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.
“Elle, take a deep breath and calm down, honey. Remember where you are. You were having a bad dream but that’s all it was. You’re safe here. Remember last night? You’re here with me and Merrick and we’re going to take care of you.”
She stared back at him as the previous evening came back in bits and pieces. Cade. His name was Cade. He’d helped her. He and Merrick. They’d found her in the shop she’d broken into and instead of turning her into the police, they’d taken her to a friend for medical help and then they’d brought her home.
“Cade,” she croaked out.
“Yes, honey, that’s me. Cade. I’m not going to hurt you. I came to see if you wanted breakfast. I made pancakes and if you don’t hurry, Merrick’s going to eat them all.”
She blinked at the lighthearted joke and some of the shadows clinging to her mind melted away as she stared at the man standing a few feet away.
Where before he’d seemed so menacing, now he appeared gentle and kind. He was a big man. Tall, lean but very well muscled. He and Merrick were both dark headed but Cade had lighter brown hair where Merrick’s was nearly black. Cade’s eyes were blue and she frowned as she tried to remember what color Merrick’s eyes were.
Brown. Dark brown. Adding to his dark appearance. He had shoulder-length black hair, chocolate brown eyes and he was rugged and tanned. He was broader and taller than Cade which said a lot because Cade was no small man.
Her rescuers should by all rights scare the holy hell out of her, but they’d been nothing but kind and gentle with her and she desperately needed someone to trust.
“You sure you feel up to going out?” Merrick asked.
She nodded. “Yeah, I want to. I need to. I can’t go on hiding in your house and your office. Not to mention I’ll end up going stir crazy. I know you won’t let anything happen to me. I trust you so I’m not afraid.”
Cade reached over to touch her cheek. “That’s good, Elle. Because it’s absolutely true. Merrick and I aren’t going to let anything happen to you again.”
Merrick reached for her hand to pull her to her feet. “Let’s go, sweetheart. I’m starving.”
She walked out of the office and to the car solidly between the two men. And the hell of it was it felt completely natural. Right there between them. Them flanking her protectively.
Just like she belonged to both of them.
And maybe she did. Maybe she already knew that.
But did they? And how would they react to such an absurd idea?
She was so scared and hopeful at the same time she wanted to burst. The more she thought about it and weighed it in her mind, the more she considered that they wouldn’t both be saying the things they were saying and wouldn’t be both kissing her if they didn’t have some sort of plan of both being a part of her life. Her future.
Cade’s hand came down on her shoulder and then his other hand slipped underneath her chin and he tilted it upward until she met his very worried gaze.
“Elle, you sound like you’re about to hyperventilate and you’ve been staring into space for several minutes. What’s going on?”
Some of the haze cleared and she stared back and then beyond him to where Merrick stood, a frown marring his face. He looked as worried as Cade did.
But the one thing she saw in both faces, in both their eyes, was something she wanted so desperately that she was afraid to even breathe it for losing it.
She saw something more than simple affection or worry. She saw something deeper. Something very much like…love.