Authors: Zoey Parker
I was fairly certain I’d throw up all over the back of his leather vest by the time my misadventure was over. I wanted to close my eyes and take deep breaths, but every time I closed my eyes, I felt myself getting dizzy. It was being on the motorcycle. I couldn’t seem to get used to the feeling. The panic probably wasn’t helping.
It was a struggle not to lean the side of my face against his back, just to rest my head and calm myself. Who knew how he would take it. Besides, what I’d seen him do to that man didn’t give me confidence, even if the pig deserved it.
What had I seen before that? Was the man in the alley dead? I shuddered, my arms tightening around the stranger’s waist. How could one person be so evil and cold toward someone else? But there was no doubting what my eyes had seen. The knife had disappeared into the man’s stomach like it was butter.
It could have disappeared into me.
“I have to throw up,” I moaned, fighting the wave of nausea.
“We’re almost there.” He barked it like I was an inconvenience. He didn’t have to take me with him. Now he was treating me like a piece of garbage.
“I mean it! I have to puke!”
“Calm down. Take a breath. You’ll be fine. I can’t stop right now.” His words were almost lost in the wind, and I had to lean into him to pick them up. I smelled sweat, blood, and aftershave. It was a unique mixture, and it didn’t do much for the nausea.
But I did as he said and took a deep breath. Then another. I told myself to calm down. I didn’t get hurt except for the scrapes along my hands from the glass on the sidewalk. That was nothing. The man in the alley was probably dead. I had a boo-boo.
The thought made me laugh. I was becoming hysterical.
Calm down, girl
, I thought, taking another breath.
Was I? I didn’t know this man from Adam, and I’d seen what he could do with his fists. What would he do to me?
No. Don’t even think about it.
He didn’t have to save me. This wasn’t the jungle—he wasn’t taking me for himself. He was ensuring I didn’t get hurt. I could call a cab when I got to wherever we were going. It wouldn’t be a big deal. I could go home and crawl into bed and consider staying a children’s photographer for the rest of my life because nothing was worth the feeling that I was about to die.
I thought about my camera, back in the pocket of my hoodie. If the memory card was destroyed or somehow stuck inside, there was no chance of using what I had on there. It would all have been for nothing. What a joke. What a cruel, senseless joke. It reminded me of the end of my favorite episode of “The Twilight Zone,” when the man with the thick glasses finally had time to read all the books he ever wanted…before his glasses fell to the ground and broke. I felt like that man.
We sped on and I looked at the man who had saved my life. Who the heck was he? Why me? Was the Universe throwing me a bone to make up for my broken camera by sending a man to save my life? He didn’t look like an angel, and I didn’t think angels typically beat men unconscious. I’d never forget the way it felt to see another person’s face getting punched in like that. Not that he didn’t deserve it—he totally did, and then some. But it was nothing like what I’d seen in the movies. Visceral and loud. I had heard his nose break. It wasn’t a sound effect. I’d heard the real thing. My skin crawled.
We were moving out of the city, into the outskirts near the river. My instincts went into overdrive. This was even sketchier than the blocks I’d been walking on earlier. It was darker, more rundown. Empty warehouses and factories stood out against the cloudy sky, their windows long since broken. Empty docks stretched out to our left, lining the river. This used to be a thriving port, but the advent of air travel slowed things up considerably. Now it was more of a hangout for homeless people and drug dealers. What the hell were we here for?
The air was damp, chilly, especially with the river so close by. He wasn’t going to dump me here, was he? Or worse? Was I wrong all along? Was he only taking me for himself?
Then we pulled up to a lit building, with a row of bikes like his lined up in front. The building didn’t inspire much hope, but there were at least signs of life coming from inside. Was this his hangout? I didn’t want to see what awaited me inside.
As it turned out, I didn’t have a choice in the matter. He pulled up at the end of the row of motorcycles and turned off the engine, pushing down the kickstand before resting the bike on it. I was stock still, frozen in place. I didn’t want to move for fear of what would happen next.
“You have to get off if I’m gonna get off,” he said, his back still turned to me.
“Huh?” My eyes were going in all directions. His words weren’t sinking in.
“I said get the hell off the bike so I can get off, too.”
The tone of his voice cut through my shock, and I put down one shaky leg to balance myself as I swung the other over. I watched him do the same thing, though he looked considerably more in control of himself than I was.
“You okay?” he asked. He took my arm, shaking me a little.
I thought about the blood that had to be on his hand, and I remembered what I’d seen him do and what might have happened to me. I ran to the side of the building and bent over, throwing up as quietly as I could.
When I finished, my knees shaky and weak, I thought I might burst into tears. None of this was supposed to happen. I wasn’t supposed to be here. I was a nice girl, a good girl, never mixed up in anything even remotely shady. This building, the bike I’d ridden, the man I held onto, was all part of a different world. I wanted to go home and pretend none of it ever happened.
“Finished?” He was behind me, and I could have died from embarrassment. Nothing like a stranger listening to you throwing up to make you feel about two inches tall.
“Yeah, I think so,” I said.
“At least you managed to wait.” His voice wasn’t totally unkind, and I appreciated it. I stood, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand. “Come on,” he continued. “I’ll get you something to drink inside. Maybe we have some ginger ale or something.”
What a parental thing to say
, I thought. I remembered all the times my mom gave me ginger ale for an upset stomach. Strangely gentle for a man like him.
I had no choice but to go with him, or stand outside and catch pneumonia in the cold dampness. I walked through the door, dreading what I would find inside the warehouse. My jaw nearly fell to the floor when I saw what was there.
It was gorgeous. Totally renovated, completely modern. Hardwood floors and a bar that polished to a deep, rich shine. Leather sofas and chairs. A pool table, a row of old-fashioned video games and pinball machines. A beautiful jukebox, playing old R&B songs.
A strange choice
, I thought, but then what did I know? I’d expected a rat’s nest when I walked in, and I was in the middle of a high-class boys’ club. It wouldn’t have been out of place in a mansion, some sort of expensive man cave.
“Come on,” he said, leading me to the bar. “I’ll pour you a ginger ale.”
“Thank you,” I mumbled, still looking around as I walked behind him. The room was empty, with several rooms leading from it. I heard noise coming from behind one of the closed doors. It sounded friendly enough, telling me there wasn’t anything scary happening.
My savior went behind the bar, and under the brighter lights, I saw a lot more of him. First, I noticed the blood on his knuckles. He noticed me looking, and his own eyes followed my gaze. He winced, then went to the sink to wash up. He didn’t speak, just washed thoroughly up to his mid-forearms. Then he turned, pulling out a glass and pouring ginger ale from the drink gun. He handed it across the bar.
I watched him as I sipped, and he watched me just as openly. Drinking the soda gave me something to do. Otherwise, I would have been ogling him.
He was gorgeous. Flat-out, no-holds-barred gorgeous. I hadn’t gotten a great look at him in the darkness, and from what he’d done, I’d expected him to be nasty and scarred and rough-looking. Just the opposite. His features were fine, balanced. He had a firmly chiseled jaw, his mouth was full and sensuous. His eyes were a striking light hazel color, but they burned into me. His hair was thick, long-ish, dark brown. It flopped over onto his tanned forehead.
Why was a man like him in a place like this? He could have been gracing a magazine or billboard, but instead was in some headquarters or lounge for what was obviously a motorcycle club. It made no sense to me.
He smirked, one corner of his mouth going up. Like he could ready my thoughts. I blushed.
“You feeling better?”
I nodded, taking a chance on speaking. I hoped my voice didn’t give away the sudden heat between my legs. “A little. Thanks.”
“Good.” He leaned forward, his hands on the bar. “Then why don’t you try telling me what you were doing out there tonight?”
I was at a loss. Could I trust him with what I had seen? From the way he beat that other guy up, there was no love lost between his crew and theirs. But what if there was some code I wasn’t supposed to break? What if he ended up getting into trouble over what I told him? I didn’t want that to happen. He’d saved my life.
He saw my hesitation and the way his brow furrowed told me how frustrated he was. He opened his mouth, but anything he had to say was cut off by a half dozen men flooding out of the room from which I’d heard the laughter and noise when we first came in.
“Hey, you’re finally here! Been waitin’ on ya.” The men all acknowledged my hero, whose name I still didn’t know. Then, one by one, they turned to me.
“Who’s she?” one of them asked, and his tone wasn’t exactly kind.
“Not sure yet.” My new friend came out from behind the bar, taking me by the waist. “But I’m gonna find out.” My eyes went wide and I looked at him in abject horror. So this was why he brought me here? Just as I opened my mouth to cry out in protest, I caught the look he gave me out of the corner of his eye. That look told me to keep my mouth shut, so I did. He had a plan, and I was supposed to trust him.
How could I do that when I didn’t know him?
Still, I did what he wanted and allowed him to lead me to a back room. The other men whistled and shouted, and my cheeks burned just knowing what they were thinking. I wanted to spit in their faces and call them white trash and every other insult I knew, but fear and the iron grip around my waist kept my mouth shut.
He led me to what looked like an office and hurled me inside. Only when he closed the door behind us did I whirl around on my new captor.
“What the hell are you trying to pull?” I spat, glaring at him. “Making them think I’m some kind of…of…”
“Whore?” He looked amused, smirking again.
“Whatever,” I said. “I’m not like that.”
“Oh, I can tell what you think you’re like,” he said. “Believe me, it comes through loud and clear.”
I narrowed my eyes. No matter what he had done for me, it didn’t give him the right to talk to me that way. “Oh? Illuminate me.”
“You’re a princess,” he said, shrugging, before taking a seat behind the paper-strewn desk. I wondered what all those papers contained. This was hardly a legit business.
“A princess?” My laugh rang through the room. “Hardly. I work for everything I have. And I have a clear conscience when claiming it on my tax return. Can you say that?”
“What’s a tax return?” I glared at him, and he laughed. “All right, all right, truce. Stop biting my head off. The last thing I remember, I was saving your ass. Unless you’ve already forgotten about that. I’d be more than happy to drop you back off where I found you.” He rubbed his temples. “You’re already more trouble than you’re worth.”
“Oh, I am? Nobody told you that you had to come in and ‘save my ass.’” I regretted saying it as soon as the words came out. I should have been apologizing to the man, and instead, I was antagonizing him. He was pushing my buttons. I was allowing it to happen.