“What’s the favor?” Morry asks, coming up behind me and plucking the phone from my hand.
“Why’d you take my phone?” I scowl.
“Because you were about to crush it and you’ve already destroyed three this year. What did Audley want?”
“Bodyguard service for some woman.” Just saying the words puts a sour taste in my mouth.
Morry releases a howl of laughter. “Oh no, contact with a woman. How will you survive?” She slaps me on the back. “Go shower and change. I’ll pack up your stuff.” My trainer shuffles off toward my gym bag. “Use a lot of soap. You stink.”
“Like I care.” I slam into the locker room and strip off my shorts and jock, tossing them onto the metal bench in front of the row of five lockers. I have one foot on the tile floor of the shower when it hits me. I should not shower. Definitely not. The last thing I want to do is look good or smell nice. That’s what causes problems. I should smell like a sewer and look worse. Gleefully, I back up and pull open my locker. Inside, I have a couple pairs of sweatpants and shirts. I pull on the clothes, slick back my hair and don my glasses.
I take a quick look at the polished steel plate hanging over the sink areas and decide I look grubby enough. I raise an armpit and shake my head. “Phew. Morry’s right. I do stink.”
That puts a smile on my face. I wait in the locker room until the noises in the gym quiet down. A quick peek out the door tells me that Morry has returned to her office. Good. If she catches me, she’ll force me into the shower and ruin my plans to repel this girl.
I jog over to the frat house, eager to get this chore done. The place smells like spilled beer and vomit. I don’t know why anyone wants to go to these hellscape events. I glare at the crowd, looking for the Audleys, and ignore the long-fingered hands that grab at different parts of my body. There’s more than one fleeting brush of a palm over my ass. It’s too bad I can’t body slam a girl into a door. If I did that once, I think no one would touch me again. In the next room, I spot the tall, identical heads of the Audley twins. I push a couple of hands off my chest and plow forward. By the time I reach them, there’s only one Audley left.
“I’m here,” I announce. “And you’re going to owe me at least two weeks’ worth of IT support for this. Consider it hazard pay.”
“Actually, I kind of think you’ll be paying me when you see Erika.” He steps to the side and I nearly collapse. I hear him tell me her name, but everything but her fades away.
Behind him is a tiny, doll-like girl. She looks like one of those figurines that danced in the jewelry box that sat on the dresser of my foster mom, Patty. Or maybe one of those cake toppers—sweet, edible, gorgeous. Lust like I’ve never felt surges through me, along with a huge need to protect. I hadn’t realized I could feel like this about a girl. I almost want to go back and apologize to the one woman who broke into my apartment because if she felt about me how I’m feeling about Erika, her past actions make sense. As I stare down at the crown of the dark-haired girl’s head, the only thing I can think of is how I want to lift her into my arms and carry her to some fortress where I’ll bolt the castle gates shut so that no one can get inside to see her but me.
“Tank, this is Erika. Erika, this is Tank. He’s going to walk you home.”
I’d talk, but I can’t. My tongue doesn’t work. Neither does my brain. Apparently, my legs don’t either. I’ve taken root in the ground. Erika bobs her small head.
I probably would’ve stayed like that—petrifying into a tree trunk—if a dickwad hadn’t tried to push by her without saying “excuse me.” I snap to attention, shove the guy across the room and tuck Erika under my arm.
“We’ll be going,” I inform Audley.
He grins like the smug bastard he is. “I’ll text my bill to you tomorrow.”
“Asshole,” I mutter, but without any heat because damn if he doesn’t deserve some kind of finder’s fee. Erika’s a treasure. No. Scratch that. Erika’s my treasure.
Tank drapes his big arm over my shoulder as he guides me from the house. It’s not as heavy as I thought it would be, but I can only guess he’s not letting all of the weight drop onto me. Still he manages to keep me in a firm hold. The man is a human shield. He’s not physically pushing anyone out of the way because they are too close to me, but the crowd has automatically given him a wide berth. It’s like they know better and no one wants to get hurt. The crowd just divides and gives him room due to his gigantic size. Tank looks like he could launch a guy clear across a room with barely a brush. Based on the crowd’s reaction to him, it would be my guess that it’s happened before. The only thing I can do is stare up at what has to be one of the biggest men I’ve ever come face to face with.