him. The faint scent of vanilla filled the air. Sheridan sniffed again. An earthy combination of grass and vanilla, as if nature had approved of this male and set him in wait just for her.
Slowly, the infection she’d sensed in the man faded, and the vanilla scent grew stronger.
She continued to caress him, lost in a haze of wonder. Always before when healing, she grew tired, as if giving away a piece of herself. But now, with him, that wasn’t the case. He -- she had no other word for it -- intoxicated
“Who are you?” he rumbled, his low voice quiet but burning with intensity.
“Sheridan,” she answered, lost in the feel of him. He needed so much, and she had so much to give.
“God, what are you doing to me?” he rasped. “Your hands are so hot. Or is that the drugs they pumped into me? Hell if I know up from down anymore,” he muttered.
“Shh, it’ll be all right. Let me help you. It’s okay,” she crooned and kissed the spot directly in front of her face, over his broad chest.
She couldn’t have said why she did it, but she had to put her mouth on him, to taste some part of him. It dawned on her then that he wore nothing at all. Stunned, she didn’t know what to think.
He froze, and the heat leaving her palms returned full force, centering in every pleasure point in her body.
“Don’t touch me.” His voice sounded stronger. “I won’t help you, no matter what you do to me.”
“Please, let me finish.” She tried to concentrate on him and not the unfamiliar lust coursing through her body, but she couldn’t. Especially when she moved closer and felt something firm prod her belly. Good Lord, the man was aroused. She glanced down. Aroused and naked and huge
He muttered under his breath, but he didn’t speak again as she ran her hands over his arms, neck, and face, taking away “the bad,” as she’d always called it.
“I...I have to finish. I feel more pain.” She ran her hands over his hips, and he shuddered.
“Yeah, the pain’s getting worse by the second,” he growled. “Who the fuck are you? Why are you here?”
The strength of his voice encouraged her, but his anger didn’t make sense.
“Did Montaña send you? You here to take all the pain away so he can give it right back?” He sneered.
“Shh, no.” She glanced over her shoulder at the door but continued to run her hands over his legs and feet while avoiding that large, insistent part of him. She could feel his hurt, and it was more than unfulfilled arousal. Had someone injured his groin as well?
“You’re blushing,” he said in amazement, though how he could see in the darkness, she had no idea. “Good Christ, if you’re not with Montaña, who the hell are you?” He paused, and his voice shook as he asked, “Are you real?”
“Shh.” She rose and put her fingers over his lips. “I work here.” When he stilled, she hurriedly amended, “I work in the botanical center. There’s a legitimate lab attached to this area. I had no idea you were here. When Pedro told me, I didn’t believe him. I had to see for myself.”
“Yeah, you’ve seen, all right.” He stepped closer, as close as his chains allowed. “I’m still hurting, sweetheart.”
Her face felt on fire, but she couldn’t avoid it any longer. She slowly feathered her fingers over his lower abdomen, down his groin to his inner thighs, and cupped his testicles.
The raw groan he gave made her nipples tighten, but there was more than carnal desire in the sound. There was real pain.
“How did this happen?” she asked, appalled.
“Montaña,” he rasped, no longer trying to goad her. “Fuck, that feels good. Don’t stop,” he ordered, sighing into her touch. Though still aroused, he seemed to care more that the pain from his wound leeched away. She eased her hands from his warm sac and slid them over his shaft, pushing away the sense of raw scarring that shouldn’t have been there.
Now that she held the very essence of him, she recognized a part of the psychic makeup of his physiology. “You shouldn’t need me to heal,” she said on a breath, amazed. Had she found someone like her, finally? In the heart of the jungle, deep in the Amazon, had she found a kindred spirit?
“No, I shouldn’t, but, honey, I’m still aching,” his low rumble reminded her. “You’re making it worse.”
She realized that she no longer felt his hurt, but a new pain had blossomed. The male in front of her pulsed in her hands, so thick, so hot and hard. He stirred in her a keen desire she’d never before experienced, not even with the few boyfriends she’d slept with.
“Tell me your name,” she said, the inane request making her blush all over again. God, she held his penis in her hands, she couldn’t see what he looked like, and she didn’t even know the name of this stranger chained to a wall. Talk about surreal.
“Julian,” he whispered, his breathing labored. “But my friends call me Jules. Call me Jules, Sheridan. Oh yeah.”
He tilted his hips in time with her touch, and she realized he was thrusting into her palms. To her amazement, he felt slick, and she wondered if she’d missed the point where he’d orgasmed. But he didn’t seem any smaller.
“No, don’t loosen your grip. Hold me tighter,” he rasped and groaned as he literally swelled in her hands. “Fuck.” He swore and came all over her. So much seed. It hit her shirt and continued to leak from his tip, the scent of musk and vanilla bringing her so close to her own orgasm, she let go of him in shock.
“Damn, I’m sorry,” he said on a groan. “It’s just been so long, and I --”
He tensed, his eyes flashing.
“What? What’s wrong?” she asked, alarmed. She couldn’t stop shaking, not from fear, but from arousal.