Ella pulled her coat tighter around her to ward off the chill, ignored the fact that her footwear was far from ideal to be traipsing about central park, and set off. James was scheduled to be back in the afternoon and she wasn’t going to bother about him being tired and tear into him straight away. Of course, not in the way he’d want her to tear into him, which also happened to be the way she would’ve, under normal circumstances, wanted to do. She was going to make sure he never interfered in her life ever again!
She moved further to the edge of the pathway as she felt a presence close behind her, opening up plenty of room for the person to walk past her. And yet, the person seemed to slow down to fall in step beside her.
Burrowing her hands into her pockets, she tried to ignore the large figure that was now too close for comfort. Did she want to confront the man? Demand he move on and leave her alone? No, she’d rather avoid confrontation. Although, these days she was far more confident of standing her ground when dealing with bullies. She slowed her pace another couple of notches.
Hard fingers wrapped around her upper arm and she was whirled around to face a face she wouldn’t forget in a hurry. The face that had ambushed her in her own shop a year ago, almost to-date. Ella jerked her arm free of his grip. Immensely satisfied with the fleeting look of surprise that passed his harsh features, she stepped back and snapped, “Stop following me!”
Did she really think her command would have an effect on the man? No. She was nothing if not realistic. But that didn’t mean she wouldn’t voice her opinion.
As unimaginative as he looked, he snickered before adding, “Did you think you’d get away with it, bitch?”
She didn’t have time for this crap. Ella turned around with every intention of leaving the man-mountain in the middle of the pathway and continuing on home. If only he’d get the message! The man was back at her side, his paws around her arm again.
Ella quickly looked around, but the path was empty. Fair enough, most people were away at work at this time of the day. It was still a good hour or so before the lunch time walkers came around. Her heart was hammering in her chest, but with valiant effort, she ensured her face was blank. Confident even. And it showed. Because this time the man said, “You’ve changed.”
“You don’t really want to know how much. Go tell your boss to call you, and anyone else he has tailing after me, off.”
Ella tried to yank her arm free again, but this time he held tight. Then, without any warning, he hauled her close to him, his face a whisper away from hers. The instructor had taught her, insisted even, to jab her fingers into the attacker’s eyes if ever she found herself in exactly such a situation. And yet, as she looked the attacker in the eyes, she balked from causing such a horrendous injury to another person.
Instead, with all her might, she dug the thumb of her free hand into the crook of the man’s elbow. He let out a grunt, but his grip around her arm didn’t loosen. Instead, he drew his arm back and struck her across the cheek. Ella’s head snapped to the side. If her arm hadn’t still been locked in his grip, she would surely have taken a dive into the pavement. Possibly even broken a tooth or two, or maybe her nose.
Through the burning in her cheek, she felt his other arm slide around her waist and her feet leave the ground. He was carrying her off the path. How was it even possible for anywhere in New York to be deserted at any time of the day! But just her luck that every person in this crowded city decided to stay away from this particular patch of the famous landmark.
A little off the pathway, he put her down and shoved her into a tree. Ella yelped as the hard, cold, bark bit through the cushion of her coat and blouse. Without allowing herself time to think, she lifted her foot as much as she could and brought it down on the man’s instep. This time, his grunt was louder and he stepped away. Ella made the best of the little bit of room that opened up, bent at her knees and drove her elbow into his groin. This time the man couldn’t keep it in.
“You fucking bitch,” he bit out, cupping his groin. “You’ll regret this!”
“Stop following me around,” Ella repeated. She turned on her heel, intent on making her escape while the man was still down, but drew up short. Another man, tall and broad, stood no more than a foot from them. Jesus Christ! How many men did Christian have following her?