But even a little dog like Chipper needs to stretch his legs every now and then, and anyway, I needed the time to think as well. I went to work today fully expecting Angelica to tell me I no longer had a job, but it was business as usual, even if she did chew me out for leaving the stock mid-take.
All last night and today, I’ve been trying to convince myself that I dreamt what happened.
He wants me.
He’s a vampire.
As crazy as it seems, both of those facts seem as equally difficult to believe.
Last night I had a dream in which Torsten and I were clasped together tightly, my body pressed right up against his, and he was burning with the heat of his desire.
In the dream, I could believe in his desire.
I didn’t have to be the self-conscious girl always questioning if I was being secretly laughed at.
And so when Torsten’s driver dropped us home as he has for the past week, I put Chipper in his harness and took him for what was supposed to be a quick walk around the block.
But my thoughts strayed to Torsten again and again, to the genuine – or genuine-seeming – pride in his voice when he complimented my singing yesterday. I thought about the way he’d flitted around the room, again trying to figure out just how the heck he pulled that off.
I just have no clue how the hell he managed something like that.
I was so lost in thought I didn’t even realize when the gang of nine men started following me until a low growl sounded in Chipper’s throat.
Now, I’m backed up against the wall of a grimy alleyway, Chipper clasped to my chest as I look over his growling head at their leader. All of the men are large, but this man is even taller than Torsten. He wears a baggy sports jersey and baggy pants, his eyes gleaming with a menacing look under the brim on his cap.
“Come on, doll,” he says. “We’d give you a good price.”
“I already told you,” I hiss. “My dog isn’t for sale. Why can’t you get that through your thick skull?”
“Damn, you’re feisty,” the man chuckles, glancing at his friends. Every single one of them laughs lowly. “Listen, sweetheart. I don’t wanna have to hurt you. But see, I’m a dog-loving man, and the last thing I like to see is a lady who’s clearly unfit for such a beautiful animal. So just hand him over and that’ll be the end of it.”
“You’re living in a dreamland if you think I’m going to do that,” I snap, trying to force my voice to sound fiercer than I feel.
Fears stabs into me at the thought of these men stealing Chipper. But I have no idea what to do. There’s pepper spray in my handbag, but that would involve slackening my grip on Chipper, and there’s no doubt in my mind that these men are behind the spree of dog thefts that have struck this area.
Freaking hell, why did I have to take him for a walk?
A violent reflex spasms in me at the thought.
How is it fair that my dog should have to go without exercise just because there’s scum like this lurking in the city?
“Well,” the man says after a pause, “I’ve got no problem being called a dreamer. Alright, darling, we’ve danced long enough now. Give him here before I cut you open.”
With a flash of his hand, he produces a knife that glints in the eerie street light.
I suck in a shimmering breath, my shield of sassiness falling away to reveal the fear beneath.
He takes a step forward and gestures with the knife casually.
“Do you really want to make this difficult, sweetheart?” he growls.
“Drop the knife.”
The voice comes from the deeper darkness of the alleyway, off to the left.
Several of the men turn to find the source of the voice, but there’s nothing there, just the dark.
I can’t help but smile.
If Torsten was tricking me, how would he be here, and why?
A nasty thought occurs to me.
What if he arranged for these thugs to attack me so that he could save me?
But no, that’s ridiculous.
He didn’t know I was going to take a walk this evening and, anyway, I just know that isn’t true. I feel it deep inside of me, a chorus of trust that sings loudly and confidently even if it doesn’t make any sense.
I don’t care.
I trust him.
And I’m done fighting that.
From above now, from the surrounding roofs, his voice comes firmly.
Now from the right, from the direction of the street.
Torsten appears between me and the man, his clothes dripping with wetness and his hair an even deeper shade of iron as he clenches his fists and gazes at the men.
“What the fuck?” the leader snaps, eyes narrowed.