The cougar crouched in the darkness watching the silent cabin. There was no movement within. It had gone quiet in the dark, suffocating hours of predawn.
The human within fought for balance, wanted the shift. She cried out to the humans inside the cabin. But the injured cougar carefully guarded her counterpart, unsure and betrayed by the two men she’d trusted.
Pain and sorrow vied for equal attention. Finally with a shuddering growl, the cat became human, and a naked woman huddled in the snow as pain screamed through her body.
She pushed herself up with her right hand as she favored her left arm by holding it tightly against her chest. The snow burned her knees, and the cold seeped into her muscles, stiffening them and making her unwieldy.
Still, she forced herself to her feet and staggered toward the cabin only to stop in front of the door. Should she go in? She’d given her word, but they had chased the cougar away. In her fright, her animal instincts had taken over, and she’d fled. In a jump over a crevice, she’d broken her front limb. It had taken her hours to crawl her way back to the cabin, and now she didn’t know if she’d made the right decision.
The cold and her pain forced her forward. At this point, she didn’t have a choice. She needed warmth and rest so she could heal. She could only hope they didn’t turn her away.
She stumbled when she got to the door and reached out to brace herself on the worn wood. The handle was frigid, and she fumbled clumsily at it. When it cracked open, a welcome rush of heat drifted out to envelop her.
The living room was dark. No fire burned in the hearth to her dismay. She hurried forward and shut the door behind her. It landed with a bang, and she winced.
The couch was her goal, because the five steps to it were all she could muster, and she’d be lucky to make it that far.
She’d taken two steps when light flooded the living room, and Jericho and Hunter both charged from their bedrooms.
Anger glittered brightly in Hunter’s gaze. Jericho looked furious and his reaction was explosive. Her ears rang from the harsh expletives.
Jericho was in front of her in an instant, reaching for her arms.
It was too late. His hands curled around her broken arm.
Pain exploded through her body. Her scream was primal, rolling like a jolt through the cabin. Jericho dropped her like he’d been burned and stepped away, his fury reduced to shock.
She went to her knees, holding her arm as breathless, silent sobs billowed from her depths.
Hunter pushed by the stunned Jericho and knelt on the floor in front of her.
“My arm,” she gasped out. “It’s broken.”
“What the fuck?” Jericho finally found his voice.
Hunter curled his hand underneath her other elbow and hoisted her gently to her feet. He led her to the couch and eased her onto the cushion.
She trembled from head to toe, unsure of what bothered her most. The cold or the pain.
Jericho scrambled for a blanket and draped it around her body, taking care not to touch her arm again.
“Kaya, I didn’t know. God, I’m sorry for hurting you.”
She couldn’t find the words around her clenched throat, but her gaze found his and she gave a short shake of her head to let him know it was all right.
She watched as they broke away from her long enough to build up the fire. Then they returned to the couch, their expressions hard. Determined.
“Who is he?” Hunter asked, his tone cold and deadly. “Is he your husband? Boyfriend?”
She blinked in confusion as her teeth started to chatter. “Who is who?”
“The son of a bitch who did this to you,” Jericho said icily.
Her eyes widened in shock. “But—”
Hunter cupped her chin and turned her so that she faced him. “I’ll take care of it, Kaya. I swear to you I will. Tell me who he is and where I can find him. He’ll never hurt you again. We’ll keep you safe. I promise.”
“There is no one. I swear it.”
Jericho threw up his hands in frustration.
She sank back into the couch, bracing herself for what was to come. She had to see to her arm, and though she would heal quickly, she didn’t look forward to setting it.
Tired. Cold. She had reached exhaustion, the bone-deep kind that made processing her thoughts impossible.
“We’ve got to get her down the mountain,” she heard Hunter say to Jericho.
She turned her head to bring them both into view and frowned at the intensity on their faces. They weren’t talking to her. They were deciding her fate between them.
“We can take her in the sled,” Hunter said. “If we can just get her down to the truck, we can drive the rest of the way provided the roads aren’t too snowed under.”
“Where are you taking me?” she asked faintly.
Hunter turned, his gaze softening just a bit. “The hospital, Kaya. Your arm is badly broken. We have to get you care.”
Her vehement exclamation startled the two men. Jericho frowned, and Hunter looked at her in bewilderment. Then he knelt down in front of the couch and took her uninjured hand in his.
“You’re badly hurt. We have to get you to the hospital. I don’t think you understand how bad that break is.”
She shook her head. “No. I won’t go. I can’t go. Please. Just let me stay here. I will be all right.”
“No, goddamn it, you won’t be all right,” Jericho bit out. “We’re tired of doing things your way. This time we’re not asking, and you’re damn well not going to talk us out of doing what has to be done.”
Desperation lent her strength. She couldn’t let them take her to the hospital. She would be found out. Fear lodged in her throat. What would they do to her? Lock her away in a cage as they once had? Take her away from Jericho and Hunter like she’d once been taken from her humans?
She struggled upward, out of the constraints of the blankets. Hunter and Jericho both reached for her, their hands firm as she fought against them.
“Let me up,” she gasped. “Please, this is important. There is something I must tell you.”
God, don’t let them turn away. The idea of trusting them with her secret terrified her, but how else could she make them understand that she could not go down the mountain?
“Kaya, stop. You’re going to hurt yourself,” Jericho said.
She stopped her struggles and met their gazes. She let all her desperation bleed into her expression as she pleaded with them.
“Please,” she whispered. “There is something I must tell you.”
Maybe the urgency finally got through to them, or maybe they realized she wouldn’t participate unless they listened. Their hands fell away, and Hunter let out a long sigh.
“Tell us, Kaya. Make it fast so we can take care of your injury.”
She struggled to her feet, ignoring their curses and their protests as they tried to keep her on the couch. Finally she broke free and put distance between her and them.
“Don’t even think about going out that door,” Jericho growled. “We won’t let you go this time.”
She shook her head in silent denial. That wasn’t what she planned. No, what she planned was to strip herself bare in front of these two men. To tell them what she’d never told another human being. And pray they wouldn’t reject her.