Another sneak peek inside:
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.”
He pushed himself upward, his gut tied in knots from all the clenching. Hell, he was ready to put his fist through a wall but he had to be careful to be ultra sensitive and non-threatening. She was maintaining control by the thinnest of threads and he didn’t want to do anything to send her plummeting over the edge.
The problem was, he wasn’t a sensitive guy. He used his fists and his body to make his living. How the hell was he going to know what to do with one tiny woman who needed care and understanding?
Slowly she sat up and then turned so her back was presented to Merrick. She let the blanket slide down and immediately began to shiver.
Cursing, he hurried forward and began to work the wet gown off her. But it was soaked through and sticking to her skin like glue. Hell, it was ruined anyway.
He pulled a pocketknife from his jeans, flipped it open and then cut through the tough knot at her neck. Once it loosened, he gently pushed the gown forward, baring her slender back.
The growl rumbled in his throat before he could call it back. There was a huge bruise covering her lower back and damn if it wasn’t in the shape of a shoe. A damn big shoe. Someone had kicked her.
Blanking his mind to his rage, he worked instead on getting the dry sweatshirt over her upper body. Then he got down on the floor at her feet and pulled the sweatpants up her legs, careful to keep his gaze averted.
When she was dressed, she immediately leaned back, pulling the blanket protectively over her body. She was still shivering and Merrick turned with a frown toward the fire.
Deciding she was too far away and not wanting her to move, he got up and simply started sliding the couch forward until she was close enough to feel the warmth of the flames.
“Better?” he asked.
Only the tiniest curve to her mouth hinted at a smile. “Better.”
She turned her face upward so their gazes connected. A small smile pulled at her lips. “Do you know I believe you? There’s something in your voice. I don’t understand it. It’s probably stupid of me but maybe I’m desperate to trust someone. I feel so…” Her voice choked off in a near sob. “I feel so alone.”
Merrick brushed his lips across her brow. “You aren’t alone. You have me and you have Cade. I promise you we aren’t leaving you. We’ll do whatever we have to in order to help you.”
“You going to talk or do I have to sit on you and pry it out of your tight ass?” Cade asked mildly.
Merrick scowled and forked three pancakes onto his plate. After drenching them in syrup, he cut into the stack and for a moment, Cade thought he was going to ignore him. Then Merrick sighed and set his fork down.
“I don’t even know how to say what all I’m thinking,” Merrick said. “I feel like a complete dickhead for half of what I think and for the other half I think I’ve lost my goddamn mind.”
Cade’s lips twitched. “Okay, we’ll start with why you’re a dickhead.”
Merrick made a rude noise. “It’s all the same. I mean what I think makes me a dickhead who’s lost his mind.”
Merrick’s shoulders heaved. “It’s about Elle.”
Cade rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I figured. What about her?”
“I want her,” Merrick said bluntly. Then he grimaced. “Oh my God, that sounds so fucked up. Especially after what she’s been through. Shit. It’s not like I’m wanting to jump her bones. I’m not having stupid inappropriate thoughts. It’s just that there is something there. A connection I don’t even understand, but I know two things. I’m not going to let anything else hurt her and I’m not going anywhere.”
“Okay,” Cade said slowly.
Merrick eyed his friend with a piercing stare. “Don’t think I don’t know that you feel the same damn way which is why I didn’t want to have this conversation. We have a woman in there who’s been brutalized. She likely doesn’t trust any man at all and who could blame her? And she doesn’t even know who she is or anything about her past. Hell, she could have a husband and kids somewhere for all we know.”
Cade shook his head. “You tell me something. If she belonged to you, wouldn’t you have turned this city upside down looking for her? She obviously doesn’t belong to anyone because only a damn fool would just let her disappear.”
“Maybe,” Merrick said grudgingly. “That doesn’t solve the issue between us, though. I’m not letting a woman come between us. We’ve never let it happen. We may as well be brothers. We’re family. And I’m not ruining that. But…”
The corner of Cade’s mouth lifted. “But you aren’t backing down either, right?”
“Yeah,” Merrick muttered. “I’m not backin