All eyes were finely attuned to someone else, someone approaching us from behind me, above the vine-wrapped trees.
Turning, I found him gliding in evenly, patiently, not as if he had all the time in the world but as if the world would wait for him. His massive appendages carried him steadily to the ground where he settled with precision on the uneven mud before they smoothly rolled back, sank away, and disappeared. As he walked the remaining steps to the five men and two women who had collected earlier, they didn't address him but were observant of his moves in the way soldiers await commands from a head officer.
Just as I had, he had chosen a young adult's body. He was tall but leaner than the others. This one's muscles were lithe, allowing his movements to be nimble, precise, rather than clunky like the others. His dark brown, wavy hair was longer, too, swaying as he moved.
He stood out from the rest, by appearance and by the unreserved display of self-confidence. Unlike the others, he could successfully intimidate with ease. Even if I didn't feel this way toward him, I saw it on the faces of those around me. In fact, I immediately got the impression that there wasn't much this man couldn't control.
When he came to a stop, he settled confidently back on the balls of his feet and folded his muscular arms across his chest before sweeping a firm gaze over the crowd.
This was when the messengers began to whisper to each other.
"No, it can't be."
"But I think it is…"
"Yes…the Eran," confirmed Hermina, her eyes never straying from the man who had captured everyone's attention.
When he scanned the group, he did so leisurely, assessing the messengers from afar, and it immediately struck me that he was here not as an observer but with a reason.
And then his eyes reached me and stopped.
When he did this, something exploded inside me. I drew in a quick breath and for the first time in my existence I actually tasted the air I inhaled. It was sweet, seemingly laced with sugar. I smelled the dampness of the jungle surrounding us and noticed the breeze slipping across my skin. And suddenly, I felt whole, as if I'd existed in a void until that moment, surviving but never actually living, seeing but never taking in the details.
His eyebrows pulled together as he stared across the clearing at me, in the way someone does when they believe they've recognized another. I wondered what he saw beyond my small, five-foot frame, round eyes, and long chocolate-colored hair. Whatever it was, it caused his eyes to become electrified the longer they stayed in place, heating until they burned with concentration and made me feel like he thought he was observing someone exceptionally peculiar or important. I was neither of those, so his interest was unexplainable to me.
As we watched each other, my muscles flexed, and I realized my body wanted to move closer to him, without reason, without a foreseeable purpose. I didn't know this man, had never seen him, never spoken to him, and yet that didn't stop or deter the urge to have him touch me.
Then he released the breath he'd been holding, and I knew he'd felt something too.
His muscles rippled through his thighs, but his position didn't shift, and I thought he might be fighting the same urge I was to cross the clearing and close the distance between us.
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