Off Limits

By: Lauren Landish

"No, I'm fine," she said, taking my hand. Her skin was smooth and flawless, and a long-repressed part of me flared at the electric tingle of her fingers in my hand. I think she felt it too, because when she spoke again, her eyes were wide and her voice had the faintest hint of a tremor, although perhaps I'd imagined it. "Who are you?"

"Dane. Dane Bell." The words were out of my mouth before I'd even thought about them, and inwardly, I started cursing myself for being a damn fool. The lights were dim. I still had my hood up. I doubted she had gotten a halfway decent look at my face. If I'd lied or just not answered, I could have disappeared into the night. But that touch . . . there was no way I'd have been able to resist that touch, even if it was just her hand in mine. It was like her fingertips cut through any defenses I had and left me totally defenseless.

"Abby Rawlings. Uh, pleased to meet you." Her voice was like honey and magnolias, the sort of Southern lilt that would’ve turned my knees weak even before I'd spent five years in the exclusive company of men. I'd been a sucker for it ever since the first time I heard it. I came from South Dakota, where there was plenty of accent, but nothing like a Southern girl, and especially not Abby. It was the educated type of Southern, not backwoods cracker barrel that mangled grammar to the point of incomprehension, but instead just added a velvet touch to the vowels and polished the ends of certain words. I took my hand back and stepped back, ready to run, when she reached out again for me. "Stop, please."

"I really should go," I said, looking around. I wasn't sure what scared me more: the fact that I'd just assaulted two men, or the fact that even in the deep shadows, this woman was affecting me in ways I wasn't sure I was ready for yet. I hadn't tested myself in that regard yet since being freed, and I wasn't sure if I could behave the way I needed to. "I . . . I really should."

"Please, Dane. Walk me out at least. My . . . my ankle's a bit twisted, and my feet are killing me," Abby said. The way she said ‘please’ was irresistible, a magnet that pulled me closer to her, unable to stop myself. "And . . . I’d feel safer too."

"You don't even know me," I replied, but my feet couldn't seem to listen to my brain. Instead of turning and taking off like a bat out of hell, I stayed where I was while she found her purse and picked it up. We walked slowly back out onto the path, looking for all the world like two people taking a pleasant evening stroll and not a potential rape victim and the man who'd just beat the hell out of her attackers. "I'm not a very good man."

"You just did the most noble thing I've ever seen someone do," Abby said simply. As I listened, I realized she was more than just a wilting flower Southern belle. This girl had some strength within her, although I suspected that she didn't know just how strong she was. There was a sort of uncertainty about it, like it was just starting to come out, or she was at least unfamiliar with speaking with men like me. "You've probably got your flaws. I know I do, but for that, I feel safe enough for you to . . . what happened to your face?"

I stopped, realizing that the light from the lamp up ahead was allowing her to see what I looked like for the first time. I reached up with my fingers and felt my face, stopping when my fingers made my right cheek sting. I'd forgotten that the guy wore a ring on his hand. "Oh. I forgot the second guy must have been wearing a ring or something. It caught my face just right. It doesn't feel like much. I'm sure it'll clean up easily enough."

"You're bleeding like a stuck pig," Abby objected, her face full of concern. "We need to get you patched up, take you to a hospital."

"I . . . I don't need a hospital. Really. I'm sure it looks a lot worse than it really is," I said. A hospital was the last place I wanted to go. A hospital would mean an explanation, and an explanation could mean involving the cops. "I'll just wash it off when I get back to the apartment. It's not that far. A little hydrogen peroxide, maybe a little bit of gauze, and I'll be fine. I promise."

"No way, mister," Abby said, sudden strength and confidence blooming in her voice. If I'd thought she had hidden strength before, I'd seriously underestimated her. "That needs to be washed out better than what you can do yourself in the mirror. You sure you won't go to the hospital?"

Top Books