My stomach clenches, my heart rate triples.
There are two guys behind me.
They look about my age, so maybe they’re also going to the party. That’s what I try to convince myself. But somehow I can’t see either of these kids, in their torn jeans and oversized hoodies, glowering at me as they trade a cigarette, going to St. Augustine’s. The guys from St. Augustine’s are prep-tastic, rebellious in a Catholic school way. Not like these guys. One of them steps under the street light a few paces behind me and I see he has a tattoo on his neck.
“Hey, honey!” that one calls, catching me looking.
I turn around and start to walk again, faster. Am I going the right way still? I don’t want to pull out my phone to check. I duck my head and speed up.
“Where you going in such a hurry?” he adds. His voice is getting louder. He’s catching up.
Dammit. I curse myself for wearing these heels, these tight jeans. What was I thinking?
“Let us keep you company,” the other guy joins in shouting. “Not safe out here this late.”
They both chuckle, low and dark. Then, next thing I know, they’re beside me, flanking me. I glance back and forth between them, realizing as I do, that they’re both taller than me. Taller and way more muscular.
Tattoo-neck grins down at me, a glint in his eye. “You looking to party? We can show you a good spot.”
“Private. Best kind of party,” the other guy adds. I turn to size him up, and he winks, leering at me with nicotine stained teeth.
“No thanks,” I say, keeping my voice steady and disinterested. I don’t want these guys to know how much they’re unnerving me right now.
“Oh I get it,” Tattoo butts in, rolling his eyes. “She’s too good for us.” He tugs on my shirt, and I flinch. Mentally kicking myself, I fix him with a sideways glare. “Isn’t that right, little Miss Designer Jeans? Too good to hang out with scum like us, huh?”
“What was your first clue?” I ask, narrowing my eyes. I toss my hair over my shoulder and stride forward, trying to ignore them. But then Tattoo’s friend grabs my arm, hard enough to hurt.
“That’s not very nice. Where are your manners, young lady?”
“Let go of me,” I say, my voice still steady, imperious.
He leans in, his breath reeks, and whispers right against my ear. “Make me.”
I wrench my arm from his grip, casting my memory back to the self-defense lessons Dad insisted I take as a kid. It works—he loses his grip on me, and I whirl around, plant my feet, and punch him square in the jaw.
For a second, pride and vicious pleasure surge through me. Ha. Take that.
But it’s a mistake. He barely flinches from the hit, and then he’s on me, grabbing both my shoulders and shoving me against the wall.
“You’ll pay for that, bitch,” he snarls, and Tattoo grabs my other arm, pinning me against the brick wall while his friend reaches for the clasp of my jeans.
I tense, ready to kick him, knowing even as I do that it will be useless—there’s two of them and one of me, and they know what they’re doing, more than I do. Why didn’t I keep taking those classes? I clench my jaw, ready to fight to the end, when a loud, deep voice interrupts us.
“Let her go.”
All three of us freeze. The guys smirk at one another, but I glance right past them, to the man walking up the street toward us. The streetlight catches him just as he shouts, and for a moment, I can see his sharp cheekbones glazed with dark stubble. A strong jawline, deeply set eyes that flash in the light. A short haircut, almost buzzed, in a way that reminds me of the Army.
Then he’s past the light, striding right toward us.
“Mind your own business, man,” Tattoo says, turning to face this mysterious stranger. His friend keeps me pinned against the wall, but he’s distracted too, glancing over his shoulder at the guy.
“This is my business,” the man replies. He’s closer now, his voice strong with command, the air around us seeming to vibrate. In the dim moonlight, he looks older than us, though not by much. Maybe 20, 21. Yet something in his eyes seems wise beyond his years. He’s got the kind of stare that tells you he knows what he’s doing, and he’ll stop at nothing to get what he wants. “I said let her go. You have 10 seconds.”