Two options. Fight. Or flight.
I didn’t think it through as I spun around, facing him. Jensen had started forward, but drew up short when I raised my hand with the keys.
His brows, darker than his sandy hair, rose. “You’re going to fight?”
Breathing heavily, I watched him. Would I fight? I’d gotten free Saturday night and I ran. I hadn’t gotten very far. “A smart thing to do would be to injure the person and then run.”
“It would be, but I would rather you run.”
I frowned, thinking that by choosing to fight I’d done the right thing. “Why?”
He looked away for only a moment, and then he shot forward, wrapping his large hand clean around my wrist. He hauled me against him, chest to chest. The contact frazzled my senses and I dropped the keys.
Like a total loser.
Jensen lowered his head, coming so close that his mouth was inches from mine. “You probably should have held on to those keys.”
“Though there’s not much you can do with the keys when I’m holding your wrist.”
“Double no shit.”
“When did you get such a mouth on you?”
“When you weren’t around,” I shot back without really thinking about it.
“Good point.” His gaze dropped for a moment and then rose, the hue of his eyes deepening to a magnetic blue. “See how easy that was? That’s why I’d want you to run. Not to mention, you have no idea where to even shove your keys.”
“How about in your face?”
“All I have to do is lean back.” He didn’t lean back, though. If anything, it felt like he got closer. A low, sweet simmering warmth washed down my neck. “If you’re going to fight, you need to really know how to fight, Ella. If not, you need to get away. That’s the smart thing to do. That’s what we teach in self-defense. How to utilize these moves to get away. Not to turn around and engage.”
“But I did get away,” I whispered, and my lashes lowered. I could almost feel my toes slipping through the grass and the dirt. “But he caught me again.”
“Is that how this happened?” he asked, and when I must’ve given him a “huh” look, he twisted his hand, barely brushing his thumb under the scratches on my palm. They ached from how tight I’d been holding the keys. “And this?” With his other hand, he trailed his fingers under the mark on my cheek.
The soft whisper of his touch rattled me. My breath was coming in and out a little too fast. “Yes, but . . . you can teach me where to hit. You can teach me how to fight.”
His fingers drifted off my cheek. “I can.”
“Then teach me.”
He shook his head. “You need to know how to get away—”
“I already told you that I got away, but he caught me. I don’t want to know how to run. I want to know what to do when I get caught. Okay?” I swallowed the sudden burn of tears. “I don’t need to know how to run.”
“I know you know how to run. If I remember correctly, you could run fast.” His eyes searched mine. “Why aren’t you on track or cross country like you planned?”
The question caught me off guard. “I don’t run anymore.”
He blinked. “What? You loved—”
“I just don’t do it anymore. I . . . got bored with it.” Frustration rose. “I want to learn to fight, Jensen. That’s why I’m here.”
His brows knitted as he stared down at me. He didn’t respond for a long moment and then said, “I get it. I do, Ella.”
I let out a shaky breath. “Thank you.”
Jensen’s lips split into a real smile, one that reached his eyes, and I was a little awed by that. It had been far too long since I’d been on the receiving end of a Jensen Carver smile. “Against my better judgement, I can teach you how to fight, but not tonight. It’s getting late.”
I hadn’t even thought of the time.
Jensen hadn’t moved and neither had I. Our chests were still getting to know each other, and if I stretched up on the tips of my toes, my lips would meet his, but that would be wrong. All kinds of wrong.
I just couldn’t remember exactly why that would be a bad idea.
“I’m glad you’re okay,” he said, breaking the silence.
My fingers curled inward. “I’m . . . I’m glad you were there.”
His eyes met mine and then flitted away. “Yeah, me too.”
Jensen let go and backed off, thrusting his hand through his hair. “That’s enough for tonight.”
The sudden change was like walking into a freezer. I turned, picking up my phone and collecting my useless brain cells. “So, how much do I owe you for this . . . ?”
He shook his head as he strode past me. “You don’t owe me anything.”
“But I need to pay you for this. I don’t have a lot, but—”
“I’m not taking your money,” he interrupted, reaching the door. Holding it open, he motioned me forward. “Come on. I’ve got to turn the lights off.”
I didn’t like the idea of not paying him, but I could see I wasn’t going to win this argument right now. I let him usher me outside, and as he locked up the room, I realized his intentions. “You don’t need to walk me to my car.”
He fell in step beside me, which meant he was slowing down his long-legged pace. “But what if a bug jumps out and tries to bug molest you again?”
His teasing tone tugged at my lips. “What? Do you make a habit of rescuing damsels in distress from bugs?”
“Only from stinkbugs,” he said. “And only pretty girls.”
I tripped as I looked at him sharply. “Don’t say that.”
His brows snapped together. “Why not?”
There were a multitude of reasons. “Just don’t.”
He was quiet as we continued down the dimly lit hall. Grunts echoed from the closed doors surrounding us. “Should I not compliment you? Would you prefer that I insult you?”
A laugh escaped me. His tone was light, still teasing. “How about you just stay . . . I don’t know, real with me.”
“Okay. I can do that.” He opened the door for me. “I can keep it real.”
There seemed to be a message in there that I wasn’t getting.
“We can talk about what times you want to get together. You’re on A lunch, right?”
I stopped in front of my car, brushing back the strands of hair the wind had tossed across my face. “Yeah. Are you? I didn’t see you today.”
“I saw you.” He shrugged a shoulder. “Anyway, I’ll catch up with you tomorrow.” He started to turn and then he stopped. Our eyes met from across the parking space separating us. “I’ll wait until you’re in the car.”
It was ridiculous, but the flutter was back in my chest, banging off my ribs. I raised my hand and waved awkwardly like a crossing guard with a broken arm. “See you tomorrow . . . Jensen.”
A little smile appeared on his lips, just a tiny tip at the corners as he nodded. Over his shoulder, the sun had started to disappear behind the horizon, turning the sky along the mountains a deep pink and vibrant blue. He waited until I got into the car and turned it on. Only when I shifted it out of park did he turn and jog over to his truck. I didn’t realize I was smiling like a total fool until my cheeks started to ache.
The smile stayed on my face all the way home.
I all but ran inside my house, delayed only by how long it took me to unlock the front door. Darting into the kitchen, I grabbed a bottle of water and then made my way upstairs.
The noise from the TV in Mom’s bedroom traveled out into the hall. I thought about going in there and plopping my butt down on her bed and stealing the ice cream—the pint of ice cream I knew she had with her—but I headed to my bedroom first to change.
Flipping on the light with my elbow, I toed my shoes off and started to pull off my shirt, wincing when the skin along my ribs pulled as I lifted my arms. Stepping in the middle of my room, I stilled when a warm rush of air blew across my exposed stomach.