Page 23 of Tripping on a Halo

“They’re all creepy and quiet.”

“And… none of them are getting laid. Point made.”

His phone buzzed and Declan glanced back down, a text from Nicola popping up.

I found a ride. Sowry.

She had attached four emojis of varying emotions, from teary to laughing out loud. Wow. He held out the phone and let Nate read it. His gaze bounced from the phone’s screen to Declan. “Seriously?” They rounded the corner, moving past a spirited argument on the Jaguars defense strategy and Declan’s arm shot out, stopping Nate. “Wait.”

His eyes settled on the tiny girl and the big man. That familiar blonde hair. Her finger was jabbing up into his chest. His stance was intimidating and advancing forward. The bartender shouted at them. A crowd was forming. Uneasy looks were darting between the onlookers.

Nate cursed. “Holy shit. Is that—”

Declan ignored the question and stepped forward, shouldering past a drunk jersey.

“You think you can just—” The blonde’s words cut off when the tatted-up asshole reached forward and grabbed her hair. Declan’s hand shot out, wrapping around the man’s wrist and he squeezed, catching the guy’s attention. Nate’s fist connected with the man’s nose, the crack audible, the grip on Autumn’s hair released. She turned her head, saw Declan, and froze.

Her Facebook photo didn’t do her justice, and there was nothing like a damsel in distress to light every masculine bone in his body on fire. Maybe it was the three beers that he’d just had, the adrenaline rush from the confrontation, or the frustration over Nicola’s flakiness. Whatever the reason, in this moment, they didn’t feel like enemies. She looked beautiful, he felt protective, and the urge to yank her away from this guy and carry her out of this bar was overwhelming.

The stunned look dropped from her face, and with her next words, the crazy came back out to play. “Do you know how many people die in bar fights every year!” It wasn’t a question, it was a scream of accusation, the sort his mother would level at him when she found his football uniform on the floor of the bathroom, or her embroidered hand towels covered in grease.

Something plowed into the back of his leg and he fell into her, their bodies colliding with the edge of the bar. He held her up and looked over his shoulder, watching as the guy ducked a punch from Nate, then staggered upright, blood dripping from his nose.

“We have to get you out of here!” She held her head as if she was in pain, yelling the words in his ear and he fought to remind himself that she was the enemy. It was a struggle when the heat of her body was flush against him, her soft curves taking his mind in a hundred directions. Her hair tickled against his neck and when she leaned in to yell at him, he wanted to tighten his hand on the small of her back and pull her closer—

He dragged his mind back, and attempted to respond to her words, which were ludicrous in themselves. They had to get him out of here? She was the one in danger. There was a loud crash as Nate took the man back to the ground. He followed the action, jerking his foot back when the guy’s tattooed hand clenched around his ankle, his face twisted in anger.

“The slut’s not worth it,” he spat out.

“Let’s GO!” Autumn screamed in Declan’s ear, twisting away from him and stepping over the biker. Lifting one impossibly high-heeled shoe, she stomped on the man’s thigh, causing him to wheeze in pain, and the surrounding crowd to cheer in approval. She held out her hand for Declan’s, her face pinched and worried. “HURRY!”

It was as if she thought the place was going to explode, a time bomb winding down, each second precious. She frantically waved her hand at him and he took it, letting her pull him through the crowd, out the revolving door and finally, into the quiet night.

“I had it under control.” Autumn Jones knotted her arms across her chest and glared at him. “You shouldn’t have come over. It was too dangerous.” She turned, rubbing at her forehead with a wince, and he took a moment to get a better look at her. Shapely legs. A killer ass. She was wearing a potato sack of a top that completely hid her upper body, but he remembered the curves she’d pressed against him.

He looked away.

“Aren’t you worried about your friend?”

He chuckled. “Nah. Nate can take care of himself. He grew up in a boxing gym. This is his opportunity to show off to all of the ladies.” He glanced back at the bar, the foggy windows hiding whatever was happening inside.

She stepped forward with a purpose and came to a stop just in front of him. He watched with interest as she peered up at him critically. She reached for his face and he held his breath, surprised when her fingers gently gripped his jaw, moving his head to the left, and then the right, examining every inch of his face. When she finally looked at him, her eye contact direct and unemotional, he felt something in his chest flip.