The beast watched the man force himself upon the woman. If he had been faster, just five minutes sooner, he would have made it in time. Now, instead of merely watching the horror of the man being torn to pieces, she also would have to endure a lifetime of emotional suffering from what that douchebag was doing to her.
He was too late.
A thick ball of fire grew in his stomach as he watched the man hold her down. It leeched into his veins and seared through his limbs. A low growl rumbled in his chest as he slowly approached, a predator stalking its prey. The woman was still fighting the man, trying to push him off her, her cries choked by sobs. She had no idea a monster far more dangerous was about to assist her in her efforts.
“Get off me, Bobby! No! No!” “Shut up.” He slapped her hard and she whimpered. The low growl gained momentum and rumbled in the beast’s chest, this time loud enough for the man to hear. The repugnant stopped moving. He looked over his shoulder and froze when he found himself staring into a set of glowing yellow eyes boring straight through him.
The coward pushed himself off the woman, fumbling as he tried to pull up his pants. He made to run, but stumbled over the soft branches and rocks at his feet and fell.
The beast raised its lips over its sharp teeth, a snarl shot saliva from its jowls. The woman pulled her knees up to her chest and with effort, backed up against the tree behind her. The yellow eyes flew to her face covered in tears and dirt.
The beast released a savage roar. This happened on his watch. He would never forgive himself. Yellow eyes found their target again as the man attempted to crawl away.
The woman sat stunned, mouth agape, and watched as the beast cornered the man against a fallen tree and hovered over him, its hot breath creating curls of steam in the cold night air.
The beast looked back at the woman, who gasped. Never again. Never again would this happen when he was around. The beast turned back to the man and lunged forward, ripping his prey to shreds.
Calen Reddington bent over to pick up the thin, white lace panties draped over the footstool in the common room. Standing, he inspected the garment as it dangled from his index finger. The sheer fabric was wrinkled and dingy from spending the night underneath the coffee table amid the empty cigarette boxes and bottle caps littered on the floor.
“Great,” he muttered, depositing the unmentionables into the extra thick, black garbage bag he held in his other hand. No way was he doing this alone. “Cutter! Get your ass down here and help me clean this shit up!”
If he hadn’t known who the owner of the underwear was, he would have been horribly disturbed. However, he happened to know this particular pair of lace lingerie was the intimate property of Susanne Thatcher, girlfriend of Blake Reese, Treasurer of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, and resident wild man. Calen had seen Blake peel the panties off a more than willing Susanne just before they excused themselves from the prior night’s festivities.
Looking around the disheveled room, Calen’s thoughts wandered back to the evening’s events. Last night had indeed been one for the books that was for sure. A smug smile pulled at the corners of his mouth as flashes of the drunken revelry snapped through his memory like a slide show.
Calen stood upright and stretched. His mouth opened, releasing an enormous yawn. He hadn’t slept much last night, but not for the reasons he would have preferred. No, getting lucky wasn’t exactly at the top of his list. His heart ached. Bringing his hand to his chest, he grimaced as he thought of Kimberly. Would it ever get any easier?
Kimberly Whitely was one of the hottest prospects coming in freshman year. Her beauty was classic. A Southern belle with long, wavy blonde hair the color of corn silk, blue eyes that rivaled a summer sky, and glowing sun-kissed skin, she was sought after by several upperclassmen, all salivating to get their hands on such a pert, young, innocent girl. And, she knew it. Just as all Southern women know how to play the game, Kimberly was well equipped to use her physical beauty as a weapon.
It was quite astonishing to Calen when she began to pursue him. When they met, he was neither an upperclassman nor the most sought-after male, although it was just a matter of time before his athletic ability threw him into the spotlight. Perhaps, that was what Kimberly was counting on—upward trajectory.
Or maybe she just wanted a love-struck boy to get her to her ultimate goal? Maybe, like Coach Kent, she had done her own scouting, as well.
“Stop it.” Calen cursed his inner voice. Though, mostly because he knew there was truth to the words.
He and Kimberly never made sense, but he knew that from the start. He was just too enamored to care. And, she seemed to revel in the spotlight. Shortly after frosh rush, Kimberly approached him and expressed her interest. Calen, a naïve kid from Jackson, Nebraska, had no idea what he was up against. It was love at first sight. At least, it had been for Calen. He was realizing now, for Kimberly, it had been a strategic social maneuver, one that kept her out of trouble and decent enough for the bigger picture.
Calen grit his teeth. Yep, he realized, too late, he had been the long-term plan that scratched her itch and got her to her end game: to become the fiancé of a medical resident before graduation.
Calen’s chest ached. He immediately took the word back as he rubbed his breastbone with his free hand. It didn’t matter if her plan did work, he wouldn’t stoop to her level through name-calling. Unfortunately, her plan worked a little too well. Four months ago, Kimberly informed Calen of her love for the young doctor and promptly ended their relationship. Calen swallowed hard. Had it already been four months? It felt like yesterday.
A thud upstairs snapped Calen out of his thoughts. He lowered his hand from his chest, though it still stung. He thought, at times, he would be paralyzed by the emptiness Kimberly left behind. He shook his head. No, he refused to be pathetic. He had to move forward.
Stretching again, he dropped the bag he was holding and yawned once more. He would eventually get over Kimberly, he hoped. Until then, he figured he might as well enjoy his senior year. Kimberly or no Kimberly, this would be his year. He couldn’t explain it, but he felt it in his bones, even as tired as they were at this moment.
He turned around, taking in the mess of the room, and ran his hand through his light brown hair trying to calm its waves. He had no idea of what he looked like at this early hour, but if how he felt was any indication, then it was a blessing that Justin Sturdevant had broken the buckhorn mirror mounted on the wall opposite of where he now stood. He didn’t want to even chance seeing that reflection. The empty frame remained the only reminder of the aggressive beer pong tournament the house had held last week.
Smiling to himself, he realized despite being dumped by his beauty queen girlfriend, the year was off to an amazing start. Kimberly had officially moved closer to be with Dr. Perfect, and Calen’s odds of running into her were becoming less and less. Now if he could get his heart on board, he knew, between his fraternity status and his position on the lacrosse team, there’d be a line of girls waiting. Just what he needed.
“Cutter!” Calen yelled again, this time with a little more authority in his voice. After all, what good was being house president if you couldn’t flaunt it around?
“Dude, what’s the fuckin’ emergency,” a raspy voice snapped from under a mound of blankets in the corner of the room.
Calen jumped as he turned toward the moving pile. He hadn’t even noticed them heaped beside the pool table.
“Cutter?” Calen questioned, thoroughly confused. “What the hell are you doing there?”
Timothy Cutter emerged from the pile of blankets reeking of booze. He was shirtless and wore a pair of crooked sunglasses. A colorful, plastic Hawaiian lei dangled from his neck. His hair stuck up in every direction.
He removed his glasses and squeezed the bridge of his nose before placing them back on his face. “Well…um, not quite sure. Hoped you’d be able to tell me”—he smiled—“but, what I can tell you was last night was probably the best fucking party this house has ever seen, bro. Ever. I’m talking epic. One for the books.”
“You sure about that?” Calen asked, smiling. “I’m not sure you remember much of anything from last night seeing as you can’t even tell me why you’re half-naked under a pile of reeking blankets.”
“Nah, man. Trust me. It was by far the stuff of legends.”
Cutter rose and dropped the blanket that had been wrapped around him. Calen had been wrong, he wasn’t half-naked. Cutter stood in the room wearing nothing but the sunglasses, Hawaiian Lei, and socks.
“Jesus, Cutter. Get some fucking clothes on.” Calen threw a nearby couch cushion at his nude brother. “Then get your ass back down here and help me clean up this mess.”
Cutter laughed as he dodged the pillow and headed up to his room.
“Ten minutes, Cutter,” Calen yelled after him. “I mean it. Or you’ll be on bathroom duty with the rushes for the entire semester! And, bring Bryant and Wallace down with you.”
He heard running upstairs as Cutter roused the other two from their rooms. Calen grabbed an unopened beer from the bookshelf and twisted off the top. Plopping down into the green armchair, he propped up his feet and took a long swig of the warm beer.
It had been the first official party of the new school year, and he had wanted to make a statement beyond all statements. Maybe it was because he wanted to convince people he was over Kimberly. Maybe he wanted to prove to himself he was over her. Whatever the reason, Calen had wanted to make this party the keynote party, the one to set the tone for the entire school year, the one that set Sigma Alpha Epsilon apart.
The leader of the row.
And, boy had it. Calen could feel the smugness of his personal victory. As acting president of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, he was responsible for all the activities, good or bad, occurring in the house, and he had been willing to risk the fraternity’s reputation in order to get the academic year off on the right foot. He tipped the bottle back and finished the beer, tossing the empty into his abandoned garbage bag lying on the floor.
Let Cutter clean it up. Just because he may have been responsible for the disaster now plaguing their living area didn’t mean he had to clean it up personally. He chuckled to himself as he heard Cutter, Bryant, and Wallace pounding around upstairs trying to hurry.
“Well, you look exceptionally pleased with yourself, Red,” a voice said from the doorway leading to the den.
Calen looked up to see Zev Reynolds leaning up against the frame, his arms crossed across his chest. As clean-cut as Calen was, Zev was as dark, mysterious, and rough around the edges. His near- black hair hung in a loose mess just over his ears, his chin speckled with two days’ worth of stubble. Zev pushed his thick locks back off his forehead with an easy movement, his dark brown eyes looking at Calen with amusement.
Though Zev was American, his parents were from southern France, immigrating to the U.S. in their early twenties. And, even though he had been born in San Francisco and lived there for his entire life, his frequent summers spent in France had lent a slight accent and exotic tone to his speech. It drove the girls wild. And, came in very handy as the fraternity’s vice president, and unofficial diplomat among the Greek system at Perrault University.
“Are you going to try and tell me that you don’t think it’s well deserved?” Calen countered.
“No, no, not at all. In fact, it was quite the event.” Zev entered the room. “I will admit, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.” He walked over to the left of the fireplace and pushed the wall, gently releasing the secret panel. It popped open, revealing a high-end bottle of scotch and two glasses.
Taking a moment to fill the tumblers with the caramel-colored liquid, he placed the bottle back into the wall and secured the panel before handing one of the glasses to Calen who reached over and took the drink.
“Then what’s up?” Calen asked of his friend. “What’s with the look?”
Zev raised a brow and smiled. “You really want to know?” Calen raised his hand palm up. Zev took a seat on the couch opposite of his friend and leaned back. “Throwing big parties won’t get her back. You know that, right?”
Calen didn’t respond. He brought the tumbler to his lips and took a slow sip. Zev continued. “Now, I’m not complaining. Last night was exceptionally…entertaining, but we’ve got to be more careful than that, Red. Watch each other’s back, you know? Despite what you may think, there were some questionable things happening last night that—”
“What do you mean questionable?” Calen sat up straight. “We carded everyone. This was a members-only event, and you know how that goes—anything goes.”
“Nah, man, I know. Relax.” Zev brought his glass to his lips, took a deep drink, and brought it down to rest on his leg. “I just don’t want things to get any worse. I’m just cautious, that’s all. Last night, was…well, last night we got away with—let’s just say if Dean Gruber found out, you’d be up for dismissal. And, I can’t have that prick going after my best friend. So, let’s not press our luck, okay? You made your point last night. SAE is top dog. No one is going to question that.”
Calen listened to his friend’s words. Sure, he may have let things get a little out of control. Whipped-cream Twister in the library may have crossed a line. Calen didn’t even want to step into that room. But, people had to see he was truly over Kimberly. What she had done not only hurt his heart but deeply wounded his pride.
Calen knew Zev understood what she had done to him. When the wound was fresh, Zev was there to talk him down. And, his friend was never one to bullshit. Calen didn’t know how he would’ve gotten through it without Zev. So, when Zev spoke, Calen knew it was worth listening.
Besides, Calen had known Zev since he arrived at Perrault. They had been assigned as roommates in the freshman dorms. Together, they’d walked onto the lacrosse team, rushed at the same time, and now held office at SAE as seniors. Zev knew Calen better than anyone else on campus, and he was the only person Calen trusted. If Zev felt it necessary to warn Calen about taking it down a few notches in the party intensity department, then Calen would abide.
But, he didn’t have to like it. Calen threw back the rest of the scotch and frowned.
“Fine, I get it,” he said begrudgingly.
Zev smiled and finished his drink, placing it on the delicate glass table in front of him. How it survived last night was a mystery to both men.
“But, that was one hell of a mud wrestling match, am I right?” Zev snickered.
Calen laughed. He had forgotten about the impromptu fight that left two Deltas rolling around in the sticky mud out back by the croquet course in their string bikinis.