The gun lowered, pointing to the ground.
He reached for the cash.
The rest seemed to happen in slow motion, though Raven was sure it was only a few lightning seconds. Shifting her weight, she launched into a side kick, aiming directly for his face. The small square heel of her sandal caught him dead center, and the sound of his high scream shattered in the air.
He staggered back, the gun still in his hand, and without pause, she gathered all her strength and aimed her next kick right at his groin. He screamed again.
The gun hit the floor.
Her whole body quivering in fear, Raven dove for the gun, pointing it at him while she scrambled for her phone. It took her three tries to open it up and dial 911.
“I’ll kill you, bitch! I’ll kill you!”
“Stay back! I have the gun!” she yelled.
“Nine-one-one, what is your emergency?”
“Help me!” she babbled into the phone, trying to catch her breath. “There’s a guy with a gun trying to rob me. My Place restaurant, Thirty-Three Hatsfield Place.”
“Dispatching police. Are you hurt, ma’am? Is the gunman still there?”
“I’m okay, I have his gun and I’m pointing it at him right now. Please hurry!”
“I have a five-minute window for the Harrington Police Department. Stay on the phone with me.”
She stayed on the phone with dispatch, watching the guy crawl on the floor while blood pooled from his nose. She kept the gun pointed in front of her, ready to shoot near his leg if he got too close. A strange calm began to settle over her as soothing words poured into her ear from her phone, and her fingers wrapped around the solid, cold metal of the gun. She was a decent shot, and if he got up, she could hold him off.
He wasn’t going to hurt her.
When the police came, she released the gun. The guy was arrested. Someone wrapped her in a blanket and took her statement. She watched the whirling red and white lights flash round and round through the window and answered everything with a slow, deliberate precision. Raven was proud of the controlled way she was able to handle the aftermath, and when officers lectured her on trying to tangle with a gunman and told her that she was very lucky, she just nodded and agreed with them. Someone gave her a glass of water. The police seemed like they were wrapping up and about to leave.
And then she heard her name being called out from across the room. Funny, it sounded familiar. Panicked, though, and not the charming, mischievous drawl she was used to. Blinking, she watched as Dalton appeared before her, saying her name, stroking back her hair, frantically patting down her body like he needed to confirm she wasn’t sporting a bullet hole.
“Raven? Raven, sweetheart, look at me. Are you okay? Are you hurt?”
Her voice sounded weird. Like it came from far, far away. Definitely shock. Too bad, she’d been doing so well.
He pulled her tight into his embrace, and the cold blob in her stomach began to melt, causing her to start to shake. “I’m fine,” she said again. Her teeth chattered but she wasn’t cold anymore. “He tried to rob me, but I wouldn’t let him.”
His hands cupped her face, and those blue eyes gleamed with a fierce protection and need that she hadn’t seen from anyone since her father so many years ago.
“I know you didn’t, sweetheart. He had no clue who he was dealing with. I’m so sorry I was late, I’m so sorry.”
She tried to tell him it was okay, and she could take care of herself, and everything was just fine. But then she did something she hadn’t done since the funeral.
She let go and burst into tears.
And Dalton caught her.
Dalton stepped through the door of Raven’s house and wished to God he were here for a different reason.
The events of the night were still unreal. She had faced down a drugged-up gunman on her own. She’d kicked him in the face, grabbed the gun, and called 911, just like in a movie. And then she’d collapsed in his arms.
Now she was deadly quiet. He figured she was about to crash from the adrenaline high and needed to be in a safe place. He made the plan to bring her to her home and stay there. He’d sleep on a couch, but there was no fucking way he’d leave her alone.
“You don’t have to stay.”
He smiled at her, knowing she needed him to keep a lighthearted tone. “You’re doing me a favor. I’m exhausted and would rather crash than drive home.”
She tilted her head, considering. Her clothes were wrinkled. Exhaustion gleamed in her cat-slanted dark eyes, and her tangled hair fell over her shoulders. Her eye makeup was streaked from tears.
She was earth-shatteringly, heartbreakingly beautiful.
“I love your place.”
She looked around as if seeing it for the first time. His fingers itched to touch all the gorgeous, sleek carved wood, from the beamed ceilings and pine floors to the tables and cabinetry to the built-ins that held her television and an array of artwork. Braided rugs added a touch of color and broke up the expanse of natural wood. The open room was decorated with simplicity and an earthy sensuality, like its owner. Magazines and books were stacked neatly on table surfaces, and in one corner a canvas cloth covered up what could be artwork. The stone fireplace added warmth. The leather furniture looked roomy and touchable. It reflected a house well lived in and enjoyed.
“Thanks. Want coffee?”
“Yeah. Can I make it? I don’t want to be up on a caffeine high till next week.”
A smile touched her lips. She led him into the kitchen, which was open to the living room and contained a cute nook with two tables and a bench overlooking a nicely sized window. She pointed out the pot and filters.
She sat down on the bench. “Can’t get your coffee strong using a Keurig.”
“Remind me to get you one for your birthday.”
“It passed. February third.”
“Remind me to get you one anyway.”
He made the coffee in comfortable silence, until the familiar dripping sounds filled the air. He took out two mugs and sat down next to her. “Want to talk about it?”
“Yes. No. I don’t know.”
He reached out and snagged her hand. She instantly tangled her fingers in his, and something within him calmed. “I’m not trying to sound like a shrink or push. I just think sharing exactly what happened before it has time to fester is a good idea. I’d also like to know, so I’m asking for me.”
She nodded slowly. “Yeah, you may be right. Thing is, I’m really okay, Dalton. It was scary as hell, and I hated myself for making the stupid mistake of not locking the door. I got sloppy.”
“Happens to all of us. You just finished your poker night, right?”
“Yes. We had about a dozen women, and it was a lot of fun. They stayed later than I anticipated, so I had decided to load the dishwasher, and I was going to my phone to text you and cancel tonight.”
He winced. Would he ever forgive himself for not getting there sooner? Then again, would walking in on a gunman have been worse? She’d managed to save herself and needed no prince on horseback. He waited to see if he’d feel an ego bite, but there was nothing but pumped-up pride for his woman.
He pushed that thought to the side, for now. “I got held up. I had texted you, but when you didn’t answer, I figured I’d just show up. What did the asshole do?”
She took a deep breath and told him the whole story. He let her pour it out, not interrupting her, just squeezing her hand when she paused. Her bravery under crippling fear was extraordinary, but now was not the time to tell her how proud he was. He handed her a mug of steaming coffee, and she drank it slowly. “I need an alarm now.”
“I can recommend the guy who did one for Pierce. He’s reasonable and does a lot of the local businesses.”
“Great. I’ll call him tomorrow. I don’t want to go back and be afraid in my second home. I refuse to let him take that from me.”
“He won’t. The police will have him behind bars. You can get cameras installed also, with central monitoring. It will be okay.”