Falling into you, p.11
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       Falling into You, p.11

         Part #1 of Falling series by Jasinda Wilder
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Which was a mistake. The instant the blade moves away, Dan bats her hand to the side, spins in place, and punches her, knocking her flying.

  “Bitch,” he growls, and turns to me.

  Of course, I didn’t spend those moments idle either. Brass knuckles go back on, and I’m not holding back anymore. The second I saw those bruises on her, I was gone.

  I’m a street thug again, an enforcer. Except this is different; he hurt Nell.

  He doesn’t stand a chance. Within moments, he’s a bloody, broken mess on Nell’s floor. I’ve got some tender ribs, a broken nose, split lips and cuts on my cheekbones, a loosened tooth. Blood is everywhere.

  I pull my phone out, dial a number, wipe my face clean with a paper towel. “Hey Split, it’s Colt. I have a problem. ” I explain the problem and spit out the address. “Yeah, in Tribeca. Shut up motherfucker. Just come get the bastard and make sure he doesn’t bother her again. Thanks. ”

  Nell is standing up, dabbing at her mouth, wobbling. I dart across to catch her as she stumbles.

  I pick her up, set her on the counter like a child, wrap some ice in a paper towel and press it to her face where he hit her. Fortunately, he wasn’t stupid enough to hit her full-force, just a little tap to shut her up. She’ll have a bruise, but that’s it. She’s woozy, bleary eyed, but she clears up soon.

  Dan moans behind me, reminding her of the problem. She straightens in fear at the sound of his voice, peers over my shoulder at the chunk of bloody beef that is Dan Sikorsky.

  She looks slowly from him to me. “What did you do?”

  I duck my head, embarrassed. “I sort of lost my temper. ”

  “Will he die?” She says it calmly.

  I shrug. “Not in your living room. ”

  She narrows her lovely eyes at me. “What’s that mean?” A quiet rap on the door has her shrinking against me. “Who’s that?”

  Page 30

 

  I pull the tattered remains of her dress closed. “A friend of mine. Go get in the shower, huh?”

  “A friend?” She slides off the counter and moves to open the door.

  I stop her. “I’ll take care of it, okay?”

  She narrows her eyes again, vanishes into her room and closes the door behind her. I let Split in. He’s not a big guy, but he’s scary. Medium height, lean and toned, skin black as night, vibrantly white teeth and eyes so light brown they’re almost khaki. Eyes you can’t look at too long or you’ll piss yourself. Eyes that see your secrets and threaten to make your nightmares come true. He radiates intensity and exudes threat. I’m glad he’s my friend, mainly because I’ve seen what happens to his enemies: they vanish.

  He glances down at Dan. “The f**k happened to him?”

  Nell comes out in a clean T-shirt and yoga pants. “Colton was helping me. ”

  “Who’re you?” Split says.

  “Nell Hawthorne. This is my apartment. ” She extends her hand to shake Split’s.

  He looks at her outstretched hand like it’s an insect, then cracks a rare smile as he shakes it. “Split. ” He peers at Nell’s face, at the purpling bruise, the finger marks on her throat, the way she clutches her arms around her middle. “He try to rape you?”

  Nell nods.

  “His name is Dan Sikorsky,” I say, knowing Split will put two and two together.

  Split’s eyes widen slightly, the equivalent of a gasp of surprise from anyone else. “I saw him fight Hank Tremaine a few weeks ago down in Harlem. Fucked Hank up good. You did this?” He kneels down, nudges Dan over onto his back, examines his injuries with a professional eye. “You done a number on him, Colt. He needs a doctor, or he ain’t gonna make it. ”

  “He tried to rape her, Split. Then he punched her. ”

  “To be fair,” Nell puts in, “He only punched me after I put a knife to his throat. ”

  Split coughs a laugh. “You what? Girl, you crazy. Don’t put a knife to a guy like Dan Sikorsky and not kill him. Asking for trouble pullin’ shit like that. ”

  “She’s from the Detroit suburbs, Split. Where I grew up. She’s vanilla. ”

  He nods. “I getcha. Just saying, in case there’s a next time. Don’t threaten what you won’t finish. Not with motherfuckers like Sikorksy. He’ll kill you, even if you are a rich white bitch. ”

  “Excuse me?” Nell straightens in protest.

  Split glances at me. I laugh. “He just means a white girl. Not from the hood. ”

  “The hood?” She says it like it’s a foreign word. “And you are from the hood, Colton?”

  Split laughs again. “Colton?” He says the name how she did, clearly enunciating each syllable. “Man, she something else. Where’d you find her?” He looks at Nell. “Yeah, he from the hood. My boy Colt is a OG from way back. ”

  Nell makes a confused face. “OG?”

  Split just blows a laugh past his lips, a huff of air. “You something else, man. ” He pulls out a phone and sends a text, then glances back at Nell. “You holding up alright, white girl?”

  Nell’s face is impassive. “I’m fine. ”

  Split nods, but I can tell he doesn’t believe her any more than I do. I step closer to Nell and I don’t miss the fact that she tenses, even though it’s me. “Go take a shower, Nell. It’ll help. ”

  “I don’t need help. ” Her voice is hard, stubborn.

  I laugh, but not unkindly. “You want to deal with him on your own then?” I gesture at Dan, who is choking on his blood. Split turns him over so he drools it out on the hardwood floor.

  Nell pales, trembles. “Maybe a shower sounds good. ”

  “Yeah. All this will be gone when you get out. ”

  I see panic flit across her face. “You won’t be gone, will you?”

  “Do you want me to go?” She shakes her head, a tiny, vulnerable motion that makes my heart bleed a little more for her. “Then I’ll be here. Just…go take a hot shower. ”

  She nods and disappears into the bedroom. I hear the shower turn on, and I try not to picture her in there. That’s not what she needs right now.

  Split crouches at Dan’s feet. “Get his shoulders, Colt. ”

  I bend and lift him, and we carry him down the stairs and out to Split’s waiting car. A couple passes us by, gives us an odd look, but since this is New York, they don’t say anything. We toss him ungently in the back seat and close the door. Split opens the driver’s side door and slides in, but doesn’t close it.

  “She don’t belong in this world, Colt. ” He doesn’t look at me as he says it.

  “I know. ”

  “Neither do you. You never did. ”

  “I know that too. ”

  “I like you, white boy. Don’t get sucked back in. You’ll end up dead, and then who’ll fix my ride when it busts?” Split starts the car, and it rumbles to life.

  It’s a lime green ’73 Bonneville with the original engine, restored by yours truly. It’s a beauty, and I’ve always been a bit jealous. He bought it off some little old lady out in Rochester for a thousand dollars and he and I spent a summer restoring it together. Didn’t take much, since the little old lady had barely ever driven it after her husband died.

  He brings it to me when he needs a tune up or something, but really, it’s his way of keeping in touch with me.

  “I won’t, Split. ”

  “What you want me to do with dickhead Dan?”

  “I don’t know, and I don’t want to know. He deserves to choke to death on his own f**king teeth, but I don’t want that on my conscience. ”

  “No shit. You got enough on blood on that bitch. ”

  I laugh. “Thanks for the reminder. ”

  “Just keeping it real. ” He closes his door and rolls down the window. “I’ll stop by the shop and let you know if he makes it. ”

  “Don’t. Just make sure he doesn’t come back around here. ”

  Split smiles at me, a flash of white teeth in
dark skin. “I don’t think that’ll be a problem. ” He pulls the gear shifter down into ‘D’, but pauses still. “The problem is, he’s supposed to fight Alvarez next week, and I had a grand on Alvarez. ”

  I laugh. “Alvarez didn’t stand a chance, so I just saved you a grand. He was a dick, but he was a tough motherfucker. ”

  Page 31

 

  “You missed your calling, Colt. You’d’ve cleaned up in the UFC. ”

  I shake my head. “I’m well shut of all that shit. ”

  “I know it, I know it. Just saying. ” He holds his fist out, and I bump it with mine. “Call me, dog. We’re past due for some cold ones. ”

  “For sure. Maybe Thursday. ”

  “I could do Thursday. Got some shit early, but that’s it. ”

  I nod and he drives off. I open Nell’s door and go in, singing a song so she’d know it was me. The shower was still running, telling me she was probably scrubbing the shit out of her skin. Trying to get the feeling off. She’ll be in there till the water runs cold. I’ve seen too many friends go through this, friends I couldn’t be there to save.

  I took a new roll of paper towel from under the sink and her bottle of windex. Fortunately, she had wood floors. It’s easier to get blood off wood than carpet. I sop up the blood, spray and scrub the wood, then find an old bottle of Pledge that she must use on her kitchen table. I spray the floor and scrub some more. Then I wipe the walls and everywhere else.

  Eventually, the water turns off and the mess is gone. Nell comes out with wet, stringy hair, clad in only a long Disney T-shirt that barely comes to mid-thigh. I clench my jaw and think of dead puppies and nuns and that time I walked in on my grandma in the shower as a kid. It only helps marginally. She looks more vulnerable than ever and I’m across the room and wrapping my arms around her before I know what I’m doing.

  She doesn’t tense this time. She breathes deeply, long, steady, even breaths.

  “It’s okay to cry,” I say.

  She shakes her head. “No. It’s not. ”

  “You were just assaulted. You’re allowed. ”

  “I know. But I won’t. I can’t. ” She pushes away from me and goes into the kitchen.

  I take the bottle of Jack from her hand before she can drink from it. “I’m not sure that’s the best way. ” She jerks it away and lifts it, but I take it again. “It won’t go away forever. It just comes back. ”

  “I know. ” She reaches for it, and I hold it out of reach, snag a couple juice glasses from her cabinet and pour generous shots. “I need more than that. ”

  “No you don’t. ”

  She turns on me, eyes all gray now, like storm clouds, angry. “Don’t tell me what I need! You don’t know me. ”

  “But I know about drowning pain with whiskey. It stops working after awhile. And then there’s not enough whiskey in the world. ”

  “You weren’t just raped. ”

  “Almost raped. I stopped him. I’m sorry I wasn’t sooner, but there’s a huge difference between raped and almost raped. ” Her eyes blaze and I hold up my hands. “Not saying this is fine. It’s not fine. You’re allowed to feel what you’re feeling. I’m just saying, chugging whiskey won’t erase what happened. ”

  “What the f**k do you know. ” She slams the shot and presses the glass to her forehead, then holds out the glass for more.

  That’s when I see the scars. A crosshatch pattern of fine white lines and ridges on her wrists and forearms. Not disguised, not hidden. Some old, some not so old. And some fresh. Still-scabbing fresh.

  She sees me see, lifts her chin and dares me to ask. I don’t ask. I’m still not wearing a shirt, so I point to my chest, to my pectorals and breastbone and stomach, to a similar field of scars like wind-tangled wheat stalks. I’ve tattooed over some, utilized others in tattoos, and left others bare and visible. She reaches out with her forefinger, traces them, one scar after another. Some short, like tally marks. Some are tally marks: days survived in the pit, matches won. She traces the scars, the long ones done for the sake of the pain, for the release.

  Yeah. I know why she cuts. I just don’t know the seed-reason. It’s deep inside her, and it’ll take time and patience to get it out of her. And I’ll probably end up telling her my reasons, too.

  Which I really don’t want to do.

  She looks up at me, and her eyes are soft, full of understanding. “You cut?”

  “Used to. ”

  “Why?”

  I shake my head. “That’s a story for another night, and it comes with a price. ”

  She tenses. “A price?”

  “Your story. ”

  She blows out a sigh of relief. “You know the story. ”

  “Not all of it. Not the deep stuff, the shit that comes from beneath, in the shadows in your heart. ”

  “No one knows that. ” Her voice is barely even a whisper, and goddamn it if it’s not seductive and sultry and vulnerable all at once.

  “Yeah, well, no one knows about this, either. ” I tap my chest with my thumb.

  “A price. A trade. ” She’s motionless, an inch away from me, each breath causing her br**sts to brush my chest, the scars, the ink.

  I nod. “But not now. Now, you take one more shot with me, and you watch stupid, mindless TV. And then you fall asleep and you stay home tomorrow. ”

  “I can’t. I have class. I have work. ”

  “Call off. Say you’re sick. ”

  “I—”

  I cut her off. “Call in, Nell. ”

  “You can’t stay here all night with me. ”

  “Why not?”

  She stares at her toes, chipped pink polish. “You just can’t. ”

  “I’ll be on the couch. You’ll be in your room with the door closed. ”

  “No. ” Another whisper.

  “Why not?”

  “It’s…part of the trade. ”

  A secret, she means. “Then I’ll sleep on the floor outside your apartment. You’re not going to be alone tonight. ”

  “I’m fine, Colton. ”

  “Bullshit. You’re not fine. ”

  She shrugs. “No. But I’m fine. ”

  I laugh at that. “Look at me. ”

  She shakes her head no, chews her lip, and I want to take that lip in my mouth and suck it until the teeth marks are soothed away. I want to chew her lip for her. I want to taste her tongue. I want to run my hands under the silly, girly, childish, double-XL Lilo and Stitch shirt and feel her skin and her curves and her sweet softness.

  I do none of this. I just stare at her, then touch her chin with my index finger, lift her head to meet my eyes. She closes her eyes, and I can see the moisture. She’s deep-breathing again, and I notice her hands are clutched around the opposing wrists, nails digging in deep, hard, scratching. Pain to replace pain. I use as much gentle force as I possess to pry her fingers out of her skin, turn them so they’re gripping my forearms.

  Page 32

 

  I pull her against me, our arms barred vertically between us, and her fingernails dig into my arms. She lets go after a moment and just holds my forearms in her hands.

  “It’s not the same. Causing you pain doesn’t help mine. ” She whispers the words against my shoulder, the right one, the one with the Japanese dragon breathing fire on kanji.

  “It wasn’t supposed to. It was just supposed to stop you from hurting yourself. ”

  “It helps—”

  “No it doesn’t. It just pushes it away temporarily. Just like the booze. ”

  “But I need—”

  “You need to let yourself feel. Feel it, own it. Then move on. ”

  “You make it sound so easy. ” Bitterness drips from each syllable.

  “It’s not. It’s the f**king hardest thing a person can do. ” I smooth a damp ringlet out of her face and away from my mouth. “It’s the hardest f**king thing. It’s
why we drink and do drugs and fight. It’s why I play music and build engines. ”

  She pulls away from me. “You build engines?”

  I laugh. “Yeah. Music is a hobby. A passion. I rebuild engines and restore classic cars. That’s what pays the bills. Don’t get me wrong, I’m passionate about cars too, but it’s different. ”

  “Do you work for someone?”

  “No, I own my own shop in Queens. ”

  “Really?” She sounds surprised, which I actually find a little insulting, but don’t say anything.

  “Really. ”

  “Can I see your shop?” Her voice is bright and hopeful.

  “Now?”

  “Yes, now. I can’t be here. I keep seeing Dan. I keep…I keep feeling his hands on me, keep seeing him on the floor right there, bleeding. ” She points to where he was laying. She’s quiet for a long moment, and I know what’s coming next. “Is he…is he dead?”

  “No. Don’t worry about him anymore. He got what he deserved. ”

  “You hurt him really bad. ”

  “I should have killed him. I could have. If he’d…” I shake my head. “It’s done. Forget it. ”

  “I should have seen it coming. ” The words don’t surprise me, but they piss me off.

  I pull away and glare down at her. “Don’t you f**king dare, Nell Hawthorne. Don’t you dare put this on yourself. You should never have to see shit like this coming. ”

  She backs away, stunned and afraid by the intensity I know is radiating off me.

  “Colton, I just meant he’s always shown—”

  “Stop. Just stop right there. Granted, you should’ve never gotten involved with a douchetard him, but that’s no excuse for what he did. ” I pull her back against me. She resists. “Are you afraid of me now?” I ask, to change the subject.

  “A little. You were…scary. You just…you destroyed him. Even after he hit you. And I’ve seen him fight. ”

  I glance down at her in shock. “You mean on TV?”

  She shakes her head. “No, the other fights. The underground ones. The ones that your friend was talking about. In Harlem. ”

  “You went to those fights?” I’m shocked. Stunned. Horrified. Those are brutal, vile, vicious fights. Angry, soulless men destroying each other. I should know.

  “Yeah. I didn’t like it very much. ”

  “I’d hope not. They’re evil. ” I try to keep my voice neutral.

  Unsuccessfully, by the click of understanding I see cross her face. “You’ve fought in them. ”

  “Used to. ”

  “Why?” Her voice is tiny.

  I shake my head. “That’s part of the trade, babe. ”

  She shudders. “Don’t call me babe. ” Her voice is quiet but intense.

  “Sorry. ”

  “It’s fine. It’s just what Dan—”

  “I know. I heard. ” I pull back so we’re looking into each other’s eyes. “Answer the question, though. Are you afraid of me?”

  “I did answer. I said a little. I’m afraid of what you can do. I mean, I feel safe with you, though. I know you’d never hurt me. ”

  I take her face in my hands. It’s too familiar, too affectionate, too soon. I can’t help it though. “Just the opposite. I will protect you. From others and from yourself. Always. ”

  “Why?” Barely audible,

  “Because I want to. Because…” I struggle to find the right words. “Because you deserve it, and you need it. ”

  “No I don’t. ”

  “Yes you do. ”

  She shakes her head. “No. I don’t deserve it. ”

  I sigh, knowing I won’t win by arguing. “Shut up, Nell. ”

 
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