The last few weeks, she’d turned down every invitation from men she’d normally deem worthy. Maybe they weren’t, though. Maybe her instincts were kicking in at her older age, or maybe her standards were rising, because if she’d once imagined Rick as a man she’d willingly invite to her bed, she would’ve made a terrible mistake. The whole icky way he’d blamed her for not giving him sex was one of her hot buttons. It was a good thing she’d gotten out of there before she let her temper explode.
Suddenly, footsteps echoed behind her. She stiffened and whirled around.
“Hey. I think we should talk. I think we had a miscommunication.”
She stared at Rick, a bit wary. Those huge muscles were intimidating, but he was standing a few feet away from her, his body language relaxed. She quickly took stock of her surroundings. A good scream would wake up a few houses, but he’d managed to catch her in a more deserted section by a condo parking garage. Dammit, she wasn’t in the mood to deal with this.
“I don’t appreciate being followed,” she said coldly, going for the assertive approach. He’d never acted aggressively, but she didn’t know him very well. “If you want to talk, you can call me, but I really need you to back off now.”
He lifted his hands in the air in a surrendering gesture. “Crap, I’m not going to hurt you! I’m just frustrated that we had something good going on, then I said a stupid thing and you ran away. I didn’t imagine our night ending that way.”
She raised a brow. “Oh, I know how you imagined it ending, and that’s not going to happen. Look, Rick, I’m tired and I want to go home.”
He moved in a few steps, his hands still lifted as if he were approaching a cop. “Can’t we just talk? I’m really sorry I said shit like that. I didn’t mean it.”
“Apology accepted.” She slipped her phone out of her pocket and flashed him the keypad screen. “Now, please stop and don’t come any closer, or I’m calling 911.”
“Why are you acting like I’m a violent criminal?” he practically whined, taking another step closer. “I want to get back to the way it was.” He had a pleading look on his face, caught in this weird urgency to be near her, and that freaked her out.
“It’s too late, Rick. Please stay there, or I’ll have to do something.”
Frustration shimmered from his aura. “Taylor, come on.” He took another step and would have loomed over her if he’d been a little taller.
She didn’t wait for his next move. Cursing her choice of footwear—she wished she’d worn her favorite combat boots and not sandals—she lowered her knees to gather power, then exploded into a jump, aiming her heel right at his crotch.
She hit her target.
Rick screamed and grabbed his privates, curses blistering from his lips. He staggered, giving her enough time to move around him and run toward the safety of the well-lit sidewalk, where the chatter of people rose. More pissed than scared, she muttered a litany of expletives that was more original than Rick’s had been and then rammed straight into Pierce.
“Taylor? Are you okay? Oh hell, did he hurt you?” His hands were gentle, as if checking her for broken bones, his gaze a bit frantic.
“Yeah, I’m okay. Gym Rat got a bit too close for comfort. I got nervous, so I hit him in the groin.”
Rick was just beginning to recover, stumbling a bit toward them. “Why did you have to do that?” he cried out, his eyes full of agonized pain. “I told you I wasn’t going to hurt you!”
“Well, excuse me for not trusting a muscled, sexually stimulated half stranger who stalked me on a deserted road! Are you serious? I mean, I can’t believe—Pierce? No, don’t. He didn’t do—ah, crap.”
Sinking down to primate status, Pierce jumped toward Rick and then socked him in the jaw.
Taylor shook her head. “Really? I don’t need a knight. I already slayed the dragon myself.”
“You ever touch her again, I’ll find you, and I’ll make you pay,” Pierce growled, shaking his fist in the air.
She raised a brow. “Impressive. Can we go home now?”
“Want me to call the cops?”
Rick was groaning, now cradling his injured jaw and his privates. She figured he looked the part of brute but didn’t get into many fights, since he’d dropped pretty fast.
“No. He got the point. Let’s go,” she said.
They had just stepped onto Beach Avenue, where people were scattered, talking in groups and enjoying the summer night, when Pierce was suddenly whirled around.
It happened too fast to do anything.
Rick punched him in the face.
Pierce stumbled back, his hands cupping his injured eye.
An animal shout exploded out of Rick’s mouth as he shook his finger at them with fury. “I wasn’t going to do anything!” he yelled. “I wanted to talk, but this isn’t worth it. Shit, no woman is worth this type of trouble. Go ahead and keep her, but stay the hell away from me!” He took off at a half run until he’d disappeared around a corner.
Taylor spun around. “Are you okay?”
Pierce groaned. “I can’t believe he surprised me like that.”
“Here, let me see.” She carefully removed his hand and studied his swollen eye. Oh yeah, this was gonna be a bad one. “Do I look blurry to you?”
“No, but I have a feeling I’m not going to win the Beach Bachelor contest, like Gabe did.”
She laughed, smoothing his hair back from his cheek. “Let’s go put some ice on it to get the swelling down. Do you want me to call the cops and report him? Ron could be here right away.”
He shook his head. “Only if you think the asshole will bother you again.”
“I doubt it. He’ll know we’re all watching him, and I have a sense he really was harmless. Just stupid.”
“Then let’s get out of here so I can nurse my wounded pride in peace.”
She linked her arm with his. “I think it was sweet that you tried to defend my honor.”
He shot her a glare. “We’re not going to tell anyone about this. Right?”
“Right. Do you have frozen peas at home?”
“Will corn do?”
She laughed. “Yes. Hey, I thought you were hooking up with Finance Girl.”