“Yeah? Or what?” Tattoo smirks, and his friend laughs.
I take advantage of their distraction to throw myself forward, off the wall. I half-tackle the guy holding me, wrenching my knee up to hit him in the groin. At the same time, I swing with my free arm. I punch him straight in the throat, my fingers pointed sharply.
He staggers back, gasping, even as he grabs my arm again, throwing me off-balance. I trip in my heels, hearing grunts and crashes beside me. By the time I catch my balance, I look up to find Tattoo on the ground, out cold. The stranger grabs the other guy by the throat, and I pull free, retreating. I trip, land hard on my ass, but I’m finally free.
“You want to leave here now,” the man growls, tightening his grip on my attacker.
The attacker nods, at least as much as he can with this guy’s arm around his throat.
The man lets go, and the attacker flees, sprinting up the street without even a backwards glance at his unconscious friend.
As for my savior, he steps over Tattoo, expressionless, and strides toward me, one hand extended.
We lock eyes, and for a breath, I don’t move. Just watch him, wary. He’s just rescued me, and gazing up at him from my undignified position on the ground in the middle of this empty street, my heart starts to beat faster. Damn, my hero is hot. Up close, he’s got cheekbones that could cut glass, a smooth face, marred only by the crease in his brow as he frowns down at me.
Slowly, I reach up and place my hand in his. He tightens his grip around my fingers, pulls me up. He clenches my hand hard, hard enough to hurt, but I pull myself to my feet in one smooth motion, and as soon as I’m upright, he lets go, almost like he doesn’t want to touch me. Like I burn him.
He definitely burns me, in a way I’ve never felt before. My stomach feels like it’s turning inside out, and I finally understand what people mean when they talk about butterflies.
“Thank you,” I say, eyes wide.
His scowl only deepens at that. “Don’t thank me,” he says. His voice reverberates in my chest, deep as thunder.
“You just saved me from those guys. What else am I supposed to do?”
He takes a step closer, and I stiffen. Something about the way his eyes narrow and his mouth straightens into a thin, hard line makes me nervous. There’s a glint in his eye, something almost like recognition. Recognition, and disdain… But he couldn’t possibly know me.
I’d definitely remember if I’d seen this man before.
“You need to be more careful,” he says, and my heart skips a beat. Careful of what? Of him?
I extend a hand, trying to ward off the tingles racing along my spine. I can’t tell if I’m just feeling jumpy after seeing those guys, or if it’s the close proximity of one of the hottest men I’ve ever seen that’s setting me off now.
He grips my hand and holds on, not shaking, just tightening his grasp around my fingers. I gasp a little, and he takes another step toward me. He’s just inches away now, and I can see his chest hitching with effort. Effort from what?
His eyes bore into me. They’re ice blue, the palest I’ve ever seen, and his gaze pins me to the spot. Before I can react, he shifts his grip, loosening it, and turning his hand.
My cheeks flare bright red as he intertwines his fingers in mine. His mouth loosens, just enough to let a small smirk show through his otherwise stoic expression. “Sweet girls like you shouldn’t wander these streets alone so late. You might run into trouble.”
I swallow hard, all too aware of his gaze lingering on my lips. “Maybe.” I lift an eyebrow, putting on a smirk of my own. “But luckily there are men like you around to save me when I do.”
He laughs, just once, low and deep in his throat. “You’ve got it all wrong,” he says, his smirk widening. “I’m the trouble, not the savior. And those boys back there, they couldn’t harm you the way I could.”
I take a step back now, colliding once more with the brick wall behind me. But he matches me, step for step, until I feel penned in again, breathless with fear. He’s so close I can smell him, but unlike the boys earlier, it’s not a bad thing. His scent is rich, heady. Something like pine trees, sharp as new snow, and addictive. I breathe in, savoring it, even as my heart pounds and my vision goes hazy with a rush of adrenaline.