1. And now he was faced with a problem. He hadn’t anticipated the person hiding in the marsh to be a female. Yes, in the back of his mind that possibility had existed, especially since he knew that the clothing taken from the campsites was always feminine. But he’d never encountered, nor had he’d ever heard of a woman hiding out in the middle of a swamp. If he appeared to her as a puma, it would frighten her, and there was no telling how she’d react. For all he knew, she could have a gun on her, and she might be a crack shot like Billie. But, on the other hand, if he shifted back into his human form, she might react in the same way to see a naked man approaching. And he didn’t bring a change of clothes with him.
2. The need to go over to her and pull her into his arms was almost impossible to resist. Yet he managed to keep a steel grip on himself as he watched her weep. This woman had touched something inside him. Maybe it was because of her uniqueness. Maybe it was because she’d been brutalized and half-starved. Or maybe it was because he’d always been a sucker for a woman’s tears. Whatever it was, it was turning into a feeling he couldn’t ignore or walk away from.
3. Thierry laid the key card next to the TV. “Here you go. Towels and washcloths are in the bathroom on the other side of that door, along with soap, shampoo, and conditioner. Feel free to watch TV. Someone will come get you when it’s time to eat.” Taking Rikki by both shoulders, the woman turned her around to look her in the face. “You’re going to be all right here. No one outside of our immediate family knows about you, and no one knows about us. We keep our secrets to ourselves, understand?”
4. “I don’t remember my parents,” she admitted. “At least, I think they were my parents.” Raising a hand to her face, she stared at it for a moment. “My earliest memory was when I discovered I could change my hand to look like a kitty cat’s. I was so surprised, I ran into the kitchen to show my momma. Or the woman I thought of as my momma. She saw me change it, and she started screaming. She got the broom and began to hit me with it.”
5. “Awright, everybody. Just a reminder that we lock the doors at ten p.m. sharp. House rules. It’s not that we want to spoil your fun, but it’s for your own protection. Don’t forget, we’re out in the middle of a swamp, and most of the critters around here are night scavengers, especially the gators and pumas.” He spoke in a slow drawl that surprised her, and she remembered what Thierry had said. “Don’t let his ‘good old boy’ charm fool you.” Because underneath it was the ferocious heart of a mountain lion.
6. A sob hitched in her chest. She couldn’t stay here. She couldn’t risk having the man she was coming to love be punished because of her. Not him, or any of the others. No matter how much she argued with herself, there was no way she could deny the fact that she had just one, and only one, option open to her, and that was to leave.
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