Filthy English (English #2)(14)

by Ilsa Madden-Mills

God, please, no matter what, I had to stay away.

“Hey?”

Shaking off his gaze, I blinked and looked back at Mike. “Sorry. I zoned out.” I let out a weak laugh. “Truth is, I really want to puke right now—maybe a rain check? I’m here all week, and I’m sure my friend will want to come back.” Unfortunately.

He took a quick step back, a wary expression on his face. “Oh. That sucks. Yeah, do what you have to do to feel better.”

“Thanks. I’m going to head outside for a bit. Is it safe out there?”

“Sure. Employees use that door and there’s a car park to the left and a main road to the right. You’re fine.” He waved a hasty goodbye and beat it out to where the action was. He grabbed a blonde by the hand and they took off to the dance floor.

Obviously, talk of vomit made guys scarce.

Once outside the exit, I saw a deserted alley, except for an old green dumpster and a scrawny cat eating from a box of takeout. The feline hissed and sent me a glare before diving back into the Styrofoam container.

A single lamppost near the street provided enough light that it was considerably brighter outside than the inside of the club. I sighed and sat down on a rickety metal chair with a myriad of cigarette butts around the legs. The employees probably took their smoke breaks out here.

After a few minutes of air, I immediately felt better.

I checked the time on my phone. Midnight in London, which meant seven at night in Raleigh.

Hartford was probably going out with his friends tonight.

I opened my camera on my phone, swiping at the selfies I’d taken with Lulu around London today. After a red-eye flight the day before, we’d slept in this morning at The Tower Hotel. We’d gotten up in time to catch a pre-scheduled tour of Shakespeare’s Globe and then had dinner and drinks at Swan, a hip two-story bar and restaurant with panoramic views of the Thames and St. Paul’s Cathedral. The night view of the skyline had been absolutely breathtaking—just like I had carefully planned for our honeymoon. Too bad Hartford had missed it. My chest tightened.

I kept scrolling and found the last pic I’d taken of Hartford and me. It was taken three weeks ago; we’d been on a visit to UNC Chapel Hill where he was planning to attend medical school next fall. We stood side by side, wearing half-smiles, our bodies close. The air that day had been sticky and humid, as solid as breathing bricks—and I’d wanted hot Krispy Kreme donuts on the way home.

Yet . . .

What I couldn’t remember was the emotion I felt as we posed for that picture.

Where had we gone wrong?

More importantly, why hadn’t I thought of him when I was kissing Dax?

The metal door from the club clanged open, yanking me back.

Goodbye, peace and quiet.

Chad eased out the door, his narrow face turned away from me as he pulled a pack of cigarettes from his jacket and lit one, his fingers cupping the flame so it didn’t blow out in the wind.

He stopped and squinted when he saw me, surprised yet satisfied. He ambled over to where I sat. “Hey, thought you went to the loo?”

In the light, his frame was more muscular than I recalled.

“Just needed some air.” I stood up. “I got it.”

“No need to run off,” he commented wryly as I brushed past him. “I don’t bite.”

I felt more than saw him following me as I took long strides back to the door.

He’s just weird. Keep walking.

I yanked open the door, but he slammed it shut with a forceful palm. “I’m not done talking to you.”

I flinched at the stench of smoke and stale alcohol on his breath.

“I want to go back in. Lulu’s waiting for me.”

He cupped my shoulder, turned me to face him, and trailed his finger down my arm to toy with my bracelet. “You wear some pretty things. I really like this bracelet. Are the diamonds real?”

I jerked away from him. “Keep your hands to yourself.”

“Hey, it was just a question. No need to get upset. Why don’t you hand it over and let me take a look at it?” His hand settled at my throat. Just a light touch, but . . .

“No! Let me go.” I twisted away from him and reached for the door again.

His hand clamped tighter around my throat, squeezing on either side. My fingers clawed at his as he held me prisoner with just one hand.

“I was trying to be nice to you before, but you’re a bit of a bitch,” he said softly.

Panic skyrocketed.

My fingers clawed harder, jerking and hammering, but the pressure only hurt my throat.

I tried to swallow. Nothing.

I inhaled, sucking for air. Nothing.

A noise came from the street as a car came by, startling him. He switched around, put one of his arms around my waist, and dragged me behind the dumpster. My feet kicked and tried to find purchase on the ground but got nowhere. Self-defense moves my dad had taught me flashed through my head, and I tried to remember them.

He pushed me to the ground and straddled me, his legs clamping like vise-grips around my hips. “Be still,” he bit out.

Okay, okay. I nodded, forcing my muscles to loosen, letting my hands fall to my sides.

His hand disappeared from my windpipe.

Fight!

My elbow connected squarely with his ribs, and he grunted and roared at me. I hit him again in the chest with a right hook as hard as I could.

I yelled for anyone who might be listening, but my voice was shit.

He slapped me, twisting my face around.

He reached for my hands to secure them. Evading, I punched him in the gut, a weak shot.

I scratched at his face, aiming for his eye, and he yelped as blood popped out and tracked down his cheek.

“Be still!” he yelled as he ripped the necklace from my throat. Sterling silver with a heart between two wings, it was a gift from Malcolm—not worth much, except for sentimental value. But then he dove for my bracelet, jerking on my wrist until I thought my arm would pop out of its socket.

I whimpered. Grief gutted me, beating the fear.

Not my bracelet!

I answered by shoving my fist at his throat—a move Malcolm had shown me—scoring a hit; he dropped back and grabbed his neck, gasping.

He pounced back, landing on my chest, and I know I should have felt some kind of pain, but the fear was too high, the need to survive overriding the circumstances. With a lightning move, he snatched the bracelet off my wrist, no doubt breaking the clasp.