“B-But I’m not even wearing workout clothing,” I stammered, irritated with him and myself and the world and the Queen of England.
“That’s good. You know why?”
I frowned as I tried to pull forward, but there was no breaking his hold. “I bet you’re going to tell me.”
“Your movements are restricted in normal clothes, and the likelihood of you being attacked walking out of gym class while wearing gym clothes sounds a bit unlikely, right?”
For a second, I pictured myself breaking free like a ninja and karate-chopping him across the head. That was also as unlikely as being attacked moments after leaving gym class. “You don’t have to be a smartass about it.”
His deep chuckle rumbled through me, eliciting a shiver from my body. His laugh died off and a heartbeat passed between us. The warmth of his body rolled into me, loosening a bit of the knots in my stomach. His grip didn’t loosen, but his body tensed behind mine. In that tiny span of time, it felt like something had shifted between us, something potent and consuming.
And then he opened his mouth.
“How did he grab you?” When I didn’t answer, he tried again. “How did he grab you, Ella? Like this? From behind?”
I blinked a couple of times, and my heart leaped into my throat. In a nanosecond, ice trickled into my veins. “Yeah.”
“And what did you do?”
What did I do? Memories rushed over me like a disturbing photo album. As I stared at the closed doors with covered windows, my mind drifted, no longer in this room. I was back on the long dark stretch of road, right near my car, so close and yet so very far away.
“Let me go,” I said.
The muscles in his arms twitched. “Is that how you got free? I don’t think that worked.”
Of course it hadn’t. I squeezed my eyes shut, feeling my feet suddenly in the air and the horror of being weightless as I was dragged away from my car, toward the woods. My chest rose and fell rapidly. “He slipped,” I gasped out. “When I threw my weight back, he slipped and fell, but I didn’t get very far.” I dragged in a deep breath, forcing my eyes wide. He . . .” Horror seized me, and again, I was struck by the stupidity of this. “It’s too soon. I don’t want to do this.”
Jensen held on. “Ella—”
“Let me go.” I jerked forward, but he held on. Panic crawled up my throat. “I’m not ready for this. Please. I don’t want to—”
“It’s okay. You’re safe here. I’m not going to hurt you,” he said, his voice low. “You know that, Ella. You probably still know me better than most.”
No. I didn’t know him anymore. I stopped knowing him years ago, but I stilled, realizing only then how much I was struggling against him.
His cheek was pressed against my temple. “You’re safe here.”
My chest rose sharply once more and I whispered, “I know.”
“I’m just here to help you and I’m going to. Okay? You want that, right?”
I nodded as his words sunk in, and I forced my breathing to slow. I came here for a reason. Freaking out was not helping me at all. As my heart slowed, embarrassment reared its ugly head.
“How are you hanging in there?”
“Now or . . . ?” I bit down on my lower lip.
He shifted his head and his breath was warm against my ear. “You’re okay now. I can tell.”
“Your breathing has changed,” he explained, and boy, that’s how close we were. He could feel the patterns in my breathing. “What about the other stuff?”
The other stuff . . .
My fingers twitched around my cell and keys. “Do you know how many times I’ve been asked that today?”
“Well, you’ve just been asked once more.”
The corners of my lips twitched, and I started to say what I’d been saying to everyone. Maybe even change it up with ‘all right,’ but that’s not what came out of my mouth. “Not that great.”
“I can imagine.” The muscles in his arms flexed again. “Maybe this will help.”
“Maybe,” I murmured.
His chest rose against my back. “All right, first things first. You can always trick the assailant. Pretend to be weak. Fake a faint.”
“What?” That just made no sense.
“If you’re grabbed and your attacker thinks you’re weak when you’re not, you have the upper hand—the element of surprise, especially when you have a weapon in your hand. You probably did Saturday night. Did you know that? It’s your keys.”
My keys? “I dropped them.”
“You don’t want to do that. Look at them. You have . . . holy crap, how many keys do you have on that thing? Jesus. Like twenty?”
I rolled my eyes as I flushed. “Not that many. Geez.”
“I think you have a key for every house on Rosemont Avenue,” he said, chuckling, and my blush deepened even further. It was something I tried not to think about—that he only lived three blocks from my house; moved right back into the house he’d grown up in—that I’d grown up in. When he moved away, his parents had rented it out, but I still looked for him every time I drove past his house. “Anyway, move the keys so that the jagged parts are sticking up between your fingers.” When I did as he asked, I could hear the smile in his voice when he spoke next. “See? You got yourself a hell of a weapon now. Slam those keys into any body part and you may just get the upper hand, but you’ve got to get free first.”
Staring at the jagged key edges, I tried to picture myself shoving them into someone’s face. Before Saturday night, I never would’ve thought I could do something like that. The only thing I could easily hurt was bugs. With an icky sinking feeling, I realized I could easily do that to someone now.
Saturday night had irrevocably changed me.
“There’s a couple of ways to break this kind of hold that doesn’t involve throwing your weight around. That doesn’t always work. The first one is going to be the easiest and something people don’t think of,” he explained. “All you have to do is stomp a foot.”
“Stomp a foot?” My brows rose.
“Yep. Bring your leg up—you’re right-handed, right? Use your right leg and slam your foot down on mine as hard as you can.”
Jensen walked me through it and then he switched to a different tactic. In a smooth, rolling voice, he taught me the different ways to break a bear hug. One involved shifting to the side and bending down. By extending my arm back, I could get a good crotch shot in.
Swinging back toward that area on him was about seven kinds of awkward.
“Come on,” he coaxed. “There have been plenty of times you’ve wanted to hit me in the balls, so I know you can do better than that.”
I grinned despite everything. “Now that you mention it . . .” I swung my arm back, stopping at the last possible moment. When I felt his chest rise sharply, a disturbing amount of satisfaction whipped through me. “How’s that?”
“Uh, yeah, that’s much better.”
I dropped my phone on the mat but kept my keys for the next round. This one involved bringing my knee up and kicking it back into the assailant’s knee. He went over that until I got the hang of the motion, and then a few more utilizing the same kind of technique.
“I want you to go through this—the crotch shot. Don’t hit me,” he said. “I just want to throw that out there. When I let go, you have two options. Run like hell.”
“Sounds like a good option.”
He ignored that. “Or you fight. Okay? We’re going to start from the beginning.” He released his hold and when I started to look back at him, he snapped forward, wrapping his arms around me and pulling me back.
I did as he instructed. First, I raised my right leg and stomped my foot down on his. Jensen grunted and his grip loosened enough to give me some room. Holding on to my keys, I shifted to my left as I bent at the waist. Extending my right arm, I swung it back, my hand knocking off his inner thigh. Close enough for him to suck in an unsteady breath. He let go as I wrenched forward.