By the time Friday arrived, Anna was jumping at everything because her nerves were stretched to the limit.
“Girl, what is wrong with you?” Renee asked.
“My nerves are shot,” Anna admitted softly.
“Mark called last night, and he wants to take me to dinner tonight.”
“Ah, and you plan to give him your answer.”
“Yes. I’m hoping he’ll want to stay friends because he’s a good one.” Anna sighed. “Then again…”
“Maybe it’s better to cut all ties?”
“Well, good luck, whatever you decide,” Renee encouraged.
“Thanks,” Anna replied in a voice heavy with sarcasm.
Five o’clock finally rolled around and Anna locked the doors behind everyone.
Walking to her car, she got in and drove to the small Italian Bistro where she was meeting Mark.
Upon arriving, she stepped out of the car and headed inside.
Mark was at the front waiting. Kissing her cheek, he murmured, “Good evening, Anna.”
“I’ve already gotten our table and was just waiting for you.” Placing his hand on the curve of her spine he led her away, but not before he winked at the hostess who smiled back.
Anna sighed heavily. Mark didn’t realize it, but he’d just made her decision to say, ‘no’ much easier with that wink.
“I’m glad you decided to come tonight, Anna. I was afraid you might not after your reaction the other night.” Mark said after they’d ordered.
“Ah… well, let’s just say it’s been on my mind a lot this week,” she began nervously.
“No need to be nervous about it, sweetheart.”
Anna almost cringed at the endearment. Gary had always called her that and at the time she had loved it. Now it just sounded fake.
“Yes, well, maybe not,” she agreed, raising her eyes to meet his gaze. “The truth is Mark, I was never looking for a boyfriend, just a friend. Someone to laugh and have fun with. I thought from our talks you understood that.”
His eyes narrowed suddenly as he stared at her.
Anna shifted uncomfortably in her seat.
“Things and feelings change sometimes Anna.”
Insecurities began to rise in her. She began to wonder if perhaps she was in the wrong somehow feeling the way she did. Had she led him on in some way? She’d tried to stay clear of anything that would give him the idea she was interested in intimacy. She didn’t hold his hand or kiss his cheek. Although sometimes he’d kiss hers if she didn’t move fast enough to avoid it. She’d even made sure when they went out that it was seldom just the two of them.
“Are you telling me no?” He asked, eyes still narrowed.
“Yes, I am, I…”
“I don’t think so!” His voice raised slightly in anger as he leaned over the table.
She was taken aback. He’d never raised his voice before.
Not wanting to cause a scene, she pleaded, “Now Mark, calm down, please!”
Mark reached over the table and grabbed her hand, almost crushing it in his grip.
“Ow! Mark that hurts, please let go.”
He only tightened his grip more as he all but hissed, “I’ve put a lot of time and money on you and you will be my girlfriend until I say differently. Do you understand?”
“Look Mark, be reasonable… ow!” She ended her sentence abruptly when he tightened his grip even more.
Now she was feeling fear, fear of what he’d do to her if she continued to say no. She didn’t want a relationship with him though. She didn’t want to say yes to something she didn’t want, especially now that he was showing signs of possibly being abusive. She needed a way out of this mess she’d somehow wound up in,
“Sir, ma’am, your meals.”
Anna glanced up to find the waiter looking at them strangely.
Mark let her wrist go and sat back, smiling at the waiter as if nothing were amiss. Glancing back at Anna, he asked, “Smells good, doesn’t it sweetheart?”
“Yes, Mark, wonderful.”
The waiter glanced at her and gave a ‘get out of here’ movement of his head as he moved his body between her and Mark.
Anna grabbed her purse, even as she almost jumped out of her chair. Then she practically ran for the door. As she opened the door, she heard Mark yell from behind her and she took off in a sprint. It wasn’t until she was halfway down the block that she realized she’d gone in the opposite direction of her car. She was thinking of turning around when she was grabbed from behind.
“Shut up!” Mark yelled. “Did you genuinely think that puny little waiter could stop me from getting to you? You belong to me, Anna!” Turning her to face him, he slammed her back into the wall.
Anna almost saw stars as she cried out.
“I told you to shut up!” Mark yelled as he backhanded her.
Anna stared at him in shock. Where had the nice man she’d met a few weeks ago gone?
The angry look left his face suddenly as he said, “Look what you made me do. If only you had done as I asked and said yes.” Then as quickly as the angry look had left, it returned and he continued, saying, “You shouldn’t have run sweetheart, I keep telling you, you belong to me.”
“No, I don’t,” Anna argued. “I’m my own person and I don’t belong to you or anyone else.”
“Why must you argue with me?”
Then he backhanded her again before dragging her off down the street. As he pulled her along, he angrily informed her, “I’m going to take you to my house now, Anna, and show you what happens to bad girls who don’t listen.”
She whimpered in fear as tears fell down her face. What do I do? How do I get away? I’ve never had something like this happen and I’m so scared. I’m scared of what his plans for me are when he gets me alone.
Anna looked around, but nothing looked familiar. She was in a part of town she didn’t recognize. She saw an alleyway coming up though, and as they passed it, she saw it was opened ended. So, she gathered all her strength up and pulling her arm up, where he held her wrist, she bit him, hard.
Mark yelled and dropped her wrist.
As soon as he did that she turned and ran back, back to the alley and down it. When she reached the end, she turned left but had barely taken three steps when she ran into something. Or should she say, someone?
Anna pulled back quickly to apologize. She opened her mouth to speak as she lifted her eyes to the person’s face. Her words blew away like a puff of smoke as she gazed at the gorgeous man in front of her.
He had a thick head of curly dark brown hair that looked wind tossed. His eyes were a beautiful mossy green and almost seemed to glow in the streetlight above them. He also had a thin mustache along with a beard that emphasized his high cheekbones and sharp jawline.
The eyes though, those eyes captured hers and she felt as if she was drowning in them as he stared into her soul. They made her want to climb into his arms and never leave. Just looking at him gave her a rush of feelings she’d never felt before and it felt good.
“Are you alright miss?” The man asked in a deep baritone.
She still couldn’t speak but managed to nod at him.
His head jerked up suddenly, his lip curling back in what almost looked like a silent growl.
Anna pulled away from him enough to glance behind her. Then she wished she hadn’t because just then Mark rounded the corner.
“Hey, that’s my girlfriend! You need to let her go!” Mark yelled.
Anna whimpered and wrapping her arms around the stranger’s waist. Then she buried her face in his chest as she disputed, “No I’m not, no I’m not, no I’m not!”
Maybe she was being stupid, or maybe she was just acting like a ‘damsel in distress’, she didn’t know. What she did know was that despite her poor judgment in men, she decided in a split second to trust this one she was now clinging to.
“Is that so?” The man asked, “She doesn’t seem interested enough in you to be your girlfriend.”
“We just had a bit of an argument,” Mark said as an explanation. “Once I get her home, she’ll be just fine.”
Anna let a soft whimper out as a sob rose in her throat. What if the stranger let Mark take her? She didn’t have the energy to outrun him again. She tightened her grip on the man’s waist as she tilted her face up to look at him, begging, “Please, mister, please don’t let him have me!”
The man never took his gaze from Mark, but his arms moved. One arm wrapped around her waist, and one went up to allow his hand to cup the back of her head, pressing it back into his chest. He stayed silent for a moment, the steady sounds of his heartbeat calming her.
Finally, he spoke his voice rumbling in his chest where her ear lay against it, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you.”
Then in a louder voice, laced with steel, he said, “I think you need to move on. The lady said she isn’t with you and doesn’t want to be.”
“Now you listen here! You have no business getting into my business!” Mark shouted.
“I disagree. When a woman, with a handprint on her face, tells me she doesn’t want to go with the man I suspect gave it to her, I’m not going to make her. In fact, maybe we should take this to the local PD, let them sort you out.”
Silence, a long, dead silence. Then… “This isn’t over Anna because you belong to me, you remember that.”
Anna shuddered at the anger in his voice before she heard his footsteps move away.