Jesus! What in the hell just happened? I sure as hell hope someone got the license plate of truck that backed over me.
Seriously, what the hell just happened? And how long had I been lying here, I wondered as I finally managed to peel my eyes open. They protested the forced action. They felt rough like sandpaper, and I wanted nothing more than to close them and curl back asleep on the hard floor.
Taking a deep breath, I made the mistake of actually trying to sit up, and crumpled into the fetal position in hopes that the thousand tiny knives stabbing every part of my body would mercifully stop. If I hadn’t been lying on my living room floor I would have assumed someone had actually run me over, but the lack of tread marks on the entry floor confirmed that had not been the case.
My head felt like it was going to explode and was sensitive to any direction I purposefully attempted not to move it in. Carefully I reached behind my head and felt around for the source of my crippling pain. The knot the size of my fist was the first thing I noticed. The blood that came with it was the second.
Now, I’m not the type that normally faints at the sight of a lot blood…in movies. In reality, I would like to think I wouldn’t. Fortunately I hadn’t actually been in a position where that was an issue before, but I’d like to think of myself as having an iron stomach when it comes to this stuff. Of course, with the amount of accidents I have, it’s not unusual for me to bleed. This was the first time however that I bled this much. And I could now say with complete conviction, I did, in fact, not have an iron stomach.
I spent the next couple of minutes on the floor counting to a hundred and back again in hopes that the spots in front of my eyes would disappear and the tight clenching of my stomach would relax.
Finally after what seemed like an eternity, I finally managed to pull myself up carefully and began to walk slowly towards the living room in hopes that a few hours of sleep on the couch was all I needed to recover from my run in with the…whatever the hell it was.
Dark spots were invading my vision and I felt sluggish and disconnected. Sadly that was normal considering the circumstances (I can attest to the fact as I have managed to knock myself out before), but this was a whole new level for me. I had never managed to walk myself backwards and crack my head open to the point of gushing blood.
Using the entry wall that led into the living room for support, I chastised myself for being an idiot and knocking myself out, though I couldn’t figure out for the life of me how the hell I managed this one. In all fairness though this would not be the first self-induced accident I had that I couldn’t account for how the hell I managed it.
Fumbling around for the light switch, I winced at the sudden assault of light on my eyes and stopped mid step as I looked around my living room.
What had once been a relatively clean living space was now the center of total destruction. Furniture and various items had been tossed around. Couch cushions overturned and ripped apart. Books torn apart and thrown across the room. There was not a single inch of space in the room that didn’t have the same pattern of destruction.
Now, I’m not always the neatest of people, but I can say with a hundred percent conviction that when I left my apartment (less than hour ago), my place had not been this bad.
Swallowing the bile I was sure was going to make its way up, I stumbled over to my bag, slamming my shin against the overturned coffee table in the process, and dumped the contents all over the floor searching for my cell phone.
Dialing 911, I waited for the operator to connect and started to babble.
“My apartment. Someone trashed it. My things are everywhere. They ripped apart my couch and my books. Who the hell does that on a Saturday morning? Don’t they have anything better to do? And when the hell did they get a chance to even break in? I was gone for less than an hour just to get coffee down the street! I’m not for certain, but I vaguely recall coming home and thinking that I wasn’t alone. I think whoever trashed my place was still here when I got home and I think they hit me in the back of the head, which is such a relief because I could not for the life of me figure out how the hell I had managed to knock myself out by stepping through the door. Now I have a goose egg the size of a baseball on the back of my head. How in the hell am I supposed to cover something like that up? My hair is long, but it’s still going to look really odd that the back of head has suddenly been extended by three inches. And oh my god, the blood! I freaked out and I know that if I see any more blood I’m going to pass out cold, but I don’t know how bad the cut is so I think you should probably send a paramedic when you send the police…”
“Ma’am,” said the exhausted feminine voice on the other end. “Please, take a breath and calm down. Tell me again what happened. You said your apartment was broken into and you were attacked. Where are you now? Is there anyone else in the apartment with you?”
And with those few less-then-reassuring questions, I hit full on panic mode.
“How the hell would I know if someone was still here?” I practically screamed, my head throbbing with each word.
Common sense and I were not always on speaking terms, and clearly this was one of those moments. Of course, hours later I would probably understand the very rational question she was posing to me, but damned if I could make sense of it right at this moment. The room was spinning and I was doing everything I could to keep the content of my stomach exactly where it was. Considering the circumstances, I probably would have been hysterical either way, but the tilt-a-whirl I was currently on wasn’t helping my situation.
“Can you give me the address of your current location?” she asked, slamming on a keyboard in the background.
I rattled off my address and only managed to transpose the numbers twice before getting it right. Considering my current state, I thought that was pretty good.
“Ma’am, are you still in the apartment?” she asked suddenly.
“Of course I’m in the apartment! Where the hell else would I be?” I snapped.
“Ma’am, I need you to listen very carefully. Are you near the front door?”
“What kind of….”
“Yes or no? Are you near the front door,” she said, cutting me off mid-sentence.
“Ma’am?” she asked after a moment of silence.
Mental forehead slap.
“Yes,” I said quickly, very much delayed in the realization that she obviously could not see me nodding like an idiot on the other end of the phone.
“I have officers responding and a paramedic in route. I need you to get out of the apartment immediately and wait for the officers outside.”
“But it’s raining outside!”
Double mental forehead slap.
“I mean yes,” I said quickly, “I’m heading outside right now.”
Cell phone in hand, I grabbed my keys and ran out the door, checking behind me to see if the bogeyman or any of his henchmen jumped out of the shadows as I ran.
Holding on to the banister for dear life, I rushed down the steps as if the hounds of hell were on my heels, barely paying any attention to what was going on in front of me. As I made it down the first few steps I had an irrational image play over and over in my head of every horror movie I had ever seen where the masked killer chases the hapless damsel down the stairs, ultimately tackling her before stabbing her twenty seven times or strangling her with her own scarf.
Though this was not the case (I hoped!), the fear lodged in my throat told me to haul ass.
I made it down one and a half flights before it happened.
Rounding the last eight or so steps before reaching the first floor, spots danced in my vision again and the tilt-a-whirl took a sudden and unexpected dip. It didn’t help that at that exact moment I slipped on a puddle of water I had undoubtedly left on the stairs on my way in and I went down on my ass in the most ungracious manner.
As you may have assumed, I am not a gracious faller and I suspected that to the naked eye, I looked like something out of an old Abbott and Costello movie, squawking loudly like some giant bird with arms and legs exaggeratedly flailing about in a vain attempt to stop gravity from taking me down. Needless to say, I didn’t succeed. The bitch known as gravity eventually won, taking me down swiftly. A small exclamation of swear word escaped my lips with each hard jolt of the steps, each one more painful than the last.
The bitter stinging on my ass was a very clear sign that my behind was likely to be black and blue in just a few hours, if it wasn’t already. Just another injury to add to the ever growing list of completely stupid and avoidable injuries…just done today! Thankfully I had managed to keep my head from connecting with the steps, but the constant jolts did nothing to help ease my throbbing headache.
Pulling myself up slowly, and quite painfully I may add, I limped out to the parking lot, rubbing my poor behind with both hands. It wasn’t until the first drops of rain hit my face that I noticed my hands were suspiciously empty. Turning back into the lobby, I found my cell phone on the second to last step, smashed from the impact of my butt hitting the hardwood.
I must have made more noise then I suspected (or was willing to admit) because it was at that moment that the door to the only first floor apartment suddenly opened and out stepped what I can only describe as every woman’s erotic fantasy.
Despite the fact that I had been hit over the head, chased down the stairs by my own vivid imagination and managed to slide into home base on the last eight wooden stairs in the lobby, I couldn’t help but stare. Unfortunately for me, I was well aware that my mouth was also hanging open but the synapses between my muscles and my brain didn’t seem to be firing on all cylinders and therefore my mouth didn’t get the message to close.
Rumor about the new tenant had been running rampant since he moved in a few months ago. Okay, so rampant was probably too strong of a word, but Mrs. Kingsman in apartment 201 would never forgive me if I ousted her as the source of the building gossip.
I had only seen him twice since he moved in, both times at night and always as he was leaving the building. I could certainly attest that from the limited visibility of those two encounters, his ass alone was dream worthy.
Standing a little over six foot two, my new neighbor was mysteriously intriguing and dangerously sexy. His skin was tan, though in my current state I couldn’t begin to guess if it was natural or from time spent outdoors. I was guessing both. His hair was black and short, just past the point of needing a trim, which gave him a case of sexy bed head. His eyes were a velvety dark chocolate and his lips…yum. I was willing to bet that he had a smile that could (and probably had) melt the panties right off a girl. He had a small bump on his nose that hinted it had been broken at some point, and a faint scar that ran down the left side of his temple to his jaw. Every move he made was eloquent, controlled and screamed of danger. I prayed that I didn’t inadvertently scream out “take me”; though in my current state I could make no guarantees.
He came out of the apartment wearing jeans and an un-tucked form fitting black t-shirt that detailed broad shoulders, muscular arms with tattoos half hidden by the short sleeves, and a mouth-watering six pack. His jeans hung low on narrow hips and his feet were bare, which wasn’t surprising considering the hour. I also noted, rather belatedly, that his hair was also damp so I guessed he had probably just gotten out of the shower when he heard all the commotion outside his front door.
And yet while I mentally undressed my sexy new neighbor, I couldn’t help but curse Mrs. Kingsman. Of all the stupid things that woman wanted to gossip about how could she not mention that this man was sexy as sin, radiated danger in waves and looked like he had just stepped off the pages of Playgirl?
And of course, because karma is a fickle little bitch with teeth, our first face to face encounter would happen now.
(Just a recap for those of you just now tuning in, this “now” moment would be right after I got home looking like a drowned, topless raccoon, which meant my hair was probably now sticking out at awkward angles and the bags under my eyes needed no introduction; possibly got hit over the head in my own apartment by person or persons unknown and walked away with a baseball sized knot in the back of my head as a consolation prize; and then the immediate follow up of my very graceful fall down a flight of steps in which I also managed to break my cell phone with my ass, which mysteriously had not been in my back pocket at the time. Clearly not my best moment.)
My new neighbor must have noticed the look of a woman on the verge of hysterics because his dark eyes suddenly turned lethal, his muscles tensed and he quickly started scanning the foyer.
He looked around quickly, his dark eyes assessing the situation. A quick glance up the stairs towards the apartments above, towards the front door that was standing wide open, and then a very slow perusal of me from head to toe that had my cheeks flaming red with embarrassment. Once he determined that I probably wasn’t a danger to him, or that the noise he heard had not indeed been the pack of elephants he had probably assumed, he started to walk towards me.
Suddenly I felt as if I was being stalked again. Damned if I could determine if it was a good or bad thing.
“You okay, Princess?” he asked, his brow furrowing with concern as he got closer.
I could only imagine how bad I had looked from a distance. Closer inspection clearly didn’t reflect well on me if the look on his face was any indication.
Words escaped me. From fear, adrenaline, blood loss, or lust, I couldn’t say for sure. All I know is that I suddenly started shaking again as my adrenaline came to a screeching halt and what little energy I possessed seemed to suddenly be zapped from my body.
I felt my body give out and for the second time today I was certain the floor and my face were once again going to have another intimate encounter. Fortunate for me, strong arms grabbed me around my waist as I sank to the floor.
“Take it easy,” said Tall, Dark and Dangerously Sexy as he sat me down on the floor.
His voice was commanding, but comforting. I had never really subscribed to the whole sexy voice concept when it came to men. Women, sure, we learn to do that, but I never really assumed men learned to do it or were blessed to be born with a naturally seductive voice. I shivered at the words spoken closely to my ear, and it had nothing to do with me being chilly.
Once I was planted firmly on the ground and he seemed pretty certain I wasn’t going to pass out, he grabbed my face gently and examined my eyes. Any other time this would have been classified as the best day of my life. Instead, I was fighting off the inevitable darkness that generally accompanies head injuries.
He must have read my distress. He immediately made another head to toe examination of my body but this time, it was an assessment of damage. This was a man who had been in a similar situation before. Interesting.
My cheeks flamed red from the close and intimate perusal.
“I...I…I’m okay,” I finally managed to choke out as his eyes met mine again.
If I didn’t get a few inches between us, I was going to keel over. He made it impossible to breathe.
My breath caught as he suddenly pulled me closer.
Was this man going to kiss me? Would I let him if he tried? Well, I couldn’t answer the first one at the exact moment, but I could say that the answer to question number two was HELL YES.
I closed my eyes and angled my head upwards, anticipating the feel of his lips against mine. The sound of his breathing was close to my ear and shivers coursed through my body.
“That’s a hell of a cut,” he said softly by my ear. “We need to get you to a hospital.”
My eyes flew open as my brain finally caught up with reality.
Tall, Dark, and Dangerously Sexy wasn’t going to kiss me; he was inspecting my head injury. I must have looked a hell of a lot worse than I thought if he was able to quickly assess that my injury was on the back of my head, especially when you considered the fact I had just come tumbling down the stairs on my behind.
The quiet atmosphere was suddenly broken by the sound of sirens and screeching tires. Seconds later, the sound of feet pounding the pavement could be heard right before two uniformed officers entered the building, followed by two guys I assumed were EMT’s based on their uniforms.
Thank God they had arrived. Saved from further embarrassment.
“Ma’am,” said the youngest officer, “did you call 911?”
Was he addressing me?
I disliked him instantly. Did I look old enough to be called ma’am?
“Did you report a break in?” he asked slowly when I just glared at him.
I felt Tall, Dark and Dangerously Sexy tense beside me.
“Yes,” I said quietly, wincing at how loud my voice was and how the vibrations caused my brain to rattle around in my head.
“Which apartment?” his partner asked.
“302,” I replied.
No further questions were asked as the two officers raced up the stairs towards my newly vandalized apartment.
After the officers charged off, the two EMT’s descended on me like locust. After a quick look at the back of my head one of them quickly walked back outside saying he was going to call it in and prep the bus, whatever the hell that mean. The remaining paramedic, Brett as he introduced himself, took out a pen light and flashed it in my face. I’m pretty sure I let loose some choice swear words (and a few newly invented) as the light assaulted my eyes and caused mini explosions in my brain.
Brett started asking me routine questions about what happened, how I got my injuries, and what symptoms was I experiencing. He then threw out some random questions about my name, the year, todays date and who was our current president. I got three out of four correct. (What can I say? I’m not known for my love of politics.)
Tall, Dark and Dangerously Sexy remained quietly by my side. He listened intently as I answered Brett’s questions, looking me over from head to foot again when I told him how I had managed this newest set of bruises and fractured skull. I only tripped over my tongue a few times under his intense scrutiny so I was pretty proud of myself. Truthfully I was so damn certain I was going to swallow my tongue whole so a few incoherent words was a big win for me.
Brett probed the back of my head painfully for a few minutes before turning to his bag.
“So give it to me straight Brett?” I asked with a grimace. “Am I going to live?”
I had been attempting to smile, but the physical exertion caused my head to throb.
He gave me a reassuring smile as he took out a butterfly bandage.
“Live? Yes. Avoid going to the hospital? No,” he said positioning himself behind me. “This is probably going to sting for a minute.”
“What’s going to…,” I finished in a hiss.
Brett squeezed the back of my head, attempting to close the gash as he applied the bandage over it.
I squeezed the hand I was holding as I attempted to bite my tongue. I felt another bout of swear words a mile long sitting on the tip of my tongue, and since Brett was actually trying to help, I felt it was better to bite my tongue off then cuss out the man who had an arsenal of medical torture devices and narcotics at his disposal.
Hang on a minute.
I looked down suddenly.
Whose hand did I have?
I followed the arm back and sure enough, Tall, Dark and Dangerously Sexy was unwillingly caught in my claws. I dropped his hand immediately and turned red with embarrassment again.
“Sorry,” I said quietly.
He winked in response and I about passed out again.
“Sorry,” Brett said as he moved back to my side. “Unfortunately Miss Walker you’re going to need stitches to close that properly. That bandage is a temporary hold at best.”
I sighed in defeat. I knew it was coming, but a small part of me still hoped I would be able to salvage some part of my Saturday morning, though the fact I thought I could still go back to bed in the apartment that had just been violated clearly showed I was suffering from a concussion.
The loud clomping of heavy boots on the stairs captured all of our attention as the three of us looked up towards the two officers making their way down.
“And…,” I said, attempting to get to my feet.
Tall, Dark and Dangerously Sexy put a hand on my shoulder, restraining me as he shook his head in silent warning.
“No sign of forced entry,” said the first officer.
As they made their way down to the foyer, I took a moment to actually look them over.
One officer had a full head of gray hair, though it was misleading because he barely looked like he was older than forty five. He had a gorgeous natural tan and smooth skin, and spoke with a slight accent I couldn’t place. Since I was on the floor I couldn’t determine for sure how tall he was, but I was guessing he was pushing six foot, if not more. He obviously took pride in his work because his body was fit. If I had been suffering from daddy issues I would say he was a stone fox, but since my dad and I have a healthy, though awkwardly strained, relationship I didn’t give the idea any more than a passing thought.
His partner was younger, probably around my age in which I will only say was not yet pushing thirty…by much. He was also tall, standing an inch or so taller than his partner. He had blond hair that was well past the need of a cut and I’m guessing he worked out with his partner, Silver Fox, because clearly he too spent some time each week in the gym. He was cute, with a warm smile, soft eyes, and a perfect face.
“Whoever it was knew what they were doing or had a key,” said Silver Fox as soon as they reached me. “A few scratch marks on the lock, but other than that, no signs of forced entry. We’ll need to get an official statement from you, but we can wait until after you’ve had your injuries tended to. In the meantime, we’ll interview your neighbors and canvas the area and see if anyone saw anything suspicious.”
I nodded and chewed my lip. Why on earth would someone break into my place? I didn’t have anything of value outside of a laptop and my three year old TV, and I remember seeing them amongst the rubble that had been my living room. Whoever had broken in wasn’t looking to take anything valuable. So then what in the hell were they looking for?
“There was something suspicious actually,” I said suddenly. The proverbial light bulb went off over my head. “For the past couple of weeks I’ve noticed a black SUV sitting out in the parking lot. I only remember it because it was always seemed to be lurking in a different spot and I never once saw anyone get in or out. To be honest I found it down right Jack-the-Ripper creepy, but no one else in the building recalls seeing it. It was outside just a few minutes ago when I walked in.”
Silver Fox stepped outside and looked around. From the frown on his face I could tell he didn’t see the vehicle I had been referring to.
“What about you?” asked his partner Ken Doll, directing his question to Tall, Dark and Dangerously Sexy. “Did you see the SUV?”
(Okay, so I am aware that at some point I am actually going to have to figure out people’s names and stop calling them by these random pseudonyms. But unless you missed it, I’ve had a few bumps on the head today so anything I learned was likely to leak out of my ears later anyways.)
Tall, Dark and Dangerously Sexy shook his head. “Can’t say I noticed either but I’ve only been here a couple of months and I tend to keep odd hours.”
I couldn’t be certain, but for the briefest moment I thought I saw recognition flicker across his face when I had mentioned the SUV, but now his steady gaze was unreadable. If he was lying he was damn good. Of course in my current condition he could stand up and dance the Watusi and I probably wouldn’t have found it strange at all.
Silver Fox nodded and pulled a business card from his pocket. From my vantage point on the floor I could make out ‘Officer Clayton Wright’ emblazoned on the front.
“Please come down to the station to make an official report once you’ve been cleared by the hospital,” he said. “You’ll need it for your insurance when you file a claim.”
Tall, Dark and Dangerously Sexy stood and took the card, shaking Officer Wright’s hand.
“Thank you for your help Officers,” he said addressing both of them as he pocketed the card.
Strange that he took the card, but I was in no condition to argue.
“If you need anything else,” Ken Doll said, directing his gaze to me with a smile, “don’t hesitate to call.”
He pulled out a business card of his own and started to hand it to me.
“My cell number is on there is you need anything at all,” he said with a smile.
Tall, Dark and Dangerously Sexy intervened and grabbed the card, adding it to the back pocket of his jeans. While I know I should have been a little concerned about this behavior, especially considering I didn’t know the man, all I could do was envy those little paper cards.
The officers nodded, Ken Doll with a small flash of annoyance, and turned on their heels and headed out the front door.
Brett, who had been filling out some report quietly beside me, capped his pen and put it back in his breast pocket.
“Ready?” he asked with a smile.
I nodded and then instantly regretted it.
“Yes,” I answered with a grimace.
“Stay here. I’ll go fetch the gurney and then Stan and I will get you over to St. Mary’s in no time.”
I smiled and watched as he packed up his bag and headed out the front door.
Tall, Dark and Dangerously Sexy squatted down beside me.
“How do you feel?” he asked quietly, searching my eyes.
The sudden proximity and attention caused my temperature to shoot up about a thousand degrees and I prayed that my face wasn’t as bright red as it felt.
“I’m okay,” I said quietly. I cleared my throat, hoping my nerves would shake loose in the process. “Thanks for staying with me. Sorry about digging my claws into your hand when he put the bandage on.”
He smiled and I nearly fainted again.
“Don’t worry about it. It’s not the first time I’ve had a woman dig their nails in,” he said with a wink. “I’m Kade, by the way.”
“Addison,” I said, offering him my shaking hand.
He smiled and shook my hand. It took every ounce of my being to keep myself from yanking it away. I swear you could power our whole building with the amount of electricity that seemed to zap through our clasped hands.
“Nice to meet you Addison.”
“It’s nice to finally put a face to the gossip,” I replied, then winced at my own stupidity.
Never admit to a really hot guy that you are part of the gossip mill. They tend to frown on that.
“Sorry. That is not what I intended to say at all,” I replied sheepishly.
He laughed. “Don’t worry about it. Considering the hit you’ve taken, the fact you’re able to string full sentences together right now is impressive.”
I didn’t say anything in return. I was way too embarrassed to say anything else, especially knowing that I didn’t have the capability of refraining from saying something completely stupid. That and the fact that my head was starting to spin and I was afraid I would either throw up on him or declare my undying love. With the way my luck was going, I would probably do both.
He must have noticed my sudden distress, because the playful smile on his face faded as his expression darkened briefly before changing to a look of concern.
“How do you feel?” he asked again, bracing his hand on my back to keep me upright.
“Me? I’m great. Just great. In fact, I’m better then great. I’m fine. Never been better,” I said in a haze.
My voice was starting to slur and I couldn’t stop myself from babbling.
“Some people would take getting smacked by a window (a window!), a robber and the stairs really badly, but me? Pfft,” I said with a wave of my hand, “I just take it in stride. You know why? Because I’m a pro.”
“Well that’s good,” he said, clearly trying to placate me in my confused and rambling state.
My body felt heavy and blackness was crouching into the corner of my vision.
“I think I’m going to take a nap,” I said, leaning sideways suddenly so that my head rested on his chest.
Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t have had the balls to do something so bold to a man I had just met, especially to one who looked the way he did. All bets were off in my current state. My inhibitions were clearly non-existent.
“Addison,” he called from a tunnel.
“You have an amazing chest,” I said, rubbing my hands over his t-shirt.
I heard him call my name a couple more times but I couldn’t respond. Darkness was swallowing me up quickly and I was just too tired to fight it.