remember. Now, I don’t know a lot about amnesia. It’s mostly bullshit you find in fiction novels or movies. I’ve never actually seen a clinical case of it, though I’ve read a few case histories on the subject. I don’t know if hers is because of a head injury or if it was trauma-induced and her mind has shut down in order to protect her from the horror of what happened to her.”

“What exactly happened?” Merrick demanded.

Dallas held his hand up. “I’ll get to that. If it’s memory loss caused by an injury to the brain, then it could be permanent. Hard to say. If it’s trauma-induced, it could be temporary. Hard as hell to say since there really isn’t a medical diagnosis for not wanting to remember.”

“It all sounds damn crazy,” Cade muttered.

“Just get to the part where you tell us what happened to her and how badly she’s injured,” Merrick cut in impatiently.

“Someone beat the hell out of her,” Dallas said bluntly. “That’s the least of it.”

Cade shot him an incredulous look. “What the fuck? That’s the least of it?”

“Your girl has been through the ringer,” Dallas said quietly. “This bastard beat the hell out of her. He raped her. And he shot her. Twice.”

Merrick’s jaw dropped, and then his eyes narrowed to menacing slits. “He shot her? I didn’t see any sign of a gunshot, but then hell, she was a mess. It would have been hard to see over all the other blood.”

“I had to sedate her to examine her,” Dallas said. “She was hysterical the minute I touched her. Look, the law requires a rape kit and for me to report this. I mentioned that to her, and she went ballistic. I was afraid she was going to hurt herself. Oddly enough, she had less issue with me examining her than she did with me reporting this to the police. You even mention the cops and she goes batshit crazy.”

“Yeah, we know,” Cade said grimly. “It was the same when we told her we wanted to take her to the hospital and call the cops. She flipped out, said no hospital, no cops. We were barely able to convince her to let us take her here. I don’t want to abuse her trust by throwing her under the bus.”

Merrick’s arms came over his chest. “Don’t report this, Dallas. At least not yet. Did you find anything when you did the rape kit? Anything that could be used as evidence?”

Dallas slowly shook his head. “It wasn’t recent as in the last day or even two days. And really, it could have been nothing more than rough sex, but given everything else going on with her, I highly doubt that was the case. There was vaginal bruising and tearing but no semen. He either wore a condom or it’s been long enough that there’s no viable semen sample. No DNA trace that I could find, and I was careful. I’d love to see the bastard who did this to her hang.”

“You and me both,” Cade ground out.

“And the gunshot wounds?” Merrick demanded. “What did he do, beat the hell out of her, rape her and then try to kill her?”

Dallas nodded. “That’s my guess. And before you completely discount her fears of going to the police, there’s something you should know. The bullet I dug out of her shoulder? Looks like a nine-millimeter hollow point. Now, it’s not to say there aren’t a lot of assholes floating around using that caliber, but it’s a pretty standard police issue. Could explain her irrational terror anytime the word cop is mentioned.”

“Holy shit,” Cade breathed.

“Yeah,” Merrick muttered. “Christ, what the fuck are we supposed to do with her?”

Dallas sighed. “Well, right now, what she needs is a place to rest and recover. She needs to feel safe. She’s scared out of her mind. She’s been traumatized and brutalized in the worst way a woman can be victimized. The other bullet only grazed her head. I gave her a few stitches, and that’ll heal up good as new. The shoulder is another matter. She needs to be in bed. She needs hot food, and she needs someone to take care of her. Now I can call a shelter and see what arrangements I can make, but if they get wind of her injuries, they’re going to turn it over to the police faster than you can blink.”

Merrick scowled. “We’ll take her home with us.”

Cade whipped around to stare at his friend. “Are you out of your mind? Merrick, think about this. What the hell are we going to do with her? You have a fight to get ready for. If you win this, you’re next in line for the title shot. You can’t afford any distractions.”

Merrick glared hard at Cade, his expression murderous. “Are you really going to leave her in some damn shelter to fend for herself? What if the asshole who did this to her comes looking for her when her body doesn’t show up like it should? He left her for dead.”

Cade didn’t like it any better than Merrick did, but this spelled trouble with a capital T. The woman was jumpy as a frog. She wasn’t going to like going home with two big-ass men who likely scared the shit out of her just by looking at her.

“Maybe you should go check in on her before you make your decision,” Dallas suggested. “Let me know what you decide. But hurry, if you don’t mind. I need to write some prescriptions for painkillers and antibiotics, and I’m also going to give her some sedatives so she can sleep. She’s wound tighter than a spring, and when they’re that wired up, you have to give them something to make them sleep.”

Not waiting for Cade, Merrick barreled through the door to the exam room, leaving Cade to follow.

As soon as Cade laid eyes on her, he knew he was an absolute goner. All of his earlier bluster left in the blink of an eye. Looking at her now, he could well understand Merrick’s fierceness when it came to her.

She was curled onto her side, her injured shoulder wrapped and her arm lying limply over her hip. Her knees were drawn protectively to her chest, and she was dressed in one of those skimpy hospital gowns that didn’t cover much of anything.

Both hands were bandaged where she’d cut them breaking the glass.

He’d never seen a more vulnerable-looking female in his life, and it hit him right where he lived. It was damn hard to breathe when his thoughts were doubly occupied with murdering the son of a bitch who’d abused her so terribly and also the overwhelming compulsion to surround her with support, tenderness and whatever the hell else she needed to get back on her feet.

Merrick looked back at him challengingly as if to say, what now? Cade only sighed and nodded his agreement. There was nothing else to do for it. She was going home with them.

C H A P T E R     F O U R

WHEN CADE PULLED TO a stop outside their house, Merrick gently took the woman in his arms and positioned his coat over her body to shield her from the cold rain. He ducked out of the backseat and made a dash for the front door. Cade had gone ahead and was holding it open.

“Take her into the living room,” Cade directed. “I’ll build a fire, turn up the heat, and I’ll see about getting her something to eat. We have some soup somewhere.”

Merrick took his precious bundle into the living room and eased her onto the couch. The sight of her, barefooted, in the soaked hospital gown and the bandages covering parts of her body, made his gut clench.

She was such a tiny, fragile-looking thing, and he couldn’t imagine what would possess a man to hurt such a woman. Any woman, for that matter. It made him irrationally angry, and he had to control his expression because he didn’t want to set her off again.

“I’m going to get you something to wear,” Merrick said gruffly. “I’m also going to get you some blankets so you’re warm. Are you hungry?”

She slowly nodded, the shadows deepening under her eyes.

“When was the last time you ate?” he asked in a more gentle tone.

Her eyes saddened. “I don’t know. It feels like forever.”

“Do you know how long ago you were…hurt? What’s the last thing you remember?”

She looked down, staring at her bandaged hands. “Two…three days maybe. I woke up on a riverbank. I was cold. At first I didn’t really hurt. I just felt numb. And everything was so blank. Can you possibly understand what it’s like to wake up facedown in the mud and not remember who you are or how you got there?”

Merrick frowned, his gut tightening harder. “No, I can’t.”

“And fear. Most normal people would call for help. Go to the police. Try to do

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