Adrianna’s Avenging Angel

 

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Adrianna’s Avenging Angel

Chapter One

Miranda Lambert told me to fix my makeup and hide my crazy as she crooned overhead. The lyrics were appropriate as I attempted to hide my revulsion while touching a man whom I despised. His cologne overwhelmed me as I covered him with a barber’s cape and snapped the back. He took that opportunity to graze the side of my breast with his arm before leering appreciatively.

My mother had endured far worse for me; I could swallow my bile and do this for her. Although I would gladly find more clients to never have to shampoo or cut his hair again. Until then, I would tolerate him. He gave me the willies, paying in cash and tipping well. Twice he’d commented I could earn a much bigger tip by being nice…

I shuddered at the thought of actually allowing him to touch me. He was rich, but sleazy, with the wiry body of a cross-country runner and a boring face. If I sat on him I’d break him. The only reason I felt safe with him was the fact that he knew nothing personal about me, and I always made sure there were other people at the salon. Tonight, however, he was here at the very end of the evening, and there was just myself and Kendra. Kendra had promised to stay, but left to grab us two venti caramel macchiatos.

Leaving me alone with the slug.

Making me wish I had salt.

“Beautiful, I’d love to feed you. We could start with dinner,” he said to my breasts.

“No thank you, Mr. Herndon.” I aimed the sprayer in his ear, making him shut his mouth for a moment. My fingers quickly shampooed his scalp while I looked outside, wishing I had the power to make Kendra appear.

Across the street a businessman stopped, pocketed his phone, and approached the taxi that pulled up a minute ago.  He reached down, opened the back door and offered his hand. An elderly woman eased out of the taxi, her gnarled hands wrapped around his thick bicep. As he turned his head I could see blonde hair tied back, an interesting contrast to his dark suit. The woman’s hunched form made her nearly half his size. He carefully led her to the building entrance, taking small steps to her shuffles and shielding her from the other pedestrians rushing past in hopes of catching the bus.

It was why I still loved this city, small scenes like that giving me hope that humanity still existed among strangers.

“You have such great hands,” Herndon purred, pulling me back into reality. “Have you considered offering massages?” I flicked my gaze to the window, looking for Kendra, and instead saw the businessman from before. He stood in the shadows of the doorway, watching us. I couldn’t see his face, just the large frame of his body, but I felt his eyes on me. His head cocked to one side in acknowledgment, and that simple gesture reassured me. Unlike Herndon, whose very presence set me on edge, I felt safer knowing someone was watching over me. My faceless guardian angel eased my anxiety. I nodded back, silently thanking him for his presence.

I rinsed Herndon’s hair, leaning over the sink turn off the water. He chose that moment to turn his face into my breasts. I backed away and glared at him. My eyes turned to the door and windows again. The man still stood across the street. He took a half-step closer, his face still in shadows, but he was ready to come to my aid. I felt it.

“C’mon,” Herdon whined. “You have to eat. I’d love to watch you eat… you have such beautiful lips.” He slid forward on the seat and his hands gripped my waist. Time slowed the moment I felt the pressure of his hands. My thoughts pushed against the panic rising in my chest. He’s touching me. The man isn’t across the street anymore. Kendra isn’t here. His hands are touching me. Herndon’s eyes were glassy, like he was drunk. Why hadn’t I noticed that before? Why are his hands still on me?

I needed a weapon. I slid out of his grip, grabbing the scissors at the first stylist’s station and waved them at him.

“Get out.” My voice didn’t even sound like my own. It was harsh, staccato, reminding me of my father when he was angry.

He put his hands up defensively. “Now, sweetheart, I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“Get out.” I repeated, this time making my voice calm, devoid of emotion. My eyes, on the other hand…I hoped he could see there was more than a refusal of his proposition – I was physically repulsed by him.

The smarmy grin slid off his face, and for a moment I saw malice in its place. Then the bell over the door chimed.

“I’m back,” Kendra called out.

“And you’re leaving.” I said to Herndon.

“If that’s really what you want.” He stood, removed the cape and dropped it onto the chair, using the towel that was wrapped around his neck to quickly dry his hair.

“Don’t come back.”

“I’ll see you around, then.” He smirked as he pulled out a bill from his wallet and tossed it on top of the cape.

I couldn’t move. He passed a stunned Kendra without comment and turned left outside the door. The businessman from across the street was now outside. He nodded once and then continued after Herndon. Had he been outside the whole time? Why didn’t I scream? How long had Herndon actually held me? Kendra rushed over, still holding my coffee.

“Ohmigod, what happened?”

My hand was still wrapped around the scissors so tightly it hurt to open them. I set them down and rubbed my hands together before taking my coffee from her. Hot coffee spilled out the lid and pooled. I set it down, wiping my hands on my legs and methodically cleaned up my station. While I told her what happened; she took his money and put it in the cash drawer, leaving my tip at my station.

“Do you think Marlo will be mad I kicked him out?” I asked. The man was repulsive, but he was also the District Attorney. The salon owner, Marlo, loved bragging he was her client. As if providing menial services for the man put her on the same social level.

Kendra bit her lip. “He was really over the line this time, but maybe not say anything until she brings it up?”

I nodded numbly. Kendra was probably right.

We finished and locked up. I waved as she got into her car. As stylist of the month, she’d been awarded the parking spot right behind the salon. Mine was parked a block over, but the street was mostly well-lit and although it was dark, it was only 8:30 at night. Things didn’t get freaky until after ten, and by then I’d be tucked in my bed.

Kendra honked twice as she turned the corner and I waved. It was then that I heard the footsteps. I looked behind me. There’s no one. Relax. I released my breath slowly and hurried toward my car. It was only fifty feet away, but I was completely alone on the street. The thing about working in the city was that it was crowded from seven until seven, but there were always some people around no matter the time.

Except now.

I reached into my pocket, pulled out my keychain, and flicked the safety on the pepper spray off.

Forty feet and my piece of crap car would take me home. I stepped off the curb to cross the alley, picking up my pace.  No one is out to get me. Probably. But, running to my car is good exercise, too.

A hand gripped my upper arm and slammed me against the brick wall. My head hit hard, stunning me.

Herndon.

His pungent cologne assaulted my nose. Fingers bit into the skin of my arm, an unbreakable shackle that forced my back against rough bricks abrading my skin. My feet scrabbled against the ground, trying to gain leverage, anything to help me break free. He shook me, knocking my head against the bricks again and focusing my complete attention on his vicious expression.

“You little bitch, I’m tired of you teasing me.” He yanked me away from the wall and nearly onto my knees. His hand clamped on my arm as he dragged me down the alley, my foot squishing against something, upsetting my balance. I pushed against him and saw the pepper spray still clasped in my hand. I pointed it toward him, pressing the button. His hand knocked it away and he slapped my face so hard my teeth rattled. I’d always assumed that was just a saying, but nope, the man had rung my bell with his palm. Responding on instinct, my knee impacted his groin with enough force that I’d have a bruise.

He howled in pain and bent over. I screamed incoherently for help toward the street. His hand still hadn’t released my arm, and I jerked and twisted. Adrenaline coursed through my body, slowing down time.

I really thought I had a chance to escape, but he grabbed my hair and forced me to my knees and then my stomach. He fell on me, his knees pinning my arms down, rendering them useless. I writhed and he settled his weight against my torso making it impossible for me to move. For such a skinny guy he weighed a lot more than I thought hysterically.

His hand wrapped around my throat as he hissed, “Could have been fun for you, but you had to be a stupid bitch.” His harsh breathing was all I could hear.

I needed air… the world was getting fuzzy.

Lights loomed behind my eyelids. I snapped my eyes open and could still see the lights. Were they my imagination? Was I passing out? I was able to take a breath as Herndon’s fingers loosened. He pushed hard against my back as he stood up, kicking me once more before large tattooed hands tossed Herndon aside.  One hand reached under my chin, and my eyes unsuccessfully fought to focus on the face in front of me. He turned, and grabbed Herndon’s belt and shoved him against the wall. Two punches rapidly fired at Herndon; one in his gut and one across his face. As the air whooshed out of Herndon, the crack of knuckles against his jaw split the air followed by a hollow sound as his head hit the brick wall. Herndon looked surprised, his eyes wide, crazy-looking, and then his focus dulled

“You’re okay. Take slow breaths.” His gruff voice commanded. He helped me up, one hand gently resting under my elbow. My knees were too weak so he scooped me into his arms.

“Come, I will help you.” His voice was softer and with a slight accent, maybe Eastern European. The headlights from his car shone brightly and I turned away from them, burying my face against his hard chest. It was hard to breathe. My face stung, my back felt like it was bleeding and so did my knees. I felt brittle, cold, and in his arms I found warmth and comfort.

He slid me the passenger seat. Tattooed hands slid off his jacket and blanketed it around me, gently tucking it around my shoulders. A small frown marred his warrior’s face as he ran his knuckles across my cheek. “Stay here,” he said as he closed the door.

I nodded, curled up hugging my knees, absorbing the heat from his jacket, resting my cheek against the soft fabric. After taking my first full breath my shoulders relaxed slightly, easing the tension in my neck. The man stood over Herndon, kicking his motionless body hard before crouching down and putting his hand in front of Herndon’s nose. Was he dead? What would happen to me? My fingers reached out from under the jacket and slid to the door handle. I should go… if only my legs didn’t feel like they were encased in cement.

He looked up and caught me gaze, giving me a firm head shake. No.

I swallowed and nodded slowly in return. Satisfied, he stood, pulled his phone out and texted someone. His eyes lifted to mine and my heart tripped, prey caught by the predator. He strode toward the car, watching me warily. I squeaked when he slid into the driver’s seat and my body began to shake.

His face softened and he said quietly, “Relax. The worst is over.”

He held my opened purse in his lap, checking my driver’s license before setting my things beside me.

He started the car and I found my voice. “Where are you taking me?”

“Home.”

I shivered under his jacket and he turned the heat up in the car.

“Do you live with someone?”

Why did he want to know? Why couldn’t I lie?

“Yes,” I whispered. His hands rested on the wheel, tattoos dancing under the lights of the street lamps as we passed under them. He had dark blond hair and harsh angular features. A warrior. My savior. An angel.

“Thank you,” I said. He nodded. I looked out the window, counting to five in between breaths, forcing myself to calm down. My pulse pounded in my ears, throbbed in my head, and tingled in my fingers and toes. I needed to relax enough to make the dull ache behind my eyes ebb.  Why wasn’t adrenaline a migraine cure?

He pulled onto my street and I stiffened, wondering what he thought of my neighborhood. Scared of what he would think of my sister’s boyfriend. Herndon was bad, but Eric was much worse. Why did I care what my Avenging Angel thought?

No longer paralyzed by fear, my fingers lightly traced the leather on the dashboard of the luxury car as my body unfolded. The scents of leather and sandalwood tickled my brain as my feet touched the soft carpet and realized I was missing a shoe.

“What is it?” he asked.

“I lost my shoe,” I admitted. But there was more. Something else was missing. I could feel it but couldn’t put my finger on it. Maybe I was crashing after the adrenaline rush. My thoughts plodded through my brain slowly.

“I’ll retrieve it. Don’t concern yourself.”

Why would he do that? The missing piece clicked and I said calmly, “I should call the police.”

His lips pursed. “And what would happen if you did? Do you think they’d believe you?”

“But… you saved me. He was attacking me and you stopped him. There’s probably cameras…” He hit Herndon. We left his lifeless body in the alley. He’s not going to involve the police.

He raised an eyebrow and glanced my way. “There are none. It is why he chose that place. Do you think, after his friends at the police have finished with you, that the truth will matter? Do you think you are the first? Let me handle this. Say nothing to the police.”

Chills slid down my spine, settling in my gut. Herndon was the DA. He probably controlled lots of police officers. Would they really lie for him? He was repulsive, but powerful – so yeah, they would lie. How many times had my father’s friends shown up at our door when a neighbor called the police, frightened for my mother, knowing she was being beaten? They would look at Elena and I, terrified and huddled together, but with no visible bruises and leave. Leaving the monster free to don his own costume and pretend to protect and serve.

But if Herndon was dead… what would happen then?

He said softly, “Trust me.”

“Is he dead?” I whispered.

“Would it bother you if he was?” he asked dryly.

My gut turned over and I clutched his jacket closer to my body, wrinkling the fine fabric.

He sighed. “He’s alive. For now.” His voice was ice, chilling me. Would I ever be warm again? “It would be better if you forgot everything that happened this night.” He parked in front of my house. “Say nothing to the police. Yes?”

“Okay,” I mumbled, pushing his jacket off me and picking up my purse. “Thank you.” I was about to ask him his name but changed my mind. I didn’t want to remember anything of this night. I walked toward my house, my knees stinging with each step as I lurched forward, one foot cold against the hard concrete, the other clacking away in my pump. I finally pulled the pump off and limped the rest of the way with as much dignity as I could. I survived.

Chances of me forgetting this night were nil. I was so wound up, I doubted I’d be able to sleep. I cleansed the dirt from my hands and knees in the shower, being tender to the bruises on my arms and neck. I put on my softest pajamas and curled up in my bed, resting an ice pack on my face. Every time I closed my eyes, Herndon was there – crazy and wild-eyed – choking me. I sent a silent prayer of thanks to my savior and hoped he remembered to get my shoe.