When her eyes moved to meet mine, I knew in that moment that I’d do whatever I could to keep this girl safe. She was vulnerable, yet strong, but I’d be damned if anyone would ever hurt her on my watch again.
“I should have been there.”
“I wanted to tell you that I was on my way, but I didn’t have your number.” She tried to smile, but it slipped away.
“Where’s your cell?”
I held out a hand and waited as she pulled her phone from her back pocket and handed it to me. After typing my name and phone number into her contacts, I sent myself a text from her phone so that I’d have her number as well. My phone pinged in response, and I returned her phone.
“That’s taken care of. I have your number, and now you have mine.”
“Was that a pity handout?” she said with a sniff, and I smiled.
“No. I meant to ask you for it when we had lunch yesterday, but I forgot.” I reached for her free hand and gave it a squeeze, but didn’t release it. “Do you want me to take you home?”
One slim shoulder lifted in a shrug. “I came here with Rachel.”
“Any idea where she is now?” I asked, but there was no way Jess could know. She couldn’t possibly know anything after what she just went through.
“She went off with Trevor when we first got here.”
“Can you call her? Or send her a text?” I suggested, looking at the phone still in her other hand.
“Duh. Yeah, I’m an idiot. Sorry.” She shook her head, frowning at her herself, and pecked out a quick text to Rachel.
My heart beating fast, I shifted a little closer next to her on the bed, half afraid that my closeness would alarm her. When she leaned against me, I relaxed a little.
“You’re not an idiot. You’re shaken up. Anyone in your position would be.”
The cell phone vibrated in her hand, and she jumped as if it had scared her half to death. It killed me to watch her react that way to something as simple as a text message notification.
“Is it her?”
Jess looked down, pressed a couple of buttons, and looked back at me. “She said I can go with you. She’ll see me later.”
My pulse finally started to settle into a normal rhythm. “So I can take you home now?”
“On one condition.”
At this point, she could ask for anything and I’d give it to her. I’d do anything Jess asked me to.
“Will you stay there with me for a little while? Please.” Her brows pinched together as I tilted her face up with my fingertips. “Don’t just drop me off and leave. I don’t want to be alone; I just don’t want to be here.”
“Of course. I’ll stay however long you want me to.”
Staying with Jess was an easy thing to agree to. I was only a man, after all, but the need to protect her, to make her feel safe, far outweighed anything else at this point. I wasn’t sure why it was suddenly so important that this girl knew that she could feel secure with me, but it was. I felt like it was my mission to make sure she knew I wasn’t some douchebag who would hurt her.
“Thank you,” she said, looking tired as I pulled her up from my bed.
“Come on. I got you.” I wrapped an arm around her and tucked her in close to me.
Ignoring the shouts of my drunken frat brothers calling my name, I navigated us away from the party. Her body tensed in my hold with the shouts. She was uncomfortable, and I hated the way it made me feel. I was the one who had invited her here; I had put her in this position. I furiously scanned the room like a crazed lunatic, looking for David, and when I didn’t see him anywhere, I tried to calm my breathing.
We left the house and crossed the poor excuse for a lawn. When we neared my truck, I pulled my remote from my pocket and clicked the unlock button. Jess seemed to relax a little as the lights clicked on.
“Jesus. This is your car?” she asked as I opened the passenger door for her.
“My dad bought it for me,” I explained, tamping down my discomfort as I helped her up into the seat.
It wasn’t that I didn’t love my truck; I did. But I’d wanted something a little less flashy for my eighteenth birthday, half expecting a car with a little more age and dust, but my dad showed up with this one—a brand-new, fully loaded, customized model that cost more than most new BMWs, and was just about as luxurious and comfortable as one.
When I hopped into the driver’s seat, Jess added, “It’s really nice. I’ve never seen a truck so nice on the inside before.”
I nodded, wanting to disagree with her, but couldn’t. It was nice as hell, and I knew it.
“Thanks. I try to take good care of it,” I said, thinking of all the times I’d detailed the interior myself, as if I had something to prove to everyone. Or maybe I was just trying to feel like I deserved the damn thing.
“Well, you do. It looks brand new.”
We pulled into the parking lot of my apartment complex, and I directed Nick into a visitor’s spot. He held my hand the entire drive, and even though it didn’t take us long to get to my place, the gesture was comforting. I appreciated it more than I could tell him.
What had happened at the party was mostly uncomfortable and jarring. I wasn’t entirely sure how far things would have gone if Nick hadn’t shown up to stop the guy, but the fact that I completely froze in the midst of the incident wasn’t lost on me.
Honestly, that was what stuck with me the most. I had always assumed if something like that ever happened to me, I’d fight back, or at the very least yell for help. It had never once occurred to me that I might be the type of person who was too shocked to react rationally, or to even react at all. I was mad at myself, embarrassed even. Or maybe it was mostly disappointment that I felt.
I unlocked the front door and stepped inside, flipping the light switch to illuminate the entrance and kitchen area. The tension I felt eased at the relief of being home.
“Cute place,” Nick said as he looked around at our beachy decor.
“Thanks. Rachel found it for us last summer.”
“It’s really nice. Two bedrooms?” he asked, peeking his head into the first room that came into view, which was Rachel’s.