He was heartily sick of waiting. A year was too damned long?

“Whatcha doing?”

Startled, Morgan turned to see a young girl beside the hardware store where he stood. She had bright gold hair, pulled precisely to the sides of her head into two ponytails. Pink ribbons held the bands in place. For an instant, his heart skipped a beat.

If only it were Brooke. Sylvie used to try to tame their daughter’s wild curls, but after an hour, her hair was usually falling down. It had driven Sylvie a bit crazy, but he’d always thought it was rather adorable.

“I’m, uh, looking for a friend.” The last thing he needed was the girl around an idiot with a gun. “What are you doing?”

“Walking. My mom said I could go to the candy store by myself.” She looked back the way she’d obviously come and waved at a woman standing in the doorway of a small shop on the corner.

He tried to smile and lifted a hand in greeting to the woman. The candy store was another two doors down. He’d bet everything he had that until this child returned to her side, with whatever candy she was going to get, that mom would be glued to that doorway.

An ache grew in his chest. While the girl reminded him of Brooke, the woman was nothing like Sylvie. He wished… No, he was just being stupid.

“You have a safe trip,” he said to the girl, then continued on his trek, not wanting to give that mother any more apprehension than already showed on her face.

“Bye-bye.” The girl waved and marched on to the store as he continued down the street. Morgan waited until the girl was safely inside the candy store before shoving the front door of the T-shirt shop open again.

He felt minimally better walking inside. There was at least one witness out there. And now a couple customers were here, as well. He hoped he didn’t need their presence, but it helped.

Jimmy was nowhere to be seen, but the jingling of the bell overhead made him appear in the curtained doorway again. Sylvie didn’t appear.

“Prove she’s not in there.” Morgan took a step inside.

“You…you stay back.” Jimmy still held the gun, shaking it again, as he narrowed his eyes.

Morgan saw Jimmy glance around at the customers, heard the shuffle of footsteps heading to the door.

Morgan had faced plenty of dangers in his life, mostly in the form of fists, but weapons weren’t uncommon. “Come on, man. Help me out.” He inched closer. “Just let me look to make sure she’s not there.”

“I said stay back.” He aimed the gun and gave it another one of those weird shakes.

Why was the fool so jittery? And while Morgan was glad, why hadn’t the fool shot him already? Was Jimmy high? What were he and Sylvie involved in? God, where was Brooke? What had they exposed her to?

“Just tell me where Brooke or Sylvie is and I’ll gladly leave you alone.”

Jimmy rolled his eyes. “They ain’t here.”

“Then tell me where they are.”

“What’s in it for me?”

The speculative gleam in Jimmy’s eyes made Morgan’s stomach turn. “What are you saying?”

“What’s the information worth to you?”

“You’d take money to tell me?”

“I might consider it. For the right price.”

“What price?”

Jimmy named an exorbitant amount, then nearly doubled over with his cackling laugh. “You’d pay it, wouldn’t you? You sucker. They ain’t worth that much, but I’ll take it if you got it.”

Anger and something akin to panic took over. Morgan lunged for the idiot with the gun, half expecting to hear the roar of the shotgun’s blast. When he didn’t hear anything, he only briefly thanked the heavens above. He didn’t have any more time than that as something harder than any fist he’d ever met, slammed into the side of his face.

Morgan stumbled, pain shooting through his skull as the darkness slid over him. “Brooke,” he whispered as he hit the floor, then cursed, thinking briefly how Tara was going to be pissed if she had to take him to urgent care again.

* * *

“WHAT THE HELL do you think you’re doing?” Jack rounded the front bumper of Morgan’s truck, then stopped dead in his tracks. “You look like hell.”

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