I hit the roadway,
running hard and headed toward the far side of town.
in. Figures I left our house filled with determination only to trek back home
wet and weary. Beyond weary. Tired. So bleeding tired of fighting battles no
twenty-three-year-old should ever face. But these are the cards I’ve been
preoccupied with the downpour of troubles that seem to accompany the downpour
of rain, I ignore the black sedan and the gravel it’s kicked up as it passes by
me. Dismiss the red glare of its taillights, faintly visible through the rain.
Pay no heed to how the sedan is backing up as quickly as it’d sped by me.
Too late, I
stop and gesture wildly at them to continue on.
everything but the rain seems to pause.
hairs on my arms stand at attention. It’s like being swept into a cloud of
darkness, where for a split second everything is calm before all hell breaks
loose. But I’m a native Oklahoman, where tornados crop up like spring
daffodils. Where quick thinking and survival know-how are the name of the game.
off running back toward town, then pivoting on my heels, burst into a withering
wheat field bordering the road.
my face. Mud covers my sneakers and splashes up my legs. My mind spurs on my
tired body. “Faster. Go faster.” I slip and slide but am abruptly grabbed by
the waistline and hauled up off my feet.
teeth, I send my right elbow and left heel backward. Both connect hard, into my
captor’s jaw and junk trunk.
me. “You goddamn bitch,” I hear, but faintly. My legs are already in motion.
man grasps onto my arm. I turn and, using the momentum from my spin, aim the
heel of my palm up into the tender flesh beneath his nose.
spurts out of it like a lawn sprinkler. I’ve broken the second guy’s nose and
ruined his faded white T-shirt. Before he can grab me, I dash into the
thickest, healthiest crop of stalks, which better conceals me.
slows my progress. My sense of direction is distorted. If it’d been a clear
night, the stars would guide me to safety. Today’s nothing except another
miserable Shelby day. The more I think about it, the more pissed off I become.
Really? After the day I’ve had? It’s barely past seven a.m. and two Shelby
goons decide I’m their next source of amusement.
victim I am is one of circumstance.
morning before classes—every morning except Tuesdays, that is—I catch the bus
to Dayton’s Boxing and Mixed Martial Arts Club. Sticking my nose in a book used
to be my thing. But I can’t concentrate; I’ve lost the simple pleasures in
life. Now I get my kicks by kicking ass. I’m a natural, or so my trainers tell
me. Comes in handy when dealing with the Shelbian riffraff. Still, the odds are
against me. Two men to my one woman.
up the pace, ignoring the sting as the stalks smack my face, arms, legs. It’s
difficult to hear anything besides the rain. Have they given up? Has my
perfectly aimed cock-kick and a broken nose discouraged them? Caused them to
move on to a less-pissed-off victim?
comes in the form of a solid wall of muscle, which I realize too late that I’ve
run right into it. On contact, the man’s chest flexes beneath my breasts. I
jerk back, but instead of glaring up at him, my eyes are drawn to the little
green horse embroidered onto his pale pink polo shirt. A jockeyless pony
situated on the upper swell of what is the tightest, brawniest, most muscular
display of pecs around, the tight pull of his shirt across his chest leaving
nothing to the imagination.
I want to
press my thumb against that pony, make sure my girls got it right. Except this
man isn’t one of Dayton’s gym jockeys . . .
my knee up, aiming for his privates. He laughs and neatly sidesteps me, so my
knee connects with his hard, chino-clad thigh. Pain jolts through my leg and up
my spine. I grit my teeth, pissed off and slightly unnerved. I send an elbow up
toward his jaw. This move’s brought many a man to his knees, but he swats my
elbow away. I feel his control, his power. And I know I’m in trouble.
you going to pull next, fireball? Hit me over the head with that loaf of
bread?” he asks, his tone deep, rich like chocolate, smooth like truffles. His
voice is amused. His words grate on my nerves.
sense tells me. Stay, a recklessly rogue thought pops into my head.
reluctantly drop my loaf of Texas toast. He’s folded his arms across his chest,
obscuring the little pony beneath his muscular arms. I stare at the spot,
wondering why a preppy like him is after me. “What do you want?” My eyes skim
upward and I’m greeted by smug, self-assured tilt of his lips. You, his smile
seems to say. I want you.
I’m tall at
five feet nine, lithe and long-legged. This man’s chin can rest on my head. A
perfectly shaped chin, accompanied by high cheekbones, an aquiline nose, and as
my gaze flickers across his face, deliciously full, kissable lips. He’s fair,
like me. Except he’s sporting a fine line of five-o’clock shadow.
jaw-dropping good looks snag my attention. But it’s the energy between us that
knocks the wind out of me. Sexual magnetism. It’s like the air’s supercharged,
undergoing some kind of chemical reaction, hot and bubbly and ready to explode.
And, as that lazy smile of his broadens,
I feel my
body physically responding . . . what the hell? “What do you want?” I repeat,
in a hoarse tone. Far too affected by him than I care to admit. He makes a
sound deep within his throat and I swear the crotch of my shorts are instantly
see if what your T-shirt says is true.
I glance down.
CATCH ME. Oh shit.