Sex stories

Sex stories




When Souls Collide

A beat up, half dead Datsun B210 raced down the highway, its engine whining like an old sewing machine with a brick on the foot pedal, leaving behind a blue smokescreen in its wake. The steering wheel shook so badly that the young woman in the driver's seat had to keep her fingers wrapped tightly around it, white knuckled and hanging on for dear life just to keep the car pointed in a somewhat straight line. She glanced at the clock display and grimaced, pushing the accelerator a little further to the floor in hopes of coaxing more speed out of the tired, four-cylinder engine. The little car gave a wheezy cough of protest then shot forward, startling its surprised driver.

The engine screamed, making sounds that Tabby knew in her gut probably weren't normal, but she wasn't about to question the much needed burst of speed. She had a funny thought that if her poor car could talk, it would have been chanting: "I think I can, I think I can..." as it chugged down the highway.

Tabitha swore when she saw the time, squinting at the display that was pulsing from barely legible to black, and with a sinking feeling, saw that she was going to be late getting to work...again.

"Fucking stupid car!" She slammed her palm in frustration against the centre of the steering wheel, not worried about sounding the horn. That particular option had given up the ghost months ago, along with the radio and the right turn signal.

The beater hadn't wanted to start tonight and it had taken her fifteen minutes of fighting with it before the engine had grudgingly turned over and stayed running. Unfortunately, judging by the fluctuating brightness level of the dash lights and the clock that kept fading in and out of view; it looked like her alternator was in the process of waving bye-bye to her too.

The engine coughed again and the car slowed noticeably, despite Tabby practically standing on the gas pedal. Apparently that little burst of speed was all the little car had in it tonight. The harder she pushed it, more likely it was becoming that she was going to need a miracle in order to get to work at all.

"Please don't stall! We're almost there! Just a little bit farther baby, you can do it!" She sent her fervent prayers and optimistic sentiments up into the stratosphere, hoping that some kindly god was looking down on her and might happen to hear and take pity on her.

She could seriously use a dose of good luck right now - something along the lines of a new job or maybe a Ferrari. A Ferrari would be really, really nice, at least she could get to her shit job in style. She grimaced, the pleasant daydream going up in a puff of smoke. Reality sucked - like really sucked. Tabby knew that the closest she would be getting to her daydream tonight, would come in the form of a tow truck and most likely getting her ass handed to her when she got fired for being late again. The way the car was behaving pretty much put paid to that daydream not happening any time soon.

The bar and grill where she worked as a short-order cook had recently been sold and the new owner was a colossal prick. She'd already been late five times in the past three weeks and he'd given her a warning that if it happened one more time, she'd be out of a job; a crappy, stupid, menial job that the jerk knew she desperately needed, and now her crappy, stupid, shit-box of a car was going to lose it for her.

"Fuck my life," she yelled, urging the car to keep moving and stubbornly refusing to acknowledge the ominous tendrils of white smoke beginning to escape from under the hood.

The car limped the next few miles, sputtering and wheezing like a saturated accordion and making horrible noises that attracted strange looks from the occupants in other passing cars. Tabby shrunk down in embarrassment and hid behind her steering wheel, blowing out a relieved breath that she hadn't been aware that she'd been holding, when the sign for her exit finally appeared up ahead.

She sniffed, a suspiciously sweet odor was wafting into the car from the vents and she groaned in dismay. Going by the humid reek of hot metal that was getting stronger by the minute, exiting off the highway couldn't happen fast enough for the little car.

Sure enough, as soon as its bald tires skidded on to the exit ramp, the dash lit up like a Christmas tree as the engine temperature soared and the engine warning light blazed briefly into life then faded away, settling into pulsing, half-heartedly in an attempt to get her attention.

She didn't need the pathetically glowing light to tell her that she'd pushed the old car too hard this time. The cloud of white steam escaping from under her hood was doing that job just fine.

Well wasn't that just craptastic? She would have closed her eyes, if she hadn't been driving.

Oh come on, really? What next?

The wispy smoke dashed her hopes and told her that she and the car were running on borrowed time. Tabby mentally willed the car to just get her to work.

Please, pretty please, with high octane fuel on top?

She didn't know if begging would work but she was so badly out of opinions that it was the only thing left that she could actually do.

She merged on to the city street and immediately slowed down. Her car shuddered and groaned alarmingly as the stress on the engine abated, but the temperature light remained stubbornly on and steam was pouring out even thicker, warning Tabby that all was not copacetic under the hood.

She nursed the car for a few more blocks, immensely relieved when the garish, neon sign for Jack's Bar & Grill finally came into view around the last corner. Tabby pulled into the parking lot just as plumes of white smoke began billowing out from under the hood. As if it could sense the end of the line, the engine gave one last phlegmy belch and then stalled. She coasted it into a parking stall, thankful that the little car didn't need power steering and she could still guide the vehicle enough to park it out of the way. Barely able to see, she grabbed her purse and bailed out of the driver's side door in a rush, afraid that the car was going to blow up or catch fire. After sprinting a few yards away, Tabby stopped and glared back over her shoulder at the useless pile of metal that used to be her only form of transportation.

"Stupid, piece of shit car," she muttered sadly, shaking her head in utter dismay.

Nick, one of the bartenders on shift that evening, and a close friend of Tabby's, was loitering off to the side of the building and was watching the commotion with a raised eyebrow, while he puffed on a cigarette. He sauntered across the lot, curiosity and concern written all over his way too pretty face.

"Problems?" he drawled with his smoke dangling from the side of his mouth, trying not to laugh at the ridiculous sight.

"Nope, it's supposed to do that, asshole," she snapped back sarcastically. He lifted his hands up, warding her off and had the audacity to laugh.

"Really, Nick? Can't you see..." she pointed accusingly at her car that was in the process of steaming and hissing like a geyser. "...how incredibly fucked I am now?"

"Whoa! Easy there tiger, I was only trying to be friendly, Tabs." He took a long draw off his cigarette and blew the lungful of thick smoke straight into the air above his head, setting loose a series of smoke rings that Tabby would have found impressive had her life not been in the process of imploding.

"Sorry about the beast, BTW," he mumbled apologetically.

She sighed, "No. I'm sorry, Nick. You don't deserve having your head bitten off just because I'm fucking late again and Jerry's going to flip his shit when I get inside." A lock of her unruly, curly hair fell in front of her eyes and she pushed it away, suddenly overcome by the urge to just plop her butt down and start bawling. She stared hopelessly at her car, still belching gouts of white smoke. "Think it'll be okay? I mean, should I call the fire department or something?"

"Nah, white smoke's nothing to really freak out about, probably just popped a hose or something," he sniffed the air. "Smell that? Sweet, kinda smells like cake? That's just water and antifreeze. Nothing's on fire. Now black smoke, that would be bad, but this shit's nothing to panic over." He paused and the two of them stared helplessly at the dying, little car. He happened to glance down and noticed something that Tabby had not. "Uh oh, I hate to be the bearer of bad news," he shook his head, directing Tabby's attention to the growing puddle of oil spreading out from underneath the front of her car. "I think it might be something more tragic than a blown hose, honey. Me thinks your faithful steed has run its last race. Looks like you might have blown your engine."

Tabby just groaned, glaring daggers at the car and feeling hot tears pricking at her eyes. "What the hell am I supposed to do now?" she asked forlornly.

"Come on, darlin', we might as well go face the music inside. We'll figure it out later. There's no need to stand here and watch it go through its death throes." He wrapped his arm around her shoulders, hugged her to him and led her around the back of the building to the kitchen's employee entrance

The minute she stepped inside, her boss, Jerry, pounced on her, red faced and puffing like an old steam engine.

"What the fuck time do you call this, Tabitha? Your shift started twenty minutes ago and we're swamped!" He was tapping the face of his wristwatch so hard that he reminded Tabby of a spastic woodpecker. Tap, tap, tap, tap- because everyone knows that that's how you make time rewind, don't you know?

"Hey Jerry, give the girl a break, man. Her car just beached itself in the lot and died. It's a miracle she got here at all." Thank god for Nick, ever the peacemaker! Tabby could have kissed her friend, grateful to have his support.

"Not my fucking problem," Jerry bellowed, displaying a jack-o-lantern smile full of yellow stained teeth the size of piano keys. "The bar full of hungry patrons out there and the fact that my lazy ass cooks can't be bothered to fucking show up on time IS my problem though!" He grabbed an apron off the prep table and threw it angrily at Tabby. "Get your ass in front of that grill and start frying." He pivoted on his heel and began stalking away then stopped and threw a dirty look over his shoulder at Tabby. "We aren't finished here, Tabitha, see me after closing." He stormed across the kitchen and shoved through the swinging double doors that led into the bar area, barely managing to avoid smashing the doors into the face of a server returning with a tray full of dirty dish ware.

Tabby's heart sunk - like cannonballs tied to her ankles kind of sunk. The last thing she wanted to do was get stuck alone with her boss. When the abusive dick wasn't yelling at her, belittling her or trying to make a sleazy pass at her, his hands had a tendency to get a little too friendly for Tabby's comfort and it creeped her out. She shuddered at the memory of his overly friendly hugs and casual pats on her backside that he passed off as jokes; he always managed to find an excuse to infringe on her personal space, making her feel crowded and uncomfortable. Having to face Jerry on her own was a prospect that goaded something heavy and restless to begin squirming in her belly, making her feel slightly nauseous.

Jerry wasn't a handsome man. In fact, he was the type of guy that handsome sized up at birth, then took the zero and left town; except he didn't know it. The view through Jerry's rose-coloured glasses made him believe that he was the proverbial God's gift to women and that every female wet their panties just for the opportunity to spend time in his presence. Medium height, an inch or two shy of six foot, Jerry had the look of a man that had spent too much time chasing vices that took a heavy toll on a body. Deep lines covered his forehead and were etched into skin that resembled worn shoe leather, the result from being bathed in toxic tobacco smoke for decades. Unhealthy eating habits had expanded his middle-age spread into an unhealthy paunch that overhung his belt in a way that strained the limits of the buttons of his shirt to keep it under wraps. His greying hair had thinned to the point where he'd resorted to the dreaded "comb over" in a lame attempt at hiding a hairline that was in full retreat, as if that could hide the shiny scalp that lay beneath the sparse strands. His vanity blinded him to reality and he could frequently be found preening in front of a mirror in his office, combing and re-combing his hair like some 50's teen idol - he had the attitude, all he lacked was the hair...and the looks...and possibly the youth to pull it off successfully.

Of all his vices, Jerry's drinking habit was the one that affected everyone around him the most. It was also the one that worried Tabby the most. He drank way too much, on a frequent basis, and it showed in his permanently flushed cheeks and reddened nose. It was a habit that he didn't bother trying to hide, believing that it made him look more masculine and he was rarely found without a glass of bourbon in his hand or nearby.

Jerry's drinking wasn't a problem for him - it was a problem for everyone else. The more he drank the more aggressive and belligerent he became so that by the end of each night, the staff gave him a wide berth as he lumbered around the premises looking like a dyspeptic gorilla spoiling for a fight.

The florid glow already high on Jerry's cheeks was a warning to Tabby that her boss had begun his drinking early that night - a fact that didn't bode well for the shape he was going to be in by closing.

Maybe he'd just pass out and forget, Tabby hoped. It wouldn't be the first time that he'd done it and Tabby really prayed that history would repeat itself tonight. Let him drink himself into oblivion so that she could sneak out and avoid the confrontation after work.

Dealing with a sober Jerry was normally all sorts of unpleasantness. On a good day the guy was an abrasive, arrogant, chauvinistic pig, but drunk and pissed off? Tabby shivered as a finger of dread scraped its pointy nail up her spine. The drunker he got the more unpredictable and dangerous he would become. Dealing with him in that state would be like playing blind man's bluff with a cobra.

"Where's Mica?" she asked, suddenly noticing the conspicuous lack of the other cook that should have been on that evening. Nick took one last drag off his cigarette and then flicked the still glowing butt out the door, sending it hissing into a bucket of stagnant water that sat besides the building.

"He's at home. He called in sick, got the flu or something." He cocked a commiserating eyebrow at Tabby, "You picked the wrong day to be late, sugar-pie."

"Yeah, because I planned it that way..." She hurriedly stashed her purse in her cubby, wrapped the apron around her waist and headed for the grill. The printer sat buried under a mountain of paper, happily grinding out more order tickets. Tabby swore under her breath and began tearing them off and putting them in order. She wrapped her long hair into a loose ponytail, covered it with an uber sexy hair net and scanned the waiting pile of orders to see what needed doing first. Thank god someone had had the forethought to get the grill and fryer turned on. At least everything was warmed up and ready to go.

Nick blew her a kiss and headed out of the double doors into the cacophony of the packed bar, giving her a quick salute before he disappeared. She laughed, then headed into the big walk-in cooler, retrieved a tray of burger patties that she'd made up the night before and a snagged bag of chicken wings on her way out the door. The patties hit the grill, sizzling happily on the hot metal, while Tabby dumped the wings into a huge, stainless steel bowl. Working from experience, she tossed them with spices and flour before dumping them, perfectly coated, into a empty fryer basket.

The next few hours passed in a blur as she settled into a rhythm, feverishly keeping up with the nonstop orders and sending plate after plate out to feed the hungry patrons. It would figure that they were actually busy tonight, something that was happening less and less lately. Without Mica to help, Tabby was a whirlwind of energy, doing the job of two people, dashing from the grill, to the fryer in a carefully orchestrated dance. Good at her job, she worked efficiently to get the orders filled before the complaints could start. Hopefully that would help sweeten Jerry's mood.

Thank god, Jack's only served up basic bar fare - burgers, wings, fries etc. Most were pre-made and frozen, saving her a ton of prep time. She'd tried to convince Jerry to return to the fresh, homemade fare that had made Jack's so popular with the locals, hating the institutional quality of the food now, but all Jerry cared about was his bottom line. He figured that the patrons would be too drunk and stupid to realize that they were paying good money for the same, low quality crap that they could have bought at the local Walmart for a fraction of the price.

Unfortunately, the customers weren't as dumb as Jerry believed, and it didn't take long for Tabby to notice the drop in the kitchen volume, and the increase in food coming back with complaints. So long as Jerry had bourbon in his glass, he didn't seem to care about much of anything else and ignored her suggestions entirely. His actual words were: "Don't worry that pretty little head of yours. Leave the running of the business to me and you just worry about the cooking, sweetheart." Tabby had wanted to slap the condescending smirk right off his face that day. If it wasn't for the fact she needed the job, she would've have been quite content to let the arrogant prick shoot himself in the foot with his own stupidity.

Oh well, at the rate they were losing business, Jack's would be closed in six months anyway. It was probably a good thing that she was going to be fired after working tonight, all things considered. A rush of dread caught her at the thought of being unemployed and she swallowed against the sour taste of panic that surged up her throat.

Don't think about it, Tabs, she coached herself. Focus on what's in front of you and worry about that when it happens. She threw herself into her job, refusing to think about anything else other than the task at hand. She didn't need the distraction when there was so much to do. Losing herself in the routine of her job, Tabby pushed her worries to the back of her mind, determined to just get through the next few hours.

The printer finally stopped vomiting out tickets at ten to midnight, giving her ten minutes to finish up the last orders before the kitchen shut down for the night. Last call was announced and half an hour later, Nick popped back into the kitchen, dragged her away from the heat of the grill and out into the cool night air for a break. She slumped tiredly against the cool brick of the building, wiping the sweat from her brow with a damp bar rag, wishing she could just melt into the wall and disappear.

Being busy had helped her temporarily forget about her conked out car and the imminent meeting with her mercurial boss. Outside, in the calm evening air, the wave of anxiety slammed into her, sapping the last shreds of energy she possessed.

Nick tapped out a smoke and offered one to her, she refused with an absent wave of her hand and pulled off the ugly hair net, shaking out her sweaty hair. It felt so good to be out of the stifling heat of the kitchen that Tabby closed her eyes for a minute, content to just enjoy the cool night breeze.

"You did good tonight, sugar-pie," he hugged her to him, kissing the top of her head. Nick was tall, blond and almost too beautiful for words. He reminded Tabby of a cowboy crossed with a supermodel, exuding sex and charisma with every move his perfectly formed body made. The man was built to fuck, she thought, and not for the first time.
Too bad his gate didn't swing in her direction, she mused.

She indulged in the comfort that his arms offered, needing something nice to dispel the bubbling anxiety and help her through the rest of the night. He tickled her playfully and she crumpled against him, laughing and beating at his chest with her small fists.

"Quit it!" she wheezed, wiggling away from his fingers. "Isn't Brian due here any second?" she accused him. "You don't want him to see you fondling me like a blow up doll and have him think that you've suddenly gone straight do you?" Nick gave her a saucy wink and rapped her shoulder with his knuckles.

"Sweetie, if I were straight, I'd be taking you home to bed for myself tonight." He paused and pretended to have just had a brilliant idea, a sneaky smile creeping across his lush lips. "On second thought, Brian probably would love that. You game?"

Tabby blushed, even though she knew he was joking - or at least she hoped he was. With Nick, it was hard to tell sometimes. Being openly gay didn't stop him from flirting and teasing her at every opportunity, but she knew it was just teasing. Nick did not do chicks - his words, not hers. His partner though, was pansexual - taking whatever was on tap whether it came in the form of a male, female or some shade of grey in between. "Thanks, Nick, but I think I'll pass." She sighed and looked into the kitchen door, her misgivings rising up and making her insides feel like they just rearranged themselves upside down.

"That's a shame," he quipped. "Showing up with you in tow would have earned me some serious brownie points! Brian likes you." He waggled his eyebrows at her in a suggestively lewd manner, took a long drag on his cigarette and then grinned at her. She knew by the mischievous glint in his sparkling blue eyes that something dirty and wildly inappropriate was about to come out of his mouth. He nudged her and said, sotto voce, "We could get drunk and make you the filling in a manwich! Imagine the fun!"

"Nick!" she giggled in mock outrage and punched him in the shoulder. He painted on a wounded puppy expression, pouting prettily at her and she sighed. "You're incorrigible, you know that? I'd better get back inside and finish the clean up. I really don't want to give Jerry another reason to rip me a new one and I don't want to be here all night."

A sleek sports car pulled into the alley that ran behind the bar, illuminating them in its bright headlights. Nick beamed and waved at the driver, adoration for his boyfriend softening his features. "I can stay if you'd like, Tabs. I don't mind, for moral support and all that." To protect you, is what his body language said. He was just as worried about leaving her with Jerry as Tabby was over being left.

"That's okay, Nick. Go on, I'll be fine," she replied, not really wanting an audience for the humiliating ass-chewing she was going to receive. Plus, she knew that Nick's boyfriend was only in town for two days before he was scheduled to fly out on a business trip. He deserved some quality time, even if she was freaking out about having to deal with a drunken Jerry on her own. Besides, the ass wouldn't actually do anything other than yell and embarrass her anyway.

"Brian's waiting for you and I'm going to be stuck in there for at least another hour."

"You sure, darlin'?" Tabby nodded and pulled the door open to go back inside.

"Go on, Nick." She stood up on her tip toes and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. "Have fun with Brian you big perv. I'll text you in the morning and maybe the three of us can get together for pancakes and you can give me the gory details." He gave her a tentative smile, not reassured by her casual attitude.

"Okay then, if you're sure. I'll talk to you in the morning, sweetie." He gave her a quick hug then ran over to his boyfriend's car, skillfully dodging the numerous puddles that dotted the alleyway. He somehow managed to fold his lanky frame into some semblance of an origami human and climbed into the small car. Both men smiled and waved to Tabby as they passed by her and she watched the taillights disappear out of the alley, leaving her alone with a mountain of worry that she couldn't ignore any longer.

It was time to go and face the music.

Tabby returned inside to find the mess waiting for her and sighed tiredly. Most of the appliances were either already off or waiting patiently for her to come clean them and the constant thump of music had finally subsided - a not so subtle hint to those lingering in the bar, that they'd be tossed out to find their way home soon.

Some of the waite staff had gravitated into the kitchen, hanging around the prep table and snacking on a plate of nachos that she had made up for the staff with whatever ingredients were leftover that wouldn't keep until the next day. They fell on the food like a pack of rabid hyenas fighting over a carcass, laughing and joking with each other as they unwound after a busy shift. Tabby just nodded, shot them a smile, but didn't have the energy to be social. She still had tons of clean up and prep to get through for tomorrow, even if she wasn't going to be there, and then there was Jerry to deal with.

As if on cue, his loud, obnoxious, bray of laughter carried into the kitchen; Jerry's slurred voice making some crude remark that was followed by a squeal of outrage by a female patron.

One of the busboys had been spying out of the rounded window and started hooting with laughter. "It looks like old Jerry is going home with his dick in his hand again tonight, people!" He announced with glee. "Judging by the slap that blonde he's been dogging all night, just gave him, she finally must have gotten fed up of Mister Grabby hands' slimy moves."

Great. That's all she needed, Tabby groaned inwardly. He's going to be a miserable bastard now and will probably be feeling vindictive after being shot down by that woman.

This fucked up day just keeps getting better. Tabby's mind was so full of worries and stressing over so many things that her head had begun an incessant throbbing right behind her eyes.

She did not want to face Jerry alone and that fear kept twisting in her gut like a restless snake, making her feel like throwing up.

I should just quit, he's probably going to fire me anyway, she thought while she scoured off the burnt-on food stubbornly stuck to the grill with a pumice stone. The scratchy, gritty sound set her teeth on edge and made her intimately aware of the pounding headache that was growing in intensity. She'd actually been too busy and distracted to even notice how much her head hurt, but now that she did, it wouldn't be ignored any longer.

"What a fucking night," she murmured, doing one last look around the kitchen and double checking that the fryer and grill had been properly shut off. The kitchen had emptied out while she'd been occupied cleaning the grill, all that remained on the plate was a scattering of tortilla crumbs with bits of melted cheese gluing the fragments into a crusty mass. A stray black olive riding shotgun on a jalapeño slice reminded Tabby's stomach that it hadn't seen food since she'd eaten a stale piece of toast with peanut butter when she'd woken up in the morning. It rumbled and gurgled embarrassingly loud in the quiet room and she rubbed her belly, wishing that her bank account held enough money for a burger from a drive-through on her way home. The way her finances stood at the moment, if she stuck her debit card into a bank machine, air would rush in to fill the void that was all that was left in her account. Food would have to wait until payday, unless she could mooch something off of her friend, Petra, when she got home.

If she got home, that was. There was still the problem of her unexpected lack of transportation.

Tabby hadn't quite figured out how she was going to manage that feat with her car having turned turtle in the parking lot. She gave a little laugh at the silly picture of her Datsun flipped on its roof waving its bald, mismatched tires helplessly in the air.

Stupid, stupid, stupid fucking car.

She glanced towards the swinging doors in time to see the lights in the main bar shut off, the view past the round glass windows going black with the exception of the glowing exit sign lit up on the far end of the room. A second later, Jerry shouldered his way through the doors, a cash register tray in one arm and a tumbler of amber liquid in the other. He glared at her with eyes that were just a little too shiny for him to be anywhere in the vicinity of sober and he got a speculative look that made Tabby's skin crawl. There was something slimy and reptilian about the way his eyes narrowed, matching the crocodile smile that slithered across his thin lips. He took a swig from the glass and licked his lips slowly, making Tabby's stomach clench in disgust.

He placed the cash drawer on the stainless steel prep table then strolled slowly in her direction, making a theatrical show of inspecting the cleanliness of the kitchen. He hummed and harrumphed, dragging a thick, meaty finger over every surface, shooting disapproving frowns her way to make sure that she was paying attention to his performance. Every so often he'd stop and take a long swallow on his drink, watching her over the rim with raw avarice in his beady, little eyes. His glass finally emptied and he discarded it with an exaggerated sigh, on the metal table, disappointment clear on his features.

He pointed at her, his index finger drifting away from its intended target like a broken compass. "In my office...now!" he slurred and then burped loudly. He smacked his lips together again with a disgusting wet sound and swayed like he was standing on the deck of a boat.

"Can't we just do this out here, Jerry? I have a few more things to finish up and we can always talk while I do them." Stall, Tabby! Her senses were picking up a dangerous vibe from the man and screaming for her to bolt, to put as much distance between him and her but he wasn't having anything of it.

"Your file is on my desk and I need it so get your ass in there now! We need to discuss your future here, girl." Tabby swallowed hard, hoping the shaking that vibrated her from the inside out wasn't obvious to Jerry. His eyes held an excited gleam under the sheen of drunkenness that unsettled her.

She should go. She really should go...right now.

Just leave and screw the job, but rent was due in a week and her cupboards didn't have enough in them to even interest the cockroaches. She needed the job and had to at least try to save it, if she could. But Jerry's odd behavior was making her seriously nervous and Tabby wished she had taken Nick up on his offer to stick around. The bar was empty, everyone had gone home - it was just him and her left and that wasn't a good situation for Tabby to find herself in.

"You deaf as well as chronically late?" he barked at her. "This is your last warning, girl. If you want to keep your job, you'll march that pert little ass of yours into my office so that we can have our little chat!" He was puffed up with his own importance, pointing towards the open door of his office with an imperious finger. Tabby took in a shaky breath that felt like she was breathing in a lungful of sand particles, then started across the kitchen to Jerry's office with him following her much too close for her comfort. He mumbled something under his breath that she didn't catch and definitely didn't want to ask him to repeat, so she ignored him and stepped into the office, which was little than a glorified, windowless closet that functioned as Jerry's base of operations. She felt immediately claustrophobic in the cramped space. The claustrophobia ratcheted up into panic when Jerry stepped in behind her, startling her when he pulled the door closed and she heard the lock click into place.

"Wh-why are you closing the door, Jerry? There's no one here but us now." Tabby's heart rate was racing like a scared rabbit at having suddenly found herself in an untenable situation. Jerry had at least a foot in height and at least one hundred pounds over her much smaller frame and now, he was blocking the only way out of the small room. He was so close that she could smell the stink of perspiration and alcohol coming off him in reeking waves, turning her stomach.

He gave a low, mean chuckle and sidled past her, brushing up against her back as he pretended to edge by. He went behind his desk and dropped his weight into a beat up, leather, executive chair that groaned alarmingly as his bulk stressed the limits of its cheap, plastic frame. "The cleaners are due in any time and I'd like privacy for our little chat." He leaned forward, resting ham sized forearms on his desk and indicating to a chair placed in front. "Sit," he demanded coldly.

Tabby slowly lowered herself stiffly into the seat, her back ramrod straight and her knee jittering and bouncing with anxiety that she couldn't completely hold inside. Deciding to take control of the situation she blurted out, "I'm so sorry that I was late again, Jerry. My car..."

"I'm not interested in your useless apologies," he interrupted, his hand slicing the air to silence her. "The fact is, I need to be able to count on my staff and you keep letting me down, girl. Your tardiness put my balls in a bind tonight. We had a packed house and neither of my cooks could be bothered to show up. I lost money I can't afford because you were late." He straightened up and gave her a devious, appraising look. She could practically hear the wheels in his head spinning with anticipation and got a very bad feeling.

"I brought you in here so that we can discuss how to rectify this situation." He sat back in his chair, a calculating smirk on his face. His eyes were shark-like with ravenous intensity and greed, making her squirm in her seat as they tracked down her chest and lingered over her breasts. Her stomach plummeted through her feet, getting a sudden, nasty idea of where this meeting was heading. As if to confirm her fears, one of his hands slid back on the desk and disappeared out of sight. Movement in his upper arm suggested actions were happening out of her sight that Tabby didn't want to know about.

Oh my god. Is he... stroking himself? She gagged on sour bile that scalded up her throat.

Holy fuck, I need to get out of here!

Jerry's eyes shone, openly ogling her breasts as his arm moved with rhythmic jerks. He grunted and his eyelids fluttered half mast, his body shuddering. Tabby didn't need to see behind his desk to know that he had just come in his pants. She felt dizzy with fizzing terror and sick to her stomach with fear.

Jerry breathed theatrically, his heavy eyes never leaving her for a second, an oily smile slithered across his lips, satisfied that she comprehended the point of his little performance. "Yes, I think we can help each other here. Don't you?" He stood slowly up and Tabby sucked in a breath, horrified at seeing the damp spot soaked into the front of his trousers, sitting right on top of the outline of an erection.

Oh fuck. Oh fuck. Oh fuck.

She jumped out of her chair but barely made it a few steps before he was on her. For a big man, Jerry moved like a pit viper, whipping around the corner of his desk and grabbing a handful consisting of her long hair and the back of her shirt. He hauled her backwards, the burning shock of her hair being viciously pulled made her cry out in pain. He yanked her off her feet and flung her bodily back into the chair, knocking her breath from her lungs with a loud exhalation of air.

"Now why did you have to go and do that?" He whined like a petulant child, his little piggy eyes shining with a malevolent disapproval. "We were just having a friendly conversation and you had to go and ruin it." His eyes grew flinty, fixating on her with dangerous intent. "And we were just getting to the good part." His words were perfectly enunciated and cut the air like a razor. "Don't you want to hear the good news, Tabitha?" He spat her name with so much derision in his voice that it chilled her to the core. Fear blossomed inside her as the realization of how much trouble she was in hit her with the force of a ballistic missile.

It was then that Tabby understood the grave miscalculation that she'd made. She had badly underestimated his state of drunkenness, initially hoping to use his inebriation to her advantage. It was apparent to her now that the devious bastard had been putting on a show to lull her into a false sense of security. The ugly, brute of a man looming over her was stone sober and had played her for a fool.

Her stupidity had gotten her trapped alone with a calculating predator. Tabby felt real fear fill her chest, making her heartbeat race and skip in a sickening dance of terror.

She was in way, way over her head.

"What do you want from me?" she asked, afraid of the answer. He grinned wolfishly, displaying his oversized teeth and perched his bulk on the edge of his desk, his hand going back to the bulge in his pants and rubbing it.

"I'm a reasonable man. We can help each other out here. You need a job - I can let you keep yours." He beamed, magnanimously. Stroke went his hand over the front of his stained trousers. "You need a car - I just happen to have one that I could give you use of."

Stroke...stroke.

"All I'd want from you in return, is to fulfill a few, let's call them: 'favours' for me, okay?"

Stroke...rub...groan.

He was putting on a show for Tabby's benefit, getting more aroused as he reached the point of this discussion. "We don't have to be enemies here, Tabitha. Wouldn't you prefer to be friends?" His fist squeezed around his erection and he licked his lips greedily. His breathing had picked up again, betraying his level of excitement and his eyes couldn't seem to keep their lecherous gaze off of her breasts.

"W-what k-kind of 'favours' did...did you h-have in m-mind?" she couldn't help stammering, terror had turned her insides to quivering jelly and her mouth didn't seem to want to work properly. She had the uncomfortable feeling of being a cornered, wounded animal, being played with by a bored lion.

Jerry's hand moved faster over his erection, excited by her fear and obviously getting off on it. He stood again and Tabby instantly recoiled, trying to keep away from him, but was trapped by the chair in which she sat. He laughed, a mocking, humorless, thing that spoke volumes of the kind of illicit ideas he had stewing in his twisted brain.

He leaned in closer to her, his hands leaving his erection and drifting idly up her arm. She sat motionless, screaming inside at the disgusting feel of his fingers through the thin cotton of her uniform sleeve. "You see...my fat bitch of a wife doesn't fulfill her wifely duties for me anymore. Do you have any idea how hard that is for a man like me? Every day I slave at work and all she does is spend my money and watch TV."

"W-what does that have to do with me?" Tabby asked, stupidly, but needed to keep him talking so that she could think.

"In exchange for your job and the use of a car, I want you to take her place, be my little whore, give to me what that miserable cunt denies me."

Tabby jerked in horror, shaking her head so hard her vision spun. "No! No!"

His huge fists clamped over her biceps, squeezing hard. "Now that's not being very friendly at all, is it, girl?" he growled, gritting his teeth loud enough that she could hear the scrape of tooth enamel. Before she could react, his hands left her arms in a blur and he grabbed at the two halves of her shirt front and yanked hard, sending the buttons pinging off of the walls and metal filing cabinet like shrapnel from a pressure cooker bomb. He took full advantage of Tabby's shocked state by clutching both her arms again quickly, before she had the sense to try to get away. He lifted her out of her seat and slammed her back flat onto his desktop, the impact making her breath whoosh out in the form of another strangled scream. The back of her skull impacted the hard surface with a sickening crack, bouncing a couple of times from the force of the hit. Her vision blurred and greyed out, leaving her stunned and helpless. Pain exploded like a nuclear bomb in her head and she almost threw up from the eye-splitting agony. She moaned, head lolling to the side and fought against the giant hands trying to pull her into unconsciousness.
He just laughed and leered at her, face alight with sick triumph. "You still owe me for the aggravation you've caused me, bitch." His eyes darted to her bra, which was heaving with her rapid breathing. "And you're not leaving here until I collect...with interest!"

Tabby's blood went cold, ice crystals forming in her veins and fear paralyzing her muscles. She couldn't think, all her thoughts had scattered like a bag of marbles dropped onto the floor, skittering and rolling away before she could collect them. Terror put her on the verge of hyperventilating and the risk of fainting was becoming a real threat as her ears filled with a buzzing static and a hazy, gray fog thickened and encroached on her field of vision.

"Think!" A familiar voice, not her own, yelled from inside her head, cutting through the roaring chaos filling her ears and drawing her away from the blackness that was trying to steal consciousness from her. It sounded so much like her twin brother, Troy, that she thought, for one brief, precious second, that he was in the room with her, though she knew that he couldn't be.

"Come on sis, use that big brain of yours before that pig of a human takes something from you that isn't his to take!"

"Troy! I don't know what to do!" She cried back. "He's too big, too strong. I can't fight him."

"You have to stop thinking like a victim, Tabby! It's going to get you killed." He scolded her, disappointment lacing his words. She imagined that she could see Troy's blue eyes cutting through the storm clouds swirling poisonously in her mind, glowing brightly with his fierce love for her and sending his strength through their connection. That strength was something she was in dire need of at the moment.

"He's fighting dirty, so you need to do so as well. This is life and death, sis. You're in the middle of it and in a minute, time is going to catch up and you have to act before it's too late!" His voice was fading, retreating as the clouds moved back into place.

"Troy!" She called out, her dream-self reaching a hand out to him. "Please, please don't leave me!"

"Remember Tabs, fight dirty! Survive," he said and vanished into the murk.

Tabby was thrust back into her awful reality by Jerry's rough hand groping at her bra, pulling it away from her chest and twisting it in an attempt to rip it from her, but the material was stronger than it looked and wouldn't give. He settled for pushing it up and letting her full breasts bounce out of the bottom. He was on them instantly, pawing at them with rough hands and squishing them with his fingers like a child playing with play dough. His fingers dug hard into her sensitive tissue, over and over until she was shrieking in pain, writhing under Jerry's immense weight and kicking out frantically, but her legs couldn't connect with him hovering so close to her.

"Scream all you want, you useless cunt! There's no one here to hear you and I do love fucking me a fighter, beats that cold fish of a wife back home!" Drops of putrid spit hit Tabby's face as he gloated over her. He had her pinned down with one arm, both her wrists trapped in his huge hand and his weight braced across her belly, trying to keep her in place while he took stabs at grabbing at the button on her jeans with his free hand. She was making it next to impossible for him to get a hold of it by twisting and bucking her body beneath him, his own girth added to the difficulty by making him have to do it blindly, unable to see past the rolling expanse of fat obscuring his line of sight.

"Stop fucking moving, you miserable little bitch!" Red faced with frustration, Jerry's hand suddenly appeared in Tabby's peripheral vision a split second before pain erupted on her right cheek. "Move again and I'll knock you out and tie you up!" he snarled at her, sending another shower of revolting spit into her face.

The impact made stars burst in front of Tabby's eyes, stunning her but it was his threatening words that knifed through her panic. The terrifying possibility of being totally helpless with him had petrified her into stillness. Jerry grinned manically while he easily slipped the button through the tight denim and wrenched her zipper down. He was practically drooling when he yanked off both her jeans and underwear, working them over her pair of boots that he couldn't be bothered to waste time untying so that they could be removed first. She whimpered as cool air found the newly exposed skin of her sex and Jerry's eyes became glassy with fevered lust.

"Now that's more like it," he hummed happily. "I'm going to stand up now, if you move so much as a finger, I'll tie you up and have some real fun with you. Lie there like a good little whore and I'll just fuck you and maybe let you leave after. Understand?"

Tabby nodded numbly, potent fear sizzling through her nerves until she swore she could hear the crackle and fizz of arcing electricity. She could feel her mind desperately trying to retreat, an odd sense of detachment pulling at her like a dog straining on a leash, dragging her away from the brutal act that was fast approaching. It was only the pounding ache in her face and the shivering cold shaking her body that grounded her in reality, giving her something tangible to focus upon.

This was it, her mind screamed. You're about to get raped and there's nothing you can do about it!

"Fight!" Troy's voice filled her head, breaking through the strange lethargy that had stolen her will. A mental nudge, as if her brother had just slapped her brain, brought painful awareness rushing back. Tabby gasped and clawed her way out of the well of resignation and despair that had sucked her in and let righteous anger fill her with energy.

She would fight him, dammit. There was no way in hell that she was going to let this happen without making it as hard for the sick bastard as she could. If the end result was going to be the same, at least she'll know that she tried everything she could possibly do to prevent it...even if she died trying.

Her gaze shifted back onto Jerry, a new determination fueling her body. She would find an opportunity or a mistake or something that she could exploit to get herself out of this hellish situation.

She would fight dirty.

Jerry was panting, compulsively licking his thin lips with a lascivious hunger that made him look possessed. His eyes disturbed and revolted Tabby, roving over her naked mound and flicking crazily between it and her bare breasts, while he fumbled with clumsy, uncoordinated fingers to unbuckle his belt.

His large belly and his proximity to her made the task much harder than it should have been. He grunted and finally had to step back so that he could peer down, suck his gut in and work the belt out of the buckle.

Tabby held her breath, suspended in a state of morbid fascination as he finally managed to undo the stubborn button on his pants and they and his boxers fell from his hips. Unrestricted, his semi-erect cock sprung forward and for a split second, Tabby almost let out a guffaw of hysterical laughter. The pathetic thing bobbed, reminding her of a broken jack-in-the-box, jerking awkwardly as it tried to inflate itself into a state of usefulness. Her trance was broken by something thick and white, dripping off the end of his dick and falling out of her line of sight onto the floor and she was immediately reminded that he'd jacked off earlier. She gagged in revulsion, feeling time and her chance for freedom, slipping through her fingers like motor oil.

Her moment came unexpectedly when Jerry stepped forward and leaned over to position himself between her legs. He didn't seem capable of peeling his eyes off the dark thatch of pubic hair between her legs and was hunched over at the perfect angle for Tabby to see an opportunity to retaliate. Without thinking, she popped one knee up sharply, catching him by surprise. Her kneecap found its target and crunched with explosive force, into Jerry's bulbous nose. He howled in shock like a wild animal, bolting straight upright and grabbing for his nose with both hands, bright red blood spraying everywhere and oozing through his fingers.

"You bitch!" he yowled, spitting blood at her in a gurgling roar.

Tabby saw her next opportunity open up and didn't hesitate to act again. The second he had stood up, his vulnerable groin was left unprotected by the withdrawal of the bulk of his overhanging belly, Tabby retracted both of her knees up to her chest so fast they moved in a blur and, exploded her legs forward as if they had been spring loaded. Her feet hit his vulnerable crotch like a pile driver, making his eyes bulge from his head before he let loose an ear splitting shriek. She felt the fleshy thud reverberate up her legs as both boot heels slammed into his cock, shoved his testicles up into his body and smashed them like grapes between her heels and his pubic bone. The force of her strike shot him backwards while at the same time, he crumpled forward in agony. He lost his balance and careened off the chair by the desk, landing on the floor in a gasping heap clutching at his bleeding crotch and gagging on his own screams.

With him incapacitated, Tabby didn't waste any time scrambling off the desk, pausing just long enough to level another brutal kick to the shrieking man's unguarded face. He tried to grab for her leg but she'd anticipated that and kicked his hand away, catching him on the wrist so hard that she heard the stick-like sound of bone cracking. He howled again, curling around his broken hand and gasping in agony.

"Hope it was worth it you bastard. Your cock isn't going to be good for anything but pissing out of now!" she screamed at him. Tabby snatched her pants off the floor and jumped for the door, leaving Jerry a bloody mess behind her.

"You fucking...bitch!" He wheezed from the floor, doing a bizarre twisting motion that looked like he was torn between wanting to curl up in the fetal position and trying to get to his feet at the same time. Blood streamed from his mouth and nose and more soaked through his trousers staining them dark, where her kick had done him some serious damage. "You're...gonna...regret this, you fucking bitch!"

Unlocking the door, Tabby turned and spat at him, feeling a massive burst of satisfaction as she watched the glob of saliva hit him in the eye and slide down his cheek. "You can keep your fucking job and shove your favours up your ass! I quit!"

She left Jerry writhing and moaning on the floor of his office and raced through the kitchen, her ruined shirt flapping like wings at her sides. Her mind propelling her to go, go, go! Get away from here as fast as you can!

Pausing long enough to grab her purse, Tabby burst out the rear door and skidded into the darkened alley. Her legs pumped like pistons, heedless of her nakedness and the grimy, cold water that splashed up her bare legs. When she'd run almost to the entrance of the alley, she stopped long enough to pull on her jeans and stuffed her underwear into her pocket. She tied the two halves of her shirt together, just like she remembered doing as a kid in summertime, and then took off running again. She exited the alley and turned left, not knowing or caring where it took her so long as it was far away from Jack's.

She ran and ran and ran, adrenaline powering her legs until her muscles threatened to give way. She stumbled and almost fell before skidding to a halt, doubling over and gasping for air. Scanning the area, she tried to figure out where she was while waiting to catch her breath. A red, digital clock in the window of a bank across the road showed the time as 2:50 am. Her heart sunk with despair at the sight.

Transit buses stopped running at two...she was stranded and too broke to take a cab.

Hot tears finally came, pouring out of her like a burst damn, riding waves of tremors so intense that they dropped her to her knees. She shook and cried on that deserted city street with only the glow of the street lamps and the big, Golden Arches of a fast food restaurant to keep her company. She cried for ten long minutes, succumbing to the fear and terror that she had had to bury in order to save herself. As her sobs slowly abated, she became aware of the numerous sharp pebbles on the sidewalk, digging painfully into her knees. She pulled herself together, got to her feet and stumbled to a bus stop that stood nearby. Sitting tiredly down on the bench, Tabby tilted her eyes to the crescent moon and stared blankly into the night sky, her breath hiccuping from crying, trying to figure out what to do next.

It was chilly, her open shirt letting the cool night air in and her jacket was in her now defunct car. Shivering from shock and cold, Tabby knew she had to do something and dug her phone out of her purse. She scanned her speed dial list and found her neighbor and best friend, Petra's picture. She pressed her icon and waited for the call to connect.

It rang and rang and rang and Tabby prayed that her friend hadn't stuck her phone on 'do not disturb' for the night. "Come on, Petra. Pick up!" Just as she was about to give up hope, Petra's sunny voice came on the line.

"Hi'ya Tabs. What's the matter? Can't sleep?" she laughed, sounding suspiciously wide awake for the late hour.

"Petra," Tabby could barely speak above a whisper, the urge to dissolve into a fresh round of tears pricked at her eyes and made them water.

"Tabs? Hey, what's up?"

"I'm having a pretty shitty day. Can you do me a f..." Tabby's stomach convulsed the second that awful word came into her mind. Nausea roiled and streamed up her throat, forcing what little she had in her stomach, to spray out of her mouth and onto the pavement at her feet. Bitter stomach acid burned and choked her as her muscles rebelled against the vile word that had been on the tip of her tongue.

She couldn't say the awful word that Jerry had used.

She couldn't even think of it without getting violently sick.

Favour.

It was once a common part of speech that Tabby wouldn't have hesitated to use; now it sounded perverted, twisted and obscene - something to be reviled and feared.

She was never going to be able to hear it again without seeing him advancing on her, like some monster from a nightmare.

"Tabs! What the fuck is going on? Where are you?" Petra's shrill voice blared through the phone's tinny speaker, still clutched in Tabby's limp hand. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and put the phone back to her ear.

"My car died," she croaked. "Can you come get me?" she asked, feeling her headache return with a vengeance.

"Sure can. I only just got home myself. Where are you?"

"The McDonalds on Dervill and 5th street. Can you come?" Tabby could feel her strength waning and didn't know how much longer she was going to be able to keep her shit together.

"On my way," Petra replied, voice tight with concern. "You don't sound right, Tabby. You're scaring me. You okay?"

Tabby didn't have the energy to lie. "No. No I'm really not. Please come get me, Petra. I just want to go home." Tabby disconnected the call.

Tucking the phone into her pocket, Tabby picked up her purse and ran across the street to wait for Petra. There were several hard plastic picnic tables bolted to the patio outside the restaurant and Tabby dropped onto one of the round stools, folded her arms on the table, and laid her head down.

God she was tired.

Aches in her arms and back were just starting to make themselves known and coupled with bass drum pounding against her temples, Tabby would have killed for an Advil.

She tried to close her eyes, the bright light flooding the area from the restaurant stabbed into her brain like ice picks. The minute her eyelids closed, Jerry's bloated, leering face appeared before her, fat tongue flicking out like a lizard's. Her eyelids shot open and her heart thumped a frenetic beat against her ribs as she blinked rapidly, momentarily unable to differentiate between reality and the flashback.

The greasy, sweet smell coming out of the restaurant wasn't helping her queasy stomach so she got up and walked to the curb, pacing back and forth with nervous, birdlike quirks of her head, expecting to see Jerry coming after her at any minute. She clutched at her torn shirt, trying to keep the two halves closed and preserve her modesty. At least the street was deserted; there was no one around to witness her shameful appearance.

Petra must have floored the accelerator all the way there because fifteen minutes later, her black Prius squealed around the corner and pulled up in front of Tabby.

"Somebody need a ride?" Petra called out from the open window.

Tabby had never felt such an immense sense of relief than she did the second she climbed into the comforting safety of Petra's car and they drove away. For a few minutes, her friend seemed content to give Tabby some space but when she didn't volunteer any information, worry finally got the best of her.

"What happened, Tabs? You look awful and what the fuck happened to your face! Did someone hit you?" Petra demanded, sneaking sidelong glances at her passenger. She took in the bruised face and torn clothes and her imagination went ballistic with the heinous possibilities.

Tabby heard her friend freaking out and rested her head back against the headrest and closed her eyes, gathering up her courage to explain what had happened to her even though she could barely wrap her own head around it herself.

"Where should I start?" Tabby replied, her voice hoarse from crying and screaming. Her breathing hitched and she was unable to stop fresh tears from leaking from beneath her eyelids. "Let's see...my car practically exploded, my boss tried to rape me and I lost my job. I scored the trifecta of shitty days." She counted off each traumatic event on her fingers and couldn't help thinking, "That's three, there's still two more things to come."

"Holy shit, Tabby!" Petra was stunned, doing a double take in disbelief. "What did he do? Are you okay? I need to get you to the hospital...shit, we need to call the cops and report this!" Questions and exclamations poured out of Petra as she processed what her friend had just revealed.

"No!" Tabby shouted, sitting upright in her seat, wide eyed with panic. "No cops. No hospital. Please Petra, I can't deal with them too on top of everything else."

"You have to report that pig! You can't let him get away with assaulting you," she said, her eyes wide with incredulity.

"He didn't actually get to...I mean I kicked him and got away before he, he...well, you know." Tabby sighed and turned away, feeling humiliated and ashamed. "There was nobody there Petra, it would be his word against mine and you know he'd get away with it in the end. They never believe the woman and he'll lie and probably accuse me of assaulting him. I can't go through that only to give him the satisfaction of hurting and humiliating me all over again in court."

"Let me at least call Diego. He knows a couple of guys at the club who are with the police. They'll know what to do."

"Please don't. I just want to go home, shower and sleep for a week." Tabby swiped at the tears that wouldn't stop flowing, wincing when she accidentally bumped her sore cheek. "Rent's due next week and I'm sure that bastard isn't going to pay me now for the hours I worked. I'm not going to make the rent, Petra. I need to focus on finding work tomorrow or I'm going to be homeless."

Petra put her hand on Tabby's arm and rubbed her lightly. "Hush, sweetie. Do you think that I'd let you get kicked out onto the street. I was actually going to suggest you give up your apartment and move in with me, I was just waiting for the right time. I've got the spare room and spend most of my time at Diego's anyway."
The apartment building where they both lived came into sight and Petra pulled in and pressed the remote to raise the gate into the underground parking. A short elevator ride up to the fourth floor and Tabby stopped at her door.

Petra put her hand on Tabby's hand that was holding out her key. "Grab some stuff and come sleep at mine. You are not staying by yourself and you are definitely not staying in here alone, considering that bastard knows where you live."

A fresh wave of despair rocked Tabby and she almost stumbled with the weight of that realization. Jerry had all her pertinent details on her employee file. He could find her any time he wanted!

"Oh shit!" Tabby began hyperventilating with panic. "I didn't even think about that. What am I going to do?"

Petra worked Tabby's keychain from her hand and unlocked the door. "First, you're going to grab a change of clothes and your toothbrush," she said, pulling Tabby gently into her apartment. "Then you are coming to stay with me." She led Tabby, shuffling behind her like a sleepwalker, into her bedroom and helped her gather her things. "Tomorrow, you can hand in your notice and move in with me."

When Tabby made to protest, Petra held up her hand, cutting off her refusal. "Diego covers most of the rent and he won't mind me having a roommate. It would actually make him happy to know that I'm not alone when I'm here. I can keep us fed until you find work, Tabs. It's not a problem, sweetie."

Tabby had dropped onto her ancient mattress, listening to her friend save her skin. She couldn't bring herself to find relief in Petra's offer, too afraid that if she did, there would be a hidden catch.

Like Jerry.

Tabby had learned a painful lesson tonight that nothing came without a price.

Petra sensed her reluctance and sighed, she sat down beside Tabby and pulled her, unresisting, into a hug. The fact that Tabby didn't shy away from her, showed how traumatized she really was. She leaned into the comfort of Petra's embrace and began to sob.

"Oh baby, I'm so sorry that this horrible thing has happened to you. You poor thing, you must feel so overwhelmed and here I am pushing even more stress onto your shoulders." She brushed down Tabby's hair, cooing and murmuring sentiments that Tabby couldn't understand, but the soft sounds eventually helped soothe the sorrow that had gripped her and she slowly got herself back under control.

"Feel better?"

Tabby nodded, sat up and blew her nose in a most undignified manner.

Petra chuckled and picked up her hand, giving it a little squeeze. "We've been friends for five years, Tabs. I know that you don't trust easily and don't accept help. You need me, baby. I promise that there are no strings attached to my offer, no hidden agendas. Diego is a good man. Hell, he's better than anything I deserve. He really won't mind and I want you here too. I get lonely all by myself." She looked at Tabby, nothing but raw honesty in her honey-coloured eyes and Tabby felt some of her stubbornness loosen. Petra was throwing her a lifeline and she'd be a fool to refuse to grab on.

"Okay," Tabby whispered. "Let's be roomies."

Petra bounced to her feet clapping her hands in joy. "Come on then, let's get you home...to your new one, that is!!"

Petra's suite was on the tenth floor of their building, among the purchased condominium units as opposed to the cheap, social housing rental suites on the lower levels. It was better appointed and much more spacious than the cramped one bedroom apartment that Tabby had been renting, not to mention the view was spectacular compared to the stellar view of the parking lot that Tabby had enjoyed. She adored Petra's place and secretly hated returning to her claustrophobic, shoebox sized one after spending time in her larger suite. Tabby's had a dowdy, institutional appearance that made her feel low class and embarrassed, even though Petra never said or did anything to make her feel diminished.

If she was being completely honest with herself, now that she'd accepted Petra's generous offer, she was actually relieved. Petra's place was a home - warm, lived in and full of character and colour. Tabby's was a place to sleep, but she never considered it to be home - it was just a place to be when she wasn't somewhere else. She hated the pressboard cupboards, paper-thin doors and stark, white washed walls. Being rid of the place was like a weight being lifted that she didn't even know she was carrying.

Petra, bless her sweet heart, had bought Tabby some much needed breathing room and Tabby was determined to make the most of the gift her friend had offered her.

The room that Petra led her to was large and decorated with cozy, chunky looking furniture. A queen sized bed was surrounded by two overstuffed chairs making a nice reading area off to one side and sat beside a honey-blond oak dresser. A large walk-in closet and private bathroom occupied the other side of the room. Tabby had been in this room before but it looked different somehow to her today - new and inviting in a way it hadn't done so previously.

She eyed the bed longingly, wanting nothing more than to crawl under the hand-made quilt and sleep for a week. The top mattress alone was twice as thick as the thrift store reject that Tabby had slept on for the last four years. She didn't even have a frame for hers and Petra's looked so high off the ground that Tabby wasn't sure if her short legs where going to be able to get her onto the bed! She wondered briefly if Petra would laugh at her when she asked her for a step stool.

"This is your room from now on. If there's anything you want to change, just tell me and we'll get it done." She glanced at Tabby, worried at the blank, shell-shocked expression on her friend's face. She needed to get her into the shower so that she could make some much need phone calls. Petra was not going to let this assault go unreported, no matter what Tabby had wanted.

"Might as well stow your stuff in the dresser, it's empty but for a few extra blankets. I'll help you transfer the rest of your things tomorrow, okay?"

"Um...sure...Okay." Tabby yawned distractedly, feeling an exhaustion that permeated her bones right to the marrow. "Is it okay if I go and shower?"

Petra waved her hands, pointing her in the direction of the bathroom. "Of course, sweetie. You get in and I'll go grab you some clean towels."

Tabby wondered if she even had the energy to get undressed. In the panic to escape, she hadn't given the state of her clothing much thought beyond trying to cover herself enough to get home. Now, in the clean, quiet room, her clothes took on a life of their own, clinging to her as if they had become an animated second skin that was squirming wherever the material touched her. Her skin crawled and twitched with the poisonous burn seeping through her skin and chewing its way into her soul. Jerry's rank odor was all over her clothes and she could smell him as if he was right in front of her.

Panic rising, Tabby suddenly couldn't get the soiled clothing off her fast enough. She was about to remove the tattered remains of her shirt when she caught sight of several bright red splotches of blood sprayed on the white material. She sucked in a sharp breath and her mind blanked, rebooting with the image of Jerry sneering and bleeding all over her. Petra's beautiful room dissolved, dripping away like wet paint to reveal the small office back at the bar hidden beneath the illusion of freedom.

She'd never gotten out!

Her escape had been a trick and she was still in Jerry's office. Her wild, unseeing eyes darted around the room looking for him but kept coming back to the brilliant crimson stains on her clothing. Terror and revulsion had her screaming, clawing at the shirt in such a frenzy to get it off her body that she didn't hear the seams tearing as she ripped it away. Her bra was the next to go; Tabby saw his ham sized hands groping the satiny material and suddenly couldn't bear it touching her skin, it turned into a living fabric made from thousands of beetles, their multitude of legs scratching over her body as they squirmed. Her jeans hadn't come out unscathed either and there were large patches of blood soaked into them, they had been on the floor in front of the desk, where Jerry had dropped them and he had bled on them when she'd kneed him in the nose.

Petra dropped her arm load of linen and sprinted down the hall and into the bedroom when she heard Tabby's terrified screams. She came in to find Tabby half naked, sobbing and tearing at her clothes with frantic hands, trying to get her pants off. She kept repeating: "Get it off! Get it off! Get it off!" like a damned mantra. Petra ignored the awful, purple bruises covering her friend's breasts and stomach, focusing her attention on Tabby's filthy jeans and could see what had triggered her panic attack. Her jeans and the torn remains of her uniform shirt were sprayed with blood that Tabby must not have noticed until just now. She was freaking out and Petra was scared that she was going to hurt herself in her haste to remove her clothing.

"Hey, hey, sweetie. Shhhh, let me help you!" Petra said calmly, hiding her own fear at what her poor, sweet friend must have endured that evening.

"Get them off me!" Tabby shrieked, her face was flushed and her eyes were wild with terror. She had clawed at her own skin in her desperate attempt to remove the offensive clothing and had gouged red streaks everywhere her nails had found unprotected skin.

"I will, I promise, but you have to let me near." Petra didn't think Tabby even realized that she had been flailing her arms at her as she tried to get near to her to help. Poor thing, Petra thought, she looks like a tormented wild animal that had been caged for far too long.

Petra's words broke the terror fuelled spiral that Tabby had gotten caught in and she blinked owlishly trying to re-establish her orientation. Petra reached out a tentative hand, taking slow, measured steps toward her as if she were approaching a spooked horse.

"You're okay, Tabs. That's it, breathe, sweetie. I'll help get those jeans off, if that's what you want." Petra stopped just short of Tabby, not attempting to touch the skittish woman until she gave her permission. She knew that Tabby had to allow the contact and be aware that it was Petra and not Jerry who was touching her, or else it could send her into another blind panic attack.

"Will you let me help you, Tabby?" Tabby darted her gaze around her, side to side, then focused on Petra. It took her a few seconds for recognition to filter through the adrenaline frying her synapses but Petra saw the moment that Tabby returned back to the present by the way her entire body sagged in place. She swayed alarmingly and Petra jumped forward, ready to catch her should she collapse. Tabby stumbled half a step but quickly righted herself and seemed to recover her equilibrium, becoming more stable despite the tremors shaking her entire body.

"Please," she whispered. "I can't get them off, Petra. I need to take them off." She sounded so pitiful and forlorn that Petra felt her own heart shatter in sympathy.

"Of course, sweetie. Here, let me undo that button and we will get rid of these things, okay." Tabby nodded in response and allowed Petra to untie her boot laces so that she could remove her muddy boots. Then, she slipped the button through the buttonhole and slowly slid the jeans over Tabby's hips and down her legs. More bruises were hidden under a layer of dried muck splattered all the way up to her thighs and Petra saw that she wasn't wearing underwear. Tabby had said that Jerry hadn't had a chance to force himself on her, but what had happened to her panties? Petra swallowed against a sour taste and wondered if Tabby had lied about not being forced into having intercourse with her boss after all.

Tabby was murmuring something so quietly that Petra didn't catch the words the first few times she uttered them. Straining her hearing, it frightened her to hear Tabby repeating: "It's only Petra. It's only Petra," over and over under her breath, attempting to reassure herself as Petra undressed her.

I don't care what she says, Petra thought. I am calling Diego the minute she's in the shower. This needs to be taken care of right away! That asshole needs to be caught and punished before he does this to another woman.

"Are you okay to get into the shower, Tabs? I can stay with you if you want me too," Petra offered, gathering up the discarded clothing in her arms. Tabby looked stricken, her eyes glued to the evidence of her assault carried in Petra's arms.

Petra could see Tabby sliding back into panic and called out to her. "Tabs, you still with me, sweetie. Come on," she caught Tabby's gaze and redirected hers up to meet Petra's eyes and away from the blood-stained clothing that she held. "There you are."

"I can shower by myself," Tabby said absently, slowly shaking off the terrified jitters.

"Okay, then I'll leave you to it. I'll put the towels just outside the door for you." Petra watched Tabby walk heavily into the bathroom, then turned to leave. Before she left the room, Tabby called out quietly to her.

"Petra?"

"Yes, sweetie? What's the matter?"

"I-I just wanted to say, um, thanks, you know. I didn't know what I would have done if you hadn't come for me." Tabby paused and blinked away a stray tear that clung to her eyelashes. "Thanks."

"You're welcome," she nodded in the direction of the shower. "Now get yourself under that hot water. You'll feel much better once you get cleaned off."

Tabby looked lost for a moment then backed into the bathroom and closed the door. Petra waited until she heard the shower start up then rushed down the hall, into her kitchen. She took out a clean trash bag and deposited Tabby's soiled clothing into it. They were covered in evidence that she knew the police would need if there was to be any chance of prosecuting the bastard who had attacked her friend.

Her next task was to scavenge through her purse in search of her cellphone. She looked up Diego's number and found him under an entry entitled "Master". She dialled and then waited for him to pick up. He did so by the first ring, worry tinging his voice.

"Petra? What's wrong?" his deep voice never ceased to send a thrill through her body and this time was no different. Her core hummed with excitement despite the serious nature of her call.

"Master, I need your help. Something bad has happened to my friend Tabitha and I don't know what to do," she blurted out in a rush, suddenly feeling the anxiety that she had been holding back bubble forth uncontrollably.

"Hey there, slow down. Tell me what happened," he replied and his calm, controlled manner helped Petra settle her own nerves so that she could recount to her partner the terrible events of the night, feeling sicker as she spoke.

"She doesn't want to report the assault, but, Master, she's in shock and I think it would be a huge mistake if she doesn't."

"I agree, love. You did the right thing in calling me. As it would happen, the other Masters are all here with me. Let me talk to them and then I'll head on over, okay?" He paused. "I take it that she doesn't know you called me, correct?"

"Yes, Sir. I waited until she got into the shower. I couldn't keep this secret for her, Sir. She's going to hate me when she finds out." Petra said, feeling tears of her own spring to her eyes.

"Maybe at first, but she'll get over it once that creep is arrested and charged. Don't mention that I'm coming over, just try to keep her calm. I'll be there as soon as possible." He chuckled and his voice softened, filling with pride and love. "Have I mentioned what a good girl you are? I'm glad you kept your head about you tonight, Tabitha is a very lucky woman to have you...as am I. See you soon."

Petra's brain quit working after she heard the words, 'good girl'. It was as if it prompted a preconditioned response to preen and glow with pleasure whenever her Master called her that. It filled her with butterflies and simmering arousal to know she had made him proud of her. She would need to hold onto those warm, fuzzy feelings once he arrived. She had a feeling that Tabby was not going to take her perceived betrayal very well, considering how adamant she'd been not to call the police. Two of the Masters were with the police and Petra was relieved that her Master would be bringing real help with him.

Petra gathered up the linen that she had dropped and took them to Tabby's room. She listened quietly at the door, but only heard the shower running. She tapped lightly, not wanting to startle Tabby. "Tabby, you okay in there?" she called through the closed door.

"Yes. Thanks, Petra," Tabby replied, her tired voice almost drowned out by the pulsing shower head.

"I'm leaving your towels on the chair by the door. Holler if you need anything, okay?"

"Okay," Tabby's called back and Petra left her in privacy.

Inside the bathroom, Tabby sat huddled on the floor of the shower, her arms wrapped around her bent knees, hugging them tightly to her body for comfort. Her eyes were red rimmed and swollen from crying and her bottom lip was bitten and bloody from her using her teeth to try to hold back the screams that choked her. She shook uncontrollably, despite the steaming water that cascaded over her. She'd scrubbed herself raw but couldn't get the feeling of being dirty off her skin, no matter how much she tried. The tears had started up again and the force of the wracking sobs had made her collapse, unable to do more than surrender herself to the misery boiling like toxic sludge inside her.

I can't keep falling apart like this, she scolded herself. The uncontrollable crying jags where somehow offensive to her and she despised herself for being so weak. This is the last time, she vowed. Cry it out now, Tabs, after this, you are done with this shit!

And that's exactly what she did. She let the tears flow freely, crying so hard that she couldn't breathe for all the pain and humiliation that came out with the salty droplets. After what seemed to be an eternity, the waterworks tapered then stopped entirely, leaving her feeling drained but oddly cleansed at the same time. Her mind was working furiously to shore up her battered defences and put the terrible events of the night into perspective, to bring reason to such an irrational act.

It wasn't your fault, Tabs. You gotta believe that. You did nothing to deserve it, that is all on Jerry.

He hurt you.

He scared you. But at least he didn't succeed in raping you. You fought back, girlfriend! You fought back and survived.

Bad things happened to good people because there are bad people in this world.

Jerry was one of those bad people.

You will get through this. You will get over this and eventually, you will forget this ever happened. But you have to pull yourself out of this despair first.

Her monologue over, Tabby felt calmer and stronger, clinging to the words she'd told herself. She got clumsily to her feet, her body stiff and aching from sitting hunched on the shower floor, turned off the water and stepped out. The towels were right where Petra had said they'd be and she grabbed the stack and brought them back into the bathroom with her. She wrapped herself in a soft, fluffy towel, closing her eyes in delight at the feeling of good quality cotton caressing her skin. These sure beat the thread bare, second hand ones she had at her place.

She still couldn't believe that Petra wanted her to move in with her. How had she gotten so lucky? It seemed strange the way the universe strived to keep things balanced, she mused.

Something terrible followed by something almost too good to be true.
Petra's offer had brought the heavy scales back into equilibrium, negating the effect of Jerry's maniacal behaviour - in theory anyway. It was simplistic, but Tabby was grasping at anything that would help ground her and help her deal with the fact that she'd been attacked. Though she had convinced herself that her pep talk had helped, in truth she was still sliding down a slippery slope, digging her nails in anywhere she could to slow her descent. In her fragile mind, she saw the scales back in balance, thus, there was no balance owing so she could stop paying the emotional toll.

After drying off and wrapping another thick towel around her wet hair, Tabby padded out into the bedroom on bare feet. On the bed lay a clean t-shirt and her pair of flannel sleep pants. Petra must have unpacked her overnight bag and laid the clothes out for her. She dressed quickly, wanting to cover up the bruises so that she wouldn't have to acknowledge what they represented and ran her fingers through her tangled curls, getting them to straighten into a roughly neater mass of chestnut and auburn. Taking a comb through it right now, would only leave her with a head full of frizz by morning, so her fingers would have to do the trick.

She walked down the hall and froze half way to the living room, soft voices drifted down the long hallway and halted her with a fresh burst of panic. There were male voices as well as Petra's speaking so quietly that she couldn't make out any of the words.

Who could be there? It had to be almost four in the morning and Tabby couldn't think of anyone who'd be visiting at that hour. She felt a tendril of suspicion wind its way around her chest, suspecting what Petra had done and feeling anger begin to flare hot and bitter.

Petra appeared at the entrance to the hall and her face took on a sympathetic and apologetic look. "Tabby," she said carefully. "Please don't be mad. I had to call Diego. I couldn't hide this from him and baby...you need his help," she pleaded with her, holding out her hand to encourage Tabby to come forth.

"Why?" Tabby croaked, her voice thin and brittle. "I asked you not to, Petra. I can't go through this again. Please don't make me..." Tabby whimpered and wished that she could turn and run back to the bedroom, but something inside her made her take one step toward Petra instead. She took one small step, her entire body shaking like a leaf, then another and another until she was able to peer out around the corner and into the living room. Milling around the room were three big men - Diego, whom she recognized and two others, all were drinking coffee and staring in her direction with concern and curiosity.

Diego set his mug down on the coffee table and slowly approached. He had a kind face with a shadow of stubble darkening his Hispanic features. He stopped behind Petra and wrapped his arms around her waist and hugged her to him, kissing the top of her head and giving Tabby a kind smile.

"Hello Tabitha, remember me?" he asked calmly, his voice was warm, masculine and nonthreatening, but Tabby still glared at him through narrowed, wary eyes as she nodded in response. He cocked his head in the direction of the other two men. "Those two idiots over there are my friends: Cooper and Jaz."

"Hey!" the two men objected in unison, both managing to act affronted through grinning expressions.

Just then, the door to the apartment opened and another very tall man strode through holding his cell phone in his hand. Tabby jumped and tried to back away but Petra had taken her hand and held on tight. Tabby's breath was coming in short puffs as her anxiety skyrocketed.

"It's okay, Tabs. It's only Marcus. He had to go down to his car and grab his phone." She was stroking the back of Tabby's hand with her thumb, it was helping her calm down by redirecting her focus off the newcomer.

"M'sorry," Tabby mumbled, feeling embarrassed for being so skittish.

"It's okay, sweetie, we forgot to tell you to expect another person."

Marcus had halted in the entrance to the living room feeling badly for startling the terrified young woman. His face hardened at the sight of her trembling and the livid bruise that was quickly spreading on her cheek, becoming a black eye. Her face would be black and purple by morning, he thought, instantly wanting to rip the bastard's genitals off, who had done this to the girl, and choke him with them. The fierce rush of possessive aggression caught Marcus off guard and he turned his scrutiny on the girl with an appraising eye.

What was it about her that had sparked such a lethal response in him? He'd already heard what had happened from Diego, it had made him angry but that didn't justify the level of feral violence he had felt upon seeing her. Something dark deep inside his soul had woken up and taken notice of the girl and had instantly wanted to protect her.

To claim her.

Holy fuck. What the fuck was he thinking? Seriously dude, get a grip. The poor thing had just been attacked and you're thinking...what - dragging her off like a caveman and keeping her for yourself? And you called the bastard who'd done this to her, sick.

He agreed whole heartedly with the mental dialogue going on in his head. But that didn't dispel the urge - no, the need - to run over to the girl's side, scoop her up in his arms and take her home with him. Keep her safe and protected and...his.

Her green eyes flickered up and met his for a brief instant, before shooting back down to her own hands. The fear he saw in that one glance made him murderous with rage. Cooper and Jaz had better get some useful information from her, because Marcus didn't think he could keep the need to go asshole hunting under wraps. He needed to find the slime ball that had touched his woman and teach him a lesson in pain.

His...wait...WHAT? Marcus rocked back on his heels, his brain playing catch up with his subconscious. Where the fuck did that come from? He closed his eyes, hoping the loss of sight would help restore his sanity. She wasn't his! For fuck's sake, had he completely lost his mind tonight?

Mine.

He felt the word reverberate through every nerve and fibre, like an earthquake that sent vibrations straight down into his molecules and imprinting itself on the very atoms that made up his cells.

Imprinted. Underscored. Bolded. Something about the beautiful, damaged, young woman had just left an indelible mark on Marcus' very soul that he felt like a physical pain burning him up from the inside out.

He would find the prick who had attacked her, beat the shit out of him and then call one of the available subs from his club and fuck until he couldn't think about anything at all.

Especially not about the green-eyed angel standing twenty feet from him right now.

Most especially not about her. No way. Nu uh. Not going to happen.

Mine.

Mine.

Mine.

Marcus took a deep breath, using every ounce of self-control he possessed, to walk casually over to where the other three men were waiting. Each of his long strides pulled him toward Tabitha, as if she was a lodestone for his magnetic north. He fought his own body to just keep walking in a straight line.

Petra was gently coaxing Tabby away from the shelter of the hallway and bringing her into the living room. Marcus could see how rigid her muscles were, fear making her red-rimmed eyes wide and bright. God damn, he swore. She reminded him of a tiny bird that had wandered blindly into a cat show. She was terrified of them.

Now that she was closer to him, Marcus was actually surprised at how tiny she was. After hearing Petra's retelling of what had happened, he'd somehow just assumed that the fierce creature in the story would have been more substantial than the dainty thing he was staring at now. His gaze absorbed her perfectly proportioned frame and he could tell by the lithe way she moved that she was in good shape, strong but nothing that detracted from her inherent femininity - more like the opposite. Her curves were seductive and obvious, even under the shapeless nightwear that she was wearing. Even freed from a bra, her breasts were full and firm, riding high on her chest and accentuating the flat of her abdomen.

He took a mental snapshot of the girl, without knowing why; she fascinated him in a way he didn't understand...yet, but intended to figure out later.

His eyes visually caressed the soft slopes of her hips, imagining his hands on them, pulling her naked ass onto his cock. He felt a stirring between his legs as said member began to tingle and he abruptly looked away, trying to clear his head of the erotic daydream.

"Why, why are you here?" Tabby stammered, wanting nothing more than to retreat into the bedroom and hide until they left. She didn't think she had the energy to deal with more people tonight.

"Because Petra is worried about you, and from what she has told us, it's for good reason." Diego beckoned her forward and with a wave of his hand, indicated that she should go sit down. Tabby let Petra lead her by the hand into the midst of the big bodies of the men. She kept her eyes down, afraid that if she looked up, Jerry's face would appear. Sinking into the plush cushions, Tabby scrunched herself into the corner of the long sofa, needing to keep as much distance between the men and her as she could.

Especially the tall one named Marcus. There was something about the man that unnerved and intrigued Tabby at the same time. She had reacted with fear when he'd entered but thinking back, she realized it was something much more intense that she'd felt, her fragile mental state had just translated it as fear. A current had jumped between them, shocking her straight to her core. There was something familiar about the handsome stranger and she felt like she knew him...or should know him...or once knew him. God, she was so confused that her head was spinning, or maybe it was because of her headache. She didn't know anything anymore.

Tabby may have been keeping her eyes lowered, but she saw Marcus. He filled her vision in snatched covert glances from her periphery. She'd never seen such a tall, broad man before in her life, except maybe basketball players on the TV. He was well over six feet tall and Tabby figured her five foot four inch frame might bring her up to his nipple line if she stood on tip toes.

He was walking closer now and Tabby drew in a breath at the graceful way he moved, like a panther only much bigger. She was hypnotized by the way his muscles bunched and glided, making his motions fluid, graceful and broadcasting his power. Warmth flooded into her core, startling Tabby. How could her body be reacting sexually to this stranger?

I don't even know him! I can't be attracted to a stranger! And he's so big, how the hell would that work anyway? He'd crush me...or split me in two. Warmth turned to heat and Tabby shivered, making Petra pat her sympathetically. Tabby choked down a hysterical burst of laughter, her dear friend thought she was afraid and was trying to comfort her. What would she think if she knew I was getting wet just from looking at Marcus? I seriously need my head examined, Tabby thought to herself.

The men took their cue once Tabby sat, grabbing seats wherever they could find one. Cooper perched on the sturdy coffee table directly in front of Tabby, Jaz sat in an arm chair to her left, Petra and Diego claimed the rest of the sofa and Marcus had disappeared. She cast her gaze around the room, but the man had vanished out of her sight.

Petra misread her jerky head movements and attributed it to nerves. Tabby was nervous, definitely, but she also wondered where Marcus had gone. She felt his absence on a level deep inside her, like something vital had been removed that her body needed to function. Like oxygen.

That's it, Tabby, she scolded herself sternly. From this moment on, textbooks are what you are going to be reading. Boring, dull and romance-free. All those chick books piled up beside your bed have filled your head with crazy romantic bullshit. He's probably taking a leak or something. He'll be back in a second...right?

Diego began speaking, leaning around Petra so that he could see Tabby. "I'm sure that the last thing you want right now is to relive what happened to you tonight but Cooper and Jaz are both police officers and they want to help you."

Tabby took a deep breath, knowing that she had to find the courage to do this. When it had just been her, it had been easy to slip into denial and to sweep the assault under the rug so that she didn't have to deal with the fallout. Now that she was surrounded by all these caring, concerned strangers, those blinders had been torn from her eyes, forcing her to face what had happened to her and look the beast in the eye. She didn't think that they were going to let her hide and ignore what had been done to her.

Jerry needed to be held accountable for his heinous behavior and, the more she thought about it, the more she felt a sense of relief at being able to share what had happened, before it became a burden too heavy for her have to carry by herself.

Petra handed her a cup of sweet, milky tea that she'd made for her while she had been in the shower. It was lukewarm and syrupy, just how Tabby loved her tea. She took the cup and sipped a little, feeling the sugar boost her energy almost instantly.

Everybody waited patiently for Tabby to marshal her strength and collect her thoughts. She could feel their curious stares but was lost in the pleasure of drinking her tea and had let her attention drift away. Thus she was startled, almost spilling her tea, by a sharp cracking sound that came from the kitchen. Her head spun in that direction, her gut clenched in terror.

Marcus appeared a second later carrying a tea towel wrapped around a lumpy bundle in his hands. He approached Tabby carefully, keeping his body language as casual and non-threatening as a man his size could. Cooper sensed what he was doing and slid out of the way so that Marcus could fill the vacated space with his imposing presence. He crouched slowly down in front of her and placed the bundle into her free hand, wrapping his huge palm around hers and bringing it up to her wounded cheek. Cold radiated through the terry towel and into her face, dulling the throbbing ache to a more bearable level.

Tabby held her breath; her insides quivering with nervous energy and making her feel like she had swallowed a sparkler. Electricity was running rampant from where his warm skin had made contact with hers and suffused her with an effervescent energy. Jerry's hideous face and slimy flicking tongue were momentarily forgotten, the memories wiped away to make room for the most incredible pair of blue-green eyes that she had ever seen.

Their gazes had locked together and Tabby thought she could fall into those intense pools and never want to surface again. The emotions simmering in his eyes mesmerized her and the amazing colour reminded her of the hues of a glacial lake that she'd seen in a nature book long ago. A deep pool of blues and greens surrounded by the cold white of the snow and ice; his eyes should have been cold, like that water, but they glowed with an internal heat that was burning a trail into Tabby's heart. She wanted nothing more than to bask under that heat, purring like a contented cat.

"Thanks," she murmured, full of gratitude for the simple gesture.

"Keep it there, it will help bring the swelling down," he replied, his smile warming her like a blast from the sun.

Marcus removed his hand from Tabby's, feeling the loss of contact like a mule-kick to his balls. What was it about this woman? He moved away from her, loathe to do so but suddenly needing to put space between them so that his brain could function again. He took the last remaining arm chair and sat, unable to keep from staring at Tabby who was shivering and flushed at the same time.

His cock did get hard this time, arousal filling his head with a roaring need to take his woman and lose himself inside of her. He coughed, in an attempt to cover up the growl that had clawed its way past his rigid self-control. Thank god his jeans were tight and held his pulsing dick down, well mostly down anyway. Marcus casually pulled one leg up and rested in on his other knee, in hopes of hiding the silhouette of his shaft that appeared to be embossed on his pants.

Cooper had been watching his friend's strange behaviour since the moment he'd walked back into the apartment and shot Marcus a "What the fuck?" look. Marcus glared back at him, his expression saying, "Mind your own fucking business."

Jaz cleared his throat, picking up on the aggression flowing between Marcus and Cooper and redirected everyone's attention back to the task at hand. He asked, "Do you think you can tell us what happened tonight, Tabitha?"

The hand holding her cup of tea began quivering, the full mug coming dangerously close to spilling. Petra wrapped her soft hand around Tabby's and helped her take one last sip before relieving her of the cup. "Take your time, honey. We can wait."

"M-my car broke down, ma- making me late," Tabby swallowed hard against bitter taste of regret. "Jerry didn't take it well." A sob barreled up her throat before she could stop it, smothering her words and leaving her feeling strangled from the inside out.

Cooper leaned forward and gave her a reassuring smile. "It's okay, Tabitha. I know this is hard and I'm sorry to make you relive it again, but we need to take your statement. Just take your time. You are safe here and among friends."

She nodded, embarrassment heating her cheeks and rubbed at the tears that had blurred her vision. Several deep, tremulous breaths later, she continued recounting the events of her assault to Cooper, while Jaz patiently listened, jotting down pertinent details in a black notebook that he had pulled from his jacket.

The more she spoke, the more her aching head throbbed and she wished she could just go to bed and close her eyes; the light from the lamps was really starting to bother her.

When she was finally done, Tabby felt deflated and utterly exhausted but also strangely lighter in her soul. She hadn't realized the toll that keeping everything inside had taken on her until some of that pressure had been released.

Cooper, Jaz and Diego all wore similar angry, compassionate expressions at what she had described to them, but Marcus...Marcus looked practically incandescent with incendiary rage. Violence and aggression radiated off him in waves that buffeted Tabby like a blast of wind blowing over a desert. It abraded her nerves and scorched her skin and her anxiety level skyrocketed from the volatile energy that he seemed to be directing at her. He sat in his chair, hunched forward with his elbows perched on his knees, his eyes had darkened almost to jet black and he stared at her with single minded focus, barely moving even to breathe. With his intense gaze, black hair and short dark beard, he reminded Tabby of a large wolf waiting for the right moment to pounce.

Cooper had been keeping an eye on his best friend with growing concern. He could see the effect his staring act was having on Tabitha and wondered what the hell had gotten into his normally, level-headed friend. Couldn't he see that she was practically cowering into the corner of the sofa, shaking so badly that her teeth were chattering? He got up, casually moved over to Marcus and grabbed him by the arm.

"What the fuck," he growled under his breath so that only Marcus could hear. Thankfully, Petra had also picked up on Marcus' odd behaviour and was fussing over Tabby, distracting her from Cooper.

"Can I see you a moment?" he indicated in the direction of the kitchen with a quick cock of his head. Marcus ignored him and flashed him a stubborn, furious glare that bordered on a snarl. Cooper squeezed his bicep and pulled him to his feet "Now," he said in a tone that just begged for Marcus to disagree with him.
"Fine." Marcus stood, took one last look at Tabby and stalked after Cooper.

Tabby's tension eased the minute the two men were out of her sight and she relaxed, slumping against the sofa cushions, drained by the stress. Tears had started falling and Petra passed her a tissue, speaking softly, trying to comfort her. Tabby was reeling from the confusing emotions and pain swirling around in her brain like soup in a blender. Why was he so angry...at her? Or at Jerry? Tabby honestly didn't know. Marcus had looked like he had wanted to tear her apart and it had terrified her.

In the kitchen, Marcus paced like a caged beast, running an absent hand through his hair and rubbing his face. Cooper leaned indolently against the door frame, watching his friend with one curious eyebrow raised high.

"Wanna tell me what that was out there just now? You scared the fuck out of her, man. Don't you think that she's had more than enough of that tonight, asshole?"

Marcus huffed, wanting to growl and snap at Cooper like a rabid dog. He almost told his friend to fuck off, except the realisation that he was right hit him in the heart and sobered him. Marcus groaned, feeling some of the violence evaporate. He was such an asshole for scaring her like that, but his temper had simmered and boiled over while he had listened to her story. The animalistic need to protect what his inner beast had claimed as his had blinded him with possessive rage. He had wanted to kill Jerry with a vicious, blood-thirsty urge that had him locked onto Tabby as the source of his aggression. Thank fuck that bastard hadn't had the chance to rape Tabitha, nothing would've have been able to hold him back from hunting him down and dismembering him if he had.

He had wanted to protect Tabby, make her feel safe but instead, he had terrified her. Cooper was right, he was an asshole.

"I don't know, man. Shit!" he cursed, clenching his hands into tight fists. "I hate assholes that hurt women, you know?" Cooper wasn't an idiot and he had known Marcus for long enough to know when the man was deflecting. What he couldn't figure out, was what exactly was eating at Marcus, only that it had a scared, traumatized young woman at the centre of it.

"You gonna be okay, Sarge?" Cooper asked, noticing that Marcus' eyes kept flicking past him and out into the living room, searching for Tabby. He'd never seen him so rattled by a woman before and it freaked him out a bit. Marcus was normally the coolest head in their group, the guy you could always count on to get everyone's ass out of a bind, but he was acting positively feral tonight.

"Yeah, I'm good," Marcus mumbled, trying to edge past Cooper who thrust a hand out and caught him in the chest. He shot daggers at him but Cooper held his ground.

"You sure?" Cooper asked skeptically, "because honestly, you look like you're itching to rip someone apart right now."

Marcus gave him an evil smirk, "I am. You volunteering?"

Cooper dropped his hand and chuckled. "Not funny, man. Just dial the aggression down and sort yourself out before you scare her away."

With Cooper sorting Marcus' crazy behaviour out, Jaz continued interviewing Tabby. He carefully reviewed his notes, clarifying some of the details with Tabitha. "Just so I have this correct, your boss' name is Gerald Moran, but he goes by Jerry, right?" Tabby nodded, feeling sick at the mention of his name.

"Do you know where he lives?" Tabby shook her head and immediately regretted it, the movement made a wave of nausea crawl up her throat and she swallowed hard against it. "I'm not sure but he lives with his wife. I'm sorry, that's all I really know about him. He only took over three months ago and really didn't socialize with the staff."

Jaz smiled, trying to put the shattered woman at ease. "It's okay, Tabitha, you've given us enough to make a start in finding him." He gave her a determined look. "We will find him, I promise."

She felt Marcus's presence before she saw him. Something electrified the air behind her making the tiny hairs on her neck quiver with the static attraction. A swarm of butterflies took flight in her chest, brushing feathery wings against her ribs until she felt dizzy with the sensation. Sharp jolts of desire made her pussy tingle and moisten, making her vibrate with awareness and arousal.

She didn't have to turn around to know that Marcus had returned and was standing behind her, every sense...every nerve in her body had lit up and oriented itself on him in an instant. Something inside her began humming in pleasure, dispelling some of the dizziness and pain that was threatening to split her skull in two.

Jaz was too busy checking his notebook and hadn't noticed the flushed hue that had turned Tabby's pale cheeks a bright rosy colour. "This is good, real good, Tabitha. Besides your stained clothing and the injuries to your face, is there any other physical evidence of the attack? Did he hurt you anywhere else? You've stated that you managed to defend yourself before he was able to complete the assault, but did he leave any other wounds or marks, Tabitha?"

Tabby stared at him, unable to speak. Jaz looked up in time to get a glimpse of her blush disappearing as memory made the blood rush to her feet. Flashbacks of Jerry's hands on her arms, on her breasts and coming at her face filled her vision. He was all over her, blocking out everything around her and consuming her like a black hole. She squeezed her eyes shut, wanting to block out Jerry's leering, drooling face but it didn't help. He just got bigger and bigger in her mind's eye until he was all she could see.

Tabby was shaking, her breath coming in clipped puffs with potent fear turning her insides to roiling liquid. She could feel her brain shutting down, losing her tentative grip on reality as fatigue and emotional overload caught up with her and sent her spinning like she was trapped in a washing machine.

Petra noticed Tabby beginning to lose her grip and put her hand on her leg and squeezed her knee. "Hey you. Where did you go?" Tabby opened her eyes slowly, following the sound of Petra's voice out of her waking nightmare.

"Am I ever going to be free of him, Pet?" she sobbed.

"Yes, lovey, it will take time but the shock and memory will fade."

Jaz was still waiting patiently for the answer to his question, looking unsure of what to do and feeling like a shit for triggering her panic attack.

Satisfied that she'd stopped Tabby's flashback, Petra turned to Jaz. "She has bruises," she said, giving Tabby a half-hearted smile. "Sorry, babe, I...saw them when I helped you undress. Your upper arms had purple finger marks all over them." She paused, looking uncomfortable. "And on her breasts." She turned to Diego, her eyes shiny with unshed tears. "You can see...finger prints beginning to bruise. I'm so sorry Tabby, I couldn't help seeing them!"

Tabby wrapped her arms tightly around herself, quietly weeping while her best friend explained that which Tabby couldn't acknowledge. She had adamantly refused to look at herself in the bathroom mirror, didn't want to see the bruises and the imprints of his fingers on her flesh. How could she make herself forget what had happened, if she was stuck wearing a constant reminder of his grubby, filthy hands on her body?

And...god... she really just wanted to forget...everything...just wanted to cram all those horrible memories into a box and drop it into a hole so deep that only the devil would ever find it. She wanted to purge herself of all that evilness and send it to the place it belonged.

Petra's arms came around her and pulled her close so that Tabby could bury her face against her friend's chest. "Shh, baby. It's gonna be alright. I promise," she crooned as she rocked Tabby.

Cooper cleared his throat, not wanting to press the shattered woman but needing to do his job. "We are going to need to get pictures of the bruising, Tabby. You also need to get checked out at the hospital, that cheek needs to be x-rayed to make sure the bone beneath isn't fractured. You might also be suffering from the effects of a concussion," Cooper said gently, coming around to sit in the arm chair.

Just the thought of leaving the safety of Petra's apartment filled Tabby with panic and she began to shake even harder in Petra's arms.

"Please," she begged, her teeth chattering from anxiety, rather than cold. "I don't want to. I just want to go to bed. Please," her eyes scanned those around her, imploring them to understand. "Can't this wait?"

"It really can't, Tabitha. The sooner we get the physical evidence documented, the sooner a warrant can be issued for his arrest." Jaz paused, letting his words sink in. "I know you are tired, but you do want Jerry arrested don't you? If he's done this to you, then there is a good probability that he will try it again with another woman. She might not be as lucky as you were to fight him off the next time."

Cooper spoke up. "Petra can come to the hospital with you so that you won't be alone with any of us, if that's what's making you nervous. Is that okay, Tabitha?"

"Tabby," she mumbled, eyes fixed on her hands that she had locked together with the fingers interlaced to keep the tremors at bay.

"What's that?" Cooper cocked his head, trying to make out what she had said in her whispered voice.

"Tabby. You can call me Tabby," she said a little louder now, looking up at him with a wan smile. "Only my mother calls me Tabitha. I always feel like I'm in trouble when someone uses my full name."

"Okay, Tabby it is then," Cooper laughed.

Everyone chuckled at her statement and Cooper grinned back at her. With his eyes alight, some of the tension had left his face and Tabby was struck by how handsome the man was; all beach blond, tousled hair falling in front of sapphire blue eyes that held nothing but compassion and concern for her in their sparkling depths. He was tall and muscular, her eyes traced the contours of the well defined muscles stretching the fabric of his tight fitting t-shirt, and yet, his impressive size wasn't intimidating. Quite the opposite in fact, he exuded a quiet, gentle strength that made Tabby want to trust him. He made her feel safe and protected, just by being in his presence.

She glanced quickly at the other two men, Diego and Jaz, noticing the similarities between them and realized that the same could have been said for both of them too, Marcus included. They were all impressively built men and she thought that she should have felt threatened, especially in light of what Jerry had done to her. These powerful men should terrify her. Instead, she had the overpowering urge to crawl into the middle of all four and seek refuge behind their fortress of muscle and power, safe from all the bad things that continually seemed to find her.

Her mind drifted back to find four pairs of eyes watching her with concern straining them and Marcus' gaze behind her, fell upon her like a sunbeam, warming her from the inside out. She hadn't realized that she'd gotten lost in her head and flushed, embarrassed by the attraction that she was afraid that they could all see written on her face.

Thoughts drifting, Tabby wasn't aware of how many times her hand had absently rubbed her temples or that she couldn't help squinting her eyes against the light, but Marcus had and worried him. His instincts were telling him that something wasn't right with her and that it was time that he stepped in and took control of the situation. He swung around to the front of the sofa and squatted down in front of her. She had closed her eyes again and he could see her wincing in discomfort with every sound.

"Tabby, can you open your eyes for me?" he spoke quietly, keeping his voice deliberately soft so as not to startle her. She knew that he was there of course, the strange connection she had with him had flared hotly the minute he had moved closer to her and she could smell the spicy, woodsy aroma of his cologne bringing his masculine scent into her nostrils with every breath she took. The way her body reacted to his proximity, vibrating like a tuning fork, pretty much made her eyesight redundant. Tabby had a feeling that even blind, she would be able to find Marcus in the even the deepest dark, there was just no denying the gravitational pull that existed between them.

She cracked open her eyes, having more trouble with her right side. The skin felt stretched and tight, a deep, throbbing ache had settled around the outer corner of her eye socket and she reached a tentative hand up to touch it gently, grimacing from the pain as she gingerly prodded it.

"You're going to have a pretty impressive shiner by morning, sweetheart." Marcus smiled at her and she found herself instantly captivated and smiling shyly back. "Is your head hurting?"

"Yes," she whispered.

"The lights are bothering you too aren't they?"

"A little," she hedged. He raised an eyebrow at her skeptically.

"Okay...a lot," she conceded.

"This is important, Tabby. Did Jerry hit you or did you hit your head on something?" Marcus' eyes watched her, tracking each grimace of pain and noting the way she was having trouble thinking quickly.

Her voice was small, barely more than a whisper and cracked when she spoke. "When...when he threw me...I...my head hit the desk pretty hard."

Marcus straightened up, and rested a hand on Tabby's knee, pleased that she didn't flinch from his touch. "I'd like to check the back of your head, is that alright with you?" Her eyes darted nervously and Marcus felt her muscles go rigid under his hand.

"He knows what he's doing, Tabby. He used to be an Army medic so you can trust him, okay?" Cooper said. The tension in her body eased a fraction, but the doubtful expression on her face told Marcus that she really wasn't sure. She surprised him by giving him a shallow nod in the form of permission.

So brave, he thought, his heart filled with pride for the courageous young woman before him. She was fighting her own misgivings to let a virtual stranger touch her even after nearly being raped a few short hours ago. He wanted to hug her and tell her what an amazing woman he thought she was, but had to bury that urge. Not now, he promised himself, but one day he will take her into his arms and protect her so that nothing bad ever harmed her again.

Marcus stood and very slowly slid his hand up the back of Tabby's neck, sending a shiver racing down her spine. He knew that he was taking advantage of her permission in this small way, but he couldn't resist being able to keep his hands on her for longer than was absolutely necessary. He felt a little like a thief, stealing this precious contact from her without her being aware of what his ulterior motive was.

Yes, he was undoubtedly an asshole, but he didn't care.

Tabby gave a little shudder, his hands were so warm and big, almost the size of her head, and his gentle touch felt incredibly good on the back of her neck. The way the callouses on his fingers grazed her neck sent waves of goosebumps rushing over her skin and into her nipples, making them harden and tingle with tiny electric jolts. She closed her eyes, relaxing into his caress, that is, until his probing fingers prodded a spot on her scalp and pain knifed into her brain. She gave a startled yelp and pulled away, breathing hard through the blast of agony.

"Easy there. You must have hit your head pretty hard, you've got a knot the size of a golf ball." He crouched back down in front of her and tilted her head up with a finger under her chin. Again, the touch was not entirely necessary but something inside him had grown agitated the moment Tabby had pulled out of his reach. The second his skin met hers, his beast immediately settled and began to purr in sleepy contentment.

Marcus forced his attention back onto Tabby and away from the growing constriction in his pants. This was important, you idiot, he chided himself and ignored the raging need scalding his veins.

"We need to get you to the hospital and get that checked out, Tabby. You are showing symptoms of a pretty good concussion and that needs to be looked at by a doctor."

Panic gripped her belly and she shook her head in protest, pulling back and setting his beast off growling in displeasure. Marcus' eyes got hard and he fixed her with a determined look. "One of two things is going to happen right now, sweetheart. One," She tried to look away but he redirected her gaze with his hand cupping her chin, keeping her eyes on his and soothing his libido with the eye contact. "One: I will drive you to the hospital myself or two: I'll call you an ambulance. Either way, you ARE going to end up at the hospital this morning. How you get there is the only choice available to you right now."

"I wouldn't try to argue with him, Tabby. He's a right stubborn git when he sets his mind on something," laughed Jaz, earning himself a dirty look from Marcus. "Oh don't get your knickers in a twist, old man. I only speak the truth."

"He's got you there, buddy," Cooper chimed in, grinning like a wise-ass.

It was then that Tabby took notice of Jaz's unusual accent. She hadn't noticed it before because it seemed to get thicker when he was at ease and joking around, like he had just done now. He hid it better when he was being more formal, like when he was taking her statement. It sounded like an exotic mix of British English and slight East Indian accents that made his pronunciation and cadence sound almost lyrical. There was just something fun and friendly about the man when his natural accent shone through, Tabby thought.

She studied him closer now, her eyes taking in the light toffee hue to his skin that she'd somehow overlooked before. He was smiling brightly at her and had eyes the colour of milk chocolate that twinkled with mischief and amusement.

Tabby grinned back at him and blurted out the first thing that entered her mind. "I love your accent. It sounds really cool." She groaned immediately after the words had left her mouth, embarrassment making her cheeks flush brilliant pink. She suddenly wondered what the hell had happened to her stupidity filter. Apparently the knock on her head had broken it and her mouth was operating unsupervised.

What a lame thing to say, she thought. You've known the guy, for what? Five minutes and that's the best you can come out with? Tabby felt like her thoughts had developed ADD - she kept skipping tracks and wandering off topic, unable to stay focused on any one thing for very long. She rubbed her aching head again, glancing back at Marcus who seemed to be waiting for something from her and was watching her flounder about with a curious eyebrow raised.

Did she forget something? Had he asked her a question?

"Ta luv. It's definitely a source of curiosity. Let's just say that I have a mixed heritage." Marcus shot him a "you can shut up now" look and Jaz gave a little cough and nodded. "I'll tell you about the scandal my father created another time, but I think you still have a question to answer."

"It's nice...different. You should talk more," she added, trying to buy time while she searched her fragmented memory for Marcus' mysterious question. She was so focused on trying to remember, that she barely heard Cooper and Diego groan together and slap their foreheads theatrically. Marcus closed his eyes and slowly shook his head with another of his stellar smiles warming Tabby and instantly distracting her again.

God he looks so sexy when he smiles, she mused, her thoughts turning to cotton candy in her mind - sweet and tangled up.

"You didn't just say that! Now he'll never shut up!" Cooper and Diego complained at the same time.

"Bloody tossers," Jaz grumbled with a grin and turned to Tabby. "So luv, will it be a ride with big and ugly or shall we call you some handsome paramedics to escort you to the hospital?"
"Shut it, Jaz or I'll shut it for you," Marcus growled, with more irritation in his voice than he meant to show. Jaz's playfulness with Tabby rubbed Marcus's possessive streak the wrong way and he had to stifle the urge to drive his fist into the face of one of his closest friends.

Get a grip! He yelled at himself. He's only fooling around. You don't need to get your alpha male shit up in his face for Christ sake! Thankfully, Tabby hadn't taken notice of his gruff comment and was still smiling absentmindedly at Jaz.

She really wasn't even seeing him, her mind was too busy debating which option she'd prefer, to pay Marcus or Jaz any attention. She pondered and weighed her options, realizing that the stubborn look on Marcus' handsome face meant that she really didn't have any in the first place. She finally decided that if he was going to make her go, she'd rather go with someone who wasn't a total stranger to her.

Her decision had nothing to do with her desire to spend more time with Marcus.

Nope. None at all.

"You," she finally said, honestly too tired to protest any longer. "I'll go with you." She wilted as her head started throbbing in earnest. She felt like there was an entire road crew inside there, jack hammering her skull into jigsaw puzzle pieces. She almost whimpered from the pounding pain and hoped that maybe they'd give her something to make it stop when she got to the hospital. Suddenly feeling insecure, she turned to Petra, guilt squirming uncomfortably in her gut for what she was about to ask, when she saw how tired her friend looked.

"Will you come with me?" she whispered, hating that she was nervous about leaving with Marcus.

"You couldn't stop me, sweetie," Petra said, giving her another hug. She stood up and offered Tabby her hand. "C'mon, let's go harass us some cute ER doctors!"

"Over my dead body," Diego growled playfully, wanting to smack his mischievous submissive on her pert little ass, but didn't want to upset Tabby.

Petra pouted prettily at him. "Spoil sport," she huffed.

"Watch it, pet. You know how much I love helping you adjust that bratty attitude."

Petra brightened noticeably, getting excited at what Tabby thought should have been a threat. Petra fluttered her long eye lashes at Diego coyly. "Promise?"

"Ugh, come on Tabby." Marcus helped her off the sofa and ushered her to the front door, with Jaz and Cooper following closely behind.

"We'd better go before Diego hauls her away like a caveman. Hey, you two coming...?" Cooper smirked, leaving the innuendo hanging in the air. Petra collapsed into fits of giggles, while Diego glowered at her, trying to keep a stern expression on lips that were trying hard not to curve up into a smile. Tabby grabbed her purse and let herself be led out of the apartment surrounded by an entourage of big bodies.

When they got out to the parking lot, Marcus dug his keys out of his pocket and tossed them to Diego who caught them like he had been waiting for them to come sailing through the air to him.

"You drive, I want to sit in back and keep an eye on her. I don't like her colour." Marcus said quietly as Petra helped Tabby into the back seat of his monster SUV.

"Cooper, you and Jaz head to the station and get the ball rolling on finding that asshole who assaulted her. If you need anything else from Tabby, you can call my cell."

"You got it, Sarge. We'll let you know what we find out." Cooper called back with a wave and climbed into a red pickup truck with Jaz.

The ride to the hospital took twenty minutes and Tabby began to doze five minutes into the trip. Lulled to sleep by the warmth of Petra's body cushioning her on one side and Marcus's comforting bulk on the other, she didn't stand a chance of staying awake. Every few minutes, Marcus' voice and a gentle shaking would rouse her, but it was getting harder and harder for her to wake up. She was so exhausted that it felt like she had to claw her way through wet cement every time he tried to force her to wake.

By the time they reached the hospital, Tabby had lost the battle and was snoring quietly on Marcus' lap, her tiny hand gripping his huge one in a way that soothed the possessive beast raging inside him.

Petra watched as the quiet Master stroked Tabby's hair in a way the belied the percolating violence she had seen in his eyes earlier. Something was happening between her friend and the big man and Petra had the strangest feeling that she was witnessing something beautiful and fragile being born. Somehow, Tabby had managed to captivate the reserved Master in a way that neither had realized, nor expected.

This is what love at first sight looks like, Petra mused, a subtle smile on her face. A warm sense of amazement filled her heart and she had to turn and look out the window to hide the wetness that had sprung up in eyes. Her sense of wonder dulled as reality dumped on her glowing ember of hope. How damaged was her friend going to be once the initial shock of her attack wears off? Would she even be able to accept Marcus? Petra had a funny feeling that Marcus wasn't going to go away easily if her friend proved to be emotionally unable to accept him in her life; he had the look of a man who was holding something precious and unexpected like a treasure he'd dug up from under an X in the sand. Unfortunately, this gift came in the form of a traumatized young woman who may not want to have anything to do with him.

The "train wreck" potential worried Petra. At the rate that Tabby and Marcus were hurtling towards each other, the collision was either going to be spectacularly beautiful or a disaster of epic proportions.

Petra put her hand on Marcus' bicep and squeezed it lightly. "Sir?" She spoke quietly, glancing at the back of her own Master's head as he drove them through city streets that were just beginning to fill with the early morning commute.

Marcus cocked a dark eyebrow and murmured, "Hmmm," in response.

"Promise me that you'll be careful."

"Pardon?" Marcus blinked his tired eyes in confusion, not sure what Petra was trying to get at.

"With Tabby." She looked at her sleeping friend and the purple bruising on her face, it stabbed Petra in the gut. "She's so strong...always fighting, you know? Even when she's breaking inside, you'd never know it. This is the first time I've ever seen her so vulnerable and so fragile. Promise me that you'll handle her with care."

"Petra, I'm not..." he trailed off, Tabby had let out a soft sigh and the sound had immediately distracted him. Petra gave his arm another gentle squeeze.

"Whatever you do, or don't do, just remember that she's more fragile than she'll ever let on, okay?" Marcus could only nod, though in truth, he'd barely heard her. His attention was focused on the sleeping woman in his lap and the overwhelming sense to protect what his beast was screaming was already his.

Diego pulled in to the ER's emergency parking area and Marcus climbed out first then reached back in, undid Tabby's seatbelt and pulled her carefully into his arms. She grumbled quietly at being jostled but didn't wake as Marcus cradled her body to his chest and entered the sliding door of the ER. She still didn't wake as the triage nurse directed them to an exam room and he placed her carefully on the bed. What finally did roused her was the heated confrontation between Marcus and the ER nurse. She was trying to insist that Marcus leave Tabby and return to the waiting room. He was refusing, vehemently, and the nurse wasn't backing down.

Tabby woke with a head that was thick with grogginess and pain, only to find Marcus standing toe to toe with a nurse who was glaring up at him like a pit bull defending its territory. Tabby opened her eyes too quickly and it proved to be a bad mistake, the bright lights felt like razor blades slicing into her eyeballs and driving spikes into her brain, making her feel sick and nauseous. She groaned weakly, squeezing her smarting eyes tightly closed but unable to deal with the throbbing agony in her head.

Marcus was the first to notice that she was awake and left the nurse with her mouth hanging agape. Tabby felt him return to her side, he picked up her hand and began caressing the back with the roughened pad of this thumb. The pain subsided slightly at his touch but surged back and she moaned weakly.

"Tabby, you're at the hospital. How are you feeling?"

Tabby swallowed and tried to open her eyes again, they stung and watered, making her blink rapidly. Marcus did not like the haze of confusion her saw in those green eyes.

"Hurts...too bright," she slurred sleepily. Tabby tried to make her voice work but her tongue seemed to have swelled up and had stuck itself to the roof of her dry mouth, the small amount of movement had her choking back the sour taste of bile as her queasy stomach rolled alarmingly.

A older doctor entered the cubicle with a different nurse who was carrying a camera. "How's our patient doing?" he asked, giving Tabby a friendly smile. The first nurse gave him a quick update on her condition and then turned to leave, though not before giving Marcus a look of pure irritation.

"Hello Tabitha," the doctor said. "I'm Dr. Jackson, I'll be taking care of you this morning. I see that you've had a pretty rotten night so far. Except for your headache, are you in any other pain?"

Tabby grimaced, furrows of pain appearing on her forehead, "Just my head...and maybe my cheek."

"I can give you some Tylenol for that headache but it looks like you may be suffering from a concussion so I can't give you anything stronger, I'm afraid. Do you remember if you lost consciousness when you hit your head?"

The image of Jerry's gloating face swam before Tabby's eyes, the flashback so powerful that she whimpered and started to scrabble away. Marcus' hands were on her shoulders in a second, pining her to the bed to keep her from rolling off. "Easy, Tabby. You're safe, no one's going to hurt you."

Tabby's chest felt like someone was sitting on top on it. Her heart raced and her lungs felt so tight that it was like they'd been super glued together. She couldn't seem to get enough oxygen with the massive weight pressing down on her. Marcus kept trying to calm her down but she barely heard his voice through the sound of Jerry's taunting threats echoing in her mind.

"You wouldn't want me to knock you out and tie you up now would you? Be a good little whore and lie still."

Something was being pulled over her face and her anxiety spiked, she fought blindly as hands grabbed at hers, holding her down. A sharp sting in her arm and a moment later, all the strength went out of her body as her muscles relaxed and her vision went blurry. A mask was pulled over her mouth and nose and cool air hissed into it; voices got muffled, sounding like they were coming from a long way away and sleep tugged at her to follow it into a place of oblivion. She vaguely heard the doctor's voice and didn't really care to listen anyway; she was drifting on a cloud of delightful numbness that made her feel like she was floating cocooned in warm water.

"I have to examine her and check for evidence of rape. Then we'll need to take some photos of her injuries for the police report. Once that's done, I want to get a CT of her head and cheek to rule out any bleeding or fractures." He turned to Marcus, "I think we're just dealing with a mild to moderate concussion but need the scan to make sure that there isn't something more serious going on with her brain. The sedative I gave her with keep her calm but it would be best if you gave her some privacy during the exam. Someone will come get you as soon as she comes back from X-ray."

Marcus nodded and his wavy visage appeared in Tabby's vision, she blinked and squinted at him but couldn't get his image to stop blurring and moving. All the movement was making her feel queasy so she closed her eyes and returned to the pleasant, floaty place the drug had taken her. She felt his body heat grow closer as he leaned over and placed a light kiss on her forehead. She carefully cracked open an eye and gave him a quizzical look. He saw her peeking out from under her long eyelashes and he smiled, "I'll be just outside if you need me, Tabby."

"P-p-petra. Where's Pet-petra?" she slurred, sounding drunk. The nurse said something to someone on the other side of the curtain and Petra soon appeared beside her and folded her hand around Tabby's.

"Sir, you need to leave so that she can be examined," the nurse insisted to a glowering Marcus.

"It's okay," Petra said, worried that he was going to argue with the nurse again. She knew what was coming and had a feeling that Tabby didn't want a male audience for the exam. "Go, I'll stay with her." The reluctance in his face as he extricated his hand from Tabby's pulled at Petra's heartstrings. "She's going to be okay, Sir. I'll come get you as soon as it's done. I promise."

Gratitude flashed in the blue-green depths of his eyes and he gave her a curt nod. "Don't leave her alone, Petra."

"I wouldn't dream of it, Mas-, uhm, I mean, Sir." Petra glanced quickly at Tabby, hoping that she hadn't caught Petra's slip. She'd almost called him "Master" in public and felt sick at her slip of the tongue. Luckily for her, the nurse was too busy bustling around Tabby and Tabby had closed her eyes again, her forehead creased in pain. Only Marcus had heard, but didn't seem to care, all his attention was focused on Tabby. He gave her a tired, worried nod and grudgingly left the exam cubicle.

Tabby felt like she was trapped in a nightmare. Hands touched her and her mind swam with terror. She closed her eyes, squeezing Petra's hand tight and wincing with every click of the camera, praying for it to be over. The doctor was professional and the nurse was compassionate and efficient but to Tabby, it was felt like she was being violated all over again. Somewhere in the disjointed thoughts swirling in the drugged stupor that her mind was trapped in, Tabby knew that the exam was necessary.

Knowing did not make it any easier to bear.

Tears slid down the side of her head and dripped off her ears when the nurse lowered the sheet and lifted the hospital gown that someone had changed her into. She felt exposed and embarrassed, clenching her jaws together to keep from screaming as hands manipulated her breasts and the camera clicked, documenting her injuries. Her legs were lifted into stirrups and the camera clicked. The doctor performed a quick internal exam and then ran a comb through her pubic hair. And the camera clicked.

Tabby flinched with each of the electronic shutter sounds the camera made.

Click. Click. Click.

She was never going to be able to take a photo without remembering the sound that that camera made, it was now burned into her memory, stored right beside the awful "f" word.

She was shaking so hard it rattled her bones, even though the sedative helped to keep her calm, she was very aware of what was happening under the sheet. If it hadn't been for Petra's comforting presence, Tabby would have had a complete nervous breakdown while she was prodded and photographed.

"She needs a break," Petra spoke up. "Are you almost done? I don't think she can take much more of this." Tabby had never loved Petra as much as she did in that moment, grateful when the doctor stood up and removed his rubber gloves.

"We're done here. You're doing well Tabby," he said, turning to speak to the nurse.

"How are you doing, sweetie?" Petra brushed a lock of hair away from Tabby's damp forehead and wiped her tears away. Tabby just closed her eyes, wanting to beg Petra to just take her home. She almost did too, except a porter appeared and Petra was ushered out to go sit in the waiting room.

Marcus heard Petra coming into the waiting area and spun on his heel to face her. She looked exhausted and stressed and it made his protective instincts roar to life. "What it is? Did something happen? Why did you leave her?" He stalked towards her, worry for Tabby making him bark questions as if he was interrogating a suspect. She ignored him and sat down beside Diego, folding herself tiredly into his waiting arms.

"Petra, answer me," Marcus demanded, his hands flexing into fists of frustration.

"Easy, Sarge. Can't you see she's wiped?" Diego cautioned, not willing to allow his best friend to harass his partner. "Now sit down before that nurse comes back with a elephant gun and tranqs your miserable ass."

Petra yawned. "She's fine, Sir. The exam and pictures were hard on her but she got through it like a real trooper. They're just taking her up for the scan now. The doctor said that someone will be down to talk to us as soon as it's done." She yawned again and stretched out across the cushioned bench, resting her head on Diego's lap. She could see the lines of worry on Marcus' face and the dark look in his eyes and took pity on him. "She got through it, Sir. The worst is over, you can stop worrying now."

Marcus harrumphed and resumed pacing. Back and forth he went, distracting himself from his confusing feelings by constantly checking his phone for messages from Jaz or Cooper. So far, there hadn't been any word from either of them and that was just another irritation to add to his worries.

The rest of his anxious brain was focused on Tabitha. He couldn't understand the connection he had with Tabby, the fierce possessiveness that flared every time he was close to her or the way his skin itched being separated from her now. He felt like a junkie jonsing hard for a fix and his drug was a woman he barely knew.

It was crazy.

Stupid.

Impossible.

All the above and more. The way he felt though, was undeniable; something was happening - had happened - the moment he'd laid eyes on her and he was never going to be the same again.

It was as if he had been sleepwalking throughout his entire life, then Tabby happened into his life and suddenly he was wide awake. Painfully, wide awake...and all his senses had tuned themselves to Tabitha. Her beautiful, jade green eyes and perfect little body had woken something in him that had lain dormant and whatever it was that had taken notice, was refusing to go back to sleep again. There was a primal part of his psyche that had woken up with a fierce will of its own and it had announced its needs very, very clearly to Marcus.

It wanted Tabby...in every possible way.

Hell, Marcus wanted her too, if he was being completely honest with himself. Every fiber of his being sang when his hands were on her skin, in a way that he had never experienced with any of the women in his past...including the one he was going to marry. He craved her and couldn't stop himself from wondering how it would feel once his cock was inside her. If the connection was this electric from just casual touches, it would be fucking mind blowing once they were skin to skin in a carnal way.

He shook his head and scrubbed at his face. Exhaustion was making him stupid. What the hell was he thinking? Lusting after some poor girl who had just been attacked? What kind of asshole did that make him? Shit. He should just go before he made a colossal asshat of himself, because the longer he hung around her, the more likely it was that he was going to do something incredibly stupid.

He knew that the right thing to do would have been to leave, let Diego and Petra handle Tabby and just go home to bed for a few hours. His beast howled in outrage at that idea, clawing at his chest with a pressure so intense that Marcus couldn't take a breath. His feet wouldn't move, muscles refusing to take that first step that would take him out of the hospital and away from Tabby.

He should leave. Go, and forget the beautiful angel he longed to take home and keep for himself.
And do what with her? His subconscious had decided to chime in, throwing a proverbial bucket of cold water over Marcus' raging hormones. You don't do relationships, remember? So you bring her home and then what? Play happy families? Keep her chained to your bed? Do you really think she's going to want someone as screwed up as you? The minute you show her your true self, she's not going to want to have anything to do with you.

Leave.

Stay.

What the hell was he going to do?

Marcus had lost track of time arguing with himself when Cooper and Jaz came striding down the hall. He didn't like the grim expressions on either man's face and wondered what they had found out. Jaz carried a tray with cups of takeout coffee and held up a bulging fast food bag waggling it invitingly.

"Hey man," Cooper said, helping Jaz distribute the drinks and food. "We figured you guys wouldn't mind some breakfast."

"Forget that," Marcus barked. "What did you find out? Do you have the asshole in custody?"

"Sit. Eat." Cooper pointed to a chair and handed Marcus a paper covered sandwich. "You'll want food in your stomach when we tell you what we found out."

"Just spill it, Coop. What do you know?"

Cooper sat down and sighed. "The guy's a real piece of work. Scumbag is too pretty a term for this asshole. Turns out, Gerald Moran has a sheet longer than my arm. Drunk & disorderly, a few DUI's and almost a dozen assaults and sexual harassment charges that stopped just shy of putting him on the sexual offenders list. He was arrested five years ago on a domestic abuse charge but the charges were mysteriously dropped. It looks like the wife, now ex-wife, dropped the assault charges in exchange for an uncontested divorce. That's speculation, but she filed for divorce as soon as the charges were dropped and coincidently, he didn't fight it. She walked away with eighty percent of their assets and an ironclad restraining order."

"Shit. So he lied to Tabby about having a wife and has a history of beating on women. Has he been picked up?" Marcus asked. "Tell me that this slimeball is in custody, Coop."

Cooper sighed and took a long swig of his coffee. "That's the bad news, we sent a patrol car by his place and he's gone. Landlady says he slipped the keys under her door with a note to dispose of his things as she sees fit. He's in the wind, Sarge. We've issued an APB for him and his car but so far, the asshole's gone to ground."

"How's Tabby?" Jaz asked as he passed Marcus a cup of coffee.

"She's rattled and exhausted. The doc's getting a scan of her head to rule out anything serious but doesn't think that there's anything to worry about."

As if on cue, Tabby's doctor appeared holding a file in his hands. "I'm looking for Petra Simmons." He scanned the faces looking anxiously at him.

Diego nudged Petra awake and she sat slowly up, groggy from her mini nap. "That's me. I'm Petra Simmons."

"Your friend Tabby has elected you to be her medical contact."

"She did?" Petra sounded surprised.

"Yes, she was adamant that we don't contact her family and nominated you in their place. Now I have the results of the exam and scans, we can go to my office to review them if you'd like."

Petra shook her head and clasped Diego's hand tightly for moral support. "No need, doctor. We can talk in front of these men; it will just save me having to repeat what you tell me anyway."

The doctor nodded and opened his file. "Okay, first things first, Tabitha is going to be fine, physically anyway. She's suffering from a mild concussion but other than bruising, didn't sustain anything more serious. The concussion will resolve itself naturally with rest, though the headaches may persist for a few weeks. She should follow up with her GP if they worsen or give her cause for concern." He looked down on his notes before continuing. "There was no evidence of sexual penetration, though we ran the rape kit any way just in case. The photos and samples will be turned over to the police for analysis. Other than that, we'd like to keep her in for 24 hours for observation but she's pretty determined to go home. Do you know if someone can stay with her if she does? She shouldn't be left alone for at least 48 hours."

Petra perked up, "She's staying with me so I can keep an eye on her. She's okay though?"

"Yes, Miss Simmons. Physically, she is fine but I am going to give her the number for a rape crisis line and a victim's support group. I strongly suggest you get her to talk to someone about what has happened. Even though she wasn't physically raped, she's going to need help getting over the mental trauma from the attack."

"I'll try," Petra said dubiously. "She's pretty stubborn when she wants to be." Petra stood and shook the doctor's hand.

Marcus wanted to jump up and tell them that Tabby was coming home with him, the urge to do so was almost overwhelming, but the rational part of his brain kicked in and helped keep his mouth shut. He knew crazy when he heard it and his friends would have thought he'd lost his mind if he'd volunteered - check that - insisted that she stay with him. The best thing for all involved, would be for him to drop them off at Petra's and then get his ass home.

This crazy attraction will disappear with distance and sleep, he tried to convince himself.

Fifteen minutes later, Tabby appeared being pushed in a wheel chair by an orderly. Petra rushed up to her and gave her a hug and then Marcus took the orderly's place, behind her chair.

She was sleepy and her pale skin made the swollen, purple bruise on her right cheek and eye look even more vivid. She had redressed into her own pajamas and was clutching a sheaf of papers and brochures in her lap. Marcus just wanted to grab her up and hold her tight. She looked so fragile that he thought that she'd just blow away if the wind kicked up. He passed his keys to Diego again and they left the hospital. At Marcus's SUV, he helped Tabby into the back seat and got in beside her. Petra climbed up into the front this time and they set off home.

Tabby was beyond tired. Her body felt dull with the kind of exhaustion that went straight down into every cell and made her feel thin and transparent; so insubstantial that she thought she could feel her body disintegrating and pieces blowing away like dust. The Tylenol the nurse had given her had barely taken the edge off her pounding headache and the way her stomach was churning, she wondered if insisting on being discharged wasn't the brightest idea she'd ever had. She couldn't wait to get home and crash but she dreaded the ride there with her stomach so unsettled. On their way out, a nurse took one look at and rushed to give her a disposable container with a kind smile and pat on her shoulder.

"Just in case, dear. You're looking a little green around the gills," the observant nurse had said.

Marcus was being so kind and attentive, making sure she was comfortable and guiding her to lie down on his lap. Closing her eyes felt immensely better, it was bright out now that the sun was up and it really hurt her head. Between the rocking motion of the truck and Marcus's hand gently stroking her hair, Tabby was helpless to fight the fatigue any longer. His reassuring touch made her feel safe and protected and she relaxed against him completely, not wanting to question her reaction at that time. It felt good and Tabby let herself selfishly enjoy the comfort he was offering.

She'd think later, when her head wasn't trying to implode and her emotions were better under control. She tried to stay awake, forcing her eyes open and squinting against the sting but someone had weighted her eyelids with sandbags and each blink got harder and slower until sleep finally shut them for good.

By the time Diego pulled up in front of Petra's condo building, Tabby was sound asleep. Every so often, she would start to quiver, making soft whimpering sounds that tugged at Marcus' heart as if it was chained to an angry bull. When he discovered that he could soothe her back into restful sleep by just touching her cheek, his battered heart, which he had believed was jaded beyond repair, cracked wide open and threw out a welcome mat for the fragile young woman sleeping on his lap. When he carried her up to Petra's apartment, she murmured in her sleep, threw her arms around his neck and snuggled up with her head on his shoulder. The small, warm puffs of her breath tickling his neck and sending jolts of electricity pulsing into his cock.

Once again, Marcus found himself torn between running away and running away with Tabby in his arms. How the hell was he going to get this woman out of his system? No matter what his libido was screaming at him, he knew that wanting Tabby was wrong.

Wrong time. Wrong place. Wrong person.

Petra watched the struggle play out on Marcus's face. She'd known the Dom for several months now, long enough to sense the internal battle he was waging. She felt for the guy, she really did. Diego had told her a little about Marcus' history and how an ex-fiancé had jilted him by being caught sleeping with a groomsman on their wedding day. It came out later that she'd been carrying on the affair, behind his back for months and was only marrying him to get her hands on his money. Marcus had been crushed by the betrayal and refused to allow another woman close to him after that. He still played at the club, driving willing submissives out of their minds with pleasure and then moving on; never forming any attachments and never inviting any of his casual partners home. He was a kind, generous lover but his interest lasted only as long as his erection.

There were a lot of hearts pining for the elusive Master, but he remained distant and unapproachable.

Until Tabby.

Cracks in his armour had formed the minute he had laid eyes on her and Petra could see them widening with the conflict and confusion that the unexpected emotions were causing. She worried for the Dom and she worried for her friend.

Marcus placed Tabby on the bed, pulled up the covers and just stood there staring at her in bewilderment. Petra eased up behind him and embraced him. "You have to let her come to you, Master. That's the only way this might work."

Marcus looked down at Petra, meeting her bright eyes and seeing the truth. "I don't know if I can." He sighed, Tabby had started fretting in her sleep again and he instinctively reached out a hand and stroked her cheek with the back of his fingers. Tabby immediately calmed, a small smile appearing briefly on her lips before she sunk back down into deep sleep.

"I know leaving is the right thing to do, Petra. I just can't seem to make my feet obey. What if she needs me and I'm not here." He turned and paced a few steps before running his hand through his tousled hair and giving Petra a pleading look. "What do I do? Shit, I don't know what to do here. Why does the right thing feel so fucking wrong?"

"You're not leaving her for good, Master. But she needs time to heal, emotionally and physically. All I'm asking for is that you give her the space to do it, that way, when she comes to you - and I have no doubt that she will - it will be real and her choice. Right now, she is hurt and vulnerable. Her defences have taken a beating and she's going to be looking for a safe place." Petra led him out of the room, closing the door quietly behind them. "Trust me, Master. I've known Tabby for long enough to know that when she feels weak, she hides her feelings deep, deep down. She'll cling to you because you offer strength but in the end, she'll resent you for it. She needs to find her own way back and she will, that much I'm sure of. I saw how she looked at you, Master. What you are feeling...well, I'd bet a whipping that she's feeling it too." Petra gave him a sunny, albeit tired, smile and patted his arm.

Diego chose that moment to appear from the kitchen holding a cold beer. He offered it to Marcus who took it gratefully. "You have a smart little subbie there, Digs." He twisted off the cap and took a long pull on the beer. Then pulled Petra close and kissed the top of her curly mop of hair. "Thank you, Petra. If you or Tabby needs anything, anything at all, text me and I'll be here okay?"

Petra took his empty bottle and went over to her partner, getting a proud hug from the big man. "Will do, Master. Go get some sleep and don't worry about Tabby. She'll bounce back faster than you'd think, just give her time." She gave Marcus a wink and locked the door behind him when he left.

"Okay, pet, spill. What the hell did you say to him? He looks calmer than he has all night." Diego picked her up, giggling in his arms and kissed her soundly. He'd missed having his hands on his girl and couldn't wait to get her into the shower and spend some quality time with her.

"You've seen how strange Marcus was acting, right?" Petra stretched up so that she could nip Diego's earlobe playfully.

"Uh, yeah," he murmured, letting the shiver of arousal warm his belly.

"I think he's got the hots for Tabby." Diego wasn't expecting that bomb and almost dropped Petra.

"Excuse me?" he said, dumbfounded.

Petra huffed in amusement. "Men! You guys are blind, well except Cooper. I think he picked up on the vibes shooting back and forth between Tabby and Marcus all night. He likes her, Master. I mean, he really likes her, except he's too fucked up to see it right now. And she's too fucked up to deal with it." Diego took her into the master bathroom and stripped off her clothes, taking a moment to admire the sensual curves of her body. Petra saw the hungry look sparking like a string of firecrackers in her lover's eyes and felt a pool of moisture form between her legs. She closed the short distance between them, raised herself up on her tip toes and waited until his gaze locked with hers. "I told him to wait her out. Now," Petra looked down to where a very obvious bulge had developed at the front of Diego's pants. "are you just pointing that thing at me for fun or..."

She didn't get a chance to finish her sentence. Diego scooped her up and dropped her onto the counter, spreading her legs wide as he did. In blink, he tore his shirt up over his head and yanked his pants off, kicking them into the corner. His erection sprung free, bobbing at his hip and twitching like a dousing rod, guiding him to Petra's soaking wet pussy.

"I can't wait," he groaned, checking her readiness with two fingers inserted into her dripping pussy. "I've been dying to be inside you all night, pet. I need to be inside you now. I can't wait any longer."

Petra leaned back and opened her thighs for him, his eyes instantly dropped to her glistening sex and his cock gave a hard throb that nearly dropped him to his knees. He lunged for her, burying himself deep in one powerful thrust that joined them hip to hip in a split second. Petra gasped and then moaned and shivered as her body accepted Diego fullness into its loving embrace. The overwhelming rush of sensation made Diego's eyes fluttered shut as desire raced like wildfire through his body.

After hearing what Tabitha had endured and seeing the aftermath, he needed this connection with the woman he loved to reassure himself that she was still safe and still his. "I love you, pet," he groaned. He was thrusting into her hard and she wrapped her legs around him, drawing him close to her.

"I love you too, Master." She sighed and pushed up to meet his strokes, all traces of exhaustion burned away by the arousal fuelling her body. She needed this as much as he did. Fear and horror had taken its toll on her and despite her bravado, Petra had been badly shaken by Tabby's attack. This reaffirming connection, the strength of her Master and the protection he freely gave her, this is what she needed to be able to find peace again.

His thrusts were getting wilder, pushing her up the counter's surface, sliding her on a film of sweat and her own juices. Petra could feel the orgasm coiling in her belly, tightening all her muscles like a bomb waiting to go off.

Diego was starting to come apart, leaning over her and wrapping his arms around her back and lifting her onto his cock as he powered into her in desperate plunges. His hand dropped to where they were joined and found her aching clit with his thumb; primed and ready to go, Petra bit down on a scream as the orgasm erupted and she convulsed around Diego's shaft. He grunted and pulled her hips in tight, hammering his throbbing cock into her and flooding her with his sticky seed before he collapsed onto his elbows, unable to support his weight any longer.

They stayed like that for several minutes, breathing hard and inseparable. Petra could feel the tremors wracking Diego as his body downshifted from the intense orgasm and his muscles slowly unlocked letting him go limp against her body. She held him in her arms, kissing his neck and licking the salty beads of sweat until she found his lips and he claimed her mouth in a soul deep kiss that stole her breath.

"Let's get you in to the shower and then into bed, okay beautiful?"

"Hmmm," she murmured, writhing with languid sensuality beneath him, she felt him stir inside her and gave him a coy grin. "You sure about that, Master?"

He growled and nipped her bottom lip, then picked her up and stepped into the shower enclosure. He managed to get the water turned on before pressing Petra against the cold tile with a yelp and proceeded to show her what he really wanted from her. Petra clung to him like a limpet as he drove into her, eager to claim his woman again.

Petra thanked god for the endless supply of hot water as she stood under the spray and allowed Diego to wash her hair. She loved the care he showed her after their love making, he touched her so tenderly that it was as if he wanted to apologize for leaving her sore. She didn't mind at all, she secretly revelled in the ache between her legs after he'd used her, loving that she could provide something so vital for her Master. That he could go from feral to so gentle afterwards always amazed her. She wondered how many people realised the soft hearts these big imposing men hid inside their intimating exteriors.

They finished their shower, dried off and stumbled to Petra's bed, both so exhausted that they fell asleep moments after spooning together, naked, under the covers. When Petra opened her eyes next, the room was in darkness. She glanced at her phone and saw that it was 9:30 pm. They had slept the day away. She felt unsettled and not ready to be awake, yet something niggled at her. What had woken her up? Her ears picked up a sound and she waited for it to come again.

A whimper came into her room from the hall and she extricated herself from Diego's heavy arms, grabbed her robe from the chair and dashed down the hall to Tabby's room.

She entered the spare room to find Tabby thrashing on the bed, tangled up in her sheets and crying out in fear. She was fighting an invisible attacker off in her sleep and Petra was afraid that she was going to hurt herself in the process. She ran up to the bed and helped untwist the sheet that Tabby was wrapped up in.

"Shhh, you're okay, Tabs. No one is hurting you," Petra cooed trying to wake Tabby from her nightmare.

Tabby bucked on the bed, nearly tossing Petra off and scrambled against the headboard, her eyes wide with sightless panic, still caught in the grips of her vision. "Don't touch me, you bastard," she cried out, beating away Petra's hands.

"Tabby!" Petra called, louder now. She climbed onto the bed, dodged Tabby's flailing arms and grabbed her shoulders, giving her a gentle shake. "Wake up, Tabs. C'mon baby. You're having a nightmare."

Tabby must have heard her voice because her struggles slowed then ceased altogether and Tabby sagged with a pained whimper. Her terrified expression morphed into a confused, lost look as her awareness grew strong enough to break the hold of her nightmare. "Petra?" She blinked her eyes, trying to get them to focus on the shadow of her friend, the shade of Jerry quickly dissolving into the dim light.
"Hey, there. You were having a nightmare."

Tabby pushed away from the headboard, sat up straighter and rubbed the sleep from her eyes. "Did I wake you?"

"No, I was just lying in bed vegging. Just was too lazy to get up." Petra got off the bed and opened the curtains to the night sky and sighed. "It looks like we've all overslept. Fancy having a cup of tea with me? Diego's still passed out but I don't think I can go back to sleep anytime soon."

Tabby nodded and untangled her legs from the sheets. Her head still hurt but not as badly as it had at the hospital. Her stomach gave a loud rumble that set Petra off giggling. "Sounds like you could use some actual food or at least some cookies to go with the tea!"

"You know, I think you're right. Now that I'm up, I'm starving." Tabby started searching the room, looking for something. "Hey, have you seen my purse or my phone?"

"I think it's in the living room. I remember bringing it in when Marcus brought you to bed."

That stopped Tabby in her tracks. Marcus had carried her to bed? Why didn't she remember that?

"You were zonked out. All he did was carry you up and get you into bed," Petra got a mischievous sparkle in her eyes, "So...Marcus. I saw you getting an eyeful of that hunk of yumminess." She teased as they walked into the kitchen.

Tabby sat at the breakfast bar, flustered and caught off guard. "I..uh..he..uhm. Ugh, Petra. My brain turns to moosh when I think about him." She groaned and shook her head. "Just call me the queen of bad timing."

Petra laughed and stuck the kettle on the stove to boil. She pulled two mugs from the cupboard and spooned some loose tea into a couple of disposable tea bags. "Oh honey, I have a feeling that he's thinking the same thing." The kettle boiled and Petra poured the hot water over the tea releasing the warm scent of cinnamon, cardamom and cloves into the air.

Mmmm, Tabby brought her cup to her nose, loving the scent of Petra's homemade chai blend. "What are you talking about?"

Petra hopped up on a stool beside Tabby and pushed a bag of Peek Freans Bourbon Creams in front of her. "Dip one of those puppies in your tea. Chocolate and chai where made for each other!"

Tabby fished one of the oblong sandwich cookies out of the bag and gave it a quick dunk in her cup. One bite and heaven exploded in her mouth. The chocolate and cinnamon blended so well together that before she realised it, she had polished off the cookie and was pulling another out.

"Mmmm, good, right?" Petra hummed around a mouthful of sopping wet cookie.

"Uh huh." Tabby agreed, enjoying the spicy sweetness of the treat. "What did you mean about Marcus?" she prodded.

Petra sighed and smiled. "I think he likes you, sweetie. He was just as flummoxed as you were last night."

"I...I don't know what that was that I was feeling. He's gorgeous but in a confusing way that I don't understand. I mean, he's a stranger, right? But I feel like I know him. It's so weird, Petra."

"Sweetie, right now, you don't need to understand anything other than recovering. I happen to know that Marcus will be there if you want to pursue anything with him. Trust me on that." Petra took another cookie out of the bag and handed it to Tabby. "Eat, you look like you're starving."

Tabby took the cookie but her mind was wandering, trying to recall her interactions with Marcus. Everything seemed hazy, except for his brilliant blue-green eyes. Those she remembered vividly and the intensity with which he looked at her. Those eyes were burned into her memory, cutting through the horrible imprint of Jerry and leading her out of that dark place.

"Tabs, you still with me?" Petra waved a cookie in front of Tabby's face trying to get her attention.

"Um, what? Sorry, Petra, I was miles away."

"I noticed. Thinking about a dark haired god of a Dom are you?"

"He's a Dom? I didn't know that."

Petra eyed her speculatively. "Does that scare you, sweetie?"

"No. Uh, yes...Maybe." Tabby laughed and hid her embarrassment behind her hand. "I don't really know, Petra. I've never - I've never done anything like that before. I mean I know you're into the whole BDSM thing..." Tabby noticed the surprised look her friend gave her. "I may not get out much, but I'm not dumb, Petra. You try to hide it, mostly, but you do let things slip. I know that Diego is your Master and that he makes you very happy."

Petra sighed dreamily, setting her chin on her folded hands and staring off into space, a silly grin on her face. "He does, Tabby. He's so much more than I ever hoped to find and I think I make him happy too. You don't need to be afraid of the lifestyle. I happen to know that Marcus is an accomplished Dom and he would never push you into anything if you happened to want to see him..." Petra trailed off, leaving the open ended question hanging in the air, waiting to see how Tabby reacted.

"I'm not ready, Petra. There's too much for me to worry about right now to even think of starting up something that I may not be able to finish. Besides, he's not going to want someone with no experience at all in BDSM is he? I may not be able to be what he wants or needs." Petra's hopes fell. Tabby was withdrawing as she was afraid that she'd do.

"Well, don't close the door completely on him Tabs, he might surprise you and you might surprise yourself if you keep an open mind."

Tabby put her uneaten cookie back in the bag, picked up her mug and set it in the sink. A faint chime pinged from the living room and she perked up her hearing.

"Hey, that's my phone!" she said and sprinted out of the kitchen. Petra followed her out to find her digging into her purse and pulling her battered iPhone out.

Tabby blanched when she saw how many missed calls and messages she had. There were at least a dozen from Nick and just about as many from Troy. Nick was probably freaking out about her missing their breakfast and then not showing up for work. A cold shiver ran up her spine and the cookies she had just eaten sat like a rocks in her belly at that thought.

She was never going to set foot in that place again.

What could Troy want though? She usually called him on Saturday to catch up so it was unusual for him to call her during the week unless there was a problem. Eleven missed calls and texts meant he was going crazy about something.

"Everything okay, Tabs?" Petra asked.

"Troy's been trying to get a hold of me. You didn't talk to him about what happened at all did you?"

"Of course not!" Petra looked indignant but softened immediately. "You know I wouldn't do something like that unless it was an emergency. I know how careful you are with your brother, Tabs."

"I know. I'm sorry, Petra." Tabby glanced at the clock on the TV's cable box. It showed 10:05 pm and Tabby was debating calling when her phone suddenly burst into life, startling her so badly that she dropped the device on the rug.

"Shit!" she exclaimed, watching as her phone bounced under the table. She dove for the thing and saw Troy's goofy expression filling her screen. Fumbling for the button to accept the call, she pressed it and put the phone to her ear. "Hello?"

"Tabby. Thank fuck! I've been trying to get a hold of you all fucking day! Where the hell have you been? Are you alright?" Troy was shouting into his phone and Tabby winced holding hers away from her ear to keep from being deafened.

"Sorry Troy, I didn't have my phone handy and just noticed your messages a minute ago." She switched the phone to her other ear, trying to sound as nonchalant as possible. "What's up bro? Why the panic?" She could hear him breathing hard in the silence of the open line and wondered what could have gotten him so worked up.

"You're okay," he breathed, more as a reassurance to himself than an actual question for Tabby. "You're okay?"

"Uh, yeah. Why would you think I wasn't?" Tabby felt something unpleasant squirm in her stomach and closed her eyes, taking a deep breath. She had a feeling that she wasn't going to like Troy's answer.

"I thought...I dunno...I really thought that you were in trouble," he sighed loudly and Tabby could imagine her twin running his hands through his long hair. "It was so real, Tabby. So fucking real that I woke up in a sweat." Troy sounded so close to tears that it frightened Tabby.

He couldn't have known. There's no way he could have known what Jerry had tried to do to her...could he?

"Talk to me Troy. What's got you so upset?"

He was quiet for a long time and Tabby was afraid that he'd hung up. When he finally did start to speak, his voice was barely a whisper and so full of dread that Tabby's heart broke for him, but it was his words that sent icicles spearing into her chest. "He was hurting you, Tabs. I could see, but I couldn't help. You were trapped with a monster and he was hurting you! I swear I could feel how scared you were and I screamed for you." Troy's voice choked off as he sobbed into the phone. "I couldn't get to you. I've never felt so impotent in my life. If something had happened to you...Oh God Tabby, it was so fucking real."

Tabby couldn't speak; her heart was pounding so hard that her lungs had trouble drawing in air. She swayed on the spot and Petra rushed to her side and guided her to a chair just as her knees buckled, dropping her heavily into the seat.

"Tabby?" Troy called through the phone. "You there?"

Tabby tried to swallow, but her mouth was so dry that her throat wouldn't work. She coughed, forcing sound to come from her paralyzed vocal cords. "I'm here, I'm okay, Troy. It was just a dream, sweetheart. Please don't be upset."

"I never know anymore, T. They keep messing with my meds and it fucks with my head. Sometimes...sometimes I feel like I'm wandering through a stadium full of people all yelling something different to me and I have to sift through all the noise to find one specific voice. I never know what's real or my crazy brain filling up the space with imaginary bullshit."

Troy sounded so lost that Tabby just wanted to reach through the phone and hug her fragile brother. She'd known that his delusions were getting worse. Her mother had kept her updated on his condition, on the trials and failures with different medications and his increasing erratic behaviour.

Troy had been diagnosed with schizophrenia a year after their father had died in an auto accident. He had been fourteen and had taken their father's death hard, becoming withdrawn and depressed. Night terrors and odd behaviour were easily attributed to the grief he was dealing with, warning signs that went unheeded, and later hidden as he chose to keep to himself more and more.

Tabby remembered seeing Troy staring off into space a lot, concentrating very hard. She'd watch his face and wondered what he was seeing and hearing because he'd act like he could hear or see something she could not. When she'd question him, he'd look frightened, then turned angry, pushing her away and telling her to mind her own business. During that time, their mother struggled to keep the family afloat, working two jobs and barely seeing her own children but even she couldn't deny the alarming changes that had transformed her happy, loving boy into a paranoid, aggressive introvert. She tried to get him help but the doctor didn't take her concerns seriously and told her that it was just a phase he was going through. Exhausted and stressed, she chose to believe the doctors and told herself that he would eventually grow out of his strange behaviour.

Unfortunately for Troy, his mother's wishful thinking did not come true.

At the age of sixteen, Troy's disease had progressed unchecked to the point of no return. Its poisoned claws were sunk so deeply into his psyche that Troy could no longer hide the ravaging effects of the auditory and visual hallucinations that he battled day and night. Tabby could still see the haunted, terrified look he'd get in his eyes but then he notice her looking and he'd shut down.

One fateful day, Troy was sent home from school for being too disruptive in class. The teacher didn't know how to deal with him so sent him home with a warning that if he didn't smarten up, the next time he misbehaved, he was going to be suspended. Troy barely heard the teacher's voice. His head was filled with screams and voices he couldn't shut out any longer.

What the teacher had thought was just delinquent behaviour, turned out to be a desperate young man who was sliding down the slippery slope of his sanity into a full blown psychotic break. He ran home, terrified by hallucinations that chased him like ghouls and was deafened by the voices whispering and screaming so that he could no longer think his own thoughts.

Tabby had been home sick with the flu the afternoon that Troy had burst into the house screaming hysterically, "Shut up! Shut up!" Scared, she had tried to calm him but he couldn't or wouldn't hear her pleas. He pushed her down and bolted up the stairs into his room, barricading the door with furniture.

Troy had locked himself in his room for hours, shouting gibberish and making such a commotion that Tabby had called her mother at work, terrified for her brother. Unable to calm him or get the door opened, their mother eventually had to call the police to break down the bedroom door.

They found a scene that could have come straight out of a horror movie inside his demolished room. Troy's hands and fists were bloody from smashing his furniture and tearing at the walls with his bare hands. He had used his own blood to paint bizarre, nonsensical symbols all over the remains of the walls until it seemed to Tabby, that the only colour left in there came in shades of red.

The sight of her brother being forcibly sedated while ranting and screaming was something that had been forever etched into Tabby's young soul.

Until that horrible day, nobody had realized the extent of Troy's mental illness. Worried for his mother, he had chosen to hide his illness as best he could, rather than add to the heartache his family had already experienced. Untreated, the delusions and voices in his head had finally gotten so loud that he couldn't discern reality from hallucination any longer and the weight of that struggle had made his sanity crumble like a bridge made of matchsticks.

The next ten years of their lives had been filled with a never ending series of psychiatrists, hospitalizations and more pills than Tabby had known even existed. Some of the med would help; bringing her happy, loving, younger twin almost back to his old self. He could function, go to school and socialize, the voices and hallucinations in his mind safely masked by the drugs. The medications were a double edged sword that did as much damage as good. Troy hated the drugs, hated how thick and slow they made his mind, hated how they drained the colour and wonder out of the world and turned it two dimensional. He fought against taking them and had to be monitored to make sure he took the medication regularly because without them, the paranoia and violence would slowly return, making him a danger to himself and to others.

Her highly sensitive twin brother couldn't have known about Jerry's attack - yet on some psychic level, his dysfunctional brain had sensed that something had been wrong. Tabby wondered if it was something that came due to their twin connection. All she knew was that when she needed her brother, he had been there and had helped her survive the attack...and that he could never know the truth.

"All's good Troy, please stop fretting, okay?" she said to him.

"Sorry. I guess it must have been a dream that my fucked up brain just twisted into reality." He sounded despondent and confused. "You're really okay, Tabs?"

"Yes, Troy. You can calm down now. I love you brother-mine." Sharp spikes pierced her heart as if it were covered in burrs. The lie sank its hooks in deep and festered, Tabby knew it was necessary to protect her brother, but the guilt didn't make it any easier. Troy would have been devastated if he'd known what had happened and Tabby didn't want to spread the vile corruption that Jerry had instilled into her life any further than it had already gone.

"Okay. Sorry for panicking like a scared pussy," he laughed and a little of the pressure lifted from Tabby. "I'd better go, the night nurse here is a real battle axe and she'd bust her girdle if she catches me out of bed!"

"When are they going to spring you? Mom said you were in for at least a week." Their conversation had shifted to what passed for normality in their family and for a moment, Tabby felt like her old self, the version that had existed before Jerry.

He yawned and Tabby yawned in return. "Hmm, maybe Wednesday now. The doc is still tweaking my meds...I hate this place T. It's so fucking depressing, it's no wonder everyone is crazy in here."

"You're not crazy Troy, you're sick. There is a difference. Be patient and be good. You'll be home before you know it." Fingers crossed, little brother, she prayed.

"Tabs?" He ventured, suddenly sounding very much like a vulnerable little boy.

"Yeah? What's up, brother-mine?" Tabby was instantly worried by the desolate tone to his voice.

"It- it hurts." Troy paused and Tabby could hear the stuttering, deep breaths he was taking. When he spoke again, his tired voice was thick with pain. "Even with the meds dulling me to gray, it still hurts...you know?" he whispered, shattering her heart like crystal and cutting her with the shards.

She choked on hot, bitter tears but pushed them back, clearing the sob from her voice. "I know, Troy. I know. But you have to hang on okay? Promise me something?" She waited for his response, listening to her twin sniffle and struggle to conceal the pain he was in.

"Sure, sis. Anything for you," he chuckled sadly.

"I want you to promise that if it ever gets too bad, too much for you to handle, promise that you'll call me. I'll come running, brother-mine, okay? You need to promise me this." Premonition was running a bony finger up and down the knobs of her spine, thumping over each one like a doomsday clock counting down to zero. Troy hadn't answered her and Tabby was getting worried. "Troy? Promise me that you'll call. I'm not hanging up until you do."

"Okay." The single word was barely more than a breath and did nothing to alleviate the pressure in her chest.

"Okay, what?" She prodded him, needing to hear the words.

"I'll call," he said. "If it gets bad, I'll call, okay?"

"Okay. I love you baby bro."

He laughed and she could almost see him shaking his head ruefully at her when he spoke. "Five minutes! We are only five minutes apart. Will you ever give up on the baby brother routine? C'mon we're twenty-five for fucks sake!"

"Never." She giggled into the phone, glad that she had made him laugh. "And I'll have you know that I am twenty-five and FIVE minutes older than you, squirt."

"Fuck off, T." She heard the phone rustle and then Troy's hushed voice came back on the line. "Shit! Nurse Ratchet is stomping this way. Gotta go. Love you sis!"

"Bye.." Tabby barely got the word out when the line went dead. "Love you too baby brother," she whispered into the emptiness.

Petra had been watching and listening to Tabby's side of the conversation. She was glad that the colour had returned to her friend's face but was still concerned at what Troy had said to make Tabby look so shocked. She gave her a minute after she'd disconnected the call, to collect her thoughts before sitting up on the sofa and regarding Tabby with a sympathetic eye. "Are you really?"

Tabby looked up at Petra, not understanding her friend's question. "What?" She asked.

Petra got up off the sofa, walked over to Tabby and knelt down before her, taking her hands in her own. "Okay? Are you really okay, Tabs? Because a few minutes ago, you scared the shit out of me."
Sadness and anxiety dulled Tabby's jade green eyes, making her look older than she was. "He knew, Pet. Not the specifics, but he knew that I was in trouble. I don't how or why, but just before Jerry was - was going to r-rape me, I heard him. I swear to god, I heard Troy's voice telling me to fight!" Petra's hands squeezed Tabby's urging her to continue. "I think, he's the reason I didn't give up. I was so scared that I couldn't move..." Tabby was shaking, tracks of moisture slid down her cheeks and she tugged a hand out of Petra's and brushed them away. "Shit," she uttered a self-deprecating chuckle. "I swore I was done with the tears. Sorry for being such a mess, Petra."

Petra sat up and perched on the coffee table in front of Tabby's chair. "You're allowed, you know. But are you okay, Tabs? Because I'm afraid for you."

"Okay? Probably not really...but I will be, Petra. Please don't worry. You've already done more for me than I could have ever thank you for. What did I do to deserve such a loyal best friend?"

Petra smiled and quipped, "You made sure that a stupid, drunken idiot, who'd just caught her boyfriend cheating on her, got home safely, even though we were strangers at the time. You saw the mess I was in and cared enough to offer me a ride home. That, by some freak of coincidence, we lived in the same building...that was destiny." Petra stood up and offered Tabby her hand, helping her out of the overstuffed chair. "You can't fight destiny, baby. Now you're stuck with me!"

"And you're stuck with me too!" Tabby echoed, giving her friend a hug. "Let's go back to bed. I think I can actual use more sleep."

Petra smirked and gave Tabby a saucy wink. "Uh huh, I think I'll go see if that gorgeous man of mine is still asleep. I might need to wake him up to keep me company."

"Oh! Ew!" Tabby cringed. "T.M.I. There are some things I don't need to know!"

They stopped in front of Tabby's new bedroom door. "Play your cards right, and you might just have a man of your own to harass," Petra laughed.

"Go! Have sex. I'm going to pretend that I don't know what you're talking about and try to go back to sleep."

Petra giggled and swayed sexily down the hall, giving Tabby a little wave before she closed the door behind her.

In her own room, Tabby used the ensuite bathroom and washed her hands. In her peripheral vision she could see her reflection in the mirror and tried to look away while at the same time, her attention was riveted to the dark shadow on the right side of her face.

"Do you really want to be alright?" She heard her own voice ask inside her head. "Then the first step is facing what happened. You have a choice to make here, Tabby. Either put on your big girl underpants and get on with it or go hide under your covers and be afraid for the rest of your life!"

Tabby's hands clenched onto the edge of the vanity countertop, she took several deep breaths to muster her courage and then raised her gaze until she was looking at her reflection dead on. She saw the hollow, haunted shadows in her green eyes and hated Jerry for putting them there. She inspected the purple, red and blue bruise that stained the skin around her puffy eye and cheekbone with a detached, clinical air that kept her emotions under control. The bruise was at its darkest where Jerry's palm had connected with her cheekbone and she could almost make out its shape in the mottled thundercloud of colours seeping like ink under her skin.

The flashback pushed relentlessly at the edges of her mind, trying to force its way past the half-finished barriers the rational part of her brain had started to erect so that it could invade her consciousness and wreak havoc on her mind. Small glimpses leapt over and through the hodgepodge of planks and made her feel like she was being pounded on from the inside out.

His meaty hands.

His crazy, pig-like eyes.

His disgusting protruding belly.

That flicking, licking tongue.

The images flew at her faster and faster as she stared into the mirror. Brewing panic was starting to make her bowels squirm with a jittery, watery feel and the urge to collapse and hide tugged at her legs to the point where she had to lock her knees to keep from folding to the floor.

"No!" She said firmly to the frightened woman in the mirror. "He can't hurt you anymore, unless you allow your fear to rule your life. Every tear shed is another victory for him and he's taken enough." Fierce determination flooded into Tabby's mind and she glared at the dream vision of Jerry's sneering face with a courage made of steel and fire hardening her soul.

"Go. To. Hell." She spat at him. His image laughed but began to waver. "You have no more power over me." His silhouette faded some more and took on a tattered look, like a flag that had frayed in the wind, dissolving before her eyes.

It was his specter's turn to look panicked, evaporating bit by bit as she smiled in triumph. "I banish you from my life and from my memories."

With one last hiss, the ghost of Gerald Moran burst into black dust and vanished from existence. Tabby almost did cry now, but this time her tears would have been ones of relief and joy. She felt light as a feather and effervescent with pride. That was the last time that ugly man would ever hurt her. She was free and the best part was that she had freed herself.

Suddenly, Tabby felt like she had her life back and a future waiting for her that wasn't going to be tainted by the attack. That was in the past and she was moving on. Her heart began racing and heat warmed her and pooled in her belly. Blue green eyes burned into her mind's eye and her reflection showed her a beautiful young woman with a seductive smile grinning back at her.

Marcus.

She was quite positive that somewhere in her future, the mysterious, gorgeous Dom was going to play a very important role in her life.

And she couldn't wait to get started.

~~End of Book One~~

collide   when   souls  

Mar 6, 2018 in bdsm

Search

Tags