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Chapter 1

Savannah Collins

I should’ve waited to get the damned paper stamped. I knew I should’ve waited. It didn’t occur to me earlier that running around doing errands late at night would mess with my schedule. My car breaking down had definitely screwed me over.

It was almost midnight, my phone was dead, the streets were empty, and I couldn’t find a damn pay phone. When I asked someone if they knew where I could find one, I got laughed at. When I tried to borrow a phone, well, it didn’t go any better.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I felt a drop of water land on my nose. I closed my eyes, and sighed deeply, cursing my roommate Kat for sending me out in the first place. She was too busy stalking her new love interest—who had so far shown no interest—to go out and run her own errands.

I had been forced to go to city hall just before they closed at five. New management had been the excuse of why they were unorganized and couldn’t help me. How city hall now had “new management” was beyond me. I hadn’t understood the excuse when it was said to me, and learning that I’d have to return a second day just made things worse.

After that, I was left stranded at the grocery store. First, it had been my debit card—which Kat had borrowed the previous day—getting declined. Things had taken a turn for the worse when I left the store and my car wouldn’t run.

In the parking lot, while sulking for my car, I stumbled across the only guy I had ever liked throughout high school.

I had arrived at Leland three years before, and had completed my junior and senior year at the Leland High. There, I met Jude. I had always thought of Jude as the exception to my all of my boy rules. He was nice and smart and serious. He appreciated school, just like I did. He had once told me it was hard to find a girl to date. Everyone was too fake and overrated. He wanted different. I ultimately got friend-zoned when he said that it sucked that I was too much like one of the guys. And suck it did.

On senior year, Jude started dating Crystal—everything a guy would want in a girl, except for the brains, good humor, nice attitude, some compassion, and decency. But she came wrapped in a nice, plastic package. Crystal was as mean as they came, if not worse. But Jude was stupefied by her two massive… attractions, just like the rest of the boys at school. Crystal loved the attention, and she frequently flaunted the only “redeeming quality” that she had.

The crush I’d had on Jude went away, more or less. But I’d always been stuck with a bitterness that burned right through me every time I saw them together. Jude didn’t make it easy. He considered me a friend, and he thought the world of Crystal. No matter what I said to myself, I couldn’t pull a Crystal on him—I couldn’t act like a bitch. I always had to put on a fake smile and make small talk, while looking for a quick way out of the situation.

I had only managed to buy two bags of groceries with the forty dollars I’d thankfully been carrying in my purse. It had still been embarrassing when I told the cashier that I couldn’t afford everything I had in the cart, or how the people in the long line behind me had been annoyed. To sum it up, my day had been crap. Just when I kept assuming things couldn’t get any worse, they did.

Not too surprisingly, it happened again.

It didn’t start raining immediately. I would feel a drop once in a while. The problem, and what should’ve frightened me, was when I decided to take a short cut home. I took a turn in a street that was poorly lit.

Everything was fine at first. I was the only person walking that late at night. The woods on my right were creepy that late at night, but I avoided looking anywhere near those dark areas. There were lamps on each corner of the street, but it was still too dark. The shops were all closed. In short, it was a dead night.

They were on the corner two blocks down when I noticed them. I had to pass through the group of guys standing in a corner on the way to the apartment I shared with Kat. Avoiding them meant making my way longer, which was what I should’ve done—should’ve, could’ve, but didn’t.

There were five of them, and they looked a few years older than my nineteen. When I finally passed by, I looked at the ground. I just wanted to pass through. Unfortunately for me, they had other plans.

The taunts started as soon as one of them slapped one of the grocery bags I was carrying. Everything fell to the ground, and they all broke down laughing.

“It’s a little late, don’t you think, sweetheart?”

I looked at the guy who’d said that. They were all taller than me, more threatening for sure. It was five of them, and one of me. I wouldn’t compare. Innocent little me thought that if I ignored them, as much as it went against all of my instincts, they would leave me alone. It was late, I was alone, and I was scared. I took in a shaky breath, and took a step forward.

‘Just keep walking, Savannah,’ I told myself. How hard was it to just keep walking? Hard, that’s what it is. I faltered in my steps and somehow ended up on the ground. When I felt the sharp pain in my back I realized that one of them had pushed me roughly. I still felt their fingers digging into my back.

The laughter from them was louder. They were doubling over, and commenting on my graceless ways.

“If you hadn’t pushed me, I wouldn’t have fallen!” I snapped, against my better judgment.

While the words were leaving my lips, I realized the huge mistake I was making. I just couldn’t help myself. I was sitting down on the ground, glaring at them. When I tried to get up, they just pushed me down again.

“Someone has an attitude problem,” one of them said.

“Stop messing with her. Let’s just take her,” another one added.

I had been worried before. Nothing compared to how I felt when all five of them tried to close in on me. The kicking and screaming on my part started there. I had innocently assumed they were assholes trying to pick on me. My imagination was now occupied imagining rapey scenarios or getting kidnapped by a group of psychos.

The next few minutes happened too fast for me to know what was going on. One minute, I was getting manhandled by five guys who were restraining me and trying to shut me up. All of a sudden, I noticed a figure swooshing between them, and pushing them away. It was moving too fast for me to clearly see what it was, until he finally ended up punching the last guy of the previous five, standing.

I was bleeding from my hands. I’d scraped them on the pavement ground when they had tried to get me. I could feel the scrapes getting worse while I backed away from the guy now standing in front of me, with five comatose bodies surrounding him.

“Are you okay?” he asked, walking over to me and kneeling a few feet away from where I was sitting on my butt.

“You just…” I mumbled breathlessly, my eyes scanning the unmoving bodies of the guys who had tried to take me.

“They’re down for the count,” he said, turning back to look at the bodies.

I still wasn’t sure how he’d managed to knock them all out so quickly. It had literally required no effort on his part. He had been like a shadow, moving but not really there.

“How did you….?” I sounded stupid. In my mind, I could hear how stupid I sounded, and it made me cringe. I was too shocked to come up with anything better.

“One of them got you pretty bad,” he said, his hand reaching for my cheek. I finally noticed that something in my face felt like it was throbbing badly. I slowly started noticing areas in my body that hurt a lot. My arms for sure had red prints where they’d grabbed me too roughly. One of them had hit my stomach when he was trying to shut me up, and apparently someone had landed a hit on my cheek.

When he leaned closer to me, and out of the shadowy area that had previously concealed his face, I was dazed for who knows how long.

His hazel eyes were the first thing I noticed. How someone could convey so many emotions—and most of them making my stomach feel weird—was beyond me. His skin was pale, and had no blemishes. His dark brown hair was sticking up all over the place, yet still looked stylish, despite the ass kicking he had just done. He was very tall, and his muscular yet athletic build made him intimidating. I could see someone like him kicking ass, but some little part inside my brain wondered how he was able to beat five guys in less than two minutes. He had been a like a dark flash in front of me. It wasn’t until the last guy fell to the ground that I was finally able to set eyes on him.

God, he was so attractive, beautiful even, if such a word could’ve been used to describe a guy. I couldn’t keep my eyes from him. It got to the point where I told myself ‘c’mon Savannah, you can’t stare that long’, yet I didn’t want to stop looking.

“I think you’ll be just fine,” he said, chuckling.

I was thankful for the night, because it concealed my blushing face, which was feeling too warm for comfort. All I needed was for my savior to be laughing at me, especially when he looked how he did.

He was just too much—enough that I started to worry if I was imagining him. I wondered what he’d been doing out and about at such a late hour. I was out too, so that wasn’t reason enough to be suspicious of him. But he looked… dangerous. I mean, he had easily beaten up five guys in front of me.

Other than his face, which was wearing a mischievous look, he was dead on to one of my categories in the guy-a-meter.

“I’m fine, thank you… for that,” I nodded towards the guys who were still lying on the ground.

“You should be more aware of your surroundings. It’s late, and you’re out here alone,” he said, his voice smooth, but somewhat serious. I wasn’t sure if he was giving me a friendly tip or trying to scare me.

“My car broke down,” I mumbled. I had always hated people who overshared their stories when no one asked them to. It was a pet peeve of mine that had gotten me into trouble in the past. But if I made a list of all of the things that had gotten me into trouble in the past—I would sooner run out of ink and paper.

“Come on up,” he told me, holding his arm out for me to take.

I didn’t want to take his hand. I was already having an out of breath moment just staring at him. Touching him seemed like it was going to be a whole other experience that I didn’t feel prepared for.

‘Breathe, just breathe,’ I told myself. I felt petty for turning into one of those girls. Truth was, when you get hit like a truck going at one hundred miles an hour by the sight of a guy, you just have to pay attention. The good thing about feeling flabbergasted by a boy was that I could forget about the pain of my injuries. It was a small triumph, but I made the most of it, as I usually did.

“I’m good, thanks,” I said, finally sort of snapping out of it and getting up on my own. My right ankle hurt. When I was about to stumble into the ground, he steadied me. It was an innocent touch. He grabbed my elbow, which was covered by my long-sleeved shirt, and that was enough to keep me up. His hand was gentle, but his grip was sturdy.

“Thanks, again,” I said, feeling dumb with how much I kept thanking him.

He grinned at me, his hazel eyes lighting up. They were starting to look different, darker, if that was even possible. I simply pegged it on the lighting. It was too dark and the street lamps were of little help. When he caught me staring, he looked away and laughed for some reason. He had an attractive laugh, husky but lively.

“I should be fine now,” I told him, trying to stand up on my own.

I was able to. The ache on my ankle was still there, but I knew I would be able to walk. My stomach hurt. If I lifted my shirt, I was sure I’d see a nasty red spot marking my skin. I didn’t even want to see how my face was fending.

He was definitely taller than me by a lot. Every time I spoke, I had to look up at him. Compared to my five feet four, he was almost a foot taller.

“Do you live far from here?” he asked.

I tried not to get defensive with his question. He’d just saved me. There was no reason for me to worry, except I did. When dark and dangerous asks you where you live, you just have to run away far and fast. I’d learned that from my roommate Kat. Dark and dangerous meant trouble and heartache.

I had always meticulously watched the other sex.

Kat thought I did it because I didn’t know how to live. My brother thought I was scared of boys, and he was happy for that. He thought I made his job easier. My other friends thought I was just weird.

But I had seen what relationships could do to a person. My mother and father had split when I was still young. It had been a messy affair. My father had cheated, but he’d wanted my mother’s forgiveness. When she confessed to having also cheated on him, he went crazy. He thought and I quote, “Men have needs. We work, and that earns us privileges—but you,” he’d told my mother.

That had been the end of their marriage, which had been a disaster to begin with. I occasionally saw my dad, who paraded his girlfriends every time he was around. I couldn’t say my mom was any better. She seemed to have a taste for guys—mostly guys who were half her age.

“Maybe we should take you to the hospital?”

I had somehow ended up leaning closer to him, the side of my body practically pressed right against his chest.

“No, no, I’m fine. Really, I’m fine. I just got distracted,” I replied, placing my hands on his chest to push him away. My palms, embarrassingly, stayed pressed up against his hard chest for a few seconds longer than was conventional. I just couldn’t help it. He was so…

“Not that I’m objecting to this,” he said. When I looked up, he was smiling down at my hands, which were still pressed against his chest. “But we should get you somewhere.”

To say that I was feeling mortified was putting it mildly. I wasn’t even sure why I was acting like that. It was like something in my mind had shut down and I could only think with my hormones, and he was driving those crazy.

“I need to get home,” I quickly said.

I completely pulled away from him. I was chastising myself. I never should’ve touched him. I’d been right—it was too tempting. How that was even possible, I wasn’t even sure. I’d never been interested in anyone. I was always too busy working, studying, and planning. I blamed it on the recent attack I’d received. It was clearly messing with my mind in way that I couldn’t understand. I kept telling myself that that must’ve been it.

“Tell me where you live and I’ll drive you there. My car is parked on the street around the corner,” he offered. There was still that teasing smile on his lips, like he knew what I was thinking.

“You don’t have to do that. I’m sure you have somewhere to be.”

He shook his head, and reached for my hand. I snatched it out of his way before he had a chance to hold it. I didn’t need another moment of blurriness due to his touch.

“I can take you.” He pointed at the guys still on the ground and said, “you shouldn’t be out this late on your own.”

“Maybe we should call the cops,” I told him.

I felt dumb for not thinking about that before. We couldn’t just leave them there, to kidnap some other girl who made the mistake of walking out late at night.

“I will take care of that as soon as I get you home.” I didn’t understand what that meant, but he’d grown serious after saying it.

I was going to argue with him some more. The rain that I had felt earlier suddenly made itself known. The drizzle came down light at first.

“We should really go now,” he said

He didn’t wait for me to agree. He grabbed my elbow again, and started pulling me down the street. I tried to stand my ground, still not sure about following a stranger—whether he was good looking or not.

“I will carry you if I need to,” he warned me.

Because I felt like he wasn’t kidding, I hurried after him, pulling my arm from his hold. It was easier for me to think when I wasn’t touching him, even though our skin never came into contact. I couldn’t explain why he had such an impact on me. Maybe I was superficial after all. Good looks were all it took to move me. But my mind argued with that. I ended up deciding that he had saved me and that had earned him my respect, which I found attractive—and it wasn’t just his good looks.

On the short run to his car, I started feeling guilty for giving in so easily. I wanted to follow him, and that was so unlike me. I also cursed myself for leaving the grocery bags behind. I’d only had those forty dollars left for the week.

The black sleek car we ran up to was definitely a surprise. He was wearing dark denim jeans and a fitted black polo shirt. It was casual clothes, nice, but nothing fancy. I hadn’t been expecting him to be loaded, which seemed to be the case if I went by his expensive looking car. He opened the passenger door for me, going as far as helping me into the car, before running around and climbing in.

“It’s been raining more than usual,” he commented, turning back to look at me.

“I haven’t seen you around here before,” was my not too smart reply.

It was a small town. I knew some of the people and recognized several more faces. I had never seen him, and I would’ve surely remembered.

“I’ve been away, but I live here.” He smiled at me. He seemed like a happy person. In fact, he hardly looked bothered by what had happened earlier with the creeps he’d knocked out.

The soft purr of the car, combined with the rain drops splashing against the glass were a nice distraction. The woods looked beautiful at night as we drove by them. I would never willingly go deep into the woods, but they were nice to admire. It was a lovely town. I’d only been there a handful of years, when my mother decided to move again and I gave up on keeping up with her. I never got tired of all the greenery that covered the place, and how peaceful and quiet it was.

“Where do you live?”

I had to give him my address. If I hadn’t, we would’ve ended going around in circles in his car. That idea appealed to me more than it should have. The car smelled nice. A lot of it had to do with whatever cologne he was wearing. It was very pleasant. I groaned when it finally clicked that if I ever smelled that scent again, I’d automatically think back to that moment in the car with a stranger that had saved me.

It had been a strange day. If someone had told me in the morning that I’d be in that situation, I would’ve rolled my eyes and walked away.

“Say, other than staring, you don’t say much do you?” His blunt question was met with a glare on my part. It was a big mistake, since I found myself staring again at his eyes, even though it was too dark inside the car. I almost felt like the hazel in them lit up, which should’ve been impossible. It was definitely a weird day for me and my sanity was suffering.

“I’m not staring,” I replied harshly.

“Okay, you’re not. You’re just looking, admiring. Go ahead, it is very flattering.” I wanted to wipe the smirk off his face with a hard slap, but I felt that was taking it too far. I didn’t know him and he had just saved me. Clearly, he had fallen into the cocky category. I shook my head.

“Now you look mad.”

“So you’re going to narrate what I’m doing and feeling?” I had no idea why I was even getting worked up. I’d seen cocky guys before. It was as simple as ignoring them and moving on—except this cocky guy had possibly just saved my life. I wondered if it was possible to be brave and cocky. It made sense.

“What are you thinking about?”

“Honestly? Nothing that would interest you,” I answered.

“Try me,” he said, smiling cheekily.

“How did you beat up those guys back there? You were outnumbered. I mean, you look like that,” I said, gesturing at his body. “But still, five guys?”

“How do I look?” Now he was grinning again.

“You didn’t answer my question,” I said, flatly.

“I will, just answer mine first.”

He must’ve been able to see the irritation I was feeling. He didn’t even try to hide that he clearly knew what I meant.

“You look like this,” I said, again motioning at him. “You’re strong and you have a great build. I don’t imagine you spend the day beating up people. I’m just amazed because you did it so fast. I couldn’t even see you. You were like a blur.”

Disappointment settled within me when he simply shrugged. “Maybe you also banged your head when you fell.”

I was insulted by his reply. In order to save face, I settled for something that had always worked for me in the past. I shut up.

“You’re too serious,” he said after a while. We’d just arrived at the apartment I shared with Kat. He didn’t turn off the engine. When I didn’t say anything, he continued talking. “I think you’re fine. One of them got you good on your cheek,” he said, lightly brushing his hand over my skin, his fingers nothing but a feathery touch.

I hadn’t been expecting for him to touch me. As if on cue, I could feel my heart pounding way too fast. It was worse because I suddenly noticed that indeed, my cheek hurt a lot. I had managed to ignore it on the ride home.

He was so close to me, but he hadn’t even done anything other than brush his fingers over my cheek, barely even touching me.

When I looked up at him, his entire expression had changed. He’d gone from happily smiling to looking at me like if I’d done something horrible to him. He was frowning, and his eyes had definitely grown darker. I couldn’t have imagined that. The hazel was completely gone, replaced by a deep dark color. I felt a shiver run through my body with the intensity of his stare.

“I’ll be okay. Nothing an icepack can’t fix,” I told him, stuttering on the last part.

“I think you’re right. It makes sense if you’re shaken up a bit. I shouldn’t make a joke about it after what happened.”

He was giving me an apology… that I hadn’t expected. Insanely attractive guy, with what seemed like a cocky attitude, but had just saved me, who was also willing to apologize for being inconsiderate—it was clearly an off night for me.

An awkward silence settled in the car. I shouldn’t have been extending it, but I didn’t know what to say. I had never been put in a situation like that. Since it was his car, and we were parked outside of my apartment, I figured it was my turn to get out and give him a chance to say something. He didn’t.

“I guess I should go,” I told him, placing my hand over the handle, ready to open the door.

“Have a good night,” he said, and I noticed for the first time that just like everything about him, his voice was sexy—low and smooth. The only difference was that now I heard a detachment in his voice that hadn’t been there before, not until he had touched me.

“I’m Savannah, by the way. I never got a chance to tell you that.” I looked up at him, and offered what might have been my first smile of the day.

He simply stared at me like if I was overextending my welcome. “Liam,” he finally murmured lowly.

“Okay, well, I’ll go now. Maybe I’ll see you later, Liam.”

The strong girl in me wanted to think that it was good that he was behaving like a gentlemen. He’d done something huge for me, and he wasn’t taking advantage of it. I’d had a crappy day as it was.

The insecure girl in me felt crushed when his reply was, “Probably not.”

“Thanks again, bye,” I hurriedly said, before opening the door and getting out of the car.

Standing in the rain, with my jeans and long-sleeved shirt soaking wet and sticking to my skin, and several parts of my body seriously aching, was a good description of how I felt inside. I’d never been much of an emotional person. It was mainly due to the home I grew up in—with a long list of girlfriends and boyfriends from everyone in my family except me. We were all very independent people.

I couldn’t describe why watching Liam, who was a stranger to me, driving away, was disappointing.

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