Authors: Dakota Dawn
A customer walked up, and he was glad the counter was solid. He didn’t want to advertise his hard-on to the world. Another customer walked up just as the last one was leaving. Dealing with a few customers was good for him because it took his mind temporarily off Branda McFalls. His
. Soon he would see her again. Soon he would hold her in his arms all night long—forever.
After waving her latest happy customer away, Branda headed for the massive kitchen. Time to clean up. The dark marble countertops were back to their shining beauty in no time at all. When the bowls and cookie sheets were cleaned, she poured herself a glass of wine and toasted the beautiful kitchen. “Once again we’ve satisfied another customer. We make a great team.” Team. Gaven Walker’s call a few days ago had her thinking of the sports arrangements she’d be doing soon. The excitement of a new challenge was exhilarating.
A thunking noise to her right had her jumping back and squealing in fright. The sound of water running had her sagging with relief. That damn ice maker was surely going to be the death of her. Maybe within the next few weeks she would get used to all the normal noises the house made. All she had to do was put off a heart attack until then. Too bad the house she had rented for two years had been put up for sale. She knew where all the sounds in that house came from. A clicking noise came from somewhere deep within the house.
Goosebumps covered her skin as she remembered being attacked outside her old apartment over two years ago. She’d heard strange noises that night, too. Then, out of nowhere, a tall figure had emerged from the darkness and shoved her to the ground.
Cold metal pressed against her throat. One wrong move and she knew she’d be dead. The stench of alcohol invaded her nose the second he spoke. His voice had been graveled with lust. The words replayed in her mind.
You’ve been teasing me for a long time, you little slut. Those long skirts you wear, I know why you wear them. It’s not to cover up your sexy legs. You wear them to tempt a man. Make him crazy wanting to see what you’re hiding under them. That’s way more of a tease than girls who go around in short shorts showing off every inch of what they’ve got. You’ve teased me for the last time. Tonight you’re going to get what you’ve been begging for.
Opening her mouth to scream, she’d felt pain radiate through the side of her face before she could get any sound out. He’d backhanded her so quickly all she could do was stare at him in dazed horror. Blood trickled into her mouth. Her lip instantly started to swell.
Try that again and I’ll kill you, little slut.
The tone of his voice had made her believe every word he said.
His free hand started tugging her skirt up over her knees. Her mind swirled. She had to get away from him. Her breath was coming out in loud, harsh, gasping sounds. He’d slapped her hard.
Shut the fuck up. You know you want this, little slut. Now shut up before you draw attention.
The knife had pressed deeper into her throat.
I’ll kill you if I have to. If you want to live to tease again, you better shut up.”
She’d tried as hard as she could but she just couldn’t stop her harsh breathing. The reeking smell of alcohol surrounded her, making it even harder to breathe. His weight shifted as he went back to pulling on her skirt.
Survival instincts had finally kicked in. Twisting her arm free from its trapped position between her body and his leg, she raked her nails down his face. He howled in rage then snatched both of her arms up over her head.
That was a big mistake, little slut. Now I’m not going to be nice to you when I fuck you. You have only yourself to blame.
Reaching into his pocket, he’d withdrawn a handkerchief. She watched as he brought it to her bleeding lip then shoved it into her mouth. She’d started gagging as soon as the material was shoved to the back of her throat. Tears started running down the sides of her face.
Where were all of her neighbors? Realizing she’d left a customer’s home way later than normal, it dawned on her that most of her neighbors were sound asleep in their safe, cozy beds. No help was coming. She was all alone with a psycho.
As hysteria set in, she started struggling harder. The hand holding her wrists also held the knife. It was a long, wickedly bladed knife. As she moved and thrashed beneath him, the blade sliced into her arm. She didn’t care. All she cared about was getting away. He’d finally pushed her skirt all the way up and struggled to get her panties over her hips. Thank goodness she had big hips. Otherwise he would have had her panties off faster.
With every movement, she felt the knife rip into her flesh. Her mind was pulled away from the pain when he’d gotten her panties off her hips and was steadily pushing them down her legs. She screamed behind the gag and bucked, trying to get him off her.
Rearing back, he’d punched her hard in the face. Darkness descended. Time stood still. Then she felt like she was floating, weightless. No more pressure. No more pain. No more hysteria.
Someone was weeping, and the sound penetrated the fog surrounding her mind.
A familiar male voice was trying to soothe the weeping woman. She was certain it was a woman. Who was she? Someone close to her touched her shoulder. She flinched. Why was her nervous system on alert? It only did that when she was in pain. Why was her mouth so dry?
“Pete, it looks like she’s coming to. Where’s that damn ambulance?” The voice was female and filled with worry.
A low male voice answered, “It’s en route. Should be here any minute.”
“What’s her name?” the low voice asked a moment later.
“Branda. Oh god, I can’t remember her last name. Is she going to be all right? Please tell me she’s going to be all right.”
Before the man could answer, the kneeling woman beside her called out, “Branda. Branda please wake up. Please don’t die.”
Branda opened her eyes as wide as she could, which was barely. The blow to her nose had broken it and it had swelled. “Sandy?”
“Thank god. Thank god you’re alive. When Pete and I rounded the corner and saw that man attacking you, I thought I’d die myself. Pete tackled the guy and pinned him while I dialed 911. The police are here, and we’re waiting on the ambulance. Hang in there.”
Her vision started to blur again. Sandy’s voice turned high and shrill. “Branda, Branda.”
The voice sounded so real. So close. A touch to her shoulder had her flinching and backing away.
“God dammit, Branda. If you don’t come out of it right now, I’m calling fucking 911.”
Her vision cleared as the fog in her brain faded. One of her best friends, Sienna, stood next to her, staring at her like she’d grown an extra head. “I’m all right. I was just thinking about something.”
“Thinking about something? More like you were having a daymare. I didn’t know you were having those. How long has this been going on?” Sienna demanded, as only a truly outraged friend could.
Trying to brush her off, Branda responded offhandedly, “Daymare. Really? I think you just made that up. It was nothing. I was just thinking.”
Sienna touched her cheek then pulled her hand back and looked at her damp finger.
“Just thinking, huh? How often do you just think with tears running down your cheeks? Damn, girl, this is serious,” Sienna said with a shake of her head.
Brushing her cheeks, Branda was surprised to feel that they were damp. Quickly wiping the moisture away, she took a sip of her wine. “I’m fine, really. Let me get you a glass of wine. What brings you by?”
As Sienna watched her pour the glass of wine, Branda realized her hand was shaking.
“You know you’re safe here, right? My parents have one of the best security systems money can buy. All the neighbors have great security systems, too. Criminals hate that. They steer clear of this neighborhood. That’s why we insisted you move in while my parents are out of the country for the next year. It’s good for them and you. A house should never sit for that long without someone living in it. Teddy and I have the ranch, so we can’t live here. Plus, this place is perfect for your business. Can’t find a bigger kitchen than this one.” Sienna looked thoughtful for a moment then added, “I’m babbling. What I need to know is do you feel safe here?”
“Yes, of course. You just caught me at a bad time, that’s all. I’m still getting used to being in a different home. You know I hate moving. The trauma to my system usually lasts at least six months.” Trying to liven up the mood, Branda asked, “You want some cookies? I just finished a job, and you know that means I have a stash.” She patted her hip. “You don’t get hips like these without eating cookies.”
A smile played across Sienna’s lips. “For your cookies, I’m willing to be sidetracked. At least for a little while.”
Four cookies later, Sienna obviously remembered why she’d come by. “Hey, tomorrow night you want to go to that new sports pub that recently opened? I hear it’s karaoke night. You know how much I love karaoke night. I relieve so much tension when I sing like a crazy fool in front of strangers I’m not likely to see again.”
Branda shook her head. “No way. I’m in business now. I can’t be seen acting all crazy in public. It would be bad for my professional image.”
With raised brows, Sienna smirked. “Professional image? We’re talking about one Saturday night here for heaven’s sake. The place is new. It can’t be that packed. Give it six months and karaoke night will be on Wednesdays like it is at other places. Besides, who would be there to see you? Come on. Let’s break loose and have fun for a little while. Just say yes. You know you need this. Come on. Say yes. You haven’t been out in a very long time.”
“Okay, okay. I’ll go, but I’m not going to sing if anybody is in the pub. Besides, I need to check the place out anyway. The owner called the other day and asked me to do some arrangements for eight tables for a party going on next weekend.” Branda went into deep thought for a moment. “I’ll go, but if the owner is there, I won’t be able to sing. I’ll just encourage you and Rain. Rain is going, isn’t she?”
“You know it. That’s one girlfriend who never misses a party. I’ll pick you up at seven tomorrow evening.” Sienna looked at her watch. “I’ve got to go meet Teddy for an early dinner.” Sienna’s face turned serious. “Those daymares…you’ll let me know if they continue? I know a really good psychologist who could help you out. Or you could cry on my shoulder anytime. Sometimes it helps just to talk about things. Clears the air, ya know? Makes you able to breathe again. Let me know if you need me, I’m here for you.” With that said, Sienna hugged Branda then hurried out the door.
Branda stared after her friend as she left. A part of her was unhappy about going out and another part of her knew she needed to go out and get her feet wet again. She hadn’t gone out since her latest date disaster four months ago.
If she didn’t stop thinking about Troy Cortino, every date for the rest of her life was going to be a disaster. It would be lovely if she could feel that same chemistry for someone less hot. Someone not so out of reach.
* * * *
They had just entered Gaven’s Sports Pub. Looking down, Branda smoothed her hands over her wide-leg khaki pants. She worried about the pants being a little too tight across her butt. She never wore skirts anymore. They made it too easy for an attacker to rape a woman. That was one lesson she would remember for the rest of her life. Wide-leg pants provided the best protection, and for the most part, they hid her figure and were hard to get off in a hurry. These would be a little less revealing if she’d slow down on the cookies. Fat chance of that happening. Maybe she’d start exercising. Maybe walking. Really slow walking. Yes, that’s what she’d do as soon as she got a chance.
Forcing her attention off her flaws and onto her surroundings, she let her eyes take in the pub. Good lighting, not too bright, not too dark. There were a good fifteen tables in the large room, a small stage for karaoke, and a long, sturdy, polished bar with ten barstools. Large-screened TVs hung all around the place. No getting a crick in your neck trying to watch a game in this place. It was perfect for sports lovers. Sports paraphernalia covered almost every inch of the walls not filled with TVs. Most definitely a sports junkie heaven. Seeing the place gave her a good idea of what she wanted to do. Shapes and color themes for cookies. Shapes for fruit. It was all coming together.
Plopping down onto a barstool next to Sienna, she pulled out her pad and started writing down some notes.
“You’re here to have fun, not work,” Sienna grumbled.
“Wrong,” Branda retorted. “I’m here for both. I’m just jotting down a few notes then I’ll start having fun.”
Hearing the bartender walk up, Branda looked up from her notepad and asked, “Is the owner in?”
“No, ma’am. You missed him by about thirty minutes. He’ll be back in at ten in the morning. Do you want to leave a message for him?”
“No thanks, I’ll call him tomorrow. Can I get a Coke, please?”
Rain piped in at that. “Add rum to that.”
The bartender looked at Branda for confirmation.
She gave Rain the evil eye then nodded her agreement to the waiting bartender. He nodded then moved off to get their drinks.