Chapter 1: Reunion
Serena froze as soon as she stepped out of the nightclub. She reached for her purse and fumbled around for her pepper spray.
There were three shadowy figures huddled in the alley. They were watching her. Carmen had warned her about perverts that loitered after the club closed.
The men were only feet away from her now. Her footsteps slowed, and one of them stepped forward. Serena’s heart jumped up into her throat.
“Hey, doll ,” he drawled, clearly intoxicated. “We’ve been waitin’ for you.”
“I, uh, have somewhere to be,” Serena blurted out, her panic momentarily taking over. “Sorry. Have a good night.”
Why are you apologizing? She thought to herself.
Another guy spoke up. “This won’t take long, sweet thing.”
The implication behind his words sent a shiver down Serena’s spine. Before she could move, one of the thugs grabbed her and shoved her against the wall. She tried to scream for help but he covered her mouth. Blood roared in her ears as the men all began to laugh and crowd around her.
No, she thought to herself desperately. Oh god, no.
“Let me go!” she cried out, her voice muffled from the thug’s mouth. “Please.”
“Come on, doll ,” one of them snickered. “No need to put up a fight. We just wanna have some fun.”
Paralyzing fear shot through her body. One of the thugs reached over to play with a lock of her hair. She wanted to fight back but she could not move. She had to get out of here.
“What the fuck are you guys doing?” a voice rang through the alley. The sheer power and authority in it made the thugs jump.
A dark figure rushed forward and tackled one of the thugs to the ground. The arms around Serena loosened and she began running towards the entrance of the alley as fast as she could. The sounds of a fight echoed off the walls around her. Her head was foggy with adrenaline and fear.
Get out of here, she screamed to herself. Now!
“Serena! Serena Cooke!”
Serena stopped breathing. Her boots skidded against the pavement and she turned back around to see who was calling her by her full name. A part of her already knew who it was. She would recognize that voice anywhere.
He looked exactly as she remembered from 5 years ago. Black, tousled hair that curled slightly around his ears, piercing green eyes, and a tall, lithe frame that towered over her.
Alec’s shoulders were heaving with the force of his breaths. In the glow of the streetlamp, Serena could see that he was holding a long knife. There was blood splattered across it. The three men who forced her up against the wall a minute before, now laid on the ground near his feet, unmoving.
White-hot rage immediately began coursing through Serena’s veins at the sight of him, her fear now only background noise.
“What are you doing here?” she yelled at him, her voice filled with disgust.
Alec stared at Serena like he couldn’t believe that she was really there. Time seemed to slow for a couple of seconds. The two of them stared at one another, saying nothing. Suddenly, Alec’s eyes widened.
Serena yelped as a strong hand wound around her throat and tugged her backward. She stumbled against a body that smelled of cheap cologne and stale cigarettes. There was another thug.
“You’re coming with me,” the man rasped into her ear, the sound alone making Serena’s stomach drop. “Let’s go.”
Alec began rushing towards them, his bloody knife raised and ready to strike. “Back off,” he sneered through gritted teeth as he grew closer. “I’m not fucking around.”
The sight of Alec coming toward her made Serena panic. She looked around desperately for an escape and began struggling in the man’s hold. She didn’t care how she got out of here. All that mattered was that Alec Trivett stayed as far away from her as possible.
“Neither am I-” the man cut off with a strangled cry as Serena swung her foot back and nailed him in between the legs with her platform heels. As he released her and fell to his knees, Serena turned and swung her bag, smacking him across the head with it as hard as she could. The contents inside flew across the alley.
“You bitch!” the man screamed, rising to his feet quicker than Serena anticipated and lunging towards her.
She raised her bag in front of her face to try and protect herself, but she knew that it wouldn’t do much good. She closed her eyes and braced for the impact…but it never came. There was a loud thud. A pained groan. Fading footsteps, and then silence.
Serena forced herself to open her eyes and gasped at what she saw. Alec was lying in a heap on the ground in front of her, unconscious. In the dim light, she could just make out the pool of blood that was rapidly growing around his head. The thug was gone.
Eyes wide, Serena stared down at Alec’s limp form for several seconds and tried to calm the screaming chord of panic inside of her mind.
Hospital, she said to herself. You need to get him to the hospital. He needs help, just like any other injured person.
Her last thought gave her pause. It angered her. Alec Trivett wasn’t just any other person. She hated him. Why should she save the person who ruined her life?
“For Josh,” Serena said quietly. On unsteady legs, she stepped over Alec’s lifeless form and walked out of the alley. Only when she reached the sidewalk, under the safety of the lit streetlamp, did she allow herself to glance over to see him one last time. The memory from over five years ago hit her without warning.
“Serena, this is Alec, a good friend of mine,” Josh introduced with a wide, toothy grin on his face as the two men stepped into the house. “Alec, this is my sister, Serena.”
Alec stepped forward and held out a hand, a small smile playing on his lips. “Hello, Serena. It’s nice to meet you.”
As his face caught the light in the kitchen, Serena noticed a dark purple bruise across his cheekbone, almost as if he had been struck by someone or something. She tried to keep herself from staring at it for too long as she shyly stepped forward and shook his hand. “Hi.”
Alec stayed for dinner that night, chatting and laughing with her family. The bruise seemed harmless as he sat across from her at the dinner table, endearing even, although Serena knew that she shouldn’t have felt that way. Before she knew it, the two of them were alone in the backyard, sitting on opposite ends of the patio swing.
“Did you grow these?” Alec asked her after a long stretch of silence, gesturing out towards the rows of flowers that lined the garden. “They’re very beautiful.”
Serena turned her face slightly so he wouldn’t be able to see the incredible blush that flared across her face. “Y-yeah. Thank you.”
She discreetly admired Alec as he got off the swing and crouched down near the edge of the garden to examine the flowers more closely. It wasn’t the first time that Serena had developed a crush on one of her brother’s friends, but this time was different. Alec was different.
Her heart began to pound in her chest when Alec sat back down next to her. He was still a respectable distance away but had come closer than he had been before. When she forced herself to look up and meet his gaze, she was startled to find that he was already watching her. He was holding a flower from her garden.
“I’m going to take care of you, Serena,” Alec said, his voice quiet yet sincere. “You, Josh, and your parents. I promise.” Without waiting for a response, he reached over and brushed some of her hair back before tucking the flower in her ear. His touch sent sparks down her spine.
“Goddammit,” Serena cursed herself as she reached into her purse and pulled out her cellphone. Her hands shook as she dialed 911. “Why do you do this to yourself, Serena? Why the hell can’t you just-yes, hello, I need an ambulance. My friend has been attacked. Please hurry.”
Serena perched on the edge of the uncomfortable plastic chair and watched as the nurse checked Alec’s vitals. His skin was almost as pale as the bedsheets wrapped around him, and there was a large bandage on the side of his head. The nurse had reassured her countless times that he was going to be okay. Serena was silently grateful for her.
“I’m going to go grab the doctor,” the nurse told Serena, a kind smile on her face. “The cafeteria is down the hall if you need anything. Shouldn’t be long.”
Serena forced herself to return the smile and got to her feet as the nurse headed out. She would be heading to the cafeteria…and then to the parking lot. Calling an ambulance for Alec had been more than enough; she couldn’t believe that she had stuck around this long.
She stopped near the edge of the hospital bed for a second, her eyes roaming over Alec one last time before she left. There were changes that she hadn’t noticed before in the alley. The bruise that she had seen all those years ago had been replaced with a deep eyebrow scar and a crooked nose. Despite it all, he was still beautiful.
“Goodbye, Alec,” she whispered to him. She didn’t know why she said it. He didn’t deserve a goodbye, yet she had given him one anyway. She was just about to step towards the door when he suddenly let out a gasp. His eyes flew open and landed on her.
Just like in the alleyway, time seemed to stand still as the two of them stared at one another. Serena’s eyes were filled with terror while Alec’s was affectionate and relieved. Before Serena could even blink, Alec had sat straight up in the hospital bed and pulled her into his arms.
“Oh my God, Serena!”