He yelps and jerks, and his forearm slams against my mouth. It hurts, has the metallic taste of blood pooling in my mouth. Which only pisses me off more.
“Stop!” I shout, bucking and kicking against him as hard as I can. I can’t let them get me out the door; I can’t. I’m dressed in nothing but a hoodie and a pair of fleece pants, and it’s no more than ten degrees out there. With my thin California blood, I won’t last more than fifteen minutes without getting frostbite or hypothermia—if I’m lucky.
But he still doesn’t let go, his arms like bands of steel around me.
“Get your hands off me!” I yell, this time not caring who I wake up. In fact, hoping that I wake up someone. Anyone. Everyone. At the same time, I slam my head back with as much force as I can, aiming to break his nose.
I must hit something, because he lets me go with a curse. I hit the ground, hard, my legs buckling so that I end up on my knees just in time to see Marc go flying across the entryway, eyes wide as he slams into the farthest wall.
I don’t have time to think about how that happened, though, because it takes only a second for him to recover, and then he’s charging back across the foyer, straight at me. I turn to flee, fists up in an attempt to ward off Quinn if he tries to stop me, but suddenly he’s flying across the foyer, too. He crashes into a bookshelf instead of a wall, and a vase falls off the top shelf and shatters against his head.
I turn around, looking for a way out, but Marc moves fast—really fast—and suddenly he’s standing there, between the staircase and me. I twist to the right, trying to decide my best bet to get away, and that’s when I run straight into a solid wall of muscle.
Shit. There are three of them now? Panic races through me, and I reach out, try to shove whoever it is backward. But like Marc, this guy doesn’t move. At least not until he wraps his hand around my wrist and tugs me forward hard enough to lift me straight off the ground.
It’s as he’s pulling me toward him that I get my first good look at his face and realize that it’s Jaxon.
I don’t know whether I should be relieved or even more afraid.
At least not until he yanks me behind him, putting himself between the others and me as he faces them down.
Mark and Quinn skid to a halt, the uneasiness on their faces turning to fear
“Is there a problem here?” Jaxon asks. His voice is lower than before and more gravelly. It’s also colder than the snowdrifts right outside the front door.
“No problem,” Marc says with a forced chuckle. “We were just getting to know the new girl.”
“Is that what they call attempted murder these days? Getting to know someone?” He doesn’t raise his voice, doesn’t do anything the least bit threatening. And still all three of us wince as we wait for the other shoe to drop.
“We wouldn’t have hurt her, man,” Quinn pipes up for the first time. He sounds a lot whinier than he did a few minutes ago, when it was just them and me. But he’s not slurring his words or anything, so I guess the vase must not have done him too much damage. “We were just going to toss her outside for a few minutes.”
“Yeah,” Marc adds. “It was just a joke. No big deal.”
“Is that what you’re calling this mess?” Jaxon inquires, and somehow his voice has turned even colder. “You know the rules.”
I’m not sure what rules he’s talking about—or why he sounds like he’s personally in charge of enforcing them—but his words have Quinn and Marc cowering that much more. Not to mention looking a little sick to their stomachs.
“We’re sorry, Jaxon. We just came in off a run, and things got a little out of hand.”
“I’m not the one you should be apologizing to.” He half turns, holds out a hand to me.
I shouldn’t take it. Every ounce of self-defense training I’ve ever had says I should run. That I should take the reprieve he—Jaxon—is offering and make a mad dash for my room.
But there’s a look of such intense rage simmering beneath his obsidian gaze, and I instinctively know he’s turned to offer me his hand in an effort to keep the guys from seeing it. I don’t know why; I just know he doesn’t want them to realize how upset he is. Or maybe it’s that he doesn’t want them figuring out how upset he is on my behalf.
Either way, he saved me tonight, and I owe him. I hold his gaze, telling him with a look that I’ll keep his secret.
And then I do what he is silently asking and step forward. I don’t take his hand—that’s a little too much after what he said and did earlier—but I move forward, knowing that Jaxon won’t let Marc or Quinn do anything else to me.
I must get too close for his liking, however, because he shifts himself partially in front of me again, even as he shoots Quinn and Marc a cold look that warns them to behave. The warning might be unnecessary, though, because they’re both looking pretty shamefaced already.
“We’re sorry, Grace.” Marc speaks first. “That was totally uncool of us. We didn’t mean to scare you.”
I don’t say anything, because I’m sure as hell not going to tell them what they did to me was okay. And I’m not brave enough to tell them to go to hell, even with Jaxon acting as my shield. So I do the only thing I can do. I stare stonily at them and will their farce of an apology to be over so I can finally go back to my room.
“Yeah, you know.” Quinn waves a hand at the ceiling. “The moon is doing its thing, so…”
That’s the best they’ve got? The moon is doing its thing? I have no idea what that means, and honestly, I don’t care. I’m so over this place and everyone in it. Except Macy and Uncle Finn and—maybe, just maybe—Jaxon.
“I’m going to bed.” I turn to leave, but Jaxon’s hand is back on my wrist.
“Wait.” It’s the first word he’s spoken to me since the whole debacle from earlier, and it halts me in my tracks more surely than his hand around my wrist.
“Why?” I ask.
He doesn’t answer. Instead, he turns back to Marc and Quinn and says, “This isn’t over.”
They nod, but they don’t say anything else. His words must be a dismissal as well as a threat, though, because they take off down the hall, running faster than I’ve ever seen anyone move.
We both watch them go, and then Jaxon turns to me. For long seconds, he doesn’t say anything, just looks me over from head to toe, his dark eyes cataloging every inch of me. Not going to lie. It makes me a little uncomfortable. Not in the same way that Quinn and Marc made me uncomfortable, like they were looking for a weakness to exploit. It’s more a wow, did it suddenly get hot in here and why oh why am I wearing my oldest, most raggedy pair of pajama bottoms kind of uncomfortable.
Too bad I have no idea how I feel about feeling like that.
“Are you okay?” he asks quietly, his fingers finally releasing their hold on my wrist.
“I’m fine,” I answer, even though I’m not sure it’s true. What kind of place is this where people try to shove you outside to die as a prank?
“You don’t look fine.”
That stings a little, even though I know he’s not wrong. “Yeah, well, it’s been a crappy couple of days.”
“I bet.” His eyes are serious as he looks at me, his expression grave. “You don’t have to worry about Marc and Quinn. They won’t bother you again.” The I’ll make sure of it part of that statement goes unspoken, but I hear it all the same.
“Thank you,” I blurt out. “For helping me, I mean. I appreciate it.”
His brows go up and, if possible, his eyes go even darker in the dim light. “Is that what you think I did?”
He shakes his head, gives a little laugh that has my heart stuttering in my chest. “You have no idea, do you?”
“No idea of what?”
“That I just made you a pawn in a game you can’t begin to understand.”
“You think this is a game?” I ask, incredulous.
“I know exactly what this is. Do you?”
I wait for him to say something else, to explain his cryptic comments, but he doesn’t. Instead, he just stares at me until I can’t help but squirm a little. I’ve never had anyone look at me the way he is right now, like he can’t decide if he made a mistake rescuing me from imminent death.
Or maybe it’s just that he can’t decide what to say next. In which case, join the freaking club.
In the end, though, all that brooding silence is for nothing, because he simply says, “You’re bleeding.”
“I am?” My hand goes to my cheek, which aches from where Marc’s shoulder banged into it when I was trying to get away from him.
“Not there.” He lifts his hand to my mouth and gently—so gently I can barely feel him—brushes his thumb across my lower lip. “Here.” He holds his thumb up, and in the dim light, I can just see the smear of blood glistening on his skin.
“Oh, gross!” I reach to wipe away the blood. “Let me—”
He laughs, cutting me off. Then brings his thumb to his lips and—holding my gaze with his own—sticks his thumb in his mouth and slowly sucks off the blood.
It’s the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen, and I don’t even know why. I mean, shouldn’t this be totally creeping me out?
Maybe it’s the way his eyes heat up the second he tastes my blood.
Maybe it’s the little noise he makes as he swallows.
Or maybe it’s the fact that that swipe of his thumb across my lips, followed by that lift of it to his own lips feels more intimate than any kiss I’ve ever shared with another boy.
“You should go.” The words sound like they’re being torn out of him.
“Yeah, now.” His expression feels intentionally vacant. Like he’s trying too hard not to share with me what he’s really thinking. Or feeling. “And I strongly suggest that after midnight, you stay in your room where you belong.”