Ethan derived little pleasure from the club scene—crowded, sweaty, loud. He never stayed long. He never had to. It normally only took a few minutes to find a sexy, shallow woman to bring to a hotel and fuck. When he was done, his association with the woman was done too. He left the hotel, usually without even names being exchanged—which is how he wanted it. He never gave out his number or took a woman home. The last thing he wanted was a nameless pickup showing up at his door looking for more than he was willing to give.
And tonight had started out no different.
It took less than three minutes to zero in on the flavor of the night. She rubbed herself like a bitch in heat against his cock. She was everything he normally looked for in a woman. Hot, curvy, and eager. But for some reason, she couldn’t hold his interest.
He left her on the dance floor and walked back to the bar and poured himself a drink-to-go before leaving Tidal Wave with a hard-on but no way to satiate his need. Why he wasn’t right now positioned between Burgundy Corset’s tight thighs, he didn’t know.
Then a flash of Angel came to the fore of his mind. Frowning, he threw back the double shot of Jack before he passed the glass to the bouncer. “Later, Props.”
“Take it easy, man.”
Ethan breathed deep the night air, freed from the smell of booze and perfume and started walking toward his bike, but then he saw someone in the distance who looked just like the woman he had been trying to forget all night.
“Great, now I’m seeing things.”
He looked again and realized it actually was Angel.
He started toward her. The bars were letting out, flooding the streets with people from all walks of life. She kept her head down, her shoulders raised around her ears. Everything about her posturing revealed her unease. Judging by her jeans and t-shirt, he guessed she had just finished work. But was she walking home? She lived in Dorchester. That was a crazy distance to walk, especially at this late hour.
In front of her, the crowd grew thick and a few guys started to shove each other.
“Where’s she going?” he muttered as she veered off down one of the side streets. If she was worried about the fight, she should have just crossed to the other side of Landon. Why the hell would she go down there at that time of the night?
She must have panicked.
He started forward at a quick pace, but when he saw three drunk guys stumbling down the same alley, he surged forward, heedless of passersby, shoving people from his path.
Angel was in danger, and his mind was suddenly blind to anything else.
He rounded the corner and headed down the alley. Through the darkness, he could see her.
“Get away from me,” she cried.
Three men surrounded her, taunting her, and pulling at her clothes. One of them backhanded her, the smacking sound went off in his head like thunder.
Ethan’s world turned red.
A growl escaped his lips as he sprinted down the alley, prepared to show no mercy.
~ * ~
“Get your fucking hands—” Angel started to scream but her protest was smothered by a sweaty hand that reeked of cigarette smoke. She strained away from the pressure and managed to bite down.
The man cried out, snaking his hand away from her face. Then he turned hard, fierce eyes on her.
“Get away from me,” she cried.
“I’ll teach you to fuck with me, you fucking bitch,” he snarled and pulled his hand back. In a blur, she saw the back of his hand coming at her. It collided with her cheek, snapping her head back against the brick wall. White pain shot through her skull. Cruel, hungry hands pawed her breasts and tugged on her jeans, searching for a way in. Her vision blurred. She turned away, willing the wall she was crushed against to somehow open and swallow her whole, whisking her away to another dimension, one without men.
And then she heard a fierce growl filled with fury the instant before the leering face in front of her whirled away. Stunned, she watched his body fly against the opposite wall. A moment later another of her assailants slammed against the wall to her immediate right. Her lone defender moved with incredible speed. Amid a flash of fists and kicks, her heart soared when she saw who it was.
Ethan grabbed the man who had hit her and threw him to the ground and punched his face again and again. One of the other guys jumped Ethan from behind, but Ethan snapped him over his shoulders. The guy climbed back to his feet, but a swift kick sent him straight back to the ground.
All three men lay unmoving, limbs twisted, faces bleeding.
“Come on,” Ethan said, breathing hard. He pulled her close while leading her from the alley.
“It’s you,” she stammered weakly, still amazed that he was there.
“It’s me,” he said, his voice low and firm. “Faster if you can. I’d rather not be here when the police show up.”
They stepped from the backstreet onto Landon. “Wrap your arm around me,” he said. “Hide your face in my chest like you just can’t get enough of me. That asshole got you pretty good. I don’t want a cop to stop us thinking I gave you that bruise.”
He led her to where his bike was parked. “I don’t live far from here. Are you too dizzy to hold on?”
She stood for a moment and tried to be aware of her body. Her head ached, but she thought she could manage. “I’m okay.”
He swung his leg over the bike. She followed behind him, resting her feet on the pegs and wrapped her arms around his waist. Squeezing her eyes shut, she pressed her cheek against his back and tried to calm her pounding heart. Still, she could see their cruel faces and feel their biting fingers.
“Hold on tight,” he said. His deep voice washed over her as they sped out into traffic. Winding through Boston’s narrow streets, the crisp air on her face sent a shiver up her back. She snuggled closer to Ethan’s warmth while she watched the tall buildings whizz passed. When they pulled onto Beacon Street and passed the State House, she sat straighter. “Where did you say we were going?”
“My place,” he answered.
He stopped on Beacon Hill right across from Boston Common. She scanned the historical row houses. “Which one is yours?”
He pointed up at the corner unit.
She took in the massive bay windows and the white woodwork, which contrasted beautifully with the brick exterior. She didn’t try to hide her surprise. “But this is Beacon Hill.”
He nodded. “I’m aware of that.”
She lifted a skeptical brow. “That’s a multi-million-dollar condo. How does a mechanic live here?
“I work hard and make good investments.”
“Oh,” she said, not knowing how else to respond.
“And my business involves more than trying to rescue young woman broken down on the Zakim.” A soft smile curved his lips while he cupped her cheek and examined her face. “Let’s get some ice on that.”
He helped her off the bike and held her hand as he led her up the front steps.
“When was this built?” she asked in awe of the surrounding history.
“1822,” he said, guiding her through the front door and over to a plush, grey sofa. His hand stayed about her waist as she slowly sat down. When she was settled, he stepped back. Panic struck her as he started to walk away. She grabbed his forearm, afraid to be alone.
“Everything is gonna be okay,” he soothed. “I’m just getting you some aspirin and an ice pack, okay?”
She swallowed the knot in her throat and nodded.
He grazed the backs of his fingers down her cheek. “I’ll be right back.”
She watched him walk away into the kitchen, her gaze traveling over his wide shoulders and powerful arms. Again, she nearly burst into tears, but not tears of panic or fear. It was gratitude that sent the rush of emotion surging up her throat.
Ethan had saved her life.
She couldn’t bear to think of what might have happened if he had not appeared in the alley when he did.
She gazed up at the towering ceiling. Tonight had been the third time he had come to her rescue, only this time she had been in no position to refuse his aid. Her eyes shifted to the large marble fireplace and the massive bay window. The wide wood panels around the hearth gleamed under the delicate crystal chandelier—both, she assumed, were original to the house. The art and furniture suited the historical home, but also boasted clean lines and simple colors, which brought the space into the twenty-first century. As she took in the surrounding opulence, she couldn’t help but wonder after its owner—who the hell was Ethan Calloway?
“Here,” he said.
She looked up. He stood above her; the brows framing his ice-blue eyes were pinched with concern. “Thank you,” she said, taking the aspirin and water from his hand.
“This is not where I imagined you lived,” she said absently before she swallowed the medicine. Suddenly exhausted, she set down the glass, slumped back against the sofa, and closed her eyes. She could unravel the mysteries of Ethan when her head wasn’t pounding so hard.
She looked at him as he sat down beside her. He inspected her cheek, his gaze intense and probing. Then he leaned close. His warm breath caressed her skin while he gently pressed a linen-covered icepack to her bruise.
“How are you feeling?” he asked softly.
She swallowed hard and tried to speak, but she couldn’t get the words out. Fatigue dragged her down. Her head was spinning. A wave of nausea gripped her stomach. Then her legs started to tremble. She tried to take a deep breath but couldn’t. The tremors gripping her body intensified. Shaking all over, she tried to stand. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
He wrapped his arm around her waist. “It’s okay, Angel…Angel, look at me.”
She did as she was told.
His deep-set eyes held hers. “You’ve been running on adrenaline, but your tank’s empty. That’s all this is. You just need some rest.” He slid his arm beneath her legs and effortlessly scooped her into his arms. “Let’s make you more comfortable.”
He carried her down a shadowy hallway and into a large bedroom, illuminated only by the city lights slanting through the window. Supporting her weight with one arm, he pulled the covers back and laid her down. She snuggled into the warmth, enveloped in his masculine scent.
~ * ~
Ethan eased his blanket over her shoulders. She looked so small curled up in a tiny ball in his king-sized bed. He sat beside her and again gently pressed the icepack to her cheek. “Can I get in touch with your family for you?” he asked quietly.
She shook her head. “I don’t have one.”
“What about a roommate?”
Again, she shook her head.
“There’s no one I can call?”
“I don’t have anyone,” she said. Then her eyes flew open. She sat up. “But my boss will be expecting me at work tomorrow.” She gripped the blanket in her fist so hard, her knuckles turned white. “Maybe I should get going.”
A pang of tenderness struck his heart. She was alone in the world. No wonder she lived with such fear.
“You don’t need to be afraid of me, Angel. I’m not going to hurt you.”
She shook her head, her eyes downcast. “I know, but it’s late. I really need to—”
He cupped her cheek, forcing her to meet his gaze. “You need to stay here. I’ll take care of you.”
Her shallow breaths grew deeper while she met his gaze. Slowly, she uncurled her fingers, releasing the blanket, and her shoulders eased back in place. He helped her lay back down, then brushed her silken brown hair away from her face. A slight smile curved her lips as she looked up at him with those big, innocent brown eyes. In that moment, he saw himself in her eyes—the way she thought of him. He saw a good man—too good. Not him.
Sure, he saved her from the bad guys, but that didn’t make him a hero. He used woman. He didn’t tuck them in.
She smiled up at him sleepily. Then her lids fluttered and drooped. She was like fine-boned china, delicate, fragile.
Breakable. And tonight she had almost been destroyed.
He stood, raking a hand through his hair as he looked down at her, her breaths slow and even as she slept.
What if he hadn’t been outside Tidal Wave at that moment?
Fury coursed through him as he walked from the room, leaving the door partially open. He stopped in the bathroom and pulled off his sweaty t-shirt before washing the dried blood from his knuckles. Those assholes that attacked her deserved so much more for their crime than a good beating. Sure, he had left them broken and bleeding, but if he could, he would go back and beat the life from them.
Head pounding, he went to the kitchen and poured a tall glass of water, which he downed. Then he strode into his office and headed straight for the Scotch. Glass in hand, he eased into a high-backed leather chair. Staring out over the lights surrounding Boston Common, he fought for calm. Morning was only a few hours away. He may as well just consider it tomorrow.
A muffled whimper penetrated his thoughts. He jumped to his feet, sprinted down the hallway, and threw open Angel’s door. She thrashed about under the covers, crying for help, deep in the throes of a nightmare.
He pulled her into his arms. “Wake up, Angel.”
She jerked awake, her eyes wide and fearful, her gaze darting about the room.
He cupped her cheeks, forcing her to look at him. “It’s okay, Angel. It was only a dream.”
After a moment, she nodded, and wrapped her thin arms his neck. She squeezed hard, burying her face in the hollow of his throat. Her tears wet his skin. “It’s okay. I’ve got you,” he crooned.
Holding her close, he rocked her and continued whispering soothing words in her ear. It had been a long time since he had held a woman. As he felt her body curve into his, he realized that maybe he never had, not really. He inhaled the subtle scent of her shampoo. Her long, soft hair cascaded like silk across his arms.
“Damn,” he whispered. “This feels good.”
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