Our fan base is every bit as passionate and zealous as the other major sports but is smaller. Hockey, though growing, is still considered a niche sport here in the States. Our fans know who we are but nobody else does. It’s nice, honestly. I like still being able to go out and have a drink without being mobbed.
I step through the front doors and take a deep breath of the cool autumn air as I pull my coat on and pull it tight then laugh softly at myself. It’s in the high fifties tonight, which is chilly by Southern California standards, but is nothing compared to winter back in my hometown in Montana. I've gotten spoiled by the temperate climate here and have gotten pretty thin-blooded. Or, as my older brother likes to say, I’ve become a pussy. Asshole.
The door opens behind me, and a second later, I stumble forward a step when a body slams into me. I spin around ready to light somebody up, but the growl in my throat withers and dies when I seeherlooking up at me with green eyes wider than saucers and her full, red lips perfectly parted in a surprised “O”.
“I am so sorry. I didn’t mean to… I just wasn’t…I’m sorry," she stammers.
My heart pounds like a fist on a drum. She’s no more than five-three or five-four with hair the color of a penny that cascades down to her shoulders. Her skin is fair and flawless. She’s got a petite but curvy figure, and she’s all of about twenty—twenty-one, maybe. She’s absolutely stunning—easily the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen—and just looking at her robs me of breath.
“I said I’m sorry,” she repeats.
Everything snaps back into focus, and I nod and try to work some moisture into my mouth. “Yeah, it’s alright. Don’t worry about it. No harm done,” I tell her. “Not that a little thing like you could do much damage anyway.”
Hearing myself ramble on, I cringe inwardly and silently tell myself to shut the fuck up. I honestly don’t recall the last time I felt this awkward around a woman. High school maybe? She’s thrown me off-kilter, and I feel like mentally punching myself.
It’s crazy but the second my eyes fell on her, I felt a seismic jolt inside of me. The feeling was visceral, and I felt it down to the marrow of my bones. I don’t understand it. Don’t know where it came from because I don’t react to women like this like… ever. But something about this little redhead sends an unexpected shockwave right through me.
She glowers at me, clearly annoyed by what I’d said. I admit, it was kind of stupid and probably had a touch of sexism thrown in if somebody was inclined to see it that way. And she’s clearly inclined. As I look at her, I realize it’s not annoyance I see on her face. She’s upset, but it’s not at me. Her look of upset is more filled with fear than irritation about my stupid one-liner. She’s afraid of something. Or someone.
“Are you okay?” I ask. “Is somebody giving you a hard time?”
She sniffs and turns away, discreetly wiping at her eyes. “I’m fine.”
“You don’t look fine.”
“You don’t know me,” she snaps as she starts digging through her purse.
“You’re right, I don’t. And I’m sorry if I’m overstepping but you look upset,” I say. “Where I’m from, we don’t just walk away from a lady who’s upset without finding out if we can help.”
"That's very old-fashioned of you," she says, her tone acidic.
I shrug. “I guess so. But I’d like to help you if I can.”
“It’s nothing. It’s fine.”
She pulls her phone out of her purse and looks down at it, clearly expecting me to walk away. When I don’t, she raises her head.
“I said I’m fine.”
Music blares as the door opens behind us, and the girl nearly jumps out of her skin. She whirls around, her eyes comically wide as she sidles behind me. Two women walk out of the bar, arm in arm, giggling with each other as they head down the street. The door closes behind them, shutting out the music again, and the girl lets out a breath of relief.
“Yeah, you look fine.”
She sighs. “Okay, fine. There’s a guy in there… I know him from school,” she says. “He’s been trying to get me to dance with him all night and won’t take no for an answer. He’s starting to get pushy, and it's creeping me out. So, I told him I was going to the bathroom then made a beeline for the door. I'm going to get an Uber to take me back to the dorms. That’s it. That’s the story. Happy now?"
I look at the door of the bar, half-tempted to walk back in there and set the guy straight. Irritation curls hot in my gut because I don’t like seeing this girl upset. And I don't like that some asshole is being pushy and scaring her. It makes my blood boil for reasons I don't quite understand. A surge of protectiveness roars through me from out of nowhere. Protectiveness and possessiveness.
With a deep breath, I calm myself down and turn to her. “Let me drive you back to your dorms. I want to make sure you get back safely.”
“I’m fine. I’m calling for an Uber.”
I shake my head. “I’m parked down the street—”
“Dude, I don’t even know you. Do you really expect me to get into your car?”
“You don’t know your Uber driver either, and you’re perfectly willing to get into that guy’s car,” I say with a chuckle. “Just consider me your Uber driver if it’ll make you feel better. You can even sit in the back seat, well away from me.”