The distant street light cast deep shadows in the alley. I stepped outside, sliding an abandoned beer bottle into the doorway to keep it cracked open. Regretting having drunk so much after only a bag of pretzels for lunch, I leaned against the brick wall to steady myself and dragged in a deep breath.
Even in summer, the night was pleasantly cooler than inside the club. After a few breaths to clear my head, I decided to call it a night. I just needed to find Sarah and let her know I was leaving. I headed for the door when a dark-haired man in a black sportscoat stepped into my path. I stopped just short of bumping into him and forced a polite smile. Mischief danced in his dark eyes while he scanned my body. My heartbeat pulsed in my ears and my only thought was of getting out of there.
“Excuse me.” I sidestepped to make my way around him but he shifted, effectively blocking the door.
“No problem, beautiful.” He snaked his arm around my waist and pulled me hard against him. I pushed against his chest, but he held me tight. His smoldering gaze bored into me with intensity as he leaned in to kiss me. The sickly aroma of liquor and cigarettes invaded my senses and I recoiled with disgust.
He brushed his lips against my ear with a husky whisper. “I was watching you in there. If you can move like that on the dance floor, I’d love to see how I could make you move in my bed.” Lascivious intent dripped from each syllable.
The nerve… I tilted my head back to glare at him. He, however, seemed amused by my outrage. The corner of his mouth lifted in a sly smirk but his gaze remained heated.
I wasn’t sure what to make of the guy. At first, I’d thought he was just a typical drunk—overbearing and too confident. But in that moment, I looked into sharp eyes. There was no drunken haze, no sluggishness in the way he held himself.
“You’re comin’ with me,” he said.
“Oh, no, I’m not.” I tried to push myself away again but his grip on my waist was a vise. He turned, forcing me between him and the rough brick wall that scraped my back. I pushed and squirmed in his grasp. He pressed his unyielding body against me and twisted his fingers into my curls with a sharp tug, sending pain through my scalp.
“Or, we could do this right here,” he said, his words filled with venom.
With a tight grip on my hair, he claimed my mouth. He forced his tongue past my lips. My stomach turned. I fought in vain. He dropped his hand from my waist to the hem of my dress and burned a trail up my thigh with his sickening touch, pushing the fabric upward, leaving me exposed. I closed my eyes in helpless frustration. Then, there was nothing—the hand on my thigh, the fingers in my hair, his mouth pressed against mine—torn away so fast that I fell back against the wall.
Dazed, I looked around for an explanation. I was drawn to the sound of quiet groaning. My assailant lay on the ground, holding himself up on his elbows. I followed his saucer-sized gaze to a muscular, towering man in a charcoal suit. My breath shuddered as I glanced back and forth between the two men. I couldn’t move, couldn’t speak. I was completely frozen in place.
“Get out of here! Lárgate!”
The sudden thunder of the new arrival’s voice made me jump. His dark stare burned into my attacker, who stammered and began to crab-walk away from us. Finding his footing, he ran down the alley toward the street.
The moment he was out of sight, I turned back to the man who had come to my rescue. Tears welled up in my eyes but I blinked them away. His gaze softened the moment he turned to me, and every sign of anger melted into concern.
“Dios mío, are you all right?”
Before I could blink, he was at my side.
He cupped my shoulder with a firm hand. The connection sent a jolt through my body and my breath caught in my throat. I looked down at his hand on me and managed a nod. His ragged breath drew my eyes back to his face.
“Thank you,” I croaked.
He smiled half-heartedly, “Ven. Come.” With a gentle touch, he took me by the elbow and led me back inside.
The flashing lights and thumping beat enveloped us the moment we stepped back into the club. My mysterious rescuer tipped his head toward an empty table.
“Sit. I’ll get you a drink.”
Working on autopilot, I nodded and sank into the soft leather, relishing the coolness against my overheated skin.
The sound of a throat being cleared pulled me from my daze. I couldn’t help but smile up at the man who had saved me. He set a bottle of water in front of me. His deep, penetrating gaze never left mine as he strode around to the opposite side of the table and sat down. With an appreciative smile, I lifted the bottle to my lips, took a large drink and placed it back on the table.
“Thank you,” I murmured, just starting to find my voice again.
He sank into the chair and ran his fingers through his dark, swept-back hair. His chocolate gaze heated when he looked at me and leaned forward as he spoke. “You sure you’re all right?”
“Yes, thanks to you.”
“I’m just glad I was there.” His voice grew firmer than I’d heard it before. “You should never go out into a dark alley alone.”
“I needed some fresh air.”
“That’s no excuse for putting yourself in danger. You get someone to go with you or you go into a public area.” His stern tone took me aback.
My slack jaw snapped closed. I didn’t know what else to say, so I took another drink instead. He seemed satisfied with my response—or lack thereof.
Several minutes passed before our silence was broken by his deep rumbling voice. “I’m Ian Knight, by the way.”
“Rachel,” I automatically answered. His complete change of direction had thrown me.
“Nice to meet you, Rachel.” The way he rolled the R in my name made me breathless.
I didn’t like the solemn turn the night had taken and wanted to lighten the mood, hoping to forget all the what-ifs running through my mind. “So, you make it a habit of rescuing girls in dark alleys?”
“Not just alleys.” His voice was nonchalant. A small lift at the corner of his mouth hinted at a smile.
“Oh, no, of course not. Sometimes they’re locked in towers, right?”
“Sometimes,” he shot back, and I couldn’t help but laugh.
The haze of shock I’d felt in the alley finally began to clear. It was as though I was seeing this man for the first time. His suit accentuated the lean, rippling muscles underneath and a slight five o’clock shadow had me itching to run my fingers over the tiny prickles. I squirmed, darting my tongue out to wet my dry lips, and tried to ignore the stirring of something deep in my core.
“So would that make you my knight in shining armor?” I’d spoken the words before I could stop myself.
He quirked his eyebrow and the corners of his lips curled up. “Yeah, I haven’t heard that one before.”
My cheeks heated as embarrassment crept up my face. The unintentional pun was so corny. Who knew how many times he’d heard that? Good job, Rachel. I had just made myself look like a complete—and unoriginal—idiot.
“Oh, no, I wasn’t even thinking of your last name when I said that. I just meant that…well, you know, all the rescuing and stuff, acting all heroic and whatnot.” I tried to backtrack but my words tumbled out of my mouth in a pathetic clutter.
“And whatnot?” His teasing smile tugged at the corners of his lips.
With a confident nod, I smirked through my humiliation and repeated, “And whatnot.”
His rumbling laugh warmed me. The initial tension melted away and our conversation began to flow with ease. I lost all sense of time until Sarah and a guy she knew named Wilson came over, hand in hand.
“Hey, Rach, we’re going to head on out. It’s almost last call. You coming?” Sarah glanced between me and Ian.
“Oh, yeah.” Well, it had started out as a girls’ night. I couldn’t help the disappointment in my tone. I wasn’t ready for the night to be over. My attention turned to Ian and I said with an apologetic tone, “I really should be going. It’s late.”
Ian leaned toward me. His gaze remained locked on mine but he directed his voice at Sarah. “I’ll be seeing Rachel home tonight.”
I gave her a smile and shrugged. “Guess I have a ride.” I stood, hugged her and whispered in her ear, “I’ll text you when I get home.”
Sarah gave me a squeeze and nodded before letting me go. Ian stood and placed his hand on the small of my back, sending a jolt of electricity through me. He looked down at me with a sexy, knowing smile and I melted.
“Ready?” He motioned toward the door.
“Ready.” I plucked my purse from the chair.
What the hell am I doing? I just met this guy!
I couldn’t tell if it was nerves or excitement that made me tremble. We walked to the parking lot without a word. He took out his keys and a chirping sound echoed through the quiet summer air. The flash of headlights from a sleek black sports car caught my eye in the dark lot.
That’s his car? Oh, I’m in way over my head here.
He must have some serious money, which made me wonder even more what he was doing with a middle-class girl like me. He helped me into the car before moving around to take the driver’s side. The car purred to life and Ian pulled onto the street.
“Here.” Ian pushed the buttons on an impressive touch-screen navigation system until it showed a place to type in the destination. He motioned toward the screen in offering.
“A man of few words.” I glanced at him while typing in my address. “There.”
He raised his eyebrow at me and appeared amused. “I find you learn more being quiet than talking. If you’re quiet, others tend to fill the silence.”
“Or they sit awkwardly,” I countered.
“Touché.” There was amusement in his glances.
“This car is amazing.” I ran my hand along the sleek lines of the door panel. Everything about the car screamed decadence. I wondered if it was a reflection of the man who owned it.
“Thank you.” He really wasn’t very talkative now that we were alone. We settled into a strange silence while I fought the urge to fidget. The quiet only fueled my anxiousness at being in the car with a man who was practically a stranger.
What am I thinking?
Every once in a while, I would catch Ian glancing in my direction. While he focused on the road, I studied his profile. He was so handsome. His sharp features were pure masculinity.
Maybe he’s a model?
He looked back at me and caught me staring.
Geeze, I must look like such a creeper.
I needed to come up with something to say. The silence was killing me.
“So, you live around here?”
“The East side.” He glanced at me before continuing to watch the road.
Well, okay then.
We settled back into an uncomfortable silence for the rest of the ride.
As we approached my building, my heart began to pound with anticipation.
Will he walk me to my door? Will we kiss? Will he want to come in, stay the night? Oh my God, is this what people go through when they have a one-night stand? Is this what he thinks this is?
My mind raced with too many questions.
I had no idea what to expect or what I should say. I fidgeted with my hands in my lap.
Say something. Anything!
I didn’t have time to think of something, though, before he pulled into one of the parking spots along the street. He parked, turned off the car and unbuckled his seatbelt. My breathing grew heavy. My head buzzed at the idea of him in my apartment. He turned to me for a moment, scanning my face and pausing on my lips before gazing into my eyes.
He didn’t wait for me to invite him up or to make a move to get out. “I’m walking you up,” he declared.
All I could do was nod before he got out of the car, rounded to my side and opened the door for me. He offered his hand and guided me out of the car. Always the gentleman—except that there had been times he’d stared at me and I’d seen something different, a hint of something feral in his gaze that had sent a thrill through me and made the hair on the back of my neck stand up like prey sensing a predator’s gaze.
We made our way up the stairs to my third-floor apartment without a word. We stopped at my door, he faced me and I averted my eyes. I distracted myself by fumbling through my clutch for my keys. Bracing his hands on either side of me, he pinned me between him and the door without letting his body touch mine. His heat was distracting and his presence commanded my attention. I turned my timid gaze up to meet his. He gently caressed my cheek, brushing down my jaw to the side of my neck.
His intense stare held me. I melted into the dark pools of his eyes as he leaned in closer. I closed my eyes and held my breath. My heart pounded so hard that he would have been able to feel it if he were to press against me.
“What are you doing tomorrow?”
I opened my eyes, startled.
“That busy, huh?” Ian’s expression lightened for a moment, followed by heated determination. “Lunch. Tomorrow. I’ll pick you up here at one.”
I nodded, not trusting my voice. He hesitated, closing his eyes in some sort of internal battle. Taking a deep breath, he opened them again.
He stepped back, putting a bit of distance between us. Taking my hand in his, he lifted it to his lips. His warmth barely brushed over my knuckles but radiated through my whole body. His smoldering gaze threatened to melt me when he looked at me again. My heartbeat rose and I had to take a deep breath to steady myself.
I’m not sure if he sensed the feelings he invoked in me or just lost whatever battle he’d been struggling with. He moved so suddenly that it caused me to gasp. He cupped the side of my neck and dove in to claim my lips. The kiss was passionate, needy and desperate. My insides clenched the moment he took over my mouth with his tongue. He maintained complete control of the kiss, guiding me and igniting my whole body. He reached his free hand around to the small of my back and pulled me against him with a firm grasp.
I wondered if he’d come inside, if the night would stop at a kiss or if there would be more. He was nothing like other men I’d been with. He was darker in the most delicious way. I knew that if I slept with him, I would never be the same. There was an intensity to our attraction that told me I wouldn’t leave unscathed. Being with him would mean plunging head first into a dark abyss, not knowing how it would end but wanting it so badly that it didn’t matter.
To my dismay, he found the strength to pull himself back. I leaned against the door jamb for support, not trusting my legs to hold me up. He leaned his forehead on mine as we struggled to compose ourselves.
“Try not to need any more rescuing before tomorrow.”
I rolled my eyes at him, my lips curling into a playful smirk. “Not making any promises.”
He laughed and pressed a chaste kiss on my lips before backing away. I didn’t retreat into my apartment until well after he’d disappeared behind the bend in the hallway toward the elevators.