After a quick sweep of the area, I ascertained that K.C. was already gone. I dug my phone out of my purse and dialed her anyway. No answer.
Looking around for the cross-country teammate I’d spotted earlier, I noticed that she, too, was nowhere in sight. The only other option was to call my grandma, who I dreaded waking up at this hour, but she’d at least be happy to know I’d called for a safe ride.
I twisted my lips up in disappointment when my Grandma didn’t answer her phone, either. That wasn’t unusual, since she often forgot to take her phone to bed. And thanks to the convenience of cell phones, we’d disconnected our hard line years ago.
My only options at this point were to wait for Ben and convince him to let me drive or hike it to the parking lot and ask someone I knew for a ride.
Ben could go piss up a tree.
I trekked over the rocks and into the woods for the short traipse to the clearing near the road where everyone parked.
With no flashlight available, I used my cell phone screen as a light to guide my way. It was a straight shot, but the path was littered with sticks and stumps. Trees had already begun losing their leaves, but the rain we’d received this fall kept everything moist and pliable. Droplets splattered my ankles as I stomped on wet foliage, and a few bare branches poked at my skin, stinging me.
“Well, look what I found.”
I jumped, startled out of the quiet that had just surrounded me. Looking up, I cringed at the sight of Nate Deitrich…who was eye-fucking me as usual.
It looked like he was coming from where I was trying to go, and now he blocked my way. “It’s fate, Tate.” His sing-song voice rhymed.
“Get out of my way, Nate.” I approached him slowly, but he didn’t budge. I tried to go around him, but his hands shot out to grab my waist, and he pulled me to him. My muscles tightened, and my hands curled into fists.
“Shh,” Nate implored as I tried to push myself away. His breathing echoed in my ear, and he reeked of alcohol. “Tate, I’ve wanted you for so long. You know that. How about you put me out of my misery, and let me to take you home?” His nose was in my hair, and his hands dropped to my ass. I stiffened.
“Stop it,” I ordered and tried to bring my knee up between his legs. But it seemed he already anticipated that move, because his legs were too close together.
Nate shook with laughter. Kneading my ass, he whispered, “Oh, I know you’re tricks, Tate. Stop fighting it. I could take you on the ground right now if I wanted to.”
His lips crushed down on mine, and the acidic taste of vomit rose in my throat.
I bit down on his bottom lip, hard enough for my bottom teeth to feel my top teeth through the skin. He growled and released me, pawing at his mouth to check for blood.
Grabbing the pepper spray out of my purse that my dad insisted I keep there, I shot for his eyes. He screamed and stumbled backwards as his hands covered his face. I finally brought my knee up between his legs, and watched him crumple to the ground, grabbing the strap of my tank top as he fell.
Run! Just run! I screamed to myself.
But no. I leaned over him as he let out wails of pain. “Why are the guys at our school such dicks?!”
One hand covering his eyes and the other hand clutching his crotch.
“Shit! You f**king bitch!” Nate groaned as he tried to open his eyes.
“Tatum!” Jared’s voice boomed behind me, and my shoulders jerked before spinning around. Eyes furiously jetting between Nate and me, Jared looked as rigid as a lion before the pounce. He let out shallow breathes between his lips, and his hands were tight fists. I saw his eyes dart to my shoulder where the strap of my top lay flopped forward where it had ripped.
“Did he hurt you?” Jared asked evenly, but his lips were tight, and his eyes were murderous.
“He tried.” I covered my shoulder where my skin was exposed. “I’m fine.” My voice was curt. The last thing I wanted tonight was to play the damsel in distress for Jared.
Peeling off his black button up, Jared tossed it to me as he headed my way. “Put this on. Now.”
Catching the shirt as it hit me in the face, part of me wanted to throw it right back at him. Although Jared and I had found common ground during the race, it didn’t mean that I wanted or needed his help.
However, I was exposed, cold, and in no mood to draw attention to myself. Slipping on the shirt, the heat from Jared’s body warmed my arms and chest. The cuffs fell below my hands, and when I brought them up to let the warmth cover my cold cheeks, I could smell his man scent. The hybrid musk and tire smell almost made my lungs burst as I tried to take deeper breaths of the aroma.
“You have a poor, f**king memory, Dietrich. What did I tell you?” Jared bent down to growl in Nate’s face. He grabbed a handful of Nate’s shirt at his chest and hauled him upright before delivering a strong blow to Nate’s stomach.
My eyes damn-near bulged at Jared’s attack. The guttural punch reminded me of molding clay. Nate’s figure bent with the hit, and he wouldn’t be the same for a while. His wheezing, as he tried to catch his breath, sounded like a cross between a smoker and a zombie’s gurgling.
Jared used his left hand to clamp Nate around the neck as he backed him up to a tree. With his right fist he delivered blow after blow to Nate’s face. My knees started to cave as I watched Jared squeeze Nate’s neck until his knuckles were white.
He kept punching until blood dripped from Nate’s eye and nose.