Making my way through the living room, I’d almost reached the kitchen when there was a knock on the door. Dread filled me and my eyes immediately flashed to the clock on the microwave. Half past eight. Oh God. Oh no. Another knock and I forced my gaze back to the door as my tears spilled over.

“Rachel, dear? Are you there?”

A half sob, half sigh burst from my chest and I slowly made my way to the door, unlocked the dead bolt, and opened it. “H-hi, M-Mrs. Adams.”

“Oh, Rachel! There you are! You must come quick, all the cats have disappeared.”

“I-I . . . I can’t today, Mrs.—”

“No, you must! Come quick, they’re all gone!” She grabbed my hand and I jerked back; she didn’t notice as she began rambling about all of her cats leaving her.

The door directly across from mine opened, revealing Kash and Mason in nothing but workout shorts and running shoes. They laughed at something and Kash turned toward me; a smile covered his face the instant he saw me there with Mrs. Adams but fell when his eyes narrowed in on me.

“Rach?” he called, and hit Mason’s arm. Mason turned from locking their door as Kash took the few steps toward us. “Rachel, what’s wrong?”

“The cats, dear.” Mrs. Adams looked at him with a worried expression. “They’ve all gone! Rachel must help me find them.”

His wide eyes searched my face and I dropped my head quickly; my wet hair fell like a useless curtain and I flinched when Kash grabbed my free wrist. He dropped it quickly and spoke softly. “You know, Mrs. Adams, Rachel isn’t feeling well. I’ll help you find your cats today.”

“Oh, but—you’re a boy! They won’t respond to a boy!”


“Yes they will, Mrs. Adams. I helped you find them last week, don’t you remember?”

“Well then come, hurry! We need to find them.” She turned and shuffled back toward her door. “Smokey! Honey, come back to Mama!”

“Rachel, are—”

The buzzer on the washer sounded and I jumped back, hitting the half-open door and almost falling when it swung the rest of the way from my weight.

“Christ, Rach!” Kash grabbed for me and his eyes got wide again when he felt my body vibrating. “Mase! Take her into our apartment, I’ll be right back.”

“N-no. I’m fine.” I pulled away from him, but he brought me out of the doorway and handed me to Mason. Jerking back again, I pleaded on a sob, “Stop touching me!”

Both guys dropped their hold on me and their hands went up, as if they were surrendering. Mason’s deep voice was soft and slow. “Sweetheart, come on. I won’t touch you. Let’s just get you in our apartment. All right? Are you feeling sick? Do you want me to call Candice?”

“No! Please don’t—don’t call her!”

“Okay, I won’t. Come on, sweetheart. We’ll take care of you.”

I glanced over to see Kash looking at me helplessly as I followed Mason toward their door. With one last worried look, he shut my front door, turned, and began calling out for Smokey as he tried to get Mrs. Adams to go back into her apartment.


WHAT THE FUCK just happened? I looked at the door to my apartment once more as I followed Mrs. Adams into hers.

“There you go, Mrs. Adams. There they all are.”

“Oh, dears! Why did you scare Mama like that? I’ve missed you so!” She grabbed a pillow off her chair and hugged it tight.

“Do you need anything else, Mrs. Adams?” Please, God, say no. I was itching to get back to my apartment and Rachel.

“No, thank you, boy! You helped save all my babies.”

I smiled and backed out of her apartment. “See you next Thursday, Mrs. Adams.” I was out the door and running the few steps over to mine before she could say anything else.

As soon as I entered, my eyes searched until they landed on Rachel, knees up to her chest, chin on her knees, and arms wrapped tightly around her legs. She wasn’t looking at me, but it was obvious she didn’t want to be. I took one step toward her before Mason cleared his throat and nodded toward his room. Grinding my teeth, I looked at Rachel once more and followed him into his room.

“Did she say anything?”

“No, but, dude. You—I think maybe . . . well, she . . .” He trailed off.

“What, Mason? Spit it the fuck out.”

He leaned closer. “Remember when we were in with Luis and his boys?”

That was our first undercover; how was I supposed to forget anything about that time? “Yeah, Rach isn’t on crack.”

“No, no. Not that. Do you remember the girls they’d pass around? Not the hookers,” he added before I could respond.

“Yes,” I hissed, and looked at the shut door, then back to him. “Don’t tell me she—”

“Kash, I’m sorry. But she’s acting just like they did. It’s already over ninety degrees and she’s shaking in sweats. She’s not sick, she looks like she’s just gotten out of a shower, and she freaked when we touched her. Think about it.”

“No, no way.” I shook my head and took a few steps away from him.

“Look, I know what she means to you,” he whispered, “but try to look past what you feel for her. Did you see how she was curling in on herself when you walked in? We’ve seen this enough times before to know what’s going on.”

I raked my hands through my hair and tried to force the images out of my mind. “I’ll kill anyone that’s laid a finger on her.” Turning, I started storming out of his room, but he put a hand on my chest and pushed back.

“Maybe I should be the one to handle this; you should go.”

“The fuck I will!” I hissed, and smacked his arm away.

“If what I think happened to her has happened, then she needs someone to comfort her and make her feel safe. You going in there already pissed off that someone may have raped her isn’t going to help her; you’re going to scare her more!”

I swallowed back bile and took deep breaths through my nose. “When would this have even happened? Someone is always with her.”

“No, we’re not, there’s days when Candice doesn’t get home for hours after we’ve already gone into work. Not including the days we have to go to the pol—bar . . . for meetings. It could have been at any time. But, Kash, we don’t know that it has happened yet. So let me handle this.”

“No, you need to go. She means the world to me, not you. I need to be there for her.”

“That’s exactly why it needs to be me!” he said, and I knew he was right but I didn’t care.

“Mase. Go. Now.”

“You’re going to—”


He sighed heavily. “Don’t fuck this up, Kash.”

When he was gone, I took my time just breathing and trying to rein in my temper before walking back out into the empty living room. What the hell? She was gone. I rushed over to the front door, but Rachel walked out of my bedroom putting her hair up. The fakest smile I’d ever seen crossed her face when she spared me a glance.

“Have you eaten breakfast? I can make pancakes.”

What? “I’m not hungry, Rach, come talk to me.”

“You’re always hungry.” She walked past me and into the kitchen.

“If you’re hungry, we can get something later. But for now, come talk to me about what just happened.”

She faltered somewhat but kept walking into the kitchen. When she hit the pantry she shrugged and looked over her shoulder at me. “Mrs. Adams caught me at a bad time, I was just getting out of the shower. I didn’t feel like helping her this week.”

“Bullshit, you’re the only one who will help her. You said she needs it. Why were you crying?”


“Woman, get the fuck out of the kitchen and come talk to me!”

Her body went rigid as she turned to completely face me. Her blue eyes were massive and after a few seconds she laughed awkwardly and turned back to the open pantry. “First time in the history of the world a female was told to get out of the kitchen.”

“Damn it, Rachel. I’m not kidding! I want to know what the fuck happened to you; you’re done throwing up your damn shield with me!” Calm down, man. Calm the hell down. You’re going to scare her and she’s going to run rather than talk to you. “Rachel.” I lowered my voice and spoke softly. “Get your ass on the couch. Now.”

Without a word, she made her way back into the living room and sat on the far corner of the main couch, exactly where she’d been when I walked in earlier. Taking another deep breath, I forced myself to sit on the opposite side when all I wanted to do was pace or pull her into my arms. I waited until I’d fully calmed down before saying anything. She still had yet to look at me since she’d sat down, and I decided this was the day I’d throw out that shield for good. I never wanted her to use it around me again.

Praying to God that Mason and I were wrong about this, I started off how I would with anyone else I was questioning. Like I knew exactly what they were hiding. “Tell me who the guy is who did this to you.”

Her head snapped up and her eyes widened before she could look away. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Her body started shaking again and she pulled her knees up to her chest like earlier.

Oh fuck. No, Rach . . . God, no. Swallowing the lump in my throat, I kept going. “When did it happen?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she repeated.

“What’s his name?”


“Do you know him, or was it a stranger?”

She paused before answering. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Kash.”

“You know him. Does Candice know about this?”

“Why are you doing this?” she whispered.

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