The stranger stared down, fists balled, elbows slightly bent, poised to deliver another blow if necessary. There was no need. Buck was almost unconscious. I cowered against the far door, panting and curling into a ball as shock replaced the panic. I must have whimpered, because his eyes snapped up to mine. He rolled Buck aside with one booted foot and stepped up to the door, peering in.
“You okay?” His tone was low, careful. I wanted to say yes. I wanted to nod. But I couldn’t. I was so not okay. “I’m gonna call 911. Do you need medical assistance, or just the police?”
I envisioned the campus police arriving at the scene, the partygoers who would spill from the house when the sirens came. Erin and Chaz were only two of the many friends I had in there, more than half of them under-aged and drinking. It would be my fault if the party became the focus of the police. I would be a pariah.
I shook my head. “Don’t call.” My voice was gravelly.
“Don’t call an ambulance?”
I cleared my throat and shook my head. “Don’t call anyone. Don’t call the police.”
His jaw hung ajar and he stared across the expanse of seat. “Am I wrong, or did this guy just try to rape you—” I flinched at the ugly word “—and you’re telling me not to call the police?” He snapped his mouth closed, shook his head once and peered at me again. “Or did I interrupt something I shouldn’t have?”
I gasped, my eyes welling up. “N-no. But I just want to go home.”
Buck groaned and rolled onto his back. “Fuuuuuck,” he said, not opening his eyes, one of which was probably swollen shut anyway.
My savior stared down at him, his jaw working. He rocked his neck to one side and then back, rolled his shoulders. “Fine. I’ll drive you.”
I shook my head. I wasn’t about to escape one attack just to do something as stupid as get into a stranger’s car. “I can drive myself,” I rasped. My eyes flicked to my bag, wedged against the console, its contents spilled across the floor of the driver’s side. He glanced down, leaned to pick out my keys from the bits and pieces of my personal effects.
“I believe you were looking for these, before.” He dangled them from his fingers as I realized that I still hadn’t moved any closer to him.
I licked my lip and tasted blood for the second time that night. Scooting forward into the faint illumination shed by the tiny overhead light, I was careful to keep my skirt pulled down. A wave of dizziness crashed over me as I became fully conscious of what had almost happened, and my hand trembled when I reached out for my keys.
Frowning, he clamped his fist around them and dropped his arm back to his side. “I can’t let you drive.” Judging by his expression, my face was a disaster.
I blinked, my hand still extended for the keys he’d just confiscated. “What? Why?”
He ticked three reasons off on his fingers. “You’re shaking, probably an after-effect of the assault. I have no idea if you’re actually uninjured. And you’ve probably been drinking.”
“I have not,” I snapped. “I’m the designated driver.”
He raised one brow and glanced around. “Who exactly are you designated for? If anyone had been with you, by the way, you might have been safe tonight. Instead, you walked out into a dark parking lot, alone, paying absolutely no attention to your surroundings. Real responsible.”
Suddenly I was beyond angry. Angry at Kennedy for breaking my heart two weeks ago and not being with me tonight, seeing me to the safety of my truck. Angry at Erin for talking me into coming to this stupid party and even angrier with myself for agreeing. Furious at the barely-conscious asswipe drooling and bleeding on the concrete a few feet away. And seething at the stranger who was holding my keys hostage while accusing me of being brainless and careless.
“So it’s my fault he attacked me?” My throat was raw, but I pushed past the pain. “It’s my fault I can’t walk from a house to my truck without one of you trying to rape me?” I threw the word back at him to let him see I could bear it.
“‘One of you’? You’re gonna lump me in with that piece of shit?” He pointed at Buck, but his eyes never left mine. “I am nothing like him.” That was when I noticed the thin silver ring through the left side of his lower lip.
Great. I was in a parking lot, alone, with an insulted, facially-pierced stranger who still had my keys. I couldn’t take any more of this night. A sob came from my throat as I tried to remain composed. “May I have my keys, please?” I held my hand out, willing the tremors to subside.
He swallowed, looking at me, and I stared back into his clear eyes. I couldn’t tell their color in the dim light, but they contrasted compellingly with his dark hair. His voice was softer, less hostile. “Do you live on campus? Let me drive you. I can walk back over here and get my ride after.”
No more fight in me, I nodded, reaching over to get my bag out of his way. He helped gather the lip-gloss, wallet, tampons, hair ties, pens and pencils strewn across the floor and return them to my bag. The last item he picked up was a condom packet. He cleared his throat and held it out to me. “That’s not mine,” I said, recoiling.
He frowned. “You sure?”
I clamped my jaw, trying not to be furious all over again. “Positive.”
He glanced back at Buck. “Bastard. He was probably gonna…” He glanced into my eyes and back at Buck, scowling. “Uh… conceal the evidence.”
I couldn’t even contemplate that. He shoved the square package into his front jeans pocket. “I’ll throw it away—he’s sure as hell not getting it back.” Brow still furrowed, he swung his gaze to me again as he climbed in and started the truck. “Are you sure you don’t want me to call the police?”