“Catch and release, my ass!” Grunting, I shoved the stray face down over the trunk of Marc’s car, snatching back my free hand just in time to avoid his teeth as they snapped together. The bastard was half again my size, and thrashing like a…well, like a scared cat, determined to shred anything he could get his hands on—including me.
Several feet behind me, Marc watched, no doubt mentally noting every aspect of my performance so he could re-create it later for my father. So far, I hadn’t given him much good to report.
Beating prowlers senseless to teach them a lesson was one thing; I’d easily mastered most of the common scare tactics. But this whole chase-them-down-and-haul-them-out approach? That was bullshit. Complete and total idiocy. What was my father thinking?
The only stroke of luck I’d had all evening was that the stray had fled to a deserted make-out spot on the outskirts of Dumas, Arkansas. If he’d headed toward the town lights instead of away from them, I’d never have caught him. I wouldn’t even have tried. We couldn’t risk human passersby seeing an average-size young woman like me haul around a man who outweighed me by at least forty pounds. And the truth was that if the stray had known how to fight, I probably couldn’t have caught him.
Not that the capture had gone smoothly, even so. Marc had made no effort to help.
“Can you give me a hand, here?” I snapped at him over my shoulder, slamming the stray’s head back down on the trunk as he twisted, trying to break free of my grasp.
Masculine laughter rang out from behind me, unaccompanied by footsteps. “You’re doing just fine, querida.”
“Don’t…fucking…call…me…that,” I growled through clenched jaws. With my free hand, I seized one of the trespasser’s flailing arms and pinned it to the small of his back. His other hand escaped me, clawing grooves into the paint. Not that it made any difference on Marc’s oft-abused car.
Marc laughed, unmoved by my threat.
Leaning forward, I draped myself across the intruder’s back to hold him still. His heart pounded fiercely against the thin, shiny material of a red blouse I’d had no plans to fight in.
His free hand flailed, still out of reach. I squeezed the wrist I’d captured. His bones ground together. Howling in pain, he bucked beneath me. I held on, determined not to screw up my first solo capture. Not with Marc watching. He’d never let me live it down.
“Let me go, bitch,” the stray growled, his words distorted with his face pressed into the car.
Behind me, Marc chuckled again. “I think he likes you, Faythe.”
“Either help or shut up.” With my free hand, I dug into my back pocket for my new handcuffs, fresh out of the package and still shiny. It was time to break them in.
Metal clinked against metal as I opened the first cuff, and the stray’s thrashing intensified. He threw his head back and tossed his free arm up at an awkward angle. His hand smashed into mine. My fist opened.
For one agonizing moment, the open half circle of metal dangled from my index finger, the other end swinging like a pendulum. Then the cuff slipped from my grasp and landed across the toe of my prisoner’s left shoe. Tightening my grip on his wrist, I bent to grab it, hauling him backward in the process. He kicked out. The cuff sailed beneath the car, skidding across the gravel.
“Damn it!” So much for shiny and new. I jerked us both upright and slapped the back of the stray’s head. He growled. Marc laughed. I barely held back a scream of frustration. This was not how my first catch-and-release was supposed to go.
Shoving aside my irritation, I slammed the stray back down on the trunk, but it was too late to regain the upper hand. I’d screwed up, and he’d rediscovered his balls.
Grunting, the stray threw his elbow back, into my left side. Pain tore through my chest and abdomen. My breath escaped in a single, harsh puff. His arm slid through my fist, and I nearly lost my grip.
Screw this. He’d blown his shot at nice-and-easy, which only left quick-and-brutal—my favorite way to play.
I sucked in a deep breath. Fire raced up my newly bruised side. I shifted my weight onto my left leg and slammed my right knee into his groin.
The stray made a single, pain-filled gulping sound, as if he were swallowing his own tongue. For a moment, I heard only Marc’s steady breathing at my back and the crickets chirruping all around us. Then my prisoner screamed. He hit notes that would have made Steven Tyler wince.
Satisfied that he couldn’t stand, much less run, I let him go. He crumpled to the ground at my feet, shrieking like a little girl.
“Well, that’s certainly one way to do it.” Marc stepped up to my side. He looked a little pale, and not just from the moonlight.
I smoothed more hair back from my face, eyeing the pathetic form on the gravel. “Give me your damn cuffs,” I snapped at Marc, not the least bit ashamed of myself for dropping my opponent with a knee to the groin.
Marc pulled his own handcuffs from his back pocket. “Remind me not to piss you off,” he said, dropping them into my open palm.
“You still need to be reminded?” Kneeling, I pulled the stray’s arms behind his back and cuffed them. He was still whimpering when I hauled him up by his elbow and half dragged him to the passenger side of the car. At the door, I spun him around to face me. “What’s your name?”
Instead of answering, he leered at the low neckline of my blouse. It wasn’t the smartest or most original response, but it was a definite improvement over the guy who’d tried to take a taste. Still, I was in no mood to be ogled. At least, not by him.
I let my fist fly, and my knuckles smashed into his rib cage. His eyes went wide, and he clenched his jaw on an oof of pain.
“This is the last time I’ll ask,” I warned, focusing on his closed eyelids. “Then I’ll just knock you out and call you Tom Doe. Your choice. Now, what’s your fucking name?”
His eyes popped opened, staring into mine as if to determine how serious my threat was. Whatever he saw must have convinced him. “Dan Painter,” he said, the end of his own name clipped short in anger.
“Mr. Painter.” I nodded, satisfied that he was telling the truth, based on his expression and the steady, if quick, beat of his pulse. “To what do we owe the displeasure of your visit?”