He eased forward again when he heard nothing, and then he frowned when he saw the shattered glass on the rough, cobblestone street. Glancing up, he saw where the window was busted, but there was no light coming from within. No flashlights. Nothing. It was dark and silent as a ghost.

“Probably just some damn kids vandalizing,” Merrick muttered.

Cade switched on his flashlight and shone it downward, skimming the immediate area. He stopped the beam on a large shard of the glass and then knelt to pick it up.

He held it up to Merrick, shining the light on the blood smeared on the edge. “Looks like our perp didn’t get away unscathed.”

“Let’s check it out,” Merrick said. “Dumbass could still be in there for all we know.”

Walking into a gun store where a suspect may or may not be inside wasn’t on Cade’s list of favorite things to do, but neither did he want an entire squadron of patrol cars to converge and shoot up Hank’s store.

Cade picked up his cell phone and punched the number and then the codes to deactivate the alarm system. Then he dug out the key to the back door and quietly inserted it into the lock.

He eased the door open and went in, gun up, flashlight in his other hand. Merrick hurried in after him, and the two flattened themselves against the wall and slid forward down the hall leading to the showroom.

When they got to the end, Merrick motioned toward the row of light switches above Cade’s shoulder. Then he held up three fingers to signal on the count of three.

Cade switched off his flashlight, stuck it back in his pocket and then reached up with his arm so he could flip all the switches at the same time.

He took a deep breath and then counted out to Merrick. “One…two…three!”

He pushed his arm up, and suddenly the entire building was awash in light. Merrick gripped his gun and made a wide sweep of the showroom as Cade did the same, looking for any movement.

But there was none. Everything was quiet. No sudden sounds. No one startled by the light.

“Kids,” Merrick muttered. “Just a bunch of damn kids with nothing better to do on a Saturday night.”

Cade was about to agree when his gaze stopped on one of the large cabinets underneath the rifle display along the wall.

“Check it out,” he murmured, gesturing toward the smear of blood right by the handle.

Merrick frowned and then circled around, separating himself from Cade. He dipped his head to the side to signal Cade to come in from the right while he closed in from the left.

Cade crept forward until they were directly in front of the cabinet. Cade bent and touched the drop of blood on the floor. It was still warm and fresh.

Surely… Well, he wasn’t going to say surely anything, because he’d pretty much seen it all. If their intruder had heard Cade and Merrick, he very well could be hiding in the cabinet. It was large enough for a small person, and if Merrick was right about it being a teenager, then it was certainly possible.

Merrick took position, pointing his gun at the door, and Cade leaned away so he could open it and use the door as a shield. He hooked his fingers around the handle and then looked up at Merrick to make sure he was ready.

Merrick nodded and Cade yanked the door open.

Merrick’s face went from pissed off to what the fuck in two seconds flat. His gun wavered, and then he slowly lowered it.

Cade lurched up and pushed around, wanting to know what the hell Merrick had seen.

To his utter shock, there was a small woman curled into a ball, cowering in the cabinet. She was staring at them both with wide, frightened eyes, and she was a complete mess.

“Holy shit,” Merrick breathed. “Who are you lady, and what the hell are you doing in here?”

Her entire face crumbled, and tears simmered in her wide, blue eyes.

“I don’t know,” she whispered.

C H A P T E R     T W O

MERRICK STARED AT THE WOMAN huddled in the storage cabinet and immediately knew two things. One, she wasn’t the average intruder out to steal money or merchandise, and two, she was scared out of her mind.

The blood covering her hands and other parts of her body worried him. It worried him a damn lot. She looked like someone had beat the hell out of her, and that enraged him.

He squatted down so that he was closer to her level, but she immediately shrank back, cowering farther against the wall of the cabinet.

And he couldn’t blame her. He didn’t exactly look like Captain America. He was a heavyweight fighter, and both arms were tattooed. His nose had been broken twice, and he knew he didn’t look like the kind of man who posed no threat to a woman.

He was a big guy. Mean-looking. He scared normal women who didn’t look like they’d already gone three rounds with some abusive asshole. He could only imagine how badly he terrified this one. And he hated that. The mere idea of hurting or even frightening a woman put a hole in his gut. Especially this woman who’d already been through so much.

“We’re not going to hurt you,” he said in as soothing a voice as he could manage. “Can you tell us what happened to you?”

Tears filled her eyes again, and she shook her head. At first he thought she was just being cagey, but there was a blankness to her expression that bothered him. It reminded him of fighters who got knocked out and had absolutely no recollection of the event. They woke up and lost the last seconds leading up to the K-O.

She looked…bewildered.

“I don’t know,” she whispered hoarsely. “Please, I’ll leave. I just wanted somewhere warm to stay for the night. I’m so cold…and tired. I wasn’t going to steal anything.”

“I think that’s pretty obvious,” Cade said gently.

Merrick frowned. “What do you mean, you don’t know what happened to you?”

She closed her eyes, turning her battered face away. She was a pretty thing, even with all the bruises, the bedraggled hair and the torn clothing. There was an air of vulnerability about her that immediately riled Merrick’s protective instincts.

There weren’t too many things that could get him all worked up in a short amount of time, but an abused woman would do the trick every single time.

“I can’t remember,” she said, her voice cracking in a low sob.

Merrick and Cade exchanged worried glances.

“Please, just let me go,” she begged. “I won’t cause you any trouble.”

“Where the hell would you go?” Cade demanded.

Merrick sent him a silencing look. Then he turned back to the woman. Before he could say anything, panic filled her eyes.

“You’re not going to have me arrested are you? Are you going to take me to jail?”

There was no faking the terror in her voice and in her eyes.

“Honey, listen to me,” he said, pitching his voice purposely low so he wouldn’t seem threatening. “Nobody’s going to take you to jail. You’re hurt. You’re bleeding. You’re cold, and you look like you’ve missed more than a few meals. Let us take you to the hospital to get you checked out, okay? Then we can call the police and nail whatever asshole did this to you.”

Her pupils dilated, and she went stock-still until he wasn’t even sure she was breathing anymore. She was already pale, but she went white as a sheet, and if possible, she made herself even smaller than before.

“No,” she choked out. “No, no, no! I won’t go. No hospital. No cops! He’ll find me. He’ll kill me. Oh God, he’ll kill me.”

She finished on a low moan, her hands protectively covering her head. Hands that were bloodied and cut and only made her look even more fragile.

Cade blew his breath out, but Merrick knew he was pissed, and it wasn’t at the woman. Neither man had

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