Kris Norris

Once Upon A Time…Has Never Been This Hot.

FORCE OF NAUTRE


“Damn it, Finley, this is crazy. You need to go to the hospital.”

Finley McKay shoved open the Jeep’s door, grabbing her pack from the backseat before stepping onto the dirt path leading to her cabin. Stones crunched beneath her boots, the harsh sound grating on her already frayed nerves. Pain thrummed through her hand, throbbing to the beat of her heart. She swung the bag’s strap over her shoulder as she pressed the gauze harder against the laceration, wishing Jonah would just shut the hell up and leave her alone.

She kicked the door closed, taking a few deep breaths as she turned to face her partner. “It’s not that bad. Jesus, Jonah, you act as if I’ve never cut myself before.”

Jonah circled the vehicle, stepping in front of her, arms crossed, mouth pinched tight. “That’s not a cut, and you know it. You need stitches. Now, stop being stubborn, and I’ll drive you back into town—take you to the clinic.”

“Clinic’s closed, partner.”

“There’s an emergency number.”

She laughed. “For emergencies, as in life-threatening, which this isn’t.”

“You sliced your palm open on a bloody leg-hold trap. A rusty, illegal, nasty piece of shit. It’s got to be half an inch deep. That makes this more serious than you’re treating it.”

“But it doesn’t make this an emergency.” She released a weary breath, walking past Jonah. “I’ll take care of it. You know I can.”

He snagged her arm, spinning her around. “And we both know you won’t do what should be done. Besides, god knows what was on that metal. You need to see a doctor…”

He cursed as she started backing up, shaking her head.

“For fuck’s sake, Fin. I know how much you hate hospitals, doctors, but… Fine. The Rescue Service is only twenty minutes away. At least let someone else stitch it. Harder than hell to do it to yourself.”

She snorted. “I don’t need an ambulance, and before you start—I’m quite capable of gluing and taping this together. Trust me. I’m fine.”

“It needs more than glue. Finley, stop…”

She turned, grunting as she ran headlong into a wall of muscled male. She gasped, her hand connecting with his chest as he took a few stumbling steps, juggling her added weight before grasping her shoulders and bodily shifting her back. Tears prickled her eyes as pain flared through her palm, rimming her vision with tiny black dots.

The guy swore under his breath, glaring at her when her gaze finally met his. “You might try facing forward, sweetheart. From the looks of it, you have enough issues avoiding injury just walking.”

Finley yanked back her hand, cradling it against her chest. Of all the people staying at the lodge, she had to run in to Coen Brady—the arrogant ass rooming in the cabin next to hers. He’d moved into the unit a few days after she and Jonah had set up shop at the local sheriff’s station—starting what appeared would be a long-ass investigation—and it didn’t look as if he was leaving any time soon.

She glanced at the petite woman standing off to his left. She was the fourth chick Finley had seen with the man in the past six weeks. While the girl looked younger than any of the others, she was just as stunning—tall, blonde with soft, symmetrical features that could have put her on the cover of any fashion magazine. And that wasn’t even accounting for her body, which seemed uncharacteristically proportionate in comparison to the others Finley had watched parading around in skimpy clothes and five-inch heels.

She snorted. They were in the middle of nowhere, yet his dates dressed as if they were in downtown New York. Not that it surprised her. The man oozed sex appeal. Though, she suspected he was somewhere in his late thirties, his body didn’t show it. Firm, muscled, with definition that bled through his shirts, creating dips and angles in the fabric. But it was his chiseled features and stunning hazel eyes that drew her the most. Ruggedly handsome with a wounded edge that reincarnated every fantasy she’d ever had, she had no doubts the man lived up to her preconceived perceptions. Of course, that kind of personality came at a price—and the woman was anxiously staring at Finley as if she were invading the other woman’s territory.

Finley huffed, still cradling her hand as she eyed Coen. “I’m sorry. Do you have a vision impairment I’m not aware of? Because I’m pretty damn sure you should have noticed me walking toward you. It’s not that dark, yet.”

His mouth curved in a sexy grin she immediately wanted to smack off his face. “Was standing still when you backed into me.”

“Perhaps, next time, you should try a primitive form of vocalization.”

His gaze swept the length of her body. “Oh, I’m sure you’re fluent in more than a few animal languages.”

“And, luckily for you, one of them’s Neanderthal.”

“I cleared my throat. You didn’t even notice.”

“I was obviously distracted.”

He glanced at his shirt. “Great. You got blood all over my damn sweater.”

She gave him a sweet smile. “Didn’t mean to inconvenience you.”

His focus dropped to her hand, the fine lines around his mouth deepening. “What happened? You piss off some punk with a Swiss Army knife?”

Jonah stepped up beside her. “She cut it releasing a lynx from a leg-hold trap. Those damn devices are more than a little unpredictable. The teeth clamped shut when the animal panicked—ripped a nasty gash across her palm.”

Coen’s expression sobered. “Trap? I thought you two were deputies?”

Jonah laughed. “Conservation officers.”

“Pretty sure I’ve seen you both going into the sheriff’s station. A lot.”

“Needed a home base, and local law enforcement is usually pretty accommodating. It helps cut down on their workload. Besides, none of the deputies ever want to go after poachers and shit, especially if they have to hike through the backcountry around here. It’s pretty rough terrain.”

He looked at her again, arching a brow. “Conservation, huh? That explains a lot.”

Finley cursed under breath. The burning sensation in her hand had only increased when she’d collided with the ass, and standing there, sparring, wasn’t getting her any closer to fixing the damn thing.

She blew out a quick breath, gathering as much composure as she could muster. “I’m sure it’s a real eye opener for you. Now, if you’ll excuse me…”

He snagged her other arm when she tried to dart past him. “That’s a lot of blood for a minor cut. Show me.”

“Why? You going to kiss it all better?”

That cocky glare returned. “Don’t be stubborn.” He motioned to her with his fingers. “I said show me…”

“Finley.” Jonah crossed his arms on his chest, smirking at her. “Finley McKay, and I’m Jonah Evans. You’re Coen Brady, right?” He smiled at Coen’s obvious confusion. “Small town. Newcomers get noticed—and that means everyone pretty much knew your name the moment you arrived, same way they knew ours.”

“Lucky me.” He nodded at her again. “Doesn’t change anything. Your hand.”

She frowned, hating the shiver of longing that skittered down her spine at the authoritative tone of his voice. She shouldn’t react that way to any man—let alone him.

Coen muttered something under his breath, reaching for her other arm. He wrapped his fingers around her wrist, staring at her until she relented, begrudgingly allowing him to ease her fist away from her chest. She hissed out a breath as he lifted the gauze, trying not to flinch from the sudden jolt of pain.

“Damn.” He turned to the woman still waiting off to his left. “Rachael, honey, go grab my bag. It’s by the door.”

“Whoa, wait a second. No one needs to get anyone’s bag.” Finley tugged at his hold, cursing inwardly when he merely glared at her, refusing to release his grip on her wrist. “I don’t need your help. I’ve got skin adhesive and bandages in my cabin.”

He laughed, though it was apparent it wasn’t because he found the situation funny. “Sorry, sweetheart, but you cut into the muscle. That’s going to need more than Super Glue and some tape.”

“I have DermaBond. And Sterie Strips.” She hitched out her hip, biting back a groan when her hand throbbed. “Not my first rodeo.”

“Mine, either. And no amount of adhesive is going to keep that part of your hand together. Not if you intend to use it over the next week. Too much tension, not to mention the glue’s likely to leave a scar.”

“Not out to win any beauty contests.” She crinkled her brow. “And you know all this because…”

“Doctor, sweetheart.”

Her mouth gaped open before she had the good sense to close it. “Doctor? I thought you were in the military?” At least, that’s what the local gossip was. Special Forces if there was any credence in what she’d heard.

“Ex-military. Left the service a couple months ago. Been taking some much needed R and R. Just started helping out at the clinic a few days a week to ease back into things, not to mention the fact they desperately require physicians.” He chuckled. “What’s wrong? Rumor mill not have that information, yet?”

She huffed. “Once they heard military, I doubt much registered after that. Afraid you’ve already been labeled.”

“Their loss. Now, back to your hand. You need stitches.”

“See. I told you.” Jonah stepped around her. “She’s not fond of hospitals. Or doctors, for that matter.”

Coen shrugged. “Don’t really give a shit whether she likes it or not. It’s getting stitched. Period.”

Anger burned through some of the pain, and Finley stepped into Coen’s personal space. She didn’t care if the man was six feet tall and two hundred pounds of muscle. She’d never backed down from anyone, and she sure as hell wasn’t starting with him.

She met his gaze, not blinking when he leaned in, apparently answering her challenge with one of his own.

“Obviously, we got off on the wrong foot here, so I’ll say this is gently as I can. I’m a big girl, and this isn’t your problem.”

His smile dropped her stomach. “Oh, sweetheart. If only I had a dollar for every time a patient has told me to fuck off, I’d be one rich son of a bitch.” He held up a finger, silencing her as he pressed it over her lips. “And yeah, you did. You just made it sound nicer. But the cold hard truth is…it’s not my job to have you like me. And seeing as I took an oath, and you’re still bleeding…on my sweater…”

The warmth of that single finger across her lips caught her by surprise, the heat settling uncomfortably in her groin. She clenched her jaw, frowning when he finally lowered his hand.

Coen arched a brow at her silence, still holding her hand in a death grip. “As I see it, you have two choices. We can all walk to your cabin like civilized adults, or I can heave you up on my shoulder and carry you to mine.”

The heat in her core coiled, the distinctive fluttering sensation spiking a wave of uncertainty. She’d never responded to a man like this, least of all one who seemed to have a revolving door that led to his bed.

She yanked at her hand again, this time tugging it free. The motion stole her breath as pain radiated up her arm. She closed her eyes, concentrating on breathing in and out through her nose when a thumb brushed across her jaw. She opened her eyes, nothing but Coen’s hazel gaze within her field of view.

His expression softened for a moment before he chuckled. “Stubborn. Perhaps the correct question is…can you walk to your cabin before you pass out?”

The smug edge to his voice tamped down a bit of the pain.

She squared her shoulders. “You’re an ass, you know that?”

“Probably.”

“No probably about it. And I can walk to my own damn cabin.”