any tolerance for a guy who’d brutalize a woman, and it was obvious someone had done a number on this lady.

“Please, just let me go. I didn’t steal anything, I swear it. I just wanted someplace warm to sleep. I just needed to rest someplace warm. Someplace he wouldn’t find me.”

Her voice was thick with tears, and the knot in Merrick’s gut grew bigger. He just wanted to take her into his arms and swear to her that nothing would ever hurt her again.

Knowing how intimidating he’d look to a woman like her, he took a huge risk and touched her arm. She immediately flinched as if he’d burned her, and she shrank away, trembling violently.

Her pupils became even larger, and she stared at him like a cornered animal who had no way out.

Son of a bitch but someone had scared the shit out of her, and it was pissing him off more and more with every passing second. She should be in a hospital, warm and dry, eating a hot meal instead of skulking down a dark alley searching for a safe place to get warm.

He glanced at Cade, knew Cade wouldn’t like what he was about to say, but at this point, he’d do damn near anything to get her out of Hank’s store and someplace she could be taken care of.

Making damn sure his voice was soothing, he tried again. “All right. No cops. No hospital. I know a doctor who runs a clinic. He’s a good friend of mine, and he can be trusted. Let us at least take you there so you can have those hands tended to and let him take a look at your other injuries. I swear to you that we won’t do anything you don’t want us to.”

She stared back at him, her blue eyes huge in her thin face. She was scared out of her mind, but she was also desperate and at the very end of her rope. He could sense her need for shelter. Just something as simple as a place to lay her head for an hour or two. It only made him that much more determined to make sure he didn’t leave without her.

“Y-y-you p-promise?”

Cade took over then, his expression one of utter gravity. “We only want to help you. You’re hurt. You need medical attention. Let us help you.”

She closed her eyes, and for a moment, Merrick thought she’d passed out. But then she opened them again, wide and troubled.

“Okay,” she whispered. “My hands hurt.”

Cade reached for one, being careful not to move too suddenly. He grimaced as he inspected the deep cuts. “I suppose they do.” He gingerly pulled a sliver of glass from one of her fingers and flung the shard away.

She started to shift, but grimaced. It seemed her every movement caused her pain. Impatient and unwilling to watch her suffer, Merrick simply reached in, curled his arms underneath her and plucked her from the cabinet.

Her entire body went rigid, but he didn’t give her an opportunity to protest. He started for the back door where he and Cade had come in.

“I’ll call Hank’s manager and have him come in and do cleanup so Hank won’t have a mess in the morning,” Cade said as he followed behind. “I’ll make sure we have someone out to replace the broken glass.”

Merrick carried his slight bundle to the Hummer and eased her into the back seat. He climbed in beside her and tossed the keys to Cade. He wasn’t taking any chances she would get any crazy notions and bail out of a moving vehicle before they got to Dallas’s clinic.

She wilted into the heated seat and sagged precariously to the side. The man sitting beside her caught her and eased her into his side so she could lean on him.

The two men scared the daylights out of her, and yet, at the same time, there was something about them that made her stupid. It was evident she’d lost all sense because she was blindly putting her trust into these two men. Two huge men who could easily snap her like a twig if they had a mind to.

And here she was alone in a vehicle with them. They could take her anywhere at all. No one would know differently. She didn’t even know who she was, so how would anyone else know?

Despair filled her heart, aching and heavy. His grip tightened around her as they sped down the damp streets. The rain had stopped, but the cold was settling in for the long haul.

She began to shiver, not because she was too cold, but because she no longer had any control over her composure. She tried to stop shaking, but it seemed the harder she tried to make it stop, the harder she shook.

The man beside her cursed and then pulled her onto his lap. He wrapped a huge leather jacket around her body and put both his arms around her in an effort to keep her warm.

The jacket smelled heavenly. Warm. Spicy. So very masculine. It reminded her of something. She frowned. The fleeting remembrance was gone before she could place it. But it felt so very familiar to her. Comforting. It was a good memory that had been triggered, and those were so few and far between that she wanted to weep for losing it.

For just a moment, she forgot her paralyzing fear. Forgot that this man could harm her, that she shouldn’t trust anyone. She felt…safe. Here in his arms, pressed to his massive chest.

She could feel the steady, reassuring beat of his heart. She absorbed his calm like an addict needing a fix.

None of it made sense. She was sitting on the lap of a guy who looked like he could be a drug dealer or, at the very least, a gang member.

He was a mountain of a man, solidly muscled, bulging arms and a massive chest. Both arms were tattooed, and his hair was long and unruly. Everything about him screamed dangerous, and yet his touch was gentle, his words were soothing, and he looked at her with kindness and compassion in his eyes.

“What’s your name?” she found herself whispering.

He stiffened. In surprise? Then he touched a strand of her hair, trailing his finger downward.

“Merrick. What’s yours?”

Pain flashed through her head. She raised a hand to press into her temple in an effort to alleviate the excruciating pressure.

“I don’t know,” she said in agitation. “I don’t know!”

“Shhh,” he soothed. “It’ll come back. You’re just scared and under an enormous amount of stress. You’re cold and hungry and in shock. I’d be surprised if you did know your name at this point.”

Relief took hold. He was right, of course. Everything would be better after she recovered. Once she got warm and had something to eat. Maybe even some sleep. Then she’d know who she was and who had done this to her.

C H A P T E R     T H R E E

DALLAS CARRINGTON STEPPED OUT OF the exam room, a grim expression on his face. Cade pushed off the wall where he and Merrick had been waiting. They’d put in the call to their friend, and he’d met them at his clinic in a matter of minutes.

Though Dallas ran a walk-in clinic in a poorer neighborhood, he also acted as Merrick’s personal physician and often traveled to Merrick’s fights. He’d monitored Merrick’s recovery after his knee injury a year ago.

Cade, Merrick and Dallas had gone to high school together and had remained steadfast friends since their childhood.

“The son of a bitch who did this to her should be shot on sight,” Dallas bit out in a pissed-off tone.

“Tell us,” Merrick growled.

Dallas ran a hand through his hair and blew out his breath. “Hell, this is a mess. I probably shouldn’t tell you anything, but this is hardly an official medical visit. The problem is, she doesn’t have a clue who she is or what happened to her. She’s deeply traumatized, and since she consented for you two to bring her in, I’m considering you the closest things she has to relatives.”

“She really doesn’t know who she is?” Cade asked skeptically.

Dallas nodded. “It’s deeply upsetting to her, and it sets off another round of panic every time she tries to

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