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Chapter 2 - Oliver Paxton

What the actual fuck is happening right now? Maybe this is some sort of black-out-drunk hallucination or just a new interesting kind of dream. I didn’t usually dream of gorgeous women coming to my rescue. I didn’t think I had enough drinks to be hallucinating, but if this wasn’t a dream that meant the guys I had thought were my new friends had taken me out here to beat the shit out of me. Getting beat up was nothing new for me, but I thought that those days were well behind me.

I stared at the woman standing in front of me as I touched my left eye that pulsed with pain. She was on the taller side for a woman but still significantly shorter than my six three. I would guess she was about five-seven or eight and her skinny jeans hugged long legs that flared up to a tucked-in stomach and an hourglass figure. She had thick black hair that was pulled up into a ponytail which highlighted her defined cheekbones and sharp-looking noise. It was too dark to make out the color of her eyes, but I felt the intensity within her stare. If you overlooked her hard bottomless eyes, she looked like a normal attractive woman. But she had just decimated the two guys beating me up without taking a single hit. I had to admit that I was more than a little intimidated right now and the adrenaline rushing through my system was helping to clear the alcoholic buzz.

The pain from my eye indicated that this was not a dream. Which meant that for some reason this woman, she stated her name was Payton, had come to my rescue. But why? Why would a woman who looked like she stepped out of a bad-ass version of Cosmopolitan do anything to help me?

“Ohmygod that was so awesome! How did you do that? Where did you learn to do that? I can’t believe that you just did that,” I rambled in a breathy voice. I considered that my head wasn’t as clear as I had thought it was as I heard the string of words leave my mouth, but I couldn’t seem to help myself.

I took a breath and tried again. “Hi. I’m Oliver.”

But she somehow already knew that. I had heard her call me by name when she was talking to Brett. Payton didn’t respond to my lame attempt to start a conversation so I tried again. “Thank you!” I stated enthusiastically and started to move to hug her but she immediately backed away from me like she was afraid I would hurt her. Which considering the smackdown I had just witnessed, the idea that I could hurt her was insane. Yet I could tell by the set of her shoulders that she was extremely uncomfortable and was a second away from bolting. I didn’t know if it was the situation or my intuition, but I knew that I had to make some sort of connection with this woman or I would regret it later.

“So, you’re here for the meet-and-greet mixer too?” I asked as I mentally kicked myself for how utterly idiotic that sounded. But instead of continuing to back away from me, Payton paused and ran her hand over her ponytail as she nodded in response. I took a few steps away from the unconscious and bleeding men laying in the alley and was relieved when Payton followed me.

“Well, you are clearly going to kick some ass in the hand-to-hand portion of the training. I can’t really fight to save my life, which I guess was pretty obvious from how I didn’t fight back just now. Where did you learn to fight like that?” A small sober part of my brain was embarrassed by my inability to stop talking, but the rest of me really wanted to know more about this mystery woman.

Payton’s eyes shifted to look around the alley as she answered, “I grew up in a tough neighborhood. Fighting became essential to my survival.” Wow. She learned to fight so that she could survive? How bad does it have to get before a kid decided to take charge of their own safety? I had been picked on in school, but he never considered learning how to take down a guy twice my size. Either my brother stepped in to make it stop or I just endured it until they lost interest.

“Well thank you,” I told her again and meant it. I didn’t know what I would have done if they had gotten in a couple more of those killer punches. I glanced back at the two men lying on the ground and was very relieved that it wasn’t me lying there. “Maybe you can teach me some of those moves so this doesn’t happen again,” I mused aloud. I knew that part of the training would be teaching us how to fight, but I didn’t think they would show me how to dispatch people as efficiently as Payton had. It would really be handy to be able to defend myself as she did.

Payton’s head jerked towards me and she met my eyes before asking, “Does this sort of thing happen often?” I sensed real concern in her voice. For some reason, this relative stranger was invested in my wellbeing. Generally, people go through their lives oblivious and unconcerned about the troubles and tribulations of those around them. Any interest in another’s life was thin and easily discarded. It was rare to have someone in your life that really cared about what happened to you. Other than my mother, I couldn’t name another person that I believed cared deeply about me. As I looked at Payton, I could see she really cared if I was getting hurt.

“No. I haven’t been jumped since high school. People respected the geeks in college. I kind of thought it would be similar here. I know some Whistler agents and they’re cool. Not assholes like those two.” Payton nodded to acknowledge she heard me, but I could see she was still worried about me. As we continued walking towards the parking lot her gaze never settled on one thing, darting around to see all of our surroundings. I was fairly sure that she didn’t miss anything around us. I concentrated on not saying everything that crossed my mind and not stumbling as we slowly walked into the parking lot of the restaurant.

“Let me drive you home. I think you have had too much to drink to drive,” Payton murmured in a voice that I could barely hear. I agreed with that assessment and wanted to know more about this mystery woman, so I happily followed her to an old silver Kia Sportage. I climbed into the front seat and took a couple of tries to get the seatbelt to click into place. When I glanced up, Payton was looking at me with an expectant look on her face. I was relieved to notice the deadly glare that she had turned on Brett was gone, replaced by something close to curiosity. Payton didn’t seem annoyed to be carting my drunk ass home after saving me from the Whistler assholes. But she did seem to be patiently waiting for something. I just had no idea what.

“Where are you staying?” she finally asked me.

“I’m in the onsite dorms for the training program,” I replied, somewhat confused about why she didn’t already know this. She was in the training program too. “Aren’t you staying there too?”

“No. They house the female recruits at the Marriott down the road,” Payton stated as she started the car and pulled out onto the road. The dorms were on the east side of the Whistler compound located about a two minutes drive down the road. That meant my time to get to know about my mystery savior was running out. Commence operation conversation.

“Oh, well the Marriott is nice. Probably nicer than dorms anyway,” I rambled with a slight slur to my voice. In an attempt to gloss over the fact that I was clearly drunk, I added, “Where are you from originally?” The ensuing silence lasted so long that I finally concluded that she was not going to answer. It was starting to turn awkward when my drunk mind told me that if she didn’t want to talk that was fine, I would do the talking for the both of us.

“I’m from the Bay Area in California. Silicon Valley. There is currently a lot of job opportunities in that area for computer geeks like me. But my brother joined a Whistler team three years ago and I have helped them with some coding and hacking jobs in the past. I love working with them and would rather be out in the field doing exciting things and helping people than sitting behind a desk somewhere and slowly going blind from all of the coding. So that’s why I am here. As long as I can pass this training Ethan, my brother’s team leader, said I can join them. I guess I just figured because all the guys on Chris’ team are nice that everyone in Whistler would be too. I normally wouldn’t have left with guys I don’t know as I did, but they seemed nice. My personality radar must be broken through. Cause while I thought they were nice, I’m kinda scared of you.” I realized that I was drunk rambling again and had just called my savior scary after dumping half my life story on her, and slapped a hand over my mouth.

“I didn’t mean that in a bad way,” I rushed to tell her. “I wish that I was scary like you. It is a badass kind of scary.” This statement caused the corners of her mouth to tip up in a pleased ‘the cat that ate the cream’ kind of way. My mouth went dry at that look because only psychopaths liked being called scary. But a psychopath wouldn’t have given two shits if Brett and Vincent beat the shit out of someone they didn’t know. I was burning to ask Payton why she had helped me, but the spike of fear that she instilled in me with that smile rendered me mute.

Payton pulled up outside of the Whistler security gates and put the car in park. She turned toward me in her seat and her face morphed from scary satisfaction to concern. “Are you going to be able to make it to your room okay? That eye is going to leave a bad bruise. How is your stomach? Did they break any ribs?” That was the most this woman had said to me all night, and the worry evident in her voice slid through my system like the first drink of a fine whiskey, all fire and warmth. It soothed me and released me from my fear. It felt good to have someone care if you were okay or not. And if she cared this much about my well-being, then I doubted she was going to turn her scary powers of hand-to-hand combat on me.

“No. Just knocked the wind and about half of the alcohol I drank out of me. That’s probably a good thing, considering training starts tomorrow and I am not a big drinker.” I usually didn’t drink but when I did, I didn’t seem to be able to stop. Tonight, I was celebrating and hadn’t seen the harm of a couple of shots with new friends. I, Oliver Paxton, had actually been accepted into Whistler and could now walk next to my brother instead of always being in his shadow. “I’ll be fine after a couple of hours of sleep. Thanks again for the ride home.”

I stepped out of the car and was about to close the door when I remembered that the ride home was not the big favor that she had done for me tonight. “Oh, and for the rescue. I really owe you not letting them beat me into a pulp tonight.”

Payton gave me a sad smile that made the bad-ass warrior look a little vulnerable and replied, “No thanks necessary. Anyone would have done the same. I will see you tomorrow.” And with that she turned to look out the windshield and slowly drove away, ripping the still open door out of my hand.

But she was wrong. I had been in similar situations before and no one witnessing my pain had ever stepped up to help me. I was ashamed to admit that even I had played the role of the silent bystander in the past. While walking through Whistler’s large stone gates and up to the dorms I decided that Payton Taylor and I were going to be fast friends. It would be good to have someone that lethal on my side.

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