He reaches out to steady me, but I don’t want his help. I’d rather fall flat on my ass than take anything from a guy who thinks manhandling me is an effective means of communication.
“Hey, chill, Ophelia. I’m not going to hurt you.”
Yeah, I might believe that if I didn’t still feel the imprint of his fingers around my biceps. From the way it aches, I’m pretty sure he’s left a bruise. “Fine. Then let me go back to my room. I need to call my mom.” I repeat the info with the hope that it will sink into his thick skull.
How the hell did I get myself into this situation? I thought Harvey was a nice, harmless guy—probably because he reminds me of Remi’s BFF, Max, who wouldn’t hurt a fly. I even wrote off the creepy way I saw him looking at me and some of the other girls as nervousness because he lacked social skills. It never occurred to me that something more sinister was going on. But obviously that was my freaking mistake. Turns out Harvey’s plans include a late afternoon f**k fest, one I’m suddenly thinking he won’t mind making into a rape fest if I don’t cooperate.
And I’m definitely not cooperating. But I’m not going to show fear, either. Not to this as**ole who has delusions of being a player. It may be my own stupidity that got me into this mess—when the hell am I going to learn?—but I’m done playing nice. All that does is get me into trouble.
When he doesn’t say anything, I start to move around him, taking great care not to touch him. But he moves with me. Blocks my path. Goddamnit. He’s got a teasing smile on his face, like this is all a game, but I don’t want to play. Not now. Not with him.
“Come on, Harvey. I don’t have time for this.”
“Sure you do. You don’t have any plans tonight.”
The first stages of fear work their way through the mad. “How do you know what plans I have?”
“I asked around. I wanted to make sure you were free to have dinner with me.”
“Is there even anything wrong with your car?” I ask as all the pieces come together in my head.
He looks down, pretends to be embarrassed. “I just wanted an excuse to talk to you.”
Fuck. Every nerve ending I have is standing up in alarm now. I glance around, try to ignore my racing heart and sweating palms, but it’s not working. Not when panic is welling up inside me like a balloon on the verge of popping. It’s getting hard to breathe, hard to think. I’ve been here before, know where this is going to end up if I don’t get him away from me.
I want to make a run for it, but I’m still clumsy in snow. Half the time I end up falling if I try to walk too fast, and the last thing I want right now is to be on the ground with Harvey above me. “Let’s head to the cafeteria, then,” I finally say, hoping to appease him by sorta going along with what he wants. “I skipped lunch, so I’m totally up for a snack or something.”
He smiles triumphantly at my words, like he’s somehow won something. It makes me burn, and a million insults find their way to my tongue. I don’t voice any of them, though. Not out here where no one can hear me scream. Not out here where I’m at the mercy of this giant ape and his disgusting libido. As soon as I’m back at the employee lodge, I’m telling him off, then running to my room. And I’m not coming out until I’ve practiced all those self-defense moves Remi taught me when we first started dating.
There’s no way this is happening to me again. No way in hell.
I move to go around Harvey a second time, and this time he lets me pass. The panic recedes and I start to breathe easier, start to question if all the shit with my mom’s boyfriends through the years has made me overreact to what was nothing more than a simple advance.
But then he grabs me from behind, wraps his arms around my middle, and pulls my back flush against his front. He bends down and whispers something in my ear, his breath hot and disgusting against my cheek. I can’t hear what he’s saying over my own harsh breathing and the strangled screams working their way out of my throat. “Stop!” I tell him, struggling against him with every ounce of strength I have.
He just laughs, holds me tighter. That’s when I feel it poking against my lower back. He’s hard. My stomach turns, and for a second I think I really am going to puke. But I can’t, not now. He’s big and strong and about seven inches taller than I am, and I need every ounce of concentration I have if I’m going to get out of this.
“Relax,” he says as he lifts me off my feet in an obscene version of a bear hug. “I’m just playing with you.”
“Then let me go. I don’t want to play.” I jab my elbow back into his ribs, but it doesn’t have much impact. “Please, let me go.”
“Sure, of course.” He puts my feet back on the ground, loosens his grip just enough to slide a hand under my jacket and sweater. His rough palm is on my stomach now, on my skin, and terror is a deadly sharp icicle within me. “I’m not going to hurt you, Ophelia. I just want—”
He goes flying before he can finish his reassurance. I don’t expect it and I’m straining so hard in the other direction that I stumble forward, hard, the second he releases me. A strong arm wraps around my waist right before I slam into the ground, keeps me from falling face-first into the snow. I know it isn’t Harvey this time, can feel the difference in the arm holding me and the spicy cinnamon scent of the man it belongs to, but still I freak out. Start shoving and clawing to get away. I can’t think, can’t breathe. I can’t—
He lets go immediately, takes a couple of steps away. “Hey, Ophelia, are you all right?”
I turn my head to see Z standing there, his hands raised in front of him in a gesture I know he means to be nonthreatening, reassuring. And it is. Somehow I know that the rage burning in his eyes isn’t for me. That he won’t hurt me.
Harvey, though, is another matter entirely. Z’s looking at him like he wants to kill him. And maybe it’s wrong of me, but I just can’t work up the will to care. Not right now, when I can still feel Harvey’s hand on my stomach, his fingers creeping toward my bra.
Still, I hate anyone seeing me this vulnerable. I dash a glove across my face, brush at the weak, useless tears I didn’t even know I was crying. But they’re frozen to my cheeks and they don’t budge. Not really.
“Answer me, Ophelia.” Z’s voice is strained, worried. “Are. You. All. Right?”
“I’m fine.” I take a deep breath, tell myself that it’s true. “I’m fine.”
He doesn’t look convinced.
“I swear,” I reassure him, making sure my voice doesn’t tremble this time. “I’m okay.”
It must work, because he nods before switching his attention to Harvey, who is just now climbing off the ground where Z threw him. “Hey, man, what the hell was that for?” he complains as he picks his hat out of the snow.
Z doesn’t answer, just plows a fist straight into Harvey’s face. Harvey rears back as blood starts leaking from a cut on his cheekbone. He touches his cheek, looks down at his crimson-streaked gloves. Then launches himself at Z with a bellow of rage.
He’s bigger than Z—a couple of inches taller and probably fifty pounds heavier—but Z doesn’t so much as flinch. He just meets him head-on, with a fist to the stomach so powerful that it leaves Harvey gasping for air. Then Z really gets to work.
It’s over almost before it starts. A few jabs, an uppercut, and a hard roundhouse to the gut and Harvey is laid out in the snow, groaning. Z stands over him, fists clenched, face livid with rage. “What’s the matter, asshole? You only like to hurt girls? Come on, I’ll give you a free shot. Let you see what it feels like to hit a man this time.”
Harvey doesn’t move, so Z bends down, goes to punch him again. I get in the middle before his fist can land. Defending someone is one thing, but if Z does any more damage, he’s going to end up in jail, and he doesn’t deserve that, not when he’s just trying to help me.
“That’s enough.” I put my hand on his elbow. “Harvey’s had enough.”
Z shrugs me off. “It’s not enough. Someone needs to teach the f**ker that he can’t go around putting his hands on women just because he feels like it.” He draws one booted foot back and kicks Harvey in the ribs. Then does it a second and a third time.
Harvey groans, curls up into a little ball to get away from Z’s blows. “Z, stop!” I grab him this time, try to pull him away, but once again, he shakes me off. He doesn’t seem to hear me. All he hears, all he can focus on, is Harvey.
“You don’t look so strong now, Harvey. Rolling around on the ground. Begging like a little bitch. How’s it feel not to be the strong one, huh? How’s it feel not to be the one in control?” He kicks him again.
Shit. If I don’t do something, and quickly, Z’s going to kill him. It’s in every fury-filled line of his body, in every enraged word that comes out of his mouth.
I rush him from the side, shove him as hard as I can just as he raises his leg to kick Harvey again. My attack catches him off balance, and it’s his turn to stumble. He regains his balance, then turns to me with a confused look on his face. “What’d you do that for?”
“Look at him.” I point at Harvey, who’s whimpering as he curls himself into the fetal position and waits for more blows to rain down on him.
But there aren’t going to be any more. My shove was the wake-up call Z needed. He’s finished. I can see it from the look in his eyes, like he’s just waking up from a particularly realistic nightmare.
Like he can’t believe what he’s done.
I don’t know why, but I reach for him. I should be terrified by his display of violence, by the way he lost himself in his own head. But I’m not. There’s something about the way he touched me, the way he came to my rescue, that tells me he won’t hurt me. At least not with his fists. Besides, if he’d wanted anything from me, he could have had it four nights ago.
It only takes Harvey a couple of seconds to figure out the attack has stopped. Once he glances at Z and realizes he’s not going to get hit again, he unrolls himself and climbs laboriously to his feet. “I was just having some fun, man,” he says in a whiny, high-pitched voice that makes me wish Z would hit him again. “I wasn’t going to hurt her.”
I think about the bruises on my arms, the pain in my back and shoulders. He’s already done damage and he doesn’t even know. Or, more likely, it’s that he doesn’t care.
“Get the f**k out of my face, asshole.” Z glares at him, takes a menacing step forward. “And if I ever catch you near Ophelia again, I’ll kill you.”
Ice runs down my spine. Not at the threat, but at the deadly soft conviction behind the words. A part of me thinks they aren’t for show, that Z really means them.
Harvey must think so, too, because he goes deathly white before spinning around and fleeing in the direction of the lodge as fast as his injured body can carry him.
After he disappears into the trees, I turn to Z. “Are you okay?” He’s stretching out his hand like it really hurts. Which, of course, it must. It’s bruised and swollen, the knuckles split open from the force with which his fist connected with Harvey’s face. The fact that he wasn’t wearing gloves, that his hands are ice cold, has only aided in the damage.
He’s also trembling, whether with cold or reaction I’m not sure. But I can’t leave him out here. Not when he just saved me from a fate I don’t even want to think about. Damn Harvey and his hey-can-I-hitch-a-ride approach. And damn me for being stupid enough to fall for it. I’m turning into one of those too-stupid-to-live heroines from horror movies and I don’t like it, at all.