One of his friends, a bodybuilder looking type with an impressively ugly face, guffaws at my words, which obviously annoys Brad who then hisses at me.

“You think you’re something special, don’t you? I should teach you a lesson.”

His expression is menacing and although I don’t want to show it, I feel intimidated. His friends have closed the space behind him and they’re all towering over me. I glance around the café garden to see the couple that was there a few minutes before has left. There’s no sign of Alex who is clearly still busy on his phone. I want to call for him, but I don’t want Brad to see that he’s making me anxious. I get the impression he would like that.

“Where’s your boyfriend?” he sneers as he sees me look around, but I see the sudden wariness in his eyes as he realizes there are two glasses on the table. I smile.

“What’s wrong Brad? Jealous?”

His face goes dark with rage and he grabs my upper arm. Hard.

“You little bitch,” he hisses. I jerk back, but he tightens his grip, making me wince. That is going to bruise.

“Get your fucking hands off her!”

With a rush of relief, I hear Alex. Brad stiffens but doesn’t let go, and as I see his two friends square up to Alex I see why. The big baby is happy to hide behind his friends.

They’re both big guys, the bodybuilder one is nearly as well built as Alex and the other isn’t so muscly but is as tall. For a second, I worry about Alex, but then I see his expression and he doesn’t look worried at all.

“Move out of my way,” he says quietly. His eyes are fixed on Brad’s hand gripping my arm and the veins are pulsing in his neck. He’s furious.

“You going to make us?”

Alex shrugs almost nonchalantly.

“Sure, if I have to.” Bodybuilder takes a swing at him, but Alex ducks and comes up with his fists raised, then as the tall guy goes to punch him, he hits him square in the nose and elbows the bodybuilder. They both stagger back, hands to their faces, and Alex comes straight for Brad, who sees what is happening and drops my arm immediately, stepping back with his hands raised in surrender.

“Whoa, we were only messing around,” he says. The throbbing of my arm says otherwise. Alex grabs him and pins him to the wall of the café by his throat. His eyes are dark and he looks so angry I don’t think this will go well for Brad.

But he doesn’t hit him, instead just says quietly in a voice that is pulsing with anger, “Go away, and don’t come near her again.”

The redhead picks that time to come running out of the café.

“Stop!” she squeals. “The manager is calling the police.”

“No need,” Alex says calmly and lets Brad go. “They were just leaving. We’re all just leaving.”

Brad and his friends leave, mumbling among themselves, and I watch them go. Brad looks back at us over his shoulder and I see the rage and humiliation in his eyes and I get the feeling that this might not be the end of it. We head off in the other direction, back to the house. Alex is quiet, his face set and hard and I walk next to him quietly.

“I’m sorry,” he says suddenly. “I wanted to take you for a nice brunch, instead I got us kicked out.”

“It’s hardly your fault,” I protest, wondering why he’s beating himself up so much about this as he sighs heavily and I get the impression that he’s disappointed with himself.

“I thought he was going to hurt you.”

“Yeah, me too,” I say and show him my arm, which probably wasn’t the best idea as he looks full of rage again.

“The bastard.”

“You scared him off,” I say, “thank you. You didn’t do anything wrong…you protected me.”

He nods but doesn’t reply and we walk back in silence. He seems to be wrestling with something and I don’t want to pry.

Inside, he sits at the kitchen table and puts his head in his hands. I watch him for a moment then pull up a chair next to him and sit down.

“Do you want to talk about it?” I ask. He sighs and looks up.

“It’s my turn to tell you something,” he says. “I was hoping I wouldn’t have to…it’s in the past and I’m not proud of it. I…just came off police probation not long ago.”

My jaw drops. He’s a criminal? That just doesn’t fit with the Alex I’m getting to know at all. Has he committed some kind of fraud at work?

“Okay,” I say slowly. “For what?”

“Violence,” he says. “I’m supposed to be staying out of trouble. If that had happened a few months ago I would be hauled off by now.”

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