Authors: S. M. Shade
like to run in the evening or early morning when it’s cool.”
eyes travel over her fit little body. She’s petite, tiny really. “You’re a
haven’t had a chance since coming to S.B. of course, but I used to.” Her eyes
widen and her cheeks grow pinker. “Not that I’m not grateful to be there. I
mean, you guys have been amazing and…”
lay my hand on hers. “Relax, I know. No one wants to end up here with us. Maybe
I could come run with you. You’d be safe if we stay together.” I’m shocked at
the words coming out of my mouth. Why did I offer that? I’m too affected by
this woman. It’s not just her beauty—and Christ she is beautiful—but I enjoy
just talking to her.
I couldn’t ask you to do that!” she exclaims, shaking her head.
no problem. I need to work out too, you know. This kind of sexy doesn’t just
she shoves my shoulder. “If you think you can keep up with me.”
morning? Six o’clock?” I suggest.
spend the afternoon talking and joking while her laptop lies forgotten in the
grass beside her.
* * * *
alarm blares at five-thirty a.m. What the hell was I thinking? The only time
I’m up before eight in the morning is if I’m still up. Coffee is all I can
manage this early before I drive across town to meet Macy at S.B.
too damn cute sitting at the counter wearing a pair of pajama pants and a tee
shirt, all sleep rumpled and sexy. It makes her look younger, more innocent,
and I just want to dirty her up. Sipping a cup of coffee, she flashes me a
sheepish smile. “Give me five minutes, okay? I just woke up.”
hurry. I’m dragging ass this morning too.”
Den greets me with a knowing grin as she enters to prepare breakfast. “Good
morning, Parker. You’re up early.”
for a jog,” I reply, trying to sound nonchalant.
scoots off her stool. “Excuse me, I need to get dressed. I promise to help with
lunch, Ms. Den.”
a good run, dear.” Ms. Den turns her wise eyes in my direction. “Never knew you
were a runner.” An impish grin creases her face.
you think legs like these occur naturally? It takes hard work and a rigorous
Save the bullshit, boy. I’ve shoveled more than my share. Just watch out for
her. She’s a real sweet girl who doesn’t need anything
she’s trying to heal.”
just a run.” I give her a quick hug. “And I’ll guard her with my life.”
I believe,” she replies with a chuckle.
loves Ms. Den. The motherly role she assumes is comforting to our residents,
and to me if I’m being honest. She treats me and my brothers like her own.
Macy announces, grabbing a bottle of water from the fridge. Shit. This may have
been a mistake. For a short girl, she’s all legs. Tan, lean, killer legs that
poke out from a small pair of black gym shorts. The white straps of her sport
bra peek out each side of her red v-neck tee, and I can’t keep my eyes from
grazing across her full breasts.
hit it,” I mumble, trying to think of anything but her tight little body. My
thin cotton shorts will never hide a hard-on.
start out with a slow jog. “Want to run along the river?” she asks.
A paved trail travels alongside the canal and continues to follow White River. We
fall into a companionable silence, only the sound of our shoes pounding the
pavement disturbs the morning stillness.
small relieved smile settles on her face as she takes in the scenery. It’s the
most relaxed I’ve seen her, like a huge weight has been lifted from her chest.
My breath heats up when she increases her speed, and I fall in step with her.
The girl can run.
you have a goal?” I ask.
five miles too much for you?”
try to keep up, kid.”
bathes her glossy black hair, making it shine. Giggling, she speeds up and we
race along the bank of the river for nearly three miles. When we come to a
small picnic area, she plops onto a bench and drains half her water bottle.
fuck do I want some. Off limits. Off limits. I can’t hang out with this woman
again. It’s too risky. “Thank you,” I reply, taking a drink.
you in a hurry? Do you have to get to work?”
am at work,” I tease, and a slight frown mars her face. “I didn’t mean hanging
out with you is work. I don’t really keep regular hours. When Striking Back
needs me, I get a call and go where I’m asked. Today, I’m checking out the site
of the new shelter Mason’s having built.”
to our feet, we start a slow jog back. “Mason’s building another shelter?”
he wants to move S.B. to a more secure location. As long as he doesn’t try to
move our gym, I’m fine with it.”
we round a curve, she pulls ahead of me, and I try not to look at her tight
little ass flexing. Tiny hairs stick to the nape of her sweaty neck. “Ev told
me about your gym. I’d like to see it sometime.”
ignoring her hint for an invitation, I nod toward our building. “We’re back.
You kept up pretty good. I’m impressed.” She could outrun me any day and I’m sure
she knows it.
teasing makes her roll her eyes. “I’m not the one who’s winded. Same time
have an early appointment tomorrow. I’ll have to let you know, okay?” My hands
run through my sweaty hair as I escort her inside.
she replies flippantly. “I should get some work done before lunch. Thanks for
playing bodyguard.” I can feel her closing herself off, pulling away, and I
know I’ve probably hurt her feelings by ignoring her comment about the gym and
blowing off tomorrow’s jog. I feel bad, but she’s better off. The last thing
she needs is me screwing with her head.
made a complete fool out of myself with Parker. The poor guy was just doing his
job, protecting me while I jogged, and I read too much into it. After my
pathetic attempt at wrangling an invitation to his gym, he doesn’t even want to
run with me again.
can’t say I blame him. I’m sure there’s a line he can’t cross with the women at
S.B. and he doesn’t need me drooling over him. My leering must not have been as
subtle as I thought, but, damn, those sweaty muscles flexing and pulling set my
brain to stupid.
been at Striking Back for almost three weeks. Though I’ve been able to keep up
with my work, I really need a day in the office. I rent a small space for
myself and my P.A. Janet. Business has been good as word of mouth has spread
about the editing services I provide for Indie authors. I’ve had to postpone
meetings with prospective clients and that’s no good.
in his office, but he looks so grouchy I hate to approach him. A forced smile
raises his lips and he says, “Macy, how are you?”
well, thanks. How are you?”
he replies. “What can I do for you?”
need to go back to work at my office, at least for a few days. Al hasn’t tried
to contact me for a while so I doubt he’ll try anything.”
frowns. “Don’t let your guard down. It may be what he wants. Where’s your
I’ll arrange for security to accompany you and we’ll see how it goes. Promise
me if you see him you’ll call the police. The restraining order prevents him
from coming within five hundred feet of you, and he still has an outstanding
warrant for assaulting you.”
course.” I stare him in his sad eyes. “Thank you so much for everything you’ve
done for me. I wish there was a way to repay you.”
more than welcome. Just keep yourself safe and listen to your security guard.”
arrives the next morning to escort me to my office. He’s a giant, wall of a man
with lightly tanned skin and dark serious eyes. “Your P.A. is the only other
person in your workplace?” he asks, steering the car onto the highway.
her office is across from mine. She won’t be in until ten.”
anyone else have access?”
Janet and I have the only keys. It’s a tiny space. A few couches in the lobby,
our offices, and a bathroom.”
door, but it stays locked.”
need to make sure.”
course.” Jensen pulls into the tiny parking lot and escorts me to the door. How
do I say this without offending him or sounding ungrateful? “Do you have to…you
know, hover over me all day? I have clients coming in and it may be unsettling
for them.” Not to mention it’ll drive me insane.
laugh is deep as he shakes his head. “I’ll make sure the exits are secure, then
watch the door from my car. My number is programmed into your cell. If he
calls, I want to know immediately.”
promise.” He follows me inside after I unlock the door, re-locking it behind
me. After checking the fire door and looking in the bathroom and both offices,
he returns to the lobby.
your cell on you. Call me if you need anything or decide you’d feel safer with
just want to get things back to normal as much as I can,” I explain.
really appreciate this. You have to let me take you to lunch. The place down
the street makes a burger the size of your head.”
He watches me lock the door behind him before returning to his car.
smiling as I settle into my office. Who knew I’d ever be so happy just to go
back to work? The last month has been a rollercoaster of stress and
embarrassment. It’s so good to step off of it and feel like I’m standing on
solid ground again.
stack of requests from potential clients waits for me on my desk, and I dive
into them. Time speeds by while I make phone calls and arrange meetings.
Fortunately, most are happy to meet on Skype instead of in my office.
race across my arms when I hear the ding of the front door, until I hear Janet’s
peppy voice call out. “Whew! Good Lord, your bodyguard is hot! No wonder you
don’t come to work.”
smiling face peeks around my office door. I’m glad the bruise and split lip
have healed before she saw me. “He’s security, not my bodyguard.” A mischievous
grin blooms, and I point my pen at her. “And don’t start with the Whitney
she replies, “I’d always love him.”
think you mean lust.”
It’s good to have you back. Want to go over next month’s schedule?”
Janet is the most organized person on the planet, and I’d be lost without her.
Between chatting and catching up, we manage to square away my calendar. My
stomach growls and I’m shocked to see it’s after noon.
me take you to lunch,” I offer.
that fine specimen of man coming?”
I reply, rolling my eyes.
in.” A brush and tube of lipstick appear from her purse like magic, and I laugh
as she primps and grooms.
just going to the bathroom, then we can go.” Maybe I can hook the two of them
up. I don’t really know Jensen, but I imagine he has to be a pretty good guy to
protect people for a living.
thoughts of matchmaking dissolve as the bathroom door falls shut behind me with
a soft whoosh. Al stands in front of me, a sickening satisfied smile on his
face. “About time, whore. You didn’t think you could hide forever, did you?”
I notice the small cabinet below the sink is open. Al has always been wiry, but
he must’ve really been determined to stuff himself in that small space. As soon
as I draw a breath to scream, it’s knocked out of me by his fist. They fall
again and again on my face and stomach until I drop to the ground.
try to roll away when his boot flies at me, but I’m not quick enough. A loud
crack echoes through the room as he connects with my ribs and there’s never
been pain like this. I never knew such agony existed. My vision goes foggy and
I hope I’m passing out, anything to stop this torture.
the relief of unconsciousness never comes. I feel every kick to my body and
face. My poor face must look like hamburger. I can’t move, can’t do anything
but lie there and take it. “Stupid fucking whore! Nobody leaves me until I’m
done with them!”
voice floats to me through a long tunnel. White hot pain streaks up my leg and
I hear the snap of another bone. I try my best to scream, but a glut of blood
is all that comes out and it’s getting harder to breathe.
a distance, I hear Janet scream followed by the wail of the fire door alarm.
I’m dying, I think with disinterest, almost like it isn’t happening to me.
Alone on the bathroom floor, the tile cold against my cheek, I surrender to
whatever comes next.
* * * *
white light or tunnel for me, only white walls and a world of pain. A sharp
agony in my side makes me shriek, but I realize I can breathe again. A woman’s
face with kind eyes comes into focus. “Can you tell me your name?”
Tanner,” I croak. “Where is he? He’ll kill me. Please.”
in the hospital. Nobody is going to hurt you here.” She rattles off a few more
questions before I drift away into the darkness.
pale blue eyes are the first thing I see when I wake. “Parker?” My voice is
Macy.” His hand grabs mine when I reach for my side. “Don’t touch it. You have
a chest tube. Are you hurting anywhere?”
Jensen get him?”
face hardens. “No, but we’ll find him. The cops are here. They want to talk to
you if you’re up to it.”
squeezes my hand. “I’ll be right outside.” I can’t help the tears that pour
down my face while I explain to the police officers what happened.
returns with Everly as the officers are leaving. After telling the story again,
I’m exhausted and the pain starts to seep through. I recall a nurse pointing
out a button to push for morphine, and I jab it repeatedly.
last thing I remember is Parker’s reassuring voice. “That’s my chair until
you’re discharged, honey. I’ll be right there guarding this room until you go
home. If I so much as take a piss break, your door will be locked. Get used to
this pretty face because you’ll be staring at it until this is over.”
is true to his word. Every time I wake, he’s there, either sitting in a chair
by the door or sprawled on a cot beside my bed. I’m discharged two days later
with strict orders to stay in bed. Parker arranges for a safe house and insists
on staying with me, though other security guards will be on duty. Al is still
nowhere to be found, and Parker isn’t taking any chances.
safe house is a modest sized three bedroom ranch house in an unassuming
neighborhood. Parker leads me inside with his arm through mine like I’m a frail
old lady. Fair enough, since I feel like one.
queen size sleigh bed rests in the center of the master bedroom. It’s made up
with clean sheets and a dark red comforter. My laptop, phone, and kindle are on
the night stand and my suitcase lies open on the dresser.
Den brought your things,” he says, pulling back the bedspread. “Would you like
to change clothes or anything?”
the nurse helped me bathe and put on fresh pajama bottoms and a tee shirt
before I left the hospital. “No, I’m good.”
far from good. My ribs hurt like a bitch and every breath feels raw and dry. My
ankle throbs and itches inside the sky blue cast. Parker pulls the covers up to
my waist and tucks two pillows behind me as I lean back against the headboard.
I fail to hide my grin at the way he’s fussing over me.
he asks, eyebrow cocked.
working,” he warns with a frown when I grab my laptop.
won’t. Just want to play online a bit. I have to have something to do.”
face softens. “I know. Bed rest sucks, but you almost died, Macy. You have to
take it easy. If you feel up to it later, you can move to the couch. I brought
good.” My voice slurs a little. Guess the pain pills are kicking in.
Wordlessly, he picks up my laptop and places it back on the table.
call out if you need anything. I’ll be in the living room.”
It only takes a few seconds for me to sink into sleep.
in my side pulls me back into consciousness. Plus, I have to pee like a race
horse. The unfamiliar silence is unsettling. It must be late and I don’t want
to wake Parker, so I manage to sit up and scoot to the edge of the bed.
my crutches are within reach, but I’m a total klutz with them. Still, I should
be able to make it to the adjoining bathroom. Getting to my feet is painful,
but swinging the crutches pulls at muscles in my side which is far worse.
stop after the bathroom will be to find my pain pills. It feels like an
eternity passes while I hobble my way to the toilet. Christ, who knew every
movement affects your ribs? Getting on and off the toilet brings tears to my
make my way to the sink, happy to see my toiletries lying on the counter. Thank
you, Ms. Den. Propping my crutches against the wall, I rest my hand on the
counter to steady myself on one foot while I quickly brush my teeth.
done in and really need to get back to bed. My fingers brush the edge of a
crutch and it slides into the other, knocking them both to the floor with a
loud crack. A piercing pain shoots through my chest when I try to bend over and
can’t do it. Despair edges out frustration when I catch a glimpse of myself in
the mirror. A damaged pathetic woman stares back at me, tears pouring down her
face. I can’t stand to look at myself, but can’t seem to look away. Purple and
blue bruises cover my swollen cheeks and circle my puffy eyes.
stuck, balancing on one foot in a strange bathroom, crying my eyes out when I’m
startled by a firm hand on my shoulder. My first instinct is to run or fight,
but Parker’s soothing voice quickly reassures me. “I’ve got you.”
meet his eyes in the mirror and sob, “Look at me.”
floods his features and he wraps an arm around my waist, steadying me. “I know,
doll, but there’s no permanent damage. In a few weeks, you’ll be back to your
usual beautiful self.” Even in this state, I can’t help but feel a warmth in my
stomach at his words. He called me beautiful. “Why didn’t you call for me?” he