Page 19 of Tripping on a Halo

Talk about a hypocrite. Nate hadn’t fallen in love since high school. Declan pushed him toward the door. “See you Monday.”

“Call me if you need me.”

He watched Nate leave, and mused over the suggestion to call Margaret. Moving back into the living room, he cleaned up Nate’s mess and tossed his empty cup in the trash. He’d enjoyed her company and she’d handled the Nicola situation well. Plus, she was a beautiful woman. Successful. Had her shit together.

Nate was right. He did need some love in his life. Could she be the one to provide it? Or, to attend to the other need in his life, should he call her for a hook-up? His stomach turned at the idea, remembering her insecurity at dinner, her tentative inquiry whether he’d be taking her out again. She wasn’t a woman just looking for sex, and it wouldn’t be fair to call her unless he was serious about continuing a relationship with her.

Which… considering he could barely manage the effort to call her—wasn’t a good sign. Hell, he’d gone through more hoops to get the latest UFC fight. He pulled out his phone and scrolled to her name. Stared at the number and tried to convince himself to press the call button.

One more date. A chance, away from Nicola, to see if he and Margaret had anything more than country songs in common.

He should give her a chance. Make the call. Test the waters. See how it went. Maybe it would turn into love, and this would be a funny story he’d one day tell their grandchildren. Or maybe sparks would fly, and they’d be ripping off each other’s clothes with their teeth three hours from now.

He stared at her number, then brought his thumb forward and pressed the button underneath her name.

DELETE.

14

When I first saved Declan Moss’s life, he never even saw me. He was running without a shirt on, his headphones in, muscular legs pumping. I was leaning against a tree, resting in its shade, when he jogged by, all abs and glistening sweat, like a commercial for deodorant. I watched him pass and my vision dotted, pain stabbing at my brain.

I didn’t know what was happening. I staggered out into the middle of the road, my eyes pinching shut, my hands clasping at my head, my face, trying to pinpoint the pain. It wasn’t the smartest place to be, especially not for a woman whose mother had just been hit by a car. But I wasn’t thinking, my mind drowning in the overwhelming fear that something was happening, something was wrong. I stumbled after the jogger, holding out my hand and trying to flag him down. “Hey!” He would be able to help, could see if my eyes were normal, could tell me if there was a railroad spike poking out of my skull, or at least call someone for help. “HEY!” I screamed. My head pounded, alarm radiating through me. Something was wrong and I couldn’t seem to pull my eyes off this guy long enough to figure it out.

I came to a stop, distracted by the jangle of the gate. Turning slowly, I saw the privacy fence behind me shake, a rough rattle of wood against wood, the dark metal latch clanging. I knew the yard. Paige was afraid of this house, made me lift her onto my shoulders whenever we walked by. She always thought the gate would break and the dog behind it—a giant Great Dane—would come out and eat her. I didn’t blame her for being scared. Each time he clawed his way up the other side of the fence, he was all frothy gums and big teeth, snarling and ready to rip someone’s head off. I joined her in the fear that he’d eventually make it over the side and tackle us, ripping Paige away from me and tearing at her delicate throat with his sharp incisors.

All reasons why I shouldn’t have stepped closer to its gate. I shouldn’t have reached for the latch. I definitely shouldn’t have lifted it, freeing the catch. But I did. I shielded my body with the gate, and opened it, letting the horrible dog out.

The beast didn’t hesitate, didn’t pause, didn’t notice or care about me. He charged through the opening, nails scraping against wood, paws kicking up leaves as he plowed forward, his body elongating, stretching, coiling and then unleashing. I watched his tail bob, his body move, and—for once—the demon was silent. Deadly. Bolting straight for the stranger, who jogged along, his back to the dog, his stride relaxed.

I had a sudden thought about my mom. Was this what it had been like for her? Had she had any warning in the moment before she’d died?

He was completely unprepared, unguarded and vulnerable when the dog’s haunches gathered beneath him and he lunged. Declan had fallen, his hands swinging out, body twisting through the air. In my nightmares, I still heard the way he yelled, the snarl of the dog, the bunching of furry back muscles as he hunched over Declan’s body. I should have run over and pulled off the dog, but instead I pinched my eyes shut and tried to block out the image of teeth biting into cheeks, ripping flesh, blood splattering. I spun away from the scene and tried to sort out what I had done.

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