Every muscle in his body clenched. “Taken?”
Her fingers drummed on the desk. The move gave him pause—Mercer did the same drumming movement, in that exact position, when the man was in deep thought.
“I was with my mother. We were going on a trip to meet Mercer.” She licked her lips as her fingers stopped drumming. “We didn’t make it.”
He was by her side in an instant. The pain in her voice shattered him. “Cassidy…”
“Mercer has a lot of enemies,” she whispered. “You don’t get to his position by playing nice.”
No, you didn’t. And Mercer had been in the business of death for decades.
“I don’t…I don’t think they meant to kill my mother. Maybe just to take her, too, but she fought them, and one of the men had a gun.”
Her gaze was so far away.
“It was raining that day. Perhaps that’s why a gunshot still reminds me of thunder.”
He wanted her in his arms, but Cassidy looked so brittle then.
“I knew she was dead. With that much blood, even a child knew.” She swallowed. “They put me in their van, and they rushed away. I don’t… I don’t know what would have happened to me if Mercer’s men hadn’t rushed to the scene so quickly. They followed them. I knew they were there for me when I heard the sound of more thunder.”
This was the spoiled princess? Hell, no.
“An agent pulled me from the van. Took me away, but I looked back. I saw the bodies left behind. In this business, there are always bodies, aren’t there?”
He’d left his share of bodies in Rio.
“I didn’t ask for this.” Now anger pulsed in her words. “You and Mercer, this is the world you chose, but I didn’t.” Cassidy pushed to her feet. “I don’t want this.”
I don’t want you.
He stiffened. Cassidy hadn’t said those words. She’d told him less than thirty minutes ago that she did want him, but right then the woman was sure putting off get-away-from-me vibes.
He didn’t blame her.
The door opened behind him. Cale glanced over his shoulder. Gunner stood there. With his sniper expertise, Gunner had been the first to rush toward that northwest strike zone.
“Tell me you found him,” Cale demanded.
Gunner shook his head. “No. The guy had cleared out before I got up there.”
“Sydney’s ordering a scan on all the security cameras in the area—she’s going to pull in traffic cams, too. She might be able to spot him out there.”
“Who’s Sydney?” Cassidy asked from her position behind Mercer’s desk.
“My wife.” Gunner’s voice was quiet.
Surprise flickered over Cassidy’s face.
Before Gunner could say anything else, Mercer pushed into the room. His face was set in determined lines, and he moved with a hard, nervous energy. “They think that they’re going to come to my door, take a shot at my—” He broke off, sending a hard glance toward Gunner. “At my asset? No, no, this does not happen.” He pointed at Cale. “Get Cassidy to the safe house on Donaghey—”
“But I want to go home,” Cassidy interrupted, voice sharp. “You said my apartment was ready.”
“And the shooter might already know all about your home.” Mercer shook his head. “No, it’s not safe. You have to—”
“I’m never safe. Haven’t we learned that?”
The bitterness from Cassidy just seemed wrong.
“I won’t ever be safe, not totally.” She walked from behind the desk. “And I’m so tired of living in the prison that you make for me.”
A prison made of agents, always watching her movements.
“You might not like it, but you’re going to have to stay under guard.” Mercer had locked his jaw. “Until we can find out who we are up against, you have to keep up with your protection.”
Cale could see the fury staining Cassidy’s cheeks. “Fine. But I’ll choose my agent.” She turned, looked straight at Cale and said, “I choose him.”
Mercer didn’t look particularly surprised by that choice. Gunner did.
Mercer began, “I don’t know about continuing your protection with Cale. Drew Lancaster is—”
“Not my choice,” Cassidy finished. “Cale is the one who just saved my life. Cale is the one that I want.”
Her words made his heart beat faster. Harder.
Mercer crossed to his side, paused in front of him so that they stood toe-to-toe. “You guard her with your life. Got me, son?”
He didn’t need Mercer to tell him that.
“I’ve got her.” And that was all that mattered.
“Go out through the parking garage. I’ve arranged for transportation there.” Mercer stepped back. He looked at Cassidy and paused as if he wanted to say more.
But he didn’t.
How long had the wall been there, blocking the man from actually talking to his daughter?
Cassidy headed for the door.
Cale made sure he was with her every step of the way.
“Cassidy!” Mercer’s voice.
She looked back at him.
“I’ll find the shooter,” he promised her.
Cassidy nodded. “But what happens next time?” Her smile was brittle. “Isn’t there always a next time?”
Cale was realizing that for Cassidy, the threats might not ever end.
And that made fury boil within him.
* * *
AS FAR AS safe houses went, Cassidy had stayed in spots a lot worse than the old converted brownstone.
So when Cale led her inside, when he double-checked the security system and secured the facility, she just stood to the side, waiting.
After all, she knew the drill. Once he’d secured the area, then she’d be able to go and find her designated room—and crash.
How many safe houses had there been for her over the years?
After college, she’d thought that she might finally enjoy some freedom.
That dream had died quickly.
“We’re clear,” Cale said.
They were clear, and they were alone. Why did that make her uncomfortable? She’d longed to be alone with him before the bullets had come blasting toward her.
She’d been terrified.
But Cale… Had his heart rate even increased? He’d seemed so controlled and composed to her. Like the threat of death didn’t matter.
Probably because it didn’t.
“Why did you choose me?”