"Shhh, don't fight. You're only making this more difficult for yourself..."
I spit in his face. "Go to hell!"
He slaps me—hard. My vision spins. "Hell is where I'll take you if you don't behave!" he hisses.
I won't let it end like this. As he moves to grab me, I bring my knee up hard. He howls in pain, his grip loosening. I punch his throat and scramble away, fleeing once more into the dark labyrinth of beams.
His enraged roar pursues me. "You can't escape me, Willow!"
But I can try.
“Maverick!” I scream the only name that comes to mind as loud as I can, so loudly that my lungs hurt.
Please! Save me!
Willow’s screampierces the night air. My blood turns to ice as her cry echoes down the dark alley. I break into a sprint, my shoes pounding against the pavement. Fear courses through my veins, but determination fuels my muscles. I will not fail her.
The alley stretches before me, shrouded in shadow. I strain my ears for any sound of Willow’s struggle, for any hint of her location. Only the frantic beat of my heart fills my ears.
Come on, Willow, call out again. Let me find you.
Ahead, a grunt and the sound of a scuffle. My fists clench and I pour on the speed. Nobody hurts my girl and gets away with it. Rounding the corner, I see them. Willow on the ground, her wrists bound. A dark figure looming over her. Rage erupts within me, hot and violent.
In three long strides I’m on him, my shoulder slamming into his torso. We crash into the brick wall, and he lets out a gasp. I pin him in place, my forearm crushing his windpipe.
Cold blue eyes meet mine.
“You chose the wrong girl to mess with,” I growl. His lips curl into a smirk even as he chokes for breath. My vision goes red. I haul back and smash my fist into his face. Once, twice, three times. Blood spurts from his nose, but still he grins through split lips.
“She’s mine now,” he gurgles, blood bubbling on his lips. “You can’t stop what’s coming for her.”
I snarl and knee him hard in the gut. He doubles over wheezing. In one smooth motion, I flip him around and wrench his arms behind his back.
“She belongs to no one,” I hiss in his ear. With a snap, I dislocate his shoulder. Vincent screams. I let his body drop to the filthy concrete. He won't be giving us any more trouble tonight.
I rush to Willow's side. As I cut her bonds, our eyes meet. Relief and something deeper shine in her emerald gaze. I cup her cheek, wiping away a smudge of dirt. She's safe. I won't let anyone hurt my songbird ever again. This I vow.
Her eyes shine with wonder as she takes in the scene before her. Vincent lies crumpled and bloodied on the alley floor, groaning in pain. I stand over him, fists clenched, breathing hard.
"Maverick..." she whispers.
"It's okay. You're safe now."
I help her up, steadying her as she finds her feet. She stumbles into me and I catch her, holding her close. Her body trembles against mine.
"Shh, it's over," I murmur, stroking her hair.
She looks up at me, eyes wide. "How did you do that? You were so fast, so strong..."
I give a small smile. "It's my job to protect you."
Her hands curl into my shirt, gripping tight. We stay that way for a moment, her finding comfort in my embrace. I breathe in the floral scent of her shampoo, letting it soothe my raging nerves. She's here. She's safe.