Nick stopped dead in his tracks, a few feet away from the store, watching how Sandra went from happy and laughing to...

Something was wrong; incredibly wrong.

AJ was immediately at her side, his eyes searching the stranger in front of them for a very brief moment, before turning dark and angry.

“You...” AJ whispered menacingly, stepping in front of Sandra, whose eyes were glued to the man in front of her, her hand covering her mouth.

“Who’re you?” the man questioned, as Nick got closer.

“That’s none of your concern,” AJ shot back. “Get away from her.”

“Who are you to tell me what to do?”

“What’s going on here?”

Sandra, AJ and the stranger turned to Nick when he spoke, and Nick’s eyes darted from an angry AJ, to a frightened Sandra, and rested on the stranger.

The tall, blond, blue eyed stranger.

Nick’s eyes narrowed in suspicion, and he glanced back at Sandra. Her tear filled eyes gave him the answer he needed.

“So, it was you,” he seethed, stepping closer to him.

“What are you talking about?” The man questioned, his eyebrows furrowed in confusion.

“You...” Nick trailed off, stepping closer to Sandra. “Are you okay, San?”

“No,” she shook her head. “No.. he..” she glanced at the man, “He’s..”

“An old friend,” the man finished for her. “From North Carolina. We go way back, don’t we, San?”

The smirk on his face made Nick’s blood boil, and when a sob escaped Sandra, he’d had all he could take. His fist landed squarely on the mans jaw, sending him reeling backward. When he tried to retaliate, Nick was waiting, fists clenched, his anger driving him to do just about anything at that point.

“Nick!” AJ called out. “Stop it, man!”

Nick’s fist made contact yet again, and he was ready to lunge at the man when one crystal clear voice cut through his anger an dmade his come to his senses.

“Nick,” it was barely above a whisper, but he’d heard it. “He’s not worth it. Stop...”

He glanced around at the small crowd that had gathered, recognition registered on many of their faces. He shook his head clear of his thoughts and turned to look down at the man that he knew, without a shadow of a doubt, had hurt Sandra in ways he couldn’t even imagine.

“If I see you anywhere near her,” he said menacingly. “You won’t live to regret it.”

That being said, he turned around in time to catch Sandra as she flew into his arms, clutching him tightly against her as she sobbed. His arms went instinctively around her, and he bent his head to kiss the top of hers.

“Let’s get outta here,” he whispered to her. “We need to get you home.”

He felt her nod, sniffling loudly as another onslaught of tears caught up to her. Slowly, the trio made their way out of the shopping center. He walked with San and AJ to AJ’s car, and was about to help her in when she shook her head and stepped away.

“San?” he asked, confusion laced in his voice.

She looked over at AJ, who nodded slightly, seemingly understanding her silent plea. Turning back to Nick, she whispered. “You take me home. Please?”

[chapter list | chapter fifteen]