Out of the corner of her eye, Leiah saw a blur of movement. One of Liana's cubs scrambled up the rock face to an overhanging ledge, a third yeti on his heels, swiping at the child with large, claw-tipped hands.
Leiah sprinted as hard as she could toward the yeti. She had no idea where the boy's mother was, but there was no time to find the other woman. She sprang, intending to land on the monster's back, but the yeti anticipated such a move. With a hard, bone-jarring swipe, the creature backhanded her in midair. The blow caught her across the chest, and Leiah heard and felt several ribs crack. Pain speared her insides, knocking the wind out of her. The coppery taste of blood filled her mouth, but she had no time to think about it. The yeti was on the boy.
On his perch high above the ground, the little cub huddled as close to the rock facing as he could, making himself as small as possible. Still, it wasn't far enough to escape the yeti's razor-like claws. The thing swiped at the boy, tearing three long gashes in the cub's shoulder. Yelping, he scrambled back until there was simply no more space to retreat.
Leiah sprang once again, this time going low, trying to get her jaws around the tendon as she had with the other yeti.
Again, the beast anticipated her move, kicking this time, the blow landing squarely on her temple. Leiah's world shattered in a haze of pain. Her ears rang and her vision blurred, turning everything a dull gray as unconsciousness threatened to overtake her.
Shaking her head, Leiah staggered to her feet and leapt at the creature once again, determined to defend the child with her dying breath. Time seemed to slow in her hazy state. She could see the hairy paw coming at her, claws extended and ready to shred her to ribbons in one vicious swipe.
Just as she registered it would be a fatal blow, something knocked the yeti flat on its back. Her vision blurred so that she couldn't make out what had come to her rescue, but it had to be fucking big to have knocked the thing so completely out of the fight. Ferocious growls and howls of pain permeated the air, the stench of blood and gore heavy all around her. Leiah missed the yeti and landed sprawled on her belly at the base of the icy cliff. Death was everywhere, and she wasn't certain how many of her own pack were counted among the fallen.
The cries of the dying yeti filled her head, and the stench of torn flesh assailed her nostrils. Her vision was still hazy, but she kept moving toward the cub, huddled so tightly against the sheer rock face. Knowing she couldn't take down the yeti in her present state, she concentrated her entire being on getting to the cub to offer what meager protection she could until his mother arrived. On some level, she knew she should be concerned about whatever creature had managed to take down a yeti with such ease, but she couldn't think about it just now. There was room in her injured mind and body for only one task, and that was protecting the cub.
Snarls and growls filled the air, the fighting going on and on for what seemed like forever. The pack was putting up a ferocious fight. Or getting slaughtered. She refused to consider that possibility. As quickly as her injured body allowed, she snagged the cub by the scruff of the neck and leaped down to the snow- and ice-covered ground below. She landed hard, further injuring herself, and the cub yelped as he went flying. Immediately, the child scrambled to his feet and took off at a dead run to the rocky caves where they made their den. Faintly, she saw the child's mother run after him, then the two were gone.
Satisfied she'd done all she could do for the child and injured beyond anything she'd ever endured, Leiah lay her head down in the snow and succumbed to oblivion.
* * *
The blood lust was hard on Rikker. He'd taken down the yeti as it had made another deadly swipe at the female wolf, but it wasn't nearly enough. Everything in him screamed to kill the beast over and over. All around him, smaller wolves crouched, teeth bared, muscles bunched, ready to strike, but none did. Only the female Alpha seemed willing to fight for the pack.
They didn't deserve his help, but they were obviously important to the female, and he would help her because he had to. Even as she lay bleeding in the snow, her gaze fixed on the retreating form of the cub she'd tried so valiantly to rescue. Yet no one seemed to feel the need to save her.
With the efficient ease of many such battles, Rikker dispatched the final remaining yeti. It had been in full retreat, but he knew better than to leave a yeti alive who had the scent of the pack. It would track them to their den and kill the lot of them.
He stood over the final fallen yeti, surveying the carnage strewn over the ice and snow. The Alpha she-wolf lay in a heap, blood trickling from her nose and mouth, her snow-white fur matted with darkening blood. As he watched, her form shimmered slightly, as if she fought the change, then shifted into her human form. Her skin was a vivid green with yellow accents, starkly highlighted by the snowy ground beneath her. Long, sea-green hair draped her body artfully, even amid the caked blood. The chartreuse strands looked like spun silk and gleamed in the waning sunlight.
Knowing they had to get underground and that she desperately needed medical attention, Rikker shifted form and scooped her up. She was light and fit, though feminine curves pressed softly against the hardness of his torso. The pack hadn't even bothered to cover their tracks. Any one of the numerous predators in the area could spot their unguarded flight and catch them unaware.
Snarling at their stupidity, he hurried over the snow and ice until he reached the den. Quickly ducking inside, covering the tunnel as fast as he could, Rikker held his burden close. Her warm, inviting curves seemed to beckon him like a moth to a flame. Once he came to the open alcove where the others waited, he laid her gently on the rocky ground. The others seemed surprised to see him, though no one made an effort to fight him off. They merely huddled together like beaten dogs. Rikker glanced at the unconscious woman before snarling a command to them.
"Find her warm clothes and furs. I will return when I've erased all trace of your presence from the entrance to your lair." Then he shifted once more to his wolf form and scampered back to the surface to protect the pack as best he could before sunset.