Bayon Jean-Baptiste (Page 6)

Bayon wrapped Keira tightly in his arms as they sprawled beside the pool, lazing in the fading rays of sunlight that peeked through the narrow opening at the top of the waterfall.

Mate.

The word seeped into his soul, filling the empty void that had made him feel half alive for far too long.

This female completed him in a way that defied explanation.

Nuzzling the soft skin of her temple, he sensed the instant her mind cleared of the sensual fog that had held her enthralled. Lifting her head, she eyed him with a guarded expression.

“Well, that was-“

“Marvelous, stupendous, the best sex you've ever had?” he helpfully supplied.

She licked her lips, sending a jolt of raw lust through him. He'd just had the best orgasm of his life, but his cock was already hardening for a second round.

“Unexpected,” she said.

He frowned, a sudden stab of fear piercing his heart. “You don't regret becoming my mate, do you?”

Her brows lifted in genuine surprise.

“God, no. It's something we should have done a long time ago.”

“Yes, it is,” he muttered, relief searing away the knot of dread in the pit of his stomach. Keira had battled against their mating for so long he hadn't been entirely confident she might not bolt in horror when she realized she'd actually done the deed. “So, what's bothering you?”

“I feel selfish.”

“Selfish?”

“Our people are in danger.” The emerald in her eyes darkened with concern. “You should be out on the hunt for our enemies, not pandering to my needs.”

His hand cupped her bare ass, pressing her against his thick shaft. “I like pandering to your needs.” She narrowed her eyes. “Bayon.” With a chuckle he kissed the tip of her nose. “Trust me, Keira, everything possible is being done,” he assured her.

“When Talon has located a name or an address I'll return to the hunt.” Her still-pale features tightened with a surge of emotion. “I need to help.” Bayon had known this moment was coming. Keira was too dominant to willingly remain in these caves.

“Keira.”

She stiffened, clearly preparing herself for his protest. “What?”

“You're not ready.”

“Be careful.” There was a golden flash of danger in her eyes. “Just because we're mated doesn't mean you can start giving me orders.”

The scent of angry female puma filled the air, but Bayon wasn't just another Hunter who relied on brute strength. His mother had taught him that keeping his prey off guard was always preferable to direct confrontation.

It worked the same with a powerful woman.

“I may be occasionally dense, but I'm not stupid,” he assured her, his fingers absently trailing up the curve of her spine. “I have no intention of giving you orders. I was trying to point out that until your full memory returns you're a liability.”

She hissed at his blunt words, but even as her lips parted to inform him that he was a total jerk-wad she snapped them shut, grudgingly accepting he had a point.

“You're right,” she at last managed to rasp. “We can't be sure what they did to me. I could be programmed to betray the very people I've sworn to protect.” Bayon held her gaze. It might be shitty to use her loyalty to her people to keep her from charging after her kidnappers, but Bayon knew he'd have to use every trick he possessed to handle this female.

She was cunning, strong, and utterly independent, and she would walk all over him if he wasn't careful.

“For now it's more important that you try to piece together how you were kidnapped,” he murmured softly. “That might lead us to someone who can give us info on the bastards.”

With a sudden shove, Keira was out of his arms and seated on the edge of the pool with her arms wrapped around her knees.

“I've tried,” she muttered.

Taking care not to startle her, Bayon moved to sit beside her. He was painfully aware that while his mate was physically healed, there was still a part of her that was dangerously fragile.

“Do you think they had a method of erasing your memories?”

“No.” Her gaze was locked on the droplets of water that sparkled like diamonds, as if they held some clue to her missing memories. “I think it's me.”

“You?”

“I think there's some reason I'm blocking the memory.”

His gaze skimmed her fragile profile.

Keira's personality was so forceful it was easy to forget just how delicately she was built.

“Then we wait until you're prepared to face it.”

She gave a sharp shake of her head.

“No.”

He growled low in his throat.

Damned stubborn feline.

“Keira-“

She turned to meet his annoyed glare, her expression one of grim

determination. “Listen to me.” He didn't want to. He wanted to tell her that it was too dangerous. But one look into the shadows that lurked in her eyes and he knew that Keira didn't need a protector. Not now. She needed to know he would support her.

“I'm listening,” he said.

“For the past twenty-five years I've been forced to feel helpless.” She shuddered, the days of being locked in the cell still raw in her mind. “It nearly destroyed me.”

Bayon reached out to brush his fingers over her pale cheek, his heart squeezing with pain. Only a Pantera with Keira's mental strength could have survived.

“I get it, honey, I really do.” She grabbed his fingers and pressed them to her lips. “Then you understand I can't just sit here waiting. I have to do something.”

He grimaced. “Do what?”

“I don't…” She surged upright, her hands clenched at her side. “Wait.” Bayon straightened much more

slowly. “I'm not going to like this, am I?”

“I want to retrace my steps.” It took a second to understand what she was suggesting. “You mean the night that you met with Sean?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“It might jog a memory.”

He gave a slow nod. It wasn't a bad plan. And as much as he hated the thought of allowing this female to leave the protection of the caves, the memories she was suppressing might very well be necessary to tracking down their enemies.

“It's been twenty-five years,” he cautioned. She was desperate to feel as if she were actively involved in hunting those who had tortured her, but he didn't want her to get her hopes up too high.

“The human world has changed.” She tilted her chin to an angle that said 'don't screw with me.'

“I have to try.”

“Fine.” Strolling forward, Bayon grabbed her by the waist and tossed her over his shoulder. “But first, a bath.” She gave a startled squawk. “What are you doing?”

He waded into the water, smiling as he caught the scent of her rising arousal.

“You're my mate.”

“Yeah, I got the memo.” She reached around to rub the marks on her lower back that had healed to silvery lines.

“It's time you take up your wifely duties,” he informed her, reaching the middle of the pool and lowering her to her feet.

“Really?” Her stern expression was ruined by the sparkle of amusement in her golden eyes. “And what wifely duties do you expect me to perform?” He turned, the warm water lapping around his waist. “You can begin with washing my back.”

He heard her laugh before she was pouncing from behind and pushing his head under the water.

“Or I could just drown you and find a mate to wash my back.” His cat purred, relishing her playful response. This was the Keira from their childhood. The female who'd stolen his heart.

Underwater, Bayon flipped to swim between her spread legs, breaking the surface behind her.

Before she could turn, he pinned her arms to her side and hauled her against his bare chest. Then, with a growl he sank his teeth into the side of her neck.

“Mmm.” The taste of sweet female musk exploded on his tongue, and with one tilt of his hips he slid his cock deep into her welcoming heat. “My wildcat.”

Keira flexed her claws, digging them into the mossy ground beneath her paws as she stood at the entrance to the caves.

Standing so still she appeared a part of the shadows, she simply absorbed her surroundings. The damp breeze. The scent of rich earth and vegetation. The tangible tingle of magic that touched everything in the Wildlands.

Home.

This place wasn't just where she lived. It was a part of her that was as necessary as breathing.

Her brief moment of contentment was shattered by the distant scent of her brother as he headed toward the village.

Shit.

She battled back the surge of grief at their continued separation.

When Bayon had carried her into the Wildlands, she'd been panicked at the thought of meeting Pantera.

Any Pantera.

She had no explanation. Just a ruthless fear that refused to be dismissed.

Now she understood that her

continued reluctance to reveal herself to Parish had nothing to do with that strange sense of dread.

She'd adored her younger brother from the moment their mother had placed him in her arms. He'd been a quiet, intelligent baby with an intense stare that could intimidate grown men.

A born leader.

And a born protector.

He'd smother her with the need to keep her safe.

And she couldn't risk him trying to block her search for the truth.

Not when she sensed the very future of the Pantera might depend on her discovering why she'd been kidnapped.

A low roar that assured her the coast was clear thankfully intruded into her dark thoughts. Pausing long enough to make sure she was fully focused, Keira moved with a swift grace through the underbrush. She'd been the one to demand the opportunity to search the cabin where she'd been kidnapped. The last thing she wanted was to prove she wasn't prepared.

She joined Bayon, who was waiting for her across the nearest lily-clogged channel. Like her, he was in cat form, a beautiful golden creature with golden eyes swirled with pale green. She rubbed her head affectionately against his thick neck before turning to trot across the boggy ground.

They moved in silence, but Keira didn't need to hear Bayon telling her that he was frustrated as hell by her insistence on retracing her steps. The sharp-edged scent of his temper rolled off his body in fierce waves. Still, he was wise enough keep his opinion to himself, even when they reached the edge of the Wildlands and shifted back to human form.

They were both dressed in black jeans and black sweatshirts to blend into the night, and both had strapped small firearms to their upper thighs. They could easily kill with their bare hands, even when in their human forms, but they didn't know how she'd been

overpowered by mere humans.

A little extra firepower seemed a sensible precaution.

Heading directly north, Keira grimaced as they were forced to skirt around a large bog filled with brown sludge that smelled like rotting eggs.

Christ, how had the nasty quagmires that had started to form at the edges of the Wildlands over fifty years ago spread so far?

The realization spurred her to a faster pace. She had no idea if her kidnapping had any connection to the destruction of the marshland, but the sooner she and Bayon could track the bastards down, the sooner they could start beating the answers from them.

They'd traveled several miles before Bayon at last broke the silence. “Where are we going?”

“It's not far.” She glanced over her shoulder. “Trouble keeping up?” Despite his lingering frustration, he flashed a wicked grin. “I like the view from behind.”

Of course he did.

She shook her head, slowing until they were walking side by side. “Tell me about your orphanage.”

He looked embarrassed, clearly unused to discussing his generous gift to his mother and the human children.

“It's not large. Only six to ten children at a time.” He gave a dismissive shrug. “Most of them need temporary shelter while their parents are in rehab.”

They ducked beneath the low-hanging branches of cypress. “They're fortunate to be in the care of your mother.”

“They are,” he agreed without hesitation. “She's a very special lady.”

“True. Of course, she spoiled you shamelessly.”

He widened his eyes with faux innocence. “Who could blame her?” She chuckled, leaping along small islands to cross a wide channel. Once on relatively stable ground, she turned to watch Bayon as he moved with elegant beauty at her side, his gaze constantly searching for hidden enemies.

“I always assumed you would prefer a woman who was more a Nurturer than a warrior,” she abruptly admitted.

He turned his head to capture her gaze. “I adore all women, but I always knew my mate would have more spice than sugar.”

“Really?”

“Oh yeah.”

She sniffed at his smug male

expression. “And how did you know that?”

“Because I'd met you.”

She stumbled over a hidden branch, her heart slamming against her ribs at his simple, absolutely perfect explanation.

Damn but the cat knew how to make a woman melt.

“You-“

His brows lifted as she struggled for words. A once in a lifetime occurrence.

“What?” he prompted.

“Astonish me,” she said softly. She lifted her hand to touch his face, only to come to a sudden halt as she realized they'd reached a familiar gate that was now rusted and nearly hidden beneath a tangle of clinging ivy.

She frowned, studying the thick layer of moss and cow lilies that covered the ground. “There was a path here.” Bayon kicked the gate, watching it tumble to the ground. “It looks abandoned.”

“I want to get closer.”

He placed a hand on her shoulder, his expression tight with concern. “Let me scout the area first.”

She leaned forward to nip his bottom lip. “You go left, I'll go right.” He released a rough sigh before pressing a frustrated kiss to her lips.

“Stubborn.”

Yep. She was stubborn as hell. But she was beginning to realize that Bayon was the one man who possessed enough self-confidence to allow her to be powerful, while refusing to let her bully him.

The perfect combination.

With a short nod, he turned to melt into the shadows, his movements as silent as hers as they swiftly searched the dense foliage that surrounded the rapidly decaying cabin.

Finding no sign of recent activity, she returned to the front of the cabin, studying it with a growing sense of familiarity.

The tin roof was rusted, and the paint peeling from the wooden planks, but she had a vivid memory of the small wooden structure with its white shutters and shallow, wraparound porch.

“It's clear,” Bayon murmured as he moved to stand at her side, his brows drawing together at her obvious preoccupation. “Keira?”

“I remember,” she said softly.

“Remember what?”

“Coming to this place.”

She shivered as she had the mental image of walking up the once-cleared pathway, her mind distracted by thoughts of the next week's rotation of guards she'd been working on rather than her surroundings.

There hadn't been any premonition of danger.

Not until too late.

Another shudder racked her body, threatening to steal her fragile courage until a warm arm wrapped around her shoulders, tugging her against a solid male chest.

“I'm here,” he promised in low tones.

“And I'm not going anywhere.” Absorbing the strength he offered, Keira sucked in a deep, steadying breath and allowed the memories to flow through her mind.

“I was early. I'd gotten Parish to cover my duties.” Her head tilted back to study the thick canopy of trees that nearly blocked out the sky. “The moonlight was just beginning to peek through the leaves as I walked up the steps.”

Still holding her tight, Bayon led her up the sagging steps, his gaze scanning the darkness for hidden dangers.

“Did you smell anything?” he asked.

“Yes.” She gave a sharp nod.

“Humans. But that wasn't unexpected.

The cabin was used by the local gator hunters.” Her nose flared as she abruptly recalled the weird, sour scent that had surrounded the cabin. “And the same stench I'd caught on Sean the night before.”

They stepped past the door that had rotted off its hinges and into the cramped kitchen. Bayon frowned as he moved across the floor to study the interior of the cabin. There wasn't much to see. On one wall was a row of rotting cabinets that hung at a drunken angle. Below the cabinets was a short countertop that was chipped and covered in layers of dust with a sink at the end. On the other side was a sofa and chair that had been invaded by a growing population of rodents. In the middle was a kitchen table, and at the far back a door opened to a bedroom that was barely big enough for a narrow cot.

Bayon turned back to stab her with a narrowed gaze. “Show me where he was waiting.”

Keira pointed toward a spot directly in front of the empty doorjamb. “Here.”

“That close to the door?” he pressed.

She paused, shuffling through her memories. She'd walked across the porch and yanked open the door. She'd been startled to discover Sean standing directly in her path.

“Yes.”

“Why?”

She frowned at her mate's

persistence. “I don't understand.”

“He wasn't expecting you until later.” Bayon waved a hand around the cramped interior of the cabin. “Why was he standing at the door? Did he hear you arriving?”

Oh. Keira paced the floor, struggling to clear away the murkiness that made it nearly impossible to recall exactly what had happened. The door had opened, and Sean had been standing there…

Wait. He hadn't just been standing there, he'd been pressing against the door.

“He tried to keep me out,” she muttered.

“Because there was something he didn't want you to see?”

She continued to pace, her heart suddenly lodged in her throat, and her palms damp with sweat as she pressed past the fog in her mind.

Yes. She'd shoved open the door and then forced her way past Sean, more annoyed than worried by his strange behavior. And then…

Then she'd been overwhelmed by the strange smell. It'd assaulted her nose until she'd nearly vomited.

That was when the back door had opened and two men and a woman had stepped from the bedroom.

One male had been a human. He was large, with a bald head and a tattoo of a raven in front of a full moon on his neck.

But the other two…

She hissed in pain, dropping to her knees as the memory slammed through her.

“No. Not something,” she forced past her gritted teeth. “Someone.”