The beaten, battered, and bruised woman lying on the living room floor of her apartment moaned weakly, barely conscious after the beating her husband had given her. She’d tried so hard to hide, to be in any room other than the one her husband had been in when he’d come home from work that day. Strangely, sadly, she was starting to know exactly when she was going to feel the pain of his wrath. Lately, it had been more and more often, usually for reasons she didn’t exactly understand. She didn’t talk back to him, she wasn’t disobedient, and she got all of her household chores done. It didn’t seem to matter. There was always some infraction, something that made her deserving of punishment.
Survive! Survive! Survive!
Opening one swollen eye, she stumbled painfully to her feet. Her husband had left in a rage. It was time. If she didn’t get out soon, she knew the day would come when she could no longer rise to her feet and leave. Her endurance was gone, but her will to live was stronger than guilt and shame.
Run! Run! Run!
Stumbling to her closet, she put together a few essentials, stuffing them into a battered bag. Grabbing her purse that held less than fifty bucks, she made her way painfully back to the living room, stopping as she heard heavy steps in the hallway.
Was he back? Please let it not be him.
Holding her breath, she waited until the footfalls passed her door, her entire body trembling with relief as she released the breath in a rush, and put a shaky hand on the doorknob. She took the keys from her purse and dropped them on the table beside the door, a symbol to herself that she was never coming back. Whatever happened to her in the future had to be better than her past.
She was alone.
She was damaged.
She was broke, with less than fifty dollars to her name.
And she was afraid.
But none of those things was going to deter her now. Taking one last, quick glance around the apartment, she acknowledged that nothing here belonged to her anyway, and it had never been home. It had been her hell, her prison. She had nothing to lose. She’d find a way to make a new life for herself.
Survive! Survive! Survive!
The woman fled and never looked back, hoping to leave her painful history behind her.
Kade Harrison had always liked games. He might even have to say that he lived and breathed just to engage in almost any type of sporting event. It was the one thing he was good at—the only thing at which he’d ever excelled—and he didn’t like to lose. Unfortunately, he’d been losing for the last two months, and it was really beginning to piss him off.
Where the hell is she?
Tracking down Asha Paritala had almost become a competitive sport. Kade had been working on cornering Asha for two months, traveling from one side of the country to the other, only to come up empty-handed every single time. He was losing this particular contest, and he didn’t like it. The woman was smart, ditching him before he could quite catch up with her. Kade had no doubt he and Asha were playing a game of cat and mouse, and she was avoiding him. God knew he’d left enough messages in various places that she must have gotten at least one of them. She was evading him for some unknown reason, but the cat was going to pounce. Just as soon as he could corner the cagey little mouse.
Letting himself into his Nashville hotel room, Kade pulled off his baseball cap and collapsed on the king-sized bed with a sigh. He’d have to call his brother-in-law, Max, and let him know that he’d failed…again. Asha had just left the homeless shelter a few minutes before he had arrived, and no one there had any idea where she was headed. She’d left her few meager belongings behind, so Kade had some hope she’d return, but nobody at the shelter really knew her, and nobody seemed quite certain where she was or if she would be coming back.