“Yes,” she clipped, still annoyed with him. That got her yet another grin.
“If you’re out before me, wait here.” Trick kissed her, tasting popcorn and salt. “Go.” He waited until she was inside the ladies’ room before he turned to the men’s. He quickly did his business, eager to get back to her.
He was zipping his fly when he felt it. A presence. He wasn’t alone. And then a scent drifted to him—dark and familiar. His wolf’s upper lip peeled back.
There was no time to twirl and confront the fucker, because he heard the slight whistle of air. Trick ducked, barely avoiding the steel bar that then slammed into the tiled wall.
Trick rammed back his elbow, connected with a hard gut. There was a pained grunt as the body behind him staggered back. Twisting, Trick stood upright and jerked to the side as Drake then tried bringing the bar crashing down on his head. Son of a bitch.
Anger and adrenaline surging through him, Trick grabbed the wrist holding the bar and pressed his thumb hard on a pressure point, making Drake drop the bar with a curse. Grunting and snarling, they collided with a fury of fists.
It wasn’t combat. It was a brawl. Fast, furious, and bloodthirsty.
Drake was no easy target, and he got some good shots in. A punch to the temple. A strike to the solar plexus. A hard blow to his ribs that sent ripples of agony through Trick and made his stomach roll.
Trick got plenty of his own shots in. A ram of his elbow to the throat. A solid uppercut to the chin. A hard punch to the cheekbone that made Drake’s head whip to the side. Trick topped that off by ramming his forehead into Drake’s nose, smiling grimly at the resulting crack and spray of blood.
The prick didn’t back off, though. He kept on coming, eyes cold and flinty, face flushed and contorted into a scowl. And when he crouched, grabbed the bar, and swung it at Trick’s leg—motherfucker—Trick rammed the sole of his foot into the bastard’s face. Drake fell back, dazed, and the bar slipped from his fingers.
Seething with a rage that bubbled in his veins, Trick fisted Drake’s collar and dragged him along the bloodstained tiles into a stall. He forced Drake’s face into the toilet and flushed. He let him struggle. Let him feel the panic. Let him feel the burn of the fluid in his lungs.
With what little mercy he had left in him right then, Trick yanked the wolf’s head up out of the toilet. Drake didn’t fight back. He sucked in deep, loud breaths, coughing and hacking like a guy who’d just run out of a smoking building. Still, Trick might have dunked the asshole again if he hadn’t looked up to see Frankie leaning casually against the doorjamb of the stall.
Fuck. Shifters fought brutally, sure, and they solved a lot of shit through violence. But Frankie hadn’t been raised with that culture. She’d likely been taught that if shit went down you defended yourself, got out of harm’s way, and called the police for help.
Trick dumped a coughing Drake on the floor and strode out of the stall. She backed up to give him room, simply watching him. Trick stood there, chest heaving, muscles quivering, waiting for her to say something. Anything.
She sighed. “I leave you alone for five minutes . . .” She shook her head sadly, but there was a glint of humor in her eyes.
Relief blew through him, and he pulled in a deep breath through his nose. He couldn’t quite stop grinding his teeth, though. Rage still had a tight grip on him.
“Are you okay?” she asked, the humor in her eyes now replaced with concern. He just nodded. She tipped her chin toward Drake. “Friend of yours?”
Trick forced his jaw to unlock. “Let’s go. I’ll tell you about it when we get out of here.”
But he didn’t tell her. He fell silent the moment they slid into his SUV. Despite his slow, steady breaths and relaxed body language, Frankie could sense that he was still fuming. Giving him the time he seemed to need, she stayed quiet, looking through the window and watching the scenery pass by.
Thanks to the sounds of music, girls’ laughter, and the deafening hand dryer, Frankie hadn’t heard the struggle coming from the other restroom at first. She’d barged in and simply stared as she took in the blood spatter on the floor, the cracks in the tiles, the long steel bar, the kicking legs in the doorway of a stall, and—finally—Trick stuffing some guy’s head down the toilet.
Not a scene a girl expected to find while on a date.
Although she’d love an explanation, she kept her mouth shut. Soon enough he pulled up behind her Audi and switched off the ignition, but he didn’t move to get out. His hands were clenched around the wheel, and he was staring straight ahead. She noticed that his knuckles were no longer swollen or scuffed—God bless shifters’ enhanced healing. “You calm yet?”
“Calm? Let’s see. I took my woman out so she could relax, have fun, and forget about all the shit going on in her life. Then some motherfucker comes at me from behind with a steel fucking bar when I’m taking a piss, and totally fucks it up. So no, baby, I’m not calm.”
“I wouldn’t say he fucked it up. I did relax, have fun, and forget about the other stuff.”
“I would never hurt you.”
The words made her blink. “What?”
“I know I might have seemed out of control back there, and I won’t deny that I can be brutal in a fight. But I’m not someone who flies off the handle and beats the shit out of people. That guy back there is part of a messed-up pack that wants an alliance with Trey. The Alpha, Nash Morelli, isn’t happy that Trey won’t give it to him. Drake is Morelli’s Beta. He charged at Trey during a meeting, and I dealt with it. That back there was retaliation.”
“And since you just kicked his ass, he’ll probably retaliate again,” she mused.
“Probably. Which means I should stay away from you for a while.”
Her stomach bottomed out. “Stay away?”
“I should. But I won’t.” Trick held her eyes, willing her to believe him as he repeated, “I would never hurt you. You never have to fear me. Never.”
“Trick, if I feared you or I believed you’d harm me, I wouldn’t have gotten into the SUV with you. I certainly wouldn’t be thinking about having you in my bed tonight.” She opened the door, hopped out, and walked up her driveway.
Trailing behind her, Trick said, “Say that again.” Because it really was the very last thing he’d have expected her to say.
“You heard me. I already knew that you have a dark streak. You think I bought your laid-back act?” Snorting, Frankie opened the front door and entered the house. “That easygoing charm hasn’t fooled me. I know you tone down your dominance around me. What I don’t know is why you do it.”
Trick closed the door behind him. On the one hand, he liked that he didn’t have to pretend. On the other, she’d have questions he didn’t want to answer. “I didn’t want you feeling overwhelmed or intimidated. You might be half shifter, but you’re not used to our intensity, our ways, or just how possessive we can be.”
That made both her and her wolf bristle. “I’m not made of fine bone china, Trick. You don’t need to protect me from you.” She narrowed her eyes. “Is this what you meant when you kept saying I wasn’t ready for you? You don’t think I can handle you the way you are?”
“I don’t think you can handle just how much I’ll want from you. Not yet.”